The Polar Zone by John A. Hill
Very few of my friends know me for a seafaring man, but I sailed the
salt seas, man and boy, for nine months and eighteen days, and I know
just as much about sailing the hereinbefore mentioned salt seas as I ever want to.
Ever so long ago, when I was young and tender, I used to have fits of
wanting to go into business for myself. Along about the front edge of
the seventies, pay for "toting" people and truck over the eastern
railroads of New England was not of sufficient plenitude to worry a man
as to how he would invest his pay check—it was usually invested before
he got it. One of my periodical fits of wanting to go into business for
myself came on suddenly one day, when I got home and found another baby
in the house. I was right in the very worst spasms of it when my
brother Enoch, whom I hadn't seen for seventeen years, walked in on me.
Enoch was fool enough to run away to sea when he was twelve years old—I
suppose he was afraid he would get the chance to do something besides
whaling. We were born down New Bedford way, where another boy and myself
were the only two fellows in the district, for over forty years, who
didn't go hunting whales, icebergs, foul smells, and scurvy, up in King
Frost's bailiwick, just south of the Pole.
Enoch had been captain and part owner of a Pacific whaler; she had
recently burned at Honolulu, and he was back home now to buy a new ship.
He had heard that I, his little brother John, was the best locomotive
engineer in the whole world, and had come to see me—partly on account
of relationship, but more to get my advice about buying a steam
whaling-ship. Enoch knew more about whales and ships and such things
than you could put down in a book, but he had no more idea how steam
propelled a ship than I had what a "skivvie tricer" was.
Well, before the week was out, Enoch showed me that he was pretty well
fixed in a financial way, and as he had no kin but me that he cared
about, he offered me an interest in his new steam whaler, if I would go
as chief engineer with her to the North Pacific.
The terms were liberal and the chance a good one, so it seemed, and
after a good many consultations, my wife agreed to let me go for one
cruise. She asked about the stops to be made in going around the Horn,
and figured mentally a little after each place was named—I believe now,
she half expected that I would desert the ship and walk home from one of
these spots, and was figuring on the time it would take me.
When the robins were building their nests, the new steam whaler,
"Champion," left New Bedford for parts unknown (via the Horn), with
the sea-sickest chief engineer that ever smelt fish oil. The steam plant
wasn't very much—two boilers and a plain twenty-eight by thirty-six
double engine, and any amount of hoisting rigs, blubber boilers, and
other paraphernalia. We refitted in San Francisco, and on a clear summer
morning turned the white-painted figurehead of the "Champion" toward the
north and stood out for Behring sea. But, while we lay at the mouth of
the Yukon river, up in Alaska, getting ready for a sally into the realm
of water above the Straits, a whaler, bound for San Francisco and home,
dropped anchor near us, the homesickness struck in on me, and—never
mind the details now—your Uncle John came home without any whales, and
was mighty glad to get on the extra list of the old road.
The story I want to tell, however, is another man's story, and it was
while lying in the Yukon that I heard it. I was deeply impressed with it
at the time, and meant to give it to the world as soon as I got home,
for I set it all down plain then, but I lost my diary, and half forgot
the story—who wouldn't forget a story when he had to make two hundred
and ten miles a day on a locomotive and had five children at home? But
now, after twenty years, my wife turns up that old diary in the garret
this spring while house-cleaning. Fred had it and an old Fourth-of-July
cannon put away in an ancient valise, as a boy will treasure up useless things.
Under the head of October 12th, I find this entry:
"At anchor in Yukon river, weather fair, recent heavy rains; set out
packing and filed main-rod brasses of both engines. Settled with Enoch
to go home on first ship bound south. Demented white man brought on
board by Indians, put in my cabin."
In the next day's record there appears the following: "Watched beside
sick man all night; in intervals of sanity he tells a strange story,
which I will write down to-day."
The 14th has the following:
"Wrote out story of stranger. See the back of this book."
And at the back of the book, written on paper cut from an old log of the
"Champion," is the story that now, more than twenty-five years later, I
tell you here:
On the evening of the 12th, I went on deck to smoke and think of home,
after a hard day's work getting the engines in shape for a siege. The
ship was very quiet, half the crew being ashore, and some of the rest
having gone in the boat with Captain Enoch to the "Enchantress,"
homeward bound and lying about half a mile below us. I am glad to say
that Enoch's principal business aboard the "Enchantress" is to get me
passage to San Francisco. I despise this kind of dreariness—rather be
in state prison near the folks.
