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through the means of her friend.

Kalumah on her return home resumed her customary occupa-
tions, and worked with the rest of her tribe at the fisheries near
Icy Cape, a ppint a little above the seventieth parallel, and more
than six hundred miles from Cape Bathurst.

Nothing worthy of note happened during the first half of the
month of April ; but towards the end the storm began which had
caused Hobson so much uneasiness, and which had apparently
extended its ravages over the whole of the Arctic Ocean and
beyond Behring Strait. It was equally violent at Icy Cape and on
Victoria Island, and, as the Lieutenant ascertained in taking his



s ADVENTURES. 235



bearings, the latter was then not more than two hundred miles from
the coast.

As Mrs Barnett listened to Kalumah, her previous information
enabled her rapidly to find the key to the strange events which had
taken place, and to account for the arrival of the young native on
the island.

During the first days of the storm the Esquimaux of Icy Cape
were confined to their huts. They could neither get out nor fish.
But during the night of the 31st August a kind of presentiment led
Kalumah to venture down to the beach, and, braving the wind and
rain in all their fury, she peered anxiously through the darkness at
the waves rising mountains high.

Presently she thought she saw a huge mass driven along by the
hurricane parallel with the coast. Gifted with extremely keen
sight as are all these wandering tribes accustomed to the long
dark Polar nights she felt sure that she was not mistaken.

Something of vast bulk was passing two miles from the coast,
and that something could be neither a whale, a boat, nor, at this
time of the year, even an iceberg.

But Kalumah did not stop to reason. The truth flashed upon
her like a revelation. Before her excited imagination rose the
images of her friends. She saw them all once more, Mrs Barnett,
Madge, Lieutenant Hobson, the baby she had covered with kisses at
Fort Hope. Yes, they were passing, borne along in the storm on a
floating ice-field !

Kalumah did not doubt or hesitate a moment. She felt that she
must tell the poor shipwrecked people, which she was sure they
were, of the close vicinity of the land. She ran to her hut, seized
a torch of tow and resin, such as the Esquimaux use when fishing
at night, lit it and waved it on the beach at the summit of Icy
Cape.

This was the fire which Hobson and Long had seen when crouch-
ing on Cape Michael on the night of the 31st August.

Imagine the delight and excitement of the young Esquimaux
when a signal replied to hers, when she saw the huge fire lit by
Lieutenant Hobson, the reflection of which reached the American
coast, although he did not dream that he was so near it.

But it quickly went out, the lull in the storm only lasted a few
minutes, and the fearful gale, veering round to the south-east, swept
along with redoubled violence.



236 THE FUR COUNTRY.



Kalumah feared that her " prey," so she called the floating island,
was about tyo escape her, and that it would not be driven on to the
shore. She saw it fading away, and knew that it would soon dis-
appear in the darkness and be lost to her on the boundless ocean.

It was indeed a terrible moment for the young native, and she
determined at 'all hazards to let her friends know of their situation.
There might yet be time for them to take some steps for their
deliverance, although every hour took them farther from the con-
tinent.

She did not hesitate a moment, her kayak was at hand, the frail
bark in which she had more than once braved the storms of the
Arctic Ocean, she pushed it down to the sea, hastily laced on the
sealskin jacket fastened to the canoe, and, the long paddle in her
hand, she plunged into the darkness.

Mrs Barnett here pressed the brave child to her heart, and Madge
shed tears of sympathy.

When launched upon the roaring ocean, Kalumah found the change
of wind in her favour. The waves dashed over her kayak, it is true,
but they were powerless to harm the light boat, which floated on
their crests like a straw. It was capsized several times, but a
stroke of the paddle righted it at once.

After about an hour's hard work, Kalumah could see the wander-
ing island more distinctly, and had no longer any doubt of effecting
her purpose, as she was but a quarter of a mile from the beach.

It was then that she uttered the cry which Hobson and Long
had heard.

But, alas ! Kalumah now felt herself being carried away towards
the west by a powerful current, which could take firmer hold of
her kayak than of the floating island !

In vain she struggled to beat back with her paddle, the light boat
shot along like an arrow. She uttered scream after scream, but
she was unheard, for she was already far away, and when the day
broke the coasts of Alaska and the island she had wished to reach,
were but two distant masses on the horizon.

