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C. DUDLEY LAMPEN

THE FROZEN TREASURE
A TALE OF ARCTIC RUSSIA

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ILLUSTRATED BY HAROLD PIFFARD


First published by
The Society for Promoting Christan Knowledge
London, 1902

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2018
Version Date: 2018-06-30
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"The Frozen Treasure,"
The Society for Promoting Christan Knowledge, London, 1902



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"The Frozen Treasure," Title Page.


TABLE OF CONTENTS



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS




Frontispiece

Illustration

But that which riveted our eyes was the sight of
two strangely attired figures which lay on the floor.


I. — A LETTER FROM ARCHANGEL

LITTLE did I imagine, when I waved a farewell to Sandy McGubbins on the quay at Dundee, as he sailed away in the whaler Pole Star, under what momentous circumstances we should again meet. This was two years ago, and during the intervening period I have resided in quietude and peace in my little villa on the outskirts of Edinburgh town, having, in my younger days, spent not a few years in traversing the briny deep. It must not be thought that I had any desire again to become a "globe-trotter." Nevertheless, on the morning of October 1st, there reached me a missive bearing the Archangel postmark which summoned me to undertake a work as novel as it was exciting and adventurous.

The letter ran thus:—


To Captain Duncan Romaines—Edinburgh.

Dear Sir,

It is with sincere sorrow that I have to inform you of the loss of your vessel the "Pole Star." We did our best; the crew indeed behaved like true Scottish heroes. But the ice was too much for us. She was nipped off the eastern coast of Nova Zembla on July 14th, at a time when we were having good luck with seal and walrus. We landed on an island in the Kara Sea and were brought to this place by a Russian ship. While on this island (name unknown, but I have called it Pole Island) we made a most astounding discovery—of which I dare not write a description in this letter, as the Russians are brimful of curiosity and as likely as not will make use of my information for their own advantage. This must be avoided at all costs. I can therefore write nothing more definite, but can only urge you, sir, to proceed to Archangel without delay, when I shall be able to give you a detailed account of our misfortune, and, what is far more important, it will give me much pleasure and satisfaction to be able to recompense you many times over for the loss of your ship and its cargo by means of our extraordinary discovery. More than this I dare not write; indeed I only wish that it would be prudent for me to describe to you the wonders which our sojourn in these regions has revealed. I beg you to come overland to save time. Indeed by when you receive this letter the northern passage will have closed for the winter, and no vessel will be able to reach Archangel for eight months or more.

With much respect.

I am, dear sir, yours faithfully,

Sandy McGubbins.


"You will not go, Duncan?" said my wife, eyeing me tearfully, when I had read the letter to her.

"My dear," I returned diplomatically, "we must think about it. You see, I am not yet fifty years of age and as strong as ever. It would be a thousand pities to throw away the chance of a fortune."

"But we have enough for our wants," she urged, "and if we had more we should not know what to do with it."

I did not reply, but I had a vision of a carriage and pair, or a motor-car—the latter is so fashionable now-a-days; and I might even keep a tidy little yacht at Leith.

For fully a month I did nothing in the matter, though many ideas revolved in my mind. And then a strange thing happened. So strange indeed was it that it quite decided me concerning the course I ought to pursue.

I was walking down Prince's Street in company with my wife, and we had just paused to look at some articles which were displayed in the window of one of the larger shops, when I caught sight of a man who also appeared to be interested in the goods exhibited by the tradesman.

I suppose that one does not mentally specialize one-tenth of the persons one meets in a busy street, such as is Edinburgh's chief thoroughfare, yet my attention was somehow impelled towards the man. I observed that he was tall, of massive build, and of dark complexion. There was in his face an expression of determination; and I should have said that his nationality was neither Scotch nor English. The man's dress, too, was indicative of the foreigner. He wore a heavy coat of blue pilot-cloth, a peaked cap of the same material, while jack-boots covered the lower part of his legs. In fact he had the appearance of one who had to do with the sea, and I concluded that he had come from one of the vessels at Leith and was viewing our fair city. We moved on, and my wife remarked that the stranger was a good-looking man.

I laughed and retorted, "You are undoubtedly a judge of male looks or you never would have chosen me."

"Hush!" said she, glancing over her shoulder, "he is on our heels!"

She entered a shop for the purpose of purchasing some trifle, and I waited outside. Whereupon the stranger addressed me in English, which he spoke with a foreign accent, and inquired which was the monument to Sir Walter Scott.

I was struck as much by the imperiousness of the man's tone as by the dignity of his manner, and he spoke like one accustomed to command. He raised his hat and moved away as my wife rejoined me.

It was on the same evening, as I took some letters to the post, that I again saw the foreigner. He was standing under a lamp, and as I approached turned away as though to avoid meeting me. But when I returned he followed at a distance and watched me as I entered my door.

"The strange sea-captain!" I exclaimed, addressing my wife.

"Well, what of him?"

"He has followed me, and is, I believe, watching this house."

We peered through the blinds; and there, sure enough, was the man. He was leaning against a lamp-post and was making notes in a pocket-book.

"Curious!" I muttered, "what can it mean?"

When we again looked out the stranger had disappeared. But the following day we discovered that he had visited various tradesmen in the vicinity of our villa, and from them he had extracted information concerning our name and circumstances. As we lived alone and had not many topics of conversation this mysterious event, though it seemed at the time to be but a trifle, absorbed much of our attention, and at least caused us to feel slightly uncomfortable.

Other matters took my attention, and perhaps I should have forgotten the matter entirely, had it not been that on the third day a curious epistle reached me which I here transcribe:—


To Duncan Romaines.

Excellent Sir,

It is of my duty to have to inform you that any prospective visit to the country of Russia will be devoid of avail for the recovery of the ship which you have missed bearing the name "Pole Star." Excellent Sir, remain in peace and tranquillity in your adorable city and risk not your life by a foolish expedition.

I have the honour to be,

Excellent Sir,

With much respect,

Your servant,

Alexis Petrovitch.


There are persons who are attracted by mystery and danger. I am one of them. This letter fired my curiosity to an extraordinary degree. Naturally I coupled it with the stranger who had been watching us. The entreaties and even tears of my beloved wife were disregarded. To Russia I must go, at least to satisfy myself concerning the fate of the Pole Star and its crew. It was while we discussed and re-discussed the matter that the son of my old friend James Mackie dropped in.

Rolf Mackie was one of the most delightful young fellows I have known. In his manners more English than Scotch—he had been educated at an English public school—he had not lost the canny common-sense which he had inherited from his Scotch parents. Robust of frame and honest of heart there was no one of my acquaintance for whom I had a greater regard or whose judgment I could more readily trust.

It was his twenty-first birthday, he said, and he was home for a holiday and had taken the opportunity of looking me up.

I was too full of thought concerning the matters which I have related to keep them to myself, and no sooner had I told the story to my visitor than he fairly astonished me by the enthusiastic way in which he anticipated the project which had begun to simmer steadily somewhere at the back of my brain.

"But surely you do not intend to let the matter drop?" said he. "On the very face of it, it is very plain that Captain McGubbins and his men have made a discovery of no little importance—though what it can be is more than I can even guess. That it is enough to excite the attention and even the opposition of the Russians, seems to be indicated by the curious epistle which you have received recently."

(I had read to him the letter signed by Alexis Petrovitch.)

"What would you propose?" I inquired.

"That we proceed to Archangel without delay."

"We?"

"Yes, unless you object to my company!"

"Object, my dear fellow! You know well enough that I should never do that. But really I do not see that you are concerned in the affair at all, and I have no right to drag you into danger—for this I foresee is likely to be the outcome of a visit to that remote part of Russia."

He laughed heartily at this, and replied that for his part nothing would please him better than to have a few adventures. "You see," he continued, "I am most anxious to complete my education. Harrow was all very well, and so is Oxford, but one must graduate in the university of the world; and how can that be done better than by taking part in an expedition such as that you propose?"

I protested that it was out of the question; that he could do far better by a regulation trip round the world if he must needs travel; that Archangel was by no means an interesting place, and that the journey was a difficult one. But the more I urged these objections the more insistent became my friend that he should accompany me. "You see, I have time on my hands and money to spare," said he. "And there is no earthly reason why I should not give myself the pleasure of this little trip. It will satisfy my twin longings to see something of Russian life and to visit the Arctic regions. Besides, you must admit that I have strong muscles and stout limbs, which may be of service to you before you return home."

I could not deny the truth of his statements. As I eyed him from head to foot he presented in the first flush of his youthful strength the appearance of ideal manhood. It struck me that in Rolf Mackie I had found a suitable companion both for my journey and for whatever might develop out of it. So without more ado we began to discuss details, and by the time that my wife joined us we had settled all that was important. As soon as she knew that my mind was made up she reconciled herself to the inevitable like a sensible woman.

"I only ask," said she, "that in case necessity should arise you will send for me. A woman's wit, you know, is not to be despised; and I may be of more service than perhaps you now suppose possible."

Mackie was buttoning his overcoat previous to departure when he remarked, "There's my friend Bunker—"

"Well, what of him?"

He hesitated.

"We are great chums, and I believe that he would not object to—"

"You are not suggesting that he should go also."

"Yes, if you'll take him. He has piles of cash, and we want to hang together as long as possible."

"I hope the Russians won't hang you together in another sense," I returned, laughing.

He joined in the laughter.

"Then I may take it for granted?"

"I see no objection—so long as he provides his own expenses."

"All right," said Rolf lightly, "I'll answer for him."

It is quite wonderful what great results develop from beginnings seemingly insignificant. If I had not decided to take with us Rolf Mackie's friend Bunker (I believe his Christian name was Samuel, but no one ever called him by any other name than that of the euphonious-sounding Bunker) a considerable and important part of the ensuing narrative would have failed to be written; for Bunker played an important part in the drama performed among the snows of the Arctic circle.

"Then you will bring him to see me?" I said.

"Yes, when?"

"To-morrow morning, if he is in Edinburgh."

"He is staying with me at the present time. We will be here by ten o'clock."


II. — HINDRANCES ON THE WAY

IT was nearly the middle of October—to be precise, the 13th—that we left for Russia. The autumn was advancing, and by the time we should reach Archangel we expected to find winter. Had we been able to carry out our original intentions we should have arrived at our journey's end by the beginning of November. As it was, as I shall have occasion to narrate, events occurred of strange and startling character which considerably retarded our progress.

As I had had occasion to come to London for some portion of my outfit, we thought it well to travel by the short sea route via Ostend, where we should take the express for Berlin by way of Brussels, whence we could make our way to St. Petersburg, from which city we must take sledge for Archangel. We had a delightful run across the seventy miles which separate Dover from the Belgian port. The sea was calm, and there was a considerable crowd of passengers on deck. Little did we imagine that among them were those who at all costs were determined to hinder our journey.

Not having previously visited this noted watering-place, and having a couple of hours to spare, as soon as we had passed the customs officers I took my companions for a run round the town and a stroll along the broad Digue. It was as we passed the Kursal that a curious thing happened.

"Will messieurs accompany us for a drive?" said a voice. We turned towards the speaker, whom we recognized as one whom we had seen on board the boat which had brought us over. He was accompanied by two others, and the three were remarkably fine fellows, stalwart and military-looking, though each was attired in neat civilian clothing.

I raised my hat, and, thanking them, replied that we were going on to Brussels by the express in about an hour's time.

"The very thing, monsieur," returned the man, with a smile and another bow. "We will drive round the town and view the sights—such as they are—and be at the station well within the hour."

Though the man's accent was that of a foreigner his English was excellent, and his expression was so pleasant and manner courteous that I turned to Mackie and Bunker with, "Well, what do you say?"

"I should like it immensely—it is very kind of these gentlemen," said the former. The latter, however, said nothing, hut glared at them, a look of suspicion in his eye.

"We'll not miss the train, Bunker," laughed the other.

They beckoned to a four-wheeled carriage which was driving by. Rolf Mackie perched himself by the driver and the rest of us squeezed inside. It was a tight fit, but we made merry over it. Our new friends told us that they too were going on to Brussels, so that there was no fear with regard to the catching of the train. Alas for our guileless simplicity!

We drove through the town by way of the market-place, in which a fair was being held, and picturesque enough it looked with its crowd of white-capped country-women in sabots and blue stockings, its country carts drawn by every conceivable kind of mongrel dog, and its assemblage of every type of physiognomy common to the Low Countries.

As we passed the Hôtel de Ville the carillons were ringing forth their silvery chimes, and as they floated musically over the gabled roofs of this old-world portion of the town, I thought of the words which Victor Hugo had inscribed with a diamond ring upon a window-pane in the not far distant town of Malines, when he had been aroused in the moonlit hours by similar music:—


"J'aime le carillon dans tes cités antiques,
O vieux pays, gardien de tes moeurs domestiques,
Noble Flandre, où le Nord se réchauffe engourdi
Au soleil de Castille et s'accouple au Midi!"


My reverie was rudely interrupted by an exclamation uttered by Rolf Mackie from the box seat. A moment later the vehicle drew up at the entrance to a square-looking, substantial, modern building. There were parallel bars of stout iron protecting the windows, and the idea flashed through my mind that it was a police station.

Nor was I mistaken. No sooner had we stopped than a couple of gendarmes appeared at the door and requested us to alight. We inquired in French the reason for this interference, but no reply was given save that we were bidden to enter the building. I noticed that a glance of mutual recognition passed between our new friends and the sergeant who received us, and instantly it flashed upon me that we were the victims of a plot.

"What can be the meaning of this treatment?" was Mackie's ejaculation.

"Some deeply-laid scheme for our detention," suggested Bunker.

Presently we were arrayed before a functionary in gold-laced cap and coat, who informed us that we could not be allowed to proceed on our journey, as word had been received that we were dangerous characters and bound upon a mission inimical to the peace of governments, and that we should be placed under arrest until a decision had been arrived at with regard to us.

"So you are nothing but a sneaking detective!" roared Mackie, as he turned in fury upon the smooth-tongued man who had accosted us on the Digue.

The individual smiled, showing his white teeth, and bowed with a smirk of self-satisfaction, evidently proud of himself and of the clever way in which he and his companions had captured us. I demanded to see the English Consul; but the chief replied that as we had offended against the laws of the land we were not in a position to claim his intervention. I then asked for a more specific statement of the charge made against us, and was told that this would be duly drawn up in the course of the day.

"But surely you will allow us to make preparation for our defence?" I urged. "We are altogether innocent of whatever you may bring against us, and are bound for Russia on business. You will get into trouble unless you release us immediately."

He shook his head, and we were forthwith conveyed to the rear of the building, and, though not incarcerated in different cells, as I feared we might be, they locked us securely in a barely- furnished room.

"Here's a pretty go," growled Bunker.

Mackie and I, too, were in no enviable frame of mind, for this delay might prove serious, and I had telegraphed to Captain McGubbins from London to say that we were starting.

"I should not wonder if that telegram of yours had fallen into the hands of the Russian police," remarked Bunker. "You see, everything of this kind comes under the inspection of a department of State. It is plain that if they are desirous of hindering you from reaching Archangel they will not hesitate to set in motion all the police and detectives in Europe."

This set me thinking once more. I began to wonder afresh in what Captain McGubbins discovery could consist. That it must be of great and far-reaching importance seemed to be indicated by this move on the part of the Belgian gendarmes. At first, when the strange warning letter had reached me in Edinburgh, it had appeared that it was merely some private individual—maybe the commander of a rival ship—was striving for his own ends to hinder me from attending to the urgent request of Sandy McGubbins; yet the matter was plainly of wider importance, and I confess that I was completely puzzled. Indeed I acknowledged to my companions that I was utterly unable to explain the mystery which lay behind our arrest.

For three days we remained in the lock-up, the victims of suspense and anxiety. Then once more we were brought before the man in gold lace, and were informed that we should be set at liberty on condition that we left the country.

"Messieurs will be taken to the quay and there placed on board the English boat, in order that you may return without delay to your own country."

We protested vigorously that we were not desirous of crossing the water, but that we would leave Belgian soil by railway for Germany. At this the gold-laced gentleman shook his head. "It was quite impossible," he said. Their decision was like the Medo- Persic law. To England we must return.

"Never mind, there are other routes," remarked Mackie, as we were being convoyed by the gendarmes to the pier, "it will but cause a little expense and delay."

Our three friends—shall I call them enemies?—who had played upon us so clever a trick, waited on the quay until the vessel started and waved us bon voyage. We hoped devoutly that we should see them no more.

"What do you propose?" inquired the others.

"We will go via Harwich and the Hook of Holland," I said.

"But suppose the Dutch police have been warned?"

"We must take our chance. Perhaps they will not prove so amenable to Russian influence as the Belgians."

"Then you suggest—"

"That we should go straight to Harwich without delay and cross to Holland by the night boat. They will hardly be on the look-out for us so soon, and the Belgians will scarcely suppose that we shall be crossing the water immediately after our return." But I was mistaken, as the sequel will show.

Our arrival at the Hook of Holland was uneventful. There were no gendarmes awaiting us at the landing-place, as we had feared might be the case. None the less, we were not to be allowed to pass unhindered through the land of dykes.

It was at Rotterdam, that old-world city, with its new and flourishing steamship trade, that we again realized the forces that were working against us. No sooner had we descended from the train, than Bunker plucked me by the sleeve with a "Look there!"

I turned in the direction indicated, and caught sight of three stalwart figures at the further end of the platform.

They were the detectives who had so cleverly entrapped us at Ostend. The men had not seen us, for they were gazing in another direction. But there was no mistaking them, for they were not many yards distant, and I should have known the tallest one anywhere—it was he who spoke English so fluently.

"There is no escape." This from Mackie.

"I will not be locked up again," exclaimed Bunker.

I said nothing, but dragged them aside behind the shelter of a small signal-box or porter's lamp-room. Arrived there we hastily consulted as to our best course.

"Let us wait till the station is clear," said Bunker, "it's no use running any risk."

But presently the three walked past the place of our concealment. They were conversing in low tones and did not see us. But whether they were on the look-out for us or not it was impossible to say. At any rate the tension was extreme; for should they turn, or look behind them, they were bound to catch sight of us.

"Follow me," said Bunker.

Before we could divine his intention he had noiselessly opened the door of the little signal-box—for such it proved to be—and had entered. The place was situated in a dark corner, and a blazing gas-jet illuminated the interior. Mackie and I hesitated a moment, wondering what our friend was about. But we saw there was no time to be lost, for the three stalwart figures in blue cloth and shining buttons were approaching the end of the station platform, where they must presently turn round and retrace their steps.

"Quick, or we shall be nabbed!" was Rolf Mackie's hasty whisper.

In another moment we had followed Bunker. To our surprise we found him lying at full length on the floor, while a young Belgian, the sole occupant of the small apartment, was bending over him.

"Monsieur, I fear is ill," said he.

We went down on our knees by the prone form of Bunker. Mackie unbuttoned his collar and loosened his necktie, while I fumbled for his pulse.

"Poor fellow!" I said, "he has broken down under the strain."

"Undoubtedly. He will certainly have to return to England."

The signalman gave us some water, of which he had a bucket full, and we poured it liberally over his head and down his throat. Certainly he did not seem to swallow the liquid very easily, and there was no sign of his revival, Then I tried to raise him into a sitting posture, but he sank back at once on to the floor.

"There is nothing for it but to have him removed to an hotel," I said.

"Or hospital," suggested Mackie.

At this point the young Belgian suggested that he should fetch some stimulant, and as soon as he had gone we again went down on our knees and began chafing Bunker's hands and face. Suddenly, to our complete astonishment, he sat up and proceeded to scramble to his feet with the remark, "There! that will have given time to clear the coast."

"Do you feel better," I inquired anxiously, as I held him by the shoulder in my fear that he would again fall.

"Better! Never was ill. Only a sham faint, you know—was obliged to do something."

"But, my dear fellow—"

"Well, you see, no other course was possible. I knew that the Belgian detectives would turn and see us in a few moments. So down I went bang on to the floor of the cabin; no doubt it scared that signal-fellow."

"And ourselves," I interjected.

"And yourselves," he continued gravely. "I nearly laughed aloud as you stooped over me and fumbled about; but that cold water! Faugh, what a dose you did give me! There! hand me that fellow's towel that I may rub my hair dry. You see, I was anxious not only to gain time, but I knew that unless you were below the level of the windows the tall Belgian detectives would catch sight of you by the light of this gas-jet. It was my idea, therefore, to get you to bend down near the floor as they passed, and I succeeded, I think, very happily, for I heard them tramp by just before you gave me that horrid shower-bath."

We could not help laughing heartily in spite of the seriousness of our position, and we congratulated Bunker upon his ready wit.

"If it had not been for you, old man," observed Mackie, "we might be at this moment on our way to another police station. Once in the hands of the Dutch police and there is no saying what might happen—certainly we should not be allowed to proceed on our journey."

Peeping cautiously from the door of the signal-cabin we discovered that the platform was vacant. This was our opportunity. A few minutes later we had left the station and were safely ensconced in a neighbouring hotel and discussing plans for the future.


III. — ESCAPE AND RECAPTURE

THE night was not to pass without further adventure. I had gone downstairs to make some arrangement with the proprietor, when whom should I meet, face to face, but the tall Belgian with the shining teeth and pleasant smile who had induced us to enter the carriage at Ostend.

"Ah, Monsieur I this is unexpected pleasure." He raised his hat and made a profound bow, which I could only return to the best of my ability.

"I hardly expected to meet you in Rotterdam," he continued, "are you staying here long?"

I replied, as civilly as I could, that my plans were not very settled.

"Ah, you English are so fond of what you call 'globe- trotting'—you see, I have picked up your slang," he added, with a smile. "Now, come along with me and have a cigar."

He linked his arm in mine and almost compelled me to join him in the smoking-room, in spite of my protests that I was not much of a smoker and that I desired to retire to my room.

"Then I would remind you," I continued, "that you treated us a very dirty trick at Ostend: for what reason I cannot conceive."

Again he smiled blandly, and assured me that it was all a matter of form and trusted that the detention had put me and my companions to no inconvenience.

"I hope you had a pleasant trip to Dover," said he, "I know the passage well, having made it very often. That strip of seventy miles of sea is not always so smooth as on the day on which we saw you off from the quay at Ostend."

As soon as I could excuse myself from his company I made my way with all haste to my friends up-stairs.

"Just what I feared!" cried Mackie, when I had related my story in a few hasty words.

Bunker only frowned and said, "Umph—then it's clear something must be done at once, or we shall find ourselves up Queer Street."

"The others are probably watching the door and are no doubt in communication with the Dutch police; there is no chance of success if we try to escape."

This was my own argument. But Bunker was of a different opinion.

"We can get away easily enough," said he.

I inquired his meaning. To which he replied that there must be a back door, and that we must act promptly.

I suggested that we should wait until midnight.

"When the streets are empty and we shall be easily recognized!" said Bunker, with a shake of the head. "No, that will never do. No time like the present."

"But our hotel bill—"

"We must send that afterwards."

Thus Bunker, whose strength of character, firmness of will and resoluteness of purpose afterwards stood us in such good stead, as I shall have cause in its place to relate, overruled our somewhat feeble objections, and portmanteau in hand conducted us down a narrow, back staircase which he had already noted.

At the bottom we met a femme de chambre, and, making some excuse for our hasty departure, slipped a couple of five- franc-pieces into her hand and bade her hold her tongue—or its equivalent in French—which language she understood, though I imagined she was Dutch or Flemish. We found ourselves in a narrow back street bordering on a canal, an evil-smelling, green-coated lane of water.

"Which way?" whispered Mackie, as he shouldered his portmanteau. "If we can get to the other side of this water, we shall not be far from Oostersee Straat, in which is situated the North-Holland Railway station. Once arrived there we shall be—"

"But, my dear fellow," I interrupted, "we must make for the German frontier and Berlin."

"And be beautifully nabbed. No, there is some plan in this plot. Perhaps it's more complicated than we have hitherto imagined. We shall best baffle them by taking the train via The Hague for Amsterdam."

"Bunker, you are a genius!" observed Rolf. "But how shall we cross this canal?"

This was a poser. By the faint light of the stars, augmented by a few feeble lamps which were barely sufficient to show the existence of a canal, we could discern no bridge by which we could get to the other side.

"But maybe there is a boat," said Mackie, dropping his load and peering into the water.

Sure enough there was a boat, not many yards away. An ungainly, blunt-nosed skiff; flat-bottomed and tub-like. But it was sufficient. And in a few minutes we were afloat with our baggage, nor did it take many strokes to bring us to a narrow lane which opened on the further side.

Leaving the boat to take care of itself we staggered over the cobbles, each man carrying his own luggage, and had the good fortune to emerge in the broad and well-lighted street, quite close to the station. An hour later, rejoicing in the success of our manoeuvre, we were speeding along the iron road in the direction of Amsterdam.

I have related these early adventures in some detail because they throw light on subsequent events. In this place I need only say that we were able to make our way by a circuitous route to the frontier, which we crossed without difficulty by means of passports which fortunately we had procured at the English foreign office, and without further delay we were conveyed safely to the great and beautiful city of Berlin.

It is commonly supposed that there is a considerable amount of jealousy between the Russians and the Germans and that the former are not welcomed in Berlin. Be this as it may we made the discovery that the long arm of the Czar was able to reach even thus far. Further, we were astonished to find, as I must now proceed to explain, that the three whom we had taken for Belgian detectives were in truth representatives of the Russian Government.

Our journey from Berlin to St. Petersburg was the occasion of our next adventure. It was on the morning of the third day after our advent in the German capital that the train left for the great city on the Neva. We arrived at the station in good time and secured comfortable quarters in the saloon train. It was not until we arrived at the frontier that we discovered evidence that we had not slipped out of Holland unobserved. Night had fallen, and I was about to clamber into my berth, an upper one, when the conductor entered and eyed us curiously. He said nothing, but his manner aroused our suspicions.

"I wonder what the fellow wants?" queried Mackie.

"Not in the pay of the Russian police, I trust," was my remark, for I felt a little uncomfortable.

Bunker said nothing. But when, in a few minutes, Mackie and I climbed into our respective beds, he produced a revolver and, wrapping himself in a rug, seated himself in a corner as though, on the look-out for enemies. We leaned over the side and chafed him, but he replied grimly that he would sleep when we awoke. So, leaving him to act the part of sentinel, we retired to the land of Nod.

Upon some persons the roar and swing of a railway train has a peculiarly somnolent effect. I think it must have been so in our own case. For my own part I know that I slept like a top, and was entirely oblivious of the meshes which our enemies were endeavouring to weave about us.

