At length one whispered his companion, who
Whispered another, and thus it went round,
And then into a hoarser murmur grew,
An ominous, and wild, and desperate sound;
And when his comrade’s thought each sufferer knew,
’Twas but his own, suppressed till now, he found,
And out they spoke of lots for flesh and blood,
And who should die to be his fellows’ food.—BYRON.
“You must know, gentlemen, that five years ago, come December next, I
was first mate of the _Favourite_, a brig of London, registered at
Lloyd’s as being two hundred tons burden, John Benson, master, with a
crew consisting only of nine men and a boy. We had run, late in the
year, to Newfoundland for a cargo of salted cod, and sailing later
still, lost a topmast, and had to run up Conception Bay to refit at the
town of Harbour Grace.
“Winter was close at hand now, so we lost no time in getting our gear
ready; but the field ice came down swiftly from the north, and for the
distance of two hundred miles from the mouth of the bay—that is, from
Baccalieu and Cape St. Francis—away towards the Great Bank of
Newfoundland, it covered all the sea, hard and fast, with hundreds of
icebergs wedged amid it; so there was nothing for us now but patience
and flannel, to strip the ship of her canvas and running rigging, to
stow away everything till the spring, to muffle ourselves to the nose,
and try to keep our blood from freezing by sitting close to wood-fires,
and drinking red Jamaica rum mixed with snow-water, or that of the
mineral springs on the hill of Lookout.
“A winter in Harbour Grace is not quite so lovely as one would be in
London, as it is a poor little wooden town, with a few thousand
miserable inhabitants, and a port that is difficult of entrance, though
safe enough when one is fairly in. Well, everything passes away in
time; so the winter passed, and the spring came; but, as usual in that
imaginary season there, the snow fell heavier, till it was fathoms deep
in the gulleys and flat places; the weather became more wintry than
ever, and though the fierce black frost relaxes a little, it will still
freeze half and half grog as hard as rock crystal.
“Some of our crew bemoaned this unlooked for detention bitterly,
especially the captain, Tom Dacres, and one or two married men, whose
wives, they feared, would deem them lost; but none were more impatient
than the boy I have named. We called him Scotch Willy, for his name was
William Ormiston, from the village of Gourock, on the Clyde. Well
educated, with a smattering of Latin and other things, a passion for
wild adventure, and chiefly for the sea—a passion fed by the perusal of
Robinson Crusoe and other romances—made him run from home and ship for
North America, where we picked him up; and often, in the watches of the
night, poor Willy confided to me his remorse and repentance, and wept
for his mother, whose heart he feared he had broken. Then he used to
show me an advertisement cut from a Glasgow paper, that fell into his
hands in New York:—
“Left his home, ten days ago, a boy fifteen years of age, named William
Ormiston; dressed in a blue jacket and trowsers, with a Glengarry
bonnet; has dark eyes and brown hair. Any information regarding him
will be most thankfully received by his widowed and afflicted mother, at
the Quayside, Gourock.”
“’Such was the notice that caught my eye when I was more than two
thousand miles away from her—with my heart as full of remorse as my
pocket was empty,’ Willy would say, in a voice broken by sobs; but he
hoped yet to get home and cast himself into her arms.
“In his tribulation Willy always thought his mother would be praying for
him, and that her prayers would be more efficacious than his own, and
this conviction always consoled and strengthened him. He was a handsome
boy, this Willy, with eyes so dark that he might have passed for a
grandson of ’Black-eyed Susan,’ only that she was an English girl, and
our Willy was Scotch to the backbone—he was.
“In March we began to get ready for sea, as there is usually a partial
breaking up of the ice about the middle of that month, so we resolved to
get away if we could, and stand across for Cadiz, if once clear of that
dreary and snow-covered land and the field ice. In Spain we were to
exchange the salted cod for wine and fruit, and then return to London.
“A Russian whaler, which had been frozen in the same bight, but nearer
the sea, was working out ahead of us some three miles or so, through the
blue water and between the white floating floes, and we gave the greasy
beggar a cheer as he passed out of the bay, made a good offing, and bore
away, east by north, round Baccalieu Island.
“Conception Bay, I should tell you, gentlemen, is a large inlet of the
Newfoundland coast, about fifty-three miles long, by some twenty or so
broad; thus there is plenty of elbow-room for working out, even against
a head-wind. Its coast is very bold and precipitous, especially about
Point de Grates and Cape St. Francis. Harbour Grace and Carboniere on
its shore were settlements of the old French times.
“As we followed in the Russian’s wake, Bob Jenner, a fine, handsome
young seaman, from Bristol, had the wheel, steering, with a steady hand,
between the floes of broken ice that were drifting dangerously about the
bay. We had the brig under easy sail; her fore and main courses,
topsails, jib, and forestay-sail.
“Amid the quiet that prevailed on board, and the satisfaction we felt in
having the blue water rippling alongside again, we were surprised by
hearing a voice hailing us, as it were, from the sea.
“’A man in the water, sir; just abeam of us, to port,’ shouted Scotch
Willy, as he sprang into the main chains.
