Jules Verne.

The fur country; or, Seventy degrees north latitude online

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after bucket was drawn to the surface of the shaft loaded with earth.
The clumsy wooden props answered admirably in keeping the earth


from filling in the pit, a few falls occurred, but they were rapidly
checked, and no fresh misfortunes occurred throughout the day,
except that the soldier Garry received a blow on the head from a
falling block of ice. The wound was not however severe, and he
would not leave his work.

At four o'clock the shaft was fifty feet deep altogether, having
been sunk through twenty feet of ice and thirty of sand and earth.

It was at this depth that Mac-Nab had expected to reach the roof
of the house, if it had resisted the pressure of the avalanche.

He was then at the bottom of the shaft, and his disappointment
and dismay can be imagined when, on driving his pickaxe into
the ground as far as it would go, it met with no resistance

Sabine was with him, and for a few moments he remained with
his arms crossed, silently looking at his companion.

" No roof then 1 " inquired the hunter.

" Nothing whatever," replied the carpenter, " but let us work on,
the roof has bent of course, but the floor of the loft cannot have
given way. Another ten feet and we shall come to that floor, or

GISO - - "*

Mac-Nab did not finish his sentence, and the two resumed their
work with the strength of despair.

At six o'clock in the evening, another ten or twelve feet had been
dug out.

Mac-Nab sounded again, nothing yet, his pick still sunk in the
shifting earth, and flinging it from him, he buried his face in his
hands and muttered

" Poor things, poor things ! " He then climbed to the opening of
the shaft by means of the wood- work.

The Lieutenant and the Sergeant were together in greater anxiety
than ever, and taking them aside, the carpenter told them of his
dreadful disappointment.

" Then," observed Hobson, " the house must have been crushed
by the avalanche, and the poor people in it "-

" No ! " cried the head-car -enter with earnest conviction, "no, it
cannot have been crushed, it must have resisted, strengthened as it
was. It cannot it cannot have been crushed !"

" "Well, then, what has happened ? " said the Lieutenant in a
broken voice, his eyes filling with tears.

" Simply this," replied Mac-Nab, " the house itself has remained

" Poor things ! poor things ! " Page 300.


intact, but the ground on which it was built must have sunk. The
house has gone through the crust of ice which forms the foundation
of the island. It has not been crushed, but engulfed, and the
poor creatures in it "

" Are drowned ! " cried Long.

" Yes, Sergeant, drowned without a moment's notice drowned
like passengers on a foundered vessel ! "

For some minutes the three men remained silent. Mac-Nab's
idea was probably correct Nothing was more likely than that the
ice forming the foundation of the island had given way under such
enormous pressure. The vertical props which supported the beams of
the ceiling, and rested on those of the floor, had evidently aided the
catastrophe by their weight, and the whole house had been engulfed.

" Well, Mac-Nab," said Hobson at last, " if we cannot find them
alive "

" We must recover their bodies," added the head carpenter.

" And with these words Mac-Nab, accompanied by the Lieutenant,
went back to his work at the bottom of the shaft without a word
to any of his comrades of the terrible form his anxiety had now

The excavation continued throughout the night, the men reliev-
ing each other every hour, and Hobson and Mac-Nab watched them
at work without a moment's rest.

At three o'clock in the morning Reliefs pickaxe struck against
something hard, which gave out a ringing sound. The head carpenter
felt it almost before he heard it.

" We have reached them ! " cried the soldier, " they are saved."

" Hold your tongue, and go on working," replied the Lieutenant
in a choked voice.

It was now seventy-six hours since the avalanche fell upon the
house !

Kellet and his companion Pond resumed their work. The shaft
must have nearly reached the level of the sea, and Mac-Nab there-
fore felt that all hope was gone.

In less than twenty minutes the hard body which Kellet had
struck was uncovered, and proved to be one of the rafters of the
roof. The carpenter flung himself to the bottom of the shaft, and
seizing a pickaxe sent the laths of the roof flying on every side. In
a few moments a large aperture was made, and a figure appeared at
it which it was difficult to recognise in the darkness.


It was Kalumah !

" Help ! help ! " she murmured feebly.

