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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Deep Sea Hunters in the Frozen Seas » CHAPTER XIII UNAVIK TO THE RESCUE
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CHAPTER XIII UNAVIK TO THE RESCUE
 Returning to the spot from which they had first shot the deer, the two boys hollowed a little cavity in the frozen snow within easy range of the dead reindeer and cuddled down cozily to await Unavik’s return or the appearance of any wild beast that might be attracted by the scent of blood. At first the land, stretching in undulating white hills to the horizon, seemed deserted, absolutely devoid of life, a desolate, barren waste. But presently the boys discovered that all about were living creatures.
A subdued twitter drew their attention to a sheltered spot under a projecting ledge. Peering intently at it, the boys saw a little flock of snow buntings and longspurs hopping about. On a low snow ridge a few rods away, a bit of the white surface moved, and a big Arctic hare rose from its hiding place and looked suspiciously about before leaping off.
Suddenly there was a frightened cry from behind[190] them. As the boys wheeled, a great broad-winged white gyrfalcon swooped like a meteor, struck deep into the snow and, with a cloud of dazzling, glistening crystals like diamond dust swirling from his powerful wings, rose slowly with a ptarmigan grasped in his talons.
Presently from far up in the blue sky came a hoarse raucous croak. Glancing up the boys saw two tiny black specks that rapidly increased in size as two great ravens came flapping downwards. Perching upon the antlers of the dead deer they eyed the carcass suspiciously and, cocking their heads on one side, they peered in the boys’ direction as though they knew human beings were there—as no doubt they did.
“Say, if those birds start in they’ll ruin the deer,” whispered Tom.
“No, they won’t,” replied Jim. “The bodies must be frozen stiff by now. Don’t you remember Unavik told us ravens wait for some animal to tear the hide and meat and scatter bits of it about before they can eat?”
“That’s so,” agreed Tom. “Hello, look there!”
Close to the deer a shadow seemed to slip across the snow. The boys glanced up, expecting to see some big hawk or a snowy owl sailing above the[191] valley. But the sky was unbroken by any bird. Curiously Tom and Jim stared through the narrow slits of their snow spectacles at the slowly moving, indistinct shadow. Closer and closer the thing drew to the dead deer. It seemed to have no definite outline, to be merely a faint, bluish, shapeless haze against the snow—a ghostlike thing so unreal that the boys began to think the dazzling snow had affected their eyes. Then, with a sudden motion, the shadow sprang across the snow and a little ball of white appeared upon the dark surface of the deer’s body as if by magic.
“It’s a fox!” whispered Jim. “A white fox. I’m going to shoot him.”
“Aim for his head,” cautioned Tom in a whisper, “or you’ll spoil the skin.”
Resting his rifle on the frozen ridge before him, Jim glanced through the sights. But the fox’s head was turned and he hesitated, waiting until he had a fair shot, for he knew that his soft-nosed bullet, striking the beautiful snowy body, would tear it to bits and ruin the pelt. Second after second passed and still the fox kept his head turned away from the boys as he gnawed ravenously at the edges of the bullet wound in the deer’s side, while the two ravens croaked at him in protest and cautiously hopped[192] nearer and nearer, in the hopes of stealing a stray morsel from under the fluffy white creature’s nose.
Tom chuckled softly. “There’s the raven asking brother fox where Amook keeps his magic,” he whispered. “I can almost imagine I can understand the black rascal’s words.”
But Jim did not reply. The fox had suddenly stiffened. His head was raised. His ears were pricked forward as if listening. The ravens flapped back to their perch on the antlers. Jim’s finger pressed against the trigger. If the fox raised his head an inch higher, he would send the bullet true between the ears. And then, just as the sights were lined fair upon the round white head, the fox leaped away. There was a sound of crunching snow from the hillside and Jim, glancing around, uttered a suppressed, startled exclamation. Within fifty feet of where the boys crouched, a huge white bear was moving towards the dead deer!
