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DR. NANSEN AS A MIGHTY NIMROD.
Some of the most graphic stories of hunting in the Arctic are from Dr. Nansen's pen. He himself was the best shot and the most tireless game-stalker of those on the Fram; and he could write about it afterward with the touch of an artist.
Describing the pursuit and bagging of some reindeer, he writes:
''On Sunday, August 20th, we had, for us, uncommonly fine weather — blue sea, brilliant sunshine, and light wind, still from the northeast. In the afternoon we ran into the Kjellman Islands. These we could recognize from their position on Nordenskiold's map, but south of them we found many Islands, like rocks that have been ground smooth by the glaciers of the Ice unknown ones. They all had smoothly rounded forms, these Kjellman Age. The Fram anchored on the north side of the largest of them, and while the boiler was being refitted, some of us went ashore in the evening for some shooting. We had not left the ship when the mate, from the crow's nest, caught sight of reindeer. At once we were all agog; every one wanted to go ashore, and the mate was quite beside himself with the hunter's fever, his eyes as big as saucers, and his hands trembling as though he were drunk. Not until we were in the boat had we time to look seriously for the mate's reindeer. We looked in vain — not a living thing was to be seen in any direction. Yes — when we were close inshore we at last described a large flock of geese waddling upward from the beach. We were base enough to let a conjecture escape us that these were the mate's reindeer — a suspicion which he at first rejected with contempt. Gradually, however, his confidence oozed away. But it is possible to do an injustice even to a mate. The first thing I saw when I sprang ashore was old reindeer tracks. The mate had now the laugh on his side, ran from track to track, and swore that it was the reindeer he had seen.
TO LEEWARD OF THE DEER.
"When we got up on to the first height we saw several reindeer on flat ground to the south of us; but, the wind being from the north, we had to go back and make our way south along the shore till we got to leeward of them. The only one who did not approve of this plan was the mate, who was in a state of feverish eagerness to rush straight at some reindeer he thought he had seen to the east, which, of course, was an absolutely certain way to clear the field of every one of them. He asked and received permission to remain behind with Hansen, who was to take a magnetic observation; but had to promise not to move till he got the order.
"On the way along the shore we passed one great flock of geese after another; they stretched their necks and waddled aside a little until we were quite near, and only then took flight; but we had no time to waste on such small game. A little farther on we caught sight of one or two reindeer we had not noticed before. We could easily have stalked them, but were afraid of getting to windward of the others, which were farther south. At last we got to leeward of these latter also, but they were grazing on flat ground, and it was anything but easy to stalk them — not a hillock, not a stone to hide behind. The only thing was to form a long line, advance as best we could, and, if possible, outflank them. In the meantime we had caught sight of another herd of reindeer farther to the north, but suddenly, to our astonishment, saw them tear off across the plain eastward, in all probability startled by the mate, who had not been able to keep quiet any longer.
SEA, QUIET AND BEAUTIFUL.
"A little to the north of the reindeer nearest us there was a hollow, opening from the shore, from it seemed that it might be possible to get a shot at them. I went back to try this, while the others kept their places in the line. As I went down again towards the shore I had the sea before me, quiet and beautiful. The sun had gone down behind it not long before, and the sky was glowing in the clear, light night. I had to stand still for a minute. In the midst of all this beauty, man was doing the work of a beast of prey! At this moment I saw to the north a dark speck move down the height where the mate and Hansen ought to be. It divided into two, and the one moved east, just to the windward of the animals I was to stalk. They would get the scent immediately and be off. There was nothing for it but to hurry on, while I rained anything but good wishes on these fellows' heads. The gully was not so deep as I had expected. Its sides were just high enough to hide me when I crept on all fours. In the middle were large stones and clayey gravel, with a little runnel soaking through them. The reindeer were still grazing quietly, only now and then raising their heads to look around. My "cover" got lower and lower, and to the north I heard the mate. He would presently succeed in setting off my game. It was imperative to get on quickly, but there was no longer cover enough for me to advance on hands and knees. My only chance was to wriggle forward like a snake on my stomach. But in this soft clay — in the bed of the stream? Yes — meat is too precious on board, and the beast of prey is too strong in a man. My clothes must be sacrificed; on I crept on my stomach through the mud. But soon there was hardly cover enough even for this. I squeezed myself flat among the stones and ploughed forward like a drain-cutting machine. And I did make way, if not quickly and comfortably, still surely.
