First at the North Pole: or, Two Boys in the Arctic Circle
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“If we had been sleeping in here when that happened, we might have been killed,” said Chet, and his chum agreed with him.
During the following three weeks it snowed a great deal. It was, however, clear on Christmas Day, and the boys went out for a walk in the vicinity of the vessel. All hands were treated to a dinner of wild duck and plum pudding, and something of a church service was held by the captain, assisted by Dr. Slade, who had a good tenor voice, and had once sung in a church choir.
“Makes a fellow feel just a little bit less like a heathen,” remarked Chet, after the church service had come to an end.
“Indeed, that is true,” answered Andy. At Pine Run he had attended the village chapel whenever he had the chance to do so.
As Professor Jeffer had predicted, it grew steadily colder, and there were many days between Christmas and the middle of January when the boys did not care to venture outside. Outdoor work was out of the question, and all hands busied themselves within as best they could. The men smoked and played games, and sometimes got up boxing matches. The boys often took part in the games, and Chet showed his skill as a boxer by flooring two of the tars hand-running.
Yet with it all the time passed slowly, and both Andy and Chet were anxious for the Long Night to come to an end. The darkness was beginning to tell on many of the party, and Pep Loggermore especially began to act strangely. Once he began to sing hysterically, and the doctor had to give him some medicine to quiet him.
“He’s a strange Dick, that chap,” said Captain Williamson. “I am sorry I had him sign articles with me. He’s one of the old-fashioned superstitious kind that I don’t like.”
The boys were glad when the full moon shone down on the ship, for then it was almost as bright as day. The moonshine made the distant cliffs and peaks of ice look like castles of white, and added a rare beauty to the scene. Professor Jeffer took several photographs in the moonlight, – of the ship, the hut and storehouse, and of different members of the party. To pass the time, some of these films and plates were developed on the ship, and the boys aided in printing the pictures, many of which proved very good.
One moonlight night Andy and Chet determined to take a short walk to a point some distance behind the storehouse, and in the direction of the igloos of the Esquimaux. So far, they had not seen the inside of any of the houses of ice, and they were a bit curious to know just how the natives lived.
They soon met Olalola, who had been on a hunt, and he invited them inside his temporary home, and one after another they crawled through the passageway that answered for a vestibule.
Inside, the igloo was about ten feet in diameter, and rounding upward into a dome a foot or two above their heads. Here lived six of the Esquimaux. They had some dirty skins on the floor and in the center was a tiny fire, resting on some flat stones, the smoke escaping through some small holes in the top of the dome.
The smell was something awful in the place, coming from some seal meat that was cooking over the fire, and also from the pipes of the Esquimaux, who were all smoking stuff that the lads later on learned was a combination of plug tobacco and seal hair – the hair being added to the tobacco to make the latter last longer.
Olalola could speak a few words of English, and he invited the lads to have some of the stew that was being made.Just for the novelty each lad tried a mouthful. But to swallow the nauseating mess was impossible, and they had to spit it out. At this all of the Esquimaux laughed loudly. They were not in the least offended because the boys did not like the food.
“Boy no eat, me eat,” said Olalola, and filled his mouth with great gusto. Then the youths excused themselves and got out as fast as possible.
“Phew! talk about fresh air!” cried Chet, when he and his chum were in the open. “Wouldn’t you think the Esquimaux would die in that kind of rot?”
“I don’t believe they are very healthy,” answered Andy. “Dr. Slade says they are not.”
“They all need a bath, and need it badly,” said Chet, in deep disgust. It was his first and last visit to the igloos.
When it was clear the Esquimaux often played games. One was leapfrog, and another was of the “snap-the-whip” variety. In the latter sport they would roar loudly when the last man was sent whirling over and over on the ice.
“You’d think he’d break his head,” was Andy’s comment, as he saw one unfortunate land with a crash on a hummock of ice.
“Well, they are rough fellows, and so their sports must be rough,” answered Professor Jeffer.
Nearly every Esquimau is skillful with the dog-whip, and one of their pastimes amused the boys very deeply. The men would gather around in a big circle, and in the center of this a small object, usually of wood, would be half buried in the snow. Then the men, each with his long dog-lash, would try to “snap” the object from the ring. Crack! would go the lash, making a report like a pistol, and the snow would come up in a little whirl, and sometimes the object would come with it.
“Pretty good shots, some of them,” said Andy.
“Wait until we get on the road with the sledges,” answered Barwell Dawson. “Then you’ll see some fancy doings with the whips. Some of those chaps can reach a dog twenty feet away, and take a nip out of his hide as quick as a wink. That’s the way they get the dogs under such perfect control.”
