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At the north pole, or, The adventures of Captain Hatteras online

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by that point. You can see traces of tlie cairn, placed, so to
speak, at the farthest point reached by John Ross in 1831 !
There is Cape Jane Franklin ! There Point Franklin ! There
Point Le Vesconte ! There Erebus Bay, where the launch, made
of pieces of one of the ships, was found on a sledge ! There were
found silver spoons, plenty of food, chocolate, tea, and religious
books. The hundred and five survivors, under the command of
Captain Crozier, set out for Great Fish River. How far did they
get 1 Did they reach Hudson's Bay ] Have any survived 1 What
became of them after that ? "

" I will tell you what became of them," said John Hatteras in


an energetic voice. " Yes, they tried to reach Hudson's Bay, and
separated into several parties. They took the road to the south.
In 1854 a letter from Dr. Kae states that in 1850 the Esquimaux
had met in King William's Land a detachment of forty men, chasing
sea-cows, travelling on the ice, dragging a boat along with them,
thin, pale, and worn out with suffering and fatigue. Later, they
discovered thirty corpses on the mainland and five on a neigh-
boring island, some half buried, others left without burial ; some
lying beneath an overturned boat, others under the ruins of a
tent; here lay an officer with his glass swung around his shoulder,
and his loaded gun near him ; farther on were kettles with the
remains of a horrible meal. At this news, the Admiralty \irged
the Hudson's Bay Company to send its most skilful agents to
this place. They descended Black River to its mouth. They
visited Montreal and Maconochie Islands, and Point Ogle. In
vain ! All these poor fellows had died of miser}^ suffering, and
starvation, after trying to prolong their lives by having recourse
to cannibalism. That is what became of them along their way
tow'ards the south, which was lined with their mutilated bodies.
Well, do you want to follow their path 1 "

Hatteras's ringing voice, passionate gestures, and glowing face
produced an indescribable effect. The crew, moved by the sight
of these ill-omened lands, cried with one voice,

" To the north ! to the north ! "

" Well, to the north ! Safety and glory await us there at the
north ! Heaven is declaring for us ! The wind is changing ! The
passage is free ! Prepare to go about ! "

The sailors hastened to their places ; the ice-streams grew
slowly free ; the Forward went about rapidly, and ran under full
steam towards MacClintock's Channel.

Hatteras was justified in counting on a freer sea ; on his way
he retraced the probable path of Franklin ; he went along the
eastern side of Prince of Wales Land, which is clearly defined,
while the other shore is still unknown. Evidently the clearing
away of the ice towards the south took place through the eastern
strait, for it appeared perfectly clear ; so the Forward was able to
make up for lost time ; she was put under full steam, so that the

'All these poor fellows had died of misery, suffering, and starvation." Page 128.


14th they passed Osborne Bay, and the farthest points reached by
the expeditions of 1851. There was still a great deal of ice about
them, but there was every indication that the Forward would
have clear sailing-way before her.



The crew seemed to have returned to their habits of discipline
and obedience. Their duties were slight and infrequent, so that
they had plent}^ of leisure. The temperature never fell below the
freezing-point, and the thaw removed the greatest obstacles from
their path.

Duke had made friends with Dr. Clawbonny. They got on
admirably together. But as in friendship one friend is always
sacrificed to the other, it must be said that the doctor was not
the other. Duke did with him whatever he pleased. The doctor
obeyed him as a dog obeys his master. Moreover, Duke con-
ducted himself very amicably with most of the officers and sail-
ors ; only, instinctively doubtless, he avoided Shandon ; he had,
too, a grudge against Pen and Foker ; his hatred for them mani-
fested itself in low growls when they came near him. They, for
their part, did not dare attack the captain's dog, " his familiar
spirit," as Clifton called him.

In a word, the crew -had taken courage again.

" It seems to me," said James Wall one day to Richard Shan-
don, ''that the men took the captain's w^ords for earnest; they
seem to be sure of success."

" They are mistaken," answered Shandon ; " if they would only
reflect, and consider our condition, they would see we are simply
going from one imprudence to another."

" Still," resumed Wall, " we are in a more open sea ; we are
going along a well-known route ; don't you exaggerate somewhat,

' Not a bit, Wall ; the hate and jealousy, if you please, with


which Hatteras inspires me, don't blind my eyes. Say, have you
seen the coal-bunkers lately % "

" No," answered Wall.

