Night came, and the lamp began to burn dimly in the close
air of the room. At eight o'clock they made their final preparations.
The guns were carefully loaded, and an opening was begun
in the roof of the snow-house. Bell worked cleverly at this for a
few minutes, when Johnson, who had left the bedroom, where he
was on guard, for a few minutes, returned rapidly to his companions.
He seemed disturbed.
“What is the matter?” the captain asked.
“The matter? nothing!” answered the old sailor, hesitatingly,
“What is it?” asked Altamont.
“Hush! Don't you hear a strange sound?”
“On which side?”
“There! There is something happening to the wall of that
Bell stopped his work; each one listened. A distant noise
could be heard, apparently in the side wall; some one was evidently
making a passage-way through the ice.
“It's a tearing sound!” said Johnson.
“Without a doubt,” answered Altamont.
“The bears?” asked Bell.
“Yes, the bears,” said Altamont.
“They have changed their plan,” continued the sailor; “they've
given up trying to suffocate us.”
“Or else they think they've done it,” added the American, who
was getting very angry.
“We shall be attacked,” said Bell.
“Well,” remarked Hatteras, “we shall fight against them.”
“Confound it!” shouted Altamont; “I prefer that decidedly!
I've had enough working in the dark! Now we shall see one
another and fight!”
“Yes,” answered Johnson; “but with our guns it is impossible
in so small a space.”
“Well, with a hatchet or a knife!”
The noise increased; the scratching of claws could be heard;
the bears had attacked the wall at the angle where it joined the
snow fastened to the rock.
“Evidently,” said Johnson, “the animal is within six feet of
“You are right, Johnson,” answered the American, “but we
have time to prepare ourselves to receive it!”
The American took the axe in one hand, his knife in the other;
resting on his right foot, his body thrown back, he stood ready to
attack. Hatteras and Bell did the same. Johnson prepared his
gun in case fire-arms should be necessary. The noise grew louder
and louder; the ice kept cracking beneath the repeated blows.
At last only a thin crust separated the adversaries; suddenly
this crust tore asunder like paper through which a clown leaps,
and an enormous black body appeared in the gloom of the room.
Altamont raised his hand to strike it.
“Stop! for heaven's sake, stop!” said a well-known voice.
“The doctor, the doctor!” shouted Johnson.
It was indeed the doctor, who, carried by the impetus, rolled
into the room.
“Good evening, my friends,” he said, springing to his feet.
His companions remained stupefied; but joy succeeded their
stupefaction; each one wished to embrace the worthy man; Hatteras,
who was much moved, clasped him for a long time to his
breast. The doctor answered by a warm clasp of the hand.
“What! you, Dr. Clawbonny!” said the boatswain.
“Why, Johnson, I was much more anxious about your fate
than you about mine.”
“But how did you know that we were attacked by bears?”
asked Altamont; “our greatest fear was to see you returning
quietly to Fort Providence without thought of danger.”
“0, I saw everything!” answered the doctor; “your shots
warned me; I happened to be near the fragments of the Porpoise;
I climbed up a hummock; I saw five hears chasing you; ah, I
feared the worst for you! But the way you slid down the hill,
and the hesitation of the animals, reassured me for a time: I
knew you'd had time to lock yourselves in. Then I approached
gradually, climbing and creeping between cakes of ice; I arrived
near the fort, and I saw the huge beasts working like beavers;
they were tossing the snow about, heaping up the ice so as to
bury you alive. Fortunately, they did not think of hurling the
blocks down from the top of the cone, for you would have been
crushed without mercy.”
“But,” said Bell, “you were not safe, Doctor; could n't they
leave their place and attack you?”
“They did n't think of it; the Greenland dogs which Johnson
let loose would sniff around at a little distance, but they did n't
think of attacking them; no, they were sure of better game.”
“Thanks for the compliment,” said Altamont, smiling.
