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

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pair of water-proof boots.

As for Captain, he seemed contented with his fur ; he appeared
indifferent to the changes of temperature, as if he were thor-
oughly accustomed to such a life ; and besides, a Danish dog was
unlikely to be very tender. The men seldom laid eyes on him,
for he generally kept himself concealed in the darkest parts of the

Towards evening, through a rift in the fog, the coast of Green-
land could be seen m

longitude 37 2' 1".
Through his glass the
doctor was able to
distinguish mountains
separated by huge gla-
ciers ; but the fog soon
cut out this view, like
the curtain of a thea-
tre falling at the most
interesting part of a

On the morning of the 20th of April, the Forward found itself
in sight of an iceberg one hundred and fifty feet high, aground in
this place from time immemorial ; the thaws have had no effect
upon it, and leave its strange shape unaltered. Snow saw it ; in
1829 James Ross took an exact drawing of it; and in 1851 the


French lieutenant, Bellot, on board of the Prince Albert^ ob-
served it. Naturally the ' doctor wanted to preserve a memorial
of the famous mountain, and he made a very successful sketch
of it.

It is not strange that such masses should run aground, and in
consequence become immovably fixed to the spot ; as for every
foot above the surface of the water they have nearly two be-
neath, which would give to this one a total height of about four
hundred feet.

At last with a temperature at noon as low as 12, under a
snowy, misty skyj they sighted Cape Farewell. The Forward
arrived at the appointed day ; the unknown captain, if he cared
to assume his place in such gloomy weather, would have no need
to complain.

" Then," said the doctor to himself, " there is this famous cape,
with its appropriate name ! Many have passed it, as we do, who
were destined never to see it again ! Is it an eternal farewell
to one's friends in Europe^ You have all passed it, Frobisher,
Knight, Barlow, Vaughan, Scroggs, Barentz, Hudson, Blosseville,
Franklin, Crozier, Bellot, destined never to return home ; and for
you this cape was well named Cape Farewell ! "

It was towards the year 970 that voyagers, setting out from
Iceland, discovered Greenland. Sebastian Cabot, in 1498, went
as high as latitude 56 ; Gaspard and Michel Cotreal, from 1500
to 1502, reached latitude G0 ; and in 1576 Martin Frobisher
reached the inlet which bears his name.

To John Davis belongs the honor of having discovered the
strait, in 1585 ; and two years later in a third voyage this hardy
sailor, this great whaler, reached the sixty-third parallel, twenty-
seven degrees from the Pole.

Barentz in 1596, Weymouth in 1602, James Hall in, 1605 and
1607, Hudson, whose name was given to the large bay which
runs so far back into the continent of America, James Poole in
1611, went more or less far into the straits, seeking the North-
west Passage, the discovery of which would have greatly short-
ened the route between the two worlds.

Baffin, in 1616, found in the bay of that name Lancaster


Sound; he was followed in 1619 by James Monk, and in 1719
by Knight, Barlow, Vaughan, and Scroggs, who were never heard
of again.

In 1776, Lieutenant. Pickersgill, sent to meet Captain Cook,
who tried to make his way through Behring Strait, reached
latitude 68 ; the next year. Young, on the same errand, went as
far as Woman's Island.

Then came James Boss, who in 1818 sailed all around the
shores of Baffin's Bay, and corrected the errors on the charts of
his predecessors.

Finally, in 1819 and 1820, the famous Parry made his way
into Lancaster Sound. In spite of numberless difficulties he
reached Melville Island, and won the prize of five thousand
pounds offered by act of Parliament to the English sailors who
should cross the meridian at a latitude higher than the seventy-
seventh parallel.

In 1826, Beechey touched at Chamisso Island ; James Ross
wintered, from 1829 to 1833, in Prince Regent's Inlet, and, among
other important services, discovered the magnetic pole.

During this time Franklin, by a land-journey, defined the
northern coast of America, from Mackenzie River to Turnagain
Point ; Captain Back followed the same route from 1823 to 1835 ;
and these explorations were completed in 1839 by Dease, Simpson,
and Dr. Rae.

At last, Sir John Franklin, anxious to discover the Northwest
Passage, left England in 1 845, with the Erebus and the Terror ;
he entered Baffin's Bay, and since his leaving Disco Island there
has been no news of his expedition.

