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The fur country; or, Seventy degrees north latitude online

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arrangement of these impressions. They were evidently made by a
human foot, a shod foot ; but, strange to say, the ball alone appeared
to have touched the ground ! The marks were very numerous,
close together, often crossing one another, but confined to a very
small circle.

Jaspar Hobson called the attention of the rest of the party to
this singular circumstance.

"These were not made by a person walking," he said.

" Nor by a person jumping," added Mrs Barnett ; " for there is
no mark of a heel."

" No," said Mrs Joliffe ; " these footprints were left by a dancer."



She was right, as further examination proved. They were the
marks left by a dancer, and a dancer engaged in some light and
graceful exercise, for they were neither clumsy nor deep.

But who could the light-hearted individual be who had been
impelled to dance in this sprightly fashion some degrees above the
Arctic Circle?

" It was certainly not an Esquimaux," said the Lieutenant.

" Nor an Indian," cried Corporal Joliffe.

" No, it was a Frenchman/' said Sergeant Long quietly.

And all agreed that none but a Frenchman could have been
capable of dancing on such a spot !



ERGEANT LONG'S assertion must appear to have been
founded on insufficient evidence. That there had been
dancing no one could deny, but that the dancer was a
Frenchman, however probable, could not be considered proved.

However, the Lieutenant shared the opinion of his subordinate,
which did not appear too positive to any of the party, who all
agreed in feeling sure that some travellers, with at least one
compatriot of Vestris amongst them, had recently encamped on
this spot.

Of course Lieutenant Hobson was by no means pleased at this :
he was afraid of having been preceded by rivals in the north-western
districts of English America ; and secret as the Company had kept
its scheme, it had doubtless been divulged in the commercial centres
of Canada and the United States.

The Lieutenant resumed his interrupted march ; but he was full
of care and anxiety, although he would not now have dreamed of
retracing his steps.

" Frenchmen are then sometimes met with in these high lati-
tudes 1" was Mrs Barnett's natural question after this incident.

" Yes, madam," replied the Lieutenant ; " or if not exactly
Frenchmen, the descendants of the masters of Canada when it
belonged to France, which comes to much the same thing. These
men are in fact our most formidable rivals."

" But I thought," resumed Mrs Barnett, " that after the absorp-
tion by the Hudson's Bay Company of the old North -West
Company, that it had no longer any rivals on the American

" Although there is no longer any important association for
trading in furs except our own, there are a good many perfectly
independent private companies, mostly American, which have
retained French agents or their descendants in their employ."

" I promise you, double pay.'' Page 82.


" Are these agents then held in such high esteem ? " asked Mrs

" Yes, madam, and with good reason. During the ninety-four
years of French supremacy in Canada, French agents always proved
themselves superior to ours. We must be just even to our

" Especially to our rivals," added Mrs Barnett.

" Yes, especially. . . At that time French hunters, starting from
Montreal, their headquarters, pressed on to the north with greater
hardihood than any others. They lived for years with the Indian
tribes, sometimes intermarrying with them. The natives called them
the ' Canadian travellers,' and were on the most intimate terms
with them. They were bold, clever fellows, expert at navigating
streams, light-hearted and merry, adapting themselves to circum-
stances with the easy flexibility of their race, and always ready to
sing or dance."

" And do you suppose that hunting is the only object of the
party whose traces we have just discovered ? "

" I don't think any other hypotheses at all likely," replied
Hobson. " They are sure to be seeking new hunting grounds. But
as we cannot possibly stop them, we must make haste to begin our
own operations, and compete boldly with all rivals."

Lieutenant Hobson was now prepared for the competition he
could not prevent, and he urged on the march of his party as much
as possible, hoping that his rivals might not follow him beyond
the seventieth parallel.

The expedition now descended towards the south for some twenty
miles, in order the more easily to pass round Franklin Bay. The
country was still covered with verdure, and the quadrupeds and
birds already enumerated were as plentiful as ever ; so that they
could reasonably hope that the whole of the north-western coasts
of the American continent were populated in the same manner.

