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The fur country; or, Seventy degrees north latitude online

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beams of the outer wall, between which the openings for the doors
and windows had been arranged for. These posts were held
together at the top by horizontal beams well let into the mortises,
and consolidating the whole building. On these horizontal beams,
which represented the architraves of the two fronts, rested the high
trusses of the roof, which overhung the walls like the eaves of
a chalet. Above this squared architrave were laid the joists
of the ceiling, and those of the floor upon the layer of ashes.



The timbers, both in the inside and outside walls, were only
laid side by side. To insure their being properly joined,
Rae the. blacksmith drove strong iron bolts through them at inter-
vals; and when even this contrivance proved insufficient to close the
interstices as hermetically as was necessary, Mac-Nab had recourse to
calking, a process which seamen find invaluable in rendering vessels
water-tight ; only as a substitute for tow he used a sort of dry moss,
with which the eastern side of the cape was covered, driving it into
the crevices with calking-irons and a hammer, filling up each hollow
with layers of hot tar, obtained without difficulty from the pine-trees,
and thus making the walls and boarding impervious to the rain and
damp of the winter season.

The door and windows in the two fronts were roughly but
strongly built, and the small panes of the latter glazed with isinglass,
which, though rough, yellow, and almost opaque, was yet the best
substitute for glass which the resources of the country afforded ; and
its imperfections really mattered little, as the windows were sure to
be always open in fine weather ; while during the long night of the
Arctic winter they would be useless, and have to be kept closed and
defended by heavy shutters with strong bolts against the violence of the
gales. Meanwhile the house was being quickly fitted up inside. By
means of a double door between the outer and inner halls, a too sudden
change of temperature was avoided, and the wind was prevented
from blowing with unbroken force into the rooms. The air-pumps,
brought from Fort Keliance, were so fixed as to let in fresh air
whenever excessive cold prevented the opening of doors or windows
one being made to eject the impure air from within, the other to
renew the supply ; for the Lieutenant had given his whole mind to
this important matter.

The principal cooking utensil was a large iron furnace, which had
been brought piecemeal from Fort Reliance, and which the carpenter
put up without any difficulty. The chimneys for the kitchen and
hall, however, seemed likely to tax the ingenuity of the workmen to
the utmost, as no material within their reach was strong enough for
the purpose, and stone, as we have said before, was nowhere to be
found in the country around Cape Bathurst.

The difficulty appeared insurmountable, when the invincible
Lieutenant suggested that they should utilise the shells with which
the shore was strewed.

" Make chimneys of shells ! " cried the carpenter.


" Yes, Mac-Nab," replied Hobson ; " we must collect the shells,
grind them, burn them, and make them into lime, then mould the
lime into bricks, and use them in the same way."

" Let us try the shells, by all means," replied the carpenter ; and
so the idea was put in practice at once, and many tons collected of
calcareous shells identical with those found in the lowest stratum
of the Tertiary formations.

A furnace was constructed for the decomposition of the carbonate
which is so large an ingredient of these shells, and thus the lime
required was obtained in the space of a few hours. It would
perhaps be too much to say that the substance thus made was as
entirely satisfactory as if it had gone through all the usual processes ;
but it answered its purpose, and strong conical chimneys soon
adorned the roof, to the great satisfaction of Mrs Paulina Barnett,
who congratulated the originator of the scheme warmly on its
success, only adding laughingly, that she hoped the chimneys would
not smoke.

" Of course they will smoke, madam," replied Hobson coolly ; " all
chimneys do ! "

All this was finished within a month, and on the 6th of August
they were to take possession of the new house.

While Mac-Nab and his men were working so hard, the foraging
party, with the Lieutenant at its head, had been exploring the
environs of Cape Bathurst, and satisfied themselves that there
would be no difficulty in supplying the Company's demands for fur
and feathers, so soon as they could set about hunting in earnest.
In the meantime they prepared the way for future sport, content-
ing themselves for the present with the capture of a few couples of
reindeer, which they intended to domesticate for the sake of their
milk and their young. They were kept in a paddock about fifty
yards from the house, and entrusted to the care of Mac-Nab's wife,
an Indian woman, well qualified to take charge of them.

