Then he came in again, and said, “Tomorrow! Go to sleep, and wait till the sun rises.”
With the first streak of dawn next day, the Doctor and Johnson rushed out to look at the thermometer. All the mercury had frozen into a compact cylindrical mass. The Doctor broke the tube and took it out. Here was a hard piece of metal ready for use.
“It is wonderful, Mr. Clawbonny; you ought to be a proud man.”
“Not at all, my friend, I am only gifted with a good memory, and I have read a great deal.”
“How did that help you?”
“Why, I just happened to recollect a fact related by Captain Ross in his voyages. He states that they pierced a plank, an inch thick, with a bullet made of mercury. Oil would even have suited my purpose, for, he adds, that a ball of frozen almond oil splits through a post without breaking in pieces.”
“It is quite incredible!”
“But it is a fact, Johnson. Well, come now, this bit of metal may save our lives. We’ll leave it exposed to the air a little while, and go and have a look for the bear.”
Just then Hatteras made his appearance, and the
Doctor told him his project, and showed him the mercury.
The captain grasped his hand silently, and the three hunters went off in quest of their game.
The weather was very clear, and Hatteras, who was a little ahead of the others, speedily discovered the bear about three hundred yards distant, sitting on his hind quarters sniffing the air, evidently scenting the intruders on his domains.
“There he is!” he exclaimed.
“Hush!” cried the Doctor.
But the enormous quadruped, even when he perceived his antagonists, never stirred, and displayed neither fear nor anger. It would not be easy to get near him, however, and Hatteras said—
“Friends, this is no idle sport, our very existence is at stake; we must act prudently.”
“Yes,” replied the Doctor, “for we have but the one shot to depend upon. We must not miss, for if Away they went, while the old boatswain slipped behind a hummock, which completely hid him from the bear, who continued still in the same place and in the same position.
THE SEAL AND THE BEAR.
“You know, Doctor,” said Hatteras, as they returned to the hut, “the polar bears subsist almost entirely on seals. They’ll lie in wait for them beside the crevasses for whole days, ready to strangle them the moment their heads appear above the surface. It is not likely, then, that a bear will be frightened of a seal.”
“I think I see what you are after, but it is dangerous.”
“Yes, but there is more chance of success than in trying any other plan, so I mean to risk it. I am going to dress myself in the seal’s skin, and creep along the ice. Come, don’t let us lose time. Load the gun and give it me.”
The Doctor could not say anything, for he would have done the same himself, so he followed Hatteras silently to the sledge, taking with him a couple of hatchets for his own and Johnson’s use.
Hatteras soon made his toilette, and slipped into the skin, which was big enough to cover him almost entirely.
“Now, then, give me the gun,” he said, “and you be off to Johnson. I must try and steal a march on my adversary.”
“Courage, Hatteras!” said the Doctor, handing him the weapon, which he had carefully loaded meanwhile.
“Never fear! but be sure you don’t show yourselves till I fire.”
The Doctor soon joined the old boatswain behind the hummock, and told him what they had been doing. The bear was still there, but moving restlessly about, as if he felt the approach of danger.
In a quarter of an hour or so the seal made his appearance on the ice. He had gone a good way round, so as to come on the bear by surprise, and every movement was so perfect an imitation of a seal, that even the Doctor would have been deceived if he had not known it was Hatteras.
“It is capital!” said Johnson, in a low voice. The bear had instantly caught sight of the supposed seal, for he gathered himself up, preparing to make a spring as the animal came nearer, apparently seeking to return to his native element, and unaware of the enemy’s proximity.