Did she despair ? Not yet. It was impossible to get back to the
American continent in the teeth of the terrible wind which was driv-
ing the island before it at a rapid pace, taking it out two hundred
miles in thirty-six hours, and assisted by the current from the coast.

There was but one thing left to do. To get to the island by
keeping in the same current which was drifting it away.




" The waves dashed over her kayak" Page 236.



K ALUM AH' S ADVENTURES.



But, alas ! the poor girl's strength was not equal to her courage,
she was faint from want of food, and, exhausted as she was, she
could no longer wield her paddle.

For some hours she struggled on, and seemed to be approach-
ing the island, although those on it could not see her, as she was
but a speck upon the ocean. She struggled on until her stiffened
arms and bleeding hands fell powerless, and, losing consciousness,
she was floated along in her frail kayak at the mercy of winds and
waves.

She did not know how long this lasted, she remembered nothing
more, until a sudden shock roused her, her kayak had struck
against something, it opened beneath her, and she was plunged
into cold water, the freshness of which revived her. A few moments
later, she was flung upon the sand in a dying state by a large
wave.

This had taken place the night before, just before dawn that is
to say, about two or three o'clock in the morning. Kalumah had
then been seventy hours at sea since she embarked !

The young native had no idea where she had been thrown,
whether on the continent or on the floating island, which she had
so bravely sought, but she hoped the latter. Yes, hoped that she had
reached her friends, although she knew that the wind and current
had driven them into the open sea, and not towards the coast !

The thought revived her, and, shattered as she was, she struggled
to her feet, and tried to follow the coast.

She had, in fact, been providentially thrown on that portion of
Victoria Island which was formerly the upper corner of Walruses'
Bay. But, worn away as it was by the waves, she did not recognise
the land with which she had once been familiar.

She tottered on, stopped, and again struggled to advance; the beach
before her appeared endless, she had so often to go round where the
sea had encroached upon the sand. And so dragging herself along,
stumbling and scrambling up again, she at last approached the
little wood where Mrs Barnett and Madge had halted that very
morning. We know that the two women found the footprints left
by Kalumah in the snow not far from this very spot, and it was at
a short distance farther on that the poor girl fell for the last time.
Exhausted by fatigue and hunger, she still managed to creep along
on hands and knees for a few minutes longer.

A great hope kept her from despair, for she had at last recognised



238 THE FUR COUNTRY.

Cape Esquimaux, at the foot of which she and her people had en-
camped the year before. She knew now that she was but eight
miles from the factory, and that she had only to follow the path she
liad so often traversed when she went to visit her friends at Fort
Hope.

Yes, this hope sustained her, but she had scarcely reached the
beach when her forces entirely failed her, and she again lost all
consciousness. Bat for Mrs Barnett she would have died.

" But, dear lady," she added, " I knew that you would come to
my rescue, and that God would save me by your means."

We know the rest. We know the providential instinct which led
Mrs Barnett and Madge to explore this part of the coast on this
very day, and the presentiment which made them visit Cape Esqui-
maux after they had rested, and before returning to Fort Hope.
We know too as Mrs Barnett related to Kalumah how the piece
of ice had floated away, and how the bear had acted under the cir-
cumstances.

'* And after all," added Mrs Barnett with a smile, "it was not I who
saved you, but the good creature without whose aid you. would
never have come back to us, and if ever we see him again we will
treat him with the respect due to your preserver."

During this long conversation Kalumah was rested and refreshed,
and Mrs Barnett proposed that they should return to the fort at
once, as she had already been too long away. The young girl
immediately rose ready to start.

Mrs Barnett was indeed most anxious to tell the Lieutenant of
all that had happened during the night of the storm, when the
wandering island had neared the American continent, but she urged
Kalumah to keep her adventures secret, and to say nothing about
the situation of the island. She would naturally be supposed to
have come along the coast, in fulfilment of the promise she had
made to visit her friends in the fine season. Her arrival would tend
only to strengthen the belief of the colonists that no changes had
taken place in the country around Cape Bathurst, and to set at rest
the doubts any of them might have entertained.

