EFFECT OF EXTREME COLD ON A CANDLE

On the 9th September, a party of four officers and four men, with
three sledges, each drawn by eight dogs, left the ship for the
westward to explore a route for subsequent crews, push forward a small
depôt, and search the country for game. On the first day’s march, our
halt for lunch was ludicrously uncomfortable. A cold wind blew. All
our water-bottles were hermetically sealed by the freezing in of the
rough wooden plugs we had hastily fitted to them. There was nothing
to drink but icy cold raw rum. One or two attempted it, and only
succeeded in half-choking themselves, very much to the amusement of
the rest.

When camping-time came, we found ourselves rounding into a narrow
channel between two fine bays, whose “dumb-bell” shape at once
suggested the title by which they were ever afterwards known. A strong
tide in the narrow passage, representing the handle of a dumb-bell,
had kept a small pool of water from freezing, leaving a hole about
as large as a Trafalgar Square fountain. In this a seal was swimming
about, turning his black shining head and large eyes from side to side
in amazement at our appearance. All was fish that came to our net. He
would at least make a good beginning for our game-bag. He was struck
in the head, and consequently floated; but it was by no means a simple
matter to get him out of the pool, for the ice was thin at the edges,
and an unpleasantly swift-looking current was running below. Fred, our
Eskimo, was equal to the occasion. Spread out flat on the ice, with
a piece of cord in one hand and a batten in the other, he managed to
reach the edge and secure our prize. He was rewarded for his exertions
by a good share of liver for supper; indeed, no one at that time felt
inclined to dispute the delicacy with him, for, by some mistake, our
unpractised cook had fried a little of the blubber with it. The meat
is very dark and rich, and is far from unpalatable; but if the least
bit of blubber is cooked with it, it is exactly like mutton fried in
cod-liver oil. This solitary “floe-rat” was the only seal shot in
the Northern Sea. We had little sleep that night, the novelty of the
circumstances, the low temperature of our beds, and the wind, which
threatened to blow the tent over, kept most of us awake. The dogs
too were behaving in an extraordinary manner. Something evidently
made them uneasy; there was none of the usual snarling and growling
going on. All at once there was a tremendous hubbub. We rushed out,
and discovered that the brutes had scented out the spot where we had
buried and _cached_ our seal. They had succeeded in digging it up, and
not a fragment was left. Fortunately, the skin and blubber were buried
separately, and were still safe. Next morning our party subdivided.
Three travelled forward with the sledges to deposit the depôt as far
as possible northward and westward. Petersen, the Dane, experienced
in snow-house building in Hayes’ Expedition, set about constructing
huts in a position that might be useful to later parties; and two of
us started inland to search for game. The broad flats at the head
of the bay looked promising, but were lifeless. Then we plodded on
over the hills; not even a lemming track was to be seen. A few ridges
were blown clear of snow, and sometimes the lee side of a red granite
boulder would appear above the universal white. We worked towards a
long westward-running depression in the land, hoping that there at
least a little vegetation might exist; but on reaching the last ridge
overlooking it, we discovered that it was filled with a sheet of green
ice, stretching several miles to the westward. The lake—for lake it
was—evidently discharged through gullies in the low hills at its
farther end, and beyond these, twenty miles off, a range of pyramidal
snowy peaks stood out clear and sharp against the calm green sky. When
we stopped to secure a sketch, the lifeless stillness of our lonely
lake was most impressive. No human eye had ever looked upon it before.
And now there was neither bird or beast, or even tiny flower or blade
of grass, to dispute possession.

About a mile from us on the left shore, a small rocky island caught
a gleam of sunshine coming down through a ravine, and flickered
strangely by refraction. The ice afforded easy walking towards it,
but on reaching it we found that a rapidly-freshening wind was coming
off the land, carrying clouds of snow with it, so that a retreat
towards camp was plainly advisable. Before leaving, however, we set
about piling up a few stones to record our visit. Under the edges of
almost the first stone raised we were surprised to find the scattered
vertebræ of a small fish. Some feathered summer visitor had evidently
carried them there from the lake. We bottled the little bones in a
small glass tube, and during two long days’ most careful search for
game, no other vestige or track of living creature was discovered.

Our return to camp was very near being enlivened by an incident.
The wind had freshened so much, and carried such a quantity of
large crystalled snow with it, that it was impossible to travel
except in one direction—namely, straight before it. Fortunately, it
blew directly towards our camp. So we started off across the lake,
knee-deep or more in a flying drift which rustled like dead leaves in
autumn. The ice was not thick even close to shore, for we had fired
a bullet through it to try whether the water beneath was salt or
not, and when we got about half-way across, it began to crack in an
alarming manner, and to yield unmistakably to every footstep. We could
neither stop nor turn back; the only thing to be done was to separate
and shuffle on as fast as possible. The water soaked through cracks in
our footsteps; but we were soon wading in the deeper snow of the land,
and reached camp without further excitement, and thoroughly resolved
to be more careful of untried ice in the future. Starting early next
morning, we made a more extended, but equally fruitless, search for
game. There was neither bird nor beast in the country, and but for a
musk ox skull picked up near the shore we might have supposed that no
living creature had ever visited the land. Punctual to their time, our
sledges reappeared on the morning of the fourth day, having succeeded
in depositing their load of pemmican on the further shore of Black
Cliff Bay. The ice they had travelled over was so insecure in some
places between the shore and the heavy floes that the sledges had
broken through more than once, and the travellers had been wet through
ever since they left us. There was evidently no game to be got, so we
returned to the ship, and on the way back met a strong party hauling
forward two boats in order to deposit them at an advanced point in
readiness for the spring sledging.

Two days afterwards, on 14th September, a wind came from the south
and gradually increased into a violent gale. The ice between the ship
and the land broke up, and the pack again separated from the shore.
The whole air was filled with drifting snow blown from the land, and
flying past in a dense cloud higher than the topmasts. It was only
in the lulls that it was possible to distinguish the shore not one
hundred yards off. The boat party had not yet returned, and we were
not a little anxious about it; but late in the evening a figure was
seen signalling from the beach. A double-manned boat pushed off from
the ship, and, after a tough struggle, pulling in the teeth of the
gale, reached the shore. Then we learnt that the returning crews
had narrowly escaped being carried off by the breaking-up ice, and
were about two miles from the ship dragging an exhausted man on the
sledge, and thoroughly fatigued by their long forced march against
the gale. Assistance was promptly despatched to them; all were soon
brought safely on board. The severity of the weather was not the
only reason why we were anxious that the sledge parties should be on
board. A crisis in our fortunes was approaching, for the pack was
still moving from the shore, and in a few hours it might be possible
to advance the ship a little further westward, and perhaps a mile or
two further northward. As the drifting snow became less thick, and
the weather cleared, we saw that the opportunity had come. Once more
we heard the joyful order to get up steam. The rudder was rapidly got
into its place, but no efforts could get the screw into its bearings.
The fresh surface water entangled about it froze when it was lowered
into the colder salt sea beneath, and while all hands were still
working at it, the pack closed in as tightly as before. We were all
greatly disappointed at the time, but there is now not the slightest
doubt that if H.M.S. “Alert” had advanced two miles to the westward
she would never have carried her crew southward again. It was from
henceforth evident that the ship would have to winter in the spot
where chance had placed her, and every effort was at once directed to
the sledging.

