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The fur country; or, Seventy degrees north latitude online

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moaned as the south-east wind swept over them.

Two miles beyond this desolated forest the wanderers arrived at
the edge of the gulf they had seen the night before without being
able to judge of its extent. They examined it carefully, and found
that it was about fifty feet wide, cutting the coast line straight
across near Cape Michael and what was formerly Fort Barnett,
forming a kind of estuary running more than a mile and a half
inland. If the sea should again become rough in a fresh storm,
this gulf would widen more and more.

Just as Hobson approached the beach, he saw a large piece of ice
separate from the island and float away !

" Ah ! " murmured Long, " that is the danger ! "

Both then turned hurriedly to the west, and walked as fast as
they could round the' huge gulf, making direct for Fort Hope.

They noticed no other changes by the way, and towards four
o'clock they crossed the court and found all their comrades at their
usual occupations.

ED. bson told his men that he had wished once more before the
winter to see if there were any signs of the approach of Captain
Craventy's convoy, and that his expedition had been fruitless.

" Then, sir," observed Marbre, " I suppose we must give up all
idea of seeing our comrades from Fort Reliance for this year at
least ? "

"I think you must," replied Hobson simply, re-entering the
public room.

Mrs Barnett and Madge were told of the two chief events of the
exploration : the fire and the cry. Hobson was quite sure that
neither he nor the Sergeant were mistaken. The fire had really
been seen, the cry had really been heard ; and after a long consul-
tation every one came to the conclusion that a ship in distress had
passed within sight during the night, and that the island had not
approached the American coast.

The south-east wind quickly chased away the clouds and mists,




Look, Madge, look!" Page 229.



MRS PA ULINA BARNE TT S EXCURSION. 22$

so that Hobson ho*d to be able to take his bearings the next day.
The night was colder and a fine snow fell, which quickly covered
the ground. This first sign of winter was hailed with delight by
all who knew of the peril of their situation.

On the 2nd September the sky gradually became free from
Tapours of all kinds, and the sun again appeared. Patiently the
Lieutenant awaited its culmination ; at noon he took the latitude,
.and two hours later a calculation of hour-angles gave him the
longitude.

The following were the results obtained : Latitude, 70 57' j
longitude, 170 30'.

So that, in spite of the violence of the hurricane, the island had
remained in much the same latitude, although it had been drifted
somewhat farther west. They were now abreast of Behring Strait,
but four hundred miles at least north of Capes East and Prince of
Wales, which jut out on either side at the narrowest part of the
passage.

The situation was, therefore, more dangerous than ever, as the
island was daily getting nearer to the dangerous Kamtchatka
Current, which, if it once seized it in its rapid waters, might carry
it far away to the north. Its fate would now soon be decided. It
would either stop where the two currents met, and there be shut in
by the ice of the approaching winter, or it would be drifted away
and lost in the solitudes of the remote hyperborean regions.

Hobson was painfully moved on ascertaining the true state of
things, and being anxious to conceal his emotion, he shut himself
up in his own room and did not appear again that day. With his
chart before him, he racked his brains to find some way out of the
difficulties with which be was beset.

The temperature fell some degrees farther the same day, and the
mists, which had collected above the south-eastern horizon the day
before, resolved themselves into snow during the night, so that the
next day the white carpet was two inches thick. Winter was
coming at last.

On September 3rd Mrs Barnett resolved to go a few miles along
the coast towards Cape Esquimaux. She wished to see for herself
the changes lately produced. If she had mentioned her project
to the Lieutenant, he would certainly have offered to accompany
her ; but she did not wish to disturb him, and decided to go with-



226 THE FUR COUNTRY.

out him, taking Madge with her. There was railly nothing to fear,
the only formidable animals, the bears, seemed to have quite de-
serted the island after the earthquake ; and two women might, with-
out danger, venture on a walk of a few hours without an escort.

Madge agreed at once to Mrs Barnett's proposal, and without a
word to any one they set out at eight o'clock A.M.. provided with
an ice-chisel, a flask of spirits, and a wallet of provisions.

After leaving Cape Bathurst they turned to the west. The sun
was already dragging its slow course along the horizon, for at this
time of year it would only be a few degrees above it at its culmina-
tion. But its oblique rays were clear and powerful, and the snow
was already melting here and there beneath their influence.

