RED ROONEY, BY R.M. BALLANTYNE.
A Tale of Eskimo (Innuit) Life in Greenland at the end of the Eighteenth Century.
THE LAST OF THE CREW.
LOST AND FOUND.
There is a particular spot in those wild regions which lie somewhere near the northern parts of Baffin's Bay, where Nature seems to have set up her workshop for the manufacture of icebergs, where Polar bears, in company with seals and Greenland whales, are wont to gambol, and where the family of Jack Frost may be said to have taken permanent possession of the land.
One winter day, in the early part of the eighteenth century, a solitary man might have been seen in that neighbourhood, travelling on foot over the frozen sea in a staggering, stumbling, hurried manner, as if his powers, though not his will, were exhausted.
The man's hairy garb of grey sealskin might have suggested that he was a denizen of those northern wilds, had not the colour of his face, his brown locks, and his bushy beard, betokened him a native of a very different region.
Although possessing a broad and stalwart frame, his movements indicated, as we have said, excessive weakness. A morsel of ice in his path, that would have been no impediment even to a child, caused him to stumble. Recovering himself, with an evidently painful effort, he continued to advance with quick, yet wavering steps. There was, however, a strange mixture of determination with his feebleness. Energy and despair seemed to be conjoined in his look and action—and no wonder, for Red Rooney, although brave and resolute by nature, was alone in that Arctic wilderness, and reduced to nearly the last extremity by fatigue and famine. For some days—how many he scarcely remembered—he had maintained life by chewing a bit of raw sealskin as he travelled over the frozen waste; but this source of strength had at last been consumed, and he was now sinking from absolute want.
The indomitable spirit of the man, however, kept his weakened body moving, even after the mind had begun to sink into that dreamy, lethargic state which is said to indicate the immediate approach of death, and there was still a red spot in each of his pale and hollow cheeks, as well as an eager gleam of hope in his sunken eyes; for the purpose that Red Rooney had in view was to reach the land.
It was indeed a miserably faint hope that urged the poor fellow on, for the desolate shore of Western Greenland offered little better prospect of shelter than did the ice-clad sea; but, as in the case of the drowning man, he clutched at this miserable straw of hope, and held on for life. There was the bare possibility that some of the migratory Eskimos might be there, or, if not, that some scraps of their food—some bits of refuse, even a few bones—might be found. Death, he felt, was quickly closing with him on the sea. The great enemy might, perhaps, be fought with and kept at bay for a time if he could only reach the land.
Encouraging himself with such thoughts, he pushed on, but again stumbled and fell—this time at full length. He lay quiet for a few seconds. It was so inexpressibly sweet to rest, and feel the worn-out senses floating away, as it were, into dreamland! But the strong will burst the tightening bands of death, and, rising once more, with the exclamation, "God help me!" he resumed his weary march.
All around him the great ocean was covered with its coat of solid, unbroken ice; for although winter was past, and the sun of early spring was at the time gleaming on bergs that raised their battlements and pinnacles into a bright blue sky, the hoary king of the far north refused as yet to resign his sceptre and submit to the interregnum of the genial sun.
A large hummock or ridge of ice lay in front of the man, blocking his view of the horizon in that direction. It had probably been heaved up by one of the convulsions of the previous autumn, and was broken into a chaotic mass. Here he stopped and looked up, with a sigh. But the sinking of the heart was momentary. Deep snow had so filled up the crevices of the shattered blocks that it was possible to advance slowly by winding in and out among them. As the ascent grew steeper the forlorn man dropped on all-fours and crawled upwards until he reached the top.
The view that burst upon him would have roused enthusiasm if his situation had been less critical. Even as it was, an exclamation of surprise broke from him, for there, not five miles distant, was the coast of Greenland; desolate, indeed, and ice-bound—he had expected that—but inexpressibly grand even in its desolation. A mighty tongue of a great glacier protruded itself into the frozen sea. The tip of this tongue had been broken off, and the edge presented a gigantic wall of crystal several hundred feet high, on which the sun glittered in blinding rays.
This tongue—a mere offshoot of the great glacier itself—filled a valley full ten miles in length, measuring from its tip in the ocean to its root on the mountain brow, where the snow-line was seen to cut sharply against the sky.
For some minutes Red Rooney sat on one of the ice-blocks, gazing with intense eagerness along the shore, in the hope of discerning smoke or some other evidence of man's presence. But nothing met his disappointed gaze save the same uniform, interminable waste of white and grey, with here and there a few dark frowning patches where the cliffs were too precipitous to sustain the snow.
Another despairing sigh rose to the man's lips, but these refused to give it passage. With stern resolve he arose and stumbled hurriedly forward. The strain, however, proved too great. On reaching the level ice on the other side of the ridge he fell, apparently for the last time, and lay perfectly still. Ah! how many must have fallen thus, to rise no more, since men first began to search out the secrets of that grand mysterious region!
But Red Rooney was not doomed to be among those who have perished there. Not far from the spot where he fell, one of the short but muscular and hairy-robed denizens of that country was busily engaged in removing the skin from a Polar bear which he had just succeeded in spearing, after a combat which very nearly cost him his life. During the heat of the battle the brave little man's foot had slipped, and the desperately wounded monster, making a rush at the moment, overturned him into a crevice between two ice-blocks, fortunately the impetus of the rush caused the animal to shoot into another crevice beyond, and the man, proving more active than the bear, sprang out of his hole in time to meet his foe with a spear-thrust so deadly that it killed him on the spot. Immediately he began to skin the animal, intending to go home with the skin, and return with a team of dogs for the meat and the carcass of a recently-caught seal.
Meanwhile, having removed and packed up the bear-skin, he swung it on his broad shoulders, and made for the shore as fast as his short legs would carry him. On the way he came to the spot where the fallen traveller lay.
His first act was to open his eyes to the uttermost, and, considering the small, twinkling appearance of those eyes just a minute before, the change was marvellous.
"Hoi!" then burst from him with tremendous emphasis, after which he dropped his bundle, turned poor Rooney over on his back, and looked at his face with an expression of awe.
"Dead!" said the Eskimo, under his breath—in his own tongue, of course, not in English, of which, we need scarcely add, he knew nothing.
After feeling the man's breast, under his coat, for a few seconds, he murmured the word "Kablunet" (foreigner), and shook his head mournfully.
It was not so much grief for the man's fate that agitated this child of the northern wilderness, as regret at his own bad fortune. Marvellous were the reports which from the south of Greenland had reached him, in his far northern home, of the strange Kablunets or foreigners who had arrived there to trade with the Eskimos—men who, so the reports went, wore smooth coats without hair, little round things on their heads instead of hoods, and flapping things on their legs instead of sealskin boots—men who had come in monster kayaks (canoes), as big as icebergs; men who seemed to possess everything, had the power to do anything, and feared nothing. No fabrications in the Arabian Nights, or Gulliver, or Baron Munchausen, ever transcended the stories about those Kablunets which had reached this broad, short, sturdy Eskimo—stories which no doubt began in the south of Greenland with a substratum of truth, but which, in travelling several hundreds of miles northward, had grown, as a snowball might have grown if rolled the same distance over the Arctic wastes; with this difference—that whereas the snowball would have retained its original shape, though not its size, the tales lost not only their pristine form and size, but became so amazingly distorted that the original reporters would probably have failed to recognise them. And now, at last, here was actually a Kablunet—a real foreigner in the body; but not alive! It was extremely disappointing!
Our sturdy Eskimo, however, was not a good judge of Kablunet vitality. He was yet rubbing the man's broad chest, with a sort of pathetic pity, when a flutter of the heart startled him. He rubbed with more vigour. He became excited, and, seizing Red Rooney by the arms, shook him with considerable violence, the result being that the foreigner opened his eyes and looked at him inquiringly.
"Hallo, my lad," said Rooney, in a faint voice; "not quite so hard. I'm all right. Just help me up, like a good fellow."
He spoke in English, which was, of course, a waste of breath in the circumstances. In proof of his being "all right," he fell back again, and fainted away.
The Eskimo leaped up. He was one of those energetic beings who seem to know in all emergencies what is best to be done, and do it promptly. Unrolling the bear-skin, which yet retained a little of its first owner's warmth, he wrapped the Kablunet in it from head to foot, leaving an opening in front of his mouth for breathing purposes. With his knife—a stone one—he cut off a little lump of blubber from the seal, and placed that in the opening, so that the stranger might eat on reviving, if so inclined, or let it alone, if so disposed. Then, turning his face towards the land, he scurried away over the ice like a hunted partridge, or a hairy ball driven before an Arctic breeze.
He made such good use of his short legs that in less than an hour he reached a little hut, which seemed to nestle under the wing of a great cliff in order to avoid destruction by the glittering walls of an impending glacier. The hut had no proper doorway, but a tunnel-shaped entrance, about three feet high and several feet long. Falling on his knees, the Eskimo crept into the tunnel and disappeared. Gaining the inner end of it, he stood up and glared, speechless, at his astonished wife.
She had cause for surprise, for never since their wedding-day had Nuna beheld such an expression on the fat face of her amiable husband.
"Okiok," she said, "have you seen an evil spirit?"
"No," he replied.
"Why, then, do you glare?"
Of course Nuna spoke in choice Eskimo, which we render into English with as much fidelity to the native idiom as seems consistent with the agreeable narration of our tale.
"Hoi!" exclaimed Okiok, in reply to her question, but without ceasing to glare and breathe hard.
"Has my husband become a walrus, that he can only shout and snort?" inquired Nuna, with the slightest possible twinkle in her eyes, as she raised herself out of the lamp-smoke, and laid down the stick with which she had been stirring the contents of a stone pot.
Instead of answering the question, Okiok turned to two chubby and staring youths, of about fifteen and sixteen respectively, who were mending spears, and said sharply, "Norrak, Ermigit, go, harness the dogs."
