First at the North Pole: or, Two Boys in the Arctic Circle
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“Yes, but you want to come back, don’t you?” asked Barwell Dawson, quizzically.
“Of course. But we realize the danger, and we are ready to face it.”
“We’ll go wherever you go,” broke in Chet. “And we’ll do just whatever you want us to do. As Andy says, we are used to roughing it, and I think both of us can stand as much as anybody. Why, I don’t know that I’ve had a sick day in my life.”
“And I have been sick very little – none at all since I grew up,” added Andy.
The hunter and explorer looked sharply at the two boys. He saw by the clear look in their eyes that they were honest to the core, and in earnest in all they said.
“Well, it is something not to have any family ties,” he said. “I have two friends who wish to go along, but both have wives, and one has two children. I don’t think it would be fair to take them. I am a bachelor myself, and my relatives do not care what I do. I believe if I died, all some of them would think about would be my money.” He added the last words rather bitterly.
“Then you will consider taking us?” pleaded Andy.
“Yes, I will consider it. But I must think it over a week or two before I give you my answer. When a man plans such a trip as this, he cannot be too careful as to who are his companions. I must say I like you lads very much, and I haven’t forgotten how you aided me at the cliff. But I must have time to think it over carefully, and make a few inquiries.”
With this the lads had to be content, and for the time being the subject was dropped. But later on Barwell Dawson showed his interest by asking them a great number of questions about themselves.
“I think he’ll take us along,” whispered Chet to Andy, on retiring for the night. “And I sincerely hope he does. It may give me a chance to find out what became of the Betsey Andrews and my father.”
“Don’t be too sure of our going,” answered Andy. “If you are, you may be bitterly disappointed.”
In the morning it was decided that the two lads should accompany Barwell Dawson to the lodge he had occupied back of Moose Ridge. They went along gladly, wishing to become better acquainted with the hunter and explorer. The storm had now cleared away entirely, the wind had died down, and the clear sun shone upon the ice and snow with great brilliancy.
On the way the party managed to pick up some small game, and Barwell Dawson showed his skill by hitting a partridge at a great distance. He shot with ease, showing that he was thoroughly familiar with the use of firearms. He even gave the boys “points” for which they were grateful.
“He certainly knows how to shoot,” said Andy to Chet. “I don’t see how he missed that moose.”
“He lost his footing, that’s how,” was the reply. “The very best of sportsmen miss it sometimes.”
“Isn’t he a splendid fellow, Chet!”
“The finest I’ve met. Oh, I do hope he takes us along with him!”
When the lodge was reached the boys built a fire and cooked another appetizing meal, the hunter meanwhile resting his ankle, which was still sore.The reader can rest assured that Andy and Chet did their best over the meal, for they wanted to let Mr. Dawson know of their real abilities in the culinary line. The repast was as much liked as the other had been.
“If you go with me, I’ll have to throw out the man I was going to take for a cook,” declared the hunter and explorer. “I don’t believe anybody could serve food better than this.”
“Oh, we’ll do the cooking all right!” declared Chet, enthusiastically.
“Of course there will be a ship’s cook,” explained Mr. Dawson. “But he won’t go along over the ice and snow. He’ll have to remain with the sailors on the ship.”
“How many will be in the party to leave the ship?” asked Andy.
“I don’t know yet – probably five or six, and the Esquimaux.”
Having reached Barwell Dawson’s lodge, the party settled down for a week, to hunt and to take it comfortably. During that time the hunter and explorer asked Chet much about himself and his father.
“We must try to find out about that whaler as soon as I go back to town,” said Barwell Dawson. “Somebody ought to know something about her.”
During the week the hunter and the boys became better friends than ever. The man liked the frank manner of the lads, and Andy and Chet were fascinated by the stories the explorer had to tell.
“I am going down to Portland next week,” announced Barwell Dawson one day. “If you both want to go along and see the city, I’ll take you, and foot the bill. Then we can go up to the little town where the Ice King is being fitted out, and you can let me know what you think of the ship.”
This proposal filled the boys with delight, and they accepted on the spot. Both Andy and Chet made hurried trips to their cabin homes, and came back with the best of their belongings in their grips. Then they helped Barwell Dawson pack up; and two days later started for Pine Run.
There was mild surprise in the village when it was learned the two boys were going away, even though it might be only for a short while. To nobody in the village did Barwell Dawson mention his proposed trip to the frozen north.
“They wouldn’t understand it, and it would only make me out an object of idle curiosity,” he explained to the boys.
