Albert Bigelow Paine.

The great white way; a record of an unusual voyage of discovery, and some romantic love affairs amid strange surroundings online

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My Parents.


“The South Pole for us all!”—Frontispiece, Page 58.

Great White Way
A Record of an Unusual Voyage of Discovery, and some
Romantic Love Affairs amid Strange Surroundings.
The Whole Recounted by one Nicholas Chase,
Promoter of the Expedition, whose
Reports have been Arranged
for Publication by


_Author of “The Van Dwellers,” “The Bread Line,” etc._



New York


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



I. Answer to an Old Summons 5

II. I Renew an Old Dream 7

III. Even Seeking to Realize It 11

IV. Turning to the Sea, at Last, for Solace 15

V. I Overhaul the Steam Yacht, Billowcrest 20

VI. Where All Things Become Possible 49

VII. I Learn the Way of the Sea, and Enter More Fully Into My
Heritage 59

VIII. The Halcyon Way to the South 70

IX. Admonition and Counsel 76

X. Captain Biffer is Assisted by the Pampeiro 86

XI. In Gloomy Seas 95

XII. Where Captain Biffer Revises Some Opinions 99

XIII. In the “Fighting-Top” 106

XIV. An Excursion and an Experiment 115

XV. As Reported by My Note-Book 121

XVI. Following the Pacemaker 134

XVII. Investigation and Discovery 146

XVIII. A “Borning” and a Mystery 150

XIX. A Long Farewell 154

XX. The Long Dark 174

XXI. An Arrival and a Departure 183

XXII. On the Air-Line, South 190

XXIII. The Cloudcrest Makes a Landing 199

XXIV. The Great White Way 209

XXV. Where the Way Ends 215

XXVI. The Welcome to the Unknown 223

XXVII. The Prince of the Purple Fields 228

XXVIII. A Harbor of Forgotten Dreams 235

XXIX. A Land of the Heart’s Desire 243

XXX. The Lady of the Lilies 249

XXXI. The Pole at Last 253

XXXII. An Offering to the Sun 264

XXXIII. The Touch of Life 269

XXXIV. The Pardon of Love 279

XXXV. Down the River of Coming Dark 290

XXXVI. The “Passage of the Dead” 293

XXXVII. The Rising Tide 301

XXXVIII. Storm and Stress 305

XXXIX. Where Dreams Become Real 315

XL. Claiming the Reward 322


“The South Pole for us all!” (page 58) _Frontispiece_

“Then, somebody was clinging to me” Page 93

“From our high vantage we could command a vast circle of
sunless, melancholy cold” Page 117

“Cut her, Nick, cut her! I can’t stick on any longer!” Page 202


“A harbor for vanished argosies and forgotten dreams” Page 242


“There fell upon them a long golden bar of the returning
sunlight” Page 288


NICHOLAS CHASE, a young man with a dream of discovery, and an
inherited love of the sea.

CHAUNCEY GALE, a merry millionaire, with a willingness to back his

EDITH GALE, his daughter, a girl with accomplishments and ideas.

ZAR, colored maid and former nurse of Edith Gale. A woman with no
“fool notions” about the South Pole.

FERRATONI, an Italian electrician with wireless communication, and
subtle psychic theories.

CAPTAIN JOSEPH BIFFER, Master of the Billowcrest. An old salt, with
little respect for wild expeditions.

TERENCE LARKINS, First Officer of the Billowcrest, with a disregard
of facts.

MR. EMORY, Second Officer of the Billowcrest.

WILLIAM STURRITT, Steward of the Billowcrest, and inventor of
condensed food tablets.

FRENCHY, a bosun who stirs up trouble.

PRINCE OF THE PURPLE FIELDS, a gentle despot of the _Port of

PRINCESS OF THE LILIED HILLS, _His Serene Sister_, whose domain is
the deepest South.

Three maidens of the _Land of Dreams and Lotus_.

A shipwrecked sailor, whose rescue is important to all concerned.

Cabin boy, stewardess, and crew of the Billowcrest.

Courtiers, populace, etc., of the _Land of the Sloping Sun_.



For more than ten generations my maternal ancestors have been farers of
the sea, and I was born within call of high tide. At the distance of a
thousand miles inland it still called me, and often in childhood I woke
at night from dreams of a blue harbor with white sails.

It is not strange, therefore, that I should return to the coast. When,
at the age of thirty, I found myself happily rid of a commercial
venture—conducted for ten years half-heartedly and with insignificant
results—it was only natural that I should set my face seaward. My
custom, of which there was never any great amount, and my goodwill, of
which there was ever an abundance, I had disposed of to one who was
likely to reverse these conditions—his methods in the matter of trade
being rather less eccentric than my own. He had been able to pay me in
cash the modest sum agreed upon, and this amount I now hoped to increase
through some marine investment or adventure—something that would bring
me at once into active sea life—though I do not now see what this could
have been, and I confess that my ideas at the time were somewhat vague.