The coast was alive with flocks of birds of many kinds ;
ptarmigans, guillemots, puffins, wild geese, and ducks of every
variety fluttered about, uttering their various cries, skimming the
surface of the sea or of the lagoon, according as their tastes led
them to prefer salt or fresh water.

Mrs Barnett had now a capital opportunity of seeing how many
furred animals haunted the neighbourhood of Fort Hope. Martens,
ermines, musk-rats, and foxes were numerous, and the magazines
of the factory might easily have been filled with their skins, but
what good would that be now ? The inoffensive creatures, knowing
that hunting was suspended, went and came fearlessly, venturing
close up to the palisade, and becoming tamer every day. Their
instinct doubtless told them that they and their old enemies were
alike prisoners on the island, and a common danger bound them
together. It struck Mrs Barnett as strange that the two enthusi-
astic hunters Marbre and Sabine should obey the Lieutenant's
orders to spare the furred animals without remonstrance or com-
plaint, and appeared not even to wish to shoot the valuable game
around them. It was true the foxes and others had not yet assumed
their winter robes, but this was not enough to explain the strange
indifference of the two hunters.

Whilst walking at a good pace and talking over their strange
situation, Mrs Barnett and Madge carefully noted the peculiarities
of the sandy coast. The ravages recently made by the sea were
distinctly visible. Fresh landslips enabled them to see new fractures
in the ice distinctly. The strand, fretted away in many places, had
sunk to an enormous extent, and the waves washed along a level
beach where the perpendicular shores had once checked their ad-



MRS PAULINA BARNETT' S EXCURSION. 22*]

vance. It was evident that parts of the island were now only on a
level with the ocean.

" O Madge ! " exclaimed Mrs Barnett, pointing to the long
smooth tracts on which the curling waves broke in rapid succession,
" our situation has indeed become aggravated by the awful storm !
It is evident that the level of the whole island is gradually becoming
lower. It is now only a question of time. Will the winter come
soon enough to save us t \ Everything depends upon that."

" The winter will come, my dear girl," replied Madge with her
usual unshaken confidence. " We have already had two falls of
snow. Ice is begininng to accumulate, and God will send it us in
time, I feel sure."

" You are right, Madge, we must have faith ! " said Mrs Barnett.
"We women who do not trouble ourselves about the scientific
reasons for physical phenomena can hope, when men who are better
informed, perhaps, despair. That is one of our blessings, which our
Lieutenant unfortunately does not share. He sees the significance
of facts, he reflects, he calculates, he reckons up the time still remain-
ing to us, and I see that he is beginning to lose all hope."

" He is a brave, energetic man, for all that," replied Madge.

" Yes," added Mrs Barnett, " and if it be in the power of man to
save us, he will do it."

By nine o'clock the two women had walked four miles. They
were often obliged to go inland for some little distance, to avoid
parts of the coast already invaded by the sea. Here and there the
waves had encroached half -a-mile beyond the former high-water line,
and the thickness of the ice-field had been considerably reduced.
There was danger that it would soon yield in many places, and
that new bays would be formed all along the coast.

As they got farther from the fort Mrs Barnett noticed that the
number of furred animals decreased considerably. The poor crea-
tures evidently felt more secure near a human habitation. The
only formidable animals which had not been led by instinct to
escape in time from the dangerous island were a few wolves, savage
beasts which even a common danger did not conciliate. Mrs Barnett
and Madge saw several wandering about on the plains, but they
did not approach, and soon disappeared behind the hills on the
south of the lagoon.

" What will become of all these imprisoned animals," said Madge,



228 THE FUR COUNTRY.



" when all food fails them, and they are famished with hunger in
the winter 1 "

" They will not be famished in a hurry. Madge," replied Mrs
Barnett, " and we shall have nothing to fear from them ; all the
martens, ermines, and Polar hares, which we spare will fall an easy
prey to them. That is not our danger ; the brittle ground beneath
our feet, which may at any moment give way, is our real peril.
Only look how the sea is advancing here. It already covers half
the plain, and the waves, still comparatively warm, are eating away
our island above and below at the same time ! If the cold does not
stop it very soon, the sea will shortly join the lake, and we shall lose
our lagoon as we lost our river and our port ! "

" Well, if that should happen it will indeed be an irreparable
misfortune ! " exclaimed Madge.

" Why 1 " asked Mrs Barnett, looking inquiringly at her com-
panion.

