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

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like to know who does n't."

" What do you mean 1 " asked Gripper.

" I know very well what I mean."

*' But we don't."

" Well, Pen has already had trouble with him."

" With the captain T'

" Yes, the dog-captain ; for it 's the same thing precisely."

The sailors gazed at one another, incapable of replying.

" Dog or man," muttered Pen, between his teeth, " I '11 bet
he '11 get his account settled one of these days."

" Why, Clifton," asked Bolton, seriously, " do you imagine, as
Johnson said in joke, that that dog is the real captain ] "

" Certainly, I do," answered Clifton, with some warmth ; " and
if you had watched him as carefully as I have, you 'd have noticed
his strange ways."



" What ways 1 Tell us."

" Have n't you noticed the way he walks up and down the
poop-deck as if he commanded the ship, keeping his eye on the
sails as i^ he were on watch 1"

" That 's so," said Gripper ; " and one evening I found him with
his paws on the wheel."

" Impossible ! " said Bolton.

" And then," continued Clifton, " does n't he run out at night
on the ice-fields without caring for the bears or the cold "? "

" That 's true," said Bolton.

" Did you ever see him making up to the men like an honest
dog, or hanging around the kitchen, and following the cook when
he 's carrying a savory dish to the officers 1 Have n't you all
heard him at night, when he 's run two or three miles away from


the vessel, howling so that he makes your blood run cold, and
that 's not easy in weather like this ? Did you ever seen him eat
anything'? He never takes a morsel from any one; he never
touches the food that 's given him, and, unless some onfe on board
feeds him secretly, I can say he lives without eating. Now, if
that 's not strange, I 'm no better than a beast myself."

" Upon my word," answered Bell, the carpenter, who had heard
all of Clifton's speech, *' it may be so."

But all the other sailors were silent.

" Well, as for me," continued Clifton, " I can say that if you
don't believe, there are wiser people on board who don't seem so

" Do you mean the mate % " asked Bolton.

" Yes, the mate and the doctor."

" Do you think they fancy the same thing ? "

" I have heard them talking about it, and they could make no
more out of it than we can ; they imagined a thousand things
which did not satisfy them in the least."

" Did they say the same things about the dog that you did,
Clifton ? " asked the carpenter.

" If they were not talking about the dog," answered Clifton,
who was fairly cornered, "they were talking about the captain;
it 's exactly the same thing, and they confessed it was all very

" Well, my friends," said Bell, " do you want to hear my
opinion 1 "

"What is it ! " they all cried.

" It is that there is not, and there will not be, any other cap-
tain than Richard Shandon."

" And the letter 1 " said Clifton. ^

" The letter was genuine," answered Bell ; " it is perfectly true
that some unknown person has equipped the Forward for an
expedition in the ice ; but the ship once off, no one will come on

"Well," asked Bolton, " where is the ship going to T'

" I don't know ; at the right time, Richard Shandon will get
the rest of the instructions."


" But from whom % "

" From whom 1 "

" Yes, in what way 1 " asked Bolton, who was becoming per-

" Come, Bell, an answer," said the other sailors.

" From whom 1 in what way % 0, I 'm sure I don't know ! "
, " Well, from the dog ! " cried Clifton. " He has already written
once, and he can again. 0, if I only knew half as much as he
does, I might be First Lord of the Admiralty ! "

" So," added Bolton, in conclusion, " you persist in saying that
dog is the captain "? "

"Yes, I do."

" Well," said Pen, gruffly, " if that beast doesn't want to die in
a dog's skin, he 'd better hurry and turn into a man ; for, on my
word, I '11 finish him."

" Why so % " asked Garry.

" Because I want to," answered Pen, brutally ; " and I don't
care what any one says."

" You have been talking long enough, men," shouted the boat-
swain, advancing at the moment when the conversation threat-
ened to become dangerous ; " to work, and have the saws put in
quicker ! We must get through the ice."

" Good ! on Friday too," answered Clifton, shrugging his
shoulders. " You won't find it so easy to cross the Polar Circle."

Whatever the reason may have been, the exertions of the
crew on that day were nearly fruitless. The Forward, plunging,
under a full head of steam, against the floes, could not separate
them ; they were obliged to lie at anchor that night.

