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Adventure with a Polar Bear.


On the second night of their detention one of the officers had an adventure which might have terminated in a terrible catastrophe. He had burned some of the fat of the walrus which had been shot on the ice, in the hope of the smell attracting a bear to the spot, and being able to show his friends in England so rare a trophy as the skin of a Polar bear. No long time elapsed before a huge animal was seen shambling over the ice, sniffing the air as his sense of smell informed him of the presence of meat. When he was near enough the officer fired; the bear reared up, showing more surprise than alarm, and evidently was not wounded mortally. Two more shots were fired, and the bear fell. The officer immediately sprang upon the ice,

, and, running to the bear, struck the animal on the head with the stock of his musket. The weapon broke, and the infuriated beast, scrambling upon its legs again, seized its assailant by the right thigh, His situation was now one of extreme peril, in spite of the knife, which he wielded with the energy of despair; ,

; but two or three of the crew, who witnessed his danger, hastened to his assistance, and by their united exertion the bear was slain. There was a large scar on its left side, and in its stomach was found a garter, such as the whaling men use for their boat stockings. Another bear was afterwards shot at, but escaped with a wounded leg, the flow of blood from which he was observed to staunch by rubbing the limb in the snow.

On the 23rd, the ice-field was found to be drifting southward at the rate of three miles an hour, and opening in every direction. The wind rising soon afterwards, the vessels were extricated from the ice, and steered to Fair Haven. Leaving that anchorage on the 6th of July, they ran northward to 80° 15', where they were again stopped by the ice; but it opened on the following day, and they sailed through a narrow channel, meeting with many obstructions, which were overcome by heaving and sawing. With all their efforts, they got only a few miles farther, however, and were finally stopped at 80° 34'. The vessels were then secured with ice-anchors, and drifted southward with the ice, receiving some severe nips, by which they sustained considerable damage, and seeing neither land nor water from the 12th till the 19th. Nine days were occupied in extricating the vessels from the ice, during which soundings were taken, when a lobster, an asteria, a piece of sponge, and a dead branch of coral attached to a stone, were brought up.

On getting into open water once more, the ships were steered westward, along the edge of the ice-field, until a furious southwesterly gale met them, and they were heaved and dashed about among the loose ice until the storm abated, and they ran,

, damaged and leaky, to Fair Haven. There the vessels were repaired, and on the 30th of August were again steered northward by their persevering commanders. No change was found in the icy barrier, however, and, after running along the seventy-fourth parallel of latitude as far as 11° 30' w. longitude, without finding an opening, they availed themselves of a northerly wind to run homewards, and reached the Thames on the 22nd of October.

Considerable attention was devoted during this voyage to the natural phenomena peculiar to Arctic regions; and the figure of the earth, the refraction of the atmosphere, the temperature and specific gravity of the sea at various depths, the formation of icebergs, and other similar matters, were observed to an extent never before attempted. Beechey, who served under Buchan, regards icebergs as the most wonderful of Arctic phenomena. On one occasion the concussion of the air caused by the discharge of a musket brought down a huge mass of ice, the wave from which heaved the boat up the beach a distance An Arctic Summer's Day.




of ninety-six feet, and stove in its sides. Shortly afterwards, as Beechey and Franklin (the latter commanding the smaller vessel) were viewing another part of the same berg, an immense mass separated from it, and slid into the water, with a plunge that disturbed the ship four miles distant, although those in the boat, by keeping her head to the swell, rode over it in safety. The detached portion of the berg at first disappeared under water, and “ nothing was seen but a violent boiling of the sea, and a shooting up of clouds of spray, like that which occurs at the foot of a great cataract. After a short time it reappeared, raising its head full a hundred feet above the surface, with water pouring down from all parts of it; and then, labouring as if doubtful which way it should fall, it rolled over, and after rocking about some minutes, at length became settled. We now approached it, and found it nearly a quarter of a mile in circumference, and sixty feet out of the water. A stream of water was still pouring down its sides, and there was a continual cracking noise, as loud as that of a cart-whip, occasioned, I suppose, by the escape of fixed air.”

The following beautiful and vivid description of an Arctic summer's day is worth extracting :

“In cloudy or misty weather, when the hills are clothed with newly fallen snow, nothing can be more dreary than the appearance of the shores of Spitzbergen; whereas, on the contrary, it is scarcely possible to conceive a more brilliant and lively effect than that which occurs on a fine day, when the sun shines forth and blends its rays with that peculiarly soft, bright atmosphere which overhangs a country deeply bedded in snow; and with a pure sky, whose azure hue is so intense as to find no parallel in nature. On such an occasion the winds—near the land, at least-are very light or entirely hushed, and the shores teem with living objects. All nature seems to acknowledge the glorious sunshine, and the animated part of creation to set no bounds to its delight.

“ Such a day was the 4th of June, and we felt most sensibly the change from the gloomy atmosphere of the open sea to the cheerful glow that overhung the hills and placid surface of Magdalena Bay. Although surrounded by beds of snow and glaciers, with the thermometer scarcely above freezing point, there was no sensation of cold. The various amphibious animals, and myriads of birds which had resorted to the place, seemed to enjoy in the highest degree the transition thus occasioned by a few bright hours of sunshine. From an early hour in the morning until the period of rest returned, the shores around us reverberated with the merry cry of the little auk, willocks, divers, cormorants, gulls, and other aquatic birds; and wherever we went, groups of walruses, basking in the sun, mingled their playful roar with the husky bark of the seal.

“There was certainly no harmony in this strange din; but it was at least gratifying to know that it arose from a demonstration of happy feelings. It was a pleasure of the same character as that which must have been experienced by every traveller who, on some fine bright evening in a tropical climate, has listened to the merry buzz of thousands of winged insects which immediately succeeds the setting of the sun. And here we cannot fail to notice the manner in which the great Author of nature has varied His dispensations. In the burning region of the torrid zone the descent of the sun calls into action myriads of little beings which could not exist under the fierce glare of his meridian ray; whereas here, on the contrary, it is the signal for universal repose.

“ This period of the day had no sooner arrived in Magdalena Bay than there was a stillness which bordered on the sublime —a stillness which was broken only by the bursting of an ice


Beechey at Magdalena Bay.


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berg, or the report of some fragment of rock loosened from its hold. These sounds, indeed, which came booming over the placid surface of the bay, could hardly be considered interruptions to the general silence; for, speedily dying away in the uistance, they left behind a stillness even more profound than before.

“In the daytime, the presence of our expedition was not disregarded. The birds shunned us in their flight, and every noise which was occasionally made sounding strange to the place, sent to a greater distance the seagulls that were fishing among the rocks, and kept on the alert whole herds of animals, many of which would otherwise have been lost in sleep; causing them to raise their heads when anything fell upon our deck, and to cast a searching look over the bay, as if to inquire whence so unusual a disturbance proceeded. These little alarms, which would have passed unheeded in situations frequented by man, proved more than any other incident how great a stranger he was in these regions; a feeling which, I must confess, carried with it an agreeable sensation, arising, no doubt, from the conviction that we were treading on ground which had been but rarely visited before.”

Nothing came amiss to the delighted observers of this new land-new because so completely forgotten. The very polar bears and walruses, which to modern travellers have lost nearly all interest, aroused their keenest curiosity.

“ One sunshiny day,” says Beechey, “a walrus of nine or ten feet in length rose in a pool of water not very far from us, and, after looking around, drew his greasy carcass upon the ice, where he rolled about for a time, and at length laid himself down to sleep. A bear, which had probably been observing his movements, crawled carefully upon the ice on the opposite side of the pool, and began to roll about also, but apparently more

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