It remained only to endeavour to reach the south-east point of it. At any rate, by following that course we lost nothing in latitude; and, in fact, on the 18th the observation taken made the seventy-third parallel the position of the Halbrane.
I must repeat, however, that navigation in the Antarctic seas will probably never be accomplished under more felicitous circumstances—the precocity of the summer season, the permanence of the north wind, the temperature forty-nine degrees at the lowest; all this was the best of good-fortune. I need not add that we enjoyed perpetual light, and the whole twenty-four hours round the sun’s rays reached us from every point of the horizon.
Two or three times the captain approached within two miles of the icebergs. It was impossible but that the vast mass must have been subjected to climateric influences; ruptures must surely have taken place at some points.
But his search had no result, and we had to fall back into the current from west to east.
I must observe at this point that during all our search we never descried land or the appearance of land out at sea, as indicated on the charts of preceding navigators. These maps are incomplete, no doubt, but sufficiently exact in their main lines. I am aware that ships have often passed over the indicated bearings of land. This, however, was not admissible in the case of Tsalal. If the Jane had been able to reach the islands, it was because that portion of the Antarctic sea was free, and in so “early” a year, we need not fear any obstacle in that direction.
At last, on the 19th, between two and three o’clock in the afternoon, a shout from the crow’s-nest was heard.
“What is it?” roared West.
“The iceberg wall is split on the south-east.”
“What is beyond?” “Nothing in sight.”
It took West very little time to reach the point of observation, and we all waited below, how impatiently may be imagined. What if the look-out were mistaken, if some optical delusion?—But West, at all events, would make no mistake.
After ten interminable minutes his clear voice reached us on the deck.
“Open sea!” he cried.
Unanimous cheers made answer.
The schooner’s head was put to the south-east, hugging the wind as much as possible.
Two hours later we had doubled the extremity of the ice-barrier, and there lay before our eyes a sparkling sea, entirely open.
(1) The French word is banquise, which means the vast stretch of icebergs farther south than the barrière or ice wall.
A VOICE IN A DREAM.
Entirely free from ice? No. It would have been premature to affirm this as a fact. A few icebergs were visible in the distance, while some drifts and packs were still going east. Nevertheless, the break-up had been very thorough on that side, and the sea was in reality open, since a ship could sail freely. “God has come to our aid,” said Captain Len Guy. May He be pleased to guide us to the end.” “In a week,” I remarked, “our schooner might come in sight of Tsalal Island.” “Provided that the east wind lasts, Mr. Jeorling. Don’t forget that in sailing along the icebergs to their eastern extremity, the Halbrane went out of her course, and she must be brought back towards the west.”
“The breeze is for us, captain.”
“And we shall profit by it, for my intention is to make for Bennet Islet. It was there that my brother first landed, and so soon as we shall have sighted that island we shall be certain that we are on the right route. To-day, when I have ascertained our position exactly, we shall steer for Bennet Islet.”
“Who knows but that we may come upon some fresh sign?”
“It is not impossible, Mr. Jeorling.”
I need not say that recourse was had to the surest guide within our reach, that veracious narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, which I read and re-read with intense attention, fascinated as I was by the idea that I might be permitted to behold with my own eyes those strange phenomena of nature in the Antarctic world which I, in common with all Edgar Poe’s readers, had hitherto regarded as creations of the most imaginative writer who ever gave voice by his pen to the phantasies of a unique brain.