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   Chapter 15 No.15

The World of Ice By R. M. Ballantyne Characters: 28382

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Strangers appear on the scene-The Esquimaux are hospitably entertained by the sailors-A spirited, traffic-Thieving propensities and summary justice.

Dumps sat on the top of a hummock, about quarter of a mile from the ship, with an expression of subdued melancholy on his countenance, and thinking, evidently, about nothing at all. Poker sat in front of him gazing earnestly and solemnly right into his eyes with a look that said, as plain as if he had spoken, "What a tremendously stupid old fellow you are, to be sure!" Having sat thus for full five minutes, Dumps wagged his tail. Poker, observing the action, returned the compliment with his stump. Then Poker sprang up and barked savagely, as much as to say, "Play, won't you?" but Dumps wouldn't; so Poker endeavoured to relieve his mind by gambolling violently round him.

We would not have drawn your attention, reader, to the antics of our canine friends, were it not for the fact that these antics attracted the notice of a personage who merits particular description. This was no other than one of the Esquimau inhabitants of the land-a woman, and such a woman! Most people would have pronounced her a man, for she wore precisely the same dress-fur jumper and long boots-that was worn by the men of the Dolphin. Her lips were thick and her nose was blunt; she wore her hair turned up, and twisted into a knot on the top of her head; her hood was thrown back, and inside of this hood there was a baby-a small and a very fat baby! It was, so to speak, a conglomerate of dumplings. Its cheeks were two dumplings, and its arms were four dumplings-one above each elbow and one below. Its hands, also, were two smaller dumplings, with ten extremely little dumplings at the end of them. This baby had a nose, of course, but it was so small that it might as well have had none; and it had a mouth, too, but that was so capacious that the half of it would have been more than enough for a baby double the size. As for its eyes they were large and black-black as two coals-and devoid of all expression save that of astonishment.

Such were the pair that stood on the edge of the ice-belt gazing down upon Dumps and Poker. And no sooner did Dumps and Poker catch sight of them than they sprang hastily towards them, wagging their tails-or, more correctly speaking, their tail and a quarter. But on a nearer approach those sagacious animals discovered that the woman and her child were strangers, whereupon they set up a dismal howl, and fled towards the ship as fast as they could run.

Now, it so happened that, at this very time, the howl of the dogs fell upon the ears of two separate parties of travellers-the one was a band of Esquimaux who were moving about in search of seals and walruses, to which band this woman and her baby belonged; the other was a party of men under command of Buzzby, who were returning to the ship after an unsuccessful hunt. Neither party saw the other, for one approached from the east, the other from the west, and the ice-belt, on the point of which the woman stood, rose up between them.

"Hallo! what's yon?" exclaimed Peter Grim, who was first to observe the woman.

"Dun'no'," said Buzzby, halting; "it looks like a bear."

"Faix an' it is, then, it's got a young wan on its back," cried O'Riley.

"We had better advance and find out," remarked West, as he led the way, while several of the men threw up their arms in token of their friendly intentions. O'Riley capered somewhat extravagantly as he drew near, partly with the intention of expressing his feelings of good-will towards the unknown, and partly in order to relieve the excitement caused by the unexpected apparition.

These demonstrations, however, had the effect of terrifying the woman, who wheeled suddenly round and made off.

"Och! it is a man. Hooray, boys! give chase."

"Men don't usually carry babies on their backs and tie their hair up into top-knots," remarked Grim, as he darted past in pursuit.

A few seconds sufficed to enable Grim to overtake the woman, who fell on her knees the instant she felt the sailor's heavy hand on her shoulder.

"Don't be afeard, we won't hurt ye," said Buzzby in a soothing tone, patting the woman on the head and raising her up.

"No, avic, we's yer frinds; we'll not harm a hair o' yer beautiful head, we won't. Ah! then, it's a swate child, it is, bless its fat face," said O'Riley, stroking the baby's head tenderly with his big hand.

