But I am forgetting that I brought a companion with me.”
“What do you say?” said Johnson.
“I have a companion to introduce to you,” replied the Doctor, going out again into the passage, and bringing back a dead fox, newly killed.
“I shot it this morning,” he continued, “and never did fox come more opportunely.”
“What on earth do you mean?” asked Altamont.
“I mean to blow up the bears en masse with 100 lbs of powder.”
“But where is the powder?” exclaimed his friend.
“In the magazine. This passage will lead to it. I made it purposely.”
“And where is the mine to be?” inquired Altamont.
“At the furthest point from the house and stores.”
“And how will you manage to entice the bears there, all to one spot?”
“I’ll undertake that business; but we have talked enough, let us set to work. We have a hundred feet more to add to our passage to-night, and that is no easy matter, but as there are five of us, we can take turns at it. Bell will begin, and we will lie down and sleep meantime.”
“Well, really,” said Johnson, “the more I think of it, the more feasible seems the Doctor’s plan.”
“It is a sure one, anyway,” said Clawbonny.
“So sure that I can feel the bear’s fur already on my shoulder. Well, come, let’s begin then.”
Away he went into the gloomy passage, followed by Bell, and in a few moments they had reached the powder-magazine, and stood among the well- arranged barrels. The Doctor pointed out to his companion the exact spot where he began excavating, and then left him to his task, at which he laboured diligently for about an hour, when Altamont came to relieve him. All the snow he had dug out was taken to the kitchen and melted, to prevent its taking up room.
The captain succeeded Altamont, and was followed by Johnson. In ten hours—that is to say, about eight in the morning—the gallery was entirely open.
With the first streak of day, the Doctor was up to reconnoitre the position of the enemy. The patient animals were still occupying their old position, prowling up and down and growling. The house had already almost disappeared beneath the piled-up blocks of ice, but even while he gazed a council of war seemed being held, which evidently resulted in the determination to alter the plan of action, for suddenly all the five bears began vigorously to pull down these same heaped-up blocks.
“What are they about?” asked Hatteras, who was standing beside him.
“Well, they look to me to be bent on demolishing their own work, and getting right down to us as fast as possible; but wait a bit, my gentlemen, we’ll demolish you first. However, we have not a minute to lose.”
Hastening away to the mine, he had the chamber where the powder was to be lodged enlarged the whole breadth and height of the sloping rock against which the wall leaned, till the upper part was about a foot thick, and had to be propped up to prevent its falling in. A strong stake was fixed firmly on the granite foundation, on the top of which the dead fox was fastened. A rope was attached to the lower part of the stake, sufficiently long to reach the powder stores.
“This is the bait,” he said, pointing to the dead fox, “and here is the mine,” he added, rolling in a keg of powder containing about 100 lbs.
“But, Doctor,” said Hatteras, “won’t that blow us up too, as well as the bears?”
“No, we shall be too far from the scene of explosion. Besides, our house is solid, and we can soon repair the walls even if they should get a bit shaken.”
“And how do you propose to manage?” asked Altamont.
“See! By hauling in this rope we lower the post which props up the roof, and make it give way, and bring up the dead fox to light, and I think you will agree with me that the bears are so famished with their long fasting, that they won’t lose much time in rushing towards their unexpected meal. Well, just at that very moment, I shall set fire to the mine, and blow up both the guests and the meal.”
“Capital! Capital!” shouted Johnson, who had been listening with intense interest.
Hatteras said nothing, for he had such absolute confidence in his friend that he wanted no further explanation.