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THE EXPLORER'S RETURN TO CIVILIZATION.
"I planted the stars and stripes in the ice field, and my heart grew warm when I saw it wave in the wind."
These were Dr. Cook's words when, on September 4, he arrived at Copenhagen, Denmark, to receive the greeting of a vast crowd and to be congratulated by the king of that nation.
"Let the skeptics who disbelieve my story go to the north pole. There they will find a small brass tube which I buried under the flag."
This was what he said when he learned that the truth of his statements had been questioned. A storm of discussion, of sneers, and of disbelief was raging in every nation. Scientists were wagging their heads. People were divided into camps. And in the Danish capital the sun-browned hero of the north calmly received callers and told them further incidents of his trip.
"On April 21," he said, "we looked for the sun. As soon as we got it I made several observations. Great joy came over us. We were only sixteen miles from the desired spot. I said to myself, 'Bully for Frederick.' Then we went on.
"The last stretch was the easiest I ever made in my life, although I had still to make two observations and the ice was broken. But my spirits were high and I shouted like a boy. The Eskimos looked at one another surprised at my gaiety. They did not share my joy.
"I felt that I ought to be there. I made my last observation and found that I was standing on the pole.
"There is nothing to see there but ice; no water, only ice. There were more holes there than at the eighty-seventh degree, which shows there is more movement and drift there; but this and other observations I made afterwards, when I got more settled. I stopped two days at the pole, and I assure you, it wasn't easy to say good-by to the spot.
AT THE SCOFFERS.
"As I was sitting at the pole I could not help smiling at the people who on my return would call the whole expedition a humbug. I was sure the people would say that I had bought my two witnesses and that my notebook with my daily observations had been manufactured on board this ship.
"The only thing I can put up against this is what the York Eskimos have told Knud Rasmussen. That tube which I buried under the flag contains a short statement about my trip. I couldn't leave my visiting card, because I didn't happen to have one with me.
"Perhaps I should have staid there longer had it not begun to freeze us in our idleness. The Eskimos were uneasy and the dogs howled fearfully. On April 23, therefore, I again turned my nose southward, which was much easier, as you cannot turn your nose in any other direction when you stand at the pole."
Describing the return journey, Dr. Cook said:
"Fortune now smiled. We made twenty miles a day until we reached the ominous eighty-seventh degree. Then I felt the ice moving eastward, carrying us with it. A terrible fog swept around us and kept us there for three weeks. We got no farther than the eighty-fourth degree. Then began a heavy walk towards Heibergsland and another three weeks of fog. When that cleared I saw we had drifted southwest of Ringnesland, where we found open water and tower high screw ice, which stopped our way eastward.
"We now began to suffer hunger. Our provisions were becoming exhausted and we were unable to find depots. We entered Ringnesland and on June 20 found the first animals on our return — bear and seal. We shot a bear.
"And now our goal was the whalers at Lancaster Sound. We followed the drift ice to the south. Eighty miles a day, but were stopped by pack ice in Wellington Channel, which was impassable either by boat or sledge. Here was lots of game, but we did not dare shoot it. We had taken only a hundred bullets to the pole and now only fifteen were left. We went into Jones Sound after walrus and found open calm water. We met polar wolves, with which some of our dogs made friends and ran away.
"Now we spent day and night in an open boat ten miles from shore. This lasted for two months, while storms often raged over our head. At last we got ashore again, but we had no fuel and were obliged to eat birds raw. One day we found fuel, and what a feast we had. But we suffered much hunger during this period. One night a bear came and stole our food. We had many fights with musk oxen, which attacked us. Our best weapon against them was the lasso.
"Two or three days we had nothing to eat. Then, in a crevice of the ice, we caught sight of several walruses. I had only a few cartridges left, I crept along the ice on my stomach, approaching the animals slowly, so as not to scare them. I expended all my cartridges and as a result secured two of the walruses. Our lives were saved."
It was after describing these hardships that the haggard traveler, his hair matted and long and his eyes hollow with suffering, cried, in a burst of joy at beholding the faces of white men once more:
"I am the happiest man alive. Tell the whole world I thank God I am back."
