They are in constant communication 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 themselves. 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 oil 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 Great 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.
A STORM ON THE LAKE.
The 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.
“Never mind about me, Lieutenant,” she said; “act as if I were not present.