I was aroused by the sharp report of a revolver and for a few seconds could not recollect where I was. Then the sound of fierce voices speaking in a strange language and some words uttered by Bunker, whose voice I recognized, recalled me to my senses and I sat up and drew aside the curtain. The compartment was filled with a pungent smoke of gunpowder. Mackie had already been aroused, for he was on the floor, half-dressed, and locked in the arms of a stalwart blue-coated man. They were swaying to and fro as I descended to his assistance. I noticed that Bunker was struggling with a second man at the further end of the saloon. There was a third, whose features I could not at first plainly distinguish both by reason of the smoke and also because the electric lamps in the roof had been shaded for the night by nets of dark gauze. Without a moment's hesitation I sprang forward to the assistance of Mackie, and succeeded in driving home my fist full into the man's face. The blow was a heavy one and numbed my knuckles; but the effect on Mackie's assailant was greater. He went down like a poleaxed bullock and lay motionless on the floor. Then we turned to assist Bunker, and just in the nick of time, for the third man was joining his companion in his attack upon our friend, though not with much prospect of success; for, as we afterwards discovered, he had been wounded in the hand by a bullet from our friend's revolver. Probably Bunker in his rage would have polished off the pair of them had it not been that the weapon had been knocked from his hand by the charge which one of them made upon him.

What happened in the next few minutes I find it difficult to describe. There were other occupants of the saloon, who had been aroused by the noise, and some of them proceeded to interfere, while others shouted inquiries from their berths. Some one removed the shades from the lamps, and at once I saw that our assailants were none other than the three who had entrapped us at Ostend and whom we had outwitted at Rotterdam.

In the babel of voices, the questionings, the shouts, which arose around us not much could be distinguished that our enemies said. This much speedily became clear, they were the three who had entrapped us at Ostend.

"Ah, monsieur, so we have met again! You were very nearly too clever for us. Bah, what a dance you did lead us after we had lost sight of you in Rotterdam! As for that femme de chambre she could not have held her tongue for fifty francs!"

Such were the words with which I was greeted by our former acquaintance.

"Sir," I replied, with all the dignity I could assume, "I have not even the honour of knowing your name. Your attack upon us is such that we can by no means excuse it. Unless you allow us to proceed in peace to St. Petersburg I shall be obliged to lay the matter before the Russian police, and may even be compelled to summon the assistance of the British Consul."

The crowd around us—clad, or half-clad, in various kinds of night array—had ceased their clamour and now were listening, open-mouthed, to a conversation in a language of which probably few of them understood a word.

"Pardon me, monsieur," returned the other politely, "but it is necessary that monsieur should not forget that we are now on Russian soil, the frontier was passed at the station where the luggage was last examined."

"Then we are now—"

"In Russia."

"But you do not mean to say that you—"

"Are agents of the Russian Government."

He smiled and bowed again, as though he had brought us the happiest news.

"Our paternal Government has appointed us to see to your safe conduct," he added. "You have nothing to fear—nothing whatever. Only place yourselves in our hands and all will be well."

Bunker was listening attentively. He and his late assailants, ceasing their wrestling match, were following our conversation.

"We trusted you implicitly in Ostend," sneered Bunker, "and certainly we do not intend to do so a second time."

"'Circumstances alter cases,' as you English say. I am sorry to inform you that, as you are now in Russia, you will have no choice in the matter."

"Then you mean that we are prisoners?" interjected Mackie.

The possessor of the white teeth bowed.

"It is an ugly word. Suppose we say that you are our guests."

"Suppose we say nothing of the kind!" shouted Bunker, making a dash for his revolver which still lay on the floor of the swaying carriage. But one of his former friends was too quick for him and kicked it aside with his foot, so that it slid under an adjacent berth. Bunker made for the man with his fists, but I threw my arms round him and bid him be reasonable, as no good could now be done by the use of firearms. Indeed I feared that in his rage he might kill one of the Russians or even one of the passengers; for in a saloon sleeping-car there is not much room.

Some time was spent in fruitless talk. On our part there was much indignation, on theirs a superabundance of exterior politeness. At length it dawned upon me that argument was useless and at least we might rest ourselves till morning in view of further excitement the next day. We succeeded in persuading the irate Bunker to follow our example, and very soon we had resumed a recumbent posture, the three Russians, as we must now call them, acting as a guard.

It puzzled me not a little why these men had disturbed us in the middle of the night. But Bunker explained to me that they had come in as though searching for us, and that they appeared to be not a little surprised and pleased when they caught sight of him. In his agitation he had raised his revolver and had fired upon them, happily without inflicting further damage than a slight wound in the hand of one of them.

Throughout the long night the train rumbled along. I am sure that plans for escape were revolving in our minds—at least I can speak for my own. My chief satisfaction rested on the fact that at any rate we were now in Russia and that each hour was certainly bearing us nearer to our destination. That there would be difficulties in St. Petersburg I did not doubt; but I felt sanguine that fortune would smile upon us and that sooner or later we should reach our goal.. On this point, at least, I had made up my mind: nothing should induce me to abandon McGubbins and his men. By hook or by crook to Archangel we would go, in spite of all the police and Government authorities of the Russian empire.

Perhaps had I known what would befall us my heart would have quailed and my courage would have oozed away. But happily in this, as in all matters in the future, a veil hid from our eyes that which would have made its contemplation unbearable.


IV. — WHAT HAPPENED IN ST. PETERSBURG

THIS was my first visit to the city of the Czars. Often had I heard of its palatial buildings, its broad streets, its massive quays. Often had I read stories of its inner life, its Government, its Anarchists, its police. It was, therefore, with a feeling of intense curiosity, mingled with apprehension concerning the immediate future, that I stepped from the train in company with those who had again so neatly entrapped us. Daring the latter part of our journey we had learnt that the three were brothers of the name of Stravenski; the eldest—i.e. the one with the white teeth—being named Otto, the second Paulus, and the third Peter. These three men played a by no means unimportant part in the drama which I shall have reason to describe.

The tallest, and by far the most handsome, was Otto. As upright as military drill could make him, possessed of raven- black hair, dark flashing eyes and a carriage worthy of a prince, he was, in truth, a singularly fine specimen of a Russian.

His brother Paulus was a very different man, being much stouter of build and having the Mongolian cast of features so eminently typical of certain types of Russian society. Nor was his expression so agreeable as his elder brother's. Besides, as we afterwards discovered, he was naturally vindictive and passionate.

The younger of the three, Peter, though not so tall as his eldest brother, resembled him in build and not a little in feature, but he lacked his pleasing expression and urbane manners. Neither he nor Paulus knew many words of English. But Otto informed us that he himself had at one time resided for several years in England, where he had acquired remarkable fluency in our tongue.

"And what do you intend to do with us, Monsieur Stravenski?" I inquired. "You have not yet told us on what charge we have been arrested."

"We will not call it arrest," he returned, "say rather 'temporary detention.' I trust you will not consider it a hardship to dwell for a time in our beautiful city. As soon as the winter is thoroughly established, and we get a good snowfall, you will begin to enjoy yourselves in Russian fashion and will have a merry time."

"But we wish to proceed on our way without delay."

"That is in the hands of the Government," he replied gravely.

This at least was definite news. We knew now that the all- powerful ruler of this great empire had laid upon us his iron hand, and this for some reason totally unknown to us. I inquired how long we should be expected to stay in St. Petersburg and was informed that under supervision we might at any time return to England. But that on no account should we be allowed to proceed further into the country. This seemed to us so preposterous that we determined to appeal to the British Consul or, if need required, even to the Ambassador himself.

It is not my intention to give a detailed account of our life in St. Petersburg, but it will be necessary for me to indicate what were the principal events of our enforced sojourn and their bearing upon the strange discoveries which we were soon to make and all that subsequently befell us.

"Your lodgings shall be the best at our disposal," was Otto Stravenski's remark as we drove away from the railway station.

We listened in silence, for it was obvious that at the present moment resistance would be futile. Very soon we found ourselves occupying roomy apartments overlooking the broad expanse of the Neva. The brothers left us with expressions of good-will, but it was certain that they would keep us under close observation. As no restrictions had been laid down with regard to communication with our friends in England and Scotland, I promptly wrote a long letter to my wife in Edinburgh, giving her a full and particular account of all that had befallen us since we had left the Scotch capital. This epistle I duly posted; but it was not till long afterwards that I learnt that it had been intercepted before leaving the country, and this for reasons which will be sufficiently plain to those who thus far have followed my narrative.

In all we spent a month in St. Petersburg. Whenever we left our rooms one or another of the brothers Stravenski was at our elbow. It was impossible to shake them off. It was they who prevented us from communicating with the British Consul and the Ambassador; it was they who gave such hints to the police as effectually hindered us from departing for the North. We were housed free of expense to ourselves, and our food did not cost much. Many a time did we discuss the situation, and, for my own part, I really think that had it not been for the pluck and resolution of my two companions I should certainly have returned home.

"No," said Bunker, "we have come thus far and have surmounted not a few difficulties, forward we must go; it would be simply disgraceful for three Englishmen to retire defeated before three Russians."

To this I objected that the said Russians were representatives of the Government and that we were therefore checkmated.

"But only for a time," insisted Bunker. "Where there's a will there's a way. I am clearly of the opinion that we shall come out of this with flying colours."

Yet I verily believe that we might still have been resident in St. Petersburg—unless indeed we had returned to Scotland, which we were always at liberty to do—had it not been for the advent of another and totally unexpected player on the stage.

Winter was now upon us in grim earnest, and the sleigh season was in full swing. Russian society was giving itself up to the endless round of amusements with which it wiles away the winter months. I was becoming more and more impatient and even began to fear that Captain McGubbins and his crew, despairing of my coming, would make for England. In which case it was more than probable that we should not encounter them. I had determined (after consultation with Mackie and Bunker) to make a dash for the English Legation, of which, with some difficulty, we had just discovered the whereabouts, when whom should I meet in the street, face to face, but the man who had accosted me in the streets of Edinburgh and from whom (so I had concluded) I had received the warning epistle signed "Alexis Petrovitch."

I was about to address him, but he stared me in the face as though he did not know me and walked on. His attire was so different from that which he had worn when I saw him in Scotland, that, for a moment, I thought I must be mistaken. Instead of the blue pilot cloth and peaked cap, he was now dressed in a fashionable Russian winter coat lined with expensive fur, his moustache was twirled in military fashion and his bearing was generally distinguished. In fact so changed an appearance did he present from the occasion when I had last seen him that, for a few moments, I had doubts concerning his identity and I passed on pondering. Yet, on reflection, I felt sure that I could not be mistaken, and after consultation with my companions I determined to make inquiries of the brothers Stravenski concerning this man.

"Petrovitch! N-no! I know no one of that name!" was Otto's reply to my question.

But I saw that he lied, and I felt increasingly determined to find out whether there was any connection between our captors (for as such we regarded them) and this man Petrovitch.

It was exactly one week later that we made a further discovery. By this time, in spite of the arguments of Mackie and Bunker, I had half a mind to return home. We were discussing the situation somewhat mournfully over afternoon tea when a stranger was announced, and almost before we had time to rise a tall lady entered. Bunker rose from the fender in some confusion—he was making toast—and we all bowed profoundly.

She was dressed in furs after the winter fashion, and the frosty air had brought the colour into her face; her complexion was dark and her hair nearly black; but she had those remarkable blue eyes which are so noticeable in Russian women of high birth. She smiled charmingly, and began to apologize in the prettiest broken English imaginable for her intrusion.

I will not pretend to reproduce her accent, but what she told us was startling enough.

"You know my brother," she began.

We bowed politely, but protested that we had not the honour of his acquaintance.

"My name is Volta Petrovitch," said she, "you have, I think, met Alexis."

Then light dawned. "Yes—yesterday, in the street which opens on the quay," said I, in some surprise.

"And he did not appear to notice you?"

"Well, to tell you the truth, I was not absolutely certain that it was he. You see, he was not wearing the same dress."

"But you knew him?" she persisted.

I could not but acknowledge that I did.

"And he recognized you—and—." She hesitated.

"And that is the reason you are here?" interrupted Mackie, as though trying to help her to a more complete explanation.

"Yes," she said, turning to him and laying her hand lightly on his arm. "You will, I know, not think me guilty of great presumption in coming hither, but indeed I must help you—"

"Help—?" I cried.

Turning to me she continued bravely, "You are anxious to proceed to Archangel?"

"Yes."

"Will you allow me to inquire whether you consider your business to be of urgent importance?"

I replied that to ourselves it certainly was important.

"Would you object to tell me the nature of it?"

"That, madam, would be impossible, seeing that to us the matter is a mystery."

"A mystery!"

"It may seem strange to you," I continued, "but it is a fact that we are bound on a mission of which we do not see the ultimate outcome. Concerning a portion of it there need be no secrets. Our object is to succour some British sailors."

"Captain McGubbins and the crew of the Pole Star!" said she, with a bright smile.

We gazed at her in astonishment, and then at each other. What could this lady know of our friends and their affairs?

"Tell us, I pray you, all you know concerning the vessel and its crew. I was the owner of the lost ship."

"Perhaps the lady would like to sit down," suggested Bunker dryly.

"O pray do not apologize!" she laughed, as she took a seat by the fire, "I knew I should greatly surprise you. Yes, thank you, I will take one cup of tea made after your English fashion, I learnt to appreciate it when I was in England with my brother. Ah, yours is a beautiful country, so rich and so free!"

She sighed and sipped her tea pensively, while we waited, wondering what her revelation would be.

It struck me, as I watched her, that she was decidedly good- looking, nay, more, she might even he called beautiful; though she had not yet attained the full growth of womanhood, for, to all appearance she had not seen more than twenty summers. Both Mackie and Bunker seemed to be interested in her, too. The latter was examining her critically, as though trying to fathom her secret by reading her mind; but the former was regarding our visitor with eyes expressive of unbounded admiration. That a Russian lady—especially one so young—should have ventured to visit us at all was puzzling in the extreme; and as I waited for her to speak it was borne in upon me that it must be a matter of no slight importance which had brought her hither, for it was hardly likely that a mere trifle would have caused her to traverse alone and unprotected the snowy streets of the capital and to visit, unattended, a trio of foreigners. Perhaps she was reading our thoughts even while we tried to read hers, for presently she looked up, saying, "Unless you do as I ask the risk which I have run will be in vain. If Alexis should discover that I have been here, though I am his sister he would shoot me like a dog, and my body would be thrust under the ice which covers yonder water."

She rose, and pointing a slender bejeweled hand with dramatic sweep to the white-glistening, frozen Neva, she continued, "And I would sooner go there than that you should fall into his hands."

"All right, miss," said Bunker, with a tinge of sarcasm in his tone, "we will excuse the stage-effect, if you will only give us facts."

Her eyes flashed with scorn as she glanced at him, and then, turning to me she continued, "Before you left home you received a letter from Alexis? He warned you not to proceed to Archangel?"

I nodded—I can hardly call it bowed—for I, too, was becoming a trifle impatient.

She lowered her voice. "Is it absolutely essential that you should reach Archangel?"

"Absolutely."

"Because it may cost your lives—I've come to warn you."

"Preposterous!" blurted out Bunker, while Mackie, forgetting his manners, gave vent to a long-drawn whistle.

"Pardon me, madam—or mademoiselle—but we are not afraid, and have not the slightest intention of turning back. If you have come as an agent from your brother or from the three Stravenskis, I solemnly assure you that your efforts will be without avail, for to Archangel we intend to go."

She was not offended, happily, by the firmness of my words, but her reply took the shape of a bright ringing laugh.

"Ah, sirs," she cried, "you come from a land where there is no despotic government, from a country where the people rule themselves. Do not forget that you are now in Russia, where you can scarcely eat, drink, or sleep without the permission of the authorities. To attempt to proceed further on your journey will, I assure you, be worse than venturesome; it will be foolhardy. At the present moment you are as carefully guarded and watched as though shut up in yonder fortress."

She pointed through the window across the ice towards the grim fortifications which crowd about the summit of the islands and effectually protect St. Petersburg.

"There is but one road to safety," she continued, "and that is through Germany."

"You mean that we ought to return?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Surely the reason which I have given you is sufficient!"

"You will excuse me, I am sure, if I say that you have not given us any reason whatever. We Britons are not afraid of danger, especially when duty calls."

For a few seconds she regarded us pensively, and again I was struck by the beauty of her face and gracefulness of her figure.

"I can give you no other reason," she added quietly. "I know but this, that the Government has decreed that you are not to be allowed to proceed to Archangel. The affair is in the hands of my brother Alexis, and he has full power to act; under his direction work the three detectives, the brothers Stravenski. I freely acknowledge that it is at Otto Stravenski's suggestion I have paid you this visit. But I run much risk. For Alexis is the possessor of a terrible temper."

She moved towards the door.

"Farewell. Be guided by my advice."

I escorted her to the door, and she smiled pleasantly as she bid me adieu. A well-furnished sleigh bore her swiftly away over the snow, and I returned to our apartments full of anxious thought.


V. — UNEXPECTED FRIENDS

"WHAT is to be done?" was Rolf Mackie's inquiry when I returned to them.

"I wish she had told us more," I said. "At least this we may be sure of, she is our friend."

"But powerless, I fear."

"I am not so sure of that. Woman may persuade where man fails."

"Then you think that this young woman may be able to forward our project?"

"Certainly. There is no reason in the world why we should not reach Archangel. It's a pity she did not leave her address."

Bunker suggested that she was sure to pay us another visit. "If I am any reader of character," he said, "that girl has the gift of perseverance and will not easily be put off from her purpose. She has failed in her attempt to persuade us to return to England; but, mark my words, she will most certainly do her utmost to thwart her brother's designs, now that her interest in us is thoroughly aroused."

"How do you know that her interest is aroused?"

"How do I know?—ask Mackie!"

I turned and looked at my young friend, but saw nothing in his face but a richer colour than usual, and failed to understand Bunker's meaning. Yet we might have remained in St. Petersburg to this hour, unless indeed we had returned home, had it not been for Volta Petrovitch.

For several days we saw nothing of our friends—shall I call them enemies? I had sent a letter describing our position to the British Embassy, but I afterwards had reason to believe that, like the letter which I dispatched to my wife, it was intercepted and not allowed to reach its destination.

It was while we waited for the reply which never came that Volta Petrovitch made another move; this time a successful one. It was late at night, and we were enjoying a pipe before we retired to rest, when our Russian factotum—a stupid sort of fellow—entered and announced that a lady wished to see me. I descended to the door fully expecting that the visitor would prove to be Petrovitch's sister. But the instant I saw her I knew that I was mistaken. Tall though Volta Petrovitch was, her stature was nothing in comparison with the gigantic woman who stood before me. Her face was entirely concealed by an impenetrable veil. She was as broad-shouldered as she was tall, and seemed to be wearing a remarkable amount of clothing.

"Can I speak to you in private?" she asked.

Her voice was a curiously-deep one, and there was something about the character of the English accent which I seemed to recognize.

"You will not object to the presence of my two friends?"

Without waiting for her reply, I conducted her to our sitting- room.

Bunker and Mackie welcomed the new-comer with a stare of amazement, plainly they too had expected to see Volta Petrovitch. Their surprise was not diminished when the woman proceeded to divest herself of a long fur mantle, as well as a skirt and bonnet. And there stood revealed to us no less a personage than Otto Stravenski.

I think we were all too much amazed to speak; that our stalwart guardian should be masquerading in such an attire was astonishing enough, but that he should come as our friend and to aid our project was still more astounding.

Yet such was truly the case.

"In the name of reason what are you playing at, Stravenski?" cried Bunker, as soon as he could find his tongue.

"Is this a charade, or have you been drinking?" was Rolf Mackie's inquiry.

"Messieurs, I am not playing a charade, nor am I under the influence of drink—though, for the matter of that, I may be mad. Probably you will conclude that I have lost my senses when I tell you what has brought me hither in this disguise. You have received, I believe, a visit from my fiancée, Mademoiselle Volta Petrovitch—"

"Your fiancée!"

The exclamation was Mackie's, and I noticed a flush on his face. But Otto Stravenski did not observe it, and continued—

"She has tried to persuade you to return to England?"

"Yes."

"And you have refused?"

"We certainly have no intention of returning home until we have completed the business which has brought us to Russia."

"I admire your bravery and resolution. Nevertheless without aid you will be unsuccessful. This I tell you candidly, for the Government is in earnest."

"The Government!"

"Ah, I perceive that you do not yet realize that everything in this country is supervised by our ruling powers. It has been decreed that you shall not go to Archangel, and no earthly power could enable you to get there unless disguised."

"Then you will provide us with disguises," I cried enthusiastically.

He smiled, showing his white teeth.

"For a consideration," said he. "The truth is, I will aid you—though it would be penal servitude in a fortress were I discovered—if you will aid me."

"But that is impossible."

"Not at all. As I tell you, I am wishful to marry the beauteous Volta. At present my means will not allow me to do so; in this you can assist me in return for my services. I do but ask that you will give me but one-fourth of your gain by this venture."

"But I know not that we shall make any profit whatever by it. More likely we shall lose considerably."

He smiled again significantly, and nodded his head two or three times.

"I know what I know. Be assured I shall be well recompensed if you fulfill your promise."

His words inflamed our curiosity exceedingly, and although there was much about it that was mysterious, I agreed to his proposal.

"Really, the plot thickens," said Bunker. But Mackie said nothing, and I fancied that he was not altogether happy.

Over cigars and coffee we discussed with Otto Stravenski the detective a scheme so daring that even now, when I come to think of it, I wonder that we dared to run such risks.

"You must be completely disguised," said he, "some of this clothing shall be my contribution."

"But it is a woman's dress."

"Exactly; it struck me that one of you might travel as an old Russian peasant-woman. Our friend here would act the part to perfection."

He indicated Bunker. But that worthy shook his head and protested that nothing would induce him to adopt such a disguise. Nor could Mackie be persuaded to wear the dress, and I also expressed my own disinclination.

"Then we must try something else," returned our visitor, "for I tell you plainly that I do not intend to lose my marriage portion. There is some risk in such visits as this. But I have resolved to wed before the end of the year, and so the venture must be made."

We inquired whether his brothers were aware that he had come to us.

"Certainly not, it would be fatal to our plans if they should discover anything of the sort."

"And Petrovitch—"

He laughed.

"I fear it is no use my maintaining the fiction that we do not know Petrovitch. He is our commanding officer; the head of an important department in the Russian detective service, and"—he hesitated—"a resentful and dangerous man."

He departed, leaving us to talk over this unexpected development. There could be no doubt, it seemed to me, that the offer was a genuine one, though Bunker, who had been slightly offended by the suggestion that he would make an admirable old woman, was inclined to think that Otto Stravenski's plan was invented for the purpose of entrapping us, that we should be fools to run our heads heedlessly into the net, and that he, for one, would have nothing to do with it. Mackie, too, for reasons which I could not at that time divine, seemed to be suspicious of the detective's intentions. It was some time after our visitor had left us before he recovered his usual spirits. It took me an hour or two to talk them round. But at length I was successful in persuading them that acceptance of Otto Stravenski's plan was the only alternative to returning to England.

"And you would never hold up your heads again if you were beaten by these Russians," I concluded jokingly.


VI. — WHAT HAPPENED ON THE ROAD TO ARCHANGEL

IT was not for three days that anything further transpired, and by that time we were becoming apprehensive either that Otto Stravenski had changed his mind or that his plot had been discovered by his brothers or by Petrovitch.

In this, however, we were mistaken. Late in the evening of the third day we received a visit both from the charming Volta and from her fiancé. They did not come together; such a course would have been dangerous. The first to arrive was the lady; she brought with her a parcel of male clothing.

Half-an-hour later came Otto Stravenski. He was habited in the costume of a moujik, and wore a long artificial beard, so that on his appearing we failed to recognize him, and the removal in the said beard resulted in much merriment.

He, too, brought with him clothing, so that there was sufficient for our wants. Then they proceeded to expound to us their design. In brief it was this:—We were to habit ourselves in the none-too-clean second-hand garments. Further, we were to hold ourselves in readiness the next night for a start. The journey, they told us, must be made by sledge, and post-horses could be obtained en route. It was a long journey across the snows to Archangel, and the cold would be intense, with the thermometer down to zero or thereabouts. The sledges were to be well provided with furs, and, in view of possible encounter with wolves, there would be firearms, for these animals were said to be very dangerous at this time of the year.

When the time came for us to start we had no little amusement, in spite of the dangers which surrounded us, concerning our new appearance. The tall, fair, fresh-looking Rolf Mackie made an excellent Russian peasant farmer lad of the better class, one who, to all appearance, had lately sought the city in search of employment more congenial than that of the village and the fields.

He was habited in a sheepskin coat, a fur cap, and a pair of stout long boots. Bunker was dressed as a young Russian merchant—one of the poorer sort, travelling on his own account and conveying his goods from town to town. His clothing was of better quality than Mackie's—this we could not help. My own attire was similar to Bunker's, and for us all, at any rate until we were clear of civilization, there were adornments in the shape of a false beard for myself, and heavy moustaches for the others. So complete were our disguises that I am sure none of our most intimate friends at home would have recognized us.

It was about sunset when we assumed our new raiment. We were to start soon after dark, and were to be driven by moonlight the first stages of our journey. But a complete surprise awaited us in the arrival at the last moment of Otto Stravenski and Volta Petrovitch.

"Have you informed any one of the project?" inquired the former.

"Not a soul."

He looked grave and puzzled.

"At least, my brother is on the alert," put in Volta. "He has talked about you to-day on several occasions. Still, I do not think there is immediate danger. If we can but get away to-night all will be well."

Her words puzzled me.

"Did you say 'we'?"

"Assuredly. You speak no Russian, and must have with you some one conversant with our language."

"But you—"

She smiled sweetly.

"Otto must go," said she. "And I verily believe that my life would pay the forfeit should my brother discover what we have done. No, I must ask you to allow me to place myself under your protection, monsieur. I know I am doing a venturesome thing. Some would say that my act is rash in the extreme, but what is the alternative? You would not have me lose my life and be for ever separated from Otto?"

She spoke with such tender entreaty that I was forced, against my better judgment, to yield. Perhaps if I had not done so, things would have turned out very differently. Certain it is that the matter had been arranged between them, and in the end, as the event will show, her presence proved the undoing of one who posed as our friend.

The streets presented the appearance of rivers of glistening sheen. The snow lay thick and crisp and even. The frost, at many degrees below freezing-point, caused one's face to tingle. The horses, impatient with the biting cold, pawed the ground restlessly. The sledges were heaped with furs; there were packages, representing our goods—though what they really contained we did not know; and all this in a back street at the rear of our dwelling, for it would not have done to expose ourselves to the risk of detention by departing by way of the main street.