“And there, sure enough, in the sea, some twenty yards or so from us, we
saw a man’s head bobbing up and down like a fisherman’s float, just as
we neared the mouth of the inlet, where, beyond the headlands, that were
covered with snow, and shining in the sea, we could see the waters of
the Atlantic stretching far away.
“’Rope—a rope!—man overboard, Captain Benson; lay the maincourse to the
wind!’ were now the shouts.
“’Bear a hand—quick—diable!’ cried the man in the water. ’Are you
fellows fit for nothing, in heaven or hell, that you will let me drown
before your eyes, d—n them?’
“Ere this remarkable speech reached us, the sheet was let fly to
starboard, hauled into port, the brig lay to the wind, and the line was
hove to this ill-bred personage in the water. He caught the bight of it
with difficulty, for he was sorely benumbed, and actually sunk out of
sight as he tied it under his armpits. However, up he came again, and
we gently hauled him on board, where he fainted for a few minutes; but
recovered when we poured some warm brandy-and-water down his throat,
stripped off his wet clothes, and put him in a cosy spare hammock in the
“By the time all this was done, we had cleared Conception Bay, and, with
flocks of the Baccalieu birds screaming about us, were heading east by
north, to keep clear of the floes, which the current was throwing in
towards the land again, so rapidly, that many of them, like the links of
an icy chain, were already drifting between us and the Russian, who was
hoisting out his studding-sails on both sides, to make as good an offing
as possible, before the sun set upon that frozen shore and tideless sea.
“By midday she was well-nigh hull down; but standing to the southward,
having cleared the outer angle of the ice, while we were standing east
and by north, to turn the end of a long mass, which we hoped to do ere
night fell. In fact, the Russian had glided through some opening, which
had closed again, for we could see only a line of ice, now stretching to
the northern horizon, shutting us in towards the land.
“By midday our new hand was so far recovered as to be able to tell us
that he was by name Urbain Gautier, a French Canadian, and that he had
been a seaman on board the Russian whaler; that he had resented some
ill-usage, been flogged, and thrown overboard. In proof of this summary
procedure he showed us his back, which was covered with livid marks,
evidently produced by the hearty application of a cat or knotted rope’s
end, but Scotch Willy lessened the general sympathy by informing me and
Tom Dacres, in a whisper, that when the Canadian’s knife fell from its
sheath as we dragged him on board there was blood on its blade.
“This circumstance was whispered among the crew from ear to ear, and
gave rise to many suspicions in no way favourable to our new
acquisition, whom, however, they cared not to question, as he was a man
singularly repulsive and brutal in aspect, and having a something in his
expression of eye which made all on board shrink from him.
“Urbain Gautier was Herculean in stature and proportion, and most
saturnine and satanic in visage. His eyes were too near each other, and
too deeply set on each side of his long hooked nose, over which his two
eye-brows met in a straight and black unbroken line. His mouth, with
its thin lips and serrated fangs, suggested cruelty, and altogether
there was a general and terrible aspect of evil about him. He spoke
English, but when excited resorted to Canadian-French oaths and
“If ’twas he brought us ill-luck we got our first instalment of it that
“The morning broke cold, grey, and cheerless, amid a storm of snow and
wind, through which, to reduce the ship’s speed, for we could see but
little ahead, we drove under our fore-course and topsails all
close-reefed now, and bitterly did we all regret the impatience which
made us leave our snug moorings in Harbour Grace.
“Now and then the black scud would lift a little, but only to show the
ice-fields drawing nearer and nearer, so, lest we should be crushed or
enclosed amid them hopelessly, and then, it might be, starved to death
when the last of our beef, biscuits, and water were gone, we steered in
for the land, with the wild Arctic tempest—for such it was—increasing
“We tried sounding to leeward, but the lead always slipped from my
benumbed hands, and in the end we lost the frozen line, as it parted in
the iron block which was seized to the rigging by a tail-rope. Ere long
we struck soundings with the hand lead, for the water was beginning to
“The brig’s tops and the bellies of the close-reefed topsails became
filled with snow, and now we began to look gloomily at each other,
fearing rather than doubting the end.
“For most of that weary day we held on thus, running alternately west
and north—sea-room was all we wanted till a safe harbourage opened; but
ere long we knew it would be hopeless to look for either if the gale
continued, and the briskest exercise could scarcely keep us from being
“We had been driven nor’-west I know not how many miles—for, perhaps,
more than six-and-thirty—when a heavier sea than usual struck the brig
on her starboard side, throwing her over on her beam ends to port,
carrying away the bulwarks, tearing the long-boat from its chocks and
lashings amidships, and making a clean sweep of everything on deck,
buckets, loose spars, and handspikes; and with these went one of our
men, who was never seen again.
“The brig righted, for she was a brave little craft, but with the loss
of her topmasts and jib-boom, all of which, with yards and gearing, were
broken off at the caps, and with hatchets and knives we worked amid the
blinding and benumbing haze of drift and spray, snow, and the darkness
of the coming night, to clear the wreck away—and away it all went astern
with a crash, leaving the _Favourite_ now under only her forecourse and
“I shall never forget that night, if I live for a thousand years.