On Saturday, the temperature fell still lower under the influ-
ence of an east-wind ; the sky cleared up, and they all had a
wide view over the white expense, which shone brilliantly beneath
the bright rays of the sun. At seven o'clock in the morning, the
thermometer stood at 8 above zero.

The doctor was tempted to remain quietly in his cabin, or
read over the accounts of arctic journeys ; but he asked himself,
following his usual habit, what would be the most disagreeable
thing he could do at that moment. He thought that to go on



deck on such a cold day and help the men would not be attrac-
tive. So, faithful to his line of conduct, he left his well- warmed
cabin, and went out to help tow the ship. He looked strange
with his green glasses, which he wore to protect his eyes against
the brilliancy of the sun, and after that he
always took good care to wear snow-spectacles
as a security against the inflammation of the
eyes, which is so common in these latitudes.

By evening the Forward had got several
miles farther north, thanks to the energy of
the men and the intelligence of Shandon,
who was quick at utilizing every favorable
circumstance ; at midnight they crossed the sixty-sixth parallel,
and the lead announcing a depth of twenty-three fathoms, Shan-
don knew that he was in the neighborhood of the shoal on
which her Majesty's ship Victory grounded. Land lay thirty
miles to the east.

But then the mass of ice, which had hitherto been stationary,
separated, and began to move ; icebergs seemed to rise in all
points of the horizon ; the brig was caught in a number of whirl-
pools of irresistible force ; controlling her became so hard, that


Garry, the best steersman, took the helm ; the masses began to
close behind the brig, hence it was necessary to cut through the
ice; both prudence and duty commanded them to go forward.
The difficulties were enhanced by the impossibility of Shandon's
fixing the direction of the brig. among all the changing points,
which were continually shifting and presenting no definite point
to be aimed at.

The crew were divided into two forces, and one stationed on
the starboard, the other on the larboard side; every man was
given a long iron-headed pole, with which to ward off threatening
pieces of ice. Soon the Forward entered such a narrow passage
between two lofty pieces, that the ends of the yards touched its
solid walls ; gradually it penetrated farther into a winding valley
filled with a whirlwind of snow, while the floating ice was crash-
ing ominously all about.

But soon it was evident that there was no outlet to this
gorge ; a huge block, caught in the channel, was floating swiftly
down to the Forward; it seemed impossible to escape it, and
equally impossible to return through an already closed path.

Shandon and Johnson, standing on the forward deck, were
viewing their position. Shandon with his right hand signalled to
the man at the wheel what direction he was to take, "and with
his left hand he indicated to James Wall the orders for the

" What will be the end of this % " asked the doctor of Johnson.

" What pleases God," answered the boatswain.

The block of ice, eight hundred feet high, was hardly more
than a cable's length from the Forivard, and threatened to crush

Pen broke out with a fearful oath.

"Silence !" cried a voice which it was impossible to recognize,
in the roar of the hurricane.

The mass appeared to be falling upon the brig, and there was
an indefinable moment of terror ; the men, dropping their poles,
ran aft in spite of Shandon's orders.

Suddenly, a terrible noise was heard ; a real water-spout fell
on the deck of the brig, which was lifted in the air by a huge


wave. The crew uttered a cry of terror, while Garry, still firm at
the wheel, kept the course of the Forward steady, in spite of the
fearful lurch.

And when they looked for the mountain of ice, it had disap-
peared j the passage was free, and beyond, a long channel, lit up
by the sun, allowed the brig to continue her advance.

"Well, Dr. Clawbonny," said Johnson, "can you explain

" It 's very simple, my friend," answered the doctor. " It hap-
pens very often; when these floating masses get detached in a
thaw, they float away in perfect equilibrium; but as they get
towards the south, where the water is relatively warmer, their
base, eaten away by running into other pieces, begins to melt,
and be undermined ; then comes a moment when the centre of
gravity is displaced, and they turn upside down. Only, if this
had happened two minutes later, it would have fallen on the brig
and crushed us beneath it."





The Polar Circle was crossed at last ; on the 30th of April, at
midday, the Forward passed by Holsteinborg ; picturesque moun-
tains arose in the east. The sea appeared almost free of ice, or,
more exactly, the ice could be avoided. The wind was from the
southeast, and the brig, under foresail, staysail, and topsails,
sailed up Baffin's Bay.

