First at the North Pole: or, Two Boys in the Arctic Circle
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“First at the North Pole,” relates the particulars of a marvelous journey from our New England coast to that portion of our globe sometimes designated as “the top of the world.”
Filled with such dreams as come to all explorers, Barwell Dawson fitted out the Ice King for a trip to the north. Because of what had happened, it was but natural that he should invite Andy and Chet to accompany him, and equally natural that they should hasten to accept the invitation.
The boys knew that they would have no easy time of it, yet they did not dream of the many perils that awaited the entire party. Once the staunch steamer was in danger of being crushed by an immense iceberg, in which event this chronicle would not have been written. Again, the boys and the others had a fierce fight with polar bears and with a savage walrus. When the ship was jammed hard and fast in the ice a start was made by the exploring party, accompanied by some Esquimaux and several dog sledges. All had heard of the marvelous achievements of Cook and Peary, and all were fired with a great ambition to go and do likewise. With the thermometer often at fifty degrees below zero, they pushed on steadily, facing death more than once. To add to their troubles they had sickness in camp, and snow-blindness, and once some Esquimaux, becoming scared, rebelled and tried to run off with their supplies. Then, when the North Pole was at last gained, it became the gravest kind of a problem how to return to civilization alive.
In penning this volume I have had a twofold purpose in mind: the first to show what pure grit and determination can do under the most trying of circumstances, and the second to give my readers an insight into Esquimaux life and habits, and to relate what great explorers like Franklin, Kane, Hall, DeLong, Nansen, Cook, and Peary have done to open up this weird and mysterious portion of our globe.
CHAPTER I – ANDY AND HIS UNCLE
“What be you a-goin’ to do today, Andy?”
“I’m going to try my luck over to the Storburgh camp, Uncle Si. I hardly think Mr. Storburgh will have an opening for me, but it won’t hurt to ask him.”
“Did you try Sam Hickley, as I told you to?” continued Josiah Graham, as he settled himself more comfortably before the open fireplace of the cabin.
“Yes, but he said he had all the men he wanted.” Andy Graham gave something of a sigh. “Seems to me there are more lumbermen in this part of Maine than there is lumber.”
“Humph! I guess you ain’t tried very hard to git work,” grumbled the old man, drawing up his bootless feet on the rungs of his chair, and spreading out his hands to the generous blaze before him. “Did you see them Plover brothers?”
“No, but Chet Greene did, day before yesterday, and they told him they were laying men off instead of taking ’em on.”
“Humph! I guess thet Chet Greene don’t want to work.He’d rather fool his time away in the woods, huntin’ and fishin’.”
“Chet is willing enough to work if he can get anything to do. And hunting pays, sometimes. Last week he got a fine deer and one of the rich hunters from Boston paid him a good price for it.”
“Humph! Thet ain’t as good as a stiddy, payin’ job. I don’t want you to be a-lazin’ your time away in the woods, – I want you to grow up stiddy an’ useful. Besides, we got to have money, if we want to live.”
“Aren’t you going to try to get work, Uncle Si?” asked the boy anxiously, as he gazed at the large and powerful-looking frame of the man before him.
“To be sure I’m a-goin’ to go to work – soon as I’m fit. But I can’t do nuthin with my feet an’ my stomach goin’ back on me, can I?”
“I thought your dyspepsia was about over – you’ve eaten so well the past week. And you’ve walked considerably lately. If you got something easy – ”
“Now, don’t you go to tellin’ me what to do!” cried the old man, wrathfully. “I’m a sick man, that’s what I am. I ain’t able to work, an’ it’s up to you as a dootiful nevvy to git work an’ support us both. Now you jest trot off to the Storburgh camp, an’ don’t you come home till you git work. An’ after this, you better give up havin’ anything to do with thet good-fer-nuthin, lazy Chet Greene.”
The boy’s eyes flashed for an instant and he was on the point of making a bitter reply to his relative. But then his mouth closed suddenly and he turned away. In silence he drew off his slippers, donned his big boots, and put on his overcoat and his winter cap. Then he pulled on his gloves, slung a game bag over his shoulder, and reached for a gun that stood behind a door.
“Wot you takin’ thet fer?” demanded Josiah Graham, with his eyes on the gun. “Didn’t I tell you to look fer a job?”
“That’s what I’m going to do,” was the reply. “But if I come across any game on the way I want the chance to bring it down.”
“Humph! I know how boys are! Rather loaf around the woods than work, any time.”
“Uncle Si, if you say another word – ” began the youth, and then he stopped short, turned on his heel, and walked from the cabin, closing the door none too gently behind him.
It was certainly a trying situation, and as he stepped out into the snow Andy felt as if he never wanted to go back and never wanted to see his Uncle Si again.
