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

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Why linger over the perpetual sufferings of the survivors? They themselves could never recall to their memory a clear vision of what had happened in the week after their horrible discovery of the remains of the crew.

However, September 9th, by a miracle of energy, they reached Cape Horsburgh, at the end of North Devon.

They were dying of hunger; they had not eaten for forty-eight hours, and their last meal had been the flesh of their last Esquimaux dog. Bell could go no farther, and old Johnson felt ready to die.

They were on the shore of Baffin's Bay, on the way to Europe. Three miles from land the waves were breaking on the edges of the ice-field.

They had to await the uncertain passage of a whaler, and how many days yet!

But Heaven took pity on them, for the next day Altamont clearly saw a sail.

The anguish which follows such an appearance of a sail, the tortures of disappointment, are well known. The ship seemed to approach and then to recede. Terrible are the alternations of hope and despair, and too often at the moment the castaways consider themselves saved the sail sinks beneath the horizon.

The doctor and his companions went through all these emotions; they had reached the western limit of the ice-field, and yet they saw the ship disappear, taking no note of their presence. They shouted, but in vain.

Then the doctor had a last inspiration of that busy mind which had served him in such good stead.

A floe had drifted against the icefield.

“That floe!” he said, pointing to it.

They did not catch his meaning.

“Let us get on it!” he cried.

They saw his plan at once.

“Ah, Clawbonny, Dr. Clawbonny!” cried Johnson, kissing the doctor's hands.

Bell, with Altamont's aid, ran to the sledge; he brought one of the uprights, stood it up on the floe for a mast, making it fast with ropes; the tent was torn up for a sail. The wind was fair; the poor castaways put out to sea on this frail raft.

Two hours later, after unheard-of efforts, the last men of the Forward were taken aboard the Danish whaler Hans Christian, which was sailing to Davis Strait.

The captain received kindly these spectres who had lost their semblance to human beings; when he saw their sufferings he understood their history; he gave them every attention, and managed to save their lives.

Ten days later, Clawbonny, Johnson, Bell, Altamont, and Captain Hatteras landed at Korsœur, in Zeeland, in Denmark; a steamboat carried them to Kiel; thence, via Altona and Hamburg, they reached London the 13th of the same month, hardly recovered from their long sufferings.

The first thought of the doctor was to ask permission of the Royal Geographical Society of London to lay a communication before it; he was admitted to the meeting of July 15th. The astonishment of the learned assembly, and its enthusiastic cheers after reading Hatteras's document, may be imagined.

This journey, the only one of its kind, went over all the discoveries that had been made in the regions about the Pole; it brought together the expeditions of Parry, Ross, Franklin, MacClure; it completed the chart between the one hundredth and one hundred and fifteenth meridians; and, finally, it ended with the point of the globe hitherto inaccessible, with the Pole itself.

Never had news so unexpected burst upon astonished England.

The English take great interest in geographical facts; they are proud of them, lord and cockney, from the merchant prince to the workman in the docks.

The news of this great discovery was telegraphed over the United Kingdom with great rapidity; the papers printed the name of Hatteras at the head of their columns as that of a martyr, and England glowed with pride.

The doctor and his companions were feasted everywhere; they were formally presented to her Majesty by the Lord High Chancellor.

The government confirmed the name of Queen's Island for the rock at the North Pole, of Mount Hatteras for the mountain itself, and of Altamont Harbor for the port in New America.

Altamont did not part from those whose misery and glory ho had shared, and who were now his friends. He followed the doctor, Johnson, and Bell to Liverpool, where they were warmly received, after they had been thought to be long dead, and buried in the eternal ice.

But Dr. Clawbonny always gave the glory to the man who most deserved it. In his account of the journey entitled The English at the North Pole, published the next year by the Royal Geographical Society, he made John Hatteras equal to the greatest explorers, the rival of those bold men who sacrifice everything to science.

But the sad victim of a lofty passion lived peacefully at the asylum of Starr Cottage near Liverpool, where the doctor had placed him. His madness was of a gentle kind, but he never spoke, he understood nothing, his power of speech seemed to have gone with his reason. A single feeling seemed to unite him to the outer world, his love for Duke, who was not separated from him.

This disease, this “polar madness,” pursued its course quietly, presenting no particular symptom, when Dr. Clawbonny, who often visited his poor patient, was struck by his singular manner.

For some time Captain Hatteras, followed by his faithful dog, that used to gaze at him sadly, would walk for hours every day, but he always walked in one way, in the direction of a certain path. When he had reached the end, he would return, walking backwards. If any one stopped him, he would point his finger at a portion of the sky. If any one tried to make him turn round, he grew angry, and Duke would show his anger and bark furiously.

The doctor observed carefully this odd mania; he understood the motive of this strange obstinacy; he guessed the reason of this walk always in the same direction, and, so to speak, under the influence of a magnetic force.

Captain John Hatteras was always walking towards the north.