It is needless to say that Captain Len Guy proved himself a true seaman, that James West had an eye to everything, that the crew seconded them loyally, and that Hunt was always foremost when there was work to be done or danger to be incurred.
In truth, I do not know how to give an idea of this man! What a difference there was between him and most of the sailors recruited at the Falklands, and especially between him and Hearne, the sealing-master! They obeyed, no doubt, for such a master as James West gets himself obeyed, whether with good or ill will. But behind backs what complaints were made, what recriminations were exchanged I All this, I feared, was of evil presage for the future.
Martin Holt had been able to resume his duties very soon, and he fulfilled them with hearty good-will. He knew the business of a sailor right well, and was the only man on board who could compete with Hunt in handiness and zeal.
“Well, Holt,” said I to him one day when he was talking with the boatswain, “what terms are you on with that queer fellow Hunt now? Since the salvage affair, is he a little more communicative?”
“No, Mr. Jeorling, and I think he even tries to avoid me.”
“To avoid you?”
“Well, he did so before, for that matter.”
“Yes, indeed, that is true,” added Hurliguerly; “I have made the same remark more than once.”
“Then he keeps aloof from you, Holt, as from the others?”
“From me more than from the others.”
“What is the meaning of that ?” “I don’t know, Mr. Jeorling.”
I was surprised at what the two men had said, but a little observation convinced me that Hunt actually did avoid every occasion of coming in contact with Martin Holt. Did he not think that he had a right to Holt’s gratitude although the latter owed his life to him? This man’s conduct was certainly very strange.
In the early morning of the 9th the wind showed a tendency to change in the direction of the east, which would mean more manageable weather for us. And, in fact, although the sea still remained rough, at about two in the morning it became feasible to put on more sail without risk, and thus the Halbrane regained the course from which she had been driven by the prolonged tempest.
In that portion of the Antarctic sea the ice-packs were more numerous, and there was reason to believe that the tempest, by hastening the smash-up, had broken the barrier of the iceberg wall towards the east.
ALONG THE FRONT OF THE ICEBERGS.
Although the seas beyond the Polar Circle were wildly tumultuous, it is but just to acknowledge that our navigation had been accomplished so far under exceptional conditions. And what good luck it would be if the Halbrane, in this first fortnight of December, were to find the Weddell route open!
There! I am talking of the Weddell route as though it were a macadamized road, well kept, with mile-stones and “This way to the South Pole” on a signpost!
The numerous wandering masses of ice gave our men no trouble; they were easily avoided. It seemed likely that no real difficulties would arise until the schooner should have to try to make a passage for herself through the icebergs.
Besides, there was no surprise to be feared. The presence of ice was indicated by a yellowish tint in the atmosphere, which the whalers called “blink.” This is a phenomenon peculiar to the glacial zones which never deceives the observer.
For five successive days the Halbrane sailed without sustaining any damage, without having, even for a moment, had to fear a collision. It is true that in proportion as she advanced towards the south the number of icepacks increased and the channels became narrower. On the 14th an observation gave us 72° 37’ for latitude, our longitude remaining the same, between the forty-second and the forty-third meridian. This was already a point beyond the Antarctic Circle that few navigators had been able to reach. We were at only two degrees lower than Weddell.
The navigation of the schooner naturally became a more delicate matter in the midst of those dim, wan masses soiled with the excreta of birds.