And so it was. The storm had opened wide the Polar Basin, and the loosened packs were drifting in all directions. The icebergs had weighed anchor, and were sailing out into the open sea.
This new ocean stretched far away out of sight, and not a single island or continent was visible.
On the east and west the coast formed two capes or headlands, which sloped gently down to the sea. In the centre, a projecting rock formed a small natural bay, sheltered on three sides, into which a wide river fell, bearing in its bosom the melted snows of winter.
After a careful survey of the coast, Hatteras determined to launch the sloop that very day, and to unpack the sledge, and get everything on board. The tent was soon put up, and a comfortable repast prepared. This important business despatched, work commenced; and all hands were so expeditious and willing, that by five
o’clock nothing more remained to be done. The sloop lay rocking gracefully in the little bay, and all the cargo was on board except the tent, and what was required for the night’s encampment.
The sight of the sloop suggested to Clawbonny the propriety of giving Altamont’s name to the little bay. His proposition to that effect met with unanimous approval, and the port was forthwith dignified by the title of Altamont Harbour.
According to the Doctor’s calculations the travellers were now only 9° distant from the Pole. They had gone over two hundred miles from Victoria Bay to Altamont Harbour, and were in latitude 87° 5’ and longitude 118° 35’.
THE OPEN SEA.
Next morning by eight o’clock all the remaining effects were on board, and the preparations for departure completed. But before starting the Doctor thought he would like to take a last look at the country and see if any further traces of the presence of strangers could be discovered, for the mysterious footmarks they had met with were never out of his thoughts. He climbed to the top of a height which commanded a view of the whole southern horizon, and took out his pocket telescope. But what was his astonishment, to find he could see nothing through it, not even neighbouring objects. He rubbed his eyes and looked again, but with no better result. Then he began to examine the telescope, the object glass was gone!
The object glass! This explained the whole mystery, foot-prints and all; and with a shout of surprise he hurried down the hill to impart his discovery to the wondering companions, who came running towards him, startled by his loud exclamation, and full of anxiety at his precipitate descent.
“Well, what is the matter now?” said Johnson.
The Doctor could hardly speak, he was so out of breath. At last he managed to gasp out—
“The tracks, footmarks, strangers.”
“What?” said Hatteras, “strangers here?”
“No, no, the object glass; the object glass out of my telescope.”
And he held out his spy-glass for them to look at.
“Ah! I see,” said Altamont; “it is wanting.”
“But then the footmarks?”
“They were ours, friends, just ours,” exclaimed the Doctor. “We had lost ourselves in the fog, and been wandering in a circle.”
“But the boot-marks,” objected Hatteras.
“Bell’s. He walked about a whole day after he had lost his snow shoes.”
“So I did,” said Bell.
The mistake was so evident, that they all laughed heartily, except Hatteras, though no one was more glad than he at the discovery.
A quarter of an hour afterwards the little sloop sailed out of Altamont Harbour, and commenced her voyage of discovery. The wind was favourable, but there was little of it, and the weather was positively warm.
The sloop was none the worse for the sledge journey. She was in first-rate trim, and easily managed. Johnson steered, the Doctor, Bell, and the American leaned back against the cargo, and Hatteras stood at the prow, his fixed, eager gaze bent steadily on that mysterious point towards which he felt drawn with irresistible power, like the magnetic needle to the Pole. He wished to be the first to descry any shore that might come in sight, and he had every right to the honour.