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James Rusk, email@example.com.]
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THE FROZEN DEEP
by Wilkie Collins
First Scene--The Ball-room
The date is between twenty and thirty years ago. The place is an
English sea-port. The time is night. And the business of the
The Mayor and Corporation of the town are giving a grand ball, in
celebration of the departure of an Arctic expedition from their
port. The ships of the expedition are two in number--the
_Wanderer_ and the _Sea-mew_. They are to sail (in search of the
Northwest Passage) on the next day, with the morning tide.
Honor to the Mayor and Corporation! It is a brilliant ball. The
band is complete. The room is spacious. The large conservatory
opening out of it is pleasantly lighted with Chinese lanterns,
and beautifully decorated with shrubs and flowers. All officers
of the army and navy who are present wear their uniforms in honor
of the occasion. Among the ladies, the display of dresses (a
subject which the men don't understand) is bewildering--and the
average of beauty (a subject which the men do understand) is the
highest average attainable, in all parts of the room.
For the moment, the dance which is in progress is a quadrille.
General admiration selects two of the ladies who are dancing as
its favorite objects. One is a dark beauty in the prime of
womanhood--the wife of First Lieutenant Crayford, of the
_Wanderer_. The other is a young girl, pale and delicate; dressed
simply in white; with no ornament on her head but her own lovely
brown hair. This is Miss Clara Burnham--an orphan. She is Mrs.
Crayford's dearest friend, and she is to stay with Mrs. Crayford
during the lieutenant's absence in the Arctic regions. She is now
dancing, with the lieutenant himself for partner, and with Mrs.
Crayford and Captain Helding (commanding officer of the
_Wanderer_) for vis-a-vis--in plain English, for opposite couple.
The conversation between Captain Helding and Mrs. Crayford, in
one of the intervals of the dance, turns on Miss Burnham. The
captain is greatly interested in Clara. He admires her beauty;
but he thinks her manner--for a young girl--strangely serious and
subdued. Is she in delicate health?
Mrs. Crayford shakes her head; sighs mysteriously; and answers,
"In _very_ delicate health, Captain Helding."
"Not in the least."
"I am glad to hear that. She is a charming creature, Mrs.
Crayford. She interests me indescribably. If I was only twenty
years younger--perhaps (as I am not twenty years younger) I had
better not finish the sentence? Is it indiscreet, my dear lady,
to inquire what _is_ the matter with her?"
"It might be indiscreet, on the part of a stranger," said Mrs.
Crayford. "An old friend like you may make any inquiries. I wish
I could tell you what is the matter with Clara. It is a mystery
to the doctors themselves. Some of the mischief is due, in my
humble opinion, to the manner in which she has been brought up."
"Ay! ay! A bad school, I suppose."
"Very bad, Captain Helding. But not the sort of school which you
have in your mind at this moment. Clara's early years were spent
in a lonely old house in the Highlands of Scotland. The ignorant
people about her were the people who did the mischief which I
have just been speaking of. They filled her mind with the
superstitions which are still respected as truths in the wild
North--especially the superstition called the Second Sight."
"God bless me!" cried the captain, "you don't mean to say she
believes in such stuff as that? In these enlightened times too!"
Mrs. Crayford looked at her partner with a satirical smile.
"In these enlightened times, Captain Helding, we only believe in
dancing tables, and in messages sent from the other world by
spirits who can't spell! By comparison with such superstitions as
these, even the Second Sight has something--in the shape of
poetry--to recommend it, surely? Estimate for yourself," she
continued seriously, "the effect of such surroundings as I have
described on a delicate, sensitive young creature--a girl with a
naturally imaginative temperament leading a lonely, neglected
life. Is it so very surprising that she should catch the
infection of the superstition about her? And is it quite
incomprehensible that her nervous system should suffer
accordingly, at a very critical period of her life?"
"Not at all, Mrs. Crayford--not at all, ma'am, as you put it.
Still it is a little startling, to a commonplace man like me, to
meet a young lady at a ball who believes in the Second Sight.
Does she really profess to see into the future? Am I to
understand that she positively falls into a trance, and sees
people in distant countries, and foretells events to come? That
is the Second Sight, is it not?"
"That is the Second Sight, captain. And that is, really and
positively, what she does."
"The young lady who is dancing opposite to us?"
"The young lady who is dancing opposite to us."
The captain waited a little--letting the new flood of information
which had poured in on him settle itself steadily in his mind.
This process accomplished, the Arctic explorer proceeded
resolutely on his way to further discoveries.
"May I ask, ma'am, if you have ever seen her in a state of trance
with your own eyes?" he inquired.
"My sister and I both saw her in the trance, little more than a
month since," Mrs. Crayford replied. "She had been nervous and
irritable all the morning; and we took her out into the garden to
breathe the fresh air. Suddenly, without any reason for it, the
color left her face. She stood between us, insensible to touch,
insensible to sound; motionless as stone, and cold as death in a
moment. The first change we noticed came after a lapse of some
minutes. Her hands began to move slowly, as if she was groping in
the dark. Words dropped one by one from her lips, in a lost,
vacant tone, as if she was talking in her sleep. Whether what she
said referred to past or future I cannot tell you. She spoke of
persons in a foreign country--perfect strangers to my sister and
to me. After a little interval, she suddenly became silent. A
momentary color appeared in her face, and left it again. Her eyes
closed--her feet failed her--and she sank insensible into our
"Sank insensible into your arms," repeated the captain, absorbing
his new information. "Most extraordinary! And--in this state of
health--she goes out to parties, and dances. More extraordinary
"You are entirely mistaken," said Mrs. Crayford. "She is only
here to-night to please me; and she is only dancing to please my
husband. As a rule, she shuns all society. The doctor recommends
change and amusement for her. She won't listen to him. Except on
rare occasions like this, she persists in remaining at home."
Captain Helding brightened at the allusion to the doctor.
Something practical might be got out of the doctor. Scientific
man. Sure to see this very obscure subject under a new light.
"How does it strike the doctor now?" said the captain. "Viewed
simply as a Case, ma'am, how does it strike the doctor?"
"He will give no positive opinion," Mrs. Crayford answered. "He
told me that such cases as Clara's were by no means unfamiliar to
medical practice. 'We know,' he told me, 'that certain disordered
conditions of the brain and the nervous system produce results
quite as extraordinary as any that you have described--and there
our knowledge ends. Neither my science nor any man's science can
clear up the mystery in this case. It is an especially difficult
case to deal with, because Miss Burnham's early associations
dispose her to attach a superstitious importance to the
malady--the hysterical malady as some doctors would call it--from
which she suffers. I can give you instructions for preserving her
general health; and I can recommend you to try some change in her
life--provided you first relieve her mind of any secret anxieties
that may possibly be preying on it.'"
The captain smiled self-approvingly. The doctor had justified his
anticipations. The doctor had suggested a practical solution of
"Ay! ay! At last we have hit the nail on the h ead! Secret
anxieties. Yes! yes! Plain enough now. A disappointment in
love--eh, Mrs. Crayford?"
"I don't know, Captain Helding; I am quite in the dark. Clara's
confidence in me--in other matters unbounded--is, in this matter
of her (supposed) anxieties, a confidence still withheld. In all
else we are like sisters. I sometimes fear there may indeed be
some trouble preying secretly on her mind. I sometimes feel a
little hurt at her incomprehensible silence."
Captain Helding was ready with his own practical remedy for this
"Encouragement is all she wants, ma'am. Take my word for it, this
matter rests entirely with you. It's all in a nutshell. Encourage
her to confide in you--and she _will_ confide."
"I am waiting to encourage her, captain, until she is left alone
with me--after you have all sailed for the Arctic seas. In the
meantime, will you consider what I have said to you as intended
for your ear only? And will you forgive me, if I own that the
turn the subject has taken does not tempt me to pursue it any
The captain took the hint. He instantly changed the subject;
choosing, on this occasion, safe professional topics. He spoke of
ships that were ordered on foreign service; and, finding that
these as subjects failed to interest Mrs. Crayford, he spoke next
of ships that were ordered home again. This last experiment
produced its effect--an effect which the captain had not
"Do you know," he began, "that the _Atalanta_ is expected back
from the West Coast of Africa every day? Have you any
acquaintances among the officers of that ship?"
As it so happened, he put those questions to Mrs. Crayford while
they were engaged in one of the figures of the dance which
brought them within hearing of the opposite couple. At the same
moment--to the astonishment of her friends and admirers--Miss
Clara Burnham threw the quadrille into confusion by making a
mistake! Everybody waited to see her set the mistake right. She
made no attempt to set it right--she turned deadly pale and
caught her partner by the arm.
