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The fur country; or, Seventy degrees north latitude online

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currents from the opening of Behring Strait ; and it would be
necessary carefully to ascertain all that a chart of the Arctic Ocean
could tell. Hobson had such a chart, and invited all who were
with him on the cape to come to his room and look at it ; but
before going down to the fort he once more urged upon them the
necessity of keeping their situation a secret.

"It is not yet desperate," he said, "and it is therefore quite
unnecessary to damp the spirits of our comrades, who will perhaps
not be able to understand, as we do, all the chances in our
favour."

" Would it not be prudent to build a boat large enough to hold
us all, and strong enough to carry us a few hundred miles over the
sea ? " observed Mrs Barnett.

" It would be prudent certainly," said Hobson, " and we will do it.
I must think of some pretext for beginning the work at once, and
give the necessary orders to the head carpenter. But taking to a
boat can only be a forlorn hope when everything else has failed.
We must try all we can to avoid being on the island when the ice
breaks up, and we must make for the mainland as soon as ever the
sea is frozen over."

Hobson was right. It would take about three months to build
a thirty or thirty-five ton vessel, and the sea would not be open
when it was finished. It would be very dangerous to embark the
whole party when the ice was breaking up all round, and he would
be well out of his difficulties if he co;ild get across the ice to firm
ground before the next thaw set in. This was why Hobson thought
a boat a forlorn hope, a desperate makeshift, and every one agreed
with him.

Secrecy was once more promised, for it was felt that Hobson
was the best judge of the matter, and a few minutes later the five
conspirators were seated together in the large room of Fort Hope,
which was then deserted, eagerly examining an excellent map of the
oceanic and atmospheric currents of the Arctic Ocean, special atten-
tion being naturally given to that part of the Polar Sea between
Cape Bathurst and Behring Strait.

Two principal currents divide the dangerous latitudes compre-
hended between the Polar Circle and the imperfectly known zone,




'' The carpenter fixed ujtoit the beach," fyc, Page 183.



WHERE ARE WE ?



called the North- West Passage since M'Clure's daring discovery at
least only two have been hitherto noticed by marine surveyors.

One is called the Kamtchatka Current. It takes its rise in the
offing outside the peninsula of that name, follows the coast of Asia,
and passes through Behring Strait, touching Cape East, a promon-
tory of Siberia. After running due north for about six hundred
miles from the strait, it turns suddenly to the east, pretty nearly
following the same parallel as M'Clure's Passage, and probably
doing much to keep that communication open for a few mouths in
the warm season.

The other current, called Behring Current, flows just the other
way. After running from east to west at about a hundred miles at
the most from the coast, it comes into collision, so to speak, with
the Kamtchatka Current at the opening of the strait, and turning to
the south approaches the shores of Russian America, crosses Behring
Sea, and finally breaks on the kind of circular dam formed by the
Aleutian Islands.

Hobson's map gave a very exact summary of the most recent
nautical observations, so that it could be relied on.

The Lieutenant examined it carefully before speaking, and then
pressing his hand to his head, as if oppressed by some sad presenti-
ment, he observed

"Let us hope that fate will not take us to remote northern
latitudes. Our wandering island would run a risk of never return-
ing."

" Why, Lieutenant 1 " broke in Mrs Barnett.
"' Why. madam 1 " replied Hobson ; " look well at this part of the
Arctic Ocean, and you will readily understand why. Two currents,
both dangerous for us, run opposite ways. When they meet, the island
must necessarily become stationary, and that at a great distance
from any land. At that point it will have to remain for the winter,
and when the next thaw sets in, it will either follow the Kamt-
chatka Current to the deserted regions of the north-west, or it will
float down with the Behring Current to be swallowed up by the
Pacific Ocean."

" That will not happen, Lieutenant," said Madge in a tone of
earnest conviction ; " God would never permit that."

"I can't make out," said Mrs Barnett, "whereabouts in the
Polar Sea we are at this moment ; for I see but one current from
the offing of Cape Bathnrst which bears directly to the north-west,



l8O THE FUR COUNTRY.

and that is the dangerous Kamtchatka Current. Are you not afraid
that it has us in its fatal embrace, and is carrying us with it to the
shores of North Georgia ? "

" I think not," replied Hobson, after a moment's reflection.

"Why not?-"

" Because it i? a very rapid current, madam ; and if we had been
following it for three months, we should have had some land in
sight by this time, and there is none, absolutely none ! "

" Where, then, do you suppose we are 1 " inquired Mrs Barnett.

