Altamont will come with us; he must come. But we need not disclose our projects; let us tell him nothing, but simply build a sloop for the ostensible purpose of making a survey of the coast.”
Hatteras could not bring himself to consent, but said—
“And suppose the man won’t allow his ship to be cut up?”
“In that case, you must take the law in your own hands, and build a vessel in spite of him.”
“I wish to goodness he would refuse, then!”
“He must be asked before he can refuse. I’ll undertake the asking,” said Clawbonny.
He kept his word, for that very same night, at supper, he managed to turn the conversation towards the subject of making excursions during summer for hydrographical purposes.
“You will join us, I suppose, Altamont,” he said.
“Of course,” replied the American. “We must know how far New America extends.”
Hatteras looked fixedly at his rival, but said nothing.
“And for that purpose,” continued Altamont, “we had better build a little ship out of the remains of the Porpoise. It is the best possible use we can make of her.”
“You hear, Bell,” said the Doctor, eagerly. “We’ll all set to work to-morrow morning.”
[Illustration: The carpenter began his task immediately.—P.154]
THE NORTH-WEST PASSAGE.
Next morning, Altamont Bell and the Doctor repaired to the Porpoise. There was no lack of wood, for, shattered as the old “three-master” had been by the icebergs, she could still supply the principal parts of a new ship, and the carpenter began his task immediately.
In the end of May, the temperature again rose, and spring returned for good and all. Rain fell copiously, and before long the melting snow was running down every little slope in falls and cascades.
Hatteras could not contain his delight at these signs of a general thaw among the ice-fields, for an open sea would bring him liberty. At last he might hope to ascertain for himself whether his predecessors were correct in their assertions about a polar basin.
This was a frequent topic of thought and conversation with him, and one evening when he was going over all the old familiar arguments in support of his theory, Altamont took up the subject, and declared his opinion that the polar basin extended west as well as east. But it was impossible for the American and Englishman, to talk long about anything without coming to words, so intensely national were both. Dr. Kane was the first bone of contention on this occasion, for the jealous Englishman was unwilling to grant his rival the glory of being a discoverer, alleging his belief that though the brave adventurer had gone far north, it was by mere chance he had made a discovery.
“Chance!” interrupted Altamont, hotly. “Do you mean to assert that it is not to Kane’s energy and science that we owe his great discovery?”
“I mean to say that Dr. Kane’s name is not worth mentioning in a country made illustrious by such names as Parry, and Franklin, and Ross, and Belcher, and Penny; in a country where the seas opened the North- West Passage to an Englishman—McClure!”
“McClure!” exclaimed the American. “Well, if ever chance favoured anyone it was that McClure. Do you pretend to deny it?”
“I do,” said Hatteras, becoming quite excited. “It was his courage and perseverance in remaining four whole winters among the ice.”
“I believe that, don’t I?” said Altamont, sneeringly. “He was caught among the bergs and could not get away; but didn’t he after all abandon his ship, the Investigator, and try to get back home? Besides, putting the man aside, what is the value of his discovery? I maintain that the North-West Passage is still undiscovered, for not a single ship to this day has ever sailed from Behring’s Straits to Baffin’s Bay!”
The fact was indisputable, but Hatteras started to his feet, and said—
“I will not permit the honour of an English captain to be attacked in my presence any longer!”
“You will not permit!” echoed Altamont, also springing erect. “But these are facts, and it is out of your power to destroy them!”
“Sir!” shouted Hatteras, pale with rage.