Fast in the Ice, Adventures in the Polar Regions, by R.M. Ballantyne.
This little book describes a visit up to the Arctic regions, that was supposed to have taken place long before the book was written, in other words in the early part of the nineteenth century. The purpose of the journey was to get near to the North Pole, which was considered to be surrounded by a large area of ice-free water. The vessel in which they sailed became beset by ice, and could not be moved. They met with Esquimaux, and saw how they survived, how they killed walrus, how they caught birds, and how they lived in their ice-houses, or igloos. They also had several encounters with polar bears, and musk-ox.
Eventually they have been in the ice for a couple of years, and some of the men are suffering from scurvy. Europeans get scurvy from lack of fruit and vegetables, but this condition doesn't seem to affect the Esquimaux, whose meat and fat diet does not cause them to have heart disorders, either.
The crew eventually abandon the vessel, which has been crushed suddenly and totally by a stream of ice-floes, and are obliged to walk out of where they had spent so much time. Luckily, when at their last gasp, they find an Esquimaux village, where they learn that there is a Danish settlement not too far away, and that from it they can take ship for Europe, and eventually make their way back to Britain.
FAST IN THE ICE, ADVENTURES IN THE POLAR REGIONS, BY R.M. BALLANTYNE.
One day, many years ago, a brig cast off from her moorings, and sailed from a British port for the Polar Seas. That brig never came back.
Many a hearty cheer was given, many a kind wish was uttered, many a handkerchief was waved, and many a tearful eye gazed that day as the vessel left Old England, and steered her course into the unknown regions of the far north.
But no cheer ever greeted her return; no bright eyes ever watched her homeward-bound sails rising on the far-off horizon.
Battered by the storms of the Arctic seas, her sails and cordage stiffened by the frosts, and her hull rasped and shattered by the ice of those regions, she was forced on a shore where the green grass has little chance to grow, where winter reigns nearly all the year round, where man never sends his merchandise, and never drives his plough. There the brig was frozen in; there, for two long years, she lay unable to move, and her starving crew forsook her; there, year after year, she lay, unknown, unvisited by civilised man, and unless the wild Eskimos [see note 1] have torn her to pieces, and made spears of her timbers, or the ice has swept her out to sea and whirled her to destruction, there she lies still—hard and fast in the ice.
The vessel was lost, but her crew were saved, and most of them returned to tell their kinsfolk of the wonders and the dangers of the frozen regions, where God has created some of the most beautiful and some of the most awful objects that were ever looked on by the eye of man.
What was told by the fireside, long ago, is now recounted in this book.
Imagine a tall, strong man, of about five-and-forty, with short, curly black hair, just beginning to turn grey; stern black eyes, that look as if they could pierce into your secret thoughts; a firm mouth, with lines of good-will and kindness lurking about it; a deeply-browned skin, and a short, thick beard and moustache. That is a portrait of the commander of the brig. His name was Harvey. He stood on the deck, close by the wheel, looking wistfully over the stern. As the vessel bent before the breeze, and cut swiftly through the water, a female hand was raised among the gazers on the pier, and a white scarf waved in the breeze. In the forefront of the throng, and lower down, another hand was raised; it was a little one, but very vigorous; it whirled a cap round a small head of curly black hair, and a shrill "hurrah!" came floating out to sea.
The captain kissed his hand and waved his hat in reply; then, wheeling suddenly round, he shouted, in a voice of thunder:
"Mind your helm, there; let her away a point. Take a pull on these foretopsail halyards; look alive, lads!"
"Aye, aye, sir!" replied the men.
There was no occasion whatever for these orders. The captain knew that well enough, but he had his own reasons for giving them. The men knew that, too, and they understood his reasons when they observed the increased sternness of his eyes, and the compression of his lips.
Inclination and duty! What wars go on in the hearts of men—high and low, rich and poor—between these two. What varied fortune follows man, according as the one or the other carries the day.
"Please, sir," said a gruff, broad-shouldered, and extremely short man, with little or no forehead, a hard, vacant face, and a pair of enormous red whispers; "please, sir, Sam Baker's took very bad; I think it would be as well if you could give him a little physic, sir; a tumbler of Epsom, or some-think of that sort."
"Why, Mr Dicey, there can't be anything very far wrong with Baker," said the captain, looking down at his second mate; "he seems to me one of the healthiest men in the ship. What's the matter with him?"
"Well, I can't say, sir," replied Mr Dicey, "but he looks 'orrible bad, all yellow and green about the gills, and fearful red round the eyes. But what frightens me most is that I heard him groanin' very heavy about a quarter of an hour ago, and then I saw him suddenly fling himself into his 'ammock and begin blubberin' like a child. Now, sir, I say, when a grow'd-up man gives way like that, there must be some-think far wrong with his inside. And it's a serious thing, sir, to take a sick man on such a voyage as this."
"Does he not say what's wrong with him?" asked the captain.
"No, sir; he don't. He says it's nothin', and he'll be all right if he's only let alone. I did hear him once or twice muttering some-think about his wife and child; you know, sir, he's got a young wife, and she had a baby about two months 'fore we came away, but I can't think that's got much to do with it, for I've got a wife myself, sir, and six children, two of 'em bein' babies, and that don't upset me, and Baker's a much stronger man."
"You are right, Mr Dicey, he is a much stronger man than you," replied the captain, "and I doubt not that his strength will enable him to get over this without the aid of physic."
"Very well, sir," said Mr Dicey.
The second mate was a man whose countenance never showed any signs of emotion, no matter what he felt. He seldom laughed, or, if he did, his mouth remained almost motionless, and the sounds that came out were anything but cheerful. He had light grey eyes which always wore an expression of astonishment; but the expression was accidental; it indicated no feeling. He would have said, "Very well, sir," if the captain had refused to give poor Baker food instead of physic.
"And hark'ee, Mr Dicey," said the captain, "don't let him be disturbed till he feels inclined to move."
"Very well, sir," replied the second mate, touching his cap as he turned away.
"So," murmured the captain, as he gazed earnestly at the now distant shore, "I'm not the only one who carries a heavy heart to sea this day and leaves sorrowing hearts behind him."
Note 1. This word is here spelled as pronounced. It is usually spelled Esquimaux.
AT SEA—THE FIRST STORM.
It is now hundreds of years since the North polar regions began to attract general attention. Men have long felt very inquisitive about that part of the earth, and many good ships, many noble lives have been lost in trying to force a passage through the ice that encumbers the Arctic seas, summer and winter. Britain has done more than other nations in the cause of discovery within the Arctic circle. The last and greatest of her Arctic heroes perished there—the famous Sir John Franklin.
Were I writing a history of those regions I would have much to say of other countries as well as of our own. But such is not my object in this book. I mean simply to follow in the wake of one of Britain's adventurous discoverers, and thus give the reader an idea of the fortunes of those gallant men who risk life and limb for the sake of obtaining knowledge of distant lands.
There have always been restless spirits in this country. There have ever been men who, when boys, were full of mischief, and who could "settle to nothing" when they grew up. Lucky for us, lucky for the world, that such is the case! Many of our "restless spirits," as we call them, have turned out to be our heroes, our discoverers, our greatest men. No doubt many of them have become our drones, our sharpers, our blacklegs. But that is just saying that some men are good, while others are bad—no blame is due to what is called the restlessness of spirit. Our restless men, if good, find rest in action; in bold energetic toil; if bad, they find rest, alas! in untimely graves.
Captain Harvey was one of our restless spirits. He had a deeply learned friend who said to him one day that he felt sure "there was a sea of open water round the North Pole!" Hundreds of ships had tried to reach that pole without success, because they always found a barrier of thick ice raised against them. This friend said that if a ship could only cut or force its way through the ice to a certain latitude north, open water would be found. Captain Harvey was much interested in this. He could not rest until he had proved it. He had plenty of money, so had his friend. They resolved to buy a vessel and send it to the seas lying within the Arctic circle. Other rich friends helped them; a brig was bought, it was named the Hope, and, as we have seen in the last chapter, it finally set sail under command of Captain Harvey.
Many days and nights passed, and the Hope kept her course steadily toward the coast of North America. Greenland was the first land they hoped to see. Baffin's Bay was the strait through which they hoped to reach the open polar sea.
The Hope left England as a whaler, with all the boats, lances, harpoons, lines, and other apparatus used in the whale fishery. It was intended that she should do a little business in that way if Captain Harvey thought it advisable, but the discovery of new lands and seas was their chief end and aim.
At first the weather was fine, the wind fair, and the voyage prosperous. But one night there came a deep calm. Not a breath of air moved over the sea, which was as clear and polished as a looking-glass. The captain walked the deck with the surgeon of the ship, a nephew of his own, named Gregory.
Tom Gregory was a youth of about nineteen, who had not passed through the whole course of a doctor's education, but who was a clever fellow, and better able to cut and carve and physic poor suffering humanity than many an older man who wrote M.D. after his name. He was a fine, handsome, strapping fellow, with a determined manner and a kind heart. He was able to pull an oar with the best man aboard, and could even steer the brig in fine weather, if need be. He was hearty and romantic, and a great favourite with the men. He, too, was a restless spirit. He had grown tired of college life, and had made up his mind to take a year's run into the Polar regions, by way of improving his knowledge of the "outlandish" parts of the world.
"I don't like the look of the sky to-day, Tom," said the captain, glancing at the horizon and then at the sails.
"Indeed!" said Tom, in surprise. "It seems to me the most beautiful afternoon we have had since the voyage began. But I suppose you seamen are learned in signs which we landsmen do not understand."
