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The fur country; or, Seventy degrees north latitude online

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send us a convoy with provisions, which will take back our furs to
Fort Keliance. I suppose our friend Thomas Black, after having
seen his eclipse, will return with the Captain's men. Do you meatt
to accompany him ? "


," ^c. Page 153.


" Do you mean to send me back 1 " asked the lady with a

" O madam ! "

" Well, my superior officer," replied Mrs Barnett, extending her
hand to the Lieutenant, " I shall ask you to allow me to spend
another winter at Fort Hope. Next year one of the Company's
ships will probably anchor off Cape Bathurst, and I shall return in
it. Having come overland, I should like to go back by Behring

The Lieutenant was delighted with his companion's decision.
The two had become sincerely attached to each other, and had
many tastes and qualities in common. The hour of separation
could not fail to be painful to both ; and who could tell what further
trials awaited 'the colonists, in which their combined influence
might sustain the courage of the rest 1

On the 20th January the sun at last reappeared, and the Polar
night was at an end. It only remained above the horizon for a
few minutes, and was greeted with joyous hurrahs by the settlers.
From this date the days gradually increased in length.

Throughout the month of February, and until the 15th March,
there were abrupt transitions from fine to bad weather. The fine
days were so cold that the hunters could not go out ;. and in the bad
weather snowstorms kept them in. It was only between whiles
that any outdoor work could be done ; and long excursions were
out of the question. There was no necessity for them, however, as
the traps were in full activity. In the latter end of the winter,
martens, foxes, ermines, wolverines, and other valuable animals
were taken in large numbers, and the trappers had plenty to do.

In March an excursion was ventured on as far as Walruses' Bay
and it was noticed that the earthquake had considerably altered the
form of the cliffs, which were much depressed ; whilst the igneous
hills beyond, with their summits wrapped in mist, seemed to look
larger and more threatening than ever.

About the 20th March the hunters sighted the first swans migrat-
ing from the south, and uttering shrill cries as they flew. A few
snow buntings and winter hawks were also seen. But the ground
was still covered with thick, layers of frozen snow, and the sun
was powerless to melt the hard surface of the lake and sea.

The breaking up of the frost did not commence until early in
April. The ice burst with a noise like the discharge of artillery.


Sudden changes took place in the appearance of the icebergs :
broken by collisions, undermined by the action of the water once
more set free, huge masses rolled over with an awful crash, in con-
sequence of the displacement of their centre of gravity, causing
fractures and fissures in the ice-fields which greatly accelerated their
breaking up.

At this time the mean temperature was 32 above zero, so
that the upper layer of ice on the beach rapidly dissolved, whilst
the chain of icebergs, drifted along by the currents of the Polar
Sea, gradually drew back and became lost in the fogs on the
horizon. On the 15th April the sea was open, and a vessel from
the Pacific Ocean coming through Behring Strait, could certainly
have skirted along the American coast, and have anchored off Cape

Whilst the ice was disappearing from the ocean, Lake Barnett
was also laying aside its slippery armour, much to the delight
of the thousands of ducks and other water-fowl which began to
teem upon its banks. As Hobson had foreseen, however, the level
of the lake was affected by the slope of the soil. That part of the
beach which stretched away from the enceinte of the fort, and
was bounded on the east by wooded hills, had increased considerably
in extent ; and Hobson estimated that the waters of the lake had
receded five hundred paces on the eastern bank. As a natural con-
sequence, the water on the western side had risen, and if not held
back by some natural barrier, would inundate the country.

On the whole, it was fortunate that the slope was from east to
west ; for had it been from west to east, the factory must have been

The little river dried up as soon as the thaw set free its waters.
It might almost be said to have run back to its source, so abrupt
was the slope of its bed from north to south.

"We have now to erase a river from the map of the Arctic
regions," observed Hobson to his Sergeant. " It would have been
embarrassing if we had been dependent on the truant for drinkable
water. Fortunately we have still Lake Barnett, and I don't suppose
our thirsty men will drain it quite dry."

