Winter at Hand.—We hold a Serious Council.—"Cold! oh, how Cold!"—A Midnight Gun.—The Return of "The Curlew."—"A J'yful 'Casion."—A Grand Distribution of Presents.—Good-by to the Husky Girls.—A Singular Savage Song.—We All get Sentimental.—Adieu to "Isle Aktok."—Homeward Bound.—We engage "The Curlew" and her Captain for Another Year.
Aug. 11.—Water froze last night nearly half an inch of ice. It seemed like December in our home latitude. All day the sky was hazy and cold, with driving mists. The wind blew from the north and north-west almost continually. A fortnight had made a great change in the weather. Summer seemed to be fast merging into winter. During the afternoon and evening we held a serious "council of war;" for all hope of the return of "The Curlew" was now well-nigh abandoned. After some discussion, it was voted to stay here on the island during the winter, rather than attempt either to get out of the straits in our boat, or reach Nain overland. During the morning Shug-la-wina had come to our tent, and pointed to the oomiak then off to the southward. We knew that it was to urge us to allow them to depart southward into Labrador. The question now arose with us, Should we allow them to go according to their habit? Raed thought we ought to let them go, and not subject them to the peril of a winter passed here on the island; but Kit and Wade opposed this proposition in toto.
"Once on the mainland," said Kit, "and our control over them will cease. They would either desert us, or else be joined by numbers whom we should find it impossible to govern. Not an inch shall they budge from here while I stay."
And in this view he was supported by Wade and the sailors. Indeed, I voted to keep them with us myself. To let them go seemed suicidal.
"But they may all starve here before spring," Raed urged. "That would be terrible!"
"Well, we must take measures to see that they don't starve," replied Kit. "Now's our chance to show them the advantages of our administration. To-morrow we must begin a regular autumnal hunt. Every seal and every bear, and such of the sea-fowl as have not already flown, we must capture for winter-store. We must keep them at it sharp. There's no need of starving, if we manage rightly. To-morrow we will begin a regular hunt,—send out hunting-parties every day. Whatever is brought in we will take charge of, and deal out as they need."
"In case they were like to starve, a lot of these worthless dogs could be killed for them to eat," said Donovan. "It wouldn't hurt my feelings to slaughter the whole pack of them."
"It no need to come to that, if we manage rightly," replied Kit.
Thus it was left. The only cause for immediate alarm was the ghastly fact, that we had only eleven cartridges remaining.
Toward evening it came on to snow. A dreary night settled down upon the island. But we lighted our Husky lamp [it would appear that they had procured a stone lamp from the Esquimaux], and made things as cheery as we could. For the past week we had given up sentinel-duty, save what Guard could do. There seemed no call for it. About ten we all lay down on our bear-skins, and, covering them over us, were soon comfortable. But, somehow, that night my head was full of dreams. I dreamed everything a fellow could well imagine, and a good many things no one ever could imagine awake. I went all over the stern experiences of the past two months. Again we were hunting bears in "Mazard's Bay." Again we were tossing amid the ice. At that stage of my fancies, the dogs probably got to fighting; for suddenly I was back on our desolate isle. It was mid-winter; cold! oh, how cold! The island was a mass of ice. Wutchee and Wunchee had frozen: we were all freezing. Suddenly one of the Company's ships hove in sight, sailing over the ice-fields, and began a bombardment of our island. They had found us at last, and now were about to shell us out, together with our miserable subjects. How their heavy guns roared! Their shells came dropping down with ruinous explosions. Then one came roaring into our tent. There was a moment of horrible suspense. The fuse tizzed. Bang! We were blown to atoms!
I started. It had waked me,—something had. The lamp gave a sickly light. Kit was getting up too; so was Wade. I was already on my feet, near where we had stacked our guns.
"Did you fire a musket?" Kit demanded.
"What did you fire at?" exclaimed Wade.
Raed was rousing up; so were the sailors. I hastily disavowed any shooting on my part.
"Well, what was that, then?"
"Certainly heard something," said Wade.
"I thought some of you fired," Raed observed.
They were all a little suspicious of me.
"He fired one of those muskets in his sleep!" I heard Wade whisper to Kit as we pulled aside the flap of the tent to look out.
It was still snowing stormily. A cold, fine gust blew in our faces. A bleak, dim light rested on the whitened earth. It was half-past two, morning. Kit had turned back to the stack of muskets, to see if any of them had been discharged doubtless, when like a thunder-peal came the quick report of a cannon. It made us jump. Then in a moment we saw it in each other's suddenly-brightening faces.
