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We set up a Military Despotism on "Isle Aktok."—"No Better than Filibusters!"—The Seizure of the Oomiak.—The Seal-Tax.—A Case of Discipline.—Wutchee and Wunchee.—The Inside of a Husky Hut.—"Eigh, Eigh!"—An Esquimau Ball.—A Funeral.—Wutchee and Wunchee's Cookery.—The Esquimau Whip.
"Raed, will you act as leader, or captain?" Kit asked.
"I decline," was the reply. "It is hardly fair to ask me, I think. That honor—if you look upon it as such—is clearly yours."
"Very well, then. All hands launch the boat!"
It was done.
"Load in the walrus-hides."
They were rolled up and thrown in.
"Ship the spider too."
I carried it aboard.
"Now each man spend fifteen minutes attending to his musket! Get off all rust! See that the locks move easily! Load them, and fix the bayonets!"
This done, we called Guard, and embarked; not forgetting to take our dipper of salt, the walrus-tusks, and Wade's broken bayonet.
"Give 'way!" was the order.
Weymouth and Donovan dipped the oars; and we darted out from the little cove beneath the ledges where for seven days we had kept our camp-fire blazing. Kit took up a paddle, and from the stern directed our course toward the larger island.
"I can't see what better we are than any gang of desperadoes or filibusters," Raed remarked.
"Circumstances alter cases, Raed," replied Kit.
"Now, for God's sake, don't shed the blood of any of the poor wretches!" Raed said.
"Never fear: we will manage it without killing any of them, I guess."
On coming up within a quarter of a mile of the shore, we surveyed it carefully. There were none of the Esquimaux in sight, however, to oppose our landing; and the boat was rowed along to within four or five hundred yards of the place where the oomiak and kayaks had been drawn up on the shore. Landing, we drew up our boat between two large rocks, and went along to where the oomiak lay.
"What a great scow of a craft it is!" exclaimed Weymouth.
"Not less than thirty-five or forty feet long," Raed remarked.
"Seven feet wide, certain," said Wade.
"That's walrus-hide that it is covered with, I think," said Kit; "four or five hides sewed together. We might have our two sewed together for a tent."
"We'll have them do it for us after we've got our dynasty established," said Wade.
"Forward, now!" cried Kit.
We followed their trail up from their canoes; and, after crossing several ledgy ridges, at length espied their encampment, distant about half a mile from the water. It was in a hollow, surrounded by crags and rocks. The place had probably been chosen on account of its sheltered situation. It was doubtless an old haunt of theirs.
"Now form in line, boys," Kit requested, "and move on steadily!"
We did so, Guard walking soberly behind us. There were five tents of seal-skin clustered together near what we discovered to be a spring, or run, of water. Half a dozen Huskies were in sight, moving about the camp; and, the moment our approach was discovered, they came pouring out to the number of thirty or forty. As we came up, a few scattered, and ran off among the crags; but the greater part stood huddled together.
"Now keep cool, boys!" Kit advised. "Don't fire in any case, unless I give the word,—except Wade. He may fire his musket in the air when we come close to them, by way of giving them a foretaste of what we can do."
When we had come up facing them to within three or four yards, Kit gave the order to halt. Wade fired his musket. The swarthy, long-haired crowd stared hard at us in perfect silence. Kit then advanced a little, and pointing to us, and then to himself, exclaimed in a loud voice,—
And, by way of giving emphasis to the announcement, he repeated it several times. Then, pointing off to the east and north, he said,—
"Oomiak-sook!" ("Big ship!")
And, when this had been duly repeated, he cried out,—
"Chymo—aunay!" ("The trade is far off!")
"Now the next thing is to seize the oomiak," said he.
"We will make them help as bring it up here. I'll detail a party for that purpose."
He now pointed off to the shore with the word oomiak, and, stepping up to one of the men, laid his hand on his shoulder, and made signs for him to go with us. The man, a stout, short fellow, seemed partly to comprehend his meaning, and rather reluctantly moved out from his fellows.
"We shall want as many as seven or eight of them," remarked Wade.
"Form a ring around this one, then, while I get out another," said Kit.
