On reaching the right distance, he took aim; but, just as his finger touched the trigger, he felt his arm tremble. His thick gloves hampered him, and, flinging them hastily off, he took up the gun with a firmer grasp. But what a cry of agony escaped him! The skin of his fingers stuck to the gun as if it had been
red-hot, and he was forced to let it drop. The sudden fall made it go off, and the last ball was discharged in the air.
The Doctor ran out at the noise of the report, and understood all at a glance. He saw the animal walking quietly off, and poor Johnson forgetting his sufferings in his despair.
“I am a regular milksop!” he exclaimed, “a cry-baby, that can’t stand the least pain! And at my age, too!”
“Come, Johnson; go in at once, or you will be frost-bitten. Look at your hands—they are white already! Come, come this minute.”
“I am not worth troubling about, Mr. Clawbonny,” said the old boatswain. “Never mind me!”
“But you must come in, you obstinate fellow. Come, now, I tell you; it will be too late presently.”
At last he succeeded in dragging the poor fellow into the tent, where he made him plunge his hands into a
bowl of water, which the heat of the stove kept in a liquid state, though still cold. Johnson’s hands had hardy touched it before it froze immediately.
“You see it was high time you came in; I should have been forced to amputate soon,” said the Doctor.
Thanks to his endeavours, all danger was over in about an hour, but he was advised to keep his hands at a good distance from the stove for some time still.
That morning they had no breakfast. Pemmican and salt beef were both done. Not a crumb of biscuit remained. They were obliged to content themselves with half a cup of hot coffee, and start off again.
They scarcely went three miles before they were compelled to give up for the day. They had no supper but coffee, and the dogs were so ravenous that they were almost devouring each other.
Johnson fancied he could see the bear following them in the distance, but he made no remark to his companions. Sleep forsook the unfortunate men, and their eyes grew wild and haggard.
Tuesday morning came, and it was thirty-four hours since they had tasted a morsel of food. Yet these brave, stout-hearted men continued their march, sustained by their superhuman energy of purpose. They pushed the sledge themselves, for the dogs could no longer draw it.
At the end of two hours, they sank exhausted. Hatteras urged them to make a fresh attempt, but his entreaties and supplications were powerless; they could not do impossibilities.
“Well, at any rate,” he said, “I won’t die of cold if I must of hunger.” He set to work to hew out
a hut in an iceberg, aided by Johnson, and really they looked like men digging their own tomb.
It was hard labour, but at length the task was accomplished. The little house was ready, and the miserable men took up their abode in it.
In the evening, while the others lay motionless, a sort of hallucination came over Johnson, and he began raving about bears.
The Doctor roused himself from his torpor, and asked the old man what he meant, and what bear he was talking about.
“The bear that is following us,” replied Johnson.
“A bear following us?”
“Yes, for the last two days!”
“For the last two days! You have seen him?”
“Yes, about a mile to leeward.”
“And you never told me, Johnson!”
“What was the good!”
“True enough,” said the Doctor; “we have not a single bail to send after him!”
“No, not even a bit of iron!”
The Doctor was silent for a minute, as if thinking. Then he said—
“Are you quite certain the animal is following us?”
“Yes, Mr. Clawbonny, he is reckoning on a good feed of human flesh!”
“Johnson!” exclaimed the Doctor, grieved at the despairing mood of his companion.
“He is sure enough of his meal!” continued the
“You have no ball!”
“I’ll make one.”
“You have no lead!”
“No, but I have mercury.”
So saying, he took the thermometer, which stood at 50° above zero, and went outside and laid it on a block of ice.