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just passed, Daggett had compelled his crew to use more
exercise than had been their practice of late. Some new
apprehension had come over him on the subject of fuel, and
his orders to be saving in that article were most stringent,
and very rigidly enforced. The consequence was, that the
camboose was not as well attended to as it had been pre
viously, and as circumstances required, indeed, that it
should be. At night, the men were told to keep themselves
warm with bed-clothes, and by huddling together; and the
cabin being small, so many persons crowded together in it,
did not fail to produce an impression on its atmosphere.

Such was the state of things, when, on going to his cam-
boose, in order to cook the breakfast, this very black found
the fire totally extinguished ! Not a spark could he dis
cover, even among the ashes ; and, what was even worse,
the tinder-box had disappeared. As respects the last, it
may be well to state here, that it was afterwards discovered
carefully bestowed between two of the timbers of the wreck,
with a view to a particular safe-keeping; the person who
had made this disposition of it, forgetting what he had done.
The loss of the tinder-box, under the circumstances, was
almost as great a calamity as could have befallen men, iii
the situation of the Vineyarders. As against the cold, by
means of bed-clothes, exercise, and other precautions, it
might have been possible to exist for some time, provided
warm food could be obtained ; but the frost penetrated the
cabin, and every one soon became sensitively alive to the
awkwardness, not to say danger, of their condition. A


whole day was passed in fruitless attempts to obtain fire,
by various processes. Friction did not succeed ; it pro
bably never does with the thermometer at zero. Sparks
could be obtained, but by this time everything was stiff
with the frost. The food already cooked was soon as hard
as bullets, and it was found that, on the second night,
brandy that was exposed was converted into a lump of ice.
Not only did the intensity of the cold increase, but every
thing, even to the human system, seemed to be gradually
congealing, and preparing to become converted into recep
tacles for frost. Several of the men began to suffer in their
ears, noses, feet and other extremities, and the bunks were
soon the only places in which it was found possible to exist
in anything like comfort. No less than three men had
been sent, at intervals of a few hours, across to the house,
with a view to obtain fire, or the means of lighting one,
along with other articles that were considered necessary to
the safety of the people. The cook had been the third
and last of these messengers. He had passed his two ship
mates, each lying dead on the snow, or, as he supposed,
lifeless ; for neither gave the smallest sign of vitality, on
an examination. It was in the agony of alarm produced
by these appalling spectacles, that the negro had cried
aloud for help, sending the sounds far enough to reach the
ears of Roswell. Still he had persevered; until chilled, as
much with terror, as with the cold and the want of warm
nourishment, the cook had sunk into what would have soon
proved to be his last long sleep, when the timely succour

It was some two hours after the black had been got into
(he hut, and was strengthened with a good hot supper, ere
he had communicated all the facts just related. Roswell
succeeded, however, in getting a little at a time from him;
and when no more remained to be related, the plan was
already arranged for future proceedings. It was quite clear
no unnecessary delay should be permitted to take place.
The co/d continued to increase in intensity, notwithstand
ing it was the opinion of the most experienced among the
men that a thaw, and a great spring thaw, was approaching.
Tt often happens, in climates of an exaggerated character.


that these extremes almost touch each other, as they are
said to meet in man.

Roswell left the house, for the second time that eventful
night, just at the hour of twelve. He now went accom
panied by the second mate and a foremast-hand, as well as
by his old companion, the boat-steerer. Each individual
drank a bowl of hot coffee before he set out, and a good
warm supper had also been taken in the interval between
the return and this new sortie. Experience shows that
there is no such protector against the effect of cold as a
full stomach, more especially if the food be warm and nou
rishing. This was understood by Roswell ; and not only
did he cause the whole party that set forth with him at that
late and menacing hour to receive this sustenance, but he
ordered the kettle of boiling coffee to be carried with them,
and kept two lamps burning, for the double purpose of
maintaining the heat, and of having a fire ready on reach
ing the wreck. The oil of the sea-elephant, together with
pieces of canvass prepared for the purpose, supplied the
necessary materials.

