James Fenimore Cooper.

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day or two he had some new expedient for getting the
schooner off in the spring; though all who heard them
were perfectly convinced of their impracticableness. This
feeling induced him to cause his own men to keep open
the communication ; and scarce a day passed in which he
did not visit the poor unfortunate craft. Nor was the place
without an interest of a very peculiar sort. It has been
said that the fragments of ice, some of which were more
than a hundred feet in diameter, and all of which were
eight or ten feet in thickness, had been left on their edges,
inclining in a way to form caverns that extended a great
distance. Now, it so happened, that just around the wreck
the cakes were so distributed as to intercept the first snows
which filled the outer passages, got to be hardened, and
covered anew by fresh storms, thus interposed an effectual
barrier to the admission of any more of the frozen element
within the ice. The effect was to form a vast range of
natural galleries amid the cakes, that were quite clear of
any snow but that which had adhered to their surfaces, and
which offered little or no impediment to motion nay,
which rather aided it, by rendering the walking less slip
pery. As the deck of the schooner had been cleared,
leaving an easy access to all its entrances, cabin, hold, and
forecastle, this put the Vineyard Lion under cover, while
it admitted of all her accommodations being used. A por
tion of her wood had been left in her, it will be remembered,
as well as her camboose. The last was got into the cabin,
and Daggett, attended by two or three of his hands, would
pass a good deal of his time there. One reason given for
this distribution of the forces, was the greater room it
allowed those who remained at the hut for motion. The
deck of this vessel being quite clear, it offered a very
favourable spot for exercise ; better, in fact, than the ter-
29



336 THE SEA LIONS.

race beneath the hut, being quite sheltered from the winds,
and much warmer than it had been originally, or ever since
the heavy fall of snows commenced. Daggett paced his
quarter-deck hour after hour, almost deluding himself with
the expectation of sailing for home as soon as the return
of summer would permit him to depart.

Around the hut the snow early made vast embankments.
Every one accustomed to the action of this particular con
dition of one of the great elements, will understand that a
bend in the rocks outward, or a curve inward, must neces
sarily affect the manner in which these banks were formed.
The wind did not, by any means, blow from any one point
of the compass ; though the south-western cliffs might be
almost termed the weather-side of the island, so much more
frequently did the gales come from that quarter than from
any other. The cape where the cove lay, and where the
house had been set up, being at the north-eastern point,
and much protected by the high table-land in its rear, it
occupied the warmest situation in the whole region. The
winds that swept most of the north shore, but which, owing
to a curvature in its formation, did not often blow home to
the hut, even when they whistled along the terrace only a
hundred feet beneath and more salient, were ordinarily
from the south-west outside ; though they got a more west
erly inclination by following the land under the cliffs.

A bank of snow may be either a cause of destruction or
a source of comfort. Of course, a certain degree of cold
must exist wherever snow is to be found ; but, unless in
absolute contact with the human body, it does not usually
affect the system beyond a certain point. On the other
hand, it often breaks the wind, and it has been known to
form a covering to flocks, houses, &.C., that has contributed
essentially to their warmth. We incline to the opinion that
if one slept in a cavern formed in the snow, provided he
could keep himself dry, and did not come in absolute con
tact with the element, he would not find his quarters very
uncomfortable, so long as he had sufficient clothing to con
fine the animal warmth near his person. Now, our sealers
enjoyed some such advantage as this; though not literally
in the same degree. Their house was not covered with
Know, though a vast bank was already formed quite near it



THE SEA LIONS. 337

and a good deal had begun to pile against the tent. Sin
gular as it may seem, on the east end of the building, and
on the south front, which looked in towards the cliff next
the cove, there was scarcely any snow at all. This was in
part owing to the constant use of the shovel and broom,
but more so to the currents of air, which usually carried
everything of so light a nature as a flake to more quiet
spots, before it was suffered to settle on the ground.

Roswell early found, what his experience as an Ameri
can might have taught him, that the melting of the snow,
in consequence of the warmth of the fires, caused much
more inconvenience than the snow itself. The latter, when
dry, was easily got along with ; but, when melted in the
day, and converted into icicles at night, it became a most
unpleasant and not altogether a safe neighbour ; inasmuch
as there was really danger from the sort of damp atmosphere
it produced.

