James Fenimore Cooper.

Works (Volume 32) online

. (page 17 of 39)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 32) → online text (page 17 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


this cluster of islands from the main, is that of Magellan,
through which vessels occasionally pass, in preference to
going farther south. Then comes Tierra del Fuego, which
is much the largest of all the islands. To the southward
of Tierra del Fuego lies a cluster of many small islands,
which bear different names; though the group farthest
south of all, and which it is usual to consider as the southern
termination of our noble continent, but which is not on a
continent at all, is known by the appropriate appellation
of the Hermits. If solitude, and desolation, and want, and
a contemplation of some of the sublimest features of this
earth, can render a spot fit for a hermitage, these islands
are very judiciously named. The one that is farthest south
contains the cape itself, which is marked by the ragged
pyramid of rock already mentioned ; placed there by na
ture, a never-tiring sentinel of the war of the elements.
Behind this cluster of the Hermits it was that Stimson ad
vised his officer to take refuge against the approaching
gale, of which the signs were now becoming obvious and
certain. Roswell's motive, however, for listening to such
advice, was less to find a shelter for his schooner than to
get rid of Daggett. For the gale he cared but little, since
he was a long way from the ice, and could stretch off the
land to the southward into a waste of waters that seems in
terminable. There are islands to the southward of Cape
Horn, and a good many of them too, though none very



THE SEA LIONS. 18 J

near. It is now known, also, by means of the toils and
courage of various seamen, including those of the perse
vering and laborious Wilkes, the most industrious and the
least rewarded of all the navigators who have ever worked
f8r the human race in this dangerous and exhausting occu
pation, that a continent is there also; but, at the period of
which we are writing, the existence of the Shetlands and
Palmer's Land was the extent of the later discoveries in
that part of the ocean. After pacing the quarter-deck a few
minutes, when he quitted the forecastle as mentioned, Ros-
well Gardiner again went forward among the men.

" You are quite sure that this high peak is the Horn,
Stimson?" he observed, inquiringly.

" Sartain of it, sir. There 's no mistaking sich a place,
which, once seen, is never forgotten."

" It agrees with the charts and our reckoning, and I may
say it agrees with our eyes also. Here is the Pacific Ocean,
plain enough, Mr. Hazard."

" So I think, sir. We are at the end of Ameriky, if it
has an end anywhere. This heavy long swell is an old ac
quaintance, though I never was in close enough to see the
land, hereabouts, before."

" It is fortunate we have one trusty hand on board who
can stand pilot. Stimson, I intend to go in and anchor,
and I shall trust to you to carry me into a snug berth."

" I '11 do it, Captain Gar'ner, if the weather will permit
it/ 1 returned the seaman, with an unpretending sort of
confidence that spoke well for his ability.

Preparations were now commenced in earnest, to come
to. It was time that some steady course should be adopted,
as the wind was getting up, and the schooner was rapidly
approaching the land. In half an hour the Sea Lion was
bending to a little gale, with her canvass reduced to close-
reefed mainsail and foresail, and the bonnet olf her jib.
The sea was fast getting up, though it came in long, and
mountain-like. Roswell dreaded the mist. Could he pass
through the narrow channels that Stimson had described to
him, with a clear sky, one half of his causes of anxiety
would be removed. But the wind was not a clear one, and
he felt that no time was to be lost.

It required great nerve to approach a coast like that of



182 THE SEA LIONS.

Cape Horn in such weather. As the schooner got nearer
to the real cape, the sight of the seas tumbling in and
breaking on its ragged rock, and the hollow roaring sound
they made, actually became terrific. To add to the awe
inspired in the breast of even the most callous-minded man
on board, came a doubt whether the schooner could wea
ther a certain point of rock, the western extremity of the
island, after she had got so far into a bight as to render
waring questionable, if not impossible. Every one now
looked grave and anxious. Should the schooner go ashore
in such a place, a single minute would suffice to break hei
to pieces, and not a soul could expect to be saved. Ros-
well was exceedingly anxious, though he remained cool.

" The tides and eddies about these rocks, and in so high
a latitude, sweep a vessel like chips," he said to his chief
mate. 4< We have been set in here by an eddy, and a ter
rible place it is."

