Shandon, Dr. Clawbonny, Johnson, Foker, and Strong, the
cook, got into one of the boats and made their way to shore.
The Governor, his wife and five children, all Esquimaux, received
their visitors kindly. The doctor, who was the philologist
of the party, knew enough Danish to establish friendly relations;
moreover, Foker, the interpreter of the party as well as ice-master,
knew a dozen or two words of the language of the Greenlanders;
and with that number of words one can express a great
deal, if he is not too ambitious.
The Governor was born on the island of Disco, and he has
never left the place; he did the honors of his capital, which consisted
of three wooden houses, for himself and the Lutheran minister,
of a school, and
shops which were supplied
by what was cast
upon the shore from
wrecked ships. The
rest of the town consisted
of snow huts,
into which the Esquimaux
crawl through a
single opening.
A great part of the
population came out
to meet the Forward
and more than one of
them went as far as
the middle of the bay
in his kayak, fifteen
feet long and two
broad at the widest
The doctor knew
that the word Esquimaux meant”eater of raw fish“; but he
knew too that this name is considered an insult in this country,
so he forbore giving it to the inhabitants of Greenland.
And yet, from the oily sealskin clothes and boots, from their
squat, fat figures, which make it hard to distinguish the men
from the women, it was easy to declare the nature of their food;
besides, like all fish-eating people, they were somewhat troubled
by leprosy, but their general health was not impaired by it.
The Lutheran minister and his wife, with whom the doctor had
promised himself an interesting talk, happened to be away on the
shore of Proven, south of Upernavik; hence he was compelled to
seek the company of the Governor. The chief magistrate did not
appear to be very well informed: a little less, he would have been
a fool; a little more, and he would have known how to read.
In spite of that, the doctor questioned him about the commerce,
habits, and manners of the Esquimaux; and he learned, by
means of gestures, that the seals were worth about forty pounds
when delivered at Copenhagen; a bear-skin brought forty Danish
dollars, the skin of a blue fox four, and of a white fox two or
three dollars.
In order to make his knowledge complete, the doctor wanted
to visit an Esquimaux hut; a man who seeks information is capable
of enduring anything; fortunately the opening of these huts
was too small, and the enthusiastic doctor could not get through.
It was fortunate for him, for there is nothing more repulsive than
the sight of that crowd of living and dead objects, of seal's bodies
and Esquimaux-flesh, decayed fish and unclean clothing, which
fill a Greenland hut; there is no window to renew that suffocating
air; there is only a hole at the top of the cabin which lets the
smoke out, but gives no relief to the stench.
Foker gave all these details to the doctor, but he none the less
bewailed his portliness. He wanted to judge for himself these
emanations sui generis.
“I am sure,” said he, “that one could get used to it in time.”
In time shows clearly the doctor's character.
During these ethnographic studies on his part, Shandon was
busying himself, according to his instructions, with procuring
means of travel on the ice; he was obliged to pay four pounds
for a sledge and six dogs, and the natives were reluctant to sell
even at this price.
Shandon would have liked to engage Hans Christian, the skilful
driver of the dogs, who accompanied Captain MacClintock,
but Hans was then in Southern Greenland.
Then came up the great question of the day; was there at
Upernavik a European awaiting the arrival of the Forward? Did
the Governor know of any stranger, probably an Englishman, who
had come into these latitudes? How recently had they seen any
whalers or other ships?
To these questions the Governor answered that no stranger had
landed on that part of the coast for more than ten months.
Shandon asked the names of the whalers which had last arrived;
he recognized none. He was in despair.
“You must confess, Doctor, that it passes all comprehension,”
he said to his companion. “Nothing at Cape Farewell! nothing
at Disco! nothing at Upernavik!”
“Tell me in a few days from now, nothing at Melville Bay,
my dear Shandon, and I will salute you as sole captain of the
The boat returned to the brig towards evening, bringing back
the visitors to the shore; Strong had bought several dozen eider-duck's
eggs, which were twice as large as hen's eggs, and of a
greenish color. It was not much, but it was very refreshing for
a crew accustomed to little but salt meat.
