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

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bear is more than a mile away."

" Come on ! " answered Bell.


The three companions hastened toward the animal, which had
not been alarmed by the firing ; he seemed to be very large, but,
without weighing the danger, they gave themselves up already to
the joy of victory. Having got within a reasonable distance,
they fired ; the bear leaped into the air and fell, mortally
wounded, on the level ice below.

Duke rushed towards him.

" That 's a bear," said the doctor, " which was easily con-

" Only three shots," said Bell with some scorn, " and he 's
down ! "

" That 's odd," remarked Johnson.

" Unless we got here just as he was going to die of old age,"
continued the doctor, laughing.

" Well, young or old," added Bell, " he 's a good capture."

Talking in this way they reached the small iceberg, and, to
their great surprise, they found Duke growling over the body of
a white fox.

" Upon ray word," said Bell, " that 's too much ! "

" Well," said the doctor, " we 've fired at a bear, and killed a



Well, our imagination
bear or fox, he 's good eat-

Johnson did not know what to say.

''Well," said the doctor with a burst of laughter in which
there was a trace of disappointment, " that refraction again ! It 's
always deceiving us."

" What do you
mean, Doctor'? " asked
the carpenter.

"Yes, my friend;
it deceived us with
respect to its size as
well as the distance !
It made us see a bear
in a fox's skin ! Such
a mistake is not un-
common under similar circumstances !
alone was wrong ! "

" At any rate," answered Johnson,
ing. Let 's carry him off."

But as the boatswain was lifting him to his shoulders :

" That 's odd," he said.

" What is it % " asked the doctor.

" See there. Doctor, he 's got a collar around his neck."

"A collar 1" asked the doctor again, examining the fox.

In fact, a half-worn-out copper collar appeared under his white
fur ; the doctor thought he saw letters engraved upon it ; he un-
fastened it from the animal's neck, about which it seemed to have
been for a long time.

" What does that mean 1 " asked Johnson.

" That means," said the doctor, " that we have just killed a fox
more than twelve years old, a fox who was caught by James
Ross in 1848."

" Is it possible % " said Bell.

" There 's no doubt about it. I 'm sorry we killed him ! While
he was in winter-quarters, James Ross thought of trapping a
large number of white foxes ; he fastened on their necks copper
collars on which was engraved the position of his ships, the En-
terprise and Investigator, as well as where the supplies were left.



These animals run over immense distances in search of food, and
James Ross hoped that one of them might fall into the hands
of one of the men of the Franklin expedition. That 's the simple
explanation ; and this poor beast, who might have saved the life
of two crews, has fallen uselessly beneath our guns."

" Well, we won't eat it," said Johnson, '' especially if it 's twelve
years old. But we shall keep the skin as a memento."

Johnson raised it to his shoulders. The hunters made their
way to the ship, guiding themselves by the stars ; their expedi-
tion was not wholly without result ; they were able to bring back
several ptarmigans.

An hour before reaching the Forward, there was a singular
phenomenon which greatly interested the doctor. It was a real
shower of shooting-stars; they could be counted by thousands,
flying over the heavens like rockets ; they dimmed the light of
the moon. For hours they could have stood gazing at this beau-
tiful sight. A similar phenomenon was observed in Greenland in
1799, by the Moravians. It looked like an exhibition of fire-
works. The doctor after his return to the ship spent the whole
night gazing at the sight, which lasted till seven o'clock in the
morning, while the air was perfectly silent.




The bears, it seemed, could not be caught ; a few seals were
killed on the 4th, 5th, and 6th of November, and the wind
shifted and the weather grew much milder ; but the snow-drifts
began again with incomparable severity. It became impossible to
leave the ship, and it was hard to subdue the dampness. At the
end of thp week the condensers contained several bushels of ice.

The weather changed again November 15th, and the thermom-
eter, under the influence of certain atmospheric conditions, sank
to 24. That was the lowest temperature they had yet ob-
served. This cold would have been endurable in calm weather ;
but the wind was blowing at that time, and it seemed as if the
air was filled with sharp needles.

The doctor regretted his captivity, for the snow was hardened
by the wind, so as to make good walking, and he might have
gone very far from the ship.

