The Son of the Wolf
by Jack London
THE WHITE SILENCE.
'CARMEN WON'T LAST MORE than a couple of days.' Mason spat out a
chunk of ice and surveyed the poor animal ruefully, then put her
foot in his mouth and proceeded to bite out the ice which clustered
cruelly between the toes.
'I never saw a dog with a highfalutin' name that ever was worth a
rap,' he said, as he concluded his task and shoved her aside. 'They
just fade away and die under the responsibility. Did ye ever see one
go wrong with a sensible name like Cassiar, Siwash, or Husky? No, sir!
Take a look at Shookum here, he's-'
Snap! The lean brute flashed up, the white teeth just missing
'Ye will, will ye?' A shrewd clout behind the ear with the butt of
the dog whip stretched the animal in the snow, quivering softly, a
yellow slaver dripping from its fangs.
'As I was saying, just look at Shookum here- he's got the spirit.
Bet ye he eats Carmen before the week's out.'
'I'll bank another proposition against that,' replied Malemute
Kid, reversing the frozen bread placed before the fire to thaw. 'We'll
eat Shookum before the trip is over. What d'ye say, Ruth?'
The Indian woman settled the coffee with a piece of ice, glanced
from Malemute Kid to her husband, then at the dogs, but vouchsafed
no reply. It was such a palpable truism that none was necessary. Two
hundred miles of unbroken trail in prospect, with a scant six days'
grub for themselves and none for the dogs, could admit no other
alternative. The two men and the woman grouped about the fire and
began their meager meal. The dogs lay in their harnesses for it was
a midday halt, and watched each mouthful enviously.
'No more lunches after today,' said Malemute Kid. 'And we've got
to keep a close eye on the dogs- they're getting vicious. They'd
just as soon pull a fellow down as not, if they get a chance.'
'And I was president of an Epworth once, and taught in the Sunday
school.' Having irrelevantly delivered himself of this, Mason fell
into a dreamy contemplation of his steaming moccasins, but was aroused
by Ruth filling his cup. 'Thank God, we've got slathers of tea! I've
seen it growing, down in Tennessee. What wouldn't I give for a hot
corn pone just now! Never mind, Ruth; you won't starve much longer,
nor wear moccasins either.'
The woman threw off her gloom at this, and in her eyes welled up a
great love for her white lord- the first white man she had ever
seen- the first man whom she had known to treat a woman as something
better than a mere animal or beast of burden.
'Yes, Ruth,' continued her husband, having recourse to the macaronic
jargon in which it was alone possible for them to understand each
other; 'wait till we clean up and pull for the Outside. We'll take the
White Man's canoe and go to the Salt Water. Yes, bad water, rough
water- great mountains dance up and down all the time. And so big,
so far, so far away- you travel ten sleep, twenty sleep, forty sleep'-
he graphically enumerated the days on his fingers- 'all the time
water, bad water. Then you come to great village, plenty people,
just the same mosquitoes next summer. Wigwams oh, so high- ten, twenty
pines. Hi-yu skookum!'
He paused impotently, cast an appealing glance at Malemute Kid, then
laboriously placed the twenty pines, end on end, by sign language.
Malemute Kid smiled with cheery cynicism; but Ruth's eyes were wide
with wonder, and with pleasure; for she half believed he was joking,
and such condescension pleased her poor woman's heart.
'And then you step into a- a box, and pouf! up you go.' He tossed
his empty cup in the air by way of illustration and, as he deftly
caught it, cried: 'And biff! down you come. Oh, great medicine men!
You go Fort Yukon. I go Arctic City- twenty-five sleep- big string,
all the time- I catch him string- I say, "Hello, Ruth! How are ye?"-
and you say, "Is that my good husband?"- and I say, "Yes"-
say, "No can bake good bread, no more soda"- then I say, "Look
cache, under flour; good-by." You look and catch plenty soda. All
the time you Fort Yukon, me Arctic City. Hi-yu medicine man!'
Ruth smiled so ingenuously at the fairy story that both men burst
into laughter. A row among the dogs cut short the wonders of the
Outside, and by the time the snarling combatants were separated, she
had lashed the sleds and all was ready for the trail.
'Mush! Baldy! Hi! Mush on!' Mason worked his whip smartly and, as
the dogs whined low in the traces, broke out the sled with the gee
pole. Ruth followed with the second team, leaving Malemute Kid, who
had helped her start, to bring up the rear. Strong man, brute that
he was, capable of felling an ox at a blow, he could not bear to
beat the poor animals, but humored them as a dog driver rarely does-
nay, almost wept with them in their misery.
'Come, mush on there, you poor sore-footed brutes!' he murmured,
after several ineffectual attempts to start the load. But his patience
was at last rewarded, and though whimpering with pain, they hastened
to join their fellows.
No more conversation; the toil of the trail will not permit such
extravagance. And of all deadening labors, that of the Northland trail
is the worst. Happy is the man who can weather a day's travel at the
price of silence, and that on a beaten track.
And of all heartbreaking labors, that of breaking trail is the
worst. At every step the great webbed shoe sinks till the snow is
level with the knee. Then up, straight up, the deviation of a fraction
of an inch being a certain precursor of disaster, the snowshoe must be
lifted till the surface is cleared; then forward, down, and the
other foot is raised perpendicularly for the matter of half a yard. He
who tries this for the first time, if haply he avoids bringing his
shoes in dangerous propinquity and measures not his length on the
treacherous footing, will give up exhausted at the end of a hundred
yards; he who can keep out of the way of the dogs for a whole day
may well crawl into his sleeping bag with a clear conscience and a
pride which passeth all understanding; and he who travels twenty
sleeps on the Long Trail is a man whom the gods may envy.
The afternoon wore on, and with the awe, born of the White
Silence, the voiceless travelers bent to their work. Nature has many
tricks wherewith she convinces man of his finity- the ceaseless flow
of the tides, the fury of the storm, the shock of the earthquake,
the long roll of heaven's artillery- but the most tremendous, the most
stupefying of all, is the passive phase of the White Silence. All
movement ceases, the sky clears, the heavens are as brass; the
slightest whisper seems sacrilege, and man becomes timid, affrighted
at the sound of his own voice. Sole speck of life journeying across
the ghostly wastes of a dead world, he trembles at his audacity,
realizes that his is a maggot's life, nothing more. Strange thoughts
arise unsummoned, and the mystery of all things strives for utterance.
And the fear of death, of God, of the universe, comes over him- the
hope of the Resurrection and the Life, the yearning for immortality,
the vain striving of the imprisoned essence- it is then, if ever,
man walks alone with God.
So wore the day away. The river took a great bend, and Mason
headed his team for the cutoff across the narrow neck of land. But the
dogs balked at the high bank. Again and again, though Ruth and
Malemute Kid were shoving on the sled, they slipped back. Then came
the concerted effort. The miserable creatures, weak from hunger,
exerted their last strength. Up- up- the sled poised on the top of the
bank; but the leader swung the string of dogs behind him to the right,
fouling Mason's snowshoes. The result was grievous. Mason was
whipped off his feet; one of the dogs fell in the traces; and the sled
toppled back, dragging everything to the bottom again.
Slash! the whip fell among the dogs savagely, especially upon the
one which had fallen.
'Don't,- Mason,' entreated Malemute Kid; 'the poor devil's on its
last legs. Wait and we'll put my team on.'
Mason deliberately withheld the whip till the last word had
fallen, then out flashed the long lash, completely curling about the
offending creature's body. Carmen- for it was Carmen- cowered in the
snow, cried piteously, then rolled over on her side.
It was a tragic moment, a pitiful incident of the trail- a dying
dog, two comrades in anger. Ruth glanced solicitously from man to man.
But Malemute Kid restrained himself, though there was a world of
reproach in his eyes, and, bending over the dog, cut the traces. No
word was spoken. The teams were double-spanned and the difficulty
overcome; the sleds were under way again, the dying dog dragging
herself along in the rear. As long as an animal can travel, it is
not shot, and this last chance is accorded it- the crawling into camp,
if it can, in the hope of a moose being killed.
Already penitent for his angry action, but too stubborn to make
amends, Mason toiled on at the head of the cavalcade, little
dreaming that danger hovered in the air. The timber clustered thick in
the sheltered bottom, and through this they threaded their way.
Fifty feet or more from the trail towered a lofty pine. For
generations it had stood there, and for generations destiny had had
this one end in view- perhaps the same had been decreed of Mason.
He stooped to fasten the loosened thong of his moccasin. The sleds
came to a halt, and the dogs lay down in the snow without a whimper.
The stillness was weird; not a breath rustled the frost-encrusted
forest; the cold and silence of outer space had chilled the heart
and smote the trembling lips of nature. A sigh pulsed through the air-
they did not seem to actually hear it, but rather felt it, like the
premonition of movement in a motionless void. Then the great tree,
burdened with its weight of years and snow, played its last part in
the tragedy of life. He heard the warning crash and attempted to
spring up but, almost erect, caught the blow squarely on the shoulder.
The sudden danger, the quick death- how often had Malemute Kid faced
it! The pine needles were still quivering as he gave his commands
and sprang into action. Nor did the Indian girl faint or raise her
voice in idle wailing, as might many of her white sisters. At his
order, she threw her weight on the end of a quickly extemporized
handspike, easing the pressure and listening to her husband's
groans, while Malemute Kid attacked the tree with his ax. The steel
rang merrily as it bit into the frozen trunk, each stroke being
accompanied by a forced, audible respiration, the 'Huh!' 'Huh!' of the
At last the Kid laid the pitiable thing that was once a man in the
snow. But worse than his comrade's pain was the dumb anguish in the
woman's face, the blended look of hopeful, hopeless query. Little
was said; those of the Northland are early taught the futility of
words and the inestimable value of deeds. With the temperature at
sixty-five below zero, a man cannot lie many minutes in the snow and
live. So the sled lashings were cut, and the sufferer, rolled in furs,
laid on a couch of boughs. Before him roared a fire, built of the very
wood which wrought the mishap. Behind and partially over him was
stretched the primitive fly- a piece of canvas, which caught the
radiating heat and threw it back and down upon him- a trick which
men may know who study physics at the fount.
And men who have shared their bed with death know when the call is
sounded. Mason was terribly crushed. The most cursory examination
revealed it. His right arm, leg, and back were broken; his limbs
were paralyzed from the hips; and the likelihood of internal
injuries was large. An occasional moan was his only sign of life.
No hope; nothing to be done. The pitiless night crept slowly by-
Ruth's portion, the despairing stoicism of her race, and Malemute
Kid adding new lines to his face of bronze. In fact, Mason suffered
least of all, for he spent his time in eastern Tennessee, in the Great
Smoky Mountains, living over the scenes of his childhood. And most
pathetic was the melody of his long-forgotten Southern vernacular,
as he raved of swimming holes and coon hunts and watermelon raids.
It was as Greek to Ruth, but the Kid understood and felt- felt as only
one can feel who has been shut out for years from all that
Morning brought consciousness to the stricken man, and Malemute
Kid bent closer to catch his whispers.
'You remember when we foregathered on the Tanana, four years come
next ice run? I didn't care so much for her then. It was more like she
was pretty, and there was a smack of excitement about it, I think. But
d'ye know, I've come to think a heap of her. She's been a good wife to
me, always at my shoulder in the pinch. And when it comes to
trading, you know there isn't her equal. D'ye recollect the time she
shot the Moosehorn Rapids to pull you and me off that rock, the
bullets whipping the water like hailstones?- and the time of the
famine at Nuklukyeto?- when she raced the ice run to bring the news?
Yes, she's been a good wife to me, better'n that other one. Didn't
know I'd been there? Never told you, eh? Well, I tried it once, down
in the States. That's why I'm here. Been raised together, too. I
came away to give her a chance for divorce. She got it.
'But that's got nothing to do with Ruth. I had thought of cleaning
up and pulling for the Outside next year- her and I- but it's too
late. Don't send her back to her people, Kid. It's beastly hard for
a woman to go back. Think of it!- nearly four years on our bacon and
beans and flour and dried fruit, and then to go back to her fish and
caribou. It's not good for her to have tried our ways, to come to know
they're better'n her people's, and then return to them. Take care of
her, Kid- why don't you- but no, you always fought shy of them- and
you never told me why you came to this country. Be kind to her, and
send her back to the States as soon as you can. But fix it so she
can come back- liable to get homesick, you know.
'And the youngster- it's drawn us closer, Kid. I only hope it is a
boy. Think of it!- flesh of my flesh, Kid. He mustn't stop in this
country. And if it's a girl, why, she can't. Sell my furs; they'll
fetch at least five thousand, and I've got as much more with the
company. And handle my interests with yours. I think that bench
claim will show up. See that he gets a good schooling; and Kid,
above all, don't let him come back. This country was not made for
'I'm a gone man, Kid. Three or four sleeps at the best. You've got
to go on. You must go on! Remember, it's my wife, it's my boy- O
God! I hope it's a boy! You can't stay by me- and I charge you, a
dying man, to pull on.'
'Give me three days,' pleaded Malemute Kid. 'You may change for
the better; something may turn up.'
'Just three days.'
'You must pull on.'
'It's my wife and my boy, Kid. You would not ask it.'
'No, no! I charge-'
'Only one day. We can shave it through on the grub, and I might
knock over a moose.'
'No- all right; one day, but not a minute more. And, Kid, don't-
don't leave me to face it alone. Just a shot, one pull on the trigger.
You understand. Think of it! Think of it! Flesh of my flesh, and
I'll never live to see him!
'Send Ruth here. I want to say good-by and tell her that she must
think of the boy and not wait till I'm dead. She might refuse to go
with you if I didn't. Good-by, old man; good-by.
'Kid! I say- a- sink a hole above the pup, next to the slide. I
panned out forty cents on my shovel there.
'And, Kid!' He stooped lower to catch the last faint words, the
dying man's surrender of his pride. 'I'm sorry- for- you know-
Leaving the girl crying softly over her man, Malemute Kid slipped
into his parka and snowshoes, tucked his rifle under his arm, and
crept away into the forest. He was no tyro in the stern sorrows of the
Northland, but never had he faced so stiff a problem as this. In the
abstract, it was a plain, mathematical proposition- three possible
lives as against one doomed one. But now he hesitated. For five years,
shoulder to shoulder, on the rivers and trails, in the camps and
mines, facing death by field and flood and famine, had they knitted
the bonds of their comradeship. So close was the tie that he had often
been conscious of a vague jealousy of Ruth, from the first time she
had come between. And now it must be severed by his own hand.
Though he prayed for a moose, just one moose, all game seemed to
have deserted the land, and nightfall found the exhausted man crawling
into camp, lighthanded, heavyhearted. An uproar from the dogs and
shrill cries from Ruth hastened him.
Bursting into the camp, he saw the girl in the midst of the snarling
pack, laying about her with an ax. The dogs had broken the iron rule
of their masters and were rushing the grub. He joined the issue with
his rifle reversed, and the hoary game of natural selection was played
out with all the ruthlessness of its primeval environment. Rifle and
ax went up and down, hit or missed with monotonous regularity; lithe
bodies flashed, with wild eyes and dripping fangs; and man and beast
fought for supremacy to the bitterest conclusion. Then the beaten
brutes crept to the edge of the firelight, licking their wounds,
voicing their misery to the stars.
The whole stock of dried salmon had been devoured, and perhaps
five pounds of flour remained to tide them over two hundred miles of
wilderness. Ruth returned to her husband, while Malemute Kid cut up
the warm body of one of the dogs, the skull of which had been
crushed by the ax. Every portion was carefully put away, save the hide
and offal, which were cast to his fellows of the moment before.
Morning brought fresh trouble. The animals were turning on each
other. Carmen, who still clung to her slender thread of life, was
downed by the pack. The lash fell among them unheeded. They cringed
and cried under the blows, but refused to scatter till the last
wretched bit had disappeared- bones, hide, hair, everything.
Malemute Kid went about his work, listening to Mason, who was back
in Tennessee, delivering tangled discourses and wild exhortations to
his brethren of other days.
Taking advantage of neighboring pines, he worked rapidly, and Ruth
watched him make a cache similar to those sometimes used by hunters to
preserve their meat from the wolverines and dogs. One after the other,
he bent the tops of two small pines toward each other and nearly to
the ground, making them fast with thongs of moosehide. Then he beat
the dogs into submission and harnessed them to two of the sleds,
loading the same with everything but the furs which enveloped Mason.
These he wrapped and lashed tightly about him, fastening either end of
the robes to the bent pines. A single stroke of his hunting knife
would release them and send the body high in the air.
Ruth had received her husband's last wishes and made no struggle.
Poor girl, she had learned the lesson of obedience well. From a child,
she had bowed, and seen all women bow, to the lords of creation, and
it did not seem in the nature of things for woman to resist. The Kid
permitted her one outburst of grief, as she kissed her husband- her
own people had no such custom- then led her to the foremost sled and
helped her into her snowshoes. Blindly, instinctively, she took the
gee pole and whip, and 'mushed' the dogs out on the trail. Then he
returned to Mason, who had fallen into a coma, and long after she
was out of sight crouched by the fire, waiting, hoping, praying for
his comrade to die.
It is not pleasant to be alone with painful thoughts in the White
Silence. The silence of gloom is merciful, shrouding one as with
protection and breathing a thousand intangible sympathies; but the
bright White Silence, clear and cold, under steely skies, is pitiless.
An hour passed- two hours- but the man would not die. At high noon
the sun, without raising its rim above the southern horizon, threw a
suggestion of fire athwart the heavens, then quickly drew it back.
Malemute Kid roused and dragged himself to his comrade's side. He cast
one glance about him. The White Silence seemed to sneer, and a great
fear came upon him. There was a sharp report; Mason swung into his
aerial sepulcher, and Malemute Kid lashed the dogs into a wild
gallop as he fled across the snow.
THE SON OF THE WOLF.
MAN RARELY PLACES A PROPER valuation upon his womankind, at least
not until deprived of them. He has no conception of the subtle
atmosphere exhaled by the sex feminine, so long as he bathes in it;
but let it be withdrawn, and an ever-growing void begins to manifest
itself in his existence, and he becomes hungry, in a vague sort of
way, for a something so indefinite that he cannot characterize it.
If his comrades have no more experience than himself, they will
shake their heads dubiously and dose him with strong physic. But the
hunger will continue and become stronger; he will lose interest in the
things of his everyday life and wax morbid; and one day, when the
emptiness has become unbearable, a revelation will dawn upon him.
In the Yukon country, when this comes to pass, the man usually
provisions a poling boat, if it is summer, and if winter, harnesses
his dogs, and heads for the Southland. A few months later, supposing
him to be possessed of a faith in the country, he returns with a
wife to share with him in that faith, and incidentally in his
hardships. This but serves to show the innate selfishness of man. It
also brings us to the trouble of 'Scruff' Mackenzie, which occurred in
the old days, before the country was stampeded and staked by a
tidal-wave of the che-cha-quas, and when the Klondike's only claim
to notice was its salmon fisheries.
'Scruff' Mackenzie bore the earmarks of a frontier birth and a
frontier life. His face was stamped with twenty-five years of
incessant struggle with Nature in her wildest moods,- the last two,
the wildest and hardest of all, having been spent in groping for the
gold which lies in the shadow of the Arctic Circle. When the
yearning sickness came upon him, he was not surprised, for he was a
practical man and had seen other men thus stricken. But he showed no
sign of his malady, save that he worked harder. All summer he fought
mosquitoes and washed the sure-thing bars of the Stuart River for a
double grubstake. Then he floated a raft of houselogs down the Yukon
to Forty Mile, and put together as comfortable a cabin as any the camp
could boast of. In fact, it showed such cozy promise that many men
elected to be his partner and to come and live with him. But he
crushed their aspirations with rough speech, peculiar for its strength
and brevity, and bought a double supply of grub from the trading-post.
As has been noted, 'Scruff' Mackenzie was a practical man. If he
wanted a thing he usually got it, but in doing so, went no farther out
of his way than was necessary. Though a son of toil and hardship, he
was averse to a journey of six hundred miles on the ice, a second of
two thousand miles on the ocean, and still a third thousand miles or
so to his last stamping-grounds,- all in the mere quest of a wife.
Life was too short. So he rounded up his dogs, lashed a curious
freight to his sled, and faced across the divide whose westward slopes
were drained by the head-reaches of the Tanana.
He was a sturdy traveler, and his wolf-dogs could work harder and
travel farther on less grub than any other team in the Yukon. Three
weeks later he strode into a hunting-camp of the Upper Tanana
Sticks. They marveled at his temerity; for they had a bad name and had
been known to kill white men for as trifling a thing as a sharp ax
or a broken rifle. But he went among them single-handed, his bearing
being a delicious composite of humility, familiarity, sang-froid,
and insolence. It required a deft hand and deep knowledge of the
barbaric mind effectually to handle such diverse weapons; but he was a
past-master in the art, knowing when to conciliate and when to
threaten with Jove-like wrath.
He first made obeisance to the Chief Thling-Tinneh, presenting him
with a couple of pounds of black tea and tobacco, and thereby
winning his most cordial regard. Then he mingled with the men and
maidens, and that night gave a potlach. The snow was beaten down in
the form of an oblong, perhaps a hundred feet in length and quarter as
many across. Down the center a long fire was built, while either
side was carpeted with spruce boughs. The lodges were forsaken, and
the fivescore or so members of the tribe gave tongue to their
folk-chants in honor of their guest.