"You have the passports and merchants' licences?" inquired Volta of Otto Stravenski.

He nodded, and a few moments later we were gliding over the crisp, frozen surface to the merry tinkling of the sleigh bells.

"Bravo!" cried my young friend Mackie, as we approached the city boundary. "Now for freedom and the North!"

Scarcely had he uttered the words, when the driver of the foremost sledge, which contained Stravenski, Volta, and Bunker, came to a standstill. As we drew near to them, I noticed that they were being addressed by a police officer, who was accompanied by several of his men. Then I heard Stravenski say, "All right, sergeant, I am taking them on by command of Commandant the Colonel Petrovitch. It is all in order."

The man raised his hand to the salute, which Stravenski returned, and our horses resumed their swinging pace. But none the less Stravenski's words created a feeling of uneasiness in my mind, and I began to wonder—it was only just a dim suspicion, which I tried to dismiss—whether, after all, we were not being duped and carried to some Russian fortress. "Be that as it may," I thought, "it is now impossible to turn back."

The scene in the open country was lovely in the extreme. As every one is aware, the views in the neighbourhood of St. Petersburg are not particularly beautiful, nay, in summer time some would call them hideous. But, under the light of the full moon, everything was transformed into a shimmer of silvery glory. The stunted, leafless limbs of the trees glistened with the frost; the houses, coated with snow, though oftentimes mere hovels, looked beautiful, and occasionally a bright gleam from a window revealed a glowing stove and cosy, if dirty, interior. Although the cold was intense, the motion over the smooth surface, in the clear moonlight, was exhilarating. Our wraps kept us sufficiently warm, and under the skin robes we snuggled cosily, so that only the tiniest portion of our faces was exposed. It was in the small hours that we reached the first post-house, a barn-like place on a treeless plain—at least there were no hills so far as I could see. With some difficulty we aroused mine host, but it was fully an hour before the fresh horses were harnessed and we were ready to start again. I felt very fidgety when I recollected the police officials who had stopped us as we left St. Petersburg, and who might even now be on our track. We went to sleep during this the second stage of the journey, and the next stoppage was made shortly before daybreak. By this time we were ready for food, but that which we were able to procure was of the coarsest, the cooking vile, and the odour of the apartment anything but pure. Although the delay was absolutely necessary, my spirit chafed under it, and I should have felt much happier had we been able to continue the first portion of our journey without these stoppages, but unhappily they were unavoidable, though in the end they resulted in a curious condition of affairs, which, indeed, came to pass towards the evening of this very day.

We had crossed a rolling mound—I can scarcely call it a hill—and were ascending a long slope on the further side; dark clouds had come up, and there were signs of an approaching storm; a few flakes, heralds of the advancing snow, were driven in our faces, and I turned to see whether it looked equally black and threatening in our rear, when my eye was attracted by a speck on the distant horizon. Perhaps it would not have caught my sight had it not been for the fact that in all the white world about us nothing darker than snow was visible. I kept my gaze fixed upon it until I became convinced that the object was in motion, and that it could be none other than a sledge. Instantly a wild thought took possession of my brain. What if this should be some of the Russian police in pursuit of us! I called the attention of the others, but they laughed at my suggestion—all except Volta Petrovitch, who became much agitated, and presently proclaimed that the sledge was driven by no less a personage than her brother. Whether her sight was more acute than ours I cannot say, or whether she, in her fright, anticipated the truth; suffice to say that her surmise proved to be correct. We drove our hardest. Indeed, never have I seen post-horses develop such an astonishing degree of speed. But our pursuers had better animals and rapidly gained upon us.

"Shall we fight them?" I shouted, addressing Otto Stravenski in the leading sledge.

He shook his head emphatically; perhaps he was afraid for the consequences should we inflict any bodily harm upon government officials.

It was within the shelter of a little clump of pines, which we came to an hour later, that we checked our panting steeds, and; leaping out, turned to face the foe. Already we had handed round our firearms, which consisted of a revolver apiece, besides a couple of Winchester repeating-rifles, and a large-bore weapon of a bigger size than anything I had seen before. We tied up the horses' heads and got behind the sledges. But, indeed, there was little need for all this preparation, for as the pursuing sledge advanced we saw that it was occupied by but three persons, namely Alexis Petrovitch and Paulus and Peter Stravenski.

They drew up a few feet from us, and I noticed that their horses—magnificent animals—were completely blown.

Petrovitch, who himself was driving, was the first to address us (though I did not at the time understand his words, nor the replies made by his sister and Otto Stravenski, it was all explained to us later).

"This is a strange proceeding on your part, Captain Stravenski!" Though Petrovitch's face blazed with anger, he had sufficient self-control to speak quietly.

"You have not been long in following us, Colonel. We had hoped to be far away before you even guessed that we had taken a holiday."

"A holiday! And without permission. What do you mean, sir?"

Otto laughed, and seemed by no means disconcerted.

"You must return with us immediately."

"I fear that is impossible, my chief; we have a long journey before us and must press on— perhaps you would like to accompany our party."

He spoke quietly but with distinct emphasis, and I noticed that his fingers tightened on his weapon. Petrovitch noticed this too, and it had, doubtless, some effect in causing him to check his wrath.

"You are insolent, sir, and will have reason to regret what you have done. My duty calls me back to St. Petersburg. If you will return with me I may be able to put matters right, if not you must take the consequences; I warn you they will be serious."

Here the brothers Paulus and Peter chimed in, adding their entreaties to Petrovitch's commands, but without avail.

At this moment Volta Petrovitch, who at our request, had concealed herself among the furs when our pursuers overtook us, for some reason best known to herself sat up. The effect upon her brother was remarkable.

"Ah! so I was not mistaken! You here!" he exclaimed. "What is the meaning of this?"

"It means," said Volta, "that I am engaged to be married to the gallant captain, Otto Stravenski. These kind English gentlemen are acting as my escort and protectors until we reach Archangel, where the priest will unite us in matrimony. It will not be the least use for you to ask us to go back; I assure you, dear brother, that the step we have taken, after due consideration, is irrevocable. Accompany us by all means, and be chief witness at the holy ceremony. Nay, you shall give my hand, as is your right, to the brave captain, and his brothers—they will add to our party—I regret that I shall have no bridesmaids to accompany them."

The face of Alexis Petrovitch was a study. At first he listened to his sister with an expression of contemptuous amusement; this changed rapidly to scorn and finally to rage. At last he could contain himself no longer—

"Since you and this fellow have aided and abetted these Englishmen in transgressing the law you must suffer for it, though you be my sister. What the punishment will be I cannot say—something short of Siberia, I trust. I regret to take such a step, but in the name of the Czar"—here he turned to Otto Stravenski—"I call upon you all to lay down your arms and to consider yourselves under arrest."

It was a dramatic scene. The wind soughed mournfully in the higher branches of the gaunt pines; snowflakes were being whirled about us by the now advancing storm; behind was a dark wood; on every other side, as far as the eye could reach, there was an expanse of glistening white; and here, away from the gaze of the outer world, a little play was being enacted which, though it might seem to be unimportant, was, in fact, of vital concern both to ourselves and to those far away on the frozen shores of the Arctic Ocean.

By natural inclination I am a man of peace; and I had begun to fear that the upshot of the whole affair would be that we should be compelled, nolens volens, to return to St. Petersburg. But when Petrovitch and his companions sprang from their sledge, as though to disarm us, I was not surprised at the shout of defiance which came from Otto, nor that Bunker and Mackie simultaneously rose to his assistance.

What happened next it would be difficult to describe in detail. There were shouts and oaths; a scuffle in the snow; the stampeding for a short distance of startled horses; a few revolver-shots, of which one, unhappily, wounded Alexis Petrovitch in the leg, so that he fell down in the snow hors de combat; the immediate surrender of the brothers Paulus and Peter—not from compulsion, for they might have fought a desperate battle had they been so inclined, but because they seemed to be but half-hearted and acting merely under the orders of their superior officer.

It certainly was not a very brilliant victory, nor one of which we had any particular reason to be proud; but it brought about momentous results, not the least of them being that we were encumbered by the responsibility of providing for the safeguard of three unwilling men. In a word, they were our prisoners. It was with determination, yet with sobered feelings, that we took immediate steps for their security and for our own safety. The difficulty was how to insure both these. Within a short time messages would be flashed over our very heads along the snow- laden wires which marked the road towards the wintry north, stretching ever onward across the seemingly illimitable expanse. The result could be foreseen without much mental effort—a hasty trial before relentless officials—a Russian prison, perhaps even exile to Siberia. We foreigners did not understand that exile was a highly-remote contingency, and that perhaps its terrors have been exaggerated.

We held a whispered consultation under the pines as soon as we had recovered the stampeding horses, which fortunately had not strayed far. The three prisoners formed a little group by themselves, where they scowled at us and muttered in Russian. We talked in English and so low that we could not be overheard.

"We must push on; there's no time to be lost," said Mackie.

Bunker almost sneered at him for his simplicity.

"Do you take the Russians for fools?" said he. "They will telegraph over our heads, and we shall be met by a troop of soldiers before we have gone much further—at any rate, as soon as they discover what has happened."

Then up spoke Otto Stravenski.

"You are right," said he. "There is but one thing for it—we must cut the wires."

"And make ourselves outlaws against the Russian Government. The cutting of telegraph-wires will greatly add to our punishment when the day of reckoning arrives."

"Nevertheless it is the only way of securing our present safety, and of giving us any chance for the future," persisted Otto Stravenski.

After some further discussion it was arranged that Otto himself should do the work. For now that he had cast in his lot with us, he seemed to be as desperate as any in his resolve to checkmate the Russian officials. Accordingly he took something which we did not see from out one of the packages, and slipping it into his capacious pocket, left us for the space of about an hour, passing out of our sight by the edge of the pine wood. There was on his handsome face when he returned a smile of triumph, and he whispered something to Volta Petrovitch which caused her to laugh heartily. Presently we learnt that by means of a pair of pliers which he had brought, anticipating the necessity for their use, and by climbing, a telegraph-pole, he had succeeded in severing the wires in such a way that detection of the spot without minute examination was well-nigh impossible.

"They will have to inspect the whole line before they discover the flaw," said Otto, "and this will take days or even weeks." But even with such a precaution I felt by no means comfortable, nor could I assure myself that we were on the way to safety and success.

Behold us now once more upon the snowy road—I call it road, but visible track there was none. Our principal fear lay with the drivers, who would be exchanged at the end of the stage. They might talk, and so bring down upon us that which we dreaded. There was nothing for it but to bribe them, and to promise more if we should return. Petrovitch attempted to get into conversation with one of them, but Bunker immediately threatened him with his revolver, causing him to lapse into silence. Thus we sped onward, keeping a watchful eye upon our prisoners, and even standing over them revolver in hand at the posting-houses. But the further we advanced the more difficult did our situation seem to become. The great problem presented to our minds was what we should do when we reached Archangel. Some advised one thing and some another. I, for instance, was for avoiding the town altogether, forgetful of the fact that we must find a place for shelter and where we could procure food. At one time I was of the opinion that after all we should do well to turn back and brave the consequences; at another I resolved that, come what might, we would solve the mystery of the north and the meaning of Captain McGubbins' mysterious appeal. That our new companions could be induced to aid us was more than we could hope for; but they could be silenced.

Fortunately we were well supplied with money, so that there was no difficulty in obtaining plentiful supplies at the post- houses and thinly-scattered hamlets. The further north we advanced, with the exception of a few stunted trees, the country became increasingly bleak and desolate. Our policy was to reconcile those who had joined our company, and after a time they seemed to accept the situation with all cheerfulness. Alexis Petrovitch constituting himself, as indeed he was, the natural protector of his sister Volta, and the other two, joining with their fine Russian bass voices in song and round as we advanced verst after verst over the frozen land. Nevertheless I took occasion to whisper to my companions that they should watch them narrowly, for fear lest familiarity should breed the proverbial contempt and carelessness should lead to our undoing.

"What is that grey line which I see in the distance?" was Volta's inquiry as we overtopped a hill.

We shaded our eyes and looked ahead attentively. Then came an exclamation from us all.

"The sea!"

It was indeed the ocean at last—the longed-for, mysterious Arctic Ocean, the region wherein lay the mystery of which we were in search, and which must decide our fate at the hands of the Russians. We were yet a long way from Archangel, but it was high time that something definite should be settled, for we could not drive straight into the town and allow Petrovitch and the brothers Stravenski to give information to the police. We were still two days' journey from our destination, having, in fact, only just crossed the southern end of the gulf of Onega, which is one of the arms of the White Sea. Ahead lay the frozen river of the same name.

We held a hasty consultation—that is to say, Otto Stravenski, Volta, Mackie, Bunker, and myself, out of earshot of the others, and decided to make for the sea-shore, thus avoiding the little town of Onega. It was thought that we might contrive some means of subsistence, while one of our party—probably Otto—should make his way cautiously to Archangel, with a view to discovering the whereabouts of our friends, and, if possible, to communicate with them. There was manifest danger in this course, for Otto Stravenski's tall figure was not very capable of disguise. But this was the only plan we could think of.


VII. — OTTO STRAVENSKI UNDERTAKES A MISSION

RIGHT glad were we to find a resting-place that night, for our limbs were cramped with the prolonged sledge-ride. The empty summer huts of the fishermen, which we discovered by the shore, were transformed by our fur rugs and other wraps into not very comfortless abodes. There was a small one, which made a capital bedroom for Volta, and two larger ones in which we distributed ourselves. They were built of rough stones, from the cliffs and shore, which had been cemented together with mud, the snow now forming over them a protecting envelope which effectually kept out the frost. Massive stone chimneys were soon roaring with a cheerful blaze, for we found plenty of driftwood among the rocks, and in an amazingly short time the rough interiors presented a degree of comfort and cheery warmth exceedingly welcome to us all after the hardships we had undergone.

"What a charming little place!" was Volta's remark, when she saw what we had prepared for her accommodation. "Really I shall begin to think that the inhabitants of this part of the world live in luxury!"

We laughed. It was the contrast after the journey over the snows which made things appear to be so pleasant.

In order to keep an eye upon our "guests"— for so we jocularly termed them, it was arranged that two of us in turn should keep watch day and night, the said two being armed with loaded Winchesters and revolvers. I rather laughed at this precaution, but both Bunker and Mackie insisted that it was a necessary one, and with them agreed Otto Stravenski. Accordingly, although we were all dead tired and longing for a good night's rest, we deemed it essential for our own safety to carry out with great strictness our own rules. It was resolved that Volta should be spared this duty and that the four of us which remained should watch and sleep alternately for two hours.

It was not very pleasant arousing from one's deep slumber at midnight, to sit up over the fire with a loaded rifle across one's knees, and, for my own part, I was heartily glad when it was again our turn—my companion being Rolf Mackie—to snuggle down amid the furs and to sink into the land of dreams.

"Keep a bright look-out and see that the fire is kept up," I whispered to Bunker and Otto, as they took our places.

They smiled and nodded. But somehow I did not feel very certain that they would not yield to the demands of nature and indulge in a nap while sitting over the fire. I was too sleepy myself to keep an eye upon them, though for a few minutes I tried to do so.

I was awakened by a tremendous report, and sprang up with the smell of gunpowder in my nostrils to hear some one give vent to a groan, and to catch words from Bunker's lips which sounded like, "He's done for!"

For the moment I thought of nothing but Petrovitch and the other two "guests."

"Have they gone?" I cried in my excitement.

"Who?"

"Petrovitch and the two Stravenskis."

Then I saw that they were still in the hut, though they had risen from their furry couch. An icy cold draught came from somewhere, and Bunker directed his Winchester towards the door, which I now saw was open.

"Are we attacked?" asked Mackie.

Otto Stravenski's reply was to the point. He seized from the fire a blazing brand and led the way. There, with his head just within the door, lay the body of an enormous polar bear. He was quite dead, Bunker's bullet having entered his brain through the eye. It was the first time that I had looked on such a beast outside the Zoological Gardens. Even in death there was something majestic about those powerful limbs and cruel-looking teeth.

"No doubt he was attracted by the smell of humanity," suggested some one.

"Or he wished to warm himself by the fire," observed another.

For my own part I felt heartily glad that some of us had happened to be awake. It had not occurred to any of us that we might have such a visitor. Out on to the snow we dragged the huge carcass, where we left it until the morning, making some attempt to barricade our door on our return. It was some time before we again settled down, and I think that the slumbers of some of us might possibly have been prolonged until midday had those who were on guard permitted it. As it was, we were enjoying fragrant bear-steaks long before light showed in the eastern sky; for we were now in the "Land of the Midnight Sun," and of the midwinter gloom, and there was little enough light, even at midday.

"To think that I should not hear a sound!—neither the report of the rifle, nor the removal of the body of the enemy," laughed Volta, as she drew tea from a samovar. (Among the goods which we had brought with us was the Russian national tea-urn, and every requisite for the making of the national beverage.)

There was a third hut, in which we had stabled the horses, the moujiks electing to share it with them. We had with us sufficient provender for two or three days, as it is not safe to travel far in this northern country without a reserve of food for the horses.

The moujiks, sleeping like logs, had not heard the report of the rifle-shot, and they were surprised, and indeed not a little alarmed, when they saw the bear. It was seldom that such, huge beasts came ashore in these parts. The animal which had been killed was a magnificent specimen of his class, measuring upwards of eight feet in length, and weighing, so we calculated, over a thousand pounds. Its fur, which was assuming the winter texture and creamy-white colour, was of considerable value; and Petrovitch, who seemed to be quite as interested in the beast as we were, suggested that it should be skinned; this, however, we were unable to do, as at this time we had little knowledge of the art. Afterwards, as I shall have occasion to relate, we learnt from an extraordinary document a good deal more concerning the family Thalarctos maritimus. For our own part we discovered his great power and sagacity in procuring seals and fish by swimming and diving, and his cunning in catching birds and in taking their eggs from almost inaccessible places. We learnt that these huge animals are often carried immense distances on detached ice-floes; and, further, that the female invariably hibernates, while her lord and master spends the winter in fishing and hunting. In my Arctic voyages I have frequently come across these animals, and I pointed out to the others their adaptability to their life; especially the fact that, unlike other bears, their feet are covered with thick hair, by means of which they are able to walk without difficulty on the slippery surface of the ice.

"Here is food enough for a week at least," observed Otto Stravenski.

His fiancée shrugged her shoulders and turned up her shapely nose. It was plain she did not relish the idea of a fare limited to bear's flesh.

"We may have to subsist upon something worse, before we return to St. Petersburg," was Otto's remark.

He might have been a prophet.

It was not our intention, however, to remain long in this out- of-the-way and desolate spot. If nothing else, the want of food for ourselves and the horses would necessitate a move. But we had now arrived at a point when it was absolutely necessary that we should decide upon our future course. Accordingly we held a meeting—that is to say, Bunker, Mackie, Otto Stravenski and myself; while Volta, brave girl, revolver in hand, kept guard over the door of the adjoining hut, in which, pro tem., we had incarcerated Petrovitch and his two companions.

"I suggest," said Mackie, "that we make a bold dash for Archangel, and discover at once the whereabouts of Captain McGubbins and the crew of the Pole Star."

"And be nicely entrapped," sneered Bunker.

Otto and I laughed, somewhat to Mackie's discomfiture. But he persisted that to Archangel we must go, for only thus could we get in touch with those whom we were seeking.

"Why can we not send on these moujiks," he said, "with a letter to be delivered into their hands only, stating where we may be found. Perhaps they may be able without difficulty to proceed to this place or to some point a little nearer to Archangel."

It was a suggestion worthy of consideration, but we were not sure that it would succeed. Firstly, there was the doubt concerning the trustworthiness of our messengers. It was quite likely that they might place our missive in the hands of the police.

"In that case the game will be up," observed Otto Stravenski.

Secondly, there was the danger that they might fail altogether in finding our friends, in which case we might remain in this spot until we starved.

"I have it!" cried Mackie, who seemed to be full of ideas. "One of us must accompany the moujiks. Probably the telegraph wires are hot yet repaired, and we can get the business done before the news of our escape arrives from St. Petersburg."

This was all very well, but when we came to discuss who should go difficulties straightway presented themselves. There was no certainty that the moujiks were to be trusted, even if we bribed them heavily. It was quite likely that they would accept a bribe from the authorities.

After much discussion we accepted the offer of Otto Stravenski that he should endeavour to communicate with our friends. He alone of our side was thoroughly conversant with the Russian language, as well as with the ways of the police. There was no doubt, too, that he, of all of us, was the most likely to succeed. It would have been impossible for either Mackie, Bunker, or myself to disguise the fact that we were foreigners, and we knew that it would need the greatest caution and cleverness on Stravenski's part to cope with the astute agents of the Government, should their suspicions become aroused.

Further, it was important that no time should be lost, both on account of the shortness of provisions for ourselves and the horses, and also on account of the need for promptness in outwitting the police. So we arranged that our agent and representative should start immediately. Volta made less trouble at parting than we might have expected, and I thought that Mackie seemed somewhat relieved when, he noticed how willingly she spared her fiancée, for what might prove to be not only a difficult but even a dangerous expedition.

But although we had suspicion that the task which lay before the stalwart Russian might prove to be arduous, we had no notion of the exciting adventure through which he would have to pass while in pursuit of his dangerous mission, nor of the sad fate which would befall him.

The faint gleams of winterly midday light were showing in the southern horizon when our messenger set forth on his quest. Purposely we apportioned to him but one driver and three of the horses, having hopes that he would be able to bring relief within two or three days, and that we should therefore be able to sustain ourselves and the remaining horses until his return. As Petrovitch's sledge was the lightest of the three, it was selected by Otto for this expedition. We assembled outside the huts and gave him a right hearty English cheer as he drove away. He bore in an inner pocket the letter which I had written to Captain McGubbins describing our late doings and present position, and he had promised to destroy it sooner than to allow it to fall into the hands of our foes.


VIII. — OTTO STRAVENSKI DEPARTS, AND CAPTAIN MCGUBBINS ARRIVES

FOR three days we waited patiently. The dead bear afforded us a plentiful supply of wholesome if not very palatable meat, which eked out the slender store of provisions which we had brought with us. Under the snow in the neighbourhood of the shore we made the happy discovery of an extensive bank of Arctic moss, of the kind which grows even on the inhospitable islands of the Spitzbergen Archipelago. This we used as fodder for the horses, and when they found they could get nothing else they ate it willingly enough. The gathering of the moss and the searching for driftwood for our firing occupied much time, still, by the end of the third day, we began to wax impatient for Otto's return.

"You may be sure that he will hurry back to us," was Bunker's remark, as be glanced at Volta Petrovitch.

She blushed slightly and said that she did not desire his return until he had accomplished his mission.

As for Alexis Petrovitch and Otto's brothers, Paulus and Peter, they seemed to have reconciled themselves for the present to their position. Perhaps they would have endeavoured to escape, but the fact that we were armed and remained constantly on the watch effectually hindered any such attempt. Then there was Petrovitch's wound. It was not a serious one, but it caused him to walk with difficulty. Happily the bullet had passed right through the fleshy part without harming the bone.

When the fourth day arrived and Otto Stravenski had not returned, we began to be seriously anxious.

"He has fallen into the hands of the police," said Mackie.

"Nothing of the kind!" was Bunker's retort. "Set a thief to catch a thief."

"And a Russian detective to outwit a Russian detective," I chimed in; continuing, "Unless Otto Stravenski returns hither within twenty-four hours it is by no means improbable that we may have either police or soldiers on our track."

"Then what do you propose?"

It was Bunker who put the question.

"There are but two courses open to us," I replied. "Seeing that it is impossible for us to return to St. Petersburg, we must either remain here or we must make up our minds to proceed without delay to Archangel."

They shook their heads at this. It would be too great a risk, they said.

In this I agreed with them; and yet I could see no other way out of our present difficulties.

By this time Petrovitch had patched up a peace with his sister. I was not sorry, for I felt that a great responsibility lay on my own shoulders in having allowed her to accompany us into the frozen north. Moreover I felt sure that could she but become friendly with her brother she might glean from him the information which I was so anxious to obtain, namely, the nature of the secret of which the Russian Government had obtained possession.

"Try to worm it out from him," I said. "Surely he will yield to his sister's solicitations."

Immediately she became very thoughtful.

"You think I ought to do this."

"Most certainly, if you still adhere to your purpose of aiding us."

"But if he refuses to tell me—"

"We shall be no worse off than at present, and there is the chance that you may succeed."

She pondered my words for a few moments.

"I will do my best, but do not be disappointed if I fail. You do not know Alexis as I know him. He would sooner die than divulge a State Secret."

"But surely you do not call our affairs by so high-sounding a name!"

She laughed. "Perhaps the matter is more important to the Russian Government than you have any idea of. Suppose, for instance, your friends of the Pole Star have discovered some treasure-trove, it is plain that our officials are not likely to surrender it for the asking."

Again I protested that our insignificant affairs were by no means worthy of the attention of the Government of so great a country.

She laughed heartily at my simplicity.

"Everything you say, or do, or possess, is considered by our officials to be important."

The upshot was that Volta undertook to do her best to obtain from her brother as much information as possible and to retail it to us. She had one vantage ground, namely, his affection for herself. In spite of all that had taken place it was plain that Alexis Petrovitch was devoted to his beautiful sister, and after I had seen them together I came to the conclusion that his hasty pursuit of us was largely on her account.

It is not needful that I should render a detailed account of our life during the following days. Suffice to say that although Volta Petrovitch (as she afterwards told us) endeavoured by every artifice to extract from her brother the secret which so closely concerned ourselves her attempt was a failure. In spite of every blandishment, she said, he remained stubbornly obdurate, bidding her, as soon as he detected what she was after, not to meddle with the affairs of State. In vain did she help him to hobble about over the snow; in vain dressed his wounded limb. Her brother's heart was as adamant whenever this particular question was touched upon, and at last she whispered to me that she had failed.

"For the present," said she, "for the present. But I am not quite beaten."

I feared however that Petrovitch's suspicions were aroused by her persistency, and that there was no more hope in this direction.

Otto Stravenski had been absent a week, and our anxiety had deepened into serious alarm. We had no doubt that he had been arrested, unless, indeed, something even more serious had happened. I noticed on the faces of Petrovitch and of the brothers Paulus and Peter Stravenski a smirk of satisfaction, as though they had a shrewd idea of the turn which affairs had taken. But none the less, like ourselves they were completely mistaken; for, in spite of great perils, our messenger had been more successful than even we had hoped for.

We had made up our minds to brave all dangers and to proceed to Archangel. The two sledges were packed and another half-hour would have seen the hospitable huts deserted, when a strange thing happened.

