The Esquimaux Maiden's Romance

by


'Yes, I will tell you anything about my life that you would like to know, Mr. Twain,' she said, in her soft voice, and letting her honest eyes rest placidly upon my face, 'for it is kind and good of you to like me and care to know about me.'

She had been absently scraping blubber-grease from her cheeks with a small bone-knife and transferring it to her fur sleeve, while she watched the Aurora Borealis swing its flaming streamers out of the sky and wash the lonely snow plain and the templed icebergs with the rich hues of the prism, a spectacle of almost intolerable splendour and beauty; but now she shook off her reverie and prepared to give me the humble little history I had asked for. She settled herself comfortably on the block of ice which we were using as a sofa, and I made ready to listen.

She was a beautiful creature. I speak from the Esquimaux point of view. Others would have thought her a trifle over-plump. She was just twenty years old, and was held to be by far the most bewitching girl in her tribe. Even now, in the open air, with her cumbersome and shapeless fur coat and trousers and boots and vast hood, the beauty of her face was at least apparent; but her figure had to be taken on trust. Among all the guests who came and went, I had seen no girl at her father's hospitable trough who could be called her equal. Yet she was not spoiled. She was sweet and natural and sincere, and if she was aware that she was a belle, there was nothing about her ways to show that she possessed that knowledge.

She had been my daily comrade for a week now, and the better I knew her the better I liked her. She had been tenderly and carefully brought up, in an atmosphere of singularly rare refinement for the polar regions, for her father was the most important man of his tribe and ranked at the top of Esquimaux civilisation. I made long dog-sledge trips across the mighty ice floes with Lasca--that was her name--and found her company always pleasant and her conversation agreeable. I went fishing with her, but not in her perilous boat: I merely followed along on the ice and watched her strike her game with her fatally accurate spear. We went sealing together; several times I stood by while she and the family dug blubber from a stranded whale, and once I went part of the way when she was hunting a bear, but turned back before the finish, because at bottom I am afraid of bears.

However, she was ready to begin her story, now, and this is what she said:

'Our tribe had always been used to wander about from place to place over the frozen seas, like the other tribes, but my father got tired of that, two years ago, and built this great mansion of frozen snow-blocks--look at it; it is seven feet high and three or four times as long as any of the others--and here we have stayed ever since. He was very proud of his house, and that was reasonable, for if you have examined it with care you must have noticed how much finer and completer it is than houses usually are. But if you have not, you must, for you will find it has luxurious appointments that are quite beyond the common. For instance, in that end of it which you have called the "parlour," the raised platform for the accommodation of guests and the family at meals is the largest you have ever seen in any house--is it not so?'

'Yes, you are quite right, Lasca; it is the largest; we have nothing resembling it in even the finest houses in the United States.' This admission made her eyes sparkle with pride and pleasure. I noted that, and took my cue.

'I thought it must have surprised you,' she said. 'And another thing; it is bedded far deeper in furs than is usual; all kinds of furs--seal, sea-otter, silver-grey fox, bear, marten, sable--every kind of fur in profusion; and the same with the ice-block sleeping-benches along the walls which you call "beds." Are your platforms and sleeping-benches better provided at home?'

'Indeed, they are not, Lasca--they do not begin to be.' That pleased her again. All she was thinking of was the number of furs her aesthetic father took the trouble to keep on hand, not their value. I could have told her that those masses of rich furs constituted wealth--or would in my country--but she would not have understood that; those were not the kind of things that ranked as riches with her people. I could have told her that the clothes she had on, or the every-day clothes of the commonest person about her, were worth twelve or fifteen hundred dollars, and that I was not acquainted with anybody at home who wore twelve-hundred dollar toilets to go fishing in; but she would not have understood it, so I said nothing. She resumed:

'And then the slop-tubs. We have two in the parlour, and two in the rest of the house. It is very seldom that one has two in the parlour. Have you two in the parlour at home?'

The memory of those tubs made me gasp, but I recovered myself before she noticed, and said with effusion:

'Why, Lasca, it is a shame of me to expose my country, and you must not let it go further, for I am speaking to you in confidence; but I give you my word of honour that not even the richest man in the city of New York has two slop-tubs in his drawing-room.'

She clapped her fur-clad hands in innocent delight, and exclaimed:

'Oh, but you cannot mean it, you cannot mean it!'

'Indeed, I am in earnest, dear. There is Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt is almost the richest man in the whole world. Now, if I were on my dying bed, I could say to you that not even he has two in his drawing-room. Why, he hasn't even one--I wish I may die in my tracks if it isn't true.'

