The Voyages and Adventures of Captain Hatteras
THE ENGLISH AT THE NORTH POLE
"To-morrow, at the turn of the tide, the brig Forward, K. Z., captain, Richard Shandon, mate, will clear from New Prince's Docks; destination unknown."
This announcement appeared in the Liverpool Herald of April 5, 1860.
The sailing of a brig is not a matter of great importance for the chief commercial city of England. Who would take notice of it in so great a throng of ships of all sizes and of every country, that dry-docks covering two leagues scarcely contain them?
Nevertheless, from early morning on the 6th of April, a large crowd collected on the quays of the New Prince's Docks; all the sailors of the place seemed to have assembled there. The workingmen of the neighboring wharves had abandoned their tasks, tradesmen had left their gloomy shops, and the merchants their empty warehouses. The many-colored omnibuses which pass outside of the docks were discharging, every minute, their load of sight-seers; the whole city seemed to care for nothing except watching the departure of the Forward.
The Forward was a vessel of one hundred and seventy tons, rigged as a brig, and carrying a screw and a steam-engine of one hundred and twenty horse-power. One would have very easily confounded it with the other brigs in the harbor. But if it presented no especial difference to the eye of the public, yet those who were familiar with ships noticed certain peculiarities which could not escape a sailor's keen glance.
Thus, on the Nautilus, which was lying at anchor near her, a group of sailors were trying to make out the probable destination of the Forward.
"What do you say to her masts?" said one; "steamers don't usually carry so much sail."
"It must be," answered a red-faced quartermaster, "that she relies more on her sails than on her engine; and if her topsails are of that size, it's probably because the lower sails are to be laid back. So I'm sure the Forward is going either to the Arctic or Antarctic Ocean, where the icebergs stop the wind more than suits a solid ship."
"You must be right, Mr. Cornhill," said a third sailor. "Do you notice how straight her stem is?"
"Besides," said Mr. Cornhill, "she carries a steel ram forward, as sharp as a razor; if the Forward, going at full speed, should run into a three-decker, she would cut her in two."
"That's true," answered a Mersey pilot, "for that brig can easily run fourteen knots under steam. She was a sight to see on her trial trip. On my word, she's a swift boat."
"And she goes well, too, under sail," continued the quartermaster; "close to the wind, and she's easily steered. Now that ship is going to the polar seas, or my name is not Cornhill. And then, see there! Do you notice that large helm-port over the head of her rudder?"
"That's so," said some of the sailors; "but what does that prove?"
"That proves, my men," replied the quartermaster with a scornful smile, "that you can neither see nor think; it proves that they wanted to leave the head of the rudder free, so that it might be unshipped and shipped again easily. Don't you know that's what they have to do very often in the ice?"
"You are right," answered the sailors of the Nautilus.
"And besides," said one, "the lading of the brig goes to prove what Mr. Cornhill has said. I heard it from Clifton, who has shipped on her. The Forward carries provisions for five or six years, and coal in proportion. Coal and provisions are all she carries, and a quantity of woollen and sealskin clothing."
"Well," said Mr. Cornhill, "there's no doubt about it. But, my friend, since you know Clifton, hasn't he told you where she's bound?"
"He couldn't tell me, for he didn't know; the whole crew was shipped in that way. Where is he going? He won't know till he gets there."
"Nor yet if they are going to Davy Jones's locker," said one scoffer, "as it seems to me they are."
"But then, their pay," continued the friend of Clifton enthusiastically, – "their pay! it's five times what a sailor usually gets. If it had not been for that, Richard Shandon would not have got a man. A strangely shaped boat, going no one knows where, and as if it never intended coming back! As for me, I should not have cared to ship in her."
"Whether you would or not," answered Mr. Cornhill, "you could never have shipped in the Forward."
"Because you would not have answered the conditions. I heard that married men were not taken. Now you belong to that class. So you need not say what you would or would not do, since it's all breath thrown away."
The sailor who was thus snubbed burst out laughing, as did his companions, showing in this way that Mr. Cornhill's remarks were true.
"There's nothing but boldness about the ship," continued Cornhill, well pleased with himself. "The Forward, – forward to what? Without saying that nobody knows who her captain is."
