After this solid conversation every one made himself as comfortable
as possible in the cavern, and soon fell asleep.
one, that is, except Hatteras. Why did not this strange man
Was not the object of his life attained? Had he not accomplished
the bold projects which lay so near his heart? Why did
not calmness succeed the agitation in his ardent mind? Would
not one suppose that, when he had accomplished this end, Hatteras
would fall into a sort of dejection, and that his overstretched
nerves would seek repose? After succeeding, it would
seem natural that he should be seized with the feeling of sadness,
which always follows satisfied desires.
But no. He was only more excited. It was not, however, the
thought of returning which agitated him so. Did he wish to go
farther? Was there no limit to his ambition, and did he find the
world too small, because he had been around it?
may have been, he could not sleep. And yet this first night
spent at the pole of the world was pleasant and quiet. The
island was absolutely uninhabited. There was not a bird in its
fire-impregnated atmosphere, not an animal on the soil of cinders,
not a fish in its boiling waters. Only afar off the dull murmur
of the mountain, from the summit of which arose puffs of hot
When Bell, Johnson, Altamont, and the doctor awoke, Hatteras
was not to be seen near them. Being anxious, they left the cave,
and saw the captain standing on a rock. His eyes were fixed on
the top of the volcano. He held his instruments in his hands,
having evidently born calculating the exact height of the mountain.
The doctor went up to him and spoke to him several times
before he could rouse him from his revery. At last the captain
seemed to understand him.
“Forward!” said the doctor, who was examining him
attentively,—“forward! let us explore our island; we are all ready
for our last excursion.”
“Our last,” said Hatteras, with the intonation of people who
are dreaming aloud; “yes, the last, indeed. But also,” he continued
with great animation, “the most wonderful!”
He spoke in this way, rubbing his hands over his brow as if to
allay its throbbing.
At that moment, Altamont, Johnson, and
Bell joined him; Hatteras appeared to awaken from his revery.
“My friends,” he said with emotion, “thanks for your courage,
thanks for your perseverance, thanks for your superhuman efforts,
which have allowed us to set foot on this land!”
“Captain!” said Johnson, “we have only obeyed; all the honor
is due to you alone!”
“No, no!” resumed Hatteras with emotion; “to you as much
to me! to Altamont as well as to all of us! as to the doctor
himself—0, let my heart well over in your hands! It can no
longer restrain its joy and gratitude!”
Hatteras clasped the hands of his companions. He walked to
and fro, no longer master of himself.
“We have only done our duty as Englishmen,” said Bell.
“Our duty as friends,” continued the doctor.
“Yes,” said Hatteras, “but all have not performed this duty.
Some have given way! Still, they must be pardoned, both who
were treacherous, and those who were led away to it! Poor men!
I forgive them. You understand me, Doctor?”
“Yes,” answered the doctor, who was very uneasy at Hatteras's
“So,” went on the captain, “I don't want them to lose the
money they came so far to seek. No, I shall not alter my plan;
they shall be rich,—if they ever see England again!”
Few could have withstood the tenderness with which Hatteras
spoke these last words.
“But, Captain,” said Johnson, with an effort at pleasantry,
“one would say you were making your will.”
“Perhaps I am,” answered Hatteras, seriously.
“Still you have before you a long and glorious life,” continued
the old sailor.
“Who can say?” said Hatteras.
A long silence followed these words. The doctor did not dare
to try to interpret the last remark. But Hatteras soon expressed
his meaning, for in a hasty, hardly restrained voice, he went
“My friends, listen to me. We have done a good deal so far,
and yet there is a good deal to do.”
His companions gazed at him in astonishment.
“Yes, we are on the land of the Pole, but we are not on the
“How so?” asked Altamont.
“You don't mean it!” cried the doctor, anxiously.
“Yes!” resumed Hatteras, earnestly, “I said that an Englishman
should set foot on the Pole; I said it, and an Englishman
shall do it.”
“What!” ejaculated the doctor.
“We are now forty-five seconds from the unknown point,”
Hatteras went on, with increasing animation; “where it is, I am
“But that is the top of the volcano!” said the doctor.
“It's an inaccessible spot!”
“It's a fiery crater!”
The firmness with which Hatteras uttered these words cannot
be given. His friends were stupefied; they gazed with horror at
the volcano tipped with flame.
Then the doctor began; he
urged and besought Hatteras to give up his design; he said
everything he could imagine, from entreaty to well-meant threats;
but he obtained no concession from the nervous captain, who was
possessed with a sort of madness which may be called polar madness.