“I wish I could learn how to drive the dogs,” said Andy.
“You’ll have plenty of chance, when we get on the move again,” returned the explorer.
Two days later, Andy was walking from the storehouse to the ship when, in the dim light from the lamp near the hut, he saw something unusual that attracted his attention. A man was crawling along on all-fours, muttering wildly to himself.
“Whatever can that fellow be up to?” asked the boy of himself. For the instant he thought he might be mistaken, and that the form was that of some wild beast.
His curiosity aroused to a high pitch, the lad stopped short, and then made a detour, coming up on the opposite side of the storehouse. Here he found the man, still on all-fours, bending over a case of some sort.
“Oh, this darkness! Why don’t the sun shine?” the man was muttering to himself. “I must have light! I will have light!”
“It is Pep Loggermore, and he is as crazy as a loon!” murmured Andy. “I had better tell the captain of this at once! The sailor may hurt somebody if I don’t!”
Andy turned around, to make a quick run toward the ship, when he heard the scratching of a match. A tiny flash of flame followed, and in that little flare of light he saw the crazed sailor bending over what looked to be a can of oil!
“He is going to set something on fire!” thought Andy. “Maybe the storehouse! That’s his crazy idea of getting light!”
Andy was right, Loggermore was trying to set fire to the storehouse. Already he was pouring oil from the can over a number of boxes, the ends of which formed that side of the shelter.
“If I run to the ship, it will take time,” reasoned Andy. “By the time I get back with some of the others it may be too late. What shall I do?”
It was a hard question to answer. He had no desire to tackle the crazy sailor alone. But even while he stood debating with himself he saw Loggermore strike another match.
“Stop! Don’t light that, Loggermore!”
So shouting, Andy leaped toward the man, who was still crouched down, mumbling to himself about wanting a light. At the sound of the youth’s voice, the sailor turned, and something like a snarl broke from his lips.
“Go away! Go away!” he shrieked.
“Loggermore, you mustn’t set anything on fire.”
“I want light! I must have light! I hate the darkness!” growled the crazed sailor.
“You’ll burn up all our stores. If you do that, we’ll starve to death!” continued Andy, as he drew closer.
“I want light!” went on Loggermore, doggedly. “The darkness hurts my head – I can’t think straight. Stand back and see what a fine light I’ll soon have!” And so speaking, he lit another match, for the other had fallen in the snow and gone out.
“Help! help!” yelled Andy, at the top of his lungs. He could think of nothing else to do. “Help! help!”
“Shut up!” cried the crazed sailor. “Shut up!” And now, dropping the match he had just struck, he leaped at Andy and caught him by the shoulder and the arm.
The grip of the crazy fellow was like steel, and do his best, the boy could not break away. Pep Loggermore whirled him around and sent him crashing up against the boxes of the storehouse. There both stood, panting heavily, with the sailor’s eyes glowing like two balls of fire.
“Le – let me go!” gasped Andy. “Loggermore, you are crazy – you don’t know what you are doing. Don’t be so foolish, that’s a good fellow – ”
“No, no, I’ll not let you go! You are a Jonah, Andy Graham! You shot the geese, you and that other lad, and you’ve brought us all kinds of trouble! I’ll not let you go!” shrieked Loggermore and then he slammed Andy against the boxes once more. The feet of both came down on the can and on the box of matches the sailor had dropped, smashing each down into the ice and snow.
Then suddenly a light flared up, coming from the broken box of matches. They spluttered an instant and set fire to the oil, and also to the clothing of the man and the boy. Loggermore was too crazy to mind this, but Andy was filled with horror.
“Let go!” yelled the youth, and struggled in vain to release himself. But he could not break that awful hold, and so he dragged the tar with him, and both rolled over and over in the snow. Andy tried to kick out the fire around his legs, and in the meanwhile Loggermore got a grip on his windpipe as if to strangle him. The boy tried to fight the man off, but could not, and presently all grew dark around him, and then he knew no more.
CHAPTER XXIII – “NORTH POLE OR BUST!”
Down in the cabin of the Ice King, close to a roaring fire, Captain Williamson and Barwell Dawson were playing a game of checkers – the captain’s favorite amusement. Chet had been watching with interest, but had now gone on deck for a few minutes, to get the fresh air and to see what had become of his chum.
Suddenly through the stillness of the Arctic night Chet heard Andy’s cry for aid. He strained his eyes and saw the flicker of a light, as Loggermore struck one of the matches.
