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

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attributed to the savage habits of the wandering tribes of Esqui-
maux. The walls are firmly placed on deep-dug foundations ; the
inside, covered with a thick layer of gravel, has been paved. Skel-
etons of moose, reindeer, and seals abound. We found coal there."

At these last words an idea occurred to the doctor ; he took his
book and ran to tell Hatteras.

" Coal ! " shouted the captain.

" Yes, Hatteras, coal ; that is to say, our preservation ! "

" Coal, on this lonely shore ! " continued Hatteras ; " no, that 's
impossible ! "

"JIow can you doubt it, Hatteras? Belcher would not have
mentioned it if he had not been sure, without having seen it with
his own eyes."

" Well, what then, Doctor % "

" We are not a hundred miles from the place where Belcher
saw this coal ! What is a journey of a hundred miles ? Nothing.
Longer expeditions have often been made on the ice, and with the
cold as intense. Let us go after it. Captain ! "


" We '11 go ! " said Hatteras, who had made up his mind
quickly ; and with his active imagination he saw the chance
of safety.

Johnson was informed of the plan, of which he approved highly;
he told his companions ; some rejoiced, others heard of it with in-

" Coal on these shores ! " said Wall from his sick-bed.

" We '11 let them go," answered Shandon, mysteriously.

But before they had begun to make preparations for the trip,
Hatteras wanted to fix the position of the Forward with the ut-
most exactitude. The importance of this calculation it is easy to
see. Once away from the ship, it could not be found again with-
out knowing its position precisely.

So Hatteras went up on deck ; he took observations at differ-
ent moments of several lunar distances, and the altitude of the
principal stars. He found, however, much difficulty in doing this,
for when the temperature was so low, the glass and the mirrors
of the instrument were covered with a crust of ice from Hatteras's
breath ; more than once his eyelids were burned by touching the
copper eye-pieces. Still, he was able to get very exact bases for
his calculations, and he returned to the common-room to work
them out. When he had finished, he raised his head with stupe-
faction, took his chart, marked it, and looked at the doctor.

"WelU" asked the latter.

" What was our latitude when we went into winter-quarters ^ "

"Our latitude was 78 15', and the longitude 95 35^, exactly
the pole of cold."

"Well," added Hatteras in a low voice, "our ice-field is drift-
ing ! We are two degrees farther north and farther west, at
least three hundred miles from your coal-supply ! "

" And these poor men who know nothing about it ! " cried the

" Not a word ! " said Hatteras, raising his finger to his lips.





Hatteras did not wish to let his crew know about this new
condition of affairs. He was right. If they had known that they
were being driven towards the north with irresistible force, thev
would have given way to despair. The doctor knew this, and
approved of the captain's silence.

Hatteras had kept to himself the impressions which this dis-
covery had caused within him. It was his first moment of joy
during these long months of struggle with the hostile elements.
He was one hundred and fifty miles farther north ; hardly eiglit
degrees from the Pole ! But he hid his joy so well that the doctor
did not even suspect it ; he asked himself why Hatteras's eye
8hone with so unusual a lustre ; but that was all, and the natural
reply to this question did not enter his head.

The Foi'wardj as it approached the Pole, had drifted away from
the coal which had been seen by Sir Edward Belcher ; instead of
a hundred miles, it would have to be sought two hundred and
fifty miles farther south. Still, after a short discussion between
Hatteras and Clawbonny, they determined to make the attempt.

If Belcher was right, and his accuracy could not be doubted,
they would find everything just at he had left it. Since 1853,
no new expedition had visited these remote continents. Few, if
any, Esquimaux are found in this latitude. The disaster which
had befallen at Beechey Island could not be repeated on the
shores of North Cornwall. Everything seemed to favor an ex-
cursion across the ice.

They estimated that they would be gone forty days at the out-
side, and preparations were made by Johnson for that time of

In the first place, he saw about the sledge ; it was of the shape
of those used in Greenland, thirty-five inches broad and twenty-



four feet long. The Esquimaux sometimes make them fifty feet
long. It was built of long planks, bent at each end, and kept in
position by two strong cords. This shape adapted it to resist
violent shocks. The sledge ran easily upon the ice ; but before
the snow had hardened, it was necessary to place two vertical
frames near together, and being raised in this way, it could run
on without cutting too much into the snow. Besides, by rubbing
it with a mixture of sulphur and snow in the Esquimaux fashion,
it ran very easily.

