For a moment he had a feeling of despair. The thought of
death, and death by cold, appeared in all its horror; this last
piece of coal burned with an ominous splutter; the fire seemed
about to go out, and the temperature of the room fell noticeably.
But Johnson went to get some of the new fuel which the marine
animals had furnished to them, and with it he filled the stove;
he added to it some tow filled with frozen oil, and soon obtained
sufficient heat. The odor was almost unendurable; but how
get rid of it? They had to get used to it. Johnson agreed that
his plan was defective, and that it would not be considered a
success in Liverpool.
“And yet,” he added, “this unpleasant smell will, perhaps,
produce good results.”
“What are they?” asked the carpenter.
“It will doubtless attract the bears this way, for they are fond
of the smell.”
“Well,” continued Bell, “what is the need of having bears?”
“Bell,” replied Johnson, “we can't count on seals any longer;
they're gone away, and for a long time; if bears don't come in
their place to supply us with their share of fuel, I don't know
what is to become of us.”
“True, Johnson, our fate is very uncertain; our position is a
most alarming one. And if this sort of fuel gives out, I don't
see how—”
“There might be another—”
“Another?” asked Bell.
“Yes, Bell! in despair on account of—but the captain would
never—but yet we shall perhaps have to come to it.”
And Johnson shook his head sadly, and fell to thinking gloomily.
Bell did not interrupt him. He knew that the supply of fat,
which it had been so hard to acquire, would only last a week,
even with the strictest economy.
The boatswain was right. A great many bears, attracted by
the scent, were seen to leeward of the Forward; the healthy
men gave chase; but these animals are very swift of foot, and
crafty enough to escape most stratagems; it was impossible
to get near them, and the most skilful gunners could not hit
The crew of the brig was in great danger of dying from the
cold; it could not withstand, for forty-eight hours, such a
temperature as would exist in the common-room. Every one looked
forward with terror to getting to the end of the fuel.
Now this happened December 20th, at three o'clock in the
afternoon; the fire went out; the sailors, grouped about the
empty stove, gazed at one another with haggard eyes. Hatteras
remained without moving in his corner; the doctor, as usual,
paced up and down excitedly; he did not know what was to be
The temperature in the room fell at once to -7°.
But if the doctor was baffled and did not know what they
should turn their hands to, others knew very well. So Shandon,
cold and resolute. Pen, with wrath in his eyes, and two or three
of his companions, such as he could induce to accompany him,
walked towards Hatteras.
“Captain!” said Shandon.
Hatteras, absorbed in his thoughts, did not hear him.
“Captain!” repeated Shandon, touching him with his hand.
Hatteras arose.
“Sir,” he said.
“Captain, the fire is out.”
“Well?” continued Hatteras.
“If you intend that we shall freeze to death,” Shandon
went on with grim irony, “we should be glad if you would tell
“My intention,” answered Hatteras with a deep voice, “is that
every man shall do his duty to the end.”
“There's something superior to duty. Captain,” answered his
first officer, “and that is the right of self-preservation. I repeat
it, we have no fire; and if this goes on, in two days not one of us
will be alive.”
“I have no wood,” answered Hatteras, gloomily.
“Well,” shouted Pen, violently, “when the wood gives out, we
must go cut it where it grows!”
Hatteras grew pale with anger.
“Where is that?” he asked.
“On board,” answered the sailor, insolently.
“On board!” repeated the captain, with clinched fists and
sparkling eyes.
“Of course,” answered Pen, “when the ship can't carry the
crew, the ship ought to be burned.”
At the beginning of this sentence Hatteras had grasped an
axe; at its end, this axe was raised above Pen's head.
“Wretch!” he cried.
The doctor sprang in front of Pen, and thrust him back; the
axe fell on the floor, making a deep gash. Johnson, Bell, and
Simpson gathered around Hatteras, and seemed determined to
support him. But plaintive, grievous cries arose from the berths,
transformed into death-beds.
“Fire, fire!” they cried, shivering beneath their now insufficient
Hatteras by a violent effort controlled himself, and after a few
moments of silence, he said calmly,—
“If we destroy the ship, how shall we get back to England?”
“Sir,” answered Johnson, “perhaps we can without doing any
material damage burn the less important parts, the bulwarks, the
“The small boats will be left,” said Shandon; “and besides,
why might we not make a smaller vessel out of what is left of the
old one?”
“Never!” answered Hatteras.
“But—” interposed many of the men, shouting together.
“We have a large quantity of spirits of wine,” suggested Hatteras;
“burn all of that.”
“All right; we'll take the spirits of wine!” answered Johnson,
assuming an air of confidence which he was far from feeling.
And with the aid of long wicks, dipped into this liquid of which
the pale flame licked the walls of the stove, he was able to raise
the temperature of the room a few degrees.
In the following days the wind came from the south again and
the thermometer rose; the snow, however, kept falling. Some
of the men were able to leave the ship for the driest hours of
the day; but ophthalmia and scurvy kept most of them on board;
besides, neither hunting nor fishing was possible.
