This phenomenon, which is peculiar to the polar regions, had
lasted three quarters of an hour; the bears and foxes had had
plenty of time; these provisions arrived opportunely for these
animals, who were nearly starved during the inclement weather;
the canvas cover of the sledge was torn by their strong claws,
the casks of pemmican were opened and emptied; the biscuit-sacks
pillaged, the tea spilled over the snow, a barrel of alcohol
torn open and its contents lost, their camping materials scattered
and damaged, bore witness to the ferocity of these wild beasts,
and their greediness.
“This is a misfortune,” said Bell, gazing at this scene of ruin.
“Which is probably irreparable,” said Simpson.
“Let us first estimate the loss,” interrupted the doctor, “and
we'll talk about it afterwards.”
Hatteras, without sayings a word, began to gather the scattered
boxes and sacks; they collected the pemmican and biscuits which
could be eaten; the loss of part of their alcohol was much to be
regretted; for if that was gone there would be nothing warm to
drink; no tea, no coffee. In making an inventory of the supplies
left, the doctor found two hundred pounds of pemmican gone, and
a hundred and fifty pounds of biscuit; if their journey continued
they would have to subsist on half-rations.
They then began to discuss what should be done, whether they
should return to the ship and start out again. But how could
they make up their minds to lose the hundred and fifty miles
they had already made? To return without fuel would have a
depressing effect upon the spirits of the crew. Could men be
found again to resume their march across the ice?
Evidently it was better to push on, even at the risk of severe
The doctor, Hatteras, and Bell were of this opinion; Simpson
wanted to go back; the fatigue of the journey had worn upon his
health; he was visibly weaker; but finding himself alone of this
opinion, he resumed his place at the head of the sledge, and the
little caravan continued its journey to the south.
During the three next days, from the 15th to the 17th of January,
all the monotonous incidents of the voyage were repeated;
they advanced more slowly, and with much fatigue; their legs
grew tired; the dogs dragged the sledge with difficulty; their
diminished supply of food could not comfort men or beasts. The
weather was very variable, changing from intense, dry cold to
damp, penetrating mists.
January 18th the aspect of the ice-fields changed suddenly; a
great number of peaks, like sharp-pointed pyramids, and very
high, appeared at the horizon; the ground in certain places came
through the snow; it seemed formed of gneiss, schist, and quartz,
with some appearance of limestone. The travellers at last touched
earth again, and this land they judged to be that called North
The doctor could not help striking the earth with joy; they
had now only a hundred miles to go before reaching Cape Belcher,
but their fatigue increased strangely on this soil, covered with
sharp rocks, and interspersed with dangerous points, crevasses,
and precipices; they had to go down into the depths of these
abysses, climb steep ascents, and cross narrow gorges, in which
the snow was drifted to the depth of thirty or forty feet.
The travellers soon regretted the almost easy journey over the
ice-fields, which so well suited the sledge; now it had to be
dragged by main force; the weary dogs were insufficient; the
men, compelled to take their place alongside of them, wore themselves
out with hauling; often they had to take off the whole
load to get over some steep hills; a place only ten feet wide often
kept them busy for hours; so in this first day they made only
five miles in North Cornwall, which is certainly well named, for
it exhibits all the roughness, the sharp points, the steep gorges,
the confused rockiness, of the southwest coast of England.
The next day the sledge reached the top of the hills near the
shore; the exhausted travellers, being unable to make a snow-hut,
were obliged to pass the night under the tent, wrapped up
in buffalo-skins, and drying their wet stockings by placing them
about their bodies. The inevitable consequences of such conduct
are easily comprehended; that night the thermometer fell below
-44°, and the mercury froze.
Simpson's health caused great anxiety; a persistent cough,
violent rheumatism, and intolerable pain obliged him to lie on the
sledge which he could no longer guide. Bell took his place; he
too was suffering, but not so much as to be incapacitated. The
doctor also felt the consequences of this trip in this terrible
weather; but he uttered no complaint; he walked on, resting on
his staff; he made out the way and helped every one. Hatteras,
impassible, and as strong as on the first day, followed the sledge
January 20th the weather was so severe that the slightest
effort produced complete prostration. Still, the difficulties of the
way were so great, that Hatteras, the doctor, and Bell harnessed
themselves with the dogs; sudden shocks had broken the front
of the sledge, and they had to stop to repair it. Such delays
were frequent every day.
The travellers followed a deep ravine, up to their waists in
snow, and perspiring violently in spite of the intense cold. They
did not say a word.
Suddenly Bell, who
was near the doctor,
looked at him with
some alarm; then,
without uttering a
word, he picked up
a handful of snow
and began rubbing
his companion's face
“Well, Bell!” said the doctor, resisting.
But Bell continued rubbing.
“Come, Bell,” began the doctor again, his mouth, nose, and
eyes full of snow, “are you mad? What's the matter?”
“If you have a nose left,” answered Bell, “you ought to be
grateful to me.”
