A Winter Amid the Ice by Jules Verne Chapter 10

Buried Alive.

The evening before the departure, just as they were about to take supper, Penellan was breaking up some empty casks for firewood, when he was suddenly suffocated by a thick smoke. At the same instant the snow-house was shaken as if by an earthquake. The party uttered a cry of terror, and Penellan hurried outside.

It was entirely dark. A frightful tempest — for it was not a thaw — was raging, whirlwinds of snow careered around, and it was so exceedingly cold that the helmsman felt his hands rapidly freezing. He was obliged to go in again, after rubbing himself violently with snow.

“It is a tempest,” said he. “May heaven grant that our house may withstand it, for, if the storm should destroy it, we should be lost!”

At the same time with the gusts of wind a noise was heard beneath the frozen soil; icebergs, broken from the promontory, dashed away noisily, and fell upon one another; the wind blew with such violence that it seemed sometimes as if the whole house moved from its foundation; phosphorescent lights, inexplicable in that latitude, flashed across the whirlwinds of the snow.

“Marie! Marie!” cried Penellan, seizing the young girl’s hands.

“We are in a bad case!” said Misonne.

“And I know not whether we shall escape,” replied Aupic.

“Let us quit this snow-house!” said André Vasling.

“Impossible!” returned Penellan. “The cold outside is terrible; perhaps we can bear it by staying here.”

“Give me the thermometer,” demanded Vasling.

Aupic handed it to him. It showed ten degrees below zero inside the house, though the fire was lighted. Vasling raised the canvas which covered the opening, and pushed it aside hastily; for he would have been lacerated by the fall of ice which the wind hurled around, and which fell in a perfect hail-storm.

“Well, Vasling,” said Penellan, “will you go out, then? You see that we are more safe here.”

“Yes,” said Jean Cornbutte; “and we must use every effort to strengthen the house in the interior.”

“But a still more terrible danger menaces us,” said Vasling.

“What?” asked Jean.

“The wind is breaking the ice against which we are propped, just as it has that of the promontory, and we shall be either driven out or buried!”

“That seems doubtful,” said Penellan, “for it is freezing hard enough to ice over all liquid surfaces. Let us see what the temperature is.”

He raised the canvas so as to pass out his arm, and with difficulty found the thermometer again, in the midst of the snow; but he at last succeeded in seizing it, and, holding the lamp to it, said —

“Thirty-two degrees below zero! It is the coldest we have seen here yet!”
“Ten degrees more,” said Vasling, “and the mercury will freeze!”

A mournful silence followed this remark.

About eight in the morning Penellan essayed a second time to go out to judge of their situation. It was necessary to give an escape to the smoke, which the wind had several times repelled into the hut. The sailor wrapped his cloak tightly about him, made sure of his hood by fastening it to his head with a handkerchief, and raised the canvas.

The opening was entirely obstructed by a resisting snow. Penellan took his staff, and succeeded in plunging it into the compact mass; but terror froze his blood when he perceived that the end of the staff was not free, and was checked by a hard body!

“Cornbutte,” said he to the captain, who had come up to him, “we are buried under this snow!”

“What say you?” cried Jean Cornbutte.

“I say that the snow is massed and frozen around us and over us, and that we are buried alive!”

“Let us try to clear this mass of snow away,” replied the captain.

The two friends buttressed themselves against the obstacle which obstructed the opening, but they could not move it. The snow formed an iceberg more than five feet thick, and had become literally a part of the house. Jean could not suppress a cry, which awoke Misonne and Vasling. An oath burst from the latter, whose features contracted. At this moment the smoke, thicker than ever, poured into the house, for it could not find an issue.

“Malediction!” cried Misonne. “The pipe of the stove is sealed up by the ice!”

Penellan resumed his staff, and took down the pipe, after throwing snow on the embers to extinguish them, which produced such a smoke that the light of the lamp could scarcely be seen; then he tried with his staff to clear out the orifice, but he only encountered a rock of ice! A frightful end, preceded by a terrible agony, seemed to be their doom! The smoke, penetrating the throats of the unfortunate party, caused an insufferable pain, and air would soon fail them altogether!

Marie here rose, and her presence, which inspired Cornbutte with despair, imparted some courage to Penellan. He said to himself that it could not be that the poor girl was destined to so horrible a death.

“Ah!” said she, “you have made too much fire. The room is full of smoke!”

“Yes, yes,” stammered Penellan.

“It is evident,” resumed Marie, “for it is not cold, and it is long since we have felt too much heat.”

No one dared to tell her the truth.

“See, Marie,” said Penellan bluntly, “help us get breakfast ready. It is too cold to go out. Here is the chafing-dish, the spirit, and the coffee. Come, you others, a little pemmican first, as this wretched storm forbids us from hunting.”

These words stirred up his comrades.

“Let us first eat,” added Penellan, “and then we shall see about getting off.”

Penellan set the example and devoured his share of the breakfast. His comrades imitated him, and then drank a cup of boiling coffee, which somewhat restored their spirits. Then Jean Cornbutte decided energetically that they should at once set about devising means of safety.

André Vasling now said —

“If the storm is still raging, which is probable, we must be buried ten feet under the ice, for we can hear no noise outside.”

Penellan looked at Marie, who now understood the truth, and did not tremble. The helmsman first heated, by the flame of the spirit, the iron point of his staff, and successfully introduced it into the four walls of ice, but he could find no issue in either. Cornbutte then resolved to cut out an opening in the door itself. The ice was so hard that it was difficult for the knives to make the least impression on it. The pieces which were cut off soon encumbered the hut. After working hard for two hours, they had only hollowed out a space three feet deep.

Some more rapid method, and one which was less likely to demolish the house, must be thought of; for the farther they advanced the more violent became the effort to break off the compact ice. It occurred to Penellan to make use of the chafing-dish to melt the ice in the direction they wanted. It was a hazardous method, for, if their imprisonment lasted long, the spirit, of which they had but little, would be wanting when needed to prepare the meals. Nevertheless, the idea was welcomed on all hands, and was put in execution. They first cut a hole three feet deep by one in diameter, to receive the water which would result from the melting of the ice; and it was well that they took this precaution, for the water soon dripped under the action of the flames, which Penellan moved about under the mass of ice. The opening widened little by little, but this kind of work could not be continued long, for the water, covering their clothes, penetrated to their bodies here and there. Penellan was obliged to pause in a quarter of an hour, and to withdraw the chafing-dish in order to dry himself. Misonne then took his place, and worked sturdily at the task.

In two hours, though the opening was five feet deep, the points of the staffs could not yet find an issue without.

“It is not possible,” said Jean Cornbutte, “that snow could have fallen in such abundance. It must have been gathered on this point by the wind. Perhaps we had better think of escaping in some other direction.”

“I don’t know,” replied Penellan; “but if it were only for the sake of not discouraging our comrades, we ought to continue to pierce the wall where we have begun. We must find an issue ere long.”

“Will not the spirit fail us?” asked the captain.

“I hope not. But let us, if necessary, dispense with coffee and hot drinks. Besides, that is not what most alarms me.”

“What is it, then, Penellan?”

“Our lamp is going out, for want of oil, and we are fast exhausting our provisions. — At last, thank God!”

Penellan went to replace André Vasling, who was vigorously working for the common deliverance.

“Monsieur Vasling,” said he, “I am going to take your place; but look out well, I beg of you, for every tendency of the house to fall, so that we may have time to prevent it.”

The time for rest had come, and when Penellan had added one more foot to the opening, he lay down beside his comrades.