The Voyages and Adventures of Captain Hatteras/Chapter XVIII

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The crew seemed to have returned to their habits of discipline and obedience. Their duties were slight and infrequent, so that they had plenty of leisure. The temperature never fell below the freezing-point, and the thaw removed the greatest obstacles from their path.

Duke had made friends with Dr. Clawbonny. They got on admirably together. But as in friendship one friend is always sacrificed to the other, it must be said that the doctor was not the other. Duke did with him whatever he pleased. The doctor obeyed him as a dog obeys his master. Moreover, Duke conducted himself very amicably with most of the officers and sailors; only, instinctively doubtless, he avoided Shandon; he had, too, a grudge against Pen and Foker; his hatred for them manifested itself in low growls when they came near him. They, for their part, did not dare attack the captain's dog, “his familiar spirit,” as Clifton called him.

In a word, the crew had taken courage again.

“It seems to me,” said James Wall one day to Richard Shandon, “that the men took the captain's words for earnest; they seem to be sure of success.”

“They are mistaken,” answered Shandon; “if they would only reflect, and consider our condition, they would see we are simply going from one imprudence to another.”

“Still,” resumed Wall, “we are in a more open sea; we are going along a well-known route; don't you exaggerate somewhat, Shandon?”

“Not a bit, Wall; the hate and jealousy, if you please, with which Hatteras inspires me, don't blind my eyes. Say, have you seen the coal-bunkers lately?”

“No,” answered Wall.

“Well! go below, and you'll see how near we are to the end of our supply. By right, we ought to be going under sail, and only starting our engine to make headway against currents or contrary winds; our fuel ought to be burned only with the strictest economy, for who can say where and for how long we may be detained? But Hatteras is pushed by this mania of going forward, of reaching the inaccessible Pole, and he does n't care for such a detail. Whether the wind is fair or foul, he goes on under steam; and if he goes on we run a risk of being very much embarrassed, if not lost.”

“Is that so, Shandon? That is serious!”

“You are right, Wall, it is; not only would the engine be of no use to us if we got into a tight place, but what are we to do in the winter? We ought to take some precautions against the cold in a country where the mercury often freezes in the thermometer.”

“But if I'm not mistaken, Shandon, the captain intends getting a new supply at Beechey Island; they say there is a great quantity there.”

“Can any one choose where he'll go in these seas, Wall? Can one count on finding such or such a channel free of ice? And if he misses Beechey Island, or can't reach it, what is to become of us?”

“You are right, Shandon; Hatteras seems to me unwise; but why don't you say something of this sort to him?”

“No, Wall,” answered Shandon, with ill-disguised bitterness, “I have made up my mind not to say a word; I am not responsible any longer for the ship; I shall await events; if I receive any commands, I obey, and I don't proclaim my opinions.”

“Let me tell you you are wrong, Shandon; for the well-being of all is at stake, and the captain's imprudence may cost us all dear.”

“And if I were to speak, Wall, would he listen to me?”

Wall did not dare say he would.

“But,” he added, “he would perhaps listen to remonstrances of the crew.”

“The crew,” said Shandon, shrugging his shoulders; “but, my dear Wall, have n't you noticed that they care for everything else more than for their safety? They know they're getting near latitude 72°, and that a thousand pounds is paid for every degree of latitude beyond which is reached.”

“You are right, Shandon,” answered Wall, “and the captain has taken the surest means of securing his men.”

“Without doubt,” answered Shandon; “for the present, at least.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that all will go very well in the absence of all dangers and fatigues, in an open sea; Hatteras has caught them by his money; but what is done for pay is ill done. But once let hardships, dangers, discomfort, sickness, melancholy, and fierce cold stare them in the face,—and we are flying towards them now,—and you will see whether they remember the pay they are to get.”

“So, in your opinion, Shandon, Hatteras will fail?”

“Exactly; he will fail. In such an enterprise, there should be an identity of interests among the leaders, a sympathy which is lacking here. Besides, Hatteras is mad; his whole past proves it! But we shall see! Circumstances may arise in which the command of the ship will have to be given to a less foolhardy captain—”

“Still,” said Wall, shaking his head doubtfully, “Hatteras will always have on his side—”

“He will have,” interrupted Shandon,—“he will have that Dr. Clawbonny, who only cares to study; Johnson, who is a slave to discipline, and who never takes the trouble to reason; perhaps one or two besides, like Bell, the carpenter,—four at the most, and there are eighteen on board! No, Wall, Hatteras has not the confidence of the crew; he knows it well, and he tries to make up for it by bribery; he made a good use of the account of Franklin's catastrophe to create a different feeling in their excited minds; but that won't last, I tell you; and if he don't reach Beechey Island, he is lost!”

“If the crew suspected—”

“I beg of you,” said Shandon, quickly, “not to say a word about this to the crew; they'll find it out for themselves. Now, at any rate, it is well to go on towards the north. But who can say whether what Hatteras takes for a step towards the Pole may not be really retracing our steps? At the end of MacClintock Channel is Melville Bay, and thence open the straits which lead back to Baffin's Bay. Hatteras had better take care! The way west is easier than the way north.”

From these words Shandon's state of mind may be judged, and how justified the captain was in suspecting a treacherous disposition in him.

Shandon, moreover, was right when he ascribed the present satisfaction of the crew to the prospect they had of passing latitude 72°. This greed of gold seized the least audacious. Clifton had made out every one's share with great exactness. Leaving out the captain and the doctor, who could not be admitted to the division, there were sixteen men on board the Forward. The amount was a thousand pounds, that was £72 10s. for each man, for every degree. If they should ever reach the Pole the eighteen degrees to be crossed would give each one a sum of £1,125, a fair fortune. This whim would cost the captain £18,000; but he was rich enough to pay for such a costly trip to the Pole.

These calculations aroused wonderfully the avarice of the crew, as can be readily believed, and more than one longed to pass latitude 72°, who, a fortnight before, rejoiced to be sailing southward.

The Forward sailed by Cape Alworth June 16th. Mount Rawlinson raised its white peaks towards the sky; the snow and mist exaggerated its size so that it appeared colossal; the temperature remained a few degrees above the freezing-point; cascades and cataracts appeared on the sides of the mountain; avalanches kept falling with a roar like that of artillery. The long stretches of glaciers made a loud echo. The contrast between this wintry scene and the thaw made a wonderful sight. The brig sailed along very near the coast; they were able to see on some sheltered rocks a few bushes bearing modest little roses, some reddish moss, and a budding dwarf willow barely rising above the ground.

At last, June 19th, in latitude 72°, they doubled Point Minto, which forms one of the extremities of Ommanney Bay; the brig entered Melville Bay, called “the Sea of Money” by Bolton; this good-natured fellow used to be always jesting on this subject, much to Clawbonny's amusement.

The obstacles to their course were but few, for June 23d, in the teeth of a strong northeasterly breeze, they passed latitude 74°. This was at the middle of Melville Bay, one of the largest seas of this region. It was first crossed by Captain Parry, in his great expedition of 1819, and there it was that his crew won the £5,000 promised by act of Parliament.

Clifton contented himself with remarking that there were two degrees between latitude 72° and latitude 74°: that was £125 to his credit. But they told him that a fortune did not amount to much up there, and that a man could be called rich only when he could have a chance to drink to his wealth; it seemed better to wait for the moment when they could meet at some tavern in Liverpool before rejoicing and rubbing their hands.