The lead or lane of water ran to within fifty yards of this ice-island, so that Rooney had a splendid view of it, and, being of a romantic turn of mind, amused himself as the oomiak glided past by peopling the white cliffs and valleys with snow-white inhabitants. While he was thus employed, there occurred a sudden crashing and rending in the surrounding pack which filled him with consternation. It produced indeed the same effect on the Eskimos, as well it might, for the very catastrophe which they all dreaded was now taking place.
A slight swell on the sea appeared to be the originating cause, but, whatever it was, the whole surface was soon broken up, and the disintegrated masses began to grind against each other in confusion. At the same time the lead which the voyagers had been following grew narrower, and that so rapidly, that they had barely time to jump upon a mass of ice when the opening closed and crushed the oomiak and Okiok's kayak to pieces.
Angut and Simek had time to lift their kayaks on to the ice, but that, as it turned out, was of no advantage.
"Make for the berg," shouted Angut to the women, at the same time seizing the hand of Kunelik, who chanced to be nearest to him, and assisting her to leap from one heaving mass to another. Rooney performed the same act of gallantry for old Kannoa, who, to his surprise, went over the ice like an antique squirrel. Okiok took his own wife in hand. As for Pussimek, she did not wait for assistance, but being of a lively and active, as well as a stout and cheery disposition, she set off at a pace which caused her tail to fly straight out behind her, and made it difficult for Simek to keep up with her. Ippegoo and Arbalik, with the sons of Okiok, tried their best to save the two kayaks, for well they knew the danger of being left on the ice without the means of escaping; but the suddenness of the disruption, the width of the various channels they had to leap, and the instability of the masses, compelled them, after much delay, to drop their burdens and save themselves. They only managed to reach the berg with extreme difficulty.
"Thank God, all safe!—but we have had a close shave," exclaimed Rooney, as he held out his hand to assist Ippegoo, who was the last of the party to clamber up the rugged side of the berg from the broken floe-pieces which were grinding against it.
"I wish we could say with truth 'All safe,'" was Okiok's gloomy response, as he surveyed the ice-laden sea; "we have escaped being crushed or drowned, but only to be starved to death."
"A living man may hope," returned Angut gravely.
"Ay, and where there is life," added Rooney, "there ought to be thankfulness."
"I would be more thankful," said Ippegoo, with a woe-begone expression, "if we had saved even a spear; but what can we do without food or weapons?"
"Do? my son," said Kunelik; "can we not at least keep up heart? Who ever heard of any good coming of groaning and looking miserable?"
"Right you are, old girl," cried Rooney, giving the mother of Ippegoo a hearty pat on the shoulder. "There is no use in despairing at the very beginning of our troubles; besides, is there not the Great Spirit who takes care of us, although we cannot see or hear Him? I believe in God, my friends, and I'll ask Him to help us now."
So saying, to the surprise of the Eskimos, the seaman uncovered his head, and looking upwards, uttered a few words of earnest prayer in the name of Jesus.
At first the unsophisticated natives looked about as if they expected some visible and immediate answer to the petition, but Rooney explained that the Great Spirit did not always answer at once or in the way that man might expect.
"God works by means of us and through us," he said. "We have committed the care of ourselves to Him. What we have now to do is to go to work, and do the best we can, and see what things He will throw in our way, or enable us to do, in answer to our prayer. Now, the first thing that occurs to me is to get away from where we stand, because that overhanging cliff beside us may fall at any moment and crush us. Next, we should go and search out some safe cavern in which we may spend the night, for we sha'n't be able to find such a place easily in the dark, and though it will be but a cold shelter, still, cold shelter is better than none—so come along."
These remarks of the sailor, though so familiar—perhaps commonplace—to us, seemed so just and full of wisdom to the unsophisticated natives, and were uttered in such an off-hand cheery tone, that a powerful effect was created, and the whole party at once followed the seaman, who, by this display of coolness, firmness, and trustfulness in a higher power, established a complete ascendancy over his friends. From that time they regarded him as their leader, even although in regard to the details of Eskimo life he was of course immeasurably their inferior.
They soon found a small cave, not far from the spot where they had landed—if we may use that expression—and there made preparation to spend the night, which by that time was drawing on.
Although their craft had been thus suddenly destroyed and lost, they were not left absolutely destitute, for each one, with that prompt mental activity which is usually found in people whose lives are passed in the midst of danger, had seized the bear-skin, deerskin, or fur bag on which he or she happened to be sitting, and had flung it on to the floes before leaping thereon; and Ippegoo, with that regard for internal sustenance which was one of his chief characteristics, had grasped a huge lump of seal's flesh, and carried it along with him. Thus the whole party possessed bedding, and food for at least one meal.
Of course the meal was eaten not only cold but raw. In the circumstances, however, they were only too thankful, to care much about the style of it. Before it was finished daylight fled, the stars came out, and the aurora borealis was shooting brilliantly athwart the sky. Gradually the various members of the party spread their skins on the most level spot discoverable, and, with lumps of ice covered with bits of hide for pillows, went to sleep with what resembled free-and-easy indifference.
Two of the party, however, could not thus easily drop into happy oblivion. Red Rooney felt ill at ease. His knowledge of those Arctic seas had taught him that their position was most critical, and that escape would be almost miraculous, for they were eight or ten miles at least off the land, on a perishable iceberg, with an ice-encumbered sea around, and no means of going afloat, even if the water had been free. A feeling of gloom which he had not felt before, and which he could not banish, rendered sleep impossible; he therefore rose, and sauntered out of the cave.
Outside he found Angut, standing motionless near the edge of an ice-cliff, gazing up into the glorious constellations overhead.
"I can't sleep, Angut," said the seaman; "I suppose you are much in the same way?"
"I do not know. I did not try," returned the Eskimo in a low voice; "I wish to think, not to sleep. Why cannot the Kablunet sleep?"
"Well, it's hard to tell. I suppose thinking too much has something to do with it. The fact is, Angut, that we've got into what I call a fix, and I can't for the life of me see how we are to get out of it. Indeed I greatly fear that we shall never get out of it."
"If the Great Spirit wills that our end should be now," said Angut, "is the Kablunet afraid to die?"
The question puzzled Rooney not a little.
"Well," he replied, "I can't say that I'm afraid, but—but—I don't exactly want to die just yet, you see. The fact is, my friend, that I've got a wife and children and a dear old grandmother at home, and I don't quite relish the idea of never seein' them again."
"Have you not told me," said Angut, with a look of solemn surprise, "that all who love the Great Spirit shall meet again up there?" He pointed to the sky as he spoke.
"Ay, truly, I said that, and I believe that. But a man sometimes wants to see his wife and children again in this life—and, to my thinkin', that's not likely with me, as things go at present. Have you much hope that we shall escape?"
"Yes, I have hope," answered the Eskimo, with a touch of enthusiasm in his tone. "I know not why. I know not how. Perhaps the Great Spirit who made me put it into me. I cannot tell. All around and within me is beyond my understanding—but—the Great Spirit is all-wise, all-powerful, and—good. Did you not say so?"
"Yes, I said so; and that's a trustworthy foundation, anyhow," returned the sailor meditatively; "wise, powerful, and good—a safe anchorage. But now, tell me, what chances, think you, have we of deliverance?"
"I can think of only one," said Angut. "If the pack sets fast again, we may walk over it to the land. Once there, we could manage to live— though not to continue our pursuit of Ujarak. That is at an end."
In spite of himself, the poor fellow said the last words in a tone which showed how deeply he was affected by the destruction of his hope to rescue Nunaga.
"Now my friend seems to me inconsistent," said Rooney. "He trusts the Great Spirit for deliverance from danger. Is, then, the rescue of Nunaga too hard for Him?"
"I know not," returned Angut, who was, how ever, cheered a little by his friend's tone and manner. "Everything is mystery. I look up, I look around, I look within; all is dark, mysterious. Only on this is my mind clear—the Great Spirit is good. He cannot be otherwise. I will trust Him. One day, perhaps, He will explain all. What I understood not as a little boy, I understand now as a man. Why should there not be more light when I am an older man? If things go on in the mind as they have been going ever since I can remember, perfect light may perhaps come at last."
"You don't think like most of your countrymen," said Rooney, regarding the grave earnest face of his friend with increased interest.
There was a touch of sadness in the tone of the Eskimo as he replied—
"No; I sometimes wonder—for their minds seem to remain in the childish condition; though Okiok and Simek do seem at times as if they were struggling into more light. I often wonder that they think so little, and think so foolishly; but I do not speak much about it; it only makes them fear that I am growing mad."
