When they at last reached it Bob read, painted in bold letters, the name, “Maid of the North.”
They lost no time in climbing on deck, and what was their astonishment when they reached there to find the vessel quite deserted. Everything was in spick and span order both in the cabin and above decks. It was now nearly dark and an examination of her hold had to be deferred until the following day. One thing was certain, however. No one had occupied the cabin for some time, and no one had boarded or left the vessel since the last snow-storm, for no footprints were to be found on the ice near her.
It was truly a great mystery, and the only solution that occurred to Bob was that the ice pack had “pinched” the schooner and opened her up below, and the crew had made a hurried escape in one of the boats. This he knew sometimes occurred on the coast, and if it were the case, and her hull had been crushed below the water line, it was of course only a question of the ice breaking up, which might occur at any time, when she would go to the bottom. There was one small boat on deck, and if an examination in the morning disclosed the unseaworthiness of the craft, this small boat would at least serve them as a means of escape from the ice pack.
Whatever the condition of the vessel, the night was calm and the ice was hard, and there was no probability of a break-up that would release her from her firm fastenings before morning; and they decided, therefore, to make themselves comfortable aboard. There was a stove in the cabin and another in the forecastle, plenty of blankets were in the berths, and provisions—actual luxuries—down forward. Bob was afraid that it was a dream and that he would wake up presently to the realities of the igloo and raw dog meat, and the hopelessness of it all.
He and the Eskimos lighted the lamps, started a fire in the galley stove, put the kettle over, fried some bacon, and finally sat down to a feast of bacon, tea, ship’s biscuit, butter, sugar, and even jam to top off with. It was the best meal, Bob declared, that he had ever eaten in all his life.
“An’ if un turns out t’ be a dream, ‘twill be th’ finest kind o’ one,” was his emphatic decision.
How the three laughed and talked and enjoyed themselves over their supper, and how Bob revelled in the soft, warm blankets of Captain Hanks’ berth when he finally, for the first time in weeks, was enabled to undress and crawl into bed, can better be imagined than described.
After an early breakfast the next morning the first care was to examine the hold, and very much to their satisfaction, and at the same time mystification, for they could not now understand why the schooner had been abandoned, they found the hull quite sound and the schooner to all appearances perfectly seaworthy.
Another astonishment awaited Bob, too, when he came upon the quantities of fur, and the stock of provisions and other goods that he found below decks.