First at the North Pole: or, Two Boys in the Arctic Circle
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The course of the Ice King was now up Baffin Bay and past Cape York to the entrance to Smith Sound. Although it was midsummer, the weather seemed to grow colder hourly, and it was not long before the boys were glad enough to don additional clothing.
“As soon as we get to Etah you will get your first taste of polar exploration,” said Barwell Dawson. “We’ll go out on a hunt.”
“Is it much of a settlement?” asked Chet.
“Hardly any settlement at all. In the summer the Esquimaux have their skin tents pitched there, and in the winter they put up a few igloos, that is, ice huts, and that’s all.”
That night came another scare. They almost ran into a tremendous iceberg that towered like a giant in the water. But the lookout saw the monster just in time – it was rather foggy, or he would have seen it sooner – and they sheered to windward.
“What a high iceberg!” exclaimed Chet, when the danger was past.
“Yes, and to think that it is much deeper in the water than out of it,” added Andy.
They reached the inlet leading to Etah in a fog, and that afternoon experienced a snowstorm that lasted for over two hours. Then the weather cleared, and they made out a number of tents lining the coast. Here and there they saw some Esquimaux in their strange little boats, fishing. The natives set up a shout when the Ice King came to anchor, and some lost no time in coming on board. They were strange-looking creatures, short of form and round of face, with straight black hair and mouths unusually large. But they were good-natured, and smiled and laughed as they talked to Barwell Dawson, Professor Jeffer, and Captain Williamson, all of whom could speak a little of the Esquimaux tongue.
The boys were allowed to go on a hunt the next day. Led by two of the Esquimaux, the party went off in one of the small boats to a point where it was said game might be found. They were out for six hours with Barwell Dawson, and came back loaded down with birds, and with a small polar bear. Chet and Andy had shot the bear between them, and were proud of their haul.
“The first polar bear!” cried Andy. “I don’t think it will be the last.”
Before returning to the ship, the two boys went off on a little excursion by themselves. Pep Loggermore followed them, and tried to think of some way of keeping them from returning to the Ice King, but got no opportunity of carrying out his plan to do them harm.
At Etah a large quantity of meat was purchased from the Esquimaux, who had been awaiting Mr. Dawson’s arrival for over a month. They had been out hunting bears, musk oxen, walrus, seals, and other game for him, and they had likewise collected for him over a hundred of the best Esquimaux dogs to be found. With the dogs they brought six sledges, that were light but strong.
“My, but those Esquimaux do smell!” was Andy’s comment when ten of them came on board and took quarters in the forward part of the ship.“They smell worse than a fish market!”
The dogs were penned up, and made the air hideous with their barking and snarling. All the supplies were taken on board, and then the Ice King steamed away from Etah on her voyage into the great Unknown.
“It’s good-by now to everything, civilized and uncivilized,” said Barwell Dawson. “From now on we have got to trust to luck as to what comes.”
It was the explorer’s plan to push as far as the ice would let him into Smith’s Sound. Then, when the Ice King could sail no further, they would disembark and prepare for the coming winter – the terrible Long Night. Now it was summer, and daylight at all hours of the twenty-four.
A good deal of floating ice was encountered within six hours after leaving Etah, and after that the thumping and grinding on the sides was kept up night and day. Although the vessel had full steam up, the engines were run slowly, as too hard a crash might result disastrously. Occasionally they could make out the shore line, but usually low icebergs shut the land from sight.
“I don’t think we can go much further,” remarked Andy, on the third day out from Etah. “The ice seems to be closing in all around us.”
Nevertheless, the next day they struck a wide “lead,” and ran through this for miles. But then the ice became thicker than ever, and Captain Williamson shook his head gravely.
“Not much further, Mr. Dawson,” he said. “I think we had best make for the shore yonder,” and he pointed with his gloved hand.
“As you think best, Captain,” was the explorer’s reply. “We have now come about as far as I thought we could go.”
The boys watched the working of the vessel until late that night. When they awoke in the morning, they found that the engines had stopped. They dressed and ran on deck.
“Well, I never!” cried Andy. “We are high and dry now, and no mistake!”
All around them were immense fields of ice and snow. The Ice King had slid up on the ice, and the big, transparent blocks held her as if in a vise. Not far away was an iceberg that looked like a small mountain.
“This is as far as the ship will go,” said Professor Jeffer to the lads. “The rest of our journey will be made by walking, or on the dog sledges.”
It was so cold the boys were glad enough to hurry below and drink some steaming coffee. While eating, they learned that Barwell Dawson had already arranged to take the most of the supplies ashore and house them on a hill not far away. The Esquimaux were getting out the sledges and dogs to do the carting.