So intensely severe was the weather, that Roswell had
serious thoughts of returning when he reached the spot
where the black had been found. But the picture of Dag-
gett's situation that occurred to his mind, urged him on,
and he proceeded. Every precaution had been taken to
exclude the cold, as it is usually termed, which, as it re
spects the body, means little else than keeping the vital
heat in, and very useful were these provisions found to be.
Skins formed the principal defence, though the men had
long adopted the very simple but excellent expedient of
wearing two shirts. Owing to this, and to the other mea
sures taken, neither of the four was struck with a chill, and
they all continued on.

At the place mentioned by the black, the body of one of
Daggett's best men, a boat-steerer, was found. The man
was dead, of course, and the corpse was as rigid as a billet
of wood. Every particle of moisture in it had congealed,
until the whole of what had been a very fine and manly
frame, lay little more than a senseless lump of ice. A few
degrees to the southward of the spot where it was now seen,
it is probable that this relic of humanity would have re-


tained its form and impression, until the trump sounded to
summon it to meet its former tenant, the spirit, in judg

No time was lost in useless fomentations over the body
of this man, who was much of a favourite among the
Oyster Ponders. Twenty minutes later, the second corpse
was found; both the bodies lying in what was the customary
track between the house and the wreck. It was the last
that had died ; but, like that of the unfortunate man just
described, it was in a state to be preserved ten thousand
years, without the occurrence of a thaw. Merely glancing
at the rigid features of the face, in order to identify the
person, Roswell passed on, the chill feelings of every indi
vidual of his party now admonishing them all of the ne
cessity of getting as soon as possible to some place where
they could feel the influence of a fire. In ten minutes
more, the whole were in the caverns of the ice, and, pre
sently, the cabin of the wreck was entered. Without turn
ing to the right hand or to the left, without looking for one
of the inmates of the place, every man among the new
comers turned his attention instantly to getting the fire
lighted. The camboose had been filled with wood, and it
was evident that many efforts had been made to produce a
blaze, by those who had put it there. Splinters of pine
had been inserted among the oak of the vessel, and nothing
was wanting but the means of kindling. These, most
fortunately for themselves, the party of Roswell had, and
eagerly did they now have recourse to their use.

There was not a man among the Oyster Ponders who did
not, just at that moment, feel his whole being concentrated
in that one desire to obtain warmth. The cold had slowly,
but surely, insinuated itself among their garments, and
slight chills were now felt even by Roswell, whose frame
had been most wonderfully sustained that night, through
the force of moral feeling. Stimson was the individual
who was put forward at the camboose, others holding the
lamps, canvass saturated with oil, and some prepared
paper. It was found to be perceptibly warmer within the
cabin, with its doors closed, and the external coverings of
sails, &.C., that had been made to exclude the air, than
without; nevertheless, when Roswell glanced at a ther-


mometer that was hanging against the bulk-head, he saw
that all the mercury was still in the ball !

The interest with which our party now watched the pro*
ceedings of Stephen, had much of that intensity that la
known to attend any exhibition of vital importance. Life
and death were, however, to be dependent on the issue;
and the manner in which ever'y eye was turned on the
wood, and Stephen's mode of dealing with it, denoted how
completely the dread of freezing had got possession of the
minds of even these robust and generous men. Roswell
alone ventured, for a single moment, to look around the
cabin. Three of the Vineyarders only were visible in it ;
though it struck him that others lay in the berths, under
piles of clothes. Of the three who were up, one was so
near the lamp he held in his hand, that its light illumined
his face, and all that could be seen of a form enveloped in
skins. This man sat leaning against a transom. His eyes
were open, and glared on the party around the camboose ;
the lips were slightly parted, and, at first, Roswell expected
to hear him speak. The immovable features, rigid mus
cles, and wild expression of the eyeballs, however, soon
told him the melancholy truth. The man was dead. The
current of life had actually frozen at his heart. Shudder
ing, as much with horror as with a sharp chill that just
then passed through his own stout frame, our young master
turned anxiously to note the success of Stimson, in getting
the wood of the camboose in a blaze.

