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NARRATIVE OF A. GORDON PYM - CHAPTER XXV

by Edgar Allan Poe

WE now found ourselves in the wide and desolate Antarctic Ocean, in
a latitude exceeding eighty-four degrees, in a frail canoe, and with
no provision but the three turtles. The long polar winter, too, could
not be considered as far distant, and it became necessary that we
should deliberate well upon the course to be pursued. There were six
or seven islands in sight belonging to the same group, and distant
from each other about five or six leagues; but upon neither of these
had we any intention to venture. In coming from the northward in the
Jane Guy we had been gradually leaving behind us the severest
regions of ice-this, however little it maybe in accordance with the
generally received notions respecting the Antarctic, was a fact-
experience would not permit us to deny. To attempt, therefore,
getting back would be folly --- especially at so late a period of the
season. Only one course seemed to be left open for hope. We resolved
to steer boldly to the southward, where there was at least a
probability of discovering other lands, and more than a probability
of finding a still milder climate.

So far we had found the Antarctic, like the Arctic Ocean, peculiarly
free from violent storms or immoderately rough water; but our canoe
was, at best, of frail structure, although large, and we set busily
to work with a view of rendering her as safe as the limited means in
our possession would admit. The body of the boat was of no better
material than bark -the bark of a tree unknown. The ribs were of a
tough osier, well adapted to the purpose for which it was used. We
had fifty feet room from stem to stern, from four to six in breadth,
and in depth throughout four feet and a half-the boats thus differing
vastly in shape from those of any other inhabitants of the Southern
Ocean with whom civilized nations are acquainted. We never did
believe them the workmanship of the ignorant islanders who owned
them; and some days after this period discovered, by questioning our
captive, that they were in fact made by the natives of a group to the
southwest of the country where we found them, having fallen
accidentally into the hands of our barbarians. What we could do for
the security of our boat was very little indeed. Several wide rents
were discovered near both ends, and these we contrived to patch up
with pieces of woollen jacket. With the help of the superfluous
paddles, of which there were a great many, we erected a kind of
framework about the bow, so as to break the force of any seas which
might threaten to fill us in that quarter. We also set up two
paddle-blades for masts, placing them opposite each other, one by
each gunwale, thus saving the necessity of a yard. To these masts we
attached a sail made of our shirts-doing this with some difficulty,
as here we could get no assistance from our prisoner whatever,
although he bad been willing enough to labor in all the other
operations. The sight of the linen seemed to affect him in a very
singular manner. He could not be prevailed upon to touch it or go
near it, shuddering when we attempted to force him, and shrieking
out, "Tekeli-li!"

Having completed our arrangements in regard to the security of the
canoe, we now set sail to the south-southeast for the present, with
the view of weathering the most southerly of the group in sight. This
being done, we turned the bow full to the southward. The weather
could by no means be considered disagreeable. We had a prevailing
andvery gentle wind from the northward, a smooth sea, and continual
daylight. No ice whatever was to be seen; _nor did I ever see one
particle of this after leaving the parallel of Bennet's Islet.
_Indeed, the temperature of the water was here far too warm for its
existence in any quantity. Having killed the largest of our
tortoises, and obtained from him not only food but a copious supply
of water, we continued on our course, without any incident of moment,
for perhaps seven or eight days, during which period we must have
proceeded a vast distance to the southward, as the wind blew
constantly with us, and a very strong current set continually in the
direction we were pursuing.

March 1st. {*7}-Many unusual phenomena now -indicated that we were
entering upon a region of novelty and wonder. A high range of light
gray vapor appeared constantly in the southern horizon, flaring up
occasionally in lofty streaks, now darting from east to west, now
from west to east, and again presenting a level and uniform summit-in
short, having all the wild variations of the Aurora Borealis. The
average height of this vapor, as apparent from our station, was about
twenty-five degrees. The temperature of the sea seemed to be
increasing momentarily, and there was a very perceptible alteration
in its color.

March 2d.-To-day by repeated questioning of our captive, we came to
the knowledge of many particulars in regard to the island of the
massacre, its inhabitants, and customs-but with these how can I now
detain the reader? I may say, however, that we learned there were
eight islands in the group-that they were governed by a common king,
named _Tsalemon _or _Psalemoun, _who resided in one of the smallest
of the islands; that the black skins forming the dress of the
warriors came from an animal of huge size to be found only in a
valley near the court of the king-that the inhabitants of the group
fabricated no other boats than the flat-bottomed rafts; the four
canoes being all of the kind in their possession, and, these having
been obtained, by mere accident, from some large island in the
southwest-that his own name was Nu-Nu-that he had no knowledge of
Bennet's Islet-and that the appellation of the island he had left was
Tsalal. The commencement of the words _Tsalemon _and Tsalal was given
with a prolonged hissing sound, which 'we found it impossible to
imitate, even after repeated endeavors, and which was precisely the
same with the note of the black bittern we had eaten up on the summit
of the hill.