“We’ll go off on a hunt soon,” said the explorer. “But before we do that we must get ready for winter, which will ere long be upon us.”
Several days of hard labor for all hands followed, as many of the supplies were taken off the steamer and carted on the sledges to a small hill, upon which the Americans erected a living hut and a storehouse, and the Esquimaux put up half a dozen igloos and dog shelters. The boys were glad to work, for it helped to keep their blood in circulation.
The Esquimaux had a perfect system regarding their dogs and sledges, and were under the leadership of a chief named Olalola. Olalola had the largest sledge and the best dogs, and it was a sight to see him load up and start his team of half a dozen or more.
Crack! would go the whip, and away the dogs would bound with their load. Sometimes the boys or the men would ride on the sledge, and Andy and Chet thought it the best sport they had ever experienced.
A week passed, and during that time they experienced two blinding snowstorms. But then the weather cleared off as if by magic, and Barwell Dawson asked the boys if they wanted to go off on a hunt after polar bears.
“Just the thing!” cried Andy, and Chet said practically the same.
It was decided that the party should be made up of Mr. Dawson, the boys, Olalola, and several others. The Esquimau was to take along some provisions on the sledge, for it was thought the party might be out several days.
“This is something like it!” cried Chet, as they trudged along over the snow and ice. “I hope we bag about a hundred polar bears!”
“Why not make it two hundred while you are at it?” answered his chum, dryly.
The first day was a disappointment, as no game of any sort appeared in sight. But on the following morning Olalola said there were bears ahead, and they soon came upon unmistakable traces of the game.
They were going toward an icy hill, and rounding this they saw at least a dozen bears. Telling the Esquimau and the others to remain to the rear, Barwell Dawson crept up on the bears, taking Andy and Chet with him.
“Don’t fire until I give the command,” said the hunter, and both boys nodded to signify that they understood.
It was a thrilling moment for Andy and Chet, but they were used to hunting big game, so they did not get nervous. Coming up within gunshot, Mr. Dawson gave the signal, and all three fired their weapons. One bear fell dead, and another was badly wounded.
“Hurrah! that’s the way to do it!” cried Andy. “Come on, let us bag some more!”
He ran forward, and Chet and Mr. Dawson followed. The polar bears were evidently dumfounded, and did not know for the moment what to do. Some turned to run away, but others arose on their hind legs to do battle.
“Some of ’em are coming for us!” cried Chet, in alarm, and then Mr. Dawson’s rifle spoke up, and another of the big fellows was laid low. But the other bears leaped for the boys, as if to hug them to death or eat them up.
CHAPTER XXI – A FIGHT WITH POLAR BEARS
“Look out, he’s coming for you!” shouted Barwell Dawson.
Both Chet and Andy heard the words, but paid no attention. Their guns were raised, and each was aiming at the bear nearest to him. Crack! went Andy’s firearm, and the polar bear was halted by a wound in the forepaw.
Chet was not so fortunate, as his gun failed to go off. The next instant the polar bear leaped on him and bore him to the ice. As boy and beast went down, Barwell Dawson opened fire, and the bear was hit in the side, a wound that made him more savage than ever.
Although Chet was sent sprawling, he did not lose his presence of mind. As quick as a flash he rolled over, from under the very forepaws of the polar bear, and continued to roll, down a slight hill to one side.
By this time Andy and Mr. Dawson were firing again, and Olalola, coming up, used several spears with telling effect. At the increase in noise, – the Esquimau adding his yells to the cracks of the weapons, – one after another of the bears turned and commenced to run away.
“Don’t go after them!” sang out Barwell Dawson. “They may turn again, if you do. Shoot them from a distance.”
Once more he discharged his gun, and Andy did likewise. Then Chet scrambled up and used his firearm, the piece this time responding to the touch on the trigger.
Another of the bears was now killed outright, while the largest of the group was badly wounded in the hind quarters. This bear dropped behind the others and, drawing closer, Chet let him have a shot in the ear that finished him. The other beasts disappeared behind a hummock of ice, and that was the last seen of them.
“Are you hurt?” asked Andy of his chum, as soon as the excitement was over, and while all were reloading their weapons and the Esquimau was securing his spears.
“Got a scratch on the back of the neck,” answered Chet. “It’s bleeding a little, but that’s all. Say, this is a dandy haul, isn’t it?” he continued, enthusiastically.
“We must be more careful in the future,” said Barwell Dawson. “Usually polar bears are timid and run away, but these chaps must have been very hungry, and that made them aggressive.”
