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

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watch. It was after the time of the midday distribution of

" Cast off ! " he said to his boatswain.

" All ashore who are going ! " cried the latter, ordering the
spectators to leave the deck of the Forward.

Thereupon the crowd, began to move toward the gangway and
make its way on to the quay, while the crew began to cast oflf the
last mooring^s.



At once the inevitable confusion of the crowd, which was
pushed about without much ceremony by the sailors, was in-
creased by the barking of the dog. He suddenly sprang from the
forecastle right through the mass of visitors, barking sullenly.

All made way for him. He sprang on the poop-deck, and, in-
credible as it may seem, yet, as a thousand witnesses can testify,
this dog-captain carried a letter in his mouth.

" A letter ! " cried Shandon ; " but is he on board 1 "

" He was, without doubt, but he 's not now," answered Johnson,
showing the deck cleared of the crowd.

" Here, Captain ! Captain ! " shouted the doctor, trying to take
the letter from the dog, who kept springing away from him.. He
seemed to want to give the letter to Shandon himself.

" Here, Captain ! " he said.

The dog went up to him ; Shandon took the letter without
difficulty, and then Captain barked sharply three times, amid the
profound silence which prevailed on board the ship and along the

Shandon held the letter in his hand, without opening it.

" Read it, read it ! " cried the doctor. Shandon looked at it.
The address, without date or place; ran simply, " Commander
Richard Shandon, on board the brig Forward^


Shandon opened the letter and read :

You will sail towards Cape Farewell. You will reach it April 20.
If the captain does not appear on board, you will pass through Davis
Strait and go up Baffin's Bay as far as Melville Sound.

K. Z.,
Captain of the Forward.

Shandon folded carefully this brief letter, put it in his pocket,
and trave the order to cast off. His voice, which arose alone above
the roaring of the wind, sounded very solemn.

Soon the Forward had left the docks, and under the care of a
pilot, whose boat followed at a distance, put out into the stream.
The crowd hastened to the outer quay by the Victoria Docks to
get a last look at the strange vessel. The two topsails, the fore-
sail, and staysail were soon set, and under this canvas the For-
ivard, which well deserved its name, after rounding Birkenhead
Point, sailed away into the Irish Sea.



The wind, which was uncertain, although in general favorable,
Tvas blowing in genuine April squalls. The Forward sailed rapidly,
and its screw, as yet unused, did not delay its progress. Towards
three o'clock they met the steamer which plies between Liverpool
arid the Isle of Man, and which carries the three legs of Sicily on
its paddle-boxes. Her captain hailed them, and this was the last
good-by to the crew^ of the Forward.

At five o'clock the pilot resigned the charge of the ship to
Richard Shandon, and sailed away in his boat, which soon disap-
peared from sight in the southwest.

Towards evening the brig doubled the Calf of Man, at the
southern extremity of the island of that name. During the night
the sea wais very high ; the Forward rode the waves very well,



however, and leaving the Point of Ayr on the northwest, she ran
towards the North Channel.

Johnson was right; once at sea the sailors readily adapted
themselves instinctively to the situation. They saw the excel-
lence of their vessel and forgot the strangeness of their situation.
The ship's routine was soon regularly established.

The doctor inhaled with pleasure the sea-air ; he paced up and
down the deck in spite of the fresh wind, and showed that for a
student he had very good sea-legs.

" The sea is a fine thing," he said to Johnson, as he went upon
the bridge after breakfast; "I am a little late in making its
acquaintance, but I shall make up for my delay."

"You are right, Dr. Clawbonny ; I would give all the land in
the world for a bit of ocean. People say that sailors soon get
tired of their business ; but I 've been sailing for forty years, and
I like it as well as I did the first day."

" What a pleasure it is to feel a stanch ship under one's feet !
and, if I 'm not mistaken, the Forivard is a capital sea-boat."

" You are right, Doctor," answered Shandon, who had joined the
two speakers ; " she 's a good ship, and I must say that there was
never a ship so well equipped for a voyage in the polar regions.

' Towards evening the brig doubled the Calf of Man." Page 29.



That reminds me that, thirty years ago, Captain James Ross,
going to seek the Northwest Passage "

" Commanded the Victory" said the doctor, quickly, " a brig of
about the tonnage of this one, and also carrying machinery."

