This was violent quinsy, but, under the Doctor’s skilful treatment, it was soon cured. Ice was the only remedy he employed, administered in small pieces, and in twenty- four hours Bell was himself again.
During this compulsory leisure, Clawbonny determined to have a talk with the captain on an important subject—the building of a sloop out of the planks of the Porpoise.
The Doctor hardly knew how to begin, as Hatteras had declared so vehemently that he would never consent to use a morsel of American wood; yet it was high time he were brought to reason, as June was at hand, the only season for distant expeditions, and they could not start without a ship.
He thought over it a long while, and at last drew the captain aside, and said in the kindest, gentlest way—
“Hatteras, do you believe I’m your friend?”
“Most certainly I do,” replied the captain, earnestly; “my best, indeed my only friend.”
“And if I give you a piece of advice without your asking, will you consider my motive is perfectly disinterested?”
“Yes, for I know you have never been actuated by self-interest. But what are you driving at?”
“Wait, Hatteras, I have one thing more to ask. Do you look on me as a true-hearted Englishman like yourself, anxious for his country’s glory?”
Hatteras looked surprised, but simply said—
“You desire to reach the North Pole,” the Doctor went on; “and I understand and share your ambition, but to achieve your object you must employ the right means.”
“Well, and have I not sacrificed everything for it?”
“No, Hatteras, you have not sacrificed your personal antipathies. Even at this very moment I know you are in the mood to refuse the indispensable conditions of reaching the pole.”
“Ah! it is the boat you want to talk about, and that man——”
“Hatteras, let us discuss the question calmly, and examine the case on all sides. The coast on which we find ourselves at present may terminate abruptly; we have no proof that it stretches right away to the pole; indeed, if your present information prove correct, we ought to come to an open sea during the summer months. Well, supposing we reach this Arctic Ocean and find it free from ice and easy to navigate, what shall we do if we have no ship?”
Hatteras made no reply.
“Tell me, now, would you like to find yourself only a few miles from the pole and not be able to get to it?”
Hatteras still said nothing, but buried his head in his hands.
“Besides,” continued the Doctor, “look at the question in its moral aspect. Here is an Englishman who sacrifices his fortune, and even his life, to win fresh glory for his country, but because the boat which bears him across an unknown ocean, or touches the new shore, happens to be made of the planks of an American vessel—a cast-away wreck of no use to anyone—will that lessen the honour of the discovery? If you yourself had found the hull of some wrecked vessel lying deserted on the shore, would you have hesitated to make use of it; and must not a sloop built by four Englishmen and manned by four Englishmen be English from keel to gunwale?”
Hatteras was still silent.
“No,” continued Clawbonny; “the real truth is, it is not the sloop you care about: it is the man.”
“Yes, Doctor, yes,” replied the captain. “It is this American I detest; I hate him with a thorough English hatred. Fate has thrown him in my path.”
“To save you!”
“To ruin me. He seems to defy me, and speaks as if he were lord and master. He thinks he has my destiny in his hands, and knows all my projects. Didn’t we see the man in his true colours when we were giving names to the different coasts? Has he ever avowed his object in coming so far north? You will never get out of my head that this man is not the leader of some expedition sent out by the American government.”
“Well, Hatteras, suppose it is so, does it follow that this expedition is to search for the North Pole? May it not be to find the North-West Passage? But anyway, Altamont is in complete ignorance of our object, for neither Johnson, nor Bell, nor myself, have ever breathed a word to him about it, and I am sure you have not.”
“Well, let him always remain so.”
“He must be told in the end, for we can’t leave him here alone.”
“Why not? Can’t he stay here in Fort Providence?”
“He would never consent to that, Hatteras; and, moreover, to leave a man in that way, and not know whether we might find him safe when we came back, would be worse than imprudent: it would be inhuman.