Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
More Salt.—Some Big Hailstones.—A Bright Aurora.—The Lookout.—An Oomiak heaves in Sight.—The Huskies land on a Neighboring Island.—Shall we join them?—A Bold, Singular, not to say Infamous, Proposition from Kit.—Some Sharp Talk.—Kit's Project carried by Vote.
During the 29th, 30th, and 31st (Sunday) of the month, we were employed much as upon the 27th; viz., boiling for salt, and egging along the cliffs. We wanted to get as much salt on hand as possible; and, by untiring industry, succeeded in getting about a quart ahead. But to do this we had been obliged to keep up a smart fire, which had consumed nearly all the walrus-blubber from both carcasses. Where to get the next supply of fuel was an open question. No more sea-horses had showed themselves. We concluded that this pair were all that had been in the vicinity.
On the night of the 31st, a terrible storm of wind, thunder, and hail, swept across the straits from the north-west. Raed picked up hailstones in front of our shelter, after the cloud had passed, which were two inches and a half in diameter. They struck down upon the rocks with almost incredible violence. Any ordinary canvas-tent would have been riddled by them: but our tough walrus-skin bore the brunt, and sheltered us completely. The sea, during the hail-fall, seemed to boil with a loud peculiar roar, and was white with bubbles and foam. There was a very bright aurora the following night. The next morning was fair; but a ghastly greenish haze gave the sky an aspect of strange pallor. Somehow we felt uneasy under it. After breakfast, Kit and I went up to the top of the ledges overlooking the straits to the north, east, and west, to see if we could discover any vessels. Some of us used generally to make our way up here every four or five hours to take a long look. For an hour we sat gazing off on the heaving expanse, flecked white with ice-patch, and bounded far to the north by a low line of black mountains. The breadth of the straits here was not far from seventeen leagues.
"Seven days since we were retired here," Kit remarked at length.
Seven days! It seemed seven ages.
"Kit, what do you think of the chance of our getting off from here?"
"Wash, I don't know: I don't dare to think."
"Do you really believe Capt. Mazard will come back?"
"Why, if he's not captured, nor wrecked in a gale, nor jammed up in the ice, he will come back."
"You have no doubt he will come back if he can?"
"Why, no: I know he will come if he can. He wouldn't leave us here. Besides, you know, Wash, that we owe him and all the crew for his and their services. I don't say that they would come back any quicker on that account: still they would be likely to want their pay, you know."
"But, Kit, if 'The Curlew' shouldn't make its appearance, do you believe we could get down to Nain, or any of those Esquimau coast-villages?"
"I don't know, Wash: we could try."
"Seven hundred miles through such a country as this! Would it be possible?"
"It would be no use to stay here, you know, if we found the schooner wasn't coming back. We must, of course, make an effort to get away. It would be foolish to stay here till winter came on. I don't suppose it would be possible for us to winter here: we should freeze to death in spite of every thing we could do. The cold is awfully intense through the winter months. Not even the Esquimaux try to winter on the straits here. Besides, it's about time for the sea-fowl to fly southward. We can't live after they're gone."
"But only think of a sixty-days' tramp over these barren mountains! Our boots wouldn't last a hundred miles! Our socks are worn through now!"
"Have to make moccasons."
"We never should get through alive. I don't believe Wade would stand it to go a quarter of the distance. He's sick now, and, worse still, has no courage. He acts strangely."
"Wade will rally when worst comes to worst, and be the head man in extremities."
"Do you think so?"
"I do. Wade is kind of hot-blooded, you know. Being left here so sudden struck him all in a heap. But he will show blood yet, if it comes to a real hand-to-hand struggle to save our lives. A boy that took his musket, and went right into a fair, stand-up battle of his own accord, as they say Wade did, won't give in here without showing us another side to his character. One thing, he feels the cold here worse than we do: it pinches him all up. But he will come out of his dumps yet. Don't badger him: he won't leave his bones here. Seriously, I have more fear for Weymouth and Donovan than for Wade. That is most always the way where there's hardship and suffering. Your great, strong, thoughtless fellow is the first to give out and fail up. You mark my words, now. If we have to undertake this journey, Weymouth and Donovan will be the first to sicken and fall behind. I don't believe they would ever get through it. But, after the first three days, Wade would lead us all. He will sort of rally and rise as the peril and hardship increase. He is kind of discouraged now, because he sees what's before us, and has to muster his energies to meet it; but he is getting a reserve of will-force in store. There's a good deal in that, I tell you! A strong will has carried many a fellow through hardships that would have killed men of twice the muscle without the will; and that's the way it will be with our two sailors, I'm afraid."
