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

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beating the air so near him that his clothes were occasionally
torn by its sharp claws ; he jumped back, and the animal disap-
peared like a phantasmagoric spectre.

But as he sprang back he found an elevation beneath his feet ;
he climbed up first one block of ice, then another, feeling his way
with his staff.

" An iceberg ! " he said to himself; " if I can get to the top I
am safe."

With these words he climbed up an elevation of about ninety
feet with surprising agility ; he arose above the frozen mist, the
top of which was sharply defined.

" Good ! '* he said to himself; and looking about him he saw his
three companions emerging from the vapor.

" Hatteras ! "

" Dr. Clawbonny ! "

" Bell ! "

" Simpson ! "


These names were shouted out almost at the same time ; the
sky, lit up by a magnificent halo, sent forth pale rays which
colored the frost-rime as if it were a cloud, and the top of the
icebergs seemed to rise from a mass of molten silver. The trav-
ellers found themselves within a circle of less than a hundred
feet in diameter. Thanks to the purity of the air in this upper
layer in this low temperature, their words could be easily heard,
and they were able to talk on the top of this iceberg. After the
first shots, each one, hearing no answer, had only thought of
climbing above the mist.

" The sledge ! " shouted the captain.

" It 's eighty feet beneath us," answered Simpson.

" Is it all right ] "

" All right."

" And the bear 1 " asked the doctor.

"What bear?" said Bell.

" A bear ! " said Hatteras ; " let 's go down."

" No ! " said the doctor; " we shall lose our way, and have to
begin it all over again."

" And if he eats our dogs " said Hatteras.

At that moment Duke was heard barking, the sound rising
through the mist.

" That 's Duke ! " shouted Hatteras ; " there 's something wrong.
I 'm going down."

All sorts of howling arose to their ears ; Duke and the dogs
were barking furiously. The noise sounded like a dull murmur,
like the roar of a crowded, noisy room. They knew that some
invisible struggle was going on below, and the mist was occasion-
ally agitated like the sea when marine monsters are fighting.

" Duke, Duke ! " shouted the captain, as he made ready to
enter again into the frost-rime.

" Wait a moment, Hatteras, wait a moment ! It seems to me
that the fog is lifting."

It was not lifting, but sinking, like water in a pool ; it appeared
to be descending into the ground from which it had risen ; the
summits of the icebergs grew larger; others, which had been
hidden, arose like new islands; by an optical illusion, which may

" ' Fire ! ' shouted the captain, discharging his piece." Page 211.


be easily imagined, the travellers, clinging to these ice-cones,
seemed to be rising in the air, while the top of the mist sank
beneath them.

Soon the top of the sledge appeared, then the harnessed dogs,
and then about thirty other animals, then great objects moving
confusedly, and Duke leaping about with his head alternately
rising and sinking in the frozen mist.

" Foxes ! " shouted Bell.

" Bears ! " said the doctor ; " one, two, three."

" Our dogs, our provisions ! " cried Simpson.

A troop of foxes and bears, having come across the sledge, were
ravaging the provisions. Their instinct of pillaging united them
in perfect harmony; the dogs were barking furiously, but the
animals paid no heed, but went on in their work of destruction.

" Fire ! " shouted the captain, discharging his piece.

His companions did the same. But at the combined report
the bears, raising their heads and uttering a singular roar, gave
the signal to depart ; they fell into a little trot which a gallop-
ing horse could not have kept up with, and, followed by the
foxes, they soon disappeared amid the ice to the north.



This phenomenon, which is peculiar to the polar regions, had
lasted three quarters of an hour ; the bears and foxes had had
plenty of time ; these provisions arrived opportunely for these
animals, who were nearly starved during the inclement weather ;
the canvas cover of the sledge was torn by their strong claws,
the casks of pemmican were opened and emptied ; the biscuit-
sacks pillaged, the tea spilled over the snow, a barrel of alcohol
torn open and its contents lost, their camping materials scattered
and damaged, bore witness to the ferocity of these wild beasts,
and their greediness.


" This is a misfortune," said Bell, gazing at this scene of ruin.

" Which is probably irreparable," said Simpson.

" Let us first estimate the loss," interrupted the doctor, "and
we '11 talk about it afterwards."