The largest of the polar bears was all of eight feet long, and correspondingly heavy. To lift him on the sledge was no easy task, and with the others, the hunters found they had all the game the dogs could drag over the ice and snow.
“We may as well start for the ship at once,” said Barwell Dawson. “Olalola thinks a snowstorm is coming, and we don’t want to get caught out in it if we can help it.”
They returned to where they had encamped for the night, and picked up the few belongings left there. Then they started direct for the shelters put up near the ship.
The last half-mile of the journey was covered in a heavy snowstorm, and all were glad when they caught sight of the Ice King. They found Captain Williamson and Professor Jeffer on the deck, watching for them.
“I was afraid you would be snowbound,” said the captain.
He and the professor were astonished at the sight of the polar bears. The game was taken to one of the storehouses, where some of the natives were set to work to prepare it for use during the winter now close at hand.
It had been arranged that the Esquimaux and some of the sailors were to live on shore, while Barwell Dawson and his party, and the captain and engineer and two others, remained on the steamer. Thus all had more “elbow room” than if they had crowded the entire party in one place or the other. From the hold of the vessel several large lamps were produced and put into readiness for use.
“The darkness of the winter months is the worst feature of a trip to these parts,” explained Barwell Dawson to the boys. “Of course, I hope for a great deal of moonlight, but even so the dark days are many, and lights are absolutely necessary.”
“The darkness has a strange effect on some people,” said Professor Jeffer. “I have heard of sailors going mad because of it. But I trust nothing of the sort happens to any one in our party.”
After that, there was a good deal to do for a week around the ship and up at the hut, and the days passed swiftly. Then, one clear morning, the explorer called to Andy and Chet.
“Come with me, if you want to get your last look at the sun for some months,” said he.
They left the Ice King and walked to the top of an icy cliff a mile away. Professor Jeffer was with them, and so were Dr. Slade and Mr. Camdal.
On the top of the cliff they had to wait nearly an hour before the sun showed itself. The long beams of light flashed across the ice, and then gradually grew dimmer and dimmer, and then disappeared altogether.
“Gone!” said Chet, in a low tone. All had been very silent for several minutes.
“Yes,” answered Barwell Dawson. “And you’ll not see the sun again until next February!”
“What a night!” murmured Andy, and somehow his heart seemed to sink within him.
It was a silent party that returned to the ship. Andy and Chet both began to wonder how the long spell of darkness was going to affect them.
“It won’t be so bad the first few days – or nights,” said Andy. “But after that – ” He finished with a grave shake of his head.
“Let us try to occupy our minds with work and by reading,” answered Chet. “I guess it’s the only way to keep from going crazy.”
The lights were lit after that, and kept burning brightly all through the long winter – one large lamp on the deck of the Ice King, and another equally large in front of the hut on shore. Smaller lamps were likewise kept burning constantly indoors.
Hunting continued from week to week, and the boys aided in the shooting of more polar bears, and also in bringing down several large musk oxen. The musk oxen, with heads resembling big buffalo bulls, were a source of great wonder to the lads.
“This is hunting, and no mistake,” said Andy. “I wonder what the fellows in Maine would say to these, if they could see them.”
“Beats moose hunting, doesn’t it, Andy?”
“Rather. By the way, Chet, I’d like to know how my Uncle Si is making out.”
“He ought to be up here. Phew! wouldn’t he complain of the cold! It was 38° below zero this morning!”
“I know it, and Professor Jeffer says it will be colder than that before long.”
They had to guard carefully against the cold, for it would have been an easy matter to have an ear or one’s nose frostbitten. As it was, one of the sailors had a big toe “nipped” by the frost, and suffered greatly because of it. The boys found it unwise even to touch anything metallic with a bare hand, for fear the member would get “burnt” or cling fast.
It was late in November that something happened which disturbed the party not a little. Late in the day, while Andy and Chet were dozing in their bunks, they not having anything to do, there came a curious grinding sound from the sides of the Ice King.
“What is that?” asked Andy, as he sat up and rubbed his eyes.
“Bless me if I know,” responded Chet. “Let us go on deck and see.”
They donned their fur coats and mitts, and ran out on the deck just as the grinding increased. They found Captain Williamson and Barwell Dawson engaged in earnest conversation.
“It’s the ice pack,” explained the explorer. “It is closing in on us.”
“Closing in!” cried Andy. “Why, it’s as close in now as it can get!”
“Not quite,” was the grim reply.
“Why, do you mean – ” Andy stopped short.
“Isn’t the Ice King strong enough to stand the pressure?” questioned Chet.
