Nevertheless, by taking advantages of such openings as there
were, the Forward succeeded in getting a few minutes farther
north; but, instead of escaping the enemy, it would soon be
necessary to attack it; ice-fields of many miles in extent were
drawing together, and as these moving masses often represent a
pressure of ten millions of tons, they were obliged to take every
precaution against being crushed by them. Ice-saws were placed
outside the vessel, where they could be used without delay.
Some of the crew endured their hard toil without a murmur,
but others complained or even refused to obey orders. While
they were putting the saws in place, Garry, Bolton, Pen, and Gripper
exchanged their diverse opinions as follows.
“Deuce take it,” said Bolton, cheerfully; “I don't know why
it just occurs to me that in Water Street there's a comfortable
tavern, where one might be very well off between a glass
of gin and a bottle of porter. Can you see it from here, Gripper?”
“To tell the truth,” answered the sailor who had been addressed,
and who generally pretended to be very sullen, “I must
say I can't see it from here.”
“That's merely your way of talking, Gripper; it is evident
that, in those snow towns which Dr. Clawbonny is always admiring,
there's no tavern where a poor sailor can moisten his throat
with a drink or two of brandy.”
“You may be sure of that, Bolton; and you might add that
on board of this ship there's no way of getting properly refreshed.
A strange idea, sending people into the northern seas, and giving
them nothing to drink!”
“Well,” answered Garry, “have you forgotten, Gripper, what
the doctor said? One must go without spirits if he expects to
escape the scurvy, remain in good health, and sail far.”
“I don't care to sail far, Garry; and I think it's enough to
have come as far as this, and to try to get through here where
the Devil does n't mean to let us through.”
“Well, we sha' n't get through,” retorted Pen. “0, when I
think I have already forgotten how gin tastes!”
“But,” said Bolton, “remember what the doctor said.”
“0,” answered Pen, with his rough voice, “that's all very well
to say! I fancy that they are economizing it under the pretext
of saving our health.”
“Perhaps that devil Pen is right,” said Gripper.
“Come, come!” replied Bolton, “his nose is too red for that;
and if a little abstinence should make it a trifle paler. Pen won't
need to be pitied.”
“Don't trouble yourself about my nose,” was the answer, for
Pen was rather vexed. “My nose does n't need your advice; it
does n't ask for it; you'd better mind your own business.”
“Come, don't be angry, Pen; I did n't think your nose was so
tender. I should be as glad as any one else to have a glass of
whiskey, especially on such a cold day; but if in the long run it
does more harm than good, why, I'm very willing to get along
without it.”
“You may get along without it,” said Warren, the stoker, who
had joined them, “but it's not everybody on board who gets
along without it.”
“What do you mean, Warren?” asked Garry, looking at him
“I mean that for one purpose or another there is liquor aboard,
and I fancy that aft they don't get on without it.”
“What do you know about it?” asked Garry.
Warren could not answer; he spoke for the sake of speaking.
“You see, Garry,” continued Bolton, “that Warren knows
nothing about it.”
“Well,” said Pen, “we'll ask the commander for a ration of
gin; we deserve it, and we'll see what he'll say.”
“I advise you not to,” said Garry.
“Why not?” cried Pen and Gripper.
“Because the commander will refuse it. You knew what the
conditions were when you shipped; you ought to think of that
“Besides,” said Bolton, who was not averse to taking Garry's
side, for he liked him, “Richard Shandon is not master; he's
under orders like the rest of us.”
“Whose orders?” asked Pen.
“The captain's.”
“Ah, that ridiculous captain's!” cried Pen. “Don't you
know there's no more captain than there is tavern on the ice?
That's a mean way of refusing politely what we ask for.”
“But there is a captain,” persisted Bolton; “and I'll wager
two months' pay that we shall see him before long.”
“All right!” said Pen; “I should like to give him a piece of
my mind.”
“Who's talking about the captain?” said a new speaker.
It was Clifton, who was inclined to be superstitious and envious
at the same time.
“Is there any news about the captain?” he asked.
“No,” a single voice answered.
“Well, I expect to find him settled in his cabin some fine
morning, and without any one's knowing how or whence he came
“Nonsense!” answered Bolton; “you imagine, Clifton, that
he's an imp, a hobgoblin such as are seen in the Scotch Highlands.”
