Castaways in Spitsbergen
or the salutary effects of trust in God
TOURS: ALFRED MAME AND SON, PUBLISHERS 1873
When you unroll the map of European Russia in front of you, you see to the north, slanting a little towards the east, the province of Arkhangel, bounded by the White Sea and the North Sea, which is part of the frigid ocean.
The position of this country denotes that it belongs to the coldest regions of Europe, and that the land there must be not very fertile.
The winter there is long and rigorous; the shortest days there are only three hours long; extremely dark nights follow them; and it is hardly until the month of May that the rivers begin to get rid of the ice which has covered them since the month of September.
Without the help of the reindeer, a precious animal with which Providence has endowed these regions, the inhabitants would hardly find enough to live on for such a long winter: during the short summer they enjoy, abundant fishing and the sale of the skins of wild animals killed hunting are the country's greatest resource. It is therefore not surprising that with such unfavorable circumstances the population of this country, which has no less than 16,226 square miles (about 108,640 kilometers of France), amounts to only 266,000 souls, among which there are about 3,000 families of Lapps and Samoyedes.
The chief town of the province, which is also called Arkhangel or Saint-Michel, is situated in a low and marshy place, on the Dwina; there are 15,000 inhabitants; the city is built entirely of wood. It is the great warehouse of trade with Siberia, and its port, the second in the Russian Empire for the military navy, is frequented by a large number of Dutch, English and German vessels, attracted there by the fur trade. , shipbuilding metals and timber; it is also there that the ships which go whaling in Spitsbergen and Novaya-Zemlia (New Zembla) land.
It is also a considerable site for the construction and equipping of war and commercial vessels, and it is these circumstances together which explain how a rather considerable city could have been formed on such a barren coast, and how its inhabitants there find not only existence, but even wealth, while being obliged to bring from abroad even the grain which is used for their food.
Georges Ozaroff and his son Alexis.
It was in this city that lived, about forty years ago, an honest and pious merchant enjoying general esteem, and whose prudence and probity had led to a considerable fortune, the fruit of a very extended.
Georges Ozaroff, that was his name, had only one son, in whom he placed all his joy and all his hopes. This young man, tall, well made, of a robust constitution, further strengthened by the care his father and mother had taken to give him an education capable of putting him in a position to brave the bad weather of his native climate, announced the happiest dispositions.
His father had, moreover, made him study the various sciences which constitute a good merchant; for, although he was rich, and that, like so many others, he could have given his son a profession if not more honourable, perhaps more considered vulgar, Father Ozaroff wanted this son to succeed him in his business, enlarged it and made it prosper, as he himself had enlarged and made prosper the trading house which he had inherited from his father. These good and worthy parents took great care above all to inspire in their son the fear of God, love of neighbor and respect for the laws of his country.
Nephew Ivan (Jean).
Soon Alexis had a companion in the paternal household. Ozaroff had an only brother, who died leaving a son named Ivan, all the more to be pitied as the poor child had already lost his mother some time before.
Ozaroff transferred to the son the tender friendship he had had for his father. He wanted to be his benefactor, and took him into his house to have him brought up with Alexis. It wasn't just to get his nephew's recognition that he was doing this; it was much more to fulfill a work of piety and to obey the commandment of the Lord, who specially ordered us to take care of the widow and the orphan.
Ivan was a good boy, always in a good mood, setting to work with ardor, finishing it diligently, and showing in everything he did a skill which one would hardly have expected of a child of his age. But, once his task was accomplished, nothing could fix his light and thoughtless mind; he retained no lasting impression, and the most unfortunate events soon disappeared from his memory. The remonstrances often moved him to tears, because deep down he had a good heart, and he would never have deliberately committed wickedness; but this impression was soon dissipated, and our scatterbrain, of a risky and enterprising character, soon embarked on some new playfulness, without thinking in the slightest.
world with the unfortunate consequences that it could have for others or for himself, his boiling activity involved him in thoughtless steps which often brought him sorrows whose traces did not last more than the marks of sensitivity which had torn from him the admonitions of his parents. It must also be said that the amiable gaiety of his character disposed in his favor of too much indulgence, that his extreme facility for work left him great freedom, and that instead of remedying it by directing this restless and active towards useful objects that would have captivated him, people laughed at his tricks, excused his mischievousness. His fatal penchant for dissipation therefore only increased, and Alexis wasted no time in imitating it.
The story that we are about to read will show into what abyss of misery this levity, and the disobedience which followed it, precipitated these two young people.
Predilection for the navy.
Ozaroff, as we have seen, destined his son for commerce, and it was towards this end that he had constantly directed his education. Ivan was the object of the same care; but his taste made him prefer the port to his uncle's stores; the conversation of sailors was his greatest pleasure; he listened attentively to the account of their long and perilous voyages, the description of the seas they had sailed, the countries they had visited, the dangers to which they had been exposed. Often he went on board ships, had all the details explained to him, familiarized himself with the duties of a sailor, pilot, lieutenant and captain of a ship, and showed an irresistible inclination for long-distance voyages. Our thoughtless young man also tried to share with Alexis his predilection for the navy, and often and enthusiastically spoke to him about the manners and customs of foreign countries, the advantages that navigation brings: so much so that imperceptibly Alexis lost the desire to continue his father's business, and gave himself up to the same projects which the imagination of his adventurous cousin gave birth to. Such is the effect of example and persuasion with young people; they see things only from the bright side presented to them, become passionate and inflamed for them without taking into account the dangers or the difficulties, until the experience opens their eyes and brings them to to regret not having followed the advice of wise and prudent people; but too often then it is too late, and the evil is beyond remedy.
Father Ozaroff soon realized that his son no longer had any taste for commerce; he wanted to know what state his preferences led him to, and Alexis, who had no secrets from his father, opened his heart to him and confessed that he had no greater desire than to learn the science of navigation, in order to be able to undertake long journeys and visit the most distant regions. The father, in truth, was a little surprised at this declaration; but, like a man filled with prudence, he was careful not to oppose abruptly the accomplishment of his son's wishes. He confined himself to representing to him the innumerable dangers and the inconveniences of all kinds attached to the noble but perilous profession of seafarer, and he compared the life
peaceful and the advantages of the state in which he and his ancestors had managed to acquire, with honest ease, the esteem of their fellow citizens.
Unfortunately Alexis had lost his mother some time after his cousin entered the house; this loss had affected him painfully; he had wept deeply for this tender mother whose cares had filled him with gratitude; perhaps, if she had lived, he could not have resisted the sweet persuasion of her remonstrances, the influence of a mother is always very powerful over the mind of a well-born child; but, excited by Ivan, who had long since formally expressed his resolution to serve in the navy, Alexis remained deaf to paternal representations, and Ozaroff resolved to place the two young people in the naval cadet school at St. Petersburg. .
In this superb establishment young Russians learn all the details of nautical science; in addition to physical and political geography, mathematics, astronomy and naval architecture, mechanics, natural history and foreign languages are also taught. Ozaroff thought that this varied knowledge would always be very useful to his son even if he abandoned his project, and that besides, the only sons being sometimes treated with too great indulgence in the paternal house, he could only be advantageous for Alexis to pass some time among strangers, where the necessity of making a continual exchange of kindness and regard, of providing for his needs himself, of watching over his own conduct, would form him much better and more quickly. the character.
Ozaroff himself drove the two young men to St. Petersburg. It was their first trip of any importance, and the pleasure they felt from it only increased their desire to travel the world.
The capital offered them so many curious things that they could not tire of admiring them. The position of this city, built by the czar Peter the Great, at the beginning of the xvme century, on the banks of the Neva, which allowed the many vessels drawn there by its trade to rise opposite the imperial palace; the canals that cross it, animated by elegant boats driven by rowers whose soft and melancholy song invites you to daydream; the numerous palaces built of stone or brick, another entirely built of marble, greatly astonished our young people, who had only seen their poor wooden houses.
Under the guidance of Ozaroff, they visited in detail the many curiosities of the city, and, above all, the magnificent Admiralty Palace with its golden spire, which can be seen from all points of Saint Petersburg, and its vast warehouses, its shipyards, from which are launched, almost under the windows of the Emperor, ships of high quality; the church of Kasan, built on the plan of Saint Peter's in Rome; the Hermitage Palace, favorite residence of Catherine II, in one of the rooms of which they were shown the most precious collection of diamonds that exists, the imperial crown, the scepter, etc., and among others a diamond of the size of a pigeon's egg. In other rooms of the same palace, they admired a superb collection of medals, and the personal library of the emperor; then the magnificent summer garden and its gate, which is a masterpiece; Isaac's Church with its one-piece granite columns, sixteen meters 90 c. in height and one meter 45 c. of diameter ; the bronze statue of Peter the Great, whose pedestal is a huge rock bench. They also visited the Gostinoidvor, an immense two-storey bazaar, where each kind of trade occupies a street; the fortress where the various currencies of gold, silver and paper are made; the church of Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul, where are the superb mausoleums of Peter the Great and Catherine; it is also in this church that the military trophies conquered by the Russians are suspended, and which did not find a place in the church of Kasan.
Leaving the fortress, they took a boat which took them opposite the summer garden, on the right bank of the Neva; there, surrounded by a wall at breast height, is a small wooden house similar to the isba (hut) of a poor peasant, which Pierre built himself in 1703, when the square where today develops majestically the winter palace was but a barren, marshy moor. From there he watched the progress of his new city. In the courtyard of this same house is a small boat, also the work of the great man's own hands. Reviewing the stock exchange, the palace of the ruling senate, the barracks of the imperial guard, they went by the magnificent English quay, a work worthy of ancient Rome, to the Academy of Sciences and Arts, where a whole day barely enough for them to see superficially the immense riches contained in the cabinets of natural history and the arts. All these marvels enchanted our young people so much that they soon forgot their native town, and with the lightness and carelessness natural to their age, they thought only of enjoying what they had in front of them. .
Stay at the Cadet Corps.
The farewells of good father Ozaroff, when Alexis and Ivan entered the school of the Cadets, drew tears from all those who witnessed it; he exhorted his son and his nephew to fulfill their duties exactly, and he recommended to them above all the fear of God and piety.
“The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God,” he told them; whatever knowledge you may acquire here by your assiduity at work, they will have value only by the religious and moral application that you will be able to make of it. Wisdom dwells only in pure souls, and you will only be truly esteemed so long as piety and virtue direct your actions. To be skilful and learned is of no use if the fear of God and the love of his law are not joined to it; Separated from these two virtues, intelligence and knowledge are more harmful than useful: they resemble a sharp knife in the hand of a child. So watch over your thoughts and your actions, in order to keep the purity of your heart. Have God constantly before your eyes; keep his commandments, and his blessing will come down upon you. »
The two young men burst into tears at these words; they received the father's benediction with respect, and promised him from the bottom of their hearts always to remember his wise lessons.
Ozaroff again exhorted Ivan in particular to tame his natural levity, to occupy himself only with useful things, so as not to fall into faults which would lead him to his downfall. He recommended that they always help each other mutually; then, with a heavy heart, he took leave of them, placing them under the protection of God.
Ivan devoted himself with ardor to the study of the sciences which were to make him skilled in the profession he wanted to embrace, and, although this ardor cooled a little afterwards, as usually happens to young people of his character, nevertheless his happy disposition caused that by working mediocre he always distinguished himself among his fellow-students, who loved him none the less because of his good qualities. His mischievousness still played tricks on him; but his comrades forgave him with a good heart, and his professors themselves did not punish him severely, because they saw nothing but thoughtlessness, and because in all other respects he was a distinguished pupil. Ivan therefore enjoyed himself very much at the Cadet school, where time passed pleasantly among young people who were all his friends.
Alexis was not making the rapid progress that distinguished Ivan; but, as he was very industrious and of good character, he was generally esteemed.
Remarkable talents and quick wit usually assure those who are gifted with them a great influence over their fellows, and especially among young people who are easily seduced; so Alexis soon became quite dependent on his cousin; involuntarily and almost without realizing it, Ivan's will became his own, and he grew accustomed to allowing himself to be entirely directed by him. Although the latter, as a result of his natural goodness, never abused it, his thoughtlessness and lightness were not without disadvantages for his cousin, accustomed to behaving according to Ivan's inspirations, without consider the consequences. This is the place to note how important it is for young people to make a judicious choice in their relationships; the flexibility of character and the ardor of imitation which are natural to her often expose her to great danger when she finds herself in contact with other young people who are not very thoughtful, or whose principles of virtue are not well established. .
Alexis and Ivan, during a stay of three years at the Cadet School, acquired sufficiently extensive knowledge in nautical science to be able to be placed with advantage near an experienced captain, and thus increase by practice the knowledge they already possessed: armed with honorable certificates issued to them by the directors of the school, they returned to Arkhangel.
It was a great joy for Ozaroff to be able to hug his son again, who had become a tall and handsome young man, whose mind was adorned with useful and varied knowledge. He was also satisfied with Ivan, whose successes were a sweet reward for the care he had taken in his education. The two young people, for their part, were very happy to see again, one his dear father, the other his uncle and his benefactor. Ozaroff urged our young people to take a few weeks of relaxation, and they had earned them well by the painful work to which they had had to devote themselves in order to pass with advantage the last examinations with which a course of advanced studies ends.
During this time of rest, Alexis and Ivan spent a few hours each day in port and on board ships; they always found there the diversity of the nations which land at Arkhangel, and whose vessels offer numerous differences, either in the interior arrangement, or in the regime of the crew, or still in the chartering. But the English ships were by preference the object of the observations of our two young men: the beauty and the solidity of the construction of the ships of this nation, the speed of their progress, the order and the regularity which reign on board, the skill of their sailors all combined to attract the attention of Alexis and Ivan; also it is not surprising that the desire came to them to begin in the maritime career by a voyage on an English vessel.
Ivan had the hope of soon being sent to a Russian vessel; but it was necessary to wait until there was one equipped. For Alexis, his father would have preferred to see him use the knowledge he had acquired in his business; he was sorry to see him persist in his desire to be a sailor. Sometimes the young man seemed to waver in his resolution and nearly yield to paternal remonstrances; but soon Ivan regained all his influence over him. We shall see later whether he would not have done much better to follow the advice of his father than that of a frivolous and improvident friend.
Voyage of discovery in the polar regions.
In the meantime, the two young people made the acquaintance of an English captain whose ship was at anchor; he was a distinguished sailor who had already sailed on almost all the seas and made interesting discoveries. His ship, solidly built, was moreover well provided with all that is necessary for a voyage to the polar regions.
Deep darkness still reigned over the seas and the lands covered with ice which border on the North Pole. The northern limits of Asia and America were not exactly known, and are still not known, and the attention of scholars was fixed on the question whether a vast country lay around the pole, which to the west would touch North America, and to the east New Siberia, or else if America were totally separated from this region. It was believed that in certain seasons the arctic seas were sufficiently cleared of the ice which covered them to enable one to approach the pole, and an effort was made to discover a passage which by the northwest would lead from the Atlantic sea into the Pacific Sea, or alternatively a navigable sea around northern Asia by the Bering Sea.
The solution of these problems is so important, as well for science as for navigation, that the English government promised the first ship which should arrive by this route in the Pacific Sea a price of 20,000 pounds sterling (500,000 fr.), and 5,000 pounds sterling (125,000 fr.), to anyone who reaches or passes the North Pole.
Since that time navigators of all nations have attempted this passage in vain, the goal
not been arrested; however it results from the last expeditions that, if this passage exists, the ice will always make it impracticable.
Excited by the lure of the magnificent reward of which we have just spoken, the English captain had resolved to attempt the enterprise: he often spoke of it with our two young men. He was a man of an affable character, learned and experienced; nothing more was needed to win him the esteem and attachment of Alexis, and especially of Ivan; so they resolved to make this journey with him. They seized a favorable opportunity to inform him of their project, and were all the more welcome as the captain found in them men capable of assisting him in his nautical operations and in keeping his logbook, at the same time as brave and devoted companions who on occasion would be entirely dependent on him.
One thing hindered them in the execution of their project: Ozaroff's consent was indispensable, and he had just gone on a long journey relating to his business; however, time was pressing, for the English captain was only waiting for a favorable wind to set sail. Also, as he was very anxious not to go out without his two friends, especially without Ivan, whose bold, enterprising character, courage and skill promised him great advantages, he neglected nothing to urge them not to wait for the return. or Father Ozaroff's response. See what selfishness and self-interest can do in a man who is otherwise amiable, learned, and well-bred; he does not blush to employ all the influence he can use to engage two young people barely out of childhood in a culpable step; he urges them to disrespect their father, their benefactor, by disdaining his respectable will, he tells them that the journey will hardly last three months; that not only will they have the glory of attaching their name to a glorious enterprise which cannot fail to succeed, but that it will give them a large share in the reward promised by the English government. And what will then be the satisfaction of Ozaroff! she will compensate him well for the slight pain they wanted to cause him.
It didn't take much to seduce Ivan; so his party was soon taken. Alexix still hesitated; his conscience told him that he was hurting, that it was repaying his father's care and tenderness with very black ingratitude, to undertake thus without authorization a step of this importance: but the cajolings of Ivan and of the captain easily triumphed over his scruples, the habit of following his cousin's impulse in everything was the strongest, and here are our two dazed people who blindly give themselves up to a foreign intriguer; they leave after leaving a letter for Ozaroff in which they do not fail to detail all the specious reasons that the astute captain suggests to them: they tell their father that they did not want to miss the opportunity to make the first not in the career under such a distinguished sailor as the commander of the Juno. They would have liked to obtain permission from Ozaroff; but the wind waits for no one, and besides they must be back in a very short time. Anyway, off they go. God grant they don't have
not soon to repent of their inconsiderate step!
Beginning of the journey.
The anchor is lifted; a fresh wind swells the sails, pushes the ship out to sea, and soon our two adventurers have only the vast sea before their eyes, and for horizon only a cloudless sky. It was not without some emotion that they bade farewell to their native land; however, the novelty of their abode, the various objects they encountered on board, the ordinary disorder which accompanies the first moments of navigation, all this together gave them some distractions and diverted their thoughts from what they had just left. It was also the moment to put into practice the lessons they had received in the corps of cadets.
The crew, composed of thirty-four strong and determined sailors, was a model of discipline; the most meticulous order and cleanliness reigned on board; every command was carried out with promptness and intelligence. For his part, the captain did not spare himself, and displayed all the prudence and activity with which he was endowed: good, but severe, he treated his subordinates with justice, and took care with solicitude of their food and the care necessary for their health; but he demanded that they fulfill their duties punctually, from his second to the last ship's boy; and, as all his people were full of confidence in his seamanship, there never arose the faintest murmur.
Treating our young people with benevolence, he neglected nothing to perfect their maritime education; he explained to them what they did not understand well, exercised them in the tracing of maps and in astronomical tracings, so necessary to navigators; displaying the underwater charts before them, he showed them the various pitfalls he had encountered in his numerous voyages, and the means he had employed to avoid or surmount them; moreover, he had compelled them to fulfill successively all the functions of sailors, from that of ship's boy to that of captain: in a word, he seemed to want, by the care he took in their education, to compensate them as much as possible of the wrong he had done them by involving them in this risky enterprise without the consent of Father Ozaroff.
The thought that her father would not approve of her trip worried Alexis; he reproached himself for not having waited for the return of this good father, or at least for a letter which would let him know his intentions; for he loved her tenderly, and the idea of having displeased her deeply saddened him. He often said to himself that a voyage undertaken under such auspices could not have a happy success, and he cursed the weakness with which he had allowed himself to be carried away.
These correct but belated reflections were the voice of conscience, that austere judge which God, in his goodness, has placed within us to show us the straight path. An inflexible judge whose opinions we may well ignore for a moment, but from whom it is impossible for us to escape, it is she who presents to us as in a mirror the bad deeds we have committed, who reproaches us for them and gives birth in us remorse and shame. Happy is he who knows how to hear this stern but friendly voice, and who does not seek to stifle it! that one may make mistakes; but repentance, and consequently forgiveness, will not be refused him.
It is conceivable that such reflections must have greatly diminished the pleasure that Alexis promised himself to derive from his journey: it is because there is no real satisfaction when the conscience is not at peace.
Ivan, on his side, was not ungrateful enough to have completely lost the memory of Ozaroff's kindness; he too made the same reproaches as Alexis, and sometimes tears came to his eyes; but soon his fickle mind was directed towards other thoughts, as the slightest wind dissipates in the distance the light clouds which darken the sun for a moment.
The finest weather favoring our navigators, the vessel arrived without accident at Novaya-Zemlia (New Earth). This country, which should not be confused with the island of Newfoundland, located at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, depends on the government of Arkhangel, and has an area of four thousand two hundred and fifty-five miles squares (about one thousand four hundred and twenty leagues of France): it consists of two large islands in the Glacial Sea; separated from the continent by the Strait of Waigatz, and from each other by that of Mataschneï, these islands, sterile and uninhabitable, are visited, during a summer of about three months, only by the Russians who come to hunt there. white foxes, polar bears, sea calves and swans. The ground is almost always covered with snow, under which there is only moss and a little grass. For three months of the year, the sun does not rise for these frightful countries, whose thick darkness is dissipated from time to time only by the aurora borealis; the cold numbs everything. By a kind of compensation, the day also lasts three months during the summer.
Until now, only the coasts of these islands are known, for no one would venture to penetrate into the interior of this frightful country; the northern part is covered with high mountains; the southern coast, the least sterile, offers rivers full of fish, game and birds in large quantities.
Let's leave Alexis and Ivan for a moment, and see what Ozaroff thinks of their escapade. To the lala lala
receipt of the letter of which we have spoken, this good father had hastened to resume the road to Ar khangel, hoping by his speeches and his representations to divert the young people from their project, at least Alexis, whom he desired more than never put at the head of his trade. As for Ivan, he had made his intentions known too long for his uncle to hope to make him change his mind, and moreover he did not want to use severity in this circumstance, since an irresistible vocation was leading this young man towards the navy. .
But his astonishment was great when, arriving home, he found the letter announcing the departure of his son, a departure to which he had firmly decided not to consent. He well understood that Alexis had yielded to the seduction; but, although he knew all the influence of Ivan on his cou-
However, he nevertheless accused the captain of the determination his son had taken, which did not give him a favorable opinion of this officer, and made him fear that the two young men had fallen into the wrong hands. However, the evil was without remedy, and this poor father had no other resource than to ask God, in his daily prayer, to have pity on two fools, and not to punish them with all the rigor with which he threatened those who break the fourth commandment: “Your father and mother shall honor. Divine justice was not to be swayed.
Continuation of the trip.
While Ozaroff was grieving over the disobedience of his son and his nephew, the vessel which carried them continued on its way, and penetrated still further into the icy sea, which, in the months of June and July, no longer deserves this name, because, the sun at this time no longer leaving the horizon, the heat becomes excessive. Our young sailors were delighted to see for themselves this phenomenon, the existence and cause of which their studies had revealed to them. They were not unaware, in fact, that in the polar regions, around the time of the summer solstice, the day lasts two months and more, just as at the winter solstice a dark night envelops this part of the earth. , which comes from the fact that the length of the day over the whole surface of the globe being in proportion to the distance one is from the equator, the further one moves away from it, on one side or the other, the longer the day in summer, the longer the nights in winter; and this reciprocal length is therefore much greater at the pole, which is the farthest point.
The captain had provided himself at Arkhangel with a pilot from these countries: he was an experienced sailor, more versed in practice than in theory, but who was, by his long experience, very skilful in his trade. His quality as a compatriot brought him closer to Alexis and Ivan, who made a friend of him, and profited greatly from the lessons of his old experience.
Meanwhile the sun was beginning to set on the horizon; the captain recognized that because of the approach of winter it would be impossible for him to reach the goal of his voyage; he therefore thought of returning to Archangel, or seeking a safe port where he could pass the winter on his ship. When he communicated his resolution to the pilot, who had already made this navigation several times, the latter was of the opinion that there was no time to lose in executing it, because of the furious storms which prevail. in these parts at the approach of the winter season.
What the pilot feared was not long in coming. A terrible hurricane rose from the southeast, pushing the ship still further. In vain they took the greatest promptness to furl the sails, the wind seized the ship like a toy, and broke part of its mast; sometimes he was lifted to an immense height on the backs of foaming waves; sometimes a terrible chasm opened up beneath him, and it seemed as if he were about to touch the bottom of the abyss. The sky was covered with clouds, and the darkest night enveloped almost without interruption all this irritated sea. The crew made the greatest efforts to fight the storm, but in vain; soon Juno, distraught, was in no condition to sail on those unknown seas, where one had to fear at any moment to be thrown against reefs, or carried to the coast and broken against the rocks of ice which surround this inhospitable land. Not a star to serve as a guide, and barely two or three hours of daylight, which it was impossible even to take advantage of, because the wind, having come to change, was blowing with the same fury and had brought an icy cold which forced everything the world to desert the deck, and to take refuge in the cabin and even in the hold, to await there in the midst of anguish the end of this frightful storm.
Alexis and Ivan, seated in a corner of the cabin, were paralyzed with fear: this storm was so terrible! In vain they tried to read the impassive features of the captain, in vain their eyes asked him if there was still any hope of salvation, he remained silent and gloomy. Every moment the danger increased, and the storm had already lasted three days.
with the same fury. Our young people looked upon the danger to which they were exposed as a just punishment for their disobedience and for the grief they had caused Ozaroff: repentance entered their hearts; But it was too late.
" Oh ! why, said Alexis, why have we forgotten our duties! it is for having undertaken this journey without my father's permission that God exposes us to such dangers, dangers in which we may perish. Oh ! what would be the despair of my poor father if he knew our position! And if we perish here, he will always ignore both our fate and our repentance. »
Ivan also reproached himself bitterly; he felt with what ingratitude he had paid for his uncle's kindness, not only by leaving him thus without his permission, but above all by engaging his son to imitate him; he accused himself of the murder of Alexis, and he acknowledged that it was his frivolous and inconsiderate conduct which had kindled against them the celestial wrath. The captain easily guessed what was going on in the souls of his young companions, and it is possible that on his side he also had to suffer the reproaches of his conscience.
They were distracted from these dark thoughts by a shock so violent, they thought the ship was shattered into a thousand pieces. Everyone turned pale with terror, and the captain cried out, "God help us!" for if he does not assist us, we shall all perish. It was then that the remorse of Ivan and Alexis redoubled; they hardly dared to invoke divine mercy; however their piety was awakened, they knelt down and fervently prayed to the Lord to forgive them, to have mercy on them and to save them from such great danger.
A profound darkness reigned in the interior of the building; it was impossible to open either cowl or port, because that would have given entry to the furious waves which rushed upon the vessel, and exposed oneself to being immediately submerged. The whistling of the wind, the roar of the waves, the thickness of the darkness, all contributed to increasing the fright of the crew, who were only awaiting the death blow.
The vessel enters the ice.
The violent blows which resounded against the sides of the ship made the captain conjecture that they came from enormous icicles thrown by the waves on the building, and he feared with good reason that it had been broken.
Just as he was communicating his doubts to the pilot, a second shock even more violent than the first made them both lose their balance and knocked them over on top of each other. The Juno rose to a prodigious height, then fell again with a horrible creak, as if its whole frame were going to come apart; then, tottering on itself, it made another movement forward, and finally remained motionless, while the tempest continued its terrible roar, and while the waves were still pushing enormous icicles against one of the sides of the ship.
Everyone then lost their heads, except the captain and the pilot; everyone was convinced that we had given up against a rock and that we were going to sink. The captain feared him too; but his prudence and coolness did not abandon him, and he resolved to do all he could to extricate himself from this desperate position.
Accompanied by the pilot, he rushed into the hold to make sure if the keel had been damaged, and if the ship was not leaking; they found, to their great satisfaction, that all this part was intact, and, having noticed that the waves struck with less violence, they thought that the storm was appeased. So they ventured to climb on deck, and saw the starry sky above them. The storm had ceased, only the sea was still very rough.
By the light of the stars, the two sailors convinced themselves that the ship had not struck a reef, but that it was engaged on an enormous mass of ice which rose from the bottom of the sea; that a vast sheet of the same ice, which was lost in the darkness of the night, touched it on one side, while on the other the sea still remained open, but constantly brought large ice cubes against the ship.
When the captain came down to announce to the crew the situation in which they were, all, understanding their hopeless position, fell into deep consternation. The vessel, anchored in the ice, became more encumbered every moment; the storm had broken the masts and torn the sails; it was impossible to get out to sea, and even if we had succeeded, the same obstacles would soon have formed again around the vessel. We were, moreover, in a completely uninhabitable region: the maps indicated the proximity of Spitsbergen, where in this season the day lasts only a few hours; the cold increased and was very noticeable: everything combined to throw despair into the souls of the sailors. Some regretted that the vessel had not sunk immediately, which would have delivered them by a prompt death from the evils they foresaw; others, as desperate perhaps, but more religious, raised their hands to heaven, and tried to obtain from them courage and a ray of hope.
