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The natives feverishly leaped to their tasks. There was a note of
anxiety in their voices. Onto the forepart of the kayaks they placed
their weapons, leather lines, floats and drags. More than twoscore
boats were drawn over the land-adhering ice to the edge of the sea. A
fierce chatter brought all the women to the doors of their seal-skin
tents. They looked seaward and shook their heads with dismay.
"Many walrus--far away," the men shouted.
"No, no," the timid women returned. "Walrus too far
away--_Perdlugssuaq will strike you there_!"
Against the distant horizon mighty bergs loomed. In swift eddies of
water great floes swirled. The walrus were too far away to be seen.
Yet the opportunity of securing walrus was too rare to be missed; for
unless food and fuel were soon secured, starvation during the coming
winter confronted the tribe. The previous winter had been one of
unprecedented severity and had wiped out bears, and herds of caribou
and musk oxen. The summer season, which was now drawing to a close,
had been destitute of every kind of game. Musk oxen had been seldom
found and then only in the far inland valleys. Some blight of nature
seemed to have exterminated even the animals of the sea. The natives
had lived mainly on the teeming bird life. From the scrawny bodies of
the arctic birds, however, neither food that could be preserved nor
fuel to be burned in the lamps could be secured. On musk oxen the
tribes depend chiefly for hides and meat, and on walrus for both food
and fuel. The ammunition, brought by Danish traders the summer before,
was exhausted, so in the hunt they had for many sleeps to rely solely
upon their skill with their own primitive weapons. For months the
doughty hunters had gathered but few supplies. The prospect of the
coming winter was ominous indeed. Wandering up and down the coast in
their migrating excursions the tribes had scoured land and sea with but
meagre results. At the village from which they now heard the inspiring
walrus calls, a dozen visiting tribesmen--most of them in search for
wives as well as game--had gathered. Joy filled them in the prospect
of securing supplies--and possible success in love--at last.
As they launched their kayaks, in impatient haste lest the walrus drift
too far seaward, some one called:
They gazed anxiously about. Ootah, the bravest and most distinguished
of the hunters, was missing. All the young men would gladly have
started without Ootah, but the elders, who knew his skill and the might
of his arm, were not willing.
To the younger men there was an added zest in the hunt; each felt in
the other a rival, and Ootah the one most to be feared. A feverish
anxiety, a burning desire to distinguish himself flushed the heart of
each brave hunter. For whoever brought back the most game, so they
believed, stood the best chance of winning the hand of Annadoah. Of
all the unmarried maidens of the tribes, none cooked so well, none
could sew so well as Annadoah, none was so skilled in the art of making
_ahttees_ and _kamiks_ as Annadoah. And, moreover, Annadoah was very
"Ootah! _aveq soah_! Hasten thou! The walrus are drifting to sea."
Attalaq rushed up to the village and paused at the tent of Annadoah.
"Ootah!" he called.
A voice from within replied.
"We start--the wind drifts--the walrus are carried to sea."
"I come!" replied Ootah.
The flap of the tent opened. The sunlight poured upon the face of the
young hunter. He smiled radiantly, with the self-assertion of youth,
the joy of life.
Ootah was graced with unwonted beauty. He was slight and agile of
limb; his body was supple and lithe; his face was immobile, beardless,
and with curving lips vividly red, a nose, small, with nostrils
dilating sensitively, and eyebrows heavily lashed, it possessed
something of the softness of a woman. His glistening black hair, bound
about his forehead by a narrow fillet of skins, fell riotously over his
shoulders. His eyes were large and dark and swam with an ardent light.
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