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The fur country; or, Seventy degrees north latitude online

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a military look to the buildings, and made them really imposing.

The palisade was now completely finished, and Mac-Nab, remem-
bering the sufferings of the last winter, built a new wood shed clo.se
up against the house itself, with a door of communication inside, so
that there would be no need to go outside at all. By this contriv-
ance the fuel would always be ready to hand. On the left side of
the house, opposite the shed, Mac-Nab constructed a large sleeping-
room for the soldiers, so that the camp-bed could be removed from
the common room. This room was also to be used for meals,
games, and work. The three married couples had private rooms
walled off, so that the large house was relieved of them as well as




" Thanks to the Corporal's unwearying exertions" tyc, Page 202.



FROM JUL Y 25 TH TO A UG US T 2QTH. 2O I



of all the other soldiers. A magazine for furs only was also erected
behind the house near the powder-magazine, leaving the loft free
for stores ; and the rafters and ribs of the latter were bound with
iron cramps, that they might be able to resist all attacks.

Mac-Nab also intended to build a little wooden chapel, which
had been included in Hobson's original plan of the factory ; but
its erection was put off until the next summer.

With what eager interest would the Lieutenant have once watched
the progress of his establishment ! Had he been building on firm
ground, with what delight would he have watched the houses, sheds,
and magazines rising around him ! He remembered the scheme of
crowning Cape Bathurst with a redoubt for the protection of Fort
Hope with a sigh. The very name of the factory, " Fort Hope,"
made his heart sink within him ; for should it not more truly be
called " Fort Despair 1 "

These various works took up the whole summer, and there was no
time for ennui. The construction of the boat proceeded rapidly.
Mac-Nab meant it to be of about thirty tons measurement, which
would make it large enough to carry some twenty passengers several
hundred miles in the fine season. The carpenter had been fortunate
enough to find some bent pieces of wood, so that he was able quickly
to form the first ribs of the vessel, and soon the stem and sternpost,
fixed to the keel, were upon the dockyard at the foot of Cape Bathurst.

Whilst the carpenters were busy with hatchets, saws, and adzes,
the huntejs were eagerly hunting the reindeer and Polar hares,
which abounded near the fort. The Lieutenant, however, told Marbre
and Sabine not to go far away, stating as a reason, that until the
buildings were completed he did not wish to attract the notice of
rivals. The truth was, he did not wish the changes which had
taken place tp be noticed.

One day Marbre inquired if it was not now time to go to Walruses'
Bay, and get a fresh supply of morse-oil for burning, and Hobson
replied rather hastily

" No, Marbre ; it would be useless."

The Lieutenant knew only too well that Walruses' Bay was two
hundred miles away, and that there were no morses to be hunted on
the island.

It must not be supposed that Hobson considered the situation
desperate even now. He often assured Mrs Barnett, Madge, and
Long that he was convinced the island would hold together until the



2O2 THE FUR COUNTRY.



bitter cold of winter should thicken its foundation and arrest its
course at one and the same time.

After his journey of discovery, Hobson estimated exactly the area
of his new dominions. The island measured more than forty miles
round, from which its superficial arrear would appear to be about
one hundred and forty miles at the least. By way of comparison, we
may say that Victoria Island was rather larger, than St Helena, and
its area was about the same as that of Paris within the line of forti-
fications. If then it should break up into fragments, the separate
parts might still be of sufficient size to be habitable for some
time.

When Mrs Barnett expressed her surprise that a floating ice-
field could be so large, Hobson replied by reminding her of the
observations of Arctic navigators. Parry, Penny, and Franklin had
met with ice-fields in the Polar seas one hundred miles long and
fifty broad. Captain Kellet abandoned his boat on an ice-field
measuring at least three hundred square miles, and what was
Victoria Island compared to it ?

Its size was, however, sufficient to justify a hope that it would
resist the action of the warm currents until the cold weather set in.
Hobson would not allow himself to doubt ; his despair arose rather
from the knowledge that the fruit 'of all his cares, anxieties, and
dangers must eventually be swallowed up by the deep, and it was
no wonder that he could take no interest in the works that were
going on.

