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TALES OF ADVENTURE,
Famine, want of food, starvation.
THE ESQUIMAUX DOG. In the countries the nearest to the pole which are inhabited by man, I believe many of the tribes could not live at all without their dogs. In other places these creatures are most useful helpers to man, but there they are necessary to his very existence. When there is sickness among the dogs, and they die in great numbers, a famine is the result, so the people die too.
I must tell you how this happens.
The summer in those regions is very short-only about three months—and the winter is very long, lasting all the rest of the year; and it is also terribly severe. Well, then, in summer the people must be as busy as possible, laying up stores of fish and flesh, and skins for clothing, and fuel for fire. When the terrible winter comes, they would be in danger of perishing from cold and hunger if they did not do so. No shops are there; every one must provide food and clothes for himself. Great quantities of fish are dried, and the flesh of the reindeer and other animals is dried too; and when the hard frost comes, it makes a casing of ice which keeps this food sweet for a long time.
You wouldn't like very well to have dried fish, day after day, for many weeks together, with a little bit of tough dried meat, now and then, for a change. But it is so with those poor nations, except that those who live near enough to the sea-coast have
sometimes a bit of seal, or dead whale, with some of its blubber and oil, by way of a treat.
In their fishing, as well as on their hunting expeditions, they have often long journeys to make, and heavy burdens to carry. Who, then, is there to drag along nien, and burdens, and all, over hundreds of miles of frozen snow, in walking over which they would soon get so worn out as to lie down and die? And who is to bring home fish, and skins, and seal and bear flesh, and loads of firewood, to their huts again ?
I believe if it were not for their dogs they would be very badly off. These dogs are able to live exactly as their masters do. Being first-rate fishers, they catch fish for themselves all summer time; and when they return to the huts, are well fed for awhile upon the heads and other refuse of what has been brought home. During the rest of the winter, they are able to endure pangs of hunger which would kill almost any other animal whatever.
Now and then, however, they go out upon hunting expeditions after reindeer, or bears, or seals, and these they enjoy amazingly, both on account of their great love of the chase, and because of the prospect of plenty which is before them for a time. It is they who, harnessed in couples to a sledge, and having a dog who has been purposely trained as a leader, will draw their master, with two or three hundred pounds' weight into the bargain, over frozen snow, for three or four days together, at the rate of from sixty to a hundred miles a day.
Resin, a sticky matter largely found in pines.
Let us take a journey; but before we set out, we shall imagine that we have been snowed up for several weeks inside Kamschat-kan hut, without having seen any light but that from a wood fire and a small lamp fed with coarse oil. We have tried, indeed, to make ourselves as comfortable as possible before the winter began. We have had all the crannies in our walls stopped up with moss, and have plastered them with clay. A great mound of earth is raised outside, as high as the ice windows, in order to keep us from being quite buried by the snow-storms when they
We have got in a good stock of pine-wood, which is so full of resin, that when some pieces are thrown on the fire in the middle of our floor, a great stream of sparks escapes through the chimney, or, rather, hole in the top. This stream looks outside like rockets and squibs rising suddenly out of the snow. Round the fire all the family are gathered.
The men put their fishing-tackle and hunting-gear in order, and the women sew together the skins that are worn for garments. Altogether there is a kind of rude comfort which we can manage to put up with for a while. The dogs lie burrowing in the snow outside, and every six or eight hours set up a great howling like wolves, whom, indeed, they are not unlike. When the family meal is over they will come in, and get their share of the remains, and then they will go out and burrow in the snow again.
All this goes on pretty well for a time; but, by-and-by, both dogs and men get wearied of the constant snow-drift, which obscures air and sky, and glad they are when it ceases, and the moon and stars once more appear. The dogs would let it be known when the moon shines out, if nothing else did, for as soon as they see her bright face they begin to howl. Then the men clear a path-way through the snow,
forth upon the glittering white plains. It is too soon yet, however, to set forth upon a hunting journey. A good frost must come first and harden the surface of the snow, to make it fit for travelling upon. At length the inportant day comes when the sledge has to be got ready. Then comes the business of harnessing the dogs. As many as six pair are put to in one sledge, but the reins are fastened to the collar of the leader only. The master gets in, well wrapped up in skins, and with all the provisions he needs for himself, and a very little for his dogs, and with the spears and other things that are needed for the chase.