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   Chapter 16 LAND HO!

Among the Esquimaux; or, Adventures under the Arctic Circle By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 8211

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

The boys could hardly credit their senses. Just as they had settled themselves to spend another long, dismal night on the iceberg, the sound of a paddle broke upon their ears, followed, the next moment, by a hail in unmistakable English.

"It's Captain McAlpine or one of the men!" exclaimed Rob, breaking into such a headlong rush down the incline that it threatened to precipitate him into the sea before he could check himself.

Fred was at his heels, and Jack tumbled against him. He knew that that voice was no Caucasian's. Despite the English word, he recognized it as belonging to a native Esquimau.

"We're coming!" called back Jack, in turn; "just hold on a few minutes and we'll be there-by the great horned spoon!"

He bumped flat on his back, and shot down the incline so fast that he knocked the heels from under Fred, and the two, impinging against Rob, prostrated him also, the three shooting forward like so many sleighs going down a toboggan slide.

"Never mind, lads; we'll stop when we strike water," called the sailor, so pleased that he recked little of the consequences. All the same, however, each exerted himself desperately to stop, and, barely succeeded in doing so, on the very edge of the incline.

Then they perceived one of the long, narrow native boats, known as a kayak, drawn up alongside the wharf, as it may be called, with the Esquimau in the act of stepping out.

He contemplated the sight in silent wonderment, for, it is safe to say, he had never been approached in that fashion before.

Jack was the first to recover the perpendicular, and he impulsively reached out his mittened hand to the native, who was clad in furs, with a short jacket and a hood, which covered all his head, excepting the front of his face.

"How do you do, my hearty? I never was so glad to see any one in my life as I am to see you."

"Glad to meet you," replied the Esquimau, somewhat abashed by the effusive greeting; "where you come from?"

"From the iceberg," and then reflecting that this good friend was entitled to a full explanation, the sailor added:

"We visited this berg, yesterday, from the ship "Nautilus;" our boat was carried away before we knew it, and the gale drove the ship so far out of her course that we haven't seen a thing of her since. How came you to know we were here?"

"Heard gun go off-didn't know where it be-hear it again-then know it here-then come to you."

"Were you ashore?"

"Started out to fish-you go ashore with me?"

"You can just bet we will; your kayak is strong enough to take us all, isn't it?"

"If sit still-make no jump," was the reply of the native, who was plainly pleased at the part of the good Samaritan he was playing.

"These are my friends, Rob Carrol and Fred Warburton," said Jack, introducing the lads, each of whom shook the hand of the native, whom they felt like embracing in a transport of pleasure.

Since the native had come out for the purpose of taking them off, there was no delay in embarking. The long boat, which the Esquimau handled with such skill, was taxed to carry the unusual load, and Jack suggested that he should wait till the boys were taken ashore, when the native could return for him, but their friend said that was unnecessary, and, inasmuch as the land was fully three miles distant, the task would have been a severe one. The sea was not ugly, and the Esquimau assured them there would be no trouble in landing them safely, if they "dressed" carefully and guarded against any sudden shifting of position.

All understood the situation too well to make any mistake in this respect, and, in a few minutes, everything was in readiness. The native sat in the middle of the boat and swayed his long paddle with a dexterity that aroused the admiration of his passengers. It was not the kind of paddling to which Jack Cosgrove was accustomed, though he could have picked it up with readiness, and he was just the one to appreciate work of that kind.

Rob was nearest the prow, and, as the craft whirled about and headed toward land, he caught a shower of spray which

was dashed over his clothing and in his face. That, however, meant nothing, and he gave no heed to it. Immediately the craft was skimming over the waves at a speed of fully five knots.

The occasion was hardly one for conversation, and Rob cautiously moved sideways and turned his head, so as to watch the advance. The weather, as will be remembered, was perfectly clear; the stars were shining and he could see for a considerable way over the water.

It was trying to the nerves of so brave a lad as he to observe a huge wave rushing like a courser straight toward them and looking as if nothing could save the boat from swamping; but, under the consummate handling of its owner, it arose to meet the wall of water and rode it easily. Then, as it plunged into the trough on the other side, it seemed as if about to dive into the depths of the sea, but immediately arose again with inimitable grace and readiness.

Then, perhaps, would follow a short distance of comparatively smooth water, quickly succeeded by the plunging and rising as before.

All at once the surface became smooth. Before Rob could guess its meaning something grated against the front of the kayak and slid along the side, followed by another and another. The native slowed his paddling and pushed on with extreme care.

He had entered a field of floating ice, through which it was necessary to force his way with all caution. This was proven by the many turns he made, and it was then that his skill showed in a more striking light than before.

He sat facing the prow and was obliged to look over the head of Rob and along each side of him. His quick eye took in the size and contour of the drift ice, and, hardly checking his own progress, he shot to the right, then to the left, turning so quickly that the bodies of his passengers swayed under the sudden impulse, but all the time he continued his advance, apparently with undiminished speed.

Meanwhile Jack Cosgrove, from his seat at the rear, was looking still farther ahead in the effort to gain sight of the welcome land, which never was so dear to him as when on the iceberg. Once he fancied he caught the twinkle of a light so low down that it was on shore, but it vanished quickly and he believed he was mistaken.

It was not long, however, before his penetrating vision discovered that for which he was yearning. The unmistakable outline of the coast arose to view, rising gradually from the edge of the water until lost in the gloom beyond. It was white with snow, as a matter of course, the depth probably being several feet. The sight of any considerable portion of Greenland free of its snowy mantle would be a sight, indeed.

The floating ice continued all the way to land, and the closer the latter was approached the more difficult became the progress. But the native was equal to the task. He had been through it too often to hesitate more than a few seconds when some larger obstacle than usual interposed across his path. It was very near land that the greatest peril of all was encountered. The kayak glided over a cake of ice, the Esquimau believing it would pass readily underneath the craft and out beyond the stern, but its buoyancy was greater than he supposed, and it swayed the boat with such force that it came within a hair of capsizing.

"All right!" he called, cheerily, righting the craft with several quick, powerful strokes of his paddle. Then he shot between two other enormous cakes, wedged his way through a narrow passage, and the prow crunched into the snow that came down to the water's edge.

"Here we are, and thank the Lord!" called out Rob, leaping with a single bound upon the solid earth; "I feel like giving three cheers, for if ever Providence favored a lot of scamps, we are the ones."

Fred followed as the kayak turned sideways, so as to permit all to step out, but Jack paused, opposite the native, and peered into his face. Something in the Esquimau's voice struck him as familiar.

"What's your name?" he asked, still scrutinizing him as closely as he could in the gloom.

"Docak," was the reply.

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