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A Barren Shore, and a Strange Animal, which is captured by blowing up its Den.—Palmleaf falls in with the Esquimaux, and is chased by them.—"Twau-ve!"—"A Close Shave."—An Attack threatened.—The Savages dispersed with the Howitzer.
To avoid the thick patches of heavy ice which were this afternoon driving out toward the Atlantic, we bore up quite near the mainland on the north side, and continued beating on, with the wind north all night, at the rate of—at a guess—two knots per hour. It was dull work. We turned in at twelve, and slept soundly till five, when the noisy rattling of the cable through the hawse aroused us. The wind had died out, and they had dropped the anchor in forty-three fathoms. It was a cloudy morning: every thing had a leaden, dead look. We were about half a mile from the shore; and after breakfast, having nothing better to do, fell to examining it with our glasses. Shelving ledges rose up, terrace on terrace, into dark mountains, back two and three miles from the sea. The whole landscape seemed made up of water, granite, and ice. The black, leathern lichens added to the gloomy aspect of the shore-rocks, on which the waves were beating—forever beating—with sullen plashings. Terrible must be the aspect of this coast in winter. Now the hundreds of water-fowl wheeling over it, and enlivening the crags with their cries, softened its grimness. Farther along the shore-ledges Kit presently espied a black animal of some kind, and called our attention to it.
"He seems to be eating something there," said he.
We looked at it.
"It's not an Esquimau dog, is it?" Wade asked.
"Oh, no! head don't look like a dog's," observed Kit. "Besides, their dogs are not so dark-colored as that."
"This seems from here to be almost or quite black," Raed remarked; "as black as Guard. Not quite so large, though."
Wade thought it was fully as large.
"If we were in Maine, I should say it was a small black bear," said Kit; "but I have never heard of a black bear being seen north of Hudson Straits."
The head seemed to me to be too small for a bear.
"Captain, what do you think of that animal?" Kit asked, handing him his glass.
Capt. Mazard looked.
"If it hadn't such short legs, I should pronounce it a black wolf," he replied. "It's too large for a fisher, isn't it? I don't know that fishers are found so far north, either. How is that?"
"Hearne, in his 'Northern Journey,' speaks of the fisher being met with, farther west, in latitude as far north as this," said I.
"But that's too big for a fisher," said Raed; "too thick and heavy. A fisher is slimmer."
"Who knows but it may be a new species!" exclaimed Kit, laughing. "Now's a chance to distinguish ourselves as naturalists. If we can discover a new animal of that size in this age of natural history, and prove that we are the discoverers, it will be monument enough for us: we can then afford to retire on our laurels. Call it a long Latin name, and tack our own names, with the ending ii or us on them, to that, and you're all right for distant posterity. That's what some of our enterprising young naturalists, who swarm out from Yale and Cambridge, seem to think. Only a few weeks ago, I was reading of a new sort of minute infusorial insect or mollusk, I don't pretend to understand which, bearing the name of 'Mussa Braziliensis Hartii Verrill.' Now, I like that. There's a noble aspiration for fame as well as euphony. Only it's a little heavy on the poor mollusk to make him draw these aspiring young gentlemen up the steep heights of ambition. But if they can afford to risk two names on a tiny bit of jelly as big as the head of a pin, say, I think we should be justified in putting all four of ours on to this big beast over here. And, since the captain thinks it's like a wolf, suppose we call it 'Lupus rabidus Additonii Burleighii Raedwayvius'"—
"There, that'll do!" cried Raed. "You've spelt! Go up head!"
"There's another creature coming along the rocks!" exclaimed Wade. "That's a bear! He's coming out where the black one is!"
"There," said Raed, "you can see now that the bear is much the larger."
"Yes; but a white bear is considerably larger than a black bear," replied Kit.
"Look quick!" cried Wade. "There's going to be a brush! See the black one bristle up!"
"He's got something there he don't want to give up," said the captain.
"Bear says, 'I'll take your place at that,'" laughed Kit. "He walks up to him. By George! did you see the black one jump at him? Bear sent him spinning with his paw. He won't go off. Stands there growling, I'll bet."
