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

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he said to his companion. " Nothing at Cape Farewell ! nothing
at Disco ! nothing at Upernavik ! "

" Tell me in a few days from now, nothing at Melville Bay,
my dear Shandon, and I will salute you as sole captain of the

The boat returned to the brig towards evening, bringing back
the visitors to the shore ; Strong had bought several dozen eider-
duck's eggs, which were twice as large as hen's eggs, and of a
greenish color. It was not much, but it was very refreshing for
a crew accustomed to little but salt meat.

The next day the wind was fair, but yet Shandon did not set
sail; he wanted to wait another day, and, to satisfy his con-
science, to give time for any member of the human race to rejoin
thd Forward ; he even fired off, every hour, the ship's gun, which
re-echoed among the icebergs ; but he only succeeded in frighten-
ing the flocks of molly-mokes* and rotches.* During the night
many rockets were set off; but in vain. He had to give the
order to set sail.

* Sea-birds common in these latitudes.


The 8th of May, at six o'clock in the morning, the Forward,
under her topsails, foresail, and main-top-gallant-sail, soon lost
sight of the station of Upernavik, and hideous long poles on
which were hanging along the shore the seals' entrails and deers'

The wind was southeast, the thermometer stood at 32. The
sun pierced through the fog and the ice melted a little.

The reflection, however, injured the sight of many of the crew.
Wolston, the armorer, Gripper, Clifton, and Bell were attacked by
snow-blindness, which is very common in the spring, and which
totally blinds many of the Esquimaux. The doctor advised all, the
unharmed as well as the suffering, to cover their faces with a green
veil, and he was the first to follow his own recommendation.

The dogs bought by Shandon at Upernavik were rather wild ;
but they soon got used to their new quarters, and Captain showed
no dislike of his new companions ; he seemed to know their ways.
Clifton was not the last to remark that Captain seemed to be
familiar with the dogs of Greenland. And they, always half
starved on shore, ouly thought of making up for it when at sea.

The 9th of May the Forward passed within a few cable-lengths
of the westernmost of the Baffin Islands. The doctor noticed
many rocks between the islands and the mainland which were
what are called crimson cliffs ; they were covered with snow as
red as carmine, which Dr. Kane says is of purely vegetable ori-
gin ; Clawbonny wanted to examine this singular phenomenon,
but the ice forbade their approaching them ; although the tem-
perature was rising, it was easy to see that the icebergs and ice-
streams were accumulating toward the north of Baffin's Bay.

After leaving Upernavik the land presented a different appear-
ance, and huge glaciers were sharply defined against the gray
horizon. On the 10th the Forward left on its right Kingston
Bay, near the seventy-fourth degree of latitude ; Lancaster Sound
opened into the sea many hundred miles to the west.

But then this vast expanse of water was hidden beneath enor-
mous fields of ice, in which arose the hummocks, uniform as
a homogeneous crystallization. Shandon had the furnace-fires
lighted, and until the 11th of May the Forward advanced by a



tortuous course, tracing with her smoke against the sky the path
she was following through the water.

But new obstacles soon presented themselves; the passages
were closing in consequence of the incessant crowding of the
floating masses ; every moment threatened to close up the clear
water before the Forivard, and if she were nipped, it would be hard
to get her out. Every one knew it and was thinking about it.

Hence, on board of this ship without any definite aim, any
known destination, which was blindly pushing on northward,
some symptoms of hesitation began to appear ; among these men
accustomed to dangers, many, forgetting the advantages which
were promised them, regretted having ventured so far. A certain
demoralization became common, which was further increased by
the fears of Clifton and the talk of two or three ringleaders,
such as Pen, Gripper, Warren, and Wolston.

Exhausting fatigue was added to the moral disquiet of the
crew, for, on the 12th of May, the brig was caught fast; the
steam was of no avail. A path had to be cut through the ice.
It was no easy task to manage the saws in the floes which were
six or seven feet thick ; when two parallel grooves had divided
the ice for a hundred feet, it was necessary to break the part that


lay between with axes and bars ; next they had to fasten anchors
in a hole made by a huge auger ; then the crew would turn the
capstan and haul the ship along by the force of their arms ; the
greatest difficulty consisted in driving the detached pieces be-
neath the floes, so as to give space for the vessel, and they had to
be pushed under by means of long iron-headed poles.

