Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The New Year, 1896: Our Daily Life
By Fridtjof Nansen (1861–1930)
From ‘Farthest North’

WEDNESDAY, January 1st, 1896. –41.5° C. (42.7° below zero, Fahr.).—So a new year has come, the year of joy and home-coming. In bright moonlight 1895 departed, and in bright moonlight 1896 begins; but it is bitterly cold,—the coldest days we have yet known here. I felt it, too, yesterday, when all my finger-tips were frost-bitten. I thought I had done with all that last spring.  1
  Friday, January 3d. Morning.—It is still clear and cold out of doors. I can hear reports from the glacier. It lies up there on the crest of the mountain like a mighty ice-giant peering down at us through the clefts. It spreads its giant body all over the land, and stretches out its limbs on all sides into the sea. But whenever it turns cold—colder than it has hitherto been—it writhes horribly, and crevice after crevice appears in the huge body; there is a noise like the discharge of guns, and the sky and the earth tremble so that I can feel the ground that I am lying on quake. One is almost afraid that it will some day come rolling over upon one.  2
  Johansen is asleep, and making the hut resound. I am glad his mother cannot see him now. She would certainly pity her boy, so black and grimy and ragged as he is, with sooty streaks all over his face. But wait, only wait! She shall have him again, safe and sound and fresh and rosy.  3
  Wednesday, January 8th.—Last night the wind blew the sledge to which our thermometer was hanging, out over the slope. Stormy weather outside—furious weather, almost taking away your breath if you put your head out. We lie here trying to sleep—sleep the time away. But we cannot always do it. Oh, those long sleepless nights when you turn from side to side, kick your feet to put a little warmth into them, and wish for only one thing in the world—sleep! The thoughts are constantly busy with everything at home; but the long, heavy body lies here trying in vain to find an endurable position among the rough stones. However, time crawls on, and now little Liv’s birthday has come. She is three years old to-day, and must be a big girl now. Poor little thing! You don’t miss your father now, and next birthday I shall be with you, I hope. What good friends we shall be! You shall ride a-cockhorse, and I will tell you stories from the north about bears, foxes, walruses, and all the strange animals up there in the ice. No, I can’t bear to think of it.  4
  Saturday, February 1st.—Here I am down with the rheumatism. Outside it is growing gradually lighter day by day; the sky above the glaciers in the south grows redder, until at last one day the sun will rise above the crest, and our last winter night be past. Spring is coming! I have often thought spring sad. Was it because it vanished so quickly, because it carried promises that summer never fulfilled? But there is no sadness in this spring: its promises will be kept; it would be too cruel if they were not.  5
  It was a strange existence, lying thus in a hut underground the whole winter through, without a thing to turn one’s hand to. How we longed for a book! How delightful our life on board the Fram appeared, when we had the whole library to fall back upon! We would often tell each other how beautiful this sort of life would have been, after all, if we had only had anything to read. Johansen always spoke with a sigh of Heyse’s novels: he had specially liked those on board, and he had not been able to finish the last one he was reading. The little readable matter which was to be found in our navigation table and almanac, I had read so many times already that I knew it almost by heart—all about the Norwegian royal family, all about persons apparently drowned, and all about self-help for fishermen. Yet it was always a comfort to see these books: the sight of the printed letters gave one a feeling that there was, after all, a little bit of the civilized man left. All that we really had to talk about had long ago been thoroughly thrashed out, and indeed there were not many thoughts of common interest that we had not exchanged. The chief pleasure left to us was to picture to each other how we should make up next winter at home for everything we had missed during our sojourn here. We felt that we should have learned for good and all to set store by all the good things of life,—such as food, drink, clothes, shoes, house, home, good neighbors, and all the rest of it. Frequently we occupied ourselves, too, in calculating how far the Fram could have drifted, and whether there was any possibility of her getting home to Norway before us. It seemed a safe assumption that she might drift out into the sea between Spitzbergen and Greenland next summer or autumn, and probability seemed to point to her being in Norway in August or September. But there was just the possibility that she might arrive earlier in the summer; or on the other hand, we might not reach home until later in the autumn. This was the great question to which we could give no certain answer; and we reflected with sorrow that she might perhaps get home first. What would our friends then think about us? Scarcely any one would have the least hope of seeing us again, not even our comrades on board the Fram. It seemed to us, however, that this could scarcely happen: we could not but reach home in July, and it was hardly to be expected that the Fram could be free from the ice so early in the summer.  6

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