On the 8th of September they "were frightened by a noise of something falling to the ground,"—probably some volcanic disturbance. A month later, it becomes so cold that their linen, after a moment's exposure to the air, becomes frozen like a board. [Footnote: The climate, however, does not appear to have been then so inclement in these latitudes as it has since become. A similar deterioration in the temperature, both of Spitzbergen and Greenland, has also been observed. In Iceland we have undoubted evidence of corn having been formerly grown, as well as of the existence of timber of considerable size, though now it can scarcely produce a cabbage, or a stunted shrub of birch. M. Babinet, of the French Institute, goes a little too far when he says, in the Journal des Debats of the 30th December, 1856, that for many years Jan Mayen has been inaccessible.] Huge fleets of ice beleaguered the island, the sun disappears, and they spend most of their time in "rehearsing to one another the adventures that had befallen them both by sea and land." On the 12th of December they kill a bear, having already begun to feel the effects of a salt diet. At last comes New Year's Day, 1636. "After having wished each other a happy new year, and success in our enterprise, we went to prayers, to disburthen our hearts before God." On the 25th of February (the very day on which Wallenstein was murdered) the sun reappeared. By the 22nd of March scurvy had already declared itself: "For want of refreshments we began to be very heartless, and so afflicted that our legs are scarce able to bear us." On the 3rd of April, "there being no more than two of us in health, we killed for them the only two pullets we had left; and they fed pretty heartily upon them, in hopes it might prove a means to recover part of their strength. We were sorry we had not a dozen more for their sake." On Easter Day, Adrian Carman, of Schiedam, their clerk, dies. "The Lord have mercy upon his soul, and upon us all, we being very sick." During the next few days they seem all to have got rapidly worse; one only is strong enough to move about. He has learnt writing from his comrades since coming to the island; and it is he who concludes the melancholy story. "The 23rd (April), the wind blew from the same corner, with small rain. We were by this time reduced to a very deplorable state, there being none of them all, except myself, that were able to help themselves, much less one another, so that the whole burden lay upon my shoulders,—and I perform my duty as well as I am able, as long as God pleases to give me strength. I am just now a-going to help our commander out of his cabin, at his request, because he imagined by this change to ease his pain, he then struggling with death." For seven days this gallant fellow goes on "striving to do his duty;" that is to say, making entries in the journal as to the state of the weather, that being the principal object their employers had in view when they left them on the island; but on the 30th of April his strength too gave way, and his failing hand could do no more than trace an incompleted sentence on the page.
Meanwhile succour and reward are on their way toward the forlorn garrison. On the 4th of June, up again above the horizon rise the sails of the Zealand fleet; but no glad faces come forth to greet the boats as they pull towards the shore; and when their comrades search for those they had hoped to find alive and well,—lo! each lies dead in his own hut,—one with an open Prayer-book by his side; another with his hand stretched out towards the ointment he had used for his stiffened joints; and the last survivor, with the unfinished journal still lying by his side.
The most recent recorded landing on the island was effected twenty-two years ago, by the brave and pious Captain, now Dr. Scoresby,[Footnote: I regret to be obliged to subjoin that Dr. Scoresby has died since the above was written.] on his return from a whaling cruise. He had seen the mountain of Beerenberg one hundred miles off, and, on approaching, found the coast quite clear of ice. According to his survey and observations, Jan Mayen is about sixteen miles long, by four wide; but I hope soon, on my own authority, to be able to tell you more about it.
Certainly, this our last evening spent in Iceland will not have been the least joyous of our stay. The dinner on board the "Reine Hortense" was very pleasant. I renewed acquaintance with some of my old Baltic friends, and was presented to two or three of the Prince's staff who did not accompany the expedition to the Geysirs; among others, to the Duc d'Abrantes, Marshal Junot's son. On sitting down to table, I found myself between H.I.H. and Monsieur de Saulcy, member of the French Institute, who made that famous expedition to the Dead Sea, and is one of the gayest, pleasantest persons I have ever met. Of course there was a great deal of laughing and talking, as well as much speculation with regard to the costume of the Icelandic ladies we were to see at the ball. It appears that the dove-cots of Reykjavik have been a good deal fluttered by an announcement emanating from the gallant Captain of the "Artemise" that his fair guests would be expected to come in low dresses; for it would seem that the practice of showing their ivory shoulders is, as yet, an idea as shocking to the pretty ladies of this country as waltzes were to our grandmothers. Nay, there was not even to be found a native milliner equal to the task of marking out that mysterious line which divides the prudish from the improper; so that the Collet-monte faction have been in despair. As it turned out, their anxiety on this head was unnecessary; for we found, on entering the ball-room, that, with the natural refinement which characterises this noble people, our bright-eyed partners, as if by inspiration, had hit off the exact sweep from shoulder to shoulder, at which—after those many oscillations, up and down, which the female corsage has undergone since the time of the first Director—good taste has finally arrested it.
I happened to be particularly interested in the above important question; for up to that moment I had always been haunted by a horrid paragraph I had met with somewhere in an Icelandic book of travels, to the effect that it was the practice of Icelandic women, from early childhood, to flatten down their bosoms as much as possible. This fact, for the honour of the island, I am now in a position to deny; and I here declare that, as far as I had the indiscretion to observe, those maligned ladies appeared to me as buxom in form as any rosy English girl I have ever seen.
It was nearly nine o'clock before we adjourned from the "Reine Hortense," to the ball. Already, for some time past, boats full of gay dresses had been passing under the corvette's stern on their way to the "Artemise," looking like flower-beds that had put to sea,—though they certainly could no longer be called a parterre;—and by the time we ourselves mounted her lofty sides, a mingled stream of music, light, and silver laughter, was pouring out of every port-hole. The ball-room was very prettily arranged. The upper deck had been closed in with a lofty roof of canvas, from which hung suspended glittering lustres, formed by bayonets with their points collected into an inverted pyramid, and the butt-ends serving as sockets for the tapers. Every wall was gay with flags,—the frigate's frowning armament all hid or turned to ladies' uses: 82 pounders became sofas—boarding-pikes, balustrades—pistols, candlesticks—the brass carronades set on end, pillarwise, their brawling mouths stopped with nose-gays; while portraits of the Emperor and the Empress, busts, colours draped with Parisian cunning, gave to the scene an appearance of festivity that looked quite fairy-like in so sombre a region. As for our gallant host, I never saw such spirits; he is a fine old grey-headed blow-hard of fifty odd, talking English like a native, and combining the frank open-hearted cordiality of a sailor with that graceful winning gaiety peculiar to Frenchmen. I never saw anything more perfect than the kind, almost fatherly, courtesy with which he welcomed each blooming bevy of maidens that trooped up his ship's side. About two o'clock we had supper on the main-deck. I had the honour of taking down Miss Thora, of Bessestad; and somehow—this time, I no longer found myself wandering back in search of the pale face of the old-world Thora, being, I suppose, sufficiently occupied by the soft, gentle eyes of the one beside me. With the other young ladies I did not make much acquaintance, as I experienced a difficulty in finding befitting remarks on the occasion of being presented to them. Once or twice, indeed, I hazarded, through their fathers, some little complimentary observations in Latin; but I cannot say that I found that language lend itself readily to the gallantries of the ball-room. After supper dancing recommenced, and the hilarity of the evening reached its highest pitch when half a dozen sailors, dressed in turbans made of flags (one of them a lady with the face of the tragic muse), came forward and danced the cancan, with a gravity and decorum that would have greatly edified what Gavarni calls "la pudeur municipale."
At 3 o'clock A.M. I returned on board the schooner, and we are all now very busy in making final preparations for departure. Fitz is rearranging his apothecary's shop. Sigurdr is writing letters. The last strains of music have ceased on board the "Artemise"; the sun is already high in the heavens; the flower beds are returning on shore,—a little draggled perhaps, as if just pelted by a thunder-storm; the "Reine Hortense" has got her steam up and the real, serious part of our voyage is about to begin.
I feel that my description has not half done justice to the wonders of this interesting island; but I can refer you to your friend Sir Henry Holland for further details; he paid a visit to Iceland in 1810, with Sir G. Mackenzie, and made himself thoroughly acquainted with its historical and scientific associations.
SCENE. R. Y. S: "Foam": astern of the "Reine Hortense"
VOICE OF FRENCH CAPTAIN, COMMANDING "R.H." LORD D. DOCTOR. WILSON.
VOICE OF THE FRENCH CAPTAIN.—"Nous partons."
LORD D—.—"All ready, Sir!"
WILSON TO DOCTOR (sotto voce).—"Sir!"
WILSON.—"Do you know, Sir?"
WILSON.—"Oh, nothing, Sir;—only we're going to the hicy regions, Sir, ain't we? Well, I've just seen that ere brig as is come from there, Sir, and they say there's a precious lot of ice this year! (Pause.) Do you know, Sir, the skipper showed me the bows of his vessel, Sir? She's got seven feet of solid timber in her for'ard: WE'VE only two inches, Sir!"
VOICE OF FRENCH CAPTAIN (WITH A SLIGHT ACCENT).—"Are you ready?"
Lord D—.-"Ay, ay, Sir! Up anchor!"
START FROM REYKJAVIK—SNAEFELL—THE LADY OF FRODA-A BERSERK TRAGEDY—THE CHAMPION OF BREIDAVIK—ONUNDER FIORD—THE LAST NIGHT—CROSSING THE ARCTIC CIRCLE—FETE ON BOARD THE "REINE HORTENSE"—LE PERE ARCTIQUE-WE FALL IN WITH THE ICE—THE "SAXON" DISAPPEARS—MIST—A PARTING IN A LONELY SPOT—JAN MAYEN—MOUNT BEERENBERG—AN UNPLEASANT POSITION—SHIFT OF WIND AND EXTRICATION—"TO NORROWAY OVER THE FAEM"—A NASTY COAST—HAMMERFEST.