"Rumors about our insufficient equipment were all false," said he. "No expense had been spared to provide an expedition for every contingency. To show you we prepared for every emergency, let me explain but one phase of our equipment. When the yacht was loaded all were promised a delightful cruise, with study and recreation.
"When we arrived at Smith's Sound, the limits of navigation and the limits of man's habitation, it was found that many of the best families had gathered at Anvolok for the winter bear hunt. This summer chase had been very successful. Great catches of meat had been gathered; more than one hundred dogs voiced the Eskimo prosperity. With abundant supplies taken aboard there, we had the nucleus for a polar expedition.
"Tins were secured and everything was prepared against humidity. Boxes, which later made excellent building material, were taken along. With these boxes we built a house and at the end of the first day we slept under our own roof comfortably sheltered from the storm.
"Now I cannot give you but a general outline of our journey. We had many days and weeks of suffering. The outcome of the venture seems to be sufficient reward for the expended energy. The art of Arctic sledging has been advanced; a new highway with an interesting strip of animated nature has been examined. Big game haunts have been located which will extend the Eskimo horizon and delight the sportsman.
"The boreal center has been pierced, new land has been discovered, and if we allow a horizon about fifteen miles to each side of our course a triangle of about thirty thousand square miles has been cut out of the Arctic blank.
In relating further incidents of his expedition, when there remained but two faithful Eskimos as an escort as he plunged over the vast extent of polar seas, Dr. Cook gave another version of the final dash. On approaching the pole, he said, the icy plain took on animated motion, as if rotating on an invisible pivot.
"A great fissure then opened up behind," he added, "and it seemed as if we were isolated from the world. My two Eskimos threw themselves at my feet and, bursting into tears, refused to continue either one way or another, so paralyzed with fear were they. Nevertheless, I calmed them and we resumed our journey.
"You ask my impression on reaching the pole. Let me confess I was disappointed. Man is a child, dreaming of prodigies. I had reached the pole and now at a moment when I should have been thrilled with pride and joy, I was invaded with a sudden fear of the dangers and sufferings of the return."
The most northerly land he saw was between 84 and 86 degrees. There were two bodies of land at this point east of his route. One was about 1,000 feet high. He could not say whether they were islands or not, as he was not equipped to make a detour to explore them.
Dr. Cook said he was strongly of the opinion that no white man could reach the pole unless he was able to wear the same clothes, eat the same food and live in all ways just as do the Eskimos. He said he owed his success largely to choice of a route where game was more plentiful on the routes formerly attempted, and to the fact that he traveled in winter.
Although the lowest temperature experienced was 83 degrees below zero, the explorer said he did not feel the cold nearly so much then as in higher temperatures when the wind was blowing.
For a long time the explorer lived on musk oxen; he wore the fur of these animals, ate their meat and used their fat to burn in lamps.
By way of contrast with Dr. Cook's description of polar scenes is given this word picture by one of his predecessors:
"The air was warm, almost as a summer's night at home, and yet there were the icebergs and the bleak mountains, with which the fancy, in this land of green hills and waving forests, can associate nothing but cold repulsiveness. The sky was bright and soft, and strangely inspiring as the skies of Italy. The bergs had wholly lost their chilly aspect, and glittering in the blaze of the brilliant heavens, seemed in the distance like masses of burnished metal or solid flame. Nearer at hand, they were huge blocks of Parian marble, inlaid with mammoth gems of pearl and opal. One in particular exhibited the perfection of the grand. Its form was not unlike that of the Colosseum, and it lay so far away that half its height was buried beneath the line of the blood-red waters. The sun, slowly rolling along the horizon, passed behind it, and it seemed as if the old Roman ruin had suddenly taken fire and were in flames.
For further comparison, take this passage, from Capt. McClure's account of his discovery of the northwest passage in 1850:
"I cannot describe my feelings. Can it be possible that this water communicates with Barrow's Strait, and shall prove to be the long-sought northwest passage? Can it be that so humble a creature as I am will be permitted to perform what has baffled the talented and wise for hundreds of years? But all praise be ascribed unto Him who hath conducted us so far in safety. His ways are not our ways: nor the means that He uses to accomplish His ends within our comprehension. The wisdom of the world is foolishness with Him."