Read CHAPTER THIRTY ONE - AN EXPEDITION AND A DISAPPOINTMENT. of The Walrus Hunters A Romance of the Realms of Ice , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on

A few days later the whole tribe arrived at their summer quarters, and no civilised family of boys and girls ever arrived at their seaside home with a more genuine expression of noisy delight than that with which those Eskimos took possession of the turf-mud-and-stone-built huts of Waruskeek.

It was not only the children who thus let loose their glee.  The young men and maidens also began to romp round the old dwellings in the pure enjoyment of ancient memories and present sunshine, while the elders expressed their satisfaction by looking on with approving nods and occasional laughter.  Even old Mangivik so far forgot the dignity of his advanced age as to extend his right toe, when Anteek was rushing past, and trip up that volatile youth, causing him to plunge headlong into a bush which happened to grow handy for his reception.

Nazinred alone maintained his dignity, but so far condescended to harmonise with the prevailing spirit as to smile now and then.  As for Adolay, she utterly ignored the traditions of her people, and romped and laughed with the best of them, to the great delight of Nootka, who sometimes felt inclined to resent her stately ways.  Cheenbuk adopted an intermediate course, sometimes playing a practical joke on the young men, at other times entering into grave converse with his Indian guest.  Aglootook of course stuck to his own rôle.  He stood on a bank of sand which overlooked the whole, and smiled gracious approval, as though he were the benignant father of a large family, whom he was charmed to see in the enjoyment of innocent mirth.

Cheenbuk soon formed his plans for the future, and laid them before the elders of the tribe the same evening after supper-at that period when poor Nazinred would have been enjoying his pipe, if that implement had not been blown with all his tobacco and tinder into the Arctic sky.

It is but just to the Indian to add that he took his heavy loss in a philosophical spirit, and had by that time quite got over the craving- insomuch that he began to wonder why he had ever come under the sway of such a taste.

“Now,” said Cheenbuk, with an air of decision, “listen to my plans.”

“Hoi! ho!” exclaimed every one, especially Aglootook, who added “hay!” in a peculiar tone, thus giving him leave, as it were, to talk as much as he pleased.

“You all know that I have promised to take Adolay back to her own home, and you know that I never break my promises.  It is therefore my intention to set off to the Whale River after two suns have gone round the sky.”

“Hoi!” exclaimed some of the young men, with looks of surprise at such promptitude.

We may observe here that in those regions the sun in summer describes nearly an unbroken circle in the sky, and that Cheenbuk’s reference was to the next two days.

“I will take with me as many men and women as choose to go, but no children.  We will take our spears and bows to procure food, but not to fight, for I go to make friends with the Fire-spouters and the white traders.  So, if any one wants to fight,”-he looked at Raventik here, but that fire-eater happened to be absent-minded at the moment, and sat with downcast eyes,-“to fight,” he repeated with emphasis, “he will have to remain at home and fight the walrus-or the women!”

A faint “ho!” here indicated a desire for more.

“Nazinred says he is sure his people will be glad to meet us.  I am sure we shall be glad to meet his people.  What will happen after that, I cannot tell.”

Something will certainly happen,” murmured Aglootook, as if holding converse with his own spirit, or with his familiar.  “I know it; I am sure of it.  I tell you all beforehand.”

“And you will accompany us,” said Cheenbuk, turning to the magician with a nod of approval.  “When we go on an errand of peace we need our wisest men with us, men whose knowledge and experience will make the Fire-spouters think much of us, and men who don’t like fighting.”

“Now, then,” continued the Eskimo, turning again to the young men, “who will go?  I shall not allow any to go who are not quite willing.”

There was no lack of volunteers.  The party was then and there arranged, and two days later they set out on their mission, a goodly band, in kayaks and oomiaks.

The weather continued fine; the days were long; islets for camping-places were numerous, and in process of time the party reached the mouth of the Whale-otherwise Greygoose-River, which they began to ascend.

“Oh!” exclaimed Adolay, with glistening eyes, as she looked from bank to bank; “I know it so well-almost every bush and tree.”

“And you love it?” said Nootka.

“Yes, yes; is it not my own country?”

Nootka sighed.  “I wish I could love my country like you; but your country sticks.  Mine melts away-most of it-every hot sun-time; and it is not easy to care much for things that melt.”

“But Waruskeek does not melt,” said Adolay sympathetically.

“That is true,” returned Nootka, as if pleased to think of something solid, round which her affections might entwine; “but we stay such a short time there-only while the hot sun-time lasts, and I have not time to get very fond of it-not so as to make my eyes open and my cheeks grow red like yours.”

“Then you must come and live with me and love my country,” said the Indian girl in a patronising tone.

“What! and forsake Oolalik?” exclaimed the Eskimo maiden, with heightened colour and flashing eyes.  “No, never. He will not melt, what ever else does.”

“Right, Nootka,” exclaimed Adolay, with a laugh.  “It would take a very hot sun indeed to melt Oolalik.  But perhaps the whole tribe will stay in my country.  I think that Cheenbuk will get us over this difficulty.  It is wonderful what can be done by a man with a determined mind like Cheenbuk.”

“Yes, some of us Eskimos have very determined minds,” said Nootka, complacently.

Adolay laughed lightly.  “And don’t you think that some of the Fire-spouters have also a good deal of determination-especially one of them who left the lodges of his people and wandered over the great salt lake all alone in search of his child?”

“You speak truth,” returned Nootka, with a pleasant nod.  “I’ll tell you what I think:  both our nations are very determined-very.”