" Most likely between the Kamtchatka Current and the coast,
perhaps in some vast eddy unmarked upon the map."

" That cannot be, Lieutenant," replied Mrs Barnett, quickly.

"Why not, madam, why not?"

" Because if Victoria Island were in an eddy, it would have
veered round to a certain extent, and our position with regard to
the cardinal points would have changed in the last three months,
which is certainly not the case."

" You are right, madam, you are quite right. The only explana-
tion I can think of is, that there is some other current, not marked
on our map. Oh, that to-morrow were here that I might find out
our longitude ; really this uncertainty is terrible ! "

" To-morrow will come," observed Madge.

There was nothing to do but to wait. The party therefore
separated, all returning to their ordinary occupations. Sergeant
Long informed his comrades that the departure for Fort Reliance,
fixed for the next day, was put off. He gave as reasons that the
season was too far advanced to get to the southern factory before
the great cold set in, that the astronomer was anxious to complete his
meteorological observations, and would therefore submit to another
winter in the north, that game was so plentiful provisions from
Fort Eeliance were not needed, &c., &c. But about all these
matters the brave fellows cared little.

Lieutenant Hobson ordered his men to spare the furred animals
in future, and only to kill edible game, so as to lay up fresh stores
for the coming winter ; he also forbade them to go more than two
miles from the fort, not wishing Marbre and Sabine to come
suddenly upon a sea-horizon, where the isthmus connecting the
peninsula of Victoria with the mainland was visible a few months
before. The disappearance of the neck of land would inevitably
have betrayed everything.



WHERE ARE WE? l8l



The day appeared endless to Lieutenant Hobson. Again and
again lie returned to Cape Bathurst either alone, or accompanied by
Mrs Barnett. The latter, inured to danger, showed no fear ; she
even joked the Lieutenant about his floating island being perhaps,
after all, the proper conveyance for going to the North Pole. " With
a favourable current might they not reach that hitherto inaccessible
point of the globe 1 "

Lieutenant Hobson shook his head as he listened to his com-
panion's fancy, and kept his eyes fixed upon the horizon, hoping to
catch a glimpse of some land, no matter what, in the distance. But
no, sea and sky met in an absolutely unbroken circular line, confirm-
ing Hobson's opinion that Victoria Island was drifting to the west
rather than in any other direction.

" Lieutenant," at last said Mrs Barnett, " don't you mean to make
a tour of our island as soon as possible ? "

" Yes, madam, of course ; as soon as I have taken our bearings,.
I mean to ascertain the form and extent of our dominions. It
seems, however, that the fracture was made at the isthmus itself, so-
that the whole peninsula has become an island."

"A strange destiny is ours, Lieutenant," said Mrs Barnett.
"Others return from their travels to add new districts to geogra-'
phical maps, but we shall have to efface the supposed peninsula of
Victoria ! "

The next day, July 18th, the sky was very clear, and at ten
o'clock in the morning Hobson obtained .a satisfactory altitude of
the sun, and, comparing it with that of the observation of the day
before, he ascertained exactly the longitude in which they were.

The island was then in 157 37' longitude west from Greenwich.

The latitude obtained the day before, at noon almost immediately
after the eclipse was, as we know, 73 1' 20" north.

The spot was looked out on the map in the presence of Mrs
Barnett and Sergeant Long.

It was indeed a most anxious moment, and the following result
was arrived at.

The wandering island was moving in a westerly direction, borne
along by a current unmarked on the chart, and unknown to
hydrographers, which was evidently carrying it towards Behring
Strait. All the dangers foreseen by Hobson were then imminent,
if Victoria Island did not again touch the mainland before the
winter.



1 82 THE FUR COUNTRY.



"But how far are we from the American continent 1 that is the
most important point just at present," said Mrs Barnett.

Hobson took his compasses, and carefully measured the narrowest
part of the sea between the coast and the seventieth parallel.

" We are actually more than two hundred and fifty miles from
Point Barrow, the northernmost extremity of Russian America,"
he replied.

" We ought to know, then, how many miles the island has drifted
since it left the mainland," said Sergeant Long.

" Seven hundred miles at least," replied Hobson, after having
again consulted the chart.

