Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation and unusual spelling and punctuation in the original document have been preserved. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected in this text. For a complete list, and further notes, please see the end of this document.
LEFT ON LABRADOR
Or The Cruise of the Schooner-Yacht "Curlew" as Recorded by "Wash"
Author of "Lynx-Hunting," "Fox-Hunting," "Camping Out," "Off to the Geysers," "On the Amazons," Etc.
New York Hurst & Company Publishers
Sequel to the "Graphite Lode."—The Fifteen Thousand Dollars, and how it was invested.—About the Yacht.— The Schooner "Curlew."—Capt. Mazard.—Guard.—The Gloucester Boys.—"Palmleaf, Sar."—Getting Ready for the Voyage.—Ship-Stores.—The Howitzer.—The Big Rifle.—A Good Round Bill at the Outset 9
Up Anchor, and away.—What the Old Folks thought of it.—The Narrator's Preface.—"Squeamish."—A North-easter.—Foggy.—The Schooner "Catfish."— Catching Cod-Fish on the Grand Bank.—The First Ice.—The Polar Current.—The Lengthening Day.—Cape Farewell.—We bear away for Cape Resolution.—Hudson's Straits.—Its Ice and Tides 28
Cape Resolution.—The Entrance into Hudson's Straits.— The Sun in the North-east.—The Resolution Cliffs— Sweating among Icebergs.—A Shower and a Fog—An Anxious Night.—A Strange Rumbling.—Singular Noises and Explosions—Running into an Iceberg.—In Tow.—A Big Hailstone drops on Deck.—Boarding an Iceberg.—Solution of the Explosions.—A Lucky Escape 45
The Fog lifts.—A Whale in Sight.—Craggy Black Mountains capped with Snow.—A Novel Carriage for the Big Rifle.—Mounting the Howitzer.—A Doubtful Shot.—The Lower Savage Isles.—A Deep Inlet.— "Mazard's Bay."—A Desolate Island.—An Ice-Jam.—A Strange Blood-red Light.—Solution of the Mystery.— Going Ashore.—Barren Ledges.—Beds of Moss.—A Bald Peak.—An Alarm.—The Schooner in Jeopardy.—The Crash and Thunder of the Ice.—Tremendous Tides 69
A Dead Narwhal.—Snowy Owls.—Two Bears in Sight.— Firing on them with the Howitzer.—A Bear-Hunt among the Ice.—An Ice "Jungle."—An Exciting Chase.—The Bear turns.—Palmleaf makes "a Sure Shot."—"Run, you Black Son!" 93
The Middle Savage Isles.—Glimpse of an Esquimau Canoe.—Firing at a Bear with the Cannon-Rifle.—A Strange Sound.—The Esquimaux.—Their Kayaks.—They come on board.—An Unintelligible Tongue.—"Chymo." 106
The Husky Belles.—We-we and Caubvick.—"Abb," she said.—All Promenade.—Candy at a Discount.— "Pillitay, pillitay!"—Old Trull and the Husky Matron.—Gorgeous Gifts.—Adieu to the Arctic Beauties 125
The Husky Chief.—Palmleaf Indignant.—A Gun.—Sudden Apparition of the Company's Ship.—We hold a Hasty Council.—In the Jaws of the British Lion.—An Armed Boat.—Repel Boarders!—Red-Face waxes wrathful.— Fired on, but no Bones Broken 140
A Barren Shore, and a Strange Animal, which is captured by blowing up its Den.—Palmleaf falls in with the Esquimaux, and is chased by them.—"Twau-ve!"—"A Close Shave."—An Attack threatened.—The Savages dispersed with the Howitzer 162
The Dip of the Needle.—The North Magnetic Pole.—A Kayak Bottom up, with its Owner Head down.— Ice-Patches.—Anchoring to an Ice-Floe.—A Bear-hunt in the Fog.—Bruin charges his Enemies.—Soundings.— The Depth of the Straits 186
"Isle Aktok."—A Sea-Horse and a Sea-Horse Hunt.—In High Spirits.—Sudden Interruption of the Hunt.—A Heavy Gun.—The Race to the Ledge-Tops.—Too Late.—A Disheartening Spectacle.—Surprised by the Company's Ship.—The Schooner in Peril.—Capt. Mazard bravely waits.—The Flight of "The Curlew" amid a Shower of Balls.—The Chase.—Left on the Islet.—A Gloomy Prospect.—"What shall we have for Grub to ate?"— Wild-Geese.—Egging.—"Boom!"—A Sea-Horse Fire 200
The "Spider."—Fried Eggs.—The "Plates."—"Awful Fresh!"—No Salt.—Plans for getting Salt from Sea-Water.—Ice-Water.—Fried Goose.—Plans to escape.—A Gloomy Night.—Fight with a Walrus.— Another "Wood-Pile."—Wade Sick.—A Peevish Patient and a Fractious Doctor.—The Manufacture of Salt 226
More Salt.—Some Big Hailstones.—A Bright Aurora.—The Lookout.—An Oomiak heaves in Sight.—The Huskies land on a Neighboring Island.—Shall we join them?—A Bold, Singular, not to say Infamous, Proposition from Kit.—Some Sharp Talk.—Kit's Project carried by Vote 250
We set up a Military Despotism on "Isle Aktok."—"No Better than Filibusters!"—The Seizure of the Oomiak.—The Seal Tax—A Case of Discipline.— Wutchee and Wunchee.—The Inside of a Husky Hut.—"Eigh, Eigh!"—An Esquimau Ball.—A Funeral.— Wutchee and Wunchee's Cookery.—The Esquimau Whip 267
Winter at Hand.—We hold a Serious Council.—"Cold! oh, how Cold!"—A Midnight Gun.—The Return of "The Curlew."—"A J'yful 'Casion."—A Grand Distribution of Presents.—Good-by to the Husky Girls.—A Singular Savage Song.—We All get Sentimental.—Adieu to "Isle Aktok."—Homeward Bound.—We engage "The Curlew" and her Captain for Another Year 291
Those of our readers who may have read "Camping Out," the first volume of the "Camping-Out Series," will probably recall the circumstance of the graphite lode, and the manner in which it was left to Raed to dispose of. As the reason was too far advanced at the time of his negotiations with the unknown gentlemen to permit of a trip to Katahdin that fall, the whole affair was postponed till the following spring.
On the 27th of April, Raed set out for Bangor. At Portland, Me., he was joined by the gentlemen (their names we are not at liberty to give); and at Bangor Kit met the party. Thence they went up to the mountain, where they had no difficulty in rediscovering the lode. That the examination was satisfactory will be seen from the first chapter of young Burleigh's narrative, which we subjoin. It is an account of their first yacht-cruise north. The schooner "Curlew," with the party, sailed from "Squam" (Gloucester, north village) on the 10th of June.
On the 7th of July they made Cape Resolution on the north side of the entrance of Hudson Straits. Thenceforward, till their escape from that icy passage in August, their voyage was one continued series of startling adventures amid some of the grandest and most terrible scenery the earth affords.
Of the plan of self-education adopted and acted upon by these young gentlemen we may remark, that it is singularly bold and original in its conception. If persevered in, we have no doubt that the result will fully justify their expectations. Unless we are much mistaken, it will be, as they modestly hope, a pioneer movement, looking to a much-needed revolution in the present sedentary programme of collegiate study.
LEFT ON LABRADOR.
Sequel to the "Graphite Lode."—The Fifteen Thousand Dollars, and how it was invested.—About the Yacht.—The Schooner "Curlew."—Capt. Mazard.—Guard.—The Gloucester Boys.—"Palmleaf, Sar."—Getting Ready for the Voyage.—Ship-Stores.—The Howitzer.—The Big Rifle.—A Good Round Bill at the Outset.
Raed got home from Katahdin on the night of the 15th of May. Kit came with him; and together they called on Wade and the writer of the following narrative early on the morning of the 16th. Brown enough both boys looked, exposed as they had been to the tanning winds for more than a fortnight.
"Jubilate!" shouted Raed, as I opened the door. "Latest news from Mount Katahdin,—graphite stock clean up to the moon!"
Wade came looking down stairs, nothing on but his gown and slippers. At sight of his tousled head both our callers gave a whoop of recognition, and set upon him,—shook him out of his slippers, and pulled him down the steps on to the sidewalk barefoot; thereby scandalizing a whole houseful of prim damsels across the street, who indignantly pulled down their curtains. Such a hand-shaking and back-patting as ensued! All the hardships and discouragement we had endured on our last season's expedition seemed to bear an exultant harvest in this our final success.
"But you haven't been to breakfast!" exclaimed Kit.
"So they haven't!" cried Raed. "Well, can't do business till they have their breakfast. We'll leave 'em to guzzle their coffee in peace. But hurry up! We must hold a council this morning,—have a grand pow-wow! Come round at nine sharp."
They were off.
We ate breakfast, and went down to Raed's, where we got into the back parlor, shut the doors, and proceeded to pow-wow. Wade was chosen president of the meeting; Kit, secretary.