"I should really like to know what sort of a beast that is," said Raed. "Captain, have the boat let down, if you please. I would like to go over there."
"Good chance to get another bear-skin," observed Kit. "We need one more."
The boat was lowered; and we four, with Guard, and Weymouth and Don to row, got into it, and paddled across toward where the bear was feeding, and the black creature, sitting up like a dog, watching him. We worked up quietly to within about half a cable's length (three hundred and sixty feet) without disturbing them. It was a pretty large bear: but the black animal did not seem more than two-thirds as large as Guard; and, the nearer we came to it, the more in doubt we were as to its species.
"I never saw any thing at all like it," remarked Raed.
"Wouldn't it be jolly if it should prove to be a new, undiscovered animal!" exclaimed Wade.
"That's rather too good to be true," replied Kit; "but we'll see."
Just then Guard got his eye on them, and barked gruffly. The bear looked round: so did the black creature.
"Kit, you and Wade take the bear," advised Raed. "Wash and I will fire at the black one. Get good aim, now."
We took as good aim as the rocking of the boat would permit, and fired nearly together. The bear growled out savagely: the black beast snarled.
"There they go!" exclaimed Weymouth.
The bear was running off along the shore, galloping like a hog. The black animal was going straight back over the ledges.
"Pull in quick!" shouted Raed.
The boat was rowed up to the shore. Jumping out, we pulled it up on the rocks.
"Here, Guard!" cried Kit, running forward to where the ledges gave a better view. "There he goes! take him now!" for we had got a momentary glimpse of the black animal crossing the crest of a ledge several hundred yards away.
"Come on, Weymouth!" exclaimed Wade; "and you, Donovan! Let's we three go after the bear. They'll take care of the new species: we'll go for the old."
Kit had run on after Guard. Raed and I followed as fast as we could. The Newfoundland, chasing partly by sight and partly by scent, was already a good way ahead; and we soon lost sight of him among the ledgy hillocks and ridges. We could hear him barking; but the rocks echoed the sound so confusedly, that it was hard telling where he was. Hundreds of kittiwakes were starting up all about us too, with such a chorus of cries that it was not very clear which was dog. Presently we lost sound of Guard altogether, and wandered on at random for ten or fifteen minutes, but finally met him coming back. As soon as he saw us, he turned and led off again; and, following him for thirty or forty rods, we came to a fissure between two large rocky fragments, partially overlaid by a third. Guard ran up, and by a bark seemed to say, "In here!" Kit thrust in his musket, and we heard a growl.
"Holed him!" cried Raed.
"Pretty strong posish, though," said Kit, looking about. "If we only had a big pry here, we might heave up this top rock, and so get at him."
"I don't suppose there's a tree big enough to use as a lever within a hundred miles of here," remarked Raed, looking around.
We ran in our muskets, but could not touch the creature. He seemed to have crept round an angle of one of the bottom rocks, so as to be well out of reach and out of range. The hole was scarcely large enough to admit Guard, and the dog did not seem greatly disposed to go in. We fired our muskets, one at a time, holding the muzzles inside the opening, hoping to frighten the animal out; but he didn't see fit to leave his stronghold.
"If we had only a pound or two of powder here," observed Raed, examining the crevices about the rocks, "I think we might mine this top rock, and blow it up."
"That will be the only way to get at him," said Kit.
"Well, we can go back to the schooner for some," I suggested.
"Yes," said Kit. "Raed, you and Guard stay here and watch him. Wash and I will go for the powder."
We started off, and, on getting back to the beach, found Wade, with Weymouth and Donovan, standing near the boat.
"Where's your bear?" Kit demanded.
"You say," laughed Weymouth, "you were one of the two that shot at him."
"He showed too much speed for us," said Donovan.
"But where's your new species?" Wade inquired.
"Oh! he's all right,—up here in a hole."
"That so? Here's what he was eating when the bear drove him away," pointing down among the rocks, where a lot of large bones lay partly in the water.
"What kind of an animal was that?" Kit asked.
"A finback, I think," replied Weymouth. "Died or got killed among the ice, and the waves washed the carcass up here. Been dead a good while."
