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

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said that we start with a fair chance of success. The Forward
will be a stanch ship and she will carry good engines. She can
go a great distance. W^e want a crew of only eighteen men."


" Eighteen men," answered Johnson ; " that 's the number the
American, Kane, took with him on his famous voyage towards the
North Pole."

" It 's strange," said Wall, " that a private person should try to
make his way from Davis Strait to Behring Strait. The expedi-
tions in search of Sir John Franklin have already cost England
more than seven hundred and sixty thousand pounds, without
producing any practical good. Who in the world wants to throw
away his money for such a purpose 1 "

" In the first place, James," answered Shandon, " we are in the
dark about it all. I don't know whether we are going to the
northern or the southern seas. Perhaps there 's some new dis-
covery to be tried. At any rate, some day or other a Dr. Claw-
bonny is to come aboard who will probably know more about it
and will be able to tell us. We shall see."

" Let us wait, then," said Johnson ; " as for me, I 'm going to
look after some good men, and I '11 answer now for their animal
heat, as the captain calls it. You can depend on me."

Johnson was an invaluable man ; he was familiar with high
latitudes. He had been quartermaster aboard of the PJioenix,
which belonged to one of the expeditions sent out in 1853 in
search of Franklin ; he had been an eye-witness of the death of
the French lieutenant Bellot, whom he had accompanied in his
expedition across the ice. Johnson knew all the sailors in Liver-
pool, and immediately set about engaging a crew.

Shandon, Wall, and he succeeded in filling the number by the
middle of December, but they met with considerable difficulty ;
many who were attracted by the high pay were alarmed by the
danger, and more than one who had boldly enlisted came later to
say that he had changed his mind on account of the dissuasion of
his friends. They all tried to pierce the mystery, and pursued Shan-
don with their questions. He used to refer them to Johnson.

" What can I say, my man ? " the boatswain used to answer ;
" I don't know any more about it than you do. At any rate you
will be in good company, with men who won't shirk their work ;
that 's something ! So don't be thinking about it all day : take
it or leave it ! " And the greater number took it.


" You understand," added Johnson, sometimes, " my only
trouble is in making my choice. High pay, such as no sailor
ever had before, with the certainty of finding a round sum when
we get back. That 's very tempting."

" The fact is," answered the sailors, " that it is hard to refuse.
It will support a man all the rest of his life."

" I won't hide from you," continued Johnson, " that the voyage
will be long, difficult, and dangerous ; that 's all stated in our in-
structions ; it 's well to know beforehand what one undertakes to
do ; probably it 's to try all that men can possibly do, and per-
haps even more. 'So, if you have n't got a bold heart and a strong
body, if you can't say you have more than twenty chances to one
of staying there, if, in short, you are particular about leaving
your body in one place more than another, here rather than
there, get away from here and let some bolder man have your
place ! "

" But, at least," said the confused sailor, " at least, you know
the captain 1 "

" The captain is Richard Shandon, my friend, until we receive

Now it must be said that w^as what the commander thought ;
he allowed himself to think that at the last moment he would re-
ceive definite instructions as to the object of the voyage, and that
he would remain in command of the Forward. He was fond of
spreading this opinion about, either in conversation with his offi-
cers or in superintending the building of the brig, of which the
timbers were now rising in the Birkenhead ship-yard like the
sides of a huge whale.

Shandon and Johnson conformed strictly with the recommen-
dation about the health of the crew ; they all looked hardy and
possessed enough animal heat to run the engines of the Forward;
their elastic limbs, their clear and ruddy skin, showed that they
were fit to encounter intense cold. They were bold, determined
men, energetic and stoutly built ; they were not all equally vig-
orous. Shandon had even hesitated about accepting some of
them ; for instance, the sailors Gripper and Garry, and the har-
pooner Simpson, who seemed to him too thin ; but, on the other


hand, they were well built, they were earnest about it, and they
were shipped.

All the crew were members of the same church ; in their long
voyage their prayers and the reading of the Bible would call them
together and console them in the hours of depression ; so that it
was advisable that there should be no diversity on this score.
Shandon knew from experience the usefulness of this practice
and its good influence on the men, so valuable that it is never
neglected on board of ships which winter in the polar seas.

