It is more likely, however, that this wind will drive us towards the shores of Russian America.”
“We must keep watch, then,” said Mrs Barnett, “and ascertain our position as soon as possible.”
“We shall indeed keep watch,” replied Hobson, “although this fog is very much against us If we should be driven on to the coast, the shock will be felt even if we cannot see. Let’s hope the island will not fall to pieces in this storm! That is at present our principal danger. Well, when it comes we shall see what there is to be done, and meanwhile we must wait patiently.”
Of course this conversation was not held in the public room, where the soldiers and women worked together. It was in her own room, with the window looking out on the court, that Mrs Barnett received visitors. It was almost impossible to see indoors even in the daytime, and the wind could be heard rushing by outside like an avalanche. Fortunately, Cape Bathurst protected the house from the north-east winds, but the sand and earth from its summit were hurled down upon the roof with a noise like the pattering of hail. Mac Nab began to feel fresh uneasiness about his chimneys, which it was absolutely necessary to keep in good order. With the roaring of the wind was mingled that of the sea, as its huge waves broke upon the beach. The storm had become a hurricane.
In spite of the fury of the gale, Hobson determined on the morning of the 28th of August to climb to the summit of Cape Bathurst, in order to examine the state of the horizon, the sea, and the sky. He therefore wrapped himself up, taking care to have nothing about him likely to give hold the wind, and set out.
He got to the foot of the cape without much difficulty. The sand and earth blinded him, it is true, but protected by the cliff he had not as yet actually faced the wind. The fatigue began when he attempted to climb the almost perpendicular sides of the promontory; but by clutching at the tufts of herbs with which they were covered, he managed to get to the top, but there the fury of the gale was such that he could neither remain standing nor seated; he was therefore forced to fling himself upon his face behind the little coppice and cling to some shrubs, only raising his head and shoulders above the ground.
The appearance of sea and sky was indeed terrible. The spray dashed over the Lieutenant’s head, and half-a-mile from the cape water and clouds were confounded together in a thick mist. Low jagged rain-clouds were chased along the heavens with giddy rapidity, and heavy masses of vapour were piled upon the zenith. Every now and then an awful stillness fell upon the land, and the only sounds were the breaking of the surf upon the beach and the roaring of the angry billows; but then the tempest recommenced with redoubled fury, and Hobson felt the cape tremble to its foundations. Sometimes the rain poured down with such violence that it resembled grape-shot.
It was indeed a terrible hurricane from the very worst quarter of the heavens. This north-east wind might blow for a long time and cause all manner of havoc. Yet Hobson, who would generally have grieved over the destruction around him, did not complain,—on the contrary, he rejoiced; for if, as he hoped, the island held together, it must be driven to the south-west by this wind, so much more powerful than the currents. And the south-west meant land—hope—safety! Yes, for his own sake, and for that of all with him, he hoped that the hurricane would last until it had flung them upon the laud, no matter where. That which would have been fatal to a ship was the best thing that could happen to the floating island.
For a quarter of an hour Hobson remained crouching upon the ground, clutching at the shrubs like a drowning man at a spar, lashed by the wind, drenched by the rain and the spray, struggling to estimate all the chances of safety the storm might afford him. At the end of that time he let himself slide down the cape, and fought his way to Fort Hope.
Hobson’s first care was to tell his comrades that the hurricane was not yet at its height, and that it would probably last a long time yet.