"I should say so, by the smell. Putrid, isn't it? Why, that beast must have had a strong stomach!"
Weymouth and Donovan went off to the schooner after the powder in our places, and came back in about twenty minutes. Palmleaf was with them.
"You haven't come on another bear-hunt, I hope!" cried Wade.
"No, sar. Don't tink much of dem bars, sar. Got a voice jest like ole massa down Souf. 'Spression very much like his when he used ter take at us cullered folks with his bowie-knife."
"Pity he hadn't overtaken you with it!" Wade exclaimed, to hector him. "He would have saved the hangman a job—not far distant."
"Dere's a difference ob 'pinions as to where de noose ought ter come," muttered the affronted darky. "Some tinks it's in one place, some in anoder."
Securing the boat by the painter to a rock, we went up over the ledges to where Raed was doing sentinel duty before the fissure.
"Has he made any demonstrations?" Kit asked.
"Growls a little occasionally," said Raed. "I've been looking at the cracks under this top rock. This on the right is the one to mine, I think. I've cleared it out: it's all ready for the powder. What have you got for a slow match?"
Donovan had brought a bit of rope, which he picked to pieces, while Kit and Raed sifted in the powder. The tow was then laid in a long trail, running back some two feet from the crack.
"Now be ready to shoot when the blast goes off," advised Raed. "He may jump out and run. Palmleaf, you keep Guard back."
The rest of us took our stand off thirty or forty yards, and, cocking our guns, stood ready to shoot. Raed then lighted a match, touched the tow, and retired with alacrity. It flamed up, and ran along the train; then suddenly went nearly out, but blazed again, and crept slowly up to the powder; when whank! and the rock hopped out from between the others, and rolled spitefully along the ground. We stood with our guns to our shoulders, and our fingers on the triggers. But the beast didn't show himself.
"Possibly it killed him," said Kit.
Raed picked up some rough pebbles, and pitched one over between the rocks. Instantly there was a scramble, and our black-furred friend leaped out and ran.
Crack-k-k-k!—a running fire. Guard rushed after him. The creature fell at the reports, but scrambled up as the dog charged upon him, and tried to defend himself. But the bullets had riddled him. In an instant, Guard had him by the throat: he was dead. There were five shot-holes in the carcass: one of them, at least, must have been received when we fired at him from the boat.
It was a very strong, muscular creature, with short stout legs and broad feet, with claws not so sharp and retractile as a lynx's; seemingly intermediate between a cat's claws and a dog's nails. The tail was quite long and bushy: indeed, the creature was rather shaggy, than otherwise. The head and mouth were not large for the body. The teeth seemed to me much like those of a lynx. I have no doubt that it was a glutton (Gulo luscus), or wolverine, as they are indifferently called; though none of us had at that time previously seen one of these creatures. Donovan and Weymouth undertook to skin it; and, while they were thus employed, the rest of us, with Palmleaf and Guard, went off to shoot a dozen kittiwakes. We had gone nearly half a mile, I presume, and secured five birds, when Wade called out to us to see a large eagle, or hawk, which was wheeling slowly about a high crag off to the left.
"It's a white-headed eagle, isn't it?" said he.
Kit thought it might be. But Raed and I both thought not. It seemed scarcely so large; and, so far as we could see, the head was not white. It occurred to me that it might be the famous gerfalcon, or Icelandic eagle; and, on mentioning this supposition, Raed and Kit both agreed with me that it seemed likely. Wishing, if possible, to secure it, I crept along under the crag, and, watching my chance as it came circling over, fired. 'Twas a very long shot. I had little expectation of hitting: yet my bullet must have struck it; for it flapped over, and came toppling down till within a hundred feet of the top of the crag, when it recovered itself, mounted a little, but gradually settled in the air till lost from sight behind the crag. Thinking it barely possible that it might fall to the ground, I sent Palmleaf with Guard round where the acclivity was not so great, to look for it. The negro had seen the bird fall, and started off. I let him take my musket, and, with the rest of the boys, went down to the water, which was distant from where we then were not more than a hundred rods. Donovan and Weymouth had already finished skinning the glutton, and gone down to the boat. Knowing we had followed off to the left, they embarked, and came paddling along to pick us up. They came up; and we got in with our kittiwakes, and then stood off a few yards to wait for the negro. I had not expected he would be gone so long. We were looking for him every moment; when suddenly we heard the report of his musket, apparently a long way behind the crag.
