"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 VII., 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?"
"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, because the two stretches of land approach one another between Cape Walsingham and Holsteinborg; but above latitude 67 degrees we shall find in May and June more navigable seas."
"Yes; but we must get through this first."
"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 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 degrees, 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 influence 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. Sometimes 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 continually into one another; a few whales with large heads approached 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 Forward 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, at noon they were able to take an observation. The ship was found to be in latitude 65 degrees 20 minutes and longitude 54 degrees 22 minutes. 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 management 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 running 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 off threatening blocks with poles, the crew was thoroughly exhausted; and yet, on the 27th of April, the Forward was still detained on the impassable Polar Circle.
CHAPTER VIII. THE TALK OF THE CREW.
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 Gripper 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 comfortable tavern, where one might be very well off between a glass of gin and a bottle of porter. Can you see it from here, Gripper?"
"To tell the truth," answered the sailor who had been addressed, 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 admiring, 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 on 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 doesn't mean to let us through."
"Well, we sha'n't get through," retorted Pen. "O, when I think I have already forgotten how gin tastes!"
"But," said Bolton, "remember what the doctor said."
"O," 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 doesn't need your advice; it doesn't ask for it; you'd better mind your own business."
"Come, don't be angry, Pen; I didn'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?" asked Garry, looking at him intently.
"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 Warren knows nothing about it."
"Well," said Pen, "we'll ask the commander for a ration of gin; we deserve it, and we'll see what he'll 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 now."
"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.
"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?" said a new speaker.
It was Clifton, who was inclined to be superstitious and envious at the same time.
"Is there any news about the captain?" 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 aboard."
"Nonsense!" answered Bolton; "you imagine, Clifton, that he's an imp, a hobgoblin such as are seen in the Scotch Highlands."
"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'll tell you what he looks like, and how he's made."
"O, the devil!" said Pen; "he'll look like everybody else. And if he wants to lead us where we don't want to go, we'll let him know what we think about it."
"All right," said Bolton; "Pen doesn't know him, and wants to quarrel with him already."
"Who doesn'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 like to know who doesn't."
"What do you mean?" asked Gripper.
"I know very well what I mean."
"But we don't."
"Well, Pen has already had trouble with him."
"With the captain?"
"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'll bet he'll 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? Tell us."
"Haven'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 if he were on watch?"
"That's so," said Gripper; "and one evening I found him with his paws on the wheel."
"Impossible!" said Bolton.
"And then," continued Clifton, "doesn'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? Haven'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 one 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 sure."
"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 strange."
"Well, my friends," said Bell, "do you want to hear my opinion?"
"What is it!" they all cried.
"It is that there is not, and there will not be, any other captain than Richard Shandon."
"And the letter?" 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 board."
"Well," asked Bolton, "where is the ship going to?"
"I don't know; at the right time, Richard Shandon will get the rest of the instructions."
"But from whom?"
"Yes, in what way?" asked Bolton, who was becoming persistent.
"Come, Bell, an answer," said the other sailors.
"From whom? in what way? O, I'm sure I don't know!"
"Well, from the dog!" cried Clifton. "He has already written once, and he can again. O, 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'll 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 boatswain, advancing at the moment when the conversation threatened 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 influence 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 degrees 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 attractive. 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, Shandon 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 whirlpools 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 crashing 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 engines.
"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 Forward, and threatened to crush it.
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 disappeared; 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 that?"
"It's very simple, my friend," answered the doctor. "It happens 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."
CHAPTER IX. ANOTHER LETTER.
The Polar Circle was crossed at last; on the 30th of April, at midday, the Forward passed by Holsteinborg; picturesque mountains 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 tore open the envelope rapidly, and read the following:—
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?" 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?" 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 excellent reason."
"What is it?" asked Shandon, quickly.
"Because he's on board now," answered the doctor, simply.
"Now!" exclaimed Shandon, "what do you mean?"
"How else can you explain the arrival of this letter?"
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 left? 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?"
"Everything, except that. I admit that the captain or some tool of his, for all I know, may have taken advantage of the darkness, 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 didn'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 be?" 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?" 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'll go. But how far? To the Pole?"
"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?"
"With the commander's permission," answered Johnson, "I should not do so."
"And why not?" 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?"
"And what do you think, Doctor?" 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 attentively.
"Gentlemen," said he, "your opinion is certainly worthy of respect, but I cannot adopt it."