It was drawn by
six dogs ; they were
strong in spite of
their thinness, and
did not appear to
be injured by the
severity of the win-
ter ; the harnesses
of deerskin were in
good condition ; per-
fect reliance could

be placed on the equipment, which the Greenlanders at Uper-
navik had sold in conscience. These six animals alone could draw
a weight of two thousand pounds without inordinate fatigue.

They carried with them a tent, in case it- should be impossible
to build a snow-house; a large sheet of mackintosh to spread over
the snow, so that it should not melt at contact with their bodies;
and, last of all, many coverings of wool and buffalo-skin. In
addition, they carried the Halkett-boat.

Their provisions consisted of five chests of pemmican, weighing
four hundred and fifty pounds ; a pound of pemmican was allotted
for each man and dog ; of the latter there were seven, including
Duke ; there were to be four men. They carried, besides, twelve
gallons of spirits of wine, w^eighing nearly a hundred and fifty
pounds ; tea and biscuit, in proper amounts ; a little portable
kitchen, with a great many wicks ; and much tow, ammunition,
and four double-barrelled guns. The men of the party made use
of Captain Parry's invention, and wore girdles of india-rubber in


which the heat of the body and the motion in walking could keep
tea, coffee, and water in a liquid state.

Johnson took special care of the preparation of snow-shoes,
with their wooden frames and leathern straps ; they served as
skates ; on thoroughly frozen spots deerskin moccasins could be
worn with comfort ; every man carried two pairs of each.

These preparations, which were so important because the omis-
sion of a single detail might have caused the ruin of the whole
expedition, required four whole days. Every day at noon Hat-
teras took an observation of the ship's position ; it was no longer
drifting, and this had to be perfectly sure in order to secure their

Hatteras undertook to choose the four men who were to accom-
pany him. It was not an easy decision to take ; some it was not
advisable to take, but then the question of leaving them on board
had also to be considered. Still, the common safety demanded
the success of this trip, and the captain deemed it right to choose
sure and experienced men.

Hence Shandon was left out, but not much to his regret.
James Wall was too ill to go. The sick grew no worse ; their
treatment consisted of repeated rubbing and strong doses of
lemon-juice ; this was easily seen to without th presence of the
doctor being essential. Hence he enrolled himself among those
who should go, and no voice was raised against it. Johnson would
have gladly gone with the captain in his dangerous expedition ;
but Hatteras drew him to one side and said to him in an affec-
tionate, almost weeping voice,

"Johnson, you are the only man I can trust. You are the
only officer with whom I can leave the ship. I must know that
you are here to keep an eye on Shandon and the others. They
are kept to the ship by the winter ; but who can say what plans
they are not capable^ of forming] You shall receive my formal
instructions, which shall place the command in your hands. You
shall take my place. We shall be absent four or five weeks at
the most, and I shall be at ease having you here where I cannot
be. You need wood, Johnson. I know it ! But, as much as pos-
sible, spare my ship. Do you understand, Johnson % "


"I understand, Captain," answered the old sailor, "and I will
remain if you prefer it."

" Thanks ! " said Hatteras, pressing the boatswain's hand ; and
he added, " In case we don't come back, Johnson, wait till the
next thaw, and try to push on to the Pole. If the rest refuse,
don't think of us, but take the Forward back to England."

" That is your wish, Captain 1 "

" It is," answered Hatteras.

" Your orders shall be obeyed," said Johnson, quietly.

The doctor regretted that his friend was not going to accom-
pany him, but he was obliged to recognize the wisdom of Hat-
teras's plan.

His two other companions were Bell the carpenter, and Simp-
son. The first, who was sturdy, brave, and devoted, would be
of great service in their camping in the snow ; the other,
although less resolute, nevertheless determined to take part
in this expedition in which he might be of use as hunter and

So this detachment consisted of Hatteras, Clawbonny, Bell,
Simpson, and the faithful Duke, making in all four men and
seven dogs to be fed. A suitable amount of provisions was made

During the early days of January the mean temperature was
33. Hatteras waited impatiently for milder weather ; he fre-
quently consulted the barometer, but no confidence could be
placed in this instrument, which in these high latitudes seems to
lose some of its customary accuracy ; in these regions there are
many exceptions to the general laws of nature : for instance, a
clear sky was not always accompanied by cold, nor did a fall of
snow raise the temperature ; the barometer was uncertain, as
many explorers in these seas have noticed ; it used to fall when
the wind was from the north or east ; when low it foretold fine
weather ; when high, rain or snow. Hence its indications could
hardly be relied on.