I sat on the rail, just abaft the stack, watching some natives handle
their big canoes, when a smaller one came alongside. I noticed that one
of the occupants lay at full length in the frail craft, but paid little
attention until the canoe touched our side. Then the bundle of skins and
Indian clothes bounded up, almost screamed, "At last!" made a spring at
the stays, missed them, and fell with a loud splash into the water.
The Indians rescued him at once, and in a few seconds he lay like one
dead on the deck. I saw at a glance that the stranger in Indian clothes
was a white man and an American.
A pretty stiff dram of liquor brought him to slightly. He opened his
eyes, looked up at the rigging, and closing his eyes, he murmured:
I had him undressed and put into my berth. He was shaking as with an
ague, and when his clothes were off we plainly saw the reason—he was a
skeleton, starving. I went on deck at once to make some inquiry of the
Indians about our strange visitor, but their boat was just disappearing
in the twilight.
The man gained strength, as we gave him nourishment in small, frequent
doses, and talked in a disjointed way of everything under the sun. I sat
with him all night. Toward morning he seemed to sleep longer at a time,
and in the afternoon of yesterday fell into a deep slumber, from which
he did not waken for nearly twenty hours.
When he did waken, he took nourishment in larger quantities, and then
went off into another long sleep. The look of pain on his face lessened,
a healthy glow appeared on his cheek, and he slept so soundly that I
turned in—on the floor.
I was awake along in the small hours of the morning, and heard my
patient stirring, so I got up and drew the little curtain over the
bulls-eye port—it was already daylight. I gave him a drink and a
biscuit, and told him I would go to the cook's galley and get him some
broth, but he begged to wait until breakfast time—said he felt
refreshed, and would just nibble a sea biscuit. Then he ate a dozen in as many minutes.
"Did you take care of my pack?" he said eagerly, throwing his legs out
of the berth, and looking wildly at me.
"Yes, it's all right; lie down and rest," said I; for I thought that to
cross him would set him off his head again.
"Do you know that dirty old pack contains more treasures than the mines of Africa?"
"It don't look it," I answered, and laughed to get him in a pleasant
frame of mind—for I hadn't seen nor heard of his pack.
"Not for the little gold and other valuable things, but the proofs of a
discovery as great as Columbus made, the discovery of a new continent,
a new people, a new language, a new civilization, and riches beyond the
dreams of a Solomon——"
He shut his eyes for a minute, and then continued: "But beyond
Purgatory, through Death, and the other side of Hell——"
Just here Enoch came in to inquire after his health, and sat down for a
minute's chat. Enoch is first, last, and all the time captain of a
whaler; he knows about whales and whale-hunters just as an engineer on
the road knows every speck of scenery along the line, every man, and
every engine. Enoch couldn't talk ten minutes without being "reminded"
of an incident in his whaling life; couldn't meet a whaleman without
"yarning" about the whale business. He lit his pipe and asked: "Been
whaling, or hunting the North Pole?"
"The 'Duncan McDonald.'"
"The—the 'McDonald!'—why, man, we counted her lost these five years;
tell me about her, quick. Old Chuck Burrows was a particular friend of
mine—where is he?"
"Captain, Father Burrows and the 'Duncan McDonald' have both gone over
the unknown ocean to the port of missing ships."
"Aye, and crushed to atoms in a frozen hell."
Enoch looked out of the little window for a long time, forgot his pipe,
and at last wiped a tear out of his eye, saying, as much to himself as
to us: "George Burrows made me first mate of the first ship he ever
sailed. She was named for his mother, and we left her in the ice away up
about the seventy-third parallel. He was made of the salt of the
earth—a sailor and a nobleman. But he was a dare-devil—didn't know
fear—and was always venturing where none of the rest of us would dare
go. He bought the 'McDonald,' remodeled and refitted her after he got
back from the war—she was more than a whaler, and I had a feeling that
she would carry Burrows and his crew away forever——"
Eight bells rung just here, and Enoch left us, first ordering breakfast
for the stranger, and saying he would come back to hear the rest after breakfast.
As I was going out, a sailor came to the door with a flat package,
perhaps six inches thick and twelve or fourteen square, covered with a
dirty piece of skin made from the intestines of a whale, which is used
by the natives of this clime because it is light and water-proof.
"We found this in a coil of rope, sir; it must belong to him. It must be mostly lead."
It was heavy, and I set it inside the door, remarking that here was his precious pack.
"Precious! aye, aye, sir; precious don't describe it. Sacred, that's the
word. That package will cause more excitement in the world than the
discovery of gold in California. This is the first time it's been out of
my sight or feeling for months and months; put it in the bunk here, please."
I went away, leaving him with his arms around his "sacred" package.
