Here to return to
IN THE ENEMY’S POWER
THERE are no tides on the Arctic coast as we of the temperate zones know tides. In calm weather the rise and fall of the sea is scarcely noticeable. In time of southerly storm, however, the wind and ice carry the water out across the shallow sea, and when the winds rage from the north they crowd it back again upon the land. Hence, with the rush of the ice pack to the shore there came a small tidal wave, with the result that the pack and the shore ice, crowded and crumpled together, were carried far up on the land. With the subsiding of the gale two days later, the receding waters left this great ridge piled there thirty to fifty feet high, a monument to the brave ship that it had wrecked, and to the power of the primeval Arctic forces. Scattered through this rough ridge were the remnants of the wreck. Here a mast protruded, there a shattered plank of the hull, but to find anything of use to the wrecked Crusoes was difficult. When the ice melted, as it would in part during the brief summer, more might be revealed, but for now they were dependent on the hospitality of their Eskimo friends.
Right royally was this hospitality exercised. The boys had reached shore with only the clothes on their backs, but, thanks to the trade supplies which they had earned in their whaling, the Eskimos were rich beyond the dreams of Eskimo avarice. They had food supplies of all sorts, clothing, blankets, and calico in plenty, rifles, shotguns, ammunition, cooking utensils. Out of all these they outfitted the boys, even giving them an extra tent of their own in which they might set up their own housekeeping. To be sure the disaster was a bonanza in a way to the men of the ice. The broken timbers and spars of the staunch vessel would furnish fuel and wood for them for a long time to come, any iron which they might find as the ice melted would be eagerly seized upon, and they might even hope, as the summer proceeded, to get much in the way of food supplies. Yet their hospitality was in no wise tinged by this. The custom of sharing prosperity with all has come down to the tribes from time immemorial, and is never questioned except by the outlaw “highbinders.” The boys, aided by their dusky friends, searched long and diligently, and were finally rewarded by finding a portion of the galley. This was buried in the top of the ridge half a mile from where the disaster had occurred and a mile from the place where other portions of the ship, the spars and one mast, protruded. Such is the rending and disintegrating force of the floes grinding one on another.
In this portion of the galley they found the chest which contained the ship’s log and other papers, including Harry’s report of the conditions of the whaling, some extra paper, and his entire camera outfit. There also was Joe’s journal of the events of the trip to date. They were overjoyed at this, but search as they would, nothing further of value turned up. The hull below decks seemed to have been carried down in the crush and sunk; at any rate, they never saw it more. Two busy weeks passed thus, and they were not altogether unhappy. They had seemingly lost all chance of returning with wealth, but their lives were spared and the summer was at hand, when ships would surely appear and rescue them. They talked this matter over together and with Harluk and Kroo. The ships, said Harluk wisely, would be late in that summer, if they came at all. He knew this, because each storm had ended in a wind from the north which brought the pack in. He had noticed that when the storms began this way, they kept it up through the summer. The main pack was very heavy, and was crowded up against the shore now. It might not move for weeks. If there did come a southerly blow and carry it off for a day or two, the wind would end up in the north and bring it back. The boys had seen.
Harluk indicated the mighty ridge of ice alongshore with a sweep of the hand, and Kroo nodded confirmation of this. The boys looked at each other.
“Then,” said Harry, “if the ships cannot come to us, we shall have to go to the ships. They will surely be at Point Hope, and if we go there we shall meet them.”
“Of course they will,” agreed Joe. “Father will be up here on a ship of some sort. He will be anxious to see if there is possible news of us. He is a whaler, and he will not go out of the business just because one ship is lost. We will go to Point Hope. How long will it take, Kroo?”
Kroo meditated. “When the ice is gone,” he said, “s’pose take umiak. Not blow too much, you catch Point Hope in twenty sleeps. S’pose blow a good deal, no can tell.”
“But if the ice stays, we will have to go overland,” replied Joe. “How long will that take with a good dog team?”
Kroo’s answer to this was “Ticharro pejuk?” which is a sort of Eskimo “How do I know?” There was some snow left in places, and they might follow the coast on the ice for a good way. At Cape Beaufort they would have to make a turn inland, as no one could pass Lisburne heights on the coast. There were mountains and there would be much soft tundra. It was a good deal of an undertaking. He could not tell. It was better to stay till the sea opened.
