Saying "I will go with thee To yon isles of mystery."
Always fond of the marvelous, I conceived a strong desire to go to the North Pole.
To obviate the dangers of the trip I invented a coach, that was also ship and balloon. Its silken canopy is inflatable to strong wings or wide sails. Its wheels are wide rimmed, to glide over snow, and paneled for water paddles. When it is finished and stored I select some friends to accompany me. My most personal loved ones. A volatile fair-haired gent—my husband, and a fair-haired little maiden friend, sit on the front seat. On the back seat are sitting my aged father and myself, our black eyes snapping with expectation.
Waving my hands to the few gathered to see us off, I say: "This undertaking is of desire to gain knowledge. Success, surmounting all obstacles will take us to the summit of the round earth, where, ages past as ages future will accord us first record."
Charley turns levers to start, as little Mae's mamma says: "You will be the Mascot, Mae Searles. But I do not think you will go very far," dubiously.
"You will change your mind, mamma, when I bring you home a little bear," makes us laugh.
"I will be glad to get you for my little bear."
"All the rest of us," I answered, "will take care of her."
"No doubt," she replies, " as far as you go in your odd rig," facetiously.
Our wheels turn slowly and silently. Then with a low tinkling of the strain, "Good Bye, Sweet Heart."
Mae had slipped her music box in one, wound to that harmony.
We are Californians and take the C. P. railroad for our eastward route, our wheels being grooved to fit the track. Speeding merrily, we give vent to our versions of coming events.
"Will there really be a pole, Auntie?'
"That is for us to find out, dear. I sometimes think there is a stem there covered with ice, that holds the earth to an apple planet tree."
"But the astronomers would have seen the tree," argues my father.
"They could not look so far. Only as far as the other star apples. May not the Milky Way be a branch?" I suggest.
We now become aware that a train is approaching on the single track that is hanging over the grade on the canyon side. We have no choice but to unfurl our wings and rise in the air, as the engineer wildly blows his whistle. Brushing the pine tree tops, we cross over the peak and seek the track on the other side of it, selecting an opening in a thicket for that purpose.
Finding it occupied by miners digging away, we hallo, when they look every way but up, as we land in their midst as though dropped from the sky. Their consternation is depicted in set jaws, as we give military salute and roll off.
This feat, so skillfully accomplished, denotes an expert hand in our motorman, who had been practicing faithfully, as a bird to fly, a swimmer or cyclist. As exhilarant to him as to us, and much lessened our distance, causes Mae to clap her hands and ask, "Why not fly all the time?"
"We want to save that force until we have more serious need," Charley replies. "I hope that poor boy who fell over the log while eating his breakfast and ran away, will recover and go back," makes us all laugh uproariously, when zipp! whir-r! over we go and lay on our side, the wheels still revolving.
The grade just here, level from the ground excavated by the miners, saved us from a serious mishap. To have rolled to the Canyon River would have damaged us greatly. As it is we cannot recover the track without that descent. So we twist our car upright (we are fastened in our seats), square it to the hill and down we go, losing our breath as we plump splashing into the water.
Our bonny wheels take paddle stroke and carry us, laughing over, and up the opposite bank to the track there, in its sinuous course.
"We laughed too quick," says father. "That friend at whom we laughed dropped that fork on the rail. I see him behind that boulder."
We leave the narrow-gauge track at its terminus without stopping, and have no other special accident in this vicinity.
The sun has chased frost and rose hues the higher snow peaks. Sierra Nevada (snowy) in its most interesting locality is around. Having come on the narrow-gauge railroad that connects tries two hugest and oldest of the mining cities with the broad-gauge of the Central Pacific, we are rounding out on the latter over the famous Cape Horn. Spring is in her first freshness. We sniff its fragrance, as we shall continue to do, following its pioneer march until our arrival at our destination to enjoy our summer at the pole, where it is most able and the only tolerable season. From apparently bare ground are flying the cyclamen banners of the Johnny-jump-up. The blue sage (sun dial) gives a lake of national colors, interspersed with the scarlet of the gorgeous fireweed, whose leaves and blossoms glow alike. Mae gleefully reaches to a dogwood lily (artist's favorite) then snatches a tuft of pink primrose that covers a bank and decorates its edge, while I cook the breakfast upon our steam heater. It is so late I make it serve for dinner also. Putting omelette and ripe strawberries beside the spinach and wild duck. As I finish Mae emits a long whistle, as a red-breasted linnet—the first—flies close to us to get our sweet food company then sings, to earn it and call its family.
The chapparal is faintly green. But the manzanita—sung of poets, or ought to be—in its immaculate green leaves adorning the winter, with red stems of eternal beauty, is covered with pink waxen sprays, as fragrant, as it is like, the lily of the valley. A momentary regret comes to leave in California this worshipped shrub. Its blossoms develop to little green-apple fruit, the size of peas, of edible flavor. Manzanita is the Indian name for little apple.