"Look, look! Here comes one of the natives."

It was Volta who made the discovery. She was pointing not landwards, as we might have expected, but away towards the great frozen sea—a white sea indeed. For by this time the winter was full upon us and the water was fast locked in its icy embrace.

"Yes, it certainly does look like a native," I said, shading my eyes and gazing seawards.

The light was scanty enough, though we were not far from midday, but the Aurora Borealis shed sufficient of its strangely ruddy gleams to make objects visible.

"He is coming this way," said Mackie presently.

We watched the stranger attentively—a man in a low sledge drawn by reindeer—three pairs of them—was coming across the ice apparently from the open sea. As he neared the shore his progress was impeded by the roughness of the surface, for the movement of the water and the tides had broken the ice repeatedly ere it froze solid. But the strange-looking beasts picked their way with no little skill, the man urging them with a long flexible whip.

"A messenger from Stravenski!" cried Bunker.

On reaching the shore he drove swiftly up the slope, and almost before I realized what had happened a tall bearded man, attired in Arctic raiment, was shaking me heartily by the hand and a well-remembered voice was saying—

"Ha' ye na a welcome for Sandy McGubbins!"

"McGubbins!" we cried with one voice, gazing at him amazed.

"I am vera pleased ye know me now; it sa lang sin we met. But ha ye bite an sup, for I'm vera hungry?"

"Right glad are we to see you, McGubbins!" I exclaimed. "But never was I more surprised. How did you get here? Have you come from Archangel? Have you seen Otto Stravenski?"

"I am na prepared to gie you all the information ye require without due conseederation." And he glanced towards the three Russians who stood a few yards away. They were plainly interested in the advent of our visitor, though only Petrovitch could understand the meaning of that which passed between us.

Whether the canny Scotchman had been told of the position of affairs or whether he guessed the nationality of our "guests," he at least was not devoid of the cautiousness of his race. And it was not until he had satisfied the cravings of the inner man that we were able to extract from him anything whatever by way of information. Though hungry the appearance of the sturdy captain was by no means that of one half-starved. Full of life and vigour, and briskly alert, his arrival encouraged our hopes that after all this journey had not been in vain. We refrained from putting questions until after our visitor had appropriated the last mouthful of bear-steak, then I could restrain myself no longer (Volta was without conversing with her brother and the two Stravenskis).

"We are all eagerness to discover how and why you have come hither," I began.

"And I am now prepared to gie ye all the information at my disposal," he replied.

"Have you seen Otto Stravenski?"

He shook his head. "I know no one of that name."

"But you have come from Archangel?"

"Na, na, there would be ower mickle danger i' that toun. It's lang sin I paid it a veesit."

"Then you have seen nothing of our messenger?"

"Nothing at all."

We looked at him in astonishment.

"Yet you succeeded in finding us?" cried Mackie.

"I dinna ken the meaning o' a' things, but I learnt to read and write when I was a lad awa in owld Dundee."

I heaved a sigh of relief. So Stravenski had written to him, possibly to avoid risk of detection. In this case he must have discovered his whereabouts and would probably not be long in following. But our mystification was increased when the worthy captain, thrusting his great red hand into his bosom, drew forth a missive.

"Maybe ye ha' seen this handwriting?" And he handed the document across the table—a rude erection formed from the timbers of a wrecked whaler—and placed it solemnly in my hands.

I looked at it curiously, there was something about its appearance that at once attracted my attention. Wonderingly I drew forth from its cover, an irregular-shaped sheet of coarse paper. In a moment I recognized it as that which I had myself written and consigned to the care of Otto Stravenski on the morning that he left us.

"I wrote it myself—it is my letter to you," I said, speaking in a tone almost awestruck.

"Of that I am well aware, sir; I ha' not received letters written by the same hand for the past twenty years wi'out knowing who is the writer."

"Then you have already come across Stravenski?"

Captain McGubbins solemnly shook his shaggy head. "I hae neither seen him nor ha' I heard his name, until I arrived at this spot."

"But how on earth did this come into your hands?" we cried simultaneously.

"Thereby hangs a tale, as curious and marvellous as any I hae to tell."

We pressed him to proceed, but he begged that the three Russians, as well as Volta might be present.

"They'll na understand my lingo," he said, "but no doubt this young woman will turn it into their outlandish tongue."

It did not take us long to assemble, and then Captain McGubbins related to us the following remarkable story, which, at his request, Volta translated into Russian for the benefit of the two Stravenskis.


IX. — THE STRANGE STORY OF SANDY MCGUBBINS

"YE'LL hae some deefficulty in believing the strange tale which it is my preevilege to relate," began the Captain, between the puffs of his well-seasoned pipe—an article which, to all appearance, had seen better days.

(It will conduce, perhaps, to the better appreciation of this strange story if it be presented in ordinary English, rather than in the vernacular of the Dundee sea-captain.)

"When the good whaler Pole Star sailed for northern latitudes we had none of us the least idea of what was in store for us. For several months we had a very good time. Whales were more plentiful than for some years past, and we secured a good many seals and walruses. As you will be aware, the Russians and other nations have begun to appreciate within the past few years these northern regions, and there is at the present time a regular seal and walrus fishery conducted from Archangel among the islands of the Spitzbergen Archipelago and those round about Nova Zembla, which is Russian territory.

"Knowing that there is a good market for skins in Russia, and thinking that I could sell and fill up again before the end of the summer, I determined to make for Archangel and there dispose of some of my stuff. Had it not been for this we should long ago have been in Dundee, and not one of us here present would again have left our own fireside for the briny deep.

"Although I am fond enough of the trade, necessity compelling me to earn my own living, to emulate the deeds of such eminent men as Sir John Franklin, McClintock, Parry, and Nansen, has not been my ambition. No, like a good many other men I should like to make my fortune and retire, and"—here he lowered his voice to a whisper—"that desirable end I have accomplished."

We gazed at him open-mouthed.

"Your fortune!"

He smiled, and winked one eye slowly and knowingly.

"That's the ticket," he said, after he had emitted a huge cloud of smoke, which floated lazily towards the roof of the hut. "We've cast away our ship and we've made your fortune, sir," he continued, addressing myself, "and the fortune of myself and of every man-jack on board the Pole Star, to say nothing of the company here assembled, each of whom can have a fortune thrown in, free gratis and for nothing, without even the trouble of asking for it, if they so desire."

Bunker shook his head, smiled sarcastically, while Mackie burst into a loud incredulous laugh, perhaps it was at the very thought that a fortune was almost within his grasp; for however well-to-do men may be, there is a strange fascination for them in the accumulation of wealth. Wherein, perhaps, lies it peculiar danger as a pursuit.

"You may laugh and you may sneer, my young sirs, but maybe when you have seen all that Sandy McGubbins has to show you, you will develop a new sort of smile, and mix with it, maybe, a little gratitude."

The expressions on the faces of Bunker and Mackie changed. They perceived that the Captain was in earnest, and that he intended to be taken seriously. At once Mackie, somewhat ashamed of himself, murmured an apology, and Bunker said bluntly that he hoped it would come true.

"Young gentlemen, you shall see for yourselves. But let me continue my tale.

"There is a small island in the Kara Sea, some distance eastward from our fishing-ground, it was on this we were wrecked on the night of the great storm of which I must now give you an account, and it is on this island too that there lies a fortune not only for ourselves but for many more if they choose to fetch it."

"But the Russian Government—" I began. "How did it—"

"With all due respect to you, sir, one step at a time," continued McGubbins, "we shall come to that interesting and exciting story before long. I have been through a good many perils in the Arctic regions, such as passing a week on an iceberg in company with two polar bears, when I fed on raw seal's flesh; I've been nipped in the ice—my ship, I mean; I've had to fight for my life with a gigantic and enraged walrus; but none of these things come up to that which happened to the Pole Star, and those on board that ill-fated and yet extraordinary vessel—yes, I call her extraordinary because I imagine that when you have heard my story, you will one and all vote that never did ship, whaler or otherwise, have a more remarkable voyage, or arrive at a more wonderful port."

At this point Bunker stirred the glowing embers, and Mackie threw on a log or two of dry driftwood, sending a cloud of brilliant sparks up the spacious chimney and casting a ruddy glow over the semi-circle of attentive faces, for we were sitting round the fire in the larger hut. The light threw fantastic and weird shadows of persons clothed outlandishly in skin garments on roofs and walls, heightening the effect of McGubbins' graphic and thrilling narrative. Without the wind howled mournfully, as though to remind us that we had not yet escaped from the clutches of the icy north.

"It was some weeks after leaving Archangel, where we had disposed of our skins, and we had fished as far as Bear Island, which as you know is to the south of Spitzbergen, when the most terrific gale set in from the west.

"I have been out in the open sea in such a hurricane, but never so far as I can remember have I seen anything like the effect of that storm upon the ice. It was getting late in the season, and the lanes of water were here and there closing up, but, bless you, the power of the wind and the water smashed up the ice—even the thickest—in wildest confusion. Away we flew before the gale, for there was no facing it. Bang we went into the middle of the shattered floe. How we got through it without being smashed to atoms passes my understanding. Huge hummocks of ice suddenly appeared piled high above the level of the deck, upon which they fell with thunder-like crash, carrying away bulwarks and everything. It was a terrific experience. The second mate and two of my best men were crushed by the ice and carried overboard as it swept across the decks. It was impossible to save them; yet it was agony to see the poor fellows, their limbs maimed and broken, clinging to the ice and uttering piteous cries for help. Swiftly they passed away from our sight, and I suppose that they could not have lived long.

"Onward we flew, the gale literally driving us at times over the surface of the ice where it had not broken up. Into it we crashed again and again, and had not your ship, sir, been of the stoutest and strongest build, I am quite convinced that we should have gone to the bottom within an hour. She held together, however, though it seemed a miracle, and we ploughed, crashed and plunged right through the long night. By this time our rudder had been so damaged that we had the greatest difficulty in steering the ship, and when in the grey light of the dawn, such as it was, we saw land ahead it was impossible to avoid the catastrophe."

"What did you do?" we asked, breathless with excitement.

"We did what we were bound to do, held on teeth and nails, and prepared to meet our fate as bravely as we knew how.

"As we drew near the land we perceived that the ice was piled up in huge masses by the force of the gale all along the shore. The look-out man in the crow's-nest pointed ahead warningly. (It was impossible to hear what he had to say.) Ten minutes later we struck on the ice barrier; behind us followed a vast field of wind-driven floes, which lifted us up clean out of the water, and in less than a quarter of an hour we were packed in high and dry, but with a great hole stove in our bows, big enough for a horse and cart to pass through, which warned me that if the Pole Star again took to the water she could not float five minutes."

"And this is the island of which you spoke?" inquired Mackie eagerly.

"All in good time, young gentleman, we have not got ashore yet! A fine business was that getting ashore. No words of mine can describe the frozen chaos which lay between us and the land. Ice, piled in wildest confusion, surrounded us completely, and as far as the eye could reach on either side, as well as seawards. Then it began to freeze, not the little summer frosts of these latitudes, but a ten-degrees-below-zero business by way of a start, welding together the frost-bound sea into one vast mass which we knew would not break up until the end of the winter.

"The outlook was serious enough. Here were we cast away upon a remote island—for such we took it to be—in an unknown part of the Arctic regions, out of the track of whalers and other vessels, and with a useless ship, even should the ice break up. Still, my friends, sailors learn that they must never despair. We endure hardships and all kinds of dangers, and must take good luck with bad, trusting to a wise Providence to bring us safely through it all. Our first work was to reach the shore, as I have said—no light task. For, though it was not far distant, the road was about as difficult a one as ever was traversed by human creatures. Still we did it at last; and more than that, before many days we had hewn out a fairly level path, all things considered, over which we might transport the necessaries of life to terra firma. It was no light task, I can assure you. Only those who have engaged in similar work and under like conditions, will be able to realize, either the arduous exertion necessary for its accomplishment or the need of perseverance in the face of enormous difficulties, which were necessary.

"After consultation with my officers I resolved that we would winter on board the vessel, and in the meanwhile prepare for ourselves ashore a suitable lodging in case the ice should suddenly break up.

"The ship, as I have said, had been thrust up out of the water, and lay high and dry upon the ice. It was wonderful that she had not been nipped by the floes—a fate which has happened to many a stout vessel in these seas. By extraordinary good luck she lay upon an even keel, propped up in a natural cradle formed of huge hummocks of ice; these were especially tall on her port bow, being piled up there in the form of a rough pinnacle, white and glistening.

"Our first business, after hewing out a road to the shore, was to securely cover the huge rent in the starboard bow. Though we could not hope to make her watertight in a day, it was clear that we had an opportunity of sufficiently closing the gaping rent to keep out wind and cold, and even to enable the vessel to float for a short time, should she be suddenly launched. To this end, we blocked the hole as well as we were able with timbers, nailing over them stout boards both within the vessel and without, and affixing over the place well-tarred canvas, in several thicknesses."

We listened attentively and in silence to this point, and then, being naturally eager to learn something about the fortune of which he had spoken.

"But the gold—the gold!" we exclaimed.

He smiled and shook his head. "All in good time; besides, I never said there was any gold."

"No gold!" It was Mackie who acted as our spokesman, "Then you did not discover a gold mine on the island?"

"What we did find and what we did not shall be related in due course," retorted the tantalizing McGubbins. "I do not say that we found no gold, but certainly there is no mine on the island."

As I wished to learn the truth as quickly as possible, I merely said—

"Pray proceed, Captain McGubbins, and tell your story in your own way."

"Which I intend to do," returned the worthy McGubbins dryly. As though to accentuate his words, he slowly filled his pipe, and drawing from the fire a glowing brand, proceeded with extreme deliberation to ignite the tobacco, glancing round the circle as he did so as though enjoying our mystification.

After a few puffs, between which he smiled upon us after a fatherly fashion, the old sea-dog continued—

"Our next business was the construction of a residence ashore—a place which would be sufficiently large to accommodate our whole party, numbering in all twenty-one souls, should need require. The land was low-lying and rocky, with a broad strip of yellow strand forming the shore. (Of course at the time of which I speak the sand was well covered by snow and ice.) Beyond rose a line of low cliffs, and above them was an ice cap which probably had not been melted for centuries. The cliffs themselves were too precipitous to be concealed by ice and snow, and exhibited their structure plainly enough.

"In a little cove right opposite the vessel—that is to say, at the end of our road across the hummocks—we started to clear the spot for our habitation, and after considerable labour succeeded in reaching the rock beneath, whereon we laid a foundation of boulders, which we covered with timber and boards—the latter, of course, from our carpenter's stores on the Pole Star. It was when the walls of the house were rising—we built them of fragments of rock and stones from the beach, cemented with mud, which froze solid as we used it—that the great discovery was made: a discovery, I assure you, which astonished us quite as greatly as I think my account of it will surprise you."

Here Captain Sandy McGubbins, with provoking coolness, paused, glanced round the circle of eager faces, and remarking that his pipe did not draw well, proceeded to re-charge and re-light the aforementioned disreputable-looking briar. Which process completed to his own satisfaction, he looked up innocently, as though totally unconscious of our anxiety with, "Let me see, what was I saying? Oh, yes, the building of the summer residence."

"And the discovery of the gold mine," persisted Mackie.

"I have already insisted that we found no such thing as a gold mine—that is, no mine in the ordinary acceptance of the term; but we did find—something equally valuable."

"Well?"

"You see, it was in this way; two-thirds of the men were engaged in fetching material for the work—stones and sand and boulders from the shore—the rest were acting as bricklayers and stonemasons, if I may so say. I was in charge of these, and the first mate was looking after the other party—his name, you remember," he said, turning to me, "is Donald Scott—a fine fellow is Donald and no mistake! Yes, it was Donald who came upon the most wonderful thing in the whole of the Arctic regions; something far more worthy of man's best endeavours—begging the pardon of those scientific gents—than the reaching of the North Pole.

"They were engaged with crowbars in digging up a curious- looking, square-shaped stone which lay half-buried in the sand, and which, so Donald Scott afterwards informed me, he thought might make a capital hearthstone for our fire-place. He was greatly puzzled at noticing on the stone certain marks, and when the sand was cleared from off it, the said marks resolved themselves, without a shadow of doubt, into English letters—I say 'English,' because Scott perceived plainly enough that they were not the outlandish Russian characters which you might expect to meet with in this part of the world."


X. — MCGUBBINS' STORY CONTINUED—A GREAT DISCOVERY

YOU might have heard a pin drop in that rough Russian hut, when Captain McGubbins arrived at this point in his narrative. He was in no hurry to satisfy our curiosity, but seeing our exceeding eagerness, and being himself a good-natured man, he proceeded without further delay to describe the marvellous discovery which was made by his first mate, Donald Scott, on the remote island in the Arctic Ocean.

"It took Scott some time to scrape from off the slab the accumulations which had been washed thither by storm and melting ice. When at length his men succeeded in disclosing the carved lettering distinctly they were able to decipher the following inscription."—

(Here Captain McGubbins thrust his hand into an inner pocket and drew forth a well-thumbed strip of paper.)


Brigge Virgine Queene.
July, Anno Domini 1561.
Peter Paramor, master.


"What! The stone was three hundred years old?" I cried.

"All that, Mr. Romaines. But if the stone was a curious thing, there were greater curiosities beneath it. It took Scott and his men some time to move the slab, for it was large, heavy, and firmly embedded. But at length it was done, and to their intense amazement a flight of rough-hewn steps was disclosed, leading into a rocky chamber, half-cave and half-constructed by human hands. In a state of great excitement, Scott made for the huts which we were building, and informed me of the strange discovery. You may be sure that I hurried thither as fast as my legs could carry me, and, as soon as we had ascertained that there was no foul air in the vault, Scott and I descended to examine its contents. We had provided ourselves with candles, and when our eyes had become accustomed to the gloom of the place we proceeded to overhaul that which had been stored therein.

"But words would fail me were I to attempt to describe one quarter of the vast wealth which the Elizabethan voyager, Peter Paramor, had hidden beneath the frozen strand. Nay, we soon found that the first vault was but the antechamber, and that a door, roughly constructed of ship's timbers—probably planking from the deck—opened into a very much larger cave, a purely natural one, which ran a considerable distance under the cliffs, for the slab which Scott had discovered was close under the granite boundary of the island. In this inner part there were treasures exceeding the powers of description, I care not who attempts the task. The place had been fitted up with shelves, some of which had fallen to decay, but the majority, being constructed of stout British oak, were as sound and solid as on the day, three hundred years previously, that the seamen of Queen Elizabeth's time had put them up."

"And what did they contain?" I asked eagerly.

"What did they not contain! that is the question. At first I could hardly credit the evidence of my senses; in fact, we were all completely dumbfounded with astonishment at the sight which presented itself to our wondering gaze, as we held up our lights and peered through the gloom.

"There were many things to attract our attention. But that which riveted our eyes was the sight of two strangely-attired figures which lay on the floor. Despite the ancient cut of their garments we could hardly believe that they were not still alive, for their attitude was that of sleep. Yet there was no doubt that they were dead, for in the breast of one was struck a long sheath-knife, which had penetrated right through the clothing; while the other, who lay by his side, had plainly been killed at the same moment by a bullet from a great antiquated pistol which had entered his brain through his mouth.

"'Mercy! What have we here!' was Scott's exclamation, as we advanced cautiously, and bending over the recumbent forms viewed them with wonderment and almost with alarm. He from whose breast protruded the dagger, lay upon his back, his arms outstretched. His right hand grasped the aforementioned pistol. His forefinger pressed the trigger exactly as it had done three hundred years previously. I noticed that the barrel of the weapon was only slightly rusty, for the dryness of the cave and the intense frost, which in this region never thaws more than a foot or so below the surface of the soil, had preserved everything as completely as though it had been refrigerated. The murdered man—for such we took him to be—was tall and handsome, though his countenance was distorted by the agony of a violent death. He wore a moustache and pointed beard after the fashion of Elizabethan days, and there was something noble and intellectual about his face. His hat had fallen off, disclosing a head somewhat bald and the grey locks of one who might have seen fifty-five winters. He was attired in more elegant clothing than his companion, his doublet being slashed with crimson silk and ornamented with gold brocade.

"As for the other, we perceived at a glance that he was a man of very different type, being short, thick-set, and possessing a certain indescribable British bull-dog type of countenance. There was a ferocious grin upon his clean-shaven face, which was not rendered more beautiful by the passage of the bullet which had knocked out his front teeth. As for his costume, it was, so we concluded, that of an English seaman of the sixteenth century. A pair of long leather boots covered his legs to the middle of his thighs; about his waist was a thick girdle or strap, having in front a huge brass buckle. He lay upon his left side, facing his antagonist, the massive fist of his right hand being stretched across the other man's body, and his fingers touching the haft of the sheath-knife.

"'This one is the murderer,' said Scott, pointing to the seaman. 'See, how well he has driven home his knife.'

"I shook my head. It did not seem to me so easy to decide as the mate supposed.

"'Don't be so cocksure,' I said. 'How do you know that the grey-haired man was not the aggressor?'

"'Plainly enough,' persisted Scott, 'the bullet in the brain would cause instantaneous death.'

"'Not more instantaneous than a knife in the heart!'

"And so we argued over the bodies of the frozen pair, little anticipating the true explanation of the mystery.

"Raising our eyes we now proceeded to examine curiously the contents of the great chamber. There were treasures beyond the wildest dreams of avarice; piles of packages containing silks and Indian fabrics of enormous value; boxes of golden articles manufactured by the skilled workmen of the Indies; bags of gold dust and gold and silver coins; hundreds of tusks of ivory, some of them of great size; curious musical instruments, both European and Oriental. I picked up one, it was an exquisite violin, inside it was the label 'Antonius Stradiuarius Cremonensis fecit, anno 1713.'

"'Scott! What is the meaning of this? This place must have been visited about a hundred and seventy years ago.'

"'How do you know?'

"'How do I know, stupid! Was it possible that those who died in the sixteenth century could have had in their possession musical instruments manufactured in the eighteenth?'

"It was a great puzzle. Clearly the place had been visited since the day that the fatal struggle had taken place between these two men. Yet why had their bodies remained undisturbed? Why had this vast store of riches been left untouched? There was evidently a double mystery.

"Leaving the dead men in their frozen sleep, we proceeded to make a more minute examination of the cavern, and soon discovered that it was larger than we had at first supposed, extending in the form of a long gallery for some distance under the cliffs. Yet, extensive as was the tunnel, it was not too large for the enormous store of wealth which was accumulated therein. We saw piles upon piles of bales, chests upon chests of gold and precious stones, besides articles innumerable of ivory, gem-beset cups, jewellery, and other articles of artistic workmanship and rarity. There was enough in this cave alone to endow each man among us with fabulous riches. But this was not all. At the end of the second cavern, in which lay the two bodies which I have described, we came to another oaken door; it was of different construction to the first, seemingly of more modern make.

"'I wonder what there is within,' cried Scott, 'these caves seem to be interminable!'

"The door was securely fastened, great staples having been driven into the rock, clamping its edges and holding it tight. I sent one of the men for a crowbar or two, and by their aid we succeeded in pulling down the obstruction.

"'Come on!' I exclaimed, addressing Scott, as I advanced into the dense darkness, candle in hand. But immediately the light began to burn low with a blue flame, and presently it went out. At the same time I experienced a sense of suffocation and clutched at my companion as I fell forward.

"On coming to my senses I found myself stretched on the snow at the mouth of the excavation. Scott too was lying on his back a few yards from me.

"'Ye've had a narrer escape, Captain!' said one of the men.

"I sat up and looked round.

"'Where am I? What's the matter?'

"Then the recollection of our extraordinary discovery came to me. 'We must see what is inside the third cave,' I exclaimed.

"'It's full o' foul gas, sir.'

"'That will soon escape. Leave the doors open, and by to- morrow the place will be clear.'

"I felt sure that the slightly-warmer air below, as soon as it was released, would ascend. There was now nothing for it but to wait patiently. Scott soon came round, though we both felt, for a time, sick and dizzy. With our minds considerably dazed by the extraordinary discovery which we had made we returned across the ice to the Pole Star, and during the latter part of the day discussed the problems connected with our find.

"'It is possible that there may be papers below in the caves explaining matters,' I said; 'it is hardly likely that men should have taken the pains to construct and fill such an hiding-place without leaving a record of their reasons for so strange a proceeding. Their ship cannot have gone down suddenly, because they had time to clear her of these riches.'

"'Possibly, like the Pole Star, she was badly damaged, and to secure their goods they emptied her,' suggested Scott.

"With this I agreed. We had as yet come across no trace of the ancient vessel, though this was hardly to be wondered at seeing that the ice speedily disintegrates any wreckage. Then we fell to talking about the Stradivarius violin. Its presence in the cavern among the treasures of the Elizabethan ship (we judged it to be Elizabethan by the costumes of the dead men) added to our mystification. That it was evidence of a subsequent visit to the place by some person or persons who, so far as we could judge, had come away without disturbing the vast store of wealth seemed to be evident. Yet it was almost beyond the bounds of belief that any ship should have touched at the island, and having discovered the treasure should have sailed away leaving it unmolested. Scott suggested that the strange visitors had been frightened at the discovery of the dead men.

"'But why should they have brought a fiddle?' I inquired. 'And why leave it behind them?'

"The next day, having quite recovered from the effects of the foul gas, and brimful of expectation, Scott and I, accompanied by four trusty seamen, started forth for the treasure-cave—the rest of the party, under the direction of the third mate, was ordered to continue the work of the erection of our houses. Although it was dark, the sun not arising above the horizon at this time of the year, our way was illumined by the stars and by the broad streams of the Aurora, which extended far across the sky. As we wended our way along the rough and icy path with great hummocks upraising their jagged heads on either side of us we fell into silence, our thoughts—at least, I can speak for my own, dwelling on the vast wealth which had come to us in so strange a way amid the bergs of the frozen ocean; for we could not imagine that any one had a better claim than ourselves to the treasure of which we were at least the re-discoverers, nor was it possible that we could anticipate the future and the extraordinary claim which would be made by the Russian Government.

"We feared that having left open the entrance to the caves it was possible we might find they had been visited by the four- legged inhabitants of these regions—to wit, the ever-active and cunning Arctic foxes, or even by some stray polar bear; for these creatures, as we well knew, were by no means particular concerning the source and character of their food, and would not hesitate even to devour the bodies of those who had lain frozen in this tomb for three hundred years.