But the second one backed off as Kit approached him, gesticulating, and shouting, "Na-mick, na-mick!" and, on Kit's laying his hand on his shoulder, he let out a "straight left" with considerable vim.
"Donovan," said Kit, "take hold of him!"
Don made a rush, and, clutching one hand into his hair, shook him about, tripped him up, and held the point of the butcher-knife at his throat. The savage howled and begged. With a single effort Donovan set him on his feet, and thrust him into the ring. The third, fourth, and fifth man came out at a mere tap on the shoulder. But the sixth—a little dark fellow—jumped back when Kit stepped up to him, and struck with a rough dagger-shaped weapon made of a walrus-tusk. Indeed, it was a wonder he had not stabbed him; for the movement was remarkably quick and cat-like. Donovan sprang forward; but Kit caught his arm, and dealt him a blow with his fist that sent him reeling to the ground. Don seized him by the collar of his bear-skin smock, and, with a twitch and a kick, sent him spinning into the ring. Several of the remaining men had run to their tents, and now re-appeared with harpoons in their hands. Kit took his musket, and, walking up to one of them, struck the dart out of his hand with a tweak of the bayonet, and then walked him along to the ring.
"I guess seven will be enough," said Wade.
"Well, keep round them," replied Kit. "Don't let 'em get away from us. Ready! Forward, march!"
We turned to go down to the oomiak, and had proceeded a few steps, when some of the savages about the huts suddenly shouted "Ka-ka, ka-ka!" In an instant their dogs, which had been growling and prowling about all the time, rushed after us, barking madly. Guard was a little behind us. They set upon him like hungry wolves. Such a barking and snarling! Kit and Wade, who formed the rear-guard, ran to the rescue. Wade laid on them with the butt of his musket; while Kit, with his bayonet, gave several of the gaunt, wolfish curs thrusts which speedily changed their growls to yelps of agony. The savages cried out dismally. Exclamations of "Mickee!" "Arkut mickee!" "Parut mickee!" besought us not to kill them. They had set them on to us, nevertheless. The dog riot suppressed, we moved on down to the shore. The oomiak was then turned bottom up, and the mast which had supported their sails thrust under it transversely about ten feet back of the bows. This mast was a stick of yellow pine, from Labrador probably, about fifteen feet long. It projected four or five feet on each side,—far enough for them to take hold to carry the oomiak on it. Wade ran out to our boat and brought one of the oars, which was thrust under, near the stern, in the same way. Kit then stationed six of the Huskies at the mast-pole forward, three on each side: the other he placed at the stern end of the scow. Weymouth took hold of one end of the paddle, and Donovan the other. Kit then made signs to the Huskies to lift at their pole. They raised it; and the sailors lifting the stern at the same time, and walking on, we had it fairly started. It was pretty heavy, however. The Esquimaux soon began to pant; seeing which, we had them set it down and rest every thirty or forty rods.
We were near an hour getting back to their huts. They had worked well. Their part of the load must have been somewhat over a hundred pounds per man, we thought.
"Better than niggers; a great deal better," Wade pronounced them. "I'm not sure that it wouldn't be a good plan to import them into the United States to work on our railroads."
"For slaves, I suppose," said Raed.
"No; not for slaves. Now that slavery is fairly abolished, I am not much in favor of its re-establishment. Take them down to work for fair wages. Should as lief have them as to have the Chinese, and risk it."
"That makes me think," Kit remarked, "that I have read that some ethnologists think the Esquimaux are a branch of the Chinese nation."
"You would send vessels like the cooly ships up here to kidnap them, I suppose," Raed observed. "You could only carry them away by main force. They are too much attached to their bleak home to leave it voluntarily."
"Well, what of that," said Wade. "Don't be so dreadfully afraid to have a little force used! If it would permanently better their condition, why not bring the whole nation of them farther south by force. A horde of ignorant savages like these don't always know what's best for them, by a long sight. If all these polar tribes could be brought down into a milder climate, it would be vastly better for them. So of the ignorant, brutish negroes of Africa: if they could be got out of their barbarous haunts, and brought up into the latitude of New York and Paris, it would be vastly better for them; and they might be made to do something useful in the world. Millions of hands are lying idle in Africa, which, under proper direction, might be turned to some account, and made to contribute both to the world's progress and their own happiness. But, of course, such savage tribes will never move of their own accord: it remains for more enlightened nations to move them."
