A Celebration of Women Writers

"The Woman-Boats" by Lucy Fitch Perkins (1865-1937)
From: The Eskimo Twins by by Lucy Fitch Perkins (1865-1937) Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1914.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


VIII
THE WOMAN-BOATS



VIII
THE WOMAN-BOATS

I

DURING the long, dark hours of the winter Kesshoo found many pleasant things to do at home. He was always busy. He carved a doll for Monnie out of the ivory tusk of a walrus.

Monnie named the doll Annadore, and she loved it dearly. Koolee dressed Annadore in fur, with tiny kamiks of sealskin, and Monnie carried her doll in her hood, just the way Koko's mother carried her baby.

For Menie, his father made dog-harnesses out of walrus hide. He made them just the right size for Nip and Tup.

Menie harnessed the little dogs to his sled. Then he and Monnie would play sledge-journeys. Annadore would sit on the sled all wrapped in furs, while Menie drove the dogs, and Monnie followed after.

Nip and Tup did not like this play very well, and they didn't always go where they were told to. Once they dashed right over the igloo and spilled Annadore off.

Annadore rolled down one side of the igloo, while Nip and Tup galloped down the other. Annadore was buried in the snow and had to be dug out, so it was quite a serious accident, you see, but Nip and Tup did not seem to feel at all responsible about it.

Kesshoo made knives and queer spoons out of bone or ivory for Koolee, and for himself he made new barbs for his bladder-dart, new bone hooks for fishlines, and all sorts of things for hunting.

He made salmon-spears, and bird-darts, and fishlines, and he ornamented his weapons with little pictures or patterns. He carved two frogs on the handle of his snow-knife, and scratched the picture of a walrus on the blade.

Sometimes Koolee carved things, too, but most of the time she was busy making coats or kamiks, or chewing skins to make them soft and fine for use in the igloo; or to cover the kyaks, or to make their summer tent.

Once during the winter the whole family went thirty miles up the coast by moonlight to visit Koolee's brother in another village. They went with the dog-sledge, and it took them two days.

They had meat and blubber with them and plenty of warm skins, and when they got tired, Kesshoo made a snow house for them to rest in. The twins thought this was the best fun of all.

II

When spring came on, there were other things to do. As the days grew longer, the ice in the bay cracked and broke into small pieces and floated away.

The water turned deep blue, and danced in the sunlight, and ice floated about in it. Often there were walrus on these ice-pans.

The twins sometimes saw their huge black bodies on the white ice, and heard their hoarse barks. Then all the men in the village would rush for their kyaks and set out after the walrus.

The men were brave and enjoyed the dangerous sport, but the women used to watch anxiously until they saw the kyaks coming home towing the walrus behind them.

Then they would rush down to the shore, help pull the kyaks up on the beach, where they cut the walrus in pieces and divided it among the families of the hunters.

When the snow had melted on the Big Rock, hundreds of sea-birds made their nests there and filled the air with their cries.

Sometimes Kesshoo went egg-hunting on the cliff, and sometimes he set traps there for foxes, and he helped Menie and Koko make a little trap to catch hares. There was plenty to do in every season of the year.

At last the nights shortened to nothing at all. The long day had begun. The stone hut, which they had found so comfortable in winter, seemed dark and damp now.

Menie and Monnie remembered the summer days when they did not have to dive down through a hole to get into their house, so Menie said to Monnie one day, "Let's go and ask father if it isn't time to put up the tents."

They ran out to find him. He was down on the beach talking with Koko's father and the other men of the village.

On the beach were two very long boats. The men were looking them over carefully to see if they were water tight.

Koko was with the men. When he saw the twins coming, he tore up the slope to meet them, waving his arms and shouting, "They're getting out the woman-boats! They're getting out the woman-boats!"

This was glorious news to the twins. They ran down to the beach with Koko as fast as their legs could carry them.

They got there just in time to hear Koko's father say to Kesshoo, "I think it's safe to start. The ice is pretty well out of the bay, and the reindeer will be coming down to the fiords after fresh moss."

All the men listened to hear what Kesshoo would say, and the twins listened, too, with all their ears.

"If it's clear, I think we could start after one more sleep," said Kesshoo.

III

The twins didn't wait to hear any more. They flew for home, and dashed down the tunnel and up into the room.

Koolee was gathering all the knives and spoons and fishing-things and sewing-things, and dumping them into a large musk-ox hide which was spread on the floor.

The musk-ox hide covered the entrance-hole. The first thing Koolee knew something thumped the musk-ox skin on the under side, and the knives and thimbles and needle-cases and other things flew in all directions. Up through the hole popped the faces of Menie and Monnie!

"Oh, Mother," they shouted. "We're going off on the woman-boats! After only one more sleep, if it's pleasant! Father said so!"

Koolee laughed. "I know it!" she said. "I was just packing. You can help me. There's a lot to do to get ready."

The twins were delighted to help. They got together all their own treasures – the sled, and the fishing-rods, the dog-harnesses, and Annadore, and bound them up with walrus thongs. All but Annadore. Annadore rode in Monnie's hood as usual.

Koolee gathered all her things together again and wrapped them in the musk-ox hide. She took down the long narwhal tusks that the dog-harnesses were hung on.

These were the tent poles. She and the twins carried all these things to the beach. The men stayed on the beach and packed the things away in the boats. The other women brought down their bundles from their igloos. There was room for everything in the two big boats.

Only the skins were left on the sleeping-bench in the hut. When everything else was ready, Koolee and the twins went up on top of the igloo.

They pulled the moss and dirt out of the chinks between the stones that made the roof, and then Koolee pulled up the stones themselves and let them fall over to one side. This left the roof open to the sky.

"What makes you do that?" Menie asked.

"So the sun and rain can clean house for us," said Koolee.

Everybody else in the village got ready in the same way.

At last Kesshoo came up from the beach and said to Koolee, "Let us have some meat and a sleep and then we will start. Everything is ready. The boats are packed and it looks as if the weather would be clear."

Koolee brought out some walrus meat and blubber for supper – though it might just as well be called breakfast, for there was no night coming – and the twins ate theirs sitting on the roof of the igloo with their feet hanging down inside.

Once Menie's feet kicked his father's head. It was an accident, but Kesshoo reached up and took hold of Menie's foot and pulled him down on to the sleeping-bench and rolled him over among the skins.

"Crawl in there and go to sleep," he said.

Monnie let herself down through the roof by her hands and crept in beside Menie. Then Kesshoo and Koolee wrapped themselves in the warm skins and lay down, too.

It took Menie and Monnie some time to go to sleep, for they could look straight up through the roof at the sky, and the sky was bright and blue with little white clouds sailing over it. Besides, they were thinking about the wonderful things that would happen when they should wake up.

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom