In such conversation they passed the afternoon, and after accepting their invitation and dining on board the “Vega,” they carried back with them to supper on board the “Alaska” all the officers who could be spared from duty. They mutually gave each other all the information and news in their power. Erik took care to inform himself exactly of the route followed by the “Vega,” in order to utilize it for his own profit. After exchanging many good wishes and with the heartfelt desire that they would all soon return in safety to their country, they separated.
The next day at dawn Erik had the “Alaska” steering for the island of Ljakow. As for the “Vega” she had to wait until the breaking up of the ice would permit her to reach the Pacific.
The first part of Erik’s task was now accomplished. He had found Nordenskiold. The second still remained to be fulfilled: to find Patrick O’Donoghan, and see if he could persuade him to disclose his secret. That this secret was an important one they were now all willing to admit, or Tudor Brown would never have committed such a dastardly crime to prevent them from becoming acquainted with it.
Would they be able to reach the Island of Ljakow before him?
It was hardly probable, for he was three days in advance of them: never mind—he would make the attempt.
The “Albatross” might lose her way, or meet with some unforeseen obstacles. As long as there was even a probability of success Erik determined to take the chances.
The weather was now mild and agreeable. Light fogs indicated an open sea, and a speedy breaking of the ice along the Siberian coast where the “Vega” had been held prisoner so long. Summer was advancing, and the “Alaska” could reasonably count upon at least ten weeks of favorable weather. The experience which they had acquired amongst the American ice had its value and would render this new enterprise comparatively easy. Lastly the north-east passage was the most direct way to return to Sweden, and besides the deep personal interest which induced Erik to take it, he had a truly scientific desire to accomplish in a reverse route the task which Nordenskiold had fulfilled. If he had succeeded, why should he not be able to do so?—this would be proving practically the experiment of the great navigator.
The wind favored the “Alaska.” For ten days it blew almost constantly from the south-east, and enabled them to make from nine to ten knots at least without burning any coal. This was a precious advantage, and besides the wind drove the floating ice toward the north and rendered navigation much less difficult. During these ten days they met with very little floating ice.