" What ! did you know that 1 "

"Say for yourself," retorted the doctor. " Steamers were then
new inventions, and the machinery of the Victory was continually
delaying him. Captain Ross, after in vain trying to patch up
every piece, at last took it all out and left it at the first place he
wintered at."

" The deuce ! " said Shandon. " You know all about it, I see."

" More or less," answered the doctor. " In my reading 1 have
come across the works of Parry, Ross, Franklin ; the reports of
MacClure, Kennedy, Kane, MacClintock ; and some of it has stuck
in my memory. I might add that MacClintock, on board of the
Fox, a propeller like ours, succeeded in making his way more
easily and more directly than all his successors."

" That 's perfectly true," answered Shandon ; " that MacClintock
is a good sailor ; I have seen him at sea. You might also say that
we shall be, like him, in Davis Strait in the month of April ; and
if we can get through the ice our voyage will be very much ad-

" Unless," said the doctor, " we should be as unlucky as the
Fox in 1857, and should be caught the first year by the ice in the
north of Baffin's Bay, and we should have to winter among the

" We must hope to be luckier, Mr. Shandon," said Johnson ;
" and if, with a ship like the Forward, we can't go where we
please, the attempt must be given up forever."

" Besides," continued the doctor, " if the captain is on board he
will know better than we what is to be done, and so much the
better because we are perfectly ignorant ; for his singularly brief
letter gives us no clew to the probable aim of the voyage."

*' It 's a great deal," answered Shandon, with some warmth, " to
know w^hat route we have to take ; and now for a good month, I
fancy, we shall be able to get along without his supernatural inter-
vention and orders. Besides, you know what I think about him."


"Ha, ha!" laughed the doctor; *' I used to think as you did,
that he was going to leave the command of the ship in your
hands, and that he would never come on board ; but "

" But what 1 " asked Shandon, with some ill-humor.

" But since the arrival of the second letter, I have altered my
views somewhat."

'* And why so, doctor ? "

'' Because, although this letter does tell you in which direc-
tion to go, it still does not inform you of the final aim of the voy-
age ; and we have yet to know whither we are to go. I ask you
now can a third letter reach us now that we are on the open
sea. The postal service on the shore of Greenland is very defec-
tive. You see, Shandon, I fancy that he is waiting for us at some
Danish settlement up there, at Holsteinborg or Upernavik.
We shall find that he has been completing the supply of seal-
skins, buying sledges and dogs, in a word, providing all the
equipment for a journej in the arctic seas. So I shall not be in
the least surprised to see him coming out of his cabin some fine
morning and taking command in the least supernatural way in
the world."

''Possibly," answered Shandon, dryly; "but meanwhile the
wind 's freshening, and there 's no use risking our topsails in
such weather."

Shandon left the doctor, and ordered the topsails furled.

" He still clings to that idea," said the doctor to the boatswain.

" Yes," was the answer, " and it 's a pity; for you may very well
be right, Dr. Clawbonny."

Towards the evening of Saturday the Forward rounded the
Mull of Galloway, on which the light could be seen in the north-
east. During the night they left the Mull of Cantire to the north,
and on the east Fair Head, on the Irish coast. Towards three
o'clock in the morning, the brig, passing Rathlin Island on its star-
board quarter, came out from the North Channel into the ocean.

That was Sunday, April 8. The English, and especially sail-
ors, are very observant of that day ; hence the reading of the
Bible, of which the doctor gladly took charge, occupied a good
part of the morning.



The wind rose to a gale, and threatened to drive the ship back
upon the Irish coast. The waves ran verj high ; the vessel rolled
a great deal. If the doctor was not sea-sick, it was because he
was determined not to be, for nothing would have been easier. At

midday Malin Head disappeared from their view in the south ; it
was the last sight these bold sailors were to have of Europe, and
more than one gazed at it for a long time who was doubtless fated
never to set eyes on it again.

By observation the latitude then was 55 57', and the longi-
tude, according to the chronometer, 7 40'.*

The gale abated towards nine o'clock of the evening ; the For-
ward, a good sailer, kept on its route to the northwest. That

* Meridian of Greenwich.



day gave them all a good opportuuitj to judge of her sea-going
qualities ; as good judges had already said at Liverpool, she was
well adapted for carrying sail.

