E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE ETERNAL MAIDEN
T. EVERETT HARRE
Published by Mitchell Kennerley New York
Press of J. J. Little & Ives Company East Twenty-fourth Street New York
EDGAR WILSON RIDDELL
JANUARY 31, 1892—JULY 2, 1912
IN MEMORY OF
A LIFE'S SUPREME FRIENDSHIP
THE ETERNAL MAIDEN
Long ages ago, darkness brooded over the frozen world and held in its thrall the unreleased waters of the glacial seas. There was no animal life upon the land, and in the depth of the waters no living thing stirred. Kokoyah, the water god, breathed not; Tornahhuchsuah, the earth spirit, who rules above the spirits of the wind and air, was veiled in slumber. Men had risen like willows from the frozen earth; but, although they lived, they were as the dead. They spake not, neither did they hunt, nor eat, nor did they die. Then the Great Spirit, whose name is not known, placed upon earth a man, in his arms the strength to kill, in his heart the primal urge of love. And in that flowerless arctic Eden, out of its bounteous compassion, the Great Spirit placed also a maiden, her face beautiful with the young virginity of the world, in her bosom implanted a yearning, not unmixed with fear, for love. Gazing upon her, the youth's heart stirred, with desire, the maiden's with virginal terror. The maiden fled, the youth followed. Over the desolate icy mountains the fleet feet of the youth sped with the swiftness of the wind gods, over the silent white seas the maiden with the elusiveness of the air spirits. In the heart of the youth throbbed the passion of love, indomitable, eternal, which the blasting breath of time should never kill. In the maiden's bosom quaked a reasonless shame, an unconquerable terror. Surrounded by her whirling cloud of hair, the maiden sprang, untiring, across the wild white world. His strength failing, the youth pantingly followed. Thousands of years passed; the breathless pursuit continued; the maiden's nebulous hair became shot with streaks of golden fire, from her eyes beams of light streamed across the expanses over which she exultantly, fearfully bounded; the tremulous faltering youth's face paled until it shone silvery in the darkness, and the beads of perspiration on his forehead glowed with a strange lustre. Reaching, in their mad race, the very edge of the earth, the maiden leaped, fiery, into space, and her hair becoming suddenly molten, she became the sun—the eternal maiden Sukh-eh-nukh, the beautiful, the all-desired. Utterly exhausted, his wan arms yearningly outstretched, the youth swooned after her into the heavens, and was transformed into the moon—the ever-desiring, ever-sorrowing moon. In the smile of Sukh-eh-nukh the seas melted. Walrus and narwhals, seals and whales came into being on the bosom of Kokoyah; on the earth the snows disappeared, and the brow of Tornahhuchsuah was crowned with green grasses and starry flowers. Men hunted game, women laughed for joy; they beat drums, they danced, they sang. By the eternal, unrequited passion of the lovers in the skies, happiness and plenty came upon the earth. But, with Light, came also Death. Jealous of men's happiness, Perdlugssuaq, the Great Evil, brought sickness; he struck men on the hunt, on the seas, in the mountains. He was ever feared. He made the Great Dark terrible. But when the night became bright with the love-lorn glamour of the moon, Perdlugssuaq was for the time forgotten; in their hearts men felt a vague, tender, and ineffable stirring—the lure of a passion stronger and stranger even than death. They gazed upon the moon with instinctive, undefined pity. So, as the years passed, and ages melted and remade the snows, the long day was golden with the Beauty that is ever desired, the Ideal never attained; the night was softly silver with the melancholy and eternal hope of the deathless love that eternally desires, eternally pursues, and is eternally denied.
Thus runs the Eskimo legend.
"Her cheeks were flushed delicately with the soft pink of the lichen flowers that bloom in the rare days of early summer. Her eyes played with a light as elusive, as quick as the golden radiance on the seas."
Great excitement prevailed among the members of the tribe. Along a mottled green-and-brown stretch of shore, which rolled undulatingly toward the icy fringe of the polar sea, more than twoscore hunters were engaged in unusual activity. Some were lacing tight over the framework the taut skin of their kayaks. Others sharpened harpoon points with bits of flint. Tateraq busily cut long lashings from tanned walrus hides. Maisanguaq deftly took these and pieced them together into long lines, which were rolled in coils lasso-fashion. Arnaluk and a half dozen others sat on their haunches, between their knees great balls made of the entire hides of seals. With cheeks extended they blew into these with gusto. Filled with air, the hides became floats, which were attached to the leather lasso lines. The lines in turn were fastened by Attalaq and Papik to harpoons, which were to be driven into the walrus, the natives' chief prey of the arctic sea.
A babel of conversation swayed to and fro among this northernmost fringe of the human race. Now and then it was drowned in the raucous, deafening shriek of auks which swarmed from nearby cliffs and soared in clouds over the shore.
"Aveq soah! Walrus! Walrus!" shouted Papik, tossing up his arms and dancing, his brown face twisting with grotesque grimaces of joy.
"Aveq soah! Aveq soah!" He leaped in frenzy. He seized his harpoon in mimicry of striking, and darted it up and down in the air. "Walrus! Walrus!" he cried, and his feverish contagion spread through the crowd.
"Aveq tedicksoah! A great many walrus," echoed Arnaluk. "Aveq tedicksoah! Walrus too many to count!"
They stopped their work and gathered in a group, Papik before them, his arms pointing toward the sea. His eyes glistened.
To the south, Im-nag-i-na, the entrance to the polar sea, was hidden by grayish mists which, as they shifted across the sun, palpitated with running streaks of gold. From the veiled distance the sound of a glacier exploding pealed over the waters like the muffled roar of artillery. The sun, magnified into a great swimming disc by the rising vapors, poured a rich and colorful light over the sea—it was a light without warmth. In the turquoise sky overhead, the moving clouds changed in hue from crimson to silver, and straggling flecks, like diaphanous ribbons, became stained with mottled dyes. Against the horizon, the arctic armada of eternally moving icebergs drifted slowly southward and, like the spectral ships of the long dead Norsemen who had braved these regions, flaunted the semblance of silver-gleaming sails. The sea rose in great green emerald swells, the wave crests broke in seething curls of silver foam, and in the troughs of descending waters glittered cascades of celestial jewels. It was late summer—the hour, midnight.
The keen eyes of the natives searched the seas.
To the south of where the watchers were gathered, the glacial heels of the inland mountains step precipitously into the sea and rise to a height of several thousand feet. At the base of these iron rocks, corroded with the rust of interminable ages, the fragments of great floes, like catapults, are tossed by the inrushing sea. Above, in summertime, rises and falls constantly a black mist resembling shifting cloud smoke. Millions of auks swarm from their moss-ensconced grottos; an oppressive clamor beats the air. Along the ocean, where crevices of the descending iron-chiselled cliffs are fugitively green with ribbons of pale grass, downy-winged ducks purr, mating guillemots coo incessantly, and tremulous oogzooks chirrup joyously to their young.
As the natives listened, a deep nasal bellowing from the far ocean trembled in the air.
Not a man stirred. The sound vibrated into silence. The auks screamed. Hawks shrilled. From the far interior valleys came the echoed wolf-howling of Eskimo dogs. There the mountain tops, perpetually covered with ice and snow, gleamed through the clouds with running colors of amaranth, green and mottled gold. The air swam with frigid fire. As the tribe stood in silence along the shore, a roar as of gatling guns pealed from the mist-hidden heights. After a taut moment of silence, a frightened scream rose from every living thing on land and sea. Yet the group of men only bent their heads. Then, like an undertone in the chorus of animate life, their quick ears detected the long-drawn, hoarse call of walrus bulls. The howls of the dogs from the distant mountain passes came nearer. More distant receded the stertorous nasal bellow on the sea.
The natives feverishly leaped to their tasks. There was a note of anxiety in their voices. Onto the forepart of the kayaks they placed their weapons, leather lines, floats and drags. More than twoscore boats were drawn over the land-adhering ice to the edge of the sea. A fierce chatter brought all the women to the doors of their seal-skin tents. They looked seaward and shook their heads with dismay.
"Many walrus—far away," the men shouted.
"No, no," the timid women returned. "Walrus too far away—Perdlugssuaq will strike you there!"
Against the distant horizon mighty bergs loomed. In swift eddies of water great floes swirled. The walrus were too far away to be seen. Yet the opportunity of securing walrus was too rare to be missed; for unless food and fuel were soon secured, starvation during the coming winter confronted the tribe. The previous winter had been one of unprecedented severity and had wiped out bears, and herds of caribou and musk oxen. The summer season, which was now drawing to a close, had been destitute of every kind of game. Musk oxen had been seldom found and then only in the far inland valleys. Some blight of nature seemed to have exterminated even the animals of the sea. The natives had lived mainly on the teeming bird life. From the scrawny bodies of the arctic birds, however, neither food that could be preserved nor fuel to be burned in the lamps could be secured. On musk oxen the tribes depend chiefly for hides and meat, and on walrus for both food and fuel. The ammunition, brought by Danish traders the summer before, was exhausted, so in the hunt they had for many sleeps to rely solely upon their skill with their own primitive weapons. For months the doughty hunters had gathered but few supplies. The prospect of the coming winter was ominous indeed. Wandering up and down the coast in their migrating excursions the tribes had scoured land and sea with but meagre results. At the village from which they now heard the inspiring walrus calls, a dozen visiting tribesmen—most of them in search for wives as well as game—had gathered. Joy filled them in the prospect of securing supplies—and possible success in love—at last.
As they launched their kayaks, in impatient haste lest the walrus drift too far seaward, some one called:
They gazed anxiously about. Ootah, the bravest and most distinguished of the hunters, was missing. All the young men would gladly have started without Ootah, but the elders, who knew his skill and the might of his arm, were not willing.
To the younger men there was an added zest in the hunt; each felt in the other a rival, and Ootah the one most to be feared. A feverish anxiety, a burning desire to distinguish himself flushed the heart of each brave hunter. For whoever brought back the most game, so they believed, stood the best chance of winning the hand of Annadoah. Of all the unmarried maidens of the tribes, none cooked so well, none could sew so well as Annadoah, none was so skilled in the art of making ahttees and kamiks as Annadoah. And, moreover, Annadoah was very fair.
"Ootah! aveq soah! Hasten thou! The walrus are drifting to sea."
Attalaq rushed up to the village and paused at the tent of Annadoah.
"Ootah!" he called.
A voice from within replied.
"We start—the wind drifts—the walrus are carried to sea."
"I come!" replied Ootah.
The flap of the tent opened. The sunlight poured upon the face of the young hunter. He smiled radiantly, with the self-assertion of youth, the joy of life.
