List Of Contents | Contents of Letters From High Latitudes, by Lord Dufferin
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than the bow with which I opened the conversation, I
regret to say that after staring wildly round for a few
minutes, the aboriginal bolted straight away in the most
unpolite manner and left us to our fate. There was nothing
for it but patiently to turn back, and try some other
opening. This time we were more successful, and about
three o'clock A.M. had the satisfaction of landing at
one of the wharves attached to the copper mines of
Kaafiord. We came upon a lovely scene. It was as light
and warm as a summer's noon in England; upon a broad
plateau, carved by nature out of the side of the grey
limestone, stood a bright shining house in the middle of
a plot of rich English-looking garden. On one side lay
the narrow fiord, on every other rose an amphitheatre of
fir-clad mountains. The door of the house was open, so
were many of the windows--even those on the ground-floor,
and from the road where we stood we could see the books
on the library shelves. A swing and some gymnastic
appliances on the lawn told us that there were children.
Altogether, I thought I had never seen such a charming
picture of silent comfort and security. Perhaps the barren
prospects we had been accustomed to made the little oasis
before us look more cheerful than we might otherwise have
thought it.

The question now arose, what was to be done? My principal
reason for coming to Alten was to buy some salt provisions
and Lapland dresses; but dolls and junk were scarcely a
sufficient pretext for knocking up a quiet family at
three o'clock in the morning. It is true, I happened to
have a letter for Mr. T--, written by a mutual friend,
who had expressly told me that--arrive when I might at
Alten,--the more unceremoniously I walked in and took
possession of the first unoccupied bed I stumbled on,
the better Mr. T-- would be pleased; but British punctilio
would not allow me to act on the recommendation, though
we were sorely tried. In the meantime the mosquitoes had
become more intolerable than ever. At last, half mad with
irritation, I set off straight up the side of the nearest
mountain, in hopes of attaining a zone too high for them
to inhabit; and, poising myself upon its topmost pinnacle,
I drew my handkerchief over my head--I was already without
coat and waistcoat--and remained the rest of the morning
"mopping and mowing" at the world beneath my feet.

About six o'clock, like a phantom in a dream, the little
schooner came stealing round the misty headland, and
anchored at the foot of the rocks below. Returning
immediately on board, we bathed, dressed, and found repose
from all our troubles. Not long after, a message from
Mr.  T--, in answer to a card I had sent up to the
house as soon as the household gave signs of being
astir--invited us to breakfast; and about half-past nine
we presented ourselves at his hospitable door. The
reception I met with was exactly what the gentlemen who
had given me the letter of introduction had led me to
expect; and so eager did Mr. T-- seem to make us
comfortable, that I did not dare to tell him how we had
been prowling about his house the greater part of the
previous night, lest he should knock me down on the spot
for not having knocked him up. The appearance of the
inside of the house quite corresponded with what we had
anticipated from the soigne air of everything about its
exterior. Books, maps, pictures, a number of astronomical
instruments, geological specimens, and a magnificent
assortment of fishing-rods, betrayed the habits of the
practical, well-educated, business-loving English gentlemen
who inhabited it; and as he showed me the various articles
of interest in his study, most heartily did I congratulate
myself on the lucky chance which had brought me into
contact with so desirable an acquaintance.

All this time we had seen nothing of the lady of the
house; and I was just beginning to speculate as to whether
that crowning ornament could be wanting to this pleasant
home, when the door at the further end of the room suddenly
opened, and there glided out into the sunshine--"The
White Lady of Avenel." A fairer apparition I have seldom
seen,--stately, pale, and fragile as a lily--blond hair,
that rippled round a forehead of ivory--a cheek of waxen
purity on which the fitful colour went and came--not
with the flush of southern blood, or flower-bloom of
English beauty,--but rather with a cool radiance, as of
"northern streamers" on the snows of her native hills,--
eyes of a dusky blue, and lips of that rare tint which
lines the conch-shell. Such was the Chatelaine of
Kaafiord,--as perfect a type of Norse beauty as ever my
Saga lore had conjured up! Frithiof's Ingeborg herself
seemed to stand before me. A few minutes afterwards, two
little fair-haired maidens, like twin snowdrops, stole
into the room; and the sweet home picture was complete.

