Clawbonny, you are here to keep things straight anyhow, and that is a blessing.”
“I hope I may manage it, Johnson.”
The journey proceeded without any fresh incident, but on the Saturday morning the travellers found themselves in a region of quite an altered character. Instead of the wide smooth plain of ice that had hitherto stretched before them, overturned icebergs and broken hummocks covered the horizon; while the frequent blocks of fresh-water ice showed that some coast was near.
Next day, after a hearty breakfast off the bear’s paws, the little party continued their route; but the road became toilsome and fatiguing. Altamont lay watching the horizon with feverish anxiety—an anxiety shared by all his companions, for, according to the last reckoning made by Hatteras, they were now exactly in latitude 83° 35” and longitude 120° 15”, and the question of life or death would be decided before the day was over.
At last, about two o’clock in the afternoon, Altamont started up with a shout that arrested the whole party, and pointing to a white mass that no eye but his could have distinguished from the surrounding icebergs, exclaimed in a loud, ringing voice, “The Porpoise.”
It was the 24th of March, and Palm Sunday, a bright, joyous day in many a town and village of the Old World, but in this desolate region what mournful silence prevailed! No willow branches here with their silvery blossom — not even a single withered leaf to be seen — not a blade of grass!
Yet this was a glad day to the travellers, for it promised them speedy deliverance from the death that had seemed so inevitable.
They hastened onward, the dogs put forth renewed energy, and Duk barked his loudest, till, before long, they arrived at the ship. The Porpoise was completely buried under the snow. All her masts and rigging had been destroyed in the shipwreck, and she was lying on a bed of rocks so entirely on her side that her hull was uppermost.
They had to knock away fifteen feet of ice before they could even catch a glimpse of her, and it was not without great difficulty that they managed to get on board, and made the welcome discovery that the provision stores had not been visited by any four-footed marauders. It was quite evident, however, that the ship was not habitable.
“Never mind!” said Hatteras, “we must build a snow-house, and make ourselves comfortable on land.”
“Yes, but we need not hurry over it,” said the Doctor; “let us do it well while we’re about it, and for a time we can make shift on board; for we must build a good, substantial house, that will protect us from the bears as well as the cold. I’ll undertake to be the architect, and you shall see what a first-rate job I’ll make of it.”
“I don’t doubt your talents, Mr. Clawbonny,” replied Johnson; “but, meantime, let us see about taking up our abode here, and making an inventory of the stores we find. There does not seem a boat visible of any description, and I fear these timbers are in too bad a condition to build a new ship out of them.”
“I don’t know that,” returned Clawbonny, “time and thought do wonders; but our first business is to build a house, and not a ship; one thing at a time, I propose.”
“And quite right too,” said Hatteras; “so we’ll go ashore again.”
They returned to the sledge, to communicate the result of their investigation to Bell and Altamont; and about four in the afternoon the five men installed themselves as well as they could on the wreck. Bell had managed to make a tolerably level floor with planks and spars; the stiffened cushions and hammocks were placed round the stove to thaw, and were soon fit for use. Altamont, with the Doctor’s assistance, got on board without much trouble, and a sigh of satisfaction escaped him as if he felt himself once more at home—a sigh which to Johnson’s ear boded no good.
The rest of the day was given to repose, and they wound up with a good supper off the remains of the bear, backed by a plentiful supply of biscuit and hot tea.
[Illustration: The poor fellows felt like colonists safely arrived at their destination—P.57]
It was late next morning before Hatteras and his companions woke, for their minds were not burdened now with any solicitudes about the morrow, and they might sleep as long as they pleased.