Jules Verne.

The fur country; or, Seventy degrees north latitude online

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cold and hunger before they had penetrated beyond 68 N. lat.

Very different was the talk in the sledge occupied by Mr and
Mrs Joliffe. Perhaps the gallant Corporal had too often drunk to
the success of the expedition on starting ; for, strange to say, he was
disputing with his little wife. Yes, he was actually contradicting
her, which never happened except under extraordinary circum-
stances !

" No, Mrs Joliffe," he was saying, " 110, you have nothing to fear.
A sledge is not more difficult to guide than a pony- carriage, and the
devil take me if I can't manage a team of dogs ! "

" I don't question your skill," replied Mrs Joliffe ; " I only ask
you not to go so fast. You are in front of the whole caravan now,



and I hear Lieutenant Hobson calling out to you to resume your
proper place behind."

" Let him call, Mrs Joliffe, let him call."

And the Corporal, urging on his dogs with a fresh cut of the
whip, dashed along at still greater speed.

"Take care, Joliffe," repeated his little wife ; " not so fast, we
are going down hill."

" Down hill, Mrs Joliffe ; you call that down hill ? why, it 's up

" I tell you we are going down ! " repeated poor Mrs Joliffe.

" And I tell you we are going up ; look how the dogs pull 1 w

Whoever was right, the dogs became uneasy. The ascent was,
in fact, pretty steep ; the sledge dashed along at a reckless pace, and
was already considerably in advance of the rest of the party. Mr
and Mrs Joliffe bumped up and down every instant, the surface of
the snow became more and more uneven, and the pair, flung first to
one side and then to the other, knocked against each other and the
sledge, and were horribly bruised and shaken. But the Corporal
would listen neither to the advice of his wife nor to the shouts of
Lieutenant Hobson. The latter, seeing the danger of this reckless
course, urged on his own animals, and the rest of the caravan fol-
lowed at a rapid pace.

But the Corporal became more and more excited the speed of his
equipage delighted him. He shouted, he gesticulated, and flour-
ished his long whip like an accomplished sportsman.

"Wonderful things these whips!" he cried ; "the Esquimaux
wield them with unrivalled skill ! "

" But you are not an Esquimaux ! " cried Mrs Joliffe, trying in
vain to arrest the arm of her imprudent husband.

" I have heard tell," resumed the Corporal " I 've heard tell that
the Esquimaux can touch any dog they like in any part, that they
can even cut out a bit of one of their ears with the stiff thong at
the end of the whip. I am going to try/'

" Don't try, don't try, Jolitf e ! " screamed the poor little woman,
frightened out of her wits.

" Don't be afraid, Mrs Joliffe, don't be afraid ; I know what I can
do. The fifth dog on the right is misbehaving himself ; I will cor-
rect him a little ! "

But Corporal Joliffe was evidently not yet enough of an Esqui-
maux to be able to manage the whip with its thong four feet longer


than the sledge ; for it unrolled with an ominous hiss, and rebound-
ing, twisted itself round Corporal Joliffe's own neck, sending his fui
cap into the air, perhaps with one of his ears in it.

At this moment the dogs flung themselves on one side, the sledge
was overturned, and the pair were flung into the snow. Fortunatelj
it was thick and soft, so that they escaped unhurt. But what z
disgrace for the Corporal ! how reproachfully his little wife looked
at him, and how stern was the reprimand of Lieutenant Hobson !

The sledge was picked up, but it was decided that henceforth the
reins of the dogs, like those of the household, were to be in the
hands of Mrs Joliffe. The crest-fallen Corporal was obliged to sub-
mit, and the interrupted journey was resumed.

No incident worth mentioning occurred during the next fifteer
days. The weather continued favourable, the cold was not toe
severe, and on the 1st May the expedition arrived at Fort Enter-



WO hundred miles had been traversed since the expedition
left Fort Reliance. The travellers, taking advantage of
the long twilight, pressed on day and night, and were
literally overcome with fatigue when they reached Fort Enterprise,
near the shores of Lake Snare,

This fort was no more than a depdt of provisions, of little import-
ance, erected a few years before by the Hudson's Bay Company.
It served as a resting-place for the men taking the convoys of furs
from the Great Bear Lake, some three hundred miles further to the
north-west. About a dozen soldiers formed the garrison. The fort
consisted of a wooden house surrounded by palisades. But few as
were the comforts it offered, Lieutenant Hobson's companions gladly
took refuge in it and rested there for two days.

The gentle influence of the Arctic spring was beginning to be
felt. Here and there the snow hud melted, and the temperature of
the nights was no longer below freezing point. A few delicate
mosses and slender grasses clothed the rugged ground with their soft
verdure ; and from between the stones peeped the moist calices of
tiny, almost colourless, flowers. These faint signs of reawakening
vegetation, after the long night of winter, were refreshing to eyes
weary of the monotonous whiteness of the snow ; and the scattered
specimens of the Flora of the Arctic regions were welcomed with

Mrs Paulina Barnett and Jaspar Hobson availed themselves of
this leisure time to visit the shores of the little lake. They were
both students and enthusiastic lovers of nature. Together they
wandered amongst the ice masses, already beginning to break up,
and the waterfalls created by the action of the rays of the sun.
The surface itself of Lake Snare was still intact, not a crack
denoted the approaching thaw ; but it was strewn with the ruins of
mighty icebergs, which assumed all manner of picturesque forms, and


the beauty of which was heightened when the light, diffracted by the
sharp edges of the ice, touched them with all manner of colours.
One might have fancied that a rainbow, crushed in a powerful hand,
had been flung upon the ground, its fragments crossing each other
as they fell.

" What a beautiful scene ! " exclaimed Mrs Paulina Barnett.
" These prismatic effects vary at every change of our position.
Does it not seem as if we were bending over the opening of an
immense kaleidoscope, or are you already weary of a sight so new
and interesting to me ? "

"No, madam," replied the Lieutenant; "although I was born
and bred on this continent, its beauties never pall upon me. But if
your enthusiasm is so great when you see this scenery with the sun
shining upon it, what will it be when you are privileged to behold
the terrible grandeur of the winter 1 To own the truth, I think
the sun, so much thought of in temperate latitudes, spoils my Arctic

" Indeed ! " exclaimed Mrs Barnett, smiling at the Lieutenant's
last remark ; " for my part, I think the sun a capital travelling
companion, and I shall not be disposed to grumble at the warmth
it gives even in the Polar regions ! "

" Ah, madam," replied Jaspar Hobson, " I am one of those who
think it best to visit Russia in the winter, and the Sahara Desert
in the summer. You then see their peculiar characteristics to
advantage. The sun is a star of the torrid and temperate zones,
and is out of place thirty degrees from the North Pole. The true
sky of this country is the pure frigid sky of winter, bright with
constellations, and sometimes flushed with the glory of the Aurora
Borealis. This land is the land of the night, not of the day ; and
you have yet to make acquaintance with the delights and marvels of
the long Polar night."

" Have you ever visited the temperate zones of Europe and
America ? " inquired Mrs Barnett.

" Yes, madam ; and I admired them as they deserved. But I
returned home with fresh love and enthusiasm for my native land.
Cold is my element, and no merit is due to me for braving it. It
has no power over me ; and, like the Esquimaux, I can live for
months together in a snow hut."

" Really, Lieutenant Hobson, it is quite cheering to hear our
dreaded enemy spoken of in such terms. I hope to prove myself



worthy to be your companion, and wherever you venture, we will
venture together."

" I agree, madam, I agree ; and may all the women and soldiers
accompanying me show themselves as resolute as you. If so, God
helping us, we shall indeed advance far."

" You have nothing to complain of yet," observed the lady.
" Not a single accident has occurred, the weather has been
propitious, the cold not too severe everything has combined to
aid us."

" Yes, madam ; but the sun which yon admire so much will
soon create difficulties for us, and strew obstacles in our path."

" What do you mean, Lieutenant Hobson ? "

" I mean that the heat will soon have changed the aspect of the
country; that the melted ice will impede the sliding of the sledges
that the ground will become rough and uneven; that our panting
dogs will no longer carry us along with the speed of an arrow ; that
the rivers and lakes will resume their liquid state, and that we shall
have to ford or go round them. All these changes, madam, due to
the influence of the solar rays, will cause delays, fatigue, and dangers,
the very least of which will be the breaking of the brittle snow
beneath our feet, or the falling of the avalanches from the summits
of the icebergs. For all this we have to thank the gradual rise of
the sun higher and higher above the horizon. Bear this in mind,
madam : of the four elements of the old creation, only one is
necessary to us here, the air ; the other three, fire, earth, and water,
are <le trop in the Arctic regions."

