The next day the doctor and his two companions woke up
after a perfectly quiet night. The cold, although not keen, increased
towards daybreak, but they were well covered, and slept
soundly under the watch of the peaceful animals.
The weather being pleasant, they resolved to consecrate the
day to a reconnoissance of the country, and the search of musk-oxen.
Altamont insisted on shooting something, and they decided
that, even if these oxen should be the gentlest animals in the
world, they should be shot. Besides, their flesh, although strongly
flavored with musk, was pleasant eating, and they all hoped to
carry back to Fort Providence a good supply of it.
During the early morning hours nothing noteworthy took
place; the land grew different in the northeast; a few elevations,
the beginning of a mountainous district, indicated a change. If
this New America were not a continent, it was at any rate an important
island; but then they did not have to trouble themselves
about its geography.
Duke ran ahead, and soon came across some traces of a herd
of musk-oxen; he then advanced rapidly, and soon disappeared
from the eyes of the hunters.
They followed his clear barking,
which soon grew so hasty that they knew he had discovered the
object of their search.
They pushed on, and in an hour and a
half they came up to two of these animals; they were large, and
formidable in appearance. They appeared much surprised at
Duke's attacks, but not alarmed; they were feeding off a sort of
reddish moss which grew on the thin soil. The doctor recognized
them at once from their moderate height, their horns, which were
broad at the base, the absence of muzzle, their sheep-like forehead,
and short tail; their shape has earned for them from naturalists
the name of “ovibos,” a compound, and which expresses the
two sorts of animals whose characteristics they share. Thick,
long hair and a sort of delicate brown silk formed their fur.
They ran away when they saw the two hunters, who came
running up after them.
It was hard to reach them for men who
were out of breath after running half an hour. Hatteras and his
“The Devil!” said Altamont.
“That's just the word,” said the doctor, as soon as he could
take breath. “I'll grant they are Americans, and they can't
have a very good idea of your countrymen.”
“That proves we are good hunters,” answered Altamont.
Still, the musk-oxen, seeing they were not pursued, stopped in
a posture of surprise. It became evident that they could never
be run down; they would have to be surrounded; the plateau on
which they were aided this manœuvre. The hunters, leaving
Duke to harass them, descended through the neighboring ravines,
so as to get around the plateau. Altamont and the doctor hid
behind a rock at one end, while Hatteras, suddenly advancing
from the other end, should drive the oxen towards them. In
half an hour each had gained his post.
“You don't object any longer to our shooting?” asked Altamont.
“No, it's fair fighting,” answered the doctor, who, in spite of
gentleness, was a real sportsman.
They were talking in this way, when they saw the oxen running
and Duke at their heels: farther on Hatteras was driving
them, with loud cries, towards the American and the doctor, who
ran to meet this magnificent prey.
At once the oxen stopped, and, less fearful of a single enemy,
they turned upon Hatteras. He awaited them calmly, aimed at
the nearest, and fired; but the bullet struck the animal in the
middle of his forehead, without penetrating the skull. Hatteras's
second shot produced no other effect than to make the beasts
furious; they ran to the disarmed hunter, and threw him down
“He is lost,” cried the doctor.
At the moment Clawbonny pronounced these words with an
accent of despair, Altamont made a step forward to run to Hatteras's
aid; then he stopped, struggling against himself and his
“No,” he cried, “that would be cowardice.”
He hastened with Clawbonny to the scene of combat. His
hesitation had not lasted half a second. But if the doctor saw
what was taking place in the American's heart, Hatteras understood
it, who would rather have died than have implored his
rival's interference. Still, he had hardly time to perceive it, for
Altamont appeared before him. Hatteras, lying on the ground,
was trying to ward off the horns and hoofs of the two animals.
But he could not long continue so unequal a struggle. He was
about to be torn in pieces, when two shots were heard. Hatteras
heard the bullets whistling by his head.
