"The Sunlanders" and other stories of the Far North by Jack London

(actualisé le ) by Jack London

Twelve stories of adventure and drama in the harsh climate of the Far North, mostly in the Klondike region of northwestern Canada, where immense gold resources were discovered in 1897.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. A Daughter of the Aurora (1899)
Two prospectors engage in an epic hundred-mile dog-sled race to file a claim on a gold-rich stake and, above all, to win the promised hand of a very vivacious young woman (3,300 words).

2. A Northland Miracle (1900)
A very rough bad boy who has gone from awful to worse has ended up in the Far North after deserting the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, where he joins a group of like-minded men headed across virgin land towards the gold strike on the Klondike (2,500 words).

3. An Odyssey of the North (1900)
The narrative of a lone Aleutian native’s lifelong quest throughout the continent and elsewhere for the beloved princess that had been stolen from him (12,800 words).

4. Thanksgiving on Slav Creek (1900)
A man wakes up his wife at midnight to urge her and their Indian guide to stealthily strike out with him to Slav Creek where a gold strike has been made, but at the edge of town they realize that there are hundreds of others already engaged in the race to claim a stake there (2,500 words).

5. The Sunlanders (1902)
Mandell is an obscure village on the rim of the polar sea, peopled mostly by women and a few very meek and necessarily polygamous men. The violent events that led up to this state of affairs is described through the eyes of one of the few male survivors of the clash between the then-populous villagers and a small party of sailor-prospectors from the lands of the sun far to the south (7,600 words).

6. Keesh, the Bear Hunter (1903) aka The Story of Keesh
The story of Keesh, who lived long ago on the rim of the polar sea, and how he used headcraft and not witchcraft to become a famous bear-killer and the head man of his village (3,100 words).

7. The Wit of Porportuk (1906)
El-Soo is the daughter of the chief of a big tribe who has run up a huge debt with the village money-lender Porportuk who hankers after El-Soo. To escape the clutches of the old usurer, El-Soo organizes an auction to sell herself to the highest bidder at the gathering of tribes at the yearly salmon run (13,900 words).

8. Chased by the Trail (1907)
Two boys try desperately to cross the half-frozen Yukon river to carry an urgent message to a prospector on the other side, but have to paddle with all their might downriver ahead of the oncoming ice floes (3,500 words).

9. The Passing of Marcus O’Brien (1908)
Red Cow is a tiny mining settlement that maintains law and order by rough frontier methods, in particular by punishing murder with exile on a canoe to float down river to the Bering Sea over two thousand miles away. A judge who has just passed such a sentence wakes up after a binge in a canoe floating down the Yukon with no grub at all - his drinking companion’s idea of a joke (5,000 words).

10. The Night-Born (1911)
A wealthy but burnt-out man in a San Francisco clubhouse tells how he had discovered an Indian tribe that had never seen a white man before, ruled by a very forceful blue-eyed white woman who recounted to him the rough path through life she had travelled on her way to this wild wilderness (5,500 words).

11. The Race for Number Three (1911)
The Gold Commissioner has organized a race from the Number Three stake to the registrar’s office in Dawson a hundred and ten miles further down the frozen Yukon. The entrants must plant a new four-post stake under tight police surveillance, but not before midnight on the day that the original claim expires, and then set off by dogsled as best and as fast as they can down the treacherously frozen river (7,300 words).

12. The End of the Story (1911)
A doctor is summoned to rush away on a hundred-mile trip through difficult territory to operate a man who has been desperately wounded by a cougar. After three days of almost non-stop effort they arrive at the isolated campsite, where the doctor finds that the woman who is tending to the wounded man is his wife, and the man is the one who had stolen her away from him (7,800 words).


e-books of these stories are available for downloading below


1. A DAUGHTER OF THE AURORA

“You—what you call—lazy mans, you lazy mans would desire me to haf for wife. It is not good. Nevaire, no, nevaire, will lazy mans my hoosband be.”
Thus Joy Molineau spoke her mind to Jack Harrington, even as she had spoken it, but more tritely and in his own tongue, to Louis Savoy the previous night.
“Listen, Joy—”
“No, no; why moos’ I listen to lazy mans? It is vaire bad, you hang rount, make visitation to my cabin, and do nothing. How you get grub for the famine? Why haf not you the dust? Odder mans haf plentee.”
“But I work hard, Joy. Never a day am I not on trail or up creek. Even now have I just come off. My dogs are yet tired. Other men have luck and find plenty of gold; but I—I have no luck.”
“Ah! But when this mans with the wife which is Indian, this mans McCormack, when him discovaire the Klondike, you go not. Odder mans go; odder mans now rich.”
“You know I was prospecting over on the head-reaches of the Tanana,” Harrington protested, “and knew nothing of the Eldorado or Bonanza until it was too late.”
“That is deeferent; only you are—what you call way off.”
“What?”
“Way off. In the—yes—in the dark. It is nevaire too late. One vaire rich mine is there, on the creek which is Eldorado. The mans drive the stake and him go ’way. No odddr mans know what of him become. The mans, him which drive the stake, is nevaire no more. Sixty days no mans on that claim file the papaire. Then odder mans, plentee odder mans—what you call—jump that claim. Then they race, O so queek, like the wind, to file the papaire. Him be vaire rich. Him get grub for famine.”
Harrington hid the major portion of his interest.
“When’s the time up?” he asked. “What claim is it?”
“So I speak Louis Savoy last night,” she continued, ignoring him. “Him I think the winnaire.”
“Hang Louis Savoy!”
“So Louis Savoy speak in my cabin last night. Him say, ‘Joy, I am strong mans. I haf good dogs. I haf long wind. I will be winnaire. Then you will haf me for hoosband?’ And I say to him, I say—”
“What’d you say?”
“I say, ‘If Louis Savoy is winnaire, then will he haf me for wife.’”
“And if he don’t win?”
“Then Louis Savoy, him will not be—what you call—the father of my children.”
“And if I win?”
“You winnaire? Ha! ha! Nevaire!”
Exasperating as it was, Joy Molineau’s laughter was pretty to hear. Harrington did not mind it. He had long since been broken in. Besides, he was no exception. She had forced all her lovers to suffer in kind. And very enticing she was just then, her lips parted, her color heightened by the sharp kiss of the frost, her eyes vibrant with the lure which is the greatest of all lures and which may be seen nowhere save in woman’s eyes. Her sled-dogs clustered about her in hirsute masses, and the leader, Wolf Fang, laid his long snout softly in her lap.
“If I do win?” Harrington pressed.
She looked from dog to lover and back again.
“What you say, Wolf Fang? If him strong mans and file the papaire, shall we his wife become? Eh? What you say?”
Wolf Fang picked up his ears and growled at Harrington.
“It is vaire cold,” she suddenly added with feminine irrelevance, rising to her feet and straightening out the team.
Her lover looked on stolidly. She had kept him guessing from the first time they met, and patience had been joined unto his virtues.
“Hi! Wolf Fang!” she cried, springing upon the sled as it leaped into sudden motion. “Ai! Ya! Mush-on!”
From the corner of his eye Harrington watched her swinging down the trail to Forty Mile. Where the road forked and crossed the river to Fort Cudahy, she halted the dogs and turned about.
“O Mistaire Lazy Mans!” she called back. “Wolf Fang, him say yes—if you winnaire!”

* * * * *

But somehow, as such things will, it leaked out, and all Forty Mile, which had hitherto speculated on Joy Molineau’s choice between her two latest lovers, now hazarded bets and guesses as to which would win in the forthcoming race. The camp divided itself into two factions, and every effort was put forth in order that their respective favorites might be the first in at the finish. There was a scramble for the best dogs the country could afford, for dogs, and good ones, were essential, above all, to success. And it meant much to the victor. Besides the possession of a wife, the like of which had yet to be created, it stood for a mine worth a million at least.
That fall, when news came down of McCormack’s discovery on Bonanza, all the Lower Country, Circle City and Forty Mile included, had stampeded up the Yukon,—at least all save those who, like Jack Harrington and Louis Savoy, were away prospecting in the west. Moose pastures and creeks were staked indiscriminately and promiscuously; and incidentally, one of the unlikeliest of creeks, Eldorado. Olaf Nelson laid claim to five hundred of its linear feet, duly posted his notice, and as duly disappeared. At that time the nearest recording office was in the police barracks at Fort Cudahy, just across the river from Forty Mile; but when it became bruited abroad that Eldorado Creek was a treasure-house, it was quickly discovered that Olaf Nelson had failed to make the down-Yukon trip to file upon his property. Men cast hungry eyes upon the ownerless claim, where they knew a thousand-thousand dollars waited but shovel and sluice-box. Yet they dared not touch it; for there was a law which permitted sixty days to lapse between the staking and the filing, during which time a claim was immune. The whole country knew of Olaf Nelson’s disappearance, and scores of men made preparation for the jumping and for the consequent race to Fort Cudahy.
But competition at Forty Mile was limited. With the camp devoting its energies to the equipping either of Jack Harrington or Louis Savoy, no man was unwise enough to enter the contest single-handed. It was a stretch of a hundred miles to the Recorder’s office, and it was planned that the two favorites should have four relays of dogs stationed along the trail. Naturally, the last relay was to be the crucial one, and for these twenty-five miles their respective partisans strove to obtain the strongest possible animals. So bitter did the factions wax, and so high did they bid, that dogs brought stiffer prices than ever before in the annals of the country. And, as it chanced, this scramble for dogs turned the public eye still more searchingly upon Joy Molineau. Not only was she the cause of it all, but she possessed the finest sled-dog from Chilkoot to Bering Sea. As wheel or leader, Wolf Fang had no equal. The man whose sled he led down the last stretch was bound to win. There could be no doubt of it. But the community had an innate sense of the fitness of things, and not once was Joy vexed by overtures for his use. And the factions drew consolation from the fact that if one man did not profit by him, neither should the other.
However, since man, in the individual or in the aggregate, has been so fashioned that he goes through life blissfully obtuse to the deeper subtleties of his womankind, so the men of Forty Mile failed to divine the inner deviltry of Joy Molineau. They confessed, afterward, that they had failed to appreciate this dark-eyed daughter of the aurora, whose father had traded furs in the country before ever they dreamed of invading it, and who had herself first opened eyes on the scintillant northern lights. Nay, accident of birth had not rendered her less the woman, nor had it limited her woman’s understanding of men. They knew she played with them, but they did not know the wisdom of her play, its deepness and its deftness. They failed to see more than the exposed card, so that to the very last Forty Mile was in a state of pleasant obfuscation, and it was not until she cast her final trump that it came to reckon up the score.
Early in the week the camp turned out to start Jack Harrington and Louis Savoy on their way. They had taken a shrewd margin of time, for it was their wish to arrive at Olaf Nelson’s claim some days previous to the expiration of its immunity, that they might rest themselves, and their dogs be fresh for the first relay. On the way up they found the men of Dawson already stationing spare dog teams along the trail, and it was manifest that little expense had been spared in view of the millions at stake.
A couple of days after the departure of their champions, Forty Mile began sending up their relays,—first to the seventy-five station, then to the fifty, and last to the twenty-five. The teams for the last stretch were magnificent, and so equally matched that the camp discussed their relative merits for a full hour at fifty below, before they were permitted to pull out. At the last moment Joy Molineau dashed in among them on her sled. She drew Lon McFane, who had charge of Harrington’s team, to one side, and hardly had the first words left her lips when it was noticed that his lower jaw dropped with a celerity and emphasis suggestive of great things. He unhitched Wolf Fang from her sled, put him at the head of Harrington’s team, and mushed the string of animals into the Yukon trail.
“Poor Louis Savoy!” men said; but Joy Molineau flashed her black eyes defiantly and drove back to her father’s cabin.

* * * * *

Midnight drew near on Olaf Nelson’s claim. A few hundred fur-clad men had preferred sixty below and the jumping, to the inducements of warm cabins and comfortable bunks. Several score of them had their notices prepared for posting and their dogs at hand. A bunch of Captain Constantine’s mounted police had been ordered on duty that fair play might rule. The command had gone forth that no man should place a stake till the last second of the day had ticked itself into the past. In the northland such commands are equal to Jehovah’s in the matter of potency; the dum-dum as rapid and effective as the thunderbolt. It was clear and cold. The aurora borealis painted palpitating color revels on the sky. Rosy waves of cold brilliancy swept across the zenith, while great coruscating bars of greenish white blotted out the stars, or a Titan’s hand reared mighty arches above the Pole. And at this mighty display the wolf-dogs howled as had their ancestors of old time.
A bearskin-coated policeman stepped prominently to the fore, watch in hand. Men hurried among the dogs, rousing them to their feet, untangling their traces, straightening them out. The entries came to the mark, firmly gripping stakes and notices. They had gone over the boundaries of the claim so often that they could now have done it blindfolded. The policeman raised his hand. Casting off their superfluous furs and blankets, and with a final cinching of belts, they came to attention.
“Time!”
Sixty pairs of hands unmitted; as many pairs of moccasins gripped hard upon the snow.
“Go!”
They shot across the wide expanse, round the four sides, sticking notices at every corner, and down the middle where the two centre stakes were to be planted. Then they sprang for the sleds on the frozen bed of the creek. An anarchy of sound and motion broke out. Sled collided with sled, and dog-team fastened upon dog-team with bristling manes and screaming fangs. The narrow creek was glutted with the struggling mass. Lashes and butts of dog-whips were distributed impartially among men and brutes. And to make it of greater moment, each participant had a bunch of comrades intent on breaking him out of jam. But one by one, and by sheer strength, the sleds crept out and shot from sight in the darkness of the overhanging banks.
Jack Harrington had anticipated this crush and waited by his sled until it untangled. Louis Savoy, aware of his rival’s greater wisdom in the matter of dog-driving, had followed his lead and also waited. The rout had passed beyond earshot when they took the trail, and it was not till they had travelled the ten miles or so down to Bonanza that they came upon it, speeding along in single file, but well bunched. There was little noise, and less chance of one passing another at that stage. The sleds, from runner to runner, measured sixteen inches, the trail eighteen; but the trail, packed down fully a foot by the traffic, was like a gutter. On either side spread the blanket of soft snow crystals. If a man turned into this in an endeavor to pass, his dogs would wallow perforce to their bellies and slow down to a snail’s pace. So the men lay close to their leaping sleds and waited. No alteration in position occurred down the fifteen miles of Bonanza and Klondike to Dawson, where the Yukon was encountered. Here the first relays waited. But here, intent to kill their first teams, if necessary, Harrington and Savoy had had their fresh teams placed a couple of miles beyond those of the others. In the confusion of changing sleds they passed full half the bunch. Perhaps thirty men were still leading them when they shot on to the broad breast of the Yukon. Here was the tug. When the river froze in the fall, a mile of open water had been left between two mighty jams. This had but recently crusted, the current being swift, and now it was as level, hard, and slippery as a dance floor. The instant they struck this glare ice Harrington came to his knees, holding precariously on with one hand, his whip singing fiercely among his dogs and fearsome abjurations hurtling about their ears. The teams spread out on the smooth surface, each straining to the uttermost. But few men in the North could lift their dogs as did Jack Harrington. At once he began to pull ahead, and Louis Savoy, taking the pace, hung on desperately, his leaders running even with the tail of his rival’s sled.
Midway on the glassy stretch their relays shot out from the bank. But Harrington did not slacken. Watching his chance when the new sled swung in close, he leaped across, shouting as he did so and jumping up the pace of his fresh dogs. The other driver fell off somehow. Savoy did likewise with his relay, and the abandoned teams, swerving to right and left, collided with the others and piled the ice with confusion. Harrington cut out the pace; Savoy hung on. As they neared the end of the glare ice, they swept abreast of the leading sled. When they shot into the narrow trail between the soft snowbanks, they led the race; and Dawson, watching by the light of the aurora, swore that it was neatly done.
When the frost grows lusty at sixty below, men cannot long remain without fire or excessive exercise, and live. So Harrington and Savoy now fell to the ancient custom of “ride and run.” Leaping from their sleds, tow-thongs in hand, they ran behind till the blood resumed its wonted channels and expelled the frost, then back to the sleds till the heat again ebbed away. Thus, riding and running, they covered the second and third relays. Several times, on smooth ice, Savoy spurted his dogs, and as often failed to gain past. Strung along for five miles in the rear, the remainder of the race strove to overtake them, but vainly, for to Louis Savoy alone was the glory given of keeping Jack Harrington’s killing pace.
As they swung into the seventy-five-mile station, Lon McFane dashed alongside; Wolf Fang in the lead caught Harrington’s eye, and he knew that the race was his. No team in the North could pass him on those last twenty-five miles. And when Savoy saw Wolf Fang heading his rival’s team, he knew that he was out of the running, and he cursed softly to himself, in the way woman is most frequently cursed. But he still clung to the other’s smoking trail, gambling on chance to the last. And as they churned along, the day breaking in the southeast, they marvelled in joy and sorrow at that which Joy Molineau had done.

* * * * *

Forty Mile had early crawled out of its sleeping furs and congregated near the edge of the trail. From this point it could view the up-Yukon course to its first bend several miles away. Here it could also see across the river to the finish at Fort Cudahy, where the Gold Recorder nervously awaited. Joy Molineau had taken her position several rods back from the trail, and under the circumstances, the rest of Forty Mile forbore interposing itself. So the space was clear between her and the slender line of the course. Fires had been built, and around these men wagered dust and dogs, the long odds on Wolf Fang.
“Here they come!” shrilled an Indian boy from the top of a pine.
Up the Yukon a black speck appeared against the snow, closely followed by a second. As these grew larger, more black specks manifested themselves, but at a goodly distance to the rear. Gradually they resolved themselves into dogs and sleds, and men lying flat upon them. “Wolf Fang leads,” a lieutenant of police whispered to Joy. She smiled her interest back.
“Ten to one on Harrington!” cried a Birch Creek King, dragging out his sack.
“The Queen, her pay you not mooch?” queried Joy.
The lieutenant shook his head.
“You have some dust, ah, how mooch?” she continued.
He exposed his sack. She gauged it with a rapid eye.
“Mebbe—say—two hundred, eh? Good. Now I give—what you call—the tip. Covaire the bet.” Joy smiled inscrutably. The lieutenant pondered. He glanced up the trail. The two men had risen to their knees and were lashing their dogs furiously, Harrington in the lead.
“Ten to one on Harrington!” bawled the Birch Creek King, flourishing his sack in the lieutenant’s face.
“Covaire the bet,” Joy prompted.
He obeyed, shrugging his shoulders in token that he yielded, not to the dictate of his reason, but to her charm. Joy nodded to reassure him.
All noise ceased. Men paused in the placing of bets.
Yawing and reeling and plunging, like luggers before the wind, the sleds swept wildly upon them. Though he still kept his leader up to the tail of Harrington’s sled, Louis Savoy’s face was without hope. Harrington’s mouth was set. He looked neither to the right nor to the left. His dogs were leaping in perfect rhythm, firm-footed, close to the trail, and Wolf Fang, head low and unseeing, whining softly, was leading his comrades magnificently.
Forty Mile stood breathless. Not a sound, save the roar of the runners and the voice of the whips.
Then the clear voice of Joy Molineau rose on the air. “Ai! Ya! Wolf Fang! Wolf Fang!”
Wolf Fang heard. He left the trail sharply, heading directly for his mistress. The team dashed after him, and the sled poised an instant on a single runner, then shot Harrington into the snow. Savoy was by like a flash. Harrington pulled to his feet and watched him skimming across the river to the Gold Recorder’s. He could not help hearing what was said.
“Ah, him do vaire well,” Joy Molineau was explaining to the lieutenant. “Him—what you call—set the pace. Yes, him set the pace vaire well.”


2. A NORTHLAND MIRACLE

THIS is a story of things that happened, which goes to show that there is an eternal core of goodness in the hearts of all men. Bertram Cornell was a bad man, and a failure. In a little English home overseas there had been sorrow unavailing and tears shed in vain for his earthly and spiritual welfare. He was bad, utterly bad. There could be no doubt of it. Thoughtless, careless and uncaring were mild terms with which to brand his weaknesses.
Even in his boyhood he had been strong only for evil. Kind words and pleadings had no effect on him, and he had been callous to the wet eyes of his mother and sisters and the sterner though no less kindly admonitions of his father. So it could hardly have been otherwise, when yet a very young man, that he fled hurriedly out of his home in England, carrying with him something which should have burdened his conscience had he but possessed one, and leaving behind a disgrace on his name for his people to bear. And so it was that those who had known him spoke of him in bitterness and sadness, until the memory of him was dimmed with time. Of what further evils he wrought there was never a whisper, and of his end no one ever heard. In his last hour he made recompense and wiped clean his tarnished page of life. But he did this thing in a far country, where news travels slowly and gets lost upon the way, and where men ofttimes die before they can tell how others died. But this was the way of it. Strong of body and uncaring, he had laughed at the great rough hand of the world and had always done, not what the world demanded, but whatever Bertram Cornell desired. And he had met harsh words with harsher, and stout blows with stouter. He had served as sailor on many seas, as sheepherder on the Australian ranges, as cowboy among the Dakota cattlemen, and as an enrolled private with the Mounted Police of the Northwest Territory. From this last post he had deserted on the discovery of gold in the Klondike and worked his way to the Alaskan coast. Here, because of his frontier experience, he speedily found place to fit into in a party of three other men.
This party was bound for the Klondike, but it had planned to abandon the beaten track and to go into the country over a new and untraveled route. With a pack train of many horses (cayuses from the mountains of eastern Oregon), the four men struck east into the desolate wilderness which lies beyond Mount St. Elias, and then north through the upland region in which the headwaters of the White and Tanana rivers have their source. It was an unexplored domain, marked vaguely on the maps, which was yet to feel the foot of the first white man. So vast and dismal was it that even animal life was scarce, and the tiny Indian tribes few and far between. For days, sometimes, they rode through the silent forest of by the rims of lonely lakes and saw no living thing, heard no sound save the sighing of the wind and the sobbing of the waters. A great solemnity brooded over the land, and the quiet was so profound that they came to hush their voices and to waste few words in idle talk.
As they journeyed on they prospected for the hidden gold, groping in the chill pools of the torrents and panning dirt in the shadows of the mighty glaciers. Once they came upon a body of virgin copper, like a mountain, but they could only shrug their shoulders and pass on. Food for their horses was scarce, and quite often poisonous, and the patient animals died one by one on the strange trail their masters had led them to. Crossing a high divide, the party was overwhelmed by a sleety storm common to such elevations, and, when finally they struggled through to the warmer valley beneath, the last horse had been left behind.
But here, in the sheltered valley, John Thornton cleared back the moss and from the grassroots shook out glittering particles of yellow gold. Bertram Cornell was with him at the time, and that night the twain carried back to camp nuggets which weighed a thousand dollars in the scales. A stop was called, and at the end of a month the four men had mined a treasure far greater than they could carry. But their food supply had been steadily growing less and less, till one man could bend forward and bear it all on his back.
What with the bleak region and fall coming on, it was high time to be going along. Somewhere to the northeast they knew the Klondike lay and the country of the Yukon. How far they did not know, though they thought it could not be more than a hundred miles. So each took about five pounds of gold, or a thousand dollars, and the rest of the great treasure they cached safely against their return. And to return they intended just as soon as they could lay in more grub. Their ammunition having given out, they left their rifles with the gold, burdening themselves only with the camp equipage and the scant supply of food.
So sure were they that they would shortly reach the gold diggings, that they ate unsparingly of the provisions; so that on the tenth day they found but a few miserable pounds remaining. And still before them, in up-heaved earth-waves, range upon range, towered the great grim mountains. Then it was that doubt came, and fear settled upon the men, and Bill Hines began to ration out the food.
They no longer ate at midday, and morning and evening he divided the day’s allowance into four meager portions. It was evenly shared, but it was very little—enough to keep soul and body together, but not enough to furnish the proper strength to healthy toiling men. Their faces grew wan and haggard, and day by day they covered less ground. Often the nausea of emptiness seized them, and their knees shook with weakness, and they reeled and fell. And always, when they had gasped and dragged themselves to the crest of a jagged mountain pass and eagerly looked beyond, another mountain confronted them. And always the brooding peace lay heavy over the land, and there was nothing but the loneliness and silence without end.
One by one, they threw away their blankets and spare clothes. They dropped their axes by the way, and the spare cooking utensils, and even the sacks of gold dust, until at last they staggered onward, half-naked, unburdened save for the pittance of grub that remained. This, Jan Jensen, the Dane, divided by weight into four parts so that the burden might be equally distributed. And each man, by the holy though unwritten and unspoken bonds of comradeship, held sacred that which he carried on his back. The small grub-packs were never opened except by the light of the campfire, where all could see and where just division was made.
Of bacon they possessed one three-pound chunk, which John Thornton carried in addition to a few cups of flour. This one piece they were saving for the very last, when the need would be greatest, and they resolutely refrained from touching it. But Bertram Cornell cast hungry eyes upon it and thought hungry thoughts. And in the night, while his comrades slept the sleep of exhaustion, he unstrapped John Thornton’s pack and robbed it of the bacon; and all through the hours till dawn, taking care lest the unaccustomed quantity turn his stomach, he munched and chewed and swallowed it, bit by bit, till nothing at all of it was left.
On the day which followed he took good care to hide the new strength which had come to him of the night and, if anything, appeared weaker than the rest. It was a very hard day; John Thornton lagged behind and rested often; but by nightfall they had cleared another mountain and beheld the opening of a small river valley beneath, running to the eastward. To the eastward! There lay the Klondike and safety! A few more days, could they but manage to live through them, they would be among white men and grub-caches again.
But, huddled by the fire, the starving men looking greedily on, Bill Hines opened Thornton’s pack to get some flour. In an
instant each eye had noted the absence of the bacon. Thornton’s eyes stared in horror, and Hines dropped the pack and sobbed aloud. But Jan Jensen drew his hunting knife and spoke. His voice was low and husky, almost a whisper, but each word fell slowly from his lips, and distinctly.
"My comrades, this is murder. This man has slept with us and shared with us in all fairness. When we divided all the grub by weight, each man carried on his back the lives of his comrades. And so did this man carry our lives on his back. It was a trust, a great trust, a sacred trust. He has not been true to it. Today, when he dropped behind, we thought he was weary. We were mistaken. Behold! He has eaten that which was ours, upon which our very lives were hanging. There is no other name for it than murder. For murder there is one punishment, and only one. Am I not right, my comrades?"
"Ay!" Bill Hines cried; but Bertram Cornell remained silent. He had not expected this.
Jan Jensen raised the long-bladed knife to strike, but Cornell gripped his wrist. "Let me speak," he demanded.
Thornton staggered slowly to his feet and said, "It is not right that I should die. I did not eat the bacon; nor could I have lost it. I know nothing about it. But I swear solemnly by the most high God that I have neither touched nor tasted the bacon!"
"If you were sneak enough to eat it, certainly you are sneak enough to lie about it now," Jensen charged, fingering the knife impatiently.
"Leave him alone, I tell you," threatened Cornell. "We don’t know that he ate it. We know nothing about it. And I warn you, I won’t stand by and see murder done. There is a chance that he is not guilty. Don’t trifle with that chance. You dare not punish him on a chance."
The angry Dane sheathed the blade, but an hour later, when Thornton happened to speak to him, he turned his back. Bill Hines also refused to hold conversation with the wretched man, while Cornell, already ashamed for the good which had fluttered in him (the first in years), would have nothing to do with him.
The next morning Bill Hines lumped the little remaining food together and redivided it into four parts. From Thornton’s portion he subtracted the equivalent of the bacon, which same he shared
among the other three piles. This he did without a word; the act was too significant to need speech.
"And let him carry his own grub," Jensen growled. "If he wants to eat it all at once, he’s welcome to."
What John Thornton suffered in the days which followed, only John Thornton knows. Not only did his comrades turn from him with abhorrent faces, but he was judged guilty of the blackest and most cowardly of crimes—that of treason. And further, eating less than they, he was forced to keep up with them or perish. Even then, when he had eaten his very last pinch, they had food left for two days. So he cut the leather tops from his moccasins and boiled them and ate them and during the day chewed the bark of willow- shoots till the pain of his swollen and inflamed mouth nearly drove him mad. And he dragged onward, staggering, falling, crawling, as often in delirium as not.
But the day came when the three other men fell back upon their moccasins and the green shoots of young trees. By this time they had followed the torrent down until it had become a small river, and they were counseling desperately the gathering of the drift-logs into a rickety raft. Then it was that they came unexpectedly upon an Indian village of a dozen lodges. But the Indians had never seen white men before and greeted them with a shower of arrows. "See! The river! Canoes!" Jensen cried. "We’re saved if we can make them! We must make them!"
They ran, drunkenly, toward the bank, the howling tribesmen on their heels and gaining. Suddenly, from behind a tree to one side, a skin-clad warrior stepped forth. He poised his great ivory- pointed spear for a moment, then cast it with perfect aim. Singing and hurtling through the air, it drove full into John Thornton’s hips. He wavered for a second, tripped and fell forward on his face. Hines and Jensen, running just behind him, swerved to the right and left and passed him on either side.
Then the miracle came to pass. The spirit of Goodness fluttered mightily in Bertram Cornell’s breast. Without thought, obeying the inward prompting, he sprang forward on the instant and seized the fleeing men by the arms.
"Come back!" he cried hoarsely. "Carry Thornton to the canoes! I’ll hold the Indians back until you shove clear!"
"Leave go!" the Dane screamed, fumbling for his knife. "I wouldn’t touch the dog to save my life!"
"I stole the bacon. I ate the bacon. Now will you come back?" Cornell saw the doubt in their eyes. "As I hope for mercy at the Judgment Seat, I stole it." A flight of arrows fell about them like rain. "Hurry! I’ll hold them back!"
In a trice they were staggering toward the canoes with the wounded man between them; but Bertram Cornell faced about and stood still. Surprised by this action, the Indians hesitated and halted, while Cornell, seeing that it was gaining time, made no motion. They discharged a shower of arrows at him. The bone- barbed missiles flew about him like hail.
Half a dozen arrows entered his chest and legs, and one pinned into his neck. But he yet stood upright and still as a carved statue. The warrior who flung the spear at Thornton approached him from the side, and they closed together in each other’s arms. At this the rest of the tribesmen came down upon him in a flood of war.
As they cut and hacked, he heard Jan Jensen shouting from the water, and he knew that his comrades were safe. Then he fought the good fight, the first for a good cause in all his life, and the last. But when all was still, the Indians drew back in superstitious awe. With him lay their chief and six of their fellows.
Though he had lived without honor, thus he died, like a man, brave and repentant, and rectifying evil. Nor was his body dishonored. For that he fought greatly, and slew their own chieftain, they respected him and gave him a warrior’s burial. And because they were a simple people, who had never seen white men, they were wont to speak of him, as the seasons passed, as "the strange god who came down out of the sky to die."


3. AN ODYSSEY OF THE NORTH

I

The sleds were singing their eternal lament to the creaking of the harness and the tinkling bells of the leaders; but the men and dogs were tired and made no sound. The trail was heavy with new-fallen snow, and they had come far, and the runners, burdened with flint-like quarters of frozen moose, clung tenaciously to the unpacked surface and held back with a stubbornness almost human.
Darkness was coming on, but there was no camp to pitch that night. The snow fell gently through the pulseless air, not in flakes, but in tiny frost crystals of delicate design. It was very warm—barely ten below zero—and the men did not mind. Meyers and Bettles had raised their ear flaps, while Malemute Kid had even taken off his mittens.
The dogs had been fagged out early in the after noon, but they now began to show new vigor. Among the more astute there was a certain restlessness—an impatience at the restraint of the traces, an indecisive quickness of movement, a sniffing of snouts and pricking of ears. These became incensed at their more phlegmatic brothers, urging them on with numerous sly nips on their hinder quarters. Those, thus chidden, also contracted and helped spread the contagion. At last the leader of the foremost sled uttered a sharp whine of satisfaction, crouching lower in the snow and throwing himself against the collar. The rest followed suit.
There was an ingathering of back hands, a tightening of traces; the sleds leaped forward, and the men clung to the gee poles, violently accelerating the uplift of their feet that they might escape going under the runners. The weariness of the day fell from them, and they whooped encouragement to the dogs. The animals responded with joyous yelps. They were swinging through the gathering darkness at a rattling gallop.
’Gee! Gee!’ the men cried, each in turn, as their sleds abruptly left the main trail, heeling over on single runners like luggers on the wind.
Then came a hundred yards’ dash to the lighted parchment window, which told its own story of the home cabin, the roaring Yukon stove, and the steaming pots of tea. But the home cabin had been invaded. Threescore huskies chorused defiance, and as many furry forms precipitated themselves upon the dogs which drew the first sled. The door was flung open, and a man, clad in the scarlet tunic of the Northwest Police, waded knee-deep among the furious brutes, calmly and impartially dispensing soothing justice with the butt end of a dog whip. After that the men shook hands; and in this wise was Malemute Kid welcomed to his own cabin by a stranger.
Stanley Prince, who should have welcomed him, and who was responsible for the Yukon stove and hot tea aforementioned, was busy with his guests. There were a dozen or so of them, as nondescript a crowd as ever served the Queen in the enforcement of her laws or the delivery of her mails. They were of many breeds, but their common life had formed of them a certain type—a lean and wiry type, with trail-hardened muscles, and sun-browned faces, and untroubled souls which gazed frankly forth, clear-eyed and steady.
They drove the dogs of the Queen, wrought fear in the hearts of her enemies, ate of her meager fare, and were happy. They had seen life, and done deeds, and lived romances; but they did not know it.
And they were very much at home. Two of them were sprawled upon Malemute Kid’s bunk, singing chansons which their French forebears sang in the days when first they entered the Northwest land and mated with its Indian women. Bettles’ bunk had suffered a similar invasion, and three or four lusty voyageurs worked their toes among its blankets as they listened to the tale of one who had served on the boat brigade with Wolseley when he fought his way to Khartoum.
And when he tired, a cowboy told of courts and kings and lords and ladies he had seen when Buffalo Bill toured the capitals of Europe. In a corner two half-breeds, ancient comrades in a lost campaign, mended harnesses and talked of the days when the Northwest flamed with insurrection and Louis Riel was king.
Rough jests and rougher jokes went up and down, and great hazards by trail and river were spoken of in the light of commonplaces, only to be recalled by virtue of some grain of humor or ludicrous happening. Prince was led away by these uncrowned heroes who had seen history made, who regarded the great and the romantic as but the ordinary and the incidental in the routine of life. He passed his precious tobacco among them with lavish disregard, and rusty chains of reminiscence were loosened, and forgotten odysseys resurrected for his especial benefit.
When conversation dropped and the travelers filled the last pipes and lashed their tight-rolled sleeping furs. Prince fell back upon his comrade for further information.
’Well, you know what the cowboy is,’ Malemute Kid answered, beginning to unlace his moccasins; ’and it’s not hard to guess the British blood in his bed partner. As for the rest, they’re all children of the coureurs du bois, mingled with God knows how many other bloods. The two turning in by the door are the regulation ’breeds’ or Boisbrulés. That lad with the worsted breech scarf—notice his eyebrows and the turn of his jaw—shows a Scotchman wept in his mother’s smoky tepee. And that handsome looking fellow putting the capote under his head is a French half-breed—you heard him talking; he doesn’t like the two Indians turning in next to him. You see, when the ’breeds’ rose under the Riel the full-bloods kept the peace, and they’ve not lost much love for one another since.’
’But I say, what’s that glum-looking fellow by the stove? I’ll swear he can’t talk English. He hasn’t opened his mouth all night.’
’You’re wrong. He knows English well enough. Did you follow his eyes when he listened? I did. But he’s neither kith nor kin to the others. When they talked their own patois you could see he didn’t understand. I’ve been wondering myself what he is. Let’s find out.’
’Fire a couple of sticks into the stove!’ Malemute Kid commanded, raising his voice and looking squarely at the man in question.
He obeyed at once.
’Had discipline knocked into him somewhere.’ Prince commented in a low tone.
Malemute Kid nodded, took off his socks, and picked his way among recumbent men to the stove. There he hung his damp footgear among a score or so of mates.
’When do you expect to get to Dawson?’ he asked tentatively.
The man studied him a moment before replying. ’They say seventy-five mile. So? Maybe two days.’ The very slightest accent was perceptible, while there was no awkward hesitancy or groping for words.
’Been in the country before?’
’No.’
’Northwest Territory?’
’Yes.’
’Born there?’
’No.’
’Well, where the devil were you born? You’re none of these.’ Malemute Kid swept his hand over the dog drivers, even including the two policemen who had turned into Prince’s bunk. ’Where did you come from? I’ve seen faces like yours before, though I can’t remember just where.’
’I know you,’ he irrelevantly replied, at once turning the drift of Malemute Kid’s questions.
’Where? Ever see me?’
’No; your partner, him priest, Pastilik, long time ago. Him ask me if I see you, Malemute Kid. Him give me grub. I no stop long. You hear him speak ’bout me?’
’Oh! you’re the fellow that traded the otter skins for the dogs?’ The man nodded, knocked out his pipe, and signified his disinclination for conversation by rolling up in his furs. Malemute Kid blew out the slush lamp and crawled under the blankets with Prince.
’Well, what is he?’
’Don’t know—turned me off, somehow, and then shut up like a clam.
’But he’s a fellow to whet your curiosity. I’ve heard of him. All the coast wondered about him eight years ago. Sort of mysterious, you know. He came down out of the North in the dead of winter, many a thousand miles from here, skirting Bering Sea and traveling as though the devil were after him. No one ever learned where he came from, but he must have come far. He was badly travel-worn when he got food from the Swedish missionary on Golovin Bay and asked the way south. We heard of all this afterward. Then he abandoned the shore line, heading right across Norton Sound. Terrible weather, snowstorms and high winds, but he pulled through where a thousand other men would have died, missing St. Michaels and making the land at Pastilik. He’d lost all but two dogs, and was nearly gone with starvation.
’He was so anxious to go on that Father Roubeau fitted him out with grub; but he couldn’t let him have any dogs, for he was only waiting my arrival, to go on a trip himself. Mr. Ulysses knew too much to start on without animals, and fretted around for several days. He had on his sled a bunch of beautifully cured otter skins, sea otters, you know, worth their weight in gold. There was also at Pastilik an old Shylock of a Russian trader, who had dogs to kill. Well, they didn’t dicker very long, but when the Strange One headed south again, it was in the rear of a spanking dog team. Mr. Shylock, by the way, had the otter skins. I saw them, and they were magnificent. We figured it up and found the dogs brought him at least five hundred apiece. And it wasn’t as if the Strange One didn’t know the value of sea otter; he was an Indian of some sort, and what little he talked showed he’d been among white men.
’After the ice passed out of the sea, word came up from Nunivak Island that he’d gone in there for grub. Then he dropped from sight, and this is the first heard of him in eight years. Now where did he come from? and what was he doing there? and why did he come from there? He’s Indian, he’s been nobody knows where, and he’s had discipline, which is unusual for an Indian. Another mystery of the North for you to solve, Prince.’
’Thanks awfully, but I’ve got too many on hand as it is,’ he replied.
Malemute Kid was already breathing heavily; but the young mining engineer gazed straight up through the thick darkness, waiting for the strange orgasm which stirred his blood to die away. And when he did sleep, his brain worked on, and for the nonce he, too, wandered through the white unknown, struggled with the dogs on endless trails, and saw men live, and toil, and die like men. The next morning, hours before daylight, the dog drivers and policemen pulled out for Dawson. But the powers that saw to Her Majesty’s interests and ruled the destinies of her lesser creatures gave the mailmen little rest, for a week later they appeared at Stuart River, heavily burdened with letters for Salt Water.
However, their dogs had been replaced by fresh ones; but, then, they were dogs.
The men had expected some sort of a layover in which to rest up; besides, this Klondike was a new section of the Northland, and they had wished to see a little something of the Golden City where dust flowed like water and dance halls rang with never-ending revelry. But they dried their socks and smoked their evening pipes with much the same gusto as on their former visit, though one or two bold spirits speculated on desertion and the possibility of crossing the unexplored Rockies to the east, and thence, by the Mackenzie Valley, of gaining their old stamping grounds in the Chippewyan country.
Two or three even decided to return to their homes by that route when their terms of service had expired, and they began to lay plans forthwith, looking forward to the hazardous undertaking in much the same way a city-bred man would to a day’s holiday in the woods.
He of the Otter Skins seemed very restless, though he took little interest in the discussion, and at last he drew Malemute Kid to one side and talked for some time in low tones.
Prince cast curious eyes in their direction, and the mystery deepened when they put on caps and mittens and went outside. When they returned, Malemute Kid placed his gold scales on the table, weighed out the matter of sixty ounces, and transferred them to the Strange One’s sack. Then the chief of the dog drivers joined the conclave, and certain business was transacted with him.
The next day the gang went on upriver, but He of the Otter Skins took several pounds of grub and turned his steps back toward Dawson.
’Didn’t know what to make of it,’ said Malemute Kid in response to Prince’s queries; ’but the poor beggar wanted to be quit of the service for some reason or other—at least it seemed a most important one to him, though he wouldn’t let on what. You see, it’s just like the army: he signed for two years, and the only way to get free was to buy himself out. He couldn’t desert and then stay here, and he was just wild to remain in the country.
’Made up his mind when he got to Dawson, he said; but no one knew him, hadn’t a cent, and I was the only one he’d spoken two words with. So he talked it over with the lieutenant-governor, and made arrangements in case he could get the money from me—loan, you know. Said he’d pay back in the year, and, if I wanted, would put me onto something rich. Never’d seen it, but he knew it was rich.
’And talk! why, when he got me outside he was ready to weep. Begged and pleaded; got down in the snow to me till I hauled him out of it. Palavered around like a crazy man.
’Swore he’s worked to this very end for years and years, and couldn’t bear to be disappointed now. Asked him what end, but he wouldn’t say.
’Said they might keep him on the other half of the trail and he wouldn’t get to Dawson in two years, and then it would be too late. Never saw a man take on so in my life. And when I said I’d let him have it, had to yank him out of the snow again. Told him to consider it in the light of a grubstake. Think he’d have it? No sir! Swore he’d give me all he found, make me rich beyond the dreams of avarice, and all such stuff. Now a man who puts his life and time against a grubstake ordinarily finds it hard enough to turn over half of what he finds. Something behind all this, Prince; just you make a note of it. We’ll hear of him if he stays in the country—’
’And if he doesn’t?’ ’Then my good nature gets a shock, and I’m sixty some odd ounces out.’ The cold weather had come on with the long nights, and the sun had begun to play his ancient game of peekaboo along the southern snow line ere aught was heard of Malemute Kid’s grubstake. And then, one bleak morning in early January, a heavily laden dog train pulled into his cabin below Stuart River. He of the Otter Skins was there, and with him walked a man such as the gods have almost forgotten how to fashion. Men never talked of luck and pluck and five-hundred-dollar dirt without bringing in the name of Axel Gunderson; nor could tales of nerve or strength or daring pass up and down the campfire without the summoning of his presence. And when the conversation flagged, it blazed anew at mention of the woman who shared his fortunes.
As has been noted, in the making of Axel Gunderson the gods had remembered their old-time cunning and cast him after the manner of men who were born when the world was young. Full seven feet he towered in his picturesque costume which marked a king of Eldorado. His chest, neck, and limbs were those of a giant. To bear his three hundred pounds of bone and muscle, his snowshoes were greater by a generous yard than those of other men. Rough-hewn, with rugged brow and massive jaw and unflinching eyes of palest blue, his face told the tale of one who knew but the law of might. Of the yellow of ripe corn silk, his frost-incrusted hair swept like day across the night and fell far down his coat of bearskin.
A vague tradition of the sea seemed to cling about him as he swung down the narrow trail in advance of the dogs; and he brought the butt of his dog whip against Malemute Kid’s door as a Norse sea rover, on southern foray, might thunder for admittance at the castle gate.
Prince bared his womanly arms and kneaded sour-dough bread, casting, as he did so, many a glance at the three guests—three guests the like of which might never come under a man’s roof in a lifetime. The Strange One, whom Malemute Kid had surnamed Ulysses, still fascinated him; but his interest chiefly gravitated between Axel Gunderson and Axel Gunderson’s wife. She felt the day’s journey, for she had softened in comfortable cabins during the many days since her husband mastered the wealth of frozen pay streaks, and she was tired. She rested against his great breast like a slender flower against a wall, replying lazily to Malemute Kid’s good-natured banter, and stirring Prince’s blood strangely with an occasional sweep of her deep, dark eyes. For Prince was a man, and healthy, and had seen few women in many months. And she was older than he, and an Indian besides. But she was different from all native wives he had met: she had traveled—had been in his country among others, he gathered from the conversation; and she knew most of the things the women of his own race knew, and much more that it was not in the nature of things for them to know. She could make a meal of sun-dried fish or a bed in the snow; yet she teased them with tantalizing details of many-course dinners, and caused strange internal dissensions to arise at the mention of various quondam dishes which they had well-nigh forgotten. She knew the ways of the moose, the bear, and the little blue fox, and of the wild amphibians of the Northern seas; she was skilled in the lore of the woods, and the streams, and the tale writ by man and bird and beast upon the delicate snow crust was to her an open book; yet Prince caught the appreciative twinkle in her eye as she read the Rules of the Camp. These rules had been fathered by the Unquenchable Bettles at a time when his blood ran high, and were remarkable for the terse simplicity of their humor.
Prince always turned them to the wall before the arrival of ladies; but who could suspect that this native wife—Well, it was too late now.
This, then, was the wife of Axel Gunderson, a woman whose name and fame had traveled with her husband’s, hand in hand, through all the Northland. At table, Malemute Kid baited her with the assurance of an old friend, and Prince shook off the shyness of first acquaintance and joined in. But she held her own in the unequal contest, while her husband, slower in wit, ventured naught but applause. And he was very proud of her; his every look and action revealed the magnitude of the place she occupied in his life. He of the Otter Skins ate in silence, forgotten in the merry battle; and long ere the others were done he pushed back from the table and went out among the dogs. Yet all too soon his fellow travelers drew on their mittens and parkas and followed him.
There had been no snow for many days, and the sleds slipped along the hardpacked Yukon trail as easily as if it had been glare ice. Ulysses led the first sled; with the second came Prince and Axel Gunderson’s wife; while Malemute Kid and the yellow-haired giant brought up the third.
’It’s only a hunch, Kid,’ he said, ’but I think it’s straight. He’s never been there, but he tells a good story, and shows a map I heard of when I was in the Kootenay country years ago. I’d like to have you go along; but he’s a strange one, and swore point-blank to throw it up if anyone was brought in. But when I come back you’ll get first tip, and I’ll stake you next to me, and give you a half share in the town site besides.’
’No! no!’ he cried, as the other strove to interrupt. ’I’m running this, and before I’m done it’ll need two heads.
’If it’s all right, why, it’ll be a second Cripple Creek, man; do you hear?—a second Cripple Creek! It’s quartz, you know, not placer; and if we work it right we’ll corral the whole thing—millions upon millions. I’ve heard of the place before, and so have you. We’ll build a town—thousands of workmen—good waterways—steamship lines—big carrying trade—light-draught steamers for head reaches—survey a railroad, perhaps—sawmills—electric-light plant—do our own banking—commercial company—syndicate—Say! Just you hold your hush till I get back!’
The sleds came to a halt where the trail crossed the mouth of Stuart River. An unbroken sea of frost, its wide expanse stretched away into the unknown east.
The snowshoes were withdrawn from the lashings of the sleds. Axel Gunderson shook hands and stepped to the fore, his great webbed shoes sinking a fair half yard into the feathery surface and packing the snow so the dogs should not wallow. His wife fell in behind the last sled, betraying long practice in the art of handling the awkward footgear. The stillness was broken with cheery farewells; the dogs whined; and He of the Otter Skins talked with his whip to a recalcitrant wheeler.
An hour later the train had taken on the likeness of a black pencil crawling in a long, straight line across a mighty sheet of foolscap.

