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   Chapter 6 MISSING

Among the Esquimaux; or, Adventures under the Arctic Circle By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 8379

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


It is at such times that a person realizes his helplessness and utter dependence on the great Father of all. Too much are we prone to forget such dependence, when all goes well, and too often the prayer for help and guidance is put off until too late.

It was a commendable trait in all three of the parties whose experience I have set out to tell that they never forgot their duty in this all-important matter. Rob and Fred were full of animal life and spirits, and the elder especially was inclined, from this very excess of health and strength, to overstep at times the bounds of propriety, but both remembered the lessons learned in infancy at the mother's knee, and never failed to commend themselves to their heavenly parent, not only on waking in the glad morning, but on closing their eyes at night.

Jack Cosgrove had one of those impressionable natures, tinged with innocent superstition, which is often seen in those of his calling. His faith possessed the simplicity of a child, and, though many of his doings might not square with those of a Christian, yet at heart he devoutly believed in the all-protecting care of his Maker, and was never ashamed, no matter what his surroundings, to call upon Him for help and guidance.

And so, as the three pressed closer together, adjusting themselves as best they could to pass the long, dismal hours ere the sun would shine upon them again, they were silent, and all, at the same time, communed with God, as fervently and trustfully as ever a dying Christian did when stretched upon his bed of mortal illness.

Had they possessed a blanket among them they could have spread it upon the ice, lain down upon it, and, wrapping it as best they could, passed the night with a fair degree of comfort. That, however, was out of the question. They, therefore, seated themselves under the lee, as may be said of the mass of ice, which protected them against the gale, their bodies pressed as closely together as well could be, and in this sitting posture prepared to go to sleep, if it should so prove that the blessing could be won.

One can become accustomed to almost anything. An abrupt change from the comfortable cabin of the "Nautilus" to the bleak situation on the iceberg would have filled them with a dread hardly less trying than death itself; but they had already been in the situation long enough to grow used to it. The ponderous swaying of the frozen structure, the thunderous dash and roar of the waves against its base, the screaming of the gale and the darkness of the arctic night; all these were sounds and sensations which in a certain sense grew familiar to them and did not disturb them as the hours passed.

It cannot be said that an icy seat or rest forms the most comfortable support for the body, whose warmth is likely to melt the frozen surface, but the thick clothing of the party did much to avert unpleasant consequences. Had Jack or Rob or Fred been alone, the penetrating cold most likely would have overcome him, but as has been shown, the mutual warmth rendered their situation less trying than would be supposed.

When an hour had passed, with only an occasional word spoken, Jack addressed each of the boys in turn by name. There was no response, and he spoke in a louder tone with the same result.

"They're asleep," he said to himself, "and I'm glad of it, though the sleep that sometimes comes to a chap in these parts at such times is the kind that doesn't know any waking in this world. I've no doubt, howsumever, that they're all right."

With a vague uneasiness, natural under the circumstances, he passed his hands over their faces and pinched their arms, as if to assure himself there was no mistake.

The boys were so muffled up in their thick coats and sealskin caps that were drawn about their ears, behind which the collars of their coats were raised, that only the ends of their noses and a slight portion of their cheeks could be felt. He removed his heavy mitten from one hand, and, reaching under the protecting covering about the cheeks and neck, found a healthy glow which told him all was well, and, for the time at least, he need feel no further anxiety, so far as

they were concerned.

"Which being the case," he added, drawing on his mitten again, and making sure their coverings were adjusted, "I'll take a little trip myself into the land of nod."

But this trip was easier thought of than made. His rugged body, with its powerful vitality, would have soon succumbed to drowsiness, could his mind have been free of its distressing fear for the two young friends under his charge. But, though he had said little, he knew far more than he dare tell them. He had shown his alarm on discovering the loss of the boat, but though some impatient expressions escaped him, he did not explain what was in his mind.

His belief was that before morning should come the "Nautilus" would be driven so far from her course that she would be nowhere in sight, and, towering as was the iceberg in its height and proportions, it would be invisible from the deck of the ship, or, if visible, could not be identified among the others drifting through the icy ocean. Well aware, too, he was of the terrific strength of the gale sweeping across the deep, he trembled for the safety of the "Nautilus" and those on board, hardly less than he did for himself and friends. The hurricane was resistless in its power, and would drive the ship whither it chose like a cockle-shell. Icebergs were moving hither and thither through the darkness, less affected by the wind and waves than the vessel, and a collision was among the possibilities, if not the probabilities.

Inasmuch as the "Nautilus" was likely to go down under the fury of the elements, or, if she rode through it, was certain to be too far removed to be of help to the three, the question to consider was what hope of escape remained to the latter.

Although vessels penetrate Baffin Bay and far into the Arctic Ocean, they are so few in number that days and weeks may pass without any two of them gaining sight of each other. A shipwrecked sailor afloat in the South Sea, on a spar, was as likely to be picked up by some trading ship as were Jack and his companions, by any of the whalers or ships in that high latitude.

And then, supposing they did catch sight of some stray vessel, who of the captain and crew would be looking for living persons on board an iceberg? Why would they give the latter any more attention than the scores of the mountainous masses afloat in their path and which it was their first care to avoid?

If a ship should pass so near to them that they could make their signals seen there would be hope; but the chances of anything of that kind were too remote to be regarded.

Such being the outlook, where was there ground for hope? They were beyond sight of the Greenland coast, and were doubtless drifting farther away every hour. Nothing in the nature of succor was to be hoped for from land, and the brave-hearted Jack was obliged to say to himself that, so far as human eye could see, there was none from any source. Cold, starvation, and death seemed among the certainties near at hand.

And having reached this disheartening belief, he closed his eyes and joined his young friends in the land of dreams.

Having sunk into slumber, the sailor was likely to remain so until morning, unless some unexpected circumstance should break in upon his rest, and it did.

It was Rob Carrol, who, probably because of his cramped position, first regained consciousness. As his senses gradually came back to him, and the thunder of the surges and the shrieking of the gale broke in upon his brain, he stretched his benumbed limbs and yawned in an effort to make his situation more comfortable.

It struck him that there had been a change in their relative positions while asleep. Not wishing to awake his companions, he carefully shifted his limbs and body, so as not to disturb them. While doing so, he extended his hand to touch them.

He groped along one figure, which he knew at once was Jack, but he felt no other. With a vague fear he straightened up, leaned over, and hastily extended his arms about him, as far as he could reach. The next moment he roughly shook the shoulder of the sailor, and called out in a husky voice:

"Jack! Jack! wake up! Fred is gone!"

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