"The heat!" she said, faintly. "Take me away--take me into the
Lieutenant Crayford instantly led her out of the dance, and took
her into the cool and empty conservatory, at the end of the room.
As a matter of course, Captain Helding and Mrs. Crayford left the
quadrille at the same time. The captain saw his way to a joke.
"Is this the trance coming on?" he whispered. "If it is, as
commander of the Arctic expedition, I have a particular request
to make. Will the Second Sight oblige me by seeing the shortest
way to the Northwest Passage, before we leave England?"
Mrs. Crayford declined to humor the joke. "If you will excuse my
leaving you," she said quietly, "I will try and find out what is
the matter with Miss Burnham."
At the entrance to the conservatory, Mrs. Crayford encountered
her husband. The lieutenant was of middle age, tall and comely. A
man with a winning simplicity and gentleness in his manner, and
an irresistible kindness in his brave blue eyes. In one word, a
man whom everybody loved--including his wife.
"Don't be alarmed," said the lieutenant. "The heat has overcome
Mrs. Crayford shook her head, and looked at her husband, half
satirically, half fondly.
"You dear old innocent!" she exclaimed, "that excuse may do for
_you_. For my part, I don't believe a word of it. Go and get
another partner, and leave Clara to me."
She entered the conservatory and seated herself by Clara's side.
"Now, my dear!" Mrs. Crayford began, "what does this mean?"
"That won't do, Clara. Try again."
"The heat of the room--"
"That won't do, either. Say that you choose to keep your own
secrets, and I shall understand what you mean."
Clara's sad, clear gray eyes looked up for the first time in Mrs.
Crayford's face, and suddenly became dimmed with tears.
"If I only dared tell you!" she murmured. "I hold so to your good
opinion of me, Lucy--and I am so afraid of losing it."
Mrs. Crayford's manner changed. Her eyes rested gravely and
anxiously on Clara's face.
"You know as well as I do that nothing can shake my affection for
you," she said. "Do justice, my child, to your old friend. There
is nobody here to listen to what we say. Open your heart, Clara.
I see you are in trouble, and I want to comfort you."
Clara began to yield. In other words, she began to make
"Will you promise to keep what I tell you a secret from every
living creature?" she began.
Mrs. Crayford met that question, by putting a question on her
"Does 'every living creature' include my husband?"
"Your husband more than anybody! I love him, I revere him. He is
so noble; he is so good! If I told him what I am going to tell
you, he would despise me. Own it plainly, Lucy, if I am asking
too much in asking you to keep a secret from your husband."
"Nonsense, child! When you are married, you will know that the
easiest of all secrets to keep is a secret from your husband. I
give you my promise. Now begin!"
Clara hesitated painfully.
"I don't know how to begin!" she exclaimed, with a burst of
despair. "The words won't come to me."
"Then I must help you. Do you feel ill tonight? Do you feel as
you felt that day when you were with my sister and me in the
"You are not ill, you are not really affected by the heat--and
yet you turn as pale as ashes, and you are obliged to leave the
quadrille! There must be some reason for this."
"There is a reason. Captain Helding--"
"Captain Helding! What in the name of wonder has the captain to
do with it?"
"He told you something about the _Atalanta_. He said the
_Atalanta_ was expected back from Africa immediately."
"Well, and what of that? Is there anybody in whom you are
interested coming home in the ship?"
"Somebody whom I am afraid of is coming home in the ship."
Mrs. Crayford's magnificent black eyes opened wide in amazement.
"My dear Clara! do you really mean what you say?"
"Wait a little, Lucy, and you shall judge for yourself. We must
go back--if I am to make you understand me--to the year before we
knew each other--to the last year of my father's life. Did I ever
tell you that my father moved southward, for the sake of his
health, to a house in Kent that was lent to him by a friend?"
"No, my dear; I don't remember ever hearing of the house in Kent.
Tell me about it."
"There is nothing to tell, except this: the new house was near a
fine country-seat standing in its own park. The owner of the
place was a gentleman named Wardour. He, too, was one of my
father's Kentish friends. He had an only son."
She paused, and played nervously with her fan. Mrs. Crayford
looked at her attentively. Clara's eyes remained fixed on her
fan--Clara said no more. "What was the son's name?" asked Mrs.
"Am I right, Clara, in suspecting that Mr. Richard Wardour
The question produced its intended effect. The question helped
Clara to go on.
"I hardly knew at first," she said, "whether he admired me or
not. He was very strange in his ways--headstrong, terribly
headstrong and passionate; but generous and affectionate in spite
of his faults of temper. Can you understand such a character?"
"Such characters exist by thousands. I have my faults of temper.
I begin to like Richard already. Go on."
"The days went by, Lucy, and the weeks went by. We were thrown
very much together. I began, little by little, to have some
suspicion of the truth."
"And Richard helped to confirm your suspicions, of course?
"No. He was not--unhappily for me--he was not that sort of man.
He never spoke of the feeling with which he regarded me. It was I
who saw it. I couldn't help seeing it. I did all I could to show
that I was willing to be a sister to him, and that I could never
be anything else. He did not understand me, or he would not, I
can't say which."
"'Would not,' is the most likely, my dear. Go on."
"It might have been as you say. There was a strange, rough
bashfulness about him. He confused and puzzled me. He never spoke
out. He seemed to treat me as if our future lives had been
provided for while we were
children. What could I do, Lucy?"
"Do? You could have asked your father to end the difficulty for
"Impossible! You forget what I have just told you. My father was
suffering at that time under the illness which afterward caused
his death. He was quite unfit to interfere."
"Was there no one else who could help you?"
"No lady in whom you could confide?"
"I had acquaintances among the ladies in the neighborhood. I had
"What did you do, then?"
"Nothing. I hesitated; I put off coming to an explanation with
him, unfortunately, until it was too late."
"What do you mean by too late?"
"You shall hear. I ought to have told you that Richard Wardour is
in the navy--"
"Indeed! I am more interested in him than ever. Well?"
"One spring day Richard came to our house to take leave of us
before he joined his ship. I thought he was gone, and I went into
the next room. It was my own sitting-room, and it opened on to
"Richard must have been watching me. He suddenly appeared in the
garden. Without waiting for me to invite him, he walked into the
room. I was a little startled as well as surprised, but I managed
to hide it. I said, 'What is it, Mr. Wardour?' He stepped close
up to me; he said, in his quick, rough way: 'Clara! I am going to
the African coast. If I live, I shall come back promoted; and we
both know what will happen then.' He kissed me. I was half
frightened, half angry. Before I could compose myself to say a
word, he was out in the garden again--he was gone! I ought to
have spoken, I know. It was not honorable, not kind toward him.
You can't reproach me for my want of courage and frankness more
bitterly than I reproach myself!"
"My dear child, I don't reproach you. I only think you might have
written to him."
"I did write."
"Yes. I told him in so many words that he was deceiving himself,
and that I could never marry him."
"Plain enough, in all conscience! Having said that, surely you
are not to blame. What are you fretting about now?"
"Suppose my letter has never reached him?"
"Why should you suppose anything of the sort?"
"What I wrote required an answer, Lucy--_asked_ for an answer.
The answer has never come. What is the plain conclusion? My
letter has never reached him. And the _Atalanta_ is expected
back! Richard Wardour is returning to England--Richard Wardour
will claim me as his wife! You wondered just now if I really
meant what I said. Do you doubt it still?"
Mrs. Crayford leaned back absently in her chair. For the first
time since the conversation had begun, she let a question pass
without making a reply. The truth is, Mrs. Crayford was thinking.
She saw Clara's position plainly; she understood the disturbing
effect of it on the mind of a young girl. Still, making all
allowances, she felt quite at a loss, so far, to account for
Clara's excessive agitation. Her quick observing faculty had just
detected that Clara's face showed no signs of relief, now that
she had unburdened herself of her secret. There was something
clearly under the surface here--something of importance that
still remained to be discovered. A shrewd doubt crossed Mrs.
Crayford's mind, and inspired the next words which she addressed
to her young friend.
"My dear," she said abruptly, "have you told me all?"
Clara started as if the question terrified her. Feeling sure that
she now had the clew in her hand, Mrs. Crayford deliberately
repeated her question, in another form of words. Instead of
answering, Clara suddenly looked up. At the same moment a faint
flush of color appeared in her face for the first time.