"Confound the darky!" muttered Raed. "What could possess him to go so far?"
"Perhaps the eagle kept flying on," suggested Kit.
We waited fifteen or twenty minutes. No signs of him.
"You don't suppose the rascal's got lost, do you?" Wade said.
"No need of that, I should imagine," replied Raed.
We waited ten or fifteen minutes longer.
"We might as well go after him," Kit was saying; when, at a distance, a great shouting and uproar arose, accompanied by the barking of dogs and all the other accompaniments of a general row and rumpus.
"What the dickens is up now?" exclaimed Kit.
"It's the Huskies!" cried Weymouth.
"You don't suppose they are after Palmleaf, do you?" Raed demanded.
We listened eagerly. The hubbub was increasing; and, a moment later, we espied the negro bursting over the ledges off to the left at a headlong run, with a whole crowd of Esquimaux only a few rods behind, brandishing their harpoons and darts. There were dogs, too. Guard was running with Palmleaf, facing about every few leaps, and barking savagely. All the dogs were barking; all the Huskies were ta-yar-r-r-ing and chasing on.
"They'll have him!" shouted Kit. "To the rescue!"
A smart pull of the oars sent the boat up to the rocks. Raed and Kit and Wade sprang out, cocking their muskets; Donovan followed with one of the oars; and I seized the boat-hook, and started after them. Palmleaf was tearing down toward the water, running for his life. He had lost the musket. Seeing us, he set up a piteous howl of terror. He had distanced his pursuers a little. The savages were now six or eight rods behind; but the dogs were at his heels, and were only kept off him by the sudden facings and savage growls of Guard, who valiantly stemmed the canine avalanche. We met him about fifty yards from the boat, and raised a loud hurrah.
"Into the boat with you!" Raed sang out to him.
The dogs howled and snarled viciously at us. Donovan cut at them with his oar right and left; while Raed, Kit, and Wade levelled their muskets at the horde of rushing, breathless savages, who seemed not to have seen us at all till that moment, so intent had they been after the negro. Discovering us, the front ones tried to pull up; and, those behind running up, they were all crowded together, shouting and screaming, and punching each other with their harpoons.
"Avast there!" shouted Donovan, flourishing his oar.
"Halt!" ordered Wade.
While Kit, remembering a word of Esquimaux, bade them "Twau-ve" ("Begone") at the top of his voice.
I must say that they were a wicked-looking lot,—the front ones, at least,—comprising some of the largest Esquimaux we had yet seen. There must have been thirty or forty in the front groups; and others were momentarily rushing in from behind. The dogs, too, fifty or sixty at least calculation,—great, gaunt, wolfish, yellow curs,—looked almost as dangerous as their masters.
"We must get out of this!" exclaimed Raed; for they were beginning to brandish their harpoons menacingly, and shout and howl still louder.
"If we turn, they'll set upon us before we can get into the boat!" muttered Kit.
"Fire over their heads, to gain time!" shouted Wade. "Ready!"
The three muskets cracked. A great ta-yar-r-r and screeching followed the reports; under cover of which and the smoke we legged it for the boat, and, tumbling in, were shoved hastily off by Weymouth. Before we had got twenty yards, however, the savages were on the bank, yelling, and throwing stones, several of which fell in among us; but we were soon out of their reach.
"That's what I call a pretty close shave!" exclaimed Donovan, panting.
"We couldn't have stood against them much longer," said Kit. "I didn't suppose they had so much ferocity about them. Those we saw down at the middle islands were kittenish enough."
"These may belong to a different tribe," replied Raed.
Palmleaf, completely exhausted, lay all in a heap in the bow. We pulled off to the schooner. The savages and their dogs kept up a confused medley of howls and shouts: it was hard distinguishing the human cries from the canine.
