Read CHAPTER SEVENTEEN - NAZINRED’S JOURNEY OVER THE ARCTIC SEA. of The Walrus Hunters A Romance of the Realms of Ice , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on

While our Indian travelled through the woods he and his dogs were on familiar ground.  He encamped at night in the way to which he had been accustomed all his life.  That is to say, he selected a spot under a spreading fir-tree, dug away the snow until he got to the ground, which he covered with a carpet of pine branches.  At one end of this encampment-or hole in the snow of ten feet or so in diameter-he made a huge fire of dead logs.  At the other end he spread his blanket, unpacked his sledge, fed his dogs with some willow-grouse provided for the purpose, warmed up his pemmican and dried meat, melted some snow for drink, and spent the night in comparative comfort.  And it is wonderful, reader, how cosy such an encampment in the snow is, when food is plentiful and health strong.

But when our Indian quitted the shore, and began his daring journey on the Arctic Sea, he was surrounded by new and unfamiliar conditions.  No trees were to be had for firewood, no branches for bedding, no overhanging pines for shelter.  He had gone there, however, prepared for the change.

The sea near the shore had been set fast when in a comparatively smooth condition, so that, the first day’s march over, it was easy.  As he had expected, the surface of the snow had been drifted quite hard, so that he could dispense with snow-shoes altogether, and the four dogs found the sledge so light that they felt disposed now and then to run away with it; but Nazinred checked this propensity by holding on to the tail-line, thus acting as a drag.  Ere long the shore was left out of sight behind, and the first of the islets-a small group-also passed and left behind.

When night was well advanced the Indian found himself on the ice of the open sea with nothing but hummocks and bergs to shelter him.  Being acquainted, by hearsay at least, with some of the methods of the Eskimos, he avoided the bergs, for there was the danger of masses falling from their sides and from overhanging ice-cliffs, and selected a small hummock-a heap of masses that had been thrown or crushed up earlier in the winter, covered with snow, and formed into a solid mound.  The light air that blew over the frozen plain was scarcely worth taking into account, nevertheless the Indian chose the lee side of the hummock and then began to try his “prentice hand” at the erection of a snow-hut.

Nazinred had indeed some doubts as to the value of such a cold habitation without fire, but he knew that Eskimos sometimes used such, and what they could do he could dare.  Besides, love is strong as death-and he meant to find Adolay or die!

His hut, as might have been expected, was not such as an Eskimo architect would have praised, but it was passable for a first attempt.  He knew that the northern masons built their winter dwellings in the form of a dome, therefore he essayed the same form; but it fell in more than once before the keystone of the arch was fixed.

“Never mind,” thought Nazinred; “they have done it-I can do it.”

Nothing is impossible to men of this stamp.  He persevered, and succeeded after a couple of hours in producing a sort of misshapen bee-hive about six feet in diameter, and four feet high.  The slabs of snow of which it was composed were compact and solid, though easily cut with his scalping-knife, and formed bricks that could resist the influence of the fiercest gale.  At one side of the hut he cut a hole for a doorway, and reserved the piece cut out for a door.  It was just big enough to let his broad shoulders pass through, and when he got inside and lay down at length to test it, he gave a slight “humph!” of satisfaction.  Not that the chamber was cheerful-far from it, for it was intensely dark,-but our Indian was a practical man.  He did not require light to enable him to sleep or rest.

While engaged in constructing the hut, he observed that the four dogs were sitting on their tails doing nothing except gazing in curiosity, if not surprise, at his unwonted proceedings.  Being a busy man, he naturally disliked idlers, and therefore unlashed some food from his sledge and served out their supper by way of giving them something to do.  They ceased idling at once, but after supper sat down on their tails again to watch as before, though in a more languid frame of mind.

When the hut was finished he sat down outside, the night being clear and comparatively warm, or rather, we should say, not bitterly cold.  During the meal he kept up the interest of the dogs to a keenly hopeful point by occasionally tossing a morsel to each.  When the meal was over, and they knew from long experience that nothing more was to be hoped for, they curled themselves up in the lee of the hut, and, with a glorious disregard of bedding and all earthly things, went to sleep.

It was found rather difficult to get the sledge into the hut, as Nazinred had forgotten to make allowance for its size, but by enlarging the door and manoeuvring, the difficulty was overcome-a matter of considerable importance, for there was no knowing what Arctic monsters might take a fancy to play havoc with its contents while its owner slept.

