On May 29th, for the first time, the sun did not set; it merely
touched the horizon and then rose at once; the day was twenty-four
hours long. The next day it was surrounded by a magnificent
halo, a bright circle with all the colors of the prism; this
apparition, which was by no means rare, always attracted the
doctor's attention; he never failed to note the date and appearance
of the phenomenon; the one he saw on that day was of an
elliptic shape, which he had seldom seen before.
Soon the noisy flocks of birds appeared; bustards and wild
geese came from Florida or Arkansas, flying northward with inconceivable
rapidity and bringing the spring with them. The doctor
shot a few, as well as three or four cranes and a single stork.
However, the snow was melting everywhere beneath the sun; the
salt-water, which overran the ice-field through the crevasses and
the seal-holes, hastened the melting; the ice which was mingled
with salt-water formed a soft slush. Large pools appeared on the
land near the bay, and the exposed soil seemed to be a production
of the arctic spring.
The doctor then resumed his planting; he had plenty of seed;
besides, he was surprised to see a sort of sorrel growing naturally
between the dried rocks, and he wondered at the force of nature
which demanded so little in order to manifest itself. He sowed
some cresses, of winch the young sprouts, three weeks later, were
already an inch long.
The heath began to show timidly its little pale, rosy flowers.
In fact, the flora of New America is very defective; still, this rare
vegetation was agreeable to their eyes; it was all the feeble rays
of the sun could nourish, a trace of the Providence which had not
completely forgotten these distant countries. At last it became
really warm; June 15th the thermometer stood at 57°; the doctor
could hardly believe his eyes; the country changed its appearance;
numerous noisy cascades fell from the sunny summits
of the hills; the ice loosened, and the great question of an open
sea would soon be decided. The air was full of the noise of
avalanches falling from the hills to the bottom of the ravines, and
the cracking of the ice-field produced a deafening sound.
A trip was made to Johnson Island; it was merely an unimportant,
arid, barren island; but the old boatswain was no less
proud of giving his name to a few desolate rocks. He even
wanted to carve it on a high peak. During this excursion,
Hatteras had carefully explored these lands, even beyond Cape
Washington; the melting of the snow sensibly changed the country;
ravines and hillocks appeared here and there; where the
snow indicated nothing but monotonous stretches. The house
and magazines threatened to melt away, and they had frequently
to be repaired; fortunately, a temperature of 57° is rare in these
latitudes, and the mean is hardly above the freezing-point.
By the middle of June the launch was far advanced and getting
into shape. While Bell and Johnson were working at it, the
others had a few successful hunts. Reindeer were shot, although
they are hard to approach; but Altamont put in practice a device
employed by the Indians of his own country; he crept over
the ground with his gun and arms outstretched like the horns of
one of these shy animals, and having thus come within easy gunshot,
he could not fail.
But the best game, the musk-ox, of which Parry found plenty
at Melville Island, appeared not to frequent the shores of Victoria
Bay. A distant hunt was determined on, as much to get
these valuable animals as to reconnoitre the eastern lands. Hatteras
did not propose to reach the Pole by this part of the continent,
but the doctor was not sorry to get a general idea of the
country. Hence they decided to start to the east of Fort
Providence. Altamont intended to hunt; Duke naturally
was of the party.
So, Monday, June 17th, a pleasant day, with the thermometer
at 41°, and the air quiet and clear, the three hunters, each carrying
a double-barrelled gun, a hatchet, a snow-knife, and followed
by Duke, lift Doctor's House at six o'clock in the morning. They
were fitted out for a trip of two or three days, with the requisite
amount of provisions. By eight o'clock Hatteras and his two
companions had gone eight miles.
Not a living thing had
tempted a shot, and their hunt threatened to he merely a trip.
This new country exhibited vast plains running out of sight;
new streams divided them everywhere, and large, unruffled pools
reflected the sun. The layers of melting ice bared the ground
to their feet; it
belonged to the
great division of
and the result of
the action of the
water, which is so
common on the
surface of the
Still a few
erratic blocks were
seen of a singular
nature, foreign to
the soil where they
were found, and
whose presence it
was hard to explain.
and different productions
in abundance, as
was also a sort of strange, transparent, colorless crystal, which has
a refraction peculiar to Iceland spar.
But, although he was not hunting, the doctor had not time to
geologize; he had to walk too quickly, in order to keep up with
his friends. Still, he observed the land and talked as much as possible,
for had he not there would have been total silence in the
little band; neither Altamont nor the captain had any desire to
talk to one another.
By ten o'clock the hunters had got a dozen miles to the east;
the sea was hidden beneath the horizon; the doctor proposed a
halt for breakfast. They swallowed it rapidly, and in half an
hour they were off again. The ground was sloping gently; a few
patches of snow, preserved either by their position or the slope of
the rocks, gave it a woolly appearance, like waves in a high wind.
The country was still barren, and looking as if no living being
had ever set foot in it.
“We have no luck,” said Altamont to the doctor; “to be
sure, the country does n't offer much food to animals, but the
game here ought not to be over-particular, and ought to show
“Don't let us despair,” said the doctor; “the summer has
hardly begun; and if Parry met so many animals at Melville
Island, we may be as lucky here.”
“Still, we are farther north,” said Hatteras.
“Certainly, but that is unimportant; it is the pole of cold we
ought to consider; that is to say, that icy wilderness in the middle
of which we wintered with the Forward; now the farther north
we go, the farther we are from the coldest part of the globe; we
ought to find, beyond, what Parry, Ross, and others found on the
“Well,” said Altamont, with a regretful sigh, “so far we've
been travellers rather than hunters.”
