Thanks to his cares, all danger was gone in an hour; but it was no easy task, and constant friction was necessary to recall the circulation into the old sailor's fingers. The doctor urged him to keep his hands away from the stove, the heat of which might produce serious results.
That morning they had to go without breakfast; of the pemmican and the salt meat nothing was left. There was not a crumb of biscuit, and only half a pound of coffee. They had to content themselves with drinking this hot, and then they set out.
"There's nothing more!" said Bell to Johnson, in a despairing accent.
"Let us trust in God," said the old sailor; "he is able to preserve us!"
"This Captain Hatteras!" continued Bell; "he was able to return from his first expeditions, but he'll never get back from this one, and we shall never see home again!"
"Courage, Bell! I confess that the captain is almost foolhardy, but there is with him a very ingenious man."
"Dr. Clawbonny?" said Bell.
"Yes," answered Johnson.
"What can he do in such circumstances?" retorted Bell, shrugging his shoulders. "Can he change these pieces of ice into pieces of meat? Is he a god, who can work by miracles?"
"Who can say?" the boatswain answered his companion's doubts; "I trust in him."
Bell shook his head, and fell into a silent apathy, in which he even ceased to think.
That day they made hardly three miles; at evening they had nothing to eat; the dogs threatened to devour one another; the men suffered extremely from hunger. Not a single animal was to be seen. If there had been one, of what use would it have been? They could not go hunting with a knife. Only Johnson thought he recognized a mile to leeward the large bear, who was following the ill-fated little party.
"It is spying us!" he said to himself; "it sees a certain prey in us!"
But Johnson said no word to his companions; that evening they made their accustomed halt, and their supper consisted only of coffee. They felt their eyes growing haggard, their brain growing confused, and, tortured by hunger, they could not get an hour's sleep; strange and painful dreams took possession of their minds.
At a latitude in which the body imperiously demands refreshment, these poor men had not eaten solid food for thirty-six hours, when Tuesday morning came. Nevertheless, inspired by superhuman energy, they resumed their journey, pushing on the sledge which the dogs were unable to draw. At the end of two hours they fell, exhausted. Hatteras wanted to push on. He, still strong, besought his companions to rise, but they were absolutely unable. Then, with Johnson's assistance, he built a resting-place in an iceberg. It seemed as if they were digging their own graves.
"I am willing to die of hunger," said Hatteras, "but not of cold."
After much weariness the house was ready, and they all entered it.
So that day passed. In that evening, while his companions lay inert, Johnson had a sort of hallucination; he dreamed of an immense bear. That word, which he kept repeating, attracted the doctor's attention, so that he shook himself free from his stupor, and asked the old sailor why he kept talking about a bear, and what bear he meant.
"The bear which is following us," answered Johnson.
"The bear which is following us?" repeated the doctor.
"Yes, the last two days."
"The last two days! Have you seen him?"
"Yes, he's a mile to leeward."
"And you didn't tell us, Johnson?"
"What was the use?"
"True," said the doctor; "we have no ball to fire at him."
"Not a slug, a bit of iron, nor a bolt!" said the old sailor.
The doctor was silent, and began to think intently. Soon he said to the boatswain,—
"You are sure the bear is following us?"
"Yes, Doctor, he's lying in wait to eat us. He knows we can't escape him!"
"Johnson!" said the doctor, touched by the despairing accent of his companion.
"His food is sure," continued the poor man, who was beginning to be delirious; "he must be half famished, and I don't see why we need keep him waiting any longer!"
"Be quiet, Johnson!"
"No, Doctor; if we've got to come to it, why should we prolong the animal's sufferings? He's hungry as we are; he has no seal to eat! Heaven sends him us men; well, so much the better for him!"
Thereupon Johnson went out of his mind; he wanted to leave the snow-house. The doctor had hard work to prevent him, and he only succeeded by saying, as if he meant it,—
"To-morrow I shall kill that bear!"
"To-morrow!" said Johnson, as if he had awakened from a bad dream.
"You have no ball!"
"I shall make one."
"You have no lead!"
"No, but I have some quicksilver."
Thereupon the doctor took the thermometer; it marked +50 degrees. He went outside, placed the instrument on the ice, and soon returned. The outside temperature was -50 degrees. Then he said to the old sailor,—
"Now go to sleep, and wait till to-morrow."
That night they endured the horrors of hunger; only the doctor and the boatswain were able to temper them with a little hope. The next morning, at dawn, the doctor rushed out, followed by Johnson, and ran to the thermometer; all the mercury had sunk into the bulb, in the form of a compact cylinder. The doctor broke the instrument, and seized in his gloved fingers a piece of very hard metal. It was a real bullet.
"Ah, Doctor," shouted the old sailor, "that's a real miracle! You are a wonderful man!"
"No, my friend," answered the doctor, "I am only a man with a good memory, who has read a good deal."
"Why, what do you mean?"
"I happened to remember something Captain Ross related in the account of his voyage: he said he shot through an inch plank with a bullet of frozen mercury; if I had any oil it would amount to nearly the same thing, for he speaks of a ball of sweet almond, which was fired against a post and fell back to the ground unbroken."
"That is hardly credible!"
"But it is true, Johnson; this piece of metal may save our lives; let us leave it here in the air before we take it, and go and see whether the bear is still following us."
At that moment Hatteras came out of the hut; the doctor showed him the bullet, and told him what he thought of doing; the captain pressed his hand, and the three went off to inspect. The air was very clear. Hatteras, who was ahead of his companions, discovered the bear about a half-mile off. The animal, seated on his hind quarters, was busily moving his head about, sniffing towards these new arrivals.
"There he is!" shouted the captain.
"Silence!" said the doctor.
But the huge beast did not stir when he saw the hunters. He gazed at them without fear or anger. Still, it would be found hard to approach him.
"My friends," said Hatteras, "we have not come out for sport, but to save our lives. Let us act cautiously."
"Yes," answered the doctor; "we can only have one shot, and we must not miss; if he were to run away, he would be lost, for he can run faster than a hare."
"Well, we must go straight for him," said Johnson; "it is dangerous, but what does it matter? I am willing to risk my life."
"No, let me go!" cried the doctor.
"No, I shall go," answered Hatteras, quietly.
"But," said Johnson, "are not you of more use to the others than I should be?"
"No, Johnson," answered the captain, "let me go; I shall run no needless risk; perhaps, too, I shall call on you to help me."
"Hatteras," asked the doctor, "are you going to walk straight towards the bear?"
"If I were sure of hitting him, I would do so, even at the risk of having my head torn open, but he would flee at my approach. He is very crafty; we must try to be even craftier."
"What do you intend to do?"
"To get within ten feet of him without his suspecting it."
"How are you going to do it?"
"By a simple but dangerous method. You kept, did you not, the skin of the seal you shot?"
"Yes, it is on the sledge."
"Well, let us go back to the snow-house, while Johnson stays here on watch."
The boatswain crept behind a hummock which hid him entirely from the sight of the bear, who stayed in the same place, continually sniffing the air.
CHAPTER V. THE SEAL AND THE BEAR.
Hatteras and the doctor went back to the house.
"You know," said the captain, "that the polar bears chase seals, which are their principal food. They watch for days at their breathing-holes, and seize them the moment they come upon the ice. So a bear will not be afraid of a seal; far from it."
"I understand your plan," said the doctor, "but it's dangerous."
"But there is a chance of success," answered the captain, "and we must try it. I am going to put on the sealskin and crawl over the ice. Let us lose no time. Load the gun and give it to me."
The doctor had nothing to say; he would himself have done what his companion was about to try; he left the house, carrying two axes, one for Johnson, the other for himself; then, accompanied by Hatteras, he went to the sledge.
There Hatteras put on the sealskin, which very nearly covered him. Meanwhile, Hatteras loaded the gun with the last charge of powder, and dropped in it the quicksilver bullet, which was as hard as steel and as heavy as lead. Then he handed Hatteras the gun, which he hid beneath the sealskin. Then he said to the doctor,—
"You go and join Johnson; I shall wait a few moments to puzzle the enemy."
"Courage, Hatteras!" said the doctor.
"Don't be uneasy, and above all don't show yourselves before you hear my gun."
The doctor soon reached the hummock which concealed Johnson.
"Well?" the latter asked.
"Well, we must wait. Hatteras is doing all this to save us."
The doctor was agitated; he looked at the bear, which had grown excited, as if he had become conscious of the danger which threatened him. A quarter of an hour later the seal was crawling over the ice; he made a circuit of a quarter of a mile to baffle the bear; then he found himself within three hundred feet of him. The bear then saw him, and settled down as if he were trying to hide. Hatteras imitated skilfully the movements of a seal, and if he had not known, the doctor would certainly have taken him for one.
"That's true!" whispered Johnson.
The seal, as he approached the bear, did not appear to see him; he seemed to be seeking some hole through which to reach the water. The bear advanced towards him over the ice with the utmost caution; his eager eyes betrayed his excitement; for one or perhaps two months he had been fasting, and fortune was now throwing a sure prey before him. The seal had come within ten feet of his enemy; the bear hastened towards him, made a long leap, and stood stupefied three paces from Hatteras, who, casting aside the sealskin, with one knee resting on the ground, was aiming at the bear's heart.
The report was sounded, and the bear rolled over on the ice.
"Forward!" shouted the doctor. And, followed by Johnson, he hastened to the scene of combat. The huge beast rose, and beat the air with one paw while with the other he tore up a handful of snow to stanch the wound. Hatteras did not stir, but waited, knife in hand. But his aim had been accurate, and his bullet had hit its mark; before the arrival of his friends he had plunged his knife into the beast's throat, and it fell, never to rise.
"Victory!" shouted Johnson.
"Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!" cried the doctor.
Hatteras, with folded arms, was gazing calmly at the corpse of his foe.
"It's now my turn," said Johnson; "it's very well to have killed it, but there is no need of waiting till it's frozen as hard as a stone, when teeth and knife will be useless for attacking it."