Every one, in the least accustomed to a very severe
climate, must have had frequent occasions to observe the
reluctance with which all sorts of fuel burn, in exceedingly
cold weather. The billet of wood that shall blaze merrily,
on a mild day, moulders and simmers, and seems indis
posed to give out any heat at all, with the thermometer at
zero. In a word, all inanimate substances that contain the
elements of caloric appear to sympathize with the prevail
ing state of the atmosphere, and to contribute to render
that which is already too cold for comfort, even colder.
So it was now; notwithstanding the preparations that had
been made. Baffled twice in his expectations of procuring
a blaze, Stephen stopped and took a drink of the hot coffee.


As he swallowed the beverage, it struck him that it waa
fast losing its warmth.

A considerable collection of canvass, saturated with oil,
was now put beneath the pile, in the midst of splinters of
pine, and one of the lamps was forced into the centre of
the combustibles. This expedient succeeded; the frosts
were slowly chased out of the kindling materials ; a sickly
but gradually increasing flame strove through the kindling
stuff and soon began to play among the billets of the oak,
the only fuel that could be relied on for available heat.
Still there was great danger that the lighter wood would
all be consumed ere this main dependence could be aroused
from its dull inactivity. Frost appeared to be in possession
of the whole pile ; and it was expelled so slowly, clung to
its dominion with so much power, as really to render the
result doubtful, for a moment or two. Fortunately, there
was found a pair of bellows ; and by means of a judicious
use of this very useful implement, the oak wood was got
into a bright blaze, and warmth began to be given out
from the fire. Then came the shiverings and chills, with
which intense cold consents even to abandon the human
frame ; and, by their number and force, Roswell was made
to understand how near he and his companions had been
to death. As the young man saw the fire slowly kindle to
a cheerful blaze, a glow of gratitude flowed towards his
heart, and mentally he returned thanks to God. The
cabin was so small, had been made so tight by artificial
means, and the camboose was so large, that a sensible
influence was produced on the temperature, as soon as the
wood began to burn a little freely. As none of the heat
was lost, the effect was not only apparent, but most grateful.
Roswell had looked into the vessels of the camboose while
the fire was gathering head. One, the largest, was filled,
or nearly so, with coffee frozen to a solid mass ! . In the
other, beef and pork had been set over to boil, and there
the pieces now were, embedded in ice, and frozen to
blocks. It was when these two distinct masses of ice
began to melt, that it was known the fire was beginning to
prevail, and hope revived in the bosoms of the Oyster
Ponders. On taking another look at the thermometer, it
was found that the mercury had so far expanded as to be


leaving the ball. It soon after ascended so high as to de
note only forty degrees below zero !

Every thing, even to life, depending on maintaining and
increasing the power of the fire, the men now looked about
them for more fuel. There was an ample stock in the
cabin, however, the fire having become extinguished, not
for want of wood, but in the usual way. It were needless
to describe the manner in which those who stood around
the stove watched the flames, or how profound was their
satisfaction when they saw that Stimson had finally suc

" God be praised for this and for all his mercies !" ex
claimed Stephen, laying aside the bellows, at last. " T can
feel warmth from the fire, and that will save such of us as
have not yet been taken away." He then lifted the lids,
and looked into the different vessels that were on. The
ice was melting fast, and the steams of coffee became ap
parent to the senses. It was at this instant that a feeble
voice was heard issuing from beneath the coverings of a

" Gar'ner," it said, imploringly, " if you have any feelin'
for a fellow-creatur' in distress, warm me up with one
swallow of that coffee ! Oh ! how pleasantly it smells, and
how good it must be for the stomach ! For three days
have I tasted nothing not even water."

This was Daggett, the long-tried sealer ; the man of iron
nerves and golden longings ; he who had so lately concen
trated within himself all that was necessary to form a per
tinacious, resolute, and grasping seeker after gain. How
changed, now, in all this ! He asked for the means of
preserving life, and thought no more of skins, and oils, and
treasures on desert keys.