The ocean which bathed these shores stretched away as far as
the eye could reach. Recent atlases give no land beyond the north
American coast-line, and it is only the icebergs which impede the
free navigation of the open sea from Behring Strait to- the Pole

On the 4th July the travellers skirted round another deep bay
called Washburn Bay, and reached the furthest point of a little
lake, until then imperfectly known, covering but a small extent of


territory, scarcely two square miles in fact it was rather a lagoon,
or large pond of sweet water, than a lake.

The sledges went on easily and rapidly, and the appearance of
the country was most encouraging to the explorers. It seemed
that the extremity of Cape Bathurst would be a most favourable
site for the new fort, as with this lagoon behind them, and the sea
open for four or five months in the warm season, and giving access
to the great highway of Behring Strait, before them, it would be
easy for the exiles to lay in fresh provisions and to export their

On the 5th June, about three o'clock in the afternoon, the party
at last halted at the extremity of Cape Bathurst. It remained to
ascertain the exact position of this cape, which the maps place
above the seventieth parallel. It was, however, impossible to rely
upon the marine surveys of the coast, as they had never yet been
made with exactitude. Jaspar Hobson decided to wait and ascertain
the latitude and longitude.

" What prevents us from settling here ? " asked Corporal Joliffe.
" You will own, Lieutenant, that it is a very inviting spot."

" It will seem more inviting still if you get double pay here, my
worthy Corporal," replied Hobson.

" No doubt," said Joliffe ; " and the orders of the Company must
be obeyed."

" Then wait patiently till to-morrow," added Hobson ; " and if we
find that Cape Bathurst is really beyond 70 north latitude, we
will pitch our tent here."

The site was indeed admirably suited for the foundation of a
new settlement. The wooded heights surrounding the lagoon would
supply plenty of pine, birch, and other woods for the construction
of the fort, and for stocking it with fuel. The Lieutenant and
some of his, companions went to the very edge of the cape, and
found that towards the west the coast-line formed a lengthened
curve, beyond which icebergs of a considerable height shut out the
view. The water of the lagoon, instead of being brackish, as they
expected from its close vicinity to the sea, was perfectly sweet ;
but had it not been so, drinkable water would not have failed the
little colony, as a fresh and limpid stream ran a few yards to the
south-east of Cape Bathurst, and emptied itself into the Arctic Ocean
through a narrow inlet, which, protected by a singular accumula-
tion of sand and earth instead of by rocks, would have afforded a


refuge to several vessels from the winds of the offing, and miaht be
turned to account for the anchorage of the ships which it was hoped
would come to the new settlement from Behring Strait Out of
co m ph m ent to the lady of the party, and muc! to he'r deKgh?

the stream pauiina

By buiWing the fort a little behind the actual cape, the principal
house and the magazines would be quite sheltered from the coldest
The elevabon of the cape would help to protect them
from the snow-drifts which sometimes completely burj large build
ings beneath their heavy avalanches in a few hours There was
plenty of room between the foot of the promontory and the bank of
the lagoon for all the constructions necessary to a fort. It could
even be surrounded by palisades, which would break the shock of

redVt f t j, * "^ itSdf m!ght be ""ded with a fortified

redoubt, if the ncimty of rivals should render such a purely defer,
sive erection necessary and the Lieutenant, although with no ideTof
commencmg anything of the kind as yet, naturally rejoiceTa
havmg met with an easily defensible position.

The weather remained fine, and it was quite warm enough. There
was not a cloud upon the skv hnt * -

H ,, '

and tomd zones could not be expected here and the
atmosphere was generally charged with a light mist Wnat would
Cape Bathurst be like in the long winter night of four months u
he ice-mountains became fi xed and rigid, and the hoarse northed
swept down upon the icebergs in all its fury 1 None of the party

tlntVf to tha vr now ; for the we ^ ther w

whtt he aPe r ' '^ tbe WaV6S 8ParMed "
the temperature remained warm and pleasant

A provisional camp, the sledges forming its only


-'.'"i''-^.?""-,',' "" :"""' "i" a. .

ss ^^fcssss?- 2


"Ah, Mr Black!" cried Hobson, "the finest countries in the
world are to be found here, and I am impatient to ascertain our
latitude and longitude."