'Scruff' Mackenzie's two years had taught him the not many hundred
words of their vocabulary, and he had likewise conquered their deep
gutturals, their Japanese idioms, constructions, and honorific and
agglutinative particles. So he made oration after their manner,
satisfying their instinctive poetry-love with crude flights of
eloquence and metaphorical contortions. After Thling-Tinneh and the
Shaman had responded in kind, he made trifling presents to the
menfolk, joined in their singing, and proved an expert in their
fifty-two-stick gambling game.
And they smoked his tobacco and were pleased. But among the
younger men there was a defiant attitude, a spirit of braggadocio,
easily understood by the raw insinuations of the toothless squaws
and the giggling of the maidens. They had known few white men, 'Sons
of the Wolf,' but from those few they had learned strange lessons.
Nor had 'Scruff' Mackenzie, for all his seeming carelessness, failed
to note these phenomena. In truth, rolled in his sleeping-furs, he
thought it all over, thought seriously, and emptied many pipes in
mapping out a campaign. One maiden only had caught his fancy,- none
other than Zarinska, daughter to the chief. In features, form, and
poise, answering more nearly to the white man's type of beauty, she
was almost an anomaly among her tribal sisters. He would possess
her, make her his wife, and name her- ah, he would name her
Gertrude! Having thus decided, he rolled over on his side and
dropped off to sleep, a true son of his all-conquering race, a
Samson among the Philistines.
It was slow work and a stiff game; but 'Scruff' Mackenzie maneuvered
cunningly, with an unconcern which served to puzzle the Sticks. He
took great care to impress the men that he was a sure shot and a
mighty hunter, and the camp rang with his plaudits when he brought
down a moose at six hundred yards. Of a night he visited in Chief
Thling-Tinneh's lodge of moose and cariboo skins, talking big and
dispensing tobacco with a lavish hand. Nor did he fail to likewise
honor the Shaman; for he realized the medicine-man's influence with
his people, and was anxious to make of him an ally. But that worthy
was high and mighty, refused to be propitiated, and was unerringly
marked down as a prospective enemy.
Though no opening presented for an interview with Zarinska,
Mackenzie stole many a glance to her, giving fair warning of his
intent. And well she knew, yet coquettishly surrounded herself with
a ring of women whenever the men were away and he had a chance. But he
was in no hurry; besides, he knew she could not help but think of him,
and a few days of such thought would only better his suit.
At last, one night, when he deemed the time to be ripe, he
abruptly left the chief's smoky dwelling and hastened to a neighboring
lodge. As usual, she sat with squaws and maidens about her, all
engaged in sewing moccasins and beadwork. They laughed at his
entrance, and badinage, which linked Zarinska to him, ran high. But
one after the other they were unceremoniously bundled into the outer
snow, whence they hurried to spread the tale through all the camp.
His cause was well pleaded, in her tongue, for she did not know his,
and at the end of two hours he rose to go.
'So Zarinska will come to the White Man's lodge? Good! I go now to
have talk with thy father, for he may not be so minded. And I will
give him many tokens; but he must not ask too much. If he say no?
Good! Zarinska shall yet come to the White Man's lodge.'
He had already lifted the skin flap to depart, when a low
exclamation brought him back to the girl's side. She brought herself
to her knees on the bearskin mat, her face aglow with true
Eve-light, and shyly unbuckled his heavy belt. He looked down,
perplexed, suspicious, his ears alert for the slightest sound without.
But her next move disarmed his doubt, and he smiled with pleasure. She
took from her sewing bag a moosehide sheath, brave with bright
beadwork, fantastically designed. She drew his great hunting-knife,
gazed reverently along the keen edge, half tempted to try it with
her thumb, and shot it into place in its new home. Then she slipped
the sheath along the belt to its customary resting-place, just above
For all the world, it was like a scene of olden time,- a lady and
her knight. Mackenzie drew her up full height and swept her red lips
with his moustache,- the, to her, foreign caress of the Wolf. It was a
meeting of the stone age and the steel; but she was none the less a
woman, as her crimson cheeks and the luminous softness of her eyes
There was a thrill of excitement in the air as 'Scruff' Mackenzie, a
bulky bundle under his arm, threw open the flap of Thling-Tinneh's
tent. Children were running about in the open, dragging dry wood to
the scene of the potlach, a babble of women's voices was growing in
intensity, the young men were consulting in sullen groups, while
from the Shaman's lodge rose the eerie sounds of an incantation.
The chief was alone with his blear-eyed wife, but a glance
sufficed to tell Mackenzie that the news was already told. So he
plunged at once into the business, shifting the beaded sheath
prominently to the fore as advertisement of the betrothal.
'O Thling-Tinneh, mighty chief of the Sticks And the land of the
Tanana, ruler of the salmon and the bear, the moose and the cariboo!
The White Man is before thee with a great purpose. Many moons has
his lodge been empty, and he is lonely. And his heart has eaten itself
in silence, and grown hungry for a woman to sit beside him in his
lodge, to meet him from the hunt with warm fire and good food. He
has heard strange things, the patter of baby moccasins and the sound
of children's voices. And one night a vision came upon him, and he
beheld the Raven, who is thy father, the great Raven, who is the
father of all the Sticks. And the Raven spake to the lonely White Man,
saying: "Bind thou thy moccasins upon thee, and gird thy snow-shoes
on, and lash thy sled with food for many sleeps and fine tokens for
the Chief Thling-Tinneh. For thou shalt turn thy face to where the
midspring sun is wont to sink below the land and journey to this great
chief's hunting-grounds. There thou shalt make big presents, and
Thling-Tinneh, who is my son, shall become to thee as a father. In his
lodge there is a maiden into whom I breathed the breath of life for
thee. This maiden shalt thou take to wife."
'O Chief, thus spake the great Raven; thus do I lay many presents at
thy feet; thus am I come to take thy daughter!'
The old man drew his furs about him with crude consciousness of
royalty, but delayed reply while a youngster crept in, delivered a
quick message to appear before the council, and was gone.
'O White Man, whom we have named Moose-Killer, also known as the
Wolf, and the Son of the Wolf! We know thou comest of a mighty race;
we are proud to have thee our potlach-guest; but the king-salmon
does not mate with the dog-salmon, nor the Raven with the Wolf.'
'Not so!' cried Mackenzie. 'The daughters of the Raven have I met in
the camps of the Wolf,- the squaw of Mortimer, the squaw of
Tregidgo, the squaw of Barnaby, who came two ice-runs back, and I have
heard of other squaws, though my eyes beheld them not.'
'Son, your words are true; but it were evil mating, like the water
with the sand, like the snow-flake with the sun. But met you one Mason
and his squaw' No? He came ten ice-runs ago,- the first of all the
Wolves. And with him there was a mighty man, straight as a
willow-shoot, and tall; strong as the bald-faced grizzly, with a heart
like the full summer moon; his-'
'Oh!' interrupted Mackenzie, recognizing the well-known Northland
figure, 'Malemute Kid!'
'The same,- a mighty man. But saw you aught of the squaw? She was
full sister to Zarinska.'
'Nay, Chief; but I have heard. Mason- far, far to the north, a
spruce-tree, heavy with years, crushed out his life beneath. But his
love was great, and he had much gold. With this, and her boy, she
journeyed countless sleeps toward the winter's noonday sun, and
there she yet lives,- no biting frost, no snow, no summer's midnight
sun, no winter's noonday night.'
A second messenger interrupted with imperative summons from the
council. As Mackenzie threw him into the snow, he caught a glimpse
of the swaying forms before the council-fire, heard the deep basses of
the men in rhythmic chant, and knew the Shaman was fanning the anger
of his people. Time pressed. He turned upon the chief.
'Come! I wish thy child. And now, see! Here are tobacco, tea, many
cups of sugar, warm blankets, handkerchiefs, both good and large;
and here, a true rifle, with many bullets and much powder.'
'Nay,' replied the old man, struggling against the great wealth
spread before him. 'Even now are my people come together. They will
not have this marriage.'
'But thou art chief.'
'Yet do my young men rage because the Wolves have taken their
maidens so that they may not marry.'
'Listen, O Thling-Tinneh! Ere the night has passed into the day, the
Wolf shall face his dogs to the Mountains of the East and fare forth
to the Country of the Yukon. And Zarinska shall break trail for his
'And ere the night has gained its middle, my young men may fling
to the dogs the flesh of the Wolf, and his bones be scattered in the
snow till the springtime lay them bare.'
It was threat and counter-threat. Mackenzie's bronzed face flushed
darkly. He raised his voice. The old squaw, who till now had sat an
impassive spectator, made to creep by him for the door. The song of
the men broke suddenly and there was a hubbub of many voices as he
whirled the old woman roughly to her couch of skins.
'Again I cry- listen, O Thling-Tinneh! The Wolf dies with teeth
fast-locked, and with him there shall sleep ten of thy strongest men,-
men who are needed, for the hunting is not begun, and the fishing is
not many moons away. And again, of what profit should I die? I know
the custom of thy people; thy share of my wealth shall be very
small. Grant me thy child, and it shall all be thine. And yet again,
my brothers will come, and they are many, and their maws are never
filled; and the daughters of the Raven shall bear children in the
lodges of the Wolf. My people are greater than thy people. It is
destiny. Grant, and all this wealth is thine.'
Moccasins were crunching the snow without. Mackenzie threw his rifle
to cock, and loosened the twin Colts in his belt.
'Grant, O Chief!'
'And yet will my people say no.'
'Grant, and the wealth is thine. Then shall I deal with thy people
'The Wolf will have it so. I will take his tokens,- but I would warn
Mackenzie passed over the goods, taking care to clog the rifle's
ejector, and capping the bargain with a kaleidoscopic silk kerchief.
The Shaman and half a dozen young braves entered, but he shouldered
boldly among them and passed out.
'Pack!' was his laconic greeting to Zarinska as he passed her
lodge and hurried to harness his dogs. A few minutes later he swept
into the council at the head of the team, the woman by his side. He
took his place at the upper end of the oblong, by the side of the
chief. To his left, a step to the rear, he stationed Zarinska,- her
proper place. Besides, the time was ripe for mischief, and there was
need to guard his back.
On either side, the men crouched to the fire, their voices lifted in
a folk-chant out of the forgotten past. Full of strange, halting
cadences and haunting recurrences, it was not beautiful. 'Fearful' may
inadequately express it. At the lower end, under the eye of the
Shaman, danced half a score of women. Stern were his reproofs of those
who did not wholly abandon themselves to the ecstasy of the rite. Half
hidden in their heavy masses of raven hair, all dishevelled and
falling to their waists, they slowly swayed to and fro, their forms
rippling to an ever-changing rhythm.
It was a weird scene; an anachronism. To the south, the nineteenth
century was reeling off the few years of its last decade; here
flourished man primeval, a shade removed from the prehistoric
cave-dweller, forgotten fragment of the Elder World. The tawny
wolf-dogs sat between their skin-clad masters or fought for room,
the firelight cast backward from their red eyes and dripping fangs.
The woods, in ghostly shroud, slept on unheeding. The White Silence,
for the moment driven to the rimming forest, seemed ever crushing
inward; the stars danced with great leaps, as is their wont in the
time of the Great Cold; while the Spirits of the Pole trailed their
robes of glory athwart the heavens.
'Scruff' Mackenzie dimly realized the wild grandeur of the setting
as his eyes ranged down the fur-fringed sides in quest of missing
faces. They rested for a moment on a newborn babe, suckling at its
mother's naked breast. It was forty below,- seven and odd degrees of
frost. He thought of the tender women of his own race and smiled
grimly. Yet from the loins of some such tender woman had he sprung
with a kingly inheritance,- an inheritance which gave to him and his
dominance over the land and sea, over the animals and the peoples of
all the zones. Single-handed against fivescore, girt by the Arctic
winter, far from his own, he felt the prompting of his heritage, the
desire to possess, the wild danger- love, the thrill of battle, the
power to conquer or to die.
The singing and the dancing ceased, and the Shaman flared up in rude
eloquence. Through the sinuosities of their vast mythology, he
worked cunningly upon the credulity of his people. The case was
strong. Opposing the creative principles as embodied in the Crow and
the Raven, he stigmatized Mackenzie as the Wolf, the fighting and
the destructive principle. Not only was the combat of these forces
spiritual, but men fought, each to his totem. They were the children
of Jelchs, the Raven, the Promethean fire-bringer; Mackenzie was the
child of the Wolf, or in other words, the Devil. For them to bring a
truce to this perpetual warfare, to marry their daughters to the
arch-enemy, were treason and blasphemy of the highest order. No phrase
was harsh nor figure vile enough in branding Mackenzie as a sneaking
interloper and emissary of Satan. There was a subdued, savage roar
in the deep chests of his listeners as he took the swing of his
'Aye, my brothers, Jelchs is all-powerful! Did he not bring
heaven-borne fire that we might be warm? Did he not draw the sun,
moon, and stars, from their holes that we might see? Did he not
teach us that we might fight the Spirits of Famine and of Frost? But
now Jelchs is angry with his children, and they are grown to a
handful, and he will not help. For they have forgotten him, and done
evil things, and trod bad trails, and taken his enemies into their
lodges to sit by their fires. And the Raven is sorrowful at the
wickedness of his children; but when they shall rise up and show
they have come back, he will come out of the darkness to aid them. O
brothers! the Fire-Bringer has whispered messages to thy Shaman; the
same shall ye hear. Let the young men take the young women to their
lodges; let them fly at the throat of the Wolf; let them be undying in
their enmity! Then shall their women become fruitful and they shall
multiply into a mighty people! And the Raven shall lead great tribes
of their fathers and their fathers' fathers from out of the North; and
they shall beat back the Wolves till they are as last year's
campfires; and they shall again come to rule over all the land! 'Tis
the message of Jelchs, the Raven.'
This foreshadowing of the Messiah's coming brought a hoarse howl
from the Sticks as they leaped to their feet. Mackenzie slipped the
thumbs of his mittens and waited. There was a clamor for the 'Fox,'
not to be stilled till one of the young men stepped forward to speak.
'Brothers! The Shaman has spoken wisely. The Wolves have taken our
women, and our men are childless. We are grown to a handful. The
Wolves have taken our warm furs and given for them evil spirits
which dwell in bottles, and clothes which come not from the beaver
or the lynx, but are made from the grass. And they are not warm, and
our men die of strange sicknesses. I, the Fox, have taken no woman
to wife; and why? Twice have the maidens which pleased me gone to
the camps of the Wolf. Even now have I laid by skins of the beaver, of
the moose, of the cariboo, that I might win favor in the eyes of
Thling-Tinneh, that I might marry Zarinska, his daughter. Even now are
her snow-shoes bound to her feet, ready to break trail for the dogs of
the Wolf. Nor do I speak for myself alone. As I have done, so has
the Bear. He, too, had fain been the father of her children, and
many skins has he cured thereto. I speak for all the young men who
know not wives. The Wolves are ever hungry. Always do they take the
choice meat at the killing. To the Ravens are left the leavings.
'There is Gugkla,' he cried, brutally pointing out one of the women,
who was a cripple. 'Her legs are bent like the ribs of a birch
canoe. She cannot gather wood nor carry the meat of the hunters. Did
the Wolves choose her?'
'Ai! ai!' vociferated his tribesmen.
'There is Moyri, whose eyes are crossed by the Evil Spirit. Even the
babes are affrighted when they gaze upon her, and it is said the
bald-face gives her the trail. Was she chosen?'
Again the cruel applause rang out.
'And there sits Pischet. She does not hearken to my words. Never has
she heard the cry of the chit-chat, the voice of her husband, the
babble of her child. She lives in the White Silence. Cared the
Wolves aught for her? No! Theirs is the choice of the kill; ours is
'Brothers, it shall not be! No more shall the Wolves slink among our
campfires. The time is come.'
A great streamer of fire, the aurora borealis, purple, green, and
yellow, shot across the zenith, bridging horizon to horizon. With head
thrown back and arms extended, he swayed to his climax.
'Behold! The spirits of our fathers have arisen and great deeds
are afoot this night!'
He stepped back, and another young man somewhat diffidently came
forward, pushed on by his comrades. He towered a full head above them,
his broad chest defiantly bared to the frost. He swung tentatively
from one foot to the other. Words halted upon his tongue, and he was
ill at ease. His face was horrible to look upon, for it had at one
time been half torn away by some terrific blow. At last he struck
his breast with his clenched fist, drawing sound as from a drum, and
his voice rumbled forth as does the surf from an ocean cavern.
'I am the Bear,- the Silver-Tip and the Son of the Silver-Tip!
When my voice was yet as a girl's, I slew the lynx, the moose, and the
cariboo; when it whistled like the wolverines from under a cache, I
crossed the Mountains of the South and slew three of the White Rivers;
when it became as the roar of the Chinook, I met the bald-faced
grizzly, but gave no trail.'
At this he paused, his hand significantly sweeping across his
'I am not as the Fox. My tongue is frozen like the river. I cannot
make great talk. My words are few. The Fox says great deeds are
afoot this night. Good! Talk flows from his tongue like the freshets
of the spring, but he is chary of deeds. This night shall I do
battle with the Wolf. I shall slay him, and Zarinska shall sit by my
fire. The Bear has spoken.'
Though pandemonium raged about him, 'Scruff' Mackenzie held his
ground. Aware how useless was the rifle at close quarters, he
slipped both holsters to the fore, ready for action, and drew his
mittens till his hands were barely shielded by the elbow gauntlets. He
knew there was no hope in attack en masse, but true to his boast,
was prepared to die with teeth fast-locked. But the Bear restrained
his comrades, beating back the more impetuous with his terrible
fist. As the tumult began to die away, Mackenzie shot a glance in
the direction of Zarinska. It was a superb picture. She was leaning
forward on her snow-shoes, lips apart and nostrils quivering, like a
tigress about to spring. Her great black eyes were fixed upon her
tribesmen, in fear and defiance. So extreme the tension, she had
forgotten to breathe. With one hand pressed spasmodically against
her breast and the other as tightly gripped about the dog-whip, she
was as turned to stone. Even as he looked, relief came to her. Her
muscles loosened; with a heavy sigh she settled back, giving him a
look of more than love- of worship.
Thling-Tinneh was trying to speak, but his people drowned his voice.
Then Mackenzie strode forward. The Fox opened his mouth to a
piercing yell, but so savagely did Mackenzie whirl upon him that he
shrank back, his larynx all agurgle with suppressed sound. His
discomfiture was greeted with roars of laughter, and served to
soothe his fellows to a listening mood.
'Brothers! The White Man, whom ye have chosen to call the Wolf, came
among you with fair words. He was not like the Innuit; he spoke not
lies. He came as a friend, as one who would be a brother. But your men
have had their say, and the time for soft words is past. First, I will
tell you that the Shaman has an evil tongue and is a false prophet,
that the messages he spake are not those of the Fire-Bringer. His ears
are locked to the voice of the Raven, and out of his own head he
weaves cunning fancies, and he has made fools of you. He has no power.
When the dogs were killed and eaten, and your stomachs were heavy with
untanned hide and strips of moccasins; when the old men died, and
the old women died, and the babes at the dry dugs of the mothers died;
when the land was dark, and ye perished as do the salmon in the
fall; aye, when the famine was upon you, did the Shaman bring reward
to your hunters? did the Shaman put meat in your bellies? Again I say,
the Shaman is without power. Thus I spit upon his face!'
Though taken aback by the sacrilege, there was no uproar. Some of
the women were even frightened, but among the men there was an
uplifting, as though in preparation or anticipation of the miracle.
All eyes were turned upon the two central figures. The priest realized
the crucial moment, felt his power tottering, opened his mouth in
denunciation, but fled backward before the truculent advance, upraised
fist, and flashing eyes, of Mackenzie. He sneered and resumed.
Was I stricken dead? Did the lightning burn me? Did the stars fall
from the sky and crush me? Pish! I have done with the dog. Now will
I tell you of my people, who are the mightiest of all the peoples, who
rule in all the lands. At first we hunt as I hunt, alone. After that
we hunt in packs; and at last, like the cariboo-run, we sweep across
all the land. Those whom we take into our lodges live; those who
will not come die. Zarinska is a comely maiden, full and strong, fit
to become the mother of Wolves. Though I die, such shall she become;
for my brothers are many, and they will follow the scent of my dogs.
Listen to the Law of the Wolf: Whoso taketh the life of one Wolf,
the forfeit shall ten of his people pay. In many lands has the price
been paid; in many lands shall it yet be paid.
'Now will I deal with the Fox and the Bear. It seems they have
cast eyes upon the maiden. So? Behold, I have bought her!
Thling-Tinneh leans upon the rifle; the goods of purchase are by his
fire. Yet will I be fair to the young men. To the Fox, whose tongue is
dry with many words, will I give of tobacco five long plugs. Thus will
his mouth be wetted that he may make much noise in the council. But to
the Bear, of whom I am well proud, will I give of blankets two; of
flour, twenty cups; of tobacco, double that of the Fox; and if he fare
with me over the Mountains of the East, then will I give him a
rifle, mate to Thling-Tinneh's. If not? Good! The Wolf is weary of
speech. Yet once again will he say the Law: Whoso taketh the life of
one Wolf, the forfeit shall ten of his people pay.'
Mackenzie smiled as he stepped back to his old position, but at
heart he was full of trouble. The night was yet dark. The girl came to
his side, and he listened closely as she told of the Bear's
battle-tricks with the knife.
