R. M. Ballantyne
Chasing the Sun
Preparations for the Chase
Fred Temple was a tall, handsome young fellow of about five-and-twenty.
He had a romantic spirit, a quiet gentlemanly manner, a pleasant smile, and a passionate desire for violent exercise. To look at him you would have supposed that he was rather a lazy man, for all his motions were slow and deliberate. He was never in a hurry, and looked as if it would take a great deal to excite him. But those who knew Fred Temple well used to say that there was a great deal more in him than appeared at first sight. Sometimes a sudden flush of the brow, or a gleam of his eyes, told of hidden fires within.
Fred, when a small boy, was extremely fond of daring and dangerous expeditions. He had risked his life hundreds of times on tree-tops and precipices for birds’ nests, and had fought more hand-to-hand battles than any of the old Greek or Roman heroes. After he became a man, he risked his life more than once in saving the lives of others, and it was a notable fact that many of the antagonists of his boyhood became, at last, his most intimate friends.
Fred Temple was fair and ruddy. At about the age of nineteen certain parts of his good-looking face became covered with a substance resembling floss-silk. At twenty-five this substance had changed into a pair of light whiskers and a lighter moustache. By means of that barbarous custom called shaving he kept his chin smooth.
Fred’s father was a wealthy Liverpool merchant. At the period when our tale opens Fred himself had become chief manager of the business. People began, about this time, to say that the business could not get on without him. There were a great number of hands, both men and women, employed by Temple and Son, and there was not one on the establishment, male or female, who did not say and believe that Mr Frederick was the best master, not only in Liverpool, but in the whole world. He did not by any means overdose the people with attentions; but he had a hearty offhand way of addressing them that was very attractive. He was a firm ruler. No skulker had a chance of escape from his sharp eye, but, on the other hand, no hard-working servant was overlooked.
One day it was rumoured in the works that Mr Frederick was going to take a long holiday. Since his appointment to the chief charge, Fred had taken few holidays, and had worked so hard that he began to have a careworn aspect, so the people said they were “glad to hear it; no one in the works deserved a long holiday better than he.” But the people were not a little puzzled when Bob Bowie, the office porter, told them that their young master was going away for three months to chase the sun!
“Chase the sun, Bob! what d’ye mean?” said one. “I don’t know wot I mean; I can only tell ye wot I say,” answered Bowie bluntly.
Bob Bowie was an old salt—a retired seaman—who had sailed long as steward of one of the ships belonging to the House of Temple and Son, and, in consequence of gallantry in saving the life of a comrade, had been pensioned off, and placed in an easy post about the office, with good pay. He was called Old Bob because he looked old, and was weather-worn, but he was stout and hale, and still fit for active service.
“Come, Bowie,” cried another, “how d’ye know he’s goin’ to chase the sun?”
“Cause I heerd him say so,” replied Bob.
“Was he in earnest?” inquired a third.
“In coorse he wos,” said Bob.
“Then it’s my opinion,” replied the other, “that old Mr Temple’ll have to chase his son, and clap him in a strait-jacket w’en he catches him—if he talks such stuff.”
The porter could not understand a joke, and did not like one, so he turned on his heel, and, leaving his friends to laugh at their comrade’s jest, proceeded to the counting-room.
There were two counting-rooms—a small outer and a large inner one. In the outer room sat a tall middle-aged man, lanky and worn in appearance and with a red nose. Opposite to him, at the same desk, sat a small fat boy with a round red face, and no chin to speak of. The man was writing busily—the boy was drawing a caricature of the man, also busily.
Passing these, Bob Bowie entered the inner office, where a dozen clerks were all busily employed, or pretending to be so. Going straight onward like a homeward-bound ship, keeping his eyes right ahead, Bob was stranded at last in front of a green door, at which he knocked, and was answered with a hearty “Come in.”
The porter went in and found Fred Temple seated at a table which was covered with books and papers.
“Oh! I sent for you, Bowie, to say that I want you to go with me to Norway to-morrow morning.”
“To Norway, sir!” said Bowie in surprise.
“Ay, surely you’re not growing timid in your old age, Bob! It is but a short voyage of two or three days. My little schooner is a good sea-boat, and a first-rate sailor.”
“Why, as for bein’ timid,” said the porter, rubbing the end of his nose, which was copper-coloured and knotty, “I don’t think I ever knowed that there feelin’, but it does take a feller aback to be told all of a suddent, after he’s reg’larly laid up in port, to get ready to trip anchor in twelve hours and bear away over the North Sea—not that I cares a brass fardin’ for that fish-pond, blow high, blow low, but it’s raither suddent, d’ye see, and my rig ain’t just seaworthy.”
