"Ада Блэкджек: подлинная история выжившей в Арктике"...(4)

Самое пронзительное фото из экспедиции Крауфорда.
Спасённая Ада Блэкджек на борту шхуны "Дональдсон" 19 августа 1923 года.


"...Ada's resourcefulness during her time of complete solitude is nothing short of astounding. She managed to become a crack shot with the rifle, downing birds in flight as well as seals, and though she didn't shoot any polar bears, she managed to frighten off some who were attracted by the smell of the food she had gathered. With Knight gone and no sense of when, or whether, the others would return, Ada finally broke the taboo surrounding Galle's typewriter. Niven gives us a bit more of this typed journal, and Ada's voice rings clear as before:

June 26th. I'm going to take a walk to the smale Island. I saw the Polar bears going in shore from the ice way over west of the camp. It's four oclock now. I write down when I saw them. I don't know what I'm going to do if they come to the camp. Well, God knows.

By this time, of course, the men's families were frantic with worry. Stefansson, who with an air of grandiosity had announced his retirement from Arctic exploration, did what he could to mount a second relief expedition via remote control. He ended up, somewhat against his own better judgment, placing the rescue mission in the hands of Harold Noice, a rather disreputable Stefansson alumnus who held an old grudge against Knight. With funds mostly from private British donors (among them Sir John Franklin's granddaughter), Stefansson dispatched Noice to find a ship and bring a relief party, including Eskimos who were to maintain the imaginary colony he had planned. Noice's departure was held up again to the last moment by Stefansson's delay in wiring funds, but this time luck was with him. Despite the dereliction of the ship's captain, who had to be fired at the pier, Noice managed to guide the ship, the Donaldson, to within visual distance of the shores of Wrangel by late August.

At first, Noice could discern no signs of life, save a long- abandoned camp and some scattered debris, among which he found a note in a bottle describing Crawford's claim of the island in the name of King George. Ever cautious lest his ship strike ice or run aground, he continued to search the coastline, and eventually came upon the second camp. Seeing a human figure standing on the beach. Noice quickly ordered an umiak lowered into the water, and was astonished when he found Ada alive and well, with the news that Knight was dead and the others apparently lost in an attempt to reach Nome. "There is nobody here but me," Ada told him, "I am all alone."


The balance of Niven's book recounts the tangled web of publicity, rumor, and circumstance which followed Ada's return, and the news of the presumed death of all the other members of the expedition. Although Ada was nothing but grateful to Noice, and turned over everything on the island to his care (including all the journals), he soon began to doubt her. Reading the accounts of her early homesickness and infatuation with Crawford, he sensed scandal -- scandal which he thought he could turn to opportunity. He defaced Knight's journal, the key source for these events, and removed a number of pages; later, he would accuse Ada of having done it. He turned against Stefansson, rightly blaming him for his role in the men's deaths, but also subtly blackmailing him with threats of dreadful revelations from the journals, which he refused to hand over. Ada, trapped in the public eye of the press, did all she could to disappear.

Stefansson moved, deliberately, to control the damage. He tried to placate the families, but they quickly turned against him, trusting neither him nor Noice as the rumors and innuendo grew. Knight's family was the most active in its campaigning to set the record straight; they believed that Ada had done all she could to save their son, and managed after some difficulty to arrange a meeting so that they could thank her. She never forgot their gratitude, and they never lost faith in her. Stefansson, feeling that Ada was a loose cannon, took a different view; via intermediaries, he sent her a small amount of money and assistance, but only to buy her silence and invisibility. The other families reacted with shock and dismay, and all of them wanted back some trace of their loved ones. Stefansson could hardly oblige -- Noice had all the items in his control -- and he was a notoriously evasive correspondent. To Galle's family, he never sent so much as a word, apparently feeling that, since Galle was not technically in his employ, he owed them nothing.

The aftermath of the expedition is recounted in great detail over the final third of the book. Throughout it all, Ada dodges out of the way of Niven's pursuing pen, appearing here and there speaking from behind a locked door, or described in a brief meeting with members of one of the men's families, only to vanish again. There is a photograph in the book, captioned "Ada trying to disappear into the crowd," showing a middle-aged Ada hurrying down the sidewalk, which seems to capture the essence of this part of the book. She did what she could for her son Bennett, using money she obtained from the sale of furs to find treatment for his tuberculosis. Her life continued to have its ups and downs, with the downs often reported in the press as sad examples of the fate of an "Arctic Heroine." Throughout her ordeals, however, it's clear that Ada remained steadfast, never halting for long in self-pity, always finding ways to make do during even the most trying circumstances. The accounts of Ada by her second son, Billy, illuminate her character again at book's end, and give us some sense of closure.

Yet throughout this gripping and engaging narrative, we remain at one remove from its eponymous heroine. Perhaps it's the cultural gap, not as much of a factor with the four men -- or perhaps it's the fragmentary evidence and reticent statements she left behind. Niven, as always, is a masterful storyteller, and Ada Blackjack Johnson is fortunate indeed to have her as the chronicler of her life. Niven's cinematic sweep is impressive, bringing a rich cast of characters vividly before our eyes -- and still somehow when it comes to Ada, we end up wishing we'd known her better.