Bibliographic Information

The Plough Boy Journals

The Journals and Associated Documents

The Plough Boy Anthology

19th Century American Whaling

Bonin Islands

Pitcairn's Island

Dictionaries & Glossaries

Ashley's Glossary of
Whaling Terms

Dana's Dictionary of
Sea Terms


W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. XLIX, No. 1 (Jan 1879)
pp. 54-62.

54 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.



      I hear that Tom Dawson was ship-keeper on board one of the whalers lost last season in the great Polar basin, near Point Barrow; and that he remained by the ship, preferring to take his chances in these hyperborean regions rather than attempt the seemingly desperate – though, as it proved, successful – journey over land and ice to seek safety on board more fortunate ships. Tom is an old stager in those Polar seas; and, from all that I can learn from those rescued and brought to San Francisco, I have a shrewd suspicion that he has returned to his first love.

      It is fifteen years since Tom Dawson and I were shipmates in the "Braganza;" and he then told me that he had been up north every summer since 1849, but had never penetrated so far as he wished to go, which was to a bay in latitude seventy-four north, near Point Barrow.

      I was curious to know what particular object he had in view, that he should thus persevere, year after year, in trying to reach that far-away place.

      "Why," asked Dawson, "is n't it natural that a man should want to see his wife?"

      "His wife!" I echoed, in amazement. "Why, yes, of course it's natural; but what do you mean by that?"

      "My wife is up there somewhere, I suppose. For the last twelve seasons I have been sailing out of the Sandwich Islands by the cruise, coming up here in the Arctic every summer, and all with the hope of again meeting my little Agnes."

      "Agnes?" I again repeated. "Agnes what or who?"

      "Why, Agnes Dawson," he answered coolly, "since, as I told you, she is my wife. I have seldom told the circumstance to any of my shipmates; for they are too much inclined to laugh at me, and call me a romantic fool: but I shall come up into these seas every year as long as I am able to do it; and, if I ever find my wife, I shall go with her and stay with her, if I have to fight my way out of the ship, and fight again after I get on shore. I think I have confidence enough in you to tell you all the particulars; and, after having heard the story, you shall judge for yourself how big a fool I am."

      And this is the substance of the story which Tom Dawson told to me during our night-watches.

      When Captain Roys, in the "Superior," of Sag Harbor, passed through Behring's Straits in the summer of 1848, and made a very successful whaling season, it was generally believed that his was the only vessel visiting the Arctic Ocean that year. But, according to the story told me by Tom, the little bark "Mongolian," on board which he held the berth of ordinary seaman, sailed from Sydney, Australia, in the early part of that year, on a voyage which was secret from all but her captain and chief officer.

      It was understood by Tom and others of the crew, when they signed the shipping articles, that the vessel was to make a trading voyage among the Micronesian Islands in the lower latitudes of the Pacific, and would extend her cruise to Vancouver's Island or other British ports on the northwest coast of America. There was nothing about the "Mongolian" or her outfit that indicated any special preparations for a voyage to the icy seas, and Tom assured me that he certainly should not have joined her crew if he had known or even guessed her real destination.

      After touching at various islands in the Pacific, the bark held her course steadily northward; and, instead of approaching the west coast of America at the point expected by the crew, she steered through one of the passages among the Aleutian Chain, and made her first landfall near Cape St. Thaddeus.

      Tom and his shipmates, indignant at the deception practiced upon them, entered their protest; but the captain, calling all hands aft, explained that he intended to explore for information concerning new whaling-grounds in the far north, and also to ascertain if a good trade might not be carried on with the wandering tribes of Esquimaux

Love Among the Ice-fields. 55

for furs and walrus-ivory. The crew were promised extra wages and more grog, their remonstrances were all overruled, and they returned to their duty.

      The "Mongolian" then proceeded on her voyage through Behring's Straits, entering the Polar basin, as appears by Tom's statements, some days in advance of the date given in the log-book of Captain Roys. A good dicker was carried on, from time to time, with little parties of Indians who came out in their skin-boats; and, the season proving a very open one, the little bark skirted the ice-fields away up to the vicinity of Point Barrow, arriving there late in August.

      A large party of natives were found encamped here at a favorable location for carrying on a trade; and the anchor was let go in a convenient depth at two miles' distance from the land, for the whole sea is but a shallow basin, affording anchorage anywhere.