II

One night, many weeks later, Malemute Kid and Prince fell to solving chess problems from the torn page of an ancient magazine. The Kid had just returned from his Bonanza properties and was resting up preparatory to a long moose hunt.
Prince, too, had been on creek and trail nearly all winter, and had grown hungry for a blissful week of cabin life.
’Interpose the black knight, and force the king. No, that won’t do. See, the next move-’
’Why advance the pawn two squares? Bound to take it in transit, and with the bishop out of the way-’
’But hold on! That leaves a hole, and-’
’No; it’s protected. Go ahead! You’ll see it works.’ It was very interesting. Somebody knocked at the door a second time before Malemute Kid said, ’Come in.’ The door swung open. Something staggered in.
Prince caught one square look and sprang to his feet. The horror in his eyes caused Malemute Kid to whirl about; and he, too, was startled, though he had seen bad things before. The thing tottered blindly toward them. Prince edged away till he reached the nail from which hung his Smith & Wesson.
’My God! what is it?’ he whispered to Malemute Kid.
’Don’t know. Looks like a case of freezing and no grub,’ replied the Kid, sliding away in the opposite direction. ’Watch out! It may be mad,’ he warned, coming back from closing the door.
The thing advanced to the table. The bright flame of the slush lamp caught its eye. It was amused, and gave voice to eldritch cackles which betokened mirth.
Then, suddenly, he—for it was a man—swayed back, with a hitch to his skin trousers, and began to sing a chantey, such as men lift when they swing around the capstan circle and the sea snorts in their ears: Yan-kee ship come down de ri-ib-er, Pull! my bully boys! Pull! D’yeh want—to know de captain ru-uns her? Pull! my bully boys! Pull! Jon-a-than Jones ob South Caho-li-in-a, Pull! my bully. He broke off abruptly, tottered with a wolfish snarl to the meat shelf, and before they could intercept was tearing with his teeth at a chunk of raw bacon. The struggle was fierce between him and Malemute Kid; but his mad strength left him as suddenly as it had come, and he weakly surrendered the spoil. Between them they got him upon a stool, where he sprawled with half his body across the table.
A small dose of whiskey strengthened him, so that he could dip a spoon into the sugar caddy which Malemute Kid placed before him. After his appetite had been somewhat cloyed, Prince, shuddering as he did so, passed him a mug of weak beef tea.
The creature’s eyes were alight with a somber frenzy, which blazed and waned with every mouthful. There was very little skin to the face. The face, for that matter, sunken and emaciated, bore little likeness to human countenance.
Frost after frost had bitten deeply, each depositing its stratum of scab upon the half-healed scar that went before. This dry, hard surface was of a bloody-black color, serrated by grievous cracks wherein the raw red flesh peeped forth. His skin garments were dirty and in tatters, and the fur of one side was singed and burned away, showing where he had lain upon his fire.
Malemute Kid pointed to where the sun-tanned hide had been cut away, strip by strip—the grim signature of famine.
’Who—are—you?’ slowly and distinctly enunciated the Kid.
The man paid no heed.
’Where do you come from?’
’Yan-kee ship come down de ri-ib-er,’ was the quavering response.
’Don’t doubt the beggar came down the river,’ the Kid said, shaking him in an endeavor to start a more lucid flow of talk.
But the man shrieked at the contact, clapping a hand to his side in evident pain. He rose slowly to his feet, half leaning on the table.
’She laughed at me—so—with the hate in her eye; and she—would—not—come.’ His voice died away, and he was sinking back when Malemute Kid gripped him by the wrist and shouted, ’Who? Who would not come?’
’She, Unga. She laughed, and struck at me, so, and so. And then-’
’Yes?’
’And then—’ ’And then what?’
’And then he lay very still in the snow a long time. He is-still in—the—snow.’ The two men looked at each other helplessly.
’Who is in the snow?’ ’She, Unga. She looked at me with the hate in her eye, and then—’
’Yes, yes.’ ’And then she took the knife, so; and once, twice—she was weak. I traveled very slow. And there is much gold in that place, very much gold.’
’Where is Unga?’ For all Malemute Kid knew, she might be dying a mile away. He shook the man savagely, repeating again and again, ’Where is Unga? Who is Unga?’ ’She—is—in—the—snow.’
’Go on!’ The Kid was pressing his wrist cruelly.
’So—I—would—be—in—the snow—but—I—had—a—debt—to—pay. It—was—heavy—I—had—a-debt—to—pay—a—debt—to—pay I—had-’ The faltering monosyllables ceased as he fumbled in his pouch and drew forth a buckskin sack. ’A—debt—to—pay—five—pounds—of—gold-grub— stake—Mal—e—mute—Kid—I—y—’ The exhausted head dropped upon the table; nor could Malemute Kid rouse it again.
’It’s Ulysses,’ he said quietly, tossing the bag of dust on the table. ’Guess it’s all day with Axel Gunderson and the woman. Come on, let’s get him between the blankets. He’s Indian; he’ll pull through and tell a tale besides.’ As they cut his garments from him, near his right breast could be seen two unhealed, hard-lipped knife thrusts.

III

’I will talk of the things which were in my own way; but you will understand. I will begin at the beginning, and tell of myself and the woman, and, after that, of the man.’ He of the Otter Skins drew over to the stove as do men who have been deprived of fire and are afraid the Promethean gift may vanish at any moment. Malemute Kid picked up the slush lamp and placed it so its light might fall upon the face of the narrator. Prince slid his body over the edge of the bunk and joined them.
’I am Naass, a chief, and the son of a chief, born between a sunset and a rising, on the dark seas, in my father’s oomiak. All of a night the men toiled at the paddles, and the women cast out the waves which threw in upon us, and we fought with the storm. The salt spray froze upon my mother’s breast till her breath passed with the passing of the tide. But I—I raised my voice with the wind and the storm, and lived.
’We dwelt in Akatan—’
’Where?’ asked Malemute Kid.
’Akatan, which is in the Aleutians; Akatan, beyond Chignik, beyond Kardalak, beyond Unimak. As I say, we dwelt in Akatan, which lies in the midst of the sea on the edge of the world. We farmed the salt seas for the fish, the seal, and the otter; and our homes shouldered about one another on the rocky strip between the rim of the forest and the yellow beach where our kayaks lay. We were not many, and the world was very small. There were strange lands to the east—islands like Akatan; so we thought all the world was islands and did not mind.
’I was different from my people. In the sands of the beach were the crooked timbers and wave-warped planks of a boat such as my people never built; and I remember on the point of the island which overlooked the ocean three ways there stood a pine tree which never grew there, smooth and straight and tall. It is said the two men came to that spot, turn about, through many days, and watched with the passing of the light. These two men came from out of the sea in the boat which lay in pieces on the beach. And they were white like you, and weak as the little children when the seal have gone away and the hunters come home empty. I know of these things from the old men and the old women, who got them from their fathers and mothers before them. These strange white men did not take kindly to our ways at first, but they grew strong, what of the fish and the oil, and fierce. And they built them each his own house, and took the pick of our women, and in time children came. Thus he was born who was to become the father of my father’s father.
’As I said, I was different from my people, for I carried the strong, strange blood of this white man who came out of the sea. It is said we had other laws in the days before these men; but they were fierce and quarrelsome, and fought with our men till there were no more left who dared to fight. Then they made themselves chiefs, and took away our old laws, and gave us new ones, insomuch that the man was the son of his father, and not his mother, as our way had been. They also ruled that the son, first-born, should have all things which were his father’s before him, and that the brothers and sisters should shift for themselves. And they gave us other laws. They showed us new ways in the catching of fish and the killing of bear which were thick in the woods; and they taught us to lay by bigger stores for the time of famine. And these things were good.
’But when they had become chiefs, and there were no more men to face their anger, they fought, these strange white men, each with the other. And the one whose blood I carry drove his seal spear the length of an arm through the other’s body. Their children took up the fight, and their children’s children; and there was great hatred between them, and black doings, even to my time, so that in each family but one lived to pass down the blood of them that went before. Of my blood I was alone; of the other man’s there was but a girl. Unga, who lived with her mother. Her father and my father did not come back from the fishing one night; but afterward they washed up to the beach on the big tides, and they held very close to each other.
’The people wondered, because of the hatred between the houses, and the old men shook their heads and said the fight would go on when children were born to her and children to me. They told me this as a boy, till I came to believe, and to look upon Unga as a foe, who was to be the mother of children which were to fight with mine. I thought of these things day by day, and when I grew to a stripling I came to ask why this should be so.
’And they answered, "We do not know, but that in such way your fathers did." And I marveled that those which were to come should fight the battles of those that were gone, and in it I could see no right. But the people said it must be, and I was only a stripling.
’And they said I must hurry, that my blood might be the older and grow strong before hers. This was easy, for I was head man, and the people looked up to me because of the deeds and the laws of my fathers, and the wealth which was mine. Any maiden would come to me, but I found none to my liking. And the old men and the mothers of maidens told me to hurry, for even then were the hunters bidding high to the mother of Unga; and should her children grow strong before mine, mine would surely die.
’Nor did I find a maiden till one night coming back from the fishing. The sunlight was lying, so, low and full in the eyes, the wind free, and the kayaks racing with the white seas. Of a sudden the kayak of Unga came driving past me, and she looked upon me, so, with her black hair flying like a cloud of night and the spray wet on her cheek. As I say, the sunlight was full in the eyes, and I was a stripling; but somehow it was all clear, and I knew it to be the call of kind to kind.
’As she whipped ahead she looked back within the space of two strokes—looked as only the woman Unga could look—and again I knew it as the call of kind. The people shouted as we ripped past the lazy oomiaks and left them far behind. But she was quick at the paddle, and my heart was like the belly of a sail, and I did not gain. The wind freshened, the sea whitened, and, leaping like the seals on the windward breech, we roared down the golden pathway of the sun.’ Naass was crouched half out of his stool, in the attitude of one driving a paddle, as he ran the race anew. Somewhere across the stove he beheld the tossing kayak and the flying hair of Unga. The voice of the wind was in his ears, and its salt beat fresh upon his nostrils.
’But she made the shore, and ran up the sand, laughing, to the house of her mother. And a great thought came to me that night—a thought worthy of him that was chief over all the people of Akatan. So, when the moon was up, I went down to the house of her mother, and looked upon the goods of Yash-Noosh, which were piled by the door—the goods of Yash-Noosh, a strong hunter who had it in mind to be the father of the children of Unga. Other young men had piled their goods there and taken them away again; and each young man had made a pile greater than the one before.
’And I laughed to the moon and the stars, and went to my own house where my wealth was stored. And many trips I made, till my pile was greater by the fingers of one hand than the pile of Yash-Noosh. There were fish, dried in the sun and smoked; and forty hides of the hair seal, and half as many of the fur, and each hide was tied at the mouth and big bellied with oil; and ten skins of bear which I killed in the woods when they came out in the spring. And there were beads and blankets and scarlet cloths, such as I got in trade from the people who lived to the east, and who got them in trade from the people who lived still beyond in the east.
’And I looked upon the pile of Yash-Noosh and laughed, for I was head man in Akatan, and my wealth was greater than the wealth of all my young men, and my fathers had done deeds, and given laws, and put their names for all time in the mouths of the people.
’So, when the morning came, I went down to the beach, casting out of the corner of my eye at the house of the mother of Unga. My offer yet stood untouched.
’And the women smiled, and said sly things one to the other. I wondered, for never had such a price been offered; and that night I added more to the pile, and put beside it a kayak of well-tanned skins which never yet had swam in the sea. But in the day it was yet there, open to the laughter of all men. The mother of Unga was crafty, and I grew angry at the shame in which I stood before my people. So that night I added till it became a great pile, and I hauled up my oomiak, which was of the value of twenty kayaks. And in the morning there was no pile.
’Then made I preparation for the wedding, and the people that lived even to the east came for the food of the feast and the potlatch token. Unga was older than I by the age of four suns in the way we reckoned the years. I was only a stripling; but then I was a chief, and the son of a chief, and it did not matter.
’But a ship shoved her sails above the floor of the ocean, and grew larger with the breath of the wind. From her scuppers she ran clear water, and the men were in haste and worked hard at the pumps. On the bow stood a mighty man, watching the depth of the water and giving commands with a voice of thunder. His eyes were of the pale blue of the deep waters, and his head was maned like that of a sea lion. And his hair was yellow, like the straw of a southern harvest or the manila rope yarns which sailormen plait.
’Of late years we had seen ships from afar, but this was the first to come to the beach of Akatan. The feast was broken, and the women and children fled to the houses, while we men strung our bows and waited with spears in hand. But when the ship’s forefoot smelled the beach the strange men took no notice of us, being busy with their own work. With the falling of the tide they careened the schooner and patched a great hole in her bottom. So the women crept back, and the feast went on.
’When the tide rose, the sea wanderers kedged the schooner to deep water and then came among us. They bore presents and were friendly; so I made room for them, and out of the largeness of my heart gave them tokens such as I gave all the guests, for it was my wedding day, and I was head man in Akatan. And he with the mane of the sea lion was there, so tall and strong that one looked to see the earth shake with the fall of his feet. He looked much and straight at Unga, with his arms folded, so, and stayed till the sun went away and the stars came out. Then he went down to his ship. After that I took Unga by the hand and led her to my own house. And there was singing and great laughter, and the women said sly things, after the manner of women at such times. But we did not care. Then the people left us alone and went home.
’The last noise had not died away when the chief of the sea wanderers came in by the door. And he had with him black bottles, from which we drank and made merry. You see, I was only a stripling, and had lived all my days on the edge of the world. So my blood became as fire, and my heart as light as the froth that flies from the surf to the cliff. Unga sat silent among the skins in the corner, her eyes wide, for she seemed to fear. And he with the mane of the sea lion looked upon her straight and long. Then his men came in with bundles of goods, and he piled before me wealth such as was not in all Akatan. There were guns, both large and small, and powder and shot and shell, and bright axes and knives of steel, and cunning tools, and strange things the like of which I had never seen. When he showed me by sign that it was all mine, I thought him a great man to be so free; but he showed me also that Unga was to go away with him in his ship.
’Do you understand?—that Unga was to go away with him in his ship. The blood of my fathers flamed hot on the sudden, and I made to drive him through with my spear. But the spirit of the bottles had stolen the life from my arm, and he took me by the neck, so, and knocked my head against the wall of the house. And I was made weak like a newborn child, and my legs would no more stand under me.
’Unga screamed, and she laid hold of the things of the house with her hands, till they fell all about us as he dragged her to the door. Then he took her in his great arms, and when she tore at his yellow hair laughed with a sound like that of the big bull seal in the rut.
’I crawled to the beach and called upon my people, but they were afraid. Only Yash-Noosh was a man, and they struck him on the head with an oar, till he lay with his face in the sand and did not move. And they raised the sails to the sound of their songs, and the ship went away on the wind.
’The people said it was good, for there would be no more war of the bloods in Akatan; but I said never a word, waiting till the time of the full moon, when I put fish and oil in my kayak and went away to the east. I saw many islands and many people, and I, who had lived on the edge, saw that the world was very large. I talked by signs; but they had not seen a schooner nor a man with the mane of a sea lion, and they pointed always to the east. And I slept in queer places, and ate odd things, and met strange faces. Many laughed, for they thought me light of head; but sometimes old men turned my face to the light and blessed me, and the eyes of the young women grew soft as they asked me of the strange ship, and Unga, and the men of the sea.
’And in this manner, through rough seas and great storms, I came to Unalaska. There were two schooners there, but neither was the one I sought. So I passed on to the east, with the world growing ever larger, and in the island of Unamok there was no word of the ship, nor in Kadiak, nor in Atognak. And so I came one day to a rocky land, where men dug great holes in the mountain. And there was a schooner, but not my schooner, and men loaded upon it the rocks which they dug. This I thought childish, for all the world was made of rocks; but they gave me food and set me to work. When the schooner was deep in the water, the captain gave me money and told me to go; but I asked which way he went, and he pointed south. I made signs that I would go with him, and he laughed at first, but then, being short of men, took me to help work the ship. So I came to talk after their manner, and to heave on ropes, and to reef the stiff sails in sudden squalls, and to take my turn at the wheel. But it was not strange, for the blood of my fathers was the blood of the men of the sea.
’I had thought it an easy task to find him I sought, once I got among his own people; and when we raised the land one day, and passed between a gateway of the sea to a port, I looked for perhaps as many schooners as there were fingers to my hands. But the ships lay against the wharves for miles, packed like so many little fish; and when I went among them to ask for a man with the mane of a sea lion, they laughed, and answered me in the tongues of many peoples. And I found that they hailed from the uttermost parts of the earth.
’And I went into the city to look upon the face of every man. But they were like the cod when they run thick on the banks, and I could not count them. And the noise smote upon me till I could not hear, and my head was dizzy with much movement. So I went on and on, through the lands which sang in the warm sunshine; where the harvests lay rich on the plains; and where great cities were fat with men that lived like women, with false words in their mouths and their hearts black with the lust of gold. And all the while my people of Akatan hunted and fished, and were happy in the thought that the world was small.
’But the look in the eyes of Unga coming home from the fishing was with me always, and I knew I would find her when the time was met. She walked down quiet lanes in the dusk of the evening, or led me chases across the thick fields wet with the morning dew, and there was a promise in her eyes such as only the woman Unga could give.
’So I wandered through a thousand cities. Some were gentle and gave me food, and others laughed, and still others cursed; but I kept my tongue between my teeth, and went strange ways and saw strange sights. Sometimes I, who was a chief and the son of a chief, toiled for men—men rough of speech and hard as iron, who wrung gold from the sweat and sorrow of their fellow men. Yet no word did I get of my quest till I came back to the sea like a homing seal to the rookeries.
’But this was at another port, in another country which lay to the north. And there I heard dim tales of the yellow-haired sea wanderer, and I learned that he was a hunter of seals, and that even then he was abroad on the ocean.
’So I shipped on a seal schooner with the lazy Siwashes, and followed his trackless trail to the north where the hunt was then warm. And we were away weary months, and spoke many of the fleet, and heard much of the wild doings of him I sought; but never once did we raise him above the sea. We went north, even to the Pribilofs, and killed the seals in herds on the beach, and brought their warm bodies aboard till our scuppers ran grease and blood and no man could stand upon the deck. Then were we chased by a ship of slow steam, which fired upon us with great guns. But we put sail till the sea was over our decks and washed them clean, and lost ourselves in a fog.
’It is said, at this time, while we fled with fear at our hearts, that the yellow-haired sea wanderer put in to the Pribilofs, right to the factory, and while the part of his men held the servants of the company, the rest loaded ten thousand green skins from the salt houses. I say it is said, but I believe; for in the voyages I made on the coast with never a meeting the northern seas rang with his wildness and daring, till the three nations which have lands there sought him with their ships.
’And I heard of Unga, for the captains sang loud in her praise, and she was always with him. She had learned the ways of his people, they said, and was happy. But I knew better—knew that her heart harked back to her own people by the yellow beach of Akatan.
’So, after a long time, I went back to the port which is by a gateway of the sea, and there I learned that he had gone across the girth of the great ocean to hunt for the seal to the east of the warm land which runs south from the Russian seas.
’And I, who was become a sailorman, shipped with men of his own race, and went after him in the hunt of the seal. And there were few ships off that new land; but we hung on the flank of the seal pack and harried it north through all the spring of the year. And when the cows were heavy with pup and crossed the Russian line, our men grumbled and were afraid. For there was much fog, and every day men were lost in the boats. They would not work, so the captain turned the ship back toward the way it came. But I knew the yellow-haired sea wanderer was unafraid, and would hang by the pack, even to the Russian Isles, where few men go. So I took a boat, in the black of night, when the lookout dozed on the fo’c’slehead, and went alone to the warm, long land. And I journeyed south to meet the men by Yeddo Bay, who are wild and unafraid. And the Yoshiwara girls were small, and bright like steel, and good to look upon; but I could not stop, for I knew that Unga rolled on the tossing floor by the rookeries of the north.
’The men by Yeddo Bay had met from the ends of the earth, and had neither gods nor homes, sailing under the flag of the Japanese. And with them I went to the rich beaches of Copper Island, where our salt piles became high with skins.
’And in that silent sea we saw no man till we were ready to come away. Then one day the fog lifted on the edge of a heavy wind, and there jammed down upon us a schooner, with close in her wake the cloudy funnels of a Russian man-of-war. We fled away on the beam of the wind, with the schooner jamming still closer and plunging ahead three feet to our two. And upon her poop was the man with the mane of the sea lion, pressing the rails under with the canvas and laughing in his strength of life. And Unga was there—I knew her on the moment—but he sent her below when the cannons began to talk across the sea.
As I say, with three feet to our two, till we saw the rudder lift green at every jump—and I swinging on to the wheel and cursing, with my back to the Russian shot. For we knew he had it in mind to run before us, that he might get away while we were caught. And they knocked our masts out of us till we dragged into the wind like a wounded gull; but he went on over the edge of the sky line—he and Unga.
’What could we? The fresh hides spoke for themselves. So they took us to a Russian port, and after that to a lone country, where they set us to work in the mines to dig salt. And some died, and—and some did not die.’ Naass swept the blanket from his shoulders, disclosing the gnarled and twisted flesh, marked with the unmistakable striations of the knout. Prince hastily covered him, for it was not nice to look upon.
’We were there a weary time and sometimes men got away to the south, but they always came back. So, when we who hailed from Yeddo Bay rose in the night and took the guns from the guards, we went to the north. And the land was very large, with plains, soggy with water, and great forests. And the cold came, with much snow on the ground, and no man knew the way. Weary months we journeyed through the endless forest—I do not remember, now, for there was little food and often we lay down to die. But at last we came to the cold sea, and but three were left to look upon it. One had shipped from Yeddo as captain, and he knew in his head the lay of the great lands, and of the place where men may cross from one to the other on the ice. And he led us—I do not know, it was so long—till there were but two. When we came to that place we found five of the strange people which live in that country, and they had dogs and skins, and we were very poor. We fought in the snow till they died, and the captain died, and the dogs and skins were mine. Then I crossed on the ice, which was broken, and once I drifted till a gale from the west put me upon the shore. And after that, Golovin Bay, Pastilik, and the priest. Then south, south, to the warm sunlands where first I wandered.
’But the sea was no longer fruitful, and those who went upon it after the seal went to little profit and great risk. The fleets scattered, and the captains and the men had no word of those I sought. So I turned away from the ocean which never rests, and went among the lands, where the trees, the houses, and the mountains sit always in one place and do not move. I journeyed far, and came to learn many things, even to the way of reading and writing from books. It was well I should do this, for it came upon me that Unga must know these things, and that someday, when the time was met—we—you understand, when the time was met.
’So I drifted, like those little fish which raise a sail to the wind but cannot steer. But my eyes and my ears were open always, and I went among men who traveled much, for I knew they had but to see those I sought to remember. At last there came a man, fresh from the mountains, with pieces of rock in which the free gold stood to the size of peas, and he had heard, he had met, he knew them. They were rich, he said, and lived in the place where they drew the gold from the ground.
’It was in a wild country, and very far away; but in time I came to the camp, hidden between the mountains, where men worked night and day, out of the sight of the sun. Yet the time was not come. I listened to the talk of the people. He had gone away—they had gone away—to England, it was said, in the matter of bringing men with much money together to form companies. I saw the house they had lived in; more like a palace, such as one sees in the old countries. In the nighttime I crept in through a window that I might see in what manner he treated her. I went from room to room, and in such way thought kings and queens must live, it was all so very good. And they all said he treated her like a queen, and many marveled as to what breed of woman she was for there was other blood in her veins, and she was different from the women of Akatan, and no one knew her for what she was. Aye, she was a queen; but I was a chief, and the son of a chief, and I had paid for her an untold price of skin and boat and bead.
’But why so many words? I was a sailorman, and knew the way of the ships on the seas. I followed to England, and then to other countries. Sometimes I heard of them by word of mouth, sometimes I read of them in the papers; yet never once could I come by them, for they had much money, and traveled fast, while I was a poor man. Then came trouble upon them, and their wealth slipped away one day like a curl of smoke. The papers were full of it at the time; but after that nothing was said, and I knew they had gone back where more gold could be got from the ground.
’They had dropped out of the world, being now poor, and so I wandered from camp to camp, even north to the Kootenay country, where I picked up the cold scent. They had come and gone, some said this way, and some that, and still others that they had gone to the country of the Yukon. And I went this way, and I went that, ever journeying from place to place, till it seemed I must grow weary of the world which was so large. But in the Kootenay I traveled a bad trail, and a long trail, with a breed of the Northwest, who saw fit to die when the famine pinched. He had been to the Yukon by an unknown way over the mountains, and when he knew his time was near gave me the map and the secret of a place where he swore by his gods there was much gold.
’After that all the world began to flock into the north. I was a poor man; I sold myself to be a driver of dogs. The rest you know. I met him and her in Dawson.
’She did not know me, for I was only a stripling, and her life had been large, so she had no time to remember the one who had paid for her an untold price.
’So? You bought me from my term of service. I went back to bring things about in my own way, for I had waited long, and now that I had my hand upon him was in no hurry.
’As I say, I had it in mind to do my own way, for I read back in my life, through all I had seen and suffered, and remembered the cold and hunger of the endless forest by the Russian seas. As you know, I led him into the east—him and Unga—into the east where many have gone and few returned. I led them to the spot where the bones and the curses of men lie with the gold which they may not have.
’The way was long and the trail unpacked. Our dogs were many and ate much; nor could our sleds carry till the break of spring. We must come back before the river ran free. So here and there we cached grub, that our sleds might be lightened and there be no chance of famine on the back trip. At the McQuestion there were three men, and near them we built a cache, as also did we at the Mayo, where was a hunting camp of a dozen Pellys which had crossed the divide from the south.
’After that, as we went on into the east, we saw no men; only the sleeping river, the moveless forest, and the White Silence of the North. As I say, the way was long and the trail unpacked. Sometimes, in a day’s toil, we made no more than eight miles, or ten, and at night we slept like dead men. And never once did they dream that I was Naass, head man of Akatan, the righter of wrongs.
’We now made smaller caches, and in the nighttime it was a small matter to go back on the trail we had broken and change them in such way that one might deem the wolverines the thieves. Again there be places where there is a fall to the river, and the water is unruly, and the ice makes above and is eaten away beneath.
’In such a spot the sled I drove broke through, and the dogs; and to him and Unga it was ill luck, but no more. And there was much grub on that sled, and the dogs the strongest.
’But he laughed, for he was strong of life, and gave the dogs that were left little grub till we cut them from the harnesses one by one and fed them to their mates. We would go home light, he said, traveling and eating from cache to cache, with neither dogs nor sleds; which was true, for our grub was very short, and the last dog died in the traces the night we came to the gold and the bones and the curses of men.
’To reach that place—and the map spoke true—in the heart of the great mountains, we cut ice steps against the wall of a divide. One looked for a valley beyond, but there was no valley; the snow spread away, level as the great harvest plains, and here and there about us mighty mountains shoved their white heads among the stars. And midway on that strange plain which should have been a valley the earth and the snow fell away, straight down toward the heart of the world.
’Had we not been sailormen our heads would have swung round with the sight, but we stood on the dizzy edge that we might see a way to get down. And on one side, and one side only, the wall had fallen away till it was like the slope of the decks in a topsail breeze. I do not know why this thing should be so, but it was so. "It is the mouth of hell," he said; "let us go down." And we went down.
’And on the bottom there was a cabin, built by some man, of logs which he had cast down from above. It was a very old cabin, for men had died there alone at different times, and on pieces of birch bark which were there we read their last words and their curses.
’One had died of scurvy; another’s partner had robbed him of his last grub and powder and stolen away; a third had been mauled by a baldface grizzly; a fourth had hunted for game and starved—and so it went, and they had been loath to leave the gold, and had died by the side of it in one way or another. And the worthless gold they had gathered yellowed the floor of the cabin like in a dream.
’But his soul was steady, and his head clear, this man I had led thus far. "We have nothing to eat," he said, "and we will only look upon this gold, and see whence it comes and how much there be. Then we will go away quick, before it gets into our eyes and steals away our judgment. And in this way we may return in the end, with more grub, and possess it all." So we looked upon the great vein, which cut the wall of the pit as a true vein should, and we measured it, and traced it from above and below, and drove the stakes of the claims and blazed the trees in token of our rights. Then, our knees shaking with lack of food, and a sickness in our bellies, and our hearts chugging close to our mouths, we climbed the mighty wall for the last time and turned our faces to the back trip.
’The last stretch we dragged Unga between us, and we fell often, but in the end we made the cache. And lo, there was no grub. It was well done, for he thought it the wolverines, and damned them and his gods in one breath. But Unga was brave, and smiled, and put her hand in his, till I turned away that I might hold myself. "We will rest by the fire," she said, "till morning, and we will gather strength from our moccasins." So we cut the tops of our moccasins in strips, and boiled them half of the night, that we might chew them and swallow them. And in the morning we talked of our chance. The next cache was five days’ journey; we could not make it. We must find game.
’"We will go forth and hunt," he said.
’"Yes," said I, "we will go forth and hunt." ’And he ruled that Unga stay by the fire and save her strength. And we went forth, he in quest of the moose and I to the cache I had changed. But I ate little, so they might not see in me much strength. And in the night he fell many times as he drew into camp. And I, too, made to suffer great weakness, stumbling over my snowshoes as though each step might be my last. And we gathered strength from our moccasins.
’He was a great man. His soul lifted his body to the last; nor did he cry aloud, save for the sake of Unga. On the second day I followed him, that I might not miss the end. And he lay down to rest often. That night he was near gone; but in the morning he swore weakly and went forth again. He was like a drunken man, and I looked many times for him to give up, but his was the strength of the strong, and his soul the soul of a giant, for he lifted his body through all the weary day. And he shot two ptarmigan, but would not eat them. He needed no fire; they meant life; but his thought was for Unga, and he turned toward camp.
’He no longer walked, but crawled on hand and knee through the snow. I came to him, and read death in his eyes. Even then it was not too late to eat of the ptarmigan. He cast away his rifle and carried the birds in his mouth like a dog. I walked by his side, upright. And he looked at me during the moments he rested, and wondered that I was so strong. I could see it, though he no longer spoke; and when his lips moved, they moved without sound.
’As I say, he was a great man, and my heart spoke for softness; but I read back in my life, and remembered the cold and hunger of the endless forest by the Russian seas. Besides, Unga was mine, and I had paid for her an untold price of skin and boat and bead.
’And in this manner we came through the white forest, with the silence heavy upon us like a damp sea mist. And the ghosts of the past were in the air and all about us; and I saw the yellow beach of Akatan, and the kayaks racing home from the fishing, and the houses on the rim of the forest. And the men who had made themselves chiefs were there, the lawgivers whose blood I bore and whose blood I had wedded in Unga. Aye, and Yash-Noosh walked with me, the wet sand in his hair, and his war spear, broken as he fell upon it, still in his hand. And I knew the time was meet, and saw in the eyes of Unga the promise.
’As I say, we came thus through the forest, till the smell of the camp smoke was in our nostrils. And I bent above him, and tore the ptarmigan from his teeth.
’He turned on his side and rested, the wonder mounting in his eyes, and the hand which was under slipping slow toward the knife at his hip. But I took it from him, smiling close in his face. Even then he did not understand. So I made to drink from black bottles, and to build high upon the snow a pile—of goods, and to live again the things which had happened on the night of my marriage. I spoke no word, but he understood. Yet was he unafraid. There was a sneer to his lips, and cold anger, and he gathered new strength with the knowledge. It was not far, but the snow was deep, and he dragged himself very slow.
’Once he lay so long I turned him over and gazed into his eyes. And sometimes he looked forth, and sometimes death. And when I loosed him he struggled on again. In this way we came to the fire. Unga was at his side on the instant. His lips moved without sound; then he pointed at me, that Unga might understand. And after that he lay in the snow, very still, for a long while. Even now is he there in the snow.
’I said no word till I had cooked the ptarmigan. Then I spoke to her, in her own tongue, which she had not heard in many years. She straightened herself, so, and her eyes were wonder-wide, and she asked who I was, and where I had learned that speech.
’"I am Naass," I said.
’"You?" she said. "You?" And she crept close that she might look upon me.
’"Yes," I answered; "I am Naass, head man of Akatan, the last of the blood, as you are the last of the blood." ’And she laughed. By all the things I have seen and the deeds I have done may I never hear such a laugh again. It put the chill to my soul, sitting there in the White Silence, alone with death and this woman who laughed.
’"Come!" I said, for I thought she wandered. "Eat of the food and let us be gone. It is a far fetch from here to Akatan." ’But she shoved her face in his yellow mane, and laughed till it seemed the heavens must fall about our ears. I had thought she would be overjoyed at the sight of me, and eager to go back to the memory of old times, but this seemed a strange form to take.
’"Come!" I cried, taking her strong by the hand. "The way is long and dark. Let us hurry!" "Where?" she asked, sitting up, and ceasing from her strange mirth.
’"To Akatan," I answered, intent on the light to grow on her face at the thought. But it became like his, with a sneer to the lips, and cold anger.
’"Yes," she said; "we will go, hand in hand, to Akatan, you and I. And we will live in the dirty huts, and eat of the fish and oil, and bring forth a spawn—a spawn to be proud of all the days of our life. We will forget the world and be happy, very happy. It is good, most good. Come! Let us hurry. Let us go back to Akatan." And she ran her hand through his yellow hair, and smiled in a way which was not good. And there was no promise in her eyes.
’I sat silent, and marveled at the strangeness of woman. I went back to the night when he dragged her from me and she screamed and tore at his hair—at his hair which now she played with and would not leave. Then I remembered the price and the long years of waiting; and I gripped her close, and dragged her away as he had done. And she held back, even as on that night, and fought like a she-cat for its whelp. And when the fire was between us and the man. I loosed her, and she sat and listened. And I told her of all that lay between, of all that had happened to me on strange seas, of all that I had done in strange lands; of my weary quest, and the hungry years, and the promise which had been mine from the first. Aye, I told all, even to what had passed that day between the man and me, and in the days yet young. And as I spoke I saw the promise grow in her eyes, full and large like the break of dawn. And I read pity there, the tenderness of woman, the love, the heart and the soul of Unga. And I was a stripling again, for the look was the look of Unga as she ran up the beach, laughing, to the home of her mother. The stern unrest was gone, and the hunger, and the weary waiting.
’The time was met. I felt the call of her breast, and it seemed there I must pillow my head and forget. She opened her arms to me, and I came against her. Then, sudden, the hate flamed in her eye, her hand was at my hip. And once, twice, she passed the knife.
’"Dog!" she sneered, as she flung me into the snow. "Swine!" And then she laughed till the silence cracked, and went back to her dead.
’As I say, once she passed the knife, and twice; but she was weak with hunger, and it was not meant that I should die. Yet was I minded to stay in that place, and to close my eyes in the last long sleep with those whose lives had crossed with mine and led my feet on unknown trails. But there lay a debt upon me which would not let me rest.
’And the way was long, the cold bitter, and there was little grub. The Pellys had found no moose, and had robbed my cache. And so had the three white men, but they lay thin and dead in their cabins as I passed. After that I do not remember, till I came here, and found food and fire—much fire.’ As he finished, he crouched closely, even jealously, over the stove. For a long while the slush-lamp shadows played tragedies upon the wall.
’But Unga!’ cried Prince, the vision still strong upon him.
’Unga? She would not eat of the ptarmigan. She lay with her arms about his neck, her face deep in his yellow hair. I drew the fire close, that she might not feel the frost, but she crept to the other side. And I built a fire there; yet it was little good, for she would not eat. And in this manner they still lie up there in the snow.’
’And you?’ asked Malemute Kid.
’I do not know; but Akatan is small, and I have little wish to go back and live on the edge of the world. Yet is there small use in life. I can go to Constantine, and he will put irons upon me, and one day they will tie a piece of rope, so, and I will sleep good. Yet—no; I do not know.’
’But, Kid,’ protested Prince, ’this is murder!’
’Hush!’ commanded Malemute Kid. ’There be things greater than our wisdom, beyond our justice. The right and the wrong of this we cannot say, and it is not for us to judge.’ Naass drew yet closer to the fire. There was a great silence, and in each man’s eyes many pictures came and went.


