It would be very desirable indeed if the men could acquire the taste for Greenland food; since all experience has shown the large use of oil and fat meats is the true secret of life in these frozen countries.
—SIR JOHN ROSS, 1832
The condition of those men lining the shore beside the dying Polaris was little better than that of George Tyson's group, nor would their lives improve. Unlike their compatriots, they had reached land, but that was all. The cold, darkness, and famine extended their fingers across both ground and water.
Buddington, Chester, and Bessel crowded together on the shore as the sled approached. The rest of the crew rushed to the edge of the ice and waved their hands wildly. Loping across the snow, the dog team and its riders came on, advancing with measured pace, until the bone-tipped runners of the sled flashed in the reflected light. The cries of joy died in the men's throats, and disappointment filled their hearts.
The new arrivals were Inuit.
Through sign language the Natives indicated they had smelled smoke from the ship's fires and followed their noses overland to the cove. They were from the village of Etah, they said. By chance both Inuit, Miouk and Awahtok, had lived with Dr. Kane during his last polar expedition. In fact, the two men recognized the aging Morton and remembered a few words of English. Since fate and the currents had driven the Polaris close to Life Boat Cove, where Kane's ship died, the coincidence is not too remarkable.
The bundle of steel knives stacked amid the ship's stores attracted the Inuit's attention. A metal knife was far superior to the bone devices fashioned by the Inuit and impossible to obtain except in trade from the white man. Since they had little food, the two men offered their services in unloading the ship. In exchange for a shiny new knife, each Inuit would help move supplies from the Polaris to the safety of land.
Over the next four days, the Inuit worked hard ferrying goods from the sinking Polaris to the beach. The lighter sleds with their bone runners proved invaluable in crossing the crevasses and twisting paths among the piled ice. Coffin had built a heavy sled with its iron-edged runners to carry the whaleboats. Without sled dogs it proved next to useless. Even sawing the ponderous sledge in half did no good. The divided parts were still too heavy to use.
On the shore overlooking the bay, Chester erected the framework for the company's house. The salvaged spars and scraps of lumber became the ridgepole and rafters. With the help of Sieman and Booth, the first mate raised a structure twenty-two feet by sixteen feet. When they ran out of sufficient wood to roof the house, Chester si retched two of the ship's sails over the rafters.
While in the act of transferring his possessions ashore, Dr. Bessel broke through the ice on two occasions. To avoid frostbite, the doctcr had to suffer the humiliation of crouching beside the ship's stove like a boy with wet pants while the men continued working. It must have especially galled that educated man that all his training went for naught on the ice, and he could not emulate the skill of the two illiterate savages, who jumped nimbly from floe to floe with effortless agility.
Wherever the German scientist left the security of his observatory or the ship, the Arctic dealt with him harshly. Clearly one of the causes of friction between the late Captain Hall and Bessel arose fron the physician's attempts to take over the exploratory part of the expedition. Bitterly he refused to admit that for all his degrees, he did not qualify as an Arctic explorer. His stiff neck brought him nothing but the grief and pain of snow blindness and frostbite.
After all that could be salvaged was transported ashore, Miouk and Awahtok sledded happily away with their shiny knives tucked in the sealskin scabbards swinging from their necks. Before they left, the two Inuit discovered the collection of iron-tipped harpoons and whaling lances from the ship. To the Inuit this was a treasure, indeed. They resolved to return as soon as possible.
The crew of the Polaris settled in to take stock of their new home. While they possessed most of the Sharps rifles, the officers found that the metallic cartridges for the heavy rifles resided with the long-lost Tyson companyas did the heavy keg of black powder. Both had been tossed onto the ice during the night the two groups were separated. Among all the men, counting the powder in their flasks, they could muster only eight pounds of powder and a handful of Sharps cartridges found in their pockets.
Only six tons of coal remained, but piles of scrap wood stripped from the decking, bunkers, bulkheads, and cabinsensured that they would not freeze anytime soon. Clothing remained the other critical shortage. Most of the seabags had been thrown off the ship in their panic.