“The pumps were frozen; the boxes a mass of ice; the brakes refused to
work; but I knew there was more water in the hold than was healthy for
us. We could get no tea, coffee, nor any warm food, for the cook’s
galley had been swept overboard, and the tots of grog, which I served
out from time to time, conduced, I think, rather to stupefy than to
comfort the poor fellows, who were beginning to lose all heart, and to
huddle together for warmth in the forecastle.
“Lightning, green and ghastly, glared forth at times, revealing the
weird aspect of the crippled and snow-covered brig; yet it had the
effect of clearing the atmosphere and enabling us to see the stars; but
still the wind blew fierce and biting over the vast ice-fields, and
still the fated craft flew on—we scarcely knew whither—but as the event
proved, between the headland of Buenovista and the enclosing ice.
“We had the utmost difficulty in keeping a lamp in the binnacle, and by
its light, amid the storm, Urbain Gautier, the French-Canadian, who had
the wheel, was steering; no other man on board but he could have handled
it singly and kept the brig to her course, for he had the strength of
three of us, and seemed alike impervious to cold and to suffering.
“I think I can see him now as he stood then, with his feet firmly
planted on the quarterdeck grating, his hands on the spokes of the
wheel, and the livid lightning seeming to play about him, as the brig
flew on through the storm and the darkness, and with every varying flash
his features changed in hue. Now they were green, and anon red or blue;
now purple, and then ghastly white; ever and again, as the lightning
flashed forth, this infernal face came out of the gloom with a
diabolical grotesqueness, and a strange smile on it that appalled us
all; and now another day began to break.
“’Mate, that fellow is more like a devil than a human being,’ whispered
Bob Jenner to me, echoing my own thoughts, as we clung together to the
belaying pins abaft the mainmast.
“He spoke in a low whisper; but in an instant the eyes of Urbain were on
“’Ah!’ said he, showing his serrated teeth, ’a _maladroit_ speech,
“’No messmate of yours,’ growled Bob, unwisely.
“’Shipmate, then,’ suggested the other, with a strange glance, between a
grin and a scowl, for his black, glittering eyes wore one expression,
and his cruel mouth another.
“’Well, mayhap, for so it must be,’ said Bob, bluntly.
“’Ah,’ said Urbain, with his horrible smile, as he held the wheel with
one hand, and—even at that terrible time—felt for his sheath-knife with
the other; ’ah! you think me a _mauvais sujet_, do you?”
“’I doesn’t know what “mavy suggey” may be, and I doesn’t care if I
never does,’ replied Bob, sturdily; ’but once I catches you ashore,
mounseer, I’ll teach you not to grip your knife when speaking to me.’
“’No quarrelling, lads,’ said I, while my teeth chattered in the cold of
that awful morning atmosphere. ’I only wish we were ashore.’
“’Then have your wish. Land ho!’ sung out Urbain; and at that moment
the grey wrack around us parted like a curtain; there was a dreadful
crash, which tumbled us all right and left; the breakers which he had
seen ahead were now boiling around us; and the brig lay bulged and
broken-backed upon a reef, close to a lofty line of rocky coast, a
helpless wreck, with the ice closing round her; and with a sound between
an oath and a laugh, Urbain quitted the now useless wheel, which
oscillated, as if in mockery, to and fro.
“Captain Benson, who, worn out by toil, had been snatching a few
minutes’ repose under the hood of the companionway, now sprang on deck,
to find the brig totally lost, and that for us there was no resource, if
we would save our lives, but to abandon her and get on shore.
“Broken and bulged, she was too firmly wedged on the reef for us ever to
have the slightest hope of getting her off, save to sink her in deep
water. As yet she might hold together for some hours, if the fury of
the storm abated, and there were evident signs of such being the case.
“As each successive blast grew less in fury, and as the force and sound
of the sea went down, we heard the wild streaming of the Baccalieu
birds; and now, ere the water, which was rising fast in hold and cabin,
destroyed everything, we procured charts and telescopes, to discover on
what part of that barren, bleak, and most desolate of all the American
shores, our fate had cast us.
“On comparing the outline of the snow-clad coast with the diagrams on
the chart, we found we were stranded somewhere between the Bloody Bay
and the Bay of Fair and False, about one hundred and twenty miles to the
north-westward of the point from whence we had sailed.
“Few or no settlers, even of the most hardy and desperate description,
are to be found thereabout, as the inhabitants between that place and
the Bay of Notre Dame, about one hundred and fifty in number, are poor
wretches who fish for cod and salmon in what they call summer, and for
seals and the walrus in winter, and usually retire for the latter
purpose to St. John’s, or bury themselves in the woods till the snow
disappears, about the month of June.
“We had but a sorry prospect before us; every instant the brig was going
more and more to pieces beneath our feet, and our glasses swept the far
extent of the snow-clad coast in vain, for not a vestige of a human
habitation, or any sign of a human being, could be seen. No living
thing was there save the Baccalieu birds, which screamed and wheeled in
flocks above the seething breakers.
