There were no joyful demonstrations when the “Alert” steamed across
Discovery Harbour and anchored beside her consort. Congratulations
were misplaced in the face of the news which had reached us while we
yet lay imprisoned at Shift Rudder Bay—news so serious that we could
think or speak of little else. The last of the “Discovery’s” sledge
parties had not returned.

Leaving their ship on the 6th of April, 1876, and re-provisioning
their sledges from the “Alert” on the 20th, her parties had crossed
over Robeson Channel to the south-eastward, and reached the Greenland
coast at a point twelve miles north of the spot where Hall’s cairn and
record marked the most northern position attained by the sledges of
the American Expedition. The “Discovery’s” crews may therefore be said
to have begun their sledging where their gallant predecessors left
off. The shore led to the north-east, and was piled with ice. Their
path lay along banks of drifted snow, so steep that it was necessary
to dig a groove for the landward runner of the sledge, to prevent it
slipping down into the trenches and moats cut by the wind round the
piles of sea-ice. These trenches were sometimes forty feet deep. When
they were thirty-four days out from their ship, they arrived at the
end of the continuous land, and here their last supporting sledge
turned back, and left Lieutenant Beaumont’s sledge, the “Sir Edward
Parry,” to proceed alone. Islands with steep cliffs lay before them,
separated by broad fiords. Looked at from the cliffs above them, the
fiords promised good travelling, for inside the line of heavy polar
floes their surface was one level sheet of snow. But, unfortunately,
the treacherous snow was soft. Sledge and men sank deep at every step.
Pulling out each foot was like pulling off a boot, and sometimes the
men preferred to creep on hands and knees rather than attempt to walk.
Their ankles swelled and knees became stiff. Not a vestige of game of
any sort cheered their journey. On their forty-fifth day out they had
crossed the third and broadest of the fiords, and their waning stock
of provisions warned them to return. For many days fog and constant
snow closed in their prospect, but from a mountain nearly four
thousand feet high they got a view of Cape Britannia and the islands
about it far to the north-east, nearly in north latitude 83°.

The disorder which had weakened us, did not spare them. On their
outward journey James Hand had been taken ill, and sent back with the
supporting sledge. Poor fellow! he only lived to reach Polaris Bay.
On the twelfth day of the homeward march a seaman named Paul fell
helpless in the snow, and had to be carried on the sledge. Four days
afterwards another took the place beside him. Soon every day added to
the number of the sick, and when the party was yet forty miles from
the depôt at Polaris Bay, but two, one of whom was the officer, were
left to pull the others on, one by one. The advance of the season
increased the misery of their position. Thawing snow fell constantly
and soaked their clothes, a storm blew down their tent, and they could
only spread the canvas over their sick sledge-mates and crouch under
the edge, wet through and sleepless, for days at a time. At this
stage, most opportune and unexpected relief reached them.

The auxiliary and Petermann Fiord parties camped at Polaris Bay
fortunately divined their condition, and two officers, with Hans the
Eskimo, took a dog-sledge northward to meet them. With this aid the
invalids were soon carried into camp, but help came too late for
one of them; a few hours after reaching camp, Charles Paul was laid
beside his messmate, not far from the grave of Captain Hall of the
“Polaris.” The tents were pitched near a small wooden hut left by the
Americans. Its roof had been disturbed by the wind, but the stores
of ham, molasses, lime-juice, biscuit, and pemmican packed inside
were serviceable, in spite of the five years they had lain there. A
mattress found there made a luxurious bed for one of the invalids, and
the members of the little colony made themselves as comfortable as
circumstances would permit, while they waited for the sick to recover
sufficiently to travel across to their ship, Hans meantime keeping
them well supplied with seal meat. The dog-sledge carried news of
their state across, and the assistance which arrived soon afterwards
enabled a first detachment to leave on 29th July and reach the
“Discovery” without difficulty.

The party remaining behind consisted of Lieutenant Beaumont, Dr.
Coppinger, and seven men. The invalids amongst them were rapidly
gaining strength; another week, if the floes would only last so long,
would leave them strong enough to attempt the march, and it was
arranged that they would push across the pack on the 4th of August at
the latest.

This was the last that was known of the party.