Johnson began by skinning the bear, which was nearly as large as an ox; it was nine feet long and six feet in circumference; two huge tusks, three inches long, issued from his mouth. On opening him, nothing was found in his stomach but water; the bear had evidently eaten nothing for a long time; nevertheless, he was very fat, and he weighed more than fifteen hundred pounds; he was divided into four quarters, each one of which gave two hundred pounds of meat, and the hunters carried this flesh back to the snow-house, without forgetting the animal's heart, which went on beating for three hours.
The others wanted to eat the meat raw, but the doctor bade them wait until it should be roasted. On entering the house he was struck by the great cold within it; he went up to the stove and found the fire out; the occupations as well as the excitement of the morning had made Johnson forget his customary duty. The doctor tried to rekindle the fire, but there was not even a spark lingering amid the cold ashes.
"Well, we must have patience!" he said to himself. He then went to the sledge to get some tinder, and asked Johnson for his steel, telling him that the fire had gone out. Johnson answered that it was his fault, and he put his hand in his pocket, where he usually kept it; he was surprised not to find it there. He felt in his other pockets with the same success; he went into the snow-house and examined carefully the covering under which he had slept in the previous night, but he could not find it.
"Well?" shouted the doctor.
Johnson came back, and stared at his companions.
"And haven't you got the steel, Dr. Clawbonny?" he asked.
"Nor you, Captain?"
"No," answered Hatteras.
"You have always carried it," said the doctor.
"Well, I haven't got it now—" murmured the old sailor, growing pale.
"Not got it!" shouted the doctor, who could not help trembling. There was no other steel, and the loss of this might bring with it terrible consequences.
"Hunt again!" said the doctor.
Johnson ran to the piece of ice behind which he had watched the bear, then to the place of combat, where he had cut him up; but he could not find anything. He returned in despair. Hatteras looked at him without a word of reproach.
"This is serious," he said to the doctor.
"Yes," the latter answered.
"We have not even an instrument, a glass from which we might take the lens to get fire by means of it!"
"I know it," answered the doctor; "and that is a great pity, because the rays of the sun are strong enough to kindle tinder."
"Well," answered Hatteras, "we must satisfy our hunger with this raw meat; then we shall resume our march and we shall try to reach the ship."
"Yes," said the doctor, buried in reflection; "yes, we could do that if we had to. Why not? We might try—"
"What are you thinking of?" asked Hatteras.
"An idea which has just occurred to me—"
"An idea," said Johnson; "one of your ideas! Then we are saved!"
"It's a question," answered the doctor, "whether it will succeed."
"What is your plan?" said Hatteras.
"We have no lens; well, we will make one."
"How?" asked Johnson.
"With a piece of ice which we shall cut out."
"Why, do you think—"
"Why not? We want to make the sun's rays converge to a common focus, and ice will do as much good as crystal."
"Is it possible?" asked Johnson.
"Yes, only I should prefer fresh to salt water; it is more transparent, and harder."
"But, if I am not mistaken," said Johnson, pointing to a hummock a hundred paces distant, "that dark green block shows—"
"You are right; come, my friends; bring your hatchet, Johnson."
The three men went towards the block which, as they supposed, was formed of fresh water.
The doctor had a piece, a foot in diameter, cut through, and he began to smooth it with the hatchet; then he equalized the surface still further with his knife; then he polished it with his hand, and he obtained soon a lens as transparent as if it had been made of the most magnificent crystal. Then he returned to the snow-house, where he took a piece of tinder and began his experiment. The sun was shining brightly; the doctor held the lens so that the rays should be focused on the tinder, which took fire in a few seconds.
"Hurrah! hurrah!" cried Johnson, who could hardly trust his eyes. "O Doctor, Doctor!"
The old sailor could not restrain his joy; he was coming and going like a madman. The doctor had returned to the house; a few minutes later the stove was roaring, and soon a delicious odor of cooking aroused Bell from his torpor. It may be easily imagined how the feast was enjoyed; still the doctor advised his friends to partake in moderation; he set an example, and while eating he again began to talk.
"To-day is a lucky day," he said; "we have food enough for our journey. But we mustn't fall asleep in the delights of Capua, and we'd better start out again."
"We can't be more than forty-eight hours from the Porpoise," said Altamont, who could now begin to speak once more.
"I hope," said the doctor, smiling, "that we shall find material for a fire there."
"Yes," said the American.
"For, if my ice lens is good," continued the doctor, "there would still be something desired on cloudy days, and there are many of them less than four degrees from the Pole."
"True!" said Altamont with a sigh, "less than four degrees! My ship has gone nearer than any yet has been!"
"Forward!" said Hatteras, quickly.
"Forward!" repeated the doctor, gazing uneasily at the two captains.
The strength of the travellers soon returned; the dogs had eaten freely of the bear's flesh, and they continued their journey northward. During their walk the doctor tried to draw from Altamont the object of his expedition, but the American gave only evasive answers.
"There are two men to be watched," he whispered to the boatswain.
"Yes," answered Johnson.
"Hatteras never says a word to the American, and the American seems to show very little gratitude. Fortunately I am here."
"Dr. Clawbonny," answered Johnson, "since this Yankee has returned to life, I don't like his face much."
"Either I'm mistaken," answered the doctor, "or he suspects Hatteras's plans."
"Do you think that the stranger has the same plans?"
"Who can tell? The Americans are bold; an American may well try what an Englishman tries!"
"You think that Altamont—"
"I don't think anything about it," answered the doctor; "but the situation of this ship on the way to the Pole gives one material for thought."
"But Altamont said he had drifted there."
"He said so! Yes, but he was smiling in a very strange way."
"The devil, Dr. Clawbonny; it would be unfortunate if there should be any rivalry between two such men."
"Heaven grant that I may be mistaken, Johnson, for this misfortune might produce serious complications, if not some catastrophe."
"I hope Altamont will not forget that we saved his life."
"But isn't he going to save us? I confess that without us he would not be alive; but what would become of us without him, without his ship, without its resources?"
"Well, Doctor, you are here, and I hope with your aid all will go well."
"I hope so, Johnson."
The voyage went on without incident; there was no lack of bear's flesh, and they made copious meals of it; there was a certain good-humor in the little band, thanks to the jests of the doctor and his pleasant philosophy; this worthy man always had some scrap of information to give to his companions. His health continued good; he had not grown very thin, in spite of his fatigues and privations; his friends at Liverpool would have recognized him without difficulty; especially would they have recognized his unaltered good-humor.
During the morning of Saturday the appearance of the plain of ice changed materially; the perturbed fragments, the frequent packs, the hummocks, showed that the ice-field was enduring some severe pressure; evidently some unknown continent, some new island, might have caused this by narrowing the passes. Blocks of fresh water, more frequent and larger, indicated the coast to be near. Hence, there was near them a new land, and the doctor yearned with a desire to add to the charts of the northern regions. Great is the pleasure of ascertaining the line of these unknown coasts, and of tracing it with a pencil; that was the doctor's aim, while that of Hatteras was merely to place his foot upon the Pole, and he took pleasure in advance in thinking of the names he was going to give to the seas, straits, bays, and slightest promontories in these new continents; certainly he would not forget the names of his companions, his friends, nor her Gracious Majesty, nor the royal family; and he foresaw a certain "Cape Clawbonny" with great satisfaction.
These thoughts kept him busy all day; that evening they encamped as usual, and each one took his turn at watching near these unknown lands. The next day, Sunday, after a heavy breakfast of bear's paws, which were very good, the travellers pushed on to the north, inclining a little to the west; the road grew difficult, but yet they advanced rapidly. Altamont, from the top of the sledge, scanned the horizon with feverish attention; his companions were the victims of involuntary uneasiness. The last solar observations gave them latitude 83 degrees 35 minutes, and longitude 120 degrees 15 minutes; that was the place where the American ship was said to be lying; the question of life and death was to be solved that day. At last, at about half past two in the afternoon, Altamont stood straight, stopped the little band by a loud cry, and, pointing with his hand to a white mass, which all the rest had taken for an iceberg, he cried with a loud voice,—
CHAPTER VI. THE PORPOISE.
March 24th was Palm Sunday,—that day when the streets of the towns and villages of Europe are filled with flowers and leaves; bells are ringing, and the air is filled with rich perfumes. But here, in this desolate country, what sadness and silence! The wind was keen and bitter; not a leaf of foliage was to be seen! But still, this Sunday was a day of rejoicing for our travellers, for at last they were about to find supplies which would save them from certain death. They hastened their steps; the dogs drew the sledge briskly, Duke barked joyously, and they all soon reached the American ship. The Porpoise was wholly buried beneath the snow; there was no sign of mast, yard, or rigging; all had been lost at the time of the shipwreck; the ship lay on a bed of rocks now completely hidden. The Porpoise was careened to one side by the violence of the shock, her bottom was torn open, so that the ship seemed uninhabitable. This was soon seen by the captain, the doctor, and Johnson, after they had entered the vessel; they had to cut away fifteen feet of ice to get to the hatchway; but to their great joy they saw that the animals, many traces of which were to be seen, had spared the supplies.
"If we have here," said Johnson, "plenty of food and fuel, this hull does not seem inhabitable."
"Well, we must build a snow-house," answered Hatteras, "and make ourselves as comfortable as possible on the mainland."
"Without doubt," continued the doctor; "but don't let us hurry; let us do things carefully; if need be we can fit out some quarters in the ship; meanwhile we can build a strong house, capable of protecting us against the cold and wild beasts. I am willing to be the architect, and you'll see what I can do."
"I don't doubt your skill, Doctor," answered Johnson; "we'll make ourselves as comfortable as possible here, and we'll make an inventory of all that the ship contains; unfortunately, I don't see any launch, or boat, and these ruins are in too bad a state to permit of our making a small boat."
"Who can say?" answered the doctor. "With time and thought a great deal can be done; now we have not to trouble ourselves about navigation, but about a house to live in; I propose not to form any other plans, and to let everything have its turn."
"That is wise," answered Hatteras; "let us begin with the beginning."
