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

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cessors. Hence he resolved to get on at any price a few degrees
farther north ; seeing that he could neither try rowing with his
crew exhausted, nor going under sail with the wind always unfa-
vorable, he ordered the fires to be lighted.




At this unexpected command, the surprise on board of the For-
ward was very great.

" Light the fires ! " said some.

"With whatr' said others.

" When we have only two months' supply in the hold ! " cried

"And how are we to keep warm in the winter]" asked Clifton.

" We shall have to burn the ship down to the water-line, I sup-
pose," said Gripper.

"And cram all the masts into the stove," answered Warren,
" from the foretopmast to the jib-boom."

Shandon gazed intently at Wall. The surprised engineers hesi-
tated to go down into the engine-room.

"Did you hear what I said]" shouted the captain, angrily.

Brunton walked toward the hatchway ; but he stopped before
going down.

" Don't go, Brunton," some one said.

" Who spoke then 1 " shouted Hatteras.

" I did," said Pen, approaching the captain.

" And what is it you 're saying % " asked the captain.

" I say I say," answered Pen with many oaths, "I say that
we have had enough of this, that we are not going any farther,
that we don't want to wear ourselves out with fatigue and cold
during the winter, and that the fires shall not be lighted."

" Mr. Shandon," answered Hatteras, coldly, " have this man put
in irons."

" But, Captain," said Shandon, " what this man said "

" If you repeat what this man said," retorted Hatteras, " I
shall order you to your cabin and confine you there. Seize that
man ! Do you hear % "


Johnson, Bell, and Simpson stepped towards the sailor, who
was beside himself with wrath.

" The first man who lays a finger on me " he cried, seizing
a handspike, which he flourished about his head.

Hatteras walked towards him.

"Pen," he said very quietly, "if you move hand or foot, I shall
blow your brains out ! "

With these words he drew a revolver and aimed it at the

A murmur arose from the crew.

"Not a word from any of you," said Hatteras, " or he 's a dead

At that moment Johnson and Bell disarmed Pen, who no
longer resisted, and suffered himself to be led to the bottom of
the hold.

" Now go below, Brunton," said Hatteras.

The engineer, followed by Plover and Warren, went below.
Hatteras returned to the quarter-deck.

" That Pen is a worthless fellow," the doctor said to him.

" No man was ever nearer death," answered the captain, simply.

Soon there was enough steam on ; the anchors of the Forward


were raised ; and the brig started eastward, heading for Point
Beecher, and cutting through the newly formed ice.

A great number of islands lie between Baring Island and Point
Beecher, scattered in the midst of the ice-fields ; the ice-streams
crowd in great numbers in the little straits into which they divide
the sea ; when the weather is cold they have a tendency to accu-
mulate; here and there hummocks were forming, and it was easy
to see that the floes, already harder and more crowded, would,
under the influence of the first frosts, soon form an impenetrable

It was with great difficulty that the Forward made her way
through the whirling snow. Still, with the variability which is a
peculiarity of these regions, the sun would appear from time to
time ; the air grew much milder ; the ice melted as if by en-
chantment, and a clear expanse of water, a most welcome sight to
the eyes of the crew, spread out before them where a few mo-
ments before the ice had blocked their progress. All over the
horizon there spread magnificent orange tints, which rested their
eyes, weary with gazing at the eternal snow.

Thursday, July 26th, the Forward coasted along Dundas Isl-
and, and then stood

more northward ; ^ _ ~ ^ -^^j "^ <^

but there she found
herself face to face
with a thick mass
of ice, eight or nine
feet high, consisting
of little icebergs
washed away from
the shore ; they had
to prolong the curve they were making to the west. The con-
tinual cracking of the ice, joining with the creaking of the rolling
ship, sounded like a gloomy lamentation. At last the brig found
a passage and advanced through it slowly ; often a huge floe
delayed her for hours ; the fog embarrassed the steersman ; at
one moment he could see a mile ahead, and it was easy to avoid all
obstacles; but again the snow-squalls would hide everything from


their sight at the distance of a cable's length. The sea ran verj

Sometimes the smooth clouds assumed a strange appearance,
as if they were reflecting the ice-banks ; there were days when
the sun could not pierce the dense mist.

