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The fur country; or, Seventy degrees north latitude online

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on in that direction.

Hobson determined to go to Cape Michael, however terrible the
storm might be, but he meant to keep the real motive of his
reconnaissance a secret from his companions. Sergeant Long was
to accompany him.

About four o'clock P.M., on the 31st August, Hobson sent for
the Sergeant in his own room, that they might arrange together for
all eventualities.

"Sergeant Long," he began, "it is necessary that we should,
without delay, ascertain the position of Victoria Island, and above
all whether this wind has, as I hope, driven it near to the American
continent."



212 THE FUR COUNTRY.



" I quite agree with you, sir," replied Long, " and the sooner we
find out the better.''

" But it will necessitate our going down to the south of the
island."

" I am ready, sir."

" I know, Sergeant, that you are always ready to do your duty ;
but you will not go alone. Two of us ought to go, that we may
be able to let our comrades know if any land is in sight ; and
besides I must see for myself ... we will go together."

" When you like, Lieutenant, just when you think best."

" We will start this evening at nine o'clock, when everybody else
has gone to bed."

" Yes, they would all want to come with us," said Long, " and
they must not know why we go so far from the factory/'

" No, they must not know," replied Hobsori, "and if I can, I
will keep the knowledge of our awful situation from them until the
end."

" It is agreed then, sir ? "

" Yes. You will take a tinder-box and some touchwood 1 with
you, so that we can make a signal if necessary if land is in sight
in the south, for instance."

" Yes, sir."

" We shall have a rough journey, Sergeant."

"What does that matter, sir; but by the way the lady?"

" I don't think I shall tell her. She would want to go with
us."

" And she could not," said the Sergeant, " a woman could not
battle with such a gale. Just see how its fury is increasing at this
moment ! "

Indeed the house was rocking to such an extent that it seemed
likely to be torn from its foundations.

" No," said Hobson, " courageous as she is, she could not, she
ought not to accompany us. But on second thought* it will be best
to tell her of our project. She ought to know in case any accident
should befall us " . .

" Yes," replied Long, " we dught not to keep anything from her,
and if we do not come back "...

" At nine o'clock then, Sergeant."

" At nine o'clock."

1 A fungus used as tinder (Polyporous igniarius).




" The Lieutenant promised" Page 213.



TEN DAYS OF TEMPEST. 21 3



,. And with a military salute Sergeant Long retired.

A few minutes later Hobson was telling Mrs Barnett of his
scheme. As he expected the brave woman insisted on accompany-
ing him, and was quite ready to face the tempest. Hobson did not
dissuade her by dwelling on the dangers of the expedition, he
merely said that her presence was necessary at the fort during his
absence, and that- her remaining would set his mind at ease. If
any accident happened to him it would be a comfort to know that
she would take his place.

Mrs Barnett understood and said no more about going ; but only
urged Hobson not to risk himself unnecessarily. To remember that
he was the chief officer, that his life was not his own, but necessary
to the safety of all. The Lieutenant promised to be as prudent as
possible ; but added that the examination of the south of the island
must be made at once, and he would make it. The next day Mrs
Barnett merely told her companions that the Lieutenant and
the Sergeant had gone to make a final reconnaissance before the
winter set in.




CHAPTER VII.
A FIRE AND A CRY.

(HE Lieutenant and the Sergeant spent the evening in the
large room of the fort, where all were assembled except
the astronomer, who still remained shut up in his cabin.
The men were busy over their various occupations, some cleaning
their arms, others mending or sharpening their tools. The women
were stitching away industriously, and Mrs Paulina Barnett was
reading aloud ; but she was often interrupted not only by the noise
of the wind, which shook the walls of the house like a battering-ram,
but by the cries of the baby. Corporal Joliffe, who had undertaken
to amuse him, had enough to do. The young gentleman had ridden
upon his playmate's knees until they were worn out, and the
Corporal at last put the indefatigable little cavalier on the large
table, where he rolled about to his heart's content until he fell
asleep.

At eight o'clock prayers were read as usual, the lamps were
extinguished, and all retired to rest.

When every one was asleep, Hobson and Long crept cautiously
across the large room and gained the passage, where they found
Mrs Barnett, who wished to press their bands once more.

" Till to-morrow," she said to the Lieutenant.