That day was exceptionally calm and the crew was able to get
some rest ; numerous birds were swimming and flying about the
ship ; among others, the doctor noticed some wild birds which
were very like teal, with black neck, wings, and back, and a white
breast; they were continually diving, and often remained more
than forty seconds under water.

This day would not
have been marked by
any new incident, if the
following extraordinary
fact had not taken place.

At six o'clock in the
morning, on returning to
his cabin after his watch
was over, Richard Shandon found on his table a letter, addressed
as follows :

To Commander Richard Shandon,

On board the Forward,

Baffin's Bay.

Shandon could not believe his eyes ; but before reading it, he
summoned the doctor, James Wall, and the boatswain, and showed
them the letter.

"It's getting interesting," said Johnson.

" It 's delightful," thought the doctor.


" Well," cried Shandon, " at last we shall know his secret."
He toie open the envelope rapidly, and read the follow-
ing :

Commander : The captain of the Forward is satisfied with the
coolness, skill, and courage which the crew, officers, and you, yourself,
have shown of late ; he begs of you to express his thanks to the crew.

Be good enough to sail due north towards Melville Bay, and thence
try to penetrate into Smith's Sound.

K. Z.,

Captain of the Forward.
Monday, April 30, Off Cape Walsingham.

" And is that all 1 " cried the doctor.

" That 's all," answered Shandon.

The letter fell from his hands.

" Well," said Wall, " this imaginary captain says nothing about
coming on board. I don't believe he ever will."

" But how did this letter get here 1 " asked Johnson.

Shandon was silent,

" Mr. Wall is right," answered the doctor, who had picked up
the letter, and who was turning it over with hands as well as in
his mind. " The captain won't come on board, and for an excel-
lent reason."

" What is it 1 " asked Shandon, quickly. .

" Because he 's on board now," answered the doctor, simply.

" Now ! " exclaimed Shandon, " what do you mean 1 "

" How else can you explain the arrival of this letter 1 "

Johnson nodded approvingly.

" Impossible ! " said Shandon, warmly. " I know all the men
in the crew ; can he have smuggled himself into their number
since we leftl It 's impossible, I tell you. For more than two
years I 've seen every one of them more than a hundred times in
Liverpool ; so your conjecture, Doctor, is untenable."

" Well, what do you admit, Shandon 1 "

" Everything, except that. I admit that the captain or some
tool of his, for all I know, may have taken advantage of the dark-
ness, the mist, or whatever you please, to slip on board ; we are
not far from shore ; there are the kayaks of the Esquimaux which


could get through the ice without our seeing them ; so some one
may have come on board the ship, left the letter, the fog was
thick enough to make this possible."

" And to prevent them from seeing the brig," answered the
doctor ; " if we did n't see the intruder slip aboard the Forward^
how could he see the Forward in the fog % "

" That 's true," said Johnson.

"So I return to my explanation," said the doctor; "what do
you think of it, Shandon ] "

** Whatever you please," answered Shandon, hotly, "except that
the man is on board."

" Perhaps," added Wall, "there is some man in the crew who
is acting under his instructions."

" Perhaps," said the doctor.

"But who can it beT' asked Shandon. "I've known all my
men for a long time."

" At any rate," resumed Johnson, " if this captain presents
himself, whether as man or devil, we shall receive him ; but
there 's something else to be drawn from this letter."

" What is that 1 " asked Shandon.

"It is that we must go not only into Melville Bay, but also
into Smith's Sound."

" You are right," said the doctor.

" Smith's Sound," repeated Shandon, mechanically.

"So it 's very plain," continued Johnson, "that the Forward is
not intended to seek the Northwest Passage, since we leave to the
left, the only way towards it, that is to say, Lancaster Sound.
This would seem to promise a difficult journey in unknown seas."

"Yes, Smith's Sound," replied Shandon; "that's the route
Kane, the American, took in 1853, and it was full of dangers.
For a long time he was given up for lost. Well, if we must go,
we '11 go. But how far % To the Pole 1 "

" And why not % " cried the doctor.

The mention of such a foolhardy attempt made the boatswain
shrug his shoulders.

" Well," said James Wall, " to come back to the captain, if he
exists. I don't see that there are any places on the coast of


Greenland except Disco and Upernavik, where he can be waiting
for us ; in a few days that question will be settled."

"But," asked the doctor of Shandon, "are you not going to
tell the crew about this letter 1"

" With the commander's permission," answered Johnson, " I
should not do so."