“Captain Benson’s resolutions were taken at once. He resolved to
abandon the wreck, and make his way by land at once for Trinity, a
little town on the western side of the great bay that divides Avalon
from the mainland of the island, or for Buenoventura, another settlement
twelve miles to the southward.
“By circumnavigating the numerous bights, bays, and other inlets that
lay between us and Buenoventura—especially the long, narrow, and
provoking reach of Clode Sound—provided we failed to cross it on the
ice, we should have at least a hundred miles to travel over a desolate
and snow-covered waste, without a pathway, and without other guide than
“We set about our preparations at once. Every man put on his warmest
clothing, and Tom Dacres lent a cosy Petersham jacket to the Canadian,
Gautier. We greased our boots well, that they might exclude the wet,
and made us long leggings to wear over our trousers by tying pieces of
tarpaulin from the ankle to the knee, and lashing them well round with
“For many hours we had been without food, and now examination proved
that, save a few biscuits in the cabin locker, all the bread on board
had been destroyed by the salt water; yet Urbain Gautier was able to
make a meal of it. We were forced to content ourselves with a half
biscuit each, to be eaten at our first halting place on shore. Beef or
other provision we had none, and not a drop of rum or any other liquid
could be had, for the brig was going fast to pieces, as the breakers
surged up under her weather-counter, and all the hull abaft the mainmast
was settling rapidly down in the water.
“Luckily we got up six muskets and some dry ammunition through the
skylight. I say luckily, as we would have to hunt our way to
Buenoventura; and these, with two tin pannikins, wherewith to cook and
melt the snow for water, and a box of lucifer matches for lighting fires
when we squatted in the bush for the night, we made our way ashore in
the quarter-boat, and landed a chilled, wan, haggard, and miserable
little band, consisting of eleven persons in all, including the captain,
Bob Jenner, Tom Dacres, Willy Ormiston, the boy, myself, and five
“We were not without some fears of the Red Indians, though few or none,
I believe, are now to be found on the island. Thus our first proceeding
was to load and cap our muskets carefully.[*]
[*] It was a tradition, when the author was there, that in 1810 an
exploring party, under Lieutenant Buchan, R.N., was sent to cultivate
friendship with the Red Indians, and left with them, as hostages, two
marines. Returning to the Bay of Exploits (about seventy miles westward
from Bloody Bay) next summer, he found the savages gone, and the
headless remains of his two marines lying in the bush.
“Captain Benson proceeded in front, with a fowling-piece on his
shoulder, steering the way, with the aid of his pocket compass and a
fragment of a chart; and he, too, was custodian of our box of lucifer
matches. Just as we reached the top of the cliffs, by a slippery and
dangerous ascent, we heard a sound, which made us all pause and look
back towards the wreck. The field ice had already closed in upon the
reef; but the last vestiges of the brig had disappeared where the
Baccalieu birds were whirling thickest and screaming loudest.
“From the cliff that overlooked the sea, which was covered to the
horizon with a myriad hummocks of field ice, diversified here and there
by a great iceberg, the view landward differed but little in aspect.
The whole dreary expanse was covered with snow—snow that made the frozen
lakes and bays so blend with the land, that save for the dark groves of
stunted firs and dwarf brushwood that grew in the arid soil, it was
difficult to know where one ended and the other began. The hills were
low, monotonous, and unpleasantly resembled icebergs, without possessing
the altitude, the sharp peaks, and abrupt outlines of the latter.
“In all that wintry waste the most awful silence prevailed, and not a
sound was stirring in the clear blue air, for now the snow-storm had
ceased, the wind had died away, and the sky was all of the purest,
deepest, most intense, and unclouded blue. Amid it shone the dazzling
sun, causing a reflection from the snow that served partly to blind or
bewilder us; but now, after sharing our tobacco—all save Urbain—for a
friendly whiff, we set resolutely forth upon our journey, in a direction
at first due south-west from Bloody Bay, towards the upper angle of the
long and winding shores of Newman’s Sound.
“Three days we travelled laboriously, each helping his shipmates on, for
our strength was failing fast, and sleeping in the scrubby bush at night
was perilous work, for the cold was beyond all description intense; but
we selected places where the snow was arched and massed over the low
fir-trees, and there we crept in for shelter, running only the risk of
being completely snowed up. Three days we travelled thus, without a
path, over the white waste, where, in some places, the snow was frozen
hard as flinty rock, and where, in others, we sank to our knees at every
step; and during those three days, save the half biscuit per man which
we had on quitting the wreck, no food passed our lips, and no other
fluid than melted snow; and when the damp destroyed our tiny store of
matches, we had no other means of allaying the agony of our thirst than
by sucking a piece of ice or a handful of snow, and these were sure to
produce bleeding lips and swollen tongues, as they burnt like fire.
“On the third morning, as we turned out, a seaman, whose name I forget,
did not stir; we shook and called him, but there was no response; the
poor fellow had passed away in his sleep, and so we left him there.
“Our fingers and noses were frequently frost-bitten; but when they were
well rubbed in snow, animation returned. Those who had whiskers, found
them more a nuisance than a source of warmth, as they generally became
clogged by heavy masses of ice. Dread of snow-blindness, after the
glare of the past winter, came on us, too; for each day the sun was
bright and cloudless—a shining globe overhead; but a globe that gave no
“We met no traces of Red, or of Micmac Indians, or of the wild cariboo
deer; the black bear, the red fox, the broad-tailed musquash, the white
hare, and other game of the country, were nowhere to be seen either, or
else we were not trappers enough to know their lairs or trail.
“Snow-birds, and all other fowl seemed equally scarce: in fact, the
severity of the weather had destroyed, or driven them elsewhere, and
with our hollow and blood-shot eyes we scanned the white wastes in vain
for a shot at anything.
“To add to our troubles, little Scotch Willy fairly broke down, unable
to proceed; and as the boy could not be left to perish, we carried him
by turns—all, save the great and muscular Urbain Gautier, who told us
plainly that he would see the boy and the crew in a very warm climate
indeed before he would add to his own sufferings by becoming a beast of
“’A beast you will ever be, whether of burden or not,’ said Captain
Benson, as he took the first spell of carrying poor Willy, who like a
child as he was, wept sorely for his mother now.
“’_Tonnerre de Dieu!_’ growled the savage, grinding his teeth and
cocking his musket; but as three of us did the same, he gave one of his
queer grins, and resumed his journey; but kept more aloof from us, for
which we were not sorry.
“By contrast to the icy horrors around us, memory tormented us with
ideas and pictures of blazing fires and festive hearths; of happy homes,
of warm dinners and jugs of hot punch; of steaming coffee and rich
cream; of mulled wines; of chestnuts sputtering amid the embers; of
carpeted rooms and close-drawn curtains, glowing redly in the warm blaze
of a sea-coal fire; of warm feather-beds and cosy English blankets; of
every distant comfort that we had not, and never more might see.
“On the fourth day there was no alleviation to our sufferings; no change
in the weather, save a sharp fall of snow, against which we were
sullenly and blindly staggering on, when a cry of despair escaped from
the blistered lips of Captain Benson.
“The fly and needle of the pocket-compass had given way, and we had no
longer a guide!
“Indeed, we knew not where, or in what direction, we might have been
proceeding with this faulty index since we left the ship. Long ere the
noon of the fourth day we should have turned the inner angle of Clode
Sound; but now we saw only masses of slaty rocks on every hand, rising
from the snow, with snow on their summits, save towards the west, where
the vast and flat expanse of a frozen and snow-covered sheet of water
spread in distance far away.
“We thought that it was the sea, but it proved eventually to be the
great Unexplored Lake, which is more than fifty miles long, by about
twenty miles broad.
“In this awful condition we found ourselves, while our little strength
was now failing so fast that we could scarcely carry our hitherto
useless muskets; and now another night was closing in.
“Urbain, who was near me, uttered a savage laugh.
“’What are you thinking of?’ I asked with surprise.
“’Of what, eh?’
“’_Très bien!_ very good; I was thinking over which is likely to be the
best part of a man.’
“’For what purpose?’
“’_Cordieu!_ for eating,’ said he, with a fiendish grimace.
“After this the imprecations of Urbain, chiefly against the captain,
became loud, deep, and horrible; but luckily for us most of them were
uttered in French. Ere long the savage fellow’s mood seemed to change;
he wept, and to our surprise offered to carry Willy, on one condition,
that one of us carried his musket; and then once more, guided now by the
direction in which the sun had set, we continued our pilgrimage towards
“Urbain’s vast strength seemed to have departed now; he was incapable of
keeping up with us, and began to lag more and more behind, so that we
had frequently to wait for him, as we were too feeble to call, and
Willy, who feared him greatly, implored us not to leave them.
“On these occasions Urbain’s old devilish temper became roused, and he
broke forth into oaths, and even threats; so, ultimately, we left him to
proceed at his own slow pace as we struggled towards a wood, dragging
with us a seaman named Tom Dacres, who had been no longer able to
abstain from swallowing snow, by which his mouth was almost immediately
swollen, while he became speechless and all but paralysed.
“Yet on and on we toiled, dragging him by turns, our weary limbs sinking
deep at every step. When I look back to those sufferings, I frequently
think that I must have been partially insane; but it would seem that,
like one in a dream, I went through all the formula of life like a sane
“On reaching the thicket, it proved to be one of old and half-decayed
firs; then we proceeded to suck portions of the bark greedily. After
this we became aware, for the first time, of the absence of Urbain
Gautier and little Willy.
“They had disappeared in the twilight!”
Here Captain Binnacle interrupted his narrative by expressing a fear
that he wearied us; but we begged of him to proceed, as we were anxious
to know how those adventures ended by the shore of the Unexplored Lake.
A still small voice spoke unto me,
“Thou art so full of misery,
Were it not better not to be!”
