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A Winter In The Frozen Ocean

One stormy winter's evening, in the year 1579, Gerhard de Ver was
sitting in the warm and cheerful parlor of his plain but comfortable
dwelling, in the city of Amsterdam. He was a pleasant, good-natured
man, but evidently weak, and suffering from hardships recently
undergone. As he sat before the fire, in his easy chair, his eye
rested, with evident satisfaction, on a group of young sailors, who
were accustomed to visit him, both to show the sympathy they felt for
the sufferings he had undergone in the service of his native land, and
to gain information from his rich store of experience. After a lively
conversation, in which they had now and then, to their no little joy,
succeeded in bringing a smile to the care-worn face of their patron,
they began to converse together in a low tone of voice, and to show by
their manner that they were about to prefer a very unusual request.

"Father Gerhard," at last began one of the party, "you are well aware
that nothing would give us greater pleasure than the restoration of
your health, and that with you we are impatiently waiting for the
moment when you shall be able to leave your room again, but we know
well enough that when that moment arrives, the irresistible desire of
being useful to your native land, will drive you to distant parts of
the earth, and separate us for a long time again; do not, therefore,
consider it indiscreet if we now remind you of a promise formerly made
to us, and beg you to relate the history of your last voyage to the
Frozen Ocean, which must certainly be as astonishing as instructive;
indeed, the reports which circulate among the neighbors concerning it,
are so incredible that we find it almost impossible to believe them,
without having them confirmed by yourself."

"Truly," replied Gerhard, "you could have chosen no more appropriate
time to remind me of my promise than this evening. The storm, which
now sweeps through the street, and drives the snow against the
windows, brings most vividly to my recollection the wretched hut in
which I and my unhappy companions, of whom few ever saw their homes
again, passed the most miserable portion of our lives, tormented by
hunger and sickness, and in continual dread of the fierce and ravenous
polar bears; shut up in that distant part of the world, where the
winter lasts for eight months, and there is unbroken night from the
beginning of November to the end of January; where the cold is so
intense that it is impossible, even when wrapped up in thick furs, to
remain in the open air for any length of time; where the breath is
changed to rime; where one's hands, nose, and ears, freeze if exposed
to the air for a moment; where brandy is quickly congealed, and
quicksilver becomes hard enough to be struck with a hammer."

"You have roused our curiosity so," remarked the young man, when
Gerhard, who had betrayed considerable warmth of manner, suddenly
ceased speaking, "that it will really be an act of kindness to satisfy
it; therefore, pray commence, at least this evening, a recital of your
adventures, but steer your course so as not to fatigue yourself too
much; sail along gently, for a day's journey, more or less you know,
is of little consequence. But heave the anchor, Father Gerhard, if it
please you."

"In God's name then," said Gerhard, and commenced as follows:

"You all know the difficulties and dangers of a voyage to the East
Indies, but you do not know what wealth may be gained by a commercial
intercourse with those distant regions, or that, as is very natural,
men for a long time have had their attention turned to the discovery
of a nearer route than any one at present known of. At first, repeated
attempts were made to find out a strait which, as many still believe,
divides the continent of America, but as the voyagers met with no
success whatever, their attention was drawn to the Arctic Ocean, which
washes the northern coasts of Asia and Europe. The enterprising
merchants who had been engaged in former expeditions, now resolved to
send one to that part of the world which though so near to them was so
little known. It is true that a small squadron which was sent out for
the purpose, and with which I sailed, failed in reaching its
destination, owing to the advanced state of the season, but it was
found that the northern coast of the continent ran off in a
southeasternly direction, and great hopes were entertained that an
expedition sent out at a more favourable season, would be attended
with the happiest results. Although many who had engaged in
enterprises like these, had lost both money and courage, yet, induced
by the accounts which we brought home, and by my advice, the city of
Amsterdam resolved to make another and final attempt. It fitted out at
its own expense, a couple of vessels, and having provided them with
all things necessary, entrusted them to the care of myself and three
others, viz: Jacob Heemskerk, John Cornelius Ryp, and William