      But, the night following, a gale came on from the westward, forcing the ice in toward the land until the bark was surrounded and hemmed in by the impassable barrier.

      But she was not at first supposed to be in immediate danger, and it was hoped that a change of wind and weather might soon operate to release her from the icy fetters. The wind, however, continued for three weeks in the same quarter; and more and more ice kept pressing down before it, making the situation each day more perilous. Hope merged into deep anxiety, and anxiety into despair, until at last the captain decided to abandon the bark to her fate, and seek safety for himself and those under his command by making a journey down the coast to some Russian settlement. The season was drawing to a close, and the signs heralding the approach of an early winter were already to be observed.

      The stock of provisions on board was not sufficient to have lasted the whole crew more than half way through the inclement season, even had there been a reasonable hope of preserving the vessel herself from destruction.

      But of this there was no prospect; for it seemed that any considerable increase of wind, causing a commotion among the ice, must certainly break her up, and probably destroy the lives of all who might be on board of her at the moment.

      The Esquimaux had all the time been very friendly to the ice-bound mariners; but to attempt to quarter the whole crew of eighteen men upon them for the winter was not for a moment to be thought of. They were so poor themselves that they barely picked up a meagre subsistence, wandering from place to place, like the Bedouins of the desert.

      When it was finally decided to abandon, Tom Dawson, and his chum, Jack Gilbert, declared their intention of taking their chance of remaining by the bark, living either on board or among the Indians, rather than incur the toils and risks of the journey over ice and land which the main body were about to undertake.

      The captain raised no objection to this; and the two, taking an affectionate leave of their shipmates, remained behind, with a strong presentiment upon all that they would never meet again in this world.

      Taking the two boats with them, sixteen men set forward over the ice, heading directly to the southward, but keeping as near the coast as circumstances would permit.

      Tom and Gilbert watched them as long as they could be seen from the bark's masthead, and felt the entire loneliness of their condition all the more keenly when their comrades were no longer to be seen. But each party had made their own election; and those sixteen men were never heard of more, having no doubt all perished miserably in some way known only to Omniscience.

      The party had taken what provisions they could well carry with them; but enough remained on board the "Mongolian" to last two men for more than a year. Gilbert and Tom were in some doubt as to the best manner of preserving their stock: for if they, with the help of their Esquimaux friends, could carry it on shore, it would be quite impossible to guard against theft and waste; for these people, despite their general friendliness, had an irresistible propensity to pilfer even things which they did not really want, and were, besides, improvident even to recklessness. On the other hand, if the bark were destroyed, with all the provisions on board, they would be in a miserable plight, even if they escaped with their lives; for they would be restricted to the nauseous diet of the Esquimaux, and short commons even at that.

      But for the present they decided to let all

56 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

remain as it was, and to live chiefly on board, keeping aloof, as far as possible, from the Indians. Some of the latter, however, came on board every day, and of course took greater liberties, now that there were only two seamen left, than they had when all hands were on board. Though not at all hostile, they were thus quite troublesome.

      The weather and wind continued much the same for another week; but, at the end of that period, an easterly breeze set in, and the masses of ice were forced off shore, thus relieving the vessel from the pressure. Three or four days of easterly weather were sufficient to move away the barrier, and leave a strip of clear water several miles in width along the coast.

      But it was quite impossible for our two adventurers to work and handle a bark of two hundred tons in such a manner as to take her back into the Pacific; while the Esquimaux, even had they been willing to assist in such a voyage, were entirely useless as seamen. Besides, the view from the mast-head showed such immense bodies of ice to the southward that it was evident that all hope of escape in that direction would be effectually barred as soon as a few miles' progress had been made.

      The idea was at once given up; but, with the aid of the Indians, the anchor was weighed, and the ship worked into a small haven beyond a bend of the shore, somewhat to the northward of the former anchorage. Here the anchor was again let go, within half a mile from the shore; as it was thought to be the position which held out the best promise of safety.

      Tom and his partner, having now done all that could be done, awaited the progress of the season, determined, in the event of any great movement of the ice, to get clear of the bark in time, before she should be crushed or be forced on shore.

      The Esquimaux set about building their winter village at the head of the haven, within convenient distance of the vessel; the village consisting of only three huts, with a population of about thirty souls.