The care of the household fell to Mrs Paulina Barnett, and this
good woman, with Madge's help, was invaluable in providing for all
the small wants, which would inevitably have escaped the notice of
the men.

After scouring the country within a radius of several miles, the
Lieutenant notified, as the result of his observations, that the terri-
tory on which they had established themselves, and to which he
gave the name of Victoria Land, was a large peninsula about one


hundred and fifty square miles in extent, with very -clearly-defined
boundaries, connected with the American continent by an isthmus,
extending from the lower end of Washburn Bay on the east, as far
as the corresponding slope on the opposite coast. The Lieutenant
next proceeded to ascertain what were the resources of the lake and
river, and found great reason to be satisfied with the result of his
examination. The shallow waters of the lake teemed with trout,
pike, and other available fresh-water fish ; and the little river was
a favourite resort of salmon and shoals of whitebait and smelts.
The supply of sea-fish was not so good; and though many a grampus
and whale passed by in the offing, the latter probably flying from
the harpoons of the Behring Strait fishermen, there were no means
of capturing them, unless one by chance happened to get stranded
on the coast; nor would Hobson allow any of the seals which
abounded on the western shore to be taken until a satisfactory
conclusion should be arrived at as to how to use them to the best

The colonists now considered themselves fairly installed in their
new abode, and after due deliberation unanimously agreed to bestow
upon the settlement the name of Fort Good Hope.

Alas ! the auspicious title was never to be inscribed upon a map.
The undertaking, begun so bravely and with such prospects of success,
was destined never, to be carried out, and another disaster would
have to be added to the long list of failures in Arctic enterprise.


'T did not take long to furnish the new abode. A camp-bed
TO was set U P * n *ke hall, an( * *ke carpenter Mac-Nab con-
structed a most substantial table, around which were
ranged fixed benches. A few movable scats and two enormous
presses completed the furniture of this apartment. The inner
room, which was also ready, was divided by solid partitions into six
dormitories, the two end ones alone being lighted by windows
looking to the front and back. The only furniture was a bed and
a table. Mrs Paulina Barnett and Madge were installed in one
which looked immediately out upon the lake. Hobson offered
the other with the window in it to Thomas Black, and the astro-
nomer took immediate possession of it. The Lieutenant's own room
was a dark cell adjoining the hall, with no window but a bull's eye
pierced through the partition. Mrs Joliffe, Mrs Mac-Nab, and Mrs
Rae, with their husbands, occupied the other dormitories. These
good people agreed so well together that it would have been a
pity to separate them. Moreover, an addition was expected shortly
to the little colony ; and Mac-Nab had already gone so far
as to secure the services of Mrs Barnett as god -mother, an
honour which gave the good woman much satisfaction. The sledges
had been entirely unloaded, and the bedding carried into the
different rooms. All utensils, stores, and provisions which were not
required for immediate use were stowed away in a garret, to which
a ladder gave access. The winter clothing such as boots, overcoats,
furs, and skins~-were also taken there, and protected from the damp
in large chests. As soon as these arrangements were completed,
the Lieutenant began to provide for the heating of the house.

Knowing that the most energetic measures were necessary to
combat the severity of the Arctic winter, and that during the weeks
of intensest cold there would be no possibility of leaving the house
to forage for supplies, he ordered a quantity of fuel to be brought



from the wooded hills in the neighbourhood, and took care to
obtain a plentiful store of oil from the seals which abounded on the

In obedience to his orders, and under his directions, the house was
provided with a condensing apparatus which would receive the
internal moisture, and was so constructed that the ice which would
form in it could easily be removed.

This question of heating was a very serious one to the Lieutenant.

" I am a native of the Polar regions, madam," he often said to
Mrs Barnett ; " I have some experience in these matters, and
I have read over and over again books written by those" who
have wintered in these latitudes. It is impossible to take too many
precautions in preparing to pass a winter in the Arctic regions, and
nothing must be left to chance where a single neglect may prove
fatal to the enterprise."

"Very true, Mr Hobson," replied Mrs Barnett; " and you
have evidently made up your mind to conquer the cold ; but there
is the food to be thought of too."

