Paul B. (Paul Belloni) Du Chaillu.

The Land of the Long Night online

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months the blue foxes and the gray hares turn white; the fur of the
black fox is tipped with white, and he is known as the silver-gray fox,
the fur thus tipped being very valuable. The ptarmigan also, a species
of grouse, turns white during the Bear's Night."

I asked the Lapps, "Why do you call the winter months the 'Bear's

"Because," one replied, "in this land the bears sleep all through the
winter months."

"Goodness!" I exclaimed; "then the bear has a sleep that lasts five or
six months, and even more?"

"Yes," the Lapp replied.

"Are there any bears here," I asked, "that are sleeping in the
neighborhood? - for I should like immensely to stir one up."

"There are none this year," he replied.

Then I said to him, "Let us go fox hunting, for I should like to get
some white and silver-gray fox-skins. We will build a snow house for
our camp to shelter ourselves." One of the Lapps, called Jakob, agreed
to go with me.

Besides hunting foxes, we were to trap ermines and kill white hares, for
I wanted to have a rug of their skins. I remembered that I had slept
between two rugs of white hare skins, and how beautiful, soft, and warm
they were.

After this talk Jakob went off after reindeer, and returned with three
of them. In a short time our preparations for camping were made. We took
with us our sleeping-bags, some reindeer meat, a little salt, some hard
bread, a coffee kettle, coffee, a small iron pot to cook our food in,
two wooden shovels to help us in building a snow house and clearing the
ground of snow, our skees, guns, and ammunition. I did not forget a
couple of wax candles, for I always carried some with me, and plenty of
matches, besides a steel and flints in case some accident should happen
to our matches. We took also a few slender poles, upon which we intended
to hang our meat to keep it out of reach of prowling carnivorous
animals. These carefully packed and made secure in a special sleigh, we
started. Our sleighs glided along as if they were going on smooth ice.

After a journey of four hours, having travelled about sixty miles, we
came to the shores of a lake, and at one end were two conical dwellings
belonging to fishing or river Lapps. The smoke curling above their tops
showed us the people were at home.

"Here," said Jakob, "we will build our snow houses. I think we shall
find plenty of foxes in the neighborhood, for the country is full of
ptarmigans, and the foxes prey upon them."

We tied our reindeer with long ropes, so that they should have plenty of
room to dig for moss. Then we began to build our snow house. It was so
cold that the snow did not hold well together, so we concluded to make
two instead of one, just big enough for each of us to sleep in and be
protected from the great cold. It was hard work. When finished they were
a little over five feet and a half long and some three feet wide inside.

"I like this much better than going in and sleeping in the dwellings of
the river or fishing Lapps yonder," I said to Jakob.

Clearing a space for our fire in front, we put up three long poles we
had carried with us, and hung our meat high up upon them, so that wolves
and foxes could not get at it. Then we put our sleighs containing our
outfit on the top of each other and made them fast with cords. When this
was done Jakob said: "Foxes are often very bold, and they come and
rummage around the tents; and when famished they bite everything they
get hold of. We shall be able to hear them from our snow houses if they
try to get into our sleighs."

We had carried with us a few sticks of dry wood to be used as firewood,
but Jakob knew the country well and that near us were some junipers, the
branches of which appeared above the snow, and he went and gathered
some of them. The wood of the juniper, though green, burns well, for it
is full of resinous matter.

Our camp was now ready. The day's work being done we lighted a fire,
cooked a piece of reindeer meat for our supper, and made coffee. Jakob,
as usual, had some dried fish skin with him to clarify the coffee. After
our meal we went into our snow houses, and taking off my Lapp grass and
stockings, I laid them inside of my kapta on my chest to dry the
dampness out of them during the night. Then I got into my bag. Jakob did
likewise, and after bidding each other good-night we fell asleep. Our
houses were warm and comfortable.

During the night we were startled by the piercing howls of foxes, and
these kept us awake for a time. How dismal those howls sounded. We had
evidently come to a good place to find foxes! Jakob evidently knew what
he was about, and had brought me to the right place.