"That's an argument for the re-opening of the slave-trade, I presume," Raed remarked.
"Oh, no! You judge me too severely. I meant just what I said; nothing more."
"If what Wade proposes could be done without violent usage, suffering, and injustice, I think it would be a great and good work," said Kit.
"Well, in that I agree with you fully," replied Raed; "but the trouble would be to find a nation or a company that would deal justly and humanely with such savages."
We let them rest an hour after bringing up the oomiak; then started them back to bring up our own boat, with our spider and walrus-skins. This took till nearly six o'clock, evening. The walrus-skins were then unrolled, and spread out on the ground.
"Now we want these sewed together," said Kit: "then we can pitch them on their oomiak-mast for a tent-pole."
Wade spread out the two skins so that the edges touched each other: then, beckoning to one of the men, he pointed first to the edges, next to the seams where the hide had been sewed on the oomiak, then off to the huts, pronouncing the word "hennelay" ("woman"). The savage understood him in a moment, and went off into the hut. Presently two chubby faces appeared at the doorway, but shrank back the moment we espied them. We could hear a great talking and urging going on inside. After a while, when we had gone to move the oomiak round so as to form one side of a sort of fort, they stole out, and came reluctantly along, the man following them, apparently to keep them from escaping. Seeing them approaching, Kit and Wade went to meet them, smiling and bowing, and pointing to the walrus-skins. They knew what was wanted, and fell to work to sew the two hides together, occasionally casting shy eyes toward us. What amused us was, that each was the exact counterpart of the other. They were just of a size, and of the same height. Face, features, and expression were identical. The man, who might possibly have been their father, but more probably their elder brother, saw our amazed looks, and said "Bi-coit-suk:" at least, it sounded like that. The meaning of the word we could only guess at. But, if bi-coit-suk does not mean twins, I am greatly mistaken. On questioning the man, using the word kina, and pointing to each, we learned, after he understood us, that one was named Wutchee, and the other Wunchee. The meanings of these words I have no need to translate: they were decidedly significant, and amused us a good deal. For sewing the hides together they used an awl of bone. The thread, which was of the sinew of some animal, was thrust through the awl-holes like a shoemaker's waxed-end, and drawn tight. When they had finished, Kit gave Wutchee (or Wunchee, for the life of me I couldn't tell which) a half-dozen pins from a round pin-ball he cherished, and three or four bright nickel five-cent bits. Wade then gave Wunchee (?) his pen-knife, and an old cuff-button he happened to have in his pocket. They accepted these presents as modest as you please; but it did seem a little droll to see them immediately fall to licking them all over with their tongues. They did not seem to act as if they considered the gifts fairly their own till they had licked them. We had not observed this practice among those who boarded us at the Middle Savage Isles; but with these the custom seemed a universal one among the women. Even if the gift were a rusty nail, they would lick it all the same. It is said that the mothers lick their young children over like she-bears. Wade also gave the man who had accompanied them the point of his broken bayonet. The fellow looked it over, and then, getting his harpoon, unlashed the bone blade, and substituted the bayonet-point in its place.
"He seems to understand its use," Kit remarked. "Hope he won't experiment with it on us unawares."
The walrus-skins were then raised on the oomiak mast, the edges resting on the bottoms of our boat and the oomiak, placed on both sides. Stones laid along the edges held them in place. Not to be too near our subjects (for they were rather noisy, and smelled pretty strong of rancid fat), we had placed our tent about two hundred feet away from their huts. While the rest had been pitching the tent, Wade and Weymouth had constructed a rough arch of stones, and set our spider in the top of it as we had previously arranged it.
"Ready for the seal!" said Wade.
"They've got seal-blubber about their huts; I saw some of the young ones eating chunks of it," Donovan remarked.