"On the 10th of May, 1569, we left Amsterdam, accompanied by the good
wishes of the whole town, and as a favourable wind filled our sails,
we made our way so rapidly towards the north, that by the 5th of June,
we encountered vast floes of ice, which covered the sea as far as the
eye could reach. Four days later, we discovered land, which was not
noted down on the chart; it proved to be an island some four miles
long, and evidently hitherto unknown. Some of the men took one of the
boats and went ashore; they found many gull's eggs, and had a narrow
escape from losing their lives. They ascended a hill of snow which was
as solid as a block of marble, but in attempting to descend, they
found themselves obliged to slide to the bottom, and were in imminent
danger of being hurled upon the sharp rocks by which it was
surrounded; happily, they received no injury. The next day we had a
hard struggle with a polar bear, for dangerous as these creatures
were, we always felt desirous of attacking them, and we now undertook
to take one alive. Accordingly, seeing a big fellow not far from us,
we took a boat, and set out with the intention of capturing him, by
throwing a noose over his head, but when we came near to him we did
not dare to attack him, on account of the ferocity he exhibited, but
returned for more men, muskets, and pikes. Ryp's people were coming to
our aid; we went after him again, but we were obliged to fight for
more than four hours, as our shots did him very little harm. After
having received a blow in the back with a hatchet, which was wielded
by such a strong arm that it remained sticking in him, he attempted to
swim off, but a cut on the head finished him. We took the carcase on
board Ryp's vessel, and stripped off the hide, which measured twelve
feet in length. The flesh we cooked, and some of us liked it as well
as beef. In consequence of this adventure we named the island 'Bear's

"After remaining here for a few days, we continued our journey towards
the north, and after sailing for ten days, through a sea blocked up
with masses of ice, we arrived at a coast which ran off in an easterly
direction, where we determined to cast anchor. We imagined it to be a
part of Greenland, and as it was formed of sharp pointed hills, we
gave it the name of 'Spitzbergen,' (pointed mountains.) We were not a
little surprised to find an active vegetation existing in this high
latitude, and went on shore to gather sorrel and scurvy grass, which
are excellent preventatives against the scurvy, a disease which, as
you know, breaks out with great violence on board of vessels going so
far north, and is occasioned by a want of fresh meat. We saw also a
great many bears, foxes, and reindeers, and also immense flocks of
wild geese, which we drove from their nests in order to procure their
eggs, which we found excellent.

"As the wind remained unfavorable, and the masses of ice continued
to press closer together, we were obliged to give up our plan of
reaching the most northern point of Spitzbergen, and then sailing
towards the east, and return to Bear's Island. The two captains now
differed in their opinion as to the best course to be pursued; Ryp
persisted that if we were to keep on towards the north, we would
without doubt, reach an open sea, while Barents thought we were
already too far north; so it was finally determined that each
should go his own way. Accordingly, on the 1st of July, the two
vessels parted company, Ryp sailing for Spitzbergen, whilst we
steered towards the south coast. From this moment commenced all the
suffering and danger, which we experienced on our adventurous


"After having with great difficulty and danger, worked our way between
huge blocks of ice, for two weeks, we at last, on the 16th of July, at
noon, came in sight of Nova Zembla, a spot very frequently visited by
whalers, and steered our course along the western shore, as our object
was to sail round the island, in order to make our way towards the
east. But although it was now the middle of summer, we were much
impeded by floating masses of ice, which covered the sea in every
direction, as far as the eye could reach, and obliged us to wait until
an opening offered, through which we might sail. We arrived at last at
an island which from the number of crosses the whalers have there set
up, is called the "Isle of Crosses." Here we anchored to take in a
supply of fresh water. Heemskerk took one of the boats and went
ashore to visit the crosses. I accompanied him, and we were walking
along, not dreaming of danger, when suddenly we came upon a couple of
bears, who were hid near by. As we were totally unprovided with
weapons, we were not a little alarmed at the sight. The bears, as is
customary with these animals, raised themselves on their hind legs, to
find out what was going on, as they can smell further than they can
see. As soon as they became aware of our presence, they came running
towards us. Our hair now actually stood on end at the frightful danger
we ran, and we started off for our boats as fast as we could go. But
Heemskerk, who had far more presence of mind and courage, stood still,
and swore that he would put a boat hook he held in his hand, into the
first man who attempted to fly. 'If we run away one by one in this
way,' cried he, 'some of us will most assuredly be torn to pieces, but
if we stand still and raise a shrill cry all together, the bears will
be frightened and retreat.' We followed his advice, and it turned out
exactly as he predicted, so that whilst the bears stood stupified, we
regained our boat. This shows how good a thing presence of mind is;
fear always rushes into danger sooner than courage.