" Yes," replied Hobson, " to-morrow, madam, without fail"

" But if you are delayed ? "

" You must wait patiently for us," replied the Lieutenant, " for
if in examining the southern horizon we should see a fire, which is
not unlikely this dark night, we should know that we were near the
coasts of New Georgia, and then it would be desirable for me to as-
certain our position by daylight. In fact, we may be away forty-eight
hours. If, however, we can get to Cape Michael before midnight,
we shall be back at the fort to-morrow evening. So wait patiently,
madam, and believe that we shall incur no unnecessary risk."



A FIRE AND A CRY. 21$

" But," added the lady, " suppose you don't get back to-morrow,
suppose you are away more than two days 1 "

" Then we shall not return at all," replied Hobson simply.

The door was opened, Mrs Barnett closed it behind the Lieutenant
and his companion and went back to her own room, where Madge
awaited her, feeling anxious and thoughtful.

Hobson and Long made their way across the inner court through
a whirlwind which nearly knocked them down ; but clinging to each
other, and leaning on their iron-bound staffs, they reached the
postern gates, and set out beween the hills and the eastern bank of
the lagoon.

A faint twilight enabled them to see their way. The moon,
which was new the night before, would not appear above the horizon,
and there was nothing to lessen the gloom of the darkness, which
would, however, last but a few hours longer.

The wind and rain were as violent as ever. The Lieutenant and
his companion wore impervious boots and water-proof cloaks well
pulled in at the waist, and the hood completely covering their heads.
Thus protected they got along at a rapid pace, for the wind was
behind them, and sometimes drove them on rather faster than they
cared to go. Talking was quite out of the question, and they did
not attempt it, for they were deafened by the hurricane, and out of
breath with the buffeting they received.

Hobson did not mean to follow the coast, the windings of which
would have taken him a long way round, and have brought him
face to face with the wind, which swept over the sea with nothing
to break its fury. His idea was to cut across in a straight line
from Cape Bathurst to Cape Michael, and he was provided with a
pocket compass with which to ascertain his bearings. He hoped by
this means to cross the ten or eleven miles between him and his goal,
just before the twilight faded and gave place to the two hours of
real darkness.

Bent almost double, with rounded shoulders and stooping heads,
the two pressed on. As long as they kept near the lake they did
not meet the gale full face, the little hills crowned with trees afforded
them some protection, the wind howled fearfully as it bent and
distorted the branches, almost tearing the trunks up by the roots ;
but it partly exhausted its strength, and even the rain when it
reached the explorers was converted into impalpable mist, so that



2l6 THE FUR COUNTRY.

for about four miles they did not suffer half as much as they
expected to.

But when they reached the southern skirts of the wood, where
the hills disappeared, and there were neither trees nor rising ground,
the wind swept along with awful force, and involuntarily they
paused for a moment. They were still six miles from Cape
Michael.

" We are going to have a bad time of it," shouted Lieutenant
Hobson in the Sergeant's ear.

" Yes, the wind and rain will conspire to give us a good beating,"
answered Long.

" I am afraid that now and then we shall have hail as well,"
added Hobson.

" It won't be as deadly as grape-shot," replied Long coolly, "and
we have both been through that, and so forwards ! "

" Forwards, my brave comrade ! "

Tt was then ten o'clock. The twilight was fading away, dying as
ii drowned in the mists or quenched by the wind and the rain.
There was still, however, some light, and the Lieutenant struck his
flint, and consulted his compass, passing a piece of burning touchwood
over it, and then, drawing his cloak more closely around him, he
plunged after the Sergeant across the unprotected plain.

At the first step, both were flung violently to the ground, but
they managed to scramble up, and clinging to each other with their
backs bent like two old crippled peasants, they struck into a kind of
ambling trot.

There was a kind of awful grandeur in the storm to which
neither was insensible. Jagged masses of mist and ragged rain-
clouds swept along the ground. The loose earth and sand were
whirled into the air and flung down again like grape-shot, and the
lips of Hobson and his companion were wet with salt spray, although
the sea was two or three miles distant at least. /

During the rare brief pauses in the gale, they stopped and took
breath, whilst the Lieutenant ascertained their position as accurately
as possible.