During the following days, the Forward
made very good progress ; the wind veered
to the south, and the sea ran high. The
brig set every sail. A few petrels and
puffins flew about the poop-deck ; the
doctor succeeded in shooting one of the
latter, which fortunately fell on board.

Simpson, the harpooner, seized it and
carried it to the doctor.
" It 's an ugly bird, Dr. Clawbonny," he said.
" But then it will make a good meal, my friend."

" What, are you going to eat it ? "

"And you shall have a taste of it," said the doctor, laughing.
" Never ! " answered Simpson ;
" it 's strong and oily, like all sea-

" True," said the doctor ; " but I
have a way of dressing such game,
and if you recognize it to be a sea-
bird, I '11 promise never to kill an-
other in all my life."

*' So you are a cook, too, Dr. Claw-
bonny % " asked Johnson.

" A learned man ought to know a
little of everything."

"Then take care, Simpson," said ^^^
the boatswain ; " the doctor is a clever
man, and he '11 make us take this
puffin for a delicious grouse."

In fact, the doctor was in the right
about this bird ; he removed skilfully
the fat which lies beneath the whole
surface of the skin, principally on its
thighs, and with it disappeared all the rancid, fishy odor with which


this bird can be justly charged. Thus prepared, the bird was called
delicious, even by Simpson.

During the recent storm, Richard Shandon had made up his
mind about the qualities of his crew ; he had tested his men one
by one, as every officer should do who wishes to be prepared for
future dangers ; he knew on whom he could rely.

James Wall, who was warmly attached to Richard, was intelli-
gent and efficient, but he had very little originality ; as second
officer he was exactly in his place.

Johnson, who was accustomed to the dangers of the sea,
and an old sailor in arctic regions, lacked neither coolness nor

Simpson, the harpooner, and Bell, the carpenter, were steady
men, obedient and well disciplined. The ice-master, Foker, an
experienced sailor, who had sailed in northern waters, promised
to be of the greatest service.

Of the other men, Garry and Bolton seemed to be the best ;
Bolton was a jolly fellow, always laughing
and joking; Garry, a man about thirty-five
years old, had an energetic, but rather pale
and sad face.

The three sailors, Clifton, Gripper, and
Pen, seemed to be the least enthusiastic and
determined; they were inclined to grum-
bling. Gripper had even wished to break his
engagement when the time came for sailing, and only a feeling
of shame prevented him. If things went well, if they encoun-
tered no excessive dangers, and their toil was not too severe,
these three men could be counted on ; but they were hard to
please with their food, for they were inclined to gluttony. In
spite of their having been forewarned, they were by no means
pleased with being teetotalers, and at their meals they used to
miss their brandy or gin ; but they made up for it with the tea
and coffee which were distributed with a lavish hand.

As for the two engineers, Brunton and Plover, and the stoker,
Warren, they had been so far well satisfied with having nothing
|o do.



Shandon knew therefore what to expect from each man.
On the 14:th of April, the Forward crossed the Gulf Stream,
which, after following the eastern coast of America as far as

Newfoundland, turns to the north-
east and moves towards the shore
of Norwa3\ Thej were then in
latitude 51 37', and longitude 22
37', two hundred miles from the
end of Greenland. The weather
grew colder ; the thermometer fell
to 32, the freezing-point.

The doctor, without yet putting
on his arctic winter dress, was
wearing a suit of sea-clothes, like
all the officers and sailors ; he was
an amusing sight in his high boots,
in which he could not bend his legs, his huge tarpaulin hat, his
trousers and coat of the same material ; in heavy rain, or when
the brig was shipping seas, the doctor used to look like a sort
of sea-monster, a comparison which always flattered him.

For two days the sea was very rough ; the
wind veered to the northwest, and delayed
the Forward. From the 14th to the 16th
of April there was still a high sea running ;
but on Monday there fell a heavy shower
which almost immediately had the effect of
calming the sea. Shandon called the doc-
tor's attention to it.

"Well," said the doctor, "that confirms
the curious observations of the whaler Scores-
by, who was a member of the Royal Society
of Edinburgh, of which I have the honor
to be a corresponding member. You see

that while the rain is falling the waves are hardly to be noticed,
even when the wind is strong. On the other hand, in dry
weather the sea would be rougher even with a gentler wi'' '
" But what is the explanation of it. Doctor % " tj




" It *s very simple ; there is no explanation."

