Jules Verne.

The fur country; or, Seventy degrees north latitude online

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for the good of the community.

Kalumah had become a great favourite with everybody, for she
was always pleasant and obliging. Mrs Barnett had undertaken
her education, and she got on quickly, for she was both intelligent
and eager to learn. She improved her English speaking, and also
taught her to read and write in that language. There were, however,


twelve masters for Kalumah, all eager to assist in this branch of
her education, as the soldiers had all been taught reading, writing,
and arithmetic either in England or in English colonies.

The building of the boat proceeded rapidly, and it was to be
planked and decked before the end of the month. Mac-Nab and
some of his men worked hard in the darkness outside, with no light
but the flames of burning resin, whilst others were busy making the
rigging in the magazines of the factory. Although the season was
now far advanced, the weather still remained very undecided. The
cold was sometimes intense, but owing to the prevalence of west
winds it never lasted long.

Thus passed the whole of December, rain and intermittent falls
of snow succeeded each other, the temperature meanwhile varying
from 26 to 34 Fahrenheit. The consumption of fuel was moderate,
although there was no need to economise it, the reserves being
considerable. It was otherwise with the oil, upon which they
depended for light, for the stock was getting so low that the
Lieutenant could at last only allow the lamps to be lit for a few
hours every day. He tried using reindeer fat for lighting the house,
but the smell of it was so unbearable that every one preferred being
in the dark. All work had of course to be given up for the time,
-and very tedious did the long dark hours appear.

Some Auroras Borealis and two or three lunar halos appeared at
full moon, and Thomas Black might now have minutely observed all
these phenomenon, and have made precise calculations on their inten-
sity, their coloration, connection with the electric state of the atmo-
sphere, and their influence upon the magnetic needle, &c. But the
astronomer did not even leave his room. His spirit was completely

On the 30th December the light of the moon revealed a long
-circular line of icebergs shutting in the horizon on the north and
east of Victoria Island. This was the ice-wall, the frozen masses of
which were piled up to a height of some three or four hundred
feet. Two-thirds of the island were hemmed in by this mighty
barrier, and it seemed probable that the blockade would become
yet more complete.

The sky was clear for the nrst week of January. The new year,
1861, opened with very cold weather, and the column of mercury
fell to 8 Fahrenheit. It was the lowest temperature that had yet


been experienced in this singular winter, although it was anything
but low for such a high latitude.

The Lieutenant felt it his duty once more to take the latitude
and longitude of the island by means of stellar observations, and
found that its position had not changed at all.

About this time, in spite of all their economy, the oil seemed
likely to fail altogether. The sun would not appear above the
horizon before early in February, so that there was a month to wait,
during which there was a danger of the colonists having to remain
in complete darkness. Thanks to the young Esquimaux, however,
a fresh supply of oil for the lamps was obtained.

On the 3rd January Kalumah walked to Cape Bathurst to
examine the state of the ice. All along the south of the island
the ice-field was very compact, the icicles of which it was com*
posed were more firmly welded together, there were no liquid spaces
between them, and the surface of the floe, though rough, was per-
fectly firm everywhere. This was no doubt caused by the pressure
of the chain of icebergs on the horizon, which drove the ice towards
the north, and squeezed it against the island.

Although she saw no crevasses or rents, the young native noticed
many circular holes neatly cut in the ice, the use of which she knew
perfectly well. They were the holes kept open by seals imprisoned
beneath the solid crust of ice, and by which they came to the surface
to breathe and look for mosses under the snow on the coast.

Kalumah knew that in the winter bears will crouch patiently near
these holes, and watching for the moment when the seal comes out
of the water, they rush upon it, hug it to death in their paws, and
carry it off. She knew, too, that the Esquimaux, not less patient
than the bears, also watch for the appearance of these animals, and
throwing a running noose over their heads when they push them up,
drag them to the surface.

What bears and Esquimaux could do might certainly also be done
by skilful hunters, and Kalumah hastened back to the fort to tell
the Lieutenant of what she had seen, feeling sure that where these
holes were seals were riot far off.