The three companions left the ship, returned to the sledge, and announced their determination to Bell and the American; Bell said he was ready to work; the American shook his head, on learning that nothing could be done with his ship; but since all discussion would have been idle, they determined at first to take refuge in the Porpoise, and to build a large building on the shore.
At four o'clock in the afternoon the five travellers were installed as comfortably as possible between decks; by means of spars and fragments of masts, Bell had made a nearly level floor; there they placed coverings stiffened by the frost, which the heat of the stove soon brought back to their natural state; Altamont, leaning on the doctor, was able to make his way to the corner which had been set aside for him; on setting foot on his ship, he had sighed with a feeling of relief, which did not encourage the boatswain.
"He feels at home," the old sailor thought, "and one would say that he had invited us here."
The rest of the day was devoted to repose; the weather threatened to change under the influence of the westerly winds; the thermometer outside stood at -26 degrees. In fact, the Porpoise lay beyond the pole of cold, at a latitude relatively less severe, though farther to the north. On that day they finished the bear, with some biscuits they found on the ship, and a few cups of tea; then fatigue overcame them, and each one sank into a sound sleep.
The next morning they all awoke rather late; they soon recalled the difference in their situation; they were no longer perplexed with uncertainty about the morrow; they only thought of establishing themselves comfortably. These castaways looked at themselves as colonists who had reached their destination, and, forgetting the sufferings of their long march, they had no other thought than that of securing a comfortable future.
"Well," said the doctor, stretching his arms, "it's something not to have to wonder where one will sleep to-night and what one will have to eat to-morrow."
"Let us first make an inventory of the ship," answered Johnson.
The Porpoise had been carefully equipped for a long voyage.
The inventory, when complete, indicated the following supplies:—
6,150 lbs. of flour, fat and raisins for puddings; 2,000 " " beef and salt pork; 1,500 " " pemmican; 700 " " sugar; 700 " " chocolate; 500 " " rice; 1-1/2 chests of tea, weighing 87 lbs; many barrels of canned fruits and vegetables, lime-juice in abundance, cochlearia, sorrel and water-cresses, and three hundred gallons of rum and brandy; in the hold there was a large supply of ammunition; there was plenty of coal and wood. The doctor collected carefully the nautical instruments, and he also found a Bunsen's Pile, which had been carried for electrical tests and experiments. In short, they had supplies enough to keep five men on whole rations for two years; all fear of starving or freezing to death was hence wholly removed.
"Our means of living are certain," said the doctor to the captain, "and there is nothing to prevent our reaching the Pole."
"The Pole!" answered Hatteras, trembling with excitement.
"Certainly," continued the doctor; "what's to prevent our pushing on during the summer across the land?"
"Across the land! true! But how about the sea?"
"Can't we build a small boat out of the timber of the Porpoise?"
"An American boat, you mean," answered Hatteras, scornfully, "and commanded by this American!"
The doctor understood the captain's repugnance, and judged it best to change the conversation.
"Now that we know what our supplies are," he went on, "we must build some safe place for them, and a house for ourselves. We have plenty of material, and we can settle ourselves very comfortably. I hope, Bell," he added, turning to the carpenter, "that you are going to distinguish yourself; I may be able to help you too, I trust."
"I'm ready, Doctor," answered Bell; "if it were necessary I could easily build a whole city with houses and streets out of these blocks of ice—"
"We sha'n't need as much as that; let us follow the example of the agents of the Hudson's Bay Company; they build forts which protect them from the wild beasts and the Indians; that is all we need; let us make it no larger than necessary; on one side the dwelling, on the other the stores, with a sort of curtain, and two bastions. I'll try to rub up what I know about fortification."
"Upon my word, Doctor," said Johnson, "I don't doubt that we shall make something very fine under your direction."
"Well, my friends, we must first choose a site; a good engineer should first study the lay of the land. Will you come with me, Hatteras?"
"I shall trust to you, Doctor," answered the captain. "You see about that, while I explore the coast."
Altamont, who was still too feeble to get to work, was left on board of his ship, and the two Englishmen set foot on the mainland. The weather was thick and stormy; at noon the thermometer stood at -11 degrees, but, there being no wind, that temperature was comfortable. Judging from the outline of the shore, a large sea, at that time wholly frozen, stretched out farther than eye could reach in the west; on the east it was limited by a rounded coast, cut into by numerous estuaries, and rising suddenly about two hundred yards from the shore; it formed a large bay, full of dangerous rocks, on which the Porpoise had been wrecked; far off on the land rose a mountain, which the doctor conjectured to be about three thousand feet high. Towards the north a promontory ran into the sea, after hiding a part of the bay. An island of moderate size rose from the field of ice, three miles from the mainland, so that it offered a safe anchorage to any ship that could enter the bay. In a hollow cut of the shore was a little inlet, easily reached by ships, if this part of the arctic seas was ever open. Yet, according to the accounts of Beecher and Penny, this whole sea was open in the summer months.
In the middle of the coast the doctor noticed a sort of plateau about two hundred feet in diameter; on three sides it was open to the bay; the fourth was enclosed by an elevation about a hundred and twenty feet high; this could be ascended only by steps cut in the ice. This seemed a proper place for a solid building, and it could be easily fortified; nature had adapted it for the purpose; it was only necessary to make use of the place. The doctor, Bell, and Johnson reached this place by means of steps cut in the ice. As soon as the doctor saw the excellence of the place, he determined to dig away the ten feet of hardened snow which covered it; the buildings had to be built on a solid foundation.
During Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, work went on without relaxation; at last the ground appeared; it consisted of a hard, dense granite, with the angles as sharp as glass; it contained, moreover, garnets and large crystals of feldspar, against which the pickaxe struck fire.
The doctor then gave them the dimensions and plan of the snow-house; it was to be forty feet long, twenty broad, and ten deep; it was divided into three rooms, a sitting-room, a bedroom, and a kitchen; more was not needed. To the left was the kitchen, to the right the bedroom, in the middle the sitting-room. For five days they worked busily. There was no lack of material; the ice walls were thick enough to resist thawing, for they could not risk being wholly without protection, even in summer. In proportion as the house rose, it became agreeable to see; there were four front windows, two in the sitting-room, one in the kitchen, another in the bedroom; for panes of glass they substituted large sheets of ice, in the Esquimaux fashion, which served as well as unpolished glass for the passage of light. In front of the sitting-room, between two windows, there ran a long entry like a tunnel, which gave admission to the house; a solid door, brought from the Porpoise, closed it hermetically. When the house was finished, the doctor was delighted with his handiwork; it would have been impossible to say to what school of architecture the building belonged, although the architect would have avowed his preferences for the Saxon Gothic, so common in England; but the main point was, that it should be solid; therefore the doctor placed on the front short uprights; on top a sloping roof rested against the granite wall. This served to support the stove-pipes, which carried the smoke away. When the task was completed, they began to arrange the interior. They carried into the bedroom the sleeping-accommodations from the Porpoise; they were arranged in a circle about a large stove. Benches, chairs, sofas, tables, wardrobes, were arranged in the sitting-room, which was also used as a dining-room; the kitchen received the cooking-stoves of the ship, and the various utensils. Sails, stretched on the floor, formed the carpet, and also served as hangings to the inner doors, which had no other way of closing. The walls of the house averaged five feet in thickness, and the recesses for the windows looked like embrasures in a fort. It was all built with great solidity; what more was to be desired? Ah, if they had listened to the doctor, there is no knowing what they would not have made of this ice and snow, which can be so easily manipulated! He all day long would ponder over plans which he never hoped to bring about, but he thereby lightened the dull work of all by the ingenuity of his suggestions. Besides, he had come across, in his wide reading, a rather rare book by one Kraft, entitled "Detailed Description of the Snow-Palace built at St. Petersburg, in January, 1740, and of all the Objects it contained." The recollection of this book impressed him. One evening he gave his companions a full account of the wonders of that snow-palace.
"Why couldn't we do here," he asked, "what they did at St. Petersburg? What do we need? Nothing, not even imagination!"
"So it was very handsome?" said Johnson.
"It was fairy-like, my friend. The house, built by order of the Empress Anna, and in which she had celebrated the marriage of one of her buffoons in 1740, was nearly as large as ours; but in front stood six cannons of ice; they were often fired without bursting; there were also mortars to hold sixty-pound shells; so we could have some formidable artillery; the bronze is handy, and falls even from heaven. But the triumph of taste and art was on the front of the palace, which was adorned with handsome statues; the steps were garnished with vases of flowers of the same material; on the right stood an enormous elephant, who played water through his trunk by day, and burning naphtha by night. What a menagerie we might have if we only wanted to!"
"As for animals," answered Johnson, "we sha'n't lack them, I fancy, and they won't be any the less interesting for not being made of ice."
"Well," said the doctor, "we shall be able to defend ourselves against their attacks; but to return to the palace, I should add that inside there were mirrors, candelabra, beds, mattresses, pillows, curtains, clocks, chairs, playing-cards, wardrobes well furnished, and all cut out of ice; in fact, nothing was lacking."
"It was then a true palace?" said Bell.
"A splendid palace, worthy of a sovereign! Ice! It was kind of Providence to invent it, since it lends itself to so many miracles and accommodates so readily to the needs of castaways!"
It took them until March 31st to get the house ready; this was Easter Sunday, and the day was set aside for rest; the whole day was spent in the sitting-room, where divine service was read, and each was able to judge of the excellent arrangements of the snow-house.
The next morning they set about building stores and a magazine; this took them about a week, including the time employed for emptying the Porpoise, which was not done without difficulty, for the low temperature did not permit them to work very long. At last, April 8th, provisions, food, and supplies were safely sheltered on land; the stores were placed to the north, and the powder-house to the south, about sixty feet from the end of the house; a sort of dog-kennel was built near the stores; it was destined for the Greenland dogs, and the doctor honored it with the title of "Dog-Palace." Duke partook of the common quarters.
