First at the North Pole: or, Two Boys in the Arctic Circle
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CHAPTER XXIV – THE LAST HUNT
It was Barwell Dawson’s intention to strike out directly for Cape Richards, the most northerly point of Grant Land. It may be added that this locality was only a short distance west of the point from which Commander Peary made his successful dash for the Pole. Dr. Cook’s route was still further westward, so Mr. Dawson’s trail lay almost midway between those of the world-renowned Pole-seekers.
It was a clear, mild day, and for the first few miles the going was excellent. Everybody was in the best of humor, and the boys felt like whistling. Estankawak was in the lead with his sledge, and Olalola followed him, while the others came behind in a bunch. The dogs trotted along evenly, and the drivers had little trouble with them.
“This weather is fine,” remarked Barwell Dawson. “I only trust it continues.”
“Well, it will continue for a few days, that is certain,” answered Professor Jeffer. “But after that – ” He shrugged his shoulders. “We’ll have to take what comes.”
For several days the expedition traveled through the heart of Ellesmere Land, and there found excellent hunting. Polar bears, musk oxen, and caribou were there in plenty, and the party also laid low many Arctic hares and foxes, and likewise a few Arctic petrel.
“We must hunt while we have the chance,” said Barwell Dawson. “The more meat we secure now, the greater will be our stock of provisions when we get to where there is nothing but ice and snow.” And all understood this, and hunted to the best possible advantage.
By the time the north shore of Grant Land was reached it was much colder, and now they occasionally encountered snowstorms, but fortunately these were of short duration. Reaching the vicinity of Cape Richards, they went into a temporary camp, to rest up and repair some of the sledges which had become broken.
“I am going on another hunt tomorrow – possibly our last,” announced Barwell Dawson. “Do you boys want to go along?”
Both were eager to go, and the start was made directly after breakfast. They took with them two rifles and a shotgun, and provisions to last for four meals.
After skirting a small hill of ice, they came upon a narrow lead of clear blue water and following this, reached a point where the ice had been driven in a tight pack for miles. Here they saw the traces of a polar bear, and were soon hot on the trail, which led them along the lead, and then into the interior.
“I see him!” whispered Andy, after nearly a mile had been covered. “He is lying down behind yonder hummock!”
Andy was right, but before they could reach his bearship, the animal scented them and hobbled away.
“He is lame!” cried Chet. “I think we can catch him! Anyway, let us try.”
The others were willing, and away they went over the ice, which soon became comparatively smooth. Once Chet lost his footing and went flat. But he soon got up and continued after the others.
Finding he could not escape those who were pursuing him, the polar bear turned as if to attack them.Both Andy and Barwell Dawson fired at the beast, and he rolled over in a death convulsion, and was speedily put out of his misery by Chet with his hunting knife.
“See, his forefoot is gone,” said Andy, as they surrounded the game. “Looks to me as if some other animal had chewed it off.”
“If it hadn’t been for that, he would have outrun us,” answered Mr. Dawson.
They spent the remainder of the day looking for more game, and toward nightfall started for camp, dragging the bear after them.
“We’ll take him as far as possible, and then send the Esquimaux out for him with a sledge,” said the explorer.
All thought they knew the direction of the camp, but in looking for game they had become more or less turned around, and now Barwell Dawson called a halt.
“We may as well camp here for tonight,” he said. “We don’t want to tire ourselves out when it isn’t necessary.”
Some snow was scraped up, and a hut constructed, and they went inside and had supper. It was a cold meal, but they were hungry, and enjoyed every mouthful. Then they fixed the snow hut a little better, and lay down to sleep.
They had been resting for about three hours, when Chet awoke with a start. A loud barking had awakened him.
“Dogs!” he murmured. “Must be one of the Esquimaux has come for us.”
The barking had also awakened the others, and getting up, the three crawled out of the snow hut.
“They are not dogs, they are foxes!” cried Barwell Dawson.
“Yes, and look at the number!” ejaculated Andy. “Must be fifty at least!”
“Fifty?” repeated Chet. “All of a hundred, or else I don’t know how to count!”
Chet was right – there were all of a hundred foxes outside, sitting in a bunch, with their heads thrown back barking lustily. They had followed the blood-stained trail of the polar bear, and wanted to get at the game.
“This is very unpleasant,” said the explorer, gravely. “I didn’t think we’d meet foxes so far north. They can’t get much to eat up here, and they must be very hungry.”
“Do you fancy they will attack us?” questioned Andy.
“I don’t know what they will do. They want the bear, that’s certain.”
