James Fenimore Cooper.

The Sea Lions The Lost Sealers online

. (page 32 of 39)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Sea Lions The Lost Sealers → online text (page 32 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


making these sacrifices; then would have come certain destruction.

As to the proposal of Daggett, there were many objections to it. A want of
room would be one; want of provisions another; and there would be the
necessity of transporting stores, bedding, and a hundred things that were
almost as necessary to the people as warmth; and which indeed contributed
largely to their warmth. In addition was the objection just mentioned, of
the insufficiency of the materials of the building; an objection which was
just as applicable to a residence in one vessel as a residence in the
other. Of course the proposition was declined.

Macy remained a night with the Oyster Ponders, and left the house after
breakfast next morning; knowing that Daggett only waited for his return
with a negative, to commence breaking up the wreck. The mate was attended
by the seaman, returning as he had arrived. Two days later, there having
been a slight yielding of the snow under the warmth of the noon-day sun,
and a consequent hardening of its crust in the succeeding night, Roswell
and Stimson undertook to return this visit, with a view to make a last
effort to persuade Daggett to quit the wreck and come over to the house
altogether. When they had got about half-way between the two places, they
found the body of the seaman, stiff, frozen hard, and dead. A quarter of a
mile further on, the reckless Macy, who it was supposed greatly sustained
Daggett in his obstinacy, was found in precisely the same state. Both had
fallen in the path, and stiffened under the terrible power of the climate.
It was not without difficulty that Roswell reached the wreck, and reported
what he had seen. Even this terrible admonition did not change Daggett's
purpose. He had begun to burn his vessel, for there was now no
alternative; but he was doing it on a system which, as he explained it to
Roswell, was not only to leave him materials with which to construct a
smaller craft in the spring, but which would allow of his inhabiting the
steerage and cabin as long as he pleased.

In some respects the wreck certainly had its advantages over the house.
There was more room for exercise, the caverns of the ice being extensive,
while they completely excluded the wind, which was now the great danger of
the season. It was doubtless owing to the wind that Macy and his
companion had perished. As the spring approached, these winds increased in
violence; though there had been slight symptoms of their coming more
blandly, even at the time when their colder currents were really
frightful.

A whole month succeeded this visit of Roswell's, during which there was no
intercourse. It was September, the March of the antarctic circle, and the
weather had been terrific during most of the period. It was during these
terrible four weeks that Roswell completed his examination of the
all-important subject Mary had marked out for him, and which Stimson had
so earnestly and so often placed before his mind. The sudden fate of Macy
and his companion, the condition of his crew, and all the serious
circumstances with which he was surrounded, conspired to predispose him to
inquiry; and what was equally important in such an investigation, to
humility. Man is a very different being in high prosperity from what he
becomes when the blows of an evil fortune, or the visitations of Divine
Providence alight upon him. The skepticism of Roswell was more the result
of human pride, of confidence in himself, than in any precept derived from
others, or of any deep reasoning process whatever. He conceived that the
theory of the incarnation of the Son of God was opposed to philosophy and
experience, it is true; and, thus far, he may be said to have reasoned in
the matter, though it was in his own way, and with a very contracted view
of the subject; but pride had much more to do with even this conclusion,
than a knowledge of physics or philosophy. It did not comport with the
respect he entertained for his own powers, to lend his faith to an account
that conflicted with so many of the opinions he had formed on evidence and
practice. Credulous women might have their convictions on the truth of
this history, but it was not necessary for men to be as easily duped.
There was something even amiable and attractive in this weakness of the
other sex, that would ill comport, however, with the greater sternness of
masculine judgment. Roswell, as he once told Stimson, hesitated to believe
in anything that he could not comprehend. His God must be worshipped for
the obvious truth of his attributes and existence. He wished to speak with
respect of things that so many worthy people reverenced; but he could not
forget that Providence had made him a reasoning creature; and his reason
must be convinced. Stephen was no great logician, as the reader will
easily understand; but Newton possessed no clearer demonstration of any of
his problems than this simple, nay ignorant, man enjoyed in his religious
faith, through the divine illumination it had received in the visit of the
Holy Spirit.