      When the wind again changed, it came quite fresh from the northwest, and the sight of the advancing fields of ice was fearful to behold. The preparations for abandonment were hastily made, and a part of the provisions was being transferred to the small boat and the native baidars, to be carried on shore, when an unlooked-for circumstance occurred, which proved the salvation of the "Mongolian," and gave our heroes at least a respite from destruction by shipwreck, which a moment before appeared inevitable.

      Among the advance guard of the icy masses was one particularly large berg or floating island, – large in extent or area, but of no great height. This berg, moving on with the rest in full career, was suddenly brought to a stand by striking aground directly at the mouth of the little bay, which passage it almost completely blocked up. The other smaller masses, being thus effectually checked, recoiled from the shock, grinding upon each other, and were swept away to the southward, so that only smaller pieces found their way past the great natural breakwater thus formed by the stranded berg.

      The Esquimaux greeted this phenomenon with wild shouts, and declared, with every kind of pantomime they could make use of, that the bark was safe for the season.

      And the event proved that they were right; for the next day the weather became wintry, with a sudden accession of cold, and, before Tom and his crony had completed their arrangements for making themselves comfortable on board, the young ice had begun to form in the smooth basin of the little bay. In a few more days it was strongly frozen over; and the "Mongolian" lay snugly and securely docked, with no apprehension of any immediate peril to the vessel herself.

      I will not tire the reader with a description of their life in winter quarters, such as has been so well and so minutely described in the narratives of the several Arctic explorers. Of course our two men, having a vessel not specially fitted for wintering in the regions of eternal ice, were put to a thousand make-shifts and rude contrivances; yet they managed, not only to exist, but to keep themselves tolerably comfortable.

      The Indians, had they been so disposed, might easily have taken possession of the vessel and all she contained. But they showed no such disposition, and continued to make peaceful visits to her every day when the mercury rose high enough to allow of human beings venturing into the open air at all.

      There was one among them, who, it soon

Love Among the Ice-fields. 57

appeared, was always a welcome guest in the snug little after-cabin of the "Mongolian," and who was destined to wield a strange and powerful influence over my wayward shipmate, Tom Dawson.

      There was only one young woman among the tribe, who was known by the euphonious name of Aggalootka. She was the daughter of old Agkaloot, who might be called a prominent man in his own circle: for at least the prominence of his own cheek-bones could not be denied; and he was, besides, a shade dirtier than most of his neighbors. Although he was a widower, he appeared to entertain very little affection for his only child, who had something exceptional about her, and did not excel in those gifts and accomplishments which would tend to make her a belle in the estimation of her own countrymen.

      According to Tom's own statement, which is the only available evidence bearing upon the case, Aggalootka was really pretty; but due allowance must be made for the partiality of a lover. A pretty woman, in any sense of the phrase as used by civilized men, is certainly a rara avis among the Western Esquimaux; for, as a rule, they are even less prepossessing in appearance than the men. In most of the specimens whom I have met, the softening down of the features seemed to give to the little nose the effect of a mere pimple lying deep down in a valley between two mountainous cheeks. And, as everything about the dress, movements, and manners of these people is at the very antipodes of grace or good taste, it would seem that Aggalootka must have been an unworthy representative of her own race if she possessed charms to so infatuate an intelligent Englishman like Tom Dawson.

      However, be that as it may, Tom, in his strange quarters, isolated from civilization, did actually conceive for this Esquimau maiden a passion which has influenced and colored his whole subsequent life. She was a frequent visitor to the cozy little cabin of the "Mongolian," and often shared the rations of the two seamen, thereby conferring a strange kind of happiness upon Tom, while it must be admitted that her company was rather a bore to the less susceptible Gilbert.

      According to the description given of his character by Tom, his shipmate had, in common with the Esquimaux, the faculty of being able to sleep whenever he chose, and thus while away a great portion of the winter in a torpid state, like a polar bear. It was while Jack thus enjoyed his somnolence, that the lovers passed the most delightful hours, Tom teaching English words to Aggalootka, while at the same time he improved his own knowledge of the Indian jargon by way of exchange. But the language of tenderness requires not words as a medium of exchange; and in this case heart speaks to heart, and eye to eye.

      In vain did Gilbert, during his waking hours, ridicule and satirize all this nonsense, as he termed it. Aggalootka was certainly touched with a new sensation, such as she had never felt toward any of the hunters among her own people; and Tom Dawson, imprisoned in almost total darkness, and smothered in furs, was, alas! over head and ears in love with the little Esquimau maiden.