"All depends on our gears holding on, sir," was the an
swer, " with a little on Providence. Just watch the point
ahead, Captain Gar'ner; though we are not actually to
leeward of it, see with what a drift we have drawn upon it !
The manner in which these seas roll in from the sow-west
is terrific ! No craft can go to windward against them."

This remark of Hazard's was very just. The seas that
came down upon the cape resembled a rolling prairie in
their outline. A single wave would extend a quarter of a
mile from trough to trough, and as it passed beneath the
schooner, lifting her high in the air, it really seemed as if
the glancing water would sweep her away in its force. But
human art had found the means to counteract even this
imposing display of the power of nature. The little schooner
rode over the billows like a duck, and when she sank be
tween two. of them, it was merely to rise again on a new
summit, and breast the gale gallantly. It was the current
that menaced the greatest danger ; for that, unseen except
in its fruits, was clearly setting the little craft to leeward,
and bodily towards the rocks. By this time our adventurers
were so near the land that they almost gave up hope itself.
Cape Hatteras and its much-talked-of dangers, seemed a
place of refuge compared to that in which our navigators
now found themselves. Could the deepest bellowings of



THE SEA LIONS. 183

ten thousand bulls be united in a common roar, the noise
would not have equalled that of the hollow sound which
issued from a sea as it went into some cavern of the rocks.
Then, the spray filled the air like driving rain, and thera
were minutes when the cape, though so frightfully near,
was hid from view by the vapour.

At this precise moment, the Sea Lion was less than a
quarter of a mile to windward of the point she was
struggling to weather, and towards which she was driv
ing under a treble impetus; that of the wind, acting
on her sails, and pressing her ahead at the rate of fully
five knots, for the craft was kept a rap full ; that of the
eddy, or current, and that of the rolling waters. No
man spoke, for each person felt that the crisis was one
in which silence was a sort of homage to the Deity.
Some prayed privately, and all gazed on the low rocky
point that it was indispensable to pass, to avoid destruction.
There was one favourable circumstance; the water was
known to be deep, quite close to the iron-bound coast, and
it was seldom that any danger existed, that it was not visi
ble to the eye. This, Roswell knew from Stimson's ac
counts, as well as from those of other mariners, and he saw
that the fact was of the last importance to him. Should
ne be able to weather the point ahead, that which termi
nated at the rnouth of the passage that Jed within the Her
mits, it was now certain it could be done only by going
fearfully near the rocks.

Roswell Gardiner took his station between the knight-
heads, beckoning to Stimson to come near him. At the
same time, Hazard himself went to the helm.

"Do you remember this place?" asked the young mas
ter of the old seaman.

" This is the spot, sir ; and if we can round the rocky
point ahead, I will take you to a safe anchorage. Our drift
is awful, or we are in an eddy tide here, sir !"

"It is the eddy," answered Roswell, calmly, "though
our drift is not trifling. This is getting frightfully near to
that point !"

" Hold on, sir it 's our only chance ; hold on, and we
may rub and go."

" If we rub, we are lost ; that is certain enough. Should
16*



THE SEA LIONS.

we get by this first point, there is another, a snort distance
beyond it, which must certainly fetch us up, I fear. See
it opens more, as we draw ahead."

Stimson saw the new danger, and fully appreciated it.
He did not speak, however ; for, to own the truth, he now
abandoned all hope, and, being a piously inclined person,
he was privately addressing himself to God. Every man
on board was fully aware of the character of this new dan
der, and all seemed to forget that of the nearest point of
rock, towards which they were now wading with portentous
speed. That point might be passed ; there was a little hope
there ; but as to the point a quarter of a mile beyond, with
the leeward set of the schooner, the most ignorant hand on
board saw how unlikely it was that they should get by it.

An imposing silence prevailed in the schooner, as she
came abreast of the first rock. It was about fifty fathoms
under the lee bow, and, as to that spot, all depended on the
distance outward that the dangers thrust themselves. This
it was impossible to see amid the chaos of waters produced
by the collision between the waves and the land. Roswell
fastened his eyes on objects ahead, to note the rate of his
leeward set, and, with a seaman's quickness, he noted the
first change.

" She feels the under-tow, Stephen," he said, in a voice
so compressed as to seem to come out of the depths of his
chest, " and is breasted up to windward !"

