Read CHAPTER VII - REINDEER TO THE RESCUE of The Boy With the U. S. Life-Savers , free online book, by Francis Rolt-Wheeler, on ReadCentral.com.

When, the following morning, Eric awoke to consciousness in his bunk on the Itasca he found himself the hero of the hour. He had been well-liked in his class before, but his daring feat increased this tenfold. Like all clean-cut Americans, the cadets held plucky manliness to be the most worth-while thing in the world. The surgeon, who was bandaging his burns, told him, in answer to the boy’s questions, that the rescued man would probably recover.

“You’re not the only one I’ve got to take care of, though,” the doctor said to him. “Van Sluyd’s in sick bay this morning, too.”

“What’s the matter with him?” queried Eric.

“Van Sluyd’s got grit,” was the reply.

“What did he do?”

“I’m just going to tell you. About half an hour after the two of you had been brought on board, and while I was still examining your burns, Van Sluyd came up and asked if he could have a word with me.

“‘Of course,’ I answered, ‘what’s on your mind?’

“‘My father’s a doctor,’ he said, ’and I’ve picked up a little medicine. Is the fellow that Swift rescued badly burned?’

“‘Yes,’ I answered, ‘he is.’

“‘Wouldn’t he have a better chance if some skin-grafting were done?’

“‘Not a bit of doubt of it,’ said I.

“‘Then,’ he said, ’if it won’t incapacitate me for the service, you can go ahead on me.’”

“Who’d have thought it of Van Sluyd!” exclaimed Eric. “Talk about nerve, that’s the real thing! What did you do, Doctor?”

“I went and had a chat with the captain and told him just what was needed. I told him that it would put Van Sluyd out of active training for several weeks and might set him back in his examinations.”

“What did the captain say?” questioned the boy.

“He just asked me if I thought that the man’s recovery was in any way dependent on it, and when I said I thought it was, he answered that I could go ahead. You can be sure Van Sluyd won’t lose out by it.”

“But won’t it cripple him?”

“Not a bit,” the surgeon answered. “I’ll just take a few square inches of skin off the thigh and he’ll be all right in a few weeks.”

“Won’t he have an awful scar?”

“There’ll be a bit of a scar. But he won’t have any more scars than you, at that, my boy.”

“Are my feet going to take a long time to heal, Doctor?”

“I’m afraid it’ll be quite a while before they feel all right. We’ll have you up and around before examinations, however, just the same. That’s more than I can say for my other patient, though. He’s badly burned.”

“Have you found out who he was?” queried Eric.

“Certainly. He’s the chief engineer of the craft, or, to speak more rightly, he was the chief engineer.”

“How do you suppose he got left behind?”

“That’s quite a story,” the surgeon answered, as he tore off a piece of bandage. “He’s too sick to do much talking, but it seems that when the fire was reported beyond control he sent all hands on deck out of the engine room, remaining behind himself to look after the pump-engines. The passengers and crew immediately took to the boats. When he tried to get up on deck a few minutes later he found that he was cut off. He had to get a crowbar and wrench his way through an iron grating, before he could get to the open air.

“In the meantime, every one supposed that he was in one or other of the boats, and they had pushed off, leaving him marooned. For an hour or more the flames smoldered, and the deck was quite bearable. He tried to gather materials for a raft, but almost everything on the ship was iron. The cabin fittings were wood, but he couldn’t find an ax, the sockets where the axes were usually kept being empty.

“Then he remembered that the wireless instruments were clamped on to a wooden bench and he went into the deck-house to try to tear that apart. The door slammed as he went in, and while he was yanking at the bench the ship buckled and the pressure jammed the door, making him a prisoner. He seems to remember very little after that, but he must have tried hard to get out, for he broke his arm in some way.”

“How about the wireless messages?”

“He says the operator had jotted down the original message he had sent, and he tried to repeat it as best he could. Of course all that last stuff no one could understand was sent when he was semi-conscious.”

Eric winced as the other touched his shoulder.

“Get ready now,” the surgeon said, “I’m going to snap that bone back into place. Ready?”

“Go ahead,” the boy answered through set teeth.

The surgeon gave a quick sharp twist and there was a click as the shoulder went back.

“That’s going to be a bit sore for a while,” he said, “but you ought to be mighty thankful you put it out of joint.”

