As she spoke a bubble of air rose to the surface. Next moment the seaman cleft the cold black water and disappeared.
Then with a thrill of alarm the Eskimos observed that the great ice-cake which had broken off was being driven shoreward by the rising tide, and that the lane of water was rapidly closing.
But they were not kept long in suspense. Another moment, and Rooney appeared with little Pussi in his arms. They were instantly seized by Okiok and Angut, and dragged violently out—not much too soon, for only a few seconds after they were rescued the ice closed with a grinding crash, that served to increase the fervency of the "Thank God!" with which the seaman hailed their deliverance.
The child was not quite insensible, though nearly so. Rooney seized her in his arms, and ran as fast as he could towards the village, whither the fleet-footed Ippegoo had already been sent to prepare skins and warm food for the reception of rescued and rescuer.
THE REBELLION OF THE WORM AND THE FALL OF THE WIZARD.
The event which had so suddenly interrupted the singing duel was a matter of secret satisfaction to Ujarak, for he felt that he was no match for Okiok, and although he had intended to fight the battle out to the best of his ability, he knew that his ultimate defeat was so probable that its abrupt termination before that event was a piece of great good-fortune.
Still, his position was unsatisfactory, for, in addition to the fact that his credit as a genuine angekok had been sadly shaken because of Ippegoo's failure, he was well aware that the combat which had been interrupted was only postponed. What was to be done in the circumstances became, therefore, the urgent question of the hour. In great perplexity he sought out his poor victim Ippegoo—with something of the feeling, no doubt, that induces a drowning man to clutch at a straw—and silently walked with him to a secluded spot near the neighbouring cliffs.
"Ippegoo," he said, turning round abruptly; "it is certain that you will never be an angekok."
"I don't want to be one," returned the simpleton quietly.
The wizard looked at him in surprise.
"What do you mean?" he asked sharply.
"I mean that if the torngak you were going to get for me is no better than your own, he is a fool, and I would rather not have him."
This unexpected rebellion of the worm which he had so often twisted round his finger was too much for Ujarak in his then irascible condition. He flew into a violent rage, grasped the handle of his knife, and glared fiercely at his pupil.
Ippegoo returned the look with a quiet smile.
This was perplexing. There are few things more trying to passionate men than uncertainty as to how their bursts of anger will be received. As a rule such men are merely actors. No doubt their rage may be genuine, but the manner in which they will display their anger depends very much on who are their witnesses, and what their opponents. Rage which fumes at some trifling insult, and tears off the coat, resolved on fighting, when a timid wife seeks to soothe, is likely to assume a very different appearance and follow some other course of action when a prize-fighter pulls the nose, and invites it to "do its worst."
If Ippegoo had winced, or stood on the defensive, or stepped back, or shown the slightest sign of fear, it is probable that the strong and lawless man would have stabbed him to the heart in the first impulse of his anger, for the poor youth was well acquainted with all his secrets and most of his bad intentions. But the motionless figure and the smiling face not only surprised—it alarmed—Ujarak. It seemed so unnatural. What powers of sudden onslaught might not lie hidden within that calm exterior? what dynamitic capacities of swift explosion might not underlie that fearless expression?
"Ippegoo," he said, stifling his anger with a painful effort, "are you going to turn against your best friend?"
"My mother is my best friend," answered the youth stoutly.
"You are right; I made a mistake."
"Why does your torngak let you make so many mistakes?"
Again a rush of anger prompted the wizard to sacrifice his quondam pupil, and once more the youth's imperturbable coolness overawed him. Bad as he was, Ujarak could not kill a smiling victim.
"Ippegoo," said the wizard, suddenly changing his tone, and becoming intensely earnest, "I see what is the matter. Angut and the Kablunet have bewitched you. But now, I tell my torngak to enter into your heart, and unbewitch you. Now, do you not feel that he has done it?"
The youth, still smiling, shook his head.
"I knew it," continued the wizard, purposely misunderstanding the sign. "You are all right again. Once more I lay my commands on you. Listen. I want you to go at once and tell Nunaga that Angut wants to see her alone."
"Who?" asked Ippegoo in surprise.
"What! your rival?"
"Yes; my rival. My torngak tells me that Angut wants to meet her— alone, mind—out on the floes at Puffin Island this afternoon."
"Are—are you sure your torngak has made no mistake?" asked the youth, with something of his old hesitancy.
"Quite sure," replied Ujarak sternly. "Now, will you give her my message?"
"Angut's message, you mean."
"Yes, yes; I mean Angut's message," said the wizard impatiently. "You'll be sure to do what I tell you, won't you?"
"Quite sure," replied Ippegoo, the smile again overspreading his visage as he turned and quitted the spot.
Half an hour later he entered Okiok's hut in quest of Nunaga, but only her mother was there. She told him that the girl had gone off with a sledge along the coast to Moss Bay to fetch a load of moss to stuff between the logs of the hut where they required repairing, and that she had taken Kabelaw as well as Tumbler and Pussi with her.
"That's good," said Ippegoo, "then she can't and won't go to Puffin Island. I said I would tell her that Angut wants to meet her there alone."
"Who told you to tell her that?" asked Nuna.
"A fool," answered Ippegoo, promptly.
"He must indeed have been a fool," returned Nuna, "for Angut has just been helping Nunaga to harness the dogs, and he is now with my husband in his own hut."
This information caused the messenger to shut his eyes, open his mouth, and laugh silently, with evident enjoyment.
"I intended to deliver my message," he said, on recovering composure, "for I promised to do so; and I also meant to tell Nunaga that the message was a big lie."
At this amazing depth of slyness on his part, Ippegoo fell into another hearty though inaudible laugh, after which he went off to communicate his news to Okiok and Angut, but these worthies having gone out to visit some snares and traps, no one knew whither, he was obliged to seek counsel of Simek.
On hearing of the plot that seemed to be hatching, that jovial hunter at once ordered his sledge to be got ready, and started off, with two stalwart sons and his nephew Arbalik, for Moss Bay, to warn Nunaga of her enemy's intentions, and to fetch her home. But alas! for even the best laid of human plans.
It so happened that one of the Eskimo youths, who was rather inclined to tease Nunaga, had set a snow-trap for Arctic foxes about two miles from the village. As the spot was not much out of the way, the girl resolved to turn aside and visit the trap, take out the fox, if one chanced to be caught, and in any case set the trap off, or put a bit of stick into it by way of fun. The spot chanced to be only a short distance beyond the place where the wizard had met Ippegoo, but the sea-shore there was so covered with hummocks of ice that Nunaga had approached without being observed by either the wizard or the pupil. It was not more than a few minutes after Ippegoo had left on his errand to herself that she came suddenly in sight of Ujarak. He was seated, as if in contemplation, on a rock at the base of the cliff.
Suspecting no evil, Nunaga stopped her team of dogs. It was her father's best team, consisting of the swiftest and most enduring animals in the village. The wizard observed this as he rose up and approached, rejoicing to think that Fortune had favoured him. And truly Fortune—or rather, God—was indeed favouring the wicked man at that time, though not in the way that he imagined.
In a few moments Ujarak's plans were laid. The opportunity was too good to be lost.
"Where goes Nunaga to-day?" he asked quietly, on reaching the sledge.
"To Moss Bay," answered Nunaga.
"Has Nunaga forgotten the road?" asked Ujarak, with a slight look of surprise. "This is not the way to Moss Bay."
"It is not far out of the way," said Kabelaw, who was the more self-assertive of the two lying sisters; "we go to visit a trap, and have no time to waste with you."
As she spoke she seized the heavy Eskimo whip out of Nunaga's hand, and brought it smartly down on the backs of the whole team, which started off with a yelp, and also with a bound that well-nigh left Tumbler and Pussi behind. But she was not quick enough for Ujarak, who exclaimed with a laugh, as he leaped on to the sledge and assumed the place of driver—
"I too am fond of trapping, and will go with you."
He took the whip from Kabelaw, and guided the team.
A few minutes, at the speed they were going, brought them close to a point or cape which, in the form of a frowning cliff two or three hundred feet high, jutted out into the sea. To round this, and place the great cape between them and the village, was Ujarak's aim. The ice was comparatively smooth and unbroken close to the land.
"See!" exclaimed Nunaga, pointing towards the bushes on shore; "the trap is there. That is the place."
Ujarak paid no heed to her. The die was cast. He had taken the first step, and must now go through with it at all hazards. Plying the cruel whip, so as to make the dogs run at their utmost speed, he drove on until the other side of the cape was gained. Then he relaxed the speed a little, for he knew that no shriek, however loud, could penetrate the cliffs that lay between him and the Eskimo village.
Taking up a walrus-line with a running noose on it that lay on the sledge beside him, the wizard turned, dropped the noose suddenly over Kabelaw, and drew it tight, so as to pin her arms to her sides. Almost before she could realise what had occurred, he took a quick turn of the same line round Nunaga, drew the girls together, and fastened them to the sledge. They knew now full well, but too late, that Ujarak meant mischief. Screaming at the utmost pitch of their voices, they struggled to free themselves, but were too well secured for that.
