The Faith of Men
by Jack London
A RELIC OF THE PLIOCENE
I wash my hands of him at the start. I cannot father his tales,
nor will I be responsible for them. I make these preliminary
reservations, observe, as a guard upon my own integrity. I possess
a certain definite position in a small way, also a wife; and for
the good name of the community that honours my existence with its
approval, and for the sake of her posterity and mine, I cannot take
the chances I once did, nor foster probabilities with the careless
improvidence of youth. So, I repeat, I wash my hands of him, this
Nimrod, this mighty hunter, this homely, blue-eyed, freckle-faced
Having been honest to myself, and to whatever prospective olive
branches my wife may be pleased to tender me, I can now afford to
be generous. I shall not criticize the tales told me by Thomas
Stevens, and, further, I shall withhold my judgment. If it be
asked why, I can only add that judgment I have none. Long have I
pondered, weighed, and balanced, but never have my conclusions been
twice the same--forsooth! because Thomas Stevens is a greater man
than I. If he have told truths, well and good; if untruths, still
well and good. For who can prove? or who disprove? I eliminate
myself from the proposition, while those of little faith may do as
I have done--go find the same Thomas Stevens, and discuss to his
face the various matters which, if fortune serve, I shall relate.
As to where he may be found? The directions are simple: anywhere
between 53 north latitude and the Pole, on the one hand; and, on
the other, the likeliest hunting grounds that lie between the east
coast of Siberia and farthermost Labrador. That he is there,
somewhere, within that clearly defined territory, I pledge the word
of an honourable man whose expectations entail straight speaking
and right living.
Thomas Stevens may have toyed prodigiously with truth, but when we
first met (it were well to mark this point), he wandered into my
camp when I thought myself a thousand miles beyond the outermost
post of civilization. At the sight of his human face, the first in
weary months, I could have sprung forward and folded him in my arms
(and I am not by any means a demonstrative man); but to him his
visit seemed the most casual thing under the sun. He just strolled
into the light of my camp, passed the time of day after the custom
of men on beaten trails, threw my snowshoes the one way and a
couple of dogs the other, and so made room for himself by the fire.
Said he'd just dropped in to borrow a pinch of soda and to see if I
had any decent tobacco. He plucked forth an ancient pipe, loaded
it with painstaking care, and, without as much as by your leave,
whacked half the tobacco of my pouch into his. Yes, the stuff was
fairly good. He sighed with the contentment of the just, and
literally absorbed the smoke from the crisping yellow flakes, and
it did my smoker's heart good to behold him.
Hunter? Trapper? Prospector? He shrugged his shoulders No; just
sort of knocking round a bit. Had come up from the Great Slave
some time since, and was thinking of trapsing over into the Yukon
country. The factor of Koshim had spoken about the discoveries on
the Klondike, and he was of a mind to run over for a peep. I
noticed that he spoke of the Klondike in the archaic vernacular,
calling it the Reindeer River--a conceited custom that the Old
Timers employ against the CHECHAQUAS and all tenderfeet in general.
But he did it so naively and as such a matter of course, that there
was no sting, and I forgave him. He also had it in view, he said,
before he crossed the divide into the Yukon, to make a little run
up Fort o' Good Hope way.
Now Fort o' Good Hope is a far journey to the north, over and
beyond the Circle, in a place where the feet of few men have trod;
and when a nondescript ragamuffin comes in out of the night, from
nowhere in particular, to sit by one's fire and discourse on such
in terms of "trapsing" and "a little run," it is fair time to rouse
up and shake off the dream. Wherefore I looked about me; saw the
fly and, underneath, the pine boughs spread for the sleeping furs;
saw the grub sacks, the camera, the frosty breaths of the dogs
circling on the edge of the light; and, above, a great streamer of
the aurora, bridging the zenith from south-east to north-west. I
shivered. There is a magic in the Northland night, that steals in
on one like fevers from malarial marshes. You are clutched and
downed before you are aware. Then I looked to the snowshoes, lying
prone and crossed where he had flung them. Also I had an eye to my
tobacco pouch. Half, at least, of its goodly store had vamosed.
That settled it. Fancy had not tricked me after all.
Crazed with suffering, I thought, looking steadfastly at the man--
one of those wild stampeders, strayed far from his bearings and
wandering like a lost soul through great vastnesses and unknown
deeps. Oh, well, let his moods slip on, until, mayhap, he gathers
his tangled wits together. Who knows?--the mere sound of a fellow-
creature's voice may bring all straight again.
So I led him on in talk, and soon I marvelled, for he talked of
game and the ways thereof. He had killed the Siberian wolf of
westernmost Alaska, and the chamois in the secret Rockies. He
averred he knew the haunts where the last buffalo still roamed;
that he had hung on the flanks of the caribou when they ran by the
hundred thousand, and slept in the Great Barrens on the musk-ox's
And I shifted my judgment accordingly (the first revision, but by
no account the last), and deemed him a monumental effigy of truth.
Why it was I know not, but the spirit moved me to repeat a tale
told to me by a man who had dwelt in the land too long to know
better. It was of the great bear that hugs the steep slopes of St
Elias, never descending to the levels of the gentler inclines. Now
God so constituted this creature for its hillside habitat that the
legs of one side are all of a foot longer than those of the other.
This is mighty convenient, as will be reality admitted. So I
hunted this rare beast in my own name, told it in the first person,
present tense, painted the requisite locale, gave it the necessary
garnishings and touches of verisimilitude, and looked to see the
man stunned by the recital.
Not he. Had he doubted, I could have forgiven him. Had he
objected, denying the dangers of such a hunt by virtue of the
animal's inability to turn about and go the other way--had he done
this, I say, I could have taken him by the hand for the true
sportsman that he was. Not he. He sniffed, looked on me, and
sniffed again; then gave my tobacco due praise, thrust one foot
into my lap, and bade me examine the gear. It was a MUCLUC of the
Innuit pattern, sewed together with sinew threads, and devoid of
beads or furbelows. But it was the skin itself that was
remarkable. In that it was all of half an inch thick, it reminded
me of walrus-hide; but there the resemblance ceased, for no walrus
ever bore so marvellous a growth of hair. On the side and ankles
this hair was well-nigh worn away, what of friction with underbrush
and snow; but around the top and down the more sheltered back it
was coarse, dirty black, and very thick. I parted it with
difficulty and looked beneath for the fine fur that is common with
northern animals, but found it in this case to be absent. This,
however, was compensated for by the length. Indeed, the tufts that
had survived wear and tear measured all of seven or eight inches.
I looked up into the man's face, and he pulled his foot down and
asked, "Find hide like that on your St Elias bear?"
I shook my head. "Nor on any other creature of land or sea," I
answered candidly. The thickness of it, and the length of the
hair, puzzled me.
"That," he said, and said without the slightest hint of
impressiveness, "that came from a mammoth."
"Nonsense!" I exclaimed, for I could not forbear the protest of my
unbelief. "The mammoth, my dear sir, long ago vanished from the
earth. We know it once existed by the fossil remains that we have
unearthed, and by a frozen carcase that the Siberian sun saw fit to
melt from out the bosom of a glacier; but we also know that no
living specimen exists. Our explorers--"
At this word he broke in impatiently. "Your explorers? Pish! A
weakly breed. Let us hear no more of them. But tell me, O man,
what you may know of the mammoth and his ways."
Beyond contradiction, this was leading to a yarn; so I baited my
hook by ransacking my memory for whatever data I possessed on the
subject in hand. To begin with, I emphasized that the animal was
prehistoric, and marshalled all my facts in support of this. I
mentioned the Siberian sand-bars that abounded with ancient mammoth
bones; spoke of the large quantities of fossil ivory purchased from
the Innuits by the Alaska Commercial Company; and acknowledged
having myself mined six- and eight-foot tusks from the pay gravel
of the Klondike creeks. "All fossils," I concluded, "found in the
midst of debris deposited through countless ages."
"I remember when I was a kid," Thomas Stevens sniffed (he had a
most confounded way of sniffing), "that I saw a petrified water-
melon. Hence, though mistaken persons sometimes delude themselves
into thinking that they are really raising or eating them, there
are no such things as extant water-melons?"
"But the question of food," I objected, ignoring his point, which
was puerile and without bearing. "The soil must bring forth
vegetable life in lavish abundance to support so monstrous
creations. Nowhere in the North is the soil so prolific. Ergo,
the mammoth cannot exist."
"I pardon your ignorance concerning many matters of this Northland,
for you are a young man and have travelled little; but, at the same
time, I am inclined to agree with you on one thing. The mammoth no
longer exists. How do I know? I killed the last one with my own
Thus spake Nimrod, the mighty Hunter. I threw a stick of firewood
at the dogs and bade them quit their unholy howling, and waited.
Undoubtedly this liar of singular felicity would open his mouth and
requite me for my St. Elias bear.
"It was this way," he at last began, after the appropriate silence
had intervened. "I was in camp one day--"
"Where?" I interrupted.
He waved his hand vaguely in the direction of the north-east, where
stretched a TERRA INCOGNITA into which vastness few men have
strayed and fewer emerged. "I was in camp one day with Klooch.
Klooch was as handsome a little KAMOOKS as ever whined betwixt the
traces or shoved nose into a camp kettle. Her father was a full-
blood Malemute from Russian Pastilik on Bering Sea, and I bred her,
and with understanding, out of a clean-legged bitch of the Hudson
Bay stock. I tell you, O man, she was a corker combination. And
now, on this day I have in mind, she was brought to pup through a
pure wild wolf of the woods--grey, and long of limb, with big lungs
and no end of staying powers. Say! Was there ever the like? It
was a new breed of dog I had started, and I could look forward to
"As I have said, she was brought neatly to pup, and safely
delivered. I was squatting on my hams over the litter--seven
sturdy, blind little beggars--when from behind came a bray of
trumpets and crash of brass. There was a rush, like the wind-
squall that kicks the heels of the rain, and I was midway to my
feet when knocked flat on my face. At the same instant I heard
Klooch sigh, very much as a man does when you've planted your fist
in his belly. You can stake your sack I lay quiet, but I twisted
my head around and saw a huge bulk swaying above me. Then the blue
sky flashed into view and I got to my feet. A hairy mountain of
flesh was just disappearing in the underbrush on the edge of the
open. I caught a rear-end glimpse, with a stiff tail, as big in
girth as my body, standing out straight behind. The next second
only a tremendous hole remained in the thicket, though I could
still hear the sounds as of a tornado dying quickly away,
underbrush ripping and tearing, and trees snapping and crashing.
"I cast about for my rifle. It had been lying on the ground with
the muzzle against a log; but now the stock was smashed, the barrel
out of line, and the working-gear in a thousand bits. Then I
looked for the slut, and--and what do you suppose?"
I shook my head.
"May my soul burn in a thousand hells if there was anything left of
her! Klooch, the seven sturdy, blind little beggars--gone, all
gone. Where she had stretched was a slimy, bloody depression in
the soft earth, all of a yard in diameter, and around the edges a
few scattered hairs."
I measured three feet on the snow, threw about it a circle, and
glanced at Nimrod.
"The beast was thirty long and twenty high," he answered, "and its
tusks scaled over six times three feet. I couldn't believe,
myself, at the time, for all that it had just happened. But if my
senses had played me, there was the broken gun and the hole in the
brush. And there was--or, rather, there was not--Klooch and the
pups. O man, it makes me hot all over now when I think of it
Klooch! Another Eve! The mother of a new race! And a rampaging,
ranting, old bull mammoth, like a second flood, wiping them, root
and branch, off the face of the earth! Do you wonder that the
blood-soaked earth cried out to high God? Or that I grabbed the
hand-axe and took the trail?"
"The hand-axe?" I exclaimed, startled out of myself by the picture.
"The hand-axe, and a big bull mammoth, thirty feet long, twenty
Nimrod joined me in my merriment, chuckling gleefully. "Wouldn't
it kill you?" he cried. "Wasn't it a beaver's dream? Many's the
time I've laughed about it since, but at the time it was no
laughing matter, I was that danged mad, what of the gun and Klooch.
Think of it, O man! A brand-new, unclassified, uncopyrighted
breed, and wiped out before ever it opened its eyes or took out its
intention papers! Well, so be it. Life's full of disappointments,
and rightly so. Meat is best after a famine, and a bed soft after
a hard trail.
"As I was saying, I took out after the beast with the hand-axe, and
hung to its heels down the valley; but when he circled back toward
the head, I was left winded at the lower end. Speaking of grub, I
might as well stop long enough to explain a couple of points. Up
thereabouts, in the midst of the mountains, is an almighty curious
formation. There is no end of little valleys, each like the other
much as peas in a pod, and all neatly tucked away with straight,
rocky walls rising on all sides. And at the lower ends are always
small openings where the drainage or glaciers must have broken out.
The only way in is through these mouths, and they are all small,
and some smaller than others. As to grub--you've slushed around on
the rain-soaked islands of the Alaskan coast down Sitka way, most
likely, seeing as you're a traveller. And you know how stuff grows
there--big, and juicy, and jungly. Well, that's the way it was
with those valleys. Thick, rich soil, with ferns and grasses and
such things in patches higher than your head. Rain three days out
of four during the summer months; and food in them for a thousand
mammoths, to say nothing of small game for man.
"But to get back. Down at the lower end of the valley I got winded
and gave over. I began to speculate, for when my wind left me my
dander got hotter and hotter, and I knew I'd never know peace of
mind till I dined on roasted mammoth-foot. And I knew, also, that
that stood for SKOOKUM MAMOOK PUKAPUK--excuse Chinook, I mean there
was a big fight coming. Now the mouth of my valley was very
narrow, and the walls steep. High up on one side was one of those
big pivot rocks, or balancing rocks, as some call them, weighing
all of a couple of hundred tons. Just the thing. I hit back for
camp, keeping an eye open so the bull couldn't slip past, and got
my ammunition. It wasn't worth anything with the rifle smashed; so
I opened the shells, planted the powder under the rock, and touched
it off with slow fuse. Wasn't much of a charge, but the old
boulder tilted up lazily and dropped down into place, with just
space enough to let the creek drain nicely. Now I had him."
"But how did you have him?" I queried. "Who ever heard of a man
killing a mammoth with a hand-axe? And, for that matter, with
"O man, have I not told you I was mad?" Nimrod replied, with a
slight manifestation of sensitiveness. "Mad clean through, what of
Klooch and the gun. Also, was I not a hunter? And was this not
new and most unusual game? A hand-axe? Pish! I did not need it.
Listen, and you shall hear of a hunt, such as might have happened
in the youth of the world when cavemen rounded up the kill with
hand-axe of stone. Such would have served me as well. Now is it
not a fact that man can outwalk the dog or horse? That he can wear
them out with the intelligence of his endurance?"
The light broke in on me, and I bade him continue.
"My valley was perhaps five miles around. The mouth was closed.
There was no way to get out. A timid beast was that bull mammoth,
and I had him at my mercy. I got on his heels again hollered like
a fiend, pelted him with cobbles, and raced him around the valley
three times before I knocked off for supper. Don't you see? A
race-course! A man and a mammoth! A hippodrome, with sun, moon,
and stars to referee!
"It took me two months to do it, but I did it. And that's no
beaver dream. Round and round I ran him, me travelling on the
inner circle, eating jerked meat and salmon berries on the run, and
snatching winks of sleep between. Of course, he'd get desperate at
times and turn. Then I'd head for soft ground where the creek
spread out, and lay anathema upon him and his ancestry, and dare
him to come on. But he was too wise to bog in a mud puddle. Once
he pinned me in against the walls, and I crawled back into a deep
crevice and waited. Whenever he felt for me with his trunk, I'd
belt him with the hand-axe till he pulled out, shrieking fit to
split my ear drums, he was that mad. He knew he had me and didn't
have me, and it near drove him wild. But he was no man's fool. He
knew he was safe as long as I stayed in the crevice, and he made up
his mind to keep me there. And he was dead right, only he hadn't
figured on the commissary. There was neither grub nor water around
that spot, so on the face of it he couldn't keep up the siege.
He'd stand before the opening for hours, keeping an eye on me and
flapping mosquitoes away with his big blanket ears. Then the
thirst would come on him and he'd ramp round and roar till the
earth shook, calling me every name he could lay tongue to. This
was to frighten me, of course; and when he thought I was
sufficiently impressed, he'd back away softly and try to make a
sneak for the creek. Sometimes I'd let him get almost there--only
a couple of hundred yards away it was--when out I'd pop and back
he'd come, lumbering along like the old landslide he was. After
I'd done this a few times, and he'd figured it out, he changed his
tactics. Grasped the time element, you see. Without a word of
warning, away he'd go, tearing for the water like mad, scheming to
get there and back before I ran away. Finally, after cursing me
most horribly, he raised the siege and deliberately stalked off to
"That was the only time he penned me,--three days of it,--but after
that the hippodrome never stopped. Round, and round, and round,
like a six days' go-as-I-please, for he never pleased. My clothes
went to rags and tatters, but I never stopped to mend, till at last
I ran naked as a son of earth, with nothing but the old hand-axe in
one hand and a cobble in the other. In fact, I never stopped, save
for peeps of sleep in the crannies and ledges of the cliffs. As
for the bull, he got perceptibly thinner and thinner--must have
lost several tons at least--and as nervous as a schoolmarm on the
wrong side of matrimony. When I'd come up with him and yell, or
lain him with a rock at long range, he'd jump like a skittish colt
and tremble all over. Then he'd pull out on the run, tail and
trunk waving stiff, head over one shoulder and wicked eyes blazing,
and the way he'd swear at me was something dreadful. A most
immoral beast he was, a murderer, and a blasphemer.
"But towards the end he quit all this, and fell to whimpering and
crying like a baby. His spirit broke and he became a quivering
jelly-mountain of misery. He'd get attacks of palpitation of the
heart, and stagger around like a drunken man, and fall down and
bark his shins. And then he'd cry, but always on the run. O man,
the gods themselves would have wept with him, and you yourself or
any other man. It was pitiful, and there was so I much of it, but
I only hardened my heart and hit up the pace. At last I wore him
clean out, and he lay down, broken-winded, broken-hearted, hungry,
and thirsty. When I found he wouldn't budge, I hamstrung him, and
spent the better part of the day wading into him with the hand-axe,
he a-sniffing and sobbing till I worked in far enough to shut him
off. Thirty feet long he was, and twenty high, and a man could
sling a hammock between his tusks and sleep comfortably. Barring
the fact that I had run most of the juices out of him, he was fair
eating, and his four feet, alone, roasted whole, would have lasted
a man a twelvemonth. I spent the winter there myself."
"And where is this valley?" I asked
He waved his hand in the direction of the north-east, and said:
"Your tobacco is very good. I carry a fair share of it in my
pouch, but I shall carry the recollection of it until I die. In
token of my appreciation, and in return for the moccasins on your
own feet, I will present to you these muclucs. They commemorate
Klooch and the seven blind little beggars. They are also souvenirs
of an unparalleled event in history, namely, the destruction of the
oldest breed of animal on earth, and the youngest. And their chief
virtue lies in that they will never wear out."
Having effected the exchange, he knocked the ashes from his pipe,
gripped my hand good-night, and wandered off through the snow.
Concerning this tale, for which I have already disclaimed
responsibility, I would recommend those of little faith to make a
visit to the Smithsonian Institute. If they bring the requisite
credentials and do not come in vacation time, they will undoubtedly
gain an audience with Professor Dolvidson. The muclucs are in his
possession, and he will verify, not the manner in which they were
obtained, but the material of which they are composed. When he
states that they are made from the skin of the mammoth, the
scientific world accepts his verdict. What more would you have?
A HYPERBOREAN BREW
[The story of a scheming white man among the strange people who
live on the rim of the Arctic sea]
Thomas Stevens's veracity may have been indeterminate as X, and his
imagination the imagination of ordinary men increased to the nth
power, but this, at least, must be said: never did he deliver
himself of word nor deed that could be branded as a lie outright. .
. He may have played with probability, and verged on the extremest
edge of possibility, but in his tales the machinery never creaked.
That he knew the Northland like a book, not a soul can deny. That
he was a great traveller, and had set foot on countless unknown
trails, many evidences affirm. Outside of my own personal
knowledge, I knew men that had met him everywhere, but principally
on the confines of Nowhere. There was Johnson, the ex-Hudson Bay
Company factor, who had housed him in a Labrador factory until his
dogs rested up a bit, and he was able to strike out again. There
was McMahon, agent for the Alaska Commercial Company, who had run
across him in Dutch Harbour, and later on, among the outlying
islands of the Aleutian group. It was indisputable that he had
guided one of the earlier United States surveys, and history states
positively that in a similar capacity he served the Western Union
when it attempted to put through its trans-Alaskan and Siberian
telegraph to Europe. Further, there was Joe Lamson, the whaling
captain, who, when ice-bound off the mouth of the Mackenzie, had
had him come aboard after tobacco. This last touch proves Thomas
Stevens's identity conclusively. His quest for tobacco was
perennial and untiring. Ere we became fairly acquainted, I learned
to greet him with one hand, and pass the pouch with the other. But
the night I met him in John O'Brien's Dawson saloon, his head was
wreathed in a nimbus of fifty-cent cigar smoke, and instead of my
pouch he demanded my sack. We were standing by a faro table, and
forthwith he tossed it upon the "high card." "Fifty," he said, and
the game-keeper nodded. The "high card" turned, and he handed back
my sack, called for a "tab," and drew me over to the scales, where
the weigher nonchalantly cashed him out fifty dollars in dust.
"And now we'll drink," he said; and later, at the bar, when he
lowered his glass: "Reminds me of a little brew I had up Tattarat
way. No, you have no knowledge of the place, nor is it down on the
charts. But it's up by the rim of the Arctic Sea, not so many
hundred miles from the American line, and all of half a thousand
God-forsaken souls live there, giving and taking in marriage, and
starving and dying in-between-whiles. Explorers have overlooked
them, and you will not find them in the census of 1890. A whale-
ship was pinched there once, but the men, who had made shore over
the ice, pulled out for the south and were never heard of.
"But it was a great brew we had, Moosu and I," he added a moment
later, with just the slightest suspicion of a sigh.
I knew there were big deeds and wild doings behind that sigh, so I
haled him into a corner, between a roulette outfit and a poker
layout, and waited for his tongue to thaw.
"Had one objection to Moosu," he began, cocking his head
meditatively--"one objection, and only one. He was an Indian from
over on the edge of the Chippewyan country, but the trouble was,
he'd picked up a smattering of the Scriptures. Been campmate a
season with a renegade French Canadian who'd studied for the
church. Moosu'd never seen applied Christianity, and his head was
crammed with miracles, battles, and dispensations, and what not he
didn't understand. Otherwise he was a good sort, and a handy man
on trail or over a fire.
"We'd had a hard time together and were badly knocked out when we
plumped upon Tattarat. Lost outfits and dogs crossing a divide in
a fall blizzard, and our bellies clove to our backs and our clothes
were in rags when we crawled into the village. They weren't much
surprised at seeing us--because of the whalemen--and gave us the
meanest shack in the village to live in, and the worst of their
leavings to live on. What struck me at the time as strange was
that they left us strictly alone. But Moosu explained it.
"'Shaman SICK TUMTUM,' he said, meaning the shaman, or medicine
man, was jealous, and had advised the people to have nothing to do
with us. From the little he'd seen of the whalemen, he'd learned
that mine was a stronger race, and a wiser; so he'd only behaved as
shamans have always behaved the world over. And before I get done,
you'll see how near right he was.
"'These people have a law,' said Mosu: 'whoso eats of meat must
hunt. We be awkward, you and I, O master, in the weapons of this
country; nor can we string bows nor fling spears after the manner
approved. Wherefore the shaman and Tummasook, who is chief, have
put their heads together, and it has been decreed that we work with
the women and children in dragging in the meat and tending the
wants of the hunters.'
"'And this is very wrong,' I made to answer; 'for we be better men,
Moosu, than these people who walk in darkness. Further, we should
rest and grow strong, for the way south is long, and on that trail
the weak cannot prosper.'"
"'But we have nothing,' he objected, looking about him at the
rotten timbers of the igloo, the stench of the ancient walrus meat
that had been our supper disgusting his nostrils. 'And on this
fare we cannot thrive. We have nothing save the bottle of "pain-
killer," which will not fill emptiness, so we must bend to the yoke
of the unbeliever and become hewers of wood and drawers of water.
And there be good things in this place, the which we may not have.
Ah, master, never has my nose lied to me, and I have followed it to
secret caches and among the fur-bales of the igloos. Good
provender did these people extort from the poor whalemen, and this
provender has wandered into few hands. The woman Ipsukuk, who
dwelleth in the far end of the village next she igloo of the chief,
possesseth much flour and sugar, and even have my eyes told me of
molasses smeared on her face. And in the igloo of Tummasook, the
chief, there be tea--have I not seen the old pig guzzling? And the
shaman owneth a caddy of "Star" and two buckets of prime smoking.
And what have we? Nothing! Nothing!'
"But I was stunned by the word he brought of the tobacco, and made
"And Moosu, what of his own desire, broke silence: 'And there be
Tukeliketa, daughter of a big hunter and wealthy man. A likely
girl. Indeed, a very nice girl.'
"I figured hard during the night while Moosu snored, for I could
not bear the thought of the tobacco so near which I could not
smoke. True, as he had said, we had nothing. But the way became
clear to me, and in the morning I said to him: 'Go thou cunningly
abroad, after thy fashion, and procure me some sort of bone,
crooked like a goose-neck, and hollow. Also, walk humbly, but have
eyes awake to the lay of pots and pans and cooking contrivances.
And remember, mine is the white man's wisdom, and do what I have
bid you, with sureness and despatch.'
"While he was away I placed the whale-oil cooking lamp in the
middle of the igloo, and moved the mangy sleeping furs back that I
might have room. Then I took apart his gun and put the barrel by
handy, and afterwards braided many wicks from the cotton that the
women gather wild in the summer. When he came back, it was with
the bone I had commanded, and with news that in the igloo of
Tummasook there was a five-gallon kerosene can and a big copper
kettle. So I said he had done well and we would tarry through the
day. And when midnight was near I made harangue to him.
"'This chief, this Tummasook, hath a copper kettle, likewise a
kerosene can.' I put a rock, smooth and wave-washed, in Moosu's
hand. 'The camp is hushed and the stars are winking. Go thou,
creep into the chief's igloo softly, and smite him thus upon the
belly, and hard. And let the meat and good grub of the days to
come put strength into thine arm. There will be uproar and outcry,
and the village will come hot afoot. But be thou unafraid. Veil
thy movements and lose thy form in the obscurity of the night and
the confusion of men. And when the woman Ipsukuk is anigh thee,--
she who smeareth her face with molasses,--do thou smite her
likewise, and whosoever else that possesseth flour and cometh to
thy hand. Then do thou lift thy voice in pain and double up with
clasped hands, and make outcry in token that thou, too, hast felt
the visitation of the night. And in this way shall we achieve
honour and great possessions, and the caddy of "Star" and the prime
smoking, and thy Tukeliketa, who is a likely maiden.'
