Read CHAPTER THIRTEEN of Red Rooney The Last of the Crew , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on ReadCentral.com.

MISCHIEF HATCHING.

At early dawn next morning Ippegoo was awakened from a most refreshing slumber by a gentle shake of the shoulder.

“Oh! not yet, mother,” groaned the youth in the drowsiest of accents; “I’ve only just begun to sleep.”

He turned slowly on the other side, and tried to continue his repose, but another shake disturbed him, and a deep voice said, “Awake; arise, sleepy one.”

“Mother,” he murmured, still half asleep, “you have got the throat s-sickness v-v-very bad,” (referring to what we would style a cold).

A grim smile played for a moment on the visage of the wizard, as he gave the youth a most unmotherly shake, and said, “Yes, my son, I am very sick, and want you to cure me.”

Ippegoo was wide awake in a moment.  Rising with a somewhat abashed look, he followed his evil genius out of the hut, where, in another compartment, his mother lay, open-mouthed, singing a song of welcome to the dawning day through her nose.

Ujarak led the youth to the berg with the sea-green cave.  Stopping at the entrance, he turned a stern look on his pupil, and pointing to the cavern, uttered the single word ­“Follow.”

As Ippegoo gazed into the sea-green depths of the place ­which darkened into absolute blackness, with ghostly projections from the sides, and dim icicles pendent from the invisible roof, he felt a suspicion that the cave might be the vestibule to that dread world of the departed which he had often heard his master describe.

“You’re not going far, I hope,” he said anxiously; “remember I am not yet an angekok.”

“True; but you are yet a fool,” returned the wizard contemptuously.  “Do you suppose I would lead you to certain death for no good end?  No; but I will make you an angekok to-night, and after that we may explore the wonders of the spirit-world together.  I have brought you here to speak about that, for the ears of some people are very quick.  We shall be safe here.  You have been long enough a fool.  The time has arrived when you must join the ranks of the wise men.  Come.”

Again he pointed to the cave, and led the way into its dim sea-green interior.

Some men seek eagerly after honours which they cannot win; others have honours which they do not desire thrust upon them.  Ippegoo was of the latter class.  He followed humbly, and rather closely, for the bare idea of being alone in such a place terrified him.  Although pronounced a fool, the poor fellow was wise enough to perceive that he was utterly unfitted, physically as well as mentally, for the high honour to which Ujarak destined him; but he was so thoroughly under the power of his influence that he felt resistance or refusal to be impossible.  He advanced, therefore, with a heavy heart.  Everything around was fitted to chill his ambition, even if he had possessed any, and to arouse the terrors of his weak and superstitious mind.

When they had walked over the icy floor of the cave until the entrance behind them seemed no larger than a bright star, the wizard stopped abruptly.  Ippegoo stumbled up against him with a gasp of alarm.  The light was so feeble that surrounding objects were barely visible.  Great blocks and spires and angular fragments of ice projected into observation out of profound obscurity.  Overhead mighty and grotesque forms, attached to the invisible roof, seemed like creatures floating in the air, to which an imagination much less active than that of Ippegoo might easily have given grinning mouths and glaring eyes; and the atmosphere of the place was so intensely cold that even Eskimo garments could not prevent a shudder.

The wizard turned on his victim a solemn gaze.  As he stood facing the entrance of the cavern, there was just light enough to render his teeth and the whites of his eyes visible, though the rest of his features were shadowy.

“Ippegoo,” he said in a low voice, “the time has come ­”

At that moment a tremendous crash drowned his voice, and seemed to rend the cavern in twain.  The reverberating echoes had not ceased when a clap as of the loudest thunder seemed to burst their ears.  It was followed for a few seconds by a pattering shower, as of giant hail, and Ippegoo’s very marrow quailed.

It was only a crack in the berg, followed by the dislodgement of a great mass, which fell from the roof to the floor below ­fortunately at some distance from the spot on which the Eskimos stood.

“Bergs sometimes rend and fall asunder,” gasped the trembling youth.

Ujarak’s voice was unwontedly solemn as he replied ­

“Not in the spring-time, foolish one.  Fear not, but listen.  To-night you must be prepared to go through the customs that will admit you to the ranks of the wise men.”

“Don’t you think,” interposed the youth, with a shiver, “that it would be better to try it on some one else ­on Angut, or Okiok, or even Norrak?  Norrak is a fine boy, well-grown and strong, as well as clever, and I am such a fool, you know.”

“You have said truth, Ippegoo.  But all that will be changed to-morrow.  Once an angekok, your foolishness will depart, and wisdom will come.”