"O, yes, they do!" said a young sailor, evidently a green-hand.
"What! They do know?"
"My young friend," said Cornhill, "do you think Shandon is the captain of the Forward?"
"Why – " answered the boy.
"Shandon is only the mate, nothing else; he's a good and brave sailor, an old whaler, a good fellow, able to take command, but he's not the captain; he's no more captain than you or I. And who, under God, is going to have charge of the ship, he does not know in the least. At the proper time the captain will come aboard, I don't know how, and I don't know where; for Richard Shandon didn't tell me, nor has he leave to tell me in what direction he was first to sail."
"Still, Mr. Cornhill," said the young sailor, "I can tell you that there's some one on board, some one who was spoken of in the letter in which Mr. Shandon was offered the place of mate."
"What!" answered Cornhill, "do you mean to tell me that the Forward has a captain on board?"
"Yes, Mr. Cornhill."
"You tell me that?"
"Certainly, for I heard it from Johnson, the boatswain."
"Yes, he told me himself."
"Johnson told you?"
"Not only did he tell me, but he showed him to me."
"He showed him to you!" answered Cornhill in amazement.
"He showed him to me."
"And you saw him?"
"I saw him with my own eyes."
"And who is it?"
"It's a dog."
"A four-footed dog?"
The surprise of the sailors of the Nautilus was great. Under any other circumstances they would have burst out laughing. A dog captain of a one hundred and seventy ton brig! It was certainly amusing enough. But the Forward was such an extraordinary ship, that one thought twice before laughing, and before contradicting it. Besides, Quartermaster Cornhill showed no signs of laughing.
"And Johnson showed you that new sort of captain, a dog?" he said to the young sailor. "And you saw him?"
"As plainly as I see you, with all respect."
"Well, what do you think of that?" asked the sailors, turning to Cornhill.
"I don't think anything," he answered curtly, "except that the Forward is a ship of the Devil, or of fools fit for Bedlam."
Without saying more, the sailors continued to gaze at the Forward, which was now almost ready to depart; and there was no one of them who presumed to say that Johnson, the boatswain, had been making fun of the young sailor.
This story of the dog had already spread through the city, and in the crowd of sight-seers there were many looking for the captain-dog, who were inclined to believe that he was some supernatural animal.
Besides, for many months the Forward had been attracting the public attention; the singularity of its build, the mystery which enshrouded it, the incognito maintained by the captain, the manner in which Richard Shandon received the proposition of superintending its outfit, the careful selection of the crew, its unknown destination, scarcely conjectured by any, – all combined to give this brig a reputation of something more than strangeness.
For a thoughtful, dreamy mind, for a philosopher, there is hardly anything more touching than the departure of a ship; the imagination is ready to follow her in her struggles with the waves, her contests with the winds, in her perilous course, which does not always end in port; and if only there is something unusual about her, the ship appears like something fantastic, even to the least imaginative minds.
So it was with the Forward. And if most of the spectators were unable to make the ingenious remarks of Quartermaster Cornhill, the rumors which had been prevailing for three months were enough to keep all the tongues of Liverpool busy.
The brig had been built at Birkenhead, a suburb of the city on the left bank of the Mersey, and connected with it by numerous ferry-boats.
The builders, Scott & Co., as skilful as any in England, had received from Richard Shandon careful plans and drawings, in which the tonnage, dimensions, and model of the brig were given with the utmost exactness. They bore proof of the work of an experienced sailor. Since Shandon had ample means at his command, the work began, and, in accordance with the orders of the unknown owner, proceeded rapidly.
Every care was taken to have the brig made exceedingly strong; it was evidently intended to withstand enormous pressure, for its ribs of teak, an East Indian wood remarkable for its solidity, were further strengthened by thick iron braces. The sailors used to ask why the hull of a ship, which was intended to be so strong, was not made of iron like other steamers. But they were told that the mysterious designer had his own reasons for having it built in that way.
