At length, about six in the evening, a dim, hazy, shapeless sort of mist seemed to rise far away between sea and sky. It was not a cloud, for it was constantly vanishing, and then reappearing next minute.
Hatteras was the first to notice this peculiar phenomenon; but after an hour’s scrutiny through his telescope, he could make nothing of it.
All at once, however, some sure indication met his eye, and stretching out his arm to the horizon, he shouted, in a clear ringing voice—-
His words produced an electrical effect on his companions, and every man rushed to his side.
“I see it, I see it,” said Clawbonny.
“Yes, yes, so do I! “ exclaimed Johnson.
“It is a cloud,” said Altamont.
“Land! land!” repeated Hatteras, in tones of absolute conviction.
Even while he spoke the appearance vanished, and when it returned again the Doctor fancied he caught a gleam of light about the smoke for an instant.
[Illustration: “It is a volcano!” he exclaimed.—P.217]
“It is a volcano!” he exclaimed.
“A volcano?” repeated Altamont.
“In so high a latitude?”
“Why not? Is not Iceland a volcanic island—indeed, almost made of volcanoes, one might say?”
“Well, has not our famous countryman, James Ross, affirmed the existence of two active volcanoes, the Erebus and the Terror, on the Southern Continent, in longitude 170° and latitude 78°? Why, then, should not volcanoes be found near the North Pole?”
“It is possible, certainly,” replied Altamont.
“Ah, now I see it distinctly,” exclaimed the Doctor.” It is a volcano!”
“Let us make right for it then,” said Hatteras.
It was impossible longer to doubt the proximity of the coast. In twenty-four hours, probably, the bold navigators might hope to set foot on its untrodden soil. But strange as it was, now that they were so near the goal of their voyage, no one showed the joy which might have been expected. Each man sat silent, absorbed in his own thoughts, wondering what sort of place this Pole must be. The birds seemed to shun it, for though it was evening, they were all flying towards the south with outspread wings. Was it, then, so inhospitable, that not so much as a sea-gull or a ptarmigan could find a shelter? The fish, too, even the large cetacea, were hastening away through the transparent waters. What
could cause this feeling either of repulsion or terror?
At last sleep overcame the tired men, and one after another dropped off, leaving Hatteras to keep watch.
He took the helm, and tried his best not to close his eyes, for he grudged losing precious time; but the slow motion of the vessel rocked him into a state of such irresistible somnolence that, in spite of himself, he was soon, like his companions, locked fast in deep slumber. He began to dream, and imagination brought back all the scenes of his past life. He dreamt of his ship, the Forward, and of the traitors that had burnt it. Again he felt all the agonies of disappointment and failure, and forgot his actual situation. Then the scene changed, and he saw himself at the Pole unfurling the Union Jack!
While memory and fancy were thus busied, an enormous cloud of an olive tinge had begun to darken sea and sky. A hurricane was at hand. The first blast of the tempest roused the captain and his companions, and they were on their feet in an instant, ready to meet it. The sea had risen tremendously, and the ship was tossing violently up and down on the billows. Hatteras took the helm again, and kept a firm hold of it, while Johnson and Bell baled out the water which was constantly dashing over the ship.
It was a difficult matter to preserve the right course, for the thick fog made it impossible to see more than a few yards off.
This sudden tempest might well seem to such excited men, a stern prohibition against further approach to the Pole; but it needed but a glance at their resolute faces to know that they would neither yield to winds nor waves, but go right on to the end.
For a whole day the struggle lasted, death threatening them each moment; but about six in the evening, just as the fury of the waves seemed at its highest pitch, there came a sudden calm.