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Authors: Willard Price

14 Arctic Adventure

BOOK: 14 Arctic Adventure
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Arctic Adventure

By Willard Price

Chapter 1
Polar Bear

Roger sat down on a snowbank. At least he thought it was a snowbank.

He was tired. He had been helping his big brother, Hal, build an igloo.

An igloo was a house made of blocks of snow. This one was about twelve feet in diameter and rounded off on the top. It was nine feet high. That was high enough even for Hal, who was six feet tall.

Roger shivered. ‘It’s as cold as Greenland,’ he called.

He had often heard people say that, even in New York. Why didn’t they say ‘cold as Alaska’ or ‘cold as Siberia’? He asked Hal about it.

‘Because Greenland is about the coldest spot on earth,’ Hal said. ‘It’s the closest to the North Pole. Besides it wears a cap of ice two miles thick. That’s why you’re shivering right now. Because you’re in Greenland.’

‘Why did Dad send us here when there are so many nice warm places to go to?’

‘Because a famous animal collector like Dad has to get the animals that zoos want to buy. And zoos have been asking for the wonderful animals that live up here — the polar bear, walrus, big bearded seal, sea lion, musk-ox, narwhal, wild reindeer, -caribou, humpback whale, sea otter, Greenland shark …’

‘Hey, what’s going on?’ Roger yelled. ‘Is it an earthquake?’

The snow beneath him was shaking violently. It had come alive. There was a deep growl. Then the head of a polar bear came up. The beast was angry because his sleep had been disturbed. With a mighty heave the great body rose, tossing Roger ten feet away head first into a drift.

He pulled himself loose and began to run. The great bear came lumbering after him. The boy staggered in the deep snow. He had once been chased by a grizzly in Canada. But this creature was big enough and strong enough to eat a grizzly.

 

Roger made for home as fast as his legs could carry him. Home was the igloo. Hal could have killed the animal if he had had a rifle. But he and his brother were ‘bring ‘em back alive’ men. A dead bear would be of no use to a zoo.

Roger plunged into the igloo. The great white bear followed him. Boy and bear were alone hi the snow house.

The unwelcome guest rose on his hind feet to attack this impudent human. That was the bear’s mistake. Standing up he was ten feet tall. Since the roof was only nine feet high, the enormous head crashed through the roof.

What a strange sight — an igloo topped by the head of a polar bear. But Hal and Roger had built well. Not well enough to prevent the monster from going through the roof, but well enough to catch the bear between the icy blocks so he could not get down to pull that rascal, Roger, to pieces.

Hal saw his opportunity. He ran into the igloo, snatched up a piece of rope, and tied the animal’s hind feet together. The rope was strong with a wire running through it. The bear roared furiously and danced a fandango to loosen the rope, but it was no use.

The front feet dangled inside and Hal promptly gave them the same treatment—or tried to. The trouble was that the forefeet were the bear’s chief weapons, so strong that one swat of a powerful paw would send Hal to heaven and he wasn’t ready to go there—yet. So Hal dodged the flailing feet. Luckily the big bear, with his head out in space, could not see where Hal was at any moment so his hammer blows failed to reach their mark. Hal dodged here and there —one wrong dodge and he would go to join his ancestors.

Hal finally got a loop over one of the bear’s front legs. Then it was not too difficult to run the rope over the other leg and draw them together under a tight knot.

In the meantime Roger had been speeding to other igloos to get help, since two boys could not handle this thousand-pound monster alone.

An Eskimo is always willing to help, and it was only a matter of minutes before a dozen men were on hand. They weren’t sure what they were supposed to do. One carried a big gun, and another came with bow and arrow. Hal, not proficient in the Eskimo language, could not tell them that the bear was not to be killed.

A handsome young man stepped forward and said, ‘I speak English. What do you want?’

‘We want’, Hal said, ‘to take this bear alive and put him in a zoo.’

‘A zoo? What is a zoo?’

‘A place where wild animals are cared for and everybody can watch them.’

‘Yes. Very good,’ said the stranger. He turned to the men with the gun and the bow and arrow. He seemed to be telling them that this was no killing job.

‘What is your name?’ Hal asked.

The young man was embarrassed. ‘No Eskimo tells his name,’ he said.

‘Why not?’

‘Because to an Eskimo his name is like his soul. It is a spirit. And the spirit is angry if the man it lives with tells his name. Someone else can tell you. That is all right.’

 

He spoke to the man next to him, who told Hal the name that its owner did not dare to speak. Their helper’s name was Olrik.

Hal said, ‘Glad to know you, Olrik.’ And he clasped Olrik’s hand. ‘How old are you? Or is that another secret?’

‘No secret. I’m twenty. And you?’

‘The same,’ Hal replied.

Roger had a question. ‘What’s the Eskimo name for polar bear?’

‘Nanook.’

Hal said, ‘I have a notion that all of us including the bear are going to get along well together.’

Olrik gave him a warm smile. Already they were friends.

‘Now, about this bear,’ said Olrik, ‘have you a piece of cloth?’

Hal didn’t quite see how one could tackle a polar bear with a piece of cloth. But he went into the igloo and came out with a scarf.

Olrik, hoisted to the roof by the men, tied the scarf tightly around the bear’s head, completely covering his eyes.

It had a magic effect. The giant was conquered. He stopped twisting, squirming and roaring, and was as quiet as a lamb.

Then one of the cages that the boys had brought from home was placed directly in front of the entrance to the snow house.

An axe was used to break the blocks that held the bear captive. Nanook dropped to the floor of the snow house. With his legs tied and his eyes covered he could only hunch about blindly. But he presently found the outlet and stumbled into the cage. The door was promptly closed behind him.

‘He’s tired after all his struggles,’ said Olrik. ‘Polar bears sleep a lot. When he’s asleep you can come in and take the cloth off his eyes and the ropes from his feet. But be very careful. If he wakes he’ll be after you like a stroke of lightning. Perhaps you’d let me do it.’

‘No, I’ll take care of it,’ Hal said.

‘I will,’ chimed in Roger. ‘After all, he’s sort of my bear. I sat on him.’

Hal laughed. ‘So you think sitting on him gave you a special privilege? No, the folks back home would never forgive me if I came home alone.’

But when both bear and Hal were sound asleep, Roger slipped cautiously into the cage, removed the blindfold and untied the bear’s feet. The bear woke, but there was no stroke of lightning. Polar bears are intelligent. This one was intelligent enough to know that somebody was doing him a good turn.

He rolled over and went to sleep again.

Chapter 2
This Strange Greenland

‘Why do they call it Greenland?’ Roger wanted to know.

‘Perhaps because it isn’t green,’ Hal answered.

‘That’s no answer,’ Roger objected.

‘Yes it is. The Danes came and made it a part of Denmark. They wanted other people to come and live here. It’s the largest island in the world. Almost 1,700 miles long and 800 wide. But it’s no good without people. People wouldn’t come if they called it Drearyland or Deadland or No-Man’s Land. So they called it Greenland.’

‘But that was a lie.’

‘Not exactly. It’s true that most of the island is covered with ice. And what ice! Eleven thousand feet thick. If you could go down a mile into it you would find ice a thousand years old. It just never melts — except that it gets a little slushy on top in summer. It’s growing thicker all the time. Come back ten thousand years from now and you’ll find it a towering mountain of ice.’

‘Thanks. But I don’t intend to come back. I still think it should have been called No-Man’s Land. Why Greenland?’

‘Because’, Hal replied, ‘there’s a broad band of green from fifty to a hundred miles wide all the way up the west coast. There are no forests. Nothing grows more than ten feet high. But there are dwarf birches, alders, mosses, saxifrages, poppies, grass, and away up here where we are, not far from the North Pole, I’ve heard that they can grow broccoli, turnips, lettuce, radishes and gardens of flowers.’

‘I’ll believe it when I see it,’ grunted Roger. ‘Why should these things grow on the west coast and nowhere else? It doesn’t make sense.’

