A New Angle on the Old Pole

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A New Angle on the Old Pole  (1909) 
by Wallace Irwin

Extracted from Cosmopolitan magazine, Dec 1909, pp. 105-109. Accompanying illustrations omitted.

A New Angle on the Old Pole

Edited by Wallace Irwin

From the MS. by G. Washington Blobb

Editor's Note.—The following startling record, hermetically sealed in a ketchup-bottle, was found floating off the coast of Coney Island by Prof. Boskerino, an eminent sword-swallower, whose word has never been doubted in scientific circles. The bottle, which was opened in the presence of six reliable press-agents and Madame Tulu the celebrated palmist, is said to have borne the scars of many icebergs and long arctic travel. As additional proof of the genuineness of its contents, the bottle bore the convincing label, “Tomato Ketchup, 97% Pure, Contains no Benzoate of Soda or other Artificial Preservatives.”

I THOUGHT I would write up what I done into some sort of a Dairy and drop same into the Artick Sea in hopes it would float to Hackensack, N.J., where my cousin Fred works in a garage. Folks ain't going to believe this here. That's the saddest thing about the Explorer business. You risk your life sewed up in a bearskin rug in a latitude where raw dog is a luxury and the theemometer thinks it's sunstruck when it climbs as high as zero, and what happens to you when you arrives home and tells same to friends? “Where you been?” they inquires suspicious. “North Pole,” you responds. “Show it to us,” says friends. “Can't—it melted,” you says. “Splash!” says friends, and the next you know your name's in the papers as the biggest liar since Anny Nias.

My name is G. Washington Blobb of Jersey City. Having been raised proper, I didn't intend to go to the Pole and mix in the scandlous doings of Commander Sleary and Dr. Snook. It was all a mistake, or I should of still been working for father at Hoboken—Pa's a burglar. You see it was just like this. In June, 1907, I set sail for Mexico in the Zulu Belle. Our captain was Algernon Greene, a reformed broker. Our cargo was 10,000 cases of “Blobb's Arabian Shoe Polish,” of which I was inventor. It was my intention to dump my stock in the land of the dark-eyed Stingoritas where cash is plenty and brains scarce.

They told me that Capt. Greene, our commander, was a nice man when sober. I dunno. I never seen him that way. We was scarce past Sandy Hook before he got so entranced on rum cocktails that he cut up sumpen terrible. When he went to bed he wouldn't get up, and when he got up he wouldn't go to bed.

The first week out I says to our mate, Alec Jones, an ex-clergyman of Yonkers, “Alec,” I says, “I see land. Can it be the coast of Florida?”

“Nix,” sayd Alec, “that's Labrador.”

“Labrador!” I says. “I thought we was bound for Mexico.”

“We was,” says he, “but we'll probably end up at the North Pole. That's just a little habit of the captain's,” says he.

That remark worried me; for, sure enough, we was heading due North. It got so cold that the steam-pipes frizz all over the ship and I had to go to bed with my mittens on.

Sunday we bumped into the 82d Parallel so hard that Capt. Algernon fell out of his trance into the sea and was never heard of more.

Monday we seen a collection of cute little bears standing on their hind legs about freezing point. I aims at one with a gun, but Alec rushes up and says, “Cheese it! them's human inhabitants!” And sure they was! They was the natives of the island. The males was called Eskimoses and the females Eskimisses. I jumped onto a chunk of ice and began showing 'em my Arabian Polish—and say, it made a BIG hit! Snag-up-Trash, the King of the Eskimoses, crawled out of his igloos and took a can. First he smelled of it, then he tasted it. He smacked his lips and rolled up his eyes. An expression of heavenly bliss stole over his savage feechers and he hollered “Jack-pot-hooly-mup!” which means, “Everything is good that comes in cans.” And he et up a dozen boxes of my Arabian Polish before I could find heart to stop him.

When I asked him if there was any more white men thereabouts he pointed North and said, “Heap gum-drop; big nail talk.” So I knowed the camps of Snook and Sleary, them famous Pole Chasers, must be near.

{[dhr]} I've often read how them fancy explorers starts for the Pole like petted and coddled beauties with all the luxuries of civilization, including a pianola, a coon valet, a French cook, and a ice-bustin' boat that looks inside like the Venetian room of the Waldorf-Astoria. But I wasn't prepared for the scene of stylish splendor that met my gaze when I arrived at Tintack, Greenland, with my faithful Eskimoses, Week-End-Bob and Jam-Bill.

In the middle of the village stood a palatial struxture what looked like a Carnegie Library all cut out of ice and snow. The surrounding hummocks was mowed and patted down by a landscape gardner so that they resembled lawns and flower-beds. Tame penguins was sporting in the front yard. A gravel walk, lined with walrus teeth, led up to the door, over which was the follering sign in gold letters:

The Sleary-Snook Freeze-Out Club.