“If we only had a good campfire that would keep them at a distance.”
“Yes, but there is nothing here with which to build a fire.”
“Supposing we give ’em a dose of shot?” suggested Chet.
“You can try it.”
Chet had the shotgun, and taking careful aim at the pack of foxes, he fired. The flash of the firearm was followed by a wild yelp from the animals, and three leaped up, and then fell on the ice badly wounded. The others of the pack retreated for a few minutes, then came back to their former position, barking more loudly than ever.
“They are certainly game,” said Mr. Dawson. “Killing off a few of them don’t scare the others.”
“What are we to do?” asked Chet, dubiously. He had fancied the foxes would disappear at the discharge of the shotgun – for that was what foxes usually did down in Maine.
“We’ll do our best to stand them off until it grows lighter,” answered Barwell Dawson.
“Do you think they will run away if we go out after them?”
“Not if they are very hungry. Remember, a hungry animal is always desperate.”
Sleep was now out of the question, and they took turns in watching the foxes from the entrance to the snow hut. It was too cold to remain outside long.
“They are coming closer,” announced Andy, after two hours had passed. The foxes had stopped barking some time previously.
The report was true. The beasts were coming up stealthily, moving a foot or two, and then stopping to reconnoiter.
“I’ll give them another shot from the gun,” said Chet, and was as good as his word. This time two of the foxes were killed, and almost immediately their companions fell upon the carcasses, and began to tear them apart.
“That shows how hungry they are,” declared Barwell Dawson.
“Shall we give up the bear to them?” asked Chet.
“Not yet – but we may have to do so in order to escape them,” answered the explorer, with a doubtful shake of his head.
Another hour went by slowly, and by shouting they managed to make the foxes keep their distance. But then the animals commenced to come closer once more, slowly but surely encircling the snow hut.
It was a perilous situation to be in, and the youths realized it fully, as did Mr. Dawson. At any moment the foxes might make a concerted attack, and what could three persons do against ninety or more of such beasts?
But now it was growing lighter, for which those in the hut were thankful. As the glow of the morning sun shone in the sky, Andy set up a loud shout and flung a fair-sized cake of ice at the foxes. The ice went gliding along, and struck one fox in the forelegs, wounding him severely.
“Hurrah! why didn’t we think of that before!” cried Chet.
“A good idea,” put in Barwell Dawson. “We’ll treat them as if they were ten-pins!”
Some loose ice was handy, and taking aim at the foxes, they sent piece after piece bowling over the icy surface on which they stood. The animals had again gathered in a pack, so they could not be missed. If one leaped out of the way, the chunk of ice hit the next, and soon there were howls of pain from several. Then the foxes retreated, and when Chet fired another shot, they suddenly turned tail, and trotted off, around a distant hill and out of sight.
“They didn’t like the ice and the daylight,” said Barwell Dawson. “I doubt if they come back very soon. They may try it again tonight, but we’ll be in camp by that time.”
Again they took up the march for camp, dragging the bear behind them as before. Going was fairly easy, and dragging the bear over the smooth surface was not much work, but whether they were heading just right was a question. Many times Barwell Dawson tried to get his bearings, but without success.
“I think I’ll have to climb yonder hill and take a look around,” said he, when the sun was fairly high. “We ought to be able to locate the camp from there.”
“We’ll go along,” said Andy, who did not care to be left alone in such a field of desolation.
“Yes, I would like to take a look around myself – just to see how the land – or, rather, ice – lies,” added his chum.
Leaving the bear where it was, the three started to climb the icy hill on their left. The snow on the side aided them, and they reached the summit with little difficulty.
“Phew! here is where one feels the wind!” cried Andy, as he drew his coat closer.
“Cuts like a knife, doesn’t it?” answered Chet. “Wonder what it will be up at the Pole.”
“Colder than this – you may be sure of that,” answered Barwell Dawson.
All gazed around them. To the east and west, as well as the south, lay the long stretches of snow and ice. Northward were the same ice and snow, with numerous leads of clear, bluish water.
“There is our camp,” said the explorer, pointing to some dark objects in the distance.
“How far is it?” asked Chet.
“I can’t say exactly. Probably two miles. Distances are very deceiving in this atmosphere.”
“There is that lead of water we must have followed yesterday,” said Andy, pointing.
“Yes,” answered Barwell Dawson. “We won’t go back that way, though – we’ll try the route over yonder.”
They were soon down the hill again, and making for the spot where they had left the polar bear. Resuming the load, they struck off as best they could in the direction of the camp.