"With considerable caution we descended. The clear burning of our naked lights showed that the foul air had ascended to the upper atmosphere. The bodies of the Elizabethan adventurer and his murderer lay undisturbed. Beyond was the entrance into the third cavern; the door, as I have related, we had pulled down. Cautiously we entered, holding our lights well above our heads. The poisonous gas had quite cleared away, and we were able to enter without risk. The sight which met our gaze was even more astounding than that in the first caverns—here were no dead bodies, no curious Indian jewels, or bales of Oriental merchandise, valuable as such things were; at first I could hardly believe my eyes, when I saw chest piled upon chest of golden coin. But this was a fact; this innermost cave was a thesaurus of wealth. There may be stored in that place gold coin to the value of £800,000 or £900,000, or there may be a million; nay, I should not be surprised if there is a million and a half."

We gazed at him almost awestruck, wondering whether it could be true that we were to have a share of this wealth. We were all serious enough now, and listening intently. Mackie threw some fresh logs on the fire, which crackled cheerily and produced a glowing flame, and Captain McGubbins continued—

"It took us some time to realize that by far the greater portion of our riches was stored here, but investigation showed that this was indeed the case. We opened chest after chest, each was filled to the brim, either with minted coin or with bars of bullion. But the most curious thing was this. The whole of it had been accumulated during the latter part of the eighteenth century, for all the coins, so far as we had time to ascertain, were of that period. How they had been collected, and by whom, it was impossible to say. In the eighteenth century vessels did not convey bullion in such quantities as now-a-days. We came therefore to the conclusion that the vast hoard had been collected by pirates or privateersmen, though how it came into this remote quarter of the globe we could not even guess."

"And did you never discover?" inquired Bunker eagerly.

"Yes, we learnt the whole truth, as you shall hear," continued Captain McGubbins.

"But first we found a document which let a flood of light upon the original constructors of this treasure-place, and their object in coming to that icebound island."

"Have you it with you?" we inquired.

With a smile McGubbins thrust his hand into his inner pocket and drew forth a package. "I have already told you," he said, "what was carved upon the stone at the entrance to the vault. You shall now learn something more concerning Peter Paramor, the master of the brig Virgine Queene, whose tragic death took place in July 1561."

He unrolled a manuscript of yellow parchment; through the middle of it was a gaping rent penetrating all the leaves and stained with some dark red liquid—at least, it had been red, but it had congealed to a dull brown.

"Blood!" we exclaimed.

He nodded. "Yes, blood; the murderer's sheath-knife had been driven clean through the middle of it; the blow must have been struck with considerable force.

"It was a strange thing to do, but we drew forth that knife from the heart in which it had been stuck for three hundred years or more. You will perceive the slightest tinge of rust round the edges of the rent, the extreme dryness of that frost-laden atmosphere kept the blade almost as bright as when the revengeful hand struck it home. Yes, we drew it out, and we opened his doublet and found this document; it's a strange story. Perhaps, Captain Romaines, you would like to read it to the company."

Captain McGubbins handed the ancient parchments to me. I opened it with much curiosity, and by the light of the wood-fire read to the assembled company the following narrative.


XI. — PETER PARAMOR'S PARCHMENT

"IT seemeth right that I should here set forth the reasons wherefor our worthy sovereign, Elizabeth, Queene of England, should have apportioned unto me, Peter Paramor, the command of an expedition to the Indies of the East, seeing it was for the express purpose of ascertaining more than hath been known hitherto concerning the wealth of that famed land, and the willingness of the men who inhabit it (and who are marvellously skilled in all manner of cunning workmanship) to engage in trade with us who dwell in the remote West.

"For the better understanding of that which I have herein placed on record I will premise by stating by way of introduction certain facts, in order that this narrative, should it come to the eye of those who are able to judge fairly, may be able in their hearts to acquit me of blame concerning the troubles which much encompassed the path of our expedition.

"Know then that it was in the month of March, in the year of Our Lord's Incarnation one thousand five hundred and fifty-nine, that we set sail from the good city and port of Bristol on our long and adventurous voyage. The little fleet of which I had command did contain four ships, to wit, the brigge Virgine Queene (so called after our most gracious sovereign), a second brigge named the Thisbe, having for her master a certain John Quince. In addition to these two stout ships we had with us a couple of caravels, sound bottoms, and capable of holding a considerable amount of merchandise, of which we hoped to convey across the seas to England as much as might be stowed in their spacious holds.

"The inhabitants of the famous seaport gave us a right hearty cheer as we weighed anchor and stood down the Channel which leadeth towards the Atlantic. Fully did we expect to be absent from our native land for a space of three, it might even be four years. Before leaving, I had been summoned by royal command to White Halle, where my Royal Mistress had graciously charged me to make sufficient use of the charter which she had conferred both for the purposes of trade and also of discovery, saying unto me, with a gracious and pleasing smile, 'Thou knowest, good Master Paramor, that it hath always been Our royal will and pleasure, and will remain so, so long as it pleaseth Providence to continue us of the throne of this realm, that we should promote the progress of science and the discovery of lands hitherto unknown, as much for the benefit of the world in which we dwell as for the strengthening and glory of our own estate. Spare thee no pains, therefore, to make great discovery, and in case of success thy reward shall be awaiting thee against thou dost return.'

"I acknowledge freely that the gracious utterances of our sovereign Lady Queene Elizabeth found a responsive echo in my own ambitious heart. There were those in the realm who at this time were on the road to fame by reason of their having made great discoveries from which some day men may reap much advantage. It was my great desire to excell in like manner. And if it should please the Queene to bestow on my unworthy self a patent of nobility on my return I should accept it with due humility and esteem that it had not come to me unearned.

"Filled with such thoughts, and having within me the determination to make full use of the charter, and to achieve what British seamen never before had accomplished, it became my set purpose (though I spake not of it unto my companions till long after, for fear of their revolt in face of the hardships which certainly they would be called upon to endure), that I would surpass all the endeavours of former discoverers, and instead of returning home around the southern coast of the continent of Africa I would press on, with my briggs and caravels, and steer among the reputed islands of the Furthest East in a northerly direction, and this for the purpose of discovering a passage home through the ice-beset Oceanus Arcticus, shortening thereby the distance from the East, and winning for myself without any manner of doubt, fame, repute, and much reward.

"Alas for the vanity of human hopes! I pen these words on a lonely spot which overlooketh the shore of a frozen island in the aforesaid Arctic Sea, my good ships having being cast away by a series of terrible misfortunes. That we have saved the major part of the wealth which we have been able to convey thus far from the Indies doth not encourage me to hope that we can ever take it to England; for it is not probable that once in fifty years is this spot visited by human beings.

"In addition to misfortunes of the nature of those which come to men who go down to the sea in ships we have had other and various tribulations of which I have writ down within some account. Maybe that those into whose hand this document shall perchance fall, if they do not acquit me altogether of blame, at least will acknowledge that I have acted the honourable part, both in the defence of that which was not mine own, and in a resolute endeavour to the charge laid upon me by my Royal Mistress in the matter of geographic enlargement.

"Know then, that it was after we had weathered the Cape of Storms which the great Portuguese, my predecessor, Vasco da Gama, discovered not so very long ago, to wit, in the year 1497, that my troubles began. We were crossing the great ocean of India, which lieth between the island of the Moon or Mozambique and the coast of greater India, an ocean as is well known which is under the dominion of the Portuguese, when I became aware that there was serious unrest on board the other brigge, id est the Thisbe. Her master, John Quince, though a seaman of much ability and skill, is, like myself, ambitious. The said ambition taking the form, as afterwards to my undoing I discovered, of mutiny against my authority. When ordered to sail in our wake he would clap on sail and stand off our quarter, or even pass us, he himself standing on the aftercastle laughing at our discomfiture. For the sake of peace I forbore to chide him, for such ill- mannered exhibitions. None the less it aroused my fears lest the work of our expedition might not be compassed without more serious signs of rebellion, and I took the precaution from this time forward of carrying on my person, though carefully concealed, a weapon of defence in the form of one of the recently-invented pistols, with match-lock; an admirable substitute for bow and arrow, but not yet very greatly used in the Queene's dominions.

"Nothing happened to cause me undue alarm until we had filled up our holds with goods made by the people of the East. With them gold was of little account; for they valued greatly our English cloths, and were willing to pay therefor ten times the price at which they might be sold at home. We had knives too, on which they set much store, so that before long we had done exceeding well, filling our vessels to the very deck in the centre part, though leaving room for more, if need be, in the forecastles and aftercastles.

"It was not at first our intention to fill these; but when, owing to Quince's boisterous behaviour with the natives of Calicut, on the Malabar coast, a fight took place, we captured, in a raid upon the temples of their gods, vast quantities of treasure, so that I was enabled, without the least trouble or further outlay, to complete the lading of my ship with the richest cargo ever embarked since English mariners sailed the main; that is to say, we filled up every available space with chests of teak-wood—peculiar to that region— filled to the brim with gold, silver, and precious stones.

"It was with completest satisfaction that we set sail from Calicut after residence in the Portuguese Indies for upwards of half a year. My firm purpose and intention had been to make sail for the further Indies, passing through the narrow straits wherein lies Malacca, and, avoiding the Spice Islands, afterwards to proceed north for the purpose of discovering a shorter road home than by the Cape of Storms. Although it was well known unto the crews of the several vessels that such was my set intent there arose an outcry, fomented, I doubt not, by the aforementioned John Quince, that the dangers were such as could be endured by no living men. Quince himself, as it afterwards came to my hearing, spread abroad among the men stories of frightful portent, such as accounts of strange monsters; of awful men, half-brute half-fish, having huge teeth and heads like unto men, which in the far north barred the passage of ships and rending the flesh of those who defied their will.

"Further, he related unto them that there were great beasts of exceeding strength whose hair was white as snow, which were able to devour a man at one meal.

"As though these terrors did not suffice, further he assured them that should they escape such enemies they would find the sea frozen solid throughout, in which did we once become embedded our bodies would remain without Christian burial, frozen and uncorrupt, until the Day of Doom. I was exceeding wrath when these tales reached mine ear, and proceeded to summon the master of the Thisbe by signal that he should come on board the Virgine Queene; but he, having no respect either for my person or my office, refused with disdain to obey, and clapped on more sail that he might increase the distance between our respective ships.

"At this I was much incensed, and making more sail than he had done, stood after him, and, my ship not being so deeply laden as was his, I succeeded in a few hours in coming within hail. Whereupon by means of the speaking-trumpet I did succeed in giving up to him a piece of my mind. But he answered with scorn, informing me that did I not desist he would sail away alone. Not wishing to bring upon the fleet the disaster of dismemberment I foolishly allowed the matter to drop, but none the less continued on the course which we were steering, being fully resolved that nothing should turn me aside therefrom.

"Crossing the Sea of Cathai and passing the great islands which lie to the north-east thereof—islands which reminded me somewhat of our own—we steered into the unknown seas which lie to the east of Asia.

"Thinking that it would bring about a better understanding with the masters and crew of my four ships I here made for a fine natural harbour on the coast, and anchoring therein on firm, sandy holding-ground, proceeded to conduct a conference of every member of the expedition.

"The men, numbering one hundred and twenty souls, were drawn up on my own main deck, the masters and their officers were placed on my right and left hands on the aftercastle, John Quince being seated next unto myself. All were attired in their best clothing, and the sun shining brightly, it being the month of June, we presented a right fine sight, though for aught I know there were no spectators, the land about us being, to all appearance, uninhabited.

"As soon as all were assembled I addressed them as follows—

"'Know ye, comrades all, that we are embarked on as great a venture as ever hath been designed since men crossed the stormy main. Hitherto our successes, as ye are well aware, have been beyond compare, for no ships since the days of the great Solomon, whose traffic is described in Holy Writ, have returned from distant regions so heavily or so richly laden. Ye are aware that by the terms of the Articles which ye have signed with the merchants our owners, ye can claim nought, by way of reward for attention to your duties as mariners, beyond the wages heretofore agreed upon. But, seeing that we do return home by a new road and shall thereby to the best of my reckoning save some months of the time allotted to us, as well as obtain great renown for having thus opened a new path unto the Indies, I do now and hereby declare unto you all that it was made known unto me ere we set sail, by no less a person than the chief owner of these four crafts, that he would apportion unto us, for fair and equal division, one quarter of the value of all that we land safely in an English port.

"'I bid you therefore cast aside all foolish fears, trusting in Him who hath hitherto extended to us the favour of his Fatherly Guidance, and having no doubt that I and the skilled officers who are my assistants and supporters will bring ye safely through whatever peril may beset us, as in the past hath been the case. Hearken not, I entreat you, to foolish fables and terrifying legends, which, while they rob you of the manly courage which befits English seamen, supply in the place thereof nothing but foolish qualms.'

"I concluded my oration by appealing to them to be loyal to their Queene and country, as well as to myself, and to bear in mind that our safety and the success of our venture lay in unity.

"Having said all that was in my mind, I was about to proclaim a general holiday with extra allowance of good cheer, and, with a smile on my face, had even opened my mouth to speak, when up jumped John Quince, master of the Thisbe. There was on his brow a lowering frown, and I could perceive that his bosom swelled either with indignation or self-importance, or an admixture of both. Though not nearly so tall as myself he is a man of much strength of body, possessing thews of steel, and having a neck well-nigh as thick as a bull's. When he raised his brawny fist, clenched tight as though he would strike some one, a hush fell upon the assembly who had been whispering over my latter words, for there is something commanding, I freely acknowledge, in John Quince's manner which compels attention when he upraises his voice.

"Thinking it wiser to let him have his say, and not knowing what that might be, I checked the impulse to restrain him, and he spake as follows—

"'Men, I bid ye listen unto me! I too, am a British seaman—a Devonshire man, accustomed from my youth to danger, as some of you will bear me witness. Never yet have I flinched when it came to a fight or to wrestling with a storm on the high seas. Like yourselves I have listened to that which hath proceeded from the mouth of Master Peter Paramor, our leader. None shall say that I have shown myself to be craven in view of the difficulties which will beset our voyage among the ice-laden waters of the northern ocean. But this I do say, that we have a right to a greater reward than that which Master Paramor offereth. Did we not take jewels in abundance from the temples of the Indians, not one groat of which belongeth unto our owners? Nor is the amount of which we became the possessors entered on our bills of lading.

"'Let us therefore straightway make a bargain with Master Paramor, that if we consent to follow him and to work these vessels as he desireth, he shall apportion unto us, for our sole use and possession, the whole of the said wealth which hath thus fallen into our hands.'

"Amazed, I listened unto his audacious proposal, and turning unto the knave I caught his eye in which I discerned a malignant triumph, as though he deemed that he had already secured over me the victory. But not thus easily was I to be outdone by such a scheme of greed, and I affected (though inwardly quaking, my disposition being naturally in favour of peace and contentment) to treat John Quince's suggestion as a right good joke.

"'Marry,' quoth I, 'we should be rich indeed did we share all the wealth obtained from the temples of the heathen; but, seeing we have no right thereto, it being without doubt the property of those in whose vessels it is placed, we must convey it honestly and without toll to England, trusting to the generosity and goodwill of the owners to handsomely reward those who so well have served them.'

"But to this Quince repeated, that the owners should be told nothing; that, in fact, except that it was conveyed on their ships, it was by no means their property; but that he and the rest demanded the treasure as compensation for the toil and danger which they would undoubtedly endure in the northern latitudes whither we were bound.

"'At any rate, Master Quince,' I retorted, 'ye will have to transport your property to England, and how shall ye do it except by means of these self-same vessels?'

"To this he vouched but a growling reply, of which I could not clearly catch the purport; but it sounded unto me as though he said that there would be no difficulty in finding a ship.

"'Then how will ye land it on English shores?' I continued. 'Know ye not that our Queene Elizabeth hath sharp eyes and a long arm, and that it will not be easy to dispose of so vast a treasure without her knowledge.'

"To my amazement the fellow retorted with an impudent sneer that there were other ports in the North Sea, by which I understood him to mean that they might make for those of the Netherlands, there being a good market in the Low Countries for golden articles and jewels, especially if they be of such beauty and curious workmanship as those beneath our feet in the hold.

"Upon this I assumed a tone of dignity, and protested with strong words that I would permit no insubordination among those who sailed under my command. Indeed, I spoke more roughly than I felt at heart, for I perceived plainly enough that necessity was laid upon me at this juncture."

XII. — PETER PARAMOR'S PARCHMENT
(continued)

THEY listened, with more reverence than I had looked for, to my words. It was but seldom that I allowed myself to assume such a tone, for I confess freely that I have no faith in harshness and severity in dealing with my men, unless it be in times such as these, when sternness alone can quell revolt. In this opinion I am aware that I differ somewhat from the men of my time who hold to more strenuous methods. I confess that I was not a little surprised at the effect of my latter words. A few sharp thrusts of the tongue and a threat or two, and, lo! John Quince bemeaned himself before me, declaring that he meant no harm and would go whithersoever I listed. This change of face was so surprising, as well as sudden, that I eyed the fellow with some suspicion, and there were curious looks of doubtfulness on the faces of those assembled on the deck, as though hardly could they believe the evidence of their senses.

"'Master Quince,' quoth I, 'dost thou indeed undertake that thou wilt be obedient unto my commands?'

"He looked up at me after a manner not so bold and audacious as hitherto, and said—

"'By Our Lady, good Master Paramor, I will bear thee true allegiance and honour.'

"'And obedience,' I persisted firmly, wishful to pin him by an open declaration.

"He bowed his head as though in assent, and I expressed myself to be satisfied, though, verily, in my inmost heart I did not feel trustful concerning this assertion of loyalty on the part of John Quince. There was nothing for it, however, but to accept the man's word given thus openly. The crews, seeing how matters stood between us seemed to be mighty pleased, and gave vent to a lusty English cheer, which echoed strangely among the woods and hills of the lone land which surrounded our little harbour, while the masters of the other ships and their officers smiled pleasantly, and presently fell to congratulating Quince that he had come to such a happy settlement.

"'Thou wilt not me thy loyalty to our good commander, who hath always shown to us his goodness,' quoth they, words which caused my ears to tingle, for 'tis always pleasant unto men in authority when they discover that they bear the good opinion of those beneath them.

"'Then to your feasting!' I exclaimed, addressing them all. 'See that ye enjoy the good fare which the cook doth provide. On shore ye shall go to stretch your legs, as many as please, and to view the country. Such liberty is sweet unto seamen!'

"The rest of the day and the two days following—for I thought it well to give them ample leisure for the benefit of their bodies and the revival of their good spirits—were spent after a fashion delightsome unto all. Not a few showed their skill by bringing down deer of curious breed which roamed these wilds unmolested. Soon fires blazed merrily on strand and greensward, and haunches of venison were roasting sufficient to make the mouths water of those who hungered for fresh flesh.

"By the fourth day after our conference a new and more pleasing appearance was evident on every face. Sullenness and ill-temper had fled; even John Quince himself was striving to be agreeable; and I was in good hopes that the cloud of dissatisfaction had passed completely away.

"I have now to set down on this parchment how storms arose, both human and otherwise, which wrought much havoc, yea, even the destruction of our ships and the endangering of the success of our expedition: though I state plainly that at the time of writing these words I by no means despair of landing again on English shores; but, alas! I fear it will not be with the vast treasure which we have collected.

"It was a bright June day when we sailed forth from the aforementioned harbour, the Virgine Queene leading, and steered for the northern ocean. It had long been my firm conviction that a great expanse of waters washed the northern shores of Europe and Asia, and that at this period of the year it was not unlikely we should find it unimpeded by ice, at least that there would be a clear channel along the shore sufficient for us to pass as far as the northern Atlantic. One who was well known unto me, to wit, Sebastian Cabot, a mariner of much endurance, and who by our late gracious king, Edward VI., was appointed Grand Pilot of England, and further one who wished well to our expedition, had told me much concerning a voyage which Sir Hugh Willoughby had undertaken but a few years ago, namely in 1553, in which only one of the vessels, to wit, that of which he was the navigator, survived the voyage, and contrived to arrive at a city of the Russians, named after the Arch Angel. He had stated that he had no doubt that a north-west passage did exist unto the Indies and the Spice Islands, from the use of which great gain might be derived and much time saved. His account had greatly emboldened me, so that I felt no doubt that we should accomplish our purpose, should we be granted freedom from storms.

"At the beginning we were greatly favoured. We passed through a narrow strait, on either side of which land showed plainly, but whether that on the eastern side was an island or the shore of some vaster continent, I could not discover. No voyagers had, so far as I knew, previously visited these parts. After proceeding for some days in a northerly direction the land trended westward, so that my spirits within me rose, and I pointed out to my companions that in this direction lay our path to success.

"Now, I do not deem it of importance that I should narrate each item of this portion of our voyage, for, though we knew it not, we were day by day drawing near to the period of our great disaster and to the dreadful place whereat I pen these lines.

"We had passed the northernmost point of Asia (as I deemed it), and had proceeded some three hundred miles south of west, when a great northerly gale from the ice-bound regions came down upon us with extraordinary fury.

"In all my seafaring experience I vouched that never before have I known such an awful combination of the forces of nature as those which were hurled upon our ill-fated ships. Blasts of freezing wind; squalls of blinding snow; bergs and floes and hummocks of ice; sweeping before them with resistless might our frail barks; rendering impotent our puny efforts, and hurrying us whither we knew not, so that we could only hold on and pray.

"It was at midnight after the third day of the storm that we struck; but whether on the mainland or on some remote isle of these inhospitable seas we knew not at the time. The Virgine Queene was the first to take the land. To my surprise she did not break up at once, but was thrust by the ice-pack which followed high on to a sandy beach whereon was abundance of soft snow, upon which she settled as upon a bed of feathers, but so high upon the shore, as we afterwards discovered, that to re- float her was impossible.

"It did not take the storm half-an-hour to thrust us into this position. The other ships, as the daylight did reveal, were equally fortunate, with the exception of one of the caravels, of which we never saw anything again. I conclude that she was crushed by the ice and went to the bottom with all hands.

"I have writ as though all this happened in darkness, but in truth in these latitudes in the month of June there is perpetual daylight. Only the heavy snowstorm had created a kind of artificial night obscuring from sight the other ships under my command. When, however, the gale subsided and the snow ceased to fall from the inky clouds, both I myself and those with me on board the Virgine Queene, were astonished beyond measure at catching sight both of the brigge Thisbe and one of the caravels at the distance of a couple of miles towards the south, and like ourselves high and dry upon the shore. Hardly could we believe our eyes, it being so exceedingly improbable that no less than three ships should have escaped in such a manner from the jaws of this icy death. Yet indeed it was as I have stated. In an hour's time we had descended to the snow-covered beach, and after no little difficulty, occasioned by the not yet frozen surface, did succeed in making our way unto the place where they lay.

"Here did we find, to our vast relief and comfort, that although the said brigge and caravel had sustained no slight amount of damage—the bows of the one being stove in, while a large rent had been made in the bottom of the other—so effectual had been the pressure of the ice that the vessels had been borne up, when otherwise they were in great danger of sinking, being landed, like the Virgine Queene, by force of wind and ice, high upon the shore.

"Already was John Quince busy, his carpenter being employed in patching up the holes.

"Quoth he, 'It will be many a long day ere we float these ships, much depending on this cursed ice. None the less it is well to make preparation, for not a knave among us doth wish that his bones should lie bleaching amid these solitudes.'

"To whom I made answer, 'Methinks, Master Quince, that should we die, our bodies would lie frozen solid until the Day of Resurrection.'

"He laughed after a manner none too pleasant.

"''Twould be a saving o' the fees for priest and gravedigger!' said he. 'I have my doubts concerning the future, whether there be any chance of our escape from these frigid shores. Maybe we shall die one by one of starvation, e'en should we be able to survive the rigours of the frost when the darkness and cold of winter doth fall upon us.'

"I mused over his words—we were seated in the cabin, on either side of the small table which occupied the midst thereof—and presently I replied sadly—

"'To think, Master Quince, that this should be the end of our venture, and this ice-clad isle the goal of all the wealth with which our vessels are laden!'

"Presently he revealed unto me a notion which had arisen in his head, and which seemed to be exceeding reasonable, namely, that we should discover, as near as we were able, how long the provisions on board the three ships would afford subsistence for us all; further, to examine the land whereon we had been cast with a view to discover, if it might be, whether there existed any animals thereon fit for food; and, lastly, to lighten our ships in such manner as we were able, by removing therefrom the lading thereof to some secure cave (if happily such could be found), thereby giving us the opportunity thoroughly to overhaul the three vessels and to repair them to the best of our ability, launching them again should we find it possible so to do.

"I confess that I was exceeding pleased with Quince's evident openness, and with the clearness of vision and foresight which he displayed, all traces of his former mutinous spirit having disappeared.

"Alas, as I have recently discovered, it was but slumbering.

"As the days were long, I might say unending, as soon as we had reckoned the amount of food and had found it would last (with care) for a space of about nine months, we proceeded to carry out the rest of Quince's scheme, first unlading the Virgine Queene and examining her with care with the design of making her watertight. But, alas! soon did we discover that such an end was beyond our skill. Her hull was so completely battered, and the planking torn asunder, that despite our most strenuous efforts it was plain that she would leak like a sieve should we ever again be able to get her afloat. Greatly disappointed we proceeded to try the like with the other brigge, and after working upon her continually for the space of six weeks did actually mend her hull, after much contriving, so that at length we deemed her, to our joy, to be watertight.

"As there was no movement in the neighbourhood of the land of the vast amount of ice driven hither by the great gale, we were perforce obliged to turn our attention to the remaining caravel, in the hope that when her repair was complete a gale from the south or west might provide us with clear water for our launch.

"Alas! up to this hour no such gale has come, but in the place thereof sorrows innumerable have compassed our sojourn on the Isle Desolate.

"Perceiving that it would be likely enough that much of our goods must remain here, we have been at pains to discover a place for its hiding such as none will suspect or be likely to discover; for I have hope that if we are successful in reaching home on board the brigge Thisbe, I may be able to conduct to this spot larger and stronger vessels and by their means remove the treasure to England.

"Yet on mentioning this idea unto John Quince he at first frowned and then smiled after an unpleasant sort, as though he had in his head another design.

"No hiding-place for our vast store of gold and other valuables could be found on the eastern side of the island (for such we found it to be). But, on progressing by way of the shore under the cliffs to the western coast, we there discovered accidentally a vault-like opening which could easily be closed, and which led into a series of caves or natural chambers running under the cliffs. Hither we conveyed those things which with so much toil we had brought from the Indies, fitting up shelves for them at our leisure, while we awaited the movement of the ice which was to free us from our exile.

"The conveyance of the goods to this place occupied us the space of more than two months, during which the brief summer passed away and our hope of rescue had begun to wane.