Only violent means could stop him, rushing to his ruin.
But seeing that thereby they would produce serious results, the
doctor wished to keep them for a last resource.
He hoped, too,
that some physical impossibility, some unsurmountable difficulty,
would compel him to give up his plan.
“Since it is so,” he said, “we shall follow you.”
“Yes,” answered the captain, “half-way up the mountain! No
farther! Have n't you got to carry back to England the copy of
the document which proves our discovery, in case—”
“It is settled,” said Hatteras, in a tone of command; “and since
my entreaties as a friend are not enough, I order it as captain.”
The doctor was unwilling to urge him any further, and a few
moments later the little band, equipped for a hard climb, and
preceded by Duke, set out.
The sky was perfectly dear. The
thermometer stood at 52°. The air had all the brilliancy which
is so marked at this high latitude. It was eight o'clock in the
Hatteras went ahead with his dog, the others followed
“I'm anxious,” said Johnson.
“No. no, there's nothing to fear,” answered the doctor; “we
It was a strange island, in appearance so new and singular!
The volcano did not seem old, and geologists would have ascribed
a recent date to its formation.
The rocks were heaped upon one another, and only kept in
place by almost miraculous balancing. The mountain, in fact,
was composed of nothing but stones that had fallen from above.
There was no soil, no moss, no lichen, no trace of vegetation.
The carbonic acid from the crater had not yet had time to unite
with the hydrogen of the water; nor the ammonia of the clouds,
to form under the action of the light, organized matter.
island had arisen from successive volcanic eruptions, like many
other mountains; what they have hurled forth has built them
up. For instance, Etna has poured forth a volume of lava larger
than itself; and the Monte Nuovo, near Naples, was formed
by ashes in the short space of forty-eight hours.
The heap of
rocks composing Queen's Island had evidently come from the
bowels of the earth. Formerly the sea covered it all; it had
been formed long since by the condensation of the vapor on the
cooling globe; but in proportion as the volcanoes of the Old and
New World disappeared, they were replaced by new craters.
In fact, the earth can be compared to a vast spheroidal boiler.
Under the influence of the central fire an immense quantity of
vapor is generated, which is exposed to a pressure of thousands
of atmospheres, and which would blow up the globe, were it not
for the safety-valves opening on the outside.
These safety-valves are the volcanoes; when one closes, another
opens; and at the poles, where, doubtless in consequence
of the flattening of the earth's surface, the crust is thinner, it is
not strange that a volcano should be suddenly formed by the
upheaval of the bottom of the waves.
The doctor noticed all
this as he followed Hatteras; his foot sank into a volcanic tufa,
and the deposits of ashes, volcanic stones, etc., like the syenite
and granite of Iceland.
But he attributed a comparatively
recent origin to the island, on account of the fact that no sedimentary
soil had yet formed upon it.
Water, too, was lacking.
If Queen's Island had existed for several years, there would have
been springs upon it, as there are in the neighborhood of
volcanoes. Now, not only was there no drop of water there, but
the vapors which arose from the stream of lava seemed absolutely
This island, then, was of recent formation; and since it appeared
in one day, it might disappear in another and sink beneath
The ascent grew more difficult the higher they went; the sides
of the mountain became nearly perpendicular, and they had to
be very careful to avoid accident. Often columns of cinders were
blown about them and threatened to choke them, or torrents
of lava barred their path. On some such places these streams
were hard on top, but the molten stream flowed beneath. Each
one had to test it first to escape sinking into the glowing mass.
From time to time the crater vomited forth huge red-hot rocks
amid burning gases; some of these bodies burst in the air like
shells, and the fragments were hurled far off in all directions.
The innumerable dangers of this ascent may be readily perceived,
as well as the foolhardiness of the attempt.
Still, Hatteras climbed with wonderful agility, and while spurning
the use of his iron-tipped staff, he ascended the steepest
He soon reached a circular rock, which formed a sort
of plateau about ten feet broad; a glowing stream surrounded
it, which was divided at the corner by a higher rock, and left
only a narrow passage through which Hatteras slipped boldly.
There he stopped, and his companions were able to join him.
Then he seemed to estimate the distance yet remaining; horizontally
there were only about six hundred feet of the crater
remaining, that is to say, from the mathematical point of the
Pole; but vertically they had fifteen hundred feet yet to climb.
The ascent had already taken three hours; Hatteras did not
seem tired; his companions were exhausted.