The wizard now glanced at the children. For a few moments he was perplexed. They could be of no use on a long journey, and might be troublesome—besides, they would have to be fed. There was one sure and easy method of getting rid of them. He grasped his knife-handle.
The women observed the movement, and became instantly silent with horror.
But the bold free air of Tumbler and the soft innocent look of Pussi were too much for the wizard. He abandoned the half-formed thought, and, turning to the women, said in a low, stern voice—
"If you cry or struggle again, these shall die."
This was enough. The poor creatures remained perfectly silent and still after that, while the wizard guided the dogs out upon the floes on a totally different route from that which led to Moss Bay.
Coming to a place where the ice had been cut up into many tracks by the Eskimos' sledges during the winter work of traffic to and from the hunting-grounds, Ujarak availed himself of the opportunity to lose, as it were, his own track among the others, so that, in the sure event of pursuit, the pursuers might be effectually baffled. The only point he had to consider after that was the necessity of diverging from the track with such care that the point of divergence should be impossible to find.
In this he was again favoured by circumstances. Having driven at full speed straight out from the land in a westerly direction, he came to a place where the ice had been considerably broken up, so that the old tracks ended abruptly in many places where lanes of water had opened up. A sharp frost had set these lanes and open spaces fast again, and the new ice was just strong enough to bear a sledge. There was some risk in venturing on it, but what of that? Nothing bold can be successfully carried out in this world without more or less of risk! At a spot where the confusion of tracks was very great, he turned at a sharp angle, got upon a sheet of new ice, and went off at greater speed than ever towards the far-south.
His aim was to travel some hundreds of miles, till he reached the Kablunet settlements on the south-western shores of Greenland, in regard to which, various and strange reports had reached the northern Eskimos from time to time. He said nothing, however, to his captives, but after driving some twenty miles or so—which he did in a couple of hours—he cast off their bonds, and bade them make themselves comfortable. The poor creatures were only too glad to avail themselves of the permission, for, although spring had set in, and the cold was not very severe, their constrained position had benumbed their limbs.
Tumbler and Pussi, after gazing for a considerable time at each other in a state of blank amazement at the whole proceedings, had finally dropped off to sleep on a pile of deerskins. Nunaga and Kabelaw, wrapping themselves in two of these, leaned against each other and conversed in low whispers.
And now the wizard began in good earnest a journey, which was destined to lead him, in more ways than one, far beyond the point at which he originally aimed.
He plied the whip with vigour, for well did he know that it was a race for life. If any of the men of his tribe should overtake him, he felt assured that death would be his portion.
The dogs, as we have said, were splendid animals. There were ten of them, resembling wolves both in size and appearance, each being fastened to the sledge by a single independent line. The vehicle itself was Okiok's hunting-sledge, having spears, bow and arrows, lines, bladders, etcetera, attached to it, so that, although there were no provisions on it except one small seal, which its owner had probably thought was not worth removing, the wizard knew that he possessed all the requisites for procuring a supply. The women, being also well aware of this, were filled with anxiety, for their one hope of rescue lay in their friends discovering their flight and engaging in instant and hot pursuit.
Never since the commencement of his career had Ujarak displayed such anxiety to increase the distance between himself and his tribe. Never since that long-lashed, short-handled, heavy whip was made, had it given forth such a rapid series of pistol-like reports, and never since they were pups had those ten lanky wolfish dogs stretched out their long legs and scampered over the Arctic sea as they did on that occasion. The old ice was still sufficiently firm and smooth to afford a good road, and the new ice was fortunately strong enough to bear, for the pace was tremendous. With "the world before him where to choose," and death, as he imagined, on the track behind, the wizard's spirit had risen to the point of "neck or nothing." Mile after mile was passed at highest speed and in perfect silence, except when broken by the crack of whip and yelp of dogs. Occasional roughnesses in the way were crashed over. Small obstructions were taken in flying leaps, which rendered it necessary for the poor women to cling to each other, to the sledge, and to the children, to prevent their being hurled off. Once or twice a hummock which it seemed possible to leap turned out to be too high, and obliged the driver to turn aside with such violence that the sledge went for a few seconds on one runner, and all but turned over. This at last induced some degree of caution, for to break the vehicle at the beginning of the journey would have been almost certainly fatal to the enterprise.
And oh! how earnestly Nunaga longed for a spill! In her despair, poor thing, it did not occur to her that at such a pace an upset might break the necks of the whole party.
Towards sunset they rounded a high cape, beyond which was a deep and wide bay. On this the sun shone apparently on what appeared to be open water. For one moment a look of alarm flitted over the wizard's face, as he glanced quickly shoreward to see whether the ground-ice was passable; but it was only for a moment, for immediately he perceived that the light had dazzled and deceived him. It was not water, but new ice—smooth and refulgent as a mirror. The fringe of old ice on shore was disrupted and impassable. There was therefore only one course open to him.
Knitting his brows and clenching his teeth, Ujarak resolved to take it at all hazards. Bringing the cruel lash to bear with extreme violence, he sent the dogs howling out upon the glassy surface. At first they slipped and sprawled a good deal, but soon gathered themselves well together. They were accustomed to such work, and the friction of the sledge being reduced, they skimmed along with ease.
Although strong enough to bear, the ice undulated terribly as they swept over it, and sent forth rending sounds, which cannot be conceived by those whose experience of young ice has been derived chiefly from lakelets and ponds. Dogs in such circumstances are apt to become terrified and to stop, in which case immersion is almost certain. But Ujarak gave his team no time to think. With lash and voice he urged them on until they were nearly frantic. The undulations became greater as they advanced, and the rending sounds continuous. Still the wizard plied his whip and shouted. Indeed it was his only chance. At the other side of the bay the old ice still adhered to the shore. If that could be reached, they would be safe. Eagerly the women strained their eyes, and even stretched out their hands as if to grasp the shore, for the fear of instant death had banished all other thoughts. A few minutes more, and Ujarak, standing up in his eagerness, flourishing the great whip, and shouting at the pitch of his voice, drove the yelling dogs off the crackling sheet of ice to a place of safety on the solid floe.
It did not require the wizard's altered tone to inform the sagacious animals that the danger was past. Down they flopped at once to rest, panting vehemently, and with tongues out; but they were not permitted to rest long, Ujarak's fear of pursuit was so great. Even while securing on the sledge the articles that had been disarranged, he could not help casting frequent suspicious glances in the direction from which they had come, for guilt is ever ready to anticipate retribution even when it is far distant. As soon as the fastenings were arranged he prepared to continue the flight.
"Where do you take us to?" asked Kabelaw, in a tone of humility which was very foreign to her nature.
"You shall know that in time," was the stern reply.
Nunaga was too much frightened to speak, but little Tumbler was not.
"Bad—bad man!" he exclaimed, with a fierce look that caused the wizard for a moment to smile grimly.
Little Pussi was so horrified at the reckless presumption of the remark, that she hid her face in Nunaga's lap and did not venture to look up for some time.
Getting on the sledge without another word, the wizard gave a hint to the dogs which was so unmistakable that they sprang up and resumed their journey at full gallop. Slowly the sun went down, and sea and berg and snow-clad cliff grew grey in the light of departing day. Still the panting team sped on over the frozen sea. Soon it became too dark to travel with safety. The pace was slackened. The run became a canter, then a trot, and then a walk. At last the driver stopped, jumped off the sledge, and ordered the women to get out the seal and feed the dogs. He also gave them permission to help themselves, but as there was no lamp or fire, it was evident that he meant them to eat their supper raw.
Leaving them while thus engaged, he walked away out of sight.
"I won't have raw seal," said Tumbler, in that tone of petulant resolve which tells of spoilt-childism.
"An' me won't too," said Pussi, profiting by example.
"But there's nothing else," said Nunaga, gently.
"Yes, there is. I have got some cold seal in my boots—from this morning's breakfast," said Kabelaw, extracting a goodly-sized morsel; "I never go on a journey, however short, without a bit of cooked meat."
Lest the reader should be perplexed here, we may explain that some Eskimo ladies often make the wide tops of their long sealskin boots do duty for pockets.
The party was still engaged in discussing the delicacy referred to, and commenting in pitiable tones on their situation, when Ujarak returned, bade them resume their places, jumped on the sledge, and continued to advance. In half an hour the moon rose in a clear sky. The stars shone brightly, and to add to the beauty of the scene, the aurora borealis played and shot about vividly overhead, enabling them to resume a rapid gallop.
It was not till the night was far advanced, and his dogs were nearly worn-out, and full sixty miles lay between him and his native village, that Ujarak felt himself to be comparatively safe, and halted for a prolonged rest.
Without a word, he made for himself a shelter with a bear-skin under a low bush, devoured a lump of raw seal's flesh, and then went to sleep, leaving the women to look after themselves, the dogs, and the children, as best they might. Fortunately, they were well able to do so, and, being very weary, were not long in doing it. While they went about the work, however, they could not help remarking the unusually morose and surly manner of their master, and expressed the opinion that he was already troubled with that mental complaint to which we give the name of remorse.
