Agnes Christina Laut.

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mountains. North, south, east, west, the ship was
embayed in an ice-world — ice in islands and hills and
valleys with lakes and rivers of fresh water flowing
over the surface. Birds flocked overhead with lonely

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Henry Hudson's First Voyage

screams at these human intruders on a realm as
white and silent as death; and where one crystal berg
was lighted to gold by the sun, a huge polar bear
hulked to its highest peak and surveyed the new-
comers in as much astonishment at them as they felt
at him. Truly, this was the Ultima Thule of poet's
dream — ^beyond the footsteps of man. Blue was the
sky above, blue the patches of ocean below, blue the
inimitable fields of ice, blue and lifeless and cold as
steel. The men passed that day jubilant as boys
out of school. Some went gunning for the birds.
Others would have pursued the polar bear but with
a splash the great creature dived into the sea. The
crew took advantage of the pools of fresh water in
the ice to fill their casks with drinking water. For
the next twenty-four hours, Hudson crept among the
icefloes by throwing out a hook on the ice, then
hauling up to it by cable.

By night the sea was churning the ice in choppy
waves, with a growl of wind through the mast, and
the crew wakened the next morning to find a hurri-
cane of sleet had wiped out the land. The huge
floes were turning somersets in the rough sea with a
l^^mging that threatened to smash the little ship into
a crushed egg shell. Under bare poles, she drove
before the wind for open sea.

As she scudded from the crush of the tumbling

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ice, Hudson remarked something extraordinary in
the conduct of his ship. Veering about, sails down,
there was no mistaking it — she was drifting against
the windl As the storm subsided, it became plainer:
the wind was carrying in one direction, the sea was
canying in another. Hudson had discovered that
current across the Pole, which was to play such an
important part with Nansen three hundred years
later. Icebergs were floating against the wind, too,
laboriously, with apparently aimless circlings round
and round, but circles that carried them forward
against the wind, and the ship was presently moored
to a great icepan drifting along with the undertow.

Then the curse of all Arctic voyagers fell on the
sea — fog thick to the touch as wool, through which
the icebergs glided like phantoms with a great crash
of waters, where the surf beat on the floes. Never
mind! Their anchor-hold acts as a breakwater.
They are sheltered from the turmoil of the waves
outside the ice. And they are still headed north.
And they are up to Seventy-three along a coast, which
no chart has ever before recorded, no chart but the
myths of death's realm. As the coast might prove
treacherous if the ice began thumping inland, Hud-
son names the region "Hold Hope,*' which may be
interpreted, "Keep up your Courage.'*

Ice and fog, fog and ice, and the eternal silences

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Henry Hudson's First Voyage

but for the thunder of the floes banging the ports;
up to Seventy-five by noon of June 25, when the
saflors notice that the floundering clumsy grampus
are playing mad pranks about the ship. The glisten-
ing brown backs race round the prow and somerset
bodily out of the water in a very deviltry of sauciness!
Call it sailors' superstition, but when the grampus
schools play, your Northern crew looks for storm, and
by noon of June 26, the storm is there pounding the
hull like thunder and shrieking through the rigging.
Not a good place to be, between land and ice in hurri-
cane! Hudson scampers for the sea, still north,
but driven out east by the trend of Greenland's
coast along an unbroken barrier of ice that seems to
link Greenland to Spitzbergen. '

No passage across the Pole this way! That is
certain! But there is a current across the Pole!
That, too, is certain! And Greenland is as long as a
continent. So driving before the storm, Hudson
steers east for Spitzbergen. In July, it is warmer,
but heat brings more ice, and the man at the mast-
head on the lookout for land up at Seventy-nine
could not know that a submerged iceberg was going
to turn a somerset directly under the keel. There
was a splintering crash. Something struck the keel
like a cannon shot. Up reared the little boat on end
Uke a frightened horse. When the waters plunged

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The Conqtiest of the Oreat Northwest

down two great bergs had risen one on each side
of the quivering ship and a jagged gash gaped through
the timbers at water line. Water slushed over decks
in a cataract. The yardarms are still dipping and
dripping to the churning seas when the crew leaps
out to a man, some on the ice, some in small boats,
some astraddle of driftwood to stop the leak in the
bottom. As they toil — and they toil in desperation,
for the safety of the ship is their only possibility of
reaching home — they notice it again — ^wood drifting
against the wind, the undertow of some great un-
known Polar Current.