Thus reasoned Kroo and Harluk, and the others gave assent to this, but the boys were not to be moved. There was nothing for them to stay for now, and they were determined to go, even if the trip was to be a hard one. The Eskimos said little more. They knew if the boys had decided to go, go they would, and in their own way. A team of three dogs was picked, the best in the village, their goods were packed on the sled, — food enough to last for weeks, rifles and ammunition, blankets, and their little tent.
The parting was hard. The two boys had not realized before how much attached they were to these brave, gentle, kindly friends; and as for the Eskimos, they were like children about to be deprived of their parents. The village wept, and at the last moment Harluk declared that he would not let his brothers go alone. He would travel with them to Point Hope, guide them on their journey, and then come back to his wife and children. Atchoo embraced him and bade him go, and Kroo came gravely forward to Harry and made him an address in Eskimo that was quite flowery, and the purport of which was that he wished Harry to become his brother, to which Harry cheerfully assented, assuring him that he was the brother of them all, and wrung his hand, thinking the matter was to end there.
Not so. Kroo took from his poke his ancient ivory pipe, carved from a walrus tusk to represent the body and flukes of a whale, its stem cunningly fashioned of whalebone, He held this toward the sun with one hand, pointed at Harry with the other, and solemnly recited something which sounded like poetry but which had few words which Harry could understand. It seemed like an ancient ritual. Then he passed the pipe to Harry and looked at him expectantly. Harry looked at Joe in some dismay. He did not know what ceremony demanded of him in return. But the ever resourceful Joe pulled from his own pocket a briarwood pipe with imitation amber mouthpiece and German silver mountings, quite a pretty pipe.
“That belongs to the mate,” he said, “but I guess he won’t mind. I found it in the cabin one day, and it has been in my pocket ever since. Hurry up, he’s looking anxious. Recite him something or other.”
Kroo was indeed looking anxious, and Harry hastened to imitate him so far as he could. He held his pipe up to the sun, pointed at Kroo, and recited with all the elocutionary power he could muster: —
“Hickory, dickory, dock,
The mouse ran up the clock,
The clock struck one,
And down she run,
Hickory, dickory, dock.”
He looked at Joe with nervous eye as he did this, but Joe was solemn as a deacon, never moving a muscle. Kroo and the other villagers seemed much impressed with the Mother Goose rhyme, no doubt thinking it an incantation of much power, and the incident was happily ended with the transfer of the pipe and another hearty handshake.
Thus they bade good-by to their friends, and with Harluk in the lead and the dogs tugging at the loaded sled, took their way down the coast on the ice. For the first few days travel was not difficult, and they made good progress. They were inured to Arctic weather, and the mildness of spring and the thought that they were headed toward home, even though defeated and impoverished, filled them with exhilaration. In three days they made something over sixty miles, taking them well below Point Lay and promising an exceptionally quick trip. The Arctic pack was still glued to the shore, and the travel over it was safe. After the third night’s sleep, however, they found an unexpected obstacle. The river known to the Eskimos as the Kukpowrak enters the sea here, flowing far from the interior and flooded by the spring thaw, a rushing torrent. It was impossible to ford this river, and its warmer waters had opened the sea ice for a broad space as far out as the eye could see. It effectually blocked their further passage. Harluk wished, Eskimo fashion, to sit down by the bank of this river and wait till the snows were fully melted. Then the floods would fall as suddenly as they had risen, and they would be able to ford it.
“How long will that be?” asked Joe.
Harluk meditated, and then answered with the vague and irritating “Ticharro pejuk.”
“Ten sleeps?” said Joe; “twenty sleeps?” but the answer was still “Ticharro pejuk,” and it was evident that Harluk himself did not know. To attempt to pass the river mouth on the ice was a doubtful thing at that season. At any time a wind from the south might send the floes out to sea, and those on them would be lost.
It was possible that by proceeding up river they might find an ice jam on which they could cross, and after thinking the matter over for half a day, Joe decided that it would be wise to go upstream for a considerable distance in the hope of finding a passage. There was still snow in many places on the banks, and they took advantage of this where possible. In other places the sled did not go badly over the tundra moss, yet travel was much slower than on the ice, and in thirty-six hours they had hardly made fifteen miles.