"Why not, Shandon?" 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 objection; 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 disciplinarian. "Shall I assemble the crew on deck?"
"Yes," answered Shandon.
The news of a message from the captain was immediately whispered throughout the ship. The sailors took their station without delay, and the commander read aloud the mysterious letter.
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.
"Didn'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 degrees and longitude 56 degrees 32 minutes. The temperature had risen, the thermometer standing at 25 degrees above zero.
The doctor amused himself with watching the gambols of a she-bear and two cubs on some pack-ice near the shore. Accompanied by Wall and Simpson, he tried to chase them in a canoe; but she was in a very peaceful mood, and ran away with her young, so that the doctor had to give up his attempt.
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 Danish 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, bringing too sure proofs of the loss of that expedition.
This coincidence was not unknown to the doctor; the place was one of sad memories, but soon the heights of Disco were lost to view.
There were many icebergs on its shores, which no thaws 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 blowing.
It was in the night of May 3d, that the doctor for the first time saw the sun touch the horizon without setting; since January 31st its orbit had been getting longer every day, and now there was unbroken daylight.
For those who were unaccustomed to it, this continuance of the day is a cause of perpetual surprise, and even of weariness; it is difficult to believe how necessary the darkness of the night is for the eyes; the doctor actually suffered from the continual brilliancy, 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.
CHAPTER X. DANGEROUS SAILING.
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, received 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-master, knew a dozen or two words of the language of the Greenlanders, 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 consisted of three wooden houses, for himself and the Lutheran minister, of a school, and shops which were supplied by what was cast upon the shore from wrecked ships. The rest of the town consisted of snow huts, into which the Esquimaux crawl through a single opening.
A great 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 part.
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 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 commerce, 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 capable 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 clearly 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 skilful 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 Upernavik a European awaiting the arrival of the Forward? Did the Governor know of any stranger, probably an Englishman, who had come into these latitudes? How recently had they seen any whalers or other ships?
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 arrived; he recognized none. He was in despair.
"You must confess, Doctor, that it passes all comprehension," 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 Forward."
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 conscience, to give time for any member of the human race to rejoin the Forward; he even fired off, every hour, the ship's gun, which re-echoed among the icebergs; but he only succeeded in frightening 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.
[Footnote 1: 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' stomachs.
The wind was southeast, the thermometer stood at 32 degrees. 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, only 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 origin; Clawbonny wanted to examine this singular phenomenon, but the ice forbade their approaching them; although the temperature 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 appearance, 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 enormous 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 Forward, 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 beneath 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 the 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 effects, 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 reach.
"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?"
"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 become 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?" 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?" asked Shandon 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.
CHAPTER XI. 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 attention, 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 out."
"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'll find it easy to build a hut like the Esquimaux."
"Not at all, Pen," retorted Brunton, quickly; "we sha'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 pass 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 commander 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 sure."
"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 them.
"We shall see about that when the time comes," replied Bolton; "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."
"O, the dog!" said Plover.
"Yes, that dog! I shall soon settle accounts with him."
"So much the better," retorted Clifton, returning to his favorite 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?" said Plover.
"Well, now is a good time," answered Clifton. "The commander is away; the second mate is asleep in his cabin; the fog is so thick that Johnson can't see us—"
"But the dog?" said Pen.
"He's asleep in the coal," answered Clifton, "and if any one wants—"
"I'll see to it," replied Pen, angrily.
"Take care, Pen; his teeth would go through a bar of iron."
"If he stirs, I'll rip him open," answered Pen, drawing his knife.
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 Clifton.
"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, closing all means of escape for the poor dog, thus locked in a watery prison.
"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 regained 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 had before them three days of obedience.
During a part of the following night and day the sawing 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 indefinitely 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 instructions 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, disappointment, and even despair which seized upon him, when he noticed that by means of an imperceptible movement in the ice, the Forward 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 increased 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?" 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!"
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 enormously in size; on its summit was balanced a second cone, upside 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 instinctively, and many of the men, jumping upon the ice, abandoned the ship.
"Let no one move!" cried the commander with a loud voice; "every one to his place!"
"My friends, don't be frightened," said the doctor, "there is no danger! See, Commander, see, Mr. Wall, that's the mirage and nothing else."
"You are right, Dr. Clawbonny," replied Johnson; "they've all been frightened by a shadow."
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 promised 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; hawsers were given them, and they began to tow the ship northward.
During long hours this work was prosecuted busily but silently; 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. Brunton, and let me know as soon as you get steam on. Meanwhile, 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?" shouted Shandon. "Wall, have the tow-ropes broken?"
