The design which Captain Hatteras had formed of exploring
the North, and of giving England the honor of discovering the
Pole, was certainly a bold one. This hardy sailor had just done
all that human skill could do. After struggling for nine months
against contrary winds and seas, after destroying icebergs and
ice-fields, after enduring the severity of an unprecedentedly cold
winter, after going over all that his predecessors had done, after
carrying the Forward beyond the seas which were already known,
in short, after completing half his task, he saw his grand plans
completely overthrown. The treachery, or rather the demoralization
of his wearied crew, the criminal folly of some of the ring-leaders,
left him in a terrible situation; of the eighteen men who
had sailed in the brig, four were left, abandoned without supplies,
without a boat, more than twenty-five hundred miles from
The explosion of the Forward, which had just blown up before
their eyes, took from them their last means of subsistence. Still,
Hatteras's courage did not abandon him at this terrible crisis.
The men who were left were the best of the crew; they were
genuine heroes. He made an appeal to the energy and wisdom
of Dr. Clawbonny, to the devotion of Johnson and Bell, to his
own faith in the enterprise; even in these desperate straits he
ventured to speak of hope; his brave companions listened to him,
and their courage in the past warranted confidence in their promises
for the future.
The doctor, after listening to the captain's words, wanted to
get an exact idea of their situation; and, leaving the others about
five hundred feet from the ship, he made his way to the scene of
the catastrophe.
Of the Forward, which had been built with so much care, nothing
was left; pieces of ice, shapeless fragments all blackened and
charred, twisted pieces of iron, ends of ropes still burning like fuse,
and scattered here and there on the ice-field, testified to the force
of the explosion. The cannon had been hurled to some distance,
and was lying on a piece of ice that looked like a gun-carriage.
The surface of the ice, for a circle of six hundred feet in diameter,
was covered with fragments of all sorts; the brig's keel lay under
a mass of ice; the icebergs, which had been partly melted by the
fire, had already recovered their rock-like hardness.
The doctor then began to think of his ruined cabin, of his lost
collections, of his precious instruments destroyed, his books torn,
burned to ashes. So much that was valuable gone! He gazed with
tearful eyes at this vast disaster, thinking not of the future, but
of the irreparable misfortune which dealt him so severe a blow.
He was immediately joined by Johnson; the old sailor's face bore
signs of his recent sufferings; he had been obliged to struggle
against his revolted companions, defending the ship which had
been intrusted to his care. The
doctor sadly pressed the boatswain's
“Well, my friend, what is
going to become of us?” asked
the doctor.
“Who can say?” answered
“At any rate,” continued the
doctor, “don't let us give way
to despair; let us be men!”
“Yes, Doctor,” answered the
old sailor, “you are right; it's
when matters look worst that we most need courage; we are in a
bad way; we must see how we can best get out of it.”
“Poor ship!” said the doctor, sighing; “I had become attached
to it; I had got to look on it as on my own home, and
there's not left a piece that can be recognized!”
“Who would think, Doctor, that this mass of dust and ashes
could be so dear to our heart?”
“And the launch,” continued the doctor, gazing around, “was
it destroyed too?”
“No, Doctor; Shandon and the others, who left, took it with
“And the gig?”
“Was broken into a thousand pieces. See, those sheets of tin
are all that's left of her.”
“Then we have nothing but the Halkett-boat?”[1]
“That is all, and it is because you insisted on our taking it,
that we have that.”
“It's not of much use,” said the doctor.
“They were a pack of miserable, cowardly traitors who ran
away!” said Johnson. “May they be punished as they deserve!”
“Johnson,” answered the doctor, mildly, “we must remember
that their suffering had worn upon them very much. Only exceptional
natures remain stanch in adversity, which completely
overthrows the weak. Let us rather pity than curse them!”
After these words the doctor remained silent for a few minutes,
and gazed around uneasily.
“What is become of the sledge?” asked Johnson.
“We left it a mile back.”
“In care of Simpson?”
“No, my friend; poor Simpson sank under the toil of the trip.”
“Dead!” cried the boatswain.