"Perhaps we are," replied the captain; "but it does not require much knowledge of the weather to say that such a dead calm as this, and such unusual heat, is not likely to end in a gentle breeze."
"You don't object to a stiff breeze, uncle?" said the youth.
"No, Tom; but I don't like a storm, because it does us no good, and may do us harm."
"Storms do you no good, uncle!" cried Tom; "how can you say so? Why, what is it that makes our sailors such trumps? The British tar would not be able to face danger as he does if there were no storms."
"True, Tom, but the British tar would not require to face danger at all if there were no storms. What says the barometer, Mr Mansell?" said the captain, looking down the skylight into the cabin, where the first mate—a middle-sized man of thirty-five, or thereabouts—was seated at the table writing up the ship's log-book.
"The glass has gone down an inch, sir, and is still falling," answered the mate.
"Reef the topsail, Mr Dicey," cried the captain, on hearing this.
"Why such haste?" inquired Gregory.
"Because such a sudden fall in the barometer is a sure sign of approaching bad weather," answered the captain.
The first man on the shrouds and out upon the main-topsail yard was Sam Baker, whose active movements and hearty manner showed that he had quite recovered his health without the use of physic. He was quickly followed by some of his shipmates, all of whom were picked men—able in body and ready for anything.
In a few minutes sail was reduced. Soon after that clouds began to rise on the horizon and spread over the sky. Before half an hour had passed the breeze came—came far stronger than had been expected—and the order to take in sail had to be repeated. Baker was first again. He was closely followed by Joe Davis and Jim Croft, both of them sturdy fellows—good specimens of the British seaman. Davy Butts, who came next, was not so good a specimen. He was nearly six feet high, very thin and loosely put together, like a piece of bad furniture. But his bones were big, and he was stronger than he looked. He would not have formed one of such a crew had he not been a good man. The rest of the crew, of whom there were eighteen, not including the officers, were of all shapes, sizes, and complexions.
The sails had scarcely been taken in when the storm burst on the brig in all its fury. The waves rose like mountains and followed after her, as if they were eager to swallow her up. The sky grew dark overhead as the night closed in, the wind shrieked through the rigging, and the rag of canvas that they ventured to hoist seemed about to burst away from the yard. It was an awful night. Such a night as causes even reckless men to feel how helpless they are—how dependent on the arm of God. The gale steadily increased until near midnight, when it blew a perfect hurricane.
"It's a dirty night," observed the captain, to the second mate, as the latter came on deck to relieve the watch.
"It is, sir," replied Mr Dicey, as coolly as if he were about to sit down to a good dinner on shore. Mr Dicey was a remarkably matter-of-fact man. He looked upon a storm as he looked upon a fit of the toothache—a thing that had to be endured, and was not worth making a fuss about.
"It won't last long," said the captain.
"No, sir; it won't," answered Mr Dicey.
As Mr Dicey did not seem inclined to say more, the captain went below and flung himself on a locker, having given orders that he should be called if any change for the worse took place in the weather. Soon afterward a tremendous sea rose high over the stern, and part of it fell on the deck with a terrible crash, washing Mr Dicey into the lee-scuppers, and almost sweeping him overboard. On regaining his feet, and his position beside the wheel, the second mate shook himself and considered whether he ought to call the captain. Having meditated some time, he concluded that the weather was no worse, although it had treated him very roughly, so he did not disturb the captain's repose.
Thus the storm raged all that night. It tossed the Hope about like a cork; it well-nigh blew the sails off the masts, and almost blew Mr Dicey's head off his shoulders! then it stopped as it had begun— suddenly.
IN THE ICE—DANGERS OF ARCTIC VOYAGING.
Next morning the Hope was becalmed in the midst of a scene more beautiful than the tongue or the pen of man can describe.
When the sun rose that day, it shone upon what appeared to be a field of glass and a city of crystal. Every trace of the recent storm was gone except a long swell, which caused the brig to roll considerably, but which did not break the surface of the sea.
Ice was to be seen all round as far as the eye could reach. Ice in every form and size imaginable. And the wonderful thing about it was that many of the masses resembled the buildings of a city. There were houses, and churches, and monuments, and spires, and ruins. There were also islands and mountains! Some of the pieces were low and flat, no bigger than a boat; others were tall, with jagged tops; some of the fields, as they are called, were a mile and more in extent, and there were a number of bergs, or ice-mountains, higher than the brig's topmasts. These last were almost white, but they had, in many places, a greenish-blue colour that was soft and beautiful. The whole scene shone and sparkled so brilliantly in the morning sun, that one could almost fancy it was one of the regions of fairyland!
When young Gregory came on the quarter-deck, no one was there except Jim Croft, a short, thick-set man, with the legs of a dwarf and the shoulders of a giant. He stood at the helm, and although no steering was required, as there was no wind, he kept his hands on the spokes of the wheel, and glanced occasionally at the compass. The first mate, who had the watch on deck, was up at the masthead, observing the state of the ice.
"How glorious!" exclaimed the youth, as he swept his sparkling eye round the horizon. "Ah, Croft! is not this splendid?"
"So it is, sir," said the seaman, turning the large quid of tobacco that bulged out his left cheek. "It's very beautiful, no doubt, but it's comin' rather thick for my taste."
"How so?" inquired Gregory. "There seems to me plenty of open water to enable us to steer clear of these masses. Besides, as we have no wind, it matters little, I should think, whether we have room to sail or not."
"You've not seed much o' the ice yet, that's plain," said Croft, "else you'd know that the floes are closin' round us, an' we'll soon be fast in the pack, if a breeze don't spring up to help us."
As the reader may not, perhaps, understand the terms used by Arctic voyagers in regard to the ice in its various forms, it may be as well here to explain the meaning of those most commonly used.
When ice is seen floating in small detached pieces and scattered masses, it is called "floe" ice, and men speak of getting among the floes. When these floes close up, so that the whole sea seems to be covered with them, and little water can be seen, it is called "pack" ice. When the pack is squeezed together, so that lumps of it are forced up in the form of rugged mounds, these mounds are called "hummocks." A large mass of flat ice, varying from one mile to many miles in extent, is called a "field," and a mountain of ice is called a "berg."
All the ice here spoken of, except the berg, is sea-ice; formed by the freezing of the ocean in winter. The berg is formed in a very different manner. Of this more shall be said in a future chapter.
"Well, my lad," said Gregory, in reply to Jim Croft's last observation, "I have not seen much of the ice yet, as you truly remark, so I hope that the wind will not come to help us out of it for some time. You don't think it dangerous to get into the pack, do you?"
"Well, not exactly dangerous, sir," replied Croft, "but I must say that it aint safe, 'specially when there's a swell on like this. But that'll go down soon. D'ye know what a nip is, Dr Gregory?"
"I think I do; at least I have read of such a thing. But I should be very glad to hear what you have to say about it. No doubt you have felt one."
"Felt one!" cried Jim, screwing up his face and drawing his limbs together, as if he were suffering horrible pain, "no, I've never felt one. The man what feels a nip aint likely to live to tell what his feelin's was. But I've seed one."
"You've seen one, have you? That must have been interesting. Where was it?"
"Not very far from the Greenland coast," said Croft, giving his quid another turn. "This was the way of it. You must know that there was two ships of us in company at the time. Whalers we was. We got into the heart of the pack somehow, and we thought we'd never get out of it again. There was nothin' but ice all round us as far as the eye could see. The name of our ship was the Nancy. Our comrade was the Bullfinch. One mornin' early we heard a loud noise of ice rubbin' agin the sides o' the ship, so we all jumped up, an' on deck as fast as we could, for there's short time given to save ourselves in them seas sometimes. The whole pack, we found, was in motion, and a wide lead of water opened up before us, for all the world like a smooth river or canal windin' through the pack. Into this we warped the ship, and hoistin' sail, steered away cheerily. We passed close to the Bullfinch, which was still hard and fast in the pack, and we saw that her crew were sawin' and cuttin' away at the ice, tryin' to get into the lead that we'd got into. So we hailed them, and said we would wait for 'em outside the pack, if we got through. But the words were no sooner spoken, when the wind it died away, and we were becalmed about half a mile from the Bullfinch.
"'You'd better go down to breakfast, boys,' says our captain, says he, 'the breeze won't be long o' comin' again.'
"So down the men went, and soon after that the steward comes on deck, and, says he to the captain, 'Breakfast, sir.' 'Very good,' says the captain, and down he went too, leavin' me at the wheel and the mate in charge of the deck. He'd not been gone three minutes when I noticed that the great field of ice on our right was closin' in on the field on our left, and the channel we was floatin' in was closin' up. The mate noticed it, too, but he wouldn't call the captain 'cause the ice came so slowly and quietly on that for a few minutes we could hardly believe it was movin' and everything around us looked so calm and peaceful like that it was difficult to believe our danger was so great. But this was only a momentary feelin', d'ye see. A minute after that the mate he cries down to the captain:—
"'Ice closin' up, sir!'
"And the captain he runs on deck. By this time there was no mistake about it; the ice was close upon us. It was clear that we were to have a nip. So the captain roars down the hatchway, 'Tumble up there! tumble up! every man alive! for your lives!' And sure enough they did tumble up, as I never seed 'em do it before—two or three of 'em was sick; they came up with their clothes in their hands. The ice was now almost touchin' our sides, and I tell you, sir, I never did feel so queerish in all my life before as when I looked over the side at the edge of that great field of ice which rose three foot out o' the water, and was, I suppose, six foot more below the surface. It came on so slow that we could hardly see the motion. Inch by inch the water narrowed between it and our sides. At last it touched on the left side, and that shoved us quicker on to the field on our right. Every eye was fixed on it—every man held his breath. You might have heard a pin fall on the deck. It touched gently at first, then there was a low grindin' and crunchin' sound. The ship trembled as if it had been a livin' creetur, and the beams began to crack. Now, you must know, sir, that when a nip o' this sort takes a ship the ice usually eases off, after giving her a good squeeze, or when the pressure is too much for her, the ice slips under her bottom and lifts her right out o' the water. But our Nancy was what we call wall-sided. She was never fit to sail in them seas. The consequence was that the ice crushed her sides in. The moment the captain heard the beams begin to go he knew it was all up with the ship; so he roared to take to the ice for our lives! You may be sure we took his advice. Over the side we went, every man Jack of us, and got on the ice. We did not take time to save an article belongin' to us; and it was as well we did not, for the ice closed up with a crash, and we heard the beams and timbers rending like a fire of musketry in the hold. Her bottom must have been cut clean away, for she stood on the ice just as she had floated on the sea. Then the noise stopped, the ice eased off, and the ship began to settle. The lead of water opened up again; in ten minutes after that the Nancy went to the bottom and left us standing there on the ice.
"It was the mercy of God that let it happen so near the Bullfinch. We might have been out o' sight o' that ship at the time, and then every man of us would have bin lost. As it was, we had a hard scramble over a good deal of loose ice, jumpin' from lump to lump, and some of us fallin' into the water several times, before we got aboard. Now that was a bad nip, sir, warn't it?"
"It certainly was," replied Gregory; "and although I delight in being among the ice, I sincerely hope that our tight little brig may not be tried in the same way. But she is better able to stand it, I should think."
"That she is, sir," replied Croft, with much confidence. "I seed her in dock, sir, when they was a-puttin' of extra timbers on the bow, and I do believe she would stand twice as much bad usage as the Nancy got, though she is only half the size."
Jim Croft's opinion on this point was well founded, for the Hope had indeed been strengthened and prepared for her ice battles with the greatest care, by men of experience and ability. As some readers may be interested in this subject, I shall give a brief account of the additions that were made to her hull.
The vessel was nearly two hundred tons burden. She had originally been built very strongly, and might even have ventured on a voyage to the Polar seas just as she was. But Captain Harvey resolved to take every precaution to insure the success of his voyage, and the safety and comfort of his men. He, therefore, had the whole of the ship's bottom sheathed with thick hardwood planking, which was carried up above her water-line, as high as the ordinary floe-ice would be likely to reach. The hull inside was strengthened with stout cross-beams, as well as with beams running along the length of the vessel, and in every part that was likely to be subjected to pressure iron stanchions were fastened. But the bow of the vessel was the point where the utmost strength was aimed at. Inside, just behind the cutwater, the whole space was so traversed by cross-beams of oak that it almost became a solid mass, and outside the sharp stem was cased in iron so as to resemble a giant's chisel. The false keel was taken off, the whole vessel, in short, was rendered as strong, outside and in, as wood and iron and skill could make her. It need scarcely be said that all the other arrangements about her were made with the greatest care and without regard to expense, for although the owners of the brig did not wish to waste their money, they set too high a value on human life to risk it for the sake of saving a few pounds. She was provisioned for a cruise of two years and a half. But this was in case of accidents, for Captain Harvey did not intend to be absent much longer than one year.
But, to return to our story:
Jim Croft's fear that they would be set fast was realised sooner than he expected. The floes began to close in, from no cause that could be seen, for the wind was quite still, and in a short time the loose ice pressed against the Hope on all sides. It seemed to young Gregory as if the story that the seaman had just related was about to be enacted over again; and, being a stranger to ice, he could not help feeling a little uneasy for some time. But there was in reality little or no danger, for the pressure was light, and the brig had got into a small bay in the edge of an ice-field, which lay in the midst of the smaller masses.
Seeing that there was little prospect of the pack opening up just then, the captain ordered the ice-anchors to be got out and fixed.
The appearance of the sea from the brig's deck was now extremely wintry, but very bright and cheerful. Not a spot of blue water was to be seen in any direction. The whole ocean appeared as if it had been frozen over.
It was now past noon, and the sun's rays were warm, although the quantity of ice around rendered the air cold. As the men were returning from fixing the anchors, the captain looked over the side, and said:
"It's not likely that we shall move out of this for some hours. What say you, lads, to a game of football?"
The proposal was received with a loud cheer. The ball had been prepared by the sail-maker, in expectation of some such opportunity as this. It was at once tossed over the side; those men who were not already on the field scrambled out of the brig, and the entire crew went leaping and yelling over the ice with the wild delight of schoolboys let loose for an unexpected holiday.
They were in the middle of the game when a loud shout came from the brig, and the captain's voice was heard singing out:
"All hands ahoy! come aboard. Look alive!"
Instantly the men turned, and there was a general race toward the brig, which lay nearly a quarter of a mile distant from them.
In summer, changes in the motions of the ice take place in the most unexpected manner. Currents in the ocean are, no doubt, the chief cause of these; the action of winds has also something to do with them. One of these changes was now taking place. Almost before the men got on board the ice had separated, and long canals of water were seen opening up here and there. Soon after that a light breeze sprang up, the ice-anchors were taken aboard, the sails trimmed, and soon the Hope was again making her way slowly but steadily to the north.
DIFFICULTIES, TROUBLES, AND DANGERS.
For some hours the brig proceeded onward with a freshening breeze, winding and turning in order to avoid the lumps of ice. Many of the smaller pieces were not worth turning out of the way of, the mere weight of the vessel being sufficient to push them aside.
Up to this time they had succeeded in steering clear of everything without getting a thump; but they got one at last, which astonished those among the crew who had not been in the ice before. The captain, Gregory, and Dicey were seated in the cabin at the time taking tea. Ned Dawkins, the steward, an active little man, was bringing in a tea-pot with a second supply of tea. In his left hand he carried a tray of biscuit. The captain sat at the head of the table, Dicey at the foot, and the doctor at the side.
Suddenly a tremendous shock was felt! The captain's cup of tea leaped away from him and flooded the centre of the table. The doctor's cup was empty; he seized the table with both hands and remained steady; but Dicey's cup happened to be at his lips at the moment, and was quite full. The effect on him was unfortunate. He was thrown violently on his back, and the tea poured over his face and drenched his hair as he lay sprawling on the floor. The steward saved himself by dropping the bread-tray and grasping the handle of the cabin door. So violent was the shock that the ship's bell was set a-ringing.
"Beg pardon, gentlemen," cried the first mate, looking down the skylight. "I forgot to warn you. The ice is getting rather thick around us, and I had to charge a lump of it."
"It's all very well to beg pardon," said the captain, "but that won't mend my crockery!"
"Or dry my head," growled Mr Dicey; "it's as bad as if I'd been dipped overboard, it is."
Before Mr Dicey's grumbling remarks were finished all three of them had reached the deck. The wind had freshened considerably, and the brig was rushing in a somewhat alarming manner among the floes. It required the most careful attention to prevent her striking heavily.
"If it goes on like this, we shall have to reduce sail," observed the captain. "See, there is a neck of ice ahead that will stop us."
This seemed to be probable, for the lane of water along which they were steering was, just ahead of them, stopped by a neck of ice that connected two floe-pieces. The water beyond was pretty free from ice, but this neck or mass seemed so thick that it became a question whether they should venture to charge it or shorten sail.
"Stand by the fore- and main-topsail braces!" shouted the captain.
"Aye, aye, sir!"
"Now, Mr Mansell," said he, with a smile, "we have come to our first real difficulty. What do you advise; shall we back the topsails, or try what our little Hope is made of, and charge the enemy?"
"Charge!" answered the mate.
"Just so," said the captain, hastening to the bow to direct the steersman. "Port your helm."
The brig was now about fifty yards from the neck of ice, tearing through the water like a race-horse. In another moment she was up to it and struck it fair in the middle. The stout little vessel quivered to her keel under the shock, but she did not recoil. She split the mass into fragments, and, bearing down all before her, sailed like a conqueror into the clear water beyond.
"Well done the Hope!" said the captain, as he walked aft, while a cheer burst from the men.
"I think she ought to be called the Good Hope ever after this," said Tom Gregory. "If she cuts her way through everything as easily as she has cut through that neck of ice, we shall reach the North Pole itself before winter."
"If we reach the North Pole at all," observed Mr Dicey, "I'll climb up to the top of it and stand on my head, I will!"
The second mate evidently had no expectation of reaching that mysterious pole, which men have so long and so often tried to find, in vain.
"Heavy ice ahead, sir," shouted Mr Mansell, who was at the masthead with a telescope.
"On the weather bow, sir, the pack seems open enough to push through, but the large bergs are numerous."
The Hope was now indeed getting into the heart of those icy regions where ships are in constant danger from the floating masses that come down with the ocean-currents from the far north. In sailing along she was often obliged to run with great violence against lumps so large that they caused her whole frame to tremble, stout though it was. "Shall we smash the lump, or will it stave in our bows?" was a question that frequently ran in the captain's mind. Sometimes ice closed round her and squeezed the sides so that her beams cracked. At other times, when a large field was holding her fast, the smaller pieces would grind and rasp against her as they went past, until the crew fancied the whole of the outer sheathing of planks had been scraped off. Often she had to press close to ice-bergs of great size, and more than once a lump as large as a good-sized house fell off the ice-fields and plunged into the sea close to her side, causing her to rock violently on the waves that were raised by it.
Indeed the bergs are dangerous neighbours, not only from this cause, but also on account of their turning upside down at times, and even falling to pieces, so that Captain Harvey always kept well out of their way when he could; but this was not always possible. The little brig had a narrow escape one day from the falling of a berg.
It was a short time after that day on which they had the game of football. They passed in safety through the floes and bergs that had been seen that evening, and got into open water beyond, where they made made good progress before falling in with ice; but at last they came to a part of Baffin's Bay where a great deal of ice is always found. Here the pack surrounded them, and compelled them to pass close to a berg which was the largest they had fallen in with up to that time. It was jagged in form, and high rather than broad. Great peaks rose up from it like the mountain tops of some wild highland region. It was several hundred yards off the weather-beam when the brig passed, but it towered so high over the masts that it seemed to be much nearer than it was. There was no apparent motion in this berg, and the waves beat and rolled upon its base just as they do on the shore of an island. In fact it was as like an island as possible, or, rather, like a mountain planted in the sea, only it was white instead of green. There were cracks and rents and caverns in it, just as there are on a rugged mountain side, all of which were of a beautiful blue colour. There were also slopes and crags and precipices, down which the water of the melted ice constantly flowed in wild torrents. Many of these were equal to small rivulets, and some of the waterfalls were beautiful. The berg could not have measured less than a mile round the base, and it was probably two hundred feet high. It is well known that floating ice sinks deep, and that there is about eight or ten times as much of it below as there is above water. The reader may therefore form some idea of what an enormous mass of ice this berg was.
The crew of the Hope observed, in passing, that lumps were continually falling from the cliffs into the sea. The berg was evidently in a very rotten and dangerous state, and the captain ran the brig as close to the pack on the other side as possible, in order to keep out of its way. Just as this was done, some great rents occurred, and suddenly a mass of ice larger than the brig fell from the top of a cliff into the sea. No danger flowed from this, but the mass thus thrown off was so large as to destroy the balance of the berg, and, to the horror of the sailors, the huge mountain began to roll over. Fortunately it fell in a direction away from the brig. Had it rolled toward her, no human power could have saved our voyagers. The mighty mass went over with a wild hollow roar, and new peaks and cliffs rose out of the sea, as the old ones disappeared, with great cataracts of uplifted brine pouring furiously down their sides.
Apart from its danger, this was an awful sight. Those who witnessed it could only gaze in solemn silence. Even the most careless among them must have been forced to recognise the might and majesty of God in the event, as well as His mercy in having led them to the right side of the berg at such a dangerous moment.
But the scene had not yet closed. For some time the ice mountain rocked grandly to and fro, raising a considerable swell on the sea, which, all round, was covered with the foam caused by this tremendous commotion. In a few minutes several rents took place, sounding like the reports of great guns. Rotten as it was, the berg could not stand the shock of its change of position, for it had turned fairly upside down. Crack after crack took place, with deafening reports. Lumps of all sizes fell from its sides. Then there was a roar, long continued like thunder; a moment after, the whole berg sank down in ruins, and, with a mighty crash, fell flat upon the sea!
The Hope was beyond the reach of danger, but she rose and sank on the swell, caused by the ruin of this berg, for some time after.
It was on the afternoon of the same day that the brig received her first really severe "nip" from the ice.
She had got deep into the pack, and was surrounded on all sides by large bergs, some of these being high, like the one that has just been described, others low and flat but of great extent. One, not far off, was two miles long, and its glittering walls rose about fifteen feet above the sea. The sky was brighter than usual at the time. This was owing to one of those strange appearances which one sees more of in the Arctic regions than in any other part of the world. The sun shone with unclouded splendour, and around it there were three mock suns almost as bright as the sun itself, one on each side and one directly above it. Learned men call these bright spots parhelia. Sailors call them sun-dogs. They were connected together with a ring of light which entirely encircled the sun, but the lower edge of it was partly lost on the horizon.
Although this was the first time that these mock suns had been seen by Gregory and some others of the crew of the Hope, little attention was paid to them at the time, because of the dangerous position into which the brig had been forced. The pack had again closed all around her, obliging her to take shelter in the lee of a small berg, which, from its shape, did not seem likely to be a dangerous protector.
There was a small bay in the berg. Into this the brig was warped, and for some time she lay safely here. It was just large enough to hold her, and a long tongue of ice, projecting from the foot of it, kept off the pressure of the sea-ice. Nevertheless a look of anxiety rested on the captain's face after the ice-anchors had been made fast.
"You don't seem to like our position, captain," said young Gregory, who had been watching the doings of the men and now and then lent them a hand.
"I don't, Tom. The pack is closing tight up, and this berg may prove an enemy instead of a friend, if it forces into our harbour here. Let us hear what our mate thinks of it. What say you, Mr Mansell, shall we hold on here, or warp out and take our chance in the pack?"
"Better hold on, sir," answered the mate gravely. "The pack is beginning to grind; we should get a tight embrace, I fear, if we went out. Here we may do well enough; but everything depends on that tongue."
He looked as he spoke toward the point of ice which extended in front of the brig's stern, and guarded the harbour from the outer ice in that direction. The tongue was not a large one, and it was doubtful whether it could stand the pressure that was increasing every minute.
The pack was indeed beginning to "grind," as the mate had said, for, while they were looking at it, the edges of two floes came together with a crash about fifty yards from the berg. They ground together for a moment with a harsh growling sound, and then the two edges were suddenly forced up to a height of about fifteen or twenty feet. Next moment they fell on the closed-up ice, and lay there in a mound, or hummock, of broken masses.
"That's how a 'ummuck is formed, Dr Gregory," said Mr Dicey, looking uncommonly wise. "You'll see more things here in five minutes, by means of your own eyes, than ye could learn from books in a year. There's nothin' like seein'. Seein' is believin', you know. I wouldn't give an ounce of experience for a ton of hearsay."
"Come, Mr Dicey, don't run down book-learning," said Gregory. "If a man only knew about things that he had seen, he would know very little."
Before the second mate could reply the captain shouted to the men to "Bear a hand with the ice-poles." The whole crew answered to the call, and each man, seizing a long pole, stood ready for action.
The tongue to which I have referred more than once had broken off, and the ice was rushing in. The bay was full in a minute, and although the men used their ice-poles actively, and worked with a will, they could not shove the pieces past them. The Hope was driven bow on to the berg. Then there was a strain, a terrible creaking and groaning of the timbers, as if the good little vessel were complaining of the pressure. All at once there was a loud crack, the bow of the brig lifted a little, and she was forced violently up the sloping side of the berg. Twice this happened, and then she remained stationary—high and dry out of the water!
A GALE—NARROW ESCAPES—SIGNS OF WINTER—SET FAST.
During the rest of that day and the whole of that night did the brig remain fixed on the berg. Early next morning the ice began to move. It eased off, and the vessel slid gently down the slope on which she had been forced, and was re-launched safely into the water.
The satisfaction of the crew, on being thus delivered from a position of much danger, was very great; but they had no sooner escaped from one peril than they were overtaken by another. A sharp breeze sprang up from the eastward, and drove them out into the pack, which began to heave about in a terrible manner under the influence of the wind. Soon this increased to a gale, and the ice was driven along at great speed by a strong northerly current.
While this was going on, land was discovered bearing to the northeast. Here was new danger, for although it was not a lee-shore, still there was some risk of the vessel being caught among grounded ice-bergs—of which a few were seen.
The gale increased to such a degree before night that Captain Harvey began to think of taking shelter under the lee of one of these bergs. He therefore stood toward one, but before reaching it the vessel received one or two severe shocks from passing floes. A large berg lay within half a mile of them. They reached it in safety, and getting under its lee, lowered a boat and fixed their ice-anchors. Just after they were fixed, a mass of ice, the size of a ship's long-boat and many tons in weight, came suddenly up out of the sea with great violence, the top of it rising above the bulwarks. One corner of it struck the hull just behind the mainmast, and nearly stove in the bottom of the brig.
This lump was what Arctic voyagers term a "calf." When masses of ice break off from the bergs far below the surface of the water, they rise with extreme violence, and ships run great risk of being destroyed by these calves when they anchor too near to the bergs. Had this calf struck the Hope a fair blow she must certainly have gone down with all on board.
They were not yet freed from their troubles, however. In half an hour the wind shifted a few points, but the stream of the loose ice did not change. The brig was, therefore, blown right in among the rushing masses. The three cables that held her were snapped as if they had been pieces of packthread, and she was whirled out into the pack, where she drove helplessly, exposed to the fury of the howling storm and the dangers of the grinding ice. Captain Harvey now felt that he could do nothing to save his vessel. He believed that if God did not mercifully put forth His hand to deliver them by a miracle, he and his companions would certainly perish. In this the captain was wrong. Nothing is impossible to the Almighty. He can always accomplish his purposes without the aid of a miracle.
There did, indeed, seem no way of escape; for the driving masses of ice were grinding each other to powder in nearly every direction, and the brig only escaped instant destruction by being wedged between two pieces that held together from some unknown cause. Presently they were carried down toward a large berg that seemed to be aground, for the loose ice was passing it swiftly. This was not the case, however. An undercurrent, far down in the depths of the sea, was acting on this berg, and preventing it from travelling with the ice that floated with the stream at the surface. In its passing, the mass of ice that held them struck one of the projecting tongues beneath the surface, and was split in two. The brig was at once set free. As they passed they might almost have leaped upon the berg. Captain Harvey saw and seized his opportunity.
