THE MYSTERY AND BOBBY
Abel had often seen death before. He had seen men drowned, men who had frozen to death, men accidentally shot to death, and men who had died naturally and comfortably in their beds. It was, therefore, not the sight of death that startled him, but the horror and tragic appeal in the dead man’s staring eyes. It was uncanny and supernatural.
This, at least, was Abel’s first intuitive impression. Though he could not have defined this impression or put his thoughts into words, he felt much as one would feel who had heard a dead man speak.
He pushed his skiff a few yards away and, resting upon his oars, viewed the derelict from a respectful distance. His impulse was to row back to Itigailit Island at once and leave the boat and its ghastly, silent skipper to the mercies of the sea. But the mystery fascinated him. The beseeching gaze that had met his had roused his imagination. And so for a long time he sat in silent contemplation of the boat, wondering from whence it and the thing it contained had come, and how the man had met his death.
Abel Zachariah was a Christian, but he was also an Eskimo, and he had inherited the superstitions of untold generations of heathen ancestors—superstitions that to him were truths above contradiction. He held it as a fact beyond dispute that all unnatural or accidental deaths were brought about by the evil spirits with which his forefathers had peopled the sea and the desolate land in which he lived. It was his firm belief that evil spirits remained to haunt the place where a victim had been lured to violent death, as in the present instance had plainly been the case. He had no doubt that the boat was haunted, and therefore he kept his distance, for unless by some subtle and certain charm the spirits could be driven off, none but a foolhardy man would ever venture to board the derelict, and Abel was not a foolhardy man.
These superstitions seem very foolish to us, no doubt; but, after all, were they one whit more foolish or groundless than the countless superstitions to which many educated and seemingly intelligent Christian people of civilization are bound? As, for instance, the superstition that where thirteen sit together at table one will die within the year.
And so Abel Zachariah, being a man of caution, held aloof from the boat which he had so eagerly set out to salvage; and sitting engrossed in contemplation, he in his skiff and the dead man in the derelict drifted for a while side by side toward Itigailit Island. And thus he was sitting silent and inactive when suddenly he was startled by the cry of a child in distress.
Abel for a moment was not at all certain that this was not some wicked plot of the spirits, intended to lure him within their reach, and he seized his oars, determined to increase the distance between himself and possible danger. But when the cry was repeated, and presently became a frightened wail, Abel hesitated. If it was a spirit that emitted the succeeding wails it was surely a very corporeal spirit, with well developed lungs and also a very much frightened spirit; and a frightened spirit could not be dangerous.