Hatteras, after seeing to the anchorage of the ship, returned to
his cabin, took out his chart, and marked his position on it very
carefully; he found himself in latitude 76°57', and longitude
99°20', that is to say, only three minutes from latitude 77°. It
was here that Sir Edward Belcher passed his first winter with the
Pioneer and Assistance. It was from here that he organized his
sledge and canoe expeditions; he discovered Table Island, North
Cornwall, Victoria Archipelago, and Belcher Channel. Having
gone beyond latitude 78°, he saw the coast inclining towards the
southeast. It seemed as if it ought to connect with Jones's Strait,
which opens into Baffin's Bay. But, says the report, an open sea,
in the northwest, “stretched as far as the eye could reach.”
Hatteras gazed with emotion at that portion of the charts
where a large white space marked unknown regions, and his eyes
always returned to the open polar sea.
“After so many statements,” he said to himself,—“after the
accounts of Stewart, Penny, and Belcher, doubt is impossible!
These bold sailors saw, and with their own eyes! Can I doubt
their word? No! But yet if this sea is closed by an early
winter— But no, these discoveries have been made at intervals
of several years; this sea exists, and I shall find it! I
shall see it!”
Hatteras went upon the quarter-deck. A dense mist enveloped
the Forward; from the deck one could hardly see the top of the
mast. Nevertheless, Hatteras ordered the ice-master below, and
took his place; he wanted to make use of the first break in the
fog to look at the horizon in the northwest.
Shandon took occasion to say to the second mate,—
“Well, Wall, and the open sea?”
“You were right, Shandon,” answered Wall, “and we have
only six weeks' coal in the bunkers.”
“The doctor will invent some scientific way,” continued Shandon,
“of heating us without fuel. I've heard of making ice with
fire; perhaps he will make fire with ice.”
Shandon returned to his cabin, shrugging his shoulders.
The next day, August 20th, the fog lifted for a few minutes.
From the deck they saw Hatteras in his lofty perch gazing intently
towards the horizon; then he came down without saying a word
and ordered them to set sail; but it was easy to see that his
hopes had been once more deceived.
The Forward heaved anchor and resumed her uncertain path
northward. So wearisome was it that the main-topsail and fore-topsail
yards were lowered with all their rigging; the masts were
also lowered, and it was no longer possible to place any reliance
on the varying wind, which, moreover, the winding nature of the
passes made almost useless; large white masses were gathering
here and there in the sea, like spots of oil; they indicated an
approaching thaw; as soon as the wind began to slacken, the sea
began to freeze again, but when the wind arose this young ice
would break and disperse. Towards evening the thermometer
fell to 17°.
When the brig arrived at the end of a closed pass, it rushed on
at full steam against the opposing obstacle. Sometimes they
thought her fairly stopped; but some unexpected motion of the
ice-streams would open a new passage into which she would
plunge boldly; during these stoppages the steam would escape
from the safety-valves and fall on the deck in the form of snow.
There was another obstacle to the progress of the brig; the ice
would get caught in the screw, and it was so hard that the engine
could not break it; it was then necessary to reverse the engines,
turn the brig back, and send some men to free the snow with axes
and levers; hence arose many difficulties, fatigues, and delays.
It went on in this way for thirteen days; the Forward
advanced slowly through Penny Strait. The crew murmured, but
obeyed; they knew that retreat was now impossible. The
advance towards the north was less perilous than a return to the
south; it was time to think of going into winter-quarters.
The sailors talked together about their condition, and one day
they even began to talk with Shandon, who, they knew, was on
their side. He so far forgot his duty as an officer as to allow
them to discuss in his presence the authority of his captain.
“So you say, Mr. Shandon,” asked Gripper, “that we can't go
back now?”
“No, it's too late,” answered Shandon.
“Then,” said another sailor, “we need only look forward to
going into winter-quarters?”
“It's our only resource! No one would believe me—”
“The next time,” said Pen, who had returned to duty, “they
will believe you.”
“Since I sha' n't be in command—” answered Shandon.
“Who can tell?” remarked Pen. “John Hatteras is free to
go as far as he chooses, but no one is obliged to follow him.”
“Just remember,” resumed Gripper, “his first voyage to Baffin's
Bay and what came of it?”
“And the voyage of the Farewell,” said Clifton, “which was
lost in the Spitzenberg seas under his command.”
“And from which he came back alone,” added Gripper.
“Alone, but with his dog,” said Clifton.
