Making his way slowly and with some difficulty down the slippery gangplank, he looked about to see the natives surrounding the ROOSEVELT. Some were busy sewing, skinning and repairing items that needed such. Others sat around smoking, chewing on blubber or laughing at a bawdy joke from a grinning speaker. One man was urinating in the snow. As he walked, the snow crunching under his boots, he spied his valet of many years, Matthew Henson, his dark features blending in well with the surrounding Inuit. When those around Henson stopped laughing and pointed, he looked up to see the lined and humorless face of the expedition leader.
Relations between the two had been strained since their return from the Pole, Peary hardly speaking to Henson except when necessary, more or less ignoring the man without whom he would never have reached his said goal.
His devoted man servant of so many years was no longer needed. He could be…cast aside.
“Good morning Mr. Peary,” said Henson politely, wondering if he would get a response or if the “great” man would pass by wordlessly.
Peary sighed, there was really no way he could avoid speaking to Henson, at least not at this moment. The Eskimos liked the strong, quiet Negro. It would look bad if Peary didn’t at least show him a little courtesy in front of the native folk.
“Good morning Henson,” he said, hoping to keep this exchange as brief as possible as he had much more important things to do, of that he was sure.
There was a cackle in the wind, dry and cutting. One which Peary knew instinctively mocked him. In anger he turned toward the direction of the noise to see who he already knew would be there, a devious hag, an old Eskimo woman with a scared face named Ahnah whose age no one knew. She was old, she always was. The Inuit respected and feared her for she was an Angakkug, a shamen or spiritual leader who wielded great power and could sway decisions as she saw fit. She had almost persuaded the elders not to help Peary, it was one of the reasons Peary had arranged to leave her behind and thinking he was rid of her, carried on with his plans. Needless to say he was quite surprised when she showed up two weeks after the ROOSEVELT had anchored. He wanted to cut off any provisions she might try to collect in an attempt to starve her out, but Henson advised him against such an action and the band elders agreed. Ahnah was one of them, if the expedition leader refused to feed her, they would leave. As reluctant as he was, Peary did need these people, so he agreed to their demands but watched the old woman. He would not let this witch destroy what he had worked so hard for. A thorn in his side, Peary disliked her intensely.
The wind blew and wet snow continued to fall. Ahnah shacking her head gave a course laugh and toothless grin.
“You are not one man!” she cackled. Henson looked embarrassed, Peary annoyed.
“You not one man, you not one man!” she continued to chant, pointing at Peary, whose dander was quickly rising.
The older man looked at Henson, “What the devil is she laughing at?” he asked. Henson looked uncomfortable. He was in a difficult position and was unsure of what to say.
“It’s nothing Mr. Peary, she’s old that’s all. She talks nonsense.”
“You not one man”, cackled the old woman with a sandpaper voice, a little more quietly as if she had won some sort of victory over the expedition leader, watching him with scorn.
Peary was becoming more irritated, “What is this damned fool woman talking about?” he demanded.
Henson looked down at the dirty snow and took a deep breath. He knew that the Commander wasn’t going to like what he was about to say. “She says we are not the first to the Pole, sir.”