The rest of the day has been a continued fete. In vain
after having transacted my business, I pleaded the turning
of the tide, and our anxiety to get away to sea; nothing
would serve our kind entertainer but that we should stay
to dinner; and his was one of those strong energetic
wills it is difficult to resist.

In the afternoon, the Hammerfest steamer called in from
the southward, and by her came two fair sisters of our
hostess from their father's home in one of the Loffodens
which overlook the famous Maelstrom. The stories about
the violence of the whirlpool Mr. T-- assures me are
ridiculously exaggerated. On ordinary occasions the site
of the supposed vortex is perfectly unruffled, and it is
only when a strong weather tide is running that any
unusual movements in the water can be observed; even then
the disturbance does not amount to much more than a rather
troublesome race. "Often and often, when she was a girl,
had his wife and her sisters sailed over its fabulous
crater in an open boat." But in this wild romantic country,
with its sparse population, rugged mountains, and gloomy
fiords, very ordinary matters become invested with a
character of awe and mystery quite foreign to the atmosphere
of our own matter-of-fact world; and many of the Norwegians
are as prone to superstition as the poor little Lapp
pagans who dwell among them.

No later than a few years ago, in the very fiord we had
passed on our way to Alten, when an unfortunate boat got
cast away during the night on some rocks at a little
distance from the shore, the inhabitants, startled by
the cries of distress which reached them in the morning
twilight, hurried down in a body to the sea-side,--not
to afford assistance,--but to open a volley of musketry
on the drowning mariners; being fully persuaded that the
stranded boat, with its torn sails, was no other than
the Kracken or Great Sea-Serpent flapping its dusky wings:
and when, at last, one of the crew succeeded in swimming
ashore in spite of waves and bullets,--the whole society
turned and fled!

And now, again good-bye. We are just going up to dine
with Mr. T--; and after dinner, or at least as soon as
the tide turns, we get under way--Northward Ho! (as Mr.
Kingsley would say) in right good earnest this time!



Throndhjem, Aug. 22nd, 1856.

We have won our laurels, after all! We have landed in
Spitzbergen--almost at its most northern extremity; and
the little "Foam" has sailed to within 630 miles of the
Pole; that is to say, within 100 miles as far north as
any ship has ever succeeded in getting.

I think my last letter left us enjoying the pleasant
hospitalities of Kaafiord.

The genial quiet of that last evening in Norway was
certainly a strange preface to the scenes we have since
witnessed. So warm was it, that when dinner was over, we
all went out into the garden, and had tea in the open
air; the ladies without either bonnets or shawls, merely
plucking a little branch of willow to brush away the
mosquitoes; and so the evening wore away in alternate
intervals of chat and song. At midnight, seawards again
began to swirl the tide, and we rose to go,--not without
having first paid a visit to the room where the little
daughters of the house lay folded in sleep. Then descending
to the beach, laden with flowers and kind wishes waved
to us by white handkerchiefs held in still whiter hands,
we rowed on board; up went the napping sails, and dipping
her ensign in token of adieu--the schooner glided swiftly
on between the walls of rock, until an intervening crag
shut out from our sight the friendly group that had come
forth to bid us "Good speed." In another twenty-four
hours we had threaded our way back through the intricate
fiords; and leaving Hammerfest three or four miles on
the starboard hand, on the evening of the 28th of July,
we passed out between the islands of Soroe and Bolsvoe
into the open sea.

My intention was to go first to Bear Island, and ascertain
for myself in what direction the ice was lying to the
southward of Spitzbergen.

Bear--or Cherie Island, is a diamond-shaped island, about
ten miles long, composed of secondary rocks--principally
sandstone and limestone-lying about 280 miles due north
of the North Cape. It was originally discovered by Barentz,
the 9th of June, 1596, on the occasion of his last and
fatal voyage. Already had he commanded two expeditions
sent forth by the United Provinces to discover a north-east
passage to that dream-land--Cathay; and each time, after
penetrating to the eastward of Nova Zembla, he had been
foiled by the impenetrable line of ice. On this occasion

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