“We don't care to sacrifice ourselves for the whims of that
man,” continued Pen.
“Nor to lose all the wages we've earned so hard.”
They all recognized Clifton by those words.
“When we pass latitude 78°,” he added, “and we are not far
from it, that will make just three hundred and seventy-five pounds
for each man, six times eight degrees.”
“But,” asked Gripper, “sha' n't we lose them if we go back
without the captain?”
“No,” answered Clifton, “if we can prove that it was absolutely
necessary to return.”
“But the captain—still—”
“Don't be uneasy, Gripper,” answered Pen; “we shall have a
captain, and a good one, whom Mr. Shandon knows. When a
captain goes mad, he is dismissed and another appointed. Is n't
that so, Mr. Shandon?”
“My friends,” answered Shandon, evasively, “you will always
find me devoted to you. But let us wait and see what turns up.”
The storm, as may be seen, was gathering over Hatteras's
head; but he pushed on boldly, firm, energetic, and confident.
In fact, if he had not always managed the brig as he wanted to,
and carried her where he was anxious to go, he had still been
very successful; the distance passed over in five months was as
great as what it had taken other explorers two or three years to
make. Hatteras was now obliged to go into winter-quarters, but
this would not alarm men of courage, experience, and confidence.
Had not Sir John Ross and MacClure spent three successive winters
in the arctic regions. Could not he do what they had done?
“Yes, of course,” Hatteras used to say, “and more too, if need
be. Ah!” he said regretfully to the doctor, “why was I unable
to get through Smith's Sound, at the north of Baffin's Bay? I
should be at the Pole now!”
“Well,” the doctor used invariably to answer,—if necessary he
could have invented confidence,—“we shall get there. Captain,
but, it is true, at the ninety-ninth meridian instead of the seventy-fifth;
but what difference does that make? If every road leads
to Rome, it is even surer that every meridian leads to the Pole.”
August 31st, the thermometer fell to 13°. The end of the
summer was evidently near; the Forward left Exmouth Island
to starboard, and three days afterward she passed Table Island,
lying in the middle of Belcher Channel. Earlier in the season
it would have been possible to reach Baffin's Bay through this
channel, but at this time it was impossible to think of it. This
arm of the sea was completely filled with ice, and would not have
offered a drop of open water to the prow of the Forward; for
the next eight months their eyes would see nothing but boundless,
motionless ice-fields.
Fortunately, they could still get a few minutes farther north,
but only by breaking the new ice with huge beams, or by blowing
it up with charges of powder. They especially had cause to fear
calm weather while the temperature was so low, for the passes
closed quickly, and they rejoiced even at contrary winds. A calm
night, and everything was frozen!
Now the Forward could not winter where she was, exposed to
the wind, icebergs, and the drift of the channel; a safe protection
was the first thing to be found; Hatteras hoped to gain the coast
of New Cornwall, and to find, beyond Point Albert, a bay sufficiently
sheltered. Hence he persisted in crowding northward.
But, September 8, an impenetrable, continuous mass of ice lay
between him and the north; the temperature fell to 10°. Hatteras,
with an anxious heart, in vain sought for a passage, risking
his ship a hundred times and escaping from his perils with wonderful
skill. He might have been accused of imprudence, recklessness,
folly, blindness, but he was one of the best of sailors.
The situation of the Forward became really dangerous; in fact,
the sea was closing behind her, and in a few hours the ice grew
so hard that men could run upon it and tow the brig in perfect
Hatteras, not being able to get around this obstacle, determined
to attack it boldly in front. He made use of his strongest
blasting cylinders, containing eight or ten pounds of powder. The
men would dig a hole in the broadest part of the ice, close the
orifice with snow, after having placed the cylinder in a horizontal
position, so that a greater extent of ice might be exposed to the
explosion; then a fuse was lighted, which was protected by a
gutta-percha tube.
In this way they tried to break the ice; it was impossible to
saw it, for the fissures would close immediately. Still, Hatteras
was hoping to get through the next day.
But during the night the wind blew a gale; the sea raised the
crust of ice, and the terrified pilot was heard shouting,—
“Look out there aft, look out there aft!”
Hatteras turned his eyes in that direction, and what he saw in
the dim light was indeed alarming.
A great mass of ice, drifting northward with the tide, was rushing
towards the brig with the speed of an avalanche.
“All hands on deck!” shouted the captain.
