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The fur country; or, Seventy degrees north latitude online

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inundate Cape Bathurst, which possessed no natural defences such
as cliffs or downs 1 What was it, in fact, which prevented the entire
submersion of the whole district, and the meeting of the waters of
the lake with those of the Arctic Ocean ?

Jaspar Hobson could not refrain from remarking on this peculiarity
to Mrs Barnett, who replied somewhat hastily that she supposed that
there were in spite of all that had been said to the contrary no
tides in the Arctic Ocean.

" On the contrary, madam," said Hobson, " all navigators agree
that the ebb and flow of Polar seas are very distinctly marked, and
it is impossible to believe that they can have been mistaken on
such a subject."

" How is it, then," inquired Mrs Barnett, " that this land is not
flooded when it is scarcely ten feet above the sea level at low

" That is just what puzzles me," said Hobson j " for I have been
attentively watching the tides all through this month, and during
that time they have not varied more than a foot, and I feel certain,
that even during the September equinox, they will not rise more
than a foot and a half all along the shores of Cape Bathurst."

" Can you not explain this phenomenon ? " inquired Mrs

" Well, madam," replied the Lieutenant, " two conclusions are
open to us, either of which I find it difficult to believe ; such men as
Franklin, Parry, Ross, and others, are mistaken, and there are no
tides on this part of the American coast ; or, as in the Mediterranean,
to which the waters of the Atlantic have not free ingress, the straits
are too narrow to be affected by the ocean currents."

" The latter would appear to be the more reasonable hypothesis,
Mr Hobson."

"It, is not, however, thoroughly satisfactory," said the Lieutenant,


" and I feel sure that if we could but find it, there is some simple
and natural explanation of the phenomenon."

After a monotonous journey along a flat and sandy shore, the
party reached their destination, and, having unharnessed the teams,
they were left behind lest they should startle the seals.

At the first glance around them, all were equally struck with the
contrast between the appearance of this district and that of Cape

Here the coast line was broken and fretted, showing manifest
traces of its igneous origin ; whereas the site of the fort was of
sedimentary formation and aqueous origin. Stone, so conspicuously
absent at the cape, was here plentiful ; the black sand and porous
lava were strewn with huge boulders deeply imbedded in the soil,
and there were large quantities of the aluminium, silica, and felspar
pebbles peculiar to the crystalline strata of one class of igneous
rocks. Glittering Labrador stones, and many other kinds of felspar,
red, green, and blue, were sprinkled on the unfrequented beach,
with grey and yellow pumice stone, and lustrous variegated
obsidian. Tall cliffs, rising some two hundred feet above the sea,
frowned down upon the bay ; and the Lieutenant resolved to
climb them, and obtain a good view of the eastern side of the
country. For this there was plenty of time, as but few of the
creatures they had come to seek were as yet to be seen, and the
proper time for the attack would be when they assembled for the
afternoon siesta in which the amphibious mammalia always indulge.
The Lieutenant, however, quickly discovered that the animals
frequenting this coast were not, as he had been led to suppose, true
seals, although they belonged to the Phocidae family, but morses
or walruses, sometimes called sea-cows. They resemble the seals in
general form, but the canine teeth of the upper jaw curved down-
wards are much more largely developed.

Following the coast line, which curved considerably, and to which
they gave the name of " Walruses' Bay," the party soon reached the
foot of the cliff, and Petersen, Hope, and Kellet, took up their
position as sentinels on the little promontory, whilst Mrs Barnett,
Hobson, and Long, after promising not to lose sight of their comrades,
and to be on the look-out for their signal, proceeded to climb the
cliff, the summit of which they reached in about a quarter of an
hour. From this position they were able to survey the whole
surrounding country at their feet lay the vast sea, stretching


northwards as far as the eye could reach, its expanse so entirely
unbroken by islands or icebergs that the travellers came to the
conclusion, that this portion of the Arctic waters was navigable as
far as Behring Straits, and that during the summer season the North-
West Passage to Cape Bathurst would be open to the Company's
ships. On the west, the aspect of the .country explained the presence
of the volcanic dtbris on the shore ; for at a distance of about ten
miles was a chain of granitic hills, of conical form, with blunted
crests, looking as if their summits had been cut off, and with jagged
tremulous outlines standing out against the sky. They had
hitherto escaped the notice of our party, as they were concealed by
the cliffs on the Cape Bathurst side, and Jaspar Hobson examined
them in silence, but with great attention, before he proceeded to
study the eastern side, which consisted of a long strip of perfectly
level coast-line stretching away to Cape Bathurst. Any one pro-
vided with a good field-glass would have been able to distinguish
the fort of Good Hope, and perhaps even the cloud of blue smoke,
which was no doubt at that very moment issuing from Mrs Joliffe's
kitchen chimney.

