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The Husky Belles.—We-we and Caubvick.—"Abb," she said.—All Promenade.—Candy at a Discount.—"Pillitay, pillitay!"—Old Trull and the Husky Matron.—Gorgeous Gifts.—Adieu to the Arctic Beauties.
None of their women had come off with them; and, while the party that had gone after the bear were busy skinning it, Raed brought up a roll of flannel, with half a dozen knives, and, holding them up, pointed off to the mainland and said, "Henne-lay." Whereupon they fell to heh-hehing afresh with cries of "Igloo, igloo!" Kit pointed to our boat, hanging from the davits at the stern, and then off to the shore, to inquire whether we should send it for them; but they shook their heads, and cried, "Oomiak, oomiak!"
"Do they mean for us to take the schooner up there?" asked the captain.
Raed pointed to the deck, and then off to the shore, inquiringly. No, that was not it; though they still cried "Oomiak!" pointing off to the shore.
"Oomiak is a boat of their own, I guess," said Kit; "different from the kayak. They called 'The Curlew' oomiak-sook, you know."
"Tell them to bring some of their children along too," said Wade.
"Well, what's the word for child?" Raed inquired.
We none of us knew.
"Try pappoose," suggested the captain.
"Pappoose," said Raed, pronouncing it distinctly, and pointing off as before. "Henne-lay—pappoose."
But they only looked blank. Pappoose was evidently a new word for them. We then resorted to various expedients, such as holding our hands knee-high and hip-high; but the requisite gleam of intelligence could not be inspired. So, with another repetition of the word henne-lay, we started off a delegation of eight or nine after the female portion of the settlement.
While they were gone, the six who had gone to slaughter the bear came back, bringing the hide and a considerable quantity of the meat. Bits were distributed among the crowd, and eaten raw and reeking as if a delicacy. We chymoed the bear-skin from them for a bar of iron.
In about an hour a great ta-yar-r-r-ing from the shoreward bespoke the embarkation of the ladies; and, with our glasses, we could make out a large boat coming off, surrounded by kayaks.
"That's the oomiak," said Kit. "Looks like quite a barge."
"Don't lose your hearts now," laughed the captain. "Should hate to have an elopement from my ship here."
"I think Wade is in the most danger," said Raed. "He's very susceptible to Northern beauties. We must have an eye to him."
"Beware, Wade!" cried Kit. "Don't be led astray! Steel your heart against the seductive charms of these Husky belles! Remember how the hopes of your family are centred! What would your mother say? Your father would be sure to disinherit you! How would your sisters bear it?"
"Hold on, fellows!" exclaimed Wade. "This isn't quite fair, nor honorable,—making fun of ladies behind their backs."
"Right, sir!" cried Raed. "Spoken like a true son of the South! Ah! you did always outrank us in gallantry. No discount on it. Had your heads been as true as your hearts, the result might have been different. But here come the ladies. We must do our prettiest to please 'em, or we are no true knights. By the by, we resemble the wandering knight-errants not a little, I fear."
"Only their object was adventure, while ours is science," added Kit.
"Scientific knights!" laughed Wade. "Well, the world moves!"
The oomiak was now within fifty yards.
"Let's give 'em a salute!" exclaimed Kit. "Roll the ball out of the howitzer!"
"Oh! I wouldn't; it may scare 'em," said Raed.
"No, it won't. Where's a match?"
Bang went old brassy out of the stern.
It did startle them, I fancy. Something very much like a feminine screech rose in the oomiak. It was quickly hushed up, though, with no fainting, but any quantity of heh-heh-ing and yeh-yeh-ing from the fat beauties.
"Now give 'em two more from the muskets—two at a time—when they come under the side!" shouted Kit. "Hobbs, you and Don first! Ready!—fire!"
"Now Weymouth and Corliss!"
"There! I now consider their arrival properly celebrated. And here they are under the bows! Pipe the side for the ladies, captain!"
"Bless me!" exclaimed Raed; "how are we to get 'em aboard? Can't climb a line, I don't expect."
"Wouldn't do to give 'em the ratlines!" exclaimed Kit; "might entangle their pretty feet. What's to be done, captain?"