The captain was one of the latter. Although he had committed a bad action by inviting Alexis and Ivan to follow him without having obtained the consent of Ozaroff, nevertheless this man, whom we know endowed with good qualities, had not lost all religious principle; he recognized the fault he had committed; but he also placed his trust in the infinite goodness of the Lord, who does not want the death of the culprit, but his conversion. This confidence in the divine mercy revived his strength and his courage, and he began to reflect on the means to be employed to save his crew and extricate himself and his family from this dreadful position.
It is thus that religion sustains the courage of the pious man in misfortune; he knows that the destiny of men is in the hand of the Almighty, that not even a hair falls from their head without his permission, and that he never abandons those who put all their trust in him.
Alexis and Ivan, brought up from childhood in the fear of God, shared these dispositions; so the captain addressed himself first to them: he told them in confidence that with God's help there was still a way out of this bad situation. This declaration having given them a courage superior to their age, the captain saw that he would have in them helpers on whom he could surely count in all that he would undertake for the common safety.
Discouragement and presence of mind.
The crew, for their part, gave way to a deep despondency which paralyzed their strength. These men were further exhausted by fatigue and lack of food and sleep; that is why, the sea being calmer and there being nothing to fear for the moment, the captain had a good meal prepared, distributed to each man a double ration of brandy, and urged them to leave them to rest while he thinks of a way to get them out of trouble.
The day was beginning to dawn; the captain, armed with a spyglass, tried to find out if they
were not in the vicinity of one of those islands recently discovered by the navigators who had preceded him in this perilous enterprise, and where they had been forced to pass the winter amidst all sorts of fatigues and privations.
The ship being undamaged in its principal parts, the captain decided to imitate his predecessors; he thought he had enough provisions to support his people during the whole winter. When the darkness of the night was entirely dissipated, he thought he saw in the distance peaks of rocks which are easily distinguished from mountains of ice; his heart was filled with hope, and, having thanked God, he hastened to tell the pilot of his discovery. This one having recognized the correctness of the conjectures of the captain about the probable vicinity of an island or a continent, they resolved to send some men of the crew to look if they would not find remains of habitation. or some cave where they could shelter to pass the winter.
The captain, therefore, having assembled his men, somewhat restored by food and sleep, made this speech to them: “You all understand as well as I in what difficult position we find ourselves; but yet she is not as desperate as some of you believe. As for me, I will neglect nothing for our deliverance; but I need you to help me also on your side, and I demand unlimited obedience. We are here reduced to our only forces and separated from the whole world; but we have for our help the Almighty, who will not forsake us if we put our trust in him, and if we do not yield to weakness and discouragement.
I have every reason to presume that not far from here we will find an island where we can pass the winter; we have enough food left on the ship to wait for the good season, if we know how to spare it and impose the necessary privations on ourselves; and when the winter is over, we will surely find a way out of here. I am therefore going to send to discovery, and during this time I trust that you will await with patience and resignation the result of what I am about to attempt for our common salvation. »
The sailors, completely devoted to the captain, promised him wholeheartedly the obedience he demanded in their interest; they regained their confidence, and hoped that he would extricate them from the difficult step in which they found themselves engaged. Alexis and Ivan shared this confidence; but they had, more than the others, a reason for being calm: it was that they had placed their destiny in the hands of God, and that makes them strong against all perils. Also, when the pilot had explained the necessity of going to the discovery of the island where they intended to spend the winter, he thought that the best and surest companions he could enlist for this expedition through the ice were our two young men, on whose obedience, courage and devotion he could count. For their part, Alexis and Ivan wholeheartedly accepted this perilous mission; neither the risks they had to run climbing hills, crossing icy plains, nor fatigue nor the cold could balance in their eyes the advantage of being useful to their companions in misfortune: it was elsewhere a work of piety that they were going to accomplish, and they had a presentiment that God would deign to guide them in their enterprise and cover them with his protection. It is thus that the religious man is always ready to brave the greatest dangers when it is necessary, because he has the care and the habit of placing himself under the guard of Him who can do everything; which doubles both his strength and his courage.
Departure for the island.
The captain was very pleased with the resolution of his young friends, and augured well for the success of their voyage; he therefore had everything necessary prepared. The three travellers, warmly dressed and having fitted their shoes with iron spikes so as not to slip on the ice, each provided themselves with a good fur coat and a metal stick: they also armed themselves with a gun, with a sabre, hung an ax in their belt, and took a good supply of powder and balls: not that they had to fear enemies of their kind; but they might have to defend themselves against the polar bears, which are very ferocious and very numerous in these parts. They were given biscuits, salted meat for three days, and a bottle of brandy as well. Finally they added to all this a spyglass and several resin torches.
It was agreed with the captain that as soon as they reached the island they would light a big fire on the point of a rock, and that from the ship they would be answered by a similar signal. In the event that the place would be propitious for staying there in the winter, or if at least they found some habitable cave, they were to send off three rockets which were given to them for this purpose; according to this advice, the captain would immediately send some men to them with provisions, and would take steps to have the cargo transported.
Thus equipped, and after making a fervent prayer, Alexis and Ivan, under the guidance of the pilot, set out five hours before daybreak. The air was calm; the moon, in its first quarter, lighted up their progress, which was also favored by the light of the stars, so brilliant in these regions. The cold was bitter, and they were obliged to hasten their pace.
After a march of four hours in the midst of the greatest fatigue, having to cross, without any other guide than the stars, plains of ice filled with inequalities: obliged to make long detours to avoid the ponds which were not frozen; constantly on their guard for fear of polar bears, and walking as close as possible to each other in order to help each other mutually, our three travelers saw at dawn a blackish mass of rocks, and soon they reached the island, which they had not thought so far from the ship, because they did not suspect the difficulties of the way.
The joy of Alexis and Ivan was so great that they threw themselves on their knees, kissed the earth and fervently thanked Providence for having made them find this refuge, where they believed they had found the end of their sufferings... They did not foresee what evils awaited them there.
What was this country in the midst of which they thus found themselves thrown? Covered with ice and snow, without a tree or a bush to rest the view, showing only here and there some remains of shipwrecks thrown up by the waves; an awful climate; as far as the eye can see, a deserted plain, cut by masses of bare rocks; not a living being, everything was dead around them; they did not even hear the sad caw of the crow, which still animates our snow-covered fields. Nature showed only scenes of destruction. However, in the midst of these horrible scenes, they still felt lucky to be on solid ground, while their companions were exposed to so many dangers on the ship.
They advanced into the interior to reconnoiter the country and find a place where they could make a fire, rest, and restore their strength with some food.
After taking a little rest, the pilot, who, as we have said, had already traveled several times in these parts, told them (and in this he was just presuming) that he supposed that the place where they were was a portion of Spitsbergen. As our travelers will make a long stay in the country, we think it useful to give some details on these countries.
Spitsbergen, which consists of one large island and a host of other smaller islands, is the northernmost country in the Northern Hemisphere. We look at it as part of America. The Englishman Willoughby discovered it in 1553. It is located between the 25e and the 45e degree of longitude, the 77th and the 82nde of latitude.
This group of islands is called Spitsbergen (sharp mountains), because it is filled with mountains and rocks continuously covered with ice and snow. For ten months the earth there is frozen several feet deep, and in some parts the ground consists only of ice which never melts, and which is covered only with a few inches of earth, moss and plants. climbers; you can hardly see any other vegetation. During the summer, the heat is unbearable.
Of all the animals useful to man, there is only the reindeer in these desert countries, which feeds during the summer on the grass which grows in small quantities in the valleys sheltered from the north winds and east, and which the moss replaces during the winter. The sea which surrounds these islands is the greater part of the year covered with thick ice, so that the islands appear surrounded by immense fields of this concretion, in the midst of which rise, at intervals, huge mountains also of ice.
In summer, when the sea is open, it is full of fish, and the polar bears, wolves and foxes, which roam on the banks, find sufficient food there. In winter, they advance farther into the country, and become very dangerous. There are also sea cows, sea dogs, whales and sharks that keep close to the coasts, where they find in this abundance of fish their pasture during the milder season. We also meet there, but in small numbers, halcyons and kingfishers; they are the only inhabitants of the air that are noticed there. Men cannot and do not want to inhabit this horrible country. There come, however, every year vessels from Russia and other nations for the whaling; these vessels anchor near Scherembourg, located under the 80e degree of latitude, and stop there for a few weeks during the summer.
Although the description of this island that the pilot gave to the two young people was not of a nature to reassure them, their courage was nevertheless revived when he told them that already several times sailors whose vessel had been locked up and stopped by the ice had lived a whole year on Spitsbergen; that having brought provisions from their wrecked ship, they had established their habitation in cavities of rocks, and waited patiently for the renewal of the season, at which time they had been picked up and rescued by whaling ships.
He told them, among other things, the story of a Dutchman named Herniskerk, and of the Dane Monke, who, in such a case, having been sent to reconnoitre the country, and on their return having found neither companions nor vessels , because they had been thrown back into the open sea by the storm, were also condemned to endure the bitter climate of Spitsbergen, and suffered great privations before being delivered from this dreadful stay by a ship which dropped on this coast .
Our three travelers formed only one wish, that of being in the vicinity which
were visited in the summer by whalers: they thought they would find some huts, some useful objects to spend the winter there, and hoped that the return of summer would end their troubles, because the pilot knew that every year a Arkhangel's ship was coming to Scherembourg to look for the Russians who might have been arrested there
the previous year.
The confidence that Alexis and Ivan had in divine providence strengthened them in the consoling thought that they would not succumb to the insults of winter in this sad sojourn, since other navigators had already passed happily there that season. They therefore resigned themselves to their fate, and expected better from the future.
Their meal being finished, they took a little brandy and continued their course. Everyone takes a few pieces of wood, to be able to light the fire again when they have found another resting place.
Their first care was then to give the captain the signal which was to inform him that they had arrived safe and sound on the island. But these rocks which presented themselves to their eyes were high, rapid, and partly covered with ice, so that it was impossible to climb them.
Finally they reached a ravine. They made their way through. The tops of the rocks were still lit by the sun; but only a faint light reached them, for the sun was very low on the horizon. The ground they were walking on had the appearance of a crust of ice, and the pilot assumed there was a stream below. He presumed that if the whalers had built huts in these parts, they must be in the vicinity of this stream, because to cut up and prepare whales they needed running water. They continued to walk along this ravine, which continued to rise; but the rocks were so steep that to climb them they risked their lives every moment.
They were burning with desire to give their companions in misfortune who remained on the vessel the signal of their happy arrival on the island; but they could not yet reach a place high enough to see from there the light of their fire.
Soon they saw the ravine widening, the masses of rock rising in terraces. They advanced at a faster pace. Ivan, who walked first, discovered a few fathoms above the ground the entrance to a cave, and the three companions immediately decided to go and visit it. They helped each other to climb, and they fortunately reached the entrance, in front of which the rock formed a platform several feet wide. Ivan wanted to enter the cave immediately; but the prudent pilot detained him, pointing out to him that, as this cavern could be the lair of a white bear or some other ferocious animal, it was necessary to protect oneself from it. So he fired a gunshot into the cavern, which produced a noise like thunder repeated by many echoes. As, after the blow, all remained quiet and no animal appeared, they ventured to penetrate, through a very low opening, into the interior, and they were pleasantly surprised to see that the cavern was spacious enough to receive the three companions and several others besides, and to give them an asylum and a shelter against the insults of the season. It extended a few fathoms into the interior of the rock, the walls were smooth and dry, and it could be enlarged by the combined efforts of the crew. The bottom was almost everywhere smooth and covered with fine gray sand.
“God is with us,” exclaimed Alexis, “he has taken us under his special protection; we have found
what we were looking for, and all our traveling companions will be able to spend the winter here. We will still be able to place in these places all the effects that we will bring from the ship. God be praised! How many thanks we owe him for the gift he gave us of this cave!
The three sailors took off their caps, knelt down, and, raising their eyes to heaven, they made their prayer of thanksgiving with emotion.
'Now,' said the pilot, 'it only remains for us to inform our companions of our discovery; let's try if we couldn't climb to the top of this rock where we found a retreat. »
They came out of the cave, examined the rock from above the platform, and discovered a passage by which they could reach the top. With infinite difficulty and supporting each other, they succeeded in reaching the top of the rock which towered above all the others, and which presented a flat surface of some extent. Daylight still shone on them; but the sight which presented itself to their eyes greatly diminished the joy which the discovery of the cave had caused them; all they saw around them were savage rocks heaped one on top of the other, presenting the sad aspect of a city destroyed by a violent earthquake. Everything that met their eyes was deserted and horrible. Turning towards the sea, they saw only the vast field of ice which they had just crossed with so much difficulty. In the interior of the country, they saw only immense steppes covered with snow, where no tree grew, no living being animated, and this plain was also bounded by rocks? The only consoling object they saw was the ship, which they distinctly recognized with the help of their spyglass; for it was not far, in a straight line, more than about two miles. They instantly set fire to the wood they had brought up to there; the day was on its decline. Soon afterwards they saw near the vessel a great fire kindled in answer to their signal, and the pilot launched at intervals the three rockets, to which were answered from the vessel by an equal number of shots.
Now that they had the certainty that their signals had been seen by their companions, they no longer doubted that some of them would come to join them by order of the captain. A sweet hope entered their souls darkened by the sad spectacle before their eyes, and they prayed to God in silence, so that he would also grant their companions a happy crossing.
The first night on the island.
By the light of the torches, they descended again, not without danger, into the cavern where they had decided in advance to spend the night. Since leaving the ship, they had suffered a great deal from the cold. There was no wind, it is true; but the air was crisp and pungent.
However, at the beginning of the night a thick fog enveloped the whole horizon, the atmosphere became soft and humid. The snow was giving way under their feet, and it looked like the thaw was near. Before arriving at the cave, they heard a dull rustling in the distance, and the pilot predicted from all these symptoms that the weather was about to change, which caused him great anxiety. He knew from experience that in these northern regions the storms which reign with fury at the end of the summer are frequently renewed after the winter has already covered everything with snow and ice. Usually they are announced by the thaw. The sky is covered with clouds, a thick fog spreads over the whole earth, and soon resolves into heavy rain followed by snow, which lasts until the violence of the wind disperses the clouds. But, when the sky clears, there is again a terrible cold.
As soon as they entered the cave, the three unfortunate sailors lit a big fire in the opening to ward off the ferocious beasts. They supped with biscuits and salted meat, and, after thanking God for having so visibly protected them in their enterprise, they tried to find rest. They hoped to see the next day those of their companions whom the captain had sent to join them. Alexis and Ivan, tired from their painful walk, fell asleep in this sweet hope.
The pilot dared not indulge in such thoughts. He dreaded the storm and bad weather, which could ruin those the captain had sent, and the ship itself. He had not communicated his fears to the two young people, so as not to alter their satisfaction, and moreover such communication would have been of no use, since their united forces would not have been sufficient to avert this misfortune.
The benevolent man respects the peace of mind of his neighbour, and strives to keep away anything that could disturb him. He often conceals his sorrows and fears in his heart so as not to sadden others. Only when he can warn them of misfortune, does he do so in time, so they can drive him away, or at least struggle with him.
For a long time sleep deserted the eyelids of the pilot overwhelmed with worries. A terrible rustling sounded in his ears. The gusts pushed the smoke inside the cave in such a way as to cut off his breath.
What he feared had happened. He woke up the two young people. They advanced to the entrance of the cave. The embers were scattered, the sky covered with dark clouds; the wind blew with fury, and drove the rain and snow against the opening of the cave, and in the distance one heard the terrible crash of the icicles and the crash of the waves.
All this icy nature now seemed in revolution.
"Thank God," said Alexis, "we find ourselves in the shelter: if this weather had surprised us on the way, what would have become of us?"
"It is true, God has been propitious to us," replied Ivan, leading us into this cave, where we can calmly wait for the storm to pass. But what are our companions on the ship, or those the captain may have sent to the island, going to do in the midst of this terrible storm? May the good Lord protect them! »
For a long time the three unfortunate sailors communicated their alarms; they longed for the coming of day, in order to see the effect of the storm; but many hours elapsed before the thick darkness which surrounded them was dissipated; and their fears increased with the storm.
Finally, after having watched for several hours during which they had exhausted themselves in conjectures on the fate of their companions, and after having recommended them to the protection of the Almighty, they wrapped themselves in their pelisses, and fell asleep in the midst of worrying thoughts.
The day after.
When they awoke, the storm had ceased: only the distant roar of rough waves could be heard. The sky had cleared, the moon was still shining, and the pale stars were twinkling; it was blowing a cold breeze. The three unfortunates tried to climb the rock where they had lit the fire the day before, and which afforded them a more extensive view. They had the greatest difficulty in achieving this: for, the cold having quickly followed the rain and snow, the rock was covered with ice. But the setting of the moon was followed by a darkness which no longer allowed them to distinguish anything; their ears alone were struck by the terrifying sound of the waves and the crash of crashing icicles. In an impatience full of anguish, they awaited the return of day.
Soon there appeared in the sky, on the eastern side, a reddish arc which, growing little by little into the shape of a disc, spread a pale gleam over the points of the rock; it was day, and you could see in the distance.
But what a terrible sight awaited our poor sailors! The sea ice on which they had arrived on this island had largely disappeared; the waves carried huge icicles to the coast; mountains of ice pushed by the waves crashed against the rocks which border part of it, and seemed to threaten to pulverize them. The sea still seemed turbulent, like a man who had just given himself up to anger, and in whom calm only returned by degrees.
When daylight permitted the use of the spyglass, and the pilot looked toward where the ship had been surrounded by ice, he saw nothing. Fear seized him, and, not trusting his own eyes, he urged Alexis and Ivan, whose sight was sharper, to look if they could not discover the ship. They, too, found no trace of it, and it seemed to them that the sea, where the ship had run aground, was open and covered with high waves. The word expired on their lips, and tears flooded their faces. All three remained as annihilated. Finally Alexis exclaimed: "Our poor traveling companions, what has become of them?" If the ship was shattered by the storm, may God have mercy on them! Perhaps, however, they have been pushed towards dry land, where they will find help. But, for us, here we are now separated from the whole world, without help, on an uninhabitable island, covered in ice and snow!
What can have become, says Ivan, of those the captain will have sent to the island after our signal? The ice will have broken under their feet, and they will have found a tomb in the sea! The pilot, who understood only too well the misfortune that had befallen all three of them, as well as the whole crew, tried to put on a good face and calm Alexis and Ivan; for he knew that discouragement could only make their position worse.
“We cannot be sure,” he said in a firm voice, “that the captain sent men to the island as soon as he saw our column of fire and our rockets. These may also, if they left in time, have arrived on the island before the storm, and we can still find them. The vessel, after being detached from the ice, may also have been pushed ashore, where our companions will take action for our salvation. Let us hope for the best, and abandon ourselves to Providence, which has brought us happily to this island. She will support and protect us until someone comes to rescue us.
"We are now reduced to ourselves," said Alexis; what will become of us during this long and hard winter? Where will we find food here? Soon we will starve! »
But the brave pilot replied: “My friends, do not despair, let us unite our efforts, and, with the help and protection of God, we will succeed in procuring the most indispensable things. Let us work according to our strengths, and God will come to our rescue. Isn't it already a great advantage for us to be three? What a terrible position each of us would be in if he found himself alone on this desert island! We can help each other, and undertake works that only one would try in vain. We are healthy and strong; we are accustomed to cold and fatigue, and we will be able to bear the pains and privations that it pleases God to send us. »
This is how this brave man tried to raise the morale of the two young people, who had been devastated by pain. The religious sentiment, the faith in divine providence, which disposes of everything, took new strength in their hearts, and gave them the conviction that God would not abandon them in their unhappy position. They considered it a great blessing to have been on the island during the storm, and not on the ship, where the danger had doubtless been much greater.
Thus pious men still find in the greatest misfortune reasons for consolation and confidence in divine providence.
Passage in the ravine.
With sad hearts, but full of trust in the Lord, the three shipwrecked men returned to the cave, having lit a fire on the top of the rock to announce their presence to those of their comrades who might have arrived on the island before the storm. ; then they began to reflect on what there was to do in their position.
The two young people relied on the pilot, whom they knew as an experienced man with good advice.
He was in favor of taking some refreshments first, and then going to see if the island could furnish them with some provisions; for they had no food left except for the next day. Such an imminent scarcity greatly worried the two cousins; however, the pilot tried to restore them a little security.
Well armed and provided with their small provisions of food, they set off in the pale light of the moon. They continued on their way down the ravine. The pilot still hoped to find a cabin, and in it some subsistence. The passage was horrible, in the midst of masses of rocks which assumed fearful shapes in the darkness, and several of which jutted so far above the road that they threatened to collapse at any moment.
They walked cautiously to be on guard against ferocious animals, and noted carefully what might serve as a guide to a human habitation, where they would find wood and food, their two most pressing needs.
The road was rough and slippery, the cold bitter; but their thick furs and the motion of walking guaranteed them. They had already traveled several hours without seeing anything that attracted their attention or that could be useful to them.
The moon had completed its course below the horizon; only the stars still illuminated our travellers, who also found a little help in the reflection of the snow, so that they could see enough to be able to continue their journey; but the uneasiness that overwhelmed Alexis and Ivan gave every object that met their eyes a frightful form.
The country they were crossing was becoming wilder and wilder. On either side rose slanting and steep rocks, which sometimes formed vaults over the heads of the three companions in misfortune, so that they could no longer see the sky.
After walking more than four hours in the ravine, which turned in all directions, Alexis and Ivan proposed to stop to rest and to think whether they should not rather return to the cave, and go at daybreak to explore the island on the other side. But the pilot answered them that the rest could become very fatal to them, because they had no wood to light a fire in order to warm themselves and ward off the ferocious animals. He was therefore in favor of continuing to walk until the day when they could hope to find something that would be useful to them.
The young men remembered with what marvelous goodness God had helped them thus far, and they cheered up.
The happy discovery.
Our three friends therefore continued their march through almost impassable rocks and dreadful precipices. After three hours of a painful journey, they noticed that the ravine was narrowing more and more, and that the rocks seemed soon to be closing all their way out. to return, praying to God to bring them back safe and sound to their cave.
Suddenly they arrived, by a steep slope, at a site surrounded by rocks forming a kind of vault, open in the middle, and which sheltered this place on all sides against the wind. While they were examining more closely this cavity, to which nature had given such a bizarre shape, Ivan stumbled against something which seemed to him to be neither stone nor ice. He examined it more closely, and recognized that it was wood. Immediately Alexis and the pilot went in search, and found several large tree branches scattered on the ground.
“God be praised! they all cried, we have unexpectedly found something to warm ourselves. Our trip was not unsuccessful!
— We have discovered, said the pilot, more than you think. These branches are detached from a tree trunk; men must have brought them there. There must have been men here, or they still live in the vicinity. »
He suggested that they light a fire right away and wait there for daylight, which would allow them to examine the surroundings more closely. What had not been eaten before departure was eaten, and it was agreed to share the rest of the provision for the next two days, in the hope that God would send more food when this ran out.
As they were lying around the fire, thinking about the gift that the good Lord had given them of these branches of wood which in their country had almost no price, Ivan thought he heard the sound of a spring, and did so. notice to his companions. They began to search, and soon discovered a limpid stream which sprang from a rock and which was lost with some steps in a small basin.
“God is good and merciful! exclaimed the pilot; until now we had to quench our thirst with snow: it makes us gush out a spring! This is already a satisfied need, Providence will continue to help us. »
They drew from this source, and drank with joy this water, of which they had been deprived for so long, and which was all the more agreeable to them, as the salted meat gave them a continual thirst.
Looking by the light of the flame at the basin into which the spring fell, it seemed to them that it was formed of stones placed around them with regularity, and that the hollow which received the spring was made by the hand of man. Ivan took a brand to go and examine the thing more closely, and everyone was convinced that the basin was, indeed, the work of men. This discovery revived their courage, and the despondency which, that very morning, still dominated our two young men, was completely dissipated.
Tired of the long journey, they wanted to indulge in a refreshing sleep which would do them all the more good the calmer their souls. They collected all the wood they could find to tend the fire, and they resolved that one of them would take turns keeping watch while the other two slept quietly.
Wrapped in their fur coats, the pilot and Alexis approached the fire to enjoy its beneficent warmth, and Ivan offered to stand guard first. Sleeping in the open air in the greatest cold was not a comfortable thing; but our travelers were Russians from Arkhangel, accustomed to northern climates, and they thanked God for having provided them with wood to keep up the fire, which always gave them some warmth. They thus watched and slept alternately until the point when the points of the rocks, taking on a reddish hue, warned them of daybreak.
They wanted to use its short duration to continue their research, and consequently advanced through a crack which alone offered the means of leaving the enclosure where they were, when suddenly this also showed itself closed by a transverse rock. Looking for an exit, they saw on the rock, to their right, a kind of step cut at equal distance in the rock, which gave more and more a hint of human work; animated by this new discovery, they began to climb the rock using these steps. Having reached a certain height, they saw a path also made by the hands of men and which wound around this rock to the top.
When they had arrived there, they believed themselves transported suddenly into another world, so surprised were they by the sight of the pleasant objects which presented themselves to their eyes. Above the high rocks on the east side showed the brilliant disk of the sun, which illumined a wide valley below, surrounded on all sides by mountains which to the north rose to a very great height. To the south, the vast Glacial Sea stretched out in a narrow gulf halfway through this valley, crossed by a stream which flowed into the gulf. On a ground strewn with snow, one saw here and there a soft greenery on which the sight rested pleasantly, and which shone with the pearls of the dew under the rays of the sun. The sky was clear and blue, and a milder air reigned in this place.
The pilot explained to his young companions how this icy country they had traversed until now could present such a sudden change. The valley was sheltered by huge rocks from the north and east winds, and open on the south side: the sun could penetrate it with all its fire during the summer, where it remained for five months on the skyline; the heat reflected in this valley by the sandstone rocks which surrounded it, could be carried to an extraordinary degree in this northern region, and thus favor prompt vegetation; and, as the fine season had not long passed, the cold had not yet been able to destroy all the plants.
Wood and cochlearia.
The three travelers descended from the rock by a path which also seemed to be trodden by men, but which was so rapid that their steps were uncertain, and that they were several times on the point of making a dangerous fall or slipping in the rocks. precipices. They hastened to take advantage of the short day to visit the valley. The first thing that caught their eye was a large amount of wood lying on the edge of the gulf. They concluded from this that the last storm, which had caused them so much anguish, had thrown there this mass of enormous beams and trunks of trees.
"Northern America," the pilot told them, "is partly covered with immense forests. THE
great rivers, when they overflow, sometimes uproot entire forests, and push the trees towards the sea. Of wood ; they stop on the coast, and provide the inhabitants with the means to protect themselves from the severe cold that it is here.
“Thus divine providence provides in every way for the needs of men scattered throughout the earth, so that none should perish. »
The three companions continued their walk along the stream, and Alexis noticed that its edges were covered in various places with cochlearia and watercress. He tore off a few bushy stems and showed them to the pilot. “It's an excellent discovery, says the latter, and for which we must give thanks to God. The juice of cochlearia is the most efficacious remedy against scurvy, which we can easily suffer from in this cold climate and with the food to which we are reduced; and cooked, the plant is still quite good to eat. The Greenlanders and Icelanders marinate it in barrels to use it all winter. Maybe we could use it the same way. Watercress also cures scurvy, and is pleasant to eat; we will also make a provision of it. »
A big fish.
Ivan, having advanced towards the gulf, saw a quantity of fish there. He proposed to take or kill one while the pilot and Alexis wandered through the valley to make other discoveries.
He therefore slipped along the coast, and soon saw a pool separated from the current by a narrow berm. It seemed to come from the last storm during which the waves, pushed by the wind, advanced into the interior of the country. In this pond was a large fish, similar to a salmon, which tried in vain to cross the levee to return to the sea.
“Thank God,” said Ivan full of joy, “this fish is ours; he will provide us with food for several days. »
First he tried to kill him with an axe; but the animal kept escaping, went to the bottom, and made the water so muddy and muddy that it could no longer be seen.
In the end, the young man knew how to overcome it. He took a branch of a tree, arranged it in the shape of a shovel, and pierced the levee, so that most of the water flowed out of the pond, and the fish was put dry: it was then easy for Ivan to strike him on the head with his ax which stunned him; several more repeated blows finished killing him.
After pulling it out of the mud and cleaning it, our young sailor cut several pieces, made a fire and prepared a tree branch in the form of a spit to roast these pieces. At this moment the pilot and Alexis returned from their race.
Ivan, overjoyed, showed his fish, which appeared to weigh at least thirty pounds; all three thanked God for sending them food just as their provisions were about to run out, and the pilot gave Ivan back the glad tidings of finding a cavern much more spacious and more convenient than the one they had left. the day before, and which they would prefer to adopt for their dwelling, because it was in the eastern part of this valley, and this valley itself was a more pleasant stay than the ravine where the first cave was situated.