"I have never asked you, Angut—do your tribes in the north here hold the same wild notions about the earth and heavens as the southern Eskimos do?"
"I believe they do," replied Angut; "but I know not all they think in the south. In this land they think,"—here a smile of good-natured pity flickered for a moment on the man's face—"that the earth rests on pillars, which are now mouldering away by age, so that they frequently crack. These pillars would have fallen long ago if they had not been kept in repair by the angekoks, who try to prove the truth of what they say by bringing home bits of them—rotten pieces of wood. And the strange thing is, that the people believe them!"
"Why don't you believe them, Angut?"
"I know not why."
"And what do your kinsmen think about heaven?" asked Rooney.
"They think it is supported on the peak of a lofty mountain in the north, on which it revolves. The stars are supposed to be ancient Greenlanders, or animals which have managed in some mysterious way to mount up there, and who shine with varied brightness, according to the nature of their food. The streaming lights of winter are the souls of the dead dancing and playing ball in the sky."
"These are strange ideas," observed Rooney; "what have you to say about them?"
"I think they are childish thoughts," replied the Eskimo.
"What, then, are your thoughts about these stars and streaming lights?" persisted the seaman, who was anxious to understand more of the mind of his philosophical companion.
"I know not what I think. When I try to think on these things my mind gets confused. Only this am I sure of—that they are, they must be, the wonderful works of the Good Spirit."
"But how do you know that?" asked Rooney.
Angut looked at his questioner very earnestly for a few moments.
"How does Ridroonee know that he is alive?" he asked abruptly.
"Oh, as to that, you know, everything tells me that I am alive. I look around, and I see. I listen, and I hear. I think, and I understand— leastwise to some extent,—and I feel in mind and heart."
"Now will I answer," said Angut. "Everything tells me that the Great Spirit is good, and the Maker of all things. I look, and I see Him in the things that exist. I listen, and I hear Him in the whispering wind, in the running water, in the voice of man and beast. I think, and I understand Him to some extent, and I feel Him both in mind and heart."
"I believe you are right, Angut, and your words bring strongly to my remembrance many of the words of the Great Spirit that my mother used to teach me when I was a little boy."
From this point in the conversation Angut became the questioner, being anxious to know all that the Kablunet had to tell about the mysterious Book, of which he had spoken to him more than once, and the teachings of his mother.
It was long past midnight when the descending moon warned them to turn their steps towards the ice-cave where they had left their slumbering companions.
"The frost is sharp to-night," remarked Rooney as they were about to enter.
Angut turned round, and cast a parting glance on sea and sky.
"If it holds on like this," continued the sailor, "the ice will be firm enough to carry us to land in the morning."
"It will not hold on like this," said Angut. "The Innuit are very ignorant, but they know many things about the weather, for they are always watching it. To-morrow will be warm. We cannot escape. It will be safest and wisest to remain where we are."
"Remaining means starving," said the sailor in a desponding tone.
"It may be so; we cannot tell," returned the Eskimo.
With these uncomfortable reflections, the two men entered the cavern quietly, so as not to disturb their comrades. Spreading their bearskins on the ice-floor, they laid heads on ice-pillows, and soon fell into that dreamless, restful slumber which is the usual accompaniment of youth, health, and vigour.
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.
SHOWS A GLOOMY PROSPECT—STARVATION THREATENED, AND WONDERFULLY AVERTED.
Angut was a true prophet. When Rooney awoke next morning, his ears told him that the rushing of ice-cold rivulets through ice-valleys, and the roar of ice-born cataracts had increased considerably during the hours of darkness.
The warmth which caused this did not, indeed, at first strike him, for the air of the cavern and the character of his bed had chilled him so much that he was shivering with cold. On glancing at his still sleeping comrades in misfortune, he observed that these tough creatures slept with the peaceful aspect of infants, whom, being both fat and rotund, they resembled in nearly everything except size.
Rising and going quietly out, he beat his arms vigorously across his chest until circulation was fully restored. Then he mounted a neighbouring ice-ledge, and saw at a glance that their case had become desperate.
"Angut was right," he murmured bitterly, and then stood for a long time contemplating the scene in silence.
Considered apart from their circumstances, the scene was indeed glorious. Not only had the warmth of the air begun to swell the rivulets which leaped and brawled down the pale-green slopes around him, but the pack had opened out, so as to completely change the aspect of the sea. Instead of being clothed with ice, showing only a lane of water here and there, it was now an open sea crowded with innumerable ice-islets of every fantastic shape and size.
It added something to the bitterness of the poor man's feelings that this state of things would, he knew, have been the very best for their escape in kayaks and oomiaks, for a profound calm prevailed, and the sea, where clear of ice, glittered in the rising sun like a shield of polished gold.
He was roused from his meditations by the sound of footsteps behind him. Turning quickly, he beheld Ippegoo holding his jaws with both hands and with an expression of unutterable woe on his face.
"Halo, Ippe, what's wrong with you?"
A groan was the reply, and Rooney, although somewhat anxious, found it difficult to restrain a laugh.
"I've got—oh! oh! oh! oh!—a mad tooth," gasped the poor youth.
"A mad tooth! Poor fellow!—we call that toothache where I come from."
"What care I whether you call it mad tooth or tootik?" cried Ippegoo petulantly. "It is horrible! dreadful! awful!—like fire and fury in the heart."
The sufferer used one or two more Eskimo expressions, suggestive of excruciating agony, which are not translatable into English.
"If I only had a pair of pincers, but—look, Ippe, look," said Rooney, pointing to the sea, in the hope of distracting his mind from present pain by referring to threatening danger; "look—our kayaks being lost, we have no hope of escaping, so we must starve."
His little device, well-meant though it was, failed. A groan and glance of indifference was the Eskimo's reply, for starvation and danger were familiar and prospective evils, whereas toothache was a present horror.
We fear it must be told of Ippegoo that he was not celebrated for endurance of pain, and that, being fond of sympathy, he was apt to give full vent to his feelings—the result, perhaps, of having an over-indulgent mother. Toothache—one of the diseases to which Greenlanders are peculiarly liable—invariably drew forth Ippegoo's tenderest feelings for himself, accompanied by touching lamentations.
"Come, Ippe, be more of a man. Even your mother would scold you for groaning like that."
"But it is so shriekingly bad!" returned the afflicted youth, with increasing petulance.
"Of course it is. I know that; poor fellow! But come, I will try to cure you," said Rooney, who, under the impression that violent physical exertion coupled with distraction of mind would produce good effect, had suddenly conceived a simple ruse. "Do you see yon jutting ice-cliff that runs down to a point near the edge of the berg?"
"Yes, I see," whimpered Ippegoo.
"Well, it will require you to run at your top speed to get there while you count fifteen twenties. Now, if you run there within that time—at your very top speed, mind—" Rooney paused, and looked serious.
"Yes; well?" said Ippegoo, whose curiosity had already begun to check the groans.
"If you run there," continued the seaman, with a look and tone of deep solemnity, "at the very toppest speed that you can do, and look round that ice-point, you will see—"
"What?" gasped Ippegoo excitedly—for he was easily excited.
"Something," returned Rooney mysteriously. "I cannot tell exactly what you will see, because I am not an angekok, and have no torngak to tell me; but I am quite sure that you will see something! Only, the benefit of seeing it will depend on your running as fast as you can. Now, are you ready?"
"Yes, quite ready," exclaimed the youth, tightening his girdle of sealskin eagerly.
"Well then—away!" shouted Rooney.
Off went Ippegoo at a pace which was obviously the best that he was capable of putting forth. Rooney counted as he ran, and in a much shorter time than had been specified he reached the point, for the level track, or what we may style sea-shore, of the berg was not a bad race-course. Suddenly, however, he came to an abrupt halt, and threw up his arms as if in amazement. Then he turned round and ran back at a pace that was even greater than he had achieved on the outward run. Rooney was himself greatly surprised at this, for, as the youth drew nearer, the expression of his face showed that he had indeed seen "something" which had not been in the seaman's calculations. He spluttered and gasped as he came near, in his effort to speak.
"What is it?—take time, lad," said Rooney quietly.
"A b-bear! a bear!" cried Ippegoo.
"What! did it run at you?" asked Rooney, becoming slightly excited in his turn, and keeping his eye on the ice-point.
"N-no; no. It was sitting on—on its tail—l-looking at the—the s-sea."
"And we've no weapon bigger than an Eskimo knife," exclaimed the sailor, with a frown of discontent—"not even a bit of stick to tie the knife to. What a chance lost! He would have kept us in food for some weeks. Well, well, this is bad luck. Come, Ippe, we'll go back to the cave, and consult about this."
