Paul B. (Paul Belloni) Du Chaillu.

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the mariners dread to-day.

They believed that these daughters of Ægir and Ran were seldom partial
to men, that the wind awakened them and made them angry and fierce. They
called them "The white-hooded daughters of Ægir and Ran." They called
the spray their hair. They believed that in calm weather they walked on
the reefs and wandered gently along the shores, and that their beds
were rocks, stone-heaps, pebbles, and sands.

I had not been long on the sea before I found that I had exchanged the
terrific winds of Arctic "Snow Land" for the gales of the Arctic Ocean.
The weather was fearful! Snow, sleet, hurricanes, treacherous heavy
squalls, followed each other in succession.

"This is the winter weather we have here," said the captain; "we do not
expect any better at this time of the year. When there is a lull, it is
only to deceive us; then it blows harder than ever, and the snow or the
sleet falls thicker than before."

My fancy recalled again to me the words of the "Long Night": "I send
terrific gales and mighty snowstorms over oceans and lands."

As I looked at the ocean I saw a big towering wave rolling up towards
the stern of the ship and apparently gaining upon us. It was transparent
and of a deep green color. I imagined I could see Hefring with
glittering eyes, one of her arms directing the wave against us.

The men looked anxiously towards the wave, which was steadily advancing,
but our ship rode over it as if she were a gull resting on the ocean.
Then the ugly wave formed a crest, curled upon itself, and with a heavy
boom broke into fragments of snowy foam.

I said to the men: "This wave has missed us." They answered in serious
voices, "And we must watch, for a more towering one will follow, as
there are always three of them going together, and this second one may
come and break over us."

These words were hardly uttered when I saw far off another mountainous
wave rolling up. I imagined it was Hrönn. It was so high as it neared us
that we could not see the horizon beyond; it looked fierce and
dangerous. Its crest gradually rose higher and higher, as if getting
ready to strike. Steadily Hrönn advanced. We are lost, and our ship is
sure to founder if her wave breaks over our stern. The faces of the
captain and men were serious. I said to myself: "If we get into the
whirlpool of its crest there will be no escape; we are sure to founder."

The wave broke about fifty yards before reaching us. It had become
harmless, but the foaming, scattered billows enveloped the ship in their
thick spray. It was a narrow escape; but we were saved thus far! Then in
the wake of the imaginary Hrönn rose another wave. I imagined Bylgja was
coming. It advanced slowly and angrily towards us, ready to sweep our
deck and to do the work the two others had tried to do and
missed - demolish our ship. It broke before reaching us with a loud boom,
making the sea a surging sheet of foam as white as snow for a long
distance. This was a beautiful sight. We gave a great shout of joy; we
had had a narrow escape.

After these three heavy seas came a lull. The captain said thoughtfully,
"Those are the waves that disable or founder ships and send them to the
bottom of the sea!"

[Illustration: "I saw a big towering wave rolling towards the stern of
the ship."]

We were indeed still in the midst of a great gale. But the captain and
our crew had thus far fought against the storm successfully. I thought
of the great Viking Half, and of his champions. It was their custom
always to lie before capes, never to put up a tent on board, and never
to reef a sail in a storm. Half had never more than sixty men on board
of his ship, nor could any one go with him who was not so hardy that he
never was afraid or changed countenance on account of his wounds. I
wondered if Half and his men had ever encountered such a storm as we
were having. If so his ship must have been a staunch vessel indeed.

As the hours passed the storm continued, the Daughters of Ægir and Ran
rose again and again, trying to strike our ship; when their hoods were
rent asunder, their long hair streamed on the gale.

In the afternoon the dark clouds were lower than usual and moved rapidly
over our heads. The wind howled and hissed through the rigging. Wave
after wave struck against the ship's side and deluged the deck with
water. One of them took me off my feet and pitched me to the other side
against the bulwarks, almost washing me overboard.

"You had better go into the cabin," said the captain; "this is no
weather for you." But I replied, "Yes, captain, it is; I want to see
this big storm with its mighty sea." I had hardly said these words when
another wave came aboard of us. Two men were nearly washed overboard;
fortunately they held fast to the rigging.