‘They grow because a branch of the Gulf Stream flows along this coast. It brings warm water from the Gulf of Mexico. Of course it’s not so warm when it gets here. It may be about zero. But that’s not so bad as on the savage east coast, where it can be terribly cold. So that’s why most of the people live here, and only a few on the east coast. You might almost call that No-Man’s Land.’

Roger had to admit it. Big brother had an answer to everything. If he, Roger, ever learned half as much he’d be a wise man.

‘Another thing gripes me,’ Roger said. ‘Why is it so dark?’

‘Because this is still winter. All winter there is no sun. All summer the sun shines all the time, night and day. It never goes up in the sky. It stays down near the horizon. If you didn’t have a watch, you would never know whether it was noon or midnight.’

‘But I have a watch.’

‘Even so, it’s not easy. Suppose your watch says ten o’clock. Well, which is it —ten in the morning or ten at night?’

Roger remarked, ‘I never heard of anything so topsy-turvy. If this is winter, why isn’t it pitch black? It’s only a dark grey.’

‘That’s because the sun is just out of sight, but it’s close to rising. In a few days we’ll have the sun. And a couple of weeks later you’ll be sick of it —shining all the time when you want to sleep.’

Roger laughed. Even this bad news couldn’t get him down.

‘There’s one good thing,’ he said. ‘My polar bear. I’m going to feed him now. I don’t know whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner —anyhow, I bet he’s always hungry.’

Chapter 3
Roger and the Giants

Roger got along well with animals. Perhaps it was because he liked them, or perhaps because he was not afraid of them. Maybe he was too young—fifteen—for any beast to be afraid of him.

His polar bear, Nanook, stood five feet high at the shoulder if standing on all four feet. Roger was five feet tall. So the two were a match.

A few gulps by his four-legged friend and there would be no Roger. If he had shown fear that might have been the end of him.

But he spoke gently. And he petted the monster as if he were a pussy cat. His Majesty had never been so well cared for in his life. His mother bear had not petted him, and his father had threatened to eat him. This boy fed him every two days. Previously he had often been forced to go without food for a week or two.

Nanook had never learned the Eskimo language or English. But he understood the tone of a voice. Roger’s voice flowed over him softly and he replied with the best imitation of a purr that he could manage.

One day Roger told his brother, ‘I’m going to let him out.’

‘If you do he’ll take off like a blue streak.’

Roger respected his brother’s opinions. But he also respected his great bear. He very quietly opened the cage door. Nanook did not move. Roger got behind the half-ton of bear and pushed. He might as well have tried to push down a stone wall.

The bear looked back at him with big eyes that seemed to say, ‘What’s on your mind, kiddo?’

Roger could think of only one other way to move this mountain of flesh and bone. Perhaps it would work. Perhaps it wouldn’t. He walked out of the cage door and stood twenty feet away. Then he turned and spoke. Again, the tone of his voice was easy to understand.

The great Nanook stood still for five minutes, ten, fifteen. Roger was patient. Then the King of Greenland Beasts walked out and joined his friend.

From that time on the cage door was left open. The bear went in to eat or sleep. Sleeping was good there because the floor had been covered with thick caribou hides. That was better than sleeping in the snow with rocks pushing up against your ribs.

The young Eskimo, Olrik, came to tell them that Whiskers had been seen offshore. Whiskers was the mighty bearded seal. The Eskimos called him muk-luk.

Hal had heard much about the mukluk. Hal’s father, John Hunt, on his animal farm near New York, had said, ‘Get all the seals you can. Especially the giant bearded seal. It’s twelve feet long and on average it weighs 800 pounds. An extra, large one weighs twice that. Look out for the jaws. They could bite your head off. It pokes its head out of an ice hole to breathe. So do all the other seals. The difference is that you can get hold of the smaller seals and pull them out.’

‘But you could never pull an 800-pound seal up through a six-inch hole,’ said Roger. ‘So how do you get it?’

‘Go underwater. Take scuba tanks and Neoprene wet suits. The water will be cold but Neoprene will keep you warm,’ said Hal.

BOOK: 14 Arctic Adventure
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