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being that it would be washed away. This ground of fear
was soon succeeded by another of scarcely less serious im
port that of its being crushed by the enormous cakes of
ice that made the caverns in which it lay, and which now
began to settle and change their positions, as the water
washed away their bases. At one time Roswell thought
of setting the storm at defiance, and of carrying Daggett
across to the house by means of the hand-barrow; but
when he came to look at the torrents of water that were
crossing the rocks, so many raging rivulets, the idea was
abandoned as impracticable. Another night was therefore
passed in the midst of the tempest.

The north-east wind, the rain, and the thaw, were all at
work in concert, when our adventurers came abroad to
look upon the second day of their sojourn in the wreck.
By this time the caverns were dripping with a thousand
little streams, and every sign denoted a most rapid melting
of the ice. On carrying the thermometer into the open air
it stood at sixty-two ; and the men found it necessary to lay
aside their second shirt, and all the extraordinary defences
of their attire. Nor was this all ; the wind that crosses the
salt water is known to have more than the usual influence
on the snows and ice ; and such was the effect now pro
duced by it on Sealer's Land. The snow, indeed, had
mostly disappeared from all places but the drifts; while the
ice was much diminished in its size and outlines. So
grateful was the change from the extreme cold that they
had so lately endured, that the men thought nothing of the
raiu at all ; they went about in it just as if it did not stream


down upon them in little torrents. Some of them clamber
ed up the cliffs, and reached a point whence it was known
that they could command a view of the house. The return
of this party, which Roswell did not accompany, was waited
for with a good deal of interest. When it got back, it
brought a report that was deemed important in several
particulars. The snow had gone from the plain, and from
ithe mountain, with the exception of a few spots where there
had been unusual accumulations of it. As respected the
house, it was standing, and the snow had entirely disap
peared from its vicinity. The men could be seen walking
about on the bare rocks, and every symptom was that of
settled spring.

This was cheering news ; and the torrents having much
diminished in size, some having disappeared altogether,
Roswell set out for the cape, leaving the second mate in
charge of the wreck. Lee, the young Vineyarder, who had
been rescued from freezing by the timely arrival of our
hero, accompanied the latter, having joined his fortunes to
those of the Oyster Ponders. The two reached the house
before dark, where they found Hazard and his companions
in a good deal of concern touching the fate of the party
that was out. A deep impression was made by the report
of what had befallen the other crew ; and that night Ros
well read prayers to as attentive a congregation as was
ever assembled around a domestic hearth. As for fire,
none was now needed, except for culinary purposes, though
all the preparations to meet cold weather were maintained,
it being well known that a shift of wind might bring back
the fury of the winter.

The following morning it was clear, though the wind
continued warm and balmy from the north. No such wea
ther, indeed, had been felt by the sealers since they reach
ed the gioup; and the effect on them was highly cheering
and enlivening. Before he had breakfasted, Roswell was
down in the cove, examining into the condition of hia
vessel, or what remained of her. A good deal of frozen
snow still lay heaped on the mass, and he set the hands at
work to shovel it off. Before noon the craft was clear, and
most of the snow was melted, it requiring little more than
exposure to the air in order to get rid of it.


As soon as the hulk was clear, Roswell directed his men
to take everything out of it; the remains of cargo, water-
casks, and some frozen provisions, in order that it might
float as light as possible. The ice was frozen close to every
part of the vessel's bottom to a depth of several feet, fol
lowing her mould, a circumstance that would necessarily
prevent her settling in the water below her timbers ; but,
as there was no telling when this ice might begin to recede
by melting, it was deemed prudent to use this precaution.
It was found that the experiment succeeded, the hulk ac
tually rising, when relieved from the weight in it, no less
than four inches.