Soon after another big wave struck our port side, and carried away a
part of our bulwarks, swamping our decks with a huge mass of water; this
time nearly washing overboard all of us who were on deck. Looking at the
havoc the wave had wrought, I remembered the saga which tells of the
storm the celebrated Viking Fridthjof encountered at sea, and which

"Then came a wave breaking so strongly that it carried away the gunwales
and part of the bow, and flung four men overboard, who were lost.

"'Now it is likely,' said Fridthjof, 'that some of our men will visit
Ran. We shall not be thought fit to go there unless we prepare ourselves
well. I think it is right that every man should carry some gold with
him!' He cut asunder the arm ring of his sweetheart Ingibjörg, and
divided it among his men."

We had been running before the wind with all the sails we could carry
safely, so that the ship might not be overtaken and swamped. As long as
the ship can sail faster or quite as fast as the waves, it is all right;
but if the waves go faster then there is great danger that the ship will
be pooped by the sea, - that is, that the seas may come over the stern,
and sweep over the deck, carrying everything away. In such a case it
happens sometimes that all those who are on deck are swept overboard.

The sea finally became so high and so threatening that the captain
ordered that we should heave to and wait for the storm to abate. To
heave a ship to before the wind is a dangerous manoeuvre. We waited
until three big seas had passed. There is generally a lull after that,
and then is the time to bring the ship's head to the wind. During the
evolution the ship is liable to get in the trough of the sea, when she
rolls heavily, and has her deck swept by the waves. The dangerous
operation in our case proved successful.

While our ship lay to we had just sail enough to keep her head to the
wind, and she rode like a big albatross on the water, drifting a little
to leeward. When she was in the hollow of two waves, these seemed like
mountains ready to engulf us, but we rode safely over every one. As we
lay to we felt perfectly secure. Our ship did not roll as if broadside
to the seas, but pitched, rising slowly, over every wave.

After lying to for over six hours, the storm having somewhat moderated,
we sailed east towards the shore; but before the day was over we
encountered a cross-sea, the waves coming in every direction and
striking against each other. The man at the helm had to watch them.
Evidently there had been two or three heavy storms blowing in different
directions. A cross-sea is very dangerous, for the man at the helm never
knows where the wave will strike. After a while the wind shifted and was
ahead, and now we had to beat against it and we sailed under close
reefed sails. The wind seemed ten times stronger than before, for when a
ship runs before the wind, the wind is not felt so much, as it goes with
the ship.

As we came to a barren island, running parallel with the main land, we
saw the angry sea lashing itself with a tremendous force against the
solid base of mountain walls, filling the air each time it struck with a
deep booming sound which seemed like the roar of cannon heard far off;
the waves, as they struck the immovable wall of rocks which stopped
their advance, breaking into a tumultuous mass of seething billows,
which recoiled from the barrier that opposed them and fell back into a
surging, boiling mass of white which soon after was hurled forward again
by another advancing wave rushing on to meet the same fate. The whole
coast was fringed as far as the eye could see with a mass of angry white
billows. It was an awful sight.

Seamen dread the coast in a storm more than they do the waves in the
middle of the ocean. We steered for the leeward of the island, and when
we reached the sound separating it from the main land we came into
smooth water where we cast anchor. We were to remain there until the
storm abated, to give a good rest to the crew.



The weather having moderated, we raised our anchor and with a fair wind
continued our voyage. When the night came it was so pitch-dark that I
could not distinguish the sea from the horizon and the sky. It was
impressive. I felt so little in the immensity that surrounded our craft.
Our ship, to my eyes, when compared with the size of the ocean, was not
bigger than a tiny hazelnut tossed to and fro upon it.

Once in a while the crest of a wave broke into a long snowy-white line
which appeared to be filled with a thousand lights; this effect was
caused by the infinite number of animalculæ, which are struck together
by the movement of the wave and give out phosphorescence. These
animalculæ are living creatures which cannot be seen without the help of
the microscope. It is wonderful that such small things can give such
glowing light.