If Buddington had planned on receiving help from the village of Etah, he was sorely mistaken. The people of that place were starving and in desperation quickly fastened upon the white men with their weapons of shiny stone as their salvation. Within one day of leaving, Miouk and Awahtok were back with five more dog teams and four friendsall eager to work for a metal knife. With their help, the heavy galley stove was transported ashore and tiers of bunks built inside the Polaris hut. When a crack widened in the ice between the supply depot and the rudimentary cabin, the Inuit unloaded their sleds and carried the cargo over the six-foot gap. For their efforts the crew showered their newfound laborers with spoons, buttons, nails, and other metal objects that the Natives readily fashioned into useful tools. All the while the Natives kept their eyes on the metal harpoons.
Freed up to improve his handiwork, Mr. Chester enlarged the living quarters, adding a galley and attaching a storehouse at right angles to the side wall.
On October 24 Schuman and Odell both agreed that burning their limited coal to keep the pumps going was foolish. Without fanfare they extinguished the fireboxes. Like a dying man taken off his respirator, the USS Polaris sank slowly under the weight of the rising water in her hold. Struggling to the end, the ship heeled onto one side and refused to die. Stripped of masts and rigging, gutted of her inner walls, the ship fought to retain her dignity as she lay on her side. Only the blackened and twisted smokestack jutting from the center of the barren hulk gave mute testimony to the once-proud silhouette of the American steamer.
Within a week the rest of the population of Etah arrived via sledsnine men, three women, and eight children. Feeding these extra months sorely taxed Buddington's supplies. Other than the ubiquitous dry biscuit and their salted sections of blubber, there was little enough to go around. Numerous forays in search of fresh game yielded little. Several shots were fired at fleeing caribou, without success. From day to day a fox was shot and added to the cooking pot. Flow far a scrawny blue fox went in feeding the camp of thirty-eight people can only be imagined.
Throughout the months of November and December, blue foxes, wh te foxes, and the occasional unwary raven would supply the camps only fresh meat. Since the usually skittish foxes approached the site only because they, too, were starving, their sparse frames carried little worth eating. For some reason the men of Etah found no eals.
Monotony and fatigue settled over the land base. Morosely the men watched the Polaris settle deeper and deeper into the silt of the bay. To those with the gift of insight, the gutted hulk stood as a daily reminder of the expedition's failure.
Excitement rose one day when a man was spotted running across the horizon. From the runner's gait, Buddington and Chester declared it was a white man. Surely he must be one of their separated shipmates, they judged. Morton and a half dozen sailors took off after the distant runner. Only Morton reached him. Disappointedly he returned to announce that the man was an Inuit crossing the ice field in search of food.
For some unknown reason, the Inuit loved to visit the big house, where they would sprawl about on the floor sleeping and disrupting the sailors' movements. Disagreement arose, and the Natives would leave, returning to their hardscrabble settlement. But within a few days, a new group would arrive. And so it went, men and women coming and going on a daily basis. Perhaps the Inuit were stealing bits and pieces from the Polaris camp, but Budding-ton makes no mention of any theft. One main reason the Inuit kept returning was to beg ship's bread from the camp. While the white men's situation was desperate, that of the people of Etah was far worse. Like the starving men with George Tyson, the villagers of Etah were eating their sled dogs.
One hope burned brightly in Captain Buddington's mind. When Dr. Kane had abandoned his camp at Life Boat Cove, he left behind an iron-plated scow and a sizable keg of black powder. Mr. Morton's recollection matched that report. Here in an ironic twist of fate lay the solution to Buddington's two most vexing problems. With plenty of weapons, they were sorely short of powder, and a sturdy boat would go a long way in carrying the crew down south when the ice broke up. Since the bay where they had run the ship aground was close to Kane's old camp, the captain proposed a party to find the needed objects.
Chester, Hayes, Coffin, and Dr. Bessel mounted a search party. Armed with picks and shovels, the four men followed the contour of the land until they reached the site of the earlier expedition. Days of digging about in the snow and driving an iron rod through the wind-hardened crust failed to find any trace of the boat or the powder. Disheartened, the company trudged back.
About the same time the men were searching in vain for Kane's things, an Eskimo family arrived at the camp. Tattoos streaking the woman's face marked her as belonging to Inuit from Ellesmere Island, across Smith Sound. Tattooing was common practice among these “western” Inuit but not usual among the “eastern” Inuit of Greenland. Her husband also carried a bow and arrows, weapons the Greenland Inuit did not use. The man called himself Etookajeu. When his name tripped the seamen's tongues, they promptly renamed him “Jimmy.” His wife, Evallu, like Tookoolito, possessed a gift for learning English and soon was conversing freely with Captain Buddington.