"I—give—it—up!" groaned Capt. Mazard. "Hold! I have it: the old companion-stairs,—the ones we had taken out. They are stowed away down in the hold."
"Just the thing!" cried Raed; "the very essence of gallantry!"
"Corliss, Bonney, and Hobbs," shouted the captain, "bear a hand at those old stairs,—quick! Don't keep ladies waiting!"
The old stairs were hurried up, and let down from the side. The captain stood ready with a stout line, which he whipped around the top rung, and then made fast to the bulwarks. "That'll hold 'em," said he.
The oomiak was then brought up close, and the foot of the stairs set inside the gunwale. The oomiak was about twenty-seven feet in length by six in width. Like the kayaks, it was covered with seal-skin; or perhaps it might have been the hide of the walrus. The framework was composed of both bone and wood tied and lashed together. This was the women's boat, and was rowed by them. The only man in it was a hideous, wrinkled old savage, who sat in the stern to steer.
"Two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve, and an odd one," counted Raed. "Invite 'em up, captain."
Capt. Mazard got up on the bulwarks with a line in his hand, and, holding it down over the stairs, began to bow and make signs to them to come up. Perhaps they had not intended to actually come on board; or perhaps, like their fairer sisters in other lands, they wanted to be coaxed a little. At first they discreetly hesitated, glancing alternately up at us, then round to their swarthy countrymen in the kayaks. The most of them were seemingly young. There was but one really ugly face; while four or five were evidently under fifteen. The women were not quite so swarthy and dark as the men, and wore their hair longer. Several of them had it pugged up behind. The captain and Raed now redoubled their gestures of invitation. The Esquimau men on board also began to jabber to them; at which, first two, then another, and another, stood up, and with broad smiles essayed to mount the stairs. Kit was standing close to me.
"Now, which are the prettiest ones?" he whispered. "Which are the belles? Let's you and I secure the belles away from Raed and Wade. Those two back in the stern next to old ghoul-face—how do those strike you? Aren't those the beauties? They've got on the prettiest fur, anyway. Only look at those white gloves!"
The two Kit had pointed out were, as well as we could judge, the fairest of the bevy.
"I believe Wade's got his eye on one of them!" muttered Kit. "We'll oust him, though. Crowd along sharp when those two come up. Elbow Wade out of the way. I'll push against you, and we'll squeeze him up against the rail."
The others followed the first two, coming up the steps, taking the captain's hand, and jumping off the rail to the deck. Our two came last.
"Now's our time!" exclaimed Kit; and, making a bold push, we got in ahead of the unsuspecting Wade, who immediately saw the sell, and turned away in great disgust.
"I'll pay you for that!" muttered he.
But, having got face to face with the fur-clad damsels, we were not a little perplexed how to make their acquaintance; for they were staring at us with their small black eyes very round and wondering.
"Try a great long smile," said Kit.
We smiled very hard and persistently for some seconds. It seemed to mollify their wonder somewhat.
"Keep it up," Kit advised: "that'll bring 'em."
We kept it up, smiling and bowing and nodding as gayly as we could; and were presently rewarded by seeing faint reflections of our grins on their dusky faces, which rapidly deepened into as broad a smile as I ever beheld. They had very tolerably wide mouths, with large white teeth. Having got up a smile, we next essayed to shake hands with them according to good old New-England custom. Their white gloves were of some sort of bird-skin, I think, and fitted—well, I've seen kid gloves worn that didn't fit a whit better. How to commence a conversation was not so easy; since we knew not more than a dozen words of their language, and could not frame these into sentences. So we began by making them each a present of a jack-knife. These were accepted with a great deal of broad smiling. Kit then showed them how to open the knives. At that one of the girls reached down to her boot; and, thrusting her hand into the leg of it (for their boots had remarkably large legs, coming up to the knee, and even higher), she fished out a little bone implement about four inches long, and resembling a harpoon. Near the centre of it was a tiny hole, in which there was knotted a bit of fine leathern string. It was plain that she meant to give it to one or the other of us. Kit held out his hand for it with a bow.
