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

A STRANGE MEETING STRANGELY INTERRUPTED.

The meeting which had been thus strangely invaded was no ordinary prayer or missionary meeting.  It had been assembled by Egede for the express purpose of affording some unbelievers among the Eskimos an opportunity of stating their difficulties and objections in regard to the new religion.

Interesting though its proceedings were, as showing the similarity of the workings of the civilised and savage minds, we cannot afford space to enter much into detail, yet some account of the matter seems necessary in order to show what it was that induced the robber chief to delay, though not to alter, his fell purpose.

After prayer offered by the missionary, that the Holy Spirit might descend on and bless the discussion, a hymn was sung.  It had been translated into Eskimo, and taught to his converts by Egede.  Then the missionary made a brief but complete statement of the leading facts of the good news of salvation to sinful man in Jesus Christ, ­this, not only to clear the way for what was to come, but for the purpose of teaching the newcomers, so as to render them somewhat intelligent listeners.

Then an old grey-haired man arose.

“I do not object to the new religion,” he said, “but I am puzzled.  You tell me that God is everywhere and knows everything; why, then, did he not go to our first mother, Eve, and warn her of her danger when the Evil One tempted her in the form of a serpent?”

“My friend, the question you ask cannot be fully answered,” said Egede.  “I can explain, however, that our first parents were put into the world to be tried or tested in that way.  To have warned Eve would have rendered the test useless.  Enough for us to know that she was told what to do.  Her duty was to obey.  But let me ask you a question:  is not sin ­is not murder ­hateful?”

Grimlek imagined that Egede looked him straight in the face as he asked the question, and felt uneasy, but was by no means softened.

“Yes,” answered the old man; “murder ­sin ­is hateful.”

“Yet it certainly exists,” continued Egede; “you cannot help believing that?”

“Yes, I must admit that.”

“Then why did God permit sin?”

Of course the old man could not reply, and the missionary pointed out that some things were incomprehensible, and that that was one of them.

“But,” he continued, “that is no reason why we should not talk of things that are comprehensible.  Let us turn to these.”

At this point a middle-aged man with a burly frame and resolute expression started up, and said in an excited yet somewhat reckless manner ­

“I don’t believe a word that you say.  Everything exists as it was from the beginning until now, and will continue the same to the end.”

“Who told you that?” asked Egede, in a prompt yet quiet manner.

The man was silenced.  He resumed his seat without answering.

“You have talked of the `end,’ my friend,” continued the missionary, in the same quiet tone.  “When is the end? and what will come after it?  I wait for enlightenment.”

Still the man remained dumb.  He had evidently exhausted himself in one grand explosion, and was unable for more.  There was a disposition to quiet laughter on the part of the audience, but the missionary checked this by pointing to another man in the crowd and remarking ­

“I think, friend, that you have something to say.”

Thus invited, the man spoke at once, and with unexpected vigour.  He was a stupid-looking, heavy-faced man, but when roused, as he then was, his face lighted up amazingly.

“We do not understand you,” he said sternly.  “Show us the God you describe; then we will believe in Him and obey Him.  You make Him too high and incomprehensible.  How can we know Him?  Will He trouble Himself about the like of us?  Some of us have prayed to Him when we were faint and hungry, but we got no answer.  What you say of Him cannot be true, or, if you know Him better than we do, why don’t you pray for us and procure for us plenty of food, good health, and a dry house?  That is all we want.  As for our souls, they are healthy enough already.  You are of a different race from us.  People in your country may have diseased souls.  Very likely they have.  From the specimens we have seen of them we are quite ready to believe that.  For them a doctor of souls may be necessary.  Your heaven and your spiritual joys may be good enough for you, but they would be very dull for us.  We must have seals, and fishes, and birds.  Our souls can no more live without these than our bodies.  You say we shall not find any of these in your heaven; well then, we do not want to go there; we will leave it to you and to the worthless part of our own countrymen, but as for us, we prefer to go to Torngarsuk, where we shall find more than we require of all things, and enjoy them without trouble.”

With an energetic “humph!” or some such exclamation, this self-satisfied philosopher sat down, and many of his countrymen expressed their sympathy with his views by a decided “Huk!” but others remained silent and puzzled.

And well they might, for in these few sentences the Eskimo had opened up a number of the problems on which man, both civilised and savage, has been exercising his brain unsuccessfully from the days of Adam and Eve until now.  No wonder that poor Hans Egede paused thoughtfully ­and no doubt prayerfully ­for a few minutes ere he ventured a reply.  He was about to open his lips, when, to his astonishment, a tall strong man who had been sitting near the outside circle of the audience close to the robber chief Grimlek started to his feet, and, in a tone that had in it more of a demand than a request, asked permission to speak.

It was our friend Angut.

Before listening to his remarks, however, it behoves us to account for his sudden appearance.