Her story confirmed his theory that she had come from the western side of the sound. Five years ago she and a large party had crossed the open water in an oomiak along with five kayaks. Of the families that came across, she and her husband and children were all who remained. But what she also told him drove a stake into the heart of aiy further attempt to find Kane's iron boat.
In their traveling along the coast, Evallu's group had landed near Life 3oat Cove and stumbled across the observatory Dr. Hayes had built farther inland. They also found the iron scow and the powder. While the Ellesmere Island Inuit recognized the metal scow as akin t3 their large oomiak,the nature of the black powder eluded them, as their village had not seen any white men at that time.
Anguish clouded Buddington's face as the woman related that the boat they found was useless and far from seaworthy, with the gunnels staved in and the sides full of holes. The Inuit, ever grateful for windfalls, appropriated the wood and canvas from the sails, mast, and oars. The woman told of her people's sleeping inside the observatory and heating the place with their usual stone seal-oil lamps. Tragically one night an open flame was placed too close to the keg, and the black powder exploded, killing five Natives, including tl e father of her husband, Jimmy.
The Ellesmere Inuit took the deaths in their party as a bad omen in t lis new land and paddled back to their homeland with the doctor's cars and canvas. Evallu and her husband remained behind and eveniually joined the village of Etah. What remained of Dr. Kane's scow was scattered over the eastern slopes of Ellesmere Island in possession of the migrating Inuit.
There would be neither a fortuitous iron boat nor a keg of black powder to make his task lighter, Buddington realized. He also came to the disheartening conclusion that the Inuit would not be able to feed them as he had hoped. It would be a long and hard winter with little to eat. He was no longer on the floating ice, he realized, but the danger of starving was just as great on the land.
With the Natives of dubious help, the crew's survival hung on the sailors' shooting fresh gamea task made all the more difficult by the fact that they possessed so little powder. Every shot at an animal must count. Yet the ravens and bony foxes the men caught hardly fit the bill. Already evidence of scurvy reared its ugly head among the castaways. Booth, pressed into service as a steward, lay confined i o his bunk with swollen feet and ankles.
Chris :mas and New Year's arrived at the base camp with little cause for celebration. The salvaged coal, burned all too freely in the stoves, diminished at an alarming rate. Buddington tried to save fuel by abandoning use of the cast-iron galley stove without much success. The cooking pots turned out to be too large to use on the smaller secondary stove. Finally rations were reduced to one meal a day.
Although they were standing on solid ground, the plight of the men ashore was just as grim as that of their shipmates drifting miles to the south on the ice floe. No mention is made of celebrating either Christmas or the end of a dreadful year. Apparently Buddington and his men did not even have one can of dried apples to open for their special dinner, as Tyson's group had.
On the twentieth of January, the stove swallowed the last lump of coal, and Buddington faced a hard decision. Every scrap of wood he burned meant one less piece he could use to build boats to carry his men southward after breakup. The pile of wood scraps stacked beside the house lasted a mere seven days.
The hand of the Arctic winter bore down heavily on the desolate cove, adding to the crew's discomfort. The only signs of light consisted of scattered ribbons of violet and purple fluttering briefly behind the sable mountains. Without the warming rays of the sun, heat fled the country. All the while the thermometer stayed well below zero. Plummeting as low as 42° below zero, the pitch-black days averaged minus 28°. Without a source of warmth, hunger would no longer be a problem. A man would freeze to death before he starved.
Increasingly fuel proved just as critical as food. To make matters worse, Buddington's group had fallen into the trap of conventional thinking. They had built a traditional-style house out of wood and canvas, whereas snow igloos would have been wiser. Larger, more open, and poorly insulated, the walled tent lost heat readily to the subzero air. Heating the building required burning their precious fuel in large quantities, whereas the Inuit way could heat a cramped igloo with a single seal-oil lamp.