About half the distance had been covered when they found themselves quite unexpectedly on the edge of some “young” ice, – that is, ice recently frozen. It did not seem safe, and Barwell Dawson decided to turn back, in the direction of the route they had followed when leaving camp. This brought them to the lead of the day previous, and they were surprised to note that the water was much wider than before.
“The ice must be moving,” said Barwell Dawson. “I think the sooner we get back to camp the better.”
They had a small hill of ice before them, and started to skirt this. Andy was in the lead, and as he passed a rise of ice and snow, he heard a sudden roar that made him jump.
“What was that?” he cried, in alarm.
“A walrus!” answered Barwell Dawson. “And close at hand, too. Get your guns ready, boys!”
CHAPTER XXV – CROSSING THE GREAT LEAD
In less than a quarter of a minute more they came in sight of the walrus, stretched out on the ice close to the lead. It was a large specimen, weighing a good many hundred pounds, and as awkward as it was heavy.
At the sight of the man and boys the beast raised itself up slightly and started as if to turn back into the water. As it did this, Barwell Dawson raised the rifle, took steady aim, and sent a bullet through its head.
“That’s a fine shot!” exclaimed Andy as the walrus fell back, uttering a roar of pain. “Shall I give it another?”
“Might as well,” was the explorer’s answer, and the lad quickly complied, the shot scattering into the walrus’s head, killing it almost instantly.
Scarcely had the echo of the discharge penetrated the air, when there came a number of loud roars from a little further around the icy hill. The hunters advanced, and Chet uttered a yell:
“Look! look! Did you ever see so many walruses in your life!”
He pointed ahead, but there was no need to do this, for all saw, only a couple of hundred feet away, a veritable herd of walruses numbering at least a hundred if not twice that number. They had heard the death-cry of their mate, and were lumbering forward to see what was the matter.
“We can’t fight such a crowd as that!” exclaimed Andy, aghast. “We had better clear out.”
“I wish the Esquimaux were here,” returned Barwell Dawson. “We could make a mighty haul of walrus meat, and that is what we need.” He looked at the boys. “Who is the better runner of you two?” he asked.
“Andy,” answered Chet, promptly. “He can outrun me twice over.”
“Then supposing you leg it for camp just as hard as you can,” continued the explorer. “Tell the Esquimaux and Mr. Camdal to come as quickly as possible.”
Without waiting for more words, Andy was off like a shot, directly past the walruses, who simply raised themselves up to gaze stupidly at him. The others had withdrawn from sight, and when the beasts saw Andy running away they thought themselves alone. Slowly they lumbered over the ice and surrounded their dead companion, uttering hoarse roars that could be heard a long way off.
Andy had the direction of the camp well in mind, and made as straight a run for it as the nature of the ice permitted. With such heavy clothing a record run was impossible, yet he covered the distance in good time.
He found the Esquimaux outside of their igloos, listening to the roaring of the walruses, which could be heard far away over the ice. He soon made them acquainted with what was wanted, and with a glad shout they started off with their spears and bows and arrows. Then he aroused Mr. Camdal, and the latter got his shotgun and an ax.
“An ax is sometimes better than a gun,” explained Mr. Camdal. “You can sometimes crush a walrus’s skull with one well-aimed blow from an ax.”
The Esquimaux were ahead, but the others soon caught up with them. The walruses were still roaring and bellowing. One of the natives said this was a sign that they were getting ready to move.
As they drew closer, the Esquimaux spread out in a semicircle, and held up their spears ready for use. Olalola was in the lead, for he was considered by all to be the best hunter.
The walruses were found almost where they had been when Andy went for aid. A few surrounded the dead beast, sniffing the carcass suspiciously. Evidently they had never been hunted, and did not know the meaning of a gunshot.
As soon as the Esquimaux were sufficiently close, they threw their spears, and followed these up with a number of arrows. In the meantime the others discharged their firearms, and then Mr. Camdal rushed in boldly with his ax. By this means eight of the huge creatures were laid low before they could help themselves. The others turned to gain the open water, and went sousing in, sending the icy spray in all directions.
In his enthusiasm, Chet had drawn close to the lead, and before he knew it he found two of the walruses confronting him. He dodged one, but the other beast knocked him flat with one blow of a flipper. It looked as if his life would be crushed out a moment later.
Andy saw his chum fall, and for the moment his heart leaped into his throat. Then he jumped to the front, and sent a bullet into the breast of the walrus. But this was not fatal, and the walrus still lurched forward.
