"Mr. Shandon," answered Hatteras, coldly, "have this man put in irons."
"But, Captain," said Shandon, "what this man said—"
"If you repeat what this man said," retorted Hatteras, "I shall order you to your cabin and confine you there. Seize that man! Do you hear?"
Johnson, Bell, and Simpson stepped towards the sailor, who was beside himself with wrath.
"The first man who lays a finger on me—" he cried, seizing a handspike, which he flourished about his head.
Hatteras walked towards him.
"Pen," he said very quietly, "if you move hand or foot, I shall blow your brains out!"
With these words he drew a revolver and aimed it at the sailor.
A murmur arose from the crew.
"Not a word from any of you," said Hatteras, "or he's a dead man."
At that moment Johnson and Bell disarmed Pen, who no longer resisted, and suffered himself to be led to the bottom of the hold.
"Now go below, Brunton," said Hatteras.
The engineer, followed by Plover and Warren, went below. Hatteras returned to the quarter-deck.
"That Pen is a worthless fellow," the doctor said to him.
"No man was ever nearer death," answered the captain, simply.
Soon there was enough steam on; the anchors of the Forward were raised; and the brig started eastward, heading for Point Beecher, and cutting through the newly formed ice.
A great number of islands lie between Baring Island and Point Beecher, scattered in the midst of the ice-fields; the ice-streams crowd in great numbers in the little straits into which they divide the sea; when the weather is cold they have a tendency to accumulate; here and there hummocks were forming, and it was easy to see that the floes, already harder and more crowded, would, under the influence of the first frosts, soon form an impenetrable mass.
It was with great difficulty that the Forward made her way through the whirling snow. Still, with the variability which is a peculiarity of these regions, the sun would appear from time to time; the air grew much milder; the ice melted as if by enchantment, and a clear expanse of water, a most welcome sight to the eyes of the crew, spread out before them where a few moments before the ice had blocked their progress. All over the horizon there spread magnificent orange tints, which rested their eyes, weary with gazing at the eternal snow.
Thursday, July 26th, the Forward coasted along Dundas Island, and then stood more northward; but there she found herself face to face with a thick mass of ice, eight or nine feet high, consisting of little icebergs washed away from the shore; they had to prolong the curve they were making to the west. The continual cracking of the ice, joining with the creaking of the rolling ship, sounded like a gloomy lamentation. At last the brig found a passage and advanced through it slowly; often a huge floe delayed her for hours; the fog embarrassed the steersman; at one moment he could see a mile ahead, and it was easy to avoid all obstacles; but again the snow-squalls would hide everything from their sight at the distance of a cable's length. The sea ran very high.
Sometimes the smooth clouds assumed a strange appearance, as if they were reflecting the ice-banks; there were days when the sun could not pierce the dense mist.
The birds were still very numerous, and their cries were deafening; the seals, lying lazily on the drifting ice, raised their heads without being frightened, and turned their long necks to watch the ship go by. Often, too, the brig would leave bits of sheathing on the ice against which she grazed.
Finally, after six days of this slow sailing, August 1st, Point Beecher was made, sighted in the north; Hatteras passed the last hours in the lookout; the open sea, which Stewart had seen May 30, 1851, towards latitude 76 degrees 20 minutes, could not be far off, and yet, as far as Hatteras could see, he could make out no sign of an open polar sea. He came down without saying a word.
"Do you believe in an open sea?" asked Shandon of the second mate.
"I'm beginning to have my doubts," answered James Wall.
"Wasn't I right in considering this pretended discovery as a mere hypothesis? No one agreed with me, and you too, Wall,—you sided against me."
"They'll believe you next time, Shandon."
"Yes," he answered, "when it's too late."
And he returned to his cabin, where he had kept himself almost exclusively since his discussion with the captain.
Towards evening the wind shifted to the south. Hatteras then set his sails and had the fires put out; for many days the crew were kept hard at work; every few minutes they had to tack or bear away, or to shorten sail quickly to stop the course of the brig; the braces could not run easily through the choked-up pulleys, and added to the fatigue of the crew; more than a week was required for them to reach Point Barrow. The Forward had not made thirty miles in ten days.
Then the wind flew around to the north, and the engine was started once more. Hatteras still hoped to find an open sea beyond latitude 77 degrees, such as Edward Belcher had seen.
And yet, if he believed in Penny's account, the part of the sea which he was now crossing ought to have been open; for Penny, having reached the limit of the ice, saw in a canoe the shores of Queen's Channel at latitude 77 degrees.
Must he regard their reports as apochryphal, or had an unusually early winter fallen upon these regions?
August 15th, Mount Percy reared into the mist its peaks covered with eternal snow; a violent wind was hurling in their teeth a fierce shower of hail. The next day the sun set for the first time, terminating at last the long series of days twenty-four hours long. The men had finally accustomed themselves to this perpetual daylight; but the animals minded it very little; the Greenland dogs used to go to sleep at the usual hour, and even Duke lay down at the same hour every evening, as if the night were dark.
Still, during the nights following August 16th the darkness was never very marked; the sun, although it had set, still gave light enough by refraction.
August 19th, after taking a satisfactory observation, Cape Franklin was seen on the eastern side, and opposite it Cape Lady Franklin; at what was probably the farthest point reached by this bold explorer, his fellow-countrymen wanted the name of his devoted wife should be remembered along with his own, as an emblem of the sympathy which always united them. The doctor was much moved by this sight in this distant country.
In accordance with Johnson's advice, he began to accustom himself to enduring low temperature; he kept almost all the time on deck, braving the cold, wind, and snow. Although he had grown a little thinner, he did not suffer from the severity of the climate. Besides, he expected other dangers, and he rejoiced, almost, as he saw the winter approaching.
"See," said he one day to Johnson,—"see those flocks of birds flying south! How they fly and cry adieu!"
"Yes, Dr. Clawbonny," answered Johnson, "something has told them it was time to go, and they are off."
"More than one of our men, Johnson, would be glad to imitate them, I fancy."
"They are timid fellows, Doctor; what a bird can't do, a man ought to try! Those birds have no supply of food, as we have, and they must support themselves elsewhere. But sailors, with a good deck under the feet, ought to go to the end of the world."
"You hope, then, that Hatteras will succeed in his projects?"
"He will succeed, Doctor."
"I agree with you, Johnson, even if only one faithful man accompanies him—"
"There will be two of us!"
"Yes, Johnson," the doctor answered, pressing the brave sailor's hand.
Prince Albert's Land, along which the Forward was now coasting, is also called Grinnell's Land; and although Hatteras, from his dislike to Americans, never was willing to give it this name, nevertheless, it is the one by which it is generally known. This is the reason of this double title: at the same time that the Englishman Penny gave it the name of Prince Albert, the captain of the Rescue, Lieutenant DeHaven, named it Grinnell's Land, in honor of the American merchant who had fitted out the expedition in New York.
As the brig followed the coast it met with serious difficulties, going sometimes under sail, sometimes under steam. August 18th, Mount Britannia was sighted through the mist, and the next day the Forward cast anchor in Northumberland Bay. The ship was completely protected.
CHAPTER XXIII. ATTACKED BY THE ICE.
Hatteras, after seeing to the anchorage of the ship, returned to his cabin, took out his chart, and marked his position on it very carefully; he found himself in latitude 76 degrees 57 minutes, and longitude 99 degrees 20 minutes, that is to say, only three minutes from latitude 77 degrees. It was here that Sir Edward Belcher passed his first winter with the Pioneer and Assistance. It was from here that he organized his sledge and canoe expeditions; he discovered Table Island, North Cornwall, Victoria Archipelago, and Belcher Channel. Having gone beyond latitude 78 degrees, he saw the coast inclining towards the southeast. It seemed as if it ought to connect with Jones's Strait, which opens into Baffin's Bay. But, says the report, an open sea, in the northwest, "stretched as far as the eye could reach."
Hatteras gazed with emotion at that portion of the charts where a large white space marked unknown regions, and his eyes always returned to the open polar sea.
"After so many statements," he said to himself,—"after the accounts of Stewart, Penny, and Belcher, doubt is impossible! These bold sailors saw, and with their own eyes! Can I doubt their word? No! But yet if this sea is closed by an early winter— But no, these discoveries have been made at intervals of several years; this sea exists, and I shall find it! I shall see it!"
Hatteras went upon the quarter-deck. A dense mist enveloped the Forward; from the deck one could hardly see the top of the mast. Nevertheless, Hatteras ordered the ice-master below, and took his place; he wanted to make use of the first break in the fog to look at the horizon in the northwest.
Shandon took occasion to say to the second mate,—
"Well, Wall, and the open sea?"
"You were right, Shandon," answered Wall, "and we have only six weeks' coal in the bunkers."
"The doctor will invent some scientific way," continued Shandon, "of heating us without fuel. I've heard of making ice with fire; perhaps he will make fire with ice."
Shandon returned to his cabin, shrugging his shoulders.
The next day, August 20th, the fog lifted for a few minutes. From the deck they saw Hatteras in his lofty perch gazing intently towards the horizon; then he came down without saying a word and ordered them to set sail; but it was easy to see that his hopes had been once more deceived.
