"The Snow House" by Lucy Fitch Perkins (1865-1937)
IT is very hard to tell what day it is, or what hour in the day, in a place where the days and nights are all mixed up, and where there are no clocks.
Menie and Monnie had never seen a clock in their whole lives. If they had they would have thought it was alive, and perhaps would have been afraid of it.
But people everywhere in the world get sleepy, so the Eskimos sometimes count their time by "sleeps." Instead of saying five days ago, they say "five sleeps" ago.
The night after the bear was killed it began to snow. The wind howled around the igloo and piled the snow over it in huge drifts.
The dogs were buried under it and had to be dug out – all but Nip and Tup. They stayed inside with the twins and slept in their bed.
The twins and their father and mother were glad to stay in the warm hut.
At last the snow stopped, the air cleared, and the twins and Kesshoo went out. Koolee stayed in the igloo.
She sat on her sleeping-bench upon a pile of soft furs. A bear's skin was stretched up on the wall behind her. She had a cozy nest to work in.
The lamp stood on the bench beside her. She was making a beautiful new suit for Menie. It was made of fawn-skin as soft as velvet, and the hood and sleeves were trimmed with white rabbit's fur.
Her thimble was made of ivory, and her needle too. Her thread was a fine strip of hide. There was a bunch of such thread beside her.
Soon Kesshoo came in, bringing with him a dried fish and a piece of bear's meat from the storehouse.
Koolee looked up from her sewing. "Isn't it five sleeps since you killed the bear?" she said.
Kesshoo counted on his fingers. "Yes," he said, "it is five sleeps."
"Then it is time to eat the bear's head," said Koolee. "His spirit is now with our fathers."
"Why not have a feast?" said Kesshoo. "There hasn't been any fresh meat in the village since the bear was killed, and I don't believe the rest have had anything to eat but dried fish. We have plenty of bear's meat still."
Koolee hopped down off the bench and put some more moss into the lamp.
"You bring in the meat," she said, "and tell the twins to go to all the igloos and invite the people to come at sunset."
"All right," Kesshoo answered, and he went out at once to the storehouse to get the meat.
When he came out of the tunnel, Kesshoo found the twins trying to make a snow house for the dogs. They weren't getting on very well.
Kesshoo could make wonderful snow houses. He had made a beautiful one when the first heavy snows of winter had come, and the family had lived in it while Koolee finished building the stone igloo. The twins had watched him make it. It seemed so easy they were sure they could do it too. Kesshoo said, "If you will run to all the igloos and tell the people to come at sunset to eat the bear's head, I will help you build the snow house for the dogs."
Menie and Monnie couldn't run. Nobody could. The snow was too deep. They went in every step above their knees. But they ploughed along and gave their message at each igloo.
Everybody was very glad to come, and Koko said, "I'll come right now and stay if you want me to."
"Come along," said the twins.
They went back to their own house, kicking the snow to make a path. Koko went with them. The snow was just the right kind for a snow house. It packed well and made good blocks.
While the twins were away giving the invitations, Kesshoo carried great pieces of bear's meat into the house.
Koolee put in the cooking-pan all the meat it would hold, and kept the blaze bright in the lamp underneath to cook it.
Then Kesshoo took his long ivory knife and went out to help the twins with the snow house, as he had promised.
"See, this is the way," he said to them.
He took an unbroken patch of snow where no one had stepped. He made a wide sweep of his arm and marked a circle in the snow with his knife.
The circle was just as big as he meant the house to be. Then he cut out blocks of snow from the space inside the circle. He placed these big blocks of snow around the circle on the line he had marked with his knife.
When he got the first row done Menie said, "I can do that! Let me try."
He took the knife and cut out a block. It wasn't nice and even like his father's blocks.
"That will never do," his father said. "Your house will tumble down unless your blocks are true."
He made the sides of the block straight by cutting off some of the snow.
"Now all the other blocks in this row must be just like this one," he said.
Koko tried next. His block was almost right the first time. But then, as I have told you before, Koko was six.
Monnie tried the next one. I am sorry to say hers wouldn't do at all. It was dreadfully crooked. They took turns. Menie cut a new block while Koko placed the last one on the snow wall.
Kesshoo had to put on the top blocks to make the roof. Neither Koko nor Menie could do it right, though they tried and tried. It is a very hard thing to do.
When the blocks were all laid up and the dome finished, Kesshoo said, "Now, Monnie can help pack it with snow."
Monnie got the snow-shovel. The snow-shovel was made of three flat pieces of wood sewed together with leather thongs. It had an edge of horn sewed on with thongs, too.
Monnie threw loose snow on the snow house and spatted it down with the back of the shovel.
While she was doing this, Menie and Koko built a tunnel-entrance for the dogs just like the big one on the stone house.
They worked so hard they were warm as toast, though it was as cold as our coldest winter weather; and when it was all finished Menie ran clear over it just to show how strong and well-built it was.
When the snow house was all ready, Menie called the three big dogs. Tooky was the leader, and the three dogs together were Kesshoo's sledge team. Tooky was a hunting-dog too.
When Menie called the dogs, the dogs thought they were going to be harnessed, so they hid behind the igloo arid pretended they didn't hear. Koko and Menie followed them, but the moment they got near, the dogs bounded away. They went round to the front of the igloo and ran into the tunnel.
Koolee was just turning the meat in the pan with a pointed stick. There was a piece of bear's meat lying on the bench.
The dogs smelled the meat. They stuck their heads into the room, and when Koolee's back was turned, Tooky stole the meat!
Just then Koolee turned around. She saw Tooky. She shrieked, "Oh, my meat, my meat!" and whacked Tooky across the nose with the snow stick!
But Tooky was bound to have the meat. She ran out of the tunnel with it in her mouth, just as Menie and Koko got round to the front of the igloo once more.
"I-yi! I-yi!" they screamed, "Tooky's got the meat!" Kesshoo caught up his dog-whip and came running from the storehouse.
The other two dogs wanted the meat too. They flew at Tooky and snarled and fought with her to get it.
Then Koolee's head appeared in the tunnel-hole! Tooky was crouching in the snow in front of the tunnel, trying to fight off the other two dogs and guard the meat at the same time.
She wasn't doing a thing with her tail, but she was very busy with all the rest of her. Her tail was pointed right toward the tunnel.
The moment she saw it Koolee seized the tail with both hands and jerked it like everything! Tooky was so surprised she yelped. And when she opened her mouth to yelp, of course she dropped the meat.
Just at that instant Kesshoo's whip-lash came singing about the ears of all three dogs.
"Snap, snap," it went. They jumped to get out of the way of the lash.
Then Koolee leaped forward and snatched the meat from under their noses, and scuttled back with it into the tunnel before you could say Jack Robinson.
It is dangerous to snatch meat away from hungry dogs. If Kesshoo hadn't been slashing at them with his whip, and if Menie and Koko hadn't been screaming at them with all their might, so the dogs were nearly distracted, Koolee might have been badly bitten.
Just then Monnie came up with some dried fish. She threw one of the fish over in front of the snow house.
The dogs saw it and leaped for it. Then she threw another into the snow hut itself. They went after that. She fed them all with dried fish until they were so full they curled up in the snow house and went to sleep.