" And at about what time do you suppose the drifting com-
menced ? "

" Most likely towards the end of April ; the ice-field broke up
then, and the icebergs which escaped melting drew back to the
north. We may, therefore, conclude that Victoria Island has been
moving along with the current parallel with the coast at an average
rate of ten miles a day."

" No very rapid pace after all ! " exclaimed Mrs Barnett.

" Too fast, madam, when you think where we may be taken
during the two months in which the sea will remain open in this
part of the Arctic Ocean."

The three friends remained silent, and looked fixedly at the
chart of the fearful Polar regions, towards which they were being
irresistibly drawn, and which have hitherto successfully resisted
all attempts to explore them.

" There is, then, nothing to be done ? Nothing to try ? " said Mrs
Barnett after a pause.

" Nothing, madam," replied Hobson ; " nothing whatever. We
must wait ; we must all pray for the speedy arrival of the Arctic
winter generally so much dreaded by sailors, but which alone can
save us now. The winter will bring ice, our only anchor of salva-
tion, the only power which can arrest the course of this wandering
island."




'' Thomeu Black would not even join the exploring part//." Page 184.




CHAPTER III.

A TOUR OF THE ISLAND.

jROM that day, July 18th, it was decided that the bearings
should be taken as on board a vessel whenever the state of
the atmosphere rendered the operation possible. Was not
the island, in fact, a disabled ship, tossed about without sails or
helm.

The next day after taking the bearings, Hobson announced that
without change of latitude the island had advanced several miles
farther west. Mac-Nab was ordered to commence the construction
of a huge boat, Hobson telling him, in explanation, that he proposed
making a reconnaissance of the coast as far as Russian America
next summer. The carpenter asked no further questions, but pro-
ceeded to choose his wood, and fixed upon the beach at the foot of
Cape Bathurst as his dockyard, so that he might easily be able to
launch his vessel.

Hobson intended to set out the same day on his excursion round
the island in which he and his comrades were imprisoned. Many
changes might take place in the configuration of this sheet of ice,
subject as it was to the influence of the variable temperature of the
waves, and it was important to determine its actual form at the
present time, its area, and its thickness in different parts. The
point of rupture, which was most likely at the isthmus itself, ought
to be examined with special care ; the fracture being still fresh,
it might be possible to ascertain the exact arrangement of the
stratified layers of ice and earth of which the soil of the island was
composed.

But in the afternoon the sky clouded over suddenly, and a
violent squall, accompanied with thick mists, swept down upon the
fort. Presently torrents of rain fell, and large hailstones rattled on
the roof, whilst a few distant claps of thunder were heard, a
phenomenon of exceedingly rare occurrence in such elevated
latitudes.



184 THE FUR COUNTRY.



Hobson was obliged to put off his trip, and wait until the fury
of the elements abated, but during the 20th, 21st, and 22d July,
no change occurred. The storm raged, the floods of heaven were
let loose, and the waves broke upon the beach with a deafening
roar. Liquid avalanches were flung with such force upon Cape
Bathurst, that there was reason to dread that it might give way ;
its stability was, in fact, somewhat problematical, as it consisted
merely of an aggregation of sand and earth, without any firm
foundation. Vessels at sea might well be pitied in this fearful
gale, but the floating island was of too vast a bulk to be affected
by the agitation of the waves, and remained indifferent to their
fury.

During the night of the 22d July the tempest suddenly ceased.
A strong breeze from the north-east dispelled the last mists upon
the horizon. The barometer rose a few degrees, and the weather
appeared likely to favour Hobson's expedition.

He was to be accompanied by Mrs Barnett and Sergeant Long,
and expected to be absent a day or two. The little party took
some salt meat, biscuits, and a few flasks of rum with them, and
there was nothing in their excursion to suprise the rest of the
colonists. The days were just then very long, the sun only dis-
appearing below the horizon for a few hours.

There were no wild animals to be feared now. The bears seemed
to have fled by instinct from the peninsula whilst it was still
connected with the mainland, but to neglect no precaution each of
the three explorers was provided with a gun. The Lieutenant and
his subordinate also carried hatchets and ice-chisels, which a
traveller in the Polar regions should never be without.

During the absence of the Lieutenant and the Sergeant, the
command of the fort fell to Corporal Joliffe, or rather to his little wife,
and Hobson knew that he could trust her. Thomas Black could
not be depended on ; he would not even join the exploring party \
he promised, however, to watch the northern latitudes very carefully,
and to note any change which should take place in the sea or the
position of the cape during the absence of the Lieutenant.