4. THANKSGIVING ON SLAV CREEK

SHE woke up with a start. Her husband was speaking in a low voice, insistently.
"Come," he added. "Get up. Get up, Nella. Quick. Get up."
"But I don’t want to get up," she objected, striving vainly to lapse back into the comfortable drowse.
"But I say you must. And don’t make any noise, but come along. Hurry! Oh, do hurry! Our fortune’s made if you will only hurry!"
Nella Tichborne was now wide awake, what with the suppressed excitement in his whispers, and she thrust her feet out with a shiver upon the cold cabin floor.
"What is it?" she asked, petulantly. "What is it?"
"’Ssh!" he sibilated. "Don’t make a noise. Mum’s the word. Dress at once."
"But what is it?"
"Be quiet, if you love me, and dress."
"Now, George, I won’t move an inch until you tell me." She capped the ultimatum by sitting back on the edge of the bunk.
The man groaned. "Oh, the time, the precious time, you’re losing! Didn’t I tell you our fortune was made? Do hurry! It’s a tip. Nobody knows. A secret. There’s a stampede on. ’Ssh! Put on warm clothes. It’s the coldest yet. The frost is sixty-five below. I’m going to call Ikeesh. She would like to be in on it, I know. And oh, Nella—"
"Yes?"
"Do be quick."
He stepped across to the other end of the cabin where a blanket partitioned the room into two, and called Ikeesh. The Indian woman was already awake. Her husband was up on his Bonanza claim, though this was her cabin, in which she was entertaining George Tichborne and Nella.
"What um matter, Tichborne?" she asked. "Um Nella sick?"
"No, no. Stampede. Rich creek. Plenty gold. Hurry up and dress."
"What um time?"
"Twelve o’clock. Midnight. Don’t make any noise."
Five minutes later the cabin door opened and they passed out.
"Ssh!" he cautioned.
"Oh, George! Have you got the fryin-pan?"
"Yes."
"And the gold-pan? And the axe?"
"Yes, yes, Nella. And did you remember the baking-powder?"
They crunched rapidly through the snow, down the hill into sleeping Dawson. Light stampeding packs were on their backs, containing a fur robe each, and the barest necessaries for a camp in the polar frost. But Dawson was not sleeping, after all. Cabin windows were flashing into light, and ever and anon the mumble of voices drifted to them through the darkness. The dogs were beginning to howl and the doors to slam. By the time they reached the Barracks the whole town was aroar behind them. Here the trail dropped abruptly over the bank and crossed the packed ice of the Yukon to the farther shore.
George Tichborne swore softly and to himself; but aloud: "It’s leaked out somehow, and everybody’s in it. Sure to be a big stampede now. But hurry up; they’re all behind us, and we’ll make it yet!"
"George!" A frightened wail punctured the still air and died away as Nella slipped on the icy footing and shot down the twenty-foot embankment into the pit of darkness beneath.
"Nella! Nella! Where are you?" He was falling over the great ice-blocks and groping his way to her as best he could. "Are you hurt? Where are you?"
"All right! Coming!" she answered, cheerily. "Only the snow’s all down my back and melting. Brrr!"
Hardly were the trio reunited when two black forms plumped into their midst from above. These were followed by others, some arriving decorously, but the majority scorning conventional locomotion and peregrinating along on every other portion of their anatomies but their feet. They also had stampeding packs on their backs and a great haste in their hearts.
"Where’s the trail?" the cry went up. And thereat all fell to seeking for the path across the river.
At last George Tichborne found it, and, with Nella and Ikeesh, led the way. But in the darkness they lost it repeatedly, slipping, stumbling, and falling over the wildly piled ice. Finally, in desperation, he lighted a candle, and as there was not a breath of wind, the way was easier. Nella looked back at the fifty stampeders behind and laughed half-hysterically. Her husband gritted his teeth and plunged savagely on.
"At least we’re at the head of the bunch, the very first," he whispered to her, as they swung south on the smoother trail which ran along under the shadow of the bluffs.
But just then a flaming ribbon rose athwart the sky, spilling pulsating fire over the face of the night. The trail ahead lighted up, and as far as they could see it was cumbered with shadowy forms, all toiling in the one direction. And now those behind began to pass them, one by one, straining mightily with the endeavor.
"Oh, Nella! Hurry!" He seized her hand and strove to drag her along. "It’s the one chance we’ve been waiting for so long. Think of it if we fail!"
"Oh! Oh!" She gasped and tottered. "We will never make it! No, never!"
There was a sharp pain in her side, and she was dizzy with the unwonted speed. Ikeesh grunted encouragement and took her other hand. But none the less the vague forms from the rear continued steadily to overtake and pass them.
Hours which were as centuries passed. The night seemed without end to Nella. Gradually her consciousness seemed to leave her, her whole soul narrowing down to the one mechanical function of walking. Ever lifting, ever falling, and ever lifting anon, her limbs seemed to have become great pendulums of time. And before and behind glimmered two eternities, ever lifting, ever falling, she pulsed in vast rhythmical movement. She was no longer Nella Tichborne, a woman, but a rhythm—that was all, a rhythm. Sometimes the voices of Ikeesh and her husband came to her faintly; but in her semiconscious condition she really did not hear. Tomorrow there would be no record of the sounds; for rhythm is not receptive to sound. The stars paled and dimmed, but she did heed; the aurora-borealis shrouded its fires, and the darkness which is of the dawn fell upon the earth, but she did not know.
But ere the darkness fell, Ikeesh drew up to Tichborne and pointed to the loom of the mountains above the west shore of the river.
"Um Swede Creek?" she asked, laconically, pointing whither the trail led.
"No." he replied. "Slav Creek."
"Um no Slav Creek. Slav Creek—" She turned and pointed into the darkness five degrees to the south. "Um Slav Creek."
He came suddenly to a stop. Nella persisted in walking on, heedless of his outcries, till he ran after her and forced her to stop. She was obedient, but as a rhythm she no longer existed. The two eternities, which it was her task to hold apart, had rushed together, and she was not. She wandered off to the old home down in the States, and sat under the great trees, and joyed in the warm sunshine—the old home, the old mortgaged home, which had driven them poleward after the yellow gold! The old home which it was their one aim to redeem! But she forgot all this, and laughed, and babbled, and poured the sunshine back and forth from hand to hand. How warm it was! Was there ever the like?
Tichborne conferred with Ikeesh. She stolidly reiterated that Slav Creek lay farther to the south that he believed.
"Somebody went astray in the dark," he exulted, "and the rest followed his trail like sheep. Come on! Come on! We’ll be in at the finish yet, and ahead of no end of those that passed us!"
He cut across a five-mile flat into the southwest, and two hours later, with gray dawn creeping over the landscape, entered the wood-hidden mouth of Slav Creek. The fresh signs of the stampede were so many and so various that he knew Ikeesh had spoken true, though he feared that the mistake had occurred too late in the night to have led enough on the wild-goose chase up Swede Creek.
"Oh, Nella," he called to his wife, stumbling blindly at his heels, "it’s all right. We are sure to get a claim. Day has come. Look about you. This is Slav Creek, and behold, the day is Thanksgiving day!"
She turned a blank face upon him. "Yes, the mortgage shall be lifted, principal and interest, I promise you—George and I both promise you. Even now, to-morrow, do we go north to lift the mortgage."
Tichborne glanced helplessly st Ikeesh.
"Um much tired," she commented, dryly. "But um be all right bime-by. Bime-by make camp, um be all right."
They hastened on for five miles more, when they came to the first white-blazed trees and fresh-planted stakes of the newly located claims. Hour after hour they travelled up the frozen bed of the creek, and still, stake to stake, the claims stretched in an unbroken line. Even the man and the Indian woman grew weary and panted. Ikeesh kept a jealousy eye on Nella’s face, and now and again, when it turned white, rubbed with snow the tip of the nose and stretched skin of the cheek-bones. They passed many men—the successful ones—rolled in their furs by the side of the trail, or cooking and warming themselves over crackling fires of dry spruce. At eleven o’clock the sun rose in the southeast; but though there was no warmth in its rays, it gave a cheerier aspect to things.
"How much farther do the stakes run?" Tichborne asked of a man limping down the trail.
"I staked 179," the man answered, stopping to pound the aching muscles of his legs. "But there were about ten more behind me; so I guess they’ve run it up to 189."
"And this is 107," Tichborne calculated aloud. "Five-hundred-foot claims—ten to the mile—about eight miles yet, eh?"
"Reckon you’ve about hit it on the head," the other assured him. "But you’d better hurry. Half the stampede went wrong up Swede Creek—that’s the next one to this—but they’re onto themselves now, and crossing the divide and tapping Slav Creek in the hundred-and-eighties.
"But they’re having a terrible time," he shouted back as he went on his way. "I met the first one that succeeded in crossing over. He said the trail was lined with people tee-totally played out, and that he knew himself of five frozen to death on the divide."
Frozen to death! The phrase served to rouse Nella from her maze of memory visions. Her glimmering senses came back to her, and she opened her eyes with a start. The interminable night was gone—spent where or how she could not say—and day broke upon her with a blinding flash. She looked about. Everything was strange and unreal. Both her companions were limping pitifully, and she was aware of a great dull pain in her own limbs. Her husband turned his head, and she saw his face and beard a mass of bristling ice. Ikeesh’s mouth was likewise matted with frost, and her brows and lashes long and white. And Nella felt the weight on her own lashes, and the difficulty of drawing them apart from each other whenever she closed her eyes. The doubly excessive demand of the toil and the frost had burned up all the fuel of her body, and she felt cold and faint with hunger. This latter she found worse than the agony of the overused muscles; for a quivering nausea came upon her, and her knees trembled and knocked together with weakness.
Occasionally Tichborne made excursions to one side or the other in search of the claimstakes, which were not always posted in the creek-bed. At such times Nella dropped down to rest, but Ikeesh dragged her afoot again, and shook her, and struck her harsh blows upon her body. For Ikeesh knew the way of the cold, and that a five-minute rest without fire meant death. So Nella had lapses and cruel awakenings till the whole thing seemed a hideous nightmare. Sometimes the trees became gibbering shades, and Slav Creek turned to an Inferno, with her husband as Virgil, and leading her from circle to circle of the damned. But at other times, when she was dimly conscious, the memory of the old home was strong upon her, and the mortgage nerved her on.
A long, long time afterward—ages afterward, it seemed—she heard George cry aloud joyfully, and looking at him as though from a great distance, she saw him slashing the bark from a standing tree, and writing on the white surface with a lead-pencil. At last! She sank down into the snow, but Ikeesh struck her a stinging blow across the mouth. Nella came back angrily to her feet, but Ikeesh pushed her away and set her to work gathering dry wood.
Again came a long lapse, during which she toiled mechanically and unknowing; and when she next found herself she was in the furs by a big fire, and Ikeesh was stirring a batter of flour and water and boiling coffee. To her surprise, Nella felt much better after the rest, and was able to look about her. George ran up with a gold-pan of gravel which he had got from the creek bottom through an air-hole, and warmed his hands by the fire. When he had panned it out he brought the prospect over to her. The streak of black sand on the bottom was specked with yellow grains of glistening gold, and there were several small nuggets besides. He leaped up and down and about like a boy, for all his weary body.
"We’ve struck it at last, Nella!" he cried. "The home is safe! If that is a surface indication, what must it be on bed-rock?"
"Tell you what—"
They turned their heads, startled. A man had crawled up to the fire unobserved in their excitement.
"Tell you what," he glowed, "it’s the richest creek in Alaska and the Northwest. Sure! He sat down uninvited, and tried to unfasten his ice-bound moccasins. "Say, I broke through the ice up here a piece and wet my feet. I kind of think they’re freezing."
Ikeesh stopped from her cooking, and Tichborne lending a hand, they cut off the newcomer’s moccasins and socks and rubbed his white feet till the glow of life returned.
"Tell you what," the sufferer went on, unconcernedly, while they worked over him, "judging from indications, you people are located on the richest run of the creek. Sure! But I got in on it; you betcher life I did! Got lost on Swede Creek, too, and hit across the divide. Say! No end of frozen men on the trail. But I got in on it, tell you what!"
"A true Thanksgiving, Nella."
George Tichborne passed her a tin plate of flapjacks swimming in bacon grease and a great mug of piping black coffee. She seized his hand impulsively and pressed it, and her eyes grew luminously soft. . . .
"Tell you what—" she heard the newcomer begin; but a vision of the old home, warm in the sunshine, came into her eyes, and she dropped off to sleep without hearing "what."


5. THE SUNLANDERS

Mandell is an obscure village on the rim of the polar sea. It is not large, and the people are peaceable, more peaceable even than those of the adjacent tribes. There are few men in Mandell, and many women; wherefore a wholesome and necessary polygamy is in practice; the women bear children with ardor, and the birth of a man-child is hailed with acclamation. Then there is Aab-Waak, whose head rests always on one shoulder, as though at some time the neck had become very tired and refused forevermore its wonted duty.

The cause of all these things,—the peaceableness, and the polygamy, and the tired neck of Aab-Waak,—goes back among the years to the time when the schooner Search dropped anchor in Mandell Bay, and when Tyee, chief man of the tribe, conceived a scheme of sudden wealth. To this day the story of things that happened is remembered and spoken of with bated breath by the people of Mandell, who are cousins to the Hungry Folk who live in the west. Children draw closer when the tale is told, and marvel sagely to themselves at the madness of those who might have been their forebears had they not provoked the Sunlanders and come to bitter ends.

It began to happen when six men came ashore from the Search, with heavy outfits, as though they had come to stay, and quartered themselves in Neegah’s igloo. Not but that they paid well in flour and sugar for the lodging, but Neegah was aggrieved because Mesahchie, his daughter, elected to cast her fortunes and seek food and blanket with Bill-Man, who was leader of the party of white men.

"She is worth a price," Neegah complained to the gathering by the council-fire, when the six white men were asleep. "She is worth a price, for we have more men than women, and the men be bidding high. The hunter Ounenk offered me a kayak, new-made, and a gun which he got in trade from the Hungry Folk. This was I offered, and behold, now she is gone and I have nothing!"

"I, too, did bid for Mesahchie," grumbled a voice, in tones not altogether joyless, and Peelo shoved his broad-cheeked, jovial face for a moment into the light.

"Thou, too," Neegah affirmed. "And there were others. Why is there such a restlessness upon the Sunlanders?" he demanded petulantly. "Why do they not stay at home? The Snow People do not wander to the lands of the Sunlanders."

"Better were it to ask why they come," cried a voice from the darkness, and Aab-Waak pushed his way to the front.

"Ay! Why they come!" clamored many voices, and Aab-Waak waved his hand for silence.

"Men do not dig in the ground for nothing," he began. "And I have it in mind of the Whale People, who are likewise Sunlanders, and who lost their ship in the ice. You all remember the Whale People, who came to us in their broken boats, and who went away into the south with dogs and sleds when the frost arrived and snow covered the land. And you remember, while they waited for the frost, that one man of them dug in the ground, and then two men and three, and then all men of them, with great excitement and much disturbance. What they dug out of the ground we do not know, for they drove us away so we could not see. But afterward, when they were gone, we looked and found nothing. Yet there be much ground and they did not dig it all."

"Ay, Aab-Waak! Ay!" cried the people in admiration.

"Wherefore I have it in mind," he concluded, "that one Sunlander tells another, and that these Sunlanders have been so told and are come to dig in the ground."

"But how can it be that Bill-Man speaks our tongue?" demanded a little weazened old hunter,—"Bill-Man, upon whom never before our eyes have rested?"

"Bill-Man has been other times in the Snow Lands," Aab-Waak answered, "else would he not speak the speech of the Bear People, which is like the speech of the Hungry Folk, which is very like the speech of the Mandells. For there have been many Sunlanders among the Bear People, few among the Hungry Folk, and none at all among the Mandells, save the Whale People and those who sleep now in the igloo of Neegah."

"Their sugar is very good," Neegah commented, "and their flour."

"They have great wealth," Ounenk added. "Yesterday I was to their ship, and beheld most cunning tools of iron, and knives, and guns, and flour, and sugar, and strange foods without end."

"It is so, brothers!" Tyee stood up and exulted inwardly at the respect and silence his people accorded him. "They be very rich, these Sunlanders. Also, they be fools. For behold! They come among us boldly, blindly, and without thought for all of their great wealth. Even now they snore, and we are many and unafraid."

"Mayhap they, too, are unafraid, being great fighters," the weazened little old hunter objected.

But Tyee scowled upon him. "Nay, it would not seem so. They live to the south, under the path of the sun, and are soft as their dogs are soft. You remember the dog of the Whale People? Our dogs ate him the second day, for he was soft and could not fight. The sun is warm and life easy in the Sun Lands, and the men are as women, and the women as children."

Heads nodded in approval, and the women craned their necks to listen.

"It is said they are good to their women, who do little work," tittered Likeeta, a broad-hipped, healthy young woman, daughter to Tyee himself.

"Thou wouldst follow the feet of Mesahchie, eh?" he cried angrily. Then he turned swiftly to the tribesmen. "Look you, brothers, this is the way of the Sunlanders! They have eyes for our women, and take them one by one. As Mesahchie has gone, cheating Neegah of her price, so will Likeeta go, so will they all go, and we be cheated. I have talked with a hunter from the Bear People, and I know. There be Hungry Folk among us; let them speak if my words be true."

The six hunters of the Hungry Folk attested the truth and fell each to telling his neighbor of the Sunlanders and their ways. There were mutterings from the younger men, who had wives to seek, and from the older men, who had daughters to fetch prices, and a low hum of rage rose higher and clearer.

"They are very rich, and have cunning tools of iron, and knives, and guns without end," Tyee suggested craftily, his dream of sudden wealth beginning to take shape.

"I shall take the gun of Bill-Man for myself," Aab-Waak suddenly proclaimed.

"Nay, it shall be mine!" shouted Neegah; "for there is the price of Mesahchie to be reckoned."

"Peace! O brothers!" Tyee swept the assembly with his hands. "Let the women and children go to their igloos. This is the talk of men; let it be for the ears of men."

"There be guns in plenty for all," he said when the women had unwillingly withdrawn. "I doubt not there will be two guns for each man, without thought of the flour and sugar and other things. And it is easy. The six Sunlanders in Neegah’s igloo will we kill to-night while they sleep. To-morrow will we go in peace to the ship to trade, and there, when the time favors, kill all their brothers. And to-morrow night there shall be feasting and merriment and division of wealth. And the least man shall possess more than did ever the greatest before. Is it wise, that which I have spoken, brothers?"

A low growl of approval answered him, and preparation for the attack was begun. The six Hungry Folk, as became members of a wealthier tribe, were armed with rifles and plenteously supplied with ammunition. But it was only here and there that a Mandell possessed a gun, many of which were broken, and there was a general slackness of powder and shells. This poverty of war weapons, however, was relieved by myriads of bone-headed arrows and casting-spears for work at a distance, and for close quarters steel knives of Russian and Yankee make.

"Let there be no noise," Tyee finally instructed; "but be there many on every side of the igloo, and close, so that the Sunlanders may not break through. Then do you, Neegah, with six of the young men behind, crawl in to where they sleep. Take no guns, which be prone to go off at unexpected times, but put the strength of your arms into the knives."

"And be it understood that no harm befall Mesahchie, who is worth a price," Neegah whispered hoarsely.

Flat upon the ground, the small army concentred on the igloo, and behind, deliciously expectant, crouched many women and children, come out to witness the murder. The brief August night was passing, and in the gray of dawn could be dimly discerned the creeping forms of Neegah and the young men. Without pause, on hands and knees, they entered the long passageway and disappeared. Tyee rose up and rubbed his hands. All was going well. Head after head in the big circle lifted and waited. Each man pictured the scene according to his nature—the sleeping men, the plunge of the knives, and the sudden death in the dark.

A loud hail, in the voice of a Sunlander, rent the silence, and a shot rang out. Then an uproar broke loose inside the igloo. Without premeditation, the circle swept forward into the passageway. On the inside, half a dozen repeating rifles began to chatter, and the Mandells, jammed in the confined space, were powerless. Those at the front strove madly to retreat from the fire-spitting guns in their very faces, and those in the rear pressed as madly forward to the attack. The bullets from the big 45:90’s drove through half a dozen men at a shot, and the passageway, gorged with surging, helpless men, became a shambles. The rifles, pumped without aim into the mass, withered it away like a machine gun, and against that steady stream of death no man could advance.

"Never was there the like!" panted one of the Hungry Folk. "I did but look in, and the dead were piled like seals on the ice after a killing!"

"Did I not say, mayhap, they were fighters?" cackled the weazened old hunter.

"It was to be expected," Aab-Waak answered stoutly. "We fought in a trap of our making."

"O ye fools!" Tyee chided. "Ye sons of fools! It was not planned, this thing ye have done. To Neegah and the six young men only was it given to go inside. My cunning is superior to the cunning of the Sunlanders, but ye take away its edge, and rob me of its strength, and make it worse than no cunning at all!"

No one made reply, and all eyes centred on the igloo, which loomed vague and monstrous against the clear northeast sky. Through a hole in the roof the smoke from the rifles curled slowly upward in the pulseless air, and now and again a wounded man crawled painfully through the gray.

"Let each ask of his neighbor for Neegah and the six young men," Tyee commanded.

And after a time the answer came back, "Neegah and the six young men are not."

"And many more are not!" wailed a woman to the rear.

"The more wealth for those who are left," Tyee grimly consoled. Then, turning to Aab-Waak, he said: "Go thou, and gather together many sealskins filled with oil. Let the hunters empty them on the outside wood of the igloo and of the passage. And let them put fire to it ere the Sunlanders make holes in the igloo for their guns."

Even as he spoke a hole appeared in the dirt plastered between the logs, a rifle muzzle protruded, and one of the Hungry Folk clapped hand to his side and leaped in the air. A second shot, through the lungs, brought him to the ground. Tyee and the rest scattered to either side, out of direct range, and Aab-Waak hastened the men forward with the skins of oil. Avoiding the loopholes, which were making on every side of the igloo, they emptied the skins on the dry drift-logs brought down by the Mandell River from the tree-lands to the south. Ounenk ran forward with a blazing brand, and the flames leaped upward. Many minutes passed, without sign, and they held their weapons ready as the fire gained headway.

Tyee rubbed his hands gleefully as the dry structure burned and crackled. "Now we have them, brothers! In the trap!"

"And no one may gainsay me the gun of Bill-Man," Aab-Waak announced.

"Save Bill-Man," squeaked the old hunter. "For behold, he cometh now!"

Covered with a singed and blackened blanket, the big white man leaped out of the blazing entrance, and on his heels, likewise shielded, came Mesahchie, and the five other Sunlanders. The Hungry Folk tried to check the rush with an ill-directed volley, while the Mandells hurled in a cloud of spears and arrows. But the Sunlanders cast their flaming blankets from them as they ran, and it was seen that each bore on his shoulders a small pack of ammunition. Of all their possessions, they had chosen to save that. Running swiftly and with purpose, they broke the circle and headed directly for the great cliff, which towered blackly in the brightening day a half-mile to the rear of the village.

But Tyee knelt on one knee and lined the sights of his rifle on the rearmost Sunlander. A great shout went up when he pulled the trigger and the man fell forward, struggled partly up, and fell again. Without regard for the rain of arrows, another Sunlander ran back, bent over him, and lifted him across his shoulders. But the Mandell spearmen were crowding up into closer range, and a strong cast transfixed the wounded man. He cried out and became swiftly limp as his comrade lowered him to the ground. In the meanwhile, Bill-Man and the three others had made a stand and were driving a leaden hail into the advancing spearmen. The fifth Sunlander bent over his stricken fellow, felt the heart, and then coolly cut the straps of the pack and stood up with the ammunition and extra gun.

"Now is he a fool!" cried Tyee, leaping high, as he ran forward, to clear the squirming body of one of the Hungry Folk.

His own rifle was clogged so that he could not use it, and he called out for some one to spear the Sunlander, who had turned and was running for safety under the protecting fire. The little old hunter poised his spear on the throwing-stick, swept his arm back as he ran, and delivered the cast.

"By the body of the Wolf, say I, it was a good throw!" Tyee praised, as the fleeing man pitched forward, the spear standing upright between his shoulders and swaying slowly forward and back.

The little weazened old man coughed and sat down. A streak of red showed on his lips and welled into a thick stream. He coughed again, and a strange whistling came and went with his breath.

"They, too, are unafraid, being great fighters," he wheezed, pawing aimlessly with his hands. "And behold! Bill-Man comes now!"

Tyee glanced up. Four Mandells and one of the Hungry Folk had rushed upon the fallen man and were spearing him from his knees back to the earth. In the twinkling of an eye, Tyee saw four of them cut down by the bullets of the Sunlanders. The fifth, as yet unhurt, seized the two rifles, but as he stood up to make off he was whirled almost completely around by the impact of a bullet in the arm, steadied by a second, and overthrown by the shock of a third. A moment later and Bill-Man was on the spot, cutting the pack-straps and picking up the guns.

This Tyee saw, and his own people falling as they straggled forward, and he was aware of a quick doubt, and resolved to lie where he was and see more. For some unaccountable reason, Mesahchie was running back to Bill-Man; but before she could reach him, Tyee saw Peelo run out and throw arms about her. He essayed to sling her across his shoulder, but she grappled with him, tearing and scratching at his face. Then she tripped him, and the pair fell heavily. When they regained their feet, Peelo had shifted his grip so that one arm was passed under her chin, the wrist pressing into her throat and strangling her. He buried his face in her breast, taking the blows of her hands on his thick mat of hair, and began slowly to force her off the field. Then it was, retreating with the weapons of his fallen comrades, that Bill-Man came upon them. As Mesahchie saw him, she twirled the victim around and held him steady. Bill-Man swung the rifle in his right hand, and hardly easing his stride, delivered the blow. Tyee saw Peelo drive to the earth as smote by a falling star, and the Sunlander and Neegah’s daughter fleeing side by side.

A bunch of Mandells, led by one of the Hungry Folk, made a futile rush which melted away into the earth before the scorching fire.

Tyee caught his breath and murmured, "Like the young frost in the morning sun."

"As I say, they are great fighters," the old hunter whispered weakly, far gone in hemorrhage. "I know. I have heard. They be sea-robbers and hunters of seals; and they shoot quick and true, for it is their way of life and the work of their hands."

"Like the young frost in the morning sun," Tyee repeated, crouching for shelter behind the dying man and peering at intervals about him.

It was no longer a fight, for no Mandell man dared venture forward, and as it was, they were too close to the Sunlanders to go back. Three tried it, scattering and scurrying like rabbits; but one came down with a broken leg, another was shot through the body, and the third, twisting and dodging, fell on the edge of the village. So the tribesmen crouched in the hollow places and burrowed into the dirt in the open, while the Sunlanders’ bullets searched the plain.

"Move not," Tyee pleaded, as Aab-Waak came worming over the ground to him. "Move not, good Aab-Waak, else you bring death upon us."

"Death sits upon many," Aab-Waak laughed; "wherefore, as you say, there will be much wealth in division. My father breathes fast and short behind the big rock yon, and beyond, twisted like in a knot, lieth my brother. But their share shall be my share, and it is well."

"As you say, good Aab-Waak, and as I have said; but before division must come that which we may divide, and the Sunlanders be not yet dead."

A bullet glanced from a rock before them, and singing shrilly, rose low over their heads on its second flight. Tyee ducked and shivered, but Aab-Waak grinned and sought vainly to follow it with his eyes.

"So swiftly they go, one may not see them," he observed.

"But many be dead of us," Tyee went on.

"And many be left," was the reply. "And they hug close to the earth, for they have become wise in the fashion of righting. Further, they are angered. Moreover, when we have killed the Sunlanders on the ship, there will remain but four on the land. These may take long to kill, but in the end it will happen."

"How may we go down to the ship when we cannot go this way or that?" Tyee questioned.

"It is a bad place where lie Bill-Man and his brothers," Aab-Waak explained. "We may come upon them from every side, which is not good. So they aim to get their backs against the cliff and wait until their brothers of the ship come to give them aid."

"Never shall they come from the ship, their brothers! I have said it."

Tyee was gathering courage again, and when the Sunlanders verified the prediction by retreating to the cliff, he was light-hearted as ever.

"There be only three of us!" complained one of the Hungry Folk as they came together for council.

"Therefore, instead of two, shall you have four guns each," was Tyee’s rejoinder.

"We did good fighting."

"Ay; and if it should happen that two of you be left, then will you have six guns each. Therefore, fight well."

"And if there be none of them left?" Aab-Waak whispered slyly.

"Then will we have the guns, you and I," Tyee whispered back.

However, to propitiate the Hungry Folk, he made one of them leader of the ship expedition. This party comprised fully two-thirds of the tribesmen, and departed for the coast, a dozen miles away, laden with skins and things to trade. The remaining men were disposed in a large half-circle about the breastwork which Bill-Man and his Sunlanders had begun to throw up. Tyee was quick to note the virtues of things, and at once set his men to digging shallow trenches.

"The time will go before they are aware," he explained to Aab-Waak; "and their minds being busy, they will not think overmuch of the dead that are, nor gather trouble to themselves. And in the dark of night they may creep closer, so that when the Sunlanders look forth in the morning light they will find us very near."

In the midday heat the men ceased from their work and made a meal of dried fish and seal oil which the women brought up. There was some clamor for the food of the Sunlanders in the igloo of Neegah, but Tyee refused to divide it until the return of the ship party. Speculations upon the outcome became rife, but in the midst of it a dull boom drifted up over the land from the sea. The keen-eyed ones made out a dense cloud of smoke, which quickly disappeared, and which they averred was directly over the ship of the Sunlanders. Tyee was of the opinion that it was a big gun. Aab-Waak did not know, but thought it might be a signal of some sort. Anyway, he said, it was time something happened.

Five or six hours afterward a solitary man was descried coming across the wide flat from the sea, and the women and children poured out upon him in a body. It was Ounenk, naked, winded, and wounded. The blood still trickled down his face from a gash on the forehead. His left arm, frightfully mangled, hung helpless at his side. But most significant of all, there was a wild gleam in his eyes which betokened the women knew not what.

"Where be Peshack?" an old squaw queried sharply.

"And Olitlie?" "And Polak?" "And Mah-Kook?" the voices took up the cry.

But he said nothing, brushing his way through the clamorous mass and directing his staggering steps toward Tyee. The old squaw raised the wail, and one by one the women joined her as they swung in behind. The men crawled out of their trenches and ran back to gather about Tyee, and it was noticed that the Sunlanders climbed upon their barricade to see.

Ounenk halted, swept the blood from his eyes, and looked about. He strove to speak, but his dry lips were glued together. Likeeta fetched him water, and he grunted and drank again.

"Was it a fight?" Tyee demanded finally,—"a good fight?"

"Ho! ho! ho!" So suddenly and so fiercely did Ounenk laugh that every voice hushed. "Never was there such a fight! So I say, I, Ounenk, fighter beforetime of beasts and men. And ere I forget, let me speak fat words and wise. By fighting will the Sunlanders teach us Mandell Folk how to fight. And if we fight long enough, we shall be great fighters, even as the Sunlanders, or else we shall be—dead. Ho! ho! ho! It was a fight!"

"Where be thy brothers?" Tyee shook him till he shrieked from the pain of his hurts.

Ounenk sobered. "My brothers? They are not."

"And Pome-Lee?" cried one of the two Hungry Folk; "Pome-Lee, the son of my mother?"

"Pome-Lee is not," Ounenk answered in a monotonous voice.

"And the Sunlanders?" from Aab-Waak.

"The Sunlanders are not."

"Then the ship of the Sunlanders, and the wealth and guns and things?" Tyee demanded.

"Neither the ship of the Sunlanders, nor the wealth and guns and things," was the unvarying response. "All are not. Nothing is. I only am."

"And thou art a fool."

"It may be so," Ounenk answered, unruffled.

"I have seen that which would well make me a fool."

Tyee held his tongue, and all waited till it should please Ounenk to tell the story in his own way.

"We took no guns, O Tyee," he at last began; "no guns, my brothers—only knives and hunting bows and spears. And in twos and threes, in our kayaks, we came to the ship. They were glad to see us, the Sunlanders, and we spread our skins and they brought out their articles of trade, and everything was well. And Pome-Lee waited—waited till the sun was well overhead and they sat at meat, when he gave the cry and we fell upon them. Never was there such a fight, and never such fighters. Half did we kill in the quickness of surprise, but the half that was left became as devils, and they multiplied themselves, and everywhere they fought like devils. Three put their backs against the mast of the ship, and we ringed them with our dead before they died. And some got guns and shot with both eyes wide open, and very quick and sure. And one got a big gun, from which at one time he shot many small bullets. And so, behold!"

Ounenk pointed to his ear, neatly pierced by a buckshot.

"But I, Ounenk, drove my spear through his back from behind. And in such fashion, one way and another, did we kill them all—all save the head man. And him we were about, many of us, and he was alone, when he made a great cry and broke through us, five or six dragging upon him, and ran down inside the ship. And then, when the wealth of the ship was ours, and only the head man down below whom we would kill presently, why then there was a sound as of all the guns in the world—a mighty sound! And like a bird I rose up in the air, and the living Mandell Folk, and the dead Sunlanders, the little kayaks, the big ship, the guns, the wealth—everything rose up in the air. So I say, I, Ounenk, who tell the tale, am the only one left."

A great silence fell upon the assemblage. Tyee looked at Aab-Waak with awe-struck eyes, but forbore to speak. Even the women were too stunned to wail the dead.

Ounenk looked about him with pride. "I, only, am left," he repeated.

But at that instant a rifle cracked from Bill-Man’s barricade, and there was a sharp spat and thud on the chest of Ounenk. He swayed backward and came forward again, a look of startled surprise on his face. He gasped, and his lips writhed in a grim smile. There was a shrinking together of the shoulders and a bending of the knees. He shook himself, as might a drowsing man, and straightened up. But the shrinking and bending began again, and he sank down slowly, quite slowly, to the ground.

It was a clean mile from the pit of the Sunlanders, and death had spanned it. A great cry of rage went up, and in it there was much of blood-vengeance, much of the unreasoned ferocity of the brute. Tyee and Aab-Waak tried to hold the Mandell Folk back, were thrust aside, and could only turn and watch the mad charge. But no shots came from the Sunlanders, and ere half the distance was covered, many, affrighted by the mysterious silence of the pit, halted and waited. The wilder spirits bore on, and when they had cut the remaining distance in half, the pit still showed no sign of life. At two hundred yards they slowed down and bunched; at one hundred, they stopped, a score of them, suspicious, and conferred together.

Then a wreath of smoke crowned the barricade, and they scattered like a handful of pebbles thrown at random. Four went down, and four more, and they continued swiftly to fall, one and two at a time, till but one remained, and he in full flight with death singing about his ears. It was Nok, a young hunter, long-legged and tall, and he ran as never before. He skimmed across the naked open like a bird, and soared and sailed and curved from side to side. The rifles in the pit rang out in solid volley; they flut-flut-flut-flutted in ragged sequence; and still Nok rose and dipped and rose again unharmed. There was a lull in the firing, as though the Sunlanders had given over, and Nok curved less and less in his flight till he darted straight forward at every leap. And then, as he leaped cleanly and well, one lone rifle barked from the pit, and he doubled up in mid-air, struck the ground in a ball, and like a ball bounced from the impact, and came down in a broken heap.

"Who so swift as the swift-winged lead?" Aab-Waak pondered.

Tyee grunted and turned away. The incident was closed and there was more pressing matter at hand. One Hungry Man and forty fighters, some of them hurt, remained; and there were four Sunlanders yet to reckon with.

"We will keep them in their hole by the cliff," he said, "and when famine has gripped them hard we will slay them like children."

"But of what matter to fight?" queried Oloof, one of the younger men. "The wealth of the Sunlanders is not; only remains that in the igloo of Neegah, a paltry quantity—"

He broke off hastily as the air by his ear split sharply to the passage of a bullet.

Tyee laughed scornfully. "Let that be thy answer. What else may we do with this mad breed of Sunlanders which will not die?"

"What a thing is foolishness!" Oloof protested, his ears furtively alert for the coming of other bullets. "It is not right that they should fight so, these Sunlanders. Why will they not die easily? They are fools not to know that they are dead men, and they give us much trouble."

"We fought before for great wealth; we fight now that we may live," Aab-Waak summed up succinctly.

That night there was a clash in the trenches, and shots exchanged. And in the morning the igloo of Neegah was found empty of the Sunlanders’ possessions. These they themselves had taken, for the signs of their trail were visible to the sun. Oloof climbed to the brow of the cliff to hurl great stones down into the pit, but the cliff overhung, and he hurled down abuse and insult instead, and promised bitter torture to them in the end. Bill-Man mocked him back in the tongue of the Bear Folk, and Tyee, lifting his head from a trench to see, had his shoulder scratched deeply by a bullet.

And in the dreary days that followed, and in the wild nights when they pushed the trenches closer, there was much discussion as to the wisdom of letting the Sunlanders go. But of this they were afraid, and the women raised a cry always at the thought This much they had seen of the Sunlanders; they cared to see no more. All the time the whistle and blub-blub of bullets filled the air, and all the time the death-list grew. In the golden sunrise came the faint, far crack of a rifle, and a stricken woman would throw up her hands on the distant edge of the village; in the noonday heat, men in the trenches heard the shrill sing-song and knew their deaths; or in the gray afterglow of evening, the dirt kicked up in puffs by the winking fires. And through the nights the long "Wah-hoo-ha-a wah-hoo-ha-a!" of mourning women held dolorous sway.

