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'CRACK!' went the whip. The sharp report tore the frozen stillness of the Barren Lands. A little white puff rose from the hard snow, showing where the end of the walrus-hide lash had harmlessly landed. The long low sleigh quivered and plunged forward, while the team of dogs, crouching low, dug their claws frantically in the ice of the lake and strained in their harness for more speed.

Seven dogs! All pure huskies! When I close my eyes I can see them now, after all these years.

A black and white leader. He always ran with his head turned back over his shoulder, watching the driver, when the man was n't breaking trail ahead. Then three brindles, all brothers, silent like wolves. Behind them a little white bitch, with one yellow spot on the right cheek. She was the best dog for her size I have ever known, but she had the bad habit of whining, sharp, eager little whines, each time she had to tug a little harder at her breastplate. After that, a roan, a rare color, like a blue fox. He was sulky and treacherous, always apt to bite the dog in front of him if he could reach him. And, last of all, an old seasoned traveler of five years, pure gray, who knew every trick of the game and always howled to the skies when he felt a blizzard coming. He was my special pet

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guide and I were urging them for all they were worth.

The long bleak frozen lake stretched due north. We could already make out the end of it, through the haze, the vague outline of rocky hills, windswept, desolate, snow patches in the hollows gleaming white against the gray of the stone.

It was in the dead of winter, and the cold was terrific. There was no trail. We were traveling close to the shore, on the glare ice, walking or running behind the sleigh. A light breeze was blowing from the west in uneven gusts. And when those gusts came, the little rifts of snow would curl up suddenly like wisps of white smoke, lashing our left cheek and making us turn away in an agony of pain. Meanwhile the dogs shrank also, veering toward land, until a crack of the whip straightened them out on their course.

It was noon, I remember. We were looking for a small band of inland Eskimos, led by an old man called Kakarmik. He was supposed to be trapping somewhere at the end of the lake and we had to find out if all was well with his people. He was new to the district and we wanted to meet him and tell him where he could trade in his furs next spring.

Mile after mile went by. Then a rope on the sleigh snapped, a small part of the load slipping off. While we repaired the accident, we noticed that three of the dogs, instead of lying down and

resting curled up with their backs to the wind, remained standing, looking ahead and sniffing high in the air.

Climbing on the top of the load, I searched the end of the lake with my glasses and picked out a small dark speck which was moving. It was a man, the first one we had seen since we had started traveling twenty days ago, and in the utter desolation of that frozen desert the sight of the tiny, living dot seemed to fill the horizon with color and movement.

Half an hour later we were in plain sight of the whole band of Eskimos. The igloos were built on a rocky point, while the entire tribe seemed to be scattered a mile or so out on the ice.

'Fishing,' was our thought, and at once we knew that our friends were in a bad way. No Eskimo fishes inland through the ice in winter unless he has missed the herds of caribou in the fall and has been unable to stock up with meat and fat until the next spring.

'Starving,' was my guide's curt remark a few minutes later.

Then, three men who had been watching us with their small telescopes started running toward our sleigh. They still had their fish spears in their hands. We stopped our team and looked at each other thoughtfully. We were not frightened of the Eskimos, for we knew them well. But starving men in the Barren Lands are not easily handled at times, and our precious stock of food, with our seven dogs, might have proved too much of a temptation.

We had a rifle with us, but the thought of showing it never entered our minds. In the North neither white men nor red men ever use firearms except on game. The days of murder have long since gone, notwithstanding printed stories to the contrary. We simply waited, anxiously, wondering what would happen.

As soon as the first man arrived

within earshot, he began calling out and waving. In a few seconds we understood his words. 'Bad ice-look out- turn round pass near the shore.' With a few muttered words of relief, we slewed the excited team back in a wide circle and, obeying instructions, made our way past the igloos on the point to where all the Eskimos were standing.

Kakarmik, the old chief, was the first to greet us. Then we had to shake hands with everyone, man, woman, and child, even the babies in their mothers' hoods- a tedious job when it is forty degrees below and one must keep one's double fur mitts on. After that, as quickly as possible, my guide explained who we were, from where we came, when we had to go back, and the reason for our trip.

Kakarmik thanked us for our visit. His description of local conditions was exactly what we had guessed at first.

