Summaries of chapters
Angus is an older Scottish man living in northern Manitoba. Three boys live with him. Jamie is Angus’s 17 year old nephew. His parents died in an accident when he was young. He used to attend a boarding school in Ontario but moved to live with Angus, his only living relative, when there was no more money to pay for the school. Awasin is a bit older than Jamie. He is a Cree Indian, who is living with Angus to get some schooling. Awasin’s father is the chief of the Crees. Peetyuk is around the same age as Jamie. He is half English and half Eskimo. (Nowadays, we say “Inuit” instead of “Eskimo.”) Peetyuk’s English father died when Peetyuk was a baby. Peetyuk’s family wanted him to travel south and find his “father’s people” so he could learn about them. Jamie and Awasin had an adventure the previous winter in the the barrenlands of northern Canada. The got lost while helping the Chippewayan Indians hunt caribou. During their adventure, they found an ancient Viking grave with many old artifacts. The next summer, they want to travel back to the grave to get the artifacts and sell them because they are probably very valuable, especially for a museum. Angus spends three days a week giving lessons to the boys. The rest of the time, they all go out and hunt animals in order to sell the furs.
They all return with furs. Angus has seen caribou, which is good because they are all tired of eating dried meat. The Chips are very sick with the flu. Angus decides to go south to try to get help for the Chips. The boys stay and bring food to the Chips and then later stay with the Chips to care for them. Peetyuk gets sick. During the journey south, Angus also gets sick with pneumonia. Jamie gets a letter from the government saying that he must also go south, where the government will take care of him. He is not an adult yet, and since Angus is not able to care for him, the law says that Jamie cannot stay alone.
Jamie is very angry and says that he will not go. The boys bring Peetyuk back to Angus’s cabin. They leave the Chips. When Denikazi, the chief of the Chips, thank the boys for their help, Jamie says some rude things to Awasin. Awasin gets angry and says that Jamie doesn’t understand the Indian ways very well. Angeline, Awasins younger sister, has come to the cabin to care for Peetyuk. She does a lot of housekeeping and cooking and tells the boys what to do. Jamie is not happy that she is there but appreciates the help. Jamie and Awasin spend their time trapping animals for fur to make money to buy supplies for the trip north in the summer to get the Viking artifacts.
Peetyuk is feeling better now. All three of the boys can go trapping. Several Crees go south to get some supplies for the boys. Crees return and tell the boys that the police will come with dogs and planes to look for Jamie. They decide to go north and stay at an old cabin belonging to a dead Chippewayan Chief. Angeline comes too, but Jamie is not happy about it. Denikazi says that he will help the boy and mislead the police. Jamie wants to leave Angeline with the Crees but is not successful. Jamie is very angry with Peetyuk for not working hard enough and spending too much time with Angeline doing “women’s work.” While they are fighting, they hear a strange sound.
The sound that the boys heard was a plane. They hide from the plane. Peetyuk is amazed at the seeing the plane, the first one in his life. They go back to the cabin to check on Angeline, but the cabin is completely deserted (empty), like no one has been there for a long time. Angeline comes into the cabin. She explains what she did when she heard the plane, how she put out the fire, carried all of their things into the woods, cleaned the cabin, and covered the tracks in the snow. They all discuss what their next plan should be. A Chip named Zabadees comes with two canoes and news from the Chips. The police in the plane saw the smoke from the cabin. They will work hard to find the boys. The Chips create false trails in the snow to trick the police. Zabadees will lead the boys and Angeline to the northern boundary of the barrens. Then he will return and take Angeline to a Cree camp.
They leave at night. Travelling in the snow is very difficult. Angeline is exhausted and Zabadees tells her to ride in the back of his sled. Since his sled is lighter than the boys’ sleds, he is able to go much faster than they. They hear the plane again, but it follows the false trail. Jamie is not very nice to Angeline. Angeline tells Awasin something (probably about Zabadees) and then refuses to go with Zabadees again. A blizzard (bad snow storm) comes. They cannot move for awhile. By Angeline’s and Awasin’s behaviour, Zabadees understands that they know something about him. He starts to behave strangely, in a very hostile way. Jamie hasn’t noticed the strange behaviour of Zabadees with Angeline. He is worried that Zabadees will live, but they still need his help. In the evening, near Dead Man’s Lake Peetyuk tells a story about a meeting that his grandfather, Kakumee, had with a group of Chips many years ago. The Chips treated him very badly, and he ended up killing two of them and scaring the others away. Peetyuk tells Awasin to translate the story to Zabadees. The story makes Zabadees very angry. When everyone else is asleep, except for Peetyuk and Zabadees, Peetyuk sings a very strange song while he cleans his gun. Every time in the song when he says “Kakumee,” he clicks his guns. This obviously scares Zabadees very much.
Jamie wakes and see that Zabadees has left. Jamie is angry at Peet for scaring him. Awasin says that Zabadees wanted to marry Angeline. Jamie is worried out finding the way north and getting rid of Angeline. Angeline is sad and says she will go home by herself. Jamie says she can go with them to the north. They travel on a big lakes. A big rain storm comes. Days are warm so a lot of snow and ice is melting. Peet is worried about melt because travel will become very difficult, maybe impossible. Food is short. They find 1000s of deer walking north. They hunt. Deer continue to move steadily. Jamie’s dogs go crazy.
River ice is very thin with large snow drifts near shore. They’re a bit lost. They go back and Peet finds correct way because he sees inukok, which shows the way. Sleds are not good at this time of year. Angeline falls through ice. Peet finds old wood to burn. They make a good meal. Emptiness of the Barrens affects them. They see many deer in the distance. Peet seems to change. He becomes more confident because he is in his country. They cache the supplies that they brought for the Eskimos, who will come later to get it. They reach the source of the river. There is lots of rain. They find a very big lake and they see the Eskimo camp.
Peetyuk goes to camp and is warmly welcomed. Jamie, Awasin, and Angeline stay back for awhile. They are surprised by the old ways of the Eskimos. They meet Kakut (like a father to Peet). They rub noses instead of shake hands. They go into big tent for a large meal. They all eat a lot. Many smoke and drink tea that Peet brought. All men take turns drumming and singing. Awasin also sings song. Jamie imitates bagpipes. All are amazed and want him to sing more. The three visitors feel more relaxed. Angeline is proud of Peetyuk and Peetyuk is happy about Angeline. All are very tired. Everyone leaves except family and the three visitors. All sleep in one big bed.