James Fenimore Cooper.

Works (Volume 32) online

. (page 28 of 39)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 32) → online text (page 28 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

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 re
turned to his own schooner. As he pulled back, he ascer*
tained 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 rig
ging 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 unea
siness ; and he waited with the greatest anxiety for the re
turn 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 nar
row 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



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


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 mate
rially connected with the succeeding events of the narra
tive, 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
liearly 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 apace, if we may so express it, when it changes its posi-


tion. 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

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 if
that what we have termed the Jixed attitude of the globs
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 be
ing 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 to
wards 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 mo
tion, 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 ex
tending 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 alto*
gether, 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 gradually increase and diminish ; and for the
other half, the same would be true of the other hemisphere.
Of course there is a precise point on the earth where this
polar illumination ceases. The shape of the illuminated
part is circular; and placing the point of a pencil on the
globe at the extremest spot on the circle, holding it there
while the globe is turned on its axis, the lines made would
just include the portions of the earth around the globe that
thus receives the rays of the sun at midsummer. These
lines compose what are termed the arctic and antarctic
circles, with the last of which our legend has now a most
serious connection. After all, we are by no means certain
that we have made our meaning as obvious as we could wish,
it being very difficult to explain phenomena of this nature
clearly, without actually experimenting.

It is usual to say that there are six months day and six
months night in the polar basins. This is true, literally,
at the poles only ; but, approximatively, it is true as a whole.
We apprehend that few persons none, perhaps, but those
who are in habits of study form correct notions of the
extent of what may be termed the icy seas. As the polar
circles are in 23 28", a line drawn through the south pole,
for instance, commencing on one side of the earth at the
antarctic circle, and extending to the other, would traverse
a distance materially exceeding that between New York
and Lisbon. This would make those frozen regions cover
a portion of this globe that is almost as large as the whole
of the Atlantic Ocean, as far south as the equator. Any
one can imagine what must be the influence of frost over
so vast a surface, in reproducing itself, since the presence
of ice-bergs is thought to affect >ur climate, when many
of them drift far south in summer. As power produces


power, riches wealth, so does cold produce cold. Fill,
then, in a certain degree, a space as large as the North
Atlantic Ocean with ice in all its varieties, fixed, mountain
and field, berg and floe, and one may get a tolerably accu
rate notion of the severity of its winters, when the sun is
scarce seen above the horizon at all, and then only to shed
its rays so obliquely as to be little better than a chill-look
ing orb of light, placed in the heavens simply to divide the
day from the night.

This, then, was the region that Roswell Gardiner was so
very anxious to leave; the winter he so much dreaded.
Mary Pratt was before him, to say nothing of his duty to
the deacon ; while behind him was the vast polar ocean
just described, about to be veiled in the freezing obscurity
of its long and gloomy twilight, if not of absolute night.
No wonder, therefore, that when he trimmed his sails that
evening, to beat out of the great bay, that it was done with
the earnestness with which we all perform duties of the
highest import, when they are known to affect our well-
being, visibly and directly.

"Keep her a good full, Mr. Hazard," said Roswell, as
he was leaving the deck, to take the first sleep in which he
had indulged for four-and-twenty hours ; " and let her go
through the water. We are behind our time, and must
keep in motion. Give me a call if anything like ice ap
pears in a serious way."

Hazard ' ay-ay'd' this order, as usual, buttoned his pee-
jacket tighter than ever, and saw his young superior the
transcendental delicacy of the day is causing the difference
in rank to be termed " senior and junior" but Hazard saw
his superior go below, with a feeling allied to envy, so
heavy were his eye-lids with the want of rest. Stimson
was in the first-mate's watch, and the latter approached
ihat old sea-dog with a wish to keep himself awake by con

" You seem as wide awake, king Stephen," the mate
remarked, " as if you never felt drowsy !"

" This is not a part of the world for hammocks and
berths, Mr. Hazard," was the reply. " I can get along,
and must get along, with a quarter part of the sleep in
these seas as would sarve me in a low latitude."


