But as things had probably remained as they were for centuries, they thought there was no immediate danger, and that it was not worth while to explain themselves.”
“Very likely you are right,” replied Mrs Barnett; “but I feel sure that Kalumah had no suspicion of her companion’s fears, or she would have warned us.”
Hobson quite agreed with Mrs Barnett, and Sergeant Long observed—
“It really seems to have been by a kind of fatality that we settled ourselves upon this peninsula just before it was torn away from the mainland. I suppose, Lieutenant, that it had been connected for a very long time, perhaps for centuries.”
“You might say for thousands and thousands of years, Sergeant,” replied Hobson. “Remember that the soil on which we are treading has been brought here by the wind, little by little, that the sand has accumulated grain by grain! Think of the time it must have taken for the seeds of firs, willows, and arbutus to become shrubs and trees! Perhaps the sheet of ice on which we float was welded to the continent before the creation of man!”
“Well,” cried Long, “it really might have waited a few centuries longer before it drifted. How much anxiety and how many dangers we might then have been spared!”
Sergeant Long’s most sensible remark closed the conversation, and the journey was resumed.
From Cape Esquimaux to Walruses’ Bay the coast ran almost due south, following the one hundred and twenty-seventh meridian. Looking behind them they could see one corner of the lagoon, its waters sparkling in the sunbeams, and a little beyond the wooded heights in which it was framed. Large eagles soared above their heads, their cries and the loud flapping of their wings breaking the stillness, and furred animals of many kinds, martens, polecats, ermines, &c., crouching behind some rising ground, or hiding amongst the stunted bushes and willows, gazed inquiringly at the intruders. They seemed to understand that they had nothing to fear. Hobson caught a glimpse of a few beavers wandering about, evidently ill at ease, and puzzled at the disappearance of the little river. With no ledges to shelter them, and no stream by which to build a new home, they were doomed to die of cold when the severe frost set in. Sergeant Long also saw a troop of wolves crossing the plain.
It was evident that specimens of the whole Arctic Fauna were imprisoned on the island, and there was every reason to fear that, when famished with hunger, all the carnivorous beasts would be formidable enemies to the occupants of Fort Hope.
Fortunately, however, one race of animals appeared to be quite unrepresented. Not a single white bear was seen! Once the Sergeant thought he saw an enormous white mass moving about on the other side of a clump of willows, but on close examination decided that he was mistaken.
The coast near Walruses’ Bay was, on the whole, only slightly elevated above the sea-level, and in the distance the waves broke into running foam as they do upon a sloping beach. It was to be feared that the soil had little stability, but there was no means of judging of the modifications which had taken place since their last visit, and Hobson much regretted that he had not made bench marks about Cape Bathurst before he left, that he might judge of the amount of sinking or depression which took place. He determined, however, to take this precaution on his return.
It will be understood that, under the circumstances, the party did not advance very rapidly. A pause was often made to examine the soil, or to see if there were any sign of an approaching fracture on the coast, and sometimes the explorers wandered inland for half a mile. Here and there the Sergeant planted branches of willow or birch to serve as landmarks for the future, especially wherever undermining seemed to be going on rapidly and the solidity of the ground was doubtful. By this means it would be easy to ascertain the changes which might take place.
They did advance, however, and at three o’clock in the afternoon they were only three miles from Walruses’ Bay, and Hobson called Mrs Barnett’s attention to the important changes which had been effected by the rupture of the isthmus.