Gradually the shape of the brig on the stocks could be clearly made out, and the strength and beauty of her model were clear to the eye of all competent judges. As the sailors of the Nautilus had said, her stem formed a right angle with the keel, and she carried, not a ram, but a steel cutter from the foundry of R. Hawthorn, of Newcastle. This metallic prow, glistening in the sun, gave a singular appearance to the brig, although there was nothing warlike about it. However, a sixteen-pound gun was placed on her forecastle; its carriage was so arranged that it could be pointed in any direction. The same thing can be said of the cannon as of her bows, neither were positively warlike.
On the 5th of February, 1860, this strange vessel was successfully launched in the sight of an immense number of spectators.
But if the brig was not a man-of-war, nor a merchant-vessel, nor a pleasure-yacht, for no one takes a pleasure trip with provisions for six years in the hold, what could she be?
A ship intended for the search of the Erebus and the Terror, and of Sir John Franklin? No; for in 1859, the previous year, Captain MacClintock had returned from the Arctic Ocean, with convincing proof of the loss of that ill-fated expedition.
Did the Forward want to try again the famous Northwest Passage? What for? Captain MacClure had discovered it in 1853, and his lieutenant, Cresswell, had the honor of first skirting the American continent from Behring Strait to Davis Strait.
It was nevertheless absolutely certain to all competent observers that the Forward was preparing for a voyage to icy regions. Was it going to push towards the South Pole, farther than the whaler Wedell, farther than Captain James Ross? But what was the use, and with what intention?
It is easy to see that, although the field for conjecture was very limited, the imagination could easily lose itself.
The day after the launching of the brig her machinery arrived from the foundry of R. Hawthorn at Newcastle.
The engine, of one hundred and twenty horse-power, with oscillating cylinders, took up but little space; its force was large for a vessel of one hundred and seventy tons, which carried a great deal of sail, and was, besides, remarkably swift. Of her speed the trial trips left no doubt, and even the boatswain, Johnson, had seen fit to express his opinion to the friend of Clifton in these terms, —
"When the Forward is under both steam and sail, she gets the most speed from her sails."
Clifton's friend had not understood this proposition, but he considered anything possible in a ship commanded by a dog.
After the engines had been placed on board, the stowage of provisions began; and that was no light task, for she carried enough for six years. They consisted of salted and dried meats, smoked fish, biscuit, and flour; mountains of coffee and tea were deposited in the store-room. Richard Shandon superintended the arrangement of this precious cargo with the air of a man who perfectly understood his business; everything was put in its place, labelled, and numbered with perfect precision; at the same time there was stowed away a large quantity of pemmican, an Indian preparation, which contains a great deal of nutriment in a small compass.
This sort of supply left no doubt as to the length of the cruise; but an experienced observer would have known at once that the Forward was to sail in polar waters, from the barrels of lime-juice, of lime lozenges, of bundles of mustard, sorrel, and of cochlearia, – in a word, from the abundance of powerful antiscorbutics, which are so necessary in journeys in the regions of the far north and south. Shandon had doubtless received word to take particular care about this part of the cargo, for he gave to it especial attention, as well as to the ship's medicine-chest.
If the armament of the vessel was small enough to calm the timid souls, on the other hand, the magazine was filled with enough powder to inspire some uneasiness. The single gun on the forecastle could not pretend to require so large a supply. This excited curiosity. There were, besides, enormous saws and strong machinery, such as levers, masses of lead, hand-saws, huge axes, etc., without counting a respectable number of blasting-cylinders, which might have blown up the Liverpool custom-house. All this was strange, if not alarming, not to mention the rockets, signals, lights, and lanterns of every sort.
Then, too, the numerous spectators on the quays of the New Prince's Docks gazed with admiration at a long mahogany whale-boat, a tin canoe covered with gutta-percha, and a number of halkett-boats, which are a sort of india-rubber cloaks, which can be inflated and thereby turned into canoes. Every one felt more and more puzzled, and even excited, for with the turn of the tide the Forward was to set sail for its unknown destination.
AN UNEXPECTED LETTER
This is a copy of the letter received by Richard Shandon eight months previously: —
ABERDEEN, August 2, 1859.
MR. RICHARD SHANDON, Liverpool.
SIR, – This letter is to advise you of a remittance of £16,000, deposited with Messrs. Marcuart & Co., bankers, at Liverpool. Enclosed you will find a series of drafts, signed by me, which will enable you to draw upon Messrs. Marcuart & Co. to the amount mentioned above.