" Yes, indeed ; I have been thinking of that, and mean to make
all possible use of the produce of the country so as to economise our
stores. As soon as we can, we will make some foraging expedi-
tions. We need not think about the furs at present, for there will
be plenty of time during the winter to stock the Company's depdts.
Besides, the furred animals have not got their winter clothing on
yet, and the skins would lose fifty per cent, of their value if taken
now. Let us content ourselves for the present with provisioning
Fort Hope. Reindeer, elk, and any wapitis that may have
ventured so far north are the only game worth our notice just now;
it will be no small undertaking to provide food for twenty people
and sixty dogs."

The Lieutenant loved order, and determined to do everything in
the most methodical manner, feeling confident that if his com-
panions would help him to the utmost of their power, nothing need
be wanting to the success of the expedition.

The weather at this season was almost always fine, and might be
expected to continue so for five weeks longer, when the snow would
begin to fall. It was very important that the carpenters should make
all possible use of the interval ; and as soon as the principal house
was finished, Hobson set them to work to build an enormous kennel
or shed in which to keep the teams of dogs. This doghouse was


built at the very foot of the promontory, against the hill, and about
forty yards to the right of the house. Barracks for the accommoda-
tion of the men were to be built opposite this kennel on the left,
while the store and powder magazines were to occupy the front of
the enclosure.

Hobson determined with almost excessive prudence to have
the Factory, enclosed before the winter set in. A strong fence
of pointed stakes, planted firmly in the ground, was set up as a
protection against the inroads of wild animals or the hostilities of
the natives. The Lieutenant had not forgotten an outrage which
had been committed along the coast at no great distance from Fort
Hope, and he well knew how essential it was to be safe from a coup
de main. The factory was therefore entirely encircled, and at each
extremity of the lagoon Mac-Nab undertook to erect a wooden
sentry-box commanding the coast-line, from which a watch could
be kept without any danger. The men worked indefatigably, and
it seemed likely that everything would be finished before the cold
season set in.

In the meantime hunting parties were organised. The capture
of seals being put off for a more convenient season, the sportsmen
prepared to supply the fort with game, which might be dried and
preserved for consumption during the bad season.

Accordingly Marbre and Sabine, sometimes accompanied by the
Lieutenant and Sergeant Long, whose experience was invaluable,
scoured the country daily for miles round ; and it was no uncommon
sight to see Mrs Paulina Barnett join them and step briskly along,
shouldering her gun bravely, and never allowing herself to be out-
stripped by her companions.

Throughout the month of August these expeditions were con-
tinued with great success, and the store of provisions increased
rapidly. Marbre and Sabine were skilled in all the artifices which
sportsmen employ in stalking their prey particularly the reindeer,
which are exceedingly wary. How patiently they would face the
wind lest the creature's keen sense of smell should warn it of their
approach! and how cunningly they lured it on to its destruction by
displaying the magnificent antlers of some former victim above the
birch-bushes !

They found a useful alley in a certain little traitorous bird to
which the Indians have given the name of " monitor." It is a kind
of daylight owl, about the size of a pigeon, and has earned its name


by its habit of calling the attention of hunters to their quarry, by
uttering a sharp note like the cry of a child.

When about fifty reindeer, or, to give them their Indian name,
" caribous," had been brought down by the guns, the flesh was cut
into long strips for food, the skins being kept to be tanned and used
for shoe-leather.

-Besides the caribous, there were also plenty of Polar hares, which
formed an agreeable addition to the larder. They were much less
timorous than the European species, and allowed themselves to be
caught in great numbers. They belong to the rodent family, and
have long ears, brown eyes, and a soft fur resembling swan's down.
They weigh from ten to fifteen pounds each, and their flesh is
excellent. Hundreds of them were cured for winter use, and the
remainder converted into excellent pies by the skilful hands of Mrs