"The Curlew!" shouted Donovan.
Catching up our hats, and seizing each a musket, we rushed out into the storm. A dozen of the Esquimaux had come to the doors of their huts, jabbering. Without stopping to enlighten them, however, we pulled up our jacket-collars, and ran off toward the shore, stumbling over stones and blundering into holes in our headlong haste; Guard racing ahead, barking loudly.
In less than five minutes we had passed over the intervening half mile, and were coming out on the shore, where the snowy rocks stood dim-white and ghostly against the wild, black ocean, tumbling in with heavy swash and roar. So thick was the storm, and so dark was the air, that we could scarcely see a hundred yards in any direction. Bringing up among a lot of Husky kayaks lying amid the snow, we paused to listen. Momentarily a blaze of fire reddened the sea and the white flakes for a second, and the sharp report of our old howitzer shook the stormy air.
"Hurrah!" yelled Kit.
Crack, crack, crack, went the muskets!
"Hurrah!" came faintly from out the storm, a quarter of a mile off.
We danced, we capered, at the risk of our necks, among the slippery kayaks. We fairly hooted for joy.
"Have you got the boat there?" hailed Capt. Mazard with the trumpet. "Will you come off now?"
"Boat laid up!" shouted Kit. "Wait till light!"
"All right!" was the reply.
Nothing more could be done then. We went back to our tent.
"I suppose we ought to help the Huskies get their oomiak back to the water," Kit remarked.
"Yes; it would be a rather hard job for them alone," said Wade.
Shug-la-wina came peeping into the tent with an inquiring look.
"Oomiak-sook!" Kit said, pointing off to the sea.
He yeh-yehed, and went away.
"We must make it up to these poor people all we can," said Kit.
"We'll make them such a present as they never saw before!" Raed exclaimed.
It was already growing light. We pulled down our tent to get out the oomiak-mast; and mustering the men, all of them, got the oomiak on the mast-pole and the oars, as before, and carried it back to the shore. There was no resistance now. They were all yeh-yeh-ing and heh-heh-ing. This took about an hour. We then carried our own boat down in the same way. The whole population followed us. By this time it was broad daylight. The storm had slackened to a few straggling flakes. There lay "The Curlew," stern to the shore, headed to the wind, off five or six hundred yards. We could not resist the temptation of jumping into the boat and pulling out to her instantly. How beautiful she looked to us! Why, I do believe we could have imitated poor little Wutchee and Wunchee, standing back there on the snowy ledges, and licked the schooner all over! We came up under the side. Such a cheer! Capt. Mazard's honest, brave face glowing with pleasure, and all the rest of the crew hearty with rough affection! 'Twas a sight to do a fellow's eyes good.
"Boys, this is hunky!"
"Well, ain't it, captain?"
"You're all there, aren't ye? Well, how do you do?" helping us over the rail. "You don't look as if you had starved."
"Starved?—no! Catch us starving! We've got a whole tribe to back us. But Bonney, old boy, what's the matter with your arm?" exclaimed Kit.
"Oh! nothing very bad," replied Bonney, laughing and looking to the captain.
"Splinter hit him," said Capt. Mazard significantly.
"You don't say!" Kit exclaimed. "Did they come so near you as that?"
"So near's that!" blustered old Trull. "Guess you'd 'a' said so! Why, look at the after-bulwarks! and look at the windlass!"
The taffrail was gone, sure enough, and the stern bulwarks broken and patched up down to the deck. The windlass was torn up too.
"Whew!" from all of us.
"Only one shot hit us," explained the captain. "Glanced up from the water through the stern, knocked up the taffrail, and then went forward: just missed the mast, but hit the windlass. Haven't been able to anchor since."
"Well, I'll be blamed!" exclaimed Wade. "Hurt you much, Bonney?"
"Broke his arm!" said the captain.
"You don't say so!"
"Yes, sir. But we've set it; and it's doing well, I think."
"Well, you must have been short-handed here!" cried Donovan.
"Bet you, we have been! Had to have Palmleaf on deck half the time. We've made quite a sailor of him."
We all praised the darky. Even Wade cried, "Well done, old snowball! How's that under your wool?"
"I tinks," said the negro, grinning all over, "dat dis am a bery j'yful 'casion!"