"No," answered Wall, leaning over the railing. "See, there are the men running back; they are climbing on board; they seem very much frightened."
"What's happened?" cried Shandon, running forward.
"On board, on board!" cried the sailors, evidently exceedingly terrified.
Shandon looked towards the north, and shuddered in spite of himself.
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 monster froze the blood in the veins of the boldest.
"It's an enormous bear," said one.
"It's the beast of Gevaudan!"
"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 effect.
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 Clifton.
"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 latitudes, 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 reappearance of the dog under such peculiar circumstances, completely upset them, and murmurs arose on all sides.
CHAPTER XII. CAPTAIN HATTERAS.
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-spectacles; but his joy was brief, for he soon saw that the passage was blocked up by a circle of mountains.
Nevertheless, he preferred to take his chances with pushing on, to returning.
The dog followed the brig on the ice, but he kept at a respectful distance. Only, if he lagged too far, there was to be heard a singular whistle which at once brought him on.
The first time that this whistle was heard, the sailors looked around; they were alone on the deck, talking together; there was no unknown person there; and yet this whistle was often repeated.
Clifton was the first to take alarm.
"Do you hear that?" he said; "and do you see how the dog starts as soon as he hears it?"
"It's past belief," said Gripper.
"Very well!" cried Pen; "I'm not going any farther."
"Pen is right," said Brunton; "it's tempting Providence."
"Tempting the Devil," answered Clifton. "I should rather give up all my share of the pay than go on."
"We shall never get back," said Bolton, dejectedly.
The crew was exceedingly demoralized.
"Not a foot farther!" cried Wolston; "is that your opinion?"
"Yes, yes!" answered the sailors.
"Well," said Bolton, "let's go find the commander; I'll undertake to tell him."
The sailors in a dense group made their way to the quarter-deck.
The Forward was then advancing into a large arena, which had a diameter of about eight hundred feet; it was completely closed, with the exception of one place through which the ship entered.
Shandon saw that he was locking himself in. But what was to be done? How could he retreat? He felt all the responsibility, and his hand nervously grasped his glass.
The doctor looked on in silence, with folded arms; he gazed at the walls of ice, the average height of which was about three hundred feet. A cloud of fog lay like a dome above the gulf.
Then it was that Bolton spoke to the commander.
"Commander," said he in a broken voice, "we can't go any farther."
"What's that you are saying?" said Shandon, who felt enraged at the slight given to his authority.
"We have come to say, Commander," resumed Bolton, "that we have done enough for this invisible captain, and that we have made up our minds not to go on any farther."
"Made up your minds?" cried Shandon. "Is that the way you talk to me, Bolton? Take care."
"You need not threaten," retorted Pen, brutally, "we are not going any farther."
Shandon stepped towards the mutinous sailors, when the boatswain said to him in a low voice,—
"Commander, if we want to get out of this place, we have not a moment to lose. There's an iceberg crowding towards the entrance; it may prevent our getting out and imprison us here."
Shandon returned to look at the state of affairs.
"You will account for this afterwards," he said to the mutineers. "Now, go about!"
The sailors hastened to their places. The Forward went about rapidly; coal was heaped on the fires; it was necessary to beat the iceberg. There was a race between them; the brig stood towards the south, the berg was drifting northward, threatening to bar the way.
"Put on all the steam, Brunton, do you hear?" said Shandon.
The Forward glided like a bird through the broken ice, which her prow cut through easily; the ship shook with the motion of the screw, and the gauge indicated a full pressure of steam, the deafening roar of which resounded above everything.
"Load the safety-valve!" cried Shandon.
The engineer obeyed at the risk of bursting the boilers.
But these desperate efforts were vain; the iceberg, driven by a submarine current, moved rapidly towards the exit; the brig was still three cable-lengths distant, when the mountain, entering the vacant space like a wedge, joined itself to its companions, and closed the means of escape.
"We are lost!" cried Shandon, who was unable to restrain that unwise speech.
"Lost!" repeated the crew.
"Lower the boats!" cried many.
"To the steward's pantry!" cried Pen and some of his set; "if we must drown, let us drown in gin!"
The wildest confusion raged among these half-wild men. Shandon felt unable to assert his authority; he wanted to give some orders; he hesitated, he stammered; his thoughts could find no words. The doctor walked up and down nervously. Johnson folded his arms stoically, and said not a word.