Capt. Mazard and the men were leaning over the rail, waiting. They had been watching the fracas, and understood it as little as we did.
"What's the row?" demanded the captain as we came under the stern. "What's all that beastly noise about?"
"Ask Palmleaf," said Wade.
"I saw you fire," continued the captain. "You didn't kill any of them, did you?"
"Oh, no!" said Raed. "We fired high to frighten them."
"I'm glad you didn't kill any of the poor wretches."
"Tell us how it happened, Palmleaf," said Kit.
"Did you come upon them? or did they come upon you?" I asked.
"Why, I was gwine arter dat hawk, you know," said the African, still sober from his terror and his race.
"He was fell down ober behind de crag, as you said he'd be; but he flew up 'fore I'd gut near 'im, an' kep' flyin' up."
"And you kept following him," added Raed. "Well, what next? How far did you go?"
"Oh! I went a long ways. I meant ter fotch 'im."
"Half a mile?"
"Yes, sar; should tink so."
"Did you fire at the eagle?" Kit asked.
"Yes, sar: seed him settin' on a ledge, an' fired. He flew, and I chased arter him agin."
"But how did you come to meet the Huskies?" demanded the captain.
"Well, sar, I'se runnin' along, payin' all my 'tention to de hawk, when all ter once I come plump onto two ob dere wimin folks wid a lot ob twine tings in dere han's."
"Snaring birds," said Raed. "Go on!"
"Dey seed me, an' stud lookin', wid dere hair all ober dere faces."
"That stopped you, I suppose?" said Wade.
"I jest halted up a bit, an' cast my eye t'wurds dem."
"You paid the most of your ''tention' to them, then?" continued Wade maliciously.
"Jest stopped a minit."
"To say a word to them on your own account, I'll warrant."
"Thought I'd jest speak an' tell dem dey needn't be ser 'fraid on me."
"Shut up, Wade!" interposed Kit. "Let him tell his story. What did the women do?"
"Dey turned an' haked it, an' hollered as loud as dey cud squawk."
Wade and the captain began to laugh.
"A black man with a black dog was too much for them!" exclaimed Raed. "Well, what next, Palmleaf?"
"Dey run'd; an' twan't a minit 'fore a whole gang ob de men cum runnin' up, wid dere picked bone tings in dere han's."
"That'll do," said Kit. "We know the rest."
"What became of my musket?" I asked.
"I dunno. I tink I mus' ha' dropped it."
"It does look like that," Kit remarked.
"See here, you 'Fifteenth Amendment'!" exclaimed the captain, turning to him: "you had better stay aboard in future."
"I tink so too, sar," said Palmleaf.
The crowd on the shore had grown larger. There could not have been much less than two hundred of them, we thought. The women and children had come. A pack of wolves could hardly have made a greater or more discordant din. We went to dinner, and, after that, lay down to rest a while; but when we went on deck again at three, P.M., the crowd was still there, in greater numbers than before.
"I wonder what they can be waiting for so long," said Wade.
There was little or no wind, or we should have weighed anchor and made off. After watching them a while longer, we went down to read. But, about four, the captain called us. We went up.
"That was what they were waiting for," said he, pointing off the starboard quarter.
About a mile below the place where the Esquimaux were collected, a whole fleet of kayaks were coming along the shore.
"Waiting for their boats," remarked the captain.
"They're coming off to us!"
"Do you suppose they really have hostile intentions?" Raed asked.
"From their movements on shore, and their shouts and howls, I should say that it was not impossible. No knowing what notions they've got into their heads about the 'black man.'"
"Likely as not their priests, if they've got any, have told them they ought to attack us," said Wade.
"There are fifty-seven of those kayaks and three oomiaks coming along the shore!" said Kit, who had been watching them with a glass.
"Hark! The crowd on shore have caught sight of them! What a yelling!"
"I do really believe they mean to attack us," Raed observed. "This must be some nasty superstition on their part; some of their religious nonsense."
"Well, we shall have to defend ourselves," said Kit.
"Of course, we sha'n't let them board us," replied Wade.
"Poor fools!" continued Raed. "It would be too bad if we have to kill any of them."