Several of the men had come round where we were at work, and among them the little dark chap who had tried to stab Kit. Wade went along to him, and pointing to his own mouth, and then toward the mouths of the rest of us, said, "Pussay" ("Seal"). But the fellow was still sullen, and stared defiantly.
"Have to discipline him a little, I reckon," Kit muttered.
Again Wade pronounced the word pussay, pointing off toward their huts.
"Na-mick!" exclaimed the Esquimau fractiously. "Na-mick! Ik pee-o nar-kut bok!" swinging his arms. "Ik pee-o askut ammee pussay!"
"Any idea what he said?" Wade asked, turning to Kit.
"No: but it was a refusal; I know by his actions.—Donovan, there's another job for you!"
Don went off a little to one side, and, working up toward him, made a sudden lunge, and had him by the hair in a twinkling. Such a shaking as the poor wretch got! Then, with a quick trip, Donovan laid him flat on his back, and, jerking out his big knife, began strapping it ominously on his boot-leg. Oh, how the terrified savage howled! Raed turned away in disgust. After frightening him nearly into fits with the knife, the stalwart sailor with a twitch threw him across his knee, and applied the flat of the butcher-knife to the seat of his seal-skin trousers with reports that must have been distinctly audible for a quarter of a mile. All the Huskies came rushing up, screaming and gesticulating. The dogs barked. There was a general uproar. After three or four dozen of these emphatic reminders of arbitrary power, Donovan set the shrieking wretch on his feet, and, still holding on to his hair, shouted in his face the word pussay a dozen times in a tone that might have been heard on the neighboring islands. Kit and Wade and Weymouth all fell to shouting the same word; catching the meaning of which, more than a dozen of the Huskies, men and women, ran to their huts, and brought pieces of seal-blubber to the amount of several hundred-weight. The little dark chap disappeared, and we saw no more of him for two days.
"Now we want some eggs," said Kit. "What's the word for egg?"
"Wau-ve," Raed replied.
Wade then called wau-ve several times to the crowd. They ran off again, and in a few minutes returned with fifteen or twenty of the razor-bill's eggs; and a party immediately set off toward the cliffs for more.
"I admire their promptness," Kit observed, laughing.
"They are beginning to respect us," said Wade.
"But would it not have been far better to have come over here and asked them kindly for what we wanted?" Raed demanded.
"No," said Kit; "for we should not have got it."
"I don't know about that," replied Raed.
"I know we shouldn't," said Wade. "We should have got a square na-mick to start with; and I am inclined to believe they would have attacked us with their daggers and harpoons. Then we should have been obliged to kill a lot of them in self-defence. As it is, we haven't hurt anybody yet. A dose of spanks won't injure any of them, I'll warrant."
"But this whole business is revolting,—to me, at least," Raed continued.
"Oh, I guess you will stand it!" laughed Kit. "But, Raed, if I were you, I wouldn't show quite so much of my righteous indignation. You want your supper as well as the rest of us."
"Well, honestly, old fellow, I could not see any better way to get it for you."
"Well, I hoped never to eat a supper procured by slave-labor."
"You won't notice any great difference in the taste, I dare say," replied Wade.
Donovan was preparing splints from the old thwart, and covering them with the blubber in the arch. Ten or a dozen of the Esquimaux were looking on. When he struck a match on his sleeve, exclamations of wonder broke out. Matches were a novelty with them. From their strange looks, and glances toward each other, we concluded that they took us to be either great saints, or devils; most likely the latter, from the way we had previously deported ourselves. The eggs were fried, and eaten with a sprinkling of salt. A fire of seal-blubber was probably a very extravagant luxury in the eyes of our Husky subjects. They had no fire while we were with them, save their flickering stone lamps. Yet the use of cooked food seemed not to be wholly unknown among them. On several occasions we saw them boiling, or at least parboiling, a duck in a stone kettle over five or six of their lamps set together. They often gave food cooked in this way to their young children, and in cases where any of their number are sick. If wood were plenty, they would doubtless soon come to relish it best; since it is undoubtedly the scarcity of wood which has driven them to raw food.