On returning to the cheerless retreat, they found the rest of the party just awakening. The men were yawning and rubbing their eyes, while the women, with characteristic activity and self-denial, were gathering together the few scraps of food that remained from the previous night's supper.
"There is a bear just round the point—so Ippe says—what's to be done?" asked Rooney on entering.
Up jumped the four men and two boys as if they had been made of indiarubber.
"Attack it," cried Arbalik.
"Kill it," exclaimed Norrak.
"And eat it," said Ermigit.
"What will you attack it with?" asked Simek in a slightly contemptuous tone—"with your fingernails? If so, you had better send Sigokow to do battle, for she could beat the three of you."
The youths stood abashed.
"We have no spears," said Simek, "and knives are useless. Bad luck follows us."
"It is my opinion," said Okiok, "that whatever we do, or try to do, we had better eat something before doing it. Bring the victuals, Nuna."
"Okiok is right," said Angut; "and Arbalik had better go out and watch while we consult, so as to give us timely warning if the bear comes this way."
Without a word, Arbalik caught up a piece of blubber, and went out of the cave to enjoy his frugal breakfast while acting sentinel. The others, sitting down on their respective bearskins, ate and consulted hastily. The consultation was of little use, for they were utterly helpless, and the breakfast was not much more profitable, for there was far too little of it. Still, as Rooney truly remarked when the last morsel was consumed, it was better than nothing.
"Well now, my friends," said Angut at last, "since our food is done, and all our talk has come to nothing, I propose that we go out in a body to see this bear. As we cannot kill him, we must get rid of him by driving him away, for if we let him remain on the berg, he will come upon us when we are asleep, perhaps, and kill us."
"Yes, that is best," said Okiok. "If we separate, so as to distract him, and then make a united rush from all points, shrieking, that will drive him into the sea."
"Let us put Ippe in front," suggested Simek, with a twinkling eye; "he yells better than any of us."
"'Specially when he's got the toothache," added Rooney.
The object of this touch of pleasantry smiled in a good-humouredly imbecile manner. It was clear that his malady had been cured, at least for the time.
"But we must be very cautious," remarked Rooney, becoming serious, as they rose to proceed on their adventure. "It would not do to let any of our party get hurt. To my thinking, the women should take to the ice-cliffs before we begin, and get upon pinnacles, up which the bear could not climb."
While he was speaking, Arbalik came running in with the information that the bear was approaching.
"Has it seen you?" asked Angut, as they all ran out.
"I think not. From the way it walks, I think it has no suspicion of any one being on the berg."
In a few seconds they reached the point of the promontory or cliff in which their cave lay, and each member of the party peeped round with excessive caution, and there, sure enough, they beheld a white Polar bear of truly formidable size. But it had changed its course after Arbalik saw it, for by that time it had turned up one of the ice-valleys before-mentioned and begun to ascend into the interior of the berg. The slow, heavy gait of the unwieldy animal suggested to Rooney the idea that an active man could easily get out of its way, but the cat-like activity with which it bounded over one or two rivulets that came in its way quickly dissipated that idea.
"The farther he goes up that valley," whispered Simek, "the more trouble we shall have in driving him into the sea."
"He does not seem to know his own mind," remarked Okiok, as the bear again changed his course, and entered one of the small gorges that opened into the larger valley.
"He knows it well enough," said Ermigit. "Don't you see he is making for the ice-top, where these gulls are sitting? The fool expects to catch them asleep."
Ermigit seemed to have guessed rightly, for after clambering up the ice-gorge referred to until he gained a high ledge or plateau, he began regularly to stalk the birds with the sly patience of a cat.
There was much in the bear's favour, for the recent fall of a pinnacle had covered the ledge with shattered blocks of all shapes and sizes, in the shelter of which it could creep towards its prey. Our Eskimos watched the proceeding open-mouthed, with profound interest. To within twenty yards or so of its game did that white-robed Arctic hunter approach. Then it crouched for a rush at the unconscious birds, for no other lump of ice lay between them and their foe.
The charge was vigorously made, almost too vigorously, for when the birds flew lightly off the ledge, and descended to a narrower one a little farther down, it was all the bear could do to check itself on the very edge of the precipice. If it had gone over, the consequences would have been dire, for the precipice was, not sheer, but still a very steep slope of ice, several hundred feet deep, which terminated in those rugged masses on the berg-shore that had fallen from the cliffs above. There was only one break in the vast slope, namely, the narrow ledge half-way down on which the birds had taken refuge.
Going to the extreme edge of the precipice, the bear sat down on his haunches, and hungrily contemplated the birds, which were now beyond his reach, twittering noisily as if to tantalise him.
"I would that I had a spear," growled Okiok.
"I would venture at him even with a big stick," said Simek.
"My friends," said Rooney, with sudden animation, "listen to me. If you will promise me to keep very quiet, and not to follow me whatever may happen, I will show you how Kablunets overcome difficulties."
Of course the Eskimos were ready to make any promises that might be required of them, and looked at their friend with surprise as he threw off his sealskin coat and tightened the belt round his waist. But they were still more surprised, when, without another word, he set off, in only shirt and trousers, to climb the valley of ice, and make for the spot where the bear sat in melancholy meditation.
While ascending, Rooney took care to avail himself of the rugged nature of the ice, so as to conceal himself entirely from the bear—though this was scarcely needful, for the animal's back was turned towards the Kablunet, and his whole attention was concentrated on the gulls. As Rooney wore Eskimo boots—the soles of which are soft,—he made little or no noise in walking, and thus managed to gain the platform unperceived by the bear, though visible all the time to the Eskimos, to whom he looked little bigger than a crow on the height. Their delight, however, began to be tempered with anxiety when they saw the reckless man creep to within twenty yards of the monster, making use of the ice-blocks as it had done before him.
The intentions of the Kablunet were incomprehensible to his friends. Could it be that, ignorant of the strength of the beast and its tenacity of life, the foolish man hoped to stab it to death with a small knife? Impossible! And yet he was evidently preparing for action of some sort.
But Red Rooney was not quite so foolish as they supposed him to be. Having gained the nearest possible point to his victim, he made a sudden and tremendous rush at it. He knew that life and death were in the balance at any rate; but he also knew that to remain inactive on that iceberg would remove life out of the balance altogether. He therefore threw all his energy of soul and body into that rush, and launched himself against the broad back of the bear. It was an awful shock. Rooney was swift as well as heavy, so that his weight, multiplied into his velocity, sufficed to dislodge the wonder-stricken animal. One wild spasmodic effort it made to recover itself, and in doing so gave Rooney what may be called a backhander on the head, that sent him reeling on the ice.
Curiously enough, it was this that saved the daring man, for if he had not received that blow, the impetus of his attack would have certainly sent himself as well as the bear over the cliff.
As it was, the monster went over headlong, with a sort of compound shriek and howl that made the very ice-cliffs ring. Then, down he went—not head or feet first, or sideways, or any way, but every way by turns, and no way long. Indeed, he spun and, as it were, spurted down that mighty face of ice. Each instant intensified the velocity; each whirl increased the complex nature of the force. The ledge half-way down, from which the affrighted gulls fled shrieking, did not even check the descent, but with bursting violence shunted the victim out into space, through which he hurled till re-met by the terrific slope farther down, which let him glissade like a shooting star into indescribable ruin!
Enough of that bear was left, however, to render it worth while picking up the fragments. Shouting with laughter and yelling with glee, the Eskimos made for the spot where the mangled carcass lay. Soon after they were joined by the hero of the day.
"Food enough now for a moon, or more," said Rooney, as he came up.
"Yes; and no need to beat the meat to make it tender," responded Okiok, lifting and letting fall one of the limp legs of the creature, whose every bone seemed to have been smashed to pieces in the tremendous descent.
It was no doubt a considerable reduction of their satisfaction at supper that evening that they had to eat their bear-chops raw, not having the means of making fire; but they were not disposed to find fault with their good-fortune on that account. If they had only possessed two small pieces of wood with which to create the necessary friction, they could easily have made a lamp out of one of the bear's shoulder-blades, and found oil enough in his own fat, while a tag of sealskin, or some other portion of clothing might have supplied a wick; but not a scrap of wood was to be obtained on that verdureless island. Okiok did indeed suggest that Norrak and Ippegoo, being both possessed of hard and prominent noses, might rub these organs together till they caught fire; but Norrak turned up his nose at the suggestion, and Ippegoo shook his head doubtfully.