“It’s his laziness, nothing else,” murmured the boy to himself, as he trudged off. “He’s as able to work as I am. He always was lazy – father said so. Oh, dear; I wish he had never come to Pine Run!”
Andy was a youth of seventeen, of medium height, but with well-developed chest and muscles. His face was a round one, and usually good to look at, although at present it was drawn down because of what had just occurred.
The boy was an orphan, the son of a man who in years gone by had bought and sold lumber throughout the northern section of Maine. His mother had been taken away when he was a small lad, and then he and his father had left town and come to live in the big cabin from which Andy was now trudging so rapidly. An old colored woman had come along, to do the cooking and other household work.
A log jam on the river had caused Mr. Graham’s death two years before this tale opens, and for a short time Andy had been left utterly alone, there being no near neighbors and no relatives to take care of the orphan. True, he had been offered a home by a lumber dealer of Bangor, but the man was such a harsh fellow that Andy shrank from going with him.
Then, one day, much to everybody’s surprise, Josiah Graham appeared on the scene and announced his intention to settle down and live with his nephew. Josiah was an older half-brother to Andy’s father, and the boy had often heard of him as a shiftless, lazy ne’er-do-well, who drifted from one town to another, seldom keeping a job longer than two or three weeks or a month. He did not drink, but he loved to smoke, and to tell stories of what he had done or was going to do.
“I’m a-goin’ to take Andy in hand an’ make a man of him,” he declared, shortly after his arrival. “A young feller like him needs a guardeen.” And then he had his trunk carted to the cabin and, without asking Andy’s permission, proceeded to settle down and make himself comfortable.
At first it looked as if matters might go along smoothly enough, for Josiah Graham managed to obtain a position as time-keeper at one of the lumber camps, where Andy was employed as a chopper. But soon the man’s laziness manifested itself, and when he did not do his work properly he was discharged.
“It was the boss’s fault, ’twasn’t mine,” he told Andy, but the youth knew better. Then he got into a quarrel with the negro woman who did the housework and told her to go away.
“’Twill be one less to feed,” he said to his nephew. “We can do our own work.” But he did not do a stroke extra, and it fell to Andy’s share to sweep, and wash dishes, and make his own bed. Uncle Si wanted him to make the other bed too, but he refused.
“If you want it made, you can make it yourself!” declared Andy, with spirit. “You are not working at the camp, while I am.” This led to a lively quarrel. After that Josiah Graham did make up the bed a few times, but usually when he crawled into it at night it was in the same mussed-up condition as when he had crawled out in the morning.
Another quarrel came over the question of money. The uncle wanted Andy to hand over all his earnings, but this the lad refused to do. Josiah Graham had already gotten possession of the fifteen hundred dollars left by Andy’s father, but this was lost in a wildcat speculation in lumber for which the old man was morally, if not legally, responsible. The youth felt that he must be cautious or his uncle might make him penniless.
“I’ll pay the bills and give you a dollar a week,” he told Josiah Graham. “That will buy those tablets you take for your dyspepsia. You had better give up smoking.”
“Smoking is good for the dyspepsy,” was the reply. “You give me the money an’ I’ll pay the bills,” and then, when Andy still refused, the uncle waited until pay-day and went to the lumber camp and collected his nephew’s wages. This brought on more trouble, and, because of this, Andy lost his position.
It was midwinter, and to get another job was by no means easy. The youth tramped from place to place, but without success. The money in the hands of Josiah Graham was running low, and he was constantly “nagging” Andy to go and do something. He was perfectly able to look for work himself, but was too indolent to make the effort. He preferred to sit in front of the blazing fire and give advice. Once or twice a week he would shuffle off to the village, two miles away, to sit behind the pot stove in the general store and listen to the news.
“The laziest man in the whole district,” declared the storekeeper. “It’s a pity he showed up to bother Andy Graham. I think the boy could have done better without him.” And this verdict was shared by many. But nobody dared to tell Josiah Graham, for fear of provoking a quarrel with the man.
As mentioned before, Andy’s father had left fifteen hundred dollars. He had also bequeathed to his son, when he should become of age, an interest in a large timber tract in upper Michigan. On his deathbed the father had secretly given his son some papers referring to the land, telling him to beware or some “lumber sharks” would get the better of him and take his property away. Andy now had these papers hidden in a box under his bed. He had not told his uncle of them, feeling that his relative was not capable of looking after his rights. Andy’s education was somewhat limited, yet he knew a great deal more than did Josiah Graham, who had been too lazy to attend school, even when he had the chance.
