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Text - "After Icebergs with a Painter" Louis L. Noble


The sunshine was now streaming in at a bit of a window, and I went out to see what prospect of success. C-, who had left some little time before, was nowhere to be seen. The fog seemed to be in sufficient motion to disclose the berg down some of the avenues of clear air that were opened occasionally. They all ended, however, with fog instead of ice. I made it convenient to walk to the boat, and pocket a few cakes, brought along as a kind of scattering lunch. C- was descried, at length, climbing the broad, rocky ridge the eastern point of which we had doubled on our passage from Torbay. Making haste up the crags by a short cut, I joined him on the verge of the promontory, pretty well heated and out of breath. The effort was richly rewarded. The mist was dispersing in the sunny air around us; the ocean was clearing off; the surge was breaking with a pleasant sound below. At the foot of the precipice were four or five whales, from thirty to fifty feet in length, apparently. We could have tossed a pebble upon them. At times abreast, and then in single file, round and round they went, now rising with a puff followed by a wisp of vapor, then plunging into the deep again. There was something in their large movements very imposing, and yet very graceless. There seemed to be no muscular effort, no exertion of any force from within, and no more flexibility in their motions than if they had been built of timber. They appeared to move very much as a wooden whale might be supposed to move down a mighty rapid, rolling and plunging and borne along irresistibly by the current. As they rose, we could see their mouths occasionally, and the lighter colors of the skin below. As they went under, their huge, black tails, great winged things not unlike the screw-wheel of a propeller, tipped up above the waves. Now and then one would give the water a good round slap, the noise of which smote sharply upon the ear, like the crack of a pistol in an alley. It was a novel sight to watch them in their play, or labor rather; for they were feeding upon the capelin, pretty little fishes that swarm along these shores at this particular season. We could track them beneath the surface about as well as upon it. In the sunshine, and in contrast with the fog, the sea was a very dark blue or deep purple. Above the whales the water was green, a darker green as they descended, a lighter green as they came up. Large oval spots of changeable green water, moving silently and shadow-like along, in strong contrast with the surrounding dark, marked the places where the monsters were gliding below. When their broad, blackish backs were above the waves, there was frequently a ring or ruffle of snowy surf, formed by the breaking of the swell, around the edges of the fish. The review of whales, the only review we had witnessed in Her Majesty's dominions, was, on the whole, an imposing spectacle. We turned from it to witness another, of a more brilliant character. To the north and east, the ocean, dark and sparkling, was, by the magic action of the wind, entirely clear of fog; and there, about two miles distant, stood revealed the iceberg in all its cold and solitary glory. It was of a greenish white, and of the Greek-temple form, seeming to be over a hundred feet high. We gazed some minutes with silent delight on the splendid and impressive object, and then hastened down to the boat, and pulled away with all speed to reach it, if possible, before the fog should cover it again, and in time for C- to paint it. The moderation of the oarsmen and the slowness of our progress were quite provoking. I watched the sun, the distant fog, the wind and waves, the increasing motion of the boat, and the seemingly retreating berg. A good half-hour's toil had carried us into broad waters, and yet, to all appearance, very little nearer. The wind was freshening from the south, the sea was rising, thin mists-a species of scout from the main body of fog lying off in the east-were scudding across our track. James Goss, our captain, threw out a hint of a little difficulty in getting back. But Yankee energy was indomitable: C- quietly arranged his painting-apparatus; and I, wrapped in my cloak more snugly, crept out forward on the little deck,-a sort of look-out. To be honest, I began to wish ourselves on our way back, as the black, angry-looking swells chased us up, and flung the foam upon the bow and stern. All at once, huge squadrons of fog swept in, and swamped the whole of us, boat and berg, in their thin, white obscurity. For a moment we thought ourselves foiled again. But still the word was On! And on they pulled, the hard-handed fishermen, now flushed and moist with rowing. Again the ice was visible, but dimly, in his misty drapery. There was no time to be lost. Now, or not at all. And so C- began. For half an hour, pausing occasionally for passing flocks of fog, he plied the brush with a rapidity not usual, and under disadvantages that would have mastered a less