First at the North Pole: or, Two Boys in the Arctic Circle
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It occurred to Andy that the best thing he could do would be to get home at once and interview his uncle. For the time being he lost his interest in looking for work, and also lost his desire to go gunning.
“I’ve tramped far enough for one day, anyway,” he told himself. “I’ll just stop at the store for a few things, and then go straight home.”
It was a long walk to the village, and once there he was glad enough to rest while the storekeeper put up the few things he desired. These he paid for in cash, for he did not wish to risk a refusal should he ask for trust.
“Your uncle was here – got some tobacco,” said the storekeeper. “He said you would pay for it.”
“He’ll have to pay for it himself, Mr. Sands,” answered Andy, firmly.
“Yes? All right, Andy, just as you say.”
“I pay for what I buy, and he can do the same.”
“Well, I don’t blame you, my boy.” And the look of the storekeeper spoke volumes. He handed over some change that was due. “By the way, did you know there was a real estate dealer in town to see you?” he inquired.
“A Mr. Hopton?”
“That’s the man.”
“To-day, – only a few hours ago. I was telling him where you lived when your uncle came along for the tobacco. They talked a while together, and then went off.”
“Towards our place?”
“Yes, they took that road. The real estate man had a sleigh, and your uncle got in with him.”
“What did Mr. Hopton want?”
“I don’t know exactly. I heard some words about papers, and your uncle said he had them. Mr. Hopton said something about three hundred dollars in cash – but I don’t know what it was.”
Andy’s heart leaped into his throat. Was it possible that his uncle had found the timber claim papers, and was going to let Mr. A. Q. Hopton have them for three hundred dollars?
“He sha’n’t do it – I’ll stop him – I must stop him!” the boy told himself, and catching up his bundles he left the general store, and struck out for home as fast as his tired limbs would carry him.
CHAPTER III – SOME PAPERS OF VALUE
Ever since his father had left him the papers Andy had thought they might be of considerable value, but now he was more convinced than ever of their importance.
“For all I know, that claim may be worth a fortune,” he reasoned. “Anyway, it’s worth something, or that man wouldn’t be so anxious to get the papers.”
The youth tried his best to increase his speed, but the snow was deep in spots, and his long journey to the Storburgh camp had tired him, so it took some time to get even within sight of the cabin that was his home. To the rear, under the shed, he saw a horse and cutter.
“He is there, that’s sure,” he told himself. “I wonder what they are doing?”
The path to the cabin wound in and out among some trees, so that those inside could not witness his approach unless they were on the watch. As the youth came closer a sudden thought struck him, and he darted behind some bushes, made a detour, and came up in the shed.Here there was a back door opening into a summer kitchen.
Placing his bundles on a shelf in the shed, Andy softly opened the door to the summer kitchen and entered the place. Here there was another door, opening into the general living room of the cabin. It was not well hung, and stood open several inches.
“Well, I know something about timber lands,” he heard his uncle saying. “If they are wuth anything, they are generally wuth considerable.”
“I am offering you more than this claim is worth,” was the reply from Mr. A. Q. Hopton. He was standing in front of the fire warming himself, while Josiah Graham was hunched up in his usual attitude in the easy chair. Both men were smoking cigars, the real estate man having stood treat.
“Wot makes you so anxious to git the papers?” went on Josiah Graham.
“My client simply wants to clear away this flaw, as I told you,” answered A. Q. Hopton, smoothly. “Of course he could go ahead and claim everything just as it is, and I don’t think you could do a thing, but he prefers to treat everybody right. Mr. Graham gave a hundred dollars for this claim, so when you get three hundred for it you are getting a big price.”
“Humph!” Josiah Graham fell back on his favorite exclamation. “If I – that is, if I let you have them papers, Andy may object.”
“How can he? You’re his guardian, aren’t you?”
“Sure I am, but – ”
“Then you have a right to do as you please. You don’t want me to buy the papers from him, do you?”
“No! no! You give the money to me!” cried Josiah Graham, in alarm. “He don’t know the vally of a dollar, an’ I do. If he had thet three hundred dollars he’d squander it in no time.”
“Very well, give me the papers and I’ll write you out a check.”
“Can’t you give me cash? It ain’t no easy matter fer me to git a check cashed up here.” Josiah Graham did not add that he was afraid the check might be worthless, although that was in his mind.
“I don’t carry three hundred dollars in my clothes. I can give you fifty in cash though,” went on the real estate agent, as he saw the old man’s face fall. “And if you wish, I’ll get one of the lumber bosses up here to vouch for the check.”
“Humph! I suppose thet will have to do then. But – er – one thing more, Mr. Hopton – ”
“What is that?”
Josiah Graham leaned forward anxiously.