“I’ll keep the papers secret,” the lad told himself, “and some day, when I get the chance and have the money, I’ll go down to Bangor or Portland and get a lawyer to look into the matter for me. If I let Uncle Si have them he’ll allow the land sharks to cheat me out of everything.”
Andy’s father had been more or less of a hunter, and the boy took naturally to a rifle and a shotgun. He was a fair marksman, and the winter previous had laid low three deer and a great variety of small game. One of the deer had been brought down on a windy day and at long range, and of that shot he was justly proud. The venison and other meat had come in handy at the cabin, and the deer skins and the horns of a buck had brought him in some money that was badly needed.
“If I can’t get a job, I’m going hunting for a few days,” said Andy half aloud, as he trudged through the snow. “It’s better than doing nothing, Uncle Si to the contrary. Maybe I can get Chet to go along. I don’t think he has anything else to do. Somehow or other, it seems to be awfully dull around here this winter. Maybe I would have done better if I had tried my luck down in one of the towns.”
Andy had to pass through the village of Pine Run, consisting of a general store, blacksmith shop, church, and a score of houses. As he approached the settlement he saw a horse and cutter coming toward him at a smart rate of speed. In the cutter sat a man of about thirty, dressed in a fine fur overcoat.
“Whoa!” called the man to his steed, as he approached the youth, and the horse soon came to a halt. “Say, can you tell me, is this the road to Moose Ridge?” he asked.
“It’s one of the roads,” answered Andy.
“Then there is another?”
“Yes, sir, just beyond that fringe of trees yonder.”
“Which is the best road?”
“What part of the Ridge do you want to go to?”
“Up to a place called the Blasted Pines.”
“Then you had better take the other road. You won’t get through this way.”
“You are sure of that? I don’t want to make any mistake.”
“Yes, I am sure. I’ve been up there hunting myself,” added Andy. He saw that the cutter contained a game bag and two gun cases.
“Is the hunting any good?”
“It was last year. I haven’t been up there this year. I got a fine big deer up there. Maybe I’ll get up there later – if I can’t find work.”
“Out of employment, eh?”
“Well, if you come up there perhaps we’ll meet again,” said the man, and started to turn the cutter back to the other road. “Much obliged for the information.”
“You’re welcome,” answered Andy. And then he watched the turnout swing around and dash away for the other road.
Little did he dream of the strange circumstances under which he was to meet this man again, or of what that encounter was to bring forth.
CHAPTER II – AT THE LUMBER CAMP
Leaving the village behind him, Andy struck out bravely for the Storburgh lumber camp, three miles up the river. The thermometer was low but there was no wind, and he did not mind the cold, for he had plenty of good red blood in his veins. All he was worried about was the question of getting work. He knew that he must have money, and that it could not very well be obtained without employment.
“If I were a fellow in a fairy story book I might find a bag of gold,” he mused. “But as I’m only a Yankee lad, I guess I’ll have to hustle around for all I get. Even if I went hunting and brought down a deer or two, or a moose, that wouldn’t bring in enough. If I were a regular guide I might get a job with that gentleman in the cutter. He looked as if he had money to spend. He must be a stranger in these parts, or he wouldn’t ask about the road to Moose Ridge.”
It was nearly noon when Andy came in sight of the lumber camp. From a distance he heard the ringing sounds of the axes, and the shouts of the men to “stand from under” as a mighty monarch of the forest was about to fall. Skirting the “yard,” he approached the building which was known as the office.
“Is Mr. Storburgh around?” he asked, of the young man in charge.
“He is not,” was the reply, and the clerk scarcely looked up from the sheet upon which he was figuring.
“When will he be here?”
“I don’t know – he’s gone to New York.”
“Do you know if he has an opening for a chopper, or on the teams?”
“No opening whatever. We laid off four men last week, and we’re going to lay off four more this coming Saturday.”
The clerk went on figuring, and in silence Andy withdrew. He had had a walk of nearly five miles for nothing. Was it any wonder that he was disheartened?
“It’s the same story everywhere,” he told himself, as he moved away slowly. “I might tramp to the Elroy place – that’s six miles from here – but what’s the use? I’ll wear out boot-leather for nothing. I guess Uncle Si and I will have to pull up stakes or starve.”
Not knowing what else to do, Andy walked along to where a number of men were at work. Just then the twelve o’clock whistle sounded, and the workers “knocked off” for their midday meal.
“Hello, Andy!” sung out a cheery voice, and, turning, the boy saw a brawny chopper named Bill Carrow approaching. Carrow had once worked with Mr. Graham, and knew the son fairly well.
“Hello,” returned the youth. “Going to feed the inner man?” and he smiled.
“That’s what, son. How are you?” And the lumberman shook hands.