After breakfast, Enoch and I went to the little cabin to hear the
stranger's story, and I, for one, confess to a great deal of curiosity.
Our visitor was swallowing his last bowl of coffee as we went in. "So
you knew Captain Burrows and the 'Duncan McDonald,'" said he. "Let me
see, what is your name?"
"Alexander, captain of the 'Champion,' at your service, sir."
"Alexander; you're not the first mate, Enoch Alexander, who sat on a
dead whale all night, holding on to a lance staff, after losing your boat and crew?"
"Why, I've heard Captain Burrows speak of you a thousand times."
"But you were going to tell us about the 'Duncan McDonald.' Tell us the
whole cruise from stem to stern."
"Let's see, where shall I begin?"
"At the very beginning," I put in.
"Well, perhaps you've noticed, and perhaps you have not, but I'm not a
sailor by inclination or experience. I accidentally went out on the
'Duncan McDonald.' How old would you take me to be?"
"Fifty or fifty-five," said Enoch.
"Thanks, captain, I know I must look all of that; but, let me see,
forty-five, fifty-five, sixty-five, seventy—seventy—what year is this?"
"Seventy-three. Well, I'm only twenty-eight now."
"Impossible! Why, man, you're as gray as I am, and I'm twice that."
"I was born in forty-five, just the same. My father was a sea captain in
the old clipper days, and a long time after. He was in the West India
trade when the war broke out, and as he had been educated in the navy,
enlisted at once. It was on one of the gun-boats before Vicksburg that
he was killed. My mother came of a well-to-do family of merchants, the
Clarks of Boston, and—to make a long story short—died in sixty-six,
leaving me considerable money.
"An itching to travel, plenty of money, my majority, and no ties at
home, sent me away from college to roam, and so one spring morning in
sixty-seven found me sitting lazily in the stern of a little pleasure
boat off Fort Point in the Golden Gate, listlessly watching a steam
whaler come in from the Pacific. My boatman called my attention to her,
remarking that she was spick-and-span new, and the biggest one he ever
saw, but I took very little notice of the ship until in tacking across
her wake, I noticed her name in gold letters across the stern—'Duncan
McDonald.' Now that is my own name, and was my father's; and try as I
would, I could not account for this name as a coincidence, common as the
name might be in the highlands of the home of my ancestors; and before
the staunch little steamer had gotten a mile away, I ordered the boat to
follow her. I intended to go aboard and learn, if possible, something of
how her name originated.
"As she swung at anchor, off Goat island, I ran my little boat alongside
of her and asked for a rope. 'Rope?' inquired a Yankee sailor, sticking
his nose and a clay pipe overboard; 'might you be wantin' to come
"'Yes, I want to see the captain.'
"'Well, the cap'en's jest gone ashore; his dingy is yonder now, enemost
to the landin'. You come out this evenin'. The cap'en's particular about
strangers, but he's always to home of an evenin'.'
"'Who's this boat named after?'
"'The Lord knows, stranger; I don't. But I reckon the cap'en ken tell; he built her.'
"I left word that I would call in the evening, and at eight o'clock was
alongside again. This time I was assisted on board and shown to the door
of the captain's cabin; the sailor knocked and went away. It was a full
minute, I stood there before the knock was answered, and then from the
inside, in a voice like the roar of a bull, came the call: 'Well, come in!'
"I opened the door on a scene I shall never forget. A bright light swung
from the beams above, and under it sat a giant of the sea—Captain
Burrows. He had the index finger of his right hand resting near the
North Pole of an immense globe; there were many books about, rolls of
charts, firearms, instruments, clothing, and apparent disorder
everywhere. The cabin was large, well-furnished, and had something
striking about it. I looked around in wonder, without saying a word.
Captain Burrows was the finest-looking man I ever saw—six feet three,
straight, muscular, with a pleasant face; but the keenest, steadiest
blue eye you ever saw. His hair was white, but his long flowing beard
had much of the original yellow. He must have been sixty. But for all
the pleasant face and kindly eye, you would notice through his beard the
broad, square chin that proclaimed the decision and staying qualities of the man."
"That's George Burrows, stranger, to the queen's taste—just as good as
a degerrytype," broke in Enoch.
"Well," continued the stranger, "he let me look for a minute or two, and
then said: 'Was it anything particular?'
"I found my tongue then, and answered: 'I hope you'll excuse me, sir;
but I must confess it is curiosity. I came on board out of curiosity
"'Reporter, hey?' asked the captain.
"'No, sir; the fact is that your ship has an unusual name, one that
interests me, and I wish to make so bold as to ask how she came to have it.'
"'Any patent on the name?'
"'Oh, no, but I——'
"'Well, young man, this ship—by the way, the finest whaler that was
ever stuck together—is named for a friend of mine; just such a man as
she is a ship—the best of them all.'
"'Was he a sailor?'
"'Aye, aye, sir, and such a sailor. Fight! why, man, fighting was meat
and drink to him——'
"'Was he a whaler?'
"'No, he wa'n't; but he was the best man I ever knew who wa'n't a
whaler. He was a navy sailor, he was, and a whole ten-pound battery by
hisself. Why, you jest ort to see him waltz his old tin-clad gun-boat up
agin one of them reb forts—jest naturally skeered 'em half to death
before he commenced shooting at all.'
"'Wasn't he killed at the attack on Vicksburg?'
"'Yes, yes; you knowed him didn't you? He was a——'
"'He was my father.'
"'What? Your father?' yelled Captain Burrows, jumping up and grasping
both my hands. 'Of course he was; darn my lubberly wit that I couldn't
see that before!' Then he hugged me as if I was a ten-year-old girl, and
danced around me like a maniac.
"'By all the gods at once, if this don't seem like Providence—yes, sir,
old man Providence himself! What are you a-doin'? When did you come out
here? Where be you goin', anyway?'
"I found my breath, and told him briefly how I was situated. 'Old man
Providence has got his hand on the tiller of this craft or I'm a
grampus! Say! do you know I was wishin' and waitin' for you? Yes, sir;
no more than yesterday, says I to myself, Chuck Burrows, says I, you are
gettin' long too fur to the wind'ard o' sixty fur this here trip all to
yourself. You ort to have young blood in this here enterprise; and then
I just clubbed myself for being a lubber and not getting married young
and havin' raised a son that I could trust. Yes, sir, jest nat'rally
cussed myself from stem to stern, and never onct thought as mebbe my old
messmate, Duncan McDonald, might 'a'done suthin' for his country afore
that day at Vicks—say! I want to give you half this ship. Mabee I'll do
the square thing and give you the whole of the tub yet. All I want is
for you to go along with me on a voyage of discovery—be my helper,
secretary, partner, friend—anything. What de ye say? Say!' he yelled
again, before I could answer, 'tell ye what I'll do! Bless me if—if I
don't adopt ye; that's what I'll do. Call me pop from this out, and I'll
call you son. Son!' he shouted, bringing his fist down with a bang on
the table. 'Son! that's the stuff! By the bald-headed Abraham, who
says Chuck Burrows ain't got no kin? The "Duncan McDonald," Burrows &
Son, owners, captain, chief cook, and blubber cooker. And who the hell
says they ain't?'
"And the old captain glared around as if he defied anybody and everybody
to question the validity of the claims so excitedly made.
"Well, gentlemen, of course there was much else said and done, but that
announcement stood; and to the day of his death I always called the
captain Father Burrows, and he called me 'son,' always addressing me so
when alone, as well as when in the company of others. I went every day
to the ship, or accompanied Father Burrows on some errand into the city,
while the boat was being refitted and prepared for a three-years' cruise.
"Every day the captain let me more and more into his plans, told me
interesting things of the North, and explained his theory of the way to
reach the Pole, and what could be found there; which fascinated me.
Captain Burrows had spent years in the North, had noted that
particularly open seasons occurred in what appeared cycles of a given
number of years, and proposed to go above the eightieth parallel and
wait for an open season. That, according to his figuring, would occur
the following year.
"I was young, vigorous, and of a venturesome spirit, and entered into
every detail with a zest that captured the heart of the old sailor. My
education helped him greatly, and new books and instruments were added
to our store for use on the trip. The crew knew only that we were going
on a three-years' cruise. They had no share in the profits, but were
paid extra big wages in gold, and were expected to go to out-of-the-way
places and further north than usual. Captain Burrows and myself only
knew that there was a brand-new twenty-foot silk flag rolled up in
oil-skin in the cabin, and that Father Burrows had declared: 'By the
hoary-headed Nebblekenizer, I'll put them stars and stripes on new land,
and mighty near to the Pole, or start a butt a-trying.'
"In due course of time we were all ready, and the 'Duncan McDonald'
passed out of the Golden Gate into the broad Pacific, drew her fires,
and stopped her engines, reserving this force for a more urgent time.
She spread her ample canvas, and stood away toward Alaska and the
unknown and undiscovered beyond.
"The days were not long for me, for they were full of study and
anticipation. Long chats with the eccentric but masterful man whose
friendship and love for my father had brought us together were the
entertainment and stimulus of my existence—a man who knew nothing of
science, except that he was master of it in his own way; who knew all
about navigation, and to whom the northern seas were as familiar as the
contour of Boston Common was to me; who had more stories of whaling than
you could find in print, and better ones than can ever be printed.
"I learned first to respect, then to admire, and finally to love this
old salt. How many times he told me of my father's death, and how and
when he had risked his life to save the life of Father Burrows or some
of the rest of his men. As the days grew into weeks, and the weeks into
months, Captain Burrows and myself became as one man.
"I shall never forget the first Sunday at sea. Early in the morning I
heard the captain order the boatswain to pipe all hands to prayers. I
had noticed nothing of a religious nature in the man, and, full of
curiosity, went on deck with the rest. Captain Burrows took off his hat
at the foot of the mainmast, and said:
"'My men, this is the first Sunday we have all met together; and as some
of you are not familiar with the religious services on board the 'Duncan
McDonald,' I will state that, as you may have noticed, I asked no man
about his belief when I employed him—I hired you to simply work this
ship, not to worship God—but on Sundays it is our custom to meet here
in friendship, man to man, Protestant and Catholic, Mohammedan,
Buddhist, Fire-worshiper, and pagan, and look into our own hearts,
worshiping God as we know him, each in his own way. If any man has
committed any offense against his God, let him make such reparation as
he thinks will appease that God; but if any man has committed an
offense against his fellow-man, let him settle with that man now and
here, and not worry God with the details. Religion is goodness and
justice and honesty; no man needs a sky-pilot to lay a course for him,
for he alone knows where the channel, and the rocks, and the bar of his
own heart are—look into your hearts.'
"Captain Burrows stood with his hat in his hand, and bowed as if in
prayer, and all the old tars bowed as reverently as if the most eloquent
divine was exhorting an unseen power in their behalf. The new men
followed the example of the old. It was just three minutes by the
wheel-house clock before the captain straightened up and said 'Amen,'
and the men turned away about their tasks.
"'Beats mumblin' your words out of a book, like a Britisher,' said the
captain to me; 'can't offend no man's religion, and helps every one on 'em.'
"Long months after, I attended a burial service conducted in the same
"In due course of time we anchored in Norton Sound, and spent the rest
of the winter there; and in the spring of sixty-eight, we worked our way
north through the ice. We passed the seventy-fifth parallel of latitude
on July 4th. During the summer we took a number of whales, storing away
as much oil as the captain thought necessary, as he only wanted it for
fuel and our needs, intending to take none home to sell unless we were
unsuccessful in the line of discovery—in that event he intended to stay
until he had a full cargo."
Here our entertainer gave out, and had to rest; and while resting he
went to sleep, so that he did not take up his story until the next day.
In the morning our guest expressed a desire to be taken on deck; and,
dressed in warm sailor clothes, he rested his hand on my shoulder, and
slowly crawled on deck and to a sheltered corner beside the captain's
cabin. Here he was bundled up; and again Enoch and I sat down to listen
to the strange story of the wanderer.
"I hope it won't annoy you, gentlemen," said he, "but I can't settle
down without my pack; I find myself thinking of its safety. Would you
mind sending down for it?"
It was brought up, and set down beside him; he looked at it lovingly,
slipped the rude strap-loop over his arm, and seemed ready to take up
his story where he left off. He began:
"I don't remember whether I told you or not, but one of the objects of
Captain Burrows's trip was to settle something definite about the
location of the magnetic pole, and other magnetic problems, and
determine the cause of some of the well-known distortions of the
magnetic needle. He had some odd, perhaps crude, instruments, of his own
design, which he had caused to be constructed for this purpose, and we
found them very efficient devices in the end. Late in July, we found
much open water, and steamed steadily in a northwesterly course. We
would find a great field of icebergs, then miles of floe, and then again
open water. The aurora was seen every evening, but it seemed pale and
"Captain Burrows brought the 'Duncan McDonald's' head around to the west
in open water, one fine day in early August, and cruised slowly; taking
a great many observations, and hunting, as he told me, for floating
ice—he was hunting for a current. For several days we kept in the open
water, but close to the ice, until one morning the captain ordered the
ship to stand due north across the open sea.
"He called me into his cabin, and with a large map of the polar regions
on his table, to which he often referred, he said: 'Son, I've been
hunting for a current; there's plenty of 'em in the Arctic ocean, but
the one I want ain't loafing around here. You see, son, it's currents
that carries these icebergs and floes south; I didn't tell you, but some
days when we were in those floes, we lost as much as we gained. We
worked our way north through the floe, but not on the surface of the
globe; the floe was taking us south with it. Maybe you won't believe
it, but there are currents going north in this sea; once or twice in a
lifetime, a whaler or passage hunter returns with a story of being
drifted north—now that's what I want, I am hunting for a northern
current. We will go to the northern shore of this open water, be it one
mile or one thousand, and there—well, hunt again.'
