“There bes some men in this harbor I wouldn’t trust as far as I could t’row ’em over my back,” said the skipper.
Bill and Nick agreed with him. The skipper glanced up at the starless sky.
“There’ll be snow by sun-up,” he said.
“Aye, skipper, a desperate flurry out o’ the nor’-west,” replied Brennen.
“D’ye mean wind, too?”
“Aye, skipper, mark that!”
All three felt a breath on their faces like the very essence of cold. They turned northward and set out on the homeward way. All were snug in their beds long before the first pale hint of dawn. The icy draft from the northwest was a little stronger by that time, and it puffed a haze of dry and powdery snow before it. The night was full of faint, insistent voices. The roofs of the cabins snapped and creaked as if icy fingers were prying them apart. A sharp crackling sound came up from the harbor, where the tide fumbled at the edges of black ice. A dull, vast moaning that was scarcely a sound at all—something as vague, yet mighty as silence itself—drifted over the barrens and over the sheltered habitations out of the northwest.
When the skipper awoke in the morning the “flurry” was rolling over the brink of the barren, and down upon Chance Along in full force. The skipper piled dry wood—birch and splinters of wreckage—into the round stove, until it roared a miniature challenge to the ice-freighted wind outside. The bucket of water on the bench in the corner was frozen to half its depth. He cut at it with a knife used for skinning seals, and filled the tea-kettle with fragments of ice. His young brother Cormick came stiffly down the ladder from the loft, and stood close to the stove shivering.
“It bes desperate weather, Denny,” said the lad. “Sure, I near froze in my blankets.”
“Aye, Cormy, but we bes snug enough, wid no call to go outside the door,” replied the skipper. “We has plenty o’ wood an’ plenty o’ grub; an’ we’ll never lack the one or t’other so long as I bes skipper o’ this harbor.”
“Aye, Denny, we never et so well afore ye was skipper,” returned Cormick, looking at his brother in frank admiration. “Grub—aye, an’ gold too! I hears ye took a barrel o’ money off that wrack, Denny.”
“An’ there’ll be more wracks, Cormy, an’ we’ll take our pickin’s from every one,” said the skipper. “Times bes changed, lad. The day was when we took what the sea t’rowed up for us; but now we takes what we wants an’ leaves what we don’t want to the sea.”
At that moment the voice of old Mother Nolan sounded fretfully from the next room.
“Denny! Cormy!” she called. “I bes fair perishin’ to death in my bed. The wind bes blowin’ an’ yowlin’ t’rough this room like the whole end o’ the house was knocked out.”
The skipper, who was as gentle with his old grandmother and as kind to his young brother as the best man in the world could have been, crossed the kitchen immediately and opened the door of the old woman’s chamber. Mother Nolan was sitting up in her bed with a blanket on her thin, bent shoulders, and a red flannel night-cap on her gray head.