“I think you have forgotten the Porpoise, and yet she certainly did not get here overland,”
“Well, it would not be difficult to believe she had,” replied Hatteras, “to see on what she lies at present.”
“True, enough, Hatteras,” said Altamont, in a piqued tone; “but, after all, is not that better than being blown to atoms like the Forward?”
Hatteras was about to make some sharp retort, but Clawbonny interposed.
“It is not a question of ships, my friends,” he said, “but of a fresh sea.”
“It is no new sea,” returned Altamont; “it is in every Polar chart, and has a name already. It is called the Arctic Ocean, and I think it would be very inconvenient to alter its designation. Should we find out by and by, that, instead of being an ocean it is only a strait or gulf, it will be time enough to alter it then.”
“So be it,” said Hatteras.
“Very well, that is an understood thing, then,” said the Doctor, almost regretting that he had started a discussion so pregnant with national rivalries.
“Let us proceed with the continent where we find ourselves at present,” resumed Hatteras. “I am not aware that any name whatever has been affixed to it, even in the most recent charts.”
He looked at Altamont as he spoke, who met his gaze steadily, and said—
“Possibly you may be mistaken again, Hatteras.”
“Mistaken! What! This unknown continent, this virgin soil——”
“Has already a name,” replied Altamont, coolly.
Hatteras was silent, but his lip quivered.
“And what name has it, then?” asked the Doctor, rather astonished at Altamont’s affirmation.
“My dear Clawbonny,” replied the American, “it is the custom, not to say the right, of every navigator to christen the soil on which he is the first to set foot. It appears to me, therefore, that it is my privilege and duty on this occasion to exercise my prerogative, and—”
“But, sir,” interrupted Johnson, rather nettled at his sang froid.
“It would be a difficult matter to prove that the Porpoise did not come here, even supposing she reached this coast by land,” continued Altamont, without noticing Johnson’s protest. “The fact is indisputable,” he added looking at Hatteras.
[Illustration: “I dispute the claim,” said the Englishman, restraining himself by a powerful effort.—P.72]
“I dispute the claim,” said the Englishman, restraining himself by a powerful effort. “To name a country, you must first discover it, I suppose, and that you certainly did not do. Besides, but for us, where would you have been, sir, at this moment, pray? Lying twenty feet deep under the snow.”
“And without me, sir,” retorted Altamont, hotly, “without me and my ship, where would you all be at this moment? Dead, from cold and hunger.”
“Come, come, friends,” said the Doctor, “don’t get to words, all that can be easily settled. Listen to me.”
“Mr. Hatteras,” said Altamont, “is welcome to name whatever territories he may discover, should he succeed in discovering any; but this continent belongs to me. I should not even consent to its having two names like Grinnell’s Land, which is also called Prince Albert’s Land, because it was discovered almost simultaneously by an Englishman and an American. This is quite another matter; my right of priority is incontestable. No ship before mine ever touched this shore, no foot before mine ever trod this soil. I have given it a name, and that name it shall keep.”
“And what is that name?” inquired the Doctor.
“New America,” replied Altamont.
Hatteras trembled with suppressed passion, but by a violent effort restrained himself.
“Can you prove to me,” said Altamont, “that an Englishman has set foot here before an American?”
Johnson and Bell said nothing, though quite as much offended as the captain by Altamont’s imperious tone. They felt that reply was impossible.
For a few minutes there was an awkward silence, which the Doctor broke by saying—
“My friends, the highest human law is justice. It includes all others. Let us be just, then, and don’t let any bad feeling get in among us. The priority of Altamont seems to me indisputable.