" Especially the latitude," said the astronomer, whose eclipse was
never out of his thoughts ; " and I expect your brave companions are
as eager as yourself. Double pay beyond the seventieth parallel ! "

" But, Mr Black," said Mrs Barnett, " do you not yourself take an
interest, a purely scientific interest, in getting beyond that parallel t \ "

" Of course, madam, of course I am anxious to get beyond it,
but not so terribly eager. According to our calculations, however,
made with absolute accuracy, the solar eclipse which I am ordered to
watch will only be total to an observer placed beyond the seventieth
degree, and on this account I share the Lieutenant's impatience to
determine the position of Cape Bathurst."

"But I understand, Mr Black," said Mrs Barnett, "that this
solar eclipse will not take place until the 18th July I860?"

"Yes, madam, on the 18th July 1860."

"And it is now only the 15th June 1859 ! So that the pheno-
menon will not be visible for more than a year ! "

" I am quite aware of it, Mrs Barnett," replied the astronomer ;
"but if I had not started till next year I should have run a risk
of being too late."

" You would, Mr Black," said Hobson, " and you did well to start
a year beforehand. You are now quite sure not to miss your eclipse.
I own that our journey from Fort Reliance has been accom-
plished under exceptionally favourable circumstances. We have
had little fatigue and few delays. To tell you the truth, I did not
expect to get to this part of the coast until the middle of August ;
and if the eclipse had been expected this year, instead of next, you
really might have been too late. Moreover, we do not yet know
if \ve are beyond the seventieth parallel."

" I do not in the least regret the journey I have taken in your
company, Lieutenant, and I shall patiently wait until next year for
my eclipse The fair Phoebe, I fancy, is a sufficiently grand lady to
be waited for."

The next day, July 6th, a little after noon, Hobson and the astro-
nomer made their preparations for taking the exact bearings of Cape
Bathurst. The sun shone clearly enough for them to take the out-
lines exactly. At this season of the year, too, it had reached its
maximum height above the horizon ; and consequently its culmina-



tion, on its transit across the meridian, would facilitate the work
of the two observers.

Already the night before, and the same morning, by taking differ-
ent altitudes, and by means of a calculation of right ascensions, the
.Lieutenant and the astronomer had ascertained the longitude with
great accuracy. But it was about the latitude that Hobson was
most anxious ; for what would the meridian of Cape Bathurst
matter to him should it not be situated beyond the seventieth
parallel ?

Noon approached. The men of the expedition gathered round
the observers with their sextants ready in their hands. The brave
fellows awaited the result of the observation with an impatience
which will be readily understood. It was now to be decided
whether they had come to the end of their journey, or whether they
must search still farther for a spot fulfilling the conditions imposed
by the Company.

Probably no good result would have followed upon further explora-
tions According to the maps of North America imperfect, it is
true the western coast beyond Cape Bathurst sloped down below
the seventieth parallel, not again rising above it until it entered
Bussian America, where the English had as yet no right to settle ;
so that Hobson had shown considerable judgment in directing his
course to Cape Bathurst after a thorough examination of the maps
of these northern regions. This promontory is, in fact, the only one
which juts out beyond the seventieth parallel along the whole of
the North American continent, properly so called that is to say, in
English America. It remained to be proved that it really occupied
the position assigned to it in maps.

At this moment the sun was approaching the culminating-point
of its course, and the two observers pointed the telescopes of their
sextants upon it. By means of inclined mirrors attached to the
instruments, the sun ought apparently to go back to the horizon
itself; and the moment when it seemed to touch it with the lower
side of its disc would be precisely that at which it would occupy
the highest point of the diurnal arc, and consequently the exact
moment when it would pass the meridian in other words, it would
be noon at the place where the observation was taken.

All watched in anxious silence.

" Noon ! " cried Jaspar Hobson and the astronomer at once.

The telescopes were immediately lowered. The Lieutenant and


Thomas Black read on the graduated limbs the value of the angles
they had just obtained, and at once proceeded to note down their
observations. %

A few minutes afterwards, Lieutenant Hobson rose and said,
addressing his companions

"My friends, from this date, July 6th, I promise you double pay
in the name of the Hudson's Bay Company ! "

" Hurrah ! hurrah ! hurrah for the Company ! " shouted the
worthy companions of the Lieutenant with one voice.