“Don’t you let the boy know about this right away. You give me a chanct to tell him myself.”
“Just as you wish. You’re his guardian, and I’ll not interfere with you. Get the papers and I’ll give you the check and the cash right now.” And the real estate agent drew a pocketbook and a checkbook from his inside coat.
Andy had listened to the conversation with bated breath. So far as worldly experience went he was but a boy, yet he realized that, in some way, this Mr. A. Q. Hopton was trying to swindle him out of his inheritance, and that his Uncle Si was willing to aid the schemer just for the sake of getting possession of the three hundred dollars.
As his uncle arose to enter the room in which his nephew slept, the boy slipped into the cabin. Like a flash he darted to his bedroom, jumped inside, and shut and bolted the door after him.
“Hi there! What’s this?” cried the real estate dealer, in astonishment.
“It’s – it’s the boy, my nevvy!” gasped Josiah Graham. “He come in through the back door! He must have been a-listenin’ to our talk.”
“Is that so? That’s too bad.” The real estate agent was dazed by the sudden turn of affairs. “He had a gun with him.”
“Yes, he took it with him when he went for work.” Josiah Graham walked over to the door and tried it. “Andy, open that door.”
“I will not,” was the answer.
“Was you a-listenin’ to our talk?”
“Humph! Nice thing fer a boy to do!”
“I guess I had a right to listen,” was the cool answer. As he spoke, Andy was examining the box in which he had stored the papers. He found things much disarranged, showing that his uncle had gone through the contents during his absence. But the papers were there, and the sight of them caused him to breathe a sigh of relief.
“They sha’n’t have these papers, no matter what happens,” he said to himself, and stuffed the documents into an inside pocket.
“Open thet door!” commanded Josiah Graham, and his voice now sounded harsh and threatening.
“I guess you had better teach that boy manners,” was Mr. A. Q. Hopton’s comment.
“I’ll teach him sumthin’!” answered the old man. “Open thet door, I say, an’ come out here.”
“You want to get those papers,” said Andy. He was wondering what to do next.
“Well, ain’t I your guardeen, an’ ain’t I got a right to ’em?”
“The papers are mine, and I’m not going to give them up,” answered Andy, doggedly. “I don’t like that Mr. Hopton, and he’s not going to get the papers. I’m going to turn them over to a lawyer.”
At these words the real estate man was much disturbed.
“That boy is an imp,” he said, in a low voice. “I’d not let him talk to me that way if I were you.”
“I ain’t goin’ to,” answered Josiah Graham. “Andy, you open thet door, or I’ll bust it in!”
“Don’t you dare break down the door!” answered Andy, in increased alarm. “If you do – I’ll – I’ll – Well, remember, I’ve got my gun – and it’s loaded, too.”
“Don’t ye shoot! Don’t ye shoot!” yelled Uncle Si, in sudden terror, and he backed away several steps. “Don’t ye dare! Oh, was ever there sech a boy!”
“Do you think he’d dare to shoot?” asked the real estate dealer.
“I dunno. He’s got lots o’ spirit sometimes.”
“Maybe we had better try to reason with him.”
“All right.” Josiah Graham raised his voice. “Andy, this is all – er – foolishness. Come out o’ there.”
To this the youth did not answer. He was considering what he had best do next. He did not want to shoot anybody, and he was afraid that the two men would in some manner get the better of him and take away the papers.
“Andy, do ye hear me? Come out – I ain’t goin’ to hurt ye.”
“You’ll take those papers away from me.”
“He is going to sell me the papers, and at a good price,” broke in A. Q. Hopton.
“I don’t want to sell – to you,” answered Andy. He was moving around the bedroom rapidly, having decided on a course of action.
“I’m your guardeen, an’ I know wot’s best,” broke in Josiah Graham. “Open the door, an’ no more foolin’ about it.”
“I don’t recognize you as my guardian,” was Andy’s reply. As he spoke he tiptoed his way to the window and opened it. Then he threw out a small bundle, and his gun and game bag followed.
“I am your guardeen!” stormed Josiah Graham. “You open the door!”
Instead of answering, Andy pushed a chair to the window. In another instant he had mounted it, and then he crawled through the opening. He landed in a heap in the snow, and scrambled up immediately. With bundle, gun, the game bag in his possession, he ran back of the shed and then down the road leading to the village.
At that minute he did not know where he was going, or what he was going to do. He had the precious papers in his pocket, and his one idea was to keep these away from his uncle and Mr. A. Q. Hopton.
“I’ll not go back until I’ve stored the papers in a safe place,” he told himself, finally. “I wonder who would keep them for me without asking too many questions?”
Although the sun hung low in the west, it was still light, and reaching a turn in the road, Andy stopped to look back. Much to his chagrin, he saw that his flight had already been discovered.