"But I am not in favor of making this trip overland," Kit added after we had sat musing a few minutes.
"What do you propose?"
"I think it best to work out of the straits in our boat, if we can."
I had thought of that plan.
"We could make a sail out of this walrus-hide, and watch our chance with a favorable breeze to scud us along from islet to islet on the south side here. We could run down into Ungava Bay, clean to the foot of it; and then, leaving the boat, go across to Nain. It couldn't be more than a hundred and fifty miles from the foot of the bay. We could start off, and, with a strong spurt, do it in a week from that place, I think. We should, at least, be sure of getting seals for food. But Raed don't think it best."
"Well, he says, that, by the time we get into Ungava Bay, it will begin to freeze ice nights, enough to stop us. He thinks, too, that we should suffer a good deal more from cold on the water than on the land. Then we should have to wait for favorable winds, and be laid up through storms, besides the danger of getting capsized in gusts, and caught in the ice-patches. But he has agreed to leave it to the party to decide. I know the two sailors will vote to go by boat; but I'm not sure Raed is not right, after all. He's a better judge than any of the rest of us, I do suppose. I have a horror of starting off inland, though."
A very reasonable horror, I considered it. Any thing but toiling over sterile mountains, for me.
We sat there for a long time looking off, pondering the situation. Suddenly my eye caught on a tiny brown speck far to the northward. I watched it a moment, then spoke to Kit. He took out his glass and looked.
"That's some sort of a boat," he said at length. "Brown sail! That's a Husky boat, I reckon,—an oomiak."
I took the glass. The craft was heading southward; coming, it seemed, either for the islet we were on, or else the large island to the south-east. I could see black heads under the large irregular sail.
"Coming down to the Labrador side," Kit remarked. "I've heard that they spend the summer on the north side of the straits; go up in the spring, and come back here to Labrador in the latter part of the season."
"There are kayaks with it," he said, with the glass to his eye,—"one on each side; and there are one or two, perhaps more, behind."
In the course of an hour it had come down within three miles, bearing off toward the large island.
"We had best get out of sight, I guess," Kit observed. "Don't care to attract them or frighten them."
We went back a little behind the rocks; and Kit ran down to tell the rest of the party. They came back with them,—all but Weymouth, who was not very well, and had lain down for a nap.
"That's a big oomiak!" exclaimed Raed, taking a long look at it. "One—two—three—five—seven kayaks."
"How many do you make out in the big boat?" Kit asked.
"Nineteen—twenty; and I don't know how many behind the sail," Raed replied.
"Those are the women and children, I suppose," Wade said.
"Wade's thinking of the Husky belles," Kit remarked with a wink to me; "of the one he gave the scarf to. Let's see: what was her name?"
"Ikewna," I suggested.
"I've noticed Wade has been a little distrait for some time," Raed observed. "Possibly he sighs for the beauteous Ikewna!"
"Somebody else was a little sweet on a certain yellow-gloved damsel: rather stout she was, if I recollect aright. Mind who that was, Raed?"
"Ah! you refer to Pussay," Raed replied. "Well, she was a trifle adipose. But that's a merit in this country, I should judge. Lean folks never could stand these winters."
"And where now is the beautiful 'White Goose,' I wonder!" Kit exclaimed.
"And black-eyed Caubvick!" said I. "Answer, Echo!"
"This crew may be a part of the same lot," Donovan suggested.
"It isn't likely," said Raed. "We are now a hundred and fifty miles farther west than the Middle Savage Isles. It is hardly possible. But I dare say they are as much like them as peas in a pod."