When we awoke the weather had become colder, the thermometer marking 45
degrees below zero. After a breakfast of reindeer meat and a cup of
coffee we went to reconnoitre on our skees and saw many tracks of foxes.
I was delighted at the discovery, and said to myself, "Paul, do not
leave this place till you have a few fox skins." I wished all the time
that these tracks might be those of the white and silver-gray foxes, for
they were the ones I particularly wanted.

On our return the fishing Lapps from the other side of the lake came on
their skees to pay us a visit, and invited us to come and see them.
Looking at their faces I thought they had not been washed for months,
for a coat of dirt covered their skins. I looked at their fur garments
with great suspicion, and kept away from them without appearing to do
so. I found it necessary to use all the tact I possessed to avoid
wounding their susceptibilities.

After their departure Jakob said: "I am going to take the reindeer to
some friends of mine who have their camp within two hours from this
place, and they will take care of them until we go back." Then he bade
me good-bye, saying, "I will not be long."

I watched him until I lost sight of him and of the reindeer. Then I put
on my skees, took my gun, and went to look for foxes, and soon came upon
fresh tracks of them. Once or twice I thought I saw white foxes, but
they are difficult to see at a long distance, being of the color of the
snow, and I could not be sure. Being satisfied of their presence in our
neighborhood, I returned to the camp.

[Illustration: "I advanced cautiously."]

As I came within sight of our shelter I thought I saw on the snow, near
one of the poles where the reindeer meat was hung, something that was
not there when I had left. It was possible that it was only the snow
that had been piled up in heaps by us. "Strange," I said to myself,
"that I did not notice that this morning." I advanced cautiously, when
suddenly I discovered that what I thought so strange was three foxes,
white ones, seated and looking up intently at the reindeer meat,
probably thinking how they might reach it. I watched them while they
stood still and kept their heads up, looking at the meat. I was glad the
meat was out of their reach, otherwise we should have had no supper. I
stood perfectly still and kept watching them. The three foxes did not
move. Suddenly one turned round, and when he saw me he gave the alarm to
his companions and off they ran at a great rate, and soon were out of

When I came to the camp I saw that the foxes had gone round and round
the pole, in the hope of finding a way to reach the meat. It was lucky
that they had not intelligence enough to dig the snow with their paws at
the foot of the pole to make it come down.

After this, looking over the snow, I saw in the distance a little black
spot, which grew bigger and bigger as it came nearer. I recognized Jakob
on his skees.

Soon after he arrived in our camp I told him about the foxes. "They will
come again," he replied, "for they are hungry. Other foxes will also
come, for they will surely scent our meat."

After a while we began to work, and built two little round enclosures of
snow, the walls about three feet high, with openings here and there to
fire from, and went inside and waited for the foxes, having previously
put within a short shooting distance some reindeer meat. We waited for
quite a while - no foxes - when suddenly I thought I saw something moving
over the snow. Looking carefully I found that they were white foxes.
They had evidently scented the meat and were approaching in that
direction, and when within shooting distance we fired and two of them
fell. They were fine creatures, with soft long hair almost as white as
the snow upon which they walked. We skinned them at once, and stretched
their skins on frames we made from branches of juniper.

The next day we built two new snow entrenchments, in the opposite
direction to the others, and when it was dark we went into them, putting
reindeer meat near.

We had not to wait long. I saw something black on the snow. Certainly
the animal was not a white fox. It could not be the cub of a bear, for
it was the Bear's Night and they were all asleep. When the animal was
near enough I fired and it fell. I ran towards it, and saw that it was a
splendid silver-gray fox. How carefully we skinned the animal!

The next day Jakob made a lot of traps for ermines. These traps are made
in the following manner: A string is attached to a loop long enough for
the head of the animal to pass through. The string is fastened to a
branch, which is bent down above the place where meat is deposited, some
distance back of the loop. The ermine approaches, and in trying to reach
the meat pushes his head through the loop and pulls the string up, and
the loop tightens round the neck and strangles the animal in the air.

We scattered these traps in every direction, and caught many ermines.
How pretty is the ermine, with its short legs, white fur, and tail
tipped with black! The ermine feeds much on the ptarmigans.