When all the crew had been engaged, Shandon and his two offi-
cers busied themselves with the provisions ; they followed closely
the captain's instructions, which were definite, precise, and de-
tailed, in which the quality and quantity of the smallest articles
were clearly set down. Thanks to the drafts placed at the com-
mander's order, every article was paid for, cash down, with a dis-
count of eight per cent, which Richard carefully placed to the
credit of K. Z.

Crew, provisions, and outfit were all ready in January, 1860 ;
the Forivard was approaching completion. Shandon never let a
day pass without visiting Birkenhead.

On the morning of the 23d of January he was, as usual, on
one of the double-ended ferry-boats which ply between the two
shores of the Mersey ; everything was enveloped in one of the or-
dinary fogs of that region, which compel the pilot to steer by com-
pass, although the trip is one of but ten minutes.

However, the thickness of the fog could not prevent Shandon
from noticing a short, rather stout man, with a refined, agi'eeable
face and pleasant expression, who came towards him, seized both
his hands, and pressed them with a warmth and familiarity which
a Frenchman would have said was " very southern."

But if this stranger was not from the South, he had escaped it
narrowly ; he spoke and gesticulated freely ; his thoughts seemed
determined to find expression, even if they had to burst out. His
eyes, small like the eyes of witty men, his large and mobile mouth,
were safety-valves which enabled him to rid himself of too strong
a pressure on his feelings ; he talked ; and he talked so much and
joyously, that, it must be said, Shandon could not make out what
he was saying.

' Everything was enveloped in one of the ordinary fogs of that region." Page i8.


Still the mate of the Forward was not slow in recognizing this
short man whom he had never seen ; it
flashed into his mind, and the moment
that the other stopped to take breath,
Shandon uttered these w^ords,

" Dr. Clawbonny ] "

" The same, in person, Commander !
For nearly a quarter of an hour I have
been looking after you, asking for you of
every one and everywhere. Imagine my
impatience. Five minutes more and I
should have lost my head ! So this is you, officer Shandon 1 You
really exist 1 You are not a myth % Your hand, your hand ! Let
me press it again in mine ! Yes, that is indeed the hand of Rich-
ard Shandon, Now, if there is a commander Richard, there is a
brig Forward which he commands ; and if he commands it, it will
sail ; and if it sails, it will take Dr. Clawbonny on board."

" Well, yes, Doctor, I am Richard Shandon, there is a brig For-
ward, and it will sail."

" There 's logic," answered the doctor, taking a long breath,
" there 's logic. So I am delighted, enchanted ! For a long time
I 've been waiting for something of this sort to turn up, and I 've
been wanting to try a voyage of this sort. Now, with you "

" Excuse me " said Shandon.

" With you," continued Clawbonny, paying him no attention,
" we are sure of going far without turning round."

" But " began Shandon.

" For you have shown what stuff you are made of, and I know
all you 've done. Ah, you are a good sailor ! "

" If you please "

" No, I sha' n't let your courage and skill be doubted for a
moment, even by yourself. The captain who chose you for mate
is a man who knew what he was about ; I can tell you that."

" But that is not the question," said Shandon, impatiently.

" What is it, then 1 Don't keep me anxious any longer."

" But you won't let me say a word. Tell me. Doctor, if you
please, how you came to join this expedition of the Forward ? "


" By a letter, a capital letter ; here it is, the letter of a brave
captain, very short, but very full."

With these words he handed Shandon a letter running as fol-
lows :

Inyeeness, January 22, 1860.
To Dr. Clawbonny, Liverpool.

If Dr. Clawbonny wishes to sail on the Forward for a long voyage,

he can present himself to the mate, Richard Shandon, who has been

advised concerning him.

K. Z.,

Captain of the Forward.

" The letter reached me this morning, and I 'm now ready to
go on board of the Forward.^'

" But," continued Shandon, " I suppose you know whither we
are bound."

' Not the least idea in the world ; but what difference does it
make, provided I go somewhere 1 They say I 'm a learned man ;
they are wrong ; I don't know anything, and if I have published
some books which have had a good sale, 1 was wrong; it was very
kind of the public to buy them ! I don't know anything, I tell
you, except that I am very ignorant. Now I have a chance offered
me to complete, or, rather, to make over my knowledge of medi-
cine, surgery, history, geography, botany, mineralogy, conchology,
geodes3% chemistry, physics, mechanics, hydrography ; well, I ac-
cept it, and I assure you, I did n't have to be asked twice."

