First at the North Pole: or, Two Boys in the Arctic Circle
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“Did you notice that the ice looks purple?” remarked Andy, as they went on once again.
“I did,” answered Barwell Dawson. “It is as peculiar as it is beautiful.”
He had noticed the purple ice several days before, and also several mirages in the sky, – mirages that looked like hills and mountains, but which he knew were only optical delusions. Coming northward, the party had also had a splendid view of the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, that mysterious glow thought to be electrical or magnetic. Once Andy had said that he could hear the lights, and that they sounded like the low hissing of steam.
It grew colder that night, and it was all the explorers could do to keep from freezing. They had a small quantity of tea left – a quarter of a pound – and after melting some snow over their alcohol stove, drank the beverage boiling hot. Then they made themselves a hot stew of pemmican and ground-up peas. Each of the dogs received a chunk of frozen walrus meat, something they gnawed on savagely, so great was their hunger.
The next day the sun was clouded, so that it was impossible for the professor to take any observations. But they knew they had not yet reached their goal, and so they pushed on, over ice that was hummocky, but not nearly as bad as it had been.
“Hello!” cried Andy, about the middle of the afternoon. “What’s that yonder?”
He pointed to their left, where a dark object lay on the ice, half covered with loose snow.
“Might as well see what it is,” said Barwell Dawson, who was as curious as the others. So far, in that land of desolation, they had seen absolutely nothing but ice, snow, and open water.
They moved to the spot and saw that the dark object was the carcass of a dog, frozen stiff. Beside the dog lay a board of a sledge.
“Look!” exclaimed Barwell Dawson, as he held up the board. “Do you see what it says?”
All looked at the bit of wood and saw, burnt upon it, the following:
“It is something from the Peary expedition!” said Professor Jeffer. “He must have gotten up here ahead of us!”
“It certainly looks that way,” answered Barwell Dawson. “Well, he deserved to reach the Pole, after his many years of untiring efforts.”
Leaving the board as a silent monument, the four continued on their way northward. Again the wind was blowing from the west, and they calculated that it was on the increase.
“With the thermometer down so low, if it blows very strong we’ll be frozen stiff,” declared Chet. “Why, a winter in Maine is a hothouse alongside of this!”
The next day, owing to the wind, they made but scant progress. It was cloudy, yet just around noon the sun peeped from behind the clouds, and Professor Jeffer hurried to take an observation. Barwell Dawson gave him the correct time, and the old scientist quickly succeeded in making his computations.
“Well, how do we stand?” asked Mr.Dawson, when Professor Jeffer had finished.
“We are within twenty-two miles of the Pole,” was the answer that thrilled the hearts of all.
CHAPTER XXVIII – THE TOP OF THE WORLD AT LAST
“We’ll get there tomorrow!”
“If the weather permits, Andy.”
“Oh, we must get there, Chet! Just think of it – only twenty-two miles more! Why, it’s nothing alongside of what we have already traveled.”
“Well, food is running very low.”
“Oh, I know that. Didn’t I take an extra hole in my belt last night after supper? I feel as flat as a board.”
A day had been spent in camp, with the wind blowing furiously, and a fine, salt-like snow falling. They had tried to go on, but had covered less than half a mile when Barwell Dawson had called a halt.
“It’s no use,” he had said, with a sigh. “We can’t do anything in this wind. Let us keep our strength until it subsides.”
They had spent the day in mending the sledge, which was in danger of going to pieces, and in fixing up their foot coverings, which were woefully ragged.
It was still blowing when they started again on their journey. But it was not nearly so bad as before, and the snow had ceased to come down. The sun, however, was still under the clouds, and the sky looked gray and sullen.
“I don’t know that I’d care to live here the year round,” said Andy, with an attempt at humor. “It would be too hard to dig the potatoes.”
“Or go swimming,” answered Chet. “Every time a fellow wanted a bath, he’d have to chop a hole in the ice.”
“Or tumble in a lead.”
“But, just the same, if we do reach the Pole, what a story we’ll have to tell when we get back!”
“We’ll not be the first at the Pole.”
“We’ll be the first boys at the Pole.”
“Right you are.”
They trudged on, occasionally urging the lagging dogs. The canines seemed to realize the loneliness of the situation, and occasionally stopped short, squatted down, and rent the air with dismal howlings.
“They don’t see any food and shelter ahead, and I don’t blame them,” said Barwell Dawson.
By nightfall they calculated they had covered twelve miles. If that was true, only ten miles more separated them from their goal.
“And we’ll make that tomorrow or bust!” cried Andy. He was dead-tired, and ached in every limb, but a strange light shone in his eyes – the same fire that lit up the eyes of Barwell Dawson.