At that moment the ice-master, who ^as on watch in the top-
mast cross-trees, cried out that there was a floating mass on the
starboard quarter, about fifteen miles to windward.

"An iceberg in these'
latitudes ! " cried the

Shandon turned his
glass in that direction,
and corroborated the
lookout's words.

" That 's strange," said
the doctor.

" Are you surprised ] "
asked the commander,
laughing. " What ! are
we lucky enough to find anything that will surprise you 1 "

" I am surprised without being surprised," answered the doc-
tor, smiling, "since the brig Ann Poole, of Greenspond^ was
caught in the ice in the year 1813, in the forty -fourth degree
of north latitude, and Dayement, her captain, saw hundreds of

"Good," said Shandon; "you can still teach us a great deal
about them."

" 0, not so very much ! " answered Clawbonny, modestly, " ex-
cept that ice has been seen in very much lower latitudes."

" That I know, my dear Doctor, for when I was a cabin-boy on
the sloop-of-war. Fly "

"In 1818," continued the doctor, "at the end of March, or it
might have been the beginning of April, you passed between two
large fields of floating ice, in latitude forty-two."

" That is too much ! " exclaimed Shandon.

" But it 's true ; so I have no need to be surprised, now that
we are two degrees farther north, at our sighting an iceberg."

"You are bottled full of information. Doctor," answered the
commander ; " one needs only draw the cork."

"Very well, I shall be exhausted sooner than you think; and


now, Shandon, if we can get a nearer view of this phenomenon, I
should be the gladdest of doctors."

" Exactly, Johnson," said Shandon, summoning the boatswain ;
" I think the wind is freshening."

" Yes, Commander," answered Johnson, " we are making very
little headway, and soon we shall feel the currents from Davis

" You are right, Johnson, and if we mean to make Cape Fare-
well by the 20th of April, we must go under steam, or we shall be
cast on the coast of Labrador. Mr. Wall, give the order to light
the fires."

The mate's orders were obeyed ; an hour later the engines were
in motion ; the sails were furled ; and the screw, turning through
the waves, was driving the Forward rapidly in the teeth of the
northwest wind.



Soon more numerous flocks of birds, petrels, puffins, and others
which inhabit those barren shores, gave token of their approach
to Greenland. The Forward was moving rapidly northward, leav-
ing behind her a long line of dark smoke.

Tuesday, the 17th of April, the ice-master caught the first
sight of the hlink * of the ice. It was visible at least twenty
miles off to the north-northwest. In spite of some tolerably thick
clouds it lighted up brilliantly all the air near the horizon. No
one of those on board who had ever seen this phenomenon be-
fore could fail to recognize it, and they felt assured from its
whiteness that this blink was due to a vast field of ice lying
about thirty miles farther than they could see, and that it came
from the reflection of its luminous rays.

Towards evening the wind shifted to the south, and became
favorable ; Shandon was able to carry sail, and as a measure

* A peculiar and brilliant color of the air above a large expanse of ice.


of economy they extinguished the furnace fires. The Forward
under her topsails, jib, and foresail, sailed on towards Cape

At three o'clock on the 18th they made out an ice-stream,
which, like a narrow but brilliant band, divided the lines of the
water and sky. It was evidently descending rather from the
coast of Greenland than from Davis Strait, for the ice tended
to keep on the western side of Baffin's Bay. An hour later,
and the. Forward was passing through the detached fragments
of the ice-stream, and in the thickest part the pieces of ice,
although closely welded together, were rising and falling with
the waves.

At daybreak the next morning the watch saw a sail ; it was
the Valkyria, a Danish corvette, sailing towards the Forward,
bound to Newfoundland. The current from the strait became
perceptible, and Shandon had to set more sail to overcome it.

At that moment the commander, the doctor, James Wall, and
Johnson were all together on the poop-deck, observing the force
and direction of the current. The doctor asked if it were proved
that this current was felt throughout Baffin's Bay.

"There 's no doubt of it," answered Shandon; "and sailing-
vessels have hard work in making headway against it."

