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List Of Contents | Contents of Letters From High Latitudes, by Lord Dufferin
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there was no danger of the ship knocking a hole in her
bottom against some hummock which the lookout had been
too sleepy to observe; and that Wilson could not come in
the next morning and announce "ice all round, a-all
ro-ound!" In a quarter of an hour afterwards, all was
still on board the "Foam;" and the lonely little ship
lay floating on the glassy bosom of the sea, apparently
as inanimate as the landscape.

My feelings on awakening next morning were very pleasant;
something like what one used to feel the first morning
after one's return from school, on seeing pink curtains
glistening round one's head, instead of the dirty-white
boards of a turned-up bedstead. When Wilson came in with
my hot water, I could not help triumphantly remarking to
him,--"Well, Wilson, you see we've got to Spitzbergen,
after all!" But Wilson was not a man to be driven from
his convictions by facts; he only smiled grimly, with a
look which meant--"Would we were safe back again!" Poor
Wilson! he would have gone only half way with Bacon in
his famous Apothegm; he would willingly "commit the
Beginnings of all actions to Argus with his hundred eyes,
and the Ends"--to Centipede, with his hundred legs.
"First to watch, and then to speed"--away! would have
been his pithy emendation.

Immediately after breakfast we pulled to the shore,
carrying in the gig with us the photographic apparatus,
tents, guns, ammunition, and the goat. Poor old thing!
she had suffered dreadfully from sea-sickness, and I
thought a run ashore might do her good. On the left-hand
side of the bay, between the foot of the mountain and
the sea, there ran a low flat belt of black moss, about
half a mile broad; and as this appeared the only point
in the neighbourhood likely to offer any attraction to
reindeer, it was on this side that I determined to land.
My chief reason for having run into English Bay rather
than Magdalena Bay was because we had been told at
Hammerfest that it was the more likely place of the two
for deer; and as we were sadly in want of fresh meat this
advantage quite decided us in our choice. As soon,
therefore, as we had superintended the erection of the
tent, and set Wilson hard at work cleaning the glasses
for the photographs, we slung our rifles on our backs,
and set off in search of deer. But in vain did I peer
through my telescope across the dingy flat in front; not
a vestige of a horn was to be seen, although in several
places we came upon impressions of their track. At last
our confidence in the reports of their great plenty became
considerably diminished.  Still the walk was very refreshing
after our confinement on board; and although the thermometer
was below freezing, the cold only made the exercise more
pleasant. A little to the northward I observed, lying on
the sea-shore, innumerable logs of driftwood. This wood
is floated all the way from America by the Gulf Stream,
and as I walked from one huge bole to another, I could
not help wondering in what primeval forest each had grown,
what chance had originally cast them on the waters, and
piloted them to this desert shore. Mingled with this
fringe of unhewn timber that lined the beach lay waifs
and strays of a more sinister kind; pieces of broken
spars, an oar, a boat's flagstaff, and a few shattered
fragments of some long-lost vessel's planking.  Here and
there, too, we would come upon skulls of walrus, ribs
and shoulder-blades of bears, brought possibly by the
ice in winter. Turning again from the sea, we resumed
our search for deer; but two or three hours' more very
stiff walking produced no better luck. Suddenly a cry
from Fitz, who had wandered a little to the right, brought
us helter-skelter to the spot where was standing. But it
was not a stag he had called us to come and look upon.
Half imbedded in the black moss at his feet, there lay
a grey deal coffin falling almost to pieces with age;
the lid was gone--blown off probably by the wind--and
within were stretched the bleaching bones of a human
skeleton. A rude cross at the head of the grave still
stood partially upright, and a half obliterated Dutch
inscription preserved a record of the dead man's name
and age.

   .....VANDER SCHELLING....
   COMMAN....JACOB MOOR....
   OB 2 JUNE 1758 AET 44.

[Figure: fig-p174.gif]

It was evidently some poor whaler of the last century to
whom his companions had given the only burial possible
in this frost-hardened earth, which even the summer sun
has no force to penetrate beyond a couple of inches, and
which will not afford to man the shallowest grave. A
bleak resting-place for that hundred years' slumber, I
thought, as I gazed on the dead mariner's remains!--

   "I was snowed over with snow,
    And beaten with rains,
    And drenched with the dews;
    Dead have I long been,"--

--murmured the Vala to Odin in Nifelheim,--and whispers
of a similar import seemed to rise up from the lidless
coffin before us. It was no brother mortal that lay at
our feet, softly folded in the embraces of "Mother Earth,"
but a poor scarecrow, gibbeted for ages on this bare
rock, like a dead Prometheus; the vulture, frost, gnawing
for ever on his bleaching relics, and yet eternally
preserving them!

