Chapter 30

No wonder we called it Endeavour Island. For two weeks we toiled at building a hut. Maud insisted on helping, and I could have wept over her bruised and bleeding hands. And still, I was proud of her because of it. There was something heroic about this gently-bred woman enduring our terrible hardship and with her pittance of strength bending to the tasks of a peasant woman. She gathered many of the stones which I built into the walls of the hut; also, she turned a deaf ear to my entreaties when I begged her to desist. She compromised, however, by taking upon herself the lighter labours of cooking and gathering driftwood and moss for our winter’s supply.

The hut’s walls rose without difficulty, and everything went smoothly until the problem of the roof confronted me. Of what use the four walls without a roof? And of what could a roof be made? There were the spare oars, very true. They would serve as roof- beams; but with what was I to cover them? Moss would never do. Tundra grass was impracticable. We needed the sail for the boat, and the tarpaulin had begun to leak.

“Winters used walrus skins on his hut,” I said.

“There are the seals,” she suggested.

So next day the hunting began. I did not know how to shoot, but I proceeded to learn. And when I had expended some thirty shells for three seals, I decided that the ammunition would be exhausted before I acquired the necessary knowledge. I had used eight shells for lighting fires before I hit upon the device of banking the embers with wet moss, and there remained not over a hundred shells in the box.

“We must club the seals,” I announced, when convinced of my poor marksmanship. “I have heard the sealers talk about clubbing them.”

“They are so pretty,” she objected. “I cannot bear to think of it being done. It is so directly brutal, you know; so different from shooting them.”

“That roof must go on,” I answered grimly. “Winter is almost here. It is our lives against theirs. It is unfortunate we haven’t plenty of ammunition, but I think, anyway, that they suffer less from being clubbed than from being all shot up. Besides, I shall do the clubbing.”

“That’s just it,” she began eagerly, and broke off in sudden confusion.

“Of course,” I began, “if you prefer - ”

“But what shall I be doing?” she interrupted, with that softness I knew full well to be insistence.

“Gathering firewood and cooking dinner,” I answered lightly.

She shook her head. “It is too dangerous for you to attempt alone.”

“I know, I know,” she waived my protest. “I am only a weak woman, but just my small assistance may enable you to escape disaster.”

“But the clubbing?” I suggested.

“Of course, you will do that. I shall probably scream. I’ll look away when - ”

“The danger is most serious,” I laughed.

“I shall use my judgment when to look and when not to look,” she replied with a grand air.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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