James Fenimore Cooper.

The Sea Lions The Lost Sealers online

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Hazard - no good will come of that nip, and of this return into port ag'in;
and of all this veering and hauling upon cargo."

The other mate laughed; but a call from his commanding officer put a stop
to the dialogue. Hazard was wanted to help secure the schooner of Daggett
in the berth in which she was now placed. The tides do not appear to rise
and fall in very high latitudes, by any means, as much as it does in about
50°. In the antarctic sea they are reported to be but of medium elevation
and force. This fact our navigators had noted; and Daggett had, at once,
carried his schooner on the only thing like a beach that was to be found
on any part of that wild coast. His craft was snug within the cove, and
quite handy for discharging and taking in. Beach, in a proper sense, it
was not; being, with a very trifling exception, nothing but a shelf of
rock that was a little inclined, and which admitted of a vessel's being
placed upon it, as on the floor of a dock.

Into this berth Daggett took his schooner, while the other vessel
anchored. There was nearly a whole day before them, and all the men were
at once set to work to discharge the cargo of the injured vessel. To get
rid of the pumps, they would cheerfully have worked the twenty-four hours
without intermission. As fast as the vessel was lightened, she was hove
further and further on the rock, until she was got so high as to be
perfectly safe from sinking, or from injuring anything on board her; when
the pumps were abandoned. Before night came, however, the schooner was so
secured by means of shores, and purchases aloft that were carried out to
the rocks, as to stand perfectly upright on her keel. She was thus
protected when the tide left her. At low water it was found that she
wanted eight feet of being high and dry, having already been lightened
four feet. A good deal of cargo was still in, on this the first night
after her return.

The crew of Daggett's vessel carried their mattresses ashore, took
possession of the bunks, lighted a fire in the stove, and made their
preparations to get the camboose ashore next day, and do their cooking in
the house, as had been practised previously to quitting the island.
Roswell, and all his people, remained on board their own vessel.

The succeeding day the injured schooner was cleared of everything, even to
her spars, the lower masts and bowsprit excepted. Two large sealing crews
made quick work with so small a craft. Empty casks were got under her, and
at the top of the tide she was floated quite up to the small beach that
was composed of the _débris_ of rock, already mentioned. As the water left
her, she fell over a little, of course; and at half-tide her keel lay high
and dry.

The prying eyes of all hands were now busy looking out for the leaks. As
might have been expected, none were found near the garboard streak, a fact
that was clearly enough proved by a quantity of the water remaining in the
vessel after she lay, entirely bare, nearly on her bilge.

"Her seams have opened a few streaks below the bends," said Roswell, as he
and Daggett went under the vessel's bottom, looking out for injuries; "and
you had better set about getting off the copper at once. Has there been an
examination made inside?"

None had yet been made, and our two masters clambered up to the main
hatch, and got as good a look at the state of things in the hold as could
be thus obtained. So tremendous had been the pressure, that three of the
deck beams were broken. They would have been driven quite clear of their
fastenings, had not the wall of ice at each end prevented the possibility
of such a thing. As it was, the top-timbers had slightly given way, and
the seams must have opened just below the water-line. When the tide came
in again, the schooner righted of course; and the opportunity was taken to
pump her dry. There was then no leak; another proof that the defective
places must be sought above the present water-line.

With the knowledge thus obtained, the copper was removed, and several of
the seams examined. The condition of the pitch and oakum pointed out the
precise spots that needed attention, and the caulking-irons were
immediately set at work. In about a week the job was completed, as was
fancied, the copper re-placed, and the schooner was got afloat again.
Great was the anxiety to learn the effect of what had been done, and quite
as great the disappointment, when it was found that there was still a
serious leak that admitted too much water to think of going to sea until
it was stopped. A little head-work, however, and that on the part of
Roswell, speedily gave a direction to the search that was immediately set
on foot.