"Yes, we've got the lake," replied the Sergeant ; "but do you
think its waters have remained sweet ? "

Hobson started and looked at his subordinate with knitted brows.
It had not occurred to him that a fissure in the ground n\ight have


established a communication between the lake and the sea ! Should
it be so, ruin must ensue, and the factory would inevitably have to
be abandoned after all.

The Lieutenant and Hobson rushed to the lake and found their
fears groundless. Its waters were still sweet.

Early in May the snow had disappeared in several places, and a
scanty vegetation clothed the soil. Tiny mosses and slender grasses
timidly pushed np their steins above the ground, and the sorrel and
cochlearia seeds which Mrs Joliffe had planted began to sprout.
The carpet of snow had protected them through the bitter winter ;
but they had still to be saved from the beaks of birds and the
teeth of rodents. This arduous and important task was confided to
the worthy Corporal, who acquitted himself of it with the zeal and
devotion of a scarecrow in a kitchen-garden.

The long days had now returned, and hunting was resumed.

Hobson was anxious to have a good stock of furs for the agents
from Fort Reliance to take charge of when they arrived, as they
would do in a few weeks. Marbre, Sabine, and the others, therefore,
commenced the campaign. Their excursions were neither long nor
fatiguing: they never went further than two miles from Cape
Bathurst, for they had never before been in a district so well
stocked with game ; and they were both surprised and delighted.
Martens, reindeer, hares, caribous, foxes, and ermines passed close
to their guns.

One thing, however, excited some regret in the minds of the
colonists, not a trace was to be seen of their old enemies the bears ;
and it seemed as if they had taken all their relations with them.
Perhaps the earthquake had frightened them away, for they have a
very delicate nervous organisation, if such an expression can be
applied to a mere quadruped. It was a pity they were gone, for
vengeance could not be wreaked upon them.

The month of May was very wet. Rain and snow succeeded each
other. The mean temperature was only 41 above zero. Fogs
were of frequent occurrence, and so thick that it would often have
been imprudent to go any distance from the fort. Petersen and
Kellet once caused their companions grave anxiety by disappearing
for forty-eight hours. They had lost their way, and turned to the
south, when they thought they were near to Walruses' Bay. They
came back exhausted and half dead with hunger.

June came at last, and with it really fine warm weather. The


colonists were able to leave off their winter clothing. They worked
zealously at repairing the house, the foundations of which had to
be propped up ; and Hobson also ordered the construction of a large
magazine at the southern corner of the court. The quantity of
game justified the expenditure of time and labour involved : the
number of furs collected was already considerable, and it was
necessary to have some place set aside in which to keep them.

The Lieutenant now expected every day the arrival of the
detachment to be sent by Captain Craventy. A good many things
were still required for the new settlement. The stores were getting
low; and if the party had left the fort in the beginning of May, they
ought to reach Cape towards the middle of June. It will
be remembered that the Captain and his Lieutenant had fixed upon
the cape as the spot of rendezvous, and Hobson having constructed
his fort on it, there was no fear of the reinforcements failing to find

From the 15th June the districts surrounding the cape were
carefully watched. The British flag waved from the summit of the
cliff, and could be seen at a considerable distance. It was probable
that the convoy would follow the Lieutenant's example, and skirt
along the coast from Coronation Gulf. If not exactly the shortest,
it was the surest route, at a time when, the sea being free from ice,
the coast-line could be easily followed.

When the month of June passed without the arrival of the
expected party, Hobson began to feel rather uneasy, especially as
the country again became wrapped in fogs. He began to fear that
the agents might lose their way, and often talked the matter over
with Mrs Barnett, Mac-Nab, and Rae.

Thomas Black made no attempt to conceal his uneasiness, for he
was anxious to return with the party from Fort Reliance as soon as
he had seen his eclipse ; and should anything keep them back from
coming, he would have to resign himself to another winter, a
prospect which did not please him at all ; and in reply to his eager
questions, Hobson could say little to reassure him.

The 4th July dawned. No news ! Some men sent to the south-
east to reconnoitre, returned, bringing no tidings.

Either the agents had never started, or they had lost their way.
The latter hypothesis was unfortunately the more probable.
Hobson knew Captain Craventy, and felt confident that he had sent
off the convoy at the time named.

" Its waters were still sweet." Page 155.