And they were right. Bad as the wizard was, he had hitherto kept within the bounds of Eskimo propriety; but now at last he had overstepped those bounds and become a criminal—an outlaw. By one hasty act he had cut, for ever, the cords which had united him to his kindred.
TELLS OF DESPAIR AND A WILD PURSUIT.
On discovering that Nunaga and the children were not at Moss Bay, and that there were no fresh sledge tracks in that region to tell of their whereabouts, Simek drove back to the village at a wild scamper, in a state of mind very much the reverse of jovial. His hope was that the girl might have been to some other locality, and had perhaps returned during his absence; but the first glance at Nuna put that hope to flight, for the poor woman was in a state of terrible anxiety.
Cheery little Kunelik and her mild son did their best to comfort her, but without success, for she knew well the determined character of the man who had probably carried off her children.
"Has she not come back?" demanded Simek, appearing, like an infuriated Polar bear, at the inside opening of the passage to Okiok's mansion.
"No," gasped Nuna.
Simek said no more, but backed out faster than he had come in. Ippegoo followed him.
"Run, Ippe; tell all the men to get all their sledges and dogs ready, and come here to me."
Ippegoo ran off at once, while the energetic hunter rearranged the fastenings of his own sledge and team as if for a long journey.
He was thus engaged when Okiok and Angut were seen approaching the village at an easy trot. Evidently they knew nothing of what had occurred. Simek ran out to meet them. A few words sufficed to explain. The news seemed to stun both men at first, but the after-effect on each was wonderfully different. The blood rushed to Okiok's face like a torrent. He clenched his hands and teeth, glared and stamped, and went on like one deranged—as indeed for the moment he was. Angut, on the other hand, was perfectly self-possessed and subdued, but his heaving chest, quivering nostrils, compressed lips, and frowning brows told that a volcano of emotion raged within.
Turning suddenly to Okiok, he seized him by both arms as if his hands were vices.
"Listen," he said, with a sort of subdued intensity, that had the effect of quieting his friend; "get out your sledge and dogs."
"All are ready," interposed Simek, eagerly.
Angut waited for no more, but, leaving his friends, ran off at full speed towards the village. Okiok and Simek leaped on their respective sledges and followed.
On arriving, it was found that most of the active men of the tribe were already assembled, with dogs harnessed, provisions and hunting-gear strapped down, and all ready for a journey of any length.
To these Angut gave directions in a tone and manner that deeply impressed his friends. Not that he was loud or eager or violent; on the contrary, he was unusually calm, but deadly pale, and with an air of tremendous resolution about him that made the men listen intently and obey with promptitude. In a very few minutes he had sent off one and another in almost every direction, with instructions where to go, what to do, and how and when to return, in the event of failure. Then he leaped on his own sledge, and turned to Red Rooney, who was standing by.
"Ridroonee," he said, in a somewhat sad tone, "I go to find Nunaga. If I succeed not, you will see me no more."
He held out his hand to take farewell in the Kablunet's fashion.
"What say you?" exclaimed Rooney, taken by surprise, "Nonsense! see you no—Pooh!—hold on a bit."
He ran into his friend's hut, and quickly returned with his bear-skin sleeping-bag and a small wallet which contained his little all.
"Now then," he cried, jumping on the sledge, "away you go as soon as you like. I'm with 'ee, lad."
Angut shook his head.
"But the Kablunet is not yet strong enough to travel," said the Eskimo, doubtfully.
"The Kablunet is strong enough to pitch you over his head; and he'll do it too, if you don't drive on."
With another doubtful look and shake of the head, Angut seized his whip. The dogs, knowing the signal well, sprang up. At that moment Angut observed the little eyes of Kannoa peering at him wistfully.
"Come," he said, holding out a hand.
The old woman's visage beamed with joy, as she seized the hand, and scrambled on the sledge. Then the lash came round with the wonted crack. The dogs winced, but did not suffer, for Angut was merciful to his beasts, and away they went at full speed—Okiok having dashed off in similar fashion with his two sons and Simek in another direction a few minutes before them.
North, south, east, and west, on land and sea, did those Eskimos search for tracks of the fugitives; but the whole immediate neighbourhood was so cut up in all directions by the daily out-going and in-coming of their own hunters, that the discovering of a special track was not easy—indeed, almost impossible. All day they sped over the ice and snow in widening circles. When night came, they waited till the moon arose, and then continued the search. It was not till the forenoon of the following day that the unsuccessful searchers began to drop in one by one, worn-out and disheartened.
Nuna and the other women had breakfast ready for them. Little was said, for the women were depressed, and the men, after eating, immediately sought much-needed repose. It was nearly evening before Okiok and his sons returned.
"No sign anywhere," he said in reply to his poor wife's mute inquiry. "Ippegoo," he added, turning to the youth, whose woe-begone expression at another time would have been ludicrous, "I will sleep for some time. Let the dogs be well fed all round, and be ready to start with me when the moon rises."
Without another word, he stretched himself on the floor, pillowed his head on a deerskin, and went to sleep almost on the instant.
Meanwhile Angut had driven straight to Moss Bay. His search was not one of a wild haphazard nature. Despite the agitation of his breast, his mind was clear and his head cool. Judging that Nunaga must at least have started for her intended destination, whatever might afterwards have induced her to change her mind, he drove slowly along, observing with a lynx eye everything that looked in the slightest degree like a divergence from the route. The consequence was, that on reaching the place where the divergence had actually taken place, he pulled up, and got off the sledge to examine.
"You're right," remarked Rooney, who accompanied his friend, while old Kannoa remained with the dogs. "It's easy to see that a sledge has turned off here."
"Quite easy," responded the Eskimo, with suppressed eagerness; "we will follow."
Running back, they turned the dogs into the fresh track, and soon came to the place where Ujarak had joined the women. Angut pointed to the footprints with a gleam of unusual ferocity in his eyes. For some time they could easily follow the track, and went along at a rapid pace; but when it led them to the point where it joined other tracks, the difficulty of following became great. Of course Angut at once understood the object of this ruse, and became more attentive to every mark that seemed in the remotest degree to indicate another divergence, but failed to hit upon the spot, and finally came to a halt when far out on the floes where drift had obliterated the old sledge-marks, and a recent track could not have escaped notice. Then he made a wide circular sweep, which was meant to cut across all the tracks that radiated from the village.
In this manoeuvre he was more successful.
Towards evening he came upon a recent track which led straight to the southward.
"Got him at last!" exclaimed Rooney, with a shout of excitement and satisfaction.
"I think so," said Angut, as he went down on his knees and carefully examined the marks on the floe. His opinion was clearly shown by his starting up suddenly, jumping on the sledge again, flourishing his whip savagely, and setting off at a pace that obliged Rooney to seize the lashings with both hands and hold on tight. Old Kannoa did the same, and stuck to the sledge like a limpet, with her chin resting on her knees and her sharp little eyes gazing anxiously ahead.
Soon they came to the rough ground that had tried the quality of the wizard's sledge, and the vehicle bumped over the ice at such a rate that the poor old woman was almost pitched out.
"Hallo! hold on!" cried Rooney, as they went over a hummock with a crash that made Kannoa gasp, "you'll kill the poor thing if you—"
He stopped short, for another crash almost tumbled himself over the stern of the vehicle.
Angut was roused to desperation. He scarcely knew what he was doing, as he lashed the yelping team furiously, hoping that when he should pass the cape ahead of him he would come in sight of the fugitives.
"Here, catch hold of me, old woman," cried Rooney, putting an arm round the poor creature's waist; "sit on my legs. They'll act something like a buffer to your old bones."
Kannoa gave a sort of lively chuckle at the novelty of the situation, let go her hold of the sledge, and made a sudden plunge at Rooney, grasping him tight round the neck with both arms. She was little more than a baby in the seaman's huge grasp, nevertheless, having only one arm to spare, and with a sledge that not only bumped, but swung about like a wild thing, he found her quite as much as he could manage.
The night had fairly set in when the cape was rounded, so that nothing could be distinguished, not even the track they had been following—and travelling became dangerous.
"No use to push on, Angut," remarked Rooney, as his friend pulled up; "we must have patience."
"Yes; the moon will be up soon," returned his friend; "we will now rest and feed."
The resting meant sitting there in the dark on the side of the sleigh, and the feeding consisted in devouring a lump of seal's flesh raw. Although not very palatable, this was eminently profitable food, as Angut well knew. As for Rooney, he had learned by that time to eat whatever came in his way with thankfulness—when hungry, and not to eat at all when otherwise.
The moon rose at last, and revealed the sheet of glassy ice which had previously disconcerted Ujarak. Angut also beheld it with much concern, and went on foot to examine it. He returned with an anxious look.
"They have crossed," he said moodily, "but the ice has cracked much, and my sledge is, I fear, heavier than theirs."
"We can walk, you know, and so lighten it," said Rooney.
