Angut expounded, as we have already explained, and then asked—
"Have they no singing combats in your land?"
"Well, not exactly; at least not for the purpose of settling quarrels."
"How, then, are quarrels settled?"
"By law, sometimes, and often by sword—you would call it spear—and pistol. A pistol is a thing that spouts fire and kills. Nations occasionally settle their quarrels in the same way, and call it war."
Angut looked puzzled—as well he might!
"When two men quarrel, can killing do any good?" he asked.
"I fear not," answered the seaman, "for the mere gratification of revenge is not good. But they do not always kill. They sometimes only wound slightly, and then they say that honour is satisfied, and they become friends."
"But—but," said the still puzzled Eskimo, "a wound cannot prove which quarreller is right. Is it the one who wounds that is thought right?"
"Is it then the wounded one?"
"O no. It is neither. The fact is, the proving of who is right and who is wrong has nothing to do with the matter. All they want is to prove that they are both very brave. Often, when one is slightly wounded—no matter which—they say they are satisfied."
"With what are they satisfied?"
"That's more than I can tell, Angut. But it is only a class of men called gentlemen who settle their quarrels thus. Common fellows like me are supposed to have no honour worth fighting about!"
The Eskimo looked at his companion, supposing that he might be jesting, but seeing that he was quite grave and earnest, he rejoined in an undertone—
"Then my thoughts have been wrong."
"In what respect, Angut?"
"It has often come into my mind that the greatest fools in the world were to be found among the Innuit; but there must be greater fools in the lands you tell of."
As he spoke the sound of child-voices arrested them, and one was heard to utter the name of Nunaga. The two men paused to listen. They were close to the entrance to the ice-cave, which was on the side of the berg opposite to the spot where the games were being held, and the voices were recognised as those of Pussi and Tumbler. With the indomitable perseverance that was natural to him, the latter had made a second attempt to lead Pussi to the cave, and had been successful.
"What is he goin' to do?" asked Pussi, in a voice of alarm.
"Goin' to run away vid sister Nunaga," replied Tumbler. "I heard Ippegoo say dat to his mudder. Ujarak is goin' to take her away, an' nebber, nebber come back no more."
There was silence after this, silence so dead and prolonged that the listeners began to wonder. It was suddenly broken. Evidently the horrified Pussi had been gathering up her utmost energies, for there burst from the sea-green depths of the cave a roar of dismay so stupendous that Angut and our seaman ran hastily forward, under the impression that some accident had occurred; but the children were sitting there all safe—Tumbler gazing in surprise at his companion, whose eyes were tight shut and her mouth wide-open.
The truth is that Pussi loved and was beloved by Nunaga, and the boy's information had told upon her much more powerfully than he had expected. Of course Tumbler was closely questioned by Angut, but beyond the scrap of information he had already given nothing more was to be gathered from him. The two friends were therefore obliged to rest content with the little they had learned, which was enough to put them on their guard.
Ere long the sinking of the sun put an end to the games, but not before the whole community had kick-balled themselves into a state of utter incapacity for anything but feeding.
To this process they now devoted themselves heart and soul, by the light of the cooking-lamps, within the shelter of their huts. The feast was indeed a grand one. Not only had they superabundance of the dishes which we have described in a previous chapter, but several others of a nature so savoury as to be almost overpowering to the poor man who was the honoured guest of the evening. But Red Rooney laid strong constraint on himself, and stood it bravely.
There was something grandly picturesque and Rembrandtish in the whole scene, for the smoke of the lamps, combined with the deep shadows of the rotund and hairy figures, formed a background out of which the animated oily faces shone with ruddy and glittering effect.
At first, of course, little sound was heard save the working of their jaws; but as nature began to feel more than adequately supplied, soft sighs began to be interpolated and murmuring conversation intervened. Then some of the more moderate began to dally with tit-bits, and the buzz of conversation swelled.
At this point Rooney took Tumbler on his knee, and began to tempt him with savoury morsels. It is only just to the child, (who still wore his raven coat), to say that he yielded readily to persuasion. Rooney also amused and somewhat scandalised his friends by insisting on old Kannoa sitting beside him.
"Ho! Ujarak," at last shouted the jovial Simek, who was one of those genial, uproarious, loud-laughing spirits, that can keep the fun of a social assembly going by the mere force and enthusiasm of his animal spirits; "come, tell us about that wonderful bear you had such a fight with last moon, you remember?"
"Remember!" exclaimed the wizard, with a pleased look, for there was nothing he liked better than to be called on to relate his adventures— and it must be added that there was nothing he found easier, for, when his genuine adventures were not sufficiently telling, he could without difficulty expand, exaggerate, modify, or even invent, so as to fit them for the ears of a fastidious company.
"Remember!" he repeated in a loud voice, which attracted all eyes, and produced a sudden silence; "of course I remember. The difficulty with me is to forget—and I would that I could forget—for the adventure was ho-r-r-r-ible!"
A low murmur of curiosity, hope, and joyful expectation, amounting to what we might style applause, broke from the company as the wizard dwelt on the last word.
You see, Eskimos love excitement fully as much as other people, and as they have no spirituous drinks wherewith to render their festivities unnaturally hilarious, they are obliged to have recourse to exciting tales, comic songs, games, and other reasonable modes of creating that rapid flow of blood, which is sometimes styled the "feast of reason and the flow of soul." Simek's soul flowed chiefly from his eyes and from his smiling lips in the form of hearty laughter and encouragement to others—for in truth he was an unselfish man, preferring rather to draw out his friends than to be drawn out by them.
"Tell us all about it, then, Ujarak," he cried. "Come, we are ready. Our ears are open—yes; they are very wide open!"
There was a slight titter at this sly reference to the magnitude of the lies that would have to be taken in, but Ujarak's vanity rendered him invulnerable to such light shafts. After glaring round with impressive solemnity, so as to deepen the silence and intensify the expectation, he began:—
"It was about the time when the ravens lay their eggs and the small birds appear. My torngak had told me to go out on the ice, far over the sea in a certain direction where I should find a great berg with many white peaks mounting up to the very sky. There, he said, I should find what I was to do. It was blowing hard at the time; also snowing and freezing. I did not wish to go, but an angekok must go forward and fear nothing when his torngak points the way. Therefore I went."
"Took no food? no sleigh? no dogs?" asked Okiok in surprise.
"No. When it is a man's duty to obey, he must not think of small things. It is the business of a wise man to do or to die."
There was such an air of stern grandeur about Ujarak as he gave utterance to this high-flown sentiment, that a murmur of approval burst from his believers, who formed decidedly the greater part of the revellers, and Okiok hid his diminished head in the breast of his coat to conceal his laughter.
"I had no food with me—only my walrus spear and line," continued the wizard. "Many times I was swept off my feet by the violence of the gale, and once I was carried with such force towards a mass of upheaved ice that I expected to be dashed against it and killed, but just as this was about to happen the—"
"Torngak helped—eh?" interrupted Okiok, with a simple look.
"No; torngaks never help while we are above ground. They only advise, and leave it to the angekok's wisdom and courage to do the rest," retorted the wizard, who, although roused to wrath by these interruptions of Okiok, felt that his character would be damaged if he allowed the slightest appearance of it to escape him.
"When, as I said, I was about to be hurled against the berg of ice, the wind seemed to bear me up. No doubt it was a long hollow at the foot of the ice that sent the wind upwards, but my mind was quick. Instead of resisting the impulse, I made a bound, and went up into the air and over the berg. It was a very low one," added the wizard, as a reply to some exclamations of extreme surprise—not unmingled with doubt—from some of his audience.
"After that," continued Ujarak, "the air cleared a little, and I could see a short way around me, as I scudded on. Small bergs were on every side of me. There were many white foxes crouching in the lee of these for shelter. Among them I noticed some white bears. Becoming tired of thus scudding before the wind, I made a dash to one side, to get under the shelter of a small berg and take rest. Through the driving snow I could see the figure of a man crouching there before me. I ran to him, and grasped his coat to check my speed. He stood up—oh, so high! It was not a man," (the wizard deepened his voice, and slowed here)—"it— was—a—white—bear!"
Huks and groans burst at this point from the audience, who were covered with the perspiration of anxiety, which would have been cold if the place had not been so warm.
"I turned and ran," continued the angekok; "the bear followed. We came to a small hummock of ice. I doubled round it. The bear went past— like one of Arbalik's arrows—sitting on its haunches, and trying to stop itself in vain, for the wind carried it on like an oomiak with the sail spread. When the bear stopped, it turned back, and soon came up with me, for I had doubled, and was by that time running nearly against the wind. Then my courage rose! I resolved to face the monster with my walrus spear. It was a desperate venture, but it was my duty. Just then the snow partly ceased, and I could see a berg with sloping sides. 'Perhaps I may find a point of vantage there that I have not on the flat ice,' I thought, and away I ran for the sloping berg. It was rugged and broken. Among its masses I managed to dodge the bear till I got to the top. Here I resolved to stand and meet my foe, but as I stood I saw that the other side of the berg had been partly melted by the sun. It was a clear steep slope from the top to the bottom. The bear was scrambling up, foaming in its fury, with its eyes glaring like living lamps, and its red mouth a-gape. Another thought came to me—I have been quick of thought from my birth! Just as the bear was rising to the attack, I sat down on the slope, and flew rather than slid to the bottom. It was an awful plunge! I almost shut my eyes in horror—but— but—kept them open. At the bottom there was a curve like a frozen wave. I left the top of this curve and finished the descent in the air. The crash at the end was awful, but I survived it. There was no time for thought. I looked back. The bear, as I expected, had watched me in amazement, and was preparing to follow—for bears, you know, fear nothing. It sat down at the top of the slope, and stuck its claws well into the ice in front of it. I ran back to the foot of the slope to meet it. Its claws lost hold, and it came down thundering, like a huge round stone from a mountain side. I stood, and, measuring exactly its line of descent, stuck the butt of my spear into the ice with the point sloping upwards. Then I retired to see the end, for I did not dare to stand near to it. It happened as I had wished: the bear came straight on my spear. The point went in at the breast-bone, and came out at the small of the back; but the bear was not checked. It went on, taking the spear along with it, and sending out streams of blood like the spouts of a dying whale. When at last it ceased to roll, it lay stretched out upon the ice—dead!"
