James Fenimore Cooper.

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" Lord, sir, it's nothing but the ice that has made, and
is making for'ard! Before we got so near the field as to
find a better lee, the little lipper that came athwart our
bows froze almost as soon as it wet us. I do suppose, sir,
there are now several tons of ice on our bows, counting
from channel to channel, forward."

On an examination this proved to be true, and the know
ledge of the circumstance did not at all contribute to Gar
diner's feeling of security. He saw there was no time to
be lost, and he crowded sail with a view of forcing the
vessel past the dangers if possible, and of getting her into
a milder climate But even a fast-sailing schooner will
scarcely equal our wishes under such circumstances. There
was no doubt that the Sea Lion's speed was getting to be
affected by the manner in which her bows were weighed
down by ice, in addition to the discomfort produced by
cold, damp, and the presence of a slippery substance on
the deck and rigging. Fortunately there was not much
spray flying, or matters would have been much worse. As
it was, they were bad enough, and very ominous of future

While the Sea Lion of Oyster Pond was running along
the margin of the ice in the manner just described, and
after the blink to the westward had changed to a visible
field, making it very uncertain whether any egress was to
be found in that quarter or not, an opening suddenly ap
peared trending to the northward, and sufficiently wide, as
Roswell thought, to enable him to beat through it. Putting
his helm down, his schooner came heavily round, and was
filled on a course that soon carried her half a mile into
this passage. At first, everything seemed propitious, the
channel rather opening than otherwise, while the course


was such north-north-west as enabled the vessel to make
very long legs on one tack, and that the best. After going
about four or five times, however, all these flattering symp
toms suddenly changed, by the passage's terminating in a
cul de, sac. Almost at the same instant the ice closed
rapidly in the schooner's wake. An effort was made to
run back, but it failed in consequence of an enormous
floe's turning on its centre, having met resistance from a
field closer in, that was, in its turn, stopped by the rocks.
Roswell saw at once that nothing could be done at the
moment. He took in all his canvass, as well as the frozen
cloth could be handled, got out ice-anchors, and hauled
his vessel into a species of cove where there would be the
least danger of a nip, should the fields continue to close.

All this time Daggett was as busy as a bee. He rounded
the headland, and flattered himself that he was about to
slip past all the rocks, and get out into open water, when
the vast fields of which the blink had been seen even by
those in the other vessel, suddenly stretched themselves
across his course in a way that set at defiance all attempts
to go any further in that direction. Daggett wore round,
and endeavoured to return. This was by no means as easy
as it was to go down before the wind, and his bows were
also much encumbered with ice ; more so, indeed, than
those of the other schooner. Once or twice his craft missed
stays in consequence of getting so much by the head, and
it was deemed necessary to heave-to, and lake to the axes.
A great deal of extra and cumbrous weight was gotten rid
of, but an hour of most precious time was lost.

By the time Daggett was ready to make sail again, he
found his return round the headland was entirely cul off,
by the field's having come in absolute contact with the
rocks !

It was now midnight, and the men on board both vessels
required rest. A watch was set in each, and most of the
people were permitted to turn in. Of course, proper look
outs were had, but the light of the moon was not sufficiently
distinct to render it safe to make any final efforts under its
favour. No great alarm was felt, there being nothing un
usual in a vessel's being embayed in the ice ; and so long
as she was not nipped or pressed upon by actual contact,


the position was thought safe rather than the reverse. It
was desirable, moreover, for the schooners to communicate
with each other; for some advantage might be known to
one of the masters that was concealed by distance from his
companion. Without concert, therefore, Roswell and
Daggett came to the same general conclusions, and waited

The day came at last, cold and dreary, though not alto
gether without the relief of an air that blew from regions
far warmer than the ocean over which it was now travel
ling. Then the two schooners became visible from each
other, and Roswell saw the jeopardy of Daggett, and Dag
gett saw the jeopardy of Roswell. The vessels were little
more than a mile apart, but the situation of the Vineyard
Lion was much the most critical. She had made fast to
the floe, but her support itself was in a steady and most
imposing motion. As soon as Roswell saw the manner in
which his consort was surrounded, and the very threatening
aspect of the danger that pressed upon him, his first impulse
was to hasten to him, with a party of his own people, to
offer any assistance he could give. After looking at the
ice immediately around his own craft, where all seemed to
be right, he called over the names of six of his men, order
ed them to eat a warm breakfast, and to prepare to accom
pany him.