"For my own part I endeavoured to be cheerful, while Quince's dogged determination carried him through all difficulties. None the less I trusted not the man, the more especially now that I could see how greatly he coveted the wealth which had fallen into our hands.

"It remaineth for me now to set down herein the manner in which John Quince played the traitor. But first must I relate (in all fairness) a statement of his exceeding courage in the hour of grave peril which came upon us.

"We had stored our provisions in a hollow under the cliffs—that is, those for which we could find no room—while the repairs to our vessels were in hand. From time to time it was reported to me by those whom I had set over this business that divers strange animals, of dangerous and fearful aspect, and whose fur was whiter than wool, had appeared unto them, endeavouring, they said, to move with their great limbs the stones wherewith we had fenced the spot, and plainly determined to devour whatsoever they were able to secure.

"This was not comforting news, as I foresaw that such creatures would certainly become emboldened by hunger when the colder weather and the darkness of winter fell upon us.

"Nor, alas! was I wrong in my surmise. We had succeeded in conveying to the store-caves on the western shore the bulk of our valuables, perceiving full well that it would be impossible to remove a tithe thereof, e'en should we be fortunate enough to get one of our ships afloat.

"By this time the snow on the northern side of the Virgine Queene had drifted to the level of the bulwarks, and we had made a sloping pathway thereto, which was very convenient. But it proved our ruin.

"It was in the dead of the night (by this time the nights were lengthening into that long darkness which, like a shroud, enwraps these regions for the winter months) that there fell upon our ill-fated expedition the great catastrophe.

"Mutual society and help had induced me to arrange that we should all occupy the Virgine Queene on which there was now abundant space. Dreading no foe I had not deemed it necessary to set a watch, and I thus brought upon those committed to my charge, as I freely and sorrowfully admit, an unmerited fate.

"We were all sound asleep, dreaming, I ween, of old England and of the joys of home, when I was aroused by a sound within my cabin—a strange sniffing, and then a crash as though sundry articles had been overturned.

"Wondering what it could be I rubbed mine eyes and sat up. At the same moment there reached mine ears from all parts of the ship a strange chorus of shouts and yells of pain, intermingled with savage snarls and growlings.

"In a recess at my head there lay a tinder-box with flint and steel. For these I groped in the darkness, being wishful to light my candle. As I fumbled with uncertain touch, not being sure where these things lay, a heavy weight, as of a huge hand was placed on my body, and the clothing which was about me was roughly stripped from off my limbs, causing me to cry out with alarm, so that I thrust my fist forward as by instinct to ward off the intruder. It encountered that which I knew at once to be no human face, but the cold muzzle of a beast.

"So exceeding lusty was my blow that the thing snarled with pain and snapped at me, so that I could hear its horrid teeth gnash, and its breath assailed my nostrils with an odour strange, alarming, and unpleasant. By this time, determined at all hazards to ascertain the nature of my assailant, I began striking vigorously over the tinder-box with my flint and steel. Presently the light blazed up, and seizing my candle I thrust the wick thereinto and so kindled a flame.

"The sight which presented itself to my astonished gaze was sufficient to quail the heart of the bravest. Upon the edge of my berth, which was roomy and raised not far above the floor, rested the big fore-paws of a gigantic beast of prey. In colour he was a yellowy-white, his body being covered with long, thick hair. There was in his cruel, small eyes and gleaming white teeth an appearance of that ferocity which arises from great hunger, and the thought that I was doomed caused me to shout aloud for aid. At the same time I felt by my side for the newfangled weapon of which I have before made mention, to wit, the pistol. It was loaded and primed, though the match-lock was not alight. The candle in my hand would serve the purpose, I knew, and presenting the barrel straight at the beast's open mouth—for he was roaring upon me and blinking his eyes at the light—I applied the flame to the priming, and the loud report was succeeded by the thud of his body as he toppled headlong to the floor. Holding the candle over the side I peered through the dense smoke to see if truly he were dead, and had much satisfaction in observing that he lay outstretched and motionless.

"Before descending I proceeded to load again the pistol and to prime it with care."


XIII. — PETER PARAMOR'S PARCHMENT
(concluded)

"BY this time the din in the other parts of the vessel had increased, so that I knew full well that the fierce animal which had visited myself had not come alone. In fact, as I reached the passage which leadeth to the companion-ladder, I saw in front of me a curious spectacle, being no less than the burly form of John Quince engaged in a wrestling match with another of our furry foes. The brute had risen to its hind feet, and was struggling the while to overthrow him. But not so easily was the sturdy Quince to be overcome. He had grasped his assailant by the throat, so that even as I approached it fell backwards, being half-suffocated, and Quince succeeded in quenching the life from out its ponderous body by the grip of his muscular hands. I would have sent a ball into this one also, having exceeding faith in my weapon. (Though some, I am told, laugh such things to scorn, and maintain that the bow will hold the field; in this I am of the contrary opinion.) But I had fear that perchance I might shoot John Quince, and this assuredly I had no desire to do. But the others on board were by no means so successful. The number of the bears must have exceeded three score. In a word, we were beset by a vast pack of these fierce, furry foes. Many of the men were taken unawares and were slain ere they could spring from their berths; some fought with fists, but the combat was unequal, and being neither so strong as John Quince nor so fortunate as myself, they were speedily overcome, and were horribly mangled, as my eyes afterwards bore witness.

"Seeing one of my men, a fine fellow, the boatswain of the Thisbe, in the grasp of a hungry monster, I made attempt to save him by firing my ball at the brute. But, alas, they were swaying about, and by the uncertain light of my candle—without which we should have been in darkness—my aim was uncertain, and to my horror the man instead of the bear received the bullet, and it caused his death on the instant. Whereupon the bear turned on me with a growl exceeding savage; but I contrived to leap aside, and instead be fell upon one who was coming to our aid, ripping him open with his great claws and slaying him on the spot.

"What was going on in other parts of the ship I knew not, but from the sounds which continued on all sides the vessel might have become the abode of all the demons of the Ancients. There were in our part of the ship no less than five ravening bears in addition to those which we had slain. The sight and taste of blood had by this time aroused them to full fury, and had it not been that John Quince and I were able to secure a couple of pikes which were stored handy, and had planted ourselves in the narrow doorway which leadeth into my cabin, it appeareth unto me that this my narrative would not have been writ down.

"They came at us with savage determination, singly, and in pairs, and altogether. Once I thought we were done for when one of them contrived to grasp my pike in his teeth and to drag it from my hand. I snatched at it, when a second bear had me by the leg; and I should have fallen among them but for the promptness of Quince, who, with his left hand, seized my arm—the one which held the candle—while with his right he thrust his own pike into the eye of my foe, and withal with such force as to penetrate the brain, so that the beast with a groan fell down dead.


Illustration

I snatched at it, when a second bear had me by the leg.


"On this I managed to escape from among them, though my leg had received sundry ugly scratches, the marks of which I bear to this hour.

"'See, there is a pike! Seize it and we will drive them before us,' cried Quince.

"This, happily, we were able to do. The four bears which remained turned about and climbed the companion with exceeding swiftness and agility, assisted by all the force which we could put into our pike-points. Maimed and bleeding they disappeared, and we proceeded to advance to the forecastle to see how it fared with the others. But no sooner did we reach the doorway which leadeth thereto, than we were driven back by a dozen or more bears, exceeding fierce, which came at us open-mouthed, so that we were forced to beat a retreat and to take refuge again in my cabin.

"I deem it not needful to describe on this parchment every incident of that awful warfare. Suffice to say that for three days Quince and I waged battle against overwhelming numbers of savage beasts, slaying twenty-six of them with pike and pistol- ball, and for our food snatching a mouthful of ship's biscuit, of which happily I had a few by me in a locker.

"At length (it was, I say, on the third day) a sudden alarm seized the invading and blood-thirsty host, and they left us in peace as by common consent. Exhausted, and with minds filled with grave anxiety, we sought our companions, to find, alas! that though eleven of them still lived these were so mangled and torn that their recovery, without more surgical skill than that which we possessed, seemed to be well-nigh hopeless. All the others had been killed, and many of them eaten, while the interior of the Virgine Queene had all the disgusting appearance of a shambles.

"Our first care was for the living, though in their case our worst fears were soon realized. The intense cold aggravated their wounds, and one by one they died, the last of them living a space of two weeks after the bears had gone. He told us that though many of the men fought with desperation, having no weapons handy at the time of the attack, they were no match for the enemy, and that very many were overcome without opportunity for the least resistance.

"After this Quince and I for a time found sufficient employment in burying our dead. We had not strength to dig deep graves in the frozen sand, so we scooped shallow trenches, and upon the bodies piled large quantities of stones to keep away the bears.

"All this happened more than a year ago. I could not endure the sight of the blood-stained ship, though Quince cared naught for that which shocked me, and sneered at my qualms. So we have taken up our abode on board the Thisbe. During the winter, in spite of a great fire in our stove maintained from the wreckage of our vessels, we have with difficulty kept our lifeblood warm, and Quince's temper hath waxed exceeding short, so that for days we speak not to each other."

* * * * *

"It is my purpose from this point to record on this parchment, for the information of any who may chance to visit this isle, what happened to us day by day, for I have no hope that we shall be saved from this land of gloom and desolation. Gladly would I give all the vast store of wealth which we have transported from the Indies could we but see again the dear land of England.

"April 24th, or thereabouts.—To-day we have completed the carving of a great stone which we intend to place over the entrance to the caves in the remote event of our being able to escape from this ice-bound island. Quince becomes more and more morose, and daily I wonder how the matter will end. Will our bodies be found frozen stark and stiff amid these frigid solitudes?

"May 1st.—To-day, the feast of St. Philip and St. James, being my birthday, we opened some bottles of rare wine which had travelled with us from Portugal by way of the Indies. Quince, being given to good cheer, imbibed of the liquor somewhat freely. But instead of making him merry it produced the contrary effect, and he became exceeding quarrelsome; so much so, in fact, that I was fain to hold my peace, deeming discretion better than valour. But there are some who are difficult to manage when in their cups. It was ever so with Quince; he embarked upon a discussion concerning our vast store of treasure, and speedily waxed argumentative, maintaining that at least one-half thereof was now his by right, and that the wreck of the Virgine Queene and her consorts did relieve us of all responsibility towards the owners. He urged upon me that we might call ourselves masters of all this wealth, and even went so far as to hint that should anything happen unto myself to cause my decease he would assuredly step into my shoes and appropriate to himself all that the caves contain. Upon this I endeavoured to point out that such a line of conduct would be both wicked and foolish; foolish in that should he succeed in landing with his store on English soil it would be well-nigh impossible to conceal from prying eyes this immense accumulation of riches.

"'Far better let us agree to do that which is right and just,' said I; 'then our consciences will approve, and we shall enjoy hereafter the praise of men and such honours as our sovereign shall see fit to bestow upon us.'

"'Honours!' quoth he, with a half-drunken leer, 'who careth for such honour as that weazen-faced old maid, Queene Elizabeth, can bestow? Her gifts to me would be without value.'

"'At least, man, you will listen to the voice of conscience!' I protested.

"But he grew violent, and drew from its sheath the ugly knife which he carried in his belt and brandished it about his head with vigour, crying aloud that the money and all that the cavern contained should be his.

"Then I perceived that the sin of covetousness had gotten hold of the soul of John Quince, and my hand sought the bottom of my coat in which my pistol lay concealed, for I knew not how soon I might have to defend my life against a murderous attack on the part of my companion.

"'A sorry birthday!' thought I, and I began to wish that we had abstained from the generous Portuguese liquor. However, the following morning (to wit, this very day) Quince hath turned up bright and smiling, and he hath suggested that we should visit the caves and take inventory of all contained therein.

"'It will be well to know how much our possessions will amount to,' said he. But I noticed in his eye a curious look which was not pleasing to me.

"Before going forth to the 'Thesaurus,' as we have nicknamed the place, I pen a line on this parchment stating that in case anything should happen unto me, and should I fall by treachery (for no man's life is safe from the assassin), in the event, I say, of my death, I bequeath whatever portion and share of this wealth may hereafter be adjudged to be mine to those who shall first discover this store.

"As a precaution (for I do not intend to part with my life without a struggle), I have loaded with ball and carefully primed my weapon the pistol—"


XIV. — COLONEL ALEXIS PETROVITCH DISAPPEARS

"SO that is the end of Peter Paramor's parchment!" exclaimed Mackie, when I had finished reading.

"That is the end!" I said; "and a curious and suggestive end it is."

"But it does not account for the Stradivarius violin, which could alone have been left by a subsequent visitor."

"Exactly. And you will perceive that a good deal hangs upon that."

"What do you mean?"

"Why, just this, that some one else must have discovered the spot, and therefore all this enormous store of wealth belongs by right to them."

Captain McGubbins slowly winked one eye and coughed softly to himself.

"He'll na hae the chance!" he chuckled. "We hae taken care o' that."

"Then you have secured the stuff?" I said, looking at him inquiringly.

He nodded emphatically.

"It is ours right enough," said he, "unless the Russians hae discovert it. They're vera deep—but I'm thinkin' there's na mon sa deep as a Scotchman."

At this we laughed heartily, and soon we were conversing in a lively fashion concerning this strange revelation, and the curious and wonderful story recorded in the document written long ago by the ill-fated captain, Peter Paramor.

Not the least interested individual of our party was Alexis Petrovitch. With knitted brows he had listened to the narrative, and had we known the use to which he would put his knowledge, most certainly we should not have allowed him to glean so large an amount of information. In fact, when we afterwards came to discuss the matter privately—that is to say, Captain McGubbins and myself—I perceived plainly enough that we had acted foolishly, though the Captain thought he had been cautious.

"Then you have actually visited this spot, and have seen that which is described in the ancient parchment?"

"As I have told you already, I know the spot well, and have seen everything."

"But how are we to get there?"

"There is hut one way—we must cross the ice."

"But, man alive! the distance must be enormous—hundreds of miles. Besides, how can we subsist during such a journey? If it is possible for us to reach this place, why could not those who were its former inhabitants have succeeded in retreating to the mainland? It seems to me, Captain, that it will be well for us to wait until the ice breaks up next summer and we can reach the island in a ship, for even should we be successful in getting there I do not see the least possibility that we can transport therefrom all the vast stores of valuables which you have discovered."

McGubbins smiled grimly, and solemnly winked one eye after his fashion.

"In that case you will never touch one farthing's worth," said he. "The Russians are alert"—here he looked across at Petrovitch—"although they do not know exactly what we have found, they are aware that there is something. By the time that the winter has elapsed they will be fully prepared to swoop down upon the spot. A man-of-war may be sent round from the Baltic, or a gunboat or two from the White Sea. At any rate, we shall not in that case stand the smallest chance, and our only hope lies in prompt action and in outwitting these greedy Muscovites. That done, we shall be in clover for the rest of our days; and I think we shall fairly have earned the wealth which will then be at our disposal."

"And your plan—"

"That I will tell you on another occasion."

He glanced meaningly at the suspicious Petrovitch, and I understood that he did not think it wise to disclose any scheme of operations which his brain might have evolved prior to our appearance.

"And the men—the crew of the Pole Star, where are they?" I inquired.

He frowned heavily.

"At the present moment they are the inmates of a Russian prison—the noted prison at Archangel."

"Then how do you propose to release them from their captivity?"

"I have proposed nothing," he retorted, with a smile. Again I perceived that he had the characteristic caution of his race strongly developed, and would not run the slightest risk of divulging anything that might be made use of by our Russian enemy.

That night a strange thing happened.

It was starlight. There was no moon until long after the small hours. We were aroused from our slumbers by a shout from Rolf Mackie, who was supposed to be guard, but who, as we subsequently discovered, had dropped asleep.

I jumped up, thinking that the Russian police were upon us. A stream of cold air from the open door saluted me.

"He's gone!"

"Who?"

"Petrovitch!"

I sprang from my couch and fumbled for the matches.

"Here, quick! Poke up the fire."

Mackie gave the logs a kick.

"Did you see him go?"

"No. But the cold air from the door aroused me. I was a fool to have slept."

The place where Alexis Petrovitch had reposed, or had seemed to repose, was no longer tenanted.

"There is no doubt that he has gone," I said; "but perhaps he is only outside—gone to look after the horses or something."

Hastily we drew on our skin coats and went out. It was intensely cold, and the snow creaked under our feet crisply.

"The horses!" exclaimed Mackie.

He pointed to the hut which we used as a stable. The door stood wide open. We rushed in; not a horse remained. Both they and the Russian drivers had disappeared.

"We're lost!" I cried. A feeling of despair fell upon me at that moment, for I could not see, in the absence of horses, how we could reach Archangel, nor indeed that we could return, should we so desire, to St. Petersburg.

It did not take us long to arouse the rest of the party. Volta, who occupied the small hut which we had set apart for her use, appeared to be by no means surprised when she learnt that her brother had escaped.

"I felt certain," said she, "that he would take the earliest opportunity to get away."

Then she turned upon the brothers Peter and Paulus Stravenski and addressed them in Russian after a manner which made them wince, and I imagined that she was remarking sarcastically upon their crass stupidity.

Although, as I have said, I understand some Russian, I am not very quick at catching all the colloquial phrases of that strange-sounding language.

It was evident enough, that now we must act. Every hour was of consequence; for there could be no doubt that the Russian police—perhaps even a troop of soldiers—would be sent after us, and before very long we might find ourselves occupying the same prison as the crew of the Pole Star. That there was real danger of such a contingency quickened our wits, and before long we were drinking steaming-hot coffee and planning our departure.

"It seems to me," remarked Bunker, "that we have two things to keep steadily in view: first, we must liberate our captive countrymen, whose services, indeed, are essential to us; secondly, we must get away from this district with the least possible delay."

"You forget that there is also a third thing," chimed in Mackie.

"What's that?"

"The removal as soon as possible of the treasure from its present hiding-place."

We talked freely now, because the brothers Peter and Paulus Stravenski did not understand our speech. Whether they had known of Petrovitch's design we could not tell, but, as Bunker suggested, it was not unlikely that he had left them behind that they might act the part of spies.

"It will not be safe to make for Archangel," I remarked, "because there we shall be recognized and arrested."

"There remains nothing for it," said Bunker, "but to await the return of Otto Stravenski. If he is lucky he may even be able to communicate with the men in prison."

"And if he is unlucky—"

"I fear the worst!" interjected the fair Volta, as tears started to her eyes. "My brother, I know, secretly hates Otto. He does not approve of our engagement, nor will he consent to our proposed marriage."

"Then you fear that if they meet—" I began.

"That there will be serious trouble—perhaps one of them may be killed," said she.

The upshot of our conference was this—

We decided that we must at once leave these hospitable huts and seek a fresh hiding-place. Captain McGubbins undertook to convey with his team of reindeer what remained of our store of provisions, and even offered to provide a transport for Volta Petrovitch; but the stouthearted girl declined such assistance, and said that she would be unworthy of her country if she could not trudge afoot as we were now compelled to do. McGubbins assured us that we should find the best route by following the curves of the seashore.

"I know a place," said he, "not many leagues to the west of Archangel which will serve us admirably."

"But how will Otto know what is become of us?" anxiously inquired Volta.

"Bless the lass, she shall nae lose her mon," was McGubbins' reply. "I'll hae to return with the deer and fetch him."

This seemed to be a solution—in theory, at least—of our present difficult position. Though, of course, we could not tell what would happen to us, nor could we know of the strange adventures which we were yet to undergo.

By this time I had become exceedingly anxious concerning the outcome of our expedition. There seemed so little probability of its ultimate success, nay, so far as I could see, failure seemed to overshadow us, and I could not imagine it possible that the hopes of my more sanguine companions could ever be realized. Still it was evident enough to us all, and not least to myself, that whether we were able to secure the treasure or not, it was certainly incumbent upon us to deliver our fellow-countrymen. The ways of the Russian Government were well known to us; and I felt quite certain that the crew of the Pole Star would be detained in prison, under one pretext or another, until the agents of the Czar had laid hands upon the incalculable stores of riches hidden on the far-away island of the Kara Sea.


XV. — PRISONERS!

BEHOLD us ensconced in a curious habitation and fed with a strange food!

It came about on this wise. After a lengthy and weary journey which sorely tried our patience, though I cannot say that it diminished our physical powers, we reached the place of which Captain McGubbins had told us. But even he did not know what we should discover there. It was a cave opening on to the seashore. The entrance lay behind a great slab of detached rock whereby the place was concealed from the view of the curious—not that many persons visited these barren shores or stayed long in this region of perpetual snow and ice. The place of our concealment was a curious natural cavity which had doubtless been created by some seismic disturbance in remote ages. The cliff in this place had been rent asunder, forming a great hall with roof arched and groined as though fresh from the hand of the Architect and his masons. In fact, it was like the nave of a great church with small recesses or chapels on either side, each of them capable of holding comfortably a considerable number of people. Possibly the place had never been fully explored, for the natives of these regions have, I am informed, an unreasoning dread of the supernatural, and instinctively avoid such spots. It was well for us, as I shall hereafter explain, that the place had been left undisturbed, otherwise it is possible that we should have been starved to death.

"It is vera like a kirk," remarked Captain McGubbins, with a wave of the hand, as he introduced us to our new lodgings. "I dinna ken what there may be in it, but na Russian'll come here, I'll be bound!"

Curiously we inspected the place, sufficient light entered through the broad natural arch under which we stood, to illuminate the space for a considerable distance. The floor was of white sand, and on it we saw the tracks of such occasional visitors as bears and Arctic foxes.

"We must see that we are not invading the winter quarters of a colony of polar bears, such as disturbed the peace of Peter Paramor and Company,' observed Mackie, with a laugh.

"It is well to be prepared," I replied, "so we will look to our firearms."

We had managed to transport on the reindeer-sledge the whole of the packages which had been brought from St. Petersburg. These included, as we had by this time discovered, a large quantity of firearms, there being no less than twenty revolvers and an equal number of very serviceable rifles, with sufficient ammunition for both to last as long as we should he likely to require it.

"Whatever made you bring all this arsenal?" I inquired of Volta.

"It was Otto's doing," she replied. "He said that they would be wanted."

"There's mickle anew for my men, as soon as we ha' leeberated them," broke in Captain McGubbins, as he eyed the firearms admiringly.

Our first start was to investigate the inner recesses of the great cavern. Its vastness grew upon us; for it stretched away far from the entrance, and the feeble gleam of our only lamp was powerless to penetrate its innermost depths. Still we could not feel safe until the place had been effectively explored, and leaving Volta Petrovitch and the brothers Stravenski in a small cave close to the entrance and in charge of the reindeer and the now empty sledge, from which we had not yet detached the team for fear that they would stray away, the rest of our party, that is to say, Captain McGubbins, Rolf Mackie, Bunker and myself proceeded to pass from chapel to chapel (as we termed them), and so penetrated to the furthermost interior of the cavern.

It was when we reached this point that we made a strange discovery. Having passed over a little hillock of sand we came to a slope which descended a good way into the bowels of the earth, and had nearly reached the end of the passage when Bunker, who was carrying the light, stopped, and half-turning his head said in a whisper, "Look there!"

We drew up to him and craning our necks peered ahead into the gloom. A huge black mass blocked our path. For a few moments we could hardly discern its outline, and then, as we ventured a step or two nearer, we saw that it was the body of a creature far larger than any elephant. I had read of such monsters, and had heard that they might have inhabited the vast northern plains of Siberia in prehistoric times, but it took me some minutes to make up my mind that what we looked upon was indeed the body of a mammoth. Yet on investigation we found that it was even so. For thousands of years, it may be, the body had remained in this place. Neither man nor beast had penetrated to the spot since the day it found its way into this gloomy depth. For there was on the smooth sand no trace of footsteps other than its own—great holes ploughed by its gigantic feet, as fresh and undisturbed as though but recently impressed.

The cause of the creature's death was plain enough. For some unexplainable reason it had forced its way into this narrow passage, and then, finding itself in a cul de sac, the beast had attempted to turn, and becoming wedged between the narrow walls—narrow, that is, for its vast bulk, had become fixed fast and so had died.

"But how is it that the flesh of the brute is not decayed?" exclaimed Mackie. "One would have imagined that it would have putrified long ago."

"This would undoubtedly have been the case," I said, "were it not for the intense dryness and coldness of this region, and especially of this cave. I should not be surprised if the flesh of the animal would be found to be perfectly sweet—indeed it might even be fit for food."

The others turned up their noses at the suggestion, but two of us had yet to learn that this same mammoth was to be the means of saving our lives.

We made a careful examination of the creature, noting the long black hair with which its body was covered, the enormous curved tusks which were jammed against the rock high above our heads. Never had any of us seen such a brute. Its size was truly stupendous; and in life, when it roamed the northern plains, its aspect must have been fearful in the extreme.

We were about to turn back for the purpose of inspecting the "chapels" on our right, when there floated towards us on the still air a long-drawn note. Again it came, and for a moment we could not conceive its meaning.

Then it flashed upon me that the sound was that of a scream—a woman's voice; therefore none other than Volta Petrovitch's.

Rolf Mackie had divined its meaning before we did.

Already he had started up the slope in the direction of the faint gleam which, even at this distance, penetrated from the entrance. We followed after him as fast as our legs could carry us, plunging through the soft sand and crying to each other to keep together. But by the time we reached the centre of the nave, Mackie had arrived at the spot where we had left Volta and the brothers Peter and Paulus Stravenski. As we came up breathless Mackie dashed away through the archway, and then we perceived that the reindeer and sledge had disappeared and with it the two Stravenskis and Volta Petrovitch. Away on the shore Rolf Mackie was gesticulating wildly with both arms. A glance towards the north-east showed us the deer-sledge; its drivers were making at full speed for a distant headland.

"They are bound for Archangel," observed Bunker grimly, as he stood with his legs wide apart and his hand thrust deep into the capacious pockets of his great fur overcoat.

"So Volta has deserted us," I exclaimed.

"Nothing of the kind," cried the irate Mackie, who came up at that moment. "She has been abducted by the pair of villainous Russians. See, there they go!"

There was no doubt that the two Stravenskis had outwitted us, and after a very clever fashion; but that Volta was in any way responsible I could not believe. Nevertheless Bunker shook his head and asserted his conviction (perhaps he was poking fun at his friend) that she had all the time made up her mind to rejoin her lover on the first opportunity.

"It is but natural," he maintained, "that she should wish to join him in Archangel. It is most likely that the pair will compass our destruction, or at the least our capture, at the hands of the police. At any rate, her presence with our party was a serious inconvenience, for you will all admit that our work needs men, and that our mission is hardly one in which a woman can take a part."

"True enough," I said, "but you forget that we have lost the sledge and the reindeer."

"Those can be replaced," put in Captain McGubbins.

