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Lt. Jasper Hobson and other members of the Hudson’s Bay Trading Co. and his team along with the company’s guests, Mrs. Paulina Barnett and Thomas Black travel through the North West Territories of Canada to Cape Bathurst on the Arctic Ocean. At Cape Bathurst, Hobson intends on creating a new trading post for the company, Paulina Barnett is along for the adventure and Thomas Black intends on viewing a solar eclipse during the summer of the following year. The party establishes their outpost before winter sets in, but when spring arrives, nearby volcanic activity triggers an earthquake, which the colony survives; however, a startling revelation is revealed later in the summer when Thomas Black tries to observe the total eclipse. Cape Bathurst has changed its position to the north by almost three degrees of latitude and to the west by several hundred miles; Hobson determines that the Cape has become an island. Now the party’s only hope is the onset of winter, so they might travel across the ice, to reach the mainland Russian America (Alaska). When a mild (by Arctic standards) winter sets in and the island is locked by the ice directly north of the Bering Strait; but the ice is not sufficiently frozen enough for safe passage across the ice. The islands colonists wait for the spring thaw and hope that island will move south with the Bering current and that the boat they’ve built will be able to take them to safety.
501 pages, with a reading time of ~7.75 hours (125,354 words), and first published in 1873. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2014.
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On the evening of the 17th March 1859, Captain Craventy gave a fête at Fort Reliance. Our readers must not at once imagine a grand entertainment, such as a court ball, or a musical soirée with a fine orchestra. Captain Craventy’s reception was a very simple affair, yet he had spared no pains to give it éclat.
In fact, under the auspices of Corporal Joliffe, the large room on the ground-floor was completely transformed. The rough walls, constructed of roughly-hewn trunks of trees piled up horizontally, were still visible, it is true, but their nakedness was disguised by arms and armour, borrowed from the arsenal of the fort, and by an English tent at each corner of the room. Two lamps suspended by chains, like chandeliers, and provided with tin reflectors, relieved the gloomy appearance of the blackened beams of the ceiling, and sufficiently illuminated the misty atmosphere of the room. The narrow windows, some of them mere loop-holes, were so encrusted with hoar-frost, that it was impossible to look through them; but two or three pieces of red bunting, tastily arranged about them, challenged the admiration of all who entered. The floor, of rough joists of wood laid parallel with each other, had been carefully swept by Corporal Joliffe. No sofas, chairs, or other modern furniture, impeded the free circulation of the guests. Wooden benches half fixed against the walls, huge blocks of wood cut with the axe, and two tables with clumsy legs, were all the appliances of luxury the saloon could boast of. But the partition wall, with a narrow door leading into the next room, was decorated in a style alike costly and picturesque. From the beams hung magnificent furs admirably arranged, the equal of which could not be seen in the more favoured regions of Regent Street or the Perspective-Newski. It seemed as if the whole fauna of the ice-bound North were here represented by their finest skins. The eye wandered from the furs of wolves, grey bears, polar bears, otters, wolverenes, beavers, muskrats, water pole-cats, ermines, and silver foxes; and above this display was an inscription in brilliantly-coloured and artistically shaped cardboard—the motto of the world-famous Hudson’s Bay Company—
“Really, Corporal Joliffe, you have surpassed yourself !” said Captain Craventy to his subordinate.
“I think I have, I think I have !” replied the Corporal; “but honour to whom honour is due, Mrs Joliffe deserves part of your commendation; she assisted me in everything.”
“A wonderful woman, Corporal.”
“Her equal is not to be found, Captain.”
An immense brick and earthenware stove occupied the centre of the room, with a huge iron pipe passing from it through the ceiling, and conducting the dense black smoke into the outer air. This stove contained a roaring fire constantly fed with fresh shovelfuls of coal by the stoker, an old soldier specially appointed to the service. Now and then a gust of wind drove back a volume of smoke into the room, dimming the brightness of the lamps, and adding fresh blackness to the beams of the ceiling, whilst tongues of flame shot forth from the stove. But the guests of Fort Reliance thought little of this slight inconvenience; the stove warmed them, and they could not pay too dearly for its cheering heat, so terribly cold was it outside in the cutting north wind.
The storm could be heard raging without, the snow fell fast, becoming rapidly solid and coating the already frosted window panes with fresh ice. The whistling wind made its way through the cranks and chinks of the doors and windows, and occasionally the rattling noise drowned every other sound. Presently an awful silence ensued. Nature seemed to be taking breath; but suddenly the squall recommenced with terrific fury. The house was shaken to its foundations, the planks cracked, the beams groaned. A stranger less accustomed than the habitués of the fort to the war of the elements, would have asked if the end of the world were come.