The short days of the year had already begun, and the cold of winter had come. Then some Lamut met to live together. They pitched their tents close to one another, played cards, and had merry talks and joyful reunions. An old shaman, who had nothing to eat, had no joy. The wealthy reindeer owners gave him nothing, so stingy were they.
One time he went to sleep without any supper, and had a hungry dream, such as the Lamut used to have. In the morning he said to the best hunter in his own family, "Let us move away! I had a dream that the wolves came and scattered the reindeer herd all over the country." So they moved away and pitched camp separately. The richest of the men had several children, and up to that time they had never known what hunger was. Still he gave nothing to the poor people.
The old shaman left him. The people in the camp played cards as usual, and laughed noisily. Then they went to sleep, the herd being quite close to the camp. In the morning, however, the reindeer were gone, and only numerous tracks of wolves were seen in the deep snow. The rich man had
nothing left, not even a single riding reindeer, so he had to stay in camp with all his children and grandchildren.
The others somehow moved off in pursuit of their lost animals. His men, too, tried to search for their reindeer; but all at once a violent snowstorm came which lasted several days. It covered every trace of the reindeer in front of them, and made invisible their own tracks, behind them. The great cold caused all the game to wander off. They could find nothing to feed upon, so they were starving and perishing from famine. They ate their saddles and harnesses, the covering of the tent, and even their own clothes. They crouched almost naked within their tents, protected only by the wooden frame thereof. In ten days they had never a meal, and so at last they took to gnawing their own long hands.
The old father, however, set off again. He wandered the whole day long in the open country, and found nothing. Finally, he stopped in the middle of the desert, and cried aloud in despair. The Master of the Desert heard his voice. He came all at once from underground, and asked him, "What do you want?"--"My wife and children have had nothing to eat for ten days, and they are starving to death. My hunting boots are full of holes, and I am unable to walk any longer. Do not cry!" said the Master of the Desert. "I also am the owner of reindeer. I will give you something to eat, but you must remember the ancient custom of the Lamut. When you have food, give the best morsel to your poor neighbor."--"I will," said the old man. "Is not my present trial as severe as theirs?"--"Now, go home!" said the Master of the Desert, "and go to sleep. Food shall come to your house." So the old man went home. His wife said to him, "Do come and look upon this sleeping boy! He is moving his mouth as if chewing. This presages good luck." The boy was the youngest child of their elder son. "Be of good cheer," said the old man, "the worst is over. We shall have something to eat."
They went to sleep and in the morning they saw that a large herd of reindeer had come to their camp. All were gray, like the wild reindeer. Still the backs of the largest bucks were worn off by saddles. These were the riding reindeer of the Master of the Desert. The people lived on these reindeer. By and by the winter passed, and the long days of the spring came back. The people broke up their tents, and in due time moved away, as is customary among the Lamut reindeer herders. They came to a camp of numerous tents, and pitched their own tents close by the others. The old woman, however, had not learned her lesson. She was stingy as before and gave evil advice to her husband. Several poor people were in that camp. The old woman said again, "We are rich, but we must not feed these good-for-nothings. We never saw them, they are strangers. Let us rather move away from here."
So they moved off, and after some days they pitched camp alone, as before. In the morning, however, all the reindeer were gone, no one knew where. Only their tracks were left on the pasture ground. They may have ascended to the sky. The Master of the Reindeer grew angry with them because of their close hands and hard hearts. Therefore he took away his property. They walked back to camp; but the people said, "Formerly you gave us nothing. You too may go away with empty hands." They went away, and soon were starved to death. That is all.
Told by Ivashkan, a Lamut man, on the upper course of the Molonda River, the Kolyma country, summer of 1895.