The wizard paused, and looked round. There was a deep-drawn sigh, as if the audience had been relieved from a severe strain of attention. And so they had; and the wizard accepted that involuntary sigh as an evidence of the success of his effort to amuse.
"How big was that bear?" asked Ippegoo, gazing on his master with a look of envious admiration.
"How big?" repeated Ujarak; "oh, as big—far bigger than—than—the— biggest bear I have ever seen."
"Oh, then it was an invisible bear, was it?" asked Okiok in surprise.
"How? What do you mean?" demanded the wizard, with an air of what was meant for grave contempt.
"If it was bigger than the biggest bear you have ever seen," replied Okiok, with a stupid look; "then you could not have seen it, because, you know, it could not well be bigger than itself."
"Huk! that's true," exclaimed one, while others laughed heartily, for Eskimos dearly love a little banter.
"Boh! ba! boo!" exclaimed Simek, after a sudden guffaw; "that's not equal to what I did to the walrus. Did I ever tell it you, friends?— but never mind whether I did or not. I'll tell it to our guest the Kablunet now."
The jovial hunter was moved to this voluntary and abrupt offer of a story by his desire to prevent anything like angry feeling arising between Okiok and the wizard. Of course the company, as well as Rooney, greeted the proposal with pleasure, for although Simek did not often tell of his own exploits, and made no pretension to be a graphic story-teller, they all knew that whatever he undertook he did passably well, while his irrepressible good-humour and hilarity threw a sort of halo round all that he said.
"Well, my friends, it was a terrible business!"
Simek paused, and looked round on the company with a solemn stare, which produced a smothered laugh—in some cases a little shriek of delight— for every one, except the wizard himself, recognised in the look and manner an imitation of Ujarak.
"A dreadful business," continued Simek; "but I got over it, as you shall hear. I too have a torngak. You need not laugh, my friends. It is true. He is only a little one, however—about so high, (holding up his thumb), and he never visits me except at night. One night he came to me, as I was lying on my back, gazing through a hole in the roof at our departed friends dancing in the sky. [See note.] He sat down on the bridge of my nose, and looked at me. I looked at him. Then he changed his position, sat down on my chin, and looked at me over my nose. Then he spoke.
"'Do you know White-bear Bay?' he asked.
"'Know it?' said I—'do I know my own mother?'
"'What answer is that?' he said in surprise.
"Then I remembered that torngaks—especially little ones—don't understand jokes, nothing but simple speech; so I laughed.
"'Don't laugh,' he said, 'your breath is strong.' And that was true; besides, I had a bad cold at the time, so I advised him to get off my chin, for if I happened to cough he might fall in and be swallowed before I could prevent it.
"'Tell me,' said he, with a frown, 'do you know White-bear Bay?'
"'Yes!' said I, in a shout that made him stagger.
"'Go there,' said he, 'and you shall see a great walrus, as big as one of the boats of the women. Kill it.'
"The cold getting bad at that moment, I gave a tremendous sneeze, which blew my torngak away—"
A shriek of delight, especially from the children, interrupted Simek at this point. Little Tumbler, who still sat on Rooney's knee, was the last to recover gravity, and little Pussi, who still nestled beside Nunaga, nearly rolled on the floor from sympathy.
Before the story could be resumed, one of the women announced that a favourite dish which had been for some time preparing was ready. The desire for that dish proving stronger than the desire for the story, the company, including Simek, set to work on it with as much gusto as if they had eaten nothing for hours past!
Note. Such is the Eskimo notion of the Aurora Borealis.
COMBINES STORY-TELLING (IN BOTH SENSES) WITH FASTING, FUN, AND MORE SERIOUS MATTERS.
The favourite dish having been disposed of, Simek continued his story.
"Well," said he, "after my little torngak had been blown away, I waited a short time, hoping that he would come back, but he did not; so I got up, took a spear in my hand, and went off to White-bear Bay, determined to see if the little spirit had spoken the truth. Sure enough, when I got to the bay, there was the walrus sitting beside its hole, and looking about in all directions as if it were expecting me. It was a giant walrus," said Simek, lowering his remarkably deep voice to a sort of thunderous grumble that filled the hearts of his auditors with awe in spite of themselves, "a—most—awful walrus! It was bigger,"—here he looked pointedly at Okiok—"than—than the very biggest walrus I have ever seen! I have not much courage, friends, but I went forward, and threw my spear at it." (The listeners gasped.) "It missed!" (They groaned.) "Then I turned, and, being filled with fear, I ran. Did you ever see me run?"
"Yes, yes," from the eager company.
"No, my friends, you never saw me run! Anything you ever saw me do was mere walking—creeping—standing still, compared with what I did then on that occasion. You know I run fast?" ("Yes, yes.") "But that big walrus ran faster. It overtook me; it overturned me; it swallowed me!"
Here Simek paused, as if to observe how many of them swallowed that. And, after all, the appeal to their credulity was not as much overstrained as the civilised reader may fancy, for in their superstitious beliefs Eskimos held that there was one point in the training of a superior class of angekoks which necessitated the swallowing of the neophyte by a bear and his returning to his friends alive and well after the operation! Besides, Simek had such an honest, truthful expression of countenance and tone of voice, that he could almost make people believe anything he chose to assert. Some there were among his hearers who understood the man well, and guessed what was coming; others there were who, having begun by thinking him in jest, now grew serious, under the impression that he was in earnest; but by far the greater number believed every word he said. All, however, remained in expectant silence while he gravely went on:—
"My friends, you will not doubt me when I say that it was very hot inside of that walrus. I stripped myself, but was still too hot. Then I sat down on one of his ribs to think. Suddenly it occurred to me to draw my knife and cut myself out. To my dismay, I found that my knife had been lost in the struggle when I was swallowed. I was in despair, for you all know, my friends, how impossible it is to cut up a walrus, either from out or inside, without a knife. In my agony I seized the monster's heart, and tried to tear it; but it was too hard-hearted for that. The effort only made the creature tremble and jump, which I found inconvenient. I also knew from the curious muffled sound outside that it was roaring. I sat down again on a rib to consider. If I had been a real angekok, my torngak no doubt would have helped me at that time—but he did not."
"How could you have a torngak at all if you are not a real angekok?" demanded the wizard, in a tone that savoured of contempt.
"You shall hear. Patience!" returned Simek quietly, and then went on:—
"I had not sat long when I knew by the motions of the beast that he was travelling over the ice—no doubt making for his water-hole. 'If he gets into the sea,' I thought, 'it will be the end of me.' I knew, of course, that he could not breathe under water, and that he could hold his breath so long that before he came up again for fresh air I should be suffocated. My feelings became dreadful. I hope, my friends, that you will never be in a situation like it. In my despair I rushed about from the head to the tail. I must have hurt him dreadfully in doing so—at least I thought so, from the way he jumped about. Once or twice I was tossed from side to side as if he was rolling over. You know I am a man of tender heart. My wife says that, so it must be true; but my heart was hardened by that time; I cared not. I cared for nothing!
"Suddenly I saw a small sinew, in the form of a loop, close to the creature's tail. As a last hope, without knowing why, I seized it and tugged. The tail, to my surprise, came slightly inwards. I tugged again. It came further in. A new thought came to me suddenly. This was curious, for, you know, that never since I was a little child have my thoughts been quick, and very seldom new. But somehow the thought came—without the aid of my torngak too! I tugged away at that tail with all my might. It came further and further in each tug. At last I got it in as far as the stomach. I was perspiring all over. Suddenly I felt a terrific heave. I guessed what that was. The walrus was sick, and was trying to vomit his own tail! It was awful! Each heave brought me nearer to the mouth. But now the difficulty of moving the mass that I had managed to get inside had become so great that I felt the thing to be quite beyond my power, and that I must leave the rest to nature. Still, however, I continued the tugging, in order to keep up the sickness—also to keep me employed, for whenever I paused to recover breath I was forced to resume work to prevent my fainting away altogether, being so terrified at the mere thought of my situation. To be inside a walrus is bad enough, but to be inside of a sick walrus!—my friends, I cannot describe it.
"Suddenly there was a heave that almost rent the ribs of the creature apart. Like an arrow from a bow, I was shot out upon the ice, and with a clap like thunder that walrus turned inside out! And then," said Simek, with glaring solemnity, "I awoke—for it was all a dream!"
There was a gasp and cheer of delight at this, mingled with prolonged laughter, for now the most obtuse even among the children understood that Simek had been indulging in a tale of the imagination, while those whose wits were sharper saw and enjoyed the sly hits which had been launched at Ujarak throughout. Indeed the wizard himself condescended to smile at the conclusion, for the tale being a dream, removed from it the only objectionable part in his estimation, namely, that any torngak, great or small, would condescend to have intercourse with one who was not an angekok.
"Now," cried Okiok, starting up, "bring more meat; we are hungry again."
"Huk! huk!" exclaimed the assenting company.
"And when we are stuffed," continued Okiok, "we will be glad to hear what the Kablunet has to tell about his own land."
The approval of this suggestion was so decided and hearty, that Red Rooney felt it to be his duty to gratify his hospitable friends to the utmost of his power. Accordingly he prepared himself while they were engaged with the second edition of supper. The task, however, proved to be surrounded with difficulties much greater than he had expected. Deeming it not only wise, but polite, to begin with something complimentary, he said:—
"My friends, the Innuits are a great people. They work hard; they are strong and brave, and have powerful wills."