The decision was for war. In a trice, scores of moccasins were
widening the space of beaten snow by the fire. There was much
chatter about the seeming defeat of the Shaman; some averred he had
but withheld his power, while others conned past events and agreed
with the Wolf. The Bear came to the center of the battle-ground, a
long naked hunting-knife of Russian make in his hand. The Fox called
attention to Mackenzie's revolvers; so he stripped his belt,
buckling it about Zarinska, into whose hands he also entrusted his
rifle. She shook her head that she could not shoot,- small chance
had a woman to handle such precious things.
'Then, if danger come by my back, cry aloud, "My husband!" No;
He laughed as she repeated it, pinched her cheek, and reentered
the circle. Not only in reach and stature had the Bear the advantage
of him, but his blade was longer by a good two inches. 'Scruff'
Mackenzie had looked into the eyes of men before, and he knew it was a
man who stood against him; yet he quickened to the glint of light on
the steel, to the dominant pulse of his race.
Time and again he was forced to the edge of the fire or the deep
snow, and time and again, with the foot tactics of the pugilist, he
worked back to the center. Not a voice was lifted in encouragement,
while his antagonist was heartened with applause, suggestions, and
warnings. But his teeth only shut the tighter as the knives clashed
together, and he thrust or eluded with a coolness born of conscious
strength. At first he felt compassion for his enemy; but this fled
before the primal instinct of life, which in turn gave way to the lust
of slaughter. The ten thousand years of culture fell from him, and
he was a cave-dweller, doing battle for his female.
Twice he pricked the Bear, getting away unscathed; but the third
time caught, and to save himself, free hands closed on fighting hands,
and they came together. Then did he realize the tremendous strength of
his opponent. His muscles were knotted in painful lumps, and cords and
tendons threatened to snap with the strain; yet nearer and nearer came
the Russian steel. He tried to break away, but only weakened
himself. The fur-clad circle closed in, certain of and anxious to
see the final stroke. But with wrestler's trick, swinging partly to
the side, he struck at his adversary with his head. Involuntarily
the Bear leaned back, disturbing his center of gravity. Simultaneous
with this, Mackenzie tripped properly and threw his whole weight
forward, hurling him clear through the circle into the deep snow.
The Bear floundered out and came back full tilt.
'O my husband!' Zarinska's voice rang out, vibrant with danger.
To the twang of a bow-string, Mackenzie swept low to the ground, and
a bone-barbed arrow passed over him into the breast of the Bear, whose
momentum carried him over his crouching foe. The next instant
Mackenzie was up and about. The bear lay motionless, but across the
fire was the Shaman, drawing a second arrow.
Mackenzie's knife leaped short in the air. He caught the heavy blade
by the point. There was a flash of light as it spanned the fire.
Then the Shaman, the hilt alone appearing without his throat, swayed
and pitched forward into the glowing embers.
Click! Click!- the Fox had possessed himself of Thling-Tinneh's
rifle and was vainly trying to throw a shell into place. But he
dropped it at the sound of Mackenzie's laughter.
'So the Fox has not learned the way of the plaything? He is yet a
woman. Come! Bring it, that I may show thee!'
The Fox hesitated.
'Come, I say!'
He slouched forward like a beaten cur.
'Thus, and thus; so the thing is done.' A shell flew into place
and the trigger was at cock as Mackenzie brought it to shoulder.
'The Fox has said great deeds were afoot this night, and he spoke
true. There have been great deeds, yet least among them were those
of the Fox. Is he still intent to take Zarinska to his lodge? Is he
minded to tread the trail already broken by the Shaman and the Bear?
Mackenzie turned contemptuously and drew his knife from the priest's
'Are any of the young men so minded? If so, the Wolf will take
them by two and three till none are left. No? Good! Thling-Tinneh, I
now give thee this rifle a second time. If, in the days to come,
thou shouldst journey to the Country of the Yukon, know thou that
there shall always be a place and much food by the fire of the Wolf.
The night is now passing into the day. I go, but I may come again. And
for the last time, remember the Law of the Wolf!'
He was supernatural in their sight as he rejoined Zarinska. She took
her place at the head of the team, and the dogs swung into motion. A
few moments later they were swallowed up by the ghostly forest. Till
now Mackenzie had waited; he slipped into his snow-shoes to follow.
'Has the Wolf forgotten the five long plugs?'
Mackenzie turned upon the Fox angrily; then the humor of it struck
'I will give thee one short plug.'
'As the Wolf sees fit,' meekly responded the Fox, stretching out his
THE MEN OF FORTY-MILE.
WHEN BIG JIM BELDEN ventured the apparently innocuous proposition
that mush-ice was 'rather pecooliar,' he little dreamed of what it
would lead to. Neither did Lon McFane, when he affirmed that
anchor-ice was even more so; nor did Bettles, as he instantly
disagreed, declaring the very existence of such a form to be a
'An' ye'd be tellin' me this,' cried Lon, 'after the years ye've
spint in the land! An' we atin' out the same pot this many's the day!'
'But the thing's agin reasin,' insisted Bettles. 'Look you,
water's warmer than ice-'
'An' little the difference, once ye break through.'
'Still it's warmer, because it ain't froze. An' you say it freezes
on the bottom?'
'Only the anchor-ice, David, only the anchor-ice. An' have ye
niver drifted along, the water clear as glass, whin suddin, belike a
cloud over the sun, the mushy-ice comes bubblin' up an' up till from
bank to bank an' bind to bind it's drapin' the river like a first
'Unh, hunh! more'n once when I took a doze at the steering-oar.
But it allus come out the nighest side-channel, an' not bubblin' up
'But with niver a wink at the helm?'
'No; nor you. It's agin reason. I'll leave it to any man!'
Bettles appealed to the circle about the stove, but the fight was on
between himself and Lon McFane.
'Reason or no reason, it's the truth I'm tellin' ye. Last fall, a
year gone, 'twas Sitka Charley and meself saw the sight, droppin' down
the riffle ye'll remember below Fort Reliance. An' regular fall
weather it was- the glint o' the sun on the golden larch an' the
quakin' aspens; an' the glister of light on ivery ripple; an'
beyand, the winter an' the blue haze of the North comin' down hand
in hand. It's well ye know the same, with a fringe to the river an'
the ice formin' thick in the eddies- an' a snap an' sparkle to the
air, an' ye a-feelin' it through all yer blood, a-takin' new lease
of life with ivery suck of it. 'Tis then, me boy, the world grows
small an' the wandtherlust lays ye by the heels.
'But it's meself as wandthers. As I was sayin', we a-paddlin',
with niver a sign of ice, barrin' that by the eddies, when the Injun
lifts his paddle an' sings out, "Lon McFane! Look ye below!" So
heard, but niver thought to see! As ye know, Sitka Charley, like
meself, niver drew first breath in the land; so the sight was new.
Then we drifted, with a head over ayther side, peerin' down through
the sparkly water. For the world like the days I spint with the
pearlers, watchin' the coral banks a-growin' the same as so many
gardens under the sea. There it was, the anchor-ice, clingin' an'
clusterin' to ivery rock, after the manner of the white coral.
'But the best of the sight was to come. Just after clearin' the tail
of the riffle, the water turns quick the color of milk, an' the top of
it in wee circles, as when the graylin' rise in the spring, or there's
a splatter of wet from the sky. 'Twas the anchor-ice comin' up. To the
right, to the lift, as far as iver a man cud see, the water was
covered with the same. An' like so much porridge it was, slickin'
along the bark of the canoe, stickin' like glue to the paddles. It's
many's the time I shot the self-same riffle before, and it's many's
the time after, but niver a wink of the same have I seen. 'Twas the
sight of a lifetime.'
'Do tell!' dryly commented Bettles. 'D'ye think I'd b'lieve such a
yarn? I'd ruther say the glister of light'd gone to your eyes, and the
snap of the air to your tongue.'
''Twas me own eyes that beheld it, an' if Sitka Charley was here,
he'd be the lad to back me.'
'But facts is facts, an' they ain't no gettin' round 'em. It ain't
in the nature of things for the water furtherest away from the air
to freeze first.'
'But me own eyes-'
'Don't git het up over it,' admonished Bettles, as the quick
Celtic anger began to mount.
'Then yer not after belavin' me?'
'Sence you're so blamed forehanded about it, no; I'd b'lieve
nature first, and facts.'
'Is it the lie ye'd be givin' me?' threatened Lon. 'Ye'd better be
askin' that Siwash wife of yours. I'll lave it to her, for the truth I
Bettles flared up in sudden wrath. The Irishman had unwittingly
wounded him; for his wife was the half-breed daughter of a Russian
fur-trader, married to him in the Greek Mission of Nulato, a
thousand miles or so down the Yukon, thus being of much higher caste
than the common Siwash, or native, wife. It was a mere Northland
nuance, which none but the Northland adventurer may understand.
'I reckon you kin take it that way,' was his deliberate affirmation.
The next instant Lon McFane had stretched him on the floor, the
circle was broken up, and half a dozen men had stepped between.
Bettles came to his feet, wiping the blood from his mouth. 'It
hain't new, this takin' and payin' of blows, and don't you never think
but that this will be squared.'
'An' niver in me life did I take the lie from mortal man,' was the
retort courteous. 'An' it's an avil day I'll not be to hand, waitin'
an' willin' to help ye lift yer debts, barrin' no manner of way.'
'Still got that 38-55?'
'But you'd better git a more likely caliber. Mine'll rip holes
through you the size of walnuts.'
'Niver fear; it's me own slugs smell their way with soft noses,
an' they'll spread like flapjacks against the coming out beyand. An'
when'll I have the pleasure of waitin' on ye? The waterhole's a
''Tain't bad. Jest be there in an hour, and you won't set long on my
Both men mittened and left the Post, their ears closed to the
remonstrances of their comrades. It was such a little thing; yet
with such men, little things, nourished by quick tempers and
stubborn natures, soon blossomed into big things. Besides, the art
of burning to bedrock still lay in the womb of the future, and the men
of Forty-Mile, shut in by the long Arctic winter, grew
high-stomached with overeating and enforced idleness, and became as
irritable as do the bees in the fall of the year when the hives are
overstocked with honey.
There was no law in the land. The mounted police was also a thing of
the future. Each man measured an offense, and meted out the punishment
inasmuch as it affected himself. Rarely had combined action been
necessary, and never in all the dreary history of the camp had the
eighth article of the Decalogue been violated.
Big Jim Belden called an impromptu meeting. Scruff Mackenzie was
placed as temporary chairman, and a messenger dispatched to solicit
Father Roubeau's good offices. Their position was paradoxical, and
they knew it. By the right of might could they interfere to prevent
the duel; yet such action, while in direct line with their wishes,
went counter to their opinions. While their rough-hewn, obsolete
ethics recognized the individual prerogative of wiping out blow with
blow, they could not bear to think of two good comrades, such as
Bettles and McFane, meeting in deadly battle. Deeming the man who
would not fight on provocation a dastard, when brought to the test
it seemed wrong that he should fight.
But a scurry of moccasins and loud cries, rounded off with a
pistol-shot, interrupted the discussion. Then the storm-doors opened
and Malemute Kid entered, a smoking Colt's in his hand, and a merry
light in his eye.
'I got him.' He replaced the empty shell, and added, 'Your dog,
'Yellow Fang?' Mackenzie asked.
'No; the lop-eared one.'
'The devil! Nothing the matter with him.'
'Come out and take a look.'
'That's all right after all. Buess he's got 'em, too. Yellow Fang
came back this morning and took a chunk out of him, and came near to
making a widower of me. Made a rush for Zarinska, but she whisked
her skirts in his face and escaped with the loss of the same and a
good roll in the snow. Then he took to the woods again. Hope he
don't come back. Lost any yourself?'
'One- the best one of the pack- Shookum. Started amuck this morning,
but didn't get very far. Ran foul of Sitka Charley's team, and they
scattered him all over the street. And now two of them are loose,
and raging mad; so you see he got his work in. The dog census will
be small in the spring if we don't do something.'
'And the man census, too.'
'How's that? Who's in trouble now?'
'Oh, Bettles and Lon McFane had an argument, and they'll be down
by the waterhole in a few minutes to settle it.'
The incident was repeated for his benefit, and Malemute Kid,
accustomed to an obedience which his fellow men never failed to
render, took charge of the affair. His quickly formulated plan was
explained, and they promised to follow his lead implicitly.
'So you see,' he concluded, 'we do not actually take away their
privilege of fighting; and yet I don't believe they'll fight when they
see the beauty of the scheme. Life's a game and men the gamblers.
They'll stake their whole pile on the one chance in a thousand. Take
away that one chance, and- they won't play.'
He turned to the man in charge of the Post. 'Storekeeper, weight out
three fathoms of your best half-inch manila.
'We'll establish a precedent which will last the men of Forty-Mile
to the end of time,' he prophesied. Then he coiled the rope about
his arm and led his followers out of doors, just in time to meet the
'What danged right'd he to fetch my wife in?' thundered Bettles to
the soothing overtures of a friend. ''Twa'n't called for,' he
concluded decisively. ''Twa'n't called for,' he reiterated again and
again, pacing up and down and waiting for Lon McFane.
And Lon McFane- his face was hot and tongue rapid as he flaunted
insurrection in the face of the Church. 'Then, father,' he cried,
'it's with an aisy heart I'll roll in me flamy blankets, the broad
of me back on a bed of coals. Niver shall it be said that Lon McFane
took a lie 'twixt the teeth without iver liftin' a hand! An' I'll
not ask a blessin'. The years have been wild, but it's the heart was
in the right place.'
'But it's not the heart, Lon,' interposed Father Roubeau; 'It's
pride that bids you forth to slay your fellow man.'
'Yer Frinch,' Lon replied. And then, turning to leave him, 'An' will
ye say a mass if the luck is against me?'
But the priest smiled, thrust his moccasined feet to the fore, and
went out upon the white breast of the silent river. A packed trail,
the width of a sixteen-inch sled, led out to the waterhole. On
either side lay the deep, soft snow. The men trod in single file,
without conversation; and the black-stoled priest in their midst
gave to the function the solemn aspect of a funeral. It was a warm
winter's day for Forty-Mile- a day in which the sky, filled with
heaviness, drew closer to the earth, and the mercury sought the
unwonted level of twenty below. But there was no cheer in the
warmth. There was little air in the upper strata, and the clouds
hung motionless, giving sullen promise of an early snowfall. And the
earth, unresponsive, made no preparation, content in its hibernation.
When the waterhole was reached, Bettles, having evidently reviewed
the quarrel during the silent walk, burst out in a final ''Twa'n't
called for,' while Lon McFane kept grim silence. Indignation so choked
him that he could not speak.
Yet deep down, whenever their own wrongs were not uppermost, both
men wondered at their comrades. They had expected opposition, and this
tacit acquiescence hurt them. It seemed more was due them from the men
they had been so close with, and they felt a vague sense of wrong,
rebelling at the thought of so many of their brothers coming out, as
on a gala occasion, without one word of protest, to see them shoot
each other down. It appeared their worth had diminished in the eyes of
the community. The proceedings puzzled them.
'Back to back, David. An' will it be fifty paces to the man, or
double the quantity?'
'Fifty,' was the sanguinary reply, grunted out, yet sharply cut.
But the new manila, not prominently displayed, but casually coiled
about Malemute Kid's arm, caught the quick eye of the Irishman, and
thrilled him with a suspicious fear.
'An' what are ye doin' with the rope?'
'Hurry up!' Malemute Kid glanced at his watch. 'I've a batch of
bread in the cabin, and I don't want it to fall. Besides, my feet
are getting cold.'
The rest of the men manifested their impatience in various
'But the rope, Kid' It's bran' new, an' sure yer bread's not that
heavy it needs raisin' with the like of that?'
Bettles by this time had faced around. Father Roubeau, the humor
of the situation just dawning on him, hid a smile behind his
'No, Lon; this rope was made for a man.' Malemute Kid could be
very impressive on occasion.
'What man?' Bettles was becoming aware of a personal interest.
'The other man.'
'An' which is the one ye'd mane by that?'
'Listen, Lon- and you, too, Bettles! We've been talking this
little trouble of yours over, and we've come to one conclusion. We
know we have no right to stop your fighting-'
'True for ye, me lad!'
'And we're not going to. But this much we can do, and shall do- make
this the only duel in the history of Forty-Mile, set an example for
every che-cha-qua that comes up or down the Yukon. The man who escapes
killing shall be hanged to the nearest tree. Now, go ahead!'
Lon smiled dubiously, then his face lighted up. 'Pace her off,
David- fifty paces, wheel, an' niver a cease firin' till a lad's
down for good. 'Tis their hearts'll niver let them do the deed, an'
it's well ye should know it for a true Yankee bluff.'
He started off with a pleased grin on his face, but Malemute Kid
'Lon! It's a long while since you first knew me?'
'Many's the day.'
'And you, Bettles?'
'Five year next June high water.'
'And have you once, in all that time, known me to break my word'
Or heard of me breaking it?'
Both men shook their heads, striving to fathom what lay beyond.
'Well, then, what do you think of a promise made by me?'
'As good as your bond,' from Bettles.
'The thing to safely sling yer hopes of heaven by,' promptly
endorsed Lon McFane.
'Listen! I, Malemute Kid, give you my word- and you know what that
means- that the man who is not shot stretches rope within ten
minutes after the shooting.' He stepped back as Pilate might have done
after washing his hands.
A pause and a silence came over the men of Forty-Mile. The sky
drew still closer, sending down a crystal flight of frost- little
geometric designs, perfect, evanescent as a breath, yet destined to
exist till the returning sun had covered half its northern journey.
Both men had led forlorn hopes in their time- led with a curse or a
jest on their tongues, and in their souls an unswerving faith in the
God of Chance. But that merciful deity had been shut out from the
present deal. They studied the face of Malemute Kid, but they
studied as one might the Sphinx. As the quiet minutes passed, a
feeling that speech was incumbent on them began to grow. At last the
howl of a wolf-dog cracked the silence from the direction of
Forty-Mile. The weird sound swelled with all the pathos of a
breaking heart, then died away in a long-drawn sob.
'Well I be danged!' Bettles turned up the collar of his mackinaw
jacket and stared about him helplessly.
'It's a gloryus game yer runnin', Kid,' cried Lon McFane. 'All the
percentage of the house an' niver a bit to the man that's buckin'. The
Devil himself'd niver tackle such a cinch- and damned if I do.'
There were chuckles, throttled in gurgling throats, and winks
brushed away with the frost which rimed the eyelashes, as the men
climbed the ice-notched bank and started across the street to the
Post. But the long howl had drawn nearer, invested with a new note
of menace. A woman screamed round the corner. There was a cry of,
'Here he comes!' Then an Indian boy, at the head of half a dozen
frightened dogs, racing with death, dashed into the crowd. And
behind came Yellow Fang, a bristle of hair and a flash of gray.
Everybody but the Yankee fled. The Indian boy had tripped and
fallen. Bettles stopped long enough to grip him by the slack of his
furs, then headed for a pile of cordwood already occupied by a
number of his comrades. Yellow Fang, doubling after one of the dogs,
came leaping back. The fleeing animal, free of the rabies, but
crazed with fright, whipped Bettles off his feet and flashed on up the
street. Malemute Kid took a flying shot at Yellow Fang. The mad dog
whirled a half airspring, came down on his back, then, with a single
leap, covered half the distance between himself and Bettles.
But the fatal spring was intercepted. Lon McFane leaped from the
woodpile, countering him in midair. Over they rolled, Lon holding
him by the throat at arm's length, blinking under the fetid slaver
which sprayed his face. Then Bettles, revolver in hand and coolly
waiting a chance, settled the combat.
''Twas a square game, Kid,' Lon remarked, rising to his feet and
shaking the snow from out his sleeves; 'with a fair percentage to
meself that bucked it.'
That night, while Lon McFane sought the forgiving arms of the Church
in the direction of Father Roubeau's cabin, Malemute Kid talked long
to little purpose.
'But would you,' persisted Mackenzie, 'supposing they had fought?'
'Have I ever broken my word?'
'No; but that isn't the point. Answer the question. Would you?'
Malemute Kid straightened up. 'Scruff, I've been asking myself
that question ever since, and-'
'Well, as yet, I haven't found the answer.'
IN A FAR COUNTRY.
WHEN A MAN JOURNEYS into a far country, he must be prepared to
forget many of the things he has learned, and to acquire such
customs as are inherent with existence in the new land; he must
abandon the old ideals and the old gods, and oftentimes he must
reverse the very codes by which his conduct has hitherto been
shaped. To those who have the protean faculty of adaptability, the
novelty of such change may even be a source of pleasure; but to
those who happen to be hardened to the ruts in which they were
created, the pressure of the altered environment is unbearable, and
they chafe in body and in spirit under the new restrictions which they
do not understand. This chafing is bound to act and react, producing
divers evils and leading to various misfortunes. It were better for
the man who cannot fit himself to the new groove to return to his
own country; if he delay too long, he will surely die.
The man who turns his back upon the comforts of an elder
civilization, to face the savage youth, the primordial simplicity of
the North, may estimate success at an inverse ratio to the quantity
and quality of his hopelessly fixed habits. He will soon discover,
if he be a fit candidate, that the material habits are the less
important. The exchange of such things as a dainty menu for rough
fare, of the stiff leather shoe for the soft, shapeless moccasin, of
the feather bed for a couch in the snow, is after all a very easy
matter. But his pinch will come in learning properly to shape his
mind's attitude toward all things, and especially toward his fellow
man. For the courtesies of ordinary life, he must substitute
unselfishness, forbearance, and tolerance. Thus, and thus only, can he
gain that pearl of great price- true comradeship. He must not say
'thank you'; he must mean it without opening his mouth, and prove it
by responding in kind. In short, he must substitute the deed for the
word, the spirit for the letter.