"When he had departed on this errand, I bided patiently in the
shack, and the tobacco seemed very near. Then there was a cry of
affright in the night, that became an uproar and assailed the sky.
I seized the 'pain-killer' and ran forth. There was much noise,
and a wailing among the women, and fear sat heavily on all.
Tummasook and the woman Ipsukuk rolled on the ground in pain, and
with them there were divers others, also Moosu. I thrust aside
those that cluttered the way of my feet, and put the mouth of the
bottle to Moosu's lips. And straightway he became well and ceased
his howling. Whereat there was a great clamour for the bottle from
the others so stricken. But I made harangue, and ere they tasted
and were made well I had mulcted Tummasook of his copper kettle and
kerosene can, and the woman Ipsukuk of her sugar and molasses, and
the other sick ones of goodly measures of flour. The shaman
glowered wickedly at the people around my knees, though he poorly
concealed the wonder that lay beneath. But I held my head high,
and Moosu groaned beneath the loot as he followed my heels to the
"There I set to work. In Tummasook's copper kettle I mixed three
quarts of wheat flour with five of molasses, and to this I added of
water twenty quarts. Then I placed the kettle near the lamp, that
it might sour in the warmth and grow strong. Moosu understood, and
said my wisdom passed understanding and was greater than Solomon's,
who he had heard was a wise man of old time. The kerosene can I
set over the lamp, and to its nose I affixed a snout, and into the
snout the bone that was like a gooseneck. I sent Moosu without to
pound ice, while I connected the barrel of his gun with the
gooseneck, and midway on the barrel I piled the ice he had pounded.
And at the far end of the gun-barrel, beyond the pan of ice, I
placed a small iron pot. When the brew was strong enough (and it
was two days ere it could stand on its own legs), I filled the
kerosene can with it, and lighted the wicks I had braided.
"Now that all was ready, I spoke to Moosu. 'Go forth,' I said, 'to
the chief men of the village, and give them greeting, and bid them
come into my igloo and sleep the night away with me and the gods.'
"The brew was singing merrily when they began shoving aside the
skin flap and crawling in, and I was heaping cracked ice on the
gun-barrel. Out of the priming hole at the far end, drip, drip,
drip into the iron pot fell the liquor--HOOCH, you know. But
they'd never seen the like, and giggled nervously when I made
harangue about its virtues. As I talked I noted the jealousy in
the shaman's eye, so when I had done, I placed him side by side
with Tummasook and the woman Ipsukuk. Then I gave them to drink,
and their eyes watered and their stomachs warmed, till from being
afraid they reached greedily for more; and when I had them well
started, I turned to the others. Tummasook made a brag about how
he had once killed a polar bear, and in the vigour of his pantomime
nearly slew his mother's brother. But nobody heeded. The woman
Ipsukuk fell to weeping for a son lost long years agone in the ice,
and the shaman made incantation and prophecy. So it went, and
before morning they were all on the floor, sleeping soundly with
"The story tells itself, does it not? The news of the magic potion
spread. It was too marvellous for utterance. Tongues could tell
but a tithe of the miracles it performed. It eased pain, gave
surcease to sorrow, brought back old memories, dead faces, and
forgotten dreams. It was a fire that ate through all the blood,
and, burning, burned not. It stoutened the heart, stiffened the
back, and made men more than men. It revealed the future, and gave
visions and prophecy. It brimmed with wisdom and unfolded secrets.
There was no end of the things it could do, and soon there was a
clamouring on all hands to sleep with the gods. They brought their
warmest furs, their strongest dogs, their best meats; but I sold
the hooch with discretion, and only those were favoured that
brought flour and molasses and sugar. And such stores poured in
that I set Moosu to build a cache to hold them, for there was soon
no space in the igloo. Ere three days had passed Tummasook had
gone bankrupt. The shaman, who was never more than half drunk
after the first night, watched me closely and hung on for the
better part of the week. But before ten days were gone, even the
woman Ipsukuk exhausted her provisions, and went home weak and
"But Moosu complained. 'O master,' he said, 'we have laid by great
wealth in molasses and sugar and flour, but our shack is yet mean,
our clothes thin, and our sleeping furs mangy. There is a call of
the belly for meat the stench of which offends not the stars, and
for tea such as Tummasook guzzles, and there is a great yearning
for the tobacco of Neewak, who is shaman and who plans to destroy
us. I have flour until I am sick, and sugar and molasses without
stint, yet is the heart of Moosu sore and his bed empty.'
"'Peace!' I answered, 'thou art weak of understanding and a fool.
Walk softly and wait, and we will grasp it all. But grasp now, and
we grasp little, and in the end it will be nothing. Thou art a
child in the way of the white man's wisdom. Hold thy tongue and
watch, and I will show you the way my brothers do overseas, and, so
doing, gather to themselves the riches of the earth. It is what is
called "business," and what dost thou know about business?'
"But the next day he came in breathless. 'O master, a strange
thing happeneth in the igloo of Neewak, the shaman; wherefore we
are lost, and we have neither worn the warm furs nor tasted the
good tobacco, what of your madness for the molasses and flour. Go
thou and witness whilst I watch by the brew.'
"So I went to the igloo of Neewak. And behold, he had made his own
still, fashioned cunningly after mine. And as he beheld me he
could ill conceal his triumph. For he was a man of parts, and his
sleep with the gods when in my igloo had not been sound.
"But I was not disturbed, for I knew what I knew, and when I
returned to my own igloo, I descanted to Moosu, and said: 'Happily
the property right obtains amongst this people, who otherwise have
been blessed with but few of the institutions of men. And because
of this respect for property shall you and I wax fat, and, further,
we shall introduce amongst them new institutions that other peoples
have worked out through great travail and suffering.'
"But Moosu understood dimly, till the shaman came forth, with eyes
flashing and a threatening note in his voice, and demanded to trade
with me. 'For look you,' he cried, 'there be of flour and molasses
none in all the village. The like have you gathered with a shrewd
hand from my people, who have slept with your gods and who now have
nothing save large heads, and weak knees, and a thirst for cold
water that they cannot quench. This is not good, and my voice has
power among them; so it were well that we trade, you and I, even as
you have traded with them, for molasses and flour.'
"And I made answer: 'This be good talk, and wisdom abideth in thy
mouth. We will trade. For this much of flour and molasses givest
thou me the caddy of "Star" and the two buckets of smoking.'
"And Moosu groaned, and when the trade was made and the shaman
departed, he upbraided me: 'Now, because of thy madness are we,
indeed, lost! Neewak maketh hooch on his own account, and when the
time is ripe, he will command the people to drink of no hooch but
his hooch. And in this way are we undone, and our goods worthless,
and our igloo mean, and the bed of Moosu cold and empty!'
"And I answered: 'By the body of the wolf, say I, thou art a fool,
and thy father before thee, and thy children after thee, down to
the last generation. Thy wisdom is worse than no wisdom and thine
eyes blinded to business, of which I have spoken and whereof thou
knowest nothing. Go, thou son of a thousand fools, and drink of
the hooch that Neewak brews in his igloo, and thank thy gods that
thou hast a white man's wisdom to make soft the bed thou liest in.
Go! and when thou hast drunken, return with the taste still on thy
lips, that I may know.'
"And two days after, Neewak sent greeting and invitation to his
igloo. Moosu went, but I sat alone, with the song of the still in
my ears, and the air thick with the shaman's tobacco; for trade was
slack that night, and no one dropped in but Angeit, a young hunter
that had faith in me. Later, Moosu came back, his speech thick
with chuckling and his eyes wrinkling with laughter.
"'Thou art a great man,' he said. 'Thou art a great man, O master,
and because of thy greatness thou wilt not condemn Moosu, thy
servant, who ofttimes doubts and cannot be made to understand.'
"'And wherefore now?' I demanded. 'Hast thou drunk overmuch? And
are they sleeping sound in the igloo of Neewak, the shaman?'
"'Nay, they are angered and sore of body, and Chief Tummasook has
thrust his thumbs in the throat of Neewak, and sworn by the bones
of his ancestors to look upon his face no more. For behold! I went
to the igloo, and the brew simmered and bubbled, and the steam
journeyed through the gooseneck even as thy steam, and even as
thine it became water where it met the ice, and dropped into the
pot at the far end. And Neewak gave us to drink, and lo, it was
not like thine, for there was no bite to the tongue nor tingling to
the eyeballs, and of a truth it was water. So we drank, and we
drank overmuch; yet did we sit with cold hearts and solemn. And
Neewak was perplexed and a cloud came on his brow. And he took
Tummasook and Ipsukuk alone of all the company and set them apart,
and bade them drink and drink and drink. And they drank and drank
and drank, and yet sat solemn and cold, till Tummasook arose in
wrath and demanded back the furs and the tea he had paid. And
Ipsukuk raised her voice, thin and angry. And the company demanded
back what they had given, and there was a great commotion.'
"'Does the son of a dog deem me a whale?' demanded Tummasook,
shoving back the skin flap and standing erect, his face black and
his brows angry. 'Wherefore I am filled, like a fish-bladder, to
bursting, till I can scarce walk, what of the weight within me.
Lalah! I have drunken as never before, yet are my eyes clear, my
knees strong, my hand steady.'
"'The shaman cannot send us to sleep with the gods,' the people
complained, stringing in and joining us, 'and only in thy igloo may
the thing be done.'
"So I laughed to myself as I passed the hooch around and the guests
made merry. For in the flour I had traded to Neewak I had mixed
much soda that I had got from the woman Ipsukuk. So how could his
brew ferment when the soda kept it sweet? Or his hooch be hooch
when it would not sour?
"After that our wealth flowed in without let or hindrance. Furs we
had without number, and the fancy-work of the women, all of the
chief's tea, and no end of meat. One day Moosu retold for my
benefit, and sadly mangled, the story of Joseph in Egypt, but from
it I got an idea, and soon I had half the tribe at work building me
great meat caches. And of all they hunted I got the lion's share
and stored it away. Nor was Moosu idle. He made himself a pack of
cards from birch bark, and taught Neewak the way to play seven-up.
He also inveigled the father of Tukeliketa into the game. And one
day he married the maiden, and the next day he moved into the
shaman's house, which was the finest in the village. The fall of
Neewak was complete, for he lost all his possessions, his walrus-
hide drums, his incantation tools--everything. And in the end he
became a hewer of wood and drawer of water at the beck and call of
Moosu. And Moosu--he set himself up as shaman, or high priest, and
out of his garbled Scripture created new gods and made incantation
before strange altars.
"And I was well pleased, for I thought it good that church and
state go hand in hand, and I had certain plans of my own concerning
the state. Events were shaping as I had foreseen. Good temper and
smiling faces had vanished from the village. The people were
morose and sullen. There were quarrels and fighting, and things
were in an uproar night and day. Moosu's cards were duplicated and
the hunters fell to gambling among themselves. Tummasook beat his
wife horribly, and his mother's brother objected and smote him with
a tusk of walrus till he cried aloud in the night and was shamed
before the people. Also, amid such diversions no hunting was done,
and famine fell upon the land. The nights were long and dark, and
without meat no hooch could be bought; so they murmured against the
chief. This I had played for, and when they were well and hungry,
I summoned the whole village, made a great harangue, posed as
patriarch, and fed the famishing. Moosu made harangue likewise,
and because of this and the thing I had done I was made chief.
Moosu, who had the ear of God and decreed his judgments, anointed
me with whale blubber, and right blubberly he did it, not
understanding the ceremony. And between us we interpreted to the
people the new theory of the divine right of kings. There was
hooch galore, and meat and feastings, and they took kindly to the
"So you see, O man, I have sat in the high places, and worn the
purple, and ruled populations. And I might yet be a king had the
tobacco held out, or had Moosu been more fool and less knave. For
he cast eyes upon Esanetuk, eldest daughter to Tummasook, and I
"'O brother,' he explained, 'thou hast seen fit to speak of
introducing new institutions amongst this people, and I have
listened to thy words and gained wisdom thereby. Thou rulest by
the God-given right, and by the God-given right I marry.'
"I noted that he 'brothered' me, and was angry and put my foot
down. But he fell back upon the people and made incantations for
three days, in which all hands joined; and then, speaking with the
voice of God, he decreed polygamy by divine fiat. But he was
shrewd, for he limited the number of wives by a property
qualification, and because of which he, above all men, was favoured
by his wealth. Nor could I fail to admire, though it was plain
that power had turned his head, and he would not be satisfied till
all the power and all the wealth rested in his own hands. So he
became swollen with pride, forgot it was I that had placed him
there, and made preparations to destroy me.
"But it was interesting, for the beggar was working out in his own
way an evolution of primitive society. Now I, by virtue of the
hooch monopoly, drew a revenue in which I no longer permitted him
to share. So he meditated for a while and evolved a system of
ecclesiastical taxation. He laid tithes upon the people, harangued
about fat firstlings and such things, and twisted whatever twisted
texts he had ever heard to serve his purpose. Even this I bore in
silence, but when he instituted what may be likened to a graduated
income-tax, I rebelled, and blindly, for this was what he worked
for. Thereat, he appealed to the people, and they, envious of my
great wealth and well taxed themselves, upheld him. 'Why should we
pay,' they asked, 'and not you? Does not the voice of God speak
through the lips of Moosu, the shaman?' So I yielded. But at the
same time I raised the price of hooch, and lo, he was not a whit
behind me in raising my taxes.
"Then there was open war. I made a play for Neewak and Tummasook,
because of the traditionary rights they possessed; but Moosu won
out by creating a priesthood and giving them both high office. The
problem of authority presented itself to him, and he worked it out
as it has often been worked before. There was my mistake. I
should have been made shaman, and he chief; but I saw it too late,
and in the clash of spiritual and temporal power I was bound to be
worsted. A great controversy waged, but it quickly became one-
sided. The people remembered that he had anointed me, and it was
clear to them that the source of my authority lay, not in me, but
in Moosu. Only a few faithful ones clung to me, chief among whom
Angeit was; while he headed the popular party and set whispers
afloat that I had it in mind to overthrow him and set up my own
gods, which were most unrighteous gods. And in this the clever
rascal had anticipated me, for it was just what I had intended--
forsake my kingship, you see, and fight spiritual with spiritual.
So he frightened the people with the iniquities of my peculiar
gods--especially the one he named 'Biz-e-Nass'--and nipped the
scheme in the bud.
"Now, it happened that Kluktu, youngest daughter to Tummasook, had
caught my fancy, and I likewise hers. So I made overtures, but the
ex-chief refused bluntly--after I had paid the purchase price--and
informed me that she was set aside for Moosu. This was too much,
and I was half of a mind to go to his igloo and slay him with my
naked hands; but I recollected that the tobacco was near gone, and
went home laughing. The next day he made incantation, and
distorted the miracle of the loaves and fishes till it became
prophecy, and I, reading between the lines, saw that it was aimed
at the wealth of meat stored in my caches. The people also read
between the lines, and, as he did not urge them to go on the hunt,
they remained at home, and few caribou or bear were brought in.
"But I had plans of my own, seeing that not only the tobacco but
the flour and molasses were near gone. And further, I felt it my
duty to prove the white man's wisdom and bring sore distress to
Moosu, who had waxed high-stomached, what of the power I had given
him. So that night I went to my meat caches and toiled mightily,
and it was noted next day that all the dogs of the village were
lazy. No one suspected, and I toiled thus every night, and the
dogs grew fat and fatter, and the people lean and leaner. They
grumbled and demanded the fulfilment of prophecy, but Moosu
restrained them, waiting for their hunger to grow yet greater. Nor
did he dream, to the very last, of the trick I had been playing on
the empty caches.
"When all was ready, I sent Angeit, and the faithful ones whom I
had fed privily, through the village to call assembly. And the
tribe gathered on a great space of beaten snow before my door, with
the meat caches towering stilt-legged in the rear. Moosu came
also, standing on the inner edge of the circle opposite me,
confident that I had some scheme afoot, and prepared at the first
break to down me. But I arose, giving him salutation before all
"'O Moosu, thou blessed of God,' I began, 'doubtless thou hast
wondered in that I have called this convocation together; and
doubtless, because of my many foolishnesses, art thou prepared for
rash sayings and rash doings. Not so. It has been said, that
those the gods would destroy they first make mad. And I have been
indeed mad. I have crossed thy will, and scoffed at thy authority,
and done divers evil and wanton things. Wherefore, last night a
vision was vouchsafed me, and I have seen the wickedness of my
ways. And thou stoodst forth like a shining star, with brows
aflame, and I knew in mine own heart thy greatness. I saw all
things clearly. I knew that thou didst command the ear of God, and
that when you spoke he listened. And I remembered that whatever of
the good deeds that I had done, I had done through the grace of
God, and the grace of Moosu.
"'Yes, my children,' I cried, turning to the people, 'whatever
right I have done, and whatever good I have done, have been because
of the counsel of Moosu. When I listened to him, affairs
prospered; when I closed my ears, and acted according to my folly,
things came to folly. By his advice it was that I laid my store of
meat, and in time of darkness fed the famishing. By his grace it
was that I was made chief. And what have I done with my chiefship?
Let me tell you. I have done nothing. My head was turned with
power, and I deemed myself greater than Moosu, and, behold I have
come to grief. My rule has been unwise, and the gods are angered.
Lo, ye are pinched with famine, and the mothers are dry-breasted,
and the little babies cry through the long nights. Nor do I, who
have hardened my heart against Moosu, know what shall be done, nor
in what manner of way grub shall be had.'
"At this there was nodding and laughing, and the people put their
heads together, and I knew they whispered of the loaves and fishes.
I went on hastily. 'So I was made aware of my foolishness and of
Moosu's wisdom; of my own unfitness and of Moosu's fitness. And
because of this, being no longer mad, I make acknowledgment and
rectify evil. I did cast unrighteous eyes upon Kluktu, and lo, she
was sealed to Moosu. Yet is she mine, for did I not pay to
Tummasook the goods of purchase? But I am well unworthy of her,
and she shall go from the igloo of her father to the igloo of
Moosu. Can the moon shine in the sunshine? And further, Tummasook
shall keep the goods of purchase, and she be a free gift to Moosu,
whom God hath ordained her rightful lord.
"'And further yet, because I have used my wealth unwisely, and to
oppress ye, O my children, do I make gifts of the kerosene can to
Moosu, and the gooseneck, and the gun-barrel, and the copper
kettle. Therefore, I can gather to me no more possessions, and
when ye are athirst for hooch, he will quench ye and without
robbery. For he is a great man, and God speaketh through his lips.
"'And yet further, my heart is softened, and I have repented me of
my madness. I, who am a fool and a son of fools; I, who am the
slave of the bad god Biz-e-Nass; I, who see thy empty bellies and
knew not wherewith to fill them--why shall I be chief, and sit
above thee, and rule to thine own destruction? Why should I do
this, which is not good? But Moosu, who is shaman, and who is wise
above men, is so made that he can rule with a soft hand and justly.
And because of the things I have related do I make abdication and
give my chiefship to Moosu, who alone knoweth how ye may be fed in
this day when there be no meat in the land.'
"At this there was a great clapping of hands, and the people cried,
'KLOSHE! KLOSHE!' which means 'good.' I had seen the wonder-worry
in Moosu's eyes; for he could not understand, and was fearful of my
white man's wisdom. I had met his wishes all along the line, and
even anticipated some; and standing there, self-shorn of all my
power, he knew the time did not favour to stir the people against
"Before they could disperse I made announcement that while the
still went to Moosu, whatever hooch I possessed went to the people.
Moosu tried to protest at this, for never had we permitted more
than a handful to be drunk at a time; but they cried, 'KLOSHE!
KLOSHE!' and made festival before my door. And while they waxed
uproarious without, as the liquor went to their heads, I held
council within with Angeit and the faithful ones. I set them the
tasks they were to do, and put into their mouths the words they
were to say. Then I slipped away to a place back in the woods
where I had two sleds, well loaded, with teams of dogs that were
not overfed. Spring was at hand, you see, and there was a crust to
the snow; so it was the best time to take the way south. Moreover,
the tobacco was gone. There I waited, for I had nothing to fear.
Did they bestir themselves on my trail, their dogs were too fat,
and themselves too lean, to overtake me; also, I deemed their
bestirring would be of an order for which I had made due
"First came a faithful one, running, and after him another. 'O
master,' the first cried, breathless, 'there be great confusion in
the village, and no man knoweth his own mind, and they be of many
minds. Everybody hath drunken overmuch, and some be stringing
bows, and some be quarrelling one with another. Never was there
such a trouble.'
"And the second one: 'And I did as thou biddest, O master,
whispering shrewd words in thirsty ears, and raising memories of
the things that were of old time. The woman Ipsukuk waileth her
poverty and the wealth that no longer is hers. And Tummasook
thinketh himself once again chief, and the people are hungry and
rage up and down.'
"And a third one: 'And Neewak hath overthrown the altars of Moosu,
and maketh incantation before the time-honoured and ancient gods.
And all the people remember the wealth that ran down their throats,
and which they possess no more. And first, Esanetuk, who be SICK
TUMTUM, fought with Kluktu, and there was much noise. And next,
being daughters of the one mother, did they fight with Tukeliketa.
And after that did they three fall upon Moosu, like wind-squalls,
from every hand, till he ran forth from the igloo, and the people
mocked him. For a man who cannot command his womankind is a fool.'
"Then came Angeit: 'Great trouble hath befallen Moosu, O master,
for I have whispered to advantage, till the people came to Moosu,
saying they were hungry and demanding the fulfilment of prophecy.
And there was a loud shout of "Itlwillie! Itlwillie!" (Meat.) So
he cried peace to his womenfolk, who were overwrought with anger
and with hooch, and led the tribe even to thy meat caches. And he
bade the men open them and be fed. And lo, the caches were empty.
There was no meat. They stood without sound, the people being
frightened, and in the silence I lifted my voice. "O Moosu, where
is the meat? That there was meat we know. Did we not hunt it and
drag it in from the hunt? And it were a lie to say one man hath
eaten it; yet have we seen nor hide nor hair. Where is the meat, O
Moosu? Thou hast the ear of God. Where is the meat?"
"'And the people cried, "Thou hast the ear of God. Where is the
meat?" And they put their heads together and were afraid. Then I
went among them, speaking fearsomely of the unknown things, of the
dead that come and go like shadows and do evil deeds, till they
cried aloud in terror and gathered all together, like little
children afraid of the dark. Neewak made harangue, laying this
evil that had come upon them at the door of Moosu. When he had
done, there was a furious commotion, and they took spears in their
hands, and tusks of walrus, and clubs, and stones from the beach.
But Moosu ran away home, and because he had not drunken of hooch
they could not catch him, and fell one over another and made haste
slowly. Even now they do howl without his igloo, and his woman-
folk within, and what of the noise, he cannot make himself heard.'
"'O Angeit, thou hast done well,' I commanded. 'Go now, taking
this empty sled and the lean dogs, and ride fast to the igloo of
Moosu; and before the people, who are drunken, are aware, throw him
quick upon the sled and bring him to me.'
"I waited and gave good advice to the faithful ones till Angeit
returned. Moosu was on the sled, and I saw by the fingermarks on
his face that his womankind had done well by him. But he tumbled
off and fell in the snow at my feet, crying: 'O master, thou wilt
forgive Moosu, thy servant, for the wrong things he has done! Thou
art a great man! Surely wilt thou forgive!'
"'Call me "brother," Moosu--call me "brother,"' I chided, lifting
him to his feet with the toe of my moccasin. 'Wilt thou evermore
"'Yea, master,' he whimpered, 'evermore.'
"'Then dispose thy body, so, across the sled,' I shifted the
dogwhip to my right hand. 'And direct thy face downwards, toward
the snow. And make haste, for we journey south this day.' And
when he was well fixed I laid the lash upon him, reciting, at every
stroke, the wrongs he had done me. 'This for thy disobedience in
general--whack! And this for thy disobedience in particular--
whack! whack! And this for Esanetuk! And this for thy soul's
welfare! And this for the grace of thy authority! And this for
Kluktu! And this for thy rights God-given! And this for thy fat
firstlings! And this and this for thy income-tax and thy loaves
and fishes! And this for all thy disobedience! And this, finally,
that thou mayest henceforth walk softly and with understanding!
Now cease thy sniffling and get up! Gird on thy snowshoes and go
to the fore and break trail for the dogs. CHOOK! MUSH-ON! Git!'"
Thomas Stevens smiled quietly to himself as he lighted his fifth
cigar and sent curling smoke-rings ceilingward.
"But how about the people of Tattarat?" I asked. "Kind of rough,
wasn't it, to leave them flat with famine?"
And he answered, laughing, between two smoke-rings, "Were there not
the fat dogs?"
THE FAITH OF MEN
"Tell you what we'll do; we'll shake for it."
"That suits me," said the second man, turning, as he spoke, to the
Indian that was mending snow-shoes in a corner of the cabin.
"Here, you Billebedam, take a run down to Oleson's cabin like a
good fellow, and tell him we want to borrow his dice box."
This sudden request in the midst of a council on wages of men,
wood, and grub surprised Billebedam. Besides, it was early in the
day, and he had never known white men of the calibre of Pentfield
and Hutchinson to dice and play till the day's work was done. But
his face was impassive as a Yukon Indian's should be, as he pulled
on his mittens and went out the door.
Though eight o'clock, it was still dark outside, and the cabin was
lighted by a tallow candle thrust into an empty whisky bottle. It
stood on the pine-board table in the middle of a disarray of dirty
tin dishes. Tallow from innumerable candles had dripped down the
long neck of the bottle and hardened into a miniature glacier. The
small room, which composed the entire cabin, was as badly littered
as the table; while at one end, against the wall, were two bunks,
one above the other, with the blankets turned down just as the two
men had crawled out in the morning.
Lawrence Pentfield and Corry Hutchinson were millionaires, though
they did not look it. There seemed nothing unusual about them,
while they would have passed muster as fair specimens of lumbermen
in any Michigan camp. But outside, in the darkness, where holes
yawned in the ground, were many men engaged in windlassing muck and
gravel and gold from the bottoms of the holes where other men
received fifteen dollars per day for scraping it from off the
bedrock. Each day thousands of dollars' worth of gold were scraped
from bedrock and windlassed to the surface, and it all belonged to
Pentfield and Hutchinson, who took their rank among the richest
kings of Bonanza.
Pentfield broke the silence that followed on Billebedam's departure
by heaping the dirty plates higher on the table and drumming a
tattoo on the cleared space with his knuckles. Hutchinson snuffed
the smoky candle and reflectively rubbed the soot from the wick
between thumb and forefinger.
"By Jove, I wish we could both go out!" he abruptly exclaimed.
"That would settle it all."
Pentfield looked at him darkly.
"If it weren't for your cursed obstinacy, it'd be settled anyway.
All you have to do is get up and go. I'll look after things, and
next year I can go out."
