The depot was soon reached, then the little haven that sheltered the vessel.
Erik and Mr. Hersebom rubbed their eyes, and asked each other whether they were dreaming, for the “Alaska” was no longer there.
Their first thought was that she had been swallowed up by the waters. It was only too natural that they should think this after such an evening as they had just passed.
But immediately they were struck by the fact that no debris was visible, and that the little harbor had assumed a new aspect since their departure. The drift ice which the tempest had piled up around the “Alaska” had been broken up, and much of it had drifted away. At the same time Mr. Hersebom mentioned a fact which had not struck him while they were hurrying along, and this was that the wind had changed and was now blowing from the west.
Was it not possible that the storm had carried away the floating ice in which the “Alaska” had become embedded. Yes, evidently it was possible; but it remained for them to discover whether this supposition was true. Without delaying a moment, Erik proceeded to reconnoiter, followed by Mr. Hersebom.
They walked for a long time. Everywhere the drift was floating freely, the waves came and went, but the whole aspect of things around them looked strange and different.
At length Erik stopped. Now he understood what had befallen them. He took Mr. Hersebom’s hand and pressed it with both his own.
“Father,” said he, in a grave voice, “you are one of those to whom I can only speak the truth. Well, the fact is that this ice-field has split; it has broken away from that which surrounded the ‘Alaska,’ and we are on an island of ice hundreds of yards long, and carried along by the waters, and at the mercy of the storm.”
About two o’clock in the morning Erik and Mr. Hersebom, exhausted with fatigue, laid down side by side between two casks, under the canvas that protected their provisions. Kaas, also, was close to them and kept them warm with his thick fur. They were not long in falling asleep. When they awoke the sun was already high in the heavens, the sky was blue and the sea calm. The immense bank of ice upon which they were floating appeared to be motionless, its movement was so gentle and regular. But along the two edges of it which were nearest to them enormous icebergs were being carried along with frightful rapidity. These gigantic crystals reflected like a prism the solar rays, and they were the most marvelous that Erik had ever beheld.
Mr. Hersebom also, although but little inclined in general, and especially in his present situation, to admire the splendor of Nature in the arctic regions, could not help being impressed with them.
“How beautiful this would look were we on a good ship!” he said, sighing.
“Bah!” answered Erik, with his usual good humor. “On board a ship one must be thinking only how to avoid the icebergs so as not to be crushed to pieces, whilst on this island of ice we have none of these miseries to worry us.”