Edgar Poe, every one will allow, gives free rein to his fancy at this point. No navigator had ever reached latitudes so high—not even James Weddell of the British Navy, who did not get beyond the seventy-fourth parallel in 1822. But the achievement of the Jane, although difficult of belief, is trifling in comparison with the succeeding incidents which Arthur Pym, or rather Edgar Poe, relates with simple earnestness. In fact he entertained no doubt of reaching the pole itself.

In the first place, not a single iceberg is to be seen on this fantastic sea. Innumerable flocks of birds skim its surface, among them is a pelican which is shot. On a floating piece of ice is a bear of the Arctic species and of gigantic size. At last land is signalled. It is an island of a league in circumference, to which the name of Bennet Islet was given, in honour of the captain’s partner in the ownership of the Jane.

Naturally, in proportion as the schooner sailed southwards the variation of the compass became less, while the temperature became milder, with a sky always clear and a uniform northerly breeze. Needless to add that in that latitude and in the month of January there was no darkness.

The Jane pursued her adventurous course, until, on the 18th of January, land was sighted in latitude 83° 20’ and longitude 43° 5’.

This proved to be an island belonging to a numerous group scattered about in a westerly direction.

The schooner approached and anchored off the shore. Arms were placed in the boats, and Arthur Pym got into one of the latter with Dirk Peters. The men rowed shorewards, but were stopped by four canoes carrying armed men, “new men” the narrative calls them. These men showed no hostile intentions, but cried out continuously “anamoo” and “lamalama.” When the canoes were alongside the schooner, the chief, Too-Wit, was permitted to go on board with twenty of his companions. There was profound astonishment on their part then, for they took theship for a living creature, and lavished caresses on the rigging, the masts, and the bulwarks. Steered between the reefs by these natives, she crossed a bay with a bottom of black sand, and cast anchor within a mile of the beach. Then William Guy, leaving the hostages on board, stepped ashore amid the rocks.

If Arthur Pym is to be believed, this was Tsalal Island! Its trees resembled none of the species in any other zone of our planet. The composition of the rocks revealed a stratification unknown to modern mineralogists. Over the bed of the streams ran a liquid substance without any appearance of limpidity, streaked with distinct veins, which did not reunite by immediate cohesion when they were parted by the blade of a knife!

Klock-Klock, which we are obliged to describe as the chief “town” of the island, consisted of wretched huts entirely formed of black skins; it possessed domestic animals resembling the common pig, a sort of sheep with a black fleece, twenty kinds of fowls, tame albatross, ducks, and large turtles in great numbers.

On arriving at Klock-Klock, Captain William Guy and his companions found a population—which Arthur Pym estimated at ten thousand souls, men, women, and children —if not to be feared, at least to be kept at a distance, so noisy and demonstrative were they. Finally, after a long halt at the hut of Too-Wit, the strangers returned to the shore, where the “bęche-de-mer”—the favourite food of the Chinese—would provide enormous cargoes; for the succulent mollusk is more abundant there than in any other part of the austral regions.

Captain William Guy immediately endeavoured to come to an understanding with Too-Wit on this matter, requesting him to authorize the construction of sheds in which some of the men of the Jane might prepare the bęche-de-mer, while the schooner should hold on her course towards the Pole. Too-Wit accepted this proposal willingly, and made a bargain by which the natives were to give their labour in the gathering-in of the precious mollusk.

At the end of a month, the sheds being finished, three men were told off to remain at Tsalal.

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An Antarctic Mystery Page 21

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Jules Verne

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