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   Chapter 32 THE WILD MEN OF GREENLAND

Among the Esquimaux; or, Adventures under the Arctic Circle By Edward Sylvester Ellis Characters: 13078

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


A sharp bark broke the stillness, a peculiar cry followed, and then, out from the swirl and flurry of the eddying snow, came a string of Esquimau dogs. There were six couples fastened to a rude sleigh, and at the side of the frisky animals skurried one of the wild men of Greenland on snow-shoes, and with a whip in hand having a short stock and a very long lash.

Directly behind him followed two similar teams, and then a fourth emerged with seven spans of dogs. There was a driver to each, and the sleighs were loaded with pelts intended for the nearest settlement. Not one of the Esquimaux was riding, though it was their custom to do so for a goodly portion of the way.

This singular collection of men and animals were approaching in a line that would have carried them right over the amazed party that were about to start on their hopeless attempt to reach the sea coast, had they not veered to one side.

When the foremost driver discerned the four figures through the snow he emitted a sharp cry, not dissimilar to that of his own dogs, and the obedient animals halted. The others did the same, and in a few minutes the four teams, with their drivers, were ranged about the others.

These individuals were genuine Esquimaux, the real wild men of Greenland. Their homes were far in the interior, and only at rare intervals did they venture forth with their dogs and sleighs to the coast settlements, where they were welcome, for they never failed to bring a good supply of peltries with them, for which they found ready barter among the agents of the Danish government.

There was no mixed blood among these Esquimaux. They were copper-colored, short, of stocky build, and with more muscular development in the lower limbs than is seen among the coast natives. The latter, giving most of their time to fishing and the use of the paddle, have powerful arms and shoulders, but as a rule are weak in the legs.

They were warmly clad in furs, their heads being covered with hoods similar to that worn by Docak, but there was nothing in the nature of the dress ornamentation which he displayed.

None of the party could speak English, but that made no difference, since Docak understood their curious gibberish. An animated conversation began at once between him and the four, who gathered about him while Jack and the boys stood silently listening and looking upon the singular scene.

What the guide said was in the nature of "business." They had talked but a short while when one of the wild men went to his sleigh and brought forth a big piece of cooked reindeer meat, evidently a part of their own liberal supply of provisions, and offered it to Jack. The latter accepted with thanks, shown more plainly by manner than his words.

And didn't those three fellows have a feast, with Docak himself as a participant? You need to be told no more on that point.

The guide, after the brisk interview, explained the meaning of the conversation to his friends.

The Esquimaux were on their way to Ivigtut, some forty miles in a southwest direction. They had come a long way from the interior, having been three days on the road, and it was their intention to push matters so vigorously that they would reach the famous mining town that night.

But, best of all, they agreed to carry the three whites as passengers. They could be stowed in the sleighs among the peltries, as the drivers were accustomed to do at times, though they were capable of keeping pace with the dogs hour after hour without fatigue. They would do so now on their snow-shoes, and the three could ride all the way to Ivigtut.

It meant the rescue and salvation of the party, who were in the uttermost depths of despair but a few minutes before, and tears of thankfulness came to the eyes of all three.

"We haven't much money with us," said Rob, addressing Docak, "but we will pay them as well as we can when we reach Ivigtut."

"Don't want much," replied the grinning guide, "jes' little money-two, t'ree bits."

"We'll give 'em all we've got," added Jack; "but what about you, Docak?"

"Me go home," was the answer, accompanied by one of his pleasing grins.

"Can you find the way?"

"Me all right now-hark! hear de water?"

He spoke the truth, it being a singular fact that the atmospheric conditions had changed to that degree that the dull, hollow moaning for which they had listened so long in vain was now audible to all. It was like a beacon light, which suddenly flames out on the top of a high hill, for the guidance of the belated traveler. There could be no going astray, with that sound always in his ears, and strengthened by his meal of venison, the hardy native would press on until he ducked his head and passed through the entry of his home.

It might well be questioned how the wild men could maintain their bearings, but they had come unerringly across the snowy wastes from their distant homes, and the boom of the ocean was as sure an aid to them as it was to Docak. No fear but that they would go as straight as an arrow to Ivigtut.

There was no call for delay or ceremony. A long journey was before them, and it being the season when the days were not unusually long, they must be improved to the utmost. The wild men beckoned to the three to approach the sleighs, where, with a little dexterous manipulation of the bundles, they made room for each.

Jack found himself seated at the rear of one of the odd vehicles, which consisted mainly of runners, but had a framework at the back that gave grateful rest to the body. The peltries were fastened in front and around him, some being used to cover his limbs, and a part of his body, so that he could hardly have been more comfortable. The runners were made very broad to prevent them sinking in the snow. But for that, it would have been hard work for the nimble dogs to drag them and their loads with any kind of speed. The situation of the boys was similar to the sailor's.

The arrangement left one of the sleighs without an occupant. This was well, since the wild men could take turns in riding, when they felt the need, and the whites need not walk a step of the way to Ivigtut.