They roasted a piece of fish and feasted on it; but the momentary well-being they
were experiencing brought back the memory of their unfortunate comrades who had remained on the vessel, and the pilot could not help expressing the fear that they had been victims of the storm.
Alexis and Ivan seemed more resigned to their fate; they gave thanks to God for preserving their life, while their companions had probably found their tomb in the depths of the Glacial Sea, and they hoped to be able to bear with patience all that would befall them.
A white bear.
They soon set off for the newly discovered cave; for the day was leaning towards its decline. Ivan took with him what was still left of the fish and the skewer; the pilot and Alexis were dragging large pieces of wood to keep the fire going during the night. Their gaiety was disturbed only because they perceived on their way, and in the vicinity of the cave, the tracks of an animal which had some resemblance to the footprints of man.
At the first sight, Alexis and Ivan, believing before long to meet their fellows, were already rejoicing. But the pilot shook his head, and said he could only take these tracks for the trail of the fierce polar white bear that haunts these regions.
This observation made our two young people shudder, and they looked around them as if this animal had already been in pursuit of them. The pilot, however, taught them that the polar bear is only dangerous to man when he is pressed by hunger. It is larger and heavier than the mainland bear, often weighing up to six hundred pounds; it has a longer head and neck, and is entirely covered with long, snow-white, sometimes yellowish hairs.
As long as the sea is open, this animal feeds only on fish, sea calves, waterfowl and even dead whales. When he lacks food in one place, he embarks on an ice cube and goes to seek his subsistence afar; if it finds nothing, it returns the same way. When he has been starving for a long time, he becomes very dangerous, and in his rage he even throws himself on his fellows. He does not fear a superior number of men, and sells his life dearly to those who attack him. This animal is so much the more numerous on Spitzbergen, as in these impracticable regions it is seldom hunted.
As Ivan and Alexis could not think of the polar bear without shuddering, the pilot told them that their united forces could very well repel any attack from it, and that he even wished to kill one soon, because its skin , its flesh and its fat would be of great use to them.
'The best way to kill the bear,' he added, 'is to throw some rag, glove, or anything in its path when it approaches. While he examines it carefully, we buy enough time to adjust it properly and shoot him in the head. But if missed, he hurls himself furiously at his assailants, and they are lost if they have no pikes or daggers to pierce him. »
The two young men promised not to lose heart if a bear approached them, and to help the pilot kill it.
A night visit.
As soon as the three companions in misfortune had arrived in the cave, they lit a fire to light it, and soon convinced themselves that it had already been inhabited. It seemed to have been enlarged by the hands of men. In the walls there were niches carved as seats, and in front of these a large stone slab supported by four pillars, which seemed to have served as a table.
Pieces of rotting wood and coals lay scattered, and the upper vault was black with smoke and soot.
The three friends hastened to collect as much wood as they could in the cave, and a fire was lit in front of the entrance, on which Ivan prepared another piece of fish for supper. All hoped to find some of the former inhabitants of this cave, or even some of their companions sent from the ship, or at least some means of sustaining their lives on this desert island until they were brought there. seek.
They communicated these various thoughts to each other until the time came to give themselves up to rest. Wood was put back on the fire, guns and axes were kept ready to defend against the bears in case any came into the cave; all three wrapped themselves in their furs, and after saying their prayers fell asleep.
It might have been midnight when the pilot, having woken up, noticed that the fire had been converted into
ember ; he got up with the intention of putting wood in it.
As he approached the entrance to the cave, he heard a kind of loud, hoarse barking which made him recognize the approach of a bear; for it is by such a sound that these animals announce themselves. This one had probably found the entrails of the fish and had eaten them; then the finesse of his sense of smell had drawn him to the cave, where there were still other remains of the fish.
The pilot promptly awakened his two companions, and urged them to guard against the attack of their redoubtable enemy. He adjusted the bayonet of his rifle, and advanced towards the entrance, where he saw the bear coming, who was only a few steps further away.
It was so dark, he couldn't properly aim his rifle. He threw a piece of wood in front of the animal. The bear sniffed and groped him, turning him in all directions, and at the same moment a shot rang out: Ivan having discharged his rifle too hastily, the bullet passed through the bear's neck, instead of hitting him inside. the head: the animal rushed with fury over the blazing fire, rose on its hind legs against its adversaries to strike them down or tear them with those in front; but the brave pilot went to meet him, knocked him down
with one blow of his bayonet, which he thrust into his chest, and several blows which Ivan and Alexis applied to the monster's head completed the kill.
The bear being very large and very heavy, the three companions had to use all their strength to move it from the place where it had been killed.
"We must thank God," said Alexis after examining the bear, "to have escaped this danger; this enormous beast would have devoured all three of us, if we had not been on guard against its attack. It is to your vigilance, faithful friend, he continued, turning to the pilot, that we owe the preservation of our life to God.
"I repelled the danger," resumed the pilot, "as much for my account as for yours; I was obliged to defend my life, and for that very reason I defended yours. I did what every devoted friend should do. God gave me the strength and the presence of mind necessary to triumph over the terrible animal, so all the glory goes to him.
“This bear is a great advantage for us: its thick fur will serve us as a warmer layer or as a blanket against the cold; its flesh will provide us with food for a long time, and with its fat we will make candles. No part of this animal will remain useless. I have no doubt that when the great cold arrives and the long nights, many of these animals will come to visit us, and I hope that we will be able to overcome them, if we go to meet them with courage and firmness; but precipitation is always harmful. A missed hit causes these animals to rage, and they rush blindly into danger. This is why it is necessary to attack them with circumspection, in order to be able to kill them without being exposed to receiving some injuries. »
Care for the future.
The exiles no longer thought of sleep. They immediately took care of the bear, stripped its skin, disemboweled it and cut it into pieces. Beneath the skin was fat two fingers thick; they picked her up with care; the skin was spread out in the open to dry; it was then coated with melted grease to keep it flexible; large pieces of meat, the leg and the fillet were exposed to the cold to freeze them and keep them that way longer. The entrails were also cleansed; for they could also be useful later for wrapping other portions of meat, and the three friends promised to use the stretched guts as string. As for the intestines, they carried them far from their home, unable to take advantage of them.
During this work, they had time to discuss their current position and make plans for the future. It was evident now that they would be compelled to pass the whole winter on this desert island, and they had to think of ways to protect themselves from the cold, which was still to increase, and to procure food in sufficient quantity; now it was necessary to hurry, for the sun was already rising very low behind the mountains, described a small circle, and remained on the horizon only two hours. The season was already so far advanced that the night of five months was not long in arriving; and then they would be compelled to remain constantly in their cave, because the great cold, the snow, and the darkness, which is only rarely dispelled by the moon and the aurora borealis, and also the neighborhood of wild beasts, do not wouldn't allow them to go on long errands outside.
The position of these three unfortunates, when they thought about it maturely, was indeed
very critical; but since their departure from the ship they had received so many touching proofs of divine protection that their confidence in God remained unshakable.
The cave they then inhabited seemed to the pilot too badly closed for them to be able to brave the rigors of the cold, even with a sufficient supply of wood. Having discovered so many traces of the previous presence of men in this valley, the pilot still hoped to find their dwellings and perhaps also some forgotten utensils. All three resolved to go in search on the following days, while the sunlight still shone upon them.
The fish and the bear promised them enough food for more than a month, but not for the whole duration of the long night. The pilot hoped they could kill several more bears, of which there are only too many on Spitsbergen. But the struggle with these ferocious animals presented great dangers. They were obliged to spare the powder, because they needed it as salt for seasoning the meat, and an ill-fitting blow was only dangerous. Accordingly, they resolved among themselves to henceforth attack the bears with bayonets and kill them with axes.
As long as they only had to deal with one of these animals, they could easily overcome it, because they were three against one; but the chances would become less favorable if they were attacked by several. However, the happy issue of their first fight so inflamed the courage of Alexis and Ivan that each of them claimed to be fighting a bear alone and mastering it.
The next day, two hours before sunrise, we set out for the eastern part of the valley. The three travelers again found cochlearia and watercress in abundance, and made a good supply of them. Throughout the gulf there was plenty of wood, and on some trees you could distinctly see that the branches had been cut with an axe. But they did not find what they were looking for: a hut that would have served as a dwelling for men; they returned tired to the cave after having spent more than eight hours in fruitless searches.
It was agreed again that evening to make a new excursion the next day on the western side of the valley, and to advance to the mouth of the gulf. We made all the preparations for this trip, and we did not forget to bring bear and roast fish for two days.
Three hours before dawn, and after praying to God to bless their journey, they set out well armed. Every cleft in the rock they passed was visited, and every locality well examined.
Everywhere they encountered vestiges which proved that there had once been men in these parts; but nowhere did they find their dwelling. They saw stakes of hewn wood, embers, half-burnt logs, which strengthened them more and more in the opinion that the home of those who had used them could no longer be far away, and they continued on their way with a great attention.
The further they advanced towards the mouth of the gulf, the higher and more horrible the rocks became; nature seemed to have piled them there like a dam against the waves of the sea.
Finally the three travelers reached a place where enormous masses of rocks, resembling the ruins of an old castle, bounded the valley on one side and the Glacial Sea on the other; at this point the gulf joined the sea.
As it was broad daylight, they resolved to climb to the top of a steep rock, to see the sea far off. A terrible sight awaited them there. Huge icicles, crowded and piled, covered the waters, and above rose, in frightful disorder, mountains of ice; on whose surface reflected the rays of the setting sun. Everything was dull and deserted around them, and they clearly saw that they were separated from the rest of the world, that no vessel could approach the island any longer, and that they had no more resource than in themselves to provide for all their needs. They even gave up all hope of finding the inhabitable cabin they were looking for with so much anxiety and perseverance.
Full of disastrous presentiments, each reflected on his fate. None wished to sadden his companions further with useless complaints, and for a few moments they remained silent and thoughtful, casting their gloomy gazes over the icy surface of the sea.
It is thus that a deceived hope, an unfortunate accident, in an instant bring man to discouragement, and make him forget how many times his God has rescued him from still greater dangers. Our three castaways had arrived on this island completely destitute; perhaps they had thus avoided the death to which their companions who remained on the vessel had succumbed; they had food for only three days, no habitation, no firewood; and yet divine providence had miraculously, and in a very short time, provided for all these needs. Should they then be discouraged now that their desires were not fully fulfilled? Shouldn't they rather persevere in their trust in God, and meditate on ways to replace or find what they were looking for?
The little house.
Immersed in dark thoughts, Ivan had mechanically moved away from his companions: his gaze fell on a crack which formed a large separation between two enormous rocks. He examined it more closely, and noticed at the bottom a kind of wall resembling a building.
He called his companions, who could also make out high walls on a projecting rock. They descended with difficulty into the ravine, and saw, O surprise! near a very steep rock, a small house built of stones, the intervals of which were stopped up with moss. A projection of the rock formed the roof, up to the height of which one side was blackened, and above there was a large hole through which escaped the smoke.
This rather spacious little house was closed by a door: on both sides there were windows with large shutters; the fourth side was formed by the wall of the rock; around there was a wide and deep moat, lined inside with large stones united by masonry, and where consequently it was not easy to descend. In front of the entrance to the house was a drawbridge, and the position was so well chosen, that not only was it sheltered against all winds, but also that one enjoyed there the view of the sea and the much of the valley.
The three friends were so pleasantly surprised at this discovery that their sadness suddenly changed into the most noisy joy.
“The good Lord has guided us to this place! they cried: how could we be discouraged, since God is with us in such a visible way! »
They began to call aloud to find out if the house did not contain any inhabitant. No one answered. They then jumped into the ditch, and, supporting each other, came over the wall to the door.
They knocked; no one replied any longer: then Ivan opened the shutter of a window. It was dark inside; only a fetid odor was felt. The shutter of the second window was opened. Inside everything was quiet and uninhabited. Finally Ivan dared to enter through one of these windows. A corrupt air almost suffocated him; he promptly opened the door, the air was renewed, and the pilot and Alexis entered in their turn. As day began to fade, the pilot lit a torch, which they always carried with them on their runs; then they saw that this little house was built entirely of timber. The intervals were carefully filled with moss, and this wooden partition was surrounded by walls and covered by the vault which formed the rock. In terms of furniture, there were only benches along the walls and a table; but they found an axe, several shovels, rakes, spits, cauldrons, a gimlet, a chisel, a hammer, and a saw, instruments which might be of great use to them.
At the place where the two side walls touched the rock, the latter formed a spacious cavity, dug by the hand of man, as it was easy to see. On the right, a flat stone jutted out, it was the hearth; above was an opening, through which the smoke could pass, and which was closed by means of a valve. On the hearth they found two iron pots, which caused them great joy, for they thus had the means of cooking their food with ease. They still discovered in the same place a dish and an iron pot. The rust that covered these precious utensils told them that this little house had been inhabited, but that it had been abandoned for a long time. What had become of the previous inhabitants, they could not guess; but soon they learned of it with horror.
A painful sight.
Examining carefully, in the light of the torch, all the recesses of the cavity, they discovered an opening which seemed to lead into the interior of the rock. Ivan advanced quickly in that direction; but the torch threatened to go out, and a damp and corrupt air repulsed him.
The pilot, knowing the dangerous effects of air long confined in subterranean places, warned the two young men not to advance further through this opening until the air was purified, otherwise they might be asphyxiated. So they gathered up some wood, lit a big fire, and pushed it as far forward as possible into the cavity.
The fire having burned for some time, the pilot fired a charge of powder into the vault, which they then entered cautiously.
The entrance widened and led into a large cavern. Lighting themselves with the torch, they suddenly recoiled in horror at the sight of a human figure wrapped in thick furs, seated on a bench behind a table and standing motionless against the wall of the cave; a long gray beard hung over his chest. This aspect was so unexpected and so frightening that at first they lost their countenance and wanted to retrace their steps.
The pilot was the first to be reassured, and said: 'He's dead; for, if he lived, the shot would have woken him. Let's move forward boldly, and examine it more closely. »
Alexis and Ivan approached, trembling, and saw that what they feared was an inanimate man who was already all dried up. When they shook him, his furs and clothes crumbled to dust. They understood then that this man had been dead for a long time in this cave, deprived of all human help.
This discovery saddened them all. The man whose corpse they had just found had probably been pushed to this island by a storm, perhaps with several companions in misfortune, and he had never left. He had to end his sad existence abandoned by everyone. Perhaps he was the only survivor of several castaways who had died before him, and no one had been able to pay him the honors of burial.
"Such a fate may await us," exclaimed Alexis and Ivan; we too may be obliged to lead a miserable life for several years on this desert island; we will die there one after the other; and then woe to him who will remain last!
— So don't be of so little faith, the pilot told them, and don't be discouraged when something disagreeable happens to us. Hasn't the good Lord miraculously helped us so far? Didn't he grant us a new benefit by the discovery of this winter dwelling and the utensils it contains? Is it not visible that he has taken us under his special protection? Is it therefore the case for us to despair? Let us think rather with gratitude of the good that Heaven has done us, and let us not fear in advance evils which may never happen. Let us have confidence in God, let us resign ourselves to our fate, and, with the help of Providence, we will more easily find means of improving our position. »
These words of the pilot, pronounced with the tone of profound conviction, revived the young people a little; yet their faces expressed only sadness and grief.
The pilot, who was not very cheerful himself, tried to distract his two friends by some occupation. He first wanted to remove from their eyes the object whose appearance filled their minds with dark thoughts. He represented to them that it was their duty to bury the corpse of this man, who had been dead for a long time. They recognized the correctness of this advice, and dug, with the tools they had found, a pit outside the anterior ravine, in a place where there was light sand; they laid the body there, and covered it with earth.
It was a very sad ceremony, especially because of the circumstances in the midst of which it took place, the burial of the stranger, and all three went to it with heavy hearts. Finally the pious pilot spoke and said: “May he rest in peace; bless his tomb; he is done with suffering. But we, at his grave, renew the promise never to lose confidence in the omnipotence of God, to help each other, and to bear with patience and resignation all the sufferings that God will send us. His supreme goodness will not burden us beyond our strength; if it is for our good, he will take us out of this wilderness. »
The young people stretched out their hands to this brave man, whom they honored as their father, and promised with a good heart what he asked of them.
It was too late to return that day to the cave they had lived in until then; they therefore resolved to pass the night in the cottage, putting off until the next day to bring the skin and the flesh of the bear to their new dwelling, with what was still left of the fish, and decided to make arrangements afterwards to spend the night there. winter.
Having collected as much wood as was needed to maintain the fire during the night, and consumed what they had left of their provisions, they examined more carefully the cave where they had found the dead man, and collected several more useful things. On the table there was a lamp.
'Now we can have light too,' said the pilot, 'for our torches will soon be exhausted; in this lamp we will burn our bear grease after having melted it, and of our handkerchiefs we will make wicks. »
They then found a knife and fork, a pewter plate and dish, a pot and a goblet, several bear skins and mats; but the latter were half rotten.
A second fight against the bears.
The next morning, the three friends set out to return to the cave, to look for the effects they had left there. They arrived without accident in the vicinity; day was beginning to break, and a luminous circle on the horizon announced the rising of the sun, which, at this time, barely passed the tops of the rocks, and, after a brief appearance, disappeared again.
The pilot, knowing well, by his previous voyages in the regions of the North, that the sun would soon say goodbye to them for a longer time, noticed it with pain. However, he hid from the eyes of the two young people what was passing in his soul, so as not to afflict them again at the moment when their courage seemed to revive.
Already they were in sight of the cave, when they were frightened by the appearance of two bears, one of which was enormous, which tugged and ate the entrails of the one they had killed.
"My friends," said the pilot when he saw the bears, "we need circumspection and prudence here." It will be easy for us to hunt these two beasts: we will be obliged to give them a fight; but we will be well compensated by their fur, their flesh and their fat. We are three against two, and this is not the first fight I have had against these animals. It is only a question of going to meet them with courage and circumspection. They never jump on their adversary; but they run upright on their hind legs, and advance intrepidly to strike him down with a blow of their forelegs, or to strangle him in a terrible embrace. A shot, at this decisive moment, may miss, and only make the animal more furious; so we must spare the gunpowder. It is therefore necessary to attack them with the bayonet, and drive it into their chest. I'll attack the big one, Ivan will take the little one, and Alexis will help whichever one of us he sees in danger. See now if your rifles are well primed, and if the bayonets hold firm. Let everyone also have their ax ready so that they can use it when needed.
The heart beat in Ivan, and even more in Alexis, hearing these words, and they wished the danger had already passed. The pilot encouraged them, and advised them not to lose their composure, the struggle not being very dangerous.
However, they had approached the bears at the distance of a stone's throw. The pilot having uttered a cry, they turned wild glances towards him, wiped their muzzles with their paws, and began to eat again without paying any more attention to these newcomers.
The three fighters were standing on a rise, and the pilot rolled a large stone over the bears. It bothered them; they looked again at their adversaries, and then rushed to the stone, which they turned in all directions with marks of anger.
A second stone having rolled over them in another direction, the smallest of the bears rushed furiously in that direction, and thereby they were separated. The pilot took a few steps forward toward the older bear, and Ivan against the younger one. Alexis stood back to assist, if necessary, one or other of his friends.
The bears came to meet them, gnashing their teeth and grumbling, and rose up against their adversaries at the distance of about twenty paces. The pilot stared between two eyes at the one he had taken on the task of fighting, approached him, and when the bear raised his right paw, which would have knocked the pilot down with a single blow, the latter had already stuck his bayonet in his chest. By a skillful movement, the gun was detached from the bayonet, which remained stuck in the body of the animal. The bear fell, but he wanted to get up; then the pilot struck him with his ax such a violent blow on the head, that he remained stunned, and could easily be finished off.
The younger bear was not so decided as the old one. He initially feared the fight with Ivan, who also would have preferred to avoid it. He even took a few steps back, and turned to the old bear as if to see how he would manage; but, when he saw him bathed in his blood, he became furious, and rushed full of rage at Ivan, who had already crossed his bayonet, and thrust it into his body. However, in the heat of the action, he hadn't aimed so well as the pilot; the bayonet had entered under the chest, and the wound was not mortal.
The bear rose to attack Ivan once more; but Alexis, who was only a few steps away, watching her every move, promptly shot her in the head. He fell, and soon expired.
This combat, so happily ended, greatly rejoices the three companions. They now had an abundant resource for the winter. On perceiving the bears, they had been all the more uneasy, as they feared that their store of meat in the cave had been, during their absence, smelled and devoured by them. Now all worry and all danger had passed, and Alexis and Ivan forgot the terror of the day before to take care only of the animals they had just killed. Thus, in human life, joy and pain follow each other rapidly; that is why we must not allow ourselves to be discouraged by unfortunate accidents. The pain does not always last, patience makes it bearable; and there comes a time when the memory of evils is effaced: the good Lord has thus wisely disposed of it.
Transport of provisions to the new home.
The three friends congratulated each other on having so happily triumphed over this danger, and thanked God for having unexpectedly sent them such a rich provision. They first dragged the young bear into the cave, where they skinned and butchered it undisturbed. In the cave, everything was intact; the bears had not entered it. The other bear, which weighed nearly six hundred pounds, was dragged, not without difficulty, into the cave, at the entrance of which they lit
immediately a big fire, and a good piece of meat is roasted; for the length of the road, the danger they had run, and the action of dragging their bears, had tired and starved the three friends.
While the roast, which Ivan was tending as a cook, finished cooking, the pilot and Alexis were busy removing the skin from the young bear, and cutting it up. Its meat looked tender, and its skin could make a good cover. For the big bear, they put off until the next day to accommodate him. After having taken their meal and thanking God, they lay down and fell asleep peacefully.
The next day, early in the morning, the three sailors busied themselves with finding the easiest means of transporting the provisions to their new habitation: the pilot advised them to prepare a rack or a sled, and to drive on it all that they needed. they had towards the maisonette. But how much they needed to build this sled! However the need makes ingenious: the wood for the skates was soon found and framed with the axes; but, to secure the transverse beams, they lacked nails. They tied them with the bear's guts and tendons. A wooden pole with a hook replaced the silt.
But the load they had to carry being too heavy for their strength, they resolved to leave the old bear in the cave, and go first with the other provisions. The two bearskins were spread on the sledge, and all the meat was loaded on them. It took them two days to complete all these preparations.
Before leaving, they barricaded the cave with large beams, so that the bear that remained inside would not be visited by wolves, foxes or other ravenous animals.
Overcoming the many difficulties presented to them by both the rough road and the heavy burden they had to drag along, the three friends arrived at their new home after spending three hours on the road. They found everything in the same condition as they had left it.
As soon as they had unloaded their provisions, their first care was to arrange the sledge more suitably; as they had already found a saw and a gimlet, it was not difficult for them to secure it with wooden pegs, and make it more comfortable. This work gave them work for a day, and after a quiet night they returned with the sledge to the cave to take the big bear. They recognized the tracks of wild animals which had come to the entrance of the cave, but which had been unable, thanks to the barricade, to penetrate into the interior.
They opened the big bear, emptied it to lighten its weight, and carried away what could not serve them; then the next day the prepared flesh was transported with great difficulty to the new dwelling, where the castaways arrived very tired.
On the following days, they melted all the fat in a cauldron and filled their lamp with it. The meat was exposed to cold so that it would freeze and keep longer. A good quantity of wood was brought from the coast, split and piled up in front of the cottage. The bridge was put back over the ditch and arranged in such a way that it could be lifted, so that no ferocious animal could reach the dwelling.
These works made them spend several days, during which they forgot their sad fate. Each task completed was a pleasure to them, brightened their minds, and dispelled dark thoughts; for work is an effective remedy against sadness and dejection, provided that we add to it confidence in the omnipotence and goodness of God.
When the most important works were finished, the three friends began to explore the cave more closely, to see if they could still find something useful that the former inhabitant had left there. In the most remote part they saw a recess closed by a board suspended on hinges, in the form of a door. Having withdrawn it, they entered a long alley, above which the rock formed a natural vault, and which ended in a large cavern, where several compartments resembling cellars could be seen in different directions.
Nature had marvelously constructed this cavern in the interior of the rock: columns of all shapes rose from the earth, covered with dry sand, up to the vault, and seemed to support it. All the walls were perfectly dry; in several places were niches dug by the hands of men and which could be used as reservoirs.
They saw that they could very well secure their store of meat there. Examining these depressions by the light of the lamp, they found, which caused them great joy, a tarred barrel filled with a large quantity of salt.
Oh! how they thanked God for this find! until then they had been obliged to season their meat with gunpowder, which hardly enhanced the taste, and which was soon to be consumed because of the daily use they made of it. Now they had plenty of salt for a long time.
They also found a crate filled with nails and other iron instruments that could be very useful to them.
But their joy was great especially when, on a projecting stone slab, they found a barrel of gunpowder, and beside it another filled with bullets. Already for a long time they had thought of a means of replacing their supply of gunpowder and lead, of which they had such great need to defend themselves against ferocious animals. Now they wouldn't have to worry. They also found a ship's lantern that could still be used, and to fill it they had plenty of bear fat. They resolved to hang it from the vault of the cave to light it up entirely.
With hearts full of gratitude, they were preparing to get back to work, when Ivan, turning round, stumbled against a tin box; he lifted it up, and on examining it he found an inkwell, some pens, and some paper partly covered with writing. The three friends came out of the cave to examine these papers, which could give them some information about the former inhabitants of this place. They were written in Dutch, and for the most part still legible. Alexis and Ivan, who had learned this language at the Cadet school, were perfectly capable of translating it. It was the diary of a captain who had spent five whole years with ten sailors on this desert island. The captain had outlived all his companions in misfortune; it was he whom the three friends had found dead in the cave and whom they had buried.
From this diary they learned that twenty-five years ago the captain of the Dutch ship the Good Hope, accompanied by other vessels, had sailed on the Glacial Sea for whale fishing, and that he had penetrated until 70e degree of latitude.
But, the fishing not being plentiful in these parts, the captain had detached himself from the flotilla, and had continued his course farther north, where he hoped to find a greater number of whales, sea calves and walruses. He discovered a passage through the ice, and came to a place where the sea was open to a very wide extent. But then the wind changed, and brought so great a quantity of icicles that the vessel was completely surrounded, and their return was forbidden. Huge mountains of ice pushed by the wind hugged the ship and threatened to break it. Fortunately the wind died down; but a fog fell so thick that one could not see twenty paces ahead.
The crew was in a desperate position, unable to do anything for the ship's salvation. The captain, having examined his nautical charts, presumed that the coast of Novaya-Zemlia could not be far away. He therefore sent four sailors, well armed and provided with provisions, across the ice to discover the country. The vessel was only a few miles distant from the gulf where our friends were now. Divine providence led the four men precisely in this direction, and they arrived fortunately on Spitsbergen, but not at Novaya-Zemlia, which is a very great distance from it. They found a ruined cabin in the very place where our friends lived, and returned to the ship with this good news. Provisions were then made for putting ashore all the provisions that were on board, and trains were prepared for this purpose. The full moon and cold, dry weather favored the poor castaways, so that they could safely complete their work.
They first put the cabin in a condition to be inhabited, and placed all their effects in place of
It was not until the following year, having already passed a hard winter with many hardships and privations on this uninhabited island, that they erected the outer walls, made the ditch around the house to protect themselves against the attacks of the bear, and enlarged the cave.
The diary contained the details of how these poor people had passed five years on this island, how they fed themselves, what dangers and what miseries they had endured; and it had this advantage for the new inhabitants, that it described the situation and the interior disposition of the island; the useful plants it contained, the place where they grew, and even the time in which it was necessary to look for them, were indicated there. It also designated all the animals that we met there, as well as the best way to seize them.
The captain had sketched a map of the island, it was found among the papers; all the localities, the course of the stream, each mountain and each cave were exactly marked there. The diary also contained the means of preserving one's health in this harsh climate with the bad food to which one was reduced, as well as the help to be given in case of illness.
In all these respects the journal was very valuable to our three friends; but it contained details which filled them with grief and anxiety. Eleven people stranded on the ice had spent five long years there; during all this time no ship came to deliver them, and they had died there one after the other in a frightful misery, without their parents being able to know where their ashes rested!
What had he not endured in his solitude before death delivered him from his sufferings, this poor captain, who had survived all his companions! The newspaper came right up to his illness; for he spoke at the end of the weakness which had seized him to the point of not allowing him to write.
Sorrows and worries.
These thoughts, these reflections filled Alexis and Ivan with uneasiness, and their sad position presented itself before their eyes under the most terrible aspect. They thought only of the evils that
threatened, and forgot the benefits that God had granted them in their abandonment. They no longer paid attention to the benefits they could derive from the diary, they only thought of the horrible stories it contained.
The pilot himself was much affected by what he learned from this journal; but he did his best to restrain his grief so as not to entirely discourage his two companions. Finally he looked up at the sky, and his heart was relieved. He had already endured cruel trials, overcome great dangers, and he had always found help. He could be crushed for a moment by the pain, but not completely succumb to it. His trust in God remained unshakable.
