Looking out the window, Rusk rubbed his eyes in amazement, the whole surrounding had acquired an eerie aspect. Nothing could be seen except impenetrable whiteout. Gone were the huts, the church, and the bay, obliterated by whirling snow. Father Perrault’s admonishing words, treated with condescension, took on a more heedful aspect. Who indeed would want to step into this raging hell? Not he, in any case.
Why should he? Didn’t he sit pretty within sturdy walls under a well anchored roof? The store was stocked with provisions that would outlast any storm. As he still congratulated himself, he heard the door rattle furiously, which made him mutter:
“Gee whiz, that wind does pack a punch.”
It was not the wind, however, but someone demanding to be let in. Reluctantly he pushed back the bolt and peered outside where he found himself face to face with a muffled man covered with snow, who moaned:
“You must come, Ruska.”
Bewildered, not knowing what to say or do, Rusk asked:
“Who are you?”
“Amuluk, you know me.”
“What do you want?”
“Come with me; little Agnorok, my son, is sick. You know him, Ruska, he is terribly sick.”
Still dumbfounded, Rusk was stirred to action by the menacing storm. After pulling Amuluk inside with one hand, slamming the door shut with the other, he pushed back the bolt again. It was high time, for snow started to accumulate in the room. The biting cold went right through him, nipping at his very marrow. Still not understanding what Amuluk wanted, he tried to find out:
“Little Agnorok, your son… ”
“Is being devoured by fever. His skin is aflame, you must come,” Amuluk wailed.
“He needs medicine, good medicine to cool the heat in his body.”
“I am not a doctor.”
“But you have medicine,” countered Amuluk.
“Why don’t you go to the Father?”
“The Falla has left, he will not be back soon. Agnorok is burning with fever, your medicine will cool his brow.”
Rusk was in a quandary. Not going might jeopardize his career, moreover, harm the sterling reputation of the Hudson Bay Company. Doing Amuluk’s bidding, however, might be fraught with danger. But like all Hudson Bay factors, he was duty-bound to tend the sick, administer basic medicine, plus call for help, if necessary. For that reason all factors sent to the Arctic possessed first aid training. Failing to help, foul weather or not, could be construed as negligence, resulting in punitive measures. Remembering Father Perrault’s words, Rusk said:
“I will come with you, but first I need a rope.”
Looking puzzled for a minute, Amuluk remarked:
“I have one already strung out between my house and the store, it will guide us there and back without any problem. We need a short piece though, to hitch ourselves together.”
Rusk understood. Nodding approval, he went behind the counter and got one. At the same time he pocketed some antibiotics. After donning his heaviest clothes, and girding themselves with the rope, they set out.
Amuluk, gripping the line fastened to a bracket near the door, led the way. Rusk followed a few feet behind. As they stepped outside he had to suppress an impulse to jump right back again. The fierce wind almost lifted him off his feet. Had he not been tied to Amuluk, plus been in dread of his scathing mockery, Rusk would have slipped back inside. It was slow going in that Egyptian darkness, made denser by whirling masses of snow. Not a glimmer of light shone through that raging inferno which could have served as a guide.
Had anyone asked Rusk right now for the location of Amuluk’s house, his store, or the church, he most likely would have pointed in the wrong direction. Not a single contour, not even a shadow was visible. Indeed, there were moments when even the squat shape of Amuluk disappeared before his eyes. Three feet at most they were separated from each other, yet at times not even the eyes of an eagle could have penetrated that short distance.
The roaring storm took Rusk’s breath away. His face, if not averted, instantly bore a layer of snow turning to ice. He could have endured the rigour of the weather, had it not been for a rising premonition of a nameless impending disaster. Shouldn’t they have arrived some time ago? Amuluk’s hut, not forty steps distance was nowhere in sight. Neither had they passed, nor seen the few buildings in between. Although he did not count the paces, they surely must exceed one hundred. Something odd was going on.
“Amuluk, Amuluk,” he bellowed.
There was no response. A strange sensation gripped Rusk when he realised a disquieting fact.
Twelve O’Clock Sharp