During the commander's absence the men had been variously
busied in attempts to relieve the ship from the pressure of the
ice. Pen, Clifton, Bolton, Gripper, and Simpson had this in
charge; the fireman and the two engineers came to the aid of their
Comrades, for, as soon as the engines did not require their attention,
they became sailors, and as such could be employed in all
that was going on aboard the ship.
But there was a great deal of discontent among them.
“I declare I've had enough,” said Pen; “and if we are not
free in three days, I swear I sha' n't stir a finger to get the ship
“Not stir a finger!” answered Plover; “you'd better use them
in getting back. Do you think we want to stay here till next
“It certainly would be a hard winter,” said Pen, “for we are
exposed on all sides.”
“And who knows,” said Brunton, “whether next spring the
sea will be any freer than it is now?”
“Never mind about next spring,” answered Pen; “to-day is
Thursday; if the way is not clear Sunday morning, we shall turn
back to the south.”
“Good!” cried Clifton.
“Don't you agree with me?” asked Pen.
“We do,” cried his companions.
“That's so,” said Warren; “for if we have to work in this
way and haul the ship along with our own arms, I think it would
be as well to haul her backwards.”
“We shall do that on Sunday,” said Wolston.
“Only give me the order,” resumed Brunton, “and my fires
shall be lighted.”
“Well,” remarked Clifton, “we shall light them ourselves.”
“If any officer,” said Pen, “is anxious to spend the winter
here, he can; we can leave him here contentedly; he'll find it
easy to build a hut like the Esquimaux.”
“Not at all, Pen,” retorted Brunton, quickly; “we sha' n't
abandon any one here; do you understand that, all of you? I
think it won't be hard to persuade the commander; he seems to
me to be very much discouraged, and if we propose it to him
“But,” interrupted Plover, “Richard Shandon is often very
obstinate; we shall have to sound him cautiously.”
“When I think,” said Bolton, with a sigh of longing, “that in
a month we might be back in Liverpool! We can easily pass
the line of ice at the south! Davis Strait will be open by the
beginning of June, and then we shall have nothing but the free
Atlantic before us.”
“Besides,” said the cautious Clifton, “if we take the commander
back with us, and act under his commands, we shall have
earned our pay; but if we go back without him, it's not so
“True,” said Plover; “Clifton talks sense. Let's try not to
get into any trouble with the Admiralty, that's safer, and don't
let us leave any one behind.”
“But if they refuse to come with us?” continued Pen, who
wished to compel his companions to stand by him.
They found it hard to answer the question thus squarely put
“We shall see about that when the time comes,” replied Bolton;
“it will be enough to bring Richard Shandon over to our
side, and I fancy that won't be hard.”
“There's one I shall leave here,” exclaimed Pen with fierce
oaths, “even if he should bite my arm off.”
“0, the dog!” said Plover.
“Yes, that dog! I shall soon settle accounts with him.”
“So much the better,” retorted Clifton, returning to his favorite
theory; “he is the cause of all our troubles.”
“He has thrown an evil spell upon us,” said Plover.
“He led us into the ice,” remarked Gripper.
“He brought more ice in our way,” said Wolston, “than was
ever seen at this season.”
“He made my eyes sore,” said Brunton.
“He shut off the gin and brandy,” cried Pen.
“He's the cause of everything,” they all exclaimed excitedly.
“And then,” added Clifton, “he's the captain.”
“Well, you unlucky Captain,” cried Pen, whose unreasonable
fury grew with the sound of his own words, “you wanted to come
here, and here you shall stay!”
“But how shall we get hold of him?” said Plover.
“Well, now is a good time,” answered Clifton. “The commander
is away; the second mate is asleep in his cabin; the fog
is so thick that Johnson can't see us—”
“But the dog?” said Pen.
“He's asleep in the coal,” answered Clifton, “and if any one
“I'll see to it,” replied Pen, angrily.
“Take care. Pen; his teeth would go through a bar of iron.”