"This leak is not as low down as the vessel's bilge," he said; "for the
water did not run out of her, nor into her, until we got her afloat. It is
somewhere, then, between her light-water load-line and her bilge. Now we
have had all the copper off, and the seams examined in the wake of this
section of the vessel's bottom, from the fore-chains to the main; and, in
my judgment, it will be found that something is wrong about her stem, or
her stern-post. Perhaps one of her wood-ends has started. Such a thing
might very well have happened under so close a squeeze."

"In which case we shall have to lay the craft ashore again, and go to work
anew," answered Daggett. "I see how it is; you do not like the delay, and
are thinking of Deacon Pratt and Oyster Pond. I do not blame you, Gar'ner;
and shall never whisper a syllable ag'in you, or your people, if you sail
for home this very afternoon; leaving me and mine to look out for
ourselves. You've stood by us nobly thus far, and I am too thankful for
what you have done already, to ask for more."

Was Daggett sincere in these professions? To a certain point he was; while
he was only artful on others. He wished to appear just and magnanimous;
while, in secret, it was his aim to work on the better feelings, as well
as on the pride of Gardiner, and thus secure his services in getting his
own schooner ready, as well as keep him in sight until a certain key had
been examined, in the proceeds of which he conceived he had a share, as
well as in those of Sealer's Land. Strange as it may seem, even in the
strait in which he was now placed, with so desperate a prospect of ever
getting his vessel home again, this man clung like a leech to the remotest
chance of obtaining property. There is a bull-dog tenacity on this
subject, among a certain portion of the great American family - the
god-like Anglo-Saxon - that certainly leads to great results in one
respect; but which it is often painful to regard, and never agreeable to
any but themselves, to be subject to. Of this school was Daggett, whom no
dangers, no toil, no thoughts of a future, could divert from a purpose
that was coloured by gold. We do not mean to say that other nations are
not just as mercenary; many are more so; those, in particular, that have
long been corrupted by vicious governments. You may buy half a dozen
Frenchmen, for instance, more easily than one Yankee; but let the last
actually get his teeth into a dollar, and the muzzle of the ox fares worse
in the jaws of the bull-dog.

Roswell was deeply reluctant to protract his stay in the group; but
professional pride would have prevented him from deserting a consort under
such circumstances, had not a better feeling inclined him to remain and
assist Daggett. It is true the last had, in a manner, thrust himself on
him, and the connection had been strangely continued down to that moment;
but this he viewed as a dispensation of Providence, to which he was bound
to submit. The result was a declaration of a design to stand by his
companion as long as there was any hope of getting the injured craft home.

This decision pointed at once to the delay of another week. No time was
lost in vain regrets, however; but all hands went to work to get the
schooner into shallow water again, and to look further for the principal
leak. Accurate trimming and pumping showed that a good deal of the water
was already stopped out; but too much still entered to render it prudent
to think of sailing until the injury was repaired. This time the schooner
was not suffered to lie on her bilge at all. She was taken into water just
deep enough to permit her to stand upright, sustained by shores, while the
tide left two or three streaks dry forward; it being the intention to wind
her, should the examination forward not be successful.

On stripping off the copper, it was found that a wood-end had indeed
started, the inner edge of the plank having got as far from its bed as
where the outer had been originally placed. This opened a crack through
which a small stream of water must constantly pour, each hour rendering
the leak more dangerous by loosening the oakum, and raising the plank from
its curvature. Once discovered, however, nothing was easier than to repair
the damage. It remained merely to butt-bolt anew the wood-end, drive a few
spikes, cork, and replace the copper. Roswell, who was getting each moment
more and more impatient to sail, was much vexed at a delay that really
seemed unavoidable, as it arose from the particular position of the leak.
Placed as it was, in a manner, between wind and water, it was not possible
to work at it more than an hour each tide; and the staging permitted but
two hands to be busy at the same time. As a consequence of these
embarrassments, no less than six tides came in and went out, before the
stem was pronounced tight again. The schooner was then pumped out, and the
vessel was once more taken into deep water. This time it was found that
the patience and industry of our sealers were rewarded with success; no
leak of any account existing.