You do not know me. No matter; I know you, and that is enough. I offer you the position of mate on board of the brig Forward, for a voyage which may be long and perilous.
If you decline, well and good. If you accept, five hundred pounds will be assigned you as salary, and at the end of each year of the voyage your pay will be increased one tenth.
The brig Forward does not exist. You will be obliged to have it built so that it will be possible to set to sea in the beginning of April, 1860, at the latest. Enclosed is a drawing with estimates. You will follow them exactly. The ship will be built in the stocks of Scott & Co., who will arrange everything with you.
I beg of you to be specially cautious in selecting the crew of the Forward; it will consist of a captain (myself), a mate (you), a second mate, a boatswain, two engineers, an ice-master, eight sailors, two stokers, in all eighteen men, including Dr. Clawbonny of this city, who will join you at the proper time.
Those who are shipped on board of the Forward must be Englishmen, independent, with no family ties, single and temperate; for the use of spirits, and even of beer, will be strictly forbidden on shipboard: the men must be ready to undertake and endure everything.
In your selection you will prefer those of a sanguine temperament, and so inclined to maintain a higher degree of animal heat.
You will offer the crew five times their usual pay, to be increased one tenth at the end of each year. At the end of the voyage each one shall receive five hundred pounds, and you yourself two thousand. The requisite sum shall be deposited with the above-named Messrs. Marcuart & Co.
The voyage will be long and difficult, but one sure to bring renown. You need not hesitate, then, Mr. Shandon.
Send your answer to the initials K. Z., at Gottenburg, Sweden, poste restante.
P. S. On the 15th of February1 next you will receive a large Danish dog, with hanging lips, of a dark tawny color, with black stripes running crosswise. You will find place for him on board, and you will feed him on barley bread mixed with a broth of lard. You will acknowledge the receipt of this dog by a letter to the same initials at Leghorn, Italy.
The captain of the Forward will appear and make himself known at the proper time. As you are about setting sail you will receive new instructions.K. Z.,Captain of the Forward.
Richard Shandon was a good sailor; for a long time he had commanded whalers in the Arctic seas, with a well-deserved reputation throughout all Lancaster. Such a letter was well calculated to astonish him; he was astonished, it is true, but with the calmness of a man who is accustomed to surprises.
He suited all the required conditions; no wife, child, nor relatives. He was as independent as man could be. There being no one whose opinion he needed to consult, he betook himself to Messrs. Marcuart & Co.
"If the money is there," he said to himself, "the rest is all right."
At the banking-house he was received with the respect due to a man who has sixteen thousand pounds deposited to his credit; having made that point sure, Shandon asked for a sheet of white paper, and in his large sailor's handwriting he sent his acceptance of the plan to the address given above.
That very day he made the necessary arrangements with the builders at Birkenhead, and within twenty-four hours the keel of the Forward was laid on the stocks.
Richard Shandon was a man about forty years old, strong, energetic, and fearless, three qualities most necessary for a sailor, for they give him confidence, vigor, and coolness. He was known to be severe and very hard to please; hence he was more feared than loved by his men. But this reputation was not calculated to interfere with his selection of a crew, for he was known to be skilful in avoiding trouble.
Shandon feared that the mysterious nature of the expedition might stand in his way.
"In that case," he said, "it's best not to say anything about it; there will always be plenty of men who will want to know the why and the wherefore of the whole matter, and, since I don't know anything about it myself, I should find it hard to answer them. This K. Z. is certainly an odd stick; but, after all, he knows me, he depends on me, and that is enough. As for his ship, it will be a good one, and if it's not going to the Arctic Ocean, my name is not Richard Shandon. But I shall keep that fact for myself and my officers."
Thereupon Shandon began to choose his crew, bearing in mind the captain's wishes about the independence and health of the men.
He knew a very capital fellow, and a good sailor, James Wall by name. Wall might have been about thirty years old, and had already made some voyages in the northern seas. Shandon offered him the place of second mate, and Wall accepted it at once; all he cared for was to be at sea. Shandon confided all the details of the affair to him and to a certain Johnson, whom he took as boatswain.
