The Voyages and Adventures of Captain Hatteras/Chapter 2.XXIII

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One cry, bursting from the lips of the other four, succeeded their first stupefaction.

“Hatteras!” cried the doctor.

“Gone!” said Johnson and Bell.

“Lost!”

They looked about, but nothing was to be seen on the storm-tossed sea. Duke barked despairingly; he tried to spring into the water, but Bell managed to hold him.

“Take a place at the helm, Altamont,” said the doctor; “let us try everything to save the captain.”

Johnson and Bell took their seats. Altamont took the helm, and the launch came into wind again.

Johnson and Bell began to row vigorously; for an hour they remained at the scene of the accident. They sought earnestly, but in vain. The unfortunate Hatteras was lost in the storm!

Lost, so near the Pole, so near the end, of which he had had but a glimpse!

The doctor called aloud, and fired the guns; Duke added his howling, but there was no answer. Then profound grief seized Clawbonny; his head sank into his hands, and his companions saw that he was weeping.

In fact, at this distance from land, with a scrap of wood to hold him up, Hatteras could not reach the shore alive; and if anything did come ashore, it would be his disfigured corpse.

After hunting for an hour, they decided to turn to the north, and struggle against the last furies of the tempest.

At five o'clock in the morning of July 11th the wind went down; the sea grew quieter; the sky regained its polar clearness, and within three miles of them appeared the land.

This continent was but an island, or rather a volcano, peering up like a lighthouse at the North Pole.

The mountain, in full eruption, was hurling forth a mass of burning stones and melting rocks. It seemed to be rising and falling beneath the successive blasts as if it were breathing; the things which were cast out reached a great height in the air; amid the jets of flame, torrents of lava were flowing down the side of the mountain; here creeping between steaming rocks, there falling in cascades amid the purple vapor: and lower down a thousand streams united in one large river, which ran boiling into the sea.

The volcano seemed to have but a single crater, whence arose a column of fire, lighted by transverse rays; one would have said that part of the magnificence of the phenomenon was due to electricity.

Above the flames floated an immense cloud of smoke, led below, black above. It rose with great majesty, and unrolled into huge layers.

The sky at a considerable height had an ashy hue; the darkness, which was so marked during the tempest, and of which the doctor could give no satisfactory explanation, evidently came from the ashes, which completely hid the sun. He remembered a similar fact that took place in 1812, at the Barbadoes, which at noon was plunged into total darkness by the mass of cinders thrown from the crater of Isle St. Vincent.

This enormous volcano, jutting up in mid ocean, was about six thousand feet high, very nearly the altitude of Hecla.

A line from the summit to the base would form with the horizon an angle of about eleven degrees.

It seemed to rise from the bosom of the waves as the launch approached it. There was no trace of vegetation. There was no shore; it ran down steep to the sea.

“Shall we be able to land?” said the doctor.

“The wind is carrying us there,” answered Altamont.

“But I can't see any beach on which we could set foot.”

“So it seems from here,” answered Johnson; “but we shall find some place for our boat; that is all we need.”

“Let us go on, then!” answered Clawbonny, sadly.

The doctor had no eyes for the strange continent which was rising before him. The land of the Pole was there, but not the man who had discovered it.

Five hundred feet from the rocks the sea was boiling under the action of subterraneous fires. The island was from eight to ten miles in circumference, no more; and, according to their calculation, it was very near the Pole, if indeed the axis of the world did not pass exactly through it.

As they drew near they noticed a little fiord large enough to shelter their boat; they sailed towards it, filled with the fear of finding the captain's body cast ashore by the tempest.

Still, it seemed unlikely that any corpse should rest there; there was no beach, and the sea beat against the steep rocks; thick ashes, on which no human foot had ever stepped, covered the ground beyond the reach of the waves.

At last the launch slipped between the breakers, and there she was perfectly sheltered against the surf.

Then Duke's lamentable howling redoubled; the poor animal called for the captain with his sad wails among the rocks. His barking was vain; and the doctor caressed him, without being able to calm him, when the faithful dog, as if he wanted to replace his master, made a prodigious leap, and was the first to get ashore amid the dust and ashes which flew about him.