That day I saw perched on the low branch of a tree a beautiful snowy
owl, motionless, evidently watching for something. Jakob said to me,
"The owl is watching for ermines. There are plenty of these, I am sure,
round here, or the owl would not be on this tree. We will set some of
our traps here." The owl was big and beautiful, and I said to myself,
"The ermine feeds on the ptarmigans, and the owl on the ermine." I did
not like the idea of the harmless ptarmigans being eaten by ermines and
owls, so I raised my gun and knocked him over.

The foxes, after being hunted for two or three days, became very shy and
it was impossible to get near them. There were a great number of
ptarmigans, and they were so tame that we had no difficulty in getting
many for food.

Strange to say, when we fired our guns they made hardly any noise, for
the air was so rarefied. We feasted well at our camp, for we also killed
a number of white hares.

The white fox had become so scarce that we concluded to leave our camp
for good, and Jakob went to get our reindeer. After packing we retraced
our steps towards his home, his tent on the snow.

In one place where we stopped to rest I suddenly noticed that our
reindeer had got loose. I shouted to Jakob, who was quietly taking a
little snooze on the snow, "Our reindeer are loose!"

Without saying a word, he went to his sleigh and took a lasso. The Lapps
never travel without a lasso. This reassured me. "I must be very wary,
for our reindeer are somewhat wild," Jakob said; "Paulus, follow me." So
I took to my skees. As we approached the animals moved off from us. Then
he came near enough to one of them, and threw his lasso and caught him.
After making the animal fast, he went carefully after the others and
succeeded in lassoing them.

"Well done," I said to him. Then we lay on the snow, with our masks to
protect our faces, and went to sleep. After a short nap we continued our
way, and finally reached Jakob's tent just in time for supper, and were
warmly welcomed by the family.



Since I had heard of the Bear's Night, I wanted to know more about these
animals and their habits. After our supper, I said to Jakob, "Talk about
bears to me - tell me about them." "All right," he replied. "I will tell
you all I know about them."

"At the end of the summer and before the first fall of snow," he began,
"the bears are very fat, for they have had plenty of berries and roots
to eat. They are so fat that they can stand the long fast during the
Bear's Night; but when they go out in the spring from their snow cover,
they are very lean. We dread the bear more in the spring than during any
part of the summer, for he is voraciously hungry all the time and goes
after cattle, horses, sheep, or reindeer."

"I do not wonder at their being hungry, for the poor bear has to make up
for his long fast," I said.

Jakob continued: "The bear chooses a place in which he can lie
comfortably, such as under boulders or fallen trees, where he can be
protected from the snow. He becomes suspicious after he has chosen the
place for his Winter's Night, and for days he walks round and round to
see that there is no danger and to make sure that no enemy can see him.
He wants to feel perfectly safe before he goes into winter quarters. By
walking round wherever the wind blows, he is sure to scent danger, and
if he does he moves away and goes to seek some other place. The bear is
very wary; it is almost impossible in summer to pursue him without dogs,
for he is so quick of foot and always on the alert, that when a hunter
sees one he has to be more wary than the bear to approach within
shooting distance of him. When badly wounded he attacks his enemy

After Jakob had done speaking, I said to him, in my turn: "Let me tell
you a bear story. One autumn day when I had crossed the mountains by the
great Sulitelma glacier and was descending the eastern slope on my way
to the Gulf of Bothnia, my Lapp guide and I saw a big brown bear in the
distance, but as it was almost dark we decided not to go after him, for
the country was very stony. We camped that day in a forest of pines, in
order to be sheltered from the wind, for we were to sleep without a fire
so as not to make the bear suspicious. After taking our frugal meal of
hard bread and butter, my Lapp said to me, 'To-morrow we shall see the
bear; it is late in the season, and I am sure that he is looking for his
winter quarters in the neighborhood, and at the first indication of a
big snowstorm he will make ready for his long sleep, for the bears know
when a snowstorm is coming.'

"'How can they know?' I inquired.

"'I cannot tell you, for I do not know,' he replied, 'for I am not a
bear; but they do know. Do not the swallows and other migrating birds
know the approach of winter and then fly southward?'