“A nose!” answered the doctor, quickly, clapping his hand to
“Yes, Doctor, you were frost-bitten; your nose was white
when I looked at you, and if I had not done as I did, you would
have lost that ornament which is in the way on a journey, but
agreeable to one's existence.”
In fact, the doctor's nose was almost frozen; the circulation of
the blood was restored in time, and, thanks to Bell, all danger was
“Thanks, Bell!” said the doctor; “I'll be even with you
“I hope so. Doctor,” the carpenter answered; “and may Heaven
protect us from worse misfortunes!”
“Alas, Bell,” continued the doctor, “you mean Simpson! The
poor fellow is suffering terribly.”
“Do you fear for his life?” asked Hatteras, quickly.
“Yes, Captain,” answered the doctor.
“He has a violent attack of scurvy; his legs have begun to
swell, and his gums too; the poor fellow lies half frozen on the
sledge, and every movement redoubles his suffering. I pity him,
Hatteras, and I can't do anything to relieve him.”
“Poor Simpson!” murmured Bell.
“Perhaps we shall have to halt for a day or two,” resumed the
“Halt!” shouted Hatteras, “when the lives of eighteen men
are hanging on our return!”
“Still—” said the doctor.
“Clawbonny, Bell, listen to me,” said Hatteras; “we have food
for only twenty days! Judge for yourselves whether we can stop
for a moment!”
Neither the doctor nor Bell made any reply, and the sledge
resumed its progress, which had been delayed for a moment.
That evening they stopped beneath a hillock of ice, in which Bell
at once cut a cavern; the travellers entered it; the doctor passed
the night attending to Simpson; the scurvy had already made
fearful ravages, and his sufferings caused perpetual laments to
issue from his swollen lips.
“Ah, Dr. Clawbonny!”
“Courage, my dear fellow!” said the doctor.
“I shall never get well! I feel it! I'd rather die!”
The doctor answered these despairing words by incessant cares;
although worn out by the fatigue of the day, he spent the night
in composing a soothing potion for his patient; but the lime-juice
was ineffectual, and continual friction could not keep down the
progress of the scurvy.
The next day he had to be placed again upon the sledge,
although he besought them to leave him behind to die in peace;
then they resumed their dreary and difficult march.
The frozen mists penetrated the three men to the bone; the
snow and sleet dashed against them; they were working like
draught-horses, and with a scanty supply of food.
Duke, like his master, kept coming and going, enduring every
fatigue, always alert, finding out by himself the best path; they
had perfect confidence in his wonderful instinct.
During the morning of January 23d, amid almost total darkness,
for the moon was new, Duke had run on ahead; for many
hours he was not seen; Hatteras became uneasy, especially because
there were many traces of bears to be seen; he was uncertain
what to do, when suddenly a loud barking was heard.
Hatteras urged on the sledge, and soon he found the faithful
animal at the bottom of a ravine. Duke stood as motionless as
if turned to stone, barking before a sort of cairn made of pieces
of limestone, covered with a cement of ice.
“This time,” said the doctor, detaching his harness, “it's a
cairn, there's no doubt of that.”
“What's that to us?” asked Hatteras.
“Hatteras, if it is a cairn, it may contain some document of
value for us; perhaps some provisions, and it would be worth
while to see.”
“What European could have come as far as this?” asked Hatteras,
shrugging his shoulders.
“But in lack of Europeans,” answered the doctor, “cannot
Esquimaux have made it here to contain what they have fished
or shot? It's their habit, I think.”
“Well, go and look at it,” continued Hatteras; “but I'm
afraid it will be hardly worth your while.”
Clawbonny and Bell walked to the cairn with picks in their
hands. Duke continued barking furiously. The limestones were
firmly fastened together by the ice; but a few blows scattered
them on the ground.
“There's something there, evidently,” said the doctor.
“I think so,” answered Bell.
They rapidly destroyed the cairn. Soon they found a bundle
and in it a damp paper. The doctor took it with a beating heart.
Hatteras ran forward, seized the paper, and read:
“Altam .... Porpoise, December 13, 1860, longitude 12°,
“The Porpoise?” said the doctor.
“The Porpoise!” replied Hatteras. “I never heard of a ship
of this name in these seas.”
“It is clear,” resumed the doctor, “that travellers, perhaps
shipwrecked sailors, have been here within two months.”
“That is sure,” said Bell.
“What are we going to do?” asked the doctor.
“Push on,” answered Hatteras, coldly. “I don't know anything
about any ship called the Porpoise, but I know that the
brig Forward is waiting for our return.”
1^ This is formatted to match Osgood, which is an
inaccurate rendition of Verne. The original rendition is
« Altam..., Porpoise, 13 déc... 1860, 12..° long... 8..°35' lat... »
The spacing becomes critical in subsequent chapters.
A scan of the French (Hetzel) text can be found at Gallica, page 317. Note that the French wikisource also uses an inaccurate rendition.