The next day Bell, Altamont, and the doctor went to the
Porpoise; they found no lack of wood; the old three-masted
launch, though injured by being wrecked, could still supply
abundant material for the new one. The carpenter set to work
at once; they needed a seaworthy boat, which should yet be
light enough to carry on a sledge.
Towards the end of May
the weather grew warmer; the thermometer rose above the
freezing-point; the spring came in earnest this time, and the
men were able to lay aside their winter clothing.
fell, and soon the snow began to slide and melt away.
could not hide his joy at seeing the first signs of thaw in the
ice-fields. The open sea meant liberty for him.
Whether or not his predecessors had been wrong on this great
question of an open polar sea, he hoped soon to know. All
chance of success in his undertaking depended on this.
evening, after a warm day in which the ice had given unmistakable
signs of breaking up. he turned the conversation to the
question of an open sea.
He took up the familiar arguments,
and found the doctor, as ever, a warm advocate of his doctrine.
Besides, his conclusions were evidently accurate.
“It is plain,” he said, “that if the ocean before Victoria Bay
gets clear of ice, the southern part will also be clear as far as
New Cornwall and Queen's Channel. Penny and Belcher saw
it in that state, and they certainly saw clearly.”
“I agree with you, Hatteras,” answered the doctor, “and I
have no reason for doubting the word of these sailors; a vain
attempt has been made to explain their discovery as an effect
of mirage; but they were so certain, it was impossible that they
could have made such a mistake.”
“I always thought so,” said Altamont; “the polar basin extends
to the east as well as to the west.”
“We can suppose so, at any rate,” answered Hatteras.
“We ought to suppose so,” continued the American, “for this
open sea which Captains Penny and Belcher saw near the coast
of Grinnell Land was seen by Morton, Kane's lieutenant, in the
straits which are named after that bold explorer.”
“We are not in Kane's sea,” answered Hatteras, coldly, “and
consequently we cannot verify the fact.”
“It is supposable, at least,” said Altamont.
“Certainly,” replied the doctor, who wished to avoid useless
discussion. “What Altamont thinks ought to be the truth;
unless there is a peculiar disposition of the surrounding land,
the same effects appear at the same latitudes. Hence I believe
the sea is open in the east as well as in the west.”
“At any rate, it makes very little difference to us,” said Hatteras.
“I don't agree with you, Hatteras,” resumed the American,
who was beginning to be annoyed by the affected unconcern of
the captain; “it may make considerable difference to us.”
“And when, if I may ask?”
“When we think of returning.”
“Returning!” cried Hatteras, “and who's thinking of that?”
“No one,” answered Altamont; “but we shall stop somewhere,
“And where?” asked Hatteras.
For the first time the question was fairly put to Altamont.
The doctor would have given one of his arms to have put a stop
to the discussion. Since Altamont made no answer, the captain
repeated his question.
“Where we are going,” answered the American, quietly.
“And who knows where that is?” said the peace-loving doctor.
“I say, then,” Altamont went on, “that if we want to make
use of the polar basin in returning, we can try to gain Kane's
sea; it will lead us more directly to Baffin's Bay.”
“So that is your idea?” asked the captain, ironically.
“Yes, that is my idea, as it is that if these seas ever become
practicable, they will be reached by the straightest way. O, that
was a great discovery of Captain Kane's!”
“Indeed!” said Hatteras, biting his lips till they bled.
“Yes,” said the doctor, “that cannot be denied; every one
should have the praise he deserves.”
“Without considering,” went on the obstinate American, “that
no one had ever before gone so far to the north.”
“I like to think,” said Hatteras, “that now the English have
got ahead of him.”
“And the Americans!” said Altamont.
“Americans!” repeated Hatteras.
“What am I, then?” asked Altamont, proudly.
“You are,” answered Hatteras, who could hardly control his
voice,—“you are a man who presumes to accord equal glory to
science and to chance! Your American captain went far to the
north, but as chance alone—”
“Chance!” shouted Altamont; “do you dare to say that this
great discovery is not due to Kane's energy and knowledge?”
“I say,” answered Hatteras, “that Kane's name is not fit to
be pronounced in a country made famous by Parry, Franklin,
Ross, Belcher, and Penny in these seas which opened the Northwest
Passage to MacClure—”
“MacClure!” interrupted the American; “you mention that
man, and yet you complain of the work of chance? Was n't it
chance alone that favored him?”
“No,” answered Hatteras, warmly,—“no! It was his courage,
his perseverance in spending four winters in the ice—”
“I should think so!” retorted the American; “he got caught
in the ice and could n't get out, and he had to abandon the
Investigator at last to go back to England.”
