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"Isle Aktok."—A Sea-Horse and a Sea-Horse Hunt.—In High Spirits.—Sudden Interruption of the Hunt.—A Heavy Gun.—The Race to the Ledge-Tops.—Too Late.—A Disheartening Spectacle.—Surprised by the Company's Ship.—The Schooner in Peril.—Capt. Hazard bravely waits.—The Flight of "The Curlew" amid a Shower of Balls.—The Chase.—Left on the Islet.—A Gloomy Prospect.—"What shall we have for Grub to ate?"—Wild-Geese.—Egging.—"Boom!"—A Sea-Horse Fire.
Toward night the wind changed to north, and thinned out the patch-ice, driving it southward, so that by ten o'clock, evening, we were able to get in our ice-anchors and make sail, continuing our voyage, and making about four knots an hour till nine o'clock next morning, when we were off a small island, the first of a straggling group on the south side of the strait. South-east of this islet was another large island, which we at first mistook for the south main, but, after comparing the chart, concluded that it was "Isle Aktok." To the north the mainland, with its fringe of ledgy isles, was in sight, distant not far from thirteen leagues. We had been bearing southward considerably all night, falling off from the wind, which was north-west. We were now, as nearly as we could reckon it up, a hundred and nineteen leagues inside the entrance of the straits at Cape Resolution. Raed and I were below making a sort of map of the straits, looking over the charts, etc., when Kit came running down.
"There's a sea-horse off here on the island!" said he.
"A sea-horse!" exclaimed Raed.
"A walrus!" I cried; for we had not, thus far, got sight of one of these creatures, though we had expected to find them in numbers throughout the straits. But, so far as our observation goes, they are very rare there.
Taking our glasses, we ran hastily up. Wade was looking off.
"Out there where the ice is jammed in against this lower end of the island," directed Kit.
The distance was about a mile.
"Don't you see that great black bunch lying among the ice there?" continued he. "See his white tusks!"
Bringing our keen little telescopes to bear, we soon had him up under our noses,—a great, dark-hided, clumsy beast, with a hideous countenance and white tusks; not so big as an elephant's, to be sure, but big enough to give their possessor a very formidable appearance.
"Seems to be taking his ease there," said Wade. "Same creature that the old writers call a morse, isn't it?"
"I believe so," replied Raed.
"Wonder if our proper name, Morse, is from that?" said I.
"Shouldn't wonder," said Kit. "Many of our best family names are from a humbler origin than that. But we must improve this chance to hunt that old chap: may not get another. And it won't do, nohow, to come clean up here to Hudson Bay and not go sea-horse-hunting once."
"Right, my boy!" cried Raed. "Captain, we want to go on a walrus-hunt. Can the schooner be brought round, and the boat manned for that purpose?"
"Certainly, sir. 'The Curlew' is at your service, as also her boat."
"Then let me invite you to participate in the exercise," said Raed, laughing.
"Nothing would suit me better. But as the wind is fresh, and the schooner liable to drift, I doubt if it will be prudent for me to leave her so long. You have my best wishes for your success, however. I shall watch the chase with interest through my glass; and, better still, I will see that Palmleaf has dinner ready at your return.—Here, Weymouth and Donovan, let down the boat, and row these youthful huntsmen to yonder ice-bound shore!"
Ah! if we had foreseen the results of that hunt, we should scarcely have been so jocose, I fancy. Well, coming events are wisely hidden from us, they say; but, by jolly! a fellow could afford to pay well for a glimpse at the future once in a while.
Each of us boys took a musket and eight or ten cartridges. I'm not likely to forget what we took with us, in a hurry.
"We'll put the bayonets on, I guess," Kit remarked. "It's a big lump of a beast. These are just the things for giving long-range stabs with."
"Don't forget the caps!" cried Raed, already half way up the companion-way.
The wind was rather raw that morning: we put on our thick pea-jackets. Weymouth and Don were already down in the boat, which they had brought alongside.
"Here, Don, stick that in your waistband!" exclaimed Kit, who had come up last, tossing him one of our new butcher-knives.