"First," said Raed, "allow me to give an account of my stewardship. No need of going into details. We went up to Katahdin; found the lode. Messrs. Hammer and Tongs were well satisfied. The fifteen thousand dollars was paid without so much as winking. Might have had twenty thousand dollars just as well; but I didn't know it when I made the offer. Hope you won't be dissatisfied with me. Here's the money; two checks,—one on the First National Bank for nine thousand dollars, the other on the Maverick National Bank for six thousand dollars."
"I move we accept the gentleman's statement, and tender our sincere thanks for his eminently successful services," said a voice.
The motion was seconded by Kit, and carried.
"Question now arises," Raed resumed, "What shall we do with this money? Of course we must plant it somewhere, have it growing, what we don't want to use immediately."
"Might speculate a little with it," suggested Wade, "so as to double it up along."
"And risk losing the whole of it," put in Kit.
"'Nothing risked, nothing gained,'" quoted Wade. "What say, Raed? Why not buy gold?"
"Better put it into bonds," said Kit; "safer, a good deal."
"Don't know about that," remarked Wade. "Your abolition government may turn a somersault some fine morning."
"Well, it won't strike on its head if it does,—like a certain government we've all heard of," retorted Kit.
"Call the president and secretary to order, somebody!" cried Raed.
"Now about buying gold," he continued. "There's nothing to be made in gold just now, especially with fifteen thousand dollars: if we had a million, it might be worth talking of. I really don't just know where to put our little fifteen thousand dollars to make it pull the hardest. Suppose we run down and have a talk with our legal friend, Mr. H——" (the same who had advised us relative to the "lode").
We went down. Our gentleman had just come in. Raed stated our case. H—— heard it.
"So you want to speculate a little," said he pleasantly. "Good boys. That's right. Won't work yourselves; won't even let your money work honestly: want to set it to cheating somebody. Well, you must remember that the biter sometimes gets bitten."
"Oh! we don't want anything hazardous," explained Raed.
"Yes, I see," remarked Mr. H——; "something not too sharp, sort of over and above board, and tolerably safe."
"That's about our style," remarked Wade.
"Well, I'm doing a little something by way of Back-Bay land speculation. That would be near home for you; and you can go in your whole pile, or only a thousand, just as you choose."
"Back-bay land," said Kit. "Where is this Back-bay land?"
"Well, there you've got me," replied Mr. H——, laughing. "It would be rather hard telling where the land is. In fact, the land is most all water. The land part has yet to be made. There's room to make it, however. I mean out in the Back Bay, north-west of the city here, along the Charles River. City is growing rapidly out that way. We have got up a sort of company of share-owners of the space out on the tidal marsh. These shares can be bought and sold. As I said, the city is growing in that direction. There's a steady rise in value per square foot. Value may double in a year. Put in ten thousand now, and it may be worth twenty by next year at this time."
"But is there really any bottom to it?" asked Wade.
"Oh, yes! geologists think there's bottom out there somewhere. But we shareholders don't trouble ourselves about the bottom."
"I mean bottom to the company," interrupted Raed.
"Yes, yes. Well, that's another matter. But then you will be dealt honestly with, if that's what you mean by bottom. Of course, you must take the risk with the rest of us. You put in ten thousand: and, if you want me to do so, I will be on the lookout for your interests; tell you when to sell, you know; and, in case there should be like to come a crash, I'll tip you a wink when to stand from under."
"Then you advise us to invest in this?" queried Raed.
"Well, I should say that it was as well as you can do."
"What say, fellows?" Raed inquired, turning to us.
"Perhaps we could not do better," said Kit. "I suppose this property comes under the head of real estate; and real estate is generally considered safe property. You call it real estate, don't you, Mr. H——?"
"Yes, yes; as near real estate as anything. It's kind of amphibious; half real estate certainly,—more'n half when the tide is out."
So we purchased that afternoon, through Mr. H——, ten thousand dollars' worth of Back-bay land. Of our remaining five thousand dollars, we put three thousand dollars into 5-20 bonds, and deposited the remaining two thousand dollars ready for immediate use. That was about all we did that day.
In the evening we went to hear Parepa, who was then in town; and the next morning met at nine, at Raed's again, to pow-wow further concerning the yacht.
"It is too late," said Kit after we were again snug in the back parlor, "to get a yacht built and launched so as to make a voyage this summer. Such a vessel as we want can't be built and got off the stocks in much, if any, less than a year. What are we to do meanwhile?—wait for it?"
"No," said Wade.
"No," said Raed.
"What then?" asked Kit.
"Hire a vessel," I suggested.
"Can we do that?" asked Wade.
It seemed likely that we could.
"Has it ever occurred to any of you that we none of us know anything about sailing a vessel?—anything to speak of, I mean?" Kit inquired.
We had all been vaguely aware of such a state of things; but not till now had we been brought face to face with it.
"It would be the worst kind of folly for us to go out of port alone," I couldn't help saying.
"Of course it would," replied Kit.
"I'm well aware of that," said Raed. "We shall have to learn seamanship somehow."
"Besides," remarked Wade, "sailing a vessel wouldn't be very light nor very pleasant work for us, I'm thinking. If we could afford to hire a good skipper, it would be better."
"We shall have to hire one till we learn how to manage a vessel ourselves," replied Raed.
"And not only a skipper, but sailors as well," said Kit. "What shall we be able to do the first week out, especially if it be rough weather?"
"Do you suppose we shall be much seasick?" Wade asked suddenly.
"Very likely we shall be sick, when it's rough, for a while," said Raed. "We must expect it, and get over it the best way we can."
"Now, suppose we are able to hire a schooner such as we want, with a skipper, and a crew of five or six," he continued: "where shall we make our first cruise?"
"Along the coast of Maine," I suggested. "From Casco Bay to Eastport. Several yachts were down there last summer. Found good fishing. Had a fine time. There are harbors all along, so that they could go in every night."
"Just the place for our first voyage!" exclaimed Wade.
"It seems to me," replied Raed, "that if we hire a good stanch schooner and skipper, with a crew, we might do something more than just cruise along the coast of Maine, fish a little, and then come back."
"So it does to me," said Kit. "We should never get on our polar voyage at that rate. If we are going into all this expense, let's go up as far as the 'Banks' of Newfoundland, anyway."
"And why not a little farther," said Raed, "if the weather was good, and we met with no accident? If everything went well, why not sail on up to the entrance of Hudson Straits, and get a peep at the Esquimaux?"
"Raed never'll be satisfied till he gets into Hudson Bay," laughed Wade. "What is there so attractive about Hudson Bay? I can't imagine."
"Because," said Raed, "it's an almost unknown sea. Ever since it was first discovered by the noble navigator, who perished somewhere along its shores, it has been shut up from the world in the hands of a few selfish individuals, who got the charter of the Hudson-bay Company from the King of England. They own it and all the country about it and run it for their own profit only. About that great bay there is a coast-line of more than two thousand miles, with Indian tribes on its shores as wild and savage as when Columbus first came to America. Just think of the adventure and wild scenery one might witness on a voyage round there! It's a shame we Americans can't go in there if we want to. The idea of letting half a dozen little red-faced men in London rule, hold, and keep everybody else out of that great region! It's a disgrace to us. Their old charter ought to have been taken away from them long ago. I don't know that I shall go there this year, nor next: but I mean to go into that bay sometime, and sail round there, and trade and talk with the savages as much as I choose; and, if the company undertakes to hinder me, I'll fight for it; for they've no moral right nor business to keep us out."
"Good on your head!" cried Kit, patting him encouragingly.
"A war with England seems to be imminent!" exclaimed Wade. "Methinks I hear the boom of cannon!"
Raed looked dubious a moment, but immediately began to laugh. He is rather apt to fly off on such tangents. We have to sprinkle him with ridicule a little: that always brings him out of it all right again.
"Well," said he, "waiving that subject, what say for going as far north as Hudson Straits, if everything should work favorably?"
We had none of us anything to urge against this.
"But we must not forget that we have not yet hired a vessel," added Kit.
"No," said Raed; "and the sooner we find out what we can do, the better."
That afternoon Wade and I went down to the wharves to make inquiries. Raed and Kit went out to Gloucester, it being quite probable that some sort of a craft might be found out of employ there. Wade and I were unable to see or hear of anything at all to our minds in our harbor, and came up home at about seven, P.M. Kit and Raed had not got back; nor did they come in the morning, nor during the next day. A few minutes before eight in the evening, however, we received a despatch from Portland, Me., saying, "Come down and see it."
We went down on the morning train. The boys were at the depot.
"Couldn't find a thing at Gloucester nor Newburyport nor Portsmouth," said Raed. "But I think we've struck something here, if we can stand the expense."
"Eight out here at the wharf," said Kit.
We walked across.
"There she is!" pointed Raed.
A pretty schooner of a hundred and seventy tons lay alongside.
"One year old," Raed explained. "Clean and sweet as a nut. Here from Bangor with pine-lumber. Captain's a youngish man, but a good sailor. We inquired about him. Appears like a good fellow too. Has been on a cod-fisher up to the Banks; also on a sealer off Labrador. He's our man, I think."
"And the best of it all is," said Kit, "he owns the schooner; can go if he's a mind to. So we sha'n't be bothered with any old musty-fusty owners."
"Well, what does he say?" asked Wade.