Hobsou let himself down through the opening, and found himself
up to the waist in ice-cold water. Strange to say, the roof had not
given way, but as Mac-Nab had supposed, the house had sunk, and
was full of water. The water did not, however, yet fill the loft, and
was not more than a foot above the floor. There was still a faint
hope !

The Lieutenant, feeling his way in the darkness, came across a
motionless body, and dragging it to the opening he consigned it to
Pond and Kellet. It was Thomas Black.

Madge, also senseless, was next found ; and she and the astro-
nomer were drawn up to the surface of the ground with ropes, where
the open air gradually restored them to consciousness.

Mrs Barnett was still missing, but Kalumah led Hobson to the very
end of the loft, and there he found the unhappy lady motionless and
insensible, with her head scarcely out of the water.

The Lieutenant lifted her in his arms and carried her to the
opening, and a few moments later he had reached the outer air with
his burden, followed by Mac-Nab with Kalumah.

Every one gathered round Mrs Barnett in silent anxiety, and
poor Kalumah, exhausted as she was, flung herself across her
friend's body.

Mrs Barnett still breathed, her heart still beat feebly, and revived
by the pure fresh air she at last opened her eyes.

A cry of joy burst from every lip, a cry of gratitude to Heaven
for the great mercy vouchsafed, which was doubtless heard above.

Day was now breaking in the east, the sun was rising above the
horizon, lighting up the ocean with its brilliant beams, and Mrs
Barnett painfully staggered to her feet. Looking round her from
the summit of the new mountain formed by the avalanche, which
overlooked the whole island, she murmured in a changed and hollow

"The sea! the sea!"

Yes, the ocean now encircled the wandering island, the. sea was
open at last, and a true sea-horizon shut in the view from east to

And a figure appeared" $rc. Page 301.



I HE island, driven by the ice-wall, had then drifted at a great
speed into Behring Sea, after crossing the strait with-
out running aground on its shores ! It was still hurrying
on before the icy barrier, which was in the grasp of a powerful sub-
marine current, hastening onwards on to its inevitable dissolution
in the warmer waters of the Pacific, and the boat on which all had
depended was useless !

As soon as Mrs Barnett had entirely recovered consciousness, she
related in a few words the history of the seventy-four hours spent in
the house now in the water. Thomas Black, Madge, and Kalumah
had been aroused by the crash of the avalanche, and had rushed to
the doors or windows. There was no longer any possibility of
getting out, the mass of earth and sand, which was but a moment
before Cape Bathurst, completely covered the house, and almost
immediately afterwards the prisoners heard the crash of the huge ice-
masses which were flung upon the factory.

In another quarter of an hour all felt that the house, whilst
resisting the enormous pressure, was sinking through the soil of
the island. They knew that the crust of the ice must have given
way, and that the house would fill with water !

To seize a few/ provisions remaining in the pantry, and to take
refuge in the loft, was the work of a moment. This the poor crea-
tures did from a dim instinct of self-preservation, but what hope
could they really have of being saved ! However, the loft seemed
likely to resist, and two blocks of ice abutting from the roof saved
it from being immediately crushed.

Whilst thus imprisoned the poor creatures could hear the constant
falls from the icebergs, whilst the sea was gradually rising through
the lower rooms. They must either be crushed or drowned !

But by little short of a miracle, the roof of the house, with its


strong framework, resisted the pressure, and after sinking a certain
depth the house remained stationary, with the water rather above
the floor of the loft. The prisoners were obliged to take refuge
amongst the rafters of the roof, and there they remained for many
hours. Kalumah devoted herself to the service of the others, and
carried food to them through the water. They could make no
attempt to save themselves, succour could only come from without.

It was a terrible situation, for breathing was difficult in the
vitiated air deficient as it was in oxygen, and charged with a great
excess of carbonic acid ... A few hours later Hobson would only
have found the corpses of his friends !

The horror oi the position was increased by the gushing of the
water through the lower rooms, which convinced Mrs Barnett that
the island was drifting to the south. She had, in fact, guessed the
whole truth ; she knew that the ice-wall had heeled over and fallen
upon the island, and concluded that the boat was destroyed. It
was this last fact which gave such terrible significance to her first
words when she looked around her after her swoon

" The sea ! the sea ! "

Those about her, however, could think of nothing yet but the
fact, that they had saved her for whom they would have died, and
with her Madge, Kalumah, and Thomas Black. Thus far not one
of those who had joined the Lieutenant in his disastrous expedition
had succumbed to any of the fearful dangers through which they
had passed.