" Because we shall have no more fresh water/' replied Madge.

" Oh, we shall not want for fresh water, Madge," said Mrs
Barnett ; " the rain, the snow, the ice, the icebergs of the ocean,
the very ice-field on which we float, will supply us with that ; no,
no, that is not our danger."

About ten o'clock Mrs Barnett and Madge had reached the rising
ground above Cape Esquimaux, but,at least two miles inland, for they
had found it impossible to follow the coast, worn away as it was by
the sea. Being rather tired with the many detours they had had to
make, they decided to rest a few minutes before setting on 7 on their
return to Fort Hope. A little hill crowned by a clump of birch
trees and a few shrubs afforded a pleasant shelter, and a bank
covered with yellow moss, from which the snow had melted, served
them as a seat. The little wallet was opened, and they shared their
simple repast like sisters.

Half an hour later, Mrs Barnett proposed that they should climb
along the promontory to the sea, and find out the exact state of
Cape Esquimaux. She was anxious to know if the point of it
had resisted the storm, and Madge declared herself ready to follow
" her, dear girl" wherever she went, but at the same time reminded
her that they .were , eight or nine miles from Cape Bathurst already,
and that they must not make Lieutenant Hobson uneasy by too
long an absence.

But some presentiment made Mrs Barnett insist upon doing as




" The bear seized Kalumalt by the clothes" fy-c. Page 231.



MRS PAULINA BARNETT S EXCURSION. 22Q

she proposed, and she was right, as the event proved. It would
only delay them half an hour after all.

They had not gone a quarter of a mile before Mrs Barnett stopped
suddenly, and pointed to some clear and regular impressions upon
the snow. These marks must have been made within the last nine
or ten hours, or the last fall of snow would have covered them over.

" What animal has passed along here, I wonder?" said Madge.

" It was not an animal/' said Mrs Barnett, bending down to
examine the marks more closely, " not a quadruped certainly, for
its four feet would have left impressions very different from these.
Look, Madge, they are the footprints of a human person ! "

" But who could have been here ? " inquired Madge ; " none of
the soldiers or women have left the fort, and we are on an island,
remember. You must be mistaken, my dear ; but we will follow
the 'marks, and see where they lead us."

They did so, and fifty paces farther on both again paused.

" Look, Madge, look ! " cried Mrs Barnett, seizing her companion's
arm, " and then say if I am mistaken."

Near the footprints there were marks of a heavy body having been
dragged along the snow, and the impression of a hand.

" It is the hand of a woman or a child ! " cried Madge.

" Yes ! " replied Mrs Barnett ; " a woman or a child has fallen
here exhausted, and risen again to stumble farther on; look, the
footprints again, and farther on more falls ! "

" Who, who could it have been ? " exclaimed Madge.

"How" can I tell?" replied Mrs Barnett. "Some unfortunate
creature imprisoned like ourselves for three or four months perhaps.
Or some shipwrecked wretch flung upon the coast in the storm.
You remember the fire and the cry of which Sergeant Long and
Lieutenant Hobson spoke. Come, come, Madge, there may be
some one in danger for us to save !

And Mrs Barnett, dragging Madge with her, ran along follow-
ing the traces, and further on found that they were stained with
blood.

The brave, tender-hearted woman, had spoken of saving some one in
danger ; had she then forgotten that there was no safety for any upon
the island, doomed sooner or later to be swallowed up by the ocean 1

The impressions on the ground led towards Cape Esquimaux.
And the two carefully traced them, but the footprints presently
disappeared, whilst the blood-stains increased, making an irregular



230 THE FUR COUNTRY.

pathway along the snow. It was evident the poor wretch had been
unable to walk farther, and had crept along on hands and knees ;
here and there fragments of torn clothes were scattered about, bits
of sealskin and fur.

" Come, come," cried Mrs Barnett, whose heart beat violently.

Madge followed her, they were only a few yards from Cape
Esquimaux, which now rose only a few feet upon the sea-level against
the background of the sky, and was quite deserted.

The impressions now led them to the right of the cape, and run-
ning along they soon climbed to the top, but there was still nothing,
absolutely nothing, to be seen. At the foot of the cape, where the
slight ascent began, the traces turned to the right, and led straight
to the sea.

