Sergeant Long was to accompany him.
About four o’clock P.M., on the 31st August, Hobson sent for the Sergeant in his own room, that they might arrange together for all eventualities.
“Sergeant Long,” he began, “it is necessary that we should, without delay, ascertain the position of Victoria Island, and above all whether this wind has, as I hope, driven it near to the American continent.”
“I quite agree with you, sir,” replied Long, “and the sooner we find out the better”
“But it will necessitate our going down to the south of the island.”
“I am ready, sir.”
“I know, Sergeant, that you are always ready to do your duty, but you will not go alone. Two of us ought to go, that we may be able to let our comrades know if any land is in sight; and besides I must see for myself ... we will go together.”
“When you like, Lieutenant, just when you think best.”
“We will start this evening at nine o’clock, when everybody else has gone to bed”
“Yes, they would all want to come with us,” said Long, “and they must not know why we go so far from the factory.”
“No, they must not know,” replied Hobson, “and if I can, I will keep the knowledge of our awful situation from them until the end.”
“It is agreed then, sir?”
“Yes. You will take a tinder-box and some touchwood [Footnote: A fungus used as tinder (Polyporous igniarius).] with you, so that we can make a signal if necessary—if land is in sight in the south, for instance”
“We shall have a rough journey, Sergeant.”
“What does that matter, sir, but by the way—the lady?”
“I don’t think I shall tell her. She would want to go with us.”
“And she could not,” said the Sergeant, “a woman could not battle with such a gale. Just see how its fury is increasing at this moment!”
Indeed the house was rocking to such an extent that it seemed likely to be torn from its foundations.
“No,” said Hobson, “courageous as she is, she could not, she ought not to accompany us. But on second thought, it will be best to tell her of our project. She ought to know in case any accident should befall us”
“Yes,” replied Long, “we ought not to keep anything from her, and if we do not come back”....
“At nine o’clock then, Sergeant.”
“At nine o’clock.”
And with a military salute Sergeant Long retired.
A few minutes later Hobson was telling Mrs Barnett of his scheme. As he expected the brave woman insisted on accompanying him, and was quite ready to face the tempest. Hobson did not dissuade her by dwelling on the dangers of the expedition, he merely said that her presence was necessary at the fort during his absence, and that her remaining would set his mind at ease. If any accident happened to him it would be a comfort to know that she would take his place.
Mrs Barnett understood and said no more about going; but only urged Hobson not to risk himself unnecessarily. To remember that he was the chief officer, that his life was not his own, but necessary to the safety of all. The Lieutenant promised to be as prudent as possible; but added that the examination of the south of the island must be made at once, and he would make it. The next day Mrs Barnett merely told her companions that the Lieutenant and the Sergeant had gone to make a final reconnaissance before the winter set in.
A FIRE AND A CRY.
The Lieutenant and the Sergeant spent the evening in the large room of the fort, where all were assembled except the astronomer, who still remained shut up in his cabin. The men were busy over their various occupations, some cleaning their arms, others mending or sharpening their tools. The women were stitching away industriously, and Mrs Paulina Barnett was reading aloud; but she was often interrupted not only by the noise of the wind, which shook the walls of the house like a battering-ram, but by the cries of the baby. Corporal Joliffe, who had undertaken to amuse him, had enough to do. The young gentleman had ridden upon his playmate’s knees until they were worn out, and the Corporal at last put the indefatigable little cavalier on the large table, where he rolled about to his heart’s content until he fell asleep.