Looking up instinctively on her side, Mrs. Crayford became aware
of the presence, in the conservatory, of a young gentleman who
was claiming Clara as his partner in the coming waltz. Mrs.
Crayford fell into thinking once more. Had this young gentleman
(she asked herself) anything to do with the untold end of the
story? Was this the true secret of Clara Burnham's terror at the
impending return of Richard Wardour? Mrs. Crayford decided on
putting her doubts to the test.
"A friend of yours, my dear?" she asked, innocently. "Suppose you
introduce us to each other."
Clara confusedly introduced the young gentleman.
"Mr. Francis Aldersley, Lucy. Mr. Aldersley belongs to the Arctic
"Attached to the expedition?" Mrs. Crayford repeated. "I am
attached to the expedition too--in my way. I had better introduce
myself, Mr. Aldersley, as Clara seems to have forgotten to do it
for me. I am Mrs. Crayford. My husband is Lieutenant Crayford, of
the _Wanderer_. Do you belong to that ship?"
"I have not the honor, Mrs. Crayford. I belong to the _Sea-mew_."
Mrs. Crayford's superb eyes looked shrewdly backward and forward
between Clara and Francis Aldersley, and saw the untold sequel to
Clara's story. The young officer was a bright, handsome,
gentleman-like lad. Just the person to seriously complicate the
difficulty with Richard Wardour! There was no time for making any
further inquiries. The band had begun the prelude to the waltz,
and Francis Aldersley was waiting for his partner. With a word of
apology to the young man, Mrs. Crayford drew Clara aside for a
moment, and spoke to her in a whisper.
"One word, my dear, before you return to the ball-room. It may
sound conceited, after the little you have told me; but I think I
understand your position _now_, better than you do yourself. Do
you want to hear my opinion?"
"I am longing to hear it, Lucy! I want your opinion; I want your
"You shall have both in the plainest and fewest words. First, my
opinion: You have no choice but to come to an explanation with
Mr. Wardour as soon as he returns. Second, my advice: If you wish
to make the explanation easy to both sides, take care that you
make it in the character of a free woman."
She laid a strong emphasis on the last three words, and looked
pointedly at Francis Aldersley as she pronounced them. "I won't
keep you from your partner any longer, Clara," she resumed, and
led the way back to the ball-room.
The burden on Clara's mind weighs on it more heavily than ever,
after what Mrs. Crayford has said to her. She is too unhappy to
feel the inspiriting influence of the dance. After a turn round
the room, she complains of fatigue. Mr. Francis Aldersley looks
at the conservatory (still as invitingly cool and empty as ever);
leads her back to it; and places her on a seat among the shrubs.
She tries--very feebly--to dismiss him.
"Don't let me keep you from dancing, Mr. Aldersley."
He seats himself by her side, and feasts his eyes on the lovely
downcast face that dares not turn toward him. He whispers to her:
"Call me Frank."
She longs to call him Frank--she loves him with all her heart.
But Mrs. Crayford's warning words are still in her mind. She
never opens her lips. Her lover moves a little closer, and asks
another favor. Men are all alike on these occasions. Silence
invariably encourages them to try again.
"Clara! have you forgotten what I said at the concert yesterday?
May I say it again?"
"We sail to-morrow for the Arctic seas. I may not return for
years. Don't send me away without hope! Think of the long, lonely
time in the dark North! Make it a happy time for _me_."
Though he speaks with the fervor of a man, he is little more than
a lad: he is only twenty years old, and he is going to risk his
young life on the frozen deep! Clara pities him as she never
pitied any human creature before. He gently takes her hand. She
tries to release it.
"What! not even that little favor on the last night?"
Her faithful heart takes his part, in spite of her. Her hand
remains in his, and feels its soft persuasive pressure. She is a
lost woman. It is only a question of time now!
"Clara! do you love me?"
There is a pause. She shrinks from looking at him--she trembles
with strange contradictory sensations of pleasure and pain. His
arm steals round her; he repeats his question in a whisper; his
lips almost touch her little rosy ear as he says it again:
"Do you love me?"
She closes her eyes faintly--she hears nothing but those
words--feels nothing but his arm round her --forgets Mrs.
Crayford's warning--forgets Richard Wardour himself--turns
suddenly, with a loving woman's desperate disregard of everything
but her love--nestles her head on his bosom, and answers him in
that way, at last!
He lifts the beautiful drooping head--their lips meet in their
first kiss--they are both in heaven: it is Clara who brings them
back to earth again with a start--it is Clara who says, "Oh! what
have I done?"--as usual, when it is too late.
Frank answers the question.
"You have made me happy, my angel. Now, when I come back, I come
back to make you my wife."
She shudders. She remembers Richard Wardour again at those words.
"Mind!" she says, "nobody is to know we are engaged till I permit
you to mention it. Remember that!"
He promises to remember it. His arm tries to wind round her once
more. No! She is mistress of herself; she can positively dismiss
him now--after she has let him kiss her!
"Go!" she says. "I want to see Mrs. Crayford. Find her! Say I am
here, waiting to speak to her. Go at once, Frank--for my sake!"
There is no alternative but to obey her. His eyes drink a last
draught of her beauty. He hurries away on his errand--the
happiest man in the room. Five minutes since she was only his
partner in the dance. He has spoken--and she has pledged herself
to be his partner for life!
It was not easy to find Mrs. Crayford in the crowd. Searching
here, and searching there, Frank became conscious of a stranger,
who appeared to be looking for somebody, on his side. He was a
dark, heavy-browed, strongly-built man, dressed in a shabby old
naval officer's uniform. His manner--strikingly resolute and
self-contained--was unmistakably the manner of a gentleman. He
wound his way slowly through the crowd; stopping to look at every
lady whom he passed, and then looking away again with a frown.
Little by little he approached the conservatory--entered it,
after a moment's reflection--detected the glimmer of a white
dress in the distance, through the shrubs and flowers--advanced
to get a nearer view of the lady--and burst into Clara's presence
with a cry of delight.
She sprang to her feet. She stood before him speechless,
motionless, struck to stone. All her life was in her eyes--the
eyes which told her she was looking at Richard Wardour.
He was the first to speak.
"I am sorry I startled you, my darling. I forgot everything but
the happiness of seeing you again. We only reached our moorings
two hours since. I was some time inquiring after you, and some
time getting my ticket when they told me you were at the ball.
Wish me joy, Clara! I am promoted. I have come back to make you
A momentary change passed over the blank terror of her face. Her
color rose faintly, her lips moved. She abruptly put a question
"Did you get my letter?"
He started. "A letter from you? I never received it."
The momentary animation died out of her face again. She drew back
from him and dropped into a chair. He advanced toward her,
astonished and alarmed. She shrank in the chair--shrank, as if
she was frightened of him.
"Clara, you have not even shaken hands with me! What does it
He paused; waiting and watching her. She made no reply. A flash
of the quick temper in him leaped up in his eyes. He repeated his
last words in louder and sterner tones:
"What does it mean?"
She replied this time. His tone had hurt her--his tone had roused
her sinking courage.
"It means, Mr. Wardour, that you have been mistaken from the
"How have I been mistaken?"
"You have been under a wrong impression, and you have given me no
opportunity of setting you right."
"In what way have I been wrong?"
"You have been too hasty and too confident about yourself and
about me. You have entirely misunderstood me. I am grieved to
distress you, but for your sake I must speak plainly. I am your
friend always, Mr. Wardour. I can never be your wife."
He mechanically repeated the last words. He seemed to doubt
whether he had heard her aright.
"You can never be my wife?"
There was no answer. She was incapable of telling him a
falsehood. She was ashamed to tell him the truth.
He stooped over her, and suddenly possessed himself of her hand.
Holding her hand firmly, he stooped a little lower; searching for
the signs which might answer him in her face. His own face
darkened slowly while he looked. He was beginning to suspect her;
and he acknowledged it in his next words.
"Something has changed you toward me, Clara. Somebody has
influenced you against me. Is it--you force me to ask the
question--is it some other man?"
"You have no right to ask me that."
He went on without noticing what she had said to him.
"Has that other man come between you and me? I speak plainly on
my side. Speak plainly on yours."
"I _have_ spoken. I have nothing more to say."
There was a pause. She saw the warning light which told of the
fire within him, growing brighter and brighter in his eyes. She
felt his grasp strengthening on her hand. He appealed to her for
the last time.
"Reflect," he said, "reflect before it is too late. Your silence
will not serve you. If you persist in not answering me, I shall
take your silence as a confession. Do you hear me?"