From the general storekeeper Andy learned that his Uncle Si had tried to borrow ten dollars, but without success. The storekeeper said Josiah Graham and Mr. A. Q. Hopton had had a bitter quarrel, and parted on bad terms. He did not know where either individual was now.
“Well, let Uncle Si shift for himself,” said Andy to Chet. “It will do him good.”
“Right you are, Andy. But what a shame that you lost those papers.”
“Oh, don’t mention them, Chet. It makes me feel bad every time I think of it.”
“You ought to go back some day and take another look for them. I’ll help you.”
“Yes, I intend to go back – if not right away, then when the snow clears off.”
“Provided we are not bound north by that time.”
“Yes, provided we are not bound for the Pole!”
CHAPTER XIII – BARWELL DAWSON REACHES A DECISION
The trip to Portland proved full of keen interest to both boys, who had spent most of their lives in the backwoods. Barwell Dawson procured rooms for all at a hotel not far from Monument Square, and then he allowed the lads to do all the sightseeing they pleased. They took several trolley trips, and visited many points of interest, not forgetting the big stores, which were as much of a revelation as anything to them.
The hunter and explorer set to work without delay to find out if possible what had become of the whaler, Betsey Andrews. At first he could learn little, but one day came a letter from New Bedford, from a maritime agency, stating that the whaler had not been heard of since stopping at Disko Island, off the coast of Greenland, two years before. It was supposed that she had either been hit by an iceberg, or been sunk in a storm, with all on board. Once a small boat belonging to the whaler had been found washed up on the coast of Greenland, but it had contained no persons, dead or alive.
This news was very disheartening to Chet, and for several days he was not himself at all, and Andy could do little to cheer him up. But it was not as bad as if the youth had not expected something of this sort before, and his hopes soon came back to him.
“I’ll not believe father is dead until I see the proofs,” he told his chum. “He may have been cast away on the coast of Greenland, and been unable to find a ship to bring him back home.”
“Let us hope that is true,” answered Andy. “And let us hope that he gets back soon.” But though Andy spoke thus, he had small expectations of ever seeing Mr. Greene alive.
“I expect Professor Jeffer down tomorrow,” said Barwell Dawson, one morning after reading his mail. “As soon as he comes we’ll run up the coast to where the Ice King is being fitted out.”
The weather had cleared off warm, and the snow was fast vanishing. The professor arrived on time, and was full of enthusiasm concerning the proposed trip to the north.
“I wish we were sure of going,” said Andy, to him, and then told of what had been said to Mr. Dawson.
“I like you lads very much,” returned the old scientist. “I hope Mr. Dawson sees fit to take you along.”
“Perhaps you can put in a good word for us,” suggested Chet.
“I’ll do it,” was the prompt answer.
Professor Jeffer was as good as his word, and that evening he and Barwell Dawson had a long talk concerning the boys. The hunter and explorer could not help but smile at Upham Jeffer’s enthusiasm.
“Well, if you are on their side too, I’ll surely have to take them,” he said at length. “But it is a risky thing to do – they are not men, remember.”
“They will stand the trip as well as though they were men,” was the professor’s answer. “They are in the best of health, and full of vigor. Besides, it is well to have the enthusiasm of youth with us. It may help to cheer up many a lonely hour.”
“I like the idea of their being without close family connections, Professor. I hate to take a man away from those near and dear to him.”
“True, sir, true – especially when it is not actually necessary. Yes, I’d take the boys by all means. I do not think you’ll regret it. Of course, though, each will have to have a complete outfit.”
“You can trust me to get the best there is.”
When Andy and Chet heard the good news they could scarcely contain themselves. Andy danced a jig right in the hotel room, while both lads had to shake Barwell Dawson by the hand several times, and then they shook hands with Professor Jeffer, too.
“It makes me feel just as if we were one big family,” cried Andy, enthusiastically. “Oh, Chet, just to think of it! We’ll hunt musk oxen, and polar bears, and seals, and walruses! And go clear to the Pole, too!”
“And travel on dog sledges,” put in Chet. “Say, I’m ready to go this minute!”
“So am I! Mr. Dawson, you can’t start any too soon for us.”
“Well, boys, don’t be too enthusiastic. Remember, this is going to be no child’s play – trying to get to the North Pole. And we won’t try to reach that point at all unless, when we get into the Arctic regions, we find the conditions more or less favorable. You must remember that many brave and vigorous men have tried to reach the Pole and have failed. There are immense fields of ice and snow to cross, and ‘leads’ or rivers of icy water. And if you lose your supplies, there remains nothing to do but to starve.”
Nevertheless, even though he spoke thus, Barwell Dawson was secretly as hopeful as were the boys. Could he have seen what was before him, his enthusiasm might have quickly died within him.
