Yes, it is a sheet of ice which bears us up, and is carrying us away, and this is why we have not found a single flint or stone upon its surface. This is why its shores are perpendicular, this is why we found ice ten feet below the surface when we dug the reindeer pit—this, in short, is why the tide was not noticeable on the peninsula, which rose and sank with the ebb and flow of the waves!”
“Everything is indeed explained,” said Mrs Barnett, “and your presentiments did not deceive you; but can you explain why the tides, which do not affect us at all now, were to a slight extent perceptible on our arrival?”
“Simply because, madam, on our arrival the peninsula was still connected by means of its flexible isthmus with the American continent. It offered a certain resistance to the current, and on its northern shores the tide rose two feet beyond low-water mark, instead of the twenty we reasonably expected. But from the moment when the earthquake broke the connecting link, from the moment when the peninsula became an island free from all control, it rose and sank with the ebb and flow of the tide; and, as we noticed together at full moon a few days ago, no sensible difference was produced on our shores.”
In spite of his despair, Thomas Black listened attentively to Hobson’s explanations, and could not but see the reasonableness of his deductions, but he was furious at such a rare, unexpected, and, as he said, “ridiculous” phenomenon occurring just so as to make him miss the eclipse, and he said not a word, but maintained a gloomy, even haughty silence.
“Poor Mr Black,” said Mrs Barnett, “it must be owned that an astronomer was never more hardly used than you since the world began!”
“In any case, however,” said Hobson, turning to her, “we have neither of us anything to reproach ourselves with. No one can find fault with us. Nature alone is to blame. The earthquake cut off our communication with the mainland, and converted our peninsula into a floating island, and this explains why the furred and other animals imprisoned like ourselves, have become so numerous round the fort!”
“This, too, is why the rivals you so much dreaded have not visited us, Lieutenant!” exclaimed Madge.
“And this,” added the Sergeant, “accounts for the non-arrival of the convoy sent to Cape Bathurst by Captain Craventy.”
“And this is why,” said Mrs. Barnett, looking at the Lieutenant, “I must give up all hope of returning to Europe this year at least!”
The tone of voice in which the lady made this last remark showed that she resigned herself to her fate more readily than could have been expected. She seemed suddenly to have made up her mind to make the best of the situation, which would no doubt give her an opportunity of making a great many interesting observations. And after all, what good would grumbling have done? Recriminations were worse than useless. They could not have altered their position, or have checked the course of the wandering island, and there was no means of reuniting it to a continent. No; God alone could decide the future of Fort Hope. They must bow to His will.
WHERE ARE WE?
It was necessary carefully to study the unexpected and novel situation in which the agents of the Company now found themselves, and Hobson did so with his chart before him.
He could not ascertain the longitude of Victoria Island—the original name being retained—until the next day, and the latitude had already been taken. For the longitude, the altitude of the sun must be ascertained before and after noon, and two hour angles must be measured.
At two o’clock P.M. Hobson and Black took the height of the sun above the horizon with the sextant, and they hoped to recommence the same operation the next morning towards ten o’clock A.M., so as to be able to infer from the two altitudes obtained the exact point of the Arctic Ocean then occupied by their island.
The party did not, however, at once return to the fort, but remained talking together for some little time on the promontory. Madge declared she was quite resigned, and evidently thought only of her mistress, at whom she could not look without emotion; she could not bear to think of the sufferings and trials her “dear girl” might have to go through in the future.