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   Chapter 7 A POINT OF LIGHT

Among the Esquimaux; or, Adventures under the Arctic Circle By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 7997

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Jack Cosgrove was awake on the instant. Not until he had groped around in the darkness and repeated the name of Fred several times in a loud voice would he believe he was not with them.

"Well, by the great horned spoon!" he exclaimed, "that beats everything. How that chap got away, and why he done it, and where he's gone to gets me."

"I wonder if he took his gun," added Rob, stooping over and examining the depression in the ice, where the three laid their weapons before composing themselves for sleep; "yes," he added directly after, "he took his rifle with him."

As may be supposed, the two were in a frenzied state of mind, and for several minutes were at a loss what to do, if, indeed, they could do anything. They knew not where to look for their missing friend, nor could they decide as to what had become of him.

One fearful thought was in the minds of both, but neither gave expression to it; each recoiled with a shudder from doing so. It was that he had wandered off in his sleep and fallen into the sea.

Despite their distress and dismay, they noticed several significant facts. The wind that blew like a hurricane when they closed their eyes, had subsided. When they stood up, so that their heads arose above the projections that had protected them, the breeze was so gentle that it was hard to tell from which direction it came. It would be truth to say there was no wind at all.

Further, there was a marked rise in the temperature. In fact, the weather was milder than any experienced after leaving St. John, and was remarked by Rob.

"You don't often see anything of the kind," replied the sailor; "though I call something of the kind to mind on that voyage in these parts in the 'Mary Jane,' which was smashed by the iceberg."

But their thoughts instantly reverted to the missing boy. Rob had shouted to him again and again in his loudest tones, had whistled until the echo rang in his own ears, and had listened in vain for the response.

The tumultuous waves did not subside as rapidly as they arose. They broke against the walls of the iceberg with decreasing power, but with a boom and crash that it would seem threatened to shatter the vast structure into fragments. There were occasional lulls in the overpowering turmoil, which were used both by Rob and Jack in calling to the missing one, but with no result.

"It's no use," remarked the sailor, after they had tired themselves pretty well out; "wherever he is, he can't hear us."

"I wonder if he will ever be able to hear us," said Rob, in a choking voice, peering around in the gloom, his eyes and ears strained to the highest tension.

"I wish I knew," replied Jack, who, though he was as much distressed as his companion, was too thoughtful to add to the grief by any words of his own. "I hope the lad is asleep somewhere in these parts, but I don't know nothing more about him than you."

"And I know nothing at all."

"Can you find out what time it is?"

That was easily done. Stooping down so as to protect the flame from any chance eddy of wind, Rob ignited a match on his clothing and looked at his watch.

"We slept longer than I imagined, Jack; day-break isn't more than three or four hours off."

"That's good, but them hours will seem the longest that you ever passed, my hearty."

There could be no doubt on that point, as affected both.

"Why, Jack," called out Rob, "the stars are shining."

"Hadn't you observed that before? Yes; there's lots of the twinklers out, and the storm is gone for good."

Every portion of the sky except the northern showed the glittering orbs, and, for the moment, Rob forgot his grief in the surprise over the marked change in the weather.

"This mildness will bring another change afore long," remarked Jack.

"What's that?"

"Fogs. We'll catch it inside of twenty-four hours, and some of them articles in this part of the world will beat them in London town; thick enough for you to lean against without falling."

As the minutes passed, with the couple speculating as to what could have happened to Fred Warburton, their uneasiness became so great that they could not remain idle. They must do something or they would lose command of themselves.

Rob was on the point of proposing a move, with little hope of its amounting to anything, when the sailor caught his arm.

"Do you see that?"

The darkness had so lifted that the friends could distinguish each other's forms quite plainly, and the lad saw that Jack had extended his arm, and was pointing out to sea. The fellow was startled, as he had good cause to be.

Apparently not far off was something resembling a star, low down in the horizon and gliding over the surface of the deep. Now and then it disappeared, but only for a moment. At such times it was evidently shut from sight by the crests of the intervening waves.

It was moving steadily from the right to the left, the friends, of course, being unable to decide what points of the compass these were. Its motion in rising and sinking, vanishing and then coming to view again, advancing steadily all the while, left no doubt as to its nature.

"It's the 'Nautilus'!" exclaimed Rob; "Captain McAlpine is looking for us."

"That's not the 'Nautilus'," said Jack; "for she doesn't show her lights in that fashion. Howsumever, it's a craft of some kind, and if we can only make 'em know we're here they'll lay by and take us off in the morning."

As the only means of reaching the ears of the strangers the two began shouting lustily, varying the cries as fancy suggested. In addition, Jack fired his gun several times.

While thus busied they kept their gaze upon the star-like point of light on which their hopes were fixed.

It maintained the same dancing motion, all the while pushing forward, for several minutes after the emission of the signals.

"She has stopped!" was the joyful exclamation of Rob, who postponed a shout that was trembling on his lips; "they have heard us and will soon be here."

Jack was less hopeful, but thought his friend might be right. The motion of the star from left to right had almost ceased, as if the boat was coming to a halt. Still the sailor knew that the same effect on their vision would be produced if the vessel headed either away from or toward the iceberg; it was one of these changes of direction that he feared had taken place.

Up and down the light bobbed out of sight for a second, then gleaming brightly as if the obscuring clouds had been brushed aside from the face of the star, which shone through the intervening gloom like a beacon to the wanderer.

"Yes, they are coming to us," added Rob, forgetting his lost friend in his excitement; "they will soon be here. I wonder they don't hail us."

"Don't be too sartin, lad," was the answer of the sailor; "if the boat was going straight from us it would seem for a time as though she was coming this way; I b'lieve she has changed her course without a thought of us."

They were cruel words, but, sad to say, they proved true. The time was not long in coming when all doubt was removed. The star dwindled to a smaller point than ever, seemed longer lost to view, until finally it was seen no more.

"Do you suppose they heard us?" asked Rob, when it was no longer possible to hope for relief from that source.

"Of course not; if they had they would have behaved like a Christian, and stood by and done what they could."

"Ships are not numerous in this latitude, and it may be a long time before we see another."

"The chances p'int that way, and yet you know there's a good many settlements along the Greenland coast. It isn't exactly the place I'd choose for a winter residence-especially back in the country-but there are plenty who like it."

"In what way can that affect us?"

"There are ships passing back and forth between Denmark and Greenland, and a number v'yage to the United States, and I'm hoping we may be run across by some of them-Hark!"

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