Charley appreciates my feelings as he calls out, "Take a last look," when father, to turn the tide, passes the muffins. Our glance down the mountain side falls upon a ranch, tiny in the depths; a maid of midget size throws invisible corn to mice-size chickens that flock around; Charley hurls deftly a cracker toward them that falls far short upon the mountain side. My spirits rise. To be here sings a grateful paean in my breast. To write it is not half the story.
I remember lovingly the sister cities left behind. Mining born and golden reared, with their Californian continual lawns, social halls and grand hotels for the floating population, this last much improved by the efforts of the Salvation Army, who have charmed the crowed to good behavior as they enjoy appreciatively their sweet-voiced pleadings.
I look out at the country, dotted with quartz-mill chimneys, with their heavy roar, as the heavy stamp crushes the granite to free the gold imprisoned in their bastile. To all we bid good-bye, as we turn Cape Horn, and though still among the clouds, we see and hear the rushing river below. As all streams here are given to chatty hilarity, I think once more of the one where oft I have walked on trailed path.
I muse on until in time we salute the desert plain, with its sage brush and dog cities. Stations are not hailed by us (as in time a small crowd awaits us). Silently we appear; like a shadow disappear.
Our seats are so constructed that we can stand and exercise, rock or lie down at ease. Partaking our meals without alighting, we have no occasion to lose time. Our casing open, banners flying. I have brought handwork and books. Father is carving on some queer rotary wheel that gives three separate motions. Charley and Mae, on the seat in front, amuse each other and call us to the special sights.
Chicago! We leisurely arrive and traverse silently, street after street, sadly impressed that the continuous magnificence in equality of buildings, found nowhere else, was dearly bought.
Citizens are crowding our path; obstructing our progress by their progressive ardor, for some one has telegraphed them of our intended exploration; to our unexpected aspirations, unheeding our desires, they hurrah lustily for our success.
Thanking them, we start on, grateful in our hearts for their sympathy. We do not stop in any other city, even passing over the suspension bridge quite silently, though lost in ecstasy at its cataract view.
Evading detention in New York, we whirl over the Brooklyn Bridge without minding the many curious gazers.
Arriving at Coney Island beach, though a storm is coming on, we light our interior and in the dusk are about to drop into the sea. A shout goes up outside and strong hands hold us. Near us is a carriage whose horses we had frightened. In it is an aged man of martial bearing, who recognizes my father.
"Oh, it is you, is it, meandering at night like a firebug. Turn around now and go home with me," he said, cordially.
"Haven't time; we are bound to the North Pole." Hurrying up so quickly, we break away and sink beneath the toppling waves.
Pelted and tossed all night we welcome daylight; but flash, crack, roar, we draw ourselves closer together, and sink in the depths beneath the turmoil, to find other disturbance. A massed army of swordfish hold battlefront with glowing eyes to an opposing array of giant whales, who ponderously coming, lash the sea into a vortex.
The two columns colliding, the first leap in white streaks, curl, and land on the latter's backs, dip and dye their swords. The whales shake them off and beat them to death in myriads, to be followed by myriads more, until the sea is red, when suddenly the cavalry swords fly, disappearing in the distance.
The victorious artillery, the whales, blow themselves, weariedly. We go closer to them—too close—as they are a warrior band. A big general opens his mouth towards us, disconcerting to our stomachs; we beat a hasty retreat to a safe distance, where we watch the camp followers, a jumbling mass of veritable sea monsters.
When all is quiet we rise to the surface, to find it quiet there, too. The sun shining brightly on an iceberg, whose edge, sending up a few whale spouts, resolves it into a fountanious white island.
I muse aloud! "Does the under war cause the upper war, or vice versa? What is war? Ocean's elements and life as restless as man. Plant-life and rocks, also, struggle and upheave. Why is war? Resulting only to change. God's evolution but a program of variety." I study it thus, in inspiration, hoping it leads to fore-destined improvement.
I am hearing the word Arbitration. "Oh yes, papa; when arbitration stops men's wars, will the elements follow, and what then?"
"Those starry choirs that watch around the pole." –Casimir
The first iceberg is but the precursor of many that block our way. Then block the land to perpetual imprisonment. Giving us first taste of this specialty of our trip. As we stop a few days in the last place of civilization.
We find good entertainment with pleasant people who are willing to aid us in our endeavor for knowledge, yet solemnly warn us not to dare the dangers ahead. They stock us with dried meat; supply us with double sealskin outfits; in fact, sealskins line our sleigh to aid in keeping us warm. They end by giving us their most paths.
Had our home friends in California been more solicitous, and amused themselves less at our expense, at this juncture we would have returned to them, for our hearts are dropping like lead. But our pride aids us, as our eyes bravely scan the pole star ahead.
"Mae, do you want to go home?" as I see her wipe the tears out of her big blue eyes.
"Not I; this is the best part of it. Only the frosty air makes me cry."
"Do you not want to see your mamma?"
"Yes, but I will have so much more to tell her," waking to enthusiasm and paramount faith.
Polished ice-glass in hand I firmly wave adieu.