Norrak rose with a bound, and dived into the tunnel. Ermigit, although willing enough, was not quite so sharp. As he crawled into the tunnel and was disappearing, his father sent his foot in the same direction, and, having thus intimated the necessity for urgent haste, he turned again to his wife with a somewhat softened expression.
"Give me food, Nuna. Little food has passed into me since yesterday at sunrise. I starve. When I have eaten, you shall hear words that will make you dream for a moon. I have seen,"—he became solemn at this point, and lowered his voice to a whisper as he advanced his head and glared again—"I have seen a—a—Kablunet!"
He drew back and gazed at his wife as connoisseurs are wont to do when examining a picture. And truly Nuna's countenance was a picture-round, fat, comely, oily, also open-mouthed and eyed, with unbounded astonishment depicted thereon; for she thoroughly believed her husband, knowing that he was upright and never told lies.
Her mental condition did not, however, interfere with her duties. A wooden slab or plate, laden with a mess of broiled meat, soon smoked before her lord. He quickly seated himself on a raised platform, and had done some justice to it before Nuna recovered the use of her tongue.
"A Kablunet!" she exclaimed, almost solemnly. "Is he dead?"
Okiok paused, with a lump of blubber in his fingers close to his mouth.
"No; he is alive. At least he was alive when I left him. If he has not died since, he is alive still."
Having uttered this truism, he thrust the blubber well home, and continued his meal.
Nuna's curiosity, having been aroused, was not easily allayed. She sat down beside her spouse, and plied him with numerous questions, to which Okiok gave her brief and very tantalising replies until he was gorged, when, throwing down the platter, he turned abruptly to his wife, and said impressively—
"Open your ears, Nuna. Okiok is no longer what he was. He has been born only to-day. He has at last seen with his two eyes—a Kablunet!"
He paused to restrain his excitement. His wife clasped her hands and looked at him excitedly, waiting for more.
"This Kablunet," he continued, "is very white, and not so ruddy as we have been told they are. His hair is brown, and twists in little circles. He wears it on the top of his head, and on the bottom of his head also—all round. He is not small or short. No; he is long and broad,—but he is thin, very thin, like the young ice at the beginning of winter. His eyes are the colour of the summer sky. His nose is like the eagle's beak, but not so long. His mouth—I know not what his mouth is like; it is hid in a nest of hair. His words I understand not. They seem to me nonsense, but his voice is soft and deep."
"And his dress—how does he dress?" asked Nuna, with natural feminine curiosity.
"Like ourselves," replied Okiok, with a touch of disappointment in his tone. "The men who said the Kablunets wear strange things on their heads and long flapping things on their legs told lies."
"Why did you not bring him here?" asked Nuna, after a few moments' meditation on these marvels.
"Because he is too heavy to lift, and too weak to walk. He has been starving. I wrapped him in the skin of a bear, and left him with a piece of blubber at his nose. When he wakes up he will smell; then he will eat. Perhaps he will live; perhaps he will die. Who can tell? I go to fetch him."
As the Eskimo spoke, the yelping of dogs outside told that his sons had obeyed his commands, and got ready the sledge. Without another word he crept out of the hut and jumped on the sledge, which was covered with two or three warm bearskins. Ermigit restrained the dogs, of which there were about eight, each fastened to the vehicle by a single line. Norrak handed his father the short-handled but heavy, long-lashed whip.
Okiok looked at Norrak as he grasped the instrument of punishment.
"Jump on," he said.
Norrak did so with evident good-will. The whip flashed in the air with a serpentine swing, and went off like a pistol. The dogs yelled in alarm, and, springing away at full speed, were soon lost among the hummocks of the Arctic sea.
DESCRIBES A RESCUE AND A HAPPY FAMILY.
While the Eskimos were thus rushing to his rescue, poor Red Rooney— whose shipmates, we may explain at once, had thus contracted his Christian name of Reginald—began to recover from his swoon, and to wonder in a listless fashion where he was. Feeling comparatively comfortable in his bear-skin, he did not at first care to press the inquiry; but, as Okiok had anticipated, the peculiar smell near his nose tended to arouse him. Drawing his hand gently up, he touched the object in front of his mouth. It felt very like blubber, with which substance he was familiar. Extending his tongue, he found that it also tasted like blubber. To a starving man this was enough. He pulled the end of the raw morsel into his mouth and began to chew.
Ah, reader, turn not up your refined nose! When you have been for several months on short allowance, when you have scraped every shred of meat off the very last bones of your provisions, and sucked out the last drop of marrow, and then roasted and eaten your spare boots, you may perhaps be in a position to estimate and enjoy a morsel of raw blubber.
Regardless of time, place, and circumstance, our poor wanderer continued to chew until in his great weakness he fell into a sort of half slumber, and dreamed—dreamed of feasting on viands more delightful than the waking imagination of man has ever conceived.
From this state of bliss he was rudely awakened by a roughish poke in the back. The poke was accompanied by a snuffing sound which caused the blood of the poor man to curdle. Could it be a bear?
He was not left long in doubt. After giving him another poke on the shoulder, the creature walked round him, snuffing as it went, and, on reaching the air-hole already referred to, thrust its snout in and snorted. Rooney turned his face aside to avoid the blast, but otherwise lay quite still, knowing well that whatever animal his visitor might be, his only hope lay in absolute inaction. Venturing in a few seconds to turn his face round and peep through the opening, he found that the animal was in very deed a large white bear, which, having found and abstracted the remains of the blubber he had been chewing, was at that moment licking its lips after swallowing it. Of course, finding the morsel satisfactory, the bear returned to the hole for more.
It is easier to conceive than to describe the poor man's feelings at that moment, therefore we leave the reader to conceive them. The natural and desperate tendency to spring up and defend himself had to be combated by the certain knowledge that, encased as he was, he could not spring up, and had nothing wherewith to defend himself except his fingers, which were no match for the claws of a Polar bear.
The blood which a moment before had begun apparently to curdle, now seemed turned into liquid fire; and when the snout again entered and touched his own, he could contain himself no longer, but gave vent to a yell, which caused the startled bear to draw sharply back in alarm. Probably it had never heard a yell through the medium of its nose before, and every one must know how strong is the influence of a new sensation. For some minutes the monster stood in silent contemplation of the mysterious hole. Rooney of course lay perfectly still. The success of his involuntary explosion encouraged hope.
What the bear might have done next we cannot tell, for at that moment a shout was heard. It was followed by what seemed a succession of pistol shots and the howling of dogs. It was the arrival of Okiok on the scene with his sledge and team.
Never was an arrival more opportune. The bear looked round with a distinct expression of indignation on his countenance. Possibly the voice of Okiok was familiar to him. It may be that relations or friends of that bear had mysteriously disappeared after the sounding of that voice. Perhaps the animal in whose skin Rooney was encased had been a brother. At all events, the increasing hullabaloo of the approaching Eskimo had the effect of intimidating the animal, for it retired quickly, though with evident sulkiness, from the scene.
A few seconds more, and Okiok dashed up, leaped from his vehicle, left the panting team to the control of Norrak, and ran eagerly to the prostrate figure. Unwrapping the head so as to set it free, the Eskimo saw with intense satisfaction that the Kablunet was still alive. He called at once to Norrak, who fetched from the sledge a platter made of a seal's shoulder-blade, on which was a mass of cooked food. This he presented to the starving man, who, with a look of intense gratitude, but with no words, eagerly ate it up. The Eskimo and his son meanwhile stood looking at him with an expression of mingled interest, awe, and surprise on their round faces.
When the meal was ended, Red Rooney, heaving a deep sigh of satisfaction, said, "Thank God, and thank you, my friends!"
There was reason for the increase of surprise with which this was received by the two natives, for this time the foreigner spoke to them in their own language.
"Is the Kablunet a messenger from heaven," asked Okiok, with increased solemnity, "that he speaks with the tongue of the Innuit?"
"No, my friend," replied Rooney, with a faint smile; "I bring no message either from heaven or anywhere else. I'm only a wrecked seaman. But, after a fashion, you are messengers from heaven to me, and the message you bring is that I'm not to die just yet. If it had not been for you, my friends, it strikes me I should have been dead by this time. As to my speaking your lingo, it's no mystery. I've learned it by livin' a long time wi' the traders in the south of Greenland, and I suppose I've got a sort o' talent that way; d'ye see?"
Red Rooney delivered these remarks fluently in a curious sort of Eskimo language; but we have rendered it into that kind of English which the wrecked seaman was in the habit of using—chiefly because by so doing we shall give the reader a more correct idea of the character of the man.
"We are very glad to see you," returned Okiok. "We have heard of you for many moons. We have wished for you very hard. Now you have come, we will treat you well."
"Are your huts far off?" asked the seaman anxiously.
"Not far. They are close to the ice-mountain—on the land."
"Take me to them, then, like a good fellow, for I'm dead-beat, and stand much in need of rest."
The poor man was so helpless that he could not walk to the sledge when they unrolled him. It seemed as if his power of will and energy had collapsed at the very moment of his rescue. Up to that time the fear of death had urged him on, but now, feeling that he was, comparatively speaking, safe, he gave way to the languor which had so long oppressed him, and thus, the impulse of the will being removed, he suddenly became as helpless as an infant.
Seeing his condition, the father and son lifted him on the sledge, wrapped him in skins, and drove back to the huts at full speed.
Nuna was awaiting them outside, with eager eyes and beating heart, for the discovery of a real live Kablunet was to her an object of as solemn and anxious curiosity as the finding of a veritable living ghost might be to a civilised man. But Nuna was not alone. There were two other members of the household present, who had been absent when Okiok first arrived, and whom we will now introduce to the reader.