"Why should I go? I've no one waiting for me--"
"Your people," Pentfield broke in roughly.
"Like you have," Hutchinson went on. "A girl, I mean, and you know
Pentfield shrugged his shoulders gloomily. "She can wait, I
"But she's been waiting two years now."
"And another won't age her beyond recognition."
"That'd be three years. Think of it, old man, three years in this
end of the earth, this falling-off place for the damned!"
Hutchinson threw up his arm in an almost articulate groan.
He was several years younger than his partner, not more than
twenty-six, and there was a certain wistfulness in his face that
comes into the faces of men when they yearn vainly for the things
they have been long denied. This same wistfulness was in
Pentfield's face, and the groan of it was articulate in the heave
of his shoulders.
"I dreamed last night I was in Zinkand's," he said. "The music
playing, glasses clinking, voices humming, women laughing, and I
was ordering eggs--yes, sir, eggs, fried and boiled and poached and
scrambled, and in all sorts of ways, and downing them as fast as
"I'd have ordered salads and green things," Hutchinson criticized
hungrily, "with a big, rare, Porterhouse, and young onions and
radishes,--the kind your teeth sink into with a crunch."
"I'd have followed the eggs with them, I guess, if I hadn't
awakened," Pentfield replied.
He picked up a trail-scarred banjo from the floor and began to
strum a few wandering notes. Hutchinson winced and breathed
"Quit it!" he burst out with sudden fury, as the other struck into
a gaily lifting swing. "It drives me mad. I can't stand it"
Pentfield tossed the banjo into a bunk and quoted:-
"Hear me babble what the weakest won't confess -
I am Memory and Torment--I am Town!
I am all that ever went with evening dress!"
The other man winced where he sat and dropped his head forward on
the table. Pentfield resumed the monotonous drumming with his
knuckles. A loud snap from the door attracted his attention. The
frost was creeping up the inside in a white sheet, and he began to
"The flocks are folded, boughs are bare,
The salmon takes the sea;
And oh, my fair, would I somewhere
Might house my heart with thee."
Silence fell and was not again broken till Billebedam arrived and
threw the dice box on the table.
"Um much cold," he said. "Oleson um speak to me, um say um Yukon
freeze last night."
"Hear that, old man!" Pentfield cried, slapping Hutchinson on the
shoulder. "Whoever wins can be hitting the trail for God's country
this time tomorrow morning!"
He picked up the box, briskly rattling the dice.
"What'll it be?"
"Straight poker dice," Hutchinson answered. "Go on and roll them
Pentfield swept the dishes from the table with a crash and rolled
out the five dice. Both looked tragedy. The shake was without a
pair and five-spot high.
"A stiff!" Pentfield groaned.
After much deliberating Pentfield picked up all the five dice and
put them in the box.
"I'd shake to the five if I were you," Hutchinson suggested.
"No, you wouldn't, not when you see this," Pentfield replied,
shaking out the dice.
Again they were without a pair, running this time in unbroken
sequence from two to six.
"A second stiff!" he groaned. "No use your shaking, Corry. You
The other man gathered up the dice without a word, rattled them,
rolled them out on the table with a flourish, and saw that he had
likewise shaken a six-high stiff.
"Tied you, anyway, but I'll have to do better than that," he said,
gathering in four of them and shaking to the six. "And here's what
But they rolled out deuce, tray, four, and five--a stiff still and
no better nor worse than Pentfield's throw.
"Couldn't happen once in a million times," said.
"Nor in a million lives," Pentfield added, catching up the dice and
quickly throwing them out. Three fives appeared, and, after much
delay, he was rewarded by a fourth five on the second shake.
Hutchinson seemed to have lost his last hope.
But three sixes turned up on his first shake. A great doubt rose
in the other's eyes, and hope returned into his. He had one more
shake. Another six and he would go over the ice to salt water and
He rattled the dice in the box, made as though to cast them,
hesitated, and continued rattle them.
"Go on! Go on! Don't take all night about it!" Pentfield cried
sharply, bending his nails on the table, so tight was the clutch
with which he strove to control himself.
The dice rolled forth, an upturned six meeting their eyes. Both
men sat staring at it. There was a long silence. Hutchinson shot
a covert glance at his partner, who, still more covertly, caught
it, and pursed up his lips in an attempt to advertise his
Hutchinson laughed as he got up on his feet. It was a nervous,
apprehensive laugh. It was a case where it was more awkward to win
than lose. He walked over to his partner, who whirled upon him
"Now you just shut up, Corry! I know all you're going to say--that
you'd rather stay in and let me go, and all that; so don't say it.
You've your own people in Detroit to see, and that's enough.
Besides, you can do for me the very thing I expected to do if I
"And that is--?"
Pentfield read the full question in his partner's eyes, and
"Yes, that very thing. You can bring her in to me. The only
difference will be a Dawson wedding instead of a San Franciscan
"But, man alike!" Corry Hutchinson objected "how under the sun can
I bring her in? We're not exactly brother and sister, seeing that
I have not even met her, and it wouldn't be just the proper thing,
you know, for us to travel together. Of course, it would be all
right--you and I know that; but think of the looks of it, man!"
Pentfield swore under his breath, consigning the looks of it to a
less frigid region than Alaska.
"Now, if you'll just listen and not get astride that high horse of
yours so blamed quick," his partner went on, "you'll see that the
only fair thing under the circumstances is for me to let you go out
this year. Next year is only a year away, and then I can take my
Pentfield shook his head, though visibly swayed by the temptation.
"It won't do, Corry, old man. I appreciate your kindness and all
that, but it won't do. I'd be ashamed every time I thought of you
slaving away in here in my place."
A thought seemed suddenly to strike him. Burrowing into his bunk
and disrupting it in his eagerness, he secured a writing-pad and
pencil, and sitting down at the table, began to write with
swiftness and certitude.
"Here," he said, thrusting the scrawled letter into his partner's
hand. "You just deliver that and everything'll be all right."
Hutchinson ran his eye over it and laid it down.
"How do you know the brother will be willing to make that beastly
trip in here?" he demanded.
"Oh, he'll do it for me--and for his sister," Pentfield replied.
"You see, he's tenderfoot, and I wouldn't trust her with him alone.
But with you along it will be an easy trip and a safe one. As soon
as you get out, you'll go to her and prepare her. Then you can
take your run east to your own people, and in the spring she and
her brother'll be ready to start with you. You'll like her, I
know, right from the jump; and from that, you'll know her as soon
as you lay eyes on her."
So saying he opened the back of his watch and exposed a girl's
photograph pasted on the inside of the case. Corry Hutchinson
gazed at it with admiration welling up in his eyes.
"Mabel is her name," Pentfield went on. "And it's just as well you
should know how to find the house. Soon as you strike 'Frisco,
take a cab, and just say, 'Holmes's place, Myrdon Avenue'--I doubt
if the Myrdon Avenue is necessary. The cabby'll know where Judge
"And say," Pentfield continued, after a pause, "it won't be a bad
idea for you to get me a few little things which a--er--"
"A married man should have in his business," Hutchinson blurted out
with a grin.
Pentfield grinned back.
"Sure, napkins and tablecloths and sheets and pillowslips, and such
things. And you might get a good set of china. You know it'll
come hard for her to settle down to this sort of thing. You can
freight them in by steamer around by Bering Sea. And, I say,
what's the matter with a piano?"
Hutchinson seconded the idea heartily. His reluctance had
vanished, and he was warming up to his mission.
"By Jove! Lawrence," he said at the conclusion of the council, as
they both rose to their feet, "I'll bring back that girl of yours
in style. I'll do the cooking and take care of the dogs, and all
that brother'll have to do will be to see to her comfort and do for
her whatever I've forgotten. And I'll forget damn little, I can
The next day Lawrence Pentfield shook hands with him for the last
time and watched him, running with his dogs, disappear up the
frozen Yukon on his way to salt water and the world. Pentfield
went back to his Bonanza mine, which was many times more dreary
than before, and faced resolutely into the long winter. There was
work to be done, men to superintend, and operations to direct in
burrowing after the erratic pay streak; but his heart was not in
the work. Nor was his heart in any work till the tiered logs of a
new cabin began to rise on the hill behind the mine. It was a
grand cabin, warmly built and divided into three comfortable rooms.
Each log was hand-hewed and squared--an expensive whim when the
axemen received a daily wage of fifteen dollars; but to him nothing
could be too costly for the home in which Mabel Holmes was to live.
So he went about with the building of the cabin, singing, "And oh,
my fair, would I somewhere might house my heart with thee!" Also,
he had a calendar pinned on the wall above the table, and his first
act each morning was to check off the day and to count the days
that were left ere his partner would come booming down the Yukon
ice in the spring. Another whim of his was to permit no one to
sleep in the new cabin on the hill. It must be as fresh for her
occupancy as the square-hewed wood was fresh; and when it stood
complete, he put a padlock on the door. No one entered save
himself, and he was wont to spend long hours there, and to come
forth with his face strangely radiant and in his eyes a glad, warm
In December he received a letter from Corry Hutchinson. He had
just seen Mabel Holmes. She was all she ought to be, to be
Lawrence Pentfield's wife, he wrote. He was enthusiastic, and his
letter sent the blood tingling through Pentfield's veins. Other
letters followed, one on the heels of another, and sometimes two or
three together when the mail lumped up. And they were all in the
same tenor. Corry had just come from Myrdon Avenue; Corry was just
going to Myrdon Avenue; or Corry was at Myrdon Avenue. And he
lingered on and on in San Francisco, nor even mentioned his trip to
Lawrence Pentfield began to think that his partner was a great deal
in the company of Mabel Holmes for a fellow who was going east to
see his people. He even caught himself worrying about it at times,
though he would have worried more had he not known Mabel and Corry
so well. Mabel's letters, on the other hand, had a great deal to
say about Corry. Also, a thread of timidity that was near to
disinclination ran through them concerning the trip in over the ice
and the Dawson marriage. Pentfield wrote back heartily, laughing
at her fears, which he took to be the mere physical ones of danger
and hardship rather than those bred of maidenly reserve.
But the long winter and tedious wait, following upon the two
previous long winters, were telling upon him. The superintendence
of the men and the pursuit of the pay streak could not break the
irk of the daily round, and the end of January found him making
occasional trips to Dawson, where he could forget his identity for
a space at the gambling tables. Because he could afford to lose,
he won, and "Pentfield's luck" became a stock phrase among the faro
His luck ran with him till the second week in February. How much
farther it might have run is conjectural; for, after one big game,
he never played again.
It was in the Opera House that it occurred, and for an hour it had
seemed that he could not place his money on a card without making
the card a winner. In the lull at the end of a deal, while the
game-keeper was shuffling the deck, Nick Inwood the owner of the
game, remarked, apropos of nothing:-
"I say, Pentfield, I see that partner of yours has been cutting up
monkey-shines on the outside."
"Trust Corry to have a good time," Pentfield had answered;
"especially when he has earned it."
"Every man to his taste," Nick Inwood laughed; "but I should
scarcely call getting married a good time."
"Corry married!" Pentfield cried, incredulous and yet surprised out
of himself for the moment.
'Sure," Inwood said. "I saw it in the 'Frisco paper that came in
over the ice this morning."
"Well, and who's the girl?" Pentfield demanded, somewhat with the
air of patient fortitude with which one takes the bait of a catch
and is aware at the time of the large laugh bound to follow at his
Nick Inwood pulled the newspaper from his pocket and began looking
it over, saying:-
"I haven't a remarkable memory for names, but it seems to me it's
something like Mabel--Mabel--oh yes, here it--'Mabel Holmes,
daughter of Judge Holmes,'--whoever he is."
Lawrence Pentfield never turned a hair, though he wondered how any
man in the North could know her name. He glanced coolly from face
to face to note any vagrant signs of the game that was being played
upon him, but beyond a healthy curiosity the faces betrayed
nothing. Then he turned to the gambler and said in cold, even
"Inwood, I've got an even five hundred here that says the print of
what you have just said is not in that paper."
The gambler looked at him in quizzical surprise. "Go 'way, child.
I don't want your money."
"I thought so," Pentfield sneered, returning to the game and laying
a couple of bets.
Nick Inwood's face flushed, and, as though doubting his senses, he
ran careful eyes over the print of a quarter of a column. Then be
turned on Lawrence Pentfield.
"Look here, Pentfield," he said, in a quiet, nervous manner; "I
can't allow that, you know."
"Allow what?" Pentfield demanded brutally.
"You implied that I lied."
"Nothing of the sort," came the reply. "I merely implied that you
were trying to be clumsily witty."
"Make your bets, gentlemen," the dealer protested.
"But I tell you it's true," Nick Inwood insisted.
"And I have told you I've five hundred that says it's not in that
paper," Pentfield answered, at the same time throwing a heavy sack
of dust on the table.
"I am sorry to take your money," was the retort, as Inwood thrust
the newspaper into Pentfield's hand.
Pentfield saw, though he could not quite bring himself to believe.
Glancing through the headline, "Young Lochinvar came out of the
North," and skimming the article until the names of Mabel Holmes
and Corry Hutchinson, coupled together, leaped squarely before his
eyes, he turned to the top of the page. It was a San Francisco
"The money's yours, Inwood," he remarked, with a short laugh.
"There's no telling what that partner of mine will do when he gets
Then he returned to the article and read it word for word, very
slowly and very carefully. He could no longer doubt. Beyond
dispute, Corry Hutchinson had married Mabel Holmes. "One of the
Bonanza kings," it described him, "a partner with Lawrence
Pentfield (whom San Francisco society has not yet forgotten), and
interested with that gentleman in other rich, Klondike properties."
Further, and at the end, he read, "It is whispered that Mr. and
Mrs. Hutchinson will, after a brief trip east to Detroit, make
their real honeymoon journey into the fascinating Klondike
"I'll be back again; keep my place for me," Pentfield said, rising
to his feet and taking his sack, which meantime had hit the blower
and came back lighter by five hundred dollars.
He went down the street and bought a Seattle paper. It contained
the same facts, though somewhat condensed. Corry and Mabel were
indubitably married. Pentfield returned to the Opera House and
resumed his seat in the game. He asked to have the limit removed.
"Trying to get action," Nick Inwood laughed, as he nodded assent to
the dealer. "I was going down to the A. C. store, but now I guess
I'll stay and watch you do your worst."
This Lawrence Pentfield did at the end of two hours' plunging, when
the dealer bit the end off a fresh cigar and struck a match as he
announced that the bank was broken. Pentfield cashed in for forty
thousand, shook hands with Nick Inwood, and stated that it was the
last time he would ever play at his game or at anybody's else's.
No one knew nor guessed that he had been hit, much less hit hard.
There was no apparent change in his manner. For a week he went
about his work much as he had always done, when he read an account
of the marriage in a Portland paper. Then he called in a friend to
take charge of his mine and departed up the Yukon behind his dogs.
He held to the Salt Water trail till White River was reached, into
which he turned. Five days later he came upon a hunting camp of
the White River Indians. In the evening there was a feast, and he
sat in honour beside the chief; and next morning he headed his dogs
back toward the Yukon. But he no longer travelled alone. A young
squaw fed his dogs for him that night and helped to pitch camp.
She had been mauled by a bear in her childhood and suffered from a
slight limp. Her name was Lashka, and she was diffident at first
with the strange white man that had come out of the Unknown,
married her with scarcely a look or word, and now was carrying her
back with him into the Unknown.
But Lashka's was better fortune than falls to most Indian girls
that mate with white men in the Northland. No sooner was Dawson
reached than the barbaric marriage that had joined them was re-
solemnized, in the white man's fashion, before a priest. From
Dawson, which to her was all a marvel and a dream, she was taken
directly to the Bonanza claim and installed in the square-hewed
cabin on the hill.
The nine days' wonder that followed arose not so much out of the
fact of the squaw whom Lawrence Pentfield had taken to bed and
board as out of the ceremony that had legalized the tie. The
properly sanctioned marriage was the one thing that passed the
community's comprehension. But no one bothered Pentfield about it.
So long as a man's vagaries did no special hurt to the community,
the community let the man alone, nor was Pentfield barred from the
cabins of men who possessed white wives. The marriage ceremony
removed him from the status of squaw-man and placed him beyond
moral reproach, though there were men that challenged his taste
where women were concerned.
No more letters arrived from the outside. Six sledloads of mails
had been lost at the Big Salmon. Besides, Pentfield knew that
Corry and his bride must by that time have started in over the
trail. They were even then on their honeymoon trip--the honeymoon
trip he had dreamed of for himself through two dreary years. His
lip curled with bitterness at the thought; but beyond being kinder
to Lashka he gave no sign.
March had passed and April was nearing its end, when, one spring
morning, Lashka asked permission to go down the creek several miles
to Siwash Pete's cabin. Pete's wife, a Stewart River woman, had
sent up word that something was wrong with her baby, and Lashka,
who was pre-eminently a mother-woman and who held herself to be
truly wise in the matter of infantile troubles, missed no
opportunity of nursing the children of other women as yet more
fortunate than she.
Pentfield harnessed his dogs, and with Lashka behind took the trail
down the creek bed of Bonanza. Spring was in the air. The
sharpness had gone out of the bite of the frost and though snow
still covered the land, the murmur and trickling of water told that
the iron grip of winter was relaxing. The bottom was dropping out
of the trail, and here and there a new trail had been broken around
open holes. At such a place, where there was not room for two
sleds to pass, Pentfield heard the jingle of approaching bells and
stopped his dogs.
A team of tired-looking dogs appeared around the narrow bend,
followed by a heavily-loaded sled. At the gee-pole was a man who
steered in a manner familiar to Pentfield, and behind the sled
walked two women. His glance returned to the man at the gee-pole.
It was Corry. Pentfield got on his feet and waited. He was glad
that Lashka was with him. The meeting could not have come about
better had it been planned, he thought. And as he waited he
wondered what they would say, what they would be able to say. As
for himself there was no need to say anything. The explaining was
all on their side, and he was ready to listen to them.
As they drew in abreast, Corry recognized him and halted the dogs.
With a "Hello, old man," he held out his hand.
Pentfield shook it, but without warmth or speech. By this time the
two women had come up, and he noticed that the second one was Dora
Holmes. He doffed his fur cap, the flaps of which were flying,
shook hands with her, and turned toward Mabel. She swayed forward,
splendid and radiant, but faltered before his outstretched hand.
He had intended to say, "How do you do, Mrs. Hutchinson?"--but
somehow, the Mrs. Hutchinson had choked him, and all he had managed
to articulate was the "How do you do?"
There was all the constraint and awkwardness in the situation he
could have wished. Mabel betrayed the agitation appropriate to her
position, while Dora, evidently brought along as some sort of
peacemaker, was saying:-
"Why, what is the matter, Lawrence?"
Before he could answer, Corry plucked him by the sleeve and drew
"See here, old man, what's this mean?" Corry demanded in a low
tone, indicating Lashka with his eyes.
"I can hardly see, Corry, where you can have any concern in the
matter," Pentfield answered mockingly.
But Corry drove straight to the point.
"What is that squaw doing on your sled? A nasty job you've given
me to explain all this away. I only hope it can be explained away.
Who is she? Whose squaw is she?"
Then Lawrence Pentfield delivered his stroke, and he delivered it
with a certain calm elation of spirit that seemed somewhat to
compensate for the wrong that had been done him.
"She is my squaw," he said; "Mrs. Pentfield, if you please."
Corry Hutchinson gasped, and Pentfield left him and returned to the
two women. Mabel, with a worried expression on her face, seemed
holding herself aloof. He turned to Dora and asked, quite
genially, as though all the world was sunshine:- "How did you stand
the trip, anyway? Have any trouble to sleep warm?"
"And, how did Mrs. Hutchinson stand it?" he asked next, his eyes on
"Oh, you dear ninny!" Dora cried, throwing her arms around him and
hugging him. "Then you saw it, too! I thought something was the
matter, you were acting so strangely."
"I--I hardly understand," he stammered.
"It was corrected in next day's paper," Dora chattered on. "We did
not dream you would see it. All the other papers had it correctly,
and of course that one miserable paper was the very one you saw!"
"Wait a moment! What do you mean?" Pentfield demanded, a sudden
fear at his heart, for he felt himself on the verge of a great
But Dora swept volubly on.
"Why, when it became known that Mabel and I were going to Klondike,
EVERY OTHER WEEK said that when we were gone, it would be lovely on
Myrdon Avenue, meaning, of course, lonely."
"I am Mrs. Hutchinson," Dora answered. "And you thought it was
Mabel all the time--"
"Precisely the way of it," Pentfield replied slowly. "But I can
see now. The reporter got the names mixed. The Seattle and
Portland paper copied."
He stood silently for a minute. Mabel's face was turned toward him
again, and he could see the glow of expectancy in it. Corry was
deeply interested in the ragged toe of one of his moccasins, while
Dora was stealing sidelong glances at the immobile face of Lashka
sitting on the sled. Lawrence Pentfield stared straight out before
him into a dreary future, through the grey vistas of which he saw
himself riding on a sled behind running dogs with lame Lashka by
Then he spoke, quite simply, looking Mabel in the eyes.
"I am very sorry. I did not dream it. I thought you had married
Corry. That is Mrs. Pentfield sitting on the sled over there."
Mabel Holmes turned weakly toward her sister, as though all the
fatigue of her great journey had suddenly descended on her. Dora
caught her around the waist. Corry Hutchinson was still occupied
with his moccasins. Pentfield glanced quickly from face to face,
then turned to his sled.
"Can't stop here all day, with Pete's baby waiting," he said to
The long whip-lash hissed out, the dogs sprang against the breast
bands, and the sled lurched and jerked ahead.
"Oh, I say, Corry," Pentfield called back, "you'd better occupy the
old cabin. It's not been used for some time. I've built a new one
on the hill."
TOO MUCH GOLD
This being a story--and a truer one than it may appear--of a mining
country, it is quite to be expected that it will be a hard-luck
story. But that depends on the point of view. Hard luck is a mild
way of terming it so far as Kink Mitchell and Hootchinoo Bill are
concerned; and that they have a decided opinion on the subject is a
matter of common knowledge in the Yukon country.
It was in the fall of 1896 that the two partners came down to the
east bank of the Yukon, and drew a Peterborough canoe from a moss-
covered cache. They were not particularly pleasant-looking
objects. A summer's prospecting, filled to repletion with hardship
and rather empty of grub, had left their clothes in tatters and
themselves worn and cadaverous. A nimbus of mosquitoes buzzed
about each man's head. Their faces were coated with blue clay.
Each carried a lump of this damp clay, and, whenever it dried and
fell from their faces, more was daubed on in its place. There was
a querulous plaint in their voices, an irritability of movement and
gesture, that told of broken sleep and a losing struggle with the
little winged pests.
"Them skeeters'll be the death of me yet," Kink Mitchell whimpered,
as the canoe felt the current on her nose, and leaped out from the
"Cheer up, cheer up. We're about done," Hootchinoo Bill answered,
with an attempted heartiness in his funereal tones that was
ghastly. "We'll be in Forty Mile in forty minutes, and then--
cursed little devil!"
One hand left his paddle and landed on the back of his neck with a
sharp slap. He put a fresh daub of clay on the injured part,
swearing sulphurously the while. Kink Mitchell was not in the
least amused. He merely improved the opportunity by putting a
thicker coating of clay on his own neck.
They crossed the Yukon to its west bank, shot down-stream with easy
stroke, and at the end of forty minutes swung in close to the left
around the tail of an island. Forty Mile spread itself suddenly
before them. Both men straightened their backs and gazed at the
sight. They gazed long and carefully, drifting with the current,
in their faces an expression of mingled surprise and consternation
slowly gathering. Not a thread of smoke was rising from the
hundreds of log-cabins. There was no sound of axes biting sharply
into wood, of hammering and sawing. Neither dogs nor men loitered
before the big store. No steamboats lay at the bank, no canoes,
nor scows, nor poling-boats. The river was as bare of craft as the
town was of life.
"Kind of looks like Gabriel's tooted his little horn, and you an'
me has turned up missing," remarked Hootchinoo Bill.
His remark was casual, as though there was nothing unusual about
the occurrence. Kink Mitchell's reply was just as casual as though
he, too, were unaware of any strange perturbation of spirit.
"Looks as they was all Baptists, then, and took the boats to go by
water," was his contribution.
"My ol' dad was a Baptist," Hootchinoo Bill supplemented. "An' he
always did hold it was forty thousand miles nearer that way."
This was the end of their levity. They ran the canoe in and
climbed the high earth bank. A feeling of awe descended upon them
as they walked the deserted streets. The sunlight streamed
placidly over the town. A gentle wind tapped the halyards against
the flagpole before the closed doors of the Caledonia Dance Hall.
Mosquitoes buzzed, robins sang, and moose birds tripped hungrily
among the cabins; but there was no human life nor sign of human
"I'm just dyin' for a drink," Hootchinoo Bill said and
unconsciously his voice sank to a hoarse whisper.
His partner nodded his head, loth to hear his own voice break the
stillness. They trudged on in uneasy silence till surprised by an
open door. Above this door, and stretching the width of the
building, a rude sign announced the same as the "Monte Carlo." But
beside the door, hat over eyes, chair tilted back, a man sat
sunning himself. He was an old man. Beard and hair were long and
white and patriarchal.
"If it ain't ol' Jim Cummings, turned up like us, too late for
Resurrection!" said Kink Mitchell.
"Most like he didn't hear Gabriel tootin'," was Hootchinoo Bill's
"Hello, Jim! Wake up!" he shouted.
The old man unlimbered lamely, blinking his eyes and murmuring
automatically: "What'll ye have, gents? What'll ye have?"
They followed him inside and ranged up against the long bar where
of yore a half-dozen nimble bar-keepers found little time to loaf.
The great room, ordinarily aroar with life, was still and gloomy as
a tomb. There was no rattling of chips, no whirring of ivory
balls. Roulette and faro tables were like gravestones under their
canvas covers. No women's voices drifted merrily from the dance-
room behind. Ol' Jim Cummings wiped a glass with palsied hands,
and Kink Mitchell scrawled his initials on the dust-covered bar.
"Where's the girls?" Hootchinoo Bill shouted, with affected
"Gone," was the ancient bar-keeper's reply, in a voice thin and
aged as himself, and as unsteady as his hand.
"Where's Bidwell and Barlow?"
"And Sweetwater Charley?"
"And his sister?"
"Your daughter Sally, then, and her little kid?"
"Gone, all gone." The old man shook his head sadly, rummaging in
an absent way among the dusty bottles.
"Great Sardanapolis! Where?" Kink Mitchell exploded, unable longer
to restrain himself. "You don't say you've had the plague?"
"Why, ain't you heerd?" The old man chuckled quietly. "They-all's
gone to Dawson."
"What-like is that?" Bill demanded. "A creek? or a bar? or a
"Ain't never heered of Dawson, eh?" The old man chuckled
exasperatingly. "Why, Dawson's a town, a city, bigger'n Forty
Mile. Yes, sir, bigger'n Forty Mile."
