The Unseen Star


“Kish!” the young Eskimo girl exclaimed, jumping to her feet. Thinking that she heard Kish, the family’s lost Siberian husky, scratching at the outside door, Jen-ni threw aside her stitching and dashed across the one-room sod house. Pushing aside the heavy furs hanging from the first doorway, she moved swiftly through the partially underground tunnel to the outside door.

Frigid Arctic air thrust itself like a thousand sharp ice needles against her face as her eyes searched the sunless, semidarkened landscape. “It’s only a loose fitting on the door,” Jen-ni commented as her mother stepped up behind her.

“Is it because it’s Christmas Eve that you think you hear these sounds?” her mother asked. “Kish disappeared three months ago. Is it reasonable for you to expect her back?”

“You’re right,” Jen-ni admitted, “but I often think I hear her scratching outside the door.”

Jen-ni knew that neither her mother nor her father could explain the beloved dog’s sudden disappearance. The big husky had been the only sled dog allowed inside as a family member, and Jen-ni yearned for her canine companion. She missed their daily romps. Once, Jen-ni had lain ill for days with a high fever, and Kish would not leave her side. The dog had growled when anyone attempted to move her away.

“Come back to your work,” her mother urged, stepping back into the dim tunnel. Inside the living quarters, Jen-ni dropped down on the white bearskin rug beside the round table where she had been stitching faces on the small Eskimo dolls her mother had fashioned.

The family’s handmade articles—the small dolls, Father’s carved buckles of bone and ivory, and Mother’s fancy fishbone necklaces—were sold regularly to Mr. Morris, a Christian missionary who operated the village trading post in connection with the missionary school. The handmade articles helped pay for her brother Rira’s board and room at the school.

“Mr. Morris will be here before the day hours are over,” Jen-ni’s mother remarked as she moved the Caribou stew to a hotter spot on the small stove. “He’ll pick up all the things we have finished.”

“He’ll have a message from Rira, too,” Jen-ni eagerly added, “and the gift!” Jen-ni’s eyes brightened when she thought about the gift Rira had written he was sending to his sister. She hoped that the gift would be the daintily dressed, lifelike doll Rira had described seeing at the trading post. Her excitement kept growing, along with her hunger.

The bowls were on the table and Father had the items packed inside the deep hide bag by the time they heard Mr. Morris stomping the crusty snow off his boots. Stepping inside, the fur-covered man seemed to fill the room. The babble of friendly greetings commenced.

As soon as she could politely do so, Jen-ni’s mother asked, “What is the message from Rira?”

“Rira was fine, the last I saw him,” Mr. Morris replied. “I’ve been on a two-week trek down the strait where I’m starting a new school. In fact, I traveled out of my way to pick up your items. However, as soon as I see Rira, I’ll tell him that his family is fine and wishes him a merry Christmas.”

Jen-ni’s spirits fell, causing a lump in her throat and bringing tears to her eyes. She realized that if Mr. Morris had not been at Rira’s school for two weeks, he couldn’t deliver the gift. Now there would be no Christmas gift to unwrap.

The minute their guest was seated, Mother served the steaming stew.

Although Jen-ni no longer felt hungry, she tried to show her good manners. She listened intently while the adults talked, and before they left the table, Mr. Morris retold the Christmas story. Jen-ni felt thankful that she knew the story, and she visualized every scene. She pictured the bright star lighting the countryside—a countryside very different from her own.

In less than an hour the family watched Mr. Morris depart, cracking his long whip above the barking dog team as the sled creaked across the snow.

The oily lamp smell lingered in the room long after Mother blew out the flame and the family retired upon their sleeping platforms.

Jen-ni curled up in the soft furs, but she could not sleep.

It was such a tiny noise at first that Jen-ni didn’t stir. When it came again, she raised up on her elbow. Then she scrambled to her feet and stumbled in her haste to get through the tunnel. Why is Mr. Morris back? she wondered.

She pulled open the door, and Mr. Morris stepped in, carrying something furry and bulky in his arms. In the vague light Jen-ni recognized the familiar shape and reached Kish just as the bedraggled husky jumped excitedly down against her, knocking her backward. Jen-ni’s joyful cries mingling with the dog’s happy barking brought her parents hurrying into the tunnel, where they all joined in the happy homecoming.

Jen-ni fastened her arms tightly around Kish’s neck while Mr. Morris told about finding her.

“Your home was hardly out of sight when I saw this dim figure creeping toward me in the snow. As it made my dogs grow restive, I stopped my sled. Fortunately I heard her whining before I drew my gun. Knowing it was a dog, I went closer. I could see that she was all right, but her paws were badly torn from her trek across the ice needles with no protective sealskin boots.

“She was headed this way, so I brought her back by dogsled.”

“You found the right place,” Jen-ni’s father replied. “We’ll always be grateful to you.”

“I’m just glad I saw her,” the missionary answered. “Now I must go, for I have a long journey ahead of me.”

As the man’s tall frame disappeared into the landscape, Jen-ni looked skyward a moment. “Although you can’t see the Christmas star,” she whispered to Kish, “if there’s happiness and wonder in your heart, it’s there.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Charles Shaw