First at the North Pole: or, Two Boys in the Arctic Circle
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“Any smooth, floating ice?” asked Barwell Dawson.
Yes, some smooth ice had been seen, and the explorer went out the next day to investigate. As a result some large cakes were floated close to the temporary camp, and these were lashed together with walrus thongs.
“What do you intend to do with those?” questioned Professor Jeffer.
“I am going to try to get across to the other side,” answered Barwell Dawson. “We’ll use the flat ice for a ferry.”
“It’s a dangerous piece of business, sir.”
“I know it. But we must do something,” was the firm answer.
Two of the Esquimaux agreed to get on the floating cakes of ice, taking with them one of the teams and a sledge. It was no easy matter to induce the dogs to go aboard, as it might be called, and the natives were a good hour getting started. But once afloat, they crossed the lead without serious danger, and then began the task of getting the rest of the expedition over. This took all of that day, and also the next. On one of the trips an Esquimau went overboard, and Dr. Slade also took an icy bath, but both were quickly rescued, and bundled up in clothing that was dry and warm.
“There, I am glad we are over that lead!” exclaimed Barwell Dawson, when the last of the men and sledges had crossed. “I trust we don’t have any more of the sort to cross.”
“I am afraid we’ll have a great many,” answered Professor Jeffer. “Getting to the North Pole is going to be the hardest kind of a struggle.”
“We’ll get there – if we keep our health, and the provisions last,” said the explorer, confidently.
Once again they turned northward, into that vast region of ice, and snow, and solitude. It was certainly a gigantic undertaking. Would they succeed, or would all their struggles go for naught?
CHAPTER XXVI – ON A FLOATING MASS OF ICE
“One hundred and thirty miles more, Andy!”
“Who said so?”
“Professor Jeffer. He just took an observation,” answered Chet, as he crawled into the igloo and slapped his mittened hands to get them warm.
Andy shook his head slowly. “Chet, it doesn’t look as if we’d make it, does it?”
“Barwell Dawson says we are going to make it, or die in the attempt.”
“Well, I’m just as eager, almost, as he is. But eagerness isn’t going to make these leads close up, and isn’t going to give us extra food and drink.”
“Getting sick of pemmican and walrus meat?”
“Rather – but there is no use in kicking.”
“Say, do you know what day this is?”
“The first of April. Maybe some folks would call us April fools, to try to reach the Pole.”
Here the two boys became silent, for both were too tired and too cold to do much talking.
The last few weeks of traveling had been very bad, – so bad in fact that half of the Esquimaux had been turned back, to make a camp and wait the return of the others. Mr. Camdal had been taken sick, and he had been left behind, and now Dr.Slade was ailing, and so were two of the natives. Sixteen of the dogs had perished, and their bodies had been fed to the other canines.
The hardships had been beyond the power of pen to describe. They had encountered numerous snowstorms, and a cutting west wind had for three days made traveling impossible. The smooth ice had given way to little hills and ridges that battered the sledges frightfully. One more had gone to pieces, and the parts had been used for mending purposes, as before.
The effects of the hardships were beginning to tell on everybody. The boys were thin and hollow-eyed, and when they walked, or, rather, toiled along, their legs felt like lead. To get up any speed was impossible, and if in ten hours’ walking they managed to cover fifteen or twenty miles they thought they were doing well. The glare on the ice and snow also affected them, so that their eyes appeared like little slits. Professor Jeffer had been in danger of having his nose frost-bitten, but the boys had noticed it just in time, and come to the old scientist’s rescue by rubbing the member with soft snow, thus putting the blood again in circulation.
“Well, lads, how do you feel?” asked Barwell Dawson, as he entered the igloo, followed by Professor Jeffer. “Dead tired, I suppose.”
“Tired doesn’t fit it,” answered Chet, with a sickly grin. “I am next-door to being utterly played out.”
“Perhaps I had better leave you two boys behind, while Professor Jeffer and myself, with one sledge, make the final dash.”
“No; now I’ve come so far I’m going to stick it out,” answered Chet, grittily.
“And so am I,” added Andy. “I guess we’ll feel better after a good sleep,” he went on, hopefully.
A few minutes later all sank into a profound slumber, from which they did not awaken until well in the morning. Then the barking of the dogs and the shouting of one of the Esquimaux made them leap up and crawl outside.
“Olalola says the wind has died down,” said Barwell Dawson. “We may as well make the most of it.”
A hasty breakfast was prepared, and inside of half an hour they were again on the way, toiling over ice that was rough in the extreme. They pushed on steadily until noon, when, it being bright sunlight, Professor Jeffer took another observation.