Finally, January 5th an easterly breeze brought with it a rise
in the thermometer of fifteen degrees, so that it stood at 18.
Hatteras resolved to start the next day ; he could no longer en-


dure seeing his ship torn to pieces before his eyes; the whole
quarter-deck had been burned up.

So, January 6th, amid squalls of snow, the order to depart was
given ; the doctor gave his last words of advice to the sick ; Bell
and Simpson shook hands silently with their companions. Hat-
teras wanted to make a farewell speech to the men, but he saw
nothing but angry faces around him. He fancied he saw an iron-
ical smile playing about Shandon's lips. He held his peace.
Perhaps he had a momentary pang at parting as he gazed at the

But it was too late for him to change his mmd ; the sledge,
loaded and harnessed, was waiting on the Ice ; Bell was the first
to move ; the others followed. Johnson accompanied the travellers
for a quarter of a mile ; then Hatteras asked him to return,
which he did after a long leave-taking. At that moment, Hat-
teras, turning for the last time towards the brig, saw the tops of
her masts disappearing in the dark snow-clouds.



The little band made their way towards the southeast. Simp-
son drove the sledge. Duke aided him much, without being dis-
turbed at the occupation of his mates. Hatteras and the doctor
followed behind on foot, while Bell, who was charged with making
a road, went on in advance, testing the ice with the iron point of
his stick.

The rise in the thermometer foretold a fall of snow, and soon it
came, beginning in large flakes. This added to the hardships of
their jourpey ; they kept straying from a straight line ; they
could not go quickly ; nevertheless, they averaged three miles an

The ice-field, under the pressure of the frost, presented an un-
equal surface ; the sledge was often nearly turned over, but they
succeeded in saving it.

' The little band made their way towards the southeast." Page 202,


Hatteras and his companions wrapped themselves up in their ^
fur clothes cut in the Greenland fashion ; they were not cut with
extraordinary^ neatness, but they suited the needs of the climate ;
their faces were enclosed in a narrow hood which could not be
penetrated by the snow or wind ; their mouths, noses, and eyes
were alone exposed to the air, and they did not need to be pro-
tected against it ; nothing is so inconvenient as scarfs and nose-
protectors, which soon are stiff with ice ; at night they have to be
cut away, which, even in the arctic seas, is a poor way of un-
dressing. It was necessary to leave free passage for the breath,
which would freeze at once on anything it met.

The boundless plain stretched out with tiresome monotony;
everywhere there appeared heaped-up ice-hills, hummocks, blocks,
and icebergs, separated by winding valleys ; they walked staif in
hand, saying but little. In this cold atmosphere, to open the
mouth was painful ; sharp crystals of ice suddenly formed be-
tween the lips, and the heat of the breath could not melt them.
Their progress was silent, and every one beat the ice with his
staff. Bell's footsteps were visible in the fresh snow ; they fol-
lowed them mechanically, and where he had passed, the others
could go safely.

Numerous tracks of bears and foxes crossed one another every-
where ; but during this first day not one could be seen ; to chase
them would have been dangerous an^ useless : they would only
have overloaded the already heavy sledge.

Generally, in excursions of this sort, travellers take the precau-
tion of leaving supplies along their path ; they hide them from
the animals, in the snow, thus lightening themselves for their
trip, and on their return they take the supplies which they did
not have the trouble of carrying with them.

Hatteras could not employ this device on an ice-field which
perhaps was moving ; on firm land it would have been possible ;
and the uncertainty of their route made it doubtful whether they
would return by the same path.

At noon, Hatteras halted his little troop in the shelter of an
ice-wall ; they dined ofi' pemmican and hot tea ; the strengthen-
ing qualities of this beverage produced general comfort, and the



After an hour's rest they

on again ; in the first day they walked about twenty

travellers drank a large quantity.


miles ; that evening men and dogs were tired out.