The birds were still very numerous, and their cries were deaf-
ening ; the seals, lying lazily on the drifting ice, raised their heads
without being frightened, and turned their long necks to watch

the ship go by. Often, too, the brig would leave bits of sheath-
ing on the ice against which she grazed.

Finally, after six days of this slow sailing, August 1st, Point
Beecher was made, sighted in the north ; Hatteras passed the last
hours in the lookout ; the open sea, which Stewart had seen
May 30, 1851, towards latitude 76 20^ could not be far off,
and yet, as far as Hatteras could see, he could make out no sign
of an open polar sea. He came down without saying a word.

" Do you believe in an open sea ? " asked Shandon of the sec-
ond mate.

" I 'm beginning to have my doubts," answered James Wall.


" Was n't I right in considering this pretended discovery as a
mere hypothesis'? No one agreed with me, and you too, Wall,
you sided against me."

" They '11 believe you next time, Shandon."

"Yes," he answered, "when it 's too late."

And he returned to his cabin, where he had kept himself al-
most exclusively since his discussion with the captain.

Towards evening the wind shifted to the south. Hatteras then
set his sails and had the fires put out ; for many days the crew
were kept hard at work ; every few minutes they had to tack or
bear away, or to shorten sail quickly to stop the course of the
brig ; the braces could not run easily through the choked-up
pulleys, and added to the fatigue of the crew ; more than a week
was required for them to reach Point Barrow. The Forward had
not made thirty miles in ten days.

Then the wind flew around to the north, and the engine was
started once more. Hatteras still hoped to find an open sea be-
yond latitude 77, such as Edward Belcher had seen.

And yet, if he believed in Penny's account, the part of the sea
which he w^as now crossing ought to have been open ; for Penny,
having reached the limit of the ice, saw in a canoe the shores of
Queen's Channel at latitude 77.

Must he regard their reports as apochryphal, or had an unusu-
ally early winter fallen upon these regions %

August 15th, Mount Percy reared into the mist its peaks cov-
ered with eternal snow ; a violent wind was hurling in their teeth
a fierce shower of hail. The next day the sun set for the first
time, terminating at last the long series of days twenty-four hours
long. The men had finally accustomed themselves to this per-
petual daylight ; but the animals minded it very little ; the Green-
land dogs used to go to sleep at the usual hour, and even Duke lay
down at the same hour every evening, as if the night were dark.

Still, during the nights following August 16th the darkness
was never very marked ; the sun, although it had set, still gave
light enough by refraction.

August 19th, after taking a satisfactory observation, Cape
Franklin was seen on the eastern side, and opposite it Cape Lady



Franklin ; at what was probably the farthest point reached by
this bold explorer, his fellow-countrymen wanted the name of his
devoted wife should be remembered along with his own, as an
emblem of the sympathy which always united them. The doctor
was much moved by this sight in this distant country.

In accordance with Johnson's advice, he began to accustom
himself to enduring low temperature ; he kept almost all the
time on deck, braving the cold, wind, and snow. Although he
had grown a little thinner, he did not suffer from the severity of
the climate. Besides, he expected other dangers, and he re-
joiced, almost, as he saw the winter approaching.

" See," said he one day to Johnson, " see those flocks of
birds flying south ! How they fly and cry adieu ! "

" Yes, Dr. Clawbonny," answered Johnson, " something has
told them it was time to go, and they are ofi"."

" More than one of
our men, Johnson,
would be glad to imi-
tate them, I fancy."

" They are timid fel-
lows, Doctor; what a
bird can't do, a man
ought to try ! Those
birds have no supply
of food, as we have,
and they must support
themselves elsewhere.
But sailors, with a good
deck under the feet, ought to go to the end of the world."
" You hope, then, that Hatteras will succeed in his projects 1 "
" He will succeed. Doctor."

"I agree with you, Johnson, even if only one faithful man
accompanies him "

" There will be two of us ! "

"Yes, Johnson," the doctor answered, pressing the brave sailor's

Prince Albert's Land, along which the Forward was now coast-


ing, is also called Grinnell's Land ; and although Hatteras, from
his dislike to Americans, never was willing to give it this name,
nevertheless, it is the one by which it is generally known. This
is the reason of this double title : at the same time that the
Englishman Penny gave it the name of Prince Albert, the captain
of the RescMe, Lieutenant DeHaven, named it Grinnell's Land, in
honor of the American merchant who had fitted out the expedi-
tion in New York.

