Web Text-ures Logo
Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
1999-2011


(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
Discovery of the North Pole
Content Page

 Return to the Previous Chapter
Kellscraft Studio Logo
(HOME)

CHAPTER XLI.

FURTHER EXPERIENCES OF DR. HAYES.

The adventures on the sea, in frail boats, were not the last of the troubles of Dr. Hayes and his men. Though near an Eskimo settlement, they found themselves almost without food. The Eskimos themselves were hungry. But a winter was at hand, and they must live. They started the building of a hut, to be their headquarters while they scoured the country for game.

One of the party hunted every day, "yet he always came home empty-handed, except on one occasion, when he brought in five ptarmigans, all of which he shot within a hundred yards of the camp on his return. There were several cracks in the ice not far from the shore, which were kept open by the changing tide; and in these cracks were frequently seen walrus and seal, but they were too timid to be approached. Petersen fired at them several times, but they were always beyond his range. Along the shore, to the south of our position, he built several fox-traps, which he visited daily; but hitherto no foxes had been caught.

"All this was discouraging. It seemed ominous of starvation at a very early day. Our provisions were running very low; we had only a few pounds of pork left, and of bread only a small quantity beside that in the barrel brought from the Life-boat depot, of which a small portion had been consumed. There remained a little of the meat-biscuit and a few pounds of rice and flour. Altogether we had not enough to furnish us with full rations during a single week, and we were trying to make our stock suffice for a longer period. Already we were upon the shortest daily allowance which our labors permitted. Men working during twelve or fourteen hours of the twenty-four, in a temperature not much above zero, require a large amount of food to sustain them. We were becoming thin and weak, and were constantly hungry.

"To appease the gnawing pains of hunger by at least filling up the stomach, we resorted to an expedient which I remembered of Sir John Franklin's, in his memorable expedition to the Copper-mine, in 1819. This was, to eat the rock-lichen, (tripe de roche), which our party called 'stone moss.' When at its maximum growth, it is about an inch in diameter, and of the thickness of a wafer. It is black externally, but when broken the interior appears white. When boiled it makes a glutinous fluid, which is slightly nutritious. Although in some places it grows very abundantly, yet in our locality it, like the game, was scarce. Most of the rocks had none upon them; and there were very few from which we could collect as much as a quart. The difficulty of gathering it was much augmented by its crispness, and the firmness of its attachment.

"For this plant, poor though it was, we were compelled to dig. The rocks in every case were to be cleared from snow, and often our pains went unrewarded. The first time this food was tried it seemed to answer well; it at least filled the stomach, and thus kept off the horrid sensation of hunger until we got to sleep. Beside the unpleasant effects, fragments of gravel, which were mixed with the moss, tried our teeth. We picked the plants from the rock with our knives, or a piece of hoop-iron; and we could not avoid breaking off some particles of the stone.

"The hut proved somewhat of a failure when the heavy snow came in October. The morning of the 3rd there was a severe storm, and to our sorrow the hut was half filled with snow, feathery streams of which came pouring in through the cracks around the roof. These fine particles filled the air, and made everything so damp that it was with much difficulty that the fire was kindled. Leaving Godfrey engaged in this delicate operation, I took the kettle, determined to get if possible some water from the lake. The fuel which must otherwise be used for melting snow, might thus be saved for roasting coffee, the want of which was greatly felt by all of us.

"Clambering up through the hole in the roof, I turned to the right around the base of a pile of rocks, and then beat up diagonally against the gale. The drift was almost blinding, and my face grew so cold that I was frequently forced to turn my back to the wind to recover breath and warmth. It was with great difficulty that I picked a passage among the boulders and drifts; but, growing warmer as the exercise heated my blood, I at length came directly upon the lake. This was an unexpected piece of good fortune; for, as I had guessed my way, I could not have even hoped to come exactly to the right spot.