It was with difficulty that the poor creature's fears were calmed at first, but the genuine tenderness displayed by the men towards the baby, and the perfect complacency with which that conglomerate of dumplings received their caresses, soon relieved her mind, and she began to regard her captors with much curiosity, while they endeavoured by signs and words to converse with her. Unfortunately Meetuck was not with the party, he having been left on board ship to assist in a general cleaning of the cabin that had been instituted that day.

"Sure, now, ye don't know how to talk with a girl at all, ye don't; let me try," cried O'Riley, after several of the party had made numerous ineffectual attempts to convey their meaning. "Listen to me, darlint, and don't mind them stupid grampuses. Where have ye comed from, now? tell me, dear, doo now."

O'Riley accompanied the question with a smile of ineffable sweetness and a great deal of energetic pantomime, which, doubtless, explained much of his meaning to himself, but certainly to no one else.

"Ah! then, ye don't understand me? Well, well, now, isn't that strange? Look you, avic, have ye seen a brig or a brig's crew anywhere betune this and the north pole?-try, now, an' remimber." He illustrated this question by holding up both arms straight above his head to represent the masts of a brig, and sticking his right leg straight out in front of him, to represent the bowsprit; but the woman gazed at him with an air of obtuse gravity that might have damped the hopes even of an Irishman. O'Riley prided himself, however, on not being easily beat, and despite his repeated failures, and the laughter of his messmates, was proceeding to make a third effort, when a loud shout from the cliffs caused the whole party to start and turn their eyes in that direction. The cry had been uttered by a figure whose costume bore so close a resemblance to that which they themselves wore, that they thought for a moment it was one of their own shipmates; but a second glance proved that they were mistaken, for the individual in question carried a spear, which he brandished with exceedingly fierce and warlike intentions.

"Faix it must be her husband," said O'Riley.

"Hallo! lads, there's more on 'em," cried Grim, as ten or twelve Esquimaux emerged from the rents and caverns, of the ice-belt, and scrambling to the top of surrounding hummocks and eminences, gazed towards the party of white men, while they threw about their arms and legs, and accompanied their uncouth and violent gesticulations with loud, excited cries. "I've a notion," he added, "that it was the scent o' them chaps set the dogs off after yon strange fashion t'other night."

It was evident that the Esquimaux were not only filled with unbounded astonishment at this Unexpected meeting With strangers, but were also greatly alarmed to see one of their own women in their power.

"Let's send the woman over to them," suggested one of the men.

"No, no; keep her as a hostage," said another.

"Look out, lads," cried Buzzby, hastily examining the priming of his musket, as additional numbers of the wild inhabitants of the North appeared on the scene, and crowned the ice-belt and the hummocks around them. "Let's show a bold front. Draw up in single line and hold on to the woman. West, put her in front."

The men instantly drew up in battle array, and threw forward their muskets; but as there were only a dozen of them, they presented a very insignificant group compared with the crowds of Esquimaux who appeared on the ice in front of them.

"Now, then, stand fast, men, and I'll show ye wot's the way to manage them chaps. Keep yer weather-eyes open, and don't let them git in rear of ye."

So saying, Buzzby took the Woman by the arm and led her out a few yards in front of his party, while the Esquimaux drew closer together, to prepare either to receive or make an attack, as the case might be. He then laid his musket down on the ice, and, still holding the woman by the arm, advanced boldly towards the natives unarmed. On approaching to within about twenty yards of them he halted, and raised both arms above his head as a sign of friendship. The signal was instantly understood, and one big fellow leaped boldly from his elevated position on a lump of ice, threw down his spear, and ran to meet the stranger.

In a few minutes Buzzby and the Esquimau leader came to a mutual understanding as to the friendly disposition of their respective parties, and the woman was delivered up to this big fellow, who turned out to be her husband after all, as O'Riley had correctly guessed. The other Esquimaux, seeing the amicable terms on which the leaders met, crowded in and surrounded them.

"Leave the half o' ye to guard the arms, and come on the rest of ye without 'em," shouted Buzzby.

