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."
'"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.