Back in Europe again,—within reach of posts! The glad sun shining, the soft winds blowing, and roses on the cabin table,—as if the region of fog and ice we have just fled forth from were indeed the dream-land these summer sights would make it seem. I cannot tell you how gay and joyous it all appears to us, fresh from a climate that would not have been unworthy of Dante's Inferno. And yet—had it been twice as bad, what we have seen would have more than repaid us, though it has been no child's play to get to see it.
But I must begin where I left off in my last letter,—just, I think, as we were getting under way, to be towed by the "Reine Hortense" out of Reykjavik Harbour. Having been up all night,—as soon as we were well clear of the land, and that it was evident the towing business was doing well—I turned in for a few hours. When I came on deck again we had crossed the Faxe Fiord on our way north, and were sweeping round the base of Snaefell—an extinct volcano which rises from the sea in an icy cone to the height of 5,000 feet, and grimly looks across to Greenland. The day was beautiful; the mountain's summit beamed down upon us in unclouded splendour, and everything seemed to promise an uninterrupted view of the west coast of Iceland, along whose rugged cliffs few mariners have ever sailed. Indeed, until within these last few years, the passage, I believe, was altogether impracticable, in consequence of the continuous fields of ice which used to drift down the narrow channel between the frozen continent and the northern extremity of the island. Lately, some great change seems to have taken place in the lie of the Greenland ice; and during the summer-time you can pass through, though late in the year a solid belt binds the two shores together.
But in a historical and scientific point of view, the whole country lying about the basanite roots of Snaefell is most interesting. At the feet of its southern slopes are to be seen wonderful ranges of columnar basalt, prismatic caverns, ancient craters, and specimens of almost every formation that can result from the agency of subterranean fires; while each glen, and bay, and headland, in the neighbourhood, teems with traditionary lore. On the north-western side of the mountain stretches the famous Eyrbiggja district, the most classic ground in Iceland, with the towns, or rather farmsteads, of Froda, Helgafell, and Biarnarhaf.
This last place was the scene of one of the most curious and characteristic Sagas to be found in the whole catalogue of Icelandic chronicles.
In the days when the same Jarl Hakon I have already mentioned lorded it over Norway, an Icelander of the name of Vermund, who had come to pay his court to the lord of Lade, took a violent wish to engage in his own service a couple of gigantic Berserks, [Footnote: Berserk, i.e., bare sark. The berserks seem to have been a description of athletes, who were in the habit of stimulating their nervous energies by the use of some intoxicating drug, which rendered them capable of feats of extraordinary strength and daring. The Berserker gang must have been something very like the Malay custom of running a muck. Their moments of excitement were followed by periods of great exhaustion.] named Halli and Leikner, whom the Jarl had retained about his person,—fancying that two champions of such great strength and prowess would much acid to his consequence on returning home. In vain. the Jarl warned him that personages of that description were wont to give trouble and become unruly,—nothing would serve but he must needs carry them away with him; nay, if they would but come, they might ask as wages any boon which might be in his power to grant. The bargain accordingly was made; but, on arriving in Iceland, the first thing Halli took it into his head to require was a wife, who should be rich, nobly born, and beautiful. As such a request was difficult to comply with, Vermund, who was noted for being a man of gentle disposition, determined to turn his troublesome retainers over to his brother, Arngrim Styr, i.e., the Stirring or Tumultuous One,—as being a likelier man than himself to know how to keep them in order.
Arngrim happened to have a beautiful daughter, named Asdisa, with whom the inflammable Berserk of course fell in love. Not daring openly to refuse him, Arngrim told his would-be son-in-law, that before complying with his suit, he must consult his friends, and posted off to Helgafell, where dwelt the Pagan Pontiff Snorre. The result of this conference was an agreement on the part' of Styr to give his daughter to the Berserk, provided he and his brother would CUT a road through the lava rocks of Biarnarhaf. Halli and Leikner immediately set about executing this prodigious task; while the scornful Asdisa, arrayed in her most splendid attire, came sweeping past in silence, as if to mock their toil. The poetical reproaches addressed to the young lady on this occasion by her sturdy admirer and his mate are still extant. In the meantime, the other servants of the crafty Arngrim had constructed a subterranean bath, so contrived that at a moment's notice it could be flooded with boiling water. Their task at last concluded, the two Berserks returned home to claim their reward; but Arngrim Styr, as if in the exuberance of his affection, proposed that they should first refresh themselves in the new bath. No sooner had they descended into it, than Arngrim shut down the trap-door, and having ordered a newly-stripped bullock's hide to be stretched before the entrance, gave the signal for the boiling water to be turned on. Fearful were the struggles of the scalded giants: Halli, indeed, succeeded in bursting up the door; but his foot slipped on the bloody bull's hide, and Amgrim stabbed him to the heart. His brother was then easily forced back into the seething water.
The effusion composed by the Tumultuous One on the occasion of this exploit is also extant, and does not yield in poetical merit to those which I have already mentioned as having emanated from his victims.
As soon as the Pontiff Snorre heard of the result of Arngrim Styr's stratagem, he came over and married the Lady Asdisa. Traces of the road made by the unhappy champions can yet be detected at Biarnarhaf, and tradition still identifies the grave of the Berserks.
Connected with this same Pontiff Snorre is another of those mysterious notices of a great land in the western ocean which we find in the ancient chronicles, so interwoven with narrative we know to be true, as to make it impossible not to attach a certain amount of credit to them. This particular story is the more interesting as its denouement, abruptly left in the blankest mystery by one Saga, is incidentally revealed to us in the course of another, relating to events with which the first had no connection. [Footnote: From internal evidence it is certain that the chronicle which contains these Sagas must have been written about the beginning of the thirteenth century.]
It seems that Snorre had a beautiful sister, named Thured of Froda, with whom a certain gallant gentleman—called Bjorn, the son of Astrand—fell head and ears in love. Unfortunately, a rich rival appears in the field; and though she had given her heart to Bjorn, Snorre—who, we have already seen, was a prudent man—insisted upon her giving her hand to his rival. Disgusted by such treatment, Bjorn sails away to the coasts of the Baltic, and joins a famous company of sea-rovers, called the Jomsburg Vikings. In this worthy society he so distinguishes himself by his valour and daring that he obtains the title of the Champion of Breidavik. After many doughty deeds, done by sea and land, he at last returns, loaded with wealth and honours, to his native country.
In the summer-time of the year 999, soon after his arrival, was held a great fair at Froda, whither all the merchants, "clad in coloured garments," congregated from the adjacent country. Thither came also Bjorn's old love, the Lady of Froda; "and Bjorn went up and spoke to her, and it was thought likely their talk would last long, since they for such a length of time had not seen each other." But to this renewal of old acquaintance both the lady's husband and her brother very much objected; and "it seemed to Snorre that it would be a good plan to kill Bjorn." So, about the time of hay-making, off he rides, with some retainers, to his victim's home, having fully instructed one of them how to deal the first blow. Bjorn was in the home-field (tun), mending his sledge, when the cavalcade appeared in sight; and, guessing what motive had inspired the visit, went straight up to Snorre, who rode in front, "in a blue cloak," and held the knife with which he had been working in such a position as to be able to stab the Pontiff to the heart, should his followers attempt to lift their hands against himself. Comprehending the position of affairs, Snorre's friends kept quiet. "Bjorn then asked the news." Snorre confesses that he had intended to kill him; but adds, "Thou tookest such a lucky grip of me at our meeting, that thou must have peace this time, however it may have been determined before." The conversation is concluded by an agreement on the part of Bjorn to leave the country, as he feels it impossible to abstain from paying visits to Thured as long as he remains in the neighbourhood. Having manned a ship, Bjorn put to sea in the summer-time "When they sailed away, a north-east wind was blowing, which wind lasted long during that summer; but of this ship was nothing heard since this long time." And so we conclude it is all over with the poor Champion of Breidavik! Not a bit of it. He turns up, thirty years afterwards, safe and sound, in the uttermost parts of the earth.
In the year 1029, a certain Icelander, named Gudlief, undertakes a voyage to Limerick, in Ireland. On his return home, he is driven out of his course by north-east winds, Heaven knows where. After drifting for many days to the westward, he at last falls in with land. On approaching the beach, a great crowd of people came down to meet the strangers, apparently with no friendly intentions. Shortly afterwards, a tall and venerable chieftain makes his appearance, and, to Gudlief's great astonishment, addresses him in Icelandic. Having entertained the weary mariners very honourably, and supplied them with provisions, the old man bids them speed back to Iceland, as it would be unsafe for them to remain where they were. His own name he refused to tell; but having learnt that Gudlief comes from the neighbourhood of Snaefell, he puts into his hands a sword and a ring. The ring is to be given to Thured of Froda; the sword to her son Kjartan. When Gudlief asks by whom he is to say the gifts are sent, the ancient chieftain answers, "Say they come from one who was a better friend of the Lady of Froda than of her brother Snorre of Helgafell." Wherefore it is conjectured that this man was Bjorn, the son of Astrand, Champion of Breidavik.
After this, Madam, I hope I shall never hear you depreciate the constancy of men. Thured had better have married Bjorn after all!
I forgot to mention that when Gudlief landed on the strange coast, it seemed to him that the inhabitants spoke Irish. Now, there are many antiquaries inclined to believe in the former existence of an Irish colony to the southward of the Vinland of the Northmen. Scattered through the Sagas are several notices of a distant country in the West, which is called Ireland ed Mekla—Great Ireland, or the White Man's land. When Pizarro penetrated into the heart of Mexico, a tradition already existed of the previous arrival of white men from the East. Among the Shawnasee Indians a story is still preserved of Florida having been once inhabited by white men, who used iron instruments. In 1658, Sir Erland the Priest had in his possession a chart, even then thought ancient, of "The Land of the White Men, or Hibernia Major, situated opposite Vinland the Good," and Gaelic philologists pretend to trace a remarkable affinity between many of the American-Indian dialects and the ancient Celtic.
