Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors]

very warmest air of the Tropics, to judge by his blue eyes and light hair, his skin ought to have been fair. He had a crew of fifty-five men, who were paid on the “share in the profits” principle; and as they had been away from home since early in April, without capturing a seal or whale, the poor fellows had but a poor prospect for the coming winter at home. The Norwegian was as hospitable as his race is known to be, and did the honours of his cabin with true courtesy. As we entered this curiously quaint room, we noticed that his table presented the appearance as if some scientific game was being played by the skipper to while away his solitary hours when his presence was not required on deck for the sailing of his ship. An infinity of little holes dotted the surface of the board, and a few pegs stood out here and there, with something like order in their arrangement. We apologised forthwith for our intrusion, and the consequent interruption in a game we were unacquainted with. Judge then of our surprise when we learned that the pegs and holes were the ordinary means by which the crews on board such ships keep their plates and glasses during dinner in their places when the weather is at all rough.

He was glad to pick up the threads of European political affairs since he left home, and the “ Alabama Question” particularly interested him. He was very



anxious to learn if we had “commenced to give Jonathan his deserts ?

Standing again away to the north, we were on the 13th of June once again in the midst of our friends the seals ; but as there was a brisk gale blowing we all stood on our course together, without a thought of the “point ends," as this kind of weather offered no inducement for even a temporary halt, and we consoled ourselves with the reflection that the first fine warm day will tempt them to rest themselves on the ice again. Next day two herds of narwhale, going north, also came in sight, and shortly after a chance of picking up a white whale presented itself, but it came to nothing. These whales were going towards the east. We content ourselves with an examination of the ships in sight, as we have letters for the Eclipse, and are anxious to fall in with her captain.

We learned from the Flora the news of the illsuccess of the fleet up among the north-west ice for the season, and beyond one luckier than the rest, who had three whales, sport had been very bad. The Flora had not, owing to her being in the hands of German owners, gone out the previous season, for fear of the French cruisers.

We had but small returns of sport up to the 20th, when we entered upon a scene of difficulty and some danger. We were steering amongst very heavy lumps of ice, and the cry of “Steady!” “ About ship!” “ Port !” “Starboard !” &c., gave work without a moment's cessation to every man on board ; our craft worked to admiration, but received a bump now and again, which it would have been impossible to avoid. The look-out man, aloft in the “crow'snest,” reported clear water (water between the loose pack and the fast ice) to the far north, and our hopes rose at the prospect of sailing in one of these deep bays, between the northern and the southern floe, that had been broken off in the early spring ; but our hopes are soon dashed by the information that the water is enclosed in ice, and that it is what the whalers call a lake, or hole, a vast space surrounded by ice, where the water within is in perpetual calm. In an interval when our main opponent, the fog, lifted from the surface,. and disclosed the whole scene, we discovered that the ice forming the northern shore of the lake was perfectly smooth, and there were indications, besides, that game abounded in that direction. No time is lost in getting ready a hunting party, and we go in quest of the seals we had seen through the misty air ; but who shall describe our disappointment, after climbing over and crossing a high hummock, on finding the ice floe incapable of bearing our weight ? We made the attempt,

[merged small][ocr errors]

however, but after blundering for a while in the slush and snow, we turned back, defeated, and made other and equally fruitless attempts in every direction where there seemed a possibility of success. Baffled in our efforts, we were about returning, when an unexpected occurrence arrested our progress. A novel interruption, a whirl under the surface of the water, and the boat suddenly slewing round, caused us all to start up in consternation. What could be the cause ? Looking over the side, we see a large Narwhal rising to the surface, his splendid horn and curiously dappled hide being distinctly visible. He presents a capital opportunity for a successful shot ; but, as often happens in such circumstances, we are not ready either with gun or harpoon, and as he has seen his danger, he has dived out of reach, and we are forced to return on board without a capture. The hole we are in evidently closes around us, and we make desperate efforts to escape from being caught in the ice. Already we have struck several pieces and received some severe thumps, even a bit of our false keel, being broken off, came up to warn us of our danger ; and now we have hardly room to turn round. These disappointments and disasters fill the most experienced amongst us with forebodings of evil, and we find ourselves falling in with his opinion. We



strive all we can to make the best of it, and secure our vessel to a bit of ice, whose two projecting tongues keep off the pressure for the present.

Nature now wears an aspect, “such as the painter might imagine, or the poet, with his lying licence, might invent, or the imagination of a sleeper could fancy in dreams of night.” It is our first experience of being “ beset in the ice,” we go into our cabin with the vague impression that at any moment we may be crushed to death; and before going to sleep, we note that the thermometer is very low; that the water is perfectly calm outside ; there is a stiff breeze blowing from the south-everything indicates a gale beyond the ice—but at this distance from the unfrozen open water, the wind is moderated by the wonderful effect of the icefields on the atmosphere above, the moist particles bome along by the gale become condensed as they float over the ice from its edge, and the barometer is. depressed accordingly, clearly showing the disturbed state of the atmosphere outside. The storm of wind is mellowed with us into a gentle breeze by the same agency, and it is quite possible that the wind at a little distance in the opposite direction is blowing steadily from the north, and possibly along the edge of the ice to the southward, and hence it may be only local

« AnteriorContinuar »