On that day the thermometer fell to three degrees below zero.
The day was calm; the cold was very endurable in the absence
of wind. Hatteras took advantage of the clearness of the air to
reconnoitre the surrounding plains; he ascended one of the highest
icebergs to the north, but even with his glass he could make
out nothing but a series of ice-mountains and ice-fields. There
was no land in sight, nothing but gloomy confusion. He returned,
and tried to calculate the probable length of their imprisonment.
The hunters, and among them the doctor, James Wall, Simpson,
Johnson, and Bell, kept them supplied with fresh meat.
The birds had disappeared, seeking a milder climate in the south.
The ptarmigans alone, a sort of rock-partridge peculiar to this
latitude, did not flee the winter; it was easy to kill them, and
there were enough to promise a perpetual supply of game.
Hares, foxes, wolves, ermines, and bears were plentiful; a
French, English, or Norwegian hunter would have had no right
to complain; but they were so shy that it was hard to approach
them; besides, it was hard to distinguish them on the white plain,
they being white themselves, for in winter they acquire that colored
fur. In opposition to the opinions of some naturalists, the
doctor held that this change was not due to the lowering of the
temperature, since it took place before October; hence it was not
due to any physical cause, but rather providential foresight, to
secure these animals against the severity of an arctic winter.
Often, too, they saw sea-cows and sea-dogs, animals included
under the name of seals; all the hunters were specially recommended
to shoot them, as much for their skins as for their fat,
which was very good fuel. Besides, their liver made a very good
article of food; they could be counted by hundreds, and two or
three miles north of the ship the ice was continually perforated
by these huge animals; only they avoided the hunter with remarkable
instinct, and many were wounded who easily escaped
by diving under the ice.
Still, on the 19th, Simpson succeeded in getting one four hundred
yards distant from the ship; he had taken the precaution to
close its hole in the ice, so that it could not escape from its
pursuers. He fought for a long time, and died only after receiving
many bullets. He was nine feet long; his bull-dog head,
the sixteen teeth in his jaw, his large pectoral fins shaped like
little wings, his little tail with another pair of fins, made him an
excellent specimen. The doctor wished to preserve his head for
his collection of natural history, and his skin for future contingences,
hence he prepared both by a rapid and economical process.
He plunged the body in the hole, and thousands of little prawns
removed the flesh in small pieces; at the end of half a day the
work was half finished, and the most skilful of the honorable
corporation of tanners at Liverpool could not have done better.
When the sun had passed the autumn equinox, that is to say,
September 23d, the winter fairly begins in the arctic regions.
The sun, having gradually sunk to the horizon, disappeared at
last, October 23d, lighting up merely the tops of the mountains
with its oblique rays. The doctor gave it his last farewell. He
could not see it again till the month of February.
Still the darkness was not complete during this long absence
of the sun; the moon did its best to replace it; the stars were
exceedingly brilliant, the auroras were very frequent, and the
refractions peculiar to the snowy horizons; besides, the sun at
the time of its greatest southern declension, December 21st, approaches
within thirteen degrees of the polar horizon; hence,
every day there was a certain twilight for a few hours. Only the
mist and snow-storms often plunged these regions in the deepest
Still, up to this time the weather was very favorable; the
partridges and hares alone had reason to complain, for the
hunters gave them no rest; a great many traps were set for
foxes, but these crafty animals could not be caught; very often
they scraped the snow away beneath the trap and took the bait
without running any risk; the doctor cursed them, being very
averse to making them such a present.
October 25th, the thermometer fell as low as -4°. A violent
hurricane raged; the air was filled with thick snow, which permitted
no ray of light to reach the Forward. For several hours
there was some anxiety about the fate of Bell and Simpson, who
had gone some distance away hunting; they did not reach the
ship till the next day, having rested for a whole day wrapped up
in their furs, while the hurricane swept over them and buried
them under five feet of snow. They were nearly frozen, and the
doctor found it very hard to restore their circulation.
The tempest lasted eight days without interruption. No one
could set foot outside. In a single day there were variations in
the temperature of fifteen or twenty degrees.
During this enforced leisure every one kept to himself, some
sleeping, others smoking, others again talking in a low tone and
stopping at the approach of Johnson or the doctor; there was no
moral tie between the men of the crew; they only met at evening
prayers and at Sunday services.