It was about three o'clock when Madge and Mrs Barnett, with
Kalumah hanging on her arm, set out towards the east, and before
five o'clock in the afternoon they all arrived at the postern of the
fort.




" She covered him with kisses" Page 239.




CHAPTER X.

THE KAMTCHATKA CURRENT.

can readily imagine the reception given to Kalumah by all
at the fort. It seemed to them that the communication
with the outer world was reopened. Mrs Mac-Nab, Mrs
Rae, and Mrs Joliffe overwhelmed her with caresses, but Kalumah's
first thought was for the little child, she caught sight of him im-
mediately, and running to him covered him with kisses.

The young native was charmed and touched with the hospitality
of her European hosts. A positive fete was held in her honour,
and every one was delighted that she would have to remain at the
fort for the winter, the season being too far advanced for her to get
back to the settlements of Russian America before the cold set in.

But if all the settlers were agreeably surprised at the appearance
of Kalumah, what must Lieutenant Hobson have thought when he
saw her leaning on Mrs Barnett's arm. A sudden hope flashed
across his mind like lightning, and as quickly died away : perhaps
in spite of the evidence of his daily observations Victoria Island had
run aground somewhere on the continent unnoticed by any of
them.

Mrs Barnett read the Lieutenant's thoughts in his face, and shook
her head sadly.

He saw that no change had taken place in their situation, and
waited until Mrs Barnett was able to explain Kalumah's appear-
ance.

A few minutes later he was walking along the beach with the
lady, listening with great interest to her account of Kalumah's ad -
ventures.

So he had been right in all his conjectures. The north-east
hurricane had driven the island out of the current. The ice-field had
approached within a mile at least of the American continent. It
had not been a fire on board ship which they had seen, or the cry
of a shipwrecked mariner which they had heard. The mainland



24O THE FUR COUNTRY.

had been close at hand, and had the north-east wind blown hard fo
another hour Victoria Island would have struck against the coast o
Russian America. And then at this critical moment a fatal, i
terrible wind had driven the island away from the mainland bac]
to the open sea, and it was again in the grasp of the irresistibL
current, and was being carried along with a speed which nothing
could check, the mighty south-east wind aiding its headlong course
to that terribly dangerous spot where it would be exposed to cor
trary attractions, either of which might lead to its destruction am
that of all the unfortunate people dragged along with it.

For the hundredth time the Lieutenant and Mrs Barnett dis
cussed all the bearings of the case, and then Hobson inquired if air
important changes had taken place in the appearance of the district
between Cape Bathurst and Walruses' Bay ?

Mrs Barnett replied that in some places the level of the coaa
appeared to be lowered, and that the waves now covered tracts o
sand which were formerly out of their reach. She related what hai
happened at Cape Esquimaux, and the important fracture whici
had taken place at that part of the coast.

Nothing could have been less satisfactory. It was evident tha
the ice-field forming the foundation of the island was breaking uj
What had happened at Cape Esquimaux might at any moment b
reproduced at Cape Bathurst. At any hour of the day or night th
houses of the factory might be swallowed up by the deep, and th
only thing which could save them was the winter, the bitter winte
which was fortunately rapidly approaching.

The next day, September 4th, when Hobson took his bearings, h
found that the position of Victoria Island had not sensibly change'
since the day before. It had remained motionless between the tw
contrary currents, which was on the whole the very best thin
that could have happened.

" If only the cold would fix us where we are, if the ice-wa]
would shut us in, and the sea become petrified around us,
exclaimed Hobson, " I should feel that our safety was assured. W
are but two hundred miles from the coast at this moment, and b
venturing across the frozen ice-fields we might perhaps reach eithe
Russian America or Kamtchatka. Winter, winter at any price, le
the winter set in, no matter how rapidly."

Meanwhile, according to the Lieutenant's orders, the preparation
for the winter were completed. Enough forage to last the dogs th



THE KAMTCHATKA CURRENT. 24 1

whole of the Polar night was stored up. .They were all in good
health, but getting rather fat with having nothing to do. They
could not be taken too much care of, as they would have to work
terribly hard in the journey across the ice after the abandonment
of Fort Hope. It was most important to keep up their strength,
and they were fed on raw reindeer venison, plenty of which was
easily attainable.