There was no time to be lost; winter was fast approaching; day and
night had again returned. The sun’s dip below the icy horizon to the
north was longer and longer every night, and during the day he skirted
so low above the southern land that even at noon it was already dusk
in our wardroom and between decks. Light fleecy snow fell frequently,
and day by day the temperature declined nearer and nearer to zero;
but nevertheless, no change took place in the outside pack—it still
roared and grated in constant motion. The idea of travelling over it
could not be entertained for a moment, and it was necessary to wait
till the snow of the shores and the new ice of the inlets and narrow
spaces between the pack and shore were hard enough to bear the loaded
sledges. On 22nd September the dog-sledges again started for the north
to ascertain whether Cape Joseph Henry could be crossed or rounded.
And two days later, three eight-man sledges, under Commander Markham,
with Lieutenants Parr and May, left the ship with a heavy load of
provisions and stores, to be deposited at the most northern suitable
fixed point in readiness for the spring campaign. Lieutenant Aldrich
and his dog-sledges returned in fourteen days. He had reached the
Cape, crossing on his way the ring of latitude from which Sir Edward
Parry, the most poleward of our predecessors, had turned back 48 years
before. From a cliff two thousand feet above the polar floes, he had
seen nothing but ice to the northward; but far westward, seventy miles
or more distant, snowy headlands, one beyond the other, extended
slightly northward of the land on which he stood.

This was the worst news we had anticipated. It left the future
undecided. If his telescope had detected the loom of land to the
north, our duty would have been plain, and success at least probable.
If, on the other hand, the coast beyond the Cape ran definitely south,
the clear negative would have allowed us to turn every energy into a
new channel. But now this new-found land must be tracked westward for
many a weary mile, and those distant headlands must be rounded one by
one before we could be certain that the coast-line did not finally
turn polewards, and afford a route which might be followed, if not
next year, at least in the following season.

Wind, insecure ice, and constant falls of snow told heavily against
Captain Markham’s three sledges, but they successfully deposited their
depôt near the Cape, and in such a position that anyone travelling
along the beach could not fail to find it even in fog or storm. On
their way back, part of the ice they had recently sledged over was
found destroyed by the motion of the pack, and it was necessary to
haul the sledges over the summits of the Black Cliffs. There, there
was no shelter from the wind; the temperature fell to 47 degrees below
freezing. That bleak ridge was afterwards known as “Frost-bite Range.”
When, after three weeks’ absence, they reached the ship, the whole
party was in a wretched condition. Their sleeping-bags, robes, and
tent were stiffened into boards of ice, more than twice as heavy as
when they set out; and the twenty-four men and officers had no less
than forty-three frost-bites amongst them, most of them comparatively
slight, but three so severe as to require amputation. While these
sledge parties were laying out the autumn depôts and exploring
northward, others were no less active in another direction.

The programme of our Expedition stipulated that the “Alert,” in order
to keep up communication with her consort, was not to winter more than
two hundred miles from her. An officer and sledge crew belonging to
the “Discovery” had accompanied us northwards with the intention of
returning to their ship as soon as the “Alert” had reached her winter
quarters. We had advanced but sixty miles, and yet the most gallant
and persevering efforts to communicate with the “Discovery” were
again and again unsuccessful. The deep soft snow lying piled against
the cliffs of Cape Rawson and Black Cape barred the way. The men,
buried to their waists in the snow, dug a path for the sledge till the
excavation became a tunnel, and a day’s hard labour could be measured
by a few paces. The last and most determined effort to force a road
southward was undertaken on the 2nd October, but on the 12th the party
returned without having got further than six miles from the ship. This
failure to communicate with the “Discovery” over so short a distance
as only 60 miles was altogether unlooked for, and could not but
suggest uncomfortable reflections. It had been assumed that even two
hundred miles would not interrupt communication between our ships, and
that sledges could travel the whole length of Smith’s Sound to reach a
relief ship, or to deposit despatches at its entrance. Where was the
error in the assumption? Were our men degenerate? Our picked crews,
full of health and strength, and enthusiastic to a man, were equal
to the best of their predecessors. The conclusion was inevitable—the
conditions and not the men were to blame. Within half-a-mile of our
ship, there were many places that would stop the finest crew that
ever drew a sledge. The ice was massive beyond all expectation; but
it was not the ice that stopped our travellers—it was the soft snow.
Some idea of its fleecy lightness may be gathered from the fact that
ten measures of it could easily be pressed into one, and that one
melted into only one-tenth its bulk of water. Everyone noticed the
beauty of its crystals; they were delicate eighteen-rayed stars, rayed
not in one plane, but in all. In British Columbia and other parts of
Canada, when such soft snow interferes with travelling, it is usual
to camp for a day or so—perhaps under a comfortable tree—and, when
the snow has hardened a little, make a firm path for the sledge, or
long tobbogin, by tramping in advance on snow-shoes. But we might
have waited till permanent darkness set in before our snow hardened.
Our sledges, perfect as they were for their own work, were not suited
for land travelling over soft snow; and as snow-shoes had never been
used by Arctic Expeditions, we had but two pairs in the ship. There
are two causes that tend to harden and cake the surface of snow—the
first is wind, and we had comparatively little of that; the second is
a contrast in temperature between the earth below and the air above
the snow. When the lower part of the snow is twenty or thirty degrees
warmer than the upper, evaporation takes place from the one, and
condensation in the other. At Floeberg Beach the earth was permanently
cold. Even in midsummer only a few inches of the surface thawed, and
during the whole winter it remained close to zero, so that it was not
until the intensely cold weather of spring that any marked contrast
was established.

[Illustration: INSIDE THE UNIFILER HOUSE.]

Two days before the return of the last autumn party the sun sank below
the south horizon, not to return for nearly five months. We climbed
Cairn Hill to have a last look at him, but the high land southwards
hid him from view. His refracted rays still lit up the ice of the
northern horizon, but Floeberg Beach and the pack, for a mile outside
the ship, lay in the shadow of the land. Away southwards to the right,
the sides of the Greenland hills caught the sunlight, and through the
gaps in their undulating outline a distant horizontal plain of _mer de
glace_, the northern termination of Greenland’s continental ice, was
yet distinguishable at intervals.

After the return of the depôt detachment from Cape Joseph Henry, the
twilight had darkened so much that further sledging was impossible,
and all hands set about making preparations to encounter the fast
closing-in winter. Firm ice had formed round the ship, and cemented
her to the grounded floebergs on her right; but, in order to guard
against being again blown from shore, she was secured to the beach
by two strong chain cables, supported at intervals by barrels, so
that the heavy metal links should not sink into the ice. The “crow’s
nest” and all the rigging that could be spared were taken down from
aloft and packed away. A thick felty awning was spread overhead
across spars fastened between the masts so as to completely roof in
the greater part of the ship. Then snow was heaped up all round her
black hull as high as the crimson stripe along her bulwarks. But for
her masts and yards she might have been taken for a great marquee,
with stove-pipes coming through at intervals. Her unshipped rudder
was hung across the stern, safe from any ice pressure during
the winter. To enter the ship, one had to pass through a narrow gap
in the snow embankment, near the middle of her left side, ascend two
or three steps, and lift up a hanging door closing an entrance cut
in the bulwarks. The whole of the upper deck was covered with a deep
layer of snow, so as to keep the heat in. Snow passages, with double
wooden doors, self-closing by means of weights, were made over the
two hatch-ways leading down below. The skylights were all covered up.
Lamps and candles had already been in use for some time. By means of
eight stoves, distributed in various parts between decks, and each
burning twenty-eight pounds of coal per day, an average temperature
of forty-nine was maintained through the winter. It was intended to
utilise all the heat by leading the flues along the deck overhead
before they passed up into the outer air; but the horizontal flues
smoked so much that it was necessary to let them pass directly
upwards, and even then they were as smoky as ships’ stoves usually
are. Meantime, the bleak beach opposite the ship was also undergoing
metamorphosis. Boats, spars, blocks of patent fuel, casks, and cans
of stores innumerable had been carried to it from the ship, so as to
increase the habitable space on board. The casks and barrels were
piled into walls, and roofed in with spars and sails, so as to make a
large storehouse to hold everything that could be taken from the ship.
A short distance off, a great pyramid of pemmican, stearine-fuel,
bacon, and other sledging stores rose above the snow. Next came the
preparations for the scientific observations of the winter. The
wooden observatory, on a firm foundation of snow-filled casks, looked
like a bathing-box unaccountably gone astray. Then a whole group
of beehive-shaped snow-houses, each one the temple of some special
instrument, the “Declinometer,” the “Unifiler,” and so on, and a whole
system of catacomb-like passages cut in the deep snow and roofed in,
connected the buildings.