Seeing Alexis and Ivan sad, with lowered heads and almost inconsolable, he spoke and tried, by wise observations, to dissipate their grief and ease their hearts. This is how a faithful and generous friend acts to comfort his friend.
“Why are you so dejected? said the pious pilot, and why do you lose heart? Has any misfortune happened to you? How does what you read in the newspaper cause you so much grief? What did you read there that was so discouraging? Eleven brothers in misfortune were reduced to ending their days on this island. This will probably not happen to us; because every year whalers come to Spitsbergen, and they will take us on their ship. Our captain with his companions may have already reached a port where he is making arrangements to pick us up.
“We only have to stay here one winter: our house gives us the means to bear it, and the newspaper will serve as our guide.
“According to this writing, there are many useful objects in our vicinity which we have not yet discovered. We must seek them out and make our position as bearable as possible. Hasn't God guided us thus far? did he not protect us? Was it not he who provided us with so many means of subsistence? Must we by discouragement become ungrateful to his providence? Must we not have confidence in his infinite goodness, and abandon ourselves absolutely to his guidance?
“We are in the hands of God, and whatever he decides for us will be for our good, we must firmly believe that; let us therefore trust in him. Discouragement only paralyzes our strength, while trust in God increases it. »
Domestic work. The expressive words of the pilot had their effect: the two young men promised to resign themselves to their fate, and to contribute according to their strengths to make it more bearable.
To give another direction to their thoughts, the pilot spoke of all they had to do before the arrival of night and the greatest cold. They had to increase their supply of wood, gather a large quantity of moss to form a softer bed, salt their meat and smoke some of it; it was also necessary to further dig the ditch which surrounded their dwelling and to repair the facing walls, so that the bears could not cross them.
These labors occupied them for some weeks, after which the long night came with very severe cold. A thick fog, which the rays of the moon could not pierce, covered the island; everything was dark and horrible, and the cold had become so intense that, in spite of a great fire which blazed day and night in their dwelling, the three friends could hardly protect themselves from it. When they melted snow in the cauldron to get drinking water, it refreezed immediately, provided they put it some distance from the fire. The castaways, although born and brought up in a harsh climate, found it difficult to endure such cold that their breath and saliva almost froze on their lips; their furs were barely sufficient to guarantee them a little. Then the idea came to the pilot to build a Russian stove (calorifère) which would hold the heat for a long time. In one of the cracks in the rock where the cave was dug, the pilot had discovered clay; stones were detached from the rock, which was composed of schistose stones, and a stove was built from it, in which they fixed a boiler to cook the meat. This work was painful. They did not succeed the first time; often one was obliged to stop and to begin again on new expenses; but perseverance triumphs over all difficulties. At last the stove was finished, and its beneficent heat was a great relief to the three unfortunate friends.
They had warmth in their dwelling and light to ward off the darkness of the night. They had plenty of food, and if its taste did not flatter the palate, at least it was enough to appease their hunger; then a soft and quiet bed received their weary limbs in the evening.
Weren't they right to thank God for so many benefits? so they never neglected to remember it with gratitude in their morning and evening prayers.
These works kept them so busy inside the house that they only came out to fetch wood and snow, which they melted to have water to drink.
One day when Alexis was busy filling a vase with snow, he saw a bear coming towards the ditch. The wind, which had blown violently the previous days, had driven before it whirlwinds of snow which had gathered and filled the ditch in several places; and, the jelly having immediately hardened it, the bear could easily step over it.
Full of fright, Alexis left his cauldron and rushed, with a cry, into the hut, the door of which he closed behind him hastily, crying that a bear was approaching.
“Take your guns,” said the pilot, “we are going to receive this unfortunate guest with bullets; for it is too cold to attempt to approach him with bayonets. Our limbs would go numb, and we could easily miss. The shutters were quickly opened. The sky was serene, and the moon cast a pale glow over the snow.
The bear had already reached the ditch, and was trying to climb the inner wall to reach the square in front of the house.
At this moment the pilot and Ivan adjusted him so well that he was hit by two bullets in the head, and fell back into the ditch.
" Thanks to God! exclaimed the pilot, the chase has been easy and happy. I hope we will soon have a similar visit. Now that we have gunpowder and lead, we will overcome them easily, and the fur, grease and meat that we will get from them will always be useful to us. »
The bear was pulled out of the ditch and cut up like the others. They carried the entrails within gunshot to serve as bait for the foxes, whose flesh promised them a more delicate meal than that of the bear. The ditch was cleared of the snow it contained, so that the bears could not enter the interior of the place so easily.
They had not yet finished this work, which they were often obliged to interrupt because of the excessive cold, when already three foxes were gathered around the entrails of the bear, announcing their presence by a hoarse bark and by howls. . These bold animals are white, and some of a bluish gray. They have thick hair on their feet, which makes it easier for them to run on snow and ice through slippery rocks. They live in dens that they dig in the cracks of the rocks. They are smaller than our foxes, but much bolder, and come in flocks in winter. Their fur is excellent and much sought after, and their flesh all the more agreeable to eat because it does not have that repulsive odor which one notices in ours.
The entrails were strongly frozen and attached to the ground, in such a way that the three foxes, which probably preceded several others, were obliged to pull for a long time before
grab some pieces. They were so starved, that the pilot and Ivan had time to load their guns with chopped lead; then, placing themselves at the door of the dwelling, they aimed so accurately that they shot down two of them.
Here is finally an excellent roast for their kitchen, which until now was fed only by the oily flesh of the bear. Fox skin also provided them with softer fur. They did not forget to throw the entrails of these two animals some distance from the house, in the hope that they would soon attract others; and they poured water on them to freeze them well and tie them to the earth, that they might not be so easily devoured, and serve as bait any longer.
Alexis falls ill.
The pilot and Ivan found the fox roast excellent; but Alexis had no taste for it, his appetite had already been failing him for several days; he felt sad, dejected, and a great weariness had seized all his limbs. Nothing could cheer him up, and he threw himself into all his occupations with disgust.
His weakness and weariness increased day by day: he had difficulty breathing; finally his gums swelled, black spots appeared on them, and his breath began to become fetid.
The pilot recognized by these symptoms scurvy, a very serious disease, and which, if neglected, may even lead to death. It very often attacks navigators and the inhabitants of northern countries. Cold, damp air, unhealthy food, or poor water quality are usually the cause.
The pilot also knew the cure; for divine Providence has placed on the coldest northern coasts, where this disease is very common, its most effective antidote, cochlearia, which is found in great abundance in these countries. It will be remembered that our three friends had gathered a good supply of it in the fine season; the pilot was quick to use it. But in the beginning the remedy produced no effect.
Alexis was so tired he could barely get out of his bed, and he had to be covered with two bear skins and all the fox skins to keep him warm. At the slightest touch blood gushed from his swollen gums; his teeth quivered, an earthy color spread
on his face, and livid spots showed on his skin, mainly on his hands and feet. The poor patient was very dejected and paralyzed in all his limbs, so that he dreaded the slightest movement. The pilot, saddened and knowing the danger, did not want to explain himself on this disease, nor to answer the multiplied questions of Ivan, which did nothing but increase the concerns of this one. Alexis, for her part, was very sad and thought only of death.
Ivan only left his cousin's bedside for the most urgent work, and then he could not help himself from the most bitter thoughts. “Alexis, my poor friend, he said to himself, is lost, and I am the cause of his death. It was I who determined him to disobey his father and undertake this fatal journey. His premature death is the punishment for his disobedience. What punishments must await me, I who am doubly guilty! I acted with ingratitude towards my good uncle, and I took his son away from him again! My friend Alexis will die, the pilot will follow him to the tomb, and I will remain alone on this desert island to perish without help or be torn and devoured by wild animals; I have deserved this terrible punishment: may God have mercy on my soul! »
It is by such anguish and such reproaches that the conscience punishes a culpable action, even if it has been committed for a long time.
Ivan, at this thought, shed bitter tears. However, calm seemed to return to his heart. He looked up to heaven, like a repentant sinner, and said this prayer:
“My God, you are full of mercy, and you do not reject the sinner who recognizes the greatness of his faults and repents of them. Look on me with pity, and turn away from me the hand that has already chastened me so severely. Have pity on my friend, save him from his illness. Deflect his punishment on me, for I am the guiltiest; spare my friend, O my God, and restore him to health, that he may one day return to his father, who is in deep sorrow.
Cure of Alexis.
Thus prayed Ivan, filled with repentance and sorrow. The pilot, who hoped for help for the sick person only in the goodness and mercy of God, for the remedies produced no effect, prayed often and fervently for the health of his young friend.
God fulfilled such ardent wishes in a miraculous way; for Alexis' illness had already reached a very high degree, and his two friends feared for his life. Ivan had gone inside the cabin to get grease for the lamp; while passing along the wall, he knocked his foot against a slab of stone and stumbled; he changed her place so that she would no longer be in the way. But what was his surprise! this stone slab covered a hollow that had been made in the earth to serve as a reservoir, and this hollow contained very useful things, especially at this moment. They found, in fact, in tightly corked bottles, lemon juice, mustard, vinegar, watercress preserved in vinegar, several bottles of rum, a large tin box filled with tea, as well as a good supply of sugar and a number of bottles of excellent old wine.
All these things seemed to have been kept by the captain, the last inhabitant of the island, for cases of illness; but he had not made use of them, and, by a miraculous disposition of God, they fell into the hands of other inhabitants, who derived the greatest advantages from them.
The pilot, with tears in his eyes, threw himself on young Ivan's neck, and exclaimed: "God is good and merciful, he helps us miraculously." Now I have hope that our poor friend will recover; because what we have just found here will be very beneficial to him. »
He immediately gave some candied watercress to the patient, who ate it with pleasure; he made her some lemonade, and enhanced the taste of her cochlearia tea with a few drops of vinegar. Thanks to these acid drinks, after a few days Alexis felt much better; the disease began to lose its violence, and shortly afterwards he asked for food; they then gave him the meat of a young fox cut into small pieces, with mustard, and, when he was completely convalescent, a little old wine and tea with a few drops of rum.
In three weeks Alexis was completely recovered and was able to take the common food, which consisted mostly of fox meat, of which there was seldom a shortage, because some of these animals, so numerous in Spitzbergen, came daily to prowl around. from the hut, from where it was easy to kill them. The death of their comrades did not frighten them; they always came back attracted by the bait, which they took care to maintain, and driven by hunger, which doubled their natural boldness.
The pilot and Ivan could now also take better care of themselves; to guard against scurvy, they put vinegar in their drink, which was nothing but melted snow and ice,
they took tea every day with a little rum, and seasoned their meat with mustard. They had enough meat and salt, all they needed was spring water.
However, the darkness and the cold increased so that the castaways could hardly work outside. As far as the eye could see, everything was shrouded in thick fog, snow was falling in quantity, and it was with great difficulty that they pulled out their supply of wood from below to transport it to the bottom of the cave. Already it was considerably diminished. They could not so easily clear the ditch of snow that the wind continually blew it; the cabin was surrounded by it at a great height, which did much to keep the heat; but the door was so frozen and so encumbered with snow, that they had difficulty in opening it. They hardly complained, however, of this inconvenience, which had the precious advantage of protecting them against the attacks of the bears.
When a gun was discharged through the window of the house, the shot made a noise heard inside like the rolling of thunder, and continued dully for several minutes; our three friends concluded from this that their cave must have issued into others. They had read many passages in the captain's journal which seemed to indicate this, and besides, they had not yet found all the provisions mentioned in that journal.
They therefore resolved, since the bad weather did not permit of leaving the dwelling, to examine the crevices and alleys which extended in all directions from the interior of the cavern, and to enter them as soon as possible. possible. Each took his axe; Ivan, who went in front, carried a lighted ship's lantern; Alexis, a spade, and the pilot, the rest of the torch, to light it in case the lantern went out; he had taken care, for this purpose, to provide himself with a good lighter.
The slot farthest to the right, which they crossed carefully, led them into a huge cavity. Its wide and high vault rested on pillars of natural rock. The ground was covered with sand, on which you could see the footsteps of men.
They searched all this cave, and found several reindeer horns piled one on top of the other; which, without being useful to them, it is true, nevertheless fills them with joyful hope. They could no longer doubt that there were reindeer on this island, and that the navigators who had spent five years there before them had captured or killed some. ;
Reindeer could be useful to them in many ways. Providence has placed these animals in the most barren regions of the North, where the cold destroys everything and allows nothing to succeed, so that the inhabitants of this harsh climate can satisfy almost all their needs.
The reindeer resembles the deer; it has its head adorned with horns curved in front, and which however do not form pointed branches as in the deer, but widened twigs in the shape of a shovel and which serve it to remove the snow which covers the moss in winter. and the lichen it feeds on. This antler falls every year, like that of deer.
In a reindeer everything is useful; its savory meat, its fat and its blood serve for food, its skin for clothing; the guts are made into string and cords, the tendons provide sewing thread; the bladders can contain liquids, and with the bones and antlers all sorts of utensils are made.
A tamed female still gives milk, which is made into butter and cheese. The Lapps, Samoyeds and Koraiks maintain large herds of reindeer in their countries, which also pull their sleds. Dogs guard them on pasture, and it often happens that wild reindeer attach themselves to these herds and allow themselves to be taken without resistance.
This large cave presented several exits, by which the three friends could penetrate further; they chose the larger one. It opened at the beginning like a cellar entrance; but the ground was uneven; fragments of rock encumbered it, the vault was bristling with pointed stones which in many places descended so low that the two travelers had to take care not to fall or knock their heads against the rock. Then the alley described different curves, sometimes to the right, sometimes to the left; sometimes we went up, sometimes we went down.
The castaways might have walked about half an hour in this subterranean alley, when the path became so rapid that the stones detached by their steps rolled down for a long time. The pilot urged his companions to tread carefully; for he feared that there was a precipice there which they might easily roll down,
Ivan, the lantern in his hand, was turning a corner of the rock, when suddenly a stone plate on which he put his foot shook, broke loose and fell into a hole. Ivan, no longer having a point of support, rolled with the stone, and Alexis, who had seized him by the coat to hold him back, was dragged away with him. The pilot, wanting to help them, also misstepped, fell on his back and rolled on the stones for some distance. Soon after, the rock, which was probably supported by the stone plateau, collapsed with a great crash, blocked the cleft through which they had entered, and closed the way to them; this fall was accompanied by such a considerable landslide that Ivan and Alexis were almost buried under it.
The fall had so stunned them that they remained unconscious for some time; the lamp was extinguished, and a deep night reigned around them. The pilot, who had suffered the least, called his friends. Seeing that they did not answer him, he feared for their lives; at last he heard moans, he groped around him in the darkness, and touched something covered with hair and cold as ice. He withdrew his hand, made a fire with the btiquet, lit the torch, and recognized that he had touched Ivan's haven-bag, made of sealskin.
The pilot tried to help his two companions. He himself had suffered little; a scratch on the hand and a bump on the head weren't worth caring about. Ivan had made a wound in his forehead which was bleeding badly. It was covered in rubble up to the middle of the body; but that was all. The pilot helped him get rid of it; he soon recovered, though complaining of pain in his kidneys and right shoulder.
Alexis stood there, still dazed. He had fallen on his head, but there was no harm other than a bruise. His hands were scratched. He soon came to when his two companions pulled him out from under the rubble; but he was as if broken in all his limbs.
The lantern still contained enough grease and wick to be lit.
The three companions were then able to recognize the danger with which they had been threatened. If they don't; had not fallen with the stone, they would have been suffocated by the mass of the rock which had collapsed. They gave thanks to God, and congratulated themselves on being free from minor wounds.
But their position was still terrible. They were in a deep chasm. The return was forbidden to them by the collapse of the rock, and they knew no other way out. The air was so heavy, they could barely breathe. They had no provisions with them; and if they were forced to remain in this situation for a long time, death was inevitable.
Alexis and Ivan were lamenting so keenly that the pilot, despite all his experience, was already beginning to lose heart.
“If God does not help us,” he said in a voice of emotion, “we are lost; but the Almighty, who has delivered us from so many dangers, will still help us here. »
They all three fell on their knees, joined their trembling hands and implored the help of God. Then the pilot spoke, "Let us trust in the omnipotence of God," he said; at every danger his help has been near us; nor will he let us perish in this abyss. So don't despair, let's look for a way out; perhaps we shall find one or some other means of salvation. »
A happy discovery.
For a long time they searched in vain; many times they ventured into clefts in the rocks which offered them no exit; finally, by dint of research, they discovered a fairly large opening which extended to the right; they entered it cautiously.
After a quarter of an hour's walk, the path took another direction, turning around
several angles of rocks. The more they advanced, the more they hoped to find a way out; finally the ground took an ascending direction, and a colder air made itself felt.
How much more freedom they breathed when the air, clearing up, made them feel that they were not far from finding an exit! with what courage they continued to march!
Soon they heard the sound of a spring falling from the rock. How pleasing this sound was to their ears! How their hearts rejoiced! Now no more doubt, their deliverance was near. They doubled their pace, and soon found themselves in front of a basin dug in the rock by the incessant fall of a clear spring of water which was lost a few paces away in the crevices of the rock.
The rock here still formed a grotto not very wide, but of a prodigious height; the vault was not entirely closed; the snow and ice had, it is true, narrowed the opening, but did not cover it entirely; that is why the air in this place was much crisper.
The three unfortunate companions stopped, heartbroken, in front of the source. "We have found what we have longed for," they cried together, "thanks to Almighty God who sustains us with his charitable hand and gives us what we need in our sad situation. He will also lead us out of this abyss; let us hope in him: his omnipotence and his goodness know no bounds. »
Who would have guessed that?
The three castaways refreshed themselves at this spring, and felt fortified; then, having washed their bruises, they courageously followed the path which opened before them.
They agreed that the unfortunates who had inhabited this island before them must have come near this source; and they were not mistaken; for they saw on the road traces of men clearly visible on the sand; moreover, the care with which the stones which surrounded the basin had been arranged and consolidated with moss, testified in an irrefutable way to the presence of human industry.
Thus hope, which never leaves man, produces the balm which heals the wounds caused by misfortune; it raises courage, helps to bear suffering, and its first ray dissipates alarms. Hope is a precious gift of Providence, it prevents the sorrows and dangers of this life from bringing us down entirely.
Revived again, the castaways advanced along the alley, which was still going uphill and seemed to narrow, when suddenly the path was closed. They examined the wall in front of them, and found a closed door obstructed by rubble and fallen stones, and which probably had not been opened for a long time. They pushed aside the rubble with their spade, opened the door and entered further. The cleft in the rock narrowed so that they were obliged to walk one after the other; and hardly had they gone twenty paces when they found themselves in a vast cavern. They looked around them, and soon perceived that they were in the cave adjacent to their dwelling, whence they had come out to make this reconnaissance.
Now they saw clearly that the former inhabitants of the hut went by this same road to draw their water from the spring during the winter; and the proof is that they also found in a hollow in the rock, near the door, buckets intended for this purpose.
One can imagine what was the gratitude with which they felt imbued in reflecting on the whole extent of the signal benefit that divine Providence had just granted them. water, a
pure and healthy water was going to replace this melted snow which had already done so much harm to Alexis. Imagine what the terrible torment of thirst is, and you will conceive with what feelings of gratitude towards God their hearts must have been filled. So it was only after having made a fervent prayer of thanksgiving that they decided to take some food which they badly needed after such a laborious day.
The meal was most cheerful, and one must think that our three friends did not forget to include their new conquest there: hearts happy and full of hope, they went to bed, where soon a sweet sleep seized them.
However, there arose a violent wind, and the snow was falling in large flakes. The cold had risen to a very high degree. When the three friends woke up in the morning, the wind was still blowing, and they were in the cabin as if buried under the snow. Only the smoke had still made its way through the upper vault. A dark night reigned outside, the room was lit only by the pale light of the lamp. The stove had to be continuously lit until it turned red so that the three inhabitants of the cave could protect themselves from the cold. It was almost impossible for them to go out, the door and the windows being all encumbered with snow; and even if they had succeeded in getting rid of them for a moment, the wind would soon have piled up an equal quantity.
They were therefore confined to their abode; but they were not lacking in occupation. First they sawed and split the supply of wood they had carried into the hut. But there was a new problem. Judging by the amount of wood that was already burned, they could see that their supply would not suffice for the whole winter. There was also not enough grease for the lamp. However, they still had meat for a few months, and they hoped that the deep snow would soon force the foxes and bears to visit them. The important thing was to get fuel.
The pilot knew that this violent wind would not last, and that less brisk air would follow; the three sailors therefore resolved to go, at moonrise, towards the gulf to bring back as much wood as possible. All preparations were made for a new excursion. We cut three skins
of bears, and they were sewn in the form of a broad coat which descended from the shoulders to the knees, so that it could be removed over the head, which came out through the opening at the top. They arranged fox skins so that they could wrap their legs and arms in them, and tied them with desiccated guts as string. In order not to sink into the snow, they put small planks under their soles in the manner of the Samoyeds. These preparations cost them two weeks. They also built a sled on which they could carry home anything useful they encountered on their journey.
Another joyful thought still occupied them. The reindeer horns they had found in the third cave were, as we have said, sure proof that there were such animals on the island. Couldn't they meet a few on their way, or at least discover their tracks and seize them later?
They prepared food for three days, filled their haversack with it, and, after fervent prayer placing themselves under the protection of God, they set out, armed with guns and pikes, in calm and sunny weather. severe cold.
The walrus (sea cow).
They left their dwelling by moonlight; the air was so cold that the breath froze, and it was impossible for them to leave their face or hands uncovered.
They could only advance on the snow slowly; but the boards which they had adapted to their shoes served them so well that they did not sink. The thick fur protected them from the cold, so that being always on the move they bore it without difficulty.
Fortunately, they arrived at the gulf without having encountered anything. They saw with sorrow that the edge of the sea was covered with a thick snow under which it was first necessary to try to remove the wood with difficulty, and for that they had no instruments.
They already believed their race fruitless, when they heard behind a mountain of ice which rose in the gulf, the hoarse barking of a bear. They stood on their guard, and
prepared for battle. Having advanced slowly, they saw two bears which had attacked a walrus in the middle of the ice; despite the difficulty it had in moving out of the water, it defended itself bravely with its long tusks. The two bears threw themselves on him with such rage that they did not see the new enemies approaching, and they had time to stick their pikes in the snow and adjust their rifles to aim them more easily. .
The pilot and Ivan fired together. The bears fell, but immediately got up, and rushed furiously at the walrus again. Alexis fired his third bullet, which pierced the head of one of the bears. During this time the pilot and Ivan were able to reload their rifles, and the other bear succumbed to the second discharge. Then they threw three balls at the walrus, which carried so well that it expired after a few moments.
The three friends had not expected such a rich booty. The walrus especially was pleasant to them, less because of its oily and almost inedible flesh, than for its fat, which must have been used to maintain their lamp. The one they had killed was almost as big as an ox; but he looked more like a fish than a quadruped. On either side of its large round head were two curved forked tusks, long, very strong, and about the size of the arm. This animal sinks them into the ice to push itself forward, and to bite the crustaceans, fixed against the rocks, which serve it as food. These tusks are white and solid like ivory, which is why they are used a lot in the manufacture of artificial teeth. The walrus has nothing in common with the horse except the sound of its voice, which resembles neighing; his strong, thick skin has its uses.
Our exiles were still very fond of walrus meat, because it could serve them as bait for the foxes, who always made it their best food.
The three animals killed were too heavy a load to be carried on the sled all at once. We were therefore obliged to return there three times, and three whole days were devoted to this work.
The melting of the fat from their new capture, the salting and smoking of the meat, gave our hunters occupation for several days, during which they always watched for the foxes, to which they threw the entrails and parts of the walrus. Several took to this bait and were killed, so that they did not miss roast meat.
New cares and new help.
However, the desire to take the reins was always in the thoughts of our exiles; they resolved to make an incessant drive to spy on these animals. The lack of wood also urged them to seek means of procuring it.
Everything was prepared for this excursion, which was fixed for the following day, and shovels were made to excavate the snow. We hoped for a good result, because the aurora borealis had appeared, giving so much light that we could distinguish all the objects as in broad daylight: but how much everything had changed when the three friends awoke the next morning! the wind blew violently and raised swirls of snow such that one could not open one's eyes. It was pitch dark, and it would have been rash to venture out of the cabin. They quickly closed the door, which they had barely been able to open because of the amount of snow that the wind had accumulated there; and soon it was crowded again. They were once again confined to their dwelling, and their hope of seeing and killing reindeer was dashed.
Then crept back into their hearts dark and disturbing thoughts. "What shall we do," said Alexis and Ivan, groaning, "if the storm and these whirlwinds last a long time, and if our supply of wood is exhausted?" Without firewood we cannot guarantee ourselves from the cold, and if the winter lasts for such a long time, if the whole island is covered with snow and ice, how will we get wood?
“Let us put this care in the hands of our Father who is in heaven,” said the pilot, “and do our duty. This good Lord has so far provided us with everything we needed in our isolation, and showered us with blessings almost every day. Who could be so ungrateful as to doubt his all-powerful providence?..."
These words went to the heart of the two young people; they calmed down, and their worry vanished.
As they lacked occupancy for the moment, the pilot proposed to search even more closely all the paths leading from the interior of the cave, because they had not yet found everything mentioned in the log. Each of them took a lamp, and they proposed to walk very carefully, so as not to experience the same accidents as on their first underground journey.
They noticed an alley that rose by natural steps completed by the hand of man. They climbed this sort of staircase, and arrived in a spacious and very dry cellar. Examining it more closely, they found that they had discovered the reserve of provisions of the ancient inhabitants of this island. They saw with joy several crates and several tightly closed barrels. In the first one they opened there were shirts, stockings, handkerchiefs and other linen: all in good condition, for the box was completely tarred to protect it from dampness.
It was a great find for the three friends, their laundry, which they had nothing to change, being all dirty and torn. One of these barrels contained smoked fish, besides salted and smoked reindeer meat. Three boxes were filled with dried cochlearia, and two others contained bear, walrus, sea calf, reindeer and fox skins. Nothing was spoiled, because all the barrels and boxes were tightly closed and lined with a layer of tar.
Our sailors could hardly believe their eyes, and they felt unspeakable joy. The pilot made it clear to Alexis and Ivan how weak and unreasonable they had been to complain about the storm and the bad weather which had prevented them from going out to fetch wood.
“Don't you see now,” he said to them, “that what you complained about has done us the greatest service? This is how God disposes of everything: what seems unpleasant to us often becomes the source of our happiness. Everything we find here is of inestimable value, and we cannot thank God enough. If we had been looking for wood, these treasures would have been unknown to us longer. As the three friends rummaged through the caves, bear meat was cooking in a cauldron over the fire. The pilot wanted to prepare a good meal that day. He had often heard that the Greenlanders and Samoyeds dried cochlearia in the summer, and ate it in the winter as vegetables, which saved them from scurvy. He drew boiling water from the cauldron, and put in a sufficient quantity of cochlearia. The dry leaves swelled, resumed their greenery, and gave off an odor similar to that of sauerkraut. In another cauldron they cooked a piece of salted reindeer meat.
They found this meal excellent, and thanked God for it. They had no worries about their food for long, and as they relied on more than one roast from hunting bears and foxes, they were well supplied with meat for a year. From then on they regulated their meals so as to eat four times a week cochlearia cooked with fresh bear or fox, and three times smoked reindeer meat and fish.
As the bad weather still lasted, they continued their search, and arrived at a large vault where they found what they least hoped for and what they most desired: a considerable supply of wood fuel and charcoal. The latter had probably been landed by the former inhabitants of the hut; for all the vessels of England and Holland, where wood is rarer, take on board, when they go whaling, a sufficient quantity of coal for heating.
This discovery was all the more agreeable to them, as they had already feared that they would run out of wood if the bad weather and the excessive cold lasted much longer. This concern was now completely dispelled. Alexis and Ivan were ashamed of their pusillanimous complaints, and promised each other never to indulge in them again.
A herd of reindeer.
During this time the wind subsided and the sky cleared. The cabin was so covered with snow that the three friends had to make a trench to reach the yard. The ditch was almost completely filled with snow. They cleared it and piled it up on the inside of the ditch, to form a sort of wall, which they wetted to freeze it, and thus made themselves a new rampart against the attacks of the bears. They also made a hole in the snow in front of the windows, so that from there they could watch for foxes.
This work occupied the castaways for several days. The cold was increasing rather than decreasing, so that they could hardly protect themselves from it outside the house, even while working. The sky was serene and dotted with stars, whose pale glow allowed them to finish clearing the snow.
So they again set out on a run to the gulf to look for wood. The storm was
came to assist their efforts: it had swept several places on the edge, and the wood was exposed, although almost frozen in the ground, from which the three friends tore it up with great difficulty. They loaded their sled with it and took it home. All this cost them several days of work.