“They are coming after me!” he murmured, as he saw the horse and cutter flash into view. His uncle and the real estate dealer were on the seat, and the latter was urging the horse into a run through the heavy snow.
Unfortunately for Andy, there was but one road in that vicinity, and that ended at the Graham cabin. On all sides were the pine woods, with their scrub timber and underbrush, still partly laden with the fall of snow of the week previous.
“If I stick to the road they’ll catch me sure, and if I leave it I’ll have to go right into the woods, and they’ll easily see my trail,” he reasoned.
He broke into a run, and thus managed to pass another bend of the highway. Behind him he heard the jingle of the sleighbells as the cutter drew closer. In a few minutes more his pursuers would be upon him.
“I’ll chance it in the woods,” he muttered, and, reaching a spot where the undergrowth was thick, he leaped between the bushes and then walked on to a clump of pines. He was barely under the pines when he heard the cutter dash past. The men were talking excitedly, but he could not make out what was being said.
As the jingle of the sleighbells grew more distant, another thought came to Andy’s mind, one that made him smile grimly in spite of the seriousness of the situation.
“Might as well return and get something to eat,” he told himself. “They won’t come back right away.”
It did not take him long to retrace his steps to the cabin. The cutter, with its occupants, had kept on towards the village, so he had the place entirely to himself. He quickly found something to eat and to drink, and made a substantial meal. Then he placed a few more of his belongings in his bundle.
“It won’t do for me to stay here as long as I have the papers with me,” he told himself. “I guess I’d better try to get to the old Smith cabin for tonight. Then I can make up my mind what to do in the morning.”
The Smith cabin was a deserted place nearly a mile away. To reach it, Andy had to tramp directly through the woods. But the youth did not mind this, for he had often been out hunting in the vicinity.
“I might get a shot at something,” he mused. “A rabbit or a couple of birds wouldn’t go bad for breakfast.”
He lost no time in striking out. Half the distance was covered when he saw a big rabbit directly in his path. He blazed away, and the game fell dead. Then he caught sight of a squirrel, and brought that down also.
“Now I’ll have something besides crackers and bacon when I’m hungry,” he told himself, with satisfaction.
Soon he came in sight of the old Smith place. Much to his surprise, smoke was curling from the chimney, and he saw the ruddy glare of an open fire within.
“Somebody is here,” he thought. “Some hunter most likely. Wonder who it can be.” And he strode forward to find out.
CHAPTER IV – CHET GREENE’S PAST
“Hello, Chet! I never expected to find you here! This is a real pleasure!” And Andy rushed into the old cabin, threw down his luggage, and grasped another lad by the hand.
“And I never expected you to come here tonight,” said Chetwood Greene, as a smile lit up his somewhat square face. “I thought I was booked to camp here alone. What brought you, hunting?”
“Not exactly. It’s a long story, Chet. Say, I’m glad you have a fire. I’m half frozen from tramping through the woods. The snow was pretty deep in spots.”
“I know all about it, for I have been out all day. Here, draw up to the blaze. I was just getting supper ready. You’ve got some game, I see. I had very little luck – three rabbits and a wild turkey. I looked for deer, but it was no use.”
“You’ve got to go pretty well back for deer these days,” answered Andy.
“Thought you were going to strike Storburgh for a job.”
“So I did, but it’s the same story everywhere.”
“Too bad! Well, you are no worse off than myself. I’m sick of even asking for work. I’ve about made up my mind to try my luck at hunting. I guess I can bring down enough to live on, and that’s better than starving.”
Chetwood Greene, always called Chet for short, was about the same age as Andy, but a trifle taller. He had a square chin, and dark, piercing eyes, that fairly shot forth fire when Chet was provoked. He was a good fellow in the main, but he had a hasty temper that occasionally got him into much trouble. Andy liked him very much, and the two boys were more or less chums.
There was a mystery surrounding Chet which few folks in that district knew. Many supposed that both of his parents were dead. But the fact of the matter was that Chet’s father disappeared when the lad was fourteen years old. Some thought him dead, while others imagined he had run away to escape punishment incidental to a large transaction in lumber. Some signatures were forged, and it was held that Tolney Greene was guilty. He protested his innocence, but failed to stand trial, running away “between two days,” as it was termed. He was traced to New Bedford, and there it was reported that he had last been seen boarding a sailing vessel outward bound. What had become of him after that, nobody knew.
Mrs. Greene had believed her husband innocent, and it grieved her greatly to be thus deserted. She tried to bear up, however, but during the following winter contracted pneumonia, and died, leaving Chet alone in the world.
Nobody seemed to want anything to do with the lad – thinking him the son of a forger, and possibly a suicide. Some tried to talk to him, but when they mentioned the supposed guilt of his parent, he flew into a rage.