"No; it is only by a dash at full speed that we can do it. Will my friend run the risk?"
"He would not be your friend if he were not willing," returned the seaman gravely; "but what about Kannoa? It's not fair to risk her life."
"We cannot leave her behind," said Angut, with a perplexed glance at the cowering figure on the sledge. "She could not return to the village on foot. That would be greater risk to her than going on with us."
At this point the old woman looked up with a sort of pleasant grin, and croaked—
"Kannoa is not heavy. Take her with you. She is quite willing to live or die with Angut and Ridroonee."
With a slight smile the Eskimo resumed his place and whip. Rooney patted Kannoa on the head as he sat down beside her, and called her a "brave old girl."
Another moment, and the dogs were out on the glassy plain, galloping as well as they could, and yelping as much from fear of the rending and bending ice as the cracking whip.
They had not advanced twenty yards when one of the sledge-runners broke through. This brought them to a sudden halt. Next moment the sledge went down, and Angut found himself struggling with the dogs in the sea. Fortunately Rooney, being near the back part of the sledge, was able to roll off in a sort of back-somersault before the vehicle was quite submerged. Even in the act he did not forget Kannoa. He made a blind grasp at her in passing, but found her not, for that remarkable woman, at the first alarm, and being well aware of what was coming, had sprawled off at the rear, and was already on the ice in safety.
The two now set to work to rescue Angut and the dogs. The former had cut the latter free from the sledge, so that it was not difficult to haul them out along with their master. For it must be remembered that, although the thin ice had failed to bear the sledge, it was sufficiently strong to support the individuals singly.
To get the sledge out of the water was, however, a matter of much greater difficulty, but they accomplished it in the course of an hour or so. The process of doing this helped to dry Angut's garments, which was fortunate. It was also fortunate that the sharp spring frost, which had set fast the space of open water, had by that time given way, so that there was no fear of evil consequences from the ducking either to dogs or man.
But now came the serious question, What was to be done?
"It is of no use trying it again," said Angut, in a frame of mind amounting almost to despair.
"Could we not send Kannoa back with the sledge, and you and I make sail after them on foot?" asked Rooney.
Angut shook his head despondingly.
"Of no use," he said; "they have the best dogs in our village. As well might a rabbit pursue a deer. No; there is but one course. The land-ice is impassable, but the floes out on the sea seem still to be fast. If they break up while we are on them we shall be lost. Will Ridroonee agree to take old Kannoa back to her friends, and I will go forward with the sledge alone?"
"What say you, Kannoa?" asked Rooney, turning to the old woman with a half-humorous look.
"Kannoa says she will live or die with Angut and Ridroonee," she replied firmly.
"You're a trump!" exclaimed the seaman in English. Then, turning to the Eskimo—
"You see, Angut, it's impossible to get rid of us, so up anchor, my boy, and off we go seaward. The truth is, I ought to feel more in my element when we get out to sea."
Seeing that they were resolved, Angut made no further objection, but, directing the dogs' heads away from the land, flourished his long whip over them, and set off at as break-neck a pace as before over the seaward ice-floes.
A TERRIBLE ENCOUNTER, DISASTROUS RESULTS, AND SINGULAR TERMINATION.
Let us return now to the wizard and his captives.
After travelling for several days at the utmost possible speed, the guilty man began to feel at ease as regarded pursuit, and commenced to advance at a more reasonable rate, giving the poor dogs time for sufficient rest, and going out once or twice on the floes to procure fresh supplies of seal-flesh for himself and his party.
The thaw which had by that time set steadily in had not broken up the old ice to the southward, so that no more thin ice or open water was met with. But although he had thus begun to take things more easily, Ujarak did not by any means waste time. The wretched man was very morose, even savage, insomuch that he would scarcely reply to the questions which were timidly put to him at times by the women. It was evident that he repented of his hasty flight, and no doubt was rendered desperate by the reflection that the matter was by that time past remedy.
One morning, on rounding one of those bluff precipitous capes which jut out from the western coast of Greenland into Baffin's Bay, they came unexpectedly in sight of a band of Eskimos who were travelling northwards.
Ujarak pulled up at once, and for some moments seemed uncertain what to do. He had not yet been observed, so that there was a possibility of turning aside, if he were so disposed, and hiding among the rugged masses of ice which lined the bottom of the cliffs. Before he could make up his mind, however, on the subject, a loud shout from the Eskimos showed that he had been observed.
Turning sharply, and with a savage scowl, to the women, he said in a low voice—
"If you say that I have run away with you, I will kill you and the children."
A smile of contempt flickered on the face of Kabelaw at the moment. Observing it, the wizard added—
"There will be no escape for you. Your death will be certain, for even if these people were to kill me, and carry you back to the village, my torngak would follow you and kill you."
He said no more, for he knew well that he had said enough.
At first sight of the Eskimo band, Kabelaw's heart had leaped for joy, because she at once made up her mind to explain how matters stood, and claim protection, which she had no doubt they would grant. But some Eskimos, not less than many civilised people, are deeply imbued with superstition, and the bare idea of an invisible torngak pursuing her to the death—in the possibility of which she and Nunaga more or less believed—was too much for her. In fear and trembling she made up her mind to be silent, and submit to her fate. It need scarcely be added, so did her more timid companion.
"Where do you come from?" asked the leader of the party when they met.
"From the far-away there," replied the wily wizard, pointing northward. "I do not ask where you come from."
"Why not?" demanded the leader, in some surprise.
"Because I know already," answered Ujarak, "that you come from the far-away there," pointing southward; "and I know that, because I am an angekok. You have come from a spot near to the land where the Kablunets have settled, and you are bringing iron and other things to exchange with my kinsmen for horns of the narwhal and tusks of the walrus."
Knowing as he did from rumour that Eskimos from the Moravian settlements were in the habit of travelling northward for the purposes of barter, (though they had not up to that time travelled so far north as his own tribe), and observing bundles of hoop-iron on the sledges, it did not require much penetration on the part of a quick mind like that of Ujarak to guess whence the strangers had come, and what their object was. Nevertheless, the leader and most of the party who had circled round the wizard and his sledge, opened their eyes in amazement at this smart statement of their affairs.
"My brother must indeed be a great angekok, for he seems to know all things. But we did not come from near the land where the Kablunets have built their huts. We have come from it," said the matter-of-fact leader.
"Did I not say that?" returned Ujarak promptly.
"No; you said near it—whereas we came from it, from inside of itself."
"Inside of itself must be very near it, surely!" retorted the wizard, with a grave look of appeal to those around him.
A laugh and nod of approval was the reply, for Eskimos appreciate even the small end of a joke, however poor, and often allow it to sway their judgment more powerfully than the best of reasoning—in which characteristic do they not strongly resemble some people who ought to know better? The matter-of-fact leader smiled grimly, and made no further objection to the wizard's claim to correct intelligence.
"Now," continued Ujarak, for he felt the importance of at once taking and keeping the upper hand, "my tribe is not far from here; but they are going away on a hunting expedition, so you must lose no time, else they will be gone before you arrive. They want iron very much. They have horns and tusks in plenty. They will be glad to see you. My torngak told me you were coming, so I came out a long way to meet you. I brought my wives and children with me, because I want to visit the Kablunets, and inquire about their new religion."
He paused for a moment or two, to let his tissue of lies have full effect, but the very matter-of-fact leader took advantage of the pause to ask how it was that if he, Ujarak, had been told by his torngak of the coming of the trading party, he had failed to tell his tribe not to go on a hunting expedition, but to await their arrival.
"Ha! ho!" exclaimed several of the Eskimos, turning a sharp gaze upon the wizard, as much as to say, "There's a puzzler for you, angekok!"
But Ujarak, although pulled up for a moment, was not to be overturned easily. "Torngaks," he said, "do not always reveal all they know at once. If they did, angekoks would only have to listen to all they had to tell on every subject, and there would be an end of it; they would have no occasion to use their judgments at all. No; the torngaks tell what they choose by degrees. Mine told me to leave my tribe, and visit the Kablunets. On the way he told me more, but not all."
This explanation seemed quite satisfactory to some, but not to all of them. Seeing this, the wizard hastened to turn their minds from the subject by asking how far it was to the land of the Kablunets.
"Four suns' journey," replied the leader.
"It is the same to the village of my kindred," exclaimed Ujarak, getting quickly on his sledge. "I must hasten on, and so must you. Time must not be wasted."
With a flourish of his whip, he started his team at full speed, scattering the Eskimos right and left, and scouring over the ice like the wind.
For a moment or two the leader of the band thought of pursuit, but seeing at a glance that none of his teams were equal to that of Ujarak, and feeling, perhaps, that it might be dangerous to pursue an angekok, he gave up the idea, and resumed his northward route.
For two days more the wizard continued his journey, encamping each night at sunset, eating his supper apart, making his bed of bearskins in the lee of a shrub or under the shelter of an overhanging cliff, and leaving his captives to make themselves comfortable as best they could on the sledge. This they did without difficulty, all of them being well accustomed to rough it, and having plenty of bear and deerskins to keep them warm. The dogs also contributed to this end by crowding round the party, with deep humility of expression, as close as they were allowed to come.
