Strange seasons have often been experienced on these seas, I have heard of whalers being able to navigate in places where, even in the summer at another time they would not have had an inch of water beneath their keels. In my opinion there is not a day to be lost, and I cannot sufficiently regret that the ordinary temperature of these regions does not assist us.”
“It will later,” said Mrs Barnett, “and we must be ready to take advantage of every chance in our favour. When do you propose starting, Lieutenant?”
“At the end of November at the latest,” replied Hobson, “but if in a week hence our preparations are finished, and the route appears practicable, we will start then.”
“Very well,” said Long, “we will get ready without losing an instant.”
“Then,” said Mrs Barnett, “you will now tell our companions of the situation in which they are placed?”
“Yes, madam, the moment to speak and the time for action have alike arrived.”
“And when do you propose enlightening them?”
“At once. Sergeant Long,” he added, turning to his subordinate, who at once drew himself up in a military attitude, “call all your men together in the large room to receive a communication.”
Sergeant Long touched his cap, and turning on his heel left the room without a word.
For some minutes Mrs Barnett and Hobson were left alone, but neither of them spoke.
The Sergeant quickly returned, and told Hobson that his orders were executed.
The Lieutenant and the lady at once went into the large room. All the members of the colony, men and women, were assembled in the dimly lighted room.
Hobson came forward, and standing in the centre of the group said very gravely—
“My friends, until to-day I have felt it my duty, in order to spare you useless anxiety, to conceal from you the situation of our fort. An earthquake separated us from the continent. Cape Bathurst has broken away from the mainland. Our peninsula is but an island of ice, a wandering island”——
At this moment Marbre stepped forward, and said quietly.
“We knew it, sir!”
A CHANCE TO BE TRIED.
The brave fellows knew it then! And that they might not add to the cares of their chief, they had pretended to know nothing, and had worked away at the preparations for the winter with the same zeal as the year before.
Tears of emotion stood in Hobson’s eyes, and he made no attempt to conceal them, but seizing Marbre’s outstretched hand, he pressed it in his own.
Yes, the soldiers all knew it, for Marbre had guessed it long ago. The filling of the reindeer trap with salt water, the non-arrival of the detachment from Fort Reliance, the observations of latitude and longitude taken every day, which would have been useless on firm ground, the precautions observed by Hobson to prevent any one seeing him take the bearings, the fact of the animals remaining on the island after winter had set in, and the change in the position of the cardinal points during the last few days, which they had noticed at once, had all been tokens easily interpreted by the inhabitants of Fort Hope. The arrival of Kalumah had puzzled them, but they had concluded that she had been thrown upon the island in the storm, and they were right, as we are aware.
Marbre, upon whom the truth had first dawned, confided his suspicions to Mac-Nab the carpenter and Rae the blacksmith. All three faced the situation calmly enough, and agreed that they ought to tell their comrades and wives, but decided to let the Lieutenant think they knew nothing, and to obey him without question as before.
“You are indeed brave fellows, my friends,” exclaimed Mrs Barnett, who was much touched by this delicate feeling, “you are true soldiers!”
“Our Lieutenant may depend upon us,” said Mac-Nab, “he has done his duty, and we will do ours.”
“I know you will, dear comrades,” said Hobson, “and if only Heaven will help and not forsake us, we will help ourselves.”
The Lieutenant then related all that had happened since the time when the earthquake broke the isthmus, and converted the districts round Cape Bathurst into an island.