"I hear you."
"Clara Burnham! I am not to be trifled with. Clara Burnham! I
insist on the truth. Are you false to me?"
She resented that searching question with a woman's keen sense of
the insult that is implied in doubting her to her face.
"Mr. Wardour! you forget yourself when you call me to account in
that way. I never encouraged you. I never gave you promise or
He passionately interrupted her before she could say more.
"You have engaged yourself in my absence. Your words own it; your
looks own it! You have engaged yourself to another man!"
"If I _have_ engaged myself, what right have you to complain of
it?" she answered firmly. "What right have you to control my
The next words died away on her lips. He suddenly dropped her
hand. A marked change appeared in the expression of his eyes--a
change which told her of the terrible passions that she had let
loose in him. She read, dimly read, something in his face which
made her tremble--not for herself, but for Frank.
Little by little the dark color faded out of his face. His deep
voice dropped suddenly to a low and quiet tone as he spoke the
"Say no more, Miss Burnham--you have said enough. I am answered;
I am dismissed." He paused, and, stepping close up to her, laid
his hand on her arm.
"The time may come," he said, "when I shall forgive you. But the
man who has robbed me of you shall rue the day when you and he
He turned and left her.
A few minutes later, Mrs. Crayford, entering the conservatory,
was met by one of the attendants at the ball. The man stopped as
if he wished to speak to her.
"What do you want?" she asked.
"I beg your pardon, ma'am. Do you happen to have a
smelling-bottle about you? There is a young lady in the
conservatory who is taken faint."
Between the Scenes
The Landing Stage
The morning of the next day--the morning on which the ships were
to sail--came bright and breezy. Mrs. Crayford, having arranged
to follow her husband to the water-side, and see the last of him
before he embarked, entered Clara's room on her way out of the
house, anxious to hear how her young friend passed the night. To
her astonishment she found Clara had risen, and was dressed, like
herself, to go out.
"What does this mean, my dear? After what you suffered last
night--after the shock of seeing that man--why don't you take my
advice and rest in your bed?"
"I can't rest. I have not slept all night. Have you been out
"Have you seen or heard anything of Richard Wardour?"
"What an extraordinary question!"
"Answer my question! Don't trifle with me!"
"Compose yourself, Clara. I have neither seen nor heard anything
of Richard Wardour. Take my word for it, he is far enough away by
"No! He is here! He is near us! All night long the presentiment
has pursued me--Frank and Richard Wardour will meet."
"My dear child! what are you thinking of? T hey are total
strangers to each other."
"Something will happen to bring them together. I feel it! I know
it! They will meet--there will be a mortal quarrel between
them--and I shall be to blame. Oh, Lucy! why didn't I take your
advice? Why was I mad enough to let Frank know that I loved him?
Are you going to the landing-stage? I am all ready--I must go
"You must not think of it, Clara. There will be crowding and
confusion at the water-side. You are not strong enough to bear
it. Wait--I won't be long away--wait till I come back."
"I must and will go with you! Crowd? _He_ will be among the
crowd! Confusion? In that confusion _he_ will find his way to
Frank! Don't ask me to wait. I shall go mad if I wait. I shall
not know a moment's ease until I have seen Frank, with my own
eyes, safe in the boat which takes him to his ship! You have got
your bonnet on; what are we stopping here for? Come! or I shall
go without you. Look at the clock; we have not a moment to lose!"
It was useless to contend with her. Mrs. Crayford yielded. The
two women left the house together.
The landing-stage, as Mrs. Crayford had predicted, was thronged
with spectators. Not only the relatives and friends of the Arctic
voyagers, but strangers as well, had assembled in large numbers
to see the ships sail. Clara's eyes wandered affrightedly hither
and thither among the strange faces in the crowd; searching for
the one face that she dreaded to see, and not finding it. So
completely were her nerves unstrung, that she started with a cry
of alarm on suddenly hearing Frank's voice behind her.
"The _Sea-mew_'s boats are waiting," he said. "I must go,
darling. How pale you are looking, Clara! Are you ill?"
She never answered. She questioned him with wild eyes and
"Has anything happened to you, Frank? anything out of the
Frank laughed at the strange question.
"Anything out of the common?" he repeated. "Nothing that I know
of, except sailing for the Arctic seas. That's out of the common,
I suppose--isn't it?"
"Has anybody spoken to you since last night? Has any stranger
followed you in the street?"
Frank turned in blank amazement to Mrs. Crayford.
"What on earth does she mean?"
Mrs. Crayford's lively invention supplied her with an answer on
the spur of the moment.
"Do you believe in dreams, Frank? Of course you don't! Clara has
been dreaming about you; and Clara is foolish enough to believe
in dreams. That's all--it's not worth talking about. Hark! they
are calling you. Say good-by, or you will be too late for the
Frank took Clara's hand. Long afterward--in the dark Arctic days,
in the dreary Arctic nights--he remembered how coldly and how
passively that hand lay in his.
"Courage, Clara!" he said, gayly. "A sailor's sweetheart must
accustom herself to partings. The time will soon pass. Good-by,
my darling! Good-by, my wife!"
He kissed the cold hand; he looked his last--for many a long
year, perhaps!--at the pale and beautiful face. "How she loves
me!" he thought. "How the parting distresses her!" He still held
her hand; he would have lingered longer, if Mrs. Crayford had not
wisely waived all ceremony and pushed him away.
The two ladies followed him at a safe distance through the crowd,
and saw him step into the boat. The oars struck the water; Frank
waved his cap to Clara. In a moment more a vessel at anchor hid
the boat from view. They had seen the last of him on his way to
the Frozen Deep!
"No Richard Wardour in the boat," said Mrs. Crayford. "No Richard
Wardour on the shore. Let this be a lesson to you, my dear. Never
be foolish enough to believe in presentiments again."
Clara's eyes still wandered suspiciously to and fro among the
"Are you not satisfied yet?" asked Mrs. Crayford.
"No," Clara answered, "I am not satisfied yet."
"What! still looking for him? This is really too absurd. Here is
my husband coming. I shall tell him to call a cab, and send you
Clara drew back a few steps.
"I won't be in the way, Lucy, while you are taking leave of your
good husband," she said. "I will wait here."
"Wait here! What for?"
"For something which I may yet see; or for something which I may
Mrs. Crayford turned to her husband without another word. Clara's
infatuation was beyond the reach of remonstrance.
The boats of the _Wanderer_ took the place at the landing-stage
vacated by the boats of the _Sea-mew_. A burst of cheering among
the outer ranks of the crowd announced the arrival of the
commander of the expedition on the scene. Captain Helding
appeared, looking right and left for his first lieutenant.
Finding Crayford with his wife, the captain made his apologies
for interfering, with his best grace.
"Give him up to his professional duties for one minute, Mrs.
Crayford, and you shall have him back again for half an hour. The
Arctic expedition is to blame, my dear lady--not the captain--for
parting man and wife. In Crayford's place, I should have left it
to the bachelors to find the Northwest Passage, and have stopped
at home with you!"
Excusing himself in those bluntly complimentary terms, Captain
Helding drew the lieutenant aside a few steps, accidentally
taking a direction that led the two officers close to the place
at which Clara was standing. Both the captain and the lieutenant
were too completely absorbed in their professional business to
notice her. Neither the one nor the other had the faintest
suspicion that she could and did hear every word of the talk that
passed between them.
"You received my note this morning?" the captain began.
"Certainly, Captain Helding, or I should have been on board the
ship before this."
"I am going on board myself at once," the captain proceeded, "but
I must ask you to keep your boat waiting for half an hour more.
You will be all the longer with your wife, you know. I thought of
"I am much obliged to you, Captain Helding. I suppose there is
some other reason for inverting the customary order of things,
and keeping the lieutenant on shore after the captain is on
"Quite true! there _is_ another reason. I want you to wait for a
volunteer who has just joined us."
"Yes. He has his outfit to get in a hurry, and he may be half an
"It's rather a sudden appointment, isn't it?"
"No doubt. Very sudden."
"And--pardon me--it's rather a long time (as we are situated) to
keep the ships waiting for one man?"
"Quite true, again. But a man who is worth having is worth
waiting for. This man is worth having; this man is worth his
weight in gold to such an expedition as ours. Seasoned to all
climates and all fatigues--a strong fellow, a brave fellow, a
clever fellow--in short, an excellent officer. I know him well,
or I should never have taken him. The country gets plenty of work
out of my new volunteer, Crayford. He only returned yesterday
from foreign service."