Suddenly a strong, energetic, commanding voice was heard above the din, uttering these words:—
"Every man to his place! Prepare to go about!"
Johnson shuddered, and, without knowing what he did, turned the wheel rapidly.
It was time; the brig, going under full steam, was about crashing against the walls of its prison.
But while Johnson instinctively obeyed, Shandon, Clawbonny, the crew, all, even down to Warren the fireman, who had abandoned his fires, and Strong the cook, who had fled from his galley, were collected on the deck, and all saw issuing from the cabin, the key of which he alone possessed, a man.
This man was the sailor Garry.
"Sir!" cried Shandon, turning pale, "Garry—by what right do you give orders here?"
"Duke!" said Garry, repeating the whistle which had so surprised the crew.
The dog, on hearing his real name, sprang on the quarter-deck, and lay down quietly at his master's feet.
The crew did not utter a word. The key which the captain alone should possess, the dog which he had sent and which had identified him, so to speak, the tone of command which it was impossible to mistake,—all this had a strong influence on the minds of the sailors, and was enough to establish firmly Garry's authority.
Besides, Garry was hardly to be recognized; he had removed the thick whiskers which had surrounded his face, thereby giving it a more impassible, energetic, and commanding expression; he stood before them clothed in a captain's uniform, which he had had placed in his cabin.
So the crew of the Forward, animated in spite of themselves, shouted,—
"Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah for the captain!"
"Shandon," he said to his first officer, "have the crew put in line; I want to inspect them."
Shandon obeyed, and gave the requisite orders with an agitated voice.
The captain walked in front of the officers and men, saying a word to each, and treating him according to his past conduct.
When he had finished his inspection, he went back to the quarter-deck, and calmly uttered these words:—
"Officers and sailors, I am an Englishman like you all, and my motto is that of Lord Nelson,—'England expects every man to do his duty.'
"As Englishmen, I am unwilling, we are unwilling, that others should go where we have not been. As Englishmen, I shall not endure, we shall not endure, that others should have the glory of going farther north than we. If human foot is ever to reach the Pole, it must be the foot of an Englishman! Here is the flag of our country. I have equipped this ship, I have devoted my fortune to this undertaking, I shall devote to it my life and yours, but this flag shall float over the North Pole. Fear not. You shall receive a thousand pounds sterling for every degree that we get farther north after this day. Now we are at the seventy-second, and there are ninety in all. Figure it out. My name will be proof enough. It means energy and patriotism. I am Captain Hatteras."
"Captain Hatteras!" cried Shandon. And this name, familiar to them all, soon spread among all the crew.
"Now," resumed Hatteras, "let us anchor the brig to the ice; let the fires be put out, and every one return to his usual occupation. Shandon, I want to speak with you about the ship. You will join me in my cabin with the doctor, Wall, and the boatswain. Johnson, dismiss the men."
Hatteras, calm and cold, quietly left the poop-deck, while Shandon had the brig made fast to the ice.
Who was this Hatteras, and why did his name make so deep an impression upon the crew?
John Hatteras, the only son of a London brewer, who died in 1852, worth six million pounds, took to the sea at an early age, unmindful of the large fortune which was to come to him. Not that he had any commercial designs, but a longing for geographical discovery possessed him; he was continually dreaming of setting foot on some spot untrodden of man.
When twenty years old, he had the vigorous constitution of thin, sanguine men; an energetic face, with well-marked lines, a high forehead, rising straight from the eyes, which were handsome but cold, thin lips, indicating a mouth chary of words, medium height, well-knit muscular limbs, indicated a man ready for any experience. Any one who saw him would have called him bold, and any one who heard him would have called him coldly passionate; he was a man who would never retreat, and who would risk the lives of others as coldly as his own. One would hence think twice before following him in his expeditions.
John Hatteras had a great deal of English pride, and it was he who once made this haughty reply to a Frenchman.
The Frenchman said with what he considered politeness, and even kindness,—
"If I were not a Frenchman, I should like to be an Englishman."
"If I were not an Englishman, I should like to be an Englishman!"
That retort points the nature of the man.
He would have liked to reserve for his fellow-countrymen the monopoly of geographical discovery; but much to his chagrin, during previous centuries, they had done but little in the way of discovery.