As these were facts which every one admitted, and Rooney uttered them with considerable emphasis and animation; the statement of them was received with nods, and huks, and other marks of approval.
"The Innuits are also hospitable," he continued. "A Kablunet came to them starving, dying. The Great Spirit who made us all, and without whose permission nothing at all can happen, sent Okiok to help him. Okiok is kind; so is his wife; also his daughter. They took the poor Kablunet to their house. They fed—they stuffed—him. Now he is getting strong, and will soon be able to join in kick-ball, and pull-over, and he may perhaps, before long, teach your great angekok Ujarak some things that he does not yet know!"
As this was said with a motion in one eye which strongly resembled a wink, the audience burst into mingled applause and laughter. To some, the idea of their wise man being taught anything by a poor benighted Kablunet was ridiculous. To others, the hope of seeing the wizard's pride humbled was what is slangily termed "nuts." Ujarak himself took the remark in good part, in consequence of the word "great" having been prefixed to his title.
"But," continued the seaman, with much earnestness, "having said that I am grateful, I will not say more about the Innuit just now. I will only tell you, in few words, some things about my own country which will interest you. I have been asked if we have big villages. Yes, my friends, we have very big villages—so big that I fear you will find it difficult to understand what I say."
"The Innuit have big understandings," said Simek, with a bland smile, describing a great circle with his outspread arms; "do not fear to try them."
"Well, one village we have," resumed Rooney, "is as broad as from here to the house of Okiok under the great cliff, and it is equally long."
The "huks" and "hois!" with which this was received proved that, big as their understandings were, the Eskimos were not prepared to take in so vast an idea.
"Moreover," said the seaman, "because there is not enough of space, the houses are built on the top of each other—one—two—three—four—even five and six—one standing on the other."
As each number was named, the eyes of the assembly opened wider with surprise, until they could open no further.
"Men, women, and children live in these houses; and if you were to spread them all over the ice here, away as far as you can see in every direction, you would not be able to see the ice at all for the houses."
"What a liar!" murmured the mother of Arbalik to the mother of Ippegoo.
"Dreadful!" responded the latter.
"Moreover," continued Rooney, "these people can put their words and thoughts down on a substance called paper and send them to each other, so that men and women who may be hundreds of miles away can talk with each other and understand what they say and think, though they cannot hear or see each other, and though their words and thoughts take days and moons to travel."
The breathless Eskimos glanced at each other, and tried to open their eyes wider, but, having already reached the utmost limit, they failed. Unfortunately at that moment our hero was so tickled by the appearance of the faces around him, that he smiled. In a moment the eyes collapsed and the mouths opened.
"Ha! ha-a-a!" roared Simek, rubbing his hands; "the Kablunet is trying to beat my walrus."
"And he has succeeded," cried Angut, who felt it his duty to stand up for the credit of his guest, though he greatly wished that he had on this occasion confined himself to sober truth.
A beaming expression forthwith took the place of surprise on every face, as it suddenly dawned upon the company that Ridroonee was to be classed with the funny dogs whose chief delight it is to recount fairy tales and other exaggerated stories, with a view to make the men shout, the women laugh, and the children squeak with amusement.
"Go on," they cried; "tell us more."
Rooney at once perceived his mistake, and the misfortune that had befallen him. His character for veracity was shaken. He felt that it would be better to say no more, to leave what he had said to be regarded as a fairy tale, and to confine himself entirely to simple matters, such as an Eskimo might credit. He looked at his friend Angut. Angut returned the look with profound gravity, almost sorrow. Evidently his faith in the Kablunet was severely shaken. "I'll try them once more," thought Rooney. "It won't do to have a vast range of subjects tabooed just because they won't believe. Come, I'll try again."
Putting on a look of intense earnestness, which was meant to carry irresistible conviction, he continued—
"We have kayaks—oomiaks—in my country, which are big enough to carry three or four times as many people as you have in this village."
Another roar of laughter greeted this statement.
"Isn't he a good liar?" whispered Arbalik's mother.
"And so grave about it too," replied Kunelik.
Red Rooney stopped.
The mother of Ippegoo, fearing he had divined her thoughts, was overwhelmed, and tried to hide her blushing face behind Issek.
"They don't believe me," said the seaman in a low voice to Okiok.
"Of course they don't. You might as well tell us that the world is round, when we see that it is flat!"
Rooney sighed. He felt depressed. The impossibility of his ever getting these people to understand or believe many things was forced upon him. The undisguised assurance that they looked upon him as the best liar they had ever met with was unsatisfactory.
"Besides all this, my friends," he cried, with a feeling and air of reckless gaiety, "we have grand feasts, just as you have, and games too, and dances, and songs—"
"Songs!" shouted Simek, with an excited look; "have you songs? can you sing?"
"Well, after a fashion I can," returned Rooney, with a modest look, "though I don't pretend to be much of a dab at it. Are you fond o' singin'?"
"Fond!" echoed Simek, with a gaze of enthusiasm, "I love it! I love it nearly as much as I love Pussimek; better, far, than I love blubber! Ho! sing to us, Ridroonee."
"With all my heart," said Rooney, starting off with all his lung-power, which was by no means slight.
"Rule Britannia," rendered in good time, with tremendous energy, and all the additional flourishes possible, nearly drove the audience wild with delight. They had never heard anything like it before.
"That beats you, Okiok," said Simek.
"That is true," replied Okiok humbly.
"What! does he sing?" asked Rooney.
"Yes; he is our maker of songs, and sings a little."
"Then he must sing to me," cried the sailor. "In my land the man who sings last has the right to say who shall sing next. I demand a song from Okiok."
As the company approved highly of the demand, and Okiok was quite willing, there was neither difficulty nor delay. The good-natured man began at once, with an air of humorous modesty, if we may say so.
Eskimos, as a rule, are not highly poetical in their sentiments, and their versification has not usually the grace of rhyme to render it agreeable, but Okiok was an exception to the rule, in that he could compose verses in rhyme, and was much esteemed because of this power. In a tuneful and moderate voice he sang. Of course, being rendered into English, his song necessarily loses much of its humour, but that, as every linguist knows, is unavoidable. It was Red Rooney who translated it, which will account for the slightly Hibernian tone throughout. I fear also that Rooney must have translated rather freely, but of course at this late period of the world's history it is impossible to ascertain anything certain on the point. We therefore give the song for what it is worth.
A seal once rowled upon the sea Beneath the shining sun, Said I, "My friend, this very day Your rowlin' days are done." "No, no," said he, "that must not be," (And splashed the snowy foam), "Beneath the wave there wait for me A wife and six at home."
"A lie!" said I, "so you shall die!" I launched my whistling spear; Right up his nose the weapon goes, And out behind his ear. He looked reproachful; then he sank; My heart was very sore, For down, and down, and down he went. I never saw him more.
Then straight from out the sea arose A female seal and six; "O kill us now, and let our blood With that of father's mix. We cannot hunt; we dare not beg; To steal we will not try; There's nothing now that we can do But blubber, burst, and die."
They seized my kayak by the point, They pulled me o'er the sea, They led me to an island lone, And thus they spoke to me: "Bad man, are there not bachelors Both old and young to spare, Whom you might kill, and eat your fill, For all the world would care?"
"Why stain your weapon with the blood Of one whose very life Was spent in trying to provide For little ones and wife?" They paused and wept, and raised a howl. (The youngest only squealed). It stirred the marrow in my bones, My very conscience reeled.
I fell at once upon my knees, I begged them to forgive; I said I'd stay and fish for them As long as I should live. "And marry me," the widow cried; "I'd rather not," said I "But that's a point we'd better leave To talk of by and by."
I dwelt upon that island lone For many a wretched year, Serving that mother seal and six With kayak, line, and spear. And strange to say, the little ones No bigger ever grew; But, strangest sight of all, they changed From grey to brilliant blue.
"O set me free! O set me free!" I cried in my despair, For by enchantments unexplained They held and kept me there. "I will. But promise first," she said, "You'll never more transfix The father of a family, With little children six."
"I promise!" Scarce the words had fled, When, far upon the sea, Careering gaily homeward went My good kayak and me. A mist rolled off my wond'ring eyes, I heard my Nuna scream— Like Simek with his walrus big, I'd only had a dream!
The reception that this peculiar song met with was compound, though enthusiastic. As we have said, Okiok was an original genius among his people, who had never before heard the jingle of rhymes until he invented and introduced them. Besides being struck by the novelty of his verses, which greatly charmed them, they seemed to be much impressed with the wickedness of killing the father of a family; and some of the Eskimo widows then present experienced, probably for the first time in their lives, a touch of sympathy with widowed seals who happened to have large families to provide for.
But there was one member of the company whose thoughts and feelings were very differently affected by the song of this national poet—this Eskimo Burns or Byron—namely the wizard Ujarak. In a moment of reckless anger he had challenged Okiok to combat, and, knowing that they would be called on to enter the arena and measure, not swords, but intellects, on the morrow, he felt ill at ease, for he could not hope to come off victorious. If it had been the ordinary battle of wits in blank verse, he might have had some chance he thought, but with this new and telling jingle at the end of alternate lines, he knew that he must of a surety fail. This was extremely galling, because, by the union of smartness, shrewd common sense, and at times judicious silence, he had managed up to that time to maintain his supremacy among his fellows. But on this unlucky day he had been physically overcome by his rival Angut, and now there was the prospect of being intellectually beaten by Okiok.
"Strange!" thought the wizard; "I wonder if it was my intention to run away with Nunaga that brought this disgrace upon me."
"It was," said a voice very close to him.
The wizard looked round quickly, but no one seemed to be thinking of him.