In twenty minutes Roswell was leading his little party
across the ice, each man carrying an ^ixe, or some other
implement that it was supposed might be of use. It was
by no means difficult to proceed ; for the surface of the
floe, one seemingly more than a league in extent, was quite
smooth, and the snow on it was crusted to a strength that
would have borne a team.

" The water between the ice and the rocks is a much
narrower strip than I had thought," said Roswell, to his
constant attendant, Stimson. ' Here, it does not appear to
be a hundred yards in width!"

" Nor is it, sir whew this trotting in so cold a climate

makes a man puff like a whale blowing but, Captain

Gar'ner, that schooner will be cut in two before we can

get to her. Look, sir; the floe has reached the rocks



already, quite near her ; and it does not stop the drift at
all, seemingly."

Roswell made no reply ; the state of the Vineyard Lion
did appear to be much more critical than he had previously
imagined. Until he came nearer to the land, he had formed
no notion of the steady power with which the field was
setting down on the rocks on which the broken fragments
were now creeping like creatures endowed with life. Oc
casionally, there would be loud disruptions, and the move
ment of the floe would become more rapid ; then, again, a
sort of pause would succeed, and for a moment the ap
proaching party felt a gleam of hope. But all expectations
of this sort were doomed to be disappointed.

"Look, sir !" exclaimed Stimson "she went down afore
it twenty fathoms at that one set. She must be awful near
the rocks, sir 1"

All the men now stopped. They knew they were power
less: and intense anxiety rendered them averse to move.
Attention appeared to interfere with their walking on the
ice ; and each held his breath in expectation. They saw
that the schooner, then less than a cable's length from them,
was close to the rocks ; and the next shock, if anything
like the last, must overwhelm her. To their astonishment,
instead of being nipped, the schooner rose by a stately
movement that was not without grandeur, upheld by broken
cakes that had got beneath her bottom, and fairly reached
the shelf of rocks almost unharmed. Not a man had left
her ; but there she was, placed on the shore, some twenty
feet above the surface of the sea, on rocks worn smooth by
the action of the waves ! Had the season been propitious,
and did the injury stop here, it might have been possible to
get the craft into the water again, and still carry her to

But the floe was not yet arrested. Cake succeeded cake,
one riding over another, until a wall of ice rose along the
shore, that Roswell and his companions, with all their
activity and courage, had great difficulty in crossing. They
succeeded in getting over it, however ; but when they
reached the unfortunate schooner, she v\as literally buried.
The masts were broken, the sails torn, riggrng scattered,
and sides stove. The Sea Lion of Martha's Vineyard was


worthless wreck worthless as to all purposes but that
of being converted into materials for a smaller craft, or to
be used as fuel.

All this had been done in ten minutes ! Then it was
that the vast superiority of nature over the resources of
man made itself apparent. The people of the two vessels
stood aghast with this sad picture of their own insignifi
cance before their eyes. The crew of the wreck, it is true,
had escaped without difficulty ; the movement having been
as slow and steady as it was irresistible. But there they
were, in the clothes . they had on, with all their effects
buried under piles of ice that were already thirty or forty
feet in height.

" She looks as if she was built there, Gar'ner !" Daggett
coolly observed, as he stood regarding the scene with eyes
as intently riveted on the wreck as human organs were
ever fixed on any object. " Had a man told me this could
happen, I would not have believed him!"

" Had she been a three-decker, this ice would have treat
ed her in the same way. There is a force in such a field
that walls of stone could not withstand."

" Captain Gar'ner Captain Gar'ner," called out Stim-
son, hastily; "we'd better go back, sir; our own craft is
in danger. She is drifting fast in towards the cape, and
may reach it afore we can get to her !"

