Towards eight o'clock in the evening the snow-clouds cleared
away for a few minutes; the constellations shone brilliantly in the
clear air. Hatteras made use of this change to get the altitude
of some stars; he went out without saying a word, carrying his
instruments with him. He wished to ascertain his position and
see if the ice-field had not been drifting again. After an absence
of half an hour he came back, lay down in a corner, and remained
perfectly still, although not asleep.
The next day snow began to fall heavily; the doctor could not
help being glad that he had made his examination the day before,
for a white curtain soon covered the whole expanse, and every
trace of the explosion was hidden under three feet of snow.
On that day they could not set foot outside; fortunately their
quarters were comfortable, or at least seemed so to the exhausted
travellers. The little stove worked well, except occasionally
when violent gusts drove the smoke into the room; with its heat
they could make coffee and tea, which are both so serviceable
beverages when the temperature is low.
The castaways, for they deserve the name, found themselves
more comfortable than they had been for a long time; hence they
only thought of the present, of the agreeable warmth, of the brief
rest, forgetting, or even indifferent to the future, which threatened
with speedy death.
The American suffered less, and gradually returned to life; he
opened his eyes, but he did not say anything; his lips bore traces
of the scurvy, and could not utter a sound; he could hear, and
was told where he was and how he got there. He moved his
head as a sign of gratitude; he saw that he had been saved from
burial beneath the snow; the doctor forbore telling him how very
short a time bis death had been delayed, for, in a fortnight or three
weeks at the must, their supply of food would be exhausted.
Towards midday Hatteras arose and went up to the doctor,
Johnson, and Bell.
“My friends,” he said to them, “we are going to take a final
resolution us to the course we must follow. In the first place, I
must ask Johnson to tell me under what circumstances this act
of treachery came to pass.”
“Why should we know?” said the doctor; “the fact is certain,
we need give it no more thought.”
“I am thinking of it, all the same,” answered Hatteras. “But
after I've heard what Johnson has to say, I shall not think of it
“This is the way it happened,” went on the boatswain; “I did
all I could to prevent the crime---”
“I am sure of that, Johnson, and I will add that the leaders
had been plotting it for some time.”
“So I thought,” said the doctor.
“And I too,” continued Johnson; “for very soon after your
departure, Captain, on the very next day, Shandon, who was
angry with you and was egged on by the others, took command
of the ship; I tried to resist, but in vain. After that, every one
acted as he saw fit; Shandon did not try to control them; he
wanted to let the crew see that the time of suffering and privation
had gone by. Hence there was no economy; a huge fire
was lighted in the stove; they began to burn the brig. The men
had the provisions given them freely, and the spirits too, and you
can easily imagine the abuse they made of them after their long
abstinence. Things went on in this way from the 7th to the
15th of January.”
“So,” said Hatteras, in a grave voice, “it was Shandon who
incited the men to revolt?”
“Say nothing more about him. Go on, Johnson.”
“It was towards January 24th or 25th, that the plan of leaving
the ship was formed. They determined to reach the western
coast of Baffin's Bay; from there, in the launch, they could meet
whalers, or, perhaps, the settlements on the eastern side. Their
supplies were abundant; the sick grew better with the hope of
reaching home. So they made their plans for leaving; they built
a sledge for the transport of their food, fuel, and the launch; the
men were to drag it themselves. This occupied them until February
15th. I kept anxiously awaiting your return, Captain, and
yet I feared having you present; you would have had no influence
over the crew, who would rather have killed you than have
remained on board. They were wild with the hope of escape. I
took all my companions aside and spoke to them, I besought
them to stay; I pointed out all the dangers of such a journey,
as well as the cowardliness of abandoning you. I could get nothing
even from the best. They chose February 22d for leaving.
Shandon was impatient. They heaped upon the sledge all the
food and liquor it could hold; they took a great deal of wood;
the whole larboard side had been cut away to the water-line. The
last day they passed carousing; they ravaged and stole everything,
and it was during this drunkenness that Pen and two or
three others set fire to the ship. I resisted, and struggled against
them; they threw me down and struck me; at last, these villains,
with Shandon at their head, fled to the east, and disappeared
from my sight, I remained alone; what could I do
against this fire which was seizing the whole ship? The waterhole
was frozen over; I hadn't a drop of water. For two days
the Forward was wrapped in flames, and you know the rest.”
