The 5th of April, the day of departure, came. The fact that
the doctor had joined the expedition gave some comfort to those
on board. Wherever he could go they could follow. Still, most
of the sailors were very uneasy, and Shandon, fearing that their
number might be diminished by desertion, was very anxious to
get to sea. The land once out of sight, the men would soon be
Dr. Clawbonny's cabin was situated on the poop, occupying the
extreme after-part of the ship. The cabins of the captain and
mate opened on the deck. That of the captain was kept tightly
closed, after it had been provided with various instruments, furniture,
clothing, books, and utensils, all of which had been set
down in detail in a letter. As he had asked, the key was sent to
the captain at Lübeck; so he alone had admission into the cabin.
This fact annoyed Shandon, and diminished his chances of having
chief command. As for his own cabin, he had arranged it
suitably for the presumed voyage, for he knew very well what
was necessary for a polar expedition.
The second mate's cabin was on the lower deck, where the
sailors were domiciled; the crew had very comfortable quarters;
they would hardly have had such accommodations in any other
ship. They were treated as if they were a valuable cargo; a
huge stove stood in the middle of their sleeping-room.
Dr. Clawbonny was very enthusiastic about it; he took possession
of his cabin on the 6th of February, the day after the ship
“The happiest animal in the world,” he used to say, “would
be a snail who could make himself just such a shell as he
wanted; I shall try to be an intelligent snail.”
And, in fact, for a shell which he was not going to leave for
some time, his cabin presented a very comfortable appearance;
the doctor took a scientific or childlike pleasure in arranging his
scientific paraphernalia. His books, his specimens, his cases, his
instruments, his physical apparatus, his thermometers, barometers,
field-glasses, compasses, sextants, charts, drawings, phials,
powder, and medicine-bottles, all were classified in a way which
would have done honor to the British Museum. This space of
six feet square contained incalculable wealth; the doctor needed
only to stretch out his hand without rising, to become at once
a physician, a mathematician, an astronomer, a geographer, a
botanist, or a conchologist.
To tell the truth, he was proud of his arrangements, and very
contented in his floating sanctum, which three of his thinnest friends
would have completely filled. They used to crowd there in great
numbers, so that even so good-natured a man as the doctor was
occasionally put out; and, like Socrates, he came at last to say,—
“My house is small, but may Heaven grant that it never be
filled with friends!”
To complete our account of the Forward, it is only necessary
to add that a kennel for the huge Danish dog was built just
beneath the window of the closed cabin; but he preferred to keep
himself between decks and in the hold; it seemed impossible to
tame him; no one ever conquered his shyness; he could be heard,
at night especially, howling dismally in the ship's hold.
Was it because he missed his master? Had he an instinctive
dread of the dangers of the voyage? Had he a presentiment of
the coming perils? The sailors were sure that he had, and more
than one said the same in jest, who in his heart regarded the dog
as a sort of diabolic animal.
Pen, a very brutal man, one day, while trying to kick him,
slipped, and fell on the corner of the capstan in such a way that
he cut his head badly. It is easy to see how the sailors put all
the blame upon the dog.
Clifton, who was the most superstitious
man in the crew, made, one day, the strange
observation that the dog, when on the poop,
would always walk on the windward side;
and afterwards, when the brig was at sea and
under sail, this singular animal would shift
his position to the other side after every tack,
so as to be windward, as the captain of the
Forward would have done.
Dr. Clawbonny, who by his gentleness and
caresses would have almost tamed the heart
of a tiger, tried in vain to make friends with the dog; he met
with no success.
The dog, too, did not answer to any of the usual names of his
kind. So the men used to call him “Captain,”
for he seemed perfectly familiar with
all the ways on shipboard. He had evidently
been to sea before.
It is hence easy to understand the boatswain's
answer to Clifton's friend, and how
this idea found but few sceptics; more than
would repeat it jestingly, who was fully
prepared to see the dog, some fine day, take human shape, and
with a loud voice assume command.
If Richard Shandon did not share such apprehensions, he was
far from being undisturbed, and on the eve of departing, on the
night of April 5th, he was talking on this subject with the doctor.
Wall, and Johnson, in the mess-room.
These four persons were sipping their tenth grog, which was
probably their last, too; for, in accordance with the letter from
Aberdeen, all the crew, from the captain to the stoker, were tee-totalers,
never touching beer, wine, nor spirits, except in case of
sickness, and by the advice of the doctor.
For an hour past they had been talking about their departure.
If the captain's instructions were to be completely carried out,
Shandon would the next day receive a letter containing his last
“If that letter,” said the mate, “doesn't tell me the captain's
name, it must at least tell us whither we are bound. If not, in
what direction shall we sail?”
“Upon my word,” answered the impatient doctor, “if I were
in your place, Shandon, I should set sail even without getting a
letter; one will come after us, you may be sure.”
“You have a great deal of faith. Doctor. But, if you please, to
what part of the world would you sail?”
“Towards the North Pole, of course; there can be no doubt
“No doubt indeed!” said Wall. “Why not towards the South
“The South Pole! Never!” cried the doctor. “Would the
captain ever have thought of sending a brig across the whole
Atlantic Ocean? Just think for a moment, my dear Wall.”
“The doctor has an answer for everything,” was his only reply.
“Granted it's northward,” resumed Shandon. “But tell me,
Doctor, is it to Spitzbergen, Greenland, or Labrador that we have
to sail, or to Hudson's Bay? If all these routes come to the
same end at last,—the impassable ice,—there is still a great
number of them, and I should find it very hard to choose between
them. Have any definite answer to that. Doctor?”