But matters were not yet at their worst, and fresh troubles were
soon to hasten the final catastrophe.

Hobson's first care after Mrs Bamett's recovery was to take the
bearings of the island. It was useless now to think of quitting it,
as the sea was open and their boat destroyed. A few ruins alone
remained of the mighty ice-wall, the upper portion of which had
crushed Cape Bathurst whilst the submerged base was driving the
island to the south.

The instruments and maps belonging to the astronomer were
found in the ruins of the house, and were fortunately uninjured.
The weather was cloudy, but Hobson succeeded in taking the
altitude of the sun with sufficienct accuracy for his purpose.

We give the result obtained at noon on the 1 2th May. Victoria
Island was then situated in longitude 168 12' west of Greenwich,
and in latitude 63 37' N. The exact spot was looked out on the chart,

Examining the state of the sea" fy*c. Page 307.


and proved to be in Norton Sound, between Cape Tchaplin on the
Asiatic and Cape Stephens on the American coast, but a hundred
miles from either.

" We must give up all hope of making the land of the continent
then ! " said Mrs Barnett.

"Yes, madam," replied Hobson ; " all hope of that is at an end ;
the current is carrying us with great rapidity out into the offing,
and our only chance is, that we may pass within sight of a whaler."

" Well, but," added Mrs Barnett, "if we cannot make the land of
either continent, might not the current drive us on to one of the
islands of Behring Sea 1 "

There was, in fact, a slight possibility that such a thing might
happen, and all eagerly clutched at the hope, like a drowning man at
a plank. There are plenty of islands in Behring Sea, St Lawrence,, St
Matthew, Nunivak, St Paul, George Island, &c. The wandering
island was in fact at that moment not far from St Lawrence, which
is of a considerable size, and surrounded with islets ; and should
it pass it without stopping, there was yet a hope that the cluster of
the Aleutian Islands, bounding Behring Sea on the south, might
arrest its course.

Yes ! St Lawrence might be a harbour of refuge for the colonists,
and if it failed them, St Matthew, and the group of islets of which
it is the centre, would still be left. It would not do, however, to
count upon the Aleutian Islands, which were more than eight
hundred miles away, and which they might never reach. Long,
long before they got so far, Victoria Island, worn away by the warm
sea-waves, and melted by the rays of the sun, which was already in
the sign of Gemini, would most likely have sunk to the bottom of
the ocean.

There is, however, no fixed point beyond which floating ice does
not advance. It approaches nearer to the equator in the southern
than in the northern hemisphere. Icebergs have been seen off the
Cape of Good Hope, at about thirty-six degrees south latitude, but
those which come down from the Arctic Ocean have never passed
forty degrees north latitude. The weather conditions, which are of
course variable, determine the exact locality where ice will melt ; in
severe and prolonged winters it remains solid in comparatively low
latitudes, and vice versa in early springs.

Now the warm season of 1861 had set in very early, and this
would hasten the dissolution of Victoria Island. The wafers of


Behring Sea had already changed from blue to green, as the great
navigator Hudson observed they always do on the approach of
icebergs, so that a catastrophe might be expected at any moment.

Hobson determined to do his best to avert the coming misfortune,
and ordered a raft to be constructed which would carry the whole
colony, and might be guided to the continent somehow or other.
There was every chance of meeting vessels now that the whaling
season had commenced, and Mac-Nab was commissioned to make a
large solid raft which would float when Victoria Island was engulfed.

But first of all, it was necessary to construct some shelter for the
homeless inhabitants of the island. The simple plan appeared to
be to dig out the old barracks, which had been built on to the prin-
cipal house, and the walls of which were still standing. Every one
set to work with a hearty good-will, and in a few days a shelter was
provided from the inclemencies of the fickle weather.

Search was also made in the ruins of the large house, and a
good many articles of more or less value were saved from the sub-
merged rooms tools, arms, furniture, the air pumps, and the air
vessel, &c.

