Jules Verne.

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

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" Dead ! " said the doctor.

" Dead ! " repeated Bell.

Hatteras, who was approaching the corpse, drew back before
the violence of the wind.

He was the first of the crew who succumbed to the murderous
climate, the first to offer up his life, after incalculable sufferings,
to the captain's persistent obstinacy. This man had considered
him an assassin, but Hatteras did not quail before the accusation.
But a tear, falling from his eyes, froze on his pale cheek.

The doctor and Bell looked at him in terror. Supported by
his long staff, he seemed like the genius of these regions, straight
in the midst of the fierce blast, and terrible in his stern severity.

He remained standing, without stirring, till the first rays of
the twilight appeared, bold and unconquerable, and seeming to
defy the tempest which was roaring about him.



224 THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN HATTERA8,



CHAPTER XXXII.

THE RETURN TO THE FORWARD.

Toward six o'clock in the morning the wind fell, and, shifting
suddenly to the north, it cleared the clouds from the sky; the
thermometer stood at 33. The first rays of the twilight
appeared on the horizon above which it would soon peer.




Hatteras approached his two dejected companions and said to
them, sadly and gently,

" My friends, we are more than sixty miles from the point men-
tioned by Sir Edward Belcher. We have only just enough food
left to take us back to the ship. To go farther would only ex-
pose us to certain death, without our being of service to any one.
We must return."

" That is a wise decision, Hatteras," answered the doctor ; " I
should have followed you anywhere, but we are all growing
weaker every day ; we can hardly set one foot before the other ;
I approve of returning."



THE EmLlSS AT THE NORTH POLS.



225



" Is that your opinion, Bell 1 " asked Hatteras.

" Yes, Captain," answered the carpenter.

" Well," continued Hatteras, " we will take two days for rest.
That 's not too much. The sledge needs a great many repairs.
I think, too, we ought to build a snow-house in which we can
repose."

This being decided, the three men set to work energetically.
Bell took the necessary precautions to insure the solidity of the
building, and soon a satisfactory retreat arose at the bottom of
the ravine where they had last halted.




It was doubtless after a hard struggle that Hatteras had de-
cided to discontinue his journey. So much effort and fatigue
thrown away ! A useless trip, entailing the death of one of his
men ! To return without a scrap of coal : what would the crew
say 1 What might it not do under the lead of Shandon % But
Hatteras could not continue the struggle any longer.

He gave all his attention to their preparations for returning ;
the sledge was repaired ; its load, too, had become much lighter,
and only weighed two hundred pounds. They mended their
worn-out, torn clothes, all soaked through and through by the
snow ; new moccasins and snow-shoes replaced those which were



226 THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN HATTERAS.

no longer serviceable. This kept them busy the whole of the
29th and the morning of the 30th ; then they all sought what
rest they could get, and prepared for what was before them.

During the thirty-six hours spent in or near the snow-house,
the doctor had been noticing Duke, whose singular behavior did
not seem to him to be natural ; the dog kept going in circles
which seemed to have a common centre ; there was a sort of ele-
vation in the soil, produced by accumulated layers of ice ; Duke,
as he ran around this place, kept barking gently and wagging his
tail impatiently, looking at his master as if asking something.

The doctor, after reflecting a moment, ascribed this uneasiness
to the presence of Simpson's corpse, which his companions had not
yet had time to bury. Hence he resolved to proceed to this sad
ceremony on that very day ; the next morning they were to start.
Bell and the doctor, picks in hand, went to the bottom of the
ravine ; the elevation which Duke had noticed offered a suitable
place for the grave, w^hich would have to be dug deep to escape
the bears. ^

The doctor and Bell began by removing the soft snow, then
they attacked the solid ice; at the third blow of his pick the
doctor struck against some hard body ; he picked up the pieces
and found them the fragments of a glass bottle. Bell brought
to light a stiffened bag, in which were a few crumbs of fresh
biscuit.

" What 's this ? " said the doctor.

" What can it be 1 " asked Bell, stopping his work.

The doctor called to Hatteras, who came at once.

Duke barked violently, and with his paws tried to tear up the
ice.

" Have we by any possibility come across a supply of provis-
ions 1 " said the doctor.

** It looks like it," answered Bell.

"Go on ! " said Hatteras.

A few bits of food were found and a box quarter full of pem-
mican.

" 1/ we have," said Hatteras, " the bears have visited it before
we did. See, these provisions have been touched already."



THE ENGLISH AT THE NORTH POLE. 227

"It is to be feared," answered the doctor, "for "

He did not finish his sentence ; a cry from Bell interrupted
him; he had turned over a tolerably large piece of ice and
showed a stiff, frozen human leg in the ice.

" A corpse ! " cried the doctor.

" It 's a grave," said Hatteras.

It was the body of a sailor about thirty years old, in a
perfect state of preservation ; he wore the usual dress of Arc-
tic sailors; the doctor could not say how long he had been
dead.

After this, Bell found another corpse, that of a man of fifty,
exhibiting traces of the sufferings that had killed him.




"They were never buried," cried the doctor; "these poor men
were surprised by death as we find them."

" You are right. Doctor," said Bell.

" Go on, go on ! " said Hatteras.

