On the 30th of June, at eight o’clock in the morning, Erik from the deck of the “Alaska” pressed the button of the electrical machine, and a formidable explosion took place. The field of ice shook and trembled, and clouds of frightened sea-birds hovered around uttering discordant cries. When silence was restored, a long black train cut into innumerable fissures met their anxious gaze. The explosion of the terrible agent had broken up the ice field. There was, so to speak, a moment of hesitation, and then the ice acted as if it had only been waiting for some signal to move. Cracking in all parts it yielded to the action of the current, and they beheld here and there whole continents, as it were, gradually moving away from them. Some portions, however, were more slow to move; they seemed to be protesting against such violence. The next day the passage was clear, and the “Alaska” rekindled her fires.
Erik and his dynamite had done what it would probably have taken the pale arctic sun a month longer to accomplish.
On the 2d of July, the expedition arrived at Banks’ Straits; on the fourth, she issued from the Arctic Sea properly speaking. From this time the route was open notwithstanding icebergs, fogs, and snow-storms. On the twelfth, the “Alaska” doubled Ice Cape; on the thirteenth, Cape Lisburne, and on the fourteenth she entered the Gulf of Kotzebue to the north of Behring’s Straits and found there, according to instructions, the boat loaded with coal which had been sent from San Francisco.
Thus in two months and sixteen days they had accomplished the programme arranged by Erik before they left the coast of France.
The “Alaska” had hardly ceased to move, when Erik rushed into a small boat and hurried off to accost the officer who had charge of the boat loaded with coal.
“Semper idem!” said he, as he approached.
“Lisbon!” answered the Yankee.
“How long have you been waiting here for me?”
“Five weeks—we left San Francisco one month after the arrival of your dispatch.”
“Have you heard any news of Nordenskiold?”
“At San Francisco they had not received any reliable information about him. But since I have been here I have spoken to several captains of whaling-vessels, who said that they had heard from the natives of Serdze-Kamen that an European vessel had been frozen in by the ice for nine or ten months; they thought it was the ‘Vega.’”
“Indeed!” said Erik, with a joy which we can easily understand. “And do you believe that it has not yet succeeded in getting through the straits?”
“I am sure of it—not a vessel has passed us for the last five weeks, which I have not seen and spoken to.”
“God be praised—our troubles will not be without recompense, if we succeed in finding Nordenskiold.”
“You will not be the first who has done so!” said the Yankee, with an ironical smile—“an American yacht has preceded you. It passed here three days ago, and like you was inquiring for Nordenskiold.”