The Voyages and Adventures of Captain Hatteras/Chapter XII
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|THE ENGLISH AT THE NORTH POLE
Chapter XII. CAPTAIN HATTERAS.
The Forward was advancing rapidly under steam between the ice-fields and the mountains of ice. Johnson was at the helm. Shandon was examining the horizon with his snow-spectacles; but his joy was brief, for he soon saw that the passage was blocked up by a circle of mountains.
Nevertheless, he preferred to take his chances with pushing on, to returning.
The dog followed the brig on the ice, but he kept at a respectful distance. Only, if he lagged too far, there was to be heard a singular whistle which at once brought him on.
The first time that this whistle was heard, the sailors looked around; they were alone on the deck, talking together; there was no unknown person there; and yet this whistle was often repeated.
Clifton was the first to take alarm.
“Do you hear that?” he said; “and do you see how the dog starts as soon as he hears it?”
“It's past belief,” said Gripper.
“Very well!” cried Pen; “I'm not going any farther.”
“Pen is right,” said Brunton; “it's tempting Providence.”
“Tempting the Devil,” answered Clifton. “I should rather give up all my share of the pay than go on.”
“We shall never get back,” said Bolton, dejectedly.
The crew was exceedingly demoralized.
“Not a foot farther!” cried Wolston; “is that your opinion?”
“Yes, yes!” answered the sailors.
“Well,” said Bolton, “let's go find the commander; I'll undertake to tell him.”
The sailors in a dense group made their way to the quarterdeck.
The Forward was then advancing into a large arena, which had a diameter of about eight hundred feet; it was completely closed, with the exception of one place through which the ship entered.
Shandon saw that he was locking himself in. But what was to be done? How could he retreat? He felt all the responsibility, and his hand nervously grasped his glass.
The doctor looked on in silence, with folded arms; he gazed at the walls of ice, the average height of which was about three hundred feet. A cloud of fog lay like a dome above the gulf.
Then it was that Bolton spoke to the commander.
“Commander,” said he in a broken voice, “we can't go any farther.”
“What's that you are saying?” said Shandon, who felt enraged at the slight given to his authority.
“We have come to say, Commander,” resumed Bolton, “that we have done enough for this invisible captain, and that we have made up our minds not to go on any farther.”
“Made up your minds?” cried Shandon. “Is that the way you talk to me, Bolton? Take care.”
“You need not threaten,” retorted Pen, brutally, “we are not going any farther.”
Shandon stepped towards the mutinous sailors, when the boatswain said to him in a low voice,—
“Commander, if we want to get out of this place, we have not a moment to lose. There's an iceberg crowding towards the entrance; it may prevent our getting out and imprison us here.”
Shandon returned to look at the state of affairs.
“You will account for this afterwards,” he said to the mutineers. “Now, go about!”
The sailors hastened to their places. The Forward went about rapidly; coal was heaped on the fires; it was necessary to beat the iceberg. There was a race between them; the brig stood towards the south, the berg was drifting northward, threatening to bar the way.
“Put on all the steam, Brunton, do you hear?” said Shandon.
The Forward glided like a bird through the broken ice, which her prow cut through easily; the ship shook with the motion of the screw, and the gauge indicated a full pressure of steam, the deafening roar of which resounded above everything.
“Load the safety-valve!” cried Shandon.
The engineer obeyed at the risk of bursting the boilers.
But these desperate efforts were vain; the iceberg, driven by a submarine current, moved rapidly towards the exit; the brig was still three cable-lengths distant, when the mountain, entering the vacant space like a wedge, joined itself to its companions, and closed the means of escape.
“We are lost!” cried Shandon, who was unable to restrain that unwise speech.
“Lost!” repeated the crew.
“Lower the boats!” cried many.
“To the steward's pantry!” cried Pen and some of his set; “if we must drown, let us drown in gin!”
The wildest confusion raged among these half-wild men. Shandon felt unable to assert his authority; he wanted to give some orders; he hesitated, he stammered; his thoughts could find no words. The doctor walked up and down nervously. Johnson folded his arms stoically, and said not a word.
Suddenly a strong, energetic, commanding voice was heard above the din, uttering these words:—
“Every man to his place! Prepare to go about!”
Johnson shuddered, and, without knowing what he did, turned the wheel rapidly.
It was time; the brig, going under full steam, was about crashing against the walls of its prison.
But while Johnson instinctively obeyed, Shandon, Clawbonny, the crew, all, even down to Warren the fireman, who had abandoned his fires, and Strong the cook, who had fled from his galley, were collected on the deck, and all saw issuing from the cabin, the key of which he alone possessed, a man.