In the circumstances, therefore, they obtained light at least for the purposes of vision by commencing supper long before sunset, and most of them continued it long after dark. Thus the second night was passed on the berg.
On the third day, the weather being still warm and calm, Angut, Simek, Okiok, and Rooney ascended, after their bear-breakfast, to the break-neck height from which that breakfast had been precipitated, for the purpose of taking a meteorological observation.
"It is quite plain to me," said Rooney—who, being in some sort at sea, was, as it were, more at home than his companions—"it is quite plain to me that we have got fairly into the great Polar current, and are travelling in a sou'-sou'-west direction down Davis Straits."
No doubt Rooney gave "sou'-sou'-west" in some sort of Eskimo jargon with which we are not acquainted. His lingual powers were indeed marvellous, and when simple words failed him he took refuge in compound phraseology.
"But," asked Okiok, "how can you tell that we are going south? The mist is thick; we cannot see land."
"Do you not see the small pieces of ice?" replied Rooney, pointing to the sea.
"Yes," said the Eskimo; "they are going north faster than we are; that is all."
"Why do they go north faster than we do?" asked Rooney.
"That I know not."
"I will tell you, Okiok. It is because there is a surface current here flowing northward, and the small pieces of ice go with it because they are not deep. But this berg is very deep. There is far more of it below water than what we see above. Its bottom goes deep down into the under-current which flows south, and so it is being carried south—not north at all,—against the variable surface-currents, and it would go even against the wind if there was any. Do you understand?"
"Huk!" exclaimed the Eskimo, though he still looked perplexed.
"I have seen these bergs breaking from the great land-ice since I was a little boy," said Angut, with earnest gravity, "and I have seen them float away and away till they vanished in the far-off. Can Ridroonee tell where they go to?"
"Truly I can. They are carried by currents out into the great sea—we call it the Atlantic,—and there they melt and disappear."
"Then shall we disappear with this berg, if we don't escape from it?" said Okiok, with a look so serious that it was almost humorous.
"That is the pleasant prospect in store for us, as you say," returned Rooney; "but cheer up, lad. We intend to escape from it; so don't let your heart sink, else your body won't be able to swim."
On the strength of this consolatory remark, the four men returned to the cave to recruit their energies and hopes on a fresh supply of the raw bear.
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.
A BRIEF BUT SINGULAR VOYAGE WINDS UP WITH A GREAT SURPRISE.
The calm which had fortunately prevailed since Angut and his friends found refuge on the iceberg was not destined to continue.
A smart breeze at last sprang up from the northward, which soon freshened into a gale, accompanied with heavy showers of snow, driving the party into the cave, where the cold was so severe that they were forced to take refuge in its deepest recesses, and to sit wrapped in their bearskins, and huddled together for warmth, as monkeys are sometimes seen on a cold day in a menagerie.
Being from the north, the wind not only intensified the cold, and brought back for a time all the worst conditions of winter, but assisted the great ocean current to carry the berg southward at a high rate of speed. Their progress, however, was not very apparent to the eyes of our voyagers, because all the surrounding bergs travelled in the same direction and at nearly the same speed. The blinding snow effectually hid the land from their view, and the only point of which they were quite sure was that their berg must be the nearest to the Greenland coast because all the others lay on their right hand.
Towards noon of the following day it was observed that the pack-ice thickened around them, and was seen in large fields here and there, through some of which the great berg ploughed its way with resistless momentum. Before the afternoon the pack had closed entirely around them, as if it had been one mass of solid, rugged ice—not a drop of water being visible. Even through this mass the berg ploughed its way slowly, but with great noise.
"There is something very awful to me in the sight of such tremendous force," said Red Rooney to Angut, as they stood contemplating the havoc their strange ship was making.
"Does it not make you think," returned the Eskimo, "how powerful must be the Great Spirit who made all things, when a little part of His work is so tremendous?"
Rooney did not reply, for at that moment the berg grounded, with a shock that sent all its spires and pinnacles tumbling. Fortunately, the Eskimos were near their cavern, into which they rushed, and escaped the terrible shower. But the cave could no longer be regarded as a place of safety. It did indeed shelter them from the immediate shower of masses, even the smaller of which were heavy enough to have killed a walrus; but at that advanced period of spring the bergs were becoming, so to speak, rotten, and liable at any moment to fall to pieces and float away in the form of pack-ice. If such an event had occurred when our Eskimos were in the cave, the destruction of all would of course have been inevitable.
"We dare not remain here," said Angut, when the icy shower had ceased.
"No; we must take to the floes," said Simek.
"Another shake like that," remarked Okiok, "might bring the whole berg down on our heads."
"Let us go, then, at once," said Rooney; "the sky clears a little, so we'll know how to steer."
No one replied, for all were already engaged with the utmost activity making bundles of their bear-skins and as much of the bear-meat as the men could carry—each of the women taking a smaller piece, according to her strength or her prudence. The sailor followed their example in silence, and in a very few minutes they issued from the cavern, and made for the shore of the berg.
Some difficulty was experienced in scrambling over the chaotic masses which had been thrown up in front of them by the ploughing process before referred to. When they stood fairly on the floes, however, they found that, although very rough, these were sufficiently level to admit of slow travelling. They were in the act of arranging the order of march, when the berg slid off into deep water, and, wheeling round as if annoyed at the slight detention, rejoined its stately comrades in their solemn procession to their doom in more southerly seas.
"Just in time," said Rooney, as they watched the berg floating slowly away, nodding its shattered head as if bidding them farewell. "Now then, ho! for the Greenland shore! Come, old Kannoa, I'll take you under my special care."
He took the old woman's bundle from her as he spoke, and, putting his left hand under her right arm, began to help her over the frozen sea.
But poor old thing though she certainly was, that antiquated creature became a griggy old thing immediately, and was so tickled with the idea of the stoutest and handsomest man of the party devoting himself entirely to her, when all the younger women were allowed to look after themselves, that she could scarcely walk during the first few minutes for laughing. But it must be said in justification of the Eskimo men, that their young women were quite capable of looking after themselves, and would, indeed, have been incommoded as well as surprised by offers of assistance.
Rooney had spoken cheerily, though his feelings were anything but cheerful, for he knew well the extreme danger of their position, but he felt it a duty to do his best to encourage his friends. The Eskimos were equally well, if not better, aware of their danger, and took to the floes with resolute purpose and in profound silence—for true men in such circumstances are not garrulous.
A gleam of sunshine from a rift in the dark clouds seemed sent as a heavenly messenger to guide them. By it the Eskimos as well as the sailor were enabled to judge of the position of land, and to steer, accordingly, in what western hunters would call "a bee-line." The great danger, of course, lay in the risk of the pack breaking up before they could reach the shore. There was also the possibility of the pack being a limited strip of floe-ice unconnected with the shore, which, if it had been so, would have decided their fate. In these circumstances they all pushed on at their best speed. At first the women seemed to get along as well as the men, but after a while the former showed evident symptoms of exhaustion, and towards dusk old Kannoa, despite Rooney's powerful aid, fairly broke down and refused to walk another step. The seaman overcame the difficulty by raising her in his arms and carrying her. As he had not at that time quite recovered his full strength, and was himself pretty well fatigued, he was constrained to think pretty steadily of the old woman's resemblance to his grandmother to enable him to hold out!
After another mile or so the mother of Arbalik succumbed, whereupon her son put his arm round her waist and helped her on. Then the pleasant little mother of Ippegoo broke down with a pitiful wail; but her son was unable to help her, for he was already undulating about like a piece of tape, as if he had no backbone to speak of. Okiok therefore came to her aid. As for the hardy spinster Sikogow, she seemed inexhaustible, and scorned assistance. Nuna was also vigorous, but her sons Norrak and Ermigit, being amiable, came on each side of her, and took her in tow before the breaking-down point was reached.
Thus they continued to advance until the darkness became so profound as to render further travelling impossible. The danger of delay they knew was extreme, but men must perforce bow to the inevitable. To advance without light over rugged ice, in which were cracks and fissures and hummocks innumerable, being out of the question, Rooney called a halt.
"Rest and food, friends," he said, "are essential to life."
"Huk!" was the brief reply.
Without wasting breath on another word, they untied their bundles, spread their bearskins in the lee of a hummock, fed hastily but heartily, rolled themselves in their simple bedding, and went to sleep.
