The next day they determined to arrange the hunt, in which
Hatteras, Altamont, and the carpenter were to take part; no
more tracks were to be seen; the bears had decidedly given up
their plan of attack, either from fear of their unknown enemies,
or because there had been no sign of living beings beneath the
mass of snow. During the absence of the three hunters, the
doctor was to push on to Johnson Island to examine the condition
of the ice, and to make some hydrographic investigations.
The cold was sharp, but they supported it well, having become
accustomed to it by this time. The boatswain was to remain at
Doctor's House; in a word, to guard the house.
The three hunters made their preparations; each one took a
double-barrelled rifled gun, with conical balls; they carried a
small quantity of pemmican, in case night should fall before
their return; they also were provided with the snow-knife, which
is so indispensable in these regions, and a hatchet which they
wore in their belts. Thus armed and equipped they could go
far; and since they were both skilled and bold, they could count
on bringing back a good supply.
At eight in the morning they set out. Duke sprang about
ahead of them; they ascended the hill to the east, went about
the lighthouse, and disappeared in the plains to the south, which
were bounded by Mount Bell. The doctor, having agreed on a
danger-signal with Johnson, descended towards the shore so as
to reach the ice in Victoria Bay.
The boatswain remained at Fort Providence alone, but not idle.
He first set free the Greenland dogs, which were playing about
the Dog Palace; they in their joy rolled about in the snow.
Johnson then gave his attentions to the cares of housekeeping.
He had to renew the fuel and provisions, to set the stores in
order, to mend many broken utensils, to patch the coverings,
to work over the shoes for the long excursions of the summer.
There was no lack of things to do, but the boatswain worked
with the ease of a
sailor, who has generally
a smattering of
all trades. While
thus employed he
began to think of the
talk of the evening
before; he thought of
the captain, and especially
of his obstinacy,
which, after all,
had something very heroic and very honorable about it, in his
unwillingness that any American man or boat should reach the
Pole before him, or even with him.
“Still, it seems to me,” he said to himself, “no easy task to
cross the ocean without a boat; and if we have the open sea before
us, we should need one. The strongest Englishman in the world
could n't swim three hundred miles. Patriotism has its limits.
Well, we shall see. We have still time before us; Dr. Clawbonny
has not yet said his last word in the matter; he is wise,
and he may persuade the captain to change his mind. I'll bet
that in going towards the island he'll glance at the fragments
of the Porpoise, and will know exactly what can be made out of
Johnson had reached this point in his reflections, and the hunters
had been gone an hour, when a loud report was heard two
or three miles to windward.
“Good!” said the sailor; “they have come across something,
and without going very far, for I heard them distinctly. After
all, the air is so dear.”
A second and then a third report was heard.
“Hulloa!” continued Johnson, “they've got into a good
Three other reports, in quicker succession, were heard.
“Six shots!” said Johnson; “now they've fired off everything.
It was a hot time! Is it possible—”
At the thought, Johnson grew pale; he quickly left the snow-house,
and in a few moments he had run up to the top of the
cone. He saw a sight that made him tremble.
“The bears!” he shouted.
The three hunters, followed by Duke, were running rapidly,
followed by five enormous animals; their six bullets had not
disabled them; the bears were gaining on them; Hatteras, behind
the others, could only keep his distance from the animals
by throwing away his cap, hatchet, and even his gun. The
bears stopped, according to their habit, to sniff at the different
objects, and lost a little on this ground on which they would
have outstripped the swiftest horse. It was thus that Hatteras,
Altamont, and Bell, all out of breath, came up to Johnson, and
they all slid down the slope to the snow-house. The five bears
were close behind, and the captain was obliged to ward off the
blow of a paw with his knife. In a moment Hatteras and his
companions were locked in the house. The animals stopped on
the upper plateau of the truncated cone.
“Well,” said Hatteras, “we can now defend ourselves better,
five to five!”
“Four to five!” shouted Johnson in a terrified voice.
“What?” asked Hatteras.
“The doctor!” answered Johnson, pointing to the empty
“He is on the shore of the island!”
“Poor man!” cried Bell.
“We can't abandon him in this way,” said Altamont.
“Let us run!” said Hatteras.
He opened the door quickly, but he had hardly time to shut
it; a bear nearly crushed his skull with his claw.
“They are there,” he cried.
“All?” asked Bell.
“All!” answered Hatteras.
Altamont hastened to the windows, heaping up the bays with
pieces of ice torn from the walls of the house. His companions
did the same without speaking. Duke's dull snarls alone broke
But it must he said these men had only a single thought;
they forgot their own danger, and only considered the doctor.
Poor Clawbonny! so kind, so devoted! the soul of the little
colony! for the first time he was missing; extreme peril, a
terrible death, awaited him; for when his excursion was over he
would return quietly to Fort Providence, and would find these
ferocious animals. And there was no way of warning him.