But to return to the "Foam." After passing the cape, away we went across the spacious Brieda Fiord, at the rate of nine or ten knots an hour, reeling and bounding at the heels of the steamer, which seemed scarcely to feel how uneven was the surface across which we were speeding. Down dropped Snaefell beneath the sea, and dim before us, clad in evening haze, rose the shadowy steeps of Bardestrand. The north-west division of Iceland consists of one huge peninsula, spread out upon the sea like a human hand, the fingers just reaching over the Arctic circle; while up between them run the gloomy fiords, sometimes to the length of twenty, thirty, and even forty miles. Anything more grand and mysterious than the appearance of their solemn portals, as we passed across from bluff to bluff, it is impossible to conceive. Each might have served as a separate entrance to some poet's hell—so drear and fatal seemed the vista one's eye just caught receding between the endless ranks of precipice and pyramid.
There is something, moreover, particularly mystical in the effect of the grey, dreamy atmosphere of an arctic night, through whose uncertain medium mountain and headland loom as impalpable as the frontiers of a demon world, and as I kept gazing at the glimmering peaks, and monstrous crags, and shattered stratifications, heaped up along the coast in cyclopean disorder, I understood how natural it was that the Scandinavian mythology, of whose mysteries the Icelanders were ever the natural guardians and interpreters, should have assumed that broad, massive simplicity which is its most beautiful characteristic. Amid the rugged features of such a country the refinements of Paganism would have been dwarfed into insignificance. How out of place would seem a Jove with his beard in ringlets—a trim Apollo—a sleek Bacchus—an ambrosial Venus—a slim Diana, and all their attendant groups of Oreads and Cupids—amid the ocean mists, and icebound torrents, the flame-scarred mountains, and four months' night—of a land which the opposing forces of heat and cold have selected for a battle-field!
The undeveloped reasoning faculty is prone to attach an undue value and meaning to the forms of things, and the infancy of a nation's mind is always more ready to worship the MANIFESTATIONS of a Power, than to look beyond them for a cause. Was it not natural then that these northerns, dwelling in daily communion with this grand Nature, should fancy they could perceive a mysterious and independent energy in her operations, and at last come to confound the moral contest man feels within him, with the physical strife he finds around him, to see in the returning sun—fostering into renewed existence the winter-stifled world—even more than a TYPE of that spiritual consciousness which alone can make the dead heart stir; to discover even more than an ANALOGY between the reign of cold, darkness, and desolation, and the still blanker ruin of a sin-perverted soul? But in that iron clime, amid such awful associations, the conflict going on was too terrible—the contending powers too visibly in presence of each other, for the practical, conscientious Norse mind to be content with the puny godships of a Roman Olympus. Nectar, Sensuality, and Inextinguishable Laughter were elements of felicity too mean for the nobler atmosphere of their Walhalla; and to those active temperaments and healthy minds,—invigorated and solemnized by the massive mould of the scenery around them,—Strength, Courage, Endurance, and above all Self-sacrifice—naturally seemed more essential attributes of divinity than mere elegance and beauty. And we must remember that whilst the vigorous imagination of the north was delighting itself in creating a stately dreamland, where it strove to blend, in a grand world-picture—always harmonious, though not always consistent—the influences which sustain both the physical and moral system of its universe, an undercurrent of sober Gothic common sense induced it—as a kind of protest against the too material interpretation of the symbolism it had employed—to wind up its religious scheme by sweeping into the chaos of oblivion all the glorious fabric it had evoked, and proclaiming—in the place of the transient gods and perishable heaven of its Asgaard—that One undivided Deity, at whose approach the pillars of Walhalla were to fall, and Odin and his peers to perish, with all the subtle machinery of their existence; while man—himself immortal—was summoned to receive at the hands of the Eternal All-Father the sentence that waited upon his deeds. It is true this purer system belonged only to the early ages. As in the case of every false religion, the symbolism of the Scandinavian mythology lost with each succeeding generation something of its transparency, and at last degenerated into a gross superstition. But traces still remained, even down to the times of Christian ascendency, of the deep, philosophical spirit in which it had been originally conceived; and through its homely imagery there ran a vein of tender humour, such as still characterises the warm-hearted, laughter-loving northern races. Of this mixture of philosophy and fun, the following story is no bad specimen. [Footnote: The story of Thor's journey has been translated from the Edda both by the Howitts and Mr. Thorpe.]
Once on a time the two OEsir, Thor, the Thunder god, and his brother Lopt, attended by a servant, determined to go eastward to Jotunheim, the land of the giants, in search of adventures. Crossing over a great water, they came to a desolate plain, at whose further end, tossing and waving in the wind, rose the tree tops of a great forest. After journeying for many hours along its dusty labyrinths, they began to be anxious about a resting-place for the night. "At last, Lopt perceived a very spacious house, on one side of which was an entrance as wide as the house itself, and there they took up their night-quarters. At midnight they perceived a great earthquake; the ground reeled under them and the house shook.
"Then up rose Thor and called to his companions. They sought about, and found a side building to the right, into which they went. Thor placed himself at the door; the rest went and sat down further in, and were very much afraid.
"Thor kept his hammer in his hand, ready to defend them. Then they heard a terrible noise and roaring. As it began to dawn, Thor went out, and saw a man lying in the wood not far from them; he was by no means small, and he slept and snored loudly. Then Thor understood what the noise was which they heard in the night. He buckled on his belt of power, by which he increased his divine strength. At the same instant the man awoke, and rose up. It is said that Thor was so much astonished that he did not dare to slay him with his hammer, but inquired his name. He called himself Skrymer. 'Thy name,' said he, 'I need not ask, for I know that thou art Asar-Thor. But what hast thou done with my glove?'
"Skrymer stooped and took up his glove, and Thor saw that it was the house in which they had passed the night, and that the out-building was the thumb."
Here follow incidents which do not differ widely from certain passages in the history of Jack the Giant Killer. Thor makes three several attempts to knock out the easy- going giant's brains during a slumber, in which he is represented as "snoring outrageously,"—and after each blow of the Thunder god's hammer, Skrymer merely wakes up—strokes his beard—and complains of feeling some trifling inconvenience, such as a dropped acorn on his head, a fallen leaf, or a little moss shaken from the boughs. Finally, he takes leave of them,—points out the way to Utgard Loke's palace, advises them not to give themselves airs at his court,—as unbecoming "such little fellows" as they were, and disappears in the wood; "and"—as the old chronicler slyly adds—"it is not said whether the OEsir wished ever to see him again."
They then journey on till noon, till they come to a vast palace, where a multitude of men, of whom the greater number were immensely large, sat on two benches. "After this they advanced into the presence of the king, Utgard Loke, and saluted him. He scarcely deigned to give a look, and said smiling: 'It is late to inquire after true tidings from a great distance, but is it not Thor that I see? Yet you are really bigger than I imagined. What are the exploits that you can perform? For no one is tolerated amongst us who cannot distinguish himself by some art or accomplishment.'
"'Then,' said Lopt, 'I understand an art of which I am prepared to give proof, and that is, that no one here can dispose of his food as I can.' Then answered Utgard Loke: 'Truly this IS an art, if thou canst achieve it; which we will now see.' He called from the bench a man named Loge to contend with Lopt. They set a trough in the middle of the hall, filled with meat. Lopt placed himself at one end and Loge at the other. Both ate the best they could, and they met in the middle of the trough. Lopt had picked the meat from the bones, but Loge had eaten meat, bones, and trough altogether. All agreed Lopt was beaten. Then asked Utgard Loke what art the young man (Thor's attendant) understood? Thjalfe answered, that he would run a race with any one that Utgard Loke would appoint. There was a very good race ground on a level field. Utgard Loke called a young man named Huge, and bade him run with Thjalfe. Thjalfe runs his best, at three several attempts—according to received Saga customs,—but is of course beaten in the race.
"Then asked Utgard Loke of Thor, what were the feats that he would attempt corresponding to the fame that went abroad of him? Thor answered that he thought he could beat any one at drinking. Utgard Loke said, 'Very good,' and bade his cup-bearer bring out the horn from which his courtiers were accustomed to drink. Immediately appeared the cup-bearer, and placed the horn in Thor's hand. Utgard Loke then said, 'that to empty that horn at one pull was well done; some drained it at twice; but that he was a wretched drinker who could not finish it at the third draught.' Thor looked at the horn, and thought that it was not large, though it was tolerably long. He was very thirsty, lifted it to his mouth, and was very happy at the thought of so good a draught. When he could drink no more, he took the horn from his mouth, and saw, to his astonishment, that there was little less in it than before. Utgard Loke said: 'Well hast thou drunk, yet not much. I should never have believed but that Asar-Thor could have drunk more; however, of this I am confident, thou wilt empty it at the second time.' He drank again; but when he took away the horn from his mouth, it seemed to him that it had sunk less this time than the first; yet the horn might now be carried without spilling.
"Then said Utgard Loke: 'How is this, Thor? If thou dost not reserve thyself purposely for the third draught, thine honour must be lost; how canst thou be regarded as a great man, as the Aesir look upon thee, if thou dost not distinguish thyself in other ways more than thou hast done in this?'
"Then was Thor angry, put the horn to his mouth, drank with all his might, and strained himself to the utmost; and when he looked into the horn it was now somewhat lessened. He gave up the horn, and would not drink any more. 'Now,' said Utgard Loke, 'now is it clear that thy strength is not so great as we supposed. Wilt thou try some other game, for we see that thou canst not succeed in this?' Thor answered: 'I will now try something else, but I wonder who, amongst the Aesir, would call that a little drink! What play will you propose?'
"Utgard Loke answered: 'Young men think it mere play to lift my cat from the ground; and I would never have proposed this to Aesir Thor, if I did not perceive that thou art a much less man than I had thought thee.' Thereupon sprang an uncommonly great grey cat upon the floor. Thor advanced, took the cat round the body, and lifted it up. The cat bent its back in the same degree as Thor lifted, and when Thor had lifted one of its feet from the ground, and was not able to lift it any higher, said Utgard Loke: 'The game has terminated just as I expected. The cat is very great, and Thor is low and small, compared with the great men who are here with us.'
