Read CHAPTER TWENTY THREE - A BEAR-HUNT AND A SAD END. of The Walrus Hunters A Romance of the Realms of Ice , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on

The Indian chief was after this an object of almost veneration to the Eskimo men, of admiration to the women, and of delight to the boys and girls, who highly appreciated his kindly disposition as well as his skill with the spouter.

He was taken out on all their hunting expeditions, and fully initiated into all the mysteries of seals, walrus, deer, and musk-ox killing.  Of course the wonderful gun was brought into frequent requisition, but its owner was obliged to have regard to his powder and shot, and had to explain that without these the spouter would refuse to spout, and all its powers would vanish.  When this was thoroughly understood, his hosts ceased to persecute him with regard to displays of his skill.

One day, in the dead of the long winter, Cheenbuk proposed to Nazinred to go on a hunt after bears.  The latter declined, on the ground that he had already arranged to go with Mangivik to watch at a seal-hole.  Cheenbuk therefore resolved to take Anteek with him instead.  Gartok was present when the expedition was projected, and offered to accompany it.

“I fear you are not yet strong enough,” said Cheenbuk, whose objection, however, was delivered in pleasant tones,-for a change for the better had been gradually taking place in Gartok since the date of his wound, and his old opponent not only felt nothing of his ancient enmity towards him, but experienced a growing sensation of pity,-for the once fire-eating Eskimo did not seem to recover health after the injury he had received from the Fire-spouter’s bullet.

“I am not yet stout enough to fight the bears,” he said with a half-sad look, “but I am stout enough to look on, and perhaps the sight of it might stir up my blood and make me feel stronger.”

Old Mangivik, who was sitting close by, heaved a deep sigh at this point.  Doubtless the poor man was thinking of his own strength in other days-days of vigour which had departed for ever-at least in this life; yet the old man’s hopes in regard to the life to come were pretty strong, though not well defined.

“Well, you may come,” said Cheenbuk, as he rose and went out with Anteek to harness the dogs.

In less than half an hour they were careering over the ice in the direction of a bay in the land where fresh bear-tracks had been seen the day before.

The bay was a deep one, extending four or five miles up into the interior of the island.

We have assumed that the land in question was an island because of its being in the neighbourhood of a large cluster of islands which varied very considerably in size; but there is no certainty as to this, for the region was then, and still is, very imperfectly known.  Indeed, it is still a matter of dispute among geographers, we believe, whether continents or seas lie between that part of the coast of America and the North Pole.

As far as appearance went the land might have been the edge of a vast continent, for the valley up which the Eskimos were driving extended inwards and upwards until it was lost in a region where eternal glaciers mingled with the clouds, or reared their grey ridges against the dark winter sky.  It was a scene of cold, wild magnificence and desolation, which might have produced awe in the hearts of civilised men, though of course it must have seemed commonplace and tame enough to natives who had never seen anything much softer or less imposing.

The party had travelled about four miles up the valley, and reached a steep part, which was trying to the mettle of the dogs, when a track was observed a short distance to their right.

“Bear,” said Gartok in a low voice, pointing towards it.

Cheenbuk made no reply, but at once ran the team under the shelter of a neighbouring cliff and pulled up.  The dogs were only too glad to obey the order to halt, and immediately lay down, panting, with their tongues out.

Fastening the sledge to a rock, and leaving it in charge of a little boy who had been brought for the purpose, the other three set off to examine the track and reconnoitre; intending, if they had reason to believe the bear was near, to return for the dogs and attack it in force.

The track was found to be quite fresh.  It led upwards in the direction of a neighbouring ridge, and towards this the party hastened.  On reaching the summit they bent low and advanced after the manner of men who expected to see something on the other side.  Then they dropped on hands and knees, and crawled cautiously, craning their necks every now and then to see what lay beyond.

Now, the little boy who had been left in charge of the sledge happened to be a presumptuous little boy.  He was not a bad boy, by any means.  He did not refuse to obey father, or mother, or anybody else that claimed a right to command, and he was not sly or double-tongued, but he was afflicted with that very evil quality, presumption:  he thought that he knew how to manage things better than anybody else, and, if not actually ordered to let things remain as they were, he was apt to go in for experimental changes on his own account.

