Chapter LXIX.
 

A man was hunting Robinson and George Fielding, and they were hunting him. Both parties inflamed with rage and bitterness; both master of the other's fate, they thought.

A change of wind brought a fall of snow, and the fall of snow baffled both parties in five minutes. Down came the Australian flakes large as a woman's hand (I am not romancing), and effaced the tracks of the pursuing and pursued and pursuers. So tremendous was the fall that the two friends thought of nothing but shelter. They drew their blankets over their heads and ran hither and thither looking for a friendly tree. At last they found an old tree with a prodigious stem that parted about ten feet up into two forks. With some effort they got up into this cleft, and then they were on a natural platform. Robinson always carried nails in his pocket, and he contrived to nail the two blankets to the forks so as to make a screen. Then they took out their provisions and fortified themselves with a hearty supper.

As they were eating it they were suddenly startled by an explosion so tremendous that their tree seemed to have been struck by lightning. Out went Robinson, with his mouth full, on to a snowdrift four feet high. He looked up and saw the cause of the fracas. A large bough of a neighboring tree had parted from the trunk with the enormous weight of the snow. Robinson climbed back to George and told him. Supper recommenced, but all over the wood at intervals they now heard huge forks and boughs parting from their parent stems with a report like a thirty-two-pounder ringing and echoing through the wood. Others so distant that they were like crackers.

These sounds were very appalling in the ghostly wood. The men instinctively drew closer to each other; but they were no chickens; use soon hardened them even to this. They settled it that the forks they were sitting on would not give way, because there were no leaves on them to hold a great burden of snow; and soon they yielded to nature and fell fast asleep in spite of all the dangers that hemmed them.

At his regular hour, just before sunrise, Robinson awoke and peeped from below the blanket. He shook George.

"Getup directly, George. We are wasting time when time is gold."

"What is it?"

"'What is it?' There is a pilot in the sky that will take us out of this cursed trap, if the day does not come and spoil all."

George's eye followed Robinson's finger, and in the center of the dark vault of heaven this glittered.

[Southern Cross constellation]