" Well ! go below, and you '11 see how near we are to the end
of our supply. By right, we ought to be going under sail,
and only starting our engine to make headway against currents
or contrary winds ; our fuel ought to be burned only with the
strictest economy, for who can say where and for how long we

may be detained % But Hatteras is pushed by this mania of going
forward, of reaching the inaccessible Pole, and he does n't care
for such a detail. Whether the wind is fair or foul, he goes on
under steam ; and if he goes on we run a risk of being very much
embarrassed, if not lost."

" Is that so, Shandon 1 That is serious ! "

" You are right, Wall, it is ; not only would the engine be of
no use to us if we got into a tight place, but what are we to do
in the winter 1 We ought to take some precautions against
the cold in a country where the mercury often freezes in the

*' But if I 'm not mistaken, Shandon, the captain intends get-
ting a new supply at Beech ey Island ; they say there is a great
quantity there."


" Can any one choose where he '11 go in these seas, Wall 1 Can
one count on finding such or such a channel free of ice 1 And if
he misses Beechey Island, or can't reach it, what is to become
of us r'

" You are right, Shandon ; Hatteras seems to me unwise j but
why don't you say something of this sort to him 1 "

** No, Wall," answered Shandon, with ill-disguised bitterness,
" I have made up my mind not to say a word ] I am not respon-
sible any longer for the ship ; I shall await events ; if I receive
any commands, I obey, and I don't proclaim my opinions."

" Let me tell you you are wrong, Shandon ; for the well-being
of all is at stake, and the captain's imprudence may cost us all

" And if I were to speak, Wall, would he listen to me % "

Wall did not dare say he would.

" But," he added, " he would perhaps listen to remonstrances
of the crew."

" The crew," said Shandon, shrugging his shoulders ; " but, my
dear Wall, have n't you noticed that they care for everything else
more than for their safety 1 They know they 're getting near lat-
itude 72, and that a thousand pounds is paid for every degree
of latitude beyond which is reached."

"You are right, Shandon," answered Wall, "and the captain
has taken the surest means of securing his men."

"Without doubt," answered Shandon; "for the present, at

"What do you mean]"

" I mean that all will go very well in the absence of all dan-
gers and fatigues, in an open sea ; Hatteras has caught them by
his money ; but what is done for pay is ill done. But once let
hardships, dangers, discomfort, sickness, melancholy, and fierce
cold stare them in the face, and we are flying towards them
now, and you will see whether they remember the pay they are
to get."

" So, in your opinion, Shandon, Hatteras will fail 1 "

" Exactly ; he will fail. In such an enterprise, there should be

an identity of interests among the leaders, a sympathv which is


lacking here. Besides, Hatteras is mad ; his whole past proves
it ! But we shall see ! Circumstances may arise in which the
command of the ship will have to be given to a less foolhardy
captain "

" Still," said Wall, shaking his head doubtfully, " Hatteras will
always have on his side "

" He will have," interrupted Shandon, " he will have that Dr.
Clawbonny, who only cares to study ; Johnson, who is a slave to
discipline, and who never takes the trouble to reason ; perhaps
one or two besides, like Bell, the carpenter, four at the most, and
there are eighteen on board! No, Wall, Hatteras has not the
confidence of the crew ; he knows it well, and he tries to make up
for it by bribery ; he made a good use of the account of Frank-
lin's catastrophe to create a different feeling in their excited
minds; but that won't last, I tell you; and if he don't reach
Beechey Island, he is lost ! "

"If the crew suspected "

"I beg of you," said Shandon, quickly, "not to say a word
about this to the crew ; they '11 find it out for themselves. Now,
at any rate, it is well to go on towards the north. But who can
say whether what Hatteras takes for a step towards the Pole may
not be really retracing our steps? At the end of MacClintock
Channel is Melville Bay, and thence open the straits which lead
back to Baffin's Bay. Hatteras had better take care ! The way
west is easier than the way north."

From these words Shandon's state of mind may be judged, and
how justified the captain was in suspecting a treacherous dispo-
sition in him.

