THERE was once a wifeless man.
Yes, that is the way a story always begins.
And it was his custom to run down to the girls whenever he saw them out playing. And the young girls always ran away from him into their houses.
And when the time of great hunting set in, and the kayak men lived in plenty, it always happened that he shamefully overslept himself every time he had made up his mind to go out hunting. He did not wake until the sun had gone down, and the hunters began to come in with their catch in tow.
One day when he awoke as usual about sunset, he got into his kayak all the same, and rowed off. Hardly had he passed out of sight of the houses, when he heard a man crying:
"My kayak has upset, help me."
And he rowed over and righted him again, and then he saw that it was one of the Noseless Ones, the people from beneath the earth.
"Now I will give you all my hide thongs with ornaments of walrus tusk," said the man who had upset.
"No," said the wifeless man; "such things I am not fit to receive; the only thing I cannot overcome is my miserable sleepiness."
"First come in with me to land," said the Fire Man. And they went in together.
When they reached the place, the Noseless One said:
"This is the man who saved my life when I was near to death."
"I happened to save you because my course lay athwart your own," said the wifeless man. "It is the first time for many days that I have been out at all in my kayak."
"One beast and one only you may choose when you are on your homeward way. And be careful never to tell what you have seen, or it will go ill with your hunting hereafter."
Those were the Fire Man's words. And then the wifeless man rowed home.
But when the time for his expected return had come, he was nowhere to be seen, and the young girls began to rejoice at the misfortune which must have befallen him. For they could not bear the sight of that man.
But then suddenly he came in sight round the point, and at once all cried:
"Here comes one who looks like the wifeless man."
And then all the young unmarried girls ran into their houses.
"And the wifeless man has made a catch," one cried.
And hardly had the evening begun to fall when the wifeless man went to rest, and hardly had the light appeared when the wifeless man went out hunting, long before his fellows. Hardly had the sun appeared in the sky, when the wifeless man came home with three seals. And his fellow-hunters were then but just preparing to set out.
Thus the days passed for that wifeless man. Early in the morning he would go out, and when the sun had only just begun to climb the sky, he would come home with his catch.
Then the unmarried girls began talking together.
"What has come to our wifeless man," they said, and began to vie with one another in seeking his favour.
"Let me, let me," they cried all together.
And the wifeless man turned towards them, and laughingly chose out the best in the flock.
And now they lived together, the wifeless man and the girl, and every day there was freshly caught seal meat to be cut up. At last she grew weary, and cried:
"Why ever do you catch such a terrible lot?"
"H'm," said he. "The seals come of themselves, and I catch them--that is all."
But she kept on asking him, and so he said at last:
"It was in this way. Once...." But having said thus much, he ceased, and went to rest. But it was long before he could sleep. And the sun was just over the houses of the village before he awoke and set out next day.
That day he caught but one seal.
In the evening, his wife began again asking and asking, and seeing that she would not desist, at last he said:
"It was in this way. Once ... well, I woke up in the evening, and rowed out, and heard a man crying for help, because his kayak had upset. And I rowed up to him and righted him again, and when I looked at him, it was one of the Noseless Ones."
"'It was a good thing you were not idling about by the houses,' said the Noseless One to me.
"'I had but just got into my kayak,'" said I.
And thus he told all that had happened to him that day, and from that time forward he lost his power of hunting, for now his old sleepiness came over him once more, and he lost all.
At last he had not even skins enough to give his wife for her clothes, and so she ran away and left him. He set off in chase, but she escaped through a crevice in the rocks, a narrow place whereby he could just pass.
Now he lay in wait there, and soon he heard a whispering inside:
"You go out to him."
And out crawled a blowfly, and said:
"I will not take you," said the wifeless man, "for you pick your food from the muck-heaps."
The blowfly laughed and crawled back again, and he could hear it say:
"He will not take me, because I pick my food from the muck-heaps."
Then there was more whispering inside.
"Now you go out."
And out came a fly.
"You may have me," it said.
"Thanks," said the wifeless man, "but I do not care for you at all. You lay your eggs about anyhow, and your eyes are quite abominably big."
At this the fly laughed, and went inside with the same message as before.
Again there was a whispering inside.
"Take me," said the cranefly.
"No, your legs are too long," said the wifeless man. And the cranefly went in again, laughing.
Then out came a centipede.
"I will not take you," said the wifeless man, "for you have far too many legs. Your body clings to the ground with all those legs, and your eyes are simply nasty."
And the centipede laughed a cackling laugh and went in again.
They whispered together again in there, and out came a gnat.
"Take me," said the gnat.
"No thanks, you bite," said the wifeless man. And the gnat went in again, laughing.
And then at last his wife bade him come in to her, since he would have none of the others, and at last he just managed to squeeze his body in through the crack, and then he took her to wife again.
"Comb my hair," said the wifeless man, now very happy once more.
And his wife began, and said words above him thus:
"Do not wake until the fulmar begins to cry: sleep until we hear a sound of young birds."
And he fell asleep.
And when at last he awoke, he was all alone. The earth was blue with summer, and the fulmar cried noisily on the bird cliff. And it had been winter when he crawled in through the crack.
When he came down to his kayak, the skin was rotted through with age.
And then I suppose he reached home as usual, and now sits scratching himself at ease.