A Wild-Goose Chase (Balmer)/Chapter 4

CHAPTER IV

THE SHIP CHARTERED

FOR whatever reason Latham was doing it, Geoff soon found that he was proposing to do it thoroughly. That evening a man left for Louisiana to investigate Robert Massey; but Margaret awaited neither his report nor his return. Latham had left her authority to charter any ship, engage any men and make any other arrangements she considered best.

"I always knew I was going to send a ship north. I guess I knew I must go with it," she admitted to Geoff as they were at work at home that night. She had been busy for hours with letters, telephone, telegrams.

In her address book were the present whereabouts of the four men who had come back from the Aurora. McNeal, the sailing master, was in England. She cabled him, offering command of another ship. Brunton, the second mate, was on a whaling vessel in Alaska. She wired an agent at Nome to find him and furnish him funds for return to the States. Koehler, who had been physician and meteorologist with Thomas' party, was in a department at Washington; and Linn, the cook, was in the navy. She wrote to both of them, and at the same time to a senator and a cabinet officer who could arrange for their leave for an expedition to the North. Then Margaret revealed herself to her brother more astonishingly.

"Von Moltke, with his plan for the Franco-Prussian war all rolled up and ready to hand out when they woke him to say war was declared, certainly had little on you," Geoff admitted, as she proceeded with her arrangements.

In the book in which she kept the addresses of the survivors of the Aurora expedition also was the name, together with notes of the condition and equipment, and newspaper clippings giving other data, of every ship recently returned from arctic work or available for it. Also the addresses of agents, owners and other persons to be corresponded with had been copied down and kept up to date. The Danish exploration ship Vibork, at Copenhagen after completing work about Northern Greenland, seemed to be the best ship.

"Aside from matters of expense, the small ship and the small party have done the most in the Arctic recently," Margaret reminded.

The Viborg was of about seventy tons register, of the same size as the Aurora and a little larger than the Gjoa, in which Amundsen in three years accomplished the Northwest Passage. It was sloop rigged and had a gasoline auxiliary engine; the hull had been built and braced for work in ice. There were two or three of its crew who might be engaged again. Cables were sent to them and to the agents of the boat.

Margaret had copied or pasted into her book every important list of supplies and equipment that the different expeditions had taken. She went over these lists that night to see what must be ordered immediately.

"But then polar expeditions in these days have regular suppliers. You've really only got to send word to the right man and tell him where you want to go and how long you expect to be there, and he'll quote you a price for the entire outfit. We'll get our dogs in Greenland, of course. The Aurora people, on their way back, left theirs at Godhaven. We must be in Greenland in June; in July is our chance to get through Melville Bay, if we've luck with the ice."

So at two o'clock, when Geoff at last turned in, the voyage to the Arctic was a settled affair. He lay awake wondering about it and thinking of the complete change in his immediate future which had been worked so swiftly. If he was to go—as he certainly would if Margaret persisted—he had better be a leader rather than a follower. At eleven the next morning he met Latham at the country club to run their ponies for the first practice over the soggy field. Some other men were out and they divided into fours and ran through two rapid, rough periods; but as Geoff went back to the dressing room, bruised and shaken from two hard tumbles and strained from riding off heavier men, for the first time he took no great pride in his daring and endurance.

"I say, Price," he confided to Latham, "looks like we're going to the Arctic all right. Makes a polo tumble feel rather petty, eh?"

"Then Margaret's going through with it, is she?" asked Latham.

"Through with it? She's got down to planning the frills—our Christmas dinner, and a present for each man if we get caught in the ice and have to stay there through the winter."

The next day the man who had been sent to Louisiana wired a report that neither proved nor disproved the authenticity of the message brought by the arctic goose. But already the Viborg was chartered, half the crew engaged, and the date of departure for the north definitely set.