Wild Life in the Land of the Giants - novelonlinefree.info
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About three hours after sunset, the moon had a.s.serted itself. Very high in air it shone, right overhead almost, and although but half a moon, was exceedingly bright and silver-like. But half-moons give the stars a chance, and to-night, though the haze lay houses high all along the horizon, the sky above was darkly blue, and so clear that you could mark the changing radiance of colour of many of the stars that sparkled as dew-drops do in the sun's rays.
I noted all this with satisfaction, I cannot say with pleasure. There was that unbanishable feeling of heaviness at my heart, which I have mentioned. It was getting late, however, so I went below to our cosy saloon, and was soon chatting cheerfully with our little mother, Mrs Coates. As I was turning to come down the companion, I had heard Peter sing out to Jill, "Oh, look at that great grampus!" And both had gone to see it.
We expected the captain down every minute to play, as was his wont, and rather wondered he did not come.
Suddenly on deck was heard the sound of footsteps hurrying aft, and at the same moment that awful shout--who that has ever heard it is likely to forget it till his dying day--?
Mrs Coates started to her feet, clutching at the arm of the chair to prevent herself from falling.
With a sudden and terrible fear at my heart I went rus.h.i.+ng up the ladder.
Peter was there--alone.
"Where is Jill?" I gasped.
"It is he," was all he could answer.
I knew where he had fallen, from the direction in which all eyes were turned. A life-buoy had already been thrown, and the usual hurried orders were being issued.
From out of the dark depths of the sea I thought I could hear my brother's voice, as I had heard it once before, in innocent pleading tones, when he was a child--
"Come to me, Jack, come to me; I cannot come to you."
Next moment _I_ was in the water, and the s.h.i.+p was some distance off.
She seemed to move _so_ fast away.
Here was the life-buoy. In my anguish I dashed it aside. _I_ could support my brother. Many a time I had done so in the waves before our cottage door at home.
I felt glad the s.h.i.+p had gone, with her noise and bustling decks. I could listen.
"Jill," I shouted, "coo-ee! Jill, I'm here."
Then, to my joy, a faint answering shout came down the wind.
On--on--on I swam. Taking desperate strokes. Shouting one moment, listening the next.
At last, at last.
He was sinking, but I was not weary.
I remember hearing the clunk-clank of the oars of a coming boat.
Then that was lost to me; there came a terrible roaring in my ears, sparks flashed across my eyes, and--
When next I became conscious, I was lying in my bunk.
One anxious glance upwards. Oh, joy! it was Jill's hand I held in mine.
So I slept.
THE STRAITS OF MAGELLAN--FIRELANDERS--THE STORM--THE s.h.i.+P STRIKES.
To rub shoulders with death always leaves a chilly feeling in my heart for a day or two. It is as though the King of Terrors had just encircled me for one brief moment in his icy mantle, and let me free again.
I felt thus next morning, anyhow, but very thankful to Heaven, when I saw Jill quietly dressing. I did not chide him.
"Are you better, brother?" he said, with his father's smile.
I knew he was penitent, and grateful, and all the rest of it, because he said "brother." At ordinary times I was simply "Jack."
I was softened.
"I'm all right," I answered. "But, Jill, you _must_ be more careful."
"I'll try, brother."
Then I turned out, and began to dress, singing as usual.
Mrs Coates did come to breakfast, but looked worn and nervous. Peter was full of banter and nonsense. Captain Coates was keeping watch to let Peter "feed," as Peter called it. But presently our worthy skipper would come below, and make a terrible onslaught on the cold ham.
Nothing ever interfered with his appet.i.te much. He was a philosopher, although a lean one, and always looked upon the bright side of life, and the bread-and-b.u.t.ter side.
"I sha'n't get over the fright for a month," said poor Mrs Coates.
"Peter tells me he was standing on the bulwark, hardly holding on to anything."
"I've scolded him well," I said, "and if we meet the mail boat I've a good mind to send him back to mother and Mattie."
"Wouldn't you feel lop-sided, Jack, without the child?" said Peter.
"And the _Salamander_ would only have half a second mate. No; we'll stick to Jill, only next time he wants a cold bath, we'll find means to oblige him without having to call all hands."
"Mrs Coates, I'll have another egg, please," said Jill.
"Well," said Peter, "by all the coolness--"
"Hands make sail!"
This last was a shout on deck, and in five minutes more we were all "upstairs," as Mrs Coates phrased it.
We were entering the First Narrows, the low, moundy sh.o.r.es of Patagonia on our right, the gloomy grandeur of the frowning mountains of Tierra del Fuego on our left, the sea all dark between.
I have said "gloomy grandeur," but gloom can hardly be a.s.sociated with glaciers, ice, and snow; and surely, too, the myriads of wheeling birds were doing all they could to dispel the gloom; still, it lay on the sea, it hung on the dark cliffs, and hovered on the mists that had not yet risen from the mountain summits.
Indeed, everything in and around this strange ocean highway has an air of gloom. You cannot help feeling you are at the end of the world.
There is something weird in the very appearance of the water, weird and treacherous too; and albeit the forests that clothe the lower sides of the mountains, some hundred miles farther on, are wildly picturesque, surmounted as they are by rugged hills, snow-white cliffs, and glittering glaciers, they look black, inhospitable, threatening.