"And why nofJ" asked Shandon.

" Because everything mysterious and extraordinary tends to
discourage the men ; they are already very much troubled, as it
is, about the nature of the journey. Now, if any supernatural
circumstances should become known, it might be harmful, and
perhaps at a critical moment we should not be able to count on
them. What do you think, Commander 1 "

" And what do you think. Doctor 1 " asked Shandon.

" Boatswain Johnson seems to me to reason well," answered
the doctor.

" And you, James % "

" Having no better opinion^ I agree with these gentlemen."

Shandon reflected for a few minutes ; he reread the letter

" Gentlemen," said he, "your opinion is certainly worthy of
respect, but I cannot adopt it."

" Why not, Shandon 1 " asked the doctor.

" Because the instructions in this letter are formal ; it tells me
to give the captain's thanks to the crew ; now, hitherto I have
strictly obeyed his orders, in whatever way they have been given
to me, and I cannot "

" Still " interposed Johnson, who had a warrantable dread
of the effect of such communications on the men's spirits.

" My dear Johnson," said Shandon, " I understand your objec-
tion ; your reasons are very good, but read that :

" He begs of you to express his thanks to the crew."

" Do as he bids," replied Johnson, who was always a strict dis-
ciplinarian. " Shall I assemble the crew on deck % "

" Yes," answered Shandon.

The news of a message from the captain was immediately
whispered throughoift the ship. The sailors took their station



without delay, and the commander read aloud the mysterious

It was received with dead silence ; the crew separated under
the influence of a thousand suppositions ; Clifton had plenty of
material for any superstitious vagaries ; a great deal was ascribed
by him to the dog-captain, and he never failed to salute him
every time he met him.

"Did n't I tell you," he used to say to the sailors, "that he
knew how to write % "

No one made any answer, and even Bell, the carpenter, would
have found it hard to reply.

Nevertheless, it was plain to every one, that if the captain was
not on board, his shade or spirit was watching them ; henceforth,
the wisest kept their opinions to themselves.

At midday of May 1st, their observation showed them that they
were in latitude 68 and longitude 56 32'. The temperature
had risen, the thermometer standing at 25 above zero.


!e their way to shore.
The doctor amused himself wit' children, all Esquimaux, re-
she-bear and two cubs on son^a doctor, who was the philologist
companied by Wall and Sim'iish to establish friendly relations ;
canoe ; but she was in a ver^ ter of the party as well as ice-mas-
her young, so that the doctords of the language of the Green-



During the night a favorable breeze carried them well to the
north, and soon the lofty mountains of Disco were peering
above the horizon ; Godharn Bay, where the governor of the Da-
nish settlements lived, was left on the right. Shandon did not
consider it necessary to land, and he soon passed by the canoes of
the Esquimaux, who had put out to meet him.

The island of Disco is also called Whale Island ; it is from here
that, on the 12th of July, 1845, Sir John Franklin wrote to the
Admiralty for the last time, and it was also here that Captain

MacClintock stopped
on his way back, bring-
ing too sure proofs of
the loss of that expe-

This coincidence was
not unknown to the
doctor; the place was
one of sad memories,
but soon the heights
of Disco were lost to

There were many
icebergs on its shores,
which no tliaws ever melt away; this gives the island a singular
appearance from the sea.

The next day, at about three o'clock, Sanderson's Hope appeared
in the northeast ; land lay about fifteen miles to starboard ; the
mountains appeared of a dusky red hue. During the evening
many fin-backs were seen playing in the ice, and occasionally

-.,.11 ; your rea.. . .^^ ^^ ^^^ ^^^^ ^^^ ^^^^^^ ^^^ ^^^ ^^^^

" He begs of you to o.- , . .^, ^ , , . . -,

\ , n M ,. 'i horizon without setting : since Janu-
" Do as he bids, replied ^^, , j ,

, T , ;^tting longer every day, and now

ciplinarian. '' Shall I assemble ^ ^ j j'

" Yes," answered Shandon. j . -j. .-l- a.- c

' - ed to it, this continuance ot

The news of a message from . , c

, rPrise, and even of weariness ;

whispered throughout the sh.p. 1 ^^^ ^^^^^^^^ ^^^^^ ^.^^^^ .^



for the eyes ; the doctor actually suffered from the continual bril-
liancy, which was increased by the reflection from the ice.