"After much suffering and danger, we at last reached the northern
extremity of the island, and began to double it. Some of the men, who
had been sent on shore to ascend a mountain, and report what was
visible from it, surprised us with the joyful information that they
believed the sea to be free from ice towards the east. But, alas, the
next day showed how much they had been deceived; we had not sailed
but a few miles further, when we encountered a huge bank of ice, which
rendered further progress in that direction impossible. As the snow
storm every hour raged more fiercely, and the cold grew more intense,
we determined to retrace our course along the eastern shore, in order
to reach the continent, there in some secure harbor to wait for more
favorable weather. But we had only gone a short distance in this
direction, when the ice closed in all around us, and on the
twenty-sixth of August we remained firmly fixed in it. All our
endeavors to float our vessel again, were in vain, and we very nearly
lost three of our best men in the attempt; the ice on which they were
standing suddenly gave way, but fortunately they were near the vessel,
and very active, so they seized hold of the ropes which hung down from
the yards, and clambered on board. It was an anxious moment for all
parties, for they would most assuredly have been driven away with the
ice and lost, had they not been saved by the aid of God, and their own

"The ice was often in motion, but did not break up; but masses of it
piled themselves up in all directions. In consequence of this, our
vessel was hoisted up as if by pulleys, and then thrown on its side
with such a fearful crash, that we expected every moment to see it go
to pieces. We found it necessary to bring the boat and shallop to
land, as in case of the ship's going to pieces, we depended on them
for our safety. We also stored away, under a tent hastily constructed
of sails, provisions, ammunition, and useful tools. The sea was now
covered with ice as far as the eye could reach; part of it swam about
in huge masses, whilst the rest was smooth and firm as a frozen
mill-pond. The cold was now so intense, that we found it impossible to
keep ourselves warm under the upper deck, where the kitchen was, but
were obliged to remove the stove to the hold, and were almost
smothered by the smoke in consequence.

"Some of the men, who had been sent further into the country, to
ascertain its character, brought back the welcome news that there was
a stream of excellent fresh water not far distant, and that along its
banks lay piles of drift wood. As we considered it possible, after
this discovery, to pass the winter here, we gave up the desperate plan
we had formed, of making our way back to the continent in our two
miserable boats, and commenced erecting a roomy and substantial hut.
While thus occupied, we were much troubled by the increasing cold, and
the hungry bears, who lay in wait for us in every direction. In order
to give you a correct picture of our hardships, and miserable life, I
will endeavor to relate to you the most note-worthy events as they
occurred day by day, and in this way to keep the thread of my
narrative unbroken.

"September 1st.--This day we began to build our hut, and transported
to it, on sledges, sufficient drift wood to be used for fires during
the winter, which we piled up in convenient places. Whilst part of the
men were occupied in this arduous task, the rest remained on board the
vessel to prepare the meals, and keep a watch for the safety of those
on shore. One day we received a visit from three huge bears; two of
them came towards the ship, but the third remained hidden behind a
piece of ice. It happened that a tub of salt meat, which we intended
to soak in fresh water, was standing on the shore; one of the bears
ran up to it, and putting his muzzle in, was about to help himself to
a piece, when a shot struck him in the head so cleverly that he fell
dead without a groan. It was curious to see how the second bear stood
gazing at his motionless companion, with a stupified look, and then
walked round him, trying to discover what was the matter with him.
When he found that he could make nothing of him, he left him, and went
away. But we had no idea of trusting the fellow, and as we wished to
go ashore, we armed ourselves with muskets and pikes, in case he
should come back, which he pretty soon did. He raised himself on his
hind legs, in a threatening manner, but one of us shot him in the
stomach, which caused him to sink down with a howl on all fours again,
and make off as fast as he could go. We now took out the entrails of
the dead bear, and placed him on his legs, in order that he might be
frozen, and so preserved until spring, when we intended to take him
home with us. Some time afterwards, one of the men was chased by a
bear, and happened to come by this spot. His pursuer was close on his
heels, but as soon as he saw his immovable companion, who was covered
with snow, his front paws alone being visible, he stopped short, and
approached him. In this way the sailor gained sufficient time to reach
the ship, and alarm us with the cry of 'a bear! a bear!' We hastened
on deck, but not one of us could see, so much had our eyes suffered
with the thick smoke in which we had been obliged to remain during
the bad weather, in order to escape being frozen. Our aid, however,
was not needed, as the bear, when he saw the number of his opponents,
made off in great haste.