Then the doctor passed to the means of defence of the place. Under his direction the plateau was surrounded by a real fortification of ice which secured it against every invasion; its height made a natural protection, and as there was no salient, it was equally strong on all sides. The doctor's system of defence recalled strongly the method of Sterne's Uncle Toby, whose gentleness and good-humor he also shared. He was a pleasant sight when he was calculating the inclination of the platform and the breadth of the causeway; but this task was so easy with the snow, that he enjoyed it, and he was able to make the wall seven feet thick; besides the plateau overlooking the bay, he had to build neither counterscarp nor glacis; the parapet of snow, after following the outlines of the plateau, joined the rock on the other side. The work of fortification was finished April 15th. The fort was completed, and the doctor seemed very proud of his work.
In truth, this fortified enclosure could have withstood for a long time against a tribe of Esquimaux, if such enemies were met under that latitude; but there was no trace of human beings there; Hatteras, in making out the outline of the bay, did not see any ruins of the huts which are so commonly found in the places resorted to by Greenland tribes; the castaways of the Forward and the Porpoise appeared to be the first ever to set foot on this unknown shore. But if they need not fear men, animals were to be dreaded, and the fort, thus defended, would have to protect the little garrison against their attacks.
CHAPTER VII. A DISCUSSION ABOUT CHARTS.
During these preparations for going into winter-quarters, Altamont had entirely recovered his health and strength; he was even able to aid in unloading the ship. His vigorous constitution at last carried the day, and his pallor soon gave way before the vigor of his blood.
They saw in him a sanguine, robust citizen of the United States, an intelligent, energetic man with a resolute character, a bold, hardy American ready for everything; he was originally from New York, and had been a sailor from infancy, as he told his companions; his ship, the Porpoise, had been equipped and sent out by a society of wealthy American merchants, at the head of whom was the famous Mr. Grinnell.
There was a certain similarity between his disposition and that of Hatteras, but their sympathies were different. This similarity did not incline them to become friends; indeed, it had the opposite effect. A close observer would have detected serious discordances between them; and this, although they were very frank with one another. Altamont was less so, however, than Hatteras; with greater ease of manner, he was less loyal; his open character did not inspire as much confidence as did the captain's gloomy temperament. Hatteras would say what he had to say, and then he held his peace. The other would talk a great deal, but say very little. Such was the doctor's reading of the American's character, and he was right in his presentiment of a future disagreement, if not hatred, between the captains of the Porpoise and the Forward.
And yet only one could command. To be sure, Hatteras had all the right of commanding, by virtue of anterior right and superior force. But if one was at the head of his own men, the other was on board of his own ship. And that was generally felt. Either from policy or instinctively, Altamont was at first attracted towards the doctor; it was to him he owed his life, but it was sympathy rather than gratitude which moved him. This was the invariable effect of Clawbonny's nature; friends grew about him like wheat under the summer sun. Every one has heard of people who rise at five o'clock in the morning to make enemies; the doctor could have got up at four without doing it. Nevertheless, he resolved to profit by Altamont's friendship to the extent of learning the real reason of his presence in the polar seas. But with all his wordiness the American answered without answering, and kept repeating what he had to say about the Northwest Passage. The doctor suspected that there was some other motive for the expedition, the same, namely, that Hatteras suspected. Hence he resolved not to let the two adversaries discuss the subject; but he did not always succeed. The simplest conversations threatened to wander to that point, and any word might kindle a blaze of controversy. It happened soon. When the house was finished, the doctor resolved to celebrate the fact by a splendid feast; this was a good idea of Clawbonny's, who wanted to introduce in this continent the habits and pleasures of European life. Bell had just shot some ptarmigans and a white rabbit, the first harbinger of spring. This feast took place April 14, Low Sunday, on a very pleasant day; the cold could not enter the house, and if it had, the roaring stoves would have soon conquered it. The dinner was good; the fresh meat made an agreeable variety after the pemmican and salt meat; a wonderful pudding, made by the doctor's own hand, was much admired; every one asked for another supply; the head cook himself, with an apron about his waist and a knife hanging by his side, would not have disgraced the kitchen of the Lord High Chancellor of England. At dessert, liquors appeared; the American was not a teetotaler; hence there was no reason for his depriving himself of a glass of gin or brandy; the other guests, who were never in any way intemperate, could permit themselves this infraction of their rule; so, by the doctor's command, each one was able to drain a glass at the end of the merry meal. When a toast was drunk to the United States, Hatteras was simply silent. It was then that the doctor brought forward an interesting subject.
"My friends," he said, "it is not enough that we have crossed the waters and ice and have come so far; there is one thing left for us to do. Hence I propose that we should give names to this hospitable land where we have found safety and rest; that is the course pursued by all navigators, and there is not one who has neglected it; therefore we ought to carry back with us not only a map of the shores, but also the names of the capes, bays, points, and promontories which we find. That is absolutely necessary."
"Good!" cried Johnson; "besides, when one can give all these lands their own names, it looks like genuine work, and we can't consider ourselves as cast away on an unknown shore."
"Besides," added Bell, "that simplifies instructions and facilitates the execution of orders; we may be compelled to separate during some expedition or in hunting, and the best way for finding our way back is to know the names of the places."
"Well," said the doctor, "since we are all agreed, let us try to settle on some names without forgetting our country and friends."
"You are right, Doctor," answered the American, "and you give what you say additional value by your warmth."
"Well," continued the doctor, "let us go on in order."
Hatteras had not taken part in the conversation; he was thinking. Still the eyes of his companions were fastened on him; he rose and said,—
"If you are all willing, and I don't think any one will dissent,"—at those words Hatteras looked at Altamont,—"it seems to me proper to name this house after its skilful architect, and to call it 'Doctor's House.'"
"That's true," said Bell.
"Good!" shouted Johnson; "Doctor's House!"
"Couldn't be better," added Altamont. "Hurrah for Dr. Clawbonny!"
Three cheers were then given, to which Duke added an approving bark.
"So," resumed Hatteras, "let this house bear that name until some new land is discovered to bear the name of our friend."
"Ah!" said Johnson, "if the earthly Paradise were to be named over again, the name of Clawbonny would suit it to a miracle!"
The doctor, much moved, wanted to defend himself by modesty, but he was unable. It was then formally agreed that the feast had been eaten in the grand dining-hall of Doctor's House, after being cooked in the kitchen of Doctor's House, and that they would go comfortably to bed in the chamber of Doctor's House.
"Now," said the doctor, "let us take the more important points of our discoveries."
"There is," said Hatteras, "this immense sea which surrounds us, and in which no ship has ever floated."
"No ship!" interrupted Altamont; "it seems to me the Porpoise should not be forgotten, unless indeed it came by land," he added jestingly.
"One might think it had," retorted Hatteras, "to see the rocks on which it is now resting."
"Indeed, Hatteras," answered Altamont with some vexation; "but, on the whole, isn't even that better than blowing up as the Forward did!"
Hatteras was about to make some angry reply, when the doctor interrupted him.
"My friends," he said, "we are not talking about ships, but about the new sea—"
"It is not new," interrupted Altamont. "It already bears a name on all the charts of the Pole. It is the Arctic Ocean, and I don't see any reason for changing its name; if we should find out in the future that it is only a sound or gulf, we can see what is to be done."
"Very well," said Hatteras.
"Agreed," said the doctor, regretting that he had aroused a discussion between rival nationalities.
"Let us come to the land which we are now in," resumed Hatteras. "I am not aware that it bears any name on the most recent maps."
At these words he turned to Altamont, who did not lower his eyes, but answered,—
"You may be mistaken again, Hatteras."
"Mistaken! this unknown land, this new country—"
"Has a name already," answered the American, quietly.
Hatteras was silent. His lips trembled.
"And what is its name?" asked the doctor, a little surprised at the American's statement.
"My dear Clawbonny," answered Altamont, "it is the custom, not to say the habit, of every explorer to give a name to the continent which he has discovered. It seems to me that on this occasion it was in my power and that it was my duty to use this indisputable right—"
"Still—" said Johnson, whom Altamont's coolness annoyed.
"It seems to me hard to pretend," the American resumed, "that the Porpoise did not discover this coast, and even on the supposition that it came by land," he added, glancing at Hatteras, "there can't be any question."
"That is a claim I can't admit," answered Hatteras, gravely, forcibly restraining himself. "To give a name, one should be the discoverer, and that I fancy you were not. Without us, besides, where would you be, sir, you who presume to impose conditions upon us? Twenty feet under the snow!"
"And without me, sir," replied the American, "without my ship, where would you be at this moment? Dead of cold and hunger?"
"My friends," said the doctor, intervening for the best, "come, a little calm, it can all settle itself. Listen to me!"
"That gentleman," continued Altamont, pointing to the captain, "can give a name to all the lands he discovers, if he discovers any; but this continent belongs to me! I cannot admit of its bearing two names, like Grinnell Land and Prince Albert's Land, because an Englishman and American happened to find it at the same time. Here it's different. My rights of precedence are beyond dispute! No ship has ever touched this shore before mine. No human being before me has ever set foot upon it; now, I have given it its name, and it shall keep it."
"And what is its name?" asked the doctor.
"New America," answered Altamont.
Hatteras clinched his fists on the table. But with a violent effort he controlled himself.
"Can you prove to me," Altamont went on, "that any Englishman has ever set foot on this soil before me?"
Johnson and Bell were silent, although they were no less angry than the captain at the haughty coolness of their opponent. But there was nothing to be said. The doctor began again after a few moments of painful silence.
"My friends," he said, "the first law of humanity is justice; it embraces all the rest. Let us then be just, and not give way to evil feelings. Altamont's priority appears to me incontestable. There is no question about it; we shall have our revenge later, and England will have a good share in future discoveries. Let us leave to this land, then, the name of New America. But Altamont, in giving it this name, has not, I imagine, disposed of the bays, capes, points, and promontories which it encloses, and I don't see anything to prevent our calling it Victoria Bay."
"None at all," answered Altamont, "provided that the cape jutting into the sea over there is named Cape Washington."