Ootah was graced with unwonted beauty. He was slight and agile of limb; his body was supple and lithe; his face was immobile, beardless, and with curving lips vividly red, a nose, small, with nostrils dilating sensitively, and eyebrows heavily lashed, it possessed something of the softness of a woman. His glistening black hair, bound about his forehead by a narrow fillet of skins, fell riotously over his shoulders. His eyes were large and dark and swam with an ardent light.
"Thou wilt not place thy face to mine, Annadoah? Yet I love thee, Annadoah. My heart melts as streams in springtime, Annadoah. My arms grow strong as the wind, and my hand swift as an arrow for love of thee, Annadoah. The joy the sight of thee gives me is greater than that of food after starving in the long winter! Yea, thou wilt be mine? Surely for my heart bursts for love of thee, Annadoah."
He leaned back, stretching his arms, but Annadoah shyly drew further inside her shelter.
With a sigh he flung his leather line over his shoulder, seized his harpoons, and stepped from the tent. His step was resilient and buoyant, his slim body moved with the grace of an arctic deer. He looked back as he reached the icy shore. Annadoah stood at the door of her tent. Her parting laughter rang after him with the sweetness of buntings singing in spring.
Ootah's heart leaped within him. Annadoah possessed a beauty rare among her people. From her father, one of the brave white men who had died with the Greely party years before at Cape Sabine, Annadoah had inherited a delicacy and beauty more common indeed with the unknown peoples of the south. Her face was fresh and smooth, and of a pale golden hue. Her cheeks were flushed delicately with the soft pink of the lichen flowers that bloom in the rare days of early summer. Her eyes played with a light as elusive, as quick as the golden radiance on the seas. Her dark silken hair straggled luxuriantly from under the loose hood of immaculate white fox fur which had fallen back from her head. The soft skins of blue foxes and of young birds clothed her. From her sleeves her hands peeped; they were small, dainty, childlike. Almost childlike, too, was her face, so palely golden, so fresh, so lovely, so petite. There were mingled in her the coyness of a child and the irresistible coquetry of a woman.
She waved her hands joyously to the hunters leaving the shore. They called back to her. Some of the women frowned. One shook her fist at Annadoah.
Papik, lingering behind, approached Annadoah timidly.
"Thou art beautiful, Annadoah; thou canst sew with great skill. With the needles the white men brought thee, thou hast made garments such as no other maiden. Papik would wed thee, Annadoah."
"Thou art a good lad, Papik," Annadoah replied, laughing gaily. "But thy fingers are very long—and long, indeed, thy nose!"
Papik flushed, for to him this was a tragedy.
"But with my fingers I speed the arrow with skill," he replied.
"True, but the fate of him who shoots with a skill such as thine is unfortunate indeed; for soon the day will come when thou wilt not speed the arrow, when thy hands will be robbed of their cunning. When ookiah (winter) comes with his lashes of frost he will smite thy fingers—they will fall off. Then how wilt thou get food for thy wife? Ookiah will twist thy nose, and it will freeze. Poor Papik!"
Annadoah lay her hand gently on his arm, and a brief sorrow clouded her smiles.
Papik bowed his head. He understood the blight nature had set upon him and it made his heart cold. Truly his fingers were long and his nose was long—and either was a misfortune to a tribesman. He knew, as all the natives knew, that sooner or later during a long winter his fingers would inevitably freeze, then he would lose his skill with weapons; consequently he would not be able to provide for a wife. His nose, too, in all probability would freeze; then he would be disfigured and the trials of life would be more complicated.
From the inherited experience of ages the natives know that a hunter with short hands and feet is most likely to live long; a man's length of life can be pretty accurately gauged by the stubbiness of his nose. The degree of radiation of the human body is such that it can prevent freezing in this northern region only when the extremities are short; thus a man with long feet is almost for a certainty doomed to lose his toes, and the most fortunate is he whose feet and hands are short, whose nose is stubby and whose ears are small. The exigencies of life place an economic value on the structure of a hunter's body, and the little Eskimo women—endowed with a crude social conscience which demands that a father shall live and remain efficient so as to care for his own children—are loath to marry one afflicted as was Papik.
"But I care for thee, Annadoah," Papik protested.
"And well do I know thou art a brave lad, but seek thou another maiden; thou dost not touch my heart, Papik, and thy fingers are very, very long."
With native spontaneity, Papik laughed and turned shoreward. As he passed the assembled maidens he paused momentarily and greeted them. He made a brief proposal of marriage to Ahningnetty, a fat maiden, and was met with laughter.
"Go on, Long Fingers," one called. "How wilt thou strike the bear when thy fingers are gone? How wilt thou seek the musk ox when ookiah hath bitten off thy feet?"
The maiden who spoke was extremely thin.
"Ha, ha!" Papik returned. "How wilt thou warm thy husband when the winter comes? How wilt thou warm the little baby when thou art like the bear after a famished winter, thou maid of skin and bones!"
"Long-nose! Long-nose! may thy nose freeze!" she called.
The other maidens laughed and gibed at her. In anger she fled into her tupik, or tent. Being very thin she, too, like Papik, suffered from the bar sinister of nature. For, in selecting a wife, a native comes down to the practical consideration of choosing a maid who will likely grow fat, so that, during the long cold winters, her body will be a sort of human radiator to keep the husband and children warm. So love, you see, in this region, is largely influenced by an instinctive knowledge of natural economies.
As he launched his kayak, Ootah turned toward Annadoah.
"Thou art the sun, Annadoah!" he called.
"And thou the moon, Ootah," she replied. "I shall await thee, Ootah! Bring thou back fat and blubber, Ootah, to warm thy fires, Ootah." And she laughed gaily. Then she turned her back to Ootah, bent her head coyly and did not turn around again. To Ootah this was a good augury—for when a maiden turns her back upon a suitor she thinks favorably of him. This is the custom.
Ootah felt a new strength in his veins. He felt himself master of all the prey in the sea.
At the entrance of the tent of Sipsu, the angakoq, or native magician, stood Maisanguaq, one of the rivals for the hand of Annadoah. His face twisted with jealous rage as he heard Annadoah calling to the speeding Ootah. His narrow eyes glittered vindictively. Turning on his heel he entered Sipsu's dwelling place.
Sipsu sat on the floor near his oil lamp. When Maisanguaq entered he did not stir. He was as still, as grotesque, as evil-looking as the tortured idols of the Chinese; like theirs his eyes were beadlike, expressionless, dull; such are the eyes of dead seal. His face was brown and cracked like old leather, and was covered with a crust of dirt; his gray-streaked hair was matted and straggled over his face; it teemed with lice. He held his knotty hands motionless over the flame of his lamp. His nails were long and curled like sharp talons. As Maisanguaq saw him he could not repress a shudder.
Sipsu was feared, and as correspondingly hated, by the tribe. They brought to him, it is true, offerings of musk ox meat and walrus blubber when members fell ill. But that was the urge of necessity. Of late years Sipsu's conjurations for recovery had resulted in few cures; his heart was not in them; but with greater vehemence did he enter upon seances of malediction. With almost unerring exactness he prophesied many deaths. For this the tribe did not love him. Nor did Sipsu love the tribe; especially did he hate the youthful, and those who courted and were newly wed. When Maisanguaq touched his shoulder, he turned with a growl.
"Canst thou invoke the curse of death upon one who goes hunting upon the seas?"
Through the rheum of years Sipsu's eyes gleamed.
The aged, gnarled thing found voice. It was hollow and thin.
"Ha, thou art Maisanguaq," his toothless jaws chattered. "Thou bearest no one good will. Seldom dost thou smile. For this I like thee."
He laughed harshly. Maisanguaq impatiently repeated his question:
"Can Sipsu invoke the great curse? Ha, what dost thou mean? Art thou a fool? Have not many died upon the word of Sipsu, Sipsu whose spirits never desert him! Harken! Did not Sipsu go unto the mountains in his youth? Did he not hear the hill spirits speaking? Did he not carry food to them, and wood and arrow points for weapons? And in ookiah (winter) did they not strike? Did they not kill one Otaq, who hated Sipsu? Did Sipsu not go unto the lower land of the dead—did he not speak to those who freeze in the dark? Yea, did Sipsu not learn how the world is kept up, and the souls of nature are bound together? And hath he not the power to separate them, yea, as a man from his shadow?"
"Thou evil-tongued wretch, well doth Maisanguaq believe thee! Here—I promise thee meat. I follow Ootah upon the chase. There are walrus on the sea. Invoke the curse of destruction upon Ootah—and I will give thee meat for the long winter."
"Ootah—Ootah—yah—hah! Ootah!" Sipsu snapped the name viciously. "With joy shall I bring the great evil unto Ootah. For hath he not despised my art, hath he not scoffed at my spirits! But thou—what reason hast thou to desire his death?"
"Ootah findeth favor with Annadoah," said Maisanguaq briefly. "I would she never make his kamiks (boots)."
"Yea, and she shall not. She shall not!" the old man shrieked in a sudden access of rage. "So saith Sipsu, whose spirits never fail."
Lying on the floor Sipsu closed his eyes and, moving his head up and down, called repeatedly:
"Quilaka Nauk! Quilaka Nauk! Where are my spirits? Where are my spirits?"
Presently he rose, and swaying his body crooned:
"Tassa quilivagit! Tassa quilivagit! My spirits are here—they are here! Tassa quilivagit!"
Grasping a drum made of animal tissue strung over a rib-bone he began to dance. He beat a slow, uneasy measure on the drum. His face grinned hideously. His voice at times rose to a harsh shriek, then suddenly it trailed away until it seemed like the voice of one speaking very far off. In a curious sort of intermittent crooning and shrieking ventriloquism he called down curses upon Ootah. His dance increased; he beat the drum frenziedly. His legs twisted under him, he described short running circles and jumped up and down in accesses of hysteria. His scraggy arms, with their tattered clothes, writhed in the air as he beat the drum above him. His head began to nod from side to side; his eyes glowed like coals; his tongue hung from his mouth; foam gathered at his lips.
"Ootah! Ootah! May his kaneg (head) swell with the great fire! May he see horrors that do not exist—what the wicked dead dream in their frigid hell! May the wrath of the spirits descend upon him! May the wrath of the spirits descend upon him!"
Sipsu uttered short howls. Maisanguaq joined in the incantation, and re-echoed the blighting curses.
"May he suffer from kangerdlugpoq (terrible body pains). May they end not! May he lie awake forever! May he never sleep! May his teeth chatter during the great dark!"
Sipsu groaned. He worked himself into an ecstasy of torture. His form became a black whirling figure in the dim tent.
"May Ootah's eyes close, may the lids swell; may they burn with fire."
"May he never see the light of day—may he never aim the arrow—may his harpoons strike forever in the darkness!" Maisanguaq replied rancorously. "May the wrath of the spirits descend upon him!"