His disappearance started numerous search-expeditions, which
have effected the discovery of the passage, and given the world
definite information about the rugged coasts of the polar lands.
The boldest sailors of England, France, and the United States
hastened to these terrible latitudes ; and, thanks to their ex-
ertions, the tortuous, complicated map of these regions has at
last been placed in the archives of the Royal Geographical Society
of London.

The strange history of these lands crowded on the imagination



of the doctor, as he stood leaning on the rail, and gazing on the
long track of the brig. The names of those bold sailors thronged
into his memory, and it seemed to him that beneath the frozen
arches of the ice he could see the pale ghosts of those who never



During that day the Forward made easy progress through the
loose ice ; the })reeze was in a good quarter, but the temperature
was very low ; the wind coming across the ice-fields was thor-
oughly chilled.

At night the strictest care was necessary ; the icebergs crowded
together in this narrow passage ; often they could be counted by
the hundred on the horizon ; they had been loosened from the
lofty coasts by the incessant beating of the waves and the warmth
of the spring month, and they were floating down to melt away
in the depths of the ocean. Often, too, they came across large
masses of floating wood, which they were obliged to avoid, so



that the crow's-nest was placed in position on the top of the fore-
mast; it consisted of a sort of tub, in which the ice-master,
partly sheltered from the wind, scanned the sea, giving notice of
the ice in sight, and even, if necessary, directing the ship's course.

The nights were short ; since
the 31st of January the sun
had reappeared in refraction,
and was every day rising higher
and higher above the horizon.
But it was hid by the snow,
which, if it did not produce
utter darkness, rendered navi-
gation difficult.

April 21st, Cape Desolation
appeared through the mist ; hard
work was wearying the crew ;
since the brig had entered the
ice, the sailors had had no rest ;
it was now necessary to have
recourse to steam to force a way
through the accumulated masses.
The doctor and Johnson were
talking together on the after-
deck, while Shandon was snatch-
ing a few hours of sleep in his
cabin. Clawbonny was very
fond of talking with the old
sailor, whose numerous voyages
had given him a valuable edu-
cation. The two had made great
friends of one another.

"You see, Dr. Clawbonny,"
said Johnson, "this country is
not like any other ; its name is Greenland, but there are very
few weeks of the year in which it deserves this name."

"But, Johnson," answered the doctor, "who can say whether
in the tenth century this name did not suit it 1 More than one


change of this sort has taken place on the globe, and I should
astonish you much more by saying that, according to Icelandic
chroniclers, two hundred villages flourished on this continent
eight or nine hundred years ago."

" You astonish me so much, Dr. Clawbonny, that I can't be-
lieve you ; for it 's a sterile country."

" Well, sterile as it is, it supports a good many inhabitants,
and among them are some civilized Europeans."

" Without doubt ; at Disco and at Upernavik we shall find
men who are willing to live in such a climate ; but I always sup-
posed they stayed there from necessity, and not because they
liked it."

"I think you are right; still, men get accustomed to every-
thing, and these Greenlanders appear to me better off than the
workingmen of our large cities ; they may be unfortunate, but
they are not miserable. I say unfortunate, but that is not ex-
actly what I mean ; in fact, if they are not quite as comfortable
as those who live in temperate regions, they, nevertheless, are
accustomed to the severity of the climate, and find in it an
enjoyment which we should never imagine."

*' We have to think so, Dr. Clawbonny, because Heaven is just ;
but I have often visited these coasts, and I am always saddened
at the sight of its gloomy loneliness ; the capes, promontories, and
bays ought to have more attractive names, for Cape Farewell and
Cape Desolation are not of a sort to cheer sailors."

" I have often made the same remark," answered the doctor ;
"but these names have a geographical value which is not to be
forgotten ; they describe the adventures of those who gave them ;
along with the names of Davis, Baffin, Hudson, Ross, Parry,
Franklin, Bellot, if I find Cape Desolation, I also find soon Mercy
Bay ; Cape Providence makes up for Port Anxiety, Repulse Bay
brings me to Cape Eden, and after leaving Point Turnagain I
rest in Refuge Bay ; in that way I have under my eyes the whole
succession of dangers, checks, obstacles, successes, despairs, and
victories connected with the great names of my country ; and,
like a series of antique medals, this nomenclature gives me the
whole history of these seas."