At the end of these two days an incident occurred which totally changed the aspect of affairs.
On the morning of the third day they started with the dawn, and drove steadily southward for a couple of hours. They had just traversed a small bay, and were close to the high cape which formed its southern extremity, when one of the bars of the sledge broke, rendering a halt necessary. Breaking the gloomy silence which he had so long maintained, the wizard spoke:
"Go," he said, "cook some food under the cliffs there. I will mend the sledge."
The women replied, not by words, but by the more emphatic method of at once obeying the order. Kabelaw seized and shouldered a large piece of raw seal's flesh. Nunaga took up little Pussi with one hand, and the materials for producing fire with the other, and followed her companion. Tumbler brought up the rear, staggering under the weight of the cooking-lamp.
They had only a couple of hundred yards to go. In a few minutes Kabelaw was busy under the cliffs producing fire, in the usual Eskimo fashion with two pieces of dry wood, while her friend set up the lamp and sliced the meat. The children, inheriting as they did the sterling helpful propensities of their parents, went actively about, interfering with everything, in their earnest endeavours to assist.
"Isn't he strange?" remarked Kabelaw, glancing in the direction of Ujarak, as she diligently twirled the fire-stick between her palms; "so different from what he was."
"I think," said Nunaga, pouring oil into the lamp, "that he is sorry for what he has done."
"No; him not sorry," said Tumbler, as he assisted Pussi to rise, for she had tripped and fallen; "him not sorry—him sulky."
Kabelaw took no notice of this juvenile observation, but, blowing the spark which she had at last evoked into a flame, expressed some doubt as to Ujarak's repentance, and said she had never seen him in a state of sorry-tude before. Whereupon Tumbler pertly rejoined that he had often seen him in a state of sulky-tude!
The damage to the sledge was slight. It was soon repaired, and the wizard brought it round with him to the spot where breakfast was being got ready.
This was the first time he had eaten with them since the flight began. His manner, however, was not much changed. He was still silent and gloomy, though once or twice he condescended to make a remark or two about the weather.
When a man talks upon the weather, the ice is fairly broken—even in Arctic regions—and from that well-nigh universal starting-point Ujarak went on to make a few more remarks. He did so very sternly, however, as though to protest against the idea that he was softening to the smallest extent.
"Nunaga," he said, holding up a finger, "in two suns, or less, we shall arrive at the land where the Kablunets have built houses and settled down."
We may explain that the wizard here referred to the Moravians, who had about that time sent out their first mission to Greenland. Of course he knew nothing of the object those self-sacrificing men had in view in thus establishing themselves in Greenland, only vague rumours having at that time reached his distant tribe. All he knew was that they were Kablunets, or foreigners, and that they had something mysterious to tell about the God of the Kablunets.
Nunaga received Ujarak's information in silence, and waited for more.
"And now," he continued, "I want you to say when you arrive there that you are my wife."
"But I am not your wife," returned Nunaga gently, yet firmly.
The wizard frowned, then he glared fiercely, then he looked sad, then there settled on his visage a sulky look which gradually faded away, leaving nothing but a simple blank behind. After that he opened his lips, and was about to speak, when Nunaga opened her pretty eyes to their widest, also her pretty mouth, and gave vent to a tremendous shriek, which, reverberating among the cliffs, caused all the creatures around her, canine and human, to leap electrically to their feet.
To account for this we must take the reader round to the other side of the cliff, at the foot of which the party sat enjoying their breakfast.
There, all ignorant of the human beings so near at hand, sauntered an enormous Polar bear. It seated itself presently on its haunches, and swayed itself gently to and fro, with its head on one side, as if admiring the Arctic scenery. There was not much more than a space of five hundred yards between the parties, but owing to the great promontory which formed an effectual screen between them, and the fact that the light air blew from the land to the sea, neither bear nor dogs had scented each other.
It seemed as if Bruin had only just got out of bed, for his little eyes blinked sleepily, his motions were exceedingly slow, and his yawns were frequent as well as remonstrative in tone. Doubtless bears, like men, dislike early rising!
Having gazed at the scenery long enough, and shaken off its lethargy to some extent, the bear began probably to think of food. Then it arose, sauntered round the promontory, and presented itself to the more than astonished gaze of Nunaga, who was the only one that chanced to sit facing in its direction.
The resulting shriek and its consequences seemed to have a petrifying effect on the animal, for it stood stock still for some moments, and simply gazed. This condition of things was instantly changed by three of the dogs breaking their traces, and rushing wildly at the animal. With two nimble pats of its great paws it sent two of the dogs into the air, almost killing them, while the third it dismissed, yelling hideously, with a bad tear in its flank.
Quick as thought, Ujarak set the other dogs free, and the whole pack ran open-mouthed at their natural foe, but another dog being promptly sent away howling, the rest were cowed, and confined themselves to barking furiously round their powerful foe.
Apparently this was an old bear, confident perhaps in its strength, and used, it might be, to dog-assaults, for it paid no further attention to its canine opponents, but advanced with a very threatening aspect towards the sledge.
It is pretty well-known that two Eskimo men of average strength and courage are more than a snatch for the Polar bear, if armed with spears. The mode of attack is simple. The two men separate. The one who arranges to be the slayer of the animal advances on its left side; the other on its right. Thus the victim's attention is distracted; it becomes undecided which foe to attack first. The hunter on the right settles the question by running in, and giving him a prick with the spear. Turning in fury on this man, the bear exposes its left side to the full force of a deadly thrust of the spear, which usually reaches the heart, and finishes it. The chances, however, are very much in favour of the bear when the man is alone. Hence, single hunters are not fond of attacking a Polar bear, except when unusually strong and courageous, as well as confident of their dexterity.
Now it happened that Ujarak, although strong and courageous enough, was not over-confident of his dexterity. With a tried comrade, he would readily have faced any bear in the Arctic regions, but on this occasion he felt he had to depend entirely on himself.
Seizing a spear quickly, he looked at the approaching animal, and glanced uneasily at Nunaga.
"If I am killed," he said, "you will have to defend the children."
There was a tone of pathos in the voice, which showed that no touch of selfish fear influenced the man.
Hitherto the women and children had stood absolutely horror-struck and helpless, but the vigorous nature of Kabelaw came to her aid.
"We will help you," she suddenly cried, catching up two spears, and thrusting one into the hands of Nunaga; "two women may perhaps be equal to one man."
The wizard smiled grimly in spite of circumstances at this heroic action, but there was no time for reply, as the bear was already close to them.
Poor, timid Nunaga, trembling from skin to marrow, had just courage enough to grasp her spear and follow Kabelaw. The latter understood well how to act. She had often seen her own kinsmen do the work that was required of her. As for the two little ones, they continued throughout to stand limp and motionless, with eyes and mouths wide-open.
Of course Kabelaw ran to the right, and Ujarak to the left of the foe. Advancing, as in duty bound, a step or two ahead of her male friend, the former proceeded to prick the bear; but when the monster rose on his hind legs, and towered to a height of eight feet, if not more, her heart failed her. Nevertheless, she made a gallant thrust, which might have at least incommoded the animal had not the spear received a blow which not only sent it spinning out of the woman's hand, but hurled poor Kabelaw herself on the ice, a small lump of which cut open her temple, and rendered her for the moment insensible. At the same instant the wizard took prompt advantage of his opportunity, and delivered what should have been the death-wound. But the very energy of the man foiled him, for the spear entered too near the shoulder, and stuck upon the bone.
The fall of Kabelaw had the peculiar effect of producing a gush of desperation in the tender heart of Nunaga, which amounted, almost, to courage. With a lively shriek she shut her eyes, rushed in on the bear, and gave it a dab in the side, which actually sent her weapon into the flesh about an inch deep, and there it stuck fast.
Feeling this new sting, the bear turned on her with a gasp of rage. She looked up. The great paws were extended over her head. The dreadful jaws were open. Letting go her weapon, Nunaga cast up her arms, shut her eyes again, and sank shuddering on the ice. Down came the bear, but at that critical moment an irresistible force effected what the united party had failed to accomplish. The butt of Nunaga's spear chanced to enter a crack in the ice, where it stuck fast, and the weight of the descending animal sent the point through flesh, ribs, and heart, and out at his backbone. The spear broke of course, but in breaking it turned the monster on one side, and saved the poor girl from being smothered. At the same moment Ujarak had made another desperate thrust, which, unlike the former, entered deep, but being misdirected, did not touch a vital part. In the violence of his effort the man fell, and the dying bear rolled upon him, rendering him also insensible.
When poor little Nunaga, recovering from her state of semi-consciousness, opened her eyes, and sat up, her first impression was that the bear, the wizard, and Kabelaw lay around her dead.