One morning when, having gone out by a beautiful moonlight, they wanted to go to the gulf by a path other than the one they usually followed, they saw in the distance something moving. They advanced cautiously, and discovered a whole herd of reindeer, which fled as soon as they perceived the presence of the men; the latter promptly set off in pursuit; but their march was too slow to be able to keep up with such swift runners, and they soon lost sight of them.
"These animals," said the pilot, "who find moss everywhere under the snow for their food, are not in the habit in winter of going far from their shelter, which they usually establish in a cave in the middle of rocks ; maybe we'll be lucky enough to find them if we follow their lead. »
They took their direction towards the chain of rocks where the reindeer had taken refuge, and where they had not yet taken their steps. They came to a ravine which stretched out among the rocks, and which in many places was covered with snow; there were numerous traces of reindeer feet which left no doubt that these animals often followed this path.
The three travelers were still advancing painfully in the ravine: they reached a large cave, and found lower down, at the exit of the ravine, another smaller one, where they decided to rest and take their meal. They moved as little as possible so as not to frighten the reindeer, in case some were to move in that direction.
They had been there for about an hour when they heard a noise. They listened attentively, and having looked out of the cave, they saw a whole herd of reindeer advancing through the ravine. They came out of the cave full of joy. The reindeer halted at their sight, raised their heads, sniffed the air, then, after a moment's hesitation, hurried off. The three friends followed them, and arrived at a deep valley in the middle of the rocks and which had only two outlets, one communicating with the ravine, and another which was that by which the reindeer had fled. We no longer saw any of these animals; but the snow was trodden all around, and one could be certain that they had their lodgings in the vicinity.
Soon they found out. It was a large, deep cave with a narrow entrance. Near this one they found another smaller one, very convenient for watching the reindeer when they went out or returned to their dwelling, and close enough to kill some with rifle shots.
Our travelers would have liked to wait in this cave for the return of the reindeer; but they were already covered with ice and frost; they were very cold, and had no means of procuring a fire; they had already been in the race for almost eight hours. For this time, therefore, they had to content themselves with having discovered the reindeer's roost, and put off the hunt until the following days, when they would provide themselves with everything they needed.
The three friends now spoke only of the reindeer; they especially wanted to have one alive. They had in their cave a large supply of moss which they had collected for their bedtime, and which could suffice for a long time to feed one of these animals. They rejoiced thinking of the milk they could get from it. They were already certain of being able to kill some; they therefore only had to think of the means of taking a living one, and that seemed easy to them with the laces they would put at the entrance to the shelter they had discovered.
They therefore took care of all the necessary preparations. They made strong cords of intestines, and cut straps of reindeer skins found in the crate, to make shoelaces and then bind their captive. That done, they set off one evening when there was a beautiful aurora borealis. They loaded the sled with everything they had prepared; they also put in it roasted meat, wood and charcoal for heating, and some tools that they might need. Their intention was to try to surprise the reindeer during the night, when they would be left to rest.
Having arrived happily near the little cave, they pitched their camp there; then Ivan slipped to the big one to examine if the reindeer were there, and was soon able to convince himself of it by the noise they made. He was so keen to kill one that he wanted to persuade the pilot to light a fire at the entrance to the cave, and enter it at once, which would allow them
to kill several of these animals at the same time; but the pilot was too circumspect to consent to it, and knew too well the dangers to which they would be exposed, if all the reindeer were to rush towards the entrance; for in that case they could easily be knocked down, trampled on, and even injured. He therefore advised to wait for the reindeer to come out: then they could choose one, and kill it without difficulty. Ivan was of the opinion that we should stretch shoelaces, where, no doubt, there would soon be someone caught. The pilot objected that this was not easy to do, because the reindeer, frightened by the noise at the entrance to the cave, would rush out, break the fetters or jump over it. Ivan therefore had to resign himself to waiting for the reindeer to leave their roost voluntarily.
The three friends placed themselves around a large fire, and one of them alternately kept watch.
They had not waited two hours when the reindeer, having probably smelled their enemies, rushed out of the cave, and fled towards the outlet opposite the valley. All three discharged their guns at the same time; but a single blow had paid off. A reindeer fell and couldn't get up again. A fawn had remained near the fallen animal, and was making plaintive sounds; it was his mother who had been killed. Ivan and Alexis hastened to run to the two outlets of the valley, to cut off the passage of the young reindeer, and the pilot advanced towards him to throw a lace around his neck. After several unsuccessful attempts, he finally succeeded, and the fawn let his feet be tied without resistance.
Boldness of a white bear.
The travelers had had a successful hunt. Two reindeer, one dead and one alive, were in their hands. Everything was loaded onto the sled, and we returned to the house.
Butchering the reindeer kept them busy for a day, and some pieces were cooked. As for the young animal, as soon as his bonds were undone, he kept quiet, ate the moss that was given to him, and soon got used to his masters.
These went several days in a row towards the gulf with their sledge to provide themselves with wood, for they suffered greatly from the cold; the thermometer marked 26 degrees; the weather, however, was fairly calm and the sky cloudless.
One evening when they were returning home with a good load of wood, they saw a bear which, with the help of the snow piled up by the wind around their house, had climbed up to the opening of the vault. through which the smoke was coming out. They had forgotten on leaving to raise the bridge, and the bear had taken the opportunity to enter the yard, probably attracted by the smell of the young reindeer, and by the plaintive cries he made when he called for his mother. Our bear tried in vain to enter the cabin through this opening.
The three friends got ready to shoot, because they never went out unarmed; but they aimed badly in the dark. The bullets hit the bear, but did not kill it; he rolled on the snow, and as they approached him he straightened up and struck Ivan a blow that knocked him to the ground. Fortunately Ivan was so well wrapped in furs that the bear's claws could not reach him. At the same moment the pilot applied from behind, on the head of the animal, a blow of the ax so vigorous that it was knocked down. So they had caught yet another bear, but not without danger. This one was of an enormous size; he furnishes them with plenty of fat for their lamp, meat, and good fur moreover.
Taking the reindeer.
After spending a few days sawing and splitting the wood brought, they set out on the campaign trail with the intention of seizing a reindeer. For this purpose, they took with them everything they needed for a three-day absence.
They arrived without accident at the valley, and entered the cavern, where they arranged everything for their enterprise. The big cave was empty. They took advantage of this circumstance to drive large nails into the ground in front of the entrance, and tie shoelaces to them. Water was poured on the nails, and this water freezing immediately made them invisible.
When all was over, the three friends returned to the cave, where they stood quietly waiting for the reindeer to arrive.
About two hours later, the reindeer approached; several entered without falling into the hairpin bends; finally one of them, taller and heavier, who advanced slowly, put his foot in the laces, and, trying to get rid of, tightened the noose and was caught, after useless efforts to escape. 'escape. The other reindeer, seeing this, fled quickly.
The sailors quickly ran to the reindeer, which struggled with effort.
The pilot threw a shoelace around his horns to hold him back. Alexis and Ivan bound his four feet with straps, and, having thus loaded him on the sledge, hastened to return to the house. She was a female, and judging by her size, she should give birth soon. They tied him up inside the cave; the young reindeer immediately approached it to pet it. The poor beast was quite timid and trembling in all her limbs, but otherwise she did not try to escape; soon she even began to take food. Shortly after, the three shipwrecked men tamed her completely, giving her moss and water only when she took them in her hands. After a few days she became quite tame.
The three companions thus saw the fulfillment of the wish that they had formed for so long. They had two live reindeer, one of which promised them a calf and milk. All they had to do was get them food. They also had fresh and tasty reindeer meat, and when their supply was exhausted, they could get hold of it easily, since they knew where these animals roosted. The foxes, it is true, never came back; the gunshots had ended by frightening them; but instead they had the succulent meat of the reindeer, and its fat, with which they could very well season their cochiearia.
So they lacked nothing to spend the winter without worry. So they did not forget to thank God for all the good that had happened to them on this island, and they no longer grumbled against the other privations to which they were still subjected.
But human life is so arranged that when we are delivered from one concern, another arises, so that we may constantly feel our dependence upon God.
The intensity of the cold increased every day, and became such that the three friends could no longer leave their cabin; however, it was necessary to collect moss for the two reindeer, to which the pilot especially showed himself very active. He often remained at this work longer than the two young men would have liked, because of the danger to which he exposed himself.
Ivan and Alexis finally took it upon themselves to pick up the moss; and the pilot had to take care of the cooking and the domestic work during this time. But one morning when they were preparing to go out as usual, armed with guns and pikes, they were forced to return at once. The cold was unbearable. The air was so pungent that it took their breath away and turned their breath to frost that clung to their faces and furs. The bare hand clung to the gun barrel. They also felt a great pain in their eyes, and it seemed to them that the skin of their face was going to be cut.
They had never experienced such cold before, and the pilot strongly advised them to stay at home, especially since their supply of foam was sufficient until the worst cold was over, even if it lasted. another month there was therefore no need to expose oneself to such dreadful weather.
They therefore devoted themselves to various interior works. The reindeer and bear skins abandoned by the former inhabitants of the cabin were quite flexible; they made shoes and jackets of it, not very elegant, it is true, but excellent for keeping them warm.
This work was very difficult. They were forced to cut the skins with a knife; to sew them, they made holes with a nail; through these holes they passed thread made from reindeer tendons. It was only later that the idea occurred to Ivan of forging a kind of needle with a nail which he made red in the fire.
With weak means, man can accomplish great things, provided he has good will and perseverance. Need is a skilful and very inventive master. Our three friends are a striking example.
In the midst of this work, the pilot suddenly complained of weariness and lack of appetite. The blood went to his head and bothered him greatly; finally he had a cold and fell quite ill: his advanced age, the excessive work to which he had devoted himself, an unhealthy diet, perhaps also a secret languor, caused by the separation from his wife and children, from which he was so far removed, had impaired his strength and undermined his health. A cold taken while looking for moss had accelerated the irruption of the illness. Soon the disease worsened day by day, and the pilot himself feared to succumb.
Then great anxiety came to assail the hearts of the two cousins. They loved the pilot like a second father; they knew how to appreciate the services he had rendered them in their unfortunate position, and did not forget how much he had aided them on every occasion by his advice and help. He was their only friend, their only support.
His experience constantly came to the aid of their youth. Without him they would have been lost on this uninhabited island.
The two young people did not leave the patient's bed. How they would have liked to be able to relieve this faithful friend! how willingly they would have borne a part of his pains! But they could do nothing for him except heal him and show him their compassion. They made him a bed of bearskins as soft as possible, and covered him warmly; they kept up the fire in the stove day and night, often gave him tea, and spied on his every sign to anticipate his desires. But the patient was getting worse and worse; a violent fever had seized him, and he felt sharp pains in all his limbs. The two young men, their hearts oppressed and filled with anxiety, stood beside their poor comrade, whom they could not help.
In their affliction, they turned to God, asking him to have mercy on the pilot and restore him to health.
But soon all hope faded. The patient grew weaker and weaker, and could hardly speak. He motioned to his two friends to approach his bed; then, having risen with difficulty, he rested his trembling head on his left arm, and said in a weak voice:
“Dear friends, I will soon part with you; God calls me back from this world, and the sufferings by which he has sorely tested me in this life will end. Do not Cry ; divine providence will watch over you and will not allow you to perish. Trust in God; he will always be your surest help and protector; just as he has helped you so far, he will send you a way out of here. As for me, I will no longer live in this happy moment. If you return to your homeland, I commend my wife and my children to you: console them and help them in everything, according to your means, in memory of me, who have always been ready to serve you; it's the last request a dying friend makes of you. Farewell ; be pious, love work, God will be with you, and will give you what you need. »
After these words, which the patient pronounced with great difficulty, he fell back on his bed, closed his eyes and remained motionless, as though paralyzed in all his limbs. His breathing was barely noticeable.
The two friends thought it was all over, and the pain threw them into inexpressible confusion.
So as not to sadden their comrade's last moments even more, they went away after throwing several bear skins on the bed of the dying man, so that he would not get cold during their absence.
All that remained with the pilot was the young reindeer, who had become completely accustomed to him.
The two young people then abandoned themselves to their pain, and they uttered sobs which echoed in the cave. What will become of us, they said to themselves, if we lose such a faithful friend? What do we have to hope for on this desert island? Soon one of us will follow him into the tomb, and what will become of the one who remains? May God have mercy on us! Our sufferings surpass human strength. »
They fell on their knees, and in the excess of their pain they begged the Lord to save their friend, or to remove them with him from off the earth, and thus put an end to their sufferings.
However, these first moments of quite legitimate pain gave way to more religious thoughts, and they addressed this prayer full of resignation to God.
“Heavenly Father, you impose great suffering on us; but we deserved them by the grief we caused our father. Your will be done! Give us the strength to bear our ills! »
Then they stretched out their hands, promised to persevere with patience and to assist each other fraternally until death.
What cannot be changed, they said to themselves, must be borne with resignation. God has always helped us miraculously; he will not cease to be our protector. »
The reindeer is having a baby.
The two friends, their hearts filled with sadness, dared not approach the patient's bed, so as not to acquire the certainty of his death. They withdrew to the back of the cave, and went towards the female reindeer to feed it. They noticed that she had given birth during their absence, and that her baby was already nursing her.
In another time, this event would have caused them great joy; but under these circumstances he made no impression on them.
"If our friend," they said, "had seen this little one suckle his mother, we would have rejoiced with him."
They looked at the stove, then looked for occupation in the yard; but they were soon driven out by the cold, and yet they could not make up their minds to return to the patient's bed, for fear of renewing their pain. So they sat down by the stove, and abandoned themselves to sad thoughts.
An unexpected joy.
After remaining silent for some time and immersed in deep sadness, Ivan said: “We act with ingratitude towards our friend by thus abandoning him in his last moments; we are not yet strong enough against suffering, we must also learn to bear the death of our faithful friend. God will give us the necessary strength for this. »
Having said these words, he got up, took the lamp, and, followed by Alexis, went to their friend's couch. What was their astonishment when they saw the sick man's face drenched in sweat, and they recognized that his breathing had become free, short and embarrassed as it had been before! The younger of the two reindeer had effected this marvelous cure. This faithful animal, as we have said, was attached like a dog to the pilot, who gave him his food every day; he had come to lie down on his master's feet, and had restored to him a beneficent warmth.
“Our friend still lives! exclaimed Ivan, drunk with joy; and both threw themselves on his couch and covered him with kisses.
“God be merciful, says Ivan, our friend is taking on a new life! »
The pilot looked at his two companions with a languid but very clear eye, and said to them: "Bring me some tea, for I am very thirsty." »
There was boiling water in the cauldron. Ivan hurried to prepare the tea; the pilot looked like he was waking up from a deep, tiring sleep; he was drenched in sweat, but he felt great relief.
The two young people could not contain their joy; this sudden transition from a desperate state to a more perceptible improvement nearly drove them mad. When they could contemplate with more calmness the extent of their happiness, they fell on their knees, and thanked God for so great and so unexpected a benefit.
The care of friendship.
The patient was given all possible care. The two young men took turns watching over him to keep him in even heat and give him hot drinks. A quiet sleep refreshed his senses, and the next day he seemed more alert.
When Ivan approached him with a cup of milk tea, the pilot asked him with a contented smile: "Where did you get that milk?" »
They told him that the reindeer had given birth, and that Ivan had milked him that very day for the first time.
"My God," said the pilot then, clasping his hands, "so you gave me, while I was struggling against death, a new remedy to restore my health!" Thanks be to you! »
From then on broth and milk tea formed the food of the convalescent, who always continued to experience a beneficial perspiration which they were careful not to stop, which they encouraged, on the contrary, by hot drinks. Twice a day they also gave him sweet tea, to which they added a little rum.
Every day the patient felt better, and he was already beginning to ask for food. His young friends feared that the reindeer meat was too indigestible for him; they dared even less to give him oily bear meat or salted fish: milk was no longer enough to satiate him.
They then decided, although it gave them great pain, to take the fawn from its mother and kill it.
It was with great satisfaction that they served their friend a piece of this meat, and they added to it a glass of the precious wine which still remained. The nourishing broth and the light meat of the reindeer, which the pilot took several times a day in small quantities, visibly strengthened him. Soon he could stay up for a few hours. Gradually he left the bed completely, and felt his strength entirely restored. The two young people celebrated the healing of the good pilot with lively thanksgiving addressed to the Lord.
The reindeer leads to a new discovery.
The pilot's illness and convalescence had lasted a month, during which time the period of greatest cold had passed, and the three friends could finally venture to undertake work outside their homes and go on errands further afield. The meat of the reindeer killed was eaten, the pilot had gradually consumed that of the fawn. The supply of wood was also diminished; the two cousins then resolved to go reindeer hunting alone; their companion had not yet recovered all his strength, and they had reason to fear that he would experience a relapse by exposing himself too much to the inclement weather. He advised the two young people to be on their guard against the bears, which, for lack of food because of the great cold and the thickness of the snow, were becoming more and more ferocious.
For him, he took care of domestic affairs during this time. When he was in the cave, the two reindeer always stayed with him; they were already so tame and gentle that they followed him everywhere.
One day when the pilot had stopped for some time in the cave which adjoined their dwelling, the female reindeer went, her head raised, along the wall, and sniffed as if she had smelled something extraordinary. In the end he stopped near a hole which was at the very top of the vault of the rock, and raised his nostrils as much as possible. He then began to gasp and hiss as if he longed for something.
The pilot noticed this attitude, and feared that this hole would lead outside the rock, and that a bear would try to get in at this very moment. So he prepared his arms; but he was soon undeceived, when he saw that the reindeer, instead of showing any anxiety, was raising its front feet against the wall to reach this opening.
He moved his lamp forward and saw only a dark hollow in the wall, the same one they had thought to be shallow some time before. He tried to climb it, but in vain, the slope was too steep. Then he remembered having found, a long time ago, a ladder which had perhaps served the former inhabitants of the cave to climb up there; but she was so rotten,
that it had been burned. He no longer doubted that there was something edible that the reindeer had smelled; but he could not guess what it was.
While the pilot exhausted himself, thus in conjectures and thought of the means of arriving until this hollow, Ivan and Alexis returned; they had had a good hunt. A large reindeer was thrown onto the sled. After they had carried him into the cabin, the pilot told them what had happened while they were gone. They tried to reach the opening supporting each other; but that was impossible.
How to get there? With a stepped mast this could have been achieved; but how to get one? Ivan and Alexis proposed, as soon as they were rested, to go to the gulf while it was still moonlight, in order to look there for a sharp piece of wood suitable for this purpose.
Having taken a little food, they set off, and soon returned with a fir tree which they dragged with straps.
They had found a large tendril among the scrap metal; they used it to drill holes in the tree about a foot away; they passed there through specially shaped timbers, and soon found themselves in possession of a kind of ladder, which was leaned against the wall. Ivan went up first with the lamp, and Alexis soon followed him, provided with the ship's lantern.
“This opening goes deep into the rock,” said Ivan, “and it seems to be getting wider. »
He was not wrong. Through a low and narrow orifice, they entered a natural vault, like a large, very dry and very clean oven. Right at the entrance were heaps of dry moss and cochlearia: it was probably this moss that the reindeer had smelled. They searched again, and found several barrels lined up.
Alexis called the pilot, told him what they had found, and asked him for an ax or a hammer to open the barrels. The first contained flour still well preserved, another was filled with nuts, and a third with beans; all contained food provisions.
It was a joyful surprise for the three friends, who had been deprived of this food for so long. It is probable that the captain, the last inhabitant of this hut, had placed these foodstuffs there to always have them at hand; he had saved them for dire need, and died before he could consume them.
Now the castaways could prepare good sailor's food. Never had they seen themselves so rich in food, and the pilot, who knew how to cook so well, was all the more delighted at this discovery, as he hoped that this food, to which they were accustomed, would go a long way towards restoring his strength.
He even had the idea of baking bread, and, if he did not succeed perfectly with the meager means at his disposal, he nevertheless made a batch which approached the biscuit of the sea, and which the three friends found as much better than they had been deprived of this food for a very long time.
He also made an excellent soup with flour and fat, and, to complete their meal, they each drank a glass of the good wine, of which they had found a chest full near the barrels.
These unfortunates could now endure
their position, and were each day more satisfied comparing it with the deplorable state in which they found themselves on their arrival in this island; but at the same time they made moderate use of the gifts they had obtained, and always reserved some provisions for unforeseen needs.
They then regulated their occupations in such a way as never to remain idle. When the weather allowed it, Ivan and Alexis went on fixed days to look for wood or to hunt; the pilot took care of the kitchen and busied himself with other interior work. But the wood had become much more difficult to collect, because it had to be removed from under a thick crust of ice. However, since the snow was well frozen, they more easily brought the loaded sled home. They often returned from hunting without game; for they had to employ many precautions and tricks to approach the reindeer, who were fiercer and kept on guard against their pursuers.
In all their excursions, Ivan and Alexis had moreover to fear the meeting of the bears, which became bolder and more ferocious by lack of food.
Wolves also were seen, and they announced themselves by horrible howls. One day when the two young people had gone to the gulf to look for wood, they heard several wolves howling in the distance, and it seemed to them that they were still approaching; but they knew that wolves are very afraid of fire. They lit it on their sled and kept it burning all the way. The wolves followed some distance with dreadful howls to the neighborhood of the hut, and retreated without having dared to attack them.
In the sequel, wolves driven by hunger often approached the hut and dug under the snow to extract the entrails thrown there as bait for the foxes; two were killed, but their skin alone was good for something, and the flesh was left under the snow.
Attack of five bears.
It is commonly said that wolf meat is eaten by no other animal but the wolves themselves, and yet the three friends noticed, after a few days, that the discarded corpses were all devoured; later they were convinced that bears had fed on them, probably driven by excessive hunger.
One evening when they were in bed and quietly asleep, the pilot, whose sleep was not as deep as that of his companions, was awakened around midnight by a noise which he took at first for the howling of the wind or the howling of wolves; but soon he distinguished the hoarse barking of the bears.
Fearing that these animals, which seemed numerous, would manage to break down the door of the dwelling, he awoke the two young people. As they had not been bothered by bears for a long time, they had neglected to clear the ditch, the snow of which was at this moment covered with such a thick crust of ice, that the bears, without sinking it, could pass on it and get to the hut.
Ivan opened the skylights to see what was going on outside. The air was calm, but very cold. The snow shone in the light of the aurora borealis; five hungry bears were advancing towards the ditch. The three friends promptly seized their guns; they square, shoot, and two bears fall; but soon they get up and continue their march, uttering dreadful howls. The others who weren't hurt hesitated, stopped for a moment; then they rushed forward with even more rage, jumped into the ditch, which was more than half full of snow, and tried to climb the inner slope into the yard.
The inhabitants had meanwhile reloaded their guns; they fired, and hit a bear so well that it stood still. Then the two others who were wounded threw themselves on this one and began to tear it. He was only seriously injured, and was defending himself against his two attackers; the struggle lasted so long that the besieged were able to load and unload their guns several times. Each of the three bears had received1 so many bullets that he could no longer defend himself; these ferocious animals were all the more bitter against each other.
The other two bears, however, having, after much effort, ascended the embankment of the ditch, had entered the interior of the yard, and seemed to have grown more furious at the frequent shots and wounds of their comrades. The three friends threw a few balls at them; all aimed at the same bear, which received two shots in the head and fell. Three more shots finished killing this enormous beast, which rolled and writhed for a long time in its blood before expiring.
The fifth bear, which had not yet received a bullet, had nevertheless penetrated with rage to the door of the hut, where it became impossible to aim at it. He knocked with force against this door, and, leaning on it with all the weight of his body, tried to break it down; the three friends were already afraid that it would break under the strain.
In vain they beat with their fists and axes against the door to frighten the bear and put it to flight; his sense of smell told him that there were men and reindeer, and his furious hunger made him blind and deaf to all danger.
Ivan and Alexis were very scared, and the pilot said there was only one way to get rid of their enemy, and that was to kill him in hand-to-hand combat.
The pilot and Ivan therefore seized their pikes, and Alexis, with his heavy ax, had to open the door quickly, so that he was behind it. The first two were to walk up to the bear, drive their spikes through its body, and Alexis knock it out with an axe. These arrangements made, Alexis opened the door abruptly just as the bear was leaning heavily against it; lacking support, he fell inside; but he got up immediately and walked straight to the pilot. The latter took a step forward and thrust his pike up to the hilt into the body; for his part, Ivan pierced his stomach; the bear fell and at the same time received such a violent blow on the head from Alexis that he could no longer get up. The pilot and Ivan also grabbed their axes and struck with Alexis so vigorously, that the bear's skull was soon shattered.
“We escaped a great danger, said the pilot, and it could have ended badly; but God has protected us, let us give him thanks.
"We have, moreover, been guilty of a great imprudence," he continued, "which could have been very fatal to us." We haven't cleared our ditch, and the bears grow bolder and bolder with hunger. This negligence must first be repaired.' The two young people feared that too long a stay in the air, which was very cold, would harm the pilot. So they wanted to do this job on their own, while he took care of the bears in the house.
After many entreaties, he consented, and the five bears were carried into the cave.
The two young men set to work in the ditch; all the snow was thrown on the inner wall, so as to form a rampart even higher than the last. They cut it straight with the spade, then poured water over it, so that it made a wall of ice which it was impossible for the bears to cross.
Bears still often presented themselves, sometimes even several in company, which came as far as the ditch; but they could no longer approach the cabin.
It became very dangerous for the castaways to fetch wood or to hunt; fortunately they were sufficiently well supplied with provisions of all kinds to wait for a milder season, when the ferocious beasts retire to other countries and the bears go to the sea. hut or in the yard.
So another four weeks passed. It was still excessively cold, and the dark night that had lasted for more than four months was rarely lit by the moon or the aurora borealis. During this time it was necessary to close not only the door, but also the skylights, for otherwise it would have been impossible to keep warm, even near the almost red-hot stove; and, although the greatest cold had already passed, the walls were covered with frost as soon as the door or a skylight was opened; which concentrated in the cabin and the two caverns a mephitic air which could have the most unfortunate influence on the health of the inhabitants.
They were therefore obliged to go out often during the day to breathe the fresh air, to which they could stay longer exposed, because the cold became less bitter, and they protected themselves from it by wrapping themselves in furs.
The fodder for the reindeer was nearing its end, and the friends soon found themselves having to go digging in the snow almost every day to collect moss, which was becoming very arduous work, for the snow was covered with a thick crust of ice that had to be split with an axe; moreover, they dared not go far from the house, the frequent visits of the bears making it a rule for them to be always armed and to be on their guard.
Moreover, exercise in the open air did them a great deal of good, and when they were forced, because of the depth of the snow or an increase in the cold, which however did not last so long, to stay for a few days at home, they felt a heaviness all over their bodies, and a black melancholy seized them.
Although their position was very bearable in comparison with the first days of their stay on this island, the long duration of the winter and of the night caused them deep annoyance; they longed for the beautiful season, which could finally bring them a ship that would draw them out of this solitude.
Such is man: as soon as he is freed from a great care and finds himself in a more comfortable position, he despises the good of which he has the peaceful enjoyment, and hastens to form new desires of which the accomplishment will leave him no more rest.
One night the pilot was awakened by a terrible noise; he thought at first that it was still bears and wolves approaching, and he awoke his companions to prepare for a common defence. Ivan opened the door a crack to try to see what enemies they were going to have to deal with; but a violent gust of wind, which almost knocked him down, told him that the cause of the noise was a horrible storm which had just broken out. The sky was covered with dark clouds, the snow was falling in large flakes mixed with rain, and was penetrating through the skylights into the cabin. The wind was so furious, it seemed as if the earth was shaking to its foundations, and the rocks were about to be knocked down.
Ivan and Alexis were very worried; they had never seen such a thing. The cracking of the ice on the sea and the sound of the waves increased their fear still more; as for the pilot, who was familiar with these phenomena of the North Pole, he showed neither fear nor astonishment, and conceived, on the contrary, good hopes. He knew that the transition from winter to summer is announced by extraordinary storms; also, when the two young people looked at him with concern and tried to read on his face what they had to fear or to hope for, this pious man said to them: "God is almighty, and the forces of nature are terrible. in their shock. The culprit trembles at these strong commotions; but the Lord thereby announces only benefits. The howling of the wind promises us the approach of day and the arrival of summer; it raises the waves under their cover of ice to break it; it pushes ice cubes against ice cubes to crush them. Let us indulge in joy; for these phenomena, which excite your fears, announce that summer will soon arrive, and that we are approaching the realization of our desires. The sea will be cleared of ice; the ships will go to the whaling and will be able to save us. Let us trust in God, and pray that he will have mercy on us, and that he will send us a deliverer. »
The two young people raised their eyes and their hands to heaven, and all remained absorbed for a few moments in pious thoughts; and the hope of a speedy deliverance restored calm to their hearts.
The storm lasted six days, during which it was almost impossible to set foot outside the hut; it was in the first half of March. At last the sky cleared, and the moon appeared in the form of a sickle behind the points of rocks; she entered the first quarter.
