First at the North Pole: or, Two Boys in the Arctic Circle
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“We are not so very young. And both of us know how to rough it – and we are pretty good shots, too.”
“I guess you’ve been thinking about it pretty strongly.”
“Yes, I have. Mr. Dawson seems to be such a splendid man, the trip ought to be fine, even if the North Pole wasn’t reached.”
“Just my idea. We would do lots of hunting, and riding behind the Esquimaux dogs. Just think of being on a sledge with eight or ten dogs to pull you over the ice and snow!”
“And the thermometer 50° below zero! Don’t forget it is fearfully cold up there.”
“Well, it’s mighty cold here, sometimes. Anyway, I’d like to go – if he’d take me.”
“Same here – but he doesn’t want boys, he wants men, and tough ones, too.”
So the talk ran on, as the boys made their way to the clump of spruces where Chet had had his adventure. At a distance they saw the stick, with the handkerchief, deep in the snow.
“Well, there is your landmark, anyway,” said Andy. “I hope nobody disturbed the game.”
“It looks all right,” answered his chum. “But of course the snow would cover any tracks, even if the game was disturbed.”
With eager hands they uncovered the mound, and soon brought to light the big moose with his wide-spreading antlers.
“Certainly a dandy!” cried Andy, as he surveyed the game. “You can be thankful he didn’t hit you before you reached the tree, Chet. He would have smashed you into a jelly.”
“Well, as it was, he caused Mr. Dawson a bad fall.”
The boys went back to the trees, and after a careful inspection, took a hatchet and cut a long branch for a drag. On this they bound the deer, and then started on the return to Professor Jeffer’s cabin, hauling their load behind them.
It was hard work to make progress through the deep snow, and they had to rest several times to catch their breath.
“I think we had better take the long way around,” said Chet, after half the distance had been covered. “We can’t very well get up the hill this side of the cabin, and, besides, there is a bad gully to cross this side of the brook.”
“You show the way,” answered his chum. “You know these parts a little better than I do.”
By the new route they had to pass through a patch of woods where the snow made the branches of the trees hang low. It was hard work to pass between some of the trees, and once it looked as if they would have to turn back.
“We are earning this meat,” was Andy’s comment, as he paused to pick up the cap that a branch had swept from his head.
“Looks like it,” answered Chet, laconically.
“I guess we should have waited until the weather was better.”
Now, as it chanced, Chet was as tired as Andy, and consequently his quick temper showed itself.
“You didn’t have to come for the moose if you didn’t want to,” he cried, quickly.
“Oh, I’m not complaining, Chet.”
“It’s the same thing.”
“Not at all – and there is no cause for you to get mad about it.”
“Well, then, don’t find fault.I’m pulling as hard on this load as you.”
“I know it. We made a mistake to come this way, I am afraid.”
“Oh, yes, that’s you, – blame that on me, too.” Chet now looked thoroughly angry. “I’ve a good mind to leave the old moose where he is.” And he let go of the branch on which the game rested.
Andy uttered the name reproachfully, and gazed fearlessly into his chum’s eyes. There was an awkward pause. Then the face of the quick-tempered youth grew red.
“Well, I don’t care – ” he began, and took hold of the drag again.
“Yes, you do care, – and I care, too. We can’t afford to quarrel, and all over nothing. Come on, we’ll get through somehow,” said Andy.
“Guess I said too much,” murmured Chet, and began to haul on the load as if his life depended upon it. “I thought – Oh, Andy, there’s a shot for us!”
The quick-tempered lad, who was equally quick-eyed, stopped and pointed to a tree some distance on their right. Andy saw something move, but could not make out what it was.
“Partridge,” announced his companion, and swung his gun around. “I’m going to take a shot when they go up.”
He glided over the snow, and Andy came behind him. Then up went four partridge with a whirr that would have startled one not accustomed to the sound. Bang! went Chet’s gun, and bang! came the report of Andy’s immediately after. Two of the partridges came fluttering down, while the two others circled around in a helpless, dazed fashion.
“We must get those, too!” cried Chet, and blazed away again, and then Andy took another shot. Down came the game, and the boys glided forward to secure the prizes. The partridges were of good size, and plump, and the lads gazed at them and turned them over in deep satisfaction.
“We’ll prove to Mr. Dawson that we can hunt,” cried Chet. His recent ill humor had completely disappeared.
In getting back to where they had left the moose, Andy struck an icy rock and rolled over and over in the snow. Chet was compelled to laugh, but quickly subsided, thinking his chum might be angry. But though he had hard work to get up and secure the game he had been carrying, Andy retained his peace of mind.
“Fortune of war,” he said, as he dug the loose snow from his clothing. “Birr! but it’s cold.”