[Illustration: PLATE V.—WINTER QUARTERS _OUTSIDE_, FROM THE FLOES
ASTERN OF H.M.S. “ALERT,” DECEMBER, 1876.—p. 37.

During winter moonlight this view of the ship was a familiar one;
for it is from the end of the half-mile marked out for exercise on
the Hoes. The foretopmast has gone to make a roof-tree for the thick
awnings that house in the deck. The crow’s nest and much of the
rigging are packed away till next wanted. The unshipped rudder hangs
across the stern, out of the way of damage from any crushing of the
floes. Snow packed up carefully all round the ship is an all-important
protection against the increasing cold.]

Fortunately, the last gale had so far hardened the snow-drifts in this
spot that snow-house building had become possible. Every few days a
new “house” sprang up. A group of men would come out from the ship,
warmly booted and mitted, carrying shovels and saws, and perhaps a
lantern. They shovel off the loose surface snow, and proceed to mark
out two sets of concentric circles, one slightly larger than the
other, and follow the marks with the saw driven vertically into the
snow. The rings thus sawn out are then cut into blocks about two feet
square. The outer ring of blocks from the larger circles, placed round
the circular pit left by the removal of blocks from the smaller set,
makes the first tier. Then comes the outer ring from the smaller set,
and so on alternately, till a good flat block closes in the top. The
resulting edifice is all in steps, but it is thoroughly substantial,
and will last till midsummer. Thus our town sprang up, and each part
soon received its appropriate name—Markham Hall, Kew, Deptford,
Greenwich, &c., while at a safe distance southward an eccentric
edifice, surmounted by a broom handle to represent a lightning
conductor, acted as magazine and spirit-store.

Long before winter had passed, our town had disappeared as
completely as Nineveh or Pompeii. Only an uncertain mound here and
there projected over the bleak slope of drifted snow. Some of the
storehouses, indeed, were so effectively hidden that they were not
found till after several days’ excavations in the following July.
The great advantage of a snow-house is that it takes its temperature
from the earth, and not from the air. Some of ours were occasionally
as much as forty degrees warmer than the atmosphere, so that an
observer well muffled in furs could remain for four or five hours at
a time watching the swinging magnetic needle, or the progress of some
icy experiment. His meditations would sometimes be disturbed by the
wandering footfall of one of our dogs overhead, sounding strangely
loud and reverberating. The snow was curiously retentive of odours:
a little spirit spilt in one house made it ever afterwards smell like
a gin-palace; another had an unaccountable odour of oysters that
puzzled all our _savans_; but, as a rule, the smell of burnt candle
predominated. The manner, by-the-bye, in which the flame of a candle
gradually sank into a tallowy net-work cylinder afforded a striking
illustration of the still air and low temperature of a snow-house.
In strong moonlight, or after daylight returned, the effect inside
one of our buildings was most peculiar. The snow transmits a subdued
greenish-blue light, such as a diver sees deep under water.

[Illustration: BUILDING SNOW-HOUSES.]

While twilight lasted, many excursions were made landwards, but the
uncertain state of the deep snow made even a short walk a serious
undertaking. In places it lay merely dusted over the ground; in others
in deep drifts, here soft, and there hardened by wind. If we turned to
the north, we soon came to a steep ravine, by no means easily crossed,
winding down from Mount Pullen. All inland was a monotonous waste
of snow, and ten minutes’ walk to the south brought us to another
ravine—a smaller one—which somehow or other acquired the name of the
“Gap of Dunloe.” Here a summer torrent had cut a way under the ice and
snow that half filled the ravine. A few little frozen pools amongst
the boulders was all that remained of the torrent, but its size might
be estimated by the long flat cavern it had washed out under the ice,
lit from above by a number of dangerous “man-holes” opening through
the snow overhead. At the other side of the ravine, the land rose
towards the high capes overlooking Robeson Channel, and afforded very
rough walking, for the vertical slate strata was either smoothed over
with treacherous snow, or stuck up through it in various-sized flat
slabs, making the land look like a vast graveyard. As a rule, however,
there was really nothing to see but interminable snow. Sometimes, when
it was a little overcast, even the distinction between land and sky
was confused, and everything assumed a uniform whiteness. More than
once it occurred to us that our scenery was very simply portrayed: a
spotless sheet of white paper could not be improved upon. Under such
circumstances, it may easily be imagined that the discovery of a hare
track was quite an exciting event. Who could think of returning to
a half-past two o’clock dinner before the track was followed, and
the quarry found! A second hare track was fallen in with on the 29th
October, but after following it for some hours it became plain that
the creature had more than once been within thirty yards, and had
escaped unnoticed in the twilight. The chase was given up, and it
was at any rate a satisfaction to know that at least one live thing
was left to pass the winter in our neighbourhood. There was no use
in trying to hunt after this. That day we had hoped to get something
better than hare, for one of the ice quartermasters had reported that
he had heard wolves howling inland during the middle watch, and wolves
would hardly pay us a visit so far north unless they were driving musk
oxen or reindeer. A long walk on snow-shoes failed to discover any
tracks, and indeed the beasts themselves might have been close at hand
without being seen, for darkness was already stealing over the land.

Twilight at mid-day ceased on 9th November; that is to say, the sun
never afterwards came within twenty-eight degrees of the southern
horizon. Such a definition of twilight is as convenient as any other,
and has the advantage of being familiar to some people at least, as
it is that which usually regulates the firing of the morning gun
in garrison towns. After this date nothing but a faint violet glow
towards the south, not bright enough to hide the stars, and that too
lessening every day, marked the whereabouts of the mid-day sun. We
were not at once left in darkness, however, for the moon rose, and for
ten periods of twenty-four hours—one cannot call them days—climbed,
and then declined spirally through the heavens. She again visited us
three times before twilight returned, each time giving us the benefit
of full moon; indeed, without her cheerful visits winter darkness
would have been almost unendurable. During the intervening periods
of darkness, “next moonlight” was looked forward to in much the same
way that schoolboys look forward to holidays. A diagram made by
Captain Nares, and hung up on the lower deck, representing the daily
position of the moon during the absence of the sun, was constantly
consulted. In this far northern region man is as much influenced by
the moon as his celebrated Ascidian ancestor on the tidal beach.
Her advent inaugurates a period of intermittent vitality. Then was
the time to build snow-houses, to collect fresh ice for culinary
purposes, and to repair the banking up of the ship. It was only then
that it was possible to leave the beaten track marked out for daily
exercise, and wade towards Cairn Hill or Flagstaff Point, or toboggin
down Thermometer Hill or Guy Fawkes Hummock. When the moon left us,
exercise collapsed into a monotonous two hours’ routine up and down,
up and down the measured line of preserved meat tins, relieved here
and there by an empty barrel, by way of milestone. A tread-mill would
have been a pleasing exchange, especially if it was made the means of
supplying an electric light during exercise hours.