Clifton knew perfectly well that when the seventy-eighth parallel
was passed, his share of the pay would amount to three
hundred and seventy-five pounds; he thought it a good round
sum, and his ambition did not go any further. His opinion was
generally shared, and all looked forward to the day when they
should enjoy this hardly-earned fortune.
Hatteras kept almost entirely out of sight. He never took
part in the hunts or the walks from the ship. He took no interest
in the meteorological phenomena which kept the doctor in a
constant state of admiration. He lived with but a single idea;
it consisted of three words,—The North Pole. He only thought
of when the Forward, free at last, should resume her bold course.
In fact, the general feeling on board was one of gloom. Nothing
was so sad as the sight of this captive vessel, no longer resting
in its natural element, but with its shape hidden beneath thick
layers of ice; it looks like nothing; it cannot stir, though made
for motion; it is turned into a wooden storehouse, a sedentary
dwelling, this ship which knows how to breast the wind and the
storms. This anomaly, this false situation, filled their hearts
with an indefinable feeling of disquiet and regret.
During these idle hours the doctor arranged the notes he had
taken, from which this book is made up; he was never out of
spirits, and never lost his cheerfulness. Yet he was glad to see
the end of the storm, and prepared to resume his hunting.
November 3d, at six o'clock in the morning, with a temperature
of -5°, he set off in company with Johnson and Bell; the expanse
of ice was unbroken; all the snow which had fallen so abundantly
during the preceding days was hardened by the frost, and made
good walking; the air was keen and piercing; the moon shone
with incomparable purity, glistening on the least roughness in
the ice; their footprints glowed like an illuminated trail, and their
long shadows stood out almost black against the brilliant ice.
The doctor had taken Duke with him; he preferred him to the
Greenland dogs to hunt game, and he was right; for they are of
very little use under such circumstances, and they did not appear
to possess the sacred fire of the race of the temperate zone.
Duke ran along with his nose on the ground, and he often stopped
on the recent marks of bears. Still, in spite of his skill, the
hunters did not find even a hare in two hours' walking.
“Has all the game felt it necessary to go south?” said the
doctor, stopping at the foot of a hummock.
“I should fancy it must be so. Doctor,” answered the carpenter.
“I don't think so,” said Johnson; “the hares, foxes, and bears
are accustomed to this climate; I think this last storm must
have driven them away; but they will come back with the south-winds.
Ah, if you were to talk about reindeer and musk-deer,
that might be different!”
“And yet at Melville Island numberless animals of this sort
are found,” resumed the doctor; “it lies farther south, it is true,
and during the winters he spent there Parry always had plenty
of this magnificent game.”
“We have much poorer luck,” answered Bell; “if we could
only get enough bear's meat, we would do very well.”
“The difficulty is,” said the doctor, “the bears seem to me
very rare and very wild; they are not civilized enough to come
within gun-shot.”
“Bell is talking about the flesh of the bear,” said Johnson,
“but his grease is more useful than his flesh or his fur.”
“You are right, Johnson,” answered Bell; “you are always
thinking of the fuel.”
“How can I help it? Even with the strictest economy, we have
only enough for three weeks!”
“Yes,” resumed the doctor, “that is the real danger, for we
are now only at the beginning of November, and February is the
coldest month in the frigid zone; still, if we can't get bear's
grease, there's no lack of seal's grease.”
“But not for a very long time, Doctor,” answered Johnson;
“they will soon leave us; whether from cold or fright, soon they
won't come upon the ice any more.”
“Then,” continued the doctor, “we shall have to fall back on
the bear, and I confess the bear is the most useful animal to be
found in these countries, for he furnishes food, clothing, light, and
fuel to men. Do you hear, Duke?” he said, patting the dog's
head, “we want some bears, my friend, bears! bears!”
Duke, who was sniffing at the ice at that time, aroused by the
voices, and caresses of the doctor, started off suddenly with the
speed of an arrow. He barked violently and, far off as he was,
his loud barks reached the hunters' ears.
The extreme distance to which sound is carried when the temperature
is low is an astonishing fact; it is only equalled by the
brilliancy of the constellations in the northern skies; the waves
of light and sound are transmitted to great distances, especially
in the dry cold of the nights.