Shandon, moreover, was right when he ascribed the present
satisfaction of the crew to the prospect they had of passing lati-
tude 72. This greed of gold seized the least audacious. Clifton
had made out every one's share with great exactness. Leaving
out the captain and the doctor, who could not be admitted to the
division, there were sixteen men on board the Forward. The
amount was a thousand pounds, that was 72 10s. for each man,
for every degree. If they should ever reach the Pole the eighteen
degrees to be crossed would give each one a sum of 1,125, a fair


fortune. This whim would cost the captain 18,000; but he
was rich enough to pay for such a costly trip to the Pole.

These calculations aroused wonderfully the avarice of the crew,
as can be readily believed, and more than one longed to pass lat-
itude 72, who, a fortnight before, rejoiced to be sailing south-

The Forward sailed by Cape Al worth June 16th. Mount Raw-
linson raised its white peaks towards the sky ; the snow and mist
exaggerated its size so that it appeared colossal ; the temperature
remained a few degrees above the freezing-point ; cascades and
cataracts appeared on the sides of the mountain ; avalanches kept
falling with a roar like that of artillery. The long stretches of
glaciers made a loud echo. The contrast between this wintry
scene and the thaw made a wonderful sight. The brig sailed along
very near the coast; they were able to see on some sheltered
rocks a few bushes bearing modest little roses, some reddish
moss, and a budding dwarf willow barely rising above the

At last, June 19th, in latitude 72, they doubled Point Minto,
which forms one of the extremities of Ommanney Bay ; the brig
entered Melville Bay, called " the Sea of Money " by Bolton ; this
good-natured fellow used to be always jesting on this subject,
much to Clawbonny's amusement.

The obstacles to their course were but few, for June 23d, in the
teeth of a strong northeasterly breeze, they passed latitude 74.
This was at the middle of Melville Bay, one of the largest seas of
this region. It was first crossed by Captain Parry, in his great
expedition of 1819, and there it was that his crew won the 5,000
promised by act of Parliament.

Clifton contented himself with remarking that there were two
degrees between latitude 72 and latitude 74 : that was 125
to his credit. But they told him that a fortune did not amount
to much up there, and that a man could be called rich only when
he could have a chance to drink to his wealth ; it seemed better
to wait for the moment when they could meet at some tavern in
Liverpool before rejoicing and rubbing their hands.




Melville Bay, although perfectly mivigable, was not wholly
free of ice ; immense ice-fields could be seen stretching to the
horizon ; here and there appeared a few icebergs, but they stood
motionless as if anchored in the ice. The Forward went under
full steam through broad passes where she had plenty of sailing-
room. The wind shifted frequently from one point of the com-
pass to another.

The variability of the wind in the arctic seas is a remarkable
fact, and very often only a few minutes intervene between a calm
and a frightful tempest. This was Hatteras's experience on the
23d of June, in the middle of this huge bay.

The steadiest winds blow generally from the ice to the open
sea, and are very cold. On that day the thermometer fell several
degrees ; the wind shifted to the southward, and the heavy
gusts, having passed over the ice, discharged themselves of their
dampness under the form of a thick snow. Hatteras immediately
ordered the sails which were aiding the engine to be reefed; but
before this could be done his main-topsail was carried away.

Hatteras gave his orders w4th the utmost coolness, and did not
leave the deck during the storm ; he was obliged to run before
the gale. The wind raised very heavy waves which hurled about
pieces of ice of every shape, torn from the neighboring ice-fields ;
the brig was tossed about like a child's toy, and ice was dashed
against its hull ; at one moment it rose perpendicularly to the top
of a mountain of water ; its steel prow shone like molten metal ;
then it sank into an abyss, sending forth great whirls of smoke,
while the screw revolved out the water with a fearful clatter.
Rain and snow fell in torrents.

The doctor could not miss such a chance to get wet to the
skin; he remained on deck, gazing at the storm with all the


admiration such a spectacle cannot fail to draw forth. One
standing next to him could not have heard his voice ; so he said
nothing, but looked, and soon he saw a singular phenomenon, one
peculiar to the northern seas.