Still, it should be said that the slightest exercise in. so low a
temperature is very exhausting. A man can perform hardly
more than a quarter of his usual work ; iron utensils cannot be
touched ; if the hand seizes them, it feels as if it were burned, and
shreds of skin cleave to the object which had been incautiously

The crew, being confined to the ship, were obliged to walk on
the covered deck for two hours a day, where they had leave to
smoke, which was forbidden in the common-room.

There, when the fire got low, the ice used to cover the walls
and the intervals between the planks ; every nail and bolt and
piece of metal was immediately covered with a film of ice.

The celerity of its formation astonished the doctor. The

breath of the men condensed in the air, and, changing from a fluid

to a solid form, it fell about them in the form of snow. A few


feet from the stove it was very cold, and the men stood grouped
around the fire.

Still, the doctor advised them to harden themselves, and to
accustom themselves to the cold, which was not so severe as
what yet awaited them; he advised them to expose their skin
gradually to this intense temperature, and he himself set the
example ; but idleness or numbness nailed most of them to their
place ; they refused to stir, and preferred sleeping in that un-
healthy heat.

Yet, according to the doctor, there was no danger in exposing
one's self to great cold after leaving a heated room ; these sudden
changes only inconvenience those who are in a perspiration ; the
doctor quoted examples in support of his opinion, but his lessons
were for the most part thrown away.

As for John Hatteras, he did not seem to mind the inclement
cold. He walked to and fro silently, never faster or slower. Did
not the cold affect his powerful frame 1 Did he possess to a very
great degree the principle of natural heat which he wanted his
men to possess 1 Was he so bound up in his meditations that he
was indifferent to outside impressions ? His men saw him with
great astonishment braving a temperature of 24 ; he would
leave the ship for hours, and come back without appearing to
suffer from the cold.

" He 's a singular man," said the doctor to Johnson ; " he
astonishes me ! He carries a glowing furnace within him ! He
is one of the strongest natures I ever saw ! "

" The fact is," answered Johnson, " he goes and comes and
circulates in the open air, without dressing any more thickly than
in the month of June."

" 0, it does n't make much difference what one wears ! " an-
swered the doctor ; " what is the use of dressing warmly if one
can't produce heat within himself^ It 's like trying to heat ice
by wrapping it up in wool ! But Hatteras does n't need it ; he 's
built that way, and I should not be surprised if his side was as
warm as the neighborhood of a glowing coal."

Johnson, who was charged with clearing away the water-hole
every morning, noticed that the ice was ten feet thick.

Almost every night tlie doctor could observe the magnificent auroras." Page 187.



Almost every night the doctor could observe the magnificent
auroras ; from four o'clock till eight of the evening, the sky in the
north was slightly lighted up; then this took a regular shape, with
a rim of light yellow, the ends of which seemed to touch the field
of ice. Gradually the brilliancy arose in the heavens, following the
magnetic meridian, and appeared striped with black bands ; jets
of luminosity shot with varying brightness here and there ; when
it reached the zenith it was often composed of several arcs bathed
in waves of red, yellow, or green light. It was a dazzling sight.
Soon the different curves met in a single point, and formed
crowns of celestial richness. Finally the arcs all crowded to-
gether, the splendid aurora grew dim, the intense colors faded
away into pale, vague, uncertain tints, and this wonderful phenome-
non vanished gradually, insensibly, in the dark clouds of the south.

It is difficult to realize the wonderful, magical beauty of such a
spectacle in high latitudes, less than eight degrees from the pole ;

the auroras which are seen in the temperate zone give no idea of
it ; it seems as if Providence wished to reserve the greatest
wonders for these regions.

Numerous mock-moons appeared also while the moon was
shining, and a great many would appear in the sky, adding to


the general brilliancy ; often, too, simple lunar halos surrounded
the moon with a circle of splendid lustre.

November 26th the tide rose very high, and the water came
through the hole with great violence; the thick crust of ice
seemed pushed up by the force of the sea, and the frequent
cracking of the ice proclaimed the conflict that was going on
beneath ; fortunately the ship remained firm in her bed, but her
chains worked noisily ; it was as a precaution against just such
an event, that Hatteras had made the brig fast.