"May Ootah's tongue fasten to his mouth—may it be as the tongues of dead ahmingmah (musk oxen)," chanted Sipsu. "May he never speak—may Annadoah never hear his voice," chorused Maisanguaq.
"May Ootah lose his pungo (dogs); may they all die!"
Maisanguaq, caught by the evil contagion, began to sway his body in rhythm to the weird dance.
"May Ootah become a cripple! May he break his bones! May he lie helpless for years! May his shadow leave him! May he suffer with the greatest of all pains!"
As he uttered this terrible curse, desiring that Ootah's shadow, wherein exists the soul, might depart from his still-living body, and thus cause the most excruciating bodily anguish, Sipsu sank exhausted to the ground. He writhed in a paroxysm.
"May Ootah die slowly; may his legs die, may his hands die—yea, may the spirits of his body be severed from one another as ice fields in the breaking; may the spirit of his hands, the spirit of his feet, the spirit of his lungs, the spirit of his head, the spirit of his heart wander apart—may they be torn asunder as the clouds in a storm! May they wander apart forever seeking and may they never find themselves! May Ootah suffer as never suffered the unhappy dead!"
And Maisanguaq's deep voice growled hatefully:
"May Ootah's body lie unburied! May he rot upon the earth! May the ravens peck out his eyes! May a murderer drink his blood! May the wolves eat his heart! May the spirit of the fog grow fat upon his entrails! And may the spirits of his body scatter—as the clouds in the wild anore (winds) scatter! May his soul forever seek to find its kindred spirits unavailingly and suffer in Sila, (throughout the universe) forever!"
From under a pile of skins Sipsu, his chant subsiding, brought forth a bundle. Opening it, he revealed a collection of old bones; there were the bones of musk oxen, seals, walrus and smaller animals.
"Yah-hah-hah! I shall create a tupilak!" he crooned vindictively. "I shall create a tupilak! And from the depths of the waters the tupilak shall see Ootah. Yah-hah-hah! I shall create a tupilak, and from the hands of Sipsu it shall carry destruction to Ootah on the sea. Yah-hah-hah!" He laughed crazily. Continuing his chant he constructed of the bones a crude likeness to an animal skeleton. Over this he sprinkled a handful of dried turf. Then, from beneath the cover of his bed he brought a stone pot and from it poured a sluggish red liquid over the strange object of his creation. This was a mixture of clotted animal blood and water kept for such purposes of conjuration. This done, he threw over the bones an aged sealskin. Then he rose to his feet, and in a low voice uttered the secret formulas whereby, in the depths of the sea, the result of his labor should take the form of an artificial walrus.
Maisanguaq stood by, silent, evil exultation shining in his eyes.
While the Sipsu was moaning his spell over the pile of bones, Maisanguaq turned and left the tent. Out on the sea he saw the kayaks of his departing companions.
"Good luck, Maisanguaq, have courage in the chase! Remember Annadoah awaits you all!" Annadoah called blithely and coquettishly after him.
Maisanguaq's lips tightened, his heart leaped, but well he knew that he meant nothing to the maiden, well he knew what little chance he had, and envy filled him, and bitter doubt, for he knew Ootah's prowess, his strength of limb, and braveness of heart. However, he put out with quick powerful strokes, and with a sense of anticipated triumph, for he was confident that the magician by his necromancy had created in the depths of the sea a tupilak, or artificial walrus, which should attack Ootah. He knew it might upset Ootah's kayak and cause him to be drowned. The probabilities were, however, that it would permit itself to be harpooned, in which case its blighting curse would fall upon Ootah, who would lose all power and strength of limb, whose body would become bent and crippled and racked with the kangerdlugpoq, and who would die slowly, inch by inch. Thus, Ootah would be helpless the rest of his days and as he died all the dreadful horrors of the curses would come upon him. Thus would Maisanguaq be revenged.
As the midnight sun dipped below the horizon, the sea became more deeply golden. To the women watching along the shore, the multitude of kayaks became mere black specks. They disappeared now and then behind the crests of leaping waves, and reappearing moved with the swiftness of birds along the horizon.
At the entrance of her tent Annadoah stood, one hand shading her eyes as they pierced the radiant distance. From the mountain passes behind the village echoed the joyous howls of approaching dogs. Something stirred in the heart of Annadoah—something fluttered there like the wings of a frightened bird.
Ootah's paddle touched the water with the softness of a feather, yet so quickly that the double blades emitted constant flashes of light intermittently on either side. His arms moved with consummate ease. His kayak made a dark blurred line as it sped forward over the yellow waters. Soon he had outdistanced the party. Then his speed slackened, he glanced behind.
The other kayaks darted after him like erratic bugs. The land was a mere curve on the horizon; all about him the sea rose and fell, and from the shimmering mirror of every wave the sunlight shot backward in various directions. A thousand golden searchlights seemed playing over the sea. Now and then through the coppery mists an emerald green berg loomed titanically, and as it slowly bore down upon him, Ootah would gracefully manipulate one end of his paddle and shift his kayak about while the berg lurched toweringly onward. As he gained distance from the land the ocean swelled with increasing volume. His frail skin kayak was lifted high on the oily crests of waves, and as it descended with swift rushes, Ootah felt exultant thrills in his heart. Far away he heard the resounding explosion of ice bergs colliding. A low bellow arose from a floe immediately ahead. Ootah's blood leaped, the spirit of the hunter throbbed in his veins, his nostrils sensitively quivered. With a slow silent movement of the paddle, he prevented his kayak from going too great a distance forward in order to await the others. Judging by the sound of the muffled bellowing, he assumed that the great animals were sunning themselves on the southern ridge of the floe. His tactics were to paddle about to the north, land on the floe, and descend upon the walrus from the protection of the ridges of crushed ice which always abound on these rafts of the arctic sea.
While he retarded the kayak and played with his paddle, Ootah became conscious of disquieting things in the world about him.
In the heavens he saw low lying clouds moving slowly southward. Higher above, clouds moved more swiftly in another direction.
"The quilanialeqisut (air spirits) are not at rest," murmured Ootah. "O spirits of the air, what disturbs your ease?"
The clouds in the higher ether circled as if in an eddy of wind. Certainly the spirits were not at peace among themselves.
"Spirits of the air," spake Ootah, "waft your caresses to Annadoah's cheeks. Tell her Ootah waits to kill the walrus, that Ootah loves her and would make Annadoah his wife—neuilacto Annadoah; tell Annadoah Ootah presses his nose to hers and calls her Mamacadosa (of all things that which tastes the most delightful)."
A gust swept the clouds from the zenith. Still no breath of air touched the sea.
To the lee a group of small icebergs passed. They rocked and eddied, and from their glacial sides the light poured in changing colors.
"O spirit of the light, carry thy bright message to the eyes of Annadoah, tell her Ootah has loved her for many, many moons."
The bergs crashed into one another, and in the impact sank into the sea.
Ootah bit his lips. A vague misgiving was cold within his heart.
A flock of gulls passed low over the waters.
He called to them—that they should take his love to Annadoah. They were to tell Annadoah that he would soon return, laden with food and fuel for the winter. Their raucous cries mocked him. He demanded what they meant. "Ootah—Ootah," they seemed to call, "how foolish art thou, Ootah, how foolish art thou to love Annadoah. For fickle is Annadoah—fickle, fickle the heart of the maiden Annadoah!"
Ootah shrieked an enraged defiance. His eyes sought the horizon. Kokoyah, the sea god, was breathing deeply, and in the mists which rose like fire-shot smoke before the sun, singular forms took shape. Ootah saw the magnified shadows of great dogs. They seemed to be dashing along the horizon. Then, with crushing strides, behind the adumbration a great sled, a titan figure gathered substance in the clouds. It moved with terrific speed; it dominated the sky. Its dress was not that of the northern tribes. Ootah felt a resentful stirring, as, looking upward, in the clouds overhead, a white face, hard, fierce, scowling, with burning blue eyes, momentarily appeared.
"A white warrior from the south," Ootah murmured. "And he comes with swift tread. What can it mean?"
In common with many primitive peoples, Ootah possessed the soul of a poet—nature was vocal with him, and the disembodied beings of other worlds made themselves manifest and spoke in the light and in the clouds. To him everything lived; the clouds were the habitation of spirits, the waves were alive, all the animals and fish possessed souls; the very winds were endowed with sex functions and loved and quarreled among themselves. The interrelation of man and the forces of the universe were inseparably intimate and familiar; integral parts of one another, their destinies were bound together. And to Ootah nature found much to gossip about in the affairs of men.
Eagerly Ootah sought the clouds. Along the horizon they resolved themselves into a phantasmagoria of Eskimo maidens and white men resembling the Danes who came each summer to gather riches of ivories and furs. And the Eskimo maidens and white men danced together. As these mirage-forms melted, Ootah glanced into the water by his side. Looking up from the ultramarine depths he saw something white. For an instant it assumed the likeness of the face of Annadoah. He saw her golden skin, her cheeks flushed with the pink of spring lichen blossoms, her lips red as the mountain poppies of late summer. He started back and called aloud:
"Annadoah! Annadoah!" For she had smiled, cruelly and disdainfully. Hoarse laughter answered him—the laughter of white men from the south. A flock of hawks passed over the water. He was about to shout when he heard the sound of kayak paddles behind him. He recalled himself and beckoned silence.
"The thought of Annadoah in the embrace of the big blond man, of her face pressed to his in the white men's strange kiss of abomination, aroused in Ootah a sense of violation. . . . He heard Annadoah murmur tenderly, 'Thou art a great man, thou art strong; thy arms hurt me, thy hands make me ache.'"
Slowly, with silent paddles, the hunters moved over the limpid waters to the north of the floe. On the far side they saw a horde of walrus bulls dozing in the sunlight. Behind a ridge of ice they landed, drawing their kayaks after them. With skin lassos, harpoons and floats, the party crouched low and crept toward the prey. Thus they would be mistaken for other walrus by the unsuspecting animals. Ootah was ahead. Softly they all muttered the magic formulas to prevent themselves from being seen:
"Nunavdlo sermitdlo-akorngakut-tamarnuga!" In the rear, his eyes evilly alight, Maisanguaq followed.
As they approached the herd they scattered. Along the edge of the floe lay about twenty monstrous animals, steam rising from their nostrils as they snorted in their slumber. There were a half dozen mother walrus with half-grown young about them. Now and then they sleepily opened their eyes and made low maternal noises.
Before the others realized what had happened, Ootah sprang toward a bull and delivered his harpoon. It rose in the air and roared deafeningly. Ootah struck a second time. The animal floundered in a pool of blood, whipping the floe furiously with its huge tail.
With a thunderous roar all the others leaped with one glide into the sea. The floe rocked, the water churned like a boiling cauldron. In a few minutes Ootah had despatched the beast. Standing erect, he gazed in defiance at the clouds, at the distant gulls. He forgot the omens, and laughed with joy.