"Pieces of ice which lay scattered around the well, had formed a center for the accumulation of a large drift; and I was therefore compelled to dig another hole. Selecting a spot which the wind had swept clear, I set diligently to work at cutting the crystal sheet with the dull chisel. This, luckily, had been placed upright by the last visitor, or I should probably not have found it. The ice was perfectly transparent, and I could see every stone and pebble on the bottom, shining very brightly, and seeming to nestle there in warmth and quiet, strikingly in contrast with the confusion and cold which reigned above. The operation of cutting this hole was a most tedious one, and it must have occupied me at least three-quarters of an hour; but at length the iron bar plunged through; and upon withdrawing it a crystal fountain gurgled out into the frost. My kettle was soon filled, and I set out to return.

"My tracks were covered over, and again I was obliged to steer by the wind. I was getting on very well, having now the storm partially on my back: but my good fortune forsook me when I had reached about half-way. In the act of climbing over a rock, in order to shorten the distance, I missed my footing, and fell upon my face. The kettle slipped from my grasp, and, spilling its precious contents, went flying across the plain. With a philosophical resignation which I had the modesty afterwards to think quite commendable, in the circumstances, I followed the retreating pot, and, overtaking it at length where it had brought up against an elevation, I returned to the lake and refilled. This time I was more careful, and I reached the camp without further accident, except that I came upon the sea some distance above the hut; thus considerably increasing the length of my walk; and that, too, in the very teeth of the storm.

"A party of the Eskimos came upon the hut one day, together with a drove of hungry dogs.

"The dogs were fastened by their long traces; each team being tied to a separate stake. They were howling piteously. Having been exposed to all the fury of the storm, with no ability to run about, they had grown cold; and as their masters told us, having had nothing to eat during thirty-six hours, they must have been savagely hungry. One of them had already eaten his trace; but we came out, fortunately, at the proper moment to prevent an attack upon the sledges.

"Leaving the hunters to look after their teams, I returned to the hut. The blinding snow which battered my face, made me insensible to everything except the idea of getting out of it; and thinking of no danger, I was in the act of stooping to enter the doorway, when a sudden noise behind me caused me to look around, and there, close at my heels, was the whole pack of thirteen hungry dogs, snarling, snapping, and showing their sharp teeth like a drove of ravenous wolves. It was fortunate that I had not got down upon my knees, or they would have been upon my back. In fact, so impetuous was their attack, that one of them had already sprung when I faced round. I caught him on my arm and kicked him down the hill. The others were for the moment intimidated by the suddenness of my movement, and at seeing the summary manner in which their leader had been dealt with; and they were in the act of sneaking away, when they perceived that I was powerless to do them any harm, having nothing in my hand. Again they assumed the offensive; they were all around me; an instant more and I should be torn to pieces.

"I had faced death in several shapes before, but never had I felt as then; my blood fairly curdled in my veins. Death down the red throats of a pack of wolfish dogs had something about it peculiarly unpleasant. Conscious of my weakness, they were preparing for a spring; I had not time even to halloo for help to run would be the readiest means of bringing the wretches upon me. My eye swept round the group and caught something lying half buried in the snow, about ten feet distant. Quick as a flash I sprang, as I never sprang before or since, over the back of a huge fellow who stood before me; and the next instant I was whirling about me the lash of a long whip, cutting to right and left. The dogs retreated before my blows and the fury of my onset, and then sullenly skulked behind the rocks."

In a desperate effort to get supplies one of the party, John Petersen, offered to journey with the Eskimos to a settlement called Netlik, and bring food. Two others, John, the cook, and a Mr. Sonntag, made a similar journey in another direction.

"On the evening of the sixth of November, Mr. Sonntag and John came back to us. Their arrival was most opportune, for we had eaten every ounce of meat which was on hand when they left us. They were brought by two Eskimos, whose sledges carried a supply of food sufficient to last us for several days. They had a part of two bear's legs, several other small pieces of meat, and a bear's liver. This last the Eskimos will not eat, but we were glad enough to get it. There were, besides, some pieces of blubber, about two dozens of lumme and burgomaster-gulls, and as many dried auks. All this provision had been purchased for fifty needles and a sheath-knife, a small price where these implements are abundant, but an exorbitant one in the estimation of our Eskimos. These native friends were getting to be very Jews in their bargainings. Heaven knows we did not grudge the poor creatures the few paltry things of which they stand so much in need; but, with us, the case was one of life and death; and, by keeping up the price, we prevented the market from being overstocked. A needle was worth to them more than a hundred times its weight in gold. Ours had become quite notorious, and by this time every women in the tribe had at least one of them. Some of the women had nearly a dozen apiece. They were a wonderful improvement over the coarse bone instruments which they had hitherto used.