As Tyee had promised, in the end famine gripped the Sunlanders. And once, when an early fall gale blew, one of them crawled through the darkness past the trenches and stole many dried fish.

But he could not get back with them, and the sun found him vainly hiding in the village. So he fought the great fight by himself, and in a narrow ring of Mandell Folk shot four with his revolver, and ere they could lay hands on him for the torture, turned it on himself and died.

This threw a gloom upon the people. Oloof put the question, "If one man die so hard, how hard will die the three who yet are left?"

Then Mesahchie stood up on the barricade and called in by name three dogs which had wandered close,—meat and life,—which set back the day of reckoning and put despair in the hearts of the Mandell Folk. And on the head of Mesahchie were showered the curses of a generation.

The days dragged by. The sun hurried south, the nights grew long and longer, and there was a touch of frost in the air. And still the Sunlanders held the pit. Hearts were breaking under the unending strain, and Tyee thought hard and deep. Then he sent forth word that all the skins and hides of all the tribe be collected. These he had made into huge cylindrical bales, and behind each bale he placed a man.

When the word was given the brief day was almost spent, and it was slow work and tedious, rolling the big bales forward foot by foot The bullets of the Sunlanders blub-blubbed and thudded against them, but could not go through, and the men howled their delight But the dark was at hand, and Tyee, secure of success, called the bales back to the trenches.

In the morning, in the face of an unearthly silence from the pit, the real advance began. At first with large intervals between, the bales slowly converged as the circle drew in. At a hundred yards they were quite close together, so that Tyee’s order to halt was passed along in whispers. The pit showed no sign of life. They watched long and sharply, but nothing stirred. The advance was taken up and the manoeuvre repeated at fifty yards. Still no sign nor sound. Tyee shook his head, and even Aab-Waak was dubious. But the order was given to go on, and go on they did, till bale touched bale and a solid rampart of skin and hide bowed out from the cliff about the pit and back to the cliff again.

Tyee looked back and saw the women and children clustering blackly in the deserted trenches. He looked ahead at the silent pit. The men were wriggling nervously, and he ordered every second bale forward. This double line advanced till bale touched bale as before. Then Aab-Waak, of his own will, pushed one bale forward alone. When it touched the barricade, he waited a long while. After that he tossed unresponsive rocks over into the pit, and finally, with great care, stood up and peered in. A carpet of empty cartridges, a few white-picked dog bones, and a soggy place where water dripped from a crevice, met his eyes. That was all. The Sunlanders were gone.

There were murmurings of witchcraft, vague complaints, dark looks which foreshadowed to Tyee dread things which yet might come to pass, and he breathed easier when Aab-Waak took up the trail along the base of the cliff.

"The cave!" Tyee cried. "They foresaw my wisdom of the skin-bales and fled away into the cave!"

The cliff was honey-combed with a labyrinth of subterranean passages which found vent in an opening midway between the pit and where the trench tapped the wall. Thither, and with many exclamations, the tribesmen followed Aab-Waak, and, arrived, they saw plainly where the Sunlanders had climbed to the mouth, twenty and odd feet above.

"Now the thing is done," Tyee said, rubbing his hands. "Let word go forth that rejoicing be made, for they are in the trap now, these Sunlanders, in the trap. The young men shall climb up, and the mouth of the cave be filled with stones, so that Bill-Man and his brothers and Mesahchie shall by famine be pinched to shadows and die cursing in the silence and dark."

Cries of delight and relief greeted this, and Howgah, the last of the Hungry Folk, swarmed up the steep slant and drew himself, crouching, upon the lip of the opening. But as he crouched, a muffled report rushed forth, and as he clung desperately to the slippery edge, a second. His grip loosed with reluctant weakness, and he pitched down at the feet of Tyee, quivered for a moment like some monstrous jelly, and was still.

"How should I know they were great fighters and unafraid?" Tyee demanded, spurred to defence by recollection of the dark looks and vague complaints.

"We were many and happy," one of the men stated baldly. Another fingered his spear with a prurient hand.

But Oloof cried them cease. "Give ear, my brothers! There be another way! As a boy I chanced upon it playing along the steep. It is hidden by the rocks, and there is no reason that a man should go there; wherefore it is secret, and no man knows. It is very small, and you crawl on your belly a long way, and then you are in the cave. To-night we will so crawl, without noise, on our bellies, and come upon the Sunlanders from behind. And to-morrow we will be at peace, and never again will we quarrel with the Sunlanders in the years to come."

"Never again!" chorussed the weary men. "Never again!" And Tyee joined with them.

That night, with the memory of their dead in their hearts, and in their hands stones and spears and knives, the horde of women and children collected about the known mouth of the cave. Down the twenty and odd precarious feet to the ground no Sunlander could hope to pass and live. In the village remained only the wounded men, while every able man—and there were thirty of them—followed Oloof to the secret opening. A hundred feet of broken ledges and insecurely heaped rocks were between it and the earth, and because of the rocks, which might be displaced by the touch of hand or foot, but one man climbed at a time. Oloof went up first, called softly for the next to come on, and disappeared inside. A man followed, a second, and a third, and so on, till only Tyee remained. He received the call of the last man, but a quick doubt assailed him and he stayed to ponder. Half an hour later he swung up to the opening and peered in. He could feel the narrowness of the passage, and the darkness before him took on solidity. The fear of the walled-in earth chilled him and he could not venture. All the men who had died, from Neegah the first of the Mandells, to Howgah the last of the Hungry Folk, came and sat with him, but he chose the terror of their company rather than face the horror which he felt to lurk in the thick blackness. He had been sitting long when something soft and cold fluttered lightly on his cheek, and he knew the first winter’s snow was falling. The dim dawn came, and after that the bright day, when he heard a low guttural sobbing, which came and went at intervals along the passage and which drew closer each time and more distinct He slipped over the edge, dropped his feet to the first ledge, and waited.

That which sobbed made slow progress, but at last, after many halts, it reached him, and he was sure no Sunlander made the noise. So he reached a hand inside, and where there should have been a head felt the shoulders of a man uplifted on bent arms. The head he found later, not erect, but hanging straight down so that the crown rested on the floor of the passage.

"Is it you, Tyee?" the head said. "For it is I, Aab-Waak, who am helpless and broken as a rough-flung spear. My head is in the dirt, and I may not climb down unaided."

Tyee clambered in, dragged him up with his back against the wall, but the head hung down on the chest and sobbed and wailed.

"Ai-oo-o, ai-oo-o!" it went "Oloof forgot, for Mesahchie likewise knew the secret and showed the Sunlanders, else they would not have waited at the end of the narrow way. Wherefore, I am a broken man, and helpless—ai-oo-o, ai-oo-o!"

"And did they die, the cursed Sunlanders, at the end of the narrow way?" Tyee demanded.

"How should I know they waited?" Aab-Waak gurgled. "For my brothers had gone before, many of them, and there was no sound of struggle. How should I know why there should be no sound of struggle? And ere I knew, two hands were about my neck so that I could not cry out and warn my brothers yet to come. And then there were two hands more on my head, and two more on my feet. In this fashion the three Sunlanders had me. And while the hands held my head in the one place, the hands on my feet swung my body around, and as we wring the neck of a duck in the marsh, so my week was wrung.

"But it was not given that I should die," he went on, a remnant of pride yet glimmering. "I, only, am left. Oloof and the rest lie on their backs in a row, and their faces turn this way and that, and the faces of some be underneath where the backs of their heads should be. It is not good to look upon; for when life returned to me I saw them all by the light of a torch which the Sunlanders left, and I had been laid with them in the row."

"So? So?" Tyee mused, too stunned for speech.

He started suddenly, and shivered, for the voice of Bill-Man shot out at him from the passage.

"It is well," it said. "I look for the man who crawls with the broken neck, and lo, do I find Tyee. Throw down thy gun, Tyee, so that I may hear it strike among the rocks."

Tyee obeyed passively, and Bill-Man crawled forward into the light. Tyee looked at him curiously. He was gaunt and worn and dirty, and his eyes burned like twin coals in their cavernous sockets.

"I am hungry, Tyee," he said. "Very hungry."

"And I am dirt at thy feet," Tyee responded.

"Thy word is my law. Further, I commanded my people not to withstand thee. I counselled—"

But Bill-Man had turned and was calling back into the passage. "Hey! Charley! Jim! Fetch the woman along and come on!"

"We go now to eat," he said, when his comrades and Mesahchie had joined him.

Tyee rubbed his hands deprecatingly. "We have little, but it is thine."

"After that we go south on the snow," Bill-Man continued.

"May you go without hardship and the trail be easy."

"It is a long way. We will need dogs and food—much!"

"Thine the pick of our dogs and the food they may carry."

Bill-Man slipped over the edge of the opening and prepared to descend. "But we come again, Tyee. We come again, and our days shall be long in the land."

And so they departed into the trackless south, Bill-Man, his brothers, and Mesahchie. And when the next year came, the Search Number Two rode at anchor in Mandell Bay. The few Mandell men, who survived because their wounds had prevented their crawling into the cave, went to work at the best of the Sunlanders and dug in the ground. They hunt and fish no more, but receive a daily wage, with which they buy flour, sugar, calico, and such things which the Search Number Two brings on her yearly trip from the Sunlands.

And this mine is worked in secret, as many Northland mines have been worked; and no white man outside the Company, which is Bill-Man, Jim, and Charley, knows the whereabouts of Mandell on the rim of the polar sea. Aab-Waak still carries his head on one shoulder, is become an oracle, and preaches peace to the younger generation, for which he receives a pension from the Company. Tyee is foreman of the mine. But he has achieved a new theory concerning the Sunlanders.

"They that live under the path of the sun are not soft," he says, smoking his pipe and watching the day-shift take itself off and the night-shift go on. "For the sun enters into their blood and burns them with a great fire till they are filled with lusts and passions. They burn always, so that they may not know when they are beaten. Further, there is an unrest in them, which is a devil, and they are flung out over the earth to toil and suffer and fight without end. I know. I am Tyee."


6. KEESH, THE BEAR HUNTER aka THE STORY OF KEESH

Keesh lived long ago on the rim of the polar sea, was head man of his village through many and prosperous years, and died full of honors with his name on the lips of men. So long ago did he live that only the old men remember his name, his name and the tale, which they got from the old men before them, and which the old men to come will tell to their children and their children’s children down to the end of time. And the winter darkness, when the north gales make their long sweep across the ice-pack, and the air is filled with flying white, and no man may venture forth, is the chosen time for the telling of how Keesh, from the poorest igloo in the village, rose to power and place over them all.
He was a bright boy, so the tale runs, healthy and strong, and he had seen thirteen suns, in their way of reckoning time. For each winter the sun leaves the land in darkness, and the next year a new sun returns so that they may be warm again and look upon one another’s faces. The father of Keesh had been a very brave man, but he had met his death in a time of famine, when he sought to save the lives of his people by taking the life of a great polar bear. In his eagerness he came to close grapples with the bear, and his bones were crushed; but the bear had much meat on him and the people were saved. Keesh was his only son, and after that Keesh lived alone with his mother. But the people are prone to forget, and they forgot the deed of his father; and he being but a boy, and his mother only a woman, they, too, were swiftly forgotten, and ere long came to live in the meanest of all the igloos.
It was at a council, one night, in the big igloo of Klosh-Kwan, the chief, that Keesh showed the blood that ran in his veins and the manhood that stiffened his back. With the dignity of an elder, he rose to his feet, and waited for silence amid the babble of voices.
“It is true that meat be apportioned me and mine,” he said. “But it is ofttimes old and tough, this meat, and, moreover, it has an unusual quantity of bones.”
The hunters, grizzled and gray, and lusty and young, were aghast. The like had never been known before. A child, that talked like a grown man, and said harsh things to their very faces!
But steadily and with seriousness, Keesh went on. “For that I know my father, Bok, was a great hunter, I speak these words. It is said that Bok brought home more meat than any of the two best hunters, that with his own hands he attended to the division of it, that with his own eyes he saw to it that the least old woman and the last old man received fair share.”
“Na! Na!” the men cried. “Put the child out!” “Send him off to bed!” “He is no man that he should talk to men and graybeards!”
He waited calmly till the uproar died down.
“Thou hast a wife, Ugh-Gluk,” he said, “and for her dost thou speak. And thou, too, Massuk, a mother also, and for them dost thou speak. My mother has no one, save me; wherefore I speak. As I say, though Bok be dead because he hunted over-keenly, it is just that I, who am his son, and that Ikeega, who is my mother and was his wife, should have meat in plenty so long as there be meat in plenty in the tribe. I, Keesh, the son of Bok, have spoken.”
He sat down, his ears keenly alert to the flood of protest and indignation his words had created.
“That a boy should speak in council!” old Ugh-Gluk was mumbling.
“Shall the babes in arms tell us men the things we shall do?” Massuk demanded in a loud voice. “Am I a man that I should be made a mock by every child that cries for meat?”
The anger boiled a white heat. They ordered him to bed, threatened that he should have no meat at all, and promised him sore beatings for his presumption. Keesh’s eyes began to flash, and the blood to pound darkly under his skin. In the midst of the abuse he sprang to his feet.
“Hear me, ye men!” he cried. “Never shall I speak in the council again, never again till the men come to me and say, ‘It is well, Keesh, that thou shouldst speak, it is well and it is our wish.’ Take this now, ye men, for my last word. Bok, my father, was a great hunter. I, too, his son, shall go and hunt the meat that I eat. And be it known, now, that the division of that which I kill shall be fair. And no widow nor weak one shall cry in the night because there is no meat, when the strong men are groaning in great pain for that they have eaten overmuch. And in the days to come there shall be shame upon the strong men who have eaten overmuch. I, Keesh, have said it!”
Jeers and scornful laughter followed him out of the igloo, but his jaw was set and he went his way, looking neither to right nor left.
The next day he went forth along the shore-line where the ice and the land met together. Those who saw him go noted that he carried his bow, with a goodly supply of bone-barbed arrows, and that across his shoulder was his father’s big hunting-spear. And there was laughter, and much talk, at the event. It was an unprecedented occurrence. Never did boys of his tender age go forth to hunt, much less to hunt alone. Also were there shaking of heads and prophetic mutterings, and the women looked pityingly at Ikeega, and her face was grave and sad.
“He will be back ere long,” they said cheeringly.
“Let him go; it will teach him a lesson,” the hunters said. “And he will come back shortly, and he will be meek and soft of speech in the days to follow.”
But a day passed, and a second, and on the third a wild gale blew, and there was no Keesh. Ikeega tore her hair and put soot of the seal-oil on her face in token of her grief; and the women assailed the men with bitter words in that they had mistreated the boy and sent him to his death; and the men made no answer, preparing to go in search of the body when the storm abated.
Early next morning, however, Keesh strode into the village. But he came not shamefacedly. Across his shoulders he bore a burden of fresh-killed meat. And there was importance in his step and arrogance in his speech.
“Go, ye men, with the dogs and sledges, and take my trail for the better part of a day’s travel,” he said. “There is much meat on the ice—a she-bear and two half-grown cubs.”
Ikeega was overcome with joy, but he received her demonstrations in manlike fashion, saying: “Come, Ikeega, let us eat. And after that I shall sleep, for I am weary.”
And he passed into their igloo and ate profoundly, and after that slept for twenty running hours.
There was much doubt at first, much doubt and discussion. The killing of a polar bear is very dangerous, but thrice dangerous is it, and three times thrice, to kill a mother bear with her cubs. The men could not bring themselves to believe that the boy Keesh, single-handed, had accomplished so great a marvel. But the women spoke of the fresh-killed meat he had brought on his back, and this was an overwhelming argument against their unbelief. So they finally departed, grumbling greatly that in all probability, if the thing were so, he had neglected to cut up the carcasses. Now in the north it is very necessary that this should be done as soon as a kill is made. If not, the meat freezes so solidly as to turn the edge of the sharpest knife, and a three-hundred-pound bear, frozen stiff, is no easy thing to put upon a sled and haul over the rough ice. But arrived at the spot, they found not only the kill, which they had doubted, but that Keesh had quartered the beasts in true hunter fashion, and removed the entrails.
Thus began the mystery of Keesh, a mystery that deepened and deepened with the passing of the days. His very next trip he killed a young bear, nearly full-grown, and on the trip following, a large male bear and his mate. He was ordinarily gone from three to four days, though it was nothing unusual for him to stay away a week at a time on the ice-field. Always he declined company on these expeditions, and the people marvelled. “How does he do it?” they demanded of one another. “Never does he take a dog with him, and dogs are of such great help, too.”
“Why dost thou hunt only bear?” Klosh-Kwan once ventured to ask him.
And Keesh made fitting answer. “It is well known that there is more meat on the bear,” he said.
But there was also talk of witchcraft in the village. “He hunts with evil spirits,” some of the people contended, “wherefore his hunting is rewarded. How else can it be, save that he hunts with evil spirits?”
“Mayhap they be not evil, but good, these spirits,” others said. “It is known that his father was a mighty hunter. May not his father hunt with him so that he may attain excellence and patience and understanding? Who knows?”
None the less, his success continued, and the less skilful hunters were often kept busy hauling in his meat. And in the division of it he was just. As his father had done before him, he saw to it that the least old woman and the last old man received a fair portion, keeping no more for himself than his needs required. And because of this, and of his merit as a hunter, he was looked upon with respect, and even awe; and there was talk of making him chief after old Klosh-Kwan. Because of the things he had done, they looked for him to appear again in the council, but he never came, and they were ashamed to ask.
“I am minded to build me an igloo,” he said one day to Klosh-Kwan and a number of the hunters. “It shall be a large igloo, wherein Ikeega and I can dwell in comfort.”
“Ay,” they nodded gravely.
“But I have no time. My business is hunting, and it takes all my time. So it is but just that the men and women of the village who eat my meat should build me my igloo.”
And the igloo was built accordingly, on a generous scale which exceeded even the dwelling of Klosh-Kwan. Keesh and his mother moved into it, and it was the first prosperity she had enjoyed since the death of Bok. Nor was material prosperity alone hers, for, because of her wonderful son and the position he had given her, she came to be looked upon as the first woman in all the village; and the women were given to visiting her, to asking her advice, and to quoting her wisdom when arguments arose among themselves or with the men.
But it was the mystery of Keesh’s marvellous hunting that took chief place in all their minds. And one day Ugh-Gluk taxed him with witchcraft to his face.
“It is charged,” Ugh-Gluk said ominously, “that thou dealest with evil spirits, wherefore thy hunting is rewarded.”
“Is not the meat good?” Keesh made answer. “Has one in the village yet to fall sick from the eating of it? How dost thou know that witchcraft be concerned? Or dost thou guess, in the dark, merely because of the envy that consumes thee?”
And Ugh-Gluk withdrew discomfited, the women laughing at him as he walked away. But in the council one night, after long deliberation, it was determined to put spies on his track when he went forth to hunt, so that his methods might be learned. So, on his next trip, Bim and Bawn, two young men, and of hunters the craftiest, followed after him, taking care not to be seen. After five days they returned, their eyes bulging and their tongues a-tremble to tell what they had seen. The council was hastily called in Klosh-Kwan’s dwelling, and Bim took up the tale.
“Brothers! As commanded, we journeyed on the trail of Keesh, and cunningly we journeyed, so that he might not know. And midway of the first day he picked up with a great he-bear. It was a very great bear.”
“None greater,” Bawn corroborated, and went on himself. “Yet was the bear not inclined to fight, for he turned away and made off slowly over the ice. This we saw from the rocks of the shore, and the bear came toward us, and after him came Keesh, very much unafraid. And he shouted harsh words after the bear, and waved his arms about, and made much noise. Then did the bear grow angry, and rise up on his hind legs, and growl. But Keesh walked right up to the bear.”
“Ay,” Bim continued the story. “Right up to the bear Keesh walked. And the bear took after him, and Keesh ran away. But as he ran he dropped a little round ball on the ice. And the bear stopped and smelled of it, then swallowed it up. And Keesh continued to run away and drop little round balls, and the bear continued to swallow them up.”
Exclamations and cries of doubt were being made, and Ugh-Gluk expressed open unbelief.
“With our own eyes we saw it,” Bim affirmed.
And Bawn—“Ay, with our own eyes. And this continued until the bear stood suddenly upright and cried aloud in pain, and thrashed his fore paws madly about. And Keesh continued to make off over the ice to a safe distance. But the bear gave him no notice, being occupied with the misfortune the little round balls had wrought within him.”
“Ay, within him,” Bim interrupted. “For he did claw at himself, and leap about over the ice like a playful puppy, save from the way he growled and squealed it was plain it was not play but pain. Never did I see such a sight!”
“Nay, never was such a sight seen,” Bawn took up the strain. “And furthermore, it was such a large bear.”
“Witchcraft,” Ugh-Gluk suggested.
“I know not,” Bawn replied. “I tell only of what my eyes beheld. And after a while the bear grew weak and tired, for he was very heavy and he had jumped about with exceeding violence, and he went off along the shore-ice, shaking his head slowly from side to side and sitting down ever and again to squeal and cry. And Keesh followed after the bear, and we followed after Keesh, and for that day and three days more we followed. The bear grew weak, and never ceased crying from his pain.”
“It was a charm!” Ugh-Gluk exclaimed. “Surely it was a charm!”
“It may well be.”
And Bim relieved Bawn. “The bear wandered, now this way and now that, doubling back and forth and crossing his trail in circles, so that at the end he was near where Keesh had first come upon him. By this time he was quite sick, the bear, and could crawl no farther, so Keesh came up close and speared him to death.”
“And then?” Klosh-Kwan demanded.
“Then we left Keesh skinning the bear, and came running that the news of the killing might be told.”
And in the afternoon of that day the women hauled in the meat of the bear while the men sat in council assembled. When Keesh arrived a messenger was sent to him, bidding him come to the council. But he sent reply, saying that he was hungry and tired; also that his igloo was large and comfortable and could hold many men.
And curiosity was so strong on the men that the whole council, Klosh-Kwan to the fore, rose up and went to the igloo of Keesh. He was eating, but he received them with respect and seated them according to their rank. Ikeega was proud and embarrassed by turns, but Keesh was quite composed.
Klosh-Kwan recited the information brought by Bim and Bawn, and at its close said in a stern voice: “So explanation is wanted, O Keesh, of thy manner of hunting. Is there witchcraft in it?”
Keesh looked up and smiled. “Nay, O Klosh-Kwan. It is not for a boy to know aught of witches, and of witches I know nothing. I have but devised a means whereby I may kill the ice-bear with ease, that is all. It be headcraft, not witchcraft.”
“And may any man?”
“Any man.”
There was a long silence. The men looked in one another’s faces, and Keesh went on eating.
“And . . . and . . . and wilt thou tell us, O Keesh?” Klosh-Kwan finally asked in a tremulous voice.
“Yea, I will tell thee.” Keesh finished sucking a marrow-bone and rose to his feet. “It is quite simple. Behold!”
He picked up a thin strip of whalebone and showed it to them. The ends were sharp as needle-points. The strip he coiled carefully, till it disappeared in his hand. Then, suddenly releasing it, it sprang straight again. He picked up a piece of blubber.
“So,” he said, “one takes a small chunk of blubber, thus, and thus makes it hollow. Then into the hollow goes the whalebone, so, tightly coiled, and another piece of blubber is fitted over the whale-bone. After that it is put outside where it freezes into a little round ball. The bear swallows the little round ball, the blubber melts, the whalebone with its sharp ends stands out straight, the bear gets sick, and when the bear is very sick, why, you kill him with a spear. It is quite simple.”
And Ugh-Gluk said “Oh!” and Klosh-Kwan said “Ah!” And each said something after his own manner, and all understood.
And this is the story of Keesh, who lived long ago on the rim of the polar sea. Because he exercised headcraft and not witchcraft, he rose from the meanest igloo to be head man of his village, and through all the years that he lived, it is related, his tribe was prosperous, and neither widow nor weak one cried aloud in the night because there was no meat.