"All right," answered James Wall, "that's as good as anything. Even if it's to seek the Northwest Passage, some have come back from that."
"Not all," said Johnson, "but that's no reason that we should not try it."
"Besides, if our guesses are right," said Shandon, "it must be said that we start with a fair chance of success. The Forward will be a stanch ship and she will carry good engines. She can go a great distance. We want a crew of only eighteen men."
"Eighteen men," answered Johnson; "that's the number the American, Kane, took with him on his famous voyage towards the North Pole."
"It's strange," said Wall, "that a private person should try to make his way from Davis Strait to Behring Strait. The expeditions in search of Sir John Franklin have already cost England more than seven hundred and sixty thousand pounds, without producing any practical good. Who in the world wants to throw away his money for such a purpose?"
"In the first place, James," answered Shandon, "we are in the dark about it all. I don't know whether we are going to the northern or the southern seas. Perhaps there's some new discovery to be tried. At any rate, some day or other a Dr. Clawbonny is to come aboard who will probably know more about it and will be able to tell us. We shall see."
"Let us wait, then," said Johnson; "as for me, I'm going to look after some good men, and I'll answer now for their animal heat, as the captain calls it. You can depend on me."
Johnson was an invaluable man; he was familiar with high latitudes. He had been quartermaster aboard of the Phoenix, which belonged to one of the expeditions sent out in 1853 in search of Franklin; he had been an eye-witness of the death of the French lieutenant Bellot, whom he had accompanied in his expedition across the ice. Johnson knew all the sailors in Liverpool, and immediately set about engaging a crew.
Shandon, Wall, and he succeeded in filling the number by the middle of December, but they met with considerable difficulty; many who were attracted by the high pay were alarmed by the danger, and more than one who had boldly enlisted came later to say that he had changed his mind on account of the dissuasion of his friends. They all tried to pierce the mystery, and pursued Shandon with their questions. He used to refer them to Johnson.
"What can I say, my man?" the boatswain used to answer; "I don't know any more about it than you do. At any rate you will be in good company, with men who won't shirk their work; that's something! So don't be thinking about it all day: take it or leave it!" And the greater number took it.
"You understand," added Johnson, sometimes, "my only trouble is in making my choice. High pay, such as no sailor ever had before, with the certainty of finding a round sum when we get back. That's very tempting."
"The fact is," answered the sailors, "that it is hard to refuse. It will support a man all the rest of his life."
"I won't hide from you," continued Johnson, "that the voyage will be long, difficult, and dangerous; that's all stated in our instructions; it's well to know beforehand what one undertakes to do; probably it's to try all that men can possibly do, and perhaps even more. So, if you haven't got a bold heart and a strong body, if you can't say you have more than twenty chances to one of staying there, if, in short, you are particular about leaving your body in one place more than another, here rather than there, get away from here and let some bolder man have your place!"
"But, at least," said the confused sailor, – "at least, you know the captain?"
"The captain is Richard Shandon, my friend, until we receive another."
Now it must be said that was what the commander thought; he allowed himself to think that at the last moment he would receive definite instructions as to the object of the voyage, and that he would remain in command of the Forward. He was fond of spreading this opinion about, either in conversation with his officers or in superintending the building of the brig, of which the timbers were now rising in the Birkenhead ship-yard like the sides of a huge whale.
Shandon and Johnson conformed strictly with the recommendation about the health of the crew; they all looked hardy and possessed enough animal heat to run the engines of the Forward; their elastic limbs, their clear and ruddy skin, showed that they were fit to encounter intense cold. They were bold, determined men, energetic and stoutly built; they were not all equally vigorous. Shandon had even hesitated about accepting some of them; for instance, the sailors Gripper and Garry, and the harpooner Simpson, who seemed to him too thin; but, on the other hand, they were well built, they were earnest about it, and they were shipped.
All the crew were members of the same church; in their long voyage their prayers and the reading of the Bible would call them together and console them in the hours of depression; so that it was advisable that there should be no diversity on this score. Shandon knew from experience the usefulness of this practice and its good influence on the men, so valuable that it is never neglected on board of ships which winter in the polar seas.