"Mr. Sonntag and John had a hard journey. The track was rough. High ridges of hummocked ice lay across the mouth of Wolstenholme Sound, and through these they were compelled to pick a tortuous passage. On their way down they were obliged to walk a large portion of the time, because partly of the roughness of the road, and partly of the fact that there four persons to one sledge. They were quartered in a double hut, one in each division of it, and were treated with great kindness and civility. They returned to us looking hale and hearty, and made our mouths fairly water with glowing descriptions of unstinted feasts. They had been living on the fat of the land, upon bear, fox, and puppy, the best dishes in the Eskimo larder at this time of year. Yet food was scarce at Akbat, and hence they brought little."

Later Petersen and his white companion, one Godfrey, returned unexpectedly. Petersen crawled into the hut almost exhausted, and Godfrey after him.

"Their first utterance was a cry for 'water! water!'

"I asked Petersen, 'Are you frozen?' 'No!' 'Godfrey are you?' 'No! but dreadful cold, and almost dead.' Poor fellow! he looked so.

"They were in no condition to answer questions; but they rather needed our immediate good offices. Their clothing was stiff, and in front was coated with ice. From their beards hung great lumps of it; and their hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes were white with the condensed moisture of their breath. We aided them in stripping off their frozen garments; and then rolled them up in their blankets.

"Long exposure to the intense cold, fatigue, and hunger, had benumbed their sensibilities; and with the reaction which followed came a corresponding excitement. We gave them to drink of our hot coffee, and this combined with the warmth of the hut soon revived them; but the violence of the change produced a temporary bewilderment of mind, and the sleep which followed was troubled and restless. Their frequent starts, groans, cries, and mutterings, told of the fearful dreams of cold, starvation, thirst, and murder by which they were distressed.

"It was not until the following morning that we obtained the full particulars of their journey; but Petersen told us, while he drank his coffee, what it was necessary that we should know at once. They had walked all the way from Netlik, where an attempt had been made to murder them. The Eskimos were in pursuit, and if not watched would attack our hut.

"The idea at once suggested itself, that, with a combination of forty or fifty persons, and an effort well directed, they might surprise us; and, dashing in a body from the rocks above upon the slender roof of our hut, they might bury us beneath the ruins, and harpoon us if we should attempt to escape. We did not fear a direct attack.

"A watch was accordingly set and kept up during the night. The sentinel was armed with Bonsall's rifle, and was relieved every hour. The remainder of our fire-arms were hung upon their usual pegs, in the passage, having been previously discharged and carefully reloaded. The iron boat was drawn up in front of the hut.

"The night wore away. Mr. Petersen and Godfrey awoke, ate again, and fell back into their sleep. The sentry marched to and fro along the level plain, a few rods to the eastward of the hut; and the creak, creak of his footsteps was distinctly heard as he trod over the frozen snow. Inside the hut all was quiet, save now and then a low whisper, the heavy breathing and occasional delirious outcries of the returned travelers, and the noise made by the periodical changing of the watch. Scarcely an eye except those of Petersen and Godfrey was closed in sleep. We were all too busy with our thoughts, and too much agitated by our anxieties."

The Eskimos did not attack, though it was plain they had intended to murder Petersen. In his sleep he had heard them plotting. He heard them say, says Hayes, that "the hut was to be surprised before Mr. Sonntag and John could return from Akbat. In both cases Sip-su (one of Petersen's Eskimos) was to lead the assault, and Kalutunah was to act as his second in command.

