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 de 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 obstacle.
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 again entrusted to the hands of the imprudent Corporal
Joliffe. Neither shouts nor flourishings of the whip had the slightest effect on the jaded animals.
From time to time the travellers lightened the sledges by walking 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 indifference to all athletic exercise. He had not come all this distance to hunt the polecat or the ermine, but merely to look at the moon at the moment 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 unlucky chance the moon should fail to keep her appointment on the 16th July 1860.”
“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 wonderful; 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, &c. 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 east.
The impressions were evidently the result of the passage of about half-a-dozen large deer. There could be no mistake about it; Marbre 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 they 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.