July 4th a dense fog prevailed. They were only able with
the greatest difficulty to keep a straight path; they had to consult
the compass every moment. Fortunately there was no
accident in the darkness, except that Bell lost his snow-shoes,
which were broken against a projecting rock.
“Well, really,” said Johnson, “I thought, after seeing the
Mersey and the Thames, that I knew all about fogs, but I see I
“We ought,” answered Bell, “to light torches as is done at London and Liverpool.
“Why not?” asked the doctor; “that's a good idea; it
would n't light up the road much, but we could see the guide,
and follow him more easily.”
“But what shall we do for torches?”
“By lighting tow dipped in alcohol, and fastening to the end
“Good!” said Johnson; “and we shall soon have it ready.”
A quarter of an hour later the little band was walking along
with torches faintly lighting up the general gloom.
But if they went straighter, they did not go quicker, and the
fog lasted till July 6th; the earth being cold then, a blast of
north-wind carried away all the mist as if it had been rags.
Soon the doctor took an observation, and ascertained that meanwhile
they had not made eight miles a day.
The 6th, they made an effort to make up for lost time, and
they set out early. Altamont and Bell were ahead, choosing the
way and looking out for game. Duke was with them. The weather,
with its surprising fickleness, had become very clear and dry;
and although the guides were two miles from the sledge, the
doctor did not miss one of their movements. He was consequently
very much startled to see them stop suddenly, and
remain in a position of surprise; they seemed to be gazing into
the distance, as if scanning the horizon. Then they bent down
to the ground and seemed to be examining it closely, and they
arose in evident amazement. Bell seemed to wish to push on,
but Altamont held him back.
“What can they be doing?” asked the doctor of Johnson.
“I know no more than you, Doctor; I don't understand their
“They have found the track of some animals,” answered Hatteras.
“That's not it,” said the doctor.
“Because Duke would bark.”
“Still, they've seen marks of some sort.”
“Let us go on,” said Hatteras; “we shall soon know.”
Johnson urged on the dogs, who quickened their pace.
In twenty minutes the five were together, and Hatteras, the
doctor, and Johnson were as much surprised as Bell and Altamont.
There were in the snow indubitable traces of men, as fresh as
if they had just been made.
“They are Esquimaux,” said Hatteras.
“Yes,” said the doctor, “there is no doubt of that!”
“You think so?” said Altamont.
“Without any doubt.”
“Well, and this mark?” continued Altamont, pointing to
another print, which was often repeated.
“Do you think it was made by an Esquimaux?”
The doctor examined it carefully, and was stupefied. The print
of a European shoe, with nails, sole, and heel, was clearly stamped
in the snow. There could be no further doubt; a man, a stranger,
had been there.
“Europeans here!” cried Hatteras.
“Evidently,” said Johnson.
“And still,” said the doctor, “it is so unlikely, that we ought
to look twice before being sure.”
Thereupon he looked twice, three times, at the print, and he
was obliged to acknowledge its extraordinary origin.
De Foe's hero was not more amazed when he saw the footprint
on the sand of his island; but if he was afraid, Hatteras was
simply angry. A European so near the Pole!
They pushed on to examine the footprints; for a quarter of a
mile they were continually repeated, mingled with marks of moccasins;
then they turned to the west.
When they had reached
this point they consulted as to whether they should follow them
“No,” said Hatteras. “Let us go on—”
He was interrupted by an exclamation of the doctor, who had
just picked up on the snow an object even more convincing, and
of the origin of which there could be no doubt. It was the
object-glass of a pocket telescope.
“Now,” he said, “we can't doubt that there is a stranger
“Forward!” cried Hatteras.
He uttered this word so sharply that each one obeyed, and the
sledge resumed its monotonous progress.
They all scanned the horizon attentively, except Hatteras, who
was filled with wrath and did not care to see anything. Still,
since they ran the risk of coming across a band of travellers, they
had to take precautions; it was very disappointing to see any one
ahead of them on the route. The doctor, although not as angry
as Hatteras, was somewhat vexed, in spite of his usual philosophy.
Altamont seemed equally annoyed; Johnson and Bell muttered
threatening words between their teeth.
“Come,” said the doctor, “let us take heart against our bad
“We must confess,” said Johnson, without being heard by
Altamont, “that if we find the place taken, it would disgust us
with journeying to the Pole.”
“And yet,” answered Bell, “there is no possibility of doubting—”
“No,” retorted the doctor; “I turn it all over in vain, and say
it is improbable, impossible; I have to give it up. This shoe was
not pressed into the snow without being at the end of a leg, and
without the leg being attached to a human body. I could forgive
Esquimaux, but a European!”
“The fact is,” answered Johnson, “that if we are going to find
all the rooms taken in the hotel of the end of the world, it would
“Very annoying,” said Altamont.
“Well, we shall see,” said the doctor.
And they pushed on. The day ended without any new fact to
indicate the presence of strangers in this part of New America,
and they at last encamped for the evening.
A rather strong wind from the south had sprung up, and
obliged them to seek a secure shelter for their tent in the bottom
of a ravine. The sky was threatening; long clouds passed rapidly
through the air; they passed near the ground, and so quickly that
the eye could hardly follow them. At times some of the mist
touched the ground, and the tent resisted with difficulty the violence
of the hurricane.
“It's going to be a nasty night,” said Johnson, after supper.
“It won't be cold, but stormy,” answered the doctor; “let us
take precautions, and make the tent firm with large stones.”