When the world rang with the tale of Arctic gold, and the lure of
the North gripped the heartstrings of men, Carter Weatherbee threw
up his snug clerkship, turned the half of his savings over to his
wife, and with the remainder bought an outfit. There was no romance in
his nature- the bondage of commerce had crushed all that; he was
simply tired of the ceaseless grind, and wished to risk great
hazards in view of corresponding returns. Like many another fool,
disdaining the old trails used by the Northland pioneers for a score
of years, he hurried to Edmonton in the spring of the year; and there,
unluckily for his soul's welfare, he allied himself with a party of
There was nothing unusual about this party, except its plans. Even
its goal, like that of all the other parties, was the Klondike. But
the route it had mapped out to attain that goal took away the breath
of the hardiest native, born and bred to the vicissitudes of the
Northwest. Even Jacques Baptiste, born of a Chippewa woman and a
renegade voyageur (having raised his first whimpers in a deerskin
lodge north of the sixty-fifth parallel, and had the same hushed by
blissful sucks of raw tallow), was surprised. Though he sold his
services to them and agreed to travel even to the never-opening ice,
he shook his head ominously whenever his advice was asked.
Percy Cuthfert's evil star must have been in the ascendant, for
he, too, joined this company of argonauts. He was an ordinary man,
with a bank account as deep as his culture, which is saying a good
deal. He had no reason to embark on such a venture- no reason in the
world save that he suffered from an abnormal development of
sentimentality. He mistook this for the true spirit of romance and
adventure. Many another man has done the like, and made as fatal a
The first break-up of spring found the party following the ice-run
of Elk River. It was an imposing fleet, for the outfit was large,
and they were accompanied by a disreputable contingent of half-breed
voyageurs with their women and children. Day in and day out, they
labored with the bateaux and canoes, fought mosquitoes and other
kindred pests, or sweated and swore at the portages. Severe toil
like this lays a man naked to the very roots of his soul, and ere Lake
Athabasca was lost in the south, each member of the party had
hoisted his true colors.
The two shirks and chronic grumblers were Carter Weatherbee and
Percy Cuthfert. The whole party complained less of its aches and pains
than did either of them. Not once did they volunteer for the
thousand and one petty duties of the camp. A bucket of water to be
brought, an extra armful of wood to be chopped, the dishes to be
washed and wiped, a search to be made through the outfit for some
suddenly indispensable article- and these two effete scions of
civilization discovered sprains or blisters requiring instant
attention. They were the first to turn in at night, with score of
tasks yet undone; the last to turn out in the morning, when the
start should be in readiness before the breakfast was begun. They were
the first to fall to at mealtime, the last to have a hand in the
cooking; the first to dive for a slim delicacy, the last to discover
they had added to their own another man's share. If they toiled at the
oars, they slyly cut the water at each stroke and allowed the boat's
momentum to float up the blade. They thought nobody noticed; but their
comrades swore under their breaths and grew to hate them, while
Jacques Baptiste sneered openly and damned them from morning till
night. But Jacques Baptiste was no gentleman.
At the Great Slave, Hudson Bay dogs were purchased, and the fleet
sank to the guards with its added burden of dried fish and pemican.
Then canoe and bateau answered to the swift current of the
Mackenzie, and they plunged into the Great Barren Ground. Every
likely-looking 'feeder' was prospected, but the elusive 'pay-dirt'
danced ever to the north. At the Great Bear, overcome by the common
dread of the Unknown Lands, their voyageurs began to desert, and
Fort of Good Hope saw the last and bravest bending to the towlines
as they bucked the current down which they had so treacherously
glided. Jacques Baptiste alone remained. Had he not sworn to travel
even to the never-opening ice?
The lying charts, compiled in main from hearsay, were now constantly
consulted. And they felt the need of hurry, for the sun had already
passed its northern solstice and was leading the winter south again.
Skirting the shores of the bay, where the Mackenzie disembogues into
the Arctic Ocean, they entered the mouth of the Little Peel River.
Then began the arduous up-stream toil, and the two Incapables fared
worse than ever. Towline and pole, paddle and tumpline, rapids and
portages- such tortures served to give the one a deep disgust for
great hazards, and printed for the other a fiery text on the true
romance of adventure. One day they waxed mutinous, and being vilely
cursed by Jacques Baptiste, turned, as worms sometimes will. But the
half-breed thrashed the twain, and sent them, bruised and bleeding,
about their work. It was the first time either had been manhandled.
Abandoning their river craft at the headwaters of the Little Peel,
they consumed the rest of the summer in the great portage over the
Mackenzie watershed to the West Rat. This little stream fed the
Porcupine, which in turn joined the Yukon where that mighty highway of
the North countermarches on the Arctic Circle. But they had lost in
the race with winter, and one day they tied their rafts to the thick
eddy-ice and hurried their goods ashore. That night the river jammed
and broke several times; the following morning it had fallen asleep
'We can't be more'n four hundred miles from the Yukon,' concluded
Sloper, multiplying his thumb nails by the scale of the map. The
council, in which the two Incapables had whined to excellent
disadvantage, was drawing to a close.
'Hudson Bay Post, long time ago. No use um now.' Jacques
Baptiste's father had made the trip for the Fur Company in the old
days, incidentally marking the trail with a couple of frozen toes.
Sufferin' cracky!' cried another of the party. 'No whites?'
'Nary white,' Sloper sententiously affirmed; 'but it's only five
hundred more up the Yukon to Dawson. Call it a rough thousand from
Weatherbee and Cuthfert groaned in chorus.
'How long'll that take, Baptiste?'
The half-breed figured for a moment. 'Workum like hell, no man
play out, ten- twenty- forty- fifty days. Um babies come' (designating
the Incapables), 'no can tell. Mebbe when hell freeze over; mebbe
The manufacture of snowshoes and moccasins ceased. Somebody called
the name of an absent member, who came out of an ancient cabin at
the edge of the campfire and joined them. The cabin was one of the
many mysteries which lurk in the vast recesses of the North. Built
when and by whom, no man could tell. Two graves in the open, piled
high with stones, perhaps contained the secret of those early
wanderers. But whose hand had piled the stones?
The moment had come. Jacques Baptiste paused in the fitting of a
harness and pinned the struggling dog in the snow. The cook made
mute protest for delay, threw a handful of bacon into a noisy pot of
beans, then came to attention. Sloper rose to his feet. His body was a
ludicrous contrast to the healthy physiques of the Incapables.
Yellow and weak, fleeing from a South American fever-hole, he had
not broken his flight across the zones, and was still able to toil
with men. His weight was probably ninety pounds, with the heavy
hunting knife thrown in, and his grizzled hair told of a prime which
had ceased to be. The fresh young muscles of either Weatherbee or
Cuthfert were equal to ten times the endeavor of his; yet he could
walk them into the earth in a day's journey. And all this day he had
whipped his stronger comrades into venturing a thousand miles of the
stiffest hardship man can conceive. He was the incarnation of the
unrest of his race, and the old Teutonic stubbornness, dashed with the
quick grasp and action of the Yankee, held the flesh in the bondage of
'All those in favor of going on with the dogs as soon as the ice
sets, say ay.'
'Ay!' rang out eight voices- voices destined to string a trail of
oaths along many a hundred miles of pain.
'No!' For the first time the Incapables were united without some
compromise of personal interests.
'And what are you going to do about it?' Weatherbee added
'Majority rule! Majority rule!' clamored the rest of the party.
'I know the expedition is liable to fall through if you don't come,'
Sloper replied sweetly; 'but I guess, if we try real hard, we can
manage to do without you. What do you say, boys?'
The sentiment was cheered to the echo.
'But I say, you know,' Cuthfert ventured apprehensively; 'what's a
chap like me to do?'
'Ain't you coming with us.'
'Then do as you damn well please. We won't have nothing to say.'
'Kind o' calkilate yuh might settle it with that canoodlin'
pardner of yourn,' suggested a heavy-going Westerner from the Dakotas,
at the same time pointing out Weatherbee. 'He'll be shore to ask yuh
what yur a-goin' to do when it comes to cookin' an' gatherin' the
'Then we'll consider it all arranged,' concluded Sloper. 'We'll pull
out tomorrow, if we camp within five miles- just to get everything
in running order and remember if we've forgotten anything.'
The sleds groaned by on their steel-shod runners, and the dogs
strained low in the harnesses in which they were born to die.
Jacques Baptiste paused by the side of Sloper to get a last glimpse of
the cabin. The smoke curled up pathetically from the Yukon
stovepipe. The two Incapables were watching them from the doorway.
Sloper laid his hand on the other's shoulder.
'Jacques Baptiste, did you ever hear of the Kilkenny cats?'
The half-breed shook his head.
'Well, my friend and good comrade, the Kilkenny cats fought till
neither hide, nor hair, nor yowl, was left. You understand?- till
nothing was left. Very good. Now, these two men don't like work.
They'll be all alone in that cabin all winter- a mighty long, dark
winter. Kilkenny cats- well?'
The Frenchman in Baptiste shrugged his shoulders, but the Indian
in him was silent. Nevertheless, it was an eloquent shrug, pregnant
Things prospered in the little cabin at first. The rough badinage of
their comrades had made Weatherbee and Cuthfert conscious of the
mutual responsibility which had devolved upon them; besides, there was
not so much work after all for two healthy men. And the removal of the
cruel whiphand, or in other words the bulldozing half-breed, had
brought with it a joyous reaction. At first, each strove to outdo
the other, and they performed petty tasks with an unction which
would have opened the eyes of their comrades who were now wearing
out bodies and souls on the Long Trail.
All care was banished. The forest, which shouldered in upon them
from three sides, was an inexhaustible woodyard. A few yards from
their door slept the Porcupine, and a hole through its winter robe
formed a bubbling spring of water, crystal clear and painfully cold.
But they soon grew to find fault with even that. The hole would
persist in freezing up, and thus gave them many a miserable hour of
ice-chopping. The unknown builders of the cabin had extended the
sidelogs so as to support a cache at the rear. In this was stored
the bulk of the party's provisions. Food there was, without stint, for
three times the men who were fated to live upon it. But the most of it
was the kind which built up brawn and sinew, but did not tickle the
palate. True, there was sugar in plenty for two ordinary men; but
these two were little else than children. They early discovered the
virtues of hot water judiciously saturated with sugar, and they
prodigally swam their flapjacks and soaked their crusts in the rich,
white syrup. Then coffee and tea, and especially the dried fruits,
made disastrous inroads upon it. The first words they had were over
the sugar question. And it is a really serious thing when two men,
wholly dependent upon each other for company, begin to quarrel.
Weatherbee loved to discourse blatantly on politics, while Cuthfert,
who had been prone to clip his coupons and let the commonwealth jog on
as best it might, either ignored the subject or delivered himself of
startling epigrams. But the clerk was too obtuse to appreciate the
clever shaping of thought, and this waste of ammunition irritated
Cuthfert. He had been used to blinding people by his brilliancy, and
it worked him quite a hardship, this loss of an audience. He felt
personally aggrieved and unconsciously held his muttonhead companion
responsible for it.
Save existence, they had nothing in common- came in touch on no
single point. Weatherbee was a clerk who had known naught but clerking
all his life; Cuthfert was a master of arts, a dabbler in oils, and
had written not a little. The one was a lower-class man who considered
himself a gentleman, and the other was a gentleman who knew himself to
be such. From this it may be remarked that a man can be a gentleman
without possessing the first instinct of true comradeship. The clerk
was as sensuous as the other was aesthetic, and his love adventures,
told at great length and chiefly coined from his imagination, affected
the supersensitive master of arts in the same way as so many whiffs of
sewer gas. He deemed the clerk a filthy, uncultured brute, whose place
was in the muck with the swine, and told him so; and he was
reciprocally informed that he was a milk-and-water sissy and a cad.
Weatherbee could not have defined 'cad' for his life; but it satisfied
its purpose, which after all seems the main point in life.
Weatherbee flatted every third note and sang such songs as 'The
Boston Burglar' and 'the Handsome Cabin Boy,' for hours at a time,
while Cuthfert wept with rage, till he could stand it no longer and
fled into the outer cold. But there was no escape. The intense frost
could not be endured for long at a time, and the little cabin
crowded them- beds, stove, table, and all- into a space of ten by
twelve. The very presence of either became a personal affront to the
other, and they lapsed into sullen silences which increased in
length and strength as the days went by. Occasionally, the flash of an
eye or the curl of a lip got the better of them, though they strove to
wholly ignore each other during these mute periods. And a great wonder
sprang up in the breast of each, as to how God had ever come to create
With little to do, time became an intolerable burden to them. This
naturally made them still lazier. They sank into a physical lethargy
which there was no escaping, and which made them rebel at the
performance of the smallest chore. One morning when it was his turn to
cook the common breakfast, Weatherbee rolled out of his blankets,
and to the snoring of his companion, lighted first the slush-lamp
and then the fire. The kettles were frozen hard, and there was no
water in the cabin with which to wash. But he did not mind that.
Waiting for it to thaw, he sliced the bacon and plunged into the
hateful task of bread-making. Cuthfert had been slyly watching through
his half-closed lids. Consequently there was a scene, in which they
fervently blessed each other, and agreed, henceforth, that each do his
own cooking. A week later, Cuthfert neglected his morning ablutions,
but none the less complacently ate the meal which he had cooked.
Weatherbee grinned. After that the foolish custom of washing passed
out of their lives.
As the sugar-pile and other little luxuries dwindled, they began
to be afraid they were not getting their proper shares, and in order
that they might not be robbed, they fell to gorging themselves. The
luxuries suffered in this gluttonous contest, as did also the men.
In the absence of fresh vegetables and exercise, their blood became
impoverished, and a loathsome, purplish rash crept over their
bodies. Yet they refused to heed the warning. Next, their muscles
and joints began to swell, the flesh turning black, while their
mouths, gums, and lips took on the color of rich cream. Instead of
being drawn together by their misery, each gloated over the other's
symptoms as the scurvy took its course.
They lost all regard for personal appearance, and for that matter,
common decency. The cabin became a pigpen, and never once were the
beds made or fresh pine boughs laid underneath. Yet they could not
keep to their blankets, as they would have wished; for the frost was
inexorable, and the fire box consumed much fuel. The hair of their
heads and faces grew long and shaggy, while their garments would
have disgusted a ragpicker. But they did not care. They were sick, and
there was no one to see; besides, it was very painful to move about.
To all this was added a new trouble- the Fear of the North. This
Fear was the joint child of the Great Cold and the Great Silence,
and was born in the darkness of December, when the sun dipped below
the horizon for good. It affected them according to their natures.
Weatherbee fell prey to the grosser superstitions, and did his best to
resurrect the spirits which slept in the forgotten graves. It was a
fascinating thing, and in his dreams they came to him from out of
the cold, and snuggled into his blankets, and told him of their
toils and troubles ere they died. He shrank away from the clammy
contact as they drew closer and twined their frozen limbs about him,
and when they whispered in his ear of things to come, the cabin rang
with his frightened shrieks. Cuthfert did not understand- for they
no longer spoke- and when thus awakened he invariably grabbed for
his revolver. Then he would sit up in bed, shivering nervously, with
the weapon trained on the unconscious dreamer. Cuthfert deemed the man
going mad, and so came to fear for his life.
His own malady assumed a less concrete form. The mysterious
artisan who had laid the cabin, log by log, had pegged a wind-vane
to the ridgepole. Cuthfert noticed it always pointed south, and one
day, irritated by its steadfastness of purpose, he turned it toward
the east. He watched eagerly, but never a breath came by to disturb
it. Then he turned the vane to the north, swearing never again to
touch it till the wind did blow. But the air frightened him with its
unearthly calm, and he often rose in the middle of the night to see if
the vane had veered- ten degrees would have satisfied him. But no,
it poised above him as unchangeable as fate. His imagination ran riot,
till it became to him a fetish. Sometimes he followed the path it
pointed across the dismal dominions, and allowed his soul to become
saturated with the Fear. He dwelt upon the unseen and the unknown till
the burden of eternity appeared to be crushing him. Everything in
the Northland had that crushing effect- the absence of life and
motion; the darkness; the infinite peace of the brooding land; the
ghastly silence, which made the echo of each heartbeat a sacrilege;
the solemn forest which seemed to guard an awful, inexpressible
something, which neither word nor thought could compass.
The world he had so recently left, with its busy nations and great
enterprises, seemed very far away. Recollections occasionally
obtruded- recollections of marts and galleries and crowded
thoroughfares, of evening dress and social functions, of good men
and dear women he had known- but they were dim memories of a life he
had lived long centuries agone, on some other planet. This phantasm
was the Reality. Standing beneath the wind-vane, his eyes fixed on the
polar skies, he could not bring himself to realize that the
Southland really existed, that at that very moment it was a-roar
with life and action. There was no Southland, no men being born of
women, no giving and taking in marriage. Beyond his bleak skyline
there stretched vast solitudes, and beyond these still vaster
solitudes. There were no lands of sunshine, heavy with the perfume
of flowers. Such things were only old dreams of paradise. The sunlands
of the West and the spicelands of the East, the smiling Arcadias and
blissful Islands of the Blest- ha! ha! His laughter split the void and
shocked him with its unwonted sound. There was no sun. This was the
Universe, dead and cold and dark, and he its only citizen. Weatherbee?
At such moments Weatherbee did not count. He was a Caliban, a
monstrous phantom, fettered to him for untold ages, the penalty of
some forgotten crime.
He lived with Death among the dead, emasculated by the sense of
his own insignificance, crushed by the passive mastery of the
slumbering ages. The magnitude of all things appalled him.
Everything partook of the superlative save himself- the perfect
cessation of wind and motion, the immensity of the snow-covered
wildness, the height of the sky and the depth of the silence. That
wind-vane- if it would only move. If a thunderbolt would fall, or
the forest flare up in flame. The rolling up of the heavens as a
scroll, the crash of Doom- anything, anything! But no, nothing
moved; the Silence crowded in, and the Fear of the North laid icy
fingers on his heart.
Once, like another Crusoe, by the edge of the river he came upon a
track- the faint tracery of a snowshoe rabbit on the delicate
snow-crust. It was a revelation. There was life in the Northland. He
would follow it, look upon it, gloat over it. He forgot his swollen
muscles, plunging through the deep snow in an ecstasy of anticipation.
The forest swallowed him up, and the brief midday twilight vanished;
but he pursued his quest till exhausted nature asserted itself and
laid him helpless in the snow. There he groaned and cursed his
folly, and knew the track to be the fancy of his brain; and late
that night he dragged himself into the cabin on hands and knees, his
cheeks frozen and a strange numbness about his feet. Weatherbee
grinned malevolently, but made no offer to help him. He thrust needles
into his toes and thawed them out by the stove. A week later
mortification set in.
But the clerk had his own troubles. The dead men came out of their
graves more frequently now, and rarely left him, waking or sleeping.
He grew to wait and dread their coming, never passing the twin
cairns without a shudder. One night they came to him in his sleep
and led him forth to an appointed task. Frightened into inarticulate
horror, he awoke between the heaps of stones and fled wildly to the
cabin. But he had lain there for some time, for his feet and cheeks
were also frozen.
Sometimes he became frantic at their insistent presence, and
danced about the cabin, cutting the empty air with an axe, and
smashing everything within reach. During these ghostly encounters,
Cuthfert huddled into his blankets and followed the madman about
with a cocked revolver, ready to shoot him if he came too near. But,
recovering from one of these spells, the clerk noticed the weapon
trained upon him. His suspicions were aroused, and thenceforth he,
too, lived in fear of his life. They watched each other closely
after that, and faced about in startled fright whenever either
passed behind the other's back. The apprehensiveness became a mania
which controlled them even in their sleep. Through mutual fear they
tacitly let the slush-lamp burn all night, and saw to a plentiful
supply of bacon-grease before retiring. The slightest movement on
the part of one was sufficient to arouse the other, and many a still
watch their gazes countered as they shook beneath their blankets
with fingers on the trigger-guards.
What with the Fear of the North, the mental strain, and the
ravages of the disease, they lost all semblance of humanity, taking on
the appearance of wild beasts, hunted and desperate. Their cheeks
and noses, as an aftermath of the freezing, had turned black. Their
frozen toes had begun to drop away at the first and second joints.
Every movement brought pain, but the fire box was insatiable, wringing
a ransom of torture from their miserable bodies. Day in, day out, it
demanded its food- a veritable pound of flesh- and they dragged
themselves into the forest to chop wood on their knees. Once, crawling
thus in search of dry sticks, unknown to each other they entered a
thicket from opposite sides. Suddenly, without warning, two peering
death's-heads confronted each other. Suffering had so transformed them
that recognition was impossible. They sprang to their feet,
shrieking with terror, and dashed away on their mangled stumps; and
falling at the cabin's door, they clawed and scratched like demons
till they discovered their mistake.
Occasionally they lapsed normal, and during one of these sane
intervals, the chief bone of contention, the sugar, had been divided
equally between them. They guarded their separate sacks, stored up
in the cache, with jealous eyes; for there were but a few cupfuls
left, and they were totally devoid of faith in each other. But one day
Cuthfert made a mistake. Hardly able to move, sick with pain, with his
head swimming and eyes blinded, he crept into the cache, sugar
canister in hand, and mistook Weatherbee's sack for his own.