"Then said Thor: 'Little as you call me, I challenge any one to wrestle with me, for now I am angry.' Utgard Loke answered, looking round upon the benches: 'I see no one here who would not deem it play to wrestle with thee: but let us call hither the old Ella, my nurse; with her shall Thor prove his strength, if he will. She has given many one a fall who appeared far stronger than Thor is. On this there entered the hall an old woman, and Utgard Loke said she would wrestle with Thor. In short, the contest went so, that the more Thor exerted himself, the firmer she stood, and now began the old woman to exert herself, and Thor to give way, and severe struggles followed. It was not long before Thor was brought down on one knee. Then Utgard Loke stepped forward, bade them cease the struggle, and said that Thor should attempt nothing more at his court. It was now drawing towards night; Utgard Loke showed Thor and his companions their lodging, where they were well accommodated.
"As soon as it was light the next morning, up rose Thor and his companions, dressed themselves, and prepared to set out. Then came Utgard Loke, and ordered the table to be set, where there wanted no good provisions, either meat or drink. When they had breakfasted, they set out on their way. Utgard Loke accompanied them out of the castle, but at parting he asked Thor how the journey had gone off, whether he had found any man more mighty than himself? Thor answered, that the enterprise had brought him much dishonour, it was not to be denied, and that he must esteem himself a man of no account, which much mortified him.
"Utgard Loke replied: 'Now will I tell thee the truth, since thou art out of my castle, where, so long as I live and reign, thou shalt never re-enter; and whither, believe me, thou hadst never come if I had known before what might thou possessest, and that thou wouldst so nearly plunge us into great trouble. False appearances have I created for thee, so that the first time when thou mettest the man in the wood it was I; and when thou wouldst open the provision-sack, I had laced it together with an iron band, so that thou couldst not find the means to undo it. After that thou struckest at me three times with the hammer. The first stroke was the weakest, and it had been my death had it hit me. Thou sawest by my castle a rock, with three deep square holes, of which one was very deep: those were the marks of thy hammer. The rock I placed in the way of the blow, without thy perceiving it.
"'So also in the games, when thou contendedst with my courtiers. When Lopt made his essay, the fact was this: he was very hungry, and ate voraciously; but he who was called Loge, was FIRE, which consumed the trough as well as the meat. And Huge (mind) was my THOUGHT with which Thjalfe ran a race, and it was impossible for him to match it in speed. When thou drankest from the horn, and thoughtest that its contents grew no less, it was, notwithstanding, a great marvel, such as I never believed could have taken place. The one end of the horn stood in the sea, which thou didst not perceive; and when thou comest to the shore thou wilt see how much the ocean has diminished by what thou hast drunk. MEN WILL CALL IT THE EBB.
"'Further,' said he, 'most remarkable did it seem to me that thou liftedst the cat, and in truth all became terrified when they saw that thou liftedst one of its feet from the ground. For it was no cat, as it seemed unto thee, but the great serpent that lies coiled round the world. Scarcely had he length that his tail and head might reach the earth, and thou liftedst him so high up that it was but a little way to heaven. That was a marvellous wrestling that thou wrestledst with Ella (old age), for never has there been any one, nor shall there ever be, let him approach what great age he will, that Ella shall not overcome.
"'Now we must part, and it is best for us on both sides that you do not often come to me; but if it should so happen, I shall defend my castle with such other arts that you shall not be able to effect anything against me.'
"When Thor heard this discourse he grasped his hammer and lifted it into the air, but as he was about to strike he saw Utgard Loke nowhere. Then he turned back to the castle to destroy it, and he saw only a beautiful and wide plain, but no castle."
So ends the story of Thor's journey to Jotunheim.
It was now just upon the stroke of midnight. Ever since leaving England, as each four-and-twenty hours we climbed up nearer to the pole, the belt of dusk dividing day from day had been growing narrower and narrower, until having nearly reached the Arctic circle, this,—the last night we were to traverse,—had dwindled to a thread of shadow. Only another half-dozen leagues more, and we would stand on the threshold of a four months' day! For the few preceding hours clouds had completely covered the heavens, except where a clear interval of sky, that lay along the northern horizon, promised a glowing stage for the sun's last obsequies. But like the heroes of old he had veiled his face to die, and it was not until he dropped down to the sea that the whole hemisphere overflowed with glory and the gilded pageant concerted for his funeral gathered in slow procession round his grave; reminding one of those tardy honours paid to some great prince of song, who—left during life to languish in a garret—is buried by nobles in Westminster Abbey. A few minutes more the last fiery segment had disappeared beneath the purple horizon, and all was over.
"The king is dead—the king is dead—the king is dead! Long live the king!" And up from the sea that had just entombed his sire, rose the young monarch of a new day; while the courtier clouds, in their ruby robes, turned faces still aglow with the favours of their dead lord, to borrow brighter blazonry from the smile of a new master.
A fairer or a stranger spectacle than the last Arctic sunset cannot well be conceived: Evening and Morning—like kinsmen whose hearts some baseless feud has kept asunder —clasping hands across the shadow of the vanished night.
You must forgive me if sometimes I become a little magniloquent;—for really, amid the grandeur of that fresh primaeval world, it was almost impossible to prevent one's imagination from absorbing a dash of the local colouring. We seemed to have suddenly waked up among the colossal scenery of Keats' Hyperion. The pulses of young Titans beat within our veins. Time itself,—no longer frittered down into paltry divisions,—had assumed a more majestic aspect. We had the appetite of giants—was it unnatural we should also adopt "the large utterance of the early gods?"
As the "Reine Hortense" could not carry coals sufficient for the entire voyage we had set out upon, it had been arranged that the steamer "Saxon" should accompany her as a tender, and the Onunder Fiord, on the north-west coast of the island, had been appointed as the place of rendezvous. Suddenly wheeling round therefore to the right we quitted the open sea, and dived down a long grey lane of water that ran on as far as the eye could reach between two lofty ranges of porphyry and amygdaloid. The conformation of these mountains was most curious: it looked as if the whole district was the effect of some prodigious crystallization, so geometrical was the outline of each particular hill, sometimes rising cube-like, or pentagonal, but more generally built up into a perfect pyramid, with stairs mounting in equal gradations to the summit. Here and there the cone of the pyramid would be shaven off, leaving it flat-topped like a Babylonian altar or Mexican teocalli; and as the sun's level rays,—shooting across above our heads in golden rafters from ridge to ridge,—smote brighter on some loftier peak behind, you might almost fancy you beheld the blaze of sacrificial fires. The peculiar symmetrical appearance of these rocks arises from the fact of their being built up in layers of trap, alternating with Neptunian beds; the disintegrating action of snow and frost on the more exposed strata having gradually carved their sides into flights of terraces.
It is in these Neptunian beds that the famous surturbrand is found, a species of bituminous timber, black and shining like pitch coal; but whether belonging to the common carboniferous system, or formed from ancient drift-wood, is still a point of dispute among the learned. In this neighbourhood considerable quantities both of zerlite and chabasite are also found, but, generally speaking, Iceland is less rich in minerals than one would suppose; opal, calcedony, amethyst, malachite, obsidian, agate, and feldspar, being the principal. Of sulphur the supply is inexhaustible.
After steaming down for several hours between these terraced hills, we at last reached the extremity of the fiord, where we found the "Saxon" looking like a black sea-dragon coiled up at the bottom of his den. Up fluttered a signal to the mast-head of the corvette, and blowing off her steam, she wore round upon her heel, to watch the effects of her summons. As if roused by the challenge of an intruder, the sleepy monster seemed suddenly to bestir itself, and then pouring out volumes of sulphureous breath, set out with many an angry snort in pursuit of the rash troubler of its solitude. At least, such I am sure might have been the notion of the poor peasant inhabitants of two or three cottages I saw scattered here and there along the loch, as, startled from their sleep, they listened to the stertorous breathing of the long snake-like ships, and watched them glide past with magic motion along the glassy surface of the water. Of course the novelty and excitement of all we had been witnessing had put sleep and bedtime quite out of our thoughts: but it was already six o'clock in the morning; it would require a considerable time to get out of the fiord, and in a few hours after we should be within the Arctic circle, so that if we were to have any sleep at all—now was the time. Acting on these considerations, we all three turned in; and for the next half-dozen hours I lay dreaming of a great funeral among barren mountains, where white bears in peers' robes were the pall-bearers, and a sea-dragon chief-mourner. When we came on deck again, the northern extremity of Iceland lay leagues away on our starboard quarter, faintly swimming through the haze; up overhead blazed the white sun, and below glittered the level sea, like a pale blue disc netted in silver lace. I seldom remember a brighter day; the thermometer was at 72 degrees, and it really felt more as if we were crossing the line than entering the frigid zone.
Animated by that joyous inspiration which induces them to make a fete of everything, the French officers, it appeared, wished to organize a kind of carnival to inaugurate their arrival in Arctic waters, and by means of a piece of chalk and a huge black board displayed from the hurricane-deck of the "Reine Hortense," an inquiry was made as to what suggestion I might have to offer in furtherance of this laudable object. With that poverty of invention and love of spirits which characterise my nation, I am obliged to confess that, after deep reflection, I was only able to answer, "Grog." But seeing an extra flag or two was being run up at each masthead of the Frenchman, the lucky idea occurred to me to dress the "Foam" in all her colours. The schooner's toilette accomplished, I went on board the "Reine Hortense," and you cannot imagine anything more fragile, graceful, or coquettish, than her appearance from the deck of the corvette,—as she curtsied and swayed herself on the bosom of the almost imperceptible swell, or flirted up the water with her curving bows. She really looked like a living little lady.
But from all such complacent reveries I was soon awakened by the sound of a deep voice, proceeding apparently from the very bottom of the sea, which hailed the ship in the most authoritative manner, and imperiously demanded her name, where she was going, whom she carried, and whence she came: to all which questions, a young lieutenant, standing with his hat off at the gangway, politely responded. Apparently satisfied on these points, our invisible interlocutor then announced his intention of coming on board. All the officers of the ship collected on the poop to receive him.