The tempest increased as the night advanced, the air and water
seemed to be absolutely confounded together, and low down on the
horizon was formed one of those fearful waterspouts which can
overthrow houses, tear up forests, and which the vessels whose
safety they threaten attack with artillery. It really seemed as if




Not that way" Page 217.



A FIRE AND A CRY.



the ocean itself was being torn from its bed and flung over the
devoted little island.

Hobson could not help wondering how it was that the ice-field
which supported it was not broken in a hundred places in this
violent convulsion of the sea, the roaring of which could be distinctly
heard where he stood. Presently Long, who was a few steps in
advance, stopped suddenly, and turning round managed to make
the Lieutenant hear the broken words

" Not that way ! "

"Why not?"

"The sea!"

" What, the sea ! We cannot possibly have got to the south-
east coast ! "

" Look, look, Lieutenant ! "

It was true, a vast sheet of water was indistinctly visible before
them, and large waves were rolling up and breaking at the Lieu-
tenant's feet.

Hobson again had recourse to his flint, and with the aid of some
lighted touchwood consulted the needle of his compass very care-
fully.

" No," he said, " the sea is farther to the left, we have not yet
passed the wood between us and Cape Michael."

" Then it is " -

"It is a fracture of the island ! " cried Hobson, as both were
compelled to fling themselves to the ground before the wind ; " either
a large portion of our land has been broken off and drifted away,
or a gulf has been made, which we can go round. Forwards ! "

They struggled to their feet and turned to the right towards the
centre of the island. For about ten minutes they pressed on in
silence, fearing, not without reason, that all communication with the
south of the island would be found to be cut off. Presently, however,
they no longer heard the noise of the breakers.

" It is only a gulf." screamed Hobson in the Sergeant's ear.
" Let us turn round."

And they resumed their original direction towards the south, but
both knew only too well that they had a fearful danger to face, for
that portion of the island on which they were was evidently cracked
for a long distance, and might at any moment separate entirely ;
should it do so under the influence of the waves, they would
inevitably be drifted away, whither they knew not. Yet they did



2 1 8 THE FUR COUNT R Y t



not hesitate, but plunged into the mist, not even pausing to wonder
if they should ever get back.

What anxious forebodings must, however, have pressed upon the
heart of the Lieutenant. Could he now hope that the island would
hold together until the winter ? had not the inevitable breaking up
already commenced 1 If the wind should not drive them on to the
coast, were they not doomed to perish very soon, to be swallowed up
by the deep, leaving no trace behind them? What a fearful prospect
for all the unconscious inhabitants of the fort !

But through it all the two men, upheld by the consciousness of a
duty to perform, bravely struggled on against the gale, which nearly
tore them to pieces, along the new beach, the foam sometimes
bathing their feet, and presently gained the large wood which shut
in Cape Michael. This they would have to cross to get to the
coast by the shortest route, and they entered it in complete dark-
ness, the wind thundering among the branches over their heads.
Everything seemed to be breaking to pieces around them, the dis-
located branches intercepted their passage, and every moment they
ran a risk of being crushed beneath a falling tree, or they stumbled
over a stump they had not been able to see in the gloom. The
noise of the waves on the other side of the wood was a sufficient
guide to their steps, and sometimes the furious breakers shook the
weakened ground beneath their feet. Holding each other's hands
lest they should lose each other, supporting each other, and the one
helping the other up when he fell over some obstacle, they at last
reached the point for which they were bound.

But the instant they quitted the shelter of the wood a perfect
whirlwind tore them asunder, and flung them upon the ground.

" Sergeant, Sergeant ! Where are you ? " cried Hobson with all
the strength of his lungs.

" Here, here ! " roared Long in reply.

And creeping on the ground they struggled to reach each other ;
but it seemed as if a powerful hand rivetted them to the spot on
which they had fallen, and it was only after many futile efforts that
they managed to reach each other. Having done so, they tied their
belts together to prevent another separation, and crept along the
sand to a little rising ground crowned by a small clump of pines.
Once there they were a little more protected, and they proceeded to
dig themselves a hole, in which they crouched in a state of absolute
exhaustion and prostration.




" Sergeant ! where are you /"' Page 218.



A FIRE AND A CRY. 2 19



It was half-past eleven o'clock P.M.