Then to the still small voice I said,
“Let me not cast in endless shade
What is so wonderfully made.” TENNYSON.
“Nestling close to a rock, from the side of which the snow formed an
arch, we found some moss, which we ate with avidity, and then some
sprigs of savine, which generally grows in the clefts of the rocks all
over the island and the Labrador coast, yielding the berry from which
the spruce beer is made. With tears of thankfulness we devoured them,
and were surmising what had become of Urbain, when about nine o’clock by
the captain’s watch he appeared, but without Scotch Willy, who had, he
said, died about an hour ago, and been buried by him among the snow.
“’Where?’ asked the captain, in a low voice, for Dacres, and two others
of our famine-stricken band, were in a dying condition.
“’Did you observe an old peeled trunk of a tree about a mile distant?’
“’_Très bien_—I buried him there,’ replied Urbain, whose voice sounded
strong and full compared with what it was some hours ago. Captain
Benson remarked this, and said—
“’You have hunted and found something to eat?’
“’_Tonnerre de ciel_! Beelzebub—no. I left my gun with you.’
“True; did poor little Willy die easily?” I asked.
“’I wish we may all die so easily,’ replied Urbain, with an impatient
oath, as he crept close to me for warmth, causing me, I know not why, to
“I scarcely slept that night, though our snow cell was not destitute of
heat; but vague suspicions and solid terrors kept me wakeful. Willy’s
sudden death appalled me; and something in the bearing and aspect of
Urbain filled me with dreadful conjectures, which, in the morning, I
communicated only to Bob Jenner.
“At dawn we found Tom Dacres dead, and two others dying; to leave the
latter would have been inhuman; the poor fellows were quite collected,
shook hands with us all round, shared their tobacco among us equally,
and while we all smoked for warmth, the captain repeated the Lord’s
Prayer. After which, Jenner and I took our guns and went forth to
explore. With tacit but silent consent, we went straight to the old
bare skeleton tree. The snow around it was frozen hard, and was pure,
spotless, and untrodden, as when it fell some days before; so Urbain had
told a falsehood, and little Willy was not buried there. For a little
sustenance we now sucked the rags with which we oiled our guns, and
looked about us, tracing back our trail of the preceding evening a
“Suddenly we came upon the footmarks of Urbain, which diverged at an
acute angle from our several tracks, and those we followed for about
three hundred yards, to where a great rock rose abruptly from the snow,
which was all disturbed and discoloured about its base—discoloured, and
“Bob Jenner and I looked blankly at each other, and cold as our own
blood was, it seemed to grow colder still. There, in that awful
solitude of vast and snowy prairies, dwarf forests, unexplored lakes,
and untrodden land, a terrible tragedy had too surely been acted. He
had killed the boy—but why? Removing the snow with the butts of our
guns, a white man’s hand appeared, an arm, and then we drew forth the
dead body of little Willy Ormiston. It had a strange and unnaturally
emaciated aspect. A livid bruise was on the right temple, and there was
a wound, a singular perforation under the right ear. These were all we
could discover at first; but there was much blood upon the snow around,
and on the poor boy’s tattered clothing. Then a groan escaped us both,
when we found that his left sleeve had been ripped up, and that a great
piece of the arm was wanting, from the elbow to the shoulder, having
been sliced off literally and close to the bone.
“’A strange mutilation!’ said I, while my teeth chattered with dismay,
and I evaded putting my thoughts in words. ’If wolves——’
“’Wolves never did this,’ replied Jenner in a husky voice; ’but a knife
has been used.’
“’You mean—you mean——’
“’Look ye, shipmate, at that round wound in the neck.’
“’After stunning him by a blow, Urbain Gautier has punctured the boy’s
throat, and sucked his blood, like a weazel or a vampire, or some such
thing, and ended actually by cutting a slice from his arm!’
“The whole details of this act of horror seemed but too complete, and
gradually we were compelled to accept the fact, the more so when I
recalled his strange remark of the preceding evening. We became sick
and giddy; the white landscape swam round and round us, and while
covering up the remains with snow we fell repeatedly with excess of
weakness, and then returned to the little thicket—returned slowly, to
find that our band was lessened by three, for in addition to Tom Dacres,
two other poor fellows had just breathed their last. Urbain’s fierce
black eyes questioned us in stern silence as we approached.
“’Did you find the boy?’ asked Captain Benson, who had been singeing the
hair off a fur cap of Dacres, and cutting it into strips for us to chew,
which we did thankfully.
“’Yes, he is dead. Let us think no more of it at present,’ said I.
“Black fury gathered in Urbain’s sombre visage as we came close to him,
and he growled out—’I buried him at the foot of the old tree, shipmate;
so, _diable!_ say what you like, or that which is safer, think what you
“I was too weak to resent this, or to confront him, and so turned away.