Home for Tired Explorers.

A Eskimo butler with patent-leather pumps and a white tie opened the front door and asked me for a card. I told him I had left the deck to home; so he let me in without no further questions. The room I entered was sure magnificent. Many first-class barrooms in N. Y. City ain't fixed so grand.

In a sunny end of this stylish compartment I heard the sound of human voices and the click-click of two or three typewriters. And there, on opposite sides of a hot oil-stove, sat them distinguished Discoverers dictating to stenographers. Commander Sleary was becomingly dressed in a suit of mink-skin pajamas trimmed in eider-down and ruffled at the collar. Dr. Snook wore a frock-coat of seal-skin with a ermine boa and mittens of silver fox. His socks was lavendar.

Dr. Snook began pacing up and down a-thinking what to say next; but Sleary had an inspiration and says to his stenographer:

“Our sufferings now become something terrible. My colored porter, Matt Hanson, F.R.G.S., trudged faithfully along, still carrying my umbrella and dress-suit case. I left Captain Bartlett drinking tea on the 87th Parallel with instructions to sit on it till I came back. At the 89th Parallel I stopped and let Hanson brush my hat and coat. I then tipped him 50c. and told him to go back to Boston and wait for me. He refused and insisted upon accompanying me to the Pole. What could I do? Colored servants are so fussy in these high latitudes——

Here Commander Sleary stopped to think. And at the same moment Dr. Snook got an idea and started in with his stenographer:

“Seventy-five miles a day was our average walk. As I had left my watch at home and had lent my sextant to Harry Whitney, I never knew where we were or what time it was. But I gathered from the weather that we were pretty far North. I kept careful account of everything in my note-book, but I dropped this in a blowhole, so I can't remember what happened. A purple haze covered everything.”

Here Dr. Snook ran out of thoughts, so he lit a cigareet. I seen it was a good time for me to butt in.

“Gents,” I says, “if yous guys has discovered the North Pole, why don't you come back to America and tell home folks about it?”

“Who says we discovered the North Pole?” says Snook and Sleary in unison together.

“Didn't I just hear you a-talking to your stenographers about it?” I enquires.

“Oho!” laffs Commander Sleary, “them's not facts we was talking. Them's lectures.”

“But wouldn't it be more sort of proper-like to go to the Pole first and write about it afterwards?” I asks ignorantly.

“That's the old-fashioned way,” says Sleary, “but in this age of science and progress it's considered better form to write up your article before your expedition commences. Then, if nothing happens, you've at least got a good story for the magazines.”

“It makes travel lots more exciting,” says Dr. Snook.

Snook and Sleary was fighting nearly all the time I seen 'em. One morning Sleary came to a point in his lecture where he said,

“It now became a grilling, gruelling, grinding tramp over endless seas of broken ice——

“You're another!” yells Dr. Snook irritably. “The Pole, as every Explorer knows, is only a short walk from land.”'

“Short walks makes long lectures,” says Sleary sarcastic-like.

“Oh, gum-drops!” says Snook sweetly. “Are you proprietor of the Artick Circle as well as owner of the Pole?”

“I've got nearer the Pole than you have,” snaps Sleary.

“Oh, no, you ain't!” says Dr. Snook, bringing out the manuscript of his new book. I got past 100,000 words already.”

“Gents, please,” I says, “I'm a a butt-in from Jersey; but I sure never expected to find such a hot time in the Artick! Why don't you boys go out and discover the Pole instead of setting here rag-chawing?”

“I can't this week,” says Sleary,. “because I got a magazine article to finish up.”

“It looks like rain, too,” says Snook, glancing out of the window.

“Of all the irritating Bushwickers, that man Snook's the worst!” growls Sleary. “Not content with stealing my Pole he swipes my dogs.”

“Who crept into my igloos and removed 6 tons of chewing tallow and a barrel of gum-drops?” yells Dr. Snook.

“You're a short and ugly——

“You're a deliberate and malicious——

And so it went on like a W.C.T.U. Caucus for 5 solid weeks, till I almost wisht I was back in Jersey City. At last, one bright pleasant morning—the theemometer then standing 211 below zero—I called my faithful guides, and says, “Boys, what you say we go out and discover that Daffy Old Pole?”

“Chick-maglook-pushaway,” they answers, meaning, “For 50c. we would do anything.”

So Jam-Bill loaned me a pair of bear-skin pajamas and Week-End brought a dog-sled drawn by Fido and Rover, the cutest canine team North of Albany; and carrying a bucket of paint, 8 pounds of lard and a spoon to eat it with, we snuck forth early in the morning while them two Explorers was still in bed.