It was the voice of Conscience. Ujarak felt uneasy, and stifled it at once. Everybody can do that without much difficulty, as the reader knows, though nobody has ever yet succeeded in killing Conscience outright. He then set himself to devise some plan for escaping from this duel. His imagination was fertile. While the revellers continued to amuse themselves with food, and song, and story, the wizard took to thinking.
No one thought his conduct strange, or sought to disturb him, for angekoks belong to a privileged class. But think as hard and as profoundly as he could, no way of escape presented itself until the evening was far advanced, and then, without an appreciable effort of thought, a door seemed to fly open, and that door was—Ippegoo.
"Yes," thought the wizard; "that will do. Nothing could be better. I'll make him an angekok."
It may be needful to explain here that the creation of an angekok is a serious matter. It involves much ceremonial action on the part of him who operates, and preparation on the part of him who is operated on. Moreover, it is an important matter. When once it has been decided on, nothing can be allowed to interfere with it. All other things—save the unavoidable and urgent—must give way before it.
He would announce it that very night. He would boldly omit some of the preliminary ceremonial. The morrow would be a day of preparation. Next day would be the day of the ceremony of induction. After that it would be necessary for him to accompany the new-made wizard on his first journey to the realm of spirits. Thus the singing duel would have to be delayed. Ultimately he would manage to carry off Nunaga to the land of the southern Eskimo; thus he would be able to escape the ordeal altogether, and to laugh at Okiok and his jingling rhymes.
When he stood up and made the announcement, declaring that his torngak had told him that another angekok must be created, though who that other one was had not yet been revealed to him, there was a slight feeling of disappointment, for Eskimos dearly love a musical combat; but when he pointed out that after the ceremonies were over, the singing duel might then come off, the people became reconciled to the delay. Being by that time exhausted in body and mind, they soon after retired to rest.
Ere long oblivion brooded over the late hilarious crew, who lay down like bundles of hair in their festal garments, and the northern lights threw a flickering radiance over a scene of profound quietude and peace.
At early dawn next morning Ippegoo was awakened from a most refreshing slumber by a gentle shake of the shoulder.
"Oh! not yet, mother," groaned the youth in the drowsiest of accents; "I've only just begun to sleep."
He turned slowly on the other side, and tried to continue his repose, but another shake disturbed him, and a deep voice said, "Awake; arise, sleepy one."
"Mother," he murmured, still half asleep, "you have got the throat s-sickness v-v-very bad," (referring to what we would style a cold).
A grim smile played for a moment on the visage of the wizard, as he gave the youth a most unmotherly shake, and said, "Yes, my son, I am very sick, and want you to cure me."
Ippegoo was wide awake in a moment. Rising with a somewhat abashed look, he followed his evil genius out of the hut, where, in another compartment, his mother lay, open-mouthed, singing a song of welcome to the dawning day through her nose.
Ujarak led the youth to the berg with the sea-green cave. Stopping at the entrance, he turned a stern look on his pupil, and pointing to the cavern, uttered the single word—"Follow."
As Ippegoo gazed into the sea-green depths of the place—which darkened into absolute blackness, with ghostly projections from the sides, and dim icicles pendent from the invisible roof, he felt a suspicion that the cave might be the vestibule to that dread world of the departed which he had often heard his master describe.
"You're not going far, I hope," he said anxiously; "remember I am not yet an angekok."
"True; but you are yet a fool," returned the wizard contemptuously. "Do you suppose I would lead you to certain death for no good end? No; but I will make you an angekok to-night, and after that we may explore the wonders of the spirit-world together. I have brought you here to speak about that, for the ears of some people are very quick. We shall be safe here. You have been long enough a fool. The time has arrived when you must join the ranks of the wise men. Come."
Again he pointed to the cave, and led the way into its dim sea-green interior.
Some men seek eagerly after honours which they cannot win; others have honours which they do not desire thrust upon them. Ippegoo was of the latter class. He followed humbly, and rather closely, for the bare idea of being alone in such a place terrified him. Although pronounced a fool, the poor fellow was wise enough to perceive that he was utterly unfitted, physically as well as mentally, for the high honour to which Ujarak destined him; but he was so thoroughly under the power of his influence that he felt resistance or refusal to be impossible. He advanced, therefore, with a heavy heart. Everything around was fitted to chill his ambition, even if he had possessed any, and to arouse the terrors of his weak and superstitious mind.
When they had walked over the icy floor of the cave until the entrance behind them seemed no larger than a bright star, the wizard stopped abruptly. Ippegoo stumbled up against him with a gasp of alarm. The light was so feeble that surrounding objects were barely visible. Great blocks and spires and angular fragments of ice projected into observation out of profound obscurity. Overhead mighty and grotesque forms, attached to the invisible roof, seemed like creatures floating in the air, to which an imagination much less active than that of Ippegoo might easily have given grinning mouths and glaring eyes; and the atmosphere of the place was so intensely cold that even Eskimo garments could not prevent a shudder.
The wizard turned on his victim a solemn gaze. As he stood facing the entrance of the cavern, there was just light enough to render his teeth and the whites of his eyes visible, though the rest of his features were shadowy.
"Ippegoo," he said in a low voice, "the time has come—"
At that moment a tremendous crash drowned his voice, and seemed to rend the cavern in twain. The reverberating echoes had not ceased when a clap as of the loudest thunder seemed to burst their ears. It was followed for a few seconds by a pattering shower, as of giant hail, and Ippegoo's very marrow quailed.
It was only a crack in the berg, followed by the dislodgement of a great mass, which fell from the roof to the floor below—fortunately at some distance from the spot on which the Eskimos stood.
"Bergs sometimes rend and fall asunder," gasped the trembling youth.
Ujarak's voice was unwontedly solemn as he replied—
"Not in the spring-time, foolish one. Fear not, but listen. To-night you must be prepared to go through the customs that will admit you to the ranks of the wise men."
"Don't you think," interposed the youth, with a shiver, "that it would be better to try it on some one else—on Angut, or Okiok, or even Norrak? Norrak is a fine boy, well-grown and strong, as well as clever, and I am such a fool, you know."
"You have said truth, Ippegoo. But all that will be changed to-morrow. Once an angekok, your foolishness will depart, and wisdom will come."
The poor youth was much cheered by this, because, although he felt utterly unfit for the grave and responsible character, he had enough of faith in his teacher to believe that the needed change would take place,—and change, he was well aware, could achieve wonders. Did he not see it when the change from summer to winter drove nearly all the birds away, converted the liquid sea into a solid plain, and turned the bright day into dismal night? and did he not feel it when the returning summer changed all that again, sent the sparkling waves for his light kayak to dance upon, and the glorious sunshine to call back the feathered tribes, to open the lovely flowers, to melt the hard ice, and gladden all the land? Yes, he knew well what "change" meant, though it never occurred to him to connect all this with a Creator who changes not. In this respect he resembled his master.
"Besides," continued the wizard in a more confidential tone, which invariably had the effect of drawing the poor youth's heart towards him, "I cannot make whom I will an angekok. It is my torngak who settles that; I have only to obey. Now, what I want you to do is to become very solemn in your manner and speech from this moment till the deed is finished. Will you remember?"
Ippegoo hesitated a moment. He felt just then so unusually solemn that he had difficulty in conceiving it possible to become more so, but remembering the change that was about to take place, he said brightly, "Yes, I'll remember."
"You see," continued his instructor, "we must get people to suppose that you are troubled by a spirit of some sort—"
"Oh! only to suppose it," cried Ippegoo hopefully. "Then I'm not really to be troubled with a spirit?"
"Of course you are, foolish man. But don't you understand people must see that you are, else how are they to know it?"
Ippegoo thought that if he was really to be troubled in that way, the only difficulty would be to prevent people from knowing it, but observing that his master was getting angry, he wisely held his tongue, and listened with earnest attention while Ujarak related the details of the ordeal through which he was about to pass.
At the time this conversation was being held in the sea-green cave, Okiok, rising from his lair with a prodigious yawn, said to his wife—
"Nuna, I go to see Kunelik."
"And what may ye-a-o-u—-my husband want with the mother of Ippegoo?" asked Nuna sleepily, but without moving.
"I want to ye-a-o-u—-ask about her son."
"Ye-a-a-o-o-u!" exclaimed Nuna, turning on her other side; "go, then," and she collapsed.
Seeing that his wife was unfit just then to enter into conversation, Okiok got up, accomplished what little toilet he deemed necessary in half a minute, and took his way to the hut of Ippegoo's mother.
It is not usual in Eskimo land to indulge in ceremonious salutation. Okiok was naturally a straightforward and brusque man. It will not therefore surprise any one to be told that he began his interview with—
"Kunelik, your son Ippegoo is a lanky fool!"
"He is," assented Kunelik, with quiet good-humour.
"He has given himself," continued Okiok, "spirit and body, to that villain Ujarak."
"He has," assented Kunelik again.
"Where is he now?"
"I do not know."
"But me knows," said a small sweet little child-voice from the midst of a bundle of furs.
It was the voice of Pussi. That Eskimo atom had been so overcome with sleep at the breaking up of the festivities of the previous night that she was unable to distinguish between those whom she loved and those for whom she cared not. In these circumstances, she had seized the first motherly tail that came within her reach, and followed it home. It chanced to belong to Kunelik, so she dropped down and slept beside her.
"You know, my dear little seal?" said Okiok in surprise.
"Yes, me knows. When I was 'sleep, a big man comes an' stump on my toes—not much, only a leetle. Dat wokes me, an' I see Ujiyak. He shooks Ip'goo an' bose hoed out degidder."
Okiok looked at Kunelik, Kunelik looked at Okiok, and both gravely shook their heads.
Before they could resume the conversation, Ippegoo's voice was heard outside asking if his mother was in.
"Go," said Kunelik; "though he is a fool, he is wise enough to hold his tongue when any one but me is near."
Okiok took the hint, rose at once, and went out, passing the youth as he entered, and being much struck with the lugubrious solemnity of his visage.
