The Christmas Reindeer  by Thornton W. Burgess

Tuktu Tells Her Story

W ITH his long, swinging trot, Whitefoot rapidly made his way out of the Valley of the Good Spirit. Once only did Tuktu look back at the cloud of shimmering, many-colored mist. At one point it glowed a rich deep red, and as she looked, this turned to rose and finally to a faint pink and then vanished. Nowhere was the Good Spirit to be seen.

Out of the valley, over the hill, climbed Whitefoot, and Tuktu turned him in the direction of the camp. There presently she fastened him where Aklak had put him to graze. Her father and brother had not returned. As in a dream, she looked back to the hills around the Valley of the Good Spirit. Could it be that she had been there? Was it not all a dream? But if it were a dream, it had been a wonderful dream—the most beautiful of all dreams. She knew that Kutok and Aklak would not believe the story she had to tell. They would say that she had been asleep and the dream spirits had visited her. She looked across to the distant hills above the valley, and with a suddenness that startled her, she realized that not a deer was to be seen. Of course not. Had she not seen them move out of the upper end of the valley? There was the proof.

With the realization of this, all thought of anything else was driven from the mind of Tuktu—even the wonderful experience she had been through. The great herd was moving and there were no herders! She must get word back to the herders on the coast. She would take the other pack deer, for Whitefoot must be tired. Perhaps she would meet her father and brother on the way. She had just prepared to start when in the distance she saw Kutok and Aklak approaching. When they reached her, they were in high spirits. They had had good hunting and they brought with them plenty to eat.

"They have moved!" cried Tuktu. "The deer have left the Valley of the Good Spirit." Kutok threw down his load and hurried to the rise of ground from which he had been accustomed to watch the deer on the distant hills. Long he looked, searching every bit of ground within range of his eyes. Not a deer was to be seen.

"It is so, Little Tuktu," said he on his return. "The herd has started for the winter grazing grounds. It is time that we also should move. Aklak shall go back to carry word to the herders, while you and I will follow the deer. They will move slowly, so there is no hurry. But it is well that we should catch up with them soon, lest the wolves attack, finding them unguarded."

So Aklak started back to the summer camp to send up the herders and to help break the camp and move toward the winter home. Tuktu and her father, with a small skin iglu or tent wherein to sleep, and food enough for their immediate needs, started at once to catch up with the great herd. Through years of experience, Kutok knew in what direction the deer would travel and the shortest way to reach them.

They traveled too fast for much talking. Tuktu longed to tell her father what she had seen in the Valley of the Good Spirit, but somehow she couldn't. "He will laugh at me," she thought. "He will not believe, and he will laugh at me; and I do not want to be laughed at." So she said nothing. But all the time there was a song in her heart.

It was not until Aklak had rejoined them that she told of her adventure in the Valley of the Good Spirit. At first Aklak laughed, as she had known he would. "It was a dream, Tuktu," he cried. "It was a dream. You must have slept through that fog while Father and I were hunting, and the dream spirits took you with them. No one ever has seen the Good Spirit, and no one ever will."

But Tuktu stubbornly insisted that it was not a dream, until at last even Aklak began to believe that it might be so. You would have laughed to hear him ply her with questions, all the time pretending that he didn't believe a word of it. But Tuktu caught him looking at her with a respect in his black eyes which was new in her experience. And she noticed, too, that he no longer teased her, and that now he was never selfish. The biggest share of anything was always hers. Never had he been so gentle and thoughtful. Yet never once could she get him to say that he believed her story of the Valley of the Good Spirit.

Now there was one thing that Tuktu did not tell Aklak. It was that the last deer chosen was from their father's own herd. Never had Kutok had a deer chosen by the Good Spirit from his herd until now. Tuktu had known that it was her father's deer, because she had been near enough to see the ear-mark. Besides, there was no other deer in the herd to compare with it. Sometimes when Aklak insisted that it was all a dream, she would be almost persuaded that he was right. Then she would remember that it was her father's finest deer Speedfoot, which had been chosen.

"If," she would say to herself, "we cannot find Speedfoot in the round up, I shall know for a certainty that I did not dream. It will be the proof."

Thereafter she spent many hours wandering in and out through the great herd looking for this particular deer and rejoicing that she could not find it.