“Don't be frightened!” shouted Altamont, hurling his gun to
one side, and rushing upon the angry animals.
One of the oxen fell, shot through the heart; the other, wild
with rage, was just going to gore the captain, when Altamont faced
him, and plunged into his mouth his hand, armed with a snow-knife;
with the other he gave him a terrible blow with a hatchet
on the head. This was done with marvellous rapidity, and a
flash of lightning would have lit up the whole scene.
The second ox fell back dead.
“Hurrah! hurrah!” cried Clawbonny.
Hatteras was saved. He owed his life to the man whom he
detested most in the world. What was going on in his mind at
this time? What emotion was there which he could not master?
That is one of the secrets of the heart which defy all analysis.
However that may be, Hatteras advanced to his rival without
hesitation, and said to him seriously,—
“You have saved my life, Altamont.”
“You saved mine,” answered the American. There was a
moment's silence. Then Altamont added, “We are now quits,
“No, Altamont,” answered the captain; “when the doctor took
you from your icy tomb, I did not know who you were, and you
have saved me at the risk of your own life, knowing who I was.”
“You are a fellow-being,” answered Altamont; “and whatever
else he may be, an American is not a coward.”
“No, he is not,” said the doctor; “he is a man! a man like
“And like me he shall share the glory which is awaiting us!”
“The glory of going to the North Pole?” said Altamont.
“Yes,” said the captain, haughtily.
“I had guessed it!” exclaimed the American. “So you dared
conceive of this bold design! You dared try to reach that inaccessible
point! Ah, that is great! It is sublime!”
“But you,” asked Hatteras, hurriedly, “were you not on your
way to the Pole?”
Altamont seemed to hesitate about replying.
“Well?” said the doctor.
“Well, no,” answered the American,—“no; tell the truth, and
shame the Devil! No, I did not have this great idea, which has
brought you here. I was trying simply to sail through the Northwest
Passage, that is all.”
“Altamont,” said Hatteras, holding out his hand to the American,
“share our glory, and go with us to the North Pole!”
The two men then shook hands warmly.
When they turned towards the doctor, they saw his eyes full
“Ah, my friends,” he murmured, as he dried his eyes, “how
can my heart hold the joy with which you fill it? My dear companions,
you have sacrificed a miserable question of nationality
in order to unite in your common success! You know that England
and America have nothing to do with all this; that mutual
sympathy ought to bind you together against the dangers of the
journey! If the North Pole is discovered, what difference does
it make who does it? Why stand bickering about English or
American, when we can be proud of being men?”
The doctor embraced the reconciled foes; he could not restrain
his joy. The two new friends felt themselves drawn closer together
by the friendship this worthy man had for them both. Clawbonny
spoke freely of the vanity of competition, of the madness
of rivalry, and of the need of agreement between men so far from
home. His words, his tears and caresses, came from the bottom
of his heart.
Still, he grew calm after embracing Hatteras and Altamont
for the twentieth time.
“And now,” he said, “to work, to work! Since I was no use
as a hunter, let me try in another capacity!”
Thereupon he started to cut up the ox, which he called the
“ox of reconciliation,” but he did it as skilfully as if he were
a surgeon conducting a delicate autopsy. His two companions
gazed at him in amusement. In a few minutes he had cut from
the body a hundred pounds of flesh; he gave each one a third
of it, and they again took up their march to Fort Providence.
At ten o'clock in the evening, after walking in the oblique rays
of the sun, they reached Doctor's House, where Johnson and
Bell had a good supper awaiting them.
But before they sat down to table, the doctor said in a voice
of triumph, as he pointed to his two companions,—
“Johnson, I carried away with me an Englishman and an
American, did I not?”
“Yes, Dr. Clawbonny,” answered the boatswain.
“Well, I've brought back two brothers.”
The two sailors gladly shook Altamont's hand; the doctor told
them what the American captain had done for the English captain,
and that night the snow-house held five perfectly happy