"Mother," said Ippegoo, sitting down on a skin beside the pleasant little woman, "it comes."
"What comes, my son?"
"I know not."
"If you know not, how do you know that it comes?" asked Kunelik, who was slightly alarmed by the wild manner and unusual, almost dreadful, gravity of her boy.
"It is useless to ask me, mother. I do not understand. My mind cannot take it in, but—but—it comes."
"Yes; when is it coming?" asked Kunelik, who knew well how to humour him.
"How can I tell? I—I think it has come now," said the youth, growing paler, or rather greener; "I think I feel it in my breast. Ujarak said the torngak would come to-day, and to-night I am to be—changed!"
"Oho!" exclaimed Kunelik, with a slight touch of asperity, "it's a torngak that is to come, is it? and Ujarak says so? Don't you know, Ippe, that Ujarak is an idiot!"
"Mother!" exclaimed the youth remonstratively, "Ujarak an idiot? Impossible! He is to make me an angekok to-night."
"You, Ippe! You are not more fit for an angekok than I am for a seal-hunter."
"Yes, true; but I am to be—changed!" returned the youth, with a bright look; then remembering that his role was solemnity, he dropped the corners of his mouth, elongated his visage, turned up his eyes, and groaned.
"Have you the stomach twist, my boy?" asked his mother tenderly.
"No; but I suppose I—I—am changing."
"No, you are not, Ippe. I have seen many angekoks made. There will be no change till you have gone through the customs, so make your mind easy, and have something to eat."
The youth, having had no breakfast, was ravenously hungry, and as the process of feeding would not necessarily interfere with solemnity, he agreed to the proposal with his accustomed look of satisfaction—which, however, he suddenly nipped in the bud. Then, setting-to with an expression that might have indicated the woes of a lifetime, he made a hearty breakfast.
Thereafter he kept moving about the village all day in absolute silence, and with a profound gloom on his face, by which the risibility of some was tickled, while not a few were more or less awe-stricken.
It soon began to be rumoured that Ippegoo was the angekok-elect. In the afternoon Ujarak returned from a visit, as he said, to the nether world, and with his brother wizards—for there were several in the tribe— confirmed the rumour.
As evening approached, Rooney entered Okiok's hut. No one was at home except Nuna and Tumbler. The latter was playing, as usual, with his little friend Pussi. The goodwife was busy over the cooking-lamp.
"Where is your husband, Nuna?" asked the sailor, sitting down on a walrus skull.
"Out after seals."
"Visiting the mother of Arbalik."
The seaman looked thoughtfully at the lamp-smoke for a few moments.
"She is a hard woman, that mother of Arbalik," he said.
"Issek is not so hard as she looks," returned Mrs Okiok; "her voice is rough, but her heart is soft."
"I'm glad to hear you speak well of her," said Rooney, "for I don't like to think ill of any one if I can help it; but sometimes I can't help it. Now, there's your angekok Ujarak: I cannot think well of him. Have you a good word to say in his favour?"
"No, not one. He is bad through and through—from the skin to the bone. I know him well," said Nuna, with a flourish of her cooking-stick that almost overturned the lamp.
"But you may be mistaken," remarked Rooney, smiling. "You are mistaken even in the matter of his body, to say nothing of his spirit."
"How so?" asked Nuna quickly.
"You said he is bad through and through. From skin to bone is not through and through. To be quite correct, you must go from skin to marrow."
Nuna acknowledged this by violently plunging her cooking-stick into the pot.
"Well now, Nuna," continued Rooney, in a confidential tone, "tell me—"
At that moment he was interrupted by the entrance of the master of the mansion, who quietly sat down on another skull close to his friend.
"I was just going to ask your wife, Okiok, what she and you think of this business of making an angekok of poor Ippegoo," said Rooney.
"We think it is like a seal with its tail where its head should be, its skin in its stomach, and all its bones outside; all nonsense— foolishness," answered Okiok, with more of indignation in his look and tone than he was wont to display.
"Then you don't believe in angekoks?" asked Rooney.
"No," replied the Eskimo earnestly; "I don't. I think they are clever scoundrels—clever fools. And more, I don't believe in torngaks or any other spirits."
"In that you are wrong," said Rooney. "There is one great and good Spirit, who made and rules the universe."
"I'm not sure of that," returned the Eskimo, with a somewhat dogged and perplexed look, that showed the subject was not quite new to him. "I never saw, or heard, or tasted, or smelt, or felt a spirit. How can I know anything about it?"
"Do you believe in your own spirit, Okiok?"
"Yes, I must. I cannot help it. I am like other men. When a man dies there is something gone out of him. It must be his spirit."
"Then you believe in other men's spirits as well as your own spirit," said Rooney, "though you have never seen, heard, tasted, smelt, or felt them?"
For a moment the Eskimo was puzzled. Then suddenly his countenance brightened.
"But I have felt my own," he cried. "I have felt it moving within me, so that it made me act. My legs and arms and brain would not go into action if they were dead, if the spirit had gone out of them."
"In the very same way," replied the seaman, "you may feel the Great Spirit, for your own spirit could not go into action so as to cause your body to act unless a greater Spirit had given it life. So also we may feel or understand the Great Spirit when we look at the growing flowers, and hear the moving winds, and behold the shining stars, and feel the beating of our own hearts. I'm not much of a wise man, an angekok— which they would call scholar in my country—but I know enough to believe that it is only 'the fool who has said in his heart, There is no Great Spirit.'"
"There is something in what you say," returned the Eskimo, as the lines of unusually intense thought wrinkled his brow; "but for all that you say, I think there are no torngaks, and that Ujarak is a liar as well as a fool."
"I agree with you, Okiok, because I think you have good reason for your disbelief. In the first place, it is well-known that Ujarak is a liar, but that is not enough, for liar though he be, he sometimes tells the truth. Then, in the second place, he is an ass—hum! I forgot—you don't know what an ass is; well, it don't matter, for, in the third place, he never gave any proof to anybody of what he and his torngak are said to have seen and done, and, strongest reason of all, this familiar spirit of his acts unwisely—for what could be more foolish than to choose out of all the tribe a poor half-witted creature like Ippegoo for the next angekok?"
A gleaming glance of intelligent humour lighted up Okiok's face as he said—
"Ujarak is wiser than his torngak in that. He wants to make use of the poor lad for his own wicked ends. I know not what these are—but I have my suspicions."
"So have I," broke in Nuna at this point, giving her pot a rap with the cooking-stick by way of emphasis.
"You think he must be watched, and his mischief prevented?" he said.
"That's what I think," said Okiok firmly.
"Tell me, what are the ceremonies to be gone through by that poor unwilling Ippegoo, before he can be changed into a wise man?"
"Oh, he has much to do," returned Okiok, with his eyes on the lamp-flame and his head a little on one side, as if he were thinking. "But I am puzzled. Ujarak is cunning, though he is not wise; and I am quite sure he has some secret reason for hurrying on this business. He is changing the customs, and that is never done for nothing."
"What customs has he changed?" asked Rooney.
"The customs for the young angekok before he gets a torngak," replied the Eskimo.
Okiok's further elucidation of this point was so complex that we prefer to give the reader our own explanation.
Before assuming the office of an angekok or diviner, an Eskimo must procure one of the spirits of the elements for his own particular familiar spirit or torngak. These spirits would appear to be somewhat coquettish and difficult to win, and marvellous tales are related of the manner in which they are wooed. The aspirant must retire for a time to a desert place, where, entirely cut off from the society of his fellows, he may give himself up to fasting and profound meditation. He also prays to Torngarsuk to give him a torngak. This Torngarsuk is the chief of the good spirits, and dwells in a pleasant abode under the earth or sea. He is not, however, supposed to be God, who is named Pirksoma, i.e. "He that is above," and about whom most Eskimos profess to know nothing. As might be expected, the weakness of body and agitation of mind resulting from such exercises carried on in solitude throw into disorder the imaginative faculty of the would-be diviner, so that wonderful figures of men and monsters swim before his mental vision, which tend to throw his body into convulsions—all the more that he labours to cherish and increase such symptoms.
How far the aspirants themselves believe in these delusions it is impossible to tell; but the fact that, after their utmost efforts, some of them fail to achieve the coveted office, leads one to think that some of them are too honest, or too strong-minded, to be led by them. Others, however, being either weak or double-minded, are successful. They assert that, on Torngarsuk appearing in answer to their earnest petition, they shriek aloud, and die from fear. At the end of three days they come to life again, and receive a torngak, who takes them forthwith on a journey to heaven and hell, after which they return home full-fledged angekoks, prepared to bless their fellows, and guide them with their counsels.
"Now, you must know," said Okiok, after explaining all this, "what puzzles me is, that Ujarak intends to alter the customs at the beginning of the affair. Ippegoo is to be made an angekok to-night, and to be let off all the fasting and hard thinking and fits. If I believed in these things at all, I should think him only a half-made angekok. As it is, I don't care a puff of wind what they make of poor Ippegoo—so long as they don't kill him; but I'm uneasy because I'm afraid the rascal Ujarak has some bad end in view in all this."
"I'm quite sure of it," muttered Nuna, making a stab with her stick at the contents of her pot, as if Ujarak's heart were inside.
At that moment Nunaga entered, looking radiant, in all the glory of a new under-garment of eider-duck pelts and a new sealskin upper coat with an extra long tail.
"Have you seen Angut lately?" asked Rooney of the young girl.
"Yes," she replied, with a modest smile that displayed her brilliant teeth; "he is in his own hut."
"I will go and talk with him on this matter, Okiok," said the seaman. "Meanwhile, do you say nothing about it to any one."
SOLEMN AND MYSTERIOUS DOINGS ARE BROUGHT TO A VIOLENT CLOSE.