"He only returned yesterday from foreign service! And he
volunteers this morning to join the Arctic expedition? You
"I dare say I do! You can't be more astonished than I was, when
he presented himself at my hotel and told me what he wanted.
'Why, my good fellow, you have just got home,' I said. 'Are you
weary of your freedom, after only a few hours' experience of it?'
His answer rather startled me. He said, 'I am weary of my life,
sir. I have come home and found a trouble to welcome me, which
goes near to break my heart. If I don't take refuge in absence
and hard work, I am a lost man. Will you give me a refuge?'
That's what he said, Crayford, word for word."
"Did you ask him to explain himself further?"
"Not I! I knew his value, and I took the poor devil on the spot,
without pestering him with any more questions. No need to ask him
to explain himself. The facts speak for themselves in these
cases. The old story, my good friend! There's a woman at the
bottom of it, of course."
Mrs. Crayford, waiting for the return of her husband as patiently
as she could, was startled by feeling a hand suddenly laid on her
shoulder. She looked round, and confronted Clara. Her first
feeling of surprise changed instantly to alarm. Clara was
trembling from head to foot.
"What is the matter? What has frightened you, my dear?"
"Lucy! I _have_ heard of him!"
"Richard Wardour again?"
"Remember what I told you. I have heard every word of the
conversation between Captain Helding and your husband. A man came
to the captain this morning and volunteered to join the
_Wanderer_. The captain has taken him. The man is Richard
"You don't mean it! Are you sure? Did you hear Captain Helding
mention his name?"
"Then how do you know it's Richard Wardour?"
"Don't ask me! I am as certain of it, as that I am standing here!
They are going away together, Lucy--away to the eternal ice and
snow. My foreboding has come true! The two will meet--the man who
is to marry me and the man whose heart I have broken!"
"Your foreboding has _not_ come true, Clara! The men have not met
here--the men are not likely to meet elsewhere. They are
appointed to separate ships. Frank belongs to the _Sea-mew_, and
Wardour to the _Wanderer_. See! Captain Helding has done. My
husband is coming this way. Let me make sure. Let me speak to
Lieutenant Crayford returned to his wife. She spoke to him
"William! you have got a new volunteer who joins the _Wanderer_?"
"What! you have been listening to the captain and me?"
"I want to know his name?"
"How in the world did you manage to hear what we said to each
"His name? has the captain given you his name?"
"Don't excite yourself, my dear. Look! you are positively
alarming Miss Burnham. The new volunteer is a perfect stranger to
us. There is his name--last on the ship's list."
Mrs. Crayford snatched the list out of her husband's hand, and
read the name:
The Hut of the _Sea-mew_.
Good-by to England! Good-by to inhabited and civilized regions of
Two years have passed since the voyagers sailed from their native
shores. The enterprise has failed--the Arctic expedition is lost
and ice-locked in the Polar wastes. The good ships _Wanderer_ and
_Sea-mew_, entombed in ice, will never ride the buoyant waters
more. Stripped of their lighter timbers, both vessels have been
used for the construction of huts, erected on the nearest land.
The largest of the two buildings which now shelter the lost men
is occupied by the surviving officers and crew of the _Sea-mew_.
On one side of the principal room are the sleeping berths and the
fire-place. The other side discloses a broad doorway (closed by a
canvas screen), which serves as a means of communication with an
inner apartment, devoted to the superior officers. A hammock is
slung to the rough raftered roof of the main room, as an extra
bed. A man, completely hidden by his bedclothes, is sleeping in
the hammock. By the fireside there is a second man--supposed to
be on the watch--fast asleep, poor wretch! at the present moment.
Behind the sleeper stands an old cask, which serves for a table.
The objects at present on the table are, a pestle and mortar, and
a saucepanful of the dry bones of animals--in plain words, the
dinner for the day. By way of ornament to the dull brown walls,
icicles appear in the crevices of the timber, gleaming at
intervals in the red fire-light. No wind whistles outside the
lonely dwelling--no cry of bird or beast is heard. Indoors, and
out-of-doors, the awful silence of the Polar desert reigns, for
the moment, undisturbed.
The first sound that broke the silence came from the inner
apartment. An officer lifted the canvas screen in the hut of the
_Sea-mew_ and entered the main room. Cold and privation had badly
thinned the ranks. The commander of the ship--Captain
Ebsworth--was dangerously ill. The first lieutenant was dead. An
officer of the _Wanderer_ filled their places for the time, with
Captain Helding's permission. The officer so employed
He approached the man at the fireside, and awakened him.
"Jump up, Bateson! It's your turn to be relieved."
The relief appeared, rising from a heap of old sails at the back
of the hut. Bateson vanished, yawning, to his bed. Lieutenant
Crayford walked backward and forward briskly, trying what
exercise would do toward warming his blood.
The pestle and mortar on the cask attracted his attention. He
stopped and looked up at the man in the hammock.
"I must rouse the cook," he said to himself, with a smile. "That
fellow little thinks how useful he is in keeping up my spirits.
The most inveterate croaker and grumbler in the world--and yet,
according to his own account, the only cheerful man in the whole
ship's company. John Want! John Want! Rouse up, there!"
A head rose slowly out of the bedclothes, covered with a red
night-cap. A melancholy nose rested itself on the edge of the
hammock. A voice, worthy of the nose, expressed its opinion of
the Arctic climate, in these words:
"Lord! Lord! here's all my breath on my blanket. Icicles, if you
please, sir, all round my mouth and all over my blanket. Every
time I have snored, I've frozen something. When a man gets the
cold into him to that extent that he ices his own bed, it can't
last much longer. Never mind! _I_ don't grumble."
Crayford tapped the saucepan of bones impatiently. John Want
lowered himself to the floor--grumbling all the way--by a rope
attached to the rafters at his bed head. Instead of approaching
his superior officer and his saucepan, he hobbled, shivering, to
the fire-place, and held his chin as close as he possibly could
over the fire. Crayford looked after him.
"Halloo! what are you doing there?"
"Thawing my beard, sir."
"Come here directly, and set to work on these bones."
John Want remained immovably attached to the fire-place, holding
something else over the fire. Crayford began to lose his temper.
"What the devil are you about now?"
"Thawing my watch, sir. It's been under my pillow all night, and
the cold has stopped it. Cheerful, wholesome, bracing sort of
climate to live in; isn't it, sir? Never mind! _I_ don't
"No, we all know that. Look here! Are these bones pounded small
John Want suddenly approached the lieutenant, and looked at him
with an appearance of the deepest interest.
"You'll excuse me, sir," he said; "how very hollow your voice
sounds this morning!"
"Never mind my voice. The bones! the bones!"
"Yes, sir--the bones. They'll take a trifle more pounding. I'll
do my best with them, sir, for your sake."
"What do you mean?"
John Want shook his head, and looked at Crayford with a dreary
"I don't think I shall have the honor of making much more bone
soup for you, sir. Do you think yourself you'll last long, sir? I
don't, saving your presence. I think about another week or ten
days will do for us all. Never mind! _I_ don't grumble."
He poured the bones into the mortar, and began to pound
them--under protest. At the same moment a sailor appeared,
entering from the inner hut.
"A message from Captain Ebsworth, sir."
"The captain is worse than ever with his freezing pains, sir. He
wants to see you immediately."
"I will go at once. Rouse the doctor."
Answering in those terms, Crayford returned to the inner hut,
followed by the sailor. John Want shook his head again, and
smiled more drearily than ever.
"Rouse the doctor?" he repeated. "Suppose the doctor should be
frozen? He hadn't a ha'porth of warmth in him last night, and his
voice sounded like a whisper in a speaking-trumpet. Will the
bones do now? Yes, the bones will do now. Into the saucepan with
you," cried John Want, suiting the action to the word, "and
flavor the hot water if you can! When I remember that I was once
an apprentice at a pastry-cook's--when I think of the gallons of
turtle-soup that this hand has stirred up in a jolly hot
kitchen--and when I find myself mixing bones and hot water for
soup, and turning into ice as fast as I can; if I wasn't of a
cheerful disposition I should feel inclined to grumble. John
Want! John Want! whatever had you done with your natural senses
when you made up your mind to go to sea?"
A new voice hailed the cook, speaking from one of the bed-places
in the side of the hut. It
was the voice of Francis Aldersley.
"Who's that croaking over the fire?"
"Croaking?" repeated John Want, with the air of a man who
considered himself the object of a gratuitous insult. "Croaking?
