Jules Verne.

The fur country; or, Seventy degrees north latitude online

. (page 6 of 31)
Online LibraryJules VerneThe fur country; or, Seventy degrees north latitude → online text (page 6 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

was beautiful, and the slight breeze blowing from the north-east
was favourable to the crossing. Sergeant Felton took leave of his
guests with many apologies for being unable to accompany them in
the absence of his chief. The boat was let loose from its moorings,
and tacking to starboard, shot across the clear waters of the lake.

The little trip passed pleasantly enough. The taciturn old
sailor sat silent in the stern of the boat with the tiller tucked under
his arm. Mrs Barnett and Lieutenant Hobson, seated opposite to
each other, examined with interest the scenery spread out before
them. The boat skirted the northern shores of the lake at about
three miles' distance, following a rectilinear direction, so that the
wooded heights sloping gradually to the west were distinctly visible.
From this side the district north of the lake appeared perfectly flat,
and the horizon receded to a considerable distance. The whole
of this coast contrasted strongly with the sharp angle, at the
extremity of which rose Fort Confidence, framed in green pines.
The flag of the Company was still visible floating from the tower
of the fort. The oblique rays of the sun lit up the surface of the
water, and striking on the floating icebergs, seemed to convert
them into molten silver of dazzling brightness. No trace remained
of the solid ice-mountains of the winter but these moving relics,
which the solar rays could scarcely dissolve, and which seemed, as
it were, to protest against the brilliant but riot very powerful Polar
sun, now describing a diurnal arc of considerable length.

Mrs Barnett and the Lieutenant, as was their custom, communi-
cated to each other the thoughts suggested by the strange scenes
through which they were passing. They laid up a store of pleasant
recollections for the future whilst the boat floated rapidly along
upon the peaceful waves.

The party started at six in the morning, and at nine they neared
the point on the northern bank at which they were to land. The
Indian encampment was situated at the north-west angle of the
Great Bear Lake. Before ten o'clock old Norman ran the boat
aground on a low bank at the foot of a cliff of moderate height.


Mrs Barnett and the Lieutenant landed at once. Two or three
Indians, with their chief, wearing gorgeous plumes, hastened to
meet them, and addressed them in fairly intelligible English.

These Hare Indians, like the Copper and Beaver Indians, all
belong to the Chippeway race, and differ but little in customs and
costumes from, their fellow-tribes. They are in constant communica-
tion with the factories, and have become, so to speak, "Britainised"
at least as much so as is possible for savages. They bring
the spoils of the chase to the forts, and there exchange them for
the necessaries of life, which they no longer provide for them-
selves. They are in the pay of the Company, they live upon
it, and it is not surprising that they have lost all originality. To
find a native race as yet uninfluenced by contact with Europeans
we must go to still higher latitudes, to the ice-bound regions
frequented by the Esquimaux, who, like the Greenlanders, are the
true children of Arctic lands.

Mrs Barnett and Jaspar Hobson accompanied the Indians to
their camp, about half a mile from the shore, and found some thirty
natives there, men, women, and children, who supported themselves
by hunting and fishing on the borders of the lake. These Indians
had just come from the northernmost districts of the American
continent, and were able to give the Lieutenant some valuable,
although necessarily incomplete, information on the actual state of
the sea-coast near the seventieth parallel. The Lieutenant heard with
considerable satisfaction that a party of Americans or Europeans
had been seen on the confines of the Polar Sea, and that it was
open at this time of year. About Cape Bathurst, properly so
called, the point for which he intended to make, the Hare
Indians could tell him nothing. Their chief said, however, that the
district between the Gre,at Bear Lake and Cape Bathurst was very
difficult to cross, being hilly and intersected by streams, at this
season of the year free from ice. He advised the Lieutenant to go
down the Coppermine river, from the north-east of the lake, which
would take him to the coast by the shortest route. Once at the
Arctic Ocean, it would be easy to skirt along its shores and to
choose the best spot at which to halt.

Lieutenant Hobson thanked the Indian chief, and took leave after
giving him a few presents. Then accompanied by Mrs Barnett, he
explored the neighbourhood of the camp, not returning to the boat
until nearly three o'clock in the afternoon.

SAVED ! Page 62.