"September 24th.--On this day we began to put up the beams of our hut,
as the idea of being obliged to pass a winter here, filled us with
great anxiety; but as the vessel was now firmly embedded in the ice,
and we saw no prospect of getting it free again until the return of
fine weather, we were obliged to make a virtue of necessity, and
submit quietly to our hard fate. We tore up a part of the deck of our
vessel, and made a roof for our hut of it; then we plastered the walls
with pitch, and when, on the second of October, the building was
finished, instead of putting on the roof, as is customary, a pole or
bush, we erected a kind of staff, made of hard snow. We now took our
sleds, and drew tools and provisions to it; but the cold was so
intense that the beer casks burst, and their contents became a solid
mass of ice. After we had, for greater security, drawn the boats on
shore, and turned them upside down, we betook ourselves to our hut,
and arranged every thing within it as well as we were able.


"With the beginning of November, the cold became so intense, that we
could venture out into the air for a very short time only, long enough
merely to collect what fuel we needed, and to set the traps which we
had placed round the hut to catch foxes, which I assure you were
considered quite a dainty by us poor wretches, greedy as we were after
fresh meat. On the 4th of November, the sun was no longer visible,
and a long and dreary night set in. All the light we had came from the
moon, aurora borealis, and the lamps which we hung around our hut, and
fed with bear's fat. The only consolation left us was that with the
sun the bears had left us, and we could now leave the hut without
danger of being devoured. The cold still continued to increase hourly,
and we were obliged to distribute our stock of clothing among the men,
in order to protect them better against the frost, yet in spite of
every precaution, hands and feet which were wrapped up in thick furs
and cloths, became stiff and numb, when only a few paces from the
fire. The best protection against the cold, we found to be heated
stones. We felt the want of spirituous liquors sadly; those we had,
froze, and when thawed lost both strength and flavour. Our health,
however, was much better than we had reason to expect, when our mode
of life is taken into consideration; but this, I imagine was owing to
the good advice of the surgeon to bathe daily, which we always did.
One morning, towards the end of November, one of us wishing to leave
the hut, found the door tightly closed by the snow, and was obliged to
dig through it. This work we had to repeat daily, or otherwise we
should have been completely buried. On the 16th of November, we found
that we had used all the fuel that was in the hut, and were therefore,
obliged to dig out of the snow the rest of what we had gathered for
use, and bring it into our dwelling. We worked alternately in couples,
and had to make all the haste we could, for in spite of fox-skins and
extra clothing, we were not able to endure the cold long. Until the
29th of December, we experienced dreadful weather; snow fell in
abundance, and for three days we were unable to leave the hut. On the
evening of the fourth day, it moderated somewhat, and one of the
sailors ventured to make a hole through the wall, near to the door,
and creep through it in order to see how things stood without. He came
back pretty soon and told us that the snow was piled up higher than
the hut, and that it was just as cold as ever; he said that if he had
not returned, his ears would have been frozen. On the 29th of
December, some of the men dug the door free again, and made a kind of
a tunnel through the snow, out of which we emerged as from a cellar.
But all our trouble was in vain, for the next day another fall of snow
blocked up the door, and made us prisoners again. Stormy days were the
more unendurable, as the fire would not burn, but filled the hut with
smoke. At such times we commonly lay in our beds, which like the walls
of the hut, were covered with a thick coating of ice, whenever the
fire did not burn brightly. Whilst in this unpleasant situation, one
of us happened to remember that there was a good store of coals on
board the vessel, and the most hardy of the party immediately made an
attempt to bring them to the hut, and after great exertions, succeeded
in their attempt. We immediately kindled a good fire, and for the
first time an agreeable warmth spread through the room. In order
better to retain it, we stopped up the hole we had made to let the
smoke escape, and merrier than usual, went to bed and began chatting
together; but soon, giddiness and then stupefaction attacked us, and
had not one of the party had the presence of mind to crawl to the
door and open it, we would soon have been suffocated by the poisonous
gas which came from the coal. Thus ended the year 1596. The next year
commenced with the same unpleasant weather, so that we were obliged to
pass New Year's day in the house. We had now used up all our split
wood, and on account of the cold, were unable to go out to procure
more. On the 5th of January, the weather at last moderated, and we got
the door open, cleaned the house out, and split some more wood, as we
were afraid that we should again be buried by the snow. After working
hard all day, we began in the evening to talk about home, and it
occurred to us that our countrymen were at that very moment
celebrating one of their merriest festivals, namely, that of the Three
Kings. We determined, therefore, to forget our sad lot for a while,
and prepare a little feast. Each one of the men put by some of his
biscuit, and the captain gave some wine. We now made a good wine soup,
and prepared also some pancakes, which we made of a couple of pounds
of starch which had been taken on board for the purpose of pasting
cartridges, and some oil; the biscuits we soaked in wine. We now
celebrated the evening in fine style, and for the time, forgot our sad
lot, and imagined ourselves once more surrounded by our friends and
relations. In this way we enjoyed our humble meal as much as if it had
been a sumptuous feast. We got into such a good humor that we chose a
king, as it is customary to do on such occasions, and saluted him by
the title of "Lord of Nova Zembla," a kingdom which though of
considerable size, is not very well provided with either inhabitants
or revenue.

