“An idea has just occurred to me.”
“An idea come into your head, Doctor,” exclaimed Johnson; “then we are saved!”
“Will it succeed? that’s the question.”
“What’s your project?” said Hatteras.
“We want a lens; well, let us make one.”
“How?” asked Johnson.
“With a piece of ice.”
“What? Do you think that would do?”
“Why not? All that is needed is to collect the sun’s rays into one common focus, and ice will serve that purpose as well as the finest crystal.”
“Is it possible?” said Johnson.
“Yes, only I should like fresh water ice, it is harder and more transparent than the other.”
“There it is to your hand, if I am not much mistaken,” said Johnson, pointing to a hummock close by.
“I fancy that is fresh water, from the dark look of it, and the green tinge.”
“You are right. Bring your hatchet, Johnson.”
A good-sized piece was soon cut off, about a foot in diameter, and the Doctor set to work. He began by chopping it into rough shape with the hatchet; then he operated upon it more carefully with his knife, making as smooth a surface as possible, and finished the polishing process with his fingers, rubbing away until he had obtained as transparent a lens as if it had been made of magnificent crystal.
The sun was shining brilliantly enough for the Doctor’s experiment. The tinder was fetched, and held beneath the lens so as to catch the rays in full power. In a few seconds it took fire, to Johnson’s rapturous delight.
He danced about like an idiot, almost beside himself with joy, and shouted, “Hurrah! hurrah!” while Clawbonny hurried back into the hut and rekindled the fire. The stove was soon roaring, and it was not many minutes before the savoury odour of broiled bear-steaks roused Bell from his torpor.
What a feast this meal was to the poor starving men may be imagined. The Doctor, however, counselled moderation in eating, and set the example himself.
“This is a glad day for us,” he said, “and we have no fear of wanting food all the rest of our journey. Still we must not forget we have further to go yet, and I think the sooner we start the better.”
“We cannot be far off now,” said Altamont, who could almost articulate perfectly again; “we must be within forty-eight hours’ march of the Porpoise.”
“I hope we’ll find something there to make a fire with,” said the Doctor, smiling. “My lens does well enough at present; but it needs the sun, and there are plenty of days when he does not make his appearance here, within less than four degrees of the pole.”
“Less than four degrees!” repeated Altamont, with a sigh; “yes, my ship went further than any other has ever ventured.”
“It is time we started,” said Hatteras, abruptly.
“Yes,” replied the Doctor, glancing uneasily at the two captains.
The dogs were speedily harnessed to the sledge, and the march resumed. [Illustration: ]
As they went along, the Doctor tried to get out of Altamont the real motive that had brought him so far north. But the American made only evasive replies, and Clawbonny whispered in old Johnson’s ear—
“Two men we’ve got that need looking after.”
“You are right,” said Johnson.
“Hatteras never says a word to this American, and I must say the man has not shown himself very grateful. I am here, fortunately.”
“Mr. Clawbonny,” said Johnson, “now this Yankee has come back to life again, I must confess I don’t much like the expression of his face.”
“I am much mistaken if he does not suspect the projects of Hatteras.”
“Do you think his own were similar?”
“Who knows? These Americans, Johnson, are bold, daring fellows. It is likely enough an American would try to do as much as an Englishman.”
“Then you think that Altamont—”
“I think nothing about it, but his ship is certainly on the road to the North Pole.”
“But didn’t Altamont say that he had been caught among the ice, and dragged there irresistibly?”
“He said so, but I fancied there was a peculiar smile on his lips while he spoke.”
“Hang it! It would be a bad job, Mr. Clawbonny, if any feeling of rivalry came between two men of their stamp.”
“Heaven forfend! for it might involve the most serious consequences, Johnson.”
“I hope Altamont will remember he owes his life to us?”
“But do we not owe ours to him now? I grant, without us, he would not be alive at this moment, but without him and his ship, what would become of us?”