The men obeyed, and in a few minutes the two parties mingled together with the utmost confidence. The sailors, however, deemed it prudent to get possession of their arms again as soon as possible; and after explaining as well as they could by signs that their home was only at a short distance, the whole band started off for the ship. The natives were in a most uproarious state of hilarity, and danced and yelled as they ambled along in their hairy dresses, evidently filled with delight at the prospect of forming a friendship with the white strangers, as they afterwards termed the crew of the Dolphin, although some of the said crew were, from exposure, only a few shades lighter than themselves.

Captain Guy was busily engaged with Fred Ellice and Tom Singleton in measuring and registering the state of the tide, when this riotous band turned the point of the ice-belt to the northward, and came suddenly into view.

"Jump down below, Fred, and fetch my rifle and sword; there are the natives!" cried the captain, seizing his telescope.-"Call all hands, Mivins, and let them arm; look alive!"

"All 'ands, ahoy!" shouted the steward, looking down the hatchway; "tumble up there, tumble up, 'ere come the Heskimows. Bring your harms with ye. Look alive!"

"Ay, ay!" shouted the men from below, and in a few minutes they crowded up the hatchway, pulling up their hoods and hauling on their mittens, for it was intensely cold.

"Why, captain, there are some of our men with them," exclaimed Tom Singleton, as he looked through his pocket-glass at them.

"So there are,-I see Buzzby and Grim. Come, that's fortunate, for they must have made friends with them, which it is not always easy to do. Hide your muskets, men, but keep on your cutlasses; it's as well to be prepared, though I don't expect to find those people troublesome. Is the soup in the coppers, David Mizzle?"

"Yes, sir, it is."

"Then put in an extra junk of pork, and fill it up to the brim."

While the cook went below to obey this order, the captain and half of the crew descended to the ice, and advanced unarmed to meet the natives. The remainder of the men stayed behind to guard the ship, and be ready to afford succour if need be. But the precaution was unnecessary, for the Esquimaux met the sailors in the most frank and confiding manner, and seemed quite to understand Captain Guy when he drew a line round the ship, and stationed sentries along it to prevent them from crossing. The natives had their dogs and sledges with them, and the former they picketed to the ice, while a few of their number, and the woman, whose name was Aninga, were taken on board and hospitably entertained.

It was exceedingly interesting and amusing to observe the feelings of amazement and delight expressed by those barbarous but good-humoured and intelligent people at everything they saw. While food was preparing for them, they were taken round the ship, on deck and below, and the sailors explained, in pantomime, the uses of everything. They laughed, and exclaimed, and shouted, and even roared with delight, and touched everything with their fingers, just as monkeys are wont to do when let loose. Captain Guy took Aninga and her tall husband, Awatok, to the cabin, where, through the medium of Meetuck, he explained the object of their expedition, and questioned the chief as to his knowledge of the country. Unfortunately Awatok and his band had travelled from the interior to the coast, and never having been more than twenty or thirty miles to the north of the Bay of Mercy, could give no information either in regard to the formation of the coast or the possibility of Europeans having wintered there. In fact, neither he nor his countrymen had ever seen Europeans before, and they were so much excited that it was difficult to obtain coherent answers to questions. The captain, therefore, postponed further inquiries until they had become somewhat accustomed to the novelty of their position.

Meanwhile, David Mizzle furnished them with a large supply of pea-soup, which they seemed to relish amazingly. Not so, however, the salt pork with which it had been made. They did, indeed, condescend to eat it, but they infinitely preferred a portion of raw walrus-flesh, which had been reserved as food for the dogs, and which they would speedily have consumed had it not been removed out of their reach. Having finished this, they were ordered to return to their camp on the ice beside the ship, and a vigorous barter was speedily begun.