"Sip-su was just beginning to put into execution the first part of the plan of operations, by instituting a search for Petersen's pistol, when Godfrey came to the window and hallooed to his chief, to know if he was alive. He was satisfied, from what he had seen and heard in the other hut, that foul play was intended.

"Petersen awoke from his sham sleep, and, having exchanged words with Godfrey, made some excuse and went out. He found a crowd of men, women, and boys around his rifle. It was fortunate that he had impressed upon them the idea that it was dangerous to touch it. Seeing them assembled about the gun, he called to them to know why they were not afraid to go so near; and they all withdrew.

"Having secured his rifle, he told them that he intended to go in hunt of bears (Nannook); and drawing from his pocket a handful of balls, he remarked, as he dropped them one by one into his other hand, that each of them was sufficient to kill a bear, or a man, or any other animal. They would have persuaded him to stay; but he had already had enough of their treachery, and he resolved to walk to Booth Bay. This, although a dangerous experiment, was clearly more safe than to remain.

"Conscious that their guilty intentions were rightly interpreted, the Eskimos clustered around him, declaring, with suspicious eagerness, that they 'would not hurt him,' that 'nobody meant him any harm.'

"It was late when, with Godfrey, he started toward our party. The night was clear and calm, but the cold was terribly intense. At our hut the temperature was forty-two degrees below zero. The distance to be traveled by them would have been, by the most direct line, forty miles; but more nearly fifty by the crooked path which they must follow. Even the three days of feasting at the Eskimo settlement had not restored the physical strength of which they had been deprived by their course of life at the hut; and, reduced as they were in flesh, it seemed to them scarcely probable that they could make the exertion necessary to enable them to rejoin us.

"The Eskimos sullenly watched them from the shore as they moved off; and when they had gone about two miles, the former hitched their teams, and, leaving the settlement, were soon in full pursuit. The wild, savage cries of the men, and the sharp snarl of the dogs, sounded upon the ears of our poor comrades like a death-knell. In their previous anxieties, they had not looked forward to this new danger. The ice-plain was everywhere smooth; there was not in sight, for their encouragement, a single hummock behind which they might hope to shelter themselves.

"On came the noisy pack, half a hundred wolfish dogs. Against such an onset, what could be done by two weak men, armed with a single rifle? The dogs and the harpoons of their drivers must soon finish the murderous work. Petersen was, however, resolved that Sip-su or Kalutunah should pay the penalty of his treachery, if at any moment within range of the rifle." It proved, however, that the Eskimos were not brave enough to make the assault, so Petersen and Godfrey escaped.

Later, Dr. Hayes writes:

"November 10th. Again the Eskimos appear to us more as our good angels than as our enemies. Under extraordinary temptation, and, doubtless, at the evil instigation of a bad leader, these poor savages had proposed the death of Petersen and his companion; but this day two of them, Kalutunah and another hunter, came to us, and threw at our feet a large piece of walrus-beef and a piece of liver. The latter was not yet frozen; and the animal from which it was taken had, therefore, been recently caught.

"We were talking about them, in no spirit of love, when they arrived; and, as they came up the hill, various were the expressions of opinion as to what ought to be done with them. One said that we should detain them, and hold them as hostages until their people should have performed their promises; and that their dogs should be seized, and used in the interval; but, apart from any consideration of justice, such a proceeding would scarcely have been safe. Another hinted that fourteen dogs would save us from starvation; for, if we should not succeed with them in the hunt, we could kill and eat them. Again, apart from any question how far our necessities overruled the old law of meum and tuum, it was certain that such a step, whatever its immediate advantages, would bring us ultimately into open, and probably, to our party, fatal hostility with the entire tribe. Perhaps, as the present of food seemed to indicate, we had not exhausted all of our means of negotiation; and, until driven to the last resort, we could not justifiably use the strong hand upon our neighbors' property. Great allowances were obviously to be made for the tribe, upon whom we had no claims except upon grounds of humanity too general for their uninstructed minds."

It was through these savages that Dr. Hayes and his comrades were able at last to return to the ship, for the food they furnished made new men of the party. They started back late in November.