“Something is wrong,” cried Chet to himself, and then tumbled down the companionway in a hurry.
“What’s the matter?” exclaimed Captain Williamson, startled by the youth’s abrupt entrance.
“Something is wrong with Andy – he is calling for help!” answered Chet.
Both the captain and the explorer leaped up, scattering the checkers in all directions. Each ran for his fur coat and mitts, and each caught up a gun, and Chet did the same. Then they scrambled up on deck in double-quick haste, and leaped over the side of the steamer on to the uneven ice below.
“Where is he?” asked Barwell Dawson.
“Up at the storehouse. He yelled – Look, the place is on fire!”
Both men gazed in the direction, and then Captain Williamson let out a yell that could be heard throughout the entire ship: “All hands turn out to fight fire!”
Chet started on a run, with Barwell Dawson at his heels, the captain remaining behind to rouse the hands to action, for in a twinkling he realized what it would mean were the stores burned.
When Chet reached his chum, Andy lay flat on his back in the snow, motionless. Pep Loggermore was dancing before the ever-increasing flames, shouting gleefully.
“Light at last! I told you I’d have light!” shrieked the crazed sailor.
“Andy, what is it?” asked Chet, and bent over his chum. Then he saw some sparks on Andy’s clothing, and saw that part of his lower garments had been burnt off. Loggermore had had sense enough to extinguish the blaze on his own clothing.
Soon half a dozen of the sailors and Esquimaux were on the scene, and they began to put out the flames by throwing snow and cakes of ice on the storehouse. In the meantime Chet pulled Andy to a safe distance. As he did this the latter opened his eyes and started up.
“Le – let go, Loggermore!” he gasped.
“It’s all right, Andy.”
“Oh, is that you, Chet! Whe – where is Loggermore?”
“Dancing around like a maniac.”
“He is crazy. He – he tried to burn me and strangle me!” panted Andy.
“What in the world made him crazy?”
“The darkness. He wanted a light, so he set fire to the storehouse.”
By this time Andy felt a little better. But he was very weak, and Chet had to help him back to the steamer. Here he sat down and told his tale. Then Chet went out to relate what he had heard to Captain Williamson and the others.
It took but a few minutes of energetic work to put out the fire. When the commander of the Ice King saw the battered oil can and box of matches he was furious.
“The man who did this ought to be strung up on the yardarm!” he exclaimed.
“Loggermore did it, but he is not accountable,” said Chet, and told what Andy had had to say.
“Where is Loggermore?” asked Dr. Slade. “I’ll have to take him in hand.”
A hurried search was made for the crazed man, but he had run away. A party was sent out for him, and he was found nearly a mile from the ship, dancing on the ice, singing loudly, and tearing his clothing to shreds. It was with difficulty that he was brought back and placed in the ship’s brig. Then Dr. Slade gave him a sleeping potion and he sank into a profound slumber. When he came out of his sleep, he said he had had some bad dreams, but he could not remember anything of the fire or of his attack on Andy.
“He is not to be trusted,” said the ship’s physician. “You can give him his liberty, but I advise that an eye be kept on him.”
“We’ll keep an eye on him, never fear,” answered Captain Williamson, grimly.
Andy suffered very little from the attack of the frenzied sailor, and in a day or two he felt as well as ever.
“But I’ll never trust Loggermore again,” he told Chet. “After this he must keep his distance.”
Day after day passed, and at last the Long Night came to an end. There was general rejoicing, and when Andy saw the sun once more he threw up his cap in his delight, and fairly danced a jig.
“It’s grand, Chet!” he cried.
“Grand doesn’t express it,” was Chet’s answer. “It’s sublime! Andy, I don’t know how you feel, but I don’t want to go through another such spell of darkness.”
“Nor I, – not for a hundred thousand dollars! Oh, a fellow doesn’t know how good sunshine is until he can’t have it!”
Preparations for the departure northward had been going on steadily, the Esquimaux getting their dogs and sledges in readiness, and Barwell Dawson and the others going over the supplies to be taken along. Of the supplies the greater portion was pemmican, over a thousand pounds being placed on the sledges. They also had bear meat, peas, beans, bacon, and a small quantity of coffee and tea, with salt, sugar, and pepper. They likewise carried a portable alcohol stove with some tins of alcohol, matches in water-tight boxes, and such cooking utensils as were absolutely necessary. Professor Jeffer had the scientific instruments, including a high-grade sextant, thermometer, and barometer, and also a good film camera with numerous rolls of films. Four shotguns were taken along, and three rifles, with a large quantity of ammunition. Dr. Slade carried his medicine case.