The captain divided some of the dead men’s clothes among us, but these
Urbain declined to share, or in the strips of scorched fur, for his
strength seemed to have been completely renovated during the night; and
after covering our poor companions with snow, we again set forth wearily
towards the south-east, and, weak though, we were, we cast many a
backward glance to the thicket where our three dead shipmates lay side
by side. About noon a covey of white winter grouse were near us; we all
fired at once. Whether it was that we were bad shots, that our hands
were weak, that our eyes miscalculated the distance, or our aim wavered,
I know not, but every bird escaped, and with moans of despair we
reloaded. Then, to add to our troubles, it was found that only three of
us, to wit, the captain, Urbain, and myself, had dry powder left. On
and on yet to the south-east, through the blinding and trackless waste
“In a place where a grey scalp of rock was almost bare of drifted snow
we found the skeleton of a cariboo deer. It was pure white, and coated
with crystal frost. Wolfishly we eyed it, as if we would have sucked
the dry bones that several winters, perhaps, had bleached, for not a
vestige even of skin remained on them. Those whose ammunition failed
them, now cast away their guns and powder-horns as useless incumbrances.
We were all reduced to shadows, and two had to support their bending
forms on walking-sticks. Even our jolly captain was becoming quite
feeble, and the despondency of settled despair was creeping over us all.
“Urbain alone seemed hale, and stepped steadily, when others fell ever
and anon in utter weakness. There were times when I surveyed his vast
bulk, which loomed greater to my diseased eyesight, and I thought we had
the foul fiend himself journeying with us in the form of a man.
“What if all should perish—all but he and me? On we toiled towards
another thicket, where we proposed to search for roots or moss, on which
to make a meal, and to light a fire, for evening was approaching; and
now it was that Urbain seated himself on a piece of rock, swearing that
he would proceed no farther then, but would rejoin us in the thicket.
Captain Benson was too weak, or cared too little about him, to
remonstrate, so we passed on in silence to our halting place, where,
most providentially, we found some juniper bushes, which the snow had
preserved, and some soft fir bark, which we devoured greedily.
Refreshed by this, we lighted a fire by means of some gunpowder and a
percussion cap, and heaped the branches on it. A bird or two twittered
past; I fired mechanically—almost without aim—and was lucky enough to
knock over a large-sized pigeon-eagle, which was speedily divided and
devoured, half broiled, ere we thought that the feathers only had been
left for Urbain, of whose guilt Bob and I had informed our shipmates,
that all might be on their guard, and our narrative added to their
sufferings, for now we all feared to sleep, and had to cast lots for a
“About dawn he returned, and when we all set forth again, though we had
been renovated by the heat of our fire and by the savage meal we had
made, he seemed, as usual, the freshest among us, and on this day we
observed, in whispers to each other, that he wore round his neck a
red-spotted handkerchief which we had left tied over the face of Tom
“He must have gone back to the thicket where the three dead men lay, but
for what purpose?
“About noon on this day we found ourselves on the summit of a
mountainous ridge of bare rock; it was without snow, which, however, lay
drifted deep around. It commanded an extensive view so far as from the
borders of the great Unexplored Lake on our right, to the head of
Smith’s Sound on our left.
“There was no sign of a human habitation to be seen, and our eyes swept
in vain the horizon, where the white snow and blue sky met, for a
smoke-wreath indicating where a squatter’s cabin stood.
“’Malediction!’ said Urbain, hoarsely, ’if this continues I shall have
something to eat, _bon gré malgré!_—if it should be the flesh of a man.
You seem shocked mate,’ said he to me, as I shrank back.
“’I am shocked,’ said, I, quietly.
“’Well—_diable!_ don’t be so,’ he replied, mockingly, ’because it is
wonderful truly what you may bring your mind to, if you put your courage
to the test, and place yourself _en visage_ with your fate like a man.’
“’Or a devil—eh, Urbain Gautier?’ said Captain Benson; ’but no more of
“’Don’t threaten me, _mon petit capitaine_—my nice little man,’
interrupted the giant, with a horrible grimace, ’or——’ and pausing, he
laid his hand significantly on his knife.
“Urbain now became surly, insolent, and ferocious; but knowing his
singular strength, which failed less than ours, and knowing the secret,
the loathsome and terrible means by which he maintained it—aware also
that he had plenty of ammunition—we dissembled alike our fears, our
suspicions, and our abhorrence of him.
“After we had toiled on for two hours in silence, he suddenly stopped us
all by an oath.
“’_Nombril de Belzebub!_’ he exclaimed to Captain Benson, ’what is the
use of looking for food or game in these infernal wastes, into which
your stupidity has led us? Let us cast lots, and find out who shall be
shot for the food of the rest!’
“’Silence, wretch,’ said Captain Benson.
“’To that it will come at last,’ said Urbain, grinning.
“’Perhaps it has come to it already,’ said Bob Jenner, unwisely.
“’Ah, _sacré_! You think I murdered that boy, do you? And you think so,
too?’ he added to me.
“’I have not said so,’ I replied, evasively.
“’You had better not, or by ——, if you thought me capable of committing
such an act, or if you said it——’ and so on he rambled incoherently,
threatening and bullying; but all the while most surely confirming our
“’Let us cut him adrift; leave him behind; if we can do so, to-night,’
whispered Jenner to me.
