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Wild Life in the Land of the Giants Part 26

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But that palette itself was a picture, oh how grand and solemn! First we had the sea, darkling now under the shadows of the giant hill, yet borrowing tints from the clouds. Then the wild wooded cliffs, and pointed rocks looking almost black against the background of snow and ice rising up, and up, and up its sharpest lines, softened till it ended in the rugged serrated horizon.

High up in the heavens, where in the rifts the sky could be seen, it was of a light cerulean blue, pure, ethereal, the grey clouds in bars and piles, still the same shaped bars of cloud lower down; but here the rifts of sky were of an ineffably lovely tint of pale sea green, and the clouds were purple, while all along the horizon the naked sky was of the deepest orange, almost approaching to crimson, all aglow with light.

Even as we gazed, a change came over the spirit of the scene; for the green rifts changed to a milky white, with a hazy blush of crimson floating over it, borrowed from the splendour beneath and beyond.

Still another change: the rifts away to the north and the south had all turned to sea green, and right in the east, when we look round, we find that the higher clouds that erst were grey and dull, are now a burning bronze and crimson.

Then the clouds kept borrowing each other's colours at second hand. But at last crimson and yellow changed to lurid bronze and purple, then to grey and to darker grey, and soon, out from the only green rift left, shone a pale star.

It is night.

The air is chill and cold. Birds--strange, wild, low-flying creatures whose names we know not--hurry past us, or over us, to their eeries in some distant rock, and the silence is unbroken save by the clunk-clank-- clunk-clank--of the oars in the rowlocks.

Jill is leaning against me, and I feel him shiver slightly.

"Jill," I say, "you're not well, old man."

"Oh yes, brother, I'm well enough."

"But you're not downright, jolly well."

"I feel a trifle shivery, that's all, brother. I had an ugly dream; and besides, I don't think I've quite recovered my sea-bath yet."

"Look 'ee here, sir," said Ritchie. "That young man isn't quite the thing. Now I'm going to prescribe. He's going to bed down among the dogs, and what's more, he's going to sleep. He'll have a tot o' rum as medicine. There are times, gentlemen, when such a thing may do good.

Now's one o' them. And if he doesn't wake up early in the morning his old self, then my name isn't Ted Ritchie."

I left my brother in Ritchie's hands, and soon he had him snug in bed.

There was more moonlight to-night, but still the moon had a struggle for it.

I happened to be looking behind me towards the bay where we had left the good old _Salamander_, and Ritchie was looking too--both thinking the same thoughts perhaps--when suddenly a huge pear-shaped column of fire-rays shot up into the sky, then gradually died away. We spoke not, but listened, till over the water came a dull crashing rumble, the like of which I had never heard before. The sound died away among the hills like thunder.

"She's gone," said one of the men, and for a few moments all lay on their oars.

"_Ay_, right enough," said Ritchie, "and there's more'n a score o' them sea-fiends gone with her, I'll warrant.

"It's the gunpowder we were taking to Honolulu that's done it," he continued.

"A pity," I said, "we did not throw that overboard."

"I dunno so much about that. Those Indian savages would have had to die sometime. It's just as well now, as before they do more mischief."

I laughed.

"That is queer philosophy," I said; "we should never do evil, nor wish for evil, that good may come. I wonder how they managed it."

"Why, sir, they're as inquisitive as monkeys--they be. They would find out a barrel and take it for rum. Off would come the lid, one fellow holding the light. A dozen hands would be plunged in, and they would taste the black stuff. Well, they wouldn't like it, and one savage would pitch a handful at the other. That would _begin_ the fun. We've just heard how it _ended_. Well, gentlemen, I feel a sort of satisfied now, for blame me if I half liked the idea of leaving our old bones there for these savages to pick at."

A red gleam now illumined the sky where we had noticed the flash; it was evident the old _Salamander_ was on fire, and burning fast and furiously.

"Now, then," I said presently, "I'll take the first watch, Ritchie. You turn in there. You go to the dogs with Jill."

"Ay, sir; and I'll sleep sound now I've seen the last of my dear old ship."

As the night wore on I was concerned to notice the moon become obscured.

Although on the water there was not a puff of wind, still, high over head, the clouds were hurrying over the sky from east to west.

Something was coming, but I did not care to wake Ritchie yet. He needed all the rest he could get, having been awake so long and working so hard.

It grew very dark now, and I could not see the other boats, though they must have been close at hand. We had kept well together on purpose, for we cared not to show signal lights.

Presently there came a puff of wind. Then almost before words could describe it, a snow-squall. It was the spring of the year, but indeed even during summer, in this dreary region, snow-storms are not uncommon.

How soundly Ritchie slept! There was hail rattling on the canvas over him, and there had been one or two sharp peals of thunder also, but still he slumbered on. The men could make no headway against the storm; in fact we must have been losing way considerably, for the poor fellows were tired, and, even before the squall, had been nodding at their oars.

Still they would not give in, nor give up. By and by came the lull, but the wind still blew with a good deal of force, and the snow was blinding.

"In oars," I said, "and get the sail up now; we'll tack a bit."

We did so, reaching well over on both sides, as far as we thought was safe; the snow continuing thick and fast. Presently another squall came. And so on and off for many long hours. I would not think of waking Ritchie, for I felt very fresh and fit for duty, and what could he do even if up. I allowed the men to sleep, two at a time, for an hour or so. Thus I managed to keep them fresh also.

The snow left off at last, and the sky cleared a little, but the wind kept up and blew from the same quarter. Just at grey daylight in the morning Ritchie threw off his tarpaulin and sat up, looking dazed for a moment or two.

"My dear young sir, I'm ashamed of myself," he said, looking at his watch; "but where in the world are we?"

"No where that I know of; it has been blowing and snowing all night long, and now we're close under some wooded cliffs, and the other boats are not in sight."

"This is bad," said Ritchie.

I had taken off my jacket, and was wringing the sleeves when Jill appeared.

"I'm as fresh as a daisy," he said; "but what a time I must have slept!

Are we nearly at Sandy Point?"

We laughed.

"Sandy Point, my dear sir; you won't see Sandy Point for a week if it keeps on like this."

"Well, we'll have breakfast, I suppose. I could eat a hunter."

"Good sign. We'll all join you."

By and by Ritchie stood up and had a good look round.

"I know where we are. I've been here before in happier times. We'll run in shore and rest. No good trying to beat up against this breeze.

The other boats sail more closely to the wind, and I hope by this time they are well on to Froward Reach, and round the corner."

The boat was now put about, and in a few minutes we found ourselves in a bay, and sheltered cove off the bay.

At another time and under happier auspices we could have afforded to admire the scenery around us. At first glance, had you been there, you might have fancied yourself in some lovely glen in the wilds of Scotland or Wales. That is so long as your glance did not go too high, away up to the hills of everlasting snow. But all about us, except a few yards of shore, was wood and forest, among the trees being several such as the beech--just breaking into bud--with which the English eye is familiar.

Here, too, were ferns and mosses such as we had seen growing in the woods and sylvan dells at home.

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Wild Life in the Land of the Giants Part 26 summary

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