The greatest ground of Roswell Gardiner's apprehen
sions, however, was for the supply of fuel. Much of that
brought from home had been fairly used in the camboose,
and in the stove originally set up in the hut. Large as that
stock had been, a very sensible inroad had been made upon
it ; and, according to a calculation he had made, the wood
regularly laid in would not hold out much more than half
the time that it would be indispensable to remain on the
island. This was a grave circumstance, and one that de
manded very serious consideration. Without fuel it would
be impossible to survive ; no hardening process being suffi
cient to fortify the human frame to a degree that would
resist the influence of an antarctic winter.

From the moment it was probable the party would be
obliged to pass the winter at Sealer's Land, therefore, Ros
well had kept a vigrnint eye on the wood. Stimson had
more than once, spoken to him on the subject, and with
great prudence.

" Warmth must be kept among us," said the old boat-
steerer, " or there will be no hope for the stoutest man in
either crew. We 've a pretty good stock of coffee, and
that is better, any day, than all the rurn and whiskey that
was ever distilled. Good hot coffee of a morning will put



338 THE SEA LIONS.

life into us the coldest day that ever come out of either
pole ; and they do say the south is colder than the north,
though I never could understand why it should be so."

" You surely understand the reason why it grows warmer
as we approach the equator, and colder as we go from it,
whether we go north or south ?"

Stimson assented ; though had the truth been said, he
would have been obliged to confess that he knew no more
than the facts.

"All sailors know sich things, Captain Gar'ner; though
they know it with very different degrees of exper'ence.
But few get as far south as I have been, to pass a winter.
A good pot of hot coffee of a morning will go as far as a
second pee-jacket, if a man has to go out into the open air
when the weather is at the hardest."

" Luckily, our small stores are quite abundant, and we
are better off for coffee and sugar than for anything else.
I laid in of both liberally when we were at Rio."

" Yes, Rio is a good place for the articles. But coffee
must be hot to do a fellow much good in one of these high-
latitude winters; and to be hot there must be fuel to heat
it."

" I am afraid the wood will not hold out much more
than half the time we shall be here. Fortunately, we had
a large supply ; but the other schooner was by no means
as well furnished with fuel as she ought to have been for
such a voyage."

" Well, sir, I suppose you know what must be done next
in such a case. Without warm food, men can no more live
through one of these winters, than they can live without
food at all. If the Vineyard craft has no proper fuel aboard
her, we must make fuel of her."

Roswell regarded Stephen with fixed attention for some
time. The idea was presented to his mind for the second
time, and he greatly liked it.

"That might do," he said; "though it will not be an
easy matter to make Captain Dagget consent to such a
thing."

" Let him go two or three mornings without his warm
meal and hot coffee," answered Stimson, shaking his head,
" and he will be glad enough to come into the scheme. A



THE SEA LIONS. 339

man soon gets willing to set fire to anything that will burn
in such a climate. A notion has been floating about in my
mind, Captain Gar'ner, that 1 've several times thought I
would mention to you. D 'ye think, sir, any benefit could
be made of that volcano over the bay, should the worst get
to the worst with us?"

" I have thought of the same thing, Stephen ; though I
fear in vain. I suppose no useful heat can be given out
there, until one gets too near the bad air to breathe it.
What you say about breaking up the other schooner, how
ever, is worthy of consideration ; and I will speak to Cap
tain Daggett about it."

Roswell was as good as his word ; and the Vineyard
mariner met the proposal as one repels an injury. Never
were our two masters so near a serious misunderstanding,
as when Roswell suggested to Daggett the expediency of
breaking up the wreck, now that the weather was endura-
rable, and the men could work with reasonable comfort
and tolerable advantage.

"The man who puts an axe or a saw into that unfortu
nate craft," said Daggett, firmly, "I shall regard as an
enemy. It is a hard enough bed that she lies on, without
having her ribs and sides torn to pieces by hands."