“Gosh!” whispered Tom. “What luck!”
“Let’s both shoot together,” whispered Jim, his voice trembling with excitement. “We can’t miss. Aim back of the fore shoulder and when I count three, fire.”
Instantly both rifles were swung towards the big, yellowish white creature, and as for a moment he[193] halted and his long neck moved back and forth, and his black nose sniffed the air, Jim counted; “One, two, three!” and the two guns roared out as one.
With startled hoarse croaks the raven took wing. The huge shaggy bear reared on its hind legs, pawed frantically at the air, growled, snapped his long white teeth savagely, and then lurched forward and slid a dozen feet down the hillside.
“Hurrah! we got him!” yelled Jim and leaping up the boys raced towards the fallen bear without stopping to reload their rifles.
Like a miniature mountain of shaggy white fur he lay there, a broad red splotch upon his side. The two elated boys, whooping and yelling, hurried forward. They were within a dozen feet of the enormous creature when to their horror and amazement the bear scrambled to his feet and with open jaws and savage growls sprang at them.
Uttering one wild yell of terror, the boys turned and fled up the hill for their lives. Behind them they could hear the low, menacing, awful growls and the sound of crunching snow. As they gained the summit of the ridge they turned, threw up their rifles, took quick aim and pulled the triggers.
But the hammers clicked harmlessly upon the empty shells. There was no time even to throw fresh cartridges[194] into the chambers of their rifles. Less than twenty feet separated them from the infuriated, wounded monster. Again, yelling, they took to their heels. Then, to Tom’s brain, came a sudden remembrance, the story of Ukla and the fog which Unavik had told them, and in panting, gasping words he shouted to Jim:
“Don’t run down hill! Run along the side and then up again!”
Scarcely knowing why he did so, Jim obeyed, and winded, almost ready to drop, the boys again gained the summit of the ridge. Once more they glanced back. Tom’s ruse had worked. The bear, heavy and cumbersome, had been unable to check his own momentum as he topped the ridge and had half slid, half rolled for fifty yards down the slippery slope. But he had now turned and was once more lumbering towards them. With shaking, trembling hands they reloaded their rifles, took aim at the bear’s breast and fired.
Their shots went wild. Bits of fur flew from the bear’s back. He jerked his head to one side as a bullet nicked his cheek and then, with redoubled roars of rage and increased speed, he fairly hurled his great body up the slope.
“Gee, I wish we were magicians!” gasped Tom.[195] “Come on—run down the hill a way and then up again. It’s our only chance!”
Once more the two exhausted boys raced down the hillside and then, quickly turning, ran to the top. But this time the bear did not follow. He was no fool and had learned a lesson. Galloping along the ridge top he was almost upon the boys before they knew it. As they glanced back and saw his drooling red mouth and great yellow fangs within arm’s reach they screamed in terror, dropped their rifles, and thinking only of escape, tore straight down the hill.
A roar behind them caused them to look back. The bear was standing upon the hill, reared upon his haunches and striking terrific sweeping blows at the rifles. Maddened with pain, all his savagery aroused, the creature was venting his anger on the guns and the boys, almost exhausted, drenched with perspiration, encumbered by their heavy fur garments, won a breathing space by the reckless abandonment of their weapons.
“We mus—must hu—hurry!” panted Jim. “May—maybe if we—if we can keep up a wh—while longer he’ll get ex—exhausted from loss of blood. C—come on, Tom. Gosh, I w—wish Unavik would come!”
[196]
Before them rose the steeper hill bordering the valley to the west and up this the boys hurried as fast as their wearied limbs would permit.
“Golly, wh—why isn’t there a ri—river he can drink up?” panted Tom whose sense of humor could not be downed even in the face of such danger. “Say, wouldn’t he ma—make a fog if he burst!”