"She's as tight as a bottle with a sealed cork, Gar'ner," cried Daggett, a
few hours after his craft was at her anchor, meeting his brother-master at
his own gangway, and shaking hands with him cordially. "I owe much of this
to you, as all on the Vineyard shall know, if we ever get home ag'in."

"I am rejoiced that it turns out so, Captain Daggett," was Roswell's
reply; "for to own the truth to you, the fortnight we have lost, or shall
lose, before we get you stowed and ready to sail again, has made a great
change in our weather. The days are shortening with frightful rapidity,
and the great bay was actually covered with a skim of ice this very
morning. The wind has sent in a sea that has broke it up; but look about
you, in the cove here - a boy might walk on that ice near the rocks."

"There'll be none of it left by night, and the two crews will fill me up
in twenty-four hours. Keep a good heart Gar'ner; I'll take you clear of
the bergs in the course of the week."

"I have less fear of the bergs now, than of the new ice and the floes. The
islands must have got pretty well to the northward by this time; but each
night gets colder, and the fields seem to be setting back towards the
group, instead of away from it."

Daggett cheered his companion by a good deal of confident talk; but
Roswell was heartily rejoiced when, at the end of four-and-twenty hours
more, the Vineyard craft was pronounced entirely ready. It was near the
close of the day, and Gardiner was for sailing, or moving at once; but
Daggett offered several very reasonable objections. In the first place,
there was no wind; and Roswell's proposition to tow the schooners out into
the middle of the bay, was met by the objection that the people had been
hard at work for several days, and that they needed some rest. All that
could be gained by moving the schooners then, was to get them outside of
the skim of ice that now regularly formed every still night near the land,
but which was as regularly broken and dispersed by the waves, as soon as
the wind returned. Roswell, however, did not like the appearances of
things; and he determined to take his own craft outside, let Daggett do as
he might. After discussing the matter in vain, therefore, and finding that
the people of the other schooner had eaten their suppers and turned in, he
called all hands, and made a short address to his own crew, leaving it to
their discretion whether to man the boats or not. As Roswell had pointed
out the perfect absence of wind, the smoothness of the water, and the
appearances of a severe frost, or cold, for frost there was now, almost at
mid-day, the men came reluctantly over to his view of the matter, and
consented to work instead of sleeping. The toil, however, could be much
lessened, by dividing the crew into the customary watches. All that
Roswell aimed at was to get his schooner about a league from the cove,
which would be taking her without a line drawn from cape to cape, the
greatest danger of new ice being within the curvature of the crescent.
This he thought might easily be done in the course of a few hours; and,
should there come any wind, much sooner. On explaining this to the crew,
the men were satisfied.

Roswell Gardiner felt as if a load were taken off his spirits, when his
schooner was clear of the ground, and his mainsail was hoisted. A boat was
got ahead, and the craft was slowly towed out of the cove, the canvass
doing neither good nor harm. As the vessel passed that of Daggett the
last was on deck; the only person visible in the Vineyard craft. He wished
his brother-master a good night, promising to be out as soon as there was
any light next morning.

It would not be easy to imagine a more dreary scene than that in which
Deacon Pratt's schooner moved out into the waters that separated the
different islands of this remote and sterile group. Roswell could just
discern the frowning mass of the rocks that crowned the centre of Sealer's
Land; and that was soon lost in the increasing obscurity. The cold was
getting to be severe, and the men soon complained that ice was forming on
the blades of their oars. Then it was that a thought occurred to our young
mariner, which had hitherto escaped him. Of what use would it be for his
vessel to be beyond the ice, if that of Daggett should be shut in the
succeeding day? So sensible did he become to the importance of this idea,
that he called in his boat, and pulled back into the cove, in order to
make one more effort to persuade Daggett to follow him out.

Gardiner found all of the Vineyarders turned in, even to their officers.
The fatigue they had lately undergone, united to the cold, rendered the
berths very agreeable; and even Daggett begged his visiter would excuse
him for not rising to receive his guest. Argument with a man thus
circumstanced and so disposed, was absolutely useless. After remaining a
short time with Daggett, Roswell returned to his own schooner. As he
pulled back, he ascertained that ice was fast making; and the boat
actually cut its way through a thin skim, ere it reached the vessel.