Mrs Barnett was turning to the right also, but just as she was
stepping on to the beach, Madge, who had been following her and
looking about uneasily, caught hold of her hand, and exclaimed

" Stop ! stop ! "

" No, Madge, no ! " cried Mrs Barnett, who wits drawn along by
a kind of instinct in spite of herself.

" Stop, stop, and look ! " cried Madge, tightening her hold on her
mistress's hand.

On the beach, about fifty paces from Cape Esquimaux, a large
white mass was moving about and growling angrily.

It was an immense Polar bear, and the two women watched it
with beating hearts. It was pacing round and round a bundle of
fur on the ground, which it smelt at every now and then, lifting it
up and letting it fall again. The bundle of fur looked like the dead
body of a walrus.

Mrs Barnett and Madge did not know what to think, whether to
advance or to retreat, but presently as the body was moved about
a kind of hood fell back from the head, and some long locks of
brown hair were thrown over the snow.

" It is a woman ! a woman ! " cried Mrs Barnett, eager to rush to
her assistance and find out if she were dead or alive !

" Stop ! " repeated Madge, holding her back ; " the bear won't
harm her."

And, indeed, the formidable creature merely turned the body over,
and showed no inclination of tearing it with its dreadful claws. It
went away and came back apparently uncertain what to do. It had
not yet perceived the two women who were so anxiously watching it.




It was the young Esquimaux girl Kalumah ! " Page 231.



MRS PAULINA BARNETT *S EXCURSION.



Suddenly a loud crack was heard. The earth shook, and it
seemed as if the whole of Cape Esquimaux were about to be
plunged into the sea.

A large piece of the island had broken away, and a huge piece of
ice, the centre of gravity of which had been displaced by the altera-
tion in its specific weight, drifted away, carrying with it the bear
and the body of the woman.

Mrs Barnett screamed, and would have flung herself upon the
broken ice before it floated away, if Madge had not clutched her
hand firmly, saying quietly

"Stop! stop!"

At the noise produced by the breaking off of the piece of ice, the
bear started back with a fearful growl, and, leaving the body, rushed
to the side where the fracture had taken place ; but he was already
some forty feet from the coast, and in his terror he ran round and
round the islet, tearing up the ground with his claws, and stamping
the sand and snow about him.

Presently he returned to the motionless body, and, to the horror
of the two women, seized it by the clothes with his teeth, and
carrying it to the edge of the ice, plunged with it into the sea.

Being a powerful swimmer, like the whole race of Arctic bears,
he soon gained the shores of the island. With a great exertion of
strength he managed to climb up the ice, and having reached the
surface of the island he quietly laid down the body he had
brought with him.

Mrs Barnett could no longer be held back, and, shaking off
Madge's hold, she rushed to the beach, never thinking of the
danger she ran in facing a formidable carnivorous creature.

The bear, seeing her approach, reared upon his hind legs, and
came towards her, but at about ten paces off he paused, shook
his great head, and turning round with a low growl, quietly
walked away towards the centre of the island, without once look-
ing behind him. He, too, was evidently affected by the mysterious
fear which had tamed all the wild animals on the island.

Mrs Barnett was soon bending over the body stretched about the
snow.

A cry of astonishment burst from her lips :

" Madge, Madge, come ! " she exclaimed.

Madge approached and looked long and fixedly at the inanimate
body. It was the young Esquimaux girl Kalumah !




CHAPTER IX.
KALUMAH' s ADVENTURES.

ALUMAH on the floating island, two hundred miles from the
American coast. It was almost incredible !

The first thing to be ascertained was whether the poor
creature still breathed. Was it possible to restore her to life ? Mrs
Barnett loosened her clothes, and found that her body was not yet
quite cold. Her heart beat very feebly, but it did beat. The blood
they had seen came from a slight wound in her hand ; Madge
bound it up with her handkerchief, and the bleeding soon ceased.

At the same time Mrs Barnett raised the poor girl's head, and
managed to pour a few drops of rum between her parted lips. She
then bathed her forehead and temples with cold water, and waited.

A few minutes passed by, and neither of the watchers were able
to utter a word, so anxious were they lest the faint spark of life
remaining to the young Esquimaux should be quenched.