It was nine in the evening of the 11th when the “Alert” steamed into
Discovery Harbour, and up to that date nothing had been seen of
the missing men. The recent storms and the break-up of the ice had
made an awful change in their prospects. The floes, scored with the
sledge-tracks of twenty-one journeys, had moved off to the south, and
a tumbling, heaving mass of polar pack now filled the strait from
shore to shore.

Look-out parties had already been despatched to the mountain-tops
overlooking the strait, and we anxiously watched for the flag that
would announce the discovery of the sledge-crews. With a vivid
recollection of the Robeson Channel drift before us, we could not
calmly contemplate the possibility that they had already started and
been swept off south in the breaking-up pack. In such a case sudden
destruction would be a merciful fate. There was still hope that they
had not yet left the shore, and that if one of the ships could be
forced across they might be rescued. Accordingly the “Alert” was got
ready. Such of her men as were not yet strong enough for the roughest
work were transferred to the “Discovery,” none but working hands were
kept on board, and all our little valuables—journals, specimens, and
so forth—were handed over to safe keeping.

On the night of the 12th and morning of the 13th the attempt was made,
but the full steam power of the ship was utterly helpless against the
ponderous ice. It was simply impossible to bore even one half-mile
into a pack of such proportions, and we were obliged to turn back and
wait for a chance opening. Some hours before we made this attempt,
a messenger had come down the hill with a report that the two tents
had been made out with the telescope still pitched on the shore of
Thank God Harbour, Polaris Bay. The signalman even thought he could
distinguish figures passing to and fro between them, but the wish was
father to the thought: we afterwards learnt that neither tents nor men
were there; the party had really left that shore five days earlier,
and embarked on the most extraordinary journey of this, or indeed of
any other expedition.

They had made every preparation to leave on Friday, 4th August, but
when that day came, the weather suddenly changed, and storms of snow
and wind made travelling impossible. It blew hard all that night, and
Saturday morning brought no change; everything beyond a few yards from
the tents was hidden in drifting mists of fog and snow. Thus for four
days they lay weatherbound. At length, on the morning of the 8th, the
sun shone through the clouds, and the wind lessened, till towards
evening it fell quite calm. But as the fog and mist cleared away and
let them see farther and farther across the channel, they saw that all
was changed. Miles of water spread between them and the white line of
pack that lay under the edge of the fog.

This was well, for water is easier to travel over than ice. Their
boat was soon launched and packed with necessary stores, and by tying
empty spirit tins to the sledge they converted it into a raft and
towed it behind. They had to be very careful, for the gunwale of
their heavily-laden boat was only three inches out of water. Fortune
favoured them, several good leads of open water were found amongst the
floes, and by half-past two o’clock next afternoon they had pulled
their boat and sledge through water-spaces and over floes to within
ten miles of the opposite shore, then, tired with the long journey,
and well satisfied with the progress made, they camped on a broad
piece of old floe. The men were soon in their bags and asleep, but
their leader had noticed a slight change in the appearance of the
coast, and an unpleasant suspicion kept him wakeful. Once and again
he crept out of the tent to have another look at the familiar bays
and headlands. There was soon no doubt about it, the outline _was_
changed, and they were further off. While they slept, the floe was
fast carrying them back the way they had come. They must instantly
start again, and by hard marching make up for the loss. They were
soon under way, and all night toiled on over one floe after another,
through pools and lanes of water, across spaces of broken rubble,
and pasty bottomless sloughs of neither ice nor water. For fourteen
hours they held out, then the men could do no more, rest and food were
absolute necessities, but, on camping, they found to their dismay
that the drift had been faster than their march, and they were four
miles further off than when they started. Eleven hours slipped by in
sorely needed but sorely begrudged rest, and when they next started
the full danger of their situation was plain to all. They could no
longer see into Lady Franklin Sound. The headlands of Cape Lieber had
already hidden Miller Island, and were fast closing past Discovery
Bay and Bellot Island. They were gliding helplessly into Kennedy
Channel, and their provisions were already far spent. On holding a
short consultation, it was resolved to relinquish any attempt to
outmarch the drift of the pack, and that the only chance of safety lay
in making a push across the drift for the nearest point of land, and
never stopping till they reached it.