"He says he will put us up there this summer if we will give him a hundred dollars per month, pay full insurance fees on the vessel, hire him six good seamen, and give three hundred dollars for the use of schooner; we, of course, to furnish ship-stores and provide a cook."
"Gracious! that's going to cost us something," said I.
"Yes; but it's about the best and only thing we can do," said Kit.
"Why does he want a new crew?" Wade asked. "Why does he not keep these he has?"
"Says that these are all inexperienced,—green hands," replied Raed. "If we are going up there among the ice on a dangerous coast, he wants Gloucester boys,—Gloucester or Nantucket; prefers Gloucester. Thinks six Gloucester lads will be about the right thing."
"Where is he?" asked Wade.
"Up at the Preble House."
We went up; when Wade and I were formally introduced to Capt. George Mazard of the schooner "Curlew." Had dinner with him. Liked him. He appeared then, as we have since proved him, a thoroughly good-hearted, clear-headed sailor. As Raed had hinted, he was quite a young man,—not more than twenty-seven or eight; middle height, but strong; face brown and frank; features good; manner a little serious; and attentive to business when on duty. On the whole, the man was rather grave for one of his years. Occasionally, however, when anything particularly pleased him, he developed a vein of strong, rich mirth, which would endure for several hours. He impressed us at once as a reliable man,—one to be depended on under any ordinary circumstances. We decided (very wisely as I now think) to accept his offer; and, after dinner, went down to the Marine Insurance Office to take out a policy on the vessel. On learning that we were intending to enter Hudson Straits, the agent refused to underwrite us: it was too ugly a risk. He either couldn't or didn't want to understand the object of our voyage. Here was a stick. Capt. Mazard declined to sail uninsured unless we would take the risk. We did not much like to do that. Finally Raed offered on our side to assume one-half the risk. After some hesitation, this was agreed to; and a paper to that effect was drawn up and signed.
We then went down to the wharf where "The Curlew" lay.
A fine, shaggy Newfoundland dog, black as a crow, came growling up the companion-way as we jumped down on deck, but, perceiving the captain, began to race and tear about with great barks of canine delight.
"That's a jolly big dog!" Kit remarked. "Keeps watch here while you are off?"
"Yes, sir. Don't want a better hand. Never leaves the schooner without I bid him. Wants his dinner too, I guess. I haven't been here since last night."
"What's his name?" said Wade.
"He's a noble fellow," observed Raed. "Hope you will take him along with you."
"I should be loath to go off without him."
Some changes below deck seemed necessary; and we arranged for having the hold floored over, and a sort of rough saloon made, running nearly the whole length of the vessel. Off the forward end of this saloon was to be parted a cook's galley, with another section for the seamen's berths. Also arranged for a skylight in the deck; in short, for having the schooner made as convenient as possible for our purpose, at our expense.
Leaving Capt. Mazard to superintend these changes, we went back to Gloucester in the morning, and during the day managed to hire six sailors, young fellows of eighteen and twenty, save one, an old sea-dog of fifty or thereabouts, at forty dollars per month. They looked a little rough, but turned out to be very good sailors; which was the most we wanted. Their names, as they gave them to us, were Richard Donovan, Henry Corliss, Jerry Hobbs, Thomas Bonney, and George Weymouth. The elder salt called himself John Somers; though it leaked out shortly after that he had formerly flourished under the less euphonious patronymic of Solomon Trull.
Went home that evening, and the next day advertised for a cook. It was answered by three colored "gemmen," two of whom modestly withdrew their application when they found where we were going, not caring to brave the chill of polar latitudes. The other, who was not a little tattered in his wardrobe, and correspondingly reckless, was quite willing to set his face toward the pole. Although but recently from "Sou' Car'liny, sar," and black as a crow, he assured us he could stand the cold "jes' like a fly, sar."
"What name?" Raed asked.
"Charles Sumner Harris, sar. Been cook on oyster-schooner, sar."
"Charles Sumner Harris!" exclaimed Wade, who was coming in. "You never wore that name in South Carolina."
"No, sar; lately 'dopted it, sar."
"What was your old name?" demanded Wade, looking at him as if he was about to give him five hundred lashes.
The man hesitated.
"When you were a slave, I mean. Yes, you were: don't deny it."
"They called me Palmleaf den, sar."
"Very well: that's what I shall call you. None of your Charles Sumner Harrises!"
"Oh! don't bully him," Kit said. "Give him a chance for himself."
"We shall see enough of his airs," Wade muttered.
He was a rather hard-looking citizen. We engaged him, however, at thirty dollars a month; and it is but simple justice to him and his race to add, that, like the traditionary singed cat, he did better than his general appearance would have guaranteed at that time.
The next morning we wrote to Capt. Mazard with directions to take "The Curlew" into Gloucester as soon as the carpenter-work was finished. He would need two or three hands temporarily. These were to be hired, and their car-fare back to Portland paid, at our expense.
Another matter now came up. It was quite possible that we might encounter ice at the entrance of Davis Straits, as well as in Hudson Straits, if we should venture in there: indeed, we might be caught in the ice. "The Curlew," though a stanch schooner, was only strengthened in the ordinary way.
"Will it not be best and safest," Raed argued, "to have her strengthened with cross-beams and braces? A few strong beams of this sort might save the vessel from being crushed."
As we were held to pay half the cost of the schooner in case of such an accident, to say nothing of our personal peril, we judged it prudent to neglect no means to render the voyage as safe as possible. Accordingly, we went out to Gloucester, and arranged for having it done; also for getting in water and fuel. In short, there seemed no end to the items to be seen to. If ever four fellows were kept busy, we were the four from the 20th of May to the 6th of June. Our ship-stores we bought in Boston, and had them sent to Gloucester by rail. It seemed desirable for us landsmen to have our food as nearly like that we had been in the habit of having as possible. We accordingly purchased five barrels of flour (not a little of it spoiled) at eight dollars per barrel; three of salt pork at sixteen dollars per barrel; two of beef at twelve dollars; six of potatoes at two dollars and fifty cents; two fifty-pound tubs of butter at thirty-five cents per pound; coffee, tea, sugar, and "preserves" to the tune of sixty dollars; and two hundred pounds corn-meal, four dollars.... Then there were a score of other little necessaries, amounting to near fifty dollars; in all, a bill of two hundred and seventy-four dollars. These stores were bought at our own suggestion. It would have been better to have taken the advice of some experienced shipmaster: it might have cost us less, and we should afterwards have fared better, to have done so.
I remember that we took along a lot of confectioneries, both for our own delectation and also to "treat" the Esquimaux on! That was a wild shot. As well offer an Esquimau cold boiled parsnip as a stick of candy. We also had two boxes of lemons! Which of us was responsible for the proposition for lemonade in Hudson Straits has never been satisfactory settled. We none of us can remember how the lemons came on board. Wade says they were bought as an antidote for sea-sickness. A far more sensible article of traffic was twenty dollars' worth of iron in small bars; four dozen large jack-knives; twenty butcher-knives, and the same number of hatchets. We had also a web of red flannel at twenty dollars; in all, ninety dollars.
For mattresses, blankets, "comforters," and buffalo-skins, there was expended the sum of a hundred and twenty-three dollars. Ten Springfield rifles at ten dollars each (bought at an auction-sale), with a quantity of cartridges, one hundred and twelve dollars. For an old six-pound howitzer, purchased by Capt. Mazard from a schooner supposed to have been engaged in the slave-trade, nineteen dollars; and for ammunition (powder, iron shot, and a lot of small bullets), thirty-seven dollars.
For firing at seals or bears from the deck of the schooner, we had made, at Messrs, R. & Co.'s machine-shop, a large rifle of about an inch bore, and set like a miniature cannon in a wrought-iron frame, arranged with a swivel for turning it, and a screw for elevating or depressing the muzzle. This novel weapon was, as I must needs own, one of my projection, and was always a subject for raillery from my comrades. Its cost, including the mounting, was ninety-seven dollars. In all, three hundred and eighty-eight dollars.
Then there were other bills, including the cost of several nautical telescopes, also ice-anchors, ice-chisels, sounding-line, hawsers, &c., to the sum of a hundred and three dollars.
The lumber and carpenter work on "The Curlew" at Portland made a bill of a hundred and nine dollars; seamen's wages to Gloucester, with car-fare back, nineteen dollars; bracing and strengthening the schooner, sixty-seven dollars; cost of getting in fuel and water, thirty-three dollars; and other bills to the amount of forty-nine dollars: in all, two hundred and seventy-seven dollars. We had thus to pay out at the start over eleven hundred dollars. Capt. Mazard, too, was kept as busy as ourselves superintending the work, putting the vessel in ballast, &c. Indeed, it's no small job to get ready for such a cruise. We had no idea of it when we began.
Up Anchor, and away.—What the Old Folks thought of it—The Narrator's Preface.—"Squeamish."—A North-easter.—Foggy.—The Schooner "Catfish."—Catching Cod-Fish on the Grand Bank.—The First Ice.—The Polar Current.—The Lengthening Day.—Cape Farewell.—We bear away for Cape Resolution.—Hudson's Straits.—Its Ice and Tides.
[In Wash's manuscript, the voyage as far as Cape Resolution occupies four chapters. We have been obliged to condense it into one, as indicated by periods.—ED.]