The poor youth was much cheered by this, because, although he felt utterly unfit for the grave and responsible character, he had enough of faith in his teacher to believe that the needed change would take place, ­and change, he was well aware, could achieve wonders.  Did he not see it when the change from summer to winter drove nearly all the birds away, converted the liquid sea into a solid plain, and turned the bright day into dismal night? and did he not feel it when the returning summer changed all that again, sent the sparkling waves for his light kayak to dance upon, and the glorious sunshine to call back the feathered tribes, to open the lovely flowers, to melt the hard ice, and gladden all the land?  Yes, he knew well what “change” meant, though it never occurred to him to connect all this with a Creator who changes not.  In this respect he resembled his master.

“Besides,” continued the wizard in a more confidential tone, which invariably had the effect of drawing the poor youth’s heart towards him, “I cannot make whom I will an angekok.  It is my torngak who settles that; I have only to obey.  Now, what I want you to do is to become very solemn in your manner and speech from this moment till the deed is finished.  Will you remember?”

Ippegoo hesitated a moment.  He felt just then so unusually solemn that he had difficulty in conceiving it possible to become more so, but remembering the change that was about to take place, he said brightly, “Yes, I’ll remember.”

“You see,” continued his instructor, “we must get people to suppose that you are troubled by a spirit of some sort ­”

“Oh! only to suppose it,” cried Ippegoo hopefully.  “Then I’m not really to be troubled with a spirit?”

“Of course you are, foolish man.  But don’t you understand people must see that you are, else how are they to know it?”

Ippegoo thought that if he was really to be troubled in that way, the only difficulty would be to prevent people from knowing it, but observing that his master was getting angry, he wisely held his tongue, and listened with earnest attention while Ujarak related the details of the ordeal through which he was about to pass.

At the time this conversation was being held in the sea-green cave, Okiok, rising from his lair with a prodigious yawn, said to his wife ­

“Nuna, I go to see Kunelik.”

“And what may ye-a-o-u –­my husband want with the mother of Ippegoo?” asked Nuna sleepily, but without moving.

“I want to ye-a-o-u –­ask about her son.”

“Ye-a-a-o-o-u!” exclaimed Nuna, turning on her other side; “go, then,” and she collapsed.

Seeing that his wife was unfit just then to enter into conversation, Okiok got up, accomplished what little toilet he deemed necessary in half a minute, and took his way to the hut of Ippegoo’s mother.

It is not usual in Eskimo land to indulge in ceremonious salutation.  Okiok was naturally a straightforward and brusque man.  It will not therefore surprise any one to be told that he began his interview with ­

“Kunelik, your son Ippegoo is a lanky fool!”

“He is,” assented Kunelik, with quiet good-humour.

“He has given himself,” continued Okiok, “spirit and body, to that villain Ujarak.”

“He has,” assented Kunelik again.

“Where is he now?”

“I do not know.”

“But me knows,” said a small sweet little child-voice from the midst of a bundle of furs.

It was the voice of Pussi.  That Eskimo atom had been so overcome with sleep at the breaking up of the festivities of the previous night that she was unable to distinguish between those whom she loved and those for whom she cared not.  In these circumstances, she had seized the first motherly tail that came within her reach, and followed it home.  It chanced to belong to Kunelik, so she dropped down and slept beside her.

You know, my dear little seal?” said Okiok in surprise.

“Yes, me knows.  When I was ‘sleep, a big man comes an’ stump on my toes ­not much, only a leetle.  Dat wokes me, an’ I see Ujiyak.  He shooks Ip’goo an’ bose hoed out degidder.”

Okiok looked at Kunelik, Kunelik looked at Okiok, and both gravely shook their heads.

Before they could resume the conversation, Ippegoo’s voice was heard outside asking if his mother was in.

“Go,” said Kunelik; “though he is a fool, he is wise enough to hold his tongue when any one but me is near.”

Okiok took the hint, rose at once, and went out, passing the youth as he entered, and being much struck with the lugubrious solemnity of his visage.

“Mother,” said Ippegoo, sitting down on a skin beside the pleasant little woman, “it comes.”

“What comes, my son?”

“I know not.”

“If you know not, how do you know that it comes?” asked Kunelik, who was slightly alarmed by the wild manner and unusual, almost dreadful, gravity of her boy.

“It is useless to ask me, mother.  I do not understand.  My mind cannot take it in, but ­but ­it comes.”

“Yes; when is it coming?” asked Kunelik, who knew well how to humour him.

“How can I tell?  I ­I think it has come now,” said the youth, growing paler, or rather greener; “I think I feel it in my breast.  Ujarak said the torngak would come to-day, and to-night I am to be ­changed!”

“Oho!” exclaimed Kunelik, with a slight touch of asperity, “it’s a torngak that is to come, is it? and Ujarak says so?  Don’t you know, Ippe, that Ujarak is an idiot!”

