Read CHAPTER NINETEEN - THE ESKIMOS AGAIN, AND A GREAT DISCOVERY AND RESCUE. of The Walrus Hunters A Romance of the Realms of Ice , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on

While Nazinred, under the influence of strong affection, was thus fighting with the unfamiliar difficulties and dangers of the polar sea, Cheenbuk and his Eskimo friends were enjoying life in what may be called their native element.

“Will Adolay come for a drive?” said our gallant Eskimo one day when the sun had risen near enough to the eastern horizon to almost, but not quite, extinguish the stars.  “We go to seek for walruses.”

The Indian maiden was sitting at the time in the snow residence which belonged to Mangivik.  Mrs Mangivik was sitting opposite to her mending a seal-skin boot, and Cowlik the easy-going was seated beside her, engaged with some other portion of native attire.  Nootka was busy over the cooking-lamp, and old Mangivik himself was twirling his thumbs, awaiting the result of her labours.  Oolalik was there too-he was frequently there-courting Nootka in the usual way, by prolonged silent staring.  The process might have been trying to some women, but Nootka did not mind.  Like many young damsels, she was fond of admiration, and could stand a good deal of it, no matter how peculiar the mode in which it was expressed.

“I don’t care to go,” said Adolay, with a sigh.

Cheenbuk did not repeat the invitation or press for a reason.  He was a considerate as well as a gallant youth.  He knew that the poor girl was pining for her parents, and that she regretted having left them-even although remaining in her native village might have involved her being wed against her will to the hated Magadar, or subjected to his persécutions during her father’s absence.  Cheenbuk did his best to comfort her with the assurance that he would take her back to her home with the very first of the open water.  But when Adolay began to realise what a very long time must elapse before the ice would reopen its portals and set the waters free, her heart sank and she began to mope.

“We may as well have some women with us,” remarked Oolalik, with a pointed glance at Nootka, but Nootka took no notice of either the observation or the glance.  Even Eskimo girls understand how to tease!

“Will Cowlik go?” asked Cheenbuk.

“Yes.”  Cowlik smiled, and was quite ready to go.

“No, she won’t,” said Mrs Mangivik, with a positiveness almost European in its tone.

“Very well.”  Cowlik smiled, and was equally ready to remain.

Mangivik himself expressed no opinion on the subject, but twirled his thumbs faster as he expressed a hope that the cooking would be soon completed.

It was finally arranged that only young men should go, with sledges and teams of dogs to fetch the meat home.

The little town in which this scene was being enacted was composed of between twenty and thirty whitey-brown bee-hives of snow, of the usual shape, ranged on the ice near the shore of a large island.  The scene presented was a lively one, for while some of the inhabitants were creeping into the small tunnels which formed as it were porches before the doors, others were creeping out.  Men and dogs were moving about- the former harnessing the latter to sledges in preparation for the approaching hunt, while hairy little balls of children were scampering about in play, or sitting on the tops of the snow bee-hives, watching the proceedings with interest.

The Eskimo sledge is a contrivance of wood capable of accommodating five or six men, and usually drawn by a team of from six to ten dogs, each dog being fastened to it by means of a separate line of tough walrus-hide.  In a short time the long-lashed, short-handled, powerful whips cracked, the teams yelped, the men shouted, and away they all went with much noise over the frozen sea.

After a short run the parties separated and went in different directions.  Cheenbuk and his men drove in a southerly direction.  Soon they came to a place which had been kept open by walruses as a breathing-hole.  Here they got out, hid the sledge and dogs behind a hummock, and, getting ready their spears and harpoons, prepared for an encounter.  After waiting some time a walrus thrust its ungainly head up through the young ice that covered the hole, and began to disport itself in elephantine, or rather walrusian, gambols.

Tiring of this in a few minutes, it dived, and the natives ran to the edge of the hole to be ready when it should come up again.  The animal was a female, and a small one.  When it re-appeared harpoons and lances were at once driven into it, and it was killed almost immediately.  This is not always the result of such an encounter, for this elephant of the polar seas is naturally a ferocious brute, and when bulls are attacked they are prone to show fight rather than take fright.

Leaving the young men to skin and cut up the meat, Cheenbuk went on, with only Anteek to keep him company, in search of another breathing-hole.

“You must harpoon the next one all alone, and kill him without help,” said Cheenbuk to his companion soon after they had started.

“I’ll try,” returned the boy, with the air of confidence befitting a knight who had already won his spurs, yet with the modesty of a youth who was aware of his fallibility.

But Anteek was not destined to distinguish himself that day, for, about three miles beyond the place where the walrus had been slain, they came across a track so singular that, on beholding it, they were stricken dumb with surprise.

Stopping the dogs, they gazed at it for a few moments in speechless wonder.

“I am not an old man,” said Cheenbuk at length in a solemn tone, “but I have seen most of the wonderful things in this world, yet have I never seen a track like that!”

He pointed to the track in question, and turned a look of blazing inquiry on Anteek.

“And I am not an old boy,” returned the other, “but I too have seen a good many of the wonderful things of this world, yet have I never even dreamed of the like of that!”

It will doubtless strike the reader here, as an evidence that Eskimos are under similar delusions to the rest of the human family, that these two referred to that world of theirs as equivalent to the world at large!