His increasing anxiety will therefore be readily understood. The
fine season was rapidly passing away. Another two months and
the Arctic winter, with its bitter winds, its whirlpools of snow, .and
its long nights, would again set in.

Hobson, as we well know, was not a man to yield to misfortune
without a struggle. Something must be done, and with the ready
concurrence of the astronomer the following plan was decided on.

It was now the 5th July. In another fortnight July 18th the
solar eclipse was to take place, and after that Thomas Black would
be free to leave Fort Hope. It was therefore agreed that if by that
time the agents had not arrived, a convoy of a few men and four or
five sledges should leave the factory, and make for the Great Slave
Lake, taking with them some of the most valuable furs : and if no
accident befell them, they might hope to arrive at F.-rt Reli-
ance in six weeks at the latest that is to say, towards the end
of August.

This matter settled, Thomas Black shrank back into his shell, and
became once more the man of one idea, awaiting the moment when
the moon, passing between the orb of day and " himself," should
totally eclipse the disc of the sun.



iHE mists did not disperse. The sun shone feebly through
thick curtains of fog, and the astronomer began to have a
great dread lest the eclipse should not be visible after all.
Sometimes the fog was so dense that the summit of the cape could
not be seen from the court of the fort.

Hobson got more and more uneasy. He had no longer any doubt
that the convoy had gone astray in the strange land; moreover,
vague apprehensions and sad forebodings increased his depression.
He could not look into the future with any confidence why, he
would have found it impossible to explain. Everything apparently
combined to reassure him. In spite of the great rigour of the winter,
his little colony was in excellent health. No quarrels had arisen
amongst the colonists, and their zeal and enthusiasm was still
unabated. The surrounding districts were well stocked with game,
the harvest of furs had surpassed his expectations, and the Company
might well be satisfied with the result of the enterprise. Even if no
fresh supply of provisions arrived, the resources of the country were
such that the prospect of a second winter need awake no misgivings.
Why, then, was Lieutenant Hobson losing hope and confidence ?

He and Mrs Barnett had. many a talk on the subject ; and the
latter did all she could to raise the drooping spirits of the command-
ing officer, urging upon him all the considerations enumerated above ;
and one day walking with him along the beach, she pleaded the
cause of Cape Bathurst and the factory, built at the cost of so much
suffering, with more than usual eloquence.

" Yes, yes, madam, you are right," replied Hobson ; " but we
can't help our presentiments. I am no visionary. Twenty times in
my soldier's life I have been in critical circumstances, and have never
lost presence of mind for one instant ; and now for the first time in
my life I am uneasy about the future. If I had to face a positive


danger, I should have no fear ; but a vague uncertain peril of which
I have only a presentiment "

" What danger do you mean ? " inquired Mrs Barnett ; " a danger
from men, from animals, or the elements ? "

" Of animals I have no dread whatever, madam ; it is for them
to tremble before the hunters of Cape Bathurst, nor do I fear men ; districts are frequented by none but Esquimaux, and the
Indians seldom venture so far north."

" Besides, Lieutenant," said Mrs Barnett, " the Canadians, whose
arrival you so much feared in the fine season, have never appeared."

" I am very sorry for it, madam."

" What ! you regret the absence of the rivals who are so evidently
hostile to your Company ? "

"Madam, I am both glad and sorry that 'they have not come;
that will of course puzzle you. But observe that the expected con-
voy from Fort Reliance has not arrived. It is the same with the
agents of the St Louis Fur Company ; they might have come, and
they have not done so. Not a single Esquimaux has visited this part
of the coast during the summer either "

"And what do you conclude from all this?" inquired Mrs

" I conclude that it is not so easy to get to Cape Bathurst or to
Fort Hope as we could wish."

The lady looked into the Lieutenant's anxious face, struck with
the melancholy and significant intonation of the word easy.

"Lieutenant Hobson," she said earnestly, "if you fear neither
men nor animals, I must conclude that your anxiety has reference
to the elements."