"But how far did they chase you?" Raed inquired.
"Clean out into the Atlantic," replied Capt. Mazard. "I should have given them a circular race about that ice-island where we were when 'The Rosamond' fired into us; but the tide has broken up the ice there now. We've come back just as quick as we could. But how have you fared? Why, I've had dismal fears of finding only one or two of you alive, devouring the bodies of the rest."
We thereupon gave the captain a brief account of our sojourn on the island, and how we had managed the Huskies.
"That only demonstrates that you are natural-born sovereign Yankees," remarked the captain, laughing heartily.
"But you must come ashore and see our subjects!" exclaimed Kit.
"I'll do it!"
"But not before you've ben ter brackfus', sar?" said Palmleaf. "Coffee all hot, sar."
"Bully for you, Palmleaf!" shouted Weymouth. "Don't care if I do!"
"It seems an age since I last tasted coffee," said Raed.
That we did justice to Palmleaf's coffee and buttered muffins I have no need to assure the reader.
Breakfast over, we went back to our island, taking the captain along, and Hobbs in the place of Weymouth. The savages were gathered on the shore, watching the oomiak-sook rather disconsolately; for, roughly as we had used them, I think they had somehow gotten up a regard for us. Seeing us coming toward the shore again, they began to shout and hop about in a most extravagant manner. Landing, we sent the boat back after the iron, knives, flannel, etc. We then took the captain with us to see their huts and our walrus-skin tent. We had thoughts of taking the hides away with us; but as they were very heavy, and withal emitted a rather disagreeable odor, we finally gave them to Shug-la-wina. Our spider, off which we had eaten so many fried eggs and broiled ducks, we left set in our arch.
The captain was formally presented to Wutchee and Wunchee, and bowed very low. Their little black eyes sparkled; but, at a nod from Kit, they bowed in turn,—lower than the captain even: so that, on the whole, the ceremony was a rather grotesque one.
"But, my stars!" exclaimed Capt. Mazard, turning to us. "Which is which? Twins, to a dead certainty!"
"Bi-coit-suk," replied Wade.
Shortly after, we went back to the beach, making signs for them all to follow, which they did; our fair twins smiling on the arms of two of our party, whose names we forbear to give. The boat had come. A general distribution of presents was the next thing in order. To each of the men we gave a long bar of iron. Their exclamations of surprise and delight were only surpassed by those of the women when we gave them each two yards of red flannel. We next gave to each one of them a jack-knife; then to each one of the women a butcher-knife, for cutting up their seals. They were in ecstasies. Kit then gave a hatchet to each man and each boy. Raed gave to Shug-la-wina an extra knife for one of his dog-whips, which he wished to keep for a curiosity; and Kit gave to little Twee-gock an extra knife and hatchet for the walrus-tusk dagger with which he had tried to stab him. The little dark chap was too much astonished at that to do anything but stare.
The boat was then sent back after a load of four-foot wood, and returned, bringing each one a stick. Nothing else seemed wanting to make the poor creatures regard us as objects worthy of worship. Meanwhile the pretty twins, and also Igloo-ee and Coo-nee, were not forgotten by any means. Kit and Wade had brought off for each of them a green pea-jacket; which, considering the fact that they wore jackets, were not incongruous gifts. Then there were scarfs, scarf-pins, and big darning-needles; in short, a most munificent variety of presents: for though we must needs pronounce Kit and Wade a trifle unscrupulous in their way of getting possession of the island, yet they were now princely in their generosity.
The captain now got into the boat: Raed and I followed him. Wade turned to the girls, pointing to himself, then off to the schooner, and, shaking his head, said, "Annay, annay!" Kit did the same. They then both shook hands with them, shaking their heads all the time very mournfully, and still repeating the sad "Annay!" It is no poetic fiction to add, that the little black eyes of the pretty savages were glistening with tears. Kit and Wade then got into the boat, and we shoved off amid sorrowful cries from the entire group.
"Hold on a bit!" said Raed. "I like to observe them now their feelings are wrought upon."