“Why?”

“You’d have broken something instead, if it hadn’t slipped,” was the reply; “you must have hit that door an awful welt, for you’re bruised on that side from the shoulder down. Just black and blue with a few touches of reddish purple. You’re an impressionist sketch on the bruise line, I tell you! But there’s nothing serious there. Using your carcass for a battering ram is apt to make a few contusions, and you’ve done well to get off so easily.”

“I had to get into that deck-house. I wanted to be sure no one was there.”

“It took more than wanting,” the surgeon said, “you must have been just about crazy. A man’s got to be nearly in the state of a maniac before he’ll hurl himself against an iron door like that without thinking of the consequences to himself. You were out of your head with pain, Swift, the way it looks to me, you’d never have tried it in your sober senses.”

“Glad I got crazy, then, Doctor,” said Eric, gingerly moving himself a fraction of an inch, but wincing as he did so; “if I hadn’t, I’d have failed.”

“Well,” the surgeon said, rising to go, “I think the fates have been mighty good to you, Swift, if you ask me. There’s many a man has the daring and the pluck to do what you’ve done, but never has the chance. You had your chance. And you made good!”

As a matter of course, Eric’s bunk became a center round which the other cadets gravitated, and his classmates did everything they could to make things as pleasant for him as possible. He was glad, none the less, when two or three days later, he was told that he might go up on deck.

The boy was scarcely aware of it, but with his shoulder and arm bandaged and both feet heavily swathed, he made rather a pathetic sight, which his white and drawn face accentuated. A hammock had been rigged up on the sunny side of the deck and to this he was carried.

Just as soon as he appeared on deck, for an instant there was a cessation of all work that was going on. Then, suddenly, started by no one knew whom, from the throat of every man on deck came a burst of cheers. It was the tribute of gallant men to a gallant lad.

Weakly, and with a lump in his throat, Eric saluted with his left hand, in reply.

It was an infraction of discipline, no doubt, but the officer in charge of the deck ignored it. Indeed, he was afterwards heard to say that he had difficulty in not joining in himself. A little later in the day, the captain himself came on deck. Before going below, he came amidships where Eric was lying, feeling weak, but thoroughly happy.

“I have the pleasure of informing you, Mr. Swift,” he said, formally, “that I have entered your name in the ship’s log for distinguished services.”

This was more than Eric could have hoped for and he saluted gratefully. The boy realized how much more significant was this actual visit of the captain than if it had followed the usual custom of a message sent through the executive officer of the ship, and his pride and delight in the Coast Guard was multiplied.

Naturally, under the conditions, there was a slight relaxation of discipline in Eric’s case, and more than once the first lieutenant came and chatted to the lad. Finding out that he was especially interested in Alaska, the lieutenant talked with him about the work of the Coast Guard in the Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean. The officer was an enthusiast about the Eskimo, holding them to be a magnificent race, enduring the rigors of the far north and holding themselves clean from the vices of civilization. As one of his classmates was taking up Eskimo language, Eric also took up the study of it, since he had spare time on his hands while in sick-bay. Meantime, however, he kept up his studies at top notch.

The value of the Eskimo language to him, however, Eric never realized until the close of his third year. Though limping a good deal, he had been able to be up and around for a month before the exams and he had been slaving like a forty-mule team. Still, work as hard as he could, the boy was conscious that there were others who could surpass him. Especially there was one, a fellow called Pym Arbuthnot, who was a hard competitor.

They used to say of Pym that he could learn a subject by looking at the outside of a book, and his memory was as retentive as his acquisition was quick. He was always first in everything but mathematics. There Eric had him. Often he blessed the memory of the old puzzle-maker, as week by week his success in mathematics kept him right abreast of his rival. When at last the exams came off and the lists were made known, Eric was second. He had not quite been able to catch up with Pym, who was first, as every one had expected. To Eric’s great delight, moreover, Homer was first in the engineering class.

About a week later, the commandant called him into his office.

“Lieutenant Swift,” he said, and the boy’s face glowed at this first use of the title, “you have been commissioned and ordered to the Bear. I am told that you know a little Eskimo.”

“Yes, sir, a little,” Eric answered.