"I've ben in this land seven year," Bill announced emphatically,
"an' I make free to say I never heard tell of the burg before.
Hold on! Let's have some more of that whisky. Your information's
flabbergasted me, that it has. Now just whereabouts is this
Dawson-place you was a-mentionin'?"
"On the big flat jest below the mouth of Klondike," ol' Jim
answered. "But where has you-all ben this summer?"
"Never you mind where we-all's ben," was Kink Mitchell's testy
reply. "We-all's ben where the skeeters is that thick you've got
to throw a stick into the air so as to see the sun and tell the
time of day. Ain't I right, Bill?"
"Right you are," said Bill. "But speakin' of this Dawson-place how
like did it happen to be, Jim?"
"Ounce to the pan on a creek called Bonanza, an' they ain't got to
"Who struck it?"
At mention of the discoverer's name the partners stared at each
other disgustedly. Then they winked with great solemnity.
"Siwash George," sniffed Hootchinoo Bill.
"That squaw-man," sneered Kink Mitchell.
"I wouldn't put on my moccasins to stampede after anything he'd
ever find," said Bill.
"Same here," announced his partner. "A cuss that's too plumb lazy
to fish his own salmon. That's why he took up with the Indians.
S'pose that black brother-in-law of his,--lemme see, Skookum Jim,
eh?--s'pose he's in on it?"
The old bar-keeper nodded. "Sure, an' what's more, all Forty Mile,
exceptin' me an' a few cripples."
"And drunks," added Kink Mitchell.
"No-sir-ee!" the old man shouted emphatically.
"I bet you the drinks Honkins ain't in on it!" Hootchinoo Bill
cried with certitude.
Ol' Jim's face lighted up. "I takes you, Bill, an' you loses."
"However did that ol' soak budge out of Forty Mile?" Mitchell
"The ties him down an' throws him in the bottom of a polin'-boat,"
ol' Jim explained. "Come right in here, they did, an' takes him
out of that there chair there in the corner, an' three more drunks
they finds under the pianny. I tell you-alls the whole camp hits
up the Yukon for Dawson jes' like Sam Scratch was after them,--
wimmen, children, babes in arms, the whole shebang. Bidwell comes
to me an' sez, sez he, 'Jim, I wants you to keep tab on the Monte
Carlo. I'm goin'.'
"'Where's Barlow?' sez I. 'Gone,' sez he, 'an' I'm a-followin'
with a load of whisky.' An' with that, never waitin' for me to
decline, he makes a run for his boat an' away he goes, polin' up
river like mad. So here I be, an' these is the first drinks I've
passed out in three days."
The partners looked at each other.
"Gosh darn my buttoms!" said Hootchinoo Bill. "Seems likes you and
me, Kink, is the kind of folks always caught out with forks when it
"Wouldn't it take the saleratus out your dough, now?" said Kink
Mitchell. "A stampede of tin-horns, drunks, an' loafers."
"An' squaw-men," added Bill. "Not a genooine miner in the whole
"Genooine miners like you an' me, Kink," he went on academically,
"is all out an' sweatin' hard over Birch Creek way. Not a genooine
miner in this whole crazy Dawson outfit, and I say right here, not
a step do I budge for any Carmack strike. I've got to see the
colour of the dust first."
"Same here," Mitchell agreed. "Let's have another drink."
Having wet this resolution, they beached the canoe, transferred its
contents to their cabin, and cooked dinner. But as the afternoon
wore along they grew restive. They were men used to the silence of
the great wilderness, but this gravelike silence of a town worried
them. They caught themselves listening for familiar sounds--
"waitin' for something to make a noise which ain't goin' to make a
noise," as Bill put it. They strolled through the deserted streets
to the Monte Carlo for more drinks, and wandered along the river
bank to the steamer landing, where only water gurgled as the eddy
filled and emptied, and an occasional salmon leapt flashing into
They sat down in the shade in front of the store and talked with
the consumptive storekeeper, whose liability to hemorrhage
accounted for his presence. Bill and Kink told him how they
intended loafing in their cabin and resting up after the hard
summer's work. They told him, with a certain insistence, that was
half appeal for belief, half challenge for contradiction, how much
they were going to enjoy their idleness. But the storekeeper was
uninterested. He switched the conversation back to the strike on
Klondike, and they could not keep him away from it. He could think
of nothing else, talk of nothing else, till Hootchinoo Bill rose up
in anger and disgust.
"Gosh darn Dawson, say I!" he cried.
"Same here," said Kink Mitchell, with a brightening face. "One'd
think something was doin' up there, 'stead of bein' a mere stampede
of greenhorns an' tinhorns."
But a boat came into view from downstream. It was long and slim.
It hugged the bank closely, and its three occupants, standing
upright, propelled it against the stiff current by means of long
"Circle City outfit," said the storekeeper. "I was lookin' for 'em
along by afternoon. Forty Mile had the start of them by a hundred
and seventy miles. But gee! they ain't losin' any time!"
'We'll just sit here quiet-like and watch 'em string by," Bill said
As he spoke, another boat appeared in sight, followed after a brief
interval by two others. By this time the first boat was abreast of
the men on the bank. Its occupants did not cease poling while
greetings were exchanged, and, though its progress was slow, a
half-hour saw it out of sight up river.
Still they came from below, boat after boat, in endless procession.
The uneasiness of Bill and Kink increased. They stole speculative,
tentative glances at each other, and when their eyes met looked
away in embarrassment. Finally, however, their eyes met and
neither looked away.
Kink opened his mouth to speak, but words failed him and his mouth
remained open while he continued to gaze at his partner.
"Just what I was thinken', Kink," said Bill.
They grinned sheepishly at each other, and by tacit consent started
to walk away. Their pace quickened, and by the time they arrived
at their cabin they were on the run.
"Can't lose no time with all that multitude a-rushin' by," Kink
spluttered, as he jabbed the sour-dough can into the beanpot with
one hand and with the other gathered in the frying-pan and coffee-
"Should say not," gasped Bill, his head and shoulders buried in a
clothes-sack wherein were stored winter socks and underwear. "I
say, Kink, don't forget the saleratus on the corner shelf back of
Half-an-hour later they were launching the canoe and loading up,
while the storekeeper made jocular remarks about poor, weak mortals
and the contagiousness of "stampedin' fever." But when Bill and
Kink thrust their long poles to bottom and started the canoe
against the current, he called after them:-
"Well, so-long and good luck! And don't forget to blaze a stake or
two for me!"
They nodded their heads vigorously and felt sorry for the poor
wretch who remained perforce behind.
* * * * *
Kink and Bill were sweating hard. According to the revised
Northland Scripture, the stampede is to the swift, the blazing of
stakes to the strong, and the Crown in royalties, gathers to itself
the fulness thereof. Kink and Bill were both swift and strong.
They took the soggy trail at a long, swinging gait that broke the
hearts of a couple of tender-feet who tried to keep up with them.
Behind, strung out between them and Dawson (where the boats were
discarded and land travel began), was the vanguard of the Circle
City outfit. In the race from Forty Mile the partners had passed
every boat, winning from the leading boat by a length in the Dawson
eddy, and leaving its occupants sadly behind the moment their feet
struck the trail.
"Huh! couldn't see us for smoke," Hootchinoo Bill chuckled,
flirting the stinging sweat from his brow and glancing swiftly back
along the way they had come.
Three men emerged from where the trail broke through the trees.
Two followed close at their heels, and then a man and a woman shot
"Come on, you Kink! Hit her up! Hit her up!"
Bill quickened his pace. Mitchell glanced back in more leisurely
"I declare if they ain't lopin'!"
"And here's one that's loped himself out," said Bill, pointing to
the side of the trail.
A man was lying on his back panting in the culminating stages of
violent exhaustion. His face was ghastly, his eyes bloodshot and
glazed, for all the world like a dying man.
"CHECHAQUO!" Kink Mitchell grunted, and it was the grunt of the old
"sour dough" for the green-horn, for the man who outfitted with
"self-risin'" flour and used baking-powder in his biscuits.
The partners, true to the old-timer custom, had intended to stake
down-stream from the strike, but when they saw claim 81 BELOW
blazed on a tree,--which meant fully eight miles below Discovery,--
they changed their minds. The eight miles were covered in less
than two hours. It was a killing pace, over so rough trail, and
they passed scores of exhausted men that had fallen by the wayside.
At Discovery little was to be learned of the upper creek.
Cormack's Indian brother-in-law, Skookum Jim, had a hazy notion
that the creek was staked as high as the 30's; but when Kink and
Bill looked at the corner-stakes of 79 ABOVE, they threw their
stampeding packs off their backs and sat down to smoke. All their
efforts had been vain. Bonanza was staked from mouth to source,--
"out of sight and across the next divide." Bill complained that
night as they fried their bacon and boiled their coffee over
Cormack's fire at Discovery.
"Try that pup," Carmack suggested next morning.
"That pup" was a broad creek that flowed into Bonanza at 7 ABOVE.
The partners received his advice with the magnificent contempt of
the sour dough for a squaw-man, and, instead, spent the day on
Adam's Creek, another and more likely-looking tributary of Bonanza.
But it was the old story over again--staked to the sky-line.
For threes days Carmack repeated his advice, and for three days
they received it contemptuously. But on the fourth day, there
being nowhere else to go, they went up "that pup." They knew that
it was practically unstaked, but they had no intention of staking.
The trip was made more for the purpose of giving vent to their ill-
humour than for anything else. They had become quite cynical,
sceptical. They jeered and scoffed at everything, and insulted
every chechaquo they met along the way.
At No. 23 the stakes ceased. The remainder of the creek was open
"Moose pasture," sneered Kink Mitchell.
But Bill gravely paced off five hundred feet up the creek and
blazed the corner-stakes. He had picked up the bottom of a candle-
box, and on the smooth side he wrote the notice for his centre-
THIS MOOSE PASTURE IS RESERVED FOR THE
SWEDES AND CHECHAQUOS.
- BILL RADER.
Kink read it over with approval, saying:-
"As them's my sentiments, I reckon I might as well subscribe."
So the name of Charles Mitchell was added to the notice; and many
an old sour dough's face relaxed that day at sight of the handiwork
of a kindred spirit.
"How's the pup?" Carmack inquired when they strolled back into
"To hell with pups!" was Hootchinoo Bill's reply. "Me and Kink's
goin' a-lookin' for Too Much Gold when we get rested up."
Too Much Gold was the fabled creek of which all sour doughs
dreamed, whereof it was said the gold was so thick that, in order
to wash it, gravel must first be shovelled into the sluice-boxes.
But the several days' rest, preliminary to the quest for Too Much
Gold, brought a slight change in their plan, inasmuch as it brought
one Ans Handerson, a Swede.
Ans Handerson had been working for wages all summer at Miller Creek
over on the Sixty Mile, and, the summer done, had strayed up
Bonanza like many another waif helplessly adrift on the gold tides
that swept willy-nilly across the land. He was tall and lanky.
His arms were long, like prehistoric man's, and his hands were like
soup-plates, twisted and gnarled, and big-knuckled from toil. He
was slow of utterance and movement, and his eyes, pale blue as his
hair was pale yellow, seemed filled with an immortal dreaming, the
stuff of which no man knew, and himself least of all. Perhaps this
appearance of immortal dreaming was due to a supreme and vacuous
innocence. At any rate, this was the valuation men of ordinary
clay put upon him, and there was nothing extraordinary about the
composition of Hootchinoo Bill and Kink Mitchell.
The partners had spent a day of visiting and gossip, and in the
evening met in the temporary quarters of the Monte Carlo--a large
tent were stampeders rested their weary bones and bad whisky sold
at a dollar a drink. Since the only money in circulation was dust,
and since the house took the "down-weight" on the scales, a drink
cost something more than a dollar. Bill and Kink were not
drinking, principally for the reason that their one and common sack
was not strong enough to stand many excursions to the scales.
"Say, Bill, I've got a chechaquo on the string for a sack of
flour," Mitchell announced jubilantly.
Bill looked interested and pleased. Grub as scarce, and they were
not over-plentifully supplied for the quest after Too Much Gold.
"Flour's worth a dollar a pound," he answered. "How like do you
calculate to get your finger on it?"
"Trade 'm a half-interest in that claim of ourn," Kink answered.
"What claim?" Bill was surprised. Then he remembered the
reservation he had staked off for the Swedes, and said, "Oh!"
"I wouldn't be so clost about it, though," he added. "Give 'm the
whole thing while you're about it, in a right free-handed way."
Bill shook his head. "If I did, he'd get clean scairt and prance
off. I'm lettin' on as how the ground is believed to be valuable,
an' that we're lettin' go half just because we're monstrous short
on grub. After the dicker we can make him a present of the whole
"If somebody ain't disregarded our notice," Bill objected, though
he was plainly pleased at the prospect of exchanging the claim for
a sack of flour.
"She ain't jumped," Kink assured him. "It's No. 24, and it stands.
The chechaquos took it serious, and they begun stakin' where you
left off. Staked clean over the divide, too. I was gassin' with
one of them which has just got in with cramps in his legs."
It was then, and for the first time, that they heard the slow and
groping utterance of Ans Handerson.
"Ay like the looks," he was saying to the bar-keeper. "Ay tank Ay
gat a claim."
The partners winked at each other, and a few minutes later a
surprised and grateful Swede was drinking bad whisky with two hard-
hearted strangers. But he was as hard-headed as they were hard-
hearted. The sack made frequent journeys to the scales, followed
solicitously each time by Kink Mitchell's eyes, and still Ans
Handerson did not loosen up. In his pale blue eyes, as in summer
seas, immortal dreams swam up and burned, but the swimming and the
burning were due to the tales of gold and prospect pans he heard,
rather than to the whisky he slid so easily down his throat.
The partners were in despair, though they appeared boisterous and
jovial of speech and action.
"Don't mind me, my friend," Hootchinoo Bill hiccoughed, his hand
upon Ans Handerson's shoulder. "Have another drink. We're just
celebratin' Kink's birthday here. This is my pardner, Kink, Kink
Mitchell. An' what might your name be?"
This learned, his hand descended resoundingly on Kink's back, and
Kink simulated clumsy self-consciousness in that he was for the
time being the centre of the rejoicing, while Ans Handerson looked
pleased and asked them to have a drink with him. It was the first
and last time he treated, until the play changed and his canny soul
was roused to unwonted prodigality. But he paid for the liquor
from a fairly healthy-looking sack. "Not less 'n eight hundred in
it," calculated the lynx-eyed Kink; and on the strength of it he
took the first opportunity of a privy conversation with Bidwell,
proprietor of the bad whisky and the tent.
"Here's my sack, Bidwell," Kink said, with the intimacy and surety
of one old-timer to another. "Just weigh fifty dollars into it for
a day or so more or less, and we'll be yours truly, Bill an' me."
Thereafter the journeys of the sack to the scales were more
frequent, and the celebration of Kink's natal day waxed hilarious.
He even essayed to sing the old-timer's classic, "The Juice of the
Forbidden Fruit," but broke down and drowned his embarrassment in
another round of drinks. Even Bidwell honoured him with a round or
two on the house; and he and Bill were decently drunk by the time
Ans Handerson's eyelids began to droop and his tongue gave promise
Bill grew affectionate, then confidential. He told his troubles
and hard luck to the bar-keeper and the world in general, and to
Ans Handerson in particular. He required no histrionic powers to
act the part. The bad whisky attended to that. He worked himself
into a great sorrow for himself and Bill, and his tears were
sincere when he told how he and his partner were thinking of
selling a half-interest in good ground just because they were short
of grub. Even Kink listened and believed.
Ans Handerson's eyes were shining unholily as he asked, "How much
you tank you take?"
Bill and Kink did not hear him, and he was compelled to repeat his
query. They appeared reluctant. He grew keener. And he swayed
back and forward, holding on to the bar and listened with all his
ears while they conferred together on one side, and wrangled as to
whether they should or not, and disagreed in stage whispers over
the price they should set.
"Two hundred and--hic!--fifty," Bill finally announced, "but we
reckon as we won't sell."
"Which is monstrous wise if I might chip in my little say,"
"Yes, indeedy," added Kink. "We ain't in no charity business a-
disgorgin' free an' generous to Swedes an' white men."
"Ay tank we haf another drink," hiccoughed Ans Handerson, craftily
changing the subject against a more propitious time.
And thereafter, to bring about that propitious time, his own sack
began to see-saw between his hip pocket and the scales. Bill and
Kink were coy, but they finally yielded to his blandishments.
Whereupon he grew shy and drew Bidwell to one side. He staggered
exceedingly, and held on to Bidwell for support as he asked -
"They ban all right, them men, you tank so?"
"Sure," Bidwell answered heartily. "Known 'em for years. Old sour
doughs. When they sell a claim, they sell a claim. They ain't no
"Ay tank Ay buy," Ans Handerson announced, tottering back to the
But by now he was dreaming deeply, and he proclaimed he would have
the whole claim or nothing. This was the cause of great pain to
Hootchinoo Bill. He orated grandly against the "hawgishness" of
chechaquos and Swedes, albeit he dozed between periods, his voice
dying away to a gurgle, and his head sinking forward on his breast.
But whenever roused by a nudge from Kink or Bidwell, he never
failed to explode another volley of abuse and insult.
Ans Handerson was calm under it all. Each insult added to the
value of the claim. Such unamiable reluctance to sell advertised
but one thing to him, and he was aware of a great relief when
Hootchinoo Bill sank snoring to the floor, and he was free to turn
his attention to his less intractable partner.
Kink Mitchell was persuadable, though a poor mathematician. He
wept dolefully, but was willing to sell a half-interest for two
hundred and fifty dollars or the whole claim for seven hundred and
fifty. Ans Handerson and Bidwell laboured to clear away his
erroneous ideas concerning fractions, but their labour was vain.
He spilled tears and regrets all over the bar and on their
shoulders, which tears, however, did not wash away his opinion,
that if one half was worth two hundred and fifty, two halves were
worth three times as much.
In the end,--and even Bidwell retained no more than hazy
recollections of how the night terminated,--a bill of sale was
drawn up, wherein Bill Rader and Charles Mitchell yielded up all
right and title to the claim known as 24 ELDORADO, the same being
the name the creek had received from some optimistic chechaquo.
When Kink had signed, it took the united efforts of the three to
arouse Bill. Pen in hand, he swayed long over the document; and,
each time he rocked back and forth, in Ans Handerson's eyes flashed
and faded a wondrous golden vision. When the precious signature
was at last appended and the dust paid over, he breathed a great
sigh, and sank to sleep under a table, where he dreamed immortally
But the day was chill and grey. He felt bad. His first act,
unconscious and automatic, was to feel for his sack. Its lightness
startled him. Then, slowly, memories of the night thronged into
his brain. Rough voices disturbed him. He opened his eyes and
peered out from under the table. A couple of early risers, or,
rather, men who had been out on trail all night, were vociferating
their opinions concerning the utter and loathsome worthlessness of
Eldorado Creek. He grew frightened, felt in his pocket, and found
the deed to 24 ELDORADO.
Ten minutes later Hootchinoo Bill and Kink Mitchell were roused
from their blankets by a wild-eyed Swede that strove to force upon
them an ink-scrawled and very blotty piece of paper.
"Ay tank Ay take my money back," he gibbered. "Ay tank Ay take my
Tears were in his eyes and throat. They ran down his cheeks as he
knelt before them and pleaded and implored. But Bill and Kink did
not laugh. They might have been harder hearted.
"First time I ever hear a man squeal over a minin' deal," Bill
said. "An' I make free to say 'tis too onusual for me to savvy."
"Same here," Kink Mitchell remarked. "Minin' deals is like horse-
They were honest in their wonderment. They could not conceive of
themselves raising a wail over a business transaction, so they
could not understand it in another man.
"The poor, ornery chechaquo," murmured Hootchinoo Bill, as they
watched the sorrowing Swede disappear up the trail.
"But this ain't Too Much Gold," Kink Mitchell said cheerfully.
And ere the day was out they purchased flour and bacon at
exorbitant prices with Ans Handerson's dust and crossed over the
divide in the direction of the creeks that lie between Klondike and
Three months later they came back over the divide in the midst of a
snow-storm and dropped down the trail to 24 ELDORADO. It merely
chanced that the trail led them that way. They were not looking
for the claim. Nor could they see much through the driving white
till they set foot upon the claim itself. And then the air
lightened, and they beheld a dump, capped by a windlass that a man
was turning. They saw him draw a bucket of gravel from the hole
and tilt it on the edge of the dump. Likewise they saw another,
man, strangely familiar, filling a pan with the fresh gravel. His
hands were large; his hair wets pale yellow. But before they
reached him, he turned with the pan and fled toward a cabin. He
wore no hat, and the snow falling down his neck accounted for his
haste. Bill and Kink ran after him, and came upon him in the
cabin, kneeling by the stove and washing the pan of gravel in a tub
He was too deeply engaged to notice more than that somebody had
entered the cabin. They stood at his shoulder and looked on. He
imparted to the pan a deft circular motion, pausing once or twice
to rake out the larger particles of gravel with his fingers. The
water was muddy, and, with the pan buried in it, they could see
nothing of its contents. Suddenly he lifted the pan clear and sent
the water out of it with a flirt. A mass of yellow, like butter in
a churn, showed across the bottom.
Hootchinoo Bill swallowed. Never in his life had he dreamed of so
rich a test-pan.
"Kind of thick, my friend," he said huskily. "How much might you
reckon that-all to be?"
Ans Handerson did not look up as he replied, "Ay tank fafty
"You must be scrumptious rich, then, eh?"
Still Ans Handerson kept his head down, absorbed in putting in the
fine touches which wash out the last particles of dross, though he
answered, "Ay tank Ay ban wort' five hundred t'ousand dollar."
"Gosh!" said Hootchinoo Bill, and he said it reverently.
"Yes, Bill, gosh!" said Kink Mitchell; and they went out softly and
closed the door.
THE ONE THOUSAND DOZEN
David Rasmunsen was a hustler, and, like many a greater man, a man
of the one idea. Wherefore, when the clarion call of the North
rang on his ear, he conceived an adventure in eggs and bent all his
energy to its achievement. He figured briefly and to the point,
and the adventure became iridescent-hued, splendid. That eggs
would sell at Dawson for five dollars a dozen was a safe working
premise. Whence it was incontrovertible that one thousand dozen
would bring, in the Golden Metropolis, five thousand dollars.
On the other hand, expense was to be considered, and he considered
it well, for he was a careful man, keenly practical, with a hard
head and a heart that imagination never warmed. At fifteen cents a
dozen, the initial cost of his thousand dozen would be one hundred
and fifty dollars, a mere bagatelle in face of the enormous profit.
And suppose, just suppose, to be wildly extravagant for once, that
transportation for himself and eggs should run up eight hundred and
fifty more; he would still have four thousand clear cash and clean
when the last egg was disposed of and the last dust had rippled
into his sack
"You see, Alma,"--he figured it over with his wife, the cosy
dining-room submerged in a sea of maps, government surveys, guide-
books, and Alaskan itineraries,--"you see, expenses don't really
begin till you make Dyea--fifty dollars'll cover it with a first-
class passage thrown in. Now from Dyea to Lake Linderman, Indian
packers take your goods over for twelve cents a pound, twelve
dollars a hundred, or one hundred and twenty dollars a thousand.
Say I have fifteen hundred pounds, it'll cost one hundred and
eighty dollars--call it two hundred and be safe. I am creditably
informed by a Klondiker just come out that I can buy a boat for
three hundred. But the same man says I'm sure to get a couple of
passengers for one hundred and fifty each, which will give me the
boat for nothing, and, further, they can help me manage it. And .
. . that's all; I put my eggs ashore from the boat at Dawson. Now
let me see how much is that?"
"Fifty dollars from San Francisco to Dyea, two hundred from Dyea to
Linderman, passengers pay for the boat--two hundred and fifty all
told," she summed up swiftly.
"And a hundred for my clothes and personal outfit," he went on
happily; "that leaves a margin of five hundred for emergencies.
And what possible emergencies can arise?"
Alma shrugged her shoulders and elevated her brows. If that vast
Northland was capable of swallowing up a man and a thousand dozen
eggs, surely there was room and to spare for whatever else he might
happen to possess. So she thought, but she said nothing. She knew
David Rasmunsen too well to say anything.
"Doubling the time because of chance delays, I should make the trip
in two months. Think of it, Alma! Four thousand in two months!
Beats the paltry hundred a month I'm getting now. Why, we'll build
further out where we'll have more space, gas in every room, and a
view, and the rent of the cottage'll pay taxes, insurance, and
water, and leave something over. And then there's always the
chance of my striking it and coming out a millionaire. Now tell
me, Alma, don't you think I'm very moderate?"
And Alma could hardly think otherwise. Besides, had not her own
cousin,--though a remote and distant one to be sure, the black
sheep, the harum-scarum, the ne'er-do-well,--had not he come down
out of that weird North country with a hundred thousand in yellow
dust, to say nothing of a half-ownership in the hole from which it
David Rasmunsen's grocer was surprised when he found him weighing
eggs in the scales at the end of the counter, and Rasmunsen himself
was more surprised when he found that a dozen eggs weighed a pound
and a half--fifteen hundred pounds for his thousand dozen! There
would be no weight left for his clothes, blankets, and cooking
utensils, to say nothing of the grub he must necessarily consume by
the way. His calculations were all thrown out, and he was just
proceeding to recast them when he hit upon the idea of weighing
small eggs. "For whether they be large or small, a dozen eggs is a
dozen eggs," he observed sagely to himself; and a dozen small ones
he found to weigh but a pound and a quarter. Thereat the city of
San Francisco was overrun by anxious-eyed emissaries, and
commission houses and dairy associations were startled by a sudden
demand for eggs running not more than twenty ounces to the dozen.
Rasmunsen mortgaged the little cottage for a thousand dollars,
arranged for his wife to make a prolonged stay among her own
people, threw up his job, and started North. To keep within his
schedule he compromised on a second-class passage, which, because
of the rush, was worse than steerage; and in the late summer, a
pale and wabbly man, he disembarked with his eggs on the Dyea
beach. But it did not take him long to recover his land legs and
appetite. His first interview with the Chilkoot packers
straightened him up and stiffened his backbone. Forty cents a
pound they demanded for the twenty-eight-mile portage, and while he
caught his breath and swallowed, the price went up to forty-three.
Fifteen husky Indians put the straps on his packs at forty-five,
but took them off at an offer of forty-seven from a Skaguay Croesus
in dirty shirt and ragged overalls who had lost his horses on the
White Pass trail and was now making a last desperate drive at the
country by way of Chilkoot.
