The time flew by in this uncertainty. Nothing appeared on
the sharply defined circle of the sea; nothing was to be seen
save sky and sea,—not one of those floating land-plants which
rejoiced the heart of Christopher Columbus as he was about to
discover America. Hatteras was still gazing. At length, at
about six o'clock in the evening, a shapeless vapor appeared at
a little height above the level of the sea; it looked like a puff
of smoke; the sky was perfectly cold, so this vapor was no cloud;
it would keep appearing and disappearing, as if it were in commotion.
Hatteras was the first to detect this phenomenon; he
examined it with his glass for a whole hour.
Suddenly, some sure sign apparently occurred to him, for he
stretched out his arms to the horizon and cried in a loud voice,—
“Land, ho!”
At these words each one sprang to his feet as if moved by
electricity. A sort of smoke was clearly rising above the sea.
“I see it,” cried the doctor.
“Yes! certainly!—yes!” said Johnson.
“It's a cloud,” said Altamont.
“It's land!” answered Hatteras, as if perfectly convinced.
But, as often happens with objects that are indistinct in the
distance, the point they had been looking at seemed to have
disappeared. At length they found it again, and the doctor even
fancied that he could see a swift light twenty or twenty-five
miles tn the north.
“It's a volcano!” he cried.
“A volcano?” said Altamont.
“Without doubt.”
“At this high latitude?”
“And why not?” continued the doctor; “is n't Iceland a
volcanic land, so to speak, made of volcanoes?”
“Yes, Iceland,” said the American, “but so near the Pole!”
“Well, did n't Commodore James Ross find in the Southern
Continent two active volcanoes, Erebus and Terror by name, in
longitude 170° and latitude 78°? Why then should n't there be
volcanoes at the North Pole?”
“It may be so, after all,” answered Altamont.
“Ah,” cried the doctor, “I see it clearly! It is a volcano.”
“Well,” said Hatteras, “let us sail straight towards it.”
“The wind is changing,” said Johnson.
“Haul on the fore-sheet, and bring her nearer the wind.”
But this manœuvre only turned the launch away from the
point they had been gazing at, and even with their closest examination
they could not find it again. Still, they could not doubt
that they were nearing land. They had seen, if they had not
reached, the object of their voyage, and within twenty-four hours
they would set foot on this unknown shore. Providence, after
letting them get so near, would not drive them back at the last
Still, no one manifested the joy which might have been expected
under the circumstances; each one wondered in silence
what this polar land might be. The animals seemed to shun
it; at evening the birds, instead of seeking refuge there, flew
with all speed to the south. Could not a single gull or ptarmigan
find a resting-place there? Even the fish, the large cetacea,
avoided that coast. Whence came this repugnance, which was
shared by all the animals they saw, unless from terror?
The sailors experienced the same feeling; they gave way to
the feelings inspired by the situation, and gradually each one
felt his eyelids grow heavy. It was Hatteras's watch. He took
the tiller; the doctor, Altamont, Johnson, and Bell fell asleep,
stretched on the benches, and soon were dreaming soundly.
Hatteras struggled against his sleepiness; he wished to lose not
a moment; but the gentle motion of the launch rocked him, in
spite of himself, into a gentle sleep.
The boat made hardly any headway; the wind did not keep
her sails full. Far off in the west a few icebergs were reflecting
the sun's rays, and glowing brightly in the midst of the ocean.
Hatteras began to dream. He recalled his whole life, with
the incalculable speed of dreams; he went through the winter
again, the scenes at Victoria Bay, Fort Providence, Doctor's
House, the finding the American beneath the snow.
Here remoter
incidents came up before him; he dreamed of the burning
of the Forward, of his treacherous companions who had abandoned
him. What had become of them? He thought of Shandon,
Wall, and the brutal Penn. Where were they now? Had
they succeeded in reaching Baffin's Bay across the ice?
he went further back, to his departure from England, to his
previous voyages, his failures and misfortunes. Then he forgot
his present situation, his success so near at hand, his hopes half
realized. His dreams carried him from joy to agony.
So it
went on for two hours; then his thoughts changed; he began
to think of the Pole, and he saw himself at last setting foot on
this English continent, and unfolding the flag of the United
While he was dozing in this way a huge, dark cloud
was climbing across the sky, throwing a deep shadow over the
It is difficult to imagine the great speed with which hurricanes
arise in the arctic seas. The vapors which rise under the
equator are condensed above the great glaciers of the North,
and large masses of air are needed to take their place. This
can explain the severity of arctic storms.
At the first shock of the wind the captain and his friends
awoke from their sleep, ready to manage the launch.
The waves
were high and steep. The launch tossed helplessly about, now
plunged into deep abysses, now oscillated on the pointed crest
of a wave, inclining often at an angle of more than forty-five
Hatteras took firm hold of the tiller, which was noisily
sliding from one side to the other. Every now and then some
strong wave would strike it and nearly throw him over. Johnson
and Bell were busily occupied in bailing out the water which
the launch would occasionally ship.
“This is a storm we hardly expected,” said Altamont, holding
fast to his bench.
“We ought to expect anything here,” answered the doctor.
These remarks were made amid the roar of the tempest and
the hissing of the waves, which the violence of the wind reduced
to a fine spray.
It was nearly impossible for one to hear his
neighbor. It was hard to keep the boat's head to the north; the
clouds hid everything a few fathoms from the boat, and they
had no mark to sail by.
This sudden tempest, just as they were
about attaining their object, seemed full of warning; to their
excited minds it came like an order to go no farther. Did
Nature forbid approach to the Pole? Was this point of the
globe surrounded by hurricanes and tempests which rendered
access impossible?
But any one who had caught sight of those
men could have seen that they did not flinch before wind or
wave, and that they would push on to the end.
So they struggled
on all day, braving death at every instant, and making no
progress northward, but also losing no ground; they were wet
through by the rain and waves; above the din of the storm they
could hear the hoarse cries of the birds.
But at six o'clock in the evening, while the waves were rising,
there came a sudden calm. The wind stopped as if by a miracle.
The sea was smooth; as if it had not felt a puff of wind for twelve
hours. The hurricane seemed to have respected this part of the
Polar Ocean.
What was the reason? It was an extraordinary
phenomenon, which Captain Sabine had witnessed in his voyages
in Greenland seas.
The fog, without lifting, was very bright.
The launch drifted along in a zone of electric light, an immense
St. Elmo fire, brilliant hut without heat. The mast, sail, and
rigging stood out black against the phosphorescent air; the men
seemed to have plunged into a bath of transparent rays, and their
faces were all lit up.
The sudden calm of this portion of the
ocean came, without doubt, from the ascending motion of the columns
of air, while the tempest, which was a cyclone, turned rapidly
about this peaceful centre.
But this atmosphere on fire
suggested a thought to Hatteras.
“The volcano!” he cried.
“Is it possible?” asked Bell.
“No, no!” answered the doctor; “we should be smothered if
the flames were to reach us.”
“Perhaps it is its reflection in the fog,” said Altamont.
“No. We should have to admit that we were near land, and
in that case we should hear the eruption.”
“But then?” asked the captain.
“It is a phenomenon,” said the doctor, “which has been seldom
observed hitherto. If we go on we cannot help leaving this
luminous sphere and re-entering storm and darkness.”
“Whatever it is, push on!” said Hatteras.
“Forward!” cried his companions, who did not wish to delay
even for breathing-time in this quiet spot.
The bright sail hung
down the glistening mast; the oars dipped into the glowing
waves, and appeared to drip with sparks.
Hatteras, compass in
band, turned the boat's head to the north; gradually the mist
lost its brightness and transparency; the wind could be heard
roaring a short distance off; and soon the launch, lying over before
a strong gust, re-entered the zone of storms.
Fortunately, the
hurricane had shifted a point towards the south, and the launch
was able to run before the wind, straight for the Pole, running
the risk of foundering, but sailing very fast; a rock, reef, or piece
of ice might at any moment rise before them, and crush them to
Still, no one of these men raised a single objection, nor
suggested prudence. They were seized with the madness of
danger. Thirst for the unknown took possession of them. They
were going along, not blinded, but blindly, finding their speed
only too slow for their impatience. Hatteras held the tiller firm
amid the waves lashed into foam by the tempest.
Still the proximity
of land became evident. Strange signs filled the air.
the mist parted like a curtain torn by the wind, and for a
moment, brief as a flash of lightning, a great burst of flame could
be seen rising towards the sky.
“The volcano! the volcano!” was the cry which escaped from
the lips of all; but the strange vision disappeared at once; the
wind shifted to the southeast, took the launch on her quarter,
and drove her from this unapproachable land.
“Malediction!” said Hatteras, shifting her sail; “we were not
three miles from land!”
Hatteras could not resist the force of the tempest; but without
yielding to it, he brought the boat about in the wind, which was
blowing with fearful violence. Every now and then the launch
leaned to one side, so that almost her whole keel was exposed;
still she obeyed her rudder, and rose like a stumbling horse which
his rider brings up by spur and reins.
Hatteras, with his hair
flying and his hand on the tiller, seemed to be part of the boat,
like horse and man at the time of the centaurs.
Suddenly a terrible
sight presented itself to their eyes.
Within less than ten
fathoms a floe was balancing on the waves; it fell and rose like
the launch, threatening in its fall to crush it to atoms.
But to
this danger of being plunged into the abyss was added another no
less terrible; for this drifting floe was covered with white bears,
crowded together and wild with terror.
“Bears! bears!” cried Bell, in terror.
And each one gazed with terror. The floe pitched fearfully,
sometimes at such an angle that the bears were all rolled together.
Then their roars were almost as loud as the tempest; a
formidable din arose from the floating menagerie.
If the floe had upset, the bears would have swum to the boat
and clambered aboard.
For a quarter of an hour, which was as long as a century, the
launch and floe drifted along in consort, twenty fathoms from one
another at one moment and nearly running together the next,
and at times they were so near to one another, the bears need
only have dropped to have got on board. The Greenland dogs
trembled from terror; Duke remained motionless.
Hatteras and
his companions were silent; it did not occur to them to put the
helm down and sail away, and they went straight on. A vague
feeling, of astonishment rather than terror, took possession of
them; they admired this spectacle which completed the struggle
of the elements.
Finally the floe drifted away, borne by the
wind, which the launch was able to withstand, as she lay with her
head to the wind, and it disappeared in the mist, its presence
being known merely by the distant roaring of the bears.
At that moment the fury of the tempest redoubled; there was
an endless unchaining of atmospheric waves; the boat, borne by
the waves, was tossed about giddily; her sail flew away like a
huge white bird; a whirlpool, a new Maelstrom, formed among
the waves; the boat was carried so fast that it seemed to the men
as if the rapidly revolving water were motionless. They were
gradually sinking down. There was an irresistible power dragging
them down and ingulfing them alive.
All five arose. They
looked at one another with terror. They grew dizzy. They felt
an undefinable dread of the abyss!
But suddenly the launch
arose perpendicularly. Her prow was higher than the whirling
waves; the speed with which she was moving hurled her beyond
the centre of attraction, and escaping by the tangent of this circumference
which was making more than a thousand turns a
second, she was hurled away with the rapidity of a cannon-ball.
Altamont, the doctor, Johnson, and Bell were thrown down
among the seats.
When they rose, Hatteras had disappeared.
It was two o'clock in the morning.




Please join our telegram group for more such stories and updates.telegram channel

Books related to The Voyages and Adventures of Captain Hatteras

कल्पनारम्य कथा भाग २
भूते पकडणारा  तात्या नाव्ही
छोटे बच्चों  के लिए -अस्सी घाट की कविताएँ
सुभाषित माला
महाभारत सत्य की मिथ्य?
इच्छापूर्ती शाबरी मंत्र
तुम्हाला तुमची स्वतःची ओळख करुन घ्यायचीय का?
पुन्हा नव्याने सुरुवात
अदभूत  सत्ये -  भाग १
कविता संग्रह
Understanding Itihasa
आरतियाँ Arati in Hindi
 पांच सौ वर्ष का अघोरी