      Matters had progressed into this stage, when one day the patriarch, Agkaloot, went out alone to hunt the walrus, and did not return. There were strange wailings and mourning rites all the next day around the air-hole in the ice near which his spear had been found; but the frigid element refused to give up its dead.

      Here was a new trouble for Aggalootka; for her father, though never at all demonstrative in his affection for her, had always left her inclinations free in the matter of marriage, and had sustained her in her steady refusal to espouse Gurjak, the ugliest and most disgusting man of the tribe, and the most persistent of suitors for her hand.

      As soon as the days of mourning for the lost brave were over, these persecutions were renewed in a manner showing that Gurjak felt his power now and her helplessness.

      Aggalootka, rendered miserable by her would-be lover's hateful overtures, sought the "Mongolian"'s cabin more than ever: in fact, she might almost be said to live there.

      Tom, albeit his course might be fraught with personal danger, was happy enough in feeling himself the protector and champion of persecuted innocence; and Aggalootka was invested with even new beauties in his eyes.

      It was not long before he resolved upon the bold plan of making her his own wife,

58 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

and living or dying with her; though he knew that such a course must involve the greatest risk to himself.

      It did not take long to come to an understanding with the young lady herself. She was ready to incur any risk to escape the suit of the detested Gurjak.

      The preliminaries were quickly arranged; and Aggalootka came on board the bark the same night, accompanied by two old women, hideously ugly, who were her fast friends, and fully in the secret. A boy was also brought along, without whose assistance the marriage ceremony could not be completed.

      The ceremonies, as practiced among this tribe, were very simple and unique. Both Tom and his bride-elect were anointed with rancid whale-oil; the anointing being performed for Tom by the two old women, and for Aggalootka by Jack Gilbert and the boy. The couple were then lashed together, back to back, with thongs of walrus-hide, one of these thongs going round both their necks so as to pull the backs of their heads into close contact. A sack or bag made of the semi-translucent intestine of a whale was then pulled over both their heads; and, thus confined, they remained while the old women and the boy repeated the marriage service, whatever that might be, in their native tongue.

      When this was concluded, the happy twain were released from their bonds; and having embraced, and rubbed their noses together, the ceremony was declared to be complete.

      "It may be all satisfactory to your wife, Tom, as far as she is concerned," said the astute Gilbert, "and she has done all right according to her knowledge and gifts; but it strikes me that the Episcopal Church of England ought to have a finger in the pie, for your sake, Tom, at least. Stand by, now, to repeat after me what I'm going to read,"

      And Jack produced an old soiled book, from which he read off the whole marriage service; Tom making the proper responses, and using a brass ring, which was large enough for the bride to put two fingers into at once.

      "I've no church authority," continued Gilbert, "and perhaps there's still something about the splice that isn't quite ship-shape; but I've done the very best I could, and I now pronounce you, Thomas Dawson, and you, Aggie or Agnes Lootka, to be man and wife, so far as you can be made so in these heathenish regions."

      As he spoke these last words, a stir was heard overhead; and a moment later there was an impatient series of knocks at the cabin-door.

      Tom drew his wife to his side, while his shipmate undid the fastenings, and confronted the enraged Gurjak and two other dirty braves.

      A word from one of the old women assured the disappointed suitor that he had arrived too late; and he turned away, muttering what were supposed to be threats of dire vengeance. But he had not many partisans among his own people, aside from the two men who came with him. Most of the tribe, including all the women and the better of the men, were in sympathy with Aggalootka, and were rather glad that she had been married to the stranger instead of being sacrificed to Gurjak.

      And so Tom and Aggie received their friends, who for a few days made their congratulatory calls, and then fairly settled down to the routine of housekeeping in the cabin of the "Mongolian."

      The dark Arctic night wore slowly away, with little to break its dreadful monotony; and the milder days of spring at length arrived, with indications that the icy fetters around the stout little vessel must soon be broken.

      It was no longer necessary to keep housed closely all the time; and our two seamen often took long tramps on the ice, for the excitement of hunting seals or walruses as well as for much-needed exercise, for in their confined quarters they had been in constant fear of that dread disease, the scurvy.

      Sometimes Tom and his active little wife went out together, for Aggie was uneasy at being left behind; and on such occasions the revengeful rival was often seen lurking not far from them: but as Tom always carried his loaded gun, of which not only Gurjak, but all the tribe, stood in wholesome fear, as something mysterious, they were safe from any attack by their hideous enemy.