Like Saturn eating his children, the Polaris expedition cannibalized the Polaris. Wood from the wheelhouse provided two additional days of warmth. During this process, Chester and Buddington watched their men with eagle eyes. No wood considered useful in the constiuction of their lifeboats was burned. The carpenter collected every brass screw and nail from the dismantling for future use. Hungry and cold as the men were, even the dullest among them realized that a lifeboat was their last and only hope.
February saw the bowsprit, masts, and riggings thrown into the insatiable stove. The hatch to the forecastle had been moved ashore to provide a level platform for Bessel's transit. That, too, found its way into the furnace.
By the end of the month, Buddington counted fifty-one different Inuit coming and going from the camp. During crowded periods the bodies strewn about the canvas floor challenged even the most sure-footed sailor.
Event ually the men's tolerance toward the Inuit began to pay dividends Evallu repaired the sailors' clothing, and Jim hunted for his newfound friends. Slowly, steadily, the other visitors brought a trickle of fresh meat to trade for odds and ends. Although scarce, the slices of walrus and hare kept the seamen's scurvy at bay, limiting the signs to a few loose teeth, open sores, and swollen ankles.
On the first of March, Awahtah, an ancient Inuit, spotted a polar bear crossing the ice not far from the wreck of the Polaris. With his four-foot-long bone-tipped spear in hand, Awahtah took off after the bear. Cracking his whip over the heads of his sled dogs, the hunter ard his team vanished into the blowing snow. Three days passed w thout a sign of the old man. All that time a gale piled drifts against the tent that forced the men to dig out their only entrance.
On the fourth day Awahtah returned to camp with the dead bear ridirg in his sled basket. When Awahtah took off his sealskin parka, Cliester's mouth dropped at the sight of the terrible scars from previous bear encounters covering the old man's back. Obviously the elderly hunter had learned his lessons the hard way.
Marci saw the sun once again peeking over the powder-blue mountains that rimmed the east like a broken saw blade. Just that added amount of daylight spurred the mate, Chester, to lay plans for their rowboats. With the help of Coffin and Booth, he organized the lumber he had faithfully protected from the woodstove and piled it by the house.
The promise of spring and the Arctic twilight galvanized Dr.Bessel into action. Over the past six months, the doctor's star had ascended with the death of Captain Hall only to crash precipitously as the Arctic foiled his every attempt at being a polar explorer. Even his battling with Captain Buddington over the man's drinking and the issue of who ultimately controlled the expedition receded into the background following the storm of October 15. The sudden loss of half the crew and the subsequent grounding of the Polaris focused all attention on staying alive after that date.
What happened to Buddington's drinking during this time is unclear. He may simply have run out of specimen alcohol to drink, or he may have become more surreptitious about raiding the scientific supplies. Happily for the captain, those who hated him and had kept a record of his drinking were floating miles away on the pack ice, so there is no mention of his being drunk in the camp.
In either case Bessel suddenly lacked the adversary he sorely needed. Without an opponent, the physician retreated into a mind-numbing morass of measurements and magnetic observations. The fledgling rays of the sun, however, rekindled the German's dreams of becoming a world-renowned explorer.
Exploring the Humboldt Glacier fired his imagination. Once there he planned to sled across the frozen Smith Sound and explore Hayes Sound. Studying those areas would fit the bill nicely. The fact that more than one hundred miles of rugged terrain lay between the camp and the Humboldt Glacier failed to faze him. Neither did the miserable history of his previous attempts at being an Arctic traveler.
Immediately Bessel laid plans for his journey. Buddington, perhaps happy at the prospect of being rid of his old nemesis, did nothing to discourage the trip. Maybe the wily captain figured the effort might salvage some of the ruined expedition's honor. Certainly, if nothing else, it would get Bessel out of his hair.
Two sleds and ten sled dogs were purchased at astronomical prices with metal harpoon heads, metal carpenter tools, and the ever precious bits of food. The harsh winter had forced the Inuit to eat all but a few of their dogs. Those that remained were their most prized animals, and they were reluctant to part with any of them. Bessel's timing was poor. In a few months, new litters of puppies would replenish the teams, but Bessel could not wait.
On the thirteenth of April, Emil Bessel, graduate of Jena and Heidelberg, embarked. In preparing for the journey, he made the same ignorant mistakes that had dogged his other trips. First, he overloaded both his sleds. Filling one to the brim with provisions for a month and a half, he then packed the second sledge with “all necessary instruments.”