Hatteras, without sayings a word, began to gather the scattered
boxes and sacks ; they collected the pemmican and biscuits which
could be eaten ; the loss of part of their alcohol was much to be
regretted ; for if that was gone there would be nothing warm to
drink ; no tea, no coffee. In making an inventory of the supplies
left, the doctor found two hundred pounds of pemmican gone, and
a hundred and 'fifty pounds of biscuit ; if their journey continued
they would have to subsist on half-rations.

They then began to discuss what should be done, whether they
should return to the ship and start out again. But how could
they make up their minds to lose the hundred and fifty miles
they had already made % To return without fuel would have a
depressing effect upon the spirits of the crew. Could men be
found again to resume their march across the ice*?

Evidently it was better to push on, even at the risk of severe

The doctor, Hatteras, and Bell were of this opinion ; Simpson
wanted to go back ; the fatigue of the journey had worn upon his
health ; he w\as visibly weaker ; but finding himself alone of this
opinion, he resumed his place at the head of the sledge, and the
little caravan continued its journey to the south.

During the three next days, from the 15th to the 17th of Jan-
uary, all the monotonous incidents of the voyage were repeated ;
they advanced more slowly, and w^ith much fatigue; their legs
grew tired; the dogs dragged the sledge with difficulty; their
diminished supply of food could not comfort men or beasts. The
weather was very variable, changing from intense, dry cold to
damp, penetrating mists.

January 18th the aspect of the ice-fields changed suddenly; a
great number of peaks, like sharp-pointed pyramids, and very
high, appeared at the horizon ; the ground in certain places came
through the snow ; it seemed formed of gneiss, schist, and quartz,
with some appearance of limestone. The travellers at last touched


earth again, and this land they judged to be that called North

The doctor could not help striking the earth with joy; they
had now only a hundred miles to go before reaching Cape Belcher,
but their fatigue increased strangely on this soil, covered with
sharp rocks, and interspersed with dangerous points, crevasses,
and precipices ; they had to go down into the depths of these
abysses, climb steep ascents, and cross narrow gorges, in which
the snow was drifted to the depth of thirty or forty feet.

The travellers soon regretted the almost easy journey over the
ice-fields, which so well suited the sledge ; now it had to be
dragged by main force ; the weary dogs were insufficient ; the
men, compelled to take their place alongside of them, wore them-
selves out with hauling ; often they had to take off the whole
load to get over some steep hills ; a place only ten feet wide often
kept them busy for hours ; so in this first day they made only
'five miles in North Cornwall, which is certainly well named, for
it exhibits all the roughness, the sharp points, the steep gorges,
the confused rockiness, of the southwest coast of England.

The next day the sledge reached the top of the hills near the
shore; the exhausted travellers, being unable to make a snow-



hut, were obliged to pass the night under the tent, wrapped up
in buffalo-skins, and drying their wet stockings by placing them
about their bodies. The inevitable consequences of such conduct
are easily comprehended ; that night the thermometer fell below
44, and the mercury froze.

Simpson's health caused great anxiety ; a persistent cough,
violent rheumatism, and intolerable pain obliged him to lie on the
sledge which he could no longer guide. Bell took his place ; he
too was suffering, but not so much as to be incapacitated. The
doctor also felt the consequences of this trip in this terrible
weather ; but he uttered no complaint ; he walked on, resting on
his staff ; he made out the way and helped every one. Hatteras,
impassible, and as strong as on the first day, followed the sledge
in silence.

January 20th the weather was so severe that the slightest
effort produced complete prostration. Still, the difficulties of the
way were so great, that Hatteras, the doctor, and Bell harnessed
themselves with the dogs ; sudden shocks had broken the front
of the sledge, and they had to stop to repair it. Such delays
were frequent every day.

The travellers followed a deep ravine, up to their waists in -
snow, and perspiring violently in spite of the intense cold. They

did not say a word.
Suddenly Bell, who
was near the doctor,
looked at him with
some alarm ; then,
without uttering a
word, he picked up
a handful of snow
and began rubbing
his companion's face


" Well, Bell ! " said the doctor, resisting.
But Bell continued rubbing.

" Come, Bell," began the doctor again, his mouth, nose, and
eyes full of snow, ''are you mad"^ What 's the matter"?"


"If you have a nose left," answered Bell, "you ought to be
grateful to me."