January had been born but a few days when this occurred. The sun had
some time since passed its lowest southern declination, and at
meridian now threw flaunting streaks of yellow light upon the northern
sky. On the day following his mistake with the sugarbag, Cuthfert
found himself feeling better, both in body and in spirit. As
noontime drew near and the day brightened, he dragged himself
outside to feast on the evanescent glow, which was to him an earnest
of the sun's future intentions. Weatherbee was also feeling somewhat
better, and crawled out beside him. They propped themselves in the
snow beneath the moveless wind-vane, and waited.
The stillness of death was about them. In other climes, when
nature falls into such moods, there is a subdued air of expectancy,
a waiting for some small voice to take up the broken strain. Not so in
the North. The two men had lived seeming eons in this ghostly peace.
They could remember no song of the past; they could conjure no song of
the future. This unearthly calm had always been- the tranquil
silence of eternity.
Their eyes were fixed upon the north. Unseen, behind their backs,
behind the towering mountains to the south, the sun swept toward the
zenith of another sky than theirs. Sole spectators of the mighty
canvas, they watched the false dawn slowly grow. A faint flame began
to glow and smoulder. It deepened in intensity, ringing the changes of
reddish-yellow, purple, and saffron. So bright did it become that
Cuthfert thought the sun must surely be behind it- a miracle, the
sun rising in the north! Suddenly, without warning and without fading,
the canvas was swept clean. There was no color in the sky. The light
had gone out of the day. They caught their breaths in half-sobs. But
lo! the air was aglint with particles of scintillating frost, and
there, to the north, the wind-vane lay in vague outline of the snow. A
shadow! A shadow! It was exactly midday. They jerked their heads
hurriedly to the south. A golden rim peeped over the mountain's
snowy shoulder, smiled upon them an instant, then dipped from sight
There were tears in their eyes as they sought each other. A
strange softening came over them. They felt irresistibly drawn
toward each other. The sun was coming back again. It would be with
them tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. And it would stay
longer every visit, and a time would come when it would ride their
heaven day and night, never once dropping below the skyline. There
would be no night. The ice-locked winter would be broken; the winds
would blow and the forests answer; the land would bathe in the blessed
sunshine, and life renew. Hand in hand, they would quit this horrid
dream and journey back to the Southland. They lurched blindly forward,
and their hands met- their poor maimed hands, swollen and distorted
beneath their mittens.
But the promise was destined to remain unfulfilled. The Northland is
the Northland, and men work out their souls by strange rules, which
other men, who have not journeyed into far countries, cannot come to
An hour later, Cuthfert put a pan of bread into the oven, and fell
to speculating on what the surgeons could do with his feet when he got
back. Home did not seem so very far away now. Weatherbee was rummaging
in the cache. Of a sudden, he raised a whirlwind of blasphemy, which
in turn ceased with startling abruptness. The other man had robbed his
sugar-sack. Still, things might have happened differently, had not the
two dead men come out from under the stones and hushed the hot words
in his throat. They led him quite gently from the cache, which he
forgot to close. That consummation was reached; that something they
had whispered to him in his dreams was about to happen. They guided
him gently, very gently, to the woodpile, where they put the axe in
his hands. Then they helped him shove open the cabin door, and he felt
sure they shut it after him- at least he heard it slam and the latch
fall sharply into place. And he knew they were waiting just without,
waiting for him to do his task.
'Carter! I say, Carter!'
Percy Cuthfert was frightened at the look on the clerk's face, and
he made haste to put the table between them.
Carter Weatherbee followed, without haste and without enthusiasm.
There was neither pity nor passion in his face, but rather the
patient, stolid look of one who has certain work to do and goes
about it methodically.
'I say, what's the matter?'
The clerk dodged back, cutting off his retreat to the door, but
never opening his mouth.
'I say, Carter, I say; let's talk. There's a good chap.'
The master of arts was thinking rapidly, now, shaping a skillful
flank movement on the bed where his Smith & Wesson lay. Keeping his
eyes on the madman, he rolled backward on the bunk, at the same time
clutching the pistol.
The powder flashed full in Weatherbee's face, but he swung his
weapon and leaped forward. The axe bit deeply at the base of the
spine, and Percy Cuthfert felt all consciousness of his lower limbs
leave him. Then the clerk fell heavily upon him, clutching him by
the throat with feeble fingers. The sharp bite of the axe had caused
Cuthfert to drop the pistol, and as his lungs panted for release, he
fumbled aimlessly for it among the blankets. Then he remembered. He
slid a hand up the clerk's belt to the sheath-knife; and they drew
very close to each other in that last clinch.
Percy Cuthfert felt his strength leave him. The lower portion of his
body was useless, The inert weight of Weatherbee crushed him-
crushed him and pinned him there like a bear under a trap. The cabin
became filled with a familiar odor, and he knew the bread to be
burning. Yet what did it matter? He would never need it. And there
were all of six cupfuls of sugar in the cache- if he had foreseen this
he would not have been so saving the last several days. Would the
wind-vane ever move? Why not' Had he not seen the sun today? He
would go and see. No; it was impossible to move. He had not thought
the clerk so heavy a man.
How quickly the cabin cooled! The fire must be out. The cold was
forcing in. It must be below zero already, and the ice creeping up the
inside of the door. He could not see it, but his past experience
enabled him to gauge its progress by the cabin's temperature. The
lower hinge must be white ere now. Would the tale of this ever reach
the world? How would his friends take it? They would read it over
their coffee, most likely, and talk it over at the clubs. He could see
them very clearly, 'Poor Old Cuthfert,' they murmured; 'not such a bad
sort of a chap, after all.' He smiled at their eulogies, and passed on
in search of a Turkish bath. It was the same old crowd upon the
streets. Strange, they did not notice his moosehide moccasins and
tattered German socks! He would take a cab. And after the bath a shave
would not be bad. No; he would eat first. Steak, and potatoes, and
green things how fresh it all was! And what was that? Squares of
honey, streaming liquid amber! But why did they bring so much? Ha! ha!
he could never eat it all. Shine! Why certainly. He put his foot on
the box. The bootblack looked curiously up at him, and he remembered
his moosehide moccasins and went away hastily.
Hark! The wind-vane must be surely spinning. No; a mere singing in
his ears. That was all- a mere singing. The ice must have passed the
latch by now. More likely the upper hinge was covered. Between the
moss-chinked roof-poles, little points of frost began to appear. How
slowly they grew! No; not so slowly. There was a new one, and there
another. Two- three- four; they were coming too fast to count. There
were two growing together. And there, a third had joined them. Why,
there were no more spots. They had run together and formed a sheet.
Well, he would have company. If Gabriel ever broke the silence of
the North, they would stand together, hand in hand, before the great
White Throne. And God would judge them, God would judge them!
Then Percy Cuthfert closed his eyes and dropped off to sleep.
TO THE MAN ON THE TRAIL.
'DUMP IT IN.'
'But I say, Kid, isn't that going it a little too strong' Whisky and
alcohol's bad enough; but when it comes to brandy and pepper sauce
'Dump it in. Who's making this punch, anyway?' And Malemute Kid
smiled benignantly through the clouds of steam. 'By the time you've
been in this country as long as I have, my son, and lived on rabbit
tracks and salmon belly, you'll learn that Christmas comes only once
per annum. And a Christmas without punch is sinking a hole to
bedrock with nary a pay streak.'
'Stack up on that fer a high cyard,' approved Big Jim Belden, who
had come down from his claim on Mazy May to spend Christmas, and
who, as everyone knew, had been living the two months past on straight
moose meat. 'Hain't fergot the hooch we-uns made on the Tanana, hey
'Well, I guess yes. Boys, it would have done your hearts good to see
that whole tribe fighting drunk- and all because of a glorious ferment
of sugar and sour dough. That was before your time,' Malemute Kid said
as he turned to Stanley Prince, a young mining expert who had been
in two years. 'No white women in the country then, and Mason wanted to
get married. Ruth's father was chief of the Tananas, and objected,
like the rest of the tribe. Stiff? Why, I used my last pound of sugar;
finest work in that line I ever did in my life. You should have seen
the chase, down the river and across the portage.'
'But the squaw?' asked Louis Savoy, the tall French Canadian,
becoming interested; for he had heard of this wild deed when at
Forty Mile the preceding winter.
Then Malemute Kid, who was a born raconteur, told the unvarnished
tale of the Northland Lochinvar. More than one rough adventurer of the
North felt his heartstrings draw closer and experienced vague
yearnings for the sunnier pastures of the Southland, where life
promised something more than a barren struggle with cold and death.
'We struck the Yukon just behind the first ice run,' he concluded,
'and the tribe only a quarter of an hour behind. But that saved us;
for the second run broke the jam above and shut them out. When they
finally got into Nuklukyeto, the whole post was ready for them. And as
to the forgathering, ask Father Roubeau here: he performed the
The Jesuit took the pipe from his lips but could only express his
gratification with patriarchal smiles, while Protestant and Catholic
'By gar!' ejaculated Louis Savoy, who seemed overcome by the romance
of it. 'La petite squaw: mon Mason brav. By gar!'
Then, as the first tin cups of punch went round, Bettles the
Unquenchable sprang to his feet and struck up his favorite drinking
'There's Henry Ward Beecher
And Sunday-school teachers,
All drink of the sassafras root;
But you bet all the same,
If it had its right name,
It's the juice of the forbidden fruit.'
'Oh, the juice of the forbidden fruit,'
roared out the bacchanalian chorus,
'Oh, the juice of the forbidden fruit;
But you bet all the same,
If it had its right name,
It's the juice of the forbidden fruit.'
Malemute Kid's frightful concoction did its work; the men of the
camps and trails unbent in its genial glow, and jest and song and
tales of past adventure went round the board. Aliens from a dozen
lands, they toasted each and all. It was the Englishman, Prince, who
pledged 'Uncle Sam, the precocious infant of the New World'; the
Yankee, Bettles, who drank to 'The Queen, God bless her'; and
together, Savoy and Meyers, the German trader, clanged their cups to
Alsace and Lorraine.
Then Malemute Kid arose, cup in hand, and glanced at the
greased-paper window, where the frost stood full three inches thick.
'A health to the man on trail this night; may his grub hold out; may
his dogs keep their legs; may his matches never miss fire.'
Crack! Crack! heard the familiar music of the dog whip, the
whining howl of the Malemutes, and the crunch of a sled as it drew
up to the cabin. Conversation languished while they waited the issue.
'An old-timer; cares for his dogs and then himself,' whispered
Malemute Kid to Prince as they listened to the snapping jaws and the
wolfish snarls and yelps of pain which proclaimed to their practiced
ears that the stranger was beating back their dogs while he fed his
Then came the expected knock, sharp and confident, and the
stranger entered. Dazzled by the light, he hesitated a moment at the
door, giving to all a chance for scrutiny. He was a striking
personage, and a most picturesque one, in his Arctic dress of wool and
fur. Standing six foot two or three, with proportionate breadth of
shoulders and depth of chest, his smooth-shaven face nipped by the
cold to a gleaming pink, his long lashes and eyebrows white with
ice, and the ear and neck flaps of his great wolfskin cap loosely
raised, he seemed, of a verity, the Frost King, just stepped in out of
the night. Clasped outside his Mackinaw jacket, a beaded belt held two
large Colt's revolvers and a hunting knife, while he carried, in
addition to the inevitable dog whip, a smokeless rifle of the
largest bore and latest pattern. As he came forward, for all his
step was firm and elastic, they could see that fatigue bore heavily
An awkward silence had fallen, but his hearty 'What cheer, my lads?'
put them quickly at ease, and the next instant Malemute Kid and he had
gripped hands. Though they had never met, each had heard of the other,
and the recognition was mutual. A sweeping introduction and a mug of
punch were forced upon him before he could explain his errand.
How long since that basket sled, with three men and eight dogs,
passed?' he asked.
'An even two days ahead. Are you after them?'
'Yes; my team. Run them off under my very nose, the cusses. I've
gained two days on them already- pick them up on the next run.'
'Reckon they'll show spunk?' asked Belden, in order to keep up the
conversation, for Malemute Kid already had the coffeepot on and was
busily frying bacon and moose meat.
The stranger significantly tapped his revolvers.
'When'd yeh leave Dawson?'
'Last night?'- as a matter of course.
A murmur of surprise passed round the circle. And well it might; for
it was just midnight, and seventy-five miles of rough river trail
was not to be sneered at for a twelve hours' run.
The talk soon became impersonal, however, harking back to the trails
of childhood. As the young stranger ate of the rude fare Malemute
Kid attentively studied his face. Nor was he long in deciding that
it was fair, honest, and open, and that he liked it. Still youthful,
the lines had been firmly traced by toil and hardship. Though genial
in conversation, and mild when at rest, the blue eyes gave promise
of the hard steel-glitter which comes when called into action,
especially against odds. The heavy jaw and square-cut chin
demonstrated rugged pertinacity and indomitability. Nor, though the
attributes of the lion were there, was there wanting the certain
softness, the hint of womanliness, which bespoke the emotional nature.
'So thet's how me an' the ol' woman got spliced,' said Belden,
concluding the exciting tale of his courtship. '"Here we be, Dad,"
she. "An' may yeh be damned," sez he to her, an' then to me, ''Jim,
yeh-yeh git outen them good duds o' yourn; I want a right peart
slice o' thet forty acre plowed 'fore dinner." An' then he sort o'
sniffled an' kissed her. An' I was thet happy- but he seen me an'
roars out, ''Yeh, Jim!' An' yeh bet I dusted fer the barn.'
'Any kids waiting for you back in the States?' asked the stranger.
'Nope; Sal died 'fore any come. Thet's why I'm here.' Belden
abstractedly began to light his pipe, which had failed to go out,
and then brightened up with, 'How 'bout yerself, stranger- married
For reply, he opened his watch, slipped it from the thong which
served for a chain, and passed it over. Belden picked up the slush
lamp, surveyed the inside of the case critically, and, swearing
admiringly to himself, handed it over to Louis Savoy. With numerous
'By gars!' he finally surrendered it to Prince, and they noticed
that his hands trembled and his eyes took on a peculiar softness.
And so it passed from horny hand to horny hand- the pasted
photograph of a woman, the clinging kind that such men fancy, with a
babe at the breast. Those who had not yet seen the wonder were keen
with curiosity; those who had became silent and retrospective. They
could face the pinch of famine, the grip of scurvy, or the quick death
by field or flood; but the pictured semblance of a stranger woman
and child made women and children of them all.
'Never have seen the youngster yet- he's a boy, she says, and two
years old,' said the stranger as he received the treasure back. A
lingering moment he gazed upon it, then snapped the case and turned
away, but not quick enough to hide the restrained rush of tears.
Malemute Kid led him to a bunk and bade him turn in.
'Call me at four sharp. Don't fail me,' were his last words, and a
moment later he was breathing in the heaviness of exhausted sleep.
'By Jove! He's a plucky chap,' commented Prince. 'Three hours' sleep
after seventy-five miles with the dogs, and then the trail again.
Who is he, Kid?'
'Jack Westondale. Been in going on three years, with nothing but the
name of working like a horse, and any amount of bad luck to his
credit. I never knew him, but Sitka Charley told me about him.'
'It seems hard that a man with a sweet young wife like his should be
putting in his years in this Godforsaken hole, where every year counts
two on the outside.'
'The trouble with him is clean grit and stubbornness. He's cleaned
up twice with a stake, but lost it both times.'
Here the conversation was broken off by an uproar from Bettles,
for the effect had begun to wear away. And soon the bleak years of
monotonous grub and deadening toil were being forgotten in rough
merriment. Malemute Kid alone seemed unable to lose himself, and
cast many an anxious look at his watch. Once he put on his mittens and
beaver-skin cap, and, leaving the cabin, fell to rummaging about in
Nor could he wait the hour designated; for he was fifteen minutes
ahead of time in rousing his guest. The young giant had stiffened
badly, and brisk rubbing was necessary to bring him to his feet. He
tottered painfully out of the cabin, to find his dogs harnessed and
everything ready for the start. The company wished him good luck and a
short chase, while Father Roubeau, hurriedly blessing him, led the
stampede for the cabin; and small wonder, for it is not good to face
seventy-four degrees below zero with naked ears and hands.
Malemute Kid saw him to the main trail, and there, gripping his hand
heartily, gave him advice.
'You'll find a hundred pounds of salmon eggs on the sled,' he
said. 'The dogs will go as far on that as with one hundred and fifty
of fish, and you can't get dog food at Pelly, as you probably
expected.' The stranger started, and his eyes flashed, but he did
not interrupt. 'You can't get an ounce of food for dog or man till you
reach Five Fingers, and that's a stiff two hundred miles. Watch out
for open water on the Thirty Mile River, and be sure you take the
big cutoff above Le Barge.'
'How did you know it? Surely the news can't be ahead of me already?'
'I don't know it; and what's more, I don't want to know it. But
you never owned that team you're chasing. Sitka Charley sold it to
them last spring. But he sized you up to me as square once, and I
believe him. I've seen your face; I like it. And I've seen- why,
damn you, hit the high places for salt water and that wife of yours,
and-' Here the Kid unmittened and jerked out his sack.
'No; I don't need it,' and the tears froze on his cheeks as he
convulsively gripped Malemute Kid's hand.
'Then don't spare the dogs; cut them out of the traces as fast as
they drop; buy them, and think they're cheap at ten dollars a pound.
You can get them at Five Fingers, Little Salmon, and Hootalinqua.
And watch out for wet feet,' was his parting advice. 'Keep a-traveling
up to twenty-five, but if it gets below that, build a fire and
change your socks.'
Fifteen minutes had barely elapsed when the jingle of bells
announced new arrivals. The door opened, and a mounted policeman of
the Northwest Territory entered, followed by two half-breed dog
drivers. Like Westondale, they were heavily armed and showed signs
of fatigue. The half-breeds had been borne to the trail and bore it
easily; but the young policeman was badly exhausted. Still, the dogged
obstinacy of his race held him to the pace he had set, and would
hold him till he dropped in his tracks.
'When did Westondale pull out?' he asked. 'He stopped here, didn't
he?' This was supererogatory, for the tracks told their own tale too
Malemute Kid had caught Belden's eye, and he, scenting the wind,
replied evasively, 'A right peart while back.'
'Come, my man; speak up,' the policeman admonished.
'Yeh seem to want him right smart. Hez he ben gittin' cantankerous
down Dawson way?'
'Held up Harry McFarland's for forty thousand; exchanged it at the
P.C. store for a check on Seattle; and who's to stop the cashing of it
if we don't overtake him? When did he pull out?'
Every eye suppressed its excitement, for Malemute Kid had given
the cue, and the young officer encountered wooden faces on every hand.
Striding over to Prince, he put the question to him. Though it
hurt him, gazing into the frank, earnest face. of his fellow
countryman, he replied inconsequentially on the state of the trail.
Then he espied Father Roubeau, who could not lie. 'A quarter of an
hour ago,' the priest answered; 'but he had four hours' rest for
himself and dogs.'
'Fifteen minutes' start, and he's fresh! My God!' The poor fellow
staggered back, half fainting from exhaustion and disappointment,
murmuring something about the run from Dawson in ten hours and the
dogs being played out.
Malemute Kid forced a mug of punch upon him; then he turned for
the door, ordering the dog drivers to follow. But the warmth and
promise of rest were too tempting, and they objected strenuously.
The Kid was conversant with their French patois, and followed it
They swore that the dogs were gone up; that Siwash and Babette would
have to be shot before the first mile was covered; that the rest were
almost as bad; and that it would be better for all hands to rest up.
'Lend me five dogs?' he asked, turning to Malemute Kid.
But the Kid shook his head.
'I'll sign a check on Captain Constantine for five thousand-
here's my papers- I'm authorized to draw at my own discretion.'
Again the silent refusal.
'Then I'll requisition them in the name of the Queen.'
Smiling incredulously, the Kid glanced at his well-stocked
arsenal, and the Englishman, realizing his impotency, turned for the
door. But the dog drivers still objecting, he whirled upon them
fiercely, calling them women and curs. The swart face of the older
half-breed flushed angrily as he drew himself up and promised in good,
round terms that he would travel his leader off his legs, and would
then be delighted to plant him in the snow.
The young officer- and it required his whole will- walked steadily
to the door, exhibiting a freshness he did not possess. But they all
knew and appreciated his proud effort; nor could he veil the twinges
of agony that shot across his face. Covered with frost, the dogs
were curled up in the snow, and it was almost impossible to get them
to their feet. The poor brutes whined under the stinging lash, for the
dog drivers were angry and cruel; nor till Babette, the leader, was
cut from the traces, could they break out the sled and get under way.
'A dirty scoundrel and a liar!' 'By gar! Him no good!' 'A thief!'
'Worse than an Indian!' It was evident that they were angry- first
at the way they had been deceived; and second at the outraged ethics
of the Northland, where honesty, above all, was man's prime jewel.
'An' we gave the cuss a hand, after knowin' what he'd did.' All eyes
turned accusingly upon Malemute Kid, who rose from the corner where he
had been making Babette comfortable, and silently emptied the bowl for
a final round of punch.
'It's a cold night, boys- a bitter cold night,' was the irrelevant
commencement of his defense. 'You've all traveled trail, and know what
that stands for. Don't jump a dog when he's down. You've only heard
one side. A whiter man than Jack Westondale never ate from the same
pot nor stretched blanket with you or me. Last fall he gave his
whole clean-up, forty thousand, to Joe Castrell, to buy in on
Dominion. Today he'd be a millionaire. But, while he stayed behind
at Circle City, taking care of his partner with the scurvy, what
does Castell do? Goes into McFarland's, jumps the limit, and drops the
whole sack. Found him dead in the snow the next day. And poor Jack
laying his plans to go out this winter to his wife and the boy he's
never seen. You'll notice he took exactly what his partner lost- forty
thousand. Well, he's gone out; and what are you going to do about it?'
