'I think they do sometimes take boys of sixteen if they are
suitable, mostly they are rather older. Why do you ask? Are you thinking of
'Yes,' I replied. I knew that I should expand my answers but
somehow dried up in the face of what seemed to be disapproval. The
missionary sensed my nervousness.
'What makes you think you would like the life up there?' he
asked. 'It's not an easy place to live in you know. Many of the posts are just
one man among the Eskimos and Indians and no other post near enough
even to visit.'
The slight softening of the archdeacon's attitude released my
tongue sufficiently for me to explain our dilemma. He listened in silence.
When I had finished he actually smiled.
'Well,' he said, 'I can understand your anxiety to help your mother
and I can probably help you with the company, but you should understand
what it is you are doing. What about your exams? Have you taken School
Certificate yet? Even if the company ignores such things, you may need
some qualifications later in your life.'
'I should take School Certificate this summer, but that would
mean waiting until next year. Things would be very bad at home by then.'
'Do you know anything about northern Canada apart from what
you heard in my talk?'
'Only what I have read in books.'
'It's a very lonely life as I have said. The supply ship comes up
once a year. At a small post it may only stay for a few hours and that is the
only contact with the outside world until the next year. There is just a small
house and a store. You will have to forget about cinemas, theatres, dance
halls and everything like that. The ship brings up a small amount of fresh food
but after that has gone you have to hunt for yourself. There are just six posts
on Baffin Island, which is three or four times the size of England, and about
fifteen Europeans. The weather is generally cold, except for a week or two in
the summer. Sometimes in the winter the temperature goes down to forty
below zero. Some posts have a wireless receiving set but they don't work
very well because of the distance from the stations.'
The archdeacon made this little speech as though determined to
counteract the favourable impression created by his film show.
'What about doctors?' I asked, more from nerves than for any
'On Baffin Island there is just one doctor. Usually if people
become ill they have to do the best they can with their medicine chest.'
I was more careful with my next question.
'What sort of animals do they hunt?'
'Seals,' he replied without enthusiasm. 'Some deer. Ducks. Polar
bears. Fish of course, salmon trout mainly and cod further south. Walrus and
the larger seals for feeding the dogs.'
It seemed pointless to ask any further questions. After all the
months of searching for a way out of our dilemma, the providential arrival of
the archdeacon with his news that the Hudson's Bay Company would
probably take me on right away decided the issue.
'I would like to go for an interview if it can be arranged.'
'Very well. I will see what I can do. In any case, you will have time
in the next week or two to think about it all.'
So ended my first meeting with the Archdeacon of the Arctic.
Within a few days I was summoned to an interview in London.
From my point of view it was a great success. They gave me a closely
printed contract to take away and study. I never did find out what it actually
said for it was written in legal jargon well above my head. Everyone was very
friendly, they gave me £1 for expenses and even suggested that I should go
to the cinema before returning to school. Perhaps they were thinking of the
years that I might have to spend without cinemas.
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