The Forward heaved anchor and resumed her uncertain path northward. So wearisome was it that the main-topsail and fore-topsail yards were lowered with all their rigging; the masts were also lowered, and it was no longer possible to place any reliance on the varying wind, which, moreover, the winding nature of the passes made almost useless; large white masses were gathering here and there in the sea, like spots of oil; they indicated an approaching thaw; as soon as the wind began to slacken, the sea began to freeze again, but when the wind arose this young ice would break and disperse. Towards evening the thermometer fell to 17 degrees.
When the brig arrived at the end of a closed pass, it rushed on at full steam against the opposing obstacle. Sometimes they thought her fairly stopped; but some unexpected motion of the ice-streams would open a new passage into which she would plunge boldly; during these stoppages the steam would escape from the safety-valves and fall on the deck in the form of snow. There was another obstacle to the progress of the brig; the ice would get caught in the screw, and it was so hard that the engine could not break it; it was then necessary to reverse the engines, turn the brig back, and send some men to free the snow with axes and levers; hence arose many difficulties, fatigues, and delays.
It went on in this way for thirteen days; the Forward advanced slowly through Penny Strait. The crew murmured, but obeyed; they knew that retreat was now impossible. The advance towards the north was less perilous than a return to the south; it was time to think of going into winter-quarters.
The sailors talked together about their condition, and one day they even began to talk with Shandon, who, they knew, was on their side. He so far forgot his duty as an officer as to allow them to discuss in his presence the authority of his captain.
"So you say, Mr. Shandon," asked Gripper, "that we can't go back now?"
"No, it's too late," answered Shandon.
"Then," said another sailor, "we need only look forward to going into winter-quarters?"
"It's our only resource! No one would believe me—"
"The next time," said Pen, who had returned to duty, "they will believe you."
"Since I sha'n't be in command—" answered Shandon.
"Who can tell?" remarked Pen. "John Hatteras is free to go as far as he chooses, but no one is obliged to follow him."
"Just remember," resumed Gripper, "his first voyage to Baffin's Bay and what came of it!"
"And the voyage of the Farewell," said Clifton, "which was lost in the Spitzenberg seas under his command."
"And from which he came back alone," added Gripper.
"Alone, but with his dog," said Clifton.
"We don't care to sacrifice ourselves for the whims of that man," continued Pen.
"Nor to lose all the wages we've earned so hard."
They all recognized Clifton by those words.
"When we pass latitude 78 degrees," he added, "and we are not far from it, that will make just three hundred and seventy-five pounds for each man, six times eight degrees."
"But," asked Gripper, "sha'n't we lose them if we go back without the captain?"
"No," answered Clifton, "if we can prove that it was absolutely necessary to return."
"But the captain—still—"
"Don't be uneasy, Gripper," answered Pen; "we shall have a captain, and a good one, whom Mr. Shandon knows. When a captain goes mad, he is dismissed and another appointed. Isn't that so, Mr. Shandon?"
"My friends," answered Shandon, evasively, "you will always find me devoted to you. But let us wait and see what turns up."
The storm, as may be seen, was gathering over Hatteras's head; but he pushed on boldly, firm, energetic, and confident. In fact, if he had not always managed the brig as he wanted to, and carried her where he was anxious to go, he had still been very successful; the distance passed over in five months was as great as what it had taken other explorers two or three years to make. Hatteras was now obliged to go into winter-quarters, but this would not alarm men of courage, experience, and confidence. Had not Sir John Ross and MacClure spent three successive winters in the arctic regions? Could not he do what they had done?
"Yes, of course," Hatteras used to say, "and more too, if need be. Ah!" he said regretfully to the doctor, "why was I unable to get through Smith's Sound, at the north of Baffin's Bay? I should be at the Pole now!"
"Well," the doctor used invariably to answer,—if necessary he could have invented confidence,—"we shall get there, Captain, but, it is true, at the ninety-ninth meridian instead of the seventy-fifth; but what difference does that make? If every road leads to Rome, it is even surer that every meridian leads to the Pole."
August 31st, the thermometer fell to 13 degrees. The end of the summer was evidently near; the Forward left Exmouth Island to starboard, and three days afterward she passed Table Island, lying in the middle of Belcher Channel. Earlier in the season it would have been possible to reach Baffin's Bay through this channel, but at this time it was impossible to think of it. This arm of the sea was completely filled with ice, and would not have offered a drop of open water to the prow of the Forward; for the next eight months their eyes would see nothing but boundless, motionless ice-fields.
Fortunately, they could still get a few minutes farther north, but only by breaking the new ice with huge beams, or by blowing it up with charges of powder. They especially had cause to fear calm weather while the temperature was so low, for the passes closed quickly, and they rejoiced even at contrary winds. A calm night, and everything was frozen!
Now the Forward could not winter where she was, exposed to the wind, icebergs, and the drift of the channel; a safe protection was the first thing to be found; Hatteras hoped to gain the coast of New Cornwall, and to find, beyond Point Albert, a bay sufficiently sheltered. Hence he persisted in crowding northward.
But, September 8, an impenetrable, continuous mass of ice lay between him and the north; the temperature fell to 10 degrees. Hatteras, with an anxious heart, in vain sought for a passage, risking his ship a hundred times and escaping from his perils with wonderful skill. He might have been accused of imprudence, recklessness, folly, blindness, but he was one of the best of sailors.
The situation of the Forward became really dangerous; in fact, the sea was closing behind her, and in a few hours the ice grew so hard that men could run upon it and tow the brig in perfect safety.
Hatteras, not being able to get around this obstacle, determined to attack it boldly in front. He made use of his strongest blasting cylinders, containing eight or ten pounds of powder. The men would dig a hole in the broadest part of the ice, close the orifice with snow, after having placed the cylinder in a horizontal position, so that a greater extent of ice might be exposed to the explosion; then a fuse was lighted, which was protected by a gutta-percha tube.
In this way they tried to break the ice; it was impossible to saw it, for the fissures would close immediately. Still, Hatteras was hoping to get through the next day.
But during the night the wind blew a gale; the sea raised the crust of ice, and the terrified pilot was heard shouting,—
"Look out there aft, look out there aft!"
Hatteras turned his eyes in that direction, and what he saw in the dim light was indeed alarming.
A great mass of ice, drifting northward with the tide, was rushing towards the brig with the speed of an avalanche.
"All hands on deck!" shouted the captain.
This floating mountain was hardly half a mile away; the ice was all in confusion and crashing together like huge grains of sand before a violent tempest; the air was filled with a terrible noise.
"That, Doctor," said Johnson, "is one of the greatest perils we have yet met with."
"Yes," answered the doctor, quietly; "it is terrible enough."
"A real attack which we must repel," resumed the boatswain.
"In fact, one might well think it was an immense crowd of antediluvian animals, such as might have lived near the Pole. How they hurry on, as if they were racing!"
"Besides," added Johnson, "some carry sharp lances, of which you had better take care, Doctor."
"It's a real siege," shouted the doctor. "Well, let us run to the ramparts!"
He ran aft where the crew, provided with beams and bars, were standing ready to repel this formidable assault.
The avalanche came on, growing larger at every moment as it caught up the floating ice in its eddy; by Hatteras's orders the cannon was loaded with ball to break the threatening line. But it came on and ran towards the brig; a crash was heard, and as it came against the starboard-quarter, part of the rail had given way.
"Let no one stir!" shouted Hatteras. "Look out for the ice!"
They swarmed on board the ship with an irresistible force; lumps of ice, weighing many hundredweight, scaled the sides of the ship; the smallest, hurled as high as the yards, fell back in sharp arrows, breaking the shrouds and cutting the rigging. The men were overcome by numberless enemies, who were heavy enough to crush a hundred ships like the Forward. Every one tried to drive away these lumps, and more than one sailor was wounded by their sharp ends; among others, Bolton, who had his left shoulder badly torn. The noise increased immensely. Duke barked angrily at these new enemies. The darkness of the night added to the horrors of the situation, without hiding the ice which glowed in the last light of the evening.
Hatteras's orders sounded above all this strange, impossible, supernatural conflict of the men with the ice. The ship, yielding to this enormous pressure, inclined to larboard, and the end of the main-yard was already touching the ice, at the risk of breaking the mast.
Hatteras saw the danger; it was a terrible moment; the brig seemed about to be overturned, and the masts might be easily carried away.
A large block, as large as the ship, appeared to be passing along the keel; it arose with irresistible power; it came on past the quarter-deck; if it fell on the Forward, all was over; soon it rose even above the topmasts, and began to totter.
A cry of terror escaped from every one's lips. Every one ran back to starboard.
But at that moment the ship was relieved. They felt her lifted up, and for an instant she hung in the air, then she leaned over and fell back on the ice, and then she rolled so heavily that her planks cracked. What had happened?
Raised by this rising tide, driven by the ice which attacked her aft, she was getting across this impenetrable ice. After a minute of this strange sailing, which seemed as long as a century, she fell back on the other side of the obstacle on a field of ice; she broke it with her weight, and fell back into her natural element.
"We have got by the thick ice!" shouted Johnson, who had run forward.
"Thank God!" said Hatteras.