“Your showing in the Academy has been creditable,” the commandant continued, “and I have the pleasure of informing you that your appointment as United States Commissioner on the Bear on her next trip has been forwarded to me,” and he touched a paper lying on the desk.

“I have to thank Mr. Sutherland for that, sir,” Eric answered.

“It is a matter of record, sir,” the commandant answered a trifle sternly, “that you have done your duty. Appointments in the Coast Guard, Mr. Swift, are made upon the single basis of efficiency and fitness. I have the honor to congratulate you upon your commission and to wish you well.”

Walking from the commandant’s office, Eric, now “Lieutenant Swift,” met the first lieutenant. He looked so excited that the officer stopped and spoke to him.

“You wanted to speak to me?”

“I’ve been ordered to the Bear, sir,” blurted out Eric, for a moment dropping the official speech and talking eagerly, “and I’ve got the Commissionership, too!”

The first lieutenant raised his eyebrows slightly at the conversational form of address, but he realized that the boy was bubbling over with his news.

“I’m very glad, Mr. Swift,” he said heartily; “perhaps you’ll be able to use a little of that Eskimo you learned.”

“I’m so grateful to you, Mr. Sutherland,” Eric began, but the other stopped him with a slight gesture.

“I rather envy you your first trip into the Arctic,” he said; “it’s an experience that no one ever forgets. And you will find out for yourself whether I have overestimated the Eskimo as a race.” He put his hand kindly on the lad’s shoulder, as he noticed the slight limp, and remembered.

“You’re going to extremes,” he continued; “from the red-hot decks of a burning ship to the ice hummocks of the polar seas. In that country I’ll pass on to you a word of warning that Commodore Peary once gave me. Make it your motto in the Arctic. It is this ’Be bold, but never desperate.’”

With a grateful answer, and with his commission as third lieutenant and his appointment as United States Commissioner in his hand, Eric walked out a full-fledged officer of the Coast Guard and Uncle Sam’s representative in the Arctic seas.

Several weeks later, Eric reported on board the Bear. He had broken his trip west for a couple of days at home and had managed to snatch the time to run up to his old Coast Guard station and to visit his friend, the puzzle-maker. He really felt that he owed the initial success of his career to the old mathematician, and in this he was far more nearly right even than he imagined. He carried with him into the Arctic the old man’s last advice.

“I’m gittin’ old,” the puzzle-maker had said to him, “not here when you come back. Life he is like figuring, you think him straight, you work him careful, right every time!”

It was with a keen delight that Eric realized, when he boarded the Bear, that sailorship was not merely a thing of the books. Although he knew that the Coast Guard vessel was a converted whaler, it had never fixed itself in his mind that the Bear was a sailing vessel with auxiliary steam, and that she was handled as a sailing vessel. Barkentine-rigged, with square sails on the foremast and fore-and-aft rig on her main and mizzen, Eric found later by experience that her sailing powers were first-class. His delight in the handling of the ship added to his popularity with his brother officers, all of whom, as older men, had been trained in clipper days.

At Seattle the Bear took aboard the mail for Nome and St. Michael. This consisted of over 400 sacks, an indication of the growth of a city which in the spring of 1897 consisted only of a row of tents on a barren beach. At Unalaska, in the Aleutian Islands, five destitute natives were taken aboard the Bear for transportation to their homes in St. Michael.

Off Nunivak Island, Eric had his first sight of polar ice, but the pack was well broken up and gave little trouble. Norton Sound was comparatively free of ice, however, and the Bear reached St. Michael’s ten days later. As St. Michael’s Bay was filled with ice-floes, the vessel anchored to await favorable conditions for landing mail. A “lead” or opening in the ice having formed between Whale Island and the mainland, after a clear night’s work, the Coast Guard cutter dropped her anchors inside the ice. A couple of days later the floes cleared partly away and the Bear crossed over to Nome.

Endeavoring to make St. Lawrence Island, where the head government reindeer herder was to be landed, the Bear struck a heavy ice pack, and the little vessel had to give up the attempt to land. She worked to the northeast, out of the ice, and the captain changed the ship’s course for King Island.