Whatever we did,—in our cooking, eating, and in all our movements,—we were sure of a curious and admiring crowd. There were, in all, thirty-seven of the Esquimaux on the island,—nine men and eleven women, adults: the remaining seventeen ranged from one to eighteen years apparently. So far as we could learn, they kept little or no record of their ages. One man, whom they called Shug-la-wina, seemed to exercise a sort of authority over the rest; but whether it was from any hereditary claim to power, or simply from the fact that he was rather larger in stature than the others, was not very clear. Another, the little dark chap whom Donovan had punished for his snappishness, was almost continually slapping and cuffing the rest about. His name was Twee-gock. Besides Wutchee and Wunchee, there were, of the girls, one named Coonee,—a very laughing little creature,—and another called Iglooee ("hut-keeper" or "house-keeper"). Neither of these was so large nor so handsome as Wutchee or Wunchee. The last two were Kit and Wade's favorites.
They were quaint little creatures, just about four feet and a half in height; chubby, and rather fleshy; and would have weighed rising a hundred pounds, probably. Their faces were rather larger in proportion than our American girls, rounder and flatter; noses inclined to the pug order; eyes black, and pretty well drawn up at the inner corners; cheek-bones rather high, though their flesh prevented them from appearing disagreeably prominent; mouths large, showing large white teeth; ears big enough to hear well; hair black, straight, and occasionally pugged up behind; complexion swarthy, though, in their case, tolerably clear; feet very small; and hands sizable. Add to this description an ever-genial, pleased expression of countenance, with considerable sprightliness of manner dashed with something like naďveté; then picture them in trousers and jackets, with their hoods, and those irresistibly comical "tails,"—and you have Wutchee and Wunchee, the belles of our island kingdom.
After our supper of eggs, of which they soon brought as many as seven or eight dozen, Raed proposed that we should take a look at the interior of some of their huts. So, leaving the two sailors with Guard on sentinel duty, we went along to the hut belonging to Shug-la-wina, and by signs expressed our desire to go in. He pulled aside the flap in front, and we stepped under. The tent-frame was of small sticks of the yellow pine, with a straight ridge-pole. Over the frame was thrown a covering of cured seal-skin or walrus-skin. A stone lamp, suspended by seal-skin thongs, hung at the farther end. It was burning feebly. The wick seemed to be of long fibers of moss. The lamp itself was simply an open bowl hollowed out of a stone, about the size of a two-quart measure. The oil was the fat of seals or walruses. On one side there was a quantity of fox-skins and bear-skins thrown down promiscuously. Upon these reclined Shug-la-wina's wife Took-la-pok and his daughter Iglooee. Kit made them a present of three pins each. On the other side of the hut there was stowed a sledge, with runners of bone firmly lashed together with thongs. On it was a stone pot, hollowed, like the lamp, out of a large stone. Several harpoons stood in the farther corner. A coil of thong lay on the sledge; also two whips with short handles of bone, but exceedingly long lashes,—not less than fifteen or twenty feet in length. There were lying about half a dozen tusks of the walrus, and, on a low stone shelf, a hundred-weight or more of seal-pork. We were turning to go out, when Wade pointed to the end of a bow and the heads of two arrows protruding from under the furs. Kit took them up; but Shug-la-wina very gravely took them from his hands, and returned them to their hiding-place. The bow was of some dark bone, I thought,—possibly whalebone; the bow-string of sinew; and the arrows of wood, but provided with rough iron heads. The sight of these iron heads surprised us a little, as well as the discovery in another hut of an English case-knife. That knife, doubtless, had a history. On going out, Wade took up one of the bear-skins, and pointed off to our tent.
"Abb," replied the Esquimau, nodding.
We took it along with us. The other huts were much the same as Shug-la-wina's. We got a bear-skin from each. Wutchee and Wunchee gave us two. These skins, spread over a "shake-down" of moss, made us a very comfortable bed.
