The birds which we saw, and which came from every point of the horizon, were those I have already mentioned, petrels, divers, halcyons, and pigeons in countless flocks. I also saw—but beyond aim— a giant petrel; its dimensions were truly astonishing. This was one of those called “quebrantahnesos” by the Spaniards. This bird of the Magellanian waters is very remarkable; its curved and slender wings have a span of from thirteen to fourteen feet, equal to that of the wings of the great albatross. Nor is the latter wanting among these powerful winged creatures; we saw the dusky-plumed albatross of the cold latitudes, sweeping towards the glacial zone.
On the 30th of November, after observation taken at noon, it was found that we had reached 66° 23’ 3” of latitude.
The Halbrane had then crossed the Polar Circle which circumscribes the area of the Antarctic zone.
BETWEEN THE POLAR CIRCLE AND THE ICE WALL.
Since the Halbrane has passed beyond the imaginary curve drawn at twenty-three and a half degrees from the Pole, it seems as though she had entered a new region, “that region of Desolation and Silence,” as Edgar Poe says; that magic person of splendour and glory in which the Eleanora’s singer longed to be shut up to all eternity; that immense ocean of light ineffable.
It is my belief—to return to less fanciful hypotheses—that the Antarctic region, with a superficies of more than five millions of square miles, has remained what our spheroid was during the glacial period. In the summer, the southern zone, as we all know, enjoys perpetual day, owing to the rays projected by the orb of light above its horizon in his spiral ascent. Then, so soon as he has disappeared, the long night sets in, a night which is frequently illumined by the polar aurora or Northern Lights.
It was then in the season of light that our schooner was about to sail in these formidable regions. The permanent brightness would not fail us before we should have reached Tsalal Island, where we felt no doubt of finding the men of the Jane.
When Captain Len Guy, West, and the old sailors of the crew learned that the schooner had cleared the sixty-sixth parallel of latitude, their rough and sunburnt faces shone with satisfaction. The next day, Hurliguerly accosted me on the deck with a broad smile and a cheerful manner.
“So then, Mr. Jeorling,” said he, ‘we’ve left the famous’ Circle’ behind us!”
“Not far enough, boatswain, not far enough!”
Oh, that will come! But I am disappointed.”
“In what way?”
“Because we have not done what is usual on board ships on crossing the Line!”
“You regret that?”
“Certainly I do, and the Halbrane might have been allowed the ceremony of a southern baptism.”
“A baptism? And whom would you have baptized, boatswain, seeing that all our men, like yourself, have already sailed beyond this parallel?”
“We! Oh, yes! But you! Oh, no, Mr. Jeorling. And why, may I ask, should not that ceremony be performed in your honour?”
“True, boatswain; this is the first time in the course of my travels that I have been in so high a latitude.”
“And you should have been rewarded by a baptism, Mr. Jeorling. Yes, indeed, but without any big fuss—no drum and trumpet about it, and leaving out old Father Neptune with his masquerade. If you would permit me to baptize you—”
“So be it, Hurliguerly,” said I, putting my hand into my pocket. :Baptize as you please. Here is something to drink my health with at the nearest tavern.”
“Then that will be Bennet Islet or Tsalal Island, provided there are any taverns in those savage islands, and any Atkinses to keep them.”
“Tell me, boatswain—I always get back to Hunt—does he seem so much pleased to have passed the Polar Circle as the Halbrane’s old sailors are ?”
“Who knows ? There’s nothing to be got out of him one way or another. But, as I have said before, if he has not already made acquaintance with the ice-barrier.”
“What makes you think so?”
“Everything and nothing, Mr. Jeorling. One feels these things; one doesn’t think them. Hunt is an old sea-dog, who has carried his canvas bag into every corner of the world.”
The boatswain’s opinion was mine also, and some inexplicable presentiment made me observe Hunt constantly, for he occupied a large share of my thoughts.