Jules Verne.

The fur country; or, Seventy degrees north latitude online

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for how long? For four short minutes ! After that, let it snow,
let it thunder, let the elements break loose in fury, I should care no
more for it all than a snail for a chronometer ! "


It is not to be denied that Thomas Black had some grounds
for his fears. It really seemed likely that observations would
be impossible. At daybreak the horizon was shrouded in mists.
Heavy clouds were coming up from the south, and covering the
very portion of the sky in which the eclipse was to take place.
But doubtless the patron saint of astronomers had pity on poor
Black, for towards eight o'clock a slight wind arose and swept the
mists and clouds from the sky, leaving it bright and clear !

A cry of gratitude burst from the lips of the astronomer, and
his heart beat high with newly -a wakened hope. The sun shone
brightly, and the moon, so soon to darken it, was as yet invisible
in its glorious beams.

Thomas Black's instruments were already carefully placed on the
promontory, and having pointed them towards the southern horizon,
he awaited the event with calmness restored, and the coolness
necessary for taking his observation. What was there left to fear?
Nothing, unless it was that the sky might fall upon his head ! At
nine o'clock there was not a cloud, not a vapour left upon the sky
from the zenith to the horizon. Never were circumstances more
favourable to an astronomical observation.

The whole party were anxious to take part in the observation,
and all gathered round the astronomer on Cape Bathurst. Gradu-
ally the sun rose above the horizon, describing an extended arc
above the vast plain stretching away to the south. No one spoke,
but awaited the eclipse in solemn silence.

Towards half-past nine the eclipse commenced. The disc of the
moon seemed to graze that of the sun. But the moon's shadow was
not to fall completely on the earth, hiding the sun, until between forty-
three minutes past eleven and forty-seven minutes fifty-seven seconds
past eleven. That was the time fixed in the almanacs, and every one
knows that no error can creep into them, established, verified, and
controlled as they are by the scientific men of all the observatories
in the world.

The astronomer had brought a good many glasses with him, and
he distributed them amongst his companions, that all might watch
the progress of the phenomenon without injury to the eyes.

The brown disc of the moon gradually advanced, and terrestrial
objects began to assume a peculiar orange hue, whilst the atmo-
sphere on the zenith completely changed colour. At a quarter-past
ten half the disc of the sun was darkened, and a few dogs which

"All might watch the progress of the phenomenon" fyc. Page 164.


happened to be at liberty showed signs of uneasiness and howled
piteously. The wild ducks, thinking night had come, began to
utter sleepy calls and to seek their nests, and the mothers gathered
their little ones under their wings. The hush of eventide fell upon
all animated nature.

At eleven o'clock two-thirds of the sun were covered, and all
terrestrial objects became a kind of vinous red. A gloomy twilight
set in, to be succeeded during the four minutes of totality by absolute
darkness. A few planets, amongst others Mercury and Venus,
began to appear, and some constellations Capella, t and <y of
I'aurus, and <p rf Orion. The darkness deepened every moment.

Thomas Black remained motionless, with his eye glued to the
glass of his instrument, eagerly watching the progress of the
phenomenon. At forty-three minutes past eleven the discs of the
two luminaries ought to be exactly opposite to each other, that of
the moon completely hiding that of the sun.

" Forty-three minutes past eleven," announced Hobson, who was
attentively watching the minute hand of his chronometer.

Thomas Black remained motionless, stooping over his instrument.
Half a minute passed, and then the astonomer drew himself up,
with eyes distended and eager. Once more he bent over the
telescope, and cried in a choked voice

" She is going ! she is going ! The moon, the moon is going !
She is disappearing, running away ! "

True enough the disc of the moon was gliding away from that of
the sun without having completely covered it !

The astronomer had fallen backwards, completely overcome. The
four minutes were past. The luminous corona had not appeared !

" What is the matter 1 " inquired Hobson.

"The matter is," screamed the poor astronomer, "that the
eclipse was not total not total for this portion of the globe ! Do
you hear ? It was not to-t-a-1 ! I say not to-t-a-1 ! ! "

" Then your almanacs are incorrect."

" Incorrect ! Don't tell that to me, if you please, Lieutenant
Hobson ! "

" But what then ? " said Hobson, suddenly changing countenance.

