The storehouses, too, did not give way the least; but though they were only a few yards off, it was found necessary to lay in enough provisions for the day, as very often the weather made it almost impossible to venture that short distance.
The unloading of the Porpoise turned out to have been a wise precaution, for she was slowly but surely being crashed to pieces by the silent, irresistible pressure around her. Still the Doctor was always hoping enough planks might be sufficiently sound to construct a small vessel to convey them back to England, but the right time to build had not come.
The five men were consequently compelled to spend the greater part of the day in complete idleness. Hatteras lolled on his bed absorbed in thought. Altamont smoked or dozed, and the Doctor took care not to disturb either of them, for he was in perpetual fear of a quarrel between them.
At meal times he always led the conversation away from irritating topics and sought, as far as possible, to instruct and interest all parties. Whenever he was not engaged with the preparation of his notes, he gave them dissertations on history, geography, or meteorology, handling his subject in an easy, though philosophical manner, drawing lessons from the most trivial incidents. His inexhaustible memory was never at a loss for fact or illustration when his good humour and geniality made him the life and soul of the little company. He was implicitly trusted by all, even by Hatteras, who cherished a deep affection for him.
Yet no man felt the compulsory confinement more painfully than Clawbonny. He longed ardently for the breaking up of the frost to resume his excursions though he dreaded the rivalry that might ensue between the two captains.
Yet things must come to a crisis soon or late, and meantime he resolved to use his best endeavors to bring both parties to a better mind, but to reconcile an American and an Englishman was no easy task. He and Johnson had many a talk on the subject, for the old sailor’s views quite coincided with his own as to the difficult complications which awaited them in the future.
However, the bad weather continued, and leaving Fort Providence, even for an hour, was out of the question. Day and night they were pent up in these glittering ice-walls, and time hung heavily on their hands, at least on all but the Doctor’s, and he always managed to find some occupation for himself.
“I declare,” said Altamont, one evening; “life like this is not worth having. We might as well be some of those reptiles that sleep all the winter. But I suppose there is no help for it.”
“I am afraid not,” said the Doctor; “unfortunately we are too few in number to get up any amusement.”
“Then you think if there were more of us, we should find more to do?”
“Of course: when whole ships’ crews have wintered here, they have managed to while away the time famously.”
“Well, I must say I should like to know how. It would need a vast amount of ingenuity to extract anything amusing out of our circumstances. I suppose they did not play at charades?”
“No, but they introduced the press and the theatre.”
“What? They had a newspaper?” exclaimed the American.
“They acted a comedy?” said Bell.
“That they did,” said the Doctor. “When Parry wintered at Melville Island, he started both amusements among his men, and they met with great success.”
“Well, I must confess, I should like to have been there,” returned Johnson; “for it must have been rather curious work.”
“Curious and amusing too, my good Johnson. Lieutenant Beechey was the theatre manager, and Captain Sabina chief editor of the newspaper called ‘The Winter Chronicle, or the Gazette of Northern Georgia.’ “
“Good titles,” said Altamont.
“The newspaper appeared daily from the 1st of November, 1819, to the 20th of March, 1820. It reported the different excursions, and hunting parties, and accidents, and adventures, and published amusing stories. No doubt the articles were not up to the ‘Spectator’ or the ‘Daily Telegraph,’ but the readers were neither critical nor blasé, and found great pleasure in their perusal.”
“My word!” said Altamont.