“0, you need n't be vain of it! When I saw the tactics of the
bears, I resolved to join you; to be prudent, I waited till night;
so at twilight I slipped noiselessly towards the slope, on the side
of the magazine; I had my own idea in choosing this point; I
wanted to make a gallery; so I set to work; I began with my
snow-knife, and a capital tool it is! For three hours I dug and
dug, and here I am, hungry and tired, but here at last—”
“To share our fate?” asked Altamont.
“To save all of us; but give me a piece of biscuit and some
meat; I'm half starved.”
Soon the doctor was burying his white teeth in a large slice
of salt beef. Although he was eating, he appeared willing to
answer the questions they put to him.
“To save us?” Bell began.
“Certainly,” answered the doctor, “and to rid us of the malicious
pests who will end by finding our stores and devouring
“We must stay here,” said Hatteras.
“Certainly,” answered the doctor, “and yet rid ourselves of
these animals.”
“There is then a means?” asked Bell.
“A sure means,” answered the doctor.
“I said so,” cried Johnson, rubbing his hands; “with Dr. Clawbonny,
we need not despair; he always has some invention handy.”
“Not always handy; but after thinking for a while—”
“Doctor,” interrupted Altamont, “can't the bears get through
the passage-way you cut?”
“No, I took the precaution of closing it behind me; and now
we can go from here to the powder-magazine without their suspecting
“Good! Will you tell us what means you intend to employ to
rid us of these unpleasant visitors?”
“Something very simple, and which is already half done.”
“How so?”
“You'll see. But I forgot I did n't come alone.”
“What do you mean?”
asked Johnson.
“I have a companion to introduce
to you.”
And with these words he
pulled in from the gallery the
newly killed body of a fox.
“A fox!” cried Bell.
“My morning's game,” answered
the doctor, modestly,
“and you'll see no fox was ever
wanted more than this one.”
“But what is your plan, after
all?” asked Altamont.
“I intend to blow the hears up with a hundred pounds of
They all gazed at the doctor with amazement.
“But, the powder?” they asked.
“It is in the magazine.”
“And the magazine?”
“This passage-way leads to it. I had my own reason for digging
this passage sixty feet long; I might have attacked the
parapet nearer to the house, but I had my own idea.”
“Well, where are you going to put the mine?” asked the
“On the slope, as far as possible from the house, the magazine,
and the stores.”
“But how shall you get all the bears together?”
“I'll take charge of that,” answered the doctor; “but we've
talked enough, now to work; we have a hundred feet to dig out
to-night; it's tiresome work, but we five can do it in relays.
Bell shall begin, and meanwhile we can take some rest.”
“Really,” said Johnson, “the more I think of it, the more I
admire Dr. Clawbonny's plan.”
“It's sure,” answered the doctor.
“O, from the moment you opened your mouth they are dead
bears, and I already feel their fur about my shoulders!”
“To work, then!”
The doctor entered the dark gallery, followed by Bell; where
the doctor had gone through, his companions were sure to find no
difficulty; two reached the magazine and entered among the barrels,
which were all arranged in good order. The doctor gave
Bell the necessary instructions; the carpenter began work on the
wall towards the slope, and his companion returned to the house.
Bell worked for an hour, and dug a passage about ten feet long,
through which one might crawl. Then Altamont took his place,
and did about as much; the snow which was taken from the gallery
was carried into the kitchen, where the doctor melted it at
the fire, that it might take up less room. The captain followed
the American; then came Johnson. In ten hours, that is to say,
at about eight o'clock in the morning, the gallery was finished.
At daybreak the doctor peeped at the bears through a loop-hole
in the wall of the powder-magazine.
The patient animals had not left their place; there they were,
coming and going, growling, but in general patrolling patiently;
they kept going around the house, which was gradually disappearing
beneath the snow. But at length they seemed to lose
patience, for the doctor saw them begin to tear away the ice and
snow they had heaped up.
“Good!” he said to the captain, who was standing near
“What are they doing?” he asked.