      But on one occasion, when, according to the calendar kept on board, the season had advanced well into the month of May, the young couple had strayed away out nearly to the mouth of the bay, where the great

Love Among the Ice-fields. 59

berg still held itself like an immense barricade across the entrance, and obstructed all view of the still ice-bound sea outside.

      The ice upon which they walked was not as smooth and level as that in which the ship was docked, broken and irregular, forming in many places hummocks of considerable size and height, with air-holes at frequent intervals.

      Aggie, nimble as a fawn, had run on in advance of her husband, and was for the moment hidden from his sight by the intervening hillocks of ice.

      Tom had left his gun standing against one of these, and walked a few steps to the edge of an air-hole, stopping to peer down into its depths. While thus engaged, and abstracted for an instant from all around him, he was startled by a wild shriek, and, jumping up, was just in time to step aside, thus saving himself from being pushed bodily over by the fierce Gurjak, while his swift-footed wife, rushing upon the would-be murderer before he had time to retreat from the verge of the opening, pushed with all the strength of her two hands, and threw herself backward upon the ice, while Gurjak, losing his footing, toppled over down into the hole.

      Tom Dawson, spite of his gratitude for his own deliverance, was quite horror-stricken at the tragedy, and ran to look down, hoping something might be done to save even the man who had intended for him the same fate which had recoiled upon himself. But little Aggie pulled him away from the spot, putting her hand upon his mouth to indicate that he was always to keep the secret, and, thrilled with joy at having been in time to save her husband's life, appeared to breathe more freely and to feel happier than at any other time since the day of her marriage.

      There was no one in sight at the time; and, if they kept their own counsel, the fate of Gurjak must forever remain a mystery to his people.

      It was with a heavy heart, however, and an abstracted air, that Tom returned to the vessel; but the secret was safe with the two, and was never revealed even to Jack Gilbert.

      The mourning rites followed as in the case of Tom's father-in-law, old Agkaloot; and then the lost man appeared to be forgotten.

      The sunshine of spring was now growing more and more powerful day by day; and in a short time the distant rumbling sounds, as well as the view from the mast-head, gave evidence that the great ice-floes in the offing were breaking up and drifting away southward. The spring tides lifted the great berg from the bottom, and swung it away from its position like an immense gate upon its hinges, while the moist appearance of the level ice in the haven, with the sight of here and there an opening crack, betokened a speedy release of the "Mongolian" from her winter quarters.

      Our two Englishmen took counsel together upon their future movements; for the crisis of their fate seemed to be now approaching.

      "Surely, you've no idea, Tom, of taking up your abode among these filthy, blubber-eating savages?" said Jack Gilbert, who, with the advent of milder weather, had shaken off all his apathy, and was now the brisk, wide-awake British seaman, equal to any emergency. "Eh, Tom? Don't tell me, old fellow, you'll turn savage your self?"

      "No, no," Tom answered: "such a life as that is not to be thought of for a moment if it can be avoided. And yet," he continued, with a fond look at his wife, who sat in a corner of the cabin, devouring walrus-flesh raw with all the gusto of her ancestors, "what else can we do? We never can work the bark even if we could get her outside the bay there. She would go to pieces in the ice, and there we should perish unknown and unsung, as the phrase is. That would be rather worse than the blubber-eating life. Then our old jolly-boat is in a condition that she can hardly be kept afloat, and so rotten that she isn't worth repairing. We couldn't do much with her."

      "Of course we couldn't," answered Jack dogmatically. "She isn't good for anything in these waters anyhow. We must have an Arctic boat made of skins, – an oomiak. The season has got along where there is a decent, regular change of night and day; though the darkness is short, and is fast growing shorter. Tonight we must steal an oomiak, – there are two of them lying out here in the ice, half way down the bay, – launch her out into the open sea, and be off before daylight comes."

      "But can we do that without being stopped?" asked Tom doubtfully.

60 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

      "I think we can," said Gilbert. "There'll be no Indians out tonight after the haze settles down, because the ice isn't safe, and they're afraid it will break clear across the bay. My only fear is, that they'll haul their oomiaks ashore when they come in; but I hope they may risk 'em out another night. We must take what provisions we can lug away with us, and, when that's all gone, trust to luck for what we can kill. We shall be going south, into milder weather; and we must keep away out into the middle of the basin, and have nothing to do with any straggling parties of savages so long as we can manage to feed ourselves. We can find our way down through the straits in ten or twelve days if we don't founder at sea. But, if a gale comes on, we may find it safest to make for the shore, and land somewhere."