During the night there occurred one of those sudden changes which are common in Arctic lands at that season of the year. Snow ceased to fall, the sky cleared, and the temperature rose until the air became quite balmy. The ice of the floes eased off, narrow openings grew into lanes and leads and wide pools, until water predominated, and the ice finally resolved itself into innumerable islets. When Rooney was at last awakened by a blaze of sunshine in his face, he found that the party occupied a small cake of ice in the midst of a grand crystal archipelago. Not a zephyr ruffled the sea, and the hills of Greenland were visible, not more than six or eight miles distant, on their left hand. What particular part of Greenland it was, of course they had no means of knowing.
The sight was indeed such as might have filled human hearts with admiration and joy, but neither joy nor admiration touched the hearts of Red Rooney and his companions. So far from land, on a bit of ice scarce large enough to sustain them, and melting rapidly away, exposed to the vicissitudes of a changeful and stormy climate, without the means of escape—the case seemed very desperate.
"The Great Spirit has forsaken us," said Angut gloomily, as he surveyed the scene.
"That He has not," returned the sailor, "whatever may befall."
An exclamation from Arbalik drew attention to a particular part of the horizon.
"A flat island," said Okiok, after a long earnest gaze; "but we cannot reach it," he added in a low voice.
"You know not," said Angut. "The current sets that way, I think."
"A few minutes will show," said Rooney.
With almost trembling eagerness they watched the islet, and, as Rooney had said, it soon became evident that the current was indeed carrying their ice-raft slowly towards the spot.
"We can scarcely expect to drift right on to it," said Rooney, "and it is apparently our last chance, so we shall have to take to the water when near it. Can we all swim—eh?"
To this question some answered Yes and some No, while others shook their heads as if uncertain on the point. But the seaman was wrong. Straight as an arrow to a bull's eye the raft went at that islet and struck on its upper end with such force as to send a tongue of ice high on the shore, so that the whole party actually landed dryshod. Even old Kannoa got on shore without assistance.
The joy of the party at this piece of unlooked-for good-fortune was unbounded, although, after all, the improvement in their circumstances did not seem to be great, for the islet was not more than a hundred yards in diameter, and appeared to be quite barren, with only a clump of willows in its centre. Still, their recent danger had been so imminent that the spot seemed quite a secure refuge by contrast.
The men of the party, after landing, were only just beginning to comment on their prospects, when they saw the willows in the centre of the islet part asunder, and a man of strange aspect and costume stood before them.
The stranger who had burst thus unexpectedly upon them like a visitant from another world, bereaving them for a few minutes of speech and motion, was evidently not a native of the land. His pale and somewhat melancholy face, as well as parts of his costume, betokened him one who had come from civilised lands; and Rooney's first thought was that he must be a shipwrecked sailor like himself; but a second glance caused him to reject the idea. The calm dignity of his carriage, the intellectuality of his expression, and, withal, the look of gentle humility in his manner, were not the usual characteristics of seamen in those days. He also looked very haggard and worn, as if from severe fatigue or illness.
A slight smile played for a moment on his lips as he observed the blank amazement which his appearance had produced. Hastening forward he held out his hand to Rooney whom he at once recognised as a man of civilised lands.
"Let me congratulate you, friends, on your escape, for I can see that you must have been in great jeopardy from which the Lord has delivered you."
The stranger spoke in the Danish language, which was of course utterly incomprehensible to the natives. Not so, however, to Red Rooney, who in his seafaring life had frequently visited Copenhagen, Bergen, and Christiania, and other Scandinavian ports, and had learned to speak Danish at least fluently, if not very correctly. He at once replied, at the same time returning the warm grasp of the stranger's hand—
"We have indeed just escaped from great danger, through the mercy of God. But who are you, and how come you to be in such a lonely place, and, if I do not greatly mistake, in a starving condition?"
"I am a missionary to the Eskimos," replied the stranger, "and have been forced to take refuge here by stress of weather. But I am not absolutely alone, as you seem to think. There are five natives with me, and we have an oomiak up there in the bushes. They are now asleep under it. For five days we have been detained here almost without food, by the recent storm and the pack-ice. Now, thanks to my Father in heaven, we shall be able to launch our little boat, and get away. In fact, being the first of my party to awake this morning, I rose very quietly so as not to disturb the poor people, who stand much in need of rest, and I had come to look at the state of the ice when I unexpectedly discovered you on the shore."
"Stay now, sir; not another word till you have broken your fast," said Rooney, with kindly violence, as he hastily cut a large slice from his piece of bear's meat. "Sit down on that stone, and eat it at once. A fasting man should not talk."
"But my companions need food to the full as much as I do," objected the missionary.
"Do as I bid ye, sir," returned Rooney, with decision. "You say they are asleep. Well, sleep is as needful as food and sleeping men cannot eat. When you have eaten we will go up and awake and feed them."
Thus urged, the poor man began to eat the raw meat with as much relish as if it had been the finest venison cooked to a turn. Before commencing, however, he clasped his hands, closed his eyes, and audibly thanked God for the supply.
While he was thus engaged Red Rooney did not speak, but sat looking at his new friend with profound interest. Perchance his interest would have deepened had he known that the man was none other than the famous Norwegian clergyman Hans Egede, the originator of the Danish mission to Greenland, who founded the colony of Godhaab in the year 1721, about twelve years before the commencement of the missions of the Moravian Brethren to that land.
The surprise which our voyagers had received by the unexpected appearance of the missionary was, however, as nothing, compared with the surprise that was yet in store for them on that eventful day.
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.
DESCRIBES A MOST AMAZING SURPRISE, AND TREATS OF HANS EGEDE.
When the starving missionary had taken the edge off his appetite, he closed the clasp-knife with which he had been eating.
"Now, my friend," he said, looking at Rooney, "I have eaten quite enough to do me good in my present condition,—perhaps more than enough. You know it is not safe for starving men to eat heartily. Besides, I am anxious to give some food to the poor fellows who are with me. One of them has met with a severe accident and is dying I fear. He does not belong to my party, I found him on the mainland and brought him here just before the storm burst on us, intending to take him on to Godhaab. He stands more in need of food than sleep, I think."
"Come, then, we will go to him at once," said Rooney, tying up the remains of Egede's breakfast. "How did he come by his accident?" continued the sailor, as the party walked up towards the bushes.
"The girl who takes care of him—his daughter, I think—says he was injured by a bear."
"If it is a case of broken bones, perhaps I may be of use to him," said Rooney, "for I've had some experience in that way."
Egede shook his head, "I fear it is too late," he replied. "Besides, his mind seems to give him more trouble even than his wasted frame. He has come, he says, from the far north, and would certainly have perished after his accident if it had not been for the care and kindness of the women who are with him—especially the younger woman. See, there she comes. Her father must have awakened, for she rests near him at night and never leaves him in the morning till he wakes up."
The missionary was startled at that moment by a loud shout from his companion. Next instant Angut rushed past him, and, catching the girl in his arms, gave her a most fervent and lover-like embrace, to which she seemed in no ways averse.
It soon became obvious to the missionary that a most unexpected and pleasant meeting of friends was taking place; but the surprise expressed on his grave visage had barely given place to a benignant smile of sympathy, when a female shriek was heard, and Sigokow was seen running towards her sister Kabelaw. These two did not leap into each other's arms. The feelings of Eskimo females do not usually find vent in that way; but they waltzed round each other, and grinned, and smoothed each other's hair, and when Kabelaw observed that her sister had a huge black eye and a yet unhealed cut across the bridge of her rather flat nose, she clapped her hands, and went into fits of laughter, which helped her somewhat to relieve her feelings.
The surprise and pleasure of this meeting was still at its height when two shrill cries were heard. These were instantly followed by the bursting of Pussi and Tumbler on the scene, the former of whom rushed into the ready arms of Pussimek, while the latter plunged into the bosom of Nuna. Ippegoo, unable to contain himself for joy, began an impromptu and original waltz round his own mother.
Of course it was some time before the party calmed down sufficiently to give or receive explanations. When this state, however, was arrived at, a feeling of sadness was cast over, them all by the re-announcement of the fact that Ujarak was certainly dying. He had been carried out of the hole in the snow in which Egede and his party had taken refuge from the storm, and laid on a dry spot among the bushes where he could enjoy the sunshine, so that he became visible to his former friends the instant they entered the cleared space where he lay.
Any feelings of revenge that may have lingered in the breast of Angut were dissipated like a summer cloud when he saw the thin worn frame, and the pale haggard countenance, of the poor wizard. He went forward at once, and, kneeling beside him, took hold of one of his hands.
"You—you—forgive me, I see?" said Ujarak, anxiously.
"Yes, I forgive you," replied Angut, with fervour, for his heart was touched at the sight of the once strong and self-reliant man, who in so short a time had been reduced to such utter helplessness.
"I am glad—glad," continued Ujarak, "that you have come before I die. I thank God for sending you. I have prayed for this."