“Duke! Duke!” said the doctor.

Duke did not hear him, but disappeared. The men then went ashore, and made the launch fast.

Altamont was preparing to climb up a large pile of rocks, when Duke's distant barking was heard; it expressed pain, not wrath.

“Listen!” said the doctor.

“Has he got oil the track of some animal?” asked the boatswain.

“No,” answered the doctor, quivering with emotion; “he's mourning, crying! Hatteras's body is there!”

At these words the four men started after Duke, in the midst of blinding cinders; they reached the end of the fiord, a little place ten feet broad, where the waves were gently breaking.

There Duke was barking near a body wrapped up in the English flag.

“Hatteras, Hatteras!” cried the doctor, rushing to the body of his friend.

But at once he uttered an explanation which it is impossible to render.

This bleeding and apparently lifeless body had just given signs of life.

“Alive, alive!” he cried.

“Yes,” said a feeble voice, “living on the land of the Pole, where the tempest cast me up! Living on Queen Island!”

“Hurrah for England!” cried the five together.

“And for America!” added the doctor, holding out one hand to Hatteras and the other to Altamont.

Duke, too, hurrahed in his own way, which was as good as any other.

At first these kind-hearted men were wholly given up to the pleasure of seeing their captain again; they felt the tears welling up into their eyes.

The doctor examined Hatteras's condition. He was not seriously injured. The wind had carried him to the shore, where it was hard to land; the bold sailor, often beaten back, at last succeeded in clambering upon a rock above the reach of the waves.

Then he lost consciousness, after wrapping himself up in his flag, and he only came to himself under Duke's caresses and barking.

After receiving a few attentions, Hatteras was able to rise, and, Leaning on the doctor's arm, to go to the launch.

“The Pole, the North Pole!” he repeated as he walked along.

“You are happy!” the doctor said to him.

“Yes, happy! And you, my friend, don't you feel happy at being here? This land is the land of the Pole! This sea we have crossed is the sea of the Pole! This air we breathe is the air of the Pole! O, the North Pole, the North Pole!”

As he spoke, Hatteras was the victim of a violent excitement, a sort of fever, and the doctor in vain tried to calm him. His eyes were strangely bright, and his thoughts were boiling within him. Clawbonny ascribed this condition to the terrible perils he had gone through.

Hatteras evidently needed rest, and they set about seeking a place to camp.

Altamont soon found a grotto in the rocks, which had fallen in such a way a to form a cavern. Johnson and Bell brought provisions there, and let loose the dogs.

Towards eleven o'clock everything was prepared for a meal; the canvas of the tent served as a cloth; the breakfast, consisting of pemmican, salt meat, tea and coffee, was set and soon devoured.

But first, Hatteras demanded that an observation should be made; he wanted to know its position exactly.

The doctor and Altamont then took their instruments, and after taking an observation they found the precise position of the grotto to be latitude 89°59'15". The longitude at this height was of no importance, for all the meridians run together within a few hundred feet higher.

So in reality the island was situated at the North Pole, and the ninetieth degree of latitude was only forty-five seconds from there, exactly three quarters of a mile, that is to say, towards the top of the volcano.

When Hatteras knew this result, he asked that it should be stated in two documents, one to be placed in a cairn on the shore.

So at once the doctor took his pen and wrote the following document, one copy of which is now in the archives of the Royal Geographical Society in London:

“July 11, 1861, in north latitude 89°59'15", ‘Queen Island’ was discovered at the North Pole by Captain Hatteras, commanding the brig Forward of Liverpool, who has set his name hereto, with his companions. Whoever shall find this document is entreated to forward it to the Admiralty.

(Signed)  John Hatteras, Captain of the Forward.
Dr. Clawbonny.
Altamont, Captain of the Porpoise.
Johnson, Boatswain.
Bell, Carpenter.”

“And now, my friends, to table!” said the doctor, gayly.