Anyone acquainted with Arctic literature does not need to be told that
a polar winter cannot be safely passed without strict discipline.
Routine must extend even to the smallest domestic affairs. Some people
would never go to bed, and others would never get up if there was
nothing special to make them; and constant darkness is so enervating
that few, if any, would keep up a steady healthful amount of exercise
without routine.

[Illustration: PLATE VI.—THE DECK: MORNING INSPECTION AND PRAYERS.—p.
41.

Morning muster and prayers on deck formed part of the daily routine,
and, while the long darkness lasted, every day began with this scene.
The men are clad in sealskin and cork-soled carpet boots. The deck is
covered in with a deep layer of snow, and snow-houses are built over
each hatchway.]

Let us take a single day as an example of life in winter quarters.
On waking in the morning one’s first sensation is that there is a
chilly spot somewhere amongst the blankets. A drip of condensation
from the cold deck overhead has found its way through the waterproof
or rug spread like a canopy to intercept it. This condensation
is one of the greatest nuisances we have to contend with. Its chief
sources are our breath, evaporation from damp clothes, and culinary
operations, but there are many others. All the oil used in our lamps,
and every candle we burn, is converted into nearly its own weight of
water, and must condense somewhere. It either falls in large drops,
well coloured with candle and lamp smoke, or reserves itself for
warmer weather by freezing in all the nooks and crannies overhead and
at our side. A little press close to the bed holds our summer boots, a
number of glass instruments for chemical experiments, and some spare
candles; but we have just discovered that the whole set of articles
are imbedded in a solid block of ice formed by repeated condensation.
An odour of kindling coal floats into the cabin as the wardroom stove
is lit, and warns us that it is time to get up. Some minutes elapse
before the chilled flue will draw, hence the odour. Toilet is not a
lengthy operation. A tub is a weekly luxury, for water means fuel.
The men have already breakfasted, and are clearing up the decks.
The plates, cups, and saucers are cheerfully rattling on our mess
table, and our next-door neighbour kindly warns us not to be late, as
curried sardine day has come round again. A large mess-tin of cocoa
is simmering on top of the stove, and the baker has treated us to
the unusual luxury of hot rolls. At ten o’clock the men muster round
the tub of lime-juice, mixed with warm water, and each man’s name is
marked off as he drinks his allowance. Then all hands parade on deck
for inspection. Everyone is dressed alike, in yellow sealskin cap and
coat, sealskin or duffle trousers; long carpet boots with thick cork
soles keep the feet well off the snow, and are especially comfortable
over two pair of lambs’-wool socks and a pair of fur slippers. When
the officers have inspected their detachments and reported all
mustered, the chaplain reads the collect for the day and a brief
prayer by the light of an engine-room oil-lamp hung from overhead.
All join in the familiar responses, and the beautiful words of the
prayer for the navy sound more than ever applicable to our special
circumstances. The scene is a striking one. The dim yellow light,
the composed fur-clad men, the awning draped in feathery pendants
of ice, and the trampled snow on deck, make a picture not easily
forgotten (Plate No. 6). Immediately after prayers, all hands are
told off to the work of the day. The declinometer house is closed up
with a snow-drift, and has to be dug out. Ice has to be dug out with
picks from the top of a floeberg, and drawn on a sledge on board to
be melted for drinking, cooking, and washing. The water thus obtained
is only too pure. Frozen sea water, in spite of theory, remains salt,
but the upper strata of the floebergs are pure snow condensed into
ice. Then there are some stores to be drawn on the strong working
sledge from Markham Hall; and the blacksmith and his assistants have
a number of shovels to repair, for, strong as they are, they wont
stand levering out blocks for snow-houses. At one o’clock the men go
to their dinner, and before ours there is yet an hour and a quarter.
We cannot stay on board, for the wardroom is occupied by an energetic
party rehearsing for theatricals. We have just time for a good smart
walk. In a few minutes we are equipped, with long mitts—some people
call them elbow-bags—slung round the neck, and a substantial muffler
tied sash-wise over one shoulder as a reserve in case of necessity.
On first going into the open air, there is a faint odour like that of
green walnuts. It is difficult to say what is the cause of it; it is
not always noticeable, and does not coincide with the darkest staining
of the ozone tests. The measured half-mile is already full of figures
tramping along, some singly, some in pairs, some fast, others slowly,
but all keeping to the beaten track, for elsewhere the snow is soft
and the ice is hillocky.

Let us, for sake of variety, take advantage of the waning December
moon, and visit Flagstaff Point. It is only a mile and a-half
northwards, but the deep snow will keep us beyond our time unless
we wear snow-shoes. The sloping shore hills are barred with
“sastrugi”—wind-made ridges of snow—but the abrupt scooped-out
rifts between them are smoothed over with fleecy powder in gentle
undulations like the swell of a sea. The crests of the snow waves
are often marked with long sinuous lines of black dust blown from
uncovered spots. A short alpenstock is useful to feel the way. We
carry no arms, for we are beyond the region of the sea bear. The
fierce creature depicted on our crockery (p. 83) is altogether out
of place; but then every one supposed when we left England that the
far north was chiefly characterised by abundance of bears, brilliant
auroræ, icebergs, and Eskimo. The point is marked by four barrels
supporting a flagstaff. Beyond it lies a seemingly level plain,
between a wall of pack-ice and the mouth of our north ravine. The
temperature is 67° below freezing; but it is perfectly calm, and not
too cold to rest for a moment or two.

[Illustration: RETURN FROM A WINTER WALK.]

In this icy wilderness there is an overpowering sense of solitude,
which adds greatly to the weird effect of moonlight on the floebergs,
fantastically-shaped and vague. There is complete silence, but it is
broken every now and then by sudden unearthly yells and shrieks from
the still moving pack, harsh and loud as a steam siren, but unlike
anything else in art or nature. As we return to the ship our attention
is caught by a brilliant star, so close to the rough and indistinct
horizon that it looks as if some one was carrying a lantern on the
floes. As we watch it, it moves, at first but a little, but afterwards
in long curves like the sweep of a goshawk. It took us some time to
find out that the motion was an optical delusion, most distinct when
no other stars were near.

The cheery sound of the first dinner gong has brought every one in off
the ice; and as we enter the ship, we find a group of our messmates
brushing each other down with a housemaid’s brush, for one must be
careful not to carry any snow into the warmth below. A lantern lights
the way into a snow-hall built over the hatchway. We open the inner
door, a rush of cold air precedes us down the ladder, and we descend
in a cloud of vapour like an Olympian deity. For a moment the changed
atmosphere and a suspicion of tobacco smoke makes us cough, and the
glare of lanterns and lamps dazzles. There must be no delay in taking
off our sealskins; they are already moist with condensation, and a
cold steam streams from them to the floor. Little lumps of ice on the
eyelashes and brows soon melt, but a solid mass cementing beard and
moustache together resists even warm water for a time. Hair about the
mouth is a nuisance in the Arctic regions, and everyone keeps close
cropped. Our vice-president’s two sharp taps on the table announce
grace; he will wait for no one when the soup is cooling, and quite
right too. Our dinner is the same as the men’s: a piece of salt meat
left from yesterday _rechauffé_, preserved meat—there is a discussion
whether the pie is mutton or beef—preserved potatoes, and preserved
onions; we shall have carrots to-morrow. Lime juice replaces beer, for
the latter has become a rare luxury, reserved for birthdays and other
state occasions. Presently some one throws a good conversational fly;
if it is very successful, a brisk controversy follows. The subject is
immaterial, all are more or less exhausted, and none is proscribed
except theology. It is wonderful how many subjects became theological
before the end of the winter. We have laid in a small stock of wine,
which allows us to have two glasses of sherry or Madeira with dinner.
When that is disposed of, conversation flags, and the table is soon
cleared. As soon as the cloth, which looks as if it had been used
before, is removed, our white cat springs upon the table, and seats
herself in the centre with all the assurance of a spoiled pet. It is
not a little strange that both she and “Ginger,” her sister, forward
in the men’s quarters, as well as the Eskimo dogs, and even “Nellie,”
the black retriever, suffered from epileptiform fits. Before winter
was over, Pops got so strangely feeble that she could not spring upon
a chair without several efforts; but when summer came, and we got her
a little fresh meat, she recovered perfectly, and returned with us in
safety to England. After dinner was a quiet time to write up journal,
to read, or to work at some experiment or observation. Certain
instruments had to be registered every hour, and sometimes even every
ten minutes, day and night, and fair registers of such observations
occupy not a little time. One or two who have work to do at night put
in a couple of hours’ comfortable sleep before tea is announced at six
o’clock. Then follows school on the lower deck. When it is over, and
the officers have dismissed their pupils, the musician of our mess,
whose good fellowship is equal to his skill, treats us to a little of
his exhaustless fund of music. Strange to say, our piano still keeps
excellent tune in spite of the heavy seas that swept the wardroom
crossing the Atlantic, and many a severe freezing since. A game of
chess, or a rubber in the captain’s cabin, concludes the evening.