In a few seconds more, amid the din of the most unearthly music, and surrounded by a bevy of hideous monsters, a white-bearded, spectacled personage-clad in bear-skin, with a cocked hat over his left ear-presented himself in the gangway, and handing to the officers of the watch an enormous board, on which was written
"LE PERE ARCTIQUE,"
by way of visiting card, proceeded to walk aft, and take the sun's altitude with what, as far as I could make out, seemed to be a plumber's wooden triangle. This preliminary operation having been completed, there then began a regular riot all over the ship. The yards were suddenly manned with red devils, black monkeys, and every kind of grotesque monster, while the whole ship's company, officers and men promiscuously mingled, danced the cancan upon deck. In order that the warmth of the day should not make us forget that we had arrived in his dominions, the Arctic father had stationed certain of his familiars in the tops, who at stated intervals flung down showers of hard peas, as typical of hail, while the powdering of each other's faces with handfuls of flour could not fail to remind everybody on board that we had reached the latitude of snow. At the commencement of this noisy festival I found myself standing on the hurricane deck, next to, one of the grave savants attached to the expedition, who seemed to contem-plate the antics that were being played at his feet with that sad smile of indulgence with which Wisdom sometimes deigns to commiserate the gaiety of Folly. Suddenly he disappeared from beside me, and the next that I saw or heard of him—he was hard at work pirouetting on the deck below with a red-tailed demon, and exhibiting in his steps a "verve" and a graceful audacity which at Paris would have certainly obtained for him the honours of expulsion at the hands of the municipal authorities. The entertainment of the day concluded with a discourse delivered out of a wind-sail by the chaplain attached to the person of the Pere Arctique, which was afterwards washed down by a cauldron full of grog, served out in bumpers to the several actors in this unwonted ceremonial. As the Prince had been good enough to invite us to dinner, instead of returning to the schooner I spent the intermediate hour in pacing the quarter-deck with Baron de la Ronciere,—the naval commander entrusted with the charge of the expedition. Like all the smartest officers in the French navy, he speaks English beautifully, and I shall ever remember with gratitude the cordiality with which he welcomed me on board his ship, and the thoughtful consideration of his arrangements for the little schooner which he had taken in tow. At five o'clock dinner was announced, and I question if so sumptuous a banquet has ever been served up before in that outlandish part of the world, embellished as it was by selections from the best operas played by the corps d'orchestre which had accompanied the Prince from Paris. During the pauses of the music the conversation naturally turned on the strange lands we were about to visit, and the best mode of spifflicating the white bears who were probably already shaking in their snow shoes: but alas! while we were in the very act of exulting in our supremacy over these new domains, the stiffened finger of the Ice king was tracing in frozen characters a "Mene, mene, tekel upharsin" on the plate glass of the cabin windows. During the last half-hour the thermometer had been gradually falling, until it was nearly down to 32 degrees; a dense penetrating fog enveloped both the vessels—(the "Saxon" had long since dropped out of sight), flakes of snow began floating slowly down, and a gelid breeze from the north-west told too plainly that we had reached the frontiers of the solid ice, though we were still a good hundred miles distant from the American shore. Although at any other time the terrible climate we had dived into would have been very depressing, under present circumstances I think the change rather tended to raise our spirits, perhaps because the idea of fog and ice in the month of June seemed so completely to uncockneyfy us. At all events there was no doubt now we had got into les mers glaciales, as our French friends called them, and, whatever else might be in store for us, there was sure henceforth to be no lack of novelty and excitement.
By this time it was already well on in the evening, so having agreed with Monsieur de la Ronciere on a code of signals in case of fogs, and that a jack hoisted at the mizen of the "Reine Hortense," or at the fore of the schooner, should be an intimation of a desire of one or other to cast off, we got into the boat and were dropped down alongside our own ship. Ever since leaving Iceland the steamer had been heading east-north-east by compass, but during the whole of the ensuing night she shaped a south-east course; the thick mist rendering it unwise to stand on any longer in the direction of the banquise, as they call the outer edge of the belt that hems in Eastern Greenland. About three A.M. it cleared up a little. By breakfast time the sun re-appeared, and we could see five or six miles ahead of the vessel. It was shortly after this, that as I was standing in the main rigging peering out over the smooth blue surface of the sea, a white twinkling point of light suddenly caught my eye about a couple of miles off on the port bow, which a telescope soon resolved into a solitary isle of ice, dancing and dipping in the sunlight. As you may suppose, the news brought everybody upon deck, and when almost immediately afterwards a string of other pieces, glittering like a diamond necklace, hove in sight, the excitement was extreme.
Here at all events was honest blue saltwater frozen solid, and when, as we proceeded, the scattered fragments thickened, and passed like silver argosies on either hand, until at last we found oumelves enveloped in an innumerable fleet of bergs,—it seemed as if we could never be weary of admiring a sight so strange and beautiful. It was rather in form and colour than in size that these ice islets were remarkable; anything approaching to a real iceberg we neither saw, nor are we likely to see. In fact, the lofty ice mountains that wander like vagrant islands along the coast of America, seldom or never come to the eastward or northward of Cape Farewell. They consist of land ice, and are all generated among bays and straits within Baffin's Bay, and first enter the Atlantic a good deal to the southward of Iceland; whereas the Polar ice, among which we have been knocking about, is field ice, and—except when packed one ledge above the other, by great pressure—is comparatively flat. I do not think I saw any pieces that were piled up higher than thirty or thirty-five feet above the sea-level, although at a little distance through the mist they may have loomed much loftier.
In quaintness of form, and in brilliancy of colours, these wonderful masses surpassed everything I had imagined; and we found endless amusement in watching their fantastic procession.
At one time it was a knight on horseback, clad in sapphire mail, a white plume above his casque. Or a cathedral window with shafts of chrysophras, new powdered by a snow-storm. Or a smooth sheer cliff of lapis lazuli; or a Banyan tree, with roots descending from its branches, and a foliage as delicate as the efflorescence of molten metal; or a fairy dragon, that breasted the water in scales of emerald; or anything else that your fancy chose to conjure up. After a little time, the mist again descended on the scene, and dulled each glittering form to a shapeless mass of white; while in spite of all our endeavours to keep upon our northerly course, we were constantly compelled to turn and wind about in every direction—sometimes standing on for several hours at a stretch to the southward and eastward. These perpetual embarrassments became at length very wearying, and in order to relieve the tedium of our progress I requested the Doctor to remove one of my teeth. This he did with the greatest ability—a wrench to starboard,—another to port, and up it flew through the cabin sky-light.
During the whole of that afternoon and the following night we made but little Northing at all, and the next day the ice seemed more pertinaciously in our way than ever; neither could we relieve the monotony of the hours by conversing with each other on the black boards, as the mist was too thick for us too distinguish from on board one ship anything that was passing on the deck of the other. Notwithstanding the great care and skill with which the steamer threaded her way among the loose floes, it was impossible sometimes to prevent fragments of ice striking us with considerable violence on the bows; and as we lay in bed at night, I confess that until we got accustomed to the noise, it was by no means a pleasant thing to hear the pieces angrily scraping along the ship's sides—within two inches of our ears. On the evening of the fourth day it came on to blow pretty hard, and at midnight it had freshened to half a gale; but by dint of standing well away to the eastward we had succeeded in reaching comparatively open water, and I had gone to bed in great hopes that at all events the breeze would brush off the fog, and enable us to see our way a little more clearly the next morning.
At five o'clock A.M. the officer of the watch jumped down into my cabin, and awoke me with the news—"That the Frenchman was a-saying summat on his black board!" Feeling by the motion that a very heavy sea must have been knocked up during the night, I began to be afraid that something must have gone wrong with the towing-gear, or that a hawser might have become entangled in the corvette's screw—which was the catastrophe of which I had always been most apprehensive; so slipping on a pair of fur boots, which I carefully kept by the bedside in case of an emergency, and throwing a cloak over—
"Le simple appareil D'une beaute qu'on vient d'arracher au sommeil,"
I caught hold of a telescope, and tumbled up on deck. Anything more bitter and disagreeable than the icy blast, which caught me round the waist as I emerged from the companion I never remember. With both hands occupied in levelling the telescope, I could not keep the wind from blowing the loose wrap quite off my shoulders, and except for the name of the thing, I might just as well have been standing in my shirt. Indeed, I was so irresistibly struck with my own resemblance to a coloured print I remember in youthful days,—representing that celebrated character "Puss in Boots," with a purple robe of honour streaming far behind him on the wind, to express the velocity of his magical progress—that I laughed aloud while I shivered in the blast. What with the spray and mist, moreover, it was a good ten minutes before I could make out the writing, and when at last I did spell out the letters, their meaning was not very inspiriting: "Nous retournons a Reykjavik!" So evidently they had given it up as a bad job, and had come to the conclusion that the island was inaccessible. Yet it seemed very hard to have to turn back, after coming so far! We had already made upwards of three hundred miles since leaving Iceland: it could not be much above one hundred and twenty or one hundred and thirty more to Jan Mayen; and although things looked unpromising, there still seemed such a chance of success, that I could not find it in my heart to give in; so, having run up a jack at the fore—all writing on our board was out of the question, we were so deluged with spray—I jumped down to wake Fitzgerald and Sigurdr, and tell them we were going to cast off, in case they had any letters to send home. In the meantime, I scribbled a line of thanks and good wishes to M. de la Ronciere, and another to you, and guyed it with our mails on board the corvette—in a milk can.
In the meantime all was bustle on board our decks, and I think every one was heartily pleased at the thoughts of getting the little schooner again under canvas. A couple of reefs were hauled down in the mainsail and staysail, and everything got ready for making sail.
"Is all clear for'ard for slipping, Mr. Wyse?"
"Ay, ay, Sir; all clear!"
"Let go the tow-ropes!"
"All gone, Sir!"