7. THE WIT OF PORPORTUK

El-Soo had been a Mission girl. Her mother had died when she was very small, and Sister Alberta had plucked El-Soo as a brand from the burning, one summer day, and carried her away to Holy Cross Mission and dedicated her to God. El-Soo was a full-blooded Indian, yet she exceeded all the half-breed and quarter-breed girls. Never had the good sisters dealt with a girl so adaptable and at the same time so spirited.
El-Soo was quick, and deft, and intelligent; but above all she was fire, the living flame of life, a blaze of personality that was compounded of will, sweetness, and daring. Her father was a chief, and his blood ran in her veins. Obedience, on the part of El-Soo, was a matter of terms and arrangement. She had a passion for equity, and perhaps it was because of this that she excelled in mathematics.
But she excelled in other things. She learned to read and write English as no girl had ever learned in the Mission. She led the girls in singing, and into song she carried her sense of equity. She was an artist, and the fire of her flowed toward creation. Had she from birth enjoyed a more favourable environment, she would have made literature or music.
Instead, she was El-Soo, daughter of Klakee-Nah, a chief, and she lived in the Holy Cross Mission where were no artists, but only pure-souled Sisters who were interested in cleanliness and righteousness and the welfare of the spirit in the land of immortality that lay beyond the skies.
The years passed. She was eight years old when she entered the Mission; she was sixteen, and the Sisters were corresponding with their superiors in the Order concerning the sending of El-Soo to the United States to complete her education, when a man of her own tribe arrived at Holy Cross and had talk with her. El-Soo was somewhat appalled by him. He was dirty. He was a Caliban-like creature, primitively ugly, with a mop of hair that had never been combed. He looked at her disapprovingly and refused to sit down.
“Thy brother is dead,” he said shortly.
El-Soo was not particularly shocked. She remembered little of her brother. “Thy father is an old man, and alone,” the messenger went on. “His house is large and empty, and he would hear thy voice and look upon thee.”
Him she remembered—Klakee-Nah, the headman of the village, the friend of the missionaries and the traders, a large man thewed like a giant, with kindly eyes and masterful ways, and striding with a consciousness of crude royalty in his carriage.
“Tell him that I will come,” was El-Soo’s answer.
Much to the despair of the Sisters, the brand plucked from the burning went back to the burning. All pleading with El-Soo was vain. There was much argument, expostulation, and weeping. Sister Alberta even revealed to her the project of sending her to the United States. El-Soo stared wide-eyed into the golden vista thus opened up to her, and shook her head. In her eyes persisted another vista. It was the mighty curve of the Yukon at Tana-naw Station. With the St. George Mission on one side, and the trading post on the other, and midway between the Indian village and a certain large log house where lived an old man tended upon by slaves.
All dwellers on the Yukon bank for twice a thousand miles knew the large log house, the old man and the tending slaves; and well did the Sisters know the house, its unending revelry, its feasting and its fun. So there was weeping at Holy Cross when El-Soo departed.
There was a great cleaning up in the large house when El-Soo arrived. Klakee-Nah, himself masterful, protested at this masterful conduct of his young daughter; but in the end, dreaming barbarically of magnificence, he went forth and borrowed a thousand dollars from old Porportuk, than whom there was no richer Indian on the Yukon. Also, Klakee-Nah ran up a heavy bill at the trading post. El-Soo re-created the large house. She invested it with new splendour, while Klakee-Nah maintained its ancient traditions of hospitality and revelry.
All this was unusual for a Yukon Indian, but Klakee-Nah was an unusual Indian. Not alone did he like to render inordinate hospitality, but, what of being a chief and of acquiring much money, he was able to do it. In the primitive trading days he had been a power over his people, and he had dealt profitably with the white trading companies. Later on, with Porportuk, he had made a gold-strike on the Koyokuk River. Klakee-Nah was by training and nature an aristocrat. Porportuk was bourgeois, and Porportuk bought him out of the gold-mine. Porportuk was content to plod and accumulate. Klakee-Nah went back to his large house and proceeded to spend. Porportuk was known as the richest Indian in Alaska. Klakee-Nah was known as the whitest. Porportuk was a money-lender and a usurer. Klakee-Nah was an anachronism—a mediæval ruin, a fighter and a feaster, happy with wine and song.
El-Soo adapted herself to the large house and its ways as readily as she had adapted herself to Holy Cross Mission and its ways. She did not try to reform her father and direct his footsteps toward God. It is true, she reproved him when he drank overmuch and profoundly, but that was for the sake of his health and the direction of his footsteps on solid earth.
The latchstring to the large house was always out. What with the coming and the going, it was never still. The rafters of the great living-room shook with the roar of wassail and of song. At table sat men from all the world and chiefs from distant tribes—Englishmen and Colonials, lean Yankee traders and rotund officials of the great companies, cowboys from the Western ranges, sailors from the sea, hunters and dog-mushers of a score of nationalities.
El-Soo drew breath in a cosmopolitan atmosphere. She could speak English as well as she could her native tongue, and she sang English songs and ballads. The passing Indian ceremonials she knew, and the perishing traditions. The tribal dress of the daughter of a chief she knew how to wear upon occasion. But for the most part she dressed as white women dress. Not for nothing was her needlework at the Mission and her innate artistry. She carried her clothes like a white woman, and she made clothes that could be so carried.
In her way she was as unusual as her father, and the position she occupied was as unique as his. She was the one Indian woman who was the social equal with the several white women at Tana-naw Station. She was the one Indian woman to whom white men honourably made proposals of marriage. And she was the one Indian woman whom no white man ever insulted.
For El-Soo was beautiful—not as white women are beautiful, not as Indian women are beautiful. It was the flame of her, that did not depend upon feature, that was her beauty. So far as mere line and feature went, she was the classic Indian type. The black hair and the fine bronze were hers, and the black eyes, brilliant and bold, keen as sword-light, proud; and hers the delicate eagle nose with the thin, quivering nostrils, the high cheek-bones that were not broad apart, and the thin lips that were not too thin. But over all and through all poured the flame of her—the unanalysable something that was fire and that was the soul of her, that lay mellow-warm or blazed in her eyes, that sprayed the cheeks of her, that distended the nostrils, that curled the lips, or, when the lip was in repose, that was still there in the lip, the lip palpitant with its presence.
And El-Soo had wit—rarely sharp to hurt, yet quick to search out forgivable weakness. The laughter of her mind played like lambent flame over all about her, and from all about her arose answering laughter. Yet she was never the centre of things. This she would not permit. The large house, and all of which it was significant, was her father’s; and through it, to the last, moved his heroic figure—host, master of the revels, and giver of the law. It is true, as the strength oozed from him, that she caught up responsibilities from his failing hands. But in appearance he still ruled, dozing, ofttimes at the board, a bacchanalian ruin, yet in all seeming the ruler of the feast.
And through the large house moved the figure of Porportuk, ominous, with shaking head, coldly disapproving, paying for it all. Not that he really paid, for he compounded interest in weird ways, and year by year absorbed the properties of Klakee-Nah. Porportuk once took it upon himself to chide El-Soo upon the wasteful way of life in the large house—it was when he had about absorbed the last of Klakee-Nah’s wealth—but he never ventured so to chide again. El-Soo, like her father, was an aristocrat, as disdainful of money as he, and with an equal sense of honour as finely strung.
Porportuk continued grudgingly to advance money, and ever the money flowed in golden foam away. Upon one thing El-Soo was resolved—her father should die as he had lived. There should be for him no passing from high to low, no diminution of the revels, no lessening of the lavish hospitality. When there was famine, as of old, the Indians came groaning to the large house and went away content. When there was famine and no money, money was borrowed from Porportuk, and the Indians still went away content. El-Soo might well have repeated, after the aristocrats of another time and place, that after her came the deluge. In her case the deluge was old Porportuk. With every advance of money, he looked upon her with a more possessive eye, and felt bourgeoning within him ancient fires.
But El-Soo had no eyes for him. Nor had she eyes for the white men who wanted to marry her at the Mission with ring and priest and book. For at Tana-naw Station was a young man, Akoon, of her own blood, and tribe, and village. He was strong and beautiful to her eyes, a great hunter, and, in that he had wandered far and much, very poor; he had been to all the unknown wastes and places; he had journeyed to Sitka and to the United States; he had crossed the continent to Hudson Bay and back again, and as seal-hunter on a ship he had sailed to Siberia and for Japan.
When he returned from the gold-strike in Klondike he came, as was his wont, to the large house to make report to old Klakee-Nah of all the world that he had seen; and there he first saw El-Soo, three years back from the Mission. Thereat, Akoon wandered no more. He refused a wage of twenty dollars a day as pilot on the big steamboats. He hunted some and fished some, but never far from Tana-naw Station, and he was at the large house often and long. And El-Soo measured him against many men and found him good. He sang songs to her, and was ardent and glowed until all Tana-naw Station knew he loved her. And Porportuk but grinned and advanced more money for the upkeep of the large house.
Then came the death table of Klakee-Nah.
He sat at feast, with death in his throat, that he could not drown with wine. And laughter and joke and song went around, and Akoon told a story that made the rafters echo. There were no tears or sighs at that table. It was no more than fit that Klakee-Nah should die as he had lived, and none knew this better than El-Soo, with her artist sympathy. The old roistering crowd was there, and, as of old, three frost-bitten sailors were there, fresh from the long traverse from the Arctic, survivors of a ship’s company of seventy-four. At Klakee-Nah’s back were four old men, all that were left him of the slaves of his youth. With rheumy eyes they saw to his needs, with palsied hands filling his glass or striking him on the back between the shoulders when death stirred and he coughed and gasped.
It was a wild night, and as the hours passed and the fun laughed and roared along, death stirred more restlessly in Klakee-Nah’s throat. Then it was that he sent for Porportuk. And Porportuk came in from the outside frost to look with disapproving eyes upon the meat and wine on the table for which he had paid. But as he looked down the length of flushed faces to the far end and saw the face of El-Soo, the light in his eyes flared up, and for a moment the disapproval vanished.
Place was made for him at Klakee-Nah’s side, and a glass placed before him. Klakee-Nah, with his own hands, filled the glass with fervent spirits. “Drink!” he cried. “Is it not good?”
And Porportuk’s eyes watered as he nodded his head and smacked his lips.
“When, in your own house, have you had such drink?” Klakee-Nah demanded.
“I will not deny that the drink is good to this old throat of mine,” Porportuk made answer, and hesitated for the speech to complete the thought.
“But it costs overmuch,” Klakee-Nah roared, completing it for him.
Porportuk winced at the laughter that went down the table. His eyes burned malevolently. “We were boys together, of the same age,” he said. “In your throat is death. I am still alive and strong.”
An ominous murmur arose from the company. Klakee-Nah coughed and strangled, and the old slaves smote him between the shoulders. He emerged gasping, and waved his hand to still the threatening rumble.
“You have grudged the very fire in your house because the wood cost overmuch!” he cried. “You have grudged life. To live cost overmuch, and you have refused to pay the price. Your life has been like a cabin where the fire is out and there are no blankets on the floor.” He signalled to a slave to fill his glass, which he held aloft. “But I have lived. And I have been warm with life as you have never been warm. It is true, you shall live long. But the longest nights are the cold nights when a man shivers and lies awake. My nights have been short, but I have slept warm.”
He drained the glass. The shaking hand of a slave failed to catch it as it crashed to the floor. Klakee-Nah sank back, panting, watching the upturned glasses at the lips of the drinkers, his own lips slightly smiling to the applause. At a sign, two slaves attempted to help him sit upright again. But they were weak, his frame was mighty, and the four old men tottered and shook as they helped him forward.
“But manner of life is neither here nor there,” he went on. “We have other business, Porportuk, you and I, to-night. Debts are mischances, and I am in mischance with you. What of my debt, and how great is it?”
Porportuk searched in his pouch and brought forth a memorandum. He sipped at his glass and began. “There is the note of August, 1889, for three hundred dollars. The interest has never been paid. And the note of the next year for five hundred dollars. This note was included in the note of two months later for a thousand dollars. Then there is the note—”
“Never mind the many notes!” Klakee-Nah cried out impatiently. “They make my head go around and all the things inside my head. The whole! The round whole! How much is it?”
Porportuk referred to his memorandum. “Fifteen thousand nine hundred and sixty-seven dollars and seventy-five cents,” he read with careful precision.
“Make it sixteen thousand, make it sixteen thousand,” Klakee-Nah said grandly. “Odd numbers were ever a worry. And now—and it is for this that I have sent for you—make me out a new note for sixteen thousand, which I shall sign. I have no thought of the interest. Make it as large as you will, and make it payable in the next world, when I shall meet you by the fire of the Great Father of all Indians. Then the note will be paid. This I promise you. It is the word of Klakee-Nah.”
Porportuk looked perplexed, and loudly the laughter arose and shook the room. Klakee-Nah raised his hands. “Nay,” he cried. “It is not a joke. I but speak in fairness. It was for this I sent for you, Porportuk. Make out the note.”
“I have no dealings with the next world,” Porportuk made answer slowly.
“Have you no thought to meet me before the Great Father!” Klakee-Nah demanded. Then he added, “I shall surely be there.”
“I have no dealings with the next world,” Porportuk repeated sourly.
The dying man regarded him with frank amazement.
“I know naught of the next world,” Porportuk explained. “I do business in this world.”
Klakee-Nah’s face cleared. “This comes of sleeping cold of nights,” he laughed. He pondered for a space, then said, “It is in this world that you must be paid. There remains to me this house. Take it, and burn the debt in the candle there.”
“It is an old house and not worth the money,” Porportuk made answer.
“There are my mines on the Twisted Salmon.”
“They have never paid to work,” was the reply.
“There is my share in the steamer Koyokuk. I am half owner.”
“She is at the bottom of the Yukon.”
Klakee-Nah started. “True, I forgot. It was last spring when the ice went out.” He mused for a time while the glasses remained untasted, and all the company waited upon his utterance.
“Then it would seem I owe you a sum of money which I cannot pay . . . in this world?” Porportuk nodded and glanced down the table.
“Then it would seem that you, Porportuk, are a poor business man,” Klakee-Nah said slyly. And boldly Porportuk made answer, “No; there is security yet untouched.”
“What!” cried Klakee-Nah. “Have I still property? Name it, and it is yours, and the debt is no more.”
“There it is.” Porportuk pointed at El-Soo.
Klakee-Nah could not understand. He peered down the table, brushed his eyes, and peered again.
“Your daughter, El-Soo—her will I take and the debt be no more. I will burn the debt there in the candle.”
Klakee-Nah’s great chest began to heave. “Ho! ho!—a joke. Ho! ho! ho!” he laughed Homerically. “And with your cold bed and daughters old enough to be the mother of El-Soo! Ho! ho! ho!” He began to cough and strangle, and the old slaves smote him on the back. “Ho! ho!” he began again, and went off into another paroxysm.
Porportuk waited patiently, sipping from his glass and studying the double row of faces down the board. “It is no joke,” he said finally. “My speech is well meant.”
Klakee-Nah sobered and looked at him, then reached for his glass, but could not touch it. A slave passed it to him, and glass and liquor he flung into the face of Porportuk.
“Turn him out!” Klakee-Nah thundered to the waiting table that strained like a pack of hounds in leash. “And roll him in the snow!”
As the mad riot swept past him and out of doors, he signalled to the slaves, and the four tottering old men supported him on his feet as he met the returning revellers, upright, glass in hand, pledging them a toast to the short night when a man sleeps warm.
It did not take long to settle the estate of Klakee-Nah. Tommy, the little Englishman, clerk at the trading post, was called in by El-Soo to help. There was nothing but debts, notes overdue, mortgaged properties, and properties mortgaged but worthless. Notes and mortgages were held by Porportuk. Tommy called him a robber many times as he pondered the compounding of the interest.
“Is it a debt, Tommy?” El-Soo asked.
“It is a robbery,” Tommy answered.
“Nevertheless, it is a debt,” she persisted.
The winter wore away, and the early spring, and still the claims of Porportuk remained unpaid. He saw El-Soo often and explained to her at length, as he had explained to her father, the way the debt could be cancelled. Also, he brought with him old medicine-men, who elaborated to her the everlasting damnation of her father if the debt were not paid. One day, after such an elaboration, El-Soo made final announcement to Porportuk.
“I shall tell you two things,” she said. “First I shall not be your wife. Will you remember that? Second, you shall be paid the last cent of the sixteen thousand dollars—”
“Fifteen thousand nine hundred and sixty-seven dollars and seventy-five cents,” Porportuk corrected.
“My father said sixteen thousand,” was her reply. “You shall be paid.”
“How?”
“I know not how, but I shall find out how. Now go, and bother me no more. If you do”—she hesitated to find fitting penalty—“if you do, I shall have you rolled in the snow again as soon as the first snow flies.”
This was still in the early spring, and a little later El-Soo surprised the country. Word went up and down the Yukon from Chilcoot to the Delta, and was carried from camp to camp to the farthermost camps, that in June, when the first salmon ran, El-Soo, daughter of Klakee-Nah, would sell herself at public auction to satisfy the claims of Porportuk. Vain were the attempts to dissuade her. The missionary at St. George wrestled with her, but she replied—
“Only the debts to God are settled in the next world. The debts of men are of this world, and in this world are they settled.”
Akoon wrestled with her, but she replied, “I do love thee, Akoon; but honour is greater than love, and who am I that I should blacken my father?” Sister Alberta journeyed all the way up from Holy Cross on the first steamer, and to no better end.
“My father wanders in the thick and endless forests,” said El-Soo. “And there will he wander, with the lost souls crying, till the debt be paid. Then, and not until then, may he go on to the house of the Great Father.”
“And you believe this?” Sister Alberta asked.
“I do not know,” El-Soo made answer. “It was my father’s belief.”
Sister Alberta shrugged her shoulders incredulously.
“Who knows but that the things we believe come true?” El-Soo went on. “Why not? The next world to you may be heaven and harps . . . because you have believed heaven and harps; to my father the next world may be a large house where he will sit always at table feasting with God.”
“And you?” Sister Alberta asked. “What is your next world?”
El-Soo hesitated but for a moment. “I should like a little of both,” she said. “I should like to see your face as well as the face of my father.”
The day of the auction came. Tana-naw Station was populous. As was their custom, the tribes had gathered to await the salmon-run, and in the meantime spent the time in dancing and frolicking, trading and gossiping. Then there was the ordinary sprinkling of white adventurers, traders, and prospectors, and, in addition, a large number of white men who had come because of curiosity or interest in the affair.
It had been a backward spring, and the salmon were late in running. This delay but keyed up the interest. Then, on the day of the auction, the situation was made tense by Akoon. He arose and made public and solemn announcement that whosoever bought El-Soo would forthwith and immediately die. He flourished the Winchester in his hand to indicate the manner of the taking-off. El-Soo was angered thereat; but he refused to speak with her, and went to the trading post to lay in extra ammunition.
The first salmon was caught at ten o’clock in the evening, and at midnight the auction began. It took place on top of the high bank alongside the Yukon. The sun was due north just below the horizon, and the sky was lurid red. A great crowd gathered about the table and the two chairs that stood near the edge of the bank. To the fore were many white men and several chiefs. And most prominently to the fore, rifle in hand, stood Akoon. Tommy, at El-Soo’s request, served as auctioneer, but she made the opening speech and described the goods about to be sold. She was in native costume, in the dress of a chief’s daughter, splendid and barbaric, and she stood on a chair, that she might be seen to advantage.
“Who will buy a wife?” she asked. “Look at me. I am twenty years old and a maid. I will be a good wife to the man who buys me. If he is a white man, I shall dress in the fashion of white women; if he is an Indian, I shall dress as”—she hesitated a moment—“a squaw. I can make my own clothes, and sew, and wash, and mend. I was taught for eight years to do these things at Holy Cross Mission. I can read and write English, and I know how to play the organ. Also I can do arithmetic and some algebra—a little. I shall be sold to the highest bidder, and to him I will make out a bill of sale of myself. I forgot to say that I can sing very well, and that I have never been sick in my life. I weigh one hundred and thirty-two pounds; my father is dead and I have no relatives. Who wants me?”
She looked over the crowd with flaming audacity and stepped down. At Tommy’s request she stood upon the chair again, while he mounted the second chair and started the bidding.
Surrounding El-Soo stood the four old slaves of her father. They were age-twisted and palsied, faithful to their meat, a generation out of the past that watched unmoved the antics of younger life. In the front of the crowd were several Eldorado and Bonanza kings from the Upper Yukon, and beside them, on crutches, swollen with scurvy, were two broken prospectors. From the midst of the crowd, thrust out by its own vividness, appeared the face of a wild-eyed squaw from the remote regions of the Upper Tana-naw; a strayed Sitkan from the coast stood side by side with a Stick from Lake Le Barge, and, beyond, a half-dozen French-Canadian voyageurs, grouped by themselves. From afar came the faint cries of myriads of wild-fowl on the nesting-grounds. Swallows were skimming up overhead from the placid surface of the Yukon, and robins were singing. The oblique rays of the hidden sun shot through the smoke, high-dissipated from forest fires a thousand miles away, and turned the heavens to sombre red, while the earth shone red in the reflected glow. This red glow shone in the faces of all, and made everything seem unearthly and unreal.
The bidding began slowly. The Sitkan, who was a stranger in the land and who had arrived only half an hour before, offered one hundred dollars in a confident voice, and was surprised when Akoon turned threateningly upon him with the rifle. The bidding dragged. An Indian from the Tozikakat, a pilot, bid one hundred and fifty, and after some time a gambler, who had been ordered out of the Upper Country, raised the bid to two hundred. El-Soo was saddened; her pride was hurt; but the only effect was that she flamed more audaciously upon the crowd.
There was a disturbance among the onlookers as Porportuk forced his way to the front. “Five hundred dollars!” he bid in a loud voice, then looked about him proudly to note the effect.
He was minded to use his great wealth as a bludgeon with which to stun all competition at the start. But one of the voyageurs, looking on El-Soo with sparkling eyes, raised the bid a hundred.
“Seven hundred!” Porportuk returned promptly.
And with equal promptness came the “Eight hundred” of the voyageur.
Then Porportuk swung his club again.
“Twelve hundred!” he shouted.
With a look of poignant disappointment, the voyageur succumbed. There was no further bidding. Tommy worked hard, but could not elicit a bid.
El-Soo spoke to Porportuk. “It were good, Porportuk, for you to weigh well your bid. Have you forgotten the thing I told you—that I would never marry you!”
“It is a public auction,” he retorted. “I shall buy you with a bill of sale. I have offered twelve hundred dollars. You come cheap.”
“Too damned cheap!” Tommy cried. “What if I am auctioneer? That does not prevent me from bidding. I’ll make it thirteen hundred.”
“Fourteen hundred,” from Porportuk.
“I’ll buy you in to be my—my sister,” Tommy whispered to El-Soo, then called aloud, “Fifteen hundred!”
At two thousand one of the Eldorado kings took a hand, and Tommy dropped out.
A third time Porportuk swung the club of his wealth, making a clean raise of five hundred dollars. But the Eldorado king’s pride was touched. No man could club him. And he swung back another five hundred.
El-Soo stood at three thousand. Porportuk made it thirty-five hundred, and gasped when the Eldorado king raised it a thousand dollars. Porportuk again raised it five hundred, and again gasped when the king raised a thousand more.
Porportuk became angry. His pride was touched; his strength was challenged, and with him strength took the form of wealth. He would not be ashamed for weakness before the world. El-Soo became incidental. The savings and scrimpings from the cold nights of all his years were ripe to be squandered. El-Soo stood at six thousand. He made it seven thousand. And then, in thousand-dollar bids, as fast as they could be uttered, her price went up. At fourteen thousand the two men stopped for breath.
Then the unexpected happened. A still heavier club was swung. In the pause that ensued, the gambler, who had scented a speculation and formed a syndicate with several of his fellows, bid sixteen thousand dollars.
“Seventeen thousand,” Porportuk said weakly.
“Eighteen thousand,” said the king.
Porportuk gathered his strength. “Twenty thousand.”
The syndicate dropped out. The Eldorado king raised a thousand, and Porportuk raised back; and as they bid, Akoon turned from one to the other, half menacingly, half curiously, as though to see what manner of man it was that he would have to kill. When the king prepared to make his next bid, Akoon having pressed closer, the king first loosed the revolver at his hip, then said:
“Twenty-three thousand.”
“Twenty-four thousand,” said Porportuk. He grinned viciously, for the certitude of his bidding had at last shaken the king. The latter moved over close to El-Soo. He studied her carefully for a long while.
“And five hundred,” he said at last.
“Twenty-five thousand,” came Porportuk’s raise.
The king looked for a long space, and shook his head. He looked again, and said reluctantly, “And five hundred.”
“Twenty-six thousand,” Porportuk snapped.
The king shook his head and refused to meet Tommy’s pleading eye. In the meantime Akoon had edged close to Porportuk. El-Soo’s quick eye noted this, and, while Tommy wrestled with the Eldorado king for another bid, she bent, and spoke in a low voice in the ear of a slave. And while Tommy’s “Going—going—going—” dominated the air, the slave went up to Akoon and spoke in a low voice in his ear. Akoon made no sign that he had heard, though El-Soo watched him anxiously.
“Gone!” Tommy’s voice rang out. “To Porportuk, for twenty-six thousand dollars.”
Porportuk glanced uneasily at Akoon. All eyes were centred upon Akoon, but he did nothing.
“Let the scales be brought,” said El-Soo.
“I shall make payment at my house,” said Porportuk.
“Let the scales be brought,” El-Soo repeated. “Payment shall be made here where all can see.”
So the gold scales were brought from the trading post, while Porportuk went away and came back with a man at his heels, on whose shoulders was a weight of gold-dust in moose-hide sacks. Also, at Porportuk’s back, walked another man with a rifle, who had eyes only for Akoon.
“Here are the notes and mortgages,” said Porportuk, “for fifteen thousand nine hundred and sixty-seven dollars and seventy-five cents.”
El-Soo received them into her hands and said to Tommy, “Let them be reckoned as sixteen thousand.”
“There remains ten thousand dollars to be paid in gold,” Tommy said.
Porportuk nodded, and untied the mouths of the sacks. El-Soo, standing at the edge of the bank, tore the papers to shreds and sent them fluttering out over the Yukon. The weighing began, but halted.
“Of course, at seventeen dollars,” Porportuk had said to Tommy, as he adjusted the scales.
“At sixteen dollars,” El-Soo said sharply.
“It is the custom of all the land to reckon gold at seventeen dollars for each ounce,” Porportuk replied. “And this is a business transaction.”
El-Soo laughed. “It is a new custom,” she said. “It began this spring. Last year, and the years before, it was sixteen dollars an ounce. When my father’s debt was made, it was sixteen dollars. When he spent at the store the money he got from you, for one ounce he was given sixteen dollars’ worth of flour, not seventeen. Wherefore, shall you pay for me at sixteen, and not at seventeen.” Porportuk grunted and allowed the weighing to proceed.
“Weigh it in three piles, Tommy,” she said. “A thousand dollars here, three thousand here, and here six thousand.”
It was slow work, and, while the weighing went on, Akoon was closely watched by all.
“He but waits till the money is paid,” one said; and the word went around and was accepted, and they waited for what Akoon should do when the money was paid. And Porportuk’s man with the rifle waited and watched Akoon.
The weighing was finished, and the gold-dust lay on the table in three dark-yellow heaps. “There is a debt of my father to the Company for three thousand dollars,” said El-Soo. “Take it, Tommy, for the Company. And here are four old men, Tommy. You know them. And here is one thousand dollars. Take it, and see that the old men are never hungry and never without tobacco.”
Tommy scooped the gold into separate sacks. Six thousand dollars remained on the table. El-Soo thrust the scoop into the heap, and with a sudden turn whirled the contents out and down to the Yukon in a golden shower. Porportuk seized her wrist as she thrust the scoop a second time into the heap.
“It is mine,” she said calmly. Porportuk released his grip, but he gritted his teeth and scowled darkly as she continued to scoop the gold into the river till none was left.
The crowd had eyes for naught but Akoon, and the rifle of Porportuk’s man lay across the hollow of his arm, the muzzle directed at Akoon a yard away, the man’s thumb on the hammer. But Akoon did nothing.
“Make out the bill of sale,” Porportuk said grimly.
And Tommy made out the till of sale, wherein all right and title in the woman El-Soo was vested in the man Porportuk. El-Soo signed the document, and Porportuk folded it and put it away in his pouch. Suddenly his eyes flashed, and in sudden speech he addressed El-Soo.
“But it was not your father’s debt,” he said, “What I paid was the price for you. Your sale is business of to-day and not of last year and the years before. The ounces paid for you will buy at the post to-day seventeen dollars of flour, and not sixteen. I have lost a dollar on each ounce. I have lost six hundred and twenty-five dollars.”
El-Soo thought for a moment, and saw the error she had made. She smiled, and then she laughed.
“You are right,” she laughed, “I made a mistake. But it is too late. You have paid, and the gold is gone. You did not think quick. It is your loss. Your wit is slow these days, Porportuk. You are getting old.”
He did not answer. He glanced uneasily at Akoon, and was reassured. His lips tightened, and a hint of cruelty came into his face. “Come,” he said, “we will go to my house.”
“Do you remember the two things I told you in the spring?” El-Soo asked, making no movement to accompany him.
“My head would be full with the things women say, did I heed them,” he answered.
“I told you that you would be paid,” El-Soo went on carefully. “And I told you that I would never be your wife.”
“But that was before the bill of sale.” Porportuk crackled the paper between his fingers inside the pouch. “I have bought you before all the world. You belong to me. You will not deny that you belong to me.”
“I belong to you,” El-Soo said steadily.
“I own you.”
“You own me.”
Porportuk’s voice rose slightly and triumphantly. “As a dog, I own you.”
“As a dog you own me,” El-Soo continued calmly. “But, Porportuk, you forget the thing I told you. Had any other man bought me, I should have been that man’s wife. I should have been a good wife to that man. Such was my will. But my will with you was that I should never be your wife. Wherefore, I am your dog.”
Porportuk knew that he played with fire, and he resolved to play firmly. “Then I speak to you, not as El-Soo, but as a dog,” he said; “and I tell you to come with me.” He half reached to grip her arm, but with a gesture she held him back.
“Not so fast, Porportuk. You buy a dog. The dog runs away. It is your loss. I am your dog. What if I run away?”
“As the owner of the dog, I shall beat you—”
“When you catch me?”
“When I catch you.”
“Then catch me.”
He reached swiftly for her, but she eluded him. She laughed as she circled around the table. “Catch her!” Porportuk commanded the Indian with the rifle, who stood near to her. But as the Indian stretched forth his arm to her, the Eldorado king felled him with a fist blow under the ear. The rifle clattered to the ground. Then was Akoon’s chance. His eyes glittered, but he did nothing.
Porportuk was an old man, but his cold nights retained for him his activity. He did not circle the table. He came across suddenly, over the top of the table. El-Soo was taken off her guard. She sprang back with a sharp cry of alarm, and Porportuk would have caught her had it not been for Tommy. Tommy’s leg went out, Porportuk tripped and pitched forward on the ground. El-Soo got her start.
“Then catch me,” she laughed over her shoulder, as she fled away.
She ran lightly and easily, but Porportuk ran swiftly and savagely. He outran her. In his youth he had been swiftest of all the young men. But El-Soo dodged in a willowy, elusive way. Being in native dress, her feet were not cluttered with skirts, and her pliant body curved a flight that defied the gripping fingers of Porportuk.
With laughter and tumult, the great crowd scattered out to see the chase. It led through the Indian encampment; and ever dodging, circling, and reversing, El-Soo and Porportuk appeared and disappeared among the tents. El-Soo seemed to balance herself against the air with her arms, now one side, now on the other, and sometimes her body, too, leaned out upon the air far from the perpendicular as she achieved her sharpest curves. And Porportuk, always a leap behind, or a leap this side or that, like a lean hound strained after her.
They crossed the open ground beyond the encampment and disappeared in the forest. Tana-naw Station waited their reappearance, and long and vainly it waited.
In the meantime Akoon ate and slept, and lingered much at the steamboat landing, deaf to the rising resentment of Tana-naw Station in that he did nothing. Twenty-four hours later Porportuk returned. He was tired and savage. He spoke to no one but Akoon, and with him tried to pick a quarrel. But Akoon shrugged his shoulders and walked away. Porportuk did not waste time. He outfitted half a dozen of the young men, selecting the best trackers and travellers, and at their head plunged into the forest.
Next day the steamer Seattle, bound up river, pulled in to the shore and wooded up. When the lines were cast off and she churned out from the bank, Akoon was on board in the pilot-house. Not many hours afterward, when it was his turn at the wheel, he saw a small birch-bark canoe put off from the shore. There was only one person in it. He studied it carefully, put the wheel over, and slowed down.
The captain entered the pilot-house. “What’s the matter?” he demanded. “The water’s good.”
Akoon grunted. He saw a larger canoe leaving the bank, and in it were a number of persons. As the Seattle lost headway, he put the wheel over some more.
The captain fumed. “It’s only a squaw,” he protested.
Akoon did not grunt. He was all eyes for the squaw and the pursuing canoe. In the latter six paddles were flashing, while the squaw paddled slowly.
“You’ll be aground,” the captain protested, seizing the wheel.
But Akoon countered his strength on the wheel and looked him in the eyes. The captain slowly released the spokes.
“Queer beggar,” he sniffed to himself.
Akoon held the Seattle on the edge of the shoal water and waited till he saw the squaw’s fingers clutch the forward rail. Then he signalled for full speed ahead and ground the wheel over. The large canoe was very near, but the gap between it and the steamer was widening.
The squaw laughed and leaned over the rail.
“Then catch me, Porportuk!” she cried.
Akoon left the steamer at Fort Yukon. He outfitted a small poling-boat and went up the Porcupine River. And with him went El-Soo. It was a weary journey, and the way led across the backbone of the world; but Akoon had travelled it before. When they came to the head-waters of the Porcupine, they left the boat and went on foot across the Rocky Mountains.
Akoon greatly liked to walk behind El-Soo and watch the movements of her. There was a music in it that he loved. And especially he loved the well-rounded calves in their sheaths of soft-tanned leather, the slim ankles, and the small moccasined feet that were tireless through the longest days.
“You are light as air,” he said, looking up at her. “It is no labour for you to walk. You almost float, so lightly do your feet rise and fall. You are like a deer, El-Soo; you are like a deer, and your eyes are like deer’s eyes, sometimes when you look at me, or when you hear a quick sound and wonder if it be danger that stirs. Your eyes are like a deer’s eyes now as you look at me.”
And El-Soo, luminous and melting, bent and kissed Akoon.
“When we reach the Mackenzie, we will not delay,” Akoon said later. “We will go south before the winter catches us. We will go to the sunlands where there is no snow. But we will return. I have seen much of the world, and there is no land like Alaska, no sun like our sun, and the snow is good after the long summer.”
“And you will learn to read,” said El-Soo.
And Akoon said, “I will surely learn to read.” But there was delay when they reached the Mackenzie. They fell in with a band of Mackenzie Indians, and, hunting, Akoon was shot by accident. The rifle was in the hands of a youth. The bullet broke Akoon’s right arm and, ranging farther, broke two of his ribs. Akoon knew rough surgery, while El-Soo had learned some refinements at Holy Cross. The bones were finally set, and Akoon lay by the fire for them to knit. Also, he lay by the fire so that the smoke would keep the mosquitoes away.
Then it was that Porportuk, with his six young men, arrived. Akoon groaned in his helplessness and made appeal to the Mackenzies. But Porportuk made demand, and the Mackenzies were perplexed. Porportuk was for seizing upon El-Soo, but this they would not permit. Judgment must be given, and, as it was an affair of man and woman, the council of the old men was called—this that warm judgment might not be given by the young men, who were warm of heart.
The old men sat in a circle about the smudge-fire. Their faces were lean and wrinkled, and they gasped and panted for air. The smoke was not good for them. Occasionally they struck with withered hands at the mosquitoes that braved the smoke. After such exertion they coughed hollowly and painfully. Some spat blood, and one of them sat a bit apart with head bowed forward, and bled slowly and continuously at the mouth; the coughing sickness had gripped them. They were as dead men; their time was short. It was a judgment of the dead.
“And I paid for her a heavy price,” Porportuk concluded his complaint. “Such a price you have never seen. Sell all that is yours—sell your spears and arrows and rifles, sell your skins and furs, sell your tents and boats and dogs, sell everything, and you will not have maybe a thousand dollars. Yet did I pay for the woman, El-Soo, twenty-six times the price of all your spears and arrows and rifles, your skins and furs, your tents and boats and dogs. It was a heavy price.”
The old men nodded gravely, though their weazened eye-slits widened with wonder that any woman should be worth such a price. The one that bled at the mouth wiped his lips. “Is it true talk?” he asked each of Porportuk’s six young men. And each answered that it was true.
“Is it true talk?” he asked El-Soo, and she answered, “It is true.”
“But Porportuk has not told that he is an old man,” Akoon said, “and that he has daughters older than El-Soo.”
“It is true, Porportuk is an old man,” said El-Soo.
“It is for Porportuk to measure the strength his age,” said he who bled at the mouth. “We be old men. Behold! Age is never so old as youth would measure it.”
And the circle of old men champed their gums, and nodded approvingly, and coughed.
“I told him that I would never be his wife,” said El-Soo.
“Yet you took from him twenty-six times all that we possess?” asked a one-eyed old man.
El-Soo was silent.
“It is true?” And his one eye burned and bored into her like a fiery gimlet.
“It is true,” she said.
“But I will run away again,” she broke out passionately, a moment later. “Always will I run away.”
“That is for Porportuk to consider,” said another of the old men. “It is for us to consider the judgment.”
“What price did you pay for her?” was demanded of Akoon.
“No price did I pay for her,” he answered. “She was above price. I did not measure her in gold-dust, nor in dogs, and tents, and furs.”
The old men debated among themselves and mumbled in undertones. “These old men are ice,” Akoon said in English. “I will not listen to their judgment, Porportuk. If you take El-Soo, I will surely kill you.”
The old men ceased and regarded him suspiciously. “We do not know the speech you make,” one said.
“He but said that he would kill me,” Porportuk volunteered. “So it were well to take from him his rifle, and to have some of your young men sit by him, that he may not do me hurt. He is a young man, and what are broken bones to youth!”
Akoon, lying helpless, had rifle and knife taken from him, and to either side of his shoulders sat young men of the Mackenzies. The one-eyed old man arose and stood upright. “We marvel at the price paid for one mere woman,” he began; “but the wisdom of the price is no concern of ours. We are here to give judgment, and judgment we give. We have no doubt. It is known to all that Porportuk paid a heavy price for the woman El-Soo. Wherefore does the woman El-Soo belong to Porportuk and none other.” He sat down heavily, and coughed. The old men nodded and coughed.
“I will kill you,” Akoon cried in English.
Porportuk smiled and stood up. “You have given true judgment,” he said to the council, “and my young men will give to you much tobacco. Now let the woman be brought to me.”
Akoon gritted his teeth. The young men took El-Soo by the arms. She did not resist, and was led, her face a sullen flame, to Porportuk.
“Sit there at my feet till I have made my talk,” he commanded. He paused a moment. “It is true,” he said, “I am an old man. Yet can I understand the ways of youth. The fire has not all gone out of me. Yet am I no longer young, nor am I minded to run these old legs of mine through all the years that remain to me. El-Soo can run fast and well. She is a deer. This I know, for I have seen and run after her. It is not good that a wife should run so fast. I paid for her a heavy price, yet does she run away from me. Akoon paid no price at all, yet does she run to him.
“When I came among you people of the Mackenzie, I was of one mind. As I listened in the council and thought of the swift legs of El-Soo, I was of many minds. Now am I of one mind again but it is a different mind from the one I brought to the council. Let me tell you my mind. When a dog runs once away from a master, it will run away again. No matter how many times it is brought back, each time it will run away again. When we have such dogs, we sell them. El-Soo is like a dog that runs away. I will sell her. Is there any man of the council that will buy?”
The old men coughed and remained silent
“Akoon would buy,” Porportuk went on, “but he has no money. Wherefore I will give El-Soo to him, as he said, without price. Even now will I give her to him.”
Reaching down, he took El-Soo by the hand and led her across the space to where Akoon lay on his back.
“She has a bad habit, Akoon,” he said, seating her at Akoon’s feet. “As she has run away from me in the past, in the days to come she may run away from you. But there is no need to fear that she will ever run away, Akoon. I shall see to that. Never will she run away from you—this is the word of Porportuk. She has great wit. I know, for often has it bitten into me. Yet am I minded myself to give my wit play for once. And by my wit will I secure her to you, Akoon.”
Stooping, Porportuk crossed El-Soo’s feet, so that the instep of one lay over that of the other; and then, before his purpose could be divined, he discharged his rifle through the two ankles. As Akoon struggled to rise against the weight of the young men, there was heard the crunch of the broken bone rebroken.
“It is just,” said the old men, one to another.
El-Soo made no sound. She sat and looked at her shattered ankles, on which she would never walk again.
“My legs are strong, El-Soo,” Akoon said. “But never will they bear me away from you.”
El-Soo looked at him, and for the first time in all the time he had known her, Akoon saw tears in her eyes.
“Your eyes are like deer’s eyes, El-Soo,” he said.
“Is it just?” Porportuk asked, and grinned from the edge of the smoke as he prepared to depart.
“It is just,” the old men said. And they sat on in the silence.


8. CHASED BY THE TRAIL

WALT first blinked his eyes in the light of day in a trading post on the Yukon River. Masters, his father, was one of those world missionaries who are known as “pioneers,” and who spend the years of their life in pushing outward the walls of civilization and in planting the wilderness. He had selected Alaska as his field of labor, and his wife had gone with him to that land of frost and cold.
Now, to be born to the moccasin and pack-strap is indeed a hard way of entering the world, but far harder it is to lose one’s mother while yet a child. This was Walt’s misfortune when he was fourteen years old.
He had, at different times, done deeds which few boys get the chance get the chance to do, and he had learned to take some pride in himself and to be unafraid. With most people pride goeth before a fall; but not so with Walt. His was a healthy belief in his own strength and fitness, and knowing his limitations, he was neither overweening nor presumptuous. He had learned to meet reverses with the stoicism of the Indian. Shame, to him, lay not in the failure to accomplish, but in the failure to strive. So, when he attempted to cross the Yukon between two ice-runs, and was chased by the trail, he was not cast down by his defeat.
The way of it was this. After passing the winter at his father’s claim on Mazy May, he came down to an island on the Yukon and went into camp. This was late in the spring, just before the breaking of the ice on the river. It was quite warm, and the days were growing marvelously long. Only the night before, when he was talking with Chilkoot Jim, the daylight had not faded and sent him off to bed till after ten o’clock. Even Chilkoot Jim, an Indian boy who was about Walt’s own age, was surprised at the rapidity with which summer was coming on. The snow had melted from all the southern hillsides and the level surfaces of the flats and islands; everywhere could be heard the trickling of water and the song of hidden rivulets; but somehow, under its three-foot ice- sheet, the Yukon delayed to heave its great length of three thousand miles and shake off the frosty fetters which bound it.
But it was evident that the time was fast approaching when it would again run free. Great fissures were splitting the ice in all directions, while the water was beginning to flood through them and over the top. On this morning a frightful rumbling brought the two boys hurriedly from their blankets. Standing on the bank, they soon discovered the cause. The Stewart River had broken loose and reared a great ice barrier, where it entered the Yukon, barely a mile above their island. While a great deal of the Stewart ice had been thus piled up, the remainder was now flowing under the Yukon ice, pounding and thumping at the solid surface above it as it passed onward toward the sea.
"To-day um break um," Chilkoot Jim said, nodding his head. "Sure!"
"And then maybe two days for the ice to pass by," Walt added, "and you and I’ll be starting for Dawson. It’s only seventy miles, and if the current runs five miles an hour and we paddle three, we ought to make it inside of ten hours. What do you think?"
"Sure!" Chilkoot Jim did not know much English, and this favorite word of his was made to do duty on all occasions.
After breakfast the boys got out the Peterborough canoe from its winter cache. It was an admirable sample of the boat-builder’s skill, an imported article brought from the first mail in six months into the Klondike. Walt, who happened to be in Dawson at the time had bought it for three hundred dollars’ worth of dust which he had mined on the Mazy May.
It had been a revelation, both to him and to Chilkoot Jim, for up to its advent they had been used to no other craft than the flimsy birchbark canoes of the Indians and the crude poling-boats of the whites. Jim, in fact, spent many a happy half-hour in silent admiration of its perfect lines.
"Um good. Sure!" Jim lifted his gaze from the dainty craft, expressing his delight in the same terms for the thousandth time. But glancing over Walt’s shoulder, he saw something on the river which startled him. "Look! See!" he cried.
A man had been racing a dog-team across the slushy surface for the shore, and had been cut off by the rising flood. As Walt whirled round to see, the ice behind the man burst into violent commotion, splitting and smashing into fragments which bobbed up and down and turned turtle like so many corks.
A gush of water followed, burying the sled and washing the dogs from their feet. Tangled in their harness and securely fastened to the heavy sled, they must drown in a few minutes unless rescued by the man. Bravely his manhood answered.
Floundering about with the drowning animals, nearly hip-deep in the icy flood, he cut and slashed with his sheath-knife at the traces. One by one the dogs struck out for shore, the first reaching safety ere the last was released. Then the master, abandoning the sled, followed them. It was a struggle in which little help could be given, and Walt and Chilkoot Jim could only, at the last, grasp his hands and drag him, half-fainting, up the bank.
First he sat down till he had recovered his breath; next he knocked the water from his ears like a boy who had just been swimming; and after that he whistled his dogs together to see whether they had all escaped. These things done, he turned his attention to the lads.
"I’m Muso," he said, "Pete Muso, and I’m looking for Charley Drake. His partner is dying down at Dawson, and they want him to come at once, as soon as the river breaks. He’s got a cabin on this island, hasn’t he?"
"Yes," Walt answered, "but he’s over on the other side of the river, with a couple of other men, getting out a raft of logs for a grub-stake."
The stranger’s disappointment was great. Exhausted by his weary journey, just escaped from sudden death, overcome by all he had undergone in carrying the message which was now useless, he looked dazed. The tears welled into his eyes, and his voice was choked with sobs as he repeated, aimlessly, "But his partner’s dying. It’s his partner, you know, and he wants to see him before he dies."
Walt and Jim knew that nothing could be done, and as aimlessly looked out on the hopeless river. No man could venture on it and live. On the other bank, and several miles up-stream, a thin column of smoke wavered to the sky. Charley Drake was cooking his dinner there; seventy miles below, his partner lay dying; yet no word of it could be sent.
But even as they looked, a change came over the river. There was a muffled rending and tearing, and, as if by magic, the surface water disappeared, while the great ice-sheet, reaching from shore to shore, and broken into all manner and sizes of cakes, floated silently up toward them. The ice which had been pounding along underneath had evidently grounded at some point lower down, and was now backing up the water like a mill-dam. This had broken the ice-sheet from the land and lifted it on top of the rising water.
"Um break up very quick," Chilkoot Jim said.
The Indian boy laughed. "Mebbe you get um in middle, mebbe not. All the same, the trail um go down-stream, and you go, too. Sure!" He glanced at Walt, that he might back him up in preventing this insane attempt.
"You’re not going to try and make it across?" Walt queried.
"But you mustn’t!" Walt protested. "It’s certain death. The river’ll break before you get half-way, and then what good’ll your message be?"
But the stranger doggedly went on undressing, muttering in an undertone, "I want Charley Drake! Don’t you understand? It’s his partner, dying."
"Um sick man. Bimeby—" The Indian boy put a finger to his forehead and whirled his hand in quick circles, thus indicating the approach of brain fever. "Um work too hard, and um think too much, all the time think about sick man at Dawson. Very quick um head go round—so." And he feigned the bodily dizziness which is caused by a disordered brain.
By this time, undressed as if for a swim, Muso rose to his feet and started for the bank. Walt stepped in front, barring the way. He shot a glance at his comrade. Jim nodded that he understood and would stand by.
"Get out of my way, boy!" Muso commanded, roughly, trying to thrust him aside.
But Walt closed in, and with the aid of Jim succeeded in tripping him upon his back. He struggled weakly for a few moments, but was too wearied by his long journey to cope successfully with the two boys whose muscles were healthy and trail-hardened.
"Pack um into camp, roll um in plenty blanket, and I fix um good," Jim advised.
This was quickly accomplished, and the sufferer made as comfortable as possible. After he had been attended to, and Jim had utilized the medical lore picked up in the camps of his own people, they fed the stranger’s dogs and cooked dinner. They said very little to each other, but each boy was thinking hard, and when they went out into the sunshine a few minutes later, their minds were intent on the same project.
The river had now risen twenty feet, the ice rubbing softly against the top of the bank. All noise had ceased. Countless millions of tons of ice and water were silently waiting the supreme moment, when all bonds would be broken and the mad rush to the sea would begin. Suddenly, without the slighted apparent effort, everything began to move downstream. The jam had broken.
Slowly at first, but faster and faster the frozen sea dashed past. The noise returned again, and the air trembled to a mighty churning and grinding. Huge blocks of ice were shot into the air by the pressure; others butted wildly into the bank; still others, swinging and pivoting, reached inshore and swept rows of pines away as easily as if they were so many matches.
In awe-stricken silence the boys watched the magnificent spectacle, and it was not until the ice had slackened its speed and fallen to its old level that Walt cried, "Look, Jim! Look at the trail going by!"
And in truth it was the trail going by—the trail upon which they had camped and traveled during all the preceding winter. Next winter they would journey with dogs and sleds over the same ground, but not on the same trail. That trail, the old trail, was passing away before their eyes.
Looking up-stream, they saw open water. No more ice was coming down, although vast quantities of it still remained on the upper reaches, jammed somewhere amid the maze of islands which covered the Yukon’s breast. As a matter of fact, there were several more jams yet to break, one after another, and to send down as many ice-runs. The next might come along in a few minutes; it might delay for hours. Perhaps there would be time to paddle across. Walt looked questioningly at his comrade.
"Sure!" Jim remarked, and without another word they carried the canoe down the bank. Each knew the danger of what they were about to attempt, but they wasted no speech over it. Wild life had taught them both that the need of things demanded effort and action, and that the tongue found its fit vocation at the camp-fire when the day’s work was done.
With dexterity born of long practice they launched the canoe, and were soon making it spring to each stroke of the paddles as they stemmed the muddy current. A steady procession of lagging ice-cakes, each thoroughly capable of crushing the Peterborough like an egg-shell, was drifting on the surface, and it required of the boys the utmost vigilance and skill to thread them safely.
Anxiously they watched the great bend above, down which at any moment might rush another ice-run. And as anxiously they watched the ice stranded against the bank and towering a score of feet above them. Cake was poised upon cake and piled in precarious confusion, while the boys had to hug the shore closely to avoid the swifter current of midstream. Now and again great heaps of this ice tottered and fell into the river, rolling and rumbling like distant thunder, and lashing the water into fair-sized tidal waves.
Several times they were nearly swamped, but saved themselves by quick work with the paddles. And all the time Charley Drake’s pillared camp smoke grew nearer and clearer. But it was still on the opposite shore, and they knew they must get higher up before they attempted to shoot across.
Entering the Stewart River, they paddled up a few hundred yards, shot across, and then continued up the right bank of the Yukon. Before long they came to the Bald-Face Bluffs—huge walls of rock which rose perpendicularly from the river. Here the current was swiftest inshore, forming the first serious obstacle encountered by the boys. Below the bluffs they rested from their exertions in a favorable eddy, and then, paddling their strongest, strove to dash past.
At first they gained, but in the swiftest place the current overpowered them. For a full sixty seconds they remained stationary, neither advancing nor receding, the grim cliff base within reach of their arms, their paddles dipping and lifting like clockwork, and the rough water dashing by in muddy haste. For a full sixty seconds, and then the canoe sheered in to the shore. To prevent instant destruction, they pressed their paddles against the rocks, sheered back into the stream, and were swept away. Regaining the eddy, they stopped for breath. A second time they attempted the passage; but just as they were almost past, a threatening ice-cake whirled down upon them on the angry tide, and they were forced to flee before it.
"Um stiff, I think yes," Chilkoot Jim said, mopping the sweat from his face as they again rested in the eddy. "Next time um make um, sure."
"We’ve got to. That’s all there is about it," Walt answered, his teeth set and lips tight-drawn, for Pete Muso had set a bad example, and he was almost ready to cry from exhaustion and failure. A third time they darted out of the head of the eddy, plunged into the swirling waters, and worked a snail-like course ahead. Often they stood still for the space of many strokes, but whatever they gained they held, and they at last drew out into easier water far above. But every moment was precious. There was no telling when the Yukon would again become a scene of wild anarchy in which neither man nor any of his works could hope to endure. So they held steadily to their course till they had passed above Charley Drake’s camp by a quarter of a mile. The river was fully a mile wide at this point, and they had to reckon on being carried down by the swift current in crossing it.
Walt turned his head from his place in the bow. Jim nodded. Without further parley they headed the canoe out from the shore, at an angle of forty-five degrees against the current. They were on the last stretch now; the goal was in fair sight. Indeed, as they looked up from their toil to mark their progress, they could see Charley Drake and his two comrades come town to the edge of the river to watch them.
Five hundred yards; four hundred yards; the Peterborough cut the water like a blade of steel; the paddles were dipping, dipping, dipping in rapid rhythm—and then a warning shout from the bank sent a chill to their hearts. Round the great bend just above rolled a mighty wall of glistening white. Behind it, urging it on to lightning speed, were a million tons of long-pent water.
The right flank of the ice-run, unable to get cleanly round the bend, collided with the opposite shore, and even as they looked they saw the ice mountains rear toward the sky, rise, collapse, and rise again in glittering convulsions. The advancing roar filled the air so that Walt could not make himself heard; but he paused long enough to wave his paddle significantly in the direction of Dawson. Perhaps Charley Drake, seeing, might understand.
With two swift strokes they whirled the Peterborough down- stream. They must keep ahead of the rushing flood. It was impossible to make either bank at that moment. Every ounce of their strength went into the paddles, and the frail canoe fairly rose and leaped ahead at each stroke. They said nothing. Each knew and had faith in the other, and they were too wise to waste their breath. The shore-line—trees, islands and the Stewart River—flew by at a bewildering rate, but they barely looked at it.
Occasionally Chilkoot Jim stole a glance behind him at the pursuing trail, and marked the fact that they held their own. Once he shaped a sharper course toward the bank, but found the trail was overtaking them, and gave it up.
Gradually they worked in to land, their failing strength warning them that it was soon or never. And at last, when they did draw up to the bank, they were confronted by the inhospitable barrier of the stranded shore-ice. Not a place could be found to land, and with safety virtually within arm’s reach, they were forced to flee on down the stream. They passed a score of places, at each of which, had they had plenty of time, they could have clambered out; but behind pressed on the inexorable trail, and would not let them pause.
Half a mile of this work drew heavily upon their strength; and the trail came upon them nearer and nearer. Its sullen grind was in their ears, and its collisions against the bank made one continuous succession of terrifying crashes. Walt felt his heart thumping against his ribs and caught each breath in painful gasps. But worst of all was the constant demand upon his arms.
If he could only rest for the space of one stroke, he felt that the torture would be relieved; but no, it was dip and lift, dip and lift, till it seemed as if at each stroke he would surely die. But he knew that Chilkoot Jim was suffering likewise; and their lives depended each upon the other; and that it would be a blot upon his manhood should he fail or even miss a stroke.
They were very weary, but their faith was large, and if either felt afraid, it was not of the other, but of himself.
Flashing round a sharp point, they came upon their last chance for escape. An island lay close inshore, upon the nose of which the ice lay piled in a long slope. They drove the Peterborough half out of the water upon a shelving cake and leaped out. Then, dragging the canoe along, slipping and tripping and falling, but always getting nearer the top, they made their last mad scramble.
As they cleared the crest and fell within the shelter of the pines, a tremendous crash announced the arrival of the trail. One huge cake, shoved to the, shoved to the top of the rim-ice, balanced threateningly above them and then toppled forward.
With one jerk they flung themselves and the canoe from beneath, and again fell, breathless and panting for air. The thunder of the ice-run came dimly to their ears; but they did not care. It held no interest for them whatsoever. All they wished was simply to lie there, just as they had fallen, and enjoy the inaction of repose.
Two hours later, when the river once more ran open, they carried the Peterborough down to the water. But just before they launched it, Charley Drake and a comrade paddled up in another canoe.
"Well, you boys hardly deserve to have good folks out looking for you, the way you’ve behaved," was his greeting. "What under the sun made you leave your tent and get chased by the trail? Eh? That’s what I’d like to know."
It took but a minute to explain the real state of affairs, and but another to see Charley Drake hurrying along on his way to his sick partner at Dawson.
"Pretty close shave, that," Walt Masters said, as they prepared to get aboard and paddle back to camp.
"Sure!" Chilkoot Jim replied, rubbing his stiffened biceps in a meditative fashion.