Not a moment was to be lost, however. Springing into their kayaks, the Eskimos put to sea. Now the battle began in earnest. Attacking enraged walrus in these frail skin boats is probably the most dangerous form of hunting in the world. At any moment an infuriated animal is liable to rise from the sea immediately beneath a kayak and upturn it.
Forming a semi-circle on the water about the swimming herd, the fearless hunters sat in their tossing boats, each with one arm upraised ready to strike, and with the other manipulating the paddle. Whenever a whiskered head rose above the water one of the hunters let a harpoon descend. After each attack they waited breathlessly.
Tateraq suddenly let his arm descend—his harpoon point struck home. He shouted with joy—for he, too, sought Annadoah. Roaring with rage the lanced sea-horse dived into the deep. The foaming water became red with blood, and a few snorting, bellowing heads appeared. All about glared enraged, fiery eyes. The animals plunged and tossed furiously in the water—the savor of blood maddened them. They began a series of attacks upon the kayaks.
Alive to their danger the men kept an alert watch. As they saw a seething streak described on the surface of the water, as an animal raged toward them, they would skillfully shift their positions. The animal would rush snortingly by.
With dexterous movements of the paddle, Ootah playfully moved his kayak among the herd, in one hand his harpoon ready to strike. A feverish desire to make the greatest kill possessed him. Each time a hunter made an attack he felt a pang of anxiety. Tense rivalry spurred the young hunters.
In the midst of the battle Arnaluk struck a beast. Ootah summoned all his skill, and dashed in succession after a number of appearing heads—he forgot his danger. Before the others realized it, he had killed two. Maisanguaq's harpoon went wild. He jealously watched Ootah and struck without skill, carried away by chagrin and rage. Ere made valiant attacks for he, too, thought of Annadoah, but the walrus invariably went skimming from under his blows. Papik's harpoon glanced the backs of half a dozen. Finally it landed. He shouted with glee. The inflated floats attached to the harpoon lines bobbed crazily on the surface of the ensanguined waters as the animals tossed in their death struggles below.
Two white tusks appeared near Ootah's kayak. His arm cut the air—his harpoon sped into the water—an enraged bellow followed. He withdrew the handle, free of its line and the attached metal point—the point, with the sinew, descended into the water. It had struck home.
Suddenly a cry went up. One of the natives waved his arms frantically. A great monster had risen by his kayak and fastened one of its tusks in the skin covering the boat from gunwale to gunwale. To strike it with the harpoon meant that it would plunge and capsize the frail craft. Crazy with excitement, the native began hissing and spitting in the beast's face.
"Lift his head!" cried Ootah, paddling near. "Lift—tugaq!—lift his tusk!"
"Lift his head!" echoed the others.
"Aureti! Aureti! Behave! Behave!" the panic stricken man ludicrously shrieked at the animal.
Ootah paddled his kayak to the side of his companion's and, leaning forward, with a quick movement, threw a lasso over the animal's nose and under one tusk. With a terrific jerk of the body, he gave a backward pull—the walrus rose on the water, the kayak was freed of the tusk and slipped away. With a roar the animal sank into the sea. A number now rose angrily about Ootah's kayak. They were bent upon a combined assault.
Ootah warded off the attacking bulls on all sides with his harpoon. The air trembled with infuriated calls, the animals were insane with brute rage. The other natives, alarmed, paddled to a safe distance and watched the unequal conflict. While Ootah manipulated his harpoons, Maisanguaq, in the shelter of the floe, watched him with eager eyes.
He saw Ootah, with almost superhuman dexterity, striking constantly. Repeatedly he had to renew the metal points on his weapon-handle. One by one the animals gave up the attack and dispersed, until only an obdurate bull remained. The battle between man and beast continued, finally Ootah let the harpoon fly with full strength. It struck the animal near the heart. Ootah uncoiled the free line attached to the harpoon point quickly—and the walrus, weighing probably three thousand pounds, plunged with the impetus of a bulk of iron into the sea. Then a strange thing happened.
The pan-shaped drag, attached to the extreme end of the long line securing the harpoon which Ootah had driven into the animal, became entangled in the lashings on the forepart of Ootah's kayak. Leaning forward, Ootah tried to disentangle it. He feared that the beast, in its struggle, might drag all his weapons and paraphernalia into the sea. He felt it tugging at the line while he unknotted the tangle. While he was doing this Maisanguaq saw the beast rise to the surface of the water not far from Ootah and describe a quick circle about his kayak. Before he realized it, the leather line had wrapped itself about his chest and under his arms. It took but a minute for the animal to circle the boat—then it plunged. Maisanguaq saw Ootah struggle to release himself; then he saw the kayak tilt as the hunter was drawn, by the mighty impetus of the plunging sea-horse, into the water. He heard Ootah's cry—saw the blood red waters seethe as they closed over him. In a brief interval the kayak righted itself—it was empty.
A murmur of dismay rose from the others. "The tupilak! the tupilak!" Maisanguaq exultantly murmured, his eyes alight. "Happy angakoq! Thou shalt have much of Ootah's meat!"
Over the spot where Ootah sank the sun flamed. The water seethed with the threshing of the animals beneath the sea. Ootah's float finally rose. The natives watched breathlessly for the reappearance of Ootah. The float bobbed up and down as the animal's death struggles beneath the water subsided.
Maisanguaq, looking at the floats which marked the dead animals, called out:
"Ootah hath won Annadoah—hah-hah-hah! Hah! Ootah hath won Annadoah only to lose her! We shall take Ootah's catch to Annadoah, but Ootah sleeps. Ootah hath gone to taste the water in the country of the dead! Hah-hah!"
At that moment Maisanguaq nearly fell from his kayak.
"Methinks thou wilt perhaps join the fishes first, friend Maisanguaq," a familiar voice laughed joyously behind him.
Maisanguaq's face became livid with dismay. Had the angakoq failed? And why?
Turning, he saw Ootah, not far away, clambering from the water onto the floe. He was unscathed by the mishap—the water even had not penetrated his skin garments. A joyous cry arose from the hunters as they saw him running to and fro, working his arms to get up circulation. Noting Maisanguaq's scowling face, Ootah twitted him:
"Laugh, friend Maisanguaq," he said, "for winter comes and then thy teeth will chatter." Maisanguaq scowled deeply—Ootah's blithesome remarks filled him with rancor.
"Peace, Maisanguaq. Methinks thou, too, lovest Annadoah," continued Ootah kindly. "Therefor, I hear thee no spite! For who cannot love Annadoah. Ka—ka! Come—come!" Shaking the water from him, he bade the others tow his kayak to the floe.
Ootah entered his kayak. The struggles of the walrus had subsided, and only two skin floats bobbed feebly on top of the waves. The hunters now strung series of kayaks together with strong leather ropes, three skin boats being attached in a catamaran. Taking up the leather floats one by one, to the rear kayak of each series the hunters fastened the harpoon lines which secured the prey. Thus the animals were to be towed slowly ashore.
Altogether eight walrus had been secured; four of these had fallen to the skill of Ootah. Ootah sang for joy. Again he had achieved distinction on the hunt, and so, with all the better chances of success, he believed he might pursue his suit for the hand of Annadoah. With powerful, steady strokes of their paddles the hunters, in their processions of kayaks, towed the walrus through the sea shoreward. They joined unrestrainedly in Ootah's hunting chant. Only Maisanguaq was silent.
Now and then, unable to restrain his exuberant joy, Ootah sang his love to the clouds, the waves, the winds.
"O winds, O happy winds, speed my message to Annadoah!" he called. "Tell her that I return with the food of the sea! O spirits of the air, breathe to her that Ootah's heart hungers for her as starving ahmingmah desire green grass in winter time. O happy, happy waters, I return to Annadoah with food and fuel for winter—say Ootah meuilacto—would wed—Annadoah. Tell her Ootah calls her Mamacadosa!"
The others, although disappointed in being outwon, in spontaneous recognition of his superior feat, chimed a chorus of congratulations. Suddenly Maisanguaq gleefully pointed a significant finger to the sky.
"Pst!" he said.
A black guillemot, like an omen of evil, passed over Ootah's head.
By all the immemorial customs of their people, because of the established pre-eminence of his prowess, Ootah should now find favor in the eyes of Annadoah. Scarce seventeen summers had passed over Annadoah's head and of wooers she had a score. The young hunters, not only of her own tribe, but of others far south, sought her hand. The fame of her beauty and skill had travelled far. None, it was said, equalled her dexterity in plaiting sinew thread; none cut and sewed garments as this maid with tender child's hands. She made weapons, she brewed marvellous broths. Since the death of her mother she had served the tribe with her skill. Yet, as the summers passed, she remained carefree and to all suitors shook her head. "Become a great chief," she would say. "Win in the games, bring back the musk oxen, then perhaps Annadoah will listen." Each summer the young men pursued the hunt with the hope of becoming chief hunter among the tribesmen. But for three summers Ootah had won signally above them all. To the remote regions of their world the name of Ootah was whispered with awe. Ootah carried off honors in the muscle-tapping and finger-pulling matches; he out-distanced all rivals in kayak races on the sea; he left everyone behind on perilous journeys to the inland mountains. Of every living animal on land and sea he had killed, and in quantity of game he excelled them all. Only of late had Annadoah listened with some degree of favor to his pleadings. In the days of want he brought blubber to her for fuel, and provided her with meat. And she was grateful. Perhaps her heart stirred, but she feared the quiet passion of Ootah, and by a perverse feminine instinct she resented a tenderness so gentle that it seemed almost womanly. With winter approaching, and food scarce, it was inevitable that Annadoah should wed. And now that Ootah in the quest of the walrus had made the greatest kill, none doubted that he should be chosen.
As the kayaks approached the village an unexpected sight greeted the eyes of the hunters.
Along the shore, the women of the tribe and strange men were dancing.
Before the village tents they were gathered in groups. While the elder women of the tribe beat a savage dance on membrane drums, the chubby-bodied maidens, dressed in fur trousers, swayed in the arms of the foreigners.
As the boats approached the shore, the natives recognized the visitors. They were one of a half dozen parties of Danish traders who came north yearly from Uppernavik to gather the results of the season's hunt. Their visit meant an untold distribution of wealth among the tribe, for they brought needles, knives, axes, guns, ammunition, and in return secured a fortune in furs and ivory tusks. They also doled out tea, biscuits, matches, tobacco, thread, and gaudy handkerchiefs beloved by the women. Their coming had not been expected this season because of the dearth of game.