"'They do,' I replied.

"That day we were very tired, for we had been tramping all day, down and
up hills and leaping over boulders which covered the country in many
places, and the wonder to me was that we did not break our necks.

"The place we had chosen for the night was by a big boulder almost as
large as a small house. There we could be sheltered against the cold
wind of the night that came through the trees. I picked out a stone for
a pillow, then stretched myself by the side of the boulder on thick
lichen that grew over the barren soil, and made a comfortable bed. My
guide did likewise. Then we bade each other good-night and soon fell

"The next morning we wandered in the neighborhood where we had seen the
bear, but that day we did not find him; then we moved in the direction
whither we thought he had gone. That evening we saw another boulder some
twelve or fifteen feet high. 'This will be a fine place of shelter for
the night,' I said to the Lapp. He replied, 'It is just the place we
want. If the wind shifts we will shift also, so as to be protected.'

"I lay flat along the boulder on the thick reindeer moss, the Lapp did
likewise, and soon after we fell asleep with the pure bracing wind of
the mountains blowing over our faces.

"The next morning we saw the bear; he was a long way from us. The Lapp
said to me, 'I think the bear expects to winter round here; we must
watch him and follow him.' Soon after the bear disappeared.

"'Do you think he has scented us?' I asked. 'I do not see how he could,'
my guide replied, 'the wind is in the wrong direction for that. He has
gone for some reason of his own, you may be sure. There may have been
people on the other side of the hill and he has scented them.'

"We moved all round our boulder to scan the country, but there was no
bear in sight as far as our eyes could reach. After a while I noticed a
small black spot on the top of a hill. It was the bear; he was looking
all round. He then walked away and disappeared. Soon he appeared again,
and we saw him walk round and round a cluster of pines. The Lapp said:
'The bear is walking, making a ring in that manner. He tries to find out
if there is any danger for him, and by walking round he is sure to get
the wind, no matter from what direction it comes. Sometimes the bear
will try a number of places for several days before he selects one.'

"'How clever the bears are to walk around in that manner,' I said.

"Suddenly the bear disappeared. 'He has scented us,' said the Lapp, 'and
I think he will never come back here. We have eaten all the food we have
with us. We shall have to feed on berries the rest of our way. This bear
will probably remain in this region and take up his winter quarters
around here somewhere. I will find out where he will lie. Come to me
early in the spring, before the snow melts, and we will kill him.'

"'All right,' I replied; but the following spring, I regret to say, I
was travelling in another part of the country, but I heard that Bruin
met his fate at the hands of my Lapp when he aroused himself from his
long sleep and came out from under the snow."

The bears in Sweden, Norway, and Finland are very fine animals and
attain great size. They vary in the color of their fur, some being
almost black, but generally they are of different shades of brown. I
think they rank in size next to the grizzly bear of the Rocky Mountains.
They are sometimes dangerous, but not so much so as the grizzly.



The next day I said to Jakob and to the Lapps, "I wish some of you to go
with me across the mountains to the shore of the Arctic Ocean. I will
pay you well."

We were then between the 69th and 70th degrees, north latitude, and we
had to cross the mountains at an elevation of about 5,000 feet on our
way to the sea. I wanted to find out the kind of weather they had in
these high altitudes in the Arctic regions.

"Some of us will go with you," they replied; and added: "There are
several trails leading to the Arctic Ocean. We can reach the sea by
going to the Ofoden, the Ulf, the Lyngen, the Quananger, or the Alten
fjords." I took my map out. After a conference it was agreed that we
should go to the Ulf fjord.

Norway is the country of fjords. A fjord is an arm of the sea, winding
its way far inland in the midst of mountains. The sea is very deep,
often of greater depth than the towering heights which rise abruptly
from the shore, though these are often several thousand feet in
altitude. No road can be built along many of these fjords, and boats are
the conveyances that are used to go from one place to another.

