This was gravely stated, and Captain Synness, a countryman of our own, actually proposed that Sir Humphrey Davy, Humboldt, and Arago should undertake an expedition through it, but they refused.”
“And quite right too,” said Altamont.
“So say I; but you see, my friends, what absurdities imagination has conjured up about these regions, and how, sooner or later, the simple reality comes to light.”
After this conversation they all made themselves as comfortable as they could, and lay down to sleep.
All, except Hatteras; and why could this extraordinary man not sleep like the others?
Was not the purpose of his life attained now? Had he not realized his most daring project? Why could he not rest? Indeed, might not one have supposed that, after the strain his nervous system had undergone, he would long for rest?
But no, he grew more and more excited, and it was not the thought of returning that so affected him. Was he bent on going farther still? Had his passion for travel no limits? Was the world too small for him now he had circumnavigated it.
Whatever might be the cause, he could not sleep; yet this first night at the Pole was clear and calm. The isle was absolutely uninhabited—not a bird was to be seen in this burning atmosphere, not an animal on these scoriae-covered rocks, not a fish in these seething waters. Next morning, when Altamont, and the others awoke, Hatteras was gone. Feeling uneasy at his absence, they hurried out of the grotto in search of him.
[Illustration: There he was standing on a rock, gazing fixedly at the top of the mountain.—P.242]
There he was standing on a rock, gazing fixedly at the top of the mountain. His instruments were in his hand, and he was evidently calculating the exact longitude and latitude.
The Doctor went towards him and spoke, but it was long before he could rouse him from his absorbing contemplations. At last the captain seemed to understand, and Clawbonny said, while he examined him with a keen scrutinizing glance—
“Let us go round the island. Here we are, all ready for our last excursion.”
“The last!” repeated Hatteras, as if in a dream. “Yes!, the last truly, but,” he added, with more animation, “the most wonderful.”
He pressed both hands on his brow as he spoke, as if to calm the inward tumult.
Just then Altamont and the others came up, and their appearance seemed to dispel the hallucinations under which he was labouring.
“My friends,” he said, in a voice full of emotion, “thanks for your courage, thanks for your perseverance, thanks for your superhuman efforts, through which we are permitted to set our feet on this soil.”
“Captain,” said Johnson, “we have only obeyed orders to you alone belongs the honour.”
“No, no!” exclaimed Hatteras, with a violent outburst of emotion, “to all of you as much as to me! To Altamont as much as any of us, as much as the Doctor himself! Oh, let my heart break in your hands, it cannot contain its joy and gratitude any longer.”
He grasped the hands of his brave companions as he spoke, and paced up and down as if he had lost all self-control.
“We have only done our duty as Englishmen,” said Bell.
“And as friends,” added Clawbonny.
“Yes, but all did not do it,” replied Hatteras “some gave way. However, we must pardon them—pardon both the traitors and those who were led away by them. Poor fellows! I forgive them. You hear me, Doctor?”
“Yes,” replied Clawbonny, beginning to be seriously uneasy at his friend’s excitement.
“I have no wish, therefore,” continued the captain, “that they should lose the little fortune they came so far to seek. No, the original agreement is to remain unaltered, and they shall be rich—if they ever see England again.”
It would have been difficult not to have been touched by the pathetic tone of voice in which Hatteras said this.
“But, captain,” interrupted Johnson, trying to joke, “one would think you were making your will!”
“Perhaps I am,” said Hatteras, gravely.
“And yet you have a long bright career of glory before you!”
“Who knows?” was the reply.