Moreover, this continued toil with saws, capstan, and poles, all
of which was persistent, compulsory, and dangerous, amid the
dense fog or snow, while the air was so cold, and their eyes so
exposed, their doubt so great, did much to weaken the crew of
the Forward and to act on their imagination.

When sailors have to deal with a man who is energetic, bold,
and determined, who knows what he wants, whither he is going,
what aim he has in view, confidence animates them all in spite
of themselves ; they are firmly united to their leader, strong with
his force and calm with his calmness. But on board of the brig
they were aware of the commander's uncertainty, they knew that
he hesitated before the unknown aim and destination. In spite
of the energy of his character, his uncertainty was clearly to be
seen by his uncertain orders, incomplete manoeuvres, his sudden
outbursts, and a thousand petty details which could not escape
the sharp eyes of the crew.

And then, Shandon was not the captain of the ship, the master
under God, which was enough to encourage the discussion of his
orders ; and from discussion to disobedience is but a short step.

The malcontents soon brought over to their number the first
engineer, who, hitherto, had been a slave to his duty.

The 16th of May, six days after thd Forward had reached the
ice, Shandon had not made two miles to northward. They were
'- threatened with being detained in the ice until the next season.
Matters had a serious look.

Towards eight o'clock of the evening, Shandon and the doctor,

accompanied by Garry, went out to reconnoitre the vast plains ;

they took care not to go too far from the ship, for it was hard

to find any fixed points in this white solitude, which was ever

changing in appearance. Refraction kept producing strange

efi'ects, much to the doctor's astonishment; at one place, where


he thought he had but an easy jump before him, he had to leap
some five or six feet ; or else the contrary happened, and in either
case the result was a tumble, which if not dangerous was at any
rate painful, for the ice was as hard and slippery as glass.

Shandon and his two companions went out to seek a possible
passage ; three miles from the ship, they succeeded with some
difficulty in ascending an iceberg about three hundred feet high.
From that point nothing met their eyes but a confused mass, like
the ruins of a vast city, with shattered monuments, overthrown
towers, and prostrate palaces, a real chaos. The sun was just
peering above the jagged horizon, and sent forth long, oblique
rays of light, but not of heat, as if something impassable for heat
lay between it and this wild country.

The sea appeared perfectly covered as far as eye could

"How shall we get through'?" asked the doctor.

" I don't know," answered Shandon ; " but we shall get through,
if we have to blow our way through with powder. I certainly
sha' n't stay in the ice till next spring."

" But that happened to the Fox, and not far from here. Bah ! "
said the doctor ; " we shall get through with a little philosophy.
You will see that is worth all the machinery in the world."


" I must say," answered Shandon, '* this year does not begin
very well."

" True, Shandon, and I notice also that Baffin's Bay seems to
be returning to the state it was in before 1817."

" Don't you think, Doctor, it has always been as it is now 1 "

" No, my dear Shandon, from time to time there have been
great breakings of the ice which no one can explain ; so, up to
1817 this sea was continually full, when an enormous sort of
inundation took place, which cast the icebergs into the ocean,
most of which reached the banks of Newfoundland. From that
day Baffin's Bay was nearly free, and was visited by whalers."

" So," asked Shandon, " from that time voyages to the North
became easier ] "

" Incomparably ; but for some years it has been noticed that
the bay seems to be resuming its old ways and threatens to be-
come closed, possibly for a long time, to sailors. An additional
reason, by the way, for pushing on as far as possible. And yet it
must be said, we look like people who are pushing on in unknown
ways, with the doors forever closing behind us."

" Would you advise me to go back 1 " asked Shandon, trying to
read into the depths of the doctor's eyes.

" I ! I have never retreated yet, and, even if we should never
get back, I say go on. Still, I want to make it clear that if we
act imprudently, we do it with our eyes open."

" And you, Garry, what do you think about it 1 " asked Shan-
don of the sailor.

"I, Commander, should go straight on; I agree with Dr.
Clawbonny; but do as you please; command, we shall obey."

" They don't all talk as you do, Garry," resumed Shandon ;
" they are not all ready to obey. And if they refuse to obey my
orders % "

" I have given you my opinion, Commander," answered Garry,
coldly, "because you asked for it; but you are not obliged to
follow it."