This was the first opportunity Eric had to use his U. S. Commissionership. One of the natives, who had been associated with the white prospectors, was accused of ill-treatment towards his children, a very unusual condition in the Arctic. He had boasted a good deal to the other natives that the United States had no judges so far north, and that the white men could not punish him. In order to teach him a lesson, Eric heard the case, found the man guilty and sentenced the native to a day’s imprisonment in the ship’s brig, in irons, releasing him shortly before the vessel sailed. A sick native, with his wife and three small children were taken on board, for transportation to the hospital at Nome.

The young lieutenant also made an inspection of Prince of Wales village. During the entire winter there had not been a single case of disturbance and hardly a case of sickness.

“There are mighty few villages of the same size in the States,” said the surgeon to Eric, as they were returning to the boat, “which could show as good a record as these Eskimo villages. Nobody sick, nobody living on charity, nobody headed for jail!”

Returning to Nome, what was Eric’s delight to find Homer Tierre awaiting them! He had been assigned to duty on the Bear to relieve one of the juniors, who had been assigned to another cutter, and the two young officers greeted each other warmly. The head government reindeer-herder was eager to get to his post, so the Bear made a second attempt, this time successfully.

On the island only one case came up before Eric as United States Commissioner, that of a native who had allowed his dogs to run in the reindeer herds, four deer having been killed. Eric, before whom the case was tried, ruled that the native should be made to pay for the deer. As the margin of living in those barren islands is very small, this was quite a heavy punishment, and struck terror into the hearts of the natives. They had been ignoring the government’s regulations concerning the corralling of the huskies, believing that there was no one with power to punish infractions of the law.

From there the Bear went to Cape Prince of Wales, and here Eric fell in with Joey Blake, the former first mate of one of the whaling vessels rescued by the famous Overland Expedition in 1897. For the first time Eric heard the whole story of that heroic trip when the Coast Guard sent three men to save the lives of three hundred men, imprisoned in the polar ice. He heard how the men who were now his brother officers had done that which no white man had ever done before, how they had gone from Nome to Point Barrow in the dead of winter, their only base of support in those months of frozen night being their own fortitude and resourcefulness.

Joey Blake, now in charge of the Point Barrow station of one of the commercial whaling companies, waxed eloquent as he told how the Coast Guard men had risked their lives over and over again, to reach the herd of reindeer, who might be driven on the hoof over mountains that had never before been crossed. He told how, thereby, they had saved from starvation and death the crews of several vessels fast in the crushing grasp of the ice-pack of the Arctic Seas. From one of the men who owed his life to that magnificent piece of daring, Eric learned the tale of the great march across the ice and round the inhospitable shores in the bleak darkness of the Arctic night. He understood why Congress had voted special thanks and medals to the three men who carried to success the greatest rescue in Arctic history, full as that record has been of sacrifice and heroism.

In November, 1897, word reached the United States that eight whaling vessels, with 287 men on board, were fast in the ice north of Point Barrow. Nothing was known of their condition, save that the provisions of the entire fleet could not be counted upon to give them food beyond the end of January. Possibly hunting and fishing might enable this to be spun out a month or so, but not more. The way through Bering Straits would not be open until June, at the earliest. Starvation, therefore, was imminent. The United States Government naturally turned to the Coast Guard then known as the Revenue Cutter Service well assured that whatever was possible in the realm of human courage and skill would be done.

Between the marooned whalers and civilization lay a thousand miles and more of the most fearful road that man has ever had to travel, a road untrod, with cold like to the bitterness of death as its constant state and the howl of the blizzard for its sole companion. Not only must this blind and awful trail be conquered, with possible disaster in every mile and a sure heritage of suffering and pain in every step, but food sufficient to last 300 men for over four months had to be taken over those desolate wastes.

The Bear, though only three weeks back from a six months’ cruise in Arctic waters, was ordered back to the desperate attempt. There was no need to ask for volunteers in the Revenue Cutter Service. Every man in the service, from the most recently enlisted man to the Captain Commandant would have stepped forward. As it was, the expedition contained three of the ablest and most vigorous men in the entire service. It was under the command of Lieutenant Jarvis, with Lieutenant Bertholf (now the Captain Commandant of the Coast Guard) as the second in command. Only one other white man, Surgeon Call, accompanied the expedition.