They found dwarf willows and alders, scarce three feet high, plentiful along the banks of this river, and flocks of ptarmigan in these so tame that they would not rise at a rifle-shot. They killed many of these, and with plenty of willow wood for fire, lived well. Yet it was anxious work, and, as they proceeded, much more difficult; moreover, twenty miles from the coast they entered a height of land, almost a mountain range, through which the river broke in a series of falls. Here in three days’ struggle through ravines and up limestone slopes they hardly made ten miles. At the top they found better going, but here the river seemed to trend more to the east, and they had the humiliation of working away from their destination in spite of their labor.
“Confound it,” said Joe ruefully, as they camped late one afternoon, “we’d have done better to start before it began to thaw at all. Then it would be a straight trip on the ice and nothing to bother us but cold, and that’s no great harm.”
“I don’t see much use in this,” replied Harry, weary and somewhat discouraged. “We might follow up this river a hundred miles. Seems as if we had gone most as far as that already, and still there is no chance to cross. We’ll have to do as Harluk says, sit down and wait for the water to run out.”
“I think we’ll camp here for a day,” said Joe. The dogs are tired and so am I. Besides, we are almost out of dog feed. If we watch out, we may get a caribou. There were tracks back there. I’d like some deer meat myself.”
The northernmost deer of the American continent is the caribou, sometimes called the American reindeer. He differs from the Asiatic reindeer mainly in size and length of limb, the caribou being taller and larger. Otherwise, physically, they are much alike, live on the same food, and have the same general appearance. But while the Siberian deer is easily domesticated and is bred and handled in vast herds by the natives, the American type is wild and untamable. He loves the barren wastes of the far north, and every summer migrates to the northernmost shores, even passing on to the unexplored islands off the coast in the Arctic sea. Here he roams and feeds until the fierce gales of winter drive him south to the first shelter of the low clumps of firs and birches which mark the limits of the barren grounds. Hardy, restless creatures, the caribou often wander in immense herds, following a leader as sheep do. The Eskimos hunt them in summer when they approach the Arctic shores, and know their habits well, taking particular advantage of their curiosity. The hunter sits down among the rocks when a herd is in sight and imitates their hoarse bellow. Some of the herd will surely draw near to see what this motionless object is. Round and round it they circle, approaching nearer and nearer, until one is within reach of the hunter’s weapon. Sometimes the herd will run the gauntlet of a line of hunters just because one stupid animal has gone that way in his attempt to escape, and the rest are determined to follow his lead. At such times the Eskimo hunters lay in large stocks of meat and furs and consider themselves wealthy, for the hide of the caribou makes splendid clothing for them. It is very light and impenetrable to the wind, and no garment so successfully resists the Arctic cold as this. The Eskimo uses the hide, tanned, for thongs for nets and lines. A split shinbone makes a good bone knife, and fish-hooks and spears are made from the horns, while the tendons of certain muscles make fine and strong thread for sewing with the bone needle. Hence, as with the walrus and seal, the whole animal is utilized. The caribou has a great hoof, split nearly to the hock, which spreads and enables the animal to travel in soft snow or boggy tundra, where an ordinary deer would sink.
CAMP ON THE TUNDRA
This hoof, too, is sharp, and gives the animal a firm footing on ice. It is also a weapon of defense far more formidable than the horns. A blow from it is like that of an axe, and woe to the hunter who comes within reach of the fore hoofs of a wounded and desperate caribou. Thus shod the caribou can travel faster on the ice than any other animal, and, when at bay, can slay a wolf with one well-directed blow of its hoof. Yet the animal is so stupid and timid that it rarely uses this weapon, and then oftener in a blind struggle than with intent to do harm. Such are the deer of the barren grounds which Harluk and the two boys set forth to hunt.