As the brig followed the coast it met with serious difficulties,
going sometimes under sail, sometimes under steam. August
18th, Mount Britannia was sighted through the mist, and the
next day the Forward cast anchor in Northumberland Bay. The
ship was completely protected.



Hatteras, after seeing to the anchorage of the ship, returned to
his cabin, took out his chart, and marked his position on it very
carefully ; he found himself in latitude 76 57', and longitude
99 20', that is to say, only three minutes from latitude 77. It
was here that Sir Edward Belcher passed his first winter with the
Pioneer and Assistance. It was from here that he organized his
sledge and canoe expeditions ; he discovered Table Island, North
Cornwall, Victoria Archipelago, and Belcher Channel. Having
gone beyond latitude 78, he saw the coast inclining towards the
southeast. It seemed as if it ought to connect with Jones's Strait,
which opens into Baffin's Bay. But, says the report, an open sea,
in the northwest, " stretched as far as the eye could reach."

Hatteras gazed with emotion at that portion of the charts
where a large white space marked unknown regions, and his eyes
always returned to the open polar sea.

" After so many statements," he said to himself, " after the
accounts of Stewart, Penny, and Belcher, doubt is impossible'



These bold sailors saw, and with their own eyes ! Can 1 doubt
their word ] No ! But yet if this sea is closed by an early
winter But no, these discoveries have been made at in-
tervals of several years ; this sea exists, and I shall find it ! 1
shall see it ! "


Hatteras went upon the quarter-deck. A dense mist enveloped
the Forward ; from the deck one could hardly see the top of the
mast. Nevertheless, Hatteras ordered the ice-master below, and
took his place ; he wanted to make use of the first break in the
fog to look at the horizon in the northwest.

Shandon took occasion to say to the second mate,

" Well, Wall, and the open seaV'

"You were right, Shandon," answered Wall, "and we have
only six weeks' coal in the bunkers."

" The doctor will invent some scientific way," continued Shan-
don, " of heating us without fuel. I 've heard of making ice with
fire ; perhaps he will make fire with ice."

Shandon returned to his cabin, shrugging his shoulders.

The next day, August 20th, the fog lifted for a few minutes.
From the deck they saw Hatteras in his lofty perch gazing intently
towards the horizon ; then he came down without saying a word


and ordered them to set sail; but it was easy to see that his
hopes had been once more deceived.

The Forward heaved anchor and resumed her uncertain path
northward. So wearisome was it that the main-topsail and fore-
topsail yards were lowered with all their rigging ; the masts were
also lowered, and it was no longer possible to place any reliance
on the varying wind, which, moreover, the winding nature of the
passes made almost useless ; large white masses were gathering
iiere and there in the sea, like spots of oil ; they indicated an ap-
proaching thaw ; as soon as the wind began to slacken, the sea
began to freeze again, but when the wind arose this young ice
would break and disperse. Towards evening the thermometer
fell to 17.

When the brig arrived at the end of a closed pass, it rushed on
at full steam against the opposing obstacle. Sometimes th'ey
thought her fairly stopped ; but some unexpected motion of the
ice-streams would open a new passage into which she would
plunge boldly; during these stoppages the steam would escape
from the safety-valves and fall on the deck in the form of snow.
There was another obstacle to the progress of the brig ; the ice
would get caught in the screw, and it was so hard that the engine
could not break it ; it was then necessary to reverse the engines,
turn the brig back, and send some men to free the snow with axes
and levers ; hence arose many difficulties, fatigues, and delays.

It went on in this way for thirteen days ; the Forward ad-
vanced slowly through Penny Strait. The crew murmured, but
obeyed; they knew that retreat was now impossible. The ad-
vance towards the north was less perilous than a return to the
south ; it was time to think of going into winter-quarters.

The sailors talked together about their condition, and one day
they even began to talk with Shandon, who, they knew, was on
their side. He so far forgot his duty as an officer as to allow
them to discuss in his presence the authority of his captain.

" So you say, Mr. Shandon," asked Gripper, " that we can't go
back now ] "

" No, it 's too late," answered Shandon.

" Then," said another sailor, " we need only look forward to
going into winter-quarters?"