The sailors stopped rowing, and the boat was allowed to lie at about twenty yards from the beach, while Wade sang "Dixie" in his rich, clear voice. We then waved our hands to them slowly and sorrowfully. Immediately little Coo-nee, with Wutchee and Wunchee and Igloo-ee, took their white bird-skin gloves from their boots, and drew them on. Then, coming down where the waves touched their feet, they raised their hands slowly, and began a low, clear chant. At the end of what appeared to be a stanza, the group on the shore behind them joined in a sort of chorus resembling the words Amna-ah-ya, amna-amna-ah-ya. The girls then began another stanza, extending their hands downward toward the sea, waving them slowly to and fro together. The chorus was then repeated. Their hands and faces were next directed, during a third stanza, to the west; then toward the far east. Finally they raised them to the sky, and, chanting clear and earnestly, seemed to be imploring the blessing of Heaven on us now departing from them over the wild seas. Kit took off his cap; and we all followed his example, as if impelled to it. It was really an affecting incident. Our hardy captain is not a soft-hearted man; but I saw him wipe a tear from his eye as the chant ceased. I have not sought to color the picture. There was a wonderful pathos about it. We had not heard the song before; and I am inclined to believe it extempore,—one of those musical efforts which persons in what we term the savage state will sometimes make when their feelings are touched by new and strange influences. Even after the song had ceased, the girls, as if under its spell, stood holding out their white hands to us. I can hardly express how much we were moved by it all. Farewell is, as we all know, a hard word to say. But we were leaving them forever; and the dark storm-clouds, the icy sea, and snowy ledges, seemed a pitiless fate for those whose voices had such power to touch our feelings. What if they were savage Huskies: they had human hearts, with all the beautiful possibilities of souls that might be made undying.
"Give 'way!" ordered the captain.
We went off with them gazing sadly after us in silence. Kit and Wade were in the bow, talking.
"Why need we leave them here?" I overheard Wade ask.
"Oh, nonsense, Wade!" said Kit.
"But to leave them to the cruel elements!" Wade whispered.
"Yes—I know—but they're happier here than they would be—in—in some great cotton-factory at home."
"Too true," Wade sighed, and fell to softly whistling "Dixie."
"I suppose," said the captain as we got aboard, "that it will be too late to get into Hudson Bay farther this season."
"Yes," replied Raed: "we are all a little home-sick, I expect. Let's go home."
The boat was taken up, and the schooner brought round. The sails swelled out in the stormy wind. "The Curlew" stood away, down the straits.
"Adieu to Isle Aktok!" cried Kit, looking off toward the snowy island. "Our reign ends here; but no one can say that we have not been kings in our day."
We were five days going out to the Atlantic. During most of that time, the wind blew hard and cold. We were glad to keep snug as we could in the cabin. The ice collected along the water-line of the schooner to the depth of several inches.
With the exception of a heavy gale of seventeen hours' duration while off Halifax, our voyage home to Boston was, though tedious, quite uneventful,—the mere monotony of the ocean, which has been so often and so well described.
Arrived in Boston harbor on the forenoon of the 9th of September. Raed went up to the bank where we had deposited our bonds, and, effecting an exchange of $1,600 worth, came back to pay off our men; viz.:—
The remaining $40 from the $1,600 we gave to Bonney in consideration of the wound received in our service.
"Wish that splinter had hit me!" laughed Donovan.
"Go with us next summer, and we will give you a chance for one," replied Kit.
"Do you really think of going up there another season?" said Capt. Mazard.
"Not into Hudson Straits, perhaps," replied Raed. "But we are going north again next spring. And, captain, I wish we might again be able to secure your services as well as those of the crew. 'The Curlew' just suits us. We have got her fitted up for our purpose. We intended to have built a schooner-yacht; but, if you will put a price on 'The Curlew,' we will consider it with a view to buying her."
Capt. Mazard was unwilling, however, to sell his vessel.
"But I will make you this proposition," said he: "I will place 'The Curlew,' with my own services as captain, at your disposal,—you to pay all expenses,—for the sum of fifteen hundred dollars per annum."
We went below to consult.
"I don't believe we could do better," remarked Kit. "It will relieve us of all the cares of building and ownership."
We were unanimous in that opinion, and immediately closed with the captain's offer.
Our big rifle, howitzer, in short, all our property, has been left on board. The services of Palmleaf, as cook, have been retained; and during the fall, thus far (Nov. 16), we have been making the schooner our floating home, off and on. We have got a good anchorage off from the wharves. Occasionally we make a short trip down the bay, and go on board to have dinner, chat, read, and write, at pleasure. Indeed, this humble narrative has been recorded mostly on board, sitting at the table-shelf in our "saloon." We all like the arrangement, and cheerfully recommend it to young gentlemen of similar tastes.