"There are houses of refuge in the mountains, where we shall find
shelter in case of heavy storms," said the Lapps. "If it were not for
those places of refuge people would often perish when overtaken by these
storms. Paulus, you have met great windstorms on your way here, but they
are nothing to compare with the terrific winds to be met in the high
mountains. Remember that we are in the month of March - the month of

As I was listening to what the Lapps said, I thought I heard, from
across the Atlantic, my young folks and friends encouraging me, crying:
"Be not afraid, Paul. Go on! Go on! No harm will befall you!" I shouted
back, "I am not afraid!"

So we started. First we came to a Finn hamlet, where we met a good many
Finlanders and Laplanders who had arrived with their goods and a great
many sleighs and reindeer on their way to the Ulf fjord. All the animals
had been trained to eat reindeer moss gathered and stored for that
purpose. We had come just in time.

Here it was agreed that Jakob and the Lapps who had taken me to this
place should not go further, but that I should be taken care of by
Finlanders, whose destination was the same as mine and who were on their
way to the Arctic Sea. I was to go with John Puranen. John was a
powerfully built man, with a very kind expression.

We were soon good friends. John and a party of friends were going with a
large number of sleighs loaded with reindeer meat, butter, reindeer
cheese, smoked tongues, skins, garments, shoes, and thousands of frozen
ptarmigans, to sell to the people living on the coast.

The day after our coming parties of Finlanders and Laplanders began to
leave, with forty or fifty sleighs and a number of spare reindeer in
case any gave out.

As I looked over the snow, I could see the caravans following each
other, in single file, and a number of dogs following their masters.

The next day we started with a large party. We all hoped for good
weather. We took a good supply of reindeer moss with us.

Late at night we came to the first farm of refuge found in our track.
Hundreds of sleighs and reindeer were outside, and when I entered the
house more than a hundred men were sleeping on the floor. The snoring
was something terrific, and the heat and the closeness of the room were
unbearable. A lighted lamp shone dimly on the slumberers.

So I thought that I would be far more comfortable sleeping outside in my
two bags. John said that he would sleep in his bags by me - and in fact
we slept very comfortably.

[Illustration: "The mist was so thick that I could not see ahead."]

When I awoke in the morning it was 42 degrees below zero. Then we
went into the house and had some coffee and reindeer meat for breakfast.
As at all the post stations, there is a tariff for everything printed on
the walls, so no overcharge is practised.

Many of the people had already left; we hurried on to overtake them, and
as usual went in single file.

The weather had become windy, and the wind blew stronger and stronger as
we went on, until there was hardly any snow left on the ground. It flew
to a great height, and the mist was so thick that I could not see ahead.
My reindeer was going of its own accord. I trusted him to scent and
follow the other reindeer ahead of me. I hurried him on by striking
slightly his right flank with my rein, hoping to overtake the people of
our party.

The wind kept increasing, and seeing no one ahead or behind I became

Where were John and the other fellows? I had no provisions with me.
Where was I? Once in a while, when there was a lull that lasted about a
minute, I saw nothing but huge mountains ahead of me. At sight of them I
became more anxious than ever. I could only hear the shrieking of the
wind, which at times threatened to upset me. Occasionally it blew so
hard that my reindeer had to stop.

My head was entirely hidden by my mask and my hood, which had been made
so secure that I felt it would stay with my head till both were blown
away. Only my eyes could be seen; but the snow which kept flying in the
air became as fine as flour and penetrated everywhere. It got through
the open space for my eyes, then gathered on my hair, eyelashes,
eyebrows, and mustache, and on my cheeks and nose; in fact, everywhere
on my face, and made a mask of ice.

I wished I had no mustache, no eyebrows, no eyelashes, no hair - for it
was very painful every time I broke this mask of ice. It was hardly
broken when it would form again from the particles of new snow adhering
to each other. When I broke it, I thought every hair would be torn from
my face. If I had not cleared it away the mask of ice would have become
so thick that I would have been unable to see. I began to think that
there was no fun crossing the mountains after all, if this was the
weather we were going to get all the way.

As I could not overtake the people ahead, and John was not in sight,
gloomy thoughts came over me. Suppose I can find nobody, nor even a

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Online LibraryPaul B. (Paul Belloni) Du ChailluThe Land of the Long Night → online text (page 10 of 16)