First of all, however, a number of presents were made to them, and it would really have done your heart good, reader, to have witnessed the extravagant joy displayed by them on receiving such trifles as bits of hoop-iron, beads, knives, scissors, needles, etc. Iron is as precious among them as gold is among civilized people. The small quant

ities they possessed of it had been obtained from the few portions of wrecks that had drifted ashore in their ice-bound land. They used it for pointing their spear-heads and harpoons, which, in default of iron, were ingeniously made of ivory from the tusks of the walrus and the horn of the narwal. A bit of iron, therefore, was received with immense glee, and a penny looking-glass with shouts of delight.

But the present which drew forth the most uproarious applause was a Union Jack, which the captain gave to their chief, Awatok. He was in the cabin when it was presented to him. On seeing its gaudy colours unrolled, and being told that it was a gift to himself and his wife, he caught his breath, and stared, as if in doubt, alternately at the flag and the captain; then he gave vent to a tremendous shout, seized the flag, hugged it in his arms, and darted up on deck literally roaring with delight. The sympathetic hearts of the natives on the ice echoed the cry before they knew the cause of it; but when they beheld the prize, they yelled, and screamed, and danced, and tossed their arms in the air in the most violent manner.

"They're all mad, ivery mother's son o' them," exclaimed O'Riley, who for some time had been endeavouring to barter an old rusty knife for a pair of seal-skin boots.

"They looks like it," said Grim, who stood looking on with his legs apart and his arms crossed, and grinning from ear to ear.

To add to the confusion, the dogs became affected with the spirit of excitement that filled their masters, and gave vent to their feelings in loud and continuous howling which nothing could check. The imitative propensity of these singular people was brought rather oddly into play during the progress of traffic. Buzzby had produced a large roll of tobacco-which they knew the use of, having been already shown how to use a pipe-and cut off portions of it, which he gave in exchange for fox-skins, and deer-skins, and seal-skin boots. Observing this, a very sly, old Esquimau began to slice up a deer-skin into little pieces, which he intended to offer for the small pieces of tobacco! He was checked, however, before doing much harm to the skin, and the principles of exchange were more perfectly explained to him.

The skins and boots, besides walrus and seal flesh, which the crew were enabled to barter at this time, were of the utmost importance, for their fresh provisions had begun to get low, and their boots were almost worn out, so that the scene of barter was exceedingly animated. Davie Summers and his master, Mivins, shone conspicuous as bargain makers, and carried to their respective bunks a large assortment of native articles. Fred, and Tom Singleton, too, were extremely successful, and in a few hours a sufficient amount of skins were bartered to provide them with clothing for the winter. The quantity of fresh meat obtained, however, was not enough to last them a week, for the Esquimaux lived from hand to mouth, and the crew felt that they must depend on their own exertions in the hunt for this indispensable article of food, without which they could not hope to escape the assaults of the sailors' dread enemy, scurvy.

Meetuck's duties were not light upon this occasion, as you may suppose.

"Arrah! then, don't ye onderstand me?" cried O'Riley, in an excited tone, to a particularly obtuse and remarkably fat Esquimau, who was about as sharp at a bargain as himself.-"Hallo! Meetuck, come here, do, and tell this pork-faced spalpeen what I'm sayin'. Sure I couldn't spake plainer av I wos to try."

"I'll never get this fellow to understand," said Fred.-"Meetuck, my boy, come here and explain to him."

"Ho! Meetuck," shouted Peter Grim, "give this old blockhead a taste o' your lingo, I never met his match for stupidity."

"I do believe that this rascal wants the 'ole of this ball o' twine for the tusk of a sea-'oss.-Meetuck! w'ere's Meetuck? I say, give us a 'and 'ere, like a good fellow," cried Mivins; but Mivins cried in vain, for at that moment Saunders had violently collared the interpreter and dragged him towards an old Esquimau woman, whose knowledge of Scotch had not proved sufficient to enable her to understand the energetically-expressed words of the second mate.

During all this time the stars had been twinkling brightly in the sky, and the aurora shed a clear light upon the scene, while the air was still calm and cold; but a cloud or two now began to darken the horizon to the north-east, and a puff of wind blew occasionally over the icy plain, and struck with such chilling influence on the frames of the traffickers, that with one consent they closed their business for that day, and the Esquimaux prepared to return to their snow village, which was about ten miles to the southward, and which village had been erected by them only three days previous to their discovery of the ship.