Ivan and Alexis profiled the first days of calm which succeeded the terrible convulsions of the storm to visit the gulf and look for wood there. The edge of the sea offered the saddest and most terrifying aspect; the masses of icicles thrown on the edge, broken and accumulated by the efforts of the wind, took on the most bizarre shapes, and the half-light which shone on them lent even more to their gigantic and fantastic figures something more extraordinary.
As they approached the shore, the two young people saw amid the sharp peaks of the ice a blackish mass which they took at first for the hull of an overturned vessel. Deeply moved at this sight, they could not help thinking at once of their companions on the Juno, and trembled lest this wreckage should come to reveal to them the unhappy end of the English captain and his crew. They immediately resolved to go and reconnoitre this object more closely, which they could still only vaguely distinguish, and to ascertain its nature. The road was difficult and perilous to reach there; the ice, so recently agitated by the violent shocks of the storm, presented numerous crevices, and even left in some places spaces where the sea was not frozen. But the young friends were accustomed to overcoming many obstacles and no longer fearing the dangers; besides, the impetuous Ivan was not stopped by any apprehension when his ardent imagination was excited, and Alexis, after making some observations, followed his companion, resolving not to let him run the chances of this perilous excursion alone.
Approaching the object which had excited their curiosity so keenly, they felt almost
suffocated by a strong and unpleasant odor which was unknown to them; they continued their route, however, clinging to the sharp points of the ice, and supporting themselves by means of the pickaxes and shovels which they had brought to uproot the trees from the ground, to which the frost had attached them. What was their surprise when they recognized that what they had taken for a ship was nothing other than an enormous whale stranded in the middle of the ice! This monstrous cetacean, which could be sixty feet in length, seemed to have been dead for several days, and exhaled a barely bearable odor. They did not stop pursuing their dangerous march until they reached the immense animal, and examined with astonishment its gigantic structure and the size of its head, which formed at least a third of its total mass. They touched his skin, black and smooth as an eel's; they found that it was soft, and that the fat it covered was soft enough for the hand to sink entirely into this substance devoid of consistency; they noticed a considerable number of molluscs and shells which had attached themselves to the skin of the whale, and which seemed to live at its expense. Finally they thought of retreating, and withdrew with the same pains and the same precautions that they had taken to penetrate that far. They then hastened to share their discovery with their companion who had stayed at home.
The latter did not show much astonishment on hearing the story of Ivan and Alexis; he knew that it is not rare to see these cetaceans thrown on the shore by the storm, either because they are dead in advance and the flow pushes them towards the shore, or because the shock of the ice cubes and the tumult the waves stun them and throw them alive on land, where they soon die. The inhabitants of Kamchatka regard these events as good windfalls, which assure them of abundant food for a long time and which cost them little trouble. These peoples, in fact, make excellent meals from the tough meat of the whale, and even from its oily blubber. However, these presents which the sea sends them are sometimes fatal to them; indeed, some inhabitants of the coasts kill the whales by throwing poisoned arrows at them; if the one we eat has died in this way, the food we get from it can cause the most serious accidents. We have seen more than once all the members of a tribe dangerously ill and die in large numbers from eating this dangerous food.
The pilot found himself led, by the conversation which arose on this subject between him and his young friends, to give them a complete description of the whale; he was perfectly educated in this respect,
as a result of the numerous trips he had made on vessels intended for the fishing of this cetacean.
“The whale,” he told them, “is one of the most monstrous fishes that we meet in the sea, and is classed among the cetaceans called blowers. The characteristic which principally distinguishes it is to have no species of teeth. His head, which is enormous, as you have noticed, is almost entirely filled by the huge cavity of his mouth, where ten to twelve men could easily stand. This vast reservoir is formed of very large maxillary bones: it is those of the upper jaw which support this horny substance divided by blades which are called baleen, or more vulgarly the ribs of a whale; these kinds of bones, which serve as the animal's teeth, are brown, black, and yellow, with stripes of various colors. There are whales that have light blue ribs, which makes them look young. This hard substance is furnished everywhere with long and coarse hairs, or rather it is the baleen itself which is composed of filaments which taper and terminate in thin nets like horsehair. Each side of the upper jaw is lined with two hundred and fifty ribs; the strongest are in the middle, and are up to twelve and fifteen feet long. The lower jaw is devoid of baleen; it is surrounded by large bony white ribs and supports the tongue, a mass of soft, spongy fat, white in color but edged with black spots.
On the head of the whale, above the eyes and fins, rises a strong magnifying glass, which has two openings through which the animal throws water with great force. The noise of this movement, which is heard from a great distance, resembles that of the wind which rushes into a cave. The whale never rejects water with more force than when it is injured and the noise it makes then resembles that of a rough sea. Much below this magnifying glass, and almost at the corner of the mouth, are the eyes, which are no larger than those of an ox, and which are furnished with hair. Immediately behind the eyes, and therefore near the corner of the mouth, are the fins of a size proportionate to the animal, covered with a thick skin, black and mottled with white stripes. After cutting off the fins, bones are pulled out from under the skin, resembling an open human hand with outstretched fingers. The intervals of the joints offer very stiff sinews, which rebound when thrown down with force. The whale, having only two fins, uses them almost like an oar, and swims like a boat with two oars. The head is immediately joined to the body, which, forming a curvature similar to that of the skittles of buildings, narrows and ends in a horizontal tail, endowed with great strength and divided into two equal lobes.
The color of these animals is very beautiful in the sun, and the little waves with which their skin is mirrored gives them the luster of silver; but there is little uniformity in its color; one sees them marbled with white and black, or yellow and black; others are entirely black; but one still distinguishes places of a shiny black and others of a matte black.
They swim with extreme speed, their movements are composed of parabolas described in the water by the effect of the blows that their tail, horizontal, strikes on the water. When a whale flees, we see its head, its back and its tail alternately; then everything disappears to return further to the surface with the same movement.
Despite its considerable strength, this sea monster has formidable enemies: the one it fears the most is the sawfish, more commonly called the swordfish or the swordfish. they never meet without a fight; and it is usually the swordfish which is the aggressor. Sometimes two of these animals join against a whale. As its only offensive and defensive weapon is its tail, it plunges its head, and when it can strike its enemy, it knocks him out with a blow; but he is very skilful in avoiding her, and, swooping down on her, he thrusts his weapon into her back. Often he does not pierce it to the bottom of the fat, and the wound is slight. Each time he rushes to hit her, she dives; but he pursues her into the water and forces her to reappear: then the fight begins again, and lasts until he loses sight of her. She always beats a retreat, and swims better than him at the water's edge. Whales that have been killed by swordfish smell so badly that the smell of them spreads very far. It is said that swordfish and other fish of the same genus are extremely fond of the whale's tongue, and even endeavor to devour it from the living animal. For this, one of them seeks to introduce himself headlong into the badly defended mouth of the whale, and when he is seized between his two jaws, he remains there acting as a wedge, while that the others, enlarging the opening, enter the mouth and devour the tongue. The whale then dies in horrible convulsions.
After these details, the pilot added: “Tomorrow we will all go together to see if we can get anything out of this whale before it spoils, and the bears, wolves and walruses feed on it; I could still give you some details which will interest you on the fishing of which this animal is the object. »
The next day, the three companions in misfortune, provided with the utensils that the pilot had deemed necessary, went to the stranded monster. Unable to dream of skinning this immense animal with the meager means at their disposal, they contented themselves with piercing its thick skin in several places; by plunging sharp instruments into the layer of fat which was between the skin and the flesh, they brought out a great quantity of oil, which they collected in small barrels and in sewn skins which they had brought into this design: they also tore off some large pieces of fat with their axes to melt them, and to extract from them a precious food for their lamp. The provisions which they now had with a certain abundance made them disdain the flesh of this animal, which is in very bad taste; besides, they were already loaded enough with the spoils taken from this cetacean to be able to take nothing more. They therefore left the rest to wild beasts and large birds of prey which they already saw hovering over their heads.
During the course of this operation, and when they had returned to their cabin, the pilot gave them a great deal of information on whaling which we are going to summarize here.
The Basques, or rather the sailors of Biscay, are generally considered to have been the first to dare to declare war on the queen of the seas; at least the skill which they acquired in this dangerous fishing, and the audacity which they deployed there, gave them in this respect such a reputation, that all the nations which wanted to attempt this fruitful trade went to seek among them harpooners, slingers, captains and helmsmen. The Dutch and the English were the first to realize great profits by means of this fishery; since then, the Americans have at least equaled them in the development given to this kind of enterprise. The French gave themselves up to it last; nevertheless, from 1785 to 1793, one hundred and fourteen ships entered France with thirty-one thousand barrels of oil. Since that time, the owners of the French ports have not ceased to increase their undertakings of this kind.
This long and perilous navigation requires strongly built buildings and a solid rigging, numerous and bold crews, finally a considerable material appropriate to their destination. As soon as a whale is seen, or heard from afar blowing and spurting water, all the fishermen throw themselves into their boats. Each boat usually contains six men, and sometimes seven, according to its size. They approach the whale by dint of oars, and the harpooner, who is forward, throws the harpoon he has in front of him. It is usually near the gills and fins, or in the middle of the back, that we try to fix the shoe. The iron of the harpoon has, at the extremity, the shape of an arrow with two cutting edges; the back is thick, so that it cannot cut on this side or come off. This instrument has a wooden handle; the best are those that can bend without breaking.
The whale no sooner feels hurt than it dives with incredible speed, pulling the rope attached to the harpoon with such force that the bow of the boat is level with the waves, and drags it down. , even at the bottom, if one had not been extremely careful to spin the rope continuously. Each shallop is provided with a heap of ropes, divided into four or five rolls, each of which contains from eighty to a hundred fathoms. As the whale sinks, more rope is released, and if the launch does not have enough, recourse is had to that of the others. The fishermen take extreme care that when the whale sinks, their long rope does not get mixed up or come too far to one side; without this attention, the launch would infallibly be overturned. The rope must run directly through the middle of the boat, and the harpooner constantly wets the edge with a sponge, which it touches as it passes, fearing that such a rapid movement might set it on fire. The others also watch over it, while an experienced sailor, who is at the stern to steer the launch with his oar, observes which way the rope runs, and adjusts himself to its movement; it can be said without exaggeration that the boat, thus dragged along by the wounded animal, runs faster than the wind.
The wounded whale is thus followed until it has exhausted its strength and is dead, or at least until it is unable to flee any further; sometimes she carries with her as many as two thousand fathoms of rope. If the animal enters the ice, we follow it by the path it opens; but if it withdraws under a floating island of ice, it is often necessary to give up having it, to tear the harpoon from its wound with force of arm, or to cut the cord.
While a whale is hooked, all the other boats row in front of the one from which the shot came when it slows down, and sometimes pull the rope to find out by its stiffness the degree of strength that remains in the animal. When it seems loose and it does not tip the front of the boat, we only think of removing it. One of the fishermen puts it back in circles as it is pulled, to be able to spin it with the same ease if the whale begins to flee again. We also observe not to let go of the rope too much to those fleeing at water level, because in agitation they could catch it on some rocks and cause the harpoon to jump. Of the dead whales, it is not the fattest that sink immediately; we notice, on the contrary, that the thinner they are, the faster they go to the bottom, although they return to the water a few days later. But we do not wait for those who thus disappear to come back up by themselves, and the effort of all the fishermen unites to lead them to the vessel, which approaches itself and follows its launches as much as it does. can. A whale that has been dead for a few days is unbearably filthy and stench: its flesh fills with long, white worms. The longer it remains in the water, the higher it rises; most are uncovered from one to two feet. In some we see half the body; but then they burst with an extraordinary noise. Their flesh ferments; he makes such big holes in his stomach that part of the intestines come out. The vapor that exhales from it inflames the eyes and causes no less pain there than if quicklime had been thrown there.
Whales coming back alive on the water after being harpooned, some seem only surprised, others are fierce and furious. One then needs extreme precaution to approach it; for, if the air is calm, a whale hears the movement of the oars. In this state, a new harpoon is thrown at him, sometimes two, according to one's opinion of his strength; usually it sinks again. However, some begin to swim at water level, playing with their tails and fins. If in this movement the rope twists round the tail, the harpoon is firmer, and there is no fear of it coming loose.
Wounded whales spurt water with all their might; they can be heard from as far away as the noise of the big cannon; but when they have lost all their blood or are completely tired, they only throw up water weakly and as if by drops. The sound no longer resembles anything but that of an empty flask being held under water to fill it; this change proves that they are going to die.
If a harpoon should happen to break or become detached, fishermen from another vessel who notice it are sure to throw their own harpoon, and when they have hooked the whale, it is theirs. Sometimes a whale is struck at the same time by two harpoons launched by two different vessels. Then both ships have an equal right to it, and each gets half of it. All the boats that accompany the one from which the harpoon is launched wait for the whale to come up, and must lend a hand to kill it with spears. This weather is always the most dangerous; for the launch which launched the harpoon, although dragged along by the whale, is usually very far from it; while the others who come to strike her with their spears are as if on her, or at least at her side, and can hardly avoid receiving very harsh blows, following her movements and agitations. Its tail and its fins beat the water so furiously, that they make it jump and spread it like dust. She can smash a boat with a blow of her tail, but large ships have nothing to fear from her shock; she herself, on the contrary, suffers greatly from it. The spears are composed of a stick about two fathoms in length, and a pointed iron one fathom long, which must be moderately tempered, so that it can bend without breaking. After inserting the spear, it is moved in various directions to make the wound wider. It sometimes happens that all the spears of three or four launches remain embedded in the body of a whale.
Another mode has sometimes been used by North Sea fishermen. Free harpoons are thrown at the whale, bearing the name of the vessel in pursuit; the injured whale fled, taking with it the iron that pierced it: it lost all its blood and died a few days later. The whalers who find his body report it to the ship whose name is inscribed on the harpoon. If several ships have harpooned it, a council of captains awards it to the ship whose harpoon appears to have caused it a mortal wound.
As soon as the animal is dead, they cut off its tail, because being transverse, it would retard the course of the launch. It is made into strong glue, as well as with the fins. The whale is then tied to the stern of a boat, which is itself moored to the tail of four or five others, and we return to the ship in that order. On reaching it, the whale is attached to it with ropes, its head towards the stern, and the other end towards the bow. The first care is to go to the jaws of the animal to remove its baleen, which is raised on the vessel by means of a capstan. This object alone is worth all the rest of the whale. His tongue is cut off, and then the whole body is stripped of its fat. The pieces are cut in slices along the whole length of his body, and the sailors on board then cut them into square pieces a foot in size, then into smaller pieces which are thrown into barrels. For this operation large knives five or six feet long are used. Those who walk on the whale to skin it have big boots with sharp points below, so as not to slip on this smooth and oily skin. Whale blubber is white in some, yellow in others, and red in some. The white one is filled with small nerves, and does not render so much oil as the yellow one: this is considered the best. When the blubber is entirely removed, the carcass of the whale, sinking under its own weight, disappears to the cries of joy of all the fishermen. However, a few days later, this carcass, swollen at the bottom of the water, floats again and comes to serve as food for fish, birds and bears, who feast on it at will.
The vessel then reaches some harbor or moors to the solid ice, and the fat, which had been thrown into the hold, is melted. Some fishermen do this operation on the vessels; but the fear of fires makes it generally preferable to rest on some shore. Often whalers stop for this purpose on the coast of Spitsbergen. The fat can be allowed to ferment in the barrels and convert itself into oil; but most commonly it is put in a large tub, whence it is thrown into a wide, flat cottage. After having fried it on a stove, it is drawn up with small cauldrons, it is thrown into a large sieve which only allows the liquid parts to pass, and all the rest is abandoned. The sieve is placed over a large tub half full of water, where the oil cools, clears and deposits what is impure at the bottom. What remains is pure, clean oil, which swims in water like any other oil. From the large vat it is made to flow through a pipe into another vat of the same size, and from this into a third, both half full of water, to clarify it further. Finally it passes into a fourth vessel, from which it is withdrawn only to fill the barrels which are used to preserve it. The loss of fat by frying it is about twenty percent.
The fishing just described is done by Europeans; but the various peoples who inhabit the coasts where the whale is found have various ways of seizing this monstrous fish. The Greenlanders, when they go whaling, dress in their finest clothes; for, say their jugglers, if someone had dirty clothes or who had unfortunately touched some dead body, the whale would escape, or, were it dead, would not reappear on the water.
The women also take part, and their business is to keep the sea-casaques ready, or to mend the boats, which are furnished with leather and skins. We go without fear to meet the monster, men and women in boats: we throw harpoons at it from which are suspended bladders made of large sea calf skins, which embarrass or support the heavy whale, so that it cannot dive to the bottom. When she is tired of vain efforts, they overwhelm her, they finish her off with spears. Then the men throw themselves into the water with their sailor dog coats, where the boots, the body and the hood hold together, exactly sewn. So wrapped up over their heads, they look like so many sea dogs running around the monster, without fear of drowning, this clothing being a kind of diving suit, with which they can even stand up and walk in water. The beards and baleen are very skilfully cut with rather bad knives; then they slice and carve the whale all at once, men, women, children, pell-mell or on top of each other, to share in the spoils; for, were we only a spectator, we have the right to share the spoils. Despite all this disorder, they are very careful not to hurt or cut each other, and yet no one returns from fishing without some injury.
The Kamschatdales have three ways of taking whales. At noon, they content themselves with going with canoes to shoot poisoned arrows at them, the wound of which they feel only by the venom, which makes them swell quickly, and die in terrible pains and bellowings. To the north, around 60e degree, the Oliontores, who inhabit the eastern coast, catch the whales with nets made of sea-horse straps, which are as wide as the hand. They are stretched at the mouth of the bays. Stopped by one end with large stones, these nets float with the will of the sea, and the whales which pursue the fish will throw themselves into them and entangle themselves in such a way that they cannot get rid of them. The Oliontores then approach them with canoes, and wrap them in new straps with which they are pulled ashore to be cut up. The Chukchi, who are five degrees further north, fish for whales like the Europeans, that is to say with harpoons. This fishing is so abundant, that they neglect the dead whales which the sea gives them for free. They content themselves with extracting the fat from it, which they burn with the moss, for lack of wood.
Let us conclude by citing a fact which is of special interest to the science of geography. It is said to have found on the coast of Japan whales still carrying the harpoon which had been launched against them in the North Seas.
These fish had therefore solved the great problem, the solution of which has occupied navigators for so long and so fruitlessly; and if this fact were verified, we should not yet despair of finding the open sea which would have given passage to these whales. But what we can say with certainty is that, if this passage exists, the ice will always make navigation difficult and uncertain.
The dawn of day.
The valley very soon assumed a completely different aspect; the tops of the rocks were stripped of snow; but in the moonlight they looked bright and covered with ice. Several hills already appeared below the snow dissolved by the rain; the cold had lessened considerably, and was no longer so terrible. It was finally possible to stock up more easily on moss and lichen for the reindeer, and a few days later Ivan and Alexis went, for the first time, to look for wood again on the edge of the gulf.
Oh! how good it was to be able to leave the hut in which they had remained imprisoned for so long! How pleasant they found the sight of the country which they had traversed so many times, where they now saw that the masses of snow which formerly, with each excursion, seemed to them to be increased, had much decreased!
The gulf had also changed in aspect: mountains of ice, which seemed to have their base at the bottom of the sea and which rose above to a prodigious height, floated on the surface of the waters, and their powerful shock broke the ice which covered the sea. In several places lay piles of ice which resembled the ruins of a city, and further on, in the middle of the icy plains, there appeared here and there a few sheets of water, which, whipped by the wind, threw their waves over these huge ice cubes.
The two young men returned home, having filled their sled with a good load of wood. The moon was hiding behind the rocks, and it was beginning to get dark when suddenly they noticed in the sky, on the eastern side, a redness which was visibly increasing; then rays of the sun appeared behind the tops of the rocks, and they saw the twilight-
morning ass. They hoped to see the sun rise over the horizon; but it was still too low, and its reflection only gave a little light, which, however, lighted them better than the moon had before. This pleasant apparition, brief as it was, filled their hearts with the consoling hope that the light of the sun, of which they had been deprived for so long, would at last return, and they hastened their steps to announce their joy to the pilot.
The weather is getting milder.
The latter hardly wanted to believe the two young people; but the next day he was convinced by his own eyes, and saw the sunrise, the rays of which rose a little higher above the points of the rocks.
What a delightful sight it was for these three unfortunates when they finally caught sight of the dawn of which they had been deprived for five months! They felt a pleasure similar to that which tastes
a blind man when the veil which has long covered his eyes is removed, and he sees for the first time the admirable spectacle of nature.
They fervently thanked God for this new blessing, and remembered with gratitude how he had miraculously protected and provided for them during that long, dark night.
On the following days they saw the sun in all its splendor, staying longer on the horizon; finally he rose higher and no longer went to bed. After illuminating the other hemisphere, it approached more and more towards the pole.
The sun never illuminates more than a part of the globe, and that ninety degrees on each side of the point on which its rays fall perpendicularly; in spring and autumn, where it lies just below the line of the equator, it also sends its rays to both poles. As it turns in the summer on the northern side and stops at the pole, it is natural that in these regions it should be a continuous day, while the southern regions have during this time the longest night.
With the appearance of the sun, the weather changed every week, and the whole country took on a new aspect. In the first days, when the sun remained only a short time on the horizon, it was still cold; but it was no longer that severe cold which numbed the limbs and stopped the breathing. The three friends could now remain in the open air for a long time and even lead their reindeer to pasture, which regained all their liveliness and cheerfully sought moss and lichen under the snow.
The longer the sun remained on the horizon, the milder the weather; torrents of melted snow flowed from the rocks, the ice disappeared from above the moss which had previously been covered with it. In the evening the whole country was often enveloped in a mist which then turned into a hot rain, which lasted several days and hastened the deliverance of the earth.
The valley inhabited by the three unfortunate sailors had taken on a more cheerful appearance. The earth was covered with beautiful greenery; for moss and lichen grew as in a hothouse. The sun rising higher and higher, and staying longer on the horizon, caused grass and cochiearia to grow. The reindeer assembled gaily on these carpets of greenery, and grazed on their tender germs.
The sea side alone always presented a horrible sight. Some parts, it is true, were already clear of the ice; but there were still huge mountains; vast spaces were covered with large icicles, which offered a very particular picture. On one side we saw the
nature in its youthful beauty, and, on the other, all the horrors of winter.
The gulf, covered with icicles, moreover presented the most pungent and curious aspect: the icicles, piled up in the most bizarre shapes, represented to the eye, depending on the point from which they were observed, sometimes the high towers and walls of an impregnable fortress, sometimes the ruins of a city desolated by an earthquake, sometimes the architectural riches of a medieval abbey. The crest of the icicles, half melted by the sun, took shape in regular festoons or broken by the most extraordinary whims, or else it represented all the patient marvels that the most delicate sculpture could produce. The play of light on these icy blocks of figures as imposing as they are varied further multiply their singular effects. All the colors are successively reflected on these vast mirrors and shine through these transparent masses; here everything seems golden; there are reflected the tints of a dazzling purple; elsewhere the richest crimson or the tenderest azure. These effects, which varied several times during the day, according to the direction of the light rays, offered the exiles the most attractive and new perspective.
It was also an amazing and remarkable sight for our three friends to see the sun again at midnight. Until noon it rose ever higher, then it descended without, however, entirely disappearing from the horizon. The continual sight of the sun produced in them a feeling which they could not account for; they went to bed by day and rose by day.
Another happy result of the return of the sun and the milder weather was the departure of the bears, who went away to the side of the sea, partly already open, attracted by the abundance of the hunt for fish, which provided sufficient food.
The return of the fine season had revived among the shipwrecked the hope of seeing whaling vessels approach Spitsbergen. They implored God every day to obtain this favor soon, which was to bring about their deliverance.
But it could also happen that no ship came to these regions, or that it landed on another side of the island, where they would not be seen. Thus human life is never free from worries, and when the sun appears at its most beautiful, it is then that the darkest clouds form; but it is precisely this which activates our forces and reminds us of the memory of divine providence, without which we could do nothing, whatever our care and our efforts.
The two young men often manifested their ardent desire to be soon delivered from their captivity; but the pilot, who himself had nothing more at heart than to be returned to his wife and children, whose anguish he guessed, frankly confessed to them that this desire could not be fulfilled anytime soon, because that the time when whalers approached Spitsbergen had not yet arrived. He therefore exhorted them to patience and resignation to the will of God, and not to yield too much to the liveliness of their desires; for it might be that they would have to spend another winter on this island.
"We must be prepared for the worst," said this pious man; although we must not despair of our deliverance, nevertheless we must not cherish the hope of it too much; if it is granted to us, we will feel all the more joy, while on the contrary our misery would be unspeakable if no ship came, and if we had not prepared to stay here another year.
“From my tender youth, I have grown accustomed to counting on the worst in doubtful circumstances, and so no annoyance has unexpectedly surprised me, and no unfortunate accident has entirely brought me down. So we have to work as if we still have to stay on this island for a whole year. We must collect provisions for ourselves and for our reindeer, and prepare everything to make a prolonged stay bearable.
“If, before beginning these provisions, we are lucky enough for a vessel to bring us our deliverance, we will at least have occupied ourselves usefully in the fine season, and we will have preserved ourselves from the troubles of idleness, which cannot that always bring us new worries and take away our good humor.
“In our distress, the provisions abandoned by the former inhabitants of the cabin were of great help to us. Isn't it possible that other unfortunate people will also be thrown on this desert island when we are no longer there?
“We have taken advantage of what the Dutch who died here left: could we not in turn save the lives of other shipwrecked people, if we keep the hut and the caves in good condition, as well as the provisions that we could prepare?
<c Ce que je vous conseille ici, la prudence et l'amour du prochain commandent de le faire; il n'y a donc pas à hésiter. »
Works inside and outside the cave.
These words of the pilot were not proper, it is true, to amuse the two young people; they well understood the anxieties of this man, whom they loved like their father; but the more they thought about it, the more they recognized the wisdom of his advice.
So they acted as if they had to spend another winter on Spitsbergen. If this misfortune really overtook them, they would at least be prepared for it, and therefore their position could not be so terrible as it had been; and if their wishes were fulfilled, if a vessel arrived to take them away, their joy would be all the greater the more uncertain this happiness seemed to them.
Their first job when the good weather returned was to clean and ventilate their cave and cabin. For six months they could not open the door or the skylights enough because of the cold. The air had been corrupted by the smoke, by the steam from the meats they were cooking and by the exhalations of the reindeer. They left these animals in the open air, lit a fire in the two caves, and burned a little powder to purify them.
They had already carried the provisions of food and their furs into the yard. These were carefully beaten and exposed to the sun: all the dishes were cleaned. They did the same for their linen and their clothes. The hut was then arranged inside and out to put it in a state of cleanliness.
The stove, damaged by long service, was knocked down, and another much more solid and more comfortable was rebuilt.
At the same time the reindeer were trained. These animals became very gentle; they came to the call and followed their masters everywhere. Halters and hauls were made from the skins of reindeer that had been killed. The two animals patiently allowed themselves to be tied to the sledge, and each day the load was increased, without however making it too heavy. The three friends also dug up a patch of ground near the hut, and sowed lentils and peas there; later they intended to sow beans there. On the dug-out beds, they collected a great quantity of moss, dried it, and filled with it bags of skin which they had stocked up.
They spent quite a month in this work. As the gulf gradually freed itself of its ice, they also thought of fishing, and for this purpose they prepared lines. They had found hooks among the tools of the ancient inhabitants; they used the intestines of animals killed by them to secure them. This first attempt succeeded well; from that time they had fish on their table every day; and they took so much of it that they could dry some of it and smoke the rest for future use.
The ground is ice.
While repairing the cabin, they often lacked a sharp piece of wood to carve pillars or planks. They were obliged to go and look for it at the seaside.
All three went there armed with their guns and accompanied by the sledge driven by the reindeer. All the way they noticed that the ground, though the sun was hot, was everywhere damp, and in many places marshy, producing only moss, lichen, cochlearia, and some brushwood. A joyful discovery for them was that of halcyons and sea swallows, which they saw for the first time on this island. They killed one of the latter, which provided them with a good roast.
They went to the gulf twice for twenty-four hours, under continuous daylight, to collect the quantity of wood that they then wanted to transport to their dwelling. There was plenty of fish, and no sooner had the line been cast for a few minutes than there was someone on the bait; they were therefore not embarrassed to feed themselves in the place, and as for the cooking, they were already in the habit of doing it.
Wrapped in their furs, they lay down on the ground, which always remained damp, and was never fully warmed.
was never fully warmed up.
When they were rested from their work, they walked along the edge of the gulf. It was on one of these walks that they encountered a rise similar to a truncated keel, and appearing to be an enormous block of earth.
All the hills and mountains that the three friends had seen so far in these places consisted of masses of rock topped with sharp peaks. But then they saw a hill covered in moss and grass, flattened and sunken at the top. They came closer.