And down went the heavy hawsers into the sea, up fluttered the staysail,—then—poising for a moment on the waves with the startled hesitation of a bird suddenly set free,—the little creature spread her wings, thrice dipped her ensign in token of adieu—receiving in return a hearty cheer from the French crew—and glided like a phantom into the North, while the "Reine Hortense" puffed back to Iceland. [Footnote: It subsequently appeared that the "Saxon," on the second day after leaving Onunder Fiord, had unfortunately knocked a hole in her bottom against the ice, and was obliged to run ashore in a sinking state. In consequence of never having been rejoined by her tender, the "Reine Hortense" found herself short of coals; and as the encumbered state of the sea rendered it already very unlikely that any access would be found open to the island, M. de la Ronciere very properly judged it advisable to turn back. He re-entered the Reykjavik harbour without so much as a shovelful of coals left on board.]
Ten minutes more, and we were the only denizens of that misty sea. I confess I felt excessively sorry to have lost the society of such joyous companions; they had received us always with such merry good nature; the Prince had shown himself so gracious and considerate, and he was surrounded by a staff of such clever, well-informed persons, that it was with the deepest regret I watched the fog close round the magnificent corvette, and bury her—and all whom she contained—within its bosom. Our own situation, too, was not altogether without causing me a little anxiety. We had not seen the sun for two days; it was very thick, with a heavy sea, and dodging about as we had been among the ice, at the heels of the steamer, our dead reckoning was not very much to be depended upon. The best plan I thought would be to stretch away at once clear of the ice, then run up into the latitude of Jan Mayen, and—as soon as we should have reached the parallel of its northern extremity—bear down on the land. If there was any access at all to the island, it was very evident it would be on its northern or eastern side; and now that we were alone, to keep on knocking up through a hundred miles or so of ice in a thick fog, in our fragile schooner, would have been out of the question.
The ship's course, therefore, having been shaped in accordance with this view, I stole back into bed and resumed my violated slumbers. Towards mid-day the weather began to moderate, and by four o'clock we were skimming along on a smooth sea, with all sails set. This state of prosperity continued for the next twenty-four hours; we had made about eighty knots since parting company with the Frenchman, and it was now time to run down West and pick up the land. Luckily the sky was pretty clear, and as we sailed on through open water I really began to think our prospects very brilliant. But about three o'clock on the second day, specks of ice began to flicker here and there on the horizon, then larger bulks came floating by in forms as picturesque as ever—(one, I particularly remember, a human hand thrust up out of the water with outstretched forefinger, as if to warn us against proceeding farther), until at last the whole sea became clouded with hummocks that seemed to gather on our path in magical multiplicity.
Up to this time we had seen nothing of the island, yet I knew we must be within a very few miles of it; and now, to make things quite pleasant, there descended upon us a thicker fog than I should have thought the atmosphere capable of sustaining; it seemed to hang in solid festoons from the masts and spars. To say that you could not see your hand, ceased almost to be any longer figurative; even the ice was hid—except those fragments immediately adjacent, whose ghastly brilliancy the mist itself could not quite extinguish, as they glimmered round the vessel like a circle of luminous phantoms. The perfect stillness of the sea and sky added very much to the solemnity of the scene; almost every breath of wind had fallen, scarcely a ripple tinkled against the copper sheathing, as the solitary little schooner glided along at the rate of half a knot or so an hour, and the only sound we heard was the distant wash of waters, but whether on a great shore, or along a belt of solid ice, it was impossible to say. In such weather, as the original discoverers of Jan Mayen said under similar circumstances,—"it was easier to hear land than to see it." Thus, hour after hour passed by and brought no change. Fitz and Sigurdr—who had begun quite to disbelieve in the existence of the island—went to bed, while I remained pacing up and down the deck, anxiously questioning each quarter of the grey canopy that enveloped us. At last, about four in the morning, I fancied some change was going to take place; the heavy wreaths of vapour seemed to be imperceptibly separating, and in a few minutes more the solid roof of grey suddenly split asunder, and I beheld through the gap—thousands of feet over—head, as if suspended in the crystal sky—a cone of illuminated snow.
You can imagine my delight. It was really that of an anchorite catching a glimpse of the seventh heaven. There at last was the long-sought-for mountain actually tumbling down upon our heads. Columbus could not have been more pleased when, after nights of watching, he saw the first fires of a new hemisphere dance upon the water; nor, indeed, scarcely less disappointed at their sudden disappearance than I was, when, after having gone below to wake Sigurdr, and tell him we had seen bona fide terra-firma, I found, on returning upon deck, that the roof of mist had closed again, and shut out all trace of the transient vision. However, I had got a clutch of the island, and no slight matter should make me let go my hold. In the meantime there was nothing for it but to wait patiently until the curtain lifted; and no child ever stared more eagerly at a green drop-scene in expectation of "the realm of dazzling splendour" promised in the bill, than I did at the motionless grey folds that hung round us. At last the hour of liberation came: a purer light seemed gradually to penetrate the atmosphere, brown turned to grey, and grey to white, and white to transparent blue, until the lost horizon entirely reappeared, except where in one direction an impenetrable veil of haze still hung suspended from the zenith to the sea. Behind that veil I knew must lie Jan Mayen.
A few minutes more, and slowly, silently, in a manner you could take no count of, its dusky hem first deepened to a violet tinge, then gradually lifting, displayed a long line of coast—in reality but the roots of Beerenberg—dyed of the darkest purple; while, obedient to a common impulse, the clouds that wrapped its summit gently disengaged themselves, and left the mountain standing in all the magnificence of his 6,870 feet, girdled by a single zone of pearly vapour, from underneath whose floating folds seven enormous glaciers rolled down into the sea! Nature seemed to have turned scene-shifter, so artfully were the phases of this glorious spectacle successively developed.
Although—by reason of our having hit upon its side instead of its narrow end—the outline of Mount Beerenberg appeared to us more like a sugar-loaf than a spire—broader at the base and rounder at the top than I had imagined,— in size, colour, and effect, it far surpassed anything I had anticipated. The glaciers were quite an unexpected element of beauty. Imagine a mighty river of as great a volume as the Thames—started down the side of a mountain,— bursting over every impediment,—whirled into a thousand eddies,—tumbling and raging on from ledge to ledge in quivering cataracts of foam,—then suddenly struck rigid by a power so instantaneous in its action, that even the froth and fleeting wreaths of spray have stiffened into the immutability of sculpture. Unless you had seen it, it would be almost impossible to conceive the strangeness of the contrast between the actual tranquillity of these silent crystal rivers and the violent descending energy impressed upon their exterior. You must remember, too, all this is upon a scale of such prodigious magnitude, that when we succeeded subsequently in approaching the spot—where with a leap like that of Niagara one of these glaciers plunges down into the sea—the eye, no longer able to take in its fluvial character, was content to rest in simple astonishment at what then appeared a lucent precipice of grey-green ice, rising to the height of several hundred feet above the masts of the vessel.
As soon as we had got a little over our first feelings of astonishment at the panorama thus suddenly revealed to us by the lifting of the fog, I began to consider what would be the best way of getting to the anchorage on the west—or Greenland side of the island. We were still seven or eight miles from the shore, and the northern extremity of the island, round which we should have to pass, lay about five leagues off, bearing West by North, while between us and the land stretched a continuous breadth of floating ice. The hummocks, however, seemed to be pretty loose with openings here and there, so that with careful sailing I thought we might pass through, and perhaps on the farther side of the island come into a freer sea. Alas! after having with some difficulty wound along until we were almost abreast of the cape, we were stopped dead short by a solid rampart of fixed ice, which in one direction leant upon the land, and in the other ran away as far as the eye could reach into the dusky North. Thus hopelessly cut off from all access to the western and better anchorage, it only remained to put about, and—running down along the land—attempt to reach a kind of open roadstead on the eastern side, a little to the south of the volcano described by Dr. Scoresby but in this endeavour also we were doomed to be disappointed; for after sailing some considerable distance through a field of ice, which kept getting more closely packed as we pushed further into it, we came upon another barrier equally impenetrable, that stretched away from the island toward the Southward and Eastward. Under these circumstances, the only thing to be done was to get back to where the ice was looser, and attempt a landing wherever a favourable opening presented itself. But even to extricate ourselves from our present position, was now no longer of such easy performance. Within the last hour the wind had shifted into the North-West; that is to say, it was now blowing right down the path along which we had picked our way; in order to return, therefore, it would be necessary to work the ship to windward through a sea as thickly crammed with ice as a lady's boudoir is with furniture. Moreover, it had become evident, from the obvious closing of the open spaces, that some considerable pressure was acting upon the outside of the field; but whether originating in a current or the change of wind, or another field being driven down upon it, I could not tell: Be that as it might, out we must get,—unless we wanted to be cracked like a walnut-shell between the drifting ice and trio solid belt to leeward; so sending a steady hand to the helm,—for these unusual phenomena had begun to make some of my people lose their heads a little, no one on board having ever seen a bit of ice before,—I stationed myself in the bows, while Mr. Wyse conned the vessel from the square yard. Then there began one of the prettiest and most exciting pieces of nautical manoeuvring that can be imagined. Every single soul on board was summoned upon deck; to all, their several stations and duties were assigned—always excepting the cook, who was merely directed to make himself generally useful. As soon as everybody was ready, down went the helm,—about came the ship,—and the critical part of the business commenced. Of course, in order to wind and twist the schooner in and out among the devious channels left between the hummocks, it was necessary she should have considerable way on her; at the same time so narrow were some of the passages, and so sharp their turnings, that unless she had been the most handy vessel in the world, she would have had a very narrow squeak for it. I never saw anything so beautiful as her behaviour. Had she been a living creature, she could not have dodged, and wound, and doubled, with more conscious cunning and dexterity; and it was quite amusing to hear the endearing way in which the people spoke to her, each time the nimble creature contrived to elude some more than usually threatening tongue of ice. Once or twice, in spite of all our exertions, it was impossible to save her from a collision; all that remained to be done, as soon as it became evident she could not clear some particular floe, or go about in time to avoid it, was to haul the staysail sheet a-weather in order to deaden her way as much as possible, and—putting the helm down—let her go right at it, so that she should receive the blow on her stem, and not on the bluff of the bow; while all hands, armed with spars and fenders, rushed forward to ease off the shock. And here I feel it just to pay a tribute of admiration to the cook, who on these occasions never failed to exhibit an immense amount of misdirected energy, breaking—I remember—at the same moment, both the cabin sky-light, and an oar, in single combat with a large berg that was doing no particular harm to us, but against which he seemed suddenly to have conceived a violent spite. Luckily a considerable quantity of snow overlaid the ice, which, acting as a buffer, in some measure mitigated the violence of the concussion; while the very fragility of her build diminishing the momentum, proved in the end the little schooner's greatest security. Nevertheless, I must confess that more than once, while leaning forward in expectation of the scrunch I knew must come, I have caught myself half murmuring to the fair face that seemed to gaze so serenely at the cold white mass we were approaching: "O Lady, is it not now fit thou shouldest befriend the good ship of which thou art the pride?"
