James Fenimore Cooper.

Works (Volume 32) online

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


stole along the northern horizon ; even at high noon rising
but a very few degrees above it !

" It has a cold look, sir, but it does give out some heat,"
said Stephen, as he faced the luminary, in one of his turns.
" I can feel a little warmth from it just now, sheltered as
we are here under the cliffs, and with a back-ground of
naked rock to throw back what reaches us. To me, all
these changes in the movements of the sun seem very
strange, Captain Gar'ner ; but I know I'm ignorant, and
that others may well know all about what I do not under
stand."

Here Gardiner undertook to explain the phenomena that
have been slightly treated on in our own pages. There are
few Americans so ignorant as not to be fully aware that the
sun has no sensible motion, or any motion that has an ap-
oarent influence on our own planet; but fewer still clearly
comprehend the reasons of those very changes that are oc
curring constantly before their eyes. We cannot say that
Captain Gardiner succeeded very well in his undertaking,
though he imprinted on the old boat-steerer's mind the
fact that the sun would not be seen at all were they only a
few degrees farther south than they actually were.

"And now, sir, I suppose he'll get higher and higher
every day," put in Stephen, " until he comes quite up above
our heads?"

"Not exactly that at noon; though abeam, as it might
be, mornings and evenings."

" Still, the coldest of our weather is yet to come, or 1
have no exper'ence in such things. Why does not the heat
come back with the sun or what seems to be the sun
coming back? though, as you tell me, Captain Gar'ner,
it's only the 'arth sheering this-a-way and that-a-way in her
course."

" One may well ask such a question but cold produces
cold, and it takes time to wear it out. February is com
monly the coldest month in the year, even in America ;



THE SEA LIONS. 347

though days occur in other months that may be colder than
any one in February. March, and even April, are months
I dread here; and that so much the more, Stephen, because
our fuel goes a good deal faster than I could wish."

" What you say is very true, sir. Still, the people must
have fire. I turned out this morning, while all hands were
still in their berths, and looked to the stove, and it was as
much as human natur' could bear to be about without my
cap and skin-covering; though in-doors the whole time.
If the weather goes on as it has begun, we shall have to
keep a watch at the stove ; nor do I think one stove will
answer us much longer. We shall want another in the
sleeping-room."

" Heaven knows where the wood is to come from ! Un
less Captain Daggett gives up the wreck, we shall certainly
be out long before the mild season returns."

" We must keep ourselves warm, sir, by reading the
bible," answered Stimson, smiling ; though the glance he
cast at his officer was earnest and anxious. " You must
not forget, Captain Gar'ner, that you 've promised one who
is praying for you daily, to go through the chapters she has
marked, and give the matter a patient and attentive thought.
No sealin', sir, can be half as important as this reading of
the good book in the right spirit."

" So you believe that Jesus was the Son of God !" ex
claimed Roswell, half inquiringly, and half in a modified
sort of levity.

"As much as I believe that we are here, sir. I wish 1
was half as certain of our ever getting away."

" What has caused you to believe this, Stimson? rea
son, or the talk of your mother and of the parson ?"

" My mother died afore I could listen to her talk, sir:
and very little have I had to do with parsons, for the want
of being where they are to be found. Faith tells me to
believe this; and Faith comes from God."

"And I could believe it, too, were Faith imparted to me
from the same source. As it is, I fear I shall never believe
in what appears to me to be an impossibility."

Then followed a long discussion, in which ingenuity, con
siderable command of language, human pride and worldly
jentiments, contended with that clear, intuitive, deep con-
30



348 THE SEA LIONS.

viction, which it is the pleasure of the Deity often to bestoi*
on those who would otherwise seem to be unfitted to be
come the repositories of so great a gift. As we shall have
to deal with this part of our subject more particularly here
after, we shall not enlarge on it here ; but pursue the nar
rative as it is connected with the advance of the season,
and the influence the latter exerted over the whole party
of the lost sealers



CHAPTER XXY.

" Beyond the Jewish ruler, banded close,
A company full glorious, I saw
The twelve apostles stand. 0, with what looks
Of ravishment and joy, what rapturous tears ;
What hearts of ecstacy, they gazed again

On their beloved Master"

Hothouse's Judgment.