In fact, the brig lay in the centre of a basin of ice, which entirely surrounded her, and although her keel lay under water she could not stir; but if she were motionless, the field was drifting along.
"We are drifting, Captain!" shouted Johnson.
"All right," answered Hatteras.
Indeed, how was it possible to resist it?
Day broke, and it was evident that under the influence of a submarine current the bank of ice was floating northward with great rapidity. This floating mass carried the Forward with it, in the midst of the ice-field, the edge of which could not be seen; to provide for any accident that might happen, Hatteras had a large supply of provisions carried on deck, as well as materials for camping, clothing, and cover; as MacClure had done under similar circumstances, he surrounded the ship with hammocks filled with air to protect her from damage. Soon it was so cold (7 degrees), that the ship was surrounded by a wall from which only the masts issued.
For seven days they sailed in this way; Point Albert, which forms the western extremity of New Cornwall, was seen September 10th, and soon disappeared; the ice-field was seen to be drifting eastward from that time. Where was it going? Where would it stop? Who could say?
The crew waited with folded arms. At last, September 15th, towards three o'clock in the afternoon, the ice-field, having probably run against another one, stopped suddenly; the ship was jarred violently; Hatteras, who had kept his reckoning all along, looked at his chart; he found himself in the north, with no land in sight, in longitude 95 degrees 35 minutes, and latitude 78 degrees 15 minutes, in the centre of the region of the unknown sea, which geographers have considered the place of greatest cold.
CHAPTER XXIV. PREPARATIONS FOR WINTERING.
The same latitude is colder in the southern than in the northern hemisphere; but the temperature of the New World is fifteen degrees beneath that of the other parts of the world; and in America these countries, known under the name of the region of greatest cold, are the most inclement.
The mean temperature for the whole year is two degrees below zero. Physicists have explained this fact in the following way, and Dr. Clawbonny shared their opinion.
According to them, the most constant winds in the northern regions of America are from the southwest; they come from the Pacific Ocean, with an equal and agreeable temperature; but before they reach the arctic seas they are obliged to cross the great American continent, which is covered with snow; the contact chills them, and communicates to these regions their intense cold.
Hatteras found himself at the pole of cold, beyond the countries seen by his predecessors; he consequently expected a terrible winter, on a ship lost amid the ice, with a turbulent crew. He resolved to meet these dangers with his usual energy. He faced what awaited him without flinching.
He began, with Johnson's aid and experience, to take all the measures necessary for going into winter-quarters. According to his calculation the Forward had been carried two hundred and fifty miles from any known land, that is to say, from North Cornwall; she was firmly fixed in a field of ice, as in a bed of granite, and no human power could extricate her.
There was not a drop of open water in these vast seas chained by the fierce arctic winter. The ice-fields stretched away out of sight, but without presenting a smooth surface. Far from it. Numerous icebergs stood up in the icy plain, and the Forward was sheltered by the highest of them on three points of the compass; the southeast wind alone reached them. Let one imagine rock instead of ice, verdure instead of snow, and the sea again liquid, and the brig would have quietly cast anchor in a pretty bay, sheltered from the fiercest blasts. But what desolation here! What a gloomy prospect! What a melancholy view!
The brig, although motionless, nevertheless had to be fastened securely by means of anchors; this was a necessary precaution against possible thaws and submarine upheavals. Johnson, on hearing that the Forward was at the pole of cold, took even greater precautions for securing warmth.
"We shall have it severe enough," he had said to the doctor; "that's just the captain's luck, to go and get caught at the most disagreeable spot on the globe! Bah! you will see that we shall get out of it."
As to the doctor, at the bottom of his heart he was simply delighted. He would not have changed it for any other. Winter at the pole of cold! What good luck!
At first, work on the outside occupied the crew; the sails were kept furled on the yards instead of being placed at the bottom of the hold, as the earlier explorers did; they were merely bound up in a case, and soon the frost covered them with a dense envelope; the topmasts were not unshipped, and the crow's-nest remained in its place. It was a natural observatory; the running-rigging alone was taken down.
It became necessary to cut away the ice from the ship to relieve the pressure. That which had accumulated outside was quite heavy, and the ship did not lie as deep as usual. This was a long and laborious task. At the end of some days the ship's bottom was freed, and could be inspected; it had not suffered, thanks to its solidity; only its copper sheathing was nearly torn away. The ship, having grown lighter, drew about nine inches less than she did earlier; the ice was cut away in a slope, following the make of the hull; in this way the ice formed beneath the brig's keel and so resisted all pressure.
The doctor took part in this work; he managed the ice-cutter well; he encouraged the sailors by his good-humor. He instructed them and himself. He approved of this arrangement of the ice beneath the ship.
"That is a good precaution," he said.
"Without that, Dr. Clawbonny," answered Johnson, "resistance would be impossible. Now we can boldly raise a wall of snow as high as the gunwale; and, if we want to, we can make it ten feet thick, for there is no lack of material."
"A capital idea," resumed the doctor; "the snow is a bad conductor of heat; it reflects instead of absorbing, and the inside temperature cannot escape."
"True," answered Johnson; "we are building a fortification against the cold, and also against the animals, if they care to visit us; when that is finished, it will look well, you may be sure; in this snow we shall cut two staircases, one fore, the other aft; when the steps are cut in the snow, we shall pour water on them; this will freeze as hard as stone, and we shall have a royal staircase."
"Precisely," answered the doctor; "and it must be said it is fortunate that cold produces both snow and ice, by which to protect one's self against it. Without that, one would be very much embarrassed."
In fact, the ship was destined to disappear beneath a thick casing of ice, which was needed to preserve its inside temperature; a roof made of thick tarred canvas and covered with snow was built above the deck over its whole length; the canvas was low enough to cover the sides of the ship. The deck, being protected from all outside impressions, became their walk; it was covered with two and a half feet of snow; this snow was crowded and beaten down so as to become very hard; so it resisted the radiation of the internal heat; above it was placed a layer of sand, which as it solidified became a sort of macadamized cover of great hardness.
"A little more," said the doctor, "and with a few trees I might imagine myself at Hyde Park, or even in the hanging-gardens at Babylon."
A trench was dug tolerably near the brig; this was a circular space in the ice, a real pit, which had to be kept always open. Every morning the ice formed overnight was broken; this was to secure water in case of fire or for the baths which were ordered the crew by the doctor; in order to spare the fuel, the water was drawn from some distance below the ice, where it was less cold. This was done by means of an instrument devised by a French physicist (Francois Arago); this apparatus, lowered for some distance into the water, brought it up to the surface through a cylinder.
Generally in winter everything which encumbers the ship is removed, and stored on land. But what was practicable near land is impossible for a ship anchored on the ice.
Every preparation was made to fight the two great enemies of this latitude, cold and dampness; the first produces the second, which is far more dangerous. The cold may be resisted by one who succumbs to dampness; hence it was necessary to guard against it.
The Forward, being destined to a journey in arctic seas, contained the best arrangements for winter-quarters: the large room for the crew was well provided for; the corners, where dampness first forms, were shut off; in fact, when the temperature is very low, a film of ice forms on the walls, especially in the corners, and when it melts it keeps up a perpetual dampness. If it had been round, the room would have been more convenient; but, being heated by a large stove, and properly ventilated, it was very comfortable; the walls were lined with deerskins, not with wool, for wool absorbs the condensed moisture and keeps the air full of dampness.
Farther aft the walls of the quarter were taken down, and the officers had a larger common-room, better ventilated, and heated by a stove. This room, like that of the crew, had a sort of antechamber, which cut off all communication with the outside. In this way, the heat could not be lost, and one passed gradually from one temperature to the other. In the anterooms were left the snow-covered clothes; the shoes were cleansed on the scrapers, so as to prevent the introduction of any unwholesomeness with one into the room.
Canvas hose served to introduce air for the draught of the stoves; other pieces of hose permitted the steam to escape. In addition two condensers were placed in the two rooms, and collected this vapor instead of letting it form into water; twice a week they were emptied, and often they contained several bushels of ice. It was so much taken from the enemy.
The fire was perfectly and easily controlled, by means of the canvas hose; by use of merely a small quantity of coal it was easy to keep the temperature of 50 degrees. Still, Hatteras, having examined the bunkers, soon saw that the greatest economy was necessary, for there was not two months' fuel on board.
A drying-room was set apart for the clothes which were to be washed; they could not be dried in the open air, for they would freeze and tear.
The delicate pieces of the machinery were carefully taken down, and the room which contained them was hermetically closed.
The life on board became the object of serious meditation; Hatteras regulated it with the utmost caution, and the order of the day was posted up in the common-room. The men arose at six o'clock in the morning; three times a week the hammocks were aired; every morning the floors were scoured with hot sand; tea was served at every meal, and the bill of fare varied as much as possible for every day of the week; it consisted of bread, farina, suet and raisins for puddings, sugar, cocoa, tea, rice, lemon-juice, potted meats, salt beef and pork, cabbages, and vegetables in vinegar; the kitchen lay outside of the living-rooms; its heat was consequently lost; but cooking is a perpetual source of evaporation and dampness.
The health of the men depends a great deal on the sort of food they get; in high latitudes, the greatest amount of animal food ought to be eaten. The doctor had supervised the sort of food to be given.