One was Nuna's only daughter, an exceedingly pretty girl—according to Eskimo notions of female beauty. She was seventeen years of age, black-eyed, healthily-complexioned, round-faced, sweet-expressioned, comfortably stout, and unusually graceful—for an Eskimo. Among her other charms, modesty and good-nature shone conspicuous. She was in all respects a superior counterpart of her mother, and her name was Nunaga. Nuna was small, Nunaga was smaller. Nuna was comparatively young, Nunaga was necessarily younger. The former was kind, the latter was kinder. The mother was graceful and pretty, the daughter was more graceful and prettier. Nuna wore her hair gathered on the top of her head into a high top-knot, Nunaga wore a higher top-knot. In regard to costume, Nuna wore sealskin boots the whole length of her legs—which were not long—and a frock or skirt reaching nearly to her knees, with a short tail in front and a long tail behind; Nunaga, being similarly clothed, had a shorter tail in front and a longer tail behind.
It may be interesting to note here that Eskimos are sometimes named because of qualities possessed, or appearance, or peculiar circumstances connected with them. The word Nuna signifies "land" in Eskimo. We cannot tell why this particular lady was named Land, unless it were that she was born on the land, and not on the ice; or perhaps because she was so nice that when any man came into her company he might have thought that he had reached the land of his hopes, and was disposed to settle down there and remain. Certainly many of the Eskimo young men seemed to be of that mind until Okiok carried her off in triumph. And let us tell you, reader, that a good and pretty woman is as much esteemed among the Eskimos as among ourselves. We do not say that she is better treated; neither do we hint that she is sometimes treated worse.
The Eskimo word Nunaga signifies "my land," and was bestowed by Okiok on his eldest-born in a flood of tenderness at her birth.
Apologising for this philological digression, we proceed. Besides Nuna and Nunaga there was a baby boy—a fat, oily, contented boy—without a name at that time, and without a particle of clothing of any sort, his proper condition of heat being maintained when out of doors chiefly by being carried between his mother's dress and her shoulders; also by being stuffed to repletion with blubber.
The whole family cried out vigorously with delight, in various keys, when the team came yelping home with the Kablunet. Even the baby gave a joyous crow—in Eskimo.
But the exclamations were changed to pity when the Kablunet was assisted to rise, and staggered feebly towards the hut, even when supported by Okiok and his sons. The sailor was not ignorant of Eskimo ways. His residence in South Greenland had taught him many things. He dropped, therefore, quite naturally—indeed gladly—on his hands and knees on coming to the mouth of the tunnel, and crept slowly into the hut, followed by the whole family, except Ermigit, who was left to unfasten the dogs.
The weather at the time was by no means cold, for spring was rapidly advancing; nevertheless, to one who had been so reduced in strength, the warmth of the Eskimo hut was inexpressibly grateful. With a great sigh of relief the rescued man flung himself on the raised part of the floor on which Eskimos are wont to sit and sleep.
"Thank God, and again I thank you, my friends!" he said, repeating the phrase which he had already used, for the sudden change from despair to hope, from all but death to restored life, had filled his heart with gratitude.
"You are weary?" said Okiok.
"Ay, ay—very weary; well-nigh to death," he replied.
"Will the Kablunet sleep?" asked Nuna, pointing to a couch of skins close behind the seaman.
Rooney looked round.
"Thankee; yes, I will."
He crept to the couch, and dropped upon it, with his head resting on an eider-down pillow. Like a tired infant, his eyes closed, and he was asleep almost instantaneously.
Seeing this, the Eskimos began to move about with care, and to speak in whispers, though it was needless caution, for in his condition the man would probably have continued to sleep through the wildest thunderstorm. Even when baby, tumbling headlong off the elevated floor, narrowly missed spiking himself on a walrus spear, and set up a yell that might have startled the stone deaf, the wearied Kablunet did not move. Okiok did, however. He moved smartly towards the infant, caught him by the throat, and almost strangled him in a fierce attempt to keep him quiet.
"Stupid tumbler!" he growled—referring to the child's general and awkward habit of falling—"Can't you shut your mouth?"
Curious similarity between the thoughts and words of civilised and savage man in similar circumstances! And it is interesting to note the truth of what the song says:—
"We little know what great things from little things may rise."
From that slight incident the Eskimo child derived his future name of "Tumbler"! We forget what the precise Eskimo term is, but the English equivalent will do as well.
When supper-time arrived that night, Okiok and Nuna consulted as to whether they should waken their guest, or let him lie still—for, from the instant he lay down, he had remained without the slightest motion, save the slow, regular heaving of his broad chest.
"Let him sleep. He is tired," said Okiok.
"But he must be hungry, and he is weak," said Nuna.
"He can feed when he wakens," returned the man, admiring his guest as a collector might admire a foreign curiosity which he had just found.
"Kablunets sleep sounder than Eskimos," remarked the woman.
"Stupid one! Your head is thick, like the skull of the walrus," said the man. "Don't you see that it is because he is worn-out?"
Eskimos are singularly simple and straightforward in their speech. They express their opinions with the utmost candour, and without the slightest intention of hurting each other's feelings. Nuna took no offence at her husband's plain speaking, but continued to gaze with a gratified expression at the stranger.
And sooth to say Reginald Rooney was a pleasant object for contemplation, as well as a striking contrast to the men with whom Nuna had been hitherto associated. His brow was broad; the nose, which had been compared to the eagle's beak, was in reality a fine aquiline; the mouth, although partially concealed by a brown drooping moustache, was well formed, large, and firm; the beard bushy, and the hair voluminous as well as curly. Altogether, this poor castaway was as fine a specimen of a British tar as one could wish to see, despite his wasted condition and his un-British garb.
It was finally decided to leave him undisturbed, and the Eskimo family took care while supping to eat their food in comparative silence. Usually the evening meal was a noisy, hilarious festival, at which Okiok and Norrak and Ermigit were wont to relate the various incidents of the day's hunt, with more or less of exaggeration, not unmingled with fun, and only a little of that shameless boasting which is too strong a characteristic of the North American Indian. The women of the household were excellent listeners; also splendid laughers, and Tumbler was unrivalled in the matter of crowing, so that noise as well as feasting was usually the order of the night. But on this great occasion that was all changed. The feasting was done in dead silence; and another very striking peculiarity of the occasion was that, while the six pairs of jaws kept moving with unflagging pertinacity, the twelve wide-open eyes kept glaring with unwinking intensity at the sleeping man.
Indeed this unwavering glare continued long after supper was over, for each member of the family lay down to rest with his or her face towards the stranger, and kept up the glare until irresistible Nature closed the lids and thus put out the eyes, like the stars of morning, one by one; perhaps it would be more strictly correct to say two by two.
Okiok and his wife were the last to succumb. Long after the others were buried in slumber, these two sat up by the lamp-light, solacing themselves with little scraps and tit-bits of walrus during the intervals of whispered conversation.
"What shall we do with him?" asked Okiok, after a brief silence.
"Keep him," replied Nuna, with decision.
"But we cannot force him to stay."
"He cannot travel alone," said Nuna, "and we will not help him to go."
"We are not the only Innuits in all the land. Others will help him if we refuse."
This was so obvious that the woman could not reply, but gazed for some time in perplexity at the lamp-smoke. And really there was much inspiration to be derived from the lamp-smoke, for the wick being a mass of moss steeped in an open cup of seal-oil, the smoke of it rose in varied convolutions that afforded almost as much scope for suggestive contemplation as our familiar coal-fires.
Suddenly the little woman glanced at her slumbering household, cast a meaning look at her husband, and laughed—silently of course.
"Has Nuna become a fool that she laughs at nothing?" demanded Okiok simply.
Instead of replying to the well-meant though impolite question, Nuna laughed again, and looked into the dark corner where the pretty little round face of Nunaga was dimly visible, with the eyes shut, and the little mouth wide-open.
"We will marry him to Nunaga," she said, suddenly becoming grave.
"Pooh!" exclaimed Okiok—or some expression equivalent to that—"Marry Nunaga to a Kablunet? Never! Do you not know that Angut wants her?"
It was evident from the look of surprise with which Nuna received this piece of information that she was not aware of Angut's aspirations, and it was equally evident from the perplexed expression that followed that her hastily-conceived little matrimonial speculation had been knocked on the head.
After this their thoughts either strayed into other channels, or became too deep for utterance, for they conversed no more, but soon joined the rest of the family in the realms of oblivion.
OUR HERO AND HIS FRIENDS BECOME FAMILIAR.
It was a fine balmy brilliant morning when Red Rooney awoke from the most refreshing sleep he had enjoyed for many a day, gazed thoughtfully up at the blackened roof of the Eskimo hut, and wondered where he was.
There was nothing that met his eyes to recall his scattered senses, for all the members of the family had gone out to their various avocations, and one of them having thrust a sealskin into the hole in the wall which served for a window the sun found admittance only through crevices, and but faintly illumined the interior.
The poor man felt intensely weak, yet delightfully restful—so much so that mere curiosity seemed to have died within him, and he was content to lie still and think of whatever his wayward mind chose to fasten on, or not to think at all, if his mind saw fit to adopt that course in its vagaries. In short, he felt as if he had no more control over his thoughts than a man in a dream, and was quite satisfied that it should be so.
As his eyes became accustomed to the dim light, however, he began slowly to perceive that the walls around him were made of rough unhewn stone, that the rafters were of drift timber, and the roof of moss, or something like it; but the whole was so thickly coated with soot as to present a uniform appearance of blackness. He also saw, from the position in which he lay, a stone vessel, like a primitive classical lamp, with a wick projecting from its lip, but no flame. Several skulls of large animals lay on the floor within the range of his vision, and some sealskin and other garments hung on pegs of bone driven into the wall. Just opposite to him was the entrance to the tunnel, which formed the passage or corridor of the mansion, and within it gleamed a subdued light which entered from the outer end.
Rooney knew that he saw these things, and took note of them, yet if you had asked him what he had seen it is probable that he would have been unable to tell—so near had he approached to the confines of that land from which no traveller returns.
Heaving a deep sigh, the man uttered the words, "Thank God!" for the third time within the last four-and-twenty hours. It was an appropriate prelude to his sinking into that mysterious region of oblivion in which the mind of worn-out man finds rest, and out of which it can be so familiarly yet mysteriously summoned—sometimes by his own pre-determination, but more frequently by a fellow-mortal.
