James Fenimore Cooper.

Works (Volume 32) online

. (page 18 of 39)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 32) → online text (page 18 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


momentous and closely approaching difficulties of the main
adventure directly before his eyes. Roswell, therefore, was
thoughtful and grave, his countenance offering no bad re
flection of the sober features of the atmosphere and the
ocean.

Although the season was that of summer, and the wea
ther was such as is deemed propitious in the neighbour
hood of Cape Horn, a feeling of uncertainty prevailed over
every other sensation. To the southward a cold mistiness
veiled the view, and every mile the schooner advanced ap
peared like penetrating deeper and deeper into regions that
nature had hitherto withheld from the investigation of the
mariner. Ice, and its dangers, were known to exist a few
degrees farther in that direction ; but islands also had been
17



192 THE SEA LIONS.

discovered, and turned to good account by the enterprise
of the sealers.

It was truly a great thing for the Sea Lion of Oyster
Pond to have thrown off her namesake of the Vineyard. It
is true both vessels were still in the same sea, with a possi
bility of again meeting ; but, Roswell Gardiner was steering
onward towards a haven designated in degrees and minutes,
while the other craft was most probably left to wander in
uncertainty in that remote and stormy ocean. Our hero
thought there was now very little likelihood of his again
falling in with his late consort, and this so much the more,
because the islands he sought were not laid down in the
vicinity of any other known land, and were consequently
out of the usual track of the sealers. This last circum
stance was fully appreciated by our young navigator, and
gave him confidence of possessing its treasures to himself,
could he only find the place where nature had hid them.

When the sun went down in that vast waste of water
which lies to the southward of this continent, the little Sea
Lion had fairly lost sight of land, and was riding over the
long southwestern ground-swell like a gull that holds its
way steadily towards its nest. For many hours her course
had not varied half a point, being as near as possible to
south-southwest, which kept her a little off the wind. No
sooner, however, did night come to shut in the view, than
Roswell Gardiner went aft to the man at the helm, and or
dered him to steer to the southward, as near as the breeze
would conveniently allow. This was a material change in
the direction of the vessel, and, should the present breeze
stand, would probably place her, by the return of light, a
good distance to the eastward of the point she would other
wise have reached. Hitherto, it had been Roswell's aim to
drop his consort; but, now it was dark, and so much time
had already passed and been improved since the other
schooner was last seen, he believed he might venture to
steer in the precise direction he desired to go. The season
is so short in those seas, that every hour is precious, and
no more variation from a real object could be permitted
than circumstances imperiously required. It was now
generally understood that the craft was making the best of
feer way towards her destined sealing-ground.



THE SEA LIONS. 193

Independently of the discoveries of the regular explorers,
a great deal of information has been obtained from the
sealers themselves within the present century, touching the
antarctic seas. It is thought that many a headland, and
various islands, that have contributed their shares in pro
curing the accolades for different European navigators,
were known to the adventurers from Stonington and other
by-ports of this country, long before science ever laid its
eyes upon them, or monarchs their swords on the shoulders
of their secondary discoverers.

That divers islands existed in this quarter of the ocean
was a fact recognised in geography long before the Sea
Lion was thought of; probably before her young master
was actually born ; but the knowledge generally possessed
on the subject was meagre and unsatisfactory. In particu
lar cases, nevertheless, this remark would not apply, there
being at that moment on board our little schooner several
mariners who had often visited the South Shetlands, New
Georgia, Palmer's Land, and other known places in those
seas. Not one of them all, however, had ever heard of
any island directly south of the present position of the
schooner.

No material change occurred during the night, or in the
course of the succeeding day, the little Sea Lion indus
triously holding her way toward the south pole ; making
very regularly her six knots each hour. By the time she
was thirty-six hours from the Horn, Gardiner believed him
self to be fully three degrees to the southward of it, and
consequently some distance within the parallel of sixty de
grees south. Palmer's Land, with its neighbouring islands,
would have been near, had not the original course carried
the schooner so far to the westward. As it was, no one
could say what lay before them.