This was the strange spirit in which Daggett continued
to look at the condition of the wreck ! It was true that the
ice prevented his actually seeing the impossibility of his
ever getting his schooner into the water again ; but no man
at all acquainted with mechanics, and who knew the paucity
of means that existed on the island, could for a moment
entertain the idle expectation that seemed to have got into
the Vineyard-master's mind, unless subject to a species of
one-idea infatuation. This infatuation, however, existed
not only in Daggett's mind, but in some degree in those
of his men. It is said that " in a multitude of counsellors
there is wisdom ;" and the axiom comes from an authority
too venerable to be disputed. But it might, almost with
equal justice, be said, that " in a multitude of counsellors
there is folly;" for men are quite as apt to sustain each
other in the wrong as in the right. The individual who
would hesitate about advancing his fallacies and mistakes
with a single voice, does not scruple to proclaim them on
29*



340 THE SEA LIONS.

the hill-tops, when he finds other tongues to lepeat his
errors. Divine wisdom, foreseeing this consequence of
human weakness, has provided a church-catholic, and pro
ceeding directly from its Great Head on earth, as the repo
sitory of those principles, facts, and laws, that it has deemed
essential to the furtherance of its own scheme of moral
government on earth ; and yet we see audacious imitators
starting up on every side, presuming in their ignorance,
longing in their ambition, and envious in these longings,
who do not scruple to shout out upon the house-tops
crudities over which knowledge wonders as it smiles, and
humility weeps as it wonders. Such is man, when sustained
by his fellows, in every interest of life; from religion, the
highest of all, down to the most insignificant of his tem
poral concerns.

In this spirit did Daggett and his crew now feel and act.
Roswell had early seen, with regret, that something like a
feeling of party was getting up among the Vineyarders,
who had all along regarded the better fortune of their
neighbours with an ill-concealed jealousy. Ever since the
shipwreck, however, this rivalry had taken a new and even
less pleasant aspect. It was slightly hostile, and remarks
had been occasionally made that sounded equivocally; as
if the Vineyarders had an intention of separating from the
other crew, and of living by themselves. It is probable,
however, that all this was the fruit of disappointment; and
that, at the bottom, nothing very serious was in contempla
tion. Daggett had permitted his people to aid in transport
ing most of the stores to the house ; though a considerable
supply had been left in the wreck. This last arrangement
was made seemingly without any hostile design, but rather
in furtherance of a plan to pass as much time as circum
stances would allow, on board the stranded vessel. There
was, in truth, a certain convenience in this scheme, that
commended it to the good sense of all. So long as any
portion of the Vineyarders could be made comfortable in
the wreck, it was best they should remain there; for it
saved the labour of transporting all the provisions, and
made more room to circulate in and about the house. The
necessity of putting so many casks, barrels and boxes with
in doors, had materially circumscribed the limits ; and space



THE SEA I. IONS. 341

was a great desideratum for several reasons, health in par
ticular.

Roswell was glad, therefore, when any of the Vineyarders
expressed a wish to go to the wreck, and to pass a few days
there. With a view to encourage this disposition, as well
as to ascertain how those fared who chose that abode, he
paid Daggett a visit, and passed a night or two himself in
the cabin of the craft. This experiment told him that it
was very possible to exist there when the thermometer stood
at zero; but, how it would do when ranging a great deal
lower, he had his doubts. The cabin was small, and a very
moderate fire in the camboose served to keep it reasonably
warm ; though Daggett, at all times a reasonable and rea
soning man, when the " root of all evil" did not sorely be
set him, came fully into his own views as to the necessity
of husbanding the fuel, and of hardening the men. None
of that close stewing over stoves, which is so common in
America, and which causes one-half of the winter diseases
of the climate, was tolerated in either gang. Daggett saw
the prudence of Roswell's, or rather of Stimson's system,
and fell into it freely, and with hearty good-will. It was
during Gardiner's visit to the wreck that our two masters
talked over their plans for the winter, while taking their
exercise on the schooner's deck, each well muffled up, to
prevent the frost from taking hold of the more exposed
parts. Every one had a seal-skin cap, made in a way to
protect the ears and most of the free; and our two masters
were thus provided, in common with their men.