The following days were still colder; a dense fog hid the sky;
the wind tossed the snow about; it was hard to determine
whether it came from the clouds or from the ice-fields; every-
thing was in confusion.

The crew kept busy with various interior occupations, the
principal one being the preparation of the grease and oil from the
seal ; it was frozen into blocks of ice, which had to be cut with a
hatchet ; it was broken into small fragments, which were as hard
as marble ; ten barrels full were collected. As may be seen,
every vessel became nearly useless, besides the risk of its break-
ing when the contents froze.

The 28th the thermometer fell to 32 ; there was only
ten days' coal on board, and every one awaited with horror the
moment when it should come to an end.

Hatteras, for the sake of economy, had the fire in the stove in '
the after-room put out ; and from that time Shandon, the doctor,
and he were compelled to betake themselves to the common-room
of the crew. Hatteras was hence brought into constant commu-
nication with his men, who gazed at him with surly, dejected
glances. He heard their fault-finding, their reproaches, even
their threats, without being able to punish them. However, he
seemed deaf to every remark. He never went near the fire. He
remained in a corner, with folded arms, without saying a word.

In spite of the doctor's recommendations, Pen and his friends
refused to take the slightest exercise ; they passed whole days
crouching about the stove or under their bedclothes ; hence their
health began to suffer ; they could not react against the rigor of
the climate, and scurvy soon made its appearance on board.



The doctor had long since begun to distribute, every morning,
lemon-juice and lime pastilles ; but these precautions, which were
generally so efficacious, did very little good to the sick ; and the
disease, following its usual course, soon showed its most horrible

Terrible indeed it was to see those wretches with their nerves
and muscles contracted with pain ! Their legs were fearfully
swollen, and were covered with large bluish-black patches ; their
bleeding gums, their swollen lips, permitted them to utter only
inarticulate sounds ; their blood was poisoned, deprived of fibrine,
and no lono-er carried life to the extremities.

Clifton was the first to be attacked by this cruel malady ; soon
Gripper, Brunton, and Strong had to keep to their hammocks.
Those whom the illness spared could not avoid the sight of the
sufferings of their friends ; the common-room was the only place
where they could stay ; so it was soon transformed into a hospi-
tal, for of the eighteen sailors of the Forivard, thirteen were soon
down with scurvy. It seemed as if Pen would escape the conta-
gion ; his strong constitution preserved him ; Shandon felt the
first symptoms, but it went no further with him, and plenty of
exercise soon restored him to good health.


The doctor tended his patients with the greatest devotion, and
his heart would bleed at the sight of the sufferings he could not
assuage. Still, he inspired as much cheerfulness as he could in
the lonely crew ; his words, his consolations, his philosophical
reflections, his fortunate inventions, broke the monotony of those
long days of suffering ; he would read aloud to them ; his won-
derful memory kept him supplied with amusing anecdotes, while
the men who were well stood pressing closely around the stove ;
but the groans of the sick, their complaints, and their cries of
despair would continually interrupt him, and, breaking off in the
middle of a story, he would become the devoted and attentive

Besides, his health remained good ; he did not grow thin ; his
corpulence stood him in better stead than the thickest raiment,
and he used to say he was as well clad as a seal or a whale, who,
thanks to their thick layers of fat, easily support the rigors of the

Hatteras did not suffer physically or morally. The sufferings
of the crew did not seem to depress him. Perhaps he would not
let his emotions appear on his face, while an acute observer would
have detected the heart of a man beneath this mask of iron.

The doctor analyzed him, studied him, and could not classify
this strange organization, this unnatural temperament.

The thermometer fell still lower; the deck was entirely de-
serted; the Esquimaux dogs alone walked up and down it, barking

There w^as always a man on guard near the stove, who superin-
tended putting on the coal ; it was important not to let it go out ;
when the fire got low the cold crept into the room, formed on the
walls, and the moisture suddenly condensed and fell in the form
of snow on the unfortunate occupants of the brig.

It was among these terrible sufferings that they reached De-
cember 8th ; that morning the doctor went as usual to look at the
thermometer. He found the mercury entirely frozen in the bulb.

