The poor fellows felt like colonists safely arrived at their destination, who had forgotten all the sufferings of the voyage, and thought only of the new life that lay before them.
“Well, it is something at all events,” said the Doctor, rousing himself and stretching his arms, “for a fellow not to need to ask where he is going to find his next bed and breakfast.”
“Let us see what there is on board before we say much,” said Johnson.
The Porpoise has been thoroughly equipped and provisioned for a long voyage, and, on making an inventory of what stores remained, they found 6150 lbs. of flour, fat, and raisins; 2000 lbs. of salt beef and pork, 1500 lbs. of pemmican; 700 lbs. of sugar, and the same of chocolate; a chest and a half of tea, weighing 96 lbs.; 500 lbs. of rice; several barrels of preserved fruits and vegetables; a quantity of lime-juice, with all sorts of medicines, and 300 gallons of rum and brandy. There was also a large supply of gunpowder, ball, and shot, and coal and wood in abundance.
Altogether, there was enough to last those five men for more than two years, and all fear of death from starvation or cold was at an end.
“Well, Hatteras, we’re sure of enough to live on now,” said the Doctor, “and there is nothing to hinder us reaching the Pole.”
“The Pole!” echoed Hatteras.
“Yes, why not? Can’t we push our way overland in the summer months?”
“We might overland; but how could we cross water?”
“Perhaps we may be able to build a boat out of some of the ship’s planks.”
“Out of an American ship!” exclaimed the captain, contemptuously.
Clawbonny was prudent enough to make no reply, and presently changed the conversation by saying—
“Well, now we have seen what we have to depend upon, we must begin our house and store-rooms. We have materials enough at hand; and, Bell, I hope you are going to distinguish yourself,” he added.
“I am ready, Mr. Clawbonny,” replied Bell; “and, as for material, there is enough for a town here with houses and streets.”
“We don’t require that; we’ll content ourselves with imitating the Hudson’s Bay Company. They entrench themselves in fortresses against the Indians and wild beasts. That’s all we need—a house one side and stores the other, with a wall and two bastions. I must try to make a plan.”
“Ah! Doctor, if you undertake it,” said Johnson, “I am sure you’ll make a good thing of it.”
“Well, the first part of the business is to go and choose the ground. Will you come with us Hatteras?”
“I’ll trust all that to you, Doctor,” replied the captain. “I’m going to look along the coast.”
Altamont was too feeble yet to take part in any work, so he remained on the ship, while the others commenced to explore the unknown continent.
On examining the coast, they found that the Porpoise was in a sort of bay bristling with dangerous rocks, and that to the west, far as the eye could reach, the sea extended, entirely frozen now, though if Belcher and Penny were to be believed, open during the summer months. Towards the north, a promontory stretched out into the sea, and about three miles away was an island of moderate size. The roadstead thus formed would have afforded safe anchorage to ships, but for the difficulty of entering it. A considerable distance inland there was a solitary mountain, about 3000 feet high, by the Doctor’s reckoning; and half-way up the steep rocky cliffs that rose from the shore, they noticed a circular plateau, open on three sides to the bay and sheltered on the fourth by a precipitous wall, 120 feet high.
This seemed to the Doctor the very place for this house, from its naturally fortified situation. By cutting steps in the ice, they managed to climb up and examine it more closely.
They were soon convinced they could not have a better foundation, and resolved to commence operations forthwith, by removing the hard snow more than ten feet deep, which covered the ground, as both dwelling and storehouses must have a solid foundation.
This preparatory work occupied the whole of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.