"All this time the sky was turning darker and darker red behind me, and it was getting more and more difficult to use the sights of my gun, not to mention the trouble I had in keeping the clay from them and from the muzzle. The reindeer still grazed quietly on. When they raised their heads to look round I had to lie as quiet as a mouse, feeling the water trickling gently under my stomach; when they began to nibble the moss again, off I went through the mud. Presently I made the disagreeable discovery that they were moving away from me about as fast as I could move forward, and I had to redouble my exertions. But the darkness was getting worse and worse, and I had the mate to the north of me, and presently he would start them off. The outlook was anything but bright either morally or physically. The hollow was getting shallower and shallower, so that I was hardly covered at all. I squeezed myself still deeper into the mud. A turn in the ground helped me forward to the next little height; and now they were right in front of me, within what I should have called easy range if it had been daylight. I tried to take aim, but could not see the bead on my gun.
PREY MOVE ON AHEAD.
"Man's fate is sometimes hard to bear. My clothes were dripping with wet clay, and after what seemed to me most meritorious exertions, here I was at the goal, unable to take advantage of my position. But now the' reindeer moved down into a small depression. I crept forward a little way farther as quickly as I could. I was in a splendid position, so far as I could tell in the. dark, but I could not see the bead any better than before. It was impossible to get nearer, for there was only a smooth slope between us. There was no sense in thinking of waiting for light to shoot by. It was not midnight, and I had that terrible mate to the north of me; besides, the wind was not to be trusted. I held the rifle up against the sky to see the bead clearly, and then lowered it on the reindeer. I did this once, twice, thrice. The bead was still far from clear, but, all the same, I thought I might hit, and pulled the trigger. The two deer gave a sudden start, looked round in astonishment, and bolted off a little way south. There they stood still again, and at this moment were joined by a third deer, which had been standing rather farther north. I fired off all the cartridges in the magazine, and all to the same good purpose. The creatures started and moved off a little at each shot and then trotted farther south. Presently they made another halt, to take a long careful look at me; and I dashed off westward as hard as I could run, to turn them. Now they were off straight in the direction where some of my comrades ought to be. I expected every moment to hear shots and see one or two of the animals fall; but away they ambled southward, quite unchecked. At last, far to the south, crack went a rifle. I could see by the smoke that it was at too low a range; so in high dudgeon I shouldered my rifle and lounged in the direction of the shot. It was pleasant to see such a good result for all one's trouble.
"No one was to be seen anywhere. At length I met Sverdrup; it was he who had fired. Soon Blessing joined us, but all the others had long since left their posts. While Blessing went back to the boat and his botanizing box, Sverdrup and I went on to try our luck once more. A little farther south we came to a valley stretching right across the island. On the farther side of it we saw a man standing on a hillock, and not far from him a herd of five or six reindeer. As it never occurred to us to doubt that the man was in the act of stalking these, we avoided going in that direction, and soon he and his reindeer disappeared to the west. I heard afterwards that he had never seen the deer. As it was evident that when the reindeer to the south of us were startled they would have to come back across this valley, and as the island at this part was so narrow that we commanded the whole of it, we determined to take up our posts here and wait. We accordingly got in the lee of some great boulders, out of the wind. In front of Sverdrup was a large flock of geese, near the mouth of the stream, close down by the shore. They kept up an incessant gabble, and the temptation to have a shot at them was very great; but, considering the reindeer, we thought it best to leave them in peace. They gabbled and waddled away down through the mud and soon took wing.
FOR THE QUARRY.
"The time seemed long. At first we listened with all our ears — the reindeer must come very soon — and our eyes wandered incessantly backward and forward along the slope on the other side of the valley. But no reindeer came, and soon we were having a struggle to keep our eyes open and our heads up — we had not had much sleep the last few days. They must be coming! We shook ourselves awake, and gave another look along the bank, till again the eyes softly closed and the heads began to nod, while the chill wind blew through our wet clothes, and I shivered with cold. This sort of thing went on for an hour or two, until the sport began to pall on me, and I scrambled from my shelter along towards Sverdrup, who was enjoying it about as much as I was. We climbed the slope on the other side of the valley, and were hardly at the top before we saw the horns of six splendid reindeer on a height in front of us. They were restless, scenting westward, trotting round in a circle, and then sniffing again. They could not have noticed us as yet, as the wind was blowing at right angles to the line between them and us. We stood a long time watching their maneuvers, and waiting their choice of a direction, but they had apparently great difficulty in making it. At last off they swung south and east, and off we went southeast as hard as we could go, to get across their course before they got scent of us. Sverdrup had got well ahead, and I saw him rushing across a flat piece of ground; presently he would be at the right place to meet them. I stopped, to be in readiness to cut them off on the other side if they should face about and make off northward again. There were six splendid animals, a big buck in front. They were heading straight for Sverdrup, who was now crouching down on the slope. I expected every moment to see the foremost fall. A shot rang out! Round wheeled the whole flock like lightning, and back they came at a gallop. It was my turn now to run with all my might, and off I went over the stones, down towards the valley we had come from. I only stopped once or twice to take breath, and to make sure the animals were coming in the direction I had reckoned on — then off again. We were getting near each other now; they were coming on just where I had calculated; the thing now was to be in time for them. I made my long legs go their fastest over the boulders, and took leaps from stone to stone that would have surprised myself at a more sober moment. More than once my foot slipped, and I went down head first among the boulders, gun and all. But the wild beast in me had the upper hand now. The passion of the chase vibrated through every fibre of my body.