“No,” answered the doctor, annoyed that he had nothing to
say; “but if you get no letter, what shall you do?”
“I shall do nothing; I shall wait.”
“You won't set sail!” cried Clawbonny, twirling his glass in
“No, certainly not.”
“That's the best course,” said Johnson, mildly; while the doctor
walked around the table, being unable to sit quiet any longer.
“Yes, that's the best course; and still, too long a delay might
have very disastrous consequences. In the first place, the season
is a good one, and if it's north we are going, we ought to take
advantage of the mild weather to get through Davis Straits;
besides, the crew will get more and more impatient; the friends
and companions of the men are urging them to leave the Forward,
and they might succeed in playing us a very bad turn.”
“And then, too,” said James Wall, “if
any panic should arise among the men,
every one would desert us; and I don't
know, Commander, how you could get together
“But what is to be done?” cried Shandon.
“What you said,” answered the doctor:
“wait; but wait till to-morrow before you
despair. The captain's promises have all
been fulfilled so far with such regularity that we may have the
best hopes for the future; there's no reason to think that we
shall not be told of our destination at the proper time. As for
me, I don't doubt in the least that to-morrow we shall be sailing
in the Irish Sea. So, my friends, I propose one last drink to a
happy voyage; it begins in a mysterious way, but, with such
sailors as you, there are a thousand chances of its ending well.”
And they all touched their glasses for the last time.
“Now, Commander,” resumed Johnson, “I have one piece of
advice to give you, and that is, to make everything ready for sailing.
Let the crew think you are certain of what you are about.
To-morrow, whether a letter comes or not, set sail; don't start
your fires; the wind promises to hold; nothing will be easier than
to get off; take a pilot on board; at the ebb of the tide leave the
docks; then anchor beyond Birkenhead Point; the crew will have
no more communication with the land; and if this devilish letter
does come at last, it can find us there as well as anywhere.”
“Well said, Johnson!” exclaimed the doctor, reaching out his
band to the old sailor.
“That's what we shall do,” answered Shandon.
Each one then withdrew to his cabin, and took what sleep he
could get till morning.
The next day the first distribution of letters took place in the
city, but there was none for Commander Richard Shandon.
Nevertheless he made his preparations for departure; the news
spread immediately throughout the city, and, as we have seen,
a great concourse of spectators thronged the piers of the New
A great many people came on board the brig,—some to bid a
friend good by, or to urge him to leave the ship, or to gaze at
this strange vessel; others to ascertain the object of the voyage;
and there were many murmurs at the unusual silence of the commander.
For that he had his reasons.
Ten o'clock struck. Eleven, The tide was to turn at half past
twelve. Shandon, from the upper deck, gazed with anxious eyes
at the crowd, trying in vain to read on some one's face the secret
of his fate. But in vain. The sailors of the Forward obeyed his
orders in silence, keeping their eyes fixed upon him, ever awaiting
some information which he did not give.
Johnson was finishing the preparations for setting sail. The
day was overcast, and the sea, outside of the docks, rather high;
a stiff southwest breeze was blowing, but they could easily leave
At twelve o'clock still nothing. Dr. Clawbonny walked up and
down uneasily, looking about, gesticulating, and “impatient for
the sea,” as he said. In spite of all he could do, he felt excited.
Shandon bit his lips till the blood came.
At this moment Johnson came up to him and said,—
“Commander, if we are going to take this tide, we must lose
no time; it will be a good hour before we can get off from the
Shandon cast one last glance about him, and looked at his
watch. It was after the time of the midday distribution of
“Cast off!” he said to his boatswain.
“All ashore who are going!” cried the latter, ordering the
spectators to leave the deck of the Forward.
Thereupon the crowd, began to move toward the gangway and
make its way on to the quay, while the crew began to cast off the
At once the inevitable confusion of the crowd, which was
pushed about without much ceremony by the sailors, was increased
by the barking of the dog. He suddenly sprang from the
forecastle right through the mass of visitors, barking sullenly.
All made way for him. He sprang on the poop-deck, and, incredible
as it may seem, yet, as a thousand witnesses can testify,
this dog-captain carried a letter in his mouth.
“A letter!” cried Shandon; “but is he on board?”
“He was, without doubt, but he's not now,” answered Johnson,
showing the deck cleared of the crowd.
“Here, Captain! Captain!” shouted the doctor, trying to take
the letter from the dog, who kept springing away from him. He
seemed to want to give the letter to Shandon himself.
“Here, Captain!” he said.
The dog went up to him; Shandon took the letter without
difficulty, and then Captain barked sharply three times, amid the
profound silence which prevailed on board the ship and along the
Shandon held the letter in his hand, without opening it.
“Read it, read it!” cried the doctor. Shandon looked at it.
The address, without date or place; ran simply,—“Commander
Richard Shandon, on board the brig Forward.”
Shandon opened the letter and read:—
You will sail towards Cape Farewell. You will reach it April 20. If the captain does not appear on board, you will pass through Davis Strait and go up Baffin's Bay as far as Melville Sound.
Captain of the Forward.
Shandon folded carefully this brief letter, put it in his pocket,
and gave the order to cast off. His voice, which arose alone above
the roaring of the wind, sounded very solemn.
Soon the Forward had left the docks, and under the care of a
pilot, whose boat followed at a distance, put out into the stream.
The crowd hastened to the outer quay by the Victoria Docks to
get a last look at the strange vessel. The two topsails, the foresail,
and staysail were soon set, and under this canvas the Forward,
which well deserved its name, after rounding Birkenhead
Point, sailed away into the Irish Sea.