" Well reasoned, Doctor ; and may we find more bays of Suc-
cess in our journey than capes of Despair ! "

" I hope so, Johnson ; but, tell me, have the crew got over
their fears % "

" Somewhat, sir ; and yet, to tell the truth, since we entered
these straits, they have begun to be very uneasy about the
unknown captain ; more than one expected to see him appear
at the end of Greenland ; and so far no news of him. Be-
tween ourselves. Doctor, don't you think that is a little
strange ! "

" Yes, Johnson, I do."

"Do you believe the captain exists ? "

" Without any doubt."

" But what reason can he have had for acting in this way % "

" To speak frankly, Johnson, I imagine that he wants to get
the crew so far away that it will be impossible for them to turn
back. Now, if he had appeared on board when we set sail, and

every one had known where we were going, he might have been

"How so r'

" Why, if he wants to try any superhuman enterprise, if he
wants to go where so many have failed, do you think he would
have succeeded in shipping a crew 1 But, once on the way, it is
easy to go so far that to go farther becomes an absolute neces-

" Possibly, Doctor ; I have known more than one bold explorer,
whose name alone would have frightened every one, and who


would have found no one to accompany him on his perilous
expeditions "

" Except me," said the doctor.

"And me," continued Johnson. "I tell you our captain is
probably one of those men. At any rate, we shall know sooner
or later; I suppose that at Upernavik or Melville Bay he will
come quietly on board, and let us know whither he intends to
take the ship."

" Very likely, Johnson ; but the difficulty will be to get to
Melville Bay ; see how thick the ice is about us ! The Forward
can hardly make her way through it. See there, that huge
expanse ! "

" We whalers call that an ice-field, that is to say, an unbroken
surface of ice, the limits of which cannot be seen."

" And what do you call this broken field of long pieces more or
less closely connected ? "

" That is a pack ; if it 's round we call it a patch, and a stream
if it is long."

" And that floating ice ]"

" That is drift-ice ; if a little higher it would be icebergs ;
they are very dangerous to ships, ^_3..==3=s.r^======^=,^^

and they have to be carefully avoided. p
See, down there on the ice-field, that ^^^^^P=
protuberance caused by the pressure ^^^^^p
of the ice ; we call that a hummock ; C
if the base were under water, we gr -

should call it a cake ; we have to
give names to them all to distin-
guish them."

"Ah, it is a strange sight," ex-
claimed the doctor, as he gazed at
the wonders of the northern seas ; " one's imagination is touched
by all these different shapes ! "

" True," answered Johnson, " the ice takes sometimes such
curious shapes; and we men never fail to explain them in our
own way."

" See there, Johnson ; see that singular collection of blocks of



ice ! Would one not say it was a foreign city, an Eastern city with
minarets and mosques in the moonlight % Farther off is a long
row of Gothic arches, which remind us of the chapel of Henry
VI I. , or the Houses of Parliament."

" Everything can be found there ; but those cities or churches
are very dangerous, and we must not go too near them. Some
of those minarets are tottering, and the smallest of them would
crush a ship like the Forward'^

" And yet men have dared to come into these seas under sail
alone ! How could a ship be trusted in such perils without the
aid of steam 1, "

" Still it has been done ; when the wind is unfavorable, and I
have known that happen more than once, it is usual to anchor
to one of these blocks of ice ; we should float more or less around
with them, but we would wait for a fair wind ; it is true that,
travelling in that way, months would be
sometimes wasted where we shall need
only a few days."

" It seems to me," said the doctor,
" that the temperature is falling."

" That would be a pity," answered
Johnson, "for there will have to be a
thaw before these masses separate, and
float away into the Atlantic ; besides, they
are more numerous in Davis Strait, be-
cause the two stretches of land approach
one another between Cape Walsingham
and Holsteinborg ; but above latitude 67
we shall find in May and June more navi-
gable seas."

"Yes; but we must get through this

" We must get through, Doctor ; in

' June and July we should have found the

passage free, as do the whalers ; but our orders were strict ;

we had to be here in April. If I 'm not very much mistaken,

our captain is a sound fellow with an idea firm in his head ; his

" Would oneVnot say it was a foreign city, an Eastern city, with minarets and
mosques in the moonlight ? " Page 50.


only reason for leaving so early was to go far. Whoever survives
will see."