"I'm sorry to find," remarked the captain to those who were standing near him, "that these poor creatures have stolen a few trifling articles from below. I don't like to break the harmonious feeling which now exists between us for the sake of a few worthless things, but I know that it does more harm than good to pass over an offence with the natives of these regions, for they attribute our forbearance to fear."

"Perhaps you had better tax them with the theft," suggested the surgeon; "they may confess it, if we don't look very angry."

A few more remarks were made by several of those who stood on the quarter-deck, suggesting a treatment of the Esquimaux which was not of the gentlest nature, for they felt indignant that their hospitality had been abused.

"No, no," replied the captain to such suggestions, "we must exercise forbearance. These poor fellows do not regard theft in the same light that we do; besides, it would be foolish to risk losing their friendship. Go down, Meetuck, and invite Awatok and his wife, and half-a-dozen of the chief men, into the cabin. Say I wish to have a talk with them."

The interpreter obeyed, and in a few minutes the officers of the ship and the chiefs of the Esquimaux were assembled in solemn conclave round the cabin table.

"Tell them, Meetuck," said the captain, "that I know they have stolen two pieces of hoop-iron and a tin kettle, and ask them why they were so ungrateful as to do it."

The Esquimaux, who were becoming rather alarmed at the stern looks of those around them, protested earnestly that they knew nothing about it, and that they had not taken the things referred to.

"Say that I do not believe them," answered the captain sternly. "It is an exceedingly wicked thing to steal and to tell lies. White men think those who are guilty of such conduct to be very bad."

"Ah, ye villain!" cried Saunders, seizing one of the Esquimaux named Oosuck by the shoulder, and drawing forth an iron spoon which he observed projecting from the end of his boot.

An exclamation of surprise and displeasure burst from the officers, but the Esquimaux gave vent to a loud laugh. They evidently thought stealing to be no sin, and were not the least ashamed of being detected. Awatok, however, was an exception. He looked grave and annoyed, but whether this was at being found out, or at the ingratitude of his people, they could not decide.

"Tell them," said the captain, "that I am much displeased. If they promise to return the stolen goods immediately, I will pass over their offence this time, and we will trade together, and live like brothers, and do each other good; but if not, and if any more articles are taken, I will punish them."

Having had this translated to them, the chiefs were dismissed, but the expression of indifference on some of their faces proved that no impression had been made upon them.

In a quarter of an hour the articles that had been mentioned as missing were returned; and in order to restore harmony, several plugs of tobacco and a few additional trinkets were returned by the messenger. Soon after, the dogs were harnessed, the sledges packed, and, with many protestations of good-will on both sides, the parties separated. A few cracks of their long whips, a few answering howls from the dogs, and the Esquimaux were off and out of sight, leaving the Dolphin in her former solitude under the shadow of the frowning cliffs.

"Fetch me the telescope, Mivins," said the captain, calling down the hatchway.

"Ay, ay, sir," answered the steward.

"Where's my hatchet?" cried Peter Grim, striding about the deck and looking into every corner in search of his missing implement. "It's my best one, and I can't get on without it, nohow."

The captain bit his lip, for he knew full well the cause of its absence.

"Please, sir," said the steward, coming on deck with a very perturbed expression of countenance, "the-the-a-"

"Speak out, man! what's the matter with you?"

"The glass ain't nowhere to be seen, sir."

"Turn up all hands!" shouted the captain, jumping down the hatchway. "Arm the men, Mr. Bolton, and order the largest sledge to be got ready instantly. This will never do. Harness the whole team."

Instantly the Dolphin's deck was a scene of bustling activity. Muskets were loaded, jumpers and mittens put on, dogs caught and harnessed, and every preparation made for a sudden chase.