WHISTLE THROUGH AIR.
"We reached the slant of the valley almost at the same time — a leap or two to get up on some big boulders, and the moment had come — I must shoot, though the shot was a long one. When the smoke cleared away I saw the big buck trailing a broken hind leg. When their leader stopped, the whole flock turned and ran in a ring round the poor animal. They could not understand what was happening, and strayed about wildly with the balls whistling round them. Then off they went down the side of the valley again, leaving another of their number behind with a broken leg. I tore after them, across the valley and up on the other side, in the hope of getting another shot, but gave that up and turned back to make sure of the two wounded ones. At the bottom of the valley stood one of the victims awaiting its fate. It looked imploringly at me, and then, just as I was going forward to shoot it, made off much quicker than I could have thought possible for an animal on three legs to go. Sure of my shot, of course I missed; and now began a chase, which ended in the poor beast, blocked in every other direction, rushing down towards the sea and wading into a small lagoon on the shore, whence I feared it might get right out into the sea. At last it got its quietus there in the water. The other one was not far off, and a ball soon put an end to its sufferings also. As I was proceeding to rip it up, Henriksen and Johansen appeared; they had just shot a bear a little farther south."
Hunting the mighty walrus is described by Dr. Nansen thus:
"Thursday, September 12th. Henriksen awoke me this morning at 6 with the information that there were several walruses lying on a floe quite close to us. 'By Jove!' Up I jumped and had my clothes on in a trice. It was a lovely morning — fine, still weather; the walruses' guffaw sounded over to us along the clear ice surface. They were lying crowded together on a floe a little to landward from us, blue mountains glittering behind them in the sun. At last the harpoons were sharpened, guns and cartridges ready, and Henriksen, Juell, and I set off. There seemed to be a slight breeze from the south, so we rowed to the north side of the floe, to get to leeward of the animals. From time to time their sentry raised his head, but apparently did not see us. We advanced slowly, and soon we were so near that we had to row very cautiously. Juell kept us going, while Henriksen was ready in the bow with a harpoon, and I behind him with a gun. The moment the sentry raised his head the oars stopped, and we stood motionless; when he sunk it again, a few more strokes brought us nearer.
MASSES OF FLESH.
"Body to body they lay close — packed on a small floe, old and young ones mixed. Enormous masses of flesh they were! Now and again one of the ladies fanned herself by moving one of her flappers backward and forward over her body; then she lay quiet again on her back or side. 'Good gracious! what a lot of meat!' said Juell, who was cook. More and more cautiously we drew near. While I sat ready with the gun, Henriksen took a good grip of the harpoon shaft, and as the boat touched the floe he rose, and off flew the harpoon. But it struck too high, glanced off the tough hide, and skipped over the backs of the animals. Now there was a pretty to do! Ten or twelve great weird faces glared upon us at once; the colossal creatures twisted themselves round with incredible celerity, and came waddling with lifted heads and hollow bellowings to the edge of the ice where we lay. It was undeniably an imposing sight; but I laid my gun to my shoulder and fired at one of the biggest heads. The animal staggered, and then fell head foremost into the water. Now a ball into another head; this creature fell too, but was able to fling itself into the sea. And now the whole herd dashed in, and we as well as they were hidden in spray. It had all happened in a few seconds. But up they came again immediately round the boat, the one head bigger and uglier than the other, their young ones close beside them. They stood up in the water, bellowed and roared till the air trembled, threw themselves forward towards us, then rose up again, and new bellowings filled the air. Then they rolled over and disappeared with a splash, then bobbed up again. The water foamed and boiled for yards around — the ice-world that had been so still before seemed in a moment to have been transformed into a raging bedlam. Any moment we might expect to have a walrus tusk of two through the boat, or to be heaved up and capsized. Something of this kind was the very least that could happen after such a terrible commotion. But the hurly-burly went on and nothing came of it. I again picked out my victims. They went on bellowing and grunting like the others, but with blood streaming from their mouths and noses. Another ball, and one tumbled over and floated on the water; now a ball to the second, and it did the same. Henriksen was ready with the harpoons, and secured them both. One more was shot; but we had no more harpoons, and had to strike a seal-hook into it to hold it up. The hook slipped, however, and the animal sank before we could save it. While we were towing our booty to an ice-floe we were still, for part of the time at least, surrounded by walruses; but there was no use in shooting any more, for we had no means of carrying them off. The Fram presently came up and took our two on board, and we were soon going ahead along the coast. We saw many walruses in this part. We shot two others in the afternoon, and could have got many more if we had had time to spare. It was in this same neighborhood that Nordenskiold also saw one or two small herds."