That gloomy month, however, had not been thrown away. All the men were
disposed to be serious; and the reading of the bible, openly and aloud,
soon became a favourite occupation with every one of them. Although
Roswell's reading was directed by the marks of Mary, all of which had
reference to those passages that touched on the Divinity of the Saviour,
he made no comments that betrayed his incredulity. There is a simple
earnestness in the narrative portions of the Gospel that commends its
truth to every mind, and it had its effect on that of Roswell Gardiner;
though it failed to remove doubts that had so long been cherished, and
which had their existence in pride of reason, or what passes for such,
with those who merely skim the surface of things, as they seem to exist
around them.

On the evening of that particular day in October, to which we desire now
to advance the time, and after the most pleasant and cheerful afternoon
and sunset that any on the island had seen for many months, Roswell and
Stimson ventured to continue their exercise on the terrace, then again
clear of impediments, even after the day had closed. The night promised to
be cold, but the weather was not yet so keen as to drive them to a
shelter. Both fancied there was a feeling of spring in the wind, which was
from the north-east, a quarter that brought the blandest currents of air
into those seas, if any air of that region deserved such a term at all.

"It is high time we had some communications with the Vineyarders," said
Roswell, as they turned at that end of the terrace which was nearest to
the wreck. "A full month has passed since we have seen any of them, or
have heard a syllable of their doings or welfare."

"It's a bad business this separation, Captain Gar'ner," returned the
boat-steerer; "and every hour makes it worse. Think how much good might
have been done them young men had they only been with us while we've been
reading the book of books, night and morning, sir!"

"That good book seems to fill most of your thoughts, Stephen - I wish I
could have your faith."

"It will come in time, sir, if you will only strive for it. I'm sure no
heart could have been harder than mine was, until within the last five
years. I was far worse as a Christian, Captain Gar'ner, than I consider
you to be; for while you have doubts consarning the Divinity of our
Blessed Lord, I had no thought of any one of the Trinity. My only God was
the world; and sich a world, too, as a poor sailor knows. It was being but
little better than the brutes."

"Of all the men with me, you seem to be the most contented and happy. I
cannot say I have seen even a sign of fear about you, when things have
been at the worst."

"It would be very ungrateful, sir, to mistrust a Providence that has done
so much for me."

"I devoutly wish I could believe with you that Jesus was the Son of God!"

"Excuse me, Captain Gar'ner; it's jist because you do not _devoutly_ wish
this, that you do not believe. I think I understand the natur' of your
feelin's, sir. I had some sich once, myself; though it was only in a small
way. I was too ignorant to feel much pride in my own judgment, and soon
gave up every notion that went ag'in Scriptur'. I own it is not accordin'
to natur', as we know natur', to believe in this doctrine; but we know too
little of a thousand things to set up our weak judgments in the very face
of revelation."

"I am quite willing to believe all I can understand, Stephen; but I find
it difficult to credit accounts that are irreconcilable with all that my
experience has taught me to be true."

"They who are of your way of thinkin', sir, do not deny that Christ was a
good man and a prophet; and that the apostles were good men and prophets;
and that they all worked miracles."

"This much I am willing enough to believe; but the other doctrine seems
contrary to what is possible."

"Yet you have seen, sir, that these apostles believed what you refuse.
One thing has crossed my mind, Captain Gar'ner, which I wish to say to
you. I know I'm but an ignorant man, and my idees may be hardly worth your
notice; but sich as they be, I want to lay 'em afore you. We are told that
these apostles were all men from a humble class in life, with little
l'arnin', chosen, as it might be, to show men that faith stood in need of
no riches, or edication, or worldly greatness, of any sort. To me, sir,
there is a wholesome idee in that one thing."

"It gives us all a useful lesson, Stephen, and has often been mentioned, I
believe, in connection with the doctrines of Christianity."

"Yes, sir - so I should think; though I don't remember ever to have heard
it named from any pulpit. Well, Captain Gar'ner, it does not agree with
our notions to suppose that God himself, a part of the Ruler and Master of
the Universe, should be born of a woman, and come among sinners in order
to save 'em from his own just judgments."

"That is just the difficulty that I have in believing what are called the
dogmas of Christianity on that one point. To me, it has ever seemed the
most improbable thing in the world."

"Just so, sir - I had some sort of feelin of that natur' myself once. When
God, in his goodness, put it into my heart to believe, however, as he was
pleased to do in a fit of sickness from which I never expected to rise,
and in which I was led to pray to him for assistance, I began to think
over all these matters in my own foolish manner. Among other things, I
said to myself, 'is it likely that any mortal man would dream of calling
Christ the Son of God, unless it was put into _his_ mind to say so?' Then
comes the characters of them men, who all admit were upright and
religious. How can we suppose that they would agree in giving the same
account of sich a thing, unless what they said had been told to them by
some tongue that they believed?"

Roswell smiled at Stephen's reasoning, which was not without a certain
point, but which an ingenious man might find the means of answering in
various ways.

"There is another thing, sir, that I've read in a book," resumed the
boat-steerer, "which goes a great way with me. Jesus allowed others to
call him the Son of God, without rebuking them for doing so. It does
really seem that they who believe he was a good man, as I understand is
the case with you, Captain Gar'ner, must consider this as a strong fact.
We are to remember what a sin idolatry is; how much all ra'al worshippers
abhor it; and then set that feelin' side by side with the fact that the
Son did riot think it robbery to be called the equal of the Father. To me,
that looks like a proof that our belief has a solid foundation."

Roswell did not reply. He was aware that it would not be just to hold any
creed responsible for the manner in which a person like Stimson defended
it. Still, he was struck with both of this man's facts. The last, he had
often met in books; but the first was new to him. Of the two, this novel
idea of the improbability of the apostles' inventing that which would seem
to be opposed to all men's notions and prejudices, struck him more
forcibly than the argument adduced from the acquiescence of the Redeemer
in his own divinity. The last might be subject to verbal criticism, and
could possibly be explained away, as he imagined; but the first appeared
to be intimately incorporated with the entire history of Christ's
ministrations on earth. These were the declarations of John the Baptist,
the simple and unpretending histories of the Gospels, the commentaries of
St. Paul, and the venerable teachings of the church through so many
centuries of varying degrees of faith and contention, each and all going
to corroborate a doctrine that, in his eyes, had appeared to be so
repugnant to philosophy and reason. Wishing to be alone, Roswell gave an
order to Stimson to execute some duty that fell to his share, and
continued walking up and down the terrace alone for quite an hour longer.

The night was coming in cold and still. It was one of those last efforts
of winter in which all the terrible force of the season was concentrated:
and it really appeared as if nature, wearied with its struggle to return
to a more genial temperature, yielded in despair, and was literally
returning backwards through the coldest of her months. The moon was young,
but the stars gave forth a brightness that is rarely seen, except in the
clear cold nights of a high latitude. Each and all of these sublime
emblems of the power of God were twinkling like bright torches glowing in
space; and the mind had only to endow each with its probable or known
dimensions, its conjectural and reasonable uses, to form a picture of the
truest sublimity in which man is made to occupy his real position. In this
world, where, in a certain sense, he is master, where all things are
apparently under his influence, if not absolutely subject to his control;
where little that is distinctly visible is to be met with that does seem
to be created to meet his wants, or to be wholly at his disposal, one gets
a mistaken and frequently a fatal notion of his true place in the scale of
the beings who are intended to throng around the footstool of the
Almighty. As the animalculae of the atmospheric air bear a proportion to
things visible, so would this throng seem to bear a proportion to our
vague estimates of the spiritual hosts. All this Roswell was very capable
of feeling, and in some measure of appreciating; and never before had he
been made so conscious of his own insignificance, as he became while
looking on the firmament that night, glowing with its bright worlds and
suns, doubtless the centres of other systems in which distance swallowed
up the lesser orbs.

Almost every one has heard or read of that collection of stars which goes
by the name of the Southern Cross. The resemblance to the tree on which
Christ suffered is not particularly striking, though all who navigate the
southern hemisphere know it, and recognize it by its imputed appellation.
It now attracted Roswell's gaze; and coming as it did after so much
reading, so many conversations with Stephen, and addressing itself to one
whose heart was softened by the fearful circumstances that had so long
environed the sealers, it is not surprising that it brought our young
master to meditate seriously on his true condition in connection with the
atonement that he was willing to admit had been made for him, in common
with all of earth, at the very moment he hesitated to believe that the
sufferer was, in any other than a metaphorical sense, the Son of God.

It is not our intention to describe more of the religious for me. Where
there is the same knowledge, there is too much companionship, like, for
worship and reverence."

"But we are told that man was created after the image of God."

"In his likeness, Captain Gar'ner - with _some_ of the Divine Spirit, but
not with all. That makes him different from the brutes, and immortal. I
have convarsed with a clergyman who thinks that the angels, and
archangels, and other heavenly beings, are far before even the Saints in
Heaven, such as have been only men on 'arth."

The idea of not having a Deity that he could not comprehend had long been
one of Roswell Gardiner's favourite rules of faith. He did not understand
by this pretending dogma, that he was, in any respect, of capacity equal
to comprehend with that of the Divine Being, but simply that he was not to
be expected or required to believe in any theory which manifestly
conflicted with his knowledge and experience, as both were controlled by
the powers of induction he had derived directly from his Creator. In a
word, his exception was one of the most obvious of the suggestions of the
pride of reason, and just so much in direct opposition to the great law of
regeneration, which has its very gist in the converse of this feeling
- Faith.

As our young master paced the terrace alone, that idea of the necessity of
the Creator's being incomprehensible to the created, recurred to him. The
hour that succeeded was probably the most important in Roswell Gardiners
life. So intense were his feelings, so active the workings of his mind,
that he was quite insensible to the intensity of the cold; and his body
keeping equal motion with his thoughts, if one may so express it, his
frame actually set at defiance a temperature that might otherwise have
chilled it, warmly and carefully as it was clad.

Truly there were many causes existing at that time and place, to bring any
man to a just sense of his real position in the scale of created beings.
The vault above Roswell was sparkling with orbs floating in space, most of
them far more vast than this earth, and each of them doubtless having its
present or destined use. What was that light, so brilliant and pervading
throughout space, that converted each of those masses of dark matter into
globes clothed with a glorious brightness? Roswell had seen chemical
experiments that produced wonderful illuminations; but faint, indeed, were
the most glowing of those artificial torches, to the floods of light that
came streaming out of the void, on missions of millions and millions of
miles. Who, and what was the Dread Being - dread in his Majesty and
Justice, but inexhaustible in Love and Mercy - who used these exceeding
means as mere instruments of his pleasure? and what was he himself, that
he should presume to set up his miserable pride of reason, in opposition
to a revelation supported by miracles that must be admitted to come
through men inspired by the Deity, or rejected altogether?

In this frame of mind Roswell was made to see that Christianity admitted
of no half-way belief; it was all true, or it was wholly false.

And why should not Christ be the Son of God, as the Fathers of the Church
had perseveringly, but so simply proclaimed, and as that church had
continued to teach for eighteen centuries? Roswell believed himself to
have been created in the image of God; and his much-prized reason told him
that he could perpetuate himself in successors: and that which the Creator
had given _him_ the power to achieve, could he not in his own person
perform? For the first time, an inference to the contrary seemed to be
illogical.