The Kid glanced round the circle of his judges, noted the
softening of their faces, then raised his mug aloft. 'So a health to
the man on trail this night; may his grub hold out; may his dogs
keep their legs; may his matches never miss fire. God prosper him;
good luck go with him; and-'
'Confusion to the Mounted Police!' cried Bettles, to the crash of
the empty cups.
THE PRIESLTY PREROGATIVE.
THIS IS THE STORY OF A MAN who did not appreciate his wife; also, of
a woman who did him too great an honor when she gave herself to him.
Incidentally, it concerns a Jesuit priest who had never been known
to lie. He was an appurtenance, and a very necessary one, to the Yukon
country; but the presence of the other two was merely accidental. They
were specimens of the many strange waifs which ride the breast of a
gold rush or come tailing along behind.
Edwin Bentham and Grace Bentham were waifs; they were also tailing
along behind, for the Klondike rush of '97 had long since swept down
the great river and subsided into the famine-stricken city of
Dawson. When the Yukon shut up shop and went to sleep under a
three-foot ice-sheet, this peripatetic couple found themselves at
the Five Finger Rapids, with the City of Gold still a journey of
many sleeps to the north.
Many cattle had been butchered at this place in the fall of the
year, and the offal made a goodly heap. The three fellow-voyagers of
Edwin Bentham and wife gazed upon this deposit, did a little mental
arithmetic, caught a certain glimpse of a bonanza, and decided to
remain. And all winter they sold sacks of bones and frozen hides to
the famished dog-teams. It was a modest price they asked, a dollar a
pound, just as it came. Six months later, when the sun came back and
the Yukon awoke, they buckled on their heavy moneybelts and
journeyed back to the Southland, where they yet live and lie
mightily about the Klondike they never saw.
But Edwin Bentham- he was an indolent fellow, and had he not been
possessed of a wife, would have gladly joined issued in the dog-meat
speculation. As it was, she played upon his vanity, told him how great
and strong he was, how a man such as he certainly was could overcome
all obstacles and of a surety obtain the Golden Fleece. So he
squared his jaw, sold his share in the bones and hides for a sled
and one dog, and turned his snowshoes to the north. Needless to state,
Grace Bentham's snowshoes never allowed his tracks to grow cold.
Nay, ere their tribulations had seen three days, it was the man who
followed in the rear, and the woman who broke trail in advance. Of
course, if anybody hove in sight, the position was instantly reversed.
Thus did his manhood remain virgin to the travelers who passed like
ghosts on the silent trail. There are such men in this world.
How such a man and such a woman came to take each other for better
and for worse is unimportant to this narrative. These things are
familiar to us all, and those people who do them, or even question
them too closely, are apt to lose a beautiful faith which is known
as Eternal Fitness.
Edwin Bentham was a boy, thrust by mischance into a man's body,- a
boy who could complacently pluck a butterfly, wing from wing, or cower
in abject terror before a lean, nervy fellow, not half his size. He
was a selfish cry-baby, hidden behind a man's mustache and stature,
and glossed over with a skin-deep veneer of culture and
conventionality. Yes; he was a clubman and a society man,- the sort
that grace social functions and utter inanities with a charm and
unction which is indescribable; the sort that talk big, and cry over a
toothache; the sort that put more hell into a woman's life by marrying
her than can the most graceless libertine that ever browsed in
forbidden pastures. We meet these men every day, but we rarely know
them for what they are. Second to marrying them, the best way to get
this knowledge is to eat out of the same pot and crawl under the
same blanket with them for- well, say a week; no greater margin is
To see Grace Bentham, was to see a slender, girlish creature; to
know her, was to know a soul which dwarfed your own, yet retained
all the elements of the eternal feminine. This was the woman who urged
and encouraged her husband in his Northland quest, who broke trail for
him when no one was looking, and cried in secret over her weakling
So journeyed this strangely assorted couple down to old Fort
Selkirk, then through fivescore miles of dismal wilderness to Stuart
River. And when the short day left them, and the man lay down in the
snow and blubbered, it was the woman who lashed him to the sled, bit
her lips with the pain of her aching limbs, and helped the dog haul
him to Malemute Kid's cabin. Malemute Kid was not at home, but Meyers,
the German trader, cooked great moose-steaks and shook up a bed of
fresh pine boughs.
Lake, Langham, and Parker, were excited, and not unduly so when
the cause was taken into account.
'Oh, Sandy! Say, can you tell a porterhouse from a round? Come out
and lend us a hand, anyway!' This appeal emanated from the cache,
where Langham was vainly struggling with divers quarters of frozen
'Don't you budge from those dishes!' commanded Parker.
'I say, Sandy; there's a good fellow- just run down to the
Missouri Camp and borrow some cinnamon,' begged Lake.
'Oh! oh! hurry up! Why don't-' But the crash of meat and boxes, in
the cache, abruptly quenched this peremptory summons.
'Come now, Sandy; it won't take a minute to go down to
'You leave him alone,' interrupted Parker. 'How am I to mix the
biscuits if the table isn't cleared off?'
Sandy paused in indecision, till suddenly the fact that he was
Langham's 'man' dawned upon him. Then he apologetically threw down the
greasy dishcloth, and went to his master's rescue.
These promising scions of wealthy progenitors had come to the
Northland in search of laurels, with much money to burn, and a 'man'
apiece. Luckily for their souls, the other two men were up the White
River in search of a mythical quartz-ledge; so Sandy had to grin under
the responsibility of three healthy masters, each of whom was
possessed of peculiar cookery ideas. Twice that morning had a
disruption of the whole camp been imminent, only averted by immense
concessions from one or the other of these knights of the
chafing-dish. But at last their mutual creation, a really dainty
dinner, was completed. Then they sat down to a three-cornered game
of 'cut-throat,'- a proceeding which did away with all casus belli for
future hostilities, and permitted the victor to depart on a most
This fortune fell to Parker, who parted his hair in the middle,
put on his mittens and bearskin cap, and stepped over to Malemute
Kid's cabin. And when he returned, it was in the company of Grace
Bentham and Malemute Kid,- the former very sorry her husband could not
share with her their hospitality, for he had gone up to look at the
Henderson Creek mines, and the latter still a trifle stiff from
breaking trail down the Stuart River. Meyers had been asked, but had
declined, being deeply engrossed in an experiment of raising bread
Well, they could do without the husband; but a woman- why they had
not seen one all winter, and the presence of this one promised a new
era in their lives. They were college men and gentlemen, these three
young fellows, yearning for the flesh-pots they had been so long
denied. Probably Grace Bentham suffered from a similar hunger; at
least, it meant much to her, the first bright hour in many weeks of
But that wonderful first course, which claimed the versatile Lake
for its parent, had no sooner been served than there came a loud knock
at the door.
'Oh! Ah! Won't you come in, Mr. Bentham?' said Parker, who had
stepped to see who the newcomer might be.
'Is my wife here?' gruffly responded that worthy.
'Why, yes. We left word with Mr. Meyers.' Parker was exerting his
most dulcet tones, inwardly wondering what the deuce it all meant.
'Won't you come in? Expecting you at any moment, we reserved a
place. And just in time for the first course, too.'
'Come in, Edwin, dear,' chirped Grace Bentham from her seat at the
Parker naturally stood aside.
'I want my wife,' reiterated Bentham hoarsely, the intonation
savoring disagreeably of ownership.
Parker gasped, was within an ace of driving his fist into the face
of his boorish visitor, but held himself awkwardly in check. Everybody
rose. Lake lost his head and caught himself on the verge of saying,
'Must you go?'
Then began the farrago of leave-taking. 'So nice of you-' 'I am
awfully sorry-' 'By Jove! how things did brighten-' 'Really now, you-'
'Thank you ever so much-' 'Nice trip to Dawson-' etc., etc.
In this wise the lamb was helped into her jacket and led to the
slaughter. Then the door slammed, and they gazed woefully upon the
'Damn!' Langham had suffered disadvantages in his early training,
and his oaths were weak and monotonous. 'Damn!' he repeated, vaguely
conscious of the incompleteness and vainly struggling for a more
It is a clever woman who can fill out the many weak places in an
inefficient man, by her own indomitability, re-enforce his vacillating
nature, infuse her ambitious soul into his, and spur him on to great
achievements. And it is indeed a very clever and tactful woman who can
do all this, and do it so subtly that the man receives all the
credit and believes in his inmost heart that everything is due to
him and him alone.
This is what Grace Bentham proceeded to do. Arriving in Dawson
with a few pounds of flour and several letters of introduction, she at
once applied herself to the task of pushing her big baby to the
fore. It was she who melted the stony heart and wrung credit from
the rude barbarian who presided over the destiny of the P. C. Company;
yet it was Edwin Bentham to whom the concession was ostensibly
granted. It was she who dragged her baby up and down creeks, over
benches and divides, and on a dozen wild stampedes; yet everybody
remarked what an energetic fellow that Bentham was. It was she who
studied maps, and catechised miners, and hammered geography and
locations into his hollow head, till everybody marveled at his broad
grasp of the country and knowledge of its conditions. Of course,
they said the wife was a brick, and only a few wise ones appreciated
and pitied the brave little woman.
She did the work; he got the credit and reward. In the Northwest
Territory a married woman cannot stake or record a creek, bench, or
quartz claim; so Edwin Bentham went down to the Gold Commissioner
and filed on Bench Claim 23, second tier, of French Hill. And when
April came they were washing out a thousand dollars a day, with
many, many such days in prospect.
At the base of French Hill lay Eldorado Creek, and on a creek
claim stood the cabin of Clyde Wharton. At present he was not
washing out a diurnal thousand dollars; but his dumps grew, shift by
shift, and there would come a time when those dumps would pass through
his sluice-boxes, depositing in the riffles, in the course of half a
dozen days, several hundred thousand dollars. He often sat in that
cabin, smoked his pipe, and dreamed beautiful little dreams,- dreams
in which neither the dumps nor the half-ton of dust in the P. C.
Company's big safe, played a part.
And Grace Bentham, as she washed tin dishes in her hillside cabin,
often glanced down into Eldorado Creek, and dreamed,- not of dumps nor
dust, however. They met frequently, as the trail to the one claim
crossed the other, and there is much to talk about in the Northland
spring; but never once, by the light of an eye nor the slip of a
tongue, did they speak their hearts.
This is as it was at first. But one day Edwin Bentham was brutal.
All boys are thus; besides, being a French Hill king now, he began
to think a great deal of himself and to forget all he owed to his
wife. On this day, Wharton heard of it, and waylaid Grace Bentham, and
talked wildly. This made her very happy, though she would not
listen, and made him promise to not say such things again. Her hour
had not come.
But the sun swept back on its northern journey, the black of
midnight changed to the steely color of dawn, the snow slipped away,
the water dashed again over the glacial drift, and the wash-up
began. Day and night the yellow clay and scraped bedrock hurried
through the swift sluices, yielding up its ransom to the strong men
from the Southland. And in that time of tumult came Grace Bentham's
To all of us such hours at some time come,- that is, to us who are
not too phlegmatic. Some people are good, not from inherent love of
virtue, but from sheer laziness. But those of us who know weak moments
Edwin Bentham was weighing dust over the bar of the saloon at the
Forks- altogether too much of his dust went over that pine board- when
his wife came down the hill and slipped into Clyde Wharton's cabin.
Wharton was not expecting her, but that did not alter the case. And
much subsequent misery and idle waiting might have been avoided, had
not Father Roubeau seen this and turned aside from the main creek
'Hold on, Father Roubeau! Though I'm not of your faith, I respect
you; but you can't come in between this woman and me!'
'You know what you are doing?'
'Know! Were you God Almighty, ready to fling me into eternal fire,
I'd bank my will against yours in this matter.'
Wharton had placed Grace on a stool and stood belligerently before
'You sit down on that chair and keep quiet,' he continued,
addressing the Jesuit. 'I'll take my innings now. You can have yours
Father Roubeau bowed courteously and obeyed. He was an easy-going
man and had learned to bide his time. Wharton pulled a stool alongside
the woman's, smothering her hand in his.
'Then you do care for me, and will take me away?' Her face seemed to
reflect the peace of this man, against whom she might draw close for
'Dear, don't you remember what I said before? Of course I-'
'But how can you?- the wash-up?'
'Do you think that worries? Anyway, I'll give the job to Father
Roubeau, here. I can trust him to safely bank the dust with the
'To think of it!- I'll never see him again.'
'And to go- O, Clyde, I can't! I can't!'
'There, there; of course you can. just let me plan it.- You see,
as soon as we get a few traps together, we'll start, and-'
'Suppose he comes back?'
'I'll break every-'
'No, no! No fighting, Clyde! Promise me that.'
'All right! I'll just tell the men to throw him off the claim.
They've seen how he's treated you, and haven't much love for him.'
'You mustn't do that. You mustn't hurt him.'
'What then? Let him come right in here and take you away before my
'No-o,' she half whispered, stroking his hand softly.
'Then let me run it, and don't worry. I'll see he doesn't get
hurt. Precious lot he cared whether you got hurt or not! We won't go
back to Dawson. I'll send word down for a couple of the boys to outfit
and pole a boat up the Yukon. We'll cross the divide and raft down the
Indian River to meet them. Then-'
Her head was on his shoulder. Their voices sank to softer
cadences, each word a caress. The Jesuit fidgeted nervously.
'And then?' she repeated.
'Why we'll pole up, and up, and up, and portage the White Horse
Rapids and the Box Canon.'
'And the Sixty-Mile River; then the lakes, Chilcoot, Dyea, and
'But, dear, I can't pole a boat.'
'You little goose! I'll get Sitka Charley; he knows all the good
water and best camps, and he is the best traveler I ever met, if he is
an Indian. All you'll have to do, is to sit in the middle of the boat,
and sing songs, and play Cleopatra, and fight- no, we're in luck;
too early for mosquitoes.'
'And then, O my Antony?'
'And then a steamer, San Francisco, and the world! Never to come
back to this cursed hole again. Think of it! The world, and ours to
choose from! I'll sell out. Why, we're rich! The Waldworth Syndicate
will give me half a million for what's left in the ground, and I've
got twice as much in the dumps and with the P. C. Company. We'll go to
the Fair in Paris in 1900. We'll go to Jerusalem, if you say so. We'll
buy an Italian palace, and you can play Cleopatra to your heart's
content. No, you shall be Lucretia, Acte, or anybody your little heart
sees fit to become. But you mustn't, you really mustn't-'
'The wife of Caesar shall be above reproach.'
'Of course, but-'
'But I won't be your wife, will I, dear?'
'I didn't mean that.'
'But you'll love me just as much, and never even think- oh! I know
you'll be like other men; you'll grow tired, and- and-'
'How can you? I-'
'Yes, yes; I do promise.'
'You say it so easily, dear; but how do you know?- or I know? I have
so little to give, yet it is so much, and all I have. O, Clyde!
promise me you won't?'
'There, there! You musn't begin to doubt already. Till death do us
part, you know.'
'Think! I once said that to- to him, and now?'
'And now, little sweetheart, you're not to bother about such
things any more. Of course, I never, never will, and-'
And for the first time, lips trembled against lips. Father Roubeau
had been watching the main trail through the window, but could stand
the strain no longer. He cleared his throat and turned around.
'Your turn now, Father!' Wharton's face was flushed with the fire of
his first embrace. There was an exultant ring to his voice as he
abdicated in the other's favor. He had no doubt as to the result.
Neither had Grace, for a smile played about her mouth as she faced the
'My child,' he began, 'my heart bleeds for you. It is a pretty
dream, but it cannot be.'
'And why, Father? I have said yes.'
'You knew not what you did. You did not think of the oath you
took, before your God, to that man who is your husband. It remains for
me to make you realize the sanctity of such a pledge.'
'And if I do realize, and yet refuse?'
'Which God? My husband has a God which I care not to worship.
There must be many such.'
'Child! unsay those words! Ah! you do not mean them. I understand.
I, too, have had such moments.' For an instant he was back in his
native France, and a wistful, sad-eyed face came as a mist between him
and the woman before him.
'Then, Father, has my God forsaken me? I am not wicked above
women. My misery with him has been great. Why should it be greater?
Why shall I not grasp at happiness? I cannot, will not, go back to
'Rather is your God forsaken. Return. Throw your burden upon Him,
and the darkness shall be lifted. O my child,-'
'No; it is useless; I have made my bed and so shall I lie. I will go
on. And if God punishes me, I shall bear it somehow. You do not
understand. You are not a woman.'
'My mother was a woman.'
'And Christ was born of a woman.'
She did not answer. A silence fell. Wharton pulled his mustache
impatiently and kept an eye on the trail. Grace leaned her elbow on
the table, her face set with resolve. The smile had died away.
Father Roubeau shifted his ground.
'You have children?'
'At one time I wished- but now- no. And I am thankful.'
'And a mother?'
'She loves you?'
'Yes.' Her replies were whispers.
And a brother?- no matter, he is a man. But a sister?'
Her head drooped a quavering 'Yes.'
'Younger? Very much?'
'And you have thought well about this matter? About them? About your
mother? And your sister? She stands on the threshold of her woman's
life, and this wildness of yours may mean much to her. Could you go
before her, look upon her fresh young face, hold her hand in yours, or
touch your cheek to hers?'
To his words, her brain formed vivid images, till she cried out,
'Don't! don't!' and shrank away as do the wolf-dogs from the lash.
'But you must face all this; and better it is to do it now.'
In his eyes, which she could not see, there was a great
compassion, but his face, tense and quivering, showed no relenting.
She raised her head from the table, forced back the tears, struggled
'I shall go away. They will never see me, and come to forget me. I
shall be to them as dead. And- and I will go with Clyde- today.'
It seemed final. Wharton stepped forward, but the priest waved him
'You have wished for children?'
A silent 'Yes.'
'And prayed for them?'
'And have you thought, if you should have children?' Father
Roubeau's eyes rested for a moment on the man by the window.
A quick light shot across her face. Then the full import dawned upon
her. She raised her hand appealingly, but he went on.
'Can you picture an innocent babe in your arms,' A boy? The world is
not so hard upon a girl. Why, your very breast would turn to gall! And
you could be proud and happy of your boy, as you looked on other
'O, have pity! Hush!'
'Don't! don't! I will go back!' She was at his feet.
'A child to grow up with no thought of evil, and one day the world
to fling a tender name in his face. A child to look back and curse you
from whose loins he sprang!'
'O my God! my God!'
She groveled on the floor. The priest sighed and raised her to her
Wharton pressed forward, but she motioned him away.
'Don't come near me, Clyde! I am going back!' The tears were
coursing pitifully down her face, but she made no effort to wipe
'After all this? You cannot! I will not let you!'
'Don't touch me!' She shivered and drew back.
'I will! You are mine! Do you hear? You are mine!' Then he whirled
upon the priest. 'O what a fool I was to ever let you wag your silly
tongue! Thank your God you are not a common man, for I'd- but the
priestly prerogative must be exercised, eh? Well, you have exercised
it. Now get out of my house, or I'll forget who and what you are!'
Father Roubeau bowed, took her hand, and started for the door. But
Wharton cut them off.
'Grace! You said you loved me?'
'And you do now?'
'Say it again.'
'I do love you, Clyde; I do.'
'There, you priest!' he cried. 'You have heard it, and with those
words on her lips you would send her back to live a lie and a hell
with that man?'
But Father Roubeau whisked the woman into the inner room and
closed the door. 'No words!' he whispered to Wharton, as he struck a
casual posture on a stool. 'Remember, for her sake,' he added.
The room echoed to a rough knock at the door; the latch raised and
Edwin Bentham stepped in.
'Seen anything of my wife?' he asked as soon as salutations had been
Two heads nodded negatively.
'I saw her tracks down from the cabin,' he continued tentatively,
'and they broke off, just opposite here, on the main trail.'
His listeners looked bored.
'And I- I though-'
'She was here!' thundered Wharton.
The priest silenced him with a look. 'Did you see her tracks leading
up to this cabin, my son?' Wily Father Roubeau- he had taken good care
to obliterate them as he came up the same path an hour before.
'I didn't stop to look, I-' His eyes rested suspiciously on the door
to the other room, then interrogated the priest. The latter shook
his head; but the doubt seemed to linger.
Father Roubeau breathed a swift, silent prayer, and rose to his
feet. 'If you doubt me, why-' He made as though to open the door.
A priest could not lie. Edwin Bentham had heard this often, and
believed it. 'Of course not, Father,' he interposed hurriedly. 'I
was only wondering where my wife had gone, and thought maybe- I
guess she's up at Mrs. Stanton's on French Gulch. Nice weather,
isn't it? Heard the news? Flour's gone down to forty dollars a
hundred, and they say the che-cha-quas are flocking down the river
in droves. But I must be going; so good-by.'
The door slammed, and from the window they watched him take his
quest up French Gulch.
A few weeks later, just after the June high-water, two men shot a
canoe into mid-stream and made fast to a derelict pine. This tightened
the painter and jerked the frail craft along as would a tow-boat.
Father Roubeau had been directed to leave the Upper Country and return
to his swarthy children at Minook. The white men had come among
them, and they were devoting too little time to fishing, and too
much to a certain deity whose transient habitat was in countless black
bottles. Malemute Kid also had business in the Lower Country, so
they journeyed together.