Second, he chose Jim as one driver and Arrowtah, a one-legged Inuit, as the other driver.
As a child, Arrowtah had crushed his leg under a boulder. His mother had been forced to amputate the limb six inches below the knee, and the surgeon of the passing whaler North Star had built a wooden leg for the boy in 1850. Dr. Hayes in his travels had repaired the artificial limb. Currently Arrowtah limped around the camp on one he had “fitted with an ankle-joint of his own manufacture,” according to Admiral Davis's later description.
Besides his disability's being unsuitable for a rigorous passage over sastrugi and ice hummocks, which would tax a two-legged person, Arrowtah's motivations differed greatly from Bessel's. Whereas the good doctor wanted to explore the western side of the sound, Arrowtah hoped to find a wife. Since he was a widower and none of the women along the eastern coast “exactly suited him,” again according to Davis, he looked upon Bessel's expedition as an excellent opportunity to find a new mate. Finding a new partner necessitated Arrowtah's traveling to other Inuit villages across the sound. Such villages tended to be more southerly, where game and climate were more favorable.
Whether Bessel understood the man's goals before they left is unknown. Mixing the Prussian's haughty and abrasive attitude with the passive-aggressive defenses of the Inuit could only lead to problems.
Needless to say, within five days Bessel was back in camp, complaining about Arrowtah's insubordination. When Bessel and his two drivers had attempted to cross Rensselaer Bay at the southeastern edge of Smith Sound, they found the unexpectedopen water. Decouring first east, then north, and finally northeast, they struggled :o circumvent the open sea. However, at every turn sharp-sided hummocks of crumpled pack ice presented formidable if not impassable barriers. Bessel tried cajoling and finally threatening,but the wary Natives refused to drive their sleds into those tumbled dragon's teeth. The doctor took their reluctance for insubordination and laziness, even cowardice. To the Inuit, understanding that the icy ridges would break their sled runners and exhaust them to no good purpose was simply common sense. So they balked. The sudden onset of a storm forced the three men to spend an entire day in a hastily built snow cave. The evil weather only confirmed the Inuit's suspicions that making this trip was a bad idea.
Under a black cloud and an equally gloomy sky, Bessel returned. Looking for a replacement for Arrowtah, he enlisted the help of a man called Ewinokshua, whom Captain Buddington had nicknamed Sharkey. The offer of a long-bladed metal knife so useful in cutting snow blocks for igloos convinced Sharkey to join the team. By mutual consent Arrowtah opted out, as he positively refused to try again, and Bessel would have nothing more to do with him.
Once more Emil Bessel rode forth to conquer the far North. On April 22 he and his new team drove their sleds out of camp. The twilight was cold, clear, and silent. The heavy air carried the soft crunch of the sled dogs' feet and the creak of the sled bindings long after the blue-gray expanse had swallowed the two sleds.
Nine hours later they returned, this time with a badly broken sled runner. When they reached Cape Inglefield, endless rows of jagged sastrugi had greeted the party. To Sharkey and even Jim, the way was impassable.
Ingrained in the hunters was the concept of conserving their energy along with their lives, and both men quickly realized they would beat themselves to death in the crossing. Yet Bessel remained adamant. He would not be denied a second crossing. He ranted and railed.
Confronted with this dilemma, the Inuit resorted to an old trick that worked well whenever white men obstinately refused their sound advice. Without Bessel's seeing him, Sharkey purposefully rocked one of his sled's runners over a sharp edge and broke it in two. Now there was no question, they would have to return.
Back at camp even Jim lost heart and refused a third attempt. In fact, none of the Inuit would go with Bessel. The acerbic doctor had alienated them all. Undeterred, the physician convinced the weakwilled Bucldington to let him try with only Henry Hobby. Secretly Bessel planned on replenishing his food from the goods left at Thank God Harbor and recruiting new dog drivers from the Natives he expected to meet there. Those suppositions were risky. It never occurred to him that Thank God Harbor was a summer camp for :he Inuit, and none would be there. Bessel even offered Hobby two hundred dollars as incentive. Fortunately, the sailor had the good sense to refuse, and the doctor's plans fell through.
