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

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marine current the bank of ice was floating northward with great


rapidity. This floating mass carried the Forward with it, in the
midst of the ice-field, the edge of which could not be seen ; to
provide for any accident that might happen, Hatteras had a large
supply of provisions carried on deck, as well as materials for
camping, clothing, and cover ; as MacClure had done under simi-
lar circumstances, he surrounded the ship with hammocks filled
with air to protect her from damage. Soon it was so cold (7),
that the ship was surrounded by a wall from which only the
masts issued.

For seven days they sailed iii this way ; Point Albert, which
forms the western extremity of New Cornwall, was seen Sep-
tember 10th, and soon disappeared; the ice-field was seen to be
drifting eastward from that time. Where was it going] Where
would it stop 1 Who could say 1

The crew waited with folded arms. At last, September 15th,
towards three o'clock in the afternoon, the ice-field, having prob-
ably run against another one, stopped suddenly ; the ship was
jarred violently ; Hatteras, who had kept his reckoning all along,
looked at his chart ; he found himself in the north, with no land
in sight, in longitude 95 35', and latitude 78 \5\ in the centre
of the region of the unknown sea, which geographers have consid-
ered the place of greatest cold.



The same latitude is colder in the southern than in the north-
ern hemisphere ; but the temperature of the New World is fifteen
degrees beneath that of the other parts of the world ; and in
America these countries, known under the name of the region of
greatest cold, are the most inclement.

The mean temperature for the whole year is two degrees below
zero. Physicists have explained this fact in the following way,
and Dr. Clawbonny shared their opinion.



According to them, the most constant winds in the northern
regions of America are from the southwest ; they come from the
Pacific Ocean, with an equal and agreeable temperature; but
before they reach the arctic seas they are obliged to cross the
great American continent, which is covered with snow ; the
contact chills them, and communicates to these regions their
intense cold.

Hatteras found himself at the pole of cold, beyond the coun-
tries seen by his predecessors ; he consequently expected a ter-
rible winter, on a ship lost amid the ice, with a turbulent crew.
He resolved to meet these dangers with his usual energy. He
faced what awaited him without flinching.

He began, with Johnson's aid and experience, to take all the
measures necessary for going into winter-quarters. According to
his calculation the Forward had been carried two hundred and

fifty miles from any known land, that is to say, from North Corn-
wall ; she was firmly fixed in a field of ice, as in a bed of granite,
and no human power could extricate her.

There was not a drop of open water in these vast seas chained
by the fierce arctic winter. The ice-fields stretched away out of
sight, but without presenting a smooth surface. Far from it.


Numerous icebergs stood up in the icy plain, and the Forward
was sheltered by the highest of them on three points of the com-
pass ; the southeast wind alone reached them. Let one imagine
rock instead of ice, verdure instead of snow, and the sea again
liquid, and the brig would have quietly cast anchor in a pretty
bay, sheltered from the fiercest blasts. But what desolation
here ! What a gloomy prospect ! What a melancholy view !

The brig, although motionless, nevertheless had to be fastened
securely by means of anchors ; this was a necessary precaution
against possible thaws and submarine upheavals. Johnson, on
hearing that the Forward was at the pole of cold, took even
greater precautions for securing warmth.

" We shall have it severe enough," he had said to the doctor ;
" that 's just the captain's luck, to go and get caught at the most
disagreeable spot on the globe ! Bah ! you will see that we shall
get out of it."

As to the doctor, at the bottom of his heart he was simply
delighted. He would not have changed it for any other. Winter
at the pole of cold ! What good luck !

At first, work on the outside occupied the crew ; the sails were
kept furled on the yards instead of being placed at the bottom of
the hold, as the earlier explorers did ; they were merely bound
up in a case, and soon the frost covered them with a dense enve-
lope; the topmasts were not unshipped, and the crow's-nest
remained in its place. It was a natural observatory ; the run-
ning-rigging alone was taken down.

