Read CHAPTER TWO - WARUSKEEK. of The Walrus Hunters A Romance of the Realms of Ice , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on

Alas for the hopes and efforts of good men!  At the very time that Cheenbuk and the Indian were expressing their detestation of war, elsewhere a young Eskimo was doing his best to bring about that unhappy and ruinous condition of things.

He was an unusually strong young Arctic swashbuckler, with considerably more muscle than brains, a restless spirit, and what may be styled a homicidal tendency.  He was also tyrannical, like many men of that stamp, and belonged to the same tribe as Cheenbuk.

Walrus Creek was the summer residence of the tribe of Eskimos to which Cheenbuk belonged.  It was a narrow inlet which ran up into a small island lying some distance off the northern shores of America, to discover and coast along which has been for so many years the aim and ambition of Arctic explorers.  How it came by its name is not difficult to guess.  Probably in ages past some adventurous voyagers, whose names and deeds have not been recorded in history, observing the numbers of walruses which scrambled out of the sea to sun themselves on the cliffs of the said creek, had named it after that animal, and the natives had adopted the name.  Like other aborigines they had garbled it, however, and handed it down to posterity as Waruskeek, while the walruses, perhaps in order to justify the name, had kept up the custom of their forefathers, and continued to sun themselves there as in days of yore.  Seals also abounded in the inlet, and multitudes of aquatic birds swarmed around its cliffs.

The Eskimo village which had been built there, unlike the snow-hut villages of winter, was composed chiefly of huts made of slabs of stone, intermingled with moss and clay.  It was exceeding dirty, owing to remnants of blubber, shreds of skins, and bones innumerable, which were left lying about.  There might have been about forty of these huts, at the doors of which-or the openings which served for doors-only women and children were congregated at the time we introduce them to the reader.  All the men, with the exception of a few ancients, were away hunting.

In the centre of the village there stood a hut which was larger and a little cleaner than the others around it.  An oldish man with a grey beard was seated on a stone bench beside the door.  If tobacco had been known to the tribe, he would probably have been smoking.  In default of that he was thrown back upon meditation.  Apparently his meditations were not satisfactory, for he frowned portentously once or twice, and shook his head.

“You are not pleased to-day, Mangivik,” said a middle-aged woman who issued from the hut at the moment and sat down beside the man.

“No, woman, I am not,” he answered shortly.

Mangivik meant no disrespect by addressing his wife thus.  “Woman” was the endearing term used by him on all occasions when in communication with her.

“What troubles you?  Are you hungry?”

“No.  I have just picked a walrus rib clean.  It is not that.”

He pointed, as he spoke, to a huge bone of the animal referred to.

“No, it is not that,” he repeated.

“What then?  Is it something you may not tell me?” asked the woman in a wheedling tone, as she crossed her legs and toyed with the flap of her tail.

Lest the civilised reader should be puzzled, we may here remark that the costume of the husband and wife whom we have introduced-as, indeed, of most if not all Eskimo men and women-is very similar in detail as well as material.  Mangivik wore a coat or shirt of seal-skin with a hood to it, and his legs were encased in boots of the same material, which were long enough to cover nearly the whole of each leg and meet the skirt of the coat.  The feet of the boots were of tough walrus-hide, and there was a short peak to the coat behind.  The only difference in the costume of the woman was that the hood of her coat was larger, to admit of infants and other things being carried in it, and the peak behind was prolonged into a tail with a broad flap at the end.  This tail varied a little in length according to the taste of the wearer-like our ladies’ skirts; but in all cases it was long enough to trail on the ground- perhaps we should say the ice-and, from the varied manner in which different individuals caused it to sweep behind them, it was evident that the tail, not less than the civilised skirt, served the purpose of enabling the wearers to display more or less of graceful motion.

“There is nothing that I have to hide from my woman,” said the amiable Eskimo, in reply to her question.  “Only I am troubled about that jump-about man Gartok.”

“Has he been here again?” asked the wife, with something of a frown on her fat face.  “He is just as you say, a jump-about like the little birds that come to us in the hot times, which don’t seem to know what they want.”

“He is too big to look like them,” returned the husband.  “He’s more like a mad walrus.  I met him on one of the old floes when I was after a seal, and he frightened it away.  But it is not that that troubles me.  There are two things he is after:  he wants to stir up our young men to go and fight with the Fire-spouters, and he wants our Nootka for a wife.”