Cape Bathurst and its immediate neighbourhood were in very
truth above the seventieth degree of north latitude.

We give the result of these simultaneous observations, which
agreed to a second.

Longitude, 127 36' 12" west of the meridian of Greenwich.

Latitude, 70 44' 37" north.

And that very evening these hardy pioneers, encamped so far
from the inhabited world, watched the mighty luminary of day touch,
the edges of the western horizon without dipping beneath it.

For the first time they saw the shining of the midnight sun.




|vHE site of the new fort was now finally determined on. It
would be impossible to find a better situation than on the
level ground behind Cape Bathurst, on the eastern bank of
the lagoon. Hobson determined to commence the construction of the
principal house at once. Meanwhile all must accommodate them-
selves as best they could ; and the sledges were ingeniously utilised
to form a provisional encampment.

His men being very skilful, the Lieutenant hoped to have the
principal house ready in a month. It was to be large enough to
accommodate for a time the nineteen persons of the party. Later,
and before the excessive cold set in, if there should be time, the
barracks for the soldiers and the magazines for the furs and skins
were to be built. There was not much chance of getting it all done
before the end of September; and after that date, the winter, with its
first bitter frosts and long nights, would arrest all further progress.

Of the ten soldiers chosen by Captain Craventy, two Marbre and
Sabine were skilful hunters ; the other eight handled the hatchet
with as much address as the musket. Like sailors, they could turn
their hands to anything, and were now to be treated more like work-
men than soldiers, for they were to build a fort which there was as
yet no enemy to attack. Petersen, Belcher, Rae, Garry, Pond, Hope,
and Kellet formed a body of clever, zealous carpenters, under the
able superintendence of Mac-Nab, a Scotchman from Stirling, who
had had considerable experience in the building both of houses and
boats. The men were well provided with tools hatchets, centre-
bits, adzes, planes, hand-saws, mallets, hammers, chisels, &c. &c. Rae
was most skilful at blacksmith's work, and with the aid of a little
portable forge he was able to make all the pins, tenons, bolts, nails,
screws, nuts, &c., required in carpentry. They had no mason in the
party; but none was wanted, as all the buildings of the factories in
the north are of wood. Fortunately there were plenty of trees about


Cape Bathurst, although, as Hobson had already remarked to Mrs
Barnett, there was not a rock, a stone, not even a flint or a pebble,
to be seen. The shore was strewn with innumerable quantities of
bivalve shells broken by the surf, and with seaweed or zoophytes,
mostly sea-urchins and asteriadse ; but the soil consisted entirely of
earth and sand, without a morsel of silica or broken granite; and the
cape itself was but an accumulation of soft earth, the particles of
which were scarcely held together by the vegetation with which it
was clothed.

In the afternoon of the same day, July 6th, Hobson and Mac-Nab
the carpenter went to choose the site of the principal house on the
plateau at the foot of Cape Bathurst. From this point the view
embraced the lagoon and the western districts to a distance of ten
or twelve miles. On the right, about four miles off, towered icebergs
of a considerable height, partly draped in mist ; whilst on the left
stretched apparently boundless plains, vast steppes which it would
be impossible to distinguish from the frozen surface of the lagoon
or from the sea itself in the winter.

The spot chosen, Hobson and Mac-Nab set out the outer walls of
the house with the line. This outline formed a rectangle measur-
ing sixty feet on the larger side, and thirty on the smaller. The
facade of the house would therefore have a length of sixty feet :
it was to have a door and three windows on the side of the
promontory, where the inner court was to be situated, and four
windows on the side of the lagoon. The door was to open at the
left corner, instead of in the middle, of the back of the house, for
the sake of warmth. This arrangement would impede the entrance
of the outer air to the further rooms, and add considerably to the
comfort of the inmates of the fort.

According to the simple plan agreed upon by the Lieutenant and
his master-carpenter, there were to be four compartments in the
house : the first to be an antechamber with a double door to keep
out the wind ; the second to serve as a kitchen, that the cooking,
which would generate damp, might be all done quite away from
the living-rooms ; the third, a large hall, where the daily meals were
to be served in common ; and the fourth, to be divided into several
cabins, like the state-rooms on board ship.

