MoboReader> Literature > Among the Esquimaux; or, Adventures under the Arctic Circle

   Chapter 28 A HOPELESS TASK

Among the Esquimaux; or, Adventures under the Arctic Circle By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 7915

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

A fearful task confronted the little party. Thirty miles of snow, several feet deep, lay between them and their only haven of refuge, and they were without sled or snow-shoe. If they succeeded in their prodigious task, it must be done by sheer strength and the power of continued desperation.

But, with compressed lips and the resolution to do or die, they bent to the work without faltering.

The Esquimau naturally took the lead to break the way so far as he could; Jack Cosgrove came next, then Rob Carrol, while Fred Warburton brought up the rear.

The first move that the native made proved he was a veteran. He plunged in, following the decline down to the plateau, which was the scene of their adventures two days before. He walked like one who had only an ordinary tramp before him. In truth, he could have gone faster and done better, but he accommodated himself to his friends, to whom the labor was new and trying to a degree.

None spoke for a long time. It requires strength to do even so slight a thing as that, and no one had an ounce to spare. The question that was uppermost in the minds of the three was whether they would be able to hold out to the end.

"I don't see why we can't," reflected Fred, who, being at the rear, had an easier task than any of the others; "it would be well enough if we had snow-shoes, but neither Jack nor Rob nor I can use them, and we would flounder around a good deal worse than we are doing now and likely enough wouldn't get ahead at all."

The meditations of Rob Carrol were of a similar strain.

"I've seen better fun than this, but it beats staying in the cavern and freezing to death on wolf steak. I believe I'm strong enough to see the business through; I hope Fred won't give out, for he isn't as strong as Jack and I. I believe Docak enjoys it. Gracious! if I ever live to get out of this outlandish country, I'll never set foot in it again. I haven't lost any North Pole, and those that think they have can do their own hunting for it."

The sun still remained obscured, and the wonder of the three was how their guide kept his bearings, after debouching from the highlands and entering upon the broad, undulating plain which stretched away to Davis Strait and Baffin's Bay. There was no misgiving, however, in that respect. Docak could not go astray, or, at least, if there was any likelihood of his doing so, not one of his friends was able to help him.

As the boys had anticipated, the labor of walking in this difficult fashion soon generated a warmth in their bodies that was a vast comfort, after sitting benumbed and shivering so long in the cavern. Despite the extreme cold they felt no discomfort, for the air was quite dry, and less trying, therefore, than a damp atmosphere would have been, even though twenty-five degrees higher.

But it is in such an Arctic climate that one can have his limbs or a portion of his body hopelessly frozen without suspecting it. All were so effectually protected that only a small portion of their faces, their eyes, and tips of their noses were exposed.

The bear-skin, which has been referred to as belonging to Docak, was carried by him after his usual manner. He would have offered it to his friends in turn, had he not known that it would soon have become a burden which he could carry better than they.

Jack, who trod close on the heels of the Esquimau, was admiring the sturdy manner in which he plowed through the snow, his labor being much greater than any one of those who followed him, when the native turned his head and scanned his face with curious intensity. Pausing for the moment in his labor, he leaned to one side, and did the same to the others. His act was all the more singular since he did not speak. The lads smiled under their head-coverings, but their faces were so wrapped up that the relaxation of the features could not be perceived.

"I wonder why he did that," thought all three.

"The chap

has been acting curious ever since this trouble began," continued the sailor, "and I wouldn't be s'prised if he's just a little off."

"Can it be," asked Rob, following up a whimsical idea, "that he fears we aren't ourselves? He has started out to take us to the seacoast, and doesn't mean that anybody else shall rope himself in on him. I guess he's satisfied, though we're so covered up that our nearest friends wouldn't know us."

For fully an hour the party toiled on, and all, with the exception of the leader, began to feel the effects of the severe exertion. Still, no one protested or asked for rest; each determined to keep it up, if possible, until the leader chose to halt.

But Docak did not forget them. At the end of the time named he turned about, and, with something of his old pleasantry, said:

"Much tired-wait while-den go on."

Each of the boys longed to ask him what he thought of the prospect of getting through, but forebore, recalling his moodiness, which might be still upon him despite his present manner.

"I think we're doing quite well, Docak," said Jack; "it's a little hard, but we can take a breathing spell now and then, and keep at it till we strike your home."

Had the Esquimau made any response to this half-inquiring remark the sailor would have followed it up, but he did not. On the contrary, he was busy studying the sky and the surrounding landscape, doubtless with a view of determining what weather changes impended.

The others did the same, but though Jack had learned a good deal of the science at sea he was now at a loss. The dull, leaden sky, so obscured that it was impossible to tell in what part of the heavens the sun was, told him nothing beyond the fact that more snow was likely to fall before many hours.

As the best thing that could be done, the friends studied the actions of the Esquimau.

The result of his survey was not satisfactory-that was clear. He shook his head and muttered something in his own language, which had anything but a pleasant effect on the others.

The scene was one of utter loneliness and desolation. North, east, south, and west stretched the snowy plain, unrelieved by tree, house, or sign of a living creature. Far up in the sky sounded the honk of some wild fowl, and, looking aloft, a line of black specks could be seen, sailing swiftly southward through space, as if to escape the Arctic cold that would soon smother everything in its icy embrace.

The rest was barely ten minutes, when Docak, looking at his companions, asked:

"Be rested? We go on?"

"Yes; we're ready," replied Jack.

"All right-work hard now-don't get tired."

"I won't, if I can help it; but the only way I know of is to stand still, which don't pay in this kind of business."

The Esquimau bent to his work, as if striving for a wager. He had a way not only of stepping down in the soft snow, but of shoving it partly aside from his path. It would have been the severest kind of labor for anyone else, and it is hard to understand how he managed it so well. It was a great help to the one immediately behind him. Jack would have been glad to lighten the task for the boys, but that was out of his power, and he wasted no strength in the attempt.

The party was becoming accustomed to the work. That the guide was aware of this was proven when he kept at it fully twice as long as before. They were going slowly-very slowly-but there was comfort in the consciousness that every step taken was toward safety, and the task before them was lessened, even to that small extent.

At the moment the boys were beginning to think it about time another halt was called, Docak stopped in his former abrupt way, and, leaning to one side, peered into each face in turn.

Something in Fred's appearance caught his attention, and, with an exclamation, he sprang out of the path, and hurried back to where the lad stood, wondering what was the matter with the fellow.

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top