"All right, sir!"
"Wish you would give me a musket," said Weymouth.
"You shall have one!" cried Wade, running back for it.
"Come, Guard!" shouted Kit. "Here, sir!" and the shaggy Newfoundland came bouncing down into the boat.
We got in and pulled off.
"Make for that little cove up above the ice where the sea-horse lies," directed Raed. "We'll land there, and then creep over the rocks toward him."
Kit caught up the extra paddle, and began to scull. We shot over the waves; we joked and laughed. Somehow, we were all as merry as grigs that morning.
Running into the cove, the boat was pulled up from the water, and securely fastened. Up at this end of the straits the tide did not rise nearly so high,—not more than eight or ten feet during the springs.
"Now whisht!" said Raed, taking up his musket. "Back, Guard! Still, or we shall frighten the old gentleman!"
"He was lying there all sedate when we slid into the cove," said Kit. "Asleep, I guess."
"We'll wake him shortly," said Wade. "But you say they are a large species of seal. Won't he take to the water, and stay under any length of time?"
"That's it, exactly," replied Kit. "We mustn't let him take to the water—before we riddle him."
"But they're said to have a precious tough hide," said I. "Perhaps we can't riddle so easy."
"Should like to see anything in the shape of hide that one of these rifle slugs won't go through," replied Kit.
"Sh-h-h!" from Raed, holding back a warning hand: he was a little ahead of us. "Creep up still! Peep by me! See him! By Jove! he's wiggling off the ice! Jump up and shoot him!"
We sprang up, cocking our muskets, just in time to get a glimpse and hear the great seal splash heavily into the sea. Wade and Kit fired as the waters buried him; Guard rushed past, and Donovan bounded down the rocks, butcher-knife in hand.
"Too late!" exclaimed Raed.
We ran down to the spot. The water went off deep from the ice on which it had lain. It was nowhere in sight. Dirt and gravel had been scattered out on to the ice, and its ordure lay about. Evidently this was one of its permanent sunning-places.
"Get back among the rocks, and watch for him!" exclaimed Kit. "Only thing we can do now."
"I suppose so," said Raed.
We secreted ourselves a little back from the water behind different rocks and in little hollows, and, with guns rested ready to fire, waited for the re-appearance of the big seal. Five, ten, fifteen minutes passed; but he didn't re-appear much.
"I say," Wade whispered: "this is getting a little played!"
We were all beginning to think so, when a horrible noise—a sound as much like the sudden bellow of a mad bull as anything I can compare it with—resounded from the other side of the island.
"What, for Heaven's sake, is that?" Kit exclaimed.
"Must be another of these sea-horses calling to the one over here," said Raed, after listening a moment.
"Let's work round there, then," I said.
The noise seemed to have been four or five hundred yards off. Keeping the dog behind us, we hurried round by the east shore to avoid climbing the higher ledges, which rose sixty or seventy feet along the middle of the islet. These bare, flinty ledges, when not encumbered by bowlders, are grand things to run on. One can get over them at an astonishing pace. Once, as we ran on, we heard the bellow repeated, and, on coming within twenty or thirty rods of where it had seemed to be, stopped to reconnoitre.
"Bet you, he's right under that high ledge that juts out over the water there," said Kit.
"Wait a moment," whispered Wade: "we may hear him again." And, in fact, before his words were well out, the same deep, harsh sound grumbled up from the shore.
"Under that ledge, as I guessed!" exclaimed Kit.
"Sounds like an enormous bull-frog intensified," Raed muttered.
We crept down toward the brink of the ledge, Kit and Wade a little ahead. Arriving at the crest, they peered over cautiously, and with muskets cocked.
"Here he is!" Kit whispered back of his hand.
We stole up. There, on a little bunch of ice not yet thawed off the shore, lay the unsuspecting monster,—a great brown-black, unwieldy body. There is no living creature to which I can easily compare it. I should judge it would have weighed a ton,—more perhaps; for it was immensely thick and broad: though the head struck me as very small for its bulk otherwise.