It became necessary to cut away the ice from the ship to re-
lieve the pressure. That which had accumulated outside was
quite heavy, and the ship did not lie as deep as usual. This was
a long and laborious task. At the end of some days the ship's
bottom was freed, and could be inspected; it had not suffered,
thanks to its solidity ; only its copper sheathing was nearly torn
away. The ship, having grown lighter, drew about nine inches
less than she did earlier ; the ice was cut away in a slope, follow-
ing the make of the hull ; in this way the ice formed beneath the
brig's keel and so resisted all pressure.

The doctor took part in this work : he managed the ice-cutter


well; he encouraged the sailors by his good-humor. He in-
structed them and himself. He approved of this arrangement of
the ice beneath the ship.

" That is a good precaution," he said.

"Without that, Dr. Clawbonny," answered Johnson, *' resist-
ance would be impossible. Now we can boldly raise a wall of
snow as high as the gunwale ; and, if we want to, we can make it
ten feet thick, for there is no lack of material."

" A capital idea," resumed the doctor ; " the snow is a bad con-
ductor of heat; it reflects instead of absorbing, and the inside
temperature cannot escape."

"True," answered Johnson; "we are building a fortification
against the cold, and also against the animals, if they care to
visit us ; when that is finished, it will look well, you may be
sure ; in this snow we shall cut two staircases, one fore, the other
aft ; when the steps are cut in the snow, we shall pour water on
them ; this will freeze as hard as stone, and we shall have a royal

" Precisely," answered the doctor ; " and it must be said it is
fortunate that cold produces both snow and ice, by which to pro-
tect one's self against it. Without that, one would be very much

In fact, the ship was destined to disappear beneath a thick
casing of ice, which was needed to preserve its inside tempera-
ture ; a roof made of thick tarred canvas and covered with snow
was built above the deck over its whole length ; the canvas was
low enough to cover the sides of the ship. The deck, being pro-
tected from all outside impressions, became their walk; it was
covered with two and a half feet of snow ; this snow was crowded
and beaten down so as to become very hard ; so it resisted the
radiation of the internal heat; above it was placed a layer of
sand, which as it solidified became a sort of macadamized cover
of great hardness.

" A little more," said the doctor, " and with a few trees I might
imagine myself at Hyde Park, or even in the hanging-gardens at

A trench was dug tolerably near the brig ; this was a circular


space in the ice, a real pit, which had to be kept always open.
Every morning the ice formed overnight was broken ; this was to
secure water in case of fire or for the baths which were ordered
the crew by the doctor ; in order to spare the fuel, the water was
drawn from some distance below the ice, where it was less cold.
This was done by means of an instrument devised by a French
physicist (Francois Arago) ; this apparatus, lowered for some
distance into the water, brought it up to the surface through a

Generally in winter everything which encumbers the ship is
removed, and stored on land. But what was practicable near
land is impossible for a ship anchored on the ice.

Every preparation was made to fight the two great enemies of
this latitude, cold and dampness ; the first produces the second,
which is far more dangerous. The cold may be resisted by one
who succumbs to dampness ; hence it was necessary to guard
against it.

The Forward, being destined to a journey in arctic seas, con-
tained the best arrangements for winter-quarters : the large room
for the crew was well provided for ; the corners, where dampness
first forms, were shut off; in fact, when the temperature is very


low, a film of ice forms on the walls, especially in the corners, and
when it melts it keeps up a perpetual dampness. If it had been
round, the room would have been more convenient ; but, being
heated l)y a large stove, and properly ventilated, it was very com-
fortable ; the walls were lined with deerskins, not with wool, for
wool absorbs the condensed moisture and keeps the air full of

Farther aft the walls of the quarter were taken down, and the
officers had a larger common-room, better ventilated, and heated
by a stove. This room, like that of the crew, had a sort of ante-
chamber, which cut off all communication with the outside. In
this way, the heat could not be lost, and one passed gradually
from one temperature to the other. In the anterooms were left
the snow-covered clothes ; the shoes were cleansed on the scrap-
ers, so as to prevent the introduction of any unwholesomeness
with one into the room.

Canvas hose served to introduce air for the draught of the
stoves ; other pieces of hose permitted the steam to escape. In
addition two condensers were placed in the two rooms, and col-
lected this vapor instead of letting it form into water; twice a
week they were emptied, and often they contained several bush-
els of ice. It was so much taken from the enemy.