" What means that sudden lufF, sir ? Mr. Hazard must
keep a good full, or we shall have no chance."

Gardiner looked aft, and saw that the mate was bearing
the helm well up, as if he met with much resistance. The
truth then flashed upon him, and he shouted out

"All 's well, boys ! God be praised, we have caught the
ebb-tide, under our lee-bow !"

These few words explained the reason of the change.
Instead of setting to leeward, the schooner was now meet
ing a powerful tide of some four or five knots, which hawsed
her up to windward with irresistible force. As if conscious
of the danger she was in, the tight little craft receded from
the rocks as she shot ahead, and rounded that second point,
which, a minute before, had appeared to be placed there
purposely to destroy her. It was handsomely doubled, at



THE SEA LIONS. 185

the safe distance of a hundred fathoms. Roswell believed
he might now beat his schooner off the land far enough to
double the cape altogether, could he but keep her in that
current. It doubtless expended itself, however, a short dis
tance in the offing, as its waters diffused themselves on the
breast of the ocean ; and it was this diffusion of the element
that produced the eddy which had proved so nearly fatal.

In ten minutes after striking the tide, the schooner
opened the passage fairly, and was kept away to enter it.
Notwithstanding it blew so heavily, the rate of sailing, by
the land, did not exceed five knots. This was owing to the
great strength of the tide, which sometimes rises and falls
thirty feet, in high latitudes and narrow waters. Stimson
now showed he was a man to be relied on. Conning the
craft intelligently, he took her in behind the island on
which the cape stands, luffed her up into a tiny cove, and
made a cast of the lead. There were fifty fathoms of water,
with a bottom of mud. With the certainty that there was
enough of the element to keep him clear of the ground at
low water, and that his anchors would hold, Roswell made
a flying moor, and veered out enough cable to render his
vessel secure.

Here, then, was the Sea Lion of Oyster Pond, that craft
which the reader had seen lying at Deacon Pratt's wharf,
only three short months before, safely anchored in a nook
of the rocks behind Cape Horn. No navigator but a sealer
would have dreamed of carrying his vessel into such a place,
but it is a part of their calling to poke about in channels
and passages where no one else has ever been. It was in
this way that Stimson had learned to know where to find
his present anchorage. The berth of the schooner was
perfectly snug, and entirely land-locked. The tremendous
swell that was rolling in on the outside, caused the waters
to rise and fall a little within the passage, but there was no
strain upon the cables in consequence. Neither did the
rapid tides affect the craft, which lay in an eddy that merely
kept her steady. The gale came howling over the Hermits,
but was so much broken by the rocks as to do little more
than whistle through the cordage and spars aloft.

Three days, and as many nights, did the gale from the
south-west continue. The fourth day there was a change.



186 THE SEA LIONS.

the wind coming from the eastward. Roswell would now
have gone out, had it not been for the apprehension of fall
ing in with Daggett again. Having at length gotten rid
of that pertinacious companion, it would have been an act
of great weakness to throw himself blindly .in his way once
more. It was possible that Daggett might not suppose he
had been left intentionally, in which case, he would be very
apt to look for his lost consort in the vicinity of the cape.
As for the gale, it might, or it might not, have blown him
to leeward. A good deal would depend on the currents,
and his distance to the southward. Near the land, Gardi-
diner believed the currents favoured a vessel doubling it,
going west ; and if Daggett was also aware of this fact, it
might induce him to keep as near the spot as possible.

Time was very precious to our sealers, the season being
so short in the high latitudes. Still, they were a little in
advance of their calculations, having got off the Horn
fully ten days sooner than they had hoped to be there.
Nearly the whole summer was before them, and there was
the possibility of their even being too soon for the loosening
of the ice further south. The wind was the strongest in
ducement to go out, for the point to which our adventurers
were bound lay a considerable distance to the westward,
and fair breezes were not to be neglected. Under all the
circumstances, however, it was decided to remain within
the passage one day longer, and this so much the more,
because Hazard had discovered some signs of sea-elephants
frequenting an island at no great distance. The boats were
lowered accordingly, and the mate went in one direction,
while the master pulled up to the rocks, and landed on the
Hermit, or the island which should bear that name, par
excellence, being that in which the group terminates.

