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NARRATIVE OF A. GORDON PYM - CHAPTER 14

by Edgar Allan Poe

THE Jane Guy was a fine-looking topsail schooner of a hundred

and eighty tons burden. She was unusually sharp in the bows, and on a
wind, in moderate weather, the fastest sailer I have ever seen. Her
qualities, however, as a rough sea-boat, were not so good, and her
draught of water was by far too great for the trade to which she was
destined. For this peculiar service, a larger vessel, and one of a
light proportionate draught, is desirable- say a vessel of from three
hundred to three hundred and fifty tons. She should be bark-rigged,
and in other respects of a different construction from the usual
South Sea ships. It is absolutely necessary that she should be well
armed. She should have, say ten or twelve twelve-pound carronades,
and two or three long twelves, with brass blunderbusses, and
water-tight arm-chests for each top. Her anchors and cables should be
of far greater strength than is required for any other species of
trade, and, above all, her crew should be numerous and efficient- not
less, for such a vessel as I have described, than fifty or sixty
able-bodied men. The Jane Guy had a crew of thirty-five, all able
seamen, besides the captain and mate, but she was not altogether as
well armed or otherwise equipped, as a navigator acquainted with the
difficulties and dangers of the trade could have desired.

Captain Guy was a gentleman of great urbanity of manner, and of

considerable experience in the southern traffic, to which he had
devoted a great portion of his life. He was deficient, however, in
energy, and, consequently, in that spirit of enterprise which is here
so absolutely requisite. He was part owner of the vessel in which he
sailed, and was invested with discretionary powers to cruise in the
South Seas for any cargo which might come most readily to hand. He
had on board, as usual in such voyages, beads, looking-glasses,
tinder-works, axes, hatchets, saws, adzes, planes, chisels, gouges,
gimlets, files, spokeshaves, rasps, hammers, nails, knives, scissors,
razors, needles, thread, crockery-ware, calico, trinkets, and other
similar articles.

The schooner sailed from Liverpool on the tenth of July, crossed

the Tropic of Cancer on the twenty-fifth, in longitude twenty degrees
west, and reached Sal, one of the Cape Verd islands, on the
twenty-ninth, where she took in salt and other necessaries for the
voyage. On the third of August, she left the Cape Verds and steered
southwest, stretching over toward the coast of Brazil, so as to cross
the equator between the meridians of twenty-eight and thirty degrees
west longitude. This is the course usually taken by vessels bound
from Europe to the Cape of Good Hope, or by that route to the East
Indies. By proceeding thus they avoid the calms and strong contrary
currents which continually prevail on the coast of Guinea, while, in
the end, it is found to be the shortest track, as westerly winds are
never wanting afterward by which to reach the Cape. It was Captain
Guy's intention to make his first stoppage at Kerguelen's Land- I
hardly know for what reason. On the day we were picked up the
schooner was off Cape St. Roque, in longitude thirty-one degrees
west; so that, when found, we had drifted probably, from north to
south, not less than five-and-twenty degrees!

On board the Jane Guy we were treated with all the kindness our

distressed situation demanded. In about a fortnight, during which
time we continued steering to the southeast, with gentle breezes and
fine weather, both Peters and myself recovered entirely from the
effects of our late privation and dreadful sufferings, and we began
to remember what had passed rather as a frightful dream from which we
had been happily awakened, than as events which had taken place in
sober and naked reality. I have since found that this species of
partial oblivion is usually brought about by sudden transition,
whether from joy to sorrow or from sorrow to joy- the degree of
forgetfulness being proportioned to the degree of difference in the
exchange. Thus, in my own case, I now feel it impossible to realize
the full extent of the misery which I endured during the days spent
upon the hulk. The incidents are remembered, but not the feelings
which the incidents elicited at the time of their occurrence. I only
know, that when they did occur, I then thought human nature could
sustain nothing more of agony.

We continued our voyage for some weeks without any incidents of

greater moment than the occasional meeting with whaling-ships, and
more frequently with the black or right whale, so called in
contradistinction to the spermaceti. These, however, were chiefly
found south of the twenty-fifth parallel. On the sixteenth of
September, being in the vicinity of the Cape of Good Hope, the
schooner encountered her first gale of any violence since leaving
Liverpool. In this neighborhood, but more frequently to the south and
east of the promontory (we were to the westward), navigators have
often to contend with storms from the northward, which rage with
great fury. They always bring with them a heavy sea, and one of their
most dangerous features is the instantaneous chopping round of the
wind, an occurrence almost certain to take place during the greatest
force of the gale. A perfect hurricane will be blowing at one moment
from the northward or northeast, and in the next not a breath of wind
will be felt in that direction, while from the southwest it will come
out all at once with a violence almost inconceivable. A bright spot
to the southward is the sure forerunner of the change, and vessels
are thus enabled to take the proper precautions.