But one, in all the Northland, knew the man Paul Roubeau, and that
man was Malemute Kid. Before him alone did the priest cast off the
sacerdotal garb and stand naked. And why not? These two men knew
each other. Had they not shared the last morsel of fish, the last
pinch of tobacco, the last and inmost thought, on the barren stretches
of Bering Sea, in the heartbreaking mazes of the Great Delta, on the
terrible winter journey from Point Barrow to the Porcupine?
Father Roubeau puffed heavily at his trail-worn pipe, and gazed on
the red-disked sun, poised somberly on the edge of the northern
horizon. Malemute Kid wound up his watch. It was midnight.
'Cheer up, old man!' The Kid was evidently gathering up a broken
thread. 'God surely will forgive such a lie. Let me give you the
word of a man who strikes a true note:
If She have spoken a word, remember thy lips are sealed,
And the brand of the Dog is upon him by whom is the secret
If there be trouble to Herward, and a lie of the blackest can
Lie, while thy lips can move or a man is alive to hear.'
Father Roubeau removed his pipe and reflected. 'The man speaks true,
but my soul is not vexed with that. The lie and the penance stand with
God; but- but-'
'What then? Your hands are clean.'
'Not so. Kid, I have thought much, and yet the thing remains. I
knew, and made her go back.'
The clear note of a robin rang out from the wooden bank, a partridge
drummed the call in the distance, a moose lunged noisily in the
eddy; but the twain smoked on in silence.
THE WISDOM OF THE TRAIL.
SITKA CHARLEY HAD ACHIEVED the impossible. Other Indians might
have known as much of the wisdom of the trail as he did; but he
alone knew the white man's wisdom, the honor of the trail, and the
law. But these things had not come to him in a day. The aboriginal
mind is slow to generalize, and many facts, repeated often, are
required to compass an understanding. Sitka Charley, from boyhood, had
been thrown continually with white men, and as a man he had elected to
cast his fortunes with them, expatriating himself, once and for all,
from his own people. Even then, respecting, almost venerating their
power, and pondering over it, he had yet to divine its secret essence-
the honor and the law. And it was only by the cumulative evidence of
years that he had finally come to understand. Being an alien, when
he did know, he knew it better than the white man himself; being an
Indian, he had achieved the impossible.
And of these things had been bred a certain contempt for his own
people- a contempt which he had made it a custom to conceal, but which
now burst forth in a polyglot whirlwind of curses upon the heads of
Kah-Chucte and Gowhee. They cringed before him like a brace of
snarling wolf dogs, too cowardly to spring, too wolfish to cover their
fangs. They were not handsome creatures. Neither was Sitka Charley.
All three were frightful-looking. There was no flesh to their faces;
their cheekbones were massed with hideous scabs which had cracked
and frozen alternately under the intense frost; while their eyes
burned luridly with the light which is born of desperation and hunger.
Men so situated, beyond the pale of the honor and the law, are not
to be trusted. Sitka Charley knew this; and this was why he had forced
them to abandon their rifles with the rest of the camp outfit ten days
before. His rifle and Captain Eppingwell's were the only ones that
'Come, get a fire started,' he commanded, drawing out the precious
matchbox with its attendant strips of dry birchbark.
The two Indians fell sullenly to the task of gathering dead branches
and underwood. They were weak and paused often, catching themselves,
in the act of stooping, with giddy motions, or staggering to the
center of operations with their knees shaking like castanets. After
each trip they rested for a moment, as though sick and deadly weary.
At times their eyes took on the patient stoicism of dumb suffering;
and again the ego seemed almost burst forth with its wild cry, 'I,
I, I want to exist!'- the dominant note of the whole living universe.
A light breath of air blew from the south, nipping the exposed
portions of their bodies and driving the frost, in needles of fire,
through fur and flesh to the bones. So, when the fire had grown
lusty and thawed a damp circle in the snow about it, Sitka Charley
forced his reluctant comrades to lend a hand in pitching a fly. It was
a primitive affair, merely a blanket stretched parallel with the
fire and to windward of it, at an angle of perhaps forty-five degrees.
This shut out the chill wind and threw the heat backward and down upon
those who were to huddle in its shelter. Then a layer of green
spruce boughs were spread, that their bodies might not come in contact
with the snow. When this task was completed, Kah-Chucte and Gowhee
proceeded to take care of their feet. Their icebound mocassins were
sadly worn by much travel, and the sharp ice of the river jams had cut
them to rags. Their Siwash socks were similarly conditioned, and
when these had been thawed and removed, the dead-white tips of the
toes, in the various stages of mortification, told their simple tale
of the trail.
Leaving the two to the drying of their footgear, Sitka Charley
turned back over the course he had come. He, too, had a mighty longing
to sit by the fire and tend his complaining flesh, but the honor and
the law forbade. He toiled painfully over the frozen field, each
step a protest, every muscle in revolt. Several times, where the
open water between the jams had recently crusted, he was forced to
miserably accelerate his movements as the fragile footing swayed and
threatened beneath him. In such places death was quick and easy; but
it was not his desire to endure no more.
His deepening anxiety vanished as two Indians dragged into view
round a bend in the river. They staggered and panted like men under
heavy burdens; yet the packs on their backs were a matter of but a few
pounds. He questioned them eagerly, and their replies seemed to
relieve him. He hurried on. Next came two white men, supporting
between them a woman. They also behaved as though drunken, and their
limbs shook with weakness. But the woman leaned lightly upon them,
choosing to carry herself forward with her own strength. At the
sight of her a flash of joy cast its fleeting light across Sitka
Charley's face. He cherished a very great regard for Mrs.
Eppingwell. He had seen many white women, but this was the first to
travel the trail with him. When Captain Eppingwell proposed the
hazardous undertaking and made him an offer for his services, he had
shaken his head gravely; for it was an unknown journey through the
dismal vastnesses of the Northland, and he knew it to be of the kind
that try to the uttermost the souls of men. But when he learned that
the captain's wife was to accompany them, he had refused flatly to
have anything further to do with it. Had it been a woman of his own
race he would have harbored no objections; but these women of the
Southland- no, no, they were too soft, too tender, for such
Sitka Charley did not know this kind of woman. Five minutes
before, he did not even dream of taking charge of the expedition;
but when she came to him with her wonderful smile and her straight
clean English, and talked to the point, without pleading or
persuading, he had incontinently yielded. Had there been a softness
and appeal to mercy in the eyes, a tremble to the voice, a taking
advantage of sex, he would have stiffened to steel; instead her
clear-searching eyes and clear-ringing voice, her utter frankness
and tacit assumption of equality, had robbed him of his reason. He
felt, then, that this was a new breed of woman; and ere they had
been trail mates for many days he knew why the sons of such women
mastered the land and the sea, and why the sons of his own womankind
could not prevail against them. Tender and soft! Day after day he
watched her, muscle-weary, exhausted, indomitable, and the words
beat in upon him in a perennial refrain. Tender and soft! He knew
her feet had been born to easy paths and sunny lands, strangers to the
moccasined pain of the North, unkissed by the chill lips of the frost,
and he watched and marveled at them twinkling ever through the weary
She had always a smile and a word of cheer, from which not even
the meanest packer was excluded. As the way grew darker she seemed
to stiffen and gather greater strength, and when Kah-Chucte and
Gowhee, who had bragged that they knew every landmark of the way as
a child did the skin bails of the tepee, acknowledged that they knew
not where they were, it was she who raised a forgiving voice amid
the curses of the men. She had sung to them that night till they
felt the weariness fall from them and were ready to face the future
with fresh hope. And when the food failed and each scant stint was
measured jealously, she it was who rebelled against the machinations
of her husband and Sitka Charley, and demanded and received a share
neither greater nor less than that of the others.
Sitka Charley was proud to know this woman. A new richness, a
greater breadth, had come into his life with her presence. Hitherto he
had been his own mentor, had turned to right or left at no man's beck;
he had moulded himself according to his own dictates, nourished his
manhood regardless of all save his own opinion. For the first time
he had felt a call from without for the best that was in him. just a
glance of appreciation from the clear-searching eyes, a word of thanks
from the clear-ringing voice, just a slight wreathing of the lips in
the wonderful smile, and he walked with the gods for hours to come. It
was a new stimulant to his manhood; for the first time he thrilled
with a conscious pride in his wisdom of the trail; and between the
twain they ever lifted the sinking hearts of their comrades.
The faces of the two men and the woman brightened as they saw him,
for after all he was the staff they leaned upon. But Sitka Charley,
rigid as was his wont, concealing pain and pleasure impartially
beneath an iron exterior, asked them the welfare of the rest, told the
distance to the fire, and continued on the back-trip. Next he met a
single Indian, unburdened, limping, lips compressed, and eyes set with
the pain of a foot in which the quick fought a losing battle with
the dead. All possible care had been taken of him, but in the last
extremity the weak and unfortunate must perish, and Sitka Charley
deemed his days to be few. The man could not keep up for long, so he
gave him rough cheering words. After that came two more Indians, to
whom he had allotted the task of helping along Joe, the third white
man of the party. They had deserted him. Sitka Charley saw at a glance
the lurking spring in their bodies, and knew they had at last cast off
his mastery. So he was not taken unawares when he ordered them back in
quest of their abandoned charge, and saw the gleam of the hunting
knives that they drew from the sheaths. A pitiful spectacle, three
weak men lifting their puny strength in the face of the mighty
vastness; but the two recoiled under the fierce rifle blows of the one
and returned like beaten dogs to the leash. Two hours later, with
Joe reeling between them and Sitka Charley bringing up the rear,
they came to the fire, where the remainder of the expedition
crouched in the shelter of the fly.
'A few words, my comrades, before we sleep,' Sitka Charley said
after they had devoured their slim rations of unleavened bread. He was
speaking to the Indians in their own tongue, having already given
the import to the whites. 'A few words, my comrades, for your own
good, that ye may yet perchance live. I shall give you the law; on his
own head by the death of him that breaks it. We have passed the
Hills of Silence, and we now travel the head reaches of the Stuart. It
may be one sleep, it may be several, it may be many sleeps, but in
time we shall come among the men of the Yukon, who have much grub.
It were well that we look to the law. Today Kah-Chucte and Gowhee,
whom I commanded to break trail, forgot they were men, and like
frightened children ran away. True, they forgot; so let us forget. But
hereafter, let them remember. If it should happen they do not...' He
touched his rifle carelessly, grimly. 'Tomorrow they shall carry the
flour and see that the white man Joe lies not down by the trail. The
cups of flour are counted; should so much as an ounce be wanting at
nightfall... Do ye understand? Today there were others that forgot.
Moose Head and Three Salmon left the white man Joe to lie in the snow.
Let them forget no more. With the light of day shall they go forth and
break trail. Ye have heard the law. Look well, lest ye break it.'
Sitka Charley found it beyond him to keep the line close up. From
Moose Head and Three Salmon, who broke trail in advance, to
Kah-Chucte, Gowhee, and Joe, it straggled out over a mile. Each
staggered, fell or rested as he saw fit. The line of march was a
progression through a chain of irregular halts. Each drew upon the
last remnant of his strength and stumbled onward till it was expended,
but in some miraculous way there was always another last remnant. Each
time a man fell it was with the firm belief that he would rise no
more; yet he did rise, and again and again. The flesh yielded, the
will conquered; but each triumph was a tragedy. The Indian with the
frozen foot, no longer erect, crawled forward on hand and knee. He
rarely rested, for he knew the penalty exacted by the frost. Even Mrs.
Eppingwell's lips were at last set in a stony smile, and her eyes,
seeing, saw not. Often she stopped, pressing a mittened hand to her
heart, gasping and dizzy.
Joe, the white man, had passed beyond the stage of suffering. He
no longer begged to be let alone, prayed to die; but was soothed and
content under the anodyne of delirium. Kah-Chucte and Gowhee dragged
him on roughly, venting upon him many a savage glance or blow. To them
it was the acme of injustice. Their hearts were bitter with hate,
heavy with fear. Why should they cumber their strength with his
weakness? To do so meant death; not to do so- and they remembered
the law of Sitka Charley, and the rifle.
Joe fell with greater frequency as the daylight waned, and so hard
was he to raise that they dropped farther and farther behind.
Sometimes all three pitched into the snow, so weak had the Indians
become. Yet on their backs was life, and strength, and warmth.
Within the flour sacks were all the potentialities of existence.
They could not but think of this, and it was not strange, that which
came to pass. They had fallen by the side of a great timber jam
where a thousand cords of firewood waited the match. Near by was an
air hole through the ice. Kah-Chucte looked on the wood and the water,
as did Gowhee; then they looked at each other. Never a word was
spoken. Gowhee struck a fire; Kah-Chucte filled a tin cup with water
and heated it; Joe babbled of things in another land, in a tongue they
did not understand. They mixed flour with the warm water till it was a
thin paste, and of this they drank many cups. They did not offer any
to Joe; but he did not mind. He did not mind anything, not even his
moccasins, which scorched and smoked among the coals.
A crystal mist of snow fell about them, softly, caressingly,
wrapping them in clinging robes of white. And their feet would have
yet trod many trails had not destiny brushed the clouds aside and
cleared the air. Nay, ten minutes' delay would have been salvation.
Sitka Charley, looking back, saw the pillared smoke of their fire, and
guessed. And he looked ahead at those who were faithful, and at Mrs.
'So, my good comrades, ye have again forgotten that you were men?
Good! Very good. There will be fewer bellies to feed.'
Sitka Charley retied the flour as he spoke, strapping the pack to
the one on his own back. He kicked Joe till the pain broke through the
poor devil's bliss and brought him doddering to his feet. Then he
shoved him out upon the trail and started him on his way. The two
Indians attempted to slip off.
'Hold, Gowhee! And thou, too, Kah-Chucte! Hath the flour given
such strength to thy legs that they may outrun the swift-winged
lead? Think not to cheat the law. Be men for the last time, and be
content that ye die full-stomached. Come, step up, back to the timber,
shoulder to shoulder. Come!'
The two men obeyed, quietly, without fear; for it is the future
which pressed upon the man, not the present.
'Thou, Gowhee, hast a wife and children and a deerskin lodge in
the Chipewyan. What is thy will in the matter?'
'Give thou her of the goods which are mine by the word of the
captain- the blankets, the beads, the tobacco, the box which makes
strange sounds after the manner of the white men. Say that I did die
on the trail, but say not how.'
'And thou, Kah-Chucte, who hast nor wife nor child?'
'Mine is a sister, the wife of the factor at Koshim. He beats her,
and she is not happy. Give thou her the goods which are mine by the
contract, and tell her it were well she go back to her own people.
Shouldst thou meet the man, and be so minded, it were a good deed that
he should die. He beats her, and she is afraid.'
'Are ye content to die by the law?'
'Then good-bye, my good comrades. May ye sit by the well-filled pot,
in warm lodges, ere the day is done.'
As he spoke he raised his rifle, and many echoes broke the
silence. Hardly had they died away when other rifles spoke in the
distance. Sitka Charley started. There had been more than one shot,
yet there was but one other rifle in the party. He gave a fleeting
glance at the men who lay so quietly, smiled viciously at the wisdom
of the trail, and hurried on to meet the men of the Yukon.
THE WIFE OF A KING.
ONCE, WHEN THE NORTHLAND was very young, the social and civic
virtues were remarkably alike for their paucity and their
simplicity. When the burden of domestic duties grew grievous, and
the fireside mood expanded to a constant protest against its bleak
loneliness, the adventurers from the Southland, in lieu of better,
paid the stipulated prices and took unto themselves native wives. It
was a foretaste of Paradise to the women, for it must be confessed
that the white rovers gave far better care and treatment of them
than did their Indian copartners. Of course, the white men
themselves were satisfied with such deals, as were also the Indian men
for that matter. Having sold their daughters and sisters for cotton
blankets and obsolete rifles and traded their warm furs for flimsy
calico and bad whisky, the sons of the soil promptly and cheerfully
succumbed to quick consumption and other swift diseases correlated
with the blessings of a superior civilization.
It was in these days of Arcadian simplicity that Cal Galbraith
journeyed through the land and fell sick on the Lower River. It was
a refreshing advent in the lives of the good Sisters of the Holy
Cross, who gave him shelter and medicine; though they little dreamed
of the hot elixir infused into his veins by the touch of their soft
hands and their gentle ministrations. Cal Galbraith, became troubled
with strange thoughts which clamored for attention till he laid eyes
on the Mission girl, Madeline. Yet he gave no sign, biding his time
patiently. He strengthened with the coming spring, and when the sun
rode the heavens in a golden circle, and the joy and throb of life was
in all the land, he gathered his still weak body together and
Now, Madeline, the Mission girl, was an orphan. Her white father had
failed to give a bald-faced grizzly the trail one day, and had died
quickly. Then her Indian mother, having no man to fill the winter
cache, had tried the hazardous experiment of waiting till the
salmon-run on fifty pounds of flour and half as many of bacon. After
that, the baby, Chook-ra, went to live with the good Sisters, and to
be thenceforth known by another name.
But Madeline still had kinsfolk, the nearest being a dissolute uncle
who outraged his vitals with inordinate quantities of the white
man's whisky. He strove daily to walk with the gods, and incidentally,
his feet sought shorter trails to the grave. When sober he suffered
exquisite torture. He had no conscience. To this ancient vagabond
Cal Galbraith duly presented himself, and they consumed many words and
much tobacco in the conversation that followed. Promises were also
made; and in the end the old heathen took a few pounds of dried salmon
and his birch-bark canoe, and paddled away to the Mission of the
It is not given the world to know what promises he made and what
lies he told- the Sisters never gossip; but when he returned, upon his
swarthy chest there was a brass crucifix, and in his canoe his niece
Madeline. That night there was a grand wedding and a potlach; so
that for two days to follow there was no fishing done by the
village. But in the morning Madeline shook the dust of the Lower River
from her moccasins, and with her husband, in a poling-boat, went to
live on the Upper River in a place known as the Lower Country. And
in the years which followed she was a good wife, sharing her husband's
hardships and cooking his food. And she kept him in straight trails,
till he learned to save his dust and to work mightily. In the end,
he struck it rich and built a cabin in Circle City; and his
happiness was such that men who came to visit him in his home-circle
became restless at the sight of it and envied him greatly.
But the Northland began to mature and social amenities to make their
appearance. Hitherto, the Southland had sent forth its sons; but it
now belched forth a new exodus- this time of its daughters. Sisters
and wives they were not; but they did not fail to put new ideas in the
heads of the men, and to elevate the tone of things in ways peculiarly
their own. No more did the squaws gather at the dances, go roaring
down the center in the good, old Virginia reels, or make merry with
jolly 'Dan Tucker.' They fell back on their natural stoicism and
uncomplainingly watched the rule of their white sisters from their
Then another exodus came over the mountains from the prolific
Southland. This time it was of women that became mighty in the land.
Their word was law; their law was steel. They frowned upon the
Indian wives, while the other women became mild and walked humbly.
There were cowards who became ashamed of their ancient covenants
with the daughters of the soil, who looked with a new distaste upon
their dark-skinned children; but there were also others- men- who
remained true and proud of their aboriginal vows. When it became the
fashion to divorce the native wives. Cal Galbraith retained his
manhood, and in so doing felt the heavy hand of the women who had come
last, knew least, but who ruled the land.
One day, the Upper Country, which lies far above Circle City, was
pronounced rich. Dog-teams carried the news to Salt Water; golden
argosies freighted the lure across the North Pacific; wires and cables
sang with the tidings; and the world heard for the first time of the
Klondike River and the Yukon Country.
Cal Galbraith had lived the years quietly. He had been a good
husband to Madeline, and she had blessed him. But somehow discontent
fell upon him; he felt vague yearnings for his own kind, for the
life he had been shut out from- a general sort of desire, which men
sometimes feel, to break out and taste the prime of living. Besides,
there drifted down the river wild rumors of the wonderful El Dorado,
glowing descriptions of the city of logs and tents, and ludicrous
accounts of the che-cha-quas who had rushed in and were stampeding the
whole country. Circle City was dead. The world had moved on up river
and become a new and most marvelous world.
Cal Galbraith grew restless on the edge of things, and wished to see
with his own eyes. So, after the wash-up, he weighed in a couple of
hundred pounds of dust on the Company's big scales, and took a draft
for the same on Dawson. Then he put Tom Dixon in charge of his
mines, kissed Madeline good-by, promised to be back before the first
mush-ice ran, and took passage on an up-river steamer.
Madeline waited, waited through all the three months of daylight.
She fed the dogs, gave much of her time to Young Cal, watched the
short summer fade away and the sun begin its long journey to the
south. And she prayed much in the manner of the Sisters of the Holy
Cross. The fall came, and with it there was mush-ice on the Yukon, and
Circle City kings returning to the winter's work at their mines, but
no Cal Galbraith. Tom Dixon received a letter, however, for his men
sledded up her winter's supply of dry pine. The Company received a
letter for its dog-teams filled her cache with their best
provisions, and she was told that her credit was limitless.
Through all the ages man has been held the chief instigator of the
woes of woman; but in this case the men held their tongues and swore
harshly at one of their number who was away, while the women failed
utterly to emulate them. So, without needless delay, Madeline heard
strange tales of Cal Galbraith's doings; also, of a certain Greek
dancer who played with men as children did with bubbles. Now
Madeline was an Indian woman, and further, she had no woman friend
to whom to go for wise counsel. She prayed and planned by turns, and
that night, being quick of resolve and action, she harnessed the dogs,
and with Young Cal securely lashed to the sled, stole away.