The long heavy swells, pushed by the southerly gales that had passed
away, moved irresistibly on towards the North, one after another, to
break the wall of ice the Long Night had built round the pole. What
terrific booming must take place there at times, when the ice gives way,
breaks up, and rises in great ridges over the Long Wall!

A light at our masthead told of our presence to the mariners of the
fishing boats, or the vessels coming from far northern ports across our
course, and warned them of danger.

Our ship ploughed her way through the sea, raising a mass of foam
brilliant with globules of light. These globules swept astern along the
sides of the ship, and disappeared further on. We left behind us an
undulating luminous wake, resembling a long bright snake following us,
which was gradually in the distance engulfed by the ocean. This luminous
track seemed to be reeled off from a windlass at the stern of the ship.

As I watched this white serpentine phosphorescent pathway, I thought of
the countless wakes that had been made in like manner since vessels
sailed upon the seas, on their way to different lands, for thousands of
years past, yet not one of those tracks has ever been seen again. No
wonder that the Norsemen called the sea "The Hidden Path."

On deck were four men on the watch, who guarded the lives of those who
had gone below to sleep. The man at the helm watched the compass, which
was lighted by a lamp. A man at the prow was on the lookout for sudden
danger - ships, derelicts, or rocks. Another stood amidships. The first
mate paced the deck, watching for any change in the wind. Suddenly the
man at the prow shouted:

"Light on the starboard bow!" It was the light of a ship sailing in the
opposite direction towards us. In a snowstorm, in a fog, we might have
collided; then both might have gone to the bottom of the sea.

To the leeward of us was the barren, forbidding coast; to the windward
lay rocky islands. "Dear compass," I whispered, "we trust in thee; lead
us right; the night is very dark, and our eyes cannot see rocks ahead,
except, perchance, when it is too late."

Suddenly the bell struck: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,
eight. It was midnight - time for the watch below to relieve the one on
duty, and for the captain to take the place of the mate. Every four
hours this change is made. I remained on deck, for I wanted to watch
this dark night.

I came on deck early the next morning, for I smothered in the close
confined cabin - I had been so accustomed to the bracing open air. As I
looked around me I saw nothing but the great horizon which surrounded
us. It had seemed so near every day, as we sailed towards it, and yet,
no matter how long we sailed, we never came nearer. This was because the
horizon is the boundless space in the midst of which the earth moves on
its axis round the sun.

In the morning we came to a place full of people dressed in furs. They
were Laplanders and Finlanders. A great fair was taking place, and most
of the people had crossed the mountains to the Arctic Sea, taking with
them for sale reindeer meat, butter, cheese, reindeer cheese made in the
summer and autumn, frozen ptarmigans, skins of reindeer, bears, foxes,
ermines, and other animals; ready-made clothing, gloves and shoes of
reindeer skin; hoofs of reindeer, and other things. They bought salted
and dried codfish, sugar, coffee, salt, and other groceries, flour, lamp
oil, tobacco, and things for their wives and children, and took back
cash with them.

After a short stay we raised our anchor, and continued to sail along
that bleak coast until we came to a hidden harbor, well protected by a
number of barren islands from the storms of the Arctic Ocean, and cast
anchor before a large fishing settlement. It was the beginning of April.

It was a strange place indeed. The port was filled with fishing boats.
Hundreds of them were drawn up on the shore, and other hundreds were at
anchor. There were also a number of good-sized vessels and smaller
craft. All along the rocky shore were huge piles of codfish caught that
day. The water was crowded with boats moving in every direction, loaded
with cod.

Alongside the big piles of fish, men dressed in wide trousers and
overalls of leather were busy preparing the codfish. Some were cutting
the heads off and throwing them into a pile, while others were opening
the fish, cleaning them, and then, after flattening them, throwing them
to other men, who salted them. After this operation they were carried to
the warehouses and were ready for drying.

By some of the piles men opened and cleaned the fish and tied them
together by twos. After this they were hung on frames or poles. In other
places the men divided the cod in halves, taking their spines out, but
kept them connected by their gills. These were also hung on the poles.
When dry the fish is as hard as wood.