He had not lain long thus when the tunnel was suddenly darkened by an advancing body, which proved to be the mistress of the mansion.
Nuna, on thrusting her head into the interior, looked inquiringly up before venturing to rise. After a good stare at the slumbering Kablunet, she went cautiously towards the window and removed the obstruction. A flood of light was let in, which illumined, but did not awaken, the sleeper.
Cautiously and on tip-toe the considerate little woman went about her household duties, but with her eyes fixed, as if in fascination, on her interesting guest.
It is at all times an awkward as well as a dangerous mode of proceeding, to walk in one direction and look in another. In crossing the hut, Nuna fell over a walrus skull, upset the lamp, and sent several other articles of furniture against the opposite wall with a startling crash. The poor creature did not rise. She was too much overwhelmed with shame. She merely turned her head as she lay, and cast a horrified gaze at the sleeper.
To her great joy she saw that Red Rooney had not been disturbed. He slept through it all with the placidity of an infant. Much relieved, the little woman got up, and moved about more freely. She replenished the lamp with oil, and kindled it. Then she proceeded to roast and fry and grill bear ribs, seal chops, and walrus steaks with a dexterity that was quite marvellous, considering the rude culinary implements with which she had to deal. In a short time breakfast was prepared, and Nuna went out to announce the fact. Slowly and with the utmost caution each member of the family crept in, and, before rising, cast the same admiring, inquiring, partially awe-stricken gaze at the unconscious Kablunet. Okiok, Nunaga, Norrak, Ermigit, and Tumbler all filed in, and sat down in solemn silence.
Okiok took Tumbler on his knee, so as to be ready to throttle him on the shortest notice if he should venture to cry, or even crow.
But as the best of human arrangements often fail through unforeseen circumstances, so the quietude was broken a second time that morning unexpectedly. One of the hungry dogs outside, rendered desperate by the delicious fumes that issued from the hut, took heart, dashed in, caught up a mass of blubber, and attempted to make off. A walrus rib, however, from Norrak's unerring hand, caught him on the haunch as he entered the tunnel, and caused him to utter such a piercing howl that Red Rooney not only awoke, but sat bolt upright, and gazed at the horrified Eskimos inquiringly.
Evidently the seaman was touched with a sense of the ludicrous, for he merely smiled and lay down again. But he did not try to sleep. Having been by that time thoroughly refreshed, he began to sniff the scent of savoury food as the war-horse is said to scent the battle from afar— that is, with an intense longing to "go at it." Okiok, guessing the state of his feelings, brought him a walrus rib.
Red Rooney accepted it, and began to eat at once without the use of knife or fork.
"Thankee, friend. It's the same I'll do for yourself if you ever come to starvation point when I've got a crust to spare."
Charmed beyond measure at hearing their native tongue from the mouth of a foreigner, the stare of the whole party became more intense, and for a few moments they actually ceased to chew—a sure sign that they were, so to speak, transfixed with interest.
"My man," said Rooney, after a few minutes' intense application to the rib, "what is your name?"
"Okiok," replied the Eskimo.
"Okiok," muttered the seaman to himself in English; "why, that's the Eskimo word for winter." Then, after a few minutes' further attention to the rib, "Why did they name you after the cold season o' the year?"
"I know not," said Okiok. "When my father named me I was very small, and could not ask his reason. He never told any one. Before I was old enough to ask, a bear killed him. My mother thought it was because the winter when I was born was very cold and long."
Again the hungry man applied himself to the rib, and nothing more was said till it was finished. Feeling still somewhat fatigued, Rooney settled himself among his furs in a more upright position, and gave his attention to the natives, who instantly removed their eyes from him, and resumed eating with a will. Of course they could not restrain furtive glances, but they had ceased to stare.
In a few minutes Okiok paused, and in turn became the questioner.
"No Kablunet ever came here before," he said. "We are glad to see you; but why do you come, and why alone, and why starving?"
"Not very easy to answer these questions off-hand to the likes of you," said Rooney. "However, I'll try. You've heard of the settlements—the traders—no doubt, in the far-off land over there?"
Rooney pointed to the southward, the direction of which he knew from the position of the sun and the time of day, which latter he guessed roughly.
The Eskimo nodded. From the special character of the nod it was evident that he meant it to express intelligence. And it did!
"Well," continued Rooney, "you may have heard that big, big—tremendous big—kayaks, or rather oomiaks, have come to that country, an' landed men and women, who have built houses—igloos—and have settled there to trade?"
At this his host nodded with such decision, and so frequently, as to show that he not only knew of the Kablunet settlements, but was deeply interested in them, and would be glad to know something more.
"Well, then," continued the sailor, "I came out from a great and rich country, called England, in one o' these big tradin' canoes, which was wrecked close to the settlements, and there I stayed with my mates, waiting for another big kayak to come an' take us off; but no kayak came for two winters—so that's the way I came to understand an' speak the Eskimo—"
At this point, as if it could endure the stranger's voice no longer, Tumbler set up a sudden and tremendous howl. He was instantly seized, half strangled, metaphorically sat upon, and reduced to sobbing silence, when the sailor resumed his narrative.
"All that time I was workin' off and on for the—"
He stopped abruptly, not having any words in the native language by which to name the Moravian Missionaries. The Eskimos waited with eager looks for the next word.
"Well, well," resumed Rooney, with a pathetic smile, "it is a pity the whole world don't speak one language. I was workin' for, for—these Kablunets who have come to Greenland, (that's the name we've given to your country, you must know)—who have come to Greenland, not to trade, but to teach men about God—about Torngarsuk, the Good Spirit—who made all the world, and men, and beasts."
At this point the interest of Okiok became, if possible, more intense.
"Do the Kablunets know God, the Good Spirit? Have they seen him?" he asked.
"They haven't exactly seen Him," replied the sailor; "but they have got a book, a writing, which tells about Him, and they know something of His nature and His wishes."
Of course this reference to a book and a writing—which Rooney had learned to speak of from the Moravians—was quite incomprehensible to the Eskimo. He understood enough of what was said, however, to see the drift of his visitor's meaning.
"Huk!" he exclaimed, with a look of satisfaction; "Angut will be glad to hear this."
"Who is Angut?" asked the sailor.
The whole party looked peculiarly solemn at this question.
"Angut is a great angekok," answered Okiok, in a low voice.
"Oh! he is one of your wise men, is he?" returned Rooney, with an involuntary shrug of his shoulders, for he had heard and seen enough during his residence at the settlements to convince him that the angekoks, or sorcerers, or wise men of the Eskimos, were mostly a set of clever charlatans, like the medicine-men of the North American Indians, who practised on the credulity and superstition of their fellow-men in order to gain their own ends. Some of these angekoks, no doubt, were partly self-deceivers, believing to some extent the deceptions which they practised, and desiring more or less the welfare of their dupes; but others were thorough, as well as clever, rogues, whose sole object was self-interest.
"Well, then," continued Rooney, "after I'd been two winters with these Kablunets, another big kayak came to the settlement, not to trade, nor to teach about God, but to go as far as they could into the ice, and try to discover new lands."
"Poor men!" remarked Okiok pitifully; "had they no lands of their own?"
"O, yes; they had lands at home," replied the sailor, laughing.
"Huk!" exclaimed several of the natives, glancing at each other with quite a pleased expression. It was evident that they were relieved as well as glad to find that their visitor could laugh, for his worn and woe-begone expression, which was just beginning to disappear under the influence of rest and food, had induced the belief that he could only go the length of smiling.
"Yes," continued the sailor; "they had lands, more or less—some of them, at least—and some of them had money; but you must know, Okiok, that however much a Kablunet may have, he always wants more."
"Is he never content?" asked the Eskimo.
"Never; at least not often."
"Wonderful!" exclaimed Okiok; "when I am stuffed with seal-blubber as full as I can hold, I want nothing more."
Again the sailor laughed, and there was something so hearty and jovial in the sound that it became infectious, and the natives joined him, though quite ignorant of the exciting cause. Even Tumbler took advantage of the occasion to give vent to another howl, which, having something of the risible in it, was tolerated. When silence was restored, the visitor resumed—
"I joined these searchers, as they wanted an interpreter, and we came away north here. Nothing particular happened at first. We had a deal of squeezing an' bumping in the ice of course, but got little damage, till about six days back I think, or thereabouts, when we got a nip that seemed to me to cut the bottom clean out o' the big kayak, for when the ice eased off again it went straight to the bottom. We had only time to throw some provisions on the ice and jump out before it went down. As our provisions were not sufficient to last more than a few days, I was sent off with some men over the floe to hunt for seals. We only saw one, asleep near its hole. Bein' afraid that the sailors might waken it, I told them to wait, and I would go after it alone. They agreed, but I failed. The seal was lively. He saw me before I got near enough, and dived into his hole. On returnin' to where I had left the men I found a great split in the ice, which cut me off from them. The space widened. I had no small kayak to take me across. It was too cold to swim. The floe on which my comrades stood was driftin', along wi' the big floe, where the rest of them were. The ice on which I stood was fast. A breeze was blowin' at the time, which soon carried the pack away. In an hour they were out of sight, and I saw them no more. I knew that it was land-ice on which I stood, and also that the coast could not be far off; but the hummocks and the snow-drift prevented me from seein' far in any direction. I knew also that death would be my portion if I remained where I was, so I set off straight for land as fast as I could go. How long I've been on the way I can't tell, for I don't feel quite sure, and latterly my brain has got into a confused state. I had a small piece of seal meat in my pouch when I started. When it was done I cut a strip off my sealskin coat an' sucked that. It just kept body and soul together. At last I saw the land, but fell, and should have died there if the Good Spirit had not sent you to save me, Okiok—so give us a shake of your hand, old boy!"
To this narrative the natives listened with breathless attention, but at the conclusion Okiok looked at the extended hand in surprise, not knowing what was expected of him. Seeing this, Rooney leaned forward, grasped the man's right hand, shook it warmly, patted it on the back, then, raising it to his lips, kissed it.