Hobson sent for the hunters, and the young native described to
them the way in which the Esquimaux capture these animals in the
winter, and begged them to try.

She had not finished speaking before Sabine had a strong rope
with a running noose ready in his hand, and accompanied by Hobson,

: Marbre flung his running noose skilfully" tyc. Page 269.


Mrs Barnett, Kalumah, and two or three soldiers, the hunters
hurried to Cape Bathurst, and whilst the women remained on the
beach, the men made their way to the holes pointed out by
Kalumah. Each one was provided with a rope, and stationed
himself at a different hole.

A long time of waiting ensued no sign of the seals, but at last
the water in the hole Marbre had chosen began to bubble, arid a
head with long tusks appeared. It was that of a walrus. Marbre
flung his running noose skilfully over its neck and pulled it tightly.
His comrades rushed to his assistance, and with some difficulty the
huge beast was dragged upon the ice, and despatched with

It was a great success, and the colonists were delighted with this
novel fishing. Other walruses were taken in the same way, and
furnished plenty of oil, which, though not strictly of the right sort,
did very well for the lamps, and there was no longer any lack of
light in any of the rooms of Fort Hope.

The cold was even now not very severe, and had the colonists
been on the American mainland they could only have rejoiced in the
mildness of the winter. They were sheltered by the chain of ice-
bergs from the north and west winds, and the month of January
passed on with the thermometer never many degrees below freezing
point, so that the sea round Victoria Island was never frozen hard.
Fissures of more or less extent broke the regularity of the surface
in the offing, as was proved by the continued presence of the rumi-
nants and furred animals near the factory, all of which had become
strangely tame, forming in fact part of the menagerie of the

According to Hobson's orders, all these creatures were unmolested.
It would have been useless to kill them, and a reindeer was only
occasionally slaughtered to obtain a fresh supply of venison. Some
of the furred animals even ventured into the enceinte, and they
were not driven away. The martens and foxes were in all the
splendour of their winter clothing, and under ordinary circumstances
would have been of immense value. These rodents found plenty of
moss under the snow, thanks to the mildness of the season, and did
not therefore live upon the reserves of the factory.

It was with some apprehensions for the future that the end of
the winter was awaited, but Mrs Barnett did all in her power to-
brighten the monotonous existence of her companions in exile.


Only one incident occurred in the month of January, and that
one was distressing enough. On the 7th, Michael Mac-Nab was
taken ill severe headache, great thirst and alternations of shivering
and fever, soon reduced the poor little fellow to a sad state. His
mother and father, and indeed all his friends, were in very great
trouble. No one knew what to do, as it was impossible to say what
his illness was, but Madge, who retained her senses about her, advised
cooling drinks and poultices. Kalumah was indefatigable, remaining
day and night by her favourite's bedside, and refusing to take any
rest. ^

About the third day there was no longer any doubt as to the
nature of the malady. A rash came out all over the child's body,
and it was evident that he had malignant scarlatina, which would
certainly produce internal inflammation.

Children of a year old are rarely attacked with this terrible disease,
but cases do occasionally occur. The medicine-chest of the factory
was necessarily insufficiently stocked, but Madge, who had nursed
several patients through scarlet fever, remembered that tincture
of belladonna was recommended, and administered one or two drops
to the little invalid every day. The greatest care was taken lest he
should catch cold ; he was at once removed to his parents' room,
and the rash soon came out freely. Tiny red points appeared on
his tongue, his lips, and even on the globes of his eyes. Two days
later his skin assumed a violet hue, then it became white and fell
off in scales.

It was now that double care was required to combat the great
internal inflammation, which proved the severity of the attack.
Nothing was neglected, the boy was, in fact, admirably nursed, and
on the 20th January, twelve days after he was taken ill, he was
pronounced out of danger.

Great was the joy in the factory. The baby was the child of the
fort, of the regiment ! He was born in the terrible northern, lati-
tudes, in the colony itself, he had been named Michael Hope, and
he had come to be regarded as a kind of talisman in the dangers
and difficulties around, and all felt sure that God would not take
him from them.

Poor Kalumah would certainly not have survived him had he
died, but he gradually recovered, and fresh hope seemed to come
back when he was restored to the little circle.

