"Many shall come from the East and West, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven."
IN the beginning of 1881, Mr. Peck heard that there was some probability of a large number of Eskimos having come into the trading post at Great Whale River. This was about sixty miles south of his own station. He determined, therefore, to make the journey, which would take two days, travelling with sledge and dogs.
We picture to ourselves, perhaps, the delight of such a trip. The merry bells tinkle in our ears; the ruddy faces of the travellers glowing with health and happiness appear before us; the smooth, swift, exhilarating motion of the sledge seems to impart itself to our own bodies; as in fancy we compare it with the animated scenes that we have witnessed among those who seek their pleasure in this fashion on the sometimes frozen snow of our own well-laid, even roads.
But we must not allow fancy to lead us astray by making us think that Arctic journeys are pleasant picnics. There are other things to be taken into account, and these also must be placed in the picture as objects to form a very dark background. Endurance has been spoken of in an earlier chapter as necessary. We understand this, for the road is not smooth; the ice is piled in great heaps and hummocks; the jolting is so great as to make it difficult to sit on the sledge; occasionally the oscillation is too much for the centre of gravity, and the occupant is pitched out without ceremony. Then, again, the dogs are not always amenable to discipline, as we have seen; they think it right at a critical point of the journey to settle some argument among themselves; they fight, and become hopelessly entangled in their harness; one or two break away and cannot be caught again until the march for the day has been brought to an end slowly and underdogged. Or, once more, there is the keen, biting wind, often laden with snow drift. It penetrates the thickest fur. Nothing can keep the traveller warm, and when he arrives at his destination, no fire, no prepared food, no loving faces welcome him, but only bare snow walls. No; Arctic life is not all picnic.
Well, on February 17, 1881, Mr. Peck left his log home at Little Whale River and started for G.W.R., as he calls it in his diary, but we must be careful not to interpret the initials as meaning the Great Western Railway. Enterprising as our companies may be, they have not found trade amongst the Eskimos encouraging enough to induce them to penetrate their country with iron roads. The missionary had one travelling companion, an Eskimo. They accomplished only some twenty-two miles the first day, and encamped for the night. At least, this is what Mr. Peck describes himself as doing; but it may be allowable to object to his description, seeing that the travellers are up again soon after midnight to resume their journey. They reached Great Whale River the next day in spite of a heavy head wind, which made it almost impossible to keep warm. But on arrival a disappointment awaited Mr. Peck, for it was found that only a small number of people were encamped there instead of the many he had expected. He consoled himself, however, in a very characteristic way, for he says he was glad as a consequence to be able to minister to them with so much the more individual care.
The sojourn was a short one--only five days. On February 23 the missionary started again on a tour of discovery, to seek and save those who were ready to perish from spiritual cold and starvation. The dogs were fresh and the snow quite hard, so, getting away at 6 a.m., a good day's work was done before night. Then the two encamped, cooked their supper, had prayers, and tried to make themselves snug and comfortable. They lay down to sleep, but it was only a trying to sleep after all. The cold was so intense, that to become insensible to it in the land of slumber was out of the question. Consequently, they were glad to make an early start again the next morning. The course was now diverted seawards, to some islands some three or four miles from the coast. There some snow-houses were found, and happily they were not empty. The inhabitants gave Mr. Peck and his companion a welcome. One of the women soon put oil in the lamp in order to heat water for tea. It was rather a tardy process, but the warm drink was most welcome when it was ready at last. Next the children were gathered together and taught.
"Then," we read in the missionary's diary, "I went out to the other igloet and spoke to the people inside. One of the men was just on the point of going out to hunt seals, so I determined to accompany him. After walking over the ice for some time, we came to a place where there was a seal hole. At the upper end it was small, about the size of a crown piece, but the lower portion was larger. The hunter looked into the hole to see if it were frozen over. If it is not he knows that the seal has been blowing there quite recently. Being satisfied that there was some prospect of harpooning a prize, he next arranged his weapons and sat down near the hole to wait for his prey.
"It was not long in this case before a seal came to the hole, and the hunter struck it with his harpoon. The hole was immediately made larger with the chisel which is always attached to the shaft of the harpoon. The seal was soon after brought up on the ice and hauled into the iglo, where Mr. Peck had taken up his abode for the time being. Here it was at once cut up, and pieces were handed round to the Eskimos. One little fellow was given a piece of the gory blubber and meat, which he seemed to enjoy most wonderfully."
