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   Chapter 9 A STARTLING OCCURRENCE

Among the Esquimaux; or, Adventures under the Arctic Circle By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 8380

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


As may be supposed, Jack Cosgrove was all excitement on the instant. He had not expected any such reply, and he was eager to learn the cause. As he started forward, he instinctively glanced down in quest of evidence that Fred had passed there. There was none so far as he could see, and, if there had been, it is not likely he would have been able to identify it, since all the party had been over the same spot, and some of them more than once.

"What is it?" he asked, as he reached his friend.

"It may mean nothing, but a little distance beyond where we camped the ice is broken and scratched as though some one has been that way."

"So there has, we were there yesterday afternoon."

"I haven't forgotten that, but these marks are at a place where we haven't been, that is unless it was Fred."

"How did you manage to find them in the dark?"

"I didn't; I groped over the ice as far as I could, and then sat down and waited for day. I must have slept awhile, but when it was growing light I happened to look around, and there, within a few feet of me, on my right hand, I noticed the ice scratched and broken, as though some one had found it hard work to get along. I was about to start right after him, when I thought it best to tarry for you. It is now so much lighter that we shall learn something worth knowing."

Even in their excitement they paused a few minutes to gaze out upon the ocean, as it was rapidly illumined by the rising sun. Before long their vision extended for miles, but the looked-for sight was not there. On every hand, as far as the eye could penetrate, was nothing but the heaving expanse of icy water.

Whether they were within a comparatively short distance of Greenland or not, they were not nigh enough to catch the first glimpse of the coast.

Several miles to the eastward towered an iceberg, apparently as large as the one upon which they were drifting. Its pinnacles, domes, arches, plateaus, spires, and varied forms sparkled and scintillated in the growing sunlight, displaying at times all the colors of the spectrum, and making a picture beautiful beyond description.

To the northward and well down in the horizon, was another berg, smaller than the first, and too far off to attract interest. A still smaller one was visible midway between the two, and a peculiar appearance of the sea in the same direction, Jack said, was caused by a great ice field.

Not a ship was to be seen anywhere. Their view to the southward was excluded by the bulk of the iceberg, on which they were floating.

"There's nothing there for us," remarked Rob with a sigh.

"You're right; lead the way and let's see what you found."

It took them but a few minutes to reach the place the lad had in mind, and they had no sooner done so than the sailor was certain an important discovery had been made.

Where there was so much irregularity of shape as on an iceberg, a clear description is impossible; but, doing the best we can, it may be said that the spot was a hundred feet back from where the three huddled together with an expectation of spending the night until morning. It was only a little higher, and was attained by carefully picking one's way over the jagged ice, which afforded secure footing, now that day had come.

Adjoining the place, from which the party diverged to the left, was a lift or shelf on the right, and distant only two or three paces. It was no more than waist high, and, therefore, was readily reached by any one who chose to clamber upon it.

It is no easy matter to trace one over the ice, but the signs of which Rob had spoken were too plain to be mistaken. There were scratches, such as would have been made by a pair of shoes, a piece of the edge was broken off, and marks beyond were visible similar to those which it would be supposed any one would make in clambering over the flinty surface.

Jack stood a minute or two studying these signs as eagerly as an American Indian might scrutinize the faint trail of an enemy through the forest.

"By the great horned spoon!" he finally exclaimed; "but that does look encouraging; I shouldn't wonder if the chap did make his way along there in the ni

ght, but why he done it only he can tell. Howsumever, where has he gone?"

That was the question which Rob Carrol had asked himself more than once, and was unable to answer. The ice, for a distance of another hundred feet, looked as if it might be scaled, but, just beyond that, towered a perpendicular wall, like the side of a glass mountain. There could be no progress any farther in that direction, nor, so far as could be judged, could any one advance by turning to the right or left.

There must be numerous depressions and cavities, sufficient to hide a dozen men, and it was in one of these the couple believed they would find the dead or senseless body of their friend.

"Jack," said Rob, "take my gun."

"What for?"

"I'll push on ahead as fast as I can; I can't wait, and the weapon will only hinder me."

"I've an idee of doing something of the kind myself, so we'll leave 'em here. I don't think they'll wash away like the boat," he added, as he carefully placed them on the shelf, up which they proceeded to climb.

But Rob was in advance and maintained his place, gaining all the time upon his slower companion, who allowed him to draw away from him without protest.

"There's no need of a chap tiring himself to death," concluded Jack, as he fell back to a more moderate pace; "he's younger nor me, and it won't hurt him to get a bump or so."

Rob was climbing with considerable skill. In his eagerness he slipped several times, but managed to maintain his footing and to advance with a steadiness which caused considerable admiration on the part of his more sluggish companion.

He used his eyes for all they were worth, and the signs that had roused his hope at first were still seen at intervals, and cheered him with the growing belief that he was on the right track.

"But why don't we hear something of him?" he abruptly asked himself, stopping short with shuddering dread in his heart; "he could not have remained asleep all this time, and, if he has been hurt so as to make him senseless, more than likely he is dead."

The youth was now nearing the ice wall, to which we have referred, and beyond which it looked impossible to go. The furtive glances into the depressions on his right and left showed nothing of his loved friend, and the evidences of his progress were still in front. The solution of the singular mystery must be at hand.

Unconsciously Rob slowed his footsteps, and looked and listened with greater care than before.

"What can it mean? Where can he have gone? I see no way by which he could have pushed farther, and yet he is not in sight-"

He paused, for he discovered his error. The path, if such it may be termed, which he had been following, turned so sharply to the right that it could not be seen until one was upon it. How far it penetrated in that direction remained to be learned.

Rob turned about and looked at Jack, who was several rods to the rear, making his way upward with as much deliberation as though he felt no personal interest in the business.

"I'm going a little farther, Jack, but I think we're close upon him now. Hurry after me!"

"Ay, ay," called the sailor, in return; "when you run afoul of the lad give him my love and tell him I'm coming."

This remark proved that he shared the hope of Rob, who was now acting the part of pioneer, and it did not a little to encourage the boy to push on with the utmost vigor at his command.

The sailor was somewhat winded from his unusual exertions, and, believing there was no immediate need of his help, sat down for a few minutes to regain his breath.

"He'll yell the moment he catches sight of anything, and he can do that so well that he don't need any help from me-by the great horned spoon! what's the meaning of that?"

Rob Carrol, who had been out of sight but a few seconds, now burst to view again, the picture of terror. He was plunging toward the sailor with such desperate haste that he continually stumbled and bruised himself. But he instantly scrambled up again, glancing in mortal fright over his shoulder, and barely able to gasp as he dashed toward the sailor:

"O Jack! we're lost! we're lost! Heaven help us!"

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