But at last Kalumah's breast heaved with a faint sigh, her hands
moved feebly, and presently she opened her eyes, and recognising
her preserver she murmured

" Mrs Barnett ! Mrs Barnett ! "

The lady was not a little surprised at hearing her own name.
Had Kalumah voluntarily sought the floating island, and did she
expect to find her old European friends on it ? If so, how had she
come to know it, and how had she managed to reach the island, two
hundred miles from the mainland 1 How could she have guessed that
the ice-field was bearing Mrs Barnett and all the occupants of Fort
Hope away from the American coast ? Really it all seemed quite
inexplicable.

" She lives she will recover ! " exclaimed Madge, who felt the
vital heat and pulsation returning to the poor bruised body.

" Poor child, poor child ! " said Mrs Barnett, much affected ; " she
murmured my name when she was at the point of death. 5 '

But now Kalumah again half opened her eyes, and looked about




" She murmured, 'Mrs Barnett / " Page 232.



KALUMAH'S ADVENTURES. 233

her with a dreamy unsatisfied expression, presently, however, seeing
Mrs Barnett, her face brightened, the same name again burst from
her lips, and painfully raising her hand she let it fall on that of
her friend.

The anxious care of the two women soon revived Kalumah,
whose extreme exhaustion arose not only from fatigue but also
from hunger. She had eaten nothing for forty-eight hours. Some
pieces of cold venison and a little rum refreshed her, and she soon
felt able to accompany her newly-found friends to the fort.

Before starting, however, Kalumah, seated on the sand between
Mrs Barnett and Madge, overwhelmed them with thanks and ex-
pressions of attachment. Then she told her story : she had not
forgotten the Europeans of Fort Hope, and the thought of Mrs
Paulina Barnett had been ever present with her. It was not by
chance, as we shall see, that she had come to Victoria Island.

The following is a brief summary of what Kalumah related to
Mrs Barnett :

Our readers will remember the young Esquimaux's promise to
come and see her friends at Fort Hope again in the fine season of
the next year. The long Polar night being over, and the month of
May having come round, Kalumah set out to fulfil her pledge.
She left Russian America, where she had wintered, and accompanied
by one of her brothers-in-law, started for the peninsula of Victoria.

Six weeks later, towards the middle of June, she got to that part
of British America which is near Cape Bathurst. She at once
recognised the volcanic mountains shutting in Liverpool Bay, and
twenty miles farther east she came to Walruses' Bay, where her people
had so often hunted morses and seals.

But beyond the bay on the north, there was nothing to be seen.
The coast suddenly sank to the south-east in an almost straight
line. Cape Esquimaux and Cape Bathurst had alike disappeared.

Kalumah understood what had happened. Either the whole of
the peninsula had been swallowed up by the waves, or it was float-
ing away as an island, no one knew whither !

Kalurnah's tears flowed fast at the loss of those whom she had
come so far to see.

Her brother-in-law, however, had not appeared surprised at the
catastrophe. A kind of legend or tradition had been handed down
amongst the nomad tribes of North America, that Cape Bathurst
did not form part of the mainland, but had been joined on to it



234 THE FUR COUNTRY.



thousands of years before, and would sooner or later be torn away
in some convulsion of nature. Hence the surprise at finding the
factory founded by Hobson at the foot of the cape. But with the
unfortunate reserve characteristic of their race, and perhaps also
under the influence of that enmity which all natives feel for those
who settle in their country, they said nothing to the Lieutenant,
whose fort was already finished. Kalumah knew nothing of this
tradition, which after all rested on no trustworthy evidence, and
probably belonged to the many northern legends relating to the
creation. This was how it was that the colonists of Fort Hope
were not warned of the danger they ran in settling on such a spot.

Had a word in season been spoken to Hobson he would certainly
have gone farther in search of some firmer foundation for his fort
than this soil, certain peculiarities of which he had noticed at the
first.

When Kalumah had made quite sure that all trace of Cape
Bathurst was gone, she explored the coast as far as the further side
of Washburn Bay, but without finding any sign of those she sought,
and at last there was nothing left for her to do but to return to the
fisheries of Russian America.

She and her brother-in-law left Walruses' Bay at the end of June,
and following the coast got back to New Georgia towards the end of
July,' after an absolutely fruitless journey.

Kalumah now gave up all hope of again seeing Mrs Barnett and
the other colonists of Fort Hope. She concluded that they had all
been swallowed up by the ocean long ago.

At this part of her tale the young Esquimaux looked at Mrs
Barnett with eyes full of tears, and pressed her hand affectionaly,
and then she murmured her thanks to God for her own preservation



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