“We are indeed, sir,” said Marbre; “look at the compass; my name is not Marbre if it does not show that we are walking towards the east not the west!”
“Impossible!” exclaimed Mrs Barnett.
“Look, madam,” said Sabine.
It was true. The needle pointed in exactly the opposite direction to that expected. Hobson looked thoughtful and said nothing.
“We must have made a mistake when we left the ice cavern this morning,” observed Sabine, “we ought to have turned to the left instead of to the right.”
“No, no,” said Mrs Barnett, “I am sure we did not make a mistake!”
“But,” interrupted Mrs Barnett, “look at the sun. Does it no longer rise in the east? Now as we turned our backs on it this morning, and it is still behind us, we must be walking towards the west, so that when we get out of the valley on the western side of the chain of icebergs, we must come to the island we left there.”
Marbre, struck dumb by this irrefutable argument, crossed his arms and said no more.
“Then if so,” said Sabine, “the sun and the compass are in complete contradiction of each other?”
“At this moment they are,” said Hobson, “and the reason is simple enough; in these high northern latitudes, and in latitudes in the neighbourhood of the magnetic pole, the compasses are sometimes disturbed, and the deviation of their needles is so great as entirely to mislead travellers.”
“All right then,” said Marbre, “we have only to go on keeping our backs to the sun.”
“Certainly,” replied Lieutenant Hobson, “there can be no hesitation which to choose, the sun or our compass, nothing disturbs the sun.”
The march was resumed, the sun was still behind them, and there was really no objection to be made to Hobson’s theory, founded, as it was, upon the position then occupied by the radiant orb of day.
The little troop marched on, but they did not get out of the valley as soon as they expected. Hobson had counted on leaving the ice-wall before noon, and it was past two when they reached the opening of the narrow pass.
Strange as was this delay, it had not made any one uneasy, and the astonishment of all can readily be imagined when, on stepping on to the ice field, at the base of the chain of icebergs, no sign was to be seen of Victoria Island, which ought to have been opposite to them.
Yes!—The island, which on this side had been such a conspicuous object, owing to the height of Cape Michael crowned with trees, had disappeared. In its place stretched a vast ice-field lit up by the sunbeams.
All looked around them, and then at each other in amazement.
“The island ought to be there!” cried Sabine.
“But it is not there,” said Marbre. “Oh, sir—Lieutenant—where is it? what has become of it?”
But Hobson had not a word to say in reply, and Mrs Barnett was equally dumfounded.
Kalumah now approached Lieutenant Hobson, and touching his arm, she said—
“We went wrong in the valley, we went up it instead of down it, we shall only get back to where we were yesterday by crossing the chain of icebergs. Come, come!”
Hobson and the others mechanically followed Kalumah, and trusting in the young native’s sagacity, retraced their steps. Appearances were, however, certainly against her, for they were now walking towards the sun in an easterly direction.
Kalumah did not explain her motives, but muttered as she went along—
“Let us make haste!”
All were quite exhausted, and could scarcely get along, when they found themselves on the other side of the ice-wall, after a walk of three hours. The night had now fallen, and it was too dark to see if the island was there, but they were not long left in doubt.
At about a hundred paces off, burning torches were moving about, whilst reports of guns and shouts were heard.
The explorers replied, and were soon joined by Sergeant Long and others, amongst them Thomas Black, whose anxiety as to the fate of his friends had at last roused him from his torpor. The poor fellows left on the island had been in a terrible state of uneasiness, thinking that Hobson and his party had lost their way.