The 23d of January was now reached, after all these distressing


alternations of hope and fear. The situation of Victoria Island had
not changed in the least, and it was still wrapped in the gloom of
the apparently interminable Polar night. Snow fell abundantly for
some days, and was piled up on the ground to the height of two

On the 27th a somewhat alarming visit was received at the fort.
The soldiers Belcher and Pond, when on guard in front of the
enceinte in the morning, saw a huge bear quietly advancing towards
the fort. They hurried into the large room, and told Mrs Barnett
of the approach of the formidable carnivorous beast.

" Perhaps it is only our bear again," observed Mrs Barnett to
Hobson, and accompanied by him, and followed by the Sergeant,
Sabine, and some soldiers provided with guns, she fearlessly walked
to the postern.

The bear was now about two hundred paces off, and was walking
along without hesitation, as if he had some settled plan in view.

" I know him ! " cried Mrs Barnett, " it is your bear, Kalumah,
your preserver ! "

" Oh, don't kill my bear ! " exclaimed the young Esquimaux.

" He shall not be killed," said the Lieutenant ; " don't injure him,
my good fellows," he added to the men, " he will probably return
as he came."

" But suppose he intends coming into the enceinte ? " said Long,
who had his doubts as to the friendly propensities of Polar bears.

" Let him come, Sergeant," said Mrs Barnett, " he is a prisoner
like ourselves, and you know prisoners "

"Don't eat each other," added Hobson. " True, but only when
they belong to the same species. For your sake, however, we wilj
spare this fellow-sufferer, and only defend ourselves if he attack us.
I think, however, it will be as prudent to go back to the house.
We must not put too strong a temptation in the way of our carni-
vorous friend ! "

This was certainly good advice, and all returned to the large
room, the windows were closed, but not the shutters.

Through the panes the movements of the visitor were watched.
The bear, finding the postern unfastened, quietly pushed open the
door, looked in, carefully examined the premises, and finally entered
the enceinte. Having reached the centre, he examined the buildings
around him, went towards the reindeer stable and dog-house,
listened for a moment to the howlings of the dogs and the uneasy


noises made by the reindeer, then continued his walk round the
palisade, and at last came and leant his great head against one of
the windows of the large room.

To own the truth everybody started back, several of the soldiers
seized their guns, and Sergeant Long began to fear he had let the
joke go too far.

But Kalumah came forward, and looked through the thin parti-
tion with her sweet eyes. The bear seemed to recognise her, at
least so she thought, and doubtless satisfied with his inspection^ he
gave a hearty growl, and turning away left the enceinte, as Hobson
had prophesied, as he entered it.

This was the bear's first and last visit to the fort, and on his
departure everything went on as quietly as before.

The little boy's recovery progressed favourably, and at the end of
the month he was as rosy and as bright as ever.

At noon on the 3rd of February, the northern horizon was touched
with a faint glimmer of light, which did not fade away for an hour,
and the yellow disc of the sun appeared for an instant for the first
time since the commencement of the long Polar night.

Everybody started back" Page 272.



"ROM this date, February 3rd, the sun rose each day higher
above the horizon, the nights were, however, still very
long, and, as is often the case in February, the cold in-
creased, the thermometer marking only 1 Fahrenheit, the lowest
temperature experienced throughout this extraordinary winter.

" When does the thaw commence in these northern seas ? " inquired
Mrs Barnett of the Lieutenant.

" In ordinary seasons," replied Hobson, " the ice does not break
up until early in May ; but the winter has been so mild that unless
a very hard frost should now set in, the thaw may commence at the
beginning of April. At least that is my opinion."

" We shall still have two months to wait then ] "

" Yes, two months, for it would not be prudent to launch our
boat too soon amongst the floating ice ; and I think our best plan
will be to wait until our island has reached the narrowest part of
Behring Strait, which is not more than two hundred miles wide."

