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   Chapter 14 A COLLISION

Among the Esquimaux; or, Adventures under the Arctic Circle By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 8238

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Jack scorned everything of the kind, and he ate his piece with as much gusto as if it had passed through the hands of a professional cook. The boys managed to dispose of considerable, so that it may be said the little party made a fair meal from the supply so unexpectedly provided them.

The primitive meal finished, the three friends remained seated and discussed the future, which was now the all-important question before them.

"How long is this fog likely to last?" asked Fred.

"No one can answer that," replied Jack; "a brisk wind may drive it away, a rain would soon finish it, or it may go before colder weather, or it may last several days."

"Meanwhile we can do nothing but drift."

"That's about all we can do any way," was the truthful remark of the sailor; "we'll make the bear last as long as we can."

"I think he will last a good while," observed Rob, with a half-disgusted look at the carcass; "it will do when there's nothing else to be had, but I never can fancy it without cooking."

At that moment they received a startling shock. A peculiar shiver or jar passed through the iceberg, as though from a prodigious blow that was felt through every part-an impossible occurrence.

"What can that mean?" asked the lads, in consternation.

"By the great horned spoon!" was the reply of the frightened Jack; "I hope we won't feel it again."

"But what is it?"

"The berg scraped the bottom of the sea just then. There it goes again!"

A shock, fully as violent as before, went through and through the vast mass of ice. It lasted only a second or two, but the sensations of the party were like those of the housekeeper who wakes in the night, to feel his dwelling swaying under the grasp of the earthquake.

None needed to be told of the possible consequences of drifting into shallow water. If the base of the iceberg, extending far down into the depths of the ocean, should strike some projecting mountain peak of the deep, or a plateau, the berg was liable to overturn, with an appalling rush, beyond the power of mind to conceive. In such an event there was no more chance of the party saving themselves than there would be in the crater of a bursting volcano.

Well might they look blankly in each other's faces, for they were helpless within the grasp of a power that was absolutely resistless.

They sat silent and waiting, but, as minute after minute passed, without the shock being repeated, hope returned, and they ventured to speak in undertones, as though fearful that the sound of their voices would precipitate the calamity.

"That satisfies me I was right," said Jack, compressing his lips and shaking his head.

"In what respect?" asked Fred.

"We're drifting toward the North Pole, and we are not far from the Greenland coast."

"But are there not shallow places in the ocean, hundreds of miles from land, where such a great iceberg as this might touch bottom?"

"Yes, but there are not many in this part of the world. The thing may swing out of this current, or get into another which will start it southward, but I don't believe it has done it yet."

"Sailing on an iceberg is worse than I imagined," was the comment of Rob; "I'm more anxious than ever to leave this; it isn't often that a passenger feels like complaining of the bigness of the craft that bears him over the deep, but that's the trouble in this case."

"If the capsize does come," said Jack, "it will be the end of us; we would be buried hundreds of fathoms under the ice."

"There can be no doubt of that, but I say, Jack, isn't there something off yonder? I can't make it out, but it seems to me that it is more than the fog."

While the three were talking, Fred Warburton was seated so as to face the open sea, the others being turned sideways and giving no heed to that point of the compass.

It will be remembered that at this time they were inclosed in the all-pervading fog, which prevented them seeing as far as the length of the mountain of ice on which they were seated. Turning toward the water and peering outward, they saw the cause of the boy's question

. The vapor itself appeared to be assuming shape, vague, indistinct, undefined, and almost invisible, but nevertheless perceptible to all.

The sailor was the first to see what it meant. Leaping to his feet he emitted his favorite exclamation:

"By the great horned spoon! it's another berg!"

With awful slowness and certainty the mass of fog disclosed more and more distinctly the misty contour that had caught the eye of Fred Warburton. At first it was like a pile of denser fog, rolling along the surface of the sea, but the outlines became more distinct each moment, until the form of an iceberg was clearly marked in the wet atmosphere.

The new one was much smaller than that upon which they were afloat, but it was of vast proportions for all that, enough to crush the largest ship that ever floated, as though it were but a toy in its path.

But the fearful fact about its appearance was that the two bergs were approaching each other, under the influence of adverse currents!

A collision was inevitable, and the boys contemplated it with hardly less dismay than they did the overturning of the larger one a short time before.

"This is no place for us!" called out Jack, the moment after his exclamation; "let's get out!"

He started up the path from which the polar bear had come, with his young friends at his heels. They did not stop until they could go no farther, when they turned about and shudderingly awaited the catastrophe that was at hand.

Their withdrawal from the edge of the iceberg to a point some distance away dimmed their vision, but the smaller berg was easily distinguished through the obscurity.

The two continued to approach with a slowness that could hardly have caused a shock in a couple of ships, but where the two masses were so enormous the momentum was beyond calculation.

The frightful crisis was not without its grim humor. The boys braced themselves against the expected crash as if in a railway train with a collision at hand. They lost sight of the fact that no force in nature could produce any such sudden jarring and jolting as they apprehended.

The two bergs seemed to be lying side by side, within a few inches really, but without actually touching.

"Why don't they strike?" asked Rob, in an awed whisper.

"There it comes!" exclaimed Fred; "hold fast!"

The smaller berg was seen to sway and bow, as if that, too, had swept against the bottom of the sea, and it was shaken through every part.

But amazing fact to the lads! they felt only the slightest possible tremor pass through the support upon which they had steadied themselves against the expected shock.

The smaller berg acted like some monster that has received a mortal hurt. It seemed to be striving to disentangle itself from the fatal embrace of its conqueror, but was unable to do so. Nearly conical in shape, a peak rose more than a hundred feet in air, ending in a tapering point almost as delicate as a church spire.

The crash of the immense bodies caused the breaking off of this icy monument a couple of rods from the top, and the mass, weighing many tons toppled over and fell upon the larger berg with a violence that shattered it into thousands of fragments, bits of which were carried to the feet of the awed party. Then, as if the smaller one saw that it was idle to resist longer, it began moving with the larger, which forced it along its own course as a tug pushes a floating chip in front of it.

The danger was over, if, indeed, there had been any danger. It was a minute or two before the boys comprehended it all, but when Rob did, he sprang to his feet and swung his cap over his head.

"Hurrah for our side! We beat 'em hands down!"

"I fancy it is quite safe to count on our keeping the right of way," added Fred, whose mental relief at the outcome was as great as his companion's. "I thought we would be tumbled about when the two came together, as if we were in an overturned wagon, but I can understand now how that could never be."

"But wait till we butt against an iceberg bigger than ours," said Rob, with a shake of his head.

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