"And I feel as if I wanted all I can get. Them fellows
look up well into our wake, Stephen."

"They do indeed, sir, and they ought to do it; for we
hare been longer than is for our good, in their'n."

" Well, now we have got a fresh start, I hope we may
make a clear run of it. I saw no ice worth speaking of,
to the nor'ard here, before we made sail."

" Because you see'd none, Mr. Hazard, is no proof there
is none. Floe-ice can't be seen at any great distance,
though its blink may. But, it seems to me, it's all blink
in these here seas !"

"There you're quite right, Stephen; for turn which
way you will, the horizon has a show of that sort "

" Starboard" called out the look-out forward " keep
her away keep her away there is ice ahead."

"Ice in here!" exclaimed Hazard, springing forward
" That is more than we bargained for ! Where away is
your ice, Smith?"

" Off here, sir, on our weather bow and a mortal big
field of it jist sich a chap as nipp'd the Vineyard Lion,
when she first came in to join us. Sich a fellow as that
would take the sap out of our bends, as a squeezer takes
the juice from a lemon !"

Smith was a carpenter by trade, which was probably the
reason why he introduced this figure. Hazard saw the ice
with regret ; for he had hoped to work the schooner fairly
out to sea in his watch ; but the field was getting down
through the passage in a way that threatened to cut off the
exit of the two schooners from the bay. Daggett kept
close in his wake, a proof that this experienced navigator
in such waters saw no means to turn farther to windward.
As the wind was now abeam, both vessels drove rapidly
ahead ; and in half an hour the northern point of the land
they had so lately left came into view close aboard of them.
Just then the moon rose, and objects became more clearly

Hazard hailed the Vineyard Lion, and demanded what
was to be done. It was possible, by hauling close on a
wind, to pass the cape a short distance to windward of it,
and seemingly thus clear the floe. Unless this were done,
both vessels would be compelled to ware, and run for the


southern passage, which would carry them many miles to
leeward, and might place them a long distance on the
wrong side of the group.

" Is Captain Gar'ner on deck ?" asked Daggett, who had
now drawn close up on the lee-quarter of his consort,
Hazard having brailed his foresail and laid his topsail sharp
aback, to enable him to do so " If he isn't, I'd advise
you to give him a call at once."

This was done immediately ; and while it was doing,
the Vineyard Lion swept past the Oyster Pond schooner.
Roswell announced his presence on deck just as the other
vessel cleared his bows.

" There 's no time to consult, Gar'ner," answered Dag
gett. " There 's our road before us. Go through it we
must, or stay where we are until that field-ice gives us a
jam down yonder in the crescent. I will lead, and you
can follow as soon as your eyes are open."

One glance let Roswell into the secret of his situation.
He liked it little, but he did not hesitate.

" Fill the topsail, and haul aft the foresheet," were the
quiet orders that proclaimed what he intended to do.

Both vessels stood on. By some secret process, every
man on board the two craft became aware of what was
going on, and appeared on deck. All hands were not
called, nor was there any particular noise to attract atten
tion ; but the word had been whispered below that there
was a great risk to run. A risk it was, of a verity ! It was
necessary to stand close along that iron-bound coast where
the seals had so lately resorted, for a distance of several
miles. The wind would not admit of the schooners steer
ing much more than a cable's length from the rocks for
quite a league; after which the shore trended to the south
ward, and a little sea-room would be gained. But on those
rocks the waves were then beating heavily, and their bel-
lowings as they rolled into the cavities were at almost all
times terrific. There was some relief, however, in the
knowledge obtained of the shore, by having frequently
passed up and down it in the boats. It was known that
the water was deep close to the visible rocks, and that
there was no danger as long as a vessel could keep off