"We ought to follow the Esquimaux," he used to say; "they have received their lessons from nature, and are our masters in that; if the Arabs and Africans can content themselves with a few dates and a handful of rice, here it is important to eat, and to eat a good deal. The Esquimaux take from ten to fifteen pounds of oil a day. If that fare does not please you, we must try food rich in sugar and fat. In a word, we need carbon, so let us manufacture carbon! It is well to put coal in the stove, but don't let us forget to fill that precious stove we carry about with us."
With this bill of fare, strict cleanliness was enforced; every other day each man was obliged to bathe in the half-frozen water which the iron pump brought up, and this was an excellent way of preserving their health. The doctor set the example; he did it at first as a thing which ought to be very disagreeable; but this pretext was quickly forgotten, for he soon took real pleasure in this healthy bath.
When work or hunting or distant expeditions took the men off in the severe cold, they had to take special care not to be frost-bitten; if they were, rubbing with snow would restore the circulation. Moreover, the men, who all wore woollen clothes, put on coats of deerskin and trousers of sealskin, which perfectly resist the wind.
The different arrangements of the ship, the getting-to-rights on board, took about three weeks, and they reached October 10th without any special incident.
CHAPTER XXV. ONE OF JAMES ROSS'S FOXES.
On that day the thermometer fell to three degrees below zero. The day was calm; the cold was very endurable in the absence of wind. Hatteras took advantage of the clearness of the air to reconnoitre the surrounding plains; he ascended one of the highest icebergs to the north, but even with his glass he could make out nothing but a series of ice-mountains and ice-fields. There was no land in sight, nothing but gloomy confusion. He returned, and tried to calculate the probable length of their imprisonment.
The hunters, and among them the doctor, James Wall, Simpson, Johnson, and Bell, kept them supplied with fresh meat. The birds had disappeared, seeking a milder climate in the south. The ptarmigans alone, a sort of rock-partridge peculiar to this latitude, did not flee the winter; it was easy to kill them, and there were enough to promise a perpetual supply of game.
Hares, foxes, wolves, ermines, and bears were plentiful; a French, English, or Norwegian hunter would have had no right to complain; but they were so shy that it was hard to approach them; besides, it was hard to distinguish them on the white plain, they being white themselves, for in winter they acquire that colored fur. In opposition to the opinions of some naturalists, the doctor held that this change was not due to the lowering of the temperature, since it took place before October; hence it was not due to any physical cause, but rather providential foresight, to secure these animals against the severity of an arctic winter.
Often, too, they saw sea-cows and sea-dogs, animals included under the name of seals; all the hunters were specially recommended to shoot them, as much for their skins as for their fat, which was very good fuel. Besides, their liver made a very good article of food; they could be counted by hundreds, and two or three miles north of the ship the ice was continually perforated by these huge animals; only they avoided the hunter with remarkable instinct, and many were wounded who easily escaped by diving under the ice.
Still, on the 19th, Simpson succeeded in getting one four hundred yards distant from the ship; he had taken the precaution to close its hole in the ice, so that it could not escape from its pursuers. He fought for a long time, and died only after receiving many bullets. He was nine feet long; his bull-dog head, the sixteen teeth in his jaw, his large pectoral fins shaped like little wings, his little tail with another pair of fins, made him an excellent specimen. The doctor wished to preserve his head for his collection of natural history, and his skin for future contingences, hence he prepared both by a rapid and economical process. He plunged the body in the hole, and thousands of little prawns removed the flesh in small pieces; at the end of half a day the work was half finished, and the most skilful of the honorable corporation of tanners at Liverpool could not have done better.
When the sun had passed the autumn equinox, that is to say, September 23d, the winter fairly begins in the arctic regions. The sun, having gradually sunk to the horizon, disappeared at last, October 23d, lighting up merely the tops of the mountains with its oblique rays. The doctor gave it his last farewell. He could not see it again till the month of February.
Still the darkness was not complete during this long absence of the sun; the moon did its best to replace it; the stars were exceedingly brilliant, the auroras were very frequent, and the refractions peculiar to the snowy horizons; besides, the sun at the time of its greatest southern declension, December 21st, approaches within thirteen degrees of the polar horizon; hence, every day there was a certain twilight for a few hours. Only the mist and snow-storms often plunged these regions in the deepest obscurity.
Still, up to this time the weather was very favorable; the partridges and hares alone had reason to complain, for the hunters gave them no rest; a great many traps were set for foxes, but these crafty animals could not be caught; very often they scraped the snow away beneath the trap and took the bait without running any risk; the doctor cursed them, being very averse to making them such a present.
October 25th, the thermometer fell as low as -4 degrees. A violent hurricane raged; the air was filled with thick snow, which permitted no ray of light to reach the Forward. For several hours there was some anxiety about the fate of Bell and Simpson, who had gone some distance away hunting; they did not reach the ship till the next day, having rested for a whole day wrapped up in their furs, while the hurricane swept over them and buried them under five feet of snow. They were nearly frozen, and the doctor found it very hard to restore their circulation.
The tempest lasted eight days without interruption. No one could set foot outside. In a single day there were variations in the temperature of fifteen or twenty degrees.
During this enforced leisure every one kept to himself, some sleeping, others smoking, others again talking in a low tone and stopping at the approach of Johnson or the doctor; there was no moral tie between the men of the crew; they only met at evening prayers and at Sunday services.
Clifton knew perfectly well that when the seventy-eighth parallel was passed, his share of the pay would amount to three hundred and seventy-five pounds; he thought it a good round sum, and his ambition did not go any further. His opinion was generally shared, and all looked forward to the day when they should enjoy this hardly-earned fortune.
Hatteras kept almost entirely out of sight. He never took part in the hunts or the walks from the ship. He took no interest in the meteorological phenomena which kept the doctor in a constant state of admiration. He lived with but a single idea; it consisted of three words,—The North Pole. He only thought of when the Forward, free at last, should resume her bold course.
In fact, the general feeling on board was one of gloom. Nothing was so sad as the sight of this captive vessel, no longer resting in its natural element, but with its shape hidden beneath thick layers of ice; it looks like nothing; it cannot stir, though made for motion; it is turned into a wooden storehouse, a sedentary dwelling, this ship which knows how to breast the wind and the storms. This anomaly, this false situation, filled their hearts with an indefinable feeling of disquiet and regret.
During these idle hours the doctor arranged the notes he had taken, from which this book is made up; he was never out of spirits, and never lost his cheerfulness. Yet he was glad to see the end of the storm, and prepared to resume his hunting.
November 3d, at six o'clock in the morning, with a temperature of -5 degrees, he set off in company with Johnson and Bell; the expanse of ice was unbroken; all the snow which had fallen so abundantly during the preceding days was hardened by the frost, and made good walking; the air was keen and piercing; the moon shone with incomparable purity, glistening on the least roughness in the ice; their footprints glowed like an illuminated trail, and their long shadows stood out almost black against the brilliant ice.
The doctor had taken Duke with him; he preferred him to the Greenland dogs to hunt game, and he was right; for they are of very little use under such circumstances, and they did not appear to possess the sacred fire of the race of the temperate zone. Duke ran along with his nose on the ground, and he often stopped on the recent marks of bears. Still, in spite of his skill, the hunters did not find even a hare in two hours' walking.
"Has all the game felt it necessary to go south?" said the doctor, stopping at the foot of a hummock.
"I should fancy it must be so, Doctor," answered the carpenter.
"I don't think so," said Johnson; "the hares, foxes, and bears are accustomed to this climate; I think this last storm must have driven them away; but they will come back with the south-winds. Ah, if you were to talk about reindeer and musk-deer, that might be different!"
"And yet at Melville Island numberless animals of this sort are found," resumed the doctor; "it lies farther south, it is true, and during the winters he spent there Parry always had plenty of this magnificent game."
"We have much poorer luck," answered Bell; "if we could only get enough bear's meat, we would do very well."
"The difficulty is," said the doctor, "the bears seem to me very rare and very wild; they are not civilized enough to come within gun-shot."
"Bell is talking about the flesh of the bear," said Johnson, "but his grease is more useful than his flesh or his fur."
"You are right, Johnson," answered Bell; "you are always thinking of the fuel."
"How can I help it? Even with the strictest economy, we have only enough for three weeks!"
"Yes," resumed the doctor, "that is the real danger, for we are now only at the beginning of November, and February is the coldest month in the frigid zone; still, if we can't get bear's grease, there's no lack of seal's grease."
"But not for a very long time, Doctor," answered Johnson; "they will soon leave us; whether from cold or fright, soon they won't come upon the ice any more."
"Then," continued the doctor, "we shall have to fall back on the bear, and I confess the bear is the most useful animal to be found in these countries, for he furnishes food, clothing, light, and fuel to men. Do you hear, Duke?" he said, patting the dog's head, "we want some bears, my friend, bears! bears!"
Duke, who was sniffing at the ice at that time, aroused by the voices, and caresses of the doctor, started off suddenly with the speed of an arrow. He barked violently and, far off as he was, his loud barks reached the hunters' ears.
