At last the crackling ceased, the flames died away, and all was darkness.
Hobson and Long looked in vain for an answering fire—nothing was to be seen. For ten minutes they watched, hoping against hope, and were just beginning to despair, when suddenly a cry was heard, a distinct cry for help. It was a human voice, and it came from the sea.
Hobson and Long, wild with eager anxiety, let themselves slide down to the shore.
The cry was not, however, repeated.
The daylight was now gradually beginning to appear, and the violence of the tempest seemed to be decreasing. Soon it was light enough for the horizon to be examined.
But there was no land in sight, sea and sky were still blended in one unbroken circle.
MRS. PAULINA BARNETT’S EXCURSION.
The whole morning Hobson and Sergeant Long wandered about the coast. The weather was much improved, the rain had ceased, and the wind had veered round to the south-east with extraordinary suddenness, without unfortunately decreasing in violence, causing fresh anxiety to the Lieutenant, who could no longer hope to reach the mainland.
The south-east wind would drive the wandering island farther from the continent, and fling it into the dangerous currents, which must drift it to the north of the Arctic Ocean.
How could they even be sure that they had really approached the coast during the awful night just over. Might it not have been merely a fancy of the Lieutenant’s? The air was now clear, and they could look round a radius of several miles; yet there was nothing in the least resembling land within sight. Might they not adopt the Sergeant’s suggestion, that a ship had passed the island during the night, that the fire and cry were alike signals of sailors in distress? And if it had been a vessel, must it not have foundered in such a storm?
Whatever the explanation there was no sign of a wreck to be seen either in the offing or on the beach, and the waves, now driven along by the wind from the land, were large enough to have overwhelmed any vessel.
“Well, Lieutenant,” said Sergeant Long, “what is to be done?’“
“We must remain upon our island,” replied the Lieutenant, pressing his hand to his brow; “we must remain on our island and wait for winter; it alone can save us.”
It was now mid-day, and Hobson, anxious to get back to Fort Hope before the evening, at once turned towards Cape Bathurst.
The wind, being now on their backs, helped them along as it had done before. They could not help feeling very uneasy, as they were naturally afraid that the island might have separated into two parts in the storm. The gulf observed the night before might have spread farther, and if so they would be cut off from their friends.
They soon reached the wood they had crossed the night before. Numbers of trees were lying on the ground, some with broken stems, others torn up by the roots from the soft soil, which had not afforded them sufficient support. The few which remained erect were stripped of their leaves, and their naked branches creaked and moaned as the south-east wind swept over them.
Two miles beyond this desolated forest the wanderers arrived at the edge of the gulf they had seen the night before without being able to judge of its extent. They examined it carefully, and found that it was about fifty feet wide, cutting the coast line straight across near Cape Michael and what was formerly Fort Barnett, forming a kind of estuary running more than a mile and a half inland. If the sea should again become rough in a fresh storm, this gulf would widen more and more.
Just as Hobson approached the beach, he saw a large piece of ice separate from the island and float away!
“Ah!” murmured Long, “that is the danger!”
Both then turned hurriedly to the west, and walked as fast as they could round the huge gulf, making direct for Fort Hope.
They noticed no other changes by the way, and towards four o’clock they crossed the court and found all their comrades at their usual occupations.
Hobson told his men that he had wished once more before the winter to see if there were any signs of the approach of Captain Craventy’s convoy, and that his expedition had been fruitless.