“And what is in question?” I continued, after the silent pause. “To accomplish a few degrees of latitude, and that while the sea is open, while we have two months of good weather to look for, and nothing to fear from the southern winter. I certainly should not ask you to brave its severity. And shall we hesitate, when the Halbrane is abundantly furnished, her crew complete and in good health? Shall we take fright at imaginary dangers? Shall we not have courage to go on, on, thither?”
And I pointed to the southern horizon. Dirk Peters pointed to it also, with an imperative gesture which spoke for him.
Still, the eyes of all were fixed upon us, but there was no response. I continued to urge every argument, and to quote every example in favour of the safety of pursuing our voyage, but the silence was unbrokenj and now the men stood with eyes cast down.
And yet I had not once pronounced the name of Dirk Peters, nor alluded to Dirk Peters’ proposal.
I was asking myself whether I had or had not succeeded in inspiring my companions with my own belief, when Captain Len Guy spoke:
“Dirk Peters,” he said, “doyou assert that Arthur Pym and you after your departure from Tsalal Island saw land in the direction of the south ?”
“Yes, land,” answered the half-breed. “Islands or continent—understand me—and I believe that Pym, poor Pym, is waiting there until aid comes to him.”
“There, where perhaps William Guy and his companions are also waiting,” said I, to bring back the discussion to more practical points.
Captain Len Guy reflected for a little while, and then spoke:
“Is it true, Dirk Peters,” he asked, “that beyond the eighty-fourth parallel the horizon is shut in by that curtain of vapour which is described in the narrative? Have you seen—seen with your own eyes—those cataracts in the air, that gulf in which Arthur Pym’s boat was lost?”
The half-breed looked from one to the other of us, and shook his big head.
“I don’t know,” he said. “What are you asking me about, captain? A curtain of vapour? Yes, perhaps, and also appearances of land towards the south.”
Evidently Dirk Peters had never read Edgar Poe’s book, and very likely did not know how to read. After having handed over Pym’s journal, he had not troubled himself about its publication. Having retired to Illinois at first and to the Falklands afterwards, he had no notion of the stir that the work had made, or of the fantastic and baseless climax to which our great poet had brought those strange adventures.
And, besides, might not Arthur Pym himself, with his tendency to the supernatural, have fancied that he saw these wondrous things, due solely to his imaginative brain?
Then, for the first time in the course of this discussion, West’s voice made itself heard. I had no idea which side he would take. The first words he uttered were:
“Captain, your orders ?”
Captain Len Guy turned towards his crew, who surrounded him, both the old and the new. Hearne remained in the background, ready to intervene if he should think it necessary.
The captain questioned the boatswain and his comrades, whose devotion was unreservedly his, by a long and anxious look, and I heard him mutter between his teeth,—
“Ah! if it depended only on me! if I were sure of the assent and the help of them all!
“Then Hearne spoke roughly:
“Captain,” said he, “it’s two months since we left the Falklands. Now, my companions were engaged for a voyage which was not to take them farther beyond the icebergs than Tsalal Island.”
“That is not so,” exclaimed Captain Len Guy. “No! That is not so. I recruited you all for an enterprise which I have a right to pursue, so far as I please.”
“Beg pardon,” said Hearne, coolly, “but we have come to a point which no navigator has ever yet reached, in a sea, no ship except the Jane has ever ventured into before us, and therefore my comrades and I mean to return to the Falklands before the bad season. From there you can return to Tsalal Island, and even go on to the Pole, if you so please.”
A murmur of approbation greeted his words; no doubt the sealing-master justly interpreted the sentiments of the majority, composed of the new recruits.