« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
The last ray
pecting their mistake, the crew turned back, but, again misled by appearances, sailed in their former track. At last they regained the right course, and on August the 20th entered Bell Sound. Their eager eyes wandered round the bay, but no ship appeared in view. Hope was now becoming faint ; yet each man clung to the expectation of still finding the ship. Every point round the bay was searched, and at last they reached an inlet called Bottle Cove, where alone the ship could be now expected.
The inlet was desolate ; no sounds nor sight of human presence, save their own, disturbed the monotony of its loneliness. of hope, which had up to this moment lightened their hearts, now departed. They had often heard strange reports of the terrors of a polar winter ; they knew that no rewards had hitherto tempted even criminals to pass a winter in this region. They also remembered that on the very shore where they now stood, a boat's crew had once been left by their own captain, as they were, and that every man had perished. Added to this, they were without provisions, adequate clothing, or any of those resources which enable hardy modern seamen to guard against the rigours of a polar winter. The reader of this narrative must remember the vast difference between a crew at the present time, furnished with all the aids which science and long experience can suggest, when compared with the eight sailors of the “ Salutation in the year 1630. The latter had none of the helps just mentioned, and were under the additional disadvantage of being taken unawares by the calamity. Two plans were before the deserted crew : one, that of attempting to reach England in their open boat—a desperate expedient ; but this seemed preferable to a contest with the unknown horrors of the long northern winter. The ice, however, was now blocking up the sea, and thus prevented the adoption of this plan. The other was, to sail at once to Green-harbour, and attempt to kill deer for a store of food through the approaching winter. This scheme the men resolutely carried out ; and having procured a large number of deer, departed for Bell Sound, where they intended to make preparations for passing the winter. The food procured was of three kinds-venison, bear's flesh, and a quantity of the refuse of whale's flesh, left by some of the ships on the shore. These stores they de
termined to take to Bell Sound. Before they were prepared to leave Green-harbour, Sunday came. It was resolved to honour the day by refraining from labour, and engaging in such prayers as they were able to command, for neither bible nor prayer-book was in their possession. Thus, at the beginning of their trials, those religious principles were nourished, by the aid of which their natural courage and good sense were rightly directed.
It was the 3rd of September when they reached Bell Sound, their intended wintering-place. IIere they found a large tent, covered with tiles, in which the coopers belonging to the whale ships were accustomed to work, In this they stowed away the provisions, No sooner was this done than the lengthening nights and increasing frosts warned them of the approach of the dreaded winter. They now exerted every energy of body and mind, in devising and preparing expedients against the dangers feared from intense frost. Another building belonging to the whale ships stood near the large shed. This was pulled down, and the materials employed in raising a small shed inside the large one.
This was a judicious plan for resisting the action of cold, as it might be likened to one house built within another. There were some bricks amongst the materials left upon the beach, and a quantity of lime, which was required by the whale ships in making the oil. The lime, mixed with sand from the shore, furnished mortar ; the bricks supplied the matter for the walls of their inner house. The remaining walls were formed of boards nailed upon each side of thick timbers placed upright ; the hollows left between the double line of boarding were filled up with sand ; and thus strong and warm walls were constructed. The plan pursued by these sailors to secure warmth was similar to that employed by Captain Back for a like purpose in his arctic wintering, 1833-4. The top of the inner house was made of five or six layers of boards, each exterior layer covering the joinings in the planking beneath ; thus they hoped to exclude the freezing air. An old bed, left in the large shed, served to line the door of their apartment. At last these sensible men finished the house in which the siege of winter was to be resisted. But their prudent labours were not yet over, Another expedient to lessen the intensity of the frost was now carried out.
The hut just finished was about twenty feet long, seventy wide, and ten high ; in this four small rooms, or sleeping berths, were formed, and beds of deer-skin placed in each enclosure. Their apartment had no window, as they feared the frost would overpower them if such openings were made, especially as a chimney opening and one door-way were necessarily left. A small hole was made in the roof of the outer shed, through which some light would reach the indwellers as long as the sun remained visible.
All was now ready, except fuel ; and fire was essential. This was soon procured from the timbers of old boats left by the departed ships on the shore ; but no serviceable boat was broken up, so rigidly did this devoted crew respect the rights of men they might never again behold. In order to economize fuel, and yet keep up a fire during the hours of sleep, a block of elm was buried each night in a heap of hot ashes, and thus covered up, and there being little draught, it would smoulder for more than twelve hours. By this plan the fire was kept burning without cessation for eight months. In September, when the winter was fast closing round them in storm and darkness, the dread of a failure in provisions seems to have alarmed them. They made a survey of all their stores, and finding the stock rather low, resolved to keep to one meal a-day, and on Wednesdays and Fridays to observe fasting, or at least to eat nothing except whale-flesh.
