The little band made their way towards the southeast. Simpson
drove the sledge. Duke aided him much, without being disturbed
at the occupation of his mates. Hatteras and the doctor
followed behind on foot, while Bell, who was charged with making
a road, went on in advance, testing the ice with the iron point of
The rise in the thermometer foretold a fall of snow, and soon it
came, beginning in large flakes. This added to the hardships of
their jourpey; they kept straying from a straight line; they
could not go quickly; nevertheless, they averaged three miles an
The ice-field, under the pressure of the frost, presented an unequal
surface; the sledge was often nearly turned over, but they
succeeded in saving it.
Hatteras and his companions wrapped themselves up in their
fur clothes cut in the Greenland fashion; they were not cut with
extraordinary neatness, but they suited the needs of the climate;
their faces were enclosed in a narrow hood which could not be
penetrated by the snow or wind; their mouths, noses, and eyes
were alone exposed to the air, and they did not need to be protected
against it; nothing is so inconvenient as scarfs and nose-protectors,
which soon are stiff with ice; at night they have to be
cut away, which, even in the arctic seas, is a poor way of undressing.
It was necessary to leave free passage for the breath,
which would freeze at once on anything it met.
The boundless plain stretched out with tiresome monotony;
everywhere there appeared heaped-up ice-hills, hummocks, blocks,
and icebergs, separated by winding valleys; they walked staff in
hand, saying but little. In this cold atmosphere, to open the
mouth was painful; sharp crystals of ice suddenly formed between
the lips, and the heat of the breath could not melt them.
Their progress was silent, and every one beat the ice with his
staff. Bell's footsteps were visible in the fresh snow; they followed
them mechanically, and where he had passed, the others
could go safely.
Numerous tracks of bears and foxes crossed one another everywhere;
but during this first day not one could be seen; to chase
them would have been dangerous an useless: they would only
have overloaded the already heavy sledge.
Generally, in excursions of this sort, travellers take the precaution
of leaving supplies along their path; they hide them from
the animals, in the snow, thus lightening themselves for their
trip, and on their return they take the supplies which they did
not have the trouble of carrying with them.
Hatteras could not employ this device on an ice-field which
perhaps was moving; on firm land it would have been possible;
and the uncertainty of their route made it doubtful whether they
would return by the same path.
At noon, Hatteras halted his little troop in the shelter of an
ice-wall; they dined off pemmican and hot tea; the strengthening
qualities of this beverage produced general comfort, and the
travellers drank a large quantity. After an hour's rest they
started on again; in the first day they walked about twenty
miles; that evening men and dogs were tired out.
Still, in spite of their fatigue, they had to build a snow-house
in which to pass the night; the tent would not have been enough.
This took them an hour and a half. Bell was very skilful; the
blocks of ice, which were cut with a knife, were placed on top of
one another with astonishing rapidity, and they took the shape
of a dome, and a last piece, the keystone of the arch, established
the solidity of the building; the soft snow served as mortar in
the interstices; it soon hardened and made the whole building of
a single piece.
Access was had into this improvised grotto by means of a narrow
which it was necessary
to crawl on one's
hands and knees; the
doctor found some
difficulty in entering,
and the others
followed. Supper was
soon prepared on the
The temperature inside
was very comfortable; the wind, which was raging without,
could not get in.
“Sit down!” soon shouted the doctor in his most genial manner.
And this meal, though the same as the dinner, was shared by
all. When it was finished their only thought was sleep; the
mackintoshes, spread out upon the snow, protected them from the
dampness. At the flame of the portable stove they dried their
clothes; then three of them, wrapped up in their woollen coverings,
fell asleep, while one was left on watch; he had to keep a
lookout on the safety of all, and to prevent the opening from
being closed, otherwise they ran a risk of being buried alive.
Duke shared their quarters; the other dogs remained without,
and after they had eaten their supper they lay down and were
soon hidden by the snow.
Their fatigue soon brought sound sleep. The doctor took the
watch until three of the morning. In the night the hurricane
raged furiously. Strange was the situation of these lonely men
lost in the snow, enclosed in this vault with its walls rapidly
thickening under the snow-fall.
The next morning at six o'clock their monotonous march was
resumed; there were ever before them the same valleys and
icebergs, a uniformity which made the choice of a path difficult.
Still, a fall of several degrees in the temperature made their way
easier by hardening the snow. Often they came across little
elevations, which looked like cairns or storing-places of the Esquimaux;
the doctor had one destroyed to satisfy his curiosity, but
he found nothing except a cake of ice.