Bell hardly dared. Who could say how many corpses lay
hidden here 1

" They were the victims of just such an accident as we nearly
perished by," said the doctor ; " their snow-house fell in. Let us
see if one may not be breathing yet ! "



228



THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN HAT T ERAS.



The place was rapidly cleared away, and Bell brought up a
third body, that of a man of forty ; he looked less like a corpse
than the others ; the doctor bent over him and thought he saw
some signs of life.

" He 's alive ! " he shouted.

Bell and he carried this body into the snow-house, while Hat-
teras stood in silence, gazing at the sunken dwelling.




The doctor stripped the body ; it bore no signs of injury ; with
Bell's aid he rubbed it vigorously with tow dipped in alcohol,
and he saw life gradually reviving within it ; but the man was
in a state of complete prostration, and unable to speak ; his
tongue clove to his palate as if it were frozen.

The doctor examined his patient's pockets ; they were empty.
No paper. He let Bell continue rubbing, and went out to
Hatteras.

He found him in the ruined snow-house, clearing away the
floor ; soon he came out, bearing a half-burned piece of an enve-
lope. A few words could be deciphered :

.... tamont '
.... orpoise
. . . . w York.



I



THE ENGLISH AT THE NORTH POLE. 229

" Altamont ! " shouted the doctor, "of the Porpoise! of New
York ! "

" An American ! " said Hatteras.

" I shall save him," said the doctor ; " I '11 answer for it, and
we shall find out the explanation of this puzzle."

He returned to Altamont, while Hatteras remained pensive.
The doctor succeeded in recalling the unfortunate man to life,
but not to consciousness ; he neither saw, heard, nor spoke, but
at any rate he was alive !

The next morning Hatteras said to the doctor,

" We must start."

" All right, Hatteras ! The sledge is not loaded ; we shall carry
this poor fellow back to the ship with us.

"Very well," said Hatteras. "But first let us bury these
corpses."

The two unknown sailors were placed beneath the ruins of the
snow-house ; Simpson's body took the place of Altamont's.

The three travellers uttered a short prayer over their com-
panion, and at seven o'clock in the morning they set off again
for the ship.

Two of the dogs were dead. Duke volunteered to drag the
sledge, and he worked as resolutely as a Greenland dog.

For twenty days, from January 31st to February 19th, the re-
turn was very much like the first part of the journey. Save that
it was in the month of February, the coldest of the whole year,
and the ice was harder ; the travellers suffered terribly from the
cold, but not from the wind or snow-storm.

The sun reappeared for the first time January 31st ; every day
it rose higher above the horizon. Bell and the doctor were at
the end of their strength, almost blind and quite lame ; the car-
penter could not walk without cuutches. Altamont was alive, but
continued insensible ; sometimes his life was despaired of, but
unremitting care kept him alive ! And yet the doctor needed to
take the greatest care of himself, for his health was beginning to
suffer.

Hatteras thought of the Forward I In what condition was he
going to find it % What had happened on board 1 Had Johnson



230 THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN HATTERAS.

been able to withstand Shandon and his allies 1 The cold had
been terrible ! Had they burned the ship % Had they spared her
masts and keel 1

While thinking of this, Hatteras walked on as if he had wished
to get an early view of the Forward.

February 24th, in the morning, he stopped suddenly. Three
hundred paces before him appeared a reddish glow, above which
rose an immense column of black smoke, which was lost in the
gray clouds of the sky.

** See that smoke ! " he shouted.

His heart beat as if it would burst.

" See that smoke ! " he said to his companions. " My ship is
on fire ! ^'

" But we are more than three miles from it," said Bell. " It
can't be the Forward ! "

"Yes, but it is," answered the doctor; "the mirage makes it
seem nearer."

" Let us run ! " cried Hatteras.

They left the sledge in charge of Duke, and hastened after the
captain. An hour later they came in sight of the ship. A terri-
ble sight ! The brig was burning in the midst of the ice, which
was melting about her; the flames were lapping her hull, and
the southerly breeze brought to Hatteras's ears unaccustomed
sounds.

Five hundred feet from the. ship stood a man raising his hands
in despair ; he stood there, powerless, facing the fire which was
destroying the Forward.

The man was alone ; it was Johnson.

Hatteras ran towards him.

" My ship ! my ship ! " he cried.

" You ! Captain ! " answered Johnson ; " you ! stop ! not a step
farther ! "

" Well % " asked Hatteras with a terrible air.

" The wretches ! " answered Johnson, " they 've been gone
forty-eight hours, after firing the ship ! "

" Curse them ! " groaned Hatteras.

Then a terrible explosion was heard ; the earth trembled ; the




' Then a terrible explosion was heard." Page 230.



THE ENGLISH AT THE NORTH POLE. 231

icebergs fell ; a column of smoke rose to the clouds, and the
Forward disappeared in an abyss of fire.

At that moment the doctor and Bell came up to Hatteras. He
roused himself suddenly from his despair.

"My friends," he said energetically, "the cowards have taken
flight ! The brave will succeed ! Johnson, Bell, you are bold ;
Doctor, you are wise ; as for me, I have faith ! There is the
North Pole ! Come, to work ! "

Hatteras's companions felt their hearts glow at these brave
words.

And yet the situation was terrible for these four men and the
dying man, abandoned w^ithout supplies, alone at the eighty-
fourth degree of latitude, in the very heart of the polar regions.



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