FICTION

The Son of His Mother

ALLAN SULLIVAN September 1 1916
FICTION

The Son of His Mother

ALLAN SULLIVAN September 1 1916

The Son of His Mother

ALLAN SULLIVAN

STEERING north by west up Baffin’s Strait and passing Amadjauk Harbor on the east with Salisbury Island well into the south, you will make Cape Dorset. That is if you are weather wise and succeed in bucking through the pack ice. Further on comes the big bend that turns north into Fox Channel and so to Greenland waters.

From the naked ribs of Baffin Land, Cape Dorset thrusts a gigantic thumb into the cool green ocean. Past its rubbed and fretted apex, streams annually, a prodigious procession, belched, grinding, from the Arctic. Month after month it ramps by, broken occasionally into pondlike gaps where the square flipper suns himself on the trembling floe and the dark-eye jar seal falls prey to white bears marooned and adrift on the tumbled "’«In.

AT all this Pituluk, a lean Husky, had gazed calmly for years. In winter his igloo huddled low in a wrinkle of the shore. In summer time his topeck crowned a little ridge from which the water ran both ways when it rained. With him lived Auknee, his mother, in the white man’s tongue called “Quick to Learn”; and Meetulk, “The Duck,” his mother’s sister. These were short, broad, square-faced women, with black eyes that shifted as though oiled in their sockets and ancient, rusty teeth whose strength had long since vanished with much tugging at sinews and cords of rawhide.

In the warm weather Pituluk fished for salmon and shot white foxes as they feasted on dead whales driven ashore by the run of Arctic currents. Sometimes he faced a she-bear that loped forth, lean and vicious, with the cub she had suckled while she fasted for months in a snowcovered crevice. There was no difficulty about summer. The caribou were fat and the women better tempered. But when winter came, with Unorri, the north wind, both land and sea tightened up like the snapping of the lock in a Hudson Bay musket. The ragged outline of beach and ridge were smoothed down and plastered over. As soon as he could find enough packed snow, Pituluk built his igloo and then began the long eight months’ struggle against the Gods of the out of doors. The foxes lost the mangy blue tinge of earlier months and became blenched like ice and hard to see. The salmon backed into deep water. The caribou retreated inland and the square flipper came up to breathe in places not easily accessible And when one walked abroad, it happened that one often saw only the great form of a solitary he-bear that rocked his arrowshaped head as he stalked out to the edge of the ice to fish.

TN such seasons both Auknee and Meetulk seemed hard to live with. Whatever tenderness Pituluk’s mother might at one time have felt for him had long since disappeared, perhaps under stress of wind and weather. She reckoned her years by

the number of times she had seen the páck-ice march down from Boothia gulf, for when the ice began to move it meant that spring was coming, and this was a thing to remember. Seventy times she made it. Meetulk, her sister, whose husband had been killed, stupidly, by a bull walrus, was nearly as old. Staring at them as he sat on the snow ledge of his igloo while he mended a spear, Pituluk wondered why women, when they became aged, became also cross. He did not mind their ugliness. That was something that fitted somehow into everything else. But to be scolded through most of the short days of the summer and through half of the much longer nights of winter, began to wear into him just as a badly sewn seal boot will wear the skin off one’s in-

It fell on a day when Pituluk returned from a fruitless tramp over leagues of long slopes, where the wind drove the drift snow hard into his face, that his eyes became very hot and sore. At this he was a little anxious and regained the igloo with nothing but two patches of frost-bite on his cheeks to show for his journey. Auknee waited impatiently when she heard him crawling along the low tunnel. Presently she turned to Meetulk, who was sitting on the ledge chewing steadily at the last strip of seal meat.

“Again he has nothing.”

Meetulk waited till the hooded head pushed through. When she saw that her sister was right she chewed at the strip a little faster.

“So many times he comes and with nothing.”

P ITULUK cleared the tunnel and, throwing back his hood, put his hand into a stone bowl. This sat over a single spear head of flame rising from the sealoil lamp. Dipping up water he bathed his eyes and sat down.

“I saw but one caribou—a coast caribou. It was too far. My eyes are sick. It is the blindness that comes.”

Auknee laughed harshly. “What difference will that make to the hunting of my son?”

Pituluk closed his burning lids, then

The second part of Stephen Leacock’s article “Is Permanent Peace Possible?” which began in our August issue, will appear in the October MacLean s.

opened them because they smarted the more. “It will make a difference to my mother—perhaps. It is now many years since you began to complain and call me a fool. Why then should you care if I stop hunting?”

