The Christmas Reindeer  by Thornton W. Burgess

Whitefoot Goes Astray

T HE two pack-deer with which Kutok had moved up near the Valley of the Good Spirit had been kept fastened, each with a long rawhide line. But Kutok well knew that should they be allowed to go free, they would be likely to join the herds over on the hills above the valley. So they were kept tethered by long lines, and each day were moved to a new grazing ground. Sometimes Kutok attended to this; sometimes Aklak.


Aklak goes hunting

It happened one day that both Kutok and Aklak had gone hunting. Tuktu was not at all lonely, for loneliness is something that Eskimo folk know little about. Had she not the two deer for company, to say nothing of the little foxes with whom she played daily? It was nothing new for her to be left alone while her father and brother went hunting. It was Aklak who had moved the deer to new grazing ground just before starting that morning. Two or three times Tuktu wandered over to pat them and pet them, as was her habit. When she became sleepy, she lay down for a nap. It was when she awoke from this that she discovered one of the deer had pulled the peg by which he had been fastened, and had wandered away.

"It must be that Aklak was in too much of a hurry when he drove that peg," thought Tuktu. "I must find Whitefoot and bring him back, or father will be very angry. He will blame Aklak, and it will be very unpleasant to have only one deer when it is time to move. Yes, I must find Whitefoot and bring him back." Whitefoot was the deer's name, for his off forefoot was white.

Having often helped in the rounding up of strays from the herd, Tuktu was skilled in reading signs. Almost at once she found traces of the wandering Whitefoot. He was grazing as he moved along, taking a bit now on this side and now on that side. Once she found a little bush in which the dragging peg had become entangled. Whitefoot had broken the branches of the bush in tearing himself free. Tuktu hurried on, for she saw that the course was leading toward the hills above the Valley of the Good Spirit.

"I must catch him before he gets much farther," thought Tuktu as she hurried on. "Father was right. Whitefoot is doing just what father said the deer would do if they should be free; he is going to join the great herd. I must get him before he gets there, or we shall see no more of him until the herd moves out from the valley."

It was warm work, for in summer it becomes unpleasantly hot, even way up there in the Northland. Tuktu was panting and perspiring, and she was growing tired. But not for an instant did she delay.

"I must get him. I must get him," she kept saying over and over. "I must get Whitefoot."

At last, from a little rise of ground, she saw the wanderer just going up a little hill. "Whitefoot!" she called, "Whitefoot! Stop, Whitefoot!"

At the sound of her voice, Whitefoot lifted his head and looked back. "Whitefoot! Whitefoot!" she called, hurrying forward. Whitefoot hesitated. He looked back in the direction in which he had been traveling. Somewhere ahead of him was the great herd. The scent of it was borne to him on the wind. The longing to join it was almost irresistible. Behind him rang the commands of the little mistress he had learned to love and obey. "Stop, Whitefoot! Stop!" His nose demanded obedience to the call of the herd. His ears demanded obedience to the command of his little mistress. Which should he obey? No wonder Whitefoot hesitated.

It was not for nothing that Tuktu was known among her companions as "Little Fleetfoot." She was out of breath, she was tired and she was—oh, so hot! But despite all this, she ran now as if she were running a race. Just as Whitefoot decided that the call of the herd must be heeded, Tuktu threw herself forward on the dragging peg at the end of the long line which trailed behind Whitefoot. The decision was no longer his. Tuktu had won.

Holding fast to the line, Tuktu seated herself in the grass and slowly drew the reluctant Whitefoot toward her. All the time she talked to him, chiding him for wandering away; telling him how necessary he was; calling him names of endearment in one breath and scolding him in the next. Whitefoot stamped once or twice impatiently. Then, as if having made up his mind that he might as well make the best of the matter, he fell to grazing.

For a long time Tuktu sat there, for as I have said, she was tired. At last she arose. "Whitefoot," she said severely, "you have made me run a long way. Now you will have to carry me back."

As you know, Whitefoot was a pack animal. He had been trained to carry loads on his back. Tuktu had ridden him many times. So it was nothing new for him to feel his little mistress on his back. She turned his head toward camp and then she saw the white, thick mist of the Arctic fog rolling in from the coast. Already it had almost reached them.