Mrs Barnett kept up a good heart through it all ; she encouraged
her comrades in their work, and took her share in it, as if she had
still a future to look forward to. Seeing what an interest Mrs
Joliffe took in her plants, she joined her every day in the garden.
There was now a fine crop of sorrel and scurvy-grass thanks to the
Corporal's unwearying exertions to keep off the birds of every kind,
which congregated by hundreds.

The taming of the reindeer had been quite successful ; there were
now a good many young, and little Michael had been partly brought
up on the milk of the mothers. There were now some thirty head
in the herd which grazed near the fort, and a supply of the herbage
on which they feed was dried and laid up for the winter. These
useful animals, which are easily domesticated, were already quite
familiar with all the colonists, and did not go far from the enceinte.
Some of them were used in sledges to carry timber backwards and



FROM JULY 25 7W TO AUGUST 2OTH. 2O3

forwards. A good many reindeer, still wild, now fell into the trap
half way between the fort and Port Barnett. It will be remembered
that a large bear was once taken in it ; but nothing of the kind
occurred this season none fell victims but the reindeer, whose flesh
was salted and laid by for future use. Twenty at least were taken,
which in the ordinary course of things would have gone down to
the south in the winter.

One day, however, the reindeer-trap suddenly became useless in
consequence of the conformation of the soil. After visiting it as
usual, the hunter Marbre approached Hobson, and said to him in
a significant tone

" I have just paid my daily visit to the reindeer-trap, sir."

" Well, Marbre, I hope you have been as successful to-day as
yesterday, and have caught a couple of reindeer," replied Hobson.

"No, sir, no," replied Marbre, with some embarrassment.

" Your trap has not yielded its ordinary contingent then ? "

" No, sir ; and if any animal had fallen in, it would certainly
have been drowned ! "

" Drowned ! " cried the Lieutenant, looking at the hunter with
an anxious expression.

" Yes, sir," replied Marbre, looking attentively at his superior ;
" the pit is full of water."

" Ah ! " said Hobson, in the tone of a man who attached no im-
portance to that ; " you know your pit was partly hollowed out of
ice ; its walls have melted with the heat of the sun, and then "

' ; Beg pardon for interrupting you. sir," said Marbre; "but the
water cannot have been produced by the melting of ice."

" Why not, Marbre ? "

" Because if it came from ice it would be sweet, as you explained
to me once before. Now the water in our pit is salt ! "

Master of himself as he was, Hobson could not help changing
countenance slightly, and he had not a word to say.

" Besides," added Marbre, " I wanted to sound the trench to
see how deep the water was, and to my great surprise, I can tell you,
I could not find the bottom."

" Well, Marbre," replied Hobson hastily, "there is. nothing so
wonderful in that. Some fracture of the soil has established a com-
munication between the sea and the trap. So don't be uneasy
about it, my brave fellow, but leave the trap alone for the present,
and be content with setting snares near the fort."



2O4 THE FUR COUNTRY.



Marbre touched his cap respectfully, and turned on his heel, but
not before he had given his chief a searching glance.

Hobson remained very thoughtful for a few moments. Marbre's
tidings were of grave importance. It was evident that the bottom
of the trench, gradually melted by the warm waters of the sea, had
given way.

Hobson at once called the Sergeant, and having acquainted
him with the incident, they went together, unnoticed by their com-
panions, to the beach at the foot of Cape Bathurst, where they had
made the bench-marks.

They examined them carefully, and found that since they last did
so, the floating island bad sunk six inches.

" We are sinking gradually," murmured Sergeant Long. "The
ice is wearing away."

" Oh for the winter ! the winter ! " cried Hobson, stamping his
foot upon the ground.

But as yet, alas ! there was no sign of the approach of the cold
season. The thermometer maintained a mean height of 59 Fahren-
heit, and during the few hours of the night the column of mercury
scarcely went down three degrees.

Preparations for the approaching winter went on apace, and there
was really nothing wanting to Fort Hope, although it had not been
re victualled by Captain Craventy's detachment. The long hours of
the Arctic night might be awaited in perfect security. The stores
were of course carefully husbanded. There still remained plenty of
spirits, only small quantities having been consumed ; and there was
a good stock of biscuits, which, once gone, could not be replaced.
Fresh venison and salt meat were to be had in abundance, and
with some antiscorbutic vegetables, the diet was most healthy ; and
all the members of the little colony were well.

