The Christmas Reindeer  by Thornton W. Burgess

Tuktu's Soft Heart

T HESE were happy days for Tuktu and Aklak. Tuktu's only duties were to cook meals for her father and brother. An Eskimo girl learns these things very young and Tuktu had been well taught. Aklak spent most of his time hunting. Their father did little but sit for long hours smoking and watching the distant hillsides where the reindeer grazed above the Valley of the Good Spirit. These were lazy, happy days and Kutok was making the most of them, for the summer was nearly at an end and he knew that when the herd moved there would be little time for lazing.

Tuktu roamed about picking the flowers that grew in such profusion, and also hunting for the flocks of young ptarmigan, for she dearly loved to watch these pretty "Chickens of the North." Not for the world would Tuktu have harmed one of them. Not for the world would she have told her brother Aklak how she felt when he brought in ptarmigan and other birds for the cooking-pot. But despite the fact that she ate them and enjoyed the eating, there was all the time in her heart a wee feeling of sadness, for Tuktu's heart was the loving heart.

Aklak was a good herder and had a way with the deer which some of the older herders might well have envied; but there was no one among all the herders or their families who could go among the deer as freely and unnoticed as could Tuktu. It was as if she held some strange power over the deer people; as if they had accepted her as one of their own number. She could approach the most timid and nervous among the wilder members of the big herds. As for the sled-deer, they might balk and strike at others, but never at Tuktu when she harnessed them. She loved them, every one, and seemingly they knew it.

So it was that Tuktu found her playmates among the wild people, who were not wild with her. Many a time had she stroked a ptarmigan on the nest. Many a time had the Arctic Hare fed from her fingers. The sea fowl paid no attention to her. Love has a strange way of making itself felt among the wild folk, and the soft heart of Tuktu was soft because of love.

So it was that when she found the home of a Blue Fox, about the entrance to which four half-grown little foxes were playing, she did not tell her brother. Each day she would steal away and sit by the entrance to the den, taking with her bits of meat for the little foxes. How she loved to see them roll and tumble about her feet. Sometimes two of them would get hold of the same piece of meat and then there would be a tug of war. Tuktu's eyes would dance and she would laugh softly. And then, when one little fox had succeeded in pulling the meat from the other, she would give the loser the extra piece which she always had for that purpose. And a short distance away sat Mother Fox, grinning happily.


While she picked the flowers and played with the foxes, and now and then mothered a young ptarmigan that had been lost from the flock, she dreamed of the Valley of the Good Spirit. It seemed such a little distance to the brow of the nearest hill overlooking that valley that she couldn't help but wonder what she would see if she should climb up there. But not once did the thought of really doing it enter her head. It was enough for Tuktu that it was forbidden. It was not that she was afraid. She knew that her father was afraid. She knew that Aklak was afraid. She knew that they regarded the Good Spirit and the valley where he lived with reverence and awe. But Tuktu was not afraid. It was enough for her that the Valley of the Good Spirit was sacred and not to be approached by other than the deer people. So, no matter how great her longing to look down from that hilltop, the thought of actually trying to do such a thing never entered her wildest dreams.

She would sit for hours looking over toward the valley and wondering what the deer folk saw therein. Now and again she could see the deer moving on the upper hills. Once as she was watching them, she said softly—for she had a way of talking to herself: "I wish I were really a Tuktu—a caribou."

"Why?" asked Aklak, who had stolen softly up behind her, just in time to hear what she said.

"Because then I might go into the Valley of the Good Spirit and I might even be chosen by the Good Spirit. Who knows?"

Aklak laughed, but it was a good-natured laugh. "It is the reindeer, not the caribou, who go down into the valley," said he.

"But the caribou go too," replied Tuktu quickly, "for only this morning I saw a band of them heading that way; and after all the reindeer are but tame caribou."

"You saw a band this morning!" exclaimed Aklak excitedly, for all that morning he had been hunting for caribou and had not seen one.

Tuktu nodded. "Yes," said she. "And Aklak, I'm glad you didn't see them. I am glad they have gone where you cannot follow, for I would not like to have a caribou killed here so near to the Valley of the Good Spirit."

Aklak opened his mouth for a quick retort, then thought better of it. Perhaps after all Tuktu was right. Perhaps it were better that there should be no killing of the deer folk so near the Valley of the Good Spirit. He remembered that not even the wolves, nor the great Brown Bear for whom he was named, ever killed there.