“My friends—” said the doctor.
“Besides,” Altamont went on, “let us consider the result.
You speak of the Northwest Passage; well, it has yet to be
Hatteras started at these words; no more vexatious question
could have arisen between two rival nationalities. The doctor
again tried to intervene.
“You are mistaken, Altamont,” he said.
“No, I persist in my opinions,” he said obstinately; “the
Northwest Passage is yet to be found, to be sailed through, if
you like that any better! MacClure never penetrated it, and
to this day no ship that has sailed from Behring Strait has
reached Baffin's Bay!”
That was true, speaking exactly. What answer could be made?
Nevertheless, Hatteras rose to his feet and said,—
“I shall not permit the good name of an English captain to
be attacked any further in my presence.”
“You will not permit it?” answered the American, who also
rose to his feet; “but these are the facts, and it is beyond your
power to destroy them.”
“Sir!” said Hatteras, pale with anger.
“My friends,” said the doctor, “don't get excited! We are
discussing a scientific subject.”
Clawbonny looked with horror at a scientific discussion into
which the hate of an American and an Englishman could enter.
“I am going to give you the facts,” began Hatteras, threateningly.
“But I'm speaking now!” retorted the American.
Johnson and Bell became very uneasy.
“Gentlemen,” said the doctor, severely, “let me say a word! I
insist upon it. I know the facts as well, better than you do, and
I can speak of them impartially.”
“Yes, yes,” said Bell and Johnson, who were distressed at the
turn the discussion had taken, and who formed a majority favorable
to the doctor.
“Go on, Doctor,” said Johnson, “these gentlemen will listen,
and you cannot fail to give us some information.”
“Go on, Doctor,” said the American.
Hatteras resumed his place with a sign of acquiescence, and
folded his arms.
“I will tell the simple truth about the facts,” said the doctor,
“and you must correct me if I omit or alter any detail.”
“We know you, Doctor,” said Bell, “and you can speak without
fear of interruption.”
“Here is the chart of the Polar Seas,” resumed the doctor,
who had brought it to the table; “it will be easy to trace MacClure's
course, and you will be able to make up your minds for
Thereupon he unrolled one of the excellent maps published by
order of the Admiralty, containing the latest discoveries in arctic
regions; then he went on:
“You know, in 1848, two ships, the Herald, Captain Kellet,
and the Plover, Commander Moore, were sent to Behring Strait in
search of traces of Franklin; their search was vain; in 1850
they were joined by MacClure, who commanded the Investigator,
a ship in which he had sailed, in 1849, under James Ross's orders.
He was followed by Captain Collinson, his chief, who sailed in
the Enterprise; but he arrived before him. At Behring Strait he
declared he would wait no longer, and that he would go alone, on
his own responsibility, and—you hear me, Altamont—that he
would find either Franklin or the passage.”
Altamont showed neither approbation nor the contrary.
“August 5, 1850,” continued the doctor, “after a final communication
with the Plover, MacClure sailed eastward by an almost
unknown route; see how little land is marked upon the
chart. August 30th he rounded Cape Bathurst; September 6th
he discovered Baring Land, which he afterwards discovered to
form part of Banks Land, then Prince Albert's Land. Then he
resolved to enter the long straits between these two large islands,
and he called it Prince of Wales Strait. You can follow his plan.
He hoped to come out in Melville Sound, which we have just
crossed, and with reason; but the ice at the end of the strait
formed an impassable harrier. There MacClure wintered in 1850–51,
and meanwhile he pushed on over the ice, to make sure
that the strait connected with the sound.”
“Yes,” said Altamout, “but he did n't succeed.”
“One moment,” said the doctor. “While wintering there, MacClure's
officers explored all the neighboring coasts: Creswell,
Baring's Land; Haswell, Prince Albert's Land, to the south; and
Wynniat, Cape Walker, to the north. In July, at the beginning
of the thaw, MacClure tried a second time to carry the Investigator
to Melville Sound; he got within twenty miles of it, twenty
miles only, but the winds carried him with irresistible force to the
south, before he could get through the obstacle. Then he determined
to go back through Prince of Wales Strait, and go around
Banks Land, to try at the west what he could not do in the east;
he put about; the 18th he rounded Cape Kellet; the 19th, Cape
Prince Alfred, two degrees higher; then, after a hard struggle
with the icebergs, he was caught in Banks Strait, in the series
of straits leading to Baffin's Bay.”
“But he could n't get through them,” said Altamont.