For some minutes neither spoke. With eyes half closed they lay
in a kind of torpor, whilst the trees above them bent beneath the
wind, and their branches rattled like the bones of a skeleton. But
yet again they roused themselves from this fatal lethargy, and a few
mouthfuls of rum from the Sergeant's flask revived them.

" Let us hope thee trees will hold," at last observed Hobson.

" And that our hole will not blow away with them," added the
Sergeant, crouching in the soft sand.

" Well ! " said Hobson, " here we are at last, a few feet from Cape
Michael, and as we came to make observations, let us make them.
I have a presentiment, Sergeant, only a presentiment, remember,
that we are not far from firm ground ! "

Had the southern horizon been visible the two adventurers
would have been able to see two-thirds of it from their position ;
but it was too dark to make out anything, and if the hurricane had
indeed driven them within sight of land, they would not be able to
see it until daylight, unless a fire should be lighted on the con-
tinent.

As the Lieutenant had told Mrs Barnett. fishermen often visited
that part of North America, which is called New Georgia, and there
are a good many small native colonies, the members of which
collect the teeth of mammoths, these fossil elephants being
very numerous in these latitudes. A few degrees farther south, on
the island of Sitka, rises New-Archangel, the principal settlement
in Russian America, and the head-quarters of the Russian Fur
Company, whose jurisdiction once extended over the whole of the
Aleutian Islands. The shores of the Arctic Ocean are, however,
the favourite resort of hunters, especially since the Hudson's Bay
Company took a lease of the districts formerly in the hands of the
Russians ; and Hobson, although he knew nothing of the country,
was well acquainted with the habits of those who were likely to
visit it at this time of the year, and was justified in thinking that
he might meet fellow-countrymen, perhaps even members of his
own Company, or, failing them, some native Indians, scouring the
coasts.

But could the Lieutenant reasonably hope that Victoria Island
had been driven towards the coast ?

" Yes, a hundred times yes," he repeated to the Sergeant again
and again. " For seven days a hurricane has been blowing from the



22O THE FUR COUNTRY.



north-east, and although I knpw that the island is very flat, and
there is not much for the wind to take hold of, still all these little
hills and woods spread out like sails must have felt the influence of
the wind to a certain extent. Moreover, the sea which bears us
along feels its power, and large waves are certainly running in shore.
It is impossible for us to have remained in the current which was
dragging us to the west, we must have been driven out of it, and
towards the south. Last time we took our bearings we were two
hundred miles from the coast, and in seven days "

" Your reasonings are very just, Lieutenant," replied the Sergeant,
" and I feel that whether the wind helps us or not, God will not
forsake us. It cannot be His will that so many unfortunate creatures*
should perish, and I put my trust in Him ! "

The two talked on in broken sentences, making each other hear
above the roaring of the storm, and struggling to pierce the gloom
which closed them in on every side ; but they could see nothing,
not a ray of light broke the thick darkness.

About half-past one A.M. the hurricane ceased for a few minutes,
whilst the fury of the sea seemed to be redoubled, and the large
waves, lashed into foam, broke over each other with a roar like
thunder.

Suddenly Hobson seizing his companion's arm shouted

" Sergeant, do you hear ? "

"What?"

"The noise of the sea?"

" Of course I do, sir," replied Long, listening more attentively,
" and the sound of the breakers seems to me not "

" Not exactly the same . . . isn't it Sergeant : listen, listen, it is
like the sound of surf ! ... it seems as if the waves were breaking
against rocks ! "

Hobson and the Sergeant now listened intently, the monotonous
sound of the waves dashing against each other in the offing was
certainly exchanged for the regular rolling sound produced by the
breaking of water against a hard body ; they heard the reverberating
echoes which told of the neighbourhood of rocks, and they knew
that along the whole of the coast of their island there was not a
single stone, and nothing more sonorous than the earth and sand of
which it was composed !

Could they have been deceived ? The Sergeant tried to rise to
listen better, but he was immediately flung down by the hurricane,




We saw their fire; they will see ours:' Page 221.



A FIRE AND A CRY. 221

which, recommenced with renewed violence. The lull was over, and
again the noise of the waves was drowned in the shrill whistling of
the wind, and the peculiar echo could no longer be made out.

The anxiety of the two explorers will readily be imagined. They
again crouched down in their hole, doubting whether it would not
perhaps be prudent to leave even this shelter, for they felt the sand
giving way beneath them, and the pines cracking at their very roots.
They persevered, however, in gazing towards the south, every nerve
strained to the utmost, in the effort to distinguish objects through
the darkness.