“Want to go to the North Pole now?” said Chet, quizzically.
“This minute, if I had the chance,” was the quick reply.
The partridges were tied on top of the moose, and once again the two lads headed for the cabin. Soon they came in sight of the place, and set up a loud whistling, which brought the two men to the door.
“A fine moose!” cried Barwell Dawson. “And fine partridge, too.”
“Don’t you think we are pretty fair hunters?” asked Chet.
“First-class,” returned Mr. Dawson.
CHAPTER XI – A SERIOUS LOSS
Having brought their game around to the shed attached to the cabin, the boys were glad enough to rest before the generous fire, while Professor Jeffer proceeded to cut out some choice moose meat, having been requested by Barwell Dawson to do so.
“The moose is yours,” Mr. Dawson said to the boys. “But I must have at least one steak, although it may be rather tough.”
“You can have as much as you like,” answered Chet. “I don’t think Andy wants it all, and I am sure I don’t.”
Darkness was settling down once more around the cabin, when Andy chanced to think of the papers concerning the land claim in Michigan. He had placed them in an inside pocket of his jacket, and now he inserted his hand to bring them forth, to make certain that they were safe.
“Oh!” he cried, and his heart began to beat wildly.
“What’s the matter?” queried Chet, who was near. “Hurt?”
“What of them?”
“They are gone!”
“Gone?” repeated Chet, and now Professor Jeffer and Barwell Dawson listened with interest.
“Yes, gone – I can’t find them anywhere.” Andy rapidly went through every pocket in his clothing, and in the overcoat he had hung on a horn. “Yes, they are gone,” he groaned. “Oh, this is the worst luck yet!”
“But they must be somewhere around,” said Barwell Dawson. “Have you any idea where you dropped them?”
“No, although it might have been when I took that tumble in the snow.”
“If you lost ’em there, we ought to go back for ’em right away,” declared Chet. “The wind is rising, and that will drift the snow over ’em.”
A vain search was made around the cabin and the shed, and then, tired as he was, Andy donned his overcoat and cap to go out. Chet did the same.
“Oh, you needn’t mind, Chet,” said Andy.
“I just will mind, Andy. We are going to get those papers back,” was the brisk reply.
“Here, take a lantern,” said Professor Jeffer, and brought forth an acetylene lamp, similar to those used on bicycles. “That ought to help you find the papers,” he added.
In a minute more the two lads had set off through the snow. As Chet had said, the wind was rising, and it often caught the snow up in a mad whirl and hurled it into their faces.
“Phew! this is not so pleasant,” panted Chet, when they paused to catch their breath, having covered about a quarter of the distance to where Andy had fallen. “Takes the wind right out of a chap. But never mind, come on,” he continued, and started on once more.
The rays of the acetylene lamp lit up the way fairly well, and here and there they could see their former trail, although it was growing more indistinct every moment. The wind now whistled through the pines and spruces, – a sound as dismaying as it was lonely.
“Might have brought down some game, with the aid of this lamp,” said Chet, as they trudged forward on their snowshoes.
“I’m not looking for game just now.”
At last they reached what they thought was the spot where Andy had had the fall. So far they had seen no trace of the missing documents. Now they gazed around, much crestfallen. The hollow was completely filled with the drifting snow, and a ridge had formed, wiping out the trail utterly.
“I am going to try digging,” said Andy. “Wish I had brought a shovel along.”
The lamp was hung on the branch of a tree near by, and both youths set to work, shoving and kicking the snow to one side or another. Thus they worked, in something of a circle, for the best part of an hour. Not a trace of the papers could be seen anywhere.
“Maybe I lost them further back – where we found the moose,” said Andy. “I’m going to look. But you needn’t go with me if you don’t care to, Chet.”
“I’ll go where you go, Andy. I want to see you get those papers back.”
Again they moved forward, the wind and snow cutting each in the face, and sometimes almost blinding them. They had to rest twice before they reached the spot of Chet’s thrilling adventure.
Again the search began, and it was kept up until both lads were wellnigh exhausted from stooping over and “sifting” the snow. Andy straightened his back and gave a sigh.
“I guess it’s no use,” he groaned. “They are gone! I’ll never see them again! And that claim is gone, too!”
“Oh, don’t give up yet!” cried Chet, trying to cheer him up. “If we can’t locate them tonight, we’ll do it in the morning when the sun shines. They must be somewhere around. They made quite a package, with a rubber band around it, and such a package can’t vanish completely.”
To this Andy could only answer with a sigh. He doubted very much if the precious documents would ever come to light again.
Utterly fagged out, the boys turned their backs on the wind and made their way to Professor Jeffer’s cabin. Here they found the others anxiously awaiting their return.
“What luck?” sang out Barwell Dawson.