" I suppose that we are to consider this as pleasant win
ter weather," Roswell remarked, " the thermometer being
down only at zero. Stimson tells me that even at Orange
Harbour, the season he was there, they paid out mercury
until it all got into the ball. A month or two hence, we
may look out for the season of frosts, as the Injins call it.
You will hardly think of staying out here, when the really
hard weather sets in."

" I do not believe we shall feel the cold much more than
we do now. This daily washing is a capital stove ; for 1
find all hands say that, when it is once over, they feel like
new men. As for me, I shall stick by my craft while there
is a timber lef*. in her to float !"



342 THE SEA LIONS.

Roswell thought how absurd it was to cling thus to a
useless mass of wood, and iron, and copper ; but he said
nothing on that subject.

" I am now sorry that we took over to the house so many
of our supplies," Daggett continued, after a short pause.
" I am afraid that many of them will have to be brought
back again."

" That would hardly quit cost, Daggett ; it would be
better to come over and pass the heel of the winter with
us, when the supplies get to be short here. As we eat, we
make room in the hut, you know ; and you will be so much
the more comfortable. An empty pork-barrel was broken
up for the camboose yesterday morning."

" We shall see we shall see, Gar'ner. My men have
got a notion that your people intend to break up this
schooner for fuel, should they not keep an anchor-watch
aboard her."

"Anchor-watch !" repeated Roswell, smiling. " It is
well named if there ever was an anchor-watch, you keep
it here; for no ground-tackle will ever hold like this."

" We still think the schooner may be got off," Daggett
said, regarding his companion inquiringly.

While the Vineyard-man had a certain distrust of his
brother-master, he had also a high respect for his fair-deal
ing propensities, and a strong disposition to put confidence
in his good faith. The look that he now gave was, if pos
sible, to read the real opinion of the other, in a countenance
that seldom deceived.

" I shall be grateful to God, Captain Daggett," returned
Roswell, after a short pause, " if we get through the long
winter of this latitude, without burning too much of both
craft, than will be for our good. Surely it were better to
begin on that which is in the least serviceable condition ?"

" I have thought this matter over, Gar'ner, with all my
mind have dreamt of it slept on it had it before me at
all hours, and in all weathers; and, look at it as I will, it
is full of difficulties. Will you agree to take in a half-cargo
of my skins and iles next season, and make in all respects
a joint v'y'ge of it, from home, home ag'in, if we '11 consent
to let this craft be burned?"

"It exceeds my power to make any such bargain. 1



THE SEA LIONS. 343

have an owner who looks sharply after his property, and
my crew are upon lays, like the people of all sealers. You
ask too much ; and you forget that, should I assume the
same power over my own craft, as you still claim in this
wreck, you might never find the means of getting away
from the group at all. We are not obliged to receive you
on board our schooner."

" I know you think, Gar'ner, that it will be impossible
for us ever to get our craft off; but you overlook one.thing
that we may do what is there to prevent our breaking her
up, and of using the materials to make a smaller vessel ;
one of sixty tons say in which we might get home, be
sides taking most of our skins?"

" I will not say that will be impossible ; but I do say it
will be very difficult. It would be wiser for you, in my
judgment, to leave your cargo in the house, under the
keeping of a few hands if you see fit, and go off with me.
I will land you at Rio, where you can almost always find
some small American craft to come south in, and pick up
your leavings. If you choose that the men left behind
should amuse themselves in your absence, by building a
small craft, I am certain they will meet with no opposition
from me. There is but one place where a vessel can be
launched, and that is the spot in the cove where we beached
your schooner. There it might possibly be done, though
I think not without a great deal of trouble, and possibly not
without more means than are to be picked up along shore
in this group. But there is a very important fact that you
overlook, Daggett, which it may be as well to mention
here, as to delay it. Your craft, or mine, must be used as
fuel this winter, or we shall freeze to death to a man. I
have made the calculations closely; and, certain as our
existence, there is no alternative between such a death and
the use of the fuel I have mentioned."

"Not a timber of mine shall be touched. I do not be
lieve one-half of these stories about the antarctic winter,
which cannot be much worse than what a body meets with
up in the Bay of Fundy."

