Make your own free website on

List Of Contents | Contents of Letters From High Latitudes, by Lord Dufferin
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

All this time, Wilson was at the tent, busily occupied
in taking photographs. As soon as the bear was observed,
a signal was made to him from the ship, to warn him of
the visitor he might shortly expect on shore. Naturally
concluding that the bear would in all probability make
for the tent as soon as he reached land, it became a
subject of consideration with him what course he should
pursue. Weapons he had none, unless the chemicals he was
using might be so regarded. Should he try the influence
of chloroform on his enemy; or launch the whole photographic
apparatus at his grisly head, and take to his heels?
Thought is rapid, but the bear's progress seemed equally
expeditious; it was necessary to arrive at some speedy
conclusion. To fly--was to desert his post and leave
the camp in possession of the spoiler; life and honour
were equally dear to him.  Suddenly a bright idea struck

At the time the goat had been disembarked to take her
pleasure on TERRA FIRMA, our crow's-nest barrel had been
landed with her. At this moment it was standing unoccupied
by the side of the tent. By creeping into it, and turning
its mouth downward on the ground, Wilson perceived that
he should convert it into a tower of strength for himself
against the enemy, while its legitimate occupant, becoming
at once a victim to the bear's voracity, would probably
prevent the monster from investigating too curiously its
contents. It was quite a pity that the interposition of
the boats prevented his putting this ingenious plan into
execution. He had been regularly done out of a situation,
in which the most poignant agony of mind and dreary
anticipations would have been absolutely required of him.
He pictured the scene to himself; he lying fermenting in
the barrel, like a curious vintage; the bear sniffing
querulously round it, perhaps cracking it like a cocoa-nut,
or extracting him like a periwinkle! Of these chances he
had been deprived by the interference of the crew. Friends
are often injudiciously meddling.

Although I felt a little vexation that one of us should
not have had the honour of slaying the bear in single
combat, which would certainly have been for the benefit
of his skin, the unexpected luck of having got one at
all, made us quite forget our personal disappointment.
As for my people, they were beside themselves with delight.
To have killed a polar bear was a great thing, but to
eat him would be a greater.  If artistically dealt with,
his carcase would probably cut up into a supply of fresh
meat for many days. One of the hands appened to be a
butcher. Whenever I wanted anything a little out of the
way to be done on board, I was sure to find that it
happened to be the specialite of some one of the ship's
company. In the course of a few hours, the late bear was
converted into a row of the most tempting morsels of
beef, hung about the rigging. Instead of in flags, the
ship was dressed in joints. In the meantime it so happened
that the fox, having stolen a piece of offal, was in a
few minutes afterwards seized with convulsions. I had
already given orders that the bear's liver should be
thrown overboard, as being, if not poisonous, at all
events very unwholesome.  The seizure of the fox, coupled
with this injunction, brought about a complete revolution
in the men's minds, with regard to the delicacies they
had been so daintily preparing for themselves. Silently,
one by one, the pieces were untied and thrown into the
sea: I do not think a mouthful of bear was eaten on board
the "Foam." I never heard whether it was in consequence
of any prognostics of Wilson's that this act of self-denial
was put into practice. I observed, however, that for some
days after the slaughter and dismemberment of the bear,
my ship's company presented an unaccountably sleek
appearance. As for the steward, his head and whiskers
seemed carved out of black marble: a varnished boot would
not have looked half so bright: I could have seen to
shave myself in his black hair. I conclude, therefore,
that the ingenious cook must, at all events, have succeeded
in manufacturing a supply of genuine bear's grease, of
which they had largely availed themselves.

The bagging of the bear had so gloriously crowned our
visit to Spitzbergen, that our disappointment about the
deer was no longer thought of; it was therefore with
light hearts, and most complete satisfaction, that we
prepared for departure.

Maid Marian had already carved on a flat stone an
inscription, in Roman letters, recording the visit of
the "Foam" to English Bay, and a cairn having been erected
to receive it, the tablet was solemnly lifted to its
resting-place. Underneath I placed a tin box, containing
a memorandum similar to that left at Jan Mayen, as well
as a printed dinner invitation from Lady --, which I
happened to have on board. Having planted a boat's flag
beside the rude monument, and brought on board with us
a load of driftwood, to serve hereafter as Christmas
yule-logs, we bade an eternal adieu to the silent hills
around us; and weighing anchor, stood out to sea. For
some hours a lack of wind still left us hanging about
the shore, in the midst of a grave society of seals; but
soon after, a gentle breeze sprang up in the south, and
about three o'clock on Friday, the 11th of August, we
again found ourselves spanking along before a six-knot
breeze, over the pale green sea.