Perhaps first of all I wished to visit the South Pole—not an
unreasonable ambition it would seem for one backed by ten generations of
sea captains and ocean faring—but one that I found not altogether easy
to gratify. For one thing, there was no Antarctic expedition forming at
the time; and then, my notions in the matter were not popular.

From boyhood it had been my dream that about the earth’s southern axis,
shut in by a precipitous wall of ice, there lay a great undiscovered
world. Not a bleak desolation of storm-swept peaks and glaciers, but a
fair, fruitful land, warmed and nourished from beneath by the great
central heat brought nearer to the surface there through terrestrial
oblation, or, as my geography had put it, the “flattening of the poles.”

I had held to this fancy for a long time on the basis of theory only,
and, perhaps, the added premise that nature would not allow so vast a
tract as the Antarctic Continent to lie desolate. But, curiously enough,
about the time I arrived in New York I met with what seemed to me
undoubted bits of evidence in the reports of some recent polar

Borchgrevink, a Norwegian explorer, returning with a poorly fitted
Antarctic expedition, reported, among other things, a warm current off
Victoria Land, at a point below the 71st parallel, and flowing
approximately from the _direction of the pole!_[1]

Footnote 1:

“It seems to me,” he says, in an article printed in the Century
Magazine (January, 1896), “that an investigation of the origin and
consequences of the warm current running northeast, which we
experienced in Victoria Bay, is of the greatest importance.”

True, Borchgrevink believed the Antarctic Continent to be an
exceptionally cold one, but for this he was not to blame. No man can
help what he does or does not believe in these matters regardless of
sound logic and able reasoning to the contrary.—N. C.

Nansen, another Norwegian, in the Arctic Polar Sea, had been astonished
to find that the water at a great depth, instead of being colder than at
the surface as he had expected, was _warmer_! He had also found that as
he progressed northward from 80° the thermometer had been inclined to
_rise_ rather than to fall. To be sure, when he arrived at a point
within a little more than two hundred miles of the earth’s axis, he had
found only a continuance of ice—a frozen sea which undoubtedly extended
to the pole itself; but this frigidity I attributed to the fact that it
_was_ a sea into which, from the zone of fierce cold below, were
constantly forced huge ice-floes. These, as I conceived, would maintain
the condition of cold in the Arctics by shutting out the under warmth,
through which, however, they would be gradually melted—to be discharged
in those great Arctic currents which Nansen and other explorers had
observed. The lack of thickness in the ice _forming_ about the pole had
also been noted with some surprise. This too, I claimed, was due to the
warm earth beneath it which, while it could not much affect the general
climate, when some three miles of very chilly water and several feet of
substantial ice lay between, did serve as a provision of nature to
prevent the northern sea from becoming one mighty solidified mass.

Now, ice-floes could not be forced inland, as would have to be the case
in the Antarctics where there was admittedly a continent instead of a
sea. Around this continent, it was said, there lay a precipitous frozen
wall which no man had ever scaled. What lay beyond, no man of our world
had ever seen. But in my fancy I saw those ramparts of eternal ice
receding inward to a pleasant land, as the snow-capped Sierras slope to
the verdant plains of California. A pleasant land—a fair circular
world—temperate in its outer zone, becoming even tropic at the center,
and extending no less than a thousand miles from rim to rim. There, I
believed, unknown to the world without, a great and perhaps enlightened
race lived and toiled—loved and died.


But scientists, I was grieved to find, took very little stock in these
views. Even such as were willing to listen declared that the earth’s
oblation counted for nothing. Most of them questioned the existence of
a great central heat—some disputed it altogether. The currents and
temperatures reported by Nansen, Borchgrevink and others, they
ascribed, as nearly as I can remember, to centrifugal deflections, to
gravitatory adjustments—to anything, in fact, rather than what seemed
to me the simple and obvious causes. As a rule, they ridiculed the
idea of a habitable world, or even the possibility of penetrating the
continent at all. When I timidly referred to a plan I had partially
conceived—something with balloons in it—they despised me so openly
that I was grateful not to be dismissed with violence. I cannot forego
one brief example.