The extreme distance to which sound is carried when the temperature is low is an astonishing fact; it is only equalled by the brilliancy of the constellations in the northern skies; the waves of light and sound are transmitted to great distances, especially in the dry cold of the nights.
The hunters, guided by his distant barking, hastened after him; they had to run a mile, and they got there all out of breath, which happens very soon in such an atmosphere. Duke stood pointing about fifty feet from an enormous mass which was rolling about on the top of a small iceberg.
"Just what we wanted!" shouted the doctor, cocking his gun.
"A fine bear!" said Bell, following the doctor's example.
"A curious bear!" said Johnson, who intended to fire after his companions.
Duke barked furiously. Bell advanced about twenty feet, and fired; but the animal seemed untouched, for he continued rolling his head slowly.
Johnson came forward, and, after taking careful aim, he pulled the trigger.
"Good!" said the doctor; "nothing yet! Ah, this cursed refraction! We are too far off; we shall never get used to it! That bear is more than a mile away."
"Come on!" answered Bell.
The three companions hastened toward the animal, which had not been alarmed by the firing; he seemed to be very large, but, without weighing the danger, they gave themselves up already to the joy of victory. Having got within a reasonable distance, they fired; the bear leaped into the air and fell, mortally wounded, on the level ice below.
Duke rushed towards him.
"That's a bear," said the doctor, "which was easily conquered."
"Only three shots," said Bell with some scorn, "and he's down!"
"That's odd," remarked Johnson.
"Unless we got here just as he was going to die of old age," continued the doctor, laughing.
"Well, young or old," added Bell, "he's a good capture."
Talking in this way they reached the small iceberg, and, to their great surprise, they found Duke growling over the body of a white fox.
"Upon my word," said Bell, "that's too much!"
"Well," said the doctor, "we've fired at a bear, and killed a fox!"
Johnson did not know what to say.
"Well," said the doctor with a burst of laughter in which there was a trace of disappointment, "that refraction again! It's always deceiving us."
"What do you mean, Doctor?" asked the carpenter.
"Yes, my friend; it deceived us with respect to its size as well as the distance! It made us see a bear in a fox's skin! Such a mistake is not uncommon under similar circumstances! Well, our imagination alone was wrong!"
"At any rate," answered Johnson, "bear or fox, he's good eating. Let's carry him off."
But as the boatswain was lifting him to his shoulders:—
"That's odd," he said.
"What is it?" asked the doctor.
"See there, Doctor, he's got a collar around his neck."
"A collar?" asked the doctor again, examining the fox.
In fact, a half-worn-out copper collar appeared under his white fur; the doctor thought he saw letters engraved upon it; he unfastened it from the animal's neck, about which it seemed to have been for a long time.
"What does that mean?" asked Johnson.
"That means," said the doctor, "that we have just killed a fox more than twelve years old,—a fox who was caught by James Ross in 1848."
"Is it possible?" said Bell.
"There's no doubt about it. I'm sorry we killed him! While he was in winter-quarters, James Ross thought of trapping a large number of white foxes; he fastened on their necks copper collars on which was engraved the position of his ships, the Enterprise and Investigator, as well as where the supplies were left. These animals run over immense distances in search of food, and James Ross hoped that one of them might fall into the hands of one of the men of the Franklin expedition. That's the simple explanation; and this poor beast, who might have saved the life of two crews, has fallen uselessly beneath our guns."
"Well, we won't eat it," said Johnson, "especially if it's twelve years old. But we shall keep the skin as a memento."
Johnson raised it to his shoulders. The hunters made their way to the ship, guiding themselves by the stars; their expedition was not wholly without result; they were able to bring back several ptarmigans.
An hour before reaching the Forward, there was a singular phenomenon which greatly interested the doctor. It was a real shower of shooting-stars; they could be counted by thousands, flying over the heavens like rockets; they dimmed the light of the moon. For hours they could have stood gazing at this beautiful sight. A similar phenomenon was observed in Greenland in 1799, by the Moravians. It looked like an exhibition of fireworks. The doctor after his return to the ship spent the whole night gazing at the sight, which lasted till seven o'clock in the morning, while the air was perfectly silent.
CHAPTER XXVI. THE LAST PIECE OF COAL.
The bears, it seemed, could not be caught; a few seals were killed on the 4th, 5th, and 6th of November, and the wind shifted and the weather grew much milder; but the snow-drifts began again with incomparable severity. It became impossible to leave the ship, and it was hard to subdue the dampness. At the end of the week the condensers contained several bushels of ice.
The weather changed again November 15th, and the thermometer, under the influence of certain atmospheric conditions, sank to -24 degrees. That was the lowest temperature they had yet observed. This cold would have been endurable in calm weather; but the wind was blowing at that time, and it seemed as if the air was filled with sharp needles.
The doctor regretted his captivity, for the snow was hardened by the wind, so as to make good walking, and he might have gone very far from the ship.
Still, it should be said that the slightest exercise in so low a temperature is very exhausting. A man can perform hardly more than a quarter of his usual work; iron utensils cannot be touched; if the hand seizes them, it feels as if it were burned, and shreds of skin cleave to the object which had been incautiously seized.
The crew, being confined to the ship, were obliged to walk on the covered deck for two hours a day, where they had leave to smoke, which was forbidden in the common-room.
There, when the fire got low, the ice used to cover the walls and the intervals between the planks; every nail and bolt and piece of metal was immediately covered with a film of ice.
The celerity of its formation astonished the doctor. The breath of the men condensed in the air, and, changing from a fluid to a solid form, it fell about them in the form of snow. A few feet from the stove it was very cold, and the men stood grouped around the fire.
Still, the doctor advised them to harden themselves, and to accustom themselves to the cold, which was not so severe as what yet awaited them; he advised them to expose their skin gradually to this intense temperature, and he himself set the example; but idleness or numbness nailed most of them to their place; they refused to stir, and preferred sleeping in that unhealthy heat.
Yet, according to the doctor, there was no danger in exposing one's self to great cold after leaving a heated room; these sudden changes only inconvenience those who are in a perspiration; the doctor quoted examples in support of his opinion, but his lessons were for the most part thrown away.
As for John Hatteras, he did not seem to mind the inclement cold. He walked to and fro silently, never faster or slower. Did not the cold affect his powerful frame? Did he possess to a very great degree the principle of natural heat which he wanted his men to possess? Was he so bound up in his meditations that he was indifferent to outside impressions? His men saw him with great astonishment braving a temperature of -24 degrees; he would leave the ship for hours, and come back without appearing to suffer from the cold.
"He's a singular man," said the doctor to Johnson; "he astonishes me! He carries a glowing furnace within him! He is one of the strongest natures I ever saw!"
"The fact is," answered Johnson, "he goes and comes and circulates in the open air, without dressing any more thickly than in the month of June."
"O, it doesn't make much difference what one wears!" answered the doctor; "what is the use of dressing warmly if one can't produce heat within himself? It's like trying to heat ice by wrapping it up in wool! But Hatteras doesn't need it; he's built that way, and I should not be surprised if his side was as warm as the neighborhood of a glowing coal."
Johnson, who was charged with clearing away the water-hole every morning, noticed that the ice was ten feet thick.
Almost every night the doctor could observe the magnificent auroras; from four o'clock till eight of the evening, the sky in the north was slightly lighted up; then this took a regular shape, with a rim of light yellow, the ends of which seemed to touch the field of ice. Gradually the brilliancy arose in the heavens, following the magnetic meridian, and appeared striped with black bands; jets of luminosity shot with varying brightness here and there; when it reached the zenith it was often composed of several arcs bathed in waves of red, yellow, or green light. It was a dazzling sight. Soon the different curves met in a single point, and formed crowns of celestial richness. Finally the arcs all crowded together, the splendid aurora grew dim, the intense colors faded away into pale, vague, uncertain tints, and this wonderful phenomenon vanished gradually, insensibly, in the dark clouds of the south.
It is difficult to realize the wonderful, magical beauty of such a spectacle in high latitudes, less than eight degrees from the pole; the auroras which are seen in the temperate zone give no idea of it; it seems as if Providence wished to reserve the greatest wonders for these regions.
Numerous mock-moons appeared also while the moon was shining, and a great many would appear in the sky, adding to the general brilliancy; often, too, simple lunar halos surrounded the moon with a circle of splendid lustre.
November 26th the tide rose very high, and the water came through the hole with great violence; the thick crust of ice seemed pushed up by the force of the sea, and the frequent cracking of the ice proclaimed the conflict that was going on beneath; fortunately the ship remained firm in her bed, but her chains worked noisily; it was as a precaution against just such an event, that Hatteras had made the brig fast.
The following days were still colder; a dense fog hid the sky; the wind tossed the snow about; it was hard to determine whether it came from the clouds or from the ice-fields; everything was in confusion.
The crew kept busy with various interior occupations, the principal one being the preparation of the grease and oil from the seal; it was frozen into blocks of ice, which had to be cut with a hatchet; it was broken into small fragments, which were as hard as marble; ten barrels full were collected. As may be seen, every vessel became nearly useless, besides the risk of its breaking when the contents froze.
The 28th the thermometer fell to -32 degrees; there was only ten days' coal on board, and every one awaited with horror the moment when it should come to an end.