      "And where do you expect to bring up finally?", inquired Dawson, still rather dubious.

      "Well, there again we must trust to luck, which is better than the life of a blubber-eater. We may fall in with a vessel, or coast away down the shore till we reach some Russian settlement. Perhaps our chance of that will be better over on the Asiatic side of the sea; but I don't care which side it is, so that we fetch out somewhere."

      "And, now, about Aggie?" said Tom anxiously.

      "Can't you leave her behind?" asked Jack. "I know 'tisn't the thing to separate man and wife; but, really, isn't it best for all parties in this case? Suppose we get back to civilization, what could you ever do with a wife like that? She would be a regular-built elephant on your hands. She'd be very unhappy, and so would you too. I don't doubt that you love her, Tom. I used to laugh at that; but I don't now. Still, for her own sake, as well as for yours, she had better be left behind, among her own people."

      Tom considered a minute, and then answered very decidedly,–

      "No: Aggie shall not be left here, unless it be by her own request. It shall be as she chooses; and I know she will choose to go with us. You forget, Jack, how useful she can be to us in the oomiak. If we perish on the way, she and I ,will at least die together; and, if we reach civilization once more, – Well, never mind: I'll meet these difficulties when I get to them. So my wife goes with me, to live or die, unless she herself chooses to do otherwise."

      Tom could not make up his mind to tell his shipmate of the new tie of gratitude which bound him to Aggalootka as the preserver of his life. But Gilbert, although still vexed at Tom's foolishness, as he considered it, saw that further argument would be useless.

      That very night, while the Esquimaux were all in their huts, and everything was quiet on shore, the two men and the faithful woman, laden with provisions and other necessary articles, abandoned the "Mongolian" to her fate, and made their way to the oomiak.

      Before they were missed by those on shore, their light craft was away out in the Polar basin, threading her way rapidly between the floating masses of ice, and heading southward toward Christian lands.

      The voyage was a hard and trying one, and at various times they were obliged to make a landing, owing to heavy weather coming on, and to pass two or three days on shore. But the two were both young, hardy, and resolute, and inspired with the hope of a return to the world of warmth and life; and Tom's wife, with no particular aim save to follow and share his fortunes, and with no idea of any world but the frozen regions between Behring's Straits and Point Barrow, was nevertheless quite at home in the oomiak as well as at the landing-places along these desolate shores, and was ever full of shifts and resources. Indeed Jack Gilbert himself admitted that she was worth a dozen white men under these circumstances, and had no doubt she could have taken the boat and made the same voyage alone much better than he and Tom could have made it without her company.

      It was nearly a month before the party reached and passed the Dromide Islands, which stand like sentinels in the gateway of the straits, and their oomiak, still making its devious course between the lumps of floating ice, emerged upon the broad Pacific Ocean.

      No words can picture the astonishment and joy of Tom and Jack at the sight of five ships at different points along the southern horizon. They knew nothing of the successful whaling cruise of the "Superior," or how the tidings brought back by her sent a whole fleet of American whalers

Love Among the Ice-fields. 61

to follow on her track in the summer of 1849.

      The little Esquimau woman, Aggalootka, was an object of special attention and interest at Honolulu after her arrival there in the fall. Such a specimen had never been known to reach a tropical climate before; and indeed she was utterly unfitted to flourish in any such latitude. Despite the best intentions of Tom Dawson, it was soon plainly evident that his transplanted blossom was likely to wither. In the midst of luxuriance, in a land where Nature had been most bountiful in dispensing her gifts, poor Aggie pined for a speedy return to the eternal ice and snow, the utter barrenness and desolation, on which she had been rooted and reared to womanhood. It was not that she loved Tom less, but that she loved her native soil more. If he would go back with her, and dwell in her Arctic home, her happiness would be complete; but go back she must, or speedily die.

      No one was more sensible of this than her husband, and he was all impatience for the arrival of the spring fleet of whalers on their way to the northern cruising grounds, that he might secure a passage for himself and his drooping wife.