Now that it had been settled that they could go, the two boys were eager to see the vessel which was to be their home during the coming summer and winter. The Ice King was being fitted out at the seaport town of Rathley, and they took the train for the place, arriving there about noon. The vessel was tied up at the dock, and the lads and Professor Jeffer were invited by Mr. Dawson to come on board.
“I’ll introduce you to Captain Williamson,” said the hunter. “He is in charge of the repairs that are being made. He is a fine man, and I know you will like him.”
The captain proved to be a bluff and hearty old salt, who had at one time commanded a whaler. He shook hands with a grip that made Andy and Chet wince, and looked them over with a twinkle in his eye.
“So you are going to try to hunt polar bears and such, eh?” he said. “Well, you look out that the bears don’t eat you up,” and he laughed broadly.
“We’ll try to keep out of the way,” answered Chet, modestly.
“And what are you going to do when the thermometer drops to fifty below zero?”
“Work around and keep warm,” answered Andy, with a grin, and this made the captain laugh again.
“Guess you’ll do,” he said. “Anyway, we’ll try you.”
The Ice King was a two-masted steamer that had been built for use in the icy seas of the north. She was small, broad of beam, and shallow, with an outer “jacket” of stout oak planks, and a prow and stern of steel. Inside, all the bracings were extra heavy, and the railings of the deck were of the hardest kind of timber. She carried an engine of great power, and steam could be gotten up both with coal and with oil.
“You see, it will not do to take too large a ship,” explained Barwell Dawson. “A small vessel can often get through where a big one would get stuck. The Ice King is built shallow, so that instead of being crushed in the floating ice, she will slide up on it, or over it. The sides are two feet thick, and they ought to resist a tremendous pressure. We have to have great engine power, and a steel prow, for sometimes we’ll have to simply smash our way through.”
The entire lower portion of the ship was to be given over to the storage of provisions and coal, and coal was also to be stored, at the start, on deck. The quarters for the crew were forward, in a forecastle of the usual order. At the stern was a fair-sized cabin, half above and half below the deck, with quarters for Barwell Dawson, the captain, and the others. The boys were conducted to a stateroom not over six feet by seven. It had an upper and a lower berth on one side, and a tiny washstand and some clothing hooks on the other.
“We’ll all have close quarters,” said Barwell Dawson. “My own room is but two feet larger than this.”
“It’s large enough,” said Andy. He turned to his chum. “We’ll be as snug as a bug in a rug in here, won’t we?”
“Suits me right down to the ground,” returned Chet. “Not much room for clothing, but as we haven’t much, that’s all right.”
Professor Jeffer was to share his stateroom with another man, who had not yet arrived. He asked for a cabinet, in which he might store his scientific instruments, and Mr. Dawson said he would attend to the matter.
“Next week I shall commence the purchase of all supplies,” said the man who headed the expedition. “Until that time there will be little for any of you to do, and you can go where you please.”
“I’m going back home – to have another look for those missing papers,” said Andy. “Besides, I want to bring away the rest of my things, and nail up the cabin.”
“And I’ll go along,” said Chet. “I want to get my things, too. About the cabin, I don’t care much what becomes of it, for it has seen its best days.”
The two boys spent three days in the vicinity of Pine Run. During that time both went out twice to look for the documents Andy had lost, but without success.
“They are gone, and I’ll have to make the best of it,” said Andy, with a deep sigh.
The two boys packed up what few things they wished to take along, and then each cabin was nailed up tightly. Both wondered if they would ever see the places again.
“Maybe we’ll never come back from the far north,” said Chet.
“Are you afraid, Chet?” demanded Andy, quickly.
“Not a bit of it. Just the same, we may never see Maine again. What happened to my father may happen to us.”
Professor Jeffer had come back also, to ship his case of scientific instruments, and also another case of books. The professor did not want much in the way of clothing, but it would have been a real hardship had he been deprived of his other belongings.
“The success of this trip will depend upon accurate scientific observations,” said he to the boys, when on the return to Rathley. “It is all well enough to hunt, and even to reach the North Pole, but of what use is it if we cannot return with full data of what we have observed?”
“You are right, Professor,” answered Andy. “But your instruments are beyond me.”
“I will teach you how to use some of them, after we are on board ship. There will be many days when you boys will have little to do, and it will be an excellent opportunity to improve your minds.”
“Well, I wouldn’t mind a little more education,” said Chet, bluntly.
“I’ll be pleased to teach you, my boy. I was once a schoolmaster – although that was years ago.”