The tame reindeer also prospered, their stable was comfortable,
and a good supply of moss was laid by for them in the magazines
of the fort. The females provided Mrs Joliffe with plenty of milk
for her daily culinary needs.

The Corporal and his little wife had also sown fresh seeds,
encouraged by the success of the last in the warm season. The
ground had been prepared beforehand for the planting of scurvy-
grass and Labrador Tea. It was important that there should be no
lack of these valuable anti-scorbutics.

The sheds were filled with wood up to the very roof. Winter
might come as soon as it liked now, and freeze the mercury in the
cistern of the thermometer, there was no fear that they would again
be reduced to burn their furniture as they had the year before.
Mac-Nab and his men had become wise by experience, and the
chips left from the boat-building added considerably to their stock of
fuel.

About this time a few animals were taken which had already
assumed their winter furs, such as martens, polecats, blue foxes, and
ermines. Marbre and Sabine had obtained leave from the Lieu-
tenant to set some traps outside the enceinte. He did not like to
refuse them this permission, lest they should become discontented, as
he had really no reason to assign for putting a stop to the collect-
ing of furs, although he knew full well that the destruction of these
harmless creatures could do nobody any good. Their flesh was, how-
ever, useful for feeding the dogs, and enabled them to economise
the reindeer venison.

All was now prepared for the winter, and the soldiers worked
with an energy which they would certainly not have shown if they
had been told the secret of their situation.

During the next few days the bearings were taken with the
greatest care, but no change was noticeable in the situation of
Victoria Island ; and Hobson, finding that it was motionless, began
to have fresh hope. Although there were as yet no symptoms of

Q



242 THE FUR COUNTRY.



winter in inorganic nature, the temperature maintaining a mean-
height of 49 Fahrenheit, some swans flying to the south in search
of a warmer climate was a good omen. Other birds capable of
a long-sustained flight over vast tracts of the ocean began to desert
the island. They knew full well that the continent of America
and of Asia, with their less severe climates and their plentiful
resources of every kind, were not far off, and that their wings were
strong enough to carry them there. A good many of these birds-
were caught ; and by Mrs Barnett's advice the Lieutenant tied
round their necks a stiff cloth ticket, on which was inscribed the
position of the wandering island, and the names of its inhabi-
tants. The birds were then set free, and their captors watched them
wing their way to the south with envious eyes.

Of course none were in the secret of the sending forth of these
messengers, except Mrs Barnett, Madge, Kalumah, Hobson, and
Long.

The poor quadrupeds were unable to seek their usual winter
refuges in the south. Under ordinary circumstances the reindeer,.
Polar hares, and even the wolves would have left early in September
for the shores of the Great Bear and Slave Lakes, a good many
degrees farther south ; but now the sea was an insurmountable bar-
rier, and they, too, would have to wait until the winter should
render it passable. Led by instinct they had doubtless tried to
leave the island, but, turned back by the water, the instinct of
self-preservation had brought them to the neighbourhood of Fort
Hope, to be near the men who were once their hunters and most
formidable enemies, but were now, like themselves, rendered compa-
ratively inoffensive by their imprisonment.

The observations of the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th September,
revealed no alteration in the position of Victoria Island. The large
eddy between the two currents kept it stationary. Another fifteen
days, another three weeks of this state of things, and Hobson felt
that they might be saved.

But they were not yet out of danger, and many terrible, almost
supernatural, trials still awaited the inhabitants of Fort Hope.

On the 10th of September observations showed a displacement
of Victoria Island. Only a slight displacement, but in a northerly
direction.

Hobson was in dismay : the island was finally in the grasp of the
Kamtchatka Current, and was drifting towards the unknown latitudes




The Lieutenant tied round their necks" fyc, Page 242.



THE KAMTCHATKA CURRENT. 243

where the large icebergs come into being ; it was on its way to the
vast solitudes of the Arctic Ocean, interdicted to the human race,
from which there is no return.

Hobson did not hide this new danger from those who were in the
secret of the situation. Mrs Barnett, Madge, Kalumah, and Ser-
geant Long received this fresh blow with courage and resignation.