9. THE PASSING OF MARCUS O’BRIEN

“It is the judgment of this court that you vamose the camp . . . in the customary way, sir, in the customary way.”
Judge Marcus O’Brien was absent-minded, and Mucluc Charley nudged him in the ribs. Marcus O’Brien cleared his throat and went on—
“Weighing the gravity of the offence, sir, and the extenuating circumstances, it is the opinion of this court, and its verdict, that you be outfitted with three days’ grub. That will do, I think.”
Arizona Jack cast a bleak glance out over the Yukon. It was a swollen, chocolate flood, running a mile wide and nobody knew how deep. The earth-bank on which he stood was ordinarily a dozen feet above the water, but the river was now growling at the top of the bank, devouring, instant by instant, tiny portions of the top-standing soil. These portions went into the gaping mouths of the endless army of brown swirls and vanished away. Several inches more, and Red Cow would be flooded.
“It won’t do,” Arizona Jack said bitterly. “Three days’ grub ain’t enough.”
“There was Manchester,” Marcus O’Brien replied gravely. “He didn’t get any grub.”
“And they found his remains grounded on the Lower River an’ half eaten by huskies,” was Arizona Jack’s retort. “And his killin’ was without provocation. Joe Deeves never did nothin’, never warbled once, an’ jes’ because his stomach was out of order, Manchester ups an’ plugs him. You ain’t givin’ me a square deal, O’Brien, I tell you that straight. Give me a week’s grub, and I play even to win out. Three days’ grub, an’ I cash in.”
“What for did you kill Ferguson?” O’Brien demanded. “I haven’t any patience for these unprovoked killings. And they’ve got to stop. Red Cow’s none so populous. It’s a good camp, and there never used to be any killings. Now they’re epidemic. I’m sorry for you, Jack, but you’ve got to be made an example of. Ferguson didn’t provoke enough for a killing.”
“Provoke!” Arizona Jack snorted. “I tell you, O’Brien, you don’t savve. You ain’t got no artistic sensibilities. What for did I kill Ferguson? What for did Ferguson sing ‘Then I wisht I was a little bird’? That’s what I want to know. Answer me that. What for did he sing ‘little bird, little bird’? One little bird was enough. I could a-stood one little bird. But no, he must sing two little birds. I gave ’m a chanst. I went to him almighty polite and requested him kindly to discard one little bird. I pleaded with him. There was witnesses that testified to that.
“An’ Ferguson was no jay-throated songster,” some one spoke up from the crowd.
O’Brien betrayed indecision.
“Ain’t a man got a right to his artistic feelin’s?” Arizona Jack demanded. “I gave Ferguson warnin’. It was violatin’ my own nature to go on listening to his little birds. Why, there’s music sharps that fine-strung an’ keyed-up they’d kill for heaps less’n I did. I’m willin’ to pay for havin’ artistic feelin’s. I can take my medicine an’ lick the spoon, but three days’ grub is drawin’ it a shade fine, that’s all, an’ I hereby register my kick. Go on with the funeral.”
O’Brien was still wavering. He glanced inquiringly at Mucluc Charley.
“I should say, Judge, that three days’ grub was a mite severe,” the latter suggested; “but you’re runnin’ the show. When we elected you judge of this here trial court, we agreed to abide by your decisions, an’ we’ve done it, too, b’gosh, an’ we’re goin’ to keep on doin’ it.”
“Mebbe I’ve been a trifle harsh, Jack,” O’Brien said apologetically—“I’m that worked up over those killings; an’ I’m willing to make it a week’s grub.” He cleared his throat magisterially and looked briskly about him. “And now we might as well get along and finish up the business. The boat’s ready. You go and get the grub, Leclaire. We’ll settle for it afterward.”
Arizona Jack looked grateful, and, muttering something about “damned little birds,” stepped aboard the open boat that rubbed restlessly against the bank. It was a large skiff, built of rough pine planks that had been sawed by hand from the standing timber of Lake Linderman, a few hundred miles above, at the foot of Chilcoot. In the boat were a pair of oars and Arizona Jack’s blankets. Leclaire brought the grub, tied up in a flour-sack, and put it on board. As he did so, he whispered—“I gave you good measure, Jack. You done it with provocation.”
“Cast her off!” Arizona Jack cried.
Somebody untied the painter and threw it in. The current gripped the boat and whirled it away. The murderer did not bother with the oars, contenting himself with sitting in the stern-sheets and rolling a cigarette. Completing it, he struck a match and lighted up. Those that watched on the bank could see the tiny puffs of smoke. They remained on the bank till the boat swung out of sight around the bend half a mile below. Justice had been done.
The denizens of Red Cow imposed the law and executed sentences without the delays that mark the softness of civilization. There was no law on the Yukon save what they made for themselves. They were compelled to make it for themselves. It was in an early day that Red Cow flourished on the Yukon—1887—and the Klondike and its populous stampedes lay in the unguessed future. The men of Red Cow did not even know whether their camp was situated in Alaska or in the North-west Territory, whether they drew breath under the stars and stripes or under the British flag. No surveyor had ever happened along to give them their latitude and longitude. Red Cow was situated somewhere along the Yukon, and that was sufficient for them. So far as flags were concerned, they were beyond all jurisdiction. So far as the law was concerned, they were in No-Man’s land.
They made their own law, and it was very simple. The Yukon executed their decrees. Some two thousand miles below Red Cow the Yukon flowed into Bering Sea through a delta a hundred miles wide. Every mile of those two thousand miles was savage wilderness. It was true, where the Porcupine flowed into the Yukon inside the Arctic Circle there was a Hudson Bay Company trading post. But that was many hundreds of miles away. Also, it was rumoured that many hundreds of miles farther on there were missions. This last, however, was merely rumour; the men of Red Cow had never been there. They had entered the lone land by way of Chilcoot and the head-waters of the Yukon.
The men of Red Cow ignored all minor offences. To be drunk and disorderly and to use vulgar language were looked upon as natural and inalienable rights. The men of Red Cow were individualists, and recognized as sacred but two things, property and life. There were no women present to complicate their simple morality. There were only three log-cabins in Red Cow—the majority of the population of forty men living in tents or brush shacks; and there was no jail in which to confine malefactors, while the inhabitants were too busy digging gold or seeking gold to take a day off and build a jail. Besides, the paramount question of grub negatived such a procedure. Wherefore, when a man violated the rights of property or life, he was thrown into an open boat and started down the Yukon. The quantity of grub he received was proportioned to the gravity of the offence. Thus, a common thief might get as much as two weeks’ grub; an uncommon thief might get no more than half of that. A murderer got no grub at all. A man found guilty of manslaughter would receive grub for from three days to a week. And Marcus O’Brien had been elected judge, and it was he who apportioned the grub. A man who broke the law took his chances. The Yukon swept him away, and he might or might not win to Bering Sea. A few days’ grub gave him a fighting chance. No grub meant practically capital punishment, though there was a slim chance, all depending on the season of the year.
Having disposed of Arizona Jack and watched him out of sight, the population turned from the bank and went to work on its claims—all except Curly Jim, who ran the one faro layout in all the Northland and who speculated in prospect-holes on the sides. Two things happened that day that were momentous. In the late morning Marcus O’Brien struck it. He washed out a dollar, a dollar and a half, and two dollars, from three successive pans. He had found the streak. Curly Jim looked into the hole, washed a few pans himself, and offered O’Brien ten thousand dollars for all rights—five thousand in dust, and, in lieu of the other five thousand, a half interest in his faro layout. O’Brien refused the offer. He was there to make money out of the earth, he declared with heat, and not out of his fellow-men. And anyway, he didn’t like faro. Besides, he appraised his strike at a whole lot more than ten thousand.
The second event of moment occurred in the afternoon, when Siskiyou Pearly ran his boat into the bank and tied up. He was fresh from the Outside, and had in his possession a four-months-old newspaper. Furthermore, he had half a dozen barrels of whisky, all consigned to Curly Jim. The men of Red Cow quit work. They sampled the whisky—at a dollar a drink, weighed out on Curly’s scales; and they discussed the news. And all would have been well, had not Curly Jim conceived a nefarious scheme, which was, namely, first to get Marcus O’Brien drunk, and next, to buy his mine from him.
The first half of the scheme worked beautifully. It began in the early evening, and by nine o’clock O’Brien had reached the singing stage. He clung with one arm around Curly Jim’s neck, and even essayed the late lamented Ferguson’s song about the little birds. He considered he was quite safe in this, what of the fact that the only man in camp with artistic feelings was even then speeding down the Yukon on the breast of a five-mile current.
But the second half of the scheme failed to connect. No matter how much whisky was poured down his neck, O’Brien could not be brought to realize that it was his bounden and friendly duty to sell his claim. He hesitated, it is true, and trembled now and again on the verge of giving in. Inside his muddled head, however, he was chuckling to himself. He was up to Curly Jim’s game, and liked the hands that were being dealt him. The whisky was good. It came out of one special barrel, and was about a dozen times better than that in the other five barrels.
Siskiyou Pearly was dispensing drinks in the bar-room to the remainder of the population of Red Cow, while O’Brien and Curly had out their business orgy in the kitchen. But there was nothing small about O’Brien. He went into the bar-room and returned with Mucluc Charley and Percy Leclaire.
“Business ’sociates of mine, business ’sociates,” he announced, with a broad wink to them and a guileless grin to Curly. “Always trust their judgment, always trust ’em. They’re all right. Give ’em some fire-water, Curly, an’ le’s talk it over.”
This was ringing in; but Curly Jim, making a swift revaluation of the claim, and remembering that the last pan he washed had turned out seven dollars, decided that it was worth the extra whisky, even if it was selling in the other room at a dollar a drink.
“I’m not likely to consider,” O’Brien was hiccoughing to his two friends in the course of explaining to them the question at issue. “Who? Me?—sell for ten thousand dollars! No indeed. I’ll dig the gold myself, an’ then I’m goin’ down to God’s country—Southern California—that’s the place for me to end my declinin’ days—an’ then I’ll start . . . as I said before, then I’ll start . . . what did I say I was goin’ to start?”
“Ostrich farm,” Mucluc Charley volunteered.
“Sure, just what I’m goin’ to start.” O’Brien abruptly steadied himself and looked with awe at Mucluc Charley. “How did you know? Never said so. Jes’ thought I said so. You’re a min’ reader, Charley. Le’s have another.”
Curly Jim filled the glasses and had the pleasure of seeing four dollars’ worth of whisky disappear, one dollar’s worth of which he punished himself—O’Brien insisted that he should drink as frequently as his guests.
“Better take the money now,” Leclaire argued. “Take you two years to dig it out the hole, an’ all that time you might be hatchin’ teeny little baby ostriches an’ pulling feathers out the big ones.”
O’Brien considered the proposition and nodded approval. Curly Jim looked gratefully at Leclaire and refilled the glasses.
“Hold on there!” spluttered Mucluc Charley, whose tongue was beginning to wag loosely and trip over itself. “As your father confessor—there I go—as your brother—O hell!” He paused and collected himself for another start. “As your frien’—business frien’, I should say, I would suggest, rather—I would take the liberty, as it was, to mention—I mean, suggest, that there may be more ostriches . . . O hell!” He downed another glass, and went on more carefully. “What I’m drivin’ at is . . . what am I drivin’ at?” He smote the side of his head sharply half a dozen times with the heel of his palm to shake up his ideas. “I got it!” he cried jubilantly. “Supposen there’s slathers more’n ten thousand dollars in that hole!”
O’Brien, who apparently was all ready to close the bargain, switched about.
“Great!” he cried. “Splen’d idea. Never thought of it all by myself.” He took Mucluc Charley warmly by the hand. “Good frien’! Good ’s’ciate!” He turned belligerently on Curly Jim. “Maybe hundred thousand dollars in that hole. You wouldn’t rob your old frien’, would you, Curly? Course you wouldn’t. I know you—better’n yourself, better’n yourself. Le’s have another: We’re good frien’s, all of us, I say, all of us.”
And so it went, and so went the whisky, and so went Curly Jim’s hopes up and down. Now Leclaire argued in favour of immediate sale, and almost won the reluctant O’Brien over, only to lose him to the more brilliant counter-argument of Mucluc Charley. And again, it was Mucluc Charley who presented convincing reasons for the sale and Percy Leclaire who held stubbornly back. A little later it was O’Brien himself who insisted on selling, while both friends, with tears and curses, strove to dissuade him. The more whiskey they downed, the more fertile of imagination they became. For one sober pro or con they found a score of drunken ones; and they convinced one another so readily that they were perpetually changing sides in the argument.
The time came when both Mucluc Charley and Leclaire were firmly set upon the sale, and they gleefully obliterated O’Brien’s objections as fast as he entered them. O’Brien grew desperate. He exhausted his last argument and sat speechless. He looked pleadingly at the friends who had deserted him. He kicked Mucluc Charley’s shins under the table, but that graceless hero immediately unfolded a new and most logical reason for the sale. Curly Jim got pen and ink and paper and wrote out the bill of sale. O’Brien sat with pen poised in hand.
“Le’s have one more,” he pleaded. “One more before I sign away a hundred thousan’ dollars.”
Curly Jim filled the glasses triumphantly. O’Brien downed his drink and bent forward with wobbling pen to affix his signature. Before he had made more than a blot, he suddenly started up, impelled by the impact of an idea colliding with his consciousness. He stood upon his feet and swayed back and forth before them, reflecting in his startled eyes the thought process that was taking place behind. Then he reached his conclusion. A benevolent radiance suffused his countenance. He turned to the faro dealer, took his hand, and spoke solemnly.
“Curly, you’re my frien’. There’s my han’. Shake. Ol’ man, I won’t do it. Won’t sell. Won’t rob a frien’. No son-of-a-gun will ever have chance to say Marcus O’Brien robbed frien’ cause frien’ was drunk. You’re drunk, Curly, an’ I won’t rob you. Jes’ had thought—never thought it before—don’t know what the matter ’ith me, but never thought it before. Suppose, jes’ suppose, Curly, my ol’ frien’, jes’ suppose there ain’t ten thousan’ in whole damn claim. You’d be robbed. No, sir; won’t do it. Marcus O’Brien makes money out of the groun’, not out of his frien’s.”
Percy Leclaire and Mucluc Charley drowned the faro dealer’s objections in applause for so noble a sentiment. They fell upon O’Brien from either side, their arms lovingly about his neck, their mouths so full of words they could not hear Curly’s offer to insert a clause in the document to the effect that if there weren’t ten thousand in the claim he would be given back the difference between yield and purchase price. The longer they talked the more maudlin and the more noble the discussion became. All sordid motives were banished. They were a trio of philanthropists striving to save Curly Jim from himself and his own philanthropy. They insisted that he was a philanthropist. They refused to accept for a moment that there could be found one ignoble thought in all the world. They crawled and climbed and scrambled over high ethical plateaux and ranges, or drowned themselves in metaphysical seas of sentimentality.
Curly Jim sweated and fumed and poured out the whisky. He found himself with a score of arguments on his hands, not one of which had anything to do with the gold-mine he wanted to buy. The longer they talked the farther away they got from that gold-mine, and at two in the morning Curly Jim acknowledged himself beaten. One by one he led his helpless guests across the kitchen floor and thrust them outside. O’Brien came last, and the three, with arms locked for mutual aid, titubated gravely on the stoop.
“Good business man, Curly,” O’Brien was saying. “Must say like your style—fine an’ generous, free-handed hospital . . . hospital . . . hospitality. Credit to you. Nothin’ base ’n graspin’ in your make-up. As I was sayin’—”
But just then the faro dealer slammed the door.
The three laughed happily on the stoop. They laughed for a long time. Then Mucluc Charley essayed speech.
“Funny—laughed so hard—ain’t what I want to say. My idea is . . . what wash it? Oh, got it! Funny how ideas slip. Elusive idea—chasin’ elusive idea—great sport. Ever chase rabbits, Percy, my frien’? I had dog—great rabbit dog. Whash ’is name? Don’t know name—never had no name—forget name—elusive name—chasin’ elusive name—no, idea—elusive idea, but got it—what I want to say was—O hell!”
Thereafter there was silence for a long time. O’Brien slipped from their arms to a sitting posture on the stoop, where he slept gently. Mucluc Charley chased the elusive idea through all the nooks and crannies of his drowning consciousness. Leclaire hung fascinated upon the delayed utterance. Suddenly the other’s hand smote him on the back.
“Got it!” Mucluc Charley cried in stentorian tones.
The shock of the jolt broke the continuity of Leclaire’s mental process.
“How much to the pan?” he demanded.
“Pan nothin’!” Mucluc Charley was angry. “Idea—got it—got leg-hold—ran it down.”
Leclaire’s face took on a rapt, admiring expression, and again he hung upon the other’s lips.
“ . . . O hell!” said Mucluc Charley.
At this moment the kitchen door opened for an instant, and Curly Jim shouted, “Go home!”
“Funny,” said Mucluc Charley. “Shame idea—very shame as mine. Le’s go home.”
They gathered O’Brien up between them and started. Mucluc Charley began aloud the pursuit of another idea. Leclaire followed the pursuit with enthusiasm. But O’Brien did not follow it. He neither heard, nor saw, nor knew anything. He was a mere wobbling automaton, supported affectionately and precariously by his two business associates.
They took the path down by the bank of the Yukon. Home did not lie that way, but the elusive idea did. Mucluc Charley giggled over the idea that he could not catch for the edification of Leclaire. They came to where Siskiyou Pearly’s boat lay moored to the bank. The rope with which it was tied ran across the path to a pine stump. They tripped over it and went down, O’Brien underneath. A faint flash of consciousness lighted his brain. He felt the impact of bodies upon his and struck out madly for a moment with his fists. Then he went to sleep again. His gentle snore arose on the air, and Mucluc Charley began to giggle.
“New idea,” he volunteered, “brand new idea. Jes’ caught it—no trouble at all. Came right up an’ I patted it on the head. It’s mine. ’Brien’s drunk—beashly drunk. Shame—damn shame—learn’m lesshon. Trash Pearly’s boat. Put ’Brien in Pearly’s boat. Casht off—let her go down Yukon. ’Brien wake up in mornin’. Current too strong—can’t row boat ’gainst current—mush walk back. Come back madder ’n hatter. You an’ me headin’ for tall timber. Learn ’m lesshon jes’ shame, learn ’m lesshon.”
Siskiyou Pearly’s boat was empty, save for a pair of oars. Its gunwale rubbed against the bank alongside of O’Brien. They rolled him over into it. Mucluc Charley cast off the painter, and Leclaire shoved the boat out into the current. Then, exhausted by their labours, they lay down on the bank and slept.
Next morning all Red Cow knew of the joke that had been played on Marcus O’Brien. There were some tall bets as to what would happen to the two perpetrators when the victim arrived back. In the afternoon a lookout was set, so that they would know when he was sighted. Everybody wanted to see him come in. But he didn’t come, though they sat up till midnight. Nor did he come next day, nor the next. Red Cow never saw Marcus O’Brien again, and though many conjectures were entertained, no certain clue was ever gained to dispel the mystery of his passing.

* * * * *

Only Marcus O’Brien knew, and he never came back to tell. He awoke next morning in torment. His stomach had been calcined by the inordinate quantity of whisky he had drunk, and was a dry and raging furnace. His head ached all over, inside and out; and, worse than that, was the pain in his face. For six hours countless thousands of mosquitoes had fed upon him, and their ungrateful poison had swollen his face tremendously. It was only by a severe exertion of will that he was able to open narrow slits in his face through which he could peer. He happened to move his hands, and they hurt. He squinted at them, but failed to recognize them, so puffed were they by the mosquito virus. He was lost, or rather, his identity was lost to him. There was nothing familiar about him, which, by association of ideas, would cause to rise in his consciousness the continuity of his existence. He was divorced utterly from his past, for there was nothing about him to resurrect in his consciousness a memory of that past. Besides, he was so sick and miserable that he lacked energy and inclination to seek after who and what he was.
It was not until he discovered a crook in a little finger, caused by an unset breakage of years before, that he knew himself to be Marcus O’Brien. On the instant his past rushed into his consciousness. When he discovered a blood-blister under a thumb-nail, which he had received the previous week, his self-identification became doubly sure, and he knew that those unfamiliar hands belonged to Marcus O’Brien, or, just as much to the point, that Marcus O’Brien belonged to the hands. His first thought was that he was ill—that he had had river fever. It hurt him so much to open his eyes that he kept them closed. A small floating branch struck the boat a sharp rap. He thought it was some one knocking on the cabin door, and said, “Come in.” He waited for a while, and then said testily, “Stay out, then, damn you.” But just the same he wished they would come in and tell him about his illness.
But as he lay there, the past night began to reconstruct itself in his brain. He hadn’t been sick at all, was his thought; he had merely been drunk, and it was time for him to get up and go to work. Work suggested his mine, and he remembered that he had refused ten thousand dollars for it. He sat up abruptly and squeezed open his eyes. He saw himself in a boat, floating on the swollen brown flood of the Yukon. The spruce-covered shores and islands were unfamiliar. He was stunned for a time. He couldn’t make it out. He could remember the last night’s orgy, but there was no connection between that and his present situation.
He closed his eyes and held his aching head in his hands. What had happened? Slowly the dreadful thought arose in his mind. He fought against it, strove to drive it away, but it persisted: he had killed somebody. That alone could explain why he was in an open boat drifting down the Yukon. The law of Red Cow that he had so long administered had now been administered to him. He had killed some one and been set adrift. But whom? He racked his aching brain for the answer, but all that came was a vague memory of bodies falling upon him and of striking out at them. Who were they? Maybe he had killed more than one. He reached to his belt. The knife was missing from its sheath. He had done it with that undoubtedly. But there must have been some reason for the killing. He opened his eyes and in a panic began to search about the boat. There was no grub, not an ounce of grub. He sat down with a groan. He had killed without provocation. The extreme rigour of the law had been visited upon him.
For half an hour he remained motionless, holding his aching head and trying to think. Then he cooled his stomach with a drink of water from overside and felt better. He stood up, and alone on the wide-stretching Yukon, with naught but the primeval wilderness to hear, he cursed strong drink. After that he tied up to a huge floating pine that was deeper sunk in the current than the boat and that consequently drifted faster. He washed his face and hands, sat down in the stern-sheets, and did some more thinking. It was late in June. It was two thousand miles to Bering Sea. The boat was averaging five miles an hour. There was no darkness in such high latitudes at that time of the year, and he could run the river every hour of the twenty-four. This would mean, daily, a hundred and twenty miles. Strike out the twenty for accidents, and there remained a hundred miles a day. In twenty days he would reach Bering Sea. And this would involve no expenditure of energy; the river did the work. He could lie down in the bottom of the boat and husband his strength.
For two days he ate nothing. Then, drifting into the Yukon Flats, he went ashore on the low-lying islands and gathered the eggs of wild geese and ducks. He had no matches, and ate the eggs raw. They were strong, but they kept him going. When he crossed the Arctic Circle, he found the Hudson Bay Company’s post. The brigade had not yet arrived from the Mackenzie, and the post was completely out of grub. He was offered wild-duck eggs, but he informed them that he had a bushel of the same on the boat. He was also offered a drink of whisky, which he refused with an exhibition of violent repugnance. He got matches, however, and after that he cooked his eggs. Toward the mouth of the river head-winds delayed him, and he was twenty-four days on the egg diet. Unfortunately, while asleep he had drifted by both the missions of St. Paul and Holy Cross. And he could sincerely say, as he afterward did, that talk about missions on the Yukon was all humbug. There weren’t any missions, and he was the man to know.
Once on Bering Sea he exchanged the egg diet for seal diet, and he never could make up his mind which he liked least. In the fall of the year he was rescued by a United States revenue cutter, and the following winter he made quite a hit in San Francisco as a temperance lecturer. In this field he found his vocation. “Avoid the bottle” is his slogan and battle-cry. He manages subtly to convey the impression that in his own life a great disaster was wrought by the bottle. He has even mentioned the loss of a fortune that was caused by that hell-bait of the devil, but behind that incident his listeners feel the loom of some terrible and unguessed evil for which the bottle is responsible. He has made a success in his vocation, and has grown grey and respected in the crusade against strong drink. But on the Yukon the passing of Marcus O’Brien remains tradition. It is a mystery that ranks at par with the disappearance of Sir John Franklin.


10. THE NIGHT-BORN

It was in the old Alta-Inyo Club—a warm night for San Francisco—and through the open windows, hushed and far, came the brawl of the streets. The talk had led on from the Graft Prosecution and the latest signs that the town was to be run wide open, down through all the grotesque sordidness and rottenness of man-hate and man-meanness, until the name of O’Brien was mentioned—O’Brien, the promising young pugilist who had been killed in the prize-ring the night before. At once the air had seemed to freshen. O’Brien had been a clean-living young man with ideals. He neither drank, smoked, nor swore, and his had been the body of a beautiful young god. He had even carried his prayer-book to the ringside. They found it in his coat pocket in the dressing-room... afterward.
Here was Youth, clean and wholesome, unsullied—the thing of glory and wonder for men to conjure with..... after it has been lost to them and they have turned middle-aged. And so well did we conjure, that Romance came and for an hour led us far from the man-city and its snarling roar. Bardwell, in a way, started it by quoting from Thoreau; but it was old Trefethan, bald-headed and dewlapped, who took up the quotation and for the hour to come was romance incarnate. At first we wondered how many Scotches he had consumed since dinner, but very soon all that was forgotten.
“It was in 1898—I was thirty-five then,” he said. “Yes, I know you are adding it up. You’re right. I’m forty-seven now; look ten years more; and the doctors say—damn the doctors anyway!”
He lifted the long glass to his lips and sipped it slowly to soothe away his irritation.
“But I was young... once. I was young twelve years ago, and I had hair on top of my head, and my stomach was lean as a runner’s, and the longest day was none too long for me. I was a husky back there in ’98. You remember me, Milner. You knew me then. Wasn’t I a pretty good bit of all right?”
Milner nodded and agreed. Like Trefethan, he was another mining engineer who had cleaned up a fortune in the Klondike.
“You certainly were, old man,” Milner said. “I’ll never forget when you cleaned out those lumberjacks in the M. & M. that night that little newspaper man started the row. Slavin was in the country at the time,”—this to us—“and his manager wanted to get up a match with Trefethan.”
“Well, look at me now,” Trefethan commanded angrily. “That’s what the Goldstead did to me—God knows how many millions, but nothing left in my soul..... nor in my veins. The good red blood is gone. I am a jellyfish, a huge, gross mass of oscillating protoplasm, a—a...”
But language failed him, and he drew solace from the long glass.
“Women looked at me then; and turned their heads to look a second time. Strange that I never married. But the girl. That’s what I started to tell you about. I met her a thousand miles from anywhere, and then some. And she quoted to me those very words of Thoreau that Bardwell quoted a moment ago—the ones about the day-born gods and the night-born.”
“It was after I had made my locations on Goldstead—and didn’t know what a treasure-pot that that trip creek was going to prove—that I made that trip east over the Rockies, angling across to the Great Up North there the Rockies are something more than a back-bone. They are a boundary, a dividing line, a wall impregnable and unscalable. There is no intercourse across them, though, on occasion, from the early days, wandering trappers have crossed them, though more were lost by the way than ever came through. And that was precisely why I tackled the job. It was a traverse any man would be proud to make. I am prouder of it right now than anything else I have ever done.
“It is an unknown land. Great stretches of it have never been explored. There are big valleys there where the white man has never set foot, and Indian tribes as primitive as ten thousand years... almost, for they have had some contact with the whites. Parties of them come out once in a while to trade, and that is all. Even the Hudson Bay Company failed to find them and farm them.
“And now the girl. I was coming up a stream—you’d call it a river in California—uncharted—and unnamed. It was a noble valley, now shut in by high canyon walls, and again opening out into beautiful stretches, wide and long, with pasture shoulder-high in the bottoms, meadows dotted with flowers, and with clumps of timberspruce—virgin and magnificent. The dogs were packing on their backs, and were sore-footed and played out; while I was looking for any bunch of Indians to get sleds and drivers from and go on with the first snow. It was late fall, but the way those flowers persisted surprised me. I was supposed to be in sub-arctic America, and high up among the buttresses of the Rockies, and yet there was that everlasting spread of flowers. Some day the white settlers will be in there and growing wheat down all that valley.
“And then I lifted a smoke, and heard the barking of the dogs—Indian dogs—and came into camp. There must have been five hundred of them, proper Indians at that, and I could see by the jerking-frames that the fall hunting had been good. And then I met her—Lucy. That was her name. Sign language—that was all we could talk with, till they led me to a big fly—you know, half a tent, open on the one side where a campfire burned. It was all of moose-skins, this fly—moose-skins, smoke-cured, hand-rubbed, and golden-brown. Under it everything was neat and orderly as no Indian camp ever was. The bed was laid on fresh spruce boughs. There were furs galore, and on top of all was a robe of swanskins—white swan-skins—I have never seen anything like that robe. And on top of it, sitting cross-legged, was Lucy. She was nut-brown. I have called her a girl. But she was not. She was a woman, a nut-brown woman, an Amazon, a full-blooded, full-bodied woman, and royal ripe. And her eyes were blue.
“That’s what took me off my feet—her eyes—blue, not China blue, but deep blue, like the sea and sky all melted into one, and very wise. More than that, they had laughter in them—warm laughter, sun-warm and human, very human, and... shall I say feminine? They were. They were a woman’s eyes, a proper woman’s eyes. You know what that means. Can I say more? Also, in those blue eyes were, at the same time, a wild unrest, a wistful yearning, and a repose, an absolute repose, a sort of all-wise and philosophical calm.”
Trefethan broke off abruptly.
“You fellows think I am screwed. I’m not. This is only my fifth since dinner. I am dead sober. I am solemn. I sit here now side by side with my sacred youth. It is not I—’old’ Trefethan—that talks; it is my youth, and it is my youth that says those were the most wonderful eyes I have ever seen—so very calm, so very restless; so very wise, so very curious; so very old, so very young; so satisfied and yet yearning so wistfully. Boys, I can’t describe them. When I have told you about her, you may know better for yourselves.”
“She did not stand up. But she put out her hand.”
“’Stranger,’ she said, ’I’m real glad to see you.’
“I leave it to you—that sharp, frontier, Western tang of speech. Picture my sensations. It was a woman, a white woman, but that tang! It was amazing that it should be a white woman, here, beyond the last boundary of the world—but the tang. I tell you, it hurt. It was like the stab of a flatted note. And yet, let me tell you, that woman was a poet. You shall see.”
“She dismissed the Indians. And, by Jove, they went. They took her orders and followed her blind. She was hi-yu skookam chief. She told the bucks to make a camp for me and to take care of my dogs. And they did, too. And they knew enough not to get away with as much as a moccasin-lace of my outfit. She was a regular She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, and I want to tell you it chilled me to the marrow, sent those little thrills Marathoning up and down my spinal column, meeting a white woman out there at the head of a tribe of savages a thousand miles the other side of No Man’s Land.
“’Stranger,” she said, ’I reckon you’re sure the first white that ever set foot in this valley. Set down an’ talk a spell, and then we’ll have a bite to eat. Which way might you be comin’?’
“There it was, that tang again. But from now to the end of the yarn I want you to forget it. I tell you I forgot it, sitting there on the edge of that swan-skin robe and listening and looking at the most wonderful woman that ever stepped out of the pages of Thoreau or of any other man’s book.
“I stayed on there a week. It was on her invitation. She promised to fit me out with dogs and sleds and with Indians that would put me across the best pass of the Rockies in five hundred miles. Her fly was pitched apart from the others, on the high bank by the river, and a couple of Indian girls did her cooking for her and the camp work. And so we talked and talked, while the first snow fell and continued to fall and make a surface for my sleds. And this was her story.
“She was frontier-born, of poor settlers, and you know what that means—work, work, always work, work in plenty and without end.
“’I never seen the glory of the world,’ she said. ’I had no time. I knew it was right out there, anywhere, all around the cabin, but there was always the bread to set, the scrubbin’ and the washin’ and the work that was never done. I used to be plumb sick at times, jes’ to get out into it all, especially in the spring when the songs of the birds drove me most clean crazy. I wanted to run out through the long pasture grass, wetting my legs with the dew of it, and to climb the rail fence, and keep on through the timber and up and up over the divide so as to get a look around. Oh, I had all kinds of hankerings—to follow up the canyon beds and slosh around from pool to pool, making friends with the water-dogs and the speckly trout; to peep on the sly and watch the squirrels and rabbits and small furry things and see what they was doing and learn the secrets of their ways. Seemed to me, if I had time, I could crawl among the flowers, and, if I was good and quiet, catch them whispering with themselves, telling all kinds of wise things that mere humans never know.’”
Trefethan paused to see that his glass had been refilled.
“Another time she said: ’I wanted to run nights like a wild thing, just to run through the moonshine and under the stars, to run white and naked in the darkness that I knew must feel like cool velvet, and to run and run and keep on running. One evening, plumb tuckered out—it had been a dreadful hard hot day, and the bread wouldn’t raise and the churning had gone wrong, and I was all irritated and jerky—well, that evening I made mention to dad of this wanting to run of mine. He looked at me curious-some and a bit scared. And then he gave me two pills to take. Said to go to bed and get a good sleep and I’d be all hunky-dory in the morning. So I never mentioned my hankerings to him, or any one any more.’
“The mountain home broke up—starved out, I imagine—and the family came to Seattle to live. There she worked in a factory—long hours, you know, and all the rest, deadly work. And after a year of that she became waitress in a cheap restaurant—hash-slinger, she called it. She said to me once, ’Romance I guess was what I wanted. But there wan’t no romance floating around in dishpans and washtubs, or in factories and hash-joints.’
“When she was eighteen she married—a man who was going up to Juneau to start a restaurant. He had a few dollars saved, and appeared prosperous. She didn’t love him—she was emphatic about that, but she was all tired out, and she wanted to get away from the unending drudgery. Besides, Juneau was in Alaska, and her yearning took the form of a desire to see that wonderland. But little she saw of it. He started the restaurant, a little cheap one, and she quickly learned what he had married her for..... to save paying wages. She came pretty close to running the joint and doing all the work from waiting to dishwashing. She cooked most of the time as well. And she had four years of it.
“Can’t you picture her, this wild woods creature, quick with every old primitive instinct, yearning for the free open, and mowed up in a vile little hash-joint and toiling and moiling for four mortal years?
“’There was no meaning in anything,’ she said. ’What was it all about! Why was I born! Was that all the meaning of life—just to work and work and be always tired!—to go to bed tired and to wake up tired, with every day like every other day unless it was harder?’ She had heard talk of immortal life from the gospel sharps, she said, but she could not reckon that what she was doin’ was a likely preparation for her immortality.
“But she still had her dreams, though more rarely. She had read a few books—what, it is pretty hard to imagine, Seaside Library novels most likely; yet they had been food for fancy. ’Sometimes,’ she said, ’when I was that dizzy from the heat of the cooking that if I didn’t take a breath of fresh air I’d faint, I’d stick my head out of the kitchen window, and close my eyes and see most wonderful things. All of a sudden I’d be traveling down a country road, and everything clean and quiet, no dust, no dirt; just streams ripplin’ down sweet meadows, and lambs playing, breezes blowing the breath of flowers, and soft sunshine over everything; and lovely cows lazying knee-deep in quiet pools, and young girls bathing in a curve of stream all white and slim and natural—and I’d know I was in Arcady. I’d read about that country once, in a book. And maybe knights, all flashing in the sun, would come riding around a bend in the road, or a lady on a milk-white mare, and in the distance I could see the towers of a castle rising, or I just knew, on the next turn, that I’d come upon some palace, all white and airy and fairy-like, with fountains playing, and flowers all over everything, and peacocks on the lawn..... and then I’d open my eyes, and the heat of the cooking range would strike on me, and I’d hear Jake sayin’—he was my husband—I’d hear Jake sayin’, “Why ain’t you served them beans? Think I can wait here all day!” Romance!—I reckon the nearest I ever come to it was when a drunken Armenian cook got the snakes and tried to cut my throat with a potato knife and I got my arm burned on the stove before I could lay him out with the potato stomper.
“’I wanted easy ways, and lovely things, and Romance and all that; but it just seemed I had no luck nohow and was only and expressly born for cooking and dishwashing. There was a wild crowd in Juneau them days, but I looked at the other women, and their way of life didn’t excite me. I reckon I wanted to be clean. I don’t know why; I just wanted to, I guess; and I reckoned I might as well die dishwashing as die their way.”
Trefethan halted in his tale for a moment, completing to himself some thread of thought.
“And this is the woman I met up there in the Arctic, running a tribe of wild Indians and a few thousand square miles of hunting territory. And it happened, simply enough, though, for that matter, she might have lived and died among the pots and pans. But ’Came the whisper, came the vision.’ That was all she needed, and she got it.
“’I woke up one day,’ she said. ’Just happened on it in a scrap of newspaper. I remember every word of it, and I can give it to you.’ And then she quoted Thoreau’s Cry of the Human:
“’The young pines springing up, in the corn field from year to year are to me a refreshing fact. We talk of civilizing the Indian, but that is not the name for his improvement. By the wary independence and aloofness of his dim forest life he preserves his intercourse with his native gods and is admitted from time to time to a rare and peculiar society with nature. He has glances of starry recognition, to which our saloons are strangers. The steady illumination of his qenius, dim only because distant, is like the faint but satisfying light of the stars compared with the dazzling but ineffectual and short-lived blaze of candles. The Society Islanders had their day-born gods, but they were not supposed to be of equal antiquity with the..... night-born gods.’
“That’s what she did, repeated it word for word, and I forgot the tang, for it was solemn, a declaration of religion—pagan, if you will; and clothed in the living garmenture of herself.
“’And the rest of it was torn away,’ she added, a great emptiness in her voice. ’It was only a scrap of newspaper. But that Thoreau was a wise man. I wish I knew more about him.’ She stopped a moment, and I swear her face was ineffably holy as she said, ’I could have made him a good wife.’
“And then she went on. ’I knew right away, as soon as I read that, what was the matter with me. I was a night-born. I, who had lived all my life with the day-born, was a night-born. That was why I had never been satisfied with cooking and dishwashing; that was why I had hankered to run naked in the moonlight. And I knew that this dirty little Juneau hash-joint was no place for me. And right there and then I said, “I quit.” I packed up my few rags of clothes, and started. Jake saw me and tried to stop me.
“’What you doing?” he says.
“’Divorcin’ you and me,’ I says. ’I’m headin’ for tall timber and where I belong.’”
“’No you don’t,’ he says, reaching for me to stop me. ’The cooking has got on your head. You listen to me talk before you up and do anything brash.’
“But I pulled a gun-a little Colt’s forty-four—and says, ’This does my talkin’ for me.’
“And I left.”
Trefethan emptied his glass and called for another.
“Boys, do you know what that girl did? She was twenty-two. She had spent her life over the dish-pan and she knew no more about the world than I do of the fourth dimension, or the fifth. All roads led to her desire. No; she didn’t head for the dance-halls. On the Alaskan Pan-handle it is preferable to travel by water. She went down to the beach. An Indian canoe was starting for Dyea—you know the kind, carved out of a single tree, narrow and deep and sixty feet long. She gave them a couple of dollars and got on board.
“’Romance?’ she told me. ’It was Romance from the jump. There were three families altogether in that canoe, and that crowded there wasn’t room to turn around, with dogs and Indian babies sprawling over everything, and everybody dipping a paddle and making that canoe go.’ And all around the great solemn mountains, and tangled drifts of clouds and sunshine. And oh, the silence! the great wonderful silence! And, once, the smoke of a hunter’s camp, away off in the distance, trailing among the trees. It was like a picnic, a grand picnic, and I could see my dreams coming true, and I was ready for something to happen ’most any time. And it did.
“’And that first camp, on the island! And the boys spearing fish in the mouth of the creek, and the big deer one of the bucks shot just around the point. And there were flowers everywhere, and in back from the beach the grass was thick and lush and neck-high. And some of the girls went through this with me, and we climbed the hillside behind and picked berries and roots that tasted sour and were good to eat. And we came upon a big bear in the berries making his supper, and he said “Oof!” and ran away as scared as we were. And then the camp, and the camp smoke, and the smell of fresh venison cooking. It was beautiful. I was with the night-born at last, and I knew that was where I belonged. And for the first time in my life, it seemed to me, I went to bed happy that night, looking out under a corner of the canvas at the stars cut off black by a big shoulder of mountain, and listening to the night-noises, and knowing that the same thing would go on next day and forever and ever, for I wasn’t going back. And I never did go back.’
“’Romance! I got it next day. We had to cross a big arm of the ocean—twelve or fifteen miles, at least; and it came on to blow when we were in the middle. That night I was along on shore, with one wolf-dog, and I was the only one left alive.’
“Picture it yourself,” Trefethan broke off to say. “The canoe was wrecked and lost, and everybody pounded to death on the rocks except her. She went ashore hanging on to a dog’s tail, escaping the rocks and washing up on a tiny beach, the only one in miles.
“’Lucky for me it was the mainland,’ she said. ’So I headed right away back, through the woods and over the mountains and straight on anywhere. Seemed I was looking for something and knew I’d find it. I wasn’t afraid. I was night-born, and the big timber couldn’t kill me. And on the second day I found it. I came upon a small clearing and a tumbledown cabin. Nobody had been there for years and years. The roof had fallen in. Rotted blankets lay in the bunks, and pots and pans were on the stove. But that was not the most curious thing. Outside, along the edge of the trees, you can’t guess what I found. The skeletons of eight horses, each tied to a tree. They had starved to death, I reckon, and left only little piles of bones scattered some here and there. And each horse had had a load on its back. There the loads lay, in among the bones—painted canvas sacks, and inside moosehide sacks, and inside the moosehide sacks—what do you think?’”
She stopped, reached under a corner of the bed among the spruce boughs, and pulled out a leather sack. She untied the mouth and ran out into my hand as pretty a stream of gold as I have ever seen—coarse gold, placer gold, some large dust, but mostly nuggets, and it was so fresh and rough that it scarcely showed signs of water-wash.
“’You say you’re a mining engineer,’ she said, ’and you know this country. Can you name a pay-creek that has the color of that gold!’
“I couldn’t! There wasn’t a trace of silver. It was almost pure, and I told her so.
“’You bet,’ she said. ’I sell that for nineteen dollars an ounce. You can’t get over seventeen for Eldorado gold, and Minook gold don’t fetch quite eighteen. Well, that was what I found among the bones—eight horse-loads of it, one hundred and fifty pounds to the load.’
“’A quarter of a million dollars!’ I cried out.
“’That’s what I reckoned it roughly,’ she answered. ’Talk about Romance! And me a slaving the way I had all the years, when as soon as I ventured out, inside three days, this was what happened. And what became of the men that mined all that gold? Often and often I wonder about it. They left their horses, loaded and tied, and just disappeared off the face of the earth, leaving neither hide nor hair behind them. I never heard tell of them. Nobody knows anything about them. Well, being the night-born, I reckon I was their rightful heir.’”
Trefethan stopped to light a cigar.
“Do you know what that girl did? She cached the gold, saving out thirty pounds, which she carried back to the coast. Then she signaled a passing canoe, made her way to Pat Healy’s trading post at Dyea, outfitted, and went over Chilcoot Pass. That was in ’88—eight years before the Klondike strike, and the Yukon was a howling wilderness. She was afraid of the bucks, but she took two young squaws with her, crossed the lakes, and went down the river and to all the early camps on the Lower Yukon. She wandered several years over that country and then on in to where I met her. Liked the looks of it, she said, seeing, in her own words, ’a big bull caribou knee-deep in purple iris on the valley-bottom.’ She hooked up with the Indians, doctored them, gained their confidence, and gradually took them in charge. She had only left that country once, and then, with a bunch of the young bucks, she went over Chilcoot, cleaned up her gold-cache, and brought it back with her.
“’And here I be, stranger,’ she concluded her yarn, ’and here’s the most precious thing I own.’
“She pulled out a little pouch of buckskin, worn on her neck like a locket, and opened it. And inside, wrapped in oiled silk, yellowed with age and worn and thumbed, was the original scrap of newspaper containing the quotation from Thoreau.
“’And are you happy... satisfied?’ I asked her. ’With a quarter of a million you wouldn’t have to work down in the States. You must miss a lot.’
“’Not much,’ she answered. ’I wouldn’t swop places with any woman down in the States. These are my people; this is where I belong. But there are times—and in her eyes smoldered up that hungry yearning I’ve mentioned—’there are times when I wish most awful bad for that Thoreau man to happen along.’
“’Why?’ I asked.
“’So as I could marry him. I do get mighty lonesome at spells. I’m just a woman—a real woman. I’ve heard tell of the other kind of women that gallivanted off like me and did queer things—the sort that become soldiers in armies, and sailors on ships. But those women are queer themselves. They’re more like men than women; they look like men and they don’t have ordinary women’s needs. They don’t want love, nor little children in their arms and around their knees. I’m not that sort. I leave it to you, stranger. Do I look like a man?’
“She didn’t. She was a woman, a beautiful, nut-brown woman, with a sturdy, health-rounded woman’s body and with wonderful deep-blue woman’s eyes.
“’Ain’t I woman?’ she demanded. ’I am. I’m ’most all woman, and then some. And the funny thing is, though I’m night-born in everything else, I’m not when it comes to mating. I reckon that kind likes its own kind best. That’s the way it is with me, anyway, and has been all these years.’
“’You mean to tell me—’ I began.
“’Never,’ she said, and her eyes looked into mine with the straightness of truth. ’I had one husband, only—him I call the Ox; and I reckon he’s still down in Juneau running the hash-joint. Look him up, if you ever get back, and you’ll find he’s rightly named.’
“And look him up I did, two years afterward. He was all she said—solid and stolid, the Ox—shuffling around and waiting on the tables.
“’You need a wife to help you,’ I said.
“’I had one once,’ was his answer.
“’Widower?’
“’Yep. She went loco. She always said the heat of the cooking would get her, and it did. Pulled a gun on me one day and ran away with some Siwashes in a canoe. Caught a blow up the coast and all hands drowned.’”
Trefethan devoted himself to his glass and remained silent.
“But the girl?” Milner reminded him.
“You left your story just as it was getting interesting, tender. Did it?”
“It did,” Trefethan replied. “As she said herself, she was savage in everything except mating, and then she wanted her own kind. She was very nice about it, but she was straight to the point. She wanted to marry me.
“’Stranger,’ she said, ’I want you bad. You like this sort of life or you wouldn’t be here trying to cross the Rockies in fall weather. It’s a likely spot. You’ll find few likelier. Why not settle down! I’ll make you a good wife.’
“And then it was up to me. And she waited. I don’t mind confessing that I was sorely tempted. I was half in love with her as it was. You know I have never married. And I don’t mind adding, looking back over my life, that she is the only woman that ever affected me that way. But it was too preposterous, the whole thing, and I lied like a gentleman. I told her I was already married.
“’Is your wife waiting for you?’ she asked.
“I said yes.
“’And she loves you?’
“I said yes.
“And that was all. She never pressed her point... except once, and then she showed a bit of fire.
“’All I’ve got to do,’ she said, ’is to give the word, and you don’t get away from here. If I give the word, you stay on... But I ain’t going to give it. I wouldn’t want you if you didn’t want to be wanted... and if you didn’t want me.’
“She went ahead and outfitted me and started me on my way.
“’It’s a darned shame, stranger,” she said, at parting. ’I like your looks, and I like you. If you ever change your mind, come back.’
“Now there was one thing I wanted to do, and that was to kiss her good-bye, but I didn’t know how to go about it nor how she would take it.—I tell you I was half in love with her. But she settled it herself.
“’Kiss me,’ she said. ’Just something to go on and remember.’
“And we kissed, there in the snow, in that valley by the Rockies, and I left her standing by the trail and went on after my dogs. I was six weeks in crossing over the pass and coming down to the first post on Great Slave Lake.”
The brawl of the streets came up to us like a distant surf. A steward, moving noiselessly, brought fresh siphons. And in the silence Trefethan’s voice fell like a funeral bell:
“It would have been better had I stayed. Look at me.”
We saw his grizzled mustache, the bald spot on his head, the puff-sacks under his eyes, the sagging cheeks, the heavy dewlap, the general tiredness and staleness and fatness, all the collapse and ruin of a man who had once been strong but who had lived too easily and too well.
“It’s not too late, old man,” Bardwell said, almost in a whisper.
“By God! I wish I weren’t a coward!” was Trefethan’s answering cry. “I could go back to her. She’s there, now. I could shape up and live many a long year... with her... up there. To remain here is to commit suicide. But I am an old man—forty-seven—look at me. The trouble is,” he lifted his glass and glanced at it, “the trouble is that suicide of this sort is so easy. I am soft and tender. The thought of the long day’s travel with the dogs appalls me; the thought of the keen frost in the morning and of the frozen sled-lashings frightens me—”
Automatically the glass was creeping toward his lips. With a swift surge of anger he made as if to crash it down upon the floor. Next came hesitancy and second thought. The glass moved upward to his lips and paused. He laughed harshly and bitterly, but his words were solemn:
“Well, here’s to the Night-Born. She WAS a wonder.”