Then the necessity for the great expiation occurred to his mind. This had
always been a stumbling-block to Roswell's faith. He could not see it; and
that which he could not see he was indisposed to believe. Here was the
besetting weakness of his character; a weakness which did not suffer him
to perceive that could he comprehend so profound a mystery, he would be
raised far above that very nature in which he took so much pride. As he
reflected on this branch of the subject, a thousand mysteries, physical
and moral, floated before his mind; and he became aware of the little
probability that he should have been endowed with the faculties to
comprehend this, the greatest of them all. Had not science gradually
discovered the chemical processes by which gases could be concentrated
and disengaged, the formation of one of those glittering orbs above his
head would have been quite as unintelligible a mystery to him, as the
incarnation of the Saviour. The fact was, that phenomena that were just as
mysterious to the human mind as any that the dogmas of Christianity
required to be believed, exist hourly before our eyes without awakening
skepticism, or exciting discussion; finding their impunity in their
familiarity. Many of these phenomena were strictly incomprehensible to
human understandings, which could reason up to a fountain-head in each
case; and there it was obliged to abandon the inductive process, purely
for the want of power to grapple with the premises which control the whole
demonstration.

Could Mary Pratt have known what was going on in Roswell Gardiner's soul
that night, her happiness would have been as boundless as her gratitude to
God. She would have seen the barrier that had so long interposed itself to
her wishes broken down; not by any rude hand, but by the influence of
those whisperings of the Divine Spirit, which open the way to men to fit
themselves for the presence of God.




Chapter XXVI.



"Let winter come! let polar spirits sweep
The darkening world, and tempest-troubled deep!"

Campbell.


While the bosom of Roswell was thus warming with the new-born faith, of
which the germ was just opening in his heart, Stimson came out upon the
terrace to see what had become of his officer. It was much past the hour
when the men got beneath the coverings of their mattresses; and the honest
boat-steerer, who had performed the duty on which he had been sent, was
anxious about Roswell's remaining so long in the open air, on this
positively the severest night of the whole season.

"You stand the cold well, Captain Gar'ner," said Stephen, as he joined
his officer; "but it might be prudent, now, to get under cover."

"I do not feel it cold, Stephen" - returned Roswell - "on the contrary, I'm
in a pleasant glow. My mind has been busy, while my frame has kept in
motion. When such are the facts, the body seldom suffers. But,
hearken - does it not seem that some one is calling to us from the
direction of the wreck?"

The great distance to which sounds are conveyed in intensely cold and
clear weather, is a fact known to most persons. Conversations in the
ordinary tone had been heard by the sealers when the speakers were nearly
a mile off; and, on several occasions, attempts had been made to hold
communications, by means of the voice, between the wreck and the hut.
Certain words _had_ been understood; but it was found impossible to hold
anything that could be termed conversation. Still, the voice had been
often heard, and a fancy had come over the mind of Roswell that he heard a
cry like a call for assistance, just as Stimson joined him.

"It is so late, sir, that I should hardly think any of the Vineyarders
would be up," observed the boat-steerer, after listening some little time
in the desire to catch the sound mentioned. "Then it is so cold, that most
men would like to get beneath their blankets as soon as they could."

"I do not find it so very cold, Stephen. Have you looked at the
thermometer lately?"

"I gave it a look in coming out, sir; and it tells a terrible story
to-night! The marcury is all down in the ball, which is like givin' the
matter up, I do suppose, Captain Gar'ner."

"'Tis strange! I do not _feel_ it so very cold! The wind seems to be
getting round to north-east, too; give us enough of that, and we shall
have a thaw. Hark! there is the cry again."

This time there could be no mistake. A human voice had certainly been
raised amid the stillness of that almost polar night, clearly appealing to
human ears, for succour. The only word heard or comprehended was that of
"help;" one well enough adapted to carry the sound far and distinctly.
There was a strain of agony in the cry, as if he who made it uttered it
in despair. Roswell's blood seemed to flow back to his heart; never had he
before felt so appalling a sense of the dependence of man on a Divine
Providence, as at that moment.

"You heard it?" he said, inquiringly, to Stephen, after an instant of
silent attention, to make sure that no more was to reach his ears just
then.

"Sartain, sir - no man could mistake _that_. It was the voice of the
nigger, Joe; him that Captain Daggett has for a cook."

"Think you so, Stephen? The fellow has good lungs, and they may have set
him to call upon us in their distress. What can be the nature of the
assistance they ask?"

"I've been thinking of that, Captain Gardner; and a difficult p'int it is



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Sea Lions The Lost Sealers → online text (page 32 of 39)