"Stand by to heave an anchor," he shouted.
Sam Baker, being the strongest man in the ship, sprang to one of the small ice-anchors that lay on the deck with a line attached to it, and, lifting it with both hands, stood ready.
The brig passed close to the end of the berg, where the lee-side formed a long tail of sheltered water. She was almost thrust into this by the piece of ice from which she had just escaped. She grazed the edge of the berg as she drove past.
"Heave!" shouted the captain.
Sam Baker swung the anchor round his head as if it had been a feather, and hurled it far upon the ice. For a few yards it rattled over the slippery surface; then it caught a lump, but the first strain broke it off. Just after that it fell into a crack and held on. The brig was checked, and swung round into the smooth water; but they had to ease off the line lest it should snap. At last she was brought up, and lay safely under the shelter of that berg until the storm was over.
Some weeks flew by after this without anything occurring worthy of particular notice. During this time the Hope made good progress into the Polar regions, without again suffering severely either from ice or storm, although much retarded by the thick fogs that prevail in the Arctic regions. She was indeed almost always surrounded by ice, but it was sufficiently open to allow of a free passage through it. Many whales and seals had been seen, also one or two bears, but not in circumstances in which they could be attacked without occasioning much delay.
The brief summer had now passed away, and the days began to shorten as winter approached. Still Captain Harvey hoped to get farther north before being obliged to search for winter quarters. One morning early in September, however, he found to his sorrow that pancake-ice was forming on the sea. When the sea begins to freeze it does so in small needle-like spikes, which cross and recross each other until they form thin ice, which the motion of the waves breaks up into flat cakes about a foot or so across. These, by constantly rubbing against each other, get worn into a rounded shape. Sailors call this "pancake-ice." It is the first sign of coming winter. The cakes soon become joined together as the frost increases.
The place where this occurred was near to those wild cliffs that rise out of the sea in the channels or straits that lie at the head of Baffin's Bay. The vessel was now beyond the farthest point of land that had been discovered at the time of which I am writing, and already one or two of the headlands had been named by Captain Harvey and marked on his chart.
"I don't like to see pancake-ice so early in the season," remarked the captain to Mr Mansell.
"No more do I, sir," answered the mate. "This would be a bad place to winter in, I fear."
"Land ahead!" was shouted at that moment by the look-out at the masthead.
"Keep her away two points," said the captain to the man at the helm. "How does it lie?"
"Right ahead, sir."
"Any ice near it?"
"No; all clear."
The brig was kept a little more out to sea. Soon she came to more open water, and in the course of four hours was close to the land, which proved to be a low, barren island, not more than a mile across.
Here the wind died away altogether, and a sharp frost set in. The pancakes became joined together, and on the following morning, when our friend Gregory came on deck, he found that the whole ocean was covered with ice! It did not, indeed, look very like ice, because, being so thin, it did not prevent the usual swell from rolling over the sea. A light breeze was blowing, and the brig cut her way through it for some time; but the breeze soon died away, leaving her becalmed within a quarter of a mile of the island.
For some time the voyagers hoped that a thaw would take place, or that wind would break up the ice. But they were disappointed. This was the first touch of the cold hand of winter, and the last day of the Hope's advance northward.
Seeing this, Captain Harvey set energetically to work to cut his way into winter quarters, for it would not do to remain all winter in the exposed position in which his vessel then lay. On his right was the island, already referred to, about a quarter of a mile off. Beyond this, about five miles distant, were the high steep cliffs of the western coast of Greenland. Everywhere else lay the open sea, covered here and there with floes and bergs, and coated with new ice.
This ice became so thick in the course of another night that the men could walk on it without danger. By means of saws and chisels made for the purpose, they cut a passage toward the island, and finally moored the brig in a small bay which was sheltered on all sides except the east. This, being the land side, required no protection. They named the place "Refuge Harbour."
Everyone was now full of activity. The voyagers had reached the spot where they knew they were destined to spend the winter and much had to be done before they could consider themselves in a fit state to face that terrible season.
Winter in the Polar regions extends over eight months of the year—from September to May. But so much of ice and snow remains there all the summer that winter can scarcely be said to quit those regions at all.
It is difficult to imagine what the Arctic winter is. We cannot properly understand the tremendous difficulties and sufferings that men who go to the Polar seas have to fight against. Let the reader think of the following facts, and see if he does not draw his chair closer to the fire and feel thankful that he has not been born an Eskimo, and is not an Arctic seaman!
Winter within the Arctic circle, as I have said, is fully eight months long. During that time the land is covered with snow many feet deep, and the sea with ice of all degrees of thickness—from vast fields of ten or fifteen feet thick to bergs the size of islands and mountains— all frozen into one solid mass.
There is no sunlight there, night or day, for three out of these eight winter months, and there is not much during the remaining five. In summer there is perpetual sunlight, all night as well as all day, for about two months—for many weeks the sun never descends below the horizon. It is seen every day and every night sweeping a complete circle in the bright blue sky. Having been so free of his light in summer, the sun seems to think he has a right to absent himself in winter, for the three months of darkness that I have spoken of are not months of partial but of total darkness—as far, at least, as the sun is concerned. The moon and stars and the "Northern Lights" do, indeed, give their light when the fogs and clouds will allow them; but no one will say that these make up for the absence of the sun.
Then the frost is so intense that everything freezes solid except pure spirits of wine. Unless you have studied the thermometer you cannot understand the intensity of this frost; but for the sake of those who do know something about extreme cold, I give here a few facts that were noted down during the winter that my story tells of.
On the 10th of September these ice-bound voyagers had eighteen degrees of frost, and the darkness had advanced on them so rapidly that it was dark about ten at night. By the 1st of October the ice round the brig was a foot and a half thick. Up to this time they had shot white hares on the island, and the hunting parties that crossed the ice to the mainland shot deer and musk oxen, and caught white foxes in traps. Gulls and other birds, too, had continued to fly around them; but most of these went away to seek warmer regions farther south. Walrus and seals did not leave so soon. They remained as long as there was any open water out at sea. The last birds that left them, (and the first that returned in spring) were the "snow-birds"—little creatures about the size of a sparrow, almost white, with a few brown feathers here and there. The last of these fled from the darkening winter on the 7th of November, and did not return until the 1st of the following May. When they left it was dark almost all day. The thermometer could scarcely be read at noon, and the stars were visible during the day. From this time forward thick darkness set in, and the cold became intense. The thermometer fell below zero, and after that they never saw it above that point for months together—20 degrees, 30 degrees, and 40 degrees below were common temperatures. The ice around them was ten feet thick. On the 1st of December noon was so dark that they could not see fifty yards ahead, and on the 15th the fingers could not be counted a foot from the eyes. The thermometer stood at 40 degrees below zero.
The darkness could not now become greater, but the cold still continued to grow more intense. It almost doubled in severity. In January it fell to 67 degrees below zero! So great was this cold that the men felt impelled to breathe gradually. The breath issued from their mouths in white clouds of steam and instantly settled on their beards and whiskers in hoar-frost. In the cabin of the Hope they had the utmost difficulty in keeping themselves moderately warm at this time.
Things had now reached their worst, and by slow degrees matters began to mend. On the 22nd of January the first faint sign of returning day appeared—just a blue glimmer on the horizon. By the middle of February the light tipped the tops of the mountains on shore, and the highest peaks of the ice-bergs on the sea, and on the 1st of March it bathed the deck of the Hope. Then the long-imprisoned crew began to feel that spring was really coming. But there was little heat in the sun's rays at first, and it was not till the month of May that the ice out at sea broke up and summer could be said to have begun.
During all this long winter—during all these wonderful changes, our Arctic voyagers had a hard fight in order to keep themselves alive. Their life was a constant struggle. They had to fight the bears and the walrus; to resist the cold and the darkness; to guard against treachery from the natives; and to suffer pains, sickness, and trials, such as seldom fall to the lot of men in ordinary climates.
How they did and suffered all this I shall try to show in the following pages. In attempting this I shall make occasional extracts from the journal of our friend Tom Gregory, for Tom kept his journal regularly, and was careful to note down only what he heard and saw.
PREPARATIONS FOR WINTERING—REMARKABLE ADVENTURES WITH A BEAR.
The first care of Captain Harvey, after getting his brig securely laid up in her icy cradle for the winter was to remove some of the stores to the island, where he had them carefully secured in a little hut which the crew built of loose stones. This relieved the strain on the vessel, and permitted the free circulation of air. The fitting up of the interior of the brig was then begun.
The wooden partition between the cabin and the hold was taken down, and the whole space thrown into one apartment. The stove was put up in the centre of it, and moss was piled round the walls inside about a foot thick. Moss was also spread on the deck, and above it the snow was allowed to gather, for snow, although so cold itself, keeps things that it covers warm, by not permitting the heat to escape. The brig was banked up all round with snow, and a regular snowy staircase was built from the ice to her bulwarks.