In the early part of October the sea was frozen over, presenting to their view a boundless icy desert, over which no sounds broke except the wailing of the storm. This singular isolation from the world, and the dread of perishing amid the wintry desolation, affected at times their spirits ; but the energy of their natures soon recovered from these melancholy forebodings.
They often betook themselves to prayer, as if to compensate by intercourse with the unseen world for their separation from the society of men ; and imaginative minds will believe that over that ice-girt land the guardian spirits of a higher state kept watch.
On the 14th of October the sun sank for the winter below the horizon, leaving them to the glimmer of the long twilight and the illumination of the moon.
In this state two things gave the deserted crew some concern. First, it was feared
that all reckoning of time would be lost, as the moon often became invisible ; and the long-continued gloom brought to their minds the most melancholy feelings. But Pelham, the narrator of their adventures, contrived to keep time most accurately by the following method : first, he kept in his mind the number of the epact ; then, by carefully observing the variations of the faint light still left, he registered the moon's age ; and thus kept time so exactly, that when the ships returned in the summer, Pelham was able to name the true day of the month. The skill and industry of the party soon devised the means of keeping a light. From some old lead three lamps were made ; ropes untwisted supplied matter for wicks, and train oil was collected in different parts of the shed; but no amount of energy or prudence could devise a shield from the intense frost, which at the beginning of the new year raised blisters on their skin, and so affected the iron in the shed that if touched by the hand a wound was made, like that produced by hot iron. One great essential-fresh water, they procured from the frozen snow, by melting it with heated iron bars. The dread of death by famine became strong in January 1631; the stores, notwithstanding their abstinence, were so diminished that without some fresh supply all must die. No animals ever appeared on the wild frozen plains ; nor, whilst the winter reigned in its stern severity, were they to be expected. Thus no prospect of a fresh supply appeared. These patient men had thus to contend, not only against the polar cold, but also with the physical weakness resulting from their forced abstinence. Under these depressing feelings they marked with a trembling delight the constant increase of a whitish light on the horizon, which appeared as the herald of the returning sun, One of the most joyful days in their winter's calendar was the 3rd of February, on which they beheld the first rays of the sun illuminate the lofty peaks of some snow-covered mountains, the summits of which, as they flashed in the sparkling light, seemed like gigantic beacons raised upon the waste. This sunshine on the snow was to them a more delightful sight than the most gorgeous scenery which ever greeted the eye. While gazing on these beams, so gladdening to their hearts, a bear and her cub were seen on the ico. Instantly the harpoons were seized, and all rushed upon the fierce animals.
But it may
The bear, enraged, dashed forward to meet them, but was killed in a few minutes. With haste they dragged their prey into the shed, for the frost was fast benumbing their limbs. The bear furnished a dinner at once, and a supply of food for twenty days. It may appear strange that, amidst so many privations, the men should have escaped that pest of the old seamen, the fatal scurvy, probably be traced to the fact that they had no salt with
Had this been in their possession, it is likely they would have used it to prepare their food : and thus, living pent up in their close tent, the animal fluids would have become vitiated, and the sea-plague have destroyed them.* As it was, the frost alone was sufficient to preserve their food from decay; and thus, though the supply was scanty, it consisted of fresh meat.
After the return of the sun, the crisis in the affairs of the men had passed; for though still exposed to bitter cold, the bears began to appear; and by killing these a plentiful supply of food was obtained. Foxes also, and wild fowl, were caught in sufficient number to give an agrecable variety to the diet. The men
now began to ascend the hills, and watch the breaking up of the ice at sea, hoping, ere long, to see some whale ship, and once more join in companionship with their fellow-men.
The 25th of May saw the close of their anxieties. The day had been stormy, which kept them within the hut ; and whilst preparing to go to prayers, a cry was heard outside, like the hail of sailors. All rushed out, and before them stood part of a boat's crew, belonging to a ship from England. To describe the joy is impossible: those only who have had like deliverance can imagine it. The men who had just arrived went into the winter-house, and beheld with amazement the place which had shielded their countrymen from the perils of the winter. The rescued crew, as they gazed upon the walls, blackened with the smoke of their perpetual fire, felt that God alone had prevented that weather-beaten hut from becoming their tomb.
* Seven Dutch sailors were persuaded to remain during the winter of 1634, and were left well provided with food, medicine, and clothing ; but on the return of their friends in spring, all were found dead. This mortality has been ascribed to the use of salt in preparing their food.