On the afternoon of the 9th of June, Capt. Mazard telegraphed, "Can sail to-morrow morning if the wind serves."
We had been ready several days, waiting for the last job,—strengthening the schooner.
Good-by was said; and, going out to Gloucester, we went on board to pass the night.
As some of our readers may perhaps feel inclined to ask what our "folks" said to this somewhat adventurous departure, it may as well be stated that we were obliged to go considerably in opposition to their wishes, advice, counsel; in short, everything that could be said save a down-right veto. It was unavoidable on our part. They could not be brought to look upon our (or rather Raed's) project of self-education as we did; they saw only the danger of the sea. Had we done as they advised, we should have stayed at home. I shall not take it upon me to say what we ought to have done. As a matter of fact, we went, or this narrative would never have been written. Nor can I say conscientiously, by way of moral, that we were ever, for any great length of time, sorry that we went: on the contrary, I now believe it far the best way we could have spent our money; though the experience was a rough one. It may also be added, that we did not publicly state our intention of going so far north as Labrador; one reason for this being, that we were in no wise certain we should go farther than St. John's, Newfoundland.
Our "saloon" was arranged with a sort of divan, or wide seat, along the starboard-side, at about chair-height. On this we laid our mattresses and blankets. Each had his bunk, this divan serving in the place of berths. The captain had his toward the forward end of the apartment. Guard bunked directly under him on an old jacket and pants. Along the port-side there was made fast a strong broad shelf, at table-height, running the entire length: this was for our books and instruments. The captain had the forward end of it, the part fronting his bunk, for his charts and papers. Before this table there was a long bench, fixed conveniently for sitting to read or write. This bench, together with three strong barroom-chairs and four camp-stools, made up our sitting-accommodations. From pegs over the divan and table there hung a miscellaneous collection of powder-horns, rifles, fishing-tackle, tarpauling-hats, rubber coats, and "sou'-westers;" nor had I failed to bring along the old Sharpe's rifle which had done such good service among the moose-stags of Katahdin.
... We had brought "Palmleaf" with us, and now installed him in the galley. As a specimen of his art, we had him make muffins and tea that evening. Very fair they were, with butter and canned peaches.
The men came down during the evening, having been previously notified, and were assigned to their berths. We boys turned in at about eleven, and were only aroused next morning by the rattle of blocks, clank of the windlass, and trampling of feet, on deck.
"We're off!" exclaimed Raed, starting up. "Turn out, and say farewell to 'our native countree.'"
We stumbled up on deck; for it was still quite dark: only a pale-bright belt along the ocean to the eastward showed the far-off coming of the day. The shore and the village looked black as night. We were already several hundred yards from the wharf. A smart, cold breeze gushed out of the north-west. The huge, dim-white sails were filling: "The Curlew" gathered way, and stood out to sea. The chilling breeze, the motion, the ink-black waves, and their sharp cracking on the beach, were altogether a little disheartening at first, coming so suddenly from sleep. We felt not a little inclined to shrink back to our warm blankets; but, mastering this feeling, braced our courage, and drew breath for our long cruise. The captain came aft.
"Ah! good-morning!" he cried, seeing us huddled about the companion-way. "I meant to get off without waking you. We made too much noise. I suppose. Smart breeze this. Make ten knots on it, easy. Could put you to the north pole in fifteen days with such a capful,—if there were no ice in the way," he added.
"We might soon be at Hudson Straits were this to hold," laughed Kit.
"Yes, sir," replied the captain. "Eight days would do it. But of course this is mere fine talk. You are not to look for any thing of the sort."
"We don't," said Raed. "But how long do you suppose it will take to work up there with ordinary weather?"
"Oh! well, for a guess, eighteen days,—anywhere from eighteen to twenty-five. Oughtn't to be over twenty-five with this schooner. Will sail thirteen knots on a wind."
... We were now fairly clear of the shore. The wind freshened. "The Curlew" dashed forward, rising and falling with the swells. The whole east was reddening. The dark spar of the bow-sprit rose and fell through it. It seemed a good omen to be going toward the light. Ere the sun met us on the sea, we were twelve miles out of Gloucester....
Kit had often complained that he had been unable to write up the account of our Katahdin expedition so well as he could have done had he known beforehand that it would have fallen to Jim to do. At his suggestion, Raed, Wade, and myself, this morning, drew lots to sea who would be the historian of the present cruise. The reader, doubtless, has already inferred which of us got the short lot. Well, it was fun for the others, though any thing but fun for me. Nothing but a strong sense of restraining shame, added to the rather inconvenient distance from land, prevented me from deserting. Nature never designed me for a writer. Of that I am convinced; and doubtless my readers will not long differ with me. This is my first literary effort. If I know myself, it will also be my last. Under these circumstances, I beg that such of my young fellow-citizens as may happen to come upon this narrative (and I am not ambitions to have the number large) will kindly forbear to criticise it; for it will not bear criticism. Such of the facts and incidents of our voyage as I have thought would be of interest I have tried to write out. Strictly nautical terms and phrases I have sought to avoid: first, because I believed them of no great interest to the general reader; second, because, with this my first sea-trip, I have not become adept enough in their use to "swing" them with the fluent grace of your true-going, irresistible old salt; and from any other source they are, to my mind, unendurable.
In the plan of education we have marked out for ourselves, it has not been our intention to become sailors. We would merely use the sea and its ships as a means of conveyance in our scheme of travel.
... Breakfast at six o'clock; two messes,—one of the crew, the other comprising our party and the captain. The men had boiled potatoes, fried pork, corn-bread, and biscuit. At our table we had roast potatoes and butter with corn-bread, then biscuit and butter with canned tomatoes. After breakfast, we went on deck a while; but the motion was far too great for comfort. The breeze held. The coast of Massachusetts was low in the west. To the north, the mountains of Maine showed blue on the horizon. We went below to read. Raed had bought, borrowed, and secured every work he could hear of on northern voyages and exploration, particularly those into Hudson Bay. It was our intention to thoroughly read up the subject during our voyage: in a word, to get as good an idea of the northern coast as possible from books, and confirm this idea from actual observation. This was the substance of Raed's plan of study.
... By eleven o'clock we had grown a little sea-sick,—just the slightest feeling of nausea. Kit shuts his book, rests his arm on the table, and leans his head on it.
"You sick?" demands Raed.
"Oh, no! not much; just a little squeamish."
Presently Wade lies down on his mattress, and I immediately ask,—
"Much sick, Wade?" To which he promptly replies,—
"Oh, no! squeamish a little; that's all."
By and by the skipper looks down to inquire, "Sick here, anybody?" To which we all answer at once,—
"Oh, no! only a bit squeamish."'
Squeamish was the word for it till near night, when we seemed suddenly to rally from it, though the motion continued the same; but the wind had veered to the south, and almost wholly lulled. We slept pretty well that night; but the next forenoon the nausea returned, and stuck by us all day. Every one who has been to sea knows how such a day passes. We had expected it, however, and bore it as lightly as possible.
... On the third morning out we found it raining, with the wind north-east. The schooner was kept as near it as possible, making about three knots an hour. The wind increased during the forenoon. By eleven o'clock there was a smart gale on. The rain drove fiercely. We grew sick enough.
"This is worse than the 'poison spring' at Katahdin!" groaned Kit.
The skipper came down.
"Is it a big gale?" Raed managed to ask.
"Just an ordinary north-easter."
"Well, then, I never wish to meet an extraordinary one!" gasped Wade.
The captain mixed us some brandy and water from his own private supply, which we took (as a medicine). But it wouldn't stay down: nothing would stay down. Our stomachs refused to bear the weight of any thing. Night came on: a wretched night it was for us. "The Curlew" floundered on. The view on deck was doubtless grand; but we had neither the legs nor the disposition to get up.... Some time about midnight, a dozen of our six-pound shots, which had been sewed up in a coarse sack and thrown under the table-shelf, by their continued motion worked a gap in the stitches; and three or four of them rolled out, and began a series of races from one end of the cabin to the other, smashing recklessly into the rick of chairs and camp-stools stowed in the forward end. Yet I do not believe one of us would have got up to secure those shot, even if we had known they would go through the side: I am pretty certain I should not. They went back and forth at will, till the captain, hearing the noise, came down, and after a great amount of dodging and grabbing, which might have been amusing at any other time, succeeded in capturing the truants and locking them up. The next day it was no better: wind and rain continued. We were not quite so sick, but even less disposed to get up, talk, or do anything, save to lie flat on our backs. We heard the sailors laughing at and abusing Palmleaf, who was dreadfully sick, and couldn't cook for them. Yet we felt not the least spark of sympathy for him: I do not think we should have interfered had they thrown him overboard. Wade called the poor wretch in, and ordered him, so sick he could scarcely stand, to make a bowl of gruel; and, when he undertook to explain how bad he felt, we all reviled him, and bade him go about his business.
"Nothin' like dis on de oyster schoonah," we heard him muttering as he staggered out.
... The storm had blown us off our course to the south-east considerably; and the next morning we tacked to the northward, and continued due north all that day and the next. It may have been fancy; but we all dated our recovery from this change of course. It had stopped raining, and the wind gradually went down.