"Now, all together!" whispered Raed. "Aim at its body above and back of its forward flippers. Ready! Fire!"
We let drive. The great creature gave a hoarse grunt, and, raising itself on its finlike legs, floundered over into the sea.
"Round the ledge!" shouted Kit. "He won't get far, I don't believe!"
Guard was tearing down, barking loudly; and we had started to run, when, above the shouting and barking, the sudden boom of a cannon was heard.
"Hark!" cried Weymouth.
"Hold on, hold on, fellows!" Raed exclaimed.
"Wasn't that our howitzer?" Donovan asked. "Sounded like it."
"It's the cap'n firing, for a joke, to let us know he heard us," Weymouth suggested.
"Oh! he wouldn't do that," replied Raed.
"Of course he wouldn't!" exclaimed Donovan. "He ain't that sort of a man!"
"That's a summons!" said Wade, coming hurriedly back up the rocks; for he and Kit were a little ahead. "Put for the top of the ledges up here! We can see from there!"
We had got twenty yards, perhaps, when a second loud report made the rocks rattle to it.
"There's trouble!" exclaimed Wade at my heels, as we climbed up the steep side.
An undefinable fear had blanched all our faces. Scarcely had the echoes of the gun died out among the crags when another heavier report made the islet jar under our feet.
"Oh, there!" exclaimed Raed despairingly.
Donovan was a step ahead; but Kit and I sprang past him now. Another shelving incline of forty or fifty yards, and the blue sea burst into view over the rocks. My eyes burned in their sockets from the violent exertion. At first I saw only "The Curlew" with her great white sails both broadside to us, and our bright gay flag streaming out. A glance showed that she had been brought round, and that the sails were flapping wildly. A jet of flame streamed out from her side; and, like a warning-call, the sharp report crashed on our ears, infinitely louder now we had gained the top. All this in a second.
"Why! what is it?" I exclaimed. Turning, I saw them all staring off to the west.
Heavens! there, under full sail, was a large ship not two miles off! How like the shadow of doom she loomed up! and how suddenly white the faces of Kit and Wade just beyond me looked! We had thought we were on the lookout for this very thing; and yet it seemed to us now a complete surprise. We were stunned.
Bang! A heavy cannon; and the water flew up in a long white streak far past "The Curlew" as the big shot went driving by. The ship was within a mile and a half of her, and we here on the islet three-fourths of a mile away! Yet there stood "The Curlew" motionless on the waves; and there stood Capt. Mazard, waving his hat for us, his glass glittering in his other hand.
"To the boat!" yelled Weymouth, leaping down the rocks. "He wouldn't go without us!"
"Stop!" shouted Raed. "It's no use! Don't you see how the ship's closing in?"
Then, catching off his cap, he waved it slowly toward the east. We saw the captain's glass go up to his eye. Again Raed motioned him to go.
Bang! A higher shot. It strikes a quarter of a mile ahead of the schooner, and goes skipping on. But the captain is still looking off to us, as if loath to desert us. A third time Raed waves his cap. He turns. Round go the booms. "The Curlew" starts off with a bound. The flag streams out wildly in the strong north-west wind.
Bang! That ball hits the sea a long way ahead of its mark. Even in these brief seconds the great shadowy ship has come perceptibly nearer. How she bowls along! We can see the white mass of foam at the bows as she rides up the swells.
A queer, lost feeling had come over me. In an instant it all seemed to have gone on at a far-past date. Looking back to that time now, I see, as in a picture, our forlorn little party standing there on the black, weathered ledges, gazing off,—Weymouth half a dozen rods down the rocks, where he had stopped when Raed called to him; Donovan a few rods to the right, shading his eyes with his hand; Raed with his arms folded tightly; Kit staring hard at the ship; Wade dancing about, swearing a little, with the tears coming into his eyes; myself leaning weakly on a musket, limp as a shoe-string; and poor old Guard whining dismally, with an occasional howl,—all gazing off at the rapidly-moving vessels.