The top of the volcano seemed inaccessible. The doctor wished
at any risk to keep Hatteras from going higher. At first he
tried gentle means, but the captain's excitement amounted to
delirium; on the way he had exhibited all the signs of growing
madness, and whoever has known him in the different scenes of
his life cannot be surprised. In proportion as Hatteras rose
above the ocean his excitement increased; he lived no longer with
men; he thought he was growing larger with the mountain itself.
“Hatteras,” said the doctor, “this is far enough! we can't go
“Stay where you are, then,” answered the captain in a strange
voice; “I shall go higher!”
“No! that's useless! you are at the Pole here!”
“No, no, higher!”
“My friend, it's I who am speaking to you, Dr. Clawbonny!
Don't you know me?”
“Higher! higher!” repeated the madman.
“Well, no, we sha' n't let—”
The doctor had not finished the sentence before Hatteras, by
a violent effort, sprang over the stream of lava and was out of
They uttered a cry, thinking Hatteras was lost in
the fiery abyss; but he had reached the other side, followed by
Duke, who was unwilling to abandon him.
He disappeared behind a puff of smoke, and his voice was
heard growing fainter and fainter in the distance.
“To the north!” he was shouting, “to the top of Mount Hatteras!
Do you remember Mount Hatteras?”
They could not think of getting up to him; there were twenty
chances to one against their being able to cross the stream he
had leaped over with the skill and luck of madmen. Nor could
they get around it. Altamont in vain tried to pass; he was
nearly lost in trying to cross the stream of lava; his companions
were obliged to hold him by force.
“Hatteras, Hatteras!” shouted the doctor.
But the captain did not answer; Duke's barking alone was
heard upon the mountain.
Still, Hatteras could be seen at intervals through the column
of smoke and the showers of cinders. Sometimes his arm or head
would emerge from the whirlwind. Then he would disappear
and be seen again higher up in the rocks. His height diminished
with the fantastic swiftness of objects rising in the air. Half an
hour later he seemed but a fraction of his usual size.
The air was filled with the dull noises of the volcano; the
mountain was roaring like a boiler, its sides were quivering.
Hatteras kept on, and Duke followed.
From time to time some
enormous rock would give way beneath them and go crashing
down to the sea.
But Hatteras did not look back. He had
made use of his staff as a pole on which to fasten the English
flag. His companions observed every one of his movements.
His dimensions became gradually smaller, and Duke seemed no
larger than a rat.
One moment the wind seemed to drive down
upon them a great wave of flame. The doctor uttered a cry of
anguish, but Hatteras reappeared, standing and brandishing the
This sight lasted for more than an hour,—an hour of struggle
with the trembling rocks, with the beds of ashes into which this
madman would sink up to the waist. Now he would be climbing
on his knees mid making use of every inequality in the mountain,
and now he would hang by his bands at some sharp corner,
swinging in the wind like a dry leaf.
At last he reached the top, the yawning mouth of the crater.
The doctor then hoped that the wretched man, having attained
his object, would perhaps return and have only those dangers
He gave a last shout.
The doctor's cry moved the American's heart so that he cried
“I will save him!”
Then with one leap crossing the fiery torrent at the risk of
falling in, he disappeared among the rocks.
Clawbonny did not
have time to stop him.
Still, Hatteras, having reached the top,
was climbing on top of a rock which overhung the abyss. The
stones were raining about him. Duke was still following him.
The poor beast seemed already dizzy at the sight beneath him.
Hatteras whirling about his head the flag, which was lighted
with the brilliant reflection, and the red bunting could be seen
above the crater.
With one hand Hatteras was holding it; with
the other he was pointing to the zenith, the celestial pole. Still
he seemed to hesitate. He was seeking the mathematical point
where all the meridians meet, and on which in his sublime obstinacy
he wanted to set his foot.
Suddenly the rock gave way beneath him. He disappeared.
A terrible cry from his companions rose even to the summit of
the mountain. A second—a century—passed! Clawbonny
considered his friend lost and buried forever in the depths of the
volcano. But Altamont was there, and Duke too. The man and
the dog had seized him just when he was disappearing in the
abyss. Hatteras was saved, saved in spite of himself, and half
an hour later the captain of the Forward lay unconscious in
the arms of his despairing friends.
When he came to himself, the doctor gave him a questioning
glance in mute agony. But his vague look, like that of a blind
man, made no reply.
“Heavens!” said Johnson, “he is blind!”
“No,” answered Clawbonny,—“no! My poor friends, we
have saved Hatteras's body! His mind is at the top of the
volcano! He has lost his reason!”
“Mad?” cried Johnson and Altamont in deep distress.
“Mad!” answered the doctor.
And he wept bitterly.