[Illustration: PLATE VII.—WINTER QUARTERS _INSIDE_ H.M.S. “ALERT”—THE
WARDROOM—p. 43.

The warmth and comfort inside the ship were a strong contrast to the
chill loneliness outside. In the snug lamplight of the wardroom, with
a journal to be written up, or a book from the well-stocked shelves
behind the door, it was easy to forget that only a few planks and a
bank of snow shut out a thousand miles of darkness and deadly cold.]

We were all prepared for a long and monotonous winter, and each
one, according to his proclivities, had drawn out for himself a
lengthy programme of improving study. One would read through Alison’s
“History of Europe,” another would master Italian, a third preferred
German; others chose music, and would learn the banjo, or, if the
mess preferred it, the tambourine. But the historic programme only
was carried out. Most of us found that our time was more than
occupied with notes and observations of Arctic Nature that we might
never have another opportunity of making. There was the electric,
magnetic, microscopic, thermal, and chemical states of earth, air,
ice, and water, and a hundred other pressing questions, that made
us regret we had not spent our whole lives in preparation for our
unlimited opportunities. Then there was other work that could not be
postponed. It was above all things necessary to ascertain the exact
position of our winter quarters, so that the geographical discoveries
of the Expedition—the coast-lines passed by the ship as well as
those traversed by sledges—might be fastened down to at least one
fixed point. For this purpose, many careful observations of moon and
stars were required, and the officer who had accepted the duties of
astronomer had no easy time of it. He and his assistant spent many a
chill hour watching the occultation or transit of some star or planet.
The observatory is necessarily open to the air; snow-wreaths festoon
its walls and corners. Every breath freezes on the metal and glasses
of the telescope; even the vapour from the observer’s eye quickly
clouds the lens. His assistant, utterly unrecognisable under a pile of
furs and mufflers, stands shivering beside him, carefully keeping a
chronometer from the cold, for neither watch nor chronometer will work
in the temperature of Arctic night.

The weather during winter was, as a rule, so calm and clear that
observations on the stars could be made almost at any time; but it
was not a little remarkable that, even at the clearest times, some
icy dust, too fine to be called snow, was always falling. On the
27th December, for example, it was so clear that a star of the third
magnitude less than three degrees from the northern horizon could
be satisfactorily observed. And yet, in twelve hours, a glass plate
exposed on top of a neighbouring hill collected a quantity of little
crystals equal to nine tons per square mile. These crystals, not to be
confounded with icy dew formed on the plate itself, were altogether
too small to be seen with the naked eye; but there was no difficulty
in using a microscope, even in the lowest temperatures, except that
the mercurial reflector was soon destroyed by the cold. It was when
these crystals assumed their simpler shapes, and were abundant in the
air, that the moon appeared decked in those halos and crosses known as
_paraselena_, or mock moons. Twice in December we had good examples of
them. Upon each occasion the moon appeared in the centre of a large
and luminous cross, surrounded by two circles plainly distinguishable
between us and the snow-clad land. The cross swayed and trembled with
every breath of air, and vanished altogether when wind disturbed the
tissue of falling crystals; but the halos were more permanent. Plate
No. 7 gives a better idea of them than any verbal description. It is
a reproduction of a sketch made early in the morning of the 11th of
December. Our long-lost wanderer, Sally, absent since 15th October,
when she was left by a sledging party near Sickle Point, had just put
in an appearance, and may be seen in the foreground intensely watching
the proceedings of two officers engaged in measuring the holes with a
sextant.

[Illustration: PLATE VIII.—LUNAR HALOES.—p. 44.

This is a sketch, from the floes alongside the ship, of an unusually
distinct Paraselena that appeared on 11th December, 1875. The haloes
and cross round the moon are caused by the passage of her light
through a tissue of impalpably minute needle-like crystals of ice
slowly falling through the atmosphere. The snow-covered hills of
Floeberg Beach are in the background, and in the foreground two
officers are measuring the arc with a sextant, while the long-lost
Sally looks on. In summer the sun was often surrounded by a similar
meteor, but intensely dazzling, and tinted with colours like an
outside rainbow.]

_A propos_ of Sally, her adventures might make a canine romance. She
was a young, rather unsociable, grey-coloured Eskimo dog, that formed
one of Lieutenant Aldrich’s team in his autumn sledge-journey into the
“untrodden north” and past Cape Joseph Henry. Like several others, the
cold and hard work were too much for her, and she broke down utterly.
The more “fits” she had, and the feebler she got, the more she was
set upon and bitten by the stronger ones. It was impossible to delay
the sledge, and there was nothing to be done but either shoot the
poor beast, like a canine comrade a few days before, or adopt a less
merciful course and leave her on the floes, with a faint hope that she
might revive and limp home after the sledge. It was late in September
that Sall was thus cast adrift. On 22nd of October the men of Captain
Markham’s party fell in with her, still lingering about the spot where
she had been abandoned, very lean and hungry, but too wild or too
feeble to follow them back to the ship. From that time she was written
down in the roll call as “expended.”

Week after week of cold and storm and darkness passed, and
everyone felt quite certain that poor Sall had gone to the happy
hunting-grounds. It is accordingly easy to imagine that her
reappearance on 11th December caused a decided sensation. Even her
old comrades could not believe their eyes, but growled and stared at
the gaunt prodigal that sat wolf-like on a snow hillock, and howled
dismally in the moonlight. Ever afterwards she was a changed dog.
She grew large and strong, and her character became ambitious and
overbearing. When she set her mind upon anything, she got it, whether
it was an empty box to sleep in, or a neighbour’s pup for supper. She
became the favourite of the “king dog” of the pack (dogs soon learn,
and never forget which is master), and would feed between his paws.
But after a while she learnt to beat her lord, and finally usurped
his throne, and led the pack in work or play, though Salic law is
generally observed amongst Eskimo dogs. When the Expedition returned,
she was given to our trusty Eskimo Fred, who knew how to value her.
Some of us would have liked to have shown her in England, but it would
have gone hard with the first cab horse she caught sight of.