“If he stirs, I'll rip him open,” answered Pen, drawing his
And he ran down between decks, followed by Warren, who was
anxious to help him.
Soon they both returned, carrying the dog in their arms; his
mouth and paws were securely tied; they had caught him asleep,
and the poor dog could not escape them.
“Hurrah for Pen!” cried Plover.
“And what are you going to do with him now?” asked
“Drown him, and if he ever comes back—” answered Pen
with a smile of satisfaction.
Two hundred feet from the vessel there was a hole in the ice,
a sort of circular crevasse, made by the seals with their teeth,
and always dug out from the inside to the outside; it was there
that the seals used to come to breathe on the surface of the ice;
but they were compelled to take care to prevent the aperture
from closing, for the shape of their jaws did not permit them to
make the hole from the outside, and in any danger they would
not be able to escape from their enemies.
Pen and Warren hastened to this crevasse, and then, in spite
of his obstinate struggles, the dog was pitilessly cast into the
sea; a huge cake of ice they then rolled over the aperture, closing
all means of escape for the poor dog, thus locked in a watery
“A pleasant journey. Captain!” cried the brutal sailor.
Soon they returned on board; Johnson had seen nothing of it
all; the fog was growing thick about the ship, and the snow was
beginning to fall with violence.
An hour later, Richard Shandon, the doctor, and Garry regained
Shandon had observed in the northeast a passage, which he
determined to try. He gave his orders to that effect; the crew
obeyed with a certain activity; they wanted to convince Shandon
of the impossibility of a farther advance, and besides, they bad
before them three days of obedience.
During a part of the following night and day the sawing
and towing went on busily; the Forward made about
two miles of progress. On the 18th they were in sight of land,
five or six cable-lengths from a strange peak, to which its singular
shape had given the name of the Devil's Thumb.
At this very place the Prince Albert, in 1851, the Advance,
with Kane, in 1853, had been caught in the ice for many weeks.
The odd shape of the Devil's Thumb, the barren and desolate
surroundings, which consisted of huge icebergs often more than
three hundred feet high, the cracking of the ice, repeated
indefinitely by the echo, made the position of the Forward a very
gloomy one. Shandon saw that it was necessary to get away
from there; within twenty-four hours, he calculated he would
be able to get two miles from the spot. But that was not enough.
Shandon felt himself embarrassed by fear, and the false position
in which he was placed benumbed his energy; to obey his
instructions in order to advance, he had brought his ship into a
dangerous position; the towing wore out his men; more than
three hours were necessary to cut a canal twenty feet in length
through ice which was generally four or five feet thick; the health
of the crew gave signs of failing. Shandon was astonished at the
silence of the men, and their unaccustomed obedience; but he
feared it was only the calm that foreboded a storm.
We can, then, easily judge of the painful surprise, disappointment,
and even despair which seized upon him, when he noticed
that by means of an imperceptible movement in the ice, the Forward
lost in the night of the 18th all that had been gained by
such toilsome efforts; on Saturday morning he was opposite the
Devil's Thumb, in a still more critical position; the icebergs
increased in number and passed by in the mist like phantoms.
Shandon was thoroughly demoralized; it must be said that fear
seized both this bold man and all his crew. Shandon had heard
of the disappearance of the dog; but he did not dare to punish
the guilty persons; he feared exciting a mutiny.
The weather during that day was horrible; the snow, caught
up in dense whirls, covered the brig with an impenetrable veil;
at times, under the influence of the hurricane, the fog would rise,
and their terror-stricken eyes beheld the Devil's Thumb rising on
the shore like a spectre.
The Forward was anchored to a large piece of ice; there was
nothing to be done, nothing to be tried; darkness was spreading
about them, and the man at the helm could not see James Wall,
who was on watch forward.
Shandon withdrew to his cabin, a prey to perpetual disquiet;
the doctor was arranging his notes of the expedition; some of the
crew were on the deck, others in the common room.
At a moment when the violence of the storm was redoubling,
the Devil's Thumb seemed to rise immoderately from the mist.
“Great God!” exclaimed Simpson, recoiling with terror.
