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The Eternal Maiden By T. Everett Harre Characters: 15407

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:02


"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, a

nd 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:

"Ootah! Ootah!"

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.

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