“The dirty walrus!” exclaimed Mrs Mangivik, with as much vigour as if she had been civilised, “he shall never have Nootka.  As for fighting with the Fire-spouters, I only hope that if he does go to do so, he will get killed and never come back.”

“H’m!” grunted Mangivik, “if he does get killed he’s not likely to come back.”

“Who is not likely to come back?” asked a young girl, with an affectionate expression in her pretty brown eyes, issuing from the hut at that moment and seating herself close to the old man.  The girl’s face, on the whole, was unusually pretty for that of an Eskimo, and would have been still more so but for the grease with which it was besmeared-for the damsel had just been having a little refreshment of white-whale blubber.  Her figure was comparatively slim and graceful, and would have been obviously so but for the ill-fitting coat and clumsy boots with which it was covered.

“Your mother and I were talking of a bad man, Nootka,” said Mangivik.

“Ay, a very very bad man,” exclaimed Mrs Mangivik, with a decided nod of her head.

“If he is so very bad,” returned Nootka, “it would be good that he should never come back.  Who is it?”

“Gartok,” answered her mother, with the air of one who has mentioned the most hateful thing in creation.

Nootka laughed.

“Surely you are not fond of him!” exclaimed Mangivik, regarding his daughter with a look of anxiety.

“You know that I’m not,” answered the girl, playfully hitting her sire on the back with the flap of her tail.

“Of course not-of course not; you could not be fond of an ugly walrus like him,” said the father, replying to her pleasantry by fondly patting her knee.

Just then a young man was seen advancing from the beach, where he had left his kayak.

“It is Oolalik,” said Mrs Mangivik, shading her eyes with her hand from the sun, which, in all the strength of its meridian splendour, was shining full on her fat face.  “He must have made a good hunt, or he would not have come home before the others.”

As she spoke Nootka arose hastily and re-entered the hut, from out of which there issued almost immediately the sounds and the savoury odours of roasting flesh.

Meanwhile Oolalik came up and gave vent to a polite grunt, or some such sound, which was the Eskimo method of expressing a friendly salutation.

Mangivik and his wife grumped in reply.

“You are soon back,” said the former.

“I have left a walrus and two seals on the rocks over there,” answered the youth, sitting down beside the old man.

“Good,” returned the latter.  “Come in and feed.”

He rose and entered the hut.  The young man who followed him was not so much a handsome as a strapping fellow, with a quiet, sedate expression, and a manly look that rendered him attractive to most of his friends.  Conversation, however, was not one of his strong points.  He volunteered no remarks after seating himself opposite to Nootka, who handed him a walrus rib which she had just cooked over the oil lamp.  Had Nootka been a civilised girl she might have been suspected of conveying a suggestion to the youth, for she was very fond of him, but, being an Eskimo of the Far North, she knew nothing about ribs or of Mother Eve.  The young man however required no delicate suggestion, for he was equally fond of Nootka, and he endeavoured to show his feelings by a prolonged stare after he had accepted the food.

One is irresistibly impressed with the homogeneity of the human race when one observes the curious similarities of taste and habit which obtain alike in savage and civilised man.  For a few moments this youth’s feelings were too much for him.  He stared in admiration at the girl, apparently oblivious of the rib, and sighed profoundly.  Then he suddenly recovered himself, appeared to forget the girl, and applied himself tooth and nail to the rib.  Could anything be more natural-even in a European prince?

Nootka did not speak-young women seldom do among savages, at least in the company of men,-but she looked many and very unutterable things, which it is impossible, and would not be fair, to translate.

“Will the others be back soon?” asked Mangivik.

Oolalik looked over the rib and nodded. (In this last, also, there was indication of homogeneity.)

“Have they got much meat?”

Again the young man nodded.

“Good.  There is nothing like meat, and plenty of it.”

The old man proceeded to illustrate his belief in the sentiment by devoting himself to a steak of satisfying dimensions.  His better-half meanwhile took up the conversation.

“Is Gartok with them?” she asked.

“Yes, he is with them,” said the youth, who, having finished the rib, threw away the bone and looked across the lamp at Nootka, as if asking for another.  The girl had one ready, and handed it to him.

Again Oolalik was overcome.  He forgot the food and stared, so that Nootka dropped her eyes, presumably in some confusion; but once more the force of hunger brought the youth round and he resumed his meal.