While the confab was going on, the dogs were having their own fun. Quick to obey the order to halt they squatted on their haunches facing in all directions, and for a time were quite motionless and well behaved, but it was not long before their natural mischievousness asserted itself, and they began frolicking with each other. They were snapping, barking,

snarling, and then half of them were rolling over in the snow, fighting with good nature, the evil of which was that it tangled the simple harness into the worst sort of knots, which undoubtedly was just what the canines wanted to do.

The head driver spoke angrily to them, cracked his long whip, and, bringing the knot down on their bodies, or about their ears, added their yelps of pain to the general turmoil, while the confusion was greater than before.

He was used to the dogs, knowing every one of the half-hundred, and was quick to detect which was the ringleader. This canine belonged to the rear team, and not only started the rumpus, but kept it going with the utmost enthusiasm. He knew the driver would be after him, and he dodged and whisked among the others so dexterously that the well-aimed lash cracked against the side of some innocent spectator more than it touched him.

But the driver was not to be baffled in that fashion. Dropping the whip, he plunged after the criminal, and, seizing him with both hands, gave him several vigorous bites on the nose, which made him howl with pain. When released he was the meekest member of the party, all of whom sat quiet, while the angry Esquimau devoted himself to unraveling matters.

Rob Carrol had not forgotten the admiration which Docak showed more than once for his rifle. When the native came over to the sleigh to shake his hand, as he was bidding all good-bye, the boy said:

"Docak, I meant that you should have this on our return from the hunt. I sha'n't need it any more; accept it as a reminder of this little experience we had together."

The Esquimau was so taken aback that for a moment he could not speak. Before he recovered himself, Jack and Fred added their requests that he would not refuse the present. His gratitude was deep, and found expression only in a few broken words as he turned away.

It had been on the point of the sailor's tongue several times to apologize for the kick of the evening before, but he felt that the result of it all was a sufficient apology of itself. Besides, there are some matters in life which it is best to pass over in silence.

The wild men showed little sentiment in their nature. Seeing that all was ready, they cracked their whips, called out to their dogs, and off they went.

Jack and the boys turned their heads to take a last look at Docak, who had served them so faithfully and well. As they did so, they observed him plowing through the snow again to the westward, his form quickly disappearing among the myriad snowflakes. They never saw him again.

The first thought that came to each of the passengers, after the start was fairly made, was that the forty miles' journey could not be accomplished before nightfall. The sleighs were so heavily loaded with pelts and themselves that they formed quite a task for the dogs, which of necessity sank deep in the snow. But they tugged and kept at it with a spirit worthy of all admiration.

But one of the remarkable features of the blizzard and snow storm that had come so near destroying our friends quickly made itself apparent, and raised their hopes to the highest point.

The fall of snow decreased until at the end of half an hour not an eddying flake was in the air. The sun, after struggling awhile, managed to show itself, and the glare of the excessively white surface fairly blinded the passengers for a time. They noticed, however, that the depth of the last fall continued to grow less, until to their unbounded amazement and relief it disappeared altogether. They struck the hard surface, which was like a smooth floor, and capable of bearing ten times the weight of the sleighs without yielding.

This proved that the blizzard was of less extent than supposed. The wild men more than likely were beyond its reach, while Docak and his companions were caught in its very centre. Its fury extended southward but a short way, and the party had now crossed the line. The country before them was like that over which Jack and the boys set out to prosecute their hunt for game.

The travelers were like athletes, who, emerging from a struggle with the angry waters, find themselves on solid land, free to run and leap to their heart's content. They had shaken off the incubus, and now sped forward with renewed speed and ease. The small feet of the dogs slipped occasionally, but they readily secured enough grip, and the sleighs, hardly scratching the frozen surface, required but a fractional part of their strength. Several uttered their odd barks of pleasure, at finding their labor so suddenly turned into what might be called a frolic.

But the wild men were a source of never-ending wonder to the whites. They sped forward through the soft snow, with no more apparent effort than the skilled skater puts forth, and when they struck the smooth surface, they became more like skaters than snow-shoe travelers. They cracked their whips about the ears of the dogs, called sharply, and made them yelp from the stinging bites of the whips handled with a dexterity that would have flicked off a fly from the front dog's ears, had there been one there.

(If we were not opposed to all forms of slang, we would be tempted to say just here that there are no flies on the Esquimaux canines.)

The brutes were quick to respond, and galloped swiftly with their drivers skimming by their side, holding them to the task by their continued orders and cracking of whips. They gave no more attention to the passengers than if they were not present.

The latter were delighted, for there was every reason why they should be. Their limbs still ached from the severe exertion through which they had gone, and the sensation of being wrapped about with furs and fixed in a comfortable seat was pleasant of itself. Then to know that they were speeding toward safety-what more could be asked?

The sleigh containing Jack Cosgrove was in the advance; Rob came next, then Fred, while the one loaded only with peltries held its place at the rear.

When the smooth surface was reached, they drew quite near each other, the friends finding themselves almost side by side.

"This is what I call ginooine pleasure," said the sailor, turning his head and addressing the boys.

"Yes, I'm enjoying it," replied Rob.

"So am I," added Fred; "it makes up for what we suffered."

"We'll skim along in this style all day as if we was on the sea in a dead calm; nothing like a capsize-"

At that very moment, the sailor's sleigh went over.

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