IT has become necessary to advance the season to the
beginning of the month of October, which corresponds to
our own April. In a temperate climate, this would mark
the opening of spring ; and the reviving hopes of a new and
genial season would find a place in every bosom. Not so
at Sealer's Land. So long as the winter was at its height,
and the clear, steady cold continued, by falling into a sys
tem so prepared as to meet the wants of such a region,
matters had gone on regularly, if not with comfort; and,
as yet, the personal disasters were confined to a few frozen
cheeks and noses, the results of carelessness and wanton
exposure, rather than of absolute necessity. But one who
had seen the place in July, and who examined it now,
would find many marks of change, not to say of deterio
ration.

In the first place, a vast deal of snow had fallen ; fallen,
indeed, to such a degree, as even to cover the terrace,
block up the path that communicated with the wreck, and
nearly to smother the house and all around it. The winds
were high and piercing, rendering the cold doubly pene-



THE SEA LIONS. 349

trating. The thermometer now varied essentially, some
times rising considerably above zero, though oftener falling
far below it. There had been many storms in September,
and October was opening with a most blustering and wintry
aspect. In one sense, however, the character of the season
had changed ; the dry, equal cold, that was generally sup
portable, having been succeeded by tempests that were
sometimes a little moist, but oftener of intense frigidity.
Of course the equinox was past, and there were more than
twelve hours of sun. The great luminary showed himself
well above the northern horizon; and though his circuit
described an arch that did not promise soon to bring him
near the zenith at meridian, it was a circuit that seemed
about to enclose Sealer's Land, by carrying the orb of day
so far south, morning and evening, as to give it an air of
travelling round the spot.

These changes had not occurred without suffering and
danger. Enormous icicles were suspended from the roof
of the house, reaching to the ground, the third and fourth
successions of these signs of heat and cold united, the
earlier formations having been knocked down and thrown
away. Mountains of drifted snow were to be seen in places,
all along the shore ; and wreaths that threatened fearful
avalanches were suspended from the cliffs, waiting only for
the increase of the warmth, to come down upon the rocks
beneath. Once already had one of these masses fallen on
the wreck ; and the Oyster Pond men had been busy for a
week digging into the pile, in order to go to the rescue of
the Vineyarders. There was much generosity and charita
ble feeling displayed in this act ; for, owing to the obstinate
adherence of Daggett and his people to what they deemed
their rights, Roswell had finally been compelled to cut to
pieces the upper works of his own schooner to obtain fuel
that might prevent his own party from freezing to death.
The position of the Sea Lion of Oyster Pond was to be
traced only by a high mound of snow, which had been
arrested by the obstacle she presented to its drift; but her
bulwarks, planks, deck, top-timbers, stern-frame in short,
nearly all of the vessel above water, had actually been taken
to pieces, and carried within the covering of the verandah
mentioned, in readiness for the stoves 1



350 THE SEA LIONS.

To render the obstinacy of the other crew more appa
rent, Daggett had been obliged to do the same ! Much of
his beloved craft had already disappeared in the camboose
and more was likely to follow. This compelled destruction
however, rather increased than lessened his pertinacity
He clung to the last chip ; and no terms of compromise
would he now listen to at all. The stranded wreck was
his, and his people's ; while the other wreck belonged to
the men from Oyster Pond. Let each party act for itself,
and take care of its own. Such were his expressed opinions,
and on them he acted.

This state of things had not been brought about in a
day. Months had passed ; Roswell had seen his last billet
of wood put in the camboose ; had tried various experiments
for producing heat by means of oil, which so far succeeded
as to enable the ordinary boiling to be done, thereby saving
wood; but, when a cold turn set in, it was quickly found
that the schooner must go, or all hands perish. When this
decree went forth, every one understood that the final pre
servation of the party depended on that of the boats. For
one entire day the question had been up in general council,
whether or not the two whale-boats should be burnt, with
their oars and appurtenances, before the attack was made
on the schooner itself. Stimson settled this point, as he
did so many others, Roswell listening to all he said with a
constantly increasing attention.