The next day the wind was fair, but yet Shandon did not set
sail; he wanted to wait another day, and, to satisfy his conscience,
to give time for any member of the human race to rejoin
the Forward; he even fired off, every hour, the ship's gun, which
re-echoed among the icebergs; but he only succeeded in frightening
the flocks of molly-mokes[1] and rotches.[1] During the night
many rockets were set off; but in vain. He had to give the
order to set sail.
The 8th of May, at six o'clock in the morning, the Forward,
under her topsails, foresail, and main-top-gallant-sail, soon lost
sight of the station of Upernavik, and hideous long poles on
which were hanging along the shore the seals' entrails and deers'
The wind was southeast, the thermometer stood at 32°. The
sun pierced through the fog and the ice melted a little.
The reflection, however, injured the sight of many of the crew.
Wolston, the armorer, Gripper, Clifton, and Bell were attacked by
snow-blindness, which is very common in the spring, and which
totally blinds many of the Esquimaux. The doctor advised all, the
unharmed as well as the suffering, to cover their faces with a green
veil, and he was the first to follow his own recommendation.
The dogs bought by Shandon at Upernavik were rather wild;
but they soon got used to their new quarters, and Captain showed
no dislike of his new companions; he seemed to know their ways.
Clifton was not the last to remark that Captain seemed to be
familiar with the dogs of Greenland. And they, always half
starved on shore, only thought of making up for it when at sea.
The 9th of May the Forward passed within a few cable-lengths
of the westernmost of the Baffin Islands. The doctor noticed
many rocks between the islands and the mainland which were
what are called crimson cliffs; they were covered with snow as
red as carmine, which Dr. Kane says is of purely vegetable origin;
Clawbonny wanted to examine this singular phenomenon,
but the ice forbade their approaching them; although the temperature
was rising, it was easy to see that the icebergs and ice-streams
were accumulating toward the north of Baffin's Bay.
After leaving Upernavik the land presented a different appearance,
and huge glaciers were sharply defined against the gray
horizon. On the 10th the Forward left on its right Kingston
Bay, near the seventy-fourth degree of latitude; Lancaster Sound
opened into the sea many hundred miles to the west.
But then this vast expanse of water was hidden beneath enormous
fields of ice, in which arose the hummocks, uniform as
a homogeneous crystallization. Shandon had the furnace-fires
lighted, and until the 11th of May the Forward advanced by a
tortuous course, tracing with her smoke against the sky the path
she was following through the water.
But new obstacles soon presented themselves; the passages
were closing in consequence of the incessant crowding of the
floating masses; every moment threatened to close up the clear
water before the Forward, and if she were nipped, it would be hard
to get her out. Every one knew it and was thinking about it.
Hence, on board of this ship without any definite aim, any
known destination, which was blindly pushing on northward,
some symptoms of hesitation began to appear; among these men
accustomed to dangers, many, forgetting the advantages which
were promised them, regretted having ventured so far. A certain
demoralization became common, which was further increased by
the fears of Clifton and the talk of two or three ringleaders,
such as Pen, Gripper, Warren, and Wolston.
Exhausting fatigue was added to the moral disquiet of the
crew, for, on the 12th of May, the brig was caught fast; the
steam was of no avail. A path had to be cut through the ice.
It was no easy task to manage the saws in the floes which were
six or seven feet thick; when two parallel grooves had divided
the ice for a hundred feet, it was necessary to break the part that
lay between with axes and bars; next they had to fasten anchors
in a hole made by a huge auger; then the crew would turn the
capstan and haul the ship along by the force of their arms; the
greatest difficulty consisted in driving the detached pieces beneath
the floes, so as to give space for the vessel, and they had to
be pushed under by means of long iron-headed poles.
Moreover, this continued toil with saws, capstan, and poles, all
of which was persistent, compulsory, and dangerous, amid the
dense fog or snow, while the air was so cold, and their eyes so
exposed, their doubt so great, did much to weaken the crew of
the Forward and to act on their imagination.
