The Christmas Reindeer  by Thornton W. Burgess

Tuktu and Aklak Have a Secret

I T WAS while Tuktu was watching Aklak training a young deer to the sled, the great idea came to her. It just happened that the young deer was none other than Little Spot. And because he wanted to be a sled-deer, and because he was very proud over having been chosen, Little Spot was making no trouble at all. He was not yet old enough to be a real sled-deer, and Aklak had started to train him just for fun. He was looking forward to the day when Little Spot should be fully grown. He wanted to see if he would be a better sled-deer for having begun his training early.

"Aklak," cried, Tuktu. "I know you don't really believe that I saw the Good Spirit, but you know that the deer visit the Valley of the Good Spirit every year; and you know that every year some are chosen and do not return with the herd; but are found the next year."

Aklak nodded. "Yes," said he, "I know all that."

"Then listen to me, Aklak," said Tuktu. "Those deer are chosen because they are the finest in all the great herd. They are chosen to be the sled-deer of the Good Spirit when he makes his great journey to carry the message of love and happiness to the children of the Great World. Why couldn't we train those deer for the Good Spirit, that he may not have to do it himself?"

Boylike, Aklak laughed. "How," he demanded, "can we train the deer when we do not know which deer the Good Spirit will choose? You say that this year he has chosen one from our own herd, but it is the first time it has happened even if it be true. The other deer were chosen from other herds. So how can we know what deer the Good Spirit may choose?"

"We cannot know," replied Tuktu. "That is, we cannot know for a certainty. But we can do this, Aklak: we can pick out the finest and the handsomest, the swiftest and the strongest of the deer in our herd, and we can train them—I mean, you can train them, Aklak, and perhaps I can help a little. Then, perhaps, when the herd visits the Valley of the Good Spirit next summer, he will discover that these deer are already trained. I just know that he will know. Just think, Aklak, how wonderful it would be to help Santa, the Good Spirit."

Now, Tuktu's thought was all of helping the Good Spirit, but Aklak, though he thought of this, was more selfish in his thoughts, though he said nothing to Tuktu. To himself he thought, "If Tuktu should be right and the Good Spirit should choose the deer I have trained, it would be the first time that all the magic deer have been chosen from one herd. If the owner of one or two chosen by the Good Spirit is blessed, how much greater would the blessing be if the eight deer should be chosen from one herd."

The more Aklak thought over Tuktu's plan, the better it seemed to him. So, a few days later when they were out together, he promised to try it.


Tuktu watching Aklak train a young deer

"But we must keep the secret," said he. "No one must know what we are doing, for the herders would laugh at us and make fun of us. They will see me training the deer, but they will not suspect that they are being trained for a special purpose. Let us go out now and pick out those to be trained."

Now, Aklak was a splendid judge of deer. He knew all the fine points, for he had been well taught by his father. So it was that often when Tuktu would point out what seemed to her a particularly fine animal, Aklak would shake his head and would point out to her that it was not as fine as it seemed. There would be some little blemish. Now and then he would find a deer that suited him. Sometimes the deer would be wild and difficult to approach. Then Tuktu would help. Sometimes the deer would struggle after it had been roped, and every time that Aklak came near would strike with its forefeet, as only a reindeer can. Then Tuktu would pet it and soothe it, until in a few days it would be gentle and easy to handle.

At first, Aklak would look only among his father's deer. He wanted those eight deer to be from his father's herd. And so he would not look at some of the finest deer of the great herd, which his father did not own, but of which he had charge. That was the selfishness in Aklak. But when Tuktu refused to have anything to do with these deer, because there were finer ones in the great herd, he admitted after a while that she was right. He didn't want to admit it, but he was honest. He knew that Tuktu was right. He knew that the Good Spirit would not choose less than the best.

All that winter Aklak worked with his eight deer. Every day he drove one or another of them. The other herders began to take notice, and some of them became envious. But he was the son of Kutok, the chief herder, and there was nothing they could do about it. As for Kutok, he became very proud. "Said I not that Aklak would one day become a great herder?" he would demand, as he watched the boy driving a deer as none of the other herders could drive it.

And all that winter Tuktu and Aklak kept their secret.