The men in the boats shouted to one another joyously. Only Ootah felt a heavy sinking at his heart. He saw the big blond-bearded men chucking the little women under their chins. Their method of kissing was strange and repugnant to him. Accustomed only to the chaste touching of a maiden's face, the kiss of the white men he instinctively regarded as unnameably unclean. He resented their freedom with the women. But, children of the heart and brain, primitive, innocent, the women did not understand the white men's strange behavior. And the husbands, not comprehending, did not care. A gun, ammunition, a few boxes of matches—these constituted wealth in value exceeding a wife.
Now and then Ootah saw some of the visitors raising flasks to their lips. Then their hilarity rang out more boisterously.
When they saw the kayaks approaching the shore the strangers shouted. The hunters replied. Only Ootah remained silent. Disapproving of the spectacle, his thoughts were busier elsewhere; his heart glowed.
"Ho, ho, what there?" some called.
"Aveq soah," Maisanguaq replied.
"Jolly for you!" shouted a Newfoundland sailor, whom Ootah recognized as having been in the region with some sportsmen from far away America several years before.
As they danced the visitors broke into the fragments of a wild sailor's chorus.
When they had finished, the Newfoundlander, a tall, tough, red-faced whaler, drank again from his flask and strode to the shore. His bulky body reeled unsteadily.
"Come on up—bring 'er in—hurry up! Gawd, but you'r' blazin' slow!"
Ootah and his companions landed. Tugging at the leather lines they drew the walrus one by one from the water to the ice. In these monstrous palpitating black bodies were tons of food and fuel. Without wasting time, they fell to their task and dressed the animals. Meanwhile sleds were brought from the tents and the masses of steaming meat and blubber were loaded. While the natives were thus busily engaged, the half-drunken Newfoundlander strode about uttering great oaths. The strangers' dogs, attracted by the meat, with shrill howling descended to the ice and surrounded the sled-loads of blubber. Ootah seized an oar and beat them away.
"What the hell d'ye mean," the Newfoundlander demanded. "Youh'd beat our dogs? Eh? Get away, damn youh!" He lifted his fist above Ootah. His face purpled, Ootah raised his lithe body, his muscles quivered like drawn rubber. His black eyes flashed proud defiance.
"Youh'd fight me, eh?—youh defy me, youh damn candle-suckin' heathen!"
His hand descended. Beyond, the drum beaters ceased, the dancers turned—a surprised cry went up.
Ootah drew hack, his face flushed. There was a red spot on his cheek where the white man's fist had struck. He felt a sense of momentary terror. The white men's methods of fighting were unfamiliar to the natives. A blow from the fist is a thing unknown among them. Ootah drew away—the bullying Newfoundlander followed.
"Youh'd beat our dogs, eh? Well, I'll show youh, youh oily, tallow-eatin' husky!"
He called the dogs, and stooping to the treasured mass of blubber threw a great mass to the howling animals.
"Ha! ha! ha! guess youh thought youh were smart, eh?" A second team of dogs, released from their tethering, came wildly dashing shoreward. The whaler seized another mass of meat and flung it to the animals.
Ootah felt a flush of fierce indignation rise within him. His food for the winter, whereby he hoped to win Annadoah, that which might keep away the wolves of starvation, was being wantonly wasted. He saw his companions cowering at the sight of the white man—he drew himself erect. He saw the Newfoundlander turn and shout to his companions on the shore. Ootah thought of the saying, "Strike thy enemy when his back is turned." He seized a heavy harpoon handle, made of a great narwhal tusk, and swinging it high struck the Newfoundlander a terrific blow on the head. He fell senseless to the earth, his face bleeding. Half stunned he tried to struggle to his feet, but Ootah leaped upon him, and, as was ethical in the native method of fighting, trampled him into insensibility. The man lay unconscious, his face bleeding effusively.
Without a word Ootah continued loading his share of the game onto his sleds. Attracted by the attack, the other members of the trading party descended and surrounded the fallen man.
"Nice trick, eh?" laughed one. "Sam got his all right. 'Minds him right for being so damned fresh." They surveyed Ootah. "Slick little devil," one said, handing Ootah his gun.
"Take it, son," he said, with maudlin magnanimity. "You've got nerve!"
Ootah smiled bashfully, and shook his head in quiet refusal.
The half-drunken traders, laughing at what they considered a clever trick, carried their companion into one of the tents and poured brandy into his mouth. Then they left him lying alone, half sodden, and returned to the shore. Some watched the natives working, while others clasped the native maidens in their arms and danced. Half afraid of the whites, flattered by their attentions, and extremely embarrassed, the little women jumped and danced in the visitors' arms.
Papik finally drew his single sledge load of walrus toward his tent. He had been rejected repeatedly, but now—with a load of blubber—he knew he could not afford to miss the opportunity of seeking a wife.
"Ahningnetty! Ahningnetty!" he hailed a chubby maiden who, breaking from the arms of one of the white men, was seen running toward her shelter.
"What wouldst thou, Papik?" she called.
"Papik would speak with thee. Ookiah (winter) comes, and his teeth are sharp. They will bite thee with pangs of hunger, and the meat Papik brings will make joyful Papik's wife."
Ahningnetty, summoning some of the other maidens, surveyed Papik's load of blubber.
"Truly, as he saith, there is little food, and happy will be Papik's wife," said one.
"But when thy blubber is gone with what shalt thou provide her?" asked Ahningnetty.
"Perchance the bears will come," Papik said. "And skillful is Papik's hand with the lance."
"But thy hand is long, Papik, and long fingers soon lose their skill."
Ahningnetty dubiously shook her head.
"But thou art chubby—yea," said Papik admiringly—"thou art fat as the mother bears after a fat summer, and thy body is warm; it giveth heat; Papik would give thee food, and thou shalt keep him warm during the long winter."
The maiden smiled delightedly. For, as Papik indicated, whereas a man may admire a slimmer beauty during the summer, when the long night comes a maiden fat and chubby is a wife to be prized.
"But alas, thy nose is long, Papik," she said, shaking her head.
And the others chorused:
"Long nose, short life! Long nose—short life! Long nose—short life!" In anger Papik struck the offending member, and drawing his sledge after him proceeded toward his tent.
Assisted by a number of the natives, Ootah, smiling, exultant, drew five sled-loads of blubber up over the ice toward Annadoah's tent. With their comparatively meagre portions the others followed. To Annadoah Ootah meant to show the spoils of his quest. To her he desired to present the greater portion of the riches he had by his prowess secured. Here was meat to serve them during the long winter, and in that region the catch was a priceless fortune. Surely Annadoah could not refuse him now. He had proved himself beyond question the chief hunter of the tribe. His eyes filled, his temples excitedly throbbed. He felt a greater joy than that the natives feel when the sun dawns after the long night. In his heart pulsed the sweet song of spring's first ineffable bird.
Not far from Annadoah's tent he paused. About him the natives, wondering, admiring, had gathered. He turned to them; he felt a strength, a dignity, an assertion he had never experienced before. His voice rose in a happy, ingenuously proud chant of exultation:
"From the bosom of Nerrvik, queen of the sea, have I not brought food for the long winter; yea, have I not for many moons sought to win in the chase that I might claim Annadoah? Annadoah! Annadoah!"
"Yea, that thou mightest claim Annadoah! Thou art the strongest hunter of the tribe," the natives rejoicingly chorused.
"Did I not win in the muscle-tapping games?" he sang. "Did I not speed the arrow as none other—did I not speed the arrows as the birds fly?"
"Yea," they replied, "thou didst speed the arrow with the skill of the happy dead playing in the aurora—over the earth as the birds fly didst thou send the arrows. Strong is thy arm, Ootah."
Not far away some of the natives, joining in the chorus, began beating drums. The white men hilariously drank from bottles and joined in the merry dances.
"Did I not call the walrus and seal from the sea—as none other? Have I not lured the caribou from their hidden lair? Have I not enticed the birds, the foxes, and the bear by my calls—as none other of the tribes?"
In succession Ootah uttered imitations of the calls of the walrus bulls, the female caribou, and cries of the various birds.
"Have I not held converse with the animals of the land, the birds of the air, and shall I not one day perchance comb the hair of Nerrvik in the sea!"
The drums beat more loudly; the dancers hopped and leaped. The chorus replied:
"Thou lurest the walrus and seal from the sea, thou enticest the caribou, ahmingmah and birds unto thee! Thou hast learned the language of nature, and the happy spirits are kind to thee! Marvellous is thy power, Ootah."
And in the chorus, deep, hoarse, sneeringly ironical rang the words of Maisanguaq:
"Marvellous is thy power, Ootah," and his low bitter laughter followed.
The white men began to sing as they danced with the chubby women. In couples they rocked to and fro.
"Have I not killed of all the birds of the air, the animals of the land and sea! Have I not observed the customs of the august dead? Have I done aught to bring misfortune to the tribe?"
In spontaneous recognition of his pre-eminence the young men freely yielded Annadoah. Only Maisanguaq felt bitter.
Ootah summoned his helpers and the sleds of blubber were drawn to the immediate entrance of Annadoah's tent. He seemed to step upon air. His heart bounded.
"Annadoah! Annadoah!" he called. "Ootah waits thee. Ootah hath brought thee treasure from the depths of the sea. Strong is the arm and brave is the heart of Ootah when the arm strikes and the heart beats with the thought of thee."
Seeing him there, the natives ceased dancing. The white men, curious, drew near the tent.
As he stood there, his head erect, proud, expectant, he became conscious of a sudden ominous silence on the part of his companions. Some distance away the women were whispering to one another, and above, in the sky, circled a black guillemot.
"Annadoah," he softly called.
Only the hawk replied.
"Annadoah, I bring thee my love, as constant as my shadow! I bring thee riches! Ootah would give thy couch new furs and caress thee."
From the brown, weather worn sealskin tent came the murmurous sound of voices. Ootah heard the voice of Annadoah—and that of another.
The black bird in the sky screamed.
Not far distant in the tent of the angakoq Ootah heard the low disquieting sound of a drum beaten in some malevolent incantation.
His heart sank as heavily as a dead walrus sinks in the sea.
Something stifled him. Then the flap of the tent parted and Annadoah stepped forth, her head tossed haughtily, her beautiful eyes flashing.
"Get hence," she said. "Thou art a boy, thy tongue is that of a boy. Thou art soft—thou hast the heart of a woman."
"Annadoah . . ." Ootah's voice wailed. The stretch of shore seemed to heave and writhe. He put out his hands as if to ward off a blow.
Behind Annadoah, at the door of the tent, the form of a man stooped. As he emerged, Ootah saw he was taller than Annadoah's tent. His shoulders were broad and massive. His face, bronzed by the burning sun, was like tanned leather, hard, wrinkled; his expression was as grim as graven stone. His large blue eyes glittered with the coldness of flint. His hair and long curling moustache were blond. Ootah recognized "Olafaksoah"—Olaf, the great white trader—whom he had seen two seasons before at a southern village. He was noted for his brutality and hard bargaining.