" It 's our only resource ! No one would believe me "

"The next time," said Pen, who had returned to duty, ''they
will believe you."

" Since I sha' n't be in command " answered Shandon.

" Who can tell % " remarked Pen. " John Hatteras is free to
go as far as he chooses, but no one is obliged to follow him."

"Just remember," resumed Gripper, "his first voyage to Baf-
fin's Bay and what came of it 1 "

" And the voyage of the Farewell,''^ said Clifton, " which was
lost in the Spitzenberg seas under his command."

" And from which he came back alone," added Gripper.

" Alone, but with his dog," said Clifton.

"We don't care to sacrifice ourselves for the whims of that
man," continued Pen.

" Nor to lose all the wages we 've earned so hard."

They all recognized Clifton by those words.

" W^hen we pass latitude 78," he added, " and we are not far
from it, that will make just three hundred and seventy-five pounds
for each man, six times eight degrees."

" But," asked Gripper, " sha' n't we lose them if we go back
without the captain % "

"No," answered Clifton, "if we can prove that it was abso-
lutely necessary to return."

" But the captain still "

"Don't be uneasy, Gripper," answered Pen; "we shall have a
captain, and a good one, whom Mr. Shandon knows. When a
captain goes mad, he is dismissed and another appointed. Is n't
that so, Mr. Shandon 1 "

"My friends," answered Shandon, evasively, "you will always
find me devoted to you. But let us wait and see what turns up."

The storm, as may be seen, was gathering over Hatteras's
head; but he pushed on boldly, firm, energetic, and confident.
In fact, if he had not always managed the brig as he wanted to,
and carried her where he was anxious to go, he had still been
very successful ; the distance passed over in five months was as
great as what it had taken other explorers two or three years to
make. Hatteras was now obliged to go into winter-quarters, but


this would not alarm men of courage, experience, and confidence.
Had not Sir John Ross and MacClure spent three successive win-
ters in the arctic regions^ Could not he do what they had done]

"Yes, of course," Hatteras used to say, "and more too, if need
be. Ah ! " he said regretfully to the doctor, " why was I unable
to get through Smith's Sound, at the north of Baffin's Bay 1 I
sliould be at the Pole now ! "

" Well," the doctor used invariably to answer, if necessary he
could have invented confidence, " we shall get there. Captain,
but, it is true, at the ninety-ninth meridian instead of the seventy-
fifth ; but what difference does that make % If every road leads
to Rome, it is even surer that every meridian leads to the Pole."

August 3 1st, the thermometer fell to 13. The end of the
summer was evidently near ; the Forward left Exmouth Island
to starboard, and three days afterward she passed Table Island,
lying in the middle of Belcher Channel. Earlier in the season
it would have been possible to reach Baffin's Bay through this
channel, but at this time it was impossible to think of it. This
arm of the sea was completely filled with ice, and would not have
offered a drop of open water to the prow of the Forward ; for
the next eight months their eyes would see nothing but bound-
less, motionless ice-fields.

Fortunately, they could still get a few minutes farther north,
but only by breaking the new ice with huge beams, or by blowing
it up with charges of powder. They especially had cause to fear
calm weather while the temperature was so low, for the passes
closed quickly, and they rejoiced even at contrary winds. A calm
night, and everything was frozen !

Now the Forward could not winter where she was, exposed to
the wind, icebergs, and the drift of the channel ; a safe protection
was the first thing to be found ; Hatteras hoped to gain the coast
of New Cornwall, and to find, beyond Point Albert, a bay suffi-
ciently sheltered. Hence he persisted in crowding northward.

But, September 8, an impenetrable, continuous mass of ice lay
between him and the north; the temperature fell to 10. Hat-
teras, with an anxious heart, in vain sought for a passage, risking

his ship a hundred times and escaping from his perils with won-


derful skill. He might have been accused of imprudence, reck-
lessness, folly, blindness, but he was one of the best of sailors.

The situation of the Forward became really dangerous ; in fact,
the sea was closing behind her, and in a few hours the ice grew
so hard that men could run upon it and tow the brig in perfect

Hatteras, not being able to get around this obstacle, deter-
mined to attack it boldly in front. He made use of his strongest
blasting c^^linders, containing eight or ten pounds of powder. The
men would dig a hole in the broadest part of the ice, close the
orifice with snow, after having placed the cylinder in a horizontal
position, so that a greater extent of ice might be exposed to the
explosion; then a fuse was ligthed, which was protected by a
gutta-percha tube.

