[Illustration: The tired-out dogs were harnessed sorely against their will, and before long returned bringing the few but precious treasures found among the débris of the brig.—P.9]
Now that the inventory was made, the next business was to fetch the sledge. The tired-out dogs were harnessed sorely against their will, and before long returned bringing the few but precious treasures found among the débris of the brig. These were safely deposited in the hut, and then Johnson and Clawbonny, half-frozen with their work, resumed their places beside their companions in misfortune.
FIRST WORDS OF ALTAMONT.
About eight o’clock in the evening, the grey snow clouds cleared away for a little, and the stars shone out brilliantly in the sky.
Hatteras seized the opportunity and went out silently to take the altitude of some of the principal constellations. He wished to ascertain if the ice-field was still drifting.
In half an hour he returned and sat down in a corner of the hut, where he remained without stirring all night, motionless as if asleep, but in reality buried in deepest thought.
The next day the snow fell heavily, and the Doctor congratulated himself on his wise forethought, when he saw the white sheet lying three feet thick over the scene of the explosion, completely obliterating all traces of the Forward.
It was impossible to venture outside in such weather, but the stove drew capitally, and made the hut quite comfortable, or at any rate it seemed so to the weary, worn out adventurers.
The American was in less pain, and was evidently gradually coming back to life. He opened his eyes, but could not yet speak, for his lips were so affected by the scurvy that articulation was impossible, but he could hear and understand all that was said to him. On learning what had passed, and the circumstances of his discovery, he expressed his thanks by gestures, and the Doctor was too wise to let him know how brief his respite from death would prove. In three weeks at most every vestige of food would be gone.
About noon Hatteras roused himself, and going up to his friends, said—
“We must make up our minds what to do, but I must request Johnson to tell me first all the particulars of the mutiny on the brig, and how this final act of baseness came about.”
“What good will that do?” said the Doctor. “The fact is certain, and it is no use thinking over it.”
“I differ from your opinion,” rejoined Hatteras. “Let me hear the whole affair from Johnson, and then I will banish it from my thoughts.”
“Well,” said the boatswain, “this was how it happened. I did all in my power to prevent, but——”
“I am sure of that, Johnson; and what’s more, I have no doubt the ringleaders had been hatching their plans for some time.”
“That’s my belief too,” said the Doctor.
[Illustration: Johnson's Story. —P.11]
“And so it is mine,” resumed Johnson; “for almost immediately after your departure Shandon, supported by the others, took the command of the ship.
I could not resist him, and from that moment everybody did pretty much as they pleased. Shandon made no attempt to restrain them: it was his policy to make them believe that their privations and toils were at an end. Economy was entirely disregarded. A blazing fire was kept up in the stove, and the men were allowed to eat and drink at discretion; not only tea and coffee was at their disposal, but all the spirits on board, and on men who had been so long deprived of ardent liquors, you may guess the result. They went on in this manner from the 7th to the 15th of January.”
“And this was Shandon’s doing?” asked Hatteras.
“Never mention his name to me again! Go on, Johnson.”
“It was about the 24th or 25th of January, that they resolved to abandon the ship. Their plan was to reach the west coast of Baffin’s Bay, and from thence to embark in the boat and follow the track of the whalers, or to get to some of the Greenland settlements on the eastern side. Provisions were abundant, and the sick men were so excited by the hope of return that they were almost well.