“Pull Chet away!” yelled Mr. Dawson, and fired from a distance, the bullet hitting the walrus just below the head. Then a spear whizzed through the air, thrown by Olalola. This caught the beast in the mouth, and went part way down its throat. The walrus flopped backward, and at that moment Andy caught his chum by the leg, and dragged him out of danger. Then Mr. Camdal came to the front, and a blow from the ax finished the beast.
The battle was now practically over, for the walruses that were alive had taken to the water. Those that were badly wounded could not swim very well, and the Esquimaux went after them, bringing in two. The total killing amounted to thirteen.
“That’s a lucky thirteen,” was Barwell Dawson’s comment, after the excitement was over. “The meat is just what we want, for the Esquimaux and the dogs, and the hides will come in handy, for footwear and harness.”
It was no easy task to get the walruses and the polar bear to the camp, and several of the dog sledges had to be brought up for that purpose. Then two days were spent in getting the meat ready for use, and in preparing the hides.
It was a clear, cold day when the next start northward was made. A light wind blew from the westward. Barwell Dawson calculated that they might cover twenty, if not twenty-five, miles.
“From now on we must do our best,” said he. “We can afford no more delays, otherwise our food supply may give out before we get back.”
Fortunately all were in the best of health, although Professor Jeffer suffered a little from snow-blindness. He at once donned a pair of smoked goggles, and several of the others did likewise.
The end of the week found them a hundred and fifteen miles closer to the Pole. They had encountered two leads, but had managed to get across without great difficulty. One of the sledges had been badly damaged, and it was resolved to break it up, and use the parts in repairing the other turnouts. Two of the dogs were sick, and had to be killed.
The next day the weather changed, and for forty-eight hours they struggled on through a heavy snowstorm, with the wind fortunately on their backs. During this storm one of the sledges fell into some open water, and three dogs were drowned, while a small portion of the outfit went out of sight into the Arctic Sea.
“All hands must be more careful after this,” said Barwell Dawson. “As we advance, going will probably become more treacherous. Keep your eyes wide open.”
As soon as it cleared off, Professor Jeffer brought out his sextant and his artificial horizon (a pan of mercury), and took an observation. He announced that they were close to the eighty-fourth degree of north latitude.
“That means we have but six more degrees to cover, – about four hundred miles,” said Chet.
“Professor, will you explain how you take the observation?” asked Andy.
“To be sure, certainly,” was the reply of the scientist. “It is very easy when one knows how. Here is the sextant, shaped, as you can see, like a piece of pie. The curved side has a scale on it, which is just one-sixth of a circle, hence the name of the instrument. Here is a telescope which is adjustable, and here are two glasses, one for the rays of the sun, or a star, and one for the horizon. At sea, I would use the natural horizon, but that is impossible here amongst the ice and snow, and so I use an artificial horizon made of a pan of mercury.
“When I want to take an observation, I watch my chronometer and wait until it is exactly twelve o’clock. Then I point the sextant in such a fashion that the rays of the sun, reflected downward, seem to meet or ‘kiss’ the horizon. As soon as I have the light of the sun in a direct range with the horizon, I use this thumbscrew, which sets the scale below, which, as you see, is divided into degrees, minutes, and seconds. As soon as I have read the scale by means of this magnifying glass, I consult this book I carry, the Ephemeris, or Nautical Almanac, and knowing the altitude of the sun, I readily calculate just where we are located, in degrees, minutes, and seconds north latitude.”
“It’s certainly a great instrument,” said Andy. “I’d like to try it some day.”
“You shall do so,” answered Professor Jeffer, and the very next day he allowed Andy to aid him in getting a true sight, and showed the boy how to work out the necessary calculations, and also make some allowances, – for such observations are not absolutely perfect in themselves.
They had now to advance with more caution than ever, and several days later came to some open water that looked as if it would bar all further progress. The lead was six or seven hundred feet wide, and ran east and west as far as eye could reach.
“Looks as if we were stumped,” murmured Chet. “How are we ever going to get across?”
A consultation was held, and then Barwell Dawson sent one party of Esquimaux to the eastward, and another to the westward, to look for a crossing place.
The Esquimaux were gone for two days, and during that time a fierce snowstorm came up, blotting out the landscape on all sides. It was so cold that the boys could do nothing outside, and were glad enough to crouch in an igloo for warmth. During the snowstorm, more of the dogs became sick, and four of the finest of the animals died.
“Something is wrong with them,” said Barwell Dawson, and had Dr. Slade make an examination. It was then learned that the dogs had been poisoned by eating tainted seal meat. The meat was inspected, and over a hundred pounds thrown away.
When the natives who had been sent out came back, they reported that to the east and the west the lead was wider than ever.
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