" Perhaps," said Mrs Barnett, " the island may stop even yet.
Perhaps it will move slowly. Let us hope on .... and wait !
The winter is not far off, and we are going to meet it. In any case
God's will be done ! "

" My friends," said Hobson earnestly, " do you not think I ought
now to tell our comrades. You see in what a terrible position we
are and all that may await us ! Is it not taking too great a respon-
sibility to keep them in ignorance of the peril they are in 1 "

" I should wait a little longer," replied Mrs Barnett without
hesitation ; " I would not give them all over to despair until the last
chance is gone."

" That is my opinion also," said Long.

Hobson had thought the same, and was glad to find that his
companions agreed with him in the matter.

On the llth and 12th September, the motion towards the north
was more noticeable. Victoria Island was drifting at a rate of
from twelve to thirteen miles a day, so that each day took them the
same distance farther from the land and nearer to the north. They
were, in short, following the decided course made by the Kamtchatka
Current, and would quickly pass that seventieth degree which once
cut across the extremity of Cape Bathurst, and beyond which no
land of any kind was to be met with in this part of the Arctic
Ocean.

Every day Hobson looked out their position on the map, and saw
only too clearly to what awful solitudes the wandering island was
drifting.

The only hope left consisted, as Mrs Barnett had said, in the
fact that they were going to meet the winter. In thus drifting
towards the north they would soon encounter those ice-cold waters,
which would consolidate and strengthen the foundations of the
island. But if the danger of being swallowed up by the waves was
decreased, would not the unfortunate colonists have an immense
distance to traverse to get back from these remote northern regions ?
Had the boat been finished, Lieutenant Hobson would not have



244 THE FU # COUNTRY.



hesitated to embark the whole party in it, but in spite of the zealous
efforts of the carpenter it was not nearly ready, and indeed it
taxed Mac-Nab's powers to the uttermost to construct a vessel
on which to trust the lives of twenty persons in such a dangerous
sea.

By the 16th September Victoria Island was between seventy-
three and eighty miles north of the spot where its course had been
arrested for a few days between the Behring and Kamtchatka Cur-
rents. There were now, however, many signs of the approach of
winter. Snow fell frequently and in large flakes. The column of
mercury fell gradually. The mean temperature was still 44 Fahren-
heit during the day, but at night it fell to 32. The sun described
an extremely lengthened curve above the horizon, not rising more
than a few degrees even at noon,, and disappearing for eleven hours
out of every twenty-four.

At last, on the night of the 16th September, the first signs of
ice appeared upon the sea in the shape of small isolated crystals
like snow, which stained the clear surface of the water. As was
noticed by the famous explorer Scoresby, these crystals immedi-
ately calmed the waves, like the oil which sailors pour upon the
sea to produce a momentary cessation of its agitation. These
crystals showed a tendency to weld themselves together, but they
were broken and separated by the motion of the water as soon as
they had combined to any extent.

Hobson watched the appearance of the " young ice " with extreme
attention. He knew that twenty-four hours would suffice to make
the ice-crust two or three inches thick, strong enough in fact to
bear the weight of a man. He therefore expected that Victoria
Island would shortly be arrested in its course to the north.

But the day undid the work of the night, and if the speed of the
island slackened during the darkness in consequence of the obstacles
in its path, they were removed in the next twelve hours, and the
island was carried rapidly along again by the powerful current.

The distance from the northern regions became daily less, and
nothing could be done to lessen the evil.

At the autumnal equinox on the 21st of September, the day and
night were of equal length, and from that date the night gradually
became longer and longer. The winter was coming at last, but it
did not set in rapidly or with any rigour. Victoria Island was
now nearly a degree farther north than the seventieth parallel ; and




Hobsoii was in dismay" Pas:e 242.



THE KAMTCHATKA CURRENT. 245

on this 21st September, a rotating motion was for the first time
noticed, a motion estimated by Hobson at about a quarter of the
circumference.

Imagine the anxiety of the unfortunate Lieutenant. The secret
he had so long carefully kept was now about to be betrayed by
nature to the least clear-sighted. Of course the rotation altered the
cardinal points of the island. Cape Bathurst no longer pointed to
the north, but to the east. The sun, moon, and stars rose and



Online LibraryJules VerneThe fur country; or, Seventy degrees north latitude → online text (page 22 of 31)