When sailors have to deal with a man who is energetic, bold,
and determined, who knows what he wants, whither he is going,
what aim he has in view, confidence animates them all in spite
of themselves; they are firmly united to their leader, strong with
his force and calm with his calmness. But on board of the brig
they were aware of the commander's uncertainty, they knew that
he hesitated before the unknown aim and destination. In spite
of the energy of his character, his uncertainty was clearly to be
seen by his uncertain orders, incomplete manœuvres, his sudden
outbursts, and a thousand petty details which could not escape
the sharp eyes of the crew.
And then, Shandon was not the captain of the ship, the master
under God, which was enough to encourage the discussion of his
orders; and from discussion to disobedience is but a short step.
The malcontents soon brought over to their number the first
engineer, who, hitherto, had been a slave to his duty.
The 16th of May, six days after the Forward had reached the
ice, Shandon had not made two miles to northward. They were
threatened with being detained in the ice until the next season.
Matters had a serious look.
Towards eight o'clock of the evening, Shandon and the doctor,
accompanied by Garry, went out to reconnoitre the vast plains;
they took care not to go too far from the ship, for it was hard
to find any fixed points in this white solitude, which was ever
changing in appearance. Refraction kept producing strange
effects, much to the doctor's astonishment; at one place, where
he thought he had but an easy jump before him, he had to leap
some five or six feet; or else the contrary happened, and in either
case the result was a tumble, which if not dangerous was at any
rate painful, for the ice was as hard and slippery as glass.
Shandon and his two companions went out to seek a possible
passage; three miles from the ship, they succeeded with some
difficulty in ascending an iceberg about three hundred feet high.
From that point nothing met their eyes but a confused mass, like
the ruins of a vast city, with shattered monuments, overthrown
towers, and prostrate palaces,—a real chaos. The sun was just
peering above the jagged horizon, and sent forth long, oblique
rays of light, but not of heat, as if something impassable for heat
lay between it and this wild country.
The sea appeared perfectly covered as far as eye could
“How shall we get through'?” asked the doctor.
“I don't know,” answered Shandon; “but we shall get through,
if we have to blow our way through with powder. I certainly
sha' n't stay in the ice till next spring.”
“But that happened to the Fox, and not far from here. Bah!”
said the doctor; “we shall get through with a little philosophy.
You will see that is worth all the machinery in the world.”
“I must say,” answered Shandon, “this year does not begin
very well.”
“True, Shandon, and I notice also that Baffin's Bay seems to
be returning to the state it was in before 1817.”
“Don't you think, Doctor, it has always been as it is now?”
“No, my dear Shandon, from time to time there have been
great breakings of the ice which no one can explain; so, up to
1817 this sea was continually full, when an enormous sort of
inundation took place, which cast the icebergs into the ocean,
most of which reached the banks of Newfoundland. From that
day Baffin's Bay was nearly free, and was visited by whalers.”
“So,” asked Shandon, “from that time voyages to the North
became easier?”
“Incomparably; but for some years it has been noticed that
the bay seems to be resuming its old ways and threatens to become
closed, possibly for a long time, to sailors. An additional
reason, by the way, for pushing on as far as possible. And yet it
must be said, we look like people who are pushing on in unknown
ways, with the doors forever closing behind us.”
“Would you advise me to go back?” asked Shandon, trying to
read into the depths of the doctor's eyes.
“I! I have never retreated yet, and, even if we should never
get back, I say go on. Still, I want to make it clear that if we
act imprudently, we do it with our eyes open.”
“And you, Garry, what do you think about it?” asked Shandon
of the sailor.
“I, Commander, should go straight on; I agree with Dr. Clawbonny;
but do as you please; command, we shall obey.”
“They don't all talk as you do, Garry,” resumed Shandon;
“they are not all ready to obey. And if they refuse to obey my
“I have given you my opinion, Commander,” answered Garry,
coldly, “because you asked for it; but you are not obliged to
follow it.”
Shandon did not answer; he scanned the horizon closely, and
then descended with his companions to the ice-fields.
1^  Sea-birds common in these latitudes.




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