List Of Contents | Contents of Letters From High Latitudes, by Lord Dufferin
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the transient vision. However, I had got a clutch of the
island, and no slight matter should make me let go my
hold. In the meantime there was nothing for it but to
wait patiently until the curtain lifted; and no child
ever stared more eagerly at a green drop-scene in
expectation of "the realm of dazzling splendour" promised
in the bill, than I did at the motionless grey folds that
hung round us. At last the hour of liberation came: a
purer light seemed gradually to penetrate the atmosphere,
brown turned to grey, and grey to white, and white to
transparent blue, until the lost horizon entirely
reappeared, except where in one direction an impenetrable
veil of haze still hung suspended from the zenith to the
sea. Behind that veil I knew must lie Jan Mayen.

A few minutes more, and slowly, silently, in a manner
you could take no count of, its dusky hem first deepened
to a violet tinge, then gradually lifting, displayed a
long line of coast--in reality but the roots of
Beerenberg--dyed of the darkest purple; while, obedient
to a common impulse, the clouds that wrapped its summit
gently disengaged themselves, and left the mountain
standing in all the magnificence of his 6,870 feet,
girdled by a single zone of pearly vapour, from underneath
whose floating folds seven enormous glaciers rolled down
into the sea! Nature seemed to have turned scene-shifter,
so artfully were the phases of this glorious spectacle
successively developed.

Although--by reason of our having hit upon its side
instead of its narrow end--the outline of Mount Beerenberg
appeared to us more like a sugar-loaf than a spire--broader
at the base and rounder at the top than I had imagined,--
in size, colour, and effect, it far surpassed anything
I had anticipated. The glaciers were quite an unexpected
element of beauty. Imagine a mighty river of as great a
volume as the Thames--started down the side of a mountain,--
bursting over every impediment,--whirled into a thousand
eddies,--tumbling and raging on from ledge to ledge in
quivering cataracts of foam,--then suddenly struck rigid
by a power so instantaneous in its action, that even the
froth and fleeting wreaths of spray have stiffened into
the immutability of sculpture. Unless you had seen it,
it would be almost impossible to conceive the strangeness
of the contrast between the actual tranquillity of these
silent crystal rivers and the violent descending energy
impressed upon their exterior. You must remember, too,
all this is upon a scale of such prodigious magnitude,
that when we succeeded subsequently in approaching the
spot--where with a leap like that of Niagara one of these
glaciers plunges down into the sea--the eye, no longer
able to take in its fluvial character, was content to
rest in simple astonishment at what then appeared a lucent
precipice of grey-green ice, rising to the height of
several hundred feet above the masts of the vessel.