"Well, it was in September when we at last got to what seemed the
northern shore of this open sea. We had to proceed very slowly, as there
were almost daily fogs and occasional snow-storms; but one morning the
ship rounded to, almost under the shadow of what seemed to be a giant
iceberg. Captain Burrows came on deck, rubbing his hands in glee.
"What seemed to be a giant iceberg...."
"'Son,' said he, 'that is no iceberg; that's ancient ice, perpetual ice,
the great ice-ring—palæcrystic ice, you scientific fellows call it. I
saw it once before, in thirty-seven, when a boy; that's it, and, son,
beyond that there is something. Take notice that that is ice; clear,
glary ice. You know a so-called iceberg is really a snowberg; it's three-fourths under water. Now, it may be possible that, that being ice
which will float more than half out of water, the northern currents may
go under it—but I don't believe it. Under or over, I am going to find
one of 'em, if it takes till doomsday.'
"We sailed west, around close to this great wall of ice, for two weeks,
without seeing any evidence of a current of any kind, until there came
on a storm from the northwest that drove a great deal of ice around the
great ring; but it seemed to keep rather clear of the great wall of ice
and to go off in a tangent toward the south. The lead showed no bottom
at one hundred fathoms, even within a quarter of a mile of the ice.
"It was getting late in the season, the mercury often going down to
fifteen below zero, and every night the aurora became brighter. We
sailed slowly around the open water, and finally found a place where the
sheer precipice of ice disappeared and the shore sloped down to
something like a beach. Putting out a sea-anchor, the 'Duncan McDonald'
kept within a half-a-mile of this icy shore. The captain had determined
to land and survey the place, which far away back seemed to terminate in
mountain peaks of ice.
"That night the captain and I sat on the rail of our ship, talking over
the plans for to-morrow's expedition, when the ship slowly but steadily
swung around her stern to the mountain of ice—the engines had been
moving slowly to keep her head to the wind. Captain Burrows jumped to
his feet in joy. 'A current!' he shouted; 'a current, and toward the
north, too—old man Providence again, son; he allus takes care of his own!'
"Some staves were thrown overboard, and, sure enough, they floated
toward the ice; but there was no evidence of an opening in the mighty
ring, and I remarked to Captain Burrows that the current evidently went under the ice.
"'It looks like it did, son; it looks like it did; but if it goes under,
we will go over.'
"After we had taken a few hours of sleep, the long-boat landed our
little party of five men and seven dogs. We had food and drink for a two
weeks' trip, were well armed, and carried some of our instruments. It
appeared to be five or six miles to the top of the mountain, but it
proved more than thirty. We were five days in getting there, and did so
only after a dozen adventures that I will tell you at another time.
"We soon began to find stones and dirt in the ice, and before we had
gone ten miles, found the frozen carcass of an immense mastodon—its
great tusks only showing above the level; but its huge, woolly body
quite plainly visible in the ice. The ice was melting, and there were
many streams running towards the open water. It was warmer as we
proceeded. Dirt and rocks became the rule, instead of the exception, and
we were often obliged to go around a great boulder of granite. While we
were resting, on the third day, for a bite to eat, one of the men took a
dish, scooped up some sand from the bottom of the icy stream, and
'panned' it out. There was gold in it: gold enough to pay to work the
ground. About noon of the fifth day, we reached the summit of the
mountain, and from there looked down the other side—upon a sight the
like of which no white men had ever seen before.
"From the very summits of this icy-ring mountain the northern side was a
sheer precipice of more than three thousand feet, and was composed of
rocks, and rocks only, the foot of the mighty crags being washed by an
open ocean; and this was lighted up by a peculiar crimson glow. Great
white whales sported in the waters; huge sea-birds hung in circles high
in the air; yet below us, and with our glasses, we could see, on the
rocks at the foot of the crags, seals and some other animals that were
strange to us. But follow the line of beetling crags and mountain peaks
where you would, the northern side presented a solid blank wall of awful
rocks, in many places the summit overhanging and the shore well under in
the mighty shadow. Nothing that any of us had ever seen in nature before
was so impressive, so awful. We started on our return, after a couple of
hours of the awe-inspiring sight beyond the great ring, and for full two
hours not a man spoke.
"'Father Burrows,' said I, 'what do you think that is back there?'