“You are right, Doctor; if the wind should carry away the canvas,
Heaven alone knows where we should find it again.”
Hence they took every precaution against such a danger, and
the wearied travellers lay down to sleep.
But they found it impossible.
The tempest was loose, and hastened northward with
incomparable violence; the clouds were whirling about like steam
which has just escaped from a boiler; the last avalanches, under
the force of the hurricane, fell into the ravines, and their dull
echoes were distinctly heard; the air seemed to be struggling
with the water, and fire alone was absent from this contest of the
Amid the general tumult their ears distinguished separate
sounds, not the crash of heavy falling bodies, but the distinct
cracking of bodies breaking; a clear snap was frequently heard,
like breaking steel, amid the roar of the tempest.
sounds were evidently avalanches torn off by the gusts, but the
doctor could not explain the others.
In the few moments of anxious
silence, when the hurricane seemed to be taking breath in
order to blow with greater violence, the travellers exchanged their
“There is a sound of crashing,” said the doctor, “as if icebergs
and ice-fields were being blown against one another.”
“Yes,” answered Altamont; “one would say the whole crust
of the globe was falling in. Say, did you hear that?”
“If we were near the sea,” the doctor went on, “I should think
it was ice breaking.”
“In fact,” said Johnson, “there is no other explanation possible.”
“Can we have reached the coast?” asked Hatteras.
“It's not impossible,” answered the doctor. “Hold on,” he
said, after a very distinct sound; “should n't you say that was
the crashing of ice? We may be very near the ocean.”
“If it is,” continued Hatteras, “I should not be afraid to go
across the ice fields.”
“0,” said the doctor, “they must be broken by such a tempest!
We shall see to morrow. However that may be, if any men have
to travel in such a night as this, I pity them.”
The hurricane raged ten hours without cessation, and no one
of those in the tent had a moment's sleep; the night passed in
In fact, under such circumstances, every
new incident, a tempest, an avalanche, might bring serious consequences.
The doctor would gladly have gone out to reconnoitre,
but how could he with such a wind raging?
Fortunately the hurricane grew less violent early the next day;
they could leave the tent which had resisted so sturdily. The
doctor, Hatteras, and Johnson went to a hill about three hundred
feet high, which they ascended without difficulty.
beheld an entirely altered country, composed of bare rocks,
sharp ridges entirely clear of ice. It was summer succeeding
winter, which had been driven away by the tempest; the snow
had been blown away by the wind before it could melt, and the
barren soil reappeared.
But Hatteras's glances were all turned towards the north,
where the horizon appeared to be hidden by dark mist.
“That may be the effect of the ocean,” said the doctor.
“You are right,” said Hatteras; “the sea must be there.”
“That's what we call the blink of the water,” said Johnson.
“Exactly,” said the doctor.
“Well, let us start,” said Hatteras, “and push on to this new
“That rejoices my heart,” said Clawbonny to the captain.
“Certainly,” was the enthusiastic answer. “Soon we shall
have reached the Pole! and does n't the prospect delight you,
“It does. I am always happy, and especially about the happiness
The three Englishmen returned to the ravine; the sledge was
made ready, and they left the camp and resumed their march.
Each one dreaded finding new tracks, but all the rest of the way
they saw no trace of any human being. Three hours later they
reached the coast.
“The sea! the sea!” they all shouted.
“And the open sea!” cried the captain.
It was ten o'clock in the morning.
In fact, the hurricane had cleared up the polar basin; the
shattered ice was floating away in every direction; the largest
pieces, forming icebergs, had just weighed anchor and were sailing
on the open sea. The wind had made a harsh attack upon the
field. Fragments of ice covered the surrounding rocks. The little
which was left of the ice-field seemed very soft; on the rocks
were large pieces of sea-weed. The ocean stretched beyond the
line of vision, with no island or new land peering above the horizon.
In the east and west were two capes gently sloping to the
water; at their end the sea was breaking, and the wind was
carrying a slight foam. The land of New America thus died
away in the Polar Ocean, quietly and gently. It rounded into an
open bay, with roadstead enclosed by the two promontories. In
the middle a rock made a little natural harbor, sheltered against
three points of the compass; it ran back into the land in the
broad lied of a stream, through which ran down the melted snows
of winter, now forming a perfect torrent.
Hatteras, after noticing the outline of the coast, resolved to
make the preparations for departure that very day, to launch the
boat, to put the unloaded sledge on board for future excursions.
That took all day; then the tent was raised, and after a comfortable
meal work began. Meanwhile the doctor took out his instruments
to take an observation and determine the position of a part
of the bay. Hatteras hurried on the work; he was anxious to
start; he wanted to leave the land, and to be in advance in case
any others should reach the sea.
At five o'clock in the evening Johnson and Bell had nothing to
do but to fold their arms. The launch was rocking gently in her
little harbor, with her mast set, her jib lowered, and her foresail
in the brails; the provisions and most of the things on the sledge
had been put on board; only the tent and a little of the camping
material remained to be put on board the next day. The doctor
found all these preparations complete on his return. When he
saw the launch quietly sheltered from the wind, it occurred to
him to give a name to the little harbor, and he proposed that of
Altamont. This proposition was unanimously agreed to. So it
was named Altamont Harbor.
According to the doctor's calculations, it lay in latitude 87°5',
and longitude 118°35' E. of Greenwich; that is to say, less than
three degrees from the Pole. The hand had gone more than two
hundred miles from Victoria Bay to Altamont Harbor.