A consultation was held that night, between Gardiner,
his officers, and the oldest of the seamen. The question
presented was whether the party should attempt to quit the
group in the boats, or whether they should build a little on
the hulk, deck her over, and make use of this altered craft,
to return to the northward. There was a good deal to be
said on both sides. If the boats were used, the party might
leave as soon as the weather became settled, and the season
a little more advanced, by dragging the boats on sledges
across the ice to the open water, which was supposed to
be some ten or twenty miles to the northward, and a large
amount of provisions might thus be saved. On the other
hand, however, as it regarded the provisions, the boats
would hold so little, that no great gain would be made by
going early in them, and leaving a sufficient supply behind
to keep all hands two or three months. This was a consi
deration that presented itself, and it had its weight in the
decision. Then there was the chance of the winter's re
turning, bringing with it the absolute necessity of using a
great deal more fuel. This was a matter of life and death.
Comparatively pleasant as the weather had become, there
was no security for its so continuing. One entire spring
month was before the sealers, and a shift of wind might
convert the weather into a wintry temperature. Should
such be the case, it might become indispensable to burn
the very materials that would be required to build up and
deck over the hulk. There were, therefore, many things
to be taken into the account ; nor was the question settled
without a great deal of debate and reflection.


After discussing all these points, the decision was as
follows. It was at least a month too soon to think of trust
ing themselves in that stormy ocean, on the high seas and
in the open boats ; and this so much the more because na
ture, as if expressly to send jack a reasonable amount of
warm air into the polar regions, with a view to preserve
the distinction of the seasons, caused the wind to blow
most of the time from the northward. As this month, in
all prudence, must be passed on the island, it might as well
be occupied with building upon the hulk, as in any other
occupation. Should the cold weather return, the materials
would still be there, and might be burned, in the last ex
tremity, just as well, or even with greater facility, after being
brought over to the cove, as if left where they then were,
or at the wreck. Should the winter not return, the work
done on the vessel would be so much gained, and they
would be ready for an earlier start, when the ice should

On this last plan the duty was commenced, very little
interrupted by the weather. For quite three weeks the
wind held from points favourable to the progress of spring,
veering from east to west, but not once getting any south
ing in it. Occasionally it blew in gales, sending down
upon the group a swell that made great havoc with the
outer edges of the field-ice. Every day or two a couple of
hands were sent up the mountain to take a look-out, and
to report the state of matters in the adjacent seas. The
fleet of bergs had not yet come out of port, though it was
in motion to the southward, like three-deckers dropping
down to outer anchorages, in roadsteads and bays. As
Roswell intended to be off before these formidable cruisers
put to sea, their smallest movement or change was watched
and noted. As for the field-ice, it was broken up, miles at
at a time, until there remained very little of it, with the
exception of the portion that was wedged in and jammed
among the islands of the group. From some cause that
could not be ascertained, the waves of the ocean, which
came tumbling in before the northern gales, failed to roll
home upon this ice, which lost its margin, now it waa
reduced to the limits of the group, slowly and with great
resistance. Some of the sealers ascribed this obstinacy in.


the bay-ice to its greater thickness ; believing that the
ehallowness of the water had favoured a frozen formation
below, that did not so much prevail off soundings. Thia
theory may have been true, though there was quite as much
against it, as in its favour, for polar ice usually increases
above and not from below. The sea is much warmer than
the atmosphere, in the cold months, and the ice is made
by deposites of snow, moisture and sleet, on the surfaces of
the fields and bergs.

In those three weeks, which carried forward the season
to within ten days of summer, a great deal of useful work
was done. Daggett was brought over to the house, on a
handbarrow, for the second time, and made as comfortable
as circumstances would allow. From the first, Roswell
saw that his state was very precarious, the frozen legs, in
particular, being threatened with mortification. All the
expedients known to a sealer's materia medico, were re
sorted to, in order to avert consequences so serious, but
without success. The circulation could not be restored,
as nature required it to be done, and, failing of the support
derived from a healthful condition of the vital current, the
fatal symptoms slowly supervened. This change, however,
was so gradual, that it scarce affected the regular course
of the duty.