The first grey twilight of the dawn might soon be expected to
appear, and a little before half-past two A.M. Long suddenly ex-
claimed :

" I see it ! "

" What ? "

"Afire!"

"Afire?"

" Yes, there over there ! "

And he pointed to the south- west Was he mistaken ? No, for
Jlobson also made out a faint glimmer in the direction indicated.

" Yes ! " he cried, " yes, Sergeant, a fire; there is land there !"

" Unless it is a fire on board ship," replied Long.

" A ship at sea in this weather ! " exclaimed Hobson, " impossible!
No, no, there is land there, land I tell you, a few miles from
us!"

" Well, let us make a signal ! "

" Yes, Sergeant, we will reply to the fire on the mainland by a
fire on our island ! "

Of course neither Hobson nor Long had a torch, but above their
heads rose resinous pines- distorted by the hurricane.

" Your flint, Sergeant," said Hobson.

Long at once struck his flint, lighted the touchwood, and creeping
along the sand climbed to the foot of the thicket of firs, where he
was soon joined by the Lieutenant. There was plenty of deadwood
about, and they piled it up at the stems of the trees, set fire to
it, and soon, the wind helping them, they had the satisfaction of
seeing the whole thicket in a blaze.

" Ah ! " said Hobson, " as we saw their fire, they will see ours ! "

The firs burnt with a lurid glare like a large torch. The dried
resin in the old trunks aided the conflagration, and they were



222 THE FUR COUNTRY.



rapidly consumed. At last the crackling ceased, the flames died
away, and all was darkness.

Hobson and Long looked in vain for an answering fire nothing
was to be seen. For ten minutes they watched, hoping against
hope, and were just beginning to despair, when suddenly a cry was
heard, a distinct cry for help. It was a human voice, and it came
from the sea.

Hobson and Long, wild with eager anxiety, let themselves slide
down to the shore.

The cry was not, however, repeated.

The daylight was now gradually beginning to appear, and the
violence of the tempest seemed to be decreasing. Soon it was light
enough for the horizon to be examined.

But there was no laud in sight, sea and sky were still blended in.
one unbroken circle.




CHAPTER VIII

MRS PAULINA BARNETT*S EXCURSION.

'HE whole morning Hobson and Sergeant Long wandered
about the coast. The weather was much improved, the
rain had ceased, and the wind had veered round to the
south-east with extraordinary suddenness, without unfortunately
decreasing in violence, causing fresh anxiety to the Lieutenant, who
could no longer hope to reach the mainland.

The south-east wind would drive the wandering island farther
from the continent, and fling it into the dangerous currents, which
must drift it to the north of the Arctic Ocean.

How could they even be sure that they had really approached
the coast during the awful night just over. Might it not have been
merely a fancy of the Lieutenant's ? The air was now clear, and
they could look round a radius of several miles; yet there was
nothing in the least resembling land within sight. Might they not
adopt the Sergeant's suggestion, that a ship had passed the island
during the night, that the fire and cry were alike signals of sailors
in distress ? And if it had been a vessel, must it not have foundered
ID such a storm ?

Whatever the explanation there was no sign of a wreck to be
seen either in the offing or on the beach, and the waves, now driven
along by the wind from the land, were large enough to have over-
whelmed any vessel.

" Well, Lieutenant," said Sergeant Long, "what is to be done?'*

" We must remain upon our island," replied the Lieutenant,
pressing his hand to his brow ; " we must remain on our island and
wait for winter ; it alone can save us."

t was now mid-day, and Hobson, anxious to get back to Fort
Hope before the evening, at once turned towards Cape Bathurst.

The wind, being now on their backs, helped them along as it had
done before. They could not help feeling very uneasy, as they were
naturally afraid that the island might have separated into two



224 THE FUR COUNTRY.

parts in the storm. The gulf observed the night before might have
spread farther, and if so they would be cut off from their friends.

They soon reached the wood they had crossed the night before.
Numbers of trees were lying on the ground, some with broken
stems, others torn up by the roots from the soft soil, which had not
afforded them sufficient support. The few which remained erect
were stripped of their leaves, and their naked branches creaked and



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