"Can't we frighten them out of it in some way?" I inquired.
"Might fire on them with the howitzer," Kit suggested, "with nothing but powder."
"That would only make them bolder, when they saw that nothing came out of it," said Capt. Mazard.
"Put in a ball, then," said Kit.
"That would be as bad as shooting them here alongside."
"It might be fired so as not to be very likely to hit them," said Raed. "Couldn't it, Wade?"
"Yes: might put in a small charge, and skip the ball, ricochet it along the water."
"Let's try it," said Kit.
The howitzer was pushed across to the starboard side.
"Remember that there's a pretty heavy charge in there now," said Wade. "Better send that over their heads!"
The gun was accordingly elevated to near thirty degrees. Raed then touched it off. The Esquimaux, of course, heard the report; but I doubt if they saw or heard any thing of the ball. It doubtless went a thousand feet over their heads; and just then, too, the kayaks and oomiaks came up where they were standing, and a great hubbub was occasioned by their arrival.
"Try 'em again!" exclaimed Donovan.
"Give them a skipping shot this time," said Wade.
A light charge of powder was then put in, with a ball, as before. The gun was not elevated this time; indeed, I believe Raed depressed it a few degrees. We watched with a great deal of curiosity, if nothing more, while Kit lighted a splint and touched the priming. A sharp, light report; and, a second later, the ball struck on the water off four or five hundred yards, and ricochetted,—skip—skip—skip—skip—spat into the loose shingle on the beach, making the small stones and gravel fly in all directions. The Huskies jumped away lively. Very likely the pebbles flew with some considerable violence. But in a moment they were swarming about the kayaks again, uttering loud cries. With the reenforcement they had just received, they numbered full a hundred or a hundred and fifty men. Should they make a determined effort to board us, we might have our hands full, or at least have to shoot a score or two of the poor ignorant wretches; which seemed a pitiable alternative.
"Load again!" cried Wade. "Let me try a shot!"
About the same quantity of powder was used as before. Wade did not depress the muzzle, if I recollect aright, at all. Consequently, on firing, the ball did not touch the water till near the shore, when it skipped once, and bounded to the beach, going among a whole pack of the howling dogs. A dreadful "Ti-yi" came wafted to our ears. One, at least, had been hit. With a glass we could see him writhing and jumping about. At this some of the crowd ran off up the ledges for several rods, and stood gazing anxiously off toward the schooner.
"Give 'em another!" exclaimed the captain.
But, while we were loading, twenty or thirty got into their kayaks; and, one of the oomiaks had eight or ten in it ere Wade was ready to give them a third shot. He depressed it three degrees this time. The ball hit the water about half way to the shore, and, skipping on, struck under the stem of a kayak, throwing it into the air, and, glancing against the side of the skin-clad oomiak, dashed it over and over. The crew were pitched headlong into the water. Pieces of the bone framework flew up. The skin itself seemed to have been turned wrong side out.
"Knocked it into a cocked hat!" exclaimed Kit.
"I hope none of them were killed," said Raed.
"I can't see that any of them were," remarked the captain. "They've all scrambled out, I believe. But it has scared them properly. Lord! just see them hake it, as Palmleaf says, up those rocks! Give 'em another before they get over this scare. Knock their old kayaks to pieces: that frightens them worst of any thing. Let me have a shot."
Reloading, the captain fired, smashing one end of another oomiak. Men, women, and dogs had taken to their heels, and were scampering off among the hillocks. Kit then fired a ball at an elevation of twenty degrees, which went roaring over their heads: we saw them all looking up, then haking it for dear life.
"Routed!" exclaimed Raed. "No blood shed either, except that dog's."
"Poor puppy!" said Wade. "I can see him lying there. Wonder it hadn't hit some of them."
"Well, it's the best thing we could do," said Kit. "Even if some of them had been hit, it would be better than fighting them out here."
"Still, I am very glad not to have slaughtered any of the poor creatures," remarked Raed.
"Don't say too much; they may come back," Capt. Mazard observed.
But, though there was not sufficient wind to enable us to get away till three o'clock the next day, we saw nothing more of them.