On the 13th May all hope of drifting on to the island of St
Lawrence had to be abandoned. When the bearings were taken, it
was found that they were passing at a considerable distance to the east
of that island \ and, as Hobson was well aware, currents do not run
against natural obstacles, but turn them, so that little hope could
be entertained of thus making the land. It is true the network of
islands in the Catherine Archipelago, scattered over several degrees
of latitude, might stop the island if it ever got so far. But, as we
have before stated, that was not probable, although it was advancing
at great speed.; for this speed must decrease considerably when the ice-
wall which was driving it along should be broken away or dissolved,
unprotected as it was from the heat of the sun by any covering of
earth or sand.

Lieutenant Hobson, v Mrs Barnett, Sergeant Long, and the head
carpenter often discussed these matters, and came to the conclusion
that the island could certainly never reach the Aleutian group with
so many chances against it.

On the 14th May, Mac-Nab and his men commenced the con-
struction of a huge raft. It had to be as high as possible above the
water, to prevent the waves from breaking over it, so that it was
really a formidable undertaking. The blacksmith, Rae, had fortu-


nately found a large number of the iron bolts which had been
brought from Fort Keliance, and they were invaluable for firmly
fastening together the different portions of the framework of the

We must describe the novel site for the building of the raft sug-
gested by Lieutenant Hobson. Instead of joining the timbers and
planks together on the ground, they were joined on the surface of
the lake. The different pieces of wood were prepared on the banks,
and launched separately. They were then easily fitted together
on the water. This mode of proceeding had two advantages :
1. The carpenter would be able at once to judge of the point of flota-
tion, and the stability which should be given to the raft. 2. When
Victoria Island melted, the raft would already be floating, and
would not be liable to the shocks it would receive if on land when
the inevitable break-up came.

Whilst these works were going on, Hobson would wander about
on the beach, either alone or with Mrs Barnett, examining the state
of the sea, and the ever-changing windings of the coast-line, worn
by the constant action of the waves. He would gaze upon the vast
deserted ocean, from which the very icebergs had now disappeared,
watching, ever watching, like a shipwrecked mariner, for the vessel
which never came. The ocean solitudes were only frequented by
cetacea, which came to feed upon the microscopic animalculae which
form their principal food, and abound in the green waters. Now
and then floating trees of different kinds, which had been brought
by the great ocean currents from warm latitudes, passed the island
on their way to the north.

On the 1 6th May, Mrs Barnett and Madge were walking together
on that part of the island between the former Cape Bathurst and
Port Barnett. It was a fine warm day, and there had been no
traces of snow on the ground for some time ; all that recalled the
bitter cold of the Polar regions were the relics left by the ice-wall
on the northern part of the island ; but even these were rapidly
melting, and every day fresh waterfalls poured from their summits
and bathed their sides. Very soon the sun would have completely
dissolved every atom of ice.

Strange indeed was the aspect of Victoria Island. But for their
terrible anxiety, the colonists must have gazed at it with eager
interest. The ground was more prolific than it could have been in
any former spring, transferred as it was to milder latitudes. The


little mosses and tender flowers grew rapidly, and Mrs Joliffe's
garden was wonderfully successful. The Vegetation of every kind,
hitherto checked by the rigour of the Arctic winter, was not only
more abundant, but more brilliantly coloured. The hues of leaves
and flowers were no longer pale and watery, but warm and glowing,
like the sunbeams which called them forth. The arbutus, willow,
birch, fir, and pine trees were clothed with dark verdure ; the sap
sometimes heated in a temperature of 68 Fahrenheit burst open
the young buds ; in a word, the Arctic landscape was completely
transformed, for the island was now beneath the same parallel of
latitude as Christiania or Stockholm, that is to say, in one of the
finest districts of the temperate zones.

But Mrs Barnett had now no eyes for these wonderful phenomena
of nature. The shadow of the coming doom clouded her spirit.
She shared the feeling of depression manifested by the hundreds of
animals now collected round the factory. The foxes, martens,
ermines, lynxes, beavers, musk-rats, gluttons, and even the wolves,
rendered less savage by their instinctive knowledge of a common
danger, approached nearer and nearer to their old enemy man, as if
man could save them. It was a tacit, a touching acknowledgment
of human superiority, under circumstances in which that superiority
could be of absolutely no avail.