"You might have chosen, sir," cried Hatteras, beside himself, "a name less offensive to an English ear."
"But none dearer to an American ear," answered Altamont, with much pride.
"Come, come," continued the doctor, who found it hard to keep the peace in this little world, "no discussion about that! Let an American be proud of his great men! Let us honor genius wherever it is found, and since Altamont has made his choice, let us now speak for ourselves and our friends. Let our captain—"
"Doctor," answered Hatteras, "since this is an American land, I don't care to have my name figure here."
"Is that opinion unchangeable?" asked the doctor.
"It is," answered Hatteras.
The doctor did not insist any further.
"Well, then, it's our turn," he said, addressing the old sailor and the carpenter; "let us leave a trace of our passage here. I propose that we call that island about three miles from here Johnson Island, in honor of our boatswain."
"O," said the latter, a little embarrassed, "O doctor!"
"As to the mountain which we have seen in the west, we shall call it Bell Mountain, if our carpenter is willing."
"It's too much honor for me," answered Bell.
"It's only fair," said the doctor.
"Nothing better," said Altamont.
"Then we have only to name our fort," resumed the doctor; "there need be no discussion about that; it's neither to Her Royal Highness Queen Victoria nor to Washington that we owe our protection in it at this moment, but to God, who brought us together and saved us all. Let it be called Fort Providence!"
"A capital plan!" answered Altamont.
"Fort Providence," added Johnson, "that sounds well! So, then, in returning from our excursions in the north, we shall start from Cape Washington to reach Victoria Bay, and from there to Fort Providence, where we shall find rest and plenty in Doctor's House."
"Then that's settled," answered the doctor; "later, as we make discoveries, we shall have other names to give, which I hope will not give rise to discussion; for, my friends, we ought to stand by one another and love one another; we represent humanity on this distant shore; let us not give ourselves up to the detestable passions which infest society; let us rather remain unattackable by adversity. Who can say what dangers Heaven has in store for us, what sufferings we may not have to support before we return to our own country? Let us five be like one man, and leave on one side the rivalry which is wrong anywhere, and especially here. You understand me, Altamont? And you, Hatteras?"
The two men made no reply, but the doctor did not seem to notice their silence. Then they talked about other things; about hunting, so as to get a supply of fresh meat; with the spring, hares, partridges, even foxes, would return, as well as bears; they resolved accordingly not to let a favorable day pass without exploring the land of New America.
CHAPTER VIII. EXCURSION TO THE NORTH OF VICTORIA BAY.
The next morning, as soon as the sun appeared, Clawbonny ascended the wall of rock which rose above Doctor's House; it terminated suddenly in a sort of truncated cone; the doctor reached the summit with some little difficulty, and from there his eye beheld a vast expanse of territory which looked as if it were the result of some volcanic convulsion; a huge white canopy covered land and sea, rendering them undistinguishable the one from the other. The doctor, when he saw that this rock overlooked all the surrounding plain, had an idea,—a fact which will not astonish those who are acquainted with him. This idea he turned over, pondered, and made himself master of by the time he returned to the house, and then he communicated it to his companions.
"It has occurred to me," he said to them, "to build a lighthouse at the top of the cone up there."
"A lighthouse?" they cried.
"Yes, a lighthouse; it will be of use to show us our way back at night when we are returning from distant excursions, and to light up the neighborhood in the eight months of winter."
"Certainly," answered Altamont, "such an apparatus would be useful; but how will you build it?"
"With one of the Porpoise's lanterns."
"Very good; but with what will you feed the lamp? With seal-oil?"
"No; it doesn't give a bright enough light; it could hardly pierce the fog."
"Do you think you can get hydrogen from our coal and make illuminating gas?"
"Well, that light would not be bright enough, and it would be wrong to use up any of our fuel."
"Then," said Altamont, "I don't see—"
"As for me," answered Johnson, "since the bullet of mercury, the ice lens, the building of Fort Providence, I believe Dr. Clawbonny is capable of anything."
"Well," resumed Altamont, "will you tell us what sort of a light you are going to have?"
"It's very simple," answered the doctor; "an electric light."
"An electric light!"
"Certainly; didn't you have on board of the Porpoise a Bunsen's pile in an uninjured state?"
"Yes," answered the American.
"Evidently, when you took it, you intended to make some experiments, for it is complete. You have the necessary acid, and the wires isolated, hence it would be easy for us to get an electric light. It will be more brilliant, and will cost nothing."
"That is perfect," answered the boatswain, "and the less time we lose—"
"Well, the materials are there," answered the doctor, "and in an hour we shall have a column ten feet high, which will be enough."
The doctor went out; his companions followed him to the top of the cone; the column was promptly built and was soon surmounted by one of the Porpoise's lanterns. Then the doctor arranged the conducting wires which were connected with the pile; this was placed in the parlor of the ice-house, and was preserved from the frost by the heat of the stoves. From there the wires ran to the lantern. All this was quickly done, and they waited till sunset to judge of the effect. At night the two charcoal points, kept at a proper distance apart in the lantern, were brought together, and flashes of brilliant light, which the wind could neither make flicker nor extinguish, issued from the lighthouse. It was a noteworthy sight, these sparkling rays, rivalling the brilliancy of the plains, and defining sharply the outlines of the surrounding objects. Johnson could not help clapping his hands.
"Dr. Clawbonny," he said, "has made another sun!"
"One ought to do a little of everything," answered the doctor, modestly.
The cold put an end to the general admiration, and each man hastened back to his coverings.
After this time life was regularly organized. During the following days, from the 15th to the 20th of April, the weather was very uncertain; the temperature fell suddenly twenty degrees, and the atmosphere experienced severe changes, at times being full of snow and squally, at other times cold and dry, so that no one could set foot outside without precautions. However, on Saturday, the wind began to fall; this circumstance made an expedition possible; they resolved accordingly to devote a day to hunting, in order to renew their provisions. In the morning, Altamont, the doctor, Bell, each one taking a double-barrelled gun, a proper amount of food, a hatchet, a snow-knife in case they should have to dig a shelter, set out under a cloudy sky. During their absence Hatteras was to explore the coast and take their bearings. The doctor took care to start the light; its rays were very bright; in fact, the electric light, being equal to that of three thousand candles or three hundred gas-jets, is the only one which at all approximates to the solar light.
The cold was sharp, dry, and still. The hunters set out towards Cape Washington, finding their way made easier over the hardened snow. In about half an hour they had made the three miles which separated the cape from Fort Providence. Duke was springing about them. The coast inclined to the east, and the lofty summits of Victoria Bay tended to grow lower toward the north. This made them believe that New America was perhaps only an island; but they did not have then to concern themselves with its shape. The hunters took the route by the sea and went forward rapidly. There was no sign of life, no trace of any building; they were walking over a virgin soil. They thus made about fifteen miles in the first three hours, eating without stopping to rest; but they seemed likely to find no sport. They saw very few traces of hare, fox, or wolf. Still, a few snow-birds flew here and there, announcing the return of spring and the arctic animals. The three companions had been compelled to go inland to get around some deep ravines and some pointed rocks which ran down from Bell Mountain; but after a few delays they succeeded in regaining the shore; the ice had not yet separated. Far from it. The sea remained fast; still a few traces of seals announced the beginning of their visit, and that they were already come to breathe at the surface of the ice-field. It was evident from the large marks, the fresh breaking of the ice, that many had very recently been on the land. These animals are very anxious for the rays of the sun, and they like to bask on the shore in the sun's heat. The doctor called his companions' attention to these facts.
"Let us notice this place," he said. "It is very possible that in summer we shall find hundreds of seals here; they can be approached and caught without difficulty, if they are unfamiliar with men. But we must take care not to frighten them, or they will disappear as if by magic and never return; in that way, careless hunters, instead of killing them one by one, have often attacked them in a crowd, with noisy cries, and have thereby driven them away."
"Are they only killed for their skin and oil?" asked Bell.
"By Europeans, yes, but the Esquimaux eat them; they live on them, and pieces of seal's flesh, which they mix with blood and fat, are not at all unappetizing. After all, it depends on the way it's treated, and I shall give you some delicate cutlets if you don't mind their dark color."
"We shall see you at work," answered Bell; "I'll gladly eat it, Doctor."
"My good Bell, as much as you please. But, however much you eat, you will never equal a Greenlander, who eats ten or fifteen pounds of it a day."
"Fifteen pounds!" said Bell. "What stomachs!"
"Real polar stomachs," answered the doctor; "prodigious stomachs which can be dilated at will, and, I ought to add, can be contracted in the same way, so that they support starving as well as gorging. At the beginning of his dinner, the Esquimaux is thin; at the end, he is fat, and not to be recognized! It is true that his dinner often lasts a whole day."
"Evidently," said Altamont, "this voracity is peculiar to the inhabitants of cold countries!"
"I think so," answered the doctor; "in the arctic regions one has to eat a great deal; it is a condition not only of strength, but of existence. Hence the Hudson's Bay Company gives each man eight pounds of meat a day, or twelve pounds of fish, or two pounds of pemmican."
"That's a generous supply," said the carpenter.
"But not so much as you imagine, my friend; and an Indian crammed in that way does no better work than an Englishman with his pound of beef and his pint of beer a day."
"Then, Doctor, all is for the best."
"True, but still an Esquimaux meal may well astonish us. While wintering at Boothia Land, Sir John Ross was always surprised at the voracity of his guides; he says somewhere that two men—two, you understand—ate in one morning a whole quarter of a musk-ox; they tear the meat into long shreds, which they place in their mouths; then each one, cutting off at his lips what his mouth cannot hold, passes it over to his companion; or else the gluttons, letting the shreds hang down to the ground, swallow them gradually, as a boa-constrictor swallows an animal, and like it stretched out at full length on the ground."
"Ugh!" said Bell, "the disgusting brutes!"
"Every one eats in his own way," answered the American, philosophically.
"Fortunately!" replied the doctor.
"Well," said Altamont, "since the need of food is so great in these latitudes, I'm no longer surprised that in accounts of arctic voyages there is always so much space given to describing the meals."