At last, after having received two or three pretty severe bumps,—though the loss of a little copper was the only damage they entailed,—we made our way back to the northern end of the island, where the pack was looser, and we had at all events a little more breathing room.
It had become very cold—so cold, indeed, that Mr. Wyse —no longer able to keep a clutch of the rigging—had a severe tumble from the yard on which he was standing. The wind was freshening, and the ice was evidently still in motion; but although very anxious to get back again into open water, we thought it would not do to go away without landing, even if it were only for an hour. So having laid the schooner right under the cliff, and putting into the gig our own discarded figure-head, a white ensign, a flag-staff; and a tin biscuit-box, containing a paper on which I had hastily written the schooner's name, the date of her arrival, and the names of all those who sailed on board,—we pulled ashore. A ribbon of beach not more than fifteen yards wide, composed of iron-sand, augite, and pyroxene, running along under the basaltic precipice—upwards of a thousand feet high—which serves as a kind of plinth to the mountain, was the only standing room this part of the coast afforded. With considerable difficulty, and after a good hour's climb, we succeeded in dragging the figure-head we had brought ashore with us, up a sloping patch of snow, which lay in a crevice of the cliff, and thence a little higher, to a natural pedestal formed by a broken shaft of rock; where—after having tied the tin box round her neck, and duly planted the white ensign of St. George beside her,—we left the superseded damsel, somewhat grimly smiling across the frozen ocean at her feet, until some Bacchus of a bear should come to relieve the loneliness of my wooden Ariadne.
On descending to the water's edge, we walked some little distance along the beach without observing anything very remarkable, unless it were the network of vertical and horizontal dikes of basalt which shot in every direction through the scoriae and conglomerate of which the cliff seemed to be composed. Innumerable sea-birds sat in the crevices and ledges of the uneven surface, or flew about us with such confiding curiosity, that by reaching out my hand I could touch their wings as they poised themselves in the air alongside. There was one old sober-sides with whom I passed a good ten minutes tete-a-tete, trying who could stare the other out of countenance.
It was now high time to be off. As soon then as we had collected some geological specimens, and duly christened the little cove, at the bottom of which we had landed, "Clandeboye Creek,"—we walked back to the gig. But—so rapidly was the ice drifting down upon the island,—we found it had already become doubtful whether we should not have to carry the boat over the patch which—during the couple of hours we had spent on shore—had almost cut her off from access to the water. If this was the case with the gig, it was very evident the quicker we got the schooner out to sea again the better. So immediately we returned on board, having first fired a gun in token of adieu to the desolate land we should never again set foot on, the ship was put about, and our task of working out towards the open water recommenced. As this operation was likely to require some time, directly breakfast was over, (it was now about eleven o'clock A.M.,) and after a vain attempt had been made to take a photograph of the mountain, which the mist was again beginning to envelope, I turned in to take a nap, which I rather needed,—fully expecting that by the time I awoke we should be beginning to get pretty clear of the pack. On coming on deck, however, four hours later, although we had reached away a considerable distance from the land, and had even passed the spot, where, the day before, the sea was almost free,—the floes seemed closer than ever; and, what was worse, from the mast-head not a vestige of open water was to be discovered. On every side, as far as the eye could reach, there stretched over the sea one cold white canopy of ice.
The prospect of being beset, in so slightly built a craft, was—to say the least—unpleasant; it looked very much as if fresh packs were driving down upon us from the very direction in which we were trying to push out, yet it had become a matter of doubt which course it would be best to steer. To remain stationary was out of the question; the pace at which the fields drift is sometimes very rapid, [Footnote: Dr. Scoresby states that the invariable tendency of fields of ice is to drift south-westward, and that the strange effects produced by their occasional rapid motions, is one of the most striking objects the Polar Seas present, and certainly the most terrific. They frequently acquire a rotary motion, whereby their circumference attains a velocity of several miles an hour; and it is scarcely possible to conceive the consequences produced by a body, exceeding ten thousand million tons in weight, coming in contact with another under such circumstances. The strongest ship is but an insignificant impediment between two fields in motion. Numbers of whale vessels have thus been destroyed; some have been thrown upon the ice; some have had their hulls completely torn open, or divided in two, and others have been overrun by the ice, and buried beneath its heaped fragments.] and the first nip would settle the poor little schooner's business for ever. At the same time, it was quite possible that any progress we succeeded in making, instead of tending towards her liberation, might perhaps be only getting her deeper into the scrape. One thing was very certain,—Northing or Southing might be an even chance, but whatever EASTING we could make must be to the good; so I determined to choose whichever vein seemed to have most Easterly direction in it. Two or three openings of this sort from time to time presented themselves; but in every case, after following them a certain distance, they proved to be but CUL-DE-SACS, and we had to return discomfited. My great hope was in a change of wind. It was already blowing very fresh from the northward and eastward; and if it would but shift a few points, in all probability the ice would loosen as rapidly as it had collected. In the meantime, the only thing to do was to keep a sharp look-out, sail the vessel carefully, and take advantage of every chance of getting to the eastward.
It now grew colder than ever,—the distant land was almost hid with fog,—tattered dingy clouds came crowding over the heavens,—while Wilson moved uneasily about the deck, with the air of Cassandra at the conflagration of Troy. It was Sunday, the 14th of July, and I had a momentary fancy that I could hear the sweet church bells in England pealing across the cold white flats which surrounded us. At last, about five o'clock P.M., the wind shifted a point or two, then flew round into the south-east. Not long after, just as I had expected, the ice evidently began to loosen,—a promising opening was reported from the mast-head a mile or so away on the port-bow, and by nine o'clock we were spanking along, at the rate of eight knots an hour, under a double-reefed mainsail and staysail—down a continually widening channel, between two wave-lashed ridges of drift ice. Before midnight, we had regained the open sea, and were standing away
"to Norroway, To Norroway, over the faem."
In the forenoon I had been too busy to have our usual Sunday church; but as soon as we were pretty clear of the ice I managed to have a short service in the cabin.
Of our run to Hammerfest I have nothing particular to say. The distance is eight hundred miles, and we did it in eight days. On the whole, the weather was pretty fair, though cold, and often foggy. One day indeed was perfectly lovely,—the one before we made the coast of Lapland, —without a cloud to be seen for the space of twenty-four hours; giving me an opportunity of watching the sun performing his complete circle overhead, and taking a meridian altitude at midnight. We were then in 70 degrees 25' North latitude; i.e., almost as far north as the North Cape; yet the thermometer had been up to 80 degrees during the afternoon.
Shortly afterwards the fog came on again, and next morning it was blowing very hard from the eastward. This was the more disagreeable, as it is always very difficult, under the most favourable circumstances, to find one's way into any harbour along this coast, fenced off, as it is, from the ocean by a complicated outwork of lofty islands, which, in their turn, are hemmed in by nests of sunken rock, sown as thick as peas, for miles to seaward. There are no pilots until you are within the islands, and no longer want them,—no lighthouses or beacons of any sort; and all that you have to go by is the shape of the hill-tops; but as, on the clearest day, the outlines of the mountains have about as much variety as the teeth of a saw, and as on a cloudy day, which happens about seven times a week, you see nothing but the line of their dark roots,—the unfortunate mariner, who goes poking about for the narrow passage which is to lead him between the islands,—at the BACK of one of which a pilot is waiting for him,—will, in all probability, have already placed his vessel in a position to render that functionary's further attendance a work of supererogation. At least, I know it was as much surprise as pleasure that I experienced, when, after having with many misgivings ventured to slip through an opening in the monotonous barricade of mountains, we found it was the right channel to our port. If the king of all the Goths would only stick up a lighthouse here and there along the edge of his Arctic seaboard, he would save many an honest fellow a heart-ache.
I must now finish this long letter.
Hammerfest is scarcely worthy of my wasting paper on it. When I tell you that it is the most northerly town in Europe, I think I have mentioned its only remarkable characteristic. It stands on the edge of an enormous sheet of water, completely landlocked by three islands, and consists of a congregation of wooden houses, plastered up against a steep mountain; some of which being built on piles, give the notion of the place having slipped down off the hill half-way into the sea. Its population is so and so,—its chief exports this and that; for all which, see Mr. Murray's "Handbook," where you will find all such matters much more clearly and correctly set down than I am likely to state them. At all events, it produces milk, cream—NOT butter—salad, and bad potatoes; which is what we are most interested in at present. To think that you should be all revelling this very moment in green-peas and cauliflowers! I hope you don't forget your grace before dinner. I will write to you again before setting sail for Spitzbergen.
EXTRACT FROM THE "MONITEUR" OF THE 31ST JULY.
I have received a copy of the "Moniteur" of the 31st July, containing so graphic an account of the voyage of the "Reine Hortense" towards Jan Mayen, and of the catastrophe to her tender the "Saxon,"—in consequence of which the corvette was compelled to abandon her voyage to the Northward,—that I must forward it to you.