In the morning the sky looked more forbidding than ever. But there was only a gentle breeze, and the thermometer registered forty-eight degrees, – several degrees warmer than it had been.
“We’ll travel until noon,” announced Barwell Dawson. “Then we’ll make camp, and wait until we can take an observation.”
They progressed almost in silence, the boys occasionally cracking the whip and urging the dogs. Barwell Dawson and Professor Jeffer were busy with their thoughts. Their fondest hopes seemed about to be realized. The boys thought of home. Would they ever see Maine again?
“Seems like a lifetime since we left Pine Run!” remarked Chet once.
“Two lifetimes,” responded Andy. “One such trip as this is enough for me.”
The lads were footsore and weary to the last degree, but neither complained. They did not want to worry Barwell Dawson, and what would have been the use? He could not aid them. It was now a question of every one for himself.
It was one o’clock when the explorer called a halt. On every hand was the field of ice and snow. But far ahead could be seen something which looked like a big iceberg. The sun was still under a cloud.
“I think we have gone far enough,” said Barwell Dawson. “We’ll camp here, and wait until we can take an observation.”
No time was lost in gathering cakes of ice and building a fair-sized igloo. The boys worked with renewed interest. Had they really and truly reached the North Pole at last?
“At the most we cannot be over a mile or two away from it,” said the explorer.
All were glad to rest, yet sleep was almost out of the question. The one thought of each member of the party was, “Are we at the Pole, or how much further have we to go?”
Early in the morning it was cloudy, but about ten o’clock the sun came out faintly.
“Unless it comes out full, I cannot take an accurate observation,” said the professor.
All waited impatiently and watched the sky. When it was a quarter to twelve the clouds rolled away to the eastward, and the sun burst forth with dazzling brightness.
“Now is our chance!” cried Chet.
All assisted the professor in his preparations to take the all-important observation. The old scientist’s chronometer was compared with that of Barwell Dawson.
“A difference of but three seconds,” said the former. “We will split the difference when I take the observation,” and this was done.
The sextant was raised, and the old scientist looked through it with great care. His artificial horizon had been arranged but a short distance away.
“Time!” roared Barwell Dawson, and the professor set the thumbscrew of his instrument. Then, through the magnifying glass, he read the figures and set to work with pen and pencil, making his computations, with his Nautical Almanac before him. All awaited breathlessly what he might have to say. Suddenly the aged man threw down the paper and pencil and threw his arms into the air.
“We are at the 90th degree of north latitude!” he cried. “We have reached the North Pole!”
“Hurrah!” yelled Andy and Chet, simultaneously, and Barwell Dawson joined in the cheer.
“You are certain of that?” asked the explorer. “We must make no mistake.”
“Read the observation for yourself,” answered the old scientist.
“It is true,” said Barwell Dawson, when he had verified the figures. “We are really and truly at the North Pole. Now, then, to raise the flag!”
The others understood. All through the bitter journey they had carried an American flag and a fair-sized flagpole. Once the flag had become torn but they had mended it with care.
In a twinkling the pole was brought forth, and planted in the ice and snow. Then the flag was raised, and it floated proudly in the breeze.
“Three cheers for Old Glory!” cried Barwell Dawson, and the cheers were given with a will.
“Three cheers for Barwell Dawson!” cried Andy, and he and Chet and the old scientist gave them, roundly. Then there followed a cheer for Professor Jeffer.
“And now a cheer for the first boys at the North Pole!” cried Barwell Dawson, and he and Professor Jeffer raised their voices as loudly as they could. The boys could scarcely contain themselves, and both danced a jig, and then Andy turned half a dozen handsprings, just by way of working off his superfluous spirits.
It was wonderful what a difference reaching the Pole made in them. All the hardships of the past weeks were forgotten, and even the men acted like schoolboys out for a holiday. They walked around the vicinity of the igloo, and sang and whistled, and for once completely forgot their hunger. Then, during the course of the afternoon, Professor Jeffer took more observations and a number of photographs.
The next day the sun continued to shine brightly, and promptly at noon another observation was made. This gave the same result as before, so all were assured that they were really at the 90th degree of north latitude.
“We must be at the North Pole,” said Andy. “For see, while we call one part of the twenty-four hours day and the other night, the sun goes right around us and never seems to rise or sink.”
“Yes, that is something of a test,” answered Professor Jeffer. “But it is not as infallible as that made by the sextant. The earth is more or less flat here, and that makes a difference.”
To make “dead certain” that they had covered the North Pole, the entire party journeyed five miles further ahead, and also an equal distance to the right and left. At one point they saw traces of another exploring party, but the snow and ice had covered up the records left behind.