' Hudson cannot wait for this current to carry him
toward the Pole, as Nansen did. Up he tacks to
Eighty-two, within eight degrees of the baffling Pole,
within four degrees of Farthest North reached by
modem navigators. When he finds Spitzbergen
locked by the ice to the north, he tries it by the south.
But the ice seems to become almost a living enemy
in its resistance. Hudson had anchored to a drifting
floe. Another icepan shut off his retreat. Then a
terrific sea began running — the effect of the ice jam
against the Polar Current. The fog was so thick
you could cut it with a knife. Not a breath of wind
stirred. Sails hung limp, and the sea was driving
the ship to instant destruction against a jam of ice.
Heaving out small boats, the crew rowed for dear

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Henry Hudson's First Voyage

life towing the ship out of the maelstrom by main
force, but their puny human strength was as child's
play against the great powers of the elements. Back-
wash had carried rowers and ship and small boats
within a stone's throw of the ramming icebergs
when a faint air breathed through the fog. Moisten-
ing their fingers, the sailors held up hands to catch
the motion of any breeze. No mistake — it was a
fair wind — right about sails there — the little ship
turned tail to the ice and was off like a bird, for says
the old ship's log: 'Ht pleased God to give us a gale,
and away we steeredJ^

The battle for a passage seemed hopeless. Hud-
son assembled the crew on decks and on bended
knees prayed God to show which way to steer. Of
no region had the sailors of that day greater horror
than Spitzbergen. They began to recall the fearful
disasters that had befallen Dutch ships here but a
few years before. Those old sailors' superstitions of
the North being the realm of the Goddess of Death,
came back to memory. That last narrow escape
from the ice-crush left terror in the very marrow of
their bones. In vain, Hudson once more suggested
seeking the passage by Greenland. To the crew,
the Voice of the North uttered no call. Glory was
all very well, but they didn't want glory. They
wanted to go home. What was the good of chasing

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The Conqiiest of the OrecU Northwest

an Idea down the Long Trail to a grave on the frozen
shores of Death?

When men begm to reason that way, there is no
answer. You can't promise them what you are not
sure you will ever find. The Call is only to those
who have ears to hear. You must have hold of the
end of a Golden Thread before you can follow the
baffling mazes of a discoverer's faith, and these men
hadn't faith in anything except a fuD stomach and
a sure wage. After all, their arguments were the
same as the obstructions presented against every
expedition to the Pole to-day, or for that matter, to
any other realm of the Unknown. It was like asking
the inventor to show his invention in full work before
he has made it, or the bank to pay its dividends
before you contribute to its capital. What reason
could Hudson give to justify his faith? Standing on
the quarter deck with clenched fists and troubled
face, he might as well have argued with stones, or
pleaded for a chance with modem money bags as
talked down the expostulations of the mutineers.
They were men of the kidney who will always be on
the safe side. As the world knows — there was no
passage across the Pole suitable for commerce. There
was no justification for Hudson's faith. Yet it was
the goal of that faith, which led him on the road to

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Henry HvdsorCs First Voyage

greater discoveries than a dozen passages across the
Pole.

Faith has always been represented as one of three
sister graces; cringing, meek-spirited, downtrodden
damsels at their best. In view of all she has accom-
plished for the world in religion, in art, in science, in
discovery, in. commerce, Faith should be represented
as a fiery-eyed goddess with the forked lightnings for
her torch, treading the mountain peaks of the uni-
verse. From her high place, she alone can see
whence comes the light and which way runs the
Trail. Step by step, the battle has been against dark-
ness, every step a blow, every blow a bruise driving
back to the right Trail; every blood mark a mile-
stone in human progress from lowland to upland.

But Hudson's men were obdurate to arguments
all up in air. They will not seek the passage by
Greenland. Hudson must turn back. To a great
spirit, obstructions are never a stop. They are only
a delay. Hudson sets his teeth. You will see him
go by Greenland one day yet — mark his word!
Meantime, home he sails through what he calls
"slabbie" weather, putting into Tilbury Docks on
the 15th of September. If mone^ bags counted up
the profits of that year's trip, they would write against
Hudson's name in the Book of Judgment — Failure!