When all the crew had been engaged, Shandon and his two officers busied themselves with the provisions; they followed closely the captain's instructions, which were definite, precise, and detailed, in which the quality and quantity of the smallest articles were clearly set down. Thanks to the drafts placed at the commander's order, every article was paid for, cash down, with a discount of eight per cent, which Richard carefully placed to the credit of K. Z.
Crew, provisions, and outfit were all ready in January, 1860; the Forward was approaching completion. Shandon never let a day pass without visiting Birkenhead.
On the morning of the 23d of January he was, as usual, on one of the double-ended ferry-boats which ply between the two shores of the Mersey; everything was enveloped in one of the ordinary fogs of that region, which compel the pilot to steer by compass, although the trip is one of but ten minutes.
However, the thickness of the fog could not prevent Shandon from noticing a short, rather stout man, with a refined, agreeable face and pleasant expression, who came towards him, seized both his hands, and pressed them with a warmth and familiarity which a Frenchman would have said was "very southern."
But if this stranger was not from the South, he had escaped it narrowly; he spoke and gesticulated freely; his thoughts seemed determined to find expression, even if they had to burst out. His eyes, small like the eyes of witty men, his large and mobile mouth, were safety-valves which enabled him to rid himself of too strong a pressure on his feelings; he talked; and he talked so much and joyously, that, it must be said, Shandon could not make out what he was saying.
Still the mate of the Forward was not slow in recognizing this short man whom he had never seen; it flashed into his mind, and the moment that the other stopped to take breath, Shandon uttered these words, —
"The same, in person, Commander! For nearly a quarter of an hour I have been looking after you, asking for you of every one and everywhere. Imagine my impatience. Five minutes more and I should have lost my head! So this is you, officer Shandon? You really exist? You are not a myth? Your hand, your hand! Let me press it again in mine! Yes, that is indeed the hand of Richard Shandon. Now, if there is a commander Richard, there is a brig Forward which he commands; and if he commands it, it will sail; and if it sails, it will take Dr. Clawbonny on board."
"Well, yes, Doctor, I am Richard Shandon, there is a brig Forward, and it will sail."
"There's logic," answered the doctor, taking a long breath, – "there's logic. So I am delighted, enchanted! For a long time I've been waiting for something of this sort to turn up, and I've been wanting to try a voyage of this sort. Now, with you – "
"Excuse me – " said Shandon.
"With you," continued Clawbonny, paying him no attention, "we are sure of going far without turning round."
"But – " began Shandon.
"For you have shown what stuff you are made of, and I know all you've done. Ah, you are a good sailor!"
"If you please – "
"No, I sha'n't let your courage and skill be doubted for a moment, even by yourself. The captain who chose you for mate is a man who knew what he was about; I can tell you that."
"But that is not the question," said Shandon, impatiently.
"What is it, then? Don't keep me anxious any longer."
"But you won't let me say a word. Tell me, Doctor, if you please, how you came to join this expedition of the Forward?"
"By a letter, a capital letter; here it is, – the letter of a brave captain, very short, but very full."
With these words he handed Shandon a letter running as follows: —
INVERNESS, January 22, 1860.
To DR. CLAWBONNY, Liverpool.
If Dr. Clawbonny wishes to sail on the Forward for a long voyage, he can present himself to the mate, Richard Shandon, who has been advised concerning him.K. Z.,Captain of the Forward.
"The letter reached me this morning, and I'm now ready to go on board of the Forward."
"But," continued Shandon, "I suppose you know whither we are bound."
"Not the least idea in the world; but what difference does it make, provided I go somewhere? They say I'm a learned man; they are wrong; I don't know anything, and if I have published some books which have had a good sale, I was wrong; it was very kind of the public to buy them! I don't know anything, I tell you, except that I am very ignorant. Now I have a chance offered me to complete, or, rather, to make over my knowledge of medicine, surgery, history, geography, botany, mineralogy, conchology, geodesy, chemistry, physics, mechanics, hydrography; well, I accept it, and I assure you, I didn't have to be asked twice."
"Then," said Shandon in a tone of disappointment, "you don't know where the Forward is going."
"O, but I do, commander; it's going where there is something to be learned, discovered; where one can instruct himself, make comparisons, see other customs, other countries, study the ways of other people; in a word, it's going where I have never been."