It was eight in the evening when they once more moved forward on this
final effort, and for nine hours they made fair progress, but then a
change came, a strong wind sprang up against them and hurried the pack
still faster away from shore. Presently the floes, forced by both wind
and tide, began to move with alarming violence, wheeling and turning
in a most perplexing way, so that the men over and over again crossed
their own track. They were now sixteen hours on the march, and every
hour the land looked more distant, but they still fought on, with
every thought concentrated on hurrying on at full speed. If they had
stopped to consider it, there was not at this time the faintest human
possibility of reaching the land against the ice-drift. But their
misfortunes had reached a climax; at one in the afternoon of the 11th
the wind veered to the opposite direction, and came on to blow hard.
The wheeling and tossing of the floes greatly increased, but the fatal
drift was checked. Providence had given them this chance, and they
one and all determined to make the most of it, so, redoubling every
effort, they pushed on for the land. Some fell asleep as they pulled
in the drag-belts, and when they reached the edge of the pack and
launched their boat, others slept at the oars. But finally, at seven
in the morning of the 12th of August, land was reached, and they flung
themselves down on the beach at Cape Lieber after an unprecedented
march of thirty-two consecutive hours. When they had rested at this
point, they had but to cross Lady Franklin Strait to reach the ships.
The distance was about twelve miles, and the floes comparatively
stationary. One march brought them more than half-way over, and just
as they began the second, shouts and cheers coming to them across the
ice heralded the arrival of a strong party from the “Alert.” They had
been seen by our look-outs, and were all soon on board, and never were
guests more welcome. Next day, 15th August, they reached their own
ship, after an absence of no less than 130 days.

Both ships were now free to voyage southward as soon as the ice would
let them leave Discovery Harbour. Bellot Island formed a sort of
natural breakwater, and kept the floes outside, so that the bay all
round the ships was often almost clear of ice, but beyond the island
the pack showed little disposition to let us through. In Lady Franklin
Strait, promising-looking lines of water wound amongst the floes in
many directions, but they were only ⏟ shaped cracks thawed wide at
the surface, and mere fissures six or eight feet under water. Looked
down on from the cliffs of the island, they marbled the white floes
with veins of green, very different from the inky blackness of real
leads. But that the rapid approach of winter made escape less likely
every day, we were well content to wait our opportunity, for there
were many places in the neighbourhood of the “Discovery’s” winter
quarters that we of the “Alert” were anxious to see. First amongst
these was the coal seam discovered by her naturalist, Mr. Hart. This
was only about four miles off amongst the hills to the north, but,
unfortunately, in such an inaccessible position that little more than
a few pounds weight of the fuel could be brought down to the ship.
Coal so far north was such a curiosity, and the fossils found near it
told such a strange story, that everyone wanted specimens, and there
was no difficulty in getting up a strong party to visit the “mine.” So
one morning a large boat-load of eager geologists, armed with picks
and hammers, crossed the mouth of the harbour. Like the “breakwater”
of Bellot Island, the spot where we landed bore traces of a visit from
Eskimo at some very far-off time. A collection of stones marked by
fire, splinters of burnt drift-wood and fragments of bones broken to
get the marrow out, told plainly of some wandering hunter’s camp-fire.
Half-a-mile further on, one of our party picked up a fragment of a
human thigh-bone, brown and weather-worn and gnawed by foxes. Strange
to say, we could not find any other part of the skeleton.