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CHAPTER II

1608

HUDSON'S SECOND VOYAGE

HENCEFORTH Hudson was an obsessed
man. First, he possessed the Idea. Now
the Id^a possessed him. It was to lead
him on a course no man would willingly have fol-
lowed. Yet he followed it. Everything, life or
death, love or hate, gain or loss, was to be subservient
to that Idea.

That current drifting across the Pole haunted him
as it was to haunt Nansen at a later date. By at-
tempting too much, had he missed all? He had gone
to Spitzbergen in the Eighties. If he had kept down
to Nova Zembla Islands in the Seventies, would he
have found less ice? The man possessed by a single
idea may be a trial to his associates. To himself,
he is a torment. Once he becomes baffled, he is
beset by doubts, by questions, by fears. If his faith
leaves him, his life goes to pieces like a rope of sand.
Hudson must have been beset by such doubts now.
It is the place where the adventurer leaves the mile-

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stones of all known paths and has not yet found firm
footing for his own feet. Hundreds, thousands, have
struck out from the beaten Trail. Few, indeed,
have blazed a new path. The bones of the dead
bleach on the shores of the realm ruled by the God-
dess of the Unknown. It is the place where the be-
ginner sets out to be a grea-t artist, or a great scien-
tist, or a great discoverer. Thousands have set out
on the same quest who should have rested content
at their own ingle-nook, happy at the plow; not
good plowmen spoiled. The beginner balances the
chances — a thousand to one against him! Is his
vision a fooPs quest, a will-o'-the-wisp? Is the call
the tickling of his own restless vanity; or the voice
of a great truth? He can learn only by going for-
ward, and the going forward may take him over a
precipice — ^may prove him a fool. This was the place
Hudson was at now. It is a place that has been
passed by all the world's great.

Nine Dutch boats had at diflFerent times passed
between Nova Zembla and the main coast of Russia.
To be sure, they had been blocked by the ice beyond,
but might not Hudson by some lucky chance follow
that Polar Current through open water? The
chances were a thousand to one against him. Who
but a fool would take the chance? Nansen's daring
plan to utilize the ice-drift to lift his ship above the

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ice-crush— did not occur to Hudson. Except for
that difference, the two explorers — the greatest of
the early Arctic navigators and the greatest of the
modem — planned very much the same course.

This time, the Muscovy Company commissioned
Hudson to look out for ivory hunting as well as the
short passage to Asia. Three men only of the old
crew enlisted. Hudson might enjoy risking his life
for glory. Most mortals prefer safety. Of the
three who re-enlisted one was his son.

Keeping close to the cloud-capped, mountainous
shores of Norway, the boat sighted Cape North on
June 3, 1608. Clouds wreathed the mountains in
belts and plumes of mist. Snow-fields of far sum-
mits shone gold in sudden bursts of sunshine through
the cloud-wrack. Fjords like holes in the wall
nestled at the foot of the mountains, the hamlets of
the fisher folk like tiny match boxes against the
mighty hills. To the restless tide rocked and heaved
the fishing smacks — emblems of man's spirit at end-
less wrestle with the elements. As Hudson's ship
climbed the waves, the fishermen stood up in their
little boats to wave a God-speed to these adven-
turers bound for earth's ends. Sails swelling to the
wind, Hudson's vessel rode the roll of green waters,
then dipped behind a cataract of waves, and dropped
over the edge of the known world.

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Driftwood again on that Polar Current up at
Seventy -five, driftwood and the endless sweep of
moving ice, which compelled Hudson ^'to loose from
one floe^' and ^^bear room from another ^^ and anchor
on the lee of one berg to prevent ramming by an-
other; ^^ divers pieces driving past the shipy^^ says
Hudson — ^just as it drove past Nansen's Fram on the
same course.

To men satiated of modem life, the North is still
a wonder-world. There are the white silences pri-
meval as the mom when God first created Time.
There is "<Ae sun sailing round in a fiery ring^* — as
one old Viking described it — instead of sinking below
the horizon; nightless days in sunmier and dayless
nights in winter. There is the desolation of earth's
places where man may never have dominion and
Death must always veil herself unseen. Polar bears
floundered over the ice hunting seals. Walrus
roared from the rocks in herds till the surf shook —
ivory for the Muscovy Company; and whales floated
about the ship in schools that threatened to keel the
craft over — ^more profit for the Muscovy traders.

