After a few hours’ repose he meant to return to Fort Hope along the western coast.
No fresh incident marked the exploration of the short distance between Walruses’ Bay and Washburn Bay, and at seven o’clock in the evening the spot chosen for the encampment was reached. A similar change had taken place here. Of Washburn Bay, nothing remained but the curve formed by the coast-line of the island, and which was once its northern boundary. It stretched away without a break for seven miles to the cape they had named Cape Michael. This side of the island did not appear to have suffered at all in consequence of the rupture. The thickets of pine and birch, massed a little behind the cape, were in their fullest beauty at this time of year, and a good many furred animals were disporting themselves on the plain.
A halt was made at Washburn Bay, and the explorers were able to enjoy an extended view on the south, although they could not see any great distance on the north. The sun was so low on the horizon, that its rays were intercepted by the rising ground on the west, and did not reach the little bay. It was not, however, yet night, nor could it be called twilight, as the sun had not set.
“Lieutenant,” said Long, “if by some miracle a bell were now to ring, what do you suppose it would mean?”
“That it was supper-time,” replied Hobson. “Don’t you agree with me, Mrs Barnett?”
“Indeed I do,” replied the lady addressed, “and as our cloth is spread for us, let us sit down. This moss, although slightly worn, will suit us admirably, and was evidently intended for us by Providence.”
The bag of provisions was opened; some salt meat, a hare paté from Mrs Joliffe’s larder, with a few biscuits, formed their frugal supper.
The meal was quickly over, and Hobson returned to the southwest angle of the island, whilst Mrs Barnett rested at the foot of a low fir tree, and Sergeant Long made ready the night quarters.
The Lieutenant was anxious to examine the piece of ice which formed the island, to ascertain, if possible, something of its structure. A little bank, produced by a landslip, enabled him to step down to the level of the sea, and from there he was able to look closely at the steep wall which formed the coast. Where he stood the soil rose scarcely three feet above the water. The upper part consisted of a thin layer of earth and sand mixed with crushed shells; and the lower of hard, compact, and, if we may so express it, “metallic” ice, strong enough to support the upper soil of the island.
This layer of ice was not more than one foot above the sea-level. In consequence of the recent fracture, it was easy to see the regular disposition of the sheets of ice piled up horizontally, and which had evidently been produced by successive frosts in comparatively quieter waters.
We know that freezing commences on the surface of liquids, and as the cold increases, the thickness of the crust becomes greater, the solidification proceeding from the top downwards. That at least is the case in waters that are at rest; it has, however, been observed that the very reverse is the case in running waters-the ice forming at the bottom, and subsequently rising to the surface.
It was evident, then, that the floe which formed the foundation of Victoria Island had been formed in calm waters on the shores of the North American continent. The freezing had evidently commenced on the surface, and the thaw would begin at the bottom, according to a well-known law; so that the ice-field would gradually decrease in weight as it became thawed by the warmer waters through which it was passing, and the general level of the island would sink in proportion.
This was the great danger.
As we have just stated, Hobson noticed that the solid ice, the ice-field properly so called, was only about one foot above the sea-level! We know that four-fifths of a floating mass of ice are always submerged. For one foot of an iceberg or ice-field above the water, there are four below it. It must, however, be remarked that the density, or rather specific weight of floating ice, varies considerably according to its mode of formation or origin.