The third day out, the wind hauled, and it blew heavily
from the north-east. This gave the adventurers a great run.
The blink of ice was shortly seen, and soon after ice itself,
drifting about in bergs. The floating hills were grand ob
jects to the eye, rolling and wallowing in the seas; but
they were much worn and melted by the wash of the ocean,
and comparatively of greatly diminished size. It was now
absolutely necessary to lose most of the hours of darkness



194 THE SEA LIONS.

it being much too dangerous to run in the night. The great
barrier of ice was known to be close at hand ; and Cook's
" Ne Plus Ultra," at that time the great boundary of ant
arctic navigation, was near the parallel of latitude to which
the schooner had reached. The weather, however, con
tinued very favourable, and after the blow from the north
east, the wind came from the south, chill, and attended
with flurries of snow, but sufficiently steady and not so
fresh as to compel our adventurers to carry very short sail.
The smoothness of the water would of itself have announced
the vicinity of ice : not only did Gardiner's calculations
tell him as much as this, but his eyes confirmed their re
sults. In the course of the fifth day out, on several occa
sions when the weather cleared a little, glimpses were had
of the ice in long mountainous walls, resembling many of
the ridges of the Alps, though moving heavily under the
heaving and setting of the restless waters. Dense fogs,
from time to time, clouded the whole view, and the schooner
was compelled, more than once that day, to heave-to, in
order to avoid running on the sunken masses of ice, or
fields, of which many of vast size now began to make their
appearance.

Notwithstanding the dangers that surrounded our adven
turers, they were none of them so insensible to the sublime
powers of nature as to withhold their admiration from the
many glorious objects which that lone and wild scene pre
sented. The ice-bergs were of all the hues of the rainbow,
as the sunlight gilded their summits or sides, or they were
left shaded by the interposition of dark and murky clouds.
There were instances when certain of the huge froaen
masses even appeared to be quite black, in particular posi
tions and under peculiar lights ; while others, at the same
instant, were gorgeous in their gleams of emerald and
gold!

The aquatic birds, also, had now become numerous
again. Penguins were swimming about, rilling the air with
their discordant cries, while there was literally no end of
the cape-pigeons and petrels. Albatrosses, too, helped to
make up the picture of animated nature, while whales were
often heard blowing in the adjacent waters. Gardiner saw
many signs of the proximity of land, and began to hope he



THE SEA LIONS. 195

should yet actually discover the islands laid down on his
chart, as their position had been given by Daggett.

In that high latitude a degree of longitude is necessarily
much shorter than when nearer to the middle of our orb.
On the equator, a degree of longitude measures, as is
known to most boarding-school young ladies, just sixty
geographical, or sixty-nine and a half English statute miles.
But, as is not known to most boarding-school young ladies,
or is understood by very few of them indeed, even when
known, in the sixty-second degree of latitude, a degree of
longitude measures but little more than thirty-two of those
very miles. The solution of this seeming contradiction is
so very simple that it may assist a certain class of our
readers if we explain it, by telling them that it arises solely
from the fact that these degrees of longitude, which are
placed sixty geographical miles asunder at the centre or
middle of the earth, converge towards the poles, where
they all meet in a point. According to the best observa
tions Roswell Gardiner could obtain, he was just one of
these short degrees of longitude, or two-and-thirty miles,
to the westward of the parallel where he wished to be,
when the wind came from the southward. The change
was favourable, as it emboldened him to run nearer than
he otherwise might have felt disposed to do, to the great
barrier of ice which now formed a sort of weather-shore.
Fortunately, the loose bergs and sunken masses had drifted
off so far to the northward, that once within them the
schooner had pretty plain sailing; and Roswell, to lose
none of the precious time of the season, ventured to run,
though under very short canvass, the whole of the short
night that succeeded. It is a great assistance to the navi
gation of those seas that, during the summer months, there
is scarcely any night at all, giving the adventurer sufficient
light by which to thread his way among the difficulties of
his pathless journey.

When the sun reappeared, on the morning of the sixth
day after he had left the Horn, Roswell Gardiner believed
himself to be far enough west for his purposes. It now
remained to get a whole degree further to the south, which
was a vast distance in those seas and in that direction, and
would carry him a long way to the southward of the ' Ne
17



196 THE SEA LIONS.

Plus Ultra.' If there was any truth in Daggett, however,
that mariner had been there ; and the instructions of the
owner rendered it incumbent on our young man to attempt
to follow him. More than once, that morning, did our
hero regret he had not entered into terms with the Vine
yard men, that the effort might have been made in com
pany. There was something so portentous in a lone ves
sel's venturing within the ice, in so remote a region, that,
to say the truth, Roswell hesitated. But pride of profes
sion, ambition, love of Mary, dread of the deacon, native
resolution, and the hardihood produced by experience in
dangers often encountered and escaped, nerved him to the
undertaking. It must be attempted, or the voyage would
be lost; and our young mariner now set about his task
with a stern determination to achieve it.

By this time the schooner had luffed up within a cable's
.ength of the ice, along the margin of which she was run
ning under easy sail. Gardiner believed himself to be quite
as far to the westward as was necessary, and his present
object was to find an opening, by means of which he could
enter among the floating chaos that was spread, far and
wide, to windward. As the breeze was driving the drift
ing masses to the northward, they became loosened and
more separated, every moment; and glad enough was Gar
diner to discover, at length, a clear spot that seemed to
favour his views. Without an instant's delay, the sheets
were flattened in, a pull was taken on the braces, and away
went the little Sea Lion into a passage that had a hundred
fold more real causes of terror than the Scylla and Charyb-
dis of old.

One effect of the vicinity of ice, in extensive fields, is to
produce comparatively still water. It must blow a gale,
and that over a considerable extent of open sea, to produce
much commotion among the fields and bergs, though that
heaving and setting, which has been likened to the respira
tion of some monster, and which seamen call the " ground-
swell," is never entirely wanting among the waters of an
ocean. On the present occasion, our adventurers were
favoured in this respect, their craft gliding forward unim
peded by anything like opposing billows. At the end of
four hours, the schooner, tacking and waring when neces-



THE SEA LIONS.

sary, had worked her way to the southward and westward,
according to her master's reckoning, some five-and-twenty
miles. It was then noon, and the atmosphere being unu
sually clear, though never without fog, Gardiner went aloft,
to take a look for himself at the condition of things around
him.

To the northward, and along the very passage by which
the vessel had sailed, the ice was closing, and it was far
easier to go on than to return. To the eastward, and
towards the south-east in particular, however, did Roswell
Gardiner turn his longing eyes. Somewhere in that quar
ter of the ocean, and distant now less than ten leagues, did
he expect to find the islands of which he was in quest, if,
indeed, they had any existence at all. In that direction
there were many passages open among the ice, the latter
being generally higher than in the particular place to which
the vessel had reached. Once or twice, Roswell mistook
the summits of some of these bergs for real mountains,
when, owing to the manner in which the light fell upon
them, or rather did not fall upon them directly, they ap
peared dark arid earthy. Each time, however, the sun's
rays soon came to undeceive him ; and that which had so
lately been black and frowning was, as by the touch of
magic, suddenly illuminated, and became bright and gor
geous, throwing out its emerald hues, or perhaps a virgin
white, that filled the beholder with delight, even amid the
terrors and dangers by which, in very truth, he was sur
rounded. The glorious Alps themselves, those wonders of
the earth, could scarcely compete in scenery with the views
that nature lavished, in that remote sea, on a seeming
void. But the might and honour of God were there, as
well as beneath the equator.