"There, that will do," cried the Captain, hurrying on deck with a brace of pistols and a cutlass in his belt, "six men are enough; let twelve of the remainder follow on foot. Jump on the sledge, Grim and Buzzby; O'Riley, you go too. Have a Care, Fred; not too near the front. Now, Meetuck-"

One crack of the long whip terminated the sentence as if with a full stop, and in another moment the sledge was bounding over the snow like a feather at the tails of twelve dogs.

It was a long chase, for it was a "stern" one, but the Esquimaux never dreamed of-pursuit, and as their dogs were not too well fed they had progressed rather slowly. In less than two hours they were distinguished on the horizon far off to the southward, winding their way among the hummocks.

"Now, Meetuck," said the captain, "drive like the wind, and lay me alongside of Awatok's sledge;-and be ready, men, to act."

"Ay, ay, sir," Was the prompt reply, as the heavy whip fell on the flanks of the leaders.

A few minutes brought them up with Awatok's sledge, and Captain Guy, leaping upon it with a clasp-knife in his hand, cut the traces in a twinkling, set the dogs free, and turning round, seized the Esquimau by the collar. The big chief at first showed a disposition to resent this unceremonious treatment, but before he could move Grim seized his elbows in his iron grasp, and tied them adroitly together behind his back with a cord. At the same time poor Aninga and her baby were swiftly transferred to the sailors' sledge.

Seeing this, the whole band of natives turned back and rushed in a body to the rescue, flourishing their lances and yelling fiercely.

"Form line!" shouted the captain, handing Awatok and Aninga over to the care of O'Riley. "Three of you on the right fire over their heads, and let the rest reserve their fire. I will kill one of their dogs, for it won't do to let them fancy that nothing but noise comes out of our muskets. Ready-present!"

A rattling volley followed, and at the same moment one of the dogs fell with a death-yell on the ice, and dyed it with its blood.

"Forward!" shouted the captain.

The men advanced in a body at a smart run; but the terrified Esquimaux, who had never heard the report of fire-arms before, did not wait for them. They turned and fled precipitately, but not before Grim captured Oosuck, and dragged him forcibly to the rear, where he was pinioned and placed on the sledge with the others.

"Now, then, lads, that will do; get upon the sledge again. Away with you, Meetuck.-Look after Awatok, Grim; O'Riley will see that Aninga does not jump off."

"That he will, darlint," said the Irishman, patting the woman on the back.

"And I shall look after the baby," said Fred, chucking that series of dumplings under the chin-an act of familiarity that seemed to afford it immense satisfaction, for, notwithstanding the melancholy position of its father and mother as prisoners, it smiled on Fred benignly.

In five minutes the party were far on their way back to the ship, and in less than five hours after the Esquimaux had closed their barter and left for their village, four of their number, including the baby, were close prisoners in the Dolphin's hold. It was not Captain Guy's intention, however, to use unnecessarily harsh means for the recovery of the missing articles. His object was to impress the Esquimaux with a salutary sense of the power, promptitude, and courage of Europeans, and to check at the outset their propensity for thieving. Having succeeded in making two of their chief men prisoners, he felt assured that the lost telescope and hatchet would soon make their appearance; and in this he was not mistaken. Going to the hold where the prisoners sat with downcast looks, he addressed to them a lengthened speech as to the sin and meanness of stealing in general, and of stealing from those who had been kind to them in particular. He explained to them the utter hopelessness of their attempting to deceive or impose upon the white men in any way whatever, and assured them that if they tried that sort of thing again he would punish them severely; but that if they behaved well, and brought plenty of walrus-flesh to the ship, he would give them hoop-iron, beads, looking-glasses, etc. These remarks seemed to make a considerable impression on his uncouth hearers.

"And now," said the captain in conclusion, "I shall keep Awatok and his wife and child prisoners here, until my telescope and hatchet are returned [Awatok's visage fell, and his wife looked stolid], and I shall send Oosuck to his tribe [Oosuck's face lit up amazingly] to tell them what I have said."

In accordance with this resolve Oosuck was set free, and, making use of his opportunity, with prompt alacrity he sped away on foot over the ice to the southward, and was quickly lost to view.

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