Of course the Lieutenant was exaggerating, and Mrs Barnett
could easily have retorted with counter-arguments ; but she liked
to hear his raptures in praise of his beloved country, and she felt
that his enthusiasm was a guarantee that he would shrink from no

Yet Jaspar Hobson was right when he said the sun would
cause difficulties. This was seen when the party set out again on
the 4th May, three days later. The thermometer, even in the coldest
part of the night, marked more than 32 Fahrenheit. A complete
thaw set in, the vast white sheet of snow resolved itself into water.
The irregularities of the rocky soil caused constant jolting of the
sledges, and the passengers were roughly shaken. The roads were
so heavy that the dogs had to go at a slow trot, and the reins were
therefore asrain entrusted to the hands of the imprudent Corporal


Joliffe. Neither shouts nor flourishings of the whip had the vslightest
effect on the jaded animals.

From time to time the travellers lightened the sledges by walking
a little way. This mode of locomotion suited the hunters, who were
now gradually approaching the best districts for game in the whole
of English America. Mrs Paulina Barnett and Madge took a great
interest in the chase, whilst Thomas Black professed absolute indiffer-
ence to all athletic exercise. He bad not come all this distance to hunt
the polecat or the ermine, but merely to look at the moon at the mo-
ment when her disc should cover that of the sun. When the queen
of the night rose above the horizon, the impatient astronomer would
gaze at her with eager eyes, and one day the Lieutenant said to him

" It would be a bad look-out for you, Mr Black, if by any un-
lucky chance the moon should fail to keep her appointment on the
16th July I860."

" Lieutenant Hobson," gravely replied the astronomer, " if the
moon were guilty of such a breach of good manners, I should indeed
have cause to complain."

The chief hunters of the expedition were the soldiers Marbre and
Sabine, both very expert at their business. Their skill was won-
derful ; and the cleverest Indians would not have surpassed them
in keenness of sight, precision of aim, or manual address. They
were alike trappers and hunters, and were acquainted with all the
nets and snares for taking sables, otters, wolves, foxes, bears, <kc.
No artifice was unknown to them, and Captain Craventy had shown
his wisdom in choosing two such intelligent men to accompany the
little troop.

Whilst on the march, however, Marbre and Sabine had no time
for setting traps. They could not separate from the others for more
than an hour or two at a time, and were obliged to be content with
the game which passed within range of their rifles. Still they were
fortunate enough to kill two of the large American ruminants,
seldom met with in such elevated latitudes.

On the morning of the 15th May the hunters asked permission
to follow some fresh traces they had found, and the Lieutenant not
only granted it, but himself accompanied them with Mrs Paulina
Barnett, and they went several miles out of their route towards the

The impressions were evidently the result of the passage of about
half-a-dozen large deer. There could be no mistake about it; Marbre

" To the icebergs ! to the icebergs ! " Page 46.


and Sabine were positive on that point, and could even have named
the species to which the animals belonged.

" You seem surprised to have met with traces of these animals
here, Lieutenant," said Mrs Barnett.

" Well, madam," replied Hobson, " this species is rarely seen
beyond 57 N. lat. We generally hunt them at the south of the
Slave Lake, where they feed upon the shoots of willows and poplars,
and certain wild roses to which th^jr are very partial."

" I suppose these creatures, like those with valuable furs, have
fled from the districts scoured by the hunters."

** I see no other explanation of their presence at 65 N. lat.,"
replied the Lieutenant " that is, if the men are not mistaken as to
the origin of the footprints."

"No, no, sir," cried Sabine; " Marbre and I are not mistaken.
These traces were left by deer, the deer we hunters call red deer,
and the natives wapitis."

" He is quite right," added Marbre ; " old trappers like us are not
to be taken in ; besides, don't you hear that peculiar whistling

The party had now reached the foot of a little hill, and as the
snow had almost disappeared from its sides they were able to climb
it, and hastened to the summit, the peculiar whistling noticed by
Marbre becoming louder, mingled with cries resembling the braying
of an ass, and proving that the two hunters were not mistaken.