" Why," said Black, " we are not after all on the seventieth

" Only fancy ! " cried Mrs Barnett.

" We can soon prove it," said the astronomer, whose eyes flashed


with rage and disappointment. " The sun will pass the meridian in
a few minutes. . . . My sextant quick . . . make haste ! "

One of the soldiers rushed to the house and fetched the instru-
ment required.

The astronomer pointed it upon the sun ; he watched the orb of
day pass the meridian, and rapidly noted down a few calculations.

" What was the situation of Cape Bathurst a year ago, when we
took the latitude?" he inquired.

" Seventy degrees, forty-four minutes, and thirty-seven seconds,"
replied Hobson.

"Well, sir, it is now seventy- three degrees, seven minutes, and
twenty seconds ! You see we are not under the seventieth parallel ! "

" Or rather we are no longer there ! " muttered Hobson.

A sudden light had broken in upon his mind, all the phenomena
hitherto so inexplicable were now explained.

Cape Bathurst had drifted three degrees farther north since the
arrival of the Lieutenant and his companions !




jiND so Fort Hope, founded by Lieutenant Hobson on the
borders of the Polar Sea, had drifted ! Was the courageous
agent of the Company to blame for this ? No ; any one
might have been deceived as he had been. No human prevision
could have foreseen such a calamity. He meant to build upon a
rock, and he had not even built upon sand. The peninsula of
Victoria, which the best maps of English America join to the
American continent, had been torn suddenly away from it. This
peninsula was in fact nothing but an immense piece of ice, five
hundred square miles in extent, converted by successive deposits
of sand and earth into apparently solid ground well clothed with
vegetation. Connected with the mainland for thousands of cen-
turies, the earthquake of the 8th of January had dragged it away
from its moorings, and it was now a floating island, at the mercy of
the winds and waves, and had been carried along the Arctic Ocean
by powerful currents for the last three months !

Yes, Fort Hope was built upon ice ! Hotison at once under-
stood the mysterious change in their latitude. The isthmus
that is to say, the neck of land which connected the peninsula of
Victoria with the mainland had been snapped in two by a sub-
terranean convulsion connected with the eruption of the volcano
some months before. As long as the northern winter continued,
the frozen sea maintained things as they were ; but when the thaw
came, when the ice fields, melted beneath the rays of the sun, and
the huge icebergs, driven out into the offing, drew back to the
farthest limits of the horizon when the sea at last became open, the
whole peninsula drifted away, with its woods, its cliffs, its pro-
montories, its inland lagoon, and its coast- line, under the influence
of a current about which nothing was known. For months this
drifting had been going on unnoticed by the colonists, who even


when hunting did not go far from Fort Hope. Beach-marks, if
they had been made, would have been useless ; for heavy mists
obscured everything at a short distance, the ground remained
apparently firm and motionless, and there was, in short, nothing to
hint to the Lieutenant and his men that they had become islanders.
The position of the new island with regard to the rising and setting
of the sun was the same as before. Had the cardinal points changed
their position, had the island turned round, the Lieutenant, the
astronomer, or Mrs Barnett, would certainly have noticed and
understood the change ; but in its course the island had thus far
followed a parallel of latitude, and its motion, though rapid, had
been imperceptible.

Although Hobson had no doubt of the moral and physical
courage and determination pf his companions, he determined not
to acquaint them with the truth. It would be time enough to tell
them of their altered position when it had been thoroughly studied.
Fortunately the good fellows, soldiers or workmen, took little
notice of the astronomical observations, and not being able to see
the consequences involved, they did not trouble themselves about
the change of latitude just announced.

The Lieutenant determined to conceal his anxiety, and seeing no
remedy for the misfortune, mastered his emotion by a strong effort,
and tried to console Thomas Black, who was lamenting his dis-
appointment and tearing his hair.

The astronomer had no doubt about the misfortune of which
he was the victim. ,Not having, like the Lieutenant, noticed the
peculiarities of the district, he did not look beyond the one fact in
which he was interested : on the day fixed, at the time named, the
moon had not completely eclipsed the sun. And what could he
conclude but that, to the disgrace of observatories, the almanacs were
false, and that the long desired eclipse, his own eclipse, Thomas
Black's, which he had come so far and through so many dangers to see,
had not been " total " for this particular district under the seventieth
parallel ! No, no, it was impossible to believe it ; he could not face
the terrible certainty, and he was overwhelmed with disappointment.
He was soon to learn the truth, however.