"Then," said Shandon in a tone of disappointment, "you don't
know where the Forward is going."

" 0, but I do, commander ; it 's going where there is something
to be learned, discovered ; where one can instruct himself, make
comparisons, see other customs, other countries, study the ways of
other people ; in a word, it 's going where I have never been."

" But more precisely 1 " cried Shandon.

"More precisely," answered the doctor, "I have understood
that it was bound for the Northern Ocean. Well, good for the
North ! "

"At any rate," said Shandon, "you know the captain T'

"Not at all ! But he 's a good fellow, you may depend on it."


The mate and the doctor stepped ashore at Birkenhead ; Shan-
don gave his companion all the information he had, and the mys-
tery which lay about it all excited highly the doctor's imagina-
tion. The sight of the Forivard enchanted him. From that
time he was always with Shandon, and he came every morning to
inspect the hull of the Forward.

In addition he was specially intrusted with the providing of
the ship's medicine-chest.

For Clawbonny was a physician, and a good one, although he
had never practised much. At tw^enty-five he was an ordinary
young doctor, at forty he was a learned man; being known
throughout the whole city, he became a leading member of the
Literary and Philosophical Society of Liverpool. His moderate
fortune allowed him to give some advice which was no less valu-
able for being without charge ; loved as a thoroughly kind-
hearted man must be, he did no harm to any one else nor to him-
self; quick and garrulous, if you please, but with his heart in his
hand, and his hand in that of all the world.

When the news of his intended journey on board the Forward
became known in the city, all his friends endeavored to dissuade
him, but they only made him cling more obstinately to his inten-
tion ; and when the doctor had absolutely determined on any-
thing, he was a skilful man who could make him change.

From that day the rumors, conjectures, and apprehensions
steadily increased ; but that did not interfere with the launching
of the Forivard on the 5th of February, 1860. Two months later
she was ready for sea.

On the 15th of March, as the captain's letter had said, a
Danish dog was sent by rail from Edinburgh to
Liverpool, to the address of Richard Shandon.
He seemed morose, timid, and almost wicked ;
his expression was very strange. The name of
the Forward was engraved on his collar.

The commander gave him quarters on board, and sent a letter,
with the news of his arrival, to Leghorn.

Hence, with the exception of the captain, the crew of the For-
ward was complete. It was composed as follows :


1. K. Z., captain; 2. Richard Shandon, first mate, in com-
mand; 3. James Wall, second mate; 4. Dr. Clawbonny; 5.
Johnson, boatswain ; 6. Simpson, harpooner ; 7. Bell, carpenter ;
8. Brunton, first engineer; 9. Plover, second engineer; 10.
Strong (negro), cook; 11. Foker, ice-master; 12. Wolston,
gunner; 13. Bolton, sailor; 14. Garry, sailor; 15. Clifton,
sailor; 16. Gripper, sailor; 17. Pen, sailor; 18. Warren, stoker.



The 5th of April, the day of departure, came. The fact that
the doctor had joined the expedition gave some comfort to those
on board. Wherever he could go they could follow. Still, most
of the sailors were very uneasy, and Shandon, fearing that their
number might be diminished by desertion, was very anxious to
get to sea. The land once out of sight, the men would soon be

Dr. Clawbonny 's cabin was situated on the poop, occupying the
extreme after-part of the ship. The cabins of the captain and
mate opened on the deck. That of the captain was kept tightly
closed, after it had been provided with various instruments, fur-
niture, clothing, books, and utensils, all of which had been set
down in detail in a letter. As he had asked, the key was sent to
the captain at Liibeck ; so he alone had admission into the cabin.

This fact annoyed Shandon, and diminished his chances of hav-
ing chief command. As for his own cabin, he had arranged it
suitably for the presumed voyage, for he knew very well what
was necessary for a polar expedition.

The second mate's cabin was on the lower deck, wdiere the
sailors were domiciled ; the crew had very comfortable quarters ;
they would hardly have had such accommodations in any other
ship. They were treated as if they were a valuable cargo ; a
huge stove stood in the middle of their sleeping-room.