It was a work of great labour to transport the remaining
timbers and plank of the wreck to the cove. Without the
wheels, indeed, it may be questioned whether it could have
been done at all, in a reasonable time. The breaking up of
the schooner was, in itself, no trifling job, for fully one half
of the frame remained to be pulled to pieces. In preparing
the materials for use, again, a good deal of embarrassment
was experienced in consequence of the portions of the two
vessels that were left being respectively their lower bodies,
all the upper works of each having been burned, with the
exception of the after part of Daggett's craft, which had
been preserved on account of the cabin. This occasioned
a good deal of trouble in moulding and fitting the new upper
works on the hulk in the cove. Roswell had no idea of
rebuilding his schooner strictly in her old form and pro
portions ; he did not, indeed, possess the materials for such
a reconstruction. His plan was, simply, to raise on the


hulk as much as was necessary to render her safe and con
venient, and then to get as good and secure a deck over all
as circumstances would allow.

Fortunately for the progress of the work, Lee, the Vine
yard man, was a ship-carpenter, and his skill essentially
surpassed that of Smith, who filled the same station on
board the Oyster Pond craft. These two men were now
of the greatest service ; for, though neither understood
drafting, each was skilful in the use of tools, and had a
certain readiness that enabled him to do a hundred things
that he had never found it necessary to attempt on any
former occasion. If the upper frame that was now got on
the Sea Lion was not of faultless mould, it was securely
fastened, and rendered the craft even stronger than it had
been originally. Some regard was had to resisting the
pressure of ice, and experience had taught all the sealers
where the principal defences against the effects of a " nip"
ought to be placed. The lines were not perfect, it is true ;
but this was of less moment, as the bottom of the craft,
which alone had any material influence on her sailing, was
just as it had come from the hands of the artizan who had
originally moulded her.

By the end of a fortnight, the new top-timbers were all
in their places, and secured, while a complete set of bends
were brought to them, and were well bolted. The caulk-
ing-irons were put in requisition as soon as a streak was
on, the whole work advancing, as it might be, pari passu.
Planks for the decks were much wanted, for, in the terrible
strait for fuel which had caused the original assault on the
schooner, this portion of the vessel had been the first burned,
as of the most combustible materials. The quarter-deck
of the Vineyard craft, luckily, was entire, and its planks so
far answered an excellent purpose. They served to make
a new quarter-deck for the repairs, but the whole of the
main-deck and forecastle remained to be provided for.
Materials were gleaned from different parts of the two ves
sels, until a reasonably convenient, and a perfectly safe
deck was laid over the whole craft, the coamings for the
hatches being taken from Daggett's schooner, which had
not been broken up in those parts. It is scarcely neces
sary to say that the ice had early melted from the rocks of


the coast. The caverns all disappeared within the first
week of the thaw, the attitudes into which the cakes had
been thrown greatly favouring the melting process, by ex
posing so much surface to the joint action of wind, rain,
and sun. What was viewed as a favourable augury, the
seals began to reappear. There was a remote portion of
the coast, from which the ice had been driven by the
winds around the north-west cape, that was already alive
with them. Alas ! these animals no longer awakened cu
pidity in the breasts of the sealers. The last no longer
thought of gain, but simply of saving their lives, and of
restoring themselves to the humble places they had held in
the world, previously to having come on this ill-fated voyage.

This re-appearance of the seals produced a deep impres
sion on Roswell Gardiner. His mind had been much in
clined of late to dwell more and more on religious subjects,
and his conversations with Stephen were still more fre
quent than formerly. Not that the boat-steerer could
enlighten him on the great subject, by any learned lore, for
in this Stimson was quite deficient; but his officer found
encouragement in the depth and heartiness of his com
panion's faith, which seemed to be raised above all doubts
and misgivings whatever. During the gloomiest moments
of that fearful winter, Stephen had been uniformly confid
ing and cheerful. Not once had he been seen to waver,
though all around him were desponding and anticipating
the worst. His heart was light exactly in proportion as
his faith was strong.