As soon as we had got a little over our first feelings
of astonishment at the panorama thus suddenly revealed
to us by the lifting of the fog, I began to consider what
would be the best way of getting to the anchorage on the
west--or Greenland side of the island. We were still
seven or eight miles from the shore, and the northern
extremity of the island, round which we should have to
pass, lay about five leagues off, bearing West by North,
while between us and the land stretched a continuous
breadth of floating ice.  The hummocks, however, seemed
to be pretty loose with openings here and there, so that
with careful sailing I thought we might pass through,
and perhaps on the farther side of the island come into
a freer sea. Alas! after having with some difficulty
wound along until we were almost abreast of the cape, we
were stopped dead short by a solid rampart of fixed ice,
which in one direction leant upon the land, and in the
other ran away as far as the eye could reach into the
dusky North. Thus hopelessly cut off from all access to
the western and better anchorage, it only remained to
put about, and--running down along the land--attempt to
reach a kind of open roadstead on the eastern side, a
little to the south of the volcano described by Dr.
Scoresby but in this endeavour also we were doomed to be
disappointed; for after sailing some considerable distance
through a field of ice, which kept getting more closely
packed as we pushed further into it, we came upon another
barrier equally impenetrable, that stretched away from
the island toward the Southward and Eastward. Under these
circumstances, the only thing to be done was to get back
to where the ice was looser, and attempt a landing wherever
a favourable opening presented itself. But even to
extricate ourselves from our present position, was now
no longer of such easy performance. Within the last hour
the wind had shifted into the North-West; that is to say,
it was now blowing right down the path along which we
had picked our way; in order to return, therefore, it
would be necessary to work the ship to windward through
a sea as thickly crammed with ice as a lady's boudoir is
with furniture. Moreover, it had become evident, from
the obvious closing of the open spaces, that some
considerable pressure was acting upon the outside of the
field; but whether originating in a current or the change
of wind, or another field being driven down upon it, I
could not tell: Be that as it might, out we must
get,--unless we wanted to be cracked like a walnut-shell
between the drifting ice and trio solid belt to leeward;
so sending a steady hand to the helm,--for these unusual
phenomena had begun to make some of my people lose their
heads a little, no one on board having ever seen a bit
of ice before,--I stationed myself in the bows, while
Mr.  Wyse conned the vessel from the square yard. Then
there began one of the prettiest and most exciting pieces
of nautical manoeuvring that can be imagined. Every single
soul on board was summoned upon deck; to all, their
several stations and duties were assigned--always excepting
the cook, who was merely directed to make himself generally
useful. As soon as everybody was ready, down went the
helm,--about came the ship,--and the critical part of
the business commenced. Of course, in order to wind and
twist the schooner in and out among the devious channels
left between the hummocks, it was necessary she should
have considerable way on her; at the same time so narrow
were some of the passages, and so sharp their turnings,
that unless she had been the most handy vessel in the
world, she would have had a very narrow squeak for it.
I never saw anything so beautiful as her behaviour. Had
she been a living creature, she could not have dodged,
and wound, and doubled, with more conscious cunning and
dexterity; and it was quite amusing to hear the endearing
way in which the people spoke to her, each time the nimble
creature contrived to elude some more than usually
threatening tongue of ice.  Once or twice, in spite of
all our exertions, it was impossible to save her from a
collision; all that remained to be done, as soon as it
became evident she could not clear some particular floe,
or go about in time to avoid it, was to haul the staysail
sheet a-weather in order to deaden her way as much as
possible, and--putting the helm down--let her go right
at it, so that she should receive the blow on her stem,
and not on the bluff of the bow; while all hands, armed
with spars and fenders, rushed forward to ease off the
shock.  And here I feel it just to pay a tribute of
admiration to the cook, who on these occasions never
failed to exhibit an immense amount of misdirected energy,
breaking--I remember--at the same moment, both the cabin
sky-light, and an oar, in single combat with a large berg
that was doing no particular harm to us, but against
which he seemed suddenly to have conceived a violent
spite. Luckily a considerable quantity of snow overlaid
the ice, which, acting as a buffer, in some measure
mitigated the violence of the concussion; while the very
fragility of her build diminishing the momentum, proved
in the end the little schooner's greatest security.
Nevertheless, I must confess that more than once, while
leaning forward in expectation of the scrunch I knew must
come, I have caught myself half murmuring to the fair
face that seemed to gaze so serenely at the cold white
mass we were approaching: "O Lady, is it not now fit thou
shouldest befriend the good ship of which thou art the

At last, after having received two or three pretty severe
bumps,--though the loss of a little copper was the only
damage they entailed,--we made our way back to the northern
end of the island, where the pack was looser, and we had
at all events a little more breathing room.

It had become very cold--so cold, indeed, that Mr. Wyse
--no longer able to keep a clutch of the rigging--had a
severe tumble from the yard on which he was standing.
The wind was freshening, and the ice was evidently still
in motion; but although very anxious to get back again
into open water, we thought it would not do to go away
without landing, even if it were only for an hour. So
having laid the schooner right under the cliff, and
putting into the gig our own discarded figure-head, a
white ensign, a flag-staff; and a tin biscuit-box,
containing a paper on which I had hastily written the
schooner's name, the date of her arrival, and the names
of all those who sailed on board,--we pulled ashore. A
ribbon of beach not more than fifteen yards wide, composed
of iron-sand, augite, and pyroxene, running along under
the basaltic precipice--upwards of a thousand feet
high--which serves as a kind of plinth to the mountain,
was the only standing room this part of the coast afforded.
With considerable difficulty, and after a good hour's
climb, we succeeded in dragging the figure-head we had
brought ashore with us, up a sloping patch of snow, which
lay in a crevice of the cliff, and thence a little higher,
to a natural pedestal formed by a broken shaft of rock;
where--after having tied the tin box round her neck,

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