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Among the Esquimaux; or, Adventures under the Arctic Circle By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 8431

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

The good ship "Nautilus" had completed the greater part of her voyage from London to her far-off destination, deep in the recesses of British America. This was York Factory, one of the chief posts of the Hudson Bay Company.

Among the numerous streams flowing into Hudson Bay, from the frozen regions of the north, is the Nelson River. Near the mouth of this and of the Hayes River was erected, many years ago, Fort York, or York Factory. The post is not a factory in the ordinary meaning of the word, being simply the headquarters of the factors or dealers in furs for that vast monopoly whose agents have scoured the dismal regions to the north of the Saskatchewan, in the land of Assiniboine, along the mighty Yukon and beyond the Arctic Circle, in quest of the fur-bearing animals, that are found only in their perfection in the coldest portions of the globe.

The buildings which form the fort are not attractive, but they are comfortable. They are not specially strong, for, though the structure has stood for a long time in a country which the aborigines make their home, and, though it is far removed from any human assistance, its wooden walls have never been pierced by a hostile bullet, and it is safe to say they never will be. Somehow or other, our brethren across the northern border have learned the art of getting along with the Indians without fighting them.

The voyageurs and trappers, returning from their journeys in canoes or on snow-shoes to the very heart of frozen America, first catch sight of the flag floating from the staff of York Factory, and they know that a warm welcome awaits them, because the peltries gathered amid the recesses of the frigid mountains and in the heart of the land of desolation are sure to find ready purchasers at the post, for the precious furs are eagerly sought for in the marts of the Old and of the New World.

It is a lonely life for the inhabitants of the fort, for it is only once a year that the ship of the company, after breasting the fierce storms and powerful currents of the Atlantic, sails up the great mouth of Baffin Bay, glides through Hudson Strait, and thence steals across the icy expanse of Hudson Bay to the little fort near the mouth of the Nelson.

You can understand how welcome the ship is, for it brings the only letters, papers, and news from home that can be received until another twelvemonth shall roll around. Such, as I have said, is the rule, though now and then what may be termed an extra ship makes that long, tempestuous voyage. Being unexpected, its coming is all the more joyful, for it is like the added week's holiday to the boy who has just made ready for the hard work and study of the school-room.

You know there has been considerable said and written about a railway to Hudson Bay, with the view of connection thence by ship to Europe. Impracticable as is the scheme, because of the ice which locks up navigation for months every year, it has had strong and ingenious advocates, and considerable money has been spent in the way of investigation. The plan has been abandoned, for the reasons I have named, and there is no likelihood that it will ever be attempted.

The "Nautilus" had what may be called a roving commission. It is easy to understand that so long as the ships of the Hudson Bay Company have specific duties to perform, and that the single vessel is simply ordered to take supplies to York Factory and bring back her cargo of peltries, little else can be expected from her. So the staunch "Nautilus" was fitted out, placed under the charge of the veteran navigator, Captain McAlpine, who had commanded more than one Arctic whaler, and sent on her westward voyage.

The ultimate destination of the "Nautilus" was York Factory, though she was to touch at several points, after calling at St. John, Newfoundland, one of which was the southern coast of Greenland, where are located the most famous cryolite mines in the world, belonging, like Greenland itself, to the Danish Government.

There is little to be told the reader about the "Nautilus" itself or the crew composing it, but it so happened that she had on board three parties, in whose experience and adventures I am sure you

will come to feel an interest. These three were Jack Cosgrove, a bluff, hearty sailor, about forty years of age; Rob Carrol, seventeen, and Fred Warburton, one year younger.

Rob was a lusty, vigorous young man, honest, courageous, often to rashness, the picture of athletic strength and activity, and one whom you could not help liking at the first glance. His father was a director in the honorable Hudson Bay Company, possessed considerable wealth, and Rob was the eldest of three sons.

Fred Warburton, while displaying many of the mental characteristics of his friend, was quite different physically. He was of much slighter build, not nearly so strong, was more quiet, inclined to study, but as warmly devoted to the splendid Rob as the latter was to him.

Fred was an orphan, without brother or sister, and in such straitened circumstances that it had become necessary for him to find some means of earning his daily bread. The warm-hearted Rob stated the case to his father, and said that if he didn't make a good opening for his chum he himself would die of a broken heart right on the spot.

"Not so bad as that, Rob," replied the genial gentleman, who was proud of his big, manly son; "I have heard so much from you of young Mr. Warburton that I have kept an eye on him for a year past."

"I may have told you a good deal about him," continued Rob, earnestly, "but not half as much as he deserves."

"He must be a paragon, indeed, but, from what I can learn, my son, he has applied himself so hard to his studies while at school that he ought to have a vacation before settling down to real hard work; what do you think about it, Robert?"

"A good idea, provided I take it with him," added the son, slyly.

"I see you are growing quite pale and are losing your appetite," continued the parent, with a grave face, which caused the youth to laugh outright at the pleasant irony.

"Yes," said the big boy, with the same gravity; "I suffer a great loss of appetite three or four times every day; in fact, I feel as though I couldn't eat another mouthful."

"I have observed that phenomenon, my son, but it never seems to attack you until the table has been well cleared of everything on it. Ah, my boy!" he added, tenderly, laying his hand on his head; "I am thankful that you are blessed with such fine health. Be assured there is nothing in this world that can take its place. With a conscience void of offense toward God and man, and a body that knows no ache nor pain, you can laugh at the so-called miseries of life; they will roll from you like water from a duck's back."

"But, father, have you thought of any way of giving Fred a vacation before he goes to work? You know he is as poor as he can be, and can't afford to do nothing and pay his expenses."

"The plan I have in mind," replied the father, leaning back in his chair and twirling his eyeglasses, "is this: next week the 'Nautilus,' one of the company's ships, will leave London for York Factory, which is a station deep in the heart of British America. She will touch at St. John, Greenland, and several other points on her way, and may stop several weeks or months at York Factory, according to circumstances. If it will suit your young friend to go with her, I will have him registered as one of our clerks, which will entitle him to a salary from the day the 'Nautilus' leaves the dock. The sea voyage will do him good, and when he returns, at the end of a year or less, he can settle down to hard work in our office in London. Of course, if Fred goes, you will have to stay at home."

Rob turned in dismay to his parent, but he observed a twitching at the corners of his mouth, and a sparkle of the fine blue eyes, which showed he was only teasing him.

"Ah, father, I understand you!" exclaimed the big boy, springing forward, throwing an arm about his neck and kissing him. "You wouldn't think of separating us."

"I suppose not. There! get along with you, and tell your friend to make ready to sail next week, his business being to look after you while away from home."

And that is how Rob Carrol and Fred Warburton came to be fellow-passengers on the ship "Nautilus" on the voyage to the far North.

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