Bad as the state of matters was, however, it was not quite so bad as that. The poor girl's first act was to burst into a hysterical fit of laughter—so wonderfully constituted are some female minds—and she followed that up with an equally hysterical fit of weeping. But to do her justice, the fits did not last above half a minute. Then she suddenly stopped, dried her eyes, jumped up, and, pursing her lips and knitting her brows, ran to her friend, whom she found just returning to a state of consciousness.
"What has happened?" asked Kabelaw, in a dazed manner, as she looked at the blood which flowed from her wound.
Nunaga did not answer, but ran to the bear, which was quite dead, and began to drag it off Ujarak. With great difficulty, and by first hauling at its neck and then at its tail, she managed to move it just enough to set the man's head and chest free. The wizard, thus partially relieved, soon began to show signs of returning life. In a few minutes he was able to sit up and drag his right leg from under the bear, but he was much exhausted, and only got it free after great exertion.
"Are you hurt?" asked Nunaga, in a tone of commiseration.
"Not much, I think. I—I am not sure. I feel as if I had been much shaken, and my leg is painful. I hope," he added, feeling the limb with both hands, "that it is not—"
He finished the sentence with a deep groan. But it was not a groan of pain so much as of despair, for his leg, he found, was broken just above the ankle.
It may perhaps require a little thought on the part of those who dwell in civilised lands to understand fully all that this implied to the Eskimo. If it did not absolutely mean death by exposure and starvation, it at all events meant life under extremely uncomfortable conditions of helplessness and pain; it meant being completely at the mercy of two women whom he had grievously wronged; and it meant that, at the best, he could not avoid ultimately falling into the hands of his angry and outraged kinsmen. All this the wizard perceived at a glance—hence his groan.
Now it may not be out of place to remark here that the qualities of mercy, pity, forgiveness, etcetera, are not by any means confined to the people of Christian lands. We believe that, as our Saviour "died for the sins of the whole world," so the Spirit of Jesus is to be found working righteousness among individuals of even the worst and most savage nations of the earth. The extreme helplessness and pain to which her enemy was reduced, instead of gratifying revenge in Nunaga, aroused in her gentle breast feelings of the tenderest pity; and she not only showed her sympathy in her looks and tones, but by her actions, for she at once set to work to bind up the broken limb to the best of her ability.
In this operation she was gleefully assisted by little Tumbler and Pussi, who, having recovered from their horror when the bear fell dead, seemed to think that all succeeding acts were part of a play got up for their special amusement.
When the surgical work was done, Nunaga again turned her attention to Kabelaw. She had indeed felt a little surprised that her friend seemed to take no interest in the work in which she was engaged, and was still more surprised when, on going up to her, she found her sitting in the same position in which she had left her, and wearing the same stupid half-stunned look on her face. A few words sufficed to reveal the truth, and, to Nunaga's consternation, she found that her friend was suffering from what is known among the civilised as concussion of the brain.
When the full significance of her condition at last forced itself upon the poor girl, when she came to see clearly that she was, as it were, cast away in the Arctic wilderness, with the whole care of a helpless man and woman and two equally helpless children, besides a sledge and team of dogs, devolving on her she proved herself to be a true heroine by rising nobly to the occasion.
Her first act was to return, with characteristic humility, and ask Ujarak what she must do.
"You must take the dogs and sledge and the children," he answered in a low voice, "and save yourselves."
"What! and leave you here?"
"Yes; I am bad. It is well that I should die."
"But Kabelaw?" said the girl, with a glance at her friend. "She has got the head-sickness and cannot help herself."
"Leave her to die also," said the wizard carelessly; "she is not worth much."
"Never!" cried Nunaga, with emphasis. "I will save her, I will save you all. Did you not tell me that the village of the Kablunets is only two suns from here?"
"That is so, Nunaga."
"Can you creep to the sledge?" asked the girl quickly.
"I think I can."
The wizard tried, and found that he could creep on his hands and one knee, dragging the wounded limb on the ice. It gave him excruciating pain, but he was too much of a man to mind that. In a few minutes he was lying at full length on the sledge.
"Now, Tumbler and Pussi," said Nunaga, "cover him well up with skins, while I go and fetch Kabelaw, but don't touch his leg."
She found that Kabelaw could walk slowly, with support, and after much exertion succeeded in getting her also laid out upon the sledge alongside of the wizard. Then Nunaga tied them both firmly down with long walrus-lines. She also attached the children to the sledge with lines round their waists, to prevent their being jolted off. Having thus made things secure, and having cut off some choice portions of the bear for food, she harnessed the dogs, grasped the whip, mounted to the driver's place, brought the heavy lash down with wonderful effect on the backs of the whole team, and set off at full gallop towards the land where Kablunets were said to dwell.
Fortunately, the ice was smooth most of the way, for jolting was not only injurious to poor Kabelaw, but gave the wizard great additional pain. It also had the effect of bumping Tumbler and Pussi against each other, and sometimes strained their lashings almost to the breaking point.
At night Nunaga selected as comfortable a spot as she could find under the shelter of the Greenland cliffs, and there—after detaching the children, re-dressing Ujarak's leg, arranging the couch of the semi-conscious Kabelaw, and feeding the hungry dogs—she set up her lamp, and cooked savoury seal and bear cutlets for the whole party. And, not withstanding the prejudices with which fastidious people may receive the information, it is an unquestionable fact that the frying of seal and bear cutlets sends a most delicious influence up the nose, though perhaps it may require intense hunger and an Eskimo's digestion to enable one to appreciate to the full the value of such food.
These labours ended, Nunaga put the little ones to bed, made the wizard and Kabelaw as comfortable as possible for the night, fastened up the dogs, and, spreading her own couch in the most convenient spot beside them, commenced her well-earned night's repose. The first night her bed was a flat rock; the second, a patch of sand; but on both occasions the cheery little woman softened the place with a thick bear-skin, and, curling up, covered herself with the soft skin of a reindeer.
And what were the thoughts of the wicked Ujarak as he lay there, helpless and suffering, silently watching Nunaga? We can tell, for he afterwards made a partial confession of them.
"She is very pretty," he thought, "and very kind. I always knew that, but now I see that she is much more. She is forgiving. I took her from her home by force, and would have made her my wife against her will—yet she is good to me. I have been harsh, unkind, cruel, sulky to her ever since we left home—yet she is good to me. I have torn her from all those whom she loves, with the intention that she should never see them again—yet she is good to me. She might have left me to die, and might easily have gone home by herself, and it would have served me right, but—but she is good to me. I am not a man. I am a beast—a bear—a fox—a walrus—"
As the wizard thought thus, a couple of tears overflowed their boundaries, and rolled down the hitherto untried channel of his cheeks.
Do you think, reader, that this line of thought and emotion, even in a savage, was unnatural? Is not the same principle set forth in Scripture in reference to far higher things? Need we remind you that it is "the goodness of God which leadeth thee, (or any one else), to repentance?"
As it is in the spiritual world, so is it in the natural. At the time of which we write the same grand principle was powerfully at work in Nature. "Thick-ribbed ice," which the united forces of humanity could not have disrupted, was being silently yet rapidly dissolved by the genial influence of the sun, insomuch that on the evening of the day after Nunaga had been compelled by circumstances to assume command of the expedition, several sheets of open water appeared where ice had been expected, and the anxious charioteer was more than once obliged to risk the lives of the whole party by driving out to sea on the floes—that being better than the alternative of remaining where they were, to die of starvation.
But by that time they were not far distant from the Kablunet settlements.
SPRING RETURNS—KAYAK EVOLUTIONS—ANGUT IS PUZZLED.
Why some people should wink and blink as well as smirk when they are comfortable is a question which might possibly be answered by cats if they could speak, but which we do not profess to understand. Nevertheless we are bound to record the fact that on the very day when Nunaga and her invalids drew near to the first Moravian settlements in Greenland, Ippegoo slowly mounted a hillside which overlooked the icy sea, flung himself down on a moss-clad bank, and began to wink and blink and smirk in a way that surpassed the most comfortable cat that ever revelled on rug or slumbered in sunshine.
Ippegoo was supremely happy, and his felicity, like that of most simple folk, reposed on a simple basis. It was merely this—that Spring had returned to the Arctic regions.
Spring! Ha! who among the dwellers in our favoured land has the faintest idea of—of—pooh!—words are wanting. The British poets, alive and dead, have sung of Spring, and doubtless have fancied that they understood it. They had no more idea of what they were singing about than—than the man in the moon, if we may venture to use a rather hackneyed comparison. Listen, reader, humbly, as becometh the ignorant.
Imagine yourself an Eskimo. Don't overdo it. You need not in imagination adopt the hairy garments, or smear yourself with oil, or eat raw blubber. For our purpose it will suffice to transport yourself into the Arctic regions, and invest yourself with the average intelligence of an ordinary human being who has not been debased by the artificial evils that surround modern civilisation, or demoralised by strong drink. In this condition of happy simplicity you draw near to the end of an Arctic winter.