Bowie glanced uneasily at his garments, which were a cross between those of a railway-guard and a policeman.
“Never mind the rig, Bob,” cried Fred, laughing. “Do you get ready to start, with all the underclothing you have, by six to-morrow morning. We shall go to Hull by rail, and I will see to it that your top-sails are made all right.”
“Wery good, sir.”
“You’ve not forgotten how to make lobscouse or plum-duff, I dare say?”
Bob’s eyes brightened as he replied stoutly, “By no manner o’ means.”
“Then be off, and, remember, sharp six.”
“Ay, ay, sir,” cried the old seaman in a nautical tone that he had not used for many years, and the very sound of which stirred his heart with old memories. He was about to retire, but paused at the threshold of the green door.
“Beg parding, sir, but if I might make so bold as to ax—”
“Go on, Bob,” said Fred encouragingly.
“I heerd ye say to our cashier, sir, that you wos goin’ for to chase the sun. Wot sort of a chase may that be, sir?”
“Ha! Bowie, that’s a curious chase, but not a wild goose one, as I hope to show you in a month or two. You know, of course, that in the regions of the earth north of the Arctic Circle the sun shines by night as well as by day for several weeks in summer?”
“In coorse I do,” answered Bob; “every seaman knows that or ought for to know it; and that it’s dark all day as well as all night in winter for some weeks, just to make up for it, so to speak.”
“Well, Bob, I am very desirous to see this wonderful sight with my own eyes, but I fear I am almost too late of setting out. The season is so far advanced that the sun is setting farther and farther north every night, and if the winds baffle us I won’t be able to catch him sitting up all night; but if the winds serve, and we have plenty of them we may yet be in time to see him draw an unbroken circle in the sky. You see it will be a regular chase, for the sun travels north at a rapid pace. D’you understand?”
Bob Bowie grinned, nodded his head significantly, retired, and shut the door.
Fred Temple, left alone, seized a quill and scribbled off two notes,—one to a friend in Scotland, the other to a friend in Wales. The note to Scotland ran as follows:—
“My Dear Grant,—I have made up my mind to go to Norway for three months. Principal object to chase the sun. Secondary objects, health and amusement. Will you go? You will find my schooner comfortable, my society charming (if you make yourself agreeable), and no end of salmon-fishing and scenery. Reply by return of post. I go to Hull to-morrow, and will be there a week. This will give you ample time to get ready.
“Ever thine, Fred Temple.”
The note to Wales was addressed to Sam Sorrel, and was written in somewhat similar terms, but Sam being a painter by profession, the beauty of the scenery was enlarged on and held out as an inducement.
Both of Fred’s friends had been prepared some time before for this proposal, and both of them at once agreed to assist him in “chasing the sun!”
That night Frederick Temple dreamed that the sun smiled on him in a peculiarly sweet manner; he dreamed, still further, that it beckoned him to follow it to the far north, whereupon Fred was suddenly transformed into a gigantic locomotive engine; the sun all at once became a green dragon with pink eyes and a blue tail; and he set off in chase of it into the Arctic regions with a noise like a long roar of the loudest thunder!
The Storm and the First Adventure
A storm raged on the bosom of the North Sea. The wind whistled as if all the spirits of Ocean were warring with each other furiously. The waves writhed and tossed on the surface as if in agony. White foam, greenish-grey water, and leaden-coloured sky were all that met the eyes of the men who stood on the deck of a little schooner that rose and sank and staggered helplessly before the tempest.
Truly, it was a grand sight—a terrible sight—to behold that little craft battling with the storm. It suggested the idea of God’s might and forbearance,—of man’s daring and helplessness.
The schooner was named the Snowflake. It seemed, indeed, little heavier than a flake of snow, or a scrap of foam, in the grasp of that angry sea. On her deck stood five men. Four were holding on to the weather-shrouds; the fifth stood at the helm. There was only a narrow rag of the top-sail and the jib shown to the wind, and even this small amount of canvas caused the schooner to lie over so much that it seemed a wonder she did not upset.
Fred Temple was one of the men who held on to the weather-rigging; two of the others were his friends Grant and Sam Sorrel. The fourth was one of the crew, and the man at the helm was the Captain; for, although Fred understood a good deal of seamanship, he did not choose to take on his own shoulders the responsibility of navigating the yacht. He employed for that purpose a regular seaman whom he styled Captain, and never interfered with him, except to tell him where he wished to go.