"You are right," answered the doctor; "and it is a remark which I have often made myself; it is not only that plenty of food is needed, but also because it is often hard to get it. So one is always thinking of it and consequently always talking of it!"
"Still," said Altamont, "if my memory serves me right, in Norway, in the coldest countries, the peasants need no such enormous supply: a little milk, eggs, birch-bark bread, sometimes salmon, never any meat; and yet they are hardy men."
"It's a matter of organization," answered the doctor, "and one which I can't explain. Still, I fancy that the second or third generation of Norwegians, carried to Greenland, would end by feeding themselves in the Greenland way. And we too, my friends, if we were to remain in this lovely country, would get to live like the Esquimaux, not to say like gluttons."
"Dr. Clawbonny," said Bell, "it makes me hungry to talk in this way."
"It doesn't make me," answered Altamont; "it disgusts me rather, and makes me dislike seal's flesh. But I fancy we shall have an opportunity to try the experiment. If I'm not mistaken, I see some living body down there on the ice."
"It's a walrus," shouted the doctor; "forward silently!"
Indeed, the animal was within two hundred feet of the hunters; he was stretching and rolling at his ease in the pale rays of the sun. The three men separated so as to surround him and cut off his retreat; and they approached within a few fathoms' lengths of him, hiding behind the hummocks, and then fired. The walrus rolled over, still full of strength; he crushed the ice in his attempts to get away; but Altamont attacked him with his hatchet, and succeeded in cutting his dorsal fins. The walrus made a desperate resistance; new shots finished him, and he remained stretched lifeless on the ice-field stained with his blood. He was a good-sized animal, being nearly fifteen feet long from his muzzle to the end of his tail, and he would certainly furnish many barrels of oil. The doctor cut out the most savory parts of the flesh, and he left the corpse to the mercies of a few crows, which, at this season of the year, were floating through the air. The night began to fall. They thought of returning to Fort Providence; the sky had become perfectly clear, and while waiting for the moon to rise, the splendor of the stars was magnificent.
"Come, push on," said the doctor, "it's growing late; to be sure, we've had poor luck; but as long as we have enough for supper, there's no need of complaining. Only let's take the shortest way and try not to get lost; the stars will help us."
But yet in countries where the North Star shines directly above the traveller's head, it is hard to walk by it; in fact, when the north is directly in the zenith, it is hard to determine the other cardinal points; fortunately the moon and great constellations aided the doctor in determining the route. In order to shorten their way, he resolved to avoid the sinuosities of the coast, and to go directly across the land; it was more direct, but less certain; so, after walking for a few hours, the little band had completely lost its way. They thought of spending the night in an ice-house and waiting till the next day to find out where they were, even if they should have to return along the shore; but the doctor, fearing that Hatteras and Johnson might be anxious, insisted on their going on.
"Duke is showing us the way," he said, "and he can't be wrong; he has an instinct which is surer than needle or star. Let us follow him."
Duke went forward, and they all followed confidently. And they were justified in so doing. Soon a distant light appeared on the horizon; it was not to be confounded with a star in the low clouds.
"There's our light!" cried the doctor.
"Do you think so, Doctor!" asked the carpenter.
"I'm sure of it. Let us push on."
As they approached the light grew brighter, and soon they enjoyed its full brilliancy; they advanced in full illumination, and their sharply cut shadows ran out behind them over the snow. They hastened their gait, and in about half an hour they were climbing up the steps of Fort Providence.
CHAPTER IX. COLD AND HEAT.
Hatteras and Johnson had waited for the three hunters with some uneasiness. When they returned they were delighted to find a warm and comfortable shelter. That evening the temperature had decidedly fallen, and the thermometer outside stood at -31 degrees. The three were very much fatigued and almost frozen, so that they could hardly drag one foot after the other; fortunately the stoves were drawing well; the doctor became cook, and roasted a few walrus cutlets. At nine o'clock they all five sat down before a nourishing supper.
"On my word," said Bell, "at the risk of passing for an Esquimaux, I will say that food is an important thing in wintering; one ought to take what one can get."
Each of them having his mouth full, it was impossible for any one to answer the carpenter at once; but the doctor made a sign that he was right. The walrus cutlets were declared excellent; or, if they made no declarations about it, they ate it all up, which is much more to the purpose. At dessert the doctor made the coffee, as was his custom; he intrusted this task to no one else; he made it at the table, in an alcohol machine, and served it boiling hot. He wanted it hot enough to scald his throat, or else he did not think it worth drinking. That evening he drank it so hot that his companions could not imitate him.
"But you'll burn yourself, Doctor," said Altamont.
"O no!" was the answer.
"Is your throat lined with copper?" asked Johnson.
"No, my friends; I advise you to take counsel from me. There are some persons, and I am of the number, who drink coffee at a temperature of 131 degrees."
"One hundred and thirty-one degrees!" cried Altamont; "but the hand can't support that heat!"
"Evidently, Altamont, since the hand can't endure more than 122 degrees in the water; but the palate and tongue are not so tender as the hand; they can endure much more."
"You surprise me," said Altamont.
"Well, I'm going to convince you."
And the doctor, bringing the thermometer from the parlor, plunged the bulb into his cup of boiling coffee; he waited until it stood at a 131 degrees, and then he drank it with evident joy. Bell tried to do the same thing, but he burned himself and shouted aloud.
"You are not used to it," said the doctor.
"Clawbonny," asked Altamont, "can you tell me the highest temperature the human body can support?"
"Easily," answered the doctor; "various experiments have been made and curious facts have been found out. I remember one or two, and they serve to show that one can get accustomed to anything, even to not cooking where a beefsteak would cook. So, the story goes that some girls employed at the public bakery of the city of La Rochefoucauld, in France, could remain ten minutes in the oven in a temperature of 300 degrees, that is to say, 89 degrees hotter than boiling water, while potatoes and meat were cooking around them."
"What girls!" said Altamont.
"Here is another indisputable example. Nine of our fellow-countrymen in 1778, Fordyce, Banks, Solander, Blagden, Home, North, Lord Seaforth, and Captain Phillips, endured a temperature of 295 degrees, while eggs and roast beef were cooking near them."
"And they were Englishmen!" said Bell, with an accent of pride.
"Yes, Bell," answered the doctor.
"O, Americans could have done better!" said Altamont.
"They would have roasted," said the doctor, laughing.
"And why not?" answered the American.
"At any rate, they have not tried; still, I stand up for my countrymen. There's one thing I must not forget; it is incredible if one can doubt of the accuracy of the witnesses. The Duke of Ragusa and Dr. Jung, a Frenchman and an Austrian, saw a Turk dive into a bath which stood at 170 degrees."
"But it seems to me," said Johnson, that that is not equal to other people you mentioned."
"I beg your pardon," answered the doctor; there is a great difference between entering warm air and entering warm water; warm air induces perspiration, and that protects the skin, while in such hot water there is no perspiration and the skin is burned. Hence a bath is seldom hotter than 107 degrees. This Turk must have been an extraordinary man to have been able to endure so great heat."
"Dr. Clawbonny," asked Johnson, "what is the usual temperature of living beings?"
"It varies very much," answered the doctor; "birds are the warmest blooded, and of these the duck and hen are the most remarkable; their temperature is above 110 degrees, while that of the owl is not more than 104 degrees; then come the mammalia, men; the temperature of Englishmen is generally 101 degrees."
"I'm sure Mr. Altamont is going to claim something more for the Americans," said Johnson.
"Well," said Altamont, "there are some very warm; but as I've never placed a thermometer into their thorax or under their tongue, I can't be sure about it."
"The difference of temperature," resumed the doctor, "between men of different races is quite imperceptible when they are placed in the same circumstances, whatever be the nature of their bringing-up; I should add, that the temperature varies but little between men at the equator and at the pole."
"So," said Altamont, "our temperature is about the same here as in England?"
"About the same," answered the doctor; "as to the other mammalia, their temperature is a trifle higher than that of man. The horse is about the same, as well as the hare, the elephant, the porpoise, the tiger; but the cat, the squirrel, the rat, panther, sheep, ox, dog, monkey, goat, reach 103 degrees; and the warmest of all, the pig, goes above 104 degrees."
"That is humiliating for us," said Altamont.
"Then come amphibious animals and fish, whose temperature varies very much according to that of the water. The serpent does not go above 86 degrees, the frog 70 degrees, and the shark the same in a medium a degree and a half cooler; insects appear to have the temperature of the water and the air."
"That is all very well," said Hatteras, who had not yet spoken, "and I'm much obliged to the doctor for his information; but we are talking as if we had to endure torrid heats. Would it not be wiser to talk about the cold, to know to what we are exposed, and what is the lowest temperature that has ever been observed?"
"True," added Johnson.
"There's nothing easier," continued the doctor, "and I may be able to give you some information."
"I dare say," said Johnson; "you know everything."
"My friends, I only know what others have taught me, and when I've finished you'll know exactly as much. This is what I know about cold and the lowest temperatures observed in Europe. A great many noteworthy winters have been known, and it seems as if the severest has a periodic return about every forty-one years,—a period which nearly corresponds with the greater appearance of spots on the sun. I can mention the winter of 1364, when the Rhone was frozen as far as Arles; that of 1408, when the Danube was frozen its whole length, and when wolves ran over to Jutland without wetting their feet; that of 1509, during which the Mediterranean at Cette and Marseilles and the Adriatic at Venice were frozen, and the Baltic as late as April 10; that of 1608, which killed all the cattle in England; that of 1789, when the Thames was frozen—as far as Gravesend, six leagues—below London; that of 1813, of which the French retain such a terrible memory; and that of 1829, the earliest and longest winter of this century. So much for Europe."
"But what temperature has been reached above the Arctic Circle?" asked Altamont.
"Really," said the doctor, "I believe we have experienced the greatest cold that has ever been observed, since our spirit thermometer indicated one day -72 degrees; and if I remember aright, the lowest temperatures ever observed before were only -61 degrees at Melville Island, -65 degrees at Port Felix, and -70 degrees at Fort Reliance."