This space of six feet square contained incalculable wealth. " Page 23.


Dr. Clawbonny was very enthusiastic about it ; he took posses-
sion of his cabin on the 6th of February, the day after the ship
was launched.

" The happiest animal in the world," he used to say, " would
be a snail who could make himself just such a shell as he
wanted ; I shall try to be an intelligent snail."

And, in fact, for a shell which he was not going to leave for
some time, his cabin presented a very comfortable appearance ;
the doctor took a scientific or childlike pleasure in arranging his
scientific paraphernalia. His books, his specimens, his cases, his
instruments, his physical apparatus, his thermometers, barome-
ters, field-glasses, compasses, sextants, charts, drawings, phials,
powder, and medicine-bottles, all were classified in a way which
would have done honor to the British Museum. This space of
six feet square contained incalculable wealth ; the doctor needed
only to stretch out his hand without rising, to become at once
a physician, a mathematician, an astronomer, a geographer, a
botanist, or a conchologist.

To tell the truth, he was proud of his arrangements, and very
contented in his floating sanctum, which three of his thinnest friends
would have completely filled. They used to crowd there in great
numbers, so that even so good-natured a man as the doctor was
occasionally put out ; and, like Socrates, he came at last to say,

" My house is small, but may Heaven grant that it never be
filled with friends ! "

To complete our account of the Forward, it is only necessary
to add that a kennel for the huge Danish dog was built just
beneath the window of the closed cabin ; but he preferred to keep
himself between decks and in the hold ; it seemed impossible to
tame him ; no one ever conquered his shyness ; he could be heard,
at night especially, howling dismally in the ship's hold.

Was it because he missed his master 1 Had he an instinctive
dread of the dangers of the voyage *? Had he a presentiment of
the coming perils % The sailors were sure that he had, and more
than one said the same in jest, who in his heart regarded the dog
as a sort of diabolic animal.

Pen, a very brivEal man, one day, while trying to kick him,



slipped, and fell on the corner of the capstan in such a way that
he cut his head badly. It is easy to see how the sailors put all
the blame upon the dog.

Clifton, who was the most superstitious
man in the crew, made, one day, the strange
observation that the dog, when on the poop,
would always walk on the windward side ;
and afterwards, when the brig was at sea and
under sail, this singular animal would shift
his position to the other side after every tack,
so as to be windward, as the captain of the
Forward would have done.

Dr. Clawbonny, who by his gentleness and
^'^^' caresses would have almost tamed the heart

of a tiger, tried in vain to make friends with the dog; he met
with no success.

The dog, too, did not answer to any of the usual names of his
kind. So the men used to call him "Cap-
tain," for he seemed perfectly familiar with
all the ways on shipboard. He had evidently
been to sea before.

It is hence easy to understand the boat-
swain's answer to Clifton's friend, and how
this idea found but few sceptics ; more than
CLIFTON. ^^^ would repeat it jestingly, who was fully

prepared to see the dog, some fine day, take human shape, and
with a loud voice assume command.

If Richard Shandon did not share such apprehensions, he was
far from being undisturbed, and on the eve of departing, on the
night of April 5th, he was talking on this subject with the doctor.
Wall, and Johnson, in the mess-room.

These four persons were sipping their tenth grog, which was
probably their last, too ; for, in accordance with the letter from
Aberdeen, all the crew, from the captain to the stoker, were tee-
totalers, never touching beer, wine, nor spirits, except in case of
sickness, and by the advice of the doctor.

For an hour past they had been talking about their departure.


If the captain's instructions were to be completely carried out,
Shaudon would the next day receive a letter containing his last

"If that letter," said the mate, "doesn't tell me the captain's
name, it must at least tell us whither we are bound. If not, in
what direction shall we sail 1 "

" Upon my word," answered the impatient doctor, " if I were
in your place, Shandon, I should set sail even without getting a
letter ; one will come after us, you may be sure."

" You have a great deal of faith. Doctor. But, if you please, to
what part of the world would you sail 1 "

" Towards the North Pole, of course ; there can be no doubt
about that."

" No doubt indeed !" said Wall. " Why not towards the South
Pole 1 "

" the South Pole ! Never ! " cried the doctor. " Would the
captain ever have thought of sending a brig across the whole
Atlantic Ocean % Just think for a moment, my dear Wall."