Meetulk was nearing the end of her strip. Her jaws moved more rapidly. She gulped like a fish hawk—choked—stretched her throat and finally yawned rustily.

“I did not know,” she said with a glance at the spear that was balanced against the curving wall. “I did not know that you had begun to hunt.”

p ITULUK did not answer. He had -*■ just discovered that he could neither open his eyes wide nor shut them hard without hurting himself. He remembered thankfully that he had buried the dog’s harness and stamped it tight in the snow. So that was alright. The dog could get along very well for a few days till his eyes were better.

As for the women, he only chuckled and blinked at the two shapeless forms working themselves into their caribou skin bags. He would blow out the lamp presently and placing flint and punk tinder in a safe place would crawl into his own bed. There he would lie listening to the drone of two cracked voices, while the wind pressed down hard on the roof of the igloo, and out in Fox Channel the sea-ice creaked all night long as the falling tide scraped its splintering edge against the rock-bound shore. He did not rest much. Then he could not tell at what time he heard Meetulk speak sharply.

“He sleeps better than he hunts,” „•

p ITULUK tried to open his eyes but the lids were fastened down with a sticky stuff that clung to his fingers when he touched it, and the pain was worse than ever. He felt the two old women looking at him and sat up.

“Blindness has come in my sleep.”

Auknee struck fire, lit the lamp and bent' over him. All she could see of Pituluk’s eyes were two narrow seams full of something that looked like frozen blubber only it was soft. She beckoned to Meetulk.

“It is true. He is blind.”

Her son swayed despairingly in his caribou skin bag. Auknee glanced at him strangely then climbed back on the ledge where the two old women whispered, their glistening faces close together. Presently Meetulk also looked sharply at Pituluk. After a little she nodded.

“Water,” groaned the hunter. “I cannot see, bring it to me.”

His mother slid down. Pituluk had begun to feel his way across to the stone bowl. She reached ahead of him and handed it quickly to Meetulk. “There is no water.”

“In the night I was thirsty and drank,”

quavered Meetulk. She set the bowl behind her and covered it with a caribou skin robe.

PITULUK tried to think of the words he once heard a whaling captain use when he was very angry. They struck him at the time as good words, and there was nothing in the Husky language to express what the whaling captain seemed to feel. But he could not remember them. Nevertheless he knew there was water in the igloo. In a queer way he smelt it. Later, when the women went out, he tried to make fire and melt some for himself. But he only hit his fingers with the flint. He was sorry now he had not built the igloo out on the ice even though the wind was worse, because then he could have fished through the floor. His grandfather being blind had caught many fish. After a little, and more than ever convinced that there was water near, he fumbled about till he touched the stone bowl under the caribou robe. It was already half frozen but there was a good drink left. He drained that, slid the bowl under again and groped back. Then, though the water lay cold in his stomach he felt hot and very angry.

Outside at a little distance Auknee and Meetulk shivered behihd a caiçn of stones and talked earnestly.

“I am glad that Pituluk is blind,” said his mother grimly, “and if we are wise his eyes will not open again. It will be as I told you and we two will live with the tribe at Amadjauk Harbor. It is many years since Pituluk got angry about that girl and came away.”

MEETULK no8de;t ‘ thoughtfully.

“When I wa9 in Amadjauk Harbor I saw a box that made sound, like a man that talked—a white man. The box is still there. Sulkenulug told me the time he passed last summer. I would like to hear it again.”

Auknee glanced at the igloo of which the ivory top was just visible. “You will hear it. How long can a man live without food?” ¿

“I do not know.” Meetulk shewed her jagged gums. “When one is cold not so long. But I do not want to see him die.” “We shall not be here. To-morrow we shall go out to the edge of the ice and kill a seal. But Pituluk must not know if we have meat.”

“The smell of a hungry man is sharp,” objected Meetulk dubiously.

Her companion grunted. “There will be nothing in the igloo to smell.”

They crawled back through the tunnel and found Pituluk fumbling with his spear and running his fingers along its coil of rawhide. Where his eyes used to be there were two thick lines of sticky white. “I am hungry,” he said dully.

Auknee’s beady gaze rested on his brown face. She could iust see it in the yellow flicker of the seal oil lamp. “That is rothing. We are all hungry.”

Pituluk’s lips lifted a little and showed his strong teeth. “Do we die here all of us?”

“Perhaps,” put in Meetulk, “we would have died anywhere.”

The blind man crossed to the mouth of

the tunnel and stretched himself across it. “Then we’ll die together.”

