Mrs Barnett, Madge, and Lieutenant Hobson occupied one hut, Thomas Black and Sergeant Long another, and so on. These retreats were warm, if not comfortable; and the Esquimaux and Indians have no other refuge even in the bitterest cold. The adventurers could therefore fearlessly await the end of the storm as long as they took care not to let the openings of their holes become blocked up with the snow, which they had to shovel away every half hour. So violent was the storm that even the Lieutenant and his soldiers could scarcely set foot outside. Fortunately, all were provided with sufficient food, and were able to endure their beaver-like existence without suffering from cold or hunger
For forty-eight hours the fury of the tempest continued to increase. The wind roared in the narrow pass, and tore off the tops of the icebergs. Loud reports, repeated twenty times by the echoes, gave notice of the fall of avalanches, and Jaspar Hobson began to fear that his further progress would be barred by the masses of debris accumulated between the mountains. Other sounds mingled with these reports, which Lieutenant Hobson knew too well, and he did not disguise from Mrs Barnett that bears were prowling about the pass. But fortunately these terrible animals were too much occupied with their own concerns to discover the retreat of the travellers; neither the dogs nor the sledges, buried in the snow, attracted their attention, and they passed on without doing any harm.
The last night, that of the 25th or 26th May, was even more terrible. So great was the fury of the hurricane that a general overthrow of icebergs appeared imminent. A fearful death would then have awaited the unfortunate travellers beneath the ruins of the broken masses. The blocks of ice cracked with an awful noise, and certain oscillations gave warning that breaches had been made threatening their solidity. However, no great crash occurred, the huge mountains remained intact, and towards the end of the night one of those sudden changes so frequent in the Arctic regions took place; the tempest ceased suddenly beneath the influence of intense cold, and with the first dawn of day peace was restored.
THE GREAT BEAR LAKE.
This sudden increase of cold was most fortunate. Even in temperate climes there are generally three or four bitter days in May; and they were most serviceable now in consolidating the freshly-fallen snow, and making it practicable for sledges. Lieutenant Hobson, therefore, lost no time in resuming his journey, urging on the dogs to their utmost speed.
The route was, however, slightly changed. Instead of bearing due north, the expedition advanced towards the west, following, so to speak, the curve of the Arctic Circle. The Lieutenant was most anxious to reach Fort Confidence, built on the northern extremity of the Great Bear Lake. These few cold days were of the greatest service to him; he advanced rapidly, no obstacle was encountered, and his little troop arrived at the factory on the 30th May.
At this time Forts Confidence and Good Hope were the most advanced posts of the Company in the north. Fort Confidence was a most important position, built on the northern extremity of the lake, close to its waters, which being frozen over in winter, and navigable in summer, afforded easy access to Fort Franklin, on the southern shores, and promoted the coming and going of the Indian hunters with their daily spoils. Many were the hunting and fishing expeditions which started from Forts Confidence and Good Hope, especially from the former. The Great Bear Lake is quite a Mediterranean Sea, extending over several degrees of latitude and longitude. Its shape is very irregular : two promontories jut into it towards the centre, and the upper portion forms a triangle; its appearance, as a whole, much resembling the extended skin of a ruminant without the head.
Fort Confidence was built at the end of the “ right paw,” at least two hundred miles from Coronation Gulf, one of the numerous estuaries which irregularly indent the coast of North America.