It was about six in the morning when the blow came on with a

white squall, and, as usual, from the northward. By eight it had
increased very much, and brought down upon us one of the most
tremendous seas I had then ever beheld. Every thing had been made as
snug as possible, but the schooner laboured excessively, and gave
evidence of her bad qualities as a seaboat, pitching her forecastle
under at every plunge and with the greatest difficulty struggling up
from one wave before she was buried in another. Just before sunset
the bright spot for which we had been on the look-out made its
appearance in the southwest, and in an hour afterward we perceived
the little headsail we carried flapping listlessly against the mast.
In two minutes more, in spite of every preparation, we were hurled on
our beam-ends, as if by magic, and a perfect wilderness of foam made
a clear breach over us as we lay. The blow from the southwest,
however, luckily proved to be nothing more than a squall, and we had
the good fortune to right the vessel without the loss of a spar. A
heavy cross sea gave us great trouble for a few hours after this, but
toward morning we found ourselves in nearly as good condition as
before the gale. Captain Guy considered that he had made an escape
little less than miraculous.

On the thirteenth of October we came in sight of Prince Edward's

Island, in latitude 46 degrees 53' S., longitude 37 degrees 46' E.
Two days afterward we found ourselves near Possession Island, and
presently passed the islands of Crozet, in latitude 42 degrees 59'
S., longitude 48 degrees E. On the eighteenth we made Kerguelen's or
Desolation Island, in the Southern Indian Ocean, and came to anchor
in Christmas Harbour, having four fathoms of water.

This island, or rather group of islands, bears southeast from the

Cape of Good Hope, and is distant therefrom nearly eight hundred
leagues. It was first discovered in 1772, by the Baron de Kergulen,
or Kerguelen, a Frenchman, who, thinking the land to form a portion
of an extensive southern continent carried home information to that
effect, which produced much excitement at the time. The government,
taking the matter up, sent the baron back in the following year for
the purpose of giving his new discovery a critical examination, when
the mistake was discovered. In 1777, Captain Cook fell in with the
same group, and gave to the principal one the name of Desolation
Island, a title which it certainly well deserves. Upon approaching
the land, however, the navigator might be induced to suppose
otherwise, as the sides of most of the hills, from September to
March, are clothed with very brilliant verdure. This deceitful
appearance is caused by a small plant resembling saxifrage, which is
abundant, growing in large patches on a species of crumbling moss.
Besides this plant there is scarcely a sign of vegetation on the
island, if we except some coarse rank grass near the harbor, some
lichen, and a shrub which bears resemblance to a cabbage shooting
into seed, and which has a bitter and acrid taste.

The face of the country is hilly, although none of the hills can

be called lofty. Their tops are perpetually covered with snow. There
are several harbors, of which Christmas Harbour is the most
convenient. It is the first to be met with on the northeast side of
the island after passing Cape Francois, which forms the northern
shore, and, by its peculiar shape, serves to distinguish the harbour.
Its projecting point terminates in a high rock, through which is a
large hole, forming a natural arch. The entrance is in latitude 48
degrees 40' S., longitude 69 degrees 6' E. Passing in here, good
anchorage may be found under the shelter of several small islands,
which form a sufficient protection from all easterly winds.
Proceeding on eastwardly from this anchorage you come to Wasp Bay, at
the head of the harbour. This is a small basin, completely
landlocked, into which you can go with four fathoms, and find
anchorage in from ten to three, hard clay bottom. A ship might lie
here with her best bower ahead all the year round without risk. To
the westward, at the head of Wasp Bay, is a small stream of excellent
water, easily procured.

Some seal of the fur and hair species are still to be found on

Kerguelen's Island, and sea elephants abound. The feathered tribes
are discovered in great numbers. Penguins are very plenty, and of
these there are four different kinds. The royal penguin, so called
from its size and beautiful plumage, is the largest. The upper part
of the body is usually gray, sometimes of a lilac tint; the under
portion of the purest white imaginable. The head is of a glossy and
most brilliant black, the feet also. The chief beauty of plumage,
however, consists in two broad stripes of a gold color, which pass
along from the head to the breast. The bill is long, and either pink
or bright scarlet. These birds walk erect; with a stately carriage.
They carry their heads high with their wings drooping like two arms,
and, as their tails project from their body in a line with the legs,
the resemblance to a human figure is very striking, and would be apt
to deceive the spectator at a casual glance or in the gloom of the
evening. The royal penguins which we met with on Kerguelen's Land
were rather larger than a goose. The other kinds are the macaroni,
the jackass, and the rookery penguin. These are much smaller, less
beautiful in plumage, and different in other respects.

Besides the penguin many other birds are here to be found, among

which may be mentioned sea-hens, blue peterels, teal, ducks, Port
Egmont hens, shags, Cape pigeons, the nelly, sea swallows, terns, sea
gulls, Mother Carey's chickens, Mother Carey's geese, or the great
peterel, and, lastly, the albatross.

The great peterel is as large as the common albatross, and is

carnivorous. It is frequently called the break-bones, or osprey
peterel. They are not at all shy, and, when properly cooked, are
palatable food. In flying they sometimes sail very close to the
surface of the water, with the wings expanded, without appearing to
move them in the least degree, or make any exertion with them
whatever.

