"What Happened When Menie and Koko Went Hunting by Themselves" by Lucy Fitch Perkins (1865-1937)
IT was very lucky for the twins that their father was such a brave and skillful kyak man. You will see the reason why, when I tell you the story of the day Menie and Koko went hunting alone on the ice.
One April morning Kesshoo was working on his kyak to make sure that it was in perfect order for the spring walrus hunting. Koko and Menie watched him for a long time. Monnie was with Koolee in the hut.
By and by Koko said to Menie, "Let's go out on the ice and hunt for seal-holes."
"All right," said Menie. "You take your bow and arrows and I'll take my spear. Maybe we shall see some little auks."
Koko had a little bow made of deer's horns, and some bone arrows, and Menie had a small spear which his father had made for him out of driftwood.
"I'll tell you!" said Menie. "Let's go hunting just the way father does! You do the shooting and I'll do the spearing! Won't everybody be surprised to see us bring home a great load of game? I shall give everything I get to my mother."
"I'm going to hunt birds and seal-holes too," Koko answered.
Kesshoo was very busy fixing the fastening of his harpoon, and he did not hear what they said.
The two boys went to their homes for their weapons, and then ran out on the ice. Nobody knew where they were. Of course, Nip and Tup went along.
All the way over the ice they looked for seal-holes. It takes sharp eyes to find them, for seal-holes are very small.
You see, the mother seals try to find the safest place they can to hide their babies, and this is the way they do it:
As soon as the ice begins to freeze in the autumn, the seals gnaw holes in it to reach the air, and they keep these holes open all winter. It freezes so fast in that cold country that they have to be busy almost every minute all through the winter breaking away the ice there. They get their sleep in snatches of a minute or so at a time, and between their naps they clear the ice from their breathing-holes.
There is usually a deep layer of snow over the ice. Each mother seal hollows out a little igloo under the snow, around her breathing-hole, and leaves a tiny hole in the top of it, so her baby can have plenty of fresh air and be hidden from sight at the same time.
The mother seal leaves the baby in the snow house, and she herself dives through the hole and swims away. Every few minutes she comes back to breathe, and to see that her baby is safe.
It was the tiny hole in the top of the seal's snow house that Menie and Koko hoped to find.
The days had grown quite long by this time and there was fog in the air. Once in a while there would be a loud crackling noise.
"The ice is beginning to break," Koko said. "Don't you hear it pop? My father says he thinks the warm weather will begin early this year."
They had gone some distance out on the ice, when suddenly Menie said, "Look! Look there!" He pointed toward the north. There not far from shore was a flock of sea-birds, resting on the ice.
"Just let me get a shot at them!" cried Koko. "You stay here and hold on to the dogs! Nip and Tup haven't any sense at all about game! They'll only scare them."
Koko ran swiftly and quietly towards the birds. Menie sat on the ice and watched him and held Nip and Tup, one under each arm. When Koko got quite near the birds, he took careful aim and let fly an arrow at them.
It didn't hit any of the birds, but it frightened them. They flew up into the air and away to the north and alighted farther on. Koko followed them.
All at once Menie heard a queer little sound. It went "Plop-plop-plop," and it sounded very near. Nip and Tup sniffed, and began to growl and nose around on the ice.
Menie knew what the queer noise meant, for his father had told him all about seal-hunting. It meant that a seal-hole was near, and that a seal had come up to breathe. It was the seal that made the "plopping" noise.
Menie tried to keep the dogs still, but they wouldn't be kept still. They ran round with their noses on the snow, giving little anxious whines, and short, sharp barks.
The "plop-plop" stopped. The seal had gone down under the ice, but Menie meant to find the hole. He went out quite near the open water in his search. At last, just beyond a hummock of ice, he saw it! He crept carefully up to it.
He lay down on his stomach and peeped into the hole to see what it was like. He could not see a thing!
Then he stuck his lance down. His lance touched something soft that wiggled! Menie stood up. He was so excited that he trembled. He knew he had found a seal-hole with a live seal in the snow house!
With all his strength he struck his lance down through the snow. The snow house fell in and Menie fell with it, but he kept hold of his lance. The end of the lance was buried in the snow, but it was moving. Menie knew by this that he had stuck it into the seal!
He lay still and kept fast hold of his lance, and pressed down on it with all his might.
Nip and Tup were crazy with excitement. They jumped round and barked and tried to dig a hole in the snow with their forefeet.