America was discovered by the Genoese, Christopher Columbus; the East Indies by the Portuguese, Vasco de Gama; China by the Portuguese, Fernao d'Andrada; Terra del Fuego by the Portuguese, Magellan; Canada by the Frenchman, Jacques Cartier; the islands of Sumatra, Java, etc., Labrador, Brazil, the Cape of Good Hope, the Azores, Madeira, Newfoundland, Guinea, Congo, Mexico, White Cape, Greenland, Iceland, the South Pacific Ocean, California, Japan, Cambodia, Peru, Kamschatka, the Philippine Islands, Spitzbergen, Cape Horn, Behring Strait, New Zealand, Van Diemen's Land, New Britain, New Holland, the Louisiana, Island of Jan-Mayen, by Icelanders, Scandinavians, Frenchmen, Russians, Portuguese, Danes, Spaniards, Genoese, and Dutchmen; but no Englishmen figured among them, and it was a constant source of grief to Hatteras to see his fellow-countrymen excluded from the glorious band of sailors who made the great discoveries of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
Hatteras consoled himself somewhat when he considered modern times: the English took their revenge with Stuart, McDougall Stuart, Burke, Wells, King, Gray, in Australia; with Palliser in America; with Havnoan in Syria; with Cyril Graham, Waddington, Cunningham, in India; and with Barth, Burton, Speke, Grant, and Livingstone in Africa.
But this was not enough; for Hatteras these men were rather finishers than discoverers; something better was to be done, so he invented a country in order to have the honor of discovering it.
Now he had noticed that if the English were in a minority with regard to the early discoveries, that if it was necessary to go back to Cook to make sure of New Caledonia in 1774, and of the Sandwich Islands where he was killed in 1778, there was nevertheless one corner of the globe on which they had centred all their efforts.
This was the northern seas and lands of North America.
In fact, the list of polar discoveries runs as follows:—
Nova Zembla, discovered by Willoughby in 1553. Island of Wiegehts, discovered by Barrow in 1556. West Coast of Greenland, discovered by Davis in 1585. Davis Strait, discovered by Davis in 1587. Spitzbergen, discovered by Willoughby in 1596. Hudson's Bay, discovered by Hudson in 1610. Baffin's Bay, discovered by Baffin in 1616.
During recent years Hearne, Mackenzie, John Ross, Parry, Franklin, Richardson, Beechey, James Ross, Back, Dease, Simpson, Rae, Inglefield, Belcher, Austin, Kellet, Moore, MacClure, Kennedy, MacClintock, were incessantly exploring these unknown regions.
The northern coast of America had been accurately made out, the Northwest Passage nearly discovered, but that was not enough; there was something greater to be done, and this John Hatteras had twice tried, fitting out ships at his own expense; he wanted to reach the Pole itself, and thus to crown the list of English discoveries by a glorious success.
To reach the Pole itself was the aim of his life.
After many successful voyages in the southern seas, Hatteras tried for the first time in 1846 to reach the North through Baffin's Bay, but he could get no farther than latitude 74 degrees; he sailed in the sloop Halifax; his crew suffered terribly, and John Hatteras carried his temerity so far that henceforth sailors were averse to undertaking a similar expedition under such a leader.
Notwithstanding, in 1850, Hatteras succeeded in obtaining for the schooner Farewell about twenty determined men, but who were persuaded especially by the high pay offered their boldness. It was then that Dr. Clawbonny began to correspond with John Hatteras, whom he did not know, about accompanying him; but the post of surgeon was filled, fortunately for the doctor.
The Farewell, following the route taken by the Neptune of Aberdeen in 1817, went to the north of Spitzbergen, as far as latitude 76 degrees. There they were obliged to winter; but their sufferings were such, and the cold so intense, that of all on board, Hatteras alone returned to England. He was picked up by a Danish whaler after he had walked more than two hundred miles across the ice.
The excitement produced by the return of this man alone was intense; who, after this, would accompany Hatteras in his bold attempts? Still he did not abandon the hope of trying again. His father, the brewer, died, and he came into possession of an enormous fortune.
Meanwhile something had happened which cut John Hatteras to the heart.
A brig, the Advance, carrying seventeen men, equipped by Mr. Grinnell, a merchant, commanded by Dr. Kane, and sent out in search of Franklin, went as far north, through Baffin's Bay and Smith's Sound, as latitude 82 degrees, nearer to the Pole than any of his predecessors had gone.
Now this was an American ship. Grinnell was an American, Kane was an American!
It is easy to understand how the customary disdain of the Englishman for the Yankee turned to hatred in the heart of Hatteras; he made up his mind, at any price, to beat his bold rival, and to reach the Pole itself.