For one whole hour did Roswell Gardiner remain in the
cross-trees, having hailed the deck, and caused the schoo
ner's head to be turned to the south-east, pressing her
through the openings as near the wind as she could go.
The atmosphere was never without fog, though the vapour
drifted about, leaving large vacancies that were totally clear.
One spot, in particular, seemed to be a favourite resting-
place for these low clouds, which just there appeared to
ight upon the face of the ocean itself. A wide field of ice,



198 THE SEA LIONS.

or, it were better to say, a broad belt of bergs, lay between
this stationary cloud and the schooner, though the exist
ence of the vapour early caught Roswell's attention ; and
during the hour he was aloft, conning the craft through a
very intricate and ticklish channel, not a minute passed
that the young man did not turn a look towards that veiled
spot. He was in the act of placing a foot on the ratlin
below him, to descend to the deck, when he half-uncon-
sciously turned to take a last glance at this distant and
seemingly immovable object. Just then, the vapour, which
had kept rolling and moving, like a fluid in ebullition,
while it still clung together, suddenly opened, and the bald
head of a real mountain, a thousand feet high, came unex
pectedly into the view ! There could be no mistake ; all
was too plain to admit of a doubt. There, beyond all ques
tion, was land; and it was doubtless the most western of
the islands described by the dying seaman. Everything
corroborated this conclusion. The latitude and longitude
were right, or nearly so, and the other circumstances went
to confirm the conjecture, or conclusion. Daggett had
said that one island, high, mountainous, ragged and bleak,
but of some size, lay the most westerly in the group, while
several others were within a few miles of it. The last were
lower, much smaller, and little more than naked rocks.
One of these last, however, he insisted on it, was a volcano
in activity, and that, at intervals, it emitted flames as well
as a fierce heat. By his account, however, the party to
which he belonged had never actually visited that volcanic
cauldron, being satisfied with admiring its terrors from a
distance.

As to the existence of the land, Roswell got several
pretty distinct and certain views, leaving no doubt of its
character and position. There is a theory which tells us
that the orb of day is surrounded by a luminous vapour,
the source of heat and light, and that this vapour, being in
constant motion, occasionally leaves the mass of the planet
itself to be seen, forming what it is usual to term the " spots
on the sun." Resembling this theory, the fogs of the ant
arctic seas rolled about the mountain now seen, withdraw*
ing the curtain at times, and permitting a view of the
striking and majestic object within. Well did that lone



THE SEA LIONS. 199

and nearly barren mass of earth and rock merit these ap
pellations ! The elevation has already been given ; and a
rock that is nearly perpendicular, rising out of the ocean
for a thousand feet, is ever imposing and grand. This
was rendered so much the more so by its loneliness, its
stable and stern position amid floating and moving moun
tains of ice, its brown sides and bald summit, the latter
then recently whitened with a fall of pure snow, and its
frowning and fixed aspect amid a scene that might other
wise be said to be ever in motion.

Roswell Gardiner's heart beat with delight when assured
of success in discovering this, the first great goal of his
destination. To reach it was now his all-absorbing desire
By this time the wind had got round to the southwest, and
was blowing quite fresh, bringing him well to windward
of the mountain, but causing the ice-bergs to drift in to
wards the land, and placing an impassable barrier along its
western shore. Our young man, however, remembered
that Daggett had given the anchorage as on the north-eastern
side of the island, where, according to his statements, a
little haven would be found, in which a dozen craft might
he in security. To this quarter of the island Gardiner
consequently endeavoured to get.

There was no opening to the northward, but a pretty
good channel was before the schooner to the southward of
the group. In this direction, then, the Sea Lion was steer
ed, and by eight bells (four in the afternoon) the southern
point of the largest island was doubled. The rest of the
group were made, and to the infinite delight of all on board
her, abundance of clear water was found between the main
island and its smaller neighbours. The bergs had grounded
apparently, as they drew near the group, leaving this large
bay entirely free from ice, with the exception of a few small
masses that were floating through it. These bodies, whether
field or berg, were easily avoided; and away the schooner
went, with flowing sheets, into the large basin formed by
the different members of the group. To render ' assurance
doubly sure,' as to the information of Daggett, the smoke
of a volcano arose from a rock to the eastward, that ap
peared to be some three or four miles in circumference,
and which stood on the eastern side of the great basin, or



200 THE SEA LIONS.

some four leagues from Sealer's Land, as Daggett had at
once named the principal island. This was, in fact, about
the breadth of the main basin, which had two principal
passages into it, the one from the south and the other from
the north-east.