At last the spear stopped wiggling. Then Menie carefully dug the snow away. There lay a little white seal! It was too young to swim away with its mother. That was why such a small boy as Menie had been able to kill it.
He dragged it out on the ice. He was so excited and so busy he did not notice how near he was to the open water.
All of a sudden there was a loud cracking noise, and Menie felt the ice moving under him! He looked back. There was a tiny strip of blue water between him and the shore!
The strip grew wider while he looked at it! Menie knew that he was adrift on an ice raft, and he was terribly frightened. Nip and Tup cuddled close to him and whined with fear.
Menie understood perfectly well that he might be carried far out to sea and never come back any more. He put his hands to his mouth and yelled with all his might!
Koko was still following the birds, and did not hear Menie's cries. Menie could see him running up the beach after the birds, and he could see his father working over his kyak near his home.
He even saw Monnie come out of the tunnel and go to watch her father at his work. They seemed very far away, and every moment the distance between them and the raft grew greater.
Menie screamed again and again. At the third scream he saw his father straighten up, shade his eyes with his hand, and look out to sea.
"Oh," Menie thought. "What if he shouldn't see me!" He shouted louder than ever! He waved his arms! He even pinched the tails of Nip and Tup and made them bark. Then he saw his father wave his hand and dive into the tunnel.
In another instant he was out again and pulling on his skin coat. Then he took the kyak on his shoulders and ran with it to the beach. Monnie and Koolee came running after him.
They were doing the screaming now! Every one in the village heard the screams and came running down to the beach, too.
When Menie saw his father coming with the kyak, he wasn't afraid any more, for he was sure his father would save him. He wasn't even afraid about the cakes of ice that were floating in the water, though there is nothing more dangerous than to go out in a kyak among ice-floes. One bump from a floating cake of ice is enough to upset any boat, and I don't like to think of what might happen if a kyak should get between two big cakes of ice.
Kesshoo ran with his kyak as far as he could on the ice. Then he got in and fitted the bottom of his skin jacket over the kyak-hole and carefully slid himself into the open water.
Once in the water, how his paddle flew!
It seemed to Menie as if his father would never reach him! He sat very still on the ice-pan with the dead seal beside him, and Nip and Tup huddled up against him.
At last Kesshoo came near enough so he could make Menie hear everything he said. "Menie," he cried, "if you do exactly what I tell you to, I can save you.
"I will throw you my harpoon. You must drive it way down into the ice. Then by the harpoon-line I will tow your ice-pan back toward shore. When we get to the big ice I will find a place for you to land.
"You must be ready, and when I give the word jump from your ice raft on to the solid ice."
Then Kesshoo threw his harpoon, and Menie drove it into the ice with all his might. Slowly Kesshoo drew the line taut, turned his kyak round, and started for the shore.
The journey out had been dangerous, but the journey back was much more so, for Kesshoo could not dodge the floating ice nearly so well. He had to pick his way carefully through the clearest water he could find. Very cautiously they moved toward shore.
They were getting quite near the place where the ice had broken with Menie, when suddenly, right near them, they saw the head and great, round eyes of a seal! It was the seal mother.
She had come back to find her breathing-hole and her baby.
The moment Kesshoo saw her he seized his dart, which lay in its place on top of his kyak, and threw it with all his might at the seal.
The seal dived down into the sea, but a bladder full of air was attached to the line on the dart, and this bladder floated on the water, so Kesshoo could tell by watching it just where the seal was.
Kesshoo knew he had struck the seal, and although he was already towing the ice raft, he was determined to bring home the big seal, too!
He called to Menie. "Sit still and wait until I come for you."
Then he quickly cut the harpoon-line by which he was towing the ice raft, and set it adrift again. As soon as he was free he paddled away after the bladder, which was now bobbing along over the water at some little distance from the boat.
Menie sat perfectly still and watched his father. Kesshoo reached the bladder and began to pull on the line, but just at that moment the big seal turned round and swam right under the kyak!
In a second the kyak turned bottom side up in the water! Menie screamed. The people watching on the shore gave a great howl, and Koko's father started up the beach after his own kyak.
He thought perhaps Kesshoo could not manage both the ice raft and the seal, and he meant to go to help him.
But in one second Kesshoo was right side up again. No water could get into the kyak because Kesshoo's skin coat was drawn tight over the hole in the deck, and Kesshoo was in the coat!