" What do you mean 1 " exclaimed Mrs Barnett, considerably
surprised at the Lieutenant's reply. " Have you forgotten that it
was the Kamtchatka Current which brought us where we now are,
and which may seize us again when the thaw sets in and carry us
yet farther north 1 "

"I do not think it will, madam ; indeed I feel quite sure that that
will not happen. The tliaw always takes place from north to south,
and although the Kamtchatka Current runs the other way, the ice
always goes down the Behring Current. Other reasons there are
for my opinion which I cannot now enumerate. But the icebergs
invariably drift towards the Pacific, and are there melted by its
warmer waters. Ask Kalumah if I am not right. She knows these
latitudes well, and will tell you that the thaw always proceeds from
the north to the south."


Kalumah when questioned confirmed all that the Lieutenant had
said, so that it appeared probable that the island would be drifted
to the south like a huge ice-floe, that is to say, to the narrowest part
of Behring Strait, which is much frequented in the summer by the
fishermen of New Archangel, who are the most experienced mariners
of those waters. Making allowance for all delays they might then
hope to set foot on the continent before May, and although the cold
had not been very intense there was every reason to believe that the
foundations of Victoria Island had been thickened and strengthened
by a fresh accumulation of ice at the base", and that it would hold
together for several months to come.

There was then nothing for the colonists to do but to wait patiently,
still to wait !

The convalescence of little Michael continued to progress favour-
ably. On the 20th of February he went out for the first time,
forty days after he was taken ill. By this we mean that he went
from his bedroom into the large room, where he was petted and
made much of. His mother, acting by Madge's advice, put off
weaning him for some little time, and he soon got back his
strength. The soldiers had made many little toys for him during
his illness, and he was now as happy as any child in the wide

The last week of February was very wet, rain and snow falling
alternately. A strong wind blew from the north-west, and the
temperature was low enough for large quantities of snow to fall ;
the gale, however, increased in violence, and on the side of Cape
Bathurst and the chain of icebergs the noise of the tempest was
deafening. The huge ice-masses were flung against each other, and
fell with a roar like that of thunder. The ice on the north was
compressed and piled up on the shores of the island. There really
seemed to be a danger that the cape itself which was but a kind
of iceberg capped with earth and sand would be flung down.
Some large pieces of ice, in spite of their weight, were driven to the
very foot of the palisaded enceinte ; but fortunately for the factory
the cape retained its position ; had it given way all the buildings
must inevitably have been crushed beneath it.

It will be easily understood that the position of Victoria Island,
at the opening of a narrow strait about which the ice accumulated in
large quantities, was extremely perilous , for it might at any time be
swept by a horizontal avalnnche, or crushed beneath the huge blocks


" It was dashed upon the icefield with a fearful crash." Page 277.


of ice driven inland from the offing, and so become engulfed before
the thaw. This was a new danger to be added t-> all the others
already threatening the little band. Mrs Barnett, seeing the
awful power of the pressure in the offing, and the violence with
which the moving masses of ice crushed upon each other, realised
the full magnitude of the peril they would all be in when the thaw
commenced. She often mentioned her fears to the Lieutenant, and
he shook his head like a man who had no reply to make.

Early in March the squall ceased, and the full extent of the trans-
formation of the ice-field was revealed. It seemed as if by a kind of
glissade the chain of icebergs had drawn nearer to the island. In some
parts it was not two miles distant, and it advanced like a glacier on
the move, with the difference that the latter haa a descending and
the ice-wall a horizontal motion. Between the lofty chain of ice-moun-
tains the ice-field was fearfully distorted : strewn with hummocks,
broken obelisks, shattered blocks, overturned pyramids, it resem-
bled a tempest-tossed sea or a ruined town, in which not a building
or a monument had remained standing, and above it all the mighty
icebergs reared their snowy crests, standing out against the sky with
their pointed peaks, their rugged cones, and solid buttresses, forming
a fitting frame for the weird fantastic landscape at their feet.

At this date the little vessel was quite finished. This boat was
rather heavy in shape, as might have been expected, but she did
credit to Mac-Nab, and shaped as she was like a barge at the
bows, she ought the better to withstand the shocks of the floating
ice. She might have been taken for one of those Dutch boats which
venture upon the northern waters. Her rig, which was completed,
consisted, like that of a cutter, of a mainsail and a jib carried on
a single mast. The tent canvass of the factory had been made use
of for sailcloth.