"A winter in the Bay of Fundy, without fuel, must be
bad enough ; but it is a mere circumstance to one here. I
should think that a man who has tasted an antarctic sum-



344 THE SEA LIONS.

mer and autumn, must get a pretty lively notion of what ia
to come after them."

" The men can keep in their berths much of the time,
and save wood. There are many other ways of getting
through a winter than burning a vessel. I shall never con
sent to a stick of this good craft's going into the galley-fire
as long as I can see my way clear to prevent it. I would
burn cargo before I would burn my craft."

Roswell wondered at this pertinacity ; but he trusted to
the pressure of the coming season, and changed the subject.
Certainly the thought of breaking up his own craft did not
cross his mind: though he could see no sufficient objection
to the other side of the proposition. As discussion was use
less, however, he continued to converse with Daggett on
various practical subjects, on which his companion wa*
rational and disposed to learn.

It had been ascertained by experiment that the water,
at a considerable depth, was essentially warmer beneath the
ice, than at its surface. A plan had been devised by which
the lower currents of the water could be pumped up for the
purposes of the bath ; thus rendering the process far more
tolerable than it had previously been. Bathing in extremely
cold weather, however, is not as formidable a thing as is
generally supposed, the air being at a lower temperature
than the water. As the greatest importance was attached
to these daily ablutions, the subject was gone over between
the two masters in all its bearings. There were no conve
niences for the operation at the wreck ; and this was one
reason why Roswell suggested that a residence there ought
to be abandoned. Daggett dissented, and invited his com
panion to take a walk in his caverns.

A promenade in a succession of caves formed of ice,
with the thermometer at zero, would naturally strike one
as a somewhat chilling amusement. Gardiner did not find
it so. He was quite protected from the wind, which gives
so much pungency to bitter cold, rendering it insupporta
ble. Completely protected from this, and warmed by the
exertion of clambering among the cakes, Roswell's blood
was soon in a healthful glow; and, to own the truth, when
he left the wreck, it was with a much better opinion of it v



THE SEA LIONS. 345

as a place of residence, than when he had arrived to pay
his visit.

As there was now nothing for the men to do in the way
of preparation, modes of amusement were devised that
might unite activity of body with that of the mind. The
snows ceased to fall as the season advanced ; and there
were but few places on which heavy burthens might not
have been transported over their crusts. It was, indeed,
easier moving about on the surface of the frozen snow,
than it had been on the naked rocks ; the latter offering
obstacles that no longer showed themselves. Sliding down
the declivities, and even skating, were practised; few
northern Americans being ignorant of the latter art. Va
rious other sources of amusement were resorted to ; but it
was found, generally, that very little exercise in the open
air exhausted the frame, and that a great difficulty of
breathing occurred. Still, it was thought necessary to
health that the men should remain as much as possible out
of the crowded house ; and various projects were adopted
to keep up the vital warmth while exposed. Ere the month
of July had passed, which corresponds to our January, it
had been found expedient to make dresses of skins; for
which fortunately the materials abounded.

As the season advanced, the idea of preserving more
than the lives of his men was gradually abandoned by Gar
diner ; though Daggett still clung to his wreck, and actually
had wood transported back to it, that he might stay as much
as possible near his property. There was no longer any
thawing, though there were very material gradations in the
intensity of the frosts. Occasionally, it was quite possible
to remain in the open air an hour or two at a time; then,
again, there were days in which it exceeded the powers of
human endurance to remain more than a few minutes re
moved to any distance from heat artificially procured. On
the whole, however, it was found that the comparatively
moderate weather predominated ; and it was rare indeed
that all the people did not pursue their avocations and
amusements outside, at what was called the middle of the
day.

And what a meridian it was! The shortest day had
passed some time, when Roawell and Stimson were walk-



346 THE SEA LIONS.

ing together on the terrace, then, as usual, as clear from
snow as if swept by a broom ; but otherwise wearing the
aspect of interminable winter, in common with all around
it. They were conversing, as had been much their wont
of late, and were watching the passage of the sun as he



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 32) → online text (page 31 of 39)