You don't find your own voice at all altered for the worse--do
you, Mr. Frank? I don't give _him_," John proceeded, speaking
confidentially to himself, "more than six hours to last. He's one
of your grumblers."
"What are you doing there?" asked Frank.
"I'm making bone soup, sir, and wondering why I ever went to
"Well, and why did you go to sea?"
"I'm not certain, Mr. Frank. Sometimes I think it was natural
perversity; sometimes I think it was false pride at getting over
sea-sickness; sometimes I think it was reading 'Robinson Crusoe,'
and books warning of me _not_ to go to sea."
Frank laughed. "You're an odd fellow. What do you mean by false
pride at getting over sea-sickness? Did you get over sea-sickness
in some new way?"
John Want's dismal face brightened in spite of himself. Frank had
recalled to the cook's memory one of the noteworthy passages in
the cook's life.
"That's it, sir!" he said. "If ever a man cured sea-sickness in a
new way yet, I am that man--I got over it, Mr. Frank, by dint of
hard eating. I was a passenger on board a packet-boat, sir, when
first I saw blue water. A nasty lopp of a sea came on at
dinner-time, and I began to feel queer the moment the soup was
put on the table. 'Sick?' says the captain. 'Rather, sir,' says
I. 'Will you try my cure?' says the captain. 'Certainly, sir,'
says I. 'Is your heart in your mouth yet?' says the captain. 'Not
quite, sir,' says I. 'Mock-turtle soup?' says the captain, and
helps me. I swallow a couple of spoonfuls, and turn as white as a
sheet. The captain cocks his eye at me. 'Go on deck, sir,' says
he; 'get rid of the soup, and then come back to the cabin.' I got
rid of the soup, and came back to the cabin. 'Cod's
head-and-shoulders,' says the captain, and helps me. 'I can't
stand it, sir,' says I. 'You must,' says the captain, 'because
it's the cure.' I crammed down a mouthful, and turned paler than
ever. 'Go on deck,' says the captain. 'Get rid of the cod's head,
and come back to the cabin.' Off I go, and back I come. 'Boiled
leg of mutton and trimmings,' says the captain, and helps me. 'No
fat, sir,' says I. 'Fat's the cure,' says the captain, and makes
me eat it. 'Lean's the cure,' says the captain, and makes me eat
it. 'Steady?' says the captain. 'Sick,' says I. 'Go on deck,'
says the captain; 'get rid of the boiled leg of mutton and
trimmings and come back to the cabin.' Off I go, staggering--back
I come, more dead than alive. 'Deviled kidneys,' says the
captain. I shut my eyes, and got 'em down. 'Cure's beginning,'
says the captain. 'Mutton-chop and pickles.' I shut my eyes, and
got _them_ down. 'Broiled ham and cayenne pepper,' says the
captain. 'Glass of stout and cranberry tart. Want to go on deck
again?' 'No, sir,' says I. 'Cure's done,' says the captain.
'Never you give in to your stomach, and your stomach will end in
giving in to you.'"
Having stated the moral purpose of his story in those
unanswerable words, John Want took himself and his saucepan into
the kitchen. A moment later, Crayford returned to the hut and
astonished Frank Aldersley by an unexpected question.
"Have you anything in your berth, Frank, that you set a value
"Nothing that I set the smallest value on--when I am out of it,"
he replied. "What does your question mean?"
"We are almost as short of fuel as we are of provisions,"
Crayford proceeded. "Your berth will make good firing. I have
directed Bateson to be here in ten minutes with his ax."
"Very attentive and considerate on your part," said Frank. "What
is to become of me, if you please, when Bateson has chopped my
bed into fire-wood?"
"Can't you guess?"
"I suppose the cold has stupefied me. The riddle is beyond my
reading. Suppose you give me a hint?"
"Certainly. There will be beds to spare soon--there is to be a
change at last in our wretched lives here. Do you see it now?"
Frank's eyes sparkled. He sprang out of his berth, and waved his
fur cap in triumph.
"See it?" he exclaimed; "of course I do! The exploring party is
to start at last. Do I go with the expedition?"
"It is not very long since you were in the doctor's hands,
Frank," said Crayford, kindly. "I doubt if you are strong enough
yet to make one of the exploring party."
"Strong enough or not," returned Frank, "any risk is better than
pining and perishing here. Put me down, Crayford, among those who
volunteer to go."
"Volunteers will not be accepted, in this case," said Crayford.
"Captain Helding and Captain Ebsworth see serious objections, as
we are situated, to that method of proceeding."
"Do they mean to keep the appointments in their own hands?" asked
Frank. "I for one object to that."
"Wait a little," said Crayford. "You were playing backgammon the
other day with one of the officers. Does the board belong to him
or to you?"
"It belongs to me. I have got it in my locker here. What do you
want with it?"
"I want the dice and the box for casting lots. The captains have
arranged--most wisely, as I think--that Chance shall decide among
us who goes with the expedition and who stays behind in the huts.
The officers and crew of the _Wanderer_ will be here in a few
minutes to cast the lots. Neither you nor any one can object to
that way of deciding among us. Officers and men alike take their
chance together. Nobody can grumble."
"I am quite satisfied," said Frank. "But I know of one man among
the officers who is sure to make objections."
"Who is the man?"
"You know him well enough, too. The 'Bear of the Expeditions'
"Frank! Frank! you have a bad habit of letting your tongue run
away with you. Don't repeat that stupid nickname when you talk of
my good friend, Richard Wardour."
"Your good friend? Crayford! your liking for that man amazes me."
Crayford laid his hand kindly on Frank's shoulder. Of all the
officers of the _Sea-mew_, Crayford's favorite was Frank.
"Why should it amaze you?" he asked. "What opportunities have you
had of judging? You and Wardour have always belonged to different
ships. I have never seen you in Wardour's society for five
minutes together. How can _you_ form a fair estimate of his
"I take the general estimate of his character," Frank answered.
"He has got his nickname because he is the most unpopular man in
his ship. Nobody likes him--there must be some reason for that."
"There is only one reason for it," Crayford rejoined. "Nobody
understands Richard Wardour. I am not talking at random.
Remember, I sailed from England with him in the _Wanderer_; and I
was only transferred to the _Sea-mew_ long after we were locked
up in the ice. I was Richard Wardour's companion on board ship
for months, and I learned there to do him justice. Under all his
outward defects, I tell you, there beats a great and generous
heart. Suspend your opinion, my lad, until you know my friend as
well as I do. No more of this now. Give me the dice and the box."
Frank opened his locker. At the same moment the silence of the
snowy waste outside was broken by a shouting of voices hailing
the hut--"_Sea-mew_, ahoy!"
The sailor on watch opened the outer door. There, plodding over
the ghastly white snow, were the officers of the _Wanderer_
approaching the hut. There, scattered under the merciless black
sky, were the crew, with the dogs and the sledges, waiting the
word which was to start them on their perilous and doubtful
Captain Helding of the _Wanderer_, accompanied by his officers,
entered the hut, in high spirits at the prospect of a change.
Behind them, lounging in slowly by himself, was a dark, sullen,
heavy-browed man. He neither spoke, nor offered his hand to
anybody: he was the one person present who seemed to be perfectly
indifferent to the fate in store for him. This was the man whom
his brother officers had nicknamed the Bear of the Expedition. In
other words--Richard Wardour.
Crayford advanced to welcome Captain Helding. Frank, remembering
the friendly reproof which he had just received, passed ov er the
other officers of the _Wanderer_, and made a special effort to be
civil to Crayford's friend.
"Good-morning, Mr. Wardour," he said. "We may congratulate each
other on the chance of leaving this horrible place."
"_You_ may think it horrible," Wardour retorted; "I like it."
"Like it? Good Heavens! why?"
"Because there are no women here."
Frank turned to his brother officers, without making any further
advances in the direction of Richard Wardour. The Bear of the
Expedition was more unapproachable than ever.
In the meantime, the hut had become thronged by the able-bodied
officers and men of the two ships. Captain Helding, standing in
the midst of them, with Crayford by his side, proceeded to
explain the purpose of the contemplated expedition to the
audience which surrounded him.
He began in these words:
"Brother officers and men of the _Wanderer_ and _Sea-mew_, it is
my duty to tell you, very briefly, the reasons which have decided
Captain Ebsworth and myself on dispatching an exploring party in
search of help. Without recalling all the hardships we have
suffered for the last two years--the destruction, first of one of
our ships, then of the other; the death of some of our bravest
and best companions; the vain battles we have been fighting with
the ice and snow, and boundless desolation of these inhospitable
regions--without dwelling on these things, it is my duty to
remind you that this, the last place in which we have taken
refuge, is far beyond the track of any previous expedition, and
that consequently our chance of being discovered by any rescuing
parties that may be sent to look after us is, to say the least of
it, a chance of the most uncertain kind. You all agree with me,
gentlemen, so far?"