“None,” answered Andy, and dropped into a chair as tired out as he was disheartened.
“You’ll have to go out in the morning.”
“Just what I said,” came from Chet. “Oh, we’ll get those papers back, don’t worry.” But although he spoke thus lightly, it was only to cheer his chum up. He, too, was afraid the documents were gone forever.
Andy’s sleep was a troubled one. He dreamed that his Uncle Si was after him, and that both had a tussle in the snow over the papers. Then A. Q. Hopton came up with a pitchfork, speared the papers, and bore them off in triumph. He awoke to find Chet shaking him.
“Andy, stop your groaning!” Chet was saying. “You are going on to beat the band!”
“I guess I had a nightmare,” answered Andy, sheepishly. “What time is it?”
“Just getting daylight.”
“Then I am going to get up, eat a little breakfast, and start on another search for those papers.”
“Sure – and I’ll go along.”
The boys arose as quietly as possible, and dressing, went to the kitchen and prepared their morning meal of wheat cakes and a small moose steak, and coffee. They were just finishing the repast when Professor Jeffer showed himself.
“Up early, I see,” he said, with a smile.
“We are going to look for those papers again,” explained Chet.
“To be sure. Well, I trust you find them, although I am afraid you will have quite a search.”
The sun was just peering over the trees to the eastward when the two lads left the cabin. It promised to be a clear day. It was intensely cold, and the wind still blew, although not so hard as during the day and the night gone by.
Andy took the lead, and each boy strained his eyes to catch sight of anything that might look like the documents. Once Andy saw something at a distance, and ran to it with a rapidly beating heart. But it was nothing but a strip of birch bark, and again his heart sank.
The noon hour found them still on the hunt. Fortunately they had brought some lunch along in one of the game bags, and they sat down in a sunny and sheltered nook to eat this, warming up a can of coffee over a tiny campfire Chet kindled. Then the hunt was renewed, and kept up in various places until the sun began to go down over the woods to the westward.
“It will be dark in an hour more, Andy,” said Chet, kindly. “I guess we had better return to the cabin. We can come out again tomorrow, if you wish.”
“I – I don’t think it will be any use to come out again, Chet.” Andy’s voice was very unsteady. “I am afraid the papers are gone for good!”
“Oh, I wouldn’t give it up yet!”
“If I only knew where I had dropped them! But I don’t know. They may be right around here, and they may be half a mile away.”
It was with a downcast heart that Andy followed his chum back to the cabin. Somehow, he had hoped that the timber claim would prove a valuable one, and that he would get a goodly share of it. Now that hope was shattered.
“I won’t be able to prove a thing without the documents,” he told himself. “And it would be useless to try.”
That evening the matter was talked over by the men and the boys from every point of view, but nothing came of it. Barwell Dawson agreed with Andy that nothing could be accomplished until the missing documents were brought to light.
“I really think your uncle is to blame for this,” said the hunter. “If he had not acted as he did, you would not have been forced to run away, and then the papers might be safe and sound at your cabin.”
“I’d like to know what became of that A. Q. Hopton,” said Andy.
“Well, he didn’t get the papers, and that’s one comfort,” said Chet, with a sickly grin.
There was now no use in going to Lodgeport to see a lawyer, and instead, Andy and Chet went out again for another search. But this was as useless as the others. Not a trace of the missing documents could be found anywhere.
“Might as well give it up,” sighed Andy. “They are gone, and that is all there is to it.”
Again matters were talked over, and Barwell Dawson advised Andy to go home and face his uncle.
“If you wish, I’ll go with you,” said the hunter. “Perhaps I can get him to tell just what that A. Q. Hopton was up to.”
“I’d like it first-rate, if you would go along, Mr. Dawson,” answered the boy quickly.
“Want me along?” asked Chet.
“You might as well come,” answered Andy. “We can take some of the moose meat. The horns are yours, Chet.”
They set off for the Graham cabin on the following morning. Barwell Dawson’s ankle was now quite well, although he was prudently careful how he used it. It had cleared off rather warm, so the trip was a pleasant one. The boys had with them all the meat they could carry, and also their guns, and wore the snow-shoes Professor Jeffer had loaned them.
On the way Chet asked Barwell Dawson how soon he expected to start for the north.
“I hope to get the Ice King ready by the middle of February or first of March,” was the hunter’s reply. “You see, for such a trip we require an immense amount of stores, and of just the proper kinds. It won’t do to take stuff that will freeze and burst open. Once I remember I was up there, and had some bottles of catsup along. The bottles froze and burst, and we had catsup scattered all over the camp.”
“I suppose you can’t get much up there?” said Chet.