As soon as the Long Night was at an end, more Esquimaux put in an appearance, with their dogs and sledges. One of these was named Estankawak, and Barwell Dawson learned that he was considered one of the best dog-drivers in the Arctic region.
“Then we must have Estankawak by all means,” said the explorer, and interviewed the fellow without delay. When he came back from the interview, his face showed his excitement.
“I have just heard great news!” he cried, to Professor Jeffer and Dr. Slade.
“What is it?” asked the professor, while the boys listened with interest.
“According to what this fellow Estankawak says, Dr. Frederick Cook reached the North Pole last Spring.”
“Reached the North Pole!” exclaimed Professor Jeffer and Dr. Slade in a breath.
“Yes. He got there April 21, 1908, and he is now on his way back to the United States to break the news.”
“Was the Esquimau able to give you any particulars?” questioned the doctor.
“Some, but not a great many. He says Dr. Cook left Annootok about the middle of February, taking with him eleven natives with their sledges, and over a hundred dogs. The party pushed on steadily day after day, across Ellesmere Land to the Garfield Coast, hunting considerably on the way. From Nansen Sound Dr. Cook made almost a bee-line for the Pole, a distance of about eight degrees, or, roughly speaking, five hundred and fifty miles. On his final dash, he had with him only two Esquimaux, the others being sent back at various times.”
“And where is he now?” questioned Andy.
“He is getting back to civilization as fast as possible, to send word home. If what Estankawak says is true, Dr. Cook has done a wonderful thing – something for which explorers have been striving for ages.”
“Then we won’t be the first at the Pole!” said Chet, ruefully.
“Never mind, Chet, if we get there, we’ll be the first boys at the Pole!” answered Andy, quickly.
“That’s so,” answered Chet, and looked a little relieved.
“Did you ask the Esquimau if he knew anything about Commander Peary’s trip this year?” questioned Dr. Slade.
“Yes. He tells me that Peary is north of us, at Cape Sheridan, and has been there since the middle of last September. He, too, is going to make a dash for the Pole, and may even now be on the way.”
“Perhaps we’ll meet him!” cried Andy.
“It is not likely with so many miles of snow and ice between us,” answered Barwell Dawson.
The news concerning Dr. Cook made the explorer more anxious than ever to be on the way, and one bright Wednesday afternoon it was announced that the expedition would start northward on the following morning. The party was to consist of Mr. Dawson, the professor, Dr. Slade, Mr. Camdal, and the two boys, and eight Esquimaux. The natives were to drive eight of their best sledges drawn by ninety-six dogs. They were to travel northward to Grant Land, and then make a straight dash for the Pole. Captain Williamson and his men were to remain as near them along the coast as the weather would permit, awaiting their return.
“And I hope with all my heart that you all come back safe and sound,” said the commander of the Ice King.
“Wish you were going along, Captain,” said Andy.
“So do I, lad; but my place is by the ship. You’ll want the Ice King when you get back.”
At last came the moment for leaving. All the sledges were packed, and the dogs harnessed and ready for action. At the side of the leading team stood Estankawak, long whip in hand.
“All ready!” shouted Barwell Dawson, after a general handshaking.
“Good luck to you!” cried Captain Williamson. “Be sure and bring that North Pole back with you!”
“Sure – on our shoulders!” answered Andy, gleefully.
The explorer motioned to the Esquimau. Crack! went Estankawak’s long whip, and off the leading sledge started. The others followed in rapid succession. There was a cheer from those left behind, and an answering cheer from those who were leaving.
“It’s North Pole or bust!” said Chet, with a curiously dogged look on his face.
“North Pole or bust!” answered Andy.
“Do not be too sanguine,” said Dr. Slade. “Because Dr. Cook has reached that point does not say that we shall be equally successful.”
“Don’t you think we’ll get there, Doctor?” asked Chet, quickly.
“I hope so, but I am prepared to take what comes. I do not believe that you boys understand the dangers and difficulties of the trip before us. We may not reach the Pole, and we may not even get back alive. Arctic explorations have, in the past, cost many hundreds of lives.”
“Don’t discourage the lads,” broke in Professor Jeffer, briskly. “We shall succeed – I know it, I feel it. And when we stand on the apex of the world, – where there is no east, no west, no north, only south – ah, what a glorious prospect!” And he waved his arms enthusiastically.
“That’s the talk!” shouted Andy. “We’ll get there somehow, and don’t you forget it!”
“It’s North Pole or bust!” repeated Chet, “North Pole or bust!”
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