The officers (with the exception of Wardour, who stood apart in
sullen silence) all agreed, so far.
The captain went on.
"It is therefore urgently necessary that we should make another,
and probably a last, effort to extricate ourselves. The winter is
not far off, game is getting scarcer and scarcer, our stock of
provisions is running low, and the sick--especially, I am sorry
to say, the sick in the _Wanderer_'s hut--are increasing in
number day by day. We must look to our own lives, and to the
lives of those who are dependent on us; and we have no time to
The officers echoed the words cheerfully.
"Right! right! No time to lose."
Captain Helding resumed:
"The plan proposed is, that a detachment of the able-bodied
officers and men among us should set forth this very day, and
make another effort to reach the nearest inhabited settlements,
from which help and provisions may be dispatched to those who
remain here. The new direction to be taken, and the various
precautions to be adopted, are all drawn out ready. The only
question now before us is, Who is to stop here, and who is to
undertake the journey?"
The officers answered the question with one accord--"Volunteers!"
The men echoed their officers. "Ay, ay, volunteers."
Wardour still preserved his sullen silence. Crayford noticed him.
standing apart from the rest, and appealed to him personally.
"Do you say nothing?" he asked.
"Nothing," Wardour answered. "Go or stay, it's all one to me."
"I hope you don't really mean that?" said Crayford.
"I am sorry to hear it, Wardour."
Captain Helding answered the general suggestion in favor of
volunteering by a question which instantly checked the rising
enthusiasm of the meeting.
"Well," he said, "suppose we say volunteers. Who volunteers to
stop in the huts?"
There was a dead silence. The officers and men looked at each
other confusedly. The captain continued:
"You see we can't settle it by volunteering. You all want to go.
Every man among us who has the use of his limbs naturally wants
to go. But what is to become of those who have not got the use of
their limbs? Some of us must stay here, and take care of the
Everybody admitted that this was true.
"So we get back again," said the captain, "to the old
question--Who among the able-bodied is to go? and who is to stay?
Captain Ebsworth says, and I say, let chance decide it. Here are
dice. The numbers run as high as twelve--double sixes. All who
throw under six, stay; all who throw over six, go. Officers of
the _Wanderer_ and the _Sea-mew_, do you agree to that way of
meeting the difficulty?"
All the officers agreed, with the one exception of Wardour, who
still kept silence.
"Men of the _Wanderer_ and _Sea-mew_, your officers agree to cast
lots. Do you agree too?"
The men agreed without a dissentient voice. Crayford handed the
box and the dice to Captain Helding.
"You throw first, sir. Under six, 'Stay.' Over six, 'Go.'"
Captain Helding cast the dice; the top of the cask serving for a
table. He threw seven.
"Go," said Crayford. "I congratulate you, sir. Now for my own
chance." He cast the dice in his turn. Three!" Stay! Ah, well!
well! if I can do my duty, and be of use to others, what does it
matter whether I go or stay? Wardour, you are next, in the
absence of your first lieutenant."
Wardour prepared to cast, without shaking the dice.
"Shake the box, man!" cried Crayford. "Give yourself a chance of
Wardour persisted in letting the dice fall out carelessly, just
as they lay in the box.
"Not I!" he muttered to himself. "I've done with luck." Saying
those words, he threw down the empty box, and seated himself on
the nearest chest, without looking to see how the dice had
Crayford examined them. "Six!" he exclaimed. "There! you have a
second chance, in spite of yourself. You are neither under nor
over--you throw again."
"Bah!" growled the Bear. "It's not worth the trouble of getting
up for. Somebody else throw for me." He suddenly looked at Frank.
"You! you have got what the women call a lucky face."
Frank appealed to Crayford. "Shall I?"
"Yes, if he wishes it," said Crayford.
Frank cast the dice. "Two! He stays! Wardour, I am sorry I have
thrown against you."
"Go or stay," reiterated Wardour, "it's all one to me. You will
be luckier, young one, when you cast for yourself."
Frank cast for himself.
"Eight. Hurrah! I go!"
"What did I tell you?" said Wardour. "The chance was yours. You
have thriven on my ill luck."
He rose, as he spoke, to leave the hut. Crayford stopped him.
"Have you anything particular to do, Richard?"
"What has anybody to do here?"
"Wait a little, then. I want to speak to you when this business
"Are you going to give me any more good advice?"
"Don't look at me in that sour way, Richard. I am going to ask
you a question about something which concerns yourself."
Wardour yielded without a word more. He returned to his chest,
and cynically composed himself to slumber. The casting of the
lots went on rapidly among the officers and men. In another
half-hour chance had decided the question of "Go" or "Stay" for
all alike. The men left the hut. The officers entered the inner
apartment for a last conference with the bed-ridden captain of
the _Sea-mew_. Wardour and Crayford were left together, alone.
Crayford touched his friend on the shoulder to rouse him. Wardour
looked up, impatiently, with a frown.
"I was just asleep," he said. "Why do you wake me?"
"Look round you, Richard. We are alone."
"Well--and what of that?"
"I wish to speak to you privately; and this is my opportunity.
You have disappointed and surprised me to-day. Why did you say it
was all one to you whether you went or stayed? Why are you the
only man among us who seems to be perfectly indifferent whether
we are rescued or not?"
"Can a man always give a reason for what is strange in his manner
or his words?" Wardour retorted.
"He can try," said Crayford, quietly--"when his friend asks him."
Wardour's manner softened.
"That's true," he said. "I _will_ try. Do you remember the first
night at sea when we sailed from England in the _Wanderer_?"
"As well as if it was yesterday."
"A calm, still night," the other went on, thoughtfully. "No
clouds, no stars. Nothing in the sky but the broad moon, and
hardly a ripple to break the path of light she made in the quiet
water. Mine was the middle watch that night. You cam e on deck,
and found me alone--"
He stopped. Crayford took his hand, and finished the sentence for
"Alone--and in tears."
"The last I shall ever shed," Wardour added, bitterly.
"Don't say that! There are times when a man is to be pitied
indeed, if he can shed no tears. Go on, Richard."
Wardour proceeded--still following the old recollections, still
preserving his gentler tones.
"I should have quarreled with any other man who had surprised me
at that moment," he said. "There was something, I suppose, in
your voice when you asked my pardon for disturbing me, that
softened my heart. I told you I had met with a disappointment
which had broken me for life. There was no need to explain
further. The only hopeless wretchedness in this world is the
wretchedness that women cause."
"And the only unalloyed happiness," said Crayford, "the happiness
that women bring."
"That may be your experience of them," Wardour answered; "mine is
different. All the devotion, the patience, the humility, the
worship that there is in man, I laid at the feet of a woman. She
accepted the offering as women do--accepted it, easily,
gracefully, unfeelingly--accepted it as a matter of course. I
left England to win a high place in my profession, before I dared
to win _her_. I braved danger, and faced death. I staked my life
in the fever swamps of Africa, to gain the promotion that I only
desired for her sake--and gained it. I came back to give her all,
and to ask nothing in return, but to rest my weary heart in the
sunshine of her smile. And her own lips--the lips I had kissed at
parting--told me that another man had robbed me of her. I spoke
but few words when I heard that confession, and left her forever.
'The time may come,' I told her, 'when I shall forgive _you_. But
the man who has robbed me of you shall rue the day when you and
he first met.' Don't ask me who he was! I have yet to discover
him. The treachery had been kept secret; nobody could tell me
where to find him; nobody could tell me who he was. What did it
matter? When I had lived out the first agony, I could rely on
myself--I could be patient, and bide my time."
"Your time? What time?"
"The time when I and that man shall meet face to face. I knew it
then; I know it now--it was written on my heart then, it is
written on my heart now--we two shall meet and know each other!
With that conviction strong within me, I volunteered for this
service, as I would have volunteered for anything that set work
and hardship and danger, like ramparts, between my misery and me.
With that conviction strong within me still, I tell you it is no
matter whether I stay here with the sick, or go hence with the
strong. I shall live till I have met that man! There is a day of
reckoning appointed between us. Here in the freezing cold, or
away in the deadly heat; in battle or in shipwreck; in the face
of starvation; under the shadow of pestilence--I, though hundreds
are falling round me, I shall live! live for the coming of one
day! live for the meeting with one man!"