The Bear, under sail and steam, headed for the north. Every mile gained by sea meant a vast help to the expedition. Yet, when Cape Nome was still 85 miles distant, the little vessel ran into thick mush-ice. Beating around for clearer water the wind began to die down and the Bear was almost caught. Had she been frozen in then, ten miles to the east of Southeast Cape, the expedition would have been frustrated and the whalers left unrescued. It was a narrow escape and the commander of the Bear turned back to Cape Vancouver, and the next morning steamed to within five miles of a native village, not marked on any chart, but visible from the ship.

Minutes counted, and two boats were sent off to the shore. The settlement was found to be the village of Tununak, in which, by good fortune, was a half-breed trader, Alexis, who had dogs. On December 18th the overland expedition started, far south of Nome, with four sleds and forty-one dogs, nine dogs being harnessed to each of the sleds belonging to Alexis and fourteen to the heavy one from the ship. From Tununak they went to Ukogamute, and because a southeast wind had cleared away the ice from the shore, the party was compelled to climb a range of mountains between the two villages.

“Did you ever climb a mountain with a dog team?” queried Joey Blake. “Take my word, it’s some job. You’ve got to tackle a thing like that to get the heartbreak of it. It’s bad enough to have to run ahead of a dog team on the level, but in mountain country it’s something fierce.”

“Do you have to run ahead of the dogs?” Eric said in surprise. “What for? To break a trail?”

“Sure. A dog team can trot faster than a man can walk but not as fast as he can run. So a fellow’s got to run in the deep snow a hundred yards or so, then walk, then run, an’ so on. I met Alexis a year or two after the expedition an’ he told me all his troubles. They got to the top of the mountain, he said, in the midst of a furious snowstorm. It was so thick that the natives could not decide on the road an’ it was impossible to stay up on the crest without freezin’ to death. At last they decided to chance it. The side of the mountain was so steep that the dogs couldn’t keep up with the sleds an’ there was nothing to do but toboggan to the bottom of the hill.

“What fun,” exclaimed Eric.

“Ye-es,” the other said dubiously, “but it was a two-thousand-foot slide! They wound small chains around the runners of the sleds to try an’ check their speed a little, an’ hoping that they wouldn’t hit anything, let ’em go. Just as the first sled had begun slidin’, Alexis told me he called out that he thought they were a little too much to the north an’ all the sleds would go off a precipice into the sea. It was too late to stop, then. It took three hours to climb one side of the mountain, an’ less than three minutes to go down the other side.

“From there they went straight along the coast to Kiyilieugamute, where they had reckoned on gettin’ dogs to replace the young dogs on the ‘scratch teams’ Alexis had made up. All the dogs had gone on a trip for fish an’ the natives said it would be two days before they arrived. So Jarvis went ahead with the two good teams, leavin’ Bertholf to follow as soon as the native dogs arrived. Four days of hard traveling, stoppin’ at Akoolukpugamute, Chukwoktulieugamute, Kogerchtehmute, and Chukwoktulik brought ’em to the Yukon at the old Russian trading post of Andreavski.

“On the Yukon, I guess they made good time. You know, in the fall, when there are sou’westerly gales in the Bering Sea, the water rises in the lower Yukon, an’ as it freezes quickly, there may be a trail of smooth glare ice for miles. Then there’s prime traveling. But, often as not, the water flows back again before the ice is thick enough to travel on. It makes a thin shell, an’ dogs, sleds an’ everybody goes through an’ brings up on the solid ice below.

“As a matter of fact, it put Jarvis’ teams down an’ out; most of his dogs were bleeding at every step from ice-cuts in the cushions of their feet. He had trouble with the natives, too. Two of them got violent colds, an’ they were no use for traveling.”

“Seems queer to think of Eskimos catching cold,” said Eric; “now if it had been Lieutenant Jarvis, I wouldn’t have been surprised.”

“There’s nothing as tough as a white man,” said the whaler. “If you look up stories of explorers you’ll always find it’s the natives that get used up first.”

“Why, do you suppose?”

“A white man is more used to putting out energy. After all, natives are lazy, an’ a white man on an exploring expedition or a rescue is pushing natives faster than they have ever been used to going.”

“He’s taking the same trouble himself!” objected the boy.

“Sure, he is. But then, in one way or another, he’s pushing all the time. Jarvis told me that the next two or three days were bad. Off Point Romanoff the ice-crush was piled high an’ they had to lift the sleds over the hummocks for two days on end. A snowstorm came up in the middle of it, an’ I guess it was touch and go until they made Pikmiktallik, nine miles further on. Next day, late in the afternoon, they drove into St. Michael’s, havin’ covered three hundred and seventy-five miles in twenty-one days, with only one day’s rest.

“The story of how Jarvis got teams at St. Michael’s and Unalaklik is a yarn all by itself. Anyway, he got ’em, and on January fifth left Unalaklik, by a mountainous trail along the shore. A wild bit of road delayed ’em before they reached Norton’s Bay. On the further shore, I guess they had real trouble. Jarvis told me and the phrase has stuck in my mind ever since that the ice looked like a cubist picture. I’ve seen stuff like that, but I never had to travel over it.”

“It sounds awful,” said Eric.

“It’s worse than that,” was the reply. “I don’t want any of that sort of travel in my dish, thanks. Well, to go on. It was right there that Jarvis’ an’ Bertholf’s trail divided. Orders had been left at Unalaklik for Bertholf to go on an’ meet Jarvis at Cape Blossom, on the north side of Kotzebue Sound, with a thousand pounds of provisions.”

“How could he catch up with Jarvis with a load like that,” queried the boy, “when the first part of the expedition was traveling light?”

“Jarvis had to make a nine-hundred-mile roundabout, clear the way round the Seward Peninsula,” explained the whaler.

“What for?”

“To get the reindeer.”

“That’s right,” said Eric. “I forgot about the reindeer.”

“They’re the whole story,” the other reminded him. “They couldn’t have got food up to us with dogs, nohow. It would have taken an army of dogs.”

“I don’t see why?”

“You’ve got to feed dogs,” was the answer. “Two hundred an’ fifty pounds is a good weight for a dog team an’ half of that is dog-feed. The food for the humans in the party is nigh another fifty pound. So, you see, a dog team on a long journey will only get in with about a hundred pounds. At the rate of a pound a day a man for four months, it would take all of five hundred dog teams of ten dogs each to get the stuff up there! An’ what would you do with the five thousand dogs when you got ’em up there?

“No, winter travel in Alaska’s got to be by reindeer. You mayn’t know it, but it’s the U. S. Government that has made the Eskimos happy. There’s one man, Sheldon Jackson, of the Bureau of Education, who’s brought more peace and happiness to a larger number of people than ’most any man I know.”

“How? By introducing reindeer?”

“Just that,” the whaler answered. “The Eskimo would have been wiped off the face of the earth but for that one man’s work. He started the reindeer idea, he brought in a few himself, he got the Government interested an’ now reindeer are the backbone of northern Alaska. Our steam whalers had driven the whales an’ the walrus an’ the seal so far north that the Eskimo couldn’t reach them. They were slowly starvin’ to death by hundreds when Uncle Sam stepped in. And your captain commandant, that’s Bertholf, who I’m telling you about now, he did a lot for Alaska when he brought in the bigger breed, the Tunguse reindeer, which are comin’ to be the real beasts o’ burden here in the north. It was knowin’ what could be done with reindeer that sent Jarvis round to Point Rodney and Cape Prince of Wales to get the herds together an’ start ’em north.”

“I thought,” said Eric, wrinkling up his forehead, “there was a herd nearer than that. How about the Teller Station at Port Clarence? Isn’t that a reindeer layout?”

“It is,” said the old whaler, “but distress among the miners in the Upper Yukon had been reported earlier, an’ that herd had been started off for there. Jarvis figured on rounding up Artisarlook’s herd at Point Rodney, and the Government herd under C. M. Lopp at Cape Prince of Wales, an’ arrangin’ to drive ’em to Point Barrow. Then, by pickin’ up Bertholf, who was to cut straight across the Seward Peninsula with the dog-teams and the provisions, he would be sure of having enough supplies to push north.

“Then Jarvis struck snow-drifts! The guides traveled with snowshoes an’ did their best to make a trail, Jarvis doing a big share o’ the work. The runners of the sleds went clear down an’ the dogs sank nearly out of sight in their struggles to move ’em. The men had to go backwards and forwards a dozen times in front of the sled, stamping it down hard. Then the dogs would drag it ten feet or so an’ they’d have to pound the snow again. There’s something that’s exhaustin’. Even the dogs played out an’ simply lay down in the snow, refusin’ to go any farther.”

“Without any shelter?”

“Huskies don’t need any shelter. They’re tough brutes so far as weather is concerned. Durin’ the coldest winter weather in the worst blizzards they’ll curl up anywhere on the snow an’ sleep, an’ when the snow has drifted over ’em, get up, shake themselves, an’ lie down in the same place again for another sleep.”

“They scrap a lot, too, don’t they?”

“At feedin’ time. When bein’ fed they are like wild animals an’ snarl an’ bite each other, keepin’ up one continual fight until everything is eaten. It’s more than one man’s job with a club to keep ’em quiet enough for all the dogs to get their share. But when all the grub is done with, they’ll get moderately quiet again.

“At Golovin Bay, Jarvis found the Teller reindeer herd under Dr. Kettleson. He was on his way to St. Michael for the Upper Yukon, same as I told you, an’ had started from Port Clarence three weeks before but had been stopped by the deep snow. So Jarvis sent back the dog teams to Bertholf, who was waiting for them at Unalaklik, and started out with reindeer teams.”

“How do reindeer travel?” queried the boy.

“All right, in winter, but they’re irregular,” the other replied. “Every one has got to be ready in the morning for the start, for the instant the head team moves, all the deer are off with a jump, full gallop. For half an hour or so they go like an express train, then they sober down to a more steady rate of speed, an’ finally, when they are tired, they’ll drop into a walk. Jarvis’ deer played him a nasty trick on this trip.”

“What was that?” asked the boy.

“It was on the way to Point Rodney. It was blowing a living gale an’ the snow was blinding. In the dark Jarvis’ deer wandered from the trail, got entangled in a lot of driftwood on the beach, which was half covered over with snow, took fright, an’ finally wound up by running the sled full speed agin a stump, breakin’ the harness, draggin’ the line out of Jarvis’ hand an’ disappearin’ in the darkness an’ the flying snow. Luckily Jarvis knew enough not to try and follow him. He stayed right there.”

“All night?” queried the boy.

“Luckily, he didn’t have to,” the other answered. “Two hours later, a search party found him. They dug a hole in the snow an’ camped right there.

“The next day they only made five miles. The storm was so bad that the man breakin’ trail couldn’t stand up an’ had to crawl on his hands and knees. Even the reindeer wouldn’t travel in a straight line, wantin’ to turn their tails to the blast. This would have taken the party straight out to sea over the ice. After three days’ delay, Jarvis insisted on travel, an’ he nearly had a mutiny on his hands. But he put it through. He’s one of the kind of men that always keeps on going!

“Then came the time for diplomacy. Jarvis had to persuade ‘Charlie’ Artisarlook, just on his say-so, to give up his whole herd, his entire wealth, promisin’ that the same number of deer should be returned. As a small village had grown up around this herd of Artisarlook’s which made him quite the most prominent member of his race for miles around an’ as they depended entirely for their food and clothing on the reindeer herd, it was like askin’ a city to empty its houses of everything for the sake of men they’d never even seen. I think it says a lot for the Eskimos that they agreed.”

“It’s bully!”

“That’s me, too. It’s something to give up every penny you own merely on a promise that it will be returned, to leave your wife, family an’ neighbors starving, an’ go eight hundred miles from home in an Arctic winter over a terrible road to help a party of white men in distress.

“When Artisarlook agreed, Jarvis and he went on ahead, leaving Surgeon Call to follow with the herd to Cape Prince of Wales. This, Jarvis told me, was one of the worst bits of road on the entire trip. Here’s what Jarvis said himself about it:

“’As I remember it, the thermometer was over thirty below zero and there was a tidy blizzard blowing when we started for Cape Prince of Wales. The going was rough beyond words. In the afternoon, suddenly Artisarlook wanted to camp, but I thought he was trying to work on my fears, so I made him go on. But the boy was right, for shortly after it got dark we struck the bluffs near Cape York and our road was over the ice crushes that lined the shore.

“’I have never seen such a road. Artisarlook went ahead to try and pick out the way, if indeed it could be called a way, which was nothing but blocks of ice heaped in confusion and disorder. I stayed behind to manage the heavy sled which was continually capsizing in the rough ice. By eight o’clock I was done out and quite willing to camp. But this time Artisarlook would not stop. It was too cold to camp on the ice without shelter or wood the ice we were on was in danger of breaking away from the bluffs at any minute, and then it might be the end of us. We must get on beyond the line of bluffs before stopping.

“’To make matters worse I stepped through a crack in the ice into the water, and, almost instantaneously, my leg to the knee was a mass of ice. I was now compelled to go on to some place where the foot-gear could be dried. As though in a dream, suffering the most horrible tortures of fatigue, we pushed on dispiritedly until midnight, when we came to a small hut about ten by twelve, in which fifteen people were already sleeping. It was the most horrible place I have ever been in, but, at the same time, I was never so happy to be under a roof before. Though I had eaten nothing all day, I was too tired to do more than to crawl into my sleeping-bag and sleep.

“’The blizzard raged as fiercely outside as on the day before, but I could not stay in that pestilential and filthy hut. Even Artisarlook and an Eskimo is not over-particular found difficulty in eating his breakfast. For my part I could not breathe. The air was horrible and it was refreshing to get outside and to be going through the storm and over the rough ice. Fortunately there was another village about ten miles further on and we stopped there and had a good meal to fortify ourselves against the battle around the mountains of the Cape York.

“’At last I had struck the worst road in the world. All the tremendous pressure of the Polar Seas forcing the ice to the southward was checked by the land masses of Siberia and Alaska. The ice, twisted and broken, crushed and mangled, piled in a welter of frozen confusion along the shore. Darkness set in before we came to the worst of it, and a faint moon gave little light for such a road. For fifteen miles there was not ten feet of level ground. Though the temperature was thirty below zero, Artisarlook and I were wet to the skin with perspiration from the violence of the work. We would have to get under the heavy sled and lift it to the top of an ice hummock sometimes as high as our shoulders or even higher and then ease it down on the other side. Three times out of four it would capsize.

“’It was a continuous jumble of dogs, sleds, men and ice particularly ice and it would be hard to tell which suffered most, men or dogs. Once in helping the sled over a bad place, I was thrown nearly nine feet down a slide, landing on the back of my head with the sled on me. Our sleds were racked and broken, our dogs played out and we ourselves scarce able to move when we finally reached Mr. Lopp’s house at the Cape.’”

“Glorious!” cried Eric, his eyes shining; “they won through!”

“Yes, they got through all right,” the whaler answered. “They still had a terrible journey ahead of them, but success was sure. Two or three days later Dr. Call reported with Artisarlook’s herd. Lopp, of course, was an expert in handling deer an’, besides, knew the country well. With sleds and over four hundred reindeer, equipped in every way except for provisions, Jarvis started for the north. He met Bertholf at the appointed meeting-place, Bertholf having done miracles in crossing the divide with the provisions.

“Meantime Lopp took a chance with the deer that no one less experienced in local conditions dared ha’ done. In the teeth of a blizzard he forced the deer herd over the ice of Kotzebue Sound, miles away from land. Though he himself was badly frostbitten, an’ though every one of the herders arrived on the further shore with severe frost-bites, the crossing was achieved, savin’ several weeks o’ time.

“So, with the deer comin’ over the mountains, where they could find moss, an’ with the Coast Guard men coming up the coast in the dog teams Bertholf had brought, rescue came up to us on Point Barrow.

“I’ve seen some strange sights in my time an’ I’ve lived all my life with men who sported with death daily. But I’ve never seen a stranger sight than strong men creepin’ out of the snow-banked hovels where they’d been for four long months, half-starved and three-quarters sick, to actually feel Jarvis to make sure that he was real.

“Many and many a man reckoned it was delirium to think that help had come. It seemed beyond belief. An’ when Jarvis told ’em that four hundred reindeer were only a day’s journey away, an’ that there was fresh meat enough for all old seadogs that hadn’t had any sort of feeling for years, just broke down and cried like children.

“Then, while the excitement was at its height, and everybody was asking questions at the same time, a grizzled old whaler, who had been whalin’ for half a century an’ more, I guess, half-blind with scurvy, crept forward and laid his hand on Jarvis’ shoulder.

“‘Boys,’ he said in a quavering voice, ’this ain’t just one man, it’s the whole United States.’”