A good deal of timber was cut in the woods clothing the eastern
slopes of Lake Barnett. Many were the birch-trees, pines, and firs
which fell beneath the axe of Mac-Nab, and were dragged to the
house by the tamed reindeer. The carpenter did not spare the
little forest, although he cut his wood judiciously ; for he never
dreamt that timber might fail him, imagining, as he did, Victoria
Island to be a peninsula, and knowing the districts near Cape
Michael to be rich in different species of trees.

Many a time did the unconscious carpenter congratulate his Lieu-
tenant on having chosen a spot so favoured by Heaven. Woods, game,




" We are sinking gradually." Page 204.



FROM JUL Y 25 TH TO AUGUST 2O TH. 2O C

furred animals, a lagoon teeming with fish, plenty of herbs for the
animals, and, as Corporal Joliffe would have added, double pay for
the men. Was not Cape Bathurst a corner of a privileged land, the
like of which was not to be found in the whole Arctic regions 1
Truly Hobson was a favourite of Heaven, and ought to return thanks
to Providence every day for the discovery of this unique spot.

Ah, Mac-Nab, you little knew how you wrung the heart of your
master when you talked in that strain !

The manufacture of winter garments was not neglected in the
factory. Mrs Barnett, Madge, Mrs Mac-Nab, Mrs Rae, and Mrs
Joliffe when she could leave her fires were alike indefatigable.
Mrs Barnett knew that they would all have to leave the fort in the
depth of winter, and was determined that every one should be
warmly clothed. They would have to face the bitterest cold for a
good many days during the Polar night, if Victoria Island should
halt far from the continent. Boots and clothes ought indeed to be
strong and well made, for crossing some hundreds of miles under
such circumstances. Mrs Barnett and Madge devoted all their ener-
gies to the matter in hand, and the furs, which they knew it would
be impossible to save, were turned to good account. They were
used double, so that the soft hair was both inside and outside of the
clothes ; and when wearing them, the whole party would be as richly
attired as the grandest princesses, or the most wealthy ladies. Those
not in the secret were rather surprised at the free use made of the
Company's property; but Hobson's authority was not to be questioned,
and really martens, polecats, musk-rats, beavers, and foxes multi-
plied with such rapidity near the fort, that all the furs used could
easily be replaced by a few shots, or the setting of a few traps ;
and when Mrs Mac-Nab saw the beautiful ermine coat which had
been made for her baby, her delight was unbounded, and she no
longer wondered at anything.

So passed the days until the middle of the month of August. The
weather continued fine, and any mists which gathered on the horizon
were quickly dispersed by the sunbeams.

Every day Hobson took the bearings, taking care, however, to go
some distance from the fort, that suspicions might not be aroused ;
and he also visited different parts of the island, and was reassured
by finding that no important changes appeared to be taking place.

On the 16th August Victoria Island was situated in 167 27'
west longitude, and 70 49' north latitude. It had, therefore,



206 THE FUR COUNTRY.



drifted slightly to the south, but without getting any nearer to the
American coast, which curved considerably.

The distance traversed by the island since the fracture of the
isthmus, or rather since the last thaw, could not be less than eleven
or twelve hundred miles to the west.

But what was this distance compared to the vast extent of the
ocean ? Had not boats been known to be drifted several thousands
of miles by currents ? Was not this the case with the English ship
Resolute, the American brig Advance, and with the Fox, all of which
were carried along upon ice-fields until the winter arrested their
advance !




CHAPTER VI.

TEN DA YS OF TEMPEST.

!ROM the 17th to the 20th August the weather continued
fine, and the temperature moderate. The mists on the
horizon were not resolved into clouds, and altogether the
weather was exceptionally beautiful for such an elevated position.
It will be readily understood, however, that Hobson could take no
pleasure in the fineness of the climate.

On the 21st August, however, the barometer gave notice of an
approaching change. The column of mercury suddenly fell con-
siderably, the sun was completely hidden at the moment of culmina-
tion, and Hobson was unable to take his bearings.

The next day the wind changed and blew strongly from the
north-west, torrents of rain falling at intervals. Meanwhile, how-
ever, the temperature did not change to any sensible extent, the
thermometer remaining at 54 Fahrenheit.