“Mother!” exclaimed the youth remonstratively, “Ujarak an idiot?  Impossible!  He is to make me an angekok to-night.”

“You, Ippe!  You are not more fit for an angekok than I am for a seal-hunter.”

“Yes, true; but I am to be ­changed!” returned the youth, with a bright look; then remembering that his rôle was solemnity, he dropped the corners of his mouth, elongated his visage, turned up his eyes, and groaned.

“Have you the stomach twist, my boy?” asked his mother tenderly.

“No; but I suppose I ­I ­am changing.”

“No, you are not, Ippe.  I have seen many angekoks made.  There will be no change till you have gone through the customs, so make your mind easy, and have something to eat.”

The youth, having had no breakfast, was ravenously hungry, and as the process of feeding would not necessarily interfere with solemnity, he agreed to the proposal with his accustomed look of satisfaction ­which, however, he suddenly nipped in the bud.  Then, setting-to with an expression that might have indicated the woes of a lifetime, he made a hearty breakfast.

Thereafter he kept moving about the village all day in absolute silence, and with a profound gloom on his face, by which the risibility of some was tickled, while not a few were more or less awe-stricken.

It soon began to be rumoured that Ippegoo was the angekok-elect.  In the afternoon Ujarak returned from a visit, as he said, to the nether world, and with his brother wizards ­for there were several in the tribe ­ confirmed the rumour.

As evening approached, Rooney entered Okiok’s hut.  No one was at home except Nuna and Tumbler.  The latter was playing, as usual, with his little friend Pussi.  The goodwife was busy over the cooking-lamp.

“Where is your husband, Nuna?” asked the sailor, sitting down on a walrus skull.

“Out after seals.”

“And Nunaga?”

“Visiting the mother of Arbalik.”

The seaman looked thoughtfully at the lamp-smoke for a few moments.

“She is a hard woman, that mother of Arbalik,” he said.

“Issek is not so hard as she looks,” returned Mrs Okiok; “her voice is rough, but her heart is soft.”

“I’m glad to hear you speak well of her,” said Rooney, “for I don’t like to think ill of any one if I can help it; but sometimes I can’t help it.  Now, there’s your angekok Ujarak:  I cannot think well of him.  Have you a good word to say in his favour?”

“No, not one.  He is bad through and through ­from the skin to the bone.  I know him well,” said Nuna, with a flourish of her cooking-stick that almost overturned the lamp.

“But you may be mistaken,” remarked Rooney, smiling.  “You are mistaken even in the matter of his body, to say nothing of his spirit.”

“How so?” asked Nuna quickly.

“You said he is bad through and through.  From skin to bone is not through and through.  To be quite correct, you must go from skin to marrow.”

Nuna acknowledged this by violently plunging her cooking-stick into the pot.

“Well now, Nuna,” continued Rooney, in a confidential tone, “tell me ­”

At that moment he was interrupted by the entrance of the master of the mansion, who quietly sat down on another skull close to his friend.

“I was just going to ask your wife, Okiok, what she and you think of this business of making an angekok of poor Ippegoo,” said Rooney.

“We think it is like a seal with its tail where its head should be, its skin in its stomach, and all its bones outside; all nonsense ­ foolishness,” answered Okiok, with more of indignation in his look and tone than he was wont to display.

“Then you don’t believe in angekoks?” asked Rooney.

“No,” replied the Eskimo earnestly; “I don’t.  I think they are clever scoundrels ­clever fools.  And more, I don’t believe in torngaks or any other spirits.”

“In that you are wrong,” said Rooney.  “There is one great and good Spirit, who made and rules the universe.”

“I’m not sure of that,” returned the Eskimo, with a somewhat dogged and perplexed look, that showed the subject was not quite new to him.  “I never saw, or heard, or tasted, or smelt, or felt a spirit.  How can I know anything about it?”

“Do you believe in your own spirit, Okiok?”

“Yes, I must.  I cannot help it.  I am like other men.  When a man dies there is something gone out of him.  It must be his spirit.”

“Then you believe in other men’s spirits as well as your own spirit,” said Rooney, “though you have never seen, heard, tasted, smelt, or felt them?”

For a moment the Eskimo was puzzled.  Then suddenly his countenance brightened.

“But I have felt my own,” he cried.  “I have felt it moving within me, so that it made me act.  My legs and arms and brain would not go into action if they were dead, if the spirit had gone out of them.”