"On leaving the hut next day, we found the air a little less keen, and
felt that since the snow had ceased to fall, the cold had somewhat
abated. We could now hope to see the sun before long, and on the 8th
of January we really perceived a faint glimmering in the sky, at which
we rejoiced not a little. Eight days later we perceived a reddish
tinge, which we hailed as the harbinger of the near approach of the
sun. We perceived, also, a slight warmth in the wind, which, joined to
the heat of our fire, partially melted the ice on the walls of the
hut, which, until now, had remained perfectly solid. As the glimmering
light grew stronger every day, we at length ventured, well-armed, to
the ship, which still remained in the same position as formerly, but
had been frequently visited by bears, as their footsteps in the snow
plainly showed. We took a light, and descended into the hold, where we
found the water a foot in depth, and frozen perfectly tight.

"As the weather remained fair, we went out into the open air daily.
Our usual resort was a hill about a half mile distant, from which we
brought stones to our hut, and heated them, in order to warm our beds.
It now grew brighter every day, and we were soon able to amuse
ourselves by shooting with a cross-bow, using for a mark the top of
our snowy flag-staff, which, until now, we had been unable to see.
Indeed, we took exercise in any way possible, and endeavored by
throwing, running, and other gymnastic sports, to restore strength and
suppleness to our half frozen limbs. The foxes, in capturing whom we
had formerly been so busily engaged, now suddenly vanished, a sure
sign of the re-appearance of the bears. These dangerous beasts soon
visited us again, and the war against them was renewed; they evidently
came from some more southerly climate, where they had been passing the
long winter, as they were very fat. They often endeavored to break
open the door of the hut, and one of them even clambered upon the
roof, and endeavored to get inside through the hole we had made to
allow the smoke to escape; it required the united energies of all of
us to defeat his intentions.