Fortunately the proposed works were now all finished, and Mac-
Nab had completed the carcass of his boat, which was planked and
ribbed. Hunting might now be neglected a little, as the stores
were complete, which was fortunate, for the weather became very
bad. The wind was high, the rain incessant, and thick fogs rendered
it impossible to go beyond the enceinte of the fort.

" What do you think of this change in the weather, Lieutenant 1 "
inquired Mrs Barnett on the morning of the 27th August ; " might
it not be in our favour ? "

" I should not like to be sure of it, madam," replied Hobson ;
" but anything is better for us than the magnificent weather we
have lately had, during which the sun made the waters warmer and
warmer. Then, too, the wind from the north-west is so very strong
that it may perhaps drive us nearer to the American continent."

" Unfortunately," observed Long, " we can't take our bearings
every day now. It 's impossible to see either sun, moon, or stars
in this fog. Fancy attempting to take an altitude now ! n



208 THE FUR COUNTRY.

" We shall see well enough to recognise America, if we get any-
where near it," said Mrs Barnett. " Whatever land we approach will
be welcome. It will most likely be some part of Russian America
probably Western Alaska."

" You are right, madam," said Hobson ; " for, unfortunately, in
the whole Arctic Ocean there is not an island, an islet, or even a
rock to which we could fasten our vessel ! "

" Well/' rejoined Mrs Barnett, " why should not our conveyance
take us straight to the coasts of Asia? Might not the currents
carry us past the opening of Behring Strait and land us on the
shores of Siberia ? "

" No, madam, no/' replied Hobson ; " our ice-field would soon
meet the Kamtchatka current, and be carried by it to the north-
west. It is more likely, however, that this wind will drive us
towards the shores of Russian America."

"We must keep watch, then/' said Mrs Barnett, "and ascertain
our position as soon as possible."

" We shall indeed keep watch," replied Hobson, " although this
fog is very much against us. If we should be driven on to the coast,
the shock will be felt even if we cannot see. Let 's hope the island
will not fall to pieces in this storm ! That is at present our
principal danger. Well, when it comes we shall see what there is
to be done, and meanwhile we must wait patiently."

Of course this conversation was not held in the public room,
where the soldiers and women worked together. It was in her
own room, with the window looking out on the court, that Mrs
Barnett received visitors. It was almost impossible to see indoors
even in the daytime, and the wind could be heard rushing by out-
side like an avalanche. Fortunately, Cape Bathurst protected the
house from the north-east winds, but the sand and earth from its
summit were hurled down upon the roof with a noise like the
pattering of hail. Mac-Nab began to feel fresh uneasiness about
his chimneys, which it was absolutely necessary to keep in good
order. With the roaring of the wind was mingled that of the sea,
as its huge waves broke upon the beach. The storm had become
a hurricane.

In spite of the fury of the gale, Hobson determined on the
morning of the 28th of August to climb to the summit of Cape
Bathurst, in order to examine the state of the horizon, the sea, and




" Hobson remained crouching," 8fc. Page 209.



TEN DAYS OF TEMPEST. 2CK)

the sky. He therefore wrapped himself up, taking care to have
nothing about him likely to give hold the wind, and set out.

He got to the foot of the cape without much difficulty. The sand
and earth blinded him, it is true, but protected by the cliff he had
not as yet actually faced the wind. The fatigue began when he
attempted to climb the almost perpendicular sides of the promon-
tory ; but by clutching at the tufts of herbs with which tbey were
covered, he managed to get to the top, but there the fury of the gale
was such that he could neither remain standing nor seated ; he was
therefore forced to fling himself upon his face behind the little cop-
pice and cling to some shrubs, only raising his head and shoulders
above the ground.

The appearance of sea and sky was indeed terrible. The spray
dashed over the Lieutenant's head, and half-a-mile from the cape
water and clouds were confounded together in a thick mist. Low
jagged rain-clouds were chased along the heavens with giddy
rapidity, and heavy masses of vapour were piled upon the zenith.
Every now and then an awful stillness fell upon the land, and tl\e
only sounds were the breaking of the surf upon the beach and the
roaring of the angry billows ; but then the tempest recommenced
with redoubled fury, and Hobson felt the cape tremble to its founda-
tions. Sometimes the rain poured down with such violence that it
resembled grape-shot.