The country behind them seemed to possess two entirely distinct
characters ; to the east and south the cape was bounded by a vast
plain, many hundreds of square miles in extent, while behind the
cliff, from " Walruses' Bay " to the mountains mentioned above, the
country had undergone terrible convulsions, showing clearly that it
owed its origin to volcanic eruptions. The Lieutenant was much
struck with this marked contrast, and Sergeant Long asked him
whether he thought the mountains on the western horizon were

" Undoubtedly," said Hobson ; " all these pumice-stones and
pebbles have been discharged by them to this distance, and if we
were to go two or three miles farther, we should find ourselves
treading upon nothing but lava and ashes."

" Do you suppose," inquired the Sergeant, " that all these vol-
canoes are still active ] "

" That I cannot tell you yet."

" But there is no smoke issuing from any of them," added the

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

A MORSE HUNT. Page 101.


" 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 not 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, Kamchatka, 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

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.

" They could not find a suitable spot," replied the Lieutenant,
with a melancholy shake of the head.

" Why not 1 " inquired Mrs Barnett with some surprise.

" Because they only congregate where the slope of the beach is
gradual enough to allow of their creeping up easily from the sea.
Now Cape Bathurst rises abruptly, like a perpendicular wall, from
water three hundred fathoms deep. It is probable that ages ago a
portion of the continent was rent away in some violent volcanic
convulsion, and flung into the Arctic Ocean. Hence the absence
of morses on the beach of our cape."


first half of September passed rapidly away. Had
Fort Hope been situated at the Pole itself, that is to say,
twenty degrees farther north, the Polar night would
have set in on the 21st of that month. But under the seventieth
parallel the sun would be visible above the horizon for another
month. Nevertheless, the temperature was already decidedly colder,
the thermometer fell during the night to 31 Fahrenheit; and thin
coatings of ice appeared here and there, to be dissolved again in the

But the settlers were able to await the coming of winter without
alarm; they had a more than sufficient store of provisions, their
supply of dried venison had largely increased, another score of
morses had been killed, the tame rein-deer were warmly and com-
fortably housed, and a huge wooden shed behind the house was filled
with fuel. In short, everything was prepared for the Polar night.

And now all the wants of the inhabitants of the fort being pro-
vided for, it was time to think of the interests of the Company.
The Arctic creatures had now assumed their winter furs, and were
therefore of the greatest value, and Hobson organised shooting
parties for the remainder of the fine weather, intending to set traps
when the snow should prevent further excursions.

They would have plenty to do to satisfy the requirements of the
Company, for so far north it was of no use to depend on the
Indians, who are generally the purveyors of the factories.

The first expedition was to the haunt of a family of beavers,
long since noted by the watchful Lieutenant, on a tributary of the
stream already referred to. It is true, the fur of the beaver is not
now as valuable as when it was used for hats, and fetched 16 per
kilogramme (rather more than 21b.) ; but it still commands a high
price as the animal is becoming very scarce, in consequence of the
reckless way in which it has been hunted.


When the party reached their destination, the Lieutenant called
Mrs Barnett's attention to the great ingenuity displayed by beavers
in the construction of their submarine city. There were some
hundred animals in the little colony now to be invaded, and they
lived together in pairs in the "holes" or "vaults" they had
hollowed out near the stream. They had already commenced their
preparations for the winter, and were hard at work constructing
their dams and laying up their piles of wood. A dam of admirable
structure had already been built across the stream, which was deep
and rapid enough not to freeze far below the surface, even in the
severest weather. This dam, which was convex towards the current,
consisted of a collection of upright stakes interlaced with branches
and roots, the whole being cemented together and rendered water-
tight with the clayey mud of the river, previously pounded by the
animals' feet. The beavers use their tails which are large and
flat, with scales instead of hair at the root for plastering over their
buildings and beating the clay into shape.