When, therefore, he was left in charge of the dogs, with no particular direction to do or to refrain from doing anything, he found himself in the condition of being dissatisfied with the position in which the team was fastened, and at once resolved to change it only a few yards farther to the right, near to a sheltering cliff.

With this end in view he untied the cord that held the sledge, and made the usual request, in an authoritative voice, that the team would move on.  The team began to obey, but, on feeling themselves free, and the sledge light, they proceeded to the left instead of the right, and, despite the agonising remonstrances of the little boy, began to trot.  Then, appreciating doubtless the Eskimo version of “Home, sweet Home,” they suddenly went off down-hill at full gallop.

The presumptuous one, puckering his face, was about to vent his dismay in a lamentable yell, when it suddenly occurred to him that he might thereby disturb the hunters and earn a severe flogging.  He therefore restrained himself, and sat down to indulge in silent sorrow.

Meanwhile the explorers topped the ridge, and, peeping over, saw a large white bear not more than a hundred yards off, sitting on its haunches, engaged, apparently, in contemplation of the scenery.

At this critical moment they heard a noise behind them, and, glancing back, beheld their dogs careering homeward, with the empty sledge swinging wildly in the rear.  Cheenbuk looked at Gartok, and then both looked at the bear.  Apparently the ridge prevented the distant sound from reaching it, for it did not move.

“We must go at it alone-without dogs,” said Gartok, grasping his spear, while a flash of the old fire gleamed in his eyes.

“You must not try,” said Cheenbuk; “the drive here has already tired you out.  Anteek will do it with me.  This is not the first time that we have hunted together.”

The boy said nothing, but regarded his friend with a look of gratified pride, while he grasped his spear more firmly.

“Good,” returned Gartok, in a resigned tone; “I will stand by to help if there is need.”

Nothing more was said, but Cheenbuk looked at Anteek and gave the brief order-


The boy knew well what to do.  Grasping his spear, he ran out alone towards the bear and flourished it aloft.  Turning with apparent surprise, the animal showed no sign of fear at the challenge of such an insignificant foe.  It faced him, however, and seemed to await his onset.  The boy moved towards the right side of the bear.  At the same time Cheenbuk ran forward towards its left side, while Gartok went straight towards it at a slow walk, by way of further distracting its attention.

As the three hunters approached from different directions, their prey seemed a good deal disconcerted, and looked from one to the other as if undecided how to act.  When they came close up the indecision became more pronounced, and it rose on its hind-legs ready to defend itself.  Gartok now halted when within five or six yards of the animal, which was anxiously turning its head from side to side, while the other two ran close up.

The plan was that usually followed by Eskimos in similar circumstances.  Anteek’s duty was to run forward and prick the bear on its right side, so as to draw its undivided attention on himself, thereby leaving its left side unguarded for the deadly thrust of Cheenbuk.  Of course this is never attempted by men who are not quite sure of their courage and powers.  But Cheenbuk and Anteek knew each other well.  The latter was not, perhaps, quite strong enough to give the death-dealing thrust, but he had plenty of courage, and knew well how to administer the deceptive poke.

As for Gartok, besides being incapable of any great exertion, he would not on any account have robbed the boy of the honour of doing his work without help.  He merely stood there as a spectator.

With active spring Anteek went close in and delivered his thrust.

The bear uttered a savage roar and at once turned on him.  Just at the moment the boy’s foot slipped and he fell close to the animal’s feet.  In the same instant the two men sprang forward.  Cheenbuk’s spear entered the bear’s heart, and that of Gartok struck its breast.  But the thrust of the latter was feeble.  In his excitement and weakness Gartok fell, and the dying bear fell upon him.  His action, however, saved Anteek, who rolled out of the way just as his preserver fell.

Cheenbuk and Anteek did not hesitate, but, regardless of the few death-struggles that followed, rushed in, and grasping its thick hair dragged the monster off the fallen man.

Gartok was insensible, and it was a considerable time before he fully recovered consciousness.  Then it was found that he could not rise, and that the slightest motion gave him intolerable pain.