This floating mountain was hardly half a mile away; the ice
was all in confusion and crashing together like huge grains of sand
before a violent tempest; the air was filled with a terrible noise.
“That, Doctor,” said Johnson, “is one of the greatest perils we
have yet met with.”
“Yes,” answered the doctor, quietly; “it is terrible enough.”
“A real attack which we must repel,” resumed the boatswain.
“In fact, one might well think it was an immense crowd of
antediluvian animals, such as might have lived near the Pole.
How they hurry on, as if they were racing!”
“Besides,” added Johnson, “some carry sharp lances, of which
you had better take care, Doctor.”
“It's a real siege,” shouted the doctor. “Well, let us run to
the ramparts!”
He ran aft where the crew, provided with beams and bars, were
standing ready to repel this formidable assault.
The avalanche came on, growing larger at every moment as it
caught up the floating ice in its eddy; by Hatteras's orders the
cannon was loaded with ball to break the threatening line. But it
came on and ran towards the brig; a crash was heard, and as
it came against the starboard-quarter, part of the rail had given
“Let no one stir!” shouted Hatteras. “Look out for the ice!”
They swarmed on board the ship with an irresistible force;
lumps of ice, weighing many hundredweight, scaled the sides of
the ship; the smallest, hurled as high as the yards, fell back in
sharp arrows, breaking the shrouds and cutting the rigging. The
men were overcome by numberless enemies, who were heavy
enough to crush a hundred ships like the Forward. Every one
tried to drive away these lumps, and more than one sailor was
wounded by their sharp ends; among others, Bolton, who had his
left shoulder badly torn. The noise increased immensely. Duke
barked angrily at these new enemies. The darkness of the night
added to the horrors of the situation, without hiding the ice
which glowed in the last light of the evening.
Hatteras's orders sounded above all this strange, impossible,
supernatural conflict of the men with the ice. The ship, yielding
to this enormous pressure, inclined to larboard, and the end of
the main-yard was already touching the ice, at the risk of breaking
the mast.
Hatteras saw the danger; it was a terrible moment; the brig
seemed about to be overturned, and the masts might be easily
carried away.
A large block, as large as the ship, appeared to be passing
along the keel; it arose with irresistible power; it came on past
the quarter-deck; if it fell on the Forward, all was over; soon it
rose even above the topmasts, and began to totter.
A cry of terror escaped from every one's lips. Every one ran
back to starboard.
But at that moment the ship was relieved. They felt her lifted
up, and for an instant she hung in the air, then she leaned over
and fell back on the ice, and then she rolled so heavily that her
planks cracked. What had happened?
Raised by this rising tide, driven by the ice which attacked her
aft, she was getting across this impenetrable ice. After a minute
of this strange sailing, which seemed as long as a century, she
fell back on the other side of the obstacle on a field of ice; she
broke it with her weight, and fell back into her natural element.
“We have got by the thick ice!” shouted Johnson, who had
run forward.
“Thank God!” said Hatteras.
In fact, the brig lay in the centre of a basin of ice, which entirely
surrounded her, and although her keel lay under water she
could not stir; but if she were motionless, the field was drifting
“We are drifting, Captain!” shouted Johnson.
“All right,” answered Hatteras.
Indeed, how was it possible to resist it?
Day broke, and it was evident that under the influence of a submarine
current the bank of ice was floating northward with great
rapidity. This floating mass carried the Forward with it, in the
midst of the ice-field, the edge of which could not be seen; to
provide for any accident that might happen, Hatteras had a large
supply of provisions carried on deck, as well as materials for
camping, clothing, and cover; as MacClure had done under similar
circumstances, he surrounded the ship with hammocks filled
with air to protect her from damage. Soon it was so cold (7°),
that the ship was surrounded by a wall from which only the
masts issued.
For seven days they sailed iii this way; Point Albert, which
forms the western extremity of New Cornwall, was seen September 10th,
and soon disappeared; the ice-field was seen to be
drifting eastward from that time. Where was it going? Where
would it stop? Who could say?
The crew waited with folded arms. At last, September 15th,
towards three o'clock in the afternoon, the ice-field, having probably
run against another one, stopped suddenly; the ship was
jarred violently; Hatteras, who had kept his reckoning all along,
looked at his chart; he found himself in the north, with no land
in sight, in longitude 95°35', and latitude 78°15' in the centre
of the region of the unknown sea, which geographers have considered
the place of greatest cold.




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