Now that the nausea had passed off we were hungry as wolves, and kept Palmleaf, who was now quite recovered, busy cooking all day long.... The weather continued cloudy. The view from the damp deck was dull to the last degree. Capt. Mazard was in considerable doubt as to our latitude. Not a glimpse of the sun had he been able to catch for five days; and during this time we had been sailing sometimes very fast, then scarcely making way in the teeth of the strong north-easter. To the north and north-east the fog banks hung low on the sea. So light was the wind, that the sails scarcely filled. The schooner seemed merely to drift.... Toward night we entered among the fog-banks. The whole face of the sea steamed like a boiling kettle. The mist rose thin and gauze-like. We could scarcely see the length of the deck. It was blind work sailing in such obscurity,—possibly dangerous.
"Have you any idea where we are, captain?" Raed asked. We stood peering ahead from the bow.
"Somewhere off Newfoundland. On the Grand Bank, I think. Fog indicates that. Always foggy here this time o' year."
"It is here that the gulf stream meets the cold currents and ice from Baffin's Bay," said Kit. "The warm current meeting the cold one causes the fog: so they say."
"I have seen the statement," remarked Raed, "that these great banks are all raised from the ocean-bottom by the debris brought along by the gulf stream and the current from Davis Straits."
"But I have read that they are raised by the melting of icebergs," said Wade. "The iceberg has lots of sand and stones frozen into it: when it melts, this matter sinks; and, in the course of ages, the 'banks' here have been formed."
"Perhaps both causes have had a hand in it," said Kit.
"That looks most probable," remarked Capt. Mazard. "These scientific men are very apt to differ on such subjects. One will observe phenomena, and ascribe it wholly to one cause, when perhaps a half-dozen causes have been at work. Another man will ascribe it wholly to another of these causes. And thus they seem to contradict each other, when they are both, in part, right. I've noticed that very frequently since I began to read the scientific books on oceanic matters. They draw their conclusions too hastily, and are too positive on doubtful subjects."
I have often thought of this remark of Capt. Mazard since, when reading some of the "strong points" of our worthy scientists.
"How deep is it here, for a guess?" asked Wade.
"Oh! for a guess, a hundred fathoms; about that."
"Too deep for cod-fishing here?" Raed inquired.
"Rather deep. We'll try them, however, in the morning."
Suddenly, as we were talking, a horn—a genuine old-fashioned dinner-horn—pealed out, seemingly not a hundred yards ahead.
"Port your helm there!" shouted the skipper to Bonney, who was at the wheel. The old sea-dog, Trull, caught up a tin bucket setting near, and began drumming furiously; while the skipper, diving down the companion way, brought up a loaded musket, which he hastily discharged over his head.
"Shout, halloo, scream!" he sang out to us. "Make all the noise you can, to let them know where we are!"
The schooner sheered off, minding her helm; and, at the same moment, we saw the dim outline of a small vessel almost under the bows.
"What ship is that?" demanded Capt. Mazard.
"Schooner 'Catfish' of Gloucester," replied a boyish voice.
"Can you give us the latitude?"
"Can't do it, skippy. Haven't seen the sun for a week. Not far from forty-five degrees, I reckon."
"Are we in any danger of Cape Race?"
"Not a bit. We're more than a hundred miles east of it, I think."
The little schooner, of not more than sixty tons, drifted slowly past. There were seven hands on deck; all boys of sixteen and eighteen, save one. This is the training which makes the Gloucester sailors so prized for our navy.
... During the evening, we heard at a distance the deep, grum whistle of the Inman steamer going down to Halifax,—whistling at intervals to warn the fishermen. It continued foggy all night, but looked thinner by nine next morning. The captain brought up an armful of out-riggers (a short spar three or four feet long to set in the side-rail, with a small pulley-block in the upper end to run a line through.)
"Now, boys," said he, setting the out-riggers, "we will try the cod.—Palmleaf! Palmleaf! Here, you sunburnt son! A big chunk of pork!"
"They won't bite it," said old Trull.
"I've sometimes caught 'em with it," replied the captain. "It's pork or nothing. We've no clams nor manhaden (a small fish of the shad family) to lure them."
The stout cod-hooks, with their strong linen lines, were reeved through the blocks, baited, and let down into the green water. For some time we fished in silence. No bites. We kept patiently fishing for fifteen minutes. It began to look as if old Trull was right. Presently Kit jerked hastily.
"Got one?" we all demanded.
"Got something; heavy too."
"Haul him up!" cried the skipper.
Kit hauled. It made the block creak and the out-rigger bend. Yard after yard of the wet line was pulled in; and by and by the head of a tremendous fellow parted the water, and came up, one, two, three feet, writhing and bobbing about.
"Twenty pounds, if an ounce!" shouted young Donovan.
"Heave away!" cried the captain. "Now swing him over the rail!"
They were swinging him in, had almost got their hands on him, when the big fish gave a sudden squirm. The hook, which was but slightly caught in the side of its mouth, tore out. Down he went,—chud!
Such a yell of despair as arose! such mutual abuse as broke out all round! till, just at that moment, Wade cried, "I have one!" when all attention was turned to him. Slowly he draws it up. We were all watching. But 'twas a smaller one.
"About a seven-pounder," pronounces the captain, safely landing him on deck, where he was unhooked, and left to wriggle and jump out his agonies.
A minute later, Raed had out a "ten-pounder;" and, having once begun to bite, they kept at it, until the deck grew lively with their frantic leaping.
"Got all we want!" cried the skipper, after about an hour of this sort of thing. "There's a good two hundred weight of them.—Here, Palmleaf, pick 'em up, dress 'em, and put 'em in pickle: save what we want for dinner.—Now, you Donovan and Hobbs, bear a hand with those buckets. Rinse off the bulwarks, and wash up the deck."
"This is the kind of sport they have on a cod-fisher every day, I suppose," said Raed.
"Yes; but it gets mighty stale when you have to follow it for a month," replied Donovan. "I know what cod-fishing is."
... Toward noon the sun began to show its broad disk, dimly outlined in the white mists. The captain ran for his sextant; and an observation was caught, which, being worked up, gave our latitude at 45 deg. 35'. We had probably made in the neighborhood of thirty miles during the night: so that the boys on "The Catfish" had given a very shrewd guess, to say the least. In the afternoon we had a fair breeze from the south-east. All sail was made, and we bowled along at a grand rate. Early the next morning we saw the first ice,—three or four low, irregular masses, showing white on the sea, and bearing down toward us from the north-west with the polar current. This current, coming along the coast of Labrador, is always laden with ice at this season. To avoid it, we now bore away to the north-east, keeping for several days on a direct course for Iceland; then gradually—describing the arc of a circle—came round west into the latitude of Cape Farewell, the southern point of Greenland.
... Each day, as we got farther north, the sun set later, and rose earlier; till, on the 28th of June, its bright red disk was scarcely twenty minutes below the northern horizon.
... On the 3d of July we discerned Cape Farewell,—a mountainous headland, crowned with snow, at a distance of fifteen or twenty leagues.
From this point, Cape Resolution, on the north side of the entrance into Hudson Straits, bears west ten degrees north, and is distant not far from seven hundred miles. The wind serving, we bore away for it.
... During June and July, Hudson Straits are full of ice driving out into the Atlantic. This ice forms in the winter in vast quantities in the myriads of inlets and bays on both sides of the straits. The spring breaks it up, and the high tides beat it in pieces. It is rare that a vessel can enter the straits during June for the out-coming ice; but by July it has become sufficiently broken up and dispersed to allow of an entrance by keeping close up to the northern side, which has always been found to be freest from ice in July and August; while, on coming out in September, it is best to hug the southern main (land) as closely as possible.
On our voyage up we had taken great pains to read and compare every account we could find regarding both the ice and the general character of the straits. Our plan was to make Cape Resolution, wait for a fair wind, and slip into the straits early in the day, so as to get as far up as possible ere night came on. A person who has never been there can form no idea of the tremendous force with which the tide sets into the straits, the velocity of the currents, and the amazing smash they made among the ice....
Cape Resolution.—The Entrance into Hudson's Straits.—The Sun in the North-east.—The Resolution Cliffs.—Sweating among Icebergs.—A Shower and a Fog.—An Anxious Night.—A Strange Rumbling.—Singular Noises and Explosions.—Running into an Iceberg.—In Tow.—A Big Hailstone drops on Deck.—Boarding an Iceberg.—Solution of the Explosions.—A Lucky Escape.
"Land and ice, land and ice, ho!" sang out our old sea-dog from his lookout in the bow.
'Twas the morning of the 7th of July. We had expected to make Cape Resolution the evening before. Kit and I had been on deck till one o'clock, watching in the gleaming twilight. Never shall I forget those twilights. The sun was not out of sight more than three hours and a half, and the whole northern semicircle glowed continuously. It shone on the sails; it shone on the sea. The great glassy faces of the swells cast it back in phosphorescent flashes. The patches of ice showed white as chalk. The ocean took a pale French gray tint. Overhead the clouds drifted in ghostly troops, and far up in the sky an unnatural sort of glare eclipsed the sparkle of stars. Properly speaking, there was no night. One could read easily at one o'clock. Twilight and dawn joined hands. The sun rose far up in the north-east. Queer nights these! Until we got used to it, or rather until fatigue conquered us, we had no little difficulty in going to sleep. We were not accustomed to naps in the daytime. As a sort of compromise, I recollect that we used to spread an old sail over the skylight, and hang up blankets over the bull's-eyes in the stern, to keep out this everlasting daylight. We needed night. Born far down toward the equinoxes, we sighed for our intervals of darkness and shadows. But we got used to it after a fortnight of gaping. One gets used to any thing, every thing. "Use is second nature," says an old proverb. It is more than that: it is Nature herself.