Shandon did not answer ; he scanned the horizon closely, and
then descended with his companions to the ice-fields.



THE devil's thumb.

During the commander's absence the men had been variously
busied in attempts to relieve the ship from the pressure of the
ice. Pen, Clifton, Bolton, Gripper, and Simpson had this in
charge ; the fireman and the two engineers came to the aid of their
Comrades, for, as soon as the engines did not require their atten-
tion, they became sailors, and as such could be employed in all
that was going on aboard the ship.

But there was a great deal of discontent among them.

" I declare I 've had enough," said Pen ; " and if we are not
free in three days, I swear I sha' n't stir a finger to get the ship

" Not stir a finger ! " answered Plover ; " you 'd better use them
in getting back. Do you think we want to stay here till next
year ? "

" It certainly would be a hard winter," said Pen, " for we are
exposed on all sides."

"And who knows," said Brunton, "whether next spring the
sea will be any freer than it is now % "

" Never mind about next spring," answered Pen ; " to-day is
Thursday ; if the way is not clear Sunday morning, we shall turn
back to the south."

" Good ! " cried Clifton.

" Don't you agree with me ^ " asked Pen.

" We do," cried his companions.

" That 's so," said Warren ; " for if we have to work in this
way and haul the ship along with our own arms, I think it would
be as well to haul her backwards."

" We shall do that on Sunday," said Wolston.

" Only give me the order," resumed Brunton, " and my fires
shall be lighted."


" Well," remarked Clifton, " we shall light them ourselves."

" If any officer," said Pen, " is anxious to spend the winter
here, he can ; we can leave him here contentedly ] he '11 find it
easy to build a hut like the Esquimaux."

"Not at all, Pen," retorted Brunton, quickly; "we ?W n't
abandon any one here ; do you understand that, all of you % I
think it won't be hard to persuade the commander; he seems to
me to be very much discouraged, and if we propose it to him
gently "

"But," interrupted Plover, "Richard Shandon is often very
obstinate ; we shall have to sound him cautiously."

"When I think," said Bolton, with a sigh of longing, "that in
a month we might be back in Liverpool ! We can easily pa s
the line of ice at the south ! Davis Strait will be open by the
beginning of June, and then we shall have nothing but the free
Atlantic before us."

" Besides," said the cautious Clifton, "if we take the com-
mander back with us, and act under his commands, we shall have
earned our pay ; but if we go back without him, it 's not so

" True," said Plover ; " Clifton talks sense. Let 's try not to
get into any trouble with the Admiralty, that 's safer, and don't
let us leave any one behind."

" But if they refuse to come with us % " continued Pen, who
wished to compel his companions to stand by him.

They found it hard to answer the question thus squarely put

" We shall see about that when the time comes," replied Bol-
ton ; " it will be enough to bring Richard Shandon over to our
side, and I fancy that won't be hard."

" There 's one I shall leave here," exclaimed Pen with fierce
oaths, " even if he should bite my arm off."

" 0, the dog ! " said Plover.

" Yes, that dog ! I shall soon settle accounts with him."

" So much the better," retorted Clifton, returning to his favor-
ite theory ; " he is the cause of all our troubles."

" He has thrown an evil spell upon us," said Plover.


" He led us into the ice," remarked Gripper.

" He brought more ice in our way," said Wolston, " than was
ever seen at this season."

" He made my eyes sore," said Brunton.

" He shut off the gin and brandy," cried Pen.

" He 's the cause of everything," they all exclaimed excitedly.

" And then," added Clifton, " he 's the captain."

" Well, you unlucky Captain," cried Pen, whose unreasonable
fury grew with the sound of his own words, " you wanted to come
here, and here you shall stay ! "

" But how shall we get hold of him 1 " said Plover.

" Well, now is a good time," answered Clifton. " The com-
mander is away ; the second mate is asleep in his cabin ; the fog
is so thick that Johnson can't see us "

"But the dog r' said Pen.

" He 's asleep in the coal," answered Clifton, "and if any one
wants "

" I '11 see to it," replied Pen, angrily.

" Take care. Pen ; his teeth would go through a bar of iron."

" If he stirs, I '11 rip him open," answered Pen, drawing his

And he ran down between decks, followed by Warren, who was
anxious to help him.