"Kina?" he asked, taking it. ("What is it?")
"Tar-suk," said the girl. "Tar-suk-apak-pee-o-mee-wanga;" which was plain, to be sure.
Meanwhile the other was industriously fumbling in her boot, and pretty quick drew out a bone image representing a fox, as I have always supposed. This was for me.
"Kina?" I asked.
"Bossuit," was the reply.
This was also pierced with a hole through the neck; and, on my hooking it to my watch-guard, the other girl fell to laughing at her companion, who also laughed a little confusedly, and with a look, which, in a less dusky maiden, might have been a blush. Just what importance they attach to these trinkets and to the wearing of them we could merely guess at.
"I wonder what their names are," said Kit. "How can we find out? Would they understand by our using the word kina, do you suppose?"
Kit then pointed to the one who was talking with me, and said "kina" to the other. She did not seem to understand at first: but, on a repetition of the question, replied, "We-we;" at which her companion looked suddenly around. Then they talked with each other a moment. We-we, as I afterwards learned, meant white goose. I then put the same question to We-we, pointing to the other.
"Caubvick," she replied.
Just then Wade passed us; and, lo! he had a white-gloved damsel on his arm, promenading along the deck as big as life.
"What's her name?" cried Kit.
"Ikewna," he replied over his shoulder.
How he had found out he would never tell us; perhaps in the same manner we had done.
"I declare, Wade's outdoing us!" exclaimed Kit. "But we can promenade too."
I then pointed to Wade and Ikewna, and then to We-we and myself, offering my arm.
"Abb," she said; and we started off.
Kit and Caubvick followed. After all, walking with an Esquimau belle is not so very different from walking with a Yankee girl: only I fancy it must have looked a little odd; for, as I have already stated, they wore long-legged boots with very broad tops coming above the knee, silver-furred seal-skin breeches, and a jacket of white hare-skin (the polar hare) edged with the down of the eider-duck. These jackets had at least one very peculiar feature: that was nothing less than a tail about four inches broad, and reaching within a foot of the ground. I have no doubt they were in style: still they did look a little singular, to say the least.
Meanwhile the others were not idle spectators, judging from the loud talking, yeh-yeh-ing, and unintelligible lingo, that resounded all about. We saw Raed paying the most polite attentions to a very chubby, fat girl with a black fur jacket and yellow gloves.
"What name?" demanded Kit as we promenaded past.
"Pussay," replied Raed, trying to look very sober.
The word pussay means a seal; and in this case the name was not much misplaced. We-we (white goose) was, to my eye, decidedly the prettiest of the lot; Caubvick came next; and, as we promenaded past Wade, we kept boasting of their superior charms as compared with Ikewna. Our two both wore white jackets; while Wade's wore a yellow one, of fox-skin.
"How about refreshments!" cried Wade at length. "We ought to treat them, hadn't we?"
"That's so," said Raed. "Captain, have the goodness to call Palmleaf, and bid him bring up a box of that candy."
The captain came along.
"Didn't you see the rumpus?" he asked.
"Yes; when Palmleaf came on deck just after the women came on board. They were afraid of him. He came poking his black head up out of the forecastle, and rolling his eyes about. If he had been the Devil himself, they couldn't have acted more scared. I had to send him below out of sight, or there would have been a general stampede. The men are afraid of him. I don't understand exactly why they should be."
None of us did at the time; but we learned subsequently that the Esquimaux attribute all their ill-luck to a certain fiend, or demon, in the form of a huge black man. We have, therefore, accounted for their strange fear and aversion to the negro on that ground. They thought he was the Devil,—their devil. So Hobbs brought up the candy. Raed passed it round, giving each of our visitors two sticks apiece. This was plainly a new sort of treat. They stood, each holding the candy in their hands, as if uncertain to what use it was to be put. Raed then set them an example by biting off a chunk. At that they each took a bite. We expected they would be delighted. It was therefore with no little chagrin that we beheld our guests making up the worst possible faces, and spitting it out anywhere, everywhere,—on deck, against the bulwarks, overboard, just as it happened. The most of them immediately threw away the candy; though We-we and Caubvick, out of consideration for our feelings perhaps, quietly tucked theirs into their boot-legs. There was an awkward pause in the hospitalities. Clearly, candy wouldn't pass for a delicacy with them.