" A nose ! " answered the doctor, quickly, clapping his hand to
his face.

" Yes, Doctor, you were frost-bitten ; your nose was white
when I looked at you, and if I had not done as I did, you would
have lost that ornament which is in the way on a journey, but
agreeable to one's existence."

In fact, the doctor's nose was almost frozen ; the circulation of
the blood was restored in time, and, thanks to Bell, all danger was

"Thanks, Bell!" said the doctor; "I'll be even with you

" I hope so. Doctor," the carpenter answered ; " and may Heaven
protect us from worse misfortunes ! "

" Alas, Bell," continued the doctor, " you mean Simpson ! The
poor fellow is suffering terribly."

"Do you fear for his life 1 " asked Hatteras, quickly.

" Yes, Captain," answered the doctor.

"And why r'

" He has a violent attack of scurvy ; his legs have begun to
swell, and his gums too ; the poor fellow lies half frozen on the
sledge, and every movement redoubles his suffering. I pity him,
Hatteras, and I can't do anything to relieve him."

" Poor Simpson ! " marmured Bell.

"" Perhaps we shall have to halt for a day or two," resumed the

" Halt ! " shouted Hatteras, " when the lives of eighteen men
are hanging on our return ! "

" Still " said the doctor.

" Clawbonny, Bell, listen to me," said Hatteras ; "we have food
for only twenty days ! Judge for yourselves whether we can stop
for a moment ! "

Neither the doctor nor Bell made any reply, and the sledge

resumed its progress, which had been delayed for a moment.

That evening they stopped beneath a hillock of ice, in which Bell

at once cut a cavern ; the travellers entered it ; the doctor passed


the night attending to Simpson ; the scurvy had already made
fearful ravages, and his sufferings caused perpetual laments to
issue from his swollen lips.

" Ah, Dr. Clawbonny ! "

" Courage, my dear fellow ! " said the doctor.

" I shall never get well ! I feel it ! I 'd rather die ! "

The doctor answered these despairing words by incessant cares ;
although worn out by the fatigue of the day, he spent the night
in composing a soothing potion for his patient ; but the lime-juice
was ineffectual, and continual friction could not keep down the
progress of the scurvy.

The next day he had to be placed again upon the sledge,
although he besought them to leave him behind to die in peace ;
then they resumed their dreary and difficult march.

The frozen mists penetrated the three men to the bone ; the
snow and sleet dashed against them ; they were working like
draught-horses, and with a scanty supply of food.

Duke, like his master, kept coming and going, enduring every
fatigue, always alert, finding out by himself the best path ; they
had perfect confidence in his wonderful instinct.

During the morning of January 23d, amid almost total dark-


ness, for the moon was new, Duke had run on ahead ; for many
hours he was not seen ; Hatteras became uneasy, especially be-
cause there were many traces of bears to be seen ; he was uncer-
tain what to do, when suddenly a loud barking was heard.

Hatteras urged on the sledge, and soon he found the faithful
animal at the bottom of a ravine. Duke stood as motionless as
if turned to stone, barking before a sort of cairn made of pieces
of limestone, covered with a cement of ice.

" This time," said the doctor, detaching his harness, " it 's a
cairn, there 's no doubt of that."

" What 's that to us % " asked Hatteras.

" Hatteras, if it is a cairn, it may contain some document of
value for us; perhaps some provisions, and it would be worth
while to see."

" What European could have come as far as this % " asked Hat-
teras, shrugging his shoulders.

"But in lack of Europeans," answered the doctor, "cannot
Esquimaux have made it here to contain what they have fished
or shot 1 It 's their habit, I think."

" Well, go and look at it," continued Hatteras ; " but I 'm
afraid it will be hardly worth your while."

Clawbonny and Bell walked to the cairn with picks in their
hands. Duke continued barking furiously. The limestones were
firmly fastened together by the ice; but a few blows scattered
them on the ground.

" There 's something there, evidently," said the doctor.

" I think so," answered Bell.

They rapidly destroyed the cairn. Soon they found a bundle
and in it a damp paper. The doctor took it with a beating heart.
Hatteras ran forward, seized the paper, and read :

"Altam .... Pojyoise, December 13, 1860, longitude 12,
latitude 8 35'."

" The Porpoise ? " said the doctor.

" The Porpoise ! " replied Hatteras. " I never heard of a ship
of this name in these seas."