Having finished this account, a long silence prevailed in this
ice-house; the gloomy tale of the burning of the ship, the loss of
their precious brig, appeared so vividly before the minds of the
castaways; they found themselves before an impossibility, and
that was a return to England. They did not dare to look at
one another, for fear of seeing on each other's faces blank despair.
There was nothing to be heard save the hasty breathing of the
At last Hatteras spoke.
“Johnson,” said he, “I thank you; you have done all you
could to save my ship. But you could not do anything alone.
Again I thank you, and now don't let us speak again of this misfortune.
Let us unite our efforts for the common safety. There
are four of us here, four friends, and the life of one is of no more
worth than the life of another. Let each one give his opinion on
what should be done.”
“Ask us, Hatteras,” answered the doctor; “we are all devoted
to you, our answers shall be sincere. And, in the first place, have
you any plan?”
“I can't have any alone,” said Hatteras, sadly. “My opinion
might seem interested; I want to hear your opinion first.”
“Captain,” said Johnson, “before speaking on such weighty
matters, I have an important question to ask you.”
“What is it?”
“You ascertained our position yesterday; well, has the ice-field
drifted any more, or are we in just the same place?”
“It has not stirred,” answered Hatteras. “The latitude before
we left was 80°15', and longitude 97°35'.”
“And,” said Johnson, “how far are we from the nearest sea to
“About six hundred miles,” answered Hatteras.
“And this water is---”
“The same which we could not cross last April?”
“Well, Captain, now we know where we are, and we can make
up our minds accordingly.”
“Speak, then,” said Hatteras, letting his head sink into his
In that way he could hear his friends without looking at them.
“Well, Bell,” said the doctor, “what do you think is the best
course to follow?”
“It is n't necessary to reflect a long time,” answered the carpenter;
“we ought to return, without wasting a day or an hour,
either to the south or the west, and reach the nearest coast, even
if it took us two months!”
“We have supplies for only three weeks,” answered Hatteras,
without raising his head.
“Well,” continued Johnson, “we must make that distance in
three weeks, since it's our only chance of safety; if we have
to crawl on our knees at the end, we must leave, and arrive in
“This part of the northern continent is not known,” answered
Hatteras. “We may meet obstacles, such as mountains and
glaciers, which will completely bar our progress.”
“I don't consider that,” answered the doctor, “a sufficient
reason for not attempting the journey; evidently, we shall suffer
a great deal; we ought to reduce our daily supply to the minimum,
unless luck in hunting---”
“There's only half a pound of powder left,” answered Hatteras.
“Come, Hatteras,” resumed the doctor, “I know the weight of
all your objections, and I don't nourish any vain hopes. But I
think I can read your thoughts; have you any practicable plan?”
“No,” answered the captain, after a few moments' hesitation.
“You do not doubt our courage,” continued the doctor; “we
are willing to follow you to the last, you know very well; but
should we not now abandon all hope of reaching the Pole? Mutiny
has overthrown your plans; you fought successfully against natural
obstacles, but not against the weakness and perfidy of men;
you have done all that was humanly possible, and I am sure you
would have succeeded; but, in the present condition of affairs,
are you not compelled to give up your project, and in order to
take it up again, should you not try to reach England without
“Well, Captain?” asked Johnson, when Hatteras had remained
a long time silent.
At last the captain raised his head, and said in a constrained
“Do you think you are sure of reaching the shore of the sound,
tired as you are, and almost without food?”
“No,” answered the doctor; “but it's sure the shore won't
come to us; we must go to it. Perhaps we shall find to the
south tribes of Esquimaux who may aid us.”
“Besides,” added Johnson, “may we not find in the sound
some ship that has been forced to winter there.”
“And if need be,” continued the doctor, “when we've reached
the sound, may we not cross it, and reach the west coast of Greenland,
and then, either by Prudhoe's hand, or Cape York, get to
some Danish settlement? Nothing of that sort is to be found on
the ice-field. The way to England is down there to the south,
and not here to the north!”
“Yes,” said Bell, “Dr. Clawbonny is right; we must go, and go
at once. Hitherto we have forgotten home too much, and those
who are dear to us.”
“Do you agree, Johnson?” Hatteras asked again.
“And you. Doctor?”
Hatteras still remained silent; in spite of all he could do, his
face expressed his agitation. His whole life depended on the
decision he should take; if he should return, it was all over with
his bold plans; he could not hope to make the attempt a fourth
The doctor, seeing the captain was silent, again spoke.