Striking inland, we passed through a number of valleys with steep
rocky walls and a flat floor between, like railway-cuttings on a large
scale, and at length reached a little stream winding eastward towards
the channel. Following it down a short distance, we found it entering
a gorge, with mountains a thousand feet high on either side. Soon the
only way to advance was by wading amongst the boulders in the bed of
the stream, with overhanging walls of black rock on either side, so
close that we could almost touch both with outspread hands. No wonder
the “Discovery’s” autumn sledge-crews had found this a rough road.
Finally, the ravine ended in a very unexpected manner. A vast bank of
snow and ice sloped across from mountain to mountain, and the stream
disappeared under it and into an icy cave. We followed the stream,
and found ourselves in Chatel’s Grotto, so called after a blue-jacket
in the autumn sledge-party that had pronounced it a most comfortable
camping-place. The roof was of white ice, streaked with veins of
sand, and groined into all sorts of fantastic shapes. An opening
overhead let in some rays of light through festoons of icicles as
thick as a man’s body. On either side curious sloping shelves of ice
projected out over the stream. It was decidedly a picturesque spot,
and if the water in which we stood had not been so intensely cold, we
might have taken longer time over our sketch. Here we were close to
the coal-seam, but the worst part of the road was yet to come. The
stream passed out of the far end of the grotto through a dark tunnel,
so low that we had to stoop to avoid knocking our heads against the
ice of the roof, and so dark that we were obliged to feel our way
along by the sides, stumbling and floundering amongst the pools and
boulders. Presently, however, light shone through at the other end,
and we emerged into a continuation of the gorge. A bend of the stream
brought us to the spot we sought. Right and left rose two great
mountain slopes, with the rivulet running between them. The lower
twenty or thirty feet of the right bank was a perpendicular wall of
coal, streaked with yellow sulphurous lines. The surface had become
brittle by exposure to the weather, but a few blows of a pick revealed
a depth of shining black fuel, to all appearance as good as any we had
on board.

[Illustration: CHATEL’S GROTTO.]

Everyone was differently impressed by the great store of mineral
wealth that lay before us. “What a pity we cannot get up a company and
issue shares!” said one. “How comfortably we might winter alongside
of this!” thought another; and a third, making a free use of the
scientific imagination, pictured to himself the conditions which
must have existed when this coal was waving forest, and wondered how
the trees managed to live through the long darkness of winter. That
they did live and flourish on this spot there was abundant proof.
Mere drift-wood has before now been mistaken for evidence of Arctic
vegetation, but here there could be no such error. It was only
necessary to cross the stream a little lower down, and split open the
soft, dark slates of the opposite cliff, to find the leaves of ancient
forests as perfect as when they fluttered down from the stems that
bore them. The commonest were those of a cone-bearing tree allied to
the great Wellingtonias of Western America, but leaves like aspen
and poplar were not unfrequent. How different the climate must have
been when these trees grew! Now, there is no forest within a thousand
miles, and in the whole land the nearest approach to a tree is the
dwarf willow, not three inches high, sheltering its tiny stem in the
crevices amongst the stones.

Though the discovery of this coal-bed was most important in a
scientific point of view, it was of no practical use to us. If any
other expedition ever passes through Smith’s Sound, we may be sure it
will not be forgotten. There it remains, an inexhaustible reservoir of
force, ready for anyone who can invent a new method of travelling to
the Pole.

While our two ships lay waiting for a chance of escape from Discovery
Bay, we began to be impressed with the fact that it was one thing to
decide on the return of an expedition from a point so far north, and
quite another to accomplish it without a second winter. Even yet the
ships were farther north than any of their predecessors had wintered.
Where many a good ship had failed, ours might not succeed. We were yet
one hundred and ninety miles north of where Kane was at last compelled
to abandon his ship. The “Polaris,” a steamer at least as well fitted
for ice-work as either of our ships, left her ribs and timbers more
than two hundred miles to the south. British expeditions entangled in
the ice of the Parry Group had more than latitude to contend with,
but the “Resolute” was abandoned 280, the “Investigator” 450, and
the “Erebus” and “Terror” 700 miles to the south of our position.
The strong set through Smith’s Sound was greatly in our favour, but
nevertheless two hundred miles of ice-choked channel lay between us
and the head of Baffin’s Sea, and beyond it Melville Bay would still
separate us from the most northern Danish settlement. Young ice was
already forming where the floes were still, and a little more delay
would compel us to pass an objectless, inactive winter where we were,
and trust to next year for a better chance of return. No one in either
of our ships had at this time a doubt of our success, but nevertheless
such considerations had their weight. There was accordingly a general
feeling of relief on board when, on the evening of 18th August, the
officer of the watch reported that Captain Nares, who had as usual
climbed to the top of the island, was holding out both his arms as
a signal to get up steam in both boilers. The gate of pack to the
southward showed some signs of opening, and we might get through by
pushing amongst the broken ice between the floes. But the inertia of
the fragments was too much for the ships even charging at full speed,
and we were forced back to the shelter of the island with the second
rudder badly damaged.