Once within the islands, and reasonably clear of all ice,
it was an easy thing for the schooner to run across the
basin, or great bay, and reach the north-eastern extremity
of Sealer's Land. As the light would continue some hours
longer, there being very little night in that high latitude in
December, the month that corresponds to our June, Ros-
well caused a boat to be lowered and manned, when he
pulled at once towards the spot where it struck him the
haven must be found, if there were any such place at all
Everything turned out as it had been described by Daggett,
and great was our young man's satisfaction when he rowed
into a cove that was little more than two hundred yards in
diameter, and which was so completely land-locked as not
to feel the influence of any sea outside. In general, the
great difficulty is to land on any of the antarctic rocks, the
breakers and surf opposing it ; but, in this spot, the smallest
boat could be laid with its bows on a beach of shingles,
without the slightest risk of its being injured. The lead
also announced good anchorage in about eight fathoms of
water. In a word, this little haven was one of those small
basins that so often occur in mountainous islands, where
fragments of rock appear to have fallen from the principal
mass as it was forced upward out of the ocean, as if pur
posely intended to meet. the wants of manners.

Nor was the outer bay, or the large basin formed by the
entire group, by any means devoid of advantages to the
navigator. From north to south this outer bay was at least
six leagues in length, while its breadth could not much
have fallen short of four. Of course it was much more
exposed to the winds and waves than the little harbour pro
per, though Roswell was struck with the great advantages
it offered in several essential particulars. It was almost
clear of ice, while so much was floating about outside of
the circle of islands; thus leaving a free navigation in it
for even the smallest boat. This was mainly owing to the
fact that the largest island had two long crescent-shaped



THE SEA LIONS. 201

capes, the one at its north-eastern and the other at its south
eastern extremity, giving to its whole eastern side the shape
of a new moon. The harbour just described was to the
southward of, or within the north-eastern cape, which our
young master at once named Cape Hazard, iu honour of
his chief mate's vigilance; that officer having been the first
to point out the facilities probably offered by the formation
of the land for an anchorage.

Though rocky and broken, it was by no means difficult
to ascend the rugged banks on the northern side of the
harbour, and Gardiner went up it, attended by Stimson,
who of late had much attached himself to the person of his
commander. The height of this barrier above the >vaves
of the ocean was but a little less than a hundred feet, and
when the summit was reached, a common exclamation of
surprise, not to say delight, broke from the lips of both.
Hitherto not a seal of any sort had been seen, and Gardiner
had felt some misgivings touching the benefits that were to
be derived from so much hardship, exposure and enterprise.
All doubts, however, vanished, the instant he got a sight of
the northern shore of the island. This shore, a reach of
several miles in extent, was fairly alive with the monsters
of which he was in search. They lay in thousands on the
low rocks that lined that entire side of the island, basking
in the sun of the antarctic seas. There they were, sure
enough ! Sea Lions, Sea Elephants, huge, clumsy, fierce-
looking and revolting creatures, belonging properly to nei
ther sea nor land. These animals were constantly going
and coming in crowds, some waddling to the margin of the
rocks and tumbling into the ocean in search of food, while
others scrambled out of the water, and got upon shelves
and other convenient places to repose and enjoy the light
of day. There was very little contention or fighting among
these revolting-looking creatures, though nearly every known
species of the larger seals was among them.

"There is famous picking for us, master Stephen," said
Roswell to his companion, fairly rubbing his hands in de
light. " One month's smart work will fill the schooner,
and we can be off before the equinox. Does it not seem to
you that yonder are the bones of sea lions, or of seals of



202 THE SEA LIONS.

some sort, lying hereaway as if men had been at work on
the^creatures ?"

" No doubt on 't at all, Captain Gar'ner ; as much out
of the way as this island is and I never heard of the
place afore, old a sealer as I am but, as much out of the
way as it is, we are not the first to find it. Somebody has
been here, and that within a year or two ; and he has pick
ed up a cargo, too, depend on 't."

As all this merely corresponded with Daggett's account
of the place, Roswell felt no surprise; on the contrary, he
saw in it a confirmation of all that Daggett had stated, and
as furnishing so much the more reason to hope for a suc



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 32) → online text (page 18 of 39)