He was a stout, shiny-coated man, with the round eyes and human
expression of a seal. He took me quite seriously, however, which some of
them had not. Also himself, and the world in general. When I had briefly
stated my convictions he put his fingers together in front of his
comfortable roundness and regarded me solemnly. Then he said:

“My dear young man, you are pursuing what science terms an _ignis
fatuus_, commonly and vulgarly known as a will-o’-the-wisp. You are
wasting your time, and I assure you that neither I nor my associates in
science could, or would, indorse your sophistries, or even stand idly by
and see you induce the unthinking man of means to invest in an
undertaking which we, as men of profound research and calm
understanding, could not, and therefore would not approve.” He cleared
his throat with a phocine bark at the end of this period and settled
himself for the next. “Men in all ages,” he proceeded, “have undertaken,
in the cause of science, difficult tasks, and at vast expenditure, when
there was a proper scientific basis for the effort.”

He paused again. My case was hopeless so far as he was concerned—that
was clear. I would close the interview with a bit of pleasantry.

“Ah, yes,” I suggested, “such as the ‘hunting of the snark,’ for
instance. Well, perhaps I shall find the snark at the South Pole, when I
get there, who knows?”

The human seal lifted one flipper and scratched his head for a moment
gravely. Then he said with great severity:

“Young man, I do not recall the _genus_ snark. I do not believe that
science recognizes the existence of such a creature. Yet, even so, it is
most unlikely that its habitat should be the South Pole.”

I retired then, strong in the conclusion that the imagination of the
average scientist is a fixed equation, and his humor an unknown
quantity. Also that his chief sphere of usefulness lies in being able to
establish mathematically a fact already discovered by accident. The
accident had not yet occurred, hence the time for the scientist and his
arithmetic was not at hand.

I now sought capital without science, but the results though interesting
were not gratifying.

A millionaire editor, a very Crœsus of journalism, was my final
experience in this field. He didn’t have any time to throw away, but I
seemed reasonably well-fed, and he saw I was in earnest, so he was
willing to listen. He put his feet upon a table near me while he did it.
When I got the bald facts out and was getting ready to amplify a little
he broke in:

“How long would it take you to go there and get back?” he asked.

“I hardly know—five years, perhaps—possibly longer.”

The millionaire editor took his feet down.

“Humph! Hundred thousand dollars for a Sunday beat and five years to get
it! No, I don’t think we want any South Poles in this paper——”

“But in the cause of human knowledge and science,” I argued.

“My friend,” he said, “the only human knowledge and science that I am
interested in is the knowledge and science of getting out, next Sunday
and the Sunday after, a better paper than that lantern-faced pirate down
the street yonder. When you’ve found your South Pole and brought back a
piece of it, come in, and I’ll pay you more for the first slice than
anybody else, no matter what they offer. But you’re too long range for
us just at present. Good day!”


Having thus met only with rebuff and disaster in the places where it
seemed to me I had most reason to expect welcome and encouragement, I
turned for comfort to those who, like my forbears, went down to the sea
in ships. Along South Street, where the sky shows through a tangle of
rigging, and long bowsprits threaten to poke out windows across the way,
I forgot my defeats and even, for a time, my purpose, as I revelled in
my long-delayed heritage of the sea.

It was the ships from distant ports that fascinated me most. My Uncle
Nicholas—a sailor who was more than half a poet—had been in the foreign
trade. I remembered him dimly as a big brown-faced man who had told me
of far lands and shipwrecks, and rocked me to sleep to the words and
tune of an old hymn, of which I could still repeat the stanza beginning,

“The storm that wrecks the winter sky.”

His vessel with all on board had disappeared somewhere in the dark
waters below Cape Horn more than twenty years before. I had inherited
half of his name and a number of precious trinkets brought home during
his early days of seafaring—also, it was supposed, something of his
tastes and disposition. In a manner I was his heir, and the tall-masted,
black-hulled barks that came in from the Orient—to be pushed as quietly
into place at the dock as if they had but just been towed across the
East River from Brooklyn—these, it seemed to me, were his ships, hence,
_my_ ships that were coming in, at last.

I found in them treasures of joy unspeakable. Those from around the Horn
seemed to bring me direct messages from the lost sailor. I felt that had
he lived he would have believed in my dreams and helped me to make them
reality. At times I even went so far as to imagine that his ship had not
gone down at all, but had sailed away to some fair harbor of the South,
whence he had not cared to return.

It thrilled me even to touch one of those weather-beaten hulls. The
humblest and most unwashed seaman wrought a spell upon me as he made a
pretense of polishing a bit of brass or of mopping up the afterdeck. He
had braved fierce storms. He had spent long nights spinning yarns in the
forecastle. Perhaps he had been wrecked and had drifted for weeks in an
open boat. It might be that he had been driven by storms into those
gloomy seas of the South—even to the very edge of my Antarctic world!