Meanwhile Hobson let his men imagine that the failure of the
eclipse could only interest himself and the astronomer, and they
returned to their ordinary occupations ; but as they were leaving,
Corporal Joliffe stopped suddenly and said, touching his cap

iase, sir, it's because of the pay." Page 171.


" May I ask you one question, sir 1 "

" Of course, Corporal ; say on/' replied the Lieutenant, who won-
dered what was coming.

But Joliffe hesitated, and his little wife nudged his elbow.

"Well, Lieutenant/' resumed the Corporal, "it's just about the
seventieth degree of latitude if we are not where we thought we

The Lieutenant frowned.

" Well," he replied evasively, " we made a mistake in our reckon-
ing, . . . our first observation was wrong ; . . . but what does
that concern you 1 "

" Please, sir, it 's because of the pay," replied Joliffe with a
scowl. "You know well enough that the Company promised us
double pay."

Hobson drew a sigh of relief. It will be remembered that the
men had been promised higher pay if they succeeded in settling on
or above the seventieth degree north latitude, and Joliffe, who always
had an eye to the main chance, had looked upon the whole matter
from a monetary point of view, and was afraid the bounty would
be withheld.

" You needn't be afraid," said Hobson with a smile ; " and you
can tell your brave comrades that our mistake, which is really
inexplicable, will not in the least prejudice your interests. We are
not below, but above the seventieth parallel, and so you will get
your double pay."

" Thank you, sir, thank you," replied Joliffe with a beaming face.
" It isn't that we think much about money, but that the money
sticks to us."

And with this sage remark the men drew off, little dreaming
what a strange and fearful change had taken place in the position
of the country.

Sergeant Long was about to follow the others when Hobson
stopped him with the words

" Remain here, Sergeant Long."

The subordinate officer turned on his heel and waited for the
Lieutenant to address him.

All had now left the cape except Mrs Barnett, Madge, Thomas
Black, and the two officers.

Since the eclipse Mrs Barnett had not uttered a word. She
looked inquiringly at Hobson, who tried to avoid meeting her eyes.


The brave woman seemed rather surprised than uneasy, and it was
doubtful whether or no she understood the significance of what had
occurred. Had the truth flashed upon her as it had upon the
Lieutenant? had she, like him, at once seen all the consequences
involved? However it may have been, she said not a word, but
leant upon Madge, whose arm was round her mistress's waist.

The astronomer hurried to and fro, he could not keep still His
hair was disordered ; he alternately wrung his hands and let them
drop against his sides. Ejaculations of despair burst from his
lips ; he shook his fist at the sun, and stared at it with distended

Presently, however, he grew calmer ; he felt able to speak, and
with crossed arms, flashing eyes, flushed face, and frowning brows,
he strode up to the Lieutenant.

" I have a score to settle with you ! " he cried. " Yes, with you,
Lieutenant Hobson, agent of the Hudson's Bay Company ! "

The tone, the attitude, the words, were uncommonly like a
challenge ; but Hobson felt so truly sorry for the poor man's dis-
appointment that he could not take offence, and only looked at him

" Mr Hobson," resumed Black with ill-concealed irritation, "will
you be kind enough to inform me what all this means? Have you
anything to do with this mystery 1 If so, sir, you have struck at
those higher than I, and you may come to repent it ! "

" What do you mean, Mr Black ? " inquired Hobson calmly.

"I mean, sir," resumed the astronomer, "that you were ordered
to take your detachment to the seventieth parallel of lati-
tude ! "

" Or beyond it," said Hobson.

" Beyond it, sir ! " cried Black ; " what have I to do beyond it?
To observe the total eclipse of the sun, I ought not to have crossed
the limits included in the seventieth parallel ; I ought to have remained
in that portion of English America, and here I am three degrees
above it ! "

" Well, Mr Black," replied Hobson, still quietly, " we were mis-
taken, that is all ! "

" That is all ! " screamed the astronomer, exasperated at the Lieu-
tenant's calmness.