“What do you expect to find, Clawbonny?” asked Hatteras;
“are we not the first men to penetrate into this part of the
“Probably,” answered the doctor, “but who knows?”
“Don't let us waste our time in useless searching,” resumed
the captain; “I am in a hurry to rejoin the ship, even if this
long-wanted fuel should not be found.”
“I have great hopes of finding it,” said the doctor.
“Doctor,” Hatteras used to say frequently, “I did wrong to
leave the Forward; it was a mistake! The captain's place is on
board, and nowhere else.”
“Johnson is there.”
“Yes! but let us hurry on!”
They advanced rapidly; Simpson's voice could be heard urging
on the dogs; they ran along on a brilliant surface, all aglow with
a phosphorescent light, and the runners of the sledge seemed to
toss up a shower of sparks. The doctor ran on ahead to examine
this snow, when suddenly, as he was trying to jump upon a
hummock, he disappeared from sight. Bell, who was near him,
ran at once towards the place.
“Well, Doctor,” he cried anxiously, while Hatteras and Simpson
joined him, “where are you?”
“Doctor!” shouted the captain.
“Down here, at the bottom of a hole,” was the quiet answer.
“Throw me a piece of rope, and I'll come up to the surface of the
They threw a rope down to the doctor, who was at the bottom
of a pit about ten feet deep; he fastened it about his waist, and
his three companions drew him up with some difficulty.
“Are you hurt?” asked Hatteras.
“No, there's no harm done,” answered the doctor, wiping the
snow from his smiling face.
“But how did it happen?”
“0, it was in consequence of the refraction,” he answered,
laughing; “I thought I had about a foot to step over, and I fell
into this deep hole! These optical illusions are the only ones
left me, my friends, and it's hard to escape from them! Let
that be a lesson to us all never to take a step forward without
first testing the ice with a staff, for our senses cannot be depended
on. Here our ears hear wrong, and our eyes deceive us! It's a
“Can you go on?” asked the captain.
“Go on, Hatteras, go on! This little fall has done me more
good than harm.”
They resumed their march to the southeast, and at evening
they halted, after walking about twenty-five miles; they were all
tired, but still the doctor had energy enough to ascend an ice-mountain
while the snow-hut was building.
The moon, which was nearly at its full, shone with extraordinary
brilliancy in a clear sky; the stars were wonderfully brilliant;
from the top of the iceberg a boundless plain could be seen,
which was covered with strangely formed hillocks of ice; in the
moonlight they looked like fallen columns or overthrown tombstones;
the scene reminded the doctor of a huge, silent graveyard
barren of trees, in which twenty generations of human beings
might be lying in their long sleep.
In spite of the cold and fatigue, Clawbonny remained for a
long time in a revery, from which it was no easy task for his
companions to arouse him; but they had to think of resting; the
snow-hut was completed; the four travellers crawled in like
moles, and soon were all asleep.
The following days went on without any particular incident;
at times they went on slowly, at times quickly, with varying ease,
according to the changes in the weather; they wore moccasins or
snow-shoes, as the nature of the ice demanded.
In this way they went on till January 15th; the moon, now in
its last quarter, was hardly visible; the sun, although always
beneath the horizon, gave a sort of twilight for six hours every
day, but not enough
to light up the route,
which had to be directed
by the compass. Then Bell
went on ahead; Hatteras
Simpson and the doctor
sought also to
keep in a straight line
behind, with their
eyes on Hatteras
alone; and yet, in spite of all their efforts, they often got
thirty or forty degrees from the right way, much to their annoyance.
Sunday, January 15th, Hatteras judged that they had come
about one hundred miles to the south; this morning was set
aside to mending their clothes and materials; the reading of
divine service was not forgotten.
At noon they started again; the temperature was very low;
the thermometer marked only -22°; the air was very clear.
Suddenly, without warning, a frozen vapor arose into the air
from the ice, to a height of about ninety feet, and hung motionless;
no one could see a foot before him; this vapor formed in
long, sharp crystals upon their clothing.
The travellers, surprised by this phenomenon, which is called
frost-rime, only thought of getting together; so immediately
various shouts were heard:—
“Bell, this way!”
“Captain, where are you?”
They began to look for one another with outstretched arms,
wandering through the fog which their eyes could not pierce.
But to their disappointment they could hear no answer; the
vapor seemed incapable of carrying sound.
Each one then thought of firing his gun as a signal to the
others. But if their voices were too feeble, the reports of the
fire-arms were too loud; for the echoes, repeated in every direction,
made but a confused roar, in which no particular direction
could be perceived.
