In order to avoid the strait, which was encumbered with islets and ice-floes, Captain Len Guy first cast anchor at the south-eastern extremity of Laurie Island, where he passed the day on the 24th; then, having rounded Cape Dundas, he sailed along the southern coast of Coronation Island, where the schooner anchored on the 25th. Our close and careful researches produced no result as regarded the sailors of the Jane.
The islands and islets were peopled by multitudes of birds. Without taking the penguins into account, those guano-covered rocks were crowded with white pigeons, a species of which I had already seen some specimens. These birds have rather short, conical beaks, and red-rimmed eyelids; they can be knocked over with little difficulty. As for the vegetable kingdom in the New South Orkneys, it is represented only by grey lichen and some scanty seaweeds. Mussels are found in great abundance all along the rocks; of these we procured an ample supply.
The boatswain and his men did not lose the opportunity of killing several dozens of penguins with their sticks, not from a ruthless instinct of destruction, but from the legitimate desire to procure fresh food.
“Their flesh is just as good as chicken, Mr. Jeorling,” said Hurliguerly. “Did you not eat penguin at the Kerguelens ?”
“Yes, boatswain, but it was cooked by Arkins.”
“Very well, then; it will be cooked by Endicott here, and you will not know the difference.”
And in fact we in the saloon, like the men in the forecastle, were regaled with penguin, and acknowledged the merits of our excellent sea-cook.
The Halbrane sailed on the 26th of November, at six o’clock in the morning, heading south. She reascended the forty-third meridian; this we were able to ascertain very exactly by a good observation. This route it was that Weddell and then William Guy had followed, and, provided the schooner did not deflect either to the east or the west, she must inevitably come to Tsalal Island. The difficulties of navigation had to be taken into account, of course.
The wind, continuing to blow steadily from the west, was in our favour, and if the present speed of the Halbrane could be maintained, as I ventured to suggest to Captain Len Guy, the voyage from the South Orkneys to the Polar Circle would be a short one. Beyond, as I knew, we should have to force the gate of the thick barrier of icebergs, or to discover a breach in that ice-fortress.
“So that, in less than a month, captain—” I suggested, tentatively.
“In less than a month I hope to have found the iceless sea which Weddell and Arthur Pym describe so fully, beyond the ice-wall, and thenceforth we need only sail on under ordinary conditions to Bennet Island in the first place, and afterwards to Tsalal Island. Once on that ‘wide open sea,’ what obstacle could arrest or even retard our progress?”
“I can foresee none, captain, so soon as we shall get to the back of the ice-wall. The passage through is the difficult point; it must be our chief source of anxietys and if only the wind holds—”
“It will hold, Mr. Jeorling. All the navigators of the austral seas have been able to ascertain, as I myself have done, the permanence of this wind.”
“That is true, and I rejoice in the assurance, captain. Besides, I acknowledge, without shrinking from the admission, that I am beginning to be superstitious.”
“And why not, Mr. Jeorling? What is there unreason. able in admitting the intervention of a supernatural power in the most ordinary circumstances of life ? And we, who sail the Halbrane, should we venture to doubt it? Recall to your mind our meeting with the unfortunate Patterson on our ship’s course, the fragment of ice carried into the waters where we were, and dissolved immediately afterwards. Were not these facts providential ? Nay, I go farther still, and am sure that, after having done so much to guide us towards our compatriots, God will not abandon us—”
“I think as you think, captain. No, His intervention is not to be denied, and I do not believe that chance plays the part assigned to it by superficial minds upon the stage of human life.