During that day the Forward made easy progress through the
loose ice; the breeze was in a good quarter, but the temperature
was very low; the wind coming across the ice-fields was thoroughly
At night the strictest care was necessary; the icebergs crowded
together in this narrow passage; often they could be counted by
the hundred on the horizon; they had been loosened from the
lofty coasts by the incessant beating of the waves and the warmth
of the spring month, and they were floating down to melt away
in the depths of the ocean. Often, too, they came across large
masses of floating wood, which they were obliged to avoid, so
that the crow's-nest was placed in position on the top of the foremast;
it consisted of a sort of tub, in which the ice-master,
partly sheltered from the wind, scanned the sea, giving notice of
the ice in sight, and even, if necessary, directing the ship's course.
The nights were short; since
the 31st of January the sun
had reappeared in refraction,
and was every day rising higher
and higher above the horizon.
But it was hid by the snow,
which, if it did not produce
utter darkness, rendered navigation
April 21st, Cape Desolation
appeared through the mist; hard
work was wearying the crew;
since the brig had entered the
ice, the sailors had had no rest;
it was now necessary to have
recourse to steam to force a way
through the accumulated masses.
The doctor and Johnson were
talking together on the afterdeck,
while Shandon was snatching
a few hours of sleep in his
cabin. Clawbonny was very
fond of talking with the old
sailor, whose numerous voyages
had given him a valuable education.
The two had made great
friends of one another.
“You see, Dr. Clawbonny,”
said Johnson, “this country is
not like any other; its name is Greenland, but there are very
few weeks of the year in which it deserves this name.”
“But, Johnson,” answered the doctor, “who can say whether
in the tenth century this name did not suit it? More than one
change of this sort has taken place on the globe, and I should
astonish you much more by saying that, according to Icelandic
chroniclers, two hundred villages flourished on this continent
eight or nine hundred years ago.”
“You astonish me so much, Dr. Clawbonny, that I can't believe
you; for it's a sterile country.”
“Well, sterile as it is, it supports a good many inhabitants,
and among them are some civilized Europeans.”
“Without doubt; at Disco and at Upernavik we shall find
men who are willing to live in such a climate; but I always supposed
they stayed there from necessity, and not because they
liked it.”
“I think you are right; still, men get accustomed to everything,
and these Greenlanders appear to me better off than the
workingmen of our large cities; they may be unfortunate, but
they are not miserable. I say unfortunate, but that is not exactly
what I mean; in fact, if they are not quite as comfortable
as those who live in temperate regions, they, nevertheless, are
accustomed to the severity of the climate, and find in it an
enjoyment which we should never imagine.”
“We have to think so, Dr. Clawbonny, because Heaven is just;
but I have often visited these coasts, and I am always saddened
at the sight of its gloomy loneliness; the capes, promontories, and
bays ought to have more attractive names, for Cape Farewell and
Cape Desolation are not of a sort to cheer sailors.”
“I have often made the same remark,” answered the doctor;
“but these names have a geographical value which is not to be
forgotten; they describe the adventures of those who gave them;
along with the names of Davis, Baffin, Hudson, Ross, Parry,
Franklin, Bellot, if I find Cape Desolation, I also find soon Mercy
Bay; Cape Providence makes up for Port Anxiety, Repulse Bay
brings me to Cape Eden, and after leaving Point Turnagain I
rest in Refuge Bay; in that way I have under my eyes the whole
succession of dangers, checks, obstacles, successes, despairs, and
victories connected with the great names of my country; and,
like a series of antique medals, this nomenclature gives me the
whole history of these seas.”

“Well reasoned, Doctor; and may we find more bays of Success
in our journey than capes of Despair!”
“I hope so, Johnson; but, tell me, have the crew got over
their fears?”
“Somewhat, sir; and yet, to tell the truth, since we entered
these straits, they have begun to be very uneasy about the
unknown captain; more than one expected to see him appear
at the end of Greenland; and so far no news of him. Between
ourselves, Doctor, don't you think that is a little
“Yes, Johnson, I do.”
“Do you believe the captain exists?”
“Without any doubt.”
“But what reason can he have had for acting in this way?”
“To speak frankly, Johnson, I imagine that he wants to get
the crew so far away that it will be impossible for them to turn
back. Now, if he had appeared on board when we set sail, and
every one had known where we were going, he might have been
“How so?”
“Why, if he wants to try any superhuman enterprise, if he
wants to go where so many have failed, do you think he would
have succeeded in shipping a crew? But, once on the way, it is
easy to go so far that to go farther becomes an absolute necessity.”
“Possibly, Doctor; I have known more than one bold explorer,
whose name alone would have frightened every one, and who
would have found no one to accompany him on his perilous
“Except me,” said the doctor.
“And me,” continued Johnson. “I tell you our captain is
probably one of those men. At any rate, we shall know sooner
or later; I suppose that at Upernavik or Melville Bay he will
come quietly on board, and let us know whither he intends to
take the ship.”
“Very likely, Johnson; but the difficulty will be to get to
Melville Bay; see how thick the ice is about us! The Forward
can hardly make her way through it. See there, that huge
“We whalers call that an ice-field, that is to say, an unbroken
surface of ice, the limits of which cannot be seen.”
“And what do you call this broken field of long pieces more or
less closely connected?”
“That is a pack; if it's round we call it a patch, and a stream
if it is long.”
“And that floating ice?”
“That is drift-ice; if a little higher it would be icebergs;
they are very dangerous to ships,
and they have to be carefully avoided.
See, down there on the ice-field, that
protuberance caused by the pressure
of the ice; we call that a hummock;
if the base were under water, we
should call it a cake; we have to
give names to them all to distinguish
“Ah, it is a strange sight,” exclaimed
the doctor, as he gazed at
the wonders of the northern seas; “one's imagination is touched
by all these different shapes!”
“True,” answered Johnson, “the ice takes sometimes such
curious shapes; and we men never fail to explain them in our
own way.”
“See there, Johnson; see that singular collection of blocks of
ice! Would one not say it was a foreign city, an Eastern city with
minarets and mosques in the moonlight? Farther off is a long
row of Gothic arches, which remind us of the chapel of Henry
VII., or the Houses of Parliament.”
“Everything can be found there; but those cities or churches
are very dangerous, and we must not go too near them. Some
of those minarets are tottering, and the smallest of them would
crush a ship like the Forward.”
“And yet men have dared to come into these seas under sail
alone! How could a ship be trusted in such perils without the
aid of steam?”
“Still it has been done; when the wind is unfavorable, and I
have known that happen more than once, it is usual to anchor
to one of these blocks of ice; we should float more or less around
with them, but we would wait for a fair wind; it is true that,
travelling in that way, months would be
sometimes wasted where we shall need
only a few days.”