Stupid indeed would the man have been, and unusually savage, who could have failed to understand that friendship and good-will lay in these actions. But Okiok was not stupid. On the contrary, he was brightly intelligent, and, being somewhat humorous in addition, he seized Rooney's hand instantly after, and repeated the operation, with a broad smile on his beaming face. Then, turning suddenly to Tumbler, he grasped and shook that naked infant's hand, as it sat on the floor in a pool of oil from a lamp which it had overturned.
An explosion of laughter from everybody showed that the little joke was appreciated; but Okiok became suddenly grave, and sobered his family instantly, as he turned to Rooney and said—
"I wish that Angut had been there. He would have saved your big oomiak and all the men."
"Indeed. Is he then such a powerful angekok?"
"Yes; very, very powerful. There never was an angekok like him."
"I suppose not," returned Rooney, with a feeling of doubt, which, however, he took care to hide. "What like is this great wise man—very big, I suppose?"
"No, he is not big, but he is not small. He is middling, and very strong, like the bear; very active and supple, like the seal or the white fox; and very swift, like the deer—and very different from other angekoks."
"He must be a fine man," said the sailor, becoming interested in this angekok; "tell me wherein he differs from others."
"He is not only strong and wise, but he is good; and he cares nothing for our customs, or for the ways of other angekoks. He says that they are all lies and nonsense. Yes, he even says that he is not an angekok at all; but we know better, for he is. Everybody can see that he is. He knows everything; he can do anything. Do I not speak what is true?"
He turned to his wife and daughter as he spoke. Thus appealed to, Nuna said it was all true, and Nunaga said it was all very true, and blushed—and, really, for an Eskimo, she looked quite pretty.
Don't laugh, good reader, at the idea of an Eskimo blushing. Depend upon it, that that is one of those touches of nature which prove the kinship of the world everywhere.
While they were talking a step was heard outside, and the Eskimos looked intelligently at each other. They knew that the comer must be a friend, because, had he been a stranger, the dogs would have given notice of his approach. Besides, these animals were heard fawning round him as he spoke to them.
"Ujarak!" exclaimed Okiok, in a low voice.
"Is Ujarak a friend?" asked the sailor.
"He is an angekok," said the Eskimo evasively—"a great angekok, but not so great as Angut."
Another moment, and a man was seen to creep into the tunnel. Standing up when inside, he proved to be a tall, powerful Eskimo, with a not unhandsome but stern countenance, which was somewhat marred by a deep scar over the left eye.
OKIOK BECOMES SIMPLE BUT DEEP, AND THE WIZARD TRIES TO MAKE CAPITAL OUT OF EVENTS.
Of course Ujarak, wise man though he was esteemed to be, could not help being struck dumb by the unexpected sight of the gaunt foreigner. Indeed, having so long held supposed intercourse with familiar spirits, it is not improbable that he imagined that one of them had at last come, without waiting for a summons, to punish him because of his deceptive practices, for he turned pale—or rather faintly green—and breathed hard.
Perceiving his state, it suddenly occurred to the sailor to say—"Don't be afraid. I won't hurt you." He inadvertently said it in English, however, so that Ujarak was none the wiser.
"Who is he?" demanded the angekok—perhaps it were more correct to call him wizard.
Okiok, expecting Rooney to reply, looked at him, but a spirit of silence seemed to have come over the stranger, for he made no reply, but shut his eyes, as if he had dropped asleep.
"He is a Kablunet," said Okiok.
"I could see that, even if I had not the double sight of the angekok," replied the other, with a touch of sarcasm, for Eskimos, although by no means addicted to quarrelling, are very fond of satire. They are also prone to go straight to the point in conversation, and although fond of similes and figurative language, they seldom indulge in bombast.
With much solemnity Okiok rejoined that he had no doubt of Ujarak's being aware that the man was a Kablunet.
"And I am glad you have come," he added, "for of course you can also tell me where the Kablunet has come from, and whither he is going?"
The angekok glanced at his host quickly, for he knew—at least he strongly suspected—that he was one of that uncomfortable class of sceptics who refuse to swallow without question all that self-constituted "wise men" choose to tell them. Okiok was gazing at him, however, with an air of the most infantine simplicity and deference.
"I cannot tell you that," replied the wizard, "because I have not consulted my torngak about him."
It must be explained here that each angekok has a private spirit, or familiar, whose business it is to enlighten him on all points, and conduct him on his occasional visits to the land of spirits. This familiar is styled his "torngak."
"Did your torngak tell you that he was a Kablunet?" asked Okiok simply— so simply that there was no room for Ujarak to take offence.
"No; my eyes told me that."
"I did not know that you had ever seen a Kablunet," returned the other, with a look of surprise.
"Nor have I. But have I not often heard them described by the men of the south? and has not my torngak showed them to me in dreams?"
The wizard said this somewhat tartly, and Okiok, feeling that he had gone far enough, turned away his sharp little eyes, and gazed at the lamp-smoke with an air of profound humility.
"You have got seal-flesh?" said Ujarak, glad to change the subject.
"Yes; I killed it yesterday. You are hungry? Nuna will give you some."
"No; I am not hungry. Nevertheless I will eat. It is good to eat at all times."
"Except when we are stuffed quite full," murmured Okiok, casting at Nunaga a sly glance, which threw that Eskimo maiden into what strongly resembled a suppressed giggle. It was catching, for her brothers Norrak and Ermigit were thrown into a similar condition, and even the baby crowed out of sympathy. Indeed Red Rooney himself, who only simulated sleep, found it difficult to restrain his feelings, for he began to understand Okiok's character, and to perceive that he was more than a match for the wizard with all his wisdom.
Whatever Ujarak may have felt, he revealed nothing, for he possessed that well-known quality of the Eskimo—the power to restrain and conceal his feelings—in a high degree. With a quiet patronising smile, he bent down in quite a lover-like way, and asked Nunaga if the seal-flesh was good.
"Yes, it is good; very good," answered the maiden, looking modestly down, and toying with the end of her tail. You see she had no scent-bottle or fan to toy with. To be sure she had gloves—thick sealskin mittens—but these were not available at the moment.
"I knew you had a seal," said the angekok, pausing between bites, after the edge of his appetite had been taken off; "my torngak told me you had found one at last."
"Did he tell you that I had also found a bear?" asked Okiok, with deeper simplicity than ever.
The wizard, without raising his head, and stuffing his mouth full to prevent the power of speech, glanced keenly about the floor. Observing the fresh skin in a corner, and one or two ribs, he bolted the bite, and said—
"O yes. My torngak is kind; he tells me many things without being asked. He said to me two days ago, 'Okiok is a clever man. Though all the people are starving just now, he has killed a seal and a bear.'"
"Can torngaks make mistakes?" asked Okiok, with a puzzled look. "It was yesterday that I killed the seal and the bear."
"Torngaks never make mistakes," was the wizard's prompt and solemn reply; "but they see and know the future as well as the past, and they sometimes speak of both as the present."
"How puzzling!" returned the other meekly. "He meant you, then, to understand that I was going to kill a seal and a bear. Glad am I that I am not an angekok, for it would be very difficult work for a stupid man,—enough almost to kill him!"
"You are right. It is difficult and hard work. So you see the torngak told me go feast with Okiok, and at his bidding of course I have come, on purpose to do so."
"That's a lie. You came to see my Nunaga, and you hope to get her; but you never will!" said Okiok. He said it only to himself, however, being far too polite to say it to his guest, to whom he replied deferentially—
"If they are starving at your village, why did you not bring your mother and your father? They would have been welcome, for a seal and a bear would be enough to stuff us all quite full, and leave something to send to the rest."
For some minutes the wizard did not reply. Perhaps he was meditating, perchance inventing.
"I brought no one," he said at last, "because I want you and your family to return with me to the village. You know it is only two days distant, and we can take the seal and the bear with us. We are going to have a great feast and games."
"Did you not say the people were starving?" asked Okiok, with a look of gentle surprise.
"They were starving," returned Ujarak quickly; "but two walruses and four seals were brought in yesterday and my torngak has told me that he will point out where many more are to be found if I consult him on the night of the feast. Will you come back with me?"
Okiok glanced at the Kablunet.
"I cannot leave my guest," he said.
"True, but we can take him with us."
"Impossible. Do you not see he is only bones in a bag of skin? He must rest and feed."
"That will be no difficulty," returned the wizard, "for the feast is not to be held for twice seven days. By that time the Kablunet will be well, and getting strong. Of course he must rest and be well stuffed just now. So I will go back, and say that you are coming, and tell them also what you have found—a Kablunet. Huk!"
"Yes; and he speaks our language," said Okiok.
"That was not our language which he spoke when I came in."
"No; yet he speaks it."
"I should like to hear him speak."
"You must not wake him," said Okiok, with an assumed look of horror. "He would be sure to kill you with a look or a breath if you did. See; he moves!"
Rooney certainly did move at the moment, for the conversation had tickled him a good deal, and the last remark was almost too much for him. Not wishing, however, to let the angekok go without some conversation, he conveniently awoke, yawned, and stretched himself. In the act he displayed an amount of bone and sinew, if not flesh, which made a very favourable impression on the Eskimos, for physical strength and capacity is always, and naturally, rated highly among savages.
Our shipwrecked hero had now heard and seen enough to understand something of the character of the men with whom he had to deal. He went therefore direct to the point, without introduction or ceremony, by asking the angekok who he was and where he came from. After catechising him closely, he then sought to establish a kind of superiority over him by voluntarily relating his own story, as we have already given it, and thus preventing his being questioned in return by the wizard.
"Now," said Red Rooney in conclusion, "when you go home to your village, tell the people that the Kablunet, having been nearly starved, must have some days to get well. He will stay with his friend Okiok, and rest till he is strong. Then he will go to your village with his friends, and join in the feast and games."