“One hundred and sixteen miles more,” he said, after his calculations were complete. “We are gradually lessening the distance! We shall make it after all!” And his face showed his enthusiasm. To such a scientist as the professor, gaining the Pole meant far more than it did to the boys.
In the middle of the afternoon came another setback. Another lead came into view, broad, and with the water flowing swiftly. At this the Esquimaux shook their heads dismally.
“We cannot go over that,” said one, in his native tongue.
“We must,” answered Barwell Dawson, briefly. With the North Pole so close at hand, he was determined that nothing should keep him from reaching the goal.
The party gathered at the edge of the lead, and there found the ice cracked and uncertain. Andy was with Olalola, who had a sledge drawn now by but six dogs.
Suddenly, as the men were walking up and down the shore looking for some means of crossing the water, there came an ominous cracking. Andy tried to leap back, and so did Olalola, but ere they could do so the ice upon which they and the dogs and sledge were located broke away from the main field, and floated out into the lead.
“Look out, there!” exclaimed Chet, in horror.
“Throw us a rope!” yelled Andy, while Olalola uttered a cry in his native language.
But no rope was handy, and in a few seconds the strong current of the water carried the cake of ice far out into the lead. It still kept its balance, but there was no telling how soon it might turn over and send Andy, the Esquimau, and the dogs to their death.
“Oh, we must save Andy!” screamed Chet. “What can we do?”
“We’ll do all we can,” answered the explorer.
He ran to one of the loads and tore from it a long rope. Then he hurried along the edge of the lead, in the direction whence the current was carrying the flat cake of ice with its human freight.
Andy and Olalola saw the movement, and both understood at once that they must make some sort of a fastening for the rope, should they be able to catch it. With a sharp-pointed knife, Andy picked away a small hole, and in it set a peg taken from the sledge.
While the lad was doing this, Barwell Dawson curled up the rope as if it were a lasso. His outings on the plains now stood him in good stead, and he threw the end of the rope with the skill of a cowboy lassoing cattle. Olalola caught it and slipped it over the peg, and then he and Andy did all they could to hold the peg in the ice.
It now became a question if the explorer could haul the floating ice in, or if the current would be too strong for him. Chet came to his aid, and so did two of the Esquimaux.
“Beware of where you stand!” sang out Chet. “The shore is cracked all along here!”
This was true, and all were in danger of going down. The ice was the most rotten they had yet encountered – why, they could not tell.
Working with care, they at last turned the floating mass shoreward, until it bumped lightly. But just as they did this, the ice at their feet began to give way.
“Jump for it! Don’t wait!” yelled Barwell Dawson, and Andy jumped, and so did Olalola. The latter tried to drive the dogs, but ere he could do so the peg came up, allowing the rope to free itself, and off floated the big cake again, carrying the dogs, sledge, and supplies with it. Andy and Olalola got into water up to their knees, but managed to throw themselves headlong on the firm ice and roll over and over to safety.
“I’m glad to see you safe,” said Mr. Dawson, “but it’s too bad about those dogs and the supplies.”
“Can’t we get them in?” asked Professor Jeffers.
“We can try it.”
They did try it. But just below where they stood the lead widened out, and another lead cut crosswise, so their further progress was barred. They stood on the edge of the ice watching the dogs and sledge disappear around a hill to the north of the lead. The dogs howled dismally, as if knowing they were doomed.
The loss of so many dogs and so much of their outfit sobered the entire party, and Estankawak berated Olalola soundly for allowing the team to get away from him. Estankawak had been faint-hearted for several days, and now he came to Barwell Dawson and advised that all turn back.
“We cannot reach the Big Nail,” said he. “We have not enough food and not enough dogs.” By the “Big Nail” he meant the North Pole.
“We have certainly suffered a severe loss, but I think we can reach the Pole anyway,” answered Mr. Dawson.
“Estankawak wants to go back.”
“Very well, you can go back if you want to, – but you’ll have to go alone.”
This, of course, did not suit the Esquimau at all. He said he wanted the other Esquimaux to go with him, and walked away, grumbling to himself.
“He’ll have to be watched,” said Chet to Andy, when he heard of this talk.
“Right you are,” answered his chum. Andy had not suffered from his adventure, but it must be confessed that he had been badly scared.
On the following morning, while they were still trying to get over the lead, a strong wind came up from the northeast. This began to move the ice on the north shore, and in less than six hours the lead was completely choked up with it. When they looked at this transformation, the boys could scarcely believe their eyesight.