This kind of diet is said to be very heating to the system, and after eating a good meal of raw seal's flesh the natives are able to endure the cold much better than would be the case with other kinds of food.
"In the evening," resumes Mr. Peck, "we sang hymns, read God's Word, and I addressed them, speaking of Christ raising Lazarus from the dead, and pointing out the power of the Saviour in Whom we are invited to believe. I am sure it would have been an interesting and attractive sight to any of God's people could they only have had a peep at us in our snow-bound dwelling and listened to our praises. For my part I felt most happy, and the little privation I endured seemed nothing compared with the joy of doing even a little for these Arctic wanderers.
"Before we retired to rest one of the men blocked up the opening which served for a doorway with a large piece of snow, and made a small hole in the upper part of the iglo, which acted as a sort of ventilator or air escape. Having wrapped myself up in a deer-skin robe I soon went to sleep, my quarters being far warmer than one would imagine. This is accounted for by the number packed together in the small space of one tiny house, and the way in which we were encased with the snow, which, however cold and windy the weather may be, acts as a capital screen from the piercing blast.
"The next morning we left our friends at about 6 a.m. The wind was extremely cold and piercing, but I managed to keep myself warm by running and helping to guide the sledge through the rough ice. In some places there were pretty large cracks in the ice, but we managed to get across them with but little difficulty.
"After going in close to the coast we made our way to a river, where we hoped to see some more Eskimos. We were not disappointed, as we soon had the pleasure of seeing an iglo, and of making the acquaintance of some more of our hardy friends.
"After I had settled down I gathered the people together and spent some time in teaching them the Syllabic characters and in ministering to their spiritual wants. One of these Eskimos (a woman) has of late shown a great desire for instruction, and she seems to be ashamed of her ignorance."
Early in March Mr. Peck returned again to Great Whale River. "During my absence," he writes, "two Eskimos had arrived, and they had succeeded in killing three white bears on their way in. These they had attacked with knives, as they had no guns with them. They seem to have little fear in attacking any animal they may meet with, providing there is some chance of killing the game."
And so through the month of March, 1881, Mr. Peck continued to make Great Whale River his headquarters, itinerating from there among the encampments and snow villages of the wandering Eskimos. We find him always hopeful, always cheery, always encouraged by the attitude of the people to whom he is ministering. At one time, we read: "They take as much interest as ever in the truths which are laid before them, and there is a marked spirit of devotion in our little meetings. How cheering and soul-refreshing this is! Who would murmur at solitude or trial after this? "
At another time, as he is making a night journey in his sledge, the Aurora, the brilliant northern lights, made the heavens a wonder to behold. Waves of light of every conceivable colour flitted across the clear blue sky, while the moon, God's great night-light, shone brightly upon the white expanse of snow beneath. "Often have I gazed with wonder upon an Arctic night, and while looking up have thought of the Psalmist's words, 'The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth His handiwork.' At such times my soul seems held in silent contemplation of the wonderful works of God," And so, whether by faithful work and its results or by the glories of nature, each a revelation of the presence of God, the solitary messenger is cheered, and finds a very bright side indeed to his life.
In April the missionary is again back at Little Whale River, settled down in his summer work.
In a former chapter we saw something of the anxious thoughts that come into a missionary's mind concerning his converts from whom he has been separated some time.
In this connection an extract from Mr. Peck's diary is of interest. It shows the value of being able to read: "Experience teaches me that those who have no help while away from the means of teaching generally fall back into their former state of ignorance. With those Eskimos who can read God's Word for themselves I find a great difference. These are nearly always the most encouraging and the most desirous of knowing more about Jesus."
There is one case of a man who was met on May 9 that is worthy of mention. For it speaks of the growth of the leaven of the Kingdom, imperceptible in the process, but perceived in the result. He was present at a meeting where "the people listened with attention, and he showed a marked desire for instruction. He had met a Christian Eskimo who was a convert from one of the Moravian Mission stations on the Labrador coast. From him he had learned a simple prayer. He had been in the habit ever since of using that prayer daily, and he had still some knowledge of Christianity, although he had been for years without an instructor." Surely here we find a man feeling after God, if haply he may find Him.