'HE old sailor was impatiently awaiting the return of the
travellers ; for during the last hour the weather had
changed, and the appearance of the sky was calculated to
render any one accustomed to read the signs of the clouds uneasy.
The sun was obscured by a thick mist, the wind had fallen, but an
ominous moaning was heard from the south of the lake. These
symptoms of an approaching change of temperature were developed
with all the rapidity peculiar to these elevated latitudes.

" Let us be off, sir ! let us be off ! " cried old Norman, looking
anxiously at the fog above his head. " Let us start without losing
an instant. There are terrible signs in the air ! "

" Indeed," exclaimed the Lieutenant, " the appearance of the sky
is quite changed, and we never noticed it, Mrs Barnett ! "

" Are you afraid of a storm ? " inquired the lady of old Norman.

"Yes, madam/' replied the old sailor; "and the storms on the
Great Bear Lake are often terrible. The hurricane rages as if
upon the open Atlantic Ocean. This sudden fog bodes us no good ;
but the tempest may hold back for three or four hours, and by that
time we shall be at Fort Confidence. Let us then start without a
moment's delay, for the boat would not be safe near these rocks/'

The Lieutenant, feeling that the old man, accustomed as he was
to navigate these waters, was better able to judge than himself,
decided to follow his advice, and embarked at once with Mrs Barnett

But just as they were pushing off, old Norman, as if possessed by
some sudden presentiment, murmured

" Perhaps it would be better to wait."

Lieutenant Hobson overheard these words, and looked inquiringly
at the old boatman, already seated at the helm. Had he been alone
he would not have hesitated to start, but as Mrs Barnett was with
him caution was necessary. The lady at once saw and understood
his hesitation.


11 Never mind about me, Lieutenant," she said ; " act as if I were
not present. Let us start immediately, as our brave guide suggests,"

" We are off, then," cried Norman, letting go the moorings, " to
the fort by the shortest route."

For about an hour the bark made little head. The sail, scarcely
filled by the fitful breeze, flapped against the mast. The fog became
thicker. The waves began to rise and the boat to rock consider-
ably; for the approaching hurricane affected the water sooner than
the atmosphere itself. The two travellers sat still and silent, whilst
the old sailor peered into the darkness with bloodshot eyes.
Prepared for all contingencies, he awaited the shock of the wind,
ready to pay out rapidly should the attack be very violent. The
conflict of the elements had not, however, as yet commenced ; and all
would have been well if they had been able to advance, but after an
hour's sail they were still only about two hours' distance from the
Indian encampment. A few gusts of wind from the shore drove
them out of their course, and the dense fog rendered it impossible
for them to make out the coast-line. Should the wind settle in
the north it would probably go hard with the light boat, which,
unable to hold its own course, would be drifted out into the lake
no one knew where.

"We are scarcely advancing at all," said the Lieutenant to old

" No, sir," replied Norman ; "the wind is not strong enough to fill
the sail, and if it were, I fear it comes from the wrong quarter. If
so," he added, pointing to the south, " we may see Fort Franklin
before Fort Confidence."

" Well," said Mrs Barnett cheerfully, " our trip will have been
all the more complete. This is a magnificent lake, well worth ex-
ploring from north to south. I suppose, Norman, one might get
back even from Fort Franklin ? "

" Yes, madam, if we ever reach it," replied the old man. " But
tempests lasting fifteen days are by no means rare on this lake ; and
if our bad luck should drive us to the south, it may be a month
before Lieutenant Hobson again sees Fort Confidence."

" Let us be careful, then," said the Lieutenant ; " for such a delay
would hinder our projects very much. Do the best you can under
the circumstances, and if you think it would be prudent, go back
to the north. I don't suppose Mrs Barnett would mind a walk of
twenty or twenty-five miles."


" I should be glad enough to go back to the north. Lieutenant/'
replied Norman, "if it were still possible. But look, the wind
seems likely to settle against us. All I can attempt is to get to the
cape on the north-east, and if it doesn't blow too hard, I hope to

But at about half-past four the storm broke. The shrill whistling
of the wind was heard far above their heads, but the state of the
atmosphere prevented it from as yet descending upon the lake ; this
was, however, only delayed for a brief space of time. The cries of
frightened birds flying through the fog mingled with the noise of
the wind. Suddenly the mist was torn open, and revealed low
jagged masses of rain-cloud chased towards the south. The fears
of the old sailor were realised. The wind blew from the north,
and it was not long before the travellers learned the meaning of a
squall upon the lake.

