I did not wish to go ashore until the next day. I should have ample time while we remained in port to explore Port Egmont and its surroundings, and to study the geology and mineralogy of the island. Hurliguerly regarded the opportunity as highly favourable for the renewal of talk with me, and availed himself of it accordingly. He accosted me as follows:
“Accept my sincere compliments, Mr. Jeorling?”
“And wherefore, boatswain ?”
“On account of what I have just heard—that you are to come with us to the far end of the Antarctic seas.”
“Oh! not so far, I imagine, and if it is not a matter of going beyond the eighty-fourth parallel—”
“Who can tell,” replied the boatswain, “at all events the Halbrane will make more degrees of latitude than any other ship before her.”
“We shall see.”
“And does that not alarm you, Mr. Jeorling?”
“Not in the very least.”
“Nor us, rest assured. No, no! You see, Mr. Jeorling, our captain is a good one, although he is no talker. You only need to take him the right way! First he gives you the passage to Tristan d’Acunha that he refused you at first, and now he extends it to the pole.”
“The pole is not the question, boatswain.”
“Ah! it will be reached at last, some day.”
“The thing has not yet been done. And, besides, I don’t take much interest in the pole, and have no ambition to conquer it. In any case it is only to Tsalal Island—”
“Tsalal Island, of course. Nevertheless, you will acknowledge that our captain has been very accommodating to you, and—”
“And therefore I am much obliged to him, boatswain, and,” I hastened to add,” to you also; since it is to your influence I owe my passage.”
“Very likely.” Hurliguerly, a good fellow at bottom, as I afterwards learned, discerned a little touch of irony in my tone; but he did not appear to do so; he was resolved to persevere in his patronage of me. And, indeed, his conversation could not be otherwise than profitable to me, for he was thoroughly acquainted with the Falkland Islands. The result was that on the following day I went ashore adequately prepared to begin my perquisitions. At that period the Falklands were not utilized as they have been since.
It was at a later date that Port Stanley—described by Elisée Réclus, the French geographer, as “ideal”—was discovered. Port Stanley is sheltered at every point of the compass, and could contain all the fleets of Great Britain.
If I had been sailing for the last two months with bandaged eyes, and without knowing whither the Halbrane was bound, and had been asked during the first few hours at our moorings, “Are you in the Falkland Isles or in Norway?” I should have puzzled how to answer the question. For here were coasts forming deep creeks, the steep hills with peaked sides, and the coast-ledges faced with grey rock. Even the seaside climate, exempt from great extremes of cold and heat, is common to the two countries. Besides, the frequent rains of Scandinavia visit Magellan’s region in like abundance. Both have dense fogs, and, in spring and autumn, winds so fierce that the very vegetables in the fields are frequently rooted up.
A few walks inland would, however, have sufficed to make me recognize that I was still separated by the equator from the waters of Northern Europe. What had I found to observe in the neighbourhood of Port Egmont after my explorations of the first few days? Nothing but the signs of a sickly vegetation, nowhere arborescent. Here and there a few shrubs grew, in place of the flourishing firs of the Norwegian mountains, and the surface of a spongy soil which sinks and rises under the foot is carpeted with mosses, fungi, and lichens. No! this was not the enticing country where the echoes of the sagas resound, this was not the poetic realm of Wodin and the Valkyries.
On the deep waters of the Falkland Strait, which separates the two principal isles, great masses of extraordinary aquatic vegetation floated, and the bays of the Archipelago, where whales were already becoming scarce, were frequented by other marine mammals of enormous size—seals, twenty-five feet long by twenty in circumference, and great numbers of sea elephants, wolves, and lions, of proportions no less gigantic.