For the next few hours it was very quet in the igloo. The grey of the Arctic day faded and was succeeded by a sparkling light of intense cold. Stiffer grew the frost till the very bones of the hidden earth seemed to shiver and contract. Across the field ice sharp cannonlike reports zigzagged out to open water, and the split floes crumpled in irregular ridges of irresistible expansion. The sky, ineffably high and clear, harboretj a host of diamond-pointed lights, pallid against the curtain of green and yellow flame that hung palpitating in the north. The dogs whined and scratched deeper, till, curled into grey balls of fur each lay in the bottom of his own pit below the surface of the driven snow. It was all hardbitten, bleak and unutterably grim, and only the far expanse of open sea retained any semblance of life or movement.

Hours later something stirred on the ridge behind the igloo and for a moment a great shape with narrow skull, long, lean body and huge flat paws was outlined against the sky." It stood gaunt and menacing, swaying its white head and gathering into its black nostrils whatever faint odor might be abroad in the crisping night. Presently it shuffled down hill.

A DOG stirred in his pit and thrust a black nose into the nipping frost, while the long hair lifted on the curved ridge of his back. For a second he waited thus, with every mysterious instinct thrilling in his chilled body. Then the nose lifted higher and he flung his signal to the moon. Another dog took it up, then another. There fqllowed a staccato of sharp barking with short gasps of a scuffling fight and a long howl of pain, v Pituluk awoke with a start. At that moment the sound of a scratching of mighty claws came through the wall of the igloo. The animal had smelt the window of walrus membrane that crowned its curve and beating off the dogs was scaling the icy dome.,

Meetulk slid down from the shelf and seizing the spear began to stab fiercely upwards. A great paw crashed through. In the gap, against the twinkling stars, the women saw the lean head and shaggy throat.

“He will break the roof,” panted Auknee, “quick, the bow and arrow — very quickly.”

She snatched them up, and trembling, fitted a shaft to the taut sinew, but the tough wood defied her. There was no strength in her arm.

“Give it to Pituluk,” shrilled her sister. '“Can a blind man fight with a bear!” said the hunter.

“Pull it and I will guide you.” Auknee thrust the weapon into his hands. “Pull, in a minute he will come through.”

Pituluk’s fingers curved around the cord. “Then it will be as you said,” he answered grimly, “but I shall be glad to shoot once before I die.” The tough wood yielded to his pull till the gleaming arrow head came back flush with the belly of the bow.

“To the left,” creaked Meetulk, “that is too much. Now!”

'T'HE sinew twanged and simultaneously the great paw was withdrawn. The women could see the long head shake savagely, then the bear slithered down, his claws scraping deep grooves in the igloo wall. As he touched the ground there was a maelstrom of frenzied barking the snap of locking jaws and a short, angry coughing. This dwindled gradually. Presently there followed silence.

“He is gone,” Auknee breathed hard. ‘We are safe.”

Pituluk nodded. “Now we can die quietly.”

Next morning the women went out and laid their fingers in the deep grooves. “He was a big bear,” Meetulk said, regretfully. “There was much meat on

Auknee did not answer. She was staring at a dog that came slowly toward them, his belly bulging. He licked his long jaws contentedly.

“There is meat.” Her eyes narrowed.

THEY followed the bear’s trail a few hundred yards to higher ground. There they found him, a broken arrow projecting from his throat, his flanks and side torn and gaping, a great gaunt beast from whose bones half the flesh had been already ripped by long sharp fangs. A dog with a broken back had crumpled grotesquely and stiffened beside him.

Meetulk chuckled. “There is much left. See, we will not take it into the igloo but will keep it here under the stones. It will last many days. We will eat outside where Pituluk cannot hear us.”

They ate, as dogs eat, champing the broken flesh with broken and rusted teeth, then, piling rocks on the carcase went back to the igloo.

“Where have you been?” demanded Pituluk suspiciously.

“To look for the bear.” In spite of herself, Auknee’s voice sounded fuller and rounder than before.

“And you did not find him?” The hunter perceived something he did not quite understand.

“No!” she grunted. “We did not*find

SEVERAL days passed. Pituluk thought hard all the time. By now the gnawing in his stomach was such that he could not sleep. But the women did sleep. He whispered to them several time and got no answer. Also he knew that they did not move like hungry people. They spoke, too, as they had always spoken, while he noticed the crack in his own voice. Then one night, by this time very weak, he pushed out quietly through the tunnel. His eyes were not so sticky and, lifting the lids' a little with his fingers, he thought he saw something yellow. Stooping, he found this was the snow. Winking very hard, the film over his sight lifted a little and he just made out a narrow trail, tramped deep, that led up the hill. Stumbling along this he came to a pile of stones.