"'No man knows, my son, and it will devolve on you and me to name it;
but we won't unless we get to it and can take back proofs.'
"'Do you think we could get down the other side?'
"'No, I don't think so, and we seem to have struck it in the lowest spot
in sight. I'd give ten years of my life if the 'Duncan McDonald' was
over there in that duck pond.'
"'Captain,' said Eli Jeffries, the second mate, 'do you know what I've
been thinkin'? I believe that 'ere water we seen is an open passage from
the Behring side of the frozen ocean over agin' some of them 'ere
Roosian straits. If we could get round to the end of it, we'd sail right
through the great Northwest Passage.'
"'You don't think there is land over there somewhere?'
"'Didn't take notice that the face of your "passage" was granite or
quartz rocks, hey? Didn't notice all them animals and birds, hey?——'
"'Look out!' yelled the man ahead with the dog-sledge.
"A strange, whirring noise was heard in the foggy light, that sounded
over our heads. We all dropped to the ground, and the noise increased,
until a big flock of huge birds passed over us in rapid flight north.
There must have been thousands of them. Captain Burrows brought his
shot-gun to his shoulder and fired. There were some wild screams in the
air, and a bird came down to the ice with a loud thud. It looked very
large a hundred feet away, but sight is very deceiving in this white
country in the semi-darkness. We found it a species of duck, rather
large and with gorgeous plumage.
"'Goin' north, to Eli's "passage" to lay her eggs on the ice,' said the
captain, half sarcastically.
"We reached the ship in safety, and the captain and I spent long hours
in trying to form some plan for getting beyond the great ice-ring.
"'If it's warm up there, and everything that we've seen says it is, all
this cold water that's going north gets warm and goes out some place;
and rest you, son, wherever it goes out, there's a hole in the ice.'
"Here we were interrupted by the mate, who said that there were queer
things going on overhead, and some of the sailors were ready to mutiny
unless the return trip was commenced. Captain Burrows went on deck at
once, and you may be sure I followed at his heels.
"'What's wrong here?' demanded the captain, in his roaring tone,
stepping into the midst of the crew.
"'A judgment against this pryin' into God's secrets, sir,' said an
English sailor, in an awe-struck voice. 'Look at the signs, sir,'
"Captain Burrows and I both looked over our heads, and there saw an
impressive sight, indeed. A vast colored map of an unknown world hung in
the clouds over us—a mirage from the aurora. It looked very near, and
was so distinct that we could distinguish polar bears on the ice-crags.
One man insisted that the mainmast almost touched one snowy peak, and
most of them actually believed that it was an inverted part of some
world, slowly coming down to crush us. Captain Burrows looked for
several minutes before he spoke. Then he said: 'My men, this is the
grandest proof of all that Providence is helping us. This thing that you
see is only a picture; it's a mirage, the reflection of a portion of the
earth on the sky. Just look, and you will see that it's in the shape of
a crescent, and we are almost in the center of it; and, I tell you, it's
a picture of the country just in front of us. See this peak? See that
low place where we went up? There is the great wall we saw, the open sea
beyond it, and, bless me, if it don't look like something green over in
the middle of that ocean! See, here is the "Duncan McDonald," as plain
as A, B, C, right overhead. Now, there's nothing to be afraid of in
that; if it's a warning, it's a good one—and if any one wants to go
home to his mother's, and is old enough, he can walk!'
"The captain looked around, but the sailors were as cool as he was—they
were reassured by his honest explanation. Then he took me by the arm,
and, pointing to the painting in the sky, said: 'Old man Providence
again, son, sure as you are born; do you see that lane through the great
ring? There's an open, fairly straight passage to the inner ocean,
except that it's closed by about three miles of ice on our side; see it
there, on the port side?'
"Yes, I could see it, but I asked Captain Burrows how he could account
for the open passages beyond and the wall of ice in front; it was cold
water going in.
"'It's strange,' he answered, shading his eye with his hand, and looking
long at the picture of the clear passage, like a great canal between the
beetling cliffs. All at once, he grasped my arm and said in excitement,
pointing towards the outer end of the passage: 'Look!'
"As I looked at the mirage again, the great mass of ice in front
commenced to slowly turn over, outwardly.
"'It's an iceberg, sir, only an iceberg!' said the captain, excitedly,
'and she is just holding that passage because the current keeps her up
against the hole; now, she will wear out some day, and then—in goes the
"'But there are others to take its place,' and I pointed to three other
bergs, apparently some twenty miles away, plainly shown in the sky;
'they are the reinforcements to hold the passage.'
"'Looks that way, son, but by the great American buzzard, we'll get in
there somehow, if we have to blow that berg up.'