The doctor was right about the falling of the temperature ; at
noon the thermometer stood at 6, and a breeze was blowing from
the northwest, which, while it cleared the sky, aided the current
in accumulating the floating ice in the path of the Forward. It
did not all follow the same course ; often some pieces, and very
high ones, too, floated in the opposite direction under the in-
fluence of a submarine current.

The difficulties of this navigation may be readily understood ;
the engineers had no repose; the engines were controlled from
the bridge by means of levers, which started, stopped, and reversed
them instantly, at the orders of the officer in command. Some-
times it was necessary to hasten forward to enter an opening in
the ice, again to race with a mass of ice which threatened to
block up their only egress, or some piece, suddenly-upsetting,
obliged the brig to back quickly, in order to escape destruction.
This mass of ice, carried and accumulated by the great polar
current, was hurried through the strait, and if the frost should
unite it, it would present an impassable barrier to the Forward.


In these latitudes numberless birds were to be found ; petrels
and contremaitres were flying here and there, with deafening
cries ; there were also many gulls, with their .large heads, short
necks, and small beaks, which were extending their long wings


and braving the snow which the storm was whirling about. This
profusion of winged beings enlivened the scene.

Numerous pieces of wood were drifting along, clashing con-
tinually into one another ; a few' whales with large heads ap-
proached the ship ; but they could not think of chasing them,
although Simpson, the harpooner, earnestly desired it. Towards
evening several seals were seen, which, with their noses just above
the water, were swimming among the great pieces of ice.

On the 22d the temperature was still falling; the Forward
carried a great deal of steam to reach an easier sailing-place ; the
wind blew steadily from the northwest ; the sails were furled.

During Sunday the sailors had little to do. After divine
service, which was read by Shandon, the crew betook themselves
to chasing wild birds, of which they caught a great many. These
birds, prepared according to Dr. Clawbonny's method, were an
agreeable addition to the messes of the officers and crew.

At three o'clock in the afternoon, the Forioard sighted the Kin
of Sael, which lay east one quarter northeast, and the Mount
Sukkertop, southeast one quarter east half-east ; the sea was very
high ; from time to time a dense fog descended suddenly from
the gray sky. Notwithstanding, ^t noon they were able to take
an observation. The ship was found to be in latitude 65 20'
and longitude 54 22'. They would have to go two degrees
farther north before they would find clearer sailing.

During the three following days, the 24th, 25th, and 26th of
April, they had uninterruptedly to fight with the ice ; the man-
agement of the engines became very tedious ; every minute steam
was shut off* or reversed, and escaped from the safety-valve.

In the dense mist their approach to the icebergs could be
known only by the dull roar of the avalanches ; then the vessel
would shift its course at once ; then there was the danger of run-
ning into the masses of frozen fresh water, which were as clear
as crystal and as hard as stone. Richard Shandon used to take
aboard a quantity of this ice every day to supply the ship with
fresh water.

The doctor could not accustom himself to the optical illusions
produced by refraction ; indeed, an iceberg ten or twelve miles



distant used to seem to him to be a small piece of ice close by ;
he tried to get used to this strange phenomenon, in order to be
able by and by to overcome the mistakes of his eyesight.

At last, both by towing the brig along the fields of ice and by
pushing oft' threatening blocks with poles, the crew was thor-
oughly exhausted; and yet, on the 27th of April, the Forward
was still detained on the impassable Polar Circle.



Nevertheless, by taking advantages of such openings as there
were, the Forward succeeded in getting a few minutes farther
north ; but, instead of escaping the enemy, it would soon be
necessary to attack it ; ice-fields of many miles in extent were
drawing together, and as these moving masses often represent a
pressure of ten millions of tons, they were obliged to take every
precaution against being crushed by them. Ice-saws were placed
outside the vessel, where they could be used without delay.


Some of the crew endured their hard toil without a murmur,
but others complained or even refused to obey orders. While
they were putting the saws in place, Garry, Bolton, Pen, and Grip-
per exchanged their diverse opinions as follows.