Harry and Joe had repeating rifles, but Harluk was armed only with his ivory-headed spear, tipped with a triangular steel point. With this in hand he led them, first, to a pinnacle of limestone, about three miles away. The tundra was bare and brown, patched here and there with snowdrifts, and undulating to the southward in a sort of rolling prairie. Behind them and on either hand were the rough peaks of the height of land which they had gained the day before, — a scene bare, desolate, but fascinating, a bit of primeval chaos left over in the making of the world. Standing on this summit, Harluk scanned the horizon to the east and south, and finally pointed due east in silence. Joe and Harry looked carefully. They saw slowly moving dots on the plain some miles away. These had not been there a moment before. As they watched, others appeared, as if out of the ground.
A herd of caribou was rounding a low hill at a swinging trot. By and by there were perhaps forty in sight, traveling northwest at a quite rapid rate, as if fleeing before something.
“Kile,” said Harluk, and putting his head down, he started north at a good rate of speed, evidently bound on intercepting them. The Eskimo is not a good runner, but he is persistent. Harluk plunged on, falling over his own feet, but scrambling up again, leaving dents in the soft tundra moss, and still keeping up the pace, which bade fair in the end to wind Joe and Harry, until he reached a place that suited him in what seemed to be the path of the advancing herd. It was a wide, shallow valley between two low limestone hills. It was dotted here and there with scattered boulders, and the ground was rough with broken rock chinked with deer moss. Harluk placed the boys behind boulders at the extreme right and left of this valley, and bade them wait motionless until deer came near enough to shoot. He himself hastily built a little circular inclosure of stone in which he could crouch unobserved.
A half hour passed, during which there was no sign. The sun was low, and Harry shivered, sitting motionless in the chill of the valley. A snow-bunting came flitting along and lighted fearlessly beside him, and the next moment a great snowy owl swept over the ridge and down upon the snow-bunting, which wriggled between Harry’s feet for protection. The owl glared at him fiercely for a moment with great round eyes, then slipped into the air again, and vanished down the valley. As Harry watched him, he saw branching antlers, and a caribou came around the curve, followed by more and more, feeding and wandering toward him. He sat rigid, his eyes fixed upon them like a dog at the point. They nibbled at the gray moss, unconscious of danger, but lifted their heads and gazed in surprise as a most discordant bellow came from the circle of stone where Harluk lay hidden. Their manner changed in a moment from shambling and slouchy to alert, upheaded, and vigilant. They pawed the earth and sniffed suspiciously, then began to move toward Harluk’s stone fort. Their heads were high, their muzzles thrust forward, and they trod with dainty alertness where before they had shambled. Out of the tail of his eye Harry could see Harluk’s hand and fur-clad arm waving grotesquely above the stones. It was this that had held the attention of the herd and toward which their curiosity was leading them. Within twenty minutes the whole herd were circling about the little inclosure of stone, drawing nearer and nearer to the hand that waved above it. They were within gunshot of either Harry or Joe now, but neither might shoot lest he endanger Harluk. Moreover, neither boy had shot deer before, and the sight of forty of these great creatures within gunshot had given both the buck fever. Harry found himself shaking as with the palsy, and had an almost irresistible desire to throw his gun in the air and halloo.
The deer were very near Harluk now, and his beckoning arm had shrunken to the tip of his mitten, now lifted a little, then slowly withdrawn. The deer fairly crowded forward to look for it. As their muzzles appeared over the stones, Harluk leaped to his feet with a tremendous yell. The effect was to paralyze the herd for a second. They stamped and snorted, but stood firm while Harluk lunged with his spear full at the shoulder of the nearest. The shaft went home, and the deer sank to the ground transfixed to the heart. Immediately there was a tremendous stampede among the deer. The stupid creatures rushed this way and that, colliding with one another in a paroxysm of terror, then started down the valley again in the direction whence they had come. In this sudden confusion a caribou was knocked fairly from his feet, falling against Harluk from behind and tripping him. He scrambled to his feet again with a rush and carried Harluk clinging mechanically to his back, too surprised to do anything else. As the herd clattered by, Harry saw Joe spring to his feet and begin to jump up and down, wave his rifle in the air, and halloo. He shouted to him to quit that and shoot, and then it came to him that he was doing precisely the same thing, nor did he seem to be able to stop, even when he was conscious of it, until the herd was well by him.
Such is the effect of the buck fever. In its delirium people are sometimes conscious that they are acting absurdly, but do not have the power to stop it.