The hunters, guided by his distant barking, hastened after
him; they had to run a mile, and they got there all out of
breath, which happens very soon in such an atmosphere. Duke
stood pointing about fifty feet from an enormous mass which was
rolling about on the top of a small iceberg.
“Just what we wanted!” shouted the doctor, cocking his gun.
“A fine bear!” said Bell, following the doctor's example.
“A curious bear!” said Johnson, who intended to fire after his
Duke barked furiously. Bell advanced about twenty feet, and
fired; but the animal seemed untouched, for he continued rolling
his head slowly.
Johnson came forward, and, after taking careful aim, he pulled
the trigger.
“Good!” said the doctor; “nothing yet! Ah, this cursed refraction!
We are too far off; we shall never get used to it? That
bear is more than a mile away.”
“Come on!” answered Bell.
The three companions hastened toward the animal, which had
not been alarmed by the firing; he seemed to be very large, but,
without weighing the danger, they gave themselves up already to
the joy of victory. Having got within a reasonable distance,
they fired; the bear leaped into the air and fell, mortally
wounded, on the level ice below.
Duke rushed towards him.
“That's a bear,” said the doctor, “which was easily conquered.”
“Only three shots,” said Bell with some scorn, “and he's
“That's odd,” remarked Johnson.
“Unless we got here just as he was going to die of old age,”
continued the doctor, laughing.
“Well, young or old,” added Bell, “he's a good capture.”
Talking in this way they reached the small iceberg, and, to
their great surprise, they found Duke growling over the body of
a white fox.
“Upon ray word,” said Bell, “that's too much!”
“Well,” said the doctor, “we've fired at a bear, and killed a
Johnson did not know what to say.
“Well,” said the doctor with a burst of laughter in which
there was a trace of disappointment, “that refraction again! It's
always deceiving us.”
“What do you
mean, Doctor?” asked
the carpenter.
“Yes, my friend;
it deceived us with
respect to its size as
well as the distance!
It made us see a bear
in a fox's skin! Such
a mistake is not uncommon
under similar circumstances!  Well, our imagination
alone was wrong!”
“At any rate,” answered Johnson, “bear or fox, he's good eating.
Let's carry him off.”
But as the boatswain was lifting him to his shoulders:—
“That's odd,” he said.
“What is it?” asked the doctor.
“See there. Doctor, he's got a collar around his neck.”
“A collar?” asked the doctor again, examining the fox.
In fact, a half-worn-out copper collar appeared under his white
fur; the doctor thought he saw letters engraved upon it; he unfastened
it from the animal's neck, about which it seemed to have
been for a long time.
“What does that mean?” asked Johnson.
“That means,” said the doctor, “that we have just killed a fox
more than twelve years old,—a fox who was caught by James
Ross in 1848.”
“Is it possible?” said Bell.
“There's no doubt about it. I'm sorry we killed him! While
he was in winter-quarters, James Ross thought of trapping a
large number of white foxes; he fastened on their necks copper
collars on which was engraved the position of his ships, the Enterprise
and Investigator, as well as where the supplies were left.
These animals run over immense distances in search of food, and
James Ross hoped that one of them might fall into the hands
of one of the men of the Franklin expedition. That's the simple
explanation; and this poor beast, who might have saved the life
of two crews, has fallen uselessly beneath our guns.”
“Well, we won't eat it,” said Johnson, “especially if it's twelve
years old. But we shall keep the skin as a memento.”
Johnson raised it to his shoulders. The hunters made their
way to the ship, guiding themselves by the stars; their expedition
was not wholly without result; they were able to bring back
several ptarmigans.
An hour before reaching the Forward, there was a singular
phenomenon which greatly interested the doctor. It was a real
shower of shooting-stars; they could be counted by thousands,
flying over the heavens like rockets; they dimmed the light of
the moon. For hours they could have stood gazing at this beautiful
sight. A similar phenomenon was observed in Greenland in
1799, by the Moravians. It looked like an exhibition of fireworks.
The doctor after his return to the ship spent the whole
night gazing at the sight, which lasted till seven o'clock in the
morning, while the air was perfectly silent.




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