“Be patient,” answered the doctor; “the country is changing
gradually, and I should be astonished if we don't find game
enough in the ravines where vegetation has had a chance to
“It must be said,” continued Altamont, “that we are going
through an uninhabited and uninhabitable country.”
“0, uninhabitable is a strong word!” answered the doctor; “I
can't believe any land uninhabitable; man, by many sacrifices,
and for generations using all the resources of science, might finally
fertilize such a country.”
“Do you think so?” asked Altamont.
“Without doubt! If you were to go to the celebrated countries
of the world, to Thebes, Nineveh, or Babylon, in the fertile
valleys of our ancestors, it would seem impossible that men should
ever have lived there; the air itself has grown bad since the
disappearance of human beings. It is the general law of nature
which makes those countries in which we do not live unhealthy
and sterile, like those out of which life has died. In fact, man
himself makes his own country by his presence, his habits, his
industry, and, I might add, by his breath; he gradually modifies
the exhalations of the soil and the atmospheric conditions,
and he makes the air he breathes wholesome. So there are uninhabited
lands, I grant, but none uninhabitable.”
Talking in this way, the hunters, who had become naturalists,
pushed on and reached a sort of valley, fully exposed, at the bottom
of which a river, nearly free of ice, was flowing; its southern
exposure had brought forth a certain amount of vegetation. The
earth showed a strong desire to grow fertile; with a few inches
of rich soil it would have produced a good deal. The doctor
called their attention to these indications.
“See,” he said, “a few hardy colonists might settle in this
ravine. With industry and perseverance they could do a great
deal; not as much as is seen in the temperate zones, but a
respectable show. If I am not mistaken, there are some four-footed
animals! They know the good spots.”
“They are Arctic hares,” shouted Altamont, cocking his gun.
“Wait a moment,” cried the doctor,—“wait a moment, you
hasty fellow. They don't think of running away! See, they'll
come to us!”
And, in fact, three or four young hares, springing about in the
heath and young moss, ran boldly towards the three men; they
were so cunning that even Altamont was softened.
Soon they were between the doctor's logs; he caressed them
with his hand, saying,—
“Why shoot these little animals which come to he petted?
We need not kill them.”
“You are right, Doctor,” answered Hatteras; “we'll let them
“And these ptarmigan, too, which are flying towards us!”
cried Altamont; “and these long legged water-fowl!”
A whole flock of birds passed over the hunters, not suspecting
the peril from which the doctor's presence saved them. Even
Duke was compelled to admire them.
They were a curious and touching sight, flying about without fear,
resting on Clawbonny's shoulders, lying at his feet, offering themselves
to his caresses, seeming to do their best to welcome their
new guests; they called one another joyously, flying from the
most distant points; the doctor seemed to be a real bird-charmer.
The hunters continued their march up the moist banks of the
brook, followed by the familiar band, and turning from the valley
they perceived a troop of eight or ten reindeer browsing on a few
lichens half buried beneath the snow; they were graceful, quiet
animals, with their branching antlers, which the female carried as
well as the male; their wool-like fur was already losing its winter
whiteness in favor of the summer brown and gray; they seemed
no more timid than the hares and birds of the country. Such
were the relations of the first men to the first animals in the
early ages of the world.
The hunters reached the middle of the band without any one
flying; this time the doctor found it hard to restrain the instincts
of Altamont, who could not calmly look on this game without a
thirst for blood rising in his brain. Hatteras looked mildly at
these gentle beasts, who rubbed their noses against the doctor's
clothes; he was the friend of all the animals.
“But,” said Altamont, “did n't we come here to shoot?”
“To shoot musk-ox,” answered Clawbonny, “and nothing else!
We should have no need of this game; we have food enough, so
let us enjoy the sight of man walking thus among these animals,
without alarming them.”
“That proves they have never seen one before,” said Hatteras.
“Evidently,” answered the doctor; “and so we can be sure that
these animals are not of American origin.”
“And why so?” said Altamont.
“If they were born on the continent of North America, they
would know what to think of men, and they would have fled at
the sight of us. No; they probably came from the north, from
those unknown lands where our kind has never set foot, and
they have crossed the continents near the Pole. So, Altamont,
you can't claim them as your fellow-countrymen.”
“0,” answered Altamont, “a hunter does not scrutinize so
closely, and the game belongs to the land where it was shot!”
“Well, calm yourself, my Nimrod! As for me, I would rather
never fire a gun in my life than alarm this timid population.
See, even Duke fraternizes with the charming beasts! Come,
we'll be kind when we can! Kindness is a force!”
“Well, well,” answered Altamont, who sympathized but slightly
with this sensitiveness; “but I should be amused to see you armed
with this kindness alone among a flock of bears or wolves!”
“0, I don't pretend to charm wild beasts!” answered the doctor;
“I have little faith in the enchantment of Orpheus; besides,
bears and wolves would n't come up to us like the hares, partridges,
“Why not,” answered Altamont, “if they have never seen
“Because they are naturally ferocious, and ferocity, like maliciousness,
begets suspicion; a remark which is true of man as
well as of animals. A wicked man is distrustful, and fear is
commonly found in those who are able to inspire it.”
This little lesson in natural philosophy ended the conversation.
The whole day was passed in this Northern Arcadia, as the
doctor named the valley, with the consent of his companions; and
that evening, after a supper which had not cost the life of a single
inhabitant of the country, the three hunters went to sleep in a
cleft of a rock which was admirably adapted for a shelter.