By the time the herd was so far down the valley that it was nearly out of gunshot, Harry and Joe had come to sufficiently to do some wild shooting. This had no effect but to bring an equally wild yell from Harluk, who rolled from his perch at the whistling of the bullets and abandoned his quarry. Of the forty caribou among which they had been for a half hour or more, they had secured but one. However, they had enough meat for the present, and they divided up the animal and started back for the camp with it on their shoulders.
They reached the spot where they had camped before the hunt, and stared and rubbed their eyes with many exclamations of astonishment and alarm. There was no trace of tent, sled, or dogs. All had vanished. They threw down their burdens and looked at one another.
“Are you sure this is the place?” asked Harry.
In reply, Harluk nodded his head vehemently, and Joe pointed in silence to the heavy stones they had used in place of tent-pegs. They still made a quadrilateral which marked the spot, but there was nothing more.
“What are we going to do?” faltered Harry. For a moment he felt as if the ghost people of the Nunatak were not so unreal after all. He thought he saw the same feeling reflected in Harluk’s face, and the fantastic loneliness of the country seemed to impress itself upon him more than ever. It was like a bad dream, in which, all things being unreal, nothing was too strange to happen.
Joe broke the spell with sturdy common sense. “I’ll tell you what we are going to do,” he said. “Here’s deer meat in plenty, and I’ve got matches in my pocket. We’re going to cook some venison and have a square meal. Then we’ll hunt for tracks. I don’t believe anybody could get away with that outfit without leaving a trail behind. You and Harluk cut some steaks off that rump while I get wood.”
The two turned to the carcass of the deer, while Joe started down the bank and round a jutting corner of cliff, toward some willow shrubs. As he passed down along the side of the cliff, he had a strange feeling that some one was looking sharply at him, and turned just in time to see a face at his elbow, — the same evil, half-white face that he had seen in the night at Icy Cape, when he was struck on the head with the piece of ice. He gave a cry of astonishment and alarm, but was seized and tripped from behind, and any further outcry stopped by a blanket being bound tightly over his head. In spite of his struggles, he was effectually gagged, bound, and carried behind a projection of the cliff.
Harry heard this cry of Joe’s, and answered it, thinking it was a call. Then, getting no reply, he went on with his very simple preparations for the meal. These done, he went in search of Joe. He could not see him among the willows. He called and got no answer. The ghostly loneliness of the Arctic came over him with telling force. Was Joe, too, to disappear and leave no trace behind?
“Joe!” he shouted; “Joe!” and the cliffs across the Kukpowrak answered with mocking echoes; that was all. Then he turned, and he, too, was seized by three men, who had stealthily approached him from behind. He was bound and silenced as Joe had been, but not before he had shouted twice for Harluk at the top of his lungs.
One of the men who had captured him swore at this in good round English; then, leaving one to guard Harry, two of them hastened to the camp with rifles, but Harluk the wise had followed Harry empty handed,, seen his capture, fled back to the camp, and with both Joe’s and Harry’s rifles was scurrying across the tundra in the direction of the sea, as fast as his Eskimo legs could carry him. Fired upon, he dropped behind a boulder, and pumped such a fusillade of shots back at his two would-be captors that one of them dropped his rifle with a cry of pain, put his hand to his leg, and went hopping off toward shelter in a hurry. The other followed; but just before he reached safety he threw up his hands, and plunged heavily forward on his face. Harluk’s last shot had caught him under the left shoulder blade and passed through his heart.
The Eskimo gave a yell of triumph and defiance, and then fled on, with his two rifles, over the ridge and out of sight; nor did the enemy make any attempt to follow him. Had they done so, they might have seen that, after he had placed a good safe distance behind him, he climbed the highest peak near by, and sat there, motionless, watching for hours. Then he carefully picked his way back, keeping in shelter as much as possible, still clinging to his two rifles, one of which held a few cartridges. The magazine of the other was full.
Of the party which had captured Joe and Harry, the evil-faced half-white man, who had sworn in English, seemed to be the leader. He took his way back to those who were guarding Joe and Harry, and bade them take the gags from their mouths and the bonds from their feet. Harry no sooner found his tongue free than he used it.
“Look here,” he sputtered; “what does this mean? Why have you attacked us? We have done you no harm.”