"Let me remind you," resumed Hobson, "that if I was mistaken,
you shared my error yes, you, Mr Black ; for on our arrival at

"He shook hisjist at the sun." Page 172.


Cape Bathurst we took the latitude of our position together, you
with your instruments, I with mine. You cannot, then, make me
responsible for a mistake you made yourself."

At this reply the astronomer was taken aback, and in spite of
his rage had not a word to say. What excuse was there for him ?
If any one was in fault, it was he ! And what would the scientific
men of Europe think of him 1 What would they say at the Green-
wich Observatory of an astronomer so awkward as to make a mistake
in taking latitude ? Thomas Black make an error of two or three
degrees in taking the altitude of the sun ! and under what circum-
stances ! When the result would be to make him lose the obser-
vation of a total eclipse, under conditions which would not be
reproduced for a very long time. Thomas Black was a dishonoured
savant !

" But how ?" he exclaimed, again tearing his hair " how could I
make such a mistake ? Am I no longer fit to handle a sextant ? Can
I not calculate an angle ? I am blind ! and if so, nothing remains for
me to do, but to fling myself head foremost from this cape ! "

" Mr Black," said Hobson gravely, " do not reproach yourself
you have made no mistake you have nothing to regret."

" Then it 's only you ! "

" I am no more guilty than you are. Listen to me, I beg of you,
and you too," he added, turning to Mrs Barnett, " and you, and you,
Madge, and Sergeant Long, but keep what I tell you a profound
secret. There is no need to frighten and dishearten our comrades."

The four drew near to the Lieutenant without a word, but there
was a tacit agreement to keep the secret about to be revealed to

" My friends," said Hobson, " a year ago, on our arrival at Cape
Bathurst, we took our bearings, and found that we were on the
seventieth degree of latitude, and if we are now beyond that degree
it is because Cape Bathurst has drifted I "

" Drifted ! " cried Thomas Black. "Tell that to those who will
believe it ! When was a large cape known to drift before ? "

"It is true, though, Mr Black," replied Hobson gravely. " The
whole of the peninsula of Victoria is nothing more than an island
of ice. The earthquake separated it from the American continent,
and now one of the great Arctic currents is bearing it along/

" Where? " asked Sergeant Long.

*' Where it pleases God for it to go," replied the Lieutenant


For some time not another word was spoken. All involuntarily-
turned towards the south, where the broken isthmus was situated ;
but from their position they could only see the sea horizon on the
north. Had Cape Bathurst been situated a few hundred feet more
above the level of the ocean, they would have been able at a glance
to ascertain the limits of their island home.

All were deeply moved at the sight of Fort Hope and all its
occupants borne away from all solid ground, and floating at the
mercy of winds and waves.

" Then, Lieutenant," said Mrs Barnett at last, "all the strange
phenomena you observed are now explained ! "

" Yes, madam," he replied, " everything is explained. The
peninsula of Victoria, now an island, which we thought firm ground
with an immovable foundation, is nothing more than a vast sheet of
ice welded for centuries to the American continent. Gradually the
wind has strewn it with earth and sand, and scattered over them
the seeds from which have sprung the trees and mosses with which
it is clothed. Rain-water filled the lagoon, and produced the little
river ; vegetation transformed the appearance of the ground ; but
beneath the lake, beneath the soil of earth and sand in a word,
beneath our feet is a foundation of ice, which floats upon the water
by reason of its being specifically lighter than it. Yes, it is a sheet
of ice which bears us up, and is carrying us away ; and this is why we
have not found a single flint or stone upon its surface ! This is why
its shores are perpendicular, this is why we found ice ten feet below
the surface when we dug the reindeer pit this, in short, is why the
tide was not noticeable on the peninsula, which rose and sank with
the ebb and flow of the waves ! "

" Everything is indeed explained," said Mrs Barnett, " and your
presentiments did not deceive you ; but can you explain why the
tides, which do not affect us at all now, were to a slight extent per-
ceptible on our arrival 1 "

" Simply because, madam, on our arrival the peninsula was still
connected by means of its flexible isthmus with the American
continent. It offered a certain resistance to the current, and on its
northern shores the tide rose two feet beyond low- water mark, instead
of the twenty we reasonably expected. But from the moment when
the earthquake broke the connecting link, from the moment when
tlie peninsula became an island free from all control, it rose and sank
with the ebb and flow of the tide; and, as we noticed together


at full moon a few days ago, no sensible difference was produced on
our shores."