"Our movements," says Dr. Hayes, "were like those of men returning from a long journey rather than beginning one. The insufficient food upon which we had been subsisting during the last few days, had so much reduced us that, at the end of the first hour, many of us were more fatigued than we had been, on former occasions of similar labor, at the end of a day. Our progress, slow at the beginning, became slower every moment. The exercise did not warm us as it had done when we were in more vigorous health; and we grew chilly in spite of our exertions. Face, hands, and feet seemed to be pierced by a multitude of torturing needles. The frost penetrated our bodies as if they had been inanimate; and the blood which coursed through our veins felt almost as if it were half congealed. Against the intense cold our imperfect clothing offered a very inadequate shield. The thermometer, when we left the hut, indicated forty-four degrees below zero. The air was fortunately quite calm; and the moon, shining with an intensity which it can exhibit only in an Arctic atmosphere, gave us sufficient light. The snow-crowned mountains of Northumberland Island were dimly visible above the northern horizon. These were the distant, uninviting landmarks towards which our steps were directed."

Before they had gone far, one of the party, named Stephenson, became ill. "In view of this fact it was decided, without much delay, that we should return in a body to the hut, and fall back upon our original plan of sending Petersen and Bonsall with the sledge. Several of us were already severely nipped by the frost; and all felt themselves to be losing rapidly what little strength they had.

"The cargo was re-stowed; the invalid, wrapped in blankets, was placed upon it; and our melancholy faces were turned southward, toward our only shelter. Poor as this refuge had always been, it was now worse than ever. A pile of frozen sods and snow was heaped upon the floor, and the cold air was streaming in through the orifice from which these had been taken.

"We reached it how or when I doubt if any one of us distinctly remembers. I have often tried to bring to recollection some phenomenon which would indicate the period of the day. I cannot even remember the direction of the shadows which our bodies cast upon the moon-lit snow. I know that we did not all arrive together. As we moved slowly forward, first one, and then another, and another of the party fell behind; and it was at least an hour after the sledge had reached the hut before the last one, no longer able to stand upright, came crawling over the plain, upon his hands and knees. More than one of us thus finished the journey; and it has always appeared to me as a remarkable exhibition of the instinct of life that we toiled on in our stupefied unconsciousness even of danger. Stephenson's fainting fit evidently saved us; for, had we gone two miles farther and then turned back, or had we still gone forward, there was perhaps not one of us who would not, unconscious of the risk, have stopped by the way for a short nap, through which we would have passed into the sleep which knows no waking.

"We had just sense enough left to enable us to appreciate each other's wants, and to give assistance, the stronger to the weaker; to close up temporarily the hole in the roof; to carry in our frosted blankets, and to spread them upon the breck underneath those which we had left behind. We knew when we awoke next day that these things had been done; but none of us retained more than the most vague impression as to the manner of their execution. The intense cold, operating upon our feeble and overtaxed bodies, had made wild work with our mental faculties.

"We lay down in the darkness; and, through hours uncounted, slept and shivered away the effects of our unfortunate journey."

The next start was made with better sledges and dogs, and was successful. They reached the ship, badly frost-bitten and almost dead.

"We were soon upon the land-ice under Cape Grinnell. The dogs, excited by the unceasing cracking of the merciless whips, galloped at the top of their speed. It was a race of life and death.

"The hull of the dismantled brig at length burst into view; and a few minutes afterward we were at its side. So much were my senses blunted by the cold that I remember scarcely any incident of our going on board, except that Dr. Kane met us at the gangway, and, grasping me warmly by the hand, led us into the fireless, frost-coated cabin. It was in the middle of the night, and all hands except the watch were sleeping. Ohlsen was the first to catch the sound of our coming; and springing from his cot as I entered the door, he folded me in his arms; and, after kissing me with Scandinavian heartiness, he threw me into the warm bed which he had just vacated."

And so ended one of the most desperate of the ventures made in the land conquered by Cook and Peary.


Book Chapter Logo Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.