On another part of the coast we found two other corpses
yet more scantily sepulchred, without so much as a cross
to mark their resting-place. Even in the palmy days of
the whale-fisheries, it was the practice of the Dutch
and English sailors to leave the wooden coffins in which
they had placed their comrades' remains, exposed upon
the shore; and I have been told by an eye-witness, that
in Magdalena Bay there are to be seen, even to this day,
the bodies of men who died upwards of 250 years ago, in
such complete preservation that, when you pour hot water
on the icy coating which encases them, you can actually
see the unchanged features of the dead, through the
transparent incrustation.

As soon as Fitz had gathered a few of the little flowering
mosses that grew inside the coffin, we proceeded on our
way, leaving poor Jacob Moor--like his great namesake--alone
in his glory.

Turning to the right, we scrambled up the spur of one of
the mountains on the eastern side of the plain, and thence
dived down among the lateral valleys that run up between
them. Although by this means we opened up quite a new
system of hills, and basins, and gullies, the general
scenery did not change its characteristics. All
vegetation--if the black moss deserves such a name--ceases
when you ascend twenty feet above the level of the sea,
and the sides of the mountains become nothing but steep
slopes of schist, split and crumbled into an even surface
by the frost. Every step we took unfolded a fresh succession
of these jagged spikes and break-neck acclivities, in an
unending variety of quaint configuration. Mountain climbing
has never been a hobby of mine, so I was not tempted to
play the part of Excelsior on any of these hill sides;
but for those who love such exercise a fairer or a more
dangerous opportunity of distinguishing themselves could
not be imagined. The supercargo or owner of the very
first Dutch ship that ever came to Spitzbergen, broke
his neck in attempting to climb a hill in Prince Charles's
Foreland. Barentz very nearly lost several of his men
under similar circumstances; and when Scoresby succeeded
in making the ascent of another hill near Horn Sound, it
was owing to his having taken the precaution of marking
each upward step in chalk, that he was ever able to get
down again. The prospect from the summit, the approach
to which was by a ridge so narrow that he sat astride
upon its edge, seems amply to have repaid the exertion;
and I do not think I can give you a better idea of the
general effect of Spitzbergen scenery, than by quoting
his striking description of the panorama he beheld:--

"The prospect was most extensive and grand. A fine
sheltered bay was seen to the east of us, an arm of the
same on the north-east, and the sea, whose glassy surface
was unruffled by a breeze, formed an immense expanse on
the west; the icebergs rearing their proud crests almost
to the tops of mountains between which they were lodged,
and defying the power of the solar beams, were scattered
in various directions about the sea-coast and in the
adjoining bays. Beds of snow and ice filling extensive
hollows, and giving an enamelled coat to adjoining valleys,
one of which commencing at the foot of the mountain where
we stood extended in a continued line towards the north,
as far as the eye could reach--mountain rising above
mountain, until by distance they dwindled into
insignificancy--the whole contrasted by a cloudless canopy
of deepest azure, and enlightened by the rays of a blazing
sun, and the effect aided by a feeling of danger, seated
as we were on the pinnacle of a rock almost surrounded
by tremendous precipices,--all united to constitute a
picture singularly sublime.

"Our descent we found really a very hazardous, and in
some instances a painful undertaking. Every movement
was a work of deliberation. Having by much care, and
with some anxiety, made good our descent to the top of
the secondary hills, we took our way down one of the
steepest banks, and slid forward with great facility in a
sitting posture. Towards the foot of the hill, an expanse
of snow stretched across the line of descent. This being
loose and soft, we entered upon it without fear; but on
reaching the middle of it, we came to a surface of solid
ice, perhaps a hundred yards across, over which we launched
with astonishing velocity, but happily escaped without
injury. The men whom we left below, viewed this latter
movement with astonishment and fear."

So universally does this strange land bristle with peaks
and needles of stone, that the views we ourselves obtained
--though perhaps from a lower elevation, and certainly
without the risk--scarcely yielded either in extent or
picturesque grandeur to the scene described by Dr.
Scoresby.

Having pretty well overrun the country to the northward,
without coming on any more satisfactory signs of deer

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