A Wild-Goose Chase (Balmer)/Chapter 6
QUARTERS FOR THE ARCTIC
THE next morning the Viborg arrived. Plainly the ship had been built for strength, and not for either beauty or accommodations. As the party on the yacht watched the little arctic vessel come up and anchor Geoff closely observed his sister.
The Viborg, as it measured itself beside the Inca, was not half the yacht's length. A long bowsprit only aggravated the stubbiness of the bruised and battered hull; a single stout mast with brown sails bent upon it composed the visible means of propulsion. The auxiliary engine, driven by gasoline, required no stack that showed. There was a large hatch for the hold amidships, a hatch to the forward cabins and another to the engine room and cabins aft.
Heavy anchors and chains and other gear encumbered the forward deck, and appearances had not been helped by the circumstance that a large seal recently had been killed and cut up on the deck. As a foretaste of the time when dozens of dogs must be kenneled there, five of the best beasts of the last Viborg expedition, which had been shipped at Denmark, were running about, smeared with the blood of their seal feast and barking at the nearness of land.
Half the crew of six men who had worked the vessel across the ocean busied themselves with scrubbing and cleaning to prepare for the visit of the Viborg's new owners. Geoff, watching his sister, saw her glance once at Latham, who shook his head; but she, without waiting for the cleaning on board the other ship to be finished, went down to the boat beside the yacht. Geoff and Latham and Koehler entered the boat with her and rowed to the Viborg.
Captain Jerry McNeal, of the lost Aurora, met them and showed them about. He had been informed by cable and by letter, when he went from England to Copenhagen to take the Viborg, that one of the cabins was to be occupied by Miss Sherwood. He had not entirely credited the information, but had kept one cabin clear and unoccupied on the voyage over.
There were two cabins forward of the hold; one had been shared by McNeal himself and Brunton, now first mate. They were ready to turn this over to Latham and Geoff, for the cabin next to it was the one which was best for a woman and was the one which had been unoccupied. The after cabins, abaft of the engine room, had accommodated four men on the way over and would easily bunk the five men who, besides the two to be cabined forward, were to go to the Arctic.
The hold and all the spare space in the engine room had been stored with supplies. Both sides of both compartments were lined with tightly built in, specially constructed tanks containing the gasoline supply for the engine—something upward of three thousand gallons. The hold was laden to the hatch also with wooden cases manufactured to fit together to fill every inch of space. These cases contained dried vegetables, pemmican and other food supplies estimated to last three years.
"That is, we shall be provisioned for three years after we take our deck load from the Laeso. We're going to take more gasoline too, besides filling up the tanks we've emptied getting here. When do we move out, sir?" Captain McNeal addressed Latham.
"The Laeso goes up as far as Godhaven," Latham replied. "She'll give you your freight there. I'm going to get the Inca to go a little farther too, if the sea is free from ice. So we won't come aboard just yet."
Margaret made no comment till they had returned to the saloon of the yacht.
"You're putting off changing to the Viborg, on my account?" she asked.
"Then please don't."
"Bradley'll be glad to go up as far as the ice lets him. He would have offered, but really he didn't think you'd go beyond here."
"Please don't ask him. He and Mrs. Bradley have done too much now. I can't let you ask him to do more on my account."
Latham turned to Geoff. "What do you say?"
"If she goes on board now and can't stand it, she can get on the Laeso at Godhaven and come back. She'll have time to get sick of it—if she's going to—before it's too late to return," Geoff suggested.
"How about taking the freight from the Laeso now?" Latham asked.
"Taking a deck load before we have to would be running a needless danger," Margaret returned. "Going on board now is merely an inconvenience."
"All right," Latham agreed, and went out and gave his orders.
Immediately men began transferring to the Viborg the personal effects, scientific instruments, medicine and other supplies that had come from the States on the yacht. The extra men brought over from Denmark as engineers went aboard the Laeso. Good-byes were said that night and thanks given to the owners of the Inca. That same night—the sun was shining now almost twenty hours—the Laeso started north, the Viborg following
"Arctic trim, eh?" Geoff said cheerfully, as he crowded into the cabin which he and Latham were to share together. Latham looked about the narrow quarters dubiously.
"No, we haven't half our dogs yet," he reminded grimly.
Geoff went out while his friend changed his clothes. The transformation from the club life on the yacht to the cramped, ill-lit quarters, discomfort and necessity for doing for yourself whatever was done, had been sharp and sudden. Geoff met his sister in the companionway. She was dressed in sweater, trousers and slicker; her hair had disappeared under an oilskin cap. She smiled at him.
"It's getting nice and nasty on deck," she suggested. "Let's go up."
She looked surprisingly small in the man's outfit, and delicate and nervy. Geoff seized her impulsively and stooped and kissed her.
"'Scuse me," he apologised. "Won't do it again. Forgot myself; but—you're all right."
She flushed red with pleasure and went up with him to the deck. The wind was blowing up from the north, and a cold, sloppy rain was falling. The sea was rising with great, heavy swells. Jerry McNeal, in his oilskins, was standing his watch at the wheel. All sail was spread that the little ship would stand, but the Laeso was slipping away.
"If you and Latham"—Jerry McNeal already had dropped the misters—"have assigned yourselves to run that gas engine when we need it, we need it now. Get busy below, either one of you or both of you. Get the engine going; then stand by below for signals."
Geoff returned to his bunk. Latham had finished changing his sea clothes. The two went upon the slippery deck, staggered aft to the engine-room hatchway, dropped down to the engine-room and set to work.
The gale soon blew out, and with the sea encumbered only by floating icebergs and no pack ice the work of the Viborg for the following days was easy and simple, as it followed the course of the Laeso up the West Greenland coast. Crossing the Arctic Circle in the middle of July, the sun now was shining continuously when the sky was clear, only grazing the horizon at midnight.
The coast which they skirted was still spotted with small, scattered settlements of Eskimos and Danes; and seal hunters' kayaks often darted out from the fiords. Two hundred miles above the Arctic Circle they approached their next halt and the last port for the Viborg till its return, the tiny town of Godhaven, from which the Danish Inspector of Northern Greenland governs the lands from the Arctic Circle up the ice-clad coast to where even the temporary snow-hut camps of the migratory Eskimos cease.
Before Godhaven, as a harbinger of battles with the ice soon to come, barriers of grounded bergs blocked the channel. The Laeso, still leading, found a way in; the Viborg followed, and, anchoring beside the trading ship, replenished its gasoline tanks and took the deck load from the Danish ship. There last calls upon the Danish authorities were made; the dogs left there by the men from the Aurora, and other dog teams and sledges, were brought on board with supplies of the Northern Eskimo skin clothing for winter.
At midnight, in bright sunlight, the Viborg bumped out between the icebergs, alone, deep laden and heavy, and steered on up Baffin Bay.
"Now to get as far as we can while the ice may give us a channel!" McNeal cried to his engineers. "Full speed all the time till the ice tries to stop us; and then we'll just begin really to use the engine."
The Greenland shore for many miles yet was dotted with encampments of Eskimos; but these no longer offered supplies. The Viborg, under power and with sail spread, steered on north.