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Red Rooney The Last of the Crew   By: (1825-1894)

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RED ROONEY, BY R.M. BALLANTYNE.

A Tale of Eskimo (Innuit) Life in Greenland at the end of the Eighteenth Century.

CHAPTER ONE.

THE LAST OF THE CREW.

LOST AND FOUND.

There is a particular spot in those wild regions which lie somewhere near the northern parts of Baffin's Bay, where Nature seems to have set up her workshop for the manufacture of icebergs, where Polar bears, in company with seals and Greenland whales, are wont to gambol, and where the family of Jack Frost may be said to have taken permanent possession of the land.

One winter day, in the early part of the eighteenth century, a solitary man might have been seen in that neighbourhood, travelling on foot over the frozen sea in a staggering, stumbling, hurried manner, as if his powers, though not his will, were exhausted.

The man's hairy garb of grey sealskin might have suggested that he was a denizen of those northern wilds, had not the colour of his face, his brown locks, and his bushy beard, betokened him a native of a very different region.

Although possessing a broad and stalwart frame, his movements indicated, as we have said, excessive weakness. A morsel of ice in his path, that would have been no impediment even to a child, caused him to stumble. Recovering himself, with an evidently painful effort, he continued to advance with quick, yet wavering steps. There was, however, a strange mixture of determination with his feebleness. Energy and despair seemed to be conjoined in his look and action and no wonder, for Red Rooney, although brave and resolute by nature, was alone in that Arctic wilderness, and reduced to nearly the last extremity by fatigue and famine. For some days how many he scarcely remembered he had maintained life by chewing a bit of raw sealskin as he travelled over the frozen waste; but this source of strength had at last been consumed, and he was now sinking from absolute want.

The indomitable spirit of the man, however, kept his weakened body moving, even after the mind had begun to sink into that dreamy, lethargic state which is said to indicate the immediate approach of death, and there was still a red spot in each of his pale and hollow cheeks, as well as an eager gleam of hope in his sunken eyes; for the purpose that Red Rooney had in view was to reach the land.

It was indeed a miserably faint hope that urged the poor fellow on, for the desolate shore of Western Greenland offered little better prospect of shelter than did the ice clad sea; but, as in the case of the drowning man, he clutched at this miserable straw of hope, and held on for life. There was the bare possibility that some of the migratory Eskimos might be there, or, if not, that some scraps of their food some bits of refuse, even a few bones might be found. Death, he felt, was quickly closing with him on the sea. The great enemy might, perhaps, be fought with and kept at bay for a time if he could only reach the land.

Encouraging himself with such thoughts, he pushed on, but again stumbled and fell this time at full length. He lay quiet for a few seconds. It was so inexpressibly sweet to rest , and feel the worn out senses floating away, as it were, into dreamland! But the strong will burst the tightening bands of death, and, rising once more, with the exclamation, "God help me!" he resumed his weary march.

All around him the great ocean was covered with its coat of solid, unbroken ice; for although winter was past, and the sun of early spring was at the time gleaming on bergs that raised their battlements and pinnacles into a bright blue sky, the hoary king of the far north refused as yet to resign his sceptre and submit to the interregnum of the genial sun.

A large hummock or ridge of ice lay in front of the man, blocking his view of the horizon in that direction. It had probably been heaved up by one of the convulsions of the previous autumn, and was broken into a chaotic mass. Here he stopped and looked up, with a sigh. But the sinking of the heart was momentary... Continue reading book >>




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