“And now to get back,” said Barwell Dawson, at the close of the third day spent at and around the Pole. “We have no time to spare, if we want to get out of this land of desolation before winter sets in again.”
“I am ready,” answered Professor Jeffer. “I have taken all the observations and photographs I wish, and have collected a valuable amount of data.”
“You can’t get back any too quick for me,” said Chet, dryly.
“There is no use in disguising the fact that our provisions are very low,” continued Barwell Dawson, gravely. “We have very little left for the dogs.”
“What will you do with them?” asked Chet.
“One is a little lame. If the worst comes to the worst, we’ll kill him and feed him to the others.”
They left the igloo standing, and on the top placed a metallic box containing a brief record of their trip. Then they took down the flag and placed it on the sledge.
They started on the return at seven in the morning. The weather was not so cold as it had been, and going seemed to be better, so they covered the twenty-two miles to their old camp without much difficulty. Here they had to repair the sledge again, and also had to kill off the lame dog. This made a feast for the others, and gave them some food that was much needed.
“I could almost eat dog meat myself,” said Chet.
“It may come to that,” answered Andy. “I guess it is a heap better than nothing, when a chap is starving.”
They found the new ice on the lead much thicker than it had been, and so crossed with ease. But now came on a heavy fall of snow, and all traces of their former trail were wiped out.
“We’ll have to steer by eyesight and the compass,” announced Barwell Dawson.
The boys were so hungry that they kept an eye open continually for game. But not so much as a bird showed itself. It was truly the land of ice and snow, and nothing else.
On the fifth day, the case containing alcohol sprung a leak, and all of the precious stuff was lost in the snow.
“We’ll have to eat our meals cold after this,” said Barwell Dawson. “Too bad, but it can’t be helped.”
“I don’t care how cold they are, if only we could get enough,” grumbled Chet. An almost empty stomach did not tend to put him in good humor.
Another day passed, and again it snowed. The flakes were so thick they could not see around them, and so had to halt and go into camp. Their provisions were now so low that only half rations were dealt out.
“We can’t stand this,” cried Chet. “I’ve got to have something to eat.”
“Oh, Chet, don’t grumble,” answered Andy. “We are as bad off as you are.”
“To-morrow, if we find it necessary, we’ll kill off one of the dogs for food,” said Barwell Dawson. “That will leave us a team of four, and we ought to be able to get back to where we left the others with those. The sledge has next to nothing on it now.”
The morning dawned, dull and cheerless. They had a few mouthfuls of food, and then hitched up the dogs once more. Nobody felt like talking, and they started on their long journey in silence.
Painfully they covered fifteen miles. Each was footsore and weary to the last degree, and not able to go another step. They sat down on a ridge of ice, and looked at each other.
“We have got to have something to eat,” declared Chet. “I am going to have one square meal, if I have to die tomorrow!”
“Chet!” exclaimed Andy, reprovingly.
“We’ll kill one of the dogs and eat him,” said Barwell Dawson. “It’s the only way out of it.”
CHAPTER XXIX – FIGHTING OFF STARVATION
Yet to kill off one of the dogs was a serious undertaking, as they well knew. In that country to travel without a dog sledge was all but impossible, and the remaining animals might fail them at any moment.
“Let us wait until tomorrow,” said Andy. “Something may turn up.”
“I’d rather have something to eat now,” growled Chet.
“I will deal out a little pemmican,” answered Barwell Dawson, and served each person about five ounces.
Then, with increasing slowness, they covered three miles more. Ahead was a little hill, and the explorer thought to climb this and take a look around, to get his bearings.
Hardly had he climbed the hill when he uttered a cry, calling the others to him.
“There is something to our right,” he said. “Some dark object half hidden in the snow.”
“Perhaps another memento of the Peary expedition,” grumbled Chet. “I don’t want any more of ’em – I want to get back.”
“We’ll have a look,” cried Andy. He turned to his chum. “Come, brace up, Chet, and stop grumbling, that’s a good fellow.”
“All right!” exclaimed Chet, suddenly. “I suppose you’ve got as much right to grumble as I have. But my stomach is as flat as a pancake,” he continued, woefully. “I could fill up on sawdust, if I had any.”
All of the party set off in the direction of the object Barwell Dawson had discovered. The explorer was in advance, and suddenly he set up a ringing shout:
“What do you mean?” asked Chet, quickly.
“It is our old sledge – the one the dogs ran away with. It is stuck in a crack of the ice.”
“Are the stores on it?” asked Andy.
“Yes, everything seems to be here,” returned the explorer, joyfully.