" We shall neither freeze nor starve," he used to say,
" unless it be God's will ; and, when it is his pleasure,
depend on it, friends, it will be for our good." As for
Daggett, he had finally given up his hold on the wreck,
and it seemed no longer to fill his thoughts. When he
was told that the seals had come back, his eye brightened,
and his nature betrayed some of its ardent longings. But
it was no more than a gleaming of the former spirit of the
man, now becoming dim under the darkness that was fast
encircling all his views of this world.

" It 's a pity, Gar'ner, that we have no craft ready for the
work," he said, under the first impulse of the intelligence.


" At this early time in the season, a large ship might be
filled !"

" We have other matters on our hands, Captain Dag
gett," was the answer; " they must be looked to first. If
we can get off the island at all and return safe to those
who, I much fear, are now mourning us as dead, we shall
have great reason to thank God."

" A few skins would do no great harm, Gar'ner, even to
a craft cut down and reduced."

" We have more cargo now than we shall be able to
take with us. Quite one half of all our skins must be left
behind us, and all of the oil. The hold of the schooner is
too shallow to carry enough of anything to make out a
voyage. I shall ballast with water and provisions, and fill
up all the spare room with the best of our skins. The rest
of the property must be abandoned."

"Why abandoned? Leave a hand or two to take care
of it, and send a craft out to look for it, as soon as you get
home. Leave me, Gar'ner, I am willing to stay."

Roswell thought that the poor man would be left,
whether he wished to remain or not, for the symptoms that
are known to be so fatal in cases like that of Daggett's,
were making themselves so apparent as to leave little doubt
of the result. What rendered this display of the master-
passion somewhat remarkable, was the fact that our hero
had, on several occasions, conversed with the invalid, con
cealing no material feature of his case, and the latter had
expressed his expectation of a fatal termination, if not an
absolute willingness to die. Stimson had frequently prayed
with Daggett, and Roswell had often read particular chap
ters of the bible to him, at his own request, creating an
impression that the Vineyarder was thinking more of his
end than of any interests connected with this life. Such
might have been, probably was, the case, until the seeming
return of what had once been deemed good luck awakened
old desires, and brought out traits of character that were
about to be lost in the near views of a future world. All
this Roswell saw and noted, and the reflections produced
by his own perilous condition, the certain loss of so many
companions, the probable death of Daggett, and the hum
ble but impressive example and sympathy of Stimson, were


guch as would have delight 2d the tender spirit of Mary
Pratt, could she have known of their existence.

But the great consideration of the moment, the centre
of all the hopes and fears of our sealers, was the rebuilding
of the mutilated Sea Lion. Although the long thaw did
so much for them, the reader is not to regard it as such a
spell of warm weather as one enjoys in May within the
temperate zone. There were no flowers, no signs of vege
tation, and whenever the wind ceased to blow smartly from
the northward, there was frost. At two or three intervals
cold snaps set in that looked seriously like a return to
winter, and, at the end of the third week of pleasant
weather mentioned, it began to blow a gale from the south
ward, to snow, and to freeze. The storm commenced
about ten in the forenoon ; ere the sun went down, the
days then being of great length, every passage around the
dwelling was already blocked up with banks of snow.
Several times had the men asked permission to remove the
sails from the house, to admit air and light; but it was now
found that the tent-like verandah they formed was of as
much use as it had been at any time during the season.
Without it, indeed, it would not have been possible for the
people to quit their dwelling during three entire days.
Everything like work was, of course, suspended during this
tempest, which seriously menaced the unfortunate sealers
with the necessity of again breaking up their schooner,
now nearly completed, with a view again to keep them
selves from freezing. The weather was not so intensely
cold as it had been, continuously, for months during the
past winter; but, coming as it did, after so long a spell of
what might be considered as a balmy atmosphere in that
region, it found the people unbraced and little prepared for
it. At no time was the thermometer lower than twenty
degrees below zero ; this was near morning, after a sharp
and stinging night ; nor was it for any succession of hours
much below zero. But zero was now hard to bear, and
fires, and good fires too, were absolutely necessary to keep
the men from suffering, as well as from despondency. Per
haps the spectacle of Daggett, dying from the effects of
frost before their eyes, served to increase the uneasiness of
the people, and to cause them to be less sparing of the fuel