"Yes," said Hatteras; "we were delayed, and unfortunately too, by a very severe winter!"
"You were delayed?" exclaimed Altamont, staring at the captain.
"In our journey westward," interposed the doctor, hastily.
"So," said Altamont, continuing the conversation, "the maximum and minimum temperatures endured by men vary about two hundred degrees?"
"Yes," answered the doctor; "a thermometer exposed to the open air and sheltered from reflection has never risen above 135 degrees, and in the greatest colds it never falls below -72 degrees. So, my friends, you see we can take our ease."
"But still," said Johnson, "if the sun were to be extinguished suddenly, would not the earth endure greater cold?"
"The sun won't be extinguished," answered the doctor; "but even if it should be, the temperature would not fall any lower, probably, than what I have mentioned."
"O, I know it used to be said that in the space outside of the atmosphere the temperature was thousands of degrees below zero! but since the experiments of the Frenchman Fourrier, this has been disproved; he has shown that if the earth were placed in a medium void of all heat, that the temperature at the pole would be much greater, and that there would be very great differences between night and day; so, my friends, it is no colder a few millions of miles from the earth than it is here."
"Tell me, Doctor," said Altamont, "is not the temperature of America lower than that of other countries of the world?"
"Without doubt; but don't be proud of it," answered the doctor with a laugh.
"And what is the reason?"
"No very satisfactory explanation has ever been given; so it occurred to Hadley that a comet had come into collision with the earth and had altered the position of its axis of rotation, that is to say, of its poles; according to him, the North Pole, which used to be situated at Hudson's Bay, found itself carried farther east, and the land at the old Pole preserved a greater cold, which long centuries of the sun have not yet heated."
"And you do not admit this hypothesis?"
"Not for a moment; for what is true of the eastern coast of America is not true of the western coast, which has a higher temperature. No! we can prove that the isothermal lines differ from the terrestrial parallels, and that is all."
"Do you know, Doctor," said Johnson, "that it is pleasant to talk about cold in our present circumstances?"
"Exactly, Johnson; we can call practice to the aid of theory. These countries are a vast laboratory where curious experiments on low temperatures can be made. Only, be always careful; if any part of your body is frozen, rub it at once with snow to restore the circulation of the blood; and if you come near the fire, be careful, for you may burn your hands or feet without noticing it; then amputation would be necessary, and we should try to leave nothing of ourselves in these lands. And now I think it would be well for us to seek a few hours of sleep."
"Willingly," answered the doctor's companions.
"Who keeps watch over the stove?"
"I do," answered Bell.
"Well, my friend, take care the fire does not fall out, for it's most abominably cold this evening."
"Don't be uneasy, Doctor; it's very sharp, but see, the sky is all ablaze!"
"Yes," answered the doctor, going up to the window, "it's a magnificent aurora. What a glorious sight! I should never get tired of looking at it!"
In fact, the doctor admired all these cosmic phenomena, to which his companions paid but little attention; he had noticed, besides, that their appearance always preceded disturbances of the magnetic needle, and he was preparing some observations on the subject which he intended for Admiral Fitz-Roy's "Weather Book."
Soon, while Bell was on watch near the stove, all the rest, stretched on their beds, slept quietly.
CHAPTER X. THE PLEASURES OF WINTER-QUARTERS.
There is a gloomy monotony about life at the Pole. Man is wholly the sport of the changes of the weather, which alternates between intense cold and severe storms with savage relentlessness. The greater part of the time it is impossible to set foot out of doors; one is imprisoned in the hut of ice. Long months pass in this way, so that men lead the life of moles.
The next day the thermometer was several degrees lower, and the air was full of clouds of snow, which absorbed all the light of day. The doctor saw himself kept within doors, and he folded his arms; there was nothing to be done, except every hour to clear away the entrance-hall and to repolish the ice-walls which the heat within made damp; but the snow-house was very finely built, and the snow added to its resistance by augmenting the thickness of its walls.
The stores were equally secure. All the objects taken from the ship had been arranged in order in these "Docks of Merchandise," as the doctor called them. Now, although these stores were at a distance of only sixty feet from the house, it was yet on some days almost impossible to get to them; hence a certain quantity of provisions had always to be kept in the kitchen for daily needs.
They had been wise in unloading the Porpoise. The ship was exposed to a gentle, but persistent pressure, which was gradually crushing it; it was evident that nothing could be done with its fragments; still the doctor kept hoping to be able to build a launch out of them to return to England in, but the time for building it had not yet come.
So for the most part the five men remained in complete idleness. Hatteras was pensive and always lying on the bed; Altamont was drinking or sleeping, and the doctor took good care not to rouse him from his slumbers, for he was always afraid of some distressing quarrel. These two men seldom spoke to one another.
So during meal-time the prudent Clawbonny always took care to guide the conversation and to direct it in such a way as not to offend the susceptibilities of either; but he had a great deal to do. He did his best to instruct, distract, and interest his companions; when he was not arranging his notes about the expedition, he read aloud some history, geography, or work on meteorology, which had reference to their condition; he presented things pleasantly and philosophically, deriving wholesome instruction from the slightest incidents; his inexhaustible memory never played him false; he applied his doctrines to the persons who were with him, reminding them of such or such a thing which happened under such or such circumstances; and he filled out his theories by the force of personal arguments.
This worthy man may be called the soul of this little world, a soul glowing with frankness and justice. His companions had perfect confidence in him; he even improved Captain Hatteras, who, besides, was very fond of him; he made his words, manners, and custom so agreeable, that the life of these five men within six degrees of the Pole seemed perfectly natural; when he was speaking, any one would have imagined he was in his office in Liverpool. And yet this situation was unlike that of castaways on the islands of the Pacific Ocean, those Robinsons whose touching history always aroused the envy of their readers. There, the natural richness offers a thousand different resources; a little imagination and effort suffice to secure material happiness; nature aids man; hunting and fishing supply all his wants; the trees grow to aid him, caverns shelter him, brooks slake his thirst, dense thickets hide him from the sun, and severe cold never comes upon him in the winter; a grain tossed into the earth brings forth a bounteous return a few months later. There, outside of society, everything is found to make man happy. And then these happy isles lie in the path of ships; the castaway can hope to be picked up, and he can wait in patience.
But here on the coast of New America how great is the difference! This comparison would continually occur to the doctor, but he never mentioned it to the others, and he struggled against the enforced idleness.
He yearned ardently for the spring, in order to resume his excursions; and yet he was anxious about it, for he foresaw difficulties between Hatteras and Altamont. If they pushed on to the Pole, there would necessarily be rivalry between the two men. Hence he had to prepare for the worst, and still, as far as he could, to try to pacify these rivals; but to reconcile an American and an Englishman, two men hostile to one another from their birth, one endowed with real insular prejudice, the other with the adventurous, irreverent spirit of his country, was no easy task. When the doctor thought of their eager rivalry, which in fact was one of nationalities, he could not help, not shrugging his shoulders, but lamenting human weakness. He would often talk to Johnson on this subject; he and the old sailor agreed in the matter; they were uncertain what view to take, and they foresaw complications in the future.
Still, the bad weather continued; they could not leave Fort Providence even for an hour. Night and day they had to remain in the snow-house. They all found it tedious, except the doctor, who found diversion for himself.
"Isn't there any way we can amuse ourselves?" said Altamont one evening. "This isn't really living, lying here like sluggish reptiles all winter."
"It's a pity," said the doctor, "that we are too few to organize any system of distractions."
"Do you mean it would be easier for us to combat idleness if there were more of us?" asked the American.
"Yes; when whole crews have wintered in boreal regions, they have found out the way to avoid idleness."
"To tell the truth," said Altamont, "I should like to know how they did; they must have been very ingenious to get any fun out of these surroundings. They didn't ask one another riddles, I suppose?"
"No," answered the doctor, "but they introduced into these lands two great means of amusement, the press and the theatre."
"What! did they have a newspaper?" asked the American.
"Did they act plays?" asked Bell.
"Yes, and with much amusement. While he was wintering at Melville Island, Captain Parry offered his crews these two entertainments, and they enjoyed them very much."
"Well," said Johnson, "I should have liked to be there; it must have been funny enough."
"Funny indeed; Lieutenant Beecher was manager of the theatre, and Captain Sabine editor of the 'Winter Chronicle, or Gazette of North Georgia.'"
"Good names," said Altamont.
"The paper appeared every Monday morning, from November 1, 1819, to March 20, 1820. It contained an account of everything that happened, the hunts, accidents, incidents, and of the weather; there were stories written for it; to be sure, it lacked the humor of Sterne, and the delightful articles of the 'Daily Telegraph'; but they got amusement from it; its readers were not over-critical, and I fancy no journalists ever enjoyed their occupation more."
"Well," said Altamont, "I should like to hear some extracts from this paper, my dear Doctor; its articles must all have been frozen solid."
"No, no," answered the doctor; "at any rate, what would have seemed simple enough to the Liverpool Philosophical Society, or the London Literary Institution, was perfectly satisfactory to the crews beneath the snow. Do you want a sample?"
"What! Do you remember—"
"No, but you had 'Parry's Voyages' on board the Porpoise, and I can read you his own account."
"Do!" shouted the doctor's companions.
"There's nothing easier."
The doctor got the book from the shelves, and soon found the passage.
"See here," he said, "here are some extracts from the newspaper. It is a letter addressed to the editor:—
"'It is with genuine satisfaction that your plan for the establishment of a newspaper has been received. I am convinced that under your charge it will furnish us with a great deal of amusement, and will serve to lighten materially the gloom of our hundred days of darkness.
"'The interest which I, for my part, take in it has caused me to examine the effect of your announcement upon the members of our society, and I can assure you, to use the consecrated phrase of the London press, that it has produced a profound impression upon the public.
"'The day after the appearance of your prospectus, there was on board an unusual and unprecedented demand for ink. The green cloth of our tables was suddenly covered with a deluge of quill-pens, to the great injury of one of our servants, who, in trying to remove them, got one under his nail.
