He was just about to try the force of his eloquence in this direction, when he felt a light touch on his arm, and turning round saw Altamont who had crawled out of bed and managed to get on his knees. He was trying to speak, but his swollen lips could scarcely make a sound. Hatteras went towards him, and watched his efforts to articulate so attentively that in a few minutes he made out a word that sounded like Porpoise, and stooping over him he asked—
“Is it the Porpoise?”
Altamont made a sign in the affirmative, and Hatteras went on with his queries, now that he had found a clue.
“In these seas?”
The affirmative gesture was repeated.
“Is she in the north?”
“Do you know her position?”
For a minute or so, nothing more was said, and the onlookers waited with palpitating hearts.
Then Hatteras spoke again and said—
“Listen to me. We must know the exact position of your vessel. I will count the degrees aloud, and you; will stop me when I come to the right one.”
The American assented by a motion of the head, and Hatteras began—
“We’ll take the longitude first. 105°, No? 106°, 107°? It is to the west, I suppose?”
“Yes,” replied Altamont.
“Let us go on, then: 109°, 110°, 112°, 114°, 116°, 118°, 120°.”
“Yes,” interrupted the sick man.
“120° of longitude, and how many minutes? I will count.”
Hatteras began at number one, and when he got to fifteen, Altamont made a sign to stop.
“Very good,” said Hatteras; “now for the latitude. Are you listening? 80°, 81°, 82°, 83°.”
Again the sign to stop was made.
“Now for the minutes: 5’, 10’, 15’, 20’, 25’, 30’, 35’.”
Altamont stopped him once more, and smiled feebly.
“You say, then, that the Porpoise is in longitude 120° 15’, and latitude 83° 35’?”
“Yes,” sighed the American, and fell back motionless in the Doctor’s arms, completely overpowered by the effort he had made.
“Friends!” exclaimed Hatteras; “you see I was right. Our salvation lies indeed in the north, always in the north. We shall be saved!”
But the joyous, exulting words had hardly escaped his lips before a sudden thought made his countenance change. The serpent of jealousy had stung him, for this stranger was an American, and he had reached three degrees nearer the Pole than the ill-fated Forward.
A SEVENTEEN DAYS’ MARCH.
These first words of Altamont had completely changed the whole aspect of affairs, but his communication was still incomplete, and, after giving him a little time to rest, the Doctor undertook the task of conversing again with him, putting his questions in such a form that a movement of the head or eyes would be a sufficient answer.
He soon ascertained that the Porpoise was a three-mast American ship, from New York, wrecked on the ice, with provisions and combustibles in abundance still on board, and that, though she had been thrown on her side, she had not gone to pieces, and there was every chance of saving her cargo.
Altamont and his crew had left her two months previously, taking the long boat with them on a sledge. They intended to get to Smith’s Sound, and reach some whaler that would take them back to America; but one after another succumbed to fatigue and illness, till at last Altamont and two men were all that remained out of thirty; and truly he had survived by a providential miracle, while his two companions already lay beside him in the sleep of death.
Hatteras wished to know why the Porpoise had come so far north, and learned in reply that she had been irresistibly driven there by the ice. But his anxious fears were not satisfied with this explanation, and he asked further what was the purpose of his voyage. Altamont said he wanted to make the north-west passage, and this appeared to content the jealous Englishman, for he made no more reference to the subject. “Well,” said the Doctor, “it strikes me that, instead of trying to get to Baffin’s Bay, our best plan would be to go in search of the Porpoise, for here lies a ship a full third of the distance nearer, and, more than that, stocked with everything necessary for winter quarters.”
“I see no other course open to us,” replied Bell.