"What's all the noise about?" he growled. His voice was deep and gruff.
Ootah staggered back.
"Annadoah, Annadoah," he moaned softly, supporting himself on the upstander of his loaded sled.
Olafaksoah strode forward with great steps, scowling. He critically surveyed the loads of blubber and gleaming walrus tusks.
"Good haul, boy—good haul! Game's been pretty scarce all along the coast. It's lucky we got here in time, eh, comrades? What'll you take"—he turned to Ootah—"I don't know your name." He spoke in broken Eskimo.
"Ootah," Annadoah whispered, "that is his name. Ha-ha, thou callest him a boy."
Olafaksoah, with heavy strides, passed down the line of sledges. Turning to his men, he called:
"Bring the junk."
A sled of matches, needles, tea, biscuits, knives, tin cups, a few hatchets, and several guns and cases of ammunition were brought. While these were unloaded a half-dozen eager natives hastened into their tents and hurriedly brought out their portions of the preciously preserved skins and ivories of the meagre summer hunt. Clamorous, insistent, they presented these to Olafaksoah. They clustered around him so that he could not walk. Ootah watched as the bargaining began. He saw Annadoah clinging near the white trader. A number of the white men began dickering down the line with Arnaluk.
"Load blubber—one tin cup—box black powder."
Arnaluk shook his head. Olafaksoah cuffed him with his fist. The timid native did not have the courage to resent this brutality.
"What d'ye want, you greedy savage—two boxes matches!"
"Two boxes matches—one box shooting fire—one tin cup."
Still he could not be persuaded to part with the precious meat. Olafaksoah swore and shook his fists. Fearful of offending the stranger, the women joined in and shrieked at Arnaluk, urging him to consent.
Unprotesting, he let them draw away his sled of blubber and tusks. He had a tin cup, matches and cartridges—which he could not eat.
"Rotten lot," Olafaksoah said to Papik, surveying his single catch of a young walrus. Papik winced at this reproach.
"Two boxes fire powder," said Olafaksoah. Papik refused. Olafaksoah browbeat him in a high voice. Finally he kicked him. "One case needles." He called Papik's mother and chucked her under the chin. She smiled at him, awed, flattered, half afraid. Papik parted with his load for a box of ammunition and a few needles. Meanwhile the bartering went on for the hoarded wealth of the tribe. Eager to precede one another, the natives rushed to and fro, bringing armfuls of ivories and furs from their tents. In exchange for stuff of trifling value the white men secured, by their method of threatening bargaining, loads of blue and white fox skins, caribou hides, and walrus and narwhal tusks which the natives had previously preserved. One man parted with five tusks, worth as many hundred dollars, for two gaudy handkerchiefs for his wife. Another gave several exquisite fox skins for a plug of tobacco. When they demanded more biscuits, tobacco or matches than were offered, Olafaksoah bullied them with threats. Yet they hung about him, eager for the almost worthless barter, for the time being valuing a box of crackers and allotments of tea more than their substantial supply of walrus meat. Finally the leader paused before Ootah's loaded sledges.
"What'll you take—a gun, fire-powder?"
Ootah shook his head.
Olafaksoah had recourse to his stock-in-trade of oaths, and told his men to bring a gun, two hatchets, ammunition.
Ootah was still obdurate. The natives' voices arose murmurously, for they felt it was not well to offend the strangers. During future seasons they might not come again, as they threatened, with ammunition and guns. This the natives feared as a calamity.
"Bring some crackers—tea," Olafaksoah paused. Ootah watched Annadoah nestling near the "white trader." He had forgotten all about the sledges of meat. He did not hear Olafaksoah. He still continued shaking his head.
"I'll be liberal with you, son," Olafaksoah indulgently increased his offer.
Six more boxes of ammunition, more tea and crackers were added to the pile.
Ootah again mechanically shook his head. Amid all of those about him, he saw only the face of Annadoah, golden as sunlight and pink as the lichen blossoms of spring. Through her open ahttee, or fur garment, he saw her breasts as tender as those of eider-feathered birds. The sight of her melted his heart, the streams of spring were loosened within him. Yet, with an agonized pang, he observed her gaze adoringly and eagerly at the tall stranger's hard face; he saw her quiver at the sound of his harsh, gruff voice. Olafaksoah's brutal masculinity for the time dominated the shrinking femininity of the girl. Ootah saw Annadoah beseechingly, almost fawningly, touch the white chief's horny hand and nestle it close against her cheek.
Olaf, the trader, was oblivious to this.
"Greedy, eh? Well, we need the meat! If we're goin' to stay here to chance hunting our dogs got to be fed!" More supplies were brought. Still Ootah did not speak.
The white chief presently gazed hard at Ootah. Then his eyes brightened with amused mirth. He saw the despairing, yearning gaze of the youth toward the girl he had selected to favor.
"Ha, ha, ha!" he laughed good-naturedly. "I see. I've keel-hauled your Romeo stunt, eh? Want the stuff?" He kicked the supplies interrogatively.
Ootah sadly shook his head. He dully heard the vulgar gibes of the white men and the mocking laughter of Maisanguaq.
One of the natives began beating a drum. Ootah giddily caught an evanescent vision of women dancing with reeling traders. He heard Olafaksoah as he entered Annadoah's tent laughing heartily.
The thought of Annadoah in the embrace of the big blond man, of her face pressed to his in the white men's strange kiss of abomination, aroused in Ootah a sense of violation, an instinctive repugnance akin to the horror a native feels for the dead. All the ardent hopes of his life for many moons had centered upon his bringing the results of a successful hunt to Annadoah and asking her to share his igloo, to become his wife. And now, in his hour of high victory, after everyone had acclaimed him, he was crushed.
A fervid fever seemed to take fire in his forehead and flush his veins, yet his heart was colder than ice, his hands and feet were cold. He felt as though someone were strangling him; he felt giddy, suddenly sick. At that moment he was too stunned to realize fully the blighting tragedy which had annihilated his hopes.
Nearby in her tent he heard Annadoah's voice, sweet as the song of buntings.
"Olafaksoah, Olafaksoah," he heard her murmur tenderly, "thou art a great man. Thou art strong. Thy arms hurt me, thy hands make me ache." Then Ootah heard the man's hard voice and Annadoah's repressed murmurs of mingled pain and delight. The day became black about him. He felt that he must get away; a wild madness to run seized him. He felt the impetus of the winds in his feet. Turning on his heel, his face to the northwest, he fled.
In the sky overhead the black guillemot screamed.
"Her lips are red—red as a wound in the throat of a deer."
For seven weeks Ootah lived in the mountains. The violence of his bitterness and grief scared away the wild hawks in whose high nesting place he found shelter. At the door of that icy cave above the clouds, he called upon the spirits of the mountains for vengeance.
"Ioh—ioh!" he wailed. "Spirits of the glaciers, lift your hands—strike! Descend and smite Olafaksoah! carry him to the narwhals; let the whales feed upon his body. May the soul of his hands, and the soul of his feet, and the soul of his heart, and the soul of his head struggle with one another. May he never rest! Ioh—ioh—ioh—ioh!"
The boom of sliding avalanches answered him. The sound was like that of muffled thunder. Wild cries arose from the mountain birds. They sounded demoniacal in the taut air.
Far below soared the black vultures of the arctic. In a fit of anger Ootah shook his arms frantically at the shrieking birds. For they seemed to mock him.
"Spirits of the clouds," he wailed, "Ioh—ioh—ioh-h! Ye that wander to the south! Ye that fly to the north! Ye that struggle hither and yon, from the east to the west. Bear my curses to Annadoah. Tell her that the heart of Ootah is bitter. Tell her Ootah would that her voice become as harsh as the winds of ookiah (winter). Tell her Ootah would that her face become withered as frozen lands in winter. Tell her Ootah would that her heart rot within her, that the wild beasts feed upon her breasts. Ioh-h—ioh-h-h! Sing unto her the curses of Ootah, and may she not rest!"
Below him the clouds, burning with vivid fire, moved in the varying strata of air currents—to Ootah they were conveying his messages. The sun, circling low about the horizon, shifted its rays, and within the nebulous cloud-masses in the valleys, fountains of prism light played. In this radiant phantasmagoria messages in turn came to Ootah.
He saw the figuration of Annadoah's tent, and within, reclining upon her couch, the form of Annadoah. At the mirage picture of the beauteous and beloved maiden his heart throbbed violently. In the high altitude he found respiration difficult, and now he almost suffocated for lack of breath. He felt a pang at his heart as he saw the white chief enter the tent. The winds wailed sibilant and agonizing messages into the ears of Ootah:
"Thou hast cursed Annadoah. Foolish Ootah! For thou lovest Annadoah! Yea, her voice is as sweet as the sound of melting streams in springtime. Lo, she whispers into the ears of Olafaksoah: 'Thou art strong, Olafaksoah; Ootah hath the heart of a woman. Thou hurtest me, Olafaksoah; thy arms bruise me, thy hands make me ache; but thou art strong, thou art great, Olafaksoah; the heart of Annadoah trembles for joy of thee.' Thus saith Annadoah!"
And in the winds Ootah heard Olafaksoah's coarse laughter.
"Ioh—ioh-h-h!" Ootah moaned.
"Thou wouldst that Annadoah's face be blighted as frozen land in winter," laughed the winds, mockingly. "Thou dotard Ootah! Thou lovest the face of Annadoah. It is very fair. It is golden as the radiant face of Sukh-eh-nukh. Her eyes are as bright as stars in the winter night. Oh-h-h, Ootah! Into the eyes of Olafaksoah Annadoah gazes, yea, she faints with joy, thou silly Ootah!"
"Ioh—ioh-h-h!" wailed Ootah.
"Her lips are red, Ootah—-red as a wound in the throat of a deer."
And in the cloud vision Ootah saw the blond chief take the head of Annadoah between his two palms and press her lips fiercely upon his own. Ootah's heart trembled as water.
"Ioh—io-h-h!" he sobbed, and tears coursed from his eyes.
The constant haunting thought of Annadoah's face pressed close to that of Olafaksoah somehow made his face burn and his bosom ache.
"Ootah, Ootah, thou wouldst that Annadoah's heart might wither, yea, as a frozen bird in the blast of winter, foolish Ootah, who lovest Annadoah! Soft beats the heart of Annadoah upon the bosom of Olafaksoah; yea, for very joy it flutters as a mating bird in summer time. Thou wouldst that beasts might rend her little breasts—safe are they now in the embrace of the strong man from the south. Ootah! Ootah!"
Ootah wrung his hands.
"Thy curses fall dead upon the ears of Annadoah, she who hears only the voice of Olafaksoah."
In the winds Ootah heard the whisper of Olafaksoah in the dim tent. He heard Annadoah's rapturously murmurous replies.