Her lovely eyes stood wide with amazement, and she said, slowly, and with a sort of awe in her voice:

'How strange--how incredible--one is not able to realise it. Is he penurious?'

'No--it isn't that. It isn't the expense he minds, but--er--well, you know, it would look like showing off. Yes, that is it, that is the idea; he is a plain man in his way, and shrinks from display.'

'Why, that humility is right enough,' said Lasca, 'if one does not carry it too far--but what does the place look like?'

'Well, necessarily it looks pretty barren and unfinished, but--'

'I should think so! I never heard anything like it. Is it a fine house --that is, otherwise?'

'Pretty fine, yes. It is very well thought of.'

The girl was silent awhile, and sat dreamily gnawing a candle-end, apparently trying to think the thing out. At last she gave her head a little toss and spoke out her opinion with decision:

'Well, to my mind there's a breed of humility which is itself a species of showing off when you get down to the marrow of it; and when a man is able to afford two slop-tubs in his parlour, and doesn't do it, it may be that he is truly humble-minded, but it's a hundred times more likely that he is just trying to strike the public eye. In my judgment, your Mr. Vanderbilt knows what he is about.'

I tried to modify this verdict, feeling that a double slop-tub standard was not a fair one to try everybody by, although a sound enough one in its own habitat; but the girl's head was set, and she was not to be persuaded. Presently she said:

'Do the rich people, with you, have as good sleeping-benches as ours, and made out of as nice broad ice-blocks?'

'Well, they are pretty good--good enough--but they are not made of ice-blocks.'

'I want to know! Why aren't they made of ice-blocks?'

I explained the difficulties in the way, and the expensiveness of ice in a country where you have to keep a sharp eye on your ice-man or your ice-bill will weigh more than your ice. Then she cried out:

'Dear me, do you buy your ice?'

'We most surely do, dear.'

She burst into a gale of guileless laughter, and said:

'Oh, I never heard of anything so silly! My! there's plenty of it--it isn't worth anything. Why, there is a hundred miles of it in sight, right now. I wouldn't give a fish-bladder for the whole of it.'

'Well, it's because you don't know how to value it, you little provincial muggings. If you had it in New York in midsummer, you could buy all the whales in the market with it.'

She looked at me doubtfully, and said:

'Are you speaking true?'

'Absolutely. I take my oath to it.'

This made her thoughtful. Presently she said, with a little sigh:

'I wish I could live there.'

I had merely meant to furnish her a standard of values which she could understand; but my purpose had miscarried. I had only given her the impression that whales were cheap and plenty in New York, and set her mouth to watering for them. It seemed best to try to mitigate the evil which I had done, so I said:

'But you wouldn't care for whale-meat if you lived there. Nobody does.'

'What!'

'Indeed they don't.'

'Why don't they?'

'Wel-l-l, I hardly know. It's prejudice, I think. Yes, that is it--just prejudice. I reckon somebody that hadn't anything better to do started a prejudice against it, some time or other, and once you get a caprice like that fairly going, you know it will last no end of time.'

'That is true--perfectly true,' said the girl, reflectively. 'Like our prejudice against soap, here--our tribes had a prejudice against soap at first, you know.'

I glanced at her to see if she was in earnest. Evidently she was. I hesitated, then said, cautiously:

'But pardon me. They had a prejudice against soap? Had?'--with falling inflection.

'Yes--but that was only at first; nobody would eat it.'

'Oh--I understand. I didn't get your idea before.'

She resumed:

'It was just a prejudice. The first time soap came here from the foreigners, nobody liked it; but as soon as it got to be fashionable, everybody liked it, and now everybody has it that can afford it. Are you fond of it?'

'Yes, indeed; I should die if I couldn't have it--especially here. Do you like it?'

'I just adore it! Do you like candles?'

'I regard them as an absolute necessity. Are you fond of them?'

Her eyes fairly danced, and she exclaimed:

'Oh! Don't mention it! Candles!--and soap!--'

'And fish-interiors!--'

'And train-oil--'

'And slush!--'

'And whale-blubber!--'

'And carrion! and sour-krout! and beeswax! and tar! and turpentine! and molasses! and--'

'Don't--oh, don't--I shall expire with ecstasy!--'

'And then serve it all up in a slush-bucket, and invite the neighbours and sail in!'