Then the Indian spread a large deerskin with the hair on over the floor of his hut, and was about to spread his blankets above that, when he remembered that he would want water to drink in the morning-for it is well-known that eating snow during the intense cold of Arctic winters is very hurtful.  He had provided for this by taking a bladder with him, which he meant to fill with snow each night and take it to bed with him, so that his animal heat-and he had plenty of that-might melt some of it before morning.  He was then on the point of closing up the doorway when it occurred to him that if the dogs were inside they might make the place warmer, but upon reflection he feared that they might also make it suffocating-for the dogs were large and the hut was small.  After pondering the subject for a few minutes, he decided to take only one of them inside.

“Attim, come,” he said quietly, as if speaking to a human friend.

Attim, without any remark save a wag of his tail, arose promptly, entered the hut, and lay down.  You see, he was accustomed to little attentions of the sort.

At last, everything being completed, Nazinred closed the door, plastered it well with snow round the seams, so as to render the place air-tight, wrapped himself in his blankets, took the bladder of snow to his bosom, laid his wearied head on one of his bundles, and prepared to slumber.

But ere he reached the land of forgetfulness an idea struck him, which, Indian though he was, caused him to smile even in the dark.

“Attim,” he murmured.

“Here you are,” replied Attim’s tail with a flop that was quite as expressive as the tongue-and softer.

“You take charge of that,” said the sly man, transferring the bladder of snow from his own bosom to that of the dog; “you have more heat than I have.”

Whether the Indian was right in this belief we cannot say, but the humble-minded dog received the charge as a special favour, and with an emphatic “I will” from its ever-sensitive tail again lay down to repose.

Thereafter the two went to sleep, and spent six or seven hours of unbroken rest, awaking simultaneously and suddenly to find that the dogs outside were also awake and wishing to get in.  Indeed, one of them had already scraped a hole in the wall that would soon have admitted him had not his master given him a tap on the nose with the butt of his gun.

Of course it was still dark, for the morning was not far advanced, but the star-light and the aurora were quite sufficient to enable them to see their way, as they set out once more on their lonesome journey.

Breakfast was a meal of which Nazinred made no account.  Supper was his chief stand-by, on the strength of which he and his dogs slept, and also travelled during the following day.  Soon after they had awakened, therefore, they were far from the hut in which the night had been spent.

The Indian’s plan was to travel in a straight line in the direction in which the Eskimos had been last seen.  By so doing he counted upon either crossing their tracks, which he would follow up, or, coming to some large island which might prove to be their winter quarters, would skirt the shores of it in the hope of meeting with some of the tribes of which he was in search.  The expedition, it will be seen, was somewhat of the nature of a forlorn hope, for drifting snow quickly obliterates tracks, and if the natives, when found, should turn out to be hostile, they would probably take from him his little possessions, if not also his life.  But Nazinred’s love for Adolay was too strong to admit of his allowing such thoughts to weigh with him.  Ere long, he found himself far from his woodland home, lost among the rugged solitudes of ice, with a fast diminishing supply of provisions, and, worst of all, no sign of track or other clue to guide him.

One day, as he was plodding slowly northward, guided by the stars, his faith in the success of his mission began to flag.  Hard continuous toil and a weakening frame had no doubt something to do with his depression.  His dogs, also, were in much the same condition with himself,-growing thin, and becoming less lively.  Clambering to the top of a hummock, he surveyed the prospect before him.  It was not cheering.  The faint daylight of noon was spreading over the frozen sea, bringing the tops of the larger bergs out into bold relief against the steel-blue sky, and covering the jumble of lumps and hummocks with a cold grey light.

Despite his resolute purpose the poor man sat down on a lump of ice, buried his face in his hands, and meditated.

“Can it be,” he thought, “that the Great Manitou knows my grief and does not care?  Surely that cannot be.  I love my child, though she has fled from me.  I am a child of the Manitou.  Does He not love me?  I will trust Him!”

A cold object touched his hand at the moment.  It was the nose of the faithful Attim.

Nazinred regarded the touch as a good omen.  He rose up and was about to resume the journey in a more hopeful frame of mind when a dark cloud on the horizon arrested his eye.  After a long gaze he came to the conclusion that it was land.  Two hours later he arrived at Waruskeek, and with a beating heart made straight for the huts, which could be plainly seen on the shore.  But terrible disappointment was in store for him.  On reaching the Eskimo village he found that it was deserted.