“What's the matter?” asked Foker.
Soon shouts were heard on all sides.
“It's going to crush us!”
“We are lost!”
“Mr. Wall, Mr. Wall!”
“It's all over!”
All these cries were uttered by the men on watch.
Wall hastened to the after-deck; Shandon, followed by the
doctor, flew to the deck and looked out.
Through a rift in the mist, the Devil's Thumb appeared to
have suddenly come near the brig; it seemed to have grown enormously
in size; on its summit was balanced a second cone, upside
down, and revolving on its point; it threatened to crush the
ship with its enormous
mass; it wavered,
ready to fall down. It
was an alarming sight.
Every one drew back
instinctively, and many
of the men, jumping
upon the ice, abandoned
“Let no one move!”
cried the commander
with a loud voice;
“every one to his
“My friends, don't
be frightened,” said
the doctor, “there is
no danger! See, Commander,
see, Mr. Wall,
that's the mirage and
“You are right. Dr. Clawbonny,”
replied Johnson; “they've all been frightened by a
When they had heard what the doctor said, most of the sailors
drew near him, and from terror they turned to admiration of this
wonderful phenomenon, which soon passed from their view.
“They call that a mirage,” said Clifton; “the Devil's at the
bottom of it, I'm sure.”
“That's true,” growled Gripper.
But the break in the fog had given the commander a glimpse
of a broad passage which he had not expected to find; it promised
to lead him away from the shore; he resolved to make use
of it at once; men were sent out on each side of the canal; hawsers
were given them, and they began to tow the ship northward.
During long hours this work was prosecuted busily but silently;
Shandon had the furnace-fires lighted to help him through
this passage so providentially discovered.
“That's great luck,” he said to Johnson, “and if we can only
get on a few miles, we may be free. Make a hot fire, Mr. Brunton,
and let me know as soon as you get steam on. Meanwhile,
men, the farther on we get, the more gained! You want
to get away from the Devil's Thumb; well, now is your chance!”
Suddenly the brig stopped. “What's the matter?” shouted
Shandon. “Wall, have the tow-ropes broken?”
“No,” answered Wall, leaning over the ratling. “See, there
are the men running back; they are climbing on board; they
seem very much frightened.”
“What's happened?” cried Shandon, running forward.
“On board, on board!” cried the sailors, evidently exceedingly
Shandon looked towards the north, and shuddered in spite of
A strange animal, with alarming motions, whose steaming
tongue hung from huge jaws, was bounding along within a cable's
length from the ship; it seemed more than twenty feet high; its
hair stood on end; it was chasing the sailors as if about to seize
them, while its tail, which was at least ten feet long, lashed the
snow and tossed it about in dense gusts. The sight of the monster
froze the blood in the veins of the boldest.
“It's an enormous bear,” said one.
“It's the beast of Gévaudan!”
“It's the lion of the Apocalypse!”
Shandon ran to his cabin to get a gun which he kept always
loaded; the doctor seized his arms, and made ready to fire at the
beast, which by its size, recalled antediluvian monsters.
It drew near with long leaps; Shandon and the doctor fired at
the same time, and suddenly the report of the pieces agitated
the air and produced an unlooked-for effect.
The doctor gazed attentively, and could not help bursting out
laughing. “It's refraction!” said he.
“Refraction!” cried Shandon.
But a terrible cry from the crew interrupted them.
“The dog!” shouted Clifton.
“The dog-captain!” repeated his companions.
“It's he!” cried Pen.
In fact, it was the dog who had burst his bonds and had made
his way to the surface of the ice through another hole. At that
moment the refraction, by a phenomenon common in these latitudes,
exaggerated his size, and this had only been broken by the
report of the guns; but, notwithstanding, a disastrous impression
had been produced upon the minds of the sailors, who were not
very much inclined to admit any explanation of the fact from
physical causes. The adventure of the Devil's Thumb, the reappearance
of the dog under such peculiar circumstances, completely
upset them, and murmurs arose on all sides.