Read CHAPTER TWENTY ONE - KICK-BALL AND AN IMPORTANT MEETING. of The Walrus Hunters A Romance of the Realms of Ice , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on

We beg the reader now to accompany us to the Eskimo village, where the men and boys are having a game at kick-ball, a favourite game with those men-of-the-ice, which goes far to prove their kinship with ourselves.

But the details of the game are dissimilar in many ways-only the spirit is the same; namely, an effort to rouse the bodily system to as near the bursting-point as possible without an absolute explosion.

It was a lovely northern night.  There was a clearness in the still frosty air which gave to the starry host a vivid luminosity, and seemed to reveal an infinite variety of deep distances instead of the usual aspect of bright spots on a black surface.  Besides the light they shed, the aurora was shooting up into the zenith with a brilliancy that almost equalled that of moonlight, and with a vigour that made the beholder think there was a rustling sound.  Indeed, some of the natives stoutly asserted that these lights did rustle-but among Eskimos, as among ourselves, there are highly imaginative people.

Oolalik was there of course.  No game was thought complete without the co-operation of that robust Eskimo.  So was Raventik, for the game of kick-ball suited his bold reckless nature to perfection, and there were none of the other players except himself capable of opposing Oolalik with any hope of success.  Aglootook the magician also took part.  The dignity of his office did not forbid his condescending to the frivolities of recreative amusement.  Gartok was also there, but, alas! only as a spectator, for his wound was not sufficiently healed to permit of his engaging in any active or violent work.  His fellow-sufferer Ondikik sat beside him.  He, poor man, was in a worse case, for the bullet which was in him kept the wound open and drained away his strength.  He was wrapped in a white bearskin, being unable to withstand the cold.

The whole male population, except the old men and the wounded, took part in the game, for the ball frequently bounded to the outskirts of the ice-field, where the boys of every shape and size had as good a chance of a kick as the men.  As the women stood about in all directions looking on, and sending back the ball when it chanced to be kicked out of bounds, it may be said to have been an exceedingly sociable game.

Old Mangivik took great interest, though no part, in it, and Mrs M was not a whit behind him in enthusiastic applause whenever a good kick was given.  Of course the fair Nootka was beside them, for-was not Oolalik one of the players?  She would have scorned the insinuation that that was the reason.  Nevertheless there is reason to believe that that had something to do with her presence.

Our friend Adolay, however, was not there.  The absence of Cheenbuk may have had something to do with her absence, but, as she was seated in Mangivik’s igloe moping over the lamp, it is more charitable to suppose that a longing for home-sweet home-was weighing down her spirits.

Old and young Uleeta were looking on with great delight, so was Cowlik the easy-going, and Rinka the sympathetic; and it was noticeable that, every now and then, the latter distracted her mind from the play in order to see that the bearskin did not slip off the shoulders of Ondikik, and to replace it if it did.  Not that Rinka had any special regard for Ondikik, but it afforded her intense pleasure merely to relieve suffering in any way-so strong was the weakness for which she got credit!

The game had lasted for a considerable time, and the players were beginning to blow hard, when the ball, kicked by a surprisingly small boy in disproportionately big seal-skin boots, chanced to fall between Raventik and Oolalik.

“Oh!” exclaimed Nootka to herself, with a gasp of hope.

“Ho!” exclaimed Oolalik, with a shout of determination.

Raventik exclaimed nothing, but both young men rushed at the ball with furious vigour.  The active Oolalik reached it first.

“Ah!” sighed Nootka with satisfaction.

“Hoh!” cried Oolalik, with a kick so full of energy that it would have sent the ball far over a neighbouring iceberg, if it had not been stopped dead by the broad face of Raventik, who went flat on his back in consequence-either from the tremendous force of the concussion, or because of a slip of the foot, or both.

This incident was received with shouts of laughter and great applause, while Raventik sprang to his feet.  Instead of taking it in good part, however, the reckless man allowed his temper to get the better of him, and made a rush at Oolalik, who, being naturally peaceful in temperament, dodged his adversary, and, with a laugh, ran away from him; but the other was not to be baulked in this way.  A fight he was bent on, so he gave chase at the top of his speed.  The man of peace, however, was too fleet for him.  He kept just out of his reach, thereby stimulating his rage and inducing many a “spurt” which proved abortive.  At last, being desirous of putting an end to the chase-or himself losing patience, who knows?-Oolalik suddenly dropped on his hands and knees, and Raventik, plunging headlong over him, fell flat on his breast and went scooting over the ice for about ten or fifteen yards before he could stop himself.  What would have happened after that no one can tell, for just then the attention of the whole party was diverted by a shout in the distance, accompanied by the cracking of a whip and the usual sounds that announced an arrival.

A few seconds later and Cheenbuk drove his team into the village.

He had warned Anteek to say nothing about the finding of the Indian, and the boy had been faithful to his trust, so that the whole population was thrown into a state of wide-eyed amazement, not to mention excitement, when the tall form of the Fire-spouter was seen to rise from the sledge and turn his grave countenance upon them with the calm dignity characteristic of his race.  The dogs of the village showed not only surprise, but also their teeth, on observing Attim among the newcomers, and they made for him, but a well-directed and sweeping cut from the whip of the watchful Anteek scattered them right and left, and rebuked their inhospitality.

