Peary narrowed his eyes, his nostrils flared. He shook his head, anger brewing against the old woman as if he had been exposed, that she had found out a dark secret that might sentence the civil engineer to…other truths, as if… “What do you mean, I’m not the first? Of course I’m the first, you were there with me!” He took some time and composed himself.
“No doubt she is confused. She might claim that a native might have been there before, but there is no proof. I am the first person of any consequence to have been there. I discovered the North Pole.”
Ahnah laughed and spit onto the ground, before mumbling a few words in her native tongue, causing those within hearing to giggle and nod their heads. Henson knew that if Peary was angry it would benefit no one and did his best to downplay the situation, shaking his head in an effort to dismiss the old woman’s comments.
“Pay no attention to her Mr. Peary. She’s old that’s all, funny in the head.”
Peary turned away and stomped back to the ship muttering “Damned ungrateful people, of course I’m the first!” He returned to his quarters aboard the ROOSEVELT without another word, pushing past anyone who attempted to speak to him.
Ahnah smiled and limped over to her sled, where she pulled out some whale blubber to suck on, content with her knowledge. She knew and Peary was afraid of her, she knew the truth.
Henson relieved that Peary was gone, went over and sat down next to the old woman who offered him a piece of blubber which he gratefully accepted. He was intrigued by what the old woman had said and hoped she would share her tale with him.
“Ahnah,” he said, “who were the ones who were here before, who were the first ones to the North Pole?”
She gave a sad smile, as if she was grateful to be able to tell a story she had kept so long. “They were different men, they were not teachers or men with soft hands, they were ones who made their living from the sea, and it didn’t take them three attempts to get there. They made it in one. They survived and saved my people. We hold them in great esteem.”
This was news to Henson, he thought he knew of every expedition to the north and had never heard of anyone succeeding in the quest for the Pole. “When Ahnah, when did this happen?” he asked.
Ahnah sighed and touched his hand as a grandmother might, “It was long ago,” she began, “when I was a young girl.” and he listened as she told him her story.