Kesshoo often turned somersaults in the water in that way. Sometimes he even did it for fun! He said afterward that he could have turned the boat right side up again with just his nose – without using either his paddle or his arms – if only his nose had been a little bigger, and though he meant this for a joke, the twins believed that he really could do it.
The moment he was right side up again, Kesshoo gave chase once more to the bladder. The seal was very weak now, and Kesshoo knew that it would soon come to the surface and float and that then he could tow it in.
He had not long to wait. The bladder bobbed about for a while and then was still. Kesshoo drew up the line, and paddled back to the ice raft, towing the big seal after him.
"Catch this," he said to Menie. He threw him the end of the line. "Wind the line six times round the harpoon," he said, "and hold tight to the end of it."
Menie did as he was told. Then Kesshoo tied together the two ends of the harpoon-line, which he had cut, and began to tow the ice raft back to share again.
Menie kept tight hold of the other line and towed the seal!
Kesshoo paddled slowly and carefully along, until at last there was only a little strip of water between the kyak and the solid ice.
But how in the world could Menie get across that strip of water to safety?
The kyak was between him and the solid ice, and Menie could not possibly get into the kyak. Neither could he swim. But Kesshoo knew a way.
He came up closer to the solid ice. Then he gave a great sweep with his paddle and lifted his kyak right up on to it. He sprang out, and, seizing the harpoon-line, pulled Menie's raft close up to the edge of the firm ice.
Menie was still holding tight to the line that held the big seal. Kesshoo threw him another line. Menie caught the end of it.
"Now tie the big seal's line fast to that," Kesshoo said. Menie was a very small boy, but he knew how to tie knots. He did just what his father told him to.
"Now," said his father, "pull up the harpoon." Menie did so. "Tie the harpoon-line to the little seal" – Menie did that. "Now throw the harpoon to me," commanded Kesshoo.
Menie threw it with all his might. His father caught it, and stood on the firm ice, holding in his hands the line that the big seal was tied to, and the harpoon, with its line fastened to the little seal.
"Now hold on to the little seal, and I will pull you right up against the solid ice, and when I say 'Jump,' you jump," said Kesshoo.
Slowly and very, carefully he pulled, until the raft grated against the solid ice.
"Jump!" shouted Kesshoo.
Menie jumped. The ice raft gave a lurch that nearly sent him into the water, but Kesshoo caught him and pulled him to safety.
A great shout of joy went up from the shore, and Menie was glad enough to shout too when he felt solid ice under his feet once more!
While he helped his father pull in the little seal, all the people came running out on to the ice to meet them, but Kesshoo sent back every one except Koko's father. He was afraid the ice might break again with so many people on it. Koko's father helped pull the big seal out of the water and over the ice to the beach.
Menie dragged his own little seal after him by the harpoon-line, and when he came near the beach, the people all cried out, "See the great hunter with his game!" And Koolee was so glad to see Menie and so proud of her boy that she nearly burst with joy!
"I knew the charm would work," she cried. "Not only does he spy bears – he kills seals! And he only five years old!"
She put her arms around him and pressed her flat nose to his. That's the Eskimo way of kissing.
Menie tried to look as if he killed seals and got carried away on an ice-pan every day in the week, but inside he felt very proud, too.
When Kesshoo and Koko's father came up with the big seal, Koolee and the other women dragged it to the village, where it was skinned and cut up. Every one had a piece of raw blubber to eat at once, and the very first piece went to Menie.
While they were eating it, Koko came back. He had gone so far up the shore hunting little auks that he hadn't seen a thing that had happened. And he hadn't killed any little auks either.
Koko felt that things were very unequally divided in this world. He wanted to kill a seal and get lost on a raft and be a hero too.
But Koolee gave him a large piece of blubber, and that made him feel much more cheerful again. He just said to Monnie, "If I had been with Menie, this never would have happened! I should not have let him get so near the edge of the ice! But then, you know, I am six, and he is only five, so, of course, he didn't know any better."
Everybody in the village had seal meat that night, and the Angakok had the head, which they all thought was the best part. He said he didn't feel very well, and his Tornak had told him nothing would cure him so quickly as a seal's head. So Koolee gave it to him.
The skin of the little white seal Koolee saved and dressed very carefully. She chewed it, all over, on the wrong side, and sucked out all the blubber, and made it soft and fine as velvet; and when that was done, she made out of it two beautiful pairs of white mittens for the twins.