“Dead!” answered the doctor.
“Poor fellow!” said Johnson; “but who knows whether we
may not soon be reduced to envying his fate?”
“But we have brought back a dying man in place of the one
we lost,” answered the doctor.
“A dying man?”
“Yes, Captain Altamont.”
The doctor gave the boatswain in a few words an account of
their finding him.
“An American!” said Johnson, thoughtfully.
“Yes; everything seems to point that way. But what was
this Porpoise which had evidently been shipwrecked, and what
was he doing in these waters?”
“He came in order to be lost,” answered Johnson; “he brought
his crew to death, like all those whose foolhardiness leads them
here. But, Doctor, did the expedition accomplish what it set out
“Finding the coal?”
“Yes,” answered Johnson.
The doctor shook his head sadly.
“None at all?” asked the old sailor.
“None; our supplies gave out, fatigue nearly conquered us.
We did not even reach the spot mentioned by Edward Belcher.”
“So,” continued Johnson, “you have no fuel?”
“Nor food?”
“And no boat with which to reach England?”
They were both silent; they needed all their courage to meet
this terrible situation.
“Well,” resumed the boatswain, “there can be no doubts about
our condition! We know what we have to expect! But the first
thing to do, when the weather is so cold, is to build a snow-house.”
“Yes,” answered the doctor, “with Bell's aid that will be easy;
then we'll go after the sledge, we'll bring the American here,
and then we'll take counsel with Hatteras.”
“Poor captain!” said Johnson, forgetting his own griefs; “he
must suffer terribly.”
With these words they returned to their companions. Hatteras
was standing with folded arms, as usual, gazing silently into
space. His face wore its usual expression of firmness. Of what
was this remarkable man thinking? Of his desperate condition
and shattered hopes? Was he planning to return, since both men
and the elements had combined against his attempt?
No one could have read his thoughts, which his face in no way
expressed. His faithful Duke was with him, braving a temperature
of -32°.
Bell lay motionless on the ice; his insensibility might cost him
his life; he was in danger of being frozen to death. Johnson
shook him violently, rubbed him with snow, and with some difficulty
aroused him from his torpor.
“Come, Bell, take courage!” he said; “don't lose heart; get
up; we have to talk matters over, and we need a shelter. Have
you forgotten how to make a snow-house? Come, help me, Bell!
There's an iceberg we can cut into! Come, to work! That will
give us what we need, courage!”
Bell, aroused by these words, obeyed the old sailor.
“Meanwhile,” Johnson went on, “the doctor will be good
enough to go to the sledge and bring it back with the dogs.”
“I am ready,” answered the doctor; “in an hour I shall be
“Shall you go too, Captain?” added Johnson, turning to Hatteras.
Although he was deep in thought, the captain heard the boatswain's
question, for he answered gently,---
“No, my friend, if the doctor is willing to go alone. We must
form some plan of action, and I want to be alone to think matters
over. Go. Do what you think right for the present. I will be
thinking of the future.”
Johnson turned to the doctor.
“It's singular,” he said; “the captain seems to have forgotten
his anger; his voice never was so gentle before.”
“Well!” answered the doctor; “he has recovered his presence
of mind. Mark my words, Johnson, that man will be able to
save us!“
Thereupon the doctor wrapped himself up as well as he could,
and, staff in hand, walked away towards the sledge in the midst
of a fog which the moonlight made almost bright. Johnson
and Bell set to work immediately; the old sailor encouraged
the carpenter, who wrought on in silence; they did not need
to build, but to dig into the solid ice; to be sure it was frozen
very hard, and so rendered the task difficult, but it was thereby
additionally secure; soon Johnson and Bell could work comfortably
in the orifice,
throwing outside all
that they took from
the solid mass.
