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tainly the hoofs of many horses. Nothing could be seen; the noise came from the west, passed to the front of Jon, and began to die away to the eastward.
His blood grew chilled for a moment. It was all so sudden and strange and ghostly that he knew not what to think; and he was about to push forward and get out of the region where such things happened when he heard, very faintly, the cry which the Icelanders use in driving their baggage-ponies. Then he remembered the deep gorge he had seen to the eastward before reaching the crater; the invisible travelers were riding toward it, probably lost and unaware of the danger.
This thought passed through Jon's mind like a flash of lightning; he shouted with all the strength of his voice.
He waited, but there was no answer. Then he shouted again, while the wind seemed to tear the sound from his lips and fling it away-but on the course the hoofs had taken.
This time a cry came in return; it seemed far off because the storm beat against the sound. Jon shouted a third time, and the answer was now more distinct. Presently he distinguished words:
"Come here to us!"
"I cannot," he cried.
In a few minutes more he heard the hoofs returning, and then the forms of ponies became visible
through the driving snow-clouds. They halted, forming a semicircle in front of him; and then one of three dim, spectral riders, leaning forward, again called, "Come here!"
"I cannot," answered Jon again.
Thereupon another of the horsemen rode close to him and stared down upon him. He said something which Jon understood to be, "Erik, it is a little boy!"—but he was not quite sure, for the man's way of talking was strange. He put the words in the wrong places and pronounced them curiously.
The man who had first spoken jumped off his horse. Holding the bridle he came forward, and said, in good, plain Icelandic :
Why couldn't you come when I called you?" "I am keeping the road back," replied Jon; "if I move, I might lose it."
"Then why did you call us?"
"I was afraid you had lost your way and might get into the chasm; the storm is so bad you could not see it."
"What's that?" exclaimed the first who had spoken.
Jon described the situation as well as he could, and the stranger at last said, in his queer, broken speech, "Lost way-we; can guide you know how?"
The storm raged so furiously that it was with
great difficulty that Jon heard the words at all; but he thought he understood the meaning. So he looked the man in the face and nodded, silently. pony!" cried the latter.
Erik caught one of the loose ponies, drew it forward, and said to Jon:
“Now mount and show us the way!"
"I cannot!" Jon repeated. "I will guide you;
I was on my way already, but I must walk back just as I came, so as to find the places and know the distances."
"Sir," said Erik, turning to the other traveler, "we must let him have his will. It is our only chance of safety. The boy is strong and fearless, and we can surely follow where he is willing to go alone."
"Take the lead, boy! the other said; "more quick, more money!"
Jon walked rapidly in advance, keeping his eyes on the lighter colored streak in the plain. He saw nothing, but every little sign and landmark was fixed so clearly in his mind that he did not feel the least fear or confusion.
He could hardly see, in fact, the foremost of the ponies behind him, but he caught now and then a word as the men talked with each other. They had come from the northern shore of the island; they were lost, they were chilled, they were weary; their
ponies were growing weak from hunger and exposure to the terrible weather; and they followed him, not so much because they trusted his guidance as because there was really nothing else left for them to do.
In an hour and a half they reached the first landmark; and when the men saw Jon examining the line of stones he had laid, and then striking off through the whirling clouds, they asked him no questions, but urged their ponies after him.
Thus several hours went by. Point after point was discovered, although no object could be seen until it was reached; but Jon's strength, which had been kept up by his pride and his anxiety, at last began to fail. The poor boy had been so long exposed to the wind, snow, and icy rain that his teeth chattered in his head and his legs trembled as he walked.
About noon, fortunately, there was a lull in the storm; the rain slackened and the clouds lifted themselves so that one might see for a mile or more. He caught sight of the rocky corner for which he was steering, stopped, and pointed toward one of the loose ponies.
Erik jumped from the saddle and threw his arms around Jon, whose senses were fast vanishing. He felt that something was put to his lips, that he was swallowing fire, and that his icy hands were wrapped in a soft, delicious warmth.
In a minute he found that Erik had thrust them under his jacket, while the two others were bending over him with anxious faces. The stranger who spoke so curiously held a cake to his mouth, saying, "Eat eat!" It was wonderful how his strength came back!
Very soon he was able to mount the pony and take the lead. Sometimes the clouds fell dense and dark around them, but when they lifted only for a second it was enough for Jon.
Men and beasts suffered alike, and at last Erik said:
"Unless we get out of the desert in three hours we must all perish!"
Jon's face brightened. "In three hours," he exclaimed, "there will be pasturage and water and shelter."
He was already approaching the region he knew thoroughly, and there was scarcely a chance of losing the way. They had more than one furious gust to encounter more than one moment when the famished and exhausted ponies halted and refused to move; but toward evening the last ridge was reached, and they saw below them, under a dark roof of clouds, the green valley basin, the gleam of the river, and the scattered white specks of the grazing sheep.