Being new to the district, the band had reached too late the place where the caribou cross the river in tens of thousands on their migration south, and had only been able to spear a few stragglers. After that they had spent weary weeks scouring the country in vain for smaller herds. Winter settling down in earnest, Kakarmik had finally decided to camp at the end of the lake where the water was shallow and the ice thin because of the current of the mighty river flowing from there down to the Arctic Ocean. His only solution was to fish, and, since he had no nets, to spear through holes in the ice, where the men, crouching behind a small windshield, watched all day long.

The fishing had been good at first. But now it was poor, very poor. When a man caught four fish of three or four pounds every twenty-four hours, he could consider himself very lucky. They had only four spears to feed seventeen people. He did n't count the

small babies at the breast. Half of them had already died, and he expected the rest to go soon. They had no dogs. They had eaten them all. They were going to stay here another week, in the hope that the fishing would improve. But, if it did not, then he would leave for a certain lake he knew, twelve days' walking to the northwest. There he thought he might perhaps find musk ox.

Yes, they had three rifles and enough ammunition. He knew the risk he would have to take. In fact, he expected that half the band

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would fall on the way, but he would take the chance if the fish were going to fail entirely. And, did we have food, over and above what we needed for our return trip- twenty days?

The guide and I looked at each other. There stood a band of Eskimos on the point of sheer, complete starvation. Numbering seventeen to the two of us, still they made no move to seize our food and our dogs. Obeying the eternal law of the North, they took it for granted that we had to keep our team so as to be able to travel back south to wherever we lived, and enough food, so much per man and per dog, per day, to last the distance we had to cover. They simply asked us if we had, by any chance, a surplus of food. Without hesitation we unpacked our whole outfit and laid out our complete stock on the ice.

While a woman kept our dogs quiet under the threat of the whip, we sorted out and counted the dog food, fish, then our own caribou meat. Traveling north of the trees, we had only a little gasoline stove, to boil our tea. The meat we ate raw, trusting to be able to last on it until we found our cache on our way back, at the trees, where wood and fire would enable us to cook again and eat pork and beans and flour cakes. Twenty days of traveling! Seven dogs! Three fish per dog per day. They

were very small fish. That meant four hundred and twenty fish. We found that we actually had four hundred and fifty. We put the balance of thirty aside. Then we cut down the dog allowance to two fish a day, thus adding one hundred and forty fish to the thirty. As far as our own meat was concerned, we gave them forty pounds of it, keeping eighty for ourselves. We offered them tea, but they refused it, as they had no fat to use with moss for fuel in their little stone lamps.

Kakarmik distributed the fish and meat there and then, so much per head, and in a few minutes every Eskimo had gone to the igloos to eat.

As we turned south, after saying good-bye to the old chief, we noticed a young woman standing a few hundred yards ahead of us. When we got up to her, she beckoned and we stopped. She was very thin and very, very weak. She told us that she was an orphan from another tribe and, having been taken up through charity and having absolutely no relations, she was not receiving her proper share of the daily catch. Therefore she was starving, and she begged us for one fish, one fish from our dog food, just one, for her alone, adding that she would eat it at once, there on the ice, before the others found her and took it away from her.

She was very pathetic, with her thin face all blackened with frostbite, and she made little pleading gestures with her hands in her anxiety to make us understand that she was dying on her feet from hunger.

We took a fish out of the bag. I chose it carefully. It was a whitefish, weighing about three pounds, very fat, and frozen, of course, as hard as a piece of granite. When I handed it to the girl I could see her trembling with excitement. One of her legs, in the big caribou trouser and boot, started shaking so badly that she nearly pitched

forward on the sleigh, and the saliva began to drip from the corner of her mouth, freezing when it reached her chin.

As soon as she had the fish in her arms she tried to bite a piece out of it. But her teeth failed her. The guide gave her our little axe. Putting the fish down on the ice, she tried to chop it in pieces, but she was too weak and she missed it. The man had to cut it up for her. And then it was an awful sight to watch her gobble

the chunks and swallow them whole, hardly munching. When she had eaten a large portion, she gathered the remains and hid them in her clothing, against her bare skin, where they would thaw and where she could reach them easily, without attracting attention.

When we turned round to have a last look at the igloos, she was halfway back to the shore. She had stopped walking, and was sitting on the ice, facing us. As we waved at her she did not make a sign, but she bent her head down to her chest. I suppose she was having another mouthful of fish before getting back to the others.

And during the twenty days of our trip south, to the trees and our fur outpost, every night when my guide and I lay side by side in the same fur bag, under the little canvas tent, we both pondered over the fate of Kakarmik's tribe, while the face of the starving woman haunted our dreams as soon as we fell asleep.