Continued on page 88

The Son of His Mother

Continued from page 16

Half an hour afterwards Auknee sat up suddenly and yawned. “What is it?” “It is nothing,” said the hunter. “I went out to find if I could see. But everything is black.”

His mother grinned in the dark. It would not be long now.

Presently Pituluk’s voice came in again. “To-morrow we will go to the edge of the ice. Perhaps you can kill a seal.” “It is too rough for a blind man.” “Then you will lead me.” There was a lift in Pituluk’s tones. “I will not ask anything more after that.”

'T'HE night passed. A block of clear ice had replaced the torn membrane in the crown of the roof, and through this there glittered a pale green light in which the hunter could just make out two shapeless mounds that snored steadily for hours. As to Meetulk he did not care much. She was only an old fool with the soul of a fox, of whom little could be expected. But with Auknee it was different. He reached for his spear and recoiled the rawhide line. The meat in his stomach had thawed and he experienced sharp pains. But he was glad of them.

ABOUT noon, when the sun had mounted to the topmost point of its flat arc, they set out for the edge of the ice. Meetulk went first, then Auknee, and lastly the hunter. He had insisted on carrying the spear and line. In the other hand he held one end of a thong at which his mother jerked impatiently. It was a foolish trip she thought for a man about to die. But, as Pituluk peered through the narrow slit between his lids, the snow did not look yellow any longer. It was very familiar and staring white. Darting swift and unseen glances he found that vision had returned. There was still stickiness about his eyes, but he did not wipe it off, and stumbled on, complaining weakly. Presently they came to open water.

“Ah!” said Auknee. “If Pituluk could only see.”

“What is it?” he demanded. “Tell me..” “A white whale and her calf. They are quite close. There is much meat.”

T>UT Pituluk had seen it all. Just Û against the ice floated a small whale. It was fifteen feet long. The green water surged lazily against its smooth and shining back. It lay languid and was lifted glistening in the emerald heave of the

sea. Beside it pressed its calf, like a fragment detached from the mother floe, while intermittently came the deep whistling breath that shot a slim and sparkling fountain into the air. “Ah—hoo—nah. Ah-—hoo—nah,” the great fish seemed to sigh, and saw them not.

A thrill ran through Pituluk. “ I would like to throw my spear,” he whispered unsteadily.

Auknee smiled coldly. “Well, throw it.”

“How far is the whale.” The hunter’9 brown fingers closed over the long, straight shaft, and he shook the coiled line so that its loops hung free.

“Half a spear’s throw. What does it matter? If you strike the mother she will dive and you will lose the line.”

PITULUK raised himself on his toes and balanced the spear. Through the slit between his lids the side of the mother whale shone clear and glaring white. As he stiffened for the throw he shouted: “It is well. Let us lose the line.”

The shaft streaked forward, and, as the point bit through, Pituluk flipped the swinging coils into the air. They fell neatly over Auknee’s shoulders. The green water swirled violently while the great white body flashed downward. The whale’s ivory shape glimmered for an instant, then the line tightened and Auknee was snatched srwiftly forward and twitched into the depths. In another second the tail of the line squirmed over the edge.

Pituluk stared at the bubbles contenu edly. “Let us go back. I am very hungry.”

THE white whale still cruised up and down the Fox Channel and passed on into Boothia Gulf and the Arctic. From topeck and igloo the small, brown people watch them, and when they see beside the larger bulk the shining body of a calf they chuckle to themselves and say: “It is Auknee.” And when the sparkling jet springs into the light and the sound of the whale’s blowing comes across the heaving water they look at one another.

“Ah—hoo—nah, Ah—hoo—nah,” they repeat. Which is. in the white man’s language, “My son did it.”

148 Osgood St., Ottawa, Ont.,

June 10th, 1016.

I wish to say that your magazine has made a lifelong friend, and as long as it maintains its present standard, I hope to never be without it. Needless to say. I shall always speak highly of it.

Your articles by Messrs. Leacock, Stringer, Sullivan, Service, and especially Dr. Orison Swett Marden, go a long way, to my mind, to making MACLEAN’S a clean, wholesome, entertaining magazine, not overlooking Miss Agnes C. Laufs wonderful works.

I am slightly disappointed in the “Frost Girl” story, but I feel I will be more than recompensed in Mr. Stringer's new stou.v. “The Anatomy of Love,” for it looks like a winner.

I noticed, to my regret, that for some numbers now, Dr. Marden’s “Pillars of Success” have been discontinued. May we not hope that it is only for a temporary period.

Arthur J. Belli veau.