" If we burn the boats first," said the boat-steerer, " and
then have to come to the schooner a'ter all, how are we
ever to get away from this group ? Them boats wouldn't
last us a week, even in our best weather; but they may
answer to take us to some Christian land, when every rib
and splinter of the Sea Lion is turned into ashes. I would
begin on the upper works of the schooner first, Captain
Gar'ner. resarvin' the spars, though they would burn the
freest. Then I would saw away the top-timbers, beams,
decks, transoms, and everything down within a foot of the
water; but I wouldn't touch anything below the copper,
for this here reason : unless Captain Daggett sets to work
on his craft and burns her up altogether, we may find
mater'als enough in the spring to deck over ag'in the poor
thing down there in the cove, and fit her out a'ter a fashion



THE SEA LIONS. 351

and make much better weather of it in her than in our
boats. That's my opinion, sir."

It was decided that this line of conduct should be pur
sued. The upper works of the schooner were all taken out
of her as soon as the weather permitted, and the wood was
carried up and stored in the house. Even with this supply,
it was soon seen that great economy was to be used, and
that there might be the necessity of getting at the vessel's
bottom. As for the schooner, as the people still affection
ately called the hull, or what was left of the hull, everything
had been taken out of her. The frozen oil was carried up
to the house in chunks, and used for fuel and lights. A
good deal of heat was obtained by making large wicks of
canvass, and placing them in vessels that contained oil ;
though it was very far from sufficing to keep life in the
men during the hardest of the weather. The utmost
economy in the use of the fuel that had been so dearly ob
tained, was still deemed all-essential to eventual preserva
tion. Happily, the season advanced all this time, and the
month of October was reached. The intercourse between
the crews had by no means been great during the two so
lemn and critical months that were just past. A few visits
had been exchanged at noon-day, and when the thermome
ter was a little above zero; but the snow was filling the
path, and as yet there were no thaws to produce a crust on
which the men might walk.

About a month previously to the precise time to which
it is our intention now to advance the more regular action
of the legend, Macy had come over to the house, attended
by one man, with a proposal on the part of Daggett for the
two crews to occupy his craft, as he still persisted in calling
the wreck, and of using the house as fuel. This was pre
viously to beginning to break up either vessel. Gardiner
had thought of this plan in connection with his own
schooner, a scheme that would have been much more fea
sible than that now proposed, on account of the difference
in distance ; but it had soon been abandoned. All the
material of the building was of pine, and that well season
ed ; a wood that burns like tinder. No doubt there would
have been a tolerably comfortable fortnight or three weeks
30 *



352 THE SEA LIONS.

by making these sacrifices ; then would have come certain
destruction.

As to the proposal of Daggett, there were many objec
tions to it. A want of room would be one; want of pro
visions another; and there would be the necessity of trans
porting stores, bedding, and a hundred things that were
almost as necessary to the people as warmth ; and which
indeed contributed largely to their warmth. In addition
was the objection just mentioned, of the insufficiency of
the materials of the building; an objection which was just
as applicable to a residence in one vessel as a residence in
the other. Of course the proposition was declined.

Macy remained a night with the Oyster Ponders, and
left the house after breakfast next morning; knowing that
Daggett only waited for his return with a negative, to com
mence breaking up the wreck. The mate was attended by
the seaman, returning as he had arrived. Two days later,
there having been a slight yielding of the snow under the
warmth of the noon-day sun, and a consequent hardening
of its crust in the succeeding night, Roswell and Stimson
undertook to return this visit, with a view to make a last
effort to persuade Daggett to quit the wreck and come over
to the house altogether. When they had got about half
way between the two places, they found the body of the
seaman, stiff, frozen hard, and dead. A quarter of a mile
further on, the reckless Macy, who it was supposed greatly
sustained Daggett in his obstinacy, was found in precisely
the same state. Both had fallen in the path, and stiffened
under the terrible power of the climate. It was not with
out difficulty that Roswell reached the wreck, and reported
what he had seen. Even this terrible admonition did not
change Daggett's purpose. He had begun to burn his
vessel, for there was now no alternative ; but he was doing
it on a system which, as he explained it to Roswell, was
not only to leave him materials with which to construct a
smaller craft in the spring, but which would allow of his
inhabiting the steerage and cabin as long as he pleased.

