Now and then a troop of swans, with plumage so white that the keenest sight could not distinguish them from the snow when they settled on the ground, rose into view in the clear blue atmosphere and pursued their journey to the north.
“What an extraordinary country !” exclaimed Mrs Paulina Barnett. “What a difference between these Polar regions and the green prairies of Australia! You remember, Madge, how we suffered from the heat on the shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria—you remember the cloudless sky and the parching sunbeams?”
My dear,” replied Madge, “I have not the gift of remembering like you. You retain your impressions, I forget mine.”
“What, Madge !” cried Mrs Barnett, “you have forgotten the tropical heat of India arid Australia? You have no recollection of our agonies when water failed us in the desert, when the pitiless sun scorched us to the bone, when even the night brought us no relief from our sufferings !”
“No, Paulina,” replied Madge, wrapping her furs more closely round her, “no, I remember nothing. How could I now recollect the sufferings to which you allude—the heat, the agonies of thirst—when we are surrounded on every side by ice, and I have but to stretch my arm out of this sledge to pick up a handful of snow? You talk to me of heat, when we are freezing beneath our bearskins; you recall the broiling rays of the sun when its April beams cannot melt the icicles on our lips! No, child, no, don’t try to persuade me it’s hot anywhere else; don’t tell me I ever complained of being too warm, for I sha’n’t believe you!”
Mrs Paulina Barnett could not help smiling.
“So, poor Madge,” she said, “you are very cold!”
“Yes, child, I am cold; but I rather like this climate. I’ve no doubt it’s very healthy, and I think North America will agree with me. It’s really a very fine country !”
“Yes, Madge; it is a fine country, and we have as yet seen none of the wonders it contains. But wait until we reach the Arctic Ocean; wait until the winter shuts us in with its gigantic icebergs and thick covering of snow; wait till the northern storms break over us, and the glories of the Aurora Borealis and of the splendid constellations of the Polar skies are spread out above our heads; wait till we have lived through the strange long six months’ night, and then indeed you will understand the infinite variety, the infinite beauty, of our Creator’s handiwork !”
Thus spoke Mrs Paulina Barnett, carried away by her vivid imagination. She could see nothing but beauty in these deserted regions, with their rigorous climate. Her enthusiasm got the better for the time of her judgment. Her sympathy with nature enabled her to read the touching poetry of the ice-bound north-the poetry embodied in the Sagas, and sung by the bards of the time of Ossian. But Madge, more matter of fact than her mistress, disguised from herself neither the dangers of an expedition to the Arctic Ocean, nor the sufferings involved in wintering only thirty degrees at the most from the North Pole.
And indeed the most robust had sometimes succumbed to the fatigues, privations, and mental and bodily agonies endured in this severe climate. Jaspar Hobson had not, it is true, to press on to the very highest latitudes of the globe,; he had not to reach the pole itself, or to follow in the steps of Parry, Ross, Mc’Clure, Kean, Morton, and others. But after once crossing the Arctic Circle, there is little variation in the temperature; it does not increase in coldness in proportion to the elevation reached. Granted that Jaspar Hobson did not think of going beyond the seventieth parallel, we must still remember that Franklin and his unfortunate companions died of cold and hunger before they had penetrated beyond 68° N. lat.
Very different was the talk in the sledge occupied by Mr and Mrs Joliffe. Perhaps the gallant Corporal had too often drunk to the success of the expedition on starting; for, strange to say, he was disputing with his little wife. Yes, he was actually contradicting her, which never happened except under extraordinary circumstances!
“No, Mrs Joliffe,” he was saying, “no, you have nothing to fear.