Mrs Barnett had endeavoured to reason with the unfortunate
astronomer, but he would listen to nothing. He felt that Nature
had deceived him, and that he could never forgive her.

After many a hearty farewell, the Lieutenant and his two com-
panions left the fort by the postern gate, and, turning to the west,




" They breakfasted," ^v. Page 186.



A TOUR OF THE ISLAND. 185



followed the lengthened curve of the coast between Capes Bathurst
and Esquimaux.

It was eight o'clock in the morning ; the oblique rays of the sun
struck upon the beach, and touched it with many a brilliant tint,
the angry billows of the sea were sinking to rest, and the birds,
ptarmigans, guillemots, puffins, and petrels, driven away by the
storm, were returning by thousands. Troops of ducks were
hastening back to Lake Barnett, flying close, although they knew it
not, to Mrs Joliffe's saucepan. Polar hares, martens, musk-rats,
and ermines rose before the travellers and fled at their approach,
but not with any great appearance of haste or terror. The animals
evidently felt drawn towards their old enemies by a common
danger.

" They know well enough that they are hemmed in by the sea
and cannot quit the island," observed Hobson.

" They are all in the habit of seeking warmer climates in the
south in the winter, are they not ? " inquired Mrs Barnett.

" Yes, madam, but unless they are presently able to cross the ice-
field, they will have to remain prisoners like ourselves, and I am
afraid the greater number will die of cold or hunger.

" I hope they will be good, enough to supply us with food for a
long time," observed the Sergeant, " and I think it is very fortunate
that they had not the sense to run away before the rupture of the
isthmus/'

" The birds will, however, leave us ? " added Mrs Barnett.

" Oh yes, madam, everything with wings will go, they can traverse
long distances without fatigue, and, more fortunate than ourselves,
they will regain terra Jirma"

" Could we not use them as messengers 1 " asked Mrs Barnett.

"A good idea, madam, a capital idea," said Hobson. "We
might easily catch some hundreds of these birds, and tie a paper
round their necks with our exact situation written upon it. John
Ross in 1848 tried similar means to acquaint the survivors of the
Franklin expedition with the presence of his ships, the Enterprise
and the Investigator in the Polar seas. He caught some hundreds
of white foxes in traps, rivetted a copper collar round the neck
of each with all the necessary information engraved upon it, and
then set them free in every direction."

" Perhaps some of the messengers may have fallen into the hands
of the shipwrecked wanderers."



1 86 THE FUR COUNTRY.



" Perhaps so," replied Hobson ; " I know that an old fox was
taken by Captain Hatteras during his voyage of discovery, wearing
a collar half worn away and hidden beneath his thick white fur.
What we cannot do with the quadrupeds, we will do with the
birds."

Chatting thus and laying plans for the future, the three explorers
continued to follow the coast. They noticed no change ; the abrupt
cliffs covered with earth and sand showed no signs of a recent altera-
tion in the extent of the island. It was, however, to be feared that
the vast sheet of ice would be worn away at the base by the action
of the warm currents, and on this point Hobson was naturally
anxious.

By eleven o'clock in the morning the eight miles between Capes
Bathurst and Esquimaux had been traversed. A few traces of the
encampment of Kalumah's party still remained ; of course the snow
huts had entirely disappeared, but some cinders and walrus bones
marked the spot.

The three explorers halted here for a short time, they intended to
pass the few short hours of the night at Walruses' Bay, which they
hoped to reach in a few hours. They breakfasted seated on a slightly
rising ground covered with a scanty and stunted herbage. Before
their eyes lay the ocean bounded by a clearly-defined sea-horizon,
without a sail or an iceberg to break the monotony of the vast ex-
panse of water.

" Should you be very much surprised if some vessel came in sight
now, Lieutenant?" inquired Mrs Barnett.

" I should be very agreeably surprised, madam," replied Hobson.
"It is not at all uncommon for whalers to come as far north as this,
especially now that the Arctic Ocean is frequented by whales and
cacholots, but you must remember that it is the 23rd July, and the
summer is far advanced. The whole fleet of whaling vessels is
probably now in Gulf Kotzebue, at the entrance to the strait.
Whalers shun the sudden changes in the Arctic Ocean, and with
good reason. They dread being shut in the ice ; and the icebergs,
avalanches, and ice-fields they avoid, are the very things for which
we earnestly pray."

