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“How shall I admire your heroicke courage, ye marine worthies, beyond all names of worthiness, that neyther dread so long presence or absence of ye sunne ; nor those foggy mysts, tempestuous winds, cold blasts, snowes and hayle in the ayre ; nor the inequall seas, which might amaze the hearer and amate the beholder—where the Tritons and Neptune's selfe would quake with chilling feare to behold such monstrous icie ilands, renting themselves with terrour of their own massiness, and disdayning otherwise both the sea's sovereigntie, and the sunne's hottest violence, mustering themselves in those watery plaines where they hold a continual civill warre, and rushing one upon another, make windes and crashing and splitting their congealed armours.”—PURCHAS HIS PILGRIMS.
For the next two days we devote ourselves to stalking the reindeer. We can see them from the ship, but the ground is totally unsuited for our purpose. There is not a trace of shelter to conceal ourselves in approaching the herd. Driven as it has been for some time by the Norwegians, who have made them wild by constantly shooting them down-in fact, the Norwegians consider our going after deer as an intrusion, and this fact adds to our chagrin, when we return empty-handed to our ship. The third day we haul the schooner at high water on to the beach; as the tide recedes we search for the wound in her side, and we seek in vain. Her injury is quite incurable. Had there been a hole we might have stopped it, and gone where we pleased; but this hurt was beyond our skill, and we were forced to turn back after all our plans were laid. We look again and again for some damage that may be repaired. We are far on our way, and it seems hard to relinquish our purpose. How can we dare to face the ice in such uncertainty ? We ask, and console ourselves by the thought that next season we shall come again into these seas, better prepared to face the difficulties that may present themselves; and we set to work on what we believe to be the weak place where the leak exists. We nail a sealskin, coated with tar and oakum, over the place, and next tide haul her once again on to the sea. The leak is somewhat reduced, and we have a tussle with the ice once more before we return out of the fiord into the open water. The north wind drives the ice up to and beyond us. While we stand waiting to see the effect of the thirty miles of ice which holds us back, we begin to drift down the fiord, following the field as it goes. At one time we are nearly driven on shore by a sudden shift, which threatens to force us back the path we have come. We, therefore, look out a safe anchorage, and starting from thence we wander sometimes for two days away from the ship in quest of game. On such occasions the continual daylight
is of rare advantage to the sportsman. In the dusk of evening or the hours of darkness, under the long shadows of the mountains, the water would freeze ; but the cold is never unpleasant, except during a northerly wind. We rest at all hours, and after sufficient sleep we start on whatever occupation we may be engaged upon. To one accustomed to a life of routine the change is rather trying at first, but, after a time, the perfect freedom of action is delicious, and breakfast or dinner is served when breakfast or dinner may be required. Our cook, good, easy man, falls into the humour of the thing, and has for his motto “ toujours prêt.”
On the seventh, we row about eight miles from the schooner up the fiord to a point inside an island not in the chart; we land, and inspect a square wooden house, which, from its age and exposure to the weather, ought to have been by this time a respectable ruin. Here, owing to the atmosphere, it wore the aspect of a modern structure, simple in detail, twelve feet by eight, having a fireplace of clay and rough stones, with two rough wooden benches for its furniture ; a curious cross stands near the door, having upon it in the Russian language a short inscription, the name and date of the last inhabitant. This, and some other buildings in Widdie Bay, belonged to a company of Russian traders who lived here from year to year ; some of their party returned home with their spoils, and brought back such simple requisites as the people needed. They killed and tracked Arctic animals, and became so wedded to their life here, that one of the party, a serf, spent thirty-five years in the islands : only once in eighteen years did he return home. He died at last, and was buried on the island. The others met the same sad fate that has befallen so many of their hardy companions who have braved the winter in these desolate regions. Once when they had assembled together, as was their custom every year, to receive looked-for reliefs and the year's supplies, the expected ship, as she neared the coast, was wrecked, and they were starved to death. Afterwards a Norwegian crew, having escaped from shipwreck, came to the Russian depôt, expecting to find some assistance in their dire distress; then they also found a sad sight to crush out the little hope remaining in them : the newly made graves of the Russian colony, and the dead bodies of the two last men lying in their sleeping-places, told a tale of misery and want, hard to describe in words. Their journal gave the dry details of each day's doings ; gradually its pages began to tell the hopes and fears that racked the brains of the expectant crew. The patient waiting for relief that never came; the daily
LONG YEARS OF WAITING.
decrease of their rations, never abundant at any time; the approach of scurvy, vile servant to want of hope and biting hunger. We should doubt, if it were said that they gave way without a manful struggle; the men who come here are not prone to that. Other evidence is here to prove that men, when all hope of aid from without fails them, have still resources they are not slow to practise ; a little crew was wrecked close by, and their ammunition having failed them they set about to construct harpoons of such scraps of bone as they picked up along the shore, and contrived traps made out of drift-wood, resolved to support themselves by such food as they were able to capture in this way until a vessel came their way; six long years after, four out of five of the men went on board a sealingship that opportunely was passing by; nor did they go from their captivity empty-handed, they were enriched by their stock of accumulated skins collected during the time of their imprisonment.
We saw the remains of traps along the shores of Widdie Bay—wooden cages constructed with bits of drift-wood. The huts, also, we were careful not to injure, never knowing how soon they may be required for the reception of some fellow-seaman. We ourselves had some reason to be thankful for enjoying such shelter as they offered. Once we got well soaked in