While making provision for future wants, the daily supplies were
not neglected. In addition to the Polar hares, which underwent
every variety of culinary treatment from Mrs Joliflfe, and won for
her compliments innumerable from hunters and workmen alike,
many waterfowl figured in the bill of fare. Besides the ducks which
abounded on the shores of the lagoon, large flocks of grouse congre-
gated round the slumps of stunted willows. They belong, as their
zoological name implies, to the partridge family, and might be aptly
described as white partridges with long black-spotted feathers in
the tail The Indians call them willow-fowl but to a European
sportsman they are neither more nor less than blackcock (Tetrao
tetrix). When roasted slightly before a quick clear fire they proved

Then there were the supplies furnished by lake and stream.
Sergeant Long was a first-rate angler, and nothing could surpass the
skill and patience with which he whipped the water and cast his
'line. The faithful Madge, another worthy disciple of Isaak Walton,
was perhaps his only equal. Day after day the two sallied forth
together rod in hand, to spend the day in mute companionship by
the river-side, whence they were sure to return in triumph laden
with some splendid specimens of the salmon tribe.

But to return to our sportsmen; they soon found that their
hunting excursions were not to be free from peril Hobson per-
ceived with some alarm that bears were very numerous in the neigh-
bourhood, and that scarcely a day passed without one or more of


them being sighted. Sometimes these unwelcome visitors belonged
to the family of brown bears, so common throughout the whole
" Cursed Land ; " but now and then a solitary specimen of the
formidable Polar bear warned the hunters what dangers they might
have to encounter so soon as the first frost should drive great num-
bers of these fearful animals to the neighbourhood of Cape Bathurst.
Every book of Arctic explorations is full of accounts of the frequent
perils to which travellers and whalers are exposed from the ferocity
of these animals.

Now and then, too, a distant pack of wolves was seen, which
receded like a wave at the approach of the hunters, or the sound of
their bark was heard as they followed the trail of a reindeer or
wapiti. These creatures were large grey wolves, about three feet
high, with long tails, whose fur becomes white in the winter. They
abounded in this part of the country, where food was plentiful; and
frequented wooded spots, where they lived in holes like foxes. During
the temperate season, when they could get as much as they wanted
to eat, they were scarcely dangerous, and fled with the characteristic
cowardice of their race at the first sign of pursuit ; but when im-
pelled by hunger, their numbers rendered them very formidable ;
and from the fact of their lairs being close at hand, they never left
the country even in the depth of winter.

One day the sportsmen returned to Fort Hope, bringing with them
an unpleasant-looking animal, which neither Mrs Paulina Barnett
nor the astronomer, Thomas Black, had ever before seen. It was a
carnivorous creature of the plantigrada family, and greatly resembled
the American glutton, being strongly built, with short legs, and, like
all animals of the feline tribe, a very supple back ; its eyes were
small and horny, and it was armed with curved clawS and formid-
able jaws.

" What is this horrid creature 1 " inquired Mrs Paulina Barnett
of Sabine, who replied in his usual sententious manner

"A Scotchman would call it a * quick-hatch/ an Indian an
* okelcoo-haw-gew/ and a Canadian a ' carcajou.' "

" And what do you call it ? "

" A wolverene, ma'am," returned Sabine, much delighted with the
elegant way in which he had rounded his sentence.

The wolverene, as this strange quadruped is called by zoologists,
lives in hollow trees or rocky caves, whence it issues at night and
creates great havoc amongst beavers, musk-rats, and other rodents,

" From this position they were able" tyc. Page 99.


sometimes fighting with a fox or a wolf for its spoils. Its chief charac-
teristics are great cunning, immense muscular power, and an acute
sense of smell. It is found in very high latitudes ; and the short fur
with which it is clothed becomes almost black in the winter months,
and forms a large item in the Company's exports.

Dnring their excursions the settlers paid as much attention to
the Flora of the country as to its Fauna ; but in those regions vege-
tation has necessarily a hard struggle for existence, as it must brave
every season of the year, whereas the animals are able to migrate
to a warmer climate during the winter.

