A Winter Amid the Ice by Jules Verne Chapter 11

A Cloud of Smoke.

The next day, when the sailors awoke, they were surrounded by complete darkness. The lamp had gone out. Jean Cornbutte roused Penellan to ask him for the tinder-box, which was passed to him. Penellan rose to light the fire, but in getting up, his head struck against the ice ceiling. He was horrified, for on the evening before he could still stand upright. The chafing-dish being lighted up by the dim rays of the spirit, he perceived that the ceiling was a foot lower than before.

Penellan resumed work with desperation.

At this moment the young girl observed, by the light which the chafing-dish cast upon Penellan’s face, that despair and determination were struggling in his rough features for the mastery. She went to him, took his hands, and tenderly pressed them.
“She cannot, must not die thus!” he cried.

He took his chafing-dish, and once more attacked the narrow opening. He plunged in his staff, and felt no resistance. Had he reached the soft layers of the snow? He drew out his staff, and a bright ray penetrated to the house of ice!

“Here, my friends!” he shouted.

He pushed back the snow with his hands and feet, but the exterior surface was not thawed, as he had thought. With the ray of light, a violent cold entered the cabin and seized upon everything moist, to freeze it in an instant. Penellan enlarged the opening with his cutlass, and at last was able to breathe the free air. He fell on his knees to thank God, and was soon joined by Marie and his comrades.

A magnificent moon lit up the sky, but the cold was so extreme that they could not bear it. They re-entered their retreat; but Penellan first looked about him. The promontory was no longer there, and the hut was now in the midst of a vast plain of ice. Penellan thought he would go to the sledge, where the provisions were. The sledge had disappeared!

The cold forced him to return. He said nothing to his companions. It was necessary, before all, to dry their clothing, which was done with the chafing-dish. The thermometer, held for an instant in the air, descended to thirty degrees below zero.

An hour after, Vasling and Penellan resolved to venture outside. They wrapped themselves up in their still wet garments, and went out by the opening, the sides of which had become as hard as a rock.

“We have been driven towards the north-east,” said Vasling, reckoning by the stars, which shone with wonderful brilliancy.

“That would not be bad,” said Penellan, “if our sledge had come with us.”

“Is not the sledge there?” cried Vasling. “Then we are lost!”

“Let us look for it,” replied Penellan.

They went around the hut, which formed a block more than fifteen feet high. An immense quantity of snow had fallen during the whole of the storm, and the wind had massed it against the only elevation which the plain presented. The entire block had been driven by the wind, in the midst of the broken icebergs, more than twenty-five miles to the north-east, and the prisoners had suffered the same fate as their floating prison. The sledge, supported by another iceberg, had been turned another way, for no trace of it was to be seen, and the dogs must have perished amid the frightful tempest.

André Vasling and Penellan felt despair taking possession of them. They did not dare to return to their companions. They did not dare to announce this fatal news to their comrades in misfortune. They climbed upon the block of ice in which the hut was hollowed, and could perceive nothing but the white immensity which encompassed them on all sides. Already the cold was beginning to stiffen their limbs, and the damp of their garments was being transformed into icicles which hung about them.

Just as Penellan was about to descend, he looked towards André. He saw him suddenly gaze in one direction, then shudder and turn pale.

“What is the matter, Vasling?” he asked.

“Nothing,” replied the other. “Let us go down and urge the captain to leave these parts, where we ought never to have come, at once!”

Instead of obeying, Penellan ascended again, and looked in the direction which had drawn the mate’s attention. A very different effect was produced on him, for he uttered a shout of joy, and cried —

“Blessed be God!”

A light smoke was rising in the north-east. There was no possibility of deception. It indicated the presence of human beings. Penellan’s cries of joy reached the rest below, and all were able to convince themselves with their eyes that he was not mistaken.

Without thinking of their want of provisions or the severity of the temperature, wrapped in their hoods, they were all soon advancing towards the spot whence the smoke arose in the north-east. This was evidently five or six miles off, and it was very difficult to take exactly the right direction. The smoke now disappeared, and no elevation served as a guiding mark, for the ice-plain was one united level. It was important, nevertheless, not to diverge from a straight line.

“Since we cannot guide ourselves by distant objects,” said Jean Cornbutte, “we must use this method. Penellan will go ahead, Vasling twenty steps behind him, and I twenty steps behind Vasling. I can then judge whether or not Penellan diverges from the straight line.”

They had gone on thus for half an hour, when Penellan suddenly stopped and listened. The party hurried up to him.

“Did you hear nothing?” he asked.

“Nothing!” replied Misonne.

“It is strange,” said Penellan. “It seemed to me I heard cries from this direction.”

“Cries?” replied Marie. “Perhaps we are near our destination, then.”

“That is no reason,” said André Vasling. “In these high latitudes and cold regions sounds may be heard to a great distance.”

“However that may be,” replied Jean Cornbutte, “let us go forward, or we shall be frozen.”

“No!” cried Penellan. “Listen!”

Some feeble sounds — quite perceptible, however — were heard. They seemed to be cries of distress. They were twice repeated. They seemed like cries for help. Then all became silent again.

“I was not mistaken,” said Penellan. “Forward!”

He began to run in the direction whence the cries had proceeded. He went thus two miles, when, to his utter stupefaction, he saw a man lying on the ice. He went up to him, raised him, and lifted his arms to heaven in despair.

André Vasling, who was following close behind with the rest of the sailors, ran up and cried —

“It is one of the castaways! It is our sailor Courtois!”

“He is dead!” replied Penellan. “Frozen to death!”

Jean Cornbutte and Marie came up beside the corpse, which was already stiffened by the ice. Despair was written on every face. The dead man was one of the comrades of Louis Cornbutte!

“Forward!” cried Penellan.

They went on for half an hour in perfect silence, and perceived an elevation which seemed without doubt to be land.

“It is Shannon Island,” said Jean Cornbutte.

A mile farther on they distinctly perceived smoke escaping from a snow-hut, closed by a wooden door. They shouted. Two men rushed out of the hut, and Penellan recognized one of them as Pierre Nouquet.

“Pierre!” he cried.

Pierre stood still as if stunned, and unconscious of what was going on around him. André Vasling looked at Pierre Nouquet’s companion with anxiety mingled with a cruel joy, for he did not recognize Louis Cornbutte in him.

“Pierre! it is I!” cried Penellan. “These are all your friends!”

Pierre Nouquet recovered his senses, and fell into his old comrade’s arms.

“And my son — and Louis!” cried Jean Cornbutte, in an accent of the most profound despair.