“He will die!” exclaimed Anteek, with a look of painful anxiety.

“Yes, he will die if we do not quickly get him home,” said Cheenbuk.  “He cannot walk, and he would freeze long before we could make an igloe.  I must depend on you now, Anteek.  Go back as fast as you can run, and send men with a sledge and skins and something to eat.  The boy will remain with me.  Away!”

Without a word Anteek leaped up, and, dropping his spear, ran as if his own life depended on his speed.  The little boy, who had acted so foolishly, came up with an anxious look on being hailed, but soon forgot himself in his anxiety to be of use to the injured man.

There was a mound of snow within three yards of the spot where the combat had taken place.  To the lee side of this Cheenbuk carried Gartok.  Being very strong, he was able to lift him tenderly, as if he had been a child, but, despite all his care, the poor man suffered terribly when moved.

It was well that this mound happened to be so close, for a dark cloud which had been overspreading the sky for some time began to send down snow-flakes, and frequent gusts of wind gave indications of an approaching storm.  Having placed Gartok in such a position that he was quite sheltered from the wind, Cheenbuk took off his upper seal-skin coat, laid it on the snow, and lifted the injured man on to it.  He then wrapped it round him and folded the hood under his head for a pillow, bidding the boy bank up the snow beside him in such a way as to increase the shelter.  While thus engaged he saw with some anxiety that Gartok had become deadly pale, and his compressed lips gave the impression that he was suffering much.

“Come here,” said Cheenbuk to the boy quickly; “rub his hands and make them warm.”

The boy obeyed with alacrity, while the other, hastening his movements, began to skin the bear.  Being an expert with the knife in such an operation, he was not long of removing the thick-skinned hairy covering from the carcass, and in this, while it was still warm, he wrapped his comrade-not a moment too soon, for, despite the boy’s zealous efforts, the intense cold had taken such hold of the poor man that he was almost unconscious.  The warmth of the bearskin, however, restored him a little, and Cheenbuk, sitting down beside him, took his head upon his lap, and tried to shelter him from the storm, which had burst forth and was raging furiously by that time-fine snow filling the atmosphere, while the wind drove it in huge volumes up the valley.

Cheenbuk noted this, and congratulated himself on the fact the wind would favour the progress of the rescue sledge.

Sometimes the whirling snow became so suffocating that the little boy was compelled to cease his labours on the sheltering wall and crouch close to it, while Cheenbuk buried his nose and mouth in the white fur of the bear until the violence of the blasts abated.  By keeping the skin well over the face of the wounded man, he succeeded in guarding him from them effectually.  But his mind misgave him when he tried to look through the whirling confusion around, and thought of the long tramp that Anteek would have ere he could commence his return journey with the sledge.

It turned out, however, that this was one of those short-lived squalls, not uncommon in the Arctic regions, which burst forthwith unwonted fury, sweep madly over the plains of the frozen seas, rush up into the valleys of the land, and then suddenly stop, as though they felt that all this energy was being spent in vain.  In a short time, which however seemed interminable to the watchers on the hillside, the wind began to abate and the wild gusts were less frequent.  Then it calmed down; finally it ceased altogether; and the storm-cloud, passing away to the south-east, left the dark sky studded with the myriad constellations of the starry host.

Uncovering Gartok’s face to see how it fared with him, and hoping that he slept, Cheenbuk found that he was wide awake, but in a condition that made him more anxious than ever.  He looked up at the face of his protector with a faint but grateful smile.

“I have always been your enemy,” he said, in a low voice, “but you have been my friend.”

“That does not matter now,” replied Cheenbuk.  “I have never been your enemy.  We will be friends from this time on.”

Gartok closed his eyes for a few seconds, but did not speak.  Then he looked up again earnestly.

“No,” he said, with more of decision in his tone; “we shall neither be friends nor enemies.  I am going to the country where all is dark; from which no sound has ever come back; where there is nothing.”

“Our people do not talk in this way.  They think that we shall all meet again in the spirit-land, to hunt the seal, the walrus, and the bear,” returned Cheenbuk.

“Our people talk foolishness.  They think, but they do not know,” rejoined this Hyperborean agnostic, as positively and as ignorantly as if he had been a scientific Briton.

