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   Chapter 8 HOPE DEFERRED

Among the Esquimaux; or, Adventures under the Arctic Circle By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 8047

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


A hoarse, tremulous sound came across the ocean. There was no mistaking its character; it was from the whistle of a steamer, the one whose light led them to hope for a time that their rescue was at hand. It sounded three times, and evidently the blasts were intended as a signal, though, of course, they bore no reference to the two persons listening so intently on the iceberg.

"That was the last thing I expected to hear in this latitude," remarked Rob, turning to his companion.

"I don't know why," replied Jack; "they have such craft plying along the Greenland coast. What's more, I've heard that same whistle before and know the boat; it's the 'Fox'."

"Not the 'Fox' I have read about as having to do with the Franklin expedition?" said the youth, in astonishment.

"The identical craft."

"You amaze me."

Those of my readers who are familiar with the history of Arctic exploration will recall this familiar name. It was the steam tug in which sailed the party that succeeded in finding traces of the ill-fated Franklin expedition of near a half century ago. It afterward came into the possession of the company that owns the cryolite mine at Ivigtut, and is now used to carry laborers and supplies from Copenhagen to that place. While at Ivigtut, it is occasionally employed to tow the Greenland ships in and out of the fiord.

Ah, if its crew had only heard the shouts and signals of the couple on the iceberg, how blessed it would have been! But its lights had vanished long ago, and, if its whistle sounded again, it was so far away that it could not reach the listening ears.

The restlessness of the friends, to which I have referred, now led them to attempt a search, if it may so be called, for the missing Fred. This of necessity was vague and blind, and was accompanied with but a grain of hope. Neither had yet referred to the awful dread that was in their thoughts, but weakly trusted they might find the poor fellow somewhere near asleep or senseless from a fall.

Morning was still several hours distant, but the clearing of the air enabled them to pick their way with safety, so long as they took heed to their footsteps.

"I will go down toward the spot where the boat gave us the slip," said Jack, "and I don't know what you can do, unless you go with me."

"There's no need of that; of course I can't make my way far, while the night lasts, but I remember that we penetrated some way beyond this place before camping for the night; I'll try it."

"Keep a sharp lookout, my hearty, or there'll be another lad lost, and then what will become of Jack Cosgrove?"

"Have no fear of me," replied Rob, setting out on the self-imposed expedition.

He paused a few steps away and turned to watch the sailor, who was carefully descending the incline, at the base of which they had landed.

"I hope he won't find Fred, or rather that he won't find any signs of his having gone that way," said Rob to himself with a shudder.

As the figure of the man slowly receded, it grew more indistinct until it faded from sight in the gloom. Still the youth looked and listened for the words which he dreaded to hear above everything else in the world.

Jack Cosgrove received a good scare while engaged on his perilous task. He was half-way down the incline, making his way with the caution of a timid skater, when, like a flash, his feet flew from under him, and, falling upon his back, he slid rapidly toward the waves at the base of the berg.

But the brave fellow did not lose his coolness or presence of mind. His left hand grasped his rifle, and, throwing out his right, he seized a projection of ice, checking himself within a few feet of the water and near enough for the spray from the fierce waves to be flung over him.

"This isn't the time for a bath," he muttered, carefully climbing to his feet and retreating a few paces; "it would have been a pretty hard swim out there with my heavy clothing, though I think I could manage it."

After all, what could he hope to

accomplish by this hunt for Fred Warburton? If he had wandered in that direction and fallen into the sea, he had left no traces that could be discovered in the gloom of the night. He could not have gone thither and stayed there that was certain.

The sailor having withdrawn beyond the reach of the waves, sat down in as disconsolate a mood as can be imagined. A suspicion that Rob might follow caused him to turn his head and look over his shoulder.

"I don't see anything of him, and I guess he'll stay up there; I hope so, for Jack Cosgrove isn't in the mood to see or talk with any one 'cepting that lad which he won't never see nor talk to agin."

Convincing himself that he was safe against a visit from the elder youth, the sailor bowed his head, and, for several minutes, wept like one with an uncontrollable grief.

When his sorrow had partially subsided, he spent a brief while with his head still bowed in communion with his Maker.

"I don't know but what the lad is luckier than me or Rob," he added, reviewing the situation in his mind; "for we've got to foller him sooner or later. It isn't likely that any ship will come as nigh to this thing as the 'Fox' did awhile ago, and I can't see one chance in ten thousand of our being took off. We haven't a mouthful of food, and there's no way of our getting any. After a time we will have to lay down and starve or freeze to death, or both. Poor Fred has been saved all that-"

He checked his musings, for at that moment a peculiar sound broke upon his ear. It resembled that caused by the exhaust of a steamer at low pressure. One less experienced than he would have been deceived into the belief that such was its source, but Jack did not hold any such false hope for a minute even. He understood it too well.

It was made by a whale "blowing." One of those monster animals was disporting himself in the vicinity of the iceberg, and the sailor had heard the same sound too often to mistake it.

Shifting his position so as to bring him nearer the sea, he stooped and peered out in the gloom, in the direction whence came the noise. There was enough starlight for him to trace the outline of the mountainous waves, as they arose against the sky, though they were dimly defined and might have misled another.

While gazing thus, a huge mass took vague form. It was the head of a gigantic leviathan of the deep, which for a moment was projected against the sky and then sank out of sight with the same noise that had attracted Jack's notice in the first place.

The blowing was heard at intervals, for several minutes, until the distance shut it from further notice.

"I wonder if Rob noticed it," the sailor asked himself; "for if he did, he will make the mistake of believing the 'Fox' has come to take us off, and we're done with this old berg."

But nothing was heard from the youth, and the sailor remained seated on the shelf of ice, a prey to his gloomy reflections. He had made up his mind to stay where he was until the coming of day, when the question of what was to be done would be speedily settled.

Meanwhile, he wanted no company but his own thoughts. He had kept up with the elder youth, and carefully withheld his fears and beliefs from him. He felt that he could do so no longer. The farce had been played out, and the truth must be spoken.

It was impossible to note the passage of time. Jack carried no watch, but each of the boys owned an excellent timepiece. He probably fell into a doze, for, when he roused himself once more, he saw that the night was nearly over.

"I wonder what Rob is doing," he said, rising to his feet, stretching his arms, and looking in the direction where he expected to see his friend; "I hope nothing hain't happened to him."

This affliction was spared the sailor, for while he was peering through the increasing light, he caught sight of the figure of Rob making his way toward him.

"Hello, Jack, have you found anything?"

"No; have you?"

"I think I have; come and see."

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