“Has Gartok killed much?” continued the inquisitive Mrs Mangivik.

“I know nothing about Gartok,” replied the young man, a stern look taking the place of his usually kind expression; “I don’t trouble my head about him when I am hunting.”

He fastened his teeth somewhat savagely in the second rib at this point.

“Do you know,” said Mangivik, pausing in his occupation, “that Gartok has been trying to get the young men to go to the Whale River, where you know there are plenty of birds and much wood?  He wants to fight with the Fire-spouters.”

“Yes, I know it.  Gartok is always for fighting and quarrelling.  He likes it.”

“Don’t you think,” said the old man suggestively, “that you could give him a chance of getting what he likes without going so far from home?”

“No, I don’t choose to fight for the sake of pleasing every fool who delights to brag and look fierce.”

Mrs Mangivik laughed at this, and her daughter giggled, but the old man shook his head as if he had hoped better things of the young one.  He said no more, however, and before the conversation was resumed the voice of a boy was heard outside.

“Anteek,” murmured Nootka, with a smile of pleasure.

“The other hunters must have arrived,” said Oolalik, polishing off his last bone, “for Anteek was with them.”

“He always comes first to see me when he has anything to tell,” remarked Mrs Mangivik, with a laugh, “and from the noise he makes I think he has something to tell to-day.”

If noise was the true index of Anteek’s news he evidently was brimful, for he advanced shouting at the top of his voice.  With that unaccountable ingenuity which characterises some boys, all the world over, he produced every sort of sound except that which was natural to him, and caused the surrounding cliffs to echo with the mooing of the walrus, the roaring of the polar bear, the shriek of the plover, the bellow of the musk-ox, and, in short, the varied cries of the whole Arctic menagerie.  But he stopped short at the door of the hut and looked at Oolalik in evident surprise.

“You are back before me?” he said.

“That is not strange:  I am stronger.”

“Yes, but I started off long before you.”

“So you thought, but you were mistaken.  I saw you creeping away round the point.  When you were out of sight I carried my kayak over the neck of land, and so got here before you.”

“Have you told?” asked the boy anxiously.

“Never said a word,” replied Oolalik.

“Here,” said Nootka, holding out a piece of half-cooked blubber to the boy, “sit down and tell us all about it.  What is the news?”

“Ha!” exclaimed Anteek, accepting the food as if he appreciated it.  “Well, I’ve killed my first walrus-all alone too!”

“Clever boy! how was it?” said Mrs Mangivik.

“This was the way.  I was out by myself-all alone, mind-among the cliffs, looking for eggs; but I had my spear with me, the big one that Cheenbuk made for me just before he went off to the Whale River.  Well, just as I was going to turn round one of the cliffs, I caught sight of a walrus-a big one-monstrous; like that,” he said, drawing an imaginary circle with both arms, “fat, brown, huge tusks, and wide awake!  I knew that, because his back was to me, and he was turning his head about, looking at something in the other direction.  I was astonished, for though they climb up on the cliffs a good height to sun themselves on the warm rocks, I had never seen one climb so high as that.

“Well, I drew back very quick, and began to creep round so as to come at him when he didn’t expect me.  I soon got close enough, and ran at him.  He tried to flop away at first, but when I was close he turned and looked fierce-terrible fierce!  My heart jumped, but it did not sink.  I aimed for his heart, but just as I was close at him my foot struck a stone and I fell.  He gave a frightful roar, and I rolled out of his way, and something twisted the spear out of my hand.  When I jumped up, what do you think?  I found the spear had gone into one of his eyes, and that made the other one water, I suppose, for he was twisting his head about, but couldn’t see me.  So I caught hold of the spear, pulled it out, and plunged it into his side; but I had not reached the heart, for he turned and made for the sea.

“There was a steep place just there, and he tumbled and rolled down.  I lost my foothold and rolled down too-almost into his flippers, but I caught hold of a rock.  He got hold at the same time with his tusks and held on.  Then I jumped up and gave him the spear again.  This time I hit the life, and soon had him killed.  There!”

On concluding his narrative the excited lad applied himself to his yet untasted piece of blubber, and Nootka plied him with questions, while Oolalik rose and went off to assist his comrades, whose voices could now be heard as they shouted to the women and children of the colony to come and help them to carry up the meat.