“Fairly well, but I’d feel better if I had a job.”
“Out of work, eh? That’s too bad. I don’t suppose there is any opening here.”
“The clerk said there wasn’t any – said they were discharging hands instead of taking ’em on.”
“That’s true. Business is bad – account of the panic last year, you know.” Bill Carrow paused a moment. “Had your dinner?”
“No, but I can wait until – ”
“You ain’t going to wait. You come with me and I’ll fill you up. Your father did the same for me many a time. Come on.”
Andy was hungry, and could not resist this kindly invitation. Soon the pair were eating a plain but substantial dinner, which Carrow procured from the camp cook. It was disposed of in a corner of the mess cabin, apart from the other lumbermen. As they ate the lumberman asked the youth about himself and his uncle.
“That uncle of yours ought to be ashamed of himself, that’s my opinion of it,” said Bill Carrow. “If I was you, I’d not lift my finger to support him. He was the laziest young feller I ever knew, and it’s nothing but laziness now. He ought to be supporting you instead of you supporting him.”
“I can support myself – if he’d only leave me alone and not try to get my money away from me.”
“He squandered that money your father left – I know all about it. I’d make him go to work.”
“I can’t make him do anything.”
“The boys ought to go over and ride him on a rail, or tar and feather him. I guess that would wake him up.”
“Oh, I hope they don’t do that! He’s a bad man when he gets in a rage.” Andy did not want any more trouble than had already fallen to his portion.
“By the way, Andy, did a man named Hopton call on you lately?” asked Carrow, after a pause.
“Hopton? I never heard of him. Who is he?”
“Why, as near as I can learn, he is a real estate man – deals in timber and farm lands. He came here a week or so ago, thinking you had a job here. I told him where you lived, and I supposed he called on you.”
“I didn’t see him. What did he want?”
“He wouldn’t say – leastwise, I didn’t ask him, seeing’s it was none of my business. But he did ask me, confidential like – after he found out that I had known your father well – if your folks had any timber lands over in Michigan.”
“Oh!” Andy uttered the exclamation before he had time to think. “Did he – that is, did he ask about any land in particular?”
“No. I told him I didn’t think you owned any land anywhere. He looked satisfied at that and went away. But I thought he called on you.”
“Where was he from?”
“I don’t know. But they might tell you at the office. Have you got any land?”
It was an awkward question. Andy did not wish to tell a falsehood, nor did he wish to disclose the secret left by his parent. He bit off a mouthful of bread and pretended to choke upon it.
“Hi, look out, or you’ll choke to death!” cried Bill Carrow, slapping him on the back. Then Andy ran to the door and continued to cough, until the awkward question was forgotten. Other workmen came up, and the talk became general. Perhaps Carrow suspected that the boy did not wish to answer him, for he did not refer to the matter again.
After thanking his friend for the dinner, Andy walked back to the office. He found the clerk smoking a pipe and reading a Bangor newspaper, having finished his midday meal a few minutes previously.
“It’s no use,” he said, as Andy came in. “We can’t possibly take you on.”
“I came back to get a little information, if you’ll be kind enough to give it. Do you know a man named Hopton?”
“Why, yes. I suppose you mean A. Q. Hopton, the real estate dealer.”
“Does he deal in timber lands?”
“I think he does.”
“Where is he from?”
“He has an office in Portland, and another in Grand Rapids, Michigan.”
“Do you know where he is now?”
“No. He was here on business some days ago. Perhaps he went back to Portland.”
“Want to buy a few thousand acres of land?” and the clerk chuckled at his joke.
“No, I thought I could sell him a linen duster to keep the icicles off when he’s on the road,” answered Andy, with a grin. And then, as there seemed nothing more to say, he walked away, and was soon leaving the Storburgh lumber camp behind him.
What he had heard set him to thinking deeply. What did this A. Q. Hopton know about the lumber tract in Michigan? Was it valuable, and did it really belong to his father’s estate?
“I wish I knew more about such things,” mused Andy. “The last time I tried to read the papers over I couldn’t make head or tail of them. I guess it would take a smart lawyer to get to the bottom of it – and a lawyer would want a lot of money for the work. I wonder – ” And then Andy came to a sudden halt.
Was it possible that Mr. A. Q. Hopton had called at the cabin during his absence and interviewed Uncle Si? And if so, how much had Uncle Si been able to tell the real estate dealer? Had the two gone on a hunt for the papers, and, if so, had they found the documents?
“If Uncle Si has gone into any kind of a deal on this without consulting me, I’ll – I’ll bring him to account for it!” cried the youth, vehemently. “After this he has got to leave my affairs alone. He lost that fifteen hundred dollars – he’s not going to lose that timber land, too.”
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