“I ought to add, Hatteras,” he said, “that we ought not to
lose an instant; we ought to load the sledge with all our provisions,
and take as much wood as possible. A journey of six hundred
miles under such circumstances is long, I confess, but not
insuperable; we can, or rather we ought, to make twenty miles a
day, which would bring us to the coast in a month, that is to say,
towards March 26th.”
“But,” said Hatteras, “can't we wait a few days?”
“What do you hope for?” answered Johnson.
“I don't know. Who can foretell the future? Only a few
days yet! It's hardly enough to rest your wearied bodies. We
couldn't go two stages without dropping from weariness, without
any snow-house to shelter us!”
“But a terrible death certainly awaits us here!” cried Bell.
“My friends,” continued Hatteras in a tone almost of entreaty,
“you are despairing too soon! I should propose to seek safety to
the north, were it not that you would refuse to follow me. And
yet are there not Esquimaux near the Pole, as well as at Smith's
Sound? That open sea, of which the existence is uncertain, ought
to surround a continent. Nature is logical in everything it does.
Well, we ought to believe that vegetation appears when the
greatest cold ceases. Is there not a promised land awaiting us at
the north, and which you want to fly from without hope of
Hatteras warmed as he spoke; his heated imagination called
up enchanting visions of these countries, whose existence was
still so problematical.
“One more day,” he repeated, “a single hour!”
Dr. Clawbonny, with his adventurous character and his glowing
imagination, felt himself gradually aroused; he was about to
yield; but Johnson, wiser and colder, recalled him to reason and
“Come, Bell,” he said, “to the sledge!”
“Come along!” answered Bell.
The two sailors turned towards the door of the snow-house.
“Johnson! you! you!” shouted Hatteras. “Well, go! I
“Captain!” said Johnson, stopping in spite of himself.
“I shall stay, I say! Go! leave me like the rest! Go!---Come,
Duke, we two shall stay!”
The brave dog joined his master, barking. Johnson looked at
the doctor. He did not know what to do; the best plan was to
calm Hatteras, and to sacrifice a day to his fancies. The doctor
was about making up his mind to this effect, when he felt some
one touch his arm.
He turned round. The American had just left the place where
he had been lying; he was crawling on the floor; at last he rose
to his knees, and from his swollen lips a few inarticulate sounds
The doctor, astonished, almost frightened, gazed at him silently.
Hatteras approached the American, and examined him closely.
He tried to make out the words which the poor fellow could not
pronounce. At last, after trying for five minutes, he managed to
utter this word:
“The Porpoise?” asked the captain.
The American bowed affirmatively.
“In these seas?” asked Hatteras with beating heart.
The same sign from the sick man.
“To the north?”
“And you know where it lies?”
There was a moment's silence. The bystanders were all excited.
“Now, listen carefully,” said Hatteras to the sick man; “we
must know where this ship lies. I am going to count the degrees
aloud; you will stop me by a sign.”
The American bowed his head to show that he understood.
“Come,” said Hatteras, “we'll begin with the longitude. One
hundred and five? No. — Hundred and six? Hundred and
seven? Hundred and eight? Far to the west?”
“Yes,” said the American.
“Let us go on. Hundred and nine? Ten? Eleven? Twelve?
Fourteen? Sixteen? Eighteen? Nineteen? Twenty?”
“Yes,” answered Altamont.
“Longitude one hundred and twenty?” said Hatteras. “And
how many minutes? I shall count.”
Hatteras began at number one. At fifteen Altamont made a
sign for him to stop.
“All right!” said Hatteras. “Now for the latitude. You
understand? Eighty? Eighty-one? Eighty-two? Eighty-three?”
The American stopped him with a gesture.
“Well! And the minutes? Five? Ten? Fifteen? Twenty?
Twenty-five? Thirty? Thirty-five?”
Another sign from Altamont, who smiled slightly.
“So,” continued Hatteras, in a deep voice, “the Porpoise lies
in longitude 120°15', and 83°35' latitude?”
“Yes!” said the American, as he fell fainting into the doctors
arms. This exertion had exhausted him.
“My friends,” cried Hatteras, “you see that safety lies to the
north, always to the north! We shall be saved!”
But after these first words of joy, Hatteras seemed suddenly
struck by a terrible thought. His expression changed, and he
felt himself stung by the serpent of jealousy.
Some one else, an American, had got three degrees nearer the
Pole! And for what purpose?