Barely had they gained the hill top when the bear, his fury spent upon the rifles, was once more sliding and slipping down the opposite hill and the boys knew that it was only a question of minutes before he would be upon them. Near by, a ledge of rock jutted above the snow with its steep sides sheathed in ice. The boys, too utterly exhausted to run, saw in this their only hope.
“If we can get up there, perhaps he can’t reach us,” suggested Tom. “Come on, Jim. It’s our last chance.”
“But we can’t get up,” objected Jim.
“Yes, we can,” declared Tom as they hurried towards the rock. “I can climb up on your shoulders and then reach down and pull you up.”
With their last strength, the boys gained the rock. Tom clambered on Jim’s shoulders, drew himself on to the flat summit and with a desperate effort reached down and drew his companion up beside him.
[197]
And not an instant too soon. Before Jim’s feet were over the edge the bear had gained the base of the rock. He reared up, made a terrific swipe with his fore paws at Jim’s dangling feet, and the boy escaped death by an inch. Even as it was, one of the beast’s swordlike claws ripped through Jim’s moccasin and he howled with terror.
They were not yet safe. The bear, standing on his hind legs, could actually reach the edge of the rock’s summit and again and again he strove to draw himself up; growling horribly, cutting great grooves in the ice on the sides of the rock as he dug his hind claws into it. The boys huddled close and yelled each time one of the great, shaggy feet, with its three-inch claws, appeared over the edge of their refuge. Presently something of courage and confidence returned to them. Unless the bear found a grip, a crevice or a roughness on the rock for his hind feet, he could not reach them. Wounded as he was, his strength was unequal to the task of lifting his enormous weight by his front feet alone. Still, those fearful claws brought mortal terror to the boys each time they appeared. Then an idea came to Jim. Whipping out his heavy knife, he reached forward and each time a paw appeared he rapped it and slashed at it with the heavy steel blade.
[198]
Roaring until the air trembled, the bear drew back his feet and hurled himself bodily at the rock. At his second onslaught the boys’ faces grew white, their hearts seemed to stop beating. The rock moved! There was not a question of it. Instead of a solid, upjutting ledge as they had thought, it was merely a big upstanding bowlder, a loose stone frozen to the hilltop. At any moment it might crash over and throw them, injured and helpless, into the grip of the bear!
Sick with deadly fear, speechless, scarcely breathing, the boys cowered on their narrow refuge, while with each blow of the bear, the stone swayed and rocked. Each time the boys expected to feel it toppling to crash down into the snow.
Never in all their lives had such utter terror filled their hearts. They were absolutely at the bear’s mercy. The hope that his wounds might tell and that his strength would give out were groundless. He seemed as fresh, as strong and more maddened than ever. The boys felt that only their mangled bleeding bodies would remain to tell of their fate when Unavik arrived. It was awful to be killed this way—ripped and slashed and torn by the infuriated bear. Bitterly the boys regretted having remained behind to guard the bodies of the slain deer.
[199]
“I—I guess it’s all up with us,” stammered Tom, trying to choke back the lump in his throat.
“Yes, I—I only hope we—we get stunned when we fall,” replied Jim, his voice breaking. “The—then we won’t suffer so much.”
Scarcely had he spoken when the bear again threw himself at the rock. With a crackling of ice the bowlder gave and swayed perilously. The boys clutched wildly at the ice-filled crevices. They knew that one more such effort on the part of the bear would send the rock crashing over.
And then a new light came into their eyes, their hearts beat faster. From beyond the next ridge had come the sound of yelping dogs, the shrill shout of an Eskimo.
The bear, despite his rage, had heard it too. With lowered head and swaying neck he stood listening. The next instant the galloping dogs swung over the ridge. Behind them came the sledge with a fur-clad figure shouting and brandishing the long whip. At the top of their lungs the boys screamed, shouted and yelled. Forgetting their precarious position, they leaped to their feet and waved their arms. Unavik’s sharp eyes had taken in the situation at a glance. Midway in its mad career, he overturned the sledge and swung it sidewise. The dogs, suddenly arrested[200] in their race, tumbled head over heels, and the next second, Unavik was among them, slashing through the thongs and traces and shouting commands.