How the sledge had gotten there they did not know, and, at that moment, they did not care. Probably the floating ice had bumped against the shore and the dogs had started northward, not knowing what else to do. Then the sledge had become caught in the crack, and the dogs, growing impatient, had broken their harness. They had gnawed at the coverings of the stores, but had been unable to get at the food, and had then disappeared utterly.
The finding of the sledge with its provisions, and its supply of alcohol, filled the entire party with joy, and they uttered a prayer to Heaven for their deliverance from what looked to be starvation. As quickly as it could be done, they fixed the little stove and lit it, and made themselves a steaming hot broth, which they devoured with gusto. Then they fed the dogs, built a rough igloo, and sank down in a profound slumber, from which nobody awakened until ten hours later.
“Although we have found these supplies, we must be very sparing of them,” said Barwell Dawson, when they awoke. “There is no telling when or how we will be able to get more – certainly not until we have joined the rest of our party, and gotten down to where we can find game.”
All were now anxious to rejoin those who had been left behind, and they journeyed steadily southward as fast as the weather would permit. They had one wide lead to cross, and it took a whole day to get to the south shore. Then came more snow, and they had to lose a day.
But luck was with them, and one day, late in the afternoon, they heard a loud shout, and saw an Esquimau, standing on a hillock of ice, waving his arms at them. It was Olalola, and they soon reached him.
“Chief Dawson reach the Big Nail?” asked the Esquimau, eagerly.
“We did,” was the answer.
“Olalola much glad,” went on the native, and his smiling face proved his words.
All in the camp, including Dr. Slade, who was better, were glad that those who had gone to the Pole had returned, and the very next day everything was packed on the sledges, and the journey to the ship was begun. The food supply was very low, and all the extra dogs were killed and fed to the other canines. The Esquimaux lived on blubber and walrus meat. The boys tried blubber once, but had to give it up.
“It turns me wrong side out in a minute,” was the way Andy expressed it.
As they drew further south the weather moderated, for which they were thankful. But they had much open water to cross, and this consumed a good deal of time.
“I wouldn’t mind it, if only we could find something to eat,” said Chet. He suffered more from hunger than did any of the others, for he had always been a hearty eater.
The next morning there was great excitement among the natives. A musk-ox had been seen, and all were eager for the hunt.
“We must get that beast by all means,” said Andy. “Think what it means – ox-roast galore!”
The trail of the game was readily followed, and about seven o’clock in the evening the hunters came upon a herd of six musk oxen, resting in the shelter of a small hill. They surrounded the game, and succeeded in bringing down three of them. The others were pursued, but managed to get away.
“This ends short rations,” was Chet’s comment, and his eyes brightened wonderfully. What he said was true, and that evening the explorers enjoyed a better meal than they had had for many weeks. The Esquimaux and dogs came in for their full share, and the big meal put even Estankawak in good humor, and he thought no more of deserting them.
As they came down into the heart of Ellesmere Land they picked up Mr. Camdal and his party. They shot other game, and so had all the food they could eat, and more. The hunting just suited Barwell Dawson, for, as he told the boys, he was more of a hunter than he was an explorer.
“How soon do you suppose we’ll reach the Ice King?” asked Andy, one day.
“If we have luck, we ought to sight the vessel in four or five days.”
“Will you sail for home at once?”
“I think so, Andy. I presume you’ll be glad to get back,” and Mr. Dawson smiled faintly.
“Yes and no,” replied the youth. “I won’t know what to do after I return. I don’t want to live with Uncle Si.”
“You ought to go on another hunt for those missing papers.”
“I’ll do that, of course.”
“And even if you can’t find them, I’ll look into the matter, and see if I can’t learn what rights your father had in that timber tract. I’ll not have much to do myself for a while. I’ll not want to go on another exploring expedition in a hurry.”
So far, aside from Dr. Slade’s attack, there had been but little sickness in the party, but on the next day Barwell Dawson was taken down, and all had to go into camp for three days until he felt better. During that time, Andy and Chet went out hunting, and brought down another polar bear, of which they were justly proud.
“It’s a great place to hunt,” said Andy. “But I don’t think I care to come up here again.”
“Nor I,” added Chet. Then he heaved a long sigh. “I wish – ” He stopped short.
“What, Chet? Were you thinking of your father?” And Andy’s voice softened.
“Yes, I was. I thought sure, when I came up here, that I’d get some trace of him.”
“It’s too bad. I wish I could help you,” answered Andy, and that was all he could say.
With their broken sledges and their small dog teams, the party moved slowly forward, to where the Ice King had been left along the coast. They did not expect to find the vessel fast in the ice, but hoped that Captain Williamson would be cruising near, on the lookout for them.
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