" The doctor has an answer for everything," was his only reply.

" Granted it 's northward," resumed Shandon. " But tell me,
Doctor, is it to Spitzbergen, Greenland, or Labrador that we have
to sail, or to Hudson's Bay*? If all these routes come to the
same end at last, the impassable ice, there is still a great
number of them, and I should find it very hard to choose between
them. Have any definite answer to that. Doctor 1 "

" No," answered the doctor, annoyed that he had nothing to
say ; " but if you get no letter, what shall you do 1 "

" I shall do nothing ; I shall wait."

" You won't set sail ! " cried Clawbonny, twirling his glass in
his despair.

" No, certainly not."

" That 's the best course," said Johnson, mildly ; while the doc-
tor walked around the table, being unable to sit quiet any longer.
" Yes, that 's the best course ; and still, too long a delay might
have very disastrous consequences. In the first place, the season
is a good one, and if it 's north we are going, we ought to take
advantage of the mild weather to get through Davis Straits;


besides, the crew will get more and more impatient ; the friends
and companions of the men are urging them to leave the For-
ward, and they might succeed in playing us a very bad turn."

'And then, too," said James Wall, "if
any panic should arise among the men,
every one would desert us ; and I don't
know, Commander, how you could get to-
gether another crew."

" But what is to be done ? " cried Shan-

"What you said," answered the doctor:
" wait ; but wait till to-morrow before you
despair. The captain's promises have all
been fulfilled so far with such regularity that we may have the
best hopes for the future ; there 's no reason to think that we
shall not be told of our destination at the proper time. As for
me, I don't doubt in the least that to-morrow we shall be sailing
in the Irish Sea. So, my friends, I propose one last drink to a
happy voyage ; it begins in a mysterious way, but, with such
sailors as you, there are a thousand chances of its ending well."
And they all touched their glasses for the last time.
" Now, Commander," resumed Johnson, " I have one piece of
advice to give you, and that is, to make everything ready for sail-
ing. Let the crew think you are certain of what you are about.
To-morrow, whether a letter comes or not, set sail; don't start
your fires ; the wind promises to hold ; nothing will be easier than
to get off; take a pilot on board ; at the ebb of the tide leave the
docks ; then anchor beyond Birkenhead Point ; the crew will have
no more communication with the land ; and if this devilish letter
does come at last, it can find us there as well as anywhere."

" Well said, Johnson ! " exclaimed the doctor, reaching out his
band to the old sailor.

" That 's what we shall do," answered Shandon.
Each one then withdrew to his cabin, and took what sleep he
could get till morning.

The next day the first distribution of letters took place in the
city, but there was none for Commander Richard Shandon.

The news spread immediately throughout the city, and a great concourse of
spectators thronged the piers." Page 27.


Nevertheless he made his preparations for departure ; the news
spread immediately throughout the city, and, as we have seen,
a great concourse of spectators thronged the piers of the New
Prince's Docks.

A great many people came on board the brig, some to bid a
friend good by, or to urge him to leave the ship, or to gaze at
this strange vessel ; others to ascertain the object of the voyage ;
and there were many murmurs at the unusual silence of the com-

For that he had his reasons.

Ten o'clock struck. Eleven, The tide was to turn at half past
twelve. Shandon, from the upper deck, gazed with anxious eyes
at the crowd, trying in vain to read on some one's face the secret
of his fate. But in vain. The sailors of the Forward obeyed his
orders in silence, keeping their eyes fixed upon him, ever await-
ing some information which he did not give.

Johnson was finishing the preparations for setting sail. The
day was overcast, and the sea, outside of the docks, rather high ;
a stiff southwest breeze was blowing, but they could easily leave
the Mersey.

At twelve o'clock still nothing. Dr. Clawbonny walked up and
down uneasily, looking about, gesticulating, and " impatient for
the sea," as he said. In spite of all he could do, he felt excited.
Shandon bit his lips till the blood came.

At this moment Johnson came up to him and said,

" Commander, if we are going to take this tide, we must lose
no time ; it will be a good hour before we can get off from the

Shandon cast one last glance about him, and looked at his

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Online LibraryJules VerneAt the north pole, or, The adventures of Captain Hatteras → online text (page 2 of 17)