THE POLAR BEAR.
Bear were plentiful in most of the region through which the Fram passed. One experience with the great white species of Bruin is thus described in "Farthest North."
"As Sverdrup, Juell, and I were sitting in the chart-room in the afternoon, splicing rope for the sounding-line, Peter rushed in shouting, 'A bear! a bear !' I snatched up my rifle and tore out. 'Where is it?' 'There, near the tent, on the starboard side; it came right up to it and had almost got hold of them!'
"And there it was, big and yellow, snuffing away at the tent gear. Hansen, Blessing, and Johansen were running at the top of their speed towards the ship. Onto the ice I jumped, and off I went, broke through, stumbled, fell and up again. The bear in the meantime had done sniffing, and had probably determined that an iron spade, an ice-staff, an axe, some tent-pegs, and a canvas tent were too indigestible food even for a bear's stomach. Anyhow, it was following with mighty strides in the track of the fugitives. It caught sight of me and stopped, astonished, as if it were thinking, 'What sort of insect can that be?' I went on to within easy range; it stood still, looking hard at me. At last it turned its head a little, and I gave it a ball in the neck. Without moving a limb, it sank slowly to the ice. I now let loose some of the dogs to accustom them to this sort of sport, but they showed a lamentable want of interest in it; and 'Kvik,' on whom all our hope in the matter of bear-hunting rested, bristled up and approached the dead animal very slowly and carefully, with her tail between her legs — a sorry spectacle.
"I must now give the story of the others who made the bear's acquaintance first. Hansen had today begun to set up his observatory tent a little ahead of the ship, on the starboard bow. In the afternoon he got Blessing and Johansen to help him. While they were hard at work they caught sight of the bear not far from them, just off the bow of the Fram,
" 'Hush! keep quiet, in case we frighten him,' says Hansen.
" 'Yes, yes!' And they crouch together and look at him.
" 'I think I'd better try to slip on board and announce him,' says Blessing.
" 'I think you should,' says Hansen.
"And off steals Blessing on tiptoe, so as not to frighten the bear. By this time Bruin has seen and scented them, and comes jogging along, following his nose, towards them.
CHASES A HUNTER.
"Hansen now began to get over his fear of startling him. The bear caught sight of Blessing slinking off to the ship and set after him. Blessing also was now much less concerned than he had been as to the bear's nerves. He stopped, uncertain what to do; but a moment's reflection brought him to the conclusion that it was pleasanter to be three than one just then, and he went back to the others faster than he had gone from them. The bear followed at a good rate. Hansen did not like the look of things, and thought the time had come to try a dodge he had seen recommended in a book. He raised himself to his full height, flung his arms about, and yelled with all the power of his lungs, ably assisted by the others. But the bear came on quite undisturbed. The situation was becoming critical. Each snatched up his weapon — Hansen an ice-staff, Johansen an axe, and Blessing nothing. They screamed with all their strength, 'Bear! bear!' and set off for the ship as hard as they could tear. But the bear held on his steady course to the tent, and examined everything there before (as we have seen) he went after them.
"It was a lean he-bear. The only thing that was found in its stomach when it was opened was a piece of paper, with the names 'Lutkin and Mohn.' This was the wrapping paper of a 'ski' light, and had been left by one of us somewhere on the ice. After this day some of the members of the expedition would hardly leave the ship without being armed to the teeth."