What we cannot do with the quadrupeds, we will do with the birds.”
Chatting thus and laying plans for the future, the three explorers continued to follow the coast. They noticed no change; the abrupt cliffs covered with earth and sand showed no signs of a recent alteration in the extent of the island. It was, however, to be feared that the vast sheet of ice would be worn away at the base by the action of the warm currents, and on this point Hobson was naturally anxious.
By eleven o’clock in the morning the eight miles between Capes Bathurst and Esquimaux had been traversed. A few traces of the encampment of Kalumah’s party still remained; of course the snow huts had entirely disappeared, but some cinders and walrus bones marked the spot.
The three explorers halted here for a short time, they intended to pass the few short hours of the night at Walruses’ Bay, which they hoped to reach In a few hours. They breakfasted seated on a slightly rising ground covered with a scanty and stunted herbage. Before their eyes lay the ocean bounded by a clearly-defined sea-horizon, without a sail or an iceberg to break the monotony of the vast expanse of water.
“Should you be very much surprised if some vessel came In sight now, Lieutenant?” inquired Mrs Barnett.
“I should be very agreeably surprised, madam,” replied Hobson. “It is not at all uncommon for whalers to come as far north as this, especially now that the Arctic Ocean is frequented by whales and chacholots, but you must remember that it is the 23rd July, and the summer is far advanced. The whole fleet of whaling vessels is probably now in Gulf Kotzebue, at the entrance to the strait. Whalers shun the sudden changes in the Arctic Ocean, and with good reason. They dread being shut in the ice; and the icebergs, avalanches, and, ice-fields they avoid, are the very things for which we earnestly pray.”
“They will come, Lieutenant,” said Long; “have patience, in another two months the waves will no longer break upon the shores of Cape Esquimaux.”
“Cape Esquimaux!” observed Mrs Barnett with a smile. “That name, like those we gave to the other parts of the peninsula, may turn out unfortunate too. We have lost Port Barnett and Paulina River; who can tell whether Cape Esquimaux and Walruses’ Bay may not also disappear in time?”
“They too will disappear, madam,” replied Hobson, “and after them the whole of Victoria Island, for nothing now connects it with a continent, and it is doomed to destruction. This result is inevitable, and our choice of geographical names will be thrown away; but fortunately the Royal Society has not yet adopted them, and Sir Roderick Murchison will have nothing to efface on his maps.”
“One name he will,” exclaimed the Sergeant.
“Which?” inquired Hobson.
“Cape Bathurst,” replied Long.
“Ah, yes, you are right. Cape Bathurst must now be removed from maps of the Polar regions.”
Two hours’ rest were all the explorers cared for, and at one o’clock they prepared to resume their journey.
Before starting Hobson once more looked round him from the summit of Cape Esquimaux; but seeing nothing worthy of notice, he rejoined Mrs Barnett and Sergeant Long.
“Madam,” he said, addressing the lady, “you have not forgotten the family of natives we met here last winter?”
“Oh no, I have always held dear little Kalumah in friendly remembrance. She promised to come and see us again at Fort Hope, but she will not be able to do so. But why do you ask me about the natives now?”
“Because I remember something to which, much to my regret, I did not at the time attach sufficient importance.”
“What was that?”
“You remember the uneasy surprise the men manifested at finding a big a factory at the foot of Cape Bathurst.”
“Oh yes, perfectly.”
“You remember that I tried to make out what the natives meant, and that I could not do so?”
“Yes, I remember.”
“Well,” added Hobsou, “I know now why they shook their heads. From tradition, experience, or something, the Esquimaux knew what the peninsula really was, they knew we had not built on firm ground.