There was a quiet matter-of-course tone of command about the seaman, which completely overawed the poor angekok, inducing him to submit at once to the implied superiority, though hitherto accustomed to carry matters with a high hand among his compatriots. His self-esteem, however, was somewhat compensated by the fact that he should be the bearer of such wonderful news to his people, and by the consideration that he could say his torngak had told him of the arrival of the Kablunet—an assertion which they would believe all the more readily that he had left home with some mysterious statements that something wonderful was likely to be discovered. In truth, this astute wizard never failed to leave some such prediction behind him every time he quitted home, so as to prepare the people for whatever might occur; and, should nothing occur, he could generally manage to colour some event or incident with sufficient importance to make it fulfil the prediction, at least in some degree.
When at last he rose to depart, Ujarak turned to Nunaga. As her father had rightly guessed, the wizard, who was quite a young man, had come there on matrimonial views intent; and he was not the man to leave the main purpose of his journey unattempted.
"Nunaga," he said, in a comparatively low yet sufficiently audible voice, "my sledge is large. It is too large for one—"
He was interrupted suddenly at this point by Rooney, who saw at once what was coming.
"Okiok," he said, "I want Nunaga to mend and patch my torn garments for the next few days. Her mother has enough to do with cooking and looking after the house. Can you spare her for that work?"
Yes, Okiok could spare her; and was very glad to do all that he could to accommodate the foreigner.
"Will Ujarak carry a message from the Kablunet to his village?" asked Rooney, turning to the wizard.
"He will," replied the latter somewhat sulkily.
"Does he know the angekok named Angut?"
It is doubtful whether anger or surprise was most strongly expressed in the countenance of the Eskimo as he replied sternly, "Yes."
"Then tell him that the Kablunet will stay in his hut when he visits your village."
Having delivered this message, he turned his face to the wall, and, without awaiting a reply, coolly went to sleep, or appeared to do so, while Ujarak went off, with a storm of very mingled feelings harrowing his savage breast.
When he was gone Red Rooney raised himself on one elbow, and looked over his shoulder at Okiok with a broad grin. Okiok, who felt grave enough at the moment, and somewhat perplexed, opened his eyes gradually, and reciprocated the smile with interest. By degrees he closed the eyes, and allowed the smile to develop into a high falsetto chuckle which convulsed his broad hairy shoulders for full five minutes.
From that hour Okiok and the Kablunet were united! They understood each other. The chords of sympathetic humour had vibrated within them in harmony. They were thenceforward en rapport, and felt towards each other like brothers, or rather like father and son, for Okiok was forty-five years of age at least, while Rooney was not yet thirty.
"He's a very bad man, is he not?" asked the seaman, when the heaving of the shoulders had subsided.
"Ho! yes. Bad, bad! very bad! He lies, and steals, and cheats, and talks nonsense, and wants Nunaga for a wife."
"And you don't want him for a son?"
Rooney laughed, and, turning away with a wink and a nod, lay down to sleep—this time in earnest. Okiok responded with a falsetto chuckle, after which he proceeded to solace himself with a mass of half-cooked blubber. Observing that Tumbler was regarding him with longing looks, he good-naturedly cut off part of the savoury morsel, and handed it to the child. It is well-known that the force of example is strong— stronger than that of precept. In a few minutes the entire family set to work again on the viands with as much gusto as though they had eaten little or nothing for a week.
Leaving them thus pleasantly and profitably occupied, let us follow Ujarak to his village.
Every man and woman of superior intelligence in this world has probably one blind worshipper, if not more—some weak brother who admires, believes in, perhaps envies, but always bows to the demigod. Such a worshipper had Ujarak in Ippegoo, a tall young man, of weak physical frame, and still weaker mental capacity.
Ippegoo was not malevolent, like his master, but he was sufficiently wicked to laugh at his evil doings, and to assist him in his various plans, in the implicit belief that he was aiding a great and wise man. He did so all the more readily that he himself aimed at the high and dignified office of an angekok, an aspiration which had at first been planted in him, and afterwards been carefully encouraged by his deceiver, because it made his dupe, if possible, a blinder and more willing tool.
"Ippegoo," said Ujarak, on drawing near to the outskirts of his village, and coming unexpectedly on his satellite, who was in the act of dragging home a seal which he had just killed, "I meet you in the nick of time— but that is no wonder, for did not my torngak tell me he would cause you to meet me near the village? I want your assistance just now."
"I am glad, then, that we have met," said Ippegoo, with a cringing motion not unlike a bow—though of the ceremonial bow the Eskimos have no knowledge.
"Yes, strange things have happened," continued the angekok, rolling his eyes impressively. "Did I not tell you before I started to visit Okiok that strange things would happen?"
Ippegoo, who had a good deal of straightforward simplicity in his nature, looked puzzled, and tried hard to recollect what Ujarak had told him.
"You will never make an angekok," said Ujarak, with a look of displeasure, "if you do not rouse up your memory more. Do you not remember when I whispered to you in a dream last night that strange things were going to happen?"
"O ye-e-es,—in a dream; yes, I remember now," returned the satellite in some confusion, yet with a good deal of faith, for he was a heavy feeder, and subject to nightmares, so that it was not difficult to imagine the "whisper" which had been suggested to him.
"Yes, you remember now, stupid walrus! Well, then, what was the strange thing like?" Ujarak looked awfully solemn while he put this question.
"What was it like?" repeated the poor youth with hesitation, and an uneasy glance at the sky, as if for inspiration. "What—was—it—oh, I remember; it was big—big; very big—so high," (holding his hand up about seven feet from the ice).
"No, Ippegoo, not so big. He was about my size. Don't you remember? and he was pale, with hair twisted into little rings all over his head, and—"
"Yes, yes; and a nose as long as my leg," interrupted the eager pupil.
"Not at all, stupid puffin! A nose no longer than your own, and much better-shaped."
The angekok said this so sternly that the too willing Ippegoo collapsed, and looked, as he felt, superlatively humble.
"Now go," resumed Ujarak, with an unrelaxed brow; "go tell your story to the people assembled in the big hut. They feast there to-night, I know. Tell them what your dream has revealed. Tell them how I spoke to you before I left the village—but don't be too particular in your description. Let that be—like your own mind—confused, and then it will be true to nature. Tell them also that you expect me soon, but say not that you have met me to-day, for that might displease my torngak, whom I go to consult."
Without giving his pupil time to reply, the wizard strode off, and disappeared among the ice hummocks, as a bad actor might strut behind the side scenes.
Deeply impressed with the solemnity of the whole affair, and with the importance of his mission, the young Eskimo went off to the village, dragging his seal behind him, and wondering what new discovery had been made by his mysterious patron.
That something of unusual import had occurred he never doubted, for although he had often seen Ujarak, with unbounded admiration, wriggle out of unfulfilled prophecy like an eel, he had never seen him give way to demonstrations such as we have described without something real and surprising turning up ere long.
Strong in this faith, he ran into the large hut where a considerable party of his tribe were feasting on a recently captured walrus, and told them that something tremendous, something marrow-thrilling, had occurred to the great angekok Ujarak, who, before leaving the village, had told him that he was going off to find a—a—something—he knew not exactly what—with rings of hair all over its body, pale as the ice-floe, more wonderful than the streaming lights—incomprehensible!—immense!
At this point he glared, and became dumb. Not knowing well what to say next, he judiciously remained silent, then sat down and gasped, while the united company exclaimed "Huk!" with unusual emphasis.
The consultation which Ujarak had with his torngak was somewhat peculiar. It consisted chiefly in a wild run at full speed out upon the floes. Having pretty well exhausted himself by this device, and brought on profuse perspiration, he turned homewards. Drawing near to the village, he flung back his hood, ran his fingers through his long black hair until it was wildly dishevelled, then, springing suddenly into the midst of the festive party, he overturned feasters right and left, as he made his way to the part of the edifice furthest from the door.
A close observer might have noted, however, that there was method in his madness, for he overturned only women and children, and kept carefully clear of men—at least of such men as he knew would resent his roughness.
Wheeling suddenly round, and facing the solemnised assembly, he addressed it, as if with difficulty, in a low-toned, awesome voice.
PLOTS AND COUNTER-PLOTS ALREADY.
It is not necessary, neither would it be profitable, to give in full detail what Ujarak said to the gaping crowd. Enough to know that, like other statesmen, he made the most of his subject, and fully impressed his audience with the belief that this first of Kablunets who had ever visited these ice-bound regions had been mysteriously, yet irresistibly, drawn there through his, Ujarak's, influence, with the assistance of his torngak or familiar spirit.
One man there was in that assembly, however, who seemed to be not very deeply touched by the wizard's eloquence. Yet he did not express unbelief by his looks, but received all that was said with profound gravity. This was Angut, the reputed angekok, to whom reference has been made in a previous chapter.
Although a thorough Eskimo in dress and in cast of feature, there was a refinement, a gravity, a kindliness, and a something quite indescribable about this man, which marked him out as an exceptional character among his fellows. As we have said elsewhere, he was not unusually large, though he was unusually strong, for his power lay rather in a well-knit and splendidly proportioned than a bulky frame. Ujarak was taller and broader, yet did not possess half his muscular strength. Ujarak knew this, and had hitherto avoided coming into collision with him. But there was also a moral strength and enthusiasm in Angut, which placed him on a platform high above not only Ujarak, but all the other men of his time and country. In short, he was one of those far-seeing and thoughtful characters, who exist in all countries, in all ranks and conditions of life, civilised and savage, and who are sometimes styled "Nature's gentlemen."