Four days later a violent storm hammered the coastline. With the howling wind came another sound, one added atop the clash of the tempest. It seemed to arise from the ground itself, and the men felt it vibrate through the soles of their boots. A low rumbling and grinding shook the ice and reverberated against the watching foothills. The growling ice lifted and rolled like free water under the blows of storm swell punching its underbelly. Before the men's eyes, the vast basin of blue-and-white ice rose and fell, breaking apart with ear-splitting groans. Frozen parapets plunged beneath the leaden sea while spewing foam and froth into the air to freeze. White-walled castles and cities climbed above the floor, only to topple or sink minutes later. 11 about them the landscape changed and reformed as the sea broke ipart the crust that had covered it for so long.
By the end of the day, most of the bay was open, dotted with bobbing a ad rolling slabs of ice. Breakup had come.
Chester and Coffin laid the keels of both lifeboats on the nineteenth of April. With breakup, work on the boats rose to a feverish pitch. Patched-together scraps of cotton sheet and linen towels would serve as sails for the vessels. Buddington opted for a triangular spritsatl, while Chester chose an easy-to-set square sail.
As the builders worked, illness claimed the lives of several Inuit. Most died following a brief but intense inflammation of their lungs. Miouk, one of the first to reach the stranded white men when they came ashore, paid the ultimate price for his discovery. During that time Buddington and Chester also developed respiratory symptoms but recovered rapidly. Most likely the white men had traded, along with their metal knives, pneumococcal pneumonia and tuberculosis with the Natives. Without previous exposure and acquired immunity to these respiratory illnesses, the infected Inuit died quickly.
The Inuit buried their dead in the traditional way, pulling the odead man in his sled up to the top of a bluff. There they placed him in a hole in the snow, sitting upright and facing west with his spear by his side and his sled laid over him. As a sign of mourning, the Native men placed a twist of dried sea grass in their right nostrils, while the women placed a similar amount in their left. To the sailors' horror, the widow of the buried man smothered her youngest child, who was barely six months old. Without a man to hunt for her, food would be hard to come by for the new widow. Whether the woman killed her child to spare it the agony of starvation or to make herself more marriageable was never explained to the startled crew.
May almost claimed the life of Mr. Bryan. While the chastened Bessel puttered close to the camp, Bryan embarked on a sled journey to Rensselaer Harbor with Jim. Since the harbor was the site of Dr. Kane's winter camp, it had the most carefully established meridian measurement along the entire coastline. Bryan intended to use that spot to measure its difference from the Polaris camp.
The Arctic played no favorites, and Bryan encountered the same icy teeth that had frustrated Bessel's attempts. However, the amiable chaplain followed his guide's advice and reached Kane's abandoned camp. Searching about, the men found the copper bolt soldered into the crack of a rock that marked Kane's observatory. Nothing else of value remained save a few scraps of wood and iron and shards of broken crockery and glass. Bryan found the graves of two men named Baker and Schubert, members of Kane's expedition. Already, the land was erasing their presence. Wind and weather had almost scoured the white paint lettering their gravestones.
After building an igloo, Bryan did something that nearly cost him his life. He sent Jim back with the sled and kept one dog to pack his gear. Ever obliging, the young man understood that his contract with Jim only included staying one night. The onset of a storm prevented him from taking his sightings that day, so he would have to remain another twenty-four hours to complete his readings. Not wanting to “impose upon the good-natured Eskimo,” Bryan insisted that the man return while he waited for clear weather to take his readings. Over Jim's objections, Bryan prevailed, and the Inuit left for the base camp.
Alone, Bryan took his readings and then compounded his error by doing cwo more foolish things. He ate breakfast and gave all the rest of his provisions to his dog. Then he assembled his gear and tried to si rap it to the animal. It proved too heavy for the dog. So instead ol lightening the pack, Bryan decided to carry it himself.
Off he trudged, retracing the route back to the Polaris camp. With eaci step the pack grew heavier and heavier. After twenty hours of stumbling across the broken plain, the chaplain abandoned his pack and veered onto the smoother ice covering the inlet.
Exhausted and now hungry, Bryan slipped into a snow-covered crevasse. As he fell, his outstretched arms caught the edges of the crack anc saved him from disappearing forever beneath the surface. Soaked from the armpits down, Bryan lurched on with the dog trotting alongside. Without food his strength began to fail, and his situation grew more desperate with each passing hour.