March 3d.-The heat of the water was now truly remarkable, and in
color was undergoing a rapid change, being no longer transparent, but
of a milky consistency and hue. In our immediate vicinity it was
usually smooth, never so rough as to endanger the canoe-but we were
frequently surprised at perceiving, to our right and left, at
different distances, sudden and extensive agitations of the surface;
these, we at length noticed, were always preceded by wild flickerings
in the region of vapor to the southward.

March 4th.-To-day, with the view of widening our sail, the breeze
from the northward dying away perceptibly, I took from my coat-pocket
a white handkerchief. Nu-Nu was seated at my elbow, and the linen
accidentally flaring in his face, he became violently affected with
convulsions. These were succeeded by drowsiness and stupor, and low
murmurings of "'Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!"

_March _5th.-The wind had entirely ceased, but it was evident that we
were still hurrying on to the southward, under the influence of a
powerful current. And now, -indeed, it would seem reasonable that we
should experience some alarm at the turn events were taking-but we
felt none. The countenance of Peters indicated nothing of this
nature, although it wore at times an expression I could not fathom.
The polar winter appeared to be coming on--but coming without its
terrors. I felt a numbness of body and mind--a dreaminess of
sensation but this was all.

March 6th.-The gray vapor had now arisen many more degrees above
the horizon, and was gradually losing its grayness of tint. The heat
of the water was extreme, even unpleasant to the touch, and its milky
hue was more evident than ever. Today a violent agitation of the
water occurred very close to the canoe. It was attended, as usual,
with a wild flaring up of the vapor at its summit, and a momentary
division at its base. A fine white powder, resembling ashes-but
certainly not such-fell over the canoe and over a large surface of
the water, as the flickering died away among the vapor and the
commotion subsided in the sea. Nu-Nu now threw himself on his face in
the bottom of the boat, and no persuasions could induce him to arise.

March 7th.-This day we questioned Nu-Nu concerning the motives of
his countrymen in destroying our companions; but he appeared to be
too utterly overcome by terror to afford us any rational reply. He
still obstinately lay in the bottom of the boat; and, upon
reiterating the questions as to the motive, made use only of idiotic
gesticulations, such as raising with his forefinger the upper lip,
and displaying the teeth which lay beneath it. These were black. We
had never before seen the teeth of an inhabitant of Tsalal.

March 8th.-To-day there floated by us one of the white animals
whose appearance upon the beach at Tsalal had occasioned so wild a
commotion among the savages. I would have picked it up, but there
came over me a sudden listlessness, and I forbore. The heat of the
water still increased, and the hand could no longer be endured within
it. Peters spoke little, and I knew not what to think of his apathy.
Nu-Nu breathed, and no more.

March 9th.-The whole ashy material fell now continually around us,
and in vast quantities. The range of vapor to the southward had
arisen prodigiously in the horizon, and began to assume more
distinctness of form. I can liken it to nothing but a limitless
cataract, rolling silently into the sea from some immense and
far-distant rampart in the heaven. The gigantic curtain ranged along
the whole extent of the southern horizon. It emitted no sound.

March 21st.-A sullen darkness now hovered above us-but from out the
milky depths of the ocean a luminous glare arose, and stole up along
the bulwarks of the boat. We were nearly overwhelmed by the white
ashy shower which settled upon us and upon the canoe, but melted into
the water as it fell. The summit of the cataract was utterly lost in
the dimness and the distance. Yet we were evidently approaching it
with a hideous velocity. At intervals there were visible in it wide,
yawning, but momentary rents, and from out these rents, within which
was a chaos of flitting and indistinct images, there came rushing and
mighty, but soundless winds, tearing up the enkindled ocean in their
course.

March 22d.-The darkness had materially increased, relieved only by
the glare of the water thrown back from the white curtain before us.
Many gigantic and pallidly white birds flew continuously now from
beyond the veil, and their scream was the eternal _Tekeli-li! _as
they retreated from our vision. Hereupon Nu-Nu stirred in the bottom
of the boat; but upon touching him we found his spirit departed. And
now we rushed into the embraces of the cataract, where a chasm threw
itself open to receive us. But there arose in our pathway a shrouded
human figure, very far larger in its proportions than any dweller
among men. And the hue of the skin of the figure was of the perfect
whiteness of the snow.


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