« AnteriorContinuar »
“Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark, unfathomed caves of ocean bear;
As the cold of this inhospitable region crept insensibly upon us an incident occurred, simple enough in itself but suggestive of sentiment.
Among the involuntary captives brought away from Old England by our schooner, were a few flies. As for their own special convenience and comfort they had selected our cabin for a home while the craft was lying in port, neglecting to heed the warning when our other visitors left us, they were forced to endure the consequences of their heedless devotion to pleasure. Now English flies were not born to flutter among icebergs, and their delicate frames yielded only to the change of climate. We, on first leaving home, had no manner of interest in the creatures ; insensibly drawn to the very few survivors associated with a summer land, their presence in our cabin was more welcome than tolerated, but when the family dwindled down to one specimen only, a thorough solicitude was manifested for it, and every conceivable means was adopted to save its life. The choicest delicacies we placed before it, but it needed no further help; it could select for itself, and did. Grown sickly with the change of clime, and grown feeble by exposure to the cold, it could no longer venture on a journey to the table, its feeble wings refused their office. Then was the true nature of our hardy men most surely seen ; their susceptible natures hidden beneath a rough exterior came brightly out; it was only a fly, but even a fly excited their sympathy, and the fly was welcome. As its powers flagged they lifted it tenderly to the topmost pane of glass in our cabin window to catch the warmest rays of the sun.
Alas! the inexorable laws of climate could not be stayed on account of the fly, and in spite of every attention and care, the poor thing grew feebler and feebler day by day. No longer able to support itself on the pane, it descended lower, yet lower, on the cabin window, till it finally rested on the lowest sill, and before long its watchful attendants were called upon to witness the end of their little friend.
It had rolled over from weakness and lay upon its back, and after many a spasmodic kick it died.
The pity for the living fly was continued to its remains. Nature had composed its limbs in placid repose, and a suitable site being found in which to deposit the dust, it was suitably interred. There was as much propriety in the mourners as is displayed by needy relatives when some rich man dies.
Why should strong men have natures like this? There are pepole who account for such displays of gentleness on patriotic grounds. The fly was their fellow-country mortal! Others that it was on pure ethnological principles easily settled. Was it not the last of its race ? Could it have been for its individuality that it was esteemed precious, as a rare coin is hoarded, or a musty tome ? Did they believe in metempsychosis, and regard the fly with awe, hoping, in doing their duty by it, they were honouring their grandmother!
After all, it was only a fly. It is sometimes said at the decease of a little one, “It was only a child.” But what does the mother think? It was only a fly; and what did the fly think? If the fly thought about it at all, had it noted the gradual disappearance of its companions ? Had it no forebodings of its coming fate, no regrets for the past? Had it no consciousness of the kindness of those on board the schooner? Could it understand the solicitude shown for it in the selec
tion of its dainties? Had it a longing desire to quit so rigorous a region, hoping, perchance, to awaken in the spirit land of flies, where an ever-shining sun brings a paradise for them to sport in? Or was it smitten by that human love of life which makes so many of us hang on earthly existence, with all its cares?
None of these could satisfy us. We set it all down to the cold, and the lack of exciting incidents at that stage of our journey.
The incident was not without its effect upon the men. They had done a kindness, and had received the reward, and yet the loss of their little protégé was not without its gloom. Upin that strange, still cheerless realm of frost, so far from dear friends and home, how knew they but that, like the flies, they might one by one yield up life there, till the last man, without the consolation of sympathy, would leave this unburied corpse " where friends come not.”
We continued to wage successful sport with the seals all day, and at five in the following morning, at a council of war, we decided that, as our object was not so much to fill our ship with blubber as to get on with our sounding observations, which really was the object of our journey north, it was better to put an end to our sealing, as the time and weather was precious to
us, and there were symptoms of a change for the worse in this respect; but there is much fortitude required when the game abounds and the chase exciting, to draw off when it seems at its best. Nevertheless we have to return again to the somewhat dry demands of scientific inquiry. Many a cup of coffee did we sip that night as we sat over our pipe without the least sense of weariness or fatigue, in the fine bracing air of the far. north. Coffee is a far more acceptable beverage than wine or brandy of any kind in these regions. In the warm latitudes spirits seem essential at such a time, but here the system seems to reject the stimulant, and tea or cocoa are more highly prized.
Our ambition is to reach some point to the north of Spitzbergen, as the ice is about to open, where we may complete our work commenced last year. Besides there is the ground-seal to be found on the coast of Spitzbergen, and the prospect of other game to console us for the seeming loss we are about to endure as we leave these teeming hunting-grounds.
Getting away to the eastward is by no means easy work, and another scrape on our false keel signals us from below that the shocks we occasionally encounter in our course have not been without effect upon the tough schooner's sides. Next day we take it easy, and the 29th is a perfect day of rest on board ;