In some respects the wreck certainly had its advantages
over the house. There was more room for exercise, the
caverns of the ice being extensive, while they completely
excluded the wind, which waa now the great danger of tha



THE SEA LIONS. 353

season. It was doubtless owing to the wind that Macy and
his companion had perished. As the spring approached,
these winds increased in violence ; though there had been
slight symptoms of their coming more blandly, even at the
time when their colder currents were really frightful.

A whole month succeeded this visit of Roswell's, during
which there was no intercourse. It was September, the
March of the antarctic circle, and the weather had been
terrific during most of the period. It was during these
terrible four weeks that Roswell completed his examination
of the all-important subject Mary had marked out for him,
and which Stirnson had so earnestly and so often placed
before his mind. The sudden fate of Macy and his com
panion, the condition of his crew, and all the serious cir
cumstances with which he was surrounded, conspired to
predispose him to inquiry ; and what was equally important
in such an investigation, to humility. Man is a very dif
ferent being in high prosperity from what he becomes when
the blows of an evil fortune, or the visitations of Divine
Providence alight upon him. * The skepticism of Roswell
was more the result of human pride, of confidence in him
self, than in any precept derived from others, or of any
deep reasoning process whatever. He conceived that the
theory of the incarnation of the Son of God was opposed
to philosophy and experience, it is true; and, thus far, he
may be said to have reasoned in the matter, though it was
in his own way, and with a very contracted view of the
subject; but pride had much more to do with even this
conclusion, than a knowledge of physics or philosophy. It
did not comport with the respect he entertained for his
own powers, to lend his faith to an account that conflicted
with so many of the opinions he had formed on evidence
and practice. Credulous women might have their convic
tions on the truth of this history, but it was not necessary
for men to be as easily duped. There was something even
amiable and attractive in this weakness of the other sex,
that would ill comport, however, with the greater sternness
of masculine judgment. Roswell, as he once told Stimson,
hesitated to believe in anything that he could not compre
hend. His God must be worshipped for the obvious truth
of his attributes and existence. He wished to speak with



354 THE SEA LIONS.

respect of things that so many worthy people reverenced ;
but he could not forget that Providence had made him a
reasoning creature ; and his reason must be convinced.
Stephen was no great logician, as the reader will easily
understand ; but Newton possessed no clearer demonstra
tion of any of his problems than this simple, nay ignorant,
man enjoyed in his religious faith, through the divine illu
mination it had received in the visit of the Holy Spirit.

That gloomy month, however, had not been thrown away.
All the men were disposed to be serious; and the reading
of the bible, openly and aloud, soon became a favourite
occupation with every one of them. Although Roswell's
reading was directed by the marks of Mary, all of which
had reference to those passages that touched on the Divinity
of the Saviour, he made no comments that betrayed his in
credulity. There is a simple earnestness in the narrative
portions of the Gospel that commends its truth to every
mind, and it had its effect on that of Roswell Gardiner;
though it failed to remove doubts that had so long been
cherished, and which had their existence in pride of rea
son, or what passes for such, with those who merely skim
the surface of things, as they seem to exist around them.

On the evening of that particular day in October, to
which we desire now to advance the time, and after the
most pleasant and cheerful afternoon and sunset that any
on the island had seen for many months, Roswell and Stim-
son ventured to continue their exercise on the terrace, then
again clear of impediments, even after the day had closed.
The night promised to be cold, but the weather was not
yet so keen as to drive them to a shelter. Both fancied
there was a feeling of spring in the wind, which was from
the north-east, a quarter that brought the blandest currents
of air into those seas, if any air of that region deserved
such a term at all.

" It is high time we had some communications with the
Vineyarders," said Roswell, as they turned at that end of
the terrace which was nearest to the wreck. "A full month
has passed since we have seen any of them, or have heard
a syllable of their doings or welfare."

"It's a bad business this separation, Captain Gar'ner,"
returned the boat-steerer ; " and every hour makes it worse,



THE SEA LIONS. 355

Think how much good might have been done them young
men had they only been with us while we've been reading
the book of books, night and morning, sir !"

