'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 applying?'
'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 other reason.
'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.
Copyright © 1995-2004 by Edward Beauclerk Maurice. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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