Taking Stimson with him, to carry a glass, and armed
with an old lance as a pike-pole, to aid his efforts, Roswell
Gardiner now commenced the ascent of the pyramid already
mentioned. It was ragged, and offered a thousand obstacles,
but none that vigour and resolution could not overcome.
After a few minutes of violent exertion, and by helping
each other in difficult places, both Roswell and Stimson
succeeded in placing themselves on the summit of the ele
vation, which was an irregular peak. The height was



THE SEA LIONS. 187

considerable, and gave an extended view of the adjacent
islands, as well as of the gloomy and menacing ocean to
the southward. The eartl^, probably, does not contain a
more remarkable sentinel than this pyramid on which our
hero had now taken his station. There it stood, actually
the Ultima Thule ot this vast continent, or, what was much
the same, so closely united to it as to seem a part of our
own moiety of the globe, looking out on the broad expanse
of waters. The eye saw, to the right, the Pacific ; in front
was the Southern, or Antarctic Ocean ; and to the left was
the great Atlantic. For several minutes, both Roswell and
Stephen sat mute, gazing on this grand spectacle. By
turning their faces north, they beheld the high lands of
Terra del Fuego, of which many of the highest peaks were
covered with snow. The pyramid on which they were,
however, was no longer white with the congealed rain, but
stood, stern and imposing, in its native brown. The out
lines of all the rocks, and the shores of the different islands,
had an appearance of volcanic origin, though the rocks
themselves told a somewhat different story. The last was
principally of trap formation. Cape pigeons, gulls, petrels,
and albatross were wheeling about in the air, while the
rollers that still came in on this noble sea-wall were really
terrific. Distant thunder wants the hollow, bellowing sound
that these waves made when brought in contact with the
shores. Roswell fancied that it was like a groan of the
mighty Pacific, at finding its progress suddenly checked.
The spray continued to fly, and, much of the time, the air
below his elevated seat was filled with vapour.

As soon as our young master had taken in the grander
features of this magnificent view, his eyes sought the Sea
Lion of Martha's Vineyard. There she was, sure enough,
at a distance of only a couple of leagues, and apparently
standing directly for the Cape. Could it be possible that
Daggett suspected his manoeuvre, and was coming in search
of him, at the_ precise spot in which he had taken shelter?
As respects the vessel, there was no question as to her cha
racter. From the elevation at which he was placed, Ros
well, aided by the glass, had no difficulty in making her
out, and in recognising her rig, form, and character. Stim-
son also examined her, and knew her to be the schooner,



188 THE SEA LIONS.

On that vast and desolate set, she resembled a speck, but
the art of man had enabled those she held to guide her
safely through the tempest, and bring her up to her goal,
in a time that really seemed miraculous for the circum
stances.

" If we had thought of it, Captain Gar'ner," said Stephen,
" we might have brought up an ensign, and set it on these
rocks, by way of letting the Vineyarders know where we
are to be found. But we can always go out and meet them,
should this wind stand."

" Which is just what I have no intention of doing, Ste
phen. I came in here, on purpose to get rid of that schoo
ner."

"You surprise me, sir! A consort is no bad thing,
when a craft is a-sealin' in a high latitude. The ice makes
such ticklish times, that, for me, I'm always glad to know
there is such a chance for taking a fellow off, should there
happen to be a wrack."

"All that is very true, but there are reasons which may
tell against it. 1 have heard of some islands where seals
abound, and a consort is not quite so necessary to take
them, as when one is wrecked."

" That alters the case, Captain Gar'ner. Nobody is
obliged to tell of his sealing station. I was aboard one of
the very first craft that found out that the South Shetlands
was a famous place for seals, and no one among us thought
it necessary to tell it to all the world. Some men are weak
enough to put sich discoveries in the newspapers ; but, for
my part, I think it quite enough to put them in the log."

" That schooner must have the current with her, she
comes down so fast. She'll be abreast of the Horn in half
an hour longer, Stephen. We will wait, and see what she
would be at."

Gardiner's prediction was true. In half an hour, the
Sea Lion of Holmes' Hole glided past the rocky pyramid
of the Horn, distant from it less than a mile. Had it been
the object of her commander to pass into the Pacific, he
might have done so with great apparent ease. Even with
a south-west wind, that which blows fully half the time in
those seas, it would have been in his power to lay past the
islands, and soon get before it. A north-east course, with



THE SEA LIONS. 189

B little offing, will clear the islands, and when a vessel gets
as far north as the main land, it would take her off the
coast.