In considering the course on which I should take the
vessel home, it appeared to me that in all probability
we should have been much less pestered by the ice on our
way to Spitzbergen, if, instead of hugging the easterly
ice, we had kept more away to the westward; I determined
therefore--as soon as we got clear of the land--to stand
right over to the Greenland shore, on a due west course,
and not to attempt to make any southing, until we should
have struck the Greenland ice. The length of our tether
in that direction being ascertained, we could then judge
of the width of the channel down which we were to beat,
for it was still blowing pretty fresh from the southward.

Up to the evening of the day on which we quitted English
Bay, the weather had been most beautiful; calm, sunshiny,
dry, and pleasant. Within a few hours of our getting
under weigh, a great change had taken place, and by
midnight it had become as foggy and disagreeable as ever.
The sea was pretty clear. During the few days we had been
on shore, the northerly current had brushed away the
great angular field of ice which had lain off the shore,
in a northwest direction; so that instead of being obliged
to run up very nearly to the 80th parallel, in order to
round it, we were enabled to sail to the westward at
once. During the course of the night, we came upon one
or two wandering patches of drift ice, but so loosely
packed that we had no difficulty in pushing through them.
About four o'clock in the morning, a long line of close
ice was reported right a-head, stretching south as far
as the eye could reach.  We had come about eighty miles
since leaving Spitzbergen.  The usual boundary of the
Greenland ice in summer runs, according to Scoresby,
along the second parallel of west longitude. This we had
already crossed, so that it was to be presumed the
barricade we saw before us was a frontier of the fixed
ice. In accordance, therefore, with my predetermined
plan, we now began working to the southward, and the
result fully justified my expectations.

The sea became comparatively clear, as far as could be
seen from the deck of the vessel, although small vagrant
patches of ice that we came up with occasionally--as well
as the temperature of the air and the sea--continued to
indicate the proximity of larger bodies on either side
of us.

It was a curious sensation with which we had gradually
learnt to contemplate this inseparable companion: it had
become a part of our daily existence, an element, a thing
without which the general aspect of the universe would
be irregular and incomplete. It was the first thing we
thought of in the morning, the last thing we spoke of at
night. It glittered and grinned maliciously at us in the
sunshine; it winked mysteriously through the stifling
fog; it stretched itself like a prostrate giant, with
huge, portentous shoulders and shadowy limbs, right across
our course; or danced gleefully in broken groups in the
little schooner's wake.  There was no getting rid of it,
or forgetting it, and if at night we sometimes returned
in dreams to the green summer world--to the fervent
harvest fields of England, and heard "the murmurs of
innumerous bees," or the song of larks on thymy
uplands--thump! bump! splash! gra-a-ate!--came the sudden
reminder of our friend on the starboard bow; and then
sometimes a scurry on deck, and a general "scrimmage" of
the whole society, in endeavours to prevent more serious
collisions. Moreover, I could not say, with your old
French friend, that "Familiar'ty breeds despise." The
more we saw of it, the less we liked it; its cold presence
sent a chilly sense of discouragement to the heart, and
I had daily to struggle with an ardent desire to throw
a boot at Wilson's head, every time his sepulchral voice
announced the "Ice ALL ROUND!"

It was not until the 14th of August, five days after
quitting Spitzbergen, that we lost sight of it altogether.
From that moment the temperature of the sea steadily
rose, and we felt that we were sailing back again into
the pleasant summer.

A sad event which occurred soon after, in some measure
marred our enjoyment of the change. Ever since she had
left Hammerfest, it had become too evident that a sea-going
life did not agree with the goat. Even the run on shore
at Spitzbergen had not sufficed to repair her shattered
constitution, and the bad weather we had had ever since
completed its ruin. It was certain that the butcher was
the only doctor who could now cure her. In spite, therefore,
of the distress it occasioned Maid Marian, I was compelled
to issue orders for her execution. Sigurdr was the only
person who regarded the TRAGICAL event with indifference,

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: