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The English at the North Pole

Jules Verne

  Produced by Ron Swanson






  CHAP. PAGE I.--THE "FORWARD" . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 II.--AN UNEXPECTED LETTER . . . . . . . . . 14 III.--DR. CLAWBONNY . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 IV.--DOG-CAPTAIN . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 V.--OUT AT SEA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34 VI.--THE GREAT POLAR CURRENT . . . . . . . 44 VII.--DAVIS'S STRAITS . . . . . . . . . . . 52 VIII.--GOSSIP OF THE CREW . . . . . . . . . . 61 IX.--NEWS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 70 X.--DANGEROUS NAVIGATION . . . . . . . . . 78 XI.--THE DEVIL'S THUMB . . . . . . . . . . 88 XII.--CAPTAIN HATTERAS . . . . . . . . . . . 98 XIII.--THE PROJECTS OF HATTERAS . . . . . . . 109 XIV.--EXPEDITION IN SEARCH OF FRANKLIN . . . 118 XV.--THE "FORWARD" DRIVEN BACK SOUTH . . . 127 XVI.--THE MAGNETIC POLE . . . . . . . . . . 135 XVII.--THE FATE OF SIR JOHN FRANKLIN . . . . 144 XVIII.--THE NORTHERN ROUTE . . . . . . . . . . 150 XIX.--A WHALE IN SIGHT . . . . . . . . . . . 155 XX.--BEECHEY ISLAND . . . . . . . . . . . . 161 XXI.--THE DEATH OF BELLOT . . . . . . . . . 170 XXII.--BEGINNING OF REVOLT . . . . . . . . . 178 XXIII.--ATTACKED BY ICEBERGS . . . . . . . . . 184 XXIV.--PREPARATIONS FOR WINTERING . . . . . . 193 XXV.--AN OLD FOX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 200 XXVI.--THE LAST LUMP OF COAL . . . . . . . . 209 XXVII.--CHRISTMAS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 215XXVIII.--PREPARATIONS FOR DEPARTURE . . . . . . 222 XXIX.--ACROSS THE ICE . . . . . . . . . . . . 227 XXX.--THE CAIRN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 236 XXXI.--THE DEATH OF SIMPSON . . . . . . . . . 243 XXXII.--THE RETURN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 249



  "To-morrow, at low tide, the brig _Forward_, Captain K. Z----, RichardShandon mate, will start from New Prince's Docks for an unknowndestination."

  The foregoing might have been read in the _Liverpool Herald_ of April5th, 1860. The departure of a brig is an event of little importancefor the most commercial port in England. Who would notice it in themidst of vessels of all sorts of tonnage and nationality that sixmiles of docks can hardly contain? However, from daybreak on the 6thof April a considerable crowd covered the wharfs of New Prince'sDocks--the innumerable companies of sailors of the town seemed tohave met there. Workmen from the neighbouring wharfs had left theirwork, merchants their dark counting-houses, tradesmen their shops.The different-coloured omnibuses that ran along the exterior wallof the docks brought cargoes of spectators at every moment; the townseemed to have but one pre-occupation, and that was to see the_Forward_ go out.

  The _Forward_ was a vessel of a hundred and seventy tons, chargedwith a screw and steam-engine of a hundred and twenty horse-power.It might easily have been confounded with the other brigs in the port.But though it offered nothing curious to the eyes of the public,connoisseurs remarked certain peculiarities in it that a sailorcannot mistake. On board the _Nautilus_, anchored at a little distance,a group of sailors were hazarding a thousand conjectures about thedestination of the _Forward_.

  "I don't know what to think about its masting," said one; "it isn'tusual for steamboats to have so much sail."

  "That ship," said a quartermaster with a big red face--"that shipwill have to depend more on her masts than her engine, and the topsailsare the biggest because the others will be often useless. I haven'tgot the slightest doubt that the _Forward_ is destined for the Arcticor Antarctic seas, where the icebergs stop the wind more than is goodfor a brave and solid ship."

  "You must be right, Mr. Cornhill," said a third sailor. "Have younoticed her stern, how straight it falls into the sea?"

  "Yes," said the quartermaster, "and it is furnished with a steelcutter as sharp as a razor and capable of cutting a three-decker intwo if the _Forward_ were thrown across her at top speed."

  "That's certain," said a Mersey pilot; "for that 'ere vessel runsher fourteen knots an hour with her screw. It was marvellous to seeher cutting the tide when she made her trial trip. I believe you,she's a quick un."

  "The canvas isn't intricate either," answered Mr. Cornhill; "it goesstraight before the wind, and can be managed by hand. That ship isgoing to try the Polar seas, or my name isn't what it is. There'ssomething else--do you see the wide helm-port that the head of herhelm goes through?"