We looked at him in surprise.

"We can ha' a score o' such animals for a handful o' siller."

For my own part, though I naturally regretted the loss of the bright-eyed, intelligent young lady who hitherto had accompanied our party, I perceived that her absence might be some relief to us under present circumstances; and further, it struck me that it was as well to be rid of the brothers Stravenski, both because of the shortness of our provisions, and also on account of the danger in having traitors in the camp.

Although there was obvious risk in remaining in this place, we came to the conclusion that to return to the huts was not only impossible, on account of the lengthy journey and the absence of transport for our more bulky packages, but also because they would not afford us even so secure a place of refuge as this great cave. It would be easy enough, should need require, to defend the entrance with a couple of revolvers; though we hoped that no such necessity would arise. After prolonged discussion it was resolved that two of us should revisit the huts, weather permitting, when sufficient time had elapsed for Otto Stravenski to have completed his journey to and from Archangel—not that any of us, I believe, had now any real faith in him, or supposed that when he once found himself within the confines of civilization he would think of returning to the snowy wilderness.

It fell to Captain McGubbins and Bunker to fetch Otto Stravenski. We laded them with what provision they could carry, and saw that they had a revolver apiece as well as a light Winchester and sufficient ammunition, and they left us in good spirits in the darkness of an Arctic winter's day, little dreaming what would befall us during their absence.

"You will return within a week," were my last words to McGubbins.

"Within a week—all being well," he echoed.

Alas! it was a long week before we again saw them.

By means of driftwood and dried moss we were able to keep up an excellent fire in one of the deep recesses or "chapels" in the side of the cavern. The place was dry and free from draught, though intensely dark. Here we spread the few skin rugs which had been left behind by the runaways, and which served as seats by day and beds by night—though indeed it was mostly night, for the sun at this time of the year within the Arctic circle never rises above the horizon, and the only light is that of the moon, stars, and Aurora Borealis. Day after day slipped by. We talked, we ate, we smoked, we slept—a large portion of our time was passed in sleep; seven days had elapsed and McGubbins and Bunker had not returned. Two days more and we were seriously anxious and talked of following them. On the third day—if continuous night can be termed "day"—there arose so terrific a storm from the frozen seas of the north as to baffle all description.

For three weeks it raged continuously, a howling gale, bitter piercing wind, and blinding showers of snow. So intense did the cold become that it was with difficulty we maintained heat in our bodies. And it was only after we had adopted the expedient of building a snow wall across the low entrance to our inner chamber, by which we were enabled to raise the temperature considerably with the aid of our fire, that we were able to consider ourselves safe from the danger of frostbite.

What happened to us during the progress of this storm was an event so momentous that it deserves to be recorded in a separate chapter.


XVI. — PRESERVED BY A MAMMOTH

AT the end of a fortnight the long-continued storm was raging with such fearful violence that the sea of ice which bounded our horizon, having been broken up by the strength of the moving waters, had become piled up high on the beach close to the slab of rock which guarded, as I have said, the entrance to the cavern. Thus we were unable to leave the place, for the ice-floes and bergs piled in fantastic contortions completely hemmed us in.

It happened that we were fast asleep at the time of the catastrophe which so nearly sealed our fate, nor did we hear anything of the grim movements of our jailer Dame Nature.

Rolf Mackie was the first to awake. He remarked, as he stretched himself, "I think we must have slept a long time."

I replied that I had had a strange dream, in which it seemed that the world had come to an end with a terrible earthquake.

Mackie laughed as he arose to see about a morning meal.

"It must be uncommonly dark," remarked my companion, "though the storm seems to have dropped, for all is still outside."

Indeed the stillness was the strangest part of it. There was absolutely no sound at all, not even the cry of the sea-birds which frequented the shore. Curiosity led me to the natural arch at the entrance to our abode, when, to my horror, I at once perceived what had happened. The weight of ice thrust up by wind and tide with enormous force against the detached slab of rock which had sheltered the doorway (and which I have already described as concealing the entrance to the cave), had moved it forward, so that the slab, which had fallen from the cliff ages before, had closed upon us.

Dumbfounded I gazed at it in the light of the blazing torch which I had brought with me, holding the flame aloft as I did so. Then I called to Mackie, and he came out from behind the snow wall which we had built across our little recess.

"May God have mercy on us!" I cried, "for without His aid we are doomed!"

"What do you mean?"

I pointed to the solid wall of rock which closed the exit.

It was his turn to look at it aghast. "What can we do? Surely the stone is not immovable?"

"So far as our powers go we are in a hopeless case, I fear."

Hopeless indeed! There was not a crevice into which we could squeeze our fingers. The weight of ice had thrust the rock close up against the face of the cliff, and it held it there firmly. We possessed no tools that would be of any service, unless indeed something could be done with our pocket-knives or with the muzzle of a rifle.

"There is one hope," said Mackie.

"Yes?"

"When our friends return, and find out what has happened, they may be able to move the ice and this great slab of rock."

It was our only hope. But when more than a week had elapsed from the morning of our terrible discovery despair began to settle down upon us. And this for various reasons. Our store of driftwood was nearly exhausted, and when it was done we should be left in darkness and in the terrible cold. Then there was the fear lest the fire would help to consume the oxygen upon which our very existence depended, though we did not know, as happily proved to be the case, that constant streams of fresh air found their way to the interior through various crevices. Our provisions, too, were nearly done; and had it not been for the melted snow, which we thawed lump by lump from our partition wall, we should have had no water. Yet, strangely enough, in our extremity (for the instinct to preserve our lives was too great to allow us to sit down and die), the hairy monster which we had discovered in the far depths of the cavern proved to be our salvation. There was left but a handful or two of wood when Mackie suggested that perhaps some of the fat might be cut from the sides of the creature, which, if melted, would sustain a little warmth in our bodies.

"I should not wonder, too, if we find its flesh good for food."

I was horrified at my companion's suggestion. But little did I suspect how thankful we should become for a few mouthfuls of the coarse and strange-flavoured mammoth-meat, before we were released from our captivity.

The darkness had a most depressing effect upon our nerves, for, apart from our fire, there was not a ray of light in the vast space about us, and we could not contemplate even a few days' residence in the pitchy darkness without a feeling of terror. We had already spoilt a couple of rifles by using them as levers in vain attempts to move the slab of stone at the entrance, and had been compelled at length to abandon the attempt as hopeless.

It might have amused an onlooker could he have seen our efforts to cut open the side of the mammoth. Its hide was so thick, and the long black hair which covered it so tough, that it was only with the greatest difficulty, and after constant and repeated exertions, that we managed to make a very small hole by the aid of our knives. Desperation, however, nerved our fingers, and after many hours' toil we were successful in removing enough of the frozen fat for the use of our fire and lamp, as well as a small portion of the flesh, which Mackie insisted ought to be good for food. When this was thawed and carefully broiled we found it, to my surprise, to be excellent eating, though the flavour was what Mackie termed "antiquated." At first I could not persuade myself to partake of it, but my young friend overcame my scruples, and certainly we both declared afterwards that we felt the better for our meal.

"Which of us could have imagined when we left Edinburgh that we should be sealed up in a cave on the shores of the Arctic Ocean and eating mammoth flesh?" I remarked.

"It will not last long, and then we shall die," was Mackie's disconsolate reply.

I will not attempt to describe our alternate fits of energy and despair; at one time we again attacked with frantic vigour the large slab of stone which closed to us the outer world, and at another, sat by our fire, now fed with the coarse fat of the enormous mastodon, and lapsed into the silence of men who had lost heart. Now it would be myself, now Mackie, who would make a feeble attempt at cheerfulness; but as the dark weary hours wore away these became fewer and less real, and had it not been for our firm trust in a Divine Providence, I verily believe that we should have entirely abandoned hope, that "anchor of the soul," and have laid down on the sand and died.

Perhaps it was the youthful buoyancy of my companion's spirits which helped me to combat this tendency to despair. Continually he urged that our friends would certainly return and effect our rescue; constantly he reminded me of the foolishness of abandoning faith in God.

"He has already brought us through great dangers," he said, "and surely we shall not now be forsaken!"

I could not but assent, and kindled our lamp, now filled with mammoth oil, and once more sallied forth to the furthermost recess of the great cavern, that we might replenish our stores of fresh meat and fuel.

By this time we had found our way into the interior of the enormous beast, every part of which was frozen solid, and could only with difficulty be hacked asunder. As we stood within the carcass the giant ribs arched over our heads like the rafters of a great roof. Such bones had been seen but seldom on the earth by the eyes of mortal man.

"Surely the skeleton would make our fortune, could we but remove it to London or Edinburgh!" remarked Mackie, as he held up the lamp.

"I want no fortune!" I replied, somewhat morosely I fear; "liberty, fresh air and light will suffice me for the rest of my days."

"But the fortune accumulated by the ancient Peter Paramor—"

"May remain where it is until doomsday, so far as I am concerned. Our companions are either dead or consigned to a Russian prison, no one in England and Scotland will ever hear of us. The Russians know how to keep such affairs dark. As for McGubbins and the crew of the Pole Star, it is of course believed that they have long ago gone to the bottom or have been frozen to death amid the ice-floes of the Arctic Ocean. No, my young friend, let us once succeed in freeing ourselves from this icy prison, and to Archangel we will make our way. There we will request the authorities to forward us to England by the quickest route. What is fortune to a life?" Thus I argued, as much with myself as with Mackie, for it was of course a severe disappointment that we should abandon the expedition and the hope of securing the vast store of wealth of which we had learnt so much from Peter Paramor's parchment. That it should seem to be so nearly within our grasp, and yet that it should be abandoned was anything but pleasant. It was clearly impossible, however, that our former plan could be carried through by Mackie and myself unaided by those who had hitherto accompanied us.

The fourth week of our sojourn in the cave had arrived, and the imprisonment, by reason of its darkness and other depressing influences, had begun to affect our health very seriously. Perhaps the supply of fresh air was failing, and the oxygen in the confined space giving out. At least, for my own part, I began to fear that I could not last much longer. My limbs trembled under me as we ploughed our way through the yielding sand to our dead mammoth; my breath came short and I was troubled by horrible visions and curious lights seemed to dance before my eyes. Mackie suffered in the same way, though not so severely, and he concealed his symptoms in his self-denying endeavour to cheer my drooping spirit. Indeed this terrible sojourn in an Arctic tomb cemented a friendship which had always been sincere, and it is with real gratitude to him that I record in these pages a kindness and devotion which I can never forget.

"Hark!"

It was Mackie who spoke. We were crouching over our fire, and sickly fumes ascended from the blazing fat. But to these we had by this time become accustomed. The smoke had settled on our unwashed features—the parts which showed; for we wore great fur hoods over our heads and ears, and we presented to each other in the flickering gleams such a grotesque appearance as might have occasioned merriment had we been disposed to indulge in laughter.

We listened attentively, certainly there was a sound—distant yet distinct—as though a movement was taking place among the hummocks of ice.

"Perhaps it is the tide!" suggested Mackie. But I thought otherwise.

"Rescuers, rescuers! Our friends have arrived," I cried.

My feeble shout, for our voices had of late grown strangely weak, echoed around the confined space and died away in the far- off "depths" of the cavern. Then we listened again, and a distinct tap, tap, tap, reached our straining ears.

"There it is again!" exclaimed Mackie. Then came a few seconds' silence, and after that more taps.

"Shout!" I said. For my limbs trembled and my remaining strength seemed to be leaving me.

Accordingly Mackie raised his voice, and his "Help, help!" raised weird reverberating echoes on every side. We listened now in an agony of earnest hope. Oh, joy! there was a response. The answering chorus of shouts of strong-lunged men. In the intensity of my agitation a faintness came over me, until voices, the voices of Captain McGubbins and others, sounded strangely in my ears.

"'E's comin' round, Captain, praise the Lorrd."

"Yer right, m'lad."

A seamen was raising my head, and I looked up to catch a glimpse of the blessed firmament besprinkled with glittering stars which never again had I hoped to behold, nor the ruddy streams of the Northern Lights, now shooting across the sky in long flickering streamers.

About me was assembled a throng of men, none of whom were known to me.

"Seems to me, sir, we've arrove jist i' the nick o' time," remarked the man who knelt by me. "Faugh! the smell o' that 'ole is enuf to bowl you over."

I understood him to refer to the cavern; though I acknowledge that we had grown so accustomed to its odour, that the peculiar pungency thereof had not struck me.

"Yes, sir-r; Meester Bunker and me has succeeded in rescuing the lot." McGubbins glanced round upon his crew with a look of legitimate pride. But my own thoughts flew to Mackie, and I inquired what had become of him.

"'E's a-talkin' ter the young laidy," said the seaman. Then I perceived that Mackie, too, had been overcome either by the atmosphere of the cavern or by the fresh air on coming forth therefrom, and that no less a personage than Volta Petrovitch was by his side, administering restoratives.administering restoratives.


Illustration

No less a personage than Volta Petrovitch
was by his side, administering restoratives.


"Volta with you!" I cried.

"Come along with us and you shall learn all," said Bunker.

Wondering greatly I struggled to my trembling legs, aided by the others, and we retired into a commodious tent, pitched upon the snow under the shelter of the cliffs, and well banked by snow to keep out the cold. Several other tents of similar construction stood near it, in which the remainder of the party were housed.

There was a smaller one, too, for Volta Petrovitch.

We were too weak and prostrate to ask many questions, but my heart overflowed with thankfulness at our deliverance and the comfort of the tent (it was warmed by a lamp stove). The cheerful company soon raised our drooping spirits, so that after some wholesome food we were able to listen to the account of the adventures of Captain McGubbins and his companions from the time they had left us.

The storm, they said, overtook them ere they reached the huts in which we had shortly before found a lodging. Here they were completely snowed up, and, to make matters worse, their scanty stock of food soon failed. True there were the remains of the dead bear, but the Arctic foxes had taken away most of the meat, and the bones were of little value to hungry men.

In this plight they remained for a fortnight, until they were reduced to the necessity of subsisting on stewed bear-bones, along with scraps of well-boiled hide, being, as regards food, in a worse plight than ourselves who had remained in the cavern. At the conclusion of the third week the storm subsided, and they determined at once to return to us.

Fortunately for us all this plan was frustrated, and what at first seemed to be their misfortune (as is so often the case) turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

They were in the very act of departing from the huts when they were surprised by a party of Russian police officials, who had come on sledges through the tail of the storm. Straightway they were conveyed over the snowy plains to Archangel—a lengthy journey, and en route learnt that their arrest was by order of the Colonel Alexis Petrovitch, who was now in that town. They had hoped indeed to capture the whole party, and were both annoyed and surprised at finding only two men, one of whom had not been with us at the time that Petrovitch made his escape.

Arriving at Archangel they were examined in the guard-room by no less a person than Petrovitch himself, who was accompanied by the brothers Peter and Paulus Stravenski; but of Volta, his sister, they saw nothing. Nor did they encounter Otto Stravenski.

After this they were thrust into the common prison, whose inmates, under a strong military guard, were allowed to mix together. Here, to McGubbins' great joy, he found the whole of his crew. They were none the worse for their detention, and were keenly anxious to resume the quest of the ancient treasure of Peter Paramor. More than that, the worthy captain found that they were prepared to rise against their guards, if only assistance could be rendered by friends without.

Upon this Bunker offered to look for help if they could but smuggle him out of the prison. There was obvious risk; but without risk nothing could be done.

Accordingly he contrived to escape disguised as the old woman who was permitted to enter the precincts for the purpose of selling tobacco to the prisoners. The said dame, for a liberal reward, disposing of the certain superfluous outer garments, in which he arrayed himself. By good luck he fell in with no less a personage than Volta Petrovitch. She told him that Otto Stravenski too had reached the town, but that he also was disguised and living in seclusion for fear of the police.

This was welcome news. She conducted him to Otto's hiding- place, and together they concocted a daring plan, being none other than a scheme for the transport of the whole of our party to the distant island in the Kara Sea where lay Peter Paramor's treasure-trove. Suffice to say that money, with which they had been well furnished, provided all that was necessary and closed more than one Russian mouth which might otherwise have spoken awkwardly.

Then came the rising in the prison; the overpowering of the guards; the struggle, in which unhappily, Otto Stravenski, who in the guise of a moujik came to the assistance of his friends, was severely wounded by a bullet from the rifle of one of the soldiers; and finally the escape from the town of the whole of the party, by means of the sledges which had been provided by the foresight of Otto Stravenski and Bunker.

Greatly against her will they were compelled to bring with them Volta Petrovitch. She told us that her anxiety concerning her lover was very great, for his wound was regarded as dangerous.


XVII. — TOWARDS THE FROZEN NORTH

"THAT is the island!"

Captain McGubbins was pointing over the frozen wilderness of ice-hummocks. For twenty-five days we had travelled across the frozen deep. Fortunately the weather during this period had remained calm, or it might have been that some of our party would never have reached the goal of our hopes.

We had by this time learnt from McGubbins the story of their capture by the Russians on the island itself. Further he had told us how he had succeeded in throwing them off the scent, so that they could not find the treasure, of which a babbling seaman had given them an account; how that the Russians thereupon had arrested the whole of his crew, while he, with difficulty, had contrived to hide himself; further, how that he had captured single-handed the reindeer, had loaded one of their sledges with provision from the wreck for himself and for the animals, and, by means of his treasured nautical instruments, had made his way alone to the mainland.

"It was a vera lang journey," he added, "but the end was weel worth the trouble."

The land ahead was rugged and ice-capped, as wild, dreary and desolate a spot as one could imagine, and hardly a place in which any sane man would expect untold wealth would lie concealed.

Yet this was truly the El Dorado of our hopes—a very different place, in sooth, from the original El Dorado. But perhaps to us it would prove to be not less remunerative than that had been which lay beneath the torrid South American suns.

By this time we were all fairly fagged. Yet hope still buoyed us up—the hope of untold riches. Alas, that it should have been so! We talked of the fabulous stores of gold and precious jewels which lay entombed beneath the stone slab described in Peter Paramor's parchment. We dreamed of them. We discussed the subject as we tramped over the frozen ocean; as we climbed over the hummocks; as we sat in our cosy tents over our evening meal. The celebrated parchment, with its significant rents where the long knife of the strong-limbed John Quince had pierced it in reaching the heart of its writer, was perused again and again first by one and then by another of our party with keenest intentness. Long discussions took place over the meaning of some of the expressions used by the long-defunct writer, especially where the knife-thrust had obliterated the words.

Thus, I say, we had kept alive our enthusiasm and had so inspired our souls, that the intense cold and the arduous toil of that eventful journey were cheerfully endured by us all.

"So that is the island?" I repeated.

Its high cliffs showed up under the moonlight with wonderful distinctness, their dark sides contrasting curiously against the snow-cap by which they were surrounded, and the frozen plane of the ocean in the foreground.

"At last!" ejaculated Mackie. "Now our fortunes are assured!"

The tears stood in Volta's eyes. Was she thinking of the wounded man in far-off Archangel, and of the happiness in store for herself and for him when their prospective fortune should be realized?

McGubbins told us that the remains of the wrecks of the Elizabethan ships—a few gaunt timbers only—remained on the further shore, and that traces of a more recent wreck had been found near to the place where the ill-fated Pole Star had struck. We concluded that the latter was the ship of the owner of the Stradivarius violin.

It is not my intention to give a full and particular account of everything which took place on the island. All the minor incidents were completely overshadowed by the events which followed, and of which I now hasten to give a veracious account.

It was our plan to repair the stranded Pole Star. She had been forced up by the ice-pack, and was severely damaged. As soon as the ice broke up, we intended to make our way under steam to the open water (for the vessel was fitted with engines and a protected screw in addition to her sails). Naturally it was important that this should be accomplished before any Russian expedition could interfere. We planned therefore, as soon as the soundness of the hull was assured, to stow on board all the valuables which Peter Paramor and his associates had left on the island, in order that advantage might be taken of the first movements of the ice on the approach of the warmer weather of the Arctic spring.

But, alas! Even the canny Scotchman was no match for the wily Russian, and we were counting our chickens too soon.

The barometer of our expectation stood exceedingly high when first we entered the ancient chambers carved out and filled by the Elizabethan mariners of by-gone days. Our party consisted of Captain McGubbins (who acted the part of showman and guide), Bunker, Mackie (who had developed a more than fraternal interest in Volta Petrovitch), and myself. The said lady accompanied us, and enlivened us by her conversation and silvery laughter.

"But tell me," she inquired, addressing McGubbins, "are the—the two dead men still in this place?"

We were standing by the historic slab of stone, on which was carved the inscription which I have already quoted.

McGubbins assured her that after he had removed the precious parchment from the breast-pocket of the dead man he had directed his men to bury their long-frozen bodies in the sand.

"But," said he, "na doot eef ye wad like ta see the kind o' men that sailed the salt sea in Eleezabeth's days we can dig them up without deeficulty."

There was a twinkle about his grey eyes which answered to the expression of horror in Volta's as she declined his offer.

Then we descended into the narrow vaults.

By the light of our lanterns I soon perceived that the description of its stores of wealth, which had been given to us by McGubbins and his men, had been by no means exaggerated.

True, some of the lighter fabrics had suffered, but the bulk of the curios, by reason of their enhanced antiquarian value, would doubtless fetch far higher prices than in the days when they were stored herein by Paramor and his men.

The innermost chamber contained also, in addition to the gold coin and bullion, a few rare and costly articles, but of far later date than those in the first apartments; among them being the aforementioned beautiful and extremely valuable Stradivarius violin.

Volta Petrovitch took it up and examined it with care. Then, having strung and tuned it, to our surprise she began to play.

Till that moment we had no idea that she was so accomplished a musician. As the tremulant tones vibrated in the confined space, filling our soul with strange emotions, my thoughts were carried back to the past. Visions of one whose fingers, long stiffened in death, once lovingly touched those strings, came before my eyes. A lovely woman who had poured her soul into that instrument, mysterious in its simplicity, rose before me. I mused on those who perchance had been melted to tears as its sensitive vibrations thrilled their souls. I remembered the incomparable works of the Great Masters of Melody of which it had been the exponent and interpreter; I thought of the sorrows which it had helped to heal; of the ennobling emotions which its notes had enkindled upwards of an hundred years ago. And, as the wild Russian music of Volta Petrovitch rose and echoed among the stores of the ancient treasure which Peter Paramor's fleet had with such infinite toil brought from the Indies, I mused on the strange irony of fate which had cast others upon this spot, to contribute to its mysteries and to its store of wealth and to leave here so extraordinary a legacy as this Stradivarius violin.

We broke into simultaneous applause as Volta concluded. The men who crowded about the opening joining heartily.

"Thank you," said the player, with a sweet smile and the flush of excitement on her face. "It was impossible to resist the temptation offered by such a glorious instrument. Fancy! a real 'Strad' on an ice-bound island of the Arctic Ocean! It seems hardly credible. And such marvellous tone!"

"My dear, it shall be your vera own!" broke in Captain McGubbins enthusiastically, as he laid his broad hand after a fatherly fashion on her shoulder.

"I hae a lassie at hame myself, and she plays the fiddle a wee bit," he added. The tears shone in the good man's eyes, but he brushed them hastily away with the back of his red fist.

"No, no! You shall take the 'Strad' to your daughter," she cried earnestly, thrusting the instrument into his hands.

But he assured her that his "lassie" was in no need of a violin, and that it would give him very great pleasure if she would accept it.

"As a weddin' gift, then," said the Captain, with a roguish twinkle in the same grey eyes.

She blushed, and accepted the instrument with profuse thanks.

Alas for the wedding of her anticipations!

It took many weeks to repair the Pole Star, for she was even worse damaged than we had supposed. But at length the task was finished. And none too soon. For another lengthy Arctic storm broke upon us just as we had completed the preparations for the reception of our large party on the vessel. On board we were more comfortably and safely housed than in the tents. For, while these were convenient enough during the calmer weather, and in spite of the severity of the frost had been a sufficient protection, yet when violent gales arose they were altogether inadequate and in danger of being carried away by the tearing icy blasts which swept round the cliffs from the direction of the polar region. There was too, in the bunkers, a liberal supply of coal, and we could afford to laugh at the Arctic winds as they whirled the snow about our new and substantial home.

For my own part I was rejoiced to find that my property was intact, and that the whaler, could we but bring her in safety through the dangers of the ice, would be able to resume her profitable voyages.

The weeks of winter gloom and furious northerly gales passed slowly, and the returning light found the whole of the treasure which had been stored on the island by Peter Paramor and his companions (as well as that left by the mysterious owners of the Stradivarius violin long after Paramor's death) safely stored in the hold of the Pole Star. During the hours of toil we all worked with a will; for not only was there much to be done in the way of safe stowage of the rare and valuable goods, specie, and bullion, there were also repairs to be made to spars and sails, while the engines needed not a little attention after their long inactivity.

We did not neglect amusements, our chief delight being Volta's violin music. It was a strange experience. The active storm was howling without, the vibration of the rigging supplying a ground- bass, and within our brilliantly-lighted state-room melodies pathetic, or passionate, or fiery, produced in us thoughts and emotions—

"Too deep for tears."

The men, some of them rough and hardened by a long seafaring life, would lay aside other amusement, and, forgetting even their beloved pipes, would listen, entranced by the strangely-subtle notes.

Happy hours! In which we anticipated no evil, nor dreamed of disaster.

There was one thing, however, which somewhat troubled me. It was the conduct of my young friend Mackie.

To watch his face, as Volta poured forth the yearnings of her soul through the medium of her new-found treasure, was to read his secret.

He was deeply in love with her.

This I had guessed long before; nay, I had feared it even in St. Petersburg.

"Be a man—a true man; and remember that she is pledged to Otto Stravenski," I said, when he divulged to me his secret. "Force of circumstances have compelled us to protect Volta from the Russian authorities, and to transport her to these black and desolate regions. We are in honour bound to our wounded friend. Nay, remember how much he has done for us and how he is suffering."

"True," mused Mackie. "But there is no reason, surely, why Volta should not transfer her affections to myself."

"None whatever if the engagement to Otto Stravenski should be broken off. But with that you can have nothing to do—as a man of honour."

He agreed that I was right. But I perceived that he was not divorced from his purpose, though I knew that I could trust him to do nothing dishonourable towards Otto Stravenski.