" The object of this dam," said the Lieutenant to Mrs Barnett,
" is to secure to the beavers a sufficient depth of water at all seasons
of the year, and to enable the engineers of the tribe to build the
round huts called houses or lodges, the tops of which you can just
see. They are extremely solid structures, and the walls made of
stick, clay, roots, &c., are two feet thick. They can only be entered
from below the water, and their owners have therefore to dive
when they go home an admirable arrangement for their protection.
Each lodge contains two stories ; in the lower the winter stock of
branches, bark, and roots, is laid up, and the upper is the residence
of the householder and his family."

" There is, however, not a beaver in sight," said Mrs Barnett ; "i
this a deserted village ? "

" Oh no," replied the Lieutenant, " the inhabitants are now all
asleep and resting ; they only work in the night, and we mean to
surprise them in their holes."

This was, in fact, easily done, and in an hour's time about a
hundred of the ill-fated rodents had been captured, twenty of which
were of very great value, their fur being black, and therefore
especially esteemed. That of the others was also long, glossy, and
silky, but of a reddish hue mixed with chestnut brown. Beneath
the long fur, the beavers have a second coat of close short hair of a
greyish-white colour.

WALRUSES' BAY. Page 106.


The hunters returned to the fort much delighted with the result
of their expedition. The beavers' skins were warehoused and labelled
as " parchments " or " young beavers," according to their value.

Excursions of a similar kind were carried on throughout the
month of September, and during the first half of October, with
equally happy results.

A few badgers were taken, the skin being used as an ornament
for the collars of draught horses, and the hair for making brushes of
every variety. These carnivorous creatures belong to the bear
family, and the specimens obtained by Hobson were of the genus
peculiar to North America, sometimes called the Taxel badger.

Another animal of the rodent family, nearly as industrious as the
beaver, largly contributed to the stores of the Company. This was
the musk-rat or musquash. Its head and body are about a foot
long, and its tail ten inches. Its fur is in considerable demand.
These creatures, like the rest of their family, multiply with extreme
rapidity, and a great number were easily unearthed.

In the pursuit of lynxes and wolverines or gluttons, fire-arms had
to be used. The lynx has all the suppleness and agility of the feline
tribe to which it belongs, and is formidable even to the rein-deer ;
Marbre and Sabine were, however, well up to their work, and
succeeded in killing more than sixty of them. A few wolverines or
gluttons were also despatched, their fur is reddish-brown, and that of
the lynx, light-red with black spots ; both are of considerable value.

Very few ermines or stoats were seen, and Jaspar Hobson
ordered his men to spare any which happened to cross their path
until the winter, when they should have assumed their beautiful
snow-white coats with the one black spot at the tip of the tail. At
present the upper fur was reddish-brown and the under yellowish-
white, so that, as Sabine expressed it, it was desirable to let them
" ripen," or, in other words, to wait for the cold to bleach them.

Their cousins, the polecats, however, which emit so disagreeable
an odour, fell victims in great numbers to the hunters, who either
tracked them to their homes in hollow trees, or shot them as they
glided through the branches.

Martens, properly so-called, were hunted with great zeal. Their
fur is in considerable demand, although not so valuable as that of
the sable, which becomes a dark lustrous brown in the winter. The
latter did not, however, come in the way of our hunters, as it only
frequents the north of Europe and Asia as far as Kamchatka, and


is chiefly hunted by the inhabitants of Siberia. They had to be con-
tent with the polecats and pine-martens, called " Canada-martens,"
which frequent the shores of the Arctic Ocean.

All the weasels and martens are very difficult to catch ; they
wriggle their long supple bodies through the smallest apertures with
great ease, and thus elude their pursuers. In the winter, however,
they are easily taken in traps, and Marbre and Sabine looked
forward to make up for lost time then, when, said they, " there shall
be plenty of their furs in the Company's stores."

We have now only to mention the Arctic or blue and silver foxes,
to complete the list of animals which swelled the profits of the
Hudson's Bay Company.

The furs of these foxes are esteemed in the Russian and
English markets above all others, and that of the blue fox is the
most valuable of all. This pretty creature has a black muzzle, and
the fur is not as one would suppose blue, but whitish-brown ; its
great price six times that of any other kind arises from its
superior softness, thickness, and length. A cloak belonging to the
Emperor of Russia, composed entirely of fur from the neck of the
blue fox (the fur from the neck is considered better than that from
any other part), was shown at the London Exhibition of 1851, and
valued at 3400 sterling.

