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   Chapter 12 FRED'S EXPERIENCE

Among the Esquimaux; or, Adventures under the Arctic Circle By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 8016

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Both Jack Cosgrove and Rob Carrol could have shouted with joy at the sight of the missing boy, and the sound of his voice. More than once, during the stirring minutes that they were trying to save themselves from the irrestrainable bear, they thought of the shot that was fired by neither of them, and which, therefore, they naturally attributed to their friend.

The second shot left no doubt of its source, and here now was the youth hurrying down from some point near where the brute had come, laughing like his own natural self.

It need not be said that his hand was shaken heartily by the sailor and his companion, and that he was overwhelmed with questions as to his singular action.

The story of Fred was curious, and yet it had been partially discounted by his chum.

It was not to be supposed that he would leave the comparative comfort he enjoyed when huddled close to his friends without good cause, and in that case he would have notified them of his intention, to save them from alarm.

The experience of the day disturbed him, and caused him to dream dreams of the most vivid nature. Several times, during the preceding years, he had walked in his sleep, and his departure from the camp, as they called it, was as unknown to himself as to his friends.

It was evident that he managed the business with great skill, since neither of the others was disturbed. He picked up his gun and went off in the direction followed by Rob, clambering farther up the side of the iceberg than was supposed possible.

"I think," said Fred, "that I can read the cause for what I did while unconscious. You remember we had much to say about the 'Nautilus' being driven out of sight by the gale, and I recall that, before going to sleep, I wondered whether we could not climb to a higher portion of the berg and signal to them.

"I suppose that was what set my mind and muscles to work when unconscious, and impelled me to try what I never would have tried with my full senses about me.

"When I came to myself I was in a cavity in the ice, where the protection against the gale was much better than our camp. It was a regular bowl or hollow, which would have been just the place for us three. But daylight had come, the weather was so moderate that I did not suffer from cold, and there was nothing, therefore, to be feared from that cause.

"As you may suppose, it took me sometime before I could recall myself, but I was not long in suspecting the truth. I was so comfortable in the position involuntarily assumed that I lay still while pondering matters. When ready, I was on the point of rising, when I heard a slight noise on the ice above me.

"'That's Jack or Rob,' I thought; 'they are looking for me, and I will give them a scare.'

"I lay still, expecting one of you to pass so close that you would discover me, but though I could follow the movement by sound, and though the object passed close to me it was not quite close enough to be seen, I rose softly to my feet and peered over the edge of the cavity in which I was resting.

"Well, Rob was startled when he stumbled over that polar bear, but he was no more frightened than I, when I discovered that instead of it being one of you, it was that frightful brute which had swung by within a few feet of where I lay.

"You can see the curious shape of matters. The bear had come from some point beyond where I lay, and, making his way down the ice, had now placed himself between me and you. The only means of my reaching you was by passing close to him. That meant a fight to the death.

"I noticed his tremendous size, and from what I have heard they are among the most dangerous beasts in the world-"

"You're right there, my hearty," interrupted Jack; "if there was ever any doubt in my mind, which there wasn't, it was settled by that little scrimmage awhile ago."

"I had my gun, and, at first, was half-disposed to take a shot, but the chance was a poor one, for he was walking straight away, and it was imp

ossible to do more than sound him. That would render him furious and cause him to attack me. Our rifles were not repeating ones, and before I could get another charge ready, he would be upon me, and it might be that several well-aimed shots would be necessary to finish him."

"You had good sense," said Rob; "he would have made mince-meat of you in a fight."

"You must remember that while I could see the bear from where I peered over the edge of the ice, I could not catch the first sight of you. The brute seemed to be following some sort of a path, while the masses of ice were so piled upon both sides and beyond him that all farther view was shut off.

"While I was watching the enormous white body swinging along, it stopped, and then to my dismay, he turned about and started back.

"'He's coming for me!' was my conclusion, 'and now there will be a row sure.'

"I braced myself to receive him, but, inasmuch as he had not yet seen me, and, inasmuch as he had once passed my shelter, without discovering me, there was hope that he would do the same again. So 'Brer rabbit, he lay low,' and I listened for him to go by. As soon as he was at a safe distance, I intended to climb out and hurry to you. We three ought to be enough for him, and I had no fear but that you might manage him between you without my help."

"That was my opinion at that time," added Fred, with a twinkle of his eye, "but it isn't now. While I was crouching there I heard you calling me. You can understand why I didn't answer. I preferred to remain mum so long as that bear was between me and you and coming toward me."

"We did a lot of shouting last night," said Rob.

"That's the first I knew of it. But the minutes passed without the bear being heard. I listened as intently as I knew how, but no sound reached me.

"'I wonder if he intends to promenade back and forth,' was my thought, as I ventured to peep out once more, with great caution; 'this is getting interesting.'

"Well, I was surprised when I saw him. He was less than a dozen yards off, and lying down, with his head still turned away from me. His action was just as if he had learned that his breakfast was going to come up that path, and he intended to wait until it walked into his arms."

"And that is pretty nearly what I did," said Rob, with a smiling glance at the carcass.

"His head being still away I dared not fire, nor would it have done for me to call to you or answer your signals. It was plain to me that he had no suspicion that the choicest kind of meal was right near him, and it wouldn't have been wise for me to apprise him of the fact; it might have made things unpleasant all around.

"You needn't be told what followed. I watched him a few minutes, during which he was as motionless as the iceberg itself, and then I settled down to await developments.

"While seated, of course I saw nothing of him, and the first notice I received of what was going on was when I heard Rob shouting. I sprang out of my shelter, and, as you will remember, saved you both from being devoured by the monster. Isn't he, or, rather, wasn't he a big fellow?" added Fred, stepping over to the enormous carcass and touching it with his foot.

"He's the biggest I've ever seen," assented Jack, "and I'm thankful that we got off as well as we did. It's no use of denying that your shots helped us through."

"Possibly, but it was Rob after all who wound up the business," Fred hastened to say, lest he might be thought of wishing to take undue credit to himself.

"There's worse eating, too, than bear meat."

It was Jack who made this remark, and the others caught its significance. They were thus provided with the means of living for a long time on the iceberg, and might hope for some means of rescue in the course of a week or two.

Rob was about to make some characteristic reply, when the sailor pointed out to sea.

"Do you obsarve that?" he asked. "It's just what I was afeared of, and I don't like it at all."

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