The ground around this hill was wet and marshy. They ascended this elevation, and saw with astonishment that the summit had fallen within. They examined this opening, and found that the whole hill consisted of one great mass of ice, which lay under a thin crust of earth covered with moss.
The sunken summit was lighted by the sun, which had melted the ice, and the water, flowing through several channels, was stopped around it.
This crumbling hill made them see that much of the ground was just ice, which may not have melted for thousands of years. The rocks that intersected the island in different directions were properly only its skeleton and all those plains and valleys, which lay at the level of the sea surface, were filled with ice covered by a thin layer of earth formed by rotting plants and dead wood brought by the waves. This is why no plant and no tree could grow deep roots there, and why also the ground always remained damp and cold.
This discovery was probably not pleasant for our unfortunates, because they could not count on the success of their seeds; and, indeed, they afterwards convinced themselves that there was no vegetation to hope for, for the peas and lentils grew but feebly, and soon spoiled; so that the grass that came from the seed hardly provided pasture for the reindeer.
These were of great service to the three friends in carrying home the trunks of found trees from which they had detached the branches. Each of them, hitched to a big beam, dragged her obediently.
During the meal, the reindeer easily found their food; for everywhere there was moss and lichen, and here and there grass.
After bringing home large supplies of firewood and building wood, they worked diligently to repair it. The drawbridge, which was already damaged, was restored, and a double door was made at the entrance to the hut to protect against the cold.
It was now necessary to think of increasing the provisions of all kinds. Hunting and fishing provided the means. Fishing was Alexis's daily occupation, and his booty was so considerable that, besides their daily necessities, they had a large quantity of dried and smoked fish left. The hunt presented more difficulties, because the reindeer, in the fine season, had changed their residence and wandered scattered in the places covered with grass; they were hard to shoot and no longer caught in the trap. Ivan succeeds, however, after long runs, in killing one, which provides the three friends with food for some time. But, since reindeer meat and fish were not easy to preserve because of the heat, they had to worry about ways to preserve them from corruption. The pilot found one: according to his advice, they dug a kind of cave in the ice at the bottom of the ditch, and covered it with a large flat stone. It was placed on the north side, so that the opening was never exposed to the rays of the sun, and built in such a way that the water which collected at the bottom of the cellar could always flow out. Meat and fish were always kept fresh there.
The distress signal.
After supplying himself with provisions of wood and food, and having finished all the domestic work, the pilot proposed to make distant excursions in the island. He wanted to derive from it the double advantage of recognizing it better, and perhaps of discovering new means of existence. It could also happen that the whalers landed on a side of the island opposite that where the three friends had established their habitation, and that Providence directed the steps of the captives to that side.
The weather was very favorable for these excursions; for it was towards the end of the month of May, and the strongest heat did not arrive until the month of June. The sun, which for quite a long time had not set, rose ever higher, and the castaways knew that on June 22, having reached its highest point of ascent, it would again begin to decline until it completely disappeared again.
The pilot was also aware that in the month of May the whaling vessels arrive in these parts and often advance as far as Spitsbergen, but that they return as soon as the longest day has passed, because a longer stay in the Far North would become dangerous.
The hope of deliverance for the three exiles was therefore circumscribed between the second half of the month of May and mid-June, and one can well imagine that they did not forget, in their daily prayers, to ask to the Lord that this hope should not be disappointed.
They provided themselves with suitable objects to serve as signals in the event that a ship should pass in sight, to let it know that there were abandoned men waiting for their deliverance. It was with great difficulty that they made their way from their cabin to the summit of the highest rock, from where they could overlook the gulf and the sea. watch.
They dragged, with the help of their reindeer, a tall pine tree to this high place, and attached to it a bearskin, which could be seen from a great distance out to sea. a pyre which they could light quickly, and, as the smoke can be seen from afar, a ship passing even several leagues away could see it and send a boat to save them.
The state of mind of the three friends during this work is difficult to describe. Fear and hope animated them in turn. Their hearts beat with joy when they thought that a vessel, perceiving signs, would send them a launch; they already saw it coming in their thoughts, and stretched out their arms to embrace their imaginary saviors. Then, when they thought, which could just as well happen, that no ship would pass near the island or near their home, that the signal would remain useless, that they would be obliged to remain another winter in these sad lands, then all their courage vanished, their eyes filled with tears, and their hearts were a prey to a painful melancholy, which yielded only to their pious resignation to the decrees of Providence. They then set out for their long runs. The first was made by the same path they had followed when coming from the ship to their current home. They spent three days there. The reindeer dragged food and other necessary items behind them; they stopped a little longer near the spring which had given them water for the first time, and in the caves where they had spent the first nights and fought the first fight against the bears. All these places and many others, which they then saw again, awoke in them melancholy memories, and at the same time renewed their gratitude towards God; for they remembered the deplorable state in which they had arrived on the island, and how Providence had protected them. These men, tried by misfortune, were moved to tears.
They looked through their spyglasses at where the ship had been when they left; they mounted the rock where they had lit the fire to signal their happy arrival on the island. The vast sea presented them with nothing but huge mountains and great shelves of ice swayed offshore by a warm wind. They found no ships.
They sought to recognize on the coast the wreckage of the vessel, which might have been sunk by the terrible storm which arose after their departure; but they found nothing which could lead to the presumption that any building had been broken by the ice in these parts.
They planted on the same rock where they had once lit the first fire to signal to their companions in misfortune, a mast with a reindeer skin to indicate their presence to sailors who might approach this coast.
They then returned to their dwelling, and on the way gathered a large quantity of cochlearia, which they cooked with the fat, and which furnished them with a healthy and tasty dish. They also found along the stream which crossed the valley a lot of watercress, which was all the more agreeable to them as they had not eaten any fresh for a long time.
Travel along the coasts.
After resting again for a few days in their dwelling, they resolved to undertake a journey along the coast, as far as they could go. They provided themselves with food for eight days for this purpose.
As the sea was completely lined with rocks, they hoped to find some caves there where they could rest. The sleigh was loaded with all the necessary items, and the reindeer were hitched to it. the three friends wanted, as much as possible, to direct their course so as to always have in view a large expanse of sea, so that no ship passing within a few miles' distance would escape their sight. During the last days of rest, they hadn't let an hour pass without one of them having climbed onto the rock, to see with the telescope if he could see anything out to sea. But all their vigilance had been fruitless.
Having implored God's mercy with fervent prayer, they set out. The way on the coast was difficult and cut frequently by blocks of rocks which jutted far into the sea. They were obliged to carry their luggage themselves to these places; for the reindeer could hardly pull the empty sled up those steep and insurmountable heights. Other times the road continued in ravines in the middle of rocks which hid from the travelers the sight on the sea. They did not stop a long time in these places, and remained rather on plains where nothing intercepted their horizon. There they rested, lit a fire, and cooked the fish they had caught, or roasted some bird killed on the seashore. there were none, they took from the one they had brought on the sled.
On the first day of their journey, after having halted three times, they had traversed an extent of at least ten leagues, and had found a cave, which, though shallow, sufficed to serve as an asylum to them and to their reindeer, who found rich pasture all around. A salient rock hid from them, it is true, the view of the sea on the east side; but to the west it stretched far ahead of them.
The three friends prepared a good meal, and then went to bed.
Alexis and Ivan, very tired from the trip, soon fell asleep. The pilot, who had drifted off to sleep a little later, was awakened by a rumble like thunder. He listened, and heard a second and a third rumble resounding in the rocks. He got up with a start, looking at the sky; but it was quite cloudless; it could not therefore be the sound of thunder. He awoke his two friends, who, in the restless sleep that follows great fatigue, had been struck by the same noise: first, with their constant thought, he had presented to them in a dream a ship firing the cannon for the warn of its arrival and invite them to come on board. Rising, they surveyed the sea as far as their sight could reach, ascended the rock to the east which bounded their horizon on that side; but neither their eyes, nor the help of the telescope, made them perceive anything that resembled a vessel, or that could lead them to suspect its presence.
When the three castaways saw their hopes deceived, they went back to bed, but could not find a peaceful sleep; the cannon shots still echoed in their ears.
They set off early. A ravine led them through the projecting rock, and as they followed it the view of the sea was hidden from them. But then they found along the coast a wide plain before them, and crossed it. After following this path for more than two hours, the chain of rocks opened up on the right, and a small valley, surrounded by other rocks, presented itself to their eyes. They decided to stop in this place, and threw the line there to have something to prepare the meal. The reindeer were unhitched and released into the valley to seek their own food.
This valley, surrounded by low rocks, presented a very agreeable view. A narrow stream ran through it with a gentle murmur; its edges were lined with brushwood and watercress. A beautiful meadow covered with magnificent grass stretched out on both sides, and waterfowl ran whistling around the edges.
The beauty and fertility of this valley were something so surprising to our friends that they thought they had been transported to another part of the earth.
They had not yet seen anywhere in Spitsbergen a meadow so beautiful and so rich in greenery, so much cochlearia and watercress, with other plants that they hardly knew; they had no doubt that the layer of earth was deeper here than near their cabin, where they had sown their peas and lentils in vain. The whole valley appeared to them so attractive that it occurred to them to pass part of the summer season there, in case they were obliged to remain longer in Spitsbergen.
The pilot had only one fear: the valley was so surrounded by rocks that one could not have a free and wide view of the sea on any side, an essential thing for them, and without which vessels passing in these parts could escape them.
The three castaways were sitting around the cauldron where they had cooked a good fish with cochlearia, and were eating with appetite. They were talking so warmly of the beauty of the valley that they lost sight of the reindeer, who were running away from them.
Suddenly they were awakened by a gunshot; the young reindeer jumped with the rapidity of lightning over the low rocks which bounded the valley on the opposite side, and took refuge towards his masters. The other reindeer came running from the other side. In the distance we heard hunting cries.
All three jumped up from their places to see what it was. Screams of foreign men were already a pleasant sound to their ears; their heart beat with sweet hope; they looked in the direction where the young reindeer had been pursued, and they saw four men armed with guns and dressed as sailors, coming through the rocks. A cry of joy escaped from the breasts of our friends; they waved their caps, and called out to the strangers to come down into the valley and come to them. These poor people were so surprised at this sight, that they hardly believed their own eyes and ears, and took what they saw and what they heard for a dream born of their imagination. They became as if paralyzed in all their limbs, and their hearts were pounding. It was no illusion, the hour of their deliverance had come. The strangers raised their hats, gave a happy cheer, descended from the rock and ran towards our unfortunates. These were so seized by the excess of their joy that they could neither respond to the cries nor utter a word. Their eyes had filled with tears, and their eyes, turned towards the sky, then lowered on those who arrived.
Finally the pilot spoke. A deep sigh escaped his chest. “Lord God,” he cried, “how good and merciful you are! »
The three friends fell into each other's arms and said, “The Lord has heard our prayer and finished our sufferings. His goodness and power are endless! »
They then ran to the strangers to ask for their pity and help. But already from afar they heard a familiar voice calling them by name.
" Good Lord ! they said, the captain, our friend, is here. So no misfortune happened to him in this violent storm which separated us from him! It's him, yes, it's him! »
They ran with joy to meet him, and soon they were in his arms.
Who could describe the tenderness with which friends so long separated met again? The words expired on their lips, and they held each other in a long embrace. Finally their feelings melted into tears of joy, and a look towards heaven expressed how deeply they felt the blessing that God had just granted them. All sufferings were forgotten, and they were overwhelmed with bliss.
Finally the captain spoke and said: “Dear friends, today that I have found you, I am doubly happy. A grave worry oppressed my heart from the moment you left my vessel; I was tormented by the thought that I had urged you on this journey and dragged you out of the paternal house, and I resolved to do everything to bring you back into the arms of your afflicted father. That's why I set off for Spitsbergen as soon as the season allowed. My ship is at anchor in a bay on the eastern side of the island, where it is safe from any accident. Already last night, on arriving at this place, I fired three cannon shots to let you know the approach of a ship and to draw you towards the coast. I came this far in a canoe to look for you, and hardly had I disembarked when a reindeer showed up on the rock leading me on your trail. I took him for an animal living in freedom; I fired at him, but missed. We pursued it and arrived in this beautiful valley, where we are. My intention was, in any case, to go around the whole island to find out what had become of you. »
Admirable ways of divine providence.
The three friends embraced the captain, and thanked him for having taken so much trouble and care for them. They also extended their hands to his companions, and felt very happy in the midst of these benevolent men.
In this event, so joyful for them, they again saw clearly the guidance of divine providence, which watches over everything. Was it then by chance that the captain had anchored on the eastern side of the island, and that he had found a bay there where his ship could be sheltered? Was it not God who had led him with his canoe to the side where the castaways had come to meet him?
It was an animal for no reason that had put the captain on the trail of the three friends. Was it by chance that they had been so absorbed in their conversation about the beauty of the valley, that they had not noticed the distance of the reindeer, which usually grazed around them? Who had brought the young reindeer to the rock where he had been seen by the captain and his companions, and not to any other, where he could also find food?
The castaways, while asking themselves these questions, thought carefully about this encounter with their captain, and their hearts were filled with gratitude to the Almighty, the best and wisest guide of human destinies.
The captain sent his three sailors back to the boat to take it to the valley where he was with the castaways. During their absence, they and the captain exhausted each other with questions about their adventures during their separation. But they could communicate to each other only the main events in a few words: on the one hand and on the other they were all remarkable, and everywhere showed visible traces of the finger of divine providence, which watches unceasingly over all men. .
They embraced each other tenderly, and the captain's joy at having found those whom he had thought lost, and of whose misfortune he blamed himself, was as great as that of the three friends, who saw their most ardent desire.
Finally the canoe arrived. The captain had some meat, biscuit, wine, rum brought in, and one of the sailors prepared a good meal. Oh ! How good the three exiles found the ship's food, and the biscuit, of which they had been deprived for so long! especially since the wine seemed delicious to them! But they also had to offer the captain something rare, which he hadn't tasted for a long time. They made tea and served it to him with milk.
During the meal, the story of our three friends became the topic of conversation. They described their home, their household arrangements, where and how they had found a livelihood, and how God had always helped them, often in miraculous ways.
The captain and his sailors listened to this story with great attention, and were extremely edified by the pious feelings of the three brothers in misfortune.
What they related seemed so extraordinary to the captain, that he wanted to see with his own eyes their dwelling and their provisions. It was resolved that all should go in a boat, and disembark in the gulf, to go from there on foot to the hut. All the baggage and the reindeer with the sled were loaded, and they set off.
Adventures of Juno.
During the trip, the captain related the accidents that had happened to him since their separation.
The ship remained stuck in the ice as the pilot left with Ivan and Alexis to seek solid ground. The captain and crew clearly saw the fire that the explorers had lit on the rock as a sign of their arrival; all were filled with hope. They also saw the rockets, and concluded that the three envoys had found a cave for the habitation of the whole crew.
Then everything was prepared for the landing: from the damaged mast they made racks and sledges to unload the provisions and transport them ashore across the ice fields. All the sailors were working tirelessly to bring the barrels, the boxes and all the tools that were inside the vessel to the deck, in order to unload them immediately on the racks and sleds.
The captain was busy meanwhile packing all his papers and navigational instruments. He had already designated the men who were to head for the island first, and what provisions they would take there first, when the second-in-command came down to the cabin, and announced to him with a very worried air that he must to hasten the departure for the island, because the weather was going to change, and that, according to all the signs, there would be a violent storm. The captain immediately went on deck, and saw that the wind was blowing from the northwest. The air was humid, and the snow was beginning to fall. He had given orders to make all the arrangements for the transport ashore of some provisions, when the wind, beginning to become more violent, shook the mass of ice with which the ship was surrounded on the side of the island, and which, being detached pushed him ever further from the mainland.
Then the hope that this field of ice was contiguous to the island vanished entirely, and one could no longer attempt to undertake the passage with the loaded sledges. The danger was constantly increasing; for the wind changed into a violent hurricane from the northwest, which carried away the mass of ice and the ship, still on the side opposite the island where the envoys were.
The captain then said, “May God help our three companions; for if the storm doesn't calm down soon, we won't be able to join them. We must now resign ourselves to the will of God, and let ourselves go with the whim of the storm. It is impossible to get away from the ship; but all hope is not yet lost: it is still intact in its lower parts, we can be freed from the ice and regain the open sea.”
These words gave some consolation to the crew; but the captain already had little hope that the vessel could be saved: he was always afraid that it would sink by the violence of the storm, or that it would be crushed by the enormous icicles which the wind hurled at it. Besides that, the ship had lost its mast, and the rudder was so damaged by the impact of the ice cubes, that it could not have been steered in the open sea, much less in the middle of this ice, and that it became the toy of wind and waves. The captain, however, hid his worries from his sailors, because he did not want to take away their courage; he sought to put on a calm countenance, and spoke with assurance to his men, encouraging them to do their duty, to obey his orders punctually, because it was only by the maintenance of discipline and the combined employment of all the individual forces one could hope to triumph over danger.
After making all the necessary arrangements on the vessel, the captain proceeded to
the cabin and wrote letters for his parents and for the Admiralty of London, in which he made the exact description of Arkhangel's journey to Spitsbergen; he added his diary to it. He put all these writings in a barrel which was then hermetically sealed with tar. His intention was, in case there was no longer any possible safety for the vessel, to throw the barrel overboard, in the hope that it would be pushed and found somewhere on the mainland.
It was the only means of giving news of the vessel, if it had been lost with the crew, and that which navigators always employ in extreme perils. It is customary for such barrels or cases which have been taken from the sea to be handed over to the authority, who opens them and forwards the letters to their address.
However, the storm was raging with fury, and the sky was covered with dark clouds. Yet the cold seemed to ease a little. The ice field where the ship had been held, and which seemed to adjoin the island, began to crack, and several huge icicles fell off. The wind was always pushing the ship in a direction away from the earth.
Then a new danger arises. The vessel, freed from the ice and regaining the open sea again, could be damaged by the enormous blocks that the wind was pushing. During three
days and three nights longer still, the vast plateau of ice on which the vessel sat was always carried by the wind, which raised the waves, which one could not see, it is true, but which one heard so much better the terrible sound. When day broke, the sea was seen covered here and there and the waves rising with a crash. It also appears that from the first night the vessel was so far from Spitsbergen that it could no longer be seen, even with the telescope.
Finally the wind died down and the sky cleared; but the cold was sensibly increasing. The ship was still holding firm against the huge ice shelf, and the crew was in the most dangerous position. As the air was always in motion, the ship could be pushed onto a shallow and enter it in such a way that there would be no more resources. It could also be thrown on one of the mountains of ice that rose from the bottom of the sea to its surface, which would have caused it to capsize.
The position of the crew was becoming more and more frightening: all the sailors had already lost heart; the captain alone, who felt the full extent of the danger, tried to keep his composure, and thought of the means of safety. The vessel had a sturdy launch; it was proposed to make a kind of sled out of the mast; on it the sailors had to drag the boat,
loaded with food and firewood, to the edge of the ice, then put in the water and fetch the land where the pilot was with Alexis and Ivan. This was the captain's plan, and he still hoped that some whale-fishing vessel, delayed in this high latitude, or which had been driven into these regions by the storm, might take them if it could approach them. .
All preparations were therefore made for this perilous voyage, and the boat was loaded with as many provisions as it could hold, besides the crew. Above all, they did not forget to put wood, charcoal, furs and everything that could be used to protect themselves against the cold. A large sled and a few small ones were built; several days were employed in this work. The captain seemed more cheerful than on the previous days, thinking that there was still a chance of salvation. His hope was based mainly on meeting a whaler, who might be in these regions; and he arranged all that was necessary for making signals.
He caused a great fire to be continually maintained on the deck of the vessel, and a long pole erected, at the end of which a lantern was suspended at night. Every hour a rocket was launched, and day and night a man stood guard to see if these signals were not answered.
But all hope seemed lost. There was no sign in the distance, and no more resources could be expected from the perilous journey by means of the launch. the next day was therefore designated for this attempt.
Discouragement had seized the men of the crew; and many of them already believed death was inevitable.
Suddenly, the night before departure, a sailor rushed into the cabin, shouting: "A signal, a signal, a signal to the southwest." »
The captain and all his people rushed on deck, and several rockets were immediately launched. They then saw in the distance, on the south-west side, mounting two rockets. the cry: “A vessel! a vessel ! we are saved ! flew from mouth to mouth; each embraced his neighbour, and no one could contain his joy. They fell to their knees and thanked God with tears of gratitude for the unexpected help that was about to come.
At last fire was seen to burst in the distance, and the sound of cannon was heard. The captain replied with a cannon-shot, which was once again returned by the other ship; the signals were thus exchanged until daybreak. At dawn, the unfortunates, who were waiting in the midst of so much anguish, saw a ship which was putting its boat in the sea. The crew of the Junon went on the ice to meet their saviors. Soon the launch arrived near the ice bank; it was sent by a Danish vessel which had lingered whaling.
All the crew, with what could be carried from the vessel held in the ice, was transported to the Danish vessel, which immediately resumed its course for Copenhagen.
From there the captain and his people set out immediately for England, where the events of their journey caused a great sensation.
As soon as he arrived, the captain wrote to Father Ozaroff, who was very worried about the fate of his son and his nephew, what he knew of them; he tried to console him with the promise that he would immediately attempt a new expedition towards the North Pole, and that he would disembark at Spitsbergen to look for the unfortunates. He sent the same news to the pilot's wife, and sent her money, so that she and her children would not have to suffer from the absence of this good man.
During this time he occupied himself with the preparations for his new expedition. The uncertainty of the fate of his three companions occupied him greatly, and he accused himself of being the author of all the evils which had befallen Ivan and Alexis. His conscience ordered him to try everything to deliver them from their captivity, if they had not already succumbed to it.
While the captain was in England, the English government resolved to send several vessels to the North Pole in the spring, to make new discoveries. The evils which the captain had suffered in his voyage, and the manner in which he had surmounted them, marked him out as an enterprising sailor who, besides courage and perseverance, had also resolution and deep knowledge: he was therefore not difficult to obtain that he be entrusted with a ship which was rigged at the expense of the government, and abundantly provided with everything necessary. It was brand new, very solid and a fine sailboat. Several sailors who had been on the first voyage accompanied him on this one.
He hastened his journey as much as possible, passed between Norway and Iceland, along the eastern coast of Greenland, and set sail for Spitsbergen, in the hope of finding his three companions there.
The weather and the wind favored the captain so well that he found himself in the latitude of Spitsbergen sooner than he himself had expected. This summer was very favorable to the navigators of the pole. The captain nowhere met with great fields of ice which would have stopped the progress of his ship. As for the little ones, he could avoid them by a skillful maneuver.
When he had arrived abreast of Spitsbergen, he began to skirt the islands, and from time to time fired a cannon shot to announce that he was near a vessel. Then he dropped anchor, but, it is true, on a side quite opposite to that where the castaways' dwelling was. Having then put himself in a boat, he headed for the coast to look for them, and divine providence brought them to meet him in a miraculous manner.
Departure from the island.
During this story, the boat arrived towards the place where the cabin was located. The captain and his companions were ushered into the cabin. They admired the care with which the three exiles had arranged everything there, and each object they found gave rise to explanations and stories of the benefits of God, who had never failed them in the greatest distress.
All the provisions were inspected; we made the choice of what they were going to take with them and what they were going to leave. The captain, who was very prudent, but who also had very charitable feelings, thought that it might be that other navigators had the misfortune to fail on these dreadful coasts, and to arrive there without any means. of existence. He therefore wanted to leave them as much food as possible to spend the winter there. It was decided that all the utensils and tools that the three friends had used during their stay would be left behind. The pilot was asked to write a description of the cave, a list of everything in it, with all the necessary information on how to get food and shelter on this island, and Ivan then translated it. in English.
The writings were put in a tin box, which was tightly closed, and placed on the table in the cabin, so that the navigators who would be brought there could find them without difficulty, and make use of them. to direct themselves in their distress. Although time was precious, the captain remained until all was put in order.
Then we transported in the boat all the objects that our three friends wanted to take with them; they put in this number the clothes which they had made themselves, and which they wished to keep as a perpetual souvenir of their stay on this island. Foods subject to spoilage were also taken. It was especially important to them to keep the reindeer, which were so gentle and so well tamed.
The captain also allowed them to take them on the boat; but beforehand it was necessary to gather a great quantity of grass and moss, and to dry them in order to have fodder during the crossing.
All these preparations being completed, the castaways took leave of the island to which so many touching memories were attached. They thanked, shedding tears, the divine providence for all the benefits it had lavished on them in their desperate position. They remembered with emotion the dangers to which they had been exposed, and how God had rescued them. Each object they saw awakened in them a new feeling of recognition and plunged them into a sweet melancholy.
The three friends kissed the icy land they would now leave forever; they wet it with their tears, and went to the launch, which quickly made for the ship. The captives, released, still had their eyes turned towards the island, and their emotion was betrayed by the expression of their features and by the tears which rolled in their eyes.
They were received on the ship with great cries of joy. There they found several friends with whom they had traveled the previous year. They were curious to learn from their own mouths the particulars of their stay on this desert island, and their story excited great astonishment. All praised the captain for having gone to so much trouble to find the three abandoned sailors, and they rejoiced wholeheartedly in the success of their enterprise.
Greenlanders and Eskimos.
The captain had a mission to penetrate further north, and he could not foresee what dangers he would still have to face. He wanted to send the three castaways back to their homeland as soon as possible, which could not be done if he took them on his expedition.
He resolved, in the interest of those whose misfortune he had caused the year before, to head further south, hoping to meet there some whaler to whom he could entrust the three friends, and who would bring them back to Arkhangel. For this purpose he passed through Baffin Bay, situated between Greenland and the extremity of North America.
The weather was still favourable, and the ship had little to suffer from the ice.
The vessel had frequent interviews and fairly long relations with the Eskimos and Greenlanders, who inhabit these desolate lands.
Our friends were therefore able to study the curious customs of these savage nations, the sight of which aroused a lively interest among them.
These natives are all of a low height, which almost always remains under 1 meter 62 centimeters, but which is nevertheless well proportioned. They have broad, flat faces, round, chubby cheeks, the bones of which rise forward; eyes small and black, but not very bright; the mouth wide, and the lips slightly upturned; the nose small without being flat. The head is large; the hair always long, smooth and black. The men are almost devoid of a beard, because they pull it out as it grows. The color of their complexion is generally olive, and sometimes animated with a bright red. Their children are born quite white, and owe to the filthiness in which they live the dark color which they quickly contract: in fact, they are always in grease and oil, seated in the thick smoke of their lamps, and rarely wash. We can also attribute the brown background of their complexion to their unctuous, thick and greasy food, which incorporates and insinuates itself so well into their veins that their sweat acquires an odor of oil and fish, and that their hands smell of sea calf bacon, which they perpetually eat and touch. The Greenlanders have small, fleshy hands, the same feet, high chest, broad shoulders; especially women, who are accustomed from their youth to carry heavy burdens. They have a fleshy body, commonly fatty and very bloody. With this natural preservative and very thick furs, they expose themselves to the cold with their bare heads and necks. In their houses, they cover themselves only from the belt to the knees; but the odor they exhale in this state is not bearable to Europeans.
The clothes of this people are very curious and of a singular neatness in relation to the coarse tools which are used in their manufacture. They are made with the skins of reindeer, sealskin, and birds: the whole looks rather like a carrier's smock; only it is not so long nor so ample; it is sewn from the front up to the chin. At the top is a bonnet or hood, which, in cold or rainy weather, they draw over their heads, and which they can draw close to their faces at will, by means of a drawstring. The women's jackets differ a little from those men's especially; the hood is larger there, and the lower part, instead of being simply cut in the round, is prolonged in front and behind in pointed sections which sometimes fall to the ground. The women's jackets also differ from those of the men in that they are adorned with a greater profusion of bands of skins of different colors, which are very neatly and even tastefully interposed. This overcoat is usually of sealskin; sometimes, however, reindeer skin or bird skins skilfully put together are used. Some Eskimos wear under the blouse a kind of shirt made up of seals' bladders sewn together. Their breeches are of sealskin or reindeer skin, gathered at the top and tied around the body. Their boots and shoes are made of the same materials, and the sole is made of sea horse skin. The boots are tight around the knees with drawstrings; their shoes are tied in the same way around the ankle.
In addition to their ordinary costume, all wear at sea a kind of gown in which the coat, breeches, stockings and shoes form a single piece; it is made of smooth, hairless sailor-dog skin, and sewn so well that water cannot penetrate it. There is a small hole in front of the chest through which they blow as much air as they see fit to support themselves without going to the bottom, and which they then plug with an ankle.
