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   Chapter 22 FRED'S TURN

Among the Esquimaux; or, Adventures under the Arctic Circle By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 8210

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


At the moment Rob Carrol wheeled to run the foremost of the musk oxen was upon him.

This animal was the largest of the herd, after the fall of the leader, whose place he had undoubtedly taken by the unanimous wish of the survivors.

Perhaps he was eager to prove to his companions his worthiness to fill the shoes of the late lamented commander, for, although one of the most dreaded of enemies stood directly in his path, and had just emptied his gun at him, he charged upon him like a cyclone.

Meanwhile, Fred Warburton, having darted behind the rocks, lost no time in slipping another cartridge in his gun. He would have assumed any risk before permitting harm to come to his friend, but, somehow or other, he yearned for the chance of saving him from just such a disaster as was now upon him.

THE OX BOUNDED DIRECTLY OVER HIS BODY

(See page 199)

Had Rob started a moment sooner he would have escaped, but in his desperate haste he fell headlong, and the ox bounded directly over his body, fortunately, without touching him.

The other animals were unequal to the draught upon their courage, and diverged sharply, some to the right and the rest to the left, circling back over the plateau on whose margin Jack Cosgrove and Docak were waiting until they came within certain range.

"Fred, fire quick! my gun's unloaded!" called Rob from where he lay on the ground; "don't wait a second or it'll be too late!"

Fred did fire, sending the bullet with such accuracy that it wound up the business. Precisely the same catastrophe, described by the Esquimau to the sailor took place. The ox, coming with such desperate speed, was carried forward by its own terrific momentum. It may be said that he was dead before he could fall; he certainly was unconscious of what he was doing, for he crashed against the rocks, as if driven from an enormous catapult and then collapsed, in a senseless heap, with his flat horns smashed and broken to fragments.

Fred Warburton saw that his "turn" had arrived, and he made the most of it. Rob had been merciless to him, and he was now ready to pay him off in his own coin.

"I wouldn't lie down there, Rob," he said, gravely, "for the ground must be cold."

"It does seem rather chilly-that's a fact," replied his friend, who, knowing what was coming, slowly climbed to his feet; "I didn't think of that when I lay down."

"What made you lie down at all?"

"You see I noticed that the creature didn't mean to turn about and travel the other way as yours did; there was the difference. Then I knew, too, that he must be tired from running so hard, and it struck me as a kind thing to do to serve as a rug or carpet for him."

"You did so, and no mistake. If I'm not in error," continued Fred, with a quizzical expression, "I heard you call out a minute ago something about my hurrying up and firing so as to save your life."

"I say anything like that! What put such an idea in your head? It must have been the echo of your voice, when you were running away from the ox that was running away from you."

And Rob assumed an expression of innocent surprise that would have convinced any one else than Fred of his mistake.

"It is singular, but no doubt I am in error," said he, resignedly. "It must have been some one else that sprawled on the ground, and begged me to shoot quick or he was a goner; it must have been another vaunting young man, who looked up so pityingly, and was too scared to try to get on his feet until I shot the ox for him, just as I did the polar bear, when another minute would have finished him; but I'd like to see that other fellow," added Fred, looking around, as if in quest of him.

"I'll help you search," said Rob, in the same serious manner; "and as soon as I run across him I'll introduce you two. You'll be congenial to each other. Until then suppose we let the matter rest."

"I won't promise that," returned Fred, following up his advantage; "it depends on whether certain other matters are referred to."

Rob now laughed outright and offered his hand, which his friend readily took.

The

words were uttered hurriedly, for it was hardly the time or place for conversation. The popping of rifles was renewed from another part of the plateau, and several other musk oxen had tumbled to the ground. A half-dozen survivors managed to get it through their heads that they had enemies on both sides, and, seeing an opening, they plunged through it and were seen no more.

The boys devoted some minutes to inspecting the two animals that had fallen by the rifle of Fred Warburton. They were a couple of the largest specimens of their kind, but the description already given renders anything like a repetition unnecessary.

Although it was the favorable season of the year, the youths detected a slight musky odor exhaling from the bodies, which was anything but pleasant.

Docak and Jack were observed approaching across the plateau. Both were in high spirits over the success that had marked this essay in hunting the musk ox, and the Esquimau assured them that despite the odor to which they objected, he would furnish them with one of the best suppers they had ever eaten. The lads, however, could not feel quite assured on that point.

It may as well be stated in this place that the spot where the animals were shot was about thirty miles inland from the home of Docak, and a great many leagues south of Upernavik, the most northernmost settlement on the Greenland coast. It is beyond this quaint Arctic town, in the neighborhood of Melville Bay, that the musk ox has his true habitat. There, although the animals are diminishing in number, he may be found by any one who chooses to hunt for him.

The fact that Docak had met them so far south was extraordinary, and, up to the previous year, he had never known of such a thing, nor did he believe there were any besides this particular herd within hundreds of miles of the spot, nor that they were likely ever to be seen there again.

It took our friends two days and a part of a night to reach this portion of the Arctic highlands. They had looked for foxes, reindeer, ptarmigan, hares, and other game on the way, but failed to run across any game until they came upon the musk oxen. Had not the Esquimau been thoughtful enough to bring a lunch of cold fish, they would have suffered from hunger. As it was, all felt the need of food, and the prospect of a dinner upon the game at their feet was inviting, indeed.

The Esquimau would not have bothered with the cooking had he been alone, but, out of deference to his friends, he prepared to make a meal according to their tastes.

Inasmuch as so much game had been bagged, they could afford to be choice. They cut the tongues from the animals, together with some slices from the tenderest portion of their bodies, and had sufficient to satisfy all their appetites and leave something over.

No better place for camping was likely to be found than these hills, but a shelter was desirable, and Docak set out to lead the way further among them. His manner showed that he was familiar with the section, for he did not go far before he came upon the very place for which Fred Warburton longed when making his desperate flight from the bull that he supposed was at his heels.

It was a cavern among the rocks, as extensive as his own living room at home, and approached by an entrance, which if not so extended as his own entry, was of still less dimensions, causing them to stoop and creep for part of the way.

"Me be here 'fore," said he; "like de place?"

"I should say we did," replied the pleased Rob, echoing the sentiments of his friends; "but we shall need some fuel to cook the food and keep warm, and wood isn't very abundant in this part of the world."

"We git wood," was the rather vague reply, whose meaning was not understood until they had penetrated into the cavern, which was lightened by a crevice on one side of the entrance. This permitted enough daylight to enter to reveal the interior quite plainly. It took the boys a few minutes to accustom their eyes to the gloom, but when they did so they were no less pleased than surprised at what they saw.

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