" Madam," he replied, " I do not know if my spirit be broken,
or if my presentiments blind me, but there seems to me to be
something uncanny about this district. If I had known it better I
should not have settled down in it. I have already called your
attention to certain peculiarities, which to me appear inexplicable ;
the total absence of stones everywhere, and the clear-cut line of the
coast. I can't make out about the primitive formation of this end
of the continent. I know that the vicinity of a volcano may
cause some phenomena ; but you remember what I said to you on
the subject of the tides 1 "

" Oh yes, perfectly."

" Where the sea ought, according to the observations of explorers


in these latitudes, to have risen fifteen or twenty feet, it has scarcely
risen one ! "

" Yes ; but that you accounted for by the irregular distribution of
land and the narrowness of the straits."

" I tried to account for it, that is all," replied Hobson j " but the
day before yesterday I noticed a still more extraordinary pheno-
menon, which I cannot even try to explain, and I doubt if the greatest
savants could do so either."

Mrs Barnett looked inquiringly at Hobson.

" What has happened? " she exclaimed.

" Well, the day before yesterday, madam, when the moon was
full, and according to the almanac the tide ought to have been
very high, the sea did not even rise one foot, as it did before it did
not rise at all."

" Perhaps you may be mistaken," observed Mrs Barnett.

" I am not mistaken. I saw it with my own eyes. The day
before yesterday, July 4th, there was positively no tide on the coast
of Cape Bathurst."

" And what do you conclude from that ? " inquired Mrs

" I conclude, madam," replied the Lieutenant, " either that the
laws of nature are changed, or that this district is very peculiarly
situated ... or rather ... I conclude nothing ... I explain nothing
... I am puzzled ... I do not understand it : and therefore . . .
therefore I am anxious."

Mrs Barnett asked no more questions. Evidently the total
absence of tides was as unnatural and inexplicable as would be
the absence of the sun from the meridian at noon. Unless the
earthquake had so modified the conformation of the coast of the
Arctic regions as to account for it but no, such an idea could
not be entertained by any one accustomed to note terrestrial pheno-

As for supposing that the Lieutenant could be mistaken in his
observations, that was impossible ; and that very day he and Mrs
Barnett, by means of beach-marks made on the beach, ascertained
beyond all doubt that whereas a year before the sea rose a foot, there
was now no tide whatever.

The matter was kept a profound secret, as Hobson was unwilling
to render his companions anxious. But he might often be seen
standing motionless and silent upon the summit of the cape, gazing

" He might be seen standing motionless and silent" $"r. Page 160.


across the sea, which was now open, and stretched away as far as
the eye could reach.

During the month of July hunting the furred animals was dis-
continued, as the martens, foxes, and others had already lost their
winter beauty. No game was brought down but that required for
food, such as caribous, Polar hares, &c., which, stranga to say,
instead of being scared away by the guns, continued to multiply
near the fort. Mrs Barnett did not fail to note this peculiar, and,
as the event proved, significant fact.

No change had taken place in the situation on the 15th July.
No news from Fort Reliance. The expected convoy did not arrive,
and Hobson resolved to execute his project of sending to Captain
Craventy, as Captain Craventy did not come to him.

Of course none but Sergeant Long could be appointed to the
command of the little troop, although the faithful fellow would
rather not have been separated from his Lieutenant. A considerable
time must necessarily elapse before he could get back to Fort Hope.
He would have to pass the winter at Fort Reliance, and return the
next summer. Eight months at least ! It is true either Mac-Nab
or Rae could have taken the Sergeant's place ; but then they were
married, and the one being a master carpenter, and the other the
only blacksmith, the colonists could not well have dispensed with
their services.

Such were the grounds on which the Lieutenant chose Long, and
the Sergeant submitted with military obedience. The four soldiers
elected to accompany him were Belcher, Pond, Petersen, and Kellet,
who declared their readiness to start.

Four sledges and their teams of dogs were told off for the service.
They were to take a good stock of provisions, and the most valuable
of the furs. Foxes, ermines, martens, swans, lynxes, musk-rats,
gluttons, &c., all contributed to the precious convoy. The start
was fixed for the mdrning of the 19th July, the day after the
eclipse. Of course Thomas Black was to accompany the Sergeant,
and one sledge was to convoy his precious person and instruments.