But this vision of an ideal feast was too much for her, and she swooned away, poor thing. I rubbed snow in her face and brought her to, and after a while got her excitement cooled down. By-and-by she drifted into her story again:

'So we began to live here in the fine house. But I was not happy. The reason was this: I was born for love: for me there could be no true happiness without it. I wanted to be loved for myself alone. I wanted an idol, and I wanted to be my idol's idol; nothing less than mutual idolatry would satisfy my fervent nature. I had suitors in plenty--in over-plenty, indeed--but in each and every case they had a fatal defect: sooner or later I discovered that defect--not one of them failed to betray it--it was not me they wanted, but my wealth.'

'Your wealth?'

'Yes; for my father is much the richest man in this tribe--or in any tribe in these regions.'

I wondered what her father's wealth consisted of. It couldn't be the house--anybody could build its mate. It couldn't be the furs--they were not valued. It couldn't be the sledge, the dogs, the harpoons, the boat, the bone fish-hooks and needles, and such things--no, these were not wealth. Then what could it be that made this man so rich and brought this swarm of sordid suitors to his house? It seemed to me, finally, that the best way to find out would be to ask. So I did it. The girl was so manifestly gratified by the question that I saw she had been aching to have me ask it. She was suffering fully as much to tell as I was to know. She snuggled confidentially up to me and said:

'Guess how much he is worth--you never can!'

I pretended to consider the matter deeply, she watching my anxious and labouring countenance with a devouring and delighted interest; and when, at last, I gave it up and begged her to appease my longing by telling me herself how much this polar Vanderbilt was worth, she put her mouth close to my ear and whispered, impressively:

'Twenty-two fish-hooks--not bone, but foreign--made out of real iron!'

Then she sprang back dramatically, to observe the effect. I did my level best not to disappoint her. I turned pale and murmured:

'Great Scott!'

'It's as true as you live, Mr. Twain!'

'Lasca, you are deceiving me--you cannot mean it.'

She was frightened and troubled. She exclaimed:

'Mr. Twain, every word of it is true--every word. You believe me--you do believe me, now don't you? Say you believe me--do say you believe me!'

'I--well, yes, I do--I am trying to. But it was all so sudden. So sudden and prostrating. You shouldn't do such a thing in that sudden way. It--'

'Oh, I'm so sorry! If I had only thought--'

'Well, it's all right, and I don't blame you any more, for you are young and thoughtless, and of course you couldn't foresee what an effect--'

'But oh, dear, I ought certainly to have known better. Why--'

'You see, Lasca, if you had said five or six hooks, to start with, and then gradually--'

'Oh, I see, I see--then gradually added one, and then two, and then--ah, why couldn't I have thought of that!'

'Never mind, child, it's all right--I am better now--I shall be over it in a little while. But--to spring the whole twenty-two on a person unprepared and not very strong anyway--'

'Oh, it was a crime! But you forgive me--say you forgive me. Do!'

After harvesting a good deal of very pleasant coaxing and petting and persuading, I forgave her and she was happy again, and by-and-by she got under way with her narrative once more. I presently discovered that the family treasury contained still another feature--a jewel of some sort, apparently--and that she was trying to get around speaking squarely about it, lest I get paralysed again. But I wanted to known about that thing, too, and urged her to tell me what it was. She was afraid. But I insisted, and said I would brace myself this time and be prepared, then the shock would not hurt me. She was full of misgivings, but the temptation to reveal that marvel to me and enjoy my astonishment and admiration was too strong for her, and she confessed that she had it on her person, and said that if I was sure I was prepared--and so on and so on--and with that she reached into her bosom and brought out a battered square of brass, watching my eye anxiously the while. I fell over against her in a quite well-acted faint, which delighted her heart and nearly frightened it out of her, too, at the same time. When I came to and got calm, she was eager to know what I thought of her jewel.

'What do I think of it? I think it is the most exquisite thing I ever saw.'

'Do you really? How nice of you to say that! But it is a love, now isn't it?'

'Well, I should say so! I'd rather own it than the equator.'

'I thought you would admire it,' she said. 'I think it is so lovely. And there isn't another one in all these latitudes. People have come all the way from the open Polar Sea to look at it. Did you ever see one before?'

I said no, this was the first one I had ever seen. It cost me a pang to tell that generous lie, for I had seen a million of them in my time, this humble jewel of hers being nothing but a battered old New York Central baggage check.

'Land!' said I, 'you don't go about with it on your person this way, alone and with no protection, not even a dog?'

'Ssh! not so loud,' she said. 'Nobody knows I carry it with me. They think it is in papa's treasury. That is where it generally is.'