Despite his surroundings, temptations, examples, trials, and worries, Angut was at all times unvaryingly urbane, kind, sedate, equable, obliging, honest, and self-sacrificing. It mattered not that other men spoke freely—sometimes even a little boastfully—of their exploits. Angut never did so of his, although no other man could hold a candle— perhaps we should say a lamp—to him in the matter of daring. It signified not that Eskimos in general were in the habit of treating friendless widows and orphans ill, even robbing as well as neglecting them, Angut always treated well those with whom he had to do. Other men might neglect people in distress, but he helped and defended them; and it was a matter of absolute indifference to him what "people" thought of his conduct. There is a modified "Mrs Grundy" even in Eskimo land, but Angut despised her. Indeed she was the only creature or thing in his limited world that this good man did despise. He puzzled his countrymen very much, for they could not understand him. Other men they could put to shame, or laugh out of their ideas and plans, or frighten into submission—at least into conformity. Not so Angut. He was immovable, like an ancient iceberg; proof against threats, wheedling, cajoling, terrifying, sarcasm—proof against everything but kindness. He could not stand before that. He went down before it as bergs go down before the summer sun.
Angut was shrewd also and profound of thought, insomuch that, mentally, he stood high above his kinsfolk. He seemed to see through his fellows as if their bosoms and brains had been made of glass, and all their thoughts visible. Ujarak knew this also, and did not like it. But no one suffered because of Angut's superior penetration, for he was too amiable to hurt the feelings of a mosquito.
After all that we have said, the reader will perhaps be prepared to expect that Angut never opened his mouth save to drop words of love and wisdom. Not so. Angut was modest to excess. He doubted his own wisdom; he suspected his own feelings; he felt a strong tendency to defer to the opinion of others, and was prone rather to listen than to speak. He was fond of a joke too, but seldom perpetrated one, and was seldom severe.
While Ujarak was speaking, Angut listened with that look of unmoved gravity with which he always met a new thing or idea, and which effectually concealed his real feelings, though the concealment was unintentional. But when at last the wizard came to the most distasteful part of his discourse, namely the message from Reginald Rooney, that, on the occasion of his visit to the camp, he would take up his abode with Angut, that hero's countenance lighted up with surprise, not unmingled with pleasure.
"Is Ujarak sure that the Kablunet said this?" asked Angut.
"Quite sure," replied the wizard.
"Huk!" exclaimed Angut, by which exclamation you may be sure that he meant to express much satisfaction.
"But," continued the wizard, "the Kablunet is ill. He is thin; he is weak. He wants rest. I have consulted with my torngak, who tells me he will get better soon if we do not trouble him."
At this point Ujarak glanced at Angut, but that worthy's countenance had resumed its look of impenetrable gravity.
"We must not worry him or go near him for some days," continued the wizard. "We must let him alone. And this will not try our patience, for my torngak tells me that seals have come. Yesterday I went to the house of the great Fury under the sea, and wrestled with her; and my torngak and I overcame her, and set many of the seals and other animals free."
"Huk!" exclaimed the assembly, in gratified surprise.
Lest the reader should feel some surprise also, we may as well explain what the Greenlanders believed in former times. They held, (perhaps they still hold), that there were two great spirits—the one was good, named Torngarsuk; the other was bad, and a female—a Fury—without a name. This malevolent woman was supposed to live in a great house under the ocean, in which by the power of her spells she enthralled and imprisoned many of the sea monsters and birds, thus causing scarcity of food among the Eskimos. The angekoks claimed to have the power of remedying this state of things by paying a visit to the abode of the Fury.
When an angekok has sufficient courage to undertake this journey, his torngak, after giving him minute instructions how to act, conducts him under the earth or sea, passing on the way through the kingdom of those good souls who spend their lives in felicity and ease. Soon they come to a frightful vacuity—a sort of vasty deep—over which is suspended a narrow wheel, which whirls round with great rapidity. This awful abyss is bridged by a rope, and guarded by seal sentinels. Taking the angekok by the hand, his torngak leads him on the rope over the chasm and past the sentinels into the palace of the Fury.
No sooner does the wicked creature spy the unwelcome visitors than, trembling and foaming with rage, she immediately sets on fire the wing of a sea-fowl, with the stench of which she hopes to suffocate angekok and torngak together, and make both of them captives. The heroes, however, are prepared for this. They seize the Fury before she has succeeded in setting fire to the wing, pull her down, and strip her of those amulets by the occult powers of which she has enslaved the inhabitants of ocean. Thus the spell is broken, for the time at least, and the creatures, being set free, ascend to their proper abodes at the surface of the sea!
After this explanation the reader will easily understand the flutter of excitement that passed through the assembly, for, although feasting at that moment on a walrus, they had suffered much during the latter part of that winter from the scarcity of animals of all kinds.
But Angut did not flutter. That peculiar man was an incorrigible sceptic. He merely smiled, and, chucking a rotund little boy beside him under the chin, said, "What think ye of that, my little ball of fat?" or some Eskimo equivalent for that question. Our intelligent wizard had not, however, ventured on these statements without some ground to go on. The fact is, that, being a close observer and good judge of the weather, he had perceived a change of some sort coming on. While on his way to the hut of Okiok he had also observed that a few seals were playing about on the margin of some ice-floes, and from other symptoms, recognisable only by angekoks, he had come to the conclusion that it would be safe as well as wise at that time to prophesy a period of plenty.
"Now I would advise," he said, in concluding his discourse, "that we should send off a hunting party to the south, for I can tell you that seals will be found there—if the young men do not put off time on the way."
This last proviso was a judicious back-door of escape. Slight delays, he knew, were almost inevitable, so that, if the hunt should prove a failure, he would have little difficulty in accounting for it, and saving his credit. The most of his credulous and simple-minded hearers did not reflect on the significance of the back-door remark, but Angut did, and grinned a peculiar grin at the little fat boy, whom he chucked a second time under the chin. Ujarak noted the grin, and did not like it.
Among the people there who gave strongest expression to their joy at the prospect of the good living in store for them, were several young and middle-aged females who sat in a corner grouped together, and conveyed their approval of what was said to each other by sundry smirks and smiles and nods of the head, which went far to prove that they constituted a little coterie or clique.
One of these was the wife of Simek, the best hunter of the tribe. Her name was Pussimek. She was round and short, comely and young, and given to giggling. She had a baby—a female baby—named after her, but more briefly, Pussi, which resembled her in all respects except size. Beside her sat the mother of Ippegoo. We know not her maiden name, but as her dead husband had been called by the same name as the son, we will style her Mrs Ippegoo. There was also the mother of Arbalik, a youth who was celebrated as a wonderful killer of birds on the wing—a sort of Eskimo Robin Hood—with the small spear or dart. The mother of Arbalik was elderly, and stern—for an Eskimo. She was sister to the great hunter Simek. Kannoa, a very old dried-up but lively woman with sparkling black eyes, also formed one of the group.
"Won't we be happy!" whispered Pussimek, when Ujarak spoke in glowing terms of the abundance that was in prospect. She followed up the whisper by hugging the baby.
"Yes, a good time is coming," said the mother of Ippegoo, with a pleasant nod. "We will keep the cooking-lamps blazing night and—"
"And stuff," rejoined Pussimek, with a giggle, "till we can hold no more."
"Do you want to grow fatter?" asked the mother of Arbalik in a sharp tone, which drew forth a smothered laugh all round, for Pussimek had reached that condition of embonpoint which rendered an increase undesirable.
"I would not object to be fatter," replied the wife of Simek, with perfect good-humour, for Eskimos, as a rule, do not take offence easily.
"Stuff, stuff," murmured Kannoa, nodding her old head contemplatively; "that's what I'm fond of; stuff—stuff—stuff."
"All your stuffing will never make you fat," said the stern and rather cynical mother of Arbalik.
She paid no attention to Kannoa's reply—which, to do her justice, was very mild—for, at the moment, Arbalik himself rose to address the assembly. He was a fine specimen of an Eskimo—a good-looking young savage; slim and wiry, with a nose not too flat, and only a little turned up; a mouth that was well shaped and pleasant to look at, though very large, and absolutely cavernous when in the act of yawning; and his eyes looked sharp and eager, as if always on the outlook for some passing bird, with a view to transfixion.
"The words of Ujarak are wise," he said. "I was down at the high bluffs yesterday, and saw that what he says is true, for many seals are coming up already, and birds too. Let us go out to the hunt."
"We would like much to see this wonderful Kablunet," remarked the jovial big hunter Simek, with a bland look at the company, "but Ujarak knows best. If the Kablunet needs rest, he must have it. If he needs sleep, he must have it. If he wants food, he must have it. By all means let him have it. We will not disturb him. What the torngak of Ujarak advises we will do."
Several of the other leading men also spoke on this occasion—some inclining to accept the wizard's advice; others, who were intolerably anxious to see the Kablunet, rather inclining to the opinion that they should remain where they were till he recovered strength enough to be able to pay his contemplated visit.
Ippegoo spoke last. Indeed, it was not usual for him to raise his voice in council, but as he had been the first to carry the important news, and was known to be an ardent admirer and pupil of Ujarak, he felt that he was bound to back his patron; and his arguments, though not cogent, prevailed.
"Let us not doubt the wisdom of the angekok," he said. "His torngak speaks. It is our business to obey. We have starved much for some moons; let us now feast, and grow fat and strong."
"Huk!" exclaimed the auditors, who had been touched on their weakest point.
"But Angut has not yet uttered his mind," said the jovial Simek, turning with a bland expression to the man in question; "he is an angekok, though he will not admit it. Has not his familiar spirit said anything to him?"
Angut looked gravely at the speaker for a moment or two, and shook his head. Dead silence prevailed. Then in a voice that was unusually soft and deep he said: "I am no angekok. No torngak ever speaks to me. The winds that whistle round the icebergs and rush among the hummocks on the frozen sea speak to me sometimes; the crashing ice-cliffs that thunder down the glens speak to me; the noisy rivulets, the rising sun and moon and winking stars all speak to me, though it is difficult to understand what they say; but no familiar spirit ever speaks to me."
The man said this quietly, and in a tone of regret, but without the slightest intention of expressing poetical ideas, or laying claim to originality of thought. Yet his distinct denial of being an angekok or wise man, and his sentiments regarding the voices of Nature, only confirmed his countrymen in their belief that he was the greatest angekok they had ever seen or heard of.