The “Alert” in her winter quarters at Floeberg Beach was 142 days
without the sun—a week longer than the “Polaris,” and a month longer
than any previous English expedition. Throughout the whole time the
difference between noon and midnight was hardly appreciable, but a
long period of slowly lessening twilight preceded actual night. Our
darkest time occurred between moon-set on 18th December, 1875, and
moon-rise on 4th January, 1876, though indeed the periods preceding
and following it were scarcely lighter. Many a time, as we stumbled
blindly along at daily exercise, we discussed the question whether
our noon was really as dark as an English moonless night. The general
impression was that it was not so dark. The universal snow husbanded
what little light there was, and sometimes looked almost as if it
was self-luminous. Although the sun was further off on the 23rd
December, that was not the darkest day, for the moon was not far below
the horizon. That day at noon it was just possible to count lines 3
millimetres wide when not more than 4 millimetres apart.

The 28th was perhaps our darkest day. In order to retain some idea
of what the darkness was, we took a rough “Letts’s Diary” out on the
floe at noon, and tried to read the advertisements printed in large
type at the end. It was necessary to remain out some ten or fifteen
minutes in order to get accustomed to the darkness; and of course, if
one had any idea of what the advertisements were beforehand, the test
did not apply. The words “Epps’s Cocoa,” in type nearly half-an-inch
long, were easily read, but the “breakfast” in small type between them
was utterly illegible. It was just possible to spell out “Oetzmann”
in clear Roman type five-sixteenths of an inch long; and after much
staring at the page, held close before the eyes, we managed to make
out “great novelty” in type one-fourth of an inch long. Of course the
test depended as much upon the eyes as upon the darkness; but it was
at any rate a comparative one which would enable those who tried it to
recall the darkness of their winter noon.

The line below will give an idea of the size of type

LEGIBLE AT MID-DAY.

We have since found that such type is legible on clear moonless nights
in England.

As the absence of the sun lengthened, so the cold increased.
Arctic Expeditions have almost invariably registered their lowest
temperatures in February and March, the months in which the earth
is coldest even in England. The darkness and the low temperature of
winter do not occur together: the cold, indeed, belongs rather to
spring than to winter. In our case, it was not till after darkness had
left us and dawn was well advanced that the state of our thermometer
became a subject of general interest.

We did not expect an unusually cold winter. Maps marked the “pole
of cold” far south of our position, and it seemed likely that the
great polar sea, though much the reverse of open, would make our
winter warm. The thermometer stands were conspicuous objects as we
came out from the ship to the floes. The first was supported on a
barrel and snow pedestal only seventeen feet from the ship, so as to
be convenient for hourly or half-hourly registration. Then came the
self-registering thermometer, elevated on a tripod about thirty yards
from the ship. Others were placed on the floe near shore, and on a
hillock close to the beach.

It may be said to be always freezing in the far north. Even in a warm
summer day, when the air is perhaps 40° Fahrenheit, flakes of ice
rise up from the cold sides of the floebergs, and in the shade float
in a thin pellicle on the water in the ice-cracks. Meat exposed to
the air keeps all the year round, and for many months our rigging was
decorated with sides of musk ox and carcases of mutton. In connection
with the keeping of meat, it is worth while to mention that a piece
of musk ox meat, exposed for six months in the rigging, and sealed
up in the cold air, remained, very unexpectedly, unchanged when the
temperature rose, and was exhibited perfectly fresh three months after
the Expedition returned to England.

The temperature of the air sank permanently below freezing in the
middle of August before we had reached winter quarters, and continued
below for nine months. Fifty-four degrees of frost were registered
during the October sledging. In November, mercury froze and the spirit
thermometers fell to forty-five below zero (_i.e._, 77° of frost). The
lowest in December was one degree colder. Then hopes of a warm winter
were given up, and we watched the spirit shrink degree after degree
past the coldest recorded by our predecessors. January’s lowest was
58°.7; February brought 66°.3 below zero; but on the third of March,
three days after sunrise, the unparalleled temperature of 73.7 degrees
below zero was indicated by our Kew-corrected thermometers, and for
many hours the temperature remained more than one hundred degrees
below freezing.

[Illustration: EXAMINING THERMOMETER: -73.4°.]

As a general rule, people look upon extreme cold as the most
characteristic and most insupportable part of Arctic service, but
this is altogether a mistake. It is not nearly as trying as the long
darkness, and both are insignificant compared to the social friction
of the confined life—a friction which would be unbearable if the men
and officers had not been accustomed to habits of discipline, and
inured to the confinement and restraints of “man-of-war” life. The
hardships of mere low temperature are by no means unendurable. In
comfortable winter quarters, and with plenty of dry warm clothing, we
found the extremest cold rather curious and interesting than painful
or dangerous. An icy tub on an English winter morning feels colder
to the skin than the calm Arctic air. Cold alone never interrupted
daily exercise. It was possible to walk for two or three hours over
our snow-clad hills, in a temperature of one hundred degrees below
freezing, without getting a single frost-bite, or perceptibly lowering
the temperature of the body. It is possible even to perspire if one
works hard enough. The fact is, only the face and lungs are really
exposed, and neither appear to suffer from it. Our experience led
us to think that men, thoroughly prepared, might safely encounter
far lower temperatures. Many a time, as we sat round the stove on
the main-deck discussing the events of the day and the state of the
weather, the relative merits of Arctic cold and tropic heat were
warmly canvassed. Several of both our officers and men had lately
returned from the Ashantee campaign, and they could speak with
authority. There was one thing clear—one could sometimes get warm in
the Arctic, but never get cool on the Coast.

If the intense cold was more endurable in winter quarters than some
of us had anticipated, it was altogether a different thing camping
out away from the ship on a sledge party. Then, with food and clothing
limited by the sledge-weights, with no warmer bed than a snowdrift,
and no possibility of changing ice-saturated clothes, cold, far less
than that experienced in winter quarters, becomes a real hardship, and
its miseries can hardly be exaggerated.

During the period of intense cold, we amused ourselves with many
experiments on its effects on various substances. Ordinary spirit,
such as brandy or rum, froze into crystalline paste. Even the alcohol
in our astronomer’s spirit levels acted sluggishly. Glycerine became
as hard as soap; mercury remained frozen for ten or twelve days at a
time. Everyone knows the danger of handling metal at low temperatures.
The danger depends greatly upon the state of the hand; if it is at all
moist or soft, it will adhere, and soon be dangerously frost-bitten;
but if quite dry, we could, for experiment sake, take a mitt off and
turn the brass handle of our outer door without experiencing anything
more serious than a sudden sting, which was like neither heat nor
cold. It was even possible to melt a small fragment of mercury on the
naked palm without leaving a trace of injury.

We had few opportunities of noting how the lower animals bore the
cold. Our Eskimo dogs evidently suffered much at times, but never
learnt to use a snow-kennel built to shelter them. Some of the bitches
had sumptuous apartments constructed for them on deck, in the vain
hope that comfort would make them more careful of their offspring. One
old dog, Master Bruin, who had no tail to coil round his neck when
he went to sleep, and was perhaps more susceptible to cold on that
account, discovered that the magnetic observatory was warmer than the
star-lit side of a hummock, and would willingly have taken up his
quarters there if it had been allowed. Nellie, the retriever, always
took her daily exercise, but slept between decks in the warmth. Pussy
paid one visit to the deck just to see what Arctic winter was like;
but she hopped about shaking one foot after another, and sneezed so
incessantly that she seemed in danger of choking, and had to be taken
below again.