“The steamer is braced to stand a great deal. But this ice has an enormous power,” replied Captain Williamson. “If it comes against us too strongly, it may crush the ship like an eggshell.”
At first the commander could think of nothing to do to relieve the vessel, but presently it was suggested that the ice be chopped away from the bow and one side in a slanting direction. All hands, including the boys, went at the work, with picks, and crowbars, and spades.
It was a fight against nature and the elements, and never did men and boys work harder. As they labored, the ice of the vast pack continued to move closer to the ship, causing the Ice King to groan and crack in every timber.
“If she breaks, jump for your lives!” cried Captain Williamson. He was more anxious than words can describe, yet he managed to keep cool, and directed the work as well as he was able.
By night the ice had been chopped away to the depth of a foot and a half the entire length of the vessel. Then the wind, which had been blowing strongly from one direction, shifted to another, and the pressure on the vessel let up a little.
“I think we are safe for the present,” said the captain. “All hands can rest for a few hours. But come in a hurry if I blow the whistle.”
Utterly exhausted by their labors, the boys went to their stateroom and threw themselves down to rest. Both fell asleep instantly, and it seemed to Andy that he had not slept more than five minutes when Chet shook him.
“On deck!” cried the former. “The whistle is blowing!”
They had been asleep five hours, and the rest had refreshed them greatly. They hurried again to the deck, and as they did so they felt the Ice King tremble from stem to stern.
“I’d rather be outside than in – if she is going to be crushed,” said Andy, in a voice he tried in vain to steady. He well knew what it would mean to be cast away in the Arctic regions without a ship.
Again everybody was set to work to cut away the ice at the side and the bow of the Ice King. Small holes were drilled, and cartridges exploded in them to help the work along. In the meantime the crashing of the ice pack continued, as the wind, having changed to its former course, drove the great white mass tighter and tighter against the vessel.
“I am afraid the ship is doomed!” cried Professor Jeffer. He was laboring as well as his years permitted.
“A little deeper!” cried Captain Williamson. “And throw all the coal on deck overboard!”
The coal added considerable to the weight of the ship, and when this was deposited on the ice, the vessel’s draught was lessened by several inches. With a straining and cracking she came up, and then the work of cutting the ice at her side continued.
By noon, the prospect of clearing the Ice King was almost hopeless. The interior timbers were cracking, and one had snapped in twain. To prevent a conflagration, the fires were put out, and the lamps also extinguished.
“Another hour will tell the tale,” said Barwell Dawson, almost sadly. “A little more pressure, and if she doesn’t come up she will be smashed as flat as a pancake!”
Captain Williamson was now trying to raise the vessel by means of steel cables slipped under the bow and stern. The cable ends on the ice pack side were fastened down by crowbars set in deep holes, and the other ends were hauled as near taut as possible by means of temporary windlasses.
“I believe we’ll make it!” cried the captain, presently. “Now then, one more turn on the cables!”
The windlasses groaned and twisted, and then, of a sudden, one broke from its fastenings and hit the side of the ship, letting the steel cable slip down into the water. This allowed the bow to rise and the stern to go down.
“The ice pack is moving!” yelled one man. “It’s coming in for all it is worth! The Ice King is doomed!”
CHAPTER XXII – THROUGH THE LONG NIGHT
The crashing and cracking sounds which rent the air seemed to justify the man’s cry. It was true the ice pack was being driven in sharply by the wind, which had greatly increased during the past hour. It pressed on the side of the ship with telling force, and all those outside heard several timbers give way inside and collapse.
But just at the crucial moment the work the men had been doing proved its worth. The ice began to crack and split a little deeper down, and suddenly the Ice King gave a start upward.
“I think she is coming up!” cried Dr. Slade, and even as he spoke the steamer rose up higher as part of the ice pack got under the hull. Then came a swishing sound, some water spurted up into the air, and the vessel came up still higher, while the ice appeared to close in solidly under the keel.
“Saved!” roared Captain Williamson, and his face showed his relief.
“Are you sure?” asked Andy, anxiously.
“Yes, my lad. The Ice King is now riding on top of the ice instead of between it. Any additional move of the ice pack will simply force us upward.”
“She may tip over on her side!” cried Chet.
“We can easily guard against that, Chet. Yes, we are saved, and I am mighty glad of it.”
“And so am I,” added Barwell Dawson.
The grinding of the ice pack continued for several days, and the vessel was squeezed several inches higher. But the pressure on the side was gone completely, and the ship’s carpenter was set to work to repair the damage done. One of the timbers running across the boys’ stateroom had been snapped in twain, and the lads viewed the wreckage in deep concern.
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