"It was no use," Raed said, his voice seeming to break the spell. "We couldn't have got off to the schooner. See how swiftly the ship comes on! If the captain had waited for us to pull off, or even started up and let us go off diagonally, the ship would have come so near, that there would have been no escaping her guns. I don't know as there is now. If any of those shot should strike the masts, or tear through the sails, there would be no getting away.
"I want you to look at it just as I do," Raed continued; for we none of us had said a word. "If we had tried to get on board, 'The Curlew' would certainly have been captured, and we with her. Now she stands a chance of getting off."
Bang! What a tremendous gun! The large ship was getting off opposite. The report made the ledge tremble under us.
"Hadn't we better get out of sight?" Donovan said. "They may see us, and send a boat over here."
"No danger of that, I think," replied Raed. "They want to run the schooner down, and wouldn't care to leave their boat so far behind. This strong north-west wind favors them. Still I don't think they are gaining much. They're not going over ten or eleven knots. 'The Curlew' will beat that, I hope,—if none of those big shots hit her," taking out his glass. "How beautiful she looks!"
"But, Raed," remarked Kit soberly, "they will chase her clean out the straits into the Atlantic, even if they do not capture her."
"And she'll be rather short-handed for men," observed Donovan.
"That's too true."
"Then what are the chances of her getting back here for us?" cried Wade.
Bang! from the great white mass of bulging canvas now fairly opposite us. The smoke drifted out of her bows. We could hear the rattle of her blocks, the swash of the sea, and the roar of sails; and, quite distinct on the fresh breeze, the gruff commands to reload.
"Capt. Mazard won't leave us here if he lives and has his liberty," said Raed.
"Oh, he'll come back if he can!" exclaimed Donovan. "He's true blue!"
"But what if he can't," Kit observed quietly. "What a situation for us! Here we are a thousand miles from a civilized town or a civilized people, and in a worse than trackless wilderness! The season, too, is passing. The straits will soon be closed with ice."
"Only think of it!" Wade cried out,—"here on this frozen coast, with winter coming on! In a month it will be severe weather here. We've nothing but our cloth clothing!"
Wade turned away; and for many minutes we were all silent.
"Come, fellows!" Raed exclaimed at length. "This won't do! Wade has got the gloomiest side out! Come, rally from this! See, they're not gaining on the schooner! Look how she's bowling away! They haven't hit her yet. Kit! Wash! I say, fellows, it looks a little bad, I own. But never say die; or, if you must die,—why, die game. That's the doctrine you are always preaching, Kit. Isn't it, now? Tell me!"
"But to be frozen or starved to death among these desolate ledges!" muttered Kit.
"Is not a cheery prospect, I'll admit," Raed finished for him. "Rather trying to a fellow's philosophy, isn't it?"
"She isn't hit yet," remarked Donovan, who had taken Raed's glass. "She slides on gay as a cricket. I can see the cap'n throwing water with the skeet against the sails to make 'em draw better."
"How, for Heaven's sake, did that ship come to get up so near before they saw her?" Kit exclaimed suddenly.
We looked off to the west. The dozen straggling islets beyond us extended off in irregular order toward the north-west.
"I think," said Raed, "that the ship must have come up a little to the south of those outer islands. Our folks could not have seen her, then, till she came past."
"I don't call that the same ship that fired on us a week ago," Weymouth remarked.
"Oh, no!" said Kit. "That ship, 'The Rosamond,' can't more than have reached the nearest of the Company's trading-posts by this time."
"She probably spoke this ship coming out, and told them to be on the lookout for us," said Raed.
"Old Red-face doubtless charged them to give us particular fits," Kit replied.
"And they've got us in a tight place, no mistake," Wade remarked gloomily. "We're rusticated up here among the icebergs; sequestered in a cool spot."
"Gracious! I believe that one hit 'The Curlew'!" Donovan exclaimed. "The captain and old Trull—I believe it's Trull—ran aft, and are looking over the taffrail!"