Neither rats nor mice had come north with us. Three of our useless
carrier pigeons had reached winter quarters alive, fluttering round
the ship and perching on the frozen rigging, but none survived
long. It was in the depth of winter, when the land seemed utterly
lifeless and deserted, that the first living inhabitant of Floeberg
Beach presented himself on board our ship. Midnight was past, and
one officer alone lingered beside the main-deck stove, watching the
red light flickering on a much-weathered musk ox skull that had been
picked up on shore and was now being dried before the fire. Suddenly
he falls on his knees and stares intently at the bone, then rushes to
the naturalist’s cabin, and reappears with that gentleman lightly clad
in scarlet flannel, and bearing the first bottles and specimen boxes
that came to hand. A little black spider, revived by the warmth, had
crept out of a small hole in the skull, but retreated again before he
could be bottled. Two weary hours elapsed ere he reappeared, but the
watchers were at length rewarded, and he was triumphantly captured,
packed away, dated, and labelled in the naturalist’s store, commonly
known as “South Kensington.”

At that time we had an unreasoning impression that no live thing
could endure actual reduction to the temperatures of Arctic night.
But cold is by no means so deadly. The mosquitoes, butterflies,
and dragon-flies of brief Arctic summer are assuredly not all new
arrivals. A good example of vitality in the vegetable kingdom
was afforded by the wheat left at “Hall’s Rest” by the ill-fated
“Polaris.” In spite of the cold of five winters, it was still alive
when we found it. Sown at Discovery Bay, it germinated freely, and, as
I write, some of it carried home with the ships promises to reproduce
itself in a fair crop of bearded “Polaris wheat.” Even at the Polar
Sea, and in the midnight of winter, the air holds spores of
moulds, and many of them grew rapidly when carried into the warmth
inside the ship. It is hard to say what temperatures would kill such
primitive organisms—in fact, so far as our little experience goes, Sir
William Thomson’s “moss-grown fragment of another world” might have
carried the germ of terrestrial life safely enough through the chills
of stellar space.

The temperature of winter was by no means steady; on the contrary, its
progressive fall was interrupted by many sudden rises.

In ordinary cold weather the sky was wonderfully clear, and the
weather wonderfully calm. Many a time, as we walked at daily exercise
up and down our half-mile of shadowy snow, with nothing to look at
but the stars, the whole sky was absolutely vapourless, from the
pole star in the zenith to Orion or the three stars of Aquila just
skirting along the horizon. Sometimes a faint fleecy mist, hardly
distinguishable from one of our feeble auroras, would pass overhead;
but round piled-up masses of cloud, such as are common in southern
skies, were never seen.

A change rarely came unexpectedly. Often for days beforehand “mare’s
tail” clouds, with a hard wavy outline, would float up against the
faint moonlight in the southern sky, and spread themselves into wings
and fingers over Robeson Channel. Then, with a sudden gust from the
south, and a mist of flying snow from the land, the temperature
would rise. Mercurial thermometers would thaw, and soon register as
faithfully as spirit instruments beside them. After a while the wind
begins to come more and more from the westward. The thermometers
remain high, but the wind feels piercingly cold wherever it can find
a way inside our sealskins. While the storm lasts, it is impossible
to go outside the ship. Whirling snow hides everything. Even on
deck exercise is uncomfortable, for powdery snow floats in through
every chink in the carefully-closed tent-like awnings. Notes on the
instruments on shore have to be suspended, for no one could force
a way as far as the beach through the darkness and whirlwind of
drifting snow; and if they could, they would find the observatories
so buried that it would take several hours to dig out their doorways.
Even the thermometers within seventeen feet of the ship were not
always easily registered. Upon one occasion the officer in charge
of the meteorological work had to confess himself beaten, after two
determined attempts to reach and register them. In twenty-four hours
or more the storm lessens, and gradually dies away to a gentle breeze
from the northward; and with it the temperature declines, until it is
as cold or colder than before.

A striking change of this sort came in December. From thirty-five
degrees below zero, the thermometers rose rapidly with a gusty
southerly wind till the temperature reached the freezing-point. This
strangely warm wind cannot have travelled far in contact with the
frozen earth, for it was being rapidly cooled. The quick changes,
with every puff of wind, suggested the advisability of trying what
the temperature was in the air overhead, and it was discovered that
the higher we climbed up the rigging the warmer it got. The main-top
was three degrees warmer than the deck at the same instant, and a
thermometer secured high aloft in the cross-trees actually registered
+ 36°—a temperature which can hardly be accounted for by supposing
that the wind was warmed by passing over pools of open water in
Robeson Channel or Smith’s Sound.

At times, when the air was undergoing rapid changes of this sort,
it was striking to find that, by boring a hole into the ice with
an auger, it was possible to get down past zero, and reach the
temperature of yesterday or last week before coming to + 28°.3, the
steady temperature of the Polar Sea beneath.

Although such warm southerly breezes sometimes occurred, our winter
was on the whole marvellously calm. During its earlier months, the
wind was anxiously watched. Our safety depended entirely upon its
direction. A north-easterly wind might force the whole polar pack with
irresistible pressure upon our unprotected shore. Many parts of the
beach bore witness to the effects of such pressure in former seasons.
Vast blocks of ice, thousands of tons in weight, had been forced high
upon the shore, pushing up redans of mud, sand, and shells before
them. It was not pleasant to contemplate the enormous force which had
accomplished such work, and might any day repeat it. And our autumn
efforts to reach the “Discovery” gave us poor encouragement for a
march southward from a crushed or stranded ship.

Towards the end of January a pale violet light made its appearance
over the southern horizon. It was at first only noticeable at noon,
and the glow was so faint that stars shone brilliantly through it.
It heralded the returning sun, and every one watched it hopefully.
It and the increasing cold were the two staple subjects for every
conversation. Day by day the faint noon-light imperceptibly increased,
till, in the first week in February, a tender greenish glow succeeded
the violet, and for an hour at noon we could fairly call it twilight.

[Illustration: PLATE IX.—THE DAWN OF 1876. H.M.S. “ALERT” IN WINTER
QUARTERS.—p. 49.

Dawn in the latitude of Floeberg Beach is a
season rather than an hour, and the growing brightness skirts round
the whole horizon almost impartially. This is a sketch very early in
March, looking north at midnight. At the time it was made, the spirit
thermometers on the small stand, and on the tripod seen to the left of
the ship, registered -70° Fahrenheit. The outlines were made without
much difficulty, with a pencil pushed through two pairs of worsted
mitts. The colours were laid on in the warmth and candle-light between
decks, and verified by repeated trips into the cold. In regions where
wind could crush the ice together, or where open water existed to
leeward, Arctic ships have more than once been blown to sea with the
ice of their winter quarters; and, as a precautionary measure, our
ship was secured to shore by chain cables, raised at intervals on
casks to prevent them sinking into the ice.]

[Illustration: PLATE X.—THE “ALERT” IN WINTER QUARTERS, FROM AMONGST
THE BARRIER BERGS, MARCH, 1876.—p. 50.

Nowhere is it more true that “the low sun makes the colour” than
in the Arctic regions. The ice and snow, that are wearily white in
midsummer, glow with all sorts of opaline tints in the sunrise light
of March. The sketch is from amongst the floebergs to seaward of the
ship. The sides of the berg in the centre have been worn into columns
and alcoves by the surface floods of some former summer; but it has
since been forced higher on the beach, and into shallower water.
Snow-drifts fill up all the gorges and ravines amongst the bergs, and
are in some places so hardened by wind and infiltration of sea-water,
that tidal motion cracks and fissures them, especially round the
grounded bergs.]