But Daggett had no intention of doing anything of the
sort. He was looking for his consort, which he had hoped
to find somewhere near the cape. Disappointed in this
expectation, after standing far enough west to make certain
nothing was in sight in that quarter, he hauled up on an
easy bowline, and stood to the southward. Roswell was
right glad to see this, inasmuch as it denoted ignorance of
the position of the islands he sought. They lay much far
ther to the westward ; and no sooner was he sure of the
course steered by the other schooner, than he hastened
down to the boat, in order to get his own vessel under way,
to profit by the breeze.

Two hours later, the Sea Lion of Oyster Pond glanced
through the passage which led into the ocean, on an ebb
tide. By that time, the other vessel had disappeared in the
southern board; and Gardiner came out upon the open
waters again, boldly, and certain of his course. All sail
was set, and the little craft slipped away from the land with
the ease of an aquatic bird, that is plying its web-feet.
Studding-sails were set, and the pyramid of the Horn soon
began to lower in the distance, as the schooner receded.
When night closed over the rolling waters, it was no longer
visible, the vessel having fairly entered the Antarctic Ocean,
if anything north of the circle can properly so be termed.



190 THE SEA LIONS



CHAPTER XIV.

A11 gone ! 'tis ours the goodly land

Look round the heritage behold ;
Go forth upon the mountain stand ;
Then, if you can, be cold."

SPKAOUI.

IT was an enterprising and manly thing for a little vessel
like the Sea Lion to steer with an undeviating course into
the mysterious depths of the antarctic circle .mysterious,
far more in that day, than at the present hour. But the
American sealer rarely hesitates. He has very little science,
few charts, and those oftener old than new, knows little of
what is going on among the savans of the earth, though his
ear is ever open to the lore of men like himself, and he has
his mind stored with pictures of islands and continents that
would seem to have been formed for no other purpose than
to meet the wants of the race of animals it is his business
to pursue and to capture. Cape Horn and its vicinity have
so long been frequented by this class of men, that they are
at home among their islands, rocks, currents and sterility;
but, to the southward of the Horn itself, all seemed a waste.
At the time of which we are writing, much less was known
of the antarctic regions than is known to-day; and even now
our knowledge is limited to a few dreary outlines, in which
barrenness and ice compete for the mastery. Wilkes, and
his competitors, have told us that a vast frozen continent
exists in that quarter of the globe; but even their daring
and perseverance have not been able to determine more
than the general fact.

We should be giving an exaggerated and false idea of
Roswell Gardiner's character, did we say that he steered
into that great void of the southern ocean in a total indif
ference to his destination and objects. Very much the re
verse was his state of mind, as he saw the high land of the



THE SEA LIONS. 191

cape sink, as it might be foot by foot, into the ocean, and
then lost sight of it altogether. Although the weather was
fine for the region, it was dark and menacing. Such, in
deed, is usually the case in that portion of this globe, which
appears to be the favourite region of the storms. Although
the wind was no more than a good breeze, and the ocean
was but little disturbed, there were those symptoms in the
atmosphere and in the long ground-swells that came rolling
in from the southwest, that taught the mariner the cold
lessons of caution. We believe that heavier gales of wind
at sea are encountered in the warm than in the cold months ;
but there is something so genial in the air of the ocean
during summer, and something so chilling and repulsive in
the rival season, that most of us fancy that the currents of
air correspond in strength with the fall of the mercury.
Roswell knew better than this, it is true; but he also fully
understood where he was, and what he was about. As a
sealer, he had several times penetrated as far south as the
ne plus ultra of Cook ; but it had ever before been in
subordinate situations. This was the first time in which
he had the responsibility of command thrown on himself,
and it was no more than natural that he should feel the
weight of this new burthen. So long as the Sea Lion of
the Vineyard was in sight, she had presented a centre of
interest and concern. To get rid of her had been his first
care, and almost absorbing object ; but, now that she seem
ed to be finally thrown out of his wake, there remained the



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 32) → online text (page 17 of 39)