“How do you know that there is `_nothing_’ in the place where you are going?” asked Cheenbuk, simply.

Gartok was silent.  Probably his logical faculty told him that his own thinking, and coming to a conclusion without knowing, was as foolish in himself as in his comrades.

The subject of conversation happened to be very congenial to Cheenbuk’s cast of mind.  He remained thinking and gazing upwards for a minute or two, then he said meditatively, as if he were trying to work out some mental problem-

“Did you ever make a sledge, or a spear, and then destroy it utterly while it was yet good and new?”

“Never.  I have been bad, it may be, but I am not a fool.”

“Is the great Maker of all a fool?  He has made you, and if He lets you die now, utterly, He destroys you in your best days.  Is it not more likely that He is calling you to some other land where there is work for you to do?”

“I don’t understand.  I do not know,” replied Gartok, somewhat doggedly.

“But you do understand, and you do know, that He would be foolish to kill you now, unless He had some work and some pleasure for you in the unknown land from which no sound ever comes back.  When a father gives his son a work to do, he does not destroy his son when the work is done.  He gives him another piece of work; perhaps sends him on a long journey to another place.  When the Maker of all sees that we have finished our work here, I ask again, is it not likely that He will send us to work elsewhere, or is it more likely that He will utterly destroy us-and so prove Himself to be more foolish than we are?”

“I do not know,” repeated Gartok, “but I do know that if the Maker of all is good, as I have heard say, then I have not done His work here- for you know, everybody knows, I have been bad!”

Cheenbuk was much perplexed, for he knew not “how to minister to a mind diseased.”

“I have often wondered,” he said at last, “why it is that some things are wrong and some right.  The Maker of all, being good and all-powerful, could have made things as He pleased-all right, nothing wrong.  Perhaps men, like children, will understand things better when they are older-when they have reached the land from which no sound comes back.  But I am not much troubled.  The Maker of all must be all-good and all-wise.  If He were not, He could not be the Maker of all.  I can trust Him.  He will throw light into our minds when the time comes.  He has already thrown some light, for do we not know right from wrong?”

“True, but although I have known right I have always done wrong,” returned Gartok moodily.  “I am sorry now.  If you had not been kind to me, your enemy, Cheenbuk, I should never have been sorry.  Ever since I was hurt by the Fire-spouters you have been kind to me, and now you would save my life if you could.  But it is too late.  You have known right, and done it.”

“You mistake,” rejoined Cheenbuk gravely.  “Like you, I have known right but I have not always done it; only sometimes.  It is not long since I began to think, and it is since I have been thinking that my spirit seems to have changed, so that I now hate wrong, and desire right.  I think that the Maker of all must have caused the change, as He makes the ice-mountains melt, for it is not possible that I could change myself.  I had no wish to change till I felt the change.”

“I wish,” said Gartok earnestly, “that-if He exists at all-He would change me.”

At that moment Cheenbuk, who was gazing up into the brilliant sky, seemed to be moved by a sudden inspiration, for he gave utterance to the first audible prayer that had ever passed his lips.

“Maker of all,” he said, “give to Gartok the spirit that loves right and hates wrong.”

The dying Eskimo raised his eyes to Cheenbuk’s face in astonishment; then he turned them to the starry host, as if he almost expected an immediate answer.

“Do you think He hears us?” he asked in a faint voice, for the strength of his feelings and the effort at conversation had exhausted him greatly.

“I will trust Him,” answered Cheenbuk.

“I will trust Him,” repeated Gartok.

For some time they sat in profound silence, and Gartok closed his eyes as if he were falling asleep.  The silence was broken by a distant sound.  It was the approach of Anteek with the sledge.  He had found the runaway dogs anchored fast between two masses of ice where the sledge had got jammed.  Turning the team round he plied his whip with vigour, insomuch that they would have arrived much sooner if the storm had not caused delay.

Having arranged the sledge and its wraps so as to form a comfortable couch for the wounded man, they lifted him on to it, but when they removed the bearskin from his face it was found that he was beyond earthly care:  he had passed over to the land from which no sound has ever come back.