The prisoners were set free; they expressed their joy by the
warmth of their thanks to the doctor. Johnson regretted somewhat
the skins, which were burned and useless; but his regret did
not sour his temper.
They spent the day in repairing the house,
which was somewhat injured by the explosion. They took away
the blocks heaped up by the animals, and the walls were made
secure. They worked briskly, encouraged by the cheery songs
of the boatswain.
The next day the weather was much milder; the wind changed
suddenly, and the thermometer rose to +15°. So great a difference
was soon felt by both man and nature. The southerly
wind brought with it the first signs of the polar spring.
comparative warmth lasted for many days; the thermometer,
sheltered from the wind, even rose as high as +31°, and there
were signs of a thaw.
The ice began to crack; a few spirits of
salt-water arose here and there, like jets in an English park; a
few days later it rained hard.
A dense vapor arose from the snow; this was a good sign, and
the melting of the immense masses appeared to be near at hand.
The pale disk of the sun grew brighter and drew longer spirals
above the horizon; the night lasted scarcely three hours. Another
similar symptom was the reappearance of some ptarmigans, arctic
geese, plover, and flocks of quail; the air was soon filled with the
deafening cries which they remembered from the previous summer.
A few hares, which they were able to shoot, appeared on
the shores of the bay, as well as the arctic mice, the burrows of
which were like a honeycomb.
The doctor called the attention
of his friends to the fact that these animals began to lose their
white winter plumage, or hair, to put on their summer dress; they
were evidently getting ready for summer, while their sustenance
appeared in the form of moss, poppy, saxifrage, and thin grass.
A new life was peering through the melting snows.
the harmless animals returned the famished foes; foxes and wolves
arrived in search of their prey; mournful howling sounded during
the brief darkness of the nights.
The wolf of these countries is near of kin to the dog; like him,
it barks, and often in such a way as to deceive the sharpest ears,
those of the dogs themselves, for instance; it is even said that
they employ this device to attract dogs, and then eat them.
This has been observed on the shores of Hudson's Bay, and the
doctor could confirm it at New America; Johnson took care not
to let loose the dogs of the sledge, who might have been destroyed
in that way. As for Duke, he had seen too many of them, and
he was too wise to be caught in any such way.
During a fortnight they hunted a great deal; fresh food was
abundant; they shot partridges, ptarmigans, and snow-birds,
which were delicious eating. The hunters did not go far from
Fort Providence. In fact, small game could almost be killed
with a stick; and it gave much animation to the silent shores of
Victoria Bay,—an unaccustomed sight which delighted their
The fortnight succeeding the great defeat of the boars was
taken up with different occupations. The thaw advanced steadily;
the thermometer rose to 32°, and torrents began to roar in
the ravines, and thousands of cataracts fell down the declivities.
The doctor cleared an area of ground and sowed in it cresses, sorrel,
and cochlearia, which are excellent remedies for the scurvy;
the little greenish leaves were peeping above the ground when,
with incredible rapidity, the cold again seized everything.
In a single night, with a violent north-wind, the thermometer
fell forty degrees, to -8°. Everything was frozen; birds, quadrupeds,
and seals disappeared as if by magic; the holes for the
seals were closed, the crevasses disappeared, the ice became as hard
as granite, and the waterfalls hung like long crystal pendants.
It was a total change to the eye; it took place in the night of
May 11–12. And when Bell the next morning put his nose out
of doors into this sharp frost, he nearly left it there.
“0, this polar climate!” cried the doctor, a little disappointed;
“that's the way it goes! Well, I shall have to begin sowing
Hatteras took things philosophically, so eager was he to
renew his explorations. But he had to resign himself.
“Will this cold weather last long?” asked Johnson.
“No, my friend, no,” answered Clawbonny; “it's the last
touch of winter we shall have! You know it's at home here, and
we can't drive it away against its will.”
“It defends itself well,” said Bell, rubbing his face.
“Yes, but I ought to have expected it,” said the doctor; “and
I should not have thrown the seed away so stupidly, especially
since I might have started them near the kitchen stove.”
“What!” asked Altamont, “could you have foreseen this
change of weather?”
“Certainly, and without resorting to magic. I ought to have
put the seed under the protection of Saints Mamert, Panera, and
Servais, whose days are the 11th, 12th, and 13th of this month.”
“Well, Doctor,” said Altamont, “will you tell me what influence
these three saints have on the weather?”
“A very great influence, to believe gardeners, who call them
the three saints of ice.”
“And why so, pray?”
“Because generally there is a periodic frost in the month of
May, and the greatest fall of temperature takes place from the
11th to the 13th of this month. It is a fact, that is all.”
“It is curious, but what is the explanation?” asked the American.
“There are two: either by the interposition of a greater number
of asteroids between the earth and the sun at this season, or
simply by the melting of the snow, which thereby absorbs a great
quantity of heat. Both explanations are plausible; must they
be received? I don't know; but if I'm uncertain of the truth
of the explanation, I ought not to have been of the fact, and so
lose my crop.”
The doctor was right; for one reason or another the cold was
very intense during the rest of the month of May; their hunting
was interrupted, not so much by the severity of the weather as
by the absence of game; fortunately, the supply of fresh meat
was not yet quite exhausted.