Angut was seated at the further end of his abode when his friend entered, apparently absorbed in contemplation of that remarkable specimen of Eskimo longevity, the grandmother of Okiok.
"I have often wondered," said Angut, as the seaman sat down beside him, "at the contentment and good-humour and cheerfulness, sometimes running into fun, of that poor old woman Kannoa."
"Speak lower," said Rooney in a soft voice; "she will hear you."
"If she does, she will hear no evil. But she is nearly deaf, and takes no notice."
"It may be so; poor thing!" returned the sailor in a tender tone, as he looked at the shrivelled-up old creature, who was moving actively round the never-idle lamp, and bending with inquiring interest over the earthen pot, which seemed to engross her entire being. "But why do you wonder?"
"I wonder because she has so little to make her contented, and so much to ruin her good-humour and cheerfulness, and to stop her fun. Her life is a hard one. She has few relations to care for her. She is very old, and must soon grow feeble, and then—"
"And then?" said Rooney, as the other paused.
"Then she knows not what follows death—who does know?—and she does not believe in the nonsense that our people invent. It is a great mystery."
The Eskimo said the last words in a low voice and with a wistful gaze, as if he were rather communing with himself than conversing with his friend. Rooney felt perplexed. The thoughts of Angut were often too profound for him. Not knowing what to say, he changed the subject by mentioning the object of his visit.
At once Angut turned, and gave undivided attention to the subject, while the seaman described his recent conversation with Okiok. As he concluded, a peculiar look flitted across Angut's countenance.
"I guess his reason," he said.
"Yes; what may it be, think you?"
"He fears to meet Okiok in a singing duel."
Rooney laughed. "Well, you know best," he said; "I daresay you are right. Okiok is a sharp fellow, and Ujarak is but a blundering booby after—"
A low chuckle in the region of the lamp attracted their attention at this point. They looked quickly at Kannoa, but that ancient's face was absolutely owlish in its gravity, and her little black eyes peered into her pot with a look of intense inquiry that was almost philosophic. Resuming their belief that she was as deaf as a post, or an iceberg, Rooney and Angut proceeded to discuss Ujarak and his probable plans without any regard to her. After having talked the matter over for some time, Angut shook his head, and said that Ujarak must be closely watched.
"More than that," said Rooney, with decision; "he must be stultified."
The seaman's rendering of the word "stultified" into Eskimo was curious, and cannot easily be explained, but it was well understood by Angut, and apparently by Kannoa, for another chuckle came just then from the culinary department. Again the two men glanced at the old woman inquiringly, and again were they baffled by that look of owlish intensity at the stewing meat.
"She hears," whispered Rooney.
"Impossible," replied Angut; "a dead seal is not much deafer."
Continuing the conversation, the seaman explained how he thought it possible to stultify the wizard, by discrediting him in the eyes of his own people—by foiling him with his own weapons,—and himself undertook to accomplish the task of stultification.
He was in the act of concluding his explanation when another chuckle burst upon them from the region of the lamp. This time there was no attempt at concealment, for there stood old Kannoa, partly enveloped in savoury steam, her head thrown back, and her mouth wide-open.
With a laugh Rooney leaped up, and caught her by the arm.
"You've heard what I've been saying, mother?"
"Ye-yes. I've heard," she replied, trying to smother the laughter.
"Now, look here. You must promise me not to tell anybody," said the seaman earnestly, almost sternly.
"Oh, I not tell," returned the old woman; "I love not Ujarak."
"Ah! just so; then you're pretty safe not to tell," said Rooney.
"No fear of Kannoa," remarked Angut, with a pleasant nod; "she never tells anything to anybody."
Satisfied, apparently, with this assurance, the seaman took the old woman into his counsels, congratulating himself not a little on having found an ally in the very hut in which it had been arranged that the mysterious performance was to take place. Shortly after that Angut left.
"Now, Kannoa," said Rooney, after some preliminary talk, "you remember the big white bear that Angut killed two moons ago?"
"Remember it? Ay," said Kannoa, licking her lips; "it was the fattest and best bear I ever chewed. Huk! it was good!"
"Well, where is that bear's skin?"
The old dame pointed to a corner of the hut where the skin lay. Rooney went and picked it up, and laid it at the upper end of the hut farthest from the door.
"Now, mother," said he; "you'll not touch that skin. Let it lie there, and let no one touch it till I come again. You understand?"
"Yes," answered Kannoa, with a look so intensely knowing that it made the seaman laugh.
"But tell me," said the old woman, becoming suddenly grave, and laying her thin scraggy hand on the man's arm; "why do you call me mother?"
"Oh, it's just a way we have in my country when—when we feel kindly to an old woman. And I do feel kindly to you, Kannoa," he added, with sudden warmth and energy of look and tone, "because you are so like my own grandmother—only she was younger than you, and much better-looking."
Rooney meant no rudeness by the last remark, but, having observed the straightforward simplicity of his new friends in saying exactly what they meant, he willingly adopted their style.
Kannoa seemed much pleased with the explanation.
"It is strange," she said pathetically, "that I should find you so very like my husband."
"Indeed!" returned the seaman, who did not feel flattered by the compliment; "is it long since he died?"
"O yes; long, long—very long," she answered, with a sigh. "Moons, moons, moons without number have passed since that day. He was as young as you when he was killed, but a far finer man. His face did not look dirty like yours—all over with hair. It was smooth and fat, and round and oily. His cheeks were plump, and they would shine when the sun was up. He was also bigger than you—higher and wider. Huk! he was grand!"
Although Rooney felt inclined to laugh as he listened to this description, he restrained himself when he observed the tears gathering in the old eyes. Observing and appreciating the look of sympathy, she tightened her clutch on the seaman's arm and said, looking wistfully up in his face—
"Has Ridroonee ever felt something in here,"—she laid a hand on her withered bosom—"as if it broke in two, and then went dead for evermore? That is what I felt the day they brought my man home; he was so kind. Like my son Okiok, and Angut."
As the seaman looked down at the pitiful old soul that had thus broken the floodgates of a long silence, and was pouring out her confidences to him, he felt an unusual lump in his throat. Under a sudden impulse, he stooped and kissed the wrinkled brow, and then, turning abruptly, left the hut.
It was well he did so, for by that time it was nearly dark, and Kannoa had yet to arrange the place for the expected meeting.
As the time drew near, the night seemed to sympathise with the occasion, for the sky became overcast with clouds, which obliterated the stars, and rendered it intensely dark.
The chief performer in the approaching ceremony was in a fearful state of mind. He would have done or given anything to escape being made a wise man. But Ujarak was inexorable. Poor Ippegoo sought comfort from his mother, and, to say truth, Kunelik did her best for him, but she could not resist the decrees of Fate—i.e. of the wizard.
"Be a man, my son, and all will go well," she said, as he sat beside her in her hut, with his chin on his breast and his thin hands clasped.
"O mother, I am such a fool! He might let me off. I'll be disgraced forever."
"Not you, Ippe; you're not half such a fool as he is. Just go boldly, and do your best. Look as fierce and wild as you can, and make awful faces. There's nothing like frightening people! Howl as much as possible, and gasp sometimes. I have seen a good deal done in that way. I only wish they would try to make an angekok of me. I would astonish them."
The plucky little woman had to stop here for a moment to chuckle at her own conceit, but her poor son did not respond. He had got far beyond the point where a perception of the ludicrous is possible.
"But it is time to go now, my son. Don't forget your drum and the face-making. You know what you've got to do?"
"Yes, yes, I know," said Ippegoo, looking anxiously over his shoulder, as if he half expected to see a torngak already approaching him; "I know only too well what I've got to do. Ujarak has been stuffing it into me the whole day till my brain feels ready to burst."
The bitter tone in which the poor youth pronounced his master's name suggested to his mother that it would not require much more to make the worm turn upon its tormentor. But the time had arrived to send him off, so she was obliged to bring her questions and advices to an abrupt close.
As Ippegoo walked towards the dreaded hut, he was conscious of many glaring eyes and whispered words around him. This happily had the effect of stirring up his pride, and made him resolve to strive to do his part creditably.
At the door of the hut two dark figures glided swiftly in before him. One he could perceive was Angut; the other he thought looked very like the Kablunet "Ridroonee." The thought gave him some comfort—not much, indeed, but anything that distracted his mind for an instant from the business in hand afforded him comfort.
He now braced himself desperately to the work. Seizing the drum which he had been told not to forget, he struck it several times, and began to twist his body about violently. There was just light enough to show to onlookers that the poor youth was whirling himself round in contortions of the most surprising kind. This he did for the purpose of working himself up to the proper pitch of enthusiasm.
There seems little doubt that the mere exertion of great muscular effort, coupled with a resolute wish and intention to succeed in some object, has a powerful tendency to brace the energies of the human mind. Ippegoo had not contorted himself and beaten his drum for many minutes when his feeling of warmth and physical power began to increase. The feeling seemed to break on his mind as a revelation.
"Ho!" he thought, "here it comes; it comes at last! Ujarak told the truth—I am becoming one of the wise men."
So delighted was the poor fellow with the idea, and with the strong hope created thereby, that his blood began to course more rapidly and his heart to beat high. Under the impulse, he gave vent to a yell that drew a nod of gratified approval from his mother, and quite astonished those who knew him best. Redoubling his twistings and drummings, he soon wore himself out, and ere long fell down in a state of temporary exhaustion.
Having thus, according to instruction, worked himself up to the proper pitch of enthusiasm, Ippegoo lay still and panted. Ujarak then, coming forward, led him into Angut's hut, which was lighted as usual with several cooking-lamps. The people flocked in after them till it was nearly full; but spaces in the centre and upper end were kept comparatively free. Near the lamp the Kablunet was seen seated, observing the proceedings with much gravity; Okiok sat near him.