"But surely," urged Simek, "if so many spirits speak to you, they must tell you something?"
"They tell me much," replied Angut in a contemplative tone, "but nothing about hunting."
"Have you no opinion, then, on that subject?"
"Yes, I have an opinion, and it is strong. Let all the hunters go south after seals without delay; but I will not go. I shall go among the icebergs—alone."
"He will go to hold converse with his numerous torngaks," whispered old Kannoa to Pussimek.
"He will go to visit Okiok, and see the Kablunet, and court Nunaga," thought the jealous and suspicious Ujarak.
And Ujarak was right; yet he dared not follow, for he feared the grave, thoughtful man, in spite of his determination to regard and treat him with lofty disdain.
Utterly ignorant of the wizard's feelings towards him—for he was slow to observe or believe in ill-will towards himself when he felt none to any one else—Angut set off alone next morning in the direction that led to the great glacier, while his countrymen harnessed their dogs, loaded their sledges with lines and weapons, and went away southward on a hunting expedition. Wishing the latter all success, we will follow the fortunes of Angut, the eccentric angekok.
Had you and I, reader, been obliged to follow him in the body, we should soon have been left far behind; fortunately, spirit is more powerful and fleet than matter!
Without rest or halt, the stalwart Eskimo journeyed over the ice until he reached the residence of Okiok.
The dogs knew his step well, and gave no noisy sign of his approach, though they rose to welcome him with wagging tails, and rubbed their noses against his fur coat as he patted their heads.
Creeping into the hut, he presented himself unexpectedly. Okiok bade him silent welcome, with a broad grin of satisfaction. Nunaga did the same, with a pleased smile and a decided blush. The other inmates of the hut showed similar friendship, and Tumbler, trying to look up, fell over into an oil-puddle, with a loud crow of joy. They all then gazed suddenly and simultaneously, with mysterious meaning, at Red Rooney, who lay coiled up, and apparently sound asleep, in the innermost corner.
Angut also gazed with intense interest, though nothing of the sleeping man was visible save the point of his nose and a mass of curling brown hair protruding from his deerskin coverings.
Seating himself quietly between Nunaga and Nuna, and taking the oily Tumbler on his knee, the visitor entered into a low-toned conversation respecting this great event of their lives—the arrival of a real live Kablunet! They also talked of Kablunets in general, and their reported ways and manners. It is to be noted here that they did not talk in whispers. Okiok and Nuna had indeed begun the conversation thus, but had been immediately checked by Angut, whose intelligence had long ago taught him that no sound is so apt to awaken a sleeper as the hiss of a whisper; and that a steady, low-toned hum of conversation is more fitted to deepen than interrupt slumber.
"Is he very thin?" asked Angut, who had been somewhat impressed by Ujarak's description of the stranger, and his evident desire that no one should go near him.
"He is not fat," answered Okiok, "but he has not been starving long; sleeping and stuffing will soon make him strong. Don't you think so, Norrak? You saw him at his worst, when we found him on the ice."
Thus appealed to, Okiok's eldest son laid down the piece of blubber with which he had been engaged, nodded his head several times, and said, "Yes, he will be able to run, and jump soon."
"And he speaks our language well," said Okiok, with a look of great interest.
"I know it," returned his friend; "Ujarak told us about that. It is because of that, that I have come at once to see him." Nunaga winced here, for she had timidly hoped that Angut had come to see her! "I would not," continued the visitor, "that Ujarak should be the first to speak to him, for he will poison his ears."
"Yes, Ujarak is a dreadful liar," said Okiok solemnly, but without the slightest touch of ill feeling.
"An awful liar," remarked Nuna softly.
Nunaga smiled, as though acquiescing in the sentiment, but said nothing.
Just as they gave utterance to this decided opinion as to the character of the wizard, Red Rooney turned round, stretched himself, yawned, and sat up.
ANGUT AND ROONEY HOLD CONVERSE ON MANY THINGS.
At first Rooney did not observe that there was a visitor in the hut, but, when his eyes alighted on him, he rose at once, for he felt that he was in the presence of a man possessed of intelligence vastly superior to that of the ordinary natives. It was not so much that Angut's presence was commanding or noble, as that his grave expression, broad forehead, and earnest gaze suggested the idea of a man of profound thought.
The angekok who had been so graphically described to him by Okiok at once recurred to Rooney's mind. Turning to his host, he said, with a bland expression—
"I suppose this is your friend Angut, the angekok?"
"Yes," replied Okiok.
While the mysterious foreigner was speaking, Angut gazed at him with looks and feelings of awe, but when he stepped forward, and frankly held out his hand, the Eskimo looked puzzled. A whispered word from his host, however, sufficed to explain. Falling in at once with the idea, he grasped the offered hand, and gave it a squeeze of good-will that almost caused the seaman to wince.
"I am glad to meet you," said Rooney.
"I am more than glad," exclaimed the Eskimo with enthusiasm; "I have not language to tell of what is in my mind. I have heard of Kablunets, dreamed of them, thought of them. Now my longings are gratified—I behold one! I have been told that Kablunets know nearly everything; I know next to nothing. We will talk much. It seems to me as if I had been born only to-day. Come; let us begin!"
"My friend, you expect too much," replied Rooney, with a laugh, as he sat down to devote himself to the bear-steak which Nunaga had placed before him. "I am but an average sort of sailor, and can't boast of very much education, though I have a smattering; but we have men in my country who do seem to know 'most everything—wise men they are. We call them philosophers; you call 'em angekoks. Here, won't you go in for a steak or a rib? If you were as hungry as I am, you'd be only too glad and thankful to have the chance."
Angut accepted a rib, evidently under the impression that the Kablunet would think it impolite were he to refuse. He began to eat, however, in a languid manner, being far too deeply engaged with mental food just then to care for grosser forms of nourishment.
"Tell me," said the Eskimo, who was impatient to begin his catechising, "do your countrymen all dress like this?" He touched the sealskin coat worn by the sailor.
"O no," said Rooney, laughing; "I only dress this way because I am in Eskimo land, and it is well suited to the country; but the men in my land—Ireland we call it—dress in all sorts of fine cloth, made from the hair of small animals—Why, what do you stare at, Angut? Oh, I see—my knife! I forgot that you are not used to such things, though you have knives—stone ones, at least. This one, you see, is made of steel, or iron—the stuff, you know, that the southern Eskimos bring sometimes to barter with you northern men for the horns of the narwhal an' other things."
"Yes, I have seen iron, but never had any," said Angut, with a little sigh; "they bring very little of it here. The Innuits of the South catch nearly the whole of it on its journey north, and they keep it."
"Greedy fellows!" said Rooney. "Well, this knife is called a clasp-knife, because it shuts and opens, as you see, and it has three blades—a big one for cuttin' up your victuals with, as you see me doin'; and two little ones for parin' your nails and pickin' your teeth, an' mendin' pens an' pencils—though of course you don't know what that means. Then here, you see, there are two little things stuck into the handle. One is called tweezers, an' is of no earthly use that I know of except to pull the hairs out o' your nose, which no man in his senses ever wants to do; and the other thing is, I suppose, for borin' small holes in things—it's almost as useless. This thing on the back is for pickin' stones out of horses' hoofs—but I forgot you never saw horses or hoofs! Well, no matter; it's for pickin' things out of things, when—when you want to pick 'em out! But below this is an uncommon useful thing—a screw—a thing for drawin' corks out of bottles—there, again, I'm forgettin'. You never saw corks or bottles. Happy people— as the people who don't drink spirits would call you—and, to say truth, I think they are right. Indeed, I've been one of them myself ever since I came to this region. Give us another steak, Nunaga, my dear—no, not a bear one; I like the walrus better. It's like yourself—tender."
The fair Nunaga fell into a tremendous giggle at this joke, for although our hero's Eskimo was not very perfect, he possessed all an Irishman's capacity for making his meaning understood, more or less; and truly it was a sight to behold the varied expressions of face—the childlike surprise, admiration, curiosity, and something approaching to awe—with which those unsophisticated natives received the explanation of the different parts of that clasp-knife!
"But what did we begin our talk about?" he continued, as he tackled the walrus. "O yes; it was about our garments. Well, besides using different kinds of cloths, our coats are of many different shapes: we have short coats called jackets, and long coats, and coats with tails behind—"
"Do your men wear tails behind?" asked Angut, in surprise.
"Yes; two tails," replied Rooney, "and two buttons above them."
"Strange," remarked Angut; "it is only our women who have tails; and they have only one tail each, with one button in front—not behind—to fasten the end of the tail to when on a journey."
"Women with tails look very well," remarked Okiok, "especially when they swing them about in a neat way that I know well but cannot describe. But men with tails must look very funny."
Here Mrs Okiok ventured to ask how the Kablunet women dressed.
"Well, it's not easy to describe that to folk who have never seen them," said the sailor, with a slight grin. "In the first place, they don't wear boots the whole length of their legs like you, Nuna."
"Surely, then," remarked the hostess, "their legs must be cold?"
"By no means, for they cover 'em well up with loose flapping garments, extending from the waist all the way down to the feet. Then they don't wear hoods like you, but stick queer things on their heads, of all shapes and sizes—sometimes of no shape at all and very small size— which they cover over with feathers, an' flowers, an' fluttering things of all colours, besides lots of other gimcracks."
How Rooney rendered "gimcracks" into Eskimo we are not prepared to say, but the whole description sent Nunaga and her mother into fits of giggling, for those simple-minded creatures of the icy north—unlike sedate Europeans—are easily made to laugh.
At this point Angut struck in again, for he felt that the conversation was becoming frivolous.
"Tell me, Kablunet," he began; but Rooney interrupted him.
"Don't call me Kablunet. Call me Red Rooney. It will be more friendly-like, and will remind me of my poor shipmates."
"Then tell me, Ridroonee," said Angut, "is it true what I have heard, that your countrymen can make marks on flat white stuff, like the thin skin of the duck, which will tell men far away what they are thinking about?"