Once at the top of the hill, the adventurers looked eagerly towards
the east. The undulating plains were still white with snow, but its
dazzling surface was here and there relieved with patches of stunted
light green vegetation. A few gaunt shrubs stretched forth their
bare and shrivelled branches, and huge icebergs with precipitous
sides stood out against the grey background of the sky.

" Wapitis ! wapitis ! there they are ! " cried Sabine and Marbre
at once, pointing to a group of animals distinctly visible about a
quarter of a mile to the east.

" What are they doing ? " asked Mrs Barnett.

" They are fighting, madam," replied Hobson ; " they always do
when the heat of the Polar sun inflames their blood another
deplorable result of the action of the radiant orb of day ! "

From where they stood the party could easily watch the group
of wapitis. They were fine specimens of the family of deer known
under the various names of stags with rounded antlers, American


stags, roebucks, grey elks and red elks, <fec. These graceful creatures
have slender legs and brown skins with patches of red hair, the
colour of which becomes darker in the warmer season. The fierce
males are easily distinguished from the females by their fine white
antlers, the latter being entirely without these ornaments. These
wapitis were once very numerous all over North America, and the
United States imported a great many ; but clearings were begun on
every side, the forest trees fell beneath the axe of the pioneer of
civilisation, and the wapitis took refuge in the more peaceful dis-
tricts of Canada ; but they were soon again disturbed, and wandered
to the shores of Hudson's Bay. So that although the wapiti thrives
in a cold country, Lieutenant Hobson was right in saying that it
seldom penetrates beyond 57 N. latitude ; and the specimens now
found had doubtless fled before the Chippeway Indians, who hunt
them without mercy.

The wapitis were so engrossed in their desperate struggle that
they were unconscious of the approach of the hunters ; but they
would probably not have ceased fighting had they been aware of it.
Marbre and Sabine, aware of their pecutiarity in this respect, might
therefore have advanced fearlessly upon them, and have taken aim.
at leisure.

Lieutenant Hobson suggested that they should do so.

"Beg pardon, sir/' replied Marbre; " but let us spare our pow-
der and shot. These beasts are engaged in a war to the death, and
we shall arrive in plenty of time to pick up the vanquished."

" Have these wapitis a commercial value 1 " asked Mrs Paulina

" Yes, madam," replied Hobson ; " and their skin, which is not
quite so thick as that of the elk, properly so called, makes very
valuable leather. By rubbing this, skin with the fat and brains of
the animal itself, it is rendered flexible, and neither damp nor dry-
ness injures it. The Indians are therefore always eager to procure
the skins of the wapitis."

" Does not the flesh make admirable venison ? "

" Pretty good, madam ; only pretty good. It is tough, and does
not taste very nice ; the fat becomes hard directly it is taken from
the fire, and sticks to the teeth. It is certainly inferior as an article
of food to the flesh of other deer ; but when meat is scarce we are
glad enough to eat it, and it supports life as well as anything



Mrs Harriett and Lieutenant Hobson had been chatting together
for some minutes, when, with the exception of two, the wapitis
suddenly ceased fighting. Was their rage satiated ? or had they
perceived the hunters, and felt the approach of danger 1 Whatever
the cause, all but two fine creatures fled towards the east with
incredible speed; in a few instants they were out of sight, and the
swiftest horse could not have caught them up.

Meanwhile, however, two magnificent specimens remained on the
field of battle. Heads down, antlers to antlers, hind legs stretched
and quivering, they butted at each other without a moment's
pause. Like two wrestlers struggling for a prize which neither will
yield, they would not separate*, but whirled round and round to-
gether on their front legs as if riveted to one another.

" What implacable rage !" exclaimed Mrs Barnett.

" Yes," replied the Lieutenant ; " the wapitis really are most
spiteful beasts. I have no doubt they are fighting out an old

" Would not this be the time to approach them, when they are
blinded with rage ? "

"There's plenty of time, ma'am," said Sabine ; "they won't
escape us now. They will not stir from where they are when we
are three steps from them, the rifles at our shoulders, and our
fingers on the triggers ! "


" Yes, madam," added Hobson, who had carefully examined the
wapitis after the hunter's remark ; " and whether at our hands or
from the teeth of wolves, those wapitis will meet death where they
now stand."