“Laugh if you want to, Bolton; that won't alter my opinion.
Every day as I pass the cabin I peep in through the keyhole,
and one of these days I'll tell you what he looks like, and how
he's made.”
“0, the devil!” said Pen; “he'll look like everybody else.
And if he wants to lead us where we don't want to go, we'll let
him know what we think about it.”
“All right,” said Bolton; “Pen does n't know him, and wants
to quarrel with him already.”
“Who does n't know all about him'?” asked Clifton, with the air
of a man who has the whole story at his tongue's end; “I should
like to know who does n't.”
“What do you mean?” asked Gripper.
“I know very well what I mean.”
“But we don't.”
“Well, Pen has already had trouble with him.”
“With the captain?”
“Yes, the dog-captain; for it's the same thing precisely.”
The sailors gazed at one another, incapable of replying.
“Dog or man,” muttered Pen, between his teeth, “I'll bet
he'll get his account settled one of these days.”
“Why, Clifton,” asked Bolton, seriously, “do you imagine, as
Johnson said in joke, that that dog is the real captain?”
“Certainly, I do,” answered Clifton, with some warmth; “and
if you had watched him as carefully as I have, you'd have noticed
his strange ways.”
“What ways? Tell us.”
“Have n't you noticed the way he walks up and down the
poop-deck as if he commanded the ship, keeping his eye on the
sails as if he were on watch?”
“That's so,” said Gripper; “and one evening I found him with
his paws on the wheel.”
“Impossible!” said Bolton.
“And then,” continued Clifton, “does n't he run out at night
on the ice-fields without caring for the bears or the cold?”
“That's true,” said Bolton.
“Did you ever see him making up to the men like an honest
dog, or hanging around the kitchen, and following the cook when
he's carrying a savory dish to the officers? Have n't you all
heard him at night, when he's run two or three miles away from
the vessel, howling so that he makes your blood run cold, and
that's not easy in weather like this? Did you ever seen him eat
anything? He never takes a morsel from any one; he never
touches the food that's given him, and, unless some one on board
feeds him secretly, I can say he lives without eating. Now, if
that's not strange, I'm no better than a beast myself.”
“Upon my word,” answered Bell, the carpenter, who had heard
all of Clifton's speech, “it may be so.”
But all the other sailors were silent.
“Well, as for me,” continued Clifton, “I can say that if you
don't believe, there are wiser people on board who don't seem so
“Do you mean the mate?” asked Bolton.
“Yes, the mate and the doctor.”
“Do you think they fancy the same thing?”
“I have heard them talking about it, and they could make no
more out of it than we can; they imagined a thousand things
which did not satisfy them in the least.”
“Did they say the same things about the dog that you did,
Clifton?” asked the carpenter.
“If they were not talking about the dog,” answered Clifton,
who was fairly cornered, “they were talking about the captain;
it's exactly the same thing, and they confessed it was all very
“Well, my friends,” said Bell, “do you want to hear my
“What is it!” they all cried.
“It is that there is not, and there will not be, any other captain
than Richard Shandon.”
“And the letter?” said Clifton.
“The letter was genuine,” answered Bell; “it is perfectly true
that some unknown person has equipped the Forward for an
expedition in the ice; but the ship once off, no one will come on
“Well,” asked Bolton, “where is the ship going to?”
“I don't know; at the right time, Richard Shandon will get
the rest of the instructions.”
“But from whom?”
“From whom?”
“Yes, in what way?” asked Bolton, who was becoming persistent.
“Come, Bell, an answer,” said the other sailors.
“From whom? in what way? 0, I'm sure I don't know!”
“Well, from the dog!” cried Clifton. “He has already written
once, and he can again. 0, if I only knew half as much as he
does, I might be First Lord of the Admiralty!”
“So,” added Bolton, in conclusion, “you persist in saying that
dog is the captain?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Well,” said Pen, gruffly, “if that beast doesn't want to die in
a dog's skin, he'd better hurry and turn into a man; for, on my
word, I'll finish him.”
“Why so?” asked Garry.
“Because I want to,” answered Pen, brutally; “and I don't
care what any one says.”
“You have been talking long enough, men,” shouted the boatswain,
advancing at the moment when the conversation threatened
to become dangerous; “to work, and have the saws put in
quicker! We must get through the ice.”