Hatteras, for the sake of economy, had the fire in the stove in the after-room put out; and from that time Shandon, the doctor, and he were compelled to betake themselves to the common-room of the crew. Hatteras was hence brought into constant communication with his men, who gazed at him with surly, dejected glances. He heard their fault-finding, their reproaches, even their threats, without being able to punish them. However, he seemed deaf to every remark. He never went near the fire. He remained in a corner, with folded arms, without saying a word.
In spite of the doctor's recommendations, Pen and his friends refused to take the slightest exercise; they passed whole days crouching about the stove or under their bedclothes; hence their health began to suffer; they could not react against the rigor of the climate, and scurvy soon made its appearance on board.
The doctor had long since begun to distribute, every morning, lemon-juice and lime pastilles; but these precautions, which were generally so efficacious, did very little good to the sick; and the disease, following its usual course, soon showed its most horrible symptoms.
Terrible indeed it was to see those wretches with their nerves and muscles contracted with pain! Their legs were fearfully swollen, and were covered with large bluish-black patches; their bleeding gums, their swollen lips, permitted them to utter only inarticulate sounds; their blood was poisoned, deprived of fibrine, and no longer carried life to the extremities.
Clifton was the first to be attacked by this cruel malady; soon Gripper, Brunton, and Strong had to keep to their hammocks. Those whom the illness spared could not avoid the sight of the sufferings of their friends; the common-room was the only place where they could stay; so it was soon transformed into a hospital, for of the eighteen sailors of the Forward, thirteen were soon down with scurvy. It seemed as if Pen would escape the contagion; his strong constitution preserved him; Shandon felt the first symptoms, but it went no further with him, and plenty of exercise soon restored him to good health.
The doctor tended his patients with the greatest devotion, and his heart would bleed at the sight of the sufferings he could not assuage. Still, he inspired as much cheerfulness as he could in the lonely crew; his words, his consolations, his philosophical reflections, his fortunate inventions, broke the monotony of those long days of suffering; he would read aloud to them; his wonderful memory kept him supplied with amusing anecdotes, while the men who were well stood pressing closely around the stove; but the groans of the sick, their complaints, and their cries of despair would continually interrupt him, and, breaking off in the middle of a story, he would become the devoted and attentive physician.
Besides, his health remained good; he did not grow thin; his corpulence stood him in better stead than the thickest raiment, and he used to say he was as well clad as a seal or a whale, who, thanks to their thick layers of fat, easily support the rigors of the winter.
Hatteras did not suffer physically or morally. The sufferings of the crew did not seem to depress him. Perhaps he would not let his emotions appear on his face, while an acute observer would have detected the heart of a man beneath this mask of iron.
The doctor analyzed him, studied him, and could not classify this strange organization, this unnatural temperament.
The thermometer fell still lower; the deck was entirely deserted; the Esquimaux dogs alone walked up and down it, barking dismally.
There was always a man on guard near the stove, who superintended putting on the coal; it was important not to let it go out; when the fire got low the cold crept into the room, formed on the walls, and the moisture suddenly condensed and fell in the form of snow on the unfortunate occupants of the brig.
It was among these terrible sufferings that they reached December 8th; that morning the doctor went as usual to look at the thermometer. He found the mercury entirely frozen in the bulb.
"Forty-four degrees below zero!" he said with terror.
And on that day the last piece of coal on board was thrown into the stove.
CHAPTER XXVII. THE GREAT COLD AT CHRISTMAS.
For a moment he had a feeling of despair. The thought of death, and death by cold, appeared in all its horror; this last piece of coal burned with an ominous splutter; the fire seemed about to go out, and the temperature of the room fell noticeably. But Johnson went to get some of the new fuel which the marine animals had furnished to them, and with it he filled the stove; he added to it some tow filled with frozen oil, and soon obtained sufficient heat. The odor was almost unendurable; but how get rid of it? They had to get used to it. Johnson agreed that his plan was defective, and that it would not be considered a success in Liverpool.
"And yet," he added, "this unpleasant smell will, perhaps, produce good results."
"What are they?" asked the carpenter.
"It will doubtless attract the bears this way, for they are fond of the smell."
"Well," continued Bell, "what is the need of having bears?"
"Bell," replied Johnson, "we can't count on seals any longer; they're gone away, and for a long time; if bears don't come in their place to supply us with their share of fuel, I don't know what is to become of us."
"True, Johnson, our fate is very uncertain; our position is a most alarming one. And if this sort of fuel gives out, I don't see how—"
"There might be another—"
"Another?" asked Bell.
"Yes, Bell! in despair on account of—but the captain would never—but yet we shall perhaps have to come to it."
And Johnson shook his head sadly, and fell to thinking gloomily. Bell did not interrupt him. He knew that the supply of fat, which it had been so hard to acquire, would only last a week, even with the strictest economy.
The boatswain was right. A great many bears, attracted by the scent, were seen to leeward of the Forward; the healthy men gave chase; but these animals are very swift of foot, and crafty enough to escape most stratagems; it was impossible to get near them, and the most skilful gunners could not hit them.
The crew of the brig was in great danger of dying from the cold; it could not withstand, for forty-eight hours, such a temperature as would exist in the common-room. Every one looked forward with terror to getting to the end of the fuel.
Now this happened December 20th, at three o'clock in the afternoon; the fire went out; the sailors, grouped about the empty stove, gazed at one another with haggard eyes. Hatteras remained without moving in his corner; the doctor, as usual, paced up and down excitedly; he did not know what was to be done.
The temperature in the room fell at once to -7 degrees.
But if the doctor was baffled and did not know what they should turn their hands to, others knew very well. So Shandon, cold and resolute, Pen, with wrath in his eyes, and two or three of his companions, such as he could induce to accompany him, walked towards Hatteras.
"Captain!" said Shandon.
Hatteras, absorbed in his thoughts, did not hear him.
"Captain!" repeated Shandon, touching him with his hand.
"Sir," he said.
"Captain, the fire is out."
"Well?" continued Hatteras.
"If you intend that we shall freeze to death," Shandon went on with grim irony, "we should be glad if you would tell us."
"My intention," answered Hatteras with a deep voice, "is that every man shall do his duty to the end."
"There's something superior to duty, Captain," answered his first officer, "and that is the right of self-preservation. I repeat it, we have no fire; and if this goes on, in two days not one of us will be alive."
"I have no wood," answered Hatteras, gloomily.
"Well," shouted Pen, violently, "when the wood gives out, we must go cut it where it grows!"
Hatteras grew pale with anger.
"Where is that?" he asked.
"On board," answered the sailor, insolently.
"On board!" repeated the captain, with clinched fists and sparkling eyes.
"Of course," answered Pen, "when the ship can't carry the crew, the ship ought to be burned."
At the beginning of this sentence Hatteras had grasped an axe; at its end, this axe was raised above Pen's head.
"Wretch!" he cried.
The doctor sprang in front of Pen, and thrust him back; the axe fell on the floor, making a deep gash. Johnson, Bell, and Simpson gathered around Hatteras, and seemed determined to support him. But plaintive, grievous cries arose from the berths, transformed into death-beds.
"Fire, fire!" they cried, shivering beneath their now insufficient covering.
Hatteras by a violent effort controlled himself, and after a few moments of silence, he said calmly,—
"If we destroy the ship, how shall we get back to England?"
"Sir," answered Johnson, "perhaps we can without doing any material damage burn the less important parts, the bulwarks, the nettings—"
"The small boats will be left," said Shandon; "and besides, why might we not make a smaller vessel out of what is left of the old one?"
"Never!" answered Hatteras.
"But—" interposed many of the men, shouting together.
"We have a large quantity of spirits of wine," suggested Hatteras; "burn all of that."
"All right; we'll take the spirits of wine!" answered Johnson, assuming an air of confidence which he was far from feeling.
And with the aid of long wicks, dipped into this liquid of which the pale flame licked the walls of the stove, he was able to raise the temperature of the room a few degrees.
In the following days the wind came from the south again and the thermometer rose; the snow, however, kept falling. Some of the men were able to leave the ship for the driest hours of the day; but ophthalmia and scurvy kept most of them on board; besides, neither hunting nor fishing was possible.
But this was only a respite in the fearful severity of the cold, and on the 25th, after a sudden change of wind, the frozen mercury disappeared again in the bulb of the instrument; then they had to consult the spirit-thermometer, which does not freeze even in the most intense colds.
The doctor, to his great surprise, found it marking -66 degrees. Seldom has man been called upon to endure so low a temperature.
The ice stretched in long, dark lines upon the floor; a dense mist filled the room; the dampness fell in the form of thick snow; the men could not see one another; their extremities grew cold and blue; their heads felt as if they wore an iron band; and their thoughts grew confused and dull, as if they were half delirious. A terrible symptom was that their tongues refused to articulate a sound.
From the day the men threatened to burn the ship, Hatteras would walk for hours upon the deck, keeping watch. This wood was flesh and blood to him. Cutting a piece from it would have been like cutting off a limb. He was armed, and he kept constant guard, without minding the cold, the snow, or the ice, which stiffened his clothing as if it covered it with a granite cuirass. Duke understood him, and followed him, barking and howling.
