The Sea-Wolf/Chapter 31
"It will smell," I said, "but it will keep in the heat and keep out the rain and snow."
We were surveying the completed sealskin roof.
"It is clumsy, but it will serve the purpose, and that is the main thing," I went on, yearning for her praise.
And she clapped her hands and declared that she was hugely pleased.
"But it is dark in here," she said the next moment, her shoulders shrinking with a little involuntary shiver.
"You might have suggested a window when the walls were going up," I said. "It was for you, and you should have seen the need of a window."
"But I never do see the obvious, you know," she laughed back. "And besides, you can knock a hole in the wall at any time."
"Quite true; I had not thought of it," I replied, wagging my head sagely. "But have you thought of ordering the window-glass? Just call up the firm, -- Red, 4451, I think it is, -- and tell them what size and kind of glass you wish."
"That means -- " she began.
It was a dark and evil-appearing thing, that hut, not fit for aught better than swine in a civilized land; but for us, who had known the misery of the open boat, it was a snug little habitation. Following the housewarming, which was accomplished by means of seal-oil and a wick made from cotton calking, came the hunting for our winter's meat and the building of the second hut. It was a simple affair, now, to go forth in the morning and return by noon with a boat-load of seals. And then, while I worked at building the hut, Maud tried out the oil from the blubber and kept a slow fire under the frames of meat. I had heard of jerking beef on the plains, and our seal-meat, cut in thin strips and hung in the smoke, cured excellently.
The second hut was easier to erect, for I built it against the first, and only three walls were required. But it was work, hard work, all of it. Maud and I worked from dawn till dark, to the limit of our strength, so that when night came we crawled stiffly to bed and slept the animal-like sleep of exhaustion. And yet Maud declared that she had never felt better or stronger in her life. I knew this was true of myself, but hers was such a lily strength that I feared she would break down. Often and often, her last reserve force gone, I have seen her stretched flat on her back on the sand in the way she had of resting and recuperating. And then she would be up on her feet and toiling hard as ever. Where she obtained this strength was the marvel to me.
"Think of the long rest this winter," was her reply to my remonstrances. "Why, we'll be clamorous for something to do."
We held a housewarming in my hut the night it was roofed. It was the end of the third day of a fierce storm which had swung around the compass from the southeast to the northwest, and which was then blowing directly in upon us. The beaches of the outer cove were thundering with the surf, and even in our land-locked inner cove a respectable sea was breaking. No high backbone of island sheltered us from the wind, and it whistled and bellowed about the hut till at times I feared for the strength of the walls. The skin roof, stretched tightly as a drum-head I had thought, sagged and bellied with every gust; and innumerable interstices in the walls, not so tightly stuffed with moss as Maud had supposed, disclosed themselves. Yet the seal-oil burned brightly and we were warm and comfortable.
It was a pleasant evening indeed, and we voted that as a social function on Endeavor Island it had not yet been eclipsed. Our minds were at ease. Not only had we resigned ourselves to the bitter winter, but we were prepared for it. The seals could depart on their mysterious journey into the south at any time, now, for all we cared; and the storms held no terror for us. Not only were we sure of being dry and warm and sheltered from the wind, but we had the softest and most luxurious mattresses that could be made from moss. This had been Maud's idea, and she had herself jealously gathered all the moss. This was to be my first night on the mattress, and I knew I should sleep the sweeter because she had made it.
As she rose to go she turned to me with the whimsical way she had, and said:
"Something is going to happen -- is happening, for that matter. I feel it. Something is coming here, to us. It is coming now. I don't know what, but it is coming."
"Good or bad?" I asked.
She shook her head. "I don't know, but it is there, somewhere."
She pointed in the direction of the sea and wind.
"It's a lee shore," I laughed, "and I am sure I'd rather be here than arriving, a night like this."
"You are not frightened?" I asked, as I stepped to open the door for her.
Her eyes looked bravely into mine.
"And you feel well? perfectly well?"
"Never better," was her answer.
We talked a little longer before she went.
"Good night, Maud," I said.
"Good night, Humphrey," she said.
This use of our given names had come about quite as a matter of course, and was as unpremeditated as it was natural. In that moment could have put my arms around her and drawn her to me. I should certainly have done so out in that world to which we belonged. As it was, the situation stopped there in the only way it could; but I was left alone in my little hut, glowing warmly through and through with a pleasant satisfaction; and I knew that a tie, or a tacit something, existed between us which had not existed before.