“Low though the whisper was, it caught the huge ears of Urbain, even
while muffled by the lappets of a sealskin cap.
“’Leave me behind, will you? Well, you may do so; but, diable! I shall
not be left without food.’
“About an hour after this we met with a terrible but significant
catastrophe. While we were all proceeding in Indian file behind the
captain, Urbain stumbled on a piece of slippery ice; he fell, and in
doing so, his musket exploded, lodging its contents right in the back of
the head of my poor messmate, Bob Jenner, who fell back, and expired
without a groan.
“We were appalled by the suddenness of this calamity; all, save Urbain,
who rubbed his knees, muttered an oath, and reloaded with all the
rapidity of alarm; while each of us read in his neighbour’s face the
conviction that there was more of design than accident in what had taken
place, though it had all the appearance of a casualty.
“Dissembling still, and having but little time for grief, we covered
poor Bob’s remains with snow, and resumed our melancholy march.
“We were but six now, and five of those were famished scarecrows.
“A mile farther on, we found the ruins of a deserted log hut, which we
hailed with extravagant joy, as our first approach to civilization, and
the abode of human beings. There we resolved to pass the night, which
was approaching, and there we kindled a fire, and with blocks of snow
filled up the doorway, while the smoke escaped by an aperture in the
“Oh, how genial was the warmth we felt; and though we had only a few
fragments of moist bark to chew, we would have felt almost happy, but
for the recent catastrophe, and for our dread of Urbain Gautier, who as
soon as twilight fell said he would go in search of a shot, and taking
his gun went away.
“We breathed more freely when he left us; but we shuddered with intense
loathing when we knew that he was returning to the place where our dead
companion—too surely murdered by his hand—lay uncoffined in the snow.
“We felt that we were no longer safe with him, and all were conscious
that he should die, as a judicial retribution.
“Lots were cast for the dangerous office of executioner, and the fate
fell on me.
“Instead of alarm or compunction, I felt as one who had a terrible duty
to perform. I became conscious that justice to the dead and to the
living, if not my own personal safety, demanded the fulfilment of the
terrible task which had become mine, and with the most perfect coolness
and deliberation I overhauled my gun, examined the charge, carefully
capped it anew, and sleeplessly awaited him I was to destroy—this
wretch—this ghoul or vampire, on his return from his horrid repast amid
the snow—a repast which his own treachery and cruelty had provided; and
as I waited thus the face of poor Willy Ormiston, and the cheery voice
of poor Bob Jenner, as I had often heard it, when he sang at the wheel,
or when sharing the night-watch, came powerfully and distinctly to
“I threw more dry branches on the fire, and bidding my shipmates sleep,
addressed myself to the task of watching, and half dozing, with my
weapon beside me.
“I felt sure that Urbain hated me; that he knew I suspected him, and
would too probably be his next victim, especially if my shot missed him,
as he might then legally slay me, and would do so by a single blow.
“Already I felt my flesh creep at the idea of its furnishing a collop
for him, perhaps to-morrow night, when he stole back from the next
“I shall never forget the weary moments of that exciting night. I have
somewhere read that ’it is one of the strange instincts of half slumber
to be often more alive to the influence of subdued and stealthy sounds
than of louder noises. The slightest whisperings, the low murmurings of
a human voice, the creaking of a chair, the cautious drawing back of a
curtain, will jar upon and rouse the faculties that have been insensible
to the rushing flow of a cataract, or the dull booming of the sea.’
“I must have been asleep, however, when a sound startled me, and I could
hear footsteps treading softly over the crisp and frozen snow. Rousing
myself, I started to the aperture which passed for a doorway, and which,
as I have stated, we had partially blocked up by snow; and through it,
about fifty paces distant, I saw the tall dark form of Urbain towering
between me and the ghastly white waste beyond. He loomed like a giant
in the bright but waning moon, that was sinking behind the hills that
are as yet unnamed, while a blood-red streak to the westward showed
where the morning was about to break.
“My heart beat fast, every pulse was quickened, and every fibre tingled,
as I raised the musket to my shoulder, took a deliberate aim, and, when
he was within twenty paces of me, fired, and shot him dead!
“The bullet entered his mouth, and passed out of the base of the skull
behind, injuring the brain in its passage, and destroying him instantly.
“So Captain Benson told me, for I never looked on his face again, though
I have often seen it since in my dreams.
“About two hours after this summary act of justice we were found and
relieved by a travelling party of Indians, Micmacs, who come from the
continent of America at times, and domicile themselves chiefly along the
western shore of the island, to hunt the beaver by the banks of the
“They conveyed us through the fur country of the Buenoventura people to
the miserable little settlement of that name, where we remained till the
ice broke up, when we were taken to St. John’s in a seal-fisher.
“There our perils and suffering ended. We had shipped on board
different crafts for different countries, and the next year saw me
appointed captain of this clipper-ship, the _Pride of the Ocean_.”[*]
[*] A character not unlike Urbain Gautier figures in the account of the
first or second expedition of Sir John Franklin.