The Christmas Reindeer  by Thornton W. Burgess

Tuktu and Aklak

T UKTU was a little Eskimo girl. Tuktu means caribou. She had been given this name, because only a few days before her birth, a relative named Tuktu had died; and as is the custom, this name had been given to the baby. She was well named, for caribou were to have much to do with her life. On the very day that she was born, Kutok, her father, had killed a caribou when food was greatly needed. That year, for some unknown reason, caribou had moved from their usual feeding grounds, and Kutok and his family had had to depend almost wholly on seal and polar bear, and these had been none too plentiful. So this caribou had brought great joy to the home of Kutok. In the days following, he found the caribou back in their old feeding grounds. Later, Kutok was to become a herder of reindeer, and the reindeer, you know, are first cousins of the caribou. So it was that Tuktu was well named.

Aklak, her brother, bore the name of the great Brown Bear. Aklak was two years older than Tuktu and gave promise of being like his father—a mighty hunter. Already he had killed his seal and none knew better than he how to snare the ptarmigan. In the summer he and Tuktu gathered eggs when the waterfowl came north in untold thousands for the nesting. Whatever Aklak did, Tuktu tried to do.

While the children were still small, their father had become a herder of reindeer, and the little folk spent much of their time with the deer. They helped herd them. They did their part at the annual round-up. In the spring they hunted for stray calves that had lost their mothers. Both learned to drive deer to a sled.

During the long winter nights, the herders often gathered in Kutok's house, and there they told stories while the children listened. There were stories of hunting, stories of adventure, stories of many strange things. But the story that Tuktu and Aklak liked the best of all was that of the chosen deer of the Valley of the Good Spirit. This was especially true of Tuktu. She used to dream of that wonderful valley. And whenever she saw the Northern Lights, the Aurora, shooting up high overhead, she would wonder what would happen to any one who might stray into that valley, for it was said that it was from this valley that those lights came.

At last there came a time when she and Aklak actually were to live for a week or two almost on the border of that valley. Do you wonder that she tingled clear to the tips of her fingers and toes with little thrills of anticipation, excitement, and perhaps just a wee bit of fear? It was the fulfilment of a promise that their father had made them, that, when the deer moved over from their summer feeding grounds to the Valley of the Good Spirit, they should go with him to keep watch from a distance.

Even Aklak was excited, though he did his utmost not to appear so, and trudged along behind his father as if visiting the Valley of the Good Spirit were an everyday affair. All day they traveled. That is, they traveled what would have been all day where you and I live. It wasn't all day there, for you know way up in the North there is no real night in summer.

At last they reached the hut in which they were to live while the deer grazed on the hills of the Valley of the Good Spirit. This hut was a very rude affair, built partly in the ground and partly on the ground. It was of wood and stone with a skin roof and a long entrance passage. While not as big and comfortable as the house at home, it was the sort of thing these children were used to and it was quite good enough.

That night after the evening meal, Tuktu begged her father to once more tell the story of the Valley of the Good Spirit and of the chosen reindeer. "Why is it called the Valley of the Good Spirit?" she asked.

"Because," replied Kutok, "a wonderful and good spirit lives and moves there."

"Has any one ever seen him?" Aklak asked.

"No," replied Kutok, "none but the deer people, and of these only the chosen ones ever go down into that valley. But we know that a good spirit lives there, for always the deer that graze on the hills about the valley are safe from the wolf, the bear, and all other enemies. They do not need to be watched. There need be no herder here, were it not that it is well to know when the herd moves out, for then the summer grazing is over. It is a good spirit, for is it not true that every year eight deer are chosen and the next year returned to us the finest sled-deer in all the North? The Good Spirit dwells there and with him live many lesser spirits, who do his bidding."

Thus it was that Kutok told the children of what you and I know as fairies, and elves, and gnomes, and trolls. Eskimo children know nothing about these little unseen people. To them, all are spirits.

"Have you ever looked down into the valley?" asked Aklak.

"No," replied Kutok. "It is not well to be curious. I am content to stay here and wait for the deer to move. So must you be."

"What would happen if one should venture down into the valley?" asked Aklak.

"That no man knows, for no man has ever been so bold as even to think of doing such a thing," replied his father. "My son, be wise with the wisdom of your elders, and be satisfied. None but the deer folk ever enter that valley and these, only the chosen ones. We will stay here and from a distance watch the herd."

"If it is such a good spirit," thought Tuktu, although she didn't venture to express her thought aloud, "why should any one fear to go down into the valley?"

And she was still wondering as she fell asleep.