"Olafaksoah shareth the igloo of Annadoah," whispered the winds suggestively. And Ootah knew the Eskimo custom.
Annadoah, by sharing her simple habitation with him, had by choice formally become the wife of Olafaksoah. And according to the unwritten law of ages she was now as much his property as his dogs. He might abuse her, and desert—and thus divorce—her whenever he chose. She might, at his pleasure, be loaned as a wife to another, and in this she would have no word. Or she might be given away, and dare not protest. Ootah felt that she was lost to him irretrievably.
For hours Ootah stood at the mouth of his mountain eyrie in dumb agony. All that he suffered it is beyond me to tell you. For days he crouched there, motionless, stark dumb, every fibre of him aching.
In the valleys below, as the hours of the burning days and golden nights passed, the sunlight constantly shifted. In the palpitating mists Ootah read of the days' doings at the camp. He saw the white men bartering for the meagre remaining furs and ivories gathered by the tribe. With the natives he saw them going on long fruitless hunts. Finally one day he witnessed them harpoon a half dozen walrus on the sea. They laboriously towed the catch ashore and rejoiced over the unexpected wealth of oil and blubber. But the white men claimed the entire prize, loaded their extra sledges, liberally fed their dogs, and doled out but a penurious allotment of meat and blubber to the tribe.
But in all this Ootah had no concern. Day by day the cloud-swimming valleys below blazed with crimson-shot conflagrations . . . Ootah knew the dead were lighting their monstrous camp fires—but even in this he found no interest. Daily he became fainter and fainter from lack of food, and daily, constantly, the winds whispered:
"The mouth of Annadoah is very red—red as a wound in the throat of a deer . . ." and then sibilantly—"softly beats the heart of Annadoah against the bosom of Olafaksoah." Then every fibre of him burned and ached.
One day the radiant valley darkened . . . Out of the sky, as if rising from worlds beyond the horizon, a cyclopean phantasm of clouds took form. Rising higher and higher toward the zenith, ominous and sinister, it gathered substance and spread across the glowing heavens like a film of smoke . . . It took upon itself the awful semblance of a mighty thing, half-beast, half-man. As if to strike, it slowly lifted the likeness of a gigantic arm shrouded with tattered clouds . . . The baleful shade shut off the sunlight from the earth . . . Ootah's heart quailed . . . Terror gripped him . . . For he saw—what few men had ever beheld—the shadow of Perdlugssuaq, the Great Evil. Finally he found voice.
"O most dreadful of the tornarssuit (spirits)," he called, grovelling on his knees, "smite me! Smite me!"
During the tragic days of his isolation the full realization of all that he had lost had come to Ootah. He fed upon the memory of Annadoah's face. He remembered how, with the vision of that face before him, he had excelled in the hunts and games, and for many moons had felt confident of winning her. He dwelt for hours upon her stunning rejection, of how she clung to the white man; he visioned with heart corroding bitterness her days with Olafaksoah, and he burned with unnameable anguished pangs as he conjured her nights. Now, the violence of his grief exhausted, he invoked death.
Expectant, fearful, with closed eyes, he waited.
In the valley a storm gathered, and the low whine of the winds Ootah believed to be the breath of the descending terror. The air became unbearably colder as the dreaded creator of death, darkness and ice descended. The taut suspense was terrible. Finally Ootah reached the limits of human endurance—merciful unconsciousness blotted out the long agony.
When he recovered the storm had passed. Scores of birds, driven against the rocks by the terrible winds, lay dead at the entrance of the cave. Surely the Great Evil had struck, but he lived. Hunger stirred within him and he fell upon the birds.
Later he sought game in the lower valleys. He had lances and bows and arrows with him. He found an inland vale, where a patch of green grass was exposed despite a recent fall of snow—there a herd of musk oxen grazed. He drew his bow of bone and sinew. One fell after the first quiver of his arrow. His skill was marvellous. He had struck a vital spot. He finished his killing of the fallen animal with a lance. He feasted upon the raw meat, and carried away with him up to his eyrie enough to last for many days.
The sun meanwhile sank lower and lower; there were long hours of twilight; snow storms came; the cold increased. Ootah felt the first whip of approaching winter. Ootah's spirit melted. Disquieting messages came in the cold winds and darkening clouds. His heart beat quickly at what the frightened birds told him. Olafaksoah, they said, struck Annadoah. As she lay on the ground he kicked her. In the snow-driven wind Ootah heard the echo of her heart-broken weeping. He revoked the curses he had uttered; he cursed his own weakness whereby he had invoked harm to her. Then in the winds Ootah heard the beat of drums. In the clouds he saw the white men dancing with the Eskimo maidens. Day after day they danced—day after day Annadoah wept. Olafaksoah had become wearied. Disappointed in the failure to secure greater supplies, he vented his impatience upon Annadoah. Cruelly he bruised her little hands, he mocked and jeered her when she pleaded with him. In fits of anger he often struck her. Finally, one day, in the cloud phantasmagoria, Ootah saw Olafaksoah reeling from the strange red-gold water the white men drank. He entered Annadoah's tent. She crouched, terrified, in a corner. With him were three of his rough blond companions. They staggered—and in the winds they sang. Olafaksoah pointed consentingly to Annadoah. One of the men attempted to embrace her. Then she rose defiantly and did what few Eskimo women ever dared. She smote the man's leering face and, sobbing, sank on her knees before Olafaksoah. He roared out things the Eskimos do not understand. "Goddlmighty!" and more awful words. His fist descended. In the winds Ootah heard Annadoah scream and call his name.
That day he descended from the mountains.
Much that Ootah conjured in his mind, or imagined he saw in the clouds, really happened. Whether he actually sensed these things by some wonderful power of clairvoyance, which the natives themselves believe—or whether he just accurately guessed what occurred, I do not know. But of this I can tell:
By that strange contradictoriness of the feminine—much the same all the world over—by that inherent, inborn desire of subjugation to the brutal and domineering in the male, Annadoah had given herself unreservedly to Olafaksoah. At the sound of his firm step she trembled. His hard, brutal embraces caused her heart to flutter with joy. At first he told her he would take her with him to the south. Annadoah believed him. Then he changed his mind, and said she must wait until the next season for him. She silently acquiesced. She called upon all her simple arts to please him. Carefully she oiled her face and made the golden skin soft by rubbing it with the fur of animals; with a broken comb, left with her mother years before by a party of explorers, she combed her long, black and wonderful hair and elaborately arranged it behind her. About her forehead she bound a narrow fillet of fine, furry hares' skin. She donned new garments; her ahttee was made of the delicate skins of birds, her hood of white fox hides. To all this Olafaksoah seemed blind; at times, with coarse, half-maudlin tenderness, he caressed her, called her his "little girl" and promised to "come back next spring." But Annadoah was useful to him otherwise.
During the days when Olafaksoah and his men were hunting or gathering furs and ivory at nearby villages along the coast, Annadoah sewed skins into garments for Olafaksoah and his men. Sometimes she went with Olafaksoah on his expeditions and employed her coquetry upon the susceptible men of the migrating tribes to secure bargains for him. For a box of matches she would cajole from her people ivories worth hundreds of dollars. She persuaded them to rob themselves of the walrus meat and blubber they had gathered for winter and give them to her master in exchange for tin cups and ammunition, all of which would be useless when the night came on. To Ootah she gave no thought until one day the white man struck her. As he vented his rage at not securing more riches upon her during the ensuing days, her heart more and more instinctively turned to the youth "with the heart of a woman" whom she had rejected. When Olafaksoah brought his companions to the tent her soul rose in rebellion. In the camp there was an orgy. None of the married men, who for a slight consideration were willing to permit their wives to dance with the traders, objected to the drunken carousal. Ribald songs sounded strange in this region of the world. Yet after Olafaksoah had kicked her and left her lying in the tent, high above the sound of the sailors' doggerel songs, Annadoah frantically called aloud:
For a long time she lay in a stupor. Her face was bleeding. When she regained consciousness the white chief and his men had left. They had taken with them all available furs, ivories and provisions in the village.
At the door of her tent Annadoah stood, dry-eyed, her hair dishevelled. To the south she yearningly extended her arms. Her heart still ached toward the man who had lied to her and deserted her. She was left, a divorced woman, alone among her people, with no one to care for her during the long winter night.
As she stood there the light of the descending sun, which was now far below the rim of the horizon, paled. Driven by a frigid wind, howling raucously from the mountains, great snow clouds piled along the sky line. Out at sea the tips of the waves became capped—leprous white arms seemed reaching hopelessly for help from the depths of the sea. The sky blackened. The increasing gusts tore at the frail tents. The wolf-dogs crouched low to the ground and whined. A tremor of anxiety filled the hearts of the tribe. Presently the clouds were torn to shreds and whipped furiously over the sky. In the thickening grey gloom Annadoah watched the men of the tribe fastening their sleds and belongings to the earth . . . mere dark shadows. Above her tent, tossed by the wind in its eddying flight, a raven screamed.
Annadoah finally entered and threw herself upon the rocky floor of her dwelling. As the furies were loosed outside her voice rose and fell with the wailing grief and wrath of the wind. "Olafaksoah! Olafaksoah!" But only the hoarse evil call of the black bird answered during lulls in the storm. And Annadoah heard it, with a sinking of her cold heart, as the voice of fate.
"'Do the gulls that freeze to death in winter fly in springtime?' she asked, simply. . . 'The teeth of the wolves are in my heart' . . ."
Desolate and alone, Annadoah walked along a crevice in the land-adhering ice of the polar sea.
The prolonged grey evening of the arctic was resolving into the long dark, and the Eskimo women, as is their custom at this time of the year, had gathered along the last lane of open water—which writhed like a sable snake over the ice—to celebrate that period of mourning which precedes the dreadful night, and to give their last messages and farewells to the unhappy and disconsolate souls of the drowned, who, when the ice closed, should for many moons be imprisoned in the sea.
An unearthly twilight, not unlike that dim greenish luminescence which filters through emerald panes in the high nave of a great cathedral, lay upon the earth. The forms of the mourning women were strangely magnified in the curious semi-luminance and, as their bodies moved to and fro in the throes of their grief, they might have been, for all they seemed, shadowy ghosts bemoaning their sins in some weird purgatory of the dead.
In the northern sky a faint quivering streak of light, resembling the reflection of far away lightning, played—the first herald of the aurora. To the south a gash of reddish orange, like the tip of a bloody-gleaming knife-blade, severed the thick purple clouds. There was a faint reflected glimmer on the unfrozen southern sea.
Snow had fallen on the land, igloos had been built. Over the village and against the frozen promontories loomed a majestic yet fearful shadowy shape—that of a giant thing, swathed in purple, its arm uplifted threateningly—the spectre of suffering and famine.