Nevertheless, December 25th he went down into the common-room. The doctor, with all the energy he had left, went up to him and said,—
"Hatteras, we are going to die from want of fire!"
"Never!" said Hatteras, knowing very well what request he was refusing.
"We must," continued the doctor, mildly.
"Never!" repeated Hatteras more firmly; "I shall never give my consent! Whoever wishes, may disobey me."
Thus was permission given them. Johnson and Bell hastened to the deck. Hatteras heard the wood of the brig crashing under the axe, and wept.
That was Christmas Day, the great family festival in England, one specially devoted to the amusement of the children. What a painful recollection was that of the happy children gathered about the green Christmas tree! Every one recalled the huge pieces of roast meat, cut from the fattened ox, and the tarts, the mince-pies, and other luxuries so dear to the English heart! But here was nothing but suffering, despair, and wretchedness, and for the Christmas log, these pieces of a ship lost in the middle of the frigid zone!
Nevertheless, under the genial influence of the fire, the spirits and strength of the men returned; the hot tea and coffee brought great and immediate consolation, and hope is so firm a friend of man, that they even began to hope for some luckier fate. It was thus that the year 1860 passed away, the early winter of which had so interfered with Hatteras's plans.
Now it happened that this very New Year's Day was marked by an unexpected discovery. It was a little milder than the previous days had been; the doctor had resumed his studies; he was reading Sir Edward Belcher's account of his expedition in the polar regions. Suddenly, a passage which he had never noticed before filled him with astonishment; he read it over again; doubt was no longer possible.
Sir Edward Belcher states that, having come to the end of Queen's Channel, he found there many traces of the presence of men. He says:—
"There are remains of dwellings far superior to what can be attributed to the savage habits of the wandering tribes of Esquimaux. The walls are firmly placed on deep-dug foundations; the inside, covered with a thick layer of gravel, has been paved. Skeletons of moose, reindeer, and seals abound. We found coal there."
At these last words an idea occurred to the doctor; he took his book and ran to tell Hatteras.
"Coal!" shouted the captain.
"Yes, Hatteras, coal; that is to say, our preservation!"
"Coal, on this lonely shore!" continued Hatteras; "no, that's impossible!"
"How can you doubt it, Hatteras? Belcher would not have mentioned it if he had not been sure, without having seen it with his own eyes."
"Well, what then, Doctor?"
"We are not a hundred miles from the place where Belcher saw this coal! What is a journey of a hundred miles? Nothing. Longer expeditions have often been made on the ice, and with the cold as intense. Let us go after it, Captain!"
"We'll go!" said Hatteras, who had made up his mind quickly; and with his active imagination he saw the chance of safety.
Johnson was informed of the plan, of which he approved highly; he told his companions; some rejoiced, others heard of it with indifference.
"Coal on these shores!" said Wall from his sick-bed.
"We'll let them go," answered Shandon, mysteriously.
But before they had begun to make preparations for the trip, Hatteras wanted to fix the position of the Forward with the utmost exactitude. The importance of this calculation it is easy to see. Once away from the ship, it could not be found again without knowing its position precisely.
So Hatteras went up on deck; he took observations at different moments of several lunar distances, and the altitude of the principal stars. He found, however, much difficulty in doing this, for when the temperature was so low, the glass and the mirrors of the instrument were covered with a crust of ice from Hatteras's breath; more than once his eyelids were burned by touching the copper eye-pieces. Still, he was able to get very exact bases for his calculations, and he returned to the common-room to work them out. When he had finished, he raised his head with stupefaction, took his chart, marked it, and looked at the doctor.
"Well?" asked the latter.
"What was our latitude when we went into winter-quarters?"
"Our latitude was 78 degrees 15 minutes, and the longitude 95 degrees 35 minutes, exactly the pole of cold."
"Well," added Hatteras in a low voice, "our ice-field is drifting! We are two degrees farther north and farther west,—at least three hundred miles from your coal-supply!"
"And these poor men who know nothing about it!" cried the doctor.
"Not a word!" said Hatteras, raising his finger to his lips.
CHAPTER XXVIII. PREPARATIONS FOR DEPARTURE.
Hatteras did not wish to let his crew know about this new condition of affairs. He was right. If they had known that they were being driven towards the north with irresistible force, they would have given way to despair. The doctor knew this, and approved of the captain's silence.
Hatteras had kept to himself the impressions which this discovery had caused within him. It was his first moment of joy during these long months of struggle with the hostile elements. He was one hundred and fifty miles farther north; hardly eight degrees from the Pole! But he hid his joy so well that the doctor did not even suspect it; he asked himself why Hatteras's eye shone with so unusual a lustre; but that was all, and the natural reply to this question did not enter his head.
The Forward, as it approached the Pole, had drifted away from the coal which had been seen by Sir Edward Belcher; instead of a hundred miles, it would have to be sought two hundred and fifty miles farther south. Still, after a short discussion between Hatteras and Clawbonny, they determined to make the attempt.
If Belcher was right, and his accuracy could not be doubted, they would find everything just at he had left it. Since 1853, no new expedition had visited these remote continents. Few, if any, Esquimaux are found in this latitude. The disaster which had befallen at Beechey Island could not be repeated on the shores of North Cornwall. Everything seemed to favor an excursion across the ice.
They estimated that they would be gone forty days at the outside, and preparations were made by Johnson for that time of absence.
In the first place, he saw about the sledge; it was of the shape of those used in Greenland, thirty-five inches broad and twenty-four feet long. The Esquimaux sometimes make them fifty feet long. It was built of long planks, bent at each end, and kept in position by two strong cords. This shape adapted it to resist violent shocks. The sledge ran easily upon the ice; but before the snow had hardened, it was necessary to place two vertical frames near together, and being raised in this way, it could run on without cutting too much into the snow. Besides, by rubbing it with a mixture of sulphur and snow in the Esquimaux fashion, it ran very easily.
It was drawn by six dogs; they were strong in spite of their thinness, and did not appear to be injured by the severity of the winter; the harnesses of deerskin were in good condition; perfect reliance could be placed on the equipment, which the Greenlanders at Upernavik had sold in conscience. These six animals alone could draw a weight of two thousand pounds without inordinate fatigue.
They carried with them a tent, in case it should be impossible to build a snow-house; a large sheet of mackintosh to spread over the snow, so that it should not melt at contact with their bodies; and, last of all, many coverings of wool and buffalo-skin. In addition, they carried the Halkett-boat.
Their provisions consisted of five chests of pemmican, weighing four hundred and fifty pounds; a pound of pemmican was allotted for each man and dog; of the latter there were seven, including Duke; there were to be four men. They carried, besides, twelve gallons of spirits of wine, weighing nearly a hundred and fifty pounds; tea and biscuit, in proper amounts; a little portable kitchen, with a great many wicks; and much tow, ammunition, and four double-barrelled guns. The men of the party made use of Captain Parry's invention, and wore girdles of india-rubber in which the heat of the body and the motion in walking could keep tea, coffee, and water in a liquid state.
Johnson took special care of the preparation of snow-shoes, with their wooden frames and leathern straps; they served as skates; on thoroughly frozen spots deerskin moccasins could be worn with comfort; every man carried two pairs of each.
These preparations, which were so important because the omission of a single detail might have caused the ruin of the whole expedition, required four whole days. Every day at noon Hatteras took an observation of the ship's position; it was no longer drifting, and this had to be perfectly sure in order to secure their return.
Hatteras undertook to choose the four men who were to accompany him. It was not an easy decision to take; some it was not advisable to take, but then the question of leaving them on board had also to be considered. Still, the common safety demanded the success of this trip, and the captain deemed it right to choose sure and experienced men.
Hence Shandon was left out, but not much to his regret. James Wall was too ill to go. The sick grew no worse; their treatment consisted of repeated rubbing and strong doses of lemon-juice; this was easily seen to without the presence of the doctor being essential. Hence he enrolled himself among those who should go, and no voice was raised against it. Johnson would have gladly gone with the captain in his dangerous expedition; but Hatteras drew him to one side and said to him in an affectionate, almost weeping voice,—
"Johnson, you are the only man I can trust. You are the only officer with whom I can leave the ship. I must know that you are here to keep an eye on Shandon and the others. They are kept to the ship by the winter; but who can say what plans they are not capable of forming? You shall receive my formal instructions, which shall place the command in your hands. You shall take my place. We shall be absent four or five weeks at the most, and I shall be at ease having you here where I cannot be. You need wood, Johnson. I know it! But, as much as possible, spare my ship. Do you understand, Johnson?"
"I understand, Captain," answered the old sailor, "and I will remain if you prefer it."
"Thanks!" said Hatteras, pressing the boatswain's hand; and he added, "In case we don't come back, Johnson, wait till the next thaw, and try to push on to the Pole. If the rest refuse, don't think of us, but take the Forward back to England."
"That is your wish, Captain?"
"It is," answered Hatteras.
"Your orders shall be obeyed," said Johnson, quietly.
The doctor regretted that his friend was not going to accompany him, but he was obliged to recognize the wisdom of Hatteras's plan.