"It is clear," resumed the doctor, "that travellers, perhaps
shipwrecked sailors, have been here within two months."


" That is sure," said Bell.

" What are we going to do 1 " asked the doctor.

"Push on," answered Hatteras, coldly. "I don't know any-
thing about any ship called the Porpoise, but I know that the
brig Forward is waiting for our return."



They resumed their journey ; the mind of every one was filled
with new and unexpected ideas, for to meet any one in these
regions is about the most remarkable event that can happen.
Hatteras frowned uneasily.

"The Porpoise!'' he kept saying to himself; "what ship is
that 1 And what is it doing so near the Pole % "

At the thought, he shuddered. The doctor and Bell only
thought of the two results which might follow the discovery of
this document, that they might be of service in saving some one,
or, possibly, that they might be saved by them; But the diffi-
culties, obstacles, and dangers soon returned, and they could only
think of their perilous position.

Simpson's condition grew worse ; the doctor could not be mis-
taken about the symptoms of a speedy death. He could do
nothing ; he was himself suffering from a painful ophthalmia,
which might be accompanied by deafness if he did not take care.
The twilight at that time gave light enough, and this light,
reflected by the snow, was bad for the eyes ; it was hard to pro-
tect them from the reflection, for glasses would be soon covered
with a layer of ice which rendered them useless. Hence they
had to guard carefully against accident by the way, and they had
to run the risk of ophthalmia ; still, the doctor and Bell covered
their eyes and took turns in guiding the sledge. It ran far from
smoothly on its worn runners ; it became harder and harder to
drag it j their path grew more difficult j the land was of volcanic

"They could only think of their perilous position." Page 218.



origin, and all cut np with craters ; the travellers had been com-
pelled gradually to ascend fifteen hundred feet to reach the top
of the mountains. The temperature was lower, the storms were
more violent, and it was a sorry sight to see these poor men on
these lonely peaks.

They were also made sick by the whiteness of everything ; the
uniform brilliancy tired them ; it made them giddy ; the earth
seemed to wave beneath their feet with no fixed point on the im-
mense white surface ; they felt as one does on shipboard when
the deck seems to be giving way beneath the foot; they could
not get over the impression, and the persistence of the feeling
wearied their heads. Their limbs grew torpid, their minds grew
dull, and often they w^alked like men half asleep ; then a slip or
a sudden fall would rouse them for a few moments from their

January 25th they began to descend the steep slopes, which
was even more fatiguing ; a false step, which it was by no means
easy to avoid, might hurl them down into deep ravines where
they would certainly have perished. Towards evening a violent
tempest raged about the snowy summit; it was impossible to
withstand the force of the hurricane; they had to lie down on



the ground, but so low was the temperature that they ran a risk
of being frozen to death at once.

Bell, with Hatteras's aid, built with much difficulty a snow-
house, in which the poor men sought shelter ; there they partook
of a few fragments of pemmican and a little hot tea ; only four
gallons of alcohol were left; and they had to use this to allay
their thirst, for snow cannot be absorbed if taken in its natural
state ; it has to be melted first. In the temperate zone, where
the cold hardly ever sinks much below the freezing-point, it can
do no harm ; but. beyond the Polar Circle it is different ; it
reaches so low a temperature that the bare hand can no more
touch it than it can iron at a white heat, and this, although it is
a very poor conductor of heat ; so great is the difference of tem-
perature between it and the stomach that its absorption produces
real suffocation. The Esquimaux prefer severe thirst to quench-
ing it with this snow, which does not replace water, and only aug-
ments the thirst instead of appeasing it. The only way the trav-
ellers could make use of it was by melting it over the spirit-
la qi p.

At three in the morning, when the tempest was at its height,
the doctor took his turn at the watch ; he was lying in a corner

of the hut when a
groan of distress
from Simpson at-
tracted his atten-
tion ; he arose to
see to him, but in
rising he hit his head
sharply against the
icy roof; without
paying any atten-
tion to that, he bent
over Simpson and
began to rub his swollen, discolored legs ; after doing this for a
quarter of an hour he started to rise, and bumped his head again,
although he was on his knees.
" That 's odd," he said to himself.



