Kalumah knew that in the winter bears will crouch patiently near these holes, and watching for the moment when the seal comes out of the water, they rush upon it, hug it to death in their paws, and carry it off. She knew, too, that the Esquimaux, not less patient than the bears, also watch for the appearance of these animals, and throwing a running noose over their heads when they push them up, drag them to the surface.
What bears and Esquimaux could do might certainly also be done by skilful hunters, and Kalumah hastened back to the fort to tell the Lieutenant of what she had seen, feeling sure that where these holes were seals were not far off.
Hobson sent for the hunters, and the young native described to them the way in which the Esquimaux capture these animals in the winter, and begged them to try.
She had not finished speaking before Sabine had a strong rope with a running noose ready in his hand and accompanied by Hobson, Mrs Barnett, Kalumah, and two or three soldiers, the hunters hurried to Cape Bathurst, and whilst the women remained on the beach, the men made their way to the holes pointed out by Kalumah. Each one was provided with a rope, and stationed himself at a different hole.
A long time of waiting ensued—no sign of the seals, but at last the water in the hole Marbre had chosen began to bubble, and a head with long tusks appeared. It was that of a walrus. Marbre flung his running noose skilfully over its neck and pulled it tightly. His comrades rushed to his assistance, and with some difficulty the huge beast was dragged upon the ice, and despatched with hatchets.
It was a great success, and the colonists were delighted with this novel fishing. Other walruses were taken in the same way, and furnished plenty of oil, which, though not strictly of the right sort, did very well for the lamps, and there was no longer any lack of light in any of the rooms of Fort Hope.
The cold was even now not very severe, and had the colonists been on the American mainland they could only have rejoiced in the mildness of the winter. They were sheltered by the chain of icebergs from the north and west winds, and the month of January passed on with the thermometer never many degrees below freezing point, so that the sea round Victoria Island was never frozen hard. Fissures of more or less extent broke the regularity of the surface in the offing, as was proved by the continued presence of the ruminants and furred animals near the factory, all of which had become strangely tame, forming in fact part of the menagerie of the colony.
According to Hobson’s orders, all these creatures were unmolested. It would have been useless to kill them, and a reindeer was only occasionally slaughtered to obtain a fresh supply of venison. Some of the furred animals even ventured into the enceinte, and they were not driven away. The martens and foxes were in all the splendour of their winter clothing, and under ordinary circumstances would have been of immense value. These rodents found plenty of moss under the snow, thanks to the mildness of the season, and did not therefore live upon the reserves of the factory.
It was with some apprehensions for the future that the end of the winter was awaited, but Mrs Barnett did all in her power to brighten the monotonous existence of her companions in exile.
Only one incident occurred in the month of January, and that one was distressing enough. On the 7th, Michael Mac-Nab was taken ill—severe headache, great thirst and alternations of shivering and fever, soon reduced the poor little fellow to a sad state. His mother and father, and indeed all his friends, were in very great trouble. No one knew what to do, as it was impossible to say what his illness was, but Madge, who retained her senses about her, advised cooling drinks and poultices. Kalumah was indefatigable, remaining day and night by her favourite’s bedside, and refusing to take any rest.
About the third day there was no longer any doubt as to the nature of the malady. A rash came out all over the child’s body, and it was evident that he had malignant scarlatina, which would certainly produce internal inflammation.