His two other companions were Bell the carpenter, and Simpson. The first, who was sturdy, brave, and devoted, would be of great service in their camping in the snow; the other, although less resolute, nevertheless determined to take part in this expedition in which he might be of use as hunter and fisher.
So this detachment consisted of Hatteras, Clawbonny, Bell, Simpson, and the faithful Duke, making in all four men and seven dogs to be fed. A suitable amount of provisions was made ready.
During the early days of January the mean temperature was -33 degrees. Hatteras waited impatiently for milder weather; he frequently consulted the barometer, but no confidence could be placed in this instrument, which in these high latitudes seems to lose some of its customary accuracy; in these regions there are many exceptions to the general laws of nature: for instance, a clear sky was not always accompanied by cold, nor did a fall of snow raise the temperature; the barometer was uncertain, as many explorers in these seas have noticed; it used to fall when the wind was from the north or east; when low it foretold fine weather; when high, rain or snow. Hence its indications could hardly be relied on.
Finally, January 5th an easterly breeze brought with it a rise in the thermometer of fifteen degrees, so that it stood at -18 degrees. Hatteras resolved to start the next day; he could no longer endure seeing his ship torn to pieces before his eyes; the whole quarter-deck had been burned up.
So, January 6th, amid squalls of snow, the order to depart was given; the doctor gave his last words of advice to the sick; Bell and Simpson shook hands silently with their companions. Hatteras wanted to make a farewell speech to the men, but he saw nothing but angry faces around him. He fancied he saw an ironical smile playing about Shandon's lips. He held his peace. Perhaps he had a momentary pang at parting as he gazed at the Forward.
But it was too late for him to change his mind; the sledge, loaded and harnessed, was waiting on the ice; Bell was the first to move; the others followed. Johnson accompanied the travellers for a quarter of a mile; then Hatteras asked him to return, which he did after a long leave-taking. At that moment, Hatteras, turning for the last time towards the brig, saw the tops of her masts disappearing in the dark snow-clouds.
CHAPTER XXIX. ACROSS THE ICE-FIELDS.
The little band made their way towards the southeast. Simpson drove the sledge. Duke aided him much, without being disturbed at the occupation of his mates. Hatteras and the doctor followed behind on foot, while Bell, who was charged with making a road, went on in advance, testing the ice with the iron point of his stick.
The rise in the thermometer foretold a fall of snow, and soon it came, beginning in large flakes. This added to the hardships of their journey; they kept straying from a straight line; they could not go quickly; nevertheless, they averaged three miles an hour.
The ice-field, under the pressure of the frost, presented an unequal surface; the sledge was often nearly turned over, but they succeeded in saving it.
Hatteras and his companions wrapped themselves up in their fur clothes cut in the Greenland fashion; they were not cut with extraordinary neatness, but they suited the needs of the climate; their faces were enclosed in a narrow hood which could not be penetrated by the snow or wind; their mouths, noses, and eyes were alone exposed to the air, and they did not need to be protected against it; nothing is so inconvenient as scarfs and nose-protectors, which soon are stiff with ice; at night they have to be cut away, which, even in the arctic seas, is a poor way of undressing. It was necessary to leave free passage for the breath, which would freeze at once on anything it met.
The boundless plain stretched out with tiresome monotony; everywhere there appeared heaped-up ice-hills, hummocks, blocks, and icebergs, separated by winding valleys; they walked staff in hand, saying but little. In this cold atmosphere, to open the mouth was painful; sharp crystals of ice suddenly formed between the lips, and the heat of the breath could not melt them. Their progress was silent, and every one beat the ice with his staff. Bell's footsteps were visible in the fresh snow; they followed them mechanically, and where he had passed, the others could go safely.
Numerous tracks of bears and foxes crossed one another everywhere; but during this first day not one could be seen; to chase them would have been dangerous and useless: they would only have overloaded the already heavy sledge.
Generally, in excursions of this sort, travellers take the precaution of leaving supplies along their path; they hide them from the animals, in the snow, thus lightening themselves for their trip, and on their return they take the supplies which they did not have the trouble of carrying with them.
Hatteras could not employ this device on an ice-field which perhaps was moving; on firm land it would have been possible; and the uncertainty of their route made it doubtful whether they would return by the same path.
At noon, Hatteras halted his little troop in the shelter of an ice-wall; they dined off pemmican and hot tea; the strengthening qualities of this beverage produced general comfort, and the travellers drank a large quantity. After an hour's rest they started on again; in the first day they walked about twenty miles; that evening men and dogs were tired out.
Still, in spite of their fatigue, they had to build a snow-house in which to pass the night; the tent would not have been enough. This took them an hour and a half. Bell was very skilful; the blocks of ice, which were cut with a knife, were placed on top of one another with astonishing rapidity, and they took the shape of a dome, and a last piece, the keystone of the arch, established the solidity of the building; the soft snow served as mortar in the interstices; it soon hardened and made the whole building of a single piece.
Access was had into this improvised grotto by means of a narrow opening, through which it was necessary to crawl on one's hands and knees; the doctor found some difficulty in entering, and the others followed. Supper was soon prepared on the alcohol cooking-stove. The temperature inside was very comfortable; the wind, which was raging without, could not get in.
"Sit down!" soon shouted the doctor in his most genial manner.
And this meal, though the same as the dinner, was shared by all. When it was finished their only thought was sleep; the mackintoshes, spread out upon the snow, protected them from the dampness. At the flame of the portable stove they dried their clothes; then three of them, wrapped up in their woollen coverings, fell asleep, while one was left on watch; he had to keep a lookout on the safety of all, and to prevent the opening from being closed, otherwise they ran a risk of being buried alive.
Duke shared their quarters; the other dogs remained without, and after they had eaten their supper they lay down and were soon hidden by the snow.
Their fatigue soon brought sound sleep. The doctor took the watch until three of the morning. In the night the hurricane raged furiously. Strange was the situation of these lonely men lost in the snow, enclosed in this vault with its walls rapidly thickening under the snow-fall.
The next morning at six o'clock their monotonous march was resumed; there were ever before them the same valleys and icebergs, a uniformity which made the choice of a path difficult. Still, a fall of several degrees in the temperature made their way easier by hardening the snow. Often they came across little elevations, which looked like cairns or storing-places of the Esquimaux; the doctor had one destroyed to satisfy his curiosity, but he found nothing except a cake of ice.
"What do you expect to find, Clawbonny?" asked Hatteras; "are we not the first men to penetrate into this part of the globe?"
"Probably," answered the doctor, "but who knows?"
"Don't let us waste our time in useless searching," resumed the captain; "I am in a hurry to rejoin the ship, even if this long-wanted fuel should not be found."
"I have great hopes of finding it," said the doctor.
"Doctor," Hatteras used to say frequently, "I did wrong to leave the Forward; it was a mistake! The captain's place is on board, and nowhere else."
"Johnson is there."
"Yes! but—let us hurry on!"
They advanced rapidly; Simpson's voice could be heard urging on the dogs; they ran along on a brilliant surface, all aglow with a phosphorescent light, and the runners of the sledge seemed to toss up a shower of sparks. The doctor ran on ahead to examine this snow, when suddenly, as he was trying to jump upon a hummock, he disappeared from sight. Bell, who was near him, ran at once towards the place.
"Well, Doctor," he cried anxiously, while Hatteras and Simpson joined him, "where are you?"
"Doctor!" shouted the captain.
"Down here, at the bottom of a hole," was the quiet answer. "Throw me a piece of rope, and I'll come up to the surface of the globe."
They threw a rope down to the doctor, who was at the bottom of a pit about ten feet deep; he fastened it about his waist, and his three companions drew him up with some difficulty.
"Are you hurt?" asked Hatteras.
"No, there's no harm done," answered the doctor, wiping the snow from his smiling face.
"But how did it happen?"
"O, it was in consequence of the refraction," he answered, laughing; "I thought I had about a foot to step over, and I fell into this deep hole! These optical illusions are the only ones left me, my friends, and it's hard to escape from them! Let that be a lesson to us all never to take a step forward without first testing the ice with a staff, for our senses cannot be depended on. Here our ears hear wrong, and our eyes deceive us! It's a curious country!"
"Can you go on?" asked the captain.
"Go on, Hatteras, go on! This little fall has done me more good than harm."
They resumed their march to the southeast, and at evening they halted, after walking about twenty-five miles; they were all tired, but still the doctor had energy enough to ascend an ice-mountain while the snow-hut was building.
The moon, which was nearly at its full, shone with extraordinary brilliancy in a clear sky; the stars were wonderfully brilliant; from the top of the iceberg a boundless plain could be seen, which was covered with strangely formed hillocks of ice; in the moonlight they looked like fallen columns or overthrown tombstones; the scene reminded the doctor of a huge, silent graveyard barren of trees, in which twenty generations of human beings might be lying in their long sleep.
In spite of the cold and fatigue, Clawbonny remained for a long time in a revery, from which it was no easy task for his companions to arouse him; but they had to think of resting; the snow-hut was completed; the four travellers crawled in like moles, and soon were all asleep.
The following days went on without any particular incident; at times they went on slowly, at times quickly, with varying ease, according to the changes in the weather; they wore moccasins or snow-shoes, as the nature of the ice demanded.