In this way they tried to break the ice ; it was impossible to
saw it, for the fissures would close immediately. Still, Hatteras
was hoping to get through the next day.

But during the night the wind blew a gale ; the sea raised the
crust of ice, and the terrified pilot was heard shouting,

" Look out there aft, look out there aft ! "

Hatteras turned his eyes in that direction, and what he saw in
the dim light was indeed alarming.

A great mass of ice, drifting northward with the tide, was rush-
ing towards the brig with the speed of an avalanche.

" All hands on deck ! " shouted the captain.

This floating mountain was hardly half a mile away ; the ice
was all in confusion and crashing together like huge grains of sand
before a violent tempest ; the air was filled with a terrible noise.

" That, Doctor," said Johnson, " is one of the greatest perils we
have yet met with."

" Yes," answered the doctor, quietly ; " it is terrible enough."

"A real attack which we must repel," resumed the boatswain.

" In fact, one might well think it was an immense crowd of
antediluvian animals, such as might have lived near the Pole.
How they hurry on, as if they were racing ! "

" Besides," added Johnson, " some carry sharp lances, of which
you had better take care, Doctor."

'A crash was heard, and as it came against the starboard quarter, part of the
rail had given way." Page 167.


" It 's a real siege," shouted the doctor. " Well, let us run to
the ramparts ! "

He ran aft where the crew, provided with beams and bars, were
standing ready to repel this formidable assault.

The avalanche came on, growing larger at every moment as it
caught up the floating ice in its eddy ; by Hatteras's orders the
cannon was loaded with ball to break the threatening line. But it
came on and ran towards the brig; a crash was heard, and as
it came against the starboard-quarter, part of the rail had given

" Let no one stir ! " shouted Hatteras. " Look out for the ice ! "

They swarmed on board the ship with an irresistible force ;
lumps of ice, weighing many hundredweight, scaled the sides of
the ship ; the smallest, hurled as high as the yards, fell back in
sharp arrows, breaking the shrouds and cutting the rigging. The
men were overcome by numberless enemies, who were heavy
enough to crush a hundred ships like the Forward. Every one
tried to drive away these lumps, and more than one sailor was
wounded by their sharp ends ; among others, Bolton, who had his
left shoulder badly torn. The noise increased immensely. Duke
barked angrily at these new enemies. The darkness of the night
added to the horrors of the situation, without hiding the ice
which glowed in the last light of the evening.

Hatteras's orders sounded above all this strange, impossible,
supernatural conflict of the men with the ice. The ship, yielding
to this enormous pressure, inclined to larboard, and the end of
the main-yard was already touching the ice, at the risk of break-
ing the mast.

Hatteras saw the danger ; it was a terrible moment ; the brig
seemed about to be overturned, and the masts might be easily
carried away.

A large block, as large as the ship, appeared to be passing
along the keel ; it arose with irresistible power ; it came on past
the quarter-deck ; if it fell on the Forward, all was over ; soon it
rose even above the topmasts, and began to totter.

A cry of terror escaped from every one's lips. Every one ran
back to starboard.



But at that moment the ship was relieved. They felt her lifted
up, and for an instant she hung in the air, then she leaned over
and fell back on the ice, and then she rolled so heavily that her
planks cracked. What had happened %

Raised by this rising tide, driven by the ice which attacked her
aft, she was getting across this impenetrable ice. After a minute
of this strange sailing, which seemed as long as a century, she
fell back on the other side of the obstacle on a field of ice ; she
broke it with her weight, and fell back into her natural element.

" We have got by the thick ice ! " shouted Johnson, who had
run forward.

" Thank God ! " said Hatteras.

In fact, the brig lay in the centre of a basin of ice, which en-
tirely surrounded her, and although her keel lay under water she
could not stir ; but if she were motionless, the field was drifting

*' We are drifting, Captain ! " shouted Johnson.

" All right," answered Hatteras.

Indeed, how was it possible to resist it %

Day broke, and it was evident that under the influence of a sub-

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Online LibraryJules VerneAt the north pole, or, The adventures of Captain Hatteras → online text (page 12 of 17)