DISTANCE, AUGUST 20, 1876.—p. 81.

As the ships returned southward, they steamed through a large
“polynia,” or water-space, in Kennedy Channel. It was on a still
night, late in August, and the ice-locked sea was calm enough to be
the veritable “Peace Pool.” A few last fragments of polar floe lay
here and there in the water, strangely reflected, and a dovekie swam
beside one of them. Far away to the east, between Franklin and Crozier
Islands, Cape Constitution rose above a faint line of pack. It was
Kane’s farthest point. From its base, Morton, looking on another such
polynia, had naturally enough reported an open Polar Sea. The sea was
open now as far southward as could be seen from the crow’s nest, and
yet both ships were in difficulties before morning, and a hundred
miles of Smith’s Sound pack still separated them from the North Water
and from home.]

Better fortune awaited the next effort, and on the morning of the
20th the ships fought slowly across Lady Franklin Strait. Cape Baird
and Cape Leiber were passed in comparatively open water, then the ice
became less and less, and as midnight approached we were astonished to
find ourselves nearly sixty miles on the homeward journey, and still
steaming full speed. The scene we passed through just at this time
was one not easily forgotten. Under the cold yellow light of northern
afterglow, Kennedy Channel lay open as far as we could see, a sheet of
mirror-like water in that absolute calm peculiar to ice-locked seas.
There was some low mist at the other side of the channel, probably
floating over pack; through it we could distinguish the islands named
after Franklin and Crozier, and between them rose Cape Constitution,
the bold headland from which Morton had looked upon Kane’s open Polar
Sea (Plate No. 16). As we stood on deck attempting to preserve some
record of the tender tints of sea and sky in water-colour, a last
fragment of heavy pack floated by, and the only dovekie we had seen
for many a day swam beside it.

“Open water as far as the eye can reach” really means nothing more
than that there are no ice-fields within three or four miles, and yet
on that limited fact alone voyagers have more than once reported that
they might have sailed to the Pole or near it. The open sea off Cape
Constitution was a mere pool. Before morning both ships were arrested
in dense pack, and forced to retreat for shelter to a narrow inlet
with steep shelving sides. We were just moored to some pieces of
grounded ice, and were congratulating ourselves on the security of our
refuge, when a fragment of drifting floe caught against the “Alert”
and pushed her on shore under a steep ice-foot at the very top of high
tide. As the water fell, her bows were left high and dry on the beach,
so that a man might have crept under the front of her keel, and she
fell over so much on her side that a total capsize down the sloping
beach seemed not impossible; but when the tide rose again she righted,
and the whole crew, straining vigorously on the capstan, dragged her
off from her perilous position.

From this point southward to the entrance of Smith’s Sound the return
of the Expedition was one monotonous struggle with the ice. Day
after day the ships pushed onward between the floes and the shore in
whatever openings the changing tide made for them, sheltering behind
every projection of the coast. In the far north there are very few,
if any, true icebergs, but opposite the Humboldt Glacier we again
encountered them, and often found a refuge from the pack amongst
groups grounded near shore.

Our progress southward was a race against rapidly approaching winter.
Snow fell in large quantities, and lay in thick paste on the water in
cracks and pools. One by one the headlands passed on our northward
voyage were rounded, and day by day new ice grew thicker and our stock
of fuel dwindled. There several attempts were made to force a way past
Cape Hawkes, and when we did succeed, the bay beyond was found full of
new ice, so thick that the whole power of our engines could not push
through. It cracked here and there before the ships, but soon brought
both to a standstill, and the order was given to put out the fires.

