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Thus runs the Eskimo legend.
"_Her cheeks were flushed delicately with the soft pink of the lichen
flowers that bloom in the rare days of early summer. Her eyes played
with a light as elusive, as quick as the golden radiance on the seas._"
Great excitement prevailed among the members of the tribe. Along a
mottled green-and-brown stretch of shore, which rolled undulatingly
toward the icy fringe of the polar sea, more than twoscore hunters were
engaged in unusual activity. Some were lacing tight over the framework
the taut skin of their kayaks. Others sharpened harpoon points with
bits of flint. Tateraq busily cut long lashings from tanned walrus
hides. Maisanguaq deftly took these and pieced them together into long
lines, which were rolled in coils lasso-fashion. Arnaluk and a half
dozen others sat on their haunches, between their knees great balls
made of the entire hides of seals. With cheeks extended they blew into
these with gusto. Filled with air, the hides became floats, which were
attached to the leather lasso lines. The lines in turn were fastened
by Attalaq and Papik to harpoons, which were to be driven into the
walrus, the natives' chief prey of the arctic sea.
A babel of conversation swayed to and fro among this northernmost
fringe of the human race. Now and then it was drowned in the raucous,
deafening shriek of auks which swarmed from nearby cliffs and soared in
clouds over the shore.
"_Aveq soah_! Walrus! Walrus!" shouted Papik, tossing up his arms and
dancing, his brown face twisting with grotesque grimaces of joy.
"_Aveq soah! Aveq soah_!" He leaped in frenzy. He seized his harpoon
in mimicry of striking, and darted it up and down in the air. "Walrus!
Walrus!" he cried, and his feverish contagion spread through the crowd.
"_Aveq tedicksoah_! A great many walrus," echoed Arnaluk. "_Aveq
tedicksoah_! Walrus too many to count!"
They stopped their work and gathered in a group, Papik before them, his
arms pointing toward the sea. His eyes glistened.
To the south, _Im-nag-i-na_, the entrance to the polar sea, was hidden
by grayish mists which, as they shifted across the sun, palpitated with
running streaks of gold. From the veiled distance the sound of a
glacier exploding pealed over the waters like the muffled roar of
artillery. The sun, magnified into a great swimming disc by the rising
vapors, poured a rich and colorful light over the sea--it was a light
without warmth. In the turquoise sky overhead, the moving clouds
changed in hue from crimson to silver, and straggling flecks, like
diaphanous ribbons, became stained with mottled dyes. Against the
horizon, the arctic armada of eternally moving icebergs drifted slowly
southward and, like the spectral ships of the long dead Norsemen who
had braved these regions, flaunted the semblance of silver-gleaming
sails. The sea rose in great green emerald swells, the wave crests
broke in seething curls of silver foam, and in the troughs of
descending waters glittered cascades of celestial jewels. It was late
summer--the hour, midnight.
The keen eyes of the natives searched the seas.
To the south of where the watchers were gathered, the glacial heels of
the inland mountains step precipitously into the sea and rise to a
height of several thousand feet. At the base of these iron rocks,
corroded with the rust of interminable ages, the fragments of great
floes, like catapults, are tossed by the inrushing sea. Above, in
summertime, rises and falls constantly a black mist resembling shifting
cloud smoke. Millions of auks swarm from their moss-ensconced grottos;
an oppressive clamor beats the air. Along the ocean, where crevices of
the descending iron-chiselled cliffs are fugitively green with ribbons
of pale grass, downy-winged ducks purr, mating guillemots coo
incessantly, and tremulous oogzooks chirrup joyously to their young.
As the natives listened, a deep nasal bellowing from the far ocean
trembled in the air.
Not a man stirred. The sound vibrated into silence. The auks
screamed. Hawks shrilled. From the far interior valleys came the
echoed wolf-howling of Eskimo dogs. There the mountain tops,
perpetually covered with ice and snow, gleamed through the clouds with
running colors of amaranth, green and mottled gold. The air swam with
frigid fire. As the tribe stood in silence along the shore, a roar as
of gatling guns pealed from the mist-hidden heights. After a taut
moment of silence, a frightened scream rose from every living thing on
land and sea. Yet the group of men only bent their heads. Then, like
an undertone in the chorus of animate life, their quick ears detected
the long-drawn, hoarse call of walrus bulls. The howls of the dogs
from the distant mountain passes came nearer. More distant receded the
stertorous nasal bellow on the sea.
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