Ahead on the ice, a dark object caught his eye. The dog caught a whiff of something to eat just as the chaplain recognized that the thing was a piece of seal meat. A footrace ensued, which the animal easily wen. But Bryan's hunger pangs overcame his love for animals. When he reached the slab of blubber, he beat off the dog before it could swallow the meat whole.
Then Bryan discovered why the normally frugal Inuit had discarded that piece of meat on the ice. It was gamy. The seal that had been killed was a male deep into rut and so rank and strong-tasting that even the Natives refused to eat it. Still, food was food, and Bryan w^s in no position to be picky. Holding his ravenous dog at bay, he hacked the greasy slab to pieces. Beating back waves of nausea, the young man swallowed chunk after chunk of the pungent blubber ntil he could stomach no more. The dog wolfed down the rest.
The meat restored his energy, but each ensuing belch reminded him of his offensive meal.
Eight and a half hours later, Bryan stumbled into camp. He had walked the sixty miles back to camp in three days and paid dearly for his mistakes. Snow blindness struck immediately. For two days he could see nothing while his damaged eyelids locked shut and tears constantly flooded down his face. The skin of that face blistered and peeled from frostbite and sloughed off entirely. Wet as Bryan's feet and legs were, the heat of friction from his boots and leggings probably saved the man from developing frostbite of his lower limbs. Days passed before he healed.
While Bryan recuperated, Coffin and Chester painted the boats, dismantled the empty storehouse, and burned its wood for fuel. On the twenty-seventh of May, Coffin hammered the last nail in place. The two boats were done.
An orgy of killing followed as the sailors gathered fresh meat for their escape. With the warm weather, the birds and seals had returned, and parties of sailors hunted them around the clock. Auks, dovekies, and hares packed every spare corner of the boats. The Inuit helpfully supplied fresh seal meat and snared auks with long-handled nets. Even as the Natives worked to help the white men, evidence of the differences between the two cultures continued to unfold.
On a brief trip to Port Foulke, the recovered Mr. Bryan discovered the grave of August Sonntag, the astronomer of Dr. Kane's ill-fated second expedition. In earlier days William Morton and Hans had traveled with the late Sonntag. To Bryan's dismay, their Native friends had dug up the body and scattered the bones about. The cleric collected and reburied the polished skull and bones and replaced the headstone. Later he learned that the Inuit had desecrated the grave for the wood from the coffin.
On the thirtieth the dying Polaris made one last attempt to remain with her crew. An offshore wind sheared away the crust of ice riming the beach, and the half-sunken ship drifted free. Wallowing steeply on her port side and groaning out her death rattles, the ship floated two hundred yards south before running aground. That would be as close as the Polaris would ever come to returning to home port. The ship had given her all. The Arctic had set its claws into the doomed ship and resolutely refused to let go. When high tide rolled in, two feet of water covered the upper decks.
Indifferent to the fate of the vessel he never had loved, Captain Buddington ordered the boats dragged to the shoreline and loaded the next day. Each man was restricted to eight pounds of personal gear, and the boat crews were selected. Buddington chose Coffin to man the tiller of his boat and selected Morton, Odell, Hayes, and Mauch for his crew. For good measure, he placed the Reverend Bryan in he bow. The first mate, Chester, commanded the second craft and got all those people who vexed the captain. Emil Bessel steered for Chester as the stroke, and Schuman, Booth, Campbell, and Hobby pulled the oars. Again, like a lucky figurehead, Bud-dington selected the pious Herman Sieman to ride in the bow of Chester's coat.
According to Buddington, the books about the Arctic that Charles F “ancis Hall had loved so well were packed in his sea chest along with two of the Polarises logbooks the following day and dragged a quarter mile from the camp. Therealong with two boxed chronometers, the pendulum, and the transitthey were buried in a stone cache. As an afterthought, Buddington included a letter detailing the directions and the plans of the two lifeboats in case a whaling vessel might stumble upon the marker.
On the third of June 1873, while a predawn pink glow illuminated the open bay as far as the eye could penetrate the sea mist, the men launched their two boats. The Inuit lined the shore and watched silently. By two-thirty in the morning, the sailors had poled their way past the brash ice and set their sails. This half of the Polaris expedition was once more heading south.