Having been led, as we have said, far out of their way by the detour they were compelled to take, Red Rooney and his friends did not reach the camp till some time after the meeting above described had begun.  As it was growing dusk at the time, they easily approached without being observed ­all the more that during the whole time of the meeting men and women kept coming and going, according as they felt more or less interested in the proceedings.

Great was the surprise of the three friends on arriving to find the band of robbers sitting peacefully among the audience; but still greater would have been their surprise had they known the murderous purpose these had in view.  Rooney, however, having had knowledge of men in many savage lands, half guessed the true state of matters, and, touching his two friends on the shoulders, beckoned to them to withdraw.

“Things look peaceful,” he whispered when beyond the circle, “but there is no peace in the hearts of cold-blooded murderers.  What they have done they will do again. `Quick’ is the word.  Let us gather a dozen strong young men.”

They had no difficulty in doing this.  From among the youths who were indifferent to the proceedings at the meeting they soon gathered twelve of the strongest.

“Now, lads,” said Rooney, after having briefly told them of the recent massacre, “fifteen of these murderers are seated in that meeting.  You cannot fail to know them from our own people, for they are all strangers.  Let each one here creep into the meeting with a short spear, choose his man, sit down beside him, and be ready when the signal is given by Angut or me.  But do not kill.  You are young and strong.  Throw each man on his back, but do not kill unless he seems likely to get the better of you.  Hold them down, and wait for orders.”

No more was said.  Rooney felt that delay might be fatal.  With the promptitude of men accustomed to be led, the youths crept into the circle of listeners, and seated themselves as desired.  Rooney and Okiok selected their men, like the rest.  Angut chanced to place himself beside Grimlek.

The chief cast a quick, suspicious glance on him as he sat down, but as Angut immediately became intent on the discussion that was going on, and as the robber himself had become interested in spite of himself, the suspicion was allayed as quickly as roused.

These quiet proceedings took place just before the heavy-faced Eskimo began the speech which we have detailed.  Notwithstanding the serious ­ it might be bloody ­work which was presently to engage all his physical energies, the spirit of Angut was deeply stirred by the string of objections which the man had flung out so easily.  Most of the points touched on had often engaged his thoughtful mind, and he felt ­as many reasoning men have felt before and since ­how easy it is for a fool to state a string of objections in a few minutes, which it might take a learned man several hours fully to answer and refute.

Oppressed, and, as it were, boiling over, with this feeling, Angut, as we have said, started to his feet, to the no small alarm of the guilty man at his side.  But the chief’s fears were dissipated when Angut spoke.

“Foolish fellow!” he said, turning with a blazing gaze to the heavy-faced man.  “You talk like a child of what you do not understand.  You ask to see God, else you won’t believe.  You believe in your life, don’t you?  Yet you have never seen it.  You stab a bear, and let its life out.  You know when the life is there.  You have let it out.  You know when it is gone.  But you have not seen it.  Then why do you believe in it?  You do not see a sound, yet you believe in it.  Do not lift your stupid face; I know what you would say:  you hear the sound, therefore it exists.  A deaf man does not hear the sound.  Does it therefore not exist?  That which produces the sound is there, though the deaf man neither sees nor hears, nor feels nor tastes, nor smells it.  My friend, the man of God, says he thinks the cause of sound is motion in the air passing from particle to particle, till the last particle next my ear is moved, and then ­I hear.  Is there, then, no motion in the air to cause sound because the deaf man does not hear?

“O stupid-face!  You say that God does not answer prayer, because you have asked and have not received.  What would you think of your little boy if he should say, `I asked a dead poisonous fish from my father the other day, and he did not give it to me; therefore my father never gives me what I want.’  Would that be true?  Every morning you awake hungry, and you wish for food; then you get up, and you find it.  Is not your wish a silent prayer?  And is it not answered every day?  Who sends the seals, and fishes, and birds, even when we do not ask with our lips?  Did these animals make themselves?  Stupid-face! you say your soul is healthy.  Sometimes you are angry, sometimes discontented, sometimes jealous, sometimes greedy.  Is an angry, discontented, jealous, greedy soul healthy?  You know it is not.  It is diseased, and the disease of the soul is sin.  This disease takes the bad forms I have mentioned, and many other bad forms ­one of which is murder.”

Angut emphasised the last word and paused, but did not look at the robber beside him, for he knew that the arrow would reach its mark.  Then he resumed ­

“The Kablunet has brought to us the better knowledge of God.  He tells us that God’s great purpose from the beginning of time has been to cure our soul-disease.  We deserve punishment for our sins:  God sent His Son and Equal, Jesus Christ, to bear our sins.  We need deliverance from the power of sin:  God sent His Equal ­the Spirit of Jesus ­to cure us.  I believe it.  I have felt that Great Spirit in my breast long before I saw the Kablunets, and have asked the Great Spirit to send more light.  He has answered my prayer.  I have more light, and am satisfied.”