11. THE RACE FOR NUMBER THREE

“Huh! Get on to the glad rags!”
Shorty surveyed his partner with simulated disapproval, and Smoke, vainly attempting to rub the wrinkles out of the pair of trousers he had just put on, was irritated.
“They sure fit you close for a second-hand buy,” Shorty went on. “What was the tax?”
“One hundred and fifty for the suit,” Smoke answered. “The man was nearly my own size. I thought it was remarkably reasonable. What are you kicking about?”
“Who? Me? Oh, nothin’. I was just thinkin’ it was goin’ some for a meat-eater that hit Dawson in an ice-jam, with no grub, one suit of underclothes, a pair of mangy moccasins, an’ overalls that looked like they’d been through the wreck of the Hesperus. Pretty gay front, pardner. Pretty gay front. Say—?”
“What do you want now?” Smoke demanded testily.
“What’s her name?”
“There isn’t any her, my friend. I’m to have dinner at Colonel Bowie’s, if you want to know. The trouble with you, Shorty, is you’re envious because I’m going into high society and you’re not invited.”
“Ain’t you some late?” Shorty queried with concern.
“What do you mean?”
“For dinner. They’ll be eatin’ supper when you get there.”
Smoke was about to explain with crudely elaborate sarcasm when he caught the twinkle in the other’s eye. He went on dressing, with fingers that had lost their deftness, tying a Windsor tie in a bow-knot at the throat of his soft cotton shirt.
“Wisht I hadn’t sent all my starched shirts to the laundry,” Shorty murmured sympathetically. “I might ’a’ fitted you out.”
By this time Smoke was straining at a pair of shoes. The woollen socks were too thick to go into them. He looked appealingly at Shorty, who shook his head.
“Nope. If I had thin ones I wouldn’t lend ’em to you. Back to the moccasins, pardner. You’d sure freeze your toes in skimpy-fangled gear like that.”
“I paid fifteen dollars for them, second hand,” Smoke lamented.
“I reckon they won’t be a man not in moccasins.”
“But there are to be women, Shorty. I’m going to sit down and eat with real live women—Mrs. Bowie, and several others, so the Colonel told me.”
“Well, moccasins won’t spoil their appetite none,” was Shorty’s comment. “Wonder what the Colonel wants with you?”
“I don’t know, unless he’s heard about my finding Surprise Lake. It will take a fortune to drain it, and the Guggenheims are out for investment.”
“Reckon that’s it. That’s right, stick to the moccasins. Gee! That coat is sure wrinkled, an’ it fits you a mite too swift. Just peck around at your vittles. If you eat hearty you’ll bust through. An’ if them women folks gets to droppin’ handkerchiefs, just let ’em lay. Don’t do any pickin’ up. Whatever you do, don’t.”
As became a high-salaried expert and the representative of the great house of Guggenheim, Colonel Bowie lived in one of the most magnificent cabins in Dawson. Of squared logs, hand-hewn, it was two stories high, and of such extravagant proportions that it boasted a big living room that was used for a living room and for nothing else.
Here were big bear-skins on the rough board floor, and on the walls horns of moose and caribou. Here roared an open fireplace and a big wood-burning stove. And here Smoke met the social elect of Dawson—not the mere pick-handle millionaires, but the ultra-cream of a mining city whose population had been recruited from all the world—men like Warburton Jones, the explorer and writer; Captain Consadine of the Mounted Police; Haskell, Gold Commissioner of the Northwest Territory; and Baron Von Schroeder, an emperor’s favourite with an international duelling reputation.
And here, dazzling in evening gown, he met Joy Gastell, whom hitherto he had encountered only on trail, befurred and moccasined. At dinner he found himself beside her.
“I feel like a fish out of water,” he confessed. “All you folks are so real grand you know. Besides, I never dreamed such Oriental luxury existed in the Klondike. Look at Von Schroeder there. He’s actually got a dinner jacket, and Consadine’s got a starched shirt. I noticed he wore moccasins just the same. How do you like MY outfit?”
He moved his shoulders about as if preening himself for Joy’s approval.
“It looks as if you’d grown stout since you came over the Pass,” she laughed.
“Wrong. Guess again.”
“It’s somebody else’s.”
“You win. I bought it for a price from one of the clerks at the A. C. Company.”
“It’s a shame clerks are so narrow-shouldered,” she sympathized. “And you haven’t told me what you think of MY outfit.”
“I can’t,” he said. “I’m out of breath. I’ve been living on trail too long. This sort of thing comes to me with a shock, you know. I’d quite forgotten that women have arms and shoulders. To-morrow morning, like my friend Shorty, I’ll wake up and know it’s all a dream. Now, the last time I saw you on Squaw Creek—”
“I was just a squaw,” she broke in.
“I hadn’t intended to say that. I was remembering that it was on Squaw Creek that I discovered you had feet.”
“And I can never forget that you saved them for me,” she said. “I’ve been wanting to see you ever since to thank you—” (He shrugged his shoulders deprecatingly). “And that’s why you are here to-night.”
“You asked the Colonel to invite me?”
“No! Mrs. Bowie. And I asked her to let me have you at table. And here’s my chance. Everybody’s talking. Listen, and don’t interrupt. You know Mono Creek?”
“Yes.”
“It has turned out rich—dreadfully rich. They estimate the claims as worth a million and more apiece. It was only located the other day.”
“I remember the stampede.”
“Well, the whole creek was staked to the sky-line, and all the feeders, too. And yet, right now, on the main creek, Number Three below Discovery is unrecorded. The creek was so far away from Dawson that the Commissioner allowed sixty days for recording after location. Every claim was recorded except Number Three below. It was staked by Cyrus Johnson. And that was all. Cyrus Johnson has disappeared. Whether he died, whether he went down river or up, nobody knows. Anyway, in six days, the time for recording will be up. Then the man who stakes it, and reaches Dawson first and records it, gets it.”
“A million dollars,” Smoke murmured.
“Gilchrist, who has the next claim below, has got six hundred dollars in a single pan off bedrock. He’s burned one hole down. And the claim on the other side is even richer. I know.”
“But why doesn’t everybody know?” Smoke queried skeptically.
“They’re beginning to know. They kept it secret for a long time, and it is only now that it’s coming out. Good dog-teams will be at a premium in another twenty-four hours. Now, you’ve got to get away as decently as you can as soon as dinner is over. I’ve arranged it. An Indian will come with a message for you. You read it, let on that you’re very much put out, make your excuses, and get away.”
“I—er—I fail to follow.”
“Ninny!” she exclaimed in a half-whisper. “What you must do is to get out to-night and hustle dog-teams. I know of two. There’s Hanson’s team, seven big Hudson Bay dogs—he’s holding them at four hundred each. That’s top price to-night, but it won’t be to-morrow. And Sitka Charley has eight Malemutes he’s asking thirty-five hundred for. To-morrow he’ll laugh at an offer of five thousand. Then you’ve got your own team of dogs. And you’ll have to buy several more teams. That’s your work to-night. Get the best. It’s dogs as well as men that will win this race. It’s a hundred and ten miles, and you’ll have to relay as frequently as you can.”
“Oh, I see, you want me to go in for it,” Smoke drawled.
“If you haven’t the money for the dogs, I’ll—” She faltered, but before she could continue, Smoke was speaking.
“I can buy the dogs. But—er—aren’t you afraid this is gambling?”
“After your exploits at roulette in the Elkhorn,” she retorted, “I’m not afraid that you’re afraid. It’s a sporting proposition, if that’s what you mean. A race for a million, and with some of the stiffest dog-mushers and travellers in the country entered against you. They haven’t entered yet, but by this time to-morrow they will, and dogs will be worth what the richest man can afford to pay. Big Olaf is in town. He came up from Circle City last month. He is one of the most terrible dog-mushers in the country, and if he enters he will be your most dangerous man. Arizona Bill is another. He’s been a professional freighter and mail-carrier for years. If he goes in, interest will be centered on him and Big Olaf.”
“And you intend me to come along as a sort of dark horse.”
“Exactly. And it will have its advantages. You will not be supposed to stand a show. After all, you know, you are still classed as a chechako. You haven’t seen the four seasons go around. Nobody will take notice of you until you come into the home stretch in the lead.”
“It’s on the home stretch the dark horse is to show up its classy form, eh?”
She nodded, and continued earnestly: “Remember, I shall never forgive myself for the trick I played on the Squaw Creek stampede unless you win this Mono claim. And if any man can win this race against the old-timers, it’s you.”
It was the way she said it. He felt warm all over, and in his heart and head. He gave her a quick, searching look, involuntary and serious, and for the moment that her eyes met his steadily, ere they fell, it seemed to him that he read something of vaster import than the claim Cyrus Johnson had failed to record.
“I’ll do it,” he said. “I’ll win it.”
The glad light in her eyes seemed to promise a greater meed than all the gold in the Mono claim. He was aware of a movement of her hand in her lap next to his. Under the screen of the tablecloth he thrust his own hand across and met a firm grip of woman’s fingers that sent another wave of warmth through him.
“What will Shorty say?” was the thought that flashed whimsically through his mind as he withdrew his hand. He glanced almost jealously at the faces of Von Schroeder and Jones, and wondered if they had not divined the remarkableness and deliciousness of this woman who sat beside him.
He was aroused by her voice, and realized that she had been speaking some moments.
“So you see, Arizona Bill is a white Indian,” she was saying. “And Big Olaf is a bear wrestler, a king of the snows, a mighty savage. He can out-travel and out-endure an Indian, and he’s never known any other life but that of the wild and the frost.”
“Who’s that?” Captain Consadine broke in from across the table.
“Big Olaf,” she answered. “I was just telling Mr. Bellew what a traveller he is.”
“You’re right,” the Captain’s voice boomed. “Big Olaf is the greatest traveller in the Yukon. I’d back him against Old Nick himself for snow-bucking and ice-travel. He brought in the government dispatches in 1895, and he did it after two couriers were frozen on Chilkoot and the third drowned in the open water of Thirty Mile.”
Smoke had travelled in a leisurely fashion up to Mono Creek, fearing to tire his dogs before the big race. Also, he had familiarized himself with every mile of the trail and located his relay camps. So many men had entered the race that the hundred and ten miles of its course was almost a continuous village. Relay camps were everywhere along the trail. Von Schroeder, who had gone in purely for the sport, had no less than eleven dog-teams—a fresh one for every ten miles. Arizona Bill had been forced to content himself with eight teams. Big Olaf had seven, which was the complement of Smoke. In addition, over two score of other men were in the running. Not every day, even in the golden north, was a million dollars the prize for a dog race. The country had been swept of dogs. No animal of speed and endurance escaped the fine-tooth comb that had raked the creeks and camps, and the prices of dogs had doubled and quadrupled in the course of the frantic speculation.
Number Three below Discovery was ten miles up Mono Creek from its mouth. The remaining hundred miles was to be run on the frozen breast of the Yukon. On Number Three itself were fifty tents and over three hundred dogs. The old stakes, blazed and scrawled sixty days before by Cyrus Johnson, still stood, and every man had gone over the boundaries of the claim again and again, for the race with the dogs was to be preceded by a foot and obstacle race. Each man had to relocate the claim for himself, and this meant that he must place two center-stakes and four corner-stakes and cross the creek twice, before he could start for Dawson with his dogs.
Furthermore, there were to be no “sooners.” Not until the stroke of midnight of Friday night was the claim open for relocation, and not until the stroke of midnight could a man plant a stake. This was the ruling of the Gold Commissioner at Dawson, and Captain Consadine had sent up a squad of mounted police to enforce it. Discussion had arisen about the difference between sun-time and police-time, but Consadine had sent forth his fiat that police-time went, and, further, that it was the watch of Lieutenant Pollock that went.
The Mono trail ran along the level creek-bed, and, less than two feet in width, was like a groove, walled on either side by the snowfall of months. The problem of how forty-odd sleds and three hundred dogs were to start in so narrow a course was in everybody’s mind.
“Huh!” said Shorty. “It’s goin’ to be the gosh-dangdest mix-up that ever was. I can’t see no way out, Smoke, except main strength an’ sweat an’ to plow through. If the whole creek was glare-ice they ain’t room for a dozen teams abreast. I got a hunch right now they’s goin’ to be a heap of scrappin’ before they get strung out. An’ if any of it comes our way, you got to let me do the punchin’.”
Smoke squared his shoulders and laughed non-committally.
“No, you don’t!” his partner cried in alarm. “No matter what happens, you don’t dast hit. You can’t handle dogs a hundred miles with a busted knuckle, an’ that’s what’ll happen if you land on somebody’s jaw.”
Smoke nodded his head. “You’re right, Shorty. I couldn’t risk the chance.”
“An’ just remember,” Shorty went on, “that I got to do all the shovin’ for them first ten miles, an’ you got to take it easy as you can. I’ll sure jerk you through to the Yukon. After that it’s up to you an’ the dogs. Say—what d’ye think Schroeder’s scheme is? He’s got his first team a quarter of a mile down the creek, an’ he’ll know it by a green lantern. But we got him skinned. Me for the red flare every time.”
The day had been clear and cold, but a blanket of cloud formed across the face of the sky, and the night came on warm and dark, with the hint of snow impending. The thermometer registered fifteen below zero, and in the Klondike winter fifteen below is esteemed very warm.
At a few minutes before midnight, leaving Shorty with the dogs five hundred yards down the creek, Smoke joined the racers on Number Three. There were forty-five of them waiting the start for the thousand thousand dollars Cyrus Johnson had left lying in the frozen gravel. Each man carried six stakes and a heavy wooden mallet, and was clad in a smock-like parka of heavy cotton drill.
Lieutenant Pollock, in a big bearskin coat, looked at his watch by the light of a fire. It lacked a minute of midnight. “Make ready,” he said, as he raised a revolver in his right hand and watched the second hand tick around.
Forty-five hoods were thrown back from the parkas. Forty-five pairs of hands unmittened, and forty-five pairs of moccasins pressed tensely into the packed snow. Also, forty-five stakes were thrust into the snow, and the same number of mallets lifted in the air.
The shot rang out, and the mallets fell. Cyrus Johnson’s right to the million had expired. To prevent confusion, Lieutenant Pollock had insisted that the lower center-stake be driven first, next the south-eastern; and so on around the four sides, including the upper center-stake on the way.
Smoke drove in his stake and was away with the leading dozen. Fires had been lighted at the corners, and by each fire stood a policeman, list in hand, checking off the names of the runners. A man was supposed to call out his name and show his face. There was to be no staking by proxy while the real racer was off and away down the creek.
At the first corner, beside Smoke’s stake, Von Schroeder placed his. The mallets struck at the same instant. As they hammered, more arrived from behind and with such impetuosity as to get in one another’s way and cause jostling and shoving. Squirming through the press and calling his name to the policeman, Smoke saw the Baron, struck in collision by one of the rushers, hurled clean off his feet into the snow. But Smoke did not wait. Others were still ahead of him. By the light of the vanishing fire, he was certain that he saw the back, hugely looming, of Big Olaf, and at the southwestern corner Big Olaf and he drove their stakes side by side.
It was no light work, this preliminary obstacle race. The boundaries of the claim totalled nearly a mile, and most of it was over the uneven surface of a snow-covered, niggerhead flat. All about Smoke men tripped and fell, and several times he pitched forward himself, jarringly, on hands and knees. Once, Big Olaf fell so immediately in front of him as to bring him down on top.
The upper center-stake was driven by the edge of the bank, and down the bank the racers plunged, across the frozen creek-bed, and up the other side. Here, as Smoke clambered, a hand gripped his ankle and jerked him back. In the flickering light of a distant fire, it was impossible to see who had played the trick. But Arizona Bill, who had been treated similarly, rose to his feet and drove his fist with a crunch into the offender’s face. Smoke saw and heard as he was scrambling to his feet, but before he could make another lunge for the bank a fist dropped him half-stunned into the snow. He staggered up, located the man, half-swung a hook for his jaw, then remembered Shorty’s warning and refrained. The next moment, struck below the knees by a hurtling body, he went down again.
It was a foretaste of what would happen when the men reached their sleds. Men were pouring over the other bank and piling into the jam. They swarmed up the bank in bunches, and in bunches were dragged back by their impatient fellows. More blows were struck, curses rose from the panting chests of those who still had wind to spare, and Smoke, curiously visioning the face of Joy Gastell, hoped that the mallets would not be brought into play. Overthrown, trod upon, groping in the snow for his lost stakes, he at last crawled out of the crush and attacked the bank farther along. Others were doing this, and it was his luck to have many men in advance of him in the race for the northwestern corner.
Reaching the fourth corner, he tripped headlong and in the long sprawling fall lost his remaining stake. For five minutes he groped in the darkness before he found it, and all the time the panting runners were passing him. From the last corner to the creek he began overtaking men for whom the mile run had been too much. In the creek itself Bedlam had broken loose. A dozen sleds were piled up and overturned, and nearly a hundred dogs were locked in combat. Among them men struggled, tearing the tangled animals apart, or beating them apart with clubs. In the fleeting glimpse he caught of it, Smoke wondered if he had ever seen a Dore grotesquery to compare.
Leaping down the bank beyond the glutted passage, he gained the hard-footing of the sled-trail and made better time. Here, in packed harbors beside the narrow trail, sleds and men waited for runners that were still behind. From the rear came the whine and rush of dogs, and Smoke had barely time to leap aside into the deep snow. A sled tore past, and he made out the man kneeling and shouting madly. Scarcely was it by when it stopped with a crash of battle. The excited dogs of a harbored sled, resenting the passing animals, had got out of hand and sprung upon them.
Smoke plunged around and by. He could see the green lantern of Von Schroeder and, just below it, the red flare that marked his own team. Two men were guarding Schroeder’s dogs, with short clubs interposed between them and the trail.
“Come on, you Smoke! Come on, you Smoke!” he could hear Shorty calling anxiously.
“Coming!” he gasped.
By the red flare, he could see the snow torn up and trampled, and from the way his partner breathed he knew a battle had been fought. He staggered to the sled, and, in a moment he was falling on it, Shorty’s whip snapped as he yelled: “Mush! you devils! Mush!”
The dogs sprang into the breast-bands, and the sled jerked abruptly ahead. They were big animals—Hanson’s prize team of Hudson Bays—and Smoke had selected them for the first stage, which included the ten miles of Mono, the heavy going of the cut-off across the flat at the mouth, and the first ten miles of the Yukon stretch.
“How many are ahead?” he asked.
“You shut up an’ save your wind,” Shorty answered. “Hi! you brutes! Hit her up! Hit her up!”
He was running behind the sled, towing on a short rope. Smoke could not see him; nor could he see the sled on which he lay at full length. The fires had been left in the rear, and they were tearing through a wall of blackness as fast as the dogs could spring into it. This blackness was almost sticky, so nearly did it take on the seeming of substance.
Smoke felt the sled heel up on one runner as it rounded an invisible curve, and from ahead came the snarls of beasts and the oaths of men. This was known afterward as the Barnes-Slocum Jam. It was the teams of these two men which first collided, and into it, at full career, piled Smoke’s seven big fighters. Scarcely more than semi-domesticated wolves, the excitement of that night on Mono Creek had sent every dog fighting mad. The Klondike dogs, driven without reins, cannot be stopped except by voice, so that there was no stopping this glut of struggle that heaped itself between the narrow rims of the creek. From behind, sled after sled hurled into the turmoil. Men who had their teams nearly extricated were overwhelmed by fresh avalanches of dogs—each animal well fed, well rested, and ripe for battle.
“It’s knock down an’ drag out an’ plow through!” Shorty yelled in his partner’s ear. “An’ watch out for your knuckles! You drag dogs out an’ let me do the punchin’!”
What happened in the next half hour Smoke never distinctly remembered. At the end he emerged exhausted, sobbing for breath, his jaw sore from a fist-blow, his shoulder aching from the bruise of a club, the blood running warmly down one leg from the rip of a dog’s fangs, and both sleeves of his parka torn to shreds. As in a dream, while the battle still raged behind, he helped Shorty reharness the dogs. One, dying, they cut from the traces, and in the darkness they felt their way to the repair of the disrupted harness.
“Now you lie down an’ get your wind back,” Shorty commanded.
And through the darkness the dogs sped, with unabated strength, down Mono Creek, across the long cut-off, and to the Yukon. Here, at the junction with the main river-trail, somebody had lighted a fire, and here Shorty said good-bye. By the light of the fire, as the sled leaped behind the flying dogs, Smoke caught another of the unforgettable pictures of the Northland. It was of Shorty, swaying and sinking down limply in the snow, yelling his parting encouragement, one eye blackened and closed, knuckles bruised and broken, and one arm, ripped and fang-torn, gushing forth a steady stream of blood.
“How many ahead?” Smoke asked, as he dropped his tired Hudson Bays and sprang on the waiting sled at the first relay station.
“I counted eleven,” the man called after him, for he was already away, behind the leaping dogs.
Fifteen miles they were to carry him on the next stage, which would fetch him to the mouth of White River. There were nine of them, but they composed his weakest team. The twenty-five miles between White River and Sixty Mile he had broken into two stages because of ice-jams, and here two of his heaviest, toughest teams were stationed.
He lay on the sled at full length, face-down, holding on with both hands. Whenever the dogs slacked from topmost speed he rose to his knees, and, yelling and urging, clinging precariously with one hand, threw his whip into them. Poor team that it was, he passed two sleds before White River was reached. Here, at the freeze-up, a jam had piled a barrier, allowing the open water, that formed for half a mile below, to freeze smoothly. This smooth stretch enabled the racers to make flying exchanges of sleds, and down all the course they had placed their relays below the jams.
Over the jam and out on to the smooth, Smoke tore along, calling loudly, “Billy! Billy!”
Billy heard and answered, and by the light of the many fires on the ice, Smoke saw a sled swing in from the side and come abreast. Its dogs were fresh and overhauled his. As the sleds swerved toward each other he leaped across, and Billy promptly rolled off.
“Where’s Big Olaf?” Smoke cried.
“Leading!” Billy’s voice answered; and the fires were left behind, and Smoke was again flying through the wall of blackness.
In the jams of that relay, where the way led across a chaos of up-ended ice-cakes, and where Smoke slipped off the forward end of the sled and with a haul-rope toiled behind the wheel-dog, he passed three sleds. Accidents had happened, and he could hear the men cutting out dogs and mending harnesses.
Among the jams of the next short relay into Sixty Mile, he passed two more teams. And that he might know adequately what had happened to them, one of his own dogs wrenched a shoulder, was unable to keep up, and was dragged in the harness. Its teammates, angered, fell upon it with their fangs, and Smoke was forced to club them off with the heavy butt of his whip. As he cut the injured animal out, he heard the whining cries of dogs behind him and the voice of a man that was familiar. It was Von Schroeder. Smoke called a warning to prevent a rear-end collision, and the Baron, hawing his animals and swinging on the gee-pole, went by a dozen feet to the side. Yet so impenetrable was the blackness that Smoke heard him pass but never saw him.
On the smooth stretch of ice beside the trading-post at Sixty Mile, Smoke overtook two more sleds. All had just changed teams, and for five minutes they ran abreast, each man on his knees and pouring whip and voice into the maddened dogs. But Smoke had studied out that portion of the trail, and now marked the tall pine on the bank that showed faintly in the light of the many fires. Below that pine was not merely darkness, but an abrupt cessation of the smooth stretch. There the trail, he knew, narrowed to a single sled-width. Leaning out ahead, he caught the haul-rope and drew his leaping sled up to the wheel-dog. He caught the animal by the hind legs and threw it. With a snarl of rage it tried to slash him with its fangs, but was dragged on by the rest of the team. Its body proved an efficient brake, and the two other teams, still abreast, dashed ahead into the darkness for the narrow way.
Smoke heard the crash and uproar of their collision, released his wheeler, sprang to the gee-pole, and urged his team to the right into the soft snow where the straining animals wallowed to their necks. It was exhausting work, but he won by the tangled teams and gained the hard-packed trail beyond.
On the relay out of Sixty Mile, Smoke had next to his poorest team, and though the going was good, he had set it a short fifteen miles. Two more teams would bring him into Dawson and to the gold-recorder’s office, and Smoke had selected his best animals for the last two stretches. Sitka Charley himself waited with the eight Malemutes that would jerk Smoke along for twenty miles, and for the finish, with a fifteen-mile run, was his own team—the team he had had all winter and which had been with him in the search for Surprise Lake.
The two men he had left entangled at Sixty Mile failed to overtake him, and, on the other hand, his team failed to overtake any of the three that still led. His animals were willing, though they lacked stamina and speed, and little urging was needed to keep them jumping into it at their best. There was nothing for Smoke to do but to lie face downward and hold on. Now and again he would plunge out of the darkness into the circle of light about a blazing fire, catch a glimpse of furred men standing by harnessed and waiting dogs, and plunge into the darkness again. Mile after mile, with only the grind and jar of the runners in his ears, he sped on. Almost automatically he kept his place as the sled bumped ahead or half lifted and heeled on the swings and swerves of the bends. First one, and then another, without apparent rhyme or reason, three faces limned themselves on his consciousness: Joy Gastell’s, laughing and audacious; Shorty’s, battered and exhausted by the struggle down Mono Creek; and John Bellew’s, seamed and rigid, as if cast in iron, so unrelenting was its severity. And sometimes Smoke wanted to shout aloud, to chant a paean of savage exultation, as he remembered the office of The Billow and the serial story of San Francisco which he had left unfinished, along with the other fripperies of those empty days.
The grey twilight of morning was breaking as he exchanged his weary dogs for the eight fresh Malemutes. Lighter animals than Hudson Bays, they were capable of greater speed, and they ran with the supple tirelessness of true wolves. Sitka Charley called out the order of the teams ahead. Big Olaf led, Arizona Bill was second, and Von Schroeder third. These were the three best men in the country. In fact, ere Smoke had left Dawson, the popular betting had placed them in that order. While they were racing for a million, at least half a million had been staked by others on the outcome of the race. No one had bet on Smoke, who, despite his several known exploits, was still accounted a chechako with much to learn.
As daylight strengthened, Smoke caught sight of a sled ahead, and, in half an hour, his own lead-dog was leaping at its tail. Not until the man turned his head to exchange greetings, did Smoke recognize him as Arizona Bill. Von Schroeder had evidently passed him. The trail, hard-packed, ran too narrowly through the soft snow, and for another half-hour Smoke was forced to stay in the rear. Then they topped an ice-jam and struck a smooth stretch below, where were a number of relay camps and where the snow was packed widely. On his knees, swinging his whip and yelling, Smoke drew abreast. He noted that Arizona Bill’s right arm hung dead at his side, and that he was compelled to pour leather with his left hand. Awkward as it was, he had no hand left with which to hold on, and frequently he had to cease from the whip and clutch to save himself from falling off. Smoke remembered the scrimmage in the creek bed at Three Below Discovery, and understood. Shorty’s advice had been sound.
“What’s happened?” Smoke asked, as he began to pull ahead.
“I don’t know,” Arizona Bill answered. “I think I threw my shoulder out in the scrapping.”
He dropped behind very slowly, though when the last relay station was in sight he was fully half a mile in the rear. Ahead, bunched together, Smoke could see Big Olaf and Von Schroeder. Again Smoke arose to his knees, and he lifted his jaded dogs into a burst of speed such as a man only can who has the proper instinct for dog-driving. He drew up close to the tail of Von Schroeder’s sled, and in this order the three sleds dashed out on the smooth going below a jam, where many men and many dogs waited. Dawson was fifteen miles away.
Von Schroeder, with his ten-mile relays, had changed five miles back and would change five miles ahead. So he held on, keeping his dogs at full leap. Big Olaf and Smoke made flying changes, and their fresh teams immediately regained what had been lost to the Baron. Big Olaf led past, and Smoke followed into the narrow trail beyond.
“Still good, but not so good,” Smoke paraphrased Spencer to himself.
Of Von Schroeder, now behind, he had no fear; but ahead was the greatest dog-driver in the country. To pass him seemed impossible. Again and again, many times, Smoke forced his leader to the other’s sled-tail, and each time Big Olaf let out another link and drew away. Smoke contented himself with taking the pace, and hung on grimly. The race was not lost until one or the other won, and in fifteen miles many things could happen.
Three miles from Dawson something did happen. To Smoke’s surprise, Big Olaf rose up and with oaths and leather proceeded to fetch out the last ounce of effort in his animals. It was a spurt that should have been reserved for the last hundred yards instead of being begun three miles from the finish. Sheer dog-killing that it was, Smoke followed. His own team was superb. No dogs on the Yukon had had harder work or were in better condition. Besides, Smoke had toiled with them, and eaten and bedded with them, and he knew each dog as an individual and how best to win in to the animal’s intelligence and extract its last least shred of willingness.
They topped a small jam and struck the smooth going below. Big Olaf was barely fifty feet ahead. A sled shot out from the side and drew in toward him, and Smoke understood Big Olaf’s terrific spurt. He had tried to gain a lead for the change. This fresh team that waited to jerk him down the home stretch had been a private surprise of his. Even the men who had backed him to win had had no knowledge of it.
Smoke strove desperately to pass during the exchange of sleds. Lifting his dogs to the effort, he ate up the intervening fifty feet. With urging and pouring of leather, he went to the side and on until his lead-dog was jumping abreast of Big Olaf’s wheeler. On the other side, abreast, was the relay sled. At the speed they were going, Big Olaf did not dare try the flying leap. If he missed and fell off, Smoke would be in the lead and the race would be lost.
Big Olaf tried to spurt ahead, and he lifted his dogs magnificently, but Smoke’s leader still continued to jump beside Big Olaf’s wheeler. For half a mile the three sleds tore and bounced along side by side. The smooth stretch was nearing its end when Big Olaf took the chance. As the flying sleds swerved toward each other, he leaped, and the instant he struck he was on his knees, with whip and voice spurting the fresh team. The smooth stretch pinched out into the narrow trail, and he jumped his dogs ahead and into it with a lead of barely a yard.
A man was not beaten until he was beaten, was Smoke’s conclusion, and drive no matter how, Big Olaf failed to shake him off. No team Smoke had driven that night could have stood such a killing pace and kept up with fresh dogs—no team save this one. Nevertheless, the pace WAS killing it, and as they began to round the bluff at Klondike City, he could feel the pitch of strength going out of his animals. Almost imperceptibly they lagged behind, and foot by foot Big Olaf drew away until he led by a score of yards.
A great cheer went up from the population of Klondike City assembled on the ice. Here the Klondike entered the Yukon, and half a mile away, across the Klondike, on the north bank, stood Dawson. An outburst of madder cheering arose, and Smoke caught a glimpse of a sled shooting out to him. He recognized the splendid animals that drew it. They were Joy Gastell’s. And Joy Gastell drove them. The hood of her squirrel-skin parka was tossed back, revealing the cameo-like oval of her face outlined against her heavily-massed hair. Mittens had been discarded, and with bare hands she clung to whip and sled.
“Jump!” she cried, as her leader snarled at Smoke’s.
Smoke struck the sled behind her. It rocked violently from the impact of his body, but she was full up on her knees and swinging the whip.
“Hi! You! Mush on! Chook! Chook!” she was crying, and the dogs whined and yelped in eagerness of desire and effort to overtake Big Olaf.
And then, as the lead-dog caught the tail of Big Olaf’s sled, and yard by yard drew up abreast, the great crowd on the Dawson bank went mad. It WAS a great crowd, for the men had dropped their tools on all the creeks and come down to see the outcome of the race, and a dead heat at the end of a hundred and ten miles justified any madness.
“When you’re in the lead I’m going to drop off!” Joy cried out over her shoulder.
Smoke tried to protest.
“And watch out for the dip curve half way up the bank,” she warned.
Dog by dog, separated by half a dozen feet, the two teams were running abreast. Big Olaf, with whip and voice, held his own for a minute. Then, slowly, an inch at a time, Joy’s leader began to forge past.
“Get ready!” she cried to Smoke. “I’m going to leave you in a minute. Get the whip.”
And as he shifted his hand to clutch the whip, they heard Big Olaf roar a warning, but too late. His lead-dog, incensed at being passed, swerved in to the attack. His fangs struck Joy’s leader on the flank. The rival teams flew at one another’s throats. The sleds overran the fighting brutes and capsized. Smoke struggled to his feet and tried to lift Joy up. But she thrust him from her, crying: “Go!”
On foot, already fifty feet in advance, was Big Olaf, still intent on finishing the race. Smoke obeyed, and when the two men reached the foot of the Dawson bank, he was at the other’s heels. But up the bank Big Olaf lifted his body hugely, regaining a dozen feet.
Five blocks down the main street was the gold-recorder’s office. The street was packed as for the witnessing of a parade. Not so easily this time did Smoke gain to his giant rival, and when he did he was unable to pass. Side by side they ran along the narrow aisle between the solid walls of fur-clad, cheering men. Now one, now the other, with great convulsive jerks, gained an inch or so, only to lose it immediately after.
If the pace had been a killing one for their dogs, the one they now set themselves was no less so. But they were racing for a million dollars and greatest honour in Yukon Country. The only outside impression that came to Smoke on that last mad stretch was one of astonishment that there should be so many people in the Klondike. He had never seen them all at once before.
He felt himself involuntarily lag, and Big Olaf sprang a full stride in the lead. To Smoke it seemed that his heart would burst, while he had lost all consciousness of his legs. He knew they were flying under him, but he did not know how he continued to make them fly, nor how he put even greater pressure of will upon them and compelled them again to carry him to his giant competitor’s side.
The open door of the Recorder’s office appeared ahead of them. Both men made a final, futile spurt. Neither could draw away from the other, and side by side they hit the doorway, collided violently, and fell headlong on the office floor.
They sat up, but were too exhausted to rise. Big Olaf, the sweat pouring from him, breathing with tremendous, painful gasps, pawed the air and vainly tried to speak. Then he reached out his hand with unmistakable meaning; Smoke extended his, and they shook.
“It’s a dead heat,” Smoke could hear the Recorder saying, but it was as if in a dream, and the voice was very thin and very far away. “And all I can say is that you both win. You’ll have to divide the claim between you. You’re partners.”
Their two arms pumped up and down as they ratified the decision. Big Olaf nodded his head with great emphasis, and spluttered. At last he got it out.
“You damn chechako,” was what he said, but in the saying of it was admiration. “I don’t know how you done it, but you did.”
Outside, the great crowd was noisily massed, while the office was packing and jamming. Smoke and Big Olaf essayed to rise, and each helped the other to his feet. Smoke found his legs weak under him, and staggered drunkenly. Big Olaf tottered toward him.
“I’m sorry my dogs jumped yours.”
“It couldn’t be helped,” Smoke panted back. “I heard you yell.”
“Say,” Big Olaf went on with shining eyes. “That girl—one damn fine girl, eh?”
“One damn fine girl,” Smoke agreed.