Sure enough, it was so. In one of the changes that are
so unaccountable among the ice, the floe had taken a sud
den and powerful direction towards the entrance of the
Great Bay. It was probably owing to the circumstance
that the inner field had forced its way past the cape, and
made room for its neighbour to follow. A few of Daggett' s
people, with Daggett himself, remained to see what might
yet be saved from the wreck ; but all the rest of the men
started for the cape, towards which the Oyster Pond craft
was now directly setting. The distance was less than a
league; and, as yet, there was not much snow on the rocks.
By taking an upper shelf, it was possible to make pretty
good progress; and such was the manner of RosweU's pre
sent march.

It was ao extraordinary sight to see the coast along w hich
our party was hastening, just at that moment As the cakes


of ice were broken from the field, they were driven up
ward by the vast pressure from without, and the whole line
of the shore seemed as if alive with creatures that were
issuing from the ocean to clamber on the rocks. Roswell
had often seen that very coast peopled with seals, as it now
appeared to be in activity with fragments of ice, that were
writhing, and turning, and rising, one upon another, as if.
possessed of the vital principle.

In half an hour RosweH and his party reached the house.
The schooner was then less than half a mile from the spot,
still setting in, along with the outer field, but not nipped.
So far from being in danger of such a calamity, the little
basin in which she lay had expanded, instead of closing-;
and it would have been possible to handle a quick-working
craft in it, under her canvass. An exit, however, was quite
out of the question ; there being no sign of any passage to
or from that icy dock. There the craft still lay, anchored
to the weather-floe, while the portion of her crew which
remained on board was as anxiously watching the coast as
those who were on the coast watched her. At first, Ros
well gave his schooner up ; but on closer examination found
reason to hope that she might pass the rocks, and enter the
inner, rather than the Great, Bay.


" To prayer ; for the glorious sun is gone,
And the gathering darkness of night comes on j
Like a curtain from God's kind hand it flows,
To shade the couch where his children repose.
Then kneel, while the watching stars are bright,
And give your last thoughts to the guardian of night."


DESOLATE, indeed, and nearly devoid of hope, had the
situation of our sealers now become. It was mid-day, and
it was freezing everywhere in the shade. A bright genial
sun was shedding its glorious rays on the icy panorama;


but it was so obliquely as to be of hardly any use in dis
pelling the frosts. Far as the eye could see, even from the
elevation of the cape, there was nothing but ice, with the
exception of that part of the Great Bay into which the floe
had not yet penetrated. To the southward, there stood
clustering around the passage a line of gigantic bergs,
placed like sentinejs, as if purposely to stop all egress in
that direction. The water had lost its motion in the shift
of wind, and new ice had formed over the whole bay, as
was evident by a white sparkling line that preceded the
irresistible march of the floe.

As Roswell gazed on this scene, serious doubts darken
ed his mind as to his escaping from this frozen chain until
the return of another summer. It is true thai a south wind
might possibly produce a change, and carry away the
blockading mass ; but every moment rendered this so much
the less probable. Winter, or what would be deemed win
ter in most regions, was already setting in ; and should the
ice really become stationary in and around the group, all
hope of its moving must vanish for the next eight months.

Daggett reached the house about an hour before sunset.
He had succeeded in cutting a passage through the ice as
far as the cabin-door of his unfortunate schooner, when
there was no difficulty in descending into the interior parts
of the vessel. The whole party came in staggering under
heavy loads. Pretty much as a matter of course, each man
brought his own effects. Clothes, tobacco, rum, small-
stores, bedding, quadrants, and similar property, was that
first attended to. At that moment, little was thought of the
skins and oil. The cargo was neglected, while the minor
articles had been eagerly sought.