Kit pulled out his glass and looked. I had not taken mine, nor had Wade. The schooner was now three or four miles down the straits, and the ship was a good way past us.
"No great harm done, I guess," Kit said at length. "The captain ran down into the cabin, but came up a few moments after; and they are standing about the deck as before."
"As long as they miss the standing rigging, and don't hit the sails, there's no danger," Raed observed.
"That ship is a mighty fast sailer," Weymouth said.
"Ought to be, I should think," Donovan replied. "Look at the sail she's got on! They've been getting out studding-sails too. This strong gale drives her along like thunder!"
"I don't see that she gains," Raed remarked. "We shall see 'The Curlew' back here for us yet."
"Not very soon, I'm afraid," Wade said.
"Well, not to-night, I dare say," replied Raed.
"How long do you set it?" Kit asked, taking down his glass. "Suppose the captain is lucky enough to get away from them: how long do you think it will be before he will get back here for us?"
"That, of course, depends on how far they chase him," said Raed.
"They'll chase him just as far as they can," replied Kit. "Why not? It's right on their way home. They'll chase the schooner clean out the straits."
"The captain may turn down into Ungava Bay, on the south side of the straits," Raed replied.
"No, he won't do that," Kit contended. "That bay is full of islands, and choked with ice; and our charts ar'n't worth the paper they're made out on."
"Well, if he has to run out into the Atlantic, he may not be back for ten days."
"Ten days!" exclaimed Wade. "If we see him in a month, we need to think we're lucky."
"That's a pleasant sound for us, isn't it, now?" Kit demanded,—"expecting every shot will lose us the schooner, and leave us two thousand miles from home on a more than barren coast!"
"I shall look for 'The Curlew' in ten days," Raed remarked. "And I don't think we had better leave here, to go off any great distance, till we feel sure she's not coming back for us. If she's not back in two weeks, I shall think we have got to shirk for ourselves."
"But how in the world are we to live two weeks here!" Wade exclaimed.
"Live by our wits," Kit observed.
"Looks as if we should have to give up coffee," Raed said, trying to get a laugh going.
"Why, I'm hungry now!" Wade cried out; "but I don't see anything to eat but ice and rocks!"
"It's half-past eleven," Kit announced, looking at his watch. "Seriously, what do you expect we can get hold of for grub, Raed?"
"Seals!" exclaimed Wade; "the oily, nasty trash!"
"Hunger may bring you to sing a different tune," Kit muttered. "I'm not sure that a seal's flipper might not be acceptable by to-morrow morning."
"There are plenty of kittiwakes and lumne and eiderducks about these islets," I suggested. "We can shoot some of them."
"And we can fish!" Weymouth exclaimed.
"Where's your hooks?" said Kit.
That question floored the fishing project.
"Well, we've got our muskets," replied Weymouth.
"How many cartridges in all?" Raed asked.
"Let's take account of them. They are like to be precious property."
"I've got eight," said Kit, counting them.
"I have seven," Wade announced.
"Six," said I.
"I took nine," Raed observed.
"You gave me five," reported Weymouth. "I have used one. Here's the other four."
"Thirty-four in all," said Raed. "Now, boys, these are worth their weight in gold to us. Not one must be wasted."
"My butcher-knife is like to come into good use." Donovan remarked, feeling the edge of it.
"Yes; and we've got our jack-knives too," said Kit.
"How about a fire?" Wade asked.
At that there were blank looks for a moment; till, with a queer grin, Donovan began to fumble in his waistcoat-pocket, and drew out, in close company with a rounded plug of tobacco, seven or eight grimy matches.
"Hurrah!" shouted Kit.
"You've allus been dippin' into me pretty strong about smokin'," said Don, looking around to Raed; "but you can't say that smokin' don't have its advantages sometimes."
"That's an argument for the weed that we can all appreciate at present, no mistake," Raed replied. "Don, keep hold of those matches, and see that they all strike fire, and I'll never preach to you again, so sure as my name is Warren Raedway."
Bang! A distant boom from the hated ship, now low down on the sea.
