“But, I say,” exclaimed Altamont, “didn’t we come out expressly to hunt?”
“To hunt the musk-ox, and nothing else,” replied Clawbonny. “Besides, we shouldn’t know what to do with this game, even if we killed it; we have provisions enough. Let us for once enjoy the sight of men and animals in perfect amity.”
“It proves no human beings have been here before,” said Hatteras.
“True, and that proves something more, these animals are not of American origin.”
“How do you make that out?” said Altamont.
“Why, if they had been born in North America they would have known how to treat that mammiferous biped called man, and would have fled at the first glimpse of us. No, they are from the north, most likely from the untrodden wilds of Asia, so Altamont, you have no right to claim them as fellow-countrymen.”
“Oh! a hunter doesn’t examine his game so closely as all that. Everything is grist that comes to his mill.”
“All right. Calm yourself, my brave Nimrod! For my own part, I would rather never fire another shot than make one of these beautiful creatures afraid of me. See, even Duk fraternizes with them. Believe me, it is well to be kind where we can. Kindness is power.”
“Well, well, so be it,” said Altamont, not at all understanding such scruples. “But I should like to see what you would do if you had no weapon but kindness among a pack of bears or wolves! You wouldn’t make much of it.”
“I make no pretensions to charm wild beasts. I don’t believe much in Orpheus and his enchantments. Besides, bears and wolves would not come to us like these hares, and partridges, and deer.”
“Why not? They have never seen human beings either.”
“No but they are savage by nature,” said Clawbonny, “and ferocity, like wickedness, engenders suspicion. This is true of men as well as animals.”
They spent the whole day in the glen, which the Doctor christened “Arctic Arcadia,” and when evening came they lay down to rest in the hollow of a rock, which seemed as if expressly prepared for their accommodation.
Next morning, as the fine weather still continued, the hunters determined to have another search for the musk ox. It was only fair to give Altamont a chance, with the distinct understanding that he should have the right of firing, however fascinating the game they might meet. Besides, the flesh of the musk ox, though a little too highly impregnated with the smell, is savoury food, and the hunters would gladly carry back a few pounds of it to Fort Providence.
During the first part of the day, nothing occurred worth mentioning, but they noticed a considerable change in the aspect of the country, and appearances seemed to indicate that they were approaching a hilly region. This New America was evidently either a continent or an island of considerable extent.
Duk was running far ahead of his party when he stopped suddenly short, and began sniffing the ground as if he had caught scent of game. Next minute he rushed forward again with extreme rapidity, and was speedily out of sight. But loud distinct barking convinced the hunters that the faithful fellow had at last discovered the desired object.
They hurried onwards, and after an hour and a half’s quick walking, found him standing in front of two formidable looking animals, and barking furiously. The Doctor recognized them at once as belonging to the musk ox, or Ovibos genus, as naturalists call it, by the very wide horns touching each other at their base, by the absence of muzzle, by the narrow square chanfrin resembling that of a sheep, and by the very short tail. Their hair was long and thickly matted, and mixed with fine brown, silky wool.
These singular-looking quadrupeds were not the least afraid of Duk, though extremely surprised; but at the first glimpse of the hunters they took flight, and it was no easy task to go after them, for half an hour’s swift running brought them no nearer, and made the whole party so out of breath, that they were forced to come to a halt.
“Confound the beasts!” said Altamont.