"Try 'em with cold boiled beef!" exclaimed the captain.
Luckily, as it occurred, Palmleaf had lately boiled up quite a quantity. It was cut up in small pieces, and distributed among them; and, at the captain's suggestion, raw fat pork was given the men. This latter, however, was much too salt for them: so that, on the whole, our refreshments were a failure. It is doubtful if they liked the cooked meat half so well as they did the raw, reeking flesh of the bear.
By way of making up for the candy failure, we gave them each two common tenpenny nails, and two sticks of hardwood the size we burned in the stove. With these presents they seemed very well pleased, particularly with the wood. But, on finding we were disposed to give, the most of them were not at all modest about asking for more. A general cry of "Pillitay" ("Give me something") arose. We gave them another stick of wood all round; at which their cries were redoubled. In short, they treated us very much as some earnest Christians do the Lord,—asked for everything they could think of. Old Trull was especially pestered by one woman, who stuck to him with a continuous whine of "Pillitay, pillitay!" He had already given her his jack-knife, and now borrowed it to cut off several of the brass buttons on his jacket. But so far was she from being satisfied with this sacrifice, that she instantly began pillitaying for the rest of them. The old man thought that this was carrying the thing a little too far.
"Ye old jade!" he exclaimed, out of all patience. "Ye'd beg me stark naked, I du believe!"
But still the woman with outstretched hand cried "Pillitay!" Finally the old chap in pure desperation caught out his tobacco to take a chew. Eying her a moment, he bit it off, and put the rest in her hand with a grim smile. The woman, following his example, forthwith bit off a piece, and chewed at it for a few seconds, swallowing the saliva; then turned away sick and vomiting. She didn't pillitay him any more.
To the honor of maidenhood, I may add that We-we, Caubvick, Ikewna, and Pussay were exceptions to the general rule of beggary. They asked us for nothing. Something seemed to restrain them: perhaps the attentions we had shown them. Be that as it may, they fared the better for it. Wade led off by giving Ikewna a broad, highly-colored worsted scarf, which he wrapped in folds about her fox-jacket, covering it entirely, and giving her a very distingué look. Not to be behind, Kit and I gave to We-we and Caubvick three yards of bright-red flannel apiece; also a red-and-black silk handkerchief each to wear over their shoulders, and two massive (pinchbeck) breast-pins. These latter articles did make their little piercing black eyes sparkle amazingly.
How long they would have stayed on board, Heaven only knows,—all summer, perhaps,—had not the captain given orders to have the schooner brought round. The moment the vessel began to move, they were seized with a panic, lest they should be carried off from home. The men were over into their kayaks instantly. Having got rid of them, "The Curlew" was again hove to, while the oomiak was brought under the stairs. We bade a hasty farewell to the Husky belles, and handed them into their barge. On the whole, we were not much sorry to be rid of them; for though they were human beings, and some of the young girls not without their attractions, yet it was humanity in a very crude, raw state. In a word, they were savages, destitute to a lamentable extent of all those finer feelings and sentiments which characterize a civilized race. The roughest of our Gloucester lads were immeasurably in advance of them; and Palmleaf, but recently a lash-fearing slave, seemed of a higher order of beings.
They were gone; but they had left an odor behind. We had to keep Palmleaf burning coffee on a shovel all the rest of the evening; and, for more than a month after, we could smell it at times,—a "sweet souvenir of our Husky beauties," as Wade used to put it.
There is something at once hopeless and pitiful about this people. There is no possibility of permanently bettering their condition. Born and living under a climate, which, from the gradual shifting of the pole, must every year grow more and more severe, they can but sink lower and lower as the struggle for existence grows sharper. There is no hope for them. Their absurd love of home precludes the possibility of their emigrating to a warmer latitude. Pitiful! because, where-ever the human life-spark is enkindled, his must be a hard heart that can see it suffering, dying, without pity.