Land and ice, ho!
"Tumble out!" shouted Raed.
It was half-past three. We went on deck. The sun was shining brightly. Scarcely any wind; sea like glass in the sunlight; ice in small patches all about.
"Where's your land?" asked Wade.
"Off there," replied young Hobbs, pointing to the north-west.
Ah, yes! there it was,—a line of dark gray cliffs, low in the water. Between us and them a dozen white icebergs glittered in the sun.
"Is that the cape, captain?" queried Kit.
"Must be," was the reply. "Same latitude. Can't be any thing else. Answers to the chart exactly."
"Oh! that's Cape Resolution fast enough," said Raed. "Those cliffs correspond with the descriptions, I should say."
"How far off?" asked Wade.
"Well, seven or eight leagues," replied the captain.
"The Button Islands, on the south side of the entrance, ought to be in sight, to the south-west," remarked Raed, looking off in that direction; "but I don't see them," he added.
The captain got his glass, and climbed up to the gaff of the foresail.
"Yes, there 'tis!" he shouted. "Low down; low land. No cliffs."
"Why are they called 'Button Isles' on the chart?" he asked, sliding down the shrouds. "Is it because they resemble buttons?"
"No," said Raed. "They were named for Capt. Button, who sailed through here more than a century ago. He was one of those navigators who tried so hard to find the 'north-west passage' by sailing through Hudson's Straits. During the first half of the eighteenth century, the London merchants sent out expeditions nearly every year in the hope of finding a passage through here to China and India. This Button was one of their captains."
"Then this low land to the south-west of us is Cape Chidleigh, is it not?" said Wade.
"No," said Raed. "Cape Chidleigh is the main land of Labrador down to the south-east of the Button Isles. You couldn't see that, could you, captain?"
"Saw some high peaks to the south, far down on the horizon. Those are on Labrador, I presume. Couldn't say whether they are the cape proper or not. They are in about the direction of the cape as indicated on the chart."
As the sun rose higher a breeze sprang up, and the sails filled. The schooner was headed W.N.W. to run under the cape; Bonney being set to watch sharp for the floating ice.
"Coffee, sar!" cried Palmleaf from the companion-way.
We went down to breakfast and talk over matters with the captain. It was decided to work up under the cape, and so, hugging the land on the north side as closely as possible, get into the strait as far as we could that day. We all felt anxious; for though the sea was now smooth, sky clear, and the wind fair, yet we knew that it was rather the exception than the average. The idea of being caught here among these cliffs and icebergs in a three-days' fog or a north-east gale, with the whole fury of the Atlantic at our backs, was anything but encouraging. The advice of the elder navigators, "to seize a favorable day and get as far up the straits as possible," kept recurring to our minds. The words had an ominous sound. They were the utterances of many a sad experience.
"There never could be a better day nor a fairer wind," remarked the captain.
"Now's our chance; I'm convinced of it," said Kit.
The mainsail, which had been taken in the previous evening, and the topsail, were both set; and, the breeze freshening, "The Curlew" rapidly gathered way. Considerable care had to be used, however, to avoid the broad cakes of ice which were floating out all around us. Small bits, and pieces as large as a hogshead, we paid no attention to; let the cut-water knock them aside. But there were plenty of large, angular, ugly-looking masses, which, if struck would have endangered the schooner's side. These were sheered off from: so that our course was made up of a series of curves and windings in and out. It seemed odd to see so much ice, and feel the deadly chill of the water, with so hot a sun on deck that the pitch started on the deal planks. In our companion-way the thermometer rose to eighty-seven degrees, with icebergs glittering at every point of the compass.
By eight o'clock, A.M., we were abreast the cliffs of Resolution Island, at a distance of a couple of miles. With our glasses we examined them attentively. Hoary, gray, and bare, they were, as when first split out of the earth's flinty crust, and thrust above the waves. The sun poured a flood of warm light over them; but no green thing could be discerned. Either there was no soil, or else the bleak frost-winds effectually checked the outcrop of life. To the south the Button Islands showed like brown patches on the shimmering waves. The width of the straits at this point is given on the chart at twelve leagues,—thirty-six miles. We could see the land on either side.
By eleven, A.M., we were twenty miles inside the outer cape. The cliffs continued on the north side, and the schooner was headed up within a mile of them. There were no signs of reefs or sunken ledges, however; and, on heaving the lead, a hundred fathoms of line were run out without touching bottom. The cliffs seem thus to form the side of an immense chasm partially filled by the ocean. Raed estimated their height above the sea to be near four hundred feet. At the distance of a mile they appeared to tower and almost impend over us.
Toward noon the wind flawed for half an hour, then dropped altogether. The current, which was setting out to sea, began to drag us back with it slowly. There wasn't a breath of air stirring. Blazes! how the sun poured down! Guard got round in the thin shadow of the mainsail, and actually lolled among icebergs. There we were stuck. That is one of the disadvantages of a sailing-vessel: you have to depend on the wind,—the most capricious thing in the universe. I suppose the air-current had veered about from north-east to north, so that the lofty cliffs intercepted them completely.
Dinner was eaten. One o'clock,—two o'clock. We were glad to take refuge with Guard in the shade of the sails. All around us was a stillness which passes words, broken loudly by our steps on the hot deck, and the occasional graze of ice-cakes against the sides. We felt uneasy enough. This calm was ominous.
"There's mischief brewing!" muttered Kit; "and here we are in the very jaws of the straits!"
Since the wind dropped, the ice had seemed to thicken ahead. To the southward, farther out from the shore, where the outward current was stronger, we could see it driving along in a glittering procession of white bergs. The wisdom of keeping on the north side of the strait was apparent from this; though it seemed likely to cost us dear in the consequent loss of the wind. On many of the larger cakes we could see dark objects, which the glass disclosed to be seals, sunning.
Presently a dense mass of blue-black clouds loomed suddenly over the brow of the cliffs.
"A shower!" cried Raed.
"A squall!" exclaimed old Trull.
"All hands take in sail!" shouted the captain.
Our Gloucester lads needed no further awakening. We all bore a hand, and had the mainsail down on the boom, short order; and, while Wade and I tried our hand at lashing it with the gaskets, the rest got down the foresail and the topsail. The jib was not furled, but got ready to "let go" in case of fierce gusts. Low, heavy peals of thunder began to rumble behind the cliffs. The dark cloud-mass heaved up, till a misty line of foamy, driving rain and hail showed over the flinty crags. Bright flashes gleamed out, followed shortly by heavy, hollow peals. The naked ledges added vastly, no doubt, to the tone of the reverberations. The rain-drift broke over the cliffs; but the shower passed mainly to the north-west. Only some scattered drops, with a few big straggling pellets of hail, hit on the deck. An eddy of cool air followed the gust. The jib puffed out on a sudden.
"Up with the foresail!" was the order.
It was at once set; and "The Curlew" started on in the wake of the shower. The cloud passed across the straits diagonally to the south-west. We could see it raining heavily on the ice-flecked water a few miles farther up; and immediately the whole surface began to steam. We watched it with considerable anxiety.
"It will be a fog, I'm afraid," groaned Raed.
"It's sure to be," said young Hobbs. "I never seed a scud on the 'Banks' but 'ut it was allus follered by a fog."
White-gray, cold-looking clouds began to drift along the sun from the seaward. A sudden change in the air was felt. Cool, damp gusts swept down from the crags. The thermometer was falling rapidly. It had stood at ninety-four degrees just previous to the shower. Kit now reported it at seventy-three degrees; and, in less than an hour, it had fallen twenty degrees more. This sudden change was probably due to the veering of the wind from east round to north. The cold blasts from "Greenland's icy mountains" speedily dissipated our miniature summer. There was a general rush for great-coats and thick jackets. Thin lines of vapor streamed up from the water as the cold gusts swept across it. The hot sunbeams falling on the sea had doubtless raised the temperature considerably, despite the ice; and this sudden change in the air could but raise a great mist. Yet I doubt whether Nature's wonderful and legitimate processes were ever regarded with greater disfavor and apprehension.
"The barometer's falling a good deal too," remarked the captain, coming hastily up the companion-stairs. "Either a rain-storm, or a smart gale from the north'ard: both, perhaps. We're in a tight place."
"What's to be done?" Raed asked.
"Hadn't we better try to beat out of the straits into the open sea again, clear of the land and ice?" said Kit.
"Can't do it. It would take all night to do that, if there were no ice to hinder. The gale will come before morning, if it comes at all; and the entrance of the straits would be the worst possible place to weather it."
"But, captain, what can we do?" Wade demanded, looking a little pale.