The fire was perfectly and easily controlled, by means of the
canvas hose ; by use of merely a small quantity of coal it was
easy to keep the temperature of 50. Still, Hatteras, having ex-
amined the bunkers, soon saw that the greatest economy was
necessary, for there was not two months' fuel on board.

A drying-room was set apart for the clothes which were to be
washed ; they could not be dried in the open air, for they would
freeze and tear.

The delicate pieces of the machinery were carefully taken
down, and the room which contained them was hermetically

The life on board became the object of serious meditation;
Hatteras regulated it with the utmost caution, and the order of
the day was posted up in the common-room. The men arose at
six o'clock in the morning ; three times a week the hammocks


were aired ; every morning the floors were scoured with hot sand ;
tea was served at every meal, and the bill of fare varied as much
as possible for every day of the week ; it consisted of bread,
farina, suet and raisins for puddings, sugar, cocoa, tea, rice, lemon-
juice, potted meats, salt beef and pork, cabbages, and vegetables
in vinegar ; the kitchen lay outside of the living-rooms ; its heat
was consequently lost ; but cooking is a perpetual source of evap-
oration and dampness.

The health of the men depends a great deal on the sort of food
they get; in high latitudes, the greatest amount of animal food
ought to be eaten. The doctor had supervised the sort of food to
be given.

" We ought to follow the Esquimaux," he used to say ; " they
have received their lessons from nature, and are our masters in
that ; if the Arabs and Africans can content themselves with a
few dates and a handful of rice, here it is important to eat, and
to eat a good deal. The Esquimaux take from ten to fifteen
pounds of oil a day. If that fare does not please you, we must try
food rich in sugar and fat. In a word, we need carbon, so let us
manufacture carbon ! It is well to put coal in the stove, but don't
let us forget to fill that precious stove we cany about with us."

With this bill of fare, strict cleanliness was enforced; every
other day each man was obliged to bathe in the half-frozen water
which the iron pump brought up, and this was an excellent way
of preserving their health. The doctor set the example ; he did
it at first as a thing which ought to be very disagreeable ; but
this pretext was quickly forgotten, for he soon took real pleasure
in this healthy bath.

When work or hunting or distant expeditions took the men
oft' in the severe cold, they had to take special care not to be
frost-bitten ; if they were, rubbing with snow would restore the
circulation. Moreover, the men, who all wore woollen clothes,
put on coats of deerskin and trousers of sealskin, which per-
fectly resist the wind.

The diff'erent arrangements of the ship, the getting-to-rights on
board, took about three weeks, and they reached October 10th
without any special incident.




On that day the thermometer fell to three degrees below zero.
The day was calm ; the cold was very endurable in the absence
of wind. Hatteras took advantage of the clearness of the air to
reconnoitre the surrounding plains ; he ascended one of the high-
est icebergs to the north, but even with his glass he could make
out nothing but a series of ice-mountains and ice-fields. There
was no land in sight, nothing but gloomy confusion. He re-
turned, and tried to calculate the probable length of their im-

The hunters, and among them the doctor, James Wall, Simp-
son, Johnson, and Bell, kept them supplied with fresh meat.
The birds had disappeared, seeking a milder climate in the south.
The ptarmigans alone, a sort of rock-partridge peculiar to this
latitude, did not flee the winter ; it was easy to kill them, and
there were enough to promise a perpetual supply of game.

Hares, foxes, wolves, ermines, and bears were plentiful; a
French, English, or Norwegian hunter would have had no right
to complain ; but they were so shy that it was hard to approach
them ; besides, it was hard to distinguish them on the white plain,
they being white themselves, for in winter they acquire that col-
ored fur. In opposition to the opinions of some naturalists, the


doctor held that this change was not due to the lowering of the
temperature, since it took place before October; hence it was not
due to any physical cause, but rather providential foresight, to
secure these animals against the severity of an arctic winter.