Though the Yukon still ran free, the eddy-ice was growing, and
each day saw the river dwindling to a slushy thread. Save him who
has done the like, no man may know what she endured in traveling a
hundred miles on the rim-ice; nor may they understand the toil and
hardship of breaking the two hundred miles of packed ice which
remained after the river froze for good. But Madeline was an Indian
woman, so she did these things, and one night there came a knock at
Malemute Kid's door. Thereat he fed a team of starving dogs, put a
healthy youngster to bed, and turned his attention to an exhausted
woman. He removed her ice-bound moccasins while he listened to her
tale, and stuck the point of his knife into her feet that he might see
how far they were frozen.
Despite his tremendous virility, Malemute Kid was possessed of a
softer, womanly element, which could win the confidence of a
snarling wolf-dog or draw confessions from the most wintry heart.
Nor did he seek them. Hearts opened to him as spontaneously as flowers
to the sun. Even the priest, Father Roubeau, had been known to confess
to him, while the men and women of the Northland were ever knocking at
his door- a door from which the latch-string hung always out. To
Madeline, he could do no wrong, make no mistake. She had known him
from the time she first cast her lot among the people of her
father's race; and to her half-barbaric mind it seemed that in him was
centered the wisdom of the ages, that between his vision and the
future there could be no intervening veil.
There were false ideals in the land. The social strictures of Dawson
were not synonymous with those of the previous era, and the swift
maturity of the Northland involved much wrong. Malemute Kid was
aware of this, and he had Cal Galbraith's measure accurately. He
knew a hasty word was the father of much evil; besides, he was
minded to teach a great lesson and bring shame upon the man. So
Stanley Prince, the young mining expert, was called into the
conference the following night as was also Lucky Jack Harrington and
his violin. That same night, Bettles, who owed a great debt to
Malemute Kid, harnessed up Cal Galbraith's dogs, lashed Cal Galbraith,
Junior, to the sled, and slipped away in the dark for Stuart River.
'So; one- two- three, one- two- three. Now reverse! No, no! Start up
again, Jack. See- this way.' Prince executed the movement as one
should who has led the cotillion.
'Now; one- two- three, one- two- three. Reverse! Ah! that's
better. Try it again. I say, you know, you mustn't look at your
feet. One- two- three, one- two- three. Shorter steps! You are not
hanging to the gee-pole just now. Try it over. There! that's the
way. One- two- three, one- two- three.'
Round and round went Prince and Madeline in an interminable waltz.
The table and stools had been shoved over against the wall to increase
the room. Malemute Kid sat on the bunk, chin to knees, greatly
interested. Jack Harrington sat beside him, scraping away on his
violin and following the dancers.
It was a unique situation, the undertaking of these three men with
the woman. The most pathetic part, perhaps, was the businesslike way
in which they went about it. No athlete was ever trained more
rigidly for a coming contest, nor wolf-dog for the harness, than was
she. But they had good material, for Madeline, unlike most women of
her race, in her childhood had escaped the carrying of heavy burdens
and the toil of the trail. Besides, she was a clean-limbed, willowy
creature, possessed of much grace which had not hitherto been
realized. It was this grace which the men strove to bring out and
knock into shape.
'Trouble with her she learned to dance all wrong,' Prince remarked
to the bunk after having deposited his breathless pupil on the
table. 'She's quick at picking up; yet I could do better had she never
danced a step. But say, Kid, I can't understand this.' Prince imitated
a peculiar movement of the shoulders and head- a weakness Madeline
suffered from in walking.
'Lucky for her she was raised in the Mission,' Malemute Kid
answered. 'Packing, you know,- the head-strap. Other Indian women have
it bad, but she didn't do any packing till after she married, and then
only at first. Saw hard lines with that husband of hers. They went
through the Forty-Mile famine together.'
'But can we break it?'
'Don't know. Perhaps long walks with her trainers will make the
riffle. Anyway, they'll take it out some, won't they, Madeline?'
The girl nodded assent. If Malemute Kid, who knew all things, said
so, why it was so. That was all there was about it.
She had come over to them, anxious to begin again. Harrington
surveyed her in quest of her points much in the same manner men
usually do horses. It certainly was not disappointing, for he asked
with sudden interest, 'What did that beggarly uncle of yours get
'One rifle, one blanket, twenty bottles of hooch. Rifle broke.'
She said this last scornfully, as though disgusted at how low her
maiden-value had been rated.
She spoke fair English, with many peculiarities of her husband's
speech, but there was still perceptible the Indian accent, the
traditional groping after strange gutturals. Even this her instructors
had taken in hand, and with no small success, too.
At the next intermission, Prince discovered a new predicament.
'I say, Kid,' he said, 'we're wrong, all wrong. She can't learn in
moccasins. Put her feet into slippers, and then onto that waxed floor-
Madeline raised a foot and regarded her shapeless house-moccasins
dubiously. In previous winters, both at Circle City and Forty-Mile,
she had danced many a night away with similar footgear, and there
had been nothing the matter. But now- well, if there was anything
wrong it was for Malemute Kid to know, not her.
But Malemute Kid did know, and he had a good eye for measures; so he
put on his cap and mittens and went down the hill to pay Mrs.
Eppingwell a call. Her husband, Clove Eppingwell, was prominent in the
community as one of the great Government officials. The Kid had
noted her slender little foot one night, at the Governor's Ball. And
as he also knew her to be as sensible as she was pretty, it was no
task to ask of her a certain small favor.
On his return, Madeline withdrew for a moment to the inner room.
When she reappeared Prince was startled.
'By Jove!' he gasped. 'Who'd a' thought it! The little witch! Why my
'Is an English girl,' interrupted Malemute Kid, 'with an English
foot. This girl comes of a small-footed race. Moccasins just broadened
her feet healthily, while she did not misshape them by running with
the dogs in her childhood.'
But this explanation failed utterly to allay Prince's admiration.
Harrington's commercial instinct was touched, and as he looked upon
the exquisitely turned foot and ankle, there ran through his mind
the sordid list- 'One rifle, one blanket, twenty bottles of hooch.'
Madeline was the wife of a king, a king whose yellow treasure
could buy outright a score of fashion's puppets; yet in all her life
her feet had known no gear save red-tanned moosehide. At first she had
looked in awe at the tiny white-satin slippers; but she had quickly
understood the admiration which shone, manlike, in the eyes of the
men. Her face flushed with pride. For the moment she was drunken
with her woman's loveliness; then she murmured, with increased
scorn, 'And one rifle, broke!'
So the training went on. Every day Malemute Kid led the girl out
on long walks devoted to the correction of her carriage and the
shortening of her stride. There was little likelihood of her
identity being discovered, for Cal Galbraith and the rest of the
Old-Timers were like lost children among the many strangers who had
rushed into the land. Besides, the frost of the North has a bitter
tongue, and the tender women of the South, to shield their cheeks from
its biting caresses, were prone to the use of canvas masks. With faces
obscured and bodies lost in squirrel-skin parkas, a mother and
daughter, meeting on trail, would pass as strangers.
The coaching progressed rapidly. At first it had been slow, but
later a sudden acceleration had manifested itself. This began from the
moment Madeline tried on the white-satin slippers, and in so doing
found herself. The pride of her renegade father, apart from any
natural self-esteem she might possess, at that instant received its
birth. Hitherto, she had deemed herself a woman of an alien breed,
of inferior stock, purchased by her lord's favor. Her husband had
seemed to her a god, who had lifted her, through no essential
virtues on her part, to his own godlike level. But she had never
forgotten, even when Young Cal was born, that she was not of his
people. As he had been a god, so had his womenkind been goddesses. She
might have contrasted herself with them, but she had never compared.
It might have been that familiarity bred contempt; however, be that as
it may, she had ultimately come to understand these roving white
men, and to weigh them. True, her mind was dark to deliberate
analysis, but she yet possessed her woman's clarity of vision in
such matters. On the night of the slippers she had measured the
bold, open admiration of her three man-friends; and for the first time
comparison had suggested itself. It was only a foot and an ankle, but-
but comparison could not, in the nature of things, cease at that
point. She judged herself by their standards till the divinity of
her white sisters was shattered. After all, they were only women,
and why should she not exalt herself to their midst? In doing these
things she learned where she lacked and with the knowledge of her
weakness came her strength. And so mightily did she strive that her
three trainers often marveled late into the night over the eternal
mystery of woman.
In this way Thanksgiving Night drew near. At irregular intervals
Bettles sent word down from Stuart River regarding the welfare of
Young Cal. The time of their return was approaching. More than once
a casual caller, hearing dance-music and the rhythmic pulse of feet,
entered, only to find Harrington scraping away and the other two
beating time or arguing noisily over a mooted step. Madeline was never
in evidence, having precipitately fled to the inner room.
On one of these nights Cal Galbraith dropped in. Encouraging news
had just come down from Stuart River, and Madeline had surpassed
herself- not in walk alone, and carriage and grace, but in womanly
roguishness. They had indulged in sharp repartee and she had
defended herself brilliantly; and then, yielding to the intoxication
of the moment, and of her own power, she had bullied, and mastered,
and wheedled, and patronized them with most astonishing success. And
instinctively, involuntarily, they had bowed, not to her beauty, her
wisdom, her wit, but to that indefinable something in woman to which
man yields yet cannot name. The room was dizzy with sheer delight as
she and Prince whirled through the last dance of the evening.
Harrington was throwing in inconceivable flourishes, while Malemute
Kid, utterly abandoned, had seized the broom and was executing mad
gyrations on his own account.
At this instant the door shook with a heavy rap-rap, and their quick
glances noted the lifting of the latch. But they had survived
similar situations before. Harrington never broke a note. Madeline
shot through the waiting door to the inner room. The broom went
hurtling under the bunk, and by the time Cal Galbraith and Louis Savoy
got their heads in, Malemute Kid and Prince were in each other's arms,
wildly schottisching down the room.
As a rule, Indian women do not make a practice of fainting on
provocation, but Madeline came as near to it as she ever had in her
life. For an hour she crouched on the floor, listening to the heavy
voices of the men rumbling up and down in mimic thunder. Like familiar
chords of childhood melodies, every intonation, every trick of her
husband's voice swept in upon her, fluttering her heart and
weakening her knees till she lay half-fainting against the door. It
was well she could neither see nor hear when he took his departure.
'When do you expect to go back to Circle City?' Malemute Kid asked
'Haven't thought much about it,' he replied. 'Don't think till after
the ice breaks.'
He flushed at the question, and there was a quick droop to his eyes.
Malemute Kid could have despised him for that, had he known men
less. As it was, his gorge rose against the wives and daughters who
had come into the land, and not satisfied with usurping the place of
the native women, had put unclean thoughts in the heads of the men and
made them ashamed.
'I guess she's all right,' the Circle City King answered hastily,
and in an apologetic manner. 'Tom Dixon's got charge of my
interests, you know, and he sees to it that she has everything she
Malemute Kid laid hand upon his arm and hushed him suddenly. They
had stepped without. Overhead, the aurora, a gorgeous wanton, flaunted
miracles of color; beneath lay the sleeping town. Far below, a
solitary dog gave tongue. The King again began to speak, but the Kid
pressed his hand for silence. The sound multiplied. Dog after dog took
up the strain till the full-throated chorus swayed the night. To him
who hears for the first time this weird song, is told the first and
greatest secret of the Northland; to him who has heard it often, it is
the solemn knell of lost endeavor. It is the plaint of tortured souls,
for in it is invested the heritage of the North, the suffering of
countless generations- the warning and the requiem to the world's
Cal Galbraith shivered slightly as it died away in half-caught sobs.
The Kid read his thoughts openly, and wandered back with him through
all the weary days of famine and disease; and with him was also the
patient Madeline, sharing his pains and perils, never doubting,
never complaining. His mind's retina vibrated to a score of
pictures, stern, clear-cut, and the hand of the past drew back with
heavy fingers on his heart. It was the psychological moment.
Malemute Kid was half-tempted to play his reserve card and win the
game; but the lesson was too mild as yet, and he let it pass. The next
instant they had gripped hands, and the King's beaded moccasins were
drawing protests from the outraged snow as he crunched down the hill.
Madeline in collapse was another woman to the mischievous creature
of an hour before, whose laughter had been so infectious and whose
heightened color and flashing eyes had made her teachers for the while
forget. Weak and nerveless, she sat in the chair just as she had
been dropped there by Prince and Harrington. Malemute Kid frowned.
This would never do. When the time of meeting her husband came to
hand, she must carry things off with high-handed imperiousness. It was
very necessary she should do it after the manner of white women,
else the victory would be no victory at all. So he talked to her,
sternly, without mincing of words, and initiated her into the
weaknesses of his own sex, till she came to understand what simpletons
men were after all, and why the word of their women was law.
A few days before Thanksgiving Night, Malemute Kid made another call
on Mrs. Eppingwell. She promptly overhauled her feminine fripperies,
paid a protracted visit to the dry-goods department of the P. C.
Company, and returned with the Kid to make Madeline's acquaintance.
After that came a period such as the cabin had never seen before,
and what with cutting, and fitting, and basting, and stitching, and
numerous other wonderful and unknowable things, the male
conspirators were more often banished the premises than not. At such
times the Opera House opened its double storm-doors to them. So
often did they put their heads together, and so deeply did they
drink to curious toasts, that the loungers scented unknown creeks of
incalculable richness, and it is known that several che-cha-quas and
at least one Old-Timer kept their stampeding packs stored behind the
bar, ready to hit the trail at a moment's notice.
Mrs. Eppingwell was a woman of capacity; so, when she turned
Madeline over to her trainers on Thanksgiving Night she was so
transformed that they were almost afraid of her. Prince wrapped a
Hudson Bay blanket about her with a mock reverence more real than
feigned, while Malemute Kid, whose arm she had taken, found it a
severe trial to resume his wonted mentorship. Harrington, with the
list of purchases still running through his head, dragged along in the
rear, nor opened his mouth once all the way down into the town. When
they came to the back door of the Opera House they took the blanket
from Madeline's shoulders and spread it on the snow. Slipping out of
Prince's moccasins, she stepped upon it in new satin slippers. The
masquerade was at its height. She hesitated, but they jerked open
the door and shoved her in. Then they ran around to come in by the
'Where is Freda?' the Old-Timers questioned, while the
che-cha-quas were equally energetic in asking who Freda was. The
ballroom buzzed with her name. It was on everybody's lips. Grizzled
'sour-dough boys,' day-laborers at the mines but proud of their
degree, either patronized the spruce-looking tenderfeet and lied
eloquently- the 'sour-dough boys' being specially created to toy
with truth- or gave them savage looks of indignation because of
their ignorance. Perhaps forty kings of the Upper and Lower
Countries were on the floor, each deeming himself hot on the trail and
sturdily backing his judgment with the yellow dust of the realm. An
assistant was sent to the man at the scales, upon whom had fallen
the burden of weighing up the sacks, while several of the gamblers,
with the rules of chance at their finger-ends, made up alluring
books on the field and favorites.
Which was Freda? Time and again the 'Greek Dancer' was thought to
have been discovered, but each discovery brought panic to the
betting ring and a frantic registering of new wagers by those who
wished to hedge. Malemute Kid took an interest in the hunt, his advent
being hailed uproariously by the revelers, who knew him to a man.
The Kid had a good eye for the trick of a step, and ear for the lilt
of a voice, and his private choice was a marvelous creature who
scintillated as the 'Aurora Borealis.' But the Greek dancer was too
subtle for even his penetration. The majority of the gold-hunters
seemed to have centered their verdict on the 'Russian Princess,' who
was the most graceful in the room, and hence could be no other than
During a quadrille a roar of satisfaction went up. She was
discovered. At previous balls, in the figure, 'all hands round,' Freda
had displayed an inimitable step and variation peculiarly her own.
As the figure was called, the 'Russian Princess' gave the unique
rhythm to limb and body. A chorus of I-told-you-so's shook the squared
roof-beams, when lo! it was noticed that 'Aurora Borealis' and another
masque, the 'Spirit of the Pole,' were performing the same trick
equally well. And when two twin 'Sun-Dogs' and a 'Frost Queen'
followed suit, a second assistant was dispatched to the aid of the man
at the scales.
Bettles came off trail in the midst of the excitement, descending
upon them in a hurricane of frost. His rimed brows turned to cataracts
as he whirled about; his mustache, still frozen, seemed gemmed with
diamonds and turned the light in varicolored rays; while the flying
feet slipped on the chunks of ice which rattled from his moccasins and
German socks. A Northland dance is quite an informal affair, the men
of the creeks and trails having lost whatever fastidiousness they
might have at one time possessed; and only in the high official
circles are conventions at all observed. Here, caste carried no
significance. Millionaires and paupers, dog-drivers and mounted
policemen joined hands with 'ladies in the center,' and swept around
the circle performing most remarkable capers. Primitive in their
pleasure, boisterous and rough, they displayed no rudeness, but rather
a crude chivalry more genuine than the most polished courtesy.
In his quest for the 'Greek Dancer,' Cal Galbraith managed to get
into the same set with the 'Russian Princess,' toward whom popular
suspicion had turned. But by the time he had guided her through one
dance, he was willing not only to stake his millions that she was
not Freda, but that he had had his arm about her waist before. When or
where he could not tell, but the puzzling sense of familiarity so
wrought upon him that he turned his attention to the discovery of
her identity. Malemute Kid might have aided him instead of
occasionally taking the Princess for a few turns and talking earnestly
to her in low tones. But it was Jack Harrington who paid the
'Russian Princess' the most assiduous court. Once he drew Cal
Galbraith aside and hazarded wild guesses as to who she was, and
explained to him that he was going in to win. That rankled the
Circle City King, for man is not by nature monogamic, and he forgot
both Madeline and Freda in the new quest.
It was soon noised about that the 'Russian Princess' was not Freda
Moloof. Interest deepened. Here was a fresh enigma. They knew Freda
though they could not find her, but here was somebody they had found
and did not know. Even the women could not place her, and they knew
every good dancer in the camp. Many took her for one of the official
clique, indulging in a silly escapade. Not a few asserted she would
disappear before the unmasking. Others were equally positive that
she was the woman-reporter of the Kansas City Star, come to write them
up at ninety dollars per column. And the men at the scales worked
At one o'clock every couple took to the floor. The unmasking began
amid laughter and delight, like that of carefree children. There was
no end of Oh's and Ah's as mask after mask was lifted. The
scintillating 'Aurora Borealis' became the brawny negress whose income
from washing the community's clothes ran at about five hundred a
month. The twin 'Sun-Dogs' discovered mustaches on their upper lips,
and were recognized as brother Fraction-Kings of El Dorado. In one
of the most prominent sets, and the slowest in uncovering, was Cal
Galbraith with the 'Spirit of the Pole.' Opposite him was Jack
Harrington and the 'Russian Princess.' The rest had discovered
themselves, yet the 'Greek Dancer' was still missing. All eyes were
upon the group. Cal Galbraith, in response to their cries, lifted
his partner's mask. Freda's wonderful face and brilliant eyes
flashed out upon them. A roar went up, to be squelched suddenly in the
new and absorbing mystery of the 'Russian Princess.' Her face was
still hidden, and Jack Harrington was struggling with her. The dancers
tittered on the tiptoes of expectancy. He crushed her dainty costume
roughly, and then- and then the revelers exploded. The joke was on
them. They had danced all night with a tabooed native woman.
But those that knew, and they were many, ceased abruptly, and a hush
fell upon the room. Cal Galbraith crossed over with great strides,
angrily, and spoke to Madeline in polyglot Chinook. But she retained
her composure, apparently oblivious to the fact that she was the
cynosure of all eyes, and answered him in English. She showed
neither fright nor anger, and Malemute Kid chuckled at her well-bred
equanimity. The King felt baffled, defeated; his common Siwash wife
had passed beyond him.
'Come!' he said finally. 'Come on home.'
'I beg pardon,' she replied; 'I have agreed to go to supper with Mr.
Harrington. Besides, there's no end of dances promised.'
Harrington extended his arm to lead her away. He evinced not the
slightest disinclination toward showing his back, but Malemute Kid had
by this time edged in closer. The Circle City King was stunned.
Twice his hand dropped to his belt, and twice the Kid gathered himself
to spring; but the retreating couple passed through the supper-room
door where canned oysters were spread at five dollars the plate. The
crowd sighed audibly, broke up into couples, and followed them.
Freda pouted and went in with Cal Galbraith; but she had a good
heart and a sure tongue, and she spoiled his oysters for him. What she
said is of no importance, but his face went red and white at
intervals, and he swore repeatedly and savagely at himself.
The supper-room was filled with a pandemonium of voices, which
ceased suddenly as Cal Galbraith stepped over to his wife's table.
Since the unmasking considerable weights of dust had been placed as to
the outcome. Everybody watched with breathless interest.
Harrington's blue eyes were steady, but under the overhanging
tablecloth a Smith & Wesson balanced on his knee. Madeline looked
up, casually, with little interest.
'May- may I have the next round dance with you?' the King stuttered.
The wife of the King glanced at her card and inclined her head.
AN ODYSSEY OF THE NORTH.
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
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
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 Boisbrules. 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
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?'
'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
'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
'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
'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
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
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 hard-packed 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
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
'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
'She laughed at me- so- with the hate in her eye; and she- would-
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-'
'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-'
'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
'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-' 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.
'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 kayacks 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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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
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
fire," she said, "till morning, and we will gather strength from
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
'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
'"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
'"Come!" I said, for I thought she wandered. "Eat of the
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
'"To Akatan," I answered, intent on the light to grow on her face
the thought. But it became like his, with a sneer to the lips, and
'"Yes,' she said; "we will go, hand in hand, to Akatan, you and
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!"
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
'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
'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
'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.