"You thank God! you have prayed!" exclaimed Angut in surprise. "Is it the Kablunets' God you thank and pray to?"
"Yes; Jesus—not only the Kablunets' God, but the God and Saviour of the Innuit also—the Saviour of the whole world. I have found Him—or rather, He has found me, the wicked angekok, since I came here."
The dying man turned a grateful look on Egede as he spoke.
"It is true," said the missionary, coming forward. "I believe that God, who brings about all good things, sent me here, and sent this man here, so that we should meet for the purpose of bringing about his salvation. The Almighty is confined to no such plans, yet it pleases Him to work by means, and often with poor tools."
Egede spoke now in the language of the Eskimos, having long before that time learned to speak it sufficiently well to be understood.
"Angut," said Ujarak, after a few moments, "listen to me. I cannot live long. Before I go, let me tell you that Nunaga is good—good—good! She is true to you, and she has been very, very good to me. She forgives me, though I meant to take her from you and from her home for ever. But for her, I should have been left to die on the ice. She must have had the Spirit of Jesus in her before she heard His name. Take care of her, Angut. She will serve you well. Listen to her, and she will teach you to be wise—"
He ceased abruptly. The energy with which he spoke proved to be the last flare of the mysterious lamp of life. Next moment only the worn-out tenement of the angekok lay before his people, for his spirit had "returned to God who gave it."
The joy which had been so suddenly created by this unexpected union of friends and kindred was damped, not only by the sad though happy death of the wizard, but by the recurrence of the storm which had already proved almost fatal to them all. The recent clearing up of the weather was only a lull in the gale. Soon the sky overclouded again, snow began to fall so thickly that they could not see more than a few yards in any direction, and the wind drove them back into the hole or cave in the snow out of which the short-lived sunshine had drawn them.
The body of Ujarak was buried under a heap of stones, for they had no implements with which to dig a grave. Then Okiok and his party hastily constructed a rude snow-hut to protect them from the storm. Here for two more days and nights they were imprisoned, and much of that time they passed in listening to the pleasant discourse of Hans Egede, as he told the northern natives the wonderful story of redemption through Jesus Christ, or recounted some of his own difficulties in getting out to Greenland.
Few missionaries, we should imagine, have experienced or overcome greater difficulties in getting to their field of labour than this same earnest Norwegian, Hans Egede, though doubtless many may have equalled him in their experience of dangers and difficulties after the fight began.
Even after having made up his mind to go to Greenland out of pure desire for the salvation of souls—for his knowledge of that inhospitable land precluded the possibility of his having been tempted to go to it from any other motive—he had to spend over ten years of his life in overcoming objections and obstructions to his starting.
At first his friends gave him credit for being mad, for people are somewhat slow to believe in disinterested self-sacrifice; and the idea of a clergyman with a comfortable living in Norway, who had, besides, a wife and four small children, voluntarily resolving to go to a region in which men could be barely said to live, merely for the purpose of preaching Christ to uncivilised savages, seemed to them absurd. They little knew the power of the missionary spirit, or rather, the power of the Holy Spirit, by which some great men are actuated! But, after all, if in the world's experience many men are found ready to take their lives in their hands, and cheerfully go to the coldest, hottest, and wildest regions of earth at the call of duty, or "glory," or gold, is it strange that some men should be found willing to do the same thing for the love of God and the souls of men?
Be this as it may, it is certain that the soul of good Hans Egede became inflamed with a burning desire to go as a missionary to Greenland, and from the time that the desire arose, he never ceased to pray and strive towards the accomplishment of his purpose. His thoughts were first turned in that direction by reading of Christian men from his own country, who, centuries before, had gone to Greenland, established colonies, been decimated by sickness, and then almost exterminated by the natives—at least so it was thought, but all knowledge of them had long been lost. A friend in Bergen who had made several voyages to Greenland aroused Egede's pity for his lost countrymen, some of whom, it was supposed, had sunk back into paganism for want of teachers. His thoughts and his desires grew, and the first difficulty presented itself in the form of a doubt as to whether it was allowable to forsake his congregation. Besides, several near relations as well as wife and children were dependent on him for sustenance, which increased the initial difficulty.
But "where there's a will there's a way" is a proverb, the truth of which Hans Egede very soon began to exemplify. Not least among this good man's difficulties seemed to be his modesty, for he was troubled with "extreme diffidence and the fear of being charged with presumption."
At last, in the year 1710, he determined to make a humble proposal to Bishop Randulph of Bergen, and to Bishop Krog of Drontheim, entreating them to support at court his plans for the conversion of the Greenlanders. Both bishops replied favourably; but when his friends saw that he was in earnest, they set up vehement opposition to what they styled his preposterous enterprise. Even his wife and family were at first among his foes, so that the poor man was greatly perplexed, and well-nigh gave up in despair. Happily, his wife at the time became involved in a series of troubles and persecutions, which so affected her that she left the enemy, and ever afterwards supported her husband loyally, heart and soul.
That Egede regarded his wife's opposition as more formidable than that of all the rest of his kith and kin put together, may be gathered from the fact that he says, on her coming over, that his "joy was complete," and that he "believed every obstacle to have been vanquished." In the strength of these feelings he immediately drew up a memorial to the worthy College of Missions, and again entreated the help of the bishops of Bergen and Drontheim. But bishops then, as now, were not to be unduly hurried. They recommended patience till more favourable and peaceful times!
Thus Egede's plans were postponed from year to year, for peaceful times seemed very far off. Moreover, he was assailed with all kinds of reproaches and misunderstandings as to motives, so that in the year 1715 he thought it necessary to draw up a vindication of his conduct entitled, "A Scriptural and Rational Solution and Explanation of the Difficulties and Objections raised against the Design of converting the Heathen Greenlanders."
Then people tried to divert Egede from his purpose by picturing to him the dangers of his enterprise; the miseries he must endure; the cruelty of endangering the lives of his wife and children; and lastly, by pointing out the madness of relinquishing a certain for an uncertain livelihood. They even went so far as to insinuate that, under a cloak of religious motive, he wished to "aggrandise his reputation;" but Egede was heroically firm—some folk would say obstinate.
Wearied with delays, and having reason to believe that his memorial was not properly supported, he resolved at last to go himself to the fountain-head. Resigning his office in 1718, he went to Bergen, from which port there had been in time past considerable trade with Greenland. Here he received little or no encouragement, but the sudden death at this time of King Charles the Twelfth, giving hopes of the speedy restoration of peace, Egede thought it advisable to go to Copenhagen and personally present his memorial to the College of Missions. He did so, and received the encouraging answer that the King would "consider his matter."
Kings have a wonderful capacity for taking time to "consider matters"— sometimes to the extent of passing out of time altogether, and leaving the consideration to successors. But the King on this occasion was true to his word. He gave Egede a private audience, and in 1719 sent orders to the magistrates of Bergen to collect all the opinions and information that could be gathered in regard to the trade with Greenland and the propriety of establishing a colony there, with a statement of the privileges that might be desired by adventurers wishing to settle in the new land. But, alas! no adventurers wished to settle there; the royal efforts failed, and poor Egede was left to fall back on his own exertions and private enterprise.
For another year this indefatigable man vainly importuned the King and the College of Missions. At last he prevailed on a number of sympathisers to hold a conference. These, under his persuasive powers, subscribed forty pounds a-piece towards a mission fund. Egede set a good example by giving sixty pounds. Then, by begging from the bishop and people of Bergen, he raised the fund to about two thousand pounds. With this sum he bought a ship, and called it the Hope. Two other vessels were chartered and freighted—one for the whale fishery, the other to take home news of the colony. The King, although unable to start the enterprise, appointed Egede missionary to the colony with a salary of sixty pounds a year, besides a present of a hundred pounds for immediate expenses, and finally, on the 12th May 1721, the indomitable Hans, with his heroic wife and four children, set sail for "Greenland's icy mountains," after an unprecedented ten years' conflict.
Dangers and partial disasters greeted them on their arrival, in July, at Baal's River, latitude 64 degrees, where they established the colony of Godhaab.
It would require a volume to tell of Hans Egede's difficulties, doings, and sufferings in the new land. Suffice it to say that they were tremendous, and that he acted as the pioneer to the interesting missions of the Moravian Brethren to the same neighbourhood.
Hans Egede had been several years at his post when the meeting already described took place between him and the northern Eskimos.
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.
ESCAPE FROM PRESENT DANGER, AND A CURIOUS INSTANCE OF THE EFFECTS OF GIN.