“Professor, do you really think we’ll reach the Pole?” asked Andy, earnestly.
“I do not think; I hope. Many have tried and failed, but I believe the Pole will be gained some day, and we’ll have an excellent chance of success. Mr. Dawson is a wonderful man – he seems more wonderful every time I talk to him. He is fitting up his ship with the greatest possible care and forethought, and has made a deep study of polar conditions. Besides, he has had practical experience on the fields of ice and snow, and knows just what to expect in the way of hardships.”
The run to Rathley was made in less than two hours. It had been decided that the party should put up at a hotel for a few days, until some painting on board the Ice King was finished. Then they were to go aboard and make themselves at home as best they could until the day set for the departure.
They reached the hotel in the evening, and that night all slept soundly. In the morning, after breakfast, Chet suggested they walk down to the steamer and see how the painting was progressing.
“Hark!” cried Andy, when they were within two blocks of the wharf. “What is that man crying?”
“Fire! fire! fire!” yelled the individual in question, as he came rushing up the street.
“Where is it?” asked Andy and Chet in a breath.
“Down at the dock! A steamer is on fire!”
“A steamer!” exclaimed Professor Jeffer. “Can it be the Ice King?”
“Oh, I hope not!” burst out Andy, and then he set off on a run, with Chet by his side, and the professor following more slowly.
CHAPTER XIV – THE FIRE ON THE STEAMER
“She is doomed! There goes our chance to reach the North Pole!”
Such were the words that escaped from Chet’s lips, as he and Andy came out on the dock where the Ice King was tied up.
Before them lay the two-masted steamer, with a thick volume of smoke rolling up from her main hatchway. The fire alarm was sounding, and men and boys were running to the scene of action.
“What a catastrophe!” The words came from Professor Jeffer. He was almost out of breath from running. “I hope they can save her!”
“Wonder what is burning?” queried Andy. He, too, felt his heart sink within him.
“Can of benzine exploded,” answered a man standing near. “The painters had it, and one of ’em dropped a lighted match on the can.”
“He ought to be blown up with it,” fumed Chet. “Who ever heard of such carelessness!”
There was the tooting of a whistle, and a fire engine came dashing down the street, followed by a hose cart and a hook and ladder company. In the meantime, Captain Williamson had sounded the alarm on the ship, and set some men to work at a hand pump, for the engineer had no steam in the boilers.
“Can we do anything, Captain?” asked Andy, as he ran up the gangplank.
“I don’t know,” was the short answer. “Might help at the pump, or help carry buckets of water. If we had the engine going we’d soon get a good stream on that blaze, but we didn’t look for anything like this.”
Andy and Chet tried to get to the pump, but found that already manned. Then they got buckets and ropes, and commenced to haul up water over the side, and a number of other boys and men did likewise. Some sailors took the full buckets and threw the water down the hatchway, where they thought it would do the most good. Then the fire engine on the dock got into action, and a steady stream was directed down into the interior of the steamer.
But the conflagration had gained considerable headway, and some cans of paints and oils added ready fuel to the blaze. The smoke grew thicker and thicker, and presently a tongue of flame shot skyward.
“She’s doomed sure!” groaned Chet. “Oh, was there ever such luck!”
“The trouble is that the water doesn’t do much good on the paint and oil,” exclaimed Professor Jeffer. “Sand or dirt would be better.”
“Here comes a chemical engine!” cried Andy. “Maybe that will do some good.”
“It will do more good than throwing water,” said the old scientist.
The chemical engine got into action without delay, and as the chemicals were forced down the hatchway the smoke became even thicker than before. But the tongues of flame died down, which the boys took for a good sign.
Barwell Dawson was not on hand, he having gone to Boston on business.
“If the vessel isn’t saved, it will be an awful blow to him,” was Andy’s comment.
The boys continued to work, and so did the sailors and the firemen. Thus an anxious quarter of an hour passed. Then the chief of the fire department happened to pass Chet.
“Will the vessel be saved?” asked the lad.
“Sure thing!” cried the old fire-fighter. “But it’s a blaze hard to get at. If a man tried to go down there, he’d be smothered in a minute.”
Nevertheless, some of the hook and ladder men went into the engine room, and there chopped a hole through a bulkhead into the hold. Then more chemicals were used, and more water, and soon it was announced that the fire was under control. A little later the smoke cleared away, and the firemen went below, to put out any stray sparks.
It was found that the total damage was confined to that portion of the hold where the painters had stored their paints and oils. Here the woodwork was much charred, and some beams and braces were burnt through. But Captain Williamson estimated that two hundred dollars would make everything as good as ever.
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