During eight months or so you have been more or less shrivelled-up, petrified, mummified, by frost of the most intense and well-nigh intolerable description. Your whole body has frequently been pierced by winds, the constituents of which seemed to be needles and fire. Shelter has been one of your chief subjects of meditation every day—ofttimes all day; unwillingness to quit that shelter and eagerness to return to it being your dominant characteristic. Darkness palpable has been around you for many weeks, followed by a twilight of gloom so prolonged that you feel as if light were a long-past memory. Your eyes have become so accustomed to ice and snow that white, or rather whitey-grey, has long since usurped and exclusively held the place of colour in your imagination, so that even black—a black cliff or a black rock cropping up out of the snow—becomes a mitigated joy. Your ears have been so attuned to the howling blast with interludes of dead calm and variations of rending icebergs and bellowing walrus accompaniments, that melodious harmonies have fled affrighted from your brain. As for your nose—esprit de marrow fat, extract of singed hide, essence of lamp-smoke, eau de cuisine, and de-oxygenised atmosphere of snow-hut, have often inclined you to dash into the open air, regardless of frost and snow, for purposes of revivification. Imagine all these things intensified to the uttermost, and prolonged to nigh the limits of endurance, so that genial ideas and softening influences seem to have become things of the long-forgotten past, and then try to imagine a change, compared to which all the transformation scenes of all the pantomimes that ever blazed are as a tomtit's chirp to a lion's roar, or a—a—Words fail again! No matter.
But don't give in yet. Try, now, to imagine this sudden transformation wrought, perhaps, in a few days to the slow music of southern zephyrs, bearing on their wings light, and heat, and sunshine. Your ear is surprised—absolutely startled—by the sound of trickling water. Old memories that you thought were dead come back in the trumpet of the wild-goose, the whistling wing of the duck, the plaintive cry of the plover. Your nose—ah! your nose cocks up and snuffs a smell—pardon!— a scent. It is the scent of the great orb on which you stand, saturated at last with life-giving water, and beginning to vivify all the green things that have so long been hidden in her capacious bosom.
But it is to your eye, perhaps, that the strongest appeal is made, for while you throw off one by one the garments which have protected you for so many months, and open up body and soul to the loved, long-absent, influences of warmth, and sound, and odour, your eye drinks up the mighty draughts of light—light not only blazing in the blue above, but reflected from the blue below—for the solid ice-fields are now split into fragments; the swell of old Ocean sends a musical ripple to the shore; great icebergs are being shed from their parent glaciers, and are seen floating away in solemn procession to the south, lifting their pinnacles towards their grandparent clouds, until finally reduced to the melting mood, and merged in their great-grandparent the sea. Imagine such visions and sensations coming suddenly, almost as a surprise, at the end of the stern Arctic winter, and then, perchance, you will have some idea of the bounding joy that fills the soul on the advent of Spring, inducing it to feel, if not to say, "Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord."
This is Spring! The Eskimos understand it, and so do the dwellers in Rupert's Land; perchance, also, the poor exiles of Siberia—but the poets—pooh!
Far down below the perch occupied by Ippegoo lay a little sandy bay, around which were scattered a number of Eskimo huts—rude and temporary buildings, meant to afford shelter for a time and then be forsaken. This was the bay which Angut, Okiok, Simek, Red Rooney, and the others had reached in their pursuit of the wizard when the ice broke up and effectually stopped them.
As it was utterly impossible to advance farther with dog and sledge, they were compelled to restrain their impatience as best they could, and await open water, when they might resume their journey in kayaks. Meanwhile, as there was a lead of open water to the northward as far as they could see, the youth Arbalik had been despatched with a small sledge and four of the strongest dogs along the strip of land-ice, or "ice-foot," which clung to the shore. His mission was to reach the village, and fetch Nuna, Pussimek, Kunelik, Sigokow, and his own mother, in one of the oomiaks or women's boats when open water should permit.
It was while our Eskimos were thus idly waiting for their wives, that the before-mentioned southern Eskimos arrived, and met them with every demonstration of friendliness and good-will.
These men, who had been forced to make a long, difficult detour inland after the ice gave way, were not a little pleased to find that the ice-foot to the northward was still practicable, and that the Eskimo village was so near. Of course they told of their meeting with Ujarak's sledge, which rendered inaction on the part of the pursuers still more unbearable. But they were all men who could accept the inevitable with a good grace, and as they knew it was impossible to advance without kayaks and oomiaks, they awaited the return of Arbalik as patiently as possible. Meanwhile they made themselves agreeable to the new arrivals, whose hearts they gladdened by telling them that their friends in the north had plenty of narwhal horns and bones and walrus tusks and sinews to exchange for their wood and iron.
But to return to Ippegoo on his distant and elevated outlook.
While he gazed at the busy groups below, our weak-minded youth observed two of the party step into kayaks which lay on the beach, push off into the bay, and commence what may be styled "kayak exercise." As Ippegoo greatly enjoyed witnessing such exercises, he threw off his lethargy, and, leaping up, quickly descended to the shore. The kayaks were old ones which had been found by the party on arriving at the deserted village. They had probably been left as useless by previous visitors, but Okiok's boys, Norrak and Ermigit, being energetic and ingenious fellows, had set to work with fish-bone-needles and sinew-threads, and repaired them with sealskin patches. They were now about to test their workmanship and practise their drill.
"Do they leak?" shouted Okiok, as the lads pushed off.
"Not more than I can soak up," replied Norrak, looking back with a laugh.
"Only a little," cried Ermigit, "and hoh! the water is still very cold."
"Paddle hard, and you'll soon warm it," cried Rooney.
When they had got fairly off, a spirit of emulation seized the brothers, and, without a direct challenge, they paddled side by side, gradually increasing their efforts, until they were putting forth their utmost exertions, and going through the water at racing speed.
"Well done, Norrak!" shouted the father, in rising excitement.
"Not so fast, Ermigit; not so fast," roared Simek.
Heedless of the advice, the brothers pushed on until they were brought up by the pack-ice at the mouth of the bay. Here they turned as quickly as possible, and raced back with such equal speed that they came in close together—so close that it was impossible for those on shore to judge which was winning as they approached.
As in all similar cases—whether on the Thames or on the Greenland seas—excitement became intense as the competitors neared the goal. They were still a hundred yards or so from land, when Ermigit missed a stroke of his paddle. The consequence was that the kayak overturned, and Ermigit disappeared.
A kayak, as is generally known, is a very long and narrow canoe, made of a light wooden frame, and covered all over with sealskin with the exception of a single hole, in what may be called the deck, which is just big enough to admit one man. This hole is surrounded by a strip of wood, which prevents water washing into the canoe, and serves as a ledge over which the Eskimo fastens his sealskin coat. As canoe and coat are waterproof, the paddler is kept dry, even in rough weather, and these cockle-shell craft will ride on a sea that would swamp an open boat. But the kayak is easily overturned, and if the paddler is not expert in the use of his paddle, he runs a chance of being drowned, for it is not easy to disengage himself from his craft. Constant practice, however, makes most natives as expert and fearless as tight-rope dancers, and quite as safe.
No sooner, therefore, did Ermigit find himself in the water, head downwards, than, with a rapid and peculiar action of the paddle, he sent himself quite round and up on the other side into the right position— dripping, however, like a seal emerging from the sea. He lost the race, as a matter of course. Norrak, after touching the beach, returned to Ermigit, laughing at his mishap.
"You laugh," said his brother somewhat sharply, "but you cannot do that as quickly as I did it."
Without a word of reply, Norrak threw himself on one side, vanished in the water, and came up on the other side in a decidedly shorter time.
"Well done!" cried Ermigit, who was, in truth, a good-natured fellow; "come, let us practise."
"Agreed," responded Norrak; and both brothers pushed a little nearer to land, so that their father and the others might observe and criticise their evolutions. As the exercises which they went through are practised by Eskimos in order to fit them to cope with the accidents and emergencies of actual life, we will briefly describe them.
First Norrak leaned over on one side, of course carrying the kayak with him, until his body lay on the water, in which position he maintained himself and prevented a total overset by manipulating his paddle, and then, with a downward dash of the blade and a vigorous jerk of his body, he regained his position, amid expressions of approval from the shore. Having performed the same feat on the other side, he nodded to Ermigit, and said—
"Now you go to work."
Ermigit went to work so well, that even a critical judge could not have pronounced him better or worse than his brother. After that they both repeated the complete overturn and recovery already described. In this effort, however, the lads had the free use of their paddles; but as in actual service the paddle may easily get entangled with straps and fishing cordage, a special exercise is arranged to prepare the hunter against such misfortunes.
Accordingly Norrak pushed one blade of his paddle among the straps and cordage, overset the kayak, and worked himself up again with a quick motion of the other blade. Of course this was not done either easily or quickly. Nevertheless, it was accomplished by both lads to the entire satisfaction of their critics.
Next, they performed the same feat of upsetting and recovering position with the paddle held fast behind their backs, and then with it held across the nape of the neck—and in several other positions, all of which represented cases of possible entanglement.