The bay in which we thus found ourselves arrested was afterwards
called after Professor Allman. It is an indent in the western
coast-line of Kane’s Sea, immediately north of Hayes Sound. It is five
miles wide, and at its head we could see a large glacier pouring in
two streams round a snow-covered hill, and fronting the bay in a line
of icy cliff. Snow lay deep on the mountains on either side, and it
still snowed constantly; decks and rigging were covered; a more wintry
prospect could hardly be conceived. It was already beginning to grow
dark in the evenings, and lamps and candles were again in use between
decks. But for a certain disappointment in being checked when we had
made up our minds to return, few on board our ships were unwilling
to face another winter. Here, two hundred miles further south, it
would be a very different affair from the last. Release from the ice
next season could be looked forward to as a certainty, and even with
a stock of coal lessened by the exigencies of a second winter it
would still be possible to escape from Smith’s Sound. If the ships
could be got into shelter near the deserted Eskimo hunting-grounds of
Norman Lockyer Island, we should probably get plenty of game. Almost
all our invalids were again in good health, and when spring came the
smooth floes would make the exploration of Hayes’ Sound a pleasure
trip. Moreover, if a second winter was unavoidable, there was another
reason—a somewhat ignoble one perhaps—why it would not be unwelcome.
The advance of pay liberally granted by the Admiralty before sailing
was not yet defrayed, and if we reached England this year almost all
the men would still be in debt to the Crown, and sailors naturally
prefer to land with a little money in their pockets.

[Illustration: ALLMAN BAY.]

We were not fated, however, to spend another season in the ice. Some
motion in the floes occurred on 6th September, and the opportunity was
not let slip. The remains of the coal were once more drawn upon to
light the engine fires, and the ships were soon pushing through the
thin floe towards some water-spaces near Norman Lockyer Island. The
“Discovery” led the way, for the shape of her bow enabled her to glide
up on the ice till her weight broke down through it, and she thus
advanced with a sort of pitching movement.

Next day the whole south was dark with storm clouds. If the wind came,
it would soon clear the channel. It did come, but only as a gentle
breeze; its work was done before it reached us, and the gateway of
Smith’s Sound lay open. The swell coming from the south told of a long
stretch of open water. Our leader might at last come down from his
post in the “crow’s nest,” his almost sleepless vigil was over, for
his two ships were once more safe in the “North Water.”

As it grew dark on the night of the 9th September, Cape Isabella, at
the western side of the entrance of Smith’s Sound, came into view.
We knew that this was one of the points where letters might perhaps
have been deposited for us, and the ships were hove-to under the wild,
steep rocks, while a boat was called away to search the depôt. It soon
left the ship, and disappeared in the dusk. Fearing disappointment, we
tried to persuade ourselves that there was really very little chance
of letters being left at this particular spot. After a while the boat
reappeared. We could scarcely dare to hope, but in a few minutes
bundles of letters and newspapers were being eagerly distributed. The
gallant little “Pandora” had been working hard for us, and Captain
Allen Young had thoroughly carried out the kindly service volunteered
by him.

With news but four months old on board, and only Melville Bay and
the Atlantic between us and home, we felt that the Expedition was
practically concluded. Melville Bay had been so rarely visited at this
late season of the year that hardly anything was known about it. To
our surprise we found it altogether free from pack-ice, a rolling sea
of comparatively warm water, very green in colour, and swarming with
microscopic animal life.

Our coal at last came to an end, and for fourteen days strong
head-winds baffled us; day after day the two ships beat about in fog
and storm, through fleets of icebergs that would have made us very
uncomfortable if we had not learnt implicit confidence in our officers
of the watches. Finally the weather moderated, and we reached Disco
on 25th September. Every Eskimo that came on board looked like an old
friend. We were most kindly received by all the inhabitants, from the
Danish Inspector, who shared his small stock of coal with us, to the
young urchins that kept us supplied with delicious fresh fish. Poor
people! they were more in need of help from us than we were from them.
The season had been a bad one, and scurvy was very prevalent both
at Disco and Egedesminde. Even the little children looked miserably
withered and weak, and we were glad to have some little remains of our
mess stock to serve out amongst them.

At Disco we bade good-bye to our two trusty dog-drivers, Hans and
Fred, and on 2nd October the Expedition set sail for England. The
voyage home was one succession of gales; the Flying Dutchman himself
could hardly have experienced worse weather. The ships soon lost
sight of each other, and to complicate matters the “Alert’s” rudder,
which had never been strong since its last crush in the ice, gave
way completely, and left her to make for the nearest port as best
she could. On the 27th October she reached Valentia, and two days
afterwards her consort, the “Discovery,” anchored in Bantry Bay.