Thereafter Cheenbuk began to tell how he had discovered the Indian on the ice, and introduced the subject with some prolixity, like not a few white men when they have a good story to tell.  Moreover, the wily man had an eye to dramatic effect, and, observing that Adolay was not among the women, he made up his mind to what is called “prolong the agony” as far as possible.

Unfortunately for his purpose, there happened to be blowing at the time a gentle nor’-west breeze, which, in its direct course towards them, had to pass over the igloe that belonged to Mangivik, and the humble-minded Attim, keen of scent, recognised something there that caused him suddenly to cock his ears and tail, open his eyes, and give vent to a sharp interrogative yelp!

Next moment he charged through the canine throng-scattering them in abject terror-dashed into the tunnel of Mangivik’s dwelling, and disappeared from view.  Another moment and there issued from the igloe- not a scream:  Indian girls seldom or never scream-but a female ebullition of some sort, which was immediately followed by the sudden appearance of Adolay, with the dog waltzing around her, wriggling his tail as if he wished to shake off that member, and otherwise behaving himself like a quadrupedal lunatic.

Eager inquiry was intensified in every line of her expressive face, and, withal, a half-scared look, as if she expected to see a ghost.  If she had really seen one the effect could scarcely have been more impressive when her eyes encountered those of her father.  She stood for a few moments gazing, and utterly unable to move, then, with a wild cry of joy, she bounded towards him.  In like manner the Indian stood at first as if thunderstruck, for Cheenbuk’s information had not led him to expect this.  Then his wonted dignity utterly forsook him; for the first time in his life, perhaps, he expressed his feelings of affection with a shout, and, meeting the girl half-way, enfolded her in an embrace that lifted her completely off her legs.

The Eskimos, as may well be imagined, were not only surprised but profoundly interested in the scene, and Cheenbuk was constrained to draw his narrative to an abrupt conclusion by informing them hurriedly that the Fire-spouter was the father of Adolay; that he had left home alone and on foot to search for her; that he was also the very man with whom, on the banks of the Whale River, he had fought and fraternised, and that therefore it behoved them to receive him hospitably as his particular friend.

Cheenbuk spoke the concluding sentence with a look and tone that was meant to convey a warning to any one who should dare to feel or act otherwise; but there was little need of the warning, for, with the exception of Aglootook the medicine-man, the chief leaders of the fire-eating portion of the tribe, Gartok and Ondikik, were at the time helpless.

While this irrepressible display of Dogrib affection was enacting, Attim was performing a special war-dance, or rather love-dance, of his own round the re-united pair.  He was an unusually wise dog, and seemed to know that he could expect no attention just then; he therefore contented himself with a variety of hind-legged pirouettes, and a little half-suppressed yelping, knowing that his turn would surely come in time.

Meanwhile an incident occurred which seemed further to enhance the dramatic character of the meeting.  There burst suddenly and without warning upon the amazed and horrified multitude a miniature thunder-clap, which, being absolutely new to their experience, shook them to their spinal marrow.  Several boys of unusually inquisitive disposition, taking advantage of the pre-occupation of the tribe, ventured to poke about the sledge which had just arrived, and discovered the fire-spouter of the Indian.  With awe-stricken countenances they proceeded to examine it.  Of course, when they came to the trigger it went off.  So did the boys-excepting the one who had touched the trigger.  He, having the butt against his chest at the moment, received a lesson which he never forgot, and was laid flat on his back-as much with fright as violence.  Fortunately there was nothing in front of the gun at the time save the tip of a dog’s tail.  Into this one lead-drop entered.  It was enough!  The owner of the tail sprang into space, howling.  Every one else, including dogs and bairns, with the exception of Mrs Mangivik-who, being as it were petrified with consternation, remained absolutely immovable-fled for shelter behind the igloes, leaving Nazinred, Adolay, Cheenbuk and Anteek in possession of the field.

By degrees their fears were calmed, and according to their courage the rest of the population returned to the scene of the explosion, some half ashamed of having run away, others more than half ready to run again.

“Do they sometimes do like that by themselves?” asked Cheenbuk, referring to the gun.

“Never,” said the Indian.  “Some one must have touched it.”

“The boys,” remarked Anteek; “I know them!”

Adolay laughed.  “Yes,” she said, “I know them too, and they meddle with everything.”

“Come, man-of-the-woods,” said Cheenbuk, “and see my father’s igloe.  He is hiding inside of it since the spouter made its noise.  This is my sister, Nootka, and that,” he added, pointing to Mrs Mangivik, who was gradually becoming untransfixed, “is my mother.”

“Have you told my father all, Cheenbuk?” asked Adolay as they went towards the hut.

The Indian stopped abruptly and looked with a piercing glance at the Eskimo.

“Cheenbuk!” he exclaimed, in a low voice.

“Yes, that is my name,” said the young man, with a smile, and yet with a something in his face which implied that he was not ashamed to own it.

For a moment the Indian frowned as if he were displeased, at the same time drawing his daughter close to him.  The prejudices of race were at work within him then, and that very human weakness which shows itself in esteeming all nations inferior to one’s own strove with his better feelings; but as he looked on the handsome face and brave bearing of the young man-of-the-ice, and remembered his sentiments and sympathy, he suddenly stepped up to him and held out his hand.

“The white trader has taught me,” he said, “that the difference in men is only skin-deep.  The same Manitou made us all.  Cheenbuk, my son, I am grateful to you for your care of my child.”

“My father,” said the Eskimo, returning his grasp, “your mind is in a good state.  So is mine!  You must be tired and hungry.  Let us go and feed.”