They were used double, so that the soft hair was both inside and outside of the clothes; and when wearing them, the whole party would be as richly attired as the grandest princesses, or the most wealthy ladies. Those not in the secret were rather surprised at the free use made of the Company’s property; but Hobson’s authority was not to be questioned, and really martens, polecats, musk-rats, beavers, and foxes multiplied with such rapidity near the fort, that all the furs used could easily be replaced by a few shots, or the setting of a few traps; and when Mrs Mac-Nab saw the beautiful ermine coat which had been made for her baby, her delight was unbounded, and she no longer wondered at anything.
So passed the days until the middle of the month of August. The weather continued fine, and any mists which gathered on the horizon were quickly dispersed by the sunbeams.
Every day Hobson took the bearings, taking care, however, to go some distance from the fort, that suspicions might not be aroused, and he also visited different parts of the island, and was reassured by finding that no important changes appeared to be taking place.
On the 16th August Victoria Island was situated in 167° 27’ west longitude, and 70° 49’ north latitude. It had, therefore, drifted slightly to the south, but without getting any nearer to the American coast, which curved considerably.
The distance traversed by the island since the fracture of the isthmus, or rather since the last thaw, could not be less than eleven or twelve hundred miles to the west.
But what was this distance compared to the vast extent of the ocean? Had not boats been known to be drifted several thousands of miles by currents? Was not this the case with the English ship Resolute, the American brig Advance, and with the Fox, all of which were carried along upon ice-fields until the winter arrested their advance?
TEN DAYS OF TEMPEST
From the 17th to the 20th August the weather continued fine, and the temperature moderate. The mists on the horizon were not resolved into clouds, and altogether the weather was exceptionally beautiful for such an elevated position. It will be readily understood, however, that Hobson could take no pleasure in the fineness of the climate.
On the 21st August, however, the barometer gave notice of an approaching change. The column of mercury suddenly fell considerably, the sun was completely hidden at the moment of culmination, and Hobson was unable to take his bearings.
The next day the wind changed and blew strongly from the north-west, torrents of rain falling at intervals. Meanwhile, however, the temperature did not change to any sensible extent, the thermometer remaining at 54° Fahrenheit.
Fortunately the proposed works were now all finished, and MacNab had completed the carcass of his boat, which was planked and ribbed. Hunting might now be neglected a little, as the stores were complete, which was fortunate, for the weather became very bad. The wind was high, the rain incessant, and thick fogs rendered it impossible to go beyond the enceinte of the fort.
“What do you think of this change in the weather, Lieutenant?” inquired Mrs Barnett on the morning of the 27th August; “might it not be in our favour?”
“I should not like to be sure of it, madam,” replied Hobson; “but anything is better for us than the magnificent weather we have lately had, during which the sun made the waters warmer and warmer. Then, too, the wind from the north-west is so very strong that it may perhaps drive us nearer to the American continent.”
“Unfortunately,” observed Long, “we can’t take our bearings every day now. It’s impossible to see either sun, moon, or stars in this fog. Fancy attempting to take an altitude now!”
“We shall see well enough to recognise America, if we get anywhere near it,” said Mrs Barnett. “Whatever land we approach will be welcome. It will most likely be some part of Russian America—probably Western Alaska.”
“You are right, madam,” said Hobson; “for, unfortunately, in the whole Arctic Ocean there is not an island, an islet, or even a rock to which we could fasten our vessel!”
“Well,” rejoined Mrs Barnett, “why should not our conveyance take us straight to the coasts of Asia? Might not the currents carry us past the opening of Bearing Strait and land us on the shores of Siberia?”
“No, madam, no,” replied Hobson; “our ice-field would soon meet the Kamtchatka current, and be carried by it to the northwest.