When they would let me I went on board, to fall over things and ask
questions. My knowledge of shipping was about what could be expected of
one whose life had been spent on the prairies of the West, with now and
then a fleeting glimpse of a Mississippi River steamer. I suppose they
wondered how I could be so interested in a subject, concerning which I
displayed such a distressing lack of knowledge. They were willing to
enlighten me, however, for considerations of tobacco or money, and daily
I made new bosom friends—some of them, I suspect, as unholy a lot of
sea-rovers as ever found reward at the end of a yard-arm.

I did not seek technical instruction. What I yearned for was their
personal experiences, and these they painted for me in colorings of the
sea and sky, and in such measure as the supplies were forthcoming.
Almost to a man they readily remembered my Uncle Nicholas, but as they
differed widely concerning his stature, complexion and general
attributes, I was prone to believe at last that they would have recalled
him quite as willingly under any other name; and indeed I found this to
be true when I made the experiment, finally, of giving his name as
Hopkins, or Pierce, or Samelson, instead of the real one, which had been

I gathered courage presently to interview the officers, but these I
found rather less entertaining, perhaps because they were more truthful.
Only one of them recalled my Uncle Nicholas, a kindly first mate, and I
suspect that even this effort resulted from a desire to please rather
than from any real mental process or strict regard for verities.

I suppose I annoyed them, too, for I threw out a hint now and then which
suggested my becoming a part of their ship’s company, though in what
capacity or for what purpose neither I nor they could possibly imagine.
As for my Antarctic scheme, I presently avoided mentioning it, or, at
most, referred to it but timidly. Indeed, I demeaned myself so far at
times as to recall it in jest as the wild fancy of some mythical third
party whose reasoning and mentality were properly matters of ridicule
and contempt.

For I had discovered early in the game that the conception of a warm
country at the South Pole appealed as little to the seaman as to the
scientist. The sailors whom I had subsidized most liberally regarded me
with suspicion and unconsciously touched their foreheads at the
suggestion, while the kindly first officer, who had been willing to
remember my uncle, promptly forgot him again and walked away.

I passed my days at length in wandering rather silently about the docks
and shipping offices, seeking to invest my slender means in some venture
or adventure of the sea that would take me into many ports and perhaps
yield me a modest income besides. I consulted a clairvoyant among other
things, a greasy person on Twenty-third Street, who took me into a dim,
dingy room and told me that I was contemplating something-or-other and
that somebody-or-other would have something-or-other to do with it. This
was good as far as it went. I was, in fact, contemplating most of the
time. I was ready for anything—to explore, to filibuster, to seek for
hidden treasure—to go anywhere and to do anything that would make me
fairly and legitimately a part and parcel with the sea. I read one
morning of a daring voyager who in a small boat had set out to sail
around the world alone. I would have given all that I possessed to have
gone with him, and for a few moments I think I even contemplated a
similar undertaking. But as I did not then know a gaff from a
flying-jib, and realizing that my voyage would probably be completed
with suddenness and violence somewhere in the neighborhood of Sandy
Hook, I resisted the impulse. As for my Antarctic dream, its realization
seemed even farther away than when as a boy I had first conceived it,
some fifteen years before.


It was early spring when I had arrived in New York, and the summer heat
had begun to wane when I first set eyes on the Billowcrest, and its
owner, Chauncey Gale.

On one of those cool mornings that usually come during the first days of
August I was taking a stroll up Riverside Drive. Below me lay the blue
Hudson, and at a little dock just beyond Grant’s Tomb a vessel was
anchored. Looking down on her from above it was evident, even to my
unprofessional eye, that she was an unusual craft. Her hull was painted
white like that of a pleasure yacht and its model appeared to have been
constructed on some such lines. Also, an awning sheltered her decks,
suggesting the sumptuous pleasures of the truly rich. But she was much
larger than any yacht I had ever seen, and fully bark-rigged—carrying
both steam and sail. She was wider, too, in proportion to her length,
and her cabins seemed rather curiously disposed. A man laboring up the
slope took occasion to enlighten me. He had just investigated on his own

“Great boat, that,” he panted. “Cost a million, and belongs to a man
named Gale. Made his money in real estate and built her himself, after
his own ideas. He wasn’t a sailor at all, but he’d planned lots of
houses and knew what he wanted, and had the money to pay for it. No
other boat like her in the world and not apt to be; but she suits him
and she goes all right, and that’s all that’s necessary, ain’t it?”

I said that it was, and I presently went down to look at her. I do not

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Online LibraryAlbert Bigelow PaineThe great white way; a record of an unusual voyage of discovery, and some romantic love affairs amid strange surroundings → online text (page 1 of 17)