As for Volta herself she appeared not to notice the condition of Mackie's affections. After our conversation he was careful to desist from certain polite attentions which he had hitherto bestowed upon her. But to Volta this apparently made no difference. She was the mistress of our household, the nurse of the sick, the cheerer of the disconsolate, the charmer of our leisure hours, the encourager of our work. What our sojourn in these frozen Arctic waters would have been without the presence of this accomplished woman I dare not think. Probably we should have become gloomy and morose, even if we had not given way to actual quarrelling. On more than one occasion Volta interfered when altercations arose between some of the rougher spirits, and with the happiest result. Ill-will disappeared, contention ceased, and that which might have developed into a brawl was removed by the magic of her sweet smile and the gentleness of her voice.

"I've 'eard tell o' hangels," remarked one of the men to another with whom he had fallen out, "but never afoor 'ave I seed one aboord ship!"

This happy life was not to last. Though the interruption to it was scarcely that which we had anticipated.

Many a time our thoughts as well as our conversation turned to Archangel, and to the probable conduct of Alexis Petrovitch after the escape of the prisoners and the departure of his sister.

"He will certainly come hither so soon as the ice breaks up," said his sister.

"And you will welcome him?" I said inquiringly.

"Not if he comes to harm any of you," and she looked around upon the assembled company.

"Even if the Russian Government should send a man-of-war to this place, it would hardly be possible that it should arrive before the end of June," remarked one.

This was our consolation and encouragement. We had quite resolved to work the Pole Star out of her present berth long before there was any chance of the advent of a Russian expedition.


XVIII. — BEHOLD, A MAN-OF-WAR!

IT will be remembered that I have already described the wild scene among the ice-hummocks which were piled around the uplifted whaler. It had cost us no little effort to remove these sufficiently for the purpose of completing the repairs begun by the crew before the Russians removed them from the island. Now that these repairs were accomplished we had no fear concerning the soundness of the hull; though of course there was the risk of further extensive damage, should the ship have to encounter a gale of intensity equal to that which had placed her in her present exalted position.

I refer to these matters because they have a bearing on the events which will now be related.

"What an extraordinary noise!"

The exclamation, was Volta's. She had played to us a glorious sonata, accompanied by Rolf Mackie, who was really a very capable musician, and who managed to extract much harmony from an ancient harmonium, the property of Donald Scott, first mate.

The round of energetic applause with which their efforts had been received had just subsided. But Volta's remark did not refer to the sounds which we ourselves had created, but to something outside the ship. For immediately afterwards, in the pause which ensued, and while we one and all strained our ears, we too became conscious of that which the fair violinist's more sensitive organ had detected.

A long, low, distant rumble—a curious vibration, which seemed to affect the ship and all that was in it—now increasing in intensity, now fading into something approaching silence.

"An earthquake!" was the exclamation of one.

"No—a storm approaching!" said another.

Captain McGubbins said nothing, but leaving us went on deck; the mate accompanying him.

The opening of the door admitted a large volume of the extraordinary sound, and by common consent we followed in their wake.

Although late in the evening we had by this time gained so much daylight that the sun only dipped towards the sea and again arose to fulfill his daily round. That is to say, it was the season of perpetual daylight in the polar regions.

It was as we regarded his disk, ruddy with the ice-blink or misty haze which hung around our horizon, that we caught sight of that which astonished us exceedingly.

The vision which met our gaze was none other than the masts and spars of a ship.

Already the mate was clambering up the rigging, telescope in hand, on the way to the crow's-nest—that post of vantage without which no whaling-vessel would be complete. Captain McGubbins was in the shrouds, his binoculars to his eyes scanning the stranger.

"Impossible!" I heard him mutter, as I stood beneath him on the deck. "Impossible, why there is nae open water for mony a hundred miles. It canna be a ship—naething o' the sort!"

He removed the glass and rubbed his eyes, as though suspecting a defect in his own powers of vision.

"Steamer away right astern!"

Such was the cry which now greeted us from the crow's- nest.

"Are you certain, Mr. Scott?" inquired the puzzled McGubbins.

"Quite certain, sir. She's heading in this direction."

"Nonsense! There is nae open water there away."

"But she's moving ahead steadily. Keep your eye on her, sir, and you'll see for yourself," was Donald Scott's reply.

He was right. With wondering gaze and bated breath we watched the spars and three masts as one by one they slowly crossed the sun's broad red disk, the vessel of which they were a part plainly moving towards the island.

Meanwhile the sound, like low, vibrating, distant thunder, and which Volta had first recognized, continued. But none of us could explain its cause. It seemed to come to us, not through the air, but, from the way in which the vessel trembled, transmitted through the very ice itself.

Not all at once did the sound increase, but at the end of half-an-hour there was a very perceptible augmentation both of its loudness and of the vibration.

This half-hour was sufficient to enable us to come to a decision, which was none other than that we should send out a party over the ice in the direction of the advancing ship, in order to see whether the ice had yet broken up, as we supposed must really be the case, as well as to ask for aid from the new- comer.

"Remember!" I said to them all, as they left us with a small sledge on which provisions and a tent had been hastily stowed for use in case of accident, "Remember, not a word about the treasure!"

"Not a word!" they responded. "We are part of the shipwrecked crew of a whaler!" And Rolf Mackie, who accompanied them, cried, "No fear! I won't give away our precious secret!"

Now I have always regarded it as curious that the masculine mind is not gifted with the same amount of that which we call "intuitive perception" as is the feminine mind. I make this observation not for the sake of argument, but because a strange thing happened after they had gone and were lost to sight among the hummocks of ice—hummocks which were jumbled up in a fine chaos of confusion as far as the eye could reach.

On entering the large cabin (or "state-room" as we sometimes called it), I was surprised to find Volta. She had left the deck after waving farewell to Mackie and the others.

The curious thing was this: she was in tears.

On attempting to soothe her she turned towards me, and, in a tone which amounted almost to indignation, she cried, "Alexis is coming!"

I regarded her with some astonishment.

"He is in that ship."

"How do you know?"

"I am certain of it. More than that, I am now firmly convinced that Otto is dead."

I attempted to soothe her but she persisted that she was right, and, further, assured me that we were all in imminent danger.

Meanwhile the vibration of the ice as well as of the ship continued to increase in loudness, so that movable articles in the cabins rattled and danced after a curious fashion. Returning to the deck I found McGubbins in a state of great agitation. He constantly viewed the far-distant vessel through his telescope, pacing the deck meanwhile and muttering to himself in his perplexity.

"Ah!" he exclaimed at length, turning to me after an unusually prolonged inspection of the stranger, "there is na doot about it, it's a Russian man-o'-war."

"Man-of-war!" I cried. "What do you mean?"

"Just this, that by hook or by crook a warship is coming through the ice, and has just run her colours up to the mast- head; although I canna tell you how she's doin' it. It's vera strange, and to my mind a bit uncanny."

It was truly uncanny. Which of us would have imagined it possible that a Russian man-of-war could have forced her way, even at this time of the year, through the many miles of ice which separated us from blue waters! That the ice about us would sooner or later break up we had not a doubt, nor that the Pole Star would then be re-floated. But the season was not yet far enough advanced for this; and there could be no doubt that the Russian ship was actually ploughing her way through ice which would be impassable by ordinary steamships.

"What is to be done?" I asked, as I turned and scanned the group of anxious faces about me.

"Done! Why there is nothing for it but resistance. We must fight!" exclaimed a voice.

I was much surprised, for the speaker was none other than Volta Petrovitch. But most of us were still more astounded when she mounted a great coil of cable and began to address us.

"You little realize," she said, "what capture by the Russians may mean for us all. They are as cruel as they are crafty. I know something of Russian convict prisons. Your English Government may never hear of your disappearance. It will be concluded that you have been lost amid the ice, and you will be enduring a cruel and lingering death amid the wilds of north-east Siberia—the part to which the worst criminals are transported, and from whence none return."

She looked round with flashing eyes as she resumed. "Be men! Be true men, I say, and fight! You have much to fight for—home, and liberty, to say nothing of the wealth beneath your feet in this vessel. You have arms. Use them against tyranny! For, rest assured, the Russians will take from you every coin and every gold bar. Nothing will be left to recompense you for the toil and hardships which so bravely you have endured."

Even as I write these words in the calm atmosphere of my old home in bonnie Edinburgh, I can hear the silvery ring of Volta Petrovitch's voice as she thus addressed us; I can see the flash in her liquid-blue eyes; I can recall the animation which lighted up her beautiful and expressive features as she stood on that coil of cable, the ice-hummocks which were piled up in fantastic shapes forming a white background against which her shapely figure stood out in bold relief.

"I don't 'arf like givin' up the stuff ter these 'ere Russians," growled a seaman at my side. "Seems on'y fair, mates, that we should stick to it now we've got it. What right 'ave these 'ere chaps ter it? The stuff woz gained by Englishmen in honest tradin', and it woz stored away on this 'ere hisland by them theer same Englishmen; an' I, fer one, believe in makin' a bit of a stand in defence of our property."

The others chimed in with a "Well said, Jack!" "Aye, aye; we'll fight!" "Sarve out the weapons, skipper!"

I looked first at McGubbins, then at Bunker. There was a hard stern expression on their faces, and the later remarked quietly but very firmly—

"Yes, I am for fighting—as a last resort. But perhaps we are mistaken. It may be no Russian war-ship after all."

"I'm vera certain that it is a Russian war-ship," said McGubbins emphatically.

"You agree, then!" cried Volta, raising her shapely arms above her head.

Every hand went up.

"Then please serve out the arms, Mr. Captain," said she, with a smile of triumph as she turned towards McGubbins.

"Aye, aye, miss!" he responded, touching the peak of his fur hood, as though she had been his superior officer.

The men laughed and cheered, and Donald Scott ran to the arms- store.

Three hours later the strange vessel had approached near enough for us to ascertain something of her build.

"By the great Panjandrum, she's an ice-breaker!" exclaimed Bunker suddenly.

He was right. The wily Russian Government, realizing that as soon as the ice broke up we should certainly escape with this vast store of treasure, had sent out one of their renowned White Sea ice-breakers, as soon as the ice of the ocean was rotten enough to be smashed by its enormous bulk.

Our fears now were on behalf of Mackie and those who had accompanied him. The irregularities of the hummocks hindered us from observing their movements, and our anxiety increased when the throbbing vibrations ceased, telling us that the "way" of the new-comer was stopped.

What could it mean? Perhaps the expedition which we had sent out had come up with the steamer and a conference was in progress, or perhaps—

But I will not anticipate.

It took the invaders of our Arctic solitude a long time to draw near to us—fully twenty-four hours from the time that we first caught sight of the masts passing over the disks of the sun until they were about a mile distant.

The non-return of our companions had confirmed our suspicions that something was wrong; and these suspicions were converted into certainty when, from the side of the strangely-built ice- breaking war-ship, a squad of armed men descended on to the rugged white plain, in our full sight, and headed for the Pole Star.


XIX. — CHECKMATED

FROM the time when the invading force left the side of the ice-breaking Titan of a war-vessel to the moment when it arrived within hail of the Pole Star, was a space of about two and a half hours; the uneven character of the surface over which they had to march hindering anything like rapid progress.

The mighty hail which Captain McGubbins then gave them through his speaking-trumpet brought about a halt, and they stood still, an irregular mass of some fifty men, grouped among the hummocks, and apparently regarding our ship in its strange position with considerable curiosity.

The new-comers were too far off for me to distinguish their features with the naked eye, but McGubbins' binocular presently revealed among them the well-remembered features of Colonel Petrovitch.

"Ah! I felt sure that Alexis would come!" cried Volta, who stood near by.

The arms and ammunition which we had brought had by this time been served out, and we were firmly determined to protect our property even at the cost of a desperate struggle. There were revolvers and rifles enough for all, as well as the long "elephant gun" of which I have already made mention.

But the Russians were wishful to gain their object by sly diplomacy, as we very soon discovered.

Petrovitch and two men presently left the main body and approached the whaler. The former caught sight of me as I looked over the rail, and raising his hand to the salute inquired whether I would come down on the ice and favour him with an interview.

"You are, I believe, the owner of this ship?" he said.

I replied in the affirmative.

"It will be convenient if we meet here—shall I call it on neutral ground?" he continued, smiling pleasantly.

I hesitated. And Volta plucked my sleeve and whispered, "Don't go, perhaps they will take you to prison!"

"Nonsense!" I returned, "they would never dare do such a thing." Then turning to Bunker and to Donald Scott, the first mate, I invited them to accompany me.

We descended from our vantage place on board the Pole Star and advanced to the group of three Russians. The spot where they stood was a little plain amid a semi-circle of lofty and irregular hummocks, so that we could not see the remainder of the Russian force after we had descended to the level of the ice.

Petrovitch assumed a cordial air and held out his hand, but I merely saluted and awaited his proposals.

"You will pardon my intrusion?" said he, "but I have come hither for the express purpose of escorting my sister to her home in St. Petersburg—she is, I believe, with you on this vessel?"

My heart gave a bound of relief. Could it be a fact, then, that this was the sole object of the Russian expedition? Yet, on the other hand, could it be likely that the Government would have dispatched an ice-breaking war-ship such a distance to take home Volta Petrovitch?

"She shall decide for herself," I replied, adding, "Perhaps you and your companions will come on board the Pole Star and accept our hospitality. You can there also have the advantage of a personal interview with your sister."

That the man was sincerely attached to Volta I was convinced, but I did not feel equally certain that this was his sole reason for seeking her in the Arctic seas.

He did not seem to be willing to come on board, so we talked for a while, the others watching us curiously over the side of the ship, from which we were distant about two hundred and fifty yards. Suddenly we heard a sound as of the rush of feet, accompanied by warning cries which arose in chorus from the Pole Star. A moment later we found ourselves surrounded by a band of armed Russian sailors, who, unperceived either by ourselves or by those on board, had stealthily crept round from the main body, sheltered by the jagged hummocks of ice, and had taken us by surprise in the rear.

For an instant we failed to divine their object. Then it flashed upon me that their desire was to capture us.

"Mean hound!" I cried, drawing my revolver, "this is rank treachery!"

I should have fired point blank at Petrovitch's breast, but a hand struck up my weapon, which flew away across the ice; and, with my comrades, I was seized by brawny arms and hurried behind the adjoining hummocks.

"Shoot them!" we shouted, addressing those who lined the bulwarks of the whaler.

A couple of shots followed, but the shooting was dangerous to ourselves, so that they dare not fire a volley. Presently there followed us a stentorian shout from Captain McGubbins, and we caught sight of a party leaving the ship in pursuit of us. The irregular nature of the ice unhappily aided our abductors, and they were able to join the rest of their party before we were overtaken by the men of the Pole Star.

"This is vera unfair treatment!" cried the voice of McGubbins, addressing Colonel Alexis Petrovitch who stood by our side, while his men formed an armed square about us.

A smile of triumph hovered about the thin lips of the Russian officer.

"We have won the first move, Captain," was his stern reply." Perhaps now you are willing to come to terms?"

"Terms! What terms?"

To our consternation he expounded to us the terms of his Government, which were as follows—

We should be allowed to remain where we were on condition that we delivered up into their hands the whole of Peter Paramor's treasure, as well as the gold and silver specie which had been left by the unknown strangers who also had visited the place. Our ship was to be taken away in tow of the ice-breaker, enough provisions to last for two years being left for our sustenance.

Petrovitch further assured us that word would be passed to other whalers, so that we need have no fear concerning our ultimate rescue. Finally he said that his sister Volta must be given up into his hands.

"She shall choose for herself," I cried aloud, addressing both the Russians and our own men. "We will not pledge her in any way."

"You had better return and get her reply."

Petrovitch had spoken sneeringly; there was no tone of jesting in his words.

"Tell her," I cried to them, "that you will fight for her liberty should she prefer to remain with us."

It was a curious sight. The mock suns of the Arctic regions overhead; the mimic array on the ice-bound sea below—the Russian Bear and the British Lion, in miniature, confronting each other on a strange battle-field.

"Hurry back to the ship," I said, "and leave us. They dare not kill us, and I fear nothing else!"

"Dare not kill you!" exclaimed Petrovitch disdainfully. "You will speedily discover your mistake if Volta refuses to accompany me."

Then he cried to the Pole Star men, "Tell my sister that Otto Stravenski is dead, and that his brothers, Peter and Paulus, as well as those you sent to meet us are on yonder war- ship!"

He pointed dramatically towards the south.

"M' lads, stay ye here and keep an eye on these villains—shoot 'em down if they begin any pranks—an' I'll gang awa' and see the lassie an' bring word again."

The gallant McGubbins strode away alone. But no sooner had he disappeared from sight than Petrovitch uttered a sharp word of command, and the troop wheeled round and began to march (if such scrambling among the hummocks could be called marching) in the direction whence they had come.

Our men, afraid to shoot, followed, being evidently uncertain what to do. After a while they dispatched (so I afterwards learnt) two of their number to the Pole Star to inform McGubbins of what had happened.

* * * * *

"Captain Romaines, your plans are checkmated!"

A quiet smile of sarcasm played about the corners of Colonel Alexis Petrovitch's finely-chiseled mouth. We—that is Volta Petrovitch, Mackie, Donald Scott, Bunker, and I—were seated at the officers' mess on board the Russian man-of-war Poskoff. That we were treated with courtesy and consideration did not atone for the loss of the wealth which so recently had been within our grasp.

"You have but to send word, in writing, to your captain and his men, and they will immediately obey."

"And if I refuse?"

"Our orders, as I have already plainly told you, are very definite. We are to take your ship and its contents by force. You see you are clearly in the wrong—caught in the act of removing the property of the Russian Government. For none can deny that this is a Russian island or that the 'treasure-trove' is the property of His Majesty the Czar. No, sir, your ship is forfeit—that is good law; and as for yourselves you richly deserve a term of banishment to the furthermost Siberian mines. Still, as I have informed you, my Royal Master is disinclined to severity, and he is not so unfriendly to the English nation as some have supposed."

"I cannot admit that he has any right to my ship," I replied, "nor do I acknowledge your claim to the treasure stored on this island by Peter Paramor, and by those mysterious visitors who long afterwards succeeded him. Still, even if 'might be not right,' it is at any rate more than we can resist."

"And you have written as much to the Scotchman, your captain?"

"Yes."

"That's well. Let me tell you then that your obedience shall be duly notified to His Majesty. It is possible that he may show his clemency by a mitigation of the penalty."

He spoke in a grandiose style and after the manner of a great conqueror, so that secretly I felt not a little amused.

Glancing at Volta I caught a look of indignation in her wonderful eyes; but Mackie's florid features, on the other hand, showed a smile of happiness such as I had not seen there before.

What could it mean?

To Bunker and myself was apportioned a small cabin, and when we retired for the night—I confess I was sore in spirit and terribly downcast—he expounded as wild and unlikely a scheme for our deliverance as was ever dreamed of by mortal man.

"You know, of course, how devoted is my friend to Volta Petrovitch?"

"You mean Rolf Mackie?"

"Mackie, of course!—any one can detect his infatuation, or whatever you may term it. He is naturally overjoyed that that fellow Otto Stravenski is out of the way—though, like the rest of us, sorry enough to lose so good a friend by death. Well, as I was saying, Rolf Mackie, out of the fullness of his admiration, has persuaded Volta to give an exhibition on the 'Strad' of her powers as a violinist before the officers and crew of this tin- pot of an ice-breaker—that's to be to-morrow evening, if there be evening in these parts. Now my suggestion is"—here he sank his voice to an almost inaudible whisper—"that the attempt be made when she is playing her most impassioned part."

"Attempt!"

"Yes—attempt at our rescue and at the capture of this curious war-ship."

"But, man alive—!"

"I know what you will say, 'impossible!' and all that. But if Volta plays as divinely as she did on board the Pole Star the deed can be accomplished."

I did not for a moment believe that his plan could be carried out. On the other hand, it was well to make the attempt, for, in case of success, we should at least be able to secure the vast fortune now stored on board the Pole Star.

"I am willing to take your message," I said, addressing Petrovitch the next morning, "but I cannot go alone."

"Why not?"

"Bears—they are plentiful hereabouts, I believe."

"Oh, if you are afraid of bears!" he sneered, "take a companion; we have sufficient hostages. After all, it will make very little difference, for the game is ours."

I was of a different opinion, but did not say so.

It was a long trudge back to the Pole Star, but Bunker's spirits as well as my own were buoyed up with new hope. We knew that those on board would respond enthusiastically to any reasonable plan which we might propound, and that if it came to a struggle with the Russians, our sturdy men would give a very satisfactory account of themselves.

We were received with open arms by good old McGubbins. But when we stated the object of our mission his face was a study.

"What, give 'em all this treasure! Never!— Far better meet the loons, mon to mon, and fight it oot."

With this sentiment we cordially agreed. So we at once disclosed our plan.

"There's a mickle risk aboot it," he said, shaking his head and frowning ominously, "but 'naething venture naething have,' sae here goes!"

We held a lengthy consultation, and at last decided on a course of action. This was none other than that the whole of our party, including Captain McGubbins, ourselves, and every member of the crew, should steal away over the ice to the Russian ice- breaker, every mother's son of us being armed to the teeth.

As the daylight was perpetual, there was great danger that we should be discovered. In order to mitigate this danger as far as possible, we left the ship two at a time, each successive couple keeping a good distance behind those ahead. Strict orders were given to the men that they should take every advantage of the cover of the ice-hummocks, in order to avoid detection by the look-out on board the Russian vessel.

In this way we managed, by sheer good luck, to arrive at the spot shortly after the appointed time.

A bitterly cold wind had sprung up, but we heeded it not, and the snow, which presently began to whirl about our forms, as we crouched behind the fragment of ice about the great ungainly- looking vessel, was by no means unwelcome. The tones of Volta's violin could be heard quite distinctly. It was altogether marvellous how clearly the sounds penetrated to our ears. Then we recognized the melody—a movement which she had already played on board the Pole Star. The round of applause which followed attracted the attention of the watch, and peeping between the ice-blocks, I saw the men on deck steal to the companion-way that they might listen to the next piece.

"Those Russians are so desperately fond of music that she is bound to hold them now," whispered Bunker in my ear.

My heart was thumping violently against my ribs when a fur- clad form appeared at the bulwarks and a hand was raised aloft. It beckoned to us.

The form was Mackie's, and the signal was that pre-arranged. He had torn himself from the attractions of Volta Petrovitch and her music—the said music being again in full swing.

With cat-like tread the men of the Pole Star went up the accommodation-ladder, and immediately the momentous struggle commenced.

It was short and sharp. Alexis Petrovitch was speedily on deck. He fought like a demon, wounding two of our men, though not severely. But he was borne down by the sheer weight of the English and Scotch sailors, and in ten minutes the whole of those on board were under hatches and we were masters of the ship.

Volta's music had done its work.

"You've fought splendidly," I said, as I grasped McGubbins' hand.

"It would hae bin a vera greet peety if we'd lost the frozen treasure," said he, with a canny smile.

* * * * *

"This is a very serious matter, Captain Romaines," was the remark of the Prime Minister, Lord Sarum, when I had related to him my story after our arrival in London.

"A very serious matter," he repeated, "which may lead to complication between the British Government and that of the Czar. Of course we shall back you so far as it is possible, but you must not be surprised if, after all, you have to send the young lady home, even if you are not asked to disgorge the wonderful treasure."

It is now nearly two years since these words were uttered, but up to the present time nothing has been done by the agents of the Russian Government, further than that a complaint was lodged by them at our Foreign Office that we had assaulted the crew of one of their ice-breaking war-ships in the Kara Sea; that we had made use of the said vessel, without the consent of her commander, for the purpose of towing our own ship out of the ice; that we had cut our ship adrift from them in a dense fog, and so had escaped out of their sight. Last, but certainly not least, there was the charge that we had abducted the sister of a certain Russian colonel, and had brought her to Scotland.

But not a word had been said about the treasure; whereat I wondered greatly, though Mackie suggested that they were ashamed of their defeat.

For two years Volta Petrovitch has resided here, in Edinburgh, as the guest and companion of my wife and myself. We have learnt to love her as a daughter, and only dread the inevitable separation which soon must come; for she is now the fiancée of my gallant young friend Rolf Mackie, who worships the very ground she treads.

As I finish this narrative of our adventures in search of the frozen treasure, she leans over my shoulder and whispers in my ear that she has just seen her brother Alexis.

"Where?—surely not in Edinburgh!" I reply in alarm. For her words recall a vision of the past, and I have a vivid recollection of the tall Russian who shadowed me before we departed for the icy north.

"Don't be afraid," she hastens to explain, "he has come to—to—the wedding."

"Delightful!" I cry. "So, after all, he has consented to your marriage!"

"He has consented," she echoes, with a charming blush.

"In that case," I add, somewhat reassured, "we may hope that he will rob us neither of you nor of—"

"Nor of the Frozen Treasure of Peter Paramor and his successors," says a voice behind us.

I turn quickly, and behold the tall, soldierly figure of Colonel Alexis Petrovitch.

Later in the evening Bunker, Captain McGubbins, and Donald Scott drop in. We are a happy, merry party. Presently Volta "tunes up" the famous "Strad" and gives us one of her inimitable solos, thrilling our very souls with the wondrous tones.

"Did you ever examine the interior of this wonderful instrument?" inquires Bunker curiously.

She laughs merrily.

"No, indeed. I am quite satisfied with its response to my playing."

"Allow me!" says he, as he takes the violin from her hands.

"Why, what is this?"

He had shaken it roughly, and thus, to our surprise, had detached a tiny roll of parchment which now rattled about within.

It took us no small amount of patient toil to extract the piece of shrivelled-up sheep-skin which so long had remained jammed under the belly of the instrument.

Then Bunker spread it out and read as follows:


"July 28th, 1795.

"This is the last Will and Testament of one whose name need never be disclosed. The owner of this beloved violin doth hereby bequeath it to whomsoever first shall find it. And therewith all the specie, bullion and other treasure concealed amid the wealth of the Indies on this Isle. To inquire if all be honestly gotten is useless, and the truth might disquiet the conscience of the finder. Suffice to say that before I follow those shipwrecked with me it is my desire to make some amends to Humanity by restoring that which I cannot take to Another World.

"Fear has hindered us from touching the corpses which lie together in the first vault. Let them guard the trove until men of clearer conscience can claim this wealth. And may those who find make better use thereof than he who writeth these words."


"How very mysterious!" whispers Volta in awe, "I shall be almost afraid of again touching this violin."

"Nay, my lassie, such a touch as yours wad drive awa mony an evil speerit," is McGubbins' remark.

"At least it saved us in a critical hour," I observe, with a look at Alexis Petrovitch.

"Ah, Volta!" says her brother, with a more pleasant smile than I had seen before, "but for that fiddle the Russian Government would be richer to-day by many hundreds of thousands of English pounds!"

"But for this fiddle," responds Volta, as she places her hand in Rolf Mackie's, "some of us might now be convicts in Eastern Siberia."


THE END