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.