From time to time
Hatteras would walk
fitfully, stopping
suddenly every now
and then; evidently
he did not wish to
reach the spot where
his brig had been. As he had promised, the doctor was soon
back; he brought with him Altamont, lying on the sledge beneath
all the coverings; the Greenland dogs, thin, tired, and half
starved, could hardly drag the sledge, and were gnawing at their
harness; it was high time that men and beasts should take some
While they were digging the house, the doctor happened to
stumble upon a small stove which had not been injured by the
explosion, and with a piece of chimney that could be easily repaired:
the doctor carried it away in triumph. At the end of
three hours the house was inhabitable; the stove was set in and
filled with pieces of wood; it was soon roaring and giving out a
comfortable warmth.
The American was brought in and covered up carefully; the
four Englishmen sat about the fire. The last supplies of the
sledge, a little biscuit and some hot tea, gave them some comfort.
Hatteras did not speak: every one respected his silence. When
the meal was finished the doctor made a sign for Johnson to follow
him outside.
“Now,” he said, “we are going to make an inventory of what
is left. We must know exactly what things we have; they are
scattered all about; we must pick them up; it may snow at any
moment, and then it would be impossible to find a scrap.”
“Don't let us lose any time, then,” answered Johnson; “food
and wood is what we need at once.”
“Well, let us each take a side,” answered the doctor, “so as to
cover the whole ground; let us begin at the centre and go out to
the circumference.”
They went at once to the bed of ice where the Forward had
lain; each examined with care all the fragments of the ship beneath
the dim light of the moon. It was a genuine hunt; the
doctor entered into this occupation with all the zest, not to say
the pleasure, of a sportsman, and his heart beat high when he
discovered a chest almost intact; but most were empty, and
their fragments were scattered everywhere.
The violence of the explosion had been considerable; many
things were but dust and ashes; the large pieces of the engine
lay here and there, twisted out of shape; the broken flanges of
the screw were hurled twenty fathoms from the ship and buried
deeply in the hardened snow; the bent cylinders had been torn
from their pivots; the chimney, torn nearly in two, and with
chains still hanging to it, lay half hid under a large cake of ice;
the bolts, liars, the iron-work of the helm, the sheathing, all the
metal-work of the ship, lay about as if it had been fired from a gun.
But this iron, which would have made the fortune of a tribe of
Esquimaux, was of no use under the circumstances; before anything
else food had to be found, and the doctor did not discover a
great deal.
“That's had,” he said to himself; “it is evident that the
store-room, which was near the magazine, was entirely destroyed
by the explosion; what wasn't burned was shattered to dust.
It's serious; and if Johnson is not luckier than I am, I don't see
what's going to become of us.”
Still, as he enlarged his circles, the doctor managed to collect a
few fragments of pemmican, about fifteen pounds, and four stone
bottles, which had been thrown out upon the snow and so had
escaped destruction: they laid five or six pints of brandy.
Farther on he picked up two packets of grains of cochlearia,
which would well make up for the loss of their lime juice, which
is so useful against the scurvy.
Two hours later the doctor and Johnson met. They told one
another of their discoveries; unfortunately they had found but
little to eat: some few pieces of salt pork, fifty pounds of pemmican,
three sacks of biscuit, a little chocolate, some brandy, and
about two pounds of coffee, picked up berry by berry on the ice.
No coverings, no hammocks, no clothing, were found; evidently
the fire had destroyed all. In short, the doctor and boatswain
had found supplies for three weeks at the outside, and with
the strictest economy; that was not much for them in their state
of exhaustion. So, in consequence of these disasters, Hatteras
found himself not only without any coal, but also short of provisions.
As to the fuel supplied by the fragments of the ship, the pieces
of the masts and the keel, they might hold out about three
weeks; but then the doctor, before using it to heat their new
dwelling, asked Johnson whether out of it they might not build a
new ship, or at least a launch.
“No, Doctor,” answered the boatswain, “it's impossible;
there's not a piece of wood large enough; it's good for nothing
except to keep us warm for a few days and then---”
“Then?” asked the doctor.
“God alone knows,” answered the sailor.
Having made out their list, the doctor and Johnson went after
the sledge; they harnessed the tired dogs, returned to the scene
of the explosion, packed up the few precious objects they had
found, and carried them to their new house; then, half frozen,
they took their place near their companions in misfortune.
1^  Made
of india-rubber, and capable of being inflated at pleasure.




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