But Rasmunsen was clean grit, and at fifty cents found takers, who,
two days later, set his eggs down intact at Linderman. But fifty
cents a pound is a thousand dollars a ton, and his fifteen hundred
pounds had exhausted his emergency fund and left him stranded at
the Tantalus point where each day he saw the fresh-whipsawed boats
departing for Dawson. Further, a great anxiety brooded over the
camp where the boats were built. Men worked frantically, early and
late, at the height of their endurance, caulking, nailing, and
pitching in a frenzy of haste for which adequate explanation was
not far to seek. Each day the snow-line crept farther down the
bleak, rock-shouldered peaks, and gale followed gale, with sleet
and slush and snow, and in the eddies and quiet places young ice
formed and thickened through the fleeting hours. And each morn,
toil-stiffened men turned wan faces across the lake to see if the
freeze-up had come. For the freeze-up heralded the death of their
hope--the hope that they would be floating down the swift river ere
navigation closed on the chain of lakes.
To harrow Rasmunsen's soul further, he discovered three competitors
in the egg business. It was true that one, a little German, had
gone broke and was himself forlornly back-tripping the last pack of
the portage; but the other two had boats nearly completed, and were
daily supplicating the god of merchants and traders to stay the
iron hand of winter for just another day. But the iron hand closed
down over the land. Men were being frozen in the blizzard which
swept Chilkoot, and Rasmunsen frosted his toes ere he was aware.
He found a chance to go passenger with his freight in a boat just
shoving off through the rubble, but two hundred hard cash, was
required, and he had no money.
"Ay tank you yust wait one leedle w'ile," said the Swedish boat-
builder, who had struck his Klondike right there and was wise
enough to know it--"one leedle w'ile und I make you a tam fine
skiff boat, sure Pete."
With this unpledged word to go on, Rasmunsen hit the back trail to
Crater Lake, where he fell in with two press correspondents whose
tangled baggage was strewn from Stone House, over across the Pass,
and as far as Happy Camp.
"Yes," he said with consequence. "I've a thousand dozen eggs at
Linderman, and my boat's just about got the last seam caulked.
Consider myself in luck to get it. Boats are at a premium, you
know, and none to be had."
Whereupon and almost with bodily violence the correspondents
clamoured to go with him, fluttered greenbacks before his eyes, and
spilled yellow twenties from hand to hand. He could not hear of
it, but they over-persuaded him, and he reluctantly consented to
take them at three hundred apiece. Also they pressed upon him the
passage money in advance. And while they wrote to their respective
journals concerning the Good Samaritan with the thousand dozen
eggs, the Good Samaritan was hurrying back to the Swede at
"Here, you! Gimme that boat!" was his salutation, his hand
jingling the correspondents' gold pieces and his eyes hungrily bent
upon the finished craft.
The Swede regarded him stolidly and shook his head.
"How much is the other fellow paying? Three hundred? Well, here's
four. Take it."
He tried to press it upon him, but the man backed away.
"Ay tank not. Ay say him get der skiff boat. You yust wait--"
'Here's six hundred. Last call. Take it or leave it. Tell 'm
it's a mistake.'
The Swede wavered. "Ay tank yes," he finally said, and the last
Rasmunsen saw of him his vocabulary was going to wreck in a vain
effort to explain the mistake to the other fellows.
The German slipped and broke his ankle on the steep hogback above
Deep Lake, sold out his stock for a dollar a dozen, and with the
proceeds hired Indian packers to carry him back to Dyea. But on
the morning Rasmunsen shoved off with his correspondents, his two
rivals followed suit.
'How many you got?" one of them, a lean little New Englander,
"One thousand dozen," Rasmunsen answered proudly.
"Huh! I'll go you even stakes I beat you in with my eight
The correspondents offered to lend him the money; but Rasmunsen
declined, and the Yankee closed with the remaining rival, a brawny
son of the sea and sailor of ships and things, who promised to show
them all a wrinkle or two when it came to cracking on. And crack
on he did, with a large tarpaulin square-sail which pressed the bow
half under at every jump. He was the first to run out of
Linderman, but, disdaining the portage, piled his loaded boat on
the rocks in the boiling rapids. Rasmunsen and the Yankee, who
likewise had two passengers, portaged across on their backs and
then lined their empty boats down through the bad water to Bennett.
Bennett was a twenty-five-mile lake, narrow and deep, a funnel
between the mountains through which storms ever romped. Rasmunsen
camped on the sand-pit at its head, where were many men and boats
bound north in the teeth of the Arctic winter. He awoke in the
morning to find a piping gale from the south, which caught the
chill from the whited peaks and glacial valleys and blew as cold as
north wind ever blew. But it was fair, and he also found the
Yankee staggering past the first bold headland with all sail set.
Boat after boat was getting under way, and the correspondents fell
to with enthusiasm.
"We'll catch him before Cariboo Crossing," they assured Rasmunsen,
as they ran up the sail and the Alma took the first icy spray over
Now Rasmunsen all his life had been prone to cowardice on water,
but he clung to the kicking steering-oar with set face and
determined jaw. His thousand dozen were there in the boat before
his eyes, safely secured beneath the correspondents' baggage, and
somehow, before his eyes were the little cottage and the mortgage
for a thousand dollars.
It was bitter cold. Now and again he hauled in the steering-sweep
and put out a fresh one while his passengers chopped the ice from
the blade. Wherever the spray struck, it turned instantly to
frost, and the dipping boom of the spritsail was quickly fringed
with icicles. The Alma strained and hammered through the big seas
till the seams and butts began to spread, but in lieu of bailing
the correspondents chopped ice and flung it overboard. There was
no let-up. The mad race with winter was on, and the boats tore
along in a desperate string.
"W-w-we can't stop to save our souls!" one of the correspondents
chattered, from cold, not fright.
"That's right! Keep her down the middle, old man!" the other
Rasmunsen replied with an idiotic grin. The iron-bound shores were
in a lather of foam, and even down the middle the only hope was to
keep running away from the big seas. To lower sail was to be
overtaken and swamped. Time and again they passed boats pounding
among the rocks, and once they saw one on the edge of the breakers
about to strike. A little craft behind them, with two men, jibed
over and turned bottom up.
"W-w-watch out, old man," cried he of the chattering teeth.
Rasmunsen grinned and tightened his aching grip on the sweep.
Scores of times had the send of the sea caught the big square stern
of the Alma and thrown her off from dead before it till the after
leach of the spritsail fluttered hollowly, and each time, and only
with all his strength, had he forced her back. His grin by then
had become fixed, and it disturbed the correspondents to look at
They roared down past an isolated rock a hundred yards from shore.
From its wave-drenched top a man shrieked wildly, for the instant
cutting the storm with his voice. But the next instant the Alma
was by, and the rock growing a black speck in the troubled froth.
"That settles the Yankee! Where's the sailor?" shouted one of his
Rasmunsen shot a glance over his shoulder at a black square-sail.
He had seen it leap up out of the grey to windward, and for an
hour, off and on, had been watching it grow. The sailor had
evidently repaired damages and was making up for lost time.
"Look at him come!"
Both passengers stopped chopping ice to watch. Twenty miles of
Bennett were behind them--room and to spare for the sea to toss up
its mountains toward the sky. Sinking and soaring like a storm-
god, the sailor drove by them. The huge sail seemed to grip the
boat from the crests of the waves, to tear it bodily out of the
water, and fling it crashing and smothering down into the yawning
"The sea'll never catch him!"
"But he'll r-r-run her nose under!"
Even as they spoke, the black tarpaulin swooped from sight behind a
big comber. The next wave rolled over the spot, and the next, but
the boat did not reappear. The Alma rushed by the place. A little
riffraff of oats and boxes was seen. An arm thrust up and a shaggy
head broke surface a score of yards away.
For a time there was silence. As the end of the lake came in
sight, the waves began to leap aboard with such steady recurrence
that the correspondents no longer chopped ice but flung the water
out with buckets. Even this would not do, and, after a shouted
conference with Rasmunsen, they attacked the baggage. Flour,
bacon, beans, blankets, cooking-stove, ropes, odds and ends,
everything they could get hands on, flew overboard. The boat
acknowledged it at once, taking less water and rising more
"That'll do!" Rasmunsen called sternly, as they applied themselves
to the top layer of eggs.
"The h-hell it will!" answered the shivering one, savagely. With
the exception of their notes, films, and cameras, they had
sacrificed their outfit. He bent over, laid hold of an egg-box,
and began to worry it out from under the lashing.
"Drop it! Drop it, I say!"
Rasmunsen had managed to draw his revolver, and with the crook of
his arm over the sweep head, was taking aim. The correspondent
stood up on the thwart, balancing back and forth, his face twisted
with menace and speechless anger.
So cried his brother correspondent, hurling himself, face downward,
into the bottom of the boat. The Alma, under the divided attention
of Rasmunsen, had been caught by a great mass of water and whirled
around. The after leach hollowed, the sail emptied and jibed, and
the boom, sweeping with terrific force across the boat, carried the
angry correspondent overboard with a broken back. Mast and sail
had gone over the side as well. A drenching sea followed, as the
boat lost headway, and Rasmunsen sprang to the bailing bucket
Several boats hurtled past them in the next half-hour,--small
boats, boats of their own size, boats afraid, unable to do aught
but run madly on. Then a ten-ton barge, at imminent risk of
destruction, lowered sail to windward and lumbered down upon them.
"Keep off! Keep off!" Rasmunsen screamed.
But his low gunwale ground against the heavy craft, and the
remaining correspondent clambered aboard. Rasmunsen was over the
eggs like a cat and in the bow of the Alma, striving with numb
fingers to bend the hauling-lines together.
"Come on!" a red-whiskered man yelled at him.
"I've a thousand dozen eggs here," he shouted back. "Gimme a tow!
I'll pay you!"
"Come on!" they howled in chorus.
A big whitecap broke just beyond, washing over the barge and
leaving the Alma half swamped. The men cast off, cursing him as
they ran up their sail. Rasmunsen cursed back and fell to bailing.
The mast and sail, like a sea anchor, still fast by the halyards,
held the boat head on to wind and sea and gave him a chance to
fight the water out.
Three hours later, numbed, exhausted, blathering like a lunatic,
but still bailing, he went ashore on an ice-strewn beach near
Cariboo Crossing. Two men, a government courier and a half-breed
voyageur, dragged him out of the surf, saved his cargo, and beached
the Alma. They were paddling out of the country in a Peterborough,
and gave him shelter for the night in their storm-bound camp. Next
morning they departed, but he elected to stay by his eggs. And
thereafter the name and fame of the man with the thousand dozen
eggs began to spread through the land. Gold-seekers who made in
before the freeze-up carried the news of his coming. Grizzled old-
timers of Forty Mile and Circle City, sour doughs with leathern
jaws and bean-calloused stomachs, called up dream memories of
chickens and green things at mention of his name. Dyea and Skaguay
took an interest in his being, and questioned his progress from
every man who came over the passes, while Dawson--golden,
omeletless Dawson--fretted and worried, and way-laid every chance
arrival for word of him.
But of this Rasmunsen knew nothing. The day after the wreck he
patched up the Alma and pulled out. A cruel east wind blew in his
teeth from Tagish, but he got the oars over the side and bucked
manfully into it, though half the time he was drifting backward and
chopping ice from the blades. According to the custom of the
country, he was driven ashore at Windy Arm; three times on Tagish
saw him swamped and beached; and Lake Marsh held him at the freeze-
up. The Alma was crushed in the jamming of the floes, but the eggs
were intact. These he back-tripped two miles across the ice to the
shore, where he built a cache, which stood for years after and was
pointed out by men who knew.
Half a thousand frozen miles stretched between him and Dawson, and
the waterway was closed. But Rasmunsen, with a peculiar tense look
in his face, struck back up the lakes on foot. What he suffered on
that lone trip, with nought but a single blanket, an axe, and a
handful of beans, is not given to ordinary mortals to know. Only
the Arctic adventurer may understand. Suffice that he was caught
in a blizzard on Chilkoot and left two of his toes with the surgeon
at Sheep Camp. Yet he stood on his feet and washed dishes in the
scullery of the PAWONA to the Puget Sound, and from there passed
coal on a P. S. boat to San Francisco.
It was a haggard, unkempt man who limped across the shining office
floor to raise a second mortgage from the bank people. His hollow
cheeks betrayed themselves through the scraggy beard, and his eyes
seemed to have retired into deep caverns where they burned with
cold fires. His hands were grained from exposure and hard work,
and the nails were rimmed with tight-packed dirt and coal-dust. He
spoke vaguely of eggs and ice-packs, winds and tides; but when they
declined to let him have more than a second thousand, his talk
became incoherent, concerning itself chiefly with the price of dogs
and dog-food, and such things as snowshoes and moccasins and winter
trails. They let him have fifteen hundred, which was more than the
cottage warranted, and breathed easier when he scrawled his
signature and passed out the door.
Two weeks later he went over Chilkoot with three dog sleds of five
dogs each. One team he drove, the two Indians with him driving the
others. At Lake Marsh they broke out the cache and loaded up. But
there was no trail. He was the first in over the ice, and to him
fell the task of packing the snow and hammering away through the
rough river jams. Behind him he often observed a camp-fire smoke
trickling thinly up through the quiet air, and he wondered why the
people did not overtake him. For he was a stranger to the land and
did not understand. Nor could he understand his Indians when they
tried to explain. This they conceived to be a hardship, but when
they balked and refused to break camp of mornings, he drove them to
their work at pistol point.
When he slipped through an ice bridge near the White Horse and
froze his foot, tender yet and oversensitive from the previous
freezing, the Indians looked for him to lie up. But he sacrificed
a blanket, and, with his foot incased in an enormous moccasin, big
as a water-bucket, continued to take his regular turn with the
front sled. Here was the cruellest work, and they respected him,
though on the side they rapped their foreheads with their knuckles
and significantly shook their heads. One night they tried to run
away, but the zip-zip of his bullets in the snow brought them back,
snarling but convinced. Whereupon, being only savage Chilkat men,
they put their heads together to kill him; but he slept like a cat,
and, waking or sleeping, the chance never came. Often they tried
to tell him the import of the smoke wreath in the rear, but he
could not comprehend and grew suspicious of them. And when they
sulked or shirked, he was quick to let drive at them between the
eyes, and quick to cool their heated souls with sight of his ready
And so it went--with mutinous men, wild dogs, and a trail that
broke the heart. He fought the men to stay with him, fought the
dogs to keep them away from the eggs, fought the ice, the cold, and
the pain of his foot, which would not heal. As fast as the young
tissue renewed, it was bitten and scared by the frost, so that a
running sore developed, into which he could almost shove his fist.
In the mornings, when he first put his weight upon it, his head
went dizzy, and he was near to fainting from the pain; but later on
in the day it usually grew numb, to recommence when he crawled into
his blankets and tried to sleep. Yet he, who had been a clerk and
sat at a desk all his days, toiled till the Indians were exhausted,
and even out-worked the dogs. How hard he worked, how much he
suffered, he did not know. Being a man of the one idea, now that
the idea had come, it mastered him. In the foreground of his
consciousness was Dawson, in the background his thousand dozen
eggs, and midway between the two his ego fluttered, striving always
to draw them together to a glittering golden point. This golden
point was the five thousand dollars, the consummation of the idea
and the point of departure for whatever new idea might present
itself. For the rest, he was a mere automaton. He was unaware of
other things, seeing them as through a glass darkly, and giving
them no thought. The work of his hands he did with machine-like
wisdom; likewise the work of his head. So the look on his face
grew very tense, till even the Indians were afraid of it, and
marvelled at the strange white man who had made them slaves and
forced them to toil with such foolishness.
Then came a snap on Lake Le Barge, when the cold of outer space
smote the tip of the planet, and the force ranged sixty and odd
degrees below zero. Here, labouring with open mouth that he might
breathe more freely, he chilled his lungs, and for the rest of the
trip he was troubled with a dry, hacking cough, especially
irritable in smoke of camp or under stress of undue exertion. On
the Thirty Mile river he found much open water, spanned by
precarious ice bridges and fringed with narrow rim ice, tricky and
uncertain. The rim ice was impossible to reckon on, and he dared
it without reckoning, falling back on his revolver when his drivers
demurred. But on the ice bridges, covered with snow though they
were, precautions could be taken. These they crossed on their
snowshoes, with long poles, held crosswise in their hands, to which
to cling in case of accident. Once over, the dogs were called to
follow. And on such a bridge, where the absence of the centre ice
was masked by the snow, one of the Indians met his end. He went
through as quickly and neatly as a knife through thin cream, and
the current swept him from view down under the stream ice.
That night his mate fled away through the pale moonlight, Rasmunsen
futilely puncturing the silence with his revolver--a thing that he
handled with more celerity than cleverness. Thirty-six hours later
the Indian made a police camp on the Big Salmon.
"Um--um--um funny mans--what you call?--top um head all loose," the
interpreter explained to the puzzled captain. "Eh? Yep, clazy,
much clazy mans. Eggs, eggs, all a time eggs--savvy? Come bime-
It was several days before Rasmunsen arrived, the three sleds
lashed together, and all the dogs in a single team. It was
awkward, and where the going was bad he was compelled to back-trip
it sled by sled, though he managed most of the time, through
herculean efforts, to bring all along on the one haul. He did not
seem moved when the captain of police told him his man was hitting
the high places for Dawson, and was by that time, probably, half-
way between Selkirk and Stewart. Nor did he appear interested when
informed that the police had broken the trail as far as Pelly; for
he had attained to a fatalistic acceptance of all natural
dispensations, good or ill. But when they told him that Dawson was
in the bitter clutch of famine, he smiled, threw the harness on his
dogs, and pulled out.
But it was at his next halt that the mystery of the smoke was
explained. With the word at Big Salmon that the trail was broken
to Pelly, there was no longer any need for the smoke wreath to
linger in his wake; and Rasmunsen, crouching over lonely fire, saw
a motley string of sleds go by. First came the courier and the
half-breed who had hauled him out from Bennett; then mail-carriers
for Circle City, two sleds of them, and a mixed following of
ingoing Klondikers. Dogs and men were fresh and fat, while
Rasmunsen and his brutes were jaded and worn down to the skin and
bone. They of the smoke wreath had travelled one day in three,
resting and reserving their strength for the dash to come when
broken trail was met with; while each day he had plunged and
floundered forward, breaking the spirit of his dogs and robbing
them of their mettle.
As for himself, he was unbreakable. They thanked him kindly for
his efforts in their behalf, those fat, fresh men,--thanked him
kindly, with broad grins and ribald laughter; and now, when he
understood, he made no answer. Nor did he cherish silent
bitterness. It was immaterial. The idea--the fact behind the
idea--was not changed. Here he was and his thousand dozen; there
was Dawson; the problem was unaltered.
At the Little Salmon, being short of dog food, the dogs got into
his grub, and from there to Selkirk he lived on beans--coarse,
brown beans, big beans, grossly nutritive, which griped his stomach
and doubled him up at two-hour intervals. But the Factor at
Selkirk had a notice on the door of the Post to the effect that no
steamer had been up the Yukon for two years, and in consequence
grub was beyond price. He offered to swap flour, however, at the
rate of a cupful of each egg, but Rasmunsen shook his head and hit
the trail. Below the Post he managed to buy frozen horse hide for
the dogs, the horses having been slain by the Chilkat cattle men,
and the scraps and offal preserved by the Indians. He tackled the
hide himself, but the hair worked into the bean sores of his mouth,
and was beyond endurance.
Here at Selkirk he met the forerunners of the hungry exodus of
Dawson, and from there on they crept over the trail, a dismal
throng. "No grub!" was the song they sang. "No grub, and had to
go." "Everybody holding candles for a rise in the spring." "Flour
dollar 'n a half a pound, and no sellers."
"Eggs?" one of them answered. "Dollar apiece, but there ain't
Rasmunsen made a rapid calculation. "Twelve thousand dollars," he
"Hey?" the man asked.
"Nothing," he answered, and MUSHED the dogs along.
When he arrived at Stewart River, seventy from Dawson, five of his
dogs were gone, and the remainder were falling in the traces. He,
also, was in the traces, hauling with what little strength was left
in him. Even then he was barely crawling along ten miles a day.
His cheek-bones and nose, frost-bitten again and again, were turned
bloody-black and hideous. The thumb, which was separated from the
fingers by the gee-pole, had likewise been nipped and gave him
great pain. The monstrous moccasin still incased his foot, and
strange pains were beginning to rack the leg. At Sixty Mile, the
last beans, which he had been rationing for some time, were
finished; yet he steadfastly refused to touch the eggs. He could
not reconcile his mind to the legitimacy of it, and staggered and
fell along the way to Indian River. Here a fresh-killed moose and
an open-handed old-timer gave him and his dogs new strength, and at
Ainslie's he felt repaid for it all when a stampede, ripe from
Dawson in five hours, was sure he could get a dollar and a quarter
for every egg he possessed.
He came up the steep bank by the Dawson barracks with fluttering
heart and shaking knees. The dogs were so weak that he was forced
to rest them, and, waiting, he leaned limply against the gee-pole.
A man, an eminently decorous-looking man, came sauntering by in a
great bearskin coat. He glanced at Rasmunsen curiously, then
stopped and ran a speculative eye over the dogs and the three
"What you got?" he asked.
"Eggs," Rasmunsen answered huskily, hardly able to pitch his voice
above a whisper.
"Eggs! Whoopee! Whoopee!" He sprang up into the air, gyrated
madly, and finished with half-a-dozen war steps. "You don't say--
all of 'em?"
"All of 'em."
"Say, you must be the Egg Man." He walked around and viewed
Rasmunsen from the other side. "Come, now, ain't you the Egg Man?"
Rasmunsen didn't know, but supposed he was, and the man sobered
down a bit.
"What d'ye expect to get for 'em?" he asked cautiously.
Rasmunsen became audacious. "Dollar 'n a half," he said.
"Done!" the man came back promptly. "Gimme a dozen."
"I--I mean a dollar 'n a half apiece," Rasmunsen hesitatingly
"Sure. I heard you. Make it two dozen. Here's the dust."
The man pulled out a healthy gold sack the size of a small sausage
and knocked it negligently against the gee-pole. Rasmunsen felt a
strange trembling in the pit of his stomach, a tickling of the
nostrils, and an almost overwhelming desire to sit down and cry.
But a curious, wide-eyed crowd was beginning to collect, and man
after man was calling out for eggs. He was without scales, but the
man with the bearskin coat fetched a pair and obligingly weighed in
the dust while Rasmunsen passed out the goods. Soon there was a
pushing and shoving and shouldering, and a great clamour.
Everybody wanted to buy and to be served first. And as the
excitement grew, Rasmunsen cooled down. This would never do.
There must be something behind the fact of their buying so eagerly.
It would be wiser if he rested first and sized up the market.
Perhaps eggs were worth two dollars apiece. Anyway, whenever he
wished to sell, he was sure of a dollar and a half. "Stop!" he
cried, when a couple of hundred had been sold. "No more now. I'm
played out. I've got to get a cabin, and then you can come and see
A groan went up at this, but the man with the bearskin coat
approved. Twenty-four of the frozen eggs went rattling in his
capacious pockets, and he didn't care whether the rest of the town
ate or not. Besides, he could see Rasmunsen was on his last legs.
"There's a cabin right around the second corner from the Monte
Carlo," he told him--"the one with the sody-bottle window. It
ain't mine, but I've got charge of it. Rents for ten a day and
cheap for the money. You move right in, and I'll see you later.
Don't forget the sody-bottle window."
"Tra-la-loo!" he called back a moment later. "I'm goin' up the
hill to eat eggs and dream of home."
On his way to the cabin, Rasmunsen recollected he was hungry and
bought a small supply of provisions at the N. A. T. & T. store--
also a beefsteak at the butcher shop and dried salmon for the dogs.
He found the cabin without difficulty, and left the dogs in the
harness while he started the fire and got the coffee under way.
A dollar 'n a half apiece--one thousand dozen--eighteen thousand
dollars!" he kept muttering it to himself, over and over, as he
went about his work.
As he flopped the steak into the frying-pan the door opened. He
turned. It was the man with the bearskin coat. He seemed to come
in with determination, as though bound on some explicit errand, but
as he looked at Rasmunsen an expression of perplexity came into his
"I say--now I say--" he began, then halted.
Rasmunsen wondered if he wanted the rent.
"I say, damn it, you know, them eggs is bad."
Rasmunsen staggered. He felt as though some one had struck him an
astounding blow between the eyes. The walls of the cabin reeled
and tilted up. He put out his hand to steady himself and rested it
on the stove. The sharp pain and the smell of the burning flesh
brought him back to himself.
"I see," he said slowly, fumbling in his pocket for the sack. "You
want your money back."
"It ain't the money," the man said, "but hain't you got any eggs--
Rasmunsen shook his head. "You'd better take the money."
But the man refused and backed away. "I'll come back," he said,
"when you've taken stock, and get what's comin'."
Rasmunsen rolled the chopping-block into the cabin and carried in
the eggs. He went about it quite calmly. He took up the hand-axe,
and, one by one, chopped the eggs in half. These halves he
examined carefully and let fall to the floor. At first he sampled
from the different cases, then deliberately emptied one case at a
time. The heap on the floor grew larger. The coffee boiled over
and the smoke of the burning beefsteak filled the cabin. He
chopped steadfastly and monotonously till the last case was
Somebody knocked at the door, knocked again, and let himself in.
"What a mess!" he remarked, as he paused and surveyed the scene.
The severed eggs were beginning to thaw in the heat of the stove,
and a miserable odour was growing stronger.
"Must a-happened on the steamer," he suggested.
Rasmunsen looked at him long and blankly.
"I'm Murray, Big Jim Murray, everybody knows me," the man
volunteered. "I'm just hearin' your eggs is rotten, and I'm
offerin' you two hundred for the batch. They ain't good as salmon,
but still they're fair scoffin's for dogs."
Rasmunsen seemed turned to stone. He did not move. "You go to
hell," he said passionlessly.
"Now just consider. I pride myself it's a decent price for a mess
like that, and it's better 'n nothin'. Two hundred. What you
"You go to hell," Rasmunsen repeated softly, "and get out of here."
Murray gaped with a great awe, then went out carefully, backward,
with his eyes fixed an the other's face.
Rasmunsen followed him out and turned the dogs loose. He threw
them all the salmon he had bought, and coiled a sled-lashing up in
his hand. Then he re-entered the cabin and drew the latch in after
him. The smoke from the cindered steak made his eyes smart. He
stood on the bunk, passed the lashing over the ridge-pole, and
measured the swing-off with his eye. It did not seem to satisfy,
for he put the stool on the bunk and climbed upon the stool. He
drove a noose in the end of the lashing and slipped his head
through. The other end he made fast. Then he kicked the stool out
THE MARRIAGE OF LIT-LIT
When John Fox came into a country where whisky freezes solid and
may be used as a paper-weight for a large part of the year, he came
without the ideals and illusions that usually hamper the progress
of more delicately nurtured adventurers. Born and reared on the
frontier fringe of the United States, he took with him into Canada
a primitive cast of mind, an elemental simplicity and grip on
things, as it were, that insured him immediate success in his new
career. From a mere servant of the Hudson Bay Company, driving a
paddle with the voyageurs and carrying goods on his back across the
portages, he swiftly rose to a Factorship and took charge of a
trading post at Fort Angelus.