What wonder that Hudson's ignorant sailors began
to feel the marvel of the strange ice-world, and to see
fabulous things in the light of the midnight sun?
One morning a face was seen following the ship,
staring up from the sea. There was no doubt of it.

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Two sailors saw it. Was it one of the monsters of
Saga myth, that haunted this region? The watch
called a comrade. Both witnessed the hideous ap-
parition of a human face with black hair streaming
behind on the waves. The body was like a woman's
and the seamen's terror had conjured up the ill omen
of a mermaid when wave-wash overturned its body,
exhibiting the fins and tail of a porpoise — "skin very
white" — mermaid without a doubt, portent of evil,
though the hair may have been floating seaweed.
I Sure enough, within a week, ice locked round the
ship in a vise. The floes were no brashy ice-cakes
that could be plowed through by a ship's prow with
a strong, stem wind. They were huge fields of ice,
five, ten, twenty and thirty feet deep interspread
with hummocks and hillocks that were miniature
bergs in themselves. Across these rolling meadows
of crystal, the wind blew with the nip of midwinter;
but when the sun became partly hidden in fiery cloud-
banks, the scene was a fairy land, sea and sky shad-
ing off in deepest tinges to all the tints of the rain-
bow. Where the ocean showed through ice depths,
there was a blue reflection deep as indigo. Where
the clear water was only a surface pool on top of
submerged ice, the sky shone above with a light
green delicate as apple bloom. Where the ice was
a broken mass of an adjacent glacier sliding down

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to the sea through the eternal snows of some
mountain gorge, a curious phenomenon could some-
times be observed. The edge of the ice was in layers
—each layer representing one year's snowfall con-
gealed by the summer thaw, so that the observer
could count back perhaps a century from the ice
layers. Other men tread on snow that fell but yes-
terday. Hudson's crew were treading on the snow-
fall of a hundred years as though this were God's
workshop in the making and a hundred years were
but as a day.

Beyond the floating ice fields, the heights of Nova
Zembla were sighted, awesome and lonely in the
white night, gruesome to these men from memory
of the fate that befell the Dutch crews here fifteen
years previously. Rowing and punting through the
ice-brash, two men went ashore to explore. They
saw abundance of game for the Muscovy gentlemen;
and at one place among driftwood came on the cold
ashes of an old fire. It was like the first print of
man's footstep found by Robinson Crusoe. Startled
by signs of human presence, they scanned the sur-
rounding landscape. On the shore, a solitary cross
had been erected of driftwood. Then the men re-
called the fate of the Dutch crew, that had perished
wandering over these islands in 1597. What fearful
battles had the white silences witnessed between

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The Conquest of the Great Northwest

puny men explorers and the stony Goddess of Death?
What had become of the last man, of the man who
had erected the cross? Did his body lie somewhere
along the shores of Nova Zembla, or had he manned
his little craft like the Vikings of old and sailed out
lashed, to the spars to meet death in tempest? The
horror of the North seemed to touch the men as with
the hands of the dead whom she had slain.

The report that the two men carried back to Hud-
son's boat did not raise the spirits of the crew. One
night the entire ship's company but Hudson and
his son had gone ashore to hunt walrus. Such
illimitable fields of ice lay north that Hudson knew
his only chance must be between the south end of
Nova Zembla (he did not know there were several
islands in the group) and the main coast of Asia. It
was three o'clock in the morning. The ice began to
drive landward with the fury of a whirlpool. Two
anchors were thrown out against the tide. Fenders
were lowered to protect the ship's sides. Captain
and boy stood with iron-shod poles in hand to push
the ice from the ship, or the ship from the ice. The
men from the hunt saw the coming danger and
rushed over the churning icepans to the rescue.
Some on the ice, some on the ship, with poles and
oars and crowbars, they pushed and heaved away
the icepans, and ramming their crowbars down

