Clawbonny. “Why should we trouble about the last act, while the first ones are going on well. Leave all that to Providence, friends; let us each play our own rôle as perfectly as we can, and since the dénouement belongs to the Great Author of all things, we will trust his skill. He will manage our affairs for us, never fear.”

“Well, we’d better go and dream about it,” said Johnson, “for it’s getting late, and it is time we went to bed,” said Johnson.

“You’re in a great hurry, old fellow,” replied the Doctor.

“Why would you sit up, Mr. Clawbonny? I am so comfortable in my bed, and then I always have such good dreams. I dream invariably of hot countries, so that I might almost say, half my life is spent in the tropics, and half at the North Pole.”

“You’re a happy man, Johnson,” said Altamont, “to be blessed with such a fortunate organization.”

“Indeed I am,” replied Johnson.

“Well, come, after that it would be positive cruelty to keep our good friend pining here,” said the Doctor, “his tropical sun awaits him, so let’s all go to bed.”

CHAPTER XI

TRACES OF BEARS

On the 26th of April during the night there was a sudden change in the weather. The thermometer fell several degrees, and the inmates of Doctor’s House could hardly keep themselves warm even in their beds. Altamont had charge of the stove, and he found it needed careful replenishing to preserve the temperature at 50° above zero.

This increase of cold betokened the cessation of the stormy weather, and the Doctor hailed it gladly as the harbinger of his favourite hunting and exploring expeditions.

He rose early next morning, and climbed up to the top of the cone. The wind had shifted north, the air was clear, and the snow firm and smooth to the tread.

Before long the five companions had left Doctor’s House, and were busily engaged in clearing the heavy masses of snow off the roof and sides, for the house was no longer distinguishable from the plateau, as the snow had drifted to a depth of full fifteen feet. It took two hours to remove the frozen snow, and restore the architectural form of the dwelling. At length the granite foundations appeared, and the storehouses and powder magazines were once more accessible.

[Illustration: ]

But as, in so uncertain a climate, a storm might cut off their supplies any day, they wisely resolved to provide for any such emergency by carrying over a good stock of provisions to the kitchen; and then Clawbonny, Altamont, and Bell started off with their guns in search of game, for the want of fresh food began to be urgently felt.

The three companions went across the east side of the cone, right down into the centre of the far-stretching, snow-covered plain beneath, but they did not need to go far, for numerous traces of animals appeared on all sides within a circle of two miles round Fort Providence.

After gazing attentively at these traces for some minutes, the hunters looked at each other silently, and then the Doctor exclaimed:—

“Well, these are plain enough, I think!”

“Ay, only too plain,” added Bell, “bears have been here!”

“First rate game!” said Altamont. “There’s only one fault about it.”

“And what is that?” asked Bell.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean this—there are distinct traces of five bears, and five bears are rather too much for five men.”

“Are you sure there are five?” said Clawbonny.

“Look and see for yourself. Here is one footprint, and there is another quite different. These claws are far wider apart than those; and see here, again, that paw belongs to a much smaller bear. I tell you, if you look carefully, you will see the marks of all five different bears distinctly.”

“You’re right,” said Bell, after a close inspection.

“If that’s the case, then,” said the Doctor, “we must take care what we’re about, and not be foolhardy, for these animals are starving after the severe winter, and they might be extremely dangerous to encounter and, since we are sure of their number——”

“And of their intentions, too,” put in Altamont.

“You think they have discovered our presence here?”

“No doubt of it, unless we have got into a bear-pass, but then, why should these footprints be in a circle round our fort? Look, these animals have come from the south-east, and stopped at this place, and commenced to reconnoitre the coast.”

[Illustration: ]

“You’re right,” said the Doctor, “and, what’s more, it is certain that they have been here last night.”

“And other nights before that,” replied Altamont.

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