For two years he lived at Liverpool incognito. He was taken for a sailor. He saw in Richard Shandon the man he wanted; he presented his plans by an anonymous letter to him and to Dr. Clawbonny. The Forward was built and equipped. Hatteras kept his name a secret; otherwise no one would have gone with him. He resolved only to take command of the brig at some critical juncture, and when his crew had gone too far to be able to retreat; he kept in reserve, as we have seen, the power of making generous offers to the men, so that they would follow him to the end of the world.
In fact, it was to the end of the world that he wanted to go.
Now matters looked very serious, and John Hatteras made himself known.
His dog, the faithful Duke, the companion of his expeditions, was the first to recognize him, and fortunately for the bold, and unfortunately for the timid, it was firmly established that the captain of the Forward was John Hatteras.
CHAPTER XIII. THE CAPTAIN'S PLANS.
The appearance of this famous person was variously received by the different members of the crew: some allied themselves strongly with him, moved both by boldness and by avarice; others took renewed interest in the expedition, but they reserved to themselves the right of protesting later; besides, at that time, it was hard to make any resistance to such a man. Hence every man went back to his place. The 20th of May was Sunday, and consequently a day of rest for the crew.
The officers took counsel together in the doctor's cabin; there were present Hatteras, Shandon, Wall, Johnson, and the doctor.
"Gentlemen," said the captain, with his peculiarly gentle but impressive voice, "you know my project of going to the Pole; I want to get your opinion of the undertaking. What do you think about it, Shandon?"
"I have not to think, Captain," answered Shandon, coldly; "I have only to obey."
Hatteras was not surprised at this answer.
"Richard Shandon," he resumed with equal coldness, "I ask your opinion about our probable chance of success."
"Well, Captain," answered Shandon, "facts must answer for me; all attempts hitherto have failed; I hope we may be more fortunate."
"We shall be. And, gentlemen, what do you think?"
"As for me," replied the doctor, "I consider your design practicable, Captain; and since there is no doubt but that at some time or other explorers will reach the Pole, I don't see why we should not do it."
"There are very good reasons why we should," answered Hatteras, "for we have taken measures to make it possible, and we shall profit by the experience of others. And, Shandon, you must accept my thanks for the care you have given to the equipment of the brig; there are some ill-disposed men in the crew, whom I shall soon bring to reason; but on the whole, I can give nothing but praise."
Shandon bowed coldly. His position on the Forward, of which he had thought himself commander, was a false one. Hatteras understood this, and said nothing more about it.
"As for you, gentlemen," he resumed, addressing Wall and Johnson, "I could not myself have chosen officers more skilled and intrepid."
"On my word, Captain, I am your man," answered Johnson; "and although I think your plan a very bold one, you can count on me to the end."
"And on me too," said Wall.
"As for you, Doctor, I know your worth—"
"Well, you know then a great deal more than I do," answered the doctor, quickly.
"Now, gentlemen," said Hatteras, "it is well that you should know on what good grounds I have made up my mind about the accessibility of the Pole. In 1817 the Neptune, of Aberdeen, went to the north of Spitzbergen, as far as latitude 82 degrees. In 1826 the celebrated Parry, after his third voyage in polar seas, started also from the extremity of Spitzbergen, and on sledges went one hundred and fifty miles farther north. In 1852, Captain Inglefield reached, through Smith's Sound, latitude 78 degrees 35 minutes. All these were English ships, and were commanded by Englishmen, our fellow-countrymen."
Here Hatteras paused.
"I ought to add," he resumed with some formality, and as if he could hardly bring himself to utter the words,—"I ought to add that in 1854 the American, Captain Kane, in the brig Advance, went still farther north, and that his lieutenant, Morton, journeying over the ice, hoisted the United States flag beyond the eighty-second degree. Having once said this, I shall not return to it. Now the main point is that the captains of the Neptune, the Enterprise, the Isabella, and the Advance agree in the statement that beyond these high latitudes there is an open polar sea, entirely free from ice."
"Free from ice!" cried Shandon, interrupting the captain, "it's impossible!"
"You will notice, Shandon," observed Hatteras, quietly, while his eye lighted up for an instant, "that I quote both facts and authorities. I must add that in 1851, when Penny was stationed by the side of Wellington Channel, his lieutenant, Stewart, found himself in the presence of an open sea, and that his report was confirmed when, in 1853, Sir Edward Belcher wintered in Northumberland Bay, in latitude 76 degrees 52 minutes, and longitude 99 degrees 20 minutes; these reports are indisputable, and one must be very incredulous not to admit them."