Although Nunaga, Kabelaw, and the children were now happily re-united to friends and kindred, their dangers were by no means over, for a wide space of ice-blocked sea separated the small island from the shores of Greenland, and their supply of meat was not sufficient, even with economy, to maintain the whole party for more than a couple of days.
In these circumstances they were much comforted, after the storm had blown itself out, to find that the pack had been considerably loosened, and that several lanes of open water extended through it in the direction of the shore.
"There is a temporary settlement of natives not far from here, on the mainland," said Egede, when he and some of the men were assembled on the beach discussing their plans. "Although not very friendly, they would nevertheless help us, I think, in this hour of need. They have been demoralised by traders, and drawn away from the mission at Godhaab. But how we are to get to the mainland it is difficult to see, unless God mercifully clears away the ice."
"Why don't you ask your God to clear it away?" demanded Simek. "Have you not told us that He answers prayer offered in the name of Jesus?"
Egede looked at his questioner in some surprise, mingled with pleasure, for his experience had taught him that too many of the natives either assented without thought to whatever he said, or listened with absolute indifference, if not aversion—especially when he attempted to bring truth home, or apply it personally.
"I am glad you ask the question, Simek," he replied, "because it gives me the opportunity of telling you that I have asked God, in the name of Jesus, to bring us out of our present trouble, and also of explaining that I never pray without adding the words 'if it be Thy will'—for God does not always answer prayer exactly in accordance with our request, but according to His own wisdom; so that, if He were hereafter to say, 'Now, is not that better than you asked?' we would be obliged to reply, 'Yes, Lord, it is better.'"
As the expression on Simek's face showed that he was not quite convinced, Egede added—
"Listen, Simek. I and my people were starving here. I prayed to God, in Jesus' name, to send us deliverance. Did He not answer my prayer by sending you and your party with food!"
"True," assented Simek.
"Listen again, Simek. Were you not in great danger when your oomiak and kayaks were crushed in the ice?"
"Were you not in very great danger when you were imprisoned on the iceberg—in danger of starvation, in danger of being crushed by its disruption?"
"Well, now, if you had believed in the great and good Spirit at that time, what would you have asked Him to do for you?"
"I would have asked Him to clear the sea of ice," replied the Eskimo promptly, "and send us kayaks and oomiaks to take us on shore."
"And if He had answered you according to your prayer, you would have said, no doubt, 'That is well.'"
"Yes," answered Simek emphatically, and with a smile.
"But suppose," continued Egede, "that God had answered you by delivering you in another way—by keeping you on the berg; by making that berg, as it were, into a great oomiak, and causing it to voyage as no oomiak ever voyaged—causing it to plough through pack-ice as no ship made by man ever ploughed; to go straight to an island to which no human power could have brought you; and to have done it all in time to save your own dear Pussi and all the rest of us from starvation—would you not have said that God had answered your prayer in a way that was far better?"
While the missionary was speaking, profound gravity took the place of the puzzled expression on the countenance of Simek and of the others who were listening, for their intelligence was quite quick enough to perceive the drift of his argument before it was finished.
"But," said Simek earnestly, "I did not pray for this, yet I got it."
"True, the Good Spirit guided you, even though you did not pray," returned Egede. "Is not this a proof of His love? If He is so good to thankless and careless children, what sure ground have we for trusting that He will be good to those who love Him! What our Great Father wants is that we should love and trust Him."
There was one man of the group whose lips were parted, and whose eyes seemed to glitter as he listened. This was Angut. Much and deeply had that intelligent Eskimo thought about the Great Spirit and the mysteries around and within himself, but never till that moment did the curtain seem to rise so decidedly from before his spiritual vision. Egede observed the keen gaze, though he judged it wise to take no notice of it at the time, but he did not fail to pray mentally that the good seed might take root.
The attention of the party was called off the subject of discourse just then by a further movement of the pack-ice.
"See, the lanes of open water widen," exclaimed Okiok eagerly, pointing seaward.
"Perhaps," said Egede, "God intends to deliver us."
"Have you prayed to be delivered?" asked Angut quickly.
"Yes, I have."
"Suppose," continued the inquisitive Eskimo, "that God does not deliver you, but leaves you here to die. Would that be answering your prayer?"
"Yes; for instead of granting my request in the way I wished, namely, that I might be permitted to live and preach about the Great Spirit to your countrymen for many years, He would have answered my prayer for deliverance by taking me away from all evil, to be with Jesus, which is far better."
To the surprise of the missionary, a look of disappointment settled on the face of Angut.
"What ails you?" he asked.
"From what you say," returned the Eskimo, somewhat coldly, "I see that, with you, whatever happens is best; nothing can be wrong. There is something which tells me here,"—he placed his hand on his breast—"that that is not true."
"You misunderstand me, friend," said Egede; "I did not say that nothing can be wrong. What I do say is that whatever God does is and must be right. But God has given to man a free will, and with his free will man does wrong. It is just to save man from this wrong-doing that Jesus came to earth."
"Free will?" murmured the Eskimo, with a recurrence of the perplexed look. And well might that look recur, for his untrained yet philosophical mind had been brought for the first time face to face with the great insoluble problem of the ages.
"Yes," said Egede, "you have got hold of a thought which no man has ever yet been able to fathom. Free will is a great mystery, nevertheless every child knows that it is a great fact."
From this point Angut seemed to commune only with his own spirit, for he put no more questions. At the same time the opening up of the pack rendered the less philosophical among the Eskimos anxious to make some practical efforts for their deliverance.
At Rooney's suggestion it was arranged that the boldest of the men should take the missionary's boat—a very small one that could not carry above a third of the party,—and examine the leads of open water, until they should ascertain whether they seemed safe or practicable; then return at once, and, if the report should be favourable, begin by taking off the women and children. This plan was carried out. A favourable report was brought back, the women were immediately embarked, and before evening closed the whole party was landed on the mainland in safety.
Being too late to proceed further that day, the Eskimos ran up a rude shelter of stones, moss, and sticks, the women being accommodated under the upturned boat. Next day they found that the pack had continued to ease off during the night, so that there was a lead of open water between it and the shore.
"You have been praying during the night," said Okiok to Egede in an abrupt manner, almost as if he were accusing him of taking an unfair advantage of circumstances.
"Truly I have," answered the missionary, with an amused look, "but I did not presume to ask the Great Spirit to help us in this particular way. I left that to His wisdom and love. I have been taught to trust Him."
"And if you had not got an answer at all," returned Okiok, wrinkling his brows in perplexity, "you would still have said that all was right?"
"Just so. If I get an answer it is well. If I get no answer it is still well, for then I know that He sees delay to be best for me and I feel sure that the answer will come at last, in the right way, and in good time, for in the Book of the Great Spirit I am told that 'all things work together for good to them that love God.'"
"What!" exclaimed Angut, who had listened to the conversation with intense interest; "would it be good for you if I killed you?"
"Of course it would, if God allowed it. Thousands of men and women in time past have chosen to be killed rather than offend God by sinning."
"This is very strange teaching," said Angut, glancing at his friend Okiok.
"It is the teaching of Jesus, the Son of God. I am only His servant," said the missionary, "and I hope to tell you much more that will seem very strange before long; but at present we must arrange what is now to be done, for it is the duty of all men to take advantage of opportunities as they are presented to them."
The truth of this was so obvious that the Eskimos at once dropped into the region of the practical by advising that the women should all get into the boat and advance by water, while the men should walk by the shore.
This being agreed to, the boat was launched. Although not an Eskimo oomiak, the little craft, which was made of wood, and resembled a punt, was propelled by oomiak paddles, so that Madame Okiok, who was appointed steerswoman, felt herself quite at home when seated in her place. Sigokow, being a powerful creature, physically as well as mentally, was put in charge of the bow-paddle. The other women were ranged along the sides, each with a paddle except old Kannoa who was allowed to sit in the bottom of the craft as a passenger, and guardian of Pussi and Tumbler.
As these last were prone to jump about under violent impulses of joyous hilarity, and had an irresistible desire to lean over the sides for the purpose of dipping their hands in the sea, the duty of the old woman, although connected with children's play, was by no mean's child's play.
Three miles an hour being the average speed at which the boat went, the walkers easily kept up with it. Only once did a difficulty occur when they came to a narrow bay which, although not more than a mile or so across from point to point, ran so far inland that the walkers could not have gone round it without great loss of time.
"We must be ferried across here," said Egede; "but as it is past noon, I think we had better call a halt, and dine before making the traverse."
"That is my opinion, too, sir," said Rooney, throwing down the bundle he had been carrying.