Roswell was on board his own schooner, now again in
dangerous proximity to the cape. She was steadily setting
in, when Daggett rejoined him. The crew of the lost vessel
remained in the house, where they lighted a fire and depo
sited their goods, returning to the wreck for another load,
taking the double sets of wheels along with them. When the
two masters met, they conferred together earnestly, receiv
ing into their councils such of the officers as were on board.
The security of the remaining vessel was now all-important i
and it was not to be concealed that she waa in imminent



jeopardy. The course aken by the floe was directly
towards the most rugged part of Cape Hazard ; and the
rate of the movement such as to threaten a very speedy
termination of the matter. There was one circumstance,
however, and only that one, which offered a single chance
of escape. The opening around the schooner still existed
in part, about half of it having been lost in the collision
with the outermost point of the rocks. It was this species
of vacuum that, by removing all resistance at that particu
lar spot, indeed, which had given the field its most danger
ous cant, turning the movement of the vessel towards the
rocks. The chance, therefore, existed in the possibility
and it was little more than a bare possibility of moving
the schooner in that small area of open water, and of taking
her far enough south to clear the most southern extremity
of the wall of stone that protected the cove. As yet, this
open water did not extend far enough to admit of the
schooner's being taken to the point in question ; but it was
slowly tending in that direction, and did not the basin
close altogether ere that desirable object was achieved, the
vessel might yet be saved. In order, however, to do this,
it would be necessary to cut a sort of dock or slip in the
ice of the cove, into which the craft might shoot, as a place
of refuge. Once within the cove, fairly behind the point
of the rocks, there would be perfect safety ; if suffered to
drift to the southward of that shelter, this schooner would
probably be lost like her consort, and very much in the
same manner.

Gardiner now sent a gang of hands to the desired point,
armed with saws, and the slip was commenced. The ice
in the cove was still only two or three inches thick, and the
work went bravely on. Instead of satisfying himself with
cutting a passage merely behind the point of rock, Hazard
opened one quite up into the cove, to the precise place
where the schooner had been so long at anchor. Just as
the sun was setting, the crisis arrived. So heavy had been
the movement towards the rocks, that Roswell saw he
could delay no longer. Were he to continue where he
was, a projection on the cape would prevent his passage to
the entrance of the cove ; he would be shut in, and he
might be certain that the Sea Lion would be crushed if


the floe pressed home upon the shore. The ice-anchors
were cut out accordingly, the jib was hoisted, and the
schooner wore short round on her heel. The space be
tween the floe and the projection in the rocks just named,
did not now exceed a hundred feet; and it was lessening
fast. Much more room existed on each side of this parti
cular excrescence in the rugged coast, the space north
being still considerable, while that to the southward might
be a hundred yards in width; the former of these areas
being owing to the form of the basin, and the latter to the
shape of the shore.

In the first of the basins named, the schooner wore short
round on her heel, her foresail being set to help her. A
breathless moment passed as she ran down towards the
narrow strait. It was quickly reached, and that none too
soon ; the opening now not exceeding sixty feet. The yards
of the vessel almost brushed the rocks in passing; but she
went clear. As soon as in the lower basin, as o'ne might
call it, the jib and foresail were taken in, and the head of
the mainsail was got on the craft. This helped her to luff
up towards the slip, which she reached under sufficient
head-way fairly to enter it. Lines were thrown to the people
on the ice, who soon hauled the schooner up to the head
of her frozen dock. Three cheers broke spontaneously out
of the throats of the men, as they thus achieved the step
which assured them of the safety of the vessel, so far as the
ice was concerned! In this way do we estimate our advan
tages and disadvantages, by comparison. In the abstract,
the situation of the sealers was still sufficiently painful ;
though compared with what it would have been with the
other schooner wrecked, it was security itself.

By this time it was quite dark ; and a day of excitement
and fatigue required a night of rest. After supping, the
men turned in ; the Vineyarders mostly in the house, where
they occupied their old bunks. When the moon rose, the
party from the wreck arrived, with their carts well loaded,
and themselves half frozen, notwithstanding their toil. In
a short time, all were buried in sleep.