*' Deuce take it," said Bolton, cheerfully; "I don't know why
it just occurs to me that in Water Street there 's a comfort-
able tavern, where one might be very well off between a glass
of gin and a bottle of porter. Can you see it from here, Grip-
per 1. "

' To tell the truth," answered the sailor who had been ad-
dressed, and who generally pretended to be very sullen, " I must
say I can't see it from here."

" That 's merely your way of talking, Gripper ; it is evident
that, in those snow towns which Dr. Clawbonny is always admir-
ing, there 's no tavern where a poor sailor can moisten his throat
with a drink or two of brandy."

" You may be sure of that, Bolton ; and you might add that
^n board of this ship there 's no way of getting properly refreshed.
A strange idea, sending people into the northern seas, and giving
them nothing to drink ! "

" Well," answered Garry, " have you forgotten, Gripper, what
the doctor said % One must go without spirits if he expects to
escape the scurvy, remain in good health, and sail far."

" I don't care to sail far, Garry ; and I think it 's enough to
have come as far as this, and to try to get through here where
the Devil does n't mean to let us through."

" Well, we sha' n't get through," retorted Pen. " 0, when I
think I have already forgotten how gin tastes ! "

" But," said Bolton, " remember what the doctor said."

" 0," answered Pen, with his rough voice, *' that 's all very well
to say ! I fancy that they are economizing it under the pretext
of saving our health."

" Perhaps that devil Pen is right," said Gripper.

" Come, come ! " replied Bolton, " his nose is too red for that ;
and if a little abstinence should make it a trifle paler. Pen won't
need to be pitied."

" Don't trouble yourself about my nose," was the answer, for


Pen was rather vexed. " My nose does n't need your advice ; it
does n't ask for it ; you 'd better mind your own business."

" Come, don't be angry, Pen ; I did n't think your nose was so
tender. I should be as glad as any one else to have a glass of
whiskey, especially on such a cold day ; but if in the long run it
does more harm than good, why, I 'm very willing to get along
without it."

" You may get along without it," said Warren, the stoker, who
had joined them, " but it 's not everybody on board who gets
along without it."

" What do you mean, Warren 1 " asked Garry, looking at him

" I mean that for one purpose or another there is liquor aboard,
and I fancy that aft they don't get on without it."

" What do you know about it ^ " asked Garry.

Warren could not answer ; he spoke for the sake of speaking.

" You see, Garry," continued Bolton, " that W^arren knows
nothing about it."

" Well," said Pen, " we '11 ask the commander for a ration of
gin ; we deserve it, and we '11 see what he '11 say."

**I advise you not to," said Garry.

" Why not % " cried Pen and Gripper.

" Because the commander will refuse it. You knew what the
conditions were when you shipped ; you ought to think of that

" Besides," said Bolton, who was not averse to taking Garry's
side, for he liked him, " Richard Shandon is not master ; he 's
under orders like the rest of us."

" Whose orders % " asked Pen.

" The captain's."

" Ah, that ridiculous captain's ! " cried Pen. " Don't you
know there 's no more captain than there is tavern on the ice ]
That 's a mean way of refusing politely what we ask for."

"But there is a captain," persisted Bolton; ''and I'll wager
two months' pay that we shall see him before long."

" All right ! " said Pen ; " I should like to give him a piece of
my mind."


" Who 's talking about the captain 1 " said a new speaker.

It was Clifton, who was inclined to be superstitious and en
vious at the same time.

" Is there any news about the captain 1 " he asked.

" No," a single voice answered.

"Well, I expect to find him settled in his cabin some fine
morning, and without any one's knowing how or whence he came

" Nonsense ! " answered Bolton ; " you imagine, Clifton, that
he 's an imp, a hobgoblin such as are seen in the Scotch High-

" Laugh if you want to, Bolton ; that won't alter my opinion.
Every day as I pass the cabin I peep in through the keyhole,
and one of these days I '11 tell you what he looks like, and how
he 's made."

" 0, the devil ! " said Pen ; " he '11 look like everybody else.
And if he wants to lead us where we don't want to go, we '11 let
him know what we think about it."

" All right," said Bolton ; " Pen does n't know him, and wants
to quarrel with him already."

" Who does n't know all about him '? " asked Clifton, with the air
of a man who has the whole story at his tongue's end ; " I should

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Online LibraryJules VerneAt the north pole, or, The adventures of Captain Hatteras → online text (page 4 of 17)