Here, because of his elemental simplicity, he took to himself a
native wife, and, by reason of the connubial bliss that followed,
he escaped the unrest and vain longings that curse the days of more
fastidious men, spoil their work, and conquer them in the end. He
lived contentedly, was at single purposes with the business he was
set there to do, and achieved a brilliant record in the service of
the Company. About this time his wife died, was claimed by her
people, and buried with savage circumstance in a tin trunk in the
top of a tree.
Two sons she had borne him, and when the Company promoted him, he
journeyed with them still deeper into the vastness of the North-
West Territory to a place called Sin Rock, where he took charge of
a new post in a more important fur field. Here he spent several
lonely and depressing months, eminently disgusted with the
unprepossessing appearance of the Indian maidens, and greatly
worried by his growing sons who stood in need of a mother's care.
Then his eyes chanced upon Lit-lit.
"Lit-lit--well, she is Lit-lit," was the fashion in which he
despairingly described her to his chief clerk, Alexander McLean.
McLean was too fresh from his Scottish upbringing--"not dry behind
the ears yet," John Fox put it--to take to the marriage customs of
the country. Nevertheless he was not averse to the Factor's
imperilling his own immortal soul, and, especially, feeling an
ominous attraction himself for Lit-lit, he was sombrely content to
clinch his own soul's safety by seeing her married to the Factor.
Nor is it to be wondered that McLean's austere Scotch soul stood in
danger of being thawed in the sunshine of Lit-lit's eyes. She was
pretty, and slender, and willowy; without the massive face and
temperamental stolidity of the average squaw. "Lit-lit," so called
from her fashion, even as a child, of being fluttery, of darting
about from place to place like a butterfly, of being inconsequent
and merry, and of laughing as lightly as she darted and danced
Lit-lit was the daughter of Snettishane, a prominent chief in the
tribe, by a half-breed mother, and to him the Factor fared casually
one summer day to open negotiations of marriage. He sat with the
chief in the smoke of a mosquito smudge before his lodge, and
together they talked about everything under the sun, or, at least,
everything that in the Northland is under the sun, with the sole
exception of marriage. John Fox had come particularly to talk of
marriage; Snettishane knew it, and John Fox knew he knew it,
wherefore the subject was religiously avoided. This is alleged to
be Indian subtlety. In reality it is transparent simplicity.
The hours slipped by, and Fox and Snettishane smoked interminable
pipes, looking each other in the eyes with a guilelessness superbly
histrionic. In the mid-afternoon McLean and his brother clerk,
McTavish, strolled past, innocently uninterested, on their way to
the river. When they strolled back again an hour later, Fox and
Snettishane had attained to a ceremonious discussion of the
condition and quality of the gunpowder and bacon which the Company
was offering in trade. Meanwhile Lit-lit, divining the Factor's
errand, had crept in under the rear wall of the lodge, and through
the front flap was peeping out at the two logomachists by the
mosquito smudge. She was flushed and happy-eyed, proud that no
less a man than the Factor (who stood next to God in the Northland
hierarchy) had singled her out, femininely curious to see at close
range what manner of man he was. Sunglare on the ice, camp smoke,
and weather beat had burned his face to a copper-brown, so that her
father was as fair as he, while she was fairer. She was remotely
glad of this, and more immediately glad that he was large and
strong, though his great black beard half frightened her, it was so
Being very young, she was unversed in the ways of men. Seventeen
times she had seen the sun travel south and lose itself beyond the
sky-line, and seventeen times she had seen it travel back again and
ride the sky day and night till there was no night at all. And
through these years she had been cherished jealously by
Snettishane, who stood between her and all suitors, listening
disdainfully to the young hunters as they bid for her hand, and
turning them away as though she were beyond price. Snettishane was
mercenary. Lit-lit was to him an investment. She represented so
much capital, from which he expected to receive, not a certain
definite interest, but an incalculable interest.
And having thus been reared in a manner as near to that of the
nunnery as tribal conditions would permit, it was with a great and
maidenly anxiety that she peeped out at the man who had surely come
for her, at the husband who was to teach her all that was yet
unlearned of life, at the masterful being whose word was to be her
law, and who was to mete and bound her actions and comportment for
the rest of her days.
But, peeping through the front flap of the lodge, flushed and
thrilling at the strange destiny reaching out for her, she grew
disappointed as the day wore along, and the Factor and her father
still talked pompously of matters concerning other things and not
pertaining to marriage things at all. As the sun sank lower and
lower toward the north and midnight approached, the Factor began
making unmistakable preparations for departure. As he turned to
stride away Lit-lit's heart sank; but it rose again as he halted,
half turning on one heel.
"Oh, by the way, Snettishane," he said, "I want a squaw to wash for
me and mend my clothes."
Snettishane grunted and suggested Wanidani, who was an old woman
"No, no," interposed the Factor. "What I want is a wife. I've
been kind of thinking about it, and the thought just struck me that
you might know of some one that would suit."
Snettishane looked interested, whereupon the Factor retraced his
steps, casually and carelessly to linger and discuss this new and
"Kattou?" suggested Snettishane.
"She has but one eye," objected the Factor.
"Her knees be wide apart when she stands upright. Kips, your
biggest dog, can leap between her knees when she stands upright."
"Senatee?" went on the imperturbable Snettishane.
But John Fox feigned anger, crying: "What foolishness is this? Am
I old, that thou shouldst mate me with old women? Am I toothless?
lame of leg? blind of eye? Or am I poor that no bright-eyed maiden
may look with favour upon me? Behold! I am the Factor, both rich
and great, a power in the land, whose speech makes men tremble and
Snettishane was inwardly pleased, though his sphinx-like visage
never relaxed. He was drawing the Factor, and making him break
ground. Being a creature so elemental as to have room for but one
idea at a time, Snettishane could pursue that one idea a greater
distance than could John Fox. For John Fox, elemental as he was,
was still complex enough to entertain several glimmering ideas at a
time, which debarred him from pursuing the one as single-heartedly
or as far as did the chief.
Snettishane calmly continued calling the roster of eligible
maidens, which, name by name, as fast as uttered, were stamped
ineligible by John Fox, with specified objections appended. Again
he gave it up and started to return to the Fort. Snettishane
watched him go, making no effort to stop him, but seeing him, in
the end, stop himself.
"Come to think of it," the Factor remarked, "we both of us forgot
Lit-lit. Now I wonder if she'll suit me?"
Snettishane met the suggestion with a mirthless face, behind the
mask of which his soul grinned wide. It was a distinct victory.
Had the Factor gone but one step farther, perforce Snettishane
would himself have mentioned the name of Lit-lit, but--the Factor
had not gone that one step farther.
The chief was non-committal concerning Lit-lit's suitability, till
he drove the white man into taking the next step in order of
"Well," the Factor meditated aloud, "the only way to find out is to
make a try of it." He raised his voice. "So I will give for Lit-
lit ten blankets and three pounds of tobacco which is good
Snettishane replied with a gesture which seemed to say that all the
blankets and tobacco in all the world could not compensate him for
the loss of Lit-lit and her manifold virtues. When pressed by the
Factor to set a price, he coolly placed it at five hundred
blankets, ten guns, fifty pounds of tobacco, twenty scarlet cloths,
ten bottles of rum, a music-box, and lastly the good-will and best
offices of the Factor, with a place by his fire.
The Factor apparently suffered a stroke of apoplexy, which stroke
was successful in reducing the blankets to two hundred and in
cutting out the place by the fire--an unheard-of condition in the
marriages of white men with the daughters of the soil. In the end,
after three hours more of chaffering, they came to an agreement.
For Lit-lit Snettishane was to receive one hundred blankets, five
pounds of tobacco, three guns, and a bottle of rum, goodwill and
best offices included, which according to John Fox, was ten
blankets and a gun more than she was worth. And as he went home
through the wee sma' hours, the three-o'clock sun blazing in the
due north-east, he was unpleasantly aware that Snettishane had
bested him over the bargain.
Snettishane, tired and victorious, sought his bed, and discovered
Lit-lit before she could escape from the lodge.
He grunted knowingly: "Thou hast seen. Thou has heard. Wherefore
it be plain to thee thy father's very great wisdom and
understanding. I have made for thee a great match. Heed my words
and walk in the way of my words, go when I say go, come when I bid
thee come, and we shall grow fat with the wealth of this big white
man who is a fool according to his bigness."
The next day no trading was done at the store. The Factor opened
whisky before breakfast, to the delight of McLean and McTavish,
gave his dogs double rations, and wore his best moccasins. Outside
the Fort preparations were under way for a POTLATCH. Potlatch
means "a giving," and John Fox's intention was to signalize his
marriage with Lit-lit by a potlatch as generous as she was good-
looking. In the afternoon the whole tribe gathered to the feast.
Men, women, children, and dogs gorged to repletion, nor was there
one person, even among the chance visitors and stray hunters from
other tribes, who failed to receive some token of the bridegroom's
Lit-lit, tearfully shy and frightened, was bedecked by her bearded
husband with a new calico dress, splendidly beaded moccasins, a
gorgeous silk handkerchief over her raven hair, a purple scarf
about her throat, brass ear-rings and finger-rings, and a whole
pint of pinchbeck jewellery, including a Waterbury watch.
Snettishane could scarce contain himself at the spectacle, but
watching his chance drew her aside from the feast.
"Not this night, nor the next night," he began ponderously, "but in
the nights to come, when I shall call like a raven by the river
bank, it is for thee to rise up from thy big husband, who is a
fool, and come to me.
"Nay, nay," he went on hastily, at sight of the dismay in her face
at turning her back upon her wonderful new life. "For no sooner
shall this happen than thy big husband, who is a fool, will come
wailing to my lodge. Then it is for thee to wail likewise,
claiming that this thing is not well, and that the other thing thou
dost not like, and that to be the wife of the Factor is more than
thou didst bargain for, only wilt thou be content with more
blankets, and more tobacco, and more wealth of various sorts for
thy poor old father, Snettishane. Remember well, when I call in
the night, like a raven, from the river bank."
Lit-lit nodded; for to disobey her father was a peril she knew
well; and, furthermore, it was a little thing he asked, a short
separation from the Factor, who would know only greater gladness at
having her back. She returned to the feast, and, midnight being
well at hand, the Factor sought her out and led her away to the
Fort amid joking and outcry, in which the squaws were especially
Lit-lit quickly found that married life with the head-man of a fort
was even better than she had dreamed. No longer did she have to
fetch wood and water and wait hand and foot upon cantankerous
menfolk. For the first time in her life she could lie abed till
breakfast was on the table. And what a bed!--clean and soft, and
comfortable as no bed she had ever known. And such food! Flour,
cooked into biscuits, hot-cakes and bread, three times a day and
every day, and all one wanted! Such prodigality was hardly
To add to her contentment, the Factor was cunningly kind. He had
buried one wife, and he knew how to drive with a slack rein that
went firm only on occasion, and then went very firm. "Lit-lit is
boss of this place," he announced significantly at the table the
morning after the wedding. "What she says goes. Understand?" And
McLean and McTavish understood. Also, they knew that the Factor
had a heavy hand.
But Lit-lit did not take advantage. Taking a leaf from the book of
her husband, she at once assumed charge of his own growing sons,
giving them added comforts and a measure of freedom like to that
which he gave her. The two sons were loud in the praise of their
new mother; McLean and McTavish lifted their voices; and the Factor
bragged of the joys of matrimony till the story of her good
behaviour and her husband's satisfaction became the property of all
the dwellers in the Sin Rock district.
Whereupon Snettishane, with visions of his incalculable interest
keeping him awake of nights, thought it time to bestir himself. On
the tenth night of her wedded life Lit-lit was awakened by the
croaking of a raven, and she knew that Snettishane was waiting for
her by the river bank. In her great happiness she had forgotten
her pact, and now it came back to her with behind it all the
childish terror of her father. For a time she lay in fear and
trembling, loath to go, afraid to stay. But in the end the Factor
won the silent victory, and his kindness plus his great muscles and
square jaw, nerved her to disregard Snettishane's call.
But in the morning she arose very much afraid, and went about her
duties in momentary fear of her father's coming. As the day wore
along, however, she began to recover her spirits. John Fox,
soundly berating McLean and McTavish for some petty dereliction of
duty, helped her to pluck up courage. She tried not to let him go
out of her sight, and when she followed him into the huge cache and
saw him twirling and tossing great bales around as though they were
feather pillows, she felt strengthened in her disobedience to her
father. Also (it was her first visit to the warehouse, and Sin
Rock was the chief distributing point to several chains of lesser
posts), she was astounded at the endlessness of the wealth there
This sight and the picture in her mind's eye of the bare lodge of
Snettishane, put all doubts at rest. Yet she capped her conviction
by a brief word with one of her step-sons. "White daddy good?" was
what she asked, and the boy answered that his father was the best
man he had ever known. That night the raven croaked again. On the
night following the croaking was more persistent. It awoke the
Factor, who tossed restlessly for a while. Then he said aloud,
"Damn that raven," and Lit-lit laughed quietly under the blankets.
In the morning, bright and early, Snettishane put in an ominous
appearance and was set to breakfast in the kitchen with Wanidani.
He refused "squaw food," and a little later bearded his son-in-law
in the store where the trading was done. Having learned, he said,
that his daughter was such a jewel, he had come for more blankets,
more tobacco, and more guns--especially more guns. He had
certainly been cheated in her price, he held, and he had come for
justice. But the Factor had neither blankets nor justice to spare.
Whereupon he was informed that Snettishane had seen the missionary
at Three Forks, who had notified him that such marriages were not
made in heaven, and that it was his father's duty to demand his
"I am good Christian man now," Snettishane concluded. "I want my
Lit-lit to go to heaven."
The Factor's reply was short and to the point; for he directed his
father-in-law to go to the heavenly antipodes, and by the scruff of
the neck and the slack of the blanket propelled him on that trail
as far as the door.
But Snettishane sneaked around and in by the kitchen, cornering
Lit-lit in the great living-room of the Fort.
"Mayhap thou didst sleep over-sound last night when I called by the
river bank," he began, glowering darkly.
"Nay, I was awake and heard." Her heart was beating as though it
would choke her, but she went on steadily, "And the night before I
was awake and heard, and yet again the night before."
And thereat, out of her great happiness and out of the fear that it
might be taken from her, she launched into an original and glowing
address upon the status and rights of woman--the first new-woman
lecture delivered north of Fifty-three.
But it fell on unheeding ears. Snettishane was still in the dark
ages. As she paused for breath, he said threateningly, "To-night I
shall call again like the raven."
At this moment the Factor entered the room and again helped
Snettishane on his way to the heavenly antipodes.
That night the raven croaked more persistently than ever. Lit-lit,
who was a light sleeper, heard and smiled. John Fox tossed
restlessly. Then he awoke and tossed about with greater
restlessness. He grumbled and snorted, swore under his breath and
over his breath, and finally flung out of bed. He groped his way
to the great living-room, and from the rack took down a loaded
shot-gun--loaded with bird-shot, left therein by the careless
The Factor crept carefully out of the Fort and down to the river.
The croaking had ceased, but he stretched out in the long grass and
waited. The air seemed a chilly balm, and the earth, after the
heat of the day, now and again breathed soothingly against him.
The Factor, gathered into the rhythm of it all, dozed off, with his
head upon his arm, and slept.
Fifty yards away, head resting on knees, and with his back to John
Fox, Snettishane likewise slept, gently conquered by the quietude
of the night. An hour slipped by and then he awoke, and, without
lifting his head, set the night vibrating with the hoarse gutturals
of the raven call.
The Factor roused, not with the abrupt start of civilized man, but
with the swift and comprehensive glide from sleep to waking of the
savage. In the night-light he made out a dark object in the midst
of the grass and brought his gun to bear upon it. A second croak
began to rise, and he pulled the trigger. The crickets ceased from
their sing-song chant, the wildfowl from their squabbling, and the
raven croak broke midmost and died away in gasping silence.
John Fox ran to the spot and reached for the thing he had killed,
but his fingers closed on a coarse mop of hair and he turned
Snettishane's face upward to the starlight. He knew how a shotgun
scattered at fifty yards, and he knew that he had peppered
Snettishane across the shoulders and in the small of the back. And
Snettishane knew that he knew, but neither referred to it
"What dost thou here?" the Factor demanded. "It were time old
bones should be in bed."
But Snettishane was stately in spite of the bird-shot burning under
"Old bones will not sleep," he said solemnly. "I weep for my
daughter, for my daughter Lit-lit, who liveth and who yet is dead,
and who goeth without doubt to the white man's hell."
"Weep henceforth on the far bank, beyond ear-shot of the Fort,"
said John Fox, turning on his heel, "for the noise of thy weeping
is exceeding great and will not let one sleep of nights."
"My heart is sore," Snettishane answered, "and my days and nights
be black with sorrow."
"As the raven is black," said John Fox.
"As the raven is black," Snettishane said.
Never again was the voice of the raven heard by the river bank.
Lit-lit grows matronly day by day and is very happy. Also, there
are sisters to the sons of John Fox's first wife who lies buried in
a tree. Old Snettishane is no longer a visitor at the Fort, and
spends long hours raising a thin, aged voice against the filial
ingratitude of children in general and of his daughter Lit-lit in
particular. His declining years are embittered by the knowledge
that he was cheated, and even John Fox has withdrawn the assertion
that the price for Lit-lit was too much by ten blankets and a gun.
Batard was a devil. This was recognized throughout the Northland.
"Hell's Spawn" he was called by many men, but his master, Black
Leclere, chose for him the shameful name "Batard." Now Black
Leclere was also a devil, and the twain were well matched. There
is a saying that when two devils come together, hell is to pay.
This is to be expected, and this certainly was to be expected when
Batard and Black Leclere came together. The first time they met,
Batard was a part-grown puppy, lean and hungry, with bitter eyes;
and they met with snap and snarl, and wicked looks, for Leclere's
upper lip had a wolfish way of lifting and showing the white, cruel
teeth. And it lifted then, and his eyes glinted viciously, as he
reached for Batard and dragged him out from the squirming litter.
It was certain that they divined each other, for on the instant
Batard had buried his puppy fangs in Leclere's hand, and Leclere,
thumb and finger, was coolly choking his young life out of him.
"SACREDAM," the Frenchman said softly, flirting the quick blood
from his bitten hand and gazing down on the little puppy choking
and gasping in the snow.
Leclere turned to John Hamlin, storekeeper of the Sixty Mile Post.
"Dat fo' w'at Ah lak heem. 'Ow moch, eh, you, M'sieu'? 'Ow moch?
Ah buy heem, now; Ah buy heem queek."
And because he hated him with an exceeding bitter hate, Leclere
bought Batard and gave him his shameful name. And for five years
the twain adventured across the Northland, from St. Michael's and
the Yukon delta to the head-reaches of the Pelly and even so far as
the Peace River, Athabasca, and the Great Slave. And they acquired
a reputation for uncompromising wickedness, the like of which never
before attached itself to man and dog.
Batard did not know his father--hence his name--but, as John Hamlin
knew, his father was a great grey timber wolf. But the mother of
Batard, as he dimly remembered her, was snarling, bickering,
obscene, husky, full-fronted and heavy-chested, with a malign eye,
a cat-like grip on life, and a genius for trickery and evil. There
was neither faith nor trust in her. Her treachery alone could be
relied upon, and her wild-wood amours attested her general
depravity. Much of evil and much of strength were there in these,
Batard's progenitors, and, bone and flesh of their bone and flesh,
he had inherited it all. And then came Black Leclere, to lay his
heavy hand on the bit of pulsating puppy life, to press and prod
and mould till it became a big bristling beast, acute in knavery,
overspilling with hate, sinister, malignant, diabolical. With a
proper master Batard might have made an ordinary, fairly efficient
sled-dog. He never got the chance: Leclere but confirmed him in
his congenital iniquity.
The history of Batard and Leclere is a history of war--of five
cruel, relentless years, of which their first meeting is fit
summary. To begin with, it was Leclere's fault, for he hated with
understanding and intelligence, while the long-legged, ungainly
puppy hated only blindly, instinctively, without reason or method.
At first there were no refinements of cruelty (these were to come
later), but simple beatings and crude brutalities. In one of these
Batard had an ear injured. He never regained control of the riven
muscles, and ever after the ear drooped limply down to keep keen
the memory of his tormentor. And he never forgot.
His puppyhood was a period of foolish rebellion. He was always
worsted, but he fought back because it was his nature to fight
back. And he was unconquerable. Yelping shrilly from the pain of
lash and club, he none the less contrived always to throw in the
defiant snarl, the bitter vindictive menace of his soul which
fetched without fail more blows and beatings. But his was his
mother's tenacious grip on life. Nothing could kill him. He
flourished under misfortune, grew fat with famine, and out of his
terrible struggle for life developed a preternatural intelligence.
His were the stealth and cunning of the husky, his mother, and the
fierceness and valour of the wolf, his father.
Possibly it was because of his father that he never wailed. His
puppy yelps passed with his lanky legs, so that he became grim and
taciturn, quick to strike, slow to warn. He answered curse with
snarl, and blow with snap, grinning the while his implacable
hatred; but never again, under the extremest agony, did Leclere
bring from him the cry of fear nor of pain. This unconquerableness
but fanned Leclere's wrath and stirred him to greater deviltries.
Did Leclere give Batard half a fish and to his mates whole ones,
Batard went forth to rob other dogs of their fish. Also he robbed
caches and expressed himself in a thousand rogueries, till he
became a terror to all dogs and masters of dogs. Did Leclere beat
Batard and fondle Babette--Babette who was not half the worker he
was--why, Batard threw her down in the snow and broke her hind leg
in his heavy jaws, so that Leclere was forced to shoot her.
Likewise, in bloody battles, Batard mastered all his team-mates,
set them the law of trail and forage, and made them live to the law
In five years he heard but one kind word, received but one soft
stroke of a hand, and then he did not know what manner of things
they were. He leaped like the untamed thing he was, and his jaws
were together in a flash. It was the missionary at Sunrise, a
newcomer in the country, who spoke the kind word and gave the soft
stroke of the hand. And for six months after, he wrote no letters
home to the States, and the surgeon at McQuestion travelled two
hundred miles on the ice to save him from blood-poisoning.
Men and dogs looked askance at Batard when he drifted into their
camps and posts. The men greeted him with feet threateningly
lifted for the kick, the dogs with bristling manes and bared fangs.
Once a man did kick Batard, and Batard, with quick wolf snap,
closed his jaws like a steel trap on the man's calf and crunched
down to the bone. Whereat the man was determined to have his life,
only Black Leclere, with ominous eyes and naked hunting-knife,
stepped in between. The killing of Batard--ah, SACREDAM, THAT was
a pleasure Leclere reserved for himself. Some day it would happen,
or else--bah! who was to know? Anyway, the problem would be
For they had become problems to each other. The very breath each
drew was a challenge and a menace to the other. Their hate bound
them together as love could never bind. Leclere was bent on the
coming of the day when Batard should wilt in spirit and cringe and
whimper at his feet. And Batard--Leclere knew what was in Batard's
mind, and more than once had read it in Batard's eyes. And so
clearly had he read, that when Batard was at his back, he made it a
point to glance often over his shoulder.
Men marvelled when Leclere refused large money for the dog. "Some
day you'll kill him and be out his price," said John Hamlin once,
when Batard lay panting in the snow where Leclere had kicked him,
and no one knew whether his ribs were broken, and no one dared look
"Dat," said Leclere, dryly, "dat is my biz'ness, M'sieu'."
And the men marvelled that Batard did not run away. They did not
understand. But Leclere understood. He was a man who lived much
in the open, beyond the sound of human tongue, and he had learned
the voices of wind and storm, the sigh of night, the whisper of
dawn, the clash of day. In a dim way he could hear the green
things growing, the running of the sap, the bursting of the bud.
And he knew the subtle speech of the things that moved, of the
rabbit in the snare, the moody raven beating the air with hollow
wing, the baldface shuffling under the moon, the wolf like a grey
shadow gliding betwixt the twilight and the dark. And to him
Batard spoke clear and direct. Full well he understood why Batard
did not run away, and he looked more often over his shoulder.
When in anger, Batard was not nice to look upon, and more than once
had he leapt for Leclere's throat, to be stretched quivering and
senseless in the snow, by the butt of the ever ready dogwhip. And
so Batard learned to bide his time. When he reached his full
strength and prime of youth, he thought the time had come. He was
broad-chested, powerfully muscled, of far more than ordinary size,
and his neck from head to shoulders was a mass of bristling hair--
to all appearances a full-blooded wolf. Leclere was lying asleep
in his furs when Batard deemed the time to be ripe. He crept upon
him stealthily, head low to earth and lone ear laid back, with a
feline softness of tread. Batard breathed gently, very gently, and
not till he was close at hand did he raise his head. He paused for
a moment and looked at the bronzed bull throat, naked and knotty,
and swelling to a deep steady pulse. The slaver dripped down his
fangs and slid off his tongue at the sight, and in that moment he
remembered his drooping ear, his uncounted blows and prodigious
wrongs, and without a sound sprang on the sleeping man.
Leclere awoke to the pang of the fangs in his throat, and, perfect
animal that he was, he awoke clear-headed and with full
comprehension. He closed on Batard's windpipe with both his hands,
and rolled out of his furs to get his weight uppermost. But the
thousands of Batard's ancestors had clung at the throats of
unnumbered moose and caribou and dragged them down, and the wisdom
of those ancestors was his. When Leclere's weight came on top of
him, he drove his hind legs upwards and in, and clawed down chest
and abdomen, ripping and tearing through skin and muscle. And when
he felt the man's body wince above him and lift, he worried and
shook at the man's throat. His team-mates closed around in a
snarling circle, and Batard, with failing breath and fading sense,
knew that their jaws were hungry for him. But that did not matter-
-it was the man, the man above him, and he ripped and clawed, and
shook and worried, to the last ounce of his strength. But Leclere
choked him with both his hands, till Batard's chest heaved and
writhed for the air denied, and his eyes glazed and set, and his
jaws slowly loosened, and his tongue protruded black and swollen.
"Eh? Bon, you devil!" Leclere gurgled mouth and throat clogged
with his own blood, as he shoved the dizzy dog from him.
And then Leclere cursed the other dogs off as they fell upon
Batard. They drew back into a wider circle, squatting alertly on
their haunches and licking their chops, the hair on every neck
bristling and erect.
Batard recovered quickly, and at sound of Leclere's voice, tottered
to his feet and swayed weakly back and forth.
"A-h-ah! You beeg devil!" Leclere spluttered. "Ah fix you; Ah fix
you plentee, by GAR!"