" And it 's so much the harder," added James Wall, " because
it 's met on the eastern coast of America, as well as on the west-
ern coast of Greenland."

" Well," said the doctor, " that serves to confirm those who
seek a Northwest Passage. The current moves at the rate of
about five miles an hour, and it is hard to imagine that it rises at
the bottom of a gulf"

" That is very likely. Doctor," answered Shandon, " because,
while this cuiTent flows from north to south, there is a contrary
current in Behring Strait, which flows from south to north, and
which must be the cause of this one."

" Hence," said the doctor, '' you must admit that America is
completely separated from the polar regions, and that the water
from the Pacific skirts its whole northern coast, until it reaches
the Atlantic. Besides, the greater elevation of the w^ater of the


Pacific is another reason for its flowing towards the European

"But," said Shandon, "there must be some facts which sup-
port this theory ; and if there are," he added with gentle irony,
" our learned friend must be familiar with them."

" Well," answered the latter, complacently, " if it interests you
at all I can tell you that whales, wounded in Davis Strait, have
been found afterwards on the coast of Tartary, still carrying a
European harpoon in their side."

" And unless they doubled Cape Horn, or the Cape of Good
Hope," answered Shandon, "they must have gone around the
northern coast of America. There can be no doubt of that,

" And if you were not convinced, my dear Shandon," said the
doctor, smiling, " I could produce still other evidence, such
as the floating wood with which Davis Strait is filled, larch,
aspen, and other southern kinds. Now we know that the Gulf
Stream could not carry them into the strait ; and if they come
out from it they must have got in through Behring Strait."

" I am perfectly convinced, Doctor, and I must say it would be
hard to maintain the other side against you."

" See there," said Johnson, " there 's something that will throw
light on this discussion. It 's a large piece of wood floating on
the water ; if the commander will give us leave, we can put a rope
about it, hoist it on board, and ask it the name of its country."

"That's the way!" said the doctor; "after the rule we have
the example."

Shandon gave the necessary orders ; the brig was turned to-
wards the piece of wood, and soon the crew were hoisting it
aboard, although not w^ithout considerable trouble.

It was the trimk of a mahogany-tree, eaten to its centre by
worms, which fact alone made it light enough to float.

" This is a real triumph," exclaimed the doctor, enthusiasti-
cally, " for, since the Atlantic currents could not have brought it
into Davis Strait, since it could not have reached the polar wa-
ters from the rivers of North America, as the tree grows under
the equator, it is evident that it must have come direct from



Behring Strait. And besides, see those sea-worms which have
eaten it; they belong to warm latitudes."


"It certainly gives the lie to those who deny the existence of a
Northwest Passage."

"It fairly kills them," answered the doctor. "See here, I'll
give you the route of this mahogany-tree : it was carried to the
Pacific Ocean by some river of the Isthmus of Panama or of
Guatemala; thence the current carried it along the coast of
America as far as Behring Strait, and so it was forced into the
polar waters ; it is neither so old nor so completely water-logged
that we cannot set its departure at some recent date ; it escaped
all the obstacles of the many straits coming into Baffin's Bay,
and being quickly seized by the arctic current it came through
Davis Strait to be hoisted on board the Forward for the great joy
of Dr. Clawbonny, who asks the commander's permission to keep
a piece as a memorial."

"Of course," answered Shandon ; "but let me tell you in my
turn that you will not be the only possessor of such a waif. The
Danish governor of the island of Disco "

"On the coast of Greenland," continued the doctor, "has a
mahogany table, made from a tree found in the same way ; I



know it, my dear Shandon. Very well ; I don't grudge him his
table, for if there were room enough on board, I could easily
make a sleeping-room out of this."

On the night of Wednesday the wind blew with extreme vio-
lence ; drift-wood was frequently seen ; the approach to the coast
became more dangerous at a time when icebergs are numerous ;
hence the commander ordered sail to be shortened, and the For-
ward went on under merely her foresail and forestay-sail.

The thermometer fell below the freezing-point. Shandon dis-
tributed among the crew suitable clothing, woollen trousers and
jackets, flannel shirts, and thick woollen stockings, such as are
worn by Norwegian peasants. Every man received in addition a

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Online LibraryJules VerneAt the north pole, or, The adventures of Captain Hatteras → online text (page 3 of 17)