They changed their time, now, from what is called sea-time to that which we follow on land. That is to say, they reckoned the day to commence just after twelve, midnight, instead of dividing it into watches, as they were wont to do at sea. Journals were begun, and careful notes made of everything that occurred, or that might in any way further the object for which they had gone there. Every man in the ship had his appointed duty and his post. If the native Eskimos should arrive in a warlike temper, each man had his cutlass and pistols in readiness. If a bear should pay them a visit, each could lay hands on his musket in an instant; and if a fire should break out on board, every man had his bucket ready and his particular post fixed. Some were to run to the water-hole, which it was the duty of one man to keep open. Others were to station themselves from the hole to the ship to pass the buckets, while the rest were to remain on board to convey them to the point of danger. Captain Harvey fixed all the arrangements, and superintended the carrying out of his orders in a general way, making his two officers and the young doctor responsible for the overseeing of details. Each of these foremen furnished him with a report every night of what had been done during the day, and the result was noted down by himself in a journal. Thus everything went smoothly and pleasantly along during the first weeks of their sojourn in their frozen home.
In regard to fresh provisions they were fortunate at first, for they obtained sufficient supplies of deer and other game. This was in the early part of winter, while there was still plenty of daylight. In Tom Gregory's journal I find it thus written:
"September 10th.—The days are beginning to shorten now, and we are all busily occupied in preparing for the long, dark winter that is before us. Sam Baker, who is the best shot among us, brought in a deer to-day. This is fortunate, for we stand in need of fresh meat. Our greatest enemy this winter, I fear, will be scurvy. Unless we obtain a large supply of fresh provisions we cannot hope to escape it. Crofts brought in two Arctic hares. They are beautiful creatures—pure white— and each weighs about seven pounds. These, with the four deer shot by myself last week and the ten hares got by Baker, will keep us going for some time.
"September 12th.—I had an adventure with a polar bear last night, which has amused the men very much, and given them food for jocularity for a few days. Some days back Davy Butts set a trap on the island, in which he has caught a few foxes. Last night his long legs were so tired that he did not care to visit his trap, so I offered to go instead of him. It was while I was out on this errand that I happened to meet with bruin. Our meeting was sudden and unexpected on both sides, I believe. It was midnight when I set off to the trap, which was not more than half a mile from the ship, and it was quite dark when I reached it.
"Davy is an ingenious fellow. His trap is made of four blocks of hard snow, with a sort of wooden trigger that goes off the moment the bait is touched, and allows a heavy log to fall down on the poor fox's back. There was no fox there, however, when I reached it. I went down on my knees and was examining the bait, when I heard a low growl. I leaped up, and felt for the knife which I usually carried in my belt. It was not there! In the haste of my departure from the ship I had forgotten to buckle it on. I had no gun, of course. It was too dark to shoot, and I had not counted on meeting with any dangerous enemy. I could only crouch down behind a lump of ice and hope that the bear would go away, but another growl, much louder than the first, and close at hand, showed that I had been seen. It was so dark that I could hardly see fifty yards ahead. There was a great chasm or hole just in front of me. This was the place where the main body of the sea-ice had been separated from the shore-ice that was aground. Here every rise and fall of the tide had broken it afresh, so that the rent was twenty yards wide, and full of large blocks that had been tossed about in confusion. Across this I gazed into the gloom, and thought I saw an object that looked like a large block of rounded ice. Before I could make up my mind how to act, the block of ice rose up with a furious roar and charged me. The chasm checked him for a moment. But for this I should have been caught immediately. While he was scrambling over it I took to my heels, and ran along the edge of the ice at the top of my speed.
"There was a narrow part of the chasm which I had looked at in daylight, and wondered whether I might venture to leap across it. I had made up my mind that it was too wide and dangerous to be attempted. But it is wonderful how quickly a man changes his mind on such a point when a polar bear is roaring at his heels. I came to the gap in the ice. It was ten feet deep and thirteen or fourteen feet across. The jagged lumps of ice at the bottom lay there in horrible confusion. There was barely light enough to see where the hole was when I came within ten yards of it, but I did not hesitate. A rush! a bound! and I went over like a cat. Not so the bear. He had not measured the place with his eye in daylight, as I had done. He made a gallant leap, it is true, but fell short, as I knew from the bursting sound and the growl of rage with which he came against the edge of the ice, and fell back among the broken blocks. I did not wait to see how he got out, you may be sure, but ran as I never ran before in all my life! I reached the brig quite out of breath. The bear had not followed me up, for I did not see him that night again. Long Davy laughed at me a good deal, and said he was sure I had been frightened at a shadow. It gave a wonderfully loud roar for a shadow! I hope that Davy himself may get a chase before the winter is over, just to convince him of his error in not believing me!"
The kind wish thus expressed in the young doctor's journal was gratified sooner than might have been expected.
Only two days after the incident above described, poor Davy Butts met with the same bear, face to face, and had a run for his life, that turned the laugh from Tom Gregory to himself.
It was on the afternoon of a clear, cold day, just about sunset. The men had finished dinner and were smoking their pipes on deck, stamping their feet and slapping their hands and arms, to keep them warm.
"Hallo, Davy! where are you bound for?" inquired the captain, on observing that Butts was wrapping himself carefully in his fur-coat, tightening his belt, and putting on his mittens as if bent on a long journey.
"I'm only goin' to take a look at my fox-trap, sir, if you'll allow me."
"Certainly, my lad. If you get a fox it's well worth the trouble. And hark'ee, Davy, take your axe and make one or two more of these snow-traps of yours. It will be a well-spent hour."
"Why, Butts," exclaimed Gregory, "what do you mean to do with that big horse-pistol? Surely you are not afraid of bears after laughing so much at the one that chased me?"
"Oh, no, not afraid, you know," replied Davy. "But there's no harm in being armed."
"Mind you shoot him straight in the eye, or send a bullet up his nose. Them's the vulnerable parts of him," cried Joe Davis, with a laugh, as Butts went down the snow-steps and got upon the ice.
"I say," cried Pepper, as he was moving away.
"Bring his tongue aboard with you, and I'll cook it for supper."
"Ah, and a bit of fat to fry it in," added the steward. "There's nothin' like tongue fried in bear's grease."
"No, no, Dawkins," said Mr Dicey. "Hallo! Davy; bring the 'ams. Bear's 'ams are considered fustrate heatin'."
"No, don't bring the hams," shouted Jim Croft, "fetch the tongue; that's the thing for supper of a cold night—fetch the tongue, lad."
"Hold your own tongue," shouted Davy, in reply, as he went off amid the laughter of his comrades.
The sun sank soon after, and before the ingenious seaman had finished two new traps the short twilight had gradually deepened into night. Still there was plenty of light, for the sky was clear, and studded with a host of stars. In addition to this the Aurora Borealis was sending its beautiful flashes of pale-green light all across the western sky.
The Aurora—which also goes by the names of "Northern Lights," and "Streamers," and "Merry-dancers," is seen in great splendour in these northern skies. When the seaman had finished his traps, and looked up for a minute or two at the sky, before starting on his return to the ship, he beheld the Aurora extending over the heavens in the form of an irregular arch. It was extremely bright, but the brightness was not the same in all parts. It moved and waved gently about like a band of thin green fire. Every now and then long tongues or streamers darted up from it, and these were brighter than the rest. They were yellowish white, and sometimes became pale pink in colour. The light from this beautiful object was equal to that of the moon in her quarter, and the stars that were behind it shone dimly through, as if they were covered with a thin gauze veil.
While Davy was gazing in wonder at the splendid lights above him, a deep growl fell upon his ear. If the man had been a Jack-in-the-box he could not have leaped more quickly round. His pistol was out and cocked in a moment!
The growl was followed by a roar, which drove all the blood back into Davy's heart, and seemed to freeze it there—solid.
The man was no coward, as was quite clear, for at first he boldly stood his ground. But he would have been more than mortal if he had not felt some strange qualms about his heart when he saw a large white bear rushing furiously toward him. The animal came this time from the interior of the small island. The seaman knew well the place over which young Gregory had jumped when he had been chased. After wavering for a moment or two he turned and fled. Another tremendous roar helped him over the ice like a deer, and he took the chasm with a bound like an India-rubber ball.
It must certainly have been the same animal that chased Gregory, for, instead of trying to leap the chasm, it went to another part of the rent and scrambled across. This gave Butts time to increase the distance between them, but a man is no match for a polar bear in a race. The monster was soon close up with him, and the ship still far off. The man knew his danger; he turned, took a quick aim, and fired. He missed, of course; flung the pistol in desperation in the bear's face, and ran on. The pistol happened to stick in the snow, with the butt in the air, and when the bear came up to it he stopped to smell it!
It it well known, nowadays, that polar bears are full of curiosity, and will stop for a few minutes to examine anything that comes in their way, even when they are in full chase of a man. Davy Butts knew nothing of this at the time; but he was a quick-witted fellow. He observed this stopping of the bear, and determined to give him something more to stop at.
When bruin was close at his heels he threw down his cap. The bear at once pulled up, smelt it all round, tossed it into the air with his snout, pawed it once or twice, then tore it to pieces with one wrench, and continued the chase. Very little time was lost in this operation. He was soon up with the man again; then a mitten was thrown down for his inspection. After that the other mitten went, the cravat followed, and the axe went next. All that I have just related happened in a very few minutes. Davy was still a good quarter of a mile from the brig; everything that he could tear off his person in haste and throw down was gone, and the bear was once more coming up behind. As a last hope he pulled off his heavy fur-coat and dropped it. This seemed to be a subject of great interest to the bear, for it was longer in inspecting it than the other things. And now poor Butts went tearing along like a maniac, in his flannel shirt and trousers. He was a miserable and curious object, for his body, besides being very long, was uncommonly lanky, and his legs and arms seemed to go like the wings of a windmill. Never, since the day of his birth, had Davy Butts run at such a pace, in such light clothing, and in such severe frost!
