The upshot of the affair was that she accompanied me next morning. I rowed into the adjoining cove and up to the edge of the beach. There were seals all about us in the water, and the bellowing thousands on the beach compelled us to shout at each other to make ourselves heard.
I know men club them, I said, trying to reassure myself, and gazing doubtfully at a large bull, not thirty feet away, upreared on his fore-flippers and regarding me intently. But the question is, How do they club them?
Let us gather tundra grass and thatch the roof, Maud said.
She was as frightened as I at the prospect, and we had reason to be gazing at close range at the gleaming teeth and dog-like mouths.
I always thought they were afraid of men, I said.
How do I know they are not afraid? I queried a moment later, after having rowed a few more strokes along the beach. Perhaps, if I were to step boldly ashore, they would cut for it, and I could not catch up with one. And still I hesitated.
I heard of a man, once, who invaded the nesting grounds of wild geese, Maud said. They killed him.
Yes, the geese. My brother told me about it when I was a little girl.
But I know men club them, I persisted.
I think the tundra grass will make just as good a roof, she said.
Far from her intention, her words were maddening me, driving me on. I could not play the coward before her eyes. Here goes, I said, backing water with one oar and running the bow ashore.
I stepped out and advanced valiantly upon a long-maned bull in the midst of his wives. I was armed with the regular club with which the boat-pullers killed the wounded seals gaffed aboard by the hunters. It was only a foot and a half long, and in my superb ignorance I never dreamed that the club used ashore when raiding the rookeries measured four to five feet. The cows lumbered out of my way, and the distance between me and the bull decreased. He raised himself on his flippers with an angry movement. We were a dozen feet apart. Still I advanced steadily, looking for him to turn tail at any moment and run.
At six feet the panicky thought rushed into my mind, What if he will not run? Why, then I shall club him, came the answer. In my fear I had forgotten that I was there to get the bull instead of to make him run. And just then he gave a snort and a snarl and rushed at me. His eyes were blazing, his mouth was wide open; the teeth gleamed cruelly white. Without shame, I confess that it was I who turned and footed it. He ran awkwardly, but he ran well. He was but two paces behind when I tumbled into the boat, and as I shoved off with an oar his teeth crunched down upon the blade. The stout wood was crushed like an egg-shell. Maud and I were astounded. A moment later he had dived under the boat, seized the keel in his mouth, and was shaking the boat violently.
My! said Maud. Lets go back.
I shook my head. I can do what other men have done, and I know that other men have clubbed seals. But I think Ill leave the bulls alone next time.
I wish you wouldnt, she said.
Now dont say, Please, please, I cried, half angrily, I do believe.
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