The eggs or ova were put into barrels and salted, and Captain Ole
Petersen, who was with me, said to me: "Each barrel contains the ova of
three hundred cod. They are sent to Italy and France and used in the
sardine fisheries of those countries." Other men were busy putting the
livers into barrels, two barrels of fat liver yielding about one barrel
of brown oil. The tongues of the cod were taken out of the heads, put
into barrels and salted.

I visited the warehouses, built partly on piles projecting into the sea.
Along some of these were brigs and schooners loading.

What a sight was the inside of these warehouses! They were filled with
long deep rows of freshly salted codfish, piled higher than a man and
about the same width. These fish were to be put on board ships and
landed upon rocks, there to stay until they were dried and ready to be
shipped to foreign countries. The cod is the gold of the people living
on this desolate land.

The country around was covered with frames upon which fish were hanging.
Nets and lines were seen in every direction on the rocks, left to dry or
ready to be mended. Wherever I turned the place was saturated with the
blood of fish and offal. The sea was covered with offal; thousands of
gulls were flying in every direction and feeding upon it, while great
numbers of eider ducks, as tame as farm ducks, were swimming everywhere
and feeding. They were not afraid, for no one is allowed to shoot them.
The bare rocks were black with hundreds of thousands of heads of cod
that had been put there to dry.

These heads, with the bones of fish, are turned into a fertilizer, or
used to feed cattle. The heads are boiled before they are given to the
animals. "Cattle and sheep feeding on dried fish heads!" I exclaimed
with astonishment to my companion, "I never heard of this before."

I asked one of the merchants how he could live in such a place. "The
atmosphere that brings money," he replied, "never smells bad. Where
there is no smell there is no business and no money with us."

Goodness gracious! what a smell there was in this fishing settlement. It
was far from pleasant, especially when compared with the pure air of the
land over which I had travelled.

Several nice houses belonged to the merchants of the place. These were
painted white and were very comfortable.

The cabins of the fishermen were scattered everywhere and were all
alike. They were built of logs, with roofs covered with earth. I wanted
to live with the fishermen and become acquainted with them.



Soon after Captain Petersen and I entered one of the houses of the
fishermen. They had just returned from their fishing. I asked them if I
could live with them for a few days. "Yes," they all replied with one
voice. They knew Captain Petersen, I was with him: that was enough for

Strange indeed was the room. Each fisherman's cabin had only one. The
wall was surrounded by two rows of bunks, on top of each other. The room
was arranged like the forecastle of a ship.

"Where are you from?" one of the fishermen asked me.

"From America," I replied.

"From America!" they all exclaimed at once. "Is that possible?"

"Yes, he is from America," said Captain Petersen.

"I have a brother in America, in Minnesota," exclaimed one.

A second said: "I have a sister in Dakota."

A third: "I also have a brother in America; he sails on the Great

From that moment those fishermen and I were great friends. They asked me
my name. I replied, "My name is Paul Du Chaillu."

"Why!" some of the younger fishermen said, "we have read in school the
translation of your travels in Africa. Are you really he?"

"Yes," I replied.

Twenty-eight men, the crews of four boats, including the captains, lived
together. A cooking-stove was in the centre of the room; a few wooden
benches and a table composed the rest of the furniture, while a number
of chests contained the garments of the men, several coffee kettles, a
pan and a big pot, etc.

All these twenty-eight men insisted that I should have a whole bunk to
myself - the occupant would shift and go to another fellow. I must be
comfortable, they said. I was not accustomed to living in their way.

A man took his things from his bunk. He was the captain of one of the
boats. He said to me: "Paul, my bunk is yours." I had to accept.

When they had cooked their meal, they said: "Paul, eat with us simple
fisher folk; we will give you the best we have; you are welcome." We had
only one dish, and it was entirely new to me.

It was what the sailors called lobscouse, a sort of pudding made of ship
biscuits, liver, and fish. I did not care much for it, but I said
nothing to the fishermen. One said: "We eat this dish every day, and
that will be your food when you are with us."