Sometimes, however, the paddle may be lost in an upset. This is the most serious misfortune that can befall a hunter. To prepare for it, therefore, the Eskimo boys and youths have a special drill, which Norrak now proceeded to go through. Overturning his kayak as before, he purposely let go the oar in the act, so that it floated on the water, and then, while thus inverted, he made an upward grasp, caught the paddle, pulled it down, and with it recovered his position. There would have been great danger in this if he had been alone, for in the event of his failing to catch the paddle he would probably have been drowned, but with Ermigit at hand to help, there was no danger.
Other exercises there are which the sons of Okiok were not able to practise at that time because of the weather being unsuitable. One of these consists in threading their way among sunken rocks and dashing surges; another, in breasting the billows of a tempest. It must not be supposed that all Eskimos become efficient in rough work of this kind. Many do become exceedingly expert, others moderately so; but some there are who, although very fair seal-hunters, never become experts in the management of the kayak, and who, in cases of great difficulty, are apt to be lost during the seasons of seal-fishing.
Now, it chanced while the youths were thus training themselves for future work, that a solitary seal put up its head, as if to have a look at the state of things in general above water. It also chanced that the Eskimos were to leeward of him, and a blaze of sunshine was at their backs, so that the seal when looking towards its human foes had its eyes dazzled. Ermigit had no weapons at the time, but by good-fortune a harpoon, line, and bladder were attached to Norrak's vessel.
As the cat pounces on the unwary mouse, so Norrak, crouching low, dipped his paddle twice with noiseless vigour, and shot his craft like an arrow towards the seal. It happened to be a stupid attarsoak, and it raised its bullet head with a look that said plainly, "What, in all the ocean, is that queer thing in the sunshine?"
Half a minute brought that queer thing in the sunshine within ten yards of him. Norrak grasped the light harpoon, and sent it whistling to its mark. Truer than the needle to the pole the weapon went, carrying its line with it, and sank deep into the shoulder of the seal.
Ermigit, meanwhile, had made for the shore, got a lance thrown to him by the excited Okiok, received an encouraging nod from Rooney with an English recommendation to "go it," and was off again to render aid. And not a moment too soon did that aid come, for, contrary to usual experience, that seal—instead of diving, and giving them an hour's hot pursuit—made a furious assault on Norrak. Probably the spear had touched it in a tender spot. At all events the creature's ire was roused to such an extent that when it reached him it seized the kayak and tore a large hole in it. Down went the bow, as a matter of course, and up went the stern. Norrak hastily disengaged himself, so as to be ready to spring clear of the sinking wreck, and was on the point of jumping out when his brother's kayak shot past him, and Ermigit sent a spear deep into the vitals of the seal—so deep, indeed, that it turned over and died without a groan.
By that time Norrak was in the water, but he made a vigorous grasp at his brother's kayak with one hand, while with the other he clutched the line of the harpoon—for well did he know that dead seals sink, and that if it went down it would perhaps carry the bladder along with it, and so be lost.
"Give me the line, brother," said Ermigit, extending a hand.
"No. I can hold it. You make for shore—quick." Ermigit plied his paddle with a will, and in a few minutes reached the shore with Norrak, bladder, line, and seal like a huge tail behind him.
Need we say that they were received by their friends, as well as by the strange Eskimos, with enthusiasm? We think not. Neither is it necessary to comment on the enjoyment they found that night in a supper of fresh meat, and in fighting the battle, as well as a good many other battles, over again. But in the midst of it all there was a cloud on the brows of Angut, Simek, and Okiok, for their anxiety about the fate of Nunaga, Pussi, and Tumbler was intense.
Angut was particularly restless during the night, and got up several times to take a look at the weather, as Rooney expressed it.
On one of these occasions he found the Kablunet standing by the shore of the calm sea.
"I don't like the look o' things," said Rooney, giving a sailor-like glance at the horizon and the sky. "It seems to me as if we were goin' to have dirty weather."
Instead of replying to this remark, the Eskimo looked earnestly at his friend, and asked—
"Can Ridroonee tell me why the Great Spirit allows men to do evil?"
"No, Angut, no. That is beyond my knowledge. Indeed I remember puttin' the same question, or somethin' like it, to a learned man in my country, and he said it is beyond the knowledge of the wisest men that have ever lived—so it's no wonder that it's beyond you and me."
"But the Great Spirit is good," said Angut, rather as if he were soliloquising than addressing his friend.
"Yes; He is good—must be good," returned the sailor; "it cannot be otherwise."
"Then why does evil exist?" asked Angut quickly. "Why did He make evil? You have told me He made everything."
"So He did, but evil is not a thing. It is a state of being, so to speak."
"It is a great mystery," said Angut.
"It would be a greater mystery," returned the seaman, "if the Great Spirit was not mysterious."
"He has allowed Ujarak to carry off Nunaga, though she loves not Ujarak, and Ujarak does not love her, else he could not have treated her so badly. Why did the Great Spirit allow that?" demanded the Eskimo, with some bitterness of tone.
"I know not, Angut, yet I know it is for good, because the Great Spirit is our Great Father, and if human fathers know how to treat their children well, does the Great Father of all not know?"
The Eskimo gravely bowed his head in assent to this proposition, and the seaman continued—
"I have spoken to you more than once, Angut, about the men in our land called surgeons—that you call knife-men,—how they will cut and carve your body, and tie you down sometimes, and give you terrible and prolonged suffering for the purpose of curing you and relieving your pain."
"True," replied Angut, who at once saw the drift of his friend's remark; "but then you know that the knife-man's object is good. It is to cure, to relieve."
"But suppose," argued Rooney, "that you did not know that his object was good—that you looked on him as a cruel, bloody, heartless monster, who cared not for your cries of pain—would your ignorance change his character?"
"No, no; he would remain good, whatever you might think," said Angut quickly; "I see. I see. I will try to think as you think—the Great Father is good, must be good. And He will prove it some day. Don't you think so, Ridroonee?"
"Ay, truly, I think so; I am sure of it. But listen! Do you not hear sounds?"
They both listened intently, and gazed towards the northern headland of the bay, which at the time was bathed in brilliant moonlight. Presently two black specks, one larger than the other, were seen to round the point, and the chattering of women's voices was heard.
It was Arbalik in a kayak, preceding an oomiak propelled by several women. In her impatience to join her lord, Madame Okiok had insisted on a forced march. A few minutes more, and the women landed amid noisy demonstrations of satisfaction. Ere long the united party were busy round the unfailing lamps, enjoying social intercourse over an intermediate meal which, as it came between supper and breakfast, has not yet obtained a name.
THE CHASE CONTINUED AND DISASTROUSLY INTERRUPTED.
The day following that on which the wives of Simek and Okiok, and the mothers of Arbalik and Ippegoo with the spinster Sigokow arrived, the southern Eskimos resumed their route northward, and the pursuers continued their journey to the south—the former in their sledges over the still unmelted ice-foot along the shore; the latter, in kayaks, by a lead of open water, which extended as far as the eye could reach.
Angut, Okiok, and Simek led the way in kayaks, the kayak damaged by the seal having been repaired. The other men were forced to embark in the women's boat. Eskimo men deem this an undignified position, and will not usually condescend to work in oomiaks, which are invariably paddled by the women, but Rooney, being influenced by no such feelings, quietly took the steering paddle, and ultimately shamed Arbalik and Ippegoo as well as the sons of Okiok into lending a hand.
During the first part of the voyage all went well, but next day the lead of open water was found to trend off the land, and run out into the pack, where numerous great glaciers were seen—some aground, others surging slowly southward with the Polar current.
"I don't like the look of it," remarked Angut, when the other leaders of the party ranged alongside of him for a brief consultation.
"Neither do I," said Simek. "The season is far advanced, and if there should be a general break-up of the ice while we are out among the floes, we should be lost."
"But it is impossible for us to travel by land," said Okiok. "No man knows the land here. The sea runs so far in that we might spend many moons in going round the bays without advancing far on our journey."
"So there is nothing left for us but to go on by water," said Angut, with decision. "Nunaga must be rescued."
"And so must Tumbler," said Okiok.
"And so must Pussi," said Simek.
"What are you fellows consulting about?" shouted Red Rooney, coming up at that moment with the others in the oomiak.
"We are talking of the danger of the ice breaking up," answered Angut. "But there is no other way to travel than by the open lead, so we have decided to go on."
"Of course you have," returned Rooney; "what else can we do? We must risk something to save Nunaga, Pussi, and Tumbler, to say nothing of Kabelaw. Get along, my hearties!"
How Rooney translated the last phrase into Eskimo is a point on which we can throw no light,—but no matter.
In a short time the party reached the neighbourhood of one of the largest bergs, one of those gigantic masses of ice which resemble moderately-sized mountains, the peaks of which rose several hundred feet above the sea-level, while its base was more than a mile in diameter. There were little valleys extending into its interior, through which flowed rivulets, whose winding courses were broken here and there by cascades. In short, the berg resembled a veritable island made of white sugar, the glittering sun-lit slopes of which contrasted finely with its green-grey shadows and the dark-blue depths of its wide rifts and profound caverns.