The tempest was confined to a small space of about three or four
miles ; in fact, the wind loses much of its force in passing over
the ice, and cannot carry its violence very far; every now and
then the doctor would see, through some rift in the storm, a clear
sky and a quiet sea beyond the ice-fields ; hence the Forward had
only to make her way through the passes to find smooth sailing ;
but she ran a risk of being dashed against the moving masses
which obeyed the motion of the waves. Notwithstanding, Hat-
teras succeeded in a few hours in carrying his vessel into smooth
water, while the violence of the storm, now at its worst at the
horizon, was dying away within a few cable-lengths from the

Melville Bay then looked very different ; by the influence
of the winds and waves a large number of icebergs had been
detached from the shores and were now floating northward,
continually crashing against one another. They could be
counted by hundreds ; but the bay is very broad, and the brig
avoided them without difficulty. The sight of these floating
masses, which seemed to be racing together, was indeed mag-

The doctor was wild with enthusiasm about it, when Simpson,
the harpooner, came up to him and asked him to notice the chan-
ging tints of the sea, which varied from deep blue to olive green ;
long bands ran from north to south with edges so sharply cut
that the line of division could be seen as far as the horizon.
Sometimes a transparent sheet would stretch out from an opaque

"Well, Dr. Clawbonny, what do you think of that*?" said

"I agree, my friend, with what Scoresby said about these
differently colored waters," answered the doctor, "namely, that
the blue water does not contain the millions of animalcules
and medusae which the green water contains; he made a great


many experiments to test it, and I am ready to agree with

" 0, but there 's something else it shows ! "
" What is that 1 "

" Well, if the Forward were only a whaler, I believe we should
have some sport."

"But," answered the doctor, "I
don't see any whales."

"We shall very soon, though, I
promise you. It's great luck for a
whaler to see those green patches in
these latitudes."

" Why so ? " asked the doctor, v/hose
curiosity was aroused by these remarks
of a man who had had experience in
what he was talking about.

"Because," answered Simpson, "it
is in that green water that most of the
whales are caught."

" What is the reason, Simpson ? "
"Because they get more food there."
" You are sure of that I "

" 0, I have seen it a hundred times in Baffin's Bay ! I don't see
why the same should n't be the case in Melville Bay."
" You must be right, Simpson."

" And see," Simpson continued as he leaned over the rail,
"see there. Doctor."

" One would say it was the track of a ship."
" Well," said Simpson, " it 's an oily substance that the whale
leaves behind it. Really, the whale itself can't be far off."

In fact, the atmosphere was filled with a strong fishy smell.
The doctor began to examine the surface of the sea, and the har-
pooner's prediction was soon verified. Foker was heard shouting
from aloft,

" A whale to leeward ! "

All turned their eyes in that direction ; a low spout was seen
rising from the sea about a mile from the brig.



" There she spouts ! " shouted Simpson, whose experienced eye
soon detected it.

" It 's gone," said the doctor.

" We could soon find it again, if it were necessary," said Simp-
son, regretfully.

But to his great
surprise, although
no one had dared
to ask it, Hatteras
gave the order to
lower and man the
whale-boat ; he was
glad to give the
men some distrac-
tion, and also to get
a few barrels of oil.
They heard the or-
der with great satisfaction.

Four sailors took their places in the whale-boat ; Johnson took
the helm; Simpson stood in the bow, harpoon in hand. The
doctor insisted on joining the party. The sea was quite smooth.
The whale-boat went very fast, and in about ten minutes she was
a mile from the brig.

The whale, having taken another breath, had dived again ; but
soon it came up and projected fifteen feet into the air that com-
bination of gases and mucous fluid which escapes from its vent-

" There, there ! " cried Simpson, pointing to a place about eight
himdred yards from the boat.

They approached it rapidly ; and the brig, having also seen it,
drew near slowly.

The huge monster kept appearing above the waves, showing its
black back, which resembled a great rock in the sea; a whale
never swims rapidly unless pursued, and this one was letting
itself be rocked by the waves.

The hunters approached in silence, choosing the green water,
which was so opaque as to prevent the whale from seeing them.


It is always exciting to watch a frail b^at attacking one of these
monsters ; this one was about one hundred and thirty feet long,
and often between latitude 72 and 80 whales are found more
than one hundred and twenty-four feet long ; ancient writers have
often spoken of some longer than seven hundred feet, but they
are imaginary animals.