Already the scent of the bear had reached the dogs’ nostrils. With stiff hairs bristling on their shoulders they hurled themselves forward. Like a pack of great, tawny wolves they came plunging towards the bear. At their heels came Unavik, his old musket in his hands. As the bear turned to face the snapping, snarling, savage ring of big dogs, the Eskimo approached within a dozen feet, raised his heavy 50-caliber Remington and fired at the bear’s broad chest.
With a gurgling roar the great beast lurched forward, struck wildly with his paws at the dogs and sank lifeless on the snow.
“Gee Christopher!” cried Tom, as the two boys scrambled from their perch. “It was lucky you came, Unavik. Another minute and we’d have been killed.”
The Eskimo grinned. “Sure Mike!” he replied. “How you feller likeum hunt bear?”
“We didn’t,” declared Jim. “He hunted us. My, but isn’t he a whopper!”
“Mos’ big all same Ukla, me say,” agreed Unavik. “Why you no killum?”
“That’s what gets me,” said Tom. “We hit him all right. Look, there back of the shoulder.”
[201]
But when the boys stooped and examined the wound they knew instantly why the bear had not died from their shots and why he had not become exhausted from the wounds. Their bullets had struck the edge of the massive shoulder blade and had glanced, tearing a great strip of hide and flesh away, splintering the edge of the bone, but inflicting no mortal injury, and not even disabling the leg. No wonder the bear had been able to chase the boys, although the shock of the bullets had temporarily knocked him out.
Hardly had the boys satisfied themselves of this when the second sledge arrived. The Eskimos gathered about, chattering and exclaiming. All agreed that it was the biggest bear they had ever seen. To carry the huge carcass to the village was impossible and so, as one of the men went with the boys to the dead reindeer, Unavik and the other Eskimo set to work to skin the bear. After having cut a haunch from the beast, and with its skin and the deer loaded on the sledge, the party started on their return to the village.
Now that it was all over and their excitement had subsided, the two boys felt weak and shaky and found it impossible to trudge through the snow. For a while they gamely stuck it out, but at last they were obliged to give in. Throwing themselves upon the sleds they[202] lay almost as helpless and motionless as the dead animals beside them.
Great was the rejoicing in the village that night, for the death of a bear is always celebrated. The rest of the beast’s carcass had been brought in and the Eskimos gorged themselves on the meat. Throughout the night the drums throbbed, the Eskimos’ voices rose and fell in discordant chants and, grotesque in their fur garments, they danced and pranced while the dogs howled in unison.
“I’ll bet this is when the men don’t work or the women comb their hair for three days,” laughed Tom as, fully recovered from their exciting afternoon, they watched the merrymaking.
But there was a fly in the boys’ ointment, so to speak. When they had told their story to the captain he had grown serious and had told the boys that hereafter they were not to go any distance from the village alone under any circumstances.
“I’d feel nice going home and telling your folks a bear or a wolf had eaten you up, wouldn’t I?” said the skipper. “You may be owners, but I’m responsible for you, and hereafter you take one of the Eskimos and a pack of dogs with you if you stir from the village. I know you came through safely this time, but you might not be so lucky next time. And[203] don’t you dare stay alone out there. If your Eskimo goes anywhere, you go too. Now, that’s final.”
“All right,” agreed the boys, “we’ll be careful.”
While they knew the captain was looking after their safety, it galled the two boys to think that their sled trips must be chaperoned by a native and that they were being treated like “tenderfeet,” as Tom put it. But as they looked at the enormous shaggy skin—twelve feet from nose to tail—and thought how it would look upon the polished floor of the house in Fair Haven, all else was forgotten in their pride at having secured such a trophy, and their hearts beat more quickly as vivid memories of their narrow escape from such a terrible death came to them.


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