"The schooner is almost out of sight," said Kit. "She's a long way off. Perhaps it's the last time we shall ever set eyes on her pretty figure!"
"Oh, not so bad as that, I hope!" cried Raed. "Don't go to getting poetical, Kit. How about dinner? That's of more consequence just now than poetry. Time enough to make verses on this rather awkward episode when we're safe in Boston. Make a proposal for dinner, somebody. Wade's starving."
"What say for the sea-horse!" exclaimed Donovan.
"Yes; how about that walrus?" Kit demanded.
"That sea-horse has got us into a fine scrape," muttered Wade. "It would have been better if we had left him undisturbed on his island."
"That's neither this nor there, now," said Kit. "Question arises, Can we eat him? Is it fit to eat? Did ever anybody hear of their being eaten?"
"The Huskies eat them, I believe," said Raed.
"The Huskies! Well, I mean civilized folks; ship's crews?"
"The best way will be to try it for ourselves," remarked Donovan. "But we don't know that we killed him yet. We didn't stop to find out, you know."
"Then that is clearly the next thing to do," said Raed. "Let's go down to the boat, and take that round to the place where we fired at the second one."
"But how about the birds, the eider-ducks and kittiwakes?" said I. "We should find them more palatable than sea-horse—to begin with."
"Very well: you and Weymouth might go round the island to the left. It can't be more than a mile and a half or two miles. But do be prudent of your cartridges."
Raed and Kit, with Wade and Donovan, then got into the boat, and pulled off round the islet to the right; while Weymouth and I, reloading our muskets, set off on our bird-hunt.
The west end of the island was considerably higher than the eastern portion. As we went on, we espied scores of little auks sitting upon the low cliffs.
"No use to waste powder on them," said Weymouth.
"But see there!" suddenly halting. "If those ain't geese, I'm mistaken,—out there on that gravel-flat, waddling along. Ain't those geese?"
Wild-geese they were, or, as some call them, Canada geese; nearly as large as our domestic geese, and of a gray slate-color. They did not seem to fear our approach much. We walked quietly up to fifty yards.
"I'll take that big gander," I said.
"All right," quoth Weymouth. "I'll take a goose."
We fired at them with a careful aim. Over went the gander and a goose. The rest flew with loud squallings, save one with a broken wing, which Weymouth rushed after, and pelted to death with stones.
"A pretty good haul!" he exclaimed, holding them up. "Weigh eight or ten pounds apiece. But I didn't expect to see wild-geese up here," he added.
We saw several flocks of them after that.
Half a mile farther round, we came upon a flock of razor-bills perched on the cliffs overhanging the water. They rose, and went croaking off toward the next islet, distant about three hundred yards, too quick for us to fire with caution.
"The sealers often get their eggs," Weymouth observed. "They're good fried, they say."
It then occurred to me that these eggs might be a very good and cheaply—as regarded ammunition—obtained article of food for us. Laying down our guns, we climbed up among the rocks, and spent nearly an hour searching for their nests. At length Weymouth found one with three eggs; and, a few moments after, two more. I had some doubt about the eggs being good so late in the season. There were plenty of empty nests about, looking as if there had been a brood raised already. These were doubtless second nests of pairs that had lost their first nests from the depredations of falcons, ravens, or perhaps foxes. To settle the point, we broke an egg: it looked sound. Weymouth then filled his cap with them.
While climbing down to our muskets, I startled a canvas-backed duck sitting on a nest of eleven eggs. These I appropriated; and, before getting round to where we had fired on the sea-horse, Weymouth espied an eider-duck sitting on a shelf of the shore crags. From her we got five eggs of a beautiful pale-green color.
"No need of starving here, I should say," Weymouth remarked as we made our way along the ledges, pretty well laden with muskets, geese, and our caps full of eggs. "There won't be much bread, to be sure; but then a fellow can live on eggs and birds, can't he?"
"I hope so, Weymouth. Hard case for us if we can't."
"That's so. But don't you be down in the mouth about this scrape. I don't believe they'll catch 'The Curlew,' sir. Capt. Mazard will be back here, I think."