May 5th the Forward passed the sixty-second parallel. Two
months later they would have met numerous whalers in these
latitudes ; but the straits were not yet free enough to allow easy
ingress into Baffin's Bay.

The next day, the brig, after passing Woman's Island, came in
sight of Upernavik, the northernmost station of Denmark in
these lands.



Shandon, Dr. Clawbonny, Johnson, Foker, and Strong, the
cook, got into one of the boats and made their way to shore.

The Governor, his wife and five children, all Esquimaux, re-
ceived their visitors kindly. The doctor, who was the philologist
of the party, knew enough Danish to establish friendly relations ;
moreover, Foker, the interpreter of the party as well as ice-mas-
ter, knew a dozen or two words of the language of the Green-



landers, and with that number of words one can express a great
deal, if he is not too ambitious.

The Governor was born on the island of Disco, and he has
never left the place ; he did the honors of his capital, which con-
sisted of three wooden houses, for himself and the Lutheran min-
ister, of a school, and

shops which were sup-
plied by what was cast
upon the shore from
wrecked ships. The
rest of the town con-
sisted of snow huts,
into which the Esqui-
maux crawl through a
single opening.

A gi-eat part of the
population came out
to meet the Forward^
and more than one of
them went as far as
the middle of the bay
in his kayak, fifteen
feet long and two
broad at the widest

The doctor knew
that the word Esquimaux meant "eater of raw fish"; but he
knew too that this name is considered an insult in this country,
so he forbore giving it to the inhabitants of Greenland.

And yet, from the oily sealskin clothes and boots, from their
squat, fat figures, which make it hard to distinguish the men
from the women, it was easy to declare the nature of their food ;
besides, like all fish-eating people, they were somewhat troubled
by leprosy, but their general health was not impaired by it.

The Lutheran minister and his wife, with whom the doctor had
promised himself an interesting talk, happened to be away on the
shore of Proven, south of Upernavik ; hence he was compelled to

Fortunately the opening of these huts was too small, and the enthusiastic doctor
could not get through." Page 71.


seek the company of the Governor. The chief magistrate did not
appear to be very well informed : a little less, he would have been
a fool ; a little more, and he would have known how to read.

In spite of that, the doctor questioned him about the com-
merce, habits, and manners of the Esquimaux ; and he learned, by
means of gestures, that the seals were worth about forty pounds
when delivered at Copenhagen ; a bear-skin brought forty Danish
dollars, the skin of a blue fox four, and of a white fox two or
three dollars.

In order to make his knowledge complete, the doctor wanted
to visit an Esquimaux hut ; a man who seeks information is capa-
ble of enduring anything ; fortunately the opening of these huts
was too small, and the enthusiastic doctor could not get through.
It was fortunate for him, for there is nothing more repulsive than
the sight of that crowd of living and dead objects, of seal's bodies
and Esquimaux-flesh, decayed fish and unclean clothing, which
fill a Greenland hut ; there is no window to renew that suffocating
air ; there is only a hole at the top of the cabin which lets the
smoke out, but gives no relief to the stench.

Foker gave all these details to the doctor, but he none the less
bewailed his portliness. He wanted to judge for himself these
emanations sui generis.

" I am sure," said he, " that one could get used to it in time."
In time shows clearlv the doctor's character.


During these ethnographic studies on his part, Shandon was
busying himself, according to his instructions, with procuring
means of travel on the ice ; he was obliged to pay four pounds
for a sledge and six dogs, and the natives were reluctant to sell
even at this price.

Shandon would have liked to engage Hans Christian, the skil-
ful driver of the dogs, who accompanied Captain MacClintock,
but Hans was then in Southern Greenland.

Then came up the great question of the day; was there at
Upemavik a European awaiting the arrival of the Forward ? Did
the Governor know of any stranger, probably an Englishman, who
had come into these latitudes 1 How recently had they seen any
whalers or other ships 1

To these questions the Governor answered that no stranger had
landed on that part of the coast for more than ten months.

Shandon asked the names of the whalers which had last ar-
rived ; he recognized none. He was in despair.

" You must confess. Doctor, that it passes all comprehension,"

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Online LibraryJules VerneAt the north pole, or, The adventures of Captain Hatteras → online text (page 5 of 17)