It was indeed a terrible hurricane from the very worst quarter of
the heavens. This north-east wind might blow for a long time and
cause all manner of havoc. Yet Hobson, who would generally have
grieved over the destruction around him, did not complain, on the
contrary, he rejoiced ; for if, as he hoped, the island held together, it
must be driven to the south-west by this wind, so much more
powerful than the currents. And the south-west meant land hope
safety ! Yes, for his own sake, and for that of all with him, he
hoped that the hurricane would last until it had flung them upon the
land, no matter where. That which would have been fatal to a ship
was the best thing that could happen to the floating island.

For a quarter of an hour Hobson remained crouching upon the
ground, clutching at the shrubs like a drowning man at a spar,
lashed by the wind, drenched by the rain and the spray, struggling
to estimate all the chances of safety the storm might afford him.
At the end of that time he let himself slide down the cape, and
fought his way to Fort Hope.



2IO THE FUR COUNTRY.



Hobson's first care was to tell his comrades that the hurricane was
Tiot yet at its height, and that it would probably last a long time
yet. He announced these tidings with the manner of one bringing
good news, and every one looked at him in astonishment. Their chief
officer really seemed to take a delight in the fury of the elements.

On the 30th Hobson again braved the tempest, not this time
climbing the cape, but going down to ? the beach. What was his
joy at noticing some long weeds floating on the top of the waves, of
a kind which did not grow on Victoria Island. Christopher
Columbus' delight was not greater when he saw the sea- weed which
told him of the proximity of land.

The Lieutenant hurried back to the fort, and told Mrs Barnett
and Sergeant Long of his discovery. He had -a good mind to tell
every one the whole truth now, but a strange presentiment kept
him silent.

The occupants of the fort had plenty to amuse them in the long
days of compulsory confinement. They went on improving the
inside of the various buildings, and dug trenches in the court to
carry away the rain-water. Mac-Nab, a hammer in one hand and a
nail in the other, was always busy at u job in some corner or another,
and nobody took much note of the tempest outside in the daytime ;
but at night it was impossible to sleep, the wind beat upon the
buildings like a battering-ram \ between the house and the cape some-
times whirled a huge waterspout of extraordinary dimensions ; the
planks cracked, the beams seemed about to separate, and there was
danger of the whole structure tumbling down. Mac-Nab and his
men lived in a state of perpetual dread, and had to be continually
on the watch.

Meanwhile, Hobson was uneasy about the stability of the island
itself, rather than that of the house upon it. The tempest
became so violent, and the sea so rough, that there was really a
danger of the dislocation of the ice-field. It seemed impossible for
it to resist much longer, diminished as it was in thickness and
subject to the perpetual action of the waves. It is true that its
inhabitants did not feel any motion, on account of its vast extent,
but it suffered from it none the less. The point at issue was
simply : Would the island last until it was flung upon the coast,
or would it fall to pieces before it touched firm ground 1

There could be no doubt that thus far it had resisted. As the
Lieutenant explained to Mrs Barnett, Jiad it already been broken,



TEN DAYS OF TEMPEST. 211

had the ice-field already divided into a number of islets, the occu-
pants of the fort must have noticed it, for the different pieces would
have been small enough to be affected by the motion of the sea, and
the people on any one of them would have been pitched about like
passengers on a boat. This was not the case, and in his daily
observations Lieutenant Hobson had noticed no movement what-
ever, not so much as a trembling of the island, which appeared
as firm and motionless as when it was still connected by its
isthmus with the mainland.

But the breaking up, which had not yet taken place, might
happen at any minute.

Hobson was most anxious to ascertain whether Victoria Island,
driven by the north-west wind out of the current, had approached
the continent. Everything, in fact, depended upon this, which was
their last chance of safety. But without sun, moon, or stars,
instruments were of course useless, as no observations could be
taken, and the exact position of the island could not be deter-
mined. If, then, they were approaching the land, they would only
know it when the land came in sight, and Hobson's only means of
ascertaining anything in time to be of any service, was to get to
the south of his dangerous dominions. The position of Victoria
Island with regard to the cardinal points had not sensibly altered
all the time. Cape Bathurst still pointed to the north, as it did
when it was the advanced post of North America. It was, there-
fore, evident that if Victoria Island should come alongside of the
continent, it would touch it with its southern side, the communi-
cation would, in a word, be re-established by means of the broken
isthmus ; it was, therefore, imperative to ascertain what was going



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