"I hope so."
Truly, I thought to myself, if this young sailor doesn't complain, and even tries to offer consolation to us who have got him in this predicament, it isn't for me to look glum about it; though I am bound to own that some of the most cheerless moments of my life were passed during the twenty-four hours succeeding the ominous appearance of the "Honorable Company's" ship.
A great shouting and heave-ho-ing told us of our near approach to where the rest of our party were; and, turning a bend of the crags, we discovered them all four tugging at a line.
"What are they dragging, I wonder?" Weymouth said to me. "Oh! I see. It's the sea-horse."
They were trying to pull the walrus up out of the water, where they had found him floundering about, fatally wounded with the slugs we had fired through his back. The sea about the rocks was discolored with his blood, and turbid with the dirt he had torn up. Donovan had slaughtered him with the butcher-knife; and, with the boat's painter noosed over the head of the carcass, they were now trying to draw it up on the ledge. Weymouth and I at once bore a hand; and it took all six of us, tugging hard, to get it up.
"What a mass of fat and flesh!" Kit exclaimed, puffing.
"I don't believe I could ever stomach it!" Wade groaned.
"We can offer you something better!" exclaimed Weymouth, holding up the geese. "What think of those fellows? Wild-geese! And look at these!" holding up his cap. "Nice fresh eggs!—to be had by the dozen! and nothing to pay, either!"
"Why, fellows, this is a sort of northern paradise!" cried Raed. "But what sticks me is how to cook those eggs and geese. I never could suck eggs."
"Just build a fire, and I'll show you how to cook 'em," Weymouth said.
"But what shall we have for fuel?" Kit demanded.
That was a staggerer.
Boom! It seemed as if those far-borne echoes would never die with the distance. A low, dismal, sullen sound! They gave us queer sensations. As each came rolling on the sea, our hearts would bound. Up to that moment, "The Curlew" had not been taken; but perhaps that shot had struck down her sails.
It was now half-past two. The vessels could hardly be less than twenty or twenty-five miles off. But there is nothing to absorb or deaden sound along those straits.
"Yes; where's your fuel?" demanded Wade.
We looked around: plenty of rocks, ice, and water, with a little coarse dirt, or gravel.
"Might burn the boat," Kit suggested.
"That seems too bad," said Raed. "Besides, how are we to get off the island here, supposing 'The Curlew' should not come back? or even suppose she should? She has no other boat."
"And we may want to go off to the other islands," I said.
"Well, if anybody can suggest anything better, I should like to hear it," replied Kit. "I don't want to burn the boat, I'm sure; but I can't see anything else that looks inflammable."
Neither could any of us, though we looked all around us very earnestly; till Donovan suddenly cried out,—
"Why not burn the old sea-horse?"
"Why, that's our victuals!" laughed Kit.
"I know it; but fire comes before victuals, unless you eat 'em raw like the Huskies."
"Will it burn?" Raed asked.
"Burn? yes. Why, on a sealer, they do all their trying-out the oil with a fire of seal-refuse. Why shouldn't it burn as well as a candle?"
"There's our wood-pile, then!" cried Raed, giving the carcass a kick. "Let's have a fire forthwith. Don, you slash out a hundred-weight or so."
"Don't cut the hide to pieces," Kit interposed: "we may want that to make a tent of."
Donovan whipped out his butcher-knife, and, stripping back the tough skin, cut out a pile of huge slices. Kit, meanwhile, got a piece of old thwart from the boat, and whittled up a heap of pine slivers. Two of the fat slices were then slit up into thin strips, and laid on the slivers. With great caution, Donovan struck a match on his jacket-sleeve. We all hovered around to keep off the wicked puffings of the wind. The slivers were lighted; they kindled: the fat meat began to sizzle; then caught fire from the pine; and soon a ruddy, spluttering flame was blazing with marvellous fierceness.
"Hurrah!" Kit shouted. "The first fire these grim old ledges have seen since they cooled their glowing, molten billows into flinty granite!"