As the invitation to feed seldom comes amiss to a healthy Eskimo, Egede's proposal was at once agreed to, and in a few minutes they were all busily engaged.
It was a pretty spot, that on which they dined. Bushes just beginning to bud surrounded them; brilliant sunshine drew forth delicious scents from the long, long frozen earth and the reviving herbage on which they sat. It also drew forth gushing rivulets from the patches of snow and heavy drifts, which here and there by their depth and solidity seemed to bid defiance to the sweet influences of spring. The ice-laden sea sent gentle wavelets to the pebbly shore. A group of large willows formed a background to their lordly hall, and behind them, in receding and grand perspective, uprose the great shoulders of Greenland's mountains.
On all those natural objects of interest and beauty, however, the travellers did not at first bestow more than a passing glance. They were too much engrossed with "metal more attractive," in the shape of bear blubber; but when appetite began to fail conversation began to flow. At that point it occurred to Pussi and Tumbler that they would go and have some fun.
Child-nature is much the same all the world over and curiously enough, it bears strong resemblance to adult nature. Having fed to satiety, these chips of Simek and Okiok lifted up their eyes, and beheld the surrounding shrubs. At once the idea arose—"Let us explore." The very same impulse that sent Mungo Park and Livingstone to Africa; Ross, Parry, Franklin, Kane, and all the rest of them toward the Pole, led our little hero and heroine into that thicket, and curiosity urged them to explore as far as possible. They did so, and, as a natural consequence, lost themselves. But what cared they for that? With youth, and health, and strength, they were as easy in their minds as Lieutenant Greely was with sextant, chart, and compass. As to food, were they not already victualled for, not a three years', but a three hours', expedition?
And their parents were not disturbed on their account. Eskimo fathers and mothers are not, as a rule, nervous or anxious about their offspring.
In a remarkably short space of time Pussi and Tumbler, walking hand in hand, put more than a mile of "bush" between them and their feeding-place.
"Oh! wha's dat?" exclaimed Pussi, stopping short, and gazing into the thicket in front of her.
We pause to remind the reader that our little ones lisped in Eskimo, and that, in order to delineate faithfully, our only resource is to translate into lisping English.
"It's a man," exclaimed Tumbler.
"I tink him's a funny man," murmured the little girl, as the man approached.
Pussi was right. But it was not his dress, so much as his gait and expression, that were funny. For the stranger was obviously an Eskimo, being flat and fat-visaged, black-and-straight haired, and seal-skinnily clad.
The singular point about him was his walk. To all appearance it was a recently acquired power, for the man frowned almost fiercely at the ground as he advanced, and took each step with an amount of forethought and deliberation which to the children seemed quite unaccountable. Nay, after having taken a step, he would seem suddenly to repent, and draw back, putting a foot behind him again, or even to one side or the other—anywhere, in short, rather than in front. Coming up to the children at last by this painful process, he became suddenly aware of their presence, and opened his eyes to an extent that could only be accounted for on the wild supposition that he had never seen a child in all his life before.
Having stared for a minute or so with all the intensity of the most solemn surprise, he blinked like a sleepy owl, his mouth expanded, and his whole countenance beamed with good-will; but suddenly he changed back, as if by magic, to the solemn-surprise condition.
This was too much for the children, who simultaneously burst into a hilarious fit of laughter.
The fit seemed catching, for the man joined them with a loud roar of delight, swaying to and fro with closed eyes as he did so.
The roar brought up Red Rooney, who had followed the children's steps and happened to be close to them at the time of the explosion. He looked at the man for a moment, and then his muttered remark, "Drunk as a fiddler!" cleared up the mystery.
When the man opened his eyes, having finished his laugh, and beheld a tall Kablunet gazing sternly at him, all the fire of his ancestors blazed up in his breast, and came out at his eyes. Drawing his knife, he sprang at our seaman with the murderous weapon uplifted.
Rooney caught his wrist, put a foot behind his leg, gave him a sort of twirl, and laid him flat on his back. The fall caused the knife to spin into the air, and the poor Eskimo found himself at the mercy of the Kablunet.
Instead of taking the man's life, Rooney bade him sit up. The man did so with a solemn look, not unmixed with perplexity.
There is a phase of that terrible vice drunkenness which is comic, and it is not of the slightest use to ignore that fact. There were probably few men who detested strong drink and grieved over its dire effects more than Red Rooney. He had been led, at a time when total abstinence was almost unknown, to hate the very name of drink and to become a total abstainer. Yet he could not for the life of him resist a hearty laugh when the befuddled Eskimo blinked up in his face with an imbecile smile, and said—"Wh-whash 'e matter, y-you st-stupid ole' K-K-Kablunet?"
The difficulty and faulty nature of his pronunciation was such that slipshod English serves admirably to indicate his state of mind, although neither English nor Eskimo, Arabic nor Hebrew, will suffice to describe in adequate terms the tremendous solemnity of his gaze after the imbecile smile had passed away.
"You disreputable old seal," said Rooney, "where did you get the drink?"
Words are wanting to express the dignified look of injured innocence with which the man replied—"I—I've had no d-drink. Nosh a d-drop!"
"Yes, truly you are a man and a brother," muttered Rooney, as he noted this "touch of nature," and felt that he was in the company of "kin." "What's your name, you walrus?"
"K-Kazho," answered the man indignantly.
"K-Ka-zho," he repeated, with emphasis.
"I suppose you mean Kajo, you unnatural jellyfish."
Kajo did not condescend to say what he meant, but continued to eye the Kablunet with lofty disdain, though the effect of his expression was marred by his attention being distracted by Pussi and Tumbler, whose faces were fiery red, owing to fits of suppressed laughter.
"Get up now, you old rascal," said Rooney. "Come along with me, and I'll show you to my friends."
At first the Eskimo showed a disposition to resist, but when the powerful seaman lifted him up by the neck of his coat, as if he had been a little dog, and set him on his legs, he thought better of it, smiled benignly, and moved on.
Hans Egede at once recognised this fellow as one of the most troublesome of his flock.
"I have done my best to keep strong drink from that man," he explained to Rooney, "but, as you must be aware from your long residence among them, the traders will supply the poor creatures with rum, and Kajo's naturally sanguine temperament is unable to withstand its influence. Over and over again he has promised me—with tears of, I believe, true repentance in his eyes—to give it up; but as surely as the traders offer it to him, and prevail on him to take one drop, so surely does he give way to a regular debauch."
While he spoke to Rooney in the Danish tongue, the subject of conversation stood with bowed head, conscience-smitten, before him, for, although he did not understand the language, he guessed correctly that the talk was about his own misdeeds.
"Come with me," said the missionary, taking the poor man by the arm, leading him aside to some distance, and evidently entering into serious remonstrance—while Kajo, as evidently, commenced energetic protestations.
On returning, Egede said that the Eskimo told him his tribe had moved along the coast to a better hunting-ground, and were at that moment located in an old deserted village, just beyond the point for which they were making, on the other side of the bay. He therefore advised that they should start off at once, so as to reach the camp early in the evening.
"Kajo tells me," added Egede, "that his kayak lies hid in the bushes at no great distance; so he can go with us. He is not too drunk, I think, to manage his light craft."
But Egede was wrong, for even while he was speaking Kajo had slipped quietly behind a bush. There, after a cautious look round to see that no one observed him, he drew a curious little flat earthenware bottle from some place of concealment about his dress, applied it to his lips, and took what Rooney would have styled "a long, hearty pull."
That draught was the turning-point. The comic and humorous were put to flight, and nothing but fierce, furious savagery remained behind. Many men in their cups become lachrymose, others silly, and some combative. The fiery liquor had the latter effect on Kajo. Issuing from his place of retirement with a fiendish yell and glaring eyes, he made an insane attack on Angut. That Eskimo, having no desire to hurt the man, merely stepped lightly out of his way and let him pass. Fortunately his knife had been left on the ground where Rooney first met him, for he stumbled and fell upon Kabelaw, into whom he would certainly have plunged the weapon had it still been in his hand.
Jumping up, he looked round with the glaring eyes of a tiger, while his fingers clutched nervously at the place where he was wont to carry the lost knife.
Seeing his condition, Arbalik sprang towards him, but, stooping quickly, Kajo darted out of his way. At the same moment he snatched up a knife that had been left lying on the ground. The first effect of the last draught seemed for the time to have increased the man's powers of action, for, rushing round the circle, he came suddenly upon poor old Kannoa, who chanced to be seated a little apart from the others. Seizing her thin hair, Kajo brandished the knife in front of her throat, and, glaring at the men, gave vent to a wild laugh of triumph.