  "It's there, sure enough," answered one; "but what does that prove?"

  "That proves, my boys," said Mr. Cornhill with disdainfulsatisfaction, "that you don't know how to put two and two togetherand make it four; it proves that they want to be able to take offthe helm when they like, and you know it's a manoeuvre that's oftennecessary when you have ice to deal with."

  "That's certain," answered the crew of the _Nautilus_.

  "Besides," said one of them, "the way she's loaded confirms Mr.Cornhill's opinion. Clifton told me. The _Forward_ is victualled andcarries coal enough for five or six years. Coals and victuals areall its cargo, with a stock of woollen garments and sealskins."

  "Then," said the quartermaster, "there is no more doubt on the matter;but you, who know Clifton, didn't he tell you anything about herdestination?"

  "He couldn't tell me; he doesn't know; the crew was engaged withoutknowing. He'll only know where he's going when he gets there."

  "I shouldn't wonder if they were going to the devil," said anunbeliever: "it looks like it."

  "And such pay," said Clifton's friend, getting warm--"five times morethan the ordinary pay. If it hadn't been for that, Richard Shandonwouldn't have found a soul to go with him. A ship with a queer shape,going nobody knows where, and looking more like not coming back thananything else, it wouldn't have suited this child."

  "Whether it would have suited you or not," answered Cornhill, "youcouldn't have been one of the crew of the _Forward_."

  "And why, pray?"

  "Because you don't fulfil the required conditions. I read that allmarried men were excluded, and you are in the category, so you needn'ttalk. Even the very name of the ship is a bold one. The_Forward_--where is it to be forwarded to? Besides, nobody knows whothe captain is."

  "Yes, they do," said a simple-faced young sailor.

  "Why, you don't mean to say that you think Shandon is the captainof the _Forward_?" said Cornhill.

  "But----" answered the young sailor--

  "Why, Shandon is commander, and nothing else; he's a brave and boldsailor, an experienced whaler, and a jolly fellow worthy in everyrespect to be the captain, but he isn't any more captain than youor I. As to who is going to command after God on board he doesn'tknow any more than we do. When the moment has come the true captainwill appear, no one knows how nor where, for Richard Shandon has notsaid and hasn't been allowed to say to what quarter of the globe heis going to direct his ship."

  "But, Mr. Cornhill," continued the young sailor, "I assure you thatthere is someone on board who was announced in the letter, and thatMr. Shandon was offered the place of second to."

  "What!" said Cornhill, frowning, "do you mean to maintain that the_Forward_ has a captain on board?"

  "Yes, Mr. Cornhill."

  "Where did you get your precious information from?"

  "From Johnson, the boatswain."

  "From Johnson?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "Johnson told you so?"

  "He not only told me so, but he showed me the captain."

  "He showed him to you!" said Cornhill, stupefied. "And who is it,pray?"

  "A dog."

  "What do you mean by a dog?"

  "A dog on four legs."

  Stupefaction reigned amongst the crew of the _Nautilus_. Under anyother circumstances they would have burst out laugh
ing. A dog captainof a vessel of a hundred and seventy tons burden! It was enough tomake them laugh. But really the _Forward_ was such an extraordinaryship that they felt it might be no laughing matter, and they mustbe sure before they denied it. Besides, Cornhill himself didn't laugh.

  "So Johnson showed you the new sort of captain, did he?" added he,addressing the young sailor, "and you saw him?"

  "Yes, sir, as plainly as I see you now."

  "Well, and what do you think about it?" asked the sailors of thequartermaster.

  "I don't think anything," he answered shortly. "I don't think anything,except that the _Forward_ is a ship belonging to the devil, or madmenfit for nothing but Bedlam."

  The sailors continued silently watching the _Forward_, whosepreparations for departure were drawing to an end; there was not oneof them who pretended that Johnson had only been laughing at the youngsailor. The history of the dog had already made the round of the town,and amongst the crowd of spectators many a one looked out for thedog-captain and believed him to be a supernatural animal. Besides,the _Forward_ had been attracting public attention for some monthspast. Everything about her was marvellous; her peculiar shape, themystery which surrounded her, the incognito kept by the captain, theway Richard Shandon had received the proposition to direct her, thecareful selection of the crew, her unknown destination, suspectedonly by a few--all about her was strange.

  To a thinker, dreamer, or philosopher nothing is more affecting thanthe departure of a ship; his imagination plays round the sails, seesher struggles with the sea and the wind in the adventurous journeywhich does not always end in port; when in addition to the ordinaryincidents of departure there are extraordinary ones, even mindslittle given to credulity let their imagination run wild.

  So it was with the _Forward_, and though the generality of peoplecould not make the knowing remarks of Quartermaster Cornhill, it didnot prevent the ship forming the subject of Liverpool gossip for threelong months. The ship had been put in dock at Birkenhead, on theopposite side of the Mersey. The builders, Scott and Co., amongstthe first in England, had received an estimate and detailed plan fromRichard Shandon; it informed them of the exact tonnage, dimensions,and store room that the brig was to have. They saw by the detailsgiven that they had to do with a consummate seaman. As Shandon hadconsiderable funds at his disposal, the work advanced rapidly,according to the recommendation of the owner. The brig was constructedof a solidity to withstand all tests; it was evident that she wasdestined to resist enormous pressure, for her ribs were built ofteak-wood, a sort of Indian oak, remarkable for its extreme hardness,and were, besides, plated with iron. Sailors asked why the hull ofa vessel made so evidently for resistance was not built of sheet-ironlike other steamboats, and were told it was because the mysteriousengineer had his own reasons for what he did.

  Little by little the brig grew on the stocks, and her qualities ofstrength and delicacy struck connoisseurs. As the sailors of the_Nautilus_ had remarked, her stern formed a right angle with her keel;her steel prow, cast in the workshop of R. Hawthorn, of Newcastle,shone in the sun and gave a peculiar look to the brig, though otherwiseshe had nothing particularly warlike about her. However, a 16-poundercannon was installed on the forecastle; it was mounted on a pivot,so that it might easily be turned in any direction; but neither thecannon nor the stern, steel-clad as they were, succeeded in lookingwarlike.

  On the 5th of February, 1860, this strange vessel was launched inthe midst of an immense concourse of spectators, and the trial tripwas perfectly successful. But if the brig was neither a man-of-war,a merchant vessel, nor a pleasure yacht--for a pleasure trip is notmade with six years' provisions in the hold--what was it? Was it avessel destined for another Franklin expedition? It could not be,because in 1859, the preceding year, Captain McClintock had returnedfrom the Arctic seas, bringing the certain proof of the loss of theunfortunate expedition. Was the _Forward_ going to attempt the famousNorth-West passage? What would be the use? Captain McClure haddiscovered it in 1853, and his lieutenant, Creswell, was the firstwho had the honour of rounding the American continent from Behring'sStraits to Davis's Straits. Still it was certain to competent judgesthat the _Forward_ was prepared to face the ice regions. Was it goingto the South Pole, farther than the whaler Weddell or Captain JamesRoss? But, if so, what for?

  The day after the brig was floated her engine was sent from Hawthorn'sfoundry at Newcastle. It was of a hundred and twenty horse-power,with oscillating cylinders, taking up little room; its power wasconsiderable for a hundred-and-seventy-ton brig, with so much sail,too, and of such fleetness. Her trial trips had left no doubt on thatsubject, and even the boatswain, Johnson, had thought right to expresshis opinion to Clifton's friend--

  "When the _Forward_ uses her engine and sails at the same time, hersails will make her go the quickest."

  Clifton's friend did not understand him, but he thought anythingpossible of a ship commanded by a dog. After the engine was installedon board, the stowage of provisions began. This was no slight work,for the vessel was to carry enough for six years. They consisted ofdry and salted meat, smoked fish, biscuit, and flour; mountains oftea and coffee were thrown down the shafts in perfect avalanches.Richard Shandon presided over the management of this precious cargolike a man who knows what he is about; all was stowed away, ticketed,and numbered in perfect order; a very large provision of the Indianpreparation called pemmican, which contains many nutritive elementsin a small volume, was also embarked. The nature of the provisionsleft no doubt about the length of the cruise, and the sight of thebarrels of lime-juice, lime-drops, packets of mustard, grains ofsorrel and _cochlearia_, all antiscorbutic, confirmed the opinionon the destination of the brig for the ice regions; their influenceis so necessary in Polar navigation. Shandon had doubtless receivedparticular instructions about this part of the cargo, which, alongwith the medicine-chest, he attended to particularly.

  Although arms were not numerous on board, the powder-magazineoverflowed. The one cannon could not pretend to use the contents.That gave people more to think about. There were also gigantic sawsand powerful instruments, such as levers, leaden maces, handsaws,enormous axes, etc., without counting a considerable quantity ofblasting cylinders, enough to blow up the Liverpool Customs--all thatwas strange, not to say fearful, without mentioning rockets, signals,powder-chests, and beacons of a thousand different sorts. Thenumerous spectators on the wharfs of Prince's Docks admired likewisea long mahogany whaler, a tin _pirogue_ covered with gutta-percha,and a certain quantity of halkett-boats, a sort of indiarubber cloaksthat can be transformed into canoes by blowing in their lining.Expectation was on the _qui vive_, for the _Forward_ was going outwith the tide.