The Frozen Deep
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 moment is--dancing.
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."