The Fur Country

Jules Verne

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Elektronická kniha: Jules Verne – The Fur Country (jazyk: Angličtina)

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CHAPTER XV.

THE LAST EXPLORING EXPEDITION.

From this date, February 3rd, the sun rose each day higher above the horizon, the nights were, however, still very long, and, as is often the case in February, the cold increased, the thermometer marking only 1ş Fahrenheit, the lowest temperature experienced throughout this extraordinary winter.

“When does the thaw commence in these northern seas?” inquired Mrs Barnett of the Lieutenant.

“In ordinary seasons,” replied Hobson, “the ice does not break up until early in May; but the winter has been so mild that unless a very hard frost should now set in, the thaw may commence at the beginning of April. At least that is my opinion.” “We shall still have two months to wait then?”

“Yes, two months, for it would not be prudent to launch our boat too soon amongst the floating ice; and I think our best plan will be to wait until our island has leached the narrowest part of Behring Strait, which is not more than two hundred miles wide.”

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Mrs Barnett, considerably surprised at the Lieutenant’s reply. “Have you forgotten that it was the Kamtchatka Current which brought us where we now are, and which may seize us again when the thaw sets in and carry us yet farther north?”

“I do not think it will, madam; indeed I feel quite sure that that will not happen. The thaw always takes place in from north to south, and although the Kamtchatka Current runs the other way, the ice always goes down the Behring Current. Other reasons there are for my opinion which I cannot now enumerate. But the icebergs invariably drift towards the Pacific, and are there melted by its warmer waters. Ask Kalumah if I am not right. She knows these latitudes well, and will tell you that the thaw always proceeds from the north to the south.”

Kalumah when questioned confirmed all that the Lieutenant had said, so that it appeared probable that the island would be drifted to the south like a huge ice-floe, that is to say, to the narrowest part of Behring Strait, which is much frequented in the summer by the fishermen of New Archangel, who are the most experienced mariners of those waters. Making allowance for all delays they might then hope to set foot on the continent before May, and although the cold had not been very intense there was every reason to believe that the foundations of Victoria Island had been thickened and strengthened by a fresh accumulation of ice at the base, and that it would hold together for several months to come.

There was then nothing for the colonists to do but to wait patiently,—still to wait!

The convalescence of little Michael continued to progress favourably. On the 20th of February he went out for the first time, forty days after he was taken ill. By this we mean that he went from his bedroom into the large room, where he was petted and made much of. His mother, acting by Madge’s advice, put off weaning him for some little time, and he soon got back his strength. The soldiers had made many little toys for him during his illness, and he was now as happy as any child in the wide world.

The last week of February was very wet, rain and snow falling alternately. A strong wind blew from the north-west, and the temperature was low enough for large quantities of snow to fall; the gale, however, increased in violence, and on the side of Cape Bathurst and the chain of icebergs the noise of the tempest was deafening. The huge ice-masses were flung against each other, and fell with a roar like that of thunder. The ice on the north was compressed and piled up on the shores of the island. There really seemed to be a danger that the cape itself-which was but a kind of iceberg capped with earth and sand-would be flung down.

Some large pieces of ice, in spite of their weight, were driven to the very foot of the palisaded enceinte; but fortunately for the factory the cape retained its position; had it given way all the buildings must inevitably have been crushed beneath it.

It will be easily understood that the position of Victoria Island, at the opening of a narrow strait about which the ice accumulated in large quantities, was extremely perilous, for it might at any time be swept by a horizontal avalanche, or crushed beneath the huge blocks of ice driven inland from the offing, and so become engulfed before the thaw. This was a new danger to be added to all the others already threatening the little band. Mrs Barnett, seeing the awful power of the pressure in the offing, and the violence with which the moving masses of ice crushed upon each other, realised the full magnitude of the peril they would all be in when the thaw commenced. She often mentioned her fears to the Lieutenant, and he shook his head like a man who had no reply to make.

Early in March the squall ceased, and the full extent of the transformation of the ice-field was revealed. It seemed as if by a kind of glissade the chain of icebergs had drawn nearer to the island. In some parts it was not two miles distant, and it advanced like a glacier on the move, with the difference that the latter has a descending and the ice-wall a horizontal motion. Between the lofty chain of ice-mountains the ice-field was fearfully distorted: strewn with hummocks, broken obelisks, shattered blocks, overturned pyramids, it resembled a tempest-tossed sea or a ruined town, in which not a building or a monument had remained standing, and above it all the mighty icebergs reared their snowy crests, standing out against the sky with their pointed peaks, their rugged cones, and solid buttresses, forming a fitting frame for the weird fantastic landscape at their feet.

At this date the little vessel was quite finished. This boat was rather heavy in shape, as might have been expected, but she did credit to Mac-Nab, and shaped as she was like a barge at the bows, she ought the better to withstand the shocks of the floating ice. She might have been taken for one of those Dutch boats which venture…