This wraith, brought into being by the gathering blackness in the gulches and crevices of the mountains, filled the hearts of the natives with unwonted foreboding.
Profound silence prevailed.
Already the sea for miles along the shore was frozen. The open water lay at so great a distance from the land that the sound of the waves was stilled. The birds had disappeared. Even the voices of the sinister black guillemots and ravens were heard no more.
Annadoah's sobs rose softly over the ice.
"Spirit of my mother, thou who wast carried by the storm-winds into the sea! Hear me! Annadoah loved one Olafaksoah, a chief from the south; for him the heart of Annadoah became very great within her. And now the heart of Annadoah aches. For he hath gone to the south. And not until the birds sing in spring will he return. And Annadoah is left alone. Ookiah comes with the lash of wicked walrus thongs, and there is no blubber buried outside Annadoah's shelter. Neither is there oil. And the couch of Annadoah is cold—so very cold. Yea, listen, spirit of my mother, and bring Olafaksoah back, that he may bruise Annadoah's hands, that he may cast Annadoah to the ground and crush Annadoah if he wills with his feet! Io-oh-h!"
She moaned this in a curious sing-song sort of chant. Over the ice the voices of the other women rose, and each, to her departed relatives and friends who had died in the sea, told about the important incidents of the year and the misgivings for the winter, in a varying crooning song.
Annadoah passed Tongiguaq, who jumped and danced in a frenzy of grief. Tongiguaq had lost three children; two had been drowned, and a new-born baby, three months before, was born maimed. According to the custom of the people, a fatherless defective child is doomed to death. So rigorous is their struggle to survive, so limited the means of existence, that a tribe cannot bear the burden of a single unnecessary life. So in keeping with this Lycurgean law, worked out by instinct after the stern experience of ages, a rope had been twisted about the neck of Tongiguaq's baby and it had been cast into the sea.
All this the weeping woman told in her chant to the departed. When she saw Annadoah approaching, she paused.
"Here cometh the she-wolf that hath devoured the food of our tribe," she wailed, intense bitterness in her voice. "Yea, by her cajolery she persuaded our men to give unto the traders from the south our precious food. And now we starve! Yea, she hath robbed us. She is as the breath of winter, as the blackness of the night."
Along the line of wailing women Tongiguaq's reproach was suddenly taken up. As Annadoah walked by them they did a strange thing. The natives fear their dead—they never even mention their names. For possessed of great power are the dead, and they can wreak, as befits their moods, unlimited good or ill. Believing they could persuade the dead to array themselves against Annadoah, the women took up Tongiguaq's denunciation and reviled Annadoah in their weird chant to the departed. Annadoah wrung her hands and wept. Bitter and jealous because the white chief had selected her during his stay, their bosoms full of the harbored ill will and envy of years because she had been the most desired by the young men of the tribes, the women now invoked curses upon the deserted and unprotected girl through the medium of the incorporeal powers.
The dread of it filled poor Annadoah's heart. She quailed at the bitter execrations called upon her head. Instinctively her hand reached through the opening of her ahttee and she clutched at a piece of old half-decayed skin. This was a remnant of her mother's father's clothing, a amulet given her as a child, when saliva from the maternal grandfather's mouth had been rubbed on her lips, and which she believed protected her from ill fortune.
"Io-ooh! io-oh!" Annadoah moaned in pain.
The women forgot their own tragedies. They forgot the messages they were imparting to the dead. Directly they might not be able to invoke any effective curse upon Annadoah; but well they knew, indeed, the awful power of the disembodied. And to the dead in the cold shuddering sea they told how Annadoah had played with the men, how she had betrayed them to the white traders, cajoling them to rob themselves of food, and how, because of her, famine now confronted the tribe; they told of the long devotion of Ootah, the desired of all the maidens, and how Annadoah had rejected him.
Possessed by a frantic contagion of released rage, their voices rose and fell in a frightful chanting malediction. In the weird gloom their vague forms leaped about, their arms writhing like black things in the air as they called the names of their individual dead to hear.
As their voices approached a crescendo they danced with increasing hysteria. Some shrieked and fell to the ice groaning, their bodies twisting in convulsions. Others laughed madly—laughed at the dreadful horrors with which the dead would smite Annadoah. Losing all control they were carried away by their delirious malevolence; their voices reached a high shrill pitch. Their arms clawed the air. Through the dead curses were invoked upon Olafaksoah, the great trader, who had cowed them and robbed them. They begged of the tornarssuit that he might be rended by wolves, that his body might rot unburied, and that the spirits of his limbs might be severed and be compelled to wander in restless torment forever. They called anathemas upon his unborn children; and of their dead, who should be imprisoned in darkness in the depths of the sea, they furiously invoked upon Annadoah's offspring the curse of the long night . . . Their voices shuddered over the ice as they demanded that most dreadful of all dreaded evils—that Annadoah's child might be born as blind to light and the joy of light as the dead in the sea.
Annadoah crouched in frantic terror upon the ice. From the Greenland highlands a moaning echo answered the women. To Annadoah the hill spirits had joined in cursing her—all nature seemed to upbraid her. Tremblingly, with a last lingering hope, she crept on her knees to the edge of the lane of lapping black water. She whispered a pathetic plea to Nerrvik, the gentle queen of the sea, whose hand had been severed by those she loved, and who felt great tenderness for men. Annadoah listened.
"Thou art cold of heart to him who loves thee, Annadoah," a voice seemed to whisper in the lapping waves. "Thou art beautiful as the sun, but as Sukh-eh-nukh shall thou be eternally sad. Thou shalt lose because of thine own self the greatest of all treasures. That is fate."
Far out on the open ocean spectral fire-flecks flashed like mast-lights on swinging ships. These mysterious jack o' lanterns of the arctic are caused by the crashing together of icebergs covered with phosphorescent algae.
To Annadoah the dead were lighting their oil lamps for the long night. As she watched the weird illuminations a paralyzing fear of the vague unknown world beyond the gate of death filled her, and her blood ran cold. She felt utterly crushed, utterly helpless, and utterly deserted, both in the affection of the living and that of the dead. She uttered a despairing cry and fell back in a cold faint. The women drew about as if to leap upon her.
A momentary wavering of the northern lights revealed her face grown sad and wan. The women stood still, however, for approaching in the distance they heard a man's voice calling:
"Avatarpay—avatarpay, akorgani—akorgani, anagpungah . . ."
Those mystic words, believed to give magic speed to the one who utters them, came in the well known tones of Ootah. A joyous cry went up from the women.
When Annadoah opened her eyes Ootah was bending over her.
"I was held in the mountains, Annadoah. The hill spirits were at war. The snow came, the storm spirits loosed the ice. I fell into an abyss . . . I lay asleep . . . for very long. It seemed like many moons. I could barely walk when I awoke. I had no food. I became very weak, but I uttered the serrit (magic formula;), those words of the days when man's sap was stronger, and the good winds bore me hither."
A mystical silver light had risen over the horizon, and in the soft glimmer Annadoah saw that the face of Ootah was haggard and drawn. His voice was weak.
"The sun hath gone," murmured Ootah. "The long night comes. Ootah heard thy cry and has come to care for thee, Annadoah."
His voice was a caress. His face sank dangerously near the face of the girl. She panted into full consciousness and struggled to free herself. Ootah helped her to her feet.
"The winter comes . . . and famine," muttered Annadoah, hopelessly. She pointed to the gaunt, hollow-eyed shadow, empurpled-robed, against the frozen cliffs. "My heart is cold—I am resigned to death."
"But I have come to give furs for thy couch," murmured Ootah, a beseeching look in his eyes. "Thou wilt need shelter—I shall build thee an igloo. Thou wilt need food—I shall share all that I have with thee and seek more. Thou wilt need oil for heat. I shall get this for thee."
Annadoah made a passionate gesture. A curious perverse resentment for the youth's insistent devotion rose in her heart.
"Nay," she said, warding him away. "My shadow yearns only to the south . . . the far, far south."
"Thy soul yearns to the south—forsooth, will I all the more cherish thee. Thou art frail, and the teeth of ookiah (winter) are sharp."
"The teeth of ookiah are not so sharp as the teeth in my heart," sobbed Annadoah.
Ootah felt a great pity for her—a pity and tenderness greater than his jealousy.
"But I shall teach thee to forget, Annadoah."
"I cannot forget. Even as the ravens in their winter shelter dream of the summer sun, so my soul grows warm, in all my loneliness, in the memory of Olafaksoah."
Ootah groaned with an access of misery. Frenziedly he caught her hands and pressed them. Annadoah struggled. His words beat hotly in her ears:
"But I want thee. My blood burns at the thought of thee. It is against the custom of the tribe that thou shouldst be alone. Thou must take a husband."
"No—no," she shook her head.
"But some one must care for thee. I love thee. Thou wilt forget Olafaksoah. Thy hurt will heal."
Annadoah shook her head piteously.
"Do the gulls that freeze to death in winter fly in springtime?" she asked, simply.
Ootah did not reply.
"He was strong," she murmured. "His hands bruised me. He was cruel. He hurt me. Yet he gave my heart joy. My heart is dying—dying as the birds die. I feel the teeth of the wolves in my heart."
Ootah pointed to the women. The soft crooning of their voices reached him as they resumed the dismal dirge of their own woes.
"They hate thee," he said. He pointed to the constellation of the Great Bear which glittered faintly in the sky. "Yonder qiligtussat (the barking dogs) would rend the gentle bear. Thou rememberest the old men's tale. A woman ran away from her family. She was false at heart. The good mother bear protected her and gave her food. But yearning for her husband, she returned and to gain his favor betrayed the hiding place of the mother-bear and her young. Then the husband drove out with sledges. His dogs attacked the bear. But they all became stars and went up into the sky. Even as the bear was good to the false woman so hast thou made clothing for those yonder, and now they would as the dogs rend thee. Thou needest a husband."
"They would be bitter to thee," she argued.
"Perchance, but I would protect thee. I love thee."
Annadoah shook her head. "The teeth of the wolves are in my heart," she said. "And I no longer care."
"Yonder Nalagssartoq (he who waits and listens) bends to hear thy reply." Ootah pointed to Venus, the brightest of the stars—to the Eskimos an old man who waits by a blow-hole in the heavenly icefloes and listens for the breathing of seals. "Thou wilt come to Ootah, who loves thee? Answer, Annadoah! Ootah listens."
He soothed her little hands. A wondrous light burned in his eyes. Every fibre of his being yearned for her. But Annadoah's hands were cold, her eyes were sullenly turned away. In her heart a vague fear of him, a resentment of his very love, stirred.
"My shadow yearns to the south," she repeated pathetically. "I shall wait. Perhaps he will come as he said when the spring hunting sings." In her heart she feared that he would not.