No ! Mrs Barnett cared no longer for the beauties of nature, and
gazed without ceasing upon the boundless, pitiless, infinite ocean with
its unbroken horizon.

" Poor Madge ! " she said at last to her faithful companion \ " it
was I who brought you to this terrible pass you who have followed
me everywhere, and whose fidelity deserved a far different recom-
pense ! Can you forgive me ? rj

" There is but one thing I could never have forgiven you," replied
Madge, " a death I did not share ! "

" Ah, Madge ! " cried Mrs Barnett, "if my death could save the
lives of all these poor people, how gladly would I die ! "

" My dear girl/' replied Madge, " have you lost all hope at
last ? "

"I have indeed/' murmured Mrs Barnett, hiding her face on
Madge's shoulder.

The strong masculine nature had given way at last, and Mrs
Barnett was for a moment a feeble woman. Was not her emotion
excusable in so awful a situation 1

11 Mrs Barnett sobbed aloud" Page 309.


Mrs Barnett sobbed aloud, and large tears rolled down her

Madge kissed and caressed her, and tried all she could to reassure
her ; and presently, raising her head, her poor mistress said

" Do not tell them, Madge, how I have given way do not betray
that I have wept."

" Of course not," said Madge, " and they would not believe me if I
did. It was but a moment's weakness. Be yourself, dear girl ; cheer
up, and take fresh courage."

" Do you mean to say you still hope yourself ? " exclaimed Mrs
Barnett, looking anxiously into her companion's face.

" I still hope ! " said Madge simply.

But a few days afterwards, every chance of safety seemed to be
indeed gone, when the wandering island passed outside the St
Matthew group, and drifted away from the last land in Behring



ICTORIA Island was now floating in the widest part of
Behring Sea, six hundred miles from the nearest of the
Aleutian Islands, and two hundred miles from the nearest
land, which was on the east. Supposing no accident happened, it
would be three weeks at least before this southern boundary of
Behring Sea could be reached.

Could the island last so long ? Might it not burst open at any
moment, subject as it was even now to the constant action of tepid
water, the mean temperature of which was more than 50 Fahren-

Lieutenant Hobso i pressed on the construction of the raft as
rapidly as possible, and the lower framework was already floating on
the lagoon. Mac-Nab wished to make it as strong as possible, for
it would have a considerable distance to go to reach the Aleutian
Islands, unless they were fortunate enough to meet with a whaler.

No important alteration had lately taken place in the general con-
figuration of the island. Reconaissances were taken every day, but
great caution was necessary, as a fracture of the ground might at
any moment cut off the explorers from the rest of the party.

The wide gulf near Cape Michael, which the winter had closed,
had reopened gradually, and now ran a mile inland, as far as the
dried-up bed of the little river. It was probable that it was soon to
extend to the bed itself, which was of course of little thickness, having
been hollowed out by the stream. Should it do so, the whole district
between Cape Michael and Port Barnett, bounded on the west by
the river bed, would disappear that is to say, the colonists would
lose a good many square miles of their domain. On this account
Hobson warned every one not to wander far, as a rough sea would be
enough to bring about the dreaded catastrophe.

Soundings were, however, taken in several places with a view to
ascertaining where the ice was thickest, and it was found that, near
Cape Bathurst, not only was the layer of earth and sand of greater *

" The lower framework was already floating " $*c. Page 310.


extent which was of little importance but the crust of ice was
thicker than anywhere else. This was a most fortunate circum-
stance, and the holes made in sounding were kept open, so that the
amount of diminution in the base of the island could be estimated
every day. This diminution was slow but sure, and, making allow-
ance for the unfortunate fact that the island was drifting into
warmer waters, it was decided that it was impossible for it to last
another three weeks.

The next week, from the 19th to the 25th May, the weather
was very bad. A fearful storm broke over the island, accompanied
by flash after flash of lightning and peals of thunder. The sea
rose high, lashed by a powerful north-west wind, and its waves
broke over the doomed island, making it tremble ominously. The
little colony were on the watch, ready on an emergency to embark
in the raft, the scaffolding of which was nearly finished, and some
provisions and fresh water were taken on board.

Online LibraryJules VerneThe fur country; or, Seventy degrees north latitude → online text (page 28 of 31)