At this time Mr. Peck was accompanied in his journeys and helped in his work by a Christian Eskimo named Thomas Fleming. This man owed his conversion to Mrs. McLaren, the wife of one of the officers of the Hudson's Bay Company. She had lived for a time at Little Whale River, and her influence through her life and words had made a deep impression upon several of the Eskimos. In former years she had lived at various Moravian stations on the Labrador coast, where she gained her knowledge of spiritual things through the instruction of the Brethren there. She spoke the language fluently, and after she had learned she was ready to impart to the heathen by whom she was surrounded. Thomas Fleming, one of these, was baptized by the Rev. T. Fleming, who was for some years a colleague of Bishop Horden's, and from him he received his name. The baptism took place at Little Whale River, which the missionary visited one winter long before the arrival of Mr. Peck. The latter writes concerning this convert:
"After my arrival T. Fleming soon learned to read. His knowledge of spiritual things increased, and he became in many respects a most helpful man. Several times he addressed the Eskimos in the church, and when I was away he often carried on the services during my absence.
"One day the poor fellow went out on the ice to catch seals. He waited long and patiently at a seal hole--waited too long, in fact, for he caught a severe chill. Inflammation of the lungs set in, and he finally succumbed to this terrible malady, and soon he passed away to be, we trust, for ever with the Lord."
In May, 1881, Mr. Peck had to journey south to Fort George, in order to visit the Cree Indians.
At Great Whale River Mr. Edward Richards joined him, and the two started on their itineration together, having Fort George as their ultimate goal, on May 18: "The weather was fine, and the ice in tolerably good condition, so we made good progress. We saw several seals on the ice basking in the sun. This is a favourable time for seal hunting with the Eskimos, and great numbers are captured by the wary men, who creep up to them as they lie on the ice and then shoot or harpoon them. But this is no easy matter, as the seals are remarkably acute in hearing, and when alarmed soon disappear through their holes, by the side of which they generally lie.
"In crawling to a seal the hunter must use the greatest caution. An Eskimo generally crawls along the ice and watches the seal as closely as possible. Should the seal raise its head, then the hunter remains still; but when the seal indulges in another nap, then the hunter crawls a little nearer until the seal again lifts its head, and so on, until the hunter is near enough, and the unfortunate animal is shot. Many of the seals which we saw slipped down through their holes as soon as they heard the noise of the sledge; others were somewhat bolder, and waited until we were almost within gun-shot of them.
"A drive of about forty miles brought us to an Eskimo encampment. In the evening a meeting was held in the largest tent, after which one man, in the course of conversation, told the missionary how his wife during her illness in the summer had found the greatest possible comfort in her knowledge of the Saviour, and in repeating the few hymns she knew, and that she had died trusting in Him."
The missionary, as well as the angels in heaven, rejoices over one sinner that repents, and takes new courage for persistent preaching of the Gospel. , And so the journey continued, with ministering to the wanderers here and there, until May 30. Then the travellers decided that they must be making their way as quickly as possible to Fort George, as their provisions were beginning to run short. The officer in charge of the station had kindly promised to send up some provisions from the south to meet them. And they were anxious to fall in with these supplies. But the days that followed were not altogether pleasant. We read extracts like this: "We had quite an excitement, for about midnight our tent was blown down, and as the snow was falling we were in a predicament. I could not help indulging in a good laugh in spite of the cold. Edward Richards managed somehow to dress and crawl out from underneath his stiff, frozen casement, and we succeeded in getting our frail tabernacle up again." Or, again, after his companion had gone out to look for the expected Indians who were to bring their supplies from Fort George, we read the not encouraging words: "Edward Richards returned to-day. The news he brought is not at all cheering. There were no Indians, and the coast is blocked with ice. I have no doubt we shall find something to eat. We must rest in God and not be afraid." Three days later Mr. Richards succeeded in killing a duck, "so we are provided for at least another meal. I have a few provisions left, but I wish to keep them until the last extremity."
At last, on June 7, the long looked for Indians arrived. They had been delayed, as the ice had prevented them bringing in their canoes. On that day we find the note: "We shall (D.V.) start tomorrow and go some distance inland, and then journey to the south, making the best of our way over the lakes and land until we arrive at some place where we can again go down to the coast, which, we hope, will be clear of ice by the time we arrive."
Perhaps one of the greatest trials to dwellers in Arctic scenes is the bare expanse of land or ice, with no sign of trees or verdure. We can sympathize to some extent when we read of the joy of the travellers coming to some lakes which were free of ice and were surrounded with trees. "There was no great beauty about them, but to my eyes the scenery was charming, for barren rocks and ice had formed our landscape for months." It was not until June 13 that the coast was again reached. "We were surprised to find large quantities of ice blocking our way, but we determined to try and push through. It was rather exciting work, as at times the passage was very narrow, and large boulders of ice rose up on each side, which would soon have crushed our frail craft had we come into collision with them."