Having come to this satisfactory conclusion, the maidens relapsed into general conversation.

But a disappointment was in store which none of the party had counted on.

When the village of the Fire-spouters was reached, not a soul was to be seen.  The tent-poles remained, and the ashes of the hearths were still there; but the ashes were cold, and not a man, woman, or child remained-not even a dog.

Nazinred and Adolay hurried at once along the well-known foot-path which led to the spot where their own wigwam had stood, but the place was deserted.  As in the case of all the other lodges, only the bare poles, according to custom, were left-the coverings having been carried away.

Father and child looked at each other for some time in silent dismay.  It was a terrible homecoming-so different from what each had been fondly anticipating!

The anxious father had strode on in advance of the Eskimo party, but Cheenbuk had followed.  He hung back a little from feelings of delicacy as they neared the old home, and was much moved when he saw irrepressible tears flowing from the eyes of Adolay.

“Have enemies been in the camp?” he asked, when they had contemplated the scene for some minutes in silence.

“No; enemies have not been here,” answered the Indian.  “There is no blood on the ground; no sign of a struggle.  The tent-poles are not thrown down; the ashes of the fires have not been scattered.  This would not have been so if there had been a fight.  Keep up heart, Adolay!” he added, turning to the weeping girl; “no evil can have come to our people, for they have left of their own will for a new camp; but I am perplexed, for this is the best place in all the Dogrib lands for a village, and we had lived long here in contentment.”

“But if that be so, there must be good reason for their having left,” suggested Cheenbuk.

“Good reason-yes, the men-of-the-woods never act without good reason.”

“My father may be perplexed about reasons,” continued the Eskimo, “but surely he will have no difficulty in finding his people, for are not the men-of-the-woods good at following up a trail?”

“Truly you say what is true.  It will be easy to find and follow the trail of a whole tribe,” returned Nazinred, with a smile.  “But it is disappointing to find that they have forsaken the old place, and it may be many days before we find them.”

“Father!” exclaimed Adolay at this point, a bright look overspreading her features, “mother must have left some sign on a piece of bark, as I did at Waruskeek.”

“I had expected as much,” said the Indian, looking round the camp, “and I had thought to find it here.”

“Not here,” returned the girl, with a soft laugh; “you don’t know mother as well as I do!  There is a tree, under the shade of which she and I used to work when the days were long.  If there is a message anywhere, it is there.”

She bounded away as she spoke, like a fawn, and in a few minutes returned with a piece of bark in her hand.

“Here it is, father.  I knew it would be there.  Let us sit down now and make it out.”

Sitting down beside the cold hearth of the old home, father and child began to spell out Isquay’s letter, while Cheenbuk looked on in admiring silence and listened.

The letter bore a strong family likeness to that which had formerly been written-or drawn-by Adolay at Waruskeek, showing clearly whence the girl had derived her talent.

“The hand at the top points the way clear enough,” said the Indian, “but were you careful to observe the direction before you moved it?”

“Of course I was, father.  I’m not a baby now,” returned the girl, with a laugh and a glance at Cheenbuk.

“That you certainly are not!” thought the Eskimo, with a look of open admiration.

“It pointed there,” she continued, extending her hand in a north-westerly direction.

“The Ukon River flows there,” returned Nazinred thoughtfully, as he traced the various parts of the letter with his forefinger.

“Is that river better than the Greygoose one?” asked Cheenbuk.

“No.  It is as good-not better,” replied the Indian, in an absent mood.  “Adolay, this piece of bark carries some strange news.  Here we have the whole tribe starting off for the Ukon with all their tents, provisions, and everything in sledges.  So they left in the cold season-”

“Yes, father,” interrupted Adolay, knitting her pretty brows as she earnestly scanned the letter, “but don’t you see the line of geese flying over the tree-tops?  That shows that it was at the beginning of the warm time.”

“Adolay is the worthy daughter of a Dogrib chief!” said Nazinred, patting the girl’s shoulder.

“I hope she’ll be the worthy wife of an Eskimo youth some day,” thought Cheenbuk, but, as usual, he said nothing.

“And look here, father,” continued Adolay,-“what do they mean by having all their snow-shoes slung on their guns instead of on their feet?”

“It means that the snow was very soft, beginning to melt, and it was easier to tramp through it without snow-shoes than with them.  I hope they have been careful, for there is great danger in crossing lakes and rivers at such a time of the year.”

“No fear of danger,” said Adolay, with a laugh, “when Magadar leads the way.  Don’t you see him there in front?  Mother knows how to draw faces-only his nose is too long.”

“That is to show that he is the guide,” observed Nazinred.  “Did you not do the very same thing yourself when you made Cheenbuk’s nose far too long-for the same purpose?”

Adolay laughed heartily at this, and Cheenbuk joined her, feeling his nose at the same time, as if to make sure that its handsome proportions were not changed.

“And look-look, father!” resumed the girl, growing excited over the letter; “that is your friend Mozwa!  I feel sure of it by the shape of his legs.  Who could mistake his legs?  Nobody is like mother.  She does legs as well as faces.  But what is that on his wife’s back-not a new baby, surely?”

“Why not, my child?”

“Poor man!” sighed Adolay.  “He had enough to provide for before.”

“Poor woman!” thought Cheenbuk, but he maintained a discreet silence.

Of course it was decided to follow up the trail of the tribe without delay.  As Nazinred had surmised, it was easily found and not difficult to follow.  That night, however, the party encamped round the hearths of the deserted village.