When all were seated, the wizard led his pupil into the centre space, and, making him sit down, bent him forward until his head was between his legs. He fastened it in that position, and then tied his hands behind his back. All the lights were now extinguished, for no one is allowed to witness the interview of the unfinished angekok with the torngak, nor to move a finger for fear of disturbing him.
The room being now in the state which is described as darkness just visible, Ippegoo began to sing a song, in which all joined. Presently he took to groaning by way of variety; then he puffed and gasped, and in a quavering voice entreated his torngak to come. Spirits, however, like human creatures, are not always open to entreaty. At all events, Ippegoo's torngak refused to appear.
In such circumstances it is usual for an aspirant to writhe about until he brings on a sort of fit, during the continuance of which his soul goes off to fetch the obstinate torngak. After a short time he returns with him, laughing loudly for joy, while a rustling noise, resembling the wings of birds as they swoop about the roof, is heard.
But Ippegoo was not a sufficiently wise man to get through this part of the programme. True, he wrought himself into a wonderful state of excitement, and then humbly lay down on his side to have a fit. But the fit would not come. He tried his best to have it. He wished with all his heart for it, but all his efforts were vain.
"O why won't you come to me, torngak?" demanded the poor youth, with a pitiful whine.
"Because you are wise enough already," said a low voice, which startled the audience very much, and sent a thrill of alarm, not unmingled with surprise, to the hearts of Ippegoo and his master.
The voice seemed to come from the outside of the hut.
"Ask him to come inside and speak to us," whispered Ujarak, who was a good deal more surprised even than his pupil at this unexpected turn of affairs.
"Won't you come in, torngak?" said Ippegoo timidly. "It is very cold outside. You will be more comfortable inside, and we shall hear you better. I suppose you can come as easily through the wall as by—"
"Stop your stupid tongue!" growled Ujarak.
At that moment a deep unearthly voice was heard inside the hut. Every one trembled, and there ensued a silence so oppressive as to suggest the idea that all present were holding their breath, and afraid to move even by a hair's-breadth.
Suddenly there was a faint murmur, for at the upper end of the hut a dark form was seen slowly to arise. It must be remembered that there was barely light enough to render darkness visible. No features could be distinguished on this apparition, but it gradually assumed the form of a gigantic bear, rising nearly to the roof, and with its great forelegs extended, as if it were brooding over the assembly. Every one remained perfectly still, as if spell-bound.
Only one of the audience was sceptical. Being himself a master of deception, Ujarak suspected some trick, and slowly approached the giant bear with the intention of testing its reality—in some trepidation, however, for he was naturally superstitious. When he had drawn near enough to touch it, he received a tremendous blow on the forehead, which laid him flat on his back in a partially stunned condition, with his head in Pussimek's lap. That amiable woman considerately allowed it to remain there, and as the wizard felt mentally confused he did not care to change his position.
Presently a low musical voice broke upon the assembly. We need scarcely say that it was that of our hero, Red Rooney, but so changed in character and tone as to be quite unrecognisable by the company, most of whom, indeed, were not yet very familiar with it. Even his more intimate friends, Angut and the Okiok family, were startled by it. In fact, the seaman, besides being something of a mimic, possessed a metallic bass voice of profound depth, which, like most bass voices, was capable of mounting into the higher latitudes of tone by means of a falsetto. He utilised his gifts on the present occasion.
"Ippegoo," he said solemnly and very slowly, "I am not your torngak. I am an angekok, and as I chanced to be passing by your hut in my wanderings, I stopped to hear. I have heard enough to be able to tell you that you shall never be an angekok. Nor shall you ever have a torngak. You do not need one. You are wise enough already, much wiser than your master, who is no better than a miserable puffin. Is it not the duty of one who would be an angekok to go away and live alone for many days fasting, and praying, and meditating? Has not Ujarak advised you to change the ancient customs? Pooh! he is a fool. You cannot succeed now. All the spirits of water, earth, and air have been insulted. This assembly must break up. You must leave off trying. You may all be thankful that the ice does not burst up and crush you; that the sky does not fall upon you; that the great sea does not roll its maddest waves over you. Up, all of you—Begone!"
Rooney finished off with a roar so deep and fearsome that the very rafters trembled. A pile of wood, stones, and earthenware, previously prepared for the purpose, was tipped over, and fell with a most awful crash. At the same moment the seaman culminated in a falsetto shriek that might have shamed a steam whistle.
It was enough. Had the tunnel entrance of the hut been long and strong, suffocation to many must have been the result, for they went into it pell-mell, rolling rather than running. Fortunately, it was short and weak. Ujarak and Simek, sticking in it, burst it up, and swept it away, thus clearing the passage for the rest. The last to disappear was Kunelik, whose tail flapped on the door-post like a small pistol-shot as she doubled round it and scrambled out, leaving Rooney, Angut, Kannoa, and Ippegoo to enjoy the situation.
A GREAT SINGING DUEL INTERRUPTED BY A CATASTROPHE.
When the lamps were rekindled by Kannoa, it was discovered that the old lady's nostrils were twitching and her throat contracting in a remarkable manner, with smothered laughter. Very different was the condition of Ippegoo, who still lay bound in the middle of the room. Fear and surprise in equal proportions seemed to have taken possession of him. Rooney, having dropped the bear-skin, approached him, while Angut stood beside the lamp looking on with a sort of serious smile.
"Now, Ippegoo," said the sailor, stooping and cutting his bonds, "I set you free. It is to be hoped also that I have freed you from superstition."
"But where is the bear-angekok?" asked the bewildered youth.
"I am the bear-angekok."
"Impossible!" cried Ippegoo.
To this Rooney replied by going back to his bear-skin, spreading it over himself, getting on a stool so as to tower upwards, spreading out his long arms, and saying in his deepest bass tones—
"Now, Ippegoo, do you believe me?"
A gleam of intelligence flashed on the youth's countenance, and at that moment he became more of a wise man than he had ever before been in his life, for he not only had his eyes opened as to the ease with which some people can be deceived, but had his confidence in the infallibility of his old tyrant completely shaken. He reasoned somewhat thus—
"If Ujarak's torngak was good and true, it would have told him of the deceit about to be practised on him, and would not have allowed him to submit to disgrace. If it did not care, it was a bad spirit. If it did not know, it was no better than a man, and not worth having—so I don't want to have one, and am very glad I have escaped so well."
The poor fellow shrank from adding, "Ujarak must be a deceiver;" but he began to think that Red Rooney might not have been far wrong after all when he called him a fool.
Ippegoo was now warned that he must keep carefully out of the wizard's way, and tell no one of the deceit that had been practised. He promised most faithfully to tell no one, and then went straight home and told his mother all about it—for it never for a moment occurred to the poor fellow to imagine that he was meant to conceal it from his mother!
Fortunately Kunelik was a wise little woman. She knew how to keep her own counsel, and did not even by nod or look insinuate to any one that she was in possession of a secret.
"Now, then, Angut, what is the next thing to be done?" asked Rooney, after Ippegoo had left.
"Make Ujarak fight his duel," said Angut.
"What! the singing duel with Okiok?"
"Yes. The people have set their hearts on the thing, and Ujarak will try to escape. He will perhaps say that his torngak has told him to go hunting to-morrow. But our customs require him to keep his word. My fear is that he will sneak off in the night. He is a sly fox."
"I will stop that," said Rooney.
"You shall see. Come with me to the hut of Ujarak."
On reaching the hut, they found its owner, as had been expected, sharpening his spears, and making other arrangements for a hunting expedition.
"When do you start?" asked Rooney.
"Immediately," replied the wizard.
"Of course after the duel," remarked Angut quietly.
The wizard seemed annoyed.
"It is unfortunate," he said, with a vexed look. "My torngak has told me of a place where a great number of seals have come. They may leave soon, and it would be such a pity to lose them."
"That is true," said Angut; "but of course you cannot break our customs. It would ruin your character."
"Of course, of course I will not break the custom," returned Ujarak quickly; "unless, indeed, my torngak orders me to go. But that is not likely."
"I want to ask you," said Rooney, sitting down, "about that trip you had last year to the land of the departed. They tell me you had a hard time of it, Ujarak, and barely escaped with your life."
The sly seaman had spread a net with which the wizard could at all times be easily caught. He had turned him on to a tune at which he was always willing to work with the persistency of an organ-grinder. The wizard went on hour after hour with unwearied zeal in his narrations, being incited thereto by a judicious question now and then from the seaman, when he betrayed any symptom of flagging. At last Angut, who had often heard it before, could stand it no longer, and rose to depart. Having already picked up the Kablunet's mode of salutation, he held out his hand, and said "Goo'-nite."
"Good-night, friend," returned Rooney, grasping the proffered hand. "I can't leave till I've heard the end of this most interesting story, so I'll just sleep in Ujarak's hut, if he will allow me, and thus avoid disturbing you by coming in late. Good-night."
"Goo'-nite," responded Angut, and vanished from the scene.
The wizard heaved a sigh. He perceived that his little plan of gliding away in the hours of darkness was knocked on the head, so, like a true philosopher, he resigned himself to the inevitable, and consoled himself by plunging into intricacies of fabulous adventure with a fertility of imagination which surprised even himself—so powerful is the influence of a sympathetic listener.
When Ujarak at last discovered that his guest had fallen into a profound slumber, he brought his amazing narrative to an abrupt close, and, wrapping himself in a reindeer-skin, resigned himself to that repose which was so much needed to fit him for the combat of the approaching day.
It was a brilliant sunny morning when Red Rooney awoke from a startling dream, in which he had been wrestling with monstrous creatures in the depths of ocean as well as in the bowels of the earth.
The wizard was still locked in apparently dreamless slumber. Unwilling to disturb him, the seaman glided quietly out, and clambered to the top of a cliff, whence a magnificent sea-view was revealed to his wondering gaze.