A long line of low hummocks hid him from the brig. The moment he passed these he came in sight of her and began to yell.
"Wot on airth is yon?" exclaimed Joe Davis, who chanced to be looking over the gangway when this remarkable object appeared.
"The wild man o' the North himself, or my name aint Jim," said Crofts, turning pale.
"Why, it's Davy Butts, I do believe," cried Sam Baker, who came on deck at that moment.
Just then the bear came tearing round the end of the hummocks in full chase.
"Hurrah! hallo! ho!" roared the men, who had crowded on deck at the first note of alarm.
Sam Baker seized a heavy ash handspike about five feet long, and was on his way to meet his comrade before the others had gained the ice. They were not slow, however. Some with muskets, some with pistols and cutlasses, and some with nothing but their fists—all followed Sam, who was now far ahead.
Baker passed Davy without a remark, and ran straight at the bear, which stopped on seeing such a big, powerful man running so furiously at him, and flourishing a bludgeon that would almost have suited the hand of a giant. But polar bears are not timid. He rose on his hind legs at once, and paid no attention whatever to the tremendous crack that Sam dealt him over the skull. The blow broke the handspike in two, and the fool-hardy seaman would soon have paid for his rashness with his life had not friendly and steady hands been near. Nothing daunted, he was about to repeat the blow with the piece of the handspike that was still in his grasp, and the bear was about to seize him with its claws, each of which were full two inches long, when the first mate and Gregory came running toward him, side by side, the first armed with a rifle, the doctor with pistols.
"Too late," gasped Gregory.
"We must fire," said Mansell, "and risk hitting Sam. Here, doctor, you are a good shot; take the rifle."
The young man obeyed, dropped on one knee, and took aim, but did not fire. Sam was between him and the bear. A sudden movement changed their positions. The side of the monster came into view, and in another instant it was stretched on the ice with a bullet in his brain.
A GREAT BATTLE WITH THE WALRUS.
It need scarcely be said that there was a jovial feast that night at supper. The bear's tongue was cooked after all, but the impudent tongues of the party were not silenced, for they almost worried the life out of poor Davy for having run away from a bear.
Soon after this event the preparations for spending the winter were completed; at least as far as the fitting up of the vessel was concerned.
"This morning," writes Gregory, in his journal, "we finished housing over our Arctic home. The Hope is very snug, lined with moss, and almost covered with snow. A sail has been spread over the quarter-deck like an awning; it is also covered with moss and snow. This, we hope, will give much additional warmth to our house below. We all live together now, men and officers. It will require our united strength to fight successfully against that terrible enemy, John Frost. John is king of the Arctic regions, undoubtedly!
"Dawkins got a cold-bath yesterday that amused the men much and did him no harm. For some time past we have been carrying moss from the island in large bundles. Dawkins got leave to help, as he said he was sick-tired of always working among stores. He was passing close to the fire-hole with a great bundle of moss on his back, when his foot slipped, and down he went. This hole is kept constantly open. It is Baker's duty night and morning to break the ice and have it ready in case of fire. The ice on the surface was therefore thin; in a moment nothing was to be seen of poor Dawkins but his bundle! Fortunately he held tight on to it, and we hauled him out, soaked to the skin. The thermometer stood at 35 degrees below zero, the coldest day we have had up to this time; and in two minutes the unfortunate man's clothes were frozen so stiff that he could scarcely walk! We had to break the ice on his legs and arms at the joints, and even then he had to be half hoisted on board and carried below. We all dress in seal-skin and fox-skin garments now. Dawkins had on a rough coat, made of white and grey foxes; trousers of the same; boots of seal-skin, and mittens ditto. When all this was soaked and frozen he was truly a humbling sight!
"The undressing of him was a labour of difficulty as well as of love. However, when he was rubbed dry, and re-clothed, he was none the worse. Indeed, I am inclined to think he was much the better of his ducking.
"To-morrow we are to make some curious experiments with boats, sledges, and kites. The captain is anxious to take our largest boat over the ice as far to the south as possible, and leave her there with a quantity of provisions, so that we may have her to fall back upon if any misfortune should befall the brig, which I earnestly pray that God may forbid.
"Davy Butts, who is an ingenious fellow in his way, says that we can sail a boat on the ice almost as well as on the water, and that we may drag sledges by means of kites, if we choose. The captain means to attempt a journey to the north with sledges in spring, so, if the kites answer, Butts will have done us good service. But I have my doubts.
"The nights are closing in fast; very soon we shall be without the sun altogether. But the moon is cheering us. Last night, (28th October) she swept in a complete circle round the sky all day as well as all night. She only touched the horizon, and then, instead of setting, she rose again, as if the frozen sea had frightened her.
"October 30th.—Baker came in to-day and reported open water about six miles off, and walrus sporting in it. I shall set out to-morrow on a hunt."
The hunt which the young doctor here wrote of came off the following day, but it was a very different one from what any of the men had expected.
Early in the morning, Baker, Davy Butts, and Gregory set off on foot, armed with a rifle and two muskets, besides a couple of harpoons, a whale-lance, and a long line. They also took a small sledge, which was intended to be used in hauling home the meat if they should be successful. Three hours' hard walking brought the party to the edge of the solid ice, after which they travelled on the floes that were being constantly broken by the tides, and were only joined together by ice of a night or two old. This was little more than an inch thick, so they had to advance with caution.
Presently the loud mooing of a bull walrus was heard. Its roar was something between the lowing of a bull and the bark of a large dog, but much louder, for the walrus resembles an elephant in size more than any other animal. Soon after they came in sight of their game. Five walrus were snorting and barking in a hole which they had broken in the ice. The way in which this huge monster opens a hole when he wants to get out of the sea is to come up from below with considerable violence and send his head crashing through the ice.
The three men now became very wary. They crept on their hands and knees behind the ice-hummocks until within about a hundred yards of the brutes. Then they ascended a small hummock to take a look round and decide on their plan of operations. While lying there, flat on their faces, they took particular care to keep their heads well concealed, just raising them high enough to observe the position of the walrus. There was a sheet of flat ice between them and the hole, so that it was impossible to advance nearer without being seen. This perplexed them much, for although their bullets might hit at that distance, they would not be able to run in quick enough to use their lances, and the harpoons would be of no use at all.
While thus undecided what to do, they were unexpectedly taught a lesson in walrus-hunting that surprised them not a little.
"Hallo! there's a bear!" whispered Davy Butts, as a hairy object crawled out from behind an ice-hummock about two hundred yards from the place where they lay, and made toward the walrus in a sly, cat-like manner.
"More like a seal," observed Baker.
"A seal! why, it's a man!" said Gregory, in a low, excited whisper.
"So it is, sure enough," said Baker; "it must be an Eskimo, though his hairy garments make him look more like a bear than a man, and as the fellow has got here before us, I suppose we must give up our claim to the brutes."
"Time enough to talk of that when the brutes are killed," said Gregory with a smile. "But lie still, lads. We will take a lesson from this fellow, who has been so earnestly staring at the walrus that he has not noticed us."
The three men lay perfectly motionless watching the native, who crept as near to the hole as he could without being seen, and then waited for a few minutes until the creatures should dive. This they were constantly doing; staying down a few moments at a time, and then coming up to breathe—for the walrus cannot live without air. He is not a fish, and although he can stay down a long time, he must come to the surface occasionally to breathe. In this he resembles the seal and the whale.
Presently, down they all went with a tremendous splash. Now was the moment! the Eskimo rose, ran at full speed for a few yards, then fell flat on his face, and lay quite still as if he had been shot dead. The reason of this was soon apparent. He understood the habits of the walrus, and knew that they would rise again. This they did almost the moment after, and began their snorting, bellowing, and rolling again. Once more they dived. Up got the Eskimo, ran a few yards further forward, and then fell flat down as before. In this way he got near to the hole without being seen.
The watchers observed that he carried a harpoon and a coil of thick line.
The next time the walrus dived he ran to the edge of the hole, but now, instead of falling down, he stood quite still with the harpoon raised above his head ready to be thrown. In a few moments the monsters reappeared. Two rose close at the edge of the hole; one was a male, the other a female. They were frightfully ugly to look at. Shaking the water from his head and shoulders, the bull at once caught sight of the man who had thus suddenly appeared. At that instant the Eskimo threw up his left arm. This action, instead of frightening the brutes away, caused them to raise themselves high out of the water, in order to have a good look at the strange creature who had thus dared to disturb them in their watery home. This was just what the native wanted. It gave him a chance of driving the harpoon under the flipper of the male. The instant this was done he caught up the end of his coil and ran quickly back to the full length of the line.
The battle that now begun was perhaps one of the fiercest that was ever fought in the Arctic regions. The walrus lashed the water furiously for a second or two and dived. This checked the native, who at once stopped running, drove the sharp point of a little piece of wood into the ice, and put the loop at the end of his line over it. He pressed the loop close down to the ice with his feet, so that he could hold on when it tightened, which it did with great force. But the line was a stout one. It had been cut from the hide of a walrus, and prepared in a peculiar way for the purpose of standing a heavy strain.
The Eskimo now played the monster as an angler plays a trout. At one moment he held on, the next he eased off. The line was sometimes like a bar of iron, then it was slackened off as the animal rose and darted about. After this had happened once or twice the bull came to the surface, blowing tremendously, and began to bark and roar in great fury. The female came up at the same time. She evidently meant to stick by her partner and share his danger. The others had dived and made off at the first sign of war.
