Very happily for Thomas Black, however, Lieutenant Jaspar Hobson had another idea.
“Snow, bring snow!” he cried.
There was plenty of it in the court of Fort Reliance; and whilst the Sergeant went to fetch the snow, Joliffe removed all the astronomer’s clothes. The body of the unfortunate man was covered with white frost-bitten patches. It was urgently necessary to restore the circulation of the blood in the affected portions. This result Jaspar Hobson hoped to obtain by vigorous friction with the snow. We know that this is the means generally employed in the polar countries to set going afresh the circulation of the blood arrested by the intense cold, even as the rivers are arrested in their courses by the icy touch of winter. Sergeant Loin soon returned, and he and Joliffe gave the new arrival such a rubbing as he had probably never before received. It was no soft and agreeable friction, but a vigorous shampooing most lustily performed, more like the scratching of a curry-comb than the caresses of a human hand.
And during the operation the loquacious Corporal continued to exhort the unconscious traveller.
“Come, come, sir. What do you mean by getting frozen like this. Now, don’t be so obstinate !”
Probably it was obstinacy which kept Thomas Black from deigning to show a sign of life. At the end of half an hour the rubbers began to despair, and were about to discontinue their exhausting efforts, when the poor man sighed several times.
“He lives; he is coming to !” cried Jaspar Hobson.
After having warmed the outside of his body, Corporal Joliffe hurried to do the same for the inside, and hastily fetched a few glasses of the punch. The traveller really felt much revived by them; the colour returned to his cheeks, expression to his eyes, and words to his lips, so that Captain Craventy began to hope that he should have an explanation from Thomas Black himself of his strange arrival at the fort in such a terrible condition.
At last the traveller, well covered with wraps, rose on his elbow, and said in a voice still faint
“The same,” replied the Captain.
“He is before you, and is happy to bid you welcome. But may I inquire what brings you to Fort Reliance?”
“He is come to see the moon,” replied the courier, who evidently thought this a happy answer.
It satisfied Thomas Black too, for he bent his head in assent and resumed—
“I am here,” replied the Lieutenant.
“You have not yet started?”
“Not. yet, sir.”
“Then,” replied Thomas Black, “I have only to thank you, and to go to sleep until to-morrow morning.”
The Captain and his companions retired, leaving their strange visitor to his repose. Half an hour later the fête was at an end, and the guests had regained their respective homes, either in the different rooms of the fort, or the scattered houses outside the enceinte.
The next day Thomas Black was rather better. His vigorous constitution had thrown off the effects of the terrible chill he had had. Any one else would have died from it; but he was not like other men.
And now who was this astronomer? Where did he come from? Why had he undertaken this journey across the territories of the Company in the depth of winter? What did the courier’s reply signify?— To see the moon! The moon could be seen anywhere; there was no need to come to the hyperborean regions to look at it!
Such were the thoughts which passed through Captain Craventy’s mind. But the next day, after an hour’s talk with his new guest, he had learned all he wished to know.
Thomas Black was an astronomer attached to the Greenwich Observatory, so brilliantly presided over by Professor Airy. Mr Black was no theorist, but a sagacious and intelligent observer; and in the twenty years during which he had devoted himself to astronomy, he had rendered great services to the science of ouranography. In private life he was a simple nonentity; he existed only for astronomy; he lived in the heavens, not upon the earth; and was a true descendant of the witty La Fontaine’s savant who fell into a well.