There are times when the atmosphere of this earth seems to be rarefied and freshened with celestial zephyrs, which not only half intoxicate the spirit, but intensify the powers of hearing and vision, so that gentle sounds which are very far off come floating to us, and mingle softly with those that are near at hand, while objects are seen at such immense distances that one feels as if the world itself had suddenly grown larger. To these influences were added on this occasion a sea which absolutely glittered with the icy gems that decked her calm and waveless bosom. It was not only that millions of white and glittering peaks, with facets and edges gleaming like diamonds, rose into the blue sky, but here and there open lanes of water, and elsewhere lakes and little ponds upon the melting ice caught the full orb of the rising sun, and sent its reflection into the man's eyes with dazzling refulgence, while the ripple or rush of ice-born water-falls and the plaintive cries of wild-fowl gave variety and animation to the scene. In a mind less religiously disposed than that of our seaman, the sights and sounds would have irresistibly aroused grateful thoughts to our Creator. On Rooney the effect was almost overpowering, yet, strange to say, it drew no word of thanksgiving from his lips. Clasping his hands and shutting his eyes, he muttered with bowed head the words, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!"
Perhaps the recognition of the Father's great goodness and condescension, coupled with his own absolute unworthiness, and the impulse which called those words forth, was nearly the highest act of worship which the sailor could have offered.
Far below, under the sheltering cliff, the huts of the Eskimo village could be seen like little black specks dotting the still snow-covered land; and the voices of children could be heard in faint but merry shouts and peals of laughter, as their owners, like still smaller specks, romped about. One of those specks Rooney recognised, from its intense blackness, to be his friend Tumbler, and a smaller and lighter speck he guessed to be Pussi, from the circumstance of its persistently following and keeping close to the raven-clad hero.
The pleased look with which Rooney at first regarded the children slowly passed away, and was replaced by one of profound sadness; for how could he escape dejection when he thought of a sweet Irish wife and little ones, with a dear old grandmother, whom he had left in the old country, and who must long before that time have given him up as dead?
His melancholy thoughts were dissipated by a sudden increase in the shouting of the little ones. On regarding them attentively, he observed that they scattered themselves in the direction of the several huts, and disappeared therein.
Well did Rooney know that the movement meant breakfast, and having a personal interest in that game, he left his perch and the glorious view, and hastened down.
After breakfast the entire community went with one consent to witness the singing combat. It was to take place on the ice near the scene of the recent kick-ball game, close to the berg of the sea-green cave. The people were much elated, for these savages were probably as much influenced by brilliant spring weather as civilised folk are, though not given to descant so much on their feelings. They were also in that cheerful frame of mind which results from what they correctly referred to as being stuffed; besides, much fun was expected from the contest. Lest our readers should anticipate similar delight, we must repeat that Eskimos are a simple folk, and easily pleased.
"Won't it be a tussle?" remarked Issek, who marched in the centre of a group of women.
"It will, for Ujarak is tough. He is like a walrus," responded an admirer of the wizard.
"Poo!" exclaimed the mother of Ippegoo contemptuously; "he can indeed roar like the walrus, but he can do nothing else."
"Yes; and his strength goes for nothing," cried a sympathiser, "for it is his brain, not his body, that has got to work."
"We shall see," said Kabelaw, whose sister remarked—"if we are not blind."
This mild observation was meant for a touch of pleasantry. Little touches of pleasantry often passed between these "lying sisters," as they were called, and they not infrequently culminated in touches of temper, which must have been the reverse of pleasant to either.
Arrived at the arena, a ring was formed, and the wisdom as well as amiability of these poor people was shown by their putting the children in front, the little women in the second row, the tall women in the third, and the men behind.
In a few minutes Ujarak bounded into the centre of the circle, with a small drum or tambourine in one hand, which he beat vigorously with the other. Okiok followed more sedately, armed with a similar musical instrument, and retired to one side of the arena, for the wizard, perhaps because he was the challenger, had the right to begin.
A good authority on the Eskimo tongue says: "The language is not easily translatable, the brevity and force of a single sentence requiring to be rendered in many words of another tongue." The same authority also informs us that angekoks "speak in a metaphorical style sometimes, in order to exhibit their assumed superiority in learning and penetration." It will not be expected, therefore, that our translation should convey more than a general idea of the combat.
Ujarak's first act, after bounding into the ring and drumming, was to glare at his adversary. Okiok returned the glare with interest, and, being liberal, threw a sneer of contempt into the bargain. Ujarak then glared round at the audience, and began his song, which consisted merely of short periods, without rhyme or measure, but with a sort of rhythmic musical cadence. He commenced with the chorus—"Amna ajah ajah hey!" which was vociferously repeated by his supporters among the audience.
What these words, mean—whether they represent our "fal lal la" or "runity iddity"—we have not been able to ascertain, but they came in at irregular intervals, greatly to the satisfaction of the audience, thus:—
"Amna ajah ajah hey! There was once a man—a man (So it is said, but we are not sure), A puffin perhaps he was—or a stupid spirit Made in the likeness of a man; Amna ajah ajah hey!"
Here the wizard not only accompanied the chorus with the drum, but with a species of dance, which, being a clumsy man, he performed in an extremely elephantine manner. After a few moments he went on:—
"This man—this puffin—was a liar: A liar, because he was a teller of lies. Did he not one time say that seals had come, And that birds were in the air? And when we went to look, no seals or birds were there. Amna ajah ajah Hey!"
The extreme vigour with which the last word was uttered resulted from the wizard having tripped in his dance, and come down heavily on the ice, to the immense delight of his opponents and the children. But Ujarak rose, and quelling the laugh with a look of dignity, continued:—
"Worse than a liar was this foolish puffin. He hunted badly. When he flung the spear The seals would laugh before they went away. Sometimes he missed, sometimes he tipped the nose, Sometimes hit the wrong animal, And sometimes touched the tail. Amna ajah ajah hey!"
This verse was a hit, for Okiok was known to be but an indifferent marksman with the throwing-spear; yet such was his industry and his ability to approach very near to his prey, that he was the reverse of a bad hunter. But men in all lands are prone to shut their eyes to the good, and to open them very wide to the evil, that may be said of an adversary. Consequently at this point the chorus was given with great vigour by the wizard faction, and the wizard himself, having worked himself into a breathless condition by the mental effort and the furious dance, deemed it a fitting occasion to take his first rest.
The custom in those duels is for each combatant to devote a quarter of an hour or so to the attack, and then make way for his opponent, who at once steps forward and begins his counter-attack. After a short time he in like manner gives way, and his foe returns. Thus they proceed until one is exhausted or overwhelmed; and he who has the last word gains the victory, after which the dispute is held as settled, and they frequently become better friends than before.
There was something in the expression of Okiok as he stepped sedately into the ring which gladdened his friends and distressed his opponents. Unlike the wizard, he was well formed, and all his movements were comparatively elegant, so that in his case the conventional bit of dance at the end of periods was pleasant to the eye, while his peculiar advantage of rhyming power rendered his performance grateful to the ear. After a little drumming he began:—
"Why must I step within this ring, To jump and dance, and drum and sing? You all know well that Okiok Was never made an angekok. Amna ajah ajah hey!"
"Amna ajah ajah hey!" yelled the hunter's admirers, with enthusiasm.
"But Ujarak's the man of skill, To kick or wrestle, sing or kill; He bids me meet him here to-day. Poor Okiok! he must obey. My Torngak, come here, I say! Thus loud I cried the other day— 'You always come to Ujarak; Thou come to me, my Torngak!' But he was deaf, and would not hear, Although I roared it in his ear. At last he said, 'No, Okiok, For you are not an angekok!' Amna ajah ajah hey!"
Here the hunter, after a neat pirouette and tickling of the drum, changed his tone to a soft insinuating whine:
"'Tis true I'm not an angekok; I'm only hunter Okiok. But Torngak, dear Torngak, Don't go away. O do come back! If you'll be mine, and stick to me For evermore, I'll stick to thee. And every single thing I do I'll come and ask advice from you; Consult you morning, noon, and night; Consult you when I hunt or fight; Consult you when I sing and roar; Consult you when I sleep and snore; Consult you more than Ujarak— My Tor—Tor—Tor—Tor—Torngak!"
A roar of laughter and a stupendous "Amna ajah ajah hey!" greeted this flight, while Okiok gravely touched his drum, and performed a few more of his graceful evolutions.
"'No, no,' he said; 'I'll never make So gross and stupid a mistake. One man there is who tried to do it— He thinks the spirits never knew it— He tried to make an angekok-stew Out of a lad named Ippegoo!'"
Here another yell of delight was followed by the chorus, and Okiok was about to resume, when a terrific rending sound seemed to paralyse every one. Well did they know that sound. It was the rending of the solid ice on which they stood. The advancing spring had so far weakened it that a huge cake had broken off from the land-ice, and was now detached. A shriek from some of the women drew attention to the fact that the disruption of the mass had so disturbed the equilibrium of the neighbouring berg that it was slowly toppling to its fall. A universal stampede instantly took place, for the danger of being crushed by its falling cliffs and pinnacles was very great. Everything but personal safety was forgotten in the panic that ensued. Red Rooney was almost swept off his legs in the rush. Women and children were overturned, but fortunately not hurt. A very few minutes sufficed to take them all clear of danger; but the succeeding crashes produced such an inconceivable roar that the terrified villagers ran on until close to the place where the ice had cracked off, and where a lane of water about three feet wide presented itself.
Over this went men, women, and children at a flying leap—all except poor little Pussi. That fat little thing would have been left behind had not the mere force of the rush carried her on in a half running, half rolling way. Being unable to manage the jump, she went in with a plunge, and disappeared.
A wild scream from the nearest female caused every one to stop and run back.
"Pussi!" exclaimed Nunaga, pointing wildly to the water.
"Where—where did she go in?" cried Rooney.
"She must have gone under the ice!" gasped the poor girl.