With our feet gliding smoothly over the chillblains we pointed straight for the Refrigerated Silence. The cold was sumpen fierce. I tried to sing. The song frizz in my throat. I tried to sneeze. The sneeze frizz in my nose.

Finally it got so darn uncomfortable that I says to my Eskimoses, I says, “Boys, don't you think we've about reached the Pole?”

“We think it very likely, sir,” says Jam and Week-End like the perfectly trained guides they were.

“About where do you think the Pole would be at?” I asks.

“I am standing on the very spot,” says Jam-Bill and frizz solid as he spoke.

So me and Week-End, with great presence of mind, cut the long wooden tongue off our sled and this we painted with stripes so it looked like a barber's pole. We planted this in the ice next to where Jam-Bill stood froze solid. Then on a slip of paper I wrote in large, pretty letters,

Discovered By Adam & Eve
A.D. 1492

That “1492” didn't seem a very appropriate date to mix up with Adam & Eve, but then it was the year that Columbus discovered America and it only seemed natural he should of discovered the Pole along with the rest of the country.

After thawing out Jam-Bill we killed Fido and Rover and enjoyed a light breakfast. Then we started back.

Arriving at ten o'clock next morning we found Snook and Sleary a-setting by the hot stove looking very suspicious.

“Where you been?” they asks simontaneously.

“Oh, nowheres,” I answers just careless. “We've only strolled out and discovered the North Pole, that's all.”

“What proof you got?” they snaps.

“Only the word of my two intelligent Eskimoses,” I answers.

“A Eskimo's word ain't worth a Tammany election promise!” they growels together. And the rest of the morning they was so peevish they wouldn't speak to me.

Next morning, just as the Artick sun was arising over the Western hills, I was awoke from my slumbers by a voice speaking under my window. It was Commander Sleary talking to Week-End-Bob.

“Boy,” says Sleary, “would you mind showing me to the North Pole?”

“For 65c. I would do anything,” replies Week-End in the liquid language of his tribe. So, without another word, the Eskimo and the Commander and his Artick poodles disappeared in the direction of the Refrigerated Silence.

About a minute later I heard a voice on the other side of the house. Squinting out I seen Dr. Snook in earnest conversation with Jam-Bill.

“Noble savage,” says Dr. Snook alluringly, “what will you take to guide me to the top of the world?”

“For 75c. I would stop at nothing,” says Jam-Bill. So in another forty seconds Dr. Snook and his dogs and his expedition set off licketty-split in the direction of Nature's Eternal Ice-Box.

And I just set there laffing myself to death. I wasn't jealous of no explorers. Who wants the old Pole? It's a cheap Pole, anyhow. But I couldn't restrain my curiosity. In a jiffy I pulled on a pair of Artick overshoes and hiked off on the trail of those two desperate adventurers. Finally I came in sight of the Pole I had painted so careful, and there I hid behind a glacier. Snook and Sleary had just got there at the same moment. Sleary was driving the Pole full of nails and yelling: “Go way! I was here first!” Snook was stuffing some papers marked “proofs” into a brass tube and hanging it to the Pole. When this was done they stood and glared at each other. They'd 'a' had a free fight, I guess, but it was so cold they hated to take their hands out of their pockets.

“I'll tell Teddy Roosevelt of this!” says Sleary finally,

“Who cares?” says Snook. “I'll tell the King of Denmark.”

Driv to desperation by this taunt Sleary grabbed the Pole and started to run away with it. Snook gave a yelp like a wolf that's stung, and in another minute they was a-rolling over the snow trying to massacre each other with chunks of ice. I couldn't stand by and see a great geographical question settled in that way, so I jumped in like a referee at a dog-fight.

“Gents,” I says, “the discovery of the Pole has ended in a dead heat. Such questions can only be settled by tossing up a nickel. Heads or tails—the guy what calls it gets a half day's start to Civilization.” So I pulled a nickel from my pocket and twirled it over the North Pole.

“Heads!” yells Sleary. “Tails!” yells Snook. And the coin fell tails up.

So Dr. Snook, without another word, hitched up his bow-wows and started ki-yipping in the general direction of Public Opinion. Sleary, as sulky as a sick walrus, hung around till exactly 2 p.m. by the North Star, then he buckled up and scooted away in the same direction that Snook had went. He was way behind; but he was hitting up a awful lick. And that was the last I ever seen of either of 'em.

Well, as I set here surrounded by my Eskimo friends I often wonder which one, Snook or Sleary, got to civilization first with his story? Did their names get into the papers? Did folks pay any attention to 'em when they came home? And when they tells their adventures to Chautauquas and Carnegie Lyceums, do they give me any credit for showing them to the Pole? I doubt it.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1927.

The author died in 1959, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 60 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.