“Why not, madam, why not?”
“Because if Victoria Island were in an eddy, it would have veered round to a certain extent, and our position with regard to the cardinal points would have changed in the last three months, which is certainly not the case.”
“You are right, madam, you are quite right. The only explanation I can think of is, that there is some other current, not marked on our map. Oh, that to morrow were here that I might find out our longitude; really this uncertainty is terrible!”
“To-morrow will come,” observed Madge.
There was nothing to do but to wait. The party therefore separated, all returning to their ordinary occupations. Sergeant Long informed his comrades that the departure for Fort Reliance, fixed for the next day, was put off. He gave as reasons that the season was too far advanced to get to the southern factory before the great cold set in, that the astronomer was anxious to complete his meteorological observations, and would therefore submit to another winter in the north, that game was so plentiful provisions from Fort Reliance were not needed. &c., &c. But about all these matters the brave fellows cared little.
Lieutenant Hobson ordered his men to spare the furred animals in future, and only to kill edible game, so as to lay up fresh stores for the coming winter; he also forbade them to go more than two miles from the fort, not wishing Marbre and Sabine to come suddenly upon a sea-horizon, where the isthmus connecting the peninsula of Victoria with the mainland was visible a few months before. The disappearance of the neck of land would inevitably have betrayed everything.
The day appeared endless to Lieutenant Hobson. Again and again he returned to Cape Bathurst either alone, or accompanied by Mrs Barnett. The latter, inured to danger, showed no fear; she even joked the Lieutenant about his floating island being perhaps, after all, the proper conveyance for going to the North Pole. “With a favourable current might they not reach that hitherto inaccessible point of the globe?”
Lieutenant Hobson shook his head as he listened to his companion’s fancy, and kept his eyes fixed upon the horizon, hoping to catch a glimpse of some land, no matter what, in the distance. But no, sea and sky met in an absolutely unbroken circular line, confirming Hobson’s opinion that Victoria Island was drifting to the west rather than in any other direction.
“Lieutenant,” at last said Mrs Barnett, “don’t you mean to make a tour of our island as soon as possible?”
“Yes, madam, of course; as soon as I have taken our bearings, I mean to ascertain the form and extent of our dominions. It seems, however, that the fracture was made at the isthmus itself, so that the whole peninsula has become an island.”
“A strange destiny is ours, Lieutenant,” said Mrs Barnett. “Others return from their travels to add new districts to geographical maps, but we shall have to efface the supposed peninsula of Victoria!”
The next day, July 18th, the sky was very clear, and at ten o’clock in the morning Hobson obtained a satisfactory altitude of the sun, and, comparing it with that of the observation of the day before, he ascertained exactly the longitude in which they were.
The island was then in 157° 37’ longitude west from Greenwich.
The latitude obtained the day before at noon almost immediately after the eclipse was, as we know, 73° 7’ 20” north.
The spot was looked out on the map in the presence of Mrs Barnett and Sergeant Long.
It was indeed a most anxious moment, and the following result was arrived at.
The wandering island was moving in a westerly direction, borne along by a current unmarked on the chart, and unknown to hydrographers, which was evidently carrying it towards Behring Strait. All the dangers foreseen by Hobson were then imminent, if Victoria Island did not again touch the mainland before the winter.
“But how far are we from the American continent? that is the most important point just at present,” said Mrs Barnett.
Hobson took his compasses, and carefully measured the narrowest part of the sea between the coast and the seventieth parallel.