Batard, the air biting into his exhausted lungs like wine, flashed
full into the man's face, his jaws missing and coming together with
a metallic clip. They rolled over and over on the snow, Leclere
striking madly with his fists. Then they separated, face to face,
and circled back and forth before each other. Leclere could have
drawn his knife. His rifle was at his feet. But the beast in him
was up and raging. He would do the thing with his hands--and his
teeth. Batard sprang in, but Leclere knocked him over with a blow
of the fist, fell upon him, and buried his teeth to the bone in the
It was a primordial setting and a primordial scene, such as might
have been in the savage youth of the world. An open space in a
dark forest, a ring of grinning wolf-dogs, and in the centre two
beasts, locked in combat, snapping and snarling raging madly about
panting, sobbing, cursing, straining, wild with passion, in a fury
of murder, ripping and tearing and clawing in elemental
But Leclere caught Batard behind the ear with a blow from his fist,
knocking him over, and, for the instant, stunning him. Then
Leclere leaped upon him with his feet, and sprang up and down,
striving to grind him into the earth. Both Batard's hind legs were
broken ere Leclere ceased that he might catch breath.
"A-a-ah! A-a-ah!" he screamed, incapable of speech, shaking his
fist, through sheer impotence of throat and larynx.
But Batard was indomitable. He lay there in a helpless welter, his
lip feebly lifting and writhing to the snarl he had not the
strength to utter. Leclere kicked him, and the tired jaws closed
on the ankle, but could not break the skin.
Then Leclere picked up the whip and proceeded almost to cut him to
pieces, at each stroke of the lash crying: "Dis taim Ah break you!
Eh? By GAR! Ah break you!"
In the end, exhausted, fainting from loss of blood, he crumpled up
and fell by his victim, and when the wolf-dogs closed in to take
their vengeance, with his last consciousness dragged his body on
top of Batard to shield him from their fangs.
This occurred not far from Sunrise, and the missionary, opening the
door to Leclere a few hours later, was surprised to note the
absence of Batard from the team. Nor did his surprise lessen when
Leclere threw back the robes from the sled, gathered Batard into
his arms and staggered across the threshold. It happened that the
surgeon of McQuestion, who was something of a gadabout, was up on a
gossip, and between them they proceeded to repair Leclere,
"Merci, non," said he. "Do you fix firs' de dog. To die? NON.
Eet is not good. Becos' heem Ah mus' yet break. Dat fo' w'at he
mus' not die."
The surgeon called it a marvel, the missionary a miracle, that
Leclere pulled through at all; and so weakened was he, that in the
spring the fever got him, and he went on his back again. Batard
had been in even worse plight, but his grip on life prevailed, and
the bones of his hind legs knit, and his organs righted themselves,
during the several weeks he lay strapped to the floor. And by the
time Leclere, finally convalescent, sallow and shaky, took the sun
by the cabin door, Batard had reasserted his supremacy among his
kind, and brought not only his own team-mates but the missionary's
dogs into subjection.
He moved never a muscle, nor twitched a hair, when, for the first
time, Leclere tottered out on the missionary's arm, and sank down
slowly and with infinite caution on the three-legged stool.
"BON!" he said. "BON! De good sun!" And he stretched out his
wasted hands and washed them in the warmth.
Then his gaze fell on the dog, and the old light blazed back in his
eyes. He touched the missionary lightly on the arm. "Mon pere,
dat is one beeg devil, dat Batard. You will bring me one pistol,
so, dat Ah drink de sun in peace."
And thenceforth for many days he sat in the sun before the cabin
door. He never dozed, and the pistol lay always across his knees.
Batard had a way, the first thing each day, of looking for the
weapon in its wonted place. At sight of it he would lift his lip
faintly in token that he understood, and Leclere would lift his own
lip in an answering grin. One day the missionary took note of the
"Bless me!" he said. "I really believe the brute comprehends."
Leclere laughed softly. "Look you, mon pere. Dat w'at Ah now
spik, to dat does he lissen."
As if in confirmation, Batard just perceptibly wriggled his lone
ear up to catch the sound.
"Ah say 'keel'."
Batard growled deep down in his throat, the hair bristled along his
neck, and every muscle went tense and expectant.
"Ah lift de gun, so, like dat." And suiting action to word, he
sighted the pistol at Batard. Batard, with a single leap,
sideways, landed around the corner of the cabin out of sight.
"Bless me!" he repeated at intervals. Leclere grinned proudly.
"But why does he not run away?"
The Frenchman's shoulders went up in the racial shrug that means
all things from total ignorance to infinite understanding.
"Then why do you not kill him?"
Again the shoulders went up.
"Mon pere," he said after a pause, "de taim is not yet. He is one
beeg devil. Some taim Ah break heem, so an' so, all to leetle
bits. Hey? some taim. BON!"
A day came when Leclere gathered his dogs together and floated down
in a bateau to Forty Mile, and on to the Porcupine, where he took a
commission from the P. C. Company, and went exploring for the
better part of a year. After that he poled up the Koyokuk to
deserted Arctic City, and later came drifting back, from camp to
camp, along the Yukon. And during the long months Batard was well
lessoned. He learned many tortures, and, notably, the torture of
hunger, the torture of thirst, the torture of fire, and, worst of
all, the torture of music.
Like the rest of his kind, he did not enjoy music. It gave him
exquisite anguish, racking him nerve by nerve, and ripping apart
every fibre of his being. It made him howl, long and wolf-life, as
when the wolves bay the stars on frosty nights. He could not help
howling. It was his one weakness in the contest with Leclere, and
it was his shame. Leclere, on the other hand, passionately loved
music--as passionately as he loved strong drink. And when his soul
clamoured for expression, it usually uttered itself in one or the
other of the two ways, and more usually in both ways. And when he
had drunk, his brain a-lilt with unsung song and the devil in him
aroused and rampant, his soul found its supreme utterance in
"Now we will haf a leetle museek," he would say. "Eh? W'at you
It was only an old and battered harmonica, tenderly treasured and
patiently repaired; but it was the best that money could buy, and
out of its silver reeds he drew weird vagrant airs that men had
never heard before. Then Batard, dumb of throat, with teeth tight
clenched, would back away, inch by inch, to the farthest cabin
corner. And Leclere, playing, playing, a stout club tucked under
his arm, followed the animal up, inch by inch, step by step, till
there was no further retreat.
At first Batard would crowd himself into the smallest possible
space, grovelling close to the floor; but as the music came nearer
and nearer, he was forced to uprear, his back jammed into the logs,
his fore legs fanning the air as though to beat off the rippling
waves of sound. He still kept his teeth together, but severe
muscular contractions attacked his body, strange twitchings and
jerkings, till he was all a-quiver and writhing in silent torment.
As he lost control, his jaws spasmodically wrenched apart, and deep
throaty vibrations issued forth, too low in the register of sound
for human ear to catch. And then, nostrils distended, eyes
dilated, hair bristling in helpless rage, arose the long wolf howl.
It came with a slurring rush upwards, swelling to a great heart-
breaking burst of sound, and dying away in sadly cadenced woe--then
the next rush upward, octave upon octave; the bursting heart; and
the infinite sorrow and misery, fainting, fading, falling, and
dying slowly away.
It was fit for hell. And Leclere, with fiendish ken, seemed to
divine each particular nerve and heartstring, and with long wails
and tremblings and sobbing minors to make it yield up its last
shred of grief. It was frightful, and for twenty-four hours after,
Batard was nervous and unstrung, starting at common sounds,
tripping over his own shadow, but, withal, vicious and masterful
with his team-mates. Nor did he show signs of a breaking spirit.
Rather did he grow more grim and taciturn, biding his time with an
inscrutable patience that began to puzzle and weigh upon Leclere.
The dog would lie in the firelight, motionless, for hours, gazing
straight before him at Leclere, and hating him with his bitter
Often the man felt that he had bucked against the very essence of
life--the unconquerable essence that swept the hawk down out of the
sky like a feathered thunderbolt, that drove the great grey goose
across the zones, that hurled the spawning salmon through two
thousand miles of boiling Yukon flood. At such times he felt
impelled to--express his own unconquerable essence; and with strong
drink, wild music, and Batard, he indulged in vast orgies, wherein
he pitted his puny strength in the face of things, and challenged
all that was, and had been, and was yet to be.
"Dere is somet'ing dere," he affirmed, when the rhythmed vagaries
of his mind touched the secret chords of Batard's being and brought
forth the long lugubrious howl. "Ah pool eet out wid bot' my
han's, so, an' so. Ha! ha! Eet is fonee! Eet is ver' fonee! De
priest chant, de womans pray, de mans swear, de leetle bird go
peep-peep, Batard, heem go yow-yow--an' eet is all de ver' same
t'ing. Ha! ha!"
Father Gautier, a worthy priest, one reproved him with instances of
concrete perdition. He never reproved him again.
"Eet may be so, mon pere," he made answer. "An' Ah t'ink Ah go
troo hell a-snappin', lak de hemlock troo de fire. Eh, mon pere?"
But all bad things come to an end as well as good, and so with
Black Leclere. On the summer low water, in a poling boat, he left
McDougall for Sunrise. He left McDougall in company with Timothy
Brown, and arrived at Sunrise by himself. Further, it was known
that they had quarrelled just previous to pulling out; for the
Lizzie, a wheezy ten-ton stern-wheeler, twenty-four hours behind,
beat Leclere in by three days. And when he did get in, it was with
a clean-drilled bullet-hole through his shoulder muscle, and a tale
of ambush and murder.
A strike had been made at Sunrise, and things had changed
considerably. With the infusion of several hundred gold-seekers, a
deal of whisky, and half-a-dozen equipped gamblers, the missionary
had seen the page of his years of labour with the Indians wiped
clean. When the squaws became preoccupied with cooking beans and
keeping the fire going for the wifeless miners, and the bucks with
swapping their warm furs for black bottles and broken time-pieces,
he took to his bed, said "Bless me" several times, and departed to
his final accounting in a rough-hewn, oblong box. Whereupon the
gamblers moved their roulette and faro tables into the mission
house, and the click of chips and clink of glasses went up from
dawn till dark and to dawn again.
Now Timothy Brown was well beloved among these adventurers of the
North. The one thing against him was his quick temper and ready
fist--a little thing, for which his kind heart and forgiving hand
more than atoned. On the other hand, there was nothing to atone
for Black Leclere. He was "black," as more than one remembered
deed bore witness, while he was as well hated as the other was
beloved. So the men of Sunrise put an antiseptic dressing on his
shoulder and haled him before Judge Lynch.
It was a simple affair. He had quarrelled with Timothy Brown at
McDougall. With Timothy Brown he had left McDougall. Without
Timothy Brown he had arrived at Sunrise. Considered in the light
of his evilness, the unanimous conclusion was that he had killed
Timothy Brown. On the other hand, Leclere acknowledged their
facts, but challenged their conclusion, and gave his own
explanation. Twenty miles out of Sunrise he and Timothy Brown were
poling the boat along the rocky shore. From that shore two rifle-
shots rang out. Timothy Brown pitched out of the boat and went
down bubbling red, and that was the last of Timothy Brown. He,
Leclere, pitched into the bottom of the boat with a stinging
shoulder. He lay very quiet, peeping at the shore. After a time
two Indians stuck up their heads and came out to the water's edge,
carrying between them a birch-bark canoe. As they launched it,
Leclere let fly. He potted one, who went over the side after the
manner of Timothy Brown. The other dropped into the bottom of the
canoe, and then canoe and poling boat went down the stream in a
drifting battle. After that they hung up on a split current, and
the canoe passed on one side of an island, the poling boat on the
other. That was the last of the canoe, and he came on into
Sunrise. Yes, from the way the Indian in the canoe jumped, he was
sure he had potted him. That was all. This explanation was not
deemed adequate. They gave him ten hours' grace while the Lizzie
steamed down to investigate. Ten hours later she came wheezing
back to Sunrise. There had been nothing to investigate. No
evidence had been found to back up his statements. They told him
to make his will, for he possessed a fifty-thousand dollar Sunrise
claim, and they were a law-abiding as well as a law-giving breed.
Leclere shrugged his shoulders. "Bot one t'ing," he said; "a
leetle, w'at you call, favour--a leetle favour, dat is eet. I gif
my feefty t'ousan' dollair to de church. I gif my husky dog,
Batard, to de devil. De leetle favour? Firs' you hang heem, an'
den you hang me. Eet is good, eh?"
Good it was, they agreed, that Hell's Spawn should break trail for
his master across the last divide, and the court was adjourned down
to the river bank, where a big spruce tree stood by itself.
Slackwater Charley put a hangman's knot in the end of a hauling-
line, and the noose was slipped over Leclere's head and pulled
tight around his neck. His hands were tied behind his back, and he
was assisted to the top of a cracker box. Then the running end of
the line was passed over an over-hanging branch, drawn taut, and
made fast. To kick the box out from under would leave him dancing
on the air.
"Now for the dog," said Webster Shaw, sometime mining engineer.
"You'll have to rope him, Slackwater."
Leclere grinned. Slackwater took a chew of tobacco, rove a running
noose, and proceeded leisurely to coil a few turns in his hand. He
paused once or twice to brush particularly offensive mosquitoes
from off his face. Everybody was brushing mosquitoes, except
Leclere, about whose head a small cloud was visible. Even Batard,
lying full-stretched on the ground with his fore paws rubbed the
pests away from eyes and mouth.
But while Slackwater waited for Batard to lift his head, a faint
call came from the quiet air, and a man was seen waving his arms
and running across the flat from Sunrise. It was the store-keeper.
"C-call 'er off, boys," he panted, as he came in among them.
"Little Sandy and Bernadotte's jes' got in," he explained with
returning breath. "Landed down below an' come up by the short cut.
Got the Beaver with 'm. Picked 'm up in his canoe, stuck in a back
channel, with a couple of bullet-holes in 'm. Other buck was Klok
Kutz, the one that knocked spots out of his squaw and dusted."
"Eh? W'at Ah say? Eh?" Leclere cried exultantly. "Dat de one fo'
sure! Ah know. Ah spik true."
"The thing to do is to teach these damned Siwashes a little
manners," spoke Webster Shaw. "They're getting fat and sassy, and
we'll have to bring them down a peg. Round in all the bucks and
string up the Beaver for an object lesson. That's the programme.
Come on and let's see what he's got to say for himself."
"Heh, M'sieu!" Leclere called, as the crowd began to melt away
through the twilight in the direction of Sunrise. "Ah lak ver'
moch to see de fon."
"Oh, we'll turn you loose when we come back," Webster Shaw shouted
over his shoulder. "In the meantime meditate on your sins and the
ways of Providence. It will do you good, so be grateful."
As is the way with men who are accustomed to great hazards, whose
nerves are healthy and trained in patience, so it was with Leclere
who settled himself to the long wait--which is to say that he
reconciled his mind to it. There was no settling of the body, for
the taut rope forced him to stand rigidly erect. The least
relaxation of the leg muscles pressed the rough-fibred noose into
his neck, while the upright position caused him much pain in his
wounded shoulder. He projected his under lip and expelled his
breath upwards along his face to blow the mosquitoes away from his
eyes. But the situation had its compensation. To be snatched from
the maw of death was well worth a little bodily suffering, only it
was unfortunate that he should miss the hanging of the Beaver.
And so he mused, till his eyes chanced to fall upon Batard, head
between fore paws and stretched on the ground asleep. And their
Leclere ceased to muse. He studied the animal closely, striving to
sense if the sleep were real or feigned. Batard's sides were
heaving regularly, but Leclere felt that the breath came and went a
shade too quickly; also he felt that there was a vigilance or
alertness to every hair that belied unshackling sleep. He would
have given his Sunrise claim to be assured that the dog was not
awake, and once, when one of his joints cracked, he looked quickly
and guiltily at Batard to see if he roused. He did not rouse then
but a few minutes later he got up slowly and lazily, stretched, and
looked carefully about him.
"Sacredam," said Leclere under his breath.
Assured that no one was in sight or hearing, Batard sat down,
curled his upper lip almost into a smile, looked up at Leclere, and
licked his chops.
"Ah see my feenish," the man said, and laughed sardonically aloud.
Batard came nearer, the useless ear wabbling, the good ear cocked
forward with devilish comprehension. He thrust his head on one
side quizzically, and advanced with mincing, playful steps. He
rubbed his body gently against the box till it shook and shook
again. Leclere teetered carefully to maintain his equilibrium.
"Batard," he said calmly, "look out. Ah keel you."
Batard snarled at the word and shook the box with greater force.
Then he upreared, and with his fore paws threw his weight against
it higher up. Leclere kicked out with one foot, but the rope bit
into his neck and checked so abruptly as nearly to overbalance him.
"Hi, ya! Chook! Mush-on!" he screamed.
Batard retreated, for twenty feet or so, with a fiendish levity in
his bearing that Leclere could not mistake. He remembered the dog
often breaking the scum of ice on the water hole by lifting up and
throwing his weight upon it; and remembering, he understood what he
now had in mind. Batard faced about and paused. He showed his
white teeth in a grin, which Leclere answered; and then hurled his
body through the air, in full charge, straight for the box.
Fifteen minutes later, Slackwater Charley and Webster Shaw
returning, caught a glimpse of a ghostly pendulum swinging back and
forth in the dim light. As they hurriedly drew in closer, they
made out the man's inert body, and a live thing that clung to it,
and shook and worried, and gave to it the swaying motion.
"Hi, ya! Chook! you Spawn of Hell!" yelled Webster Shaw.
But Batard glared at him, and snarled threateningly, without
loosing his jaws.
Slackwater Charley got out his revolver, but his hand was shaking,
as with a chill, and he fumbled.
"Here you take it," he said, passing the weapon over.
Webster Shaw laughed shortly, drew a sight between the gleaming
eyes, and pressed the trigger. Batard's body twitched with the
shock, threshed the ground spasmodically for a moment, and went
suddenly limp. But his teeth still held fast locked.
THE STORY OF JEES UCK
There have been renunciations and renunciations. But, in its
essence, renunciation is ever the same. And the paradox of it is,
that men and women forego the dearest thing in the world for
something dearer. It was never otherwise. Thus it was when Abel
brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. The
firstlings and the fat thereof were to him the dearest things in
the world; yet he gave them over that he might be on good terms
with God. So it was with Abraham when he prepared to offer up his
son Isaac on a stone. Isaac was very dear to him; but God, in
incomprehensible ways, was yet dearer. It may be that Abraham
feared the Lord. But whether that be true or not it has since been
determined by a few billion people that he loved the Lord and
desired to serve him.
And since it has been determined that love is service, and since to
renounce is to serve, then Jees Uck, who was merely a woman of a
swart-skinned breed, loved with a great love. She was unversed in
history, having learned to read only the signs of weather and of
game; so she had never heard of Abel nor of Abraham; nor, having
escaped the good sisters at Holy Cross, had she been told the story
of Ruth, the Moabitess, who renounced her very God for the sake of
a stranger woman from a strange land. Jees Uck had learned only
one way of renouncing, and that was with a club as the dynamic
factor, in much the same manner as a dog is made to renounce a
stolen marrow-bone. Yet, when the time came, she proved herself
capable of rising to the height of the fair-faced royal races and
of renouncing in right regal fashion.
So this is the story of Jees Uck, which is also the story of Neil
Bonner, and Kitty Bonner, and a couple of Neil Bonner's progeny.
Jees Uck was of a swart-skinned breed, it is true, but she was not
an Indian; nor was she an Eskimo; nor even an Innuit. Going
backward into mouth tradition, there appears the figure of one
Skolkz, a Toyaat Indian of the Yukon, who journeyed down in his
youth to the Great Delta where dwell the Innuits, and where he
foregathered with a woman remembered as Olillie. Now the woman
Olillie had been bred from an Eskimo mother by an Innuit man. And
from Skolkz and Olillie came Halie, who was one-half Toyaat Indian,
one-quarter Innuit, and one-quarter Eskimo. And Halie was the
grandmother of Jees Uck.
Now Halie, in whom three stocks had been bastardized, who cherished
no prejudice against further admixture, mated with a Russian fur
trader called Shpack, also known in his time as the Big Fat.
Shpack is herein classed Russian for lack of a more adequate term;
for Shpack's father, a Slavonic convict from the Lower Provinces,
had escaped from the quicksilver mines into Northern Siberia, where
he knew Zimba, who was a woman of the Deer People and who became
the mother of Shpack, who became the grandfather of Jees Uck.
Now had not Shpack been captured in his boyhood by the Sea People,
who fringe the rim of the Arctic Sea with their misery, he would
not have become the grandfather of Jees Uck and there would be no
story at all. But he WAS captured by the Sea People, from whom he
escaped to Kamchatka, and thence, on a Norwegian whale-ship, to the
Baltic. Not long after that he turned up in St. Petersburg, and
the years were not many till he went drifting east over the same
weary road his father had measured with blood and groans a half-
century before. But Shpack was a free man, in the employ of the
great Russian Fur Company. And in that employ he fared farther and
farther east, until he crossed Bering Sea into Russian America; and
at Pastolik, which is hard by the Great Delta of the Yukon, became
the husband of Halie, who was the grandmother of Jees Uck. Out of
this union came the woman-child, Tukesan.
Shpack, under the orders of the Company, made a canoe voyage of a
few hundred miles up the Yukon to the post of Nulato. With him he
took Halie and the babe Tukesan. This was in 1850, and in 1850 it
was that the river Indians fell upon Nulato and wiped it from the
face of the earth. And that was the end of Shpack and Halie. On
that terrible night Tukesan disappeared. To this day the Toyaats
aver they had no hand in the trouble; but, be that as it may, the
fact remains that the babe Tukesan grew up among them.
Tukesan was married successively to two Toyaat brothers, to both of
whom she was barren. Because of this, other women shook their
heads, and no third Toyaat man could be found to dare matrimony
with the childless widow. But at this time, many hundred miles
above, at Fort Yukon, was a man, Spike O'Brien. Fort Yukon was a
Hudson Bay Company post, and Spike O'Brien one of the Company's
servants. He was a good servant, but he achieved an opinion that
the service was bad, and in the course of time vindicated that
opinion by deserting. It was a year's journey, by the chain of
posts, back to York Factory on Hudson's Bay. Further, being
Company posts, he knew he could not evade the Company's clutches.
Nothing retained but to go down the Yukon. It was true no white
man had ever gone down the Yukon, and no white man knew whether the
Yukon emptied into the Arctic Ocean or Bering Sea; but Spike
O'Brien was a Celt, and the promise of danger was a lure he had
A few weeks later, somewhat battered, rather famished, and about
dead with river-fever, he drove the nose of his canoe into the
earth bank by the village of the Toyaats and promptly fainted away.
While getting his strength back, in the weeks that followed, he
looked upon Tukesan and found her good. Like the father of Shpack,
who lived to a ripe old age among the Siberian Deer People, Spike
O'Brien might have left his aged bones with the Toyaats. But
romance gripped his heart-strings and would not let him stay. As
he had journeyed from York Factory to Fort Yukon, so, first among
men, might he journey from Fort Yukon to the sea and win the honour
of being the first man to make the North-West Passage by land. So
he departed down the river, won the honour, and was unannaled and
unsung. In after years he ran a sailors' boarding-house in San
Francisco, where he became esteemed a most remarkable liar by
virtue of the gospel truths he told. But a child was born to
Tukesan, who had been childless. And this child was Jees Uck. Her
lineage has been traced at length to show that she was neither
Indian, nor Eskimo, nor Innuit, nor much of anything else; also to
show what waifs of the generations we are, all of us, and the
strange meanderings of the seed from which we spring.
What with the vagrant blood in her and the heritage compounded of
many races, Jees Uck developed a wonderful young beauty. Bizarre,
perhaps, it was, and Oriental enough to puzzle any passing
ethnologist. A lithe and slender grace characterized her. Beyond
a quickened lilt to the imagination, the contribution of the Celt
was in no wise apparent. It might possibly have put the warm blood
under her skin, which made her face less swart and her body fairer;
but that, in turn, might have come from Shpack, the Big Fat, who
inherited the colour of his Slavonic father. And, finally, she had
great, blazing black eyes--the half-caste eye, round, full-orbed,
and sensuous, which marks the collision of the dark races with the
light. Also, the white blood in her, combined with her knowledge
that it was in her, made her, in a way, ambitious. Otherwise by
upbringing and in outlook on life, she was wholly and utterly a
One winter, when she was a young woman, Neil Bonner came into her
life. But he came into her life, as he had come into the country,
somewhat reluctantly. In fact, it was very much against his will,
coming into the country. Between a father who clipped coupons and
cultivated roses, and a mother who loved the social round, Neil
Bonner had gone rather wild. He was not vicious, but a man with
meat in his belly and without work in the world has to expend his
energy somehow, and Neil Bonner was such a man. And he expended
his energy in such a fashion and to such extent that when the
inevitable climax came, his father, Neil Bonner, senior, crawled
out of his roses in a panic and looked on his son with a wondering
eye. Then he hied himself away to a crony of kindred pursuits,
with whom he was wont to confer over coupons and roses, and between
the two the destiny of young Neil Bonner was made manifest. He
must go away, on probation, to live down his harmless follies in
order that he might live up to their own excellent standard.
This determined upon, and young Neil a little repentant and a great
deal ashamed, the rest was easy. The cronies were heavy
stockholders in the P. C. Company. The P. C. Company owned fleets
of river-steamers and ocean-going craft, and, in addition to
farming the sea, exploited a hundred thousand square miles or so of
the land that, on the maps of geographers, usually occupies the
white spaces. So the P. C. Company sent young Neil Bonner north,
where the white spaces are, to do its work and to learn to be good
like his father. "Five years of simplicity, close to the soil and
far from temptation, will make a man of him," said old Neil Bonner,
and forthwith crawled back among his roses. Young Neil set his
jaw, pitched his chin at the proper angle, and went to work. As an
underling he did his work well and gained the commendation of his
superiors. Not that he delighted in the work, but that it was the
one thing that prevented him from going mad.
The first year he wished he was dead. The second year he cursed
God. The third year he was divided between the two emotions, and
in the confusion quarrelled with a man in authority. He had the
best of the quarrel, though the man in authority had the last
word,--a word that sent Neil Bonner into an exile that made his old
billet appear as paradise. But he went without a whimper, for the
North had succeeded in making him into a man.
Here and there, on the white spaces on the map, little circlets
like the letter "o" are to be found, and, appended to these
circlets, on one side or the other, are names such as "Fort
Hamilton," "Yanana Station," "Twenty Mile," thus leading one to
imagine that the white spaces are plentifully besprinkled with
towns and villages. But it is a vain imagining. Twenty Mile,
which is very like the rest of the posts, is a log building the
size of a corner grocery with rooms to let up-stairs. A long-
legged cache on stilts may be found in the back yard; also a couple
of outhouses. The back yard is unfenced, and extends to the
skyline and an unascertainable bit beyond. There are no other
houses in sight, though the Toyaats sometimes pitch a winter camp a
mile or two down the Yukon. And this is Twenty Mile, one tentacle
of the many-tentacled P. C. Company. Here the agent, with an
assistant, barters with the Indians for their furs, and does an
erratic trade on a gold-dust basis with the wandering miners.