Captain McNab was a big, tough, raw-boned man of the Orkney Islands. He was born at sea, had lived all his life at sea, and meant (so he said) to die at sea. He was a grim, hard-featured old fellow, with a face that had been so long battered by storms that it looked more like the figure-head of a South-Sea whaler than the countenance of a living man. He seldom smiled, and when he did he smiled grimly; never laughed, and never spoke when he could avoid it. He was wonderfully slow both in speech and in action, but he was a first-rate and fearless seaman, in whom the owner of the schooner had perfect confidence.
As we have fallen into a descriptive vein it may be as well to describe the rest of our friends offhand. Norman Grant was a sturdy Highlander, about the same size as his friend Temple, but a great contrast to him; for while Temple was fair and ruddy, Grant was dark, with hair, beard, whiskers, and moustache bushy and black as night. Grant was a Highlander in heart as well as in name, for he wore a Glengarry bonnet and a kilt, and did not seem at all ashamed of exposing to view his brown hairy knees. He was a hearty fellow, with a rich deep-toned voice, and a pair of eyes so black and glittering that they seemed to pierce right through you and come out at your back when he looked at you! Temple, on the contrary, was clad in grey tweed from head to foot, wideawake included, and looked, as he was, a thorough Englishman. Grant was a doctor by profession; by taste a naturalist. He loved to shoot and stuff birds of every shape and size and hue, and to collect and squeeze flat plants of every form and name. His rooms at home were filled with strange specimens of birds, beasts, fishes, and plants from every part of Scotland, England, and Ireland—to the disgust of his old nurse, whose duty it was to dust them, and to the delight of his little brother, whose self-imposed duty it was to pull out their tails and pick out their eyes!
Grant’s trip to Norway promised a rich harvest in a new field, so he went there with romantic anticipations.
Sam Sorrel was like neither of his companions. He was a little fellow—a mere spider of a man, and extremely thin; so thin that it seemed as if his skin had been drawn over the bones in a hurry and the flesh forgotten! The Captain once said to Bob Bowie in a moment of confidence that Mr Sorrel was a “mere spunk,” whereupon Bob nodded his head, and added that he was no better than “half a fathom of pump water.”
If there was little of Sam, however, that little was good stuff. It has been said that he was a painter by profession. Certainly there was not a more enthusiastic artist in the kingdom. Sam was a strange mixture of earnestness, enthusiasm, and fun. Although as thin as a walking-stick, and almost as flat as a pancake, he was tough like wire, could walk any distance, could leap farther than anybody, and could swim like a cork. His features were sharp, prominent and exceedingly handsome. His eyes were large, dark, and expressive, and were surmounted by delicate eyebrows which moved about continually with every changeful feeling that filled his breast. When excited his glance was magnificent, and the natural wildness of his whole aspect was increased by the luxuriance of his brown hair, which hung in long elf-locks over his shoulders. Among his intimates he was known by the name of “Mad Sam Sorrel.”
When we have said that the crew of the schooner consisted of six picked men besides those described and our friend Bob Bowie, we have enumerated all the human beings who stood within the bulwarks of that trim little yacht on that stormy summer’s day.
There was, however, one other being on board that deserves notice. It was Sam Sorrel’s dog.
Like its master, this dog was a curious creature. It was little and thin, and without form of any distinct or positive kind. If we could suppose that this dog had been permitted to make itself, and that it had begun with the Skye-terrier, suddenly changed its mind and attempted to come the poodle, then midway in this effort had got itself very much dishevelled, and become so entangled that it was too late to do anything better than finish off with a wild attempt at a long-eared spaniel, one could understand how such a creature as “Titian” had come into existence.
Sam had meant to pay a tribute of respect to the great painter when he named his dog Titian. But having done his duty in this matter, he found it convenient to shorten the name into Tit—sometimes Tittles. Tittles had no face whatever, as far as could be seen by the naked eye. His whole misshapen body was covered with long shaggy hair of a light grey colour. Only the end of his black nose was visible in front and the extreme point of his tail in rear. But for these two landmarks it would have been utterly impossible to tell which end of the dog was which.
Somehow the end of his tail had been singed or skinned or burned, for it was quite naked, and not much thicker than a pipe-stem.
Tittles was extremely sensitive in regard to this, and could not bear to have his miserable projection touched.
How that storm did rage, to be sure! The whole sea was lashed into a boiling sheet of foam, and the schooner lay over so much that it was impossible for the men to stand on the deck. At times it seemed as if she were thrown on her beam-ends; but the good yacht was buoyant as a cork, and she rose again from every fresh blast like an unconquerable warrior.
“It seems to me that the masts will be torn out of her,” said Temple to the Captain, as he grasped the brass rail that surrounded the quarterdeck, and gazed upward with some anxiety.
“No fear o’ her,” said the Captain, turning the quid of tobacco in his cheek; “she’s a tight boat, an’ could stand a heavier sea than this.