experienced hand. We were getting close down upon the berg, and in fearfully rough water. In their curiosity to catch glimpses of the advancing sketch, the men pulled with little regularity, and trimmed the boat very badly. We were rolling frightfully to a landsman. C- begged of them to keep their seats, and hold the barge just there as near as possible. To amuse them, I passed an opera-glass around among them, with which they examined the iceberg and the coast. They turned out to be excellent good fellows, and entered into the spirit of the thing in a way that pleased us. I am sure they would have held on willingly till dark, if C- had only said the word, so much interest did they feel in the attempt to paint the "island-of-ice." The hope was to linger about it until sunset, for its colors, lights and shadows. That, however, was suddenly extinguished. Heavy fog came on, and we retreated, not with the satisfaction of a conquest, nor with the disappointment of a defeat, but cheered with the hope of complete success, perhaps the next day, when C- thought that we could return upon our game in a little steamer, and so secure it beyond the possibility of escape. The seine was now hauled from the stern to the centre of the barge; and the men pulled away for Torbay, a long six miles, rough and chilly. For my part, I was trembling with cold, and found it necessary to lend a hand at the oars, an exercise which soon made the weather feel several degrees warmer, and rendered me quite comfortable. After a little, the wind lulled, the fog dispersed again, and the iceberg seemed to contemplate our slow departure with complacent serenity. We regretted that the hour forbade a return. It would have been pleasant to play around that Parthenon of the sea in the twilight. The best that was left us, was to look back and watch the effects of light, which were wonderfully fine, and had the charm of entire novelty. The last view was the very finest. All the east front was a most tender blue; the fissures on the southern face, from which we were rowing directly away, were glittering green; the western front glowed in the yellow sunlight; around were the dark waters, and above, one of the most beautiful of skies. We fell under the land presently, and passed near the northern cape of Flat-Rock Bay, a grand headland of red sandstone, a vast and dome-like pile, fleeced at the summit with green turf and shrubs of fir. The sun, at last, was really setting. There was the old magnificence of the king of day,-airy deeps of ineffable blue and pearl, stained with scarlets and crimsons, and striped with living gold. A blaze of white light, deepening into the richest orange, crowned the distant ridge behind which the sun was vanishing. A vapory splendor, rose-color and purple, was dissolving in the atmosphere; and every wave of the ocean, a dark violet, nearly black, was "a flash of golden fire." Bathed with this almost supernatural glory, the headland, in itself richly complexioned with red, brown and green, was at once a spectacle of singular grandeur and solemnity. I have no remembrance of more brilliant effects of light and color. The view filled us with emotions of delight. We shot from beneath the great cliff into Flat-Rock Bay, rounding, at length, the breakers and the cape into the smoother waters of Torbay. As the oars dipped regularly into the polished swells, reflecting the heavens and the wonderful shores, all lapsed into silence. In the gloom of evening the rocks assumed an unusual height and sublimity. Gliding quietly below them, we were saluted, every now and then, by the billows thundering in some adjacent cavern. The song of the sea in its old halls rung out in a style quite unearthly. The slamming of the mighty doors seemed far off in the chambers of the cliff, and the echoes trembled themselves away, muffled into stillness by the stupendous masses. Thus ended our first real hunting of an iceberg. When we landed, we were thoroughly chilled. Our man was waiting with his wagon, and so was a little supper in a house near by, which we enjoyed with an appetite that assumed several phases of keenness as we proceeded. There was a tower of cold roast beef, flanked by bread and butter and bowls of hot tea. The whole was carried silently, without remark, at the point of knife and fork. We were a forlorn-hope of two, and fell to, winning the victory in the very breach. We drove back over the fine gravel road at a round trot, watching the last edge of day in the north-west and north, where it no sooner fades than it buds again to bloom into morning. We lived the new iceberg experience all over again, and planned for the morrow. The stars gradually came out of the cool, clear heavens, until they filled them with their sparkling multitudes. For every star we seemed to have a lively and pleasurable thought, which came out and ran among our talk, a thread of light. When we looked at the hour, as we sat fresh and wakeful, warming at our English inn, in St. Johns, it was after midnight.

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