The oomiak passed us about a mile to the eastward, and, approaching the shore of the large island, was luffed up to the wind handsomely. More than a dozen dogs leaped out, and went splashing to the shore. The men landed from the kayaks, and, wading out into the water, laid hold of the oomiak, and, guiding it in on the swell, carried it up high and dry. Several of the children had jumped out with the dogs. The women, old folks, and younger children, now followed. The shore fairly swarmed. We could hear them shouting, screaming, and jabbering, and the dogs barking. Guard looked off and growled slightly, turning his great dark eyes inquiringly to our faces.
"He don't like the looks of them," said Donovan: "remembers the fuss he had with them when they chased Palmleaf and him."
"They seem to be preparing to stop there, I should say," Kit remarked. "They've pulled up the oomiak some way from the water, out of reach of the tide, and are unloading it. There are quantities of skins, tents, harpoons, &c. There! they are all starting up from the water, loaded down with trumpery,—going off from the shore toward the middle of the island."
They had not seen us; and, after watching them disappear among the barren hillocks, we went back to our camp for dinner. Unless they came along to the extreme western end of the large island, they would not discover our camp. At first, we decided to have nothing to do with them. We had nothing in the "chymo" line except Wade's broken bayonet. They would only be a nuisance with us.
"But, if we could contrive to make them catch seals for us for fuel, it might be worth while to cultivate their acquaintance a little," Kit suggested.
"If we could get a seal a day from them for our fire, it might be a good plan enough," Wade thought.
"But we've nothing to pay them with; unless we paid them in promises of iron and knives when our ship comes back," I said. "I don't suppose our greenbacks would be a legal tender with them."
"But, in case 'The Curlew' should not come back, we might not be able to redeem our promises," Raed remarked.
"In that case," said Kit, "we might as well marry all their daughters, and take up our abode here. As their sons-in-law, we could perhaps excuse it to them."
"Possibly the daughters might object to this arrangement," said Wade.
"Why, you don't doubt your ability to win the affections of a Husky belle, do you?" demanded Kit, laughing.
"I doubt if our accomplishments would be rated very high among the fair Esquimaux," said Raed. "Not to be able to catch seals is deemed a great disgrace with them. Our going to them to beg seal-blubber would be a very black mark. We should be looked upon much in the light of paupers. No young Husky thinks of proposing to his lady-love till he has become an expert seal-catcher."
"It seems hard not to be thought eligible even by a Husky family," Kit observed. "But let's go over there and see what we can do. If we can't trade with them, we might lay them under contribution by force of arms. What say to beginning our career as conquerors by subjugating that island of Esquimaux, and levying a seal-tax? That's the way our Saxon ancestors first entered England. Has the sanction of history, you see,—as far down even as the ex-emperor Napoleon III."
"You can't be in earnest," said Raed, suddenly looking round to him.
"I am," said Kit. "Decidedly the easiest way (for us) to deal with them. If we were to go over there with a show of authority, they wouldn't make much resistance, I'm very sure. We would take possession of their oomiak. That would hold them to the island. They couldn't get off without that,—at least, the women and children couldn't; and the men would not desert their families."
"Now, there's a scheme of rapine worthy of Cæsar!" sneered Raed. "Kit, I am ashamed of you!"
"I don't care. We're in a tight place. I don't mean them any harm. But, if we are going to be dependent on them for our supplies, it will be much better for us to have them under our authority. They're a mere set of ignorant heathens. We know more than they do; and it is but fair that the wisest should govern."
"That's the very argument the old piratical sea-kings of Norway used to use!" Raed exclaimed. "It's about a thousand years behind civilized times!"
"Not so far behind the times as that, I guess," Kit replied. "But I don't care: this is a force-put with us. We don't want to place ourselves in the power of those savages. Yet we need their assistance,—assistance for which we will repay them well when 'The Curlew' comes,—if it comes. Now, I say it is best for us, and will be better for them, to have them do as we want them to while we are on their island."
"In a word, you propose to make slaves of them," remarked Raed. "You mean to deprive them of their liberty."
"Yes, to a certain extent, I do."
"I am sorry to hear you talk in this way. I hoped no citizen of a free State would use language like that."
"Sorry to shock your sincere convictions," replied Kit; "but when it comes to making slaves of others, or being a slave myself, I should choose the former alternative always."
"But there's no such alternative in this case," Raed argued.