This boat would carry the whole colony, and if, as the Lieutenant
hoped, the island were drifted to Behring Strait, the vessel would
easily make her way to land, even from the widest part of the
passage. There was then nothing to be done but wait for the

Hobson now decided to make a long excursion to the south to
ascertain the state of the ice-field, to see whether there were any
signs of its breaking up, to examine the chain of icebergs by which
it was hemmed in, to make sure, in short, whether it would really be
useless to attempt to cross to the American continent. Many inci-


dents might occur, many fresh dangers might arise before the thaw,
and it would therefore be but prudent to make a reconnaissance on
the ice-field. *

The expedition was organised and the start fixed for March 7th.
Hobson, 1 Mrs Barnett, Kalumah, Marbre, and Sabine were to go,
and, if the route should be practicable, they would try and find a
passage across the chain of icebergs. In any case, however, they
were not to be absent for more than forty-eight hours.

A good stock of provisions was prepared, and, well provided for
every contingency, the little party left Fort Hope on the morning
of the 7th March and turned towards Cape Michael.

The thermometer then marked 32 Fahrenheit. The atmosphere
was misty, but the weather was perfectly calm. The sun was now
above the horizon for seven or eight hours a day, and its oblique
rays afforded plenty of light.

At nine o'clock, after a short halt, the party descended the slope
of Cape Michael and made their way across the ice-fields in a south-
easterly direction. On this side the ice-wall rose not three miles
from the cape.

The march was of course very slow. Every minute a crevasse
had to be turned, or a hummock too high to be climbed. It was
evident that a sledge could not have got over the rough distorted
surface, which consisted of an accumulation of blocks of ice of every
shape and size, some of which really seemed to retain their equili-
brium by a miracle. Others had been but recently overturned, as
could be seen from the clearly cut fractures and sharp corners. Not
a sign was to be seen of any living creature, no footprints told of
the passage of man or beast, and the very birds had deserted these
awful solitudes.

Mrs Barnett was astonished at the scene before her, and asked
the Lieutenant how they could possibly have crossed the ice-fields
if they had started in December, and he replied by reminding her
that it was then in a very different condition ; the enormous pres-
sure of the advancing icebergs had not then commenced, the surface
of the sea was comparatively even, and the only danger was from its
insufficient solidification. The irregularities which now barred their
passage did not exist early in the winter.

They managed, however, to advance towards the mighty ice-wall,
Kalumah generally leading the way. Like a chamois on the Alpine
rocks, the young girl firmly treaded the ice-masses with a swiftness


of foot and an absence of hesitation which was really marvellous.
She knew by instinct the best way through the labyrinth of icebergs,
and was an unerring guide to her companions.

About noon the base of the ice- wall was reached, but it had taken
three hours to get over three miles.

The icy barrier presented a truly imposing appearance, rising as
it did more than four hundred feet above the ice-field. The various
strata of which it was formed were clearly defined, and the glisten-
ing surface was tinged with many a delicately-shaded hue. Jasper-
like ribbons of green and blue alternated with streaks and dashes
of all the colours of the rainbow, strewn with enamelled arabesques,
sparkling crystals, and delicate ice-flowers. No cliff, however strangely
distorted, could give any idea of this marvellous half opaque, half
transparent ice-wall, and no description could do justice to the won-
derful effects of produced upon it.

It would not do, however, to approach too near to these beetling
cliffs, the solidity of which was very doubtful. Internal fractures
and rents were already commencing, the work of destruction and
decomposition was proceeding rapidly, aided by the imprisoned
air-bubbles ; and the fragility of the huge structure, built up by the
cold, was manifest to every eye. It could not survive the Arctic
winter, it was doomed to melt beneath the sunbeams, and it contained
material enough to feed large rivers.

Lieutenant Hobson had warned his companions of the danger of
the avalanches which constantly fall from the summits of the ice-

Online LibraryJules VerneThe fur country; or, Seventy degrees north latitude → online text (page 25 of 31)