“That proves nothing; your pipe is not always in your mouth, and it is just the same with volcanoes, they are not always smoking.”

“I see,” said the Sergeant; “but it is a great puzzle to me how volcanoes can exist at all. on Polar continents.”

“Well, there are riot many of them !” said Mrs Barnett.

“No, madam,” replied Jaspar, “but they are not so very rare either; they are to be found in Jan Mayen’s Land, the Aleutian Isles, Kamtchatka, Russian America, and Iceland, as well as in the Antarctic circle, in Tierra del Fuego, and Australasia. They are the chimneys of the great furnace in the centre of the earth, where Nature makes her chemical experiments, and it appears to me that the Creator of all things has taken care to place these safety-valves wherever they were most needed.”

“I suppose so,” replied the Sergeant; “and yet it does seem very strange to find them in this icy climate.”

“Why should they not be here as well as anywhere else, Sergeant? I should say that ventilation holes are likely to be more numerous at the Poles than at the Equator !”

“Why so?” asked the Sergeant in much surprise.

“Because, if these safety-valves are forced open by the pressure of subterranean gases, it will most likely be at the spots where the surface of the earth is thinest, and as the globe is flattened at the poles, it would appear natural that-but Kellet is making signs to us,” added the Lieutenant, breaking off abruptly; “will you join us, Mrs Barnett?”

“No, thank you. I will stay here until we return to the fort. I don’t care to watch the walrus slaughtered!”

“Very well,” replied Hobson, “only don’t forget to join us in an hour’s time, meanwhile you can enjoy the view.”

The beach was soon reached, and some hundred walrus had collected, either waddling about on their clumsy webbed feet, or sleeping in family groups. Some few of the larger males-creatures nearly four feet long, clothed with very short reddish fur-kept guard over the herd.

Great caution was required in approaching these formidable looking animals, and the hunters took advantage of every bit of cover afforded by rocks and inequalities of the ground, so as to get within easy range of them and cut off their retreat to the sea.

On land these creatures are clumsy and awkward, moving in jerks or with creeping motions like huge caterpillars, but in water -their native element—they are nimble and even graceful; indeed their strength is so great, that they have been known to overturn the whalers in pursuit of them.

As the hunters drew near the sentinels took alarm, and raising their heads looked searchingly around them; but before they could warn their companions of danger, Hobson and Kellet rushed upon them from one side, the Sergeant, Petersen, and Hope from the other, and after lodging a ball in each of their bodies, despatched them with their spears, whilst the rest of the herd plunged into the sea.

The victory was an easy one; the five victims were very large and their tusks, though slightly rough, of the best quality. They were chiefly valuable, however, on account of the oil; of which-being in excellent condition-they would yield a large quantity. The bodies were packed in the sledges, and proved no light weight for the dogs.

It was now one o’clock, and Mrs Barnett having joined them, the party set out on foot-the sledges being full-to return to the fort. There were but ten miles to be traversed, but ten miles in a straight line is a weary journey, proving the truth of the adage “It’s a long lane that has no turning.” They beguiled the tediousness of the way by chatting pleasantly, and Mrs Barnett was ready to join in the conversation, or to listen with interest to the accounts the worthy soldiers gave of former adventures; but in spite of the brave struggle against ennui they advanced but slowly, and the poor dogs found it hard work to drag the heavily-laden sledges over the rough ground. Had it been covered with frozen snow the distance would have been accomplished in a couple of hours.

The merciful Lieutenant often ordered a halt to give the teams breathing-time, and the Sergeant remarked that it would be much more convenient for the inhabitants of the fort, if the morses would settle a little nearer Cape Bathurst.

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The Fur Country Part 01 Page 55

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Jules Verne

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Jules Verne
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