Soon they both returned, carrying the dog in their arms ; his
mouth and paws were securely tied ; they had caught him asleep,
and the poor dog could not escape them.

" Hurrah for Pen ! " cried Plover.

"And what are you going to do with him now?" asked

" Drown him, and if he ever comes back " answered Pen
with a smile of satisfaction.

Two hundred feet from the vessel there was a hole in the ice,
a sort of circular crevasse, made by the seals with their teeth,
and always dug out from the inside to the outside ; it was there
that the seals used to come to breathe on the surface of the ice ;
but they were compelled to take care to prevent the aperture
from closing, for the shape of their jaws did not permit them to


make the hole from the outside, and in any danger they would
not be able to escape from their enemies.

Pen and Warren hastened to this crevasse, and then, in spite
of his obstinate struggles, the dog was pitilessly cast into the
sea ; a huge cake of ice they then rolled over the aperture, clos-
ing all means of escape for the poor dog, thus locked in a watery

" A pleasant journey. Captain ! " cried the brutal sailor.

Soon they returned on board ; Johnson had seen nothing of it
all ; the fog was growing thick about the ship, and the snow was
beginning to fall with violence.

An hour later, Richard Shandon, the doctor, and Garry re-
gained the Forward.

Shandon had observed in the northeast a passage, which he
determined to try. He gave his orders to that effect ; the crew
obeyed with a certain activity ; they wanted to convince Shandon
of the impossibility of a farther advance, and besides, they bad
before them three days of obedience.

During a part of the following night and day the saw-
ing and towing went on busily ; the Forward made about
two miles of progress. On the 18th they were in sight of land,



five or six cable-lengths from a strange peak, to which its singular
shape had given the name of the Devil's Thumb.

At this very place the Prince Albert, in 1851, the Advance,
with Kane, in 1853, had been caught in the ice for many weeks.

The odd shape of the Devil's Thumb, the barren and desolate
surroundings, which consisted of huge icebergs often more than
three hundred feet high, the cracking of the ice, repeated in-
definitely by the echo, made the position of the Forward a very
gloomy one. Shandon saw that it was necessary to get away
from there ; within twenty-four hours, he calculated he would
be able to get two miles from the spot. But that was not enough.
Shandon felt himself embarrassed by fear, and the false position
in which he was placed benumbed his energy ; to obey his in-
structions in order to advance, he had brought his ship into a
dangerous position ; the towing wore out his men ; more than
three hours were necessary to cut a canal twenty feet in length
through ice which was generally four or five feet thick ; the health
of the crew gave signs of failing. Shandon was astonished at the
silence of the men, and their unaccustomed obedience ; but he
feared it was only the calm that foreboded a storm.

We can, then, easily judge of the painful surprise, disappoint-


merit, and even despair which seized upon him, when he noticed
that by means of an imperceptible movement in the ice, the For-
ward lost in the night of the 18th all that had been gained by
such toilsome efforts ; on Saturday morning he was opposite the
Devil's Thumb, in a still more critical position ;' the icebergs in-
creased in number and passed by in the mist like phantoms.

Shandon was thoroughly demoralized ; it must be said that fear
seized both this bold man and all his crew. Shandon had heard
of the disappearance of the dog; but he did not dare to punish
the guilty persons ; he feared exciting a mutiny.

The weather during that day was horrible ; the snow, caught
up in dense whirls, covered the brig with an impenetrable veil ;
at times, under the influence of the hurricane, the fog would rise,
and their terror-stricken eyes beheld the Devil's Thumb rising on
the shore like a spectre.

The Forward was anchored to a large piece of ice ; there was
nothing to be done, nothing to be tried ; darkness was spreading
about them, and the man at the helm could not see James Wall,
who was on watch forward.

Shandon withdrew to his cabin, a prey to perpetual disquiet ;
the doctor was arranging his notes of the expedition ; some of the
crew were on the deck, others in the common room.

At a moment when the violence of the storm was redoubling,
the Devil's Thumb seemed to rise immoderately from the mist.

" Great God ! " exclaimed Simpson, recoiling with terror.

" What 's the matter 1 " asked Foker.

Soon shouts were heard on all sides.

" It 's going to crush us ! "

" We are lost ! "

"Mr. Wall, Mr. Wall! '

'' It 's all over ! "

" Commander, Commander ! "

All these cries were uttered by the men on watch.