“If I'm not mistaken,
he will be on
his guard; your shots
must have warned
him, and he must
know something has
“But if he were
far off,” answered Altamont,
“and did not
are eight chances out of ten that he'll come back without suspicion
of danger! The bears are hiding behind the scarp of the
fort, and he can't see them.”
“We shall have to get rid of these dangerous beasts before
his return,” answered Hatteras.
“But how?” asked Bell.
To answer this question was not easy. A sortie seemed impossible.
They took the precaution to barricade the entrance,
but the bears could easily have overcome the obstacles if the
idea had occurred to them; they knew the number and strength
of their adversaries, and they could easily have reached them.
The prisoners were posted in each one of the chambers of Doctor's
House to watch for every attempt at entrance; when they
listened, they heard the bears coming and going, growling, and
tearing at the walls with their huge paws. But some action was
necessary; time was pressing. Altamont resolved to make a
loop-hole to shoot the assailants; in a few minutes he had made
a little hole in the ice-wall; he pushed his gun through it; but
it had scarcely reached the other side before it was torn from
his hands with irresistible force before he could fire.
“The devil!” he cried, “we are too weak.”
And he hastened to close the loop-hole. Thus matters went
for an hour, without any end appearing probable. The chances
of a sortie were discussed; they seemed slight, for the bears
could not be fought singly. Nevertheless, Hatteras and his
companions, being anxious to finish it, and, it must be said,
very much confused at being thus imprisoned by the beasts,
were about to try a direct attack, when the captain thought of
a new means of defence.
He took the poker and plunged it into the stove; then he
made an opening in the wall, but so as to keep a thin coating of
ice outside. His companions watched him. When the poker
was white hot, Hatteras said,—
“This bar will drive away the bears, for they won't be able to
seize it, and through the loop-hole we will be able to fire at them,
without their taking our guns away from us.”
“A good idea!” cried Bell, going towards Altamont.
Then Hatteras, withdrawing the poker from the stove, pushed
it through the wall. The snow, steaming at its touch, hissed
sharply. Two bears ran to seize the bar, but they roared fearfully
when four shots were fired at once.
“Hit!” shouted the American.
“Hit!” repeated Bell.
“Let us try again,” said Hatteras, closing the opening for a
The poker was put again into the fire; in a few minutes it was
Altamont and Bell returned to their place after loading their
guns; Hatteras again pushed the poker through the loop-hole.
But this time an impenetrable substance stopped it.
“Curse it!” cried the American.
“What's the matter?” asked Johnson.
“The matter! These cursed animals are heaping up the ice
and snow so as to bury us alive!”
“See, poker can't go through! Really, this is absurd!”
It was more than absurd, it was alarming. Matters looked
worse. The bears, which are very intelligent beasts, employed
this method of suffocating their prey. They heaped the ice in
such a way as to render flight impossible.
“This is hard,” said Johnson, with a very mortified air.
“It's well enough to have men treat you in this way, but
After this reflection two hours passed by without any material
change in their situation; a sortie became impossible; the thickened
walls deadened all sound without. Altamont walked to and
fro like a bold man in face of a danger greater than his courage.
Hatteras thought anxiously of the doctor, and of the great danger
awaiting him when he should return.
“Ah,” shouted Johnson, “if Dr. Clawbonny were only here!”
“Well, what would he do?” asked Altamont.
“O, he would be able to help us!”
“How?” asked the American, with some asperity.
“If I knew,” answered Johnson, “I should n't want him here.
Still, I can think of a piece of advice he would give us at this
“What, is that?”
“To take some food. It can't hurt us. What do you think,
“Let us eat if you care to,” was the answer; “although our
condition is stupid, not to say disgraceful.”
“I'll bet,” said Johnson, “that we'll find some way of driving
them off after dinner.”
They made no reply, but sat down to dinner. Johnson, as a
pupil of the doctor, tried to be a philosopher in the face of danger,
but he succeeded ill; his jokes stuck in his throat. Besides,
they began to feel uncomfortable; the air was growing bad in
this hermetically sealed prison: the stove-pipe drew insufficiently,
and it was easy to sec that in a short time the fire would go
out; the oxygen, consumed by their lungs and the fire, would
be replaced by carbonic acid, which would be fatal to them, as
they all knew. Hatteras was the first to detect this new danger;
he was unwilling to hide it from the others.
“So, at any risk we must get
out!” said Altamont.
“Yes,” answered Hatteras;
“but let us wait till night; we
will make a hole in the snow that
we may get fresh air; then one
shall take his place here and fire
at the bears.”
“It's the only thing we can
do,” said the American.
Having agreed on this, they
waited for the time of action; and
during the following hours, Altamont
did not spare imprecations
against a state of things in which, as he put it, “there being
men and bears concerned, the men were getting the worst of it.”