In spite of his despair, Thomas Black listened attentively to Hob-
son's explanations, and could not but see the reasonableness of his
deductions ; but he was furious at such a rare, unexpected, and, as he
said, "ridiculous" phenomenon occurring just so as to make him
miss the eclipse, and he said not a word, but maintained a gloomy,
even haughty silence.

" Poor Mr Black," said Mrs Barnett, " it must be owned that an
astronomer was never more, hardly used than you since the world
began ! "

"In any case, however," said Hobson, turning to her, " we have
neither of us anything to reproach ourselves with. No one can find
fault with us. Nature alone is to blame. The earthquake cut oft
our communication with the mainland, and converted our peninsula
into a floating island ; and this explains why the furred and other
animals, imprisoned like ourselves, have become so numerous round
the fort ! "

" This, too, is why the rivals you so much dreaded have not visited
us, Lieutenant ! " exclaimed Madge.

"And this," added the Sergeant, " accounts for the non-arrival
of the convoy sent to Cape Bathurst by Captain Craventy ! "

" And this is why," said Mrs Barnett, looking at the Lieutenant,
"I must give up all hope of returning to Europe this year at
least ! "

The tone of voice in which the lady made this last remark showed
that she resigned herself to her fate more readily than could have
been expected. She seemed suddenly to have made up her mind
to make the best of the situation, which would no doubt give her
an opportunity of making a great many interesting observations.
And after all, what good would grumbling have done ? Recrimina-
tions were worse than useless. They could not have altered their
position, or have checked the course of the wandering island, and
there was no means of reuniting it to a continent. No; God alone
could decide the future of Fort Hope. They must bow to His


Heco ul d not ascertain

name being retamed-until the ne day




any one to despair.


threatened the island floating a !ong the coast of
7 y the c im ents of the open sea to the high
Polar latitudes, from which there is no return.

" / think not." Page 180.


Or the current would take it to the south, perhaps through
Behring Strait into the Pacific Ocean.

In the former contingency, the colonists, shut in by ice and sur-
rounded by impassable icebergs, would have no means of communi-
cation with their fellow-creatures, and would die of cold and hunger
in the solitudes of the north.

In the latter contingency, Victoria Island, driven by the currents
to the western waters of the Pacific, would gradually melt and go to
pieces beneath the feet of its inhabitants.

In either case death would await the Lieutenant and his com-
panions, and the fort, erected at the cost of so much labour and suf-
fering, would be destroyed.

But it was scarcely probable that either of these events would
happen. The season was already considerably advanced, and in less
than three months the sea would again be rendered motionless by
the icy hand of the Polar winter. The ocean would again be con-
verted into an ice-field, and by means of sledges they might get to
the nearest land the coast of Russian America if the island re-
mained in the east, or the coast of Asia if it were driven to the west.

" For," added Hobson, " we have absolutely no control over our
floating island. Having no sail to hoist, as in a boat, we cannot
guide it in the least; Where it takes us we must go."

All that Hobson said was clear, concise, and to the point. There
could be no doubt that the bitter cold of winter would solder Victoria
Island to the vast ice-field, and it was highly probable that it would
drift neither too far north nor too far south. To have to cross a
few hundred miles of ice was no such terrible prospect for brave
and resolute men accustomed to long excursions in the Arctic
regions. It would be necessary, it was true, to abandon Fort
Hope the object of so many hopes, and to lose the benefit of all
their exertions, but what of that? The factory, built upon a
shifting soil, could be of no further use to the Company. Sooner
or later it would be swallowed up by the ocean, and what was the
good of useless regrets ? It must, therefore, be deserted as soon as
circumstances should permit.

The only thing against the safety of the colonists was and the
Lieutenant dwelt long on this point that during the eight or nine
weeks which must elapse before the solidification of the Arctic
Ocean, Victoria Island might be dragged too far north or south.



Arctic explorers had often told of pieces of ice being drifted an
immense distance without any possibility of stopping them.

Everything then depended on the force and direction of the

Online LibraryJules VerneThe fur country; or, Seventy degrees north latitude → online text (page 16 of 31)