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 if?”
“With one of the Porpoise's lanterns.”
“Very good; but with what will you feed the lamp? With seal oil?”
“No; it does n't give a bright enough light; it could hardly
pierce the fog.”
“Do yon 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; did n'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. Al 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 does n'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 he anxious,
insisted on their going on.
“Duke is showing us the way,” he said, “and he can't he
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 stops of Fort Providence.

 

 

 

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