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   Chapter 4 ADRIFT

Among the Esquimaux; or, Adventures under the Arctic Circle By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 7566

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Jack Cosgrove, of the "Nautilus," was not often agitated by anything in which he became involved. Few of his perilous calling had gone through more thrilling experiences than he, and in them all he had acquired a reputation for coolness that could not be surpassed.

But one of the few occasions that stirred him to the heart was when hurrying to disembark from the iceberg, in the desperate hope of reaching the ship before the bursting of the gale and the closing of night, he found that the little boat had been swept from its fastenings, and the only means of escape was cut off.

There was more in the incident than occurred to Rob Carrol and Fred Warburton, who hastened after him. He had been in those latitudes before, and the reader will recall the story Captain McAlpine told to the boys of the time Jack was one of three who escaped from the collision of the whaling ship with an iceberg in the gloom of a dark night.

Had it been earlier in the day, and had no storm been impending, he could have afforded to laugh at this mishap, for at the most, it would have resulted in a temporary inconvenience only. The skipper would have discovered their plight sooner or later, and sent another boat to bring them off, but the present case was a hundred-fold more serious in every aspect.

In the first place, the fierce disturbance of the elements would compel Captain McAlpine to give all attention to the care of his ship. That was of more importance than the little party on the iceberg, who must be left to themselves for the time, since any effort to reach them would endanger the vessel, the loss of which meant the loss of everything, including the little company that found itself in sudden and dire peril.

What might take place during the storm and darkness his imagination shuddered to picture. Had the boat been found where he left it a short time before, desperate rowing would have carried them to the "Nautilus" in time to escape the full force of the storm. That was impossible now, and as to the future who could say?

The rowboat, as will be remembered, was simply drawn a short distance up the icy incline, where it ought to have remained until the return of the party. Such would have been the fact under ordinary circumstances, for the mighty bulk of the iceberg prevented it feeling the shock of any disturbance that could take place in its majestic sweep through the Arctic Ocean, except from its base striking the bottom of the sea, or a readjustment of its equilibrium, as they had observed in the case of the smaller berg. It might crush the "Great Eastern" if it lay in its path, but that would have been like a wagon passing over an egg-shell.

In leaving the boat as related, the stern lay in the water. Even then it would have been secure, but for the agitation caused by the coming gale. That began swaying the rear of the craft, whose support was so smooth that it speedily worked down the incline and floating into the open water instantly worked off beyond reach.

The boys knowing so little what all this meant and what was before them, were disposed to make light of their misfortune.

"By the great horned spoon, but that is bad!" exclaimed Jack, pointing out on the water, where the boat was seen bobbing on the rising waves, fully a hundred yards away, with the distance rapidly increasing.

It seems as if in the few minutes intervening, night had fully descended. The wind had risen to a gale, and, even at that short distance the little craft was fast growing indistinct in the gathering gloom.

"It isn't very pleasant," replied Rob, "but it might be worse."

"I should like to know how it could be worse," said the sailor, turning reprovingly toward him; "I wonder if I can do it."

The last words were utter

ed to himself, and he hastily laid down his gun on the ice by his side. Then he began taking off his outer coat.

"What do you mean to do?" asked the amazed Fred.

"I believe I can swim out to the boat and bring it back," was the reply, as he continued preparations.

"You musn't think of such a thing," protested Rob; "the water is cold enough to freeze you to death. If you can't reach it, you will have to come back to us, with your clothing frozen stiff, and nothing will save you from perishing."

"I'll chance that," said Jack, who, however, continued his preparations more deliberately, and with his eye still on the receding boat.

He was about to take the icy plunge, in the last effort to save himself and friends, when he stopped, and, straightening up, watched the craft for a few seconds.

"No," said he, "it can't be done; the thing is drifting faster than I can swim."

Such was the evident fact. While the vast mass of ice, as has been explained elsewhere, was under the impulse of a mighty under-current, the small craft was swept away by the surface current which flowed in the opposite direction.

Even while the party looked, the boat faded from sight in the gloom.

"I can't see it," said Rob, who, like the others, was peering intently into the darkness.

"Nor I either," added Fred.

"And what's more, you'll never see it again," commented Jack, who began slowly donning his outer garments; "younkers, I've been in a good many bad scraps in my life, and more than once would have sworn I was booked for Davy Jones' locker, but this is a little the worst of 'em all."

His young friends looked wonderingly at him, unable to understand the cause of such extreme depression on the part of one whom they knew to be among the bravest of men, and in a situation that did not strike them as specially threatening.

"Don't you think this iceberg will hold together until morning?" asked Rob.

"It'll hold together for months," was the answer, "and like enough will travel hundreds of miles through the Gulf Stream before it goes to nothing."

"Then we are sure of a ship to keep us from drowning."

"I aint meaning that," said Jack, who was rapidly recovering his equanimity, though it was plain he was strongly affected by the woful turn the adventure had taken.

"And," added Fred, "Captain McAlpine knows where we are; he will remain in the neighborhood until morning-"

"How do you know he will?" broke in Jack, impatiently.

"What's to hinder him?" asked Fred, in turn, startled by the abrupt question; "he knows how to sail the 'Nautilus,' and has taken it through many gales worse than this."

"How do you know he has?"

"Gracious, Jack, I don't know anything about it; I am only saying what appears to me to be the truth."

"I don't want to hurt your feelings, lads, but I can't help saying you don't know what you're talking about. A couple of young land lubbers like you don't see things as they show themselves to one who was born and has lived all his life on the ocean, as you may say. I don't mean to scare you more than I oughter, but you can just make up your minds, my hearties, that you never was in such a fix as this, and if you live to be a hundred years old you'll never be in another half as bad."

These were alarming words, but, inasmuch as Jack did not accompany them with any explanation, neither Rob nor Fred were as much impressed as they would have been had he explained the grounds for his extreme fear. What they saw was an enforced stay on the iceberg until the following day. Although in a high latitude, the night was not unusually long, and, though it was certain to be as uncomfortable as can well be imagined, they had no doubt they would survive it and live to laugh at their mishap.

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