"Well, not much. We must keep on,—get as far up the straits as we can; and then trust to good luck to escape being smashed or jammed. The farther we get up the channel, the less we shall feel the violence of a gale from the seaward."
It was a rather gloomy prospect. The sky was thickening, and darkening rapidly. The mist kept streaming up from the water. What wind there was continued fitfully. We kept the foresail and the jib set, and jogged on, doubling amid the ice. Meanwhile the fog grew so dense, that every thing was very dim at fifty yards. But for the mist, and the danger of striking against large fragments of ice, we should have set the mainsail and the topsail to make the most of our wind ere it blew too hard; for it was plainly rising. Now and then a gust would sigh past the sheets. Supper was eaten in squads of two and three. The thermometer fell constantly. It grew so chilly, that we were glad to slip down into the galley occasionally to warm our fingers at Palmleaf's stove. Guard had already taken up his quarters there.
"Dis am berry suddin change," the darky would remark gravely to each of us as we successively made our appearance. "Berry suddin. The gerometum fallin' fast. Srink 'im all up, ser cold. Now, dis forenoon it am quite comf'ble; warm 'nuf ter take a nap in the sun: but now—oo-oo-ooo! awful cold!" And Palmleaf would move his sable cheek up close to the hot stove-pipe, Guard all the time regarding him soberly from the other side.
Bidding the negro keep coffee hot and ready for us, we would hurry on deck again, and resume our places in the bow; for it required vigilant eyes to look out for all the ugly ice-cakes among which the schooner was driving. The weather grew thicker, and the sky darker. By half-past ten, P.M., although the sun must have been still high above the horizon, it was dark as one often sees it on a stormy night when there is a moon in the heavens. In fact, it grew too dark to make out the ice-patches; for, despite our watchfulness, at about five minutes to eleven we struck against a large mass with a shock which made things rattle down stairs. Guard barked, and Palmleaf showed a very scared face in the companion-way.
"Where are your eyes there, forward?" shouted the captain. "Couldn't you see that?"
Just then we grazed pretty heavily against another cake.
"It is really getting too dark for us, captain," said Raed.
"Take in the foresail, then."
The sail was at once furled. The jib was kept on, however, to hold us steady. We were now merely breasting the current, and driving on a little with the gusts. Soon it began to rain,—rain and snow together. The dreariness and uncertainty of our situation can hardly be imagined. We did not even know how near we were to the foot of the cliffs, and could merely keep the schooner headed as she had been during the afternoon.
"The main thing for us now is to keep her as nearly stationary as we can," said the captain. "Between wind and water, I hope not to move half a knot all night."
It was now nearly twelve.
"We may as well go below," said Kit. "No use standing here in the rain when we can do no good."
We had been up nearly twenty-one hours since our last nap. Sleep will have its tribute, even in the face of danger. Hastily flinging off our wet coats, we lay down. The wind and rain wailed among the rigging above. Chuck-chock, chock-chuck, went the waves under the stern; while every few minutes a heavy jarring bump, followed by a long raspy grind along the side, told of the icy processions floating past. Those were our lullabies that night. Truly it required a sharp summoning of our fortitude not to feel a little home-sick. But we went to sleep; at least I did, and slept a number of hours.
Voices roused me. The captain was standing beside our mattresses.
"Wake up!" he was saying. "Get up, and come on deck!"
At the same moment I heard, indistinctly, a strange, rumbling sound.
"What is it? what's the matter?" cried Kit, starting up.
"Oh! don't be scared; we've been hearing it for some time," replied the captain. "Put on your rubber coats."
We did so, and followed him up the stairway. The rain and snow still came fast and thick. The deck was soppy. Hobbs was at the wheel. Donovan and Weymouth were forward. I could just make them out, standing wrapped up against the bulwarks.
"Now hark!" said the captain.
We all listened. A heavy noise, like that of some huge flouring-mill in full operation, could be plainly heard above the swash of the waves and the drive and patter of the storm.
"Thunder?—no, it isn't thunder," muttered Raed.
"Breakers!" exclaimed Kit. "It's the sea on the rocks,—those cliffs,—isn't it?"
"Trull," said the captain to that old worthy, who was just poking his head up out of the forecastle,—"Trull, is that noise the surf?"
The veteran turned an experienced ear aport, listened a moment, and then replied,—
"No, sir," promptly.
"Well, what in the world is it, then?"
The old salt listened again attentively. The steady rumble continued without intermission.
"Don't know, sir," replied Trull, shaking his head. "Never heard any thing like it."
"Are you sure it's not breakers?" demanded Kit. "I'm afraid we're drifting on the rocks. It's dead ahead too!"
But neither the captain nor Trull nor Donovan could believe it was the surf.
"We began to hear it over an hour ago," remarked the captain. "It sounded low then; we could just hear it: but it grows louder. It's either coming towards us, or else we are going towards it. I presume the storm drives us with it considerably."
"I tell you that it is some dangerous reef!" exclaimed Kit; "some hole or cavern which the water is playing through."
"It may be," muttered the captain. "Starboard the helm, Hobbs!"
At this instant a heavy, near explosion boomed out, followed momentarily by another and another.
"Good heavens!" exclaimed Raed.
"Cannon!" shouted Wade: "it's a vessel in distress!"
"Impossible!" cried the captain. "No ship would fire cannon here, even if wrecked. There wouldn't be one chance in ten thousand of its being heard by another vessel."
"Hark! did you not hear that splashing noise that followed the explosion?" demanded Kit.
We had all heard it; for, by this time, the sailors who were below had come on deck. The heavy rumbling noise began afresh, and sounded louder than before. We were completely mystified, and stood peering off from the bulwarks into the stormy obscurity of the night.
"Are there volcanoes on these straits, suppose?" Wade asked.
No one had ever heard of any.
"There were none in my geography," said Raed. "But there may be one forming."
Indeed, we were so much in doubt, that even this improbable suggestion was caught at for the moment.
"But where's the fire and smoke?" replied Kit. "Methinks it ought to be visible."
We could feel, rather than see, that the schooner was veering slowly to the left, in obedience to her helm,—a fact which left no doubt that we were, as the captain had surmised, drifting with the storm against the current; or perhaps, before this, the tide coming in had made a counter-current up the straits. The roaring noise was growing more distinct every minute; till all at once Bonney, who was looking attentively out from the bow, exclaimed,—
"What's that ahead, captain? Isn't there something?"
We all strained our eyes.
Dim amid the fog and rain something which seemed like a great pale shadow loomed before the schooner. For a moment we gazed, uncertain whether it were real, or an illusion of darkness; then Donovan shouted,—
"Ice!—it's an iceberg!"
"Hard a-starboard!" yelled Capt. Mazard.
It was not a hundred feet distant. Old Trull and Bonney caught up the pike-poles to fend off with. "The Curlew" drove on. The vast shadowy shape seemed to approach. A chill came with it. A few seconds more, and the bowsprit punched heavily against the ice-mountain. The shock sent the schooner staggering back like a pugilist with a "blimmer" between the eyes. Had we been sailing at our usual rate, it would have stove in the whole bow. The storm immediately forced us forward again; and the bowsprit, again striking, slid along the ice with a dull, crunching sound as the schooner fell off sidewise.
"Stand by those pike-poles!" shouted the captain; for so near was the iceberg, that we could easily reach it with a ten-foot pole from the bulwarks.
Striking the iron spikes into the ice, the men held the schooner off while she drifted past. The rumbling noise, louder than before, seemed now to come from out the solid berg.
"Let's get away from this before it splits or explodes again!" exclaimed Raed.
"Heavens! it sounds like a big grist-mill in full blast!" said Kit.
"More like a powder-mill, I should judge from the blasts we heard a few minutes ago," remarked Wade.
More poles were brought up, and we all lent a hand to push off from our dangerous neighbor. After fending along its massy side for several hundred yards, we got off clear from an angle.
"Farewell, old thunder-mill!" laughed Kit.
But we had not got clear of it so easily: for the vast lofty mass so broke off the wind and storm, that, immediately on passing it to the leeward, we hadn't a "breath of air;" and, as a consequence, the berg soon drifted down upon us. Again we pushed off from it, and set the fore-sail. The sail merely flapped occasionally, and hung idly; and again the iceberg came grinding against us. There were no means of getting off, save to let down the boat, and tow the schooner out into the wind,—rather a ticklish job among ice, and in so dim a light. "The Curlew" lay broadside against the berg, but did not seem to chafe or batter much: on the contrary, we were borne along by the ice with far less motion than if out in open water.
"Well, why not let her go so?" said Kit after we had lain thus a few minutes. "There doesn't seem to be any great danger in it. This side of the iceberg, so far as I can make it out, doesn't look very dangerous."
"Not a very seamanlike way of doing business," remarked the captain, looking dubiously around.
"Catching a ride on an iceberg," laughed Weymouth. "That sort of thing used to be strictly forbidden at school."
"But only listen to that fearful rumble and roar!" said Raed. "It seems to come from deep down in the berg. What is it?"
"Must be the sea rushing through some crack, or possibly the rain-water and the water from the melted ice on top streaming down through some hole into the sea," said the captain.
"But those explosions!—how would you account for those?" asked Wade.
"Well, I can't pretend to explain that. I have an idea, however, that they resulted from the splitting off of large fragments of ice."