"A white city ... was visible for an instant."
"As we looked, the picture commenced to disappear, not fade, but to go
off to one side, just as a picture leaves the screen of a magic lantern.
Over the inner ocean there appeared dark clouds; but this part was
visible last, and the clouds seemed to break at the last moment, and a
white city, set in green fields and forests, was visible for an instant,
a great golden dome in the center remaining in view after the rest of
the city was invisible.
"'A rainbow of promise, son,' said the captain.
"I looked around. The others had grown tired of looking, and were gone.
Captain Burrows and myself were the only ones that saw the city.
"We got under way for an hour, and then stood by near the berg until
eight bells the next morning; but you must remember it was half dark all
the time up there then. While Captain Burrows and myself were at
breakfast, he cudgeled his brains over ways and means for moving that
ice, or preventing other bergs from taking its place. When we went on
deck, our berg was some distance from the mouth of the passage, and
steadily floating away. Captain Burrows steamed the ship cautiously up
toward the passage; there was a steady current coming out.
"'I reckon,' said Eli Jeffries, 'they must have a six-months' ebb and
flow up in that ocean.'
"'If that's the case, said Captain Burrows, 'the sooner we get in, the
better;' and he ordered the 'Duncan McDonald' into the breach in the world of ice.
"Gentlemen, suffice it to say that we found that passage perfectly
clear, and wider as we proceeded. This we did slowly, keeping the lead
going constantly. The first mate reported the needle of the compass
working curiously, dipping down hard, and sparking—something he had
never seen. Captain Burrows only said: 'Let her spark!'
"As we approached the inner ocean, as we called it, the passage was
narrow; it became very dark and the waters roared ahead. I feared a fall
or rapid, but the 'Duncan McDonald' could not turn back. The noise was
only the surf on the great crags within. As the ship passed out into the
open sea beyond, the needle of the compass turned clear around and
pointed back. 'Do you know, son,' said Captain Burrows, 'that I believe
the so-called magnetic pole is a great ring around the true Pole, and
that we just passed it there? The whole inside of this mountain looks
to me like rusted iron instead of stone, anyhow.'"
Here our story-teller rested and dozed for a few minutes; then rousing
up, he said: "I'll tell you the rest to-morrow; yes, to-morrow; I'm
tired now. To-morrow I'll tell you about a wonderful country; wonderful
cities; wonderful people! I'll show you solar pictures such as you never
saw, of scenes, places, and people you never dreamed of. I will show you
implements that will prove that there's a country where gold is as
common as tin at home—where they make knives and forks and stew-pans of
it! I'll show you writing more ancient and more interesting than the
most treasured relics in our Sanscrit libraries. I'll tell you of the
two years I spent in another world. I'll tell you of the precious cargo
that went to the bottom of the frozen ocean with the staunch little
ship, 'Duncan McDonald;' of the bravest, noblest commander, and the
sweetest angel of a woman that ever breathed and lived and loved. I'll
tell you of my escape and the hell I've been through. To-morrow——"
He dozed off for a few moments again.
"But I've got enough in this pack to turn the world inside out with
wonder—ah, what a sensation it will be, what an educational feature! It
will send out a hundred harum-scarum expeditions to find Polaria—but
there are few commanders like Captain Burrows; he could do it, the rest
of 'em will die in the ice. But when I get to San Fran——. Say,
captain, how long will it take to get there, and how long before you start?"
Enoch and I exchanged glances, and Enoch answered: "We wa'n't goin' to 'Frisco."
"Around the Horn, then?" inquired the stranger, sitting up. "But you
will land me in 'Frisco, won't you? I can't wait, I must——"
"We're goin' in," said Enoch; "goin' north, for a three-years'
"North!" shouted the stranger, wildly. "Three years in that hell of ice.
Three years! My God! North! North!"
He was dancing around the deck like a maniac, trying to put his
pack-loop over his head. Enoch went toward him, to tell him how he
could go on the "Enchantress," but he looked wildly at him, ran forward
and sprang out on the bowsprit, and from there to the jib. Enoch saw he
was out of his mind, and ordered two sailors to bring him in. As they
sprang on to the bow, he stood up and screamed:
"No! No! No! Three years! Three lives! Three hells! I never——"
One of the men reached for him here, but he kicked at the sailor
viciously, and turning sidewise, sprang into the water below.
A boat, already in the water, was manned instantly; but the worn-out
body of another North Pole explorer had gone to the sands of the bottom
where so many others have gone before; evidently his heavy pack had held
him down, there to guard the story it could tell—in death as he had in life.