The half-breed smiled an evil smile, and pointed at his eye. Harry remembered the fight in the snow igloo, the blow with which he had closed his opponent’s eye, and now he remembered the face.
“Bimeby plenty sorry,” the half-breed said. “No fire ghost come now.”
Harry and Joe were led back to the camping-spot. There lay the body of the dead; and as the half-breed looked at it he scowled and looked at his own roughly bandaged limb, which caused him to limp painfully. He pointed at the corpse and then at the two prisoners.
“One dead now,” he said; “bimeby two dead.” Then he laughed a mirthless laugh.
Strongly guarded by five fierce-looking outlaws with rifles, there was no reasonable chance of escape, even when the lashings were taken from their hands as well, and the two boys submitted to being loaded with the venison they had shot, and marched on up river. A quarter of a mile away they found their dog team harnessed into the sled and their belongings securely packed upon it, guarded by a single outlaw. Here, too, was another team of four dogs and a sled, and traces of several days’ camping. It was evident that in coming up the Kukpowrak they had marched right into the camp of the outlaw Ankuts who had personated the ghost wolves, and whom they, with the lucky aid of their impromptu fire spirit, had so signally defeated. Now the tables were turned; but they were totally unprepared for the further surprise that was in store for them. That was to come many days afterward, however.
The Ankuts cooked venison here and made a meal. The chief outlaw bound up his wound more carefully, and though it was slight, insisted on riding as they went on up river. This overweighted the sleds, and the boys were forced to shoulder part of the load. Indeed, they soon found that, though they were not treated harshly, their position was much that of slaves, and they were so closely watched that escape seemed impossible without great risk of being shot down in the attempt. Thus for two clays they followed the course of the Kukpowrak, then they bore off to the left across a nearly level table-land a day’s journey.
There was no sign of human being on this three days’ march; bare tundra and gray limestone or blue slate rocks made the scene one of peculiar desolation, yet, though neither the highbinders nor the boys knew it, a solitary figure kept watch of all their movements and was never far behind them. All the savage hunter had been roused in Harluk, and he trailed the band with the vindictive persistency of an Apache brave. He lived on an occasional ground squirrel or small bird knocked over among scrub willows, and kept his precious ammunition for more deadly use. It had been well for the highbinders if they had reckoned more carefully with Harluk. He had seen his comrade Konwa dead. He had seen one of the enemy fall by his own hand. Henceforward the gentle and timid Eskimo was changed into a bold, aggressive, cunning, and bloodthirsty fighting man. The highbinders were to hear from Harluk again.
At the end of the third day’s journey they came to a scene of wild and singular beauty. The table-land opened out into an oval valley rimmed at the further end with abrupt, sharp-pointed hills, at the base of which another river flowed northward. This valley, to the surprise of the boys, seemed a bit out of another world. In it was no snow, and the grass was already tall. Moreover, there the willows grew to a much greater height than elsewhere, and were already pale green with young leaves. Compared with the gray, bare, Arctic desolation through which they had traveled, it was like a bit of paradise.
Harry, tired out and discouraged, groaned at the sight of this beauty spot. “What’s the matter with you?” asked Joe.
“It makes me homesick,” said Harry. “It reminds me of the marshes down by the Fore River in early May. It’s like home.”
“Well, I guess it’s likely to be home for us for a while,” said Joe philosophically. “It looks as if the highbinders made it their headquarters. See all the igloos down there, and the people, too!”
They noted many good sized stone igloos, chinked with deer moss, at their right as they wound down into the valley, and a small stream, which seemed to issue from the ground near by. It seemed as if little clouds of steam rose from this stream, especially at its source, and at sight of it Joe gave an exclamation of appreciation. “I know about this now,” he said; “it’s one of those hot springs I’ve heard the Eskimos tell about as being inland here. That is why the willows are so tall and everything so forward. It keeps the place warmed up the year round.”
But it was little of the brightness and beauty of this little warm-weather oasis in the bleak surroundings that the boys were to see. They were ordered to drop their burdens on reaching the igloos, and presently conducted to one of the strongest built and least prepossessing of them. Once within this, the low entrance was blocked with stone and they were left to themselves.