Our hero was now greatly concerned lest he should be frozen in himself,
ere he could get into the more open water of the bay. Fortunately a light
air sprung up from the northward, and trimming his sails, Gardiner
succeeded in carrying his craft to a point where the undulations of the
ground-swell gave the assurance of her being outside the segment of the
crescent. Then he brailed his foresail, hauled the jib-sheet over, lowered
his gaff, and put his helm hard down. After this, all the men were
permitted to seek their berths; the officers looking out for the craft in
turns.

It wanted about an hour of day, when the second mate gave Roswell a call,
according to orders. The young master found no wind, but an intensely cold
morning, on going on deck. Ice had formed on every part of the rigging and
sides of the schooner where water had touched them; though the stillness
of the night, by preventing the spray from flying, was much in favour of
the navigators in this respect. On thrusting a boat-hook down, Roswell
ascertained that the bay around him had a skim of ice nearly an inch in
thickness. This caused him great uneasiness; and he waited with the
greatest anxiety for the return of light, in order to observe the
condition of Daggett.

Sure enough, when the day came out distinctly, it was seen that ice of
sufficient thickness to bear men on it, covered the entire surface within
the crescent. Daggett and his people were already at work on it, using the
saw. They must have taken the alarm before the return of day, for the
schooner was not only free from the ground, but had been brought fully a
cable's length without the cove. Gardiner watched the movements of Daggett
and his crew with a glass for a short time, when he ordered all hands
called. The cook was already in the galley, and a warm breakfast was soon
prepared. After eating this, the two whale-boats were lowered, and Roswell
and Hazard both rowed as far as the ice would permit them, when they
walked the rest of the way to the imprisoned craft, taking with them most
of their hands, together with the saw.

It was perhaps fortunate for Daggett that it soon began to blow fresh from
the northward, sending into the bay a considerable sea, which soon broke
up the ice, and enabled the Vineyard craft to force her way through the
fragments, and join her consort about noon.

Glad enough was Roswell to regain his own vessel; and he made sail on a
wind, determined to beat out of the narrow waters at every hazard, the
experience of that night having told him that they had remained in the
cove too long. Daggett followed willingly, but not like a man who had
escaped by the skin of his teeth, from wintering near the antarctic circle.




Chapter XXII.



"Beside the Moldau's rushing stream,
With the wan moon overhead,
There stood, as in an awful dream,
The army of the dead."

Longfellow.


Most of our readers will understand what was meant by Mary Pratt's
"inclination of the earth's axis to the plane of its orbit;" but as there
may be a few who do not, and as the consequences of this great physical
fact are materially connected with the succeeding events of the narrative,
we propose to give such a homely explanation of the phenomenon as we
humbly trust will render it clear to the most clouded mind. The orbit of
the earth is the path which it follows in space in its annual revolution
around the sun. To a planet there is no up or down, except as ascent and
descent are estimated from and towards itself. In all other respects it
floats in vacuum, or what is so nearly so as to be thus termed. Now, let
the uninstructed reader imagine a large circular table, with a light on
its surface, and near to its centre. The light shall represent the sun,
the outer edge of the circle of the table the earth's orbit, and its
surface the plane of that orbit. In nature there is no such thing as a
plane at all, the space within the orbit being vacant; but the surface of
the table gives a distinct notion of the general position of the earth as
it travels round the sun. It is scarcely necessary to say that the axis of
the earth is an imaginary line drawn through the planet, from one pole to
the other; the name being derived from the supposition that our daily
revolution is made on this axis.

