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   Chapter 26 WALLED IN

Among the Esquimaux; or, Adventures under the Arctic Circle By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 7942

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


By daybreak, when all the party were awake, the blizzard foretold by the native had fully arrived.

It was a terror, indeed. The cold was frightful, and the air outside was white with snow, which was driven horizontally by the hurricane, as though shot from the mouths of myriad pieces of ordnance. It shrieked about the cavern, and drove the white particles so fiercely through the narrow crevice that Docak hastened to shove his bear-skin into it. This only partially filled the opening and the snow spun in around it clean across the flinty floor.

The regular entrance was partly protected by its own projection, but, at times, a blast entered that fairly took away their breath. The fire was necessary to keep from freezing, but the supply of fuel was growing low, and the last stick must soon be reached. What then would be the fate of the party if the blizzard continued?

It was useless to discuss the future and no one did so; the present was with them, and the question was how to live from hour to hour.

On shooting the intruding wolf, Rob had flung his carcass away. The report awakened the others, and, rising to his feet, Docak passed far enough outside to bring it in again. He did not speak, but all understood the meaning of the action; that body might be the means of saving them from starvation.

Enough of the previous night's meal remained to afford a nourishing breakfast, but they partook sparingly, preferring to use that in preference to the new supply. Happily thirst was a torture that need never be apprehended.

Jack Cosgrove braved the blast to that degree that he forced himself through the opening and stood several minutes outside, shading his eyes and striving to pierce the blinding turmoil.

All in vain. The gale almost carried him off his feet, and his vision could no more penetrate the furious swirl of snow than if it were the darkest night that ever covered the earth. The cold was so piercing that he was glad to hasten back among his friends, and shiver and crouch over the fire.

"By the great horned spoon, Docak! s'pose we had started for home last night?"

"Wish had," was the sententious response.

"Why, we wouldn't have been half-way there by this time, and we would have perished all together."

"We trabel fast-mebbe storm not dere yet."

This intimation that the blizzard might be less terrific at so slight a distance was incredible, but the Esquimau was positive that it would have been far better had they set out early in the evening. By rapid traveling they might have covered the greater part of the distance before morning, and could have fought the few remaining miles in the teeth of the gale.

But it was equally useless to discuss what might have been. They were imprisoned in the cavern, thirty miles from succor and with no possibility that any friends would ever take the trouble to search for their bodies. All they could do was to rely upon Heaven and their own exertions.

Without any explanation as to his intentions, and leaving his gun behind him, the native plunged through the opening and disappeared in the blizzard outside.

Born and reared in Greenland, amid Arctic snows and appalling tempests, the hardy Esquimau was far better fitted to undergo such trials of endurance than could be any native of a temperate clime.

"Where do you suppose he has gone?" asked Rob, wonderingly.

"I don't know," replied Jack; "but if he goes far he'll never come back again."

"It doesn't seem to me," said Fred, coming to the question of the present for the first time, "that the outlook is as bad as he would make us believe."

"Why not?"

"We have enough food to last a week or two, or even longer, and the blizzard certainly won't keep it up that long."

"You can't be sartin about that," said Jack; "it may last for several weeks, but s'pose it's only for three or four days, there are two big things that we must face."

"What are they?"

"What to do af

ter it stops; the snow will be several feet deep on top of that which is now on the ground; it will be too fine and soft to bear our weight, and can be traveled over only with snow-shoes which we haven't got. How then are we going to fight our way thirty miles through it?"

"It will be a hard job, but no greater than that which many explorers have undergone. With Docak as our guide, I think we can pull through."

"But what is the other matter you refer to?" asked Rob.

"This wood will soon go, and then how are we going to keep from freezing to death?"

"If we will huddle together as closely as we can with the bear-skin wrapped about us I think we can stand it."

"I like the way you chaps talk," said the sailor, admiringly, "and if we have to go down we'll do so with colors flying. It's the downheartedness of Docak that knocks me askew; if he would show a braver front I would feel better."

"Possibly he is more hopeful than he pretends."

"No, he isn't that sort of chap; he knows better than we just what all this means. Whew!"

The exclamation was caused by a sudden outburst that sent the snow whirling through the opening and the crevice, from which the bear-skin dropped, as if struck a blow from the other side. Jack ran forward, picked it up, and thrust it back, hardly able to breathe from the fury of the gale in his face.

The snow shot through the opening, too, scattering the brands of fire in every direction. Had the shelter been anything else excepting the solid rock that it was, it must have been swept like chaff from its foundations.

The explosion, as it may be called, lasted but a minute or so. The boys hastily gathered up the scattered brands and flinging them together they were fanned by the tempest into a vigorous flame, whose warmth, slight as it was, was grateful beyond measure to the three gathered around it.

"Docak is wrong in regretting that we did not start last night," said Jack Cosgrove; "that style of storm is raging at this moment over hundreds of miles, and it would have made short work of us."

"What about the 'Nautilus,' if she is in it?"

"She can manage it if she has plenty of sea room, but I hope she is far enough off to dodge this blizzard. She ought to be at any rate."

The gale did the party an unexpected favor. It was a substantial one, too, which they appreciated. It drove the snow against the troublesome crevice with such fury that it quickly formed a solid bank, extending far above it. This ended the drifting of the particles inside and protected them from the cutting wind.

At the same time it did something of the same nature with the entrance, where it soon became banked to that extent that little blew within, and the gale hardly disturbed them.

Seeing what had taken place, Jack withdrew the bear-skin from where it had been stuffed into the opening and spread it in the farthermost corner of the cavern.

"Come, my hearties," said he, cheerfully, "we've got nothing to do but to make ourselves comfortable. We won't burn any more wood till Docak comes back."

They huddled together, and, though the cold made their teeth chatter and their bodies shiver, they found considerable relief and were willing to hope on.

They could feel no anxiety about the absent native. It was certain he would not go far enough from the cavern to endanger his safety or to imperil his return. Some definite object must have led him forth.

"I wonder if it is for food," suggested Fred.

"No; for there's no possibility that the wolves left anything," replied Rob; "and then, too, we have enough to last a good while."

At that moment there was a flurry at the entrance and the Esquimau, resembling a snow man, stooped and pushed his way in.

Entering, he flung a half-dozen small sticks upon the tiny pile at the side of the cavern. He had gone forth in quest of fuel and was able to secure only that miserable supply, really not worth taking into account.

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