“Now is our chance!” cried Barwell Dawson. “Olalola says it is perfectly safe to cross the ice, although it will be a terribly rough journey.”
They went forward, Estankawak most unwillingly, and inside of two hours left the lead behind them. They now struck ice that was comparatively smooth, so progress became more rapid. By the next day they were within just a hundred miles of their goal.
“We’ll get there!” cried Andy, but in less than ten hours his tune changed, for it commenced to snow furiously, while the wind became a perfect gale. All hands were glad enough to crawl into some hastily-constructed igloos, and even the dogs sought whatever shelter they could find.
They were thus stormbound for several days. To make any move whatever would have been folly, and Barwell Dawson attempted none. Yet he chafed roundly at the delay, the more so as he saw his stock of supplies rapidly diminishing.
“We must go on shorter rations,” said the explorer, and cut down the quantities that very day. This led to increased dissatisfaction on the part of Estankawak, and he conversed earnestly with another of his tribe, Muckaloo by name, but not in the hearing of Olalola.
“He is up to no good, and we must watch him,” whispered Andy to Chet. “Maybe he will try to bolt, and take some of our things with him.”
This was just what Estankawak had in mind to do, and he readily got Muckaloo to join in the scheme. Early in the morning of the next day, when the weather showed signs of clearing, the two Esquimaux crawled out of their hut and sneaked over to one of the sledges and harnessed up the team of six dogs. On the sledge they placed such of the stores as were handy.
The boys were watching them, and Andy immediately notified Barwell Dawson.
“Going to mutiny, eh?” cried the explorer, and snatching up a shotgun he ran outside without waiting to don his fur coat. He saw Estankawak and Muckaloo at the sledge, just ready to drive off.
“Stop, you rascals!” he roared, in the native tongue. “Go a step, and I’ll shoot you down!”
The Esquimaux were startled, for they had not dreamed that any one outside of themselves was stirring in the camp. They looked at Barwell Dawson, and at the leveled shotgun, and Estankawak dropped the whip he had raised, while Muckaloo hung his head.
“You are going to stay with us,” went on the explorer. “If you want to leave, you must go without any of our things.”
“It is death to try to reach the Big Nail,” growled Estankawak.
“It will be death if you try to run off with any of my things,” replied Barwell Dawson, grimly. “Go back to your igloo, and stay there until I call you.” And at the point of the shotgun he made the mutinous natives retire to one of the ice huts.
CHAPTER XXVII – HOW COMMANDER PEARY REACHED THE POLE
After the trouble with Estankawak and Muckaloo, Mr. Dawson had a close conference with Olalola. He found the latter as faithful as ever, and so put him in sole charge of the dogs and sledges, and warned him to keep a close watch on the others.
“Do not let them steal anything,” said the explorer, “and when we return to civilization you shall be richly rewarded. I will give you a boat, a gun, and a hunting knife.”
This, to the Esquimau, was riches indeed, and he promised to keep watch day and night. He had a stern talk with Estankawak and Muckaloo and came close to thrashing them both. After that the mutinous natives caused but little trouble.
Two days went by, and slowly but surely the party drew closer to the Pole. The professor took another observation, and announced that they had now but sixty-eight miles more to cover to reach the Top of the World.
“That wouldn’t be so bad if walking was good, but it seems to grow worse,” said Andy. He had already worn out two pairs of walrus-hide foot-coverings, and now the third pair looked woefully ragged.
“I’d like to know something of Commander Peary,” observed Chet. “He must be in this region.”
“He is,” answered Barwell Dawson. “But just where, there is no telling. Perhaps he has been to the Pole, and is now coming back.”
They would have been much surprised if they had known that Commander Peary was at that moment less than a hundred miles away from their camp. This intrepid explorer had pushed his way steadily northward over the ice from Cape Columbia, to which point he journeyed from Cape Sheridan during the latter part of February. His outfit at this time consisted of seven members of the expedition, seventeen Esquimaux, 133 dogs, and nineteen sledges. It was the largest and best outfit Lieutenant Peary had ever had at his command for this work.
It was the explorer’s plan to establish supply stations all along the route, and for this purpose some of the party were at first sent ahead. They found conditions very similar to those which I have already described, and lost several sledges and a good many dogs, while some of the natives became sick and had to be sent back.
By hard work Commander Peary reached the 85th degree of north latitude on March 18th, and five days later managed to cover another degree. It was intensely cold, the thermometer registering fifty and more degrees below zero. One man had his foot frozen, and had to be sent back to one of the bases of supplies.