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Hvdson^s Second Voyage



crevices wrenched the ice to splinters or swerved it
off the sides of the ship. Sometimes an icepan
would tilt, teeter, rise on end and turn a somerset,
plunging the sailors in ice water to their arm pits.
The jam seemed to be coming on the ship from both
directions at once, for the simple reason the ship
offered the line of least resistance. Twelve hours
the battle lasted, the heaving ice-crush threatening
to crush the ship's ribs like slats till at last a channel
of open water appeared just outside the ship's prison.
But the air was a dead calm. Springing from ice-
pan to icepan, the men towed their ship out of danger.
Rain began to drizzle. The next day a cold wind
came whistling through the rigging. The ship lay
m a land-locked cove of Nova Zembla. Hudson
again sent his men ashore to hunt, probably also to
pluck up courage. Then he climbed the lookout
to scan the sea. It was really to scan his own fate.
It was the old story of the glory-seeker's quest — a
harder battle than human power could wage; a
struggle that at the last only led to a hopeless impasse.
The scent on the Trail and the eagerness in the
hound leading only to a blind alley of baffled effort
and ruin! Every great benefactor of humanity has
come to this cid de sac of hope. It is as if a man's
highest aim were only in the end a sort of trap
whither some impish will-o'-the-wisp has impelled

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him. The thing itself— a passage across the Pole —
didn't exist any more than the elixir of life which laid
the foundations of chemistry. The question is how,
when the great men of humanity come to this blind
wall, did they ever have courage to go on? For the
thing they pursued was a phantom never to be real-
ized; but strangely enough, in the providence of
God, the phantom pursuit led to greater benefits for
the race than their highest hopes dared to dream.

No elixir of life, you dreamer; but your mad-
brained search for the elixir gave us the secrets of
chemistry by which man prolongs life if he doesn't
preserve eternal youth ! No fate written on the scroll
of the heavens, you star-gazer; but your fool-astrol-
ogy has given us astronomy, by which man may pre-
dict the movements of the stars for a thousand years
though he cannot forsee his own fate for a day! No
North-West Passage to Asia, you fevered adven-
turers of the trackless sea; but your search for a
short way to China has given us a New World worth
a thousand Chinas! Go on with your dreams, you
mad-souled visionaries! If it is a will-o'-the wisp
you chase, your will-o'-the-wisp is a lantern to the
rest of humanity!

Climbing the rigging to the topmast yardarm,
Hudson scanned the sea. His heart sank. His

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hopes seemed to congeal like the eternal ice of this
ice-world. The springs of life seemed to grow both
heavy and cold. Far as eye could reach was ice —
only ice, while outside the cove there raged a tempest
as if all the demons of the North were blowing their
trumpets.

"There is no passage this way/^ said Hudson to his
son. Then as if hope only dies that it may send
forth fresh growth like the seed, he added, "But we
must try Greenland again, on the west side this
time." It was ten o'clock at night when the men re-'
turned laden with game; but they, too, had taken
counsel among themselves whether to go forward;
and the memory of that dead crew's cross turned the
scales against Hudson. It was only the 5th of July,
but they would not hear of attempting Greenland
this season. From midnight of the 5th to nine o'clock
of the 6th, Hudson pondered. No gap opened through
the white wall ahead. The Frost Giants, whose
gambols may be heard on the long winter nights when
the icecracks whoop and romp, had won against
Man. ^^ Being void of hope^^ Hudson records, ^^the
wind stormy and against tis, much ice driving, we
weighed and set sail westward. "^^ Home-bound, the
ship anchored- on the Thames, August 26.



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CHAPTER III
1609

HUDSON'S THIRD VOYAGE

X Ijr THILE Hudson was pursuing his phantom
^y^ across Polar seas, Europe had at last
awakened to the secret of Spain's great-
ness — colonial wealth that poured the gold of Peru
into her treasury. To counteract Spain, colonizing
became the master policy of Europe. France was at
work on the St. Lawrence. England was settling
Virginia, and Smith, the pioneer of Virginia, who
was Hudson's personal friend, had explored the
Chesapeake.

But the Netherlands went a step farther. To
throw oflF the yoke of Spain, they maintained a fleet
of seventy merchantmen furnished as ships of war
to wage battle on the high seas. Spanish colonies
were to be attacked wherever found. Spanish cities
were to be sacked as the buccaneers sacked them on
the South Sea. Spanish caravels with cargoes of
gold were to be scuttled and sunk wherever met. It



Online LibraryAgnes Christina LautThe conquest of the great Northwest: being the story of the ..., Volumes 1-2 → online text (page 2 of 50)