Often, too, they saw sea-cows and sea-dogs, animals included
under the name of seals ; all the hunters were specially recom-
mended to shoot them, as much for their skins as for their fat,
which was very good fuel. Besides, their liver made a very good
article of food ; they could be counted by hundreds, and two or
three miles north of the ship the ice was continually perforated
by these huge animals ; only they avoided the hunter with re-
markable instinct, and many were wounded who easily escaped
by diving under the ice.

Still, on the 19th, Simpson succeeded in getting one four hun-
dred yards distant from the ship ; he had taken the precaution to
close its hole in the ice, so that it could not escape from its
pursuers. He fought for a long time, and died only after re-
ceiving many bullets. He was nine feet long ; his bull-dog head,
the sixteen teeth in his jaw, his large pectoral fins shaped like
little wings, his little tail with another pair of fins, made him an
excellent specimen. The doctor wished to preserve his head for
his collection of natural history, and his skin for future contin-
gences, hence he prepared both by a rapid and economical process.
He plunged the body in the hole, and thousands of little prawns
removed the flesh in small pieces ; at the end of half a day the
work was half finished, and the most skilful of the honorable
corporation of tanners at Liverpool could not have done better.

When the sun had passed the autumn equinox, that is to say,



September 23d, the winter fairly begins in the arctic regions.
The sun, having gradually sunk to the horizon, disappeared at
last, October 23d, lighting up merely the tops of the mountains
with its oblique rays. The doctor gave it his last farewell. He
could not see it again till the month of February.

Still the darkness was not complete during this long absence
of the sun ; the moon did its best to replace it ; the stars were
exceedingly brilliant, the auroras were very frequent, and the
refractions peculiar to the snowy horizons; besides, the sun at
the time of its greatest southern declension, December 21st, ap-
proaches within thirteen degrees of the polar horizon ; hence,
every day there was a certain twilight for a few hours. Only the
mist and snow-storms often plunged these regions in the deepest

Still, up to this time the weather was very favorable ; the
partridges and hares alone had reason to complain, for the
hunters gave them no rest ; a great many traps were set for
foxes, but these crafty animals could not be caught ; very often
they scraped the snow away beneath the trap and took the bait
without running any risk; the doctor cursed them, being very
averse to making them such a present.

October 25th, the thermometer fell as low as 4. A violent
hurricane raged ; the air was filled with thick snow, which per-
mitted no ray of light to reach the Forward. For several hours
there was some anxiety about the fate of Bell and Simpson, who
had gone some distance away hunting ; they did not reach the
ship till the next day, having rested for a whole day wrapped up
in their furs, while the hurricane swept over them and buried

" The moon shone with incomparable purity, glistening on the least roughness
in the ice." Page 180.



them under five feet of snow. They were nearly frozen, and the
doctor found it very hard to restore their circulation.

The tempest lasted eight days without interruption. No one
could set foot outside. In a single day there were variations in
the temperature of fifteen or twenty degrees.

During this enforced leisure every one kept to himself, some
sleeping, others smoking, others again talking in a low tone and
stopping at the approach of Johnson or the doctor ; there was no
moral tie between the men of the crew ; they only met at even-
ing prayers and at Sunday services.

Clifton knew perfectly well that when the seventy-eighth par-
allel was passed, his share of the pay would amount to three
hundred and seventy-five pounds; he thought it a good round
sum, and his ambition did not go any further. His opinion was
generally shared, and all looked forward to the day when they
should enjoy this hardly-earned fortune.

Hatteras kept almost entirely out of sight. He never took
part in the hunts or the walks from the ship. He took no inter-
est in the meteorological phenomena which kept the doctor in a
constant state of admiration. He lived with but a single idea ;
it consisted of three words, The North Pole. He only thought
of when the Forward, free at last, should resume her bold course.

In fact, the general feeling on board was one of gloom. Noth-
ing was so sad as the sight of this captive vessel, no longer resting
in its natural element, but with its shape hidden beneath thick
layers of ice ; it looks like nothing ; it cannot stir, though made
for motion ; it is turned into a wooden storehouse, a sedentary
dwelling, this ship which knows how to breast the wind and the
storms. This anomaly, this false situation, filled their hearts
with an indefinable feeling of disquiet and regret.

