"The Twins Go Fishing" by Lucy Fitch Perkins (1865-1937)
WHEN the people had all gone away, Menie and Monnie sat down on the side of the sledge. Nip and Tup were busy burying bones in the snow. The other dogs had eaten all they wanted to and were now lying down asleep in the sun, with their noses on their paws.
Everything was still and cold. It was so still you could almost hear the silence, and so bright that the twins had to squint their eyes. In the air there was a faint smell of cooking meat.
Menie sniffed. "I'm so hungry I could eat my boots," he said.
"There are better things to eat than boots," Monnie answered. "What would you like best of everything in the world if you could have it?"
"A nice piece of blubber from a walrus or some reindeer tallow," said Menie.
"Oh, no," Monnie cried. "That isn't half as good as reindeer's stomach, or fishes' eyes! Um-m – how I love fishes' eyes! I tell you, Menie, let's get something to eat and then go fishing, before the sun goes down!"
"All right," said Menie. "Let's see if Mother won't give us a piece of bear's fat! That is almost as good as blubber or fishes' eyes."
They dived into the igloo. Their mother was standing beside the oil lamp, putting strands of dried moss into the oil. This lamp was their only stove and their only light. It didn't look much like our stoves. It was just a piece of soapstone, shaped something like a clamshell. It was hollowed out so it would hold the oil. All along the shallow side of the pan there were little tendrils of dried moss, like threads. These were the wicks.
Over the fire-pan there was a rack, and from the rack a stone pan hung down over the lamp-flame. It was tied by leather thongs to the rack. In the pan a piece of bear's meat was simmering. The fire was not big enough to cook it very well, but there was a little steam rising from it, and it made a very good smell for hungry noses.
"We're hungry enough to eat our boots," Menie said to his mother.
"You must never eat your boots; you have but one pair!" his mother answered. She pinched Menie's cheek and laughed at him.
Then she cut two chunks of fat from a piece of bear's meat which lay on the bench. She gave one to each of the twins. "Eat this, and soon you can have some cooked meat," she said. "It isn't quite done yet."
"We don't want to wait for the cooked meat," cried Monnie. "We want to go fishing before the sun is gone. Give us more fat and we'll eat it outside."
"You may go fishing if your father will go with you and cut holes for you in the ice," said her mother.
Koolee cut off two more pieces of fat. The twins took a piece in each hand. Then their mother reached down their own little fishing-rods, which were stuck in the walls of the igloo. The twins had bear's meat in both hands. They didn't see how they could manage the fishing-rods too.
But Menie thought of a way. "I'll show you how," he said to Monnie. He held one chunk of meat in his teeth! In his left hand he held the fishing-rod, in his right he carried the other piece of meat!
Monnie did exactly what Menie did, and then they crawled down into the tunnel.
The twins had some trouble getting out of the tunnel because both their hands were full. And besides the fishing-rods kept getting between their legs. When they got outside they both took great bites of the bear's fat.
Kesshoo was hanging the dogs' harnesses up on a tall pole, where the dogs could not get them. The pole was eight feet long, and it was made of the tusk of a narwhal. The harnesses were made of walrus thongs and the dogs would eat them if they had a chance. That was the reason Kesshoo hung them out of reach. The twins ran to their father at once. They began to tell him that they wanted to go fishing right away – before the sun went down – but their mouths were so full they couldn't get the words out!
"Mm-m-m-m," Menie began, chewing with all his might!
Then Monnie did a shocking thing! She swallowed her meat whole, she was in such hurry! It made a great lump going down her throat! It almost choked her. But she shut her eyes, jerked her head forward, and got it down!
"Will you make two holes in the ice for us to fish through?" she said. She got the words out first! Then she took another bite of meat.
"Have you got your lines ready, and anything for bait?" asked their father.
By this time Menie had swallowed his mouthful too. He said, "We can take a piece of bear's meat for bait. The lines and hooks are ready."
Kesshoo looked at the lines. The rods were very short. They were made of driftwood with a piece of bone bound to the end by tough thongs.
There was a hole in the end of the bone, and through this hole the line was threaded. The line was made of braided reindeer thongs. On the end of the line was a hook carved out of bone.
"Your lines are all right," said Kesshoo. "Come along."
He led the way down to the beach. The twins came tumbling after him, and I am sorry to tell you they gobbled their meat all the way! After the twins came Nip and Tup. The ice was very thick. Kesshoo and the twins and the pups walked out on it quite a distance from the shore.