" Forty-four degrees below zero ! " he said with terror.

And on that day the last piece of coal on board was thrown
into the stove.




For a moment he had a feeling of despair. The thought of
death, and death by cold, appeared in all its horror; this last
piece of coal burned with an ominous splutter; the fire seemed
about to go out, and the temperature of the room fell noticeably.
But Johnson went to get some of the new fuel which the marine
animals had furnished to them, and with it he filled the stove ;
he added to it some tow filled with frozen oil, and soon obtained
sufficient heat. The odor was almost unendurable; but how
get rid of it 1 They had to get used to it. Johnson agreed that
his plan was defective, and that it would not be considered a
success in Liverpool.

" And yet," he added, " this unpleasant smell will, perhaps,
produce good results."

" What are they '? " asked the carpenter.

" It will doubtless attract the bears this way, for they are fond
of the smell."

"Well," continued Bell, "what is the need of having bears'?"

" Bell," replied Johnson, " we can't count on seals any longer ;
they 're gone away, and for a long time ; if bears don't come in
their place to supply us with their share of fuel, I don't know
what is to become of us."

" True, Johnson, our fate is very uncertain ; our position is a
most alarming one. And if this sort of fuel gives out, I don't
see how "

" There might be another "

" Another r' asked Bell.

" Yes, Bell ! in despair on account of but the captain would
never but yet we shall perhaps have to come to it."

And Johnson shook his head sadly, and fell to thinking gloomily.
Bell did not interrupt him. He knew that the supply of fat,



which it had been so hard to acquire, would only last a week,
even with the strictest economy.

The boatswain was right. A great many bears, attracted by
the scent, were seen to leeward of the Forward ; the healthy
men gave chase; but these animals are very swift of foot, and
crafty enough to escape most stratagems ; it was impossible
to get near them, and the most skilful gunners could not hit

The crew of the brig was in great danger of dying from the
cold ; it could not withstand, for forty-eight hours, such a temper-
ature as would exist in the common-room. Every one looked
forward with terror to getting to the end of the fuel.

Now this happened December 20th, at three o'clock in the
afternoon ; the fire went out ; the sailors, grouped about the
empty stove, gazed at one another with haggard eyes. Hatteras
remained without moving in his corner ; the doctor, as usual,
paced up and down excitedly ; he did not know what was to be

The temperature in the room fell at once to 7.

But if the doctor was baffled and did not know what they
should turn their hands to, others knew very well. So Shandon,
cold and resolute. Pen, with wrath in his eyes, and two or three
of his companions, such as he could induce to accompany him,
walked tov^ards Hatteras.

" Captain ! " said Shandon.

Hatteras, absorbed in his thoughts, did not hear him.

" Captain ! " repeated Shandon, touching him with his hand.

Hatteras arose.

" Sir," he said. -

" Captain, the fire is out."

" Well 1 " continued Hatteras.

"If you intend that we shall freeze to death," Shandon
went on with grim irony, " we should be glad if you would tell

" My intention," answered Hatteras with a deep voice, " is that
every man shall do his duty to the end."

" There 's something superior to duty. Captain," answered his



first officer, " and that is the right of self-preservation. I repeat
it, we have no fire ; and if this goes on, in two days not one of us
will be alive."

" I have no wood," answered Hatteras, gloomily.

" Well," shouted Pen, violently, " when the wood gives out, we
must go cut it where it grows ! "

Hatteras grew pale with anger.

"Where is that?" he asked.

"On board," answered the sailor, insolently.

" On board ! " repeated the captain, with clinched fists and
sparkling eyes.

" Of course," answered Pen, " when the ship can't carry the
crew, the ship ought to be burned."

At the beginning of this sentence Hatteras had grasped an
axe ; at its end, this axe was raised above Pen's head.

" Wretch ! " he cried.

The doctor sprang in front of Pen, and thrust him back ; the
axe fell on the floor, making a deep gash. Johnson, Bell, and
Simpson gathered around Hatteras, and seemed determined to
support him. But plaintive, grievous cries arose from the berths,
transformed into death-beds.



" Fire, fire ! " they cried, shivering beneath their now insuffi-
cient covering.