than persons in their situation ought to have been. It ia
certain that a report was brought to Roswell, in the height
of the tempest, and when the thermometer was at the lowest,
that there was not wood enough left from the plunder of
the two vessels, exclusively of that which had been worked
up in the repairs, to keep the fires going eight-and-forty
hours longer ! It was true, a little wood, intended to be
used in the homeward passage, enough to last as far as Rio
possibly, had been used in stowing the hold ; and that might
be got at first, if it ever ceased to snow. Without that ad
dition to the stock in the house, it would not be within the
limits of probability to suppose the people could hold out
against the severity of such weather a great while longer.

Every expedient that could be devised to save wood, and
to obtain warmth from other sources, was resorted to, of
course, by RoswelPs orders. Lamps were burned with great
freedom ; not little vessels invented to give light, but such
torches as one sees at the lighting up of a princely court
yard on the occasion of a ftte, in which wicks are made
by the pound, and unctuous matter is used by the gallon.
Old canvass and elephants' oil supplied the materials ; and
the spare camboose, which had been brought over to the
house to be set up there, while the other galley was being
placed on board, very well answered the purpose of a lamp.
Some warmth was obtained by these means, but much more
of a glaring and unpleasant light.

It was during the height of this tempest that the soul of
Daggett took its flight towards the place of departed spirits,
in preparation for the hour when it was to be summoned
before the judgment-seat of God. Previously to his death,
the unfortunate Vineyarder held a frank and confidential
discourse with Roswell. As his last hour approached, his
errors and mistakes became more distinctly apparent, as is
usual with men, while his sins of omission seemed to crowd
the vista of by-gone days. Then it was that the whole
earth did not contain that which, in his dying eyes, would
prove an equivalent for one hour passed in a sincere, de
vout, and humble service of the Deity !

"I'm afraid that I've loved money most too well," he
said to Roswell, not an hour before he drew his last breath;
" but I hope it was not so much for myself, as for others.


A. wife and children, Gar'ner, tie a man to 'arth in a most
unaccountable manner. Sealers' companions are used to
hearing of misfortunes, and the Vineyard women know
that few on 'em live to see a husband at their side in old
age. Still, it is hard on a mother and wife, to 1'arn that
her chosen friend has been cut off in the pride of his days
and in a distant land. Poor Betsey ! It would have been
better for us both, had we been satisfied with the little we
had ; for now the good woman will have to look to all
matters for herself."

Daggett now remained silent for some time, though his
lips moved, most probably in prayer. It was a melancholy
sight to see a man in the vigour of his manhood, whose
voice was strong, and whose heart was still beating with
vigour and vitality, standing, as it were, on the brink of a
precipice, down which all knew he was to be so speedily
hurled. But the decree had gone forth, and no human
skill could arrest it. Shortly after the confession and
lamentation we have recorded, the decay reached the
vitals, and the machine of clay stopped. To avoid the un
pleasant consequences of keeping the body in so warm a
place, it was buried in the snow at a short distance from
the house, within an hour after it had ceased to breathe.

When Roswell Gardiner saw this man, who had so long
adhered to him, like a leech, in the pursuit of gold, laid a
senseless corpse among the frozen flakes of the antarctic
seas, he felt that a lively admonition of the vanity of the
world was administered to himself. How little had he
been able to foresee all that had happened, and how mis
taken had been his own calculations and hopes! What,
then, was that intellect of which he had been so proud, and
what reason had he to rely on himself in those matters that
lay equally beyond the cradle and the grave that incom
prehensible past, and the unforeseen future, towards which
all those in existence were hastening ! Roswell had received
many lessons in humility, the most useful of all the lessons
that man can receive in connection with the relation that
really exists between the Deity and himself. Often had he

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 32) → online text (page 35 of 39)