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A MOTHER'S LOVE.
HAST thou sounded the depths of yonder sea,
Hast thou measured the height of heaven above?
There are teachings on earth, and sky, and air,
ADVENTURES OF FOUR RUSSIAN
ON THE DESERT ISLAND OF EAST SPITZ
In this alarming state (that is, when the ship was surrounded with ice) a council was held, when the mate, Alexis Hinkof, informed them, that he recollected to have heard that some of the people of Mesen, some time before, having formed a resolution of wintering upon this island, had carried from that city timber proper for building a hut, and had actually erected one at some distance from the shore. This information induced the whole company to resolve on wintering there, if the hut, as they hoped, still existed; for they clearly perceived the imminent danger they were in, and that they must inevitably perish if they continued in the ship. They despatched, therefore, four of their crew in search of the hut, or any other succour they could meet with. These were Alexis Hinkof, the mate, Iwan Hinkof, his godson Stephen Scharassof, and Feodor Weregin..
As the shore on which they ere to and was uninhabited, it was necessary that they should make some provision for their expedition. They had almost two miles to travel over those ridges of ice, which, being raised by the waves, and driven against each other by the wind, rendered the way equally difficult and dangerous; prudence, therefore, forbade their loading themselves too much, lest, by being overburdened, they might sink in between the pieces of ice and perish. Having thus maturely considered the nature of their undertaking, they provided themselves with a musket and powder-horn, containing twelve charges of powder with as many balls, an axe, a small kettle, a bag
with about twenty pounds of flour, a knife, a tinder-box and tinder, a bladder filled with tobacco, and every man his wooden pipe.
Thus accoutred, these four sailors quickly arrived on the island, little expecting the misfortunes that would befall them. They began with exploring the country, and soon discovered the hut they were in search of, about an English mile and a half from the shore. It was thirty-six feet in length, eighteen feet in height, and as many in breadth: it contained a small ante-chamber, about twelve feet broad, which had two doors, the one to shut it up from the outer air, the other to form a communication with the inner room; this contributed greatly to keep the large room warm when once heated. In the large room was an earthen stove, constructed in the Russian manner, that is, a kind of oven without a chimney, which served occasionally either for baking, for heating the room, or, as is customary among the Russian peasants in very cold weather, for a place to sleep upon. Our adventurers rejoiced greatly at having discovered the hut, which had, however, suffered much from the weather, it having now been built a considerable time: they, however, contrived to pass the night in it.
Early next morning they hastened to the shore, impatient to inform their comrades of their success, and also to procure from their vessel such provision, ammunition, and other necessaries, as might better enable them to winter on the island. I leave my readers to figure to themselves the astonishment and agony of mind these poor people must have felt, when, on reaching the place of their landing, they saw nothing but an open sea, free from the ice, which, but a day before, had covered the ocean. A violent storm, which had risen during the night, had certainly been the cause of this disastrous event; but they could not tell
whether the ice, which had before hemmed in the vessel, agitated by the violence of the waves, had been driven against her, and shattered her to pieces, or whether she had been carried by the current into the main, a circumstance which frequently happens in those seas. Whatever accident had befallen the ship, they saw her no more; and, as no tidings were ever afterwards received of her, it is most probable that she sunk, and that all on board of her perished.
This melancholy event depriving the unhappy wretches of all hope of ever being able to quit the island, they returned to the hut whence they had come, full of horror and despair.
Their first attention was employed, as may easily be imagined, in devising means of providing subsistence, and for repairing their hut. The twelve charges of powder which they had brought with them, soon procured them as many rein-deer; the island, fortunately for them, abounding in these animals. I have before observed that the hut which the sailors were so fortunate as to find, had sustained some damage, and it was this: there were cracks in many places between the boards of the building which freely admitted the air. This inconvenience was, however, easily remedied, as they had an axe, and the beams were still sound (for wood in those cold climates continues through a length of years unimpaired by worms or decay), so it was easy for them to make the boards join again very tolerably; besides, moss growing in great abundance all over the island, there was more than sufficient to stop up the crevices which wooden houses must always be liable to. Repairs of this kind cost the unhappy men less trouble as they were Russians, for all Russian peasants are known to be good carpenters; they build their own houses, and are very
expert in handling the axe.
The intense cold which makes
these climates habitable to so few species of animals, renders them equally unfit for the production of vegetables. No species of tree or even shrub is found in any of the islands of Spitzbergen, a circumstance of the most alarming nature to our sailors.
Without fire, it was impossible to resist the rigour of the climate, and without wood how was the fire to be produced or supported? However, in wandering along the beach, they collected plenty of wood, which had been driven ashore by the waves, and which at first consisted of the wrecks of ships, and afterwards of whole trees with their roots, the produce of some more hospitable (but to them unknown) climate, which the overflowings of rivers or other accidents had sent into the ocean. Nothing proved of more essential service to these unfortunate men during the first year of their exile, than some boards they found upon the beach, having a long iron hook, some nails of about five or six inches long and proportionably thick, and other bits of old iron fixed in them, the melancholy relics of some vessels cast away in those remote parts. These were thrown ashore by the waves at the time when the want of powder gave our men reason to apprehend that they must fall a prey to hunger, as they had nearly consumed those rein-deer they had killed. This lucky circumstance was attended with another equally fortunate: they found on the shore the root of a fir tree, which nearly approached the figure of a bow. As necessity has ever been the mother of invention, they soon fashioned this root to a good bow by the help of a knife; but still they wanted a string and arrows. Not knowing how to procure these at present, they resolved upon making a couple of lances to defend themselves against the white bears, by far the most ferocious of their kind,