"'Finally, I know that Sergeant Martin has had no less than nine pocket-knives to sharpen.
"'Our tables are groaning beneath the unaccustomed weight of inkstands, which had not seen the light for two months; and it is even whispered that the depths of the hold have been often opened to secure many reams of paper, which did not expect to issue so soon from their place of repose.
"'I shall not forget to say to you that I have some suspicions that an effort will be made to slip into your box some articles, which, lacking complete originality, and not being wholly unpublished, may not suit your plan. I can affirm that no later than last evening an author was seen bending over his desk, holding in one hand an open volume of the "Spectator," while with the other he was thawing his ink by the flame of the lamp. It is useless to recommend you to keep a lookout against such devices; we must not see reappearing in the "Winter Chronicle" what our ancestors used to read at breakfast more than a century ago.'"
"Well, well," said Altamont, when the doctor had finished reading, "there is really good humor in that, and the writer must have been a bright fellow."
"Bright is the word," answered the doctor. "Stop a moment, here is an amusing advertisement:—
"'Wanted. A middle-aged, respectable woman to help dress the ladies of the troupe of the "Theatre Royal of North Georgia." Suitable salary given, tea and beer free. Address the Committee of the theatre.—N. B. A widow preferred.'"
"They were not disgusted, at any rate," said Johnson.
"And did they get the widow?" asked Bell.
"Probably," answered the doctor, "for here is an answer addressed to the committee:—
"'Gentlemen: I am a widow, twenty-six years old, and I can produce warm testimonials as to my morals and talents. But before taking charge of the dresses of the actresses of your theatre, I am anxious to know if they intend to keep their trousers on, and whether I can have the aid of some strong sailors to lace their corsets properly. This being arranged, gentlemen, you may count upon your servant.
"'P. S. Can you not substitute brandy for beer?'"
"Bravo!" shouted Altamont. "I suppose they had ladies'-maids to lace you by the capstan. Well, they were jolly fellows!"
"Like all who do what they set out to do," remarked Hatteras.
Hatteras uttered these words, and then he relapsed into his usual silence. The doctor, unwilling to dwell on that subject, hastened to resume his reading.
"See here," he said, "here is a picture of arctic sufferings; it may be varied infinitely; but a few of the observations are wise enough; for instance:—
"'To go out in the morning to take the air, and on setting foot off the ship, to take a cold bath in the cook's trough.
"'To go on a hunting-party, get near a fine reindeer, take aim, try to fire, and miss the shot on account of a damp cap.
"'To start out with a piece of fresh bread in the pocket, and when one gets hungry to find it frozen hard enough to break one's teeth.
"'To leave the table suddenly on hearing a wolf is in sight of the ship, and to come back and find one's dinner eaten by the cat.
"'To return from a walk rapt in thought, and to be awakened suddenly by the embrace of a bear.'
"You see, my friends," said the doctor, "we should not find it hard to imagine other polar troubles; but from the moment it becomes necessary to endure these miseries, it would be a pleasure to narrate them."
"Upon my word," said Altamont, "that's an amusing paper, and it's a pity we can't subscribe to it."
"Suppose we should start one," suggested Johnson.
"We five!" answered Clawbonny; "we should all be editors, and there would be no readers."
"Nor audience either, if we should act a play," said Altamont.
"Tell us, Doctor," said Johnson, "something about Captain Parry's theatre; did they act new plays there?"
"Of course; at first they made use of two volumes which were put on board of the Hector, and they had plays every fortnight; but soon they had acted all; then they resorted to original authors, and Parry himself wrote a suitable play for the Christmas holidays; it was very successful, and was called 'The Northwest Passage, or the End of the Voyage.'"
"A capital title," answered Altamont; "but I confess, if I had to write on that subject, I should be puzzled about the end."
"You are right," said Bell; "who can say how it will end?"
"True," answered the doctor; "but why bother about the end, since the beginning is so favorable? Let us trust in Providence, my friends; let us act our part well, and since the end depends on the Author of all things, let us have confidence in him; he will know what to do with us."
"Let us sleep on it," answered Johnson; "it is late, and since bedtime has come, let us turn in."
"You are in a great hurry, my old friend," said the doctor.
"Naturally enough, Doctor, I am so comfortable in bed! And then my dreams are pleasant. I dream of warm countries; or that, to tell the truth, half of my life is spent at the equator and half at the Pole!"
"The deuce," said Altamont, "you have a happy temperament."
"True," answered the boatswain.
"Well, it would be cruel to detain Johnson any longer. His tropical sun is waiting for him. Let us go to bed."
CHAPTER XI. DISQUIETING TRACES.
In the night of April 26-27, the weather changed; the thermometer fell many degrees, and the inhabitants of Doctor's House perceived it from the cold which made its way beneath their coverings; Altamont, who was watching the stove, took care not to let the fire get low, and he was kept busy putting on enough coal to keep the temperature at 50 degrees. This cold weather announced the end of the storm, and the doctor was glad of it, for now they could resume their usual occupations, their hunting, excursions, and explorations; this would put an end to the apathy of their loneliness, which in time sours even the finest characters.
The next morning the doctor rose early, and made his way over the drifts to the lighthouse. The wind was from the north; the air was clear, the snow was hard under his feet. Soon his five companions had left Doctor's House; their first care was to dig away the drifted snow, which now disguised the plateau; it would have been impossible to discover any traces of life upon it, for the tempest had buried all inequalities beneath fifteen feet of snow.
After the snow was cleared away from the house, it was necessary to restore its architectural outline. This was very easy, and after the ice was removed a few blows with the snow-knife gave it its normal thickness. After two hours' work the granite appeared, and access to the stores and the powder-house was free. But since, in these uncertain climates, such things can happen every day, a new supply of food was carried to the kitchen. They were all wearied of salt food and yearned for fresh meat, and so the hunters were charged with changing the bill of fare, and they prepared to set out.
Still the end of April did not bring with it the polar spring, which was yet six weeks off; the sun's rays were still too feeble to melt the snow or to nourish the few plants of these regions. They feared lest animals should be scarce, both birds and quadrupeds. But a hare, a few ptarmigans, even a young fox, would have been welcome to the table of Doctor's House, and the hunters resolved to shoot whatever should come within range.
The doctor, Altamont, and Bell determined to explore the country. Altamont, they felt sure from his habits, was a bold and skilful hunter, and, with all his bragging, a capital shot. So he went with the hunters, as did Duke, who was equally skilful and less prone to boasting.
The three companions ascended the east cone and set out towards the large white plains; but they had gone no farther than two or three miles before they saw numerous tracks; from that point, they ran down to the shore of Victoria Bay, and appeared to surround Fort Providence with a series of concentric circles.
After they had followed these footprints for a short time, the doctor said,—
"Well, that is clear enough."
"Too clear," said Bell; "they are bear tracks."
"Good game," continued Altamont, "and there is only one fault in it to-day."
"What's that?" asked the doctor.
"The abundance," answered the American.
"What do you mean?" asked Bell.
"I mean that there are distinct tracks of five bears; and five bears are a good many for five men."
"Are you sure of what you say?" asked the doctor.
"Judge for yourself; this mark is different from any other; the claws on this one are farther apart than those. Here is the print of a smaller bear. If you compare them together, you'll find traces of five animals."
"You are right," said Bell, after a careful examination.
"Then," said the doctor, "there is no need of useless bravado, but rather of caution; these animals are famished at the end of a severe winter, and they may be very dangerous; and since there is no doubt of their number—"
"Nor of their intentions," interrupted the American.
"Do you suppose," he asked, "that they have discovered our presence here?"
"Without a doubt, unless we've fallen on a whole band of bears; but in that case, why do their prints go about in a circle, instead of running out of sight? See, they came from the southwest and stopped here, and began to explore the country."
"You are right," said the doctor, "and it's certain they came last night."
"And the other nights too," answered Altamont; "only the snow has covered their tracks."
"No," said the doctor; "it's more likely that they waited for the end of the storm; they went to the bay to catch some seals, and then they scented us."
"True," said Altamont; "so it is easy to know whether they will return to-night."
"How so?" asked Bell.
"By rubbing out some of their tracks; and if we find new ones to-morrow, we can be sure that they are trying to get into Fort Providence."
"Well," said the doctor, "we shall at least know what to expect."
The three then set to work, and soon effaced all the tracks over a space of about six hundred feet.
"It's strange, however," said Bell, "that they could scent us at so great a distance; we didn't burn anything greasy which could attract them."
"O," answered the doctor, "they have very fine sight, and delicate sense of smell! Besides, they are very intelligent, perhaps the most intelligent of animals, and they have found out something strange here."
"Perhaps," continued Bell, "during the storm, they came up as far as the plateau."
"Then," said the American, "why should they have stopped there?"
"True, there is no answer to that," answered the doctor; "and we ought to believe that they are shortening the circle about Fort Providence."
"We shall see," answered Altamont.
"Now, let us go on," said the doctor; "but we'll keep our eyes open."
They kept careful watch, through fear lest some bear should be hidden behind the masses of ice; often they took the blocks for animals, from their shape and whiteness, but soon they discovered their mistake.
They returned at last to the shore beneath the cone, and from there their eyes swept in vain from Cape Washington to Johnson Island. They saw nothing; everything was white and motionless; not a sound was to be heard. They entered the snow-house.
Hatteras and Johnson were informed of the condition of affairs, and they resolved to keep a strict watch. Night came; nothing occurred to alarm them, or to mar its beauty. At dawn the next morning, Hatteras and his companions, fully armed, went out to examine the condition of the snow; they found the same tracks as on the previous day, only nearer. Evidently the enemy was preparing to lay siege to Fort Providence.
"They have opened their second parallel," said the doctor.
"They have made a point in advance," answered Altamont; "see those footprints coming nearer the plateau; they are those of some strong animal."
"Yes, they are gaining ground gradually," said Johnson; "it is evident that they are going to attack us."