“My father wasn’t guilty, and you needn’t say so!” he stormed. “If you say it I’ll lick you!” And then he knocked one man flat. He was subdued after a while, but he refused utterly to live with those who offered him a home, saying he did not want to be an object of charity, and that he could get along alone. He took his belongings, and a little money left by his mother, and moved to another part of the State – close to where Andy resided. Here he lived with an old guide for a while, and then got employment at one of the lumber camps. The old guide had departed during the past year for the Adirondacks, and Chet was now living alone, in a cabin that had seen better days.
It had been no easy matter for Andy and Chet to become chums. At first when they met, at a lumber camp where both were employed, Chet was silent and morose. But little by little, warmed by Andy’s naturally sunny disposition, he “thawed out,” and told his story in all its details. He knew a few things that the general public did not know, and these he confided to Andy.
“My father went off on a whaler named the Betsey Andrews,” he once said. “He said he would come back some day and clear himself. The mate wrote to my mother that my father’s mind was affected a little, but he hoped he would be all right by the end of the trip.”
“Well, hasn’t the Betsey Andrews got back yet?” had been Andy’s question.
“Where is she?”
“That’s the worst part of it – nobody knows.”
“Do you think she was lost?”
“I hope not – but I don’t know,” had been Chet’s somewhat sad answer. He lived in daily hope of hearing from his parent again.
Chet knew Andy’s story, of Josiah Graham’s meanness and laziness, and of the papers left by Andy’s father, and he now listened with deep interest to what his chum had to tell about the visit of Mr. A. Q. Hopton, and of the escape through the bedroom window.
“Now what do you make of the whole thing, Chet?” asked Andy, after he had finished his recital.
“It looks to me as if this real estate dealer was mighty anxious to get the papers,” was the answer. “And that means that the papers are valuable.”
“Just what I think.”
“Your uncle has no right to sell ’em for three hundred dollars, or any other amount,” pursued Chet. “I understand enough about law to know that he’s got to get a court order to sell property. To my way of thinking, he’d like to do this on the sly, and pocket the three hundred. He’s no good, even if he is your uncle.”
“He’s only my father’s half-brother, and he always was a poor stick. I wish I knew of some lawyer to go to.”
“Why not try Mr. Jennings, over at Lodgeport? I’ve heard he’s a good man, and smart, too.”
“I might try him. But it’s a twelve-mile tramp.”
“Never mind, I’ll go along, and we may be able to pick up some game on the way,” answered Chet.
The boys talked the matter over for two hours, during which time Chet prepared supper, and the two ate it. Then Andy fixed the fire for the night, and the boys turned in, tired out from their long tramps through the snow.
It took some time for Andy to get to sleep, for the events of the day had disturbed him greatly. But at last he dozed off, and neither he nor Chet awoke until it was daylight.
“Phew! but it’s cold!” cried Chet, as he put his head out of doors. “And it snowed a little last night, too.”
“Is it snowing now?” questioned Andy, anxiously. His mind was on the trip to Lodgeport. A heavy fall of snow might mean much delay.
“No, the storm is clearing away.”
“Then let us get breakfast and start.”
Both of the youths had been camping so often that they knew exactly what to do. The fire was stirred up, and fresh wood put on, and they prepared a couple of cups of coffee, and broiled two squirrels. They had bread and crackers, and a little cheese, and thus made quite a good breakfast.
The meal over, they lost no time in packing up, and placing the larger portion of their outfits in hiding in the old cabin. To carry them to Lodgeport would have been too much of a load.
“We can carry a little food and our guns,” said Chet. “If we can’t get back tonight, we can return tomorrow. I don’t believe anybody will come here during that time.”
“I hope I don’t meet Uncle Si – or Mr. Hopton,” said Andy.
“We can watch out and easily keep out of their way.”
To get to the road that led to Lodgeport, the two lads had to cross a heavy patch of timber. Here, under the pines, it was intensely cold, and they had to move along rapidly to keep their blood in circulation.
“Talk about Greenland’s icy mountains, I guess this is bad enough!” cried Chet, as he slapped his hands to keep them warm.
“We’ll soon be out in the sunlight again,” answered Andy. But he was mistaken, for by the time they reached the open country once more, the sun had gone under a fringe of light clouds, so it was as cold as ever.
At the end of four miles they passed through one of the lumber settlements, and then, leaving the wagon road, took to a trail running in the neighborhood of Moose Ridge.
“I met a man yesterday who was coming out to the Ridge to hunt,” said Andy. “Wonder if he’ll have any success.”
“Hunting is not as good as it might be,” answered his chum. “The best of the game was killed off at the very beginning of the season. Still, he may get some deer, or a moose, if he’s a good hunter.”
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