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1874

20

30*

prave? hy Flwyror

THE REALM OF THE ICE KING.

CHAPTER I.

THE REGION OF PERPETUAL ICE - DISCOVERIES OF THE NORTHMEN—VOYAGES OF ZENO AND

CABOTA — SEARCH FOR A NORTHERN PASSAGE TO INDIA - TERRIBLE FATE OF
SIR HUGH WILLOUGHBY AND HIS CREW.

ITHIN a circle defined on the terrestrial globe by a line traced round the North Pole at the distance of twenty-three degrees and a half, lie what may be called the dominions of the Ice King,- a region of perpetual ice and snow. The borders

of this region embrace the northern extremity of Europe, nearly the whole of the northern coasts of Asia and America, the islands of Spitzbergen and Nova Zembla, the Siberian Isles, the vast and as yet incompletely explored tract called Greenland, and the lands made known to us in comparatively recent times by the bold explorers whose barks have carried the British and American flags into the frigid seas of the Ice King.

On the borders of this ice-bound region the hardy pine grows, but beyond the seventieth parallel of latitude no tree meets the eye ; even the low-growing juniper is seldom seen,

nly grass and a few creeping plants, mostly saxifrages, clothing the ground with a scanty verdure during the brief su and even these giving place farther north to those simplest forms of vegetation-mosses and lichens. Over this dreary region the sun never rises for three months, making the winter

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one long night, the darkness of which is illuminated only by the mysterious aurora polaris, which, sometimes in broad sheets of light, at others in flashes of many-coloured rays, sheds a dazzling glory over the trackless wastes of snow, and the frost-, bound waters that roll between them.

The dearth of vegetation in the region ruled by the Ice King is compensated by the abundance of animal life. Wrangell, speaking of the portion of the Asiatic continent which is comprised within the frozen circle, tells us that “countless herds of reindeer, elks, black bears, foxes, sables, and grey squirrels fill the upland forests; stone foxes and wolves roam over the low grounds. Enormous flocks of swans, geese, and ducks arrive in spring, and seek deserts where they may moult and build their nests in safety. Eagles, owls, and gulls pursue their prey along the sea-coast; ptarmigan run in troops among the bushes; little snipes are busy along the brooks and in the morasses ; the social crows seek the neighbourhood of men's habitations; and when the sun shines in spring, one may even sometimes hear the cheerful notes of the finch, and in autumn those of the thrush."

But it is only on the borders of the region of ice that these pleasant sounds are ever heard. Farther north, towards the centre of the circle which contains so many of nature's profoundest mysteries—where the needle of the mariner's compass has its point of attraction, and the dipping needle, which lies horizontal at the equator, points downward-quadrupeds and land birds are fewer, their numbers being limited by the means of subsistence. There, however, the polar bear and the grey fox prowl among the rocks, the seal and the walrus bask upon the ice, and myriads of aquatic birds haunt the desolate shores, or skim over the ice-encumbered waters.

The threshold even of the Ice King's realm was unknown to the rest of the world until about nine hundred years ago, when

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