Wall hastened to the after-deck; Shandon, followed by the
doctor, flew to the deck and looked out.

Through a rift in the mist, the Devil's Thumb appeared to
have suddenly come near the brig ; it seemed to have grown euor-




mously in size ; on its summit was balanced a second cone, up-
side down, and revolving on its point ; it threatened to crush the

ship with its enormous
mass ; it wavered,
ready to fall down. It
was an alarming sight.
Every one drew back in-
stinctively, and many
of the men, jumping
upon the ice, aban-
doned the ship.

" Let no one move ! "
cried the commander
with a loud voice ;
"every one to his

"My friends, don't
be frightened," said
the doctor, "there is
no danger ! See, Com-
mander, see, Mr. Wall,
that 's the mirage and
nothing else."

" You are right. Dr.
Clawbonny," replied Johnson; "they 've all been frightened by a

When they had heard what the doctor said, most of the sailors
drew near him, and from terror they turned to admiration of this
wonderful phenomenon, which soon passed from their view.

"They call that a mirage," said Clifton; "the Devil 's at the
bottom of it, I 'm sure."

" That 's true," growled Gripper.

But the break in the fog had given the commander a glimpse
of a broad passage which he had not expected to find ; it prom-
ised to lead him away from the shore ; he resolved to make use
of it at once ; men were sent out on each side of the canal ; haw-
sers were given them, and they began to tow the ship northward.

"A strange animal was bounding along within a cable's length from the ship."
Page 8s.


During long hours this work was prosecuted busily but silent-
ly; Shandon had the furnace-fires lighted to help him through
this passage so providentially discovered.

" That 's great luck," he said to Johnson, " and if we can only
get on a few miles, we may be free. Make a hot fire, Mr. Brun-
ton, and let me know as soon as you get steam on. Mean-
while, men, the farther on we get, the more gained ! You want
to get away from the Devil's Thumb ; well, now is your chance ! "

Suddenly the brig stopped. " What 's the matter 1 " shouted
Shandon. " Wall, have the tow-ropes broken 1 "

"No," answered Wall, leaning over the ratling. "See, there
are the men running back ; they are climbing on board ; they
seem very much frightened."

" What 's happened 1 " cried Shandon, running forward.

"On board, on board !" cried the sailors, evidently exceedingly

Shandon looked towards the north, and shuddered in spite of

A strange animal, with alarming motions, whose steaming
tongue hung from huge jaws, was bounding along within a cable's
length from the ship ; it seemed more than twenty feet high ; its
hair stood on end ; it was chasing the sailors as if about to seize
them, while its tail, which was at least ten feet long, lashed the
snow and tossed it about in dense gusts. The sight of the mon-
ster froze the blood in the veins of the boldest.

." It 's an enormous bear," said one.

" It 's the beast of G6vaudan ! "

" It 's the lion of the Apocalypse ! "

Shandon ran to his cabin to get a gun which he kept always
loaded ; the doctor seized his arms, and made ready to fire at the
beast, which by its size, recalled antediluvian monsters.

It drew near with long leaps ; Shandon and the doctor fired at
the same time, and suddenly the report of the pieces agitated
the air and produced an unlooked-for eifect.

The doctor gazed attentively, and could not help bursting out
laughing. " It 's refraction ! " said he.

" Refraction ! " cried Shandon.


But a terrible cry from the crew interrupted them.

" The dog ! " shouted CHfton.

" The dog-captain ! " repeated his companions.

" It 's he ! " cried Pen.

In fact, it was the dog who had burst his bonds and had made
his way to the surface of the ice through another hole. At that
moment the refraction, by a phenomenon common in these lati-
tudes, exaggerated his size, and this had only been broken by the
report of the guns ; but, notwithstanding, a disastrous impression
had been produced upon the minds of the sailors, who were not
very much inclined to admit any explanation of the fact from
physical causes. The adventure of the Devil's Thumb, the reap-
pearance of the dog under such peculiar circumstances, completely
upset them, and murmurs arose on all sides.



The Forward was advancing rapidly under steam between the
ice-fields and the mountains of ice. Johnson was at the helm.
Shandon was examining the horizon with his snow-spectalces ;

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Online LibraryJules VerneAt the north pole, or, The adventures of Captain Hatteras → online text (page 6 of 17)