Then they began to act, each one as he thought best. Hatteras
stood still and folded his arms. Simpson contented himself
with stopping the sledge. Bell retraced his steps, feeling them
with his hand. The doctor, stumbling over the blocks of ice,
wandered here and there, getting more and more bewildered.
At the end of five minutes he said to himself,—
“This can't last long! Singular climate! This is too much!
There is nothing to help us, without speaking of these sharp crystals
which cut my face. Halloo, Captain!” he shouted again.
But he heard no answer; he fired his gun, but in spite of his
thick gloves the iron burned his hands. Meanwhile he thought
he saw a confused mass moving near him.
“There's some one,” he said. “Hatteras! Bell! Simpson! Is
that you? Come, answer!”
A dull roar was alone heard.
“Ah!” thought the doctor, “what is that?”
The object approached; it lost its first size and appeared in
more definite shape. A terrible thought flashed into the doctor's
“A bear!” he said to himself.
In fact, it was a huge bear; lost in the fog, it came and went
with great danger to the men, whose presence it certainly did
“Matters are growing complicated!” thought the doctor,
Sometimes he felt the animal's breath, which was soon lost in
the frost-rime; again he would see the monster's huge paws
beating the air so near him that his clothes were occasionally
torn by its sharp claws; he jumped back, and the animal disappeared
like a phantasmagoric spectre.
But as he sprang back he found an elevation beneath his feet;
he climbed up first one block of ice, then another, feeling his way
with his staff.
“An iceberg!” he said to himself; “if I can get to the top I
With these words he climbed up an elevation of about ninety
feet with surprising agility; he arose above the frozen mist, the
top of which was sharply defined.
“Good!” he said to himself; and looking about him he saw his
three companions emerging from the vapor.
These names were shouted out almost at the same time; the
sky, lit up by a magnificent halo, sent forth pale rays which
colored the frost-rime as if it were a cloud, and the top of the
icebergs seemed to rise from a mass of molten silver. The travellers
found themselves within a circle of less than a hundred
feet in diameter. Thanks to the purity of the air in this upper
layer in this low temperature, their words could be easily heard,
and they were able to talk on the top of this iceberg. After the
first shots, each one, hearing no answer, had only thought of
climbing above the mist.
“The sledge!” shouted the captain.
“It's eighty feet beneath us,” answered Simpson.
“Is it all right?”
“And the bear?” asked the doctor.
“What bear?” said Bell.
“A bear!” said Hatteras; “let's go down.”
“No!” said the doctor; “we shall lose our way, and have to
begin it all over again.”
“And if he eats our dogs—” said Hatteras.
At that moment Duke was heard barking, the sound rising
through the mist.
“That's Duke!” shouted Hatteras; “there's something wrong.
I'm going down.”
All sorts of howling arose to their ears; Duke and the dogs
were barking furiously. The noise sounded like a dull murmur,
like the roar of a crowded, noisy room. They knew that some
invisible struggle was going on below, and the mist was occasionally
agitated like the sea when marine monsters are fighting.
“Duke, Duke!” shouted the captain, as he made ready to
enter again into the frost-rime.
“Wait a moment, Hatteras,—wait a moment! It seems to me
that the fog is lifting.”
It was not lifting, but sinking, like water in a pool; it appeared
to be descending into the ground from which it had risen; the
summits of the icebergs grew larger; others, which had been
hidden, arose like new islands; by an optical illusion, which may
be easily imagined, the travellers, clinging to these ice-cones,
seemed to be rising in the air, while the top of the mist sank
Soon the top of the sledge appeared, then the harnessed dogs,
and then about thirty other animals, then great objects moving
confusedly, and Duke leaping about with his head alternately
rising and sinking in the frozen mist.
“Foxes!” shouted Bell.
“Bears!” said the doctor; “one, two, three.”
“Our dogs, our provisions!” cried Simpson.
A troop of foxes and bears, having come across the sledge, were
ravaging the provisions. Their instinct of pillaging united them
in perfect harmony; the dogs were barking furiously, but the
animals paid no heed, but went on in their work of destruction.
“Fire!” shouted the captain, discharging his piece.
His companions did the same. But at the combined report
the bears, raising their heads and uttering a singular roar, gave
the signal to depart; they fell into a little trot which a galloping
horse could not have kept up with, and, followed by the
foxes, they soon disappeared amid the ice to the north.
1^ January 15, 1861 was a Tuesday (perhaps Verne was still looking at 1860?).
2^ Translation error. Verne: trente-deux degrés au-dessous de zéro (thirty-two degrees below zero).