When Roswell Gardiner came on deck next morning,
his first glance told him how little was the chance of his
party's returning north that season. The strange floe had


driven into the Great Bay, completely covering its surface,
lining the shores far and near with broken and glittering
cakes of ice ; and, as it were, hermetically sealing the place
against all egress. New ice, an inch or two thick, or even
six or eight inches thick, might have been sawed through,
and a passage cut even for a league, should it be necessary.
Such things were sometimes done, and great as would have
been the toil, our sealers would have attempted it, in pre
ference to running the risk of passing a winter in thai
regien. But almost desperate as would have been even
that source of refuge, the party was completely cut off from
its possession. To think of sawing through ice as thick as
that of the floe, for any material distance, would be like a
project to tunnel the Alps.

Melancholy was the meeting between Roswell and Dag-
gett that morning. The former was too manly and generous
to indulge in reproaches, else might he well have told the
last that all this was owing to him. There is a singular
propensity in us all to throw the burthen of our own blun
ders on the shoulders of other folk. Roswell had a little
of this weakness, overlooking the fact that he was his own
master ; and as he had come to the group by himself, he
ought to have left it in the same manner, as soon as his
own particular task was accomplished But Roswell did
not see this quite as distinctly as he saw the fact that Dag-
gett's detentions and indirect appeals to his better feelings
had involved him in all these difficulties. Still, while thus
he felt, he made no complaint.

All hope of getting north that season now depended on
the field-ice's drifting away from the Great Bay before it
got fairly frozen in. So jammed and crammed with it did
every part of the bay appear to be, however, that little
could be expected from that source of relief. This Dag-
gett admitted in the conversation he held with Roswell, as
soon as the latter joined him on the rocky terrace beneath
the house.

" The wisest thing we can do, then," replied our hero,
" will be to make as early preparations as possible to meet
the winter. If we are to remain here, a day gained now
will be worth a week a month hence. If we should happily
escape, the labour thus expended will not kill us."


" Quite true very much as you say, certainly," answer
ed Daggett, musing. " I was thinking as you came ashore,
Gar'ner, if a lucky turn might not be made in this wise:
I have a good many skins in the wreck, you see, and you
have a good deal of ile in your hold now, by starting some
of that ile, and pumping it out, and shocking the casks,
room might be made aboard of you for all my skins. I
think we could run all of the last over on them wheels in
the course of a week."

" Captain Daggett, it is by yielding so much to your
skins that we have got into all this trouble."

" Skins, measure for measure, in the way of tonnage,
will bring a great deal more than ile."

Roswell smiled, and muttered something to himself, a
little bitterly. He was thinking of the grievous disappoint
ment and prolonged anxiety that it pained him to believe
Mary would feel at his failure to return home at the ap
pointed time ; though it would probably have pained him
more to believe she would not thus be disappointed and
anxious. Here his displeasure, or its manifestation, ceased ;
and the young man turned his thoughts on the present ne
cessities of his situation.

Daggett appearing very earnest on the subject of re
moving his skins before the snows came to impede the
path, Roswell could urge no objection that would be likely
to prevail ; but his acquiescence was obtained by means
of a hint from Stimson, who by this time had gained his
officer's ear.

" Let him do it, Captain Gar'ner," said the boat-steerer,
in an aside, speaking respectfully, but earnestly. " He Ml
never stow 'em in our hold, this season at least ; but they '11
make excellent filling-in for the sides of this hut."

" You think then, Stephen, that we are likely to pass
the winter here?"

" We are in the hands of Divine Providence, sir, which
will do with us as seems the best in the eyes of never-fail
ing wisdom. At all events, Captain Gar'ner, I think 'twill
be safest to act at once as if we had the winter afore us.
In my judgment, this house might be made a good deal
more comfortable for us all, in such a case, than our craft;
for we should not only have more room, but might have as


many fires as we want, and more than we can find fael

"Ay, there 's the difficulty, Stephen. Where are we to
find wood, throughout a polar winter, for even one fire f '

" We must be saving, sir, and thoughtful, and keep our
selves warm as much as we can by exercise. I have had a
laste of this once, in a small way, already ; and know what
ought to be done, in many partic'lars. In the first place,
the men must keep themselves as clean as water will make
them dirt is a great helper of cold and the water must
be just as frosty as human natur' can bear it. This will set

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 32) → online text (page 29 of 39)