The men wear their hair short and often shave it on the forehead, so that it does not interfere with their work. But it would be a dishonor for a woman to shave her head, unless it was in mourning or to renounce the marriage. They all raise their hair in two curls at the top of the head, and tie it in shiny tufts of glass beads: these are the beads of which the Greenland women form necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and which serve them. to decorate their clothes and their shoes. The richest girdle their foreheads with a ribbon of thread or silk, but in such a way that the tufts of hair, which make their finest adornment, are not covered or hidden. Those who aspire to the supreme beauty must wear on their faces an embroidery made with thread blackened with smoke; we pass this thread between leather and flesh under the chin, along the cheeks, around the feet and hands. When it is removed from under the epidermis, it leaves a black mark. Mothers often have their daughters undergo this operation when they are very young.
In order to temper the intense light reflected by the snow, they use a kind of very ingenious spectacles, which they call snow eyes. These spectacles are made of a single piece of wood, hollowed out on the inside to accommodate the back of the nose and the protruding part of the globe of the eyes. Opposite each eye is a very narrow transverse slit, about 27 miles long, through which they can perfectly distinguish objects without receiving the slightest inconvenience from the snow.
The Greenlanders have tents for the summer and houses for the winter. These, two fathoms wide, extend from four to twelve fathoms in length, and are only the height of a man. They do not build under the earth, as some travelers have said, but on high places, and preferably on steep rock, in order to be less inconvenienced or rather delivered from the snow. It is near the sea that their houses are located, within reach of fishing, always open to the coast which provides them with subsistence. They make the walls the thickness of a fathom, with stones piled one on top of the other, cemented together with earth or turf. On these walls they place a beam the length of the dwelling, or, if it were too short, they would enjoin as many as three or four tied together with strips of leather and supported by posts. They put joists across these beams, and thin battens between the joists. They cover the whole thing with brushwood, then with peat, and on top of that with fine, light earth, which makes the roof.
As long as it freezes, these edifices support themselves fairly well; but the rains and the melting snow of the summer ruined the whole work, and the following autumn the roof and the walls had to be repaired. Their houses have neither door nor chimney; instead, they make a mid-entry, two to three fathoms wide. It is a vault made of stones and earth, which serves to purify and renew the indoor air, without being open to wind or cold; for it forms a kind of square or drum, the entrance to which is on the side parallel to the front of the house; and moreover this vault is so low that it is not enough to bend over, but that you have to walk on all fours to enter or leave. The walls are lined or furnished on the inside with old skins which have served to cover tents and boats, which are fastened with nails made from the ribs of sea calves. These skins guarantee moisture; there are similar ones on the roof. From the middle of the house to the back wall runs the whole length of a floor raised one foot above the ground. This floor is divided into several parts by means of skins stretched along the posts which support the roof; these divisions form so many rooms which look like stables. Each family has its room, and each house contains from three to ten families. They sleep on floors covered with furs; they sit there all day long, the men with their legs dangling, and the women with their legs crossed in the manner of the Turks; those make furniture and tools for fishing and housework; they take care of cooking or sewing. On the front of the house are 65 centimeter square windows, with panels of sea-fish intestines, so transparent and so well sewn, that they let in light without giving way to wind or snow. Beneath these windows, there is inside, along the wall, a bench where strangers are made to sit and sleep.
Each household has its fire, here's how: first place on the ground, against the post that marks the separation of each room, a large block; on this stump a flat stone, and on this stone a tripod which contains a marble lamp 32 cents wide, and made in a half-moon; it is as if enshrined in an oval wooden vase, intended to receive the oil which drips from the lamp. The only wick of this one is a fine foam, but it burns so well that the house is lighted and even heated by the light of all these lamps. This, however, is their lesser utility; for above each lamp is a boiler of marble or limestone, suspended from the roof by four cords. This boiler, 32 cents long, is 16 cents wide; it is there that the dinner or supper of each family is boiled. The fire from the lamp is also used to dry clothes and boots, which are spread on a kind of rack or rack attached to the ceiling. These lamps, always lighted, give a less lively, but more even heat, than that of the stoves of Germany, with less harmful exhalation, almost no smoke, and never any danger of fire. On the other hand, the strong odor of the lamps, of the fish and meat from the boiler, of the furs which serve as hangings and clothing, make it a very inconvenient domicile for strangers.
Outside the apartment, they have a kind of pantry where they put, for the needs of the day, either meat, or fish and dried herring, while their large provisions are kept under the snow. Nearby are seen their canoes overturned and suspended from poles, to which are also attached their utensils and their weapons for fishing and for hunting. It is in these houses that one withdraws at the end of September, until the month of April or May, time when the melting of the snows which threatens the roof and the foundations of these buildings, obliges the inhabitants to go camp in tents. Here is the plan for the construction of these summer accommodations.
The Greenlanders first pave the ground or the location with flat stones, on an oblong square. Between these stones, they drive from ten to forty stakes or long poles which they support, at the height of a man, against a kind of frame to which they are attached in the form of a canopy, the top of which ends in a pyramid. . They wrap this palisade with a double covering of sea-calf leather, and the rich people line the interior of their tents with beautiful reindeer skins, the hair of which forms its decoration.
The skins of the covering, which descend to the ground, are fixed there with moss overloaded with stones, so that the wind does not overthrow the tent. They attach to the entrance, instead of a door, a curtain; this curtain, made of thin, diaphanous guts, neatly sewn, is suspended by rings of white leather. It serves to give light and guarantee air. This entrance opens into a kind of vestibule formed by a hanging of skin, and in which are the food provisions. The cooking is not done in tents, but in the open air, in copper cauldrons which are boiled with wood.
Each family has its tent; but the better-off sometimes house one or two families of the poorest or of their relatives, so that each tent can contain twenty people. The dormitory is situated there as in the winter houses; but there is much more ease and less dirt in the tents.
Greenlanders once went hunting with bows and arrows; but since the Europeans sold them guns, they despise their old instruments. For fishing, they use a harpoon composed of several pieces of wood and whale ribs; the dart, which is an iron, can detach from the handle when it has penetrated the body of the animal; but it is attached to a rope which the fisherman carries rolled up on his canoe, and at the end of which is attached a bladder full of air. This bladder, which floats, is used to indicate the place where the injured animal is fleeing underwater while struggling. The fishermen are still armed with a large spear, made more or less like the harpoon and the iron of which can be detached, and with a small spear armed with the end of a long sword point.
Let us now pass to the description of the boats used for fishing by the Greenlanders. The large boats, which they call umiak, are about 13 meters in length, about one meter 30 to one meter 62 centimeters wide, and one meter deep; they are tapered or pointed in front and behind, with the bottom flat. This bottom is made up of three pieces that will meet at both ends of the boat. These three beams are crossed at intervals by joists which are embedded in them; one then fits on the two planks of the sides of short posts, on which one raises the gunwale. These gunwales are supported by two other large pieces, which meet the other three at the end of the boat. These five main rooms are lined with thin slats, three fingers wide, made with whalebone, and the whole framework is covered inside and out with tanned hides of sea calf. But instead of iron nails, which could rust and make holes in the skins of the covering, wooden pegs and whale straps are used. The Greenlanders build these boats with great skill and precision, without squares, rulers or compasses. All their tools consist of a saw, a chisel which serves as an ax when it is handled, a small gimlet, a very pointed pocket knife. When the builder has made the framework of his boat, his wife dresses it in freshly prepared and softened leathers, the seams of which she caulks with old grease. Thus these boats leak much less water than if they were entirely of wood, because their joints swell and tighten more. If he were to make a hole there against the point of a rock, a piece is soon sewn there. Besides, they are refitted and covered anew every year. These boats are driven by women, who row four in number, with a fifth at the stern, holding an oar for rudder. It would be a scandal if a man got involved in leading these boats, unless an obvious danger demanded the help of his hand.
The oars are short and wide, shaped like a spade, and tied in place, on the gunwale, with a band of leather. Towards the prow a post is erected for the mast, which is loaded with a sail made of guts sewn together; it is one fathom high and one and a half wide. They only sail with the wind at their stern, and cannot follow a European canoe under sail; on the other hand, in a headwind or in calm weather, they row much faster than us. With these boats they travel from 12 to 1600 kilometers along the coasts, going from one port to another, north and south, ten to twenty people together, with their tents, their luggage and their provisions of food. . These trips are 48 kilometers. per day. At night they disembark, pitch their tents, pull their boats ashore, their keels overturned and loaded with large stones in front and behind, lest the wind carry the canoe away. If the coast is not tenable, six or eight people take the boat on their heads, and carry it ashore to some better place.
The small boats or man-boats, called kaiak, are only six meters in length, which ends in a point at both ends like a weaver's shuttle, with 33 centimeters at most in depth, and 48 centimeters in the greater width. The keel is constructed of long slats crossed by oblong hoops that are bound with whalebone and animal tendons. Everything is covered in skin, like the umiak or large boat, with this difference that the kaiak is wrapped in it above and below, as if it were in a leather bag which closed it on all sides. The stern and bow are reinforced with a raised whalebone rim, to better ward off the blows that the boat gives itself against stones and rocks. In the middle of the kaiak a round hole is made, bordered by a hoop of wood or whalebone, two fingers wide. The fisherman introduces his stretched legs into the canoe through this opening, and sits down on a plank covered with leather which forms its bottom. Then he tightens on the edge of this opening his fishing coat or another skin which he knots and secures so that the hole is hermetically closed, and that the water cannot penetrate there. The edge serves at the same time to prevent water which could stay on the deck from flowing into the interior of the canoe.
He takes the precaution of having his face and shoulders well wrapped in his cape and his well-buttoned hood. Thus equipped, the Greenlander or the Eskimo goes to sea, whatever the weather, in the midst of snows, winds and storms. At his side he has his lance stopped by straps along the boat; in front of him his bundle of ropes rolled around a wheel made for the purpose; and behind him, the bladder which must serve as a buoy. The single oar which he uses to drive and steer his boat is 3 meters 33 centimeters long; it is also wide and flat at the two extremities, which are usually adorned with a narwhal-tooth marquetry, often very tastefully designed. He takes his oar with both hands, and, cutting through the water alternately on both sides with a perfectly regular movement, he steers with inconceivable dexterity and promptness.
It is a truly curious sight to see a Greenlander in his gray fishing coat trimmed with white buttons, sailing on a frail skiff, at the mercy of the waves and storms that his courage defies, and splitting the waves with a lightness to do 96 kilometers a day when he wants to rush his walk. As long as the fury of the winds allows it to display a parrot's sail, far from fearing the great waves, it seems to seek them out, and fly like a line on their rolling tops. Even if the waves come to melt and break on him, he still remains motionless in his place. If the waves attack him head-on, close to being overwhelmed, he collects his strength and struggles with his oar against all their impetuosity. As long as he has his oar in his hand, even if he has thrown his head under the water, with a stroke of his oar he goes up and gets up straight. But if he loses that oar, his life is over, unless a helping hand comes to save him. There is no European who would dare venture on a kaiak at the slightest breath of wind. So one can only admire with a kind of fear the audacity and dexterity of these intrepid Greenlanders, who tame the sea and its monsters. But, as they can only reach this degree of courage and skill by constant and repeated trials, they accustom themselves from childhood, by a series of varied exercises, to surmounting so many perils and obstacles. that nature seems to have piled up and multiplied around them, on the most formidable of the elements.
When the Greenlanders have reached the age of putting on the harness or the sea dress, that is to say when they have enough strength, dexterity and skill to begin their lifelong trade , they go fishing for sea calves, which is done in three ways, either in the kaiak of a single man, or on the beat in the field, or in winter on the ice. The first way is the best and most common. As soon as a fisherman, embarked with all his gear, sees a sea calf, he tries to surprise it unexpectedly while the animal, going against the wind and the sun, cannot hear or see the man who attack from the front. This one even hides behind a large blade, and advances quickly and noiselessly to the reach of five or six fathoms, holding its harpoon, rope and bladder all ready to be thrown. He takes his oar with his left hand, and the harpoon with his right by the handle. If the harpoon strikes straight at the target and sinks into the sides of the animal, it detaches from the barrel, which remains floating on the water. As soon as the blow has struck, the fisherman throws the bladder into the sea, on the side where the prey has plunged; then he collects and puts back in his boat the shaft of his harpoon; the animal pulls the bladder towards itself and often drags it underwater; but it is with difficulty, because she is very big, so she does not take long to reappear, followed by the calf which comes to take its breath. The Greenlander observes the place where the bladder shows itself, to wait for the animal and pierce it with his great spear. Every time the calf returns, this dart is thrust into it, until its strength is exhausted; then we go straight to him, the little spear in hand, and we finish killing him. As soon as he is dead, care is taken to stop up his wounds and stop the loss of blood; then we blow to swell it and make it float more easily, attached by a rope to the left of the kaiak.
This way of fishing is the most dangerous, although the most used; the Greenlanders call it extinction fishing, because sometimes the life of man is at stake. The rope can, in fact, knot itself as it spins, or become entangled around the kaiak, and drag it, in these two cases, to the bottom of the sea; it can, in the development of its folds, hook the oar or even the fisherman by twisting itself around its hand and its neck, which happens when the sea is so big that its blades melt on the pilot with the fathoms of cord with which they wrap it. The sea calf can himself, returning to the kaiak, engage it in the line and drag the canoe to the bottom with the fisherman busy letting it go. If by misfortune man finds himself caught, he has only the resources of which we have spoken to free himself from his own nets; sometimes, at the moment of getting rid of it, it feels itself being bitten on the hand or on the face by the furious animal, which revenge pushes to attack its enemy when it can no longer defend itself, for this species has learned of nature to sell his life dearly.
Also, in this fishing, where the man is alone with the catches with the monster, he can catch only the most stupid species of calf. To hunt the other kinds, or to take several calves at the same time, it is necessary to be in herd. We will expect them in the fall at Nepiset Strait, in Bal's-River Bay, between the mainland and Kangek Island. The Greenlanders force them out of their retreat by frightening them with loud cries and throwing stones into the water. When these beasts appear, they are chased until they are out of breath and forced to stay a long time on the water to breathe the air. So they surround them and kill them with their little stingers. As soon as the animal appears, all the fishermen swoop down on it as if they had wings, making a terrible noise; the calf dives, the men scatter on its tracks, careful to observe the place where they imagine it will return to the water; it is usually nearly a mile from the place of its first appearance. When the frightened animal seeks the earth for refuge, it is greeted with stones and sticks by the women and children, who attack it head-on, and pierced with darts and spears by the men who are on its heels. . This hunt is all the more attractive and recreational for the Greenlanders, as each one often takes eight to ten calves for his part.
Winter hunting is done at Disko Bay. As the calves then make holes in the ice to come and breathe the air, a Greenlander comes and sits next to it on a small harness, putting his feet on another to protect them from the cold; as soon as the animal advances its muzzle, the man pierces it with a harpoon, immediately breaks the ice all around, pulls the hooked animal, and kills it with redoubled blows. Sometimes a man lies belly down on a kind of sled, along the holes through which the calves climb onto the ice to bask in the sun. Near one of these large holes a small one is made, through which a fisherman passes a harpoon attached to the end of a large stick. The one who keeps watch at the edge of the big hole, seeing the animal pass under the harpoon, makes a sign to his comrade, and the latter drives the iron into the amphibian with all his might. If the hunter sees a calf in the square, he will sometimes imitate its growl so that the animal, taking it for a being of its kind, lets it approach until
reach of the harpoon, and finds himself surprised and killed without having time to flee.
It is perhaps the case here to give a few details about the seal, the pursuit of which occupies so much of the life of the Greenlanders. These animals have firm, coarse, hairy skin, like terrestrial quadrupeds, except that their hair is thick, short and smooth as if it were oiled. They have the two front feet trained to walk, and the hind ones to swim; on each foot, five fingers with four knuckles each, armed with a claw for climbing on rocks or clinging to ice. Their hind feet have their toes clasped like a crow's feet, so that when swimming they spread out like a fan. Their head is like that of a dog with cropped ears; however, they do not all have the same shape: some have it rounder, others longer and more emaciated. Below the muzzle they have a beard; they also have some hairs on the nostrils, and some below the eyebrow-like eyes. They have large, hollow and very clear eyes. There are calves of several colors; many are marked like tigers. Some are black spotted with white, others yellow, some gray, others red. Their teeth are as sharp and stronger than a dog's, and can cut through a stick the size of an arm; their claws are long, black and pointed; their tail is short. They bark like hoarse dogs, and their young have a cat-like meow. Although they are species of amphibians, the sea is their element, and fish their food. However, they will sleep on the ground or on ice cubes; and they even snore so profoundly in the sun, that it is easy to surprise them. With a crippled gait, they run with the front feet, and jump or dash with those behind, but so quickly that a man has difficulty in catching them. Their ordinary length is between 1 m. 65 c. and 2m. 60 c. ; their bodies are thick in the middle and terminate in a cone at both extremities, which helps them a great deal in swimming.
Such is the animal which the Greenlander hunts throughout his life, and which supplies almost all his needs. Indeed, he finds in his flesh what to eat, in his fat what to light up, in his skin what to wear, to form his tents and his boats. Also these peoples exercise themselves from the most tender childhood in hunting, which will be the principal occupation and the greatest pleasure of their life. As soon as a child can use his hands and feet, his father gives him a bow and arrow to practice shooting blanks. He teaches him to throw stones against a goal planted on the edge of the sea; he presents her with a knife which serves primarily for her amusement. At the age of ten, he provided him with a kaiak, where he amused himself by rowing, hunting and fishing, finally trying the work and the perils of the sea. follows his father fishing for seals. The first monster he caught must be used to treat his whole family and neighborhood. At twenty, a Greenlander made his kaiak and his crew. It does not take long then to get married; but he usually remains with his parents, and his mother retains the supreme direction of the household.
Girls up to the age of fourteen only babble, sing and dance, unless they are used to draw water. At fifteen, they must know how to look after children, cook, prepare skins, and even, as they grow older, row boats and build houses.
In the household, the husband goes out to sea to hunt, to fish, and, as soon as he is on land, he no longer bothers himself with anything, even believing it to be below his dignity to bring the boat on board. animal he caught. Women do everything else, from butchers to shoemakers. They have for all kinds of work only a half-moon knife, a polisher of bone or ivory, a thimble, and two or three needles. In the construction of the huts, they do all the work
of the masonry, and the men that of the carpentry. Moreover, they coldly watch the women pass by with large stones on their backs. On the other hand, they leave them mistresses of everything they take or acquire, except whale oil, which the men are responsible for selling.
When there is nothing left in the house and the provisions are exhausted, we take patience with good agreement between husband and wife, and we die of hunger together, or we eat our old shoes, if remains. Only the sufferings of their children are very sensitive to them. When a family has no children, the husband adopts one or two orphans, the wife a girl without father or mother or a widow.
The way of life of the Greenlanders is certainly not attractive for a European. However, when one is tossed about by the storm, a miserable hut is a pretty sweet harbor; and in a country where all the elements seem conspired against the human species, after many days passed in the horrors of hunger, the most puny meal of these poor savages becomes a treat. It is then that one cannot fail to admire the good order which reigns in their houses, and even a sort of cleanliness which is peculiar to them; for with always filthy hands, an oily face, a very strong smell of fish, they hold their neatly folded festive clothes in a kind of needle-embroidered leather portmanteau. Although they have leather buckets which do not smell good, all the water they draw is kept in very neat wooden fountains lined with very shiny copper and bone. Finally, if we cannot expect from a people who are always swimming in oil or in the blood of sea calves and whales an exterior as bearable even as that of the common people of our workers and our peasants, at least they There reigns in Greenland more harmony and tranquility in a hut which will contain several families of different races, than one finds in one of our houses composed of a few persons of the same blood. They are so eager to offer their catch that no one even dares to ask for it; and in this poor country hospitality prevents begging. Without this reciprocal generosity, as we are obliged to seek our subsistence several kilometers from home, we would often risk dying of hunger on the road.
The trade of the Greenlanders is very simple: it is a traffic in their superfluity for what they lack. But in this respect they are often as capricious as children, because they do not know the price of things much better. Curious about everything new, they will make twenty barters, and will always lose on each of the objects they trade, giving a useful piece of furniture for a toy that amuses them, preferring a trinket to tools, and what makes them happy. pleases what can serve them.
The traffic in Greenland is carried on in a kind of fair where the general rendezvous of the nation is, and which is held every year in winter. The Greenlanders go to this fair as if on pilgrimage; they exhibit their wares there, and ask for those they want in return. The inhabitants of the south have no whale, those of the north no wood. It starts from boats from the southern coast, and even from eastern Greenland, which are up to 100 to 150 myriameters to get to Disko Bay. It is there that they exchange wood and marble tableware for ropes or fish teeth, barbs, ribs, whale tail bones: thus trade is done almost everything between the people of the nation.
On these trips, they take with them their whole family and their fortune. Often it is years before they return to their native country; for if winter surprises them somewhere, they stop there and build a cabin there to winter, but preferably in the vicinity of some Danish colony. The land and the sea are theirs everywhere, and as these wandering families are sometimes here, sometimes there, they are sure to find friends and acquaintances everywhere.
However horrible the climate inhabited by the Greenlanders, they are more attached to their native soil than any other people. All those who have been taken in any way out of their country and treated with the greatest kindness, have constantly sighed, amidst the enjoyments which European luxury offers, after their floating mountains, their tasty seals and their smoky huts . As for their moral dispositions, the navigators depict them as very eager to traffic, and at the same time as prone to theft and fraud; however, when one penetrates into their interior life, one finds them good, gentle, and very treatable.
The Russian whaler.
Notwithstanding all the interest of the observations which this new country offered to our friends, they impatiently awaited the opportunity of returning to their homeland. They had already traversed the greatest number of the ordinary stations of the ships which frequent these parts, when at last, while approaching Cape Farewell, situated in the middle of Greenland, a ship was seen from the top of the dunes.
They headed for this ship, which was soon recognized as a Russian vessel, which had stopped in these parts to fish for whales, and which at this moment was doubling Norway to return to Arkhangel.
The captain sent the boat to him with the request that he take on board three travelers for Russia. The Russian captain first wanted to know the names of these passengers. When he heard of them and was informed of their adventure, he welcomed them with joy; for he was related to Ivan, and had already informed Arkhangel that the latter, Alexis and the pilot had left on an English ship for Spitsbergen, where they had been shipwrecked and where they lived in the most unfortunate position, assuming they hadn't already succumbed. He himself had done research on the islands; but they had had no result. It is not necessary to ask if he undertook with a good heart to bring them back to Arkhangel.
The farewells that the three friends made to the captain and the rest of the crew were most touching. They thanked them for their deliverance, and promised the captain in particular never to forget what he had done for them.
Boarded the Russian ship, Ivan and Alexis overwhelmed the captain with questions about Father Ozaroff. The pilot inquired solicitously of his wife and children.
The captain informed them that the letters written from England to Father Ozaroff and the pilot's wife, by the captain of the Juno, had caused them great sadness. It was known throughout Arkhangel that there were three compatriots abandoned at Spitsbergen, and several navigators promised to disembark there, to seek them out and bring them back to their homeland.
A few of the crew said that Father Ozaroff was still inconsolable at the plight of his son and Ivan, and that he looked on them both as lost.
The pilot had the consolation of learning that his wife and children, who still mourned him, had been so well helped by an association of sailors that they were sheltered from misery.
The desire to see these cherished objects increased as they approached their homeland. During their long journey, they related every day to their companions new incidents of their stay on the island, remembering with an ever new gratitude the help and the benefits with which divine providence had showered them. We saw by their speeches that the sufferings they had experienced had left in them imperishable seeds of love and trust in God.
The crossing was not as rapid as our three friends would have liked. The vessel, often thwarted by contrary winds, was obliged to put into a port in Iceland, and to stay there for several weeks to wait for more favorable weather and to repair some damage which it had experienced. Our travelers therefore had time to visit this country fruitfully, and the desire for education which especially animated the two young people made them undertake many errands, with the aim of collecting all the information they could obtain on this interesting country.
This island should only be considered as a vast mountain dotted with deep cavities, hiding within it heaps of minerals, vitrified and bituminous materials. Its surface presents to the eye only the summits of mountains whitened by eternal snow and ice, and below the image of confusion and upheaval. It is an enormous heap of stones and rocks broken and sharp, sometimes porous and half-charred, often frightening by the blackness and the traces of fire which are still imprinted there. The crevices and hollows of these rocks are filled only with red, black, and white sand; but in the valleys which the mountains form between them one finds vast and pleasant plains, where nature, which always mingles some alleviation with its scourges, leaves a bearable asylum to men who know no other, and a abundant and very delicate food for cattle.
The climate of this island is roughly that of Sweden and Denmark. Reykiavick, the capital, contains seven hundred inhabitants, and is frequented during the summer by Danish merchants. Apart from that, one finds on the island only houses, or rather huts covered with earth, thrown up separately from distance to distance in places susceptible of some cultivation.
What is particularly striking about this wild land bristling with rocks is the contrast and the constant rapprochement of frost and fire, of the ice that covers the ground, and the inflamed materials that spring from it at all times. In no other part of the globe do you find on the same stretch of land so many craters belching flames, so many sources of boiling water, so many flows of lava.
Apart from high mountains covered with snow, such as Hecla, Wester, Jokel, Dranga and a few others, there are many small ice hills in Iceland that constantly change shape and height. Mount Hecla, which is one of the most famous volcanoes in the universe, is today one of the least dangerous in Iceland. It wreaked appalling havoc in the xive century ; but since then the eruptions have become less and less frequent. All the travelers who have visited this mountain mention a hill of lava forming around the volcano a kind of rampart from thirteen to twenty-two meters high; once the difficulties of this barrier are overcome, the rest of the way is easy. Neither herbs nor plants grow within two leagues; the ground is covered with rivers of molten stones, pumice stones and ashes. The summit of Hecla is divided into three points, of which the middle one is the highest; its height above sea level is thirteen hundred to sixteen hundred and twenty-four meters. Its summit occasionally spews whirlwinds of steam; there are sometimes cavities full of boiling water.
There are a large number of hot springs in Iceland, which can be divided into
three species. Some, of moderate heat, owe it only to their passage over heated ground; others form fountains whose basin is more or less large, and in which the water boils as if it were on a great fire. Finally there are some which, boiling with violence, throw their waters into the air, some continuously and without regularity, others periodically and in a continual order.
Of the latter kind are three hot springs found in the northern township. They are about fifty-eight meters apart from each other, and in each of them the water bubbles and surges alternately.
The perpetual and regular movement of these three springs is not the only thing that can be noticed there: their waters still produce effects which are no less surprising. If we put water from the great fountain in a bottle, we see it come out of the bottle two or three times at the same moment that the source launches its water, and this phenomenon is renewed as long as the effervescence lasts. water that's in the bottle. After the second or third boiling, it becomes quiet and cold. When you stopper the bottle after having filled it, it bursts into pieces at the first jet of the source. When one approaches the great spring and throws an object into it, however heavy it may be, it drags it to the bottom; but when it rejects the water, it throws at the same time, and at a few paces from its opening, all that has been thrown into it. We also cite the boiling springs of the Geyser, whose water roars and springs up at irregular intervals. The Geyser sometimes vomits its waves laden with stones and silt thirty-three meters above its basin, which is sixteen meters wide.
Return to Arkhangel.
After a long navigation, our friends finally saw the steeples of their hometown. Oh! how their hearts beat with joy! They fell on their knees, and thanked God profusely when the ship entered the port of Arkhangel.
Expresses were sent to Father Ozaroff and the pilot's wife to bring them the joyous news that those long thought lost and dead were still alive, that they were found, and that at this very moment they were in danger. road to return to their homes. We wanted to prepare them for the joy of this return, lest the surprise become fatal to them.
Oh ! How sweet was the news of the return! how many tears of joy did she shed! What thanksgivings then rose up to Heaven!
Another employee brought the news that the ship with the three friends had already entered the port. Ozaroff wanted to run in front of his son and his nephew, and the pilot's wife in front of her husband; but, just as they were about to leave, Alexis and Ivan were already in Ozaroff's arms, and the pilot was pressing his wife and children to his heart. They all failed to speak, and their tears alone could express what they felt.
In recounting all that had happened to them, our travelers did not fail to point out to their listeners all that God had wrought miraculously in their favour, and how his providence watches attentively over those who place all their trust.
Ivan and Alexis especially recommended to children to obey their parents, and never to oppose their will. They showed them that the cruel sufferings they had endured were a consequence of their disobedience towards Ozaroff and that every tear that this afflicted father had shed had fallen heavily on them.
Father Ozarofi reproached neither his son nor his nephew. They had expiated by enough suffering the grief they had caused him. They were punished for it, and had become pious men.
Alexis endeavored to be completely reconciled with his father, by devoting himself from that moment to commerce, by helping him in his business, and thus becoming his joy and his consolation. He had known the life of a sailor from its worst side, and preferred to his adventurous expeditions a peaceful stay and quiet occupations in his native town.
Ivan seemed to have become, by the dangers he had run, still more decided and more courageous; he took service on a Russian warship, and became a brave captain.
As for the pilot, he was so exhausted by the work and the perils of his long career that he could no longer serve at sea. .