This man was the sailor Garry.
“Sir!” cried Shandon, turning pale, “Garry—by what right do you give orders here?”
“Duke!” said Garry, repeating the whistle which had so surprised the crew.
The dog, on hearing his real name, sprang on the quarter-deck, and lay down quietly at his master's feet.
The crew did not utter a word. The key which the captain alone should possess, the dog which he had sent and which had identified him, so to speak, the tone of command which it was impossible to mistake,—all this had a strong influence on the minds of the sailors, and was enough to establish firmly Garry's authority.
Besides, Garry was hardly to be recognized; he had removed the thick whiskers which had surrounded his face, thereby giving it a more impassible, energetic, and commanding expression; he stood before them clothed in a captain's uniform, which he had had placed in his cabin.
So the crew of the Forward, animated in spite of themselves, shouted,—
“Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah for the captain!”
“Shandon,” he said to his first officer, “have the crew put in line; I want to inspect them.”
Shandon obeyed, and gave the requisite orders with an agitated voice.
The captain walked in front of the officers and men, saying a word to each, and treating him according to his past conduct.
When he had finished his inspection, he went back to the quarter-deck, and calmly uttered these words:—
“Officers and sailors, I am an Englishman like you all, and my motto is that of Lord Nelson,—‘England expects every man to do his duty.’
“As Englishmen, I am unwilling, we are unwilling, that others should go where we have not been. As Englishmen, I shall not endure, we shall not endure, that others should have the glory of going farther north than we. If human foot is ever to reach the Pole, it must be the foot of an Englishman! Here is the flag of our country. I have equipped this ship, I have devoted my fortune to this undertaking, I shall devote to it my life and yours, but this flag shall float over the North Pole. Fear not. You shall receive a thousand pounds sterling for every degree that we get farther north after this day. Now we are at the seventy-second, and there are ninety in all. Figure it out. My name will be proof enough. It means energy and patriotism. I am Captain Hatteras.”
“Captain Hatteras!” cried Shandon. And this name, familiar to them all, soon spread among all the crew.
“Now,” resumed Hatteras, “let us anchor the brig to the ice; let the fires be put out, and every one return to his usual occupation. Shandon, I want to speak with you about the ship. You will join me in my cabin with the doctor. Wall, and the boatswain. Johnson, dismiss the men.”
Hatteras, calm and cold, quietly left the poop-deck, while Shandon had the brig made fast to the ice.
Who was this Hatteras, and why did his name make so deep an impression upon the crew?
John Hatteras, the only son of a London brewer, who died in 1852, worth six million pounds, took to the sea at an early age, unmindful of the large fortune which was to come to him. Not that he had any commercial designs, but a longing for geographical discovery possessed him; he was continually dreaming of setting foot on some spot untrodden of man.
When twenty years old, he had the vigorous constitution of thin, sanguine men; an energetic face, with well-marked lines, a high forehead, rising straight from the eyes, which were handsome but cold, thin lips, indicating a mouth chary of words, medium height, well-knit muscular limbs, indicated a man ready for any experience. Any one who saw him would have called him bold, and any one who heard him would have called him coldly passionate; he was a man who would never retreat, and who would risk the lives of others as coldly as his own. One would hence think twice before following him in his expeditions.
John Hatteras had a great deal of English pride, and it was he who once made this haughty reply to a Frenchman.
The Frenchman said with what he considered politeness, and even kindness,—
“If I were not a Frenchman, I should like to be an Englishman.”
“If I were not an Englishman, I should like to be an Englishman!”
That retort points the nature of the man.
He would have liked to reserve for his fellow-countrymen the monopoly of geographical discovery; but much to his chagrin, during previous centuries, they had done but little in the way of discovery.
America was discovered by the Genoese, Christopher Columbus; the East Indies by the Portuguese, Vasco de Gama; China by the Portuguese, Fernao d'Andrada; Terra del Fuego by the Portuguese, Magellan; Canada by the Frenchman, Jacques Cartier; the islands of Sumatra, Java, etc., Labrador, Brazil, the Cape of Good Hope, the Azores, Madeira, Newfoundland, Guinea, Congo, Mexico, White Cape, Greenland, Iceland, the South Pacific Ocean, California, Japan, Cambodia, Peru, Kamschatka, the Philippine Islands, Spitzbergen, Cape Horn, Behring Strait, New Zealand, Van Diemen's Land, New Britain, New Holland, the Louisiana, Island of Jan-Mayen, by Icelanders, Scandinavians, Frenchmen, Russians, Portuguese, Danes, Spaniards, Genoese, and Dutchmen; but no Englishmen figured among them, and it was a constant source of grief to Hatteras to see his fellow-countrymen excluded from the glorious band of sailors who made the great discoveries of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
Hatteras consoled himself somewhat when he considered modern times: the English took their revenge with Stuart, McDougall Stuart, Burke, Wells, King, Gray, in Australia; with Palliser in America; with Havnoan in Syria; with Cyril Graham, Waddington, Cunningham, in India; and with Barth, Burton, Speke, Grant, and Livingstone in Africa.
