“Yes, but he went four hundred and seventy miles over ice-fields,” objected Altamont.
“What of that?”
“Everything; that is the gist of the whole argument. It was not the Investigator that went through.”
“No,” replied Clawbonny, “for, at the close of the fourth winter, McClure was obliged to leave her among the ice.”
“Well, in maritime expeditions the vessel has to get through, and not the man; and if ever the Northwest Passage is practicable, it will be for ships and not sledges. If a ship cannot go, a sloop must.”
“A sloop!” exclaimed Hatteras, discovering a hidden meaning in the words.
“Altamont,” said the Doctor, “your distinction is simply puerile, and in that respect we all consider that you are in the wrong.”
“You may easily do that,” returned the American. “It is four against one, but that will not prevent me from holding my own opinion.”
“Keep it and welcome, but keep it to yourself, if you please, for the future,” exclaimed Hatteras.
“And pray what right have you to speak to me like this, sir?” shouted Altamont, in a fury.
“My right as captain,” returned Hatteras, equally angry.
“Am I to submit to your orders, then?”
“Most assuredly, and woe to you if——”
[Illustration: The Doctor did not allow him to proceed, for he really feared the two antagonists might come to blows.—P.162]
The Doctor did not allow him to proceed, for he really feared the two antagonists might come to blows. Bell and Johnson seconded his endeavours to make peace, and, after a few conciliatory words, Altamont turned on his heel, and walked carelessly away, whistling “Yankee Doodle.” Hatteras went outside, and paced up and down with rapid strides. In about an hour he came back, and retired to bed without saying another word.
On the 29th of May, for the first time, the sun never set. His glowing disc just touched the boundary line of the horizon, and rose again immediately. The period was now entered when the day lasts twenty- four hours.
Next morning there was a magnificent halo; the monarch of day appeared surrounded by a luminous circle, radiant with all the prismatic colours. This phenomenon never lost its charm, for the Doctor, however frequently it occurred, and he always noted carefully down all particulars respecting it.
Before long the feathered tribes began to return, filling the air with their discordant cries. Flocks of bustards and Canadian geese from Florida or Arkansas came flying north with marvellous rapidity, bringing spring beneath their wings. The Doctor shot several, and among them one or two cranes and a solitary stork.
The snow was now fast melting, and the ice-fields were covered with “slush.” All round the bay large pools had formed, between which the soil appeared as if some product of spring.
The Doctor recommenced his sowing, for he had plenty of seed; but he was surprised to find sorrel growing already between the half-dried stones, and even pale sickly heaths, trying to show their delicate pink blossoms.
At last it began to be really hot weather. On the 15th of June, the thermometer stood at 57° above zero. The Doctor scarcely believed his eyes, but it was a positive fact, and it was soon confirmed by the changed appearance of the country.
An excursion was made to Isle Johnson, but it turned out to be a barren little islet of no importance whatever, though it gave the old boatswain infinite pleasure to know that those sea girt rocks bore his name.
There was some danger of both house and stores melting, but happily this high temperature proved exceptional, the thermometer seldom averaging much above freezing point.
By the middle of June, the sloop had made good progress, and already presented a shapely appearance. As Bell and Johnson took the work of construction entirely on themselves, the others went hunting, and succeeded in killing several deer, in spite of its being difficult game to approach. Altamont adopted the Indian practice of crawling on all fours, and adjusting his gun and arms so as to simulate horns and deceive the timid animal, till he could get near enough to take good aim.