"Humph!" I said to myself. I remembered the elephants, the crocodiles,
the snakes, and the monkeys, etc., I had had to eat while in Africa. The
monkeys when fat were fine, and tasted so good I should have been
willing to exchange a dish of lobscouse for a monkey.

After our meal we had coffee; each man owned his own cup. "We drink only
coffee," they said, "for no spirits are allowed to be sold here, for
fear some of the men while going to sea might become drunk, and endanger
their lives, and the lives of those that are with them."

Our coffee drunk, we talked first about fish and their peculiar habits.
The names of the four captains were John Ericksen, Hakon Johansen, Ole
Larsen, Harald Andersen.

"Every spring," said Captain Ole, "salmon come up from the sea and
ascend our rivers to spawn, and in time the little ones go to sea. As
they grow up they continue to come every year to the same river where
they were born, and nobody knows where they spend the interval."

After a pause, during which the fishermen filled their pipes, Captain
Ericksen said: "Every year the codfish make their appearance in winter
in vast shoals and countless millions on the Lofoden Islands banks to
spawn. Then they migrate further north to the coast of Finmarken, then
eastward as far as Russia. Then they disappear until the following
winter. No one knows where they come from or where they go."

One of the men observed: "I have been a fisherman for over forty years,
and it is wonderful how regularly the cod make their appearance on the
fishing banks. We depend so much on their time of coming that we leave
home every year at the same date. They must know their way in the ocean
and recognize different marks on their journey, for they have to travel
thousands of miles before they return to the fishing banks to spawn. The
cod in their migration leave behind them a great many stragglers, which
are caught all the year round. The number of cod caught on the banks of
Finmarken and of the Lofoden Islands averages about forty to forty-two
millions a year, and the total catch along the coasts of Norway amounts
to about fifty millions a year. The land is barren, and if it were not
for the fish we could not live in our country."

"Fifty millions of cod is a great number," I observed.

"Yes," he replied, "but these fifty millions are nothing but a small
fraction compared with the great number that are not caught."

After our talk on the cod was finished, Captain Ericksen spoke about
herrings as follows: "If the number of codfish caught is great, the
number of herring is far greater. The herrings make their appearance in
immense shoals, and it is beyond the power and calculation of man to
guess their number, for their millions are countless. The migration of
the herring is often very irregular. They appear generally from January
to March. The herring are known to have disappeared for years in some
districts, then suddenly reappear."

"That is strange," I said. "Can you account for that?"

"No," the captain replied; "if I were a herring I probably could tell."
We all laughed when he said this.

I remarked: "The number of Norwegian fishing boats is so great, how do
you know when some are missing and have foundered at sea?"

Captain Ericksen replied: "Every fishing district has its own letter on
each boat belonging to it, and a number, and the name of every man
composing its crew is registered; also his residence, the day of his
birth, etc. This is necessary, for every year some poor fisherman's boat
is lost and the crew drowned; thus the boat and crew missing can be
identified. All the Norwegian men you see at the fisheries have
homes - humble it is true - either on the fjords, by the coast, or on some
little islands where there are a few patches of land which they can
cultivate, raise potatoes and some grain, and where there is grass
enough to keep a cow or two, sometimes more, some goats, and a few sheep
to give us wool.

"That is the reason you see us so warmly clad. Our wives, daughters, or
sisters, while we are absent from home think of us. They spin and weave
the wool from our sheep into outer garments and underwear, knit
stockings for us, and with some of the money we get from our catch of
fish we buy waterproof clothing. With a good part of the money we save
we buy things for our family and the provisions that we need, and put
the rest in the bank."

It was time to retire, for we had to start up at five in the morning, if
the weather permitted, for the fishing bank. It was agreed among the
fishermen that I should go net-fishing in the boat owned by Captain Ole.
What music we had during the night! All the fishermen snored. I thought
I had never heard such a snoring before! I amused myself by wondering
which one of them would have received the prize had it been a snoring

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Online LibraryPaul B. (Paul Belloni) Du ChailluThe Land of the Long Night → online text (page 12 of 16)