He raised his hand above his head ; the roof was perceptibly

" Great God ! " he cried ; " wake up, my friends ! "

At his shouts Hatteras and Bell arose quickly, striking their
heads against the roof; they were in total darkness.

" We shall be crushed ! " said the doctor ; " let 's get out ! "

And all three, dragging Simpson after them, abandoned their
dangerous quarters ; and it was high time, for the blocks of ice,
ill put together, fell with a loud crash.

The poor men found themselves then without shelter against
the hurricane. Hatteras attempted to raise the tent, but it was
impossible, so severe was the wind, and they had to shelter them-
selves beneath the canvas, which was soon covered with a thick
layer of snow; but this snow prevented the radiation of their
warmth and kept them from being frozen to death.

The storm lasted all night ; Bell, when he was harnessing the
half -starved dogs, noticed that three of them had begun to eat
the leather straps ; two were very sick and seemed unable to go
on. Still, they set out as well as they could ; they had sixty
miles between them and the point they wished to reach.

On the 26th, Bell, who was ahead, shouted suddenly to his com-
panions. They ran
towards him, and he
pointed with aston-
ishment to a gun
resting on a piece of

" A gun ! " cried
the doctor.

Hatteras took it ;
it was in good con-
dition, and loaded.

"The men of the Porpoise can't be far off."

Hatteras, as he was examining the gun, noticed that it was of
American make ; his hands clinched nervously its barrel.

" Forward ! " he said calmly.

They continued to descend the mountains. Simpson seemed
deprived of all feeling; he had not even strength left to moan.


The tempest continued to rage ; the sledge went on more and
more slowly; they made but a few miles in twenty-four hours,
and, in spite of the strictest economy, their supplies threatened
to give out ; but so long as enough was left to carry them back,
Hatteras pushed on.

On the 27th they found, partly buried beneath the snow, a sex-
tant and then a flask, which contained brandy, or rather a piece
of ice, in the middle of which all the spirit of the liquor had col-
lected in the form of snow ; it was of no use.

Evidently, without meaning it, Hatteras was following in the
wake of some great disaster; he went on by the only possible
route, collecting the traces of some terrible shipwreck. The
doctor kept a sharp lookout for other cairns, but in vain.

Sad thoughts beset him : in fact, if he should discover these
wretches, of what service could he be to them ? He and his com-
panions were beginning to lack everything ; their clothing was
torn, their supplies were scanty. If the survivors were many,
they would all starve to death. Hatteras seemed inclined to flee
from them ! Was he not justified, since the safety of the crew
depended upon him % Ought he to endanger the safety of all by
bringing strangers on board 1

But then strangers were men, perhaps their countrymen !
Slight as was their chance of safety, ought they to be deprived
of it % The doctor wanted to get Bell's opinion ; but Bell refused
to answer. His own sufferings had hardened his heart. Claw-
bonny did not dare ask Hatteras : so he sought aid from Provi-

Towards the evening of that day, Simpson appeared to be fail-
ing fast; his cold, stiff* limbs, his impeded breathing, which
formed a mist about his head, his convulsive movements, an-
nounced that his last hour had come. His expression was ter-
rible to behold ; it was despairing, with a look of impotent rage
at the captain. It contained a whole accusation, mute reproaches
which were full of meaning, and perhaps deserved.

Hatteras did not go near the dying man. He avoided him,
more silent, more shut into himself than ever !

The following night was a terrible one; the violence of the

Suddenly, with a last effort, he half rose." Page 223.


tempest was doubled ; three times the tent was thrown over, and
snow was blown over the suffering men, blinding them, and
wounding them with the pieces torn from the neighboring masses.
The dogs barked incessantly. Simpson was exposed to all the in-
clemency of the weather. Bell succeeded in again raising the
canvas, which, if it did not protect them from the cold, at least
kept off the snow. But a sudden squall blew it down for the
fourth time and carried it away with a fierce blast.

" Ah, that is too much ! " shouted Bell.

"Courage, courage!" answered the doctor, stooping down to
escape being blown away.

Simpson was gasping for breath. Suddenly, with a last effort,
he half rose, stretched his clinched fist at Hatteras, who was
gazing steadily at him, uttered a heart-rending cry, and fell back
dead in the midst of his unfinished thjjeat.

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Online LibraryJules VerneAt the north pole, or, The adventures of Captain Hatteras → online text (page 16 of 17)