Feeling that the goal was now within his grasp, Commander Peary kept on steadily, and soon passed the 87th degree of latitude – his highest point during the expedition previously taken. This was a day of rejoicing. Here he dispensed with his last supporting party, and pushed into the Great Unknown with only a handful of faithful followers.
At the end of March he was held up most unexpectedly by open water, and every one of the party was much disheartened. But this water was crossed April 2d, and two days later the great explorer found himself within one degree of his goal.
Despite the intense bitterness of the cold, he pushed on as steadily as ever. It was a nerve-racking ordeal, yet he had but one thought, one ambition – to reach the goal for which he had been striving for twenty years. He could scarcely sleep and eat, so anxious was he to get to the end of the task he had set for himself.
At last he stopped, on April 6th, to take another observation. This showed him to be within a few miles of the Pole, and if he went wild with joy, who can blame him? He called to those with him, and away they went over the ice, paying no heed to the keen wind that cut like a knife.
And then came the supreme moment of joy. The North Pole was gained – the height of his ambition had at last been realized. He really and truly stood upon the Top of the World. It was to him the moment of moments, and yet he could not realize it, for it all seemed so commonplace. At the Pole it did not look different from what it did for miles around the sought-for spot. All was a field of ice and snow, vast and desolate.
Thirty hours were spent at and around the Pole, taking observations and photographs, and in planting the Stars and Stripes, and also some records. Then Commander Peary started back, to break the news of his success to a world that had just been astonished by the reports of Dr. Cook’s achievements of the year before.
It was but a few hours after the professor had made the announcement that they had but sixty-eight miles more to cover that the party under Barwell Dawson came to another lead. It was wide and of great depth, as a sounding proved, and how to cross this became the next problem. Even Olalola shook his head.
“There is no end to it,” he said, sadly. “I go with you, but how?”
“We must find a way,” answered the explorer, and he and Chet went out on a tour of discovery.
They came back discouraged, and that night all rested on the edge of the lead, wondering what they should do next. At last Barwell Dawson called the boys and the professor to him.
“I think it best that we make the rest of the journey alone,” said he. “We can take the best of the dogs, and the best sledge, and try to make a quick dash, leaving the others here to await our return. What do you say?”
The boys were willing to do anything, and the professor was of a like turn of mind.
“But how are you going to get over the lead?” asked Andy.
“I’ll find some kind of a way,” answered the explorer.
The matter was explained to Olalola. He was sorry to have them leave him, but promised faithfully to look after the camp, and after Dr. Slade, who was still ill, while they were gone. He said that by following the lead westward, they might be able to cross it.
“I think so myself,” answered Mr. Dawson.
The start was made early the next day, Andy and Chet taking turns at driving the six dogs, the pick of what were left of the pack. The course was along the lead westward, and after a mile had been covered, they reached a spot where some new ice covered the water.
“Do you think it will hold us?” asked Andy.
“I’ll test it and see,” was Mr. Dawson’s reply.
After an examination the explorer came to the conclusion that they might risk the new ice.
“But we must go over it quickly,” he cautioned. “Don’t let the dogs stop.”
They walked a distance back, and set the sledge in motion. Then out on the ice they spun, Chet cracking his long whip in true Esquimau fashion. The new ice cracked and groaned under their weight, and when they were in the middle of the lead it began to buckle.
“Spread out – don’t keep together!” yelled Barwell Dawson. “Chet, whip up the dogs and let ’em go it alone!”
The boy understood, and gave the canines the lash. Away they sped at breakneck speed. Then Chet leaped to one side, and he and the others continued on their way a distance of fifty or more feet from each other.
It was a great risk they had assumed, and each instant they thought the ice would break and let them down in the water. A rescue under such conditions, – with the thermometer standing at fifty-three degrees below zero, – would have been out of the question.
“The ice is going down!” screamed Andy, just as he was within a rod of the north shore. “Hurry up!”
There was no need to sound the warning, for all understood the peril only too well. They increased their speed, and slid the remaining few feet. Then, just behind them, they saw the ice buckle and break, allowing a stream of icy water to run over it.
“Safe, and thank Heaven for it!” murmured Barwell Dawson, when he could catch his breath.
“Don’t ask me to take another such run,” panted Professor Jeffer. “I thought we’d surely be drowned!”
As soon as they had recovered somewhat from the dash, they walked on to where the dogs had stopped. In letting them go, Mr. Dawson had known that they were in no physical condition to run out of sight. When the travelers came up, they found the canines stretched out resting. The harness was in a snarl, and it took them the best part of a quarter of an hour to get the team straightened out again.
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