"The 27th of January was a sad day for us, for on it one of our party
died. He had been sick at the building of the hut, and we had been
obliged to convey him to it on a sled. We buried him in the snow, with
a prayer, and held a funeral feast to his honor; but we soon recovered
our wonted flow of spirits, as we were now confidently expecting a
speedy release from the wretched situation in which we had been

"The cold continued unbroken for three months longer, although it was
not so severe as formerly. Our provisions now gave out, and on the 3rd
of May we cooked our last piece of pork. During the latter part of May
we began to make preparations for our journey, and as we found our
ship was no longer sea-worthy, we dug out the shallop and boat, which
had been protected by the deep snow. We spent all the month of May in
mending and fitting out these two vessels. Whilst we were prosecuting
this work, we were more than once in great danger of being torn to
pieces by the bears. We shot a great many of them, but it happened we
found them more dangerous when dead than when alive. Being greatly in
want of food we cooked a liver of one of them, and found it very
palatable, but all of us fell sick in consequence, and some were so
very ill that their lives were despaired of; they were covered from
head to foot with a loathsome eruption. However, they at last
recovered, for which we thanked God most sincerely, for had we lost
them, the rest of us would not have had sufficient strength to launch
the boats. In spite of this warning one of the men was imprudent
enough, one day, to bring a pot of bear's liver to the fire, as he was
hungry; but Heemskerk, who was standing by, threw it out of the

"The weather often grew milder, and the sea began to be free from ice,
but a single north wind brought back the most intense cold, and the
sea was again covered with ice. In the meanwhile we worked hard to get
out of our leaky vessel all that was necessary for our dangerous
voyage, but suddenly we experienced a more dreadful storm of snow,
hail, and rain, than had yet overtaken us, and which we did not expect
at this time of the year. The weather was so bad that we were obliged
to leave every thing and retreat to the hut. But we found this in a
miserable condition, for we had used the boards, of which the roof was
composed, to mend our vessels, and a piece of sail, which had taken
their place, answered its purpose so badly that the hut was full of
water. Often and often did our courage sink, and we give up in
despair, but Heemskerk always cried, 'If you do not wish to remain in
Nova Zembla, and dig your graves in the snow, you must exert all your
remaining strength to equip the boats, on which depend all our hopes
of safety.' These words acted like an electrical shock on us, and
spurred us on to do what seemed almost impossible.

"In the beginning of June, we dragged the two boats to the vessel, in
order, when all was ready, to take them from there to the edge of the
ice and launch them into the sea. Suddenly another storm arose
unexpectedly, and we were in constant dread lest the ice should break
up, and all our property be lost. In that case there would be no hope
for us; but Providence watched over us, and the storm passed by, and
did us not the slightest harm. We had now to perform our last but most
difficult task, viz: to open a passage through the ice from the ship
to the open sea, through which we might take the shallop. This, after
incredible toil, we accomplished, and loaded our two boats with the
tools and provisions we had just taken from the wreck, which consisted
of thirteen casks of biscuits, and several more of bacon, oil, and
wine. Then being all ready, we started on our voyage on the morning of
the 14th of June, 1597.


"In high spirits and full of courage, we now began a voyage, which
certainly was the most remarkable ever undertaken. Crowded together in
two wretched, open, and heavily laden boats, we had to cross a space
of not less than two hundred miles, in order to reach the nearest
shore, and this in a climate where the middle of summer is as cold as
our severest winters, and upon a sea covered with huge masses of ice,
which at one moment are stationary, and in the next hurled together by
a storm, with terrific force. Besides, we were weak from our previous
exertions, and had not really the strength to strive successfully
against the dangers which threatened us.