Kesshoo cut two round holes in the ice. One was for Menie and one for Monnie. The holes were not big enough for them to fall into.
By this time the twins had eaten all their meat except some small pieces which they saved for bait. They each put a piece of meat on the hook. Then they squatted down on their heels and dropped the hooks into the holes.
Kesshoo went back to the village, and left them there. "Don't stay out too long," he called back to them.
The twins sat perfectly still for a long time. Nip sat beside Menie, and Tup sat beside Monnie. It grew colder and colder. The sun began to drop down toward the sea again. At last it rested like a great round red wheel right on the Edge of the World!
Slowly, slowly it sank until only a little bit of the red rim showed; then that too was gone. Great splashes of red color came up in the sky over the place where it had been.
Still the twins sat patiently by their holes. It grew darker and darker. The colors faded. The stars began to twinkle, but the twins did not move. Nip and Tup ran races on the ice, and rolled over each other and barked.
At last – all of a sudden – there was a fearful jerk on Monnie's line! It took her by surprise. The little rod flew right out of her hands! Monnie flung herself on her stomach on the ice and caught the rod just as it was going down the hole! She held on hard and pulled like everything.
"I believe I've caught a whale," she panted.
But she never let go! She got herself right side up on the ice, somehow, and pulled and pulled on her line.
"Let me pull him in!" cried Menie. He tried to take her rod.
"Get away," screamed Monnie. "I'll pull in my own fish."
Menie danced up and down with excitement, still holding his own rod. The pups danced and barked too. Monnie never looked at any of them. She kept her eyes fixed on the hole and pulled.
At last she shrieked, "I've got him, I've got him!" And up through the hole came a great big codfish!
My! how he did flop around on the ice! Nip and Tup were scared. They ran for home at the first flop.
"Let's go home now," said Monnie. "I want to show my fine big fish to Mother."
But Menie said, "Wait a little longer till I catch one! I'll give you one eye out of my fish if you will."
Monnie waited. She put another piece of meat on her hook and dropped it again into the hole. After a while she said, "You can keep your old eye if you get it. It's so dark the fish can't see to get themselves caught anyway. I'm cold. I'm going home."
Menie got up very slowly and pulled up his line.
As they turned toward the shore, Monnie cried out, "Look, look! The sky is on fire!" It looked like it, truly!
Great white streamers were flashing from the Edge of the World, clear up into the sky! They danced like flames. Sometimes they shot long banners of blue or green fire up to the very stars. Overhead the sky shone red as blood. The stars seemed blotted out.
The twins had seen many wonderful things in the sky, but never such color as this. Their eyes grew as round and big and popping as those of Monnie's codfish, while they watched the long banners join themselves into a great waving curtain of color that hung clear across the heavens.
"What is it? Oh, what is it?" they gasped. They were too astonished to move, and they were a good deal frightened, too. They never knew the sky could act like that.
Monnie felt her black hair rise under her little fur hood. She seized Menie's coat. "Do you suppose the world is going to be burned up?" she said.
Just then they heard a voice calling, "Menie, Monnie, where are you?"
"Here we are," they answered. Their teeth were chattering with cold and fright, and they ran up the slope and flung themselves into their mother's arms.
"Oh, Mother, what is the matter with the sky?" they gasped.
Then Koolee looked up too. The long streamers were still flinging themselves up toward the red dome overhead.
We call this the "aurora," or "northern lights," and know that electricity causes it, but the twins' mother couldn't know that. She told them just what had been told her when she was a little girl.
She said, "That is the dance of the Spirits of the Dead! Haven't you ever seen it before?"
"Not like this," said the twins. "This is so big, and so red!"
"The sky is not often so bright," said Koolee. "Some say it is the spirits of little children dancing and playing together in the sky! They will not hurt you. You need not be afraid. See how they dance in a ring all around the Edge of the World! They look as if they were having fun."
"It goes around the Edge of the World just like the flames around our lamp," said Menie. "Maybe it's the Giants' lamp!"
Menie and Monnie believed in Giants. So did their mother. They thought the Giants lived in the middle of the Great White World, where the snow never melts.
The thought of the Giants scared them all. The twins gave the fish to their mother, and then they all three scuttled up the snowy slope toward the bright window of their igloo just as fast as they could go. When they got inside they found some hot bear's meat waiting for them, and Monnie had both the eyes from her fish to eat. But she gave one to Menie.
When they were warmed and fed, they pulled off their little fur suits, crawled into the piles of warm skins on the sleeping-bench, and in two minutes were sound asleep.