Again Angut paused, while the Eskimos gazed at him in breathless interest, and a strange thrill ­almost of expectation ­passed through the assembly, while he continued in a low and solemn tone ­

“Jesus,” he said, “saves from all sin.  But,” ­he turned his eyes here full on Grimlek ­“He does not save in sin.  Murder ­foul and wicked murder ­has been done!”

Grimlek grew pale, but did not otherwise betray himself.  Reference to murder was no uncommon thing among his countrymen.  He did not yet feel sure that Angut referred to the deed which he had so recently perpetrated.

“This day,” continued Angut, “I saw a band of Kablunet sailors ­”

He got no further than that, for Grimlek attempted to spring up.  The heavy hand of Angut, however, crushed him back instantly, and a spear-point touched his throat.

“Down with the villains!” shouted Rooney, laying the grasp of a vice on the neck of the man next to him, and hurling him to the ground.

In the twinkling of an eye the fifteen robbers were lying flat on their backs, with fingers grasping their throats, knees compressing their stomachs, and spear-points at their hearts; but no blood was shed.  One or two of the fiercest, indeed, struggled at first, but without avail ­ for the intended victim of each robber was handy and ready to lend assistance at the capture, as if in righteous retribution.

It was of course a startling incident to those who were not in the secret.  Every man sprang up and drew his knife, not knowing where a foe might appear, but Rooney’s strong voice quieted them.

“We’re all safe enough, Mr Egede,” he cried, as he bound Grimlek’s hands behind him with a cord.  The Eskimos quickly performed the same office for their respective prisoners, and then, setting them up in a row, proceeded to talk over the massacre, and to discuss in their presence the best method of getting rid of the murderers.

“I propose,” said Okiok, whose naturally kind heart had been deeply stirred by the cowardly massacre which he had witnessed, “I propose that we should drown them.”

“No; drowning is far too good.  Let us spear them,” said Kajo, who had become sober by that time.

“That would not hurt them,” cried a fierce Eskimo, smiting his knee with his clenched fist.  “We must cut off their ears and noses, poke out their eyes, and then roast them alive ­”

“Hush! hush!” cried Egede, stepping forward; “we must do nothing of the kind.  We must not act like devils.  Have we not been talking of the mercy of the Great Spirit?  Let us be just, but let us temper justice with mercy.  Angut has not yet spoken; let us hear what he will propose.”

Considering the energy with which he had denounced the murders, and the vigour with which he had captured Grimlek, Angut’s proposal was somewhat surprising.

“Kablunet,” he said, turning to the missionary, “have you not told me that in your Book of God it is written that men should do to other men what they wish other men to do to them?”

“Truly, that is so,” answered Egede.

“If I were very wicked,” continued Angut, “and had done many evil deeds, I should like to be forgiven and set free; therefore, let us forgive these men, and set them free.”

We know not with what feelings the robbers listened to the inhuman proposals that were at first made as to their fate, but certain it is that after Angut had spoken there was a visible improvement in the expression of their faces.

Considerable astonishment and dissatisfaction were expressed by the majority of the Eskimos.  Even Egede, much though he delighted in the spirit which dictated it, could not quite see his way to so simple and direct an application of the golden rule in the case of men who had so recently been caught red-handed in a cold-blooded murder.  While he was still hesitating as to his reply to this humane proposal, an event occurred which rendered all their discussion unnecessary.

We have said that fifteen robbers had been captured; but there were sixteen who had entered the camp and joined the meeting.  One of these had, without particular motive, seated himself on the outskirt of the circle under the shadow of a bush, which shadow had grown darker as the twilight deepened.  Thus it came to pass that he had been overlooked, and, when the melee took place, he quietly retreated into the brush-wood.  He was a brave man, however, although a robber, and scorned to forsake his comrades in their distress.  While the discussion above described was going on, he crept stealthily towards the place where the captives had been ranged.

This he did the more easily that they sat on the summit of a bank or mound which sloped behind them into the bushes.  Thus he was able to pass in a serpentine fashion behind them all without being seen, and, as he did so, to cut the bonds of each.  Their knives had been removed, else, being desperate villains, they might now have attacked their captors.  As it was, when the cords of all had been cut, they rose up with a mingled yell of laughter and triumph and dashed into the bushes.

The hunters were not slow to follow, with brandished knives and spears, but their chief called them back with a Stentorian roar, for well he knew that his men might as well try to follow up a troop of squirrels as pursue a band of reckless men in the rapidly increasing darkness, and that there was nearly as much likelihood of their stabbing each other by mistake in the dark, as of killing or catching their foes.

When the hunters had again re-assembled in front of their chief man’s house, they found new cause of anxiety which effectually put to flight their annoyance at having been outwitted by the robbers.

This was the fact that, although night was coming on, the oomiak with the women had not returned.