" Look out ! " cried old Norman, tightening sail so as to get his
boat ahead of the wind, whilst keeping her under control of the

The squall came. It caught the boat upon the flank, and it was
turned over on its side ; but recovering itself, it was flung upon
the crest of a wave. The billows surged as if upon an open sea.
The waters of the lake not being very deep, struck against the
bottom and rebounded to an immense height.

" Help ! help ! " cried old Norman, hurriedly struggling to haul
down his sail.

Mrs Barnett and Jfobson endeavoured to come to his assistance,
but without success, for they knew nothing of the management of
a boat. Norman, unable to leave the helm, and the halliards
being entangled at the top of the mast, could not take in the sail.
Every moment the boat threatened to capsize, and heavy seas broke
over its sides. The sky became blacker and blacker, cold rain mingled
with snow fell in torrents, whilst the squall redoubled its fury, lash-
ing the crests of the waves into foam.

" Cut it ! cut it ! " screamed Norman above the roaring of the

The Lieutenant, his cap blown away and his eyes blinded by the
spray, seized Norman's knife and cut the halliard like a harp-strincr
but the wet cordage no longer acted in the grooves of the pulleys, and
the yard remained attached to the top of the mast.

Norman, totally unable to make head against the wind, now


resolved to tack about for the south, dangerous as it would be to
have the boat before the wind, pursued by waves advancing at
double its speed. Yes, to tack, although this course would probably
bring them all to the southern shores of the lake, far away from
their destination.

The Lieutenant and his brave companion were well aware of the
danger which threatened them. The frail boat could not long resist
the blows of the waves, it would either be crushed or capsized; the
lives of those within it were in the hands of God.

But neither yielded to despair; clinging to the sides of the boat, wet
to the skin, chilled to the bone by the cutting blast, they strove to
gaze through the thick mist and fog. All trace of the land had dis-
appeared, and so great was the obscurity that at a cable's length from
the boat clouds and waves could not be distinguished from each
other. Now and then the two travellers looked inquiringly into old
Norman's face, who, with teeth set and hands clutching the tiller,
tried to keep his boat as much as possible under wind.

But the violence of the squall became such that the boat could
not long maintain this course. The waves which struck its bow
would soon have inevitably crushed it ; the front planks were
already beginning to separate, and when its whole weight was
flung into the hollows of the waves it seemed as if it could rise no

" We must tack, we must tack, whatever happens ! " murmured
the old sailor.

And pushing the tiller and paying out sail, he turned the head of
the boat to the south. The sail, stretched to the utmost, brought the
boat round with giddy rapidity, and the immense waves, chased by
the wind, threatened to engulf the little bark. This was the
great danger of shifting with the wind right aft. The billows
hurled themselves in rapid succession upon the boat, which could
not evade them. It filled rapidly, and the water had to be baled
out without a moment's pause, or it must have foundered. As they
got nearer and nearer to the middle of the lake the waves became
rougher. Nothing there broke the fury of the wind ; no clumps of
trees, no hills, checked for a moment the headlong course of the hur-
ricane. Now and then momentary glimpses were obtained through
the fog of icebergs dancing like buoys upon the waves, and driven
towards the south of the lake.

It was half past five. Neither Norman nor the Lieutenant had



any idea of where they were, or whither they were going. They
had lost all control over the boat, and were at the mercy of the
winds and waves.

And now at about a hundred feet behind the boat a huge wave
upreared its foam-crowned crest, whilst in front a black whirlpool
was formed by the sudden sinking of the water. All surface agita-
tion, crushed by the wind, had disappeared around this awful gulf,
which, growing deeper and blacker every moment, drew the devoted
little vessel towards its fatal embrace. Ever nearer came the
mighty wave, all lesser billows sinking into insignificance before it.
It gained upon the boat, another moment and it would crush it to
atoms. Norman, looking round, saw its approach; and Mrs Barnett
and the Lieutenant, with eyes fixed and staring, awaited in fearful
suspense the blow from which there was no escape. The wave
broke over them with the noise of thunder ; it enveloped the stern
of the boat in foam, a fearful crash was heard, and a cry burst from
the lips of the Lieutenant and his companion, smothered beneath the
liquid mass.