Hatteras by a violent effort controlled himself, and after a few
moments of silence, he said calmly,

" If we destroy the ship, how shall we get back to England 1 "
" Sir," answered Johnson, " perhaps we can without doing any
material damage burn the less important parts, the bulwarks, the
nettings "

"The small boats will be left," said Shandon; "and besides,
why might we not make a smaller vessel out of what is left of the
old oner'

"Never!" answered Hatteras.

" But " interposed many of the men, shouting together.
"We have a large quantity of spirits of wine," suggested Hat-
teras ; " burn all of that."

" All right ; we '11 take the spirits of wine ! " answered John-
son, assuming an air of confidence which he was far from feeling.
And with the aid of long wicks, dipped into this liquid of which
the pale flame licked the walls of the stove, he was able to raise
the temperature of the room a few degrees.

In the following days the wind came from the south again and
the thermometer rose; the snow, however, kept falling. Some
of the men were able to leave the -ship for the driest hours of
the day ; but ophthalmia and scurvy kept most of them on board ;
besides, neither hunting nor fishing was possible.

But this was only
a respite in the fear-
ful severity of the
cold, and on the
25 th, after a sudden
change of wind, the
frozen mercury dis-
appeared again in
the bulb of the
instrument ; then
they had to consult
the spirit-thermom-
eter, which does not freeze even in the most intense colds.

He was armed, and he kept constant guard, without minding the cold, the snow,
or the ice." Page 195.


The doctor, to his great surprise, found it marking 66.
Seldom has man been called upon to endure so low a tem-

The ice stretched in long, dark lines upon the floor ; a dense
mist filled the room ; the dampness fell in the form of thick
snow ; the men could not see one another ; their extremities grew
cold and blue ; their heads felt as if they wore an iron band ; and
their thoughts grew confused and dull, as if they were half
delirious. A terrible symptom was that their tongues refused
to articulate a sound.

From the day the men threatened to burn the ship, Hatteras
would walk for hours upon the deck, keeping watch. This wood
was flesh and blood to him. Cutting a piece from it would have
been like cutting off a limb. He was armed, and he kept con-
stant guard, without minding the cold, the snow, or the ice, which
stiff*ened his clothing as if it covered it with a granite cuirass.
Duke understood him, and followed him, barking and howl-

Nevertheless, December 25th he went down into the common-
room. The doctor, with all the energy he had left, went up to
him and said,

" Hatteras, we are going to die from want of fire ! "

" Never ! " said Hatteras, knowing very well what request he
was refusing.

*' We must," continued the doctor, mildly.

" Never ! " repeated Hatteras more firmly ; " I shall never give
my consent ! Whoever wishes, may disobey me."

Thus was permission given them. Johnson and Bell hastened
to the deck. Hatteras heard the wood of the brig crashing under
the axe, and wept.

That was Christmas Day, the great family festival in England,
one specially devoted to the amusement of the children. What
a painful recollection was that of the happy children gathered
about the green Christmas tree ! Every one recalled the huge
pieces of roast meat, cut from the fattened ox, and the tarts, the
mince-pies, and other luxuries so dear to the English heart ! But
here was nothing but suffering, despair, and wretchedness, and


for the Christmas log, these pieces of a ship lost in the middle of
the frigid zone !

Nevertheless, under the genial influence of the fire, the spirits
and strength of the men returned ; the hot tea and coffee brought
great and immediate consolation, and hope is so firm a friend of
man, that they even began to hope for some luckier fate. It was
thus that the year 1860 passed away, the early winter of which
had so interfered with Hatteras's plans.

Now it happened that this very New Year's Day was marked
by an unexpected discovery. It was a little milder than the
previous days had been ; the doctor had resumed his studies ; he
was reading Sir Edward Belcher's account of his expedition in the
polar regions. Suddenly, a passage which he had never noticed
before filled him with astonishment ; he read it over again ; doubt
was no longer possible.

Sir Edward Belcher states that, having come to the end of
Queen's Channel, he found there many traces of the presence of
men. He says :

* There are remains of dwellings far superior to what can be

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Online LibraryJules VerneAt the north pole, or, The adventures of Captain Hatteras → online text (page 14 of 17)