In the last few days of our stay have been finished preparations for what, to the nation, is a centennial celebration. A barbecue is held on an ice glittering plaza. Emerald ice tables, chamois-clothed, hold a wondrous feast. Whole reindeer rigs, the sledge a pastry; great Christmas trees are confections. This now engages the crowds.
We rub our hands together, and, shall I say it, our noses, in local fashion of "good bye," as our prow points north.
We have carefully selected this season of the year, with intent to follow the continual dawn light—night and day—of this region, which yet faint, is hardly sufficient to keep us moving swiftly, when, lo, near us darts up a bright glare, followed by others, around and ahead, as far as we can see, illumining the air. They are bonfires of the celebration. Heaps of cones, added to yearly, surround a ring of pine trees, the center a tall, hollow trunk as chimney. The gorgeous flickering of glory, I feel to believe, is miles in extent.
Climbing miles up the heavy atmosphere, it is advanced to iceberg peaks, beyond and below the horizon. Visited thus only for ages, do they inclose the pole? Are they the goal we seek? Springing up the crystal shafts in warmth of welcome are reflected back again and beckon us on.
Our minds in sublime mood, to silence, are disturbed, as father suddenly jerks up his head. "It is the red fire of the north." The rare mystery the superstitious ancients believed to be a sign of war is now solved, and the simple in fact is most beautiful of sight.
Our path is strangely smooth, as though some hitherto sea had congealed and left a frozen plain, which gives us grateful relief until our direction ceases and the last marked path stops, and an icy lobe rears high before us.
Clamp-spurring our wheels we climb its height, to find a table formation, level graded, an unmistakable sign of ice-locked land, as if an island included in the cold grasp that holds the sea. We do not go far, when a pile of ice rocks hem in a space. We proceed to inspect. Hastily curving by, we are suddenly brushed by a bush, and berries rattle lusciously on our window-pane. Flinging it open a balmy air salutes us, forcing us out upon a bright-hued snow-flower carpet.
"What, berries in spring! in Arctic forcing-houses! no cold night to delay matters!" as Charley is about to cram his mouth. But I, on closely examining, fail to identify them, and jot in my book a new name, Onigogies." He looks over to read. "Gogies, gogies, gorge us, please."
"Tu whu a whu," wavers our brains and quivers our eyes, as we see a great white owl perched on our banner, blinking. I see nearby an apple vine. I reach out and take a most beautiful red specimen, before I am aware that it is already in the mouth of a serpent, coiled around the twig. Unconsciously an Eve, as unconscious, also, is the reptile, who looks at me with kind, appreciative eyes. But I drop the apple and get into the sleigh, quite weak, unable to prevent Mae from taking and eating another, giving one to father. Seeing me in, Charley gets ready to enter, by loading the bottom. The owl has gone, but approaching is a gorgeous stork of orange plumage. Of camel size, it coolly steps over us, as the rest quickly step in and we move forward.
Thinking this may be a lost Eden, I look curiously to discover the life tree, to see Mae and father, who have turned deathly pale, reel in their seats. Stopping quickly, we put snow on their heads and bind it by leaves of a high shrub we are under. Shuddering, they grasp the leaves in their teeth and swallow the juice as their breath revives. A red glow on their cheeks. Was it the leaves of healing? Much trampled beneath had given us roadway. As expected, we enter a herd of foxes, who are barking in play and basking in the unusual light; as all else, unnoticing us, we glide along quite securely.
Charley has studied the lesson of the apple, as he audaciously reaches down and takes one, and calmly eats it in conjunction with the leaves, to my perturbed attention.
We reach the edge of the island and go down to the sea plain again, which is here more rough in icy waves, making the travel quite difficult. The waves grew larger until mountains high, then lessen and gradually disappear, having unfolded to us a frozen storm at sea.
The surface is smoother and smoother; so that we start up swiftly. A gale scurries toward us from behind. As it strikes us Charley opens valves and we all rise in our seats, unable to contain our ardor, as miles are covered in our exceeding speed, which continues as the moments and hours pass, father's speed-measure marking a mile a second. Hundreds of miles are covered and the ice is still smooth. Knowing we are not so far away from the peaks that point the pole. We hourly anticipate a view as of masts arising at sea, but instead, we are shocked to see the flame-hued settle densely in a fog. So long our friend, its warmth had melted the congealed air and now clouds our nautical bearings. Our compass is our sole northly guide. But what—what is the matter with it that it hangs its head and stops? We are lost!
In frenzy, now, the hours go by as we circle blindly, when a luminant point attracts us far away. Is it the serried guide shaft? It is.
Famished and cold—our steam spent and wheels broken—we make but slow speed toward the flickering gleam. Attaining it, we have only left us our wings, by which we rise up the cliff side of the topping pinnacle—to see others, massed in braided and arcaded confusion before us. Weakening, while above their splintering and crashing avalanches, we drop on the side of the sheerest bayonet of all, as hundreds of hues are changing and ranging in glistening sea waves in a deep, long valley below us. Not long, but a round level plain, girdled by this ring of bergs that hem it in.
Our pained eyes watch father stolidly take our local bearings, then with him shout in audible voice: "The North Pole!"