But this was not enough; for Hatteras these men were rather finishers than discoverers; something better was to be done, so he invented a country in order to have the honor of discovering it.
Now he had noticed that if the English were in a minority with regard to the early discoveries, that if it was necessary to go back to Cook to make sure of New Caledonia in 1774, and of the Sandwich Islands where he was killed in 1778, there was nevertheless one corner of the globe on which they had centred all their efforts.
This was the northern seas and lands of North America.
In fact, the list of polar discoveries runs as follows:—
Nova Zambia, discovered by Willougbby in 1553.
Island of Wiegehts, discovered by Barrow in 1556.
West Coast of Greenland, discovered by Davis in 1585.
Davis Strait, discovered by Davis in 1587.
Spitzbergen, discovered by Willougbby in 1596.
Hudson's Bay, discovered by Hudson in 1610.
Baffin's Bay, discovered by Baffin in 1616.
During recent years Hearne, Mackenzie, John Ross, Parry, Franklin, Richardson, Beechey, James Ross, Back, Dease, Simpson, Rae, Inglefield, Belcher, Austin, Kellet, Moore, MacClure, Kennedy, MacClintock, were incessantly exploring these unknown regions.
The northern coast of America had been accurately made out, the Northwest Passage nearly discovered, but that was not enough; there was something greater to be done, and this John Hatteras had twice tried, fitting out ships at his own expense; he wanted to reach the Pole itself, and thus to crown the list of English discoveries by a glorious success.
To reach the Pole itself was the aim of his life.
After many successful voyages in the southern seas, Hatteras tried for the first time in 1846 to reach the North through Baffin's Bay, but he could get no farther than latitude 74°; he sailed in the sloop Halifax; his crew suffered terribly, and John Hatteras carried his temerity so far that henceforth sailors were averse to undertaking a similar expedition under such a leader.
Notwithstanding, in 1850, Hatteras succeeded in obtaining for the schooner Farewell about twenty determined men, but who were persuaded especially by the high pay offered their boldness. It was then that Dr. Clawbonny began to correspond with John Hatteras, whom he did not know, about accompanying him; but the post of surgeon was filled, fortunately for the doctor.
The Farewell, following the route taken by the Neptune of Aberdeen in 1817, went to the north of Spitzbergen, as far as latitude 76°. There they were obliged to winter; but their sufferings were such, and the cold so intense, that of all on board, Hatteras alone returned to England. He was picked up by a Danish whaler after he had walked more than two hundred miles across the ice.
The excitement produced by the return of this man alone was intense; who, after this, would accompany Hatteras in his bold attempts? Still he did not abandon the hope of trying again. His father, the brewer, died, and he came into possession of an enormous fortune.
Meanwhile something had happened which cut John Hatteras to the heart.
A brig, the Advance, carrying seventeen men, equipped by Mr. Grinnell, a merchant, commanded by Dr. Kane, and sent out in search of Franklin, went as far north, through Baffin's Bay and Smith's Sound, as latitude 82°, nearer to the Pole than any of his predecessors had gone.
Now this was an American ship. Grinnell was an American, Kane was an American!
It is easy to understand how the customary disdain of the Englishman for the Yankee turned to hatred in the heart of Hatteras; he made up his mind, at any price, to beat his bold rival, and to reach the Pole itself.
For two years he lived at Liverpool incognito. He was taken for a sailor. He saw in Richard Shandon the man he wanted; he presented his plans by an anonymous letter to him and to Dr. Clawbonny. The Forward was built and equipped. Hatteras kept his name a secret; otherwise no one would have gone with him. He resolved only to take command of the brig at some critical juncture, and when his crew had gone too far to be able to retreat; he kept in reserve, as we have seen, the power of making generous offers to the men, so that they would follow him to the end of the world.
In fact, it was to the end of the world that he wanted to go.
Now matters looked very serious, and John Hatteras made himself known.
His dog, the faithful Duke, the companion of his expeditions, was the first to recognize him, and fortunately for the bold, and unfortunately for the timid, it was firmly established that the captain of the Forward was John Hatteras.