During these idle hours the doctor arranged the notes he had
taken, from which this book is made up ; he was never out of
spirits, and never lost his cheerfulness. Yet he was glad to see
the end of the storm, and prepared to resume his hunting.

November 3d, at six o'clock in the morning, with a temperature
of 5, he set off in company with Johnson and Bell ; the expanse
of ice was unbroken; all the snow which had fallen so abundantly


during the preceding days was hardened by the frost, and made
good walking ; the air was keen and piercing ; the moon shone
with incomparable purity, glistening on the least roughness in
the ice ; their footprints glowed like an illuminated trail, and their
long shadows stood out almost black against the brilliant ice.

The doctor had taken Duke with him ; he preferred him to the
Greenland dogs to hunt game, and he was right ; for they are of
very little use under such circumstances, and they did not appear
to possess the sacred fire of the race of the temperate zone.
Duke ran along with his nose on the ground, and he often stopped
on the recent marks of bears. Still, in spite of his skill, the
hunters did not find even a hare in two hours' walking.

"Has all the game felt it necessary to go south 1" said the
doctor, stopping at the foot of a hummock.

" 1 should fancy it must be so. Doctor," answered the carpenter.

''I don't think so," said Johnson ; "the hares, foxes, and bears
are accustomed to this climate ; I think this last storm must
have driven them away ; but they will come back with the south-
winds. Ah, if you were to talk about reindeer and musk-deer,
that might be different ! "

"And yet at Melville Island numberless animals of this sort
are found," resumed the doctor ; " it lies farther south, it is true,
and during the winters he spent there Parry always had plenty
of this magnificent game."

"We have much poorer luck," answered Bell; "if we could
only get enough bear's meat, we would do very well."

"The difficulty is," said the doctor, "the bears seem to me
very rare and very wild ; they are not civilized enough to come
within gun-shot."

"Bell is talking about the flesh of the bear," said Johnson,
"but his grease is more useful than his flesh or his fur."

"You are right, Johnson," answered Bell; "you are always
thinking of the fuel."

" How can I help it % Even with the strictest economy, we have
only enough for three weeks ! "

" Yes," resumed the doctor, " that is the real danger, for we
are now only at the beginning of November, and February is the


coldest month in the frigid zone ; still, if we can't get bear's
grease, there 's no lack of seal's grease."

"But not for a very long time, Doctor," answered Johnson;
" they will soon leave us ; whether from cold or fright, soon they
won't come upon the ice any more."

"Then," continued the doctor, ''we shall have to fall back on
the bear, and I confess the bear is the most useful animal to be
found in these countries, for he furnishes food, clothing, light, and
fuel to men. Do you hear, Duke % " he said, patting the dog's
head, " we want some bears, my friend, bears ! bears ! "

Duke, who was sniffing at the ice at that time, aroused by the
voices, and caresses of the doctor, started off suddenly with the
speed of an arrow. He barked violently and, far off as he was,
his loud barks reached the hunters' ears.

The extreme distance to which sound is carried when the tem-
perature is low is an astonishing fact ; it is only equalled by the
brilliancy of the constellations in the northern skies ; the waves
of light and sound are transmitted to great distances, especially
in the dry cold of the nights.

The hunters, guided by his distant barking, hastened after
him; they had to run a mile, and they got there all out of
breath, which happens very soon in such an atmosphere. Duke
stood pointing about fifty feet from an enormous mass which was
rolling about on the top of a small iceberg.

" Just what we wanted ! " shouted the doctor, cocking his gun.

" A fine bear ! " said Bell, following the doctor's example.

" A curious bear ! " said Johnson, who intended to fire after his

Duke barked furiously. Bell advanced about twenty feet, and
fired ; but the animal seemed untouched, for he continued rolling
his head slowly.

Johnson came forward, and, after taking careful aim, he pulled
the trigger.

" Good ! " said the doctor ; " nothing yet ! Ah, this cursed re-
fraction ! We are too far off ; we shall never get used to it 1 That

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Online LibraryJules VerneAt the north pole, or, The adventures of Captain Hatteras → online text (page 13 of 17)