"Not exactly. Still I shall hold to my first opinion. If we are going to take supplies from them,—as it seems necessary that we should,—I think it will be better to have them under our control as long as we are here. You mistake me: I don't justify it from principle; but, as a temporary measure, I think it expedient."
"So was it expedient for the old Romans to attack and capture Corinth and Carthage, and just as fair and right."
"That merely shows how history repeats itself," laughed Kit.
"Don't laugh, sir!" cried Raed. "The principle is the same, as if, with a hundred thousand men at your back, you should land in England, and undertake to subdue that island instead of this."
"You have a very forcible way of putting things, I'll allow; but there's danger, Raed, of carrying general principles too far."
"For example," interrupted Wade. "Raed, with a number of other abolitionists, believed that all men ought to be free: so they kept to work stirring up bad feeling between the North and South till the war broke out, when they fell upon us with their armies and fleets, and committed the most wholesale piece of robbery that ever disgraced history,—robbed us of several billion dollars' worth of property, all at one swoop."
"To what sort of property do you refer?" Raed asked.
"I thought so!"
"Then you are not disappointed in my 'principles,' as you choose to term them?"
"Not in the least!"
"I, at least, have never tried to conceal them."
"I should expect you to favor Kit's proposition; but I'm sadly surprised to hear Kit make it."
"Understand me!" exclaimed Kit. "I advocate it merely as a temporary measure, only justified by our necessity. I mean to pay them for all we have. But we haven't the pay here. They wouldn't trust us for what we want. Under these circumstances, I mean to assume the control of their affairs for a few days or weeks, as the case may be, and get what we must have by force of authority—till we can pay."
"It's nothing more nor less than robbery, Kit!" cried Raed; "a mere subterfuge, in open violation of the free principles of the noble land we hail from!"
"Too bad, I know," said Kit; "but 'needs must where a certain person drives.'"
"Kit, you shock me! Do you not believe in an allwise Providence?"
"Generally speaking, yes."
"A Power that takes care of us?"
"Yes, again; but it's after a sort not very flattering to the personal vanity of us poor mortals."
"One would naturally suppose, that, situated as we are at present, where the prospect of our getting through the next six months is so poor, you would hesitate at provoking that Power by such an act as this you propose."
"Raed, that's all bosh! If you mean to ask me if I believe that there is a Power that will interfere miraculously to rescue us from freezing or starving here, I answer promptly, I do not. God doesn't work so. Persons have to take the consequences of their own acts in this world, now-a-days. And as regards tempting Providence by doing any thing of the sort I proposed,—tempting it to some act of vengeance on us,—bosh again! God doesn't work that way at all. Besides, to come back to the subject in hand, I've no conscientious scruples about it; for I believe it to be the best thing we can do."
"I protest!" Raed exclaimed. "It is neither just nor right!"
"Well, how's this matter to be settled?" Wade demanded. "I suppose so rigid a republican as Raed will be willing to have it decided by vote?"
"Yes," said Raed, "though I lament the issue. Call our names, Kit. Those in favor of Kit's proposition will vote 'Yea:' those who believe it wrong will vote 'Nay.'"
Kit's voice trembled a little as he began.
"Not to include my own vote with the affirmative, there is a majority in favor of the measure we have just discussed," said Kit gravely.
"Please put it in words," said Raed.
"Why, we all know what I mean," replied Kit.
"But I want to hear it stated," insisted Raed.
"Well, then, there is a majority in favor of the temporary occupation and control of yonder island,—a measure justified by our necessity."
"You have put it very mildly," remarked Raed. "I should give it in very different terms. Kit, I am disgusted with this movement. I can't give it any sympathy whatever."
"You are not going to secede, I hope," sneered Wade.
"I am not," said Raed, turning in a passion. "I am, I hope, too good a patriot to be a secessionist, much less a rebel."
For a moment they looked straight at each other. Wade's eyes snapped, and his hands clinched.
"Here, here!—come, none of that!" exclaimed Kit, "or I'll thrash both of you. Wade, you are to blame. You said the first unkind thing. You ought to ask his pardon."
"He needn't do that," said Raed. "I was to blame as well as he."
"Well, that's magnanimous!" exclaimed Wade, suddenly relenting. "Beg'e' pardon, old fellow! I was to blame."
And we all laughed, in spite of the qualms sticking in our throats.