Still, in spite of their fatigue, they had to build a snow-house
in which to pass the night ; the tent would not have been enough.
This took them an hour and a half. Bell was very skilful; the
blocks of ice, which were cut with a knife, were placed on top of
one another with astonishing rapidity, and they took the shape
of a dome, and a last piece, the keystone of the arch, established
the solidity of the building ; the soft snow served as mortar in
the interstices ; it soon hardened and made the whole building of
a single piece.

Access was had into this improvised grotto by means of a nar-
row opening, through
which it was neces-
sary to crawl on one's
liands and knees; the
doctor found some
difficulty in enter-
ing, and the others
followed. Supper was
soon prepared on the
alcohol cooking-stove.
The temperature in-
side was very comfortable ; the wind, which was raging without,
could not get in.

" Sit down ! " soon shouted the doctor in his most genial man-

And this meal, though the same as the dinner, was shared by
all. When it was finished their only thought was sleep; the
mackintoshes, spread out upon the snow, protected them from the
dampness. At the flame of the portable stove they dried their
clothes ; then three of them, wrapped up in their woollen cover-
ings, fell asleep, while one was left on watch ; he had to keep a
lookout on the safety of all, and to prevent the opening from
being closed, otherwise they ran a risk of being buried alive.
Duke shared their quarters ; the other dogs remained without,


and after they had eaten their supper they lay down and were
soon hidden by the snow.

Their fatigue soon brought sound sleep. The doctor took the
^atch until three of the morning. In the night the hurricane
raged furiously. Strange was the situation of these lonely mer.
lost in the snow, enclosed in this vault with its walls rapidly
thickening under the snow-fall.

The next morning at six o'clock their monotonous march was
resumed ; there were ever before them the same valleys and
icebergs, a uniformity which made the choice of a path difficult.
Still, a fall of several degrees in the temperature made their way
easier by hardening the snow. Often they came across little
elevations, which looked like cairns or storing-places of the Esqui-
maux ; the doctor had one destroyed to satisfy his curiosity, but
he found nothing except a cake of ice.

" What do you expect to find, Clawbonny 1 " asked Hatteras ;
"are we not the first men to penetrate into this part of the
globe 1. "

"Probably," answered the doctor, " but who knows 1"

" Don't let us waste our time in useless searching," resumed
the captain ; "I am in a hurry to rejoin the ship, even if this
long-wanted fuel should not be found."

" I have great hopes of finding it," said the doctor.

" Doctor," Hatteras used to say frequently, "I did wrong to
leave the Forward; it was a mistake ! The captain's place is on
board, and nowhere else."

" Johnson is there."

" Yes ! but let us hurry on ! "

They advanced rapidly ; Simpson's voice could be heard urging
on the dogs ; they ran along on a brilliant surface, all aglow with
a phosphorescent light, and the runners of the sledge seemed to
toss up a shower of sparks. The doctor ran on ahead to examine
this snow, when suddenly, as he was trying to jump upon a
hummock, he disappeared from sight. Bell, who was near him,
ran at once towards the place.

" Well, Doctor," he cried anxiously, while Hatteras and Simpson
joined him, " where are you 1 "


" Doctor ! " shouted the captain.

" Down here, at the bottom of a hole," was the quiet answer.
" Throw me a piece of rope, and I '11 come up to the surface of the

They threw a rope down to the doctor, who was at the bottom
of a pit about ten feet deep ; he fastened it about his waist, and
his three companions drew him up with some difficulty.

" Are you hurt % " asked Hatteras.

" No, there 's no harm done," answered the doctor, wiping the
snow from his smiling face.

"But how did it happen V

"0, it was in consequence of the refraction," he answered,
laughing ; " I thought I had about a foot to step over, and I fell
into this deep hole ! These optical illusions are the only ones
left me, my friends, and it 's hard to escape from them ! Let
that be a lesson to us all never to take a step forward without
first testing the ice with a staff, for our senses cannot be depended
on. Here our ears hear wrong, and our eyes deceive us ! It 's a
curious country ! "

" Can you go on ?" asked the captain.

" Go on, Hatteras, go on ! This little fall has done me more
good than harm."