“They seem to be trying to destroy what they have done and
to get to us! But they'll be destroyed first! At any rate, there
is no time to lose.”
The doctor made his way to the place where the mine was to
be laid; then he enlarged the chamber all the height and breadth
of the slope; a layer of ice, only a foot thick at the outside,
remained; it had to be supported lest it should fall in. A stake
resting on the granite soil served as a post; the fox's body was
fastened to the top, and a long knotted cord ran the whole length
of the gallery to the magazine. The doctor's companions followed
his orders without clearly understanding his intention.
“This is the bait,” he said, pointing to the fox.
At the foot of the post he placed a cask holding about a hundred
pounds of powder.
“And here is the charge,” he added.
“But,” asked Hatteras, “sha' n't we blow ourselves up at the
same time?”
“No, we are far enough off from the explosion; besides, our
house is solid; and if it is hurt a little we can easily repair it.”
“Well,” continued Altamont; “but how are you going to set
it off?”
“This way. By pulling this cord we pull over the post which
holds up the ice above the powder; the fox's body will suddenly
be seen on the slope, and you must confess that the starving animals
will rush upon this unexpected prey.”
“Well, at that moment I shall explode the mine, and blow up
guest and dinner.”
“Well, well!” exclaimed Johnson, who was listening eagerly.
Hatteras had perfect confidence in his friend, and asked no
question. He waited. But Altamont wanted it made perfectly
“Doctor,” he began, “how can you calculate the length of the
fuse so exactly that the explosion will take place at the right
“It's very simple,” answered the doctor; “I don't make any
“But you have a fuse a hundred feet long?”
“Shall you set a train of powder simply?”
“No! that might fail.”
“Will some one have to volunteer and light the powder?”
“If you want any one,” said Johnson, eagerly, “I'm your
“It's not necessary, my friend,” answered the doctor, grasping
the boatswain's hand; “our five lives are precious, and they will be
spared, thank God!”
“Then,” said the American, “I can't guess.”
“Well,” answered the doctor, smiling, “if we could n't get out
of this little affair, what would be the use of physics?”
“Ah!” said Johnson, brightening up, “physics!”
“Yes! Have n't we here an electric pile and wires long
enough,—those, you know, which connected with the lighthouse?”
“Well, we shall explode the powder when we please, instantly,
and without danger.”
“Hurrah!” shouted Johnson.
“Hurrah!” repeated his companions, not caring whether the
enemy heard them or not. Soon the electric wires were run
through the gallery from the house to the chamber of the mine.
One of the extremities remained at the pile, the other was
plunged into the centre of the cask, the two ends being placed
at but a little distance from one another. At nine of the morning
all was finished, and it was time; the bears were tearing the
snow away furiously. The doctor thought the proper time had
come. Johnson was sent to the magazine and charged with pulling
the cord fastened to the post. He took his place.
“Now,” said the doctor to his companions, “load your guns in
case they should not be all killed at once, and take your place
near Johnson; as soon as you hear the explosion, run out.”
“All right!” said the American.
“And now we have done all that men can do! We have
helped ourselves; may God help us!”
Hatteras, Altamont, and Bell went to the magazine. The doctor
remained alone at the pile. Soon he heard Johnson's voice
“All right!” he answered.
Johnson gave a strong pull at the rope; it pulled over the
stake; then he ran to the loop-hole and looked out. The surface
of the slope had sunk in. The fox's body was visible upon the
shattered ice. The bears, at first surprised, crowded about this
new prey.
“Fire!” shouted Johnson.
The doctor at once established the electric current between the
threads; a loud explosion followed; the house shook as if in an
earthquake; the walls fell in. Hatteras, Altamont, and Bell
hastened out of the magazine, ready to fire. But their guns were
not needed; four of the five bears fell about them in fragments,
while the fifth, badly burned, ran away as fast as he could.
“Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!” shouted the doctor's companions,
while they crowded about him and embraced him.




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