They found themselves accordingly
condemned to new inactivity; for a fortnight, from the 11th to
the 25th of May, only one incident broke the monotony of their
lives; a serious illness, diphtheria, suddenly seized the carpenter;
from the swollen tonsils and the false membrane in the throat,
the doctor could not be ignorant of the nature of the disease;
but he was in his element, and he soon drove it away, for evidently
it had not counted on meeting him; his treatment was very
simple, and the medicines were not hard to get; the doctor
simply prescribed pieces of ice to be held in the mouth; in a few
hours the swelling went down and the false membrane disappeared;
twenty-four hours later Bell was up again.
When the others wondered at the doctor's prescriptions:
“This is tin; land of these complaints,” he answered; “the
cure must be near the disease.”
“The cure, and especially the doctor,” added Johnson, in whose
mind the doctor was assuming colossal proportions.
During this new leisure the latter resolved to have a serious
talk with the captain; he wanted to induce Hatteras to give up
his intention of going northward without carrying some sort of a
boat; a piece of wood, something with which he could cross an
arm of the sea, if they should meet one. The captain, who was
fixed in his views, had formally vowed not to use a boat made of
the fragments of the American ship. The doctor was uncertain
how to broach the subject, and yet a speedy decision was important,
for the month of June would be the time for distant excursions.
At last, after long reflection, he took Hatteras aside one
day, and with his usual air of kindness said to him,—
“Hatteras, you know I am your friend?”
“Certainly,” answered the captain, warmly, “my best friend;
indeed, my only one.”
“If I give you a piece of advice,” resumed the doctor, “advice
which you don't ask for, would you consider it disinterested?”
“Yes, for I know that selfish interest has never been your
guide; but what do you want to say?”
“One moment, Hatteras; I have something else to ask of you:
Do you consider me a true Englishman like yourself, and eager
for the glory of my country?”
Hatteras looked at the doctor with surprise.
“Yes,” he answered, with his face expressing surprise at the
“You want to reach the North Pole,” resumed the doctor; “I
understand your ambition, I share it, but to reach this end we
need the means.”
“Well, have n't I so far sacrificed everything in order to
“No, Hatteras, you have not sacrificed your personal prejudices,
and at this moment. I see that you are ready to refuse the
indispensable means of reaching the Pole.”
“Ah!” answered Hatteras, “you mean the launch; this
“Come, Hatteras, let us argue coolly, without passion, and
look at all sides of the question. The line of the coast on which
we have wintered may be broken; there is no proof that it runs
six degrees to the north; if the information which has brought
you so far is right, we ought to find a vast extent of open sea
during the summer months. Now, with the Arctic Ocean before
us, free of ice and favorable for navigation, what shall we do if we
lack the means of crossing it?”
Hatteras made no answer.
“Do you want to be within a few miles of the Pole without
being able to reach it?”
Hatteras's head sank into his hands.
“And now,” continued the doctor, “let us look at the question
from a moral point of view. I can understand that an Englishman
should give up his life and his fortune for the honor of his
country. But because a boat made of a few planks torn from a
wrecked American ship first touches the coast or crosses the unknown
ocean, can that diminish the honor of the discovery? If
you found on this shore the hull of an abandoned ship, should
you hesitate to make use of it? Does n't the glory of success belong
to the head of the expedition? And I ask you if this launch built
by four Englishmen, manned by four Englishmen, would not be
English from keel to gunwale?”
Hatteras was still silent.
“No,” said Clawbonny, “let us talk frankly; it's not the boat
you mind, it's the man.”
“Yes, Doctor, yes,” answered the captain, “that American; I
hate him with real English hate, that man thrown in my way
“To save you!”
“To ruin me! He seems to defy me, to act as master, to
imagine he holds my fate in his hands, and to have guessed
my plans. Did n't he show his character when we were giving
names to the new lands I Has he ever said what he was doing
here? You can't free me of the idea which is killing me, that
this man is the head of an expedition sent out by the government
of the United States.”
“And if he is, Hatteras, what is there to show that he is in
search of the Pole? Can't America try to discover the Northwest
Passage as well as England? At any rate, Altamont is
perfectly ignorant of your plans; fur neither Johnson nor Bell
nor you nor I has said a single word about them in his presence.”
“Well, I hope he'll never know them!”
“He will know them finally, of course, for we can't leave him
“Why not?” asked the captain, with some violence; “can't
he remain at Port Providence?”
“He would never give his consent, Hatteras; and then to
leave him here, uncertain of finding him again, would be more
than imprudent, it would be inhuman. Altamont will come with
us; he must come! But since there is no need of suggesting new
ideas to him, let us say nothing, and build a launch apparently
for reconnoitring these new shores.”
Hatteras could not make up his mind to accede to the demands
of his friend, who waited for an answer which did not come.
“And if he refused to let us tear his ship to pieces!” said the
“In that case, you would have the right on your side; you
could build the boat in spite of him, and he could do nothing
“I hope he will refuse,” exclaimed Hatteras.
“Before he refuses,” answered the doctor, “he must be asked.
I will undertake to do it.”
In fact, that evening, before supper, Clawbonny turned the
conversation to certain proposed expeditions in the summer
months for hydrographic observations.
“I suppose, Altamont,” he said, “that you will join us?”
“Certainly,” was the reply; “we must know how large New
Hatteras gazed earnestly at his rival while he made his answer.
“And for that,” continued Altamont, “we must make the
best use we can of the fragments of the Porpoise; let us make
a strong boat which can carry us far.”
“You hear, Bell,” said the doctor, quickly; “to-morrow we
shall set to work.”