“In the very same way,” replied the seaman, “you may feel the Great Spirit, for your own spirit could not go into action so as to cause your body to act unless a greater Spirit had given it life.  So also we may feel or understand the Great Spirit when we look at the growing flowers, and hear the moving winds, and behold the shining stars, and feel the beating of our own hearts.  I’m not much of a wise man, an angekok ­ which they would call scholar in my country ­but I know enough to believe that it is only `the fool who has said in his heart, There is no Great Spirit.’”

“There is something in what you say,” returned the Eskimo, as the lines of unusually intense thought wrinkled his brow; “but for all that you say, I think there are no torngaks, and that Ujarak is a liar as well as a fool.”

“I agree with you, Okiok, because I think you have good reason for your disbelief.  In the first place, it is well-known that Ujarak is a liar, but that is not enough, for liar though he be, he sometimes tells the truth.  Then, in the second place, he is an ass ­hum!  I forgot ­you don’t know what an ass is; well, it don’t matter, for, in the third place, he never gave any proof to anybody of what he and his torngak are said to have seen and done, and, strongest reason of all, this familiar spirit of his acts unwisely ­for what could be more foolish than to choose out of all the tribe a poor half-witted creature like Ippegoo for the next angekok?”

A gleaming glance of intelligent humour lighted up Okiok’s face as he said ­

“Ujarak is wiser than his torngak in that.  He wants to make use of the poor lad for his own wicked ends.  I know not what these are ­but I have my suspicions.”

“So have I,” broke in Nuna at this point, giving her pot a rap with the cooking-stick by way of emphasis.

Rooney laughed.

“You think he must be watched, and his mischief prevented?” he said.

“That’s what I think,” said Okiok firmly.

“Tell me, what are the ceremonies to be gone through by that poor unwilling Ippegoo, before he can be changed into a wise man?”

“Oh, he has much to do,” returned Okiok, with his eyes on the lamp-flame and his head a little on one side, as if he were thinking.  “But I am puzzled.  Ujarak is cunning, though he is not wise; and I am quite sure he has some secret reason for hurrying on this business.  He is changing the customs, and that is never done for nothing.”

“What customs has he changed?” asked Rooney.

“The customs for the young angekok before he gets a torngak,” replied the Eskimo.

Okiok’s further elucidation of this point was so complex that we prefer to give the reader our own explanation.

Before assuming the office of an angekok or diviner, an Eskimo must procure one of the spirits of the elements for his own particular familiar spirit or torngak.  These spirits would appear to be somewhat coquettish and difficult to win, and marvellous tales are related of the manner in which they are wooed.  The aspirant must retire for a time to a desert place, where, entirely cut off from the society of his fellows, he may give himself up to fasting and profound meditation.  He also prays to Torngarsuk to give him a torngak.  This Torngarsuk is the chief of the good spirits, and dwells in a pleasant abode under the earth or sea.  He is not, however, supposed to be God, who is named Pirksoma, i.e.  “He that is above,” and about whom most Eskimos profess to know nothing.  As might be expected, the weakness of body and agitation of mind resulting from such exercises carried on in solitude throw into disorder the imaginative faculty of the would-be diviner, so that wonderful figures of men and monsters swim before his mental vision, which tend to throw his body into convulsions ­all the more that he labours to cherish and increase such symptoms.

How far the aspirants themselves believe in these delusions it is impossible to tell; but the fact that, after their utmost efforts, some of them fail to achieve the coveted office, leads one to think that some of them are too honest, or too strong-minded, to be led by them.  Others, however, being either weak or double-minded, are successful.  They assert that, on Torngarsuk appearing in answer to their earnest petition, they shriek aloud, and die from fear.  At the end of three days they come to life again, and receive a torngak, who takes them forthwith on a journey to heaven and hell, after which they return home full-fledged angekoks, prepared to bless their fellows, and guide them with their counsels.

“Now, you must know,” said Okiok, after explaining all this, “what puzzles me is, that Ujarak intends to alter the customs at the beginning of the affair.  Ippegoo is to be made an angekok to-night, and to be let off all the fasting and hard thinking and fits.  If I believed in these things at all, I should think him only a half-made angekok.  As it is, I don’t care a puff of wind what they make of poor Ippegoo ­so long as they don’t kill him; but I’m uneasy because I’m afraid the rascal Ujarak has some bad end in view in all this.”

“I’m quite sure of it,” muttered Nuna, making a stab with her stick at the contents of her pot, as if Ujarak’s heart were inside.

At that moment Nunaga entered, looking radiant, in all the glory of a new under-garment of eider-duck pelts and a new sealskin upper coat with an extra long tail.

“Have you seen Angut lately?” asked Rooney of the young girl.

“Yes,” she replied, with a modest smile that displayed her brilliant teeth; “he is in his own hut.”

“I will go and talk with him on this matter, Okiok,” said the seaman.  “Meanwhile, do you say nothing about it to any one.”