“My friends,” he said, “let us take advantage of the American’s absence to speak of business. There are things which cannot concern him, and with which I do not choose him to meddle.”
Johnson and Clawbonny looked at each other, wondering what the captain was driving at.
“I wish,” he continued, “to talk with you about our plans for the future.”
“All right! talk away while we are alone,” said the Doctor.
“In a month, or six weeks at the outside, the time for making distant excursions will come again. Have you thought of what we had better undertake in summer?”
“Have you, captain?” asked Johnson.
“Have I? I may say that not an hour of my life passes without revolving in my mind my one cherished purpose. I suppose not a man among you intends to retrace his steps?”
No one replied, and Hatteras went on to say—
“For my own part, even if I must go alone, I will push on to the North Pole. Never were men so near it before, for we are not more than 360 miles distant at most, and I will not lose such an opportunity without making every attempt to reach it, even though it be an impossibility. What are your views, Doctor?”
“Your own, Hatteras.”
“And yours, Johnson?”
“Like the Doctor’s.”
“And yours, Bell?”
“Captain,” replied the carpenter, “it is true we have neither wives nor children waiting us in England, but, after all, it is one’s country— one’s native land! Have you no thoughts of returning home?”
“We can return after we have discovered the Pole quite as well as before, and even better. Our difficulties will not increase, for as we near the Pole we get away from the point of greatest cold. We have fuel and provisions enough. There is nothing to stop us, and we should be culpable, in my opinion, if we allowed ourselves to abandon the project.”
“Very well, captain, I’ll go along with you.”
“That’s right; I never doubted you,” said Hatteras. “We shall succeed, and England will have all the glory.”
“But there is an American among us!” said Johnson.
Hatteras could not repress an impatient exclamation.
“I know it!” he said, in a stern voice.
“We cannot leave him behind,” added the Doctor.
“No, we can’t,” repeated Hatteras, almost mechanically.
“And he will be sure to go too.”
“Yes, he will go too; but who will command?”
“And if you all obey my orders, will the Yankee refuse?”
“I shouldn’t think so; but suppose he should, what can be done?”
“He and I must fight it out, then.”
The three Englishmen looked at Hatteras, but said nothing. Then the Doctor asked how they were to go.
“By the coast, as far as possible,” was the reply.
“But what if we find open water, as is likely enough?”
“Well, we’ll go across it.”
“But we have no boat.”
Hatteras did not answer, and looked embarrassed.
“Perhaps,” suggested Bell, “we might make a ship out of some of the planks of the Porpoise.”
“Never!” exclaimed Hatteras, vehemently.
“Never!” said Johnson.
The Doctor shook his head. He understood the feeling of the captain.
“Never!” reiterated Hatteras. “A boat made out of an American ship would be an American!”
“But, captain——” began Johnson.
The Doctor made a sign to the old boatswain not to press the subject further, and resolved in his own mind to reserve the question for discussion at a more opportune moment. He managed to turn the conversation to other matters, till it abruptly terminated by the entrance of Altamont.
This ended the day, and the night passed quietly without the least disturbance. The bears had evidently disappeared.
IMPRISONED IN DOCTOR’S HOUSE
The first business next day was to arrange for a hunt. It was settled that Altamont, Bell, and Hatteras should form the party, while Clawbonny should go and explore as far as Isle Johnson, and make some hydrographic notes and Johnson should remain behind to keep house.
The three hunters soon completed their preparations. They armed themselves each with a double barrelled revolver and a rifle, and took plenty of powder and shot. Each man also carried in his belt his indispensable snow knife and hatchet, and a small supply of pemmican in case night should surprise them before their return.