" They will come, Lieutenant," said Long ; " have patience, in an-
other two months the waves will no longer break upon the shores
of Cape Esquimaux."

" Cape Esquimaux ! " observed Mrs Barnett with a smile " That



A TOUR OF THE ISLAND. 187



name, like those we gave to the other parts of the peninsula, may
turn out unfortunate too. We have lost Port Barnett and Paulina
Eiver ; who can tell whether Cape Esquimaux and Walruses' Bay
may not also disappear in time ? "

" They too will disappear, madam," replied Hobson, " and after
them the whole of Victoria Island, for nothing now connects it with
a continent, and it is doomed to destruction. This result is inevit-
able, and our choice of geographical names will be thrown away ;
but fortunately the Royal Society has not yet adopted them,
and Sir Roderick Murchison will have nothing to efface on his
maps,"

" One name he will," exclaimed the Sergeant.

" Which ? " inquired Hobson.

" Cape Bathurst/' replied Long.

" Ah, yes, you are right. Cape Bathurst must now be removed
from maps of the Polar regions."

Two hours' rest were all the explorers cared for, and at one
o'clock they prepared to resume their journey.

Before starting Hobson once more looked round him from the
mmmit of Cape Esquimaux ; but seeing nothing worthy of notice,
le rejoined Mrs Barnett and Sergeant Long.

" Madam," he said, addressing the lady, " you have not forgotten
the family of natives we met here last winter ?"

" Oh no, I have always held dear little Kalumah in friendly
renembrance. She promised to come and see us again at Fort
Hoje, but she will not be able to do so. But why do you ask me
about the natives now?"

" Because I remember something to which, much to my regret,
I did not at the time attach sufficient importance."

" What was that ? "

" Yd remember the uneasy surprise the men manifested at find-
ing a factory at the foot of Cape Bathurst."

" Oh yes, perfectly."

" You 1 remember that I tried to make out what the natives
meant, aid that I could not do so ? "

" Yes, I remember."

"Well,' added Hobson, "I know now why they shook their
heads. Fiom tradition, experience, or something, the Esquimaux
knew what the peninsula really was, they knew we had not built
on firm ground. But as things had probably remained as they



1 88 THE FUR COUNTRY.



were for centuries, they thought there was no immediate danger,
and that it was not worth while to explain themselves."

" Very likely you are right," replied Mrs Barnett ; " but I feel
sure that Kalumah had no suspicion of her companion's fears, or
she would have warned us."

Hobson quite agreed with Mrs Barnett, and Sergeant Long
observed

"It really seems to have been by a kind of fatality that we
settled ourselves upon this peninsula just before it was torn away
from the mainland. I suppose, Lieutenant, that it had been con-
nected for a very long time, perhaps for centuries."

" You might say for thousands and thousands of years, Sergeant/'
replied Hobson. " Kemember that the soil on which we are tread-
ing has been brought here by the wind, little by little, that the
sand has accumulated grain by grain ! Think of the time it must
have taken for the seeds of firs, willows, and arbutus to become
shrubs and trees ! Perhaps the sheet of ice on which we float was
welded to the continent before the creation of man ! "

"Well," cried Long, "it really might have waited a few cen-
turies longer before it drifted. How much anxiety and how many
dangers we might then have been spared ! "

Sergeant Long's most sensible remark closed the conversation,
and the journey was resumed.

From Cape Esquimaux to Walruses' Bay the coast ran almost
due south, following the one hundred and twenty-seventh meridiin.
Looking behind them they could see one corner of the lagoon its
waters sparkling in the sunbeams, and a little beyond the wooded
heights in which it was framed. Large eagles soared above their
heads, their cries and the loud napping of their wings breaking
the stillness, and furred animals of many kinds, mtrtens,
polecats, ermines, <kc., crouching behind some rising ground,
or hiding amongst the stunted bushes and willows, gazed inquir-
ingly at the intruders. They seemed to understand trat they
had nothing to fear. Hobson caught a glimpse of a few beavers
wandering about, evidently ill at ease, and puzzled at tie disap-
pearance of the little river. With no lodges to shelter then, and no
stream by which to build a new home, they were doomec to die of
cold when the severe frost set in. Sergeant Long also siw a troop
of wolves crossing the plain.

It was evident that specimens of the whole Arctic ?auna were




" Numerous furred animals" 8fc. Page 188.



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