The soldiers were to occupy the dining-hall provisionally, and a
kind of camp-bed was arranged for them at the. end of the room.
The Lieutenant, Mrs Barnett, Thomas Black, Madge, Mrs Joliffe, Mrs


Mac-Nab, and Mrs Rae were to lodge in the cabins of the fourth
compartment. They would certainly be packed pretty closely ; but
it was only a temporary state of things, and when the barracks were
. constructed, the principal house would be reserved to the officer in
command, his sergeant, Thomas Black, Mrs Barnett, and her faith-
ful Madge, who never left her. Then the fourth compartment
might perhaps be divided into three cabins, instead of four ; for to
avoid corners as much as possible is a rule which should never be
forgotten by those who winter in high latitudes. Nooks and corners
are, in fact, so many receptacles of ice. The partitions impede the
ventilation; and the moisture, generated in the air, freezes readily,
and makes the atmosphere of the rooms unhealthy, causing grave
maladies to those who sleep in them.

On this account many navigators who have to winter in the
midst of ice have one large room in the centre of their vessel, which
is shared by officers and sailors in common. For obvious reasons,
however, Hobson could not adopt this plan.

From the preceding description we shall have seen that the future
house was to consist merely of a ground-floor. The roof was to be
high, and its sides to slope considerably, so that water could easily
run off them. The snow would, however, settle upon them ; and
when once they were covered with it, the house would be, so to
speak, hermetically closed, and the inside temperature would be
kept at the same mean height. Snow is, in fact, a very bad con-
ductor of beat : it prevents it from entering, it is true ; but, what
is more important in an Arctic winter, it also keeps it from getting

The carpenter was to build two chimneys one above the kitchen,
the other in connection with the stove of the large dining-room,
which was to heat it and the compartment containing the cabins.
The architectural effect of the whole would certainly be poor ; but
the house would be as comfortable as possible, and what more could
any one desire 1

Certainly an artist who had once seen it would not soon forget
this winter residence, set down in the gloomy Arctic twilight in the
midst of snow-drifts, half hidden by icicles, draped in white from
roof to foundation, its walls encrusted with snow, and the smoke
from its fires assuming strangely-contorted forms in the wind.

But now to tell of the actual construction of this house, as yet
existing only in imagination. This, of course, was the business of


Mac-Nab and his men ; and while the carpenters were at work,
the foraging party to whom the commissariat was entrusted would
not be idle. There was plenty for every one to do.

The first step was to choose suitable timber, and a species of
Scotch fir was decided on, which grew conveniently upon the neigh-
bouring hills, and seemed altogether well adapted to the multifarious
uses to which it would be put. For in the rough and ready style of
habitation which they were planning, there could be no variety of
material; and every part of the house outside and inside walls,
flooring, ceiling, partitions, rafters, ridges, framework, and tiling
would have to be contrived of planks, beams, and timbers. As may
readily be supposed, finished workmanship was not necessary for
such a description of building, and Mac-Nab was able to proceed
very rapidly without endangering the safety of the building.
About a hundred of these firs were chosen and felled they were
neither barked nor squared and formed so many timbers, averag-
ing some twenty feet in length. The axe and the chisel did not
touch them except at the ends, in order to form the tenons and
mortises by which they were to be secured to one another. Very
few days sufficed to complete this part of the work, and the
timbers were brought down by the dogs to the site fixed on for
the principal building. To start with, the site had been carefully
levelled. The soil, a mixture of fine earth and sand, had been
beaten and consolidated with heavy blows. The brushwood with
which it was originally covered was burnt, and the thick layer of
ashes thus produced would prevent the damp from penetrating the
floors. A clean and dry foundation having been thus secured on
which to lay the first joists, upright posts were fixed at each corner
of the site, and at the extremities of the inside walls, to form
the skeleton of the building. The posts were sunk to a depth of
some feet in the ground, after their ends had been hardened in the
fire ; and were slightly hollowed at each side to receive the cross-

Online LibraryJules VerneThe fur country; or, Seventy degrees north latitude → online text (page 8 of 31)