On June 16 Fort George was at length reached. Mr. Peck made a sojourn here of more than a month. A site for a church was cleared with the help of the Indians. Two adults were baptized. "One of these had for a considerable time followed Satan in conjuring and other evils. He at last began to try and learn, and to give heed to the things of God. When questioned, his answers were very satisfactory, and he has for some time been in the habit of praying to God. These are the first adult Indians I have been privileged to baptize. May they continue to cleave to Jesus, even to the end."
Other causes for satisfaction and encouragement there were. Inquirers came forward from among the Indians, giving hope of increase in the future. And there was a prospect of the continuance of the work after the missionaries should have left.
Mr. Peck writes: "The gentleman in charge will continue to do what he can for the English-speaking people. There are also three helpers as regards the Indians, all of them being good speakers in the Indian tongue and able to read the Indian books; and more than this, they all, I believe, know Jesus and try to serve Him."
The second chapter of this book told of the contempt of the Indian for the Eskimo. The Jew despises the Gentile; the Greek the barbarian; the Brahmin the Chuhra. But in Christ the walls of separation are broken down. We realize this when Mr. Peck again tells us, on July 22: "Before I left I got all the Indians and Eskimos together. Each party sang a hymn. I then asked them to kneel down, and prayed for them all.
"What a sight was this! Some years ago these people were the most deadly enemies--now they can praise God together. After leaving them we paddled a long distance, and then encamped for the night."
After this, the only entry in the diary for this period is: "The journey to Whale River was accomplished quickly and safely."
We might go on dwelling upon details of work and itineration, but it is better here, probably, to endeavour to have a complete picture before us of the result of the labours into which we have had some insight. There is an interesting summary from Mr. Peck's own hand, dated July 31, 1882, which will probably give us what we require, and show clearly the establishment of the living Church of Christ.
"As nearly all the Eskimos came to trade at Little Whale River, instead of going to both Great Whale River and Little Whale River as in previous years, I was able to minister to them far more efficiently than before. The meetings in the iron church have been well attended, and the people are now becoming somewhat used to a regular place of worship, although with some of the wild heathen Eskimos one has to use some tact to keep them quiet and orderly.
"They seem to think the building so wonderful, and the meeting of so many of their fellow-countrymen appears to them so novel, that they often give vent to their feelings in quite a demonstrative manner. I find all our pupils, as usual, very ready to listen to a friendly word when visited in their snow-houses. It is true an Eskimo iglo is not a very inviting place. What with seal's flesh, blubber, the awful smell, and the continual uproar of dogs and children, one's quarters are certainly not to be envied. On the other hand, the kindly spirit of the people, their desire for instruction, and the prospect of leading them to life eternal, these things surely ought to make amends for all. The classes for children and adults have been very well attended. Several of the children can now read their books, and can give very fair answers when catechized on the leading truths of Christianity. As regards the adults, some of the younger members have learned to read very well, but several of the elderly people do not seem to make much headway. They often deplore their ignorance, and some tell me, in their own simple style of speech, that because their heads are thicker than the young people's therefore they cannot learn like them, etc., etc. The number of baptisms during the year is another bright, cheery point which contrasts favourably with last year. There have been nineteen adult and some ten infant baptisms since sending last year's report. The number of adult Eskimos now baptized is sixty-four, and that of the children forty, to which may be added the forty candidates for baptism, making the total of Eskimo Christian adherents 144. This doubtless is but "a little flock "; let us pray the Lord to increase it. Let us ask Him to add many living members to the Church amongst the Eskimos. Such members we want, and for such we must toil and pray.
"As regards literary work, I have spent a goodly portion of my time in the composition of an Eskimo grammar. This will take time yet to finish; but when completed we hope it may prove useful, and be found simple.
"I am glad to say that the native teachers continue to do good work, and we have been able to add one to the number since last year. One of the heathen Eskimos has also done much to spread the Gospel amongst his fellow-countrymen. This man (who is named Titikgak) heard the Gospel some three years ago; he then returned to his hunting-grounds, which are about eight hundred miles from Little Whale River, and through his instrumentality many of the heathen Eskimos are leaving their pagan customs and are desirous of instruction. This fact, I need hardly say, is a source of much joy and comfort to one's soul."
This review then goes on to speak of another visit paid to Fort George and of the conditions of the Indians.