The worthy savant endured agonies of suspense in the few days
preceding the phenomenon which he awaited with so much im-
patience. He might well be anxious ; for one day it was fine and
another wet, now mists obscured the sun, or thick fogs hid it
all together ; and the wind veered to every point of the horizon with
provoking fickleness and uncertainty. What if during the few


moments of the eclipse the queen of the night and the great orb
of day should be wrapped in an opaque cloud at the critical moment,
so that he, the astronomer, Thomas Black, come so far to watch the
phenomenon, should be unable to see the luminous corona or the
red prominences ! How terrible would be the disappointment ! How
many dangers, how much suffering, how much fatigue, would have
been gone through in vain !

" To have come so far to see the moon, and not to see it ! " he
cried in a comically piteous tone.

No, he could not face the thought, and early of an evening he
would climb to the summit of the cape and gaze into the heavens.
The fair Phoebe was nowhere to be seen ; for it being three days
before new moon, she was accompanying the sun in his daily course,
and her light was quenched in his beams.

Many a time did Thomas Black relieve his over-burdened heart
by pouring out his troubles to Mrs Barnett. The good lady felt
sincerely sorry for him, and one day, anxious to reassure him, she-
told him that the barometer showed a certain tendency to rise, and
reminded him that they were in the fine season.

tl The fine season ! " cried the poor astronomer, shrugging his
shoulders. " Who can speak of a fine season in such a country aa

" Well, but, Mr Black," said Mrs Barnett, " suppose, for the sake-
of argument, that you miss this eclipse by any unlucky chance, I
suppose there will be another some day. The eclipse of July 18th
will not be the last of this century."

" No, madam, no," returned Black ; " there will be five more total
eclipses of the sun before 1900. One on the 31st December 1861,
which will be total for the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean, and the
Sahara Desert ; a second on the 22d December 1870, total for the
Azores, the south of Spain, Algeria, Sicily, and Turkey ; a third on the
19th August 1887, total for the north-east of Germany, the south of
Russia, and Central Asia ; a fourth on the 9th August 1896, visible in
Greenland, Lapland, and Siberia ; and lastly, a fifth on the 28th May
1900, which will be total for the United States, Spain, Algeria, and

"Well, Mr Black," resumed Mrs Barnett, "if you lose the
eclipse of the 18th July 1860, you can console yourself by looking
forward to that of the 31st December 1861. It will only be seven-
teen months ! "


" I can console myself, madam," said the astronomer gravely, " by
looking forward to that of 1896. I shall have to wait not seven-
teen months, but thirty-six years ! "

" May I ask why ? "

" Because of all the eclipses, it alone that of 9th August 1896
will be total for places in high latitudes, such as Lapland, Siberia,
or Greenland."

" But what is the special interest of an observation taken in these
elevated latitudes?"

" What special interest 1 " cried Thomas Black ; " why, a scientific
interest of the highest importance. Eclipses have very rarely been
watched near the Pole, where the sun, being very little above the
horizon, is apparently considerably increased in size. The disc of
the moon which is to intervene between us and the sun is subject
to a similar apparent extension, and therefore it may be that the
red prominences and the luminous corona can be more thoroughly
examined. This, madam, is why I have travelled all this distance to
watch the eclipse above the seventieth parallel. A similar opportunity
will not occur until 1896, and who can tell if I shall be alive then ? "

To this burst of enthusiasm there was no reply to be made ; and
the astronomer's anxiety and depression increased, for the inconstant
weather seemed more and more disposed to play him some ill-natured

It was very fine on the 16th July, but the next day it was cloudy
and misty, and Thomas Black became really ill. The feverish state
he had been in for so long seemed likely to result in a serious
illness. Mrs Barnett and Hobson tried in vain to soothe him, and
Sergeant Long and the others could not understand how it was
possible to be so unhappy for "love of the moon."

At last the great day the 18th July dawned. According to
the calculations of astronomers, the total eclipse was to last four
minutes thirty-seven seconds that is to say, from forty-three
minutes fifteen seconds past eleven to forty-seven minutes fifty-
seven seconds past eleven A.M.

" What do I ask ? what do I ask ? " moaned the astronomer, tear-
ing his hair. " Only one little corner of the sky free from clouds !
only the small space in which the eclipse is to take place ! And

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