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COLLECTING SEAL OIL.
snow towards some hummocks, for beyond them a small batch of seals are seen basking in the sun. We take steady aim, and a large seal falls to our gun. A second shot seems to add speed to the flight of another beast close by, and as he in mad haste tries to reach the water, he receives three bullets in his tough hide, all to no effect. The seal, unless struck in some vital place—the head, or behind the flipper at a point directly over the heart, seems indifferent to the shock of a bullet; his great shapeless form covered with thick layers of fat offers no other definite or decided mark for the sportsman, if the head or heart are missed.
Preparations are quickly made for flencing” our seal, but the body is lying on a detached piece of ice which must be reached by using a smaller block as a raft to float us over. now more cautious on the ice than on the previous occasion, and a haakpick is a valuable aid in testing the qualities of the floor beneath us. The seal is turned on its back, and a long cut is inade from the head to its tail, a cut round each flipper, and a few more to detach the blubber from the “krang,” then the operation of flensing is soon completed. This operation, owing to the temperature of the air in these high latitudes, is a most sickening sight to contemplate, as the quivering flesh seems still to be
endued with life for some minutes after death ; and in the early months when the sailors find the weather bitterly cold, the men put their hands into the still warm bodies of the newly killed seals, where the animal heat is retained for a considerable period after death. A
is now attached to the hide, which is thickly coated with blubber, and the heavy mass (worth from £35 to £40 per ton) is about to be dragged towards the boat, when, to our confusion, we find ourselves drifting slowly but surely away. Our boat rests moored to the piece we had fastened it to at a considerable distance off, and quite indistinguishable in the heavy fog. What is to be done? The sailors, according to their invariable custom, begin to recall precedents which all, unfortunately, have a fatal termination. One horrible story after another is told. “ You remember them 'ere chaps as was left in this here way and was all froze to death? “ As for that ship Enterprise, I assure you, sir,” says Magnus, “we could speak to the men on the ice, but could not get at them! blowing a gale and freezing hard at the time! thermometer 40 degrees below zero! We did all we could : the oars and foremasts were tied together to try and reach them by means of a raft, when they disappeared in the fog, lost to sight though not to memory, and they all perished !” Matters
moment grow worse, so without further delay we divest ourself of our heavy boots, examine the edge of the ice for a good take off, and with a run and a jump, which seemed almost impossible, we just catch the edge of another island of ice, and though we wet our feet in the attempt, are thankful for our success. Wet feet up here is a matter of serious consequence, however. Our difficulty is now overcome, and after some hard tugging we haul our boat alongside, stow away our prize, and make for the next batch of floating seals. We gain experience as we go; we find that a single seal resting upon the ice is far easier to approach than a small herd, for the party, no matter how small, seems to appoint one of their number as a watcher, whose nervous trepidation in his position of responsibility always communicates itself to his companions, and the possibility of approaching near enough for our purpose is reduced to the smallest odds.
We did not leave off the pursuit until the boat began to settle rather low down in the water, owing to a heavy cargo of blubber attached to the skins of the seals we had killed.
Eight hours of seal-hunting is fatiguing work for the keenest sportsman, and although we return to our ship in broad daylight, we turn in for a few hours'
rest with the same feeling of want of repose as though night and proper roosting-time had arrived. After four hours of retirement, although unaccompanied with sleep, we find ourselves ready to renew the contest, and, organizing three separate parties, leave the ship with a new plan which we hope may succeed ; our object on this occasion being, if possible, after having spread ourselves some distance apart, to close in from all sides, and so surround the seals: at some common centre. Our plan, clever as it seemed, did not succeed ; the seals were more wary then ever, and demanded all our skill both for tracking them, and, when found, to account for those fired at; evidently the difficulty of shooting from a boat in a rough sea can be overcome by practice, and by practice alone. As the time wore on we knocked over a seal that had already been wounded by a bullet from some other ship. One would think a rifle bullet lodged in the back would be a source of inconvenience to the wearer, but there was nothing to indicate that he had suffered in the least from the leaden deposit.
One poor seal to-day interested us greatly in his fate, though our desire to capture him at all hazards did not overcome our pity, for in his plight he happened to be close to the edge of the ice as we ap
proached, and after a steady gaze he dived with the evident intention of getting clear away. however; the place where he dived was very shallow, owing to a long tongue of ice stretching out at a little distance beneath the surface, and each dive the poor wretch made only brought him nearer to us.
His evident confusion only made matters worse, and as he rose each time he glared at us with baffled rage, and growled aloud meaningly in his perplexity, his whole aspect giving us the idea that he knew his impending fate, for he rushed madly towards us, when we, always ready with the haak-pick, secured him by a welldirected blow on the head. All this time the fog is steadily closing round us, creeping up with the wind from the far horizon. In order to discover our whereabouts we fire a gun from time to time, and the signal in reply comes sounding over the ice; without further delay, the oars force the boat through the ice cold water, and as we give way with all our might, after a three hours' pull, during which time we have to clear the many islets of ice which intercept our course, a clear space in the surrounding gloom, owing to the fog lifting, gives us a momentary view of the ship looming towards us in the distance, and thanks to this opportunity we are saved a weary search for the long wished-for deck. The game being counted gave a