Nevertheless the improved state of mind did not quite forsake him.  It was a comfort to have made a discovery of any kind, and was it not possible that, during the brief daylight of the morrow, he might be able to distinguish the tracks made by the party when they left the place and follow them up?

With this idea in his mind he resolved to encamp on the spot, and indulge himself as well as his dogs with a good feed and sleep.

With this purpose in view he collected all the bits of wood he could find, and, with a few lumps of much-decayed blubber, made a rousing fire in one of the huts.  The flame cheered his canine friends as well as himself, and filled the place with a ruddy glow.  As the hut was sufficiently large, he invited all the dogs to sup with him-an invitation which, it is needless to say, they gladly accepted-and we may add that the humble-minded Attim was not jealous.

The hut of which Nazinred thus took possession was that which belonged to old Mangivik.  With his usually observant nature, our Indian looked keenly about him while cooking his pemmican, noting every particular with an intelligent eye.  Suddenly his gaze became fixed on a particular corner.  Rising slowly, as if afraid of frightening away some living creature, he advanced step by step toward the corner with eyeballs starting nearly out of his head.  Then with a light bound he sprang forward, grasped a little piece of cord, and pulled out from beneath a heap of rubbish what appeared to be an old cast-off moccasin.  And such indeed it was.  It had belonged to Adolay!  Nazinred, hastening to the fire, examined it with minute care, and a deep “hoh!” of satisfaction escaped from him; for he knew it well as being one of a pair made by Isquay for her daughter’s little feet.

Need we say that joy filled the Indian’s heart that night, and a feeling of gratitude to that mysterious ever-present yet never visible Being, who-he had come to recognise in his philosophical way-must be the author of all good, though his philosophy failed to tell him who was the author of evil.  Nazinred was not by any means the first savage philosopher who has puzzled himself with that question, but it is due to him to add-for it proves him more scientific than many trained philosophers of the present day-that he did not plead his ignorance about his Creator as an excuse for ingratitude, much less as a reason for denying His existence altogether.

But there was a surprise in store for our Indian chief which went far to increase his grateful feelings, as well as to determine his future course.  On looking about the deserted village the following day for further evidences of his child having been there, he came upon a post with a piece of birch-bark fastened to it.  The post was fixed in the ice close to the shore, where in summer-time the land and sea were wont to meet, and from which point tracks in the snow gave clear indication that the Eskimos had taken their departure.  This post with its piece of bark was neither more nor less than a letter, such as unlettered men in all ages have used for holding intercourse with absent friends.

Knowing her father’s love for her, and suspecting that, sooner or later, he would organise a search party-though it never occurred to her that he would be so wild as to undertake the search alone-Adolay had erected the post when the tribe set out for winter quarters, and had fixed the bark letter to it for his guidance.

The writing on the letter, we need hardly say, was figurative, brief, and easily read.  It did not give the intelligent father much trouble in the decipherment.  At the top was the picture of a hand fairly, if not elegantly, drawn, with one finger pointing.  Below it were several figures, the last of which was a girl in unmistakable Indian costume.  The figure in front of her was meant to represent Cheenbuk; in advance of him was an Eskimo woman with her tail flowing gracefully behind, while before her was a hazy group of men, women, and children, which represented the tribe on the march.  Adolay had obviously the artistic gift in embryo, for there was a decided effort to indicate form and motion, as well as to suggest an idea of perspective, for the woman and the tribal group were drawn much smaller than the foreground figures, and were placed on higher planes.  The sketchiness of the group, too, also told of just ideas as to relative degrees of interest in the legend, while the undue prominence of the leading facial feature was an attempt to give that advice which is so forcibly expressed in the well-known phrase, “Follow your nose.”  Ten dots underneath, with a group of snow-huts at the end of them, were not so clear at first, but in the end Nazinred made out a sentence, of which the following may be given as a free-and-easy translation: 

“My hand points the direction in which we have gone.  Your loving daughter is following the man who ran away with her.  The Eskimo women and men, and dogs, and all the rest of them, are marching before us.  Follow me for ten days, and you will come to the snow-huts where we are to winter.”

Could anything be plainer?  The happy father thought not.  He took an extra meal.  His team gave themselves an extra feed of bits of old blubber picked up in the camp, and while daylight was still engaged in its brave though hopeless struggle with the Arctic night, he tied up his sledge, thrust the old moccasin into his bosom, gave Attim the order to advance, and set off with revived strength and hope on his now hopeful journey.