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The shouting and swearing went reeling away towards the water's edge, and then, all of a sudden, they culminated in a fearful yell— after which came silence.
What could it mean, wondered Augusta ? and while she was still wondering dropped off to sleep again.
AUGUSTA woke up just as the dawn was stealing across the sodden sky. It was the smarting of her shoulders that woke her. She rose, leaving Dick yet asleep, and, remembering the turmoil of the night, hurried to the other hut. It was empty.
She turned and looked about her. About fifteen paces from where she was lay the shell that the two drunkards had used as a cup. Going forward, she picked it up. It still smelt disgustingly of spirits. Evidently the two men had dropped it in the course of their midnight walk, or, rather, roll. Where had they gone to?
Straight in front of her a rocky promontory ran out fifty paces or more into the waters of the fjord-liko bay. She walked along it aimlessly till presently sho perceived one of the sailor's hats lying on the ground, or, rather, floating in a pool of water. Clearly they had gone this way. On she went to the point of the little headland, sheer over the water. There was nothing to be seen, not a single vestige of Bill and Johnnie. Aimlessly enough she leaned forward and stared over the rocky wall, and down into the clear water, and then started back with a little cry.
No wonder that she started, for there on the sand, beneath a fathom and a half of quiet water, lay the bodies of the two ill-fated men. They were locked in each other's arms, and lay as though they were asleep up that ocean bed. How they came to their end she never knew. Perhaps they quarrelled in their drunken anger and fell over the little cliff; or perhaps they stumbled and fell, not knowing whither they were going. Who can say? At any rate, there they were, and there they remained, till the outgoing tide floated them off to join the great army of their companions who had gone down with the Kangaroo. And so Augusta was left alone.
With a heavy heart she returned to the hut, pressed down by the weight of solitude, and the sense that in the midst of so much death she could not hope to escape. There was no human creature left alive in that vast lonely land, except the child and herself, and so far as she could see their fate would soon be as the fate of the others. When she got back to the hut, Dick was awake and was crying for her.
The still, stiff form of Mr. Meeson, stretched out beneath the sail, frightened the little lad, he did not know why. Augusta took him into her arms and kissed him passionately. She loved the child for his own sake; and, besides, he, and he alone, stood between her and utter solitude. Then she took him across to the other hut, which had been vacated by the sailors, for it was impossible to stay in the one with the body, which was too heavy for her to move.
In the centre of the sailors' hut stood the cask of rum which had been the cause of their destruction. It was nearly empty now—so light, irdeed, that she had no difficulty in rolling it to one side. She cleaned out the place as well as she could, and, returning to where Mr. Meeson's body lay, fetched the bag of biscuits and the roasted eggs, after which they had their breakfast.
Fortunately there was but little rain that morning, so Augusta took Dick out to look for eggs, not because they wanted any more, but in order to employ themselves. Together they climbed up on to a rocky headland, where the flag was flying, and looked out across the troubled ocean. There was nothing in sight so far as the eye could see—nothing but the white wave-horses across which the black cormorants steered their swift, unerring flight. She looked and looked
. till her heart sank within her..
“ Will mummy soon come in a boat to take Dick away?" asked the child at her side, and then she burst into tears.
When she had recovered herself they set to collecting eggs, an occupation which, notwithstanding the screams and threatened attacks of the birds, delighted Dick greatly. Soon they had as many as she could carry; so they went back to the hut and lit a fire of drift-wood, and roasted some eggs in the hot ashes; she had no pot to boil them in. Thus, one way and another, the day wore away, and at last the darkness began to fall over the rugged peaks behind and the wild wilderness of sea before. She put Dick to bed and he went off to sleep. Indeed, it was wonderful to see how well the child bore the hardships through which they were passing. He never had an ache or a pain, or even a cold in the head.
After Dick was asleep Augusta sat, or rather lay, in the dark listening to the moaning of the wind as it beat upon the shanty and passed away in gusts among the cliffs and mountains beyond. The loneliness was something awful, and together with the thought of what the end of it would probably be, quite broke her spirit down. She knew that the chances of her escape were small indeed. Ships did not often come to this dreadful and uninhabited coast, and if one should happen to put in there, it was exceedingly probable that it would touch at some other point and never see her or her flag. And then in time the end would come. The supply of eggs would fail, and she would be driven to supporting life upon such birds as she could catch, till at last the child sickened and died, and she followed it to that dim land that lies beyond Kerguelen and the world. She prayed that the child might die first. It was awful to think that perhaps it might be the other way about: she might die first, and the child might be left to starve beside her. The morrow would be Christmas Day. Last Christmas Day she had spent with her dead sister at Birmingham. She remembered that they went to church in the morning, and after dinner she had finished correcting the last revises of “Jemima's Vow.” Well, it seemed likely that long before another Christmas