“It seems to me,” said the doctor,
“that the temperature is falling.”
“That would be a pity,” answered
Johnson, “for there will have to be a
thaw before these masses separate, and
float away into the Atlantic; besides, they
are more numerous in Davis Strait, because
the two stretches of land approach
one another between Cape Walsingham
and Holsteinborg; but above latitude 67°
we shall find in May and June more navigable
“Yes; but we must get through this
“We must get through, Doctor; in
June and July we should have found the
passage free, as do the whalers; but our orders were strict;
we had to be here in April. If I'm not very much mistaken,
our captain is a sound fellow with an idea firm in his head; his
only reason for leaving so early was to go far. Whoever survives
will see.”
The doctor was right about the falling of the temperature; at
noon the thermometer stood at 6°, and a breeze was blowing from
the northwest, which, while it cleared the sky, aided the current
in accumulating the floating ice in the path of the Forward. It
did not all follow the same course; often some pieces, and very
high ones, too, floated in the opposite direction under the influence
of a submarine current.
The difficulties of this navigation may be readily understood;
the engineers had no repose; the engines were controlled from
the bridge by means of levers, which started, stopped, and reversed
them instantly, at the orders of the officer in command. Sometimes
it was necessary to hasten forward to enter an opening in
the ice, again to race with a mass of ice which threatened to
block up their only egress, or some piece, suddenly-upsetting,
obliged the brig to back quickly, in order to escape destruction.
This mass of ice, carried and accumulated by the great polar
current, was hurried through the strait, and if the frost should
unite it, it would present an impassable barrier to the Forward.
In these latitudes numberless birds were to be found; petrels
and contremaitres were flying here and there, with deafening
cries; there were also many gulls, with their large heads, short
necks, and small beaks, which were extending their long wings
and braving the snow which the storm was whirling about. This
profusion of winged beings enlivened the scene.
Numerous pieces of wood were drifting along, clashing continually
into one another; a few whales with large heads approached
the ship; but they could not think of chasing them,
although Simpson, the harpooner, earnestly desired it. Towards
evening several seals were seen, which, with their noses just above
the water, were swimming among the great pieces of ice.
On the 22d the temperature was still falling; the Forward
carried a great deal of steam to reach an easier sailing-place; the
wind blew steadily from the northwest; the sails were furled.
During Sunday the sailors had little to do. After divine
service, which was read by Shandon, the crew betook themselves
to chasing wild birds, of which they caught a great many. These
birds, prepared according to Dr. Clawbonny's method, were an
agreeable addition to the messes of the officers and crew.
At three o'clock in the afternoon, the Forward sighted the Kin
of Sael, which lay east one quarter northeast, and the Mount
Sukkertop, southeast one quarter east half-east; the sea was very
high; from time to time a dense fog descended suddenly from
the gray sky. Notwithstanding, at noon they were able to take
an observation. The ship was found to be in latitude 65°20'
and longitude 54°22'. They would have to go two degrees
farther north before they would find clearer sailing.
During the three following days, the 24th, 25th, and 26th of
April, they had uninterruptedly to fight with the ice; the management
of the engines became very tedious; every minute steam
was shut off or reversed, and escaped from the safety-valve.
In the dense mist their approach to the icebergs could be
known only by the dull roar of the avalanches; then the vessel
would shift its course at once; then there was the danger of running
into the masses of frozen fresh water, which were as clear
as crystal and as hard as stone. Richard Shandon used to take
aboard a quantity of this ice every day to supply the ship with
fresh water.
The doctor could not accustom himself to the optical illusions
produced by refraction; indeed, an iceberg ten or twelve miles
distant used to seem to him to be a small piece of ice close by;
he tried to get used to this strange phenomenon, in order to be
able by and by to overcome the mistakes of his eyesight.
At last, both by towing the brig along the fields of ice and by
pushing off threatening blocks with poles, the crew was thoroughly
exhausted; and yet, on the 27th of April, the Forward
was still detained on the impassable Polar Circle.




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