“Absolutely nothing outside of game – musk oxen, polar bears and hares, seal, walrus, and some birds. In some parts of Greenland you can get moss that you can put in soup, but it doesn’t amount to a very hearty meal. In a cold climate like that, one needs to eat plenty of meat, and the more fat, the better. The Esquimaux live on the fattest kind of meat they can get, and on blubber, and they think tallow candles a real delicacy.”
“Excuse me from eating candles,” said Andy.
“If you were real hungry, you’d eat anything,” answered Barwell Dawson, gravely. “I was once lost on the ice, and was glad enough to chew strips of seal hide to ease the pangs of hunger. When I got back to camp, my stomach was in such a condition that they fed me my first meal very carefully, just a bit at a time. If I had eaten my fill quickly, I might have died.”
CHAPTER XII – A LETTER OF INTEREST
“The place looks shut up,” observed Chet, when the party came in sight of the Graham homestead. “Not a bit of smoke, and the snow isn’t cleared away from the doorstep.”
“Maybe Uncle Si is sick and can’t get around,” answered Andy, quickly.
“Sick? Lazy, you mean,” returned his chum.
They advanced to the front door and knocked. There was no sound from within, and Andy walked around to the shed. The door was locked, but the key was on a shelf near by, and he quickly opened the door.
“Uncle Si is away,” he announced, as he walked through the cabin, and let the others come in. “My! but it’s cold here! We’ll have to start a fire right away.”
“I’ll do that,” answered Chet. “You sit down and rest that sore ankle,” he went on, to Barwell Dawson, and the hunter was glad to do as bidden.
While Chet started a lively blaze in the big open fireplace, Andy went through the cabin, looking for some trace of his uncle. Much to his surprise, he found Josiah Graham’s traveling bag missing, and also all of the man’s clothing.
“He has gone away!” he cried, and then caught sight of a letter, pinned fast to the top of a chest of drawers. The outside of the letter was addressed to Andy Graham. The communication was written in lead pencil, in a chirography anything but elegant, and ran as follows:
It took some time for Andy to decipher the communication, and for the first time in his life he realized how very limited had been the education of his father’s half-brother. He read the epistle to Chet and Barwell Dawson.
“He has deserted you!” cried Chet. “Well, ‘good riddance to bad rubbish’ say I!”
“I think he was afraid that you would make trouble for him,” was Mr. Dawson’s comment. “He thought you would take those papers to some lawyer, or to the authorities, and tell how he tried to sell them to Mr. A. Q. Hopton on the sly.”
“I guess that’s the way it is,” said Andy. He drew a deep breath. “Well, I am glad to get rid of him so easily. I sincerely hope he stays away.”
“But he won’t stay away,” returned Chet. “He’ll wait until he thinks everything is all right again, and then he’ll sneak back, to live on you.”
“He’ll not live on me again,” declared Andy. “I know him thoroughly, now. If he wants to stay here he’ll have to work, the same as I do.”
“Well, you are in possession of your own,” declared Barwell Dawson, as he rested in the chair Uncle Si had used. “You can now take it as easy as you please,” and he smiled broadly.
“I don’t see how I am going to take it easy, if I can’t get work,” answered Andy, soberly. “A fellow can’t live on air. Of course, I can go out hunting and fishing and all that, but that isn’t earning a regular living.”
“You can’t get work anywhere? You look like a strong young man, and willing.”
“I am strong, and willing, too. But times are dull, and there are more men up here than there is work. If it wasn’t for having the cabin here, I think I’d try my chances elsewhere.”
“I don’t know – perhaps down in one of the towns.”
Andy invited Barwell Dawson to remain at the cabin for the rest of the day, and the invitation was accepted. The chums set to work to prepare a good dinner, and of this the hunter partook with great satisfaction.
“You boys certainly know how to cook,” he declared, as he finished up.
“A fellow has to learn cooking and everything, in a place like this,” answered Andy.
“It’s a good thing to know how to cook. I’ve found it so, many a time, when off on a hunt.”
“Mr. Dawson, I’d like to put a proposition to you,” burst out Andy. “Of course, if it doesn’t suit, all you’ve got to do is to say no. But I hope you will give it serious consideration.” And Andy looked at Chet, as much as to say, “Shall I go ahead?” To which his chum nodded eagerly.
“What is the proposition?”
“That you take Chet and me with you on your trip north. I know you would prefer men, but we are not so young, and each of us is strong and healthy, and we can do about as much as a man. We are both used to cold weather, and to roughing it, and you know we can shoot, and tramp over the ice and snow – and cook. We talked this over between us, and we’d like to go very much. We don’t want any pay, or any reward. All we want is our food, and some ammunition, and we are perfectly willing to rough it along with the rest. We are both practically alone in the world, so nobody will be worried over us, even if we don’t come back alive.”
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