“What can it be?” murmured Cheenbuk.

“The very biggest bear that ever was, come to frighten the wisest people that ever lived, out of their wits,” suggested Anteek.

The face of the elder Eskimo underwent a sudden change, and an intelligent expression flitted over it as he said-

“I know now-I remember-I guess.  You have often heard me talk of the Fire-spouters, Anteek?  Well, the snow where they live is very deep and soft-not at all like the snow here, except when our snow is new-fallen-so that they cannot travel in the cold time without great things on their feet.  That,”-pointing downward-“must be the track of those great things, and there must be a Fire-spouter not far off.”

“Perhaps a number of Fire-spouters-a war-party,” suggested Anteek, becoming excited.

“I think not, for there is only one track.”

“But they may have walked in a row-behind each other.”

“That is true.  You notice well, Anteek.  You will be a good hunter soon.”

He stooped as he spoke, to examine more carefully the track, which was indeed none other than that made by the snow-shoes of Nazinred on his weary and well-nigh hopeless journey over the frozen sea.

“Look here, Cheenbuk,” cried the boy, whose excitement was increasing.  “Is there not here also the track of a dog, with a strange mark on each side of it, as if it were drawing two lines as it went along?”

“You are right again, boy.  There is here the track of a dog, but there is only one man.  Come, we will follow it up.”

Jumping on the sledge again, the Eskimo cracked his whip and set the dogs off at full gallop.

For some time they advanced, looking eagerly forward, as if expecting every minute to come in sight of the man and dog who had made the tracks, but nothing appeared for some hours.  Then they arrived at the three huts where the Indian had received such a disappointment on finding them deserted.  A close examination showed that the stranger had spent a night in one of them, and, from various indications, Cheenbuk came to the conclusion that he had been much exhausted, if not starving, while there.

Getting on the sledge again, he continued to follow up the trail with renewed diligence.

They had not gone far when an object was seen lying on the ice not far ahead of them.

Anteek was first to catch sight of it, and point it out to his companion, who did not speak, but let out his lash and urged the dogs on.  As they approached, the object was seen to move, then there came towards them what sounded like a prolonged melancholy howl.

“The dog is alive,” whispered Anteek.

“I hope the man is-but I fear,” returned his comrade.

In a few moments more they were alongside, and the dog started up with a snarl as if to defend its master, who was lying motionless on the ice; but the snarl was feeble, and the poor beast was obviously in a state of exhaustion.

“He is not dead,” said Cheenbuk, putting his hand over the Indian’s heart, while Anteek caught poor Attim by the nose and held him gently back.

It turned out as the Eskimo had said.  Nazinred was not dead, but he was very nearly so, and it is probable that another hour of exposure and inaction would have ended the career of both himself and his dog.

He had walked on persistently until that peculiar feeling of an irresistible desire to lie down and sleep overcame him.  No one knew better than himself the danger of his condition, yet the fatal lethargy is such that no resolution is sufficient to overcome it.  Lying, or rather falling, down, he had remained still for a few moments-then the state of quiet, but deadly repose had supervened and he would never have risen again if succour had not been sent.

As it was, the Eskimos set to work with tremendous energy to chafe and resuscitate him, but it seemed at first that they were too late.  By dint of untiring perseverance, however, they became successful.  A slight effort to exert himself was observable in the Indian, and then, getting him on his feet, Cheenbuk on one side and Anteek on the other, they forced him to stagger about until vitality began to revive.

“Now, boy, we’ll get him into the sledge, and away back to the igloes.”

Without delay they led Nazinred to the sledge, rolled him in a large white bearskin, and tied him on.  While thus engaged Anteek observed that Cheenbuk gazed for a few moments intently into the Indian’s face, and then became much and strangely excited.

“Is he going to die?” asked the boy anxiously.

“No, it is not that-but-but, I have seen this Fire-spouter before.  I know him!  Quick, we must save his life!”

If the life of Nazinred had depended on the speed of the Eskimo dogs there would have been much hope of it, for Cheenbuk made them fly like the wind until he regained the three igloes.  As for Attim, having, with prompt sagacity, perceived that the strangers were friendly, he resigned himself to his fate.  Indeed, his master had, in a dazed sort of way, adopted the same course, and willingly submitted to whatever was done to him.

Arrived at the deserted huts, the Indian was allowed to lie in his white bearskin until the Eskimo had kindled a lamp, cooked some food, warmed some water, and prepared a comfortable couch.  Then he went out to unlash the sleeper.

“Now, Anteek, I’m going to send you away, and will expect you to be quick and act like a man.  Drive the sledge back to where we killed the walrus.  Let the men pack the meat on it and away back to our igloes.  It is not far.  You will soon get there if you make the dogs yelp.  When you have arrived, and told your story, get a fresh team of dogs, and two men, and come back here with a little meat and some more bearskins-and do it all, boy, as fast as you can.”

“I will,” answered Anteek in a tone and with a look of decision that were quite satisfactory.

It was difficult to rouse the Indian at first so as to get him to stagger into the snow-hut, and he was more than half asleep all the time, insomuch that when inside he fell down on the couch prepared for him, and again sank into profound slumber.

Then Anteek started up, jumped on the sledge, and set off for home at full speed.