“Good! on Friday too,” answered Clifton, shrugging his
shoulders. “You won't find it so easy to cross the Polar Circle.”
Whatever the reason may have been, the exertions of the
crew on that day were nearly fruitless. The Forward, plunging,
under a full head of steam, against the floes, could not separate
them; they were obliged to lie at anchor that night.
On Saturday, the temperature fell still lower under the influence
of an east-wind; the sky cleared up, and they all had a
wide view over the white expense, which shone brilliantly beneath
the bright rays of the sun. At seven o'clock in the morning, the
thermometer stood at 8° above zero.
The doctor was tempted to remain quietly in his cabin, or
read over the accounts of arctic journeys; but he asked himself,
following his usual habit, what would be the most disagreeable
thing he could do at that moment. He thought that to go on
deck on such a cold day and help the men would not be attractive.
So, faithful to his line of conduct, he left his well-warmed
cabin, and went out to help tow the ship. He looked strange
with his green glasses, which he wore to protect his eyes against
the brilliancy of the sun, and after that he
always took good care to wear snow-spectacles
as a security against the inflammation of the
eyes, which is so common in these latitudes.
By evening the Forward had got several
miles farther north, thanks to the energy of
the men and the intelligence of Shandon,
who was quick at utilizing every favorable
circumstance; at midnight they crossed the sixty-sixth parallel,
and the lead announcing a depth of twenty-three fathoms, Shandon
knew that he was in the neighborhood of the shoal on
which her Majesty's ship Victory grounded. Land lay thirty
miles to the east.
But then the mass of ice, which had hitherto been stationary,
separated, and began to move; icebergs seemed to rise in all
points of the horizon; the brig was caught in a number of whirlpools
of irresistible force; controlling her became so hard, that
Garry, the best steersman, took the helm; the masses began to
close behind the brig, hence it was necessary to cut through the
ice; both prudence and duty commanded them to go forward.
The difficulties were enhanced by the impossibility of Shandon's
fixing the direction of the brig among all the changing points,
which were continually shifting and presenting no definite point
to be aimed at.
The crew were divided into two forces, and one stationed on
the starboard, the other on the larboard side; every man was
given a long iron-headed pole, with which to ward off threatening
pieces of ice. Soon the Forward entered such a narrow passage
between two lofty pieces, that the ends of the yards touched its
solid walls; gradually it penetrated farther into a winding valley
filled with a whirlwind of snow, while the floating ice was crashing
ominously all about.
But soon it was evident that there was no outlet to this
gorge; a huge block, caught in the channel, was floating swiftly
down to the Forward; it seemed impossible to escape it, and
equally impossible to return through an already closed path.
Shandon and Johnson, standing on the forward deck, were
viewing their position. Shandon with his right hand signalled to
the man at the wheel what direction he was to take, and with
his left hand he indicated to James Wall the orders for the
“What will be the end of this?” asked the doctor of Johnson.
“What pleases God,” answered the boatswain.
The block of ice, eight hundred feet high, was hardly more
than a cable's length from the Forward, and threatened to crush
Pen broke out with a fearful oath.
“Silence!” cried a voice which it was impossible to recognize,
in the roar of the hurricane.
The mass appeared to be falling upon the brig, and there was
an indefinable moment of terror; the men, dropping their poles,
ran aft in spite of Shandon's orders.
Suddenly, a terrible noise was heard; a real water-spout fell
on the deck of the brig, which was lifted in the air by a huge
wave. The crew uttered a cry of terror, while Garry, still firm at
the wheel, kept the course of the Forward steady, in spite of the
fearful lurch.
And when they looked for the mountain of ice, it had disappeared;
the passage was free, and beyond, a long channel, lit up
by the sun, allowed the brig to continue her advance.
“Well, Dr. Clawbonny,” said Johnson, “can you explain
“It's very simple, my friend,” answered the doctor. “It happens
very often; when these floating masses get detached in a
thaw, they float away in perfect equilibrium; but as they get
towards the south, where the water is relatively warmer, their
base, eaten away by running into other pieces, begins to melt,
and be undermined; then comes a moment when the centre of
gravity is displaced, and they turn upside down. Only, if this
had happened two minutes later, it would have fallen on the brig
and crushed us beneath it.”




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