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   Chapter 10 AN UGLY CUSTOMER

Among the Esquimaux; or, Adventures under the Arctic Circle By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 7659

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Rob Carrol had good cause for his panic. Full of high hope, he hurried along the ice between crags which shut him out of sight, for the time, from Jack Cosgrove, who was resting himself after his hard climb. The youth was thinking of no one and nothing else, except his friend Fred Warburton, who had vanished so mysteriously the night before.

The signs in the icy track he was following convinced him that he was close upon the heels of his chum, who could not have wandered much farther in advance. His hope was tinged with the deepest anxiety, for it was impossible to account for Fred's long absence and silence, except upon the theory that some grievous injury had befallen him.

The searcher's nerves were strung to the highest point, and he was pushing forward with unabated vigor, when his heart almost stood still, as he caught a peculiar sound among the masses of ice.

"That's Fred," he concluded; "he's alive, thank God!" and then he called to his friend:

"Fred! Fred, old fellow, where are you? Speak, I beg of you."

The words were trembling on his lips, when what seemed to be a huge pile of snow just in advance, arose from the ice and began swinging toward him.

Paralyzed for the moment by the amazing sight, and wondering whether his senses were not betraying him, Rob stood motionless, as if rooted to the spot.

But the next minute that same mass of snow assumed more definite shape, and an unmistakable growl issued from somewhere within the interior.

That was enough. Rob knew what it was that was sweeping down upon him like a young avalanche. He had almost stumbled over a huge polar bear, ravenous and fierce with hunger, and with a courage that made him afraid of neither man nor beast.

He must have been half asleep when roused by the approach and the voice of the lad. Opening his great eyes, he saw before him a fine breakfast in the shape of a plump lad, and he proceeded to go for him with a vim and eagerness that would not be denied.

It was about this time that Rob whirled on his heel and started on the back track, with all the desperate hurry at his command. It will be remembered that he had no gun with him, he and Jack having left the weapons on the ice a considerable distance away. Both were without any means of defense, unless the sheath knife which the sailor always carried may be considered a weapon, and the only possible hope for them was to secure their rifles before the monster secured them.

When the lad's frenzied cry broke upon Jack, he sprang from the seat where he had been resting, and stood staring and wondering what it all could mean. He saw the boy's cap fly from his head, and he noted his terrified glances behind him. The next moment the polar bear plunged into sight, and the sailor grasped the situation.

Even then he failed to do the wisest thing. Instead of realizing that but one course could save them, and that was by dashing back to the guns, he hastily drew his knife and awaited the coming of the brute with a view of checking his attack upon the lad.

It was more creditable to Jack's chivalry than to his sagacity that he should do this thing.

Even Rob, despite his extreme fright, saw the mistake his friend was making, and called to him:

"Quick, Jack! Get the guns and shoot him!"

"I shouldn't wonder now if that was a good idea," reflected the sailor, shoving his knife back, and whirling about to do as urged.

The situation was so critical that even his sluggish blood was stirred, and he never moved so fast as he did for the succeeding seconds. Indeed, it was altogether too fast, for he fell headlong with such violence that he was partially stunned, and by the time he regained his feet Rob was upon him.

Meanwhile the polar bear was making matters lively. He was hustling for his breakfast, and h

e kept things on the jump. He was at home amid the snow and ice, and, with little effort, got forward faster than the fugitives possibly could; he was overhauling Rob hand over hand.

To continue his flight, even for the brief remaining distance, was to insure his certain death. Rob saw him, and, when the ponderous beast was almost upon him, he made a desperate leap from the icy path, landing on his hands and knees several feet to the left, and instantly scrambling up again.

The man?uvre was so unexpected by the pursuer that he passed several paces beyond before he could stop. Turning his head, with his huge jaws so far apart that his red tongue and long white teeth showed, he prepared to continue his pursuit of the lad who had escaped him for the moment by such an exceedingly narrow chance.

But it so happened that Jack Cosgrove just then was also climbing to his feet from his thumping fall, and, being but a short way from the brute, he drew his attention to himself.

The bear's appetite was in that rugged state that he was not particular as to whether his meal was made from a boy or full-grown man, and, since the latter was within most convenient reach, he shifted his design to him.

"By the great horned spoon!" muttered the sailor, quick to see how matters had turned; "but it's Jack Cosgrove that is to have all this fun to himself, and he's enjoying it."

The single recourse still presented itself; nothing could be done to check the furious beast until one of the rifles was turned against him, but it did seem for a time as if fate itself was fighting in favor of the brute.

Jack's tumble and flurry had so mixed him up that the rifles were forgotten, until he took several steps on his flight, when he recalled the fatal oversight, and hastily turned to rectify it; but the precious moments wasted made it too late. The bear was actually between him and the weapons, and, to attempt to reach them, except by a roundabout course, was to fling himself into the embrace of those resistless claws.

He was too wise to attempt it. The first thing to do was to get himself out of reach of the terror that was bearing down upon him with the certainty of death.

"If there was only a tree that I could climb," he reflected, leaping, tumbling, and laboring forward as best he could; "he couldn't nab me, but I don't see any tree, and that chap's hungry enough to eat a stewed anchor."

In the fearful hurry and panic some moments passed before Rob Carrol comprehended the abrupt change in the plan of campaign. At the moment he expected to feel the claw of the brute, he looked back and saw he was pressing Jack hard. Furthermore, the latter, instead of hurrying for the guns, was drawing away from them.

That was a bad outlook, but it suggested to the youth that the chance had come for him to do something effective.

He lost no time in seizing the chance. He turned again in his course, and moved around toward the spot where the weapons had been left near at hand. Could he have been sure of a few minutes there would have been no trouble in managing it, but events were going with such a rush that there was not a spare second at command.

The guns being near and lower in elevation than themselves, were in plain sight. Rob saw the barrels and the iron work gleaming in the morning sunlight, so that he could make no mistake in locating them, but his attention was so riveted on the prizes that he paid no heed to his footsteps, or, rather, he paid less heed than was necessary.

He was within fifty feet, and was counting upon the quickness with which he would end the sport of the brute when he discovered that he was on the brink of an irregular depression in the ice. He tried desperately to check himself or turn aside, but it was beyond his ability and over he went.

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