'Where is the treasury?'

It was a blunt question, and for a moment she looked startled and a little suspicious, but I said:

'Oh, come, don't you be afraid about me. At home we have seventy millions of people, and although I say it myself that shouldn't, there is not one person among them all but would trust me with untold fish-hooks.'

This reassured her, and she told me where the hooks were hidden in the house. Then she wandered from her course to brag a little about the size of the sheets of transparent ice that formed the windows of the mansion, and asked me if I had ever seen their like at home, and I came right out frankly and confessed that I hadn't, which pleased her more than she could find words to dress her gratification in. It was so easy to please her, and such a pleasure to do it, that I went on and said--

'Ah, Lasca, you are a fortune girl!--this beautiful house, this dainty jewel, that rich treasure, all this elegant snow, and sumptuous icebergs and limitless sterility, and public bears and walruses, and noble freedom and largeness and everybody's admiring eyes upon you, and everybody's homage and respect at your command without the asking; young, rich, beautiful, sought, courted, envied, not a requirement unsatisfied, not a desire ungratified, nothing to wish for that you cannot have--it is immeasurable good-fortune! I have seen myriads of girls, but none of whom these extraordinary things could be truthfully said but you alone. And you are worthy--worthy of it all, Lasca--I believe it in my heart.'

It made her infinitely proud and happy to hear me say this, and she thanked me over and over again for that closing remark, and her voice and eyes showed that she was touched. Presently she said:

'Still, it is not all sunshine--there is a cloudy side. The burden of wealth is a heavy one to bear. Sometimes I have doubted if it were not better to be poor--at least not inordinately rich. It pains me to see neighbouring tribesmen stare as they pass by, and overhear them say, reverently, one to another, "There--that is she--the millionaire's daughter!" And sometimes they say sorrowfully, "She is rolling in fish-hooks, and I--I have nothing." It breaks my heart. When I was a child and we were poor, we slept with the door open, if we chose, but now--now we have to have a night-watchman. In those days my father was gentle and courteous to all; but now he is austere and haughty and cannot abide familiarity. Once his family were his sole thought, but now he goes about thinking of his fish-hooks all the time. And his wealth makes everybody cringing and obsequious to him. Formerly nobody laughed at his jokes, they being always stale and far-fetched and poor, and destitute of the one element that can really justify a joke--the element of humour; but now everybody laughs and cackles at these dismal things, and if any fails to do it my father is deeply displeased, and shows it. Formerly his opinion was not sought upon any matter and was not valuable when he volunteered it; it has that infirmity yet, but, nevertheless, it is sought by all and applauded by all--and he helps do the applauding himself, having no true delicacy and a plentiful want of tact. He has lowered the tone of all our tribe. Once they were a frank and manly race, now they are measly hypocrites, and sodden with servility. In my heart of hearts I hate all the ways of millionaires! Our tribe was once plain, simple folk, and content with the bone fish-hooks of their fathers; now they are eaten up with avarice and would sacrifice every sentiment of honour and honesty to possess themselves of the debasing iron fish-hooks of the foreigner. However, I must not dwell on these sad things. As I have said, it was my dream to be loved for myself alone.

'At last, this dream seemed about to be fulfilled. A stranger came by, one day, who said his name was Kalula. I told him my name, and he said he loved me. My heart gave a great bound of gratitude and pleasure, for I had loved him at sight, and now I said so. He took me to his breast and said he would not wish to be happier than he was now. We went strolling together far over the ice-floes, telling all about each other, and planning, oh, the loveliest future! When we were tired at last we sat down and ate, for he had soap and candles and I had brought along some blubber. We were hungry and nothing was ever so good.

'He belonged to a tribe whose haunts were far to the north, and I found that he had never heard of my father, which rejoiced me exceedingly. I mean he had heard of the millionaire, but had never heard his name--so, you see, he could not know that I was the heiress. You may be sure that I did not tell him. I was loved for myself at last, and was satisfied. I was so happy--oh, happier than you can think!

'By-and-by it was towards supper time, and I led him home. As we approached our house he was amazed, and cried out:

'"How splendid! Is that your father's?"

'It gave me a pang to hear that tone and see that admiring light in his eye, but the feeling quickly passed away, for I loved him so, and he looked so handsome and noble. All my family of aunts and uncles and cousins were pleased with him, and many guests were called in, and the house was shut up tight and the rag lamps lighted, and when everything was hot and comfortable and suffocating, we began a joyous feast in celebration of my betrothal.