They thought that all was over, and that the boat had sunk; but
no, it rose once more, although more than half filled with water.

The Lieutenant uttered a cry of despair. Where was Norman ?
The poor old sailor had disappeared !

Mrs Paulina Barnett looked inquiringly at Hobson.

" Norman ! " he repeated, pointing to his empty place.

" Unhappy man ! " murmured Mrs Barnett ; and at the risk of
being flung from the boat rocking on the waves, the two started to
their feet and looked around them. But they could see and hear
nothing. No cry for help broke upon their ears. No dead body
floated in the white foam. The old sailor had met his death in the
element he loved so well.

Mrs Barnett and Hobson sank back upon their seats. They were
now alone, and must see to their own safety ; but neither of them
knew anything of the management of a boat, and even an experi-
enced hand could scarcely have controlled it now. They were at the
mercy of the waves, and the bark, with distended sail, swept along
in mad career. What could the Lieutenant do to check or direct its
course ?

What a terrible situation for our travellers, to be thus overtaken
by a tempest in a frail bark which they could not manage !

" We are lost ! " said the Lieutenant.


"No, Lieutenant," replied Mrs Barnett ; "let us make another
effort. Heaven helps those who help themselves ! "

Lieutenant Hobson now for the first time realised with how in-
trepid a woman fate had thrown him.

The first thing to be done was to get rid of the water which
weighed down the boat. Another wave shipped would have filled
it in a moment, and it must have sunk at once. The vessel light-
ened, it would have a better chance of rising on the waves ; and the
two set to work to bale out the water. This was no easy task ; for
fresh waves constantly broke over them, and the scoop could not be
laid aside for an instant. Mrs Barnett was indefatigable, and the
Lieutenant, leaving the baling to her, took the helm himself, and
did the best he could to guide the boat with the wind right aft.

To add to the danger, night, or rather darkness, for in these lati-
tudes night only lasts a few hours at this time of year, fell upon
them. Scarce a ray of light penetrated through the heavy clouds
and fog. They could not see two yards before them, and the boat
must have been dashed to pieces had it struck a floating iceberg.
This danger was indeed imminent, for the loose ice-masses advance
with such rapidity that it is impossible to get out of their way.

" You have no control over the helm ? " said Mrs Barnett in a
slight lull of the storm.

" No, madam," he replied ; " and you must prepare for the worst."

" I am ready ! " replied the courageous woman simply.

As she spoke a loud ripping sound was heard. The sail, torn
away by the wind, disappeared like a white cloud. The boat sped
rapidly along for a few instants, and then stopped suddenly, the
waves buffeting it about like an abandoned wreck. Mrs Barnett
and Hobson, flung to the bottom of the boat, bruised, shaken, and
torn, felt that all was lost. Not a shred of canvas was left to aid in
navigating the craft ; and what with the spray, the snow, and the
rain, they could scarcely see each other, whilst the uproar drowned
their voices. Expecting every moment to perish, they remained
for an hour in painful suspense, commending themselves to God,
who alone could save them.

Neither of them could have said how long they waited when they
were aroused by a violent shock.

The boat had just struck an enormous iceberg, a floating block
with rugged, slippery sides, to which it would be impossible to cling.


At this sudden blow, which could not have been parried, the bow
of the boat was split open, and the water poured into it in torrents.

" We are sinking ! we are sinking ! " cried Jaspar Hobson.

He was right. The boat was settling down ; the water had already
reached the seats.

" Madam, madam, I am here ! I will not leave you ! " added the

"No, no," cried Mrs Barnett : "alone, you may save yourself;
together, w*e should perish. Leave me ! leave me ! "

" Never ! " cried Hobson.

But he had scarcely pronounced this word when the boat, struck
by another wave, filled and sank.

Both were drawn under water by the eddy caused by the sudden
settling down of the boat, but in a few instants they rose to the
surface. Hobson was a strong swimmer, and struck out with one
arm, supporting his companion with the other. But it was evident
that he could not long sustain a conflict with the furious waves, and
that he must perish with her he wished to save.

At this moment a strange sound attracted his attention. It was
not the cry of a frightened bird, but the shout of a human voice !
By one supreme effort Hobson raised himself above the waves and
looked around him.

