And who can tell where the currents will then have taken Victoria Island, either yet farther north or to the Behring Sea!

“Yes, Lieutenant, you are right,” replied Long; “let us remain together, and if we are to be saved in a boat, there is Mac-Nab’s on Victoria Island, and for it at least we shall not have to wait!”

Mrs Barnett had listened without saying a word, but she understood that the ice-field being impassible. they had now nothing to depend on but the carpenter’s boat, and that they would have to wait bravely for the thaw.

“What are you going to do, then?” she inquired at last.

“Return to Victoria Island.”

“Let us return then, and God be with us!”

The rest of the travellers had now gathered round the Lieutenant, and he laid his plans before them.

At first all were disposed to rebel, the poor creatures had been counting on getting back to their homes, and felt absolutely crushed at the disappointment, but they soon recovered their dejection and declared themselves ready to obey.

Hobson then told them the results of the examination he had just made. They learnt that the obstacles in their way on the east were so numerous that it would be absolutely impossible to pass with the sledges and their contents, and as the journey would last several months, the provisions, &c., could not be dispensed with.

“We are now,” added the Lieutenant, “cut off from all communication with the mainland, and by going farther towards the east we run a risk, after enduring great fatigues, of finding it impossible to get back to the island, now our only refuge. If the thaw should overtake us on the ice-field, we are lost. I have not disguised nor have I exaggerated the truth, and I know, my friends, that I am speaking to men who have found that I am not a man to turn back from difficulties. But I repeat, the task we have set ourselves is impossible!”

The men trusted their chief implicitly. They knew his courage and energy, and felt as they listened to his words that it was indeed impossible to cross the ice. It was decided to start on the return journey to Fort Hope the next day, and it was accomplished under most distressing circumstances. The weather was dreadful, squalls swept down upon the ice-field, and rain fell in torrents. The difficulty of finding the way in the darkness through the labyrinth of icebergs can well be imagined!

It took no less than four days and four nights to get back to the island. Several teams of dogs with their sledges fell into the crevasses, but thanks to Hobson’s skill, prudence, and devotion, he lost not one of his party. But what terrible dangers and fatigues they had to go through, and how awful was the prospect of another winter on the wandering island to the unfortunate colonists!

CHAPTER XIV.

THE WINTER MONTHS.

The party did not arrive at Fort Hope until the 28th, after a most arduous journey. They had now nothing to depend on but the boat, and that they could not use until the sea was open, which would not be for six months.

Preparations for another winter were therefore made. The sledges were unloaded, the provisions put back in the pantry, and the clothes, arms, furs, &c., in the magazines. The dogs returned to their dog-house, and the reindeer to their stable.

Great was the despair of Thomas Black at this return to seclusion. The poor astronomer carried his instruments, his books, and his MSS. back to his room, and more angry than ever with “the evil fate which pursued him,” he held himself aloof from everything which went on in the factory.

All were again settled at their usual winter avocations the day after their arrival, and the monotonous winter life once more commenced. Needlework, mending the clothes, taking care of the furs, some of which might yet be saved, the observation of the weather, the examination of the ice-field, and reading aloud, were the daily occupations. Mrs Barnett was, as before, the leader in everything, and her influence was everywhere felt. If, as sometimes happened, now that all were uneasy about the future, a slight disagreement occurred between any of the soldiers, a few words from Mrs Barnett soon set matters straight, for she had acquired wonderful power over the little world in which she moved, and she always used it for the good of the community.

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Jules Verne

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