Several of these foxes were sighted at Cape Bathurst, but all
escaped the hunters ; whilst only about a dozen silver foxes fell into
their hands. The fur of the latter of a lustrous black dotted with
white is much sought after in England and Russia, although it
does not command so high a price as that of the foxes mentioned

One of the silver -foxes captured was a splendid creature, with a
coal-black fur tipped with white at the extreme end of the tail, and
with a dash of the same on the forehead. The circumstances
attending its death deserve relation in detail, as they proved that
Hobson was right in the precautions he had taken.

On the morning of the 24th September, two sledges conveyed
Mrs Barnett, the Lieutenant, Sergeant Long, Marbre, and Sabine,
to Walruses' Bay. Some traces of foxes had been noticed the evening
before, amongst some rocks clothed with scanty herbage, and the
direction taken by the animals was very clearly indicated. The
hunters followed up the trail of a large animal, and were rewarded
by bringing down a very fine silver fox.

TWO SHOTS. Page 107.


Several other animals of the same species were sighted, and the
hunters divided into two parties Marbre and Sabine going after
one foe, and Mrs Barriett, Hobson, and the Sergeant, trying to cut
off the retreat of another fine animal hiding behind some rocks.

Great caution and some artifice was necessary to deal with this
crafty animal, which took care not to expose itself to a shot. The
pursuit lasted for half-an-hour without success; but at last the poor
creature, with the sea on one side and its three enemies on the other,
had recourse in its desperation to a flying leap, thinking thus to
escape with its life. But Hobson was too quick for it ; and as it
bounded by like a flash of lightning, it was struck by a shot, and to
every one's surprise, the report of the Lieutenant's gun was succeeded
by that of another, and a second ball entered the body of the fox,
which fell to the ground mortally wounded.

" Hurrah ! hurrah ! " cried Hobson, " it is mine ! "

" And mine ! " said another voice, and a stranger stept forward
and placed his foot upon the fox just as the Lieutenant was about to
raise it.

Hobson drew back in astonishment He thought the second ball
had been fired by the Sergeant, and found himself face to face with
a stranger whose gun was still smoking.

The rivals gazed at each other in silence.

The rest of the party now approached, and the stranger was
quickly joined by twelve comrades, four of whom were like himself
tf Canadian travellers," and eight Chippeway Indians.

The leader was a tall man a fine specimen of his class those Cana-
dian trappers described in the romances of Washington Irving, whose
competition Hobson had dreaded with such good reason. He wore
the traditional costume ascribed to his fellow-hunters by the great
American writer; a blanket loosely arranged about his person, a
striped cotton shirt, wide cloth trousers, leather gaiters, deerskin
mocassins, and a sash of checked woollen stuff round the waist,
from which were suspended his knife, tobacco-pouch, pipe, and a
few useful tools.

Hobson was right. The man before him was a Frenchman, or at
least a descendant of the French Canadians, perhaps an agent of the
American Company come to act as a spy on the settlers in the fort.
The other four Canadians wore a costume resembling that of their
leader, but of coarser materials.

The Frenchman bowed politely to Mrs Barnett, and the Lieutenant


was the first to break the silence, during which he had not removed
his eyes from his rival's face.

" This fox is mine, sir," he said quietly.

" It is if you killed it ! " replied the other in good English, but
with a slightly foreign accent.

" Excuse me, sir," replied Hobson rather sharply, " it is mine in
any case."

The stranger smiled scornfully at this lofty reply, so exactly what
he expected from an agent of the Hudson's Bay Company, which
claims supremacy over all the northern districts, from the Atlantic
to the Pacific.

" Do you mean to say," he said at last, gracefully toying with his
gun, " that you consider the Hudson's Bay Company mistress of the
whole of North America 1 "

"Of course I do," said Hobson; " and if, as I imagine, you belong
to an American company "

" To the St Louis Fur Company," replied the stranger with a

" I think," added the Lieutenant, " that you will find it difiicult
to show the grants entitling you to any privileges here."

" Grants ! privileges ! " cried the Canadian scornfully, " old world
terms which are out of place in America ! "

" You are not now on American but on English ground," replied
the Lieutenant proudly.

" This is no time for such a discussion," said the hunter rather

Online LibraryJules VerneThe fur country; or, Seventy degrees north latitude → online text (page 10 of 31)