"Still, Captain," persisted Shandon, "facts are as contradictory—"
"You're wrong, Shandon, you're wrong!" cried Dr. Clawbonny; "facts never contradict a scientific statement; the captain will, I trust, excuse me."
"Go on, Doctor!" said Hatteras.
"Well, listen to this, Shandon; it results very clearly from geographical facts, and from the study of isothermal lines, that the coldest spot on the globe is not on the Pole itself; like the magnetic pole, it lies a few degrees distant. So the calculations of Brewster, Berghaus, and other physicists prove that in our hemisphere there are two poles of extreme cold: one in Asia in latitude 79 degrees 30 minutes N., and longitude 120 degrees E.; the other is in America, in latitude 78 degrees N., and longitude 97 degrees W. This last alone concerns us, and you see, Shandon, that it is more than twelve degrees below the Pole. Well, I ask you why, then, the sea should not be as free from ice as it often is in summer in latitude 66 degrees, that is to say, at the southern end of Baffin's Bay?"
"Well put," answered Johnson; "Dr. Clawbonny talks of those things like a man who understands them."
"It seems possible," said James Wall.
"Mere conjectures! nothing but hypotheses!" answered Shandon, obstinately.
"Well, Shandon," said Hatteras, "let us consider the two cases; either the sea is free from ice, or it is not, and in neither case will it be impossible to reach the Pole. If it is free, the Forward will take us there without difficulty; if it is frozen, we must try to reach it over the ice by our sledges. You will confess that it is not impracticable; having once come with our brig to latitude 83 degrees, we shall have only about six hundred miles between us and the Pole."
"And what are six hundred miles," said the doctor, briskly, "when it is proved that a Cossack, Alexis Markoff, went along the frozen sea, north of Russia, on sledges drawn by dogs, for a distance of eight hundred miles, in twenty-four days?"
"You hear him, Shandon," answered Hatteras, "and will you say that an Englishman cannot do as much as a Cossack?"
"Never!" cried the enthusiastic doctor.
"Never!" repeated the boatswain.
"Well, Shandon?" asked the captain.
"Captain," answered Shandon, coldly, "I can only repeat what I have said,—I shall obey you."
"Well. Now," continued Hatteras, "let us consider our present situation; we are caught in the ice, and it seems to me impossible for us to reach Smith's Sound this year. This is what we must do."
Hatteras unfolded on the table one of the excellent charts published in 1859 by the order of the Admiralty.
"Be good enough to look here. If Smith's Sound is closed, Lancaster Sound is not, to the west of Baffin's Bay; in my opinion, we ought to go up this sound as far as Barrow Strait, and thence to Beechey Island. This has been done a hundred times by sailing-vessels; we shall have no difficulty, going under steam. Once at Beechey Island, we shall follow Wellington Sound as far northward as possible, to where it meets the channel, connecting it with Queen's Sound, at the place where the open sea was seen. It is now only the 20th of May; if nothing happens, we shall be there in a month, and from there we shall start for the Pole. What do you say to that, gentlemen?"
"Evidently," said Johnson, "it's the only way open to us."
"Well, we shall take it, and to-morrow. Let Sunday be a day of rest; you will see, Shandon, that the Bible is read as usual; the religious exercises do the men good, and a sailor more than any one ought to put his trust in God."
"Very well, Captain," answered Shandon, who went away with the second officer and the boatswain.
"Doctor," said Hatteras, pointing at Shandon, "there's an offended man, whose pride has ruined him; I can no longer depend upon him."
Early the next day the captain had the launch lowered; he went to reconnoitre the icebergs about the basin, of which the diameter was hardly more than two hundred yards. He noticed that by the gradual pressure of the ice, this space threatened to grow smaller; hence it became necessary to make a breach somewhere, to save the ship from being crushed; by the means he employed, it was easy to see that John Hatteras was an energetic man.
In the first place he had steps cut, by which he climbed to the top of an iceberg; from that point he saw it would be easy to open a path to the southwest; by his orders an opening was made in the middle of an iceberg, a task which was completed by Monday evening.