The wounded walrus was a little flurried and very angry; the female was not at all frightened, she was passionately furious! Both of them tore up the ice tables with their great ivory tusks, and glared at their enemy with an expression that there was no mistaking. The walrus is well known to be one of the fiercest animals in the world. Woe to the poor native if he had been caught by these monsters at that time.
After some minutes spent in uselessly smashing the ice and trying to get at the native, they both dived. Now came into play the Eskimo's knowledge of the animal's habits and his skill in this curious kind of warfare. Before diving they looked steadily at the man for a second, and then swam under the ice straight for the spot where he stood. The Eskimo of course could not see this, but he knew it from past experience. He therefore changed his position instantly; ran a few yards to one side, and planted his stick and loop again. This had hardly been done when the ice burst up with a loud crash; a hole of more than fifteen feet wide was made on the exact spot which the man had quitted, and the walrus appeared with a puff like that of a steam-engine, and a roar that would have done credit to a lion.
The great lumpish-looking heads and square-cut faces of the creatures looked frightful at this point in the fight. There was something like human intelligence in their malicious and brutal faces, as the water poured down their cheeks and over their bristling beards, mingled with blood and foam.
At this moment there was a shout close at hand, and two other Eskimos ran out from behind the ice-hummocks and joined their comrade. They were armed with long lances, the handles of which were made of bone, and the points of beautiful white ivory tipped with steel. It was afterwards discovered that these natives obtained small pieces of iron and steel from the Eskimos further south, who were in the habit of trading at the settlements on the coast of Greenland.
The strangers at once ran to the edge of the pool and gave the bull walrus two deep wounds with their lances. They also wounded the female. This seemed to render them more furious than ever. They dived again. The first Eskimo again shifted his position, and the others ran back a short distance. They were not a moment too soon in these changes, for the ice was again burst upward at the spot they had just quitted, and the enraged beasts once more came bellowing to the surface and vented their fury on the ice.
It may seem almost incredible to the reader, but it is a fact, that this battle lasted fully four hours. At the end of the third hour it seemed to the sailors who were watching it, that the result was still doubtful, for the Eskimos were evidently becoming tired, while the monsters of the Polar seas were still furious.
"I think we might help them with a butlet," whispered Baker. "It might frighten them, perhaps, but it would save them a good deal of trouble."
"Wait a little longer," replied Gregory. "I have it in my mind to astonish them. You see they have wounded the female very badly, but when the male dies, which he cannot now be long of doing, she will dive and make off, and so they'll lose her, for they don't seem to have another harpoon and line."
"Perhaps they have one behind the hummocks," suggested Davy Butts, whose teeth were chattering in his head with cold.
"If they had they would have used it long ago," said Gregory. "At any rate I mean to carry out my plan—which is this. When the bull is about dead I will fire at the female and try to hit her in a deadly part, so as to kill her at once. Then, Sam, you will run out with our harpoon and dart into her to prevent her sinking, or diving if she should not be killed. And you, Davy, will follow me and be ready with a musket."
This plan had just been settled when the bull walrus began to show signs of approaching death. Gregory therefore took a deliberate aim with the rifle and fired. The result was startling! The female walrus began to roll and lash about furiously, smashing the ice and covering the sea around with bloody foam. At first the Eskimos stood motionless—rooted to the spot, as if they had been thunderstruck. But when they saw Sam Baker dart from behind the hummock, flourishing his harpoon, followed by Gregory and Butts, their courage deserted them; they turned in terror and fled.
On getting behind the hummocks, however, they halted and peeped over the ledges of ice to see what the seamen did.
Sam Baker, being an old whaleman, darted his harpoon cleverly, and held fast the struggling animal. At the same time Davy Butts seized the end of the line which the natives had thrown down in terror, and held on to the bull. It was almost dead, and quite unable to show any more fight. Seeing that all was right, Gregory now laid down his rifle and advanced slowly to the hummock, behind which the Eskimos had taken refuge.
He knew, from the reports of previous travellers, that holding up both arms is a sign of peace with the Eskimos. He therefore stopped when within a short distance of the hummocks and held up his arms. The signal was understood at once. The natives leaped upon the top of the hummock and held up their arms in reply. Again Gregory tossed up his, and made signs to them to draw near. This they did without hesitation, and the doctor shook them by the hand and patted their hairy shoulders. They were all of them stout, well-made fellows, about five feet seven or eight inches high, and very broad across the shoulders. They were fat, too, and oily-faced, jolly-looking men. They smiled and talked to each other for a few moments and then spoke to Gregory, but when he shook his head, as much as to say, "I don't understand you," they burst into a loud laugh. Then they suddenly became grave, and ran at full speed toward the hole where the walrus floated.
Davy Butts made the usual sign of friendship and handed them the end of their line, which they seized, and set about securing their prize without taking any farther notice of their new friends.
The manner in which these wild yet good-natured fellows hauled the enormous carcass out of the water was simple and ingenious. They made four cuts in the neck, about two inches apart from each other, and raised the skin between these cuts, thus making two bands. Through one of these bands they passed a line, and carried it to a stick made fast in the ice, where they passed it through a loop of well-greased hide. It was then carried back to the animal, made to pass under the second band, and the end was hauled in by the Eskimos. This formed a sort of double purchase, that enabled them to pull out of the hole a carcass which double their numbers could not have hauled up.
Some idea of the bull's weight may be formed when I say that the carcass was eighteen feet long and eleven feet in circumference at the thickest part. There were no fewer than sixty deep lance-wounds in various parts of its body.
When seen close at hand the walrus is a very ugly monster. It is something like a gigantic seal, having two large flippers, or fins, near its shoulders, and two others behind, that look like its tail. It uses these in swimming, but can also use them on land, so as to crawl, or rather to bounce forward in a clumsy fashion. By means of its fore-flippers it can raise itself high out of the water, and get upon the ice and rocks. It is fond of doing this, and is often found sleeping in the sunshine on the ice and on rocks. It has even been known to scramble up the side of an island to a height of a hundred feet, and there lie basking in the sun.
Nevertheless, the water is the proper element of the walrus. All its motions are clumsy and slow until it gets into the sea; there it is "at home." Its upper face has a square, bluff look, and its broad muzzle and cheeks are covered by a coarse beard of bristles, like quills. The two white tusks point downward. In this they are unlike to those of the elephant. The tusks of the bull killed on this occasion were thirty inches long. The hide of the walrus is nearly an inch thick, and is covered with close, short hair. Beneath the skin he has a thick layer of fat, and this enables him to resist the extreme cold in the midst of which he dwells.
The walrus is of great value to the Eskimos. But for it and the seal these poor members of the human family could not exist at all in those frozen regions. As it is, it costs them a severe struggle to keep the life in their bodies. But they do not complain of what seems to us a hard lot. They have been born to it. They know no happier condition of life. They wish for no better home, and the All-wise Creator has fitted them admirably, both in mind and body, to live and even to enjoy life in a region where most other men could live only in great discomfort, if they could exist at all.
The Eskimos cut the walrus' thick hide into long lines with which they hunt—as we have seen. They do not cut these lines in strips and join them in many places; but, beginning at one end of the skin, they cut round and round without break to the centre, and thus secure a line of many fathoms in length.
It is truly said that "necessity is the mother of invention." These natives have no wood. Not a single tree grows in the whole land of which I am writing. There are plenty of plants, grasses, mosses, and beautiful flowers in summer—growing, too, close beside ice-fields that remain unmelted all the year round. But there is not a tree large enough to make a harpoon of. Consequently the Eskimos are obliged to make sledges of bones; and as the bones and tusks of the walrus are not big enough for this purpose, they tie and piece them together in a remarkably neat and ingenious manner.
Sometimes, indeed, they find pieces of drift-wood in the sea. Wrecks of whale-ships, too, are occasionally found by the natives in the south of Greenland. A few pieces of the precious wood obtained in this way are exchanged from one tribe to another, and so find their way north. But the further north we go the fewer pieces of this kind of wood do we find; and in the far north, where our adventurous voyagers were now ice-bound, the Eskimos have very little wood, indeed.
Food is the chief object which the Eskimo has in view when he goes out to do battle with the walrus. Its flesh is somewhat coarse, no doubt, but it is excellent, nourishing food notwithstanding, and although a well-fed Englishman might turn up his nose at it, many starving Englishmen have smacked their lips over walrus-beef in days gone by— aye, and have eaten it raw, too, with much delight!
Let not my reader doubt the truth of this. Well-known and truth-loving men have dwelt for a time in those regions, and some of these have said that they actually came to prefer the walrus flesh raw, because it was more strengthening, and fitted them better for undertaking long and trying journeys in extremely cold weather. One of the most gallant men who ever went to the Polar seas, (Dr Kane, of the American navy), tells us, in his delightful book, "Arctic Explorations", that he frequently ate raw flesh and liked it, and that the Eskimos often eat it raw. In fact, they are not particular. They will eat it cooked or raw—just as happens to be most convenient for them.
When the animals, whose killing I have described, were secured, the Eskimos proceeded to skin and cut them up. The sailors, of course, assisted, and learned a lesson. While this was going on one of their number went away for a short time, and soon returned with a sledge drawn by about a dozen dogs. This they loaded with the meat and hide of the bull, intending evidently to leave the cow to their new friends, as being their property. But Gregory thought they were entitled to a share of it, so, after loading his sledge with a considerable portion of the meat, he gave them the remainder along with the hide.