      But meanwhile he could not afford to be idle; and so, placing his wife in good and comfortable quarters on shore, he took an affectionate leave of her, and shipped for a sperm-whaling cruise between seasons, expecting to return to Honolulu early in the spring.

      But, as the captain of a whaler cruises under a sort of roving commission, this one saw fit to alter his plans, and make his stop at another port; so that the husband and wife did not meet again, as Tom had intended.

      So, after waiting, with hope deferred, till it was definitely ascertained that the "Omega" would not return until fall, a passage for the poor, enfeebled woman was secured on board one of the last ships which left Honolulu in 1850, bound direct to Behring's Straits.

      Tom went in the same direction; but, as whales were found plenty in the Anadir Sea, his ship did not pass through into the Arctic Ocean at all; and he returned with a rich cargo, and his pockets well filled, but with his wife entirely lost to him. He only learned that she had been landed at a little settlement at the mouth of Kotzebu Sound, where there were some Esquimaux who had known her. She was in good health, or at least was fast recovering her strength and spirits, when she was put on shore; the cold, bracing air of the high latitudes having worked like magic in restoring her. She had been overjoyed to return to her old way of life, the only drawback to her happiness being the separation from her husband. But she hoped, that, as she could not live in a warm climate, Tom might some day come to her.

      And so it was, that Tom Dawson, up to the time when he and I broke bread together in the "Braganza," had visited the Polar whaling-grounds every year, hoping to meet his first and only love. Not being able to get up an expedition on his own account, he could only ship in a whaler, and trust to luck and chance.

      Several times, through the medium of intercourse with wandering parties of Esquimaux, he had heard from Aggalootka; but she was always at such a distance that to desert from his ship, with the view of making his way to her, was a hopeless undertaking.

      His secret was known to but very few of those with whom he sailed, for he seldom talked upon the subject; but he came to be well known at Honolulu and Lahaina as the man who had made so many successive seasons up north, and who, when he had spent his summer's earnings, – for his habits were improvident and even profligate when on shore, – was always ready to ship again, but always for the Arctic region, never for the Okotsk or Japan Sea or any other whaling-grounds.

      I know that I argued the case seriously with Tom, enlarging upon the folly of such a wild-goose chase; but all to no purpose. In vain I argued that his Aggie, although she might still have a longing feeling for her English husband, was better off where she was, and that in all probability she had found happiness with some brave of her own nation years ago. Tom seemed to have become possessed with a single idea, and the Arctic seas and shores had a strange fascination for him.

      It mattered not that Aggalootka, if still living, was probably but a blear-eyed, blubber-eating matron, growing prematurely old in that dreary and God forsaken region. He cared for no such argument. To again find her was the one great purpose of his life;

62 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

and though, from the manner in which he was pursuing it, there seemed little prospect of his attaining any definite result, he had no other ties, to bind him to his own or any other country, and he, as well as other men, might be permitted to chase his hobby or single idea.

      But Tom, who is getting on past the meridian of life, and getting rather stiff for active service in whaling, has of late years sought the position of ship-keeper, in which I am told he has been highly valued, as an experienced seaman and a lifelong voyager in the Polar waters.

      While near Point Barrow, last season, In the "Desmond," he learned some intelligence which raised his hopes to a high pitch, as showing that she whom he sought was not far away. He asked for and was promised his discharge; but the ship, with in many others, was soon afterward beset in the ice-floes, and left to her fate.

      At the time of her abandonment, the veteran ship-keeper insisted on remaining by the vessel, claiming himself to be too far advanced in years to undertake the risk of the terrible journey upon which his shipmates were about starting.

      They left him, they said, much excited, and full of confidence that he should reach the shore, and be saved. As Tom's wife would certainly never again leave the home of her ancestors, it follows that Tom himself must turn Esquimau for her sake.

      I trust that some of the hardy whalemen who may visit the scene of the late great disaster during the next summer may bring me some reliable account of one whom I recall to mind as a highly esteemed shipmate, despite his one strange idiosyncrasy, controlling his whole life through a period of twenty-eight years. It may well be said, in this instance, that "truth is stranger than fiction;" and true enough it is, that many wiser men than Tom Dawson have made lifelong fools of themselves for love of women who gave less in return for that love than did the young Esquimau squaw who figures in these pages, – Aggalootka or Agnes Dawson.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: Love Among the Ice-fields.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 49, No. 1 (Jan 1879)
Pages: 54-62