Soon the boat was very near the whale. Simpson made a sign,
the men stopped rowing, and, brandishing his harpoon, he hurled it
skilfully ; this, with sharp barbs, sank into the thick layers of fat.
The wounded whale dived rapidly. At once the four oars were
unshipped ; the rope which was attached to the harpoon ran out
rapidly, and the boat was dragged along while Johnson steered it

The whale swam away from the brig and hastened towards the
moving icebergs ; for half an hour it went on in this way ; the
cord had to be kept wet to prevent its taking fire from friction.
When the animal seemed to go more slowly, the rope was dragged
back and carefully coiled ; the whale rose again to the surface,
lashing violently with its tail j huge spouts of w^ater were dashed
up by it and fell in torrents on the boat, which now approached
rapidly; Simpson had taken a long lance and was prepared to
meet the whale face to face.

But it plunged rapidly into a pass between two icebergs. Fur-
ther pursuit seemed dangerous.

" The devil ! " said Johnson.

"Forward, forward, my friends," shouted Simpson, eager for
the chase; "the whale is ours."

" But we can't follow it among the icebergs," answered John-
son, turning the boat away.
' " Yes, yes !" cried Simpson.

" No, no ! " said some of the sailors.

" Yes ! " cried others.

During this discussion the whale had got between two icebergs
which the wind and waves were driving together.

The whale-boat was in danger of being dragged into this dan-
gerous pass, when Johnson sprang forward, axe in hand, and out
the line.

"The whale swam away from the brig and hastened towards the moving ice-
bergs." Page 138.



It was time ; the two icebergs met with irresistible force,
crushing the whale between them.

" Lost ! " cried Simpson.

" Saved ! " said Johnson.

"Upon my word," said the doctor, who had not flinched, "that
was well worth seeing ! "

The crushing power of these mountains is enormous. The
whale was the victim of an accident that is very frequent in these
waters. Scoresby tells us that in the course of a single summer
thirty whalers have been lost in this way in Baffin's Bay ; he saw
a three-master crushed in one minute between two walls of ice,
which drew together with fearful rapidity and sank the ship with
all on board. Two other ships he himself saw cut through, as if
by a long lance, by huge pieces of ice more than a hundred feet

A few moments later the whale-boat returned to the brig, and
was hauled up to its usual place on deck.

"That's a lesson," said Shandon, aloud, "for those who are
foolhardy enough to venture into the passes ! "



June 25th the Forivard sighted Cape Dundas, at the north-
west extremity of Prince of Wales Land. There they found more
serious difficulties amid thicker ice. The channel here grows nar-
rower, and the line of Crozier, Young, Day, and Lowther Islands
ranged in a line, like forts in a harbor, drive the ice-streams
nearer together. What would otherwise have taken the brig a
day now detained her from June 25th to the end of the month ;
she was continually obliged to stop, to retreat, and to wait
for a favorable chance to reach Beechey Island. Meanwhile a
great deal of coal was consumed; though during the frequent


halts only small fires were kept burning, sufficient to keep steam
up day and night.

Hatteras knew as well as Shandon the reduced state of their
supply; but feeling sure that he would find fuel at Beechey
Island, he did not wish to lose a minute for the sake of economy ;
he had been very much delayed by running south ; and, although
he had taken the precaution of leaving England in April, he now
found himself no farther advanced than previous expeditions had
been at that time of year.

The 30th they passed Cape Walker at the northeast extremity
of Prince of Wales Land ; this is the farthest point seen by Ken-
nedy and Bellot, May 3d, 1852, after an expedition across North
Somerset. In 1851, Captain Ommaney of the Austin expedition
had been fortunate enough to get fresh supplies there for his

This cape, which is very lofty, is remarkable for its reddish-
brown color ; in clear weather one can see as far as the entrance
of Wellington Channel. Towards evening they saw Cape Bellot,
separated from Cape Walker by MacLeon's Bay. Cape Bellot
was so named in presence of that young French officer to whom
the English expedition gave three cheers. At this place the coast


consists of a yellowish limestone, very rough in appearance; it
is protected by huge masses of ice which the north -wind col-
lects there in the most imposing way. It was soon no longer
to be seen from the Forward's deck, as she was making her

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Online LibraryJules VerneAt the north pole, or, The adventures of Captain Hatteras → online text (page 10 of 17)