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°. 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
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
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 south-west
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
“Well,” said the doctor, “we shall at least know what to
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 did n't burn anything greasy which
could attract them.”
“0,” 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
“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
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.”
“There's no doubt of that,” said the doctor; “let us avoid
showing ourselves. We are not strong enough to fight successfully.”
“But where do these devilish bears come from?” asked Bell.
“From behind those pieces of ice to the east, where they are
spying us; don't let us get too near them.”
“And our hunt?” asked Altamont.
“Let us put it off for a few days,” answered the doctor; “let
us again rub out these nearest marks, and to-morrow we shall see
if they are renewed. In this way we can see the manœuvres of
our enemies.”
The doctor's advice was taken, and they returned to the fort;
the presence of these terrible beasts forbade any excursion. Strict
watch was kept over the neighborhood of Victoria Bay. The
lighthouse was dismantled; it was of no real use, and might attract
the attention of the animals; the lantern and the electric
threads were carried to the house; then they took turns in watching
the upper plateau.
Again they had to endure the monotony of loneliness, but what
else was to be done? They dared not risk a contest at so fearful
odds; no one's life could be risked imprudently. Perhaps the
bears, if they caught sight of nothing, might be thrown off the
track; or, if they were met singly, they might be attacked successfully.
However, this inaction was relieved by a new interest;
they had to keep watch, and no one regretted it.
April 28th passed by without any sign of the existence of the
enemy. The next morning their curiosity as to the existence of
new tracks was succeeded by astonishment. Not a trace was to
be seen; the snow was intact.
“Good,” shouted Altamont, “the bears are thrown off the
track! They have no perseverance! They are tired of waiting,
and have gone! Good by, and now off to the hunt!”
“Eh!” answered the doctor, “who can say? For greater
safety, my friends, I beg one more day of watching; it is certain
the enemy did not approach last night, at least from this side—”
“Let us make a circuit of the plateau,” said Altamont, “and
then we shall make sure.”
“Willingly,” said the doctor.
But with all their care in exploration, not the slightest trace
could be found.
“Well, shall we start on our hunt!” asked Altamont, impatiently.
“Let us wait till to-morrow,” urged the doctor.
“All right,” answered Altamont, who had some reluctance,
however, about conceding.
They returned to the fort. Each one had to watch for an hour,
as on the previous
evening. When Altamont's
turn came,
he went to relieve
Bell. As soon as he
was gone, Hatteras
called his companions
together. The
doctor left his notes,
and Johnson his furnaces.
It might have
been supposed that
Hatteras was going
to discuss the dangers
of the situation;
he did not
even think of them.
“My friends,” he
said, “let us take
advantage of the absence
of this American,
to talk over our
affairs; some things don't concern him at all, and I don't care to
have him meddling with them.”
The others looked at one another, uncertain of his meaning.
“I want to speak with you,” he said, “about our future plans.”
“Well,” answered the doctor, “let us talk now we are alone.”
“In a month, or six weeks at the latest,” Hatteras began, “we
shall be able to make distant excursions. Had you thought of
what might be done in the summer?”
“Had you, Captain?” asked Johnson.
“I? I can say that not an hour passes without my mind's
recurring to my plan. I suppose no one of you has any thought
of returning—”
There was no immediate answer to this insinuation.
“As for me,” continued Hatteras, “if I have to go alone, I
shall go to the North Pole; we are only three hundred and sixty
miles from it at the outside. No men have ever been so near it,
and I shall not let such a chance go by without the attempt,
even if it be impossible. What are your views in the matter?”
“Your own,” answered the doctor.
“And yours, Johnson?”
“The same as the doctor's,” answered the boatswain.
“It is your turn to speak, Bell,” said Hatteras.
“Captain,” answered the carpenter, “it is true we have no
family awaiting us in England, but our country is our country:
don't you think of going back?”
“We shall go back easily as soon as we shall have discovered
the Pole. In fact, more easily. The difficulties will not increase,
for, on our way thither, we leave behind us the coldest spots on
the globe. We have supplies of all sorts for a long time. There
is nothing to hinder us, and we should be to blame if we did not
push on to the end.”
“Well,” answered Bell, “we are all of your opinion, Captain.”
“Good!” replied Hatteras. “I have never doubted of you.
We shall succeed, my friends, and England shall have all the
glory of our success.”
“But there is an American with us,” said Johnson.
Hatteras could not restrain a wrathful gesture at this remark.
“I know it,” he said in a deep voice.
“We can't leave him here,” continued the doctor.
“No, we cannot,” answered Hatteras, coldly.
“And he will certainly come.”
“Yes, he will come, but who will command?”
“You, Captain.”
“And if you obey me, will this Yankee refuse to obey?”
“I don't think so,” answered Johnson; “but if he is unwilling
to obey your orders—”
“It would have to be settled between him and me.”
The three Englishmen looked at Hatteras without a word. The
doctor broke the silence.
“How shall we travel?” he asked.
“By keeping along the coast as much as possible,” answered
“But if we find the sea open, as is likely?”
“Well, we shall cross it.”
“How? We have no boat.”
Hatteras did not answer; he was evidently embarrassed.
“Perhaps,” suggested Bell, “we might build a launch out of
the timbers of the Porpoise.”
“Never!” shouted Hatteras, warmly.
“Never?” exclaimed Johnson.
The doctor shook his head; he understood the captain's unwillingness.
“Never!” the latter answered. “A launch made out of the
wood of an American ship would be an American launch—”
“But, Captain—” interposed Johnson.
The doctor made a sign to the old boatswain to keep silent.
A more suitable time was required for that question. The doctor,
although he understood Hatteras's repugnance, did not sympathize
with it, and he determined to make his friend abandon this
hasty decision. Hence he spoke of something else, of the possibility
of going along the coast to the north, and that unknown
point, the North Pole. In a word, he avoided all dangerous subjects
of conversation up to the moment when it was suddenly
ended by the entrance of Altamont. He had nothing new to report.
The day ended in this way, and the night was quiet. The
bears had evidently disappeared.




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