Six months later I returned to the Barren Lands, in the same district. I was traveling by canoe with two Indians. My guide of the winter was somewhere north of me and I had arranged to meet him at the northern end of the lake where I had seen Kakarmik and his band in January.

Leisurely I proceeded on my way

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north. It was toward the end of July and the bleak rugged country had changed into its summer garb. No a few patches of greenish moss and stunted willows scattered about between the gray rocks. No more ice but miles and miles of sapphire-blue water. Hundreds and thousands of caribou plodding north, keeping high on the crest of the hills, seeking the wind so as to avoid the black flies. White gulls soaring aimlessly about the lake. Ducks and geese flying back and forth over their nesting grounds. White foxes-invisible

barking defiantly somewhere in the rocks. Thousands of small birds twittering and flitting about their nests on the ground. And proud piebald cock ptarmigans drumming and crowing everywhere, perched on the stones all along the shore line.

I pitched my camp at last on the same point where I had seen the igloos seven months before. Not a sign of life anywhere. And there I waited a whole week before my guide arrived. My thoughts at all times were with Kakarmik and his small band of Eskimos. No one, south, had received any news of them since I had last met the tribe in the dead of winter.

Had they been able to ward off starvation where I had seen them until the first caribou had returned in the spring? Or had they risked the big adventure and faced death in their search for musk ox, away, far away, somewhere on the shores of the big lake unknown to all of us but Kakarmik?

For a whole week I pondered, and then suddenly, from far out on the lake, just before sunset, I saw my man coming from the northwest in a canoe manned by three Eskimos.

It was a beautiful evening, such as one sees so often in the far North during the summer. The horizon was blood red. The canoe, silhouetted in

black across the flaming background, glided through waters as still as a mirror and of all the hues of the rainbow. The regular splash of the paddles woke the echoes of the hills behind me, while the scattered drops of water fell back on the surface of the lake, around the canoe, like tongues of fire.

Silently I watched the four men coming nearer and nearer until the bow of the canoe grinded softly on the sand of the beach and remained still.

The guide walked up the bank. So did the Eskimos. They belonged to a band from the east and I knew them well. We all shook hands, silently. Such is the way men greet one another in the wilderness.

After a few seconds, when the white man had found a flat stone to sit on, and lit his pipe, carefully and slowly, I looked at him. 'Well.' He knew what I meant. He took the pipe out of his mouth and turned the bowl slowly in his hand, gazing at it thoughtfully. Then, moving sideways, his eyes found mine. All dead,' he answered, and after that, a second or so later, as an afterthought, 'I found them all.'

Although I expected the news in a way, his few terse words stunned me and I remained silent. Meanwhile the three Eskimos, who guessed what had been said in English, remained squatting in front of me, watching my face with unscrutable half-closed eyes.

Finally I asked what had happened, and this was the story I heard.

That spring, before the ice had left the lake, my man had returned to the very spot where we had last seen Kakarmik. The igloos were still there, but the camp was deserted. There were no fresh signs. One could see at a glance that the Eskimos had gone away months before. He decided to travel northwest, toward the other lake that the old chief had told us about. He took the three eastern Eskimos with

him and first crossed the lake he was on. For half a day they all searched for tracks on the shore, as they had to find out exactly where Kakarmik and his band had started their walk inland. Then they found sure signs. First a bunch of traps, then a skin bundle of extra caribou blankets, finally a grave

just a few small stones scattered over the body of a very small child. From the lay of the land it was easy after that to guess that the band of Eskimos must have taken a sort of coulee, like a small valley, winding its way more or less northwest. My guide took a chance and started walking up that trail. There were no tracks on the ground, as the thin snow had been swept away by the wind or had melted under the first rays of the sun. For a whole day the four men did not see anything that could make them believe that they were on the right trail. Then, all at once, they began finding things- a fish spear, a telescope, an axe, a snow knife, two pairs of boots.

Not only did they know then that they were on the right track, but they soon guessed what had happened. The weak, straggling band of starving natives had begun there to discard all extra weight. A little later they came across, in a hollow, a half-melted ice screen, like a portion of an igloo wall. There the Eskimos must have huddled together and slept during the first night. A mile farther the white man, walking ahead, found the body of a woman, still half frozen, untouched by any preying animal. The three Eskimos recognized her and named her at once. It was the girl to whom we had given the one fish.

From there on the trail was strewn with every loose article the band had been carrying. It was easy to see that the pace had begun to tell and that the dying natives had decided to throw away everything they had except the

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