They resumed their march to the southeast, and at evening
they halted, after walking about twenty-five miles ; they were all
tired, but still the doctor had energy enough to ascend an ice-
mountain while the snow-hut was building.

The moon, which was nearly at its full, shone with extraor-
dinary brilliancy in a clear sky ; the stars were wonderfully bril-
liant ; from the top of the iceberg a boundless plain could be seen,
which was covered with strangely formed hillocks of ice ; in the
moonlight they looked like fallen columns or overthrown tomb-
stones ; the scene reminded the doctor of a huge, silent graveyard
barren of trees, in which twenty generations of human beings
might be lying in their I ng sleep.

In spite of the cold and fatigue, Clawbonny remained for a
long time in a re very, from which it w^as no easy task for his
companions to arouse him; but they had to think of resting; the

The doctor had energy enough to ascend an ice-mountain while the snow-hut
was building." Page 206.



suow-hut was completed ; the four travellers crawled in like
moles, and soon were all asleep.

The following days went on without any particular incident ;
at times they went on slowly, at times quickly, with varying ease,
according to the changes in the weather ; they wore moccasins or
snow-shoes, as the nature of the ice demanded.

In this way they went on till January 15th; the moon, now in
its last quarter, was hardly visible; the sun, although always
beneath the horizon, gave a sort of twilight for six hours every
day, but not enough
to light up the route,
which had to be di-
rected by the com-
pass. Then Bell
went on ahead ; Hat-
teras followed next;
Simpson and the doc-
tor sought also to
keep in a straight line
behind, with their
eyes on Hatteras
alone ; and yet, in spite of all their efforts, they often got
thirty or forty degrees from the right way, much to their an-

Sunday, January 15th, Hatteras judged that they had come
about one hundred miles to the south ; this morning was set
aside to mending their clothes aM materials; the reading of
divine service was not forgotten.

At noon they started again ; the temperature was very low ;
the thermometer marked only 22 ; the air was very clear.

Suddenly, without warning, a frozen vapor arose into the air
from the ice, to a height of about ninety feet, and hung motion-
less ; no one could see a foot before him ; this vapor formed in
long, sharp crystals upon their clothing.

The travellers, surprised by this phenomenon, which is called
frost-rime, only thought of getting together; so immediately
various shouts were heard :


^'0 Simpson!"

" Bell, this way ! "

" Dr. Clawbonny ! "

" Doctor ! "

" Captain, where are you 1 "

They began to look for one another with outstretched arms,
wandering through the fog whici. their eyes could not pierce.
But to their disappointment they could hear no answer; the
vapor seemed incapable of carrying sound.

Each one then thought of firing his gun as a signal to the
others. But if their voices were too feeble, the reports of the
fire-arms were too loud ; for the echoes, repeated in every direc-
tion, made but a confused roar, in which no particular direction
could be perceived.

Then they began to act, each one as he thought best. Hat-
teras stood still and folded his arms. Simpson contented himself
with stopping the sledge. Bell retraced his steps, feeling them
with his hand. The doctor, stumbling over the blocks of ice,
wandered here and there, getting more and more bewildered.

At the end of five minutes he said to himself,

" This can't last long ! Singular climate ! This is too much !
There is nothing to help us, without speaking of these sharp crys-
tals which cut my face. Halloo, Captain ! " he shouted again.

But he heard no answer ; he fired his gun, but in spite of his
thick gloves the iron burned his hands. Meanwhile he thought
he saw a confused mass moving near him.

" There 's some one," he said. " Hatteras ! Bell ! Simpson ! Is
that you % Come, answer ! "

A dull roar was alone heard.

" Ah ! " thought the doctor, " what is that % "

The object approached ; it lost its first size and appeared in
more definite shape. A terrible thought flashed into the doctor's

" A bear ! " he said to himself

In fact, it was a huge bear ; lost in the fog, it came and went
with great danger to the men, whose presence it certainly did
not suspect.


" Matters are growing complicated ! " thought the doctor,
standing still.

Sometimes he felt the animal's breath, which was soon lost in
the frost-rime; again he would see the monster's huge paws

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Online LibraryJules VerneAt the north pole, or, The adventures of Captain Hatteras → online text (page 15 of 17)