"I don't understand what you mean, Lieutenant," said Mrs

" Well, go nearer, madam," he replied ; " don't be afraid of
startling the animals ; for, as our hunter says, they are no longer
capable of flight."

The four now descended the hill, and in a few minutes gained
the theatre of the struggle. The wapitis had not moved. They
were pushing at each other like a couple of rams, and seemed to be
inseparably glued together.

In fact, in the heat of the combat the antlers of the two creatures
had become entangled together to such an extent that they could
no longer separate without breaking them. This often happens in


the hunting districts. It is not at all uncommon to find antlers
thus connected lying on the ground ; the poor encumbered animals
soon die of hunger, or they become an easy prey to wild beasts.

Two bullets put an end to the fight between the wapitis ; and
Marbre and Sabine taking immediate possession, carried off their
skins to be subsequently prepared, leaving their bleeding carcasses
to be devoured by wolves and bears.



jETE expedition continued to advance towards the north-
west; but the great inequalities of the ground made it
hard work for the dogs to get along, and the poor creatures,
who could hardly be held in when they started, were now quiet
enough. Eight or ten miles a day were as much as they could accom-
plish, although Lieutenant Hobson urged them on to the utmost.
He was anxious to get to Fort Confidence, on the further side of the
Great Bear Lake, where he hoped to obtain some useful information.
Had the Indians frequenting the northern banks of the lake been
able to cross the districts on the shores of the sea ? was the Arctic
Ocean open at this time of year? These were grave questions, the
reply to which would decide the fate of the new factory.

The country through which the little troop was now passing was
intersected by numerous streams, mostly tributaries of the two
large rivers, the Mackenzie and Coppermine, which flow from the
south to the north, and empty themselves into the Arctic Ocean.
Lakes, lagoons, and numerous pools are formed between these two
principal arteries ; and as they were no longer frozen over, the
sledges could not venture upon them, and were compelled to go
round, them, which caused considerable delay. Lieutenant Hobson
was certainly right in saying that winter is the time to visit the
hyperborean regions, for they are then far easier to traverse. Mrs
Paulina Barnett had reason to own the justice of this assertion more
than once.

This region, included in the "Cursed Land," was, besides,
completely deserted, as are the greater portion of the districts of
the extreme north of America. It has been estimated that there is
but one inhabitant to every ten square miles. Besides the scattered
natives, there are some few thousand agents or soldiers of the
different fur-trading companies ; but they mostly congregate in the
southern districts and about the various factories. No human


footprints gladdened the eyes of the travellers, the only traces on
the sandy soil were those of ruminants and rodents. Now and then
a fierce polar bear was seen, and Mrs Paulina Barnett expressed her
surprise at not meeting more of these terrible carnivorous beasts, of
whose daily attacks on whalers and persons shipwrecked in Baffin's
Bay and on the coasts of Greenland and Spitzbergen she had read
in the accounts of those who had wintered in the Arctic regions.

" Wait for the winter, madam," replied the Lieutenant ; " wait
till the cold makes them hungry, and then you will perhaps see as
many as you care about ! "

On the 23d May, after a long and fatiguing journey, the expe-
dition at last reached the Arctic Circle. We know that this lati-
tude 2327'57" from the North Pole, forms the mathematical limit
beyond which the rays of the sun do not penetrate in the winter,
when the northern districts of the globe are turned away from the
orb of day. Here, then, the travellers entered the true Arctic
region, the northern Frigid Zone.

The latitude had been very carefully obtained by means of most
accurate instruments, which were handled with equal skill by the
astronomer and by Lieutenant Hobson. Mrs Barnett was present
at the operation, and had the satisfaction of hearing that she was at
last about to cross the Arctic Circle. It was with a feeling of just
pride that she received the intelligence.

" You have already passed through the two Torrid Zones in your
previous journeys," said the Lieutenant, " and now you are on the
verge of the Arctic Circle. Few explorers have ventured into such
totally different regions. Some, so to speak, have a specialty for
hot countries, and choose Africa or Australia as the field for their
investigations. Such were Barth, Burton, Livingstone, Speke,
Douglas, Stuart, <fcc. Others, on the contrary, have a passion for
the Arctic regions, still so little known. Mackenzie, Franklin,

Online LibraryJules VerneThe fur country; or, Seventy degrees north latitude → online text (page 4 of 31)