If any part of Arctic life deserves the sentiment and romance that
have been lavished on it, it is returning daylight. However practical
and matter-of-fact a man may be, a long spell of Egyptian darkness
will make him glad to see daylight again, and he may well be excused
a little unnecessary emotion at the dawn of the pale young year.
With us the day and the year were all but the same. When daylight
was once established there was no more real night, though the sun
made thirty-seven more and more shallow dips below the horizon before
rising spirally through the heavens in perpetual day. Winter was our
night, and the morning and the evening were spring and autumn. As
February advanced, we began to have light enough to walk about on
shore. Up to this time we had laboured under two disadvantages that
had not oppressed our predecessors—namely, the extra noon darkness and
the softness of the snow. Both together rendered it utterly impossible
to indulge in exercise except along the well-trodden half-mile, with
empty meat tins for guide posts, or backwards and forwards to the
shore along the track of the sledges carrying stores to and from
“Markham Hall.” It was not till we were able to walk about a little
at noon that we got impatient of the darkness, and began to realise
its length and intensity. The transition from darkness to daylight was
like recovery from a long and somewhat delirious illness.

As the light increased, the sky displayed all the colours of the
rainbow, from rosy red at the horizon to cold violet overhead, and the
ice, borrowing the spectrum sky tints, assumed hues of indescribable
delicacy and beauty. A few hundred yards ahead of the ship some acres
of floe had stranded and split into bergs with narrow lanes between
them. The cliff-like walls afforded convenient sections of the ice,
where its varying saltness and its strange lines of “air dust” could
be favourably examined. Accordingly, these narrow clefts were well
explored, and in them especially the low light produced most magical
changes of opaline colour. Such effects are unsketchable. Form
there was none, but while the low light lasted the tints of the ice
vista were incredible—a brilliant transformation scene would look
commonplace and natural beside them.

Our walks were not carried very far from the ship before we discovered
that other animals had begun, like ourselves, to take advantage of the
returning daylight. Even while the darkness was at its greatest, men
carrying lanterns to and from the water-berg or the shore occasionally
noticed the little lines of curved scratches left by lemming. What the
little creatures could have been doing out on the floes we could not
understand; their tracks usually led into deep cracks and fissures
of the ice. Perhaps they found warmer quarters near the water. After
daylight one could hardly walk half-a-mile on shore without coming
across their burrows—little circular tunnels leading long distances
under the snow, either to saxifrage pastures, or to warm nests made of
grass that must have taken them a long time to collect. Sometimes we
came across them sitting near their burrows. They were about the size
of a small rat, almost tailless, and as yet in their yellowish white
winter fur. Later on, ermine tracks were met with, but they were much
less common. They were generally found pursuing lemming, but upon one
occasion it was quite plain that the ermine had followed a hare. Of
course whoever met a hare track was bound to follow it. Three hares
remained in our neighbourhood; they lived in burrows in the snow five
or six feet long; two were shot, but the third would never allow us
within rifle range.

On 29th February the sun rose, but those who climbed to Cairn Hill
to see him were disappointed. The high flat land southwards shut him
from view. On the 2nd of March, however, when we mustered as usual
by sledge crews on the floes beside the ship, bright sunlight lit up
the tops of the higher floebergs and shone on the upper parts of the
ship’s rigging. The Greenland mountains were already pink, and as the
sun approached the gap between them and Cape Rawson, half his orb was
seen for a moment by a few who climbed the rigging to look for it; the
others thought they could well wait another day after waiting so long.

The month after sunrise was a busy time for all hands, for there
was much to be done before the whole strength of the Expedition was
diverted to the sledging campaign.

Although there was broad daylight outside the ship, the work inside
had still to be done by lamp and candle-light. In one place a group
of figures might be seen surrounded by open packing-cases, carefully
weighing out sledging-rations, and dividing the daily allowances in
little bags made of fancy calico intended for theatrical purposes; in
another an officer and the captain of his sledge might be seen filling
a large gutta-percha box with the stores to be placed in depôt for his
return journey. Everywhere through the ship men were busy with needle
and thread making many small improvements in the fit of their duffle
suits or holland overalls; some were adding linen leggings to their
mocassins, others strengthening the soles with thick soft leather cut
from the top of their fishermen’s boots. The general sledging outfit
was of course rigorously adhered to, but each man made such small
changes in the fit of his clothes as his autumn experience suggested.

During the darkness the snow had hardened considerably; in many places
a sledge now travelled readily where it would have sunk out of sight
in the autumn, and as early as the 28th February an exercise party
travelling with a dog-sledge to the south reached in a few hours the
spot from which our autumn sledges had returned baffled after a ten
days’ struggle towards the “Discovery.”

But the snow was not hardened everywhere. There were many drifts
and patches along the shore that were not easily crossed except
on snow-shoes. With these, travelling over smooth snow was easy,
and a man could even pull along another seated on a small sledge,
faster than a third could wade beside them. No Arctic expedition had
hitherto used snow-shoes, though the Germans three hundred miles
south of us on the east coast of Greenland had found it necessary
to extemporise rough substitutes during the winter. Some of our men
made two excellent copies of a well-worn pair presented by Dr. Rae
to one of our officers. These were at times most useful, but much of
our travelling was over snow and ice so rugged that no one, however
expert, would have attempted snow-shoeing.

Constant preparation for the sledging soon superseded the winter
evening routine. School was suspended, and the theatrical season
closed on 24th February with a very successful burlesque written by
our chaplain. On the following Thursday the weekly lectures were
concluded by an address from the captain on the sledging work we were
about to undertake, and on the prospects that lay before us. Those
prospects were not promising, however we looked at them; they were
no more encouraging than when we first rounded Cape Rawson and saw
no land to the northwards. The very first elements of success were
absent, but it was still possible that the land might trend to the
north somewhere beyond Cape Joseph Henry. It was possible, too, that
sledges journeying northward over the floes might reach some land
where depôts could be left, and which might next year serve as a fresh
base for poleward sledges.

A few in the ship cherished a third hope, founded on the character of
our ice. It seemed not unlikely that if sledges could penetrate that
zone of the floating ice-cap which had been fractured year after year
by contact with the shores, they might reach a broad mass of almost
continental ice rounded into hills and valleys by ages of summers, but
not offering insuperable obstacles to poleward travel.

If the floes had not been in rapid motion all the autumn, and if Sir
Leopold M’Clintock’s method of pushing forward sledges on depôts
deposited in the autumn could have been applied to the polar pack, we
might start from the land with fair hopes of practical success. But,
as it was, our sledges would have to leave shore carrying _all_ their
fuel and provisions, and therefore greatly limited in point of time,
for no men can drag more than between forty and fifty days’ provisions
and fuel, together with tent, bedding, cooking-gear, and sledge. The
system of supporting sledges was still applicable. By it additional
sledges would fall back from the main party when say one-third of
their provisions were expended, retaining a third to return on, and
filling up the advancing sledges with the remainder.

We were by no means certain that the motion of the floes would not
even now prove a serious obstacle. Even as late as January they were
heard roaring and crushing in the darkness to seaward, and their
pressure forced our protecting floeberg somewhat shoreward, cracking
and buckling up the floes, and heeling the ship over four degrees.
For months, however, little sign of motion had been apparent except
at tidal periods, when it sometimes came with curious suddenness,
as if the tide wave had all at once overcome the resistance of the
ice that bound it. For example, the morning of the 12th of March was
beautifully calm and still, and few but those whose special duty it
was knew that a high tide was due that day. I was engaged picking out
some stones grooved and scratched by ice-motion from an overturned
“floeberg” not far from the ship, when suddenly a curious faint sound
came from the north-west, at first a dull, indistinct hum, but in a
moment it grew nearer and louder, like the rush of a railway train.
Then, as it swept down along the beach, the ice cracked visibly in
every direction with a sharp rattle like musketry, and a loud rush of
water under the floes came so suddenly and unexpectedly that I ran to
the top of the berg with a vague idea that the ice was breaking up.
But in a moment the tide wave had passed off to the south-west, and
all was still again.

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