'When the feast was over my father's vanity overcame him, and he could not resist the temptation to show off his riches and let Kalula see what grand good-fortune he had stumbled into--and mainly, of course, he wanted to enjoy the poor man's amazement. I could have cried--but it would have done no good to try to dissuade my father, so I said nothing, but merely sat there and suffered.

'My father went straight to the hiding-place in full sight of everybody, and got out the fish-hooks and brought them and flung them scatteringly over my head, so that they fell in glittering confusion on the platform at my lover's knee.

'Of course, the astounding spectacle took the poor lad's breath away. He could only stare in stupid astonishment, and wonder how a single individual could possess such incredible riches. Then presently he glanced brilliantly up and exclaimed:

'"Ah, it is you who are the renowned millionaire!"

'My father and all the rest burst into shouts of happy laughter, and when my father gathered the treasure carelessly up as if it might be mere rubbish and of no consequence, and carried it back to its place, poor Kulala's surprise was a study. He said:

'"Is it possible that you put such things away without counting them?"

'My father delivered a vain-glorious horse-laugh, and said:

'"Well, truly, a body may know you have never been rich, since a mere matter of a fish-hook or two is such a mighty matter in your eyes."

'Kalula was confused, and hung his head, but said:

'"Ah, indeed, sir, I was never worth the value of the barb of one of those precious things, and I have never seen any man before who was so rich in them as to render the counting of his hoard worth while, since the wealthiest man I have ever known, till now, was possessed of but three."

'My foolish father roared again with jejune delight, and allowed the impression to remain that he was not accustomed to count his hooks and keep sharp watch over them. He was showing off, you see. Count them? Why, he counted them every day!

'I had met and got acquainted with my darling just at dawn; I had brought him home just at dark, three hours afterwards--for the days were shortening toward the six-months' night at that time. We kept up the festivities many hours; then, at last, the guests departed and the rest of us distributed ourselves along the walls on sleeping-benches, and soon all were steeped in dreams but me. I was too happy, too excited, to sleep. After I had lain quiet a long, long time, a dim form passed by me and was swallowed up in the gloom that pervaded the farther end of the house. I could not make out who it was, or whether it was man or woman. Presently that figure or another one passed me going the other way. I wondered what it all meant, but wondering did no good; and while I was still wondering I fell asleep.

'I do not know how long I slept, but at last I came suddenly broad awake and heard my father say in a terrible voice, "By the great Snow God, there's a fish-hook gone!" Something told me that that meant sorrow for me, and the blood in my veins turned cold. The presentiment was confirmed in the same instant: my father shouted, "Up, everybody, and seize the stranger!" Then there was an outburst of cries and curses from all sides, and a wild rush of dim forms through the obscurity. I flew to my beloved's help, but what could I do but wait and wring my hands?--he was already fenced away from me by a living wall, he was being bound hand and foot. Not until he was secured would they let me get to him. I flung myself upon his poor insulted form and cried my grief out upon his breast while my father and all my family scoffed at me and heaped threats and shameful epithets upon him. He bore his ill usage with a tranquil dignity which endeared him to me more than ever, and made me proud and happy to suffer with him and for him. I heard my father order that the elders of the tribe be called together to try my Kalula for his life.

'"What!" I said, "before any search has been made for the lost hook?"

'"Lost hook!" they all shouted, in derision; and my father added, mockingly, "Stand back, everybody, and be properly serious--she is going to hunt up that lost hook: oh, without doubt she will find it!"--whereat they all laughed again.

'I was not disturbed--I had no fears, no doubts. I said:

'"It is for you to laugh now; it is your turn. But ours is coming; wait and see."

'I got a rag lamp. I thought I should find that miserable thing in one little moment; and I set about that matter with such confidence that those people grew grace, beginning to suspect that perhaps they had been too hasty. But alas and alas!--oh, the bitterness of that search! There was deep silence while one might count his fingers ten or twelve times, then my heart began to sink, and around me the mockings began again, and grew steadily louder and more assured, until at last, when I gave up, they burst into volley after volley of cruel laughter.

'None will ever know what I suffered then. But my love was my support and my strength, and I took my rightful place at my Kalula's side, and put my arm about his neck, and whispered in his ear, saying:

'"You are innocent, my own--that I know; but say it to me yourself, for my comfort, then I can bear whatever is in store for us."

'He answered:

'"As surely as I stand upon the brink of death at this moment, I am innocent. Be comforted, then, O bruised heart; be at peace, O thou breath of my nostrils, life of my life!"