Roswell was no sooner apprised of the situation of his
brothe'r-m aster, than he bestowed the necessary care on his
wants. Fortunately, the coffee brought by the Oyster
Ponders, and which retained some of its original warmth,
had been set before the fire, and was now as hot as the
human stomach could bear it. Two or three swallows of
this grateful fluid were given to Daggett, and his voice
almost instantaneously showed the effect they produced.

"I'm 'in a bad way, Gar ner," resumed the vineyard-


master; "I fear we're all in a bad way, that are here. I
held out ag'in the cold as long as human natur' could bear
it, but was forced to give in at last."

" How many of your people still remain, Daggett? tell
us, that we may look for them, and attend to their wants."

" I 'm afraid, Gar'ner, they '11 never want anything more
in this life ! The second mate and two of the hands were
sitting in the cabin when I got into this berth, and I fear
"t will be found that they 're dead. I urged them to turn
in, too, as the berths were the only place where anything
like warmth was to be found ; but drowsiness had come on
'em, and, when that is the case, freezin' soon follows."

" The three men in the cabin are past our assistance,
being actually frozen into logs ; but there must be several
more of you. I see the signs of two others in the berths
ah ! what do you say to that poor fellow, Stephen?"

" The spirit is still in the body, sir, but about to depart.
If we can get him to swallow a little of the coffee, the
angel of death may yet loosen his hold on him."

The coffee was got down this man's throat, and he in
stantly revived. He was a young man named Lee, and
was one of the finest physical specimens of strength and
youth in the whole crew. On examining his limbs, none
were found absolutely frozen, though the circulation of the
blood was so near being checked that another hour of the
great cold which had reigned in the cabin, and which was
slowly increasing in intensity, must have destroyed him.
On applying a similar process to Daggett, Roswell was
startled at the discovery he made. The feet, legs, and
forearms of the unfortunate Vineyarder were all as stiff and
rigid as icicles. In these particulars there could be no
mistake, and men were immediately sent for snow, in order
to extract the frost by the only safe process known to the
sealers. The dead bodies were carried from the cabin,
and laid decently on the ice, outside, the increasing warmth
within rendering the removal advisable. On glancing
again at the thermometer, now suspended in a remote part
of the cabin, the mercury was found risen to two above
zero. This was a very tolerable degree of cold, and the
men began to lay aside some of their extra defences against


the weather, which would otherwise be of no service to
them when exposed outside.

The crew of the Vineyard Lion had consisted of fifteen
souls, one less than that of her consort. Of these men,
four had lost their lives between the wreck and the house ;
two on a former, and two on the present occasion. Three
bodies were found sitting in the cabin, and two more were
taken out of the berths, dead. The captain, the cook and
Lee, added to these, made a dozen, leaving but three of
the crew to be accounted for. When questioned on the
subject, Lee said that one of those three had frozen to
death in the caverns, several days before, and the other two
had set out for the hut in the last snow-storm, unable to
endure the cold at the wreck any longer. As these two
men had not arrived at the house when Gardiner and his
companions left it, they had perished, out of all doubt.
Thus, of the fifteen human beings who had sailed together
from Martha's Vineyard, ready to encounter every hazard
in order to secure wealth, or what in their estimation was
wealth, but three remained ; and of these, two might be
considered in a critical condition. Lee was tke only man
of the entire crew who was sound and fit for service.


" Bid him bow down to that which is above him,
The overruling Infinite, the Maker,
Who made him not for worship, let him kneel,
A id we will kneel together."


WHEN the bodies had been removed from the cabin,
and the limbs of Daggett were covered with snow, Ros
well Gardiner took another look at the thermometer. > Ii
had risen already to twenty degrees above zero. This was
absolutely warmth, compared with the temperature from
which the men had just escaped, and it was felt to be so,


in their persons. The fire, however, was not the only
cause of this most acceptable change. One of the men
who had been outside soon came back and reported a
decided improvement in the weather. The wind, which
had been coquetting with the north-east point of the com
pass for several hours, now blew steadily from that quarter.
An hour later it was found, on examination, that a second
thermometer, which was outside, actually indicated tea
above zero! This sudden and great change came alto
gether from the wind, which was now in the warm quarter.
The men stripped themselves of most of their skins, and
the fire was suffered to go down, though care was taken
that it should not again be totally extinguished.

We have little pleasure in exhibiting pictures of human
suffering ; and shall say but little of the groans and pains
that Daggett uttered and endured, while undergoing that
most agonizing process of having the frost taken out of his
system by cold applications. It was the only safe way of
treating his case, however, and as he knew it, he bore his
sufferings as well as man could bear them. Long ere the
return of day he was released from his agony, and was pu
back into his berth, which had been comfortably arranged
for him, having the almost unheard-of luxury of sheets,
with an additional mattress.

As Stephen remarked, when the men were told to try
and get a little sleep, "There's plenty of berths empty,
and each on us can have as many clothes and as warm a
bed as he can ask for, now that so many have hastened
away to their great account, as it might be, in the pride
of their youth and strength."

Activity, the responsibility of command, and the great
necessity there had been for exertion, prevented Roswell
from reflecting much on what had happened, until he lay
down to catch a little sleep. Then, indeed, the whole of
the past came over him, in one sombre, terrible picture,
and he had the most lively perception of the dangers from
which he had escaped, as well as of the mercy of God's
Providence. Surrounded by the dead, as it might be, and
still uncertain of the fate of the living, his views of the past
and future became much lessened in confidence and hope.
The majesty and judgment rf God assumed a higher place


than common in his thoughts, while his estimate of him
self was fast getting to be humble and searching. Tn the
midst of all these changes of views anu feelings, however,
there was one image unaltered in the young man s imag.
nation. Mary occupied the back-ground of every picture
with her meek, gentle, but blooming countenance. *; nc
thought of God, her eyes were elevated in prayer . n nit
voyage home was in his mind, and the chances of success
were calculated, her smiles and anxious watchfulness stim
ulated him to adventure; if arrived and safe, her downcast
but joyful looks betrnved the modest happiness of her in
most heart. It was in i*e midst of some such pictures
that Roswell now fell asleep.

When the party turned out in the morning, a still more
decided change had occurred in the weather. The wine
had increased to a gale, bringing with it torrents of rain.
Coming from the warm quarter, a thaw had set m witti a
character quite as decided as the previous frost. In thai
region, the weather is usually exaggerated in its features,
and the change from winter to spring is quite as sudden as
that from autumn to winter. We use the terms " spring"
and " autumn" out of complaisance to the usages of men;
but, in fact, these two seasons have scarcely any existence
at all in the antarctic seas. The change, commonly, is
from winter to summer, such as summer is, and from sum
mer back to winter.

Notwithstanding the favourable appearances of things,
when Roswell walked out into the open air next morning,
he well knew that summer had not yet come. Many weeks
must go by ere the ice could quit the bay, and even a boat
could put to sea. There were considerations of prudence,
therefore, that should not be neglected, connected with the
continuance of the supplies and the means of subsistence.
In one respect the party now on the island had been gainers
by the terrible losses it had sustained in Daggett's crew.
The provisions of the two vessels might now, virtually, be
appropriated to the crew of one ; and Roswell, when he
came to reflect on the circumstances, saw that a Providen
tial interference had probably saved the survivors from great
privations, if not from absolute want.

Still there was a thaw, and ane of that decided character


which marks a climate of great extremes. The snows on
the mountain soon began to descend upon the plain, in
foaming torrents; and, increased by the tribute received
from the last, the whole came tumbling over the cliffs in va
rious places in rich water-falls. There was about a mile of
rock that was one continuous cataract, the sheet being nearly
unbroken for the whole distance. The effect of this deluge
from the plain above was as startling as it was grand. All
the snow along the rocky shore soon disappeared ; and the
fragments of ice began rapidly to diminish in size, and to
crumble. At first, Roswell felt much concern on account
of the security of the wreck; his original apprehension

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 32) → online text (page 34 of 39)