12. THE END OF THE STORY

I

The table was of hand-hewn spruce boards, and the men who played whist had frequent difficulties in drawing home their tricks across the uneven surface. Though they sat in their undershirts, the sweat noduled and oozed on their faces; yet their feet, heavily moccasined and woollen-socked, tingled with the bite of the frost. Such was the difference of temperature in the small cabin between the floor level and a yard or more above it. The sheet-iron Yukon Stove roared red-hot, yet, eight feet away, on the meat-shelf, placed low and beside the door, lay chunks of solidly frozen moose and bacon. The door, a third of the way up from the bottom, was a thick rime. In the chinking between the logs at the back of the bunks the frost showed white and glistening. A window of oiled paper furnished light. The lower portion of the paper, on the inside, was coated an inch deep with the frozen moisture of the men’s breath.
They played a momentous rubber of whist, for the pair that lost was to dig a fishing hole through the seven feet of ice and snow that covered the Yukon.
"It’s mighty unusual, a cold snap like this in March," remarked the man who shuffled. "What would you call it, Bob?"
"Oh, fifty-five or sixty below—all of that. What do you make it, Doc?"
Doc turned his head and glanced at the lower part of the door with a measuring eye.
"Not a bit worse than fifty. If anything, slightly under—say forty-nine. See the ice on the door. It’s just about the fifty mark, but you’ll notice the upper edge is ragged. The time she went seventy the ice climbed a full four inches higher." He picked up his hand, and without ceasing from sorting called "Come in," to a knock on the door.
The man who entered was a big, broad-shouldered Swede, though his nationality was not discernible until he had removed his ear-flapped cap and thawed away the ice which had formed on beard and moustache and which served to mask his face. While engaged in this, the men at the table played out the hand.
"I hear one doctor faller stop this camp," the Swede said inquiringly, looking anxiously from face to face, his own face haggard and drawn from severe and long endured pain. "I come long way. North fork of the Whyo."
"I’m the doctor. What’s the matter?"
In response, the man held up his left hand, the second finger of which was monstrously swollen. At the same time he began a rambling, disjointed history of the coming and growth of his affliction.
"Let me look at it," the doctor broke in impatiently. "Lay it on the table. There, like that."
Tenderly, as if it were a great boil, the man obeyed.
"Humph," the doctor grumbled. "A weeping sinew. And travelled a hundred miles to have it fixed. I’ll fix it in a jiffy. You watch me, and next time you can do it yourself."
Without warning, squarely and at right angles, and savagely, the doctor brought the edge of his hand down on the swollen crooked finger. The man yelled with consternation and agony. It was more like the cry of a wild beast, and his face was a wild beast’s as he was about to spring on the man who had perpetrated the joke.
"That’s all right," the doctor placated sharply and authoritatively. "How do you feel? Better, eh? Of course. Next time you can do it yourself—Go on and deal, Strothers. I think we’ve got you."
Slow and ox-like, on the face of the Swede dawned relief and comprehension. The pang over, the finger felt better. The pain was gone. He examined the finger curiously, with wondering eyes, slowly crooking it back and forth. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a gold-sack.
"How much?"
The doctor shook his head impatiently. "Nothing. I’m not practising—Your play, Bob."
The Swede moved heavily on his feet, re-examined the finger, then turned an admiring gaze on the doctor.
"You are good man. What your name?"
"Linday, Doctor Linday," Strothers answered, as if solicitous to save his opponent from further irritation.
"The day’s half done," Linday said to the Swede, at the end of the hand, while he shuffled. "Better rest over to-night. It’s too cold for travelling. There’s a spare bunk."
He was a slender brunette of a man, lean-cheeked, thin-lipped, and strong. The smooth-shaven face was a healthy sallow. All his movements were quick and precise. He did not fumble his cards. The eyes were black, direct, and piercing, with the trick of seeming to look beneath the surfaces of things. His hands, slender, fine and nervous, appeared made for delicate work, and to the most casual eye they conveyed an impression of strength.
"Our game," he announced, drawing in the last trick. "Now for the rub and who digs the fishing hole."
A knock at the door brought a quick exclamation from him.
"Seems we just can’t finish this rubber," he complained, as the door opened. "What’s the matter with you?"—this last to the stranger who entered.
The newcomer vainly strove to move his icebound jaws and jowls. That he had been on trail for long hours and days was patent. The skin across the cheekbones was black with repeated frost-bite. From nose to chin was a mass of solid ice perforated by the hole through which he breathed. Through this he had also spat tobacco juice, which had frozen, as it trickled, into an amber-coloured icicle, pointed like a Van Dyke beard.
He shook his head dumbly, grinned with his eyes, and drew near to the stove to thaw his mouth to speech. He assisted the process with his fingers, clawing off fragments of melting ice which rattled and sizzled on the stove.
"Nothing the matter with me," he finally announced. "But if they’s a doctor in the outfit he’s sure needed. They’s a man up the Little Peco that’s had a ruction with a panther, an’ the way he’s clawed is something scand’lous."
"How far up?" Doctor Linday demanded.
"A matter of a hundred miles."
"How long since?"
"I’ve ben three days comin’ down."
"Bad?"
"Shoulder dislocated. Some ribs broke for sure. Right arm broke. An’ clawed clean to the bone most all over but the face. We sewed up two or three bad places temporary, and tied arteries with twine."
"That settles it," Linday sneered. "Where were they?"
"Stomach."
"He’s a sight by now."
"Not on your life. Washed clean with bug-killin’ dope before we stitched. Only temporary anyway. Had nothin’ but linen thread, but washed that, too."
"He’s as good as dead," was Linday’s judgment, as he angrily fingered the cards.
"Nope. That man ain’t goin’ to die. He knows I’ve come for a doctor, an’ he’ll make out to live until you get there. He won’t let himself die. I know him."
"Christian Science and gangrene, eh?" came the sneer. "Well, I’m not practising. Nor can I see myself travelling a hundred miles at fifty below for a dead man."
"I can see you, an’ for a man a long ways from dead."
Linday shook his head. "Sorry you had your trip for nothing. Better stop over for the night."
"Nope. We’ll be pullin’ out in ten minutes."
"What makes you so cocksure?" Linday demanded testily.
Then it was that Tom Daw made the speech of his life.
"Because he’s just goin’ on livin’ till you get there, if it takes you a week to make up your mind. Besides, his wife’s with him, not sheddin’ a tear, or nothin’, an’ she’s helpin’ him live till you come. They think a almighty heap of each other, an’ she’s got a will like hisn. If he weakened, she’d just put her immortal soul into hisn an’ make him live. Though he ain’t weakenin’ none, you can stack on that. I’ll stack on it. I’ll lay you three to one, in ounces, he’s alive when you get there. I got a team of dawgs down the bank. You ought to allow to start in ten minutes, an’ we ought to make it back in less’n three days because the trail’s broke. I’m goin’ down to the dawgs now, an’ I’ll look for you in ten minutes."
Tom Daw pulled down his earflaps, drew on his mittens, and passed out.
"Damn him!" Linday cried, glaring vindictively at the closed door.

II

That night, long after dark, with twenty-five miles behind them, Linday and Tom Daw went into camp. It was a simple but adequate affair: a fire built in the snow; alongside, their sleeping-furs spread in a single bed on a mat of spruce boughs; behind the bed an oblong of canvas stretched to refract the heat. Daw fed the dogs and chopped ice and firewood. Linday’s cheeks burned with frost-bite as he squatted over the cooking. They ate heavily, smoked a pipe and talked while they dried their moccasins before the fire, and turned in to sleep the dead sleep of fatigue and health.
Morning found the unprecedented cold snap broken. Linday estimated the temperature at fifteen below and rising. Daw was worried. That day would see them in the canyon, he explained, and if the spring thaw set in the canyon would run open water. The walls of the canyon were hundreds to thousands of feet high. They could be climbed, but the going would be slow.
Camped well in the dark and forbidding gorge, over their pipe that evening they complained of the heat, and both agreed that the thermometer must be above zero—the first time in six months.
"Nobody ever heard tell of a panther this far north," Daw was saying. "Rocky called it a cougar. But I shot a-many of ’em down in Curry County, Oregon, where I come from, an’ we called ’em panther. Anyway, it was a bigger cat than ever I seen. It was sure a monster cat. Now how’d it ever stray to such out of the way huntin’ range?—that’s the question."
Linday made no comment. He was nodding. Propped on sticks, his moccasins steamed unheeded and unturned. The dogs, curled in furry balls, slept in the snow. The crackle of an ember accentuated the profound of silence that reigned. He awoke with a start and gazed at Daw, who nodded and returned the gaze. Both listened. From far off came a vague disturbance that increased to a vast and sombre roaring. As it neared, ever-increasing, riding the mountain tops as well as the canyon depths, bowing the forest before it, bending the meagre, crevice-rooted pines on the walls of the gorge, they knew it for what it was. A wind, strong and warm, a balmy gale, drove past them, flinging a rocket-shower of sparks from the fire. The dogs, aroused, sat on their haunches, bleak noses pointed upward, and raised the long wolf howl.
"It’s the Chinook," Daw said.
"It means the river trail, I suppose?"
"Sure thing. And ten miles of it is easier than one over the tops." Daw surveyed Linday for a long, considering minute. "We’ve just had fifteen hours of trail," he shouted above the wind, tentatively, and again waited. "Doc," he said finally, "are you game?"
For answer, Linday knocked out his pipe and began to pull on his damp moccasins. Between them, and in few minutes, bending to the force of the wind, the dogs were harnessed, camp broken, and the cooking outfit and unused sleeping furs lashed on the sled. Then, through the darkness, for a night of travel, they churned out on the trail Daw had broken nearly a week before. And all through the night the Chinook roared and they urged the weary dogs and spurred their own jaded muscles. Twelve hours of it they made, and stopped for breakfast after twenty-seven hours on trail.
"An hour’s sleep," said Daw, when they had wolfed pounds of straight moose-meat fried with bacon.
Two hours he let his companion sleep, afraid himself to close his eyes. He occupied himself with making marks upon the soft-surfaced, shrinking snow. Visibly it shrank. In two hours the snow level sank three inches. From every side, faintly heard and near, under the voice of the spring wind, came the trickling of hidden waters. The Little Peco, strengthened by the multitudinous streamlets, rose against the manacles of winter, riving the ice with crashings and snappings.
Daw touched Linday on the shoulder; touched him again; shook, and shook violently.
"Doc," he murmured admiringly. "You can sure go some."
The weary black eyes, under heavy lids, acknowledged the compliment.
"But that ain’t the question. Rocky is clawed something scand’lous. As I said before, I helped sew up his in’ards. Doc...." He shook the man, whose eyes had again closed. "I say, Doc! The question is: can you go some more?—hear me? I say, can you go some more?"
The weary dogs snapped and whimpered when kicked from their sleep. The going was slow, not more than two miles an hour, and the animals took every opportunity to lie down in the wet snow.
"Twenty miles of it, and we’ll be through the gorge," Daw encouraged. "After that the ice can go to blazes, for we can take to the bank, and it’s only ten more miles to camp. Why, Doc, we’re almost there. And when you get Rocky fixed up, you can come down in a canoe in one day."
But the ice grew more uneasy under them, breaking loose from the shore-line and rising steadily inch by inch. In places where it still held to the shore, the water overran and they waded and slushed across. The Little Peco growled and muttered. Cracks and fissures were forming everywhere as they battled on for the miles that each one of which meant ten along the tops.
"Get on the sled, Doc, an’ take a snooze," Daw invited.
The glare from the black eyes prevented him from repeating the suggestion.
As early as midday they received definite warning of the beginning of the end. Cakes of ice, borne downward in the rapid current, began to thunder beneath the ice on which they stood. The dogs whimpered anxiously and yearned for the bank.
"That means open water above," Daw explained. "Pretty soon she’ll jam somewheres, an’ the river’ll raise a hundred feet in a hundred minutes. It’s us for the tops if we can find a way to climb out. Come on! Hit her up I! An’ just to think, the Yukon’ll stick solid for weeks."
Unusually narrow at this point, the great walls of the canyon were too precipitous to scale. Daw and Linday had to keep on; and they kept on till the disaster happened. With a loud explosion, the ice broke asunder midway under the team. The two animals in the middle of the string went into the fissure, and the grip of the current on their bodies dragged the lead-dog backward and in. Swept downstream under the ice, these three bodies began to drag to the edge the two whining dogs that remained. The men held back frantically on the sled, but were slowly drawn along with it. It was all over in the space of seconds. Daw slashed the wheel-dog’s traces with his sheath-knife, and the animal whipped over the ice-edge and was gone. The ice on which they stood, broke into a large and pivoting cake that ground and splintered against the shore ice and rocks. Between them they got the sled ashore and up into a crevice in time to see the ice-cake up-edge, sink, and down-shelve from view.
Meat and sleeping furs were made into packs, and the sled was abandoned. Linday resented Daw’s taking the heavier pack, but Daw had his will.
"You got to work as soon as you get there. Come on."
It was one in the afternoon when they started to climb. At eight that evening they cleared the rim and for half an hour lay where they had fallen. Then came the fire, a pot of coffee, and an enormous feed of moosemeat. But first Linday hefted the two packs, and found his own lighter by half.
"You’re an iron man, Daw," he admired.
"Who? Me? Oh, pshaw! You ought to see Rocky. He’s made out of platinum, an’ armour plate, an’ pure gold, an’ all strong things. I’m mountaineer, but he plumb beats me out. Down in Curry County I used to ’most kill the boys when we run bear. So when I hooks up with Rocky on our first hunt I had a mean idea to show ’m a few. I let out the links good an’ generous, ’most nigh keepin’ up with the dawgs, an’ along comes Rocky a-treadin’ on my heels. I knowed he couldn’t last that way, and I just laid down an’ did my dangdest. An’ there he was, at the end of another hour, a-treadin’ steady an’ regular on my heels. I was some huffed. ’Mebbe you’d like to come to the front an’ show me how to travel,’ I says. ’Sure,’ says he. An’ he done it! I stayed with ’m, but let me tell you I was plumb tuckered by the time the bear tree’d.
"They ain’t no stoppin’ that man. He ain’t afraid of nothin’. Last fall, before the freeze-up, him an’ me was headin’ for camp about twilight. I was clean shot out—ptarmigan—an’ he had one cartridge left. An’ the dawgs tree’d a she grizzly. Small one. Only weighed about three hundred, but you know what grizzlies is. ’Don’t do it,’ says I, when he ups with his rifle. ’You only got that one shot, an’ it’s too dark to see the sights.’
"’Climb a tree,’ says he. I didn’t climb no tree, but when that bear come down a-cussin’ among the dawgs, an’ only creased, I want to tell you I was sure hankerin’ for a tree. It was some ruction. Then things come on real bad. The bear slid down a hollow against a big log. Downside, that log was four feet up an’ down. Dawgs couldn’t get at bear that way. Upside was steep gravel, an’ the dawgs’d just naturally slide down into the bear. They was no jumpin’ back, an’ the bear was a-manglin’ ’em fast as they come. All underbrush, gettin’ pretty dark, no cartridges, nothin’.
"What’s Rocky up an’ do? He goes downside of log, reaches over with his knife, an’ begins slashin’. But he can only reach bear’s rump, an’ dawgs bein’ ruined fast, one-two-three time. Rocky gets desperate. He don’t like to lose his dawgs. He jumps on top log, grabs bear by the slack of the rump, an’ heaves over back’ard right over top of that log. Down they go, kit an’ kaboodle, twenty feet, bear, dawgs, an’ Rocky, slidin’, cussin’, an’ scratchin’, ker-plump into ten feet of water in the bed of stream. They all swum out different ways. Nope, he didn’t get the bear, but he saved the dawgs. That’s Rocky. They’s no stoppin’ him when his mind’s set."
It was at the next camp that Linday heard how Rocky had come to be injured.
"I’d ben up the draw, about a mile from the cabin, lookin’ for a piece of birch likely enough for an axe-handle. Comin’ back I heard the darndest goings-on where we had a bear trap set. Some trapper had left the trap in an old cache an’ Rocky’d fixed it up. But the goings-on. It was Rocky an’ his brother Harry. First I’d hear one yell and laugh, an’ then the other, like it was some game. An’ what do you think the fool game was? I’ve saw some pretty nervy cusses down in Curry County, but they beat all. They’d got a whoppin’ big panther in the trap an’ was takin’ turns rappin’ it on the nose with a light stick. But that wa’n’t the point. I just come out of the brush in time to see Harry rap it. Then he chops six inches off the stick an’ passes it to Rocky. You see, that stick was growin’ shorter all the time. It ain’t as easy as you think. The panther’d slack back an’ hunch down an’ spit, an’ it was mighty lively in duckin’ the stick. An’ you never knowed when it’d jump. It was caught by the hind leg, which was curious, too, an’ it had some slack I’m tellin’ you.
"It was just a game of dare they was playin’, an’ the stick gettin’ shorter an’ shorter an’ the panther madder ’n madder. Bimeby they wa’n’t no stick left—only a nubbin, about four inches long, an’ it was Rocky’s turn. ’Better quit now,’ says Harry. ’What for?’ says Rocky. ’Because if you rap him again they won’t be no stick left for me,’ Harry answers. ’Then you’ll quit an’ I win,’ says Rocky with a laugh, an’ goes to it.
"An’ I don’t want to see anything like it again. That cat’d bunched back an’ down till it had all of six feet slack in its body. An’ Rocky’s stick four inches long. The cat got him. You couldn’t see one from t’other. No chance to shoot. It was Harry, in the end, that got his knife into the panther’s jugular."
"If I’d known how he got it I’d never have come," was Linday’s comment.
Daw nodded concurrence.
"That’s what she said. She told me sure not to whisper how it happened."
"Is he crazy?" Linday demanded in his wrath.
"They’re all crazy. Him an’ his brother are all the time devilin’ each other to tom-fool things. I seen them swim the riffle last fall, bad water an’ mush-ice runnin’—on a dare. They ain’t nothin’ they won’t tackle. An’ she’s ’most as bad. Not afraid some herself. She’ll do anything Rocky’ll let her. But he’s almighty careful with her. Treats her like a queen. No camp-work or such for her. That’s why another man an’ me are hired on good wages. They’ve got slathers of money an’ they’re sure dippy on each other. ’Looks like good huntin’,’ says Rocky, when they struck that section last fall. ’Let’s make a camp then,’ says Harry. An’ me all the time thinkin’ they was lookin’ for gold. Ain’t ben a prospect pan washed the whole winter."
Linday’s anger mounted. "I haven’t any patience with fools. For two cents I’d turn back."
"No you wouldn’t," Daw assured him confidently. "They ain’t enough grub to turn back, an’ we’ll be there to-morrow. Just got to cross that last divide an’ drop down to the cabin. An’ they’s a better reason. You’re too far from home, an’ I just naturally wouldn’t let you turn back."
Exhausted as Linday was, the flash in his black eyes warned Daw that he had overreached himself. His hand went out.
"My mistake, Doc. Forget it. I reckon I’m gettin’ some cranky what of losin’ them dawgs."

III

Not one day, but three days later, the two men, after being snowed in on the summit by a spring blizzard, staggered up to a cabin that stood in a fat bottom beside the roaring Little Peco. Coming in from the bright sunshine to the dark cabin, Linday observed little of its occupants. He was no more than aware of two men and a woman. But he was not interested in them. He went directly to the bunk where lay the injured man. The latter was lying on his back, with eyes closed, and Linday noted the slender stencilling of the brows and the kinky silkiness of the brown hair. Thin and wan, the face seemed too small for the muscular neck, yet the delicate features, despite their waste, were firmly moulded.
"What dressings have you been using?" Linday asked of the woman.
"Corrosive, sublimate, regular solution," came the answer.
He glanced quickly at her, shot an even quicker glance at the face of the injured man, and stood erect. She breathed sharply, abruptly biting off the respiration with an effort of will. Linday turned to the men.
"You clear out—chop wood or something. Clear out."
One of them demurred.
"This is a serious case," Linday went on. "I want to talk to his wife."
"I’m his brother," said the other.
To him the woman looked, praying him with her eyes. He nodded reluctantly and turned toward the door.
"Me, too?" Daw queried from the bench where he had flung himself down.
"You, too."
Linday busied himself with a superficial examination of the patient while the cabin was emptying.
"So?" he said. "So that’s your Rex Strang."
She dropped her eyes to the man in the bunk as if to reassure herself of his identity, and then in silence returned Linday’s gaze.
"Why don’t you speak?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "What is the use? You know it is Rex Strang."
"Thank you. Though I might remind you that it is the first time I have ever seen him. Sit down." He waved her to a stool, himself taking the bench. "I’m really about all in, you know. There’s no turnpike from the Yukon here."
He drew a penknife and began extracting a thorn from his thumb.
"What are you going to do?" she asked, after a minute’s wait.
"Eat and rest up before I start back."
"What are you going to do about...." She inclined her head toward the unconscious man.
"Nothing."
She went over to the bunk and rested her fingers lightly on the tight-curled hair.
"You mean you will kill him," she said slowly. "Kill him by doing nothing, for you can save him if you will."
"Take it that way." He considered a moment, and stated his thought with a harsh little laugh. "From time immemorial in this weary old world it has been a not uncommon custom so to dispose of wife-stealers."
"You are unfair, Grant," she answered gently. "You forget that I was willing and that I desired. I was a free agent. Rex never stole me. It was you who lost me. I went with him, willing and eager, with song on my lips. As well accuse me of stealing him. We went together."
"A good way of looking at it," Linday conceded. "I see you are as keen a thinker as ever, Madge. That must have bothered him."
"A keen thinker can be a good lover—"
"And not so foolish," he broke in.
"Then you admit the wisdom of my course?"
He threw up his hands. "That’s the devil of it, talking with clever women. A man always forgets and traps himself. I wouldn’t wonder if you won him with a syllogism."
Her reply was the hint of a smile in her straight-looking blue eyes and a seeming emanation of sex pride from all the physical being of her.
"No, I take that back, Madge. If you’d been a numbskull you’d have won him, or any one else, on your looks, and form, and carriage. I ought to know. I’ve been through that particular mill, and, the devil take me, I’m not through it yet."
His speech was quick and nervous and irritable, as it always was, and, as she knew, it was always candid. She took her cue from his last remark.
"Do you remember Lake Geneva?"
"I ought to. I was rather absurdly happy."
She nodded, and her eyes were luminous. "There is such a thing as old sake. Won’t you, Grant, please, just remember back ... a little ... oh, so little ... of what we were to each other ... then?"
"Now you’re taking advantage," he smiled, and returned to the attack on his thumb. He drew the thorn out, inspected it critically, then concluded. "No, thank you. I’m not playing the Good Samaritan."
"Yet you made this hard journey for an unknown man," she urged.
His impatience was sharply manifest. "Do you fancy I’d have moved a step had I known he was my wife’s lover?"
"But you are here ... now. And there he lies. What are you going to do?"
"Nothing. Why should I? I am not at the man’s service. He pilfered me."
She was about to speak, when a knock came on the door.
"Get out!" he shouted.
"If you want any assistance—"
"Get out! Get a bucket of water! Set it down outside!"
"You are going to...?" she began tremulously.
"Wash up."
She recoiled from the brutality, and her lips tightened.
"Listen, Grant," she said steadily. "I shall tell his brother. I know the Strang breed. If you can forget old sake, so can I. If you don’t do something, he’ll kill you. Why, even Tom Daw would if I asked."
"You should know me better than to threaten," he reproved gravely, then added, with a sneer: "Besides, I don’t see how killing me will help your Rex Strang."
She gave a low gasp, closed her lips tightly, and watched his quick eyes take note of the trembling that had beset her.
"It’s not hysteria, Grant," she cried hastily and anxiously, with clicking teeth. "You never saw me with hysteria. I’ve never had it. I don’t know what it is, but I’ll control it. I am merely beside myself. It’s partly anger—with you. And it’s apprehension and fear. I don’t want to lose him. I do love him, Grant. He is my king, my lover. And I have sat here beside him so many dreadful days now. Oh, Grant, please, please."
"Just nerves," he commented drily. "Stay with it. You can best it. If you were a man I’d say take a smoke."
She went unsteadily back to the stool, where she watched him and fought for control. From the rough fireplace came the singing of a cricket. Outside two wolf-dogs bickered. The injured man’s chest rose and fell perceptibly under the fur robes. She saw a smile, not altogether pleasant, form on Linday’s lips.
"How much do you love him?" he asked.
Her breast filled and rose, and her eyes shone with a light unashamed and proud. He nodded in token that he was answered.
"Do you mind if I take a little time?" He stopped, casting about for the way to begin. "I remember reading a story—Herbert Shaw wrote it, I think. I want to tell you about it. There was a woman, young and beautiful; a man magnificent, a lover of beauty and a wanderer. I don’t know how much like your Rex Strang he was, but I fancy a sort of resemblance. Well, this man was a painter, a bohemian, a vagabond. He kissed—oh, several times and for several weeks—and rode away. She possessed for him what I thought you possessed for me ... at Lake Geneva. In ten years she wept the beauty out of her face. Some women turn yellow, you know, when grief upsets their natural juices.
"Now it happened that the man went blind, and ten years afterward, led as a child by the hand, he stumbled back to her. There was nothing left. He could no longer paint. And she was very happy, and glad he could not see her face. Remember, he worshipped beauty. And he continued to hold her in his arms and believe in her beauty. The memory of it was vivid in him. He never ceased to talk about it, and to lament that he could not behold it.
"One day he told her of five great pictures he wished to paint. If only his sight could be restored to paint them, he could write finisand be content. And then, no matter how, there came into her hands an elixir. Anointed on his eyes, the sight would surely and fully return."
Linday shrugged his shoulders.
"You see her struggle. With sight, he could paint his five pictures. Also, he would leave her. Beauty was his religion. It was impossible that he could abide her ruined face. Five days she struggled. Then she anointed his eyes."
Linday broke off and searched her with his eyes, the high lights focused sharply in the brilliant black.
"The question is, do you love Rex Strang as much as that?"
"And if I do?" she countered.
"Do you?"
"Yes."
"You can sacrifice? You can give him up?"
Slow and reluctant was her "Yes."
"And you will come with me?"
"Yes." This time her voice was a whisper. "When he is well—yes."
"You understand. It must be Lake Geneva over again. You will be my wife."
She seemed to shrink and droop, but her head nodded.
"Very well." He stood up briskly, went to his pack, and began unstrapping. "I shall need help. Bring his brother in. Bring them all in. Boiling water—let there be lots of it. I’ve brought bandages, but let me see what you have in that line.—Here, Daw, build up that fire and start boiling all the water you can.—Here you," to the other man, "get that table out and under the window there. Clean it; scrub it; scald it. Clean, man, clean, as you never cleaned a thing before. You, Mrs. Strang, will be my helper. No sheets, I suppose. Well, we’ll manage somehow.—You’re his brother, sir. I’ll give the anaesthetic, but you must keep it going afterward. Now listen, while I instruct you. In the first place—but before that, can you take a pulse?..."

IV

Noted for his daring and success as a surgeon, through the days and weeks that followed Linday exceeded himself in daring and success. Never, because of the frightful mangling and breakage, and because of the long delay, had he encountered so terrible a case. But he had never had a healthier specimen of human wreck to work upon. Even then he would have failed, had it not been for the patient’s catlike vitality and almost uncanny physical and mental grip on life.
There were days of high temperature and delirium; days of heart-sinking when Strang’s pulse was barely perceptible; days when he lay conscious, eyes weary and drawn, the sweat of pain on his face. Linday was indefatigable, cruelly efficient, audacious and fortunate, daring hazard after hazard and winning. He was not content to make the man live. He devoted himself to the intricate and perilous problem of making him whole and strong again.
"He will be a cripple?" Madge queried.
"He will not merely walk and talk and be a limping caricature of his former self," Linday told her. "He shall run and leap, swim riffles, ride bears, fight panthers, and do all things to the top of his fool desire. And, I warn you, he will fascinate women just as of old. Will you like that? Are you content? Remember, you will not be with him."
"Go on, go on," she breathed. "Make him whole. Make him what he was."
More than once, whenever Strang’s recuperation permitted, Linday put him under the anaesthetic and did terrible things, cutting and sewing, rewiring and connecting up the disrupted organism. Later, developed a hitch in the left arm. Strang could lift it so far, and no farther. Linday applied himself to the problem. It was a case of more wires, shrunken, twisted, disconnected. Again it was cut and switch and ease and disentangle. And all that saved Strang was his tremendous vitality and the health of his flesh.
"You will kill him," his brother complained. "Let him be. For God’s sake let him be. A live and crippled man is better than a whole and dead one."
Linday flamed in wrath. "You get out! Out of this cabin with you till you can come back and say that I make him live. Pull—by God, man, you’ve got to pull with me with all your soul. Your brother’s travelling a hairline razor-edge. Do you understand? A thought can topple him off. Now get out, and come back sweet and wholesome, convinced beyond all absoluteness that he will live and be what he was before you and he played the fool together. Get out, I say."
The brother, with clenched hands and threatening eyes, looked to Madge for counsel.
"Go, go, please," she begged. "He is right. I know he is right."
Another time, when Strang’s condition seemed more promising, the brother said:
"Doc, you’re a wonder, and all this time I’ve forgotten to ask your name."
"None of your damn business. Don’t bother me. Get out."
The mangled right arm ceased from its healing, burst open again in a frightful wound.
"Necrosis," said Linday.
"That does settle it," groaned the brother.
"Shut up!" Linday snarled. "Get out! Take Daw with you. Take Bill, too. Get rabbits—alive—healthy ones. Trap them. Trap everywhere."
"How many?" the brother asked.
"Forty of them—four thousand—forty thousand—all you can get. You’ll help me, Mrs. Strang. I’m going to dig into that arm and size up the damage. Get out, you fellows. You for the rabbits."
And he dug in, swiftly, unerringly, scraping away disintegrating bone, ascertaining the extent of the active decay.
"It never would have happened," he told Madge, "if he hadn’t had so many other things needing vitality first. Even he didn’t have vitality enough to go around. I was watching it, but I had to wait and chance it. That piece must go. He could manage without it, but rabbit-bone will make it what it was."
From the hundreds of rabbits brought in, he weeded out, rejected, selected, tested, selected and tested again, until he made his final choice. He used the last of his chloroform and achieved the bone-graft—living bone to living bone, living man and living rabbit immovable and indissolubly bandaged and bound together, their mutual processes uniting and reconstructing a perfect arm.
And through the whole trying period, especially as Strang mended, occurred passages of talk between Linday and Madge. Nor was he kind, nor she rebellious.
"It’s a nuisance," he told her. "But the law is the law, and you’ll need a divorce before we can marry again. What do you say? Shall we go to Lake Geneva?"
"As you will," she said.
And he, another time: "What the deuce did you see in him anyway? I know he had money. But you and I were managing to get along with some sort of comfort. My practice was averaging around forty thousand a year then—I went over the books afterward. Palaces and steam yachts were about all that was denied you."
"Perhaps you’ve explained it," she answered. "Perhaps you were too interested in your practice. Maybe you forgot me."
"Humph," he sneered. "And may not your Rex be too interested in panthers and short sticks?"
He continually girded her to explain what he chose to call her infatuation for the other man.
"There is no explanation," she replied. And, finally, she retorted, "No one can explain love, I least of all. I only knew love, the divine and irrefragable fact, that is all. There was once, at Fort Vancouver, a baron of the Hudson Bay Company who chided the resident Church of England parson. The dominie had written home to England complaining that the Company folk, from the head factor down, were addicted to Indian wives. ’Why didn’t you explain the extenuating circumstances?’ demanded the baron. Replied the dominie: ’A cow’s tail grows downward. I do not attempt to explain why the cow’s tail grows downward. I merely cite the fact.’"
"Damn clever women!" cried Linday, his eyes flashing his irritation.
"What brought you, of all places, into the Klondike?" she asked once.
"Too much money. No wife to spend it. Wanted a rest. Possibly overwork. I tried Colorado, but their telegrams followed me, and some of them did themselves. I went on to Seattle. Same thing. Ransom ran his wife out to me in a special train. There was no escaping it. Operation successful. Local newspapers got wind of it. You can imagine the rest. I had to hide, so I ran away to Klondike. And—well, Tom Daw found me playing whist in a cabin down on the Yukon."
Came the day when Strang’s bed was carried out of doors and into the sunshine.
"Let me tell him now," she said to Linday.
"No; wait," he answered.
Later, Strang was able to sit up on the edge of the bed, able to walk his first giddy steps, supported on either side.
"Let me tell him now," she said.
"No. I’m making a complete job of this. I want no set-backs. There’s a slight hitch still in that left arm. It’s a little thing, but I am going to remake him as God made him. Tomorrow I’ve planned to get into that arm and take out the kink. It will mean a couple of days on his back. I’m sorry there’s no more chloroform. He’ll just have to bite his teeth on a spike and hang on. He can do it. He’s got grit for a dozen men."
Summer came on. The snow disappeared, save on the far peaks of the Rockies to the east. The days lengthened till there was no darkness, the sun dipping at midnight, due north, for a few minutes beneath the horizon. Linday never let up on Strang. He studied his walk, his body movements, stripped him again and again and for the thousandth time made him flex all his muscles. Massage was given him without end, until Linday declared that Tom Daw, Bill, and the brother were properly qualified for Turkish bath and osteopathic hospital attendants. But Linday was not yet satisfied. He put Strang through his whole repertoire of physical feats, searching him the while for hidden weaknesses. He put him on his back again for a week, opened up his leg, played a deft trick or two with the smaller veins, scraped a spot of bone no larger than a coffee grain till naught but a surface of healthy pink remained to be sewed over with the living flesh.
"Let me tell him," Madge begged.
"Not yet," was the answer. "You will tell him only when I am ready."
July passed, and August neared its end, when he ordered Strang out on trail to get a moose. Linday kept at his heels, watching him, studying him. He was slender, a cat in the strength of his muscles, and he walked as Linday had seen no man walk, effortlessly, with all his body, seeming to lift the legs with supple muscles clear to the shoulders. But it was without heaviness, so easy that it invested him with a peculiar grace, so easy that to the eye the speed was deceptive. It was the killing pace of which Tom Daw had complained. Linday toiled behind, sweating and panting; from time to time, when the ground favoured, making short runs to keep up. At the end of ten miles he called a halt and threw himself down on the moss.
"Enough!" he cried. "I can’t keep up with you."
He mopped his heated face, and Strang sat down on a spruce log, smiling at the doctor, and, with the camaraderie of a pantheist, at all the landscape.
"Any twinges, or hurts, or aches, or hints of aches?" Linday demanded.
Strang shook his curly head and stretched his lithe body, living and joying in every fibre of it.
"You’ll do, Strang. For a winter or two you may expect to feel the cold and damp in the old wounds. But that will pass, and perhaps you may escape it altogether."
"God, Doctor, you have performed miracles with me. I don’t know how to thank you. I don’t even know your name."
"Which doesn’t matter. I’ve pulled you through, and that’s the main thing."
"But it’s a name men must know out in the world," Strang persisted. "I’ll wager I’d recognise it if I heard it."
"I think you would," was Linday’s answer. "But it’s beside the matter. I want one final test, and then I’m done with you. Over the divide at the head of this creek is a tributary of the Big Windy. Daw tells me that last year you went over, down to the middle fork, and back again, in three days. He said you nearly killed him, too. You are to wait here and camp to-night. I’ll send Daw along with the camp outfit. Then it’s up to you to go to the middle fork and back in the same time as last year."

V

"Now," Linday said to Madge. "You have an hour in which to pack. I’ll go and get the canoe ready. Bill’s bringing in the moose and won’t get back till dark. We’ll make my cabin to-day, and in a week we’ll be in Dawson."
"I was in hope...." She broke off proudly.
"That I’d forego the fee?"
"Oh, a compact is a compact, but you needn’t have been so hateful in the collecting. You have not been fair. You have sent him away for three days, and robbed me of my last words to him."
"Leave a letter."
"I shall tell him all."
"Anything less than all would be unfair to the three of us," was Linday’s answer.
When he returned from the canoe, her outfit was packed, the letter written.
"Let me read it," he said, "if you don’t mind."
Her hesitation was momentary, then she passed it over.
"Pretty straight," he said, when he had finished it. "Now, are you ready?"
He carried her pack down to the bank, and, kneeling, steadied the canoe with one hand while he extended the other to help her in. He watched her closely, but without a tremor she held out her hand to his and prepared to step on board.
"Wait," he said. "One moment. You remember the story I told you of the elixir. I failed to tell you the end. And when she had anointed his eyes and was about to depart, it chanced she saw in the mirror that her beauty had been restored to her. And he opened his eyes, and cried out with joy at the sight of her beauty, and folded her in his arms."
She waited, tense but controlled, for him to continue, a dawn of wonder faintly beginning to show in her face and eyes.
"You are very beautiful, Madge." He paused, then added drily, "The rest is obvious. I fancy Rex Strang’s arms won’t remain long empty. Good-bye."
"Grant...." she said, almost whispered, and in her voice was all the speech that needs not words for understanding.
He gave a nasty little laugh. "I just wanted to show you I wasn’t such a bad sort. Coals of fire, you know."
"Grant...."
He stepped into the canoe and put out a slender, nervous hand.
"Good-bye," he said.
She folded both her own hands about his.
"Dear, strong hand," she murmured, and bent and kissed it.
He jerked it away, thrust the canoe out from the bank, dipped the paddle in the swift rush of the current, and entered the head of the riffle where the water poured glassily ere it burst into a white madness of foam.


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