Even if we ourselves were to remain in this blessed country long, we should be as bad as the Esquimaux, even if we escaped becoming regular gluttons.”
“I declare, Mr. Clawbonny, you make me feel hungry with talking so much about eating,” exclaimed Bell.
“Not I!” said Altamont. “It rather sickens me, and makes me loathe the sight of a seal. But, stop, I do believe we are going to have the chance of a dinner off one, for I am much mistaken if that’s not something alive lying on those lumps of ice yonder!”
“It is a walrus!” exclaimed the Doctor. “Be quiet, and let us get up to him.”
Clawbonny was right, it was a walrus of huge dimensions, disporting himself not more than two hundred yards away. The hunters separated, going in different directions, so as to surround the animal and cut off all retreat. They crept along cautiously behind the hummocks, and managed to get within a few paces of him unperceived, when they fired simultaneously.
The walrus rolled over, but speedily got up again, and tried to make his escape, but Altamont fell upon him with his hatchet, and cut off his dorsal fins. He made a desperate resistance, but was overpowered by his enemies, and soon lay dead, reddening the ice-field with his blood.
It was a fine animal, measuring more than fifteen feet in length, and would have been worth a good deal for the oil; but the hunters contented themselves with cutting off the most savoury parts, and left the rest to the ravens, which had just begun to make their appearance.
Night was drawing on, and it was time to think of returning to Fort Providence. The moon had not yet risen, but the sky was serene and cloudless, and already glittering with stars—magnificent stars.
“Come,” said the Doctor, “let us be off, for it is getting late. Our hunting has not been very successful; but still, if a man has found something for his supper, he need not grumble. Let us go the shortest road, however, and get quickly home without losing our way. The stars will guide us.”
They resolved to try a more direct route back by going further inland, and avoiding the windings of the coast; but, after some hours’ walking, they found themselves no nearer Doctor’s House, and it was evident that they must have lost their way. The question was raised whether to construct a hut and rest till morning, or proceed; but Clawbonny insisted on going on, as Hatteras and Johnson would be so uneasy.
“Duk will guide us,” he said; “he won’t go wrong. His instinct can dispense with star and compass. Just let us keep close behind him.”
They did well to trust to Duk, for very speedily a faint light appeared in the horizon almost like a star glimmering through the mist, which hung low above the ground.
“There’s our lighthouse!” exclaimed the Doctor.
“Do you think it is, Mr. Clawbonny?” said Bell.
[Illustration: Soon they were walking in a bright luminous track, leaving their long shadows behind them on the spotless snow. —P.87]
“I’m certain of it! Come on faster.” The light became stronger the nearer they approached, and soon they were walking in a bright luminous track, leaving their long shadows behind them on the spotless snow.
Quickening their steps, they hastened forward, and in another half hour they were climbing the ascent to Fort Providence.
COLD AND HEAT.
Hatteras and Johnson had been getting somewhat uneasy at the prolonged absence of their companions, and were delighted to see them back safe and sound. The hunters were no less glad to find themselves once more in a warm shelter, for the temperature had fallen considerably as night drew on, and the thermometer outside was 73° below zero.
The poor hunters were half frozen, and so worn out that they could hardly drag their limbs along; but the stoves were roaring and crackling cheerily, and the big kitchen fire waiting to cook such game as might be brought in. Clawbonny donned his official apron again, and soon had his seal cutlets dressed and smoking on the table. By nine o’clock the whole party were enjoying a good supper, and Bell couldn’t help exclaiming—
“Well, even at the risk of being taken for an Esquimaux, I must confess eating is the most important business if one has to winter in these regions.