“Did you learn to sew from the sisters?” asked Ted, who had been looking at the garments she had made, in which the stitches, though made in skins and sewn with deer sinew, were as even as though done with a machine.
“Oh, no,” she said. “We learn that at home. When I was no larger than Zaksriner there, my mother taught me to braid thread from deer and whale sinew, and we must sew very much in winter if we have anything to sell when summer comes. It is very hard to get enough to live. Since the Boston men come, our people waste the summer in idleness, so we have nothing stored for the winter’s food. Hundreds die and many sicknesses come upon us. In the village where my people lived, in each house lay the dead of what the Boston men called measles, and there were not left enough living to bury the dead. Only we escaped, and a Black Gown came from the Mission to help, and he took me and Antisarlook, my brother, to the school. The rest came here, where we live very well because there are in the summer, people who buy what we make in the winter.”
“How do you get your skins so soft?” asked Ted, feeling the exquisite texture of a bag she had just finished. It was a beautiful bit of work, a tobacco-pouch or “Tee-rum-i-ute,” made of reindeer skin, decorated with beads and the soft creamy fur of the ermine in its summer hue.
“We scrape it a very long time and pull and rub,” she said. “Plenty of time for patience in winter.”
“Your hands are too small and slim. I shouldn’t think you could do much with those stiff skins,” said Teddy.
Alalik smiled at the compliment, and a little flush crept into the clear olive of her skin. She was clean and neat, and the eglu, though close from being shut up, was neater than most of the Esquimo houses. The bowl filled with seal oil, which served as fire and light, was unlighted, and Alalik’s father motioned to her and said something in Innuit, to which she smilingly replied:
“My father wishes you to eat with us,” she said, and produced her flint bag. In this were some wads of fibrous material used for wicks. Rolling a piece of this in wood ashes, she held it between her thumb and a flint, struck her steel against the stone, and sparks flew out which lighted the fibre so that it burst into flame. This was thrown into the bowl of oil, and she deftly began preparing tea. She served it in cups of grass, and Ted thought he had never tasted anything nicer than the cup of afternoon tea served in an eglu.
“Alalik, what were you singing as we came in?” asked Ted.
“A song my mother always sang to us,” she replied. “It is called ‘Ahmi,’ and is an Esquimo slumber song.”
“Will you sing it now?” asked Mr. Strong, and she smiled in assent and sang the quaint, crooning lullaby of her Esquimo mother—