The hills on . the eastern side of the lake were well covered with
pine and fir trees; and Jaspar also noticed the " tacamahac," a species
of poplar which grows to a great height, and shoots forth yellowish
leaves which turn green in the autumn. These trees and larches were,
however, few and sickly looking, as if they found the oblique rays of
the sun insufficient to make them thrive. The black fir, or Norway
spruce fir, throve better, especially when situated in ravines well
sheltered from the north wind. The young shoots of this tree are
very valuable, yielding a favourite beverage known in North
America as " spruce-beer." A good crop of these branchlets was
gathered in and stored in the cellar of Fort Hope. There were also
the dwarf birch, a shrub about two feet high, native to very cold
climates, and whole thickets of cedars, which are so valuable for fuel.

Of vegetables which could be easily grown and used for food, this
barren land yielded but few ; and Mrs Joliffe, who took a great
interest in " economic " botany, only met with two plants which
were available in cooking.

One of these, a bulb, very difficult to classify, because its leaves
fall off just at the flowering season, turned out to be a wild leek,
and yielded a good crop of onions, each about the size of an egg.

The other plant was that known throughout North America as
" Labrador tea ; " it grew abundantly on the shores of the lagoon
between the clumps of willow and arbutus, and formed the principal
food of the Polar hares. Steeped in boiling water, and flavoured
with a few drops of brandy or gin, it formed an excellent beverage,
and served to economise the supply of China tea which the party
had brought from Fort Keliance.

Knowing the scarcity of vegetables, Jaspar Hobson had plenty
of seeds with him, chiefly sorrel and scurvy-grass (Cochlearia), the
antiscorbutic properties of which are invaluable in these latitudes. In


choosing the site of the settlement, such care had been taken to-
find a spot sheltered from the keen blasts, which shrivel vegetation
like a fire, that there was every chance of these seeds yielding a
good crop in the ensuing season.

The dispensary of the new fort contained other antiscorbutics,
in the shape of casks of lemon and lime juice, both of which are
absolutely indispensable to an Arctic expedition. Still the greatest
economy was necessary with regard to the stores, as a long period
of bad weather might cut off the communication between Fort Hope-
and the southern stations.



EPTEMBER had now commenced, and as upon the most
v favourable calculation only three more weeks would in-
tervene before the bad season set in and interrupted the
labours of the explorers, the greatest haste was necessary in com-
pleting the new buildings, and Mac-Nab and his workmen surpassed
themselves in industry. The dog-house was on the eve of being
finished, and very little remained to be done to the palisading
which was to encircle the fort. An inner court had been con-
structed, in the shape of a half-moon, fenced with tall pointed
stakes, fifteen feet high, to which a postern gave entrance. Jaspar
Hobson favoured the system of an unbroken enclosure with
detached forts (a great improvement upon the tactics of Vauban
and Cormontaigne), and knew that to make his defence complete
the summit of Cape Bathurst, which was the key of the position,
must be fortified ; until that could be done, however, he thought
the palisading would be a sufficient protection, at least against

The next thing was to lay in a supply of oil and lights, and
accordingly an expedition was organised to a spot about fifteen
miles distant where seals were plentiful, Mrs Paulina Barnett being
invited to accompany the sportsmen, not indeed for the sake of
watching the poor creatures slaughtered, but to satisfy her curiosity
with regard to the country around Cape Bathurst, and to see some
cliffs on that part of the coast which were worthy of notice. The
Lieutenant chose as his other companions, Sergeant Long, and the
soldiers Petersen, Hope, and Kellet, and the party set off at eight
o'clock in the morning in two sledges, each drawn by six dogs, on
which the bodies of the seals were to be brought back. The
weather was fine, but the fog which lay low along the horizon veiled
the rays of the sun, whose yellow disk was now beginning to dis-



appear for some hours during the night, a circumstance which at-
tracted the Lieutenant's attention, for reasons which we will explain.

That part of the shore to the west of Cape Bathurst rises but a
few inches above the level of the sea, and the tides are or are
said to be very high in the Arctic Ocean many navigators, such
as Parry, Franklin, the two Rosses, M'Clure, and M'Clintock,
having observed that when the sun and moon were in conjunction
the waters were sometimes twenty-five feet above the ordinary level.
How then was it to be explained that the sea did not at high tide

Online LibraryJules VerneThe fur country; or, Seventy degrees north latitude → online text (page 9 of 31)