But this was only
a respite in the fearful
severity of the
cold, and on the
25th, after a sudden
change of wind, the
frozen mercury
disappeared again in
the bulb of the
instrument; then
they had to consult
the spirit-thermometer,
which does not freeze even in the most intense colds.
The doctor, to his great surprise, found it marking -66°.
Seldom has man been called upon to endure so low a temperature.
The ice stretched in long, dark lines upon the floor; a dense
mist filled the room; the dampness fell in the form of thick
snow; the men could not see one another; their extremities grew
cold and blue; their heads felt as if they wore an iron band; and
their thoughts grew confused and dull, as if they were half
delirious. A terrible symptom was that their tongues refused
to articulate a sound.
From the day the men threatened to burn the ship, Hatteras
would walk for hours upon the deck, keeping watch. This wood
was flesh and blood to him. Cutting a piece from it would have
been like cutting off a limb. He was armed, and he kept
constant guard, without minding the cold, the snow, or the ice, which
stiffened his clothing as if it covered it with a granite cuirass.
Duke understood him, and followed him, barking and howling.
Nevertheless, December 25th he went down into the common-room.
The doctor, with all the energy he had left, went up to
him and said,—
“Hatteras, we are going to die from want of fire!”
“Never!” said Hatteras, knowing very well what request he
was refusing.
“We must,” continued the doctor, mildly.
“Never!” repeated Hatteras more firmly; “I shall never give
my consent! Whoever wishes, may disobey me.”
Thus was permission given them. Johnson and Bell hastened
to the deck. Hatteras heard the wood of the brig crashing under
the axe, and wept.
That was Christmas Day, the great family festival in England,
one specially devoted to the amusement of the children. What
a painful recollection was that of the happy children gathered
about the green Christmas tree! Every one recalled the huge
pieces of roast meat, cut from the fattened ox, and the tarts, the
mince-pies, and other luxuries so dear to the English heart! But
here was nothing but suffering, despair, and wretchedness, and
for the Christmas log, these pieces of a ship lost in the middle of
the frigid zone!
Nevertheless, under the genial influence of the fire, the spirits
and strength of the men returned; the hot tea and coffee brought
great and immediate consolation, and hope is so firm a friend of
man, that they even began to hope for some luckier fate. It was
thus that the year 1860 passed away, the early winter of which
had so interfered with Hatteras's plans.
Now it happened that this very New Year's Day was marked
by an unexpected discovery. It was a little milder than the
previous days had been; the doctor had resumed his studies; he
was reading Sir Edward Belcher's account of his expedition in the
polar regions. Suddenly, a passage which he had never noticed
before filled him with astonishment; he read it over again; doubt
was no longer possible.
Sir Edward Belcher states that, having come to the end of
Queen's Channel, he found there many traces of the presence of
men. He says:
“There are remains of dwellings far superior to what can be
attributed to the savage habits of the wandering tribes of Esquimaux.
The walls are firmly placed on deep-dug foundations; the
inside, covered with a thick layer of gravel, has been paved. Skeletons
of moose, reindeer, and seals abound. We found coal there.”
At these last words an idea occurred to the doctor; he took his
book and ran to tell Hatteras.
“Coal!” shouted the captain.
“Yes, Hatteras, coal; that is to say, our preservation!”
“Coal, on this lonely shore!” continued Hatteras; “no, that's
“How can you doubt it, Hatteras? Belcher would not have
mentioned it if he had not been sure, without having seen it with
his own eyes.”
“Well, what then, Doctor?”
“We are not a hundred miles from the place where Belcher
saw this coal! What is a journey of a hundred miles? Nothing.
Longer expeditions have often been made on the ice, and with the
cold as intense. Let us go after it. Captain!”
“We'll go!” said Hatteras, who had made up his mind
quickly; and with his active imagination he saw the chance
of safety.
Johnson was informed of the plan, of which he approved highly;
he told his companions; some rejoiced, others heard of it with indifference.
“Coal on these shores!” said Wall from his sick-bed.
“We'll let them go,” answered Shandon, mysteriously.
But before they had begun to make preparations for the trip,
Hatteras wanted to fix the position of the Forward with the utmost
exactitude. The importance of this calculation it is easy to
see. Once away from the ship, it could not be found again without
knowing its position precisely.
So Hatteras went up on deck; he took observations at different
moments of several lunar distances, and the altitude of the
principal stars. He found, however, much difficulty in doing this,
for when the temperature was so low, the glass and the mirrors
of the instrument were covered with a crust of ice from Hatteras's
breath; more than once his eyelids were burned by touching the
copper eye-pieces. Still, he was able to get very exact bases for
his calculations, and he returned to the common-room to work
them out. When he had finished, he raised his head with stupefaction,
took his chart, marked it, and looked at the doctor.
“Well?” asked the latter.
“What was our latitude when we went into winter-quarters?”
“Our latitude was 78°15', and the longitude 95°35', exactly
the pole of cold.”
“Well,” added Hatteras in a low voice, “our ice-field is drifting!
We are two degrees farther north and farther west,—at
least three hundred miles from your coal-supply!”
“And these poor men who know nothing about it!” cried the
“Not a word!” said Hatteras, raising his finger to his lips.




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