"As the eastern shore of Nova Zembla appeared to be bound up with
unbroken ice, Barents, with admirable prudence, had advised us to
steer towards the north, so that having passed round the northern
point of land, we might reach the western coast, and from there run
for some Russian port, where we might hope to meet some vessel bound
for the Netherlands. We had not gone far on this projected route, when
we found ourselves so hemmed in by icebergs, as to be totally unable
to make any further progress. Such an unpropitious commencement would
have disheartened many men, but fortunately, we were accustomed to
danger and disappointment in every shape; so we kept up our spirits,
and cast anchor in order to wait until the breaking up of the ice
should afford us an opportunity of proceeding on our journey again. In
the meantime we employed ourselves in seeking bird's eggs for our
sick, of whom we now had several, and in melting snow by the fire for
drinking water. On the 15th of June, the ice in which we were
embedded, broke up, and a favorable wind springing up, our men handled
their oars so well, that by the 17th we had reached the most northerly
point of the island. But, unfortunately, on the same day the icebergs
were put in such violent agitation by a storm, and struck the boats
with such force, that the boldest grew disheartened. We took a last
farewell of each other, and expected every moment would be our last.
In this fearful extremity we held a consultation as to what was best
to be done; no other means of safety could we see, than to work our
way out of the floating ice, and get upon some iceberg. But all our
endeavors to get alongside of one of these were in vain, and unable to
endure longer the lamentations of my companions, I caught hold of the
end of a rope, and leaped like a frog from one place to another, until
I reached the firm ice. As the rope was fastened to the two boats,
they were quickly drawn to the spot I had reached, when the men took
out their cargoes and pulled them upon the ice. We found they were so
much injured by striking against the ice, as to need a thorough
overhauling, which we set about without delay. The driftwood, which
lay along the shore in considerable quantities, now stood us in good
need, as by means of it we were enabled to boil our pitch and tar.

"For four long and dreary days had we lain among ice and snow, when a
south wind sprang up, and once more opened a passage for us. We
hastily launched our boats again, and put their cargoes into them; but
hardly had we commenced to row when we found ourselves surrounded by
masses of ice again, and were obliged to pick our way out of them with
great difficulty; at last we reached the open sea once more, and were
able to continue our voyage until the 25th of June, when we were
obliged to cast anchor again near a field of ice. At the same time a
violent storm arose, and drove our miserable crafts to sea, where they
were tossed about in great danger of being dashed to pieces against an
iceberg, or upset by the wind. Our men now employed what little
strength they had left in striving to get back to the land, but as
this could not be done by simple rowing, we ventured to hoist a small
sail, which we had scarcely done when the foremast of the boat I
commanded suddenly broke in two places, and I found myself obliged, in
order to keep up with the shallop, to raise the mainsail, which,
however, I had to lower again immediately, or my boat would have been
inevitably upset.

"We now deemed our destruction inevitable, as the storm of wind, which
had hitherto blown from the south, suddenly changed to the north-east,
and drove us from the shore. In the meanwhile the shallop had
vanished, and we sought for it in vain for a long time, owing to a
thick fog which covered the sea. At last I ordered some shots to be
fired, and to my great joy they were answered by others from the
shallop. I afterwards employed this means of finding the whereabouts
of our comrades with great success on all such occasions.

"On the 28th of June we were again shut in, and obliged to anchor
alongside of an iceberg. As we were much fatigued by the incessant
tossing about of the boats, we erected a tent on it, and determined to
pass the night there; but that we might sleep in safety, we set a
watch, and it was a happy thing for us that we did so, for at midnight
we received a visit from three immense bears, who, had we not been on
our guard, would most assuredly have made a comfortable meal off of
some of us. At the cry of 'Bears! bears!' we seized our muskets, and
although they were loaded with shot merely, fired them at the animals,
who were so stupefied at the inhospitable reception their friendly
visit met with, that they allowed us time to load with ball. One of
them had fallen at the first fire, and the two others made off in all
haste. Pretty soon, however, they changed their minds, and coming
back, dragged their dead comrade away with them for a short distance,
and then set to work to devour him. As soon as we remarked this, we
let them have another shot, and this time they ran off in earnest.
Four of us now went to look at the carcass of the dead bear, and found
to our no little astonishment that they had devoured half of it. The
wind, on this and the two following days, blowing from the same
quarter, we were obliged to remain where we were.

"The night of the 1st of July, was one of the most fearful and
dangerous that we had as yet experienced. The storm gradually
increased in violence, and at last by hurling the floating masses of
ice against the firm bank on which we were encamped, broke off that
portion of it which held our boats, so that they got loose and were
driven away. Many bundles and casks fell into the sea, and it was with
great difficulty, that by springing from place to place, we succeeded
in securing our boats, in which were the sick. After the storm was
somewhat abated, we endeavored to collect our provisions and tools
together, but alas, missed a great many which were very necessary for
the completion of our voyage. Whilst one half of the men were thus
employed, the others went over the ice to the land, in order to get a
tree that they might mend the broken mast of the shallop. They found
not only what they sought, but also, wedges for splitting wood, and
wood already split, from which we judged that men had been in this
place before.