Hatteras could not depend on his blasting-cylinders of eight or ten pounds of powder, whose action would have been insignificant against such large masses; they were only of use to break the field-ice; hence he placed in the opening a thousand pounds of powder, carefully laying it where it should be of the utmost service. This chamber, to which ran a long fuse, surrounded by gutta-percha, opened on the outside. The gallery, leading thereto, was filled with snow and lumps of ice, to which the cold of the next night gave the consistency of granite. In fact, the temperature, under the influence of the east-wind, fell to 12 degrees.
The next day at seven o'clock the Forward was under steam, ready to seize any chance of escape. Johnson was charged with lighting the mine; the fuse was calculated to burn half an hour before exploding the powder. Hence Johnson had plenty of time to get back to the ship; indeed, within ten minutes he was at his post.
The crew were all on deck; the day was dry and tolerably clear; the snow was no longer falling; Hatteras, standing on the deck with Shandon and the doctor, counted the minutes on his watch.
At thirty-five minutes after eight a dull explosion was heard, much less deafening than had been anticipated. The outline of the mountains was suddenly changed, as by an earthquake; a dense white smoke rose high in the air, and long cracks appeared in the side of the iceberg, of which the upper part was hurled to a great distance, and fell in fragments about the Forward.
But the way was by no means free yet; huge lumps of ice were suspended upon the neighboring icebergs, and their fall threatened to close the exit.
Hatteras saw their situation in a flash of the eye.
"Wolston!" he shouted.
The gunner hastened to him.
"Captain!" he said.
"Put a triple charge in the forward gun, and ram it in as hard as possible!"
"Are we going to batter the iceberg down with cannon-balls?" asked the doctor.
"No," answered Hatteras. "That would do no good. No balls, Wolston, but a triple charge of powder. Be quick!"
In a few moments the gun was loaded.
"What is he going to do without a ball?" muttered Shandon between his teeth.
"We'll soon see," answered the doctor.
"We are all ready, Captain," cried Wolston.
"Well," answered Hatteras. "Brunton!" he shouted to the engineer, "make ready! Forward a little!"
Brunton opened the valves, and the screw began to move; the Forward drew near the blown-up iceberg.
"Aim carefully at the passage!" cried the captain to the gunner.
He obeyed; when the brig was only half a cable-length distant, Hatteras gave the order,—
A loud report followed, and the fragments of ice, detached by the commotion of the air, fell suddenly into the sea. The simple concussion had been enough.
"Put on full steam, Brunton!" shouted Hatteras. "Straight for the passage, Johnson!"
Johnson was at the helm; the brig, driven by the screw, which tossed the water freely, entered easily the open passage. It was time. The Forward had hardly passed through the opening, before it closed behind it.
It was an exciting moment, and the only calm and collected man on board was the captain. So the crew, amazed at the success of this device, could not help shouting,—
"Hurrah for John Hatteras!"
CHAPTER XIV. THE EXPEDITIONS IN SEARCH OF FRANKLIN.
Wednesday, the 21st of May, the Forward resumed her perilous voyage, making her way dexterously through the packs and icebergs, thanks to steam, which is seldom used by explorers in polar seas; she seemed to sport among the moving masses; one would have said she felt the hand of a skilled master, and that, like a horse under a skilful rider, she obeyed the thought of her captain.
The weather grew warmer. At six o'clock in the morning the thermometer stood at 26 degrees, at six in the evening at 29 degrees, and at midnight at 25 degrees; the wind was light from the southeast.
Thursday, at about three o'clock in the morning, the Forward arrived in sight of Possession Bay, on the American shore, at the entrance of Lancaster Sound; soon Cape Burney came into sight. A few Esquimaux came out to the ship; but Hatteras could not stop to speak with them.
The peaks of Byam Martin, which rise above Cape Liverpool, were passed on the left, and they soon disappeared in the evening mist; this hid from them Cape Hay, which has a very slight elevation, and so is frequently confounded with ice about the shore, a circumstance which very often renders the determination of the coast-line in polar regions very difficult.
Puffins, ducks, and white gulls appeared in great numbers. By observation the latitude was 74 degrees 1 minute, and the longitude, according to the chronometer, 77 degrees 15 minutes.
The two mountains, Catherine and Elizabeth, raised their snowy heads above the clouds.
At ten o'clock on Friday Cape Warrender was passed on the right side of the sound, and on the left Admiralty Inlet, a bay which has never been fully explored by navigators, who are always hastening westward. The sea ran rather high, and the waves often broke over the bows, covering the deck with small fragments of ice. The land on the north coast presented a strange appearance with its high, flat table-lands sparkling beneath the sun's rays.