No one spoke. Every eye was strained to discern objects
ahead, or was looking astern to trace the expected collision
between the floe-ice and the low promontory of the cape.
The ear soon gave notice that this meeting had already
taken place ; for the frightful sound that attended the
cracking and rending of the field might have been heard
fully a league. Now it was that each schooner did her
best! Yards were braced up, sheets flattened, and the
helm tended. The close proximity of the rocks on the one
side, and the secret presentiment of there being more field-
ice on the other, kept every one wide awake. The two
masters, in particular, were all eyes and ears. It was
getting to be very cold ; and the sort of shelter aloft that
goes by the quaint name of " crow's-nest," had been fitted
up in each vessel. A mate was now sent into each, to
ascertain what might be discovered to windward. Almost
at the same instant, these young seamen hailed their re
spective decks, and gave notice that a wide field was
coming in upon them, and must eventually crush them,
unless avoided. This startling intelligence reached the
two commanders in the very same moment. The emer
gency demanded decision, and each man acted for himself.
Roswell ordered his helm put down, and his schooner
tacked. The water was not rough enough to prevent the
success of the manoeuvre. On the other hand, Daggett
kept a rap full, and stood on. Roswell manifested the most
judgment and seamanship. He was now far enough from
the cape to beat to windward ; and, by going nearer to the
enemy, he might always run along its southern boundary,
profit by any opening, and would be by as much as he could
thus gain, to windward of the coast. Daggett had one
advantage. By standing on, in the event of a return be
coming necessary, he would gain in time. In ten minutes
the two schooners were a mile asunder. We shall first
follow that of Roswell Gardiner's, in his attempt to escape.

The first floe, which was ripping and tearing one of its
angles into fragments, as it came grinding down on the
cape, soon compelled the vessel to tack. Making short
reaches, Roswell ere long found himself fully a mile to
windward of the rocks, and sufficiently near to the new
floe to discern its shape, drift, and general character. Jti


eastern end had lodged upon the field that first came in,
and was adding to the vast momentum with which thai
enormous floe was pressing down upon the cape. Large
as was that first visiter to the bay, this was of at least twice
if not of thrice its dimensions. What gave Roswell the
most concern was the great distance that this field extended
to the westward. He went up into the crow's-nest himself,
and, aided by the light of a most brilliant moon, and a sky
without a cloud, he could perceive the blink of ice in that
direction, as he fancied, for fully two leagues. What was
unusual, perhaps, at that early season of the year, these
floes did not consist of a vast collection of numberless
cakes of ice ; but the whole field, so far as could then be
ascertained, was firm and united. The nights were now
so cold that ice made fast wherever there was water ; and
it occurred to our young master that, possibly, fragments
that had once been separated and broken by the waves,
might have become re-united by the agency of the frost.
Roswell descended from the crow's-nest half chilled by a
cutting wind, though it blew from a warm quarter. Sum
moning his mates, he asked their advice.

" It seems to me, Captain Gar'ner," Hazard replied,
"there's very little choice. Here we are, so far as I can
make it out, embayed, and we have only to box about until
day-light comes, when some chance may turn up to help
us. If so, we must turn it to account; if not, we must
make Up our minds to winter here."

This was coolly and calmly said ; though it was clear
enough that Hazard was quite in earnest.

" You forget there may be an open passage to the west
ward, Mr. Hazard," Roswell rejoined, " and that we may
yet pass out to sea by it. Captain Daggett is already out
of sight in the western board, and we may do well to stand
on after him."

"Ay, ay, sir I know all that, Captain Gar'ner, and it
may be as you say , but when I was aloft, half an hour
since, if there wasn't the blink of ice in that direction,
quite round to the back of the island, there wasn't the
blink of ice nowhere hereabouts. I'm used to the sight
of it, and can't well be mistaken."

"There is always ice on that side of the land. Hazard


and you may have seen the blink of (he bergs which have
hugged the cliffs in that quarter all summer. Still, that is
not proving we shall find no outlet. This craft can go
through a very small passage, and we must take care and
find one in proper time. Wintering here is out of the
question. A hundred reasons tell us not to think of such
a thing, besides the interests of our owners. We are walk
ing along this floe pretty fast, though I think the vessel is
too much by the head ; don't it strike you so, Hazard ?"

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 32) → online text (page 28 of 39)