The albatross is one of the largest and fiercest of the South Sea

birds. It is of the gull species, and takes its prey on the wing,
never coming on land except for the purpose of breeding. Between this
bird and the penguin the most singular friendship exists. Their nests
are constructed with great uniformity upon a plan concerted between
the two species- that of the albatross being placed in the centre of
a little square formed by the nests of four penguins. Navigators have
agreed in calling an assemblage of such encampments a rookery. These
rookeries have been often described, but as my readers may not all
have seen these descriptions, and as I shall have occasion hereafter
to speak of the penguin and albatross, it will not be amiss to say
something here of their mode of building and living.

When the season for incubation arrives, the birds assemble in vast
numbers, and for some days appear to be deliberating upon the proper
course to be pursued. At length they proceed to action. A level piece
of ground is selected, of suitable extent, usually comprising three
or four acres, and situated as near the sea as possible, being still
beyond its reach. The spot is chosen with reference to its evenness
of surface, and that is preferred which is the least encumbered with
stones. This matter being arranged, the birds proceed, with one
accord, and actuated apparently by one mind, to trace out, with
mathematical accuracy, either a square or other parallelogram, as may
best suit the nature of the ground, and of just sufficient size to
accommodate easily all the birds assembled, and no more- in this
particular seeming determined upon preventing the access of future
stragglers who have not participated in the labor of the encampment.
One side of the place thus marked out runs parallel with the water's
edge, and is left open for ingress or egress.

Having defined the limits of the rookery, the colony now begin to

clear it of every species of rubbish, picking up stone by stone, and
carrying them outside of the lines, and close by them, so as to form
a wall on the three inland sides. Just within this wall a perfectly
level and smooth walk is formed, from six to eight feet wide, and
extending around the encampment- thus serving the purpose of a
general promenade.

The next process is to partition out the whole area into small

squares exactly equal in size. This is done by forming narrow paths,
very smooth, and crossing each other at right angles throughout the
entire extent of the rookery. At each intersection of these paths the
nest of an albatross is constructed, and a penguin's nest in the
centre of each square- thus every penguin is surrounded by four
albatrosses, and each albatross by a like number of penguins. The
penguin's nest consists of a hole in the earth, very shallow, being
only just of sufficient depth to keep her single egg from rolling.
The albatross is somewhat less simple in her arrangements, erecting a
hillock about a foot high and two in diameter. This is made of earth,
seaweed, and shells. On its summit she builds her nest.

The birds take especial care never to leave their nests

unoccupied for an instant during the period of incubation, or,
indeed, until the young progeny are sufficiently strong to take care
of themselves. While the male is absent at sea in search of food, the
female remains on duty, and it is only upon the return of her partner
that she ventures abroad. The eggs are never left uncovered at all --
while one bird leaves the nest the other nestling in by its side.
This precaution is rendered necessary by the thieving propensities
prevalent in the rookery, the inhabitants making no scruple to
purloin each other's eggs at every good opportunity.

Although there are some rookeries in which the penguin and

albatross are the sole population, yet in most of them a variety of
oceanic birds are to be met with, enjoying all the privileges of
citizenship, and scattering their nests here and there, wherever they
can find room, never interfering, however, with the stations of the
larger species. The appearance of such encampments, when seen from a
distance, is exceedingly singular. The whole atmosphere just above
the settlement is darkened with the immense number of the albatross
(mingled with the smaller tribes) which are continually hovering over
it, either going to the ocean or returning home. At the same time a
crowd of penguins are to be observed, some passing to and fro in the
narrow alleys, and some marching with the military strut so peculiar
to them, around the general promenade ground which encircles the
rookery. In short, survey it as we will, nothing can be more
astonishing than the spirit of reflection evinced by these feathered
beings, and nothing surely can be better calculated to elicit
reflection in every well-regulated human intellect.

On the morning after our arrival in Christmas Harbour the chief

mate, Mr. Patterson, took the boats, and (although it was somewhat
early in the season) went in search of seal, leaving the captain and
a young relation of his on a point of barren land to the westward,
they having some business, whose nature I could not ascertain, to
transact in the interior of the island. Captain Guy took with him a
bottle, in which was a sealed letter, and made his way from the point
on which he was set on shore toward one of the highest peaks in the
place. It is probable that his design was to leave the letter on that
height for some vessel which he expected to come after him. As soon
as we lost sight of him we proceeded (Peters and myself being in the
mate's boat) on our cruise around the coast, looking for seal. In
this business we were occupied about three weeks, examining with
great care every nook and corner, not only of Kerguelen's Land, but
of the several small islands in the vicinity. Our labours, however,
were not crowned with any important success. We saw a great many fur
seal, but they were exceedingly shy, and with the greatest exertions,
we could only procure three hundred and fifty skins in all. Sea
elephants were abundant, especially on the western coast of the
mainland, but of these we killed only twenty, and this with great
difficulty. On the smaller islands we discovered a good many of the
hair seal, but did not molest them. We returned to the schooner: on
the eleventh, where we found Captain Guy and his nephew, who gave a
very bad account of the interior, representing it as one of the most
dreary and utterly barren countries in the world. They had remained
two nights on the island, owing to some misunderstanding, on the part
of the second mate, in regard to the sending a jollyboat from the
schooner to take them off.



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