The Frozen Deep
Second Scene--The Hut of the Sea-mew
Good-by to England! Good-by to inhabited and civilized regions of the earth!
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 was--
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.