'"Now, then, let the elders come!"--and as I said the words there was a gathering sound of crunching snow outside, and then a vision of stooping forms filing in at the door--the elders.

'My father formally accused the prisoner, and detailed the happenings of the night. He said that the watchman was outside the door, and that in the house were none but the family and the stranger. "Would the family steal their own property?" He paused. The elders sat silent many minutes; at last, one after another said to his neighbour, "This looks bad for the stranger"--sorrowful words for me to hear. Then my father sat down. O miserable, miserable me! At that very moment I could have proved my darling innocent, but I did not know it!

'The chief of the court asked:

'"Is there any here to defend the prisoner?"

'I rose and said:

'"Why should he steal that hook, or any or all of them? In another day he would have been heir to the whole!"

I stood waiting. There was a long silence, the steam from the many breaths rising about me like a fog. At last one elder after another nodded his head slowly several times, and muttered, "There is force in what the child has said." Oh, the heart-lift that was in those words! --so transient, but, oh, so precious! I sat down.

'"If any would say further, let him speak now, or after hold his peace," said the chief of the court.

'My father rose and said:

'"In the night a form passed by me in the gloom, going toward the treasury and presently returned. I think, now, it was the stranger."

'Oh, I was like to swoon! I had supposed that that was my secret; not the grip of the great Ice God himself could have dragged it out of my heart. The chief of the court said sternly to my poor Kalula:

'"Speak!"

'Kalula hesitated, then answered:

'"It was I. I could not sleep for thinking of the beautiful hooks. I went there and kissed them and fondled them, to appease my spirit and drown it in a harmless joy, then I put them back. I may have dropped one, but I stole none."

'Oh, a fatal admission to make in such a place! There was an awful hush. I knew he had pronounced his own doom, and that all was over. On every face you could see the words hieroglyphed: "It is a confession!--and paltry, lame, and thin."

'I sat drawing in my breath in faint gasps--and waiting. Presently, I heard the solemn words I knew were coming; and each word, as it came, was a knife in my heart:

'"It is the command of the court that the accused be subjected to the trial by water."

'Oh, curses be upon the head of him who brought "trial by water" to our land! It came, generations ago, from some far country that lies none knows where. Before that our fathers used augury and other unsure methods of trial, and doubtless some poor guilty creatures escaped with their lives sometimes; but it is not so with trial by water, which is an invention by wiser men than we poor ignorant savages are. By it the innocent are proved innocent, without doubt or question, for they drown; and the guilty are proven guilty with the same certainty, for they do not drown. My heart was breaking in my bosom, for I said, "He is innocent, and he will go down under the waves and I shall never see him more."

'I never left his side after that. I mourned in his arms all the precious hours, and he poured out the deep stream of his love upon me, and oh, I was so miserable and so happy! At last, they tore him from me, and I followed sobbing after them, and saw them fling him into the sea --then I covered my face with my hands. Agony? Oh, I know the deepest deeps of that word!

'The next moment the people burst into a shout of malicious joy, and I took away my hands, startled. Oh, bitter sight--he was swimming! My heart turned instantly to stone, to ice. I said, "He was guilty, and he lied to me!" I turned my back in scorn and went my way homeward.

'They took him far out to sea and set him on an iceberg that was drifting southward in the great waters. Then my family came home, and my father said to me:

'"Your thief sent his dying message to you, saying, 'Tell her I am innocent, and that all the days and all the hours and all the minutes while I starve and perish I shall love her and think of her and bless the day that gave me sight of her sweet face.'" Quite pretty, even poetical!

'I said, "He is dirt--let me never hear mention of him again." And oh, to think--he was innocent all the time!

'Nine months--nine dull, sad months--went by, and at last came the day of the Great Annual Sacrifice, when all the maidens of the tribe wash their faces and comb their hair. With the first sweep of my comb out came the fatal fish-hook from where it had been all those months nestling, and I fell fainting into the arms of my remorseful father! Groaning, he said, "We murdered him, and I shall never smile again!" He has kept his word. Listen; from that day to this not a month goes by that I do not comb my hair. But oh, where is the good of it all now!'

So ended the poor maid's humble little tale--whereby we learn that since a hundred million dollars in New York and twenty-two fish-hooks on the border of the Arctic Circle represent the same financial supremacy, a man in straitened circumstances is a fool to stay in New York when he can buy ten cents' worth of fish-hooks and emigrate.


9.5

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Anton Chekhov
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