“Wait a moment, and be as patient as MacClure was. September
26th, he took his station for the winter in Mercy Bay, and
stayed there till 1852. April came; MacClure had supplies for
only eighteen months. Nevertheless, he was unwilling to return;
he started, crossing Banks Strait by sledge, and reached Melville
Island. Let us follow him. He hoped to find here Commander
Austin's ships, which were sent to meet him by Baffin's Bay and
Lancaster Sound; April 28th he arrived at Winter Harbor, at
the place where Parry had wintered thirty-three years previously,
but no trace of the ships; only he found in a cairn a paper, telling
him that MacClintock, Austin's lieutenant, had been there the
year before, and gone away. Any one else would have been in
despair, but MacClure was not. He put in the cairn another
paper, in which he announced his intention of returning to England
by the Northwest Passage, which he had discovered by
reaching Baffin's Bay and Lancaster Sound. If he is not heard
from again, it will be because he will have been to the north or
west of Melville Island; then he returned, not discouraged, to
Mercy Bay for the third winter, 1852–53.”
“I have never doubted his courage,” said Altamont, “but his
“Let us follow him again,” resumed the doctor. “In the month
of March, being on two-thirds rations, at the end of a very severe
winter, when no game was to be had, MacClure determined to
send back half of his crew to England, either by Baffin's Bay, or
by Mackenzie River and Hudson's Bay; the other half was to
bring the Investigator back. He chose the weakest men, who
could not stand a fourth winter; everything was ready, and their
departure settled for April 15th, when on the 6th, MacClure, who
was walking on the ice with his lieutenant, Creswell, saw a man
running northward and gesticulating; it was Lieutenant Pim of
the Herald, lieutenant of the same Captain Kellet whom two
years before he had left at Behring Strait, as I said when I began.
Kellet, having reached Winter Harbor, found the paper left there
by MacClure; having heard in that way of his position in Mercy
Bay, he sent Lieutenant Pim to meet the captain. He was followed
by a detachment of the men of the Herald, among whom
was a midshipman of a French ship, M. de Bray, who was a
volunteer aid of Captain Kellet. You don't doubt this meeting?”
“Not at all,” answered Altamont.
“Well, see what followed, and whether the Northwest Passage
was really made. If you join Parry's discoveries to those of MacClure,
you will see the northern coast of America was rounded.”
“But not by a single ship,” said Altamont.
“No, but by a single man. Let us go on. MacClure went to
see Captain Kellet at Melville Island; in twelve days he made
the one hundred and seventy miles between Winter Harbor and
the island; he agreed with the commander of the Herald to send
him his sick, and returned: many others would have thought,
had they been in MacClure's place, that they had done enough,
but this bold young man determined to try his fortune again.
Then, and please observe this. Lieutenant Creswell, with the sick
and disabled men of the Investigator, left Mercy Bay, reached
Winter Harbor, and from there, after a journey of four hundred
and seventy miles on the ice, reached Beechey Island, June 2d,
and a few days later, with twelve of his men, he took passage on
board of the Phœnix.”
“In which I was at the time,” said Johnson, “with Captain
Inglefield, and we returned to England.”
“And October 7, 1853,” continued the doctor, “Creswell
arrived at London, after having crossed over the whole distance
between Behring Strait and Cape Farewell.”
“Well,” said Hatteras, “to enter at one end and go out by
the other, is n't that going through?”
“Yes,” answered Altamont, “but by going four hundred and
seventy miles over the ice.”
“Well, what difference does that make?”
“The whole,” answered the American. “Did MacClure's ship
make the passage?”
“No,” answered the doctor, “for after a fourth winter, MacClure
was obliged to leave it in the ice.”
“Well, in a sea-voyage it's important to have the ship reach
her destination. If the Northwest Passage ever becomes practicable,
it must be for ships and not for sledges. The ship must
accomplish the voyage, or if not the ship, the launch.”
“The launch!” shouted Hatteras, who detected the hidden
meaning in the American's words.
“Altamont,” said the doctor, hurriedly, “you make a puerile
distinction, and we all consider you wrong.”
“That is easy, gentlemen,” answered the American; “you are
four to one. But that won't keep me from holding my own
“Keep it,” said Hatteras, “and so closely that we need hear
nothing about it.”
“And what right have you to speak to me in that way?”
asked the American in a rage.
“My right as captain,” answered Hatteras.
“Am I under your commands?” retorted Altamont.
“Without doubt, and look out for yourself, if—”
The doctor, Johnson, and Bell intervened. It was time; the
two enemies were gazing at one another. The doctor was very
anxious. Still, after a few gentler words, Altamont went off to
bed whistling Yankee Doodle, and, whether he slept or not, he
did not speak. Hatteras went out and paced up and down for an
hour, and then he turned in without saying a word.