He stopped, trembling, body and soul, under the hold that his own
terrible superstition had fastened on him. Crayford drew back in
silent horror. Wardour noticed the action--he resented it--he
appealed, in defense of his one cherished conviction, to
Crayford's own experience of him.
"Look at me!" he cried. "Look how I have lived and thriven, with
the heart-ache gnawing at me at home, and the winds of the icy
north whistling round me here! I am the strongest man among you.
Why? I have fought through hardships that have laid the
best-seasoned men of all our party on their backs. Why? What have
_I_ done, that my life should throb as bravely through every vein
in my body at this minute, and in this deadly place, as ever it
did in the wholesome breezes of home? What am I preserved for? I
tell you again, for the coming of one day--for the meeting with
He paused once more. This time Crayford spoke.
"Richard!" he said, "since we first met, I have believed in your
better nature, against all outward appearance. I have believed in
you, firmly, truly, as your brother might. You are putting that
belief to a hard test. If your enemy had told me that you had
ever talked as you talk now, that you had ever looked as you look
now, I would have turned my back on him as the utterer of a vile
calumny against a just, a brave, an upright man. Oh! my friend,
my friend, if ever I have deserved well of you, put away these
thoughts from your heart! Face me again, with the stainless look
of a man who has trampled under his feet the bloody superstitions
of revenge, and knows them no more! Never, never, let the time
come when I cannot offer you my hand as I offer it now, to the
man I can still admire--to the brother I can still love!"
The heart that no other voice could touch felt that appeal. The
fierce eyes, the hard voice, softened under Crayford's influence.
Richard Wardour's head sank on his breast.
"You are kinder to me than I deserve," he said. "Be kinder still,
and forget what I have been talking about. No! no more about me;
I am not worth it. We'll change the subject, and never go back to
it again. Let's do something. Work, Crayford--that's the true
elixir of our life! Work, that stretches the muscles and sets the
blood a-glowing. Work, that tires the body and rests the mind. Is
there nothing in hand that I can do? Nothing to cut? nothing to
The door opened as he put the question. Bateson--appointed to
chop Frank's bed-place into firing--appeared punctually with his
ax. Wardour, without a word of warning, snatched the ax out of
the man's hand.
"What was this wanted for?" he asked.
"To cut up Mr. Aldersley's berth there into firing, sir."
"I'll do it for you! I'll have it down in no time!" He turned to
Crayford. "You needn't be afraid about me, old friend. I am going
to do the right thing. I am going to tire my body and rest my
The evil spirit in him was plainly subdued--for the time, at
least. Crayford took his hand in silence; and then (followed by
Bateson) left him to his work.
Ax in hand, Wardour approached Frank's bed-place.
"If I could only cut the thoughts out of me," he said to himself,
"as I am going to cut the billets out of this wood!" He attacked
the bed-place with the ax, like a man who well knew the use of
his instrument. "Oh me!" he thought, sadly, "if I had only been
born a carpenter instead of a gentleman! A good ax, Master
Bateson--I wonder where you got it? Something like a grip, my
man, on this handle. Poor Crayford! his words stick in my throat.
A fine fellow! a noble fellow! No use thinking, no use
regretting; what is said, is said. Work! work! work!"
Plank after plank fell out on the floor. He laughed over the easy
task of destruction. "Aha! young Aldersley! It doesn't take much
to demolish your bed-place. I'll have it down! I would have the
whole hut down, if they would only give me the chance of chopping
A long strip of wood fell to his ax--long enough to require
cutting in two. He turned it, and stooped over it. Something
caught his eye--letters carved in the wood. He looked closer. The
letters were very faintly and badly cut. He could only make out
the first three of them; and even of those he was not quite
certain. They looked like C L A--if they looked like anything. He
threw down the strip of wood irritably.
"D--n the fellow (whoever he is) who cut this! Why should he
carve _that_ name, of all the names in the world?"
He paused, considering--then determined to go on again with his
self-imposed labor. He was ashamed of his own outburst. He looked
eagerly for the ax. "Work, work! Nothing for it but work." He
found the ax, and went on again.
He cut out another plank.
He stopped, and looked at it suspiciously.
There was carving again, on this plank. The letters F. and A.
appeared on it.
He put down the ax. There were vague misgivings in him which he
was not able to realize. The state of his own mind was fast
becoming a puzzle to him.
"More carving," he said to himself. "That's the way these young
idlers employ their long hours. F. A.? Those must be _his_
initials--Frank Aldersley. Who c arved the letters on the other
plank? Frank Aldersley, too?"
He turned the piece of wood in his hand nearer to the light, and
looked lower down it. More carving again, lower down! Under the
initials F. A. were two more letters--C. B.
"C. B.?" he repeated to himself. "His sweet heart's initials, I
suppose? Of course--at his age--his sweetheart's initials."
He paused once more. A spasm of inner pain showed the shadow of
its mysterious passage, outwardly on his face.
"_Her_ cipher is C. B.," he said, in low, broken tones. "C.
He waited, with the plank in his hand; repeating the name over
and over again, as if it was a question he was putting to
"Clara Burnham? Clara Burnham?"
He dropped the plank, and turned deadly pale in a moment. His
eyes wandered furtively backward and forward between the strip of
wood on the floor and the half-demolished berth. "Oh, God! what
has come to me now?" he said to himself, in a whisper. He
snatched up the ax, with a strange cry--something between rage
and terror. He tried--fiercely, desperately tried--to go on with
his work. No! strong as he was, he could not use the ax. His
hands were helpless; they trembled incessantly. He went to the
fire; he held his hands over it. They still trembled incessantly;
they infected the rest of him. He shuddered all over. He knew
fear. His own thoughts terrified him.
"Crayford!" he cried out. "Crayford! come here, and let's go
No friendly voice answered him. No friendly face showed itself at
An interval passed; and there came over him another change. He
recovered his self-possession almost as suddenly as he had lost
it. A smile--a horrid, deforming, unnatural smile--spread slowly,
stealthily, devilishly over his face. He left the fire; he put
the ax away softly in a corner; he sat down in his old place,
deliberately self-abandoned to a frenzy of vindictive joy. He had
found the man! There, at the end of the world--there, at the last
fight of the Arctic voyagers against starvation and death, he had
found the man!
The minutes passed.
He became conscious, on a sudden, of a freezing stream of air
pouring into the room.
He turned, and saw Crayford opening the door of the hut. A man
was behind him. Wardour rose eagerly, and looked over Crayford's
Was it--could it be--the man who had carved the letters on the
plank? Yes! Frank Aldersley!
"Still at work!" Crayford exclaimed, looking at the
half-demolished bed-place. "Give yourself a little rest, Richard.
The exploring party is ready to start. If you wish to take leave
of your brother officers before they go, you have no time to
He checked himself there, looking Wardour full in the face.
"Good Heavens!" he cried, "how pale you are! Has anything
Frank--searching in his locker for articles of clothing which he
might require on the journey--looked round. He was startled, as
Crayford had been startled, by the sudden change in Wardour since
they had last seen him.
"Are you ill?" he asked. "I hear you have been doing Bateson's
work for him. Have you hurt yourself?"
Wardour suddenly moved his head, so as to hide his face from both
Crayford and Frank. He took out his handkerchief, and wound it
clumsily round his left hand.
"Yes," he said; "I hurt myself with the ax. It's nothing. Never
mind. Pain always has a curious effect on me. I tell you it's
nothing! Don't notice it!"
He turned his face toward them again as suddenly as he had turned
it away. He advanced a few steps, and addressed himself with an
uneasy familiarity to Frank.
"I didn't answer you civilly when you spoke to me some little
time since. I mean when I first came in here along with the rest
of them. I apologize. Shake hands! How are you? Ready for the
Frank met the oddly abrupt advance which had been made to him
with perfect good humor.
"I am glad to be friends with you, Mr. Wardour. I wish I was as
well seasoned to fatigue as you are."
Wardour burst into a hard, joyless, unnatural laugh.
"Not strong, eh? You don't look it. The dice had better have sent
me away, and kept you here. I never felt in better condition in
my life." He paused and added, with his eye on Frank and with a
strong emphasis on the words: "We men of Kent are made of tough
Frank advanced a step on his side, with a new interest in Richard
"You come from Kent?" he said.
"Yes. From East Kent." He waited a little once more, and looked
hard at Frank. "Do you know that part of the country?" he asked.