But he could distinguish nothing in the thick fog. And yet he
again heard cries, this time nearer to him. Some bold men were
coming to his succour ! Alas ! if it were so, they would arrive too
late. Encumbered by his clothes, the Lieutenant felt himself sink-
ing with the unfortunate lady, whose head he could scarcely keep
above the water. With a last despairing effort he uttered a heart-
rending cry and disappeared beneath the waves.

It was, however, no mistake he had heard voices. Three men,
wandering about by the lake, had seen the bout in danger, and put
off to its rescue They were Esquimaux, the only men who could
have hoped to weather such a storm, for theirs are the only boats
constructed to escape destruction in these fearful tempests.

The Esquimaux boat or kayak is a long pirogue raised at each
end, made of a light framework of wood, covered with stretched
seal-skins strongly stitched with the sinews of the Walrus. In
the upper part of the boat, also covered with skins, is an opening
in which the Esquimaux takes his place, fastening his waterproof
jacket to the back of his seat ; so that he is actually joined to his bark.


which not a drop of water can penetrate. This light, easily-managed
kayak, floating, as it does, on the crests of the waves, can never be
submerged; and if it be sometimes capsized, a blow of the paddle
rights it again directly ; so that it is able to live and make way in
seas in which any other boat would certainly be dashed to pieces.

The three Esquimaux, guided by the Lieutenant's last despairing
cry, arrived at the scene of the wreck just in time. Hobson and Mrs
Barnett, already half drowned, felt themselves drawn up by power-
ful hands ; but in the darkness they were . unable to discover who
were their deliverers. One of the men took the Lieutenant and
laid him across his own boat, another did the same for Mrs Barnett,
and the three kayaks, skilfully managed with the paddles, six feet
long, sped rapidly over the white foam.

Half an hour afterwards, the shipwrecked travellers were lying
on the sandy beach three miles above Fort Providence.

The old sailor alone was missing !




JT was about ten o'clock the same night when Mrs Barnett
and Lieutenant Hobson knocked at the postern gate of the
fort. Great was the joy on seeing them, for they had been
given up for lost ; but this joy was turned to mourning at the news
of the death of Norman. The brave fellow had been beloved by
all, and his loss was sincerely mourned. The intrepid and devoted
Esquimaux received phlegmatically the earnest expressions of
gratitude of those they had saved, and could not be persuaded to
come to the fort. What they had done seemed to them only
natural, and these were not the first persons they had rescued ; so
they quietly returned to their wild life of adventure on the lake,
where they hunted the otters and water-birds day and night.

For the next three nights the party rested. Hobson always
intended to set out on June 2d ; and on that day, all having
recovered from their fatigues and the storm havirg abated, the
order was given to start.

Sergeant Felton had done all in his power to make his guests
comfortable and to aid their enterprise ; some of the jaded dogs
were replaced by fresh animals, and now the Lieutenant found all
his sledges drawn up in good order at the door of the enceinte,
and awaiting the travellers.

The adieux were soon over. Each one thanked Sergeant Felton
for his hospitality, and Mrs Paulina Barnett was most profuse in
her expressions of gratitude. A hearty shake of the hand between
the Sergeant and his brother-in-law, Long, completed the leave-

Each pair got into the sledge assigned to them ; but this time
Mrs Barnett and the Lieutenant shared one vehicle, Madge and
Sergeant Long following them.

According to the advice of the Indian chief, Hobson determined
to get to the coast by the shortest route, and to take a north-easterly


direction. After consulting his map, which merely gave a rough
outline of the configuration of the country, it seemed best to him
to descend the valley of the Coppermine, a large river which flows
into Coronation Gulf.

The distance between Fort Confidence and the mouth of this
river is only a degree and a half that is to say, about eighty-five or
ninety miles. The deep hollow formed by the gulf is bounded on
the north by Cape Krusenstein, and from it the coast juts out
towards the north-west, ending in Cape Bathurst, which is above
the seventieth parallel.

The Lieutenant, therefore, now changed the route he had hitherto
followed, directing his course to the east, so as to reach the river in
a few hours.

Online LibraryJules VerneThe fur country; or, Seventy degrees north latitude → online text (page 6 of 31)