"That good book seems to fill most of your thoughts,
Stephen I wish I could have your faith."

" It will come in time, sir, if you will only strive for it.
I 'm sure no heart could have been harder than mine was,
until within the last five years. I was far worse as a Chris
tian, Captain Gar'ner, than I consider you to be ; for while
you have doubts consarning the Divinity of our Blessed
Lord, I had no thought of any one of the Trinity. My
only God was the world ; and sich a world, too, as a poor
sailor knows. It was being but little better than the
brutes."

" Of all the men with me, you seem to be the most con
tented and happy. I cannot say I have seen even a sign
of fear about you, when things have been at the worst."

" It would be very ungrateful, sir, to mistrust a Provi
dence that has done so much for me."

" I devoutly wish I could believe with you that Jesus was
the Son of God!"

" Excuse me, Captain Gar'ner ; it 's jist because you do
not devoutly wish this, that you do not believe. I think I
understand the natur' of your feelin's, sir. I had some
sich once, myself; though it was only in a small way. I
was too ignorant to feel much pride in my own judgment,
and soon gave up every notion that went ag'in Scriptur'.
I own it is not accordin' to natur', as we know natur', to
believe in this doctrine ; but we know too little of a thou
sand things to set up our weak judgments in the very face
of revelation."

"I am quite willing to believe all I can understand,
Stephen ; but I find it difficult to credit accounts that are
irreconcilable with all that my experience has taught me to
be true."

" They who are of your way of thinkin', sir, do not deny
that Christ was a good man and a prophet ; and that the
apostles were good men and prophets ; and that they all
worked miracles."

"This much I am willing enough to believe; but the
other doctrine seems contrary to what is possible."



356 THE SEA LIONS.

" Yet you have seen, sir, that these apostles believed
what you refuse. One thing has crossed my mind, Captain
Gar'ner, which 1 wish to say to you. I know I'm but an
ignorant man, and my idees may be hardly worth your no
tice ; but sich as they be, I want to lay 'em afore you. We
are told that these apostles were all men from a humble
class in life, with little 1'arijin', chosen, as it might be, to
show men that faith stood in need of no riches, or edica-
tion, or worldly greatness, of any sort. To me, sir, there
is a wholesome idee in that one thing."

" It gives us all a useful lesson, Stephen, and has often
been mentioned, I believe, in connection with the doctrines
of Christianity."

" Yes, sir so I should think ; though I don't remember
ever to have heard it named from any pulpit. Well, Cap
tain Gar'ner, it does not agree with our notions to suppose
that God himself, a part of the Ruler and Master of the
Universe, should be born of a woman, and come among
sinners in order to save 'em from his own just judgments."

" That is just the difficulty that I have in believing what
are called the dogmas of Christianity on that one point.
To me, it has ever seemed the most improbable thing in
the world."

" Just so, sir I had some sort of feelin of that natur'
myself once. When God, in his goodness, put it into my
heart to believe, however, as he was pleased to do in a fit
of sickness from which I never expected to rise, and in
which I was led to pray to him for assistance, I began to
think over all these matters in my own foolish manner.
Among other things, I said to myself, 'is it likely that any
mortal man would dream of calling Christ the Son of God,
unless it was put into his mind to say so?' Then comes
the characters of them men, who all admit were upright
and religious. How can we suppose that they would agree
in giving the same account of sich a thing, unless what
they said had been told to them by some tongue that they
believed?"

Roswell smiled at Stephen's reasoning, which was not
without a certain point, but which an ingenious man might
find the means of answering in various ways.

" There is another thing, sir, that I 've read in a book,"



THE SEA LIONS. 357

resumed the boat-steerer, " which goes a great way with
me. Jesus allowed others to call him the Son of God,
without rebuking them for doing so. It does really seem
that they who believe he was a good man, as I understand
is the case with you, Captain Gar'ner, must consider this
as a strong fact. We are to remember what a sin idolatry
is; how much all ra'al worshippers abhor it; and then set
that feelin' side by side with the fact that the Son did not
think it robbery to be called the equal of the Father. To



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