"Voyage of Discovery along the Banquise, north of Iceland, by 'LA REINE HORTENSE.'
"It fell to the lot of an officer of the French navy, M. Jules de Blosseville, to attempt to explore those distant parts, and to shed an interest over them, both by his discoveries and by his tragical and premature end.
In the spring of 1833, on the breaking up of a frost, 'La Lilloise,' under the command of that brave officer, succeeded in passing through the Banquise, nearly up to latitude 69 degrees, and in surveying about thirty leagues of coast to the south of that latitude. After having returned to her anchorage off the coast of Iceland, he sailed again in July for a second attempt. From that time nothing has been heard of 'La Lillouse.'
The following year the 'Bordelaise' was sent to look for the 'Lilloise,' but found the whole north of Iceland blocked up by ice-fields; and returned, having been stopped in the latitude of the North Cape.
As a voyage to the Danish colonies on the western coast of Greenland formed part of the scheme of our arctic navigation, we were aware at our departure from Paris, that it was our business to make ourselves well acquainted with the southern part of the ice-field, from Reykjavik to Cape Farewell. But while we were touching at Peterhead, the principal port for the fitting of vessels destined for the seal fishery, the Prince, and M. de la Ronciere, Commander of 'La Reine Hortense,' gathered—from conversations with the fishermen just returned from their spring expedition—some important information on the actual state of the ice. They learnt from them that navigation was completely free this year round the whole of Iceland; that the ice-field resting on Jan Mayen Island, and surrounding it to a distance of about twenty leagues, extended down the south-west along the coast of Greenland, but without blocking up the channel which separates that coast from that of Iceland. These unhoped-for circumstances opened a new field to our explorations, by allowing us to survey all that part of the Banquise which extends to the north of Iceland, thus forming a continuation to the observations made by the 'Recherche,' and to those which we ourselves intended to make during our voyage to Greenland. The temptation was too great for the Prince; and Commander de la Ronciere was not a man to allow an opportunity to escape for executing a project which presented itself to him with the character of daring and novelty.
But the difficulties of the enterprise were serious, and of such a nature that no one but a sailor experienced in navigation is capable of appreciating. The 'Reine Hortense' is a charming pleasure-boat, but she offers very few of the requisites for a long voyage, and she was destitute of all the special equipment indispensable for a long sojourn in the ice. There was room but for six days' coals, and for three weeks' water: As to the sails, one may say the masts of the corvette are merely for show, and that without steam it would be impossible to reckon on her making any way regularly and uninterruptedly. Add to this, that she is built of iron,—that is to say, an iron sheet of about two centimbtres thick constitutes all her planking,—and that her deck—divided into twelve great panels, is so weak that it has been thought incapable of carrying guns proportioned to her tonnage. Those who have seen the massive vessels of the fishermen of Peterhead, their enormous outside planking, their bracings and fastenings in wood and in iron, and their internal knees and stancheons, may form an idea from such precautions—imposed by long experience of the nature of the dangers that the shock—or even the pressure of the ice—may cause to a ship in the latitudes that we were going to explore.
The 'Cocyte' had also been placed at the disposal of H.I.H. Prince Napoleon. This vessel which arrived at Reykjavik the same day that we did, the 30th of June—is a steam schooner, with paddles, standing the sea well, carying coals for twelve days, but with a deplorably slow rate of speed.
We found besides at Reykjavik the war transport 'La Perdrix' and two English merchant steamers, the 'Tasmania and the 'Saxon,' freighted by the Admiralty to take to Iceland coals necessary for our voyage to Greenland. These five vessels, with the frigate 'Artemise,' which performed he duties of guardship, formed the largest squadron which had ever assembled in the harbour of the capital of Iceland.
Unfortunately, these varied and numerous elements had nothing in common, and Commodore de la Ronciere soon saw that extraneous help would afford us no additional security; and, in short, that the 'Refine Bortense'— obliged to go fast—as her short supplies would not allow long voyages, had to reckon on herself alone. However, the [English] captain of the 'Saxon' expressing a great desire to visit these northern parts, and displaying on this subject a sort of national vanity, besides promising an average speed of seven knots an hour, it was decided that—at all events, that vessel should start alone with the 'Refine Hortense,' whose supply of coals it would be able to replenish, in the event—a doubtful one, it is true—of our making the coast of Jan Mayen's Island, and finding a good anchorage. The 'Reine Hortense' had—by the help of a supplementary load on deck—a supply of coals for eight days; and immediately on starting, the crew as well as the passengers, were to be put on a measured allowance of water.
A few hours before getting under way, the expedition was completed by the junction of a new companion, quite unexpected. We found in Reykjavik harbour a yacht belonging to Lord Dufferin. The Prince, seeing his great desire to visit the neighbourhood of Jan Mayen, offered to take his schooner in tow of the 'Reine Hortense.' It was a fortunate accident for a seeker of maritime adventures; and an hour afterwards, the proposition having been eagerly accepted, the Englishman was attached by two long cables to the stern of our corvette.
On the 7th of July, 1856, at two o'clock in the morning, after a ball given by Commander de Mas on board the 'Artemise,'—the 'Reine Hortense,' with the English schooner in tow, left Reykjavik harbour, directing her course along the west coast of Iceland, towards Onundarfiord, where we were to join the 'Saxon' which had left a few hours before us. At nine o'clock, the three vessels, steering east-north-east, doubled the point of Cape North. At noon our observation of the latitude placed us about 67 degrees. We had just crossed the Arctic circle. The temperature was that of a fine spring day, 10 degrees centigrade (50 degrees Farenh.).
The 'Reine Hortense' diminished her speed. A rope thrown across one of the towing-ropes enabled Lord Dufferin to haul one of his boats to our corvette. He himself came to dine with us, and to be present at the ceremony of crossing the polar circle. As to the 'Saxon,' M. de la Ronciere perceived by this time that the worthy Englishman had presumed too much on his power. The 'Saxon' was evidently incapable of following us. The captain, therefore, made her a signal that she was to take her own course, to try and reach Jan Mayen; and if she could not succeed, to direct her course on Onundarfiord, and there to wait for us. The English vessel fell rapidly astern, her hull disappeared, then her sails, and in the evening every trace of her smoke had faded from the horizon.
In the evening, the temperature grew gradually colder; that of the water underwent a more rapid and significant change. At twelve at night it was only three degrees centig. (about 37 degrees Fahr.). At that moment the vessel plunged into a bank of fog, the intensity of which we were enabled to ascertain, from the continuance of daylight in these latitudes at this time of the year. There are tokens that leave no room to doubt that we are approaching the solid ice. True enough:—at two o'clock in the morning the officer on watch sees close to the ship a herd of seals, inhabitants of the field ice. A few minutes later the fog clears up suddenly; a ray of sunshine gilds the surface of the sea; lighting up millions of patches of sparkling white, extending to the farthest limit of the horizon. These are the detached hummocks which precede and announce the field ice; they increase in size and in number as we proceed. At three o'clock in the afternoon we find ourselves in front of a large pack which blocks up the sea before us. We are obliged to change our course to extricate ourselves from the ice that surrounds us. This is an evolution requiring on the part of the commander the greatest precision of eye, and a perfect knowledge of his ship. The 'Reine Hortense,' going half speed, with all the officers and the crew on deck, glides along between the blocks of ice, some of which she seems almost to touch, and the smallest of which would sink her instantly if a collision took place. Another danger, which it is almost impossible to guard against, threatens a vessel in those trying moments. If a piece of ice gets under the screw, it will be inevitably smashed like glass, and the consequences of such an accident might be fatal.
The little English schooner follows us bravely; bounding in our track, and avoiding only by a constant watchfulness and incessant attention to the helm the icebergs that we have cleared.
But the difficulties of this navigation are nothing in clear weather, as compared to what they are in a fog. Then, notwithstanding the slowness of the speed, it requires as much luck as skill to avoid collisions. Thus it happened that after having escaped the ice a first time, and having steered E.N.E., we found ourselves suddenly, towards two o'clock of that same day (the 9th), not further than a quarter of a mile from the field ice which the fog had hidden from us. Generally speaking, the Banquise that we coasted along for three days, and that we traced with the greatest care for nearly a hundred leagues, presented to us an irregular line of margin, running from W.S.W. to E.N.E., and thrusting forward toward the south-capes and promontories of various sizes, and serrated like the teeth of a saw. Every time that we bore up for E.N.E., we soon found ourselves in one of the gulfs of ice formed by the indentations of the Banquise. It was only by steering to the S.W. that we got free from the floating icebergs, to resume our former course as soon as the sea was clear.
The further we advanced to the northward, the thicker became the fog and more intense the cold (two degrees centig, below zero); and snow whirled round in squalls of wind, and fell in large flakes on the deck. The ice began to present a new aspect, and to assume those fantastic and terrible forms and colours, which painters have made familiar to us. At one time it assumed the appearance of mountain-peaks covered with snow, furrowed with valleys of green and blue; more frequently they appeared like a wide flat plateau, as high as the ship's deck, against which the sea rolled with fury, hollowing its edges into gulfs, or breaking them into perpendicular cliffs or caverns, into which the sea rushed in clouds of foam.
We often passed close by a herd of seals, which-stretched on these floating islands, followed the ship with a stupid and puzzled look. We were forcibly struck with the contrast between the fictitious world in which we lived on board the ship, and the terrible realities of nature that surrounded us. Lounging in an elegant saloon, at the corner of a clear and sparkling fire, amidst a thousand objects of the arts and luxuries of home, we might have believed that we had not changed our residence, or our habits, or our enjoyments. One of Strauss's waltzes, or Schubert's melodies—played on the piano by the band-master—completed the illusion; and yet we had only to rub off the thin incrustation of frozen vapour that covered the panes of the windows, to look out upon the gigantic and terrible forms of the icebergs dashed against each other by a black and broken sea, and the whole panorama of Polar nature, its awful risks, and its sinister splendours.