By this time it was past ten o'clock; and, after arranging for regular sentinel duty,—two hours in each watch,—we turned in on our bear-skins, save Weymouth, who had the first watch. But we were horribly disturbed by the incessant barking, growling, and fighting of their dogs. Such a set of vicious, snarling curs do not exist in any other quarter of the world, I hope. They were decidedly the most troublesome of our new subjects. Guard could not stir out away from us without being assaulted tooth and nail. Fights of from two to half a dozen combatants were in progress all night; and not only that night, but each succeeding night. Several times some one or other of the Huskies would rush out from their huts, and lay about them with their long whips, shouting "Eigh, eigh, eigh!" We could hear the whips snap, followed by piteous yelps and long-drawn howls. Then there would be silence for perhaps ten minutes: by that time another fight would be in full blast.
"What, for thunder sake, do they keep so many dogs for?" growled Donovan.
"To draw their sledges in winter," I heard Raed explaining to him....
[Seventeen pages, containing, as appears from the chapter-head, an account of an Esquimau ball, a funeral, also of Wutchee's and Wunchee's cookery, are here missing from the manuscript. The young author is now absent with the party in Brazil.—Ed.]
Strange how these people can live without salt! They make no use of it with their food; eat fresh seal-blubber, mainly, all their lives. No wonder they look flabby! And yet they are a happy set; always laughing, joking, and badgering each other. Very likely their joys are not of a very high order: but I doubt whether civilization would make them much happier; though, according to the theory of us civilized folks, it ought to. They lead an easy life,—easy, in a savage way; though breaking up dog-fights does keep them pretty tolerably busy. To-day (Aug. 7) we had a perfect dog-war. Three or four of the ravening, howling curs assaulted Guard under the very flap of our tent. Donovan caught up a musket, and, running out, pinned one of them down with the bayonet, and held him for some seconds. On letting him up, the dog ran off howling, with the blood streaming out of him. Instantly all the rest set after him, barking like furies. Round and round the huts they went, all snarling and snapping at the wounded one. Presently out rushed old Shug-la-wina and Twee-gock with their whips, shouting "Eigh, eigh!" and laying about them. The ends of the thongs cracked like pistol-shots. The hair and hide flew up from the dogs' backs. As fast as one got a crack, he would leap up and run off, licking at the spot. How the boys laughed!
"That's a savage weapon!" exclaimed Wade. "I should about as lief take a shot from a revolver as one of those 'cracks' on my bare skin. Moses, how it would sting!"
"I don't believe it would hurt through anybody's thick coat," Donovan remarked.
"Humph! it would cut right through to a fellow's hide!" exclaimed Kit.
"Bet you don't dare to let one of them crack at you!"
"I wouldn't let one of them snap at my back, for fear he would hit my ears or hands instead; but I had just as lief let him crack at my leg below my knee, under my boot-leg, as not."
Kit ran to get old Shug-la-wina with his whip.
"Bet my musket against yours that you can't stand three cracks on your boot-leg!" laughed Wade.
"I take it!" cried Donovan.
In a few minutes Kit came back with the old Esquimau and his whip. Signs were made; and Donovan raised his foot on a rock, exposing his boot-leg. The veteran Husky began to yeh-yeh! He understood. Standing off about twenty-five feet, he gathered the lash up; then, swinging the handle around his head, let the long thong go circling around him like a black snake. Faster and faster revolved the black gyres,—twenty times, I have no doubt. Presently he fetched a snap. The black thong shot out like lightning. Thut! A bit of the leather flew up, spinning in the air. Donovan caught away his leg with a profane exclamation. We crowded round. There was a hole in the boot-leg!
"Gracious!" exclaimed Weymouth.
Don jerked off his boot. On the calf of his leg there was a mark about half an inch wide, and an inch or more in length, red as blood, and rapidly puffing up.
"Have another?" demanded Wade.
"Not much! One will do for me!"
We naturally picked up a good many words of their language; though of its structure—if it have any—we learned little. Other anxieties occupied our minds so fully, that we were not very attentive scholars. Like the Indians of our Territories, the Esquimaux seemed much addicted to running a whole sentence into a single word, or what sounded like it, of immense length. These sentence-words we could make very little of. But of their detached words, standing for familiar things, I add a vocabulary from such as I can now call to mind:—