Now, the first thing that the student is to fix in his mind, in order to
comprehend the phenomenon of the seasons, is the leading fact that the
earth does not change its attitude in space, if we may so express it, when
it changes its position. If the axis were _perpendicular_ to the plane of
the orbit, this circumstance would not affect the temperature, as the
simplest experiment will show. Putting the equator of a globe on the outer
edge of the table, and holding it perfectly _upright_, causing it to turn
on its axis as it passes round the circle, it would be found that the
light from the centre of the table would illumine just one half of the
globe, at all times and in all positions, cutting the two poles. Did this
movement correspond with that of nature, the days and nights would be
always of the same length, and there would be no changes of the seasons,
the warmest weather being nearest to the equator, and the cold increasing
as the poles were approached. No where, however, would the cold be so
intense as it now is, nor would the heat be as great as at present, except
at or quite near to the equator. The first fact would be owing to the
regular return of the sun, once in twenty-four hours; the last to the
oblique manner in which its rays struck this orb, in all places but near
its centre.

But the globe ought not to be made to move around the table with its axis
perpendicular to its surface, or to the "plane of the earth's orbit." In
point of fact, the earth is inclined to this plane, and the globe should
be placed at a corresponding inclination. Let the globe be brought to the
edge of the table, at its south side, and with its upper or north pole
inclining to the sun, and then commence the circuit, taking care always to
keep this north pole of the globe pointing in the same direction, or to
keep the globe itself in what we have termed a fixed attitude. As one half
of the globe must always be in light, and the other half in darkness, this
inclination from the perpendicular will bring the circle of light some
distance beyond the north pole, when the globe is due-south from the
light, and will leave an equal space around the opposite pole without any
light at all, or any light directly received. Now it is that what we have
termed the _fixed attitude_ of the globe begins to tell. If the north pole
inclined towards the orbit facing the rim of the table, the light would
still cut the poles, the days and nights would still be equal, and there
would be no changes in the seasons, though there would be a rival
revolution of the globe, by causing it to turn once a year, shifting the
poles end for end. The inclination being to the surface of the table, or
to _the plane_ of the orbit, the phenomena that are known to exist are a
consequence. Thus it is, that the change in the seasons is as much owing
to the fixed attitude of the earth in space, as we have chosen to term its
polar directions, as to the inclination of its axis. Neither would produce
the phenomena without the assistance of the other, as our experiment with
the table will show.

Place, then, the globe at the south side of the rim of the table, with its
axis inclining towards its surface, and its poles always pointing in the
same general direction, not following the circuit of the orbit, and set it
in motion towards the east, revolving rapidly on its axis as it moves.
While directly south of the light, it would be found that the north pole
would be illuminated, while no revolution on the axis would bring the
south pole within the circle of the light. This is when a line drawn from
the axis of the globe would cut the lamp, were the inclination brought as
low as the surface of the table. Next set the globe in motion, following
the rim of the table, and proceeding to the east or right hand, keeping
its axis always looking in the same general direction, or in an attitude
that would be parallel to a north and south line drawn through the sun,
were the inclination as low as the surface of the table. This movement
would be, in one sense, sideways, the circle of light gradually lessening
around the north pole, and extending towards the south, as the globe
proceeded east and north, diminishing the length of the days in the
northern hemisphere, and increasing them in the southern. When at east,
the most direct rays of the light would fall on the equator, and the light
would cut the two poles, rendering the days and nights equal. As the globe
moved north, the circle of light would be found to increase around the
_south_ pole, while none at all touched the _north_. When on the north
side of the table, the _northern_ pole of the globe would incline so far
from the sun as to leave a space around it in shadow that would be of
precisely the same size as had been the space of light when it was placed
on the opposite side of the table. Going round the circle west, the same
phenomena would be seen, until coming directly south of the lamp, the
north pole would again come into light altogether, and the south equally
into shadow.

Owing to this very simple but very wonderful provision of divine power and
wisdom, this earth enjoys the relief of the changes in the seasons, as
well as the variations in the length of the days. For one half of the
year, or from equinox to equinox, from the time when the globe is at a
due-west point of the table until it reaches the east, the north pole
would always receive the light, in a circle around it, that would



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Sea Lions The Lost Sealers → online text (page 27 of 39)