"About this time we lost two of our men, who had been sick for some
time, having been obliged to be carried from our hut to the boat, when
we started on our voyage. When Barents, who had also been ailing,
heard this, he assured us that his end too was approaching, but as he
at the same time regarded with attention, a chart of that part of the
country which we had seen, which I had prepared, we did not believe he
was so ill, and paid but little attention to his words. Pretty soon,
however, he laid down the chart and asked for water; but hardly had he
drank, when suddenly he bowed his head and died, to the great grief of
all of us. We lost in him a brave comrade and intelligent man, on
whose skill rested most of our hopes of again seeing our native land.

"Sorrowing deeply, we continued on our journey, and at length, on the
4th of August, reached the Russian coast, after having suffered much
from the cold, and also from the scurvy, which on account of the want
of fresh provisions, had broken out among us. We landed to try and
find some signs of life, but could see no habitations, and the ground
produced nothing but wild shrubs. Some of the party proposed that we
should continue our journey by land; but as we could easily lose our
way, and fall into great danger, in a desert, which was very likely
filled with wild animals, the majority decided in favor of continuing
along the coast. But we could not hold out much longer, for our
provisions were reduced to a few mouldy biscuits; the most of us,
tormented as we were by hunger and sickness, would have welcomed death
as a happy release. Happily, however, we discovered a Russian barque
coming towards us under full sail; when she reached us, Heemskirk
went on board, and taking some money in one hand, pointed with the
other to a cask of fish which stood on deck. The Russians understood
him, took the money, and gave him the fish, together with some little
cakes. Half starved as we were, we rejoiced greatly at this purchase,
and hastened to refresh ourselves with the food.

"We now very often met Russian vessels, and they sold or gave us, very
readily, a part of their scanty stock of provisions. By the 20th of
August, we reached the western shore of the White Sea, and by good
luck arrived at a spot where some little houses were standing. We
entered them and were received with great kindness by their owners,
who were poor Russian fishermen. They led us into a warm room, where
we could dry our wet clothes, and gave us a meal of good fish and

"After continuing our journey for several days more, we were obliged,
by a storm, to land again, and found a hut where three men dwelt. They
cordially welcomed us, and when at their request we had told them our
story, informed us that a vessel from the Netherlands was at anchor at
Kola, a Russian port not many miles distant. We entreated them to go
with one of our party to Kola by land, but as they could not go
themselves they sent a messenger, who in a few days returned without
our comrade, but with a letter, through which we learnt to our joy and
astonishment, that Ryp himself, the commander of the other vessel,
from whom we had separated at Bear's Island, had arrived at Kola in
safety, after seeking for an eastern passage in vain.

"It was not long before he arrived himself, in a boat loaded with
provisions, and after a warm greeting we took, for the first time
since many days, our usual food and drink. Favored by the wind,
Heemskerk soon brought us to Kala, where the Russian governor listened
with great sympathy to the history of our adventures and sufferings,
and ordered our two boats to be preserved as memorials of our wondrous

"On the 18th of September we set sail, and after a prosperous voyage
entered the Meuse. From there we went to Amsterdam, and doubtless it
is still fresh in your memories, how we were conducted into the town,
dressed in the fox skins we had worn at Nova Zembla, and followed by
the acclamations of the whole population."

Father Gerhard ceased speaking, and for a while the young people kept
silent too, so much had they been astonished by the recital of such
strange adventures. Most did they marvel at the calm resignation of
the voyagers to their sad fate, and they hoped that in the voyages
which they themselves might hereafter make, that they should have as
excellent and brave companions.

They now thanked their patron for the trouble he had taken to gratify
them, and with a hearty squeeze of the hand wished him good night.

Next: The Shipwreck

Previous: A Sea-fight On The Cuban Coast

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