On the whole, it was deemed most prudent to let the schooner lay where she was,—till daylight at least. Planks were got up from below, and thrust down between the side and the ice to keep her from chafing against the sharp angles.
By this time it was near six o'clock, morning, and had begun to grow tolerably light. The rain still continued, however, as did also the bellowings inside the iceberg. Old Trull and Weymouth were set to watch the ice, and the rest of us went down to breakfast. The schooner lay so still, that it seemed like being on shore again. We had got as far as our second cup of coffee, I recollect, when we were startled by another of the same heavy explosions we had heard a few hours previous. It was followed instantly by a second. Then we heard old Trull sing out,—
"Avast from under!"
And, a moment later, there was a tremendous crash on deck, accompanied by a hollow, rattling sound. Dropping our knives and forks, we sprang up the companionway.
"What was that, Trull?" demanded Capt. Mazard.
"A chunk of ice, sir, as big as my old sea-chest!"
"How came that aboard?"
"Rained down, sir. Went up from the top o' the barg, sir, at that thunder-clap, and came plumb down on deck."
The deck-planks were shattered and split where it had struck, and pieces of ice the size of a quart measure lay all about.
"Did you see it fly up from the top of the berg, Weymouth?" Raed asked.
"Yes, sir. It didn't go up till the second pop. I was looking then. It went up like as if it had been shot from a gun; went up thirty or forty feet, then turned in the air, and came down on us. Thought 'twould sink us, sir, sure. There were streams of water in the air at the same time; and water by the hogshead came sloshing over the side of the ice."
"I don't understand that at all," said the captain.
"We must investigate it," said Raed, "if we can. But let's make sure of our breakfast first. I suppose there will be no great danger in letting down the boat as soon as it gets fairly light, will there, captain? This iceberg seems to be a rather mysterious chap. I propose that we circumnavigate it in the boat. Perhaps we may find a chance to climb on to it."
It was already light; and, by the time breakfast was over, the rain had subsided to a drizzly mist: but the fog was still too thick to see far in any direction. The sea continued comparatively calm. A few minutes after seven, the boat was lowered. Raed and the rest of us boys, with the captain and Weymouth, got in, and pulled round to the windward of the berg. It was a vast, majestic mass, rising from forty to fifty feet above the water, and covering three or four acres. On the south, south-east, and east sides it rose almost perpendicularly from the sea. No chance to scale it here; and, even if there had been, the water was much too rough to the windward to bring the boat up to it. We continued around it, however, and, near the north-west corner, espied a large crevice leading up toward the top, and filled with broken ice.
"Might clamber up there," suggested the captain.
It looked a little pokerish.
"Let's try it," said Kit.
The boat was brought up within a yard or so of the ice. Watching his chance, Capt. Mazard leaped into the crack.
"Jump, and I'll catch you if you miss," said he.
Raed jumped, and got on all right; but Kit slipped. The captain caught him by the arm, and pulled him up, with no greater damage than a couple of wet trousers-legs. Wade and I followed dry-shod.
"Shove off a few yards, Weymouth, and be ready in case we slip down," directed the captain.
But we had no difficulty in climbing up.
The top of the berg was irregular and rough, with pinnacles and "knolls," between which were many deep puddles of water,—fresh water: we drank from one. For some time we saw nothing which tended to explain the explosions; though the dull, roaring noise still continued, seeming directly under our feet: but on crossing over to the south-west side, beneath which the schooner lay, Wade discovered a large, jagged hole something like a well. It was five or six feet across, and situated twenty or twenty-five yards from the side of the berg. Standing around this "well," the rumbling noises were more distinct than we had yet heard them, and were accompanied by a great splashing, and also by a hissing sound, as of escaping air or steam; and, on peering cautiously down into the hole, we could discern the water in motion. The iceberg heaved slightly with the swell: the gurgling and hissing appeared to follow the heaving motion.
"I think there must be great cavities down in the ice, which serve as chambers for compressed air," remarked Raed; "and somehow the heaving of the berg acts as an air-pump,—something like an hydraulic ram, you know."
As none of us could suggest any better explanation, we accepted this theory, though it was not very clear.
We were going back toward the crevice, when a loud gurgling roar, followed by a report like the discharge of a twenty-four-pounder, made the berg tremble; and, turning, we saw the water streaming from the well. Another gurgle and another report succeeded, almost in the same instant. Jets of water, and bits of ice, were spouted high into the air, and came down splashing and glancing about. We made off as expeditiously as we could. Fortunately none of the pieces of ice struck us; though Wade and Raed, who were a little behind, were well bespattered. We hurried down to the boat, greatly to the relief of Weymouth, who expected we had "got blown up."
[Raed begs me to add that he hopes the reader will be able to suggest a better explanation of this singular phenomenon than the one that has occurred to him.]
Jumping to the boat, we pulled round to "The Curlew." The sailors were watching for us, with a touch of anxiety on their rough, honest faces.
"Throw us a line!" shouted Capt. Mazard; "and bear a hand at those pike-poles to shove her off. We'll get clear of this iceberg as quick as we can. Something the matter with its insides: liable to bust, I'm afraid."
Catching the line, we bent to the oars, and, with the help of the men with the poles tugged the schooner off, and gradually towed her to a distance of three or four hundred yards from the berg. The boat was then taken in, sail made, and we were again bumping on up the straits.
The Fog lifts.—A Whale in Sight.—Craggy Black Mountains capped with Snow.—A Novel Carriage for the Big Rifle.—Mounting the Howitzer.—A Doubtful Shot.—The Lower Savage Isles.—A Deep Inlet.—"Mazard's Bay."—A Desolate Island.—An Ice-Jam.—A Strange Blood-red Light.—Solution of the Mystery.—Going Ashore.—Barren Ledges. Beds of Moss.—A Bald Peak.—An Alarm.—The Schooner in Jeopardy.—The Crash and Thunder of the Ice.—Tremendous Tides.
The rain had now pretty much ceased. Some sudden change took place in the air's density; for the fog, which had all along lain flat on the sea, now rapidly rose up like a curtain, twenty, thirty, fifty feet, leaving all clear below. We looked around us. The dark water was besprinkled with white patches, among which the seals were leaping and frisking about. Half a mile to the left we espied a lazy water-jet playing up at intervals.
"There she blows!" laughed Bonney. "Seems like old times, I declare!"
"What's that, sir?" asked Capt. Mazard, who had been below for the last ten minutes.
"A sperm-whale on the port quarter, sir!"
Two or three miles ahead, another large iceberg was driving grandly down. We could also see our late consort a mile astern,—see and hear it too. Higher and higher rose the fog. The sky brightened through transient rifts in the clouds. Glad enough were we to see it clearing up.
Either the land had fallen off to the north; or else, in our fear of running on the cliffs, we had declined a good deal from our course. The northern shore was now three or four leagues distant. Fog and darkness hung over it. The bases of the mountains were black; but their tops glistened with snow, the snow-line showing distinct two or three hundred feet above the shore. The sails were trimmed, and the helm put round to bear up nearer.
"What a country!" exclaimed Raed, sweeping it with his glass. "Is it possible that people live there? What can be the inducements?"
"Seals, probably," said Kit,—"seals and whales. That's the Esquimaux bill of fare, I've heard, varied with an occasional white bear or a sea-horse."
"A true 'Husky' (Esquimau) won't eat a mouthful of cooked victuals," said Capt. Mazard; "takes every thing raw."
"Should think so much raw meat would make them fierce and savage," remarked Wade: "makes dogs savage to give them raw meat."
"But the Esquimaux are a rather good-natured set, I've heard," replied Kit.
"Not always," said the captain. "The whalers have trouble with them very often; though these whalemen are doubtless anything but angels," he added. "In dealing with them, it is well to have a good show of muskets, or a big gun or two showing its muzzle: makes 'em more civil. Cases have been where they've boarded a scantily-manned vessel; to get the plunder, you see. Hungry for anything of the axe or iron kind."
"It would not be a bad plan to get up our howitzer, and rig a carriage for it," said Wade. "Let's do it."
"And Wash's cannon-rifle," said Kit. "We ought to get that up. I think it's about time to test that rather remarkable arm."
"The problem with me is how to mount it," said I.
"I was thinking of that the other day," remarked the captain. "I've got a big chest below,—an old thing I don't use now: we might make the gun fast to the top of it; then put some trucks on the bottom just high enough to point it out over the bulwarks. Here, Hobbs: come below, and help me fetch it on deck."
While they were getting up the chest, Raed and I brought up the cannon-rifle. It was about as much as we could get up the stairs with easily. It was, as the reader will probably remember, set in a light framework of wrought-iron, adjusted to a swivel, and arranged with a screw for raising or lowering the breech at will. The bed-pieces of the framework had been pierced for screws. It was, therefore, but a few minutes' work to bore holes in the top of the chest and drive the screws. Meanwhile the captain, who enjoyed the scheme as well as any of us, split open a couple of old tackle-blocks, and, getting out the trucks, proceeded to set them on the ends of two stout axles cut from an old ice-pole. These axles were then nailed fast to the bottom of the chest. The gun-carriage was then complete, and could be rolled anywhere on deck with ease.