Here, also, the agent and his assistant yearn all winter for the
spring, and when the spring comes, camp blasphemously on the roof
while the Yukon washes out the establishment. And here, also, in
the fourth year of his sojourn in the land, came Neil Bonner to
He had displaced no agent; for the man that previously ran the post
had made away with himself; "because of the rigours of the place,"
said the assistant, who still remained; though the Toyaats, by
their fires, had another version. The assistant was a shrunken-
shouldered, hollow-chested man, with a cadaverous face and
cavernous cheeks that his sparse black beard could not hide. He
coughed much, as though consumption gripped his lungs, while his
eyes had that mad, fevered light common to consumptives in the last
stage. Pentley was his name--Amos Pentley--and Bonner did not like
him, though he felt a pity for the forlorn and hopeless devil.
They did not get along together, these two men who, of all men,
should have been on good terms in the face of the cold and silence
and darkness of the long winter.
In the end, Bonner concluded that Amos was partly demented, and
left him alone, doing all the work himself except the cooking.
Even then, Amos had nothing but bitter looks and an undisguised
hatred for him. This was a great loss to Bonner; for the smiling
face of one of his own kind, the cheery word, the sympathy of
comradeship shared with misfortune--these things meant much; and
the winter was yet young when he began to realize the added
reasons, with such an assistant, that the previous agent had found
to impel his own hand against his life.
It was very lonely at Twenty Mile. The bleak vastness stretched
away on every side to the horizon. The snow, which was really
frost, flung its mantle over the land and buried everything in the
silence of death. For days it was clear and cold, the thermometer
steadily recording forty to fifty degrees below zero. Then a
change came over the face of things. What little moisture had
oozed into the atmosphere gathered into dull grey, formless clouds;
it became quite warm, the thermometer rising to twenty below; and
the moisture fell out of the sky in hard frost-granules that hissed
like dry sugar or driving sand when kicked underfoot. After that
it became clear and cold again, until enough moisture had gathered
to blanket the earth from the cold of outer space. That was all.
Nothing happened. No storms, no churning waters and threshing
forests, nothing but the machine-like precipitation of accumulated
moisture. Possibly the most notable thing that occurred through
the weary weeks was the gliding of the temperature up to the
unprecedented height of fifteen below. To atone for this, outer
space smote the earth with its cold till the mercury froze and the
spirit thermometer remained more than seventy below for a
fortnight, when it burst. There was no telling how much colder it
was after that. Another occurrence, monotonous in its regularity,
was the lengthening of the nights, till day became a mere blink of
light between the darkness.
Neil Bonner was a social animal. The very follies for which he was
doing penance had been bred of his excessive sociability. And
here, in the fourth year of his exile, he found himself in company-
-which were to travesty the word--with a morose and speechless
creature in whose sombre eyes smouldered a hatred as bitter as it
was unwarranted. And Bonner, to whom speech and fellowship were as
the breath of life, went about as a ghost might go, tantalized by
the gregarious revelries of some former life. In the day his lips
were compressed, his face stern; but in the night he clenched his
hands, rolled about in his blankets, and cried aloud like a little
child. And he would remember a certain man in authority and curse
him through the long hours. Also, he cursed God. But God
understands. He cannot find it in his heart to blame weak mortals
who blaspheme in Alaska.
And here, to the post of Twenty Mile, came Jees Uck, to trade for
flour and bacon, and beads, and bright scarlet cloths for her fancy
work. And further, and unwittingly, she came to the post of Twenty
Mile to make a lonely man more lonely, make him reach out empty
arms in his sleep. For Neil Bonner was only a man. When she first
came into the store, he looked at her long, as a thirsty man may
look at a flowing well. And she, with the heritage bequeathed her
by Spike O'Brien, imagined daringly and smiled up into his eyes,
not as the swart-skinned peoples should smile at the royal races,
but as a woman smiles at a man. The thing was inevitable; only, he
did not see it, and fought against her as fiercely and passionately
as he was drawn towards her. And she? She was Jees Uck, by
upbringing wholly and utterly a Toyaat Indian woman.
She came often to the post to trade. And often she sat by the big
wood stove and chatted in broken English with Neil Bonner. And he
came to look for her coming; and on the days she did not come he
was worried and restless. Sometimes he stopped to think, and then
she was met coldly, with a resolve that perplexed and piqued her,
and which, she was convinced, was not sincere. But more often he
did not dare to think, and then all went well and there were smiles
and laughter. And Amos Pentley, gasping like a stranded catfish,
his hollow cough a-reek with the grave, looked upon it all and
grinned. He, who loved life, could not live, and it rankled his
soul that others should be able to live. Wherefore he hated
Bonner, who was so very much alive and into whose eyes sprang joy
at the sight of Jees Uck. As for Amos, the very thought of the
girl was sufficient to send his blood pounding up into a
Jees Uck, whose mind was simple, who thought elementally and was
unused to weighing life in its subtler quantities, read Amos
Pentley like a book. She warned Bonner, openly and bluntly, in few
words; but the complexities of higher existence confused the
situation to him, and he laughed at her evident anxiety. To him,
Amos was a poor, miserable devil, tottering desperately into the
grave. And Bonner, who had suffered much, found it easy to forgive
But one morning, during a bitter snap, he got up from the
breakfast-table and went into the store. Jees Uck was already
there, rosy from the trail, to buy a sack of flour. A few minutes
later, he was out in the snow lashing the flour on her sled. As he
bent over he noticed a stiffness in his neck and felt a premonition
of impending physical misfortune. And as he put the last half-
hitch into the lashing and attempted to straighten up, a quick
spasm seized him and he sank into the snow. Tense and quivering,
head jerked back, limbs extended, back arched and mouth twisted and
distorted, he appeared as though being racked limb from limb.
Without cry or sound, Jees Uck was in the snow beside him; but he
clutched both her wrists spasmodically, and as long as the
convulsion endured she was helpless. In a few moments the spasm
relaxed and he was left weak and fainting, his forehead beaded with
sweat, and his lips flecked with foam.
"Quick!" he muttered, in a strange, hoarse voice. "Quick!
He started to crawl on hands and knees, but she raised him up, and,
supported by her young arm, he made faster progress. As he entered
the store the spasm seized him again, and his body writhed
irresistibly away from her and rolled and curled on the floor.
Amos Pentley came and looked on with curious eyes.
"Oh, Amos!" she cried in an agony of apprehension and helplessness,
"him die, you think?" But Amos shrugged his shoulders and
continued to look on.
Bonner's body went slack, the tense muscles easing down and an
expression of relief coming into his face. "Quick!" he gritted
between his teeth, his mouth twisting with the on-coming of the
next spasm and with his effort to control it. "Quick, Jees Uck!
The medicine! Never mind! Drag me!"
She knew where the medicine-chest stood, at the rear of the room
beyond the stove, and thither, by the legs, she dragged the
struggling man. As the spasm passed he began, very faint and very
sick, to overhaul the chest. He had seen dogs die exhibiting
symptoms similar to his own, and he knew what should be done. He
held up a vial of chloral hydrate, but his fingers were too weak
and nerveless to draw the cork. This Jees Uck did for him, while
he was plunged into another convulsion. As he came out of it he
found the open bottle proffered him, and looked into the great
black eyes of the woman and read what men have always read in the
Mate-woman's eyes. Taking a full dose of the stuff, he sank back
until another spasm had passed. Then he raised himself limply on
"Listen, Jees Uck!" he said very slowly, as though aware of the
necessity for haste and yet afraid to hasten. "Do what I say.
Stay by my side, but do not touch me. I must be very quiet, but
you must not go away." His jaw began to set and his face to quiver
and distort with the fore-running pangs, but he gulped and
struggled to master them. "Do not got away. And do not let Amos
go away. Understand! Amos must stay right here."
She nodded her head, and he passed off into the first of many
convulsions, which gradually diminished in force and frequency.
Jees Uck hung over him remembering his injunction and not daring to
touch him. Once Amos grew restless and made as though to go into
the kitchen; but a quick blaze from her eyes quelled him, and after
that, save for his laboured breathing and charnel cough, he was
Bonner slept. The blink of light that marked the day disappeared.
Amos, followed about by the woman's eyes, lighted the kerosene
lamps. Evening came on. Through the north window the heavens were
emblazoned with an auroral display, which flamed and flared and
died down into blackness. Some time after that, Neil Bonner
roused. First he looked to see that Amos was still there, then
smiled at Jees Uck and pulled himself up. Every muscle was stiff
and sore, and he smiled ruefully, pressing and prodding himself as
if to ascertain the extent of the ravage. Then his face went stern
"Jees Uck," he said, "take a candle. Go into the kitchen. There
is food on the table--biscuits and beans and bacon; also, coffee in
the pot on the stove. Bring it here on the counter. Also, bring
tumblers and water and whisky, which you will find on the top shelf
of the locker. Do not forget the whisky."
Having swallowed a stiff glass of the whisky, he went carefully
through the medicine chest, now and again putting aside, with
definite purpose, certain bottles and vials. Then he set to work
on the food, attempting a crude analysis. He had not been unused
to the laboratory in his college days and was possessed of
sufficient imagination to achieve results with his limited
materials. The condition of tetanus, which had marked his
paroxysms, simplified matters, and he made but one test. The
coffee yielded nothing; nor did the beans. To the biscuits he
devoted the utmost care. Amos, who knew nothing of chemistry,
looked on with steady curiosity. But Jees Uck, who had boundless
faith in the white man's wisdom, and especially in Neil Bonner's
wisdom, and who not only knew nothing but knew that she knew
nothing watched his face rather than his hands.
Step by step he eliminated possibilities, until he came to the
final test. He was using a thin medicine vial for a tube, and this
he held between him and the light, watching the slow precipitation
of a salt through the solution contained in the tube. He said
nothing, but he saw what he had expected to see. And Jees Uck, her
eyes riveted on his face, saw something too,--something that made
her spring like a tigress upon Amos, and with splendid suppleness
and strength bend his body back across her knee. Her knife was out
of its sheaf and uplifted, glinting in the lamplight. Amos was
snarling; but Bonner intervened ere the blade could fall.
"That's a good girl, Jees Uck. But never mind. Let him go!"
She dropped the man obediently, though with protest writ large on
her face; and his body thudded to the floor. Bonner nudged him
with his moccasined foot.
"Get up, Amos!" he commanded. "You've got to pack an outfit yet
to-night and hit the trail."
"You don't mean to say--" Amos blurted savagely.
"I mean to say that you tried to kill me," Neil went on in cold,
even tones. "I mean to say that you killed Birdsall, for all the
Company believes he killed himself. You used strychnine in my
case. God knows with what you fixed him. Now I can't hang you.
You're too near dead as it is. But Twenty Mile is too small for
the pair of us, and you've got to mush. It's two hundred miles to
Holy Cross. You can make it if you're careful not to over-exert.
I'll give you grub, a sled, and three dogs. You'll be as safe as
if you were in jail, for you can't get out of the country. And
I'll give you one chance. You're almost dead. Very well. I shall
send no word to the Company until the spring. In the meantime, the
thing for you to do is to die. Now MUSH!"
"You go to bed!" Jees Uck insisted, when Amos had churned away into
the night towards Holy Cross. "You sick man yet, Neil."
"And you're a good girl, Jees Uck," he answered. "And here's my
hand on it. But you must go home."
"You don't like me," she said simply.
He smiled, helped her on with her PARKA, and led her to the door.
"Only too well, Jees Uck," he said softly; "only too well."
After that the pall of the Arctic night fell deeper and blacker on
the land. Neil Bonner discovered that he had failed to put proper
valuation upon even the sullen face of the murderous and death-
stricken Amos. It became very lonely at Twenty Mile. "For the
love of God, Prentiss, send me a man," he wrote to the agent at
Fort Hamilton, three hundred miles up river. Six weeks later the
Indian messenger brought back a reply. It was characteristic:
"Hell. Both feet frozen. Need him myself--Prentiss."
To make matters worse, most of the Toyaats were in the back country
on the flanks of a caribou herd, and Jees Uck was with them.
Removing to a distance seemed to bring her closer than ever, and
Neil Bonner found himself picturing her, day by day, in camp and on
trail. It is not good to be alone. Often he went out of the quiet
store, bare-headed and frantic, and shook his fist at the blink of
day that came over the southern sky-line. And on still, cold
nights he left his bed and stumbled into the frost, where he
assaulted the silence at the top of his lungs, as though it were
some tangible, sentiment thing that he might arouse; or he shouted
at the sleeping dogs till they howled and howled again. One shaggy
brute he brought into the post, playing that it was the new man
sent by Prentiss. He strove to make it sleep decently under
blankets at nights and to sit at table and eat as a man should; but
the beast, mere domesticated wolf that it was, rebelled, and sought
out dark corners and snarled and bit him in the leg, and was
finally beaten and driven forth.
Then the trick of personification seized upon Neil Bonner and
mastered him. All the forces of his environment metamorphosed into
living, breathing entities and came to live with him. He recreated
the primitive pantheon; reared an altar to the sun and burned
candle fat and bacon grease thereon; and in the unfenced yard, by
the long-legged cache, made a frost devil, which he was wont to
make faces at and mock when the mercury oozed down into the bulb.
All this in play, of course. He said it to himself that it was in
play, and repeated it over and over to make sure, unaware that
madness is ever prone to express itself in make-believe and play.
One midwinter day, Father Champreau, a Jesuit missionary, pulled
into Twenty Mile. Bonner fell upon him and dragged him into the
post, and clung to him and wept, until the priest wept with him
from sheer compassion. Then Bonner became madly hilarious and made
lavish entertainment, swearing valiantly that his guest should not
depart. But Father Champreau was pressing to Salt Water on urgent
business for his order, and pulled out next morning, with Bonner's
blood threatened on his head.
And the threat was in a fair way toward realization, when the
Toyaats returned from their long hunt to the winter camp. They had
many furs, and there was much trading and stir at Twenty Mile.
Also, Jees Uck came to buy beads and scarlet cloths and things, and
Bonner began to find himself again. He fought for a week against
her. Then the end came one night when she rose to leave. She had
not forgotten her repulse, and the pride that drove Spike O'Brien
on to complete the North-West Passage by land was her pride.
"I go now," she said; "good-night, Neil."
But he came up behind her. "Nay, it is not well," he said.
And as she turned her face toward his with a sudden joyful flash,
he bent forward, slowly and gravely, as it were a sacred thing, and
kissed her on the lips. The Toyaats had never taught her the
meaning of a kiss upon the lips, but she understood and was glad.
With the coming of Jees Uck, at once things brightened up. She was
regal in her happiness, a source of unending delight. The
elemental workings of her mind and her naive little ways made an
immense sum of pleasurable surprise to the over-civilized man that
had stooped to catch her up. Not alone was she solace to his
loneliness, but her primitiveness rejuvenated his jaded mind. It
was as though, after long wandering, he had returned to pillow his
head in the lap of Mother Earth. In short, in Jees Uck he found
the youth of the world--the youth and the strength and the joy.
And to fill the full round of his need, and that they might not see
overmuch of each other, there arrived at Twenty Mile one Sandy
MacPherson, as companionable a man as ever whistled along the trail
or raised a ballad by a camp-fire. A Jesuit priest had run into
his camp, a couple of hundred miles up the Yukon, in the nick of
time to say a last word over the body of Sandy's partner. And on
departing, the priest had said, "My son, you will be lonely now."
And Sandy had bowed his head brokenly. "At Twenty Mile," the
priest added, "there is a lonely man. You have need of each other,
So it was that Sandy became a welcome third at the post, brother to
the man and woman that resided there. He took Bonner moose-hunting
and wolf-trapping; and, in return, Bonner resurrected a battered
and way-worn volume and made him friends with Shakespeare, till
Sandy declaimed iambic pentameters to his sled-dogs whenever they
waxed mutinous. And of the long evenings they played cribbage and
talked and disagreed about the universe, the while Jees Uck rocked
matronly in an easy-chair and darned their moccasins and socks.
Spring came. The sun shot up out of the south. The land exchanged
its austere robes for the garb of a smiling wanton. Everywhere
light laughed and life invited. The days stretched out their balmy
length and the nights passed from blinks of darkness to no darkness
at all. The river bared its bosom, and snorting steamboats
challenged the wilderness. There were stir and bustle, new faces,
and fresh facts. An assistant arrived at Twenty Mile, and Sandy
MacPherson wandered off with a bunch of prospectors to invade the
Koyokuk country. And there were newspapers and magazines and
letters for Neil Bonner. And Jees Uck looked on in worriment, for
she knew his kindred talked with him across the world.
Without much shock, it came to him that his father was dead. There
was a sweet letter of forgiveness, dictated in his last hours.
There were official letters from the Company, graciously ordering
him to turn the post over to the assistant and permitting him to
depart at his earliest pleasure. A long, legal affair from the
lawyers informed him of interminable lists of stocks and bonds,
real estate, rents, and chattels that were his by his father's
will. And a dainty bit of stationery, sealed and monogramed,
implored dear Neil's return to his heart-broken and loving mother.
Neil Bonner did some swift thinking, and when the Yukon Belle
coughed in to the bank on her way down to Bering Sea, he departed--
departed with the ancient lie of quick return young and blithe on
"I'll come back, dear Jees Uck, before the first snow flies," he
promised her, between the last kisses at the gang-plank.
And not only did he promise, but, like the majority of men under
the same circumstances, he really meant it. To John Thompson, the
new agent, he gave orders for the extension of unlimited credit to
his wife, Jees Uck. Also, with his last look from the deck of the
Yukon Belle, he saw a dozen men at work rearing the logs that were
to make the most comfortable house along a thousand miles of river
front--the house of Jees Uck, and likewise the house of Neil
Bonner--ere the first flurry of snow. For he fully and fondly
meant to come back. Jees Uck was dear to him, and, further, a
golden future awaited the north. With his father's money he
intended to verify that future. An ambitious dream allured him.
With his four years of experience, and aided by the friendly
cooperation of the P. C. Company, he would return to become the
Rhodes of Alaska. And he would return, fast as steam could drive,
as soon as he had put into shape the affairs of his father, whom he
had never known, and comforted his mother, whom he had forgotten.
There was much ado when Neil Bonner came back from the Arctic. The
fires were lighted and the fleshpots slung, and he took of it all
and called it good. Not only was he bronzed and creased, but he
was a new man under his skin, with a grip on things and a
seriousness and control. His old companions were amazed when he
declined to hit up the pace in the good old way, while his father's
crony rubbed hands gleefully, and became an authority upon the
reclamation of wayward and idle youth.
For four years Neil Bonner's mind had lain fallow. Little that was
new had been added to it, but it had undergone a process of
selection. It had, so to say, been purged of the trivial and
superfluous. He had lived quick years, down in the world; and, up
in the wilds, time had been given him to organize the confused mass
of his experiences. His superficial standards had been flung to
the winds and new standards erected on deeper and broader
generalizations. Concerning civilization, he had gone away with
one set of values, had returned with another set of values. Aided,
also, by the earth smells in his nostrils and the earth sights in
his eyes, he laid hold of the inner significance of civilization,
beholding with clear vision its futilities and powers. It was a
simple little philosophy he evolved. Clean living was the way to
grace. Duty performed was sanctification. One must live clean and
do his duty in order that he might work. Work was salvation. And
to work toward life abundant, and more abundant, was to be in line
with the scheme of things and the will of God.
Primarily, he was of the city. And his fresh earth grip and virile
conception of humanity gave him a finer sense of civilization and
endeared civilization to him. Day by day the people of the city
clung closer to him and the world loomed more colossal. And, day
by day, Alaska grew more remote and less real. And then he met
Kitty Sharon--a woman of his own flesh and blood and kind; a woman
who put her hand into his hand and drew him to her, till he forgot
the day and hour and the time of the year the first snow flies on
Jees Uck moved into her grand log-house and dreamed away three
golden summer months. Then came the autumn, post-haste before the
down rush of winter. The air grew thin and sharp, the days thin
and short. The river ran sluggishly, and skin ice formed in the
quiet eddies. All migratory life departed south, and silence fell
upon the land. The first snow flurries came, and the last homing
steamboat bucked desperately into the running mush ice. Then came
the hard ice, solid cakes and sheets, till the Yukon ran level with
its banks. And when all this ceased the river stood still and the
blinking days lost themselves in the darkness.
John Thompson, the new agent, laughed; but Jees Uck had faith in
the mischances of sea and river. Neil Bonner might be frozen in
anywhere between Chilkoot Pass and St. Michael's, for the last
travellers of the year are always caught by the ice, when they
exchange boat for sled and dash on through the long hours behind
the flying dogs.
But no flying dogs came up the trail, nor down the trail, to Twenty
Mile. And John Thompson told Jees Uck, with a certain gladness ill
concealed, that Bonner would never come back again. Also, and
brutally, he suggested his own eligibility. Jees Uck laughed in
his face and went back to her grand log-house. But when midwinter
came, when hope dies down and life is at its lowest ebb, Jees Uck
found she had no credit at the store. This was Thompson's doing,
and he rubbed his hands, and walked up and down, and came to his
door and looked up at Jees Uck's house and waited. And he
continued to wait. She sold her dog-team to a party of miners and
paid cash for her food. And when Thompson refused to honour even
her coin, Toyaat Indians made her purchases, and sledded them up to
her house in the dark.
In February the first post came in over the ice, and John Thompson
read in the society column of a five-months-old paper of the
marriage of Neil Bonner and Kitty Sharon. Jees Uck held the door
ajar and him outside while he imparted the information; and, when
he had done, laughed pridefully and did not believe. In March, and
all alone, she gave birth to a man-child, a brave bit of new life
at which she marvelled. And at that hour, a year later, Neil
Bonner sat by another bed, marvelling at another bit of new life
that had fared into the world.
The snow went off the ground and the ice broke out of the Yukon.
The sun journeyed north, and journeyed south again; and, the money
from the being spent, Jees Uck went back to her own people. Oche
Ish, a shrewd hunter, proposed to kill the meat for her and her
babe, and catch the salmon, if she would marry him. And Imego and
Hah Yo and Wy Nooch, husky young hunters all, made similar
proposals. But she elected to live alone and seek her own meat and
fish. She sewed moccasins and PARKAS and mittens--warm,
serviceable things, and pleasing to the eye, withal, what of the
ornamental hair-tufts and bead-work. These she sold to the miners,
who were drifting faster into the land each year. And not only did
she win food that was good and plentiful, but she laid money by,
and one day took passage on the Yukon Belle down the river.
At St. Michael's she washed dishes in the kitchen of the post. The
servants of the Company wondered at the remarkable woman with the
remarkable child, though they asked no questions and she vouchsafed
nothing. But just before Bering Sea closed in for the year, she
bought a passage south on a strayed sealing schooner. That winter
she cooked for Captain Markheim's household at Unalaska, and in the
spring continued south to Sitka on a whisky sloop. Later on
appeared at Metlakahtla, which is near to St. Mary's on the end of
the Pan-Handle, where she worked in the cannery through the salmon
season. When autumn came and the Siwash fishermen prepared to
return to Puget Sound, she embarked with a couple of families in a
big cedar canoe; and with them she threaded the hazardous chaos of
the Alaskan and Canadian coasts, till the Straits of Juan de Fuca
were passed and she led her boy by the hand up the hard pave of
There she met Sandy MacPherson, on a windy corner, very much
surprised and, when he had heard her story, very wroth--not so
wroth as he might have been, had he known of Kitty Sharon; but of
her Jees Uck breathed not a word, for she had never believed.
Sandy, who read commonplace and sordid desertion into the
circumstance, strove to dissuade her from her trip to San
Francisco, where Neil Bonner was supposed to live when he was at
home. And, having striven, he made her comfortable, bought her
tickets and saw her off, the while smiling in her face and
muttering "dam-shame" into his beard.
With roar and rumble, through daylight and dark, swaying and
lurching between the dawns, soaring into the winter snows and
sinking to summer valleys, skirting depths, leaping chasms,
piercing mountains, Jees Uck and her boy were hurled south. But
she had no fear of the iron stallion; nor was she stunned by this
masterful civilization of Neil Bonner's people. It seemed, rather,
that she saw with greater clearness the wonder that a man of such
godlike race had held her in his arms. The screaming medley of San
Francisco, with its restless shipping, belching factories, and
thundering traffic, did not confuse her; instead, she comprehended
swiftly the pitiful sordidness of Twenty Mile and the skin-lodged
Toyaat village. And she looked down at the boy that clutched her
hand and wondered that she had borne him by such a man.
She paid the hack-driver five pieces and went up the stone steps of
Neil Bonner's front door. A slant-eyed Japanese parleyed with her
for a fruitless space, then led her inside and disappeared. She
remained in the hall, which to her simply fancy seemed to be the
guest-room--the show-place wherein were arrayed all the household
treasures with the frank purpose of parade and dazzlement. The
walls and ceiling were of oiled and panelled redwood. The floor
was more glassy than glare-ice, and she sought standing place on
one of the great skins that gave a sense of security to the
polished surface. A huge fireplace--an extravagant fireplace, she
deemed it--yawned in the farther wall. A flood of light, mellowed
by stained glass, fell across the room, and from the far end came
the white gleam of a marble figure.
This much she saw, and more, when the slant-eyed servant led the
way past another room--of which she caught a fleeting glance--and
into a third, both of which dimmed the brave show of the entrance
hall. And to her eyes the great house seemed to hold out the
promise of endless similar rooms. There was such length and
breadth to them, and the ceilings were so far away! For the first
time since her advent into the white man's civilization, a feeling
of awe laid hold of her. Neil, her Neil, lived in this house,
breathed the air of it, and lay down at night and slept! It was
beautiful, all this that she saw, and it pleased her; but she felt,
also, the wisdom and mastery behind. It was the concrete
expression of power in terms of beauty, and it was the power that
she unerringly divined.
And then came a woman, queenly tall, crowned with a glory of hair
that was like a golden sun. She seemed to come toward Jees Uck as
a ripple of music across still water; her sweeping garment itself a
song, her body playing rhythmically beneath. Jees Uck herself was
a man compeller. There were Oche Ish and Imego and Hah Yo and Wy
Nooch, to say nothing of Neil Bonner and John Thompson and other
white men that had looked upon her and felt her power. But she
gazed upon the wide blue eyes and rose-white skin of this woman
that advanced to meet her, and she measured her with woman's eyes
looking through man's eyes; and as a man compeller she felt herself
diminish and grow insignificant before this radiant and flashing
"You wish to see my husband?" the woman asked; and Jees Uck gasped
at the liquid silver of a voice that had never sounded harsh cries
at snarling wolf-dogs, nor moulded itself to a guttural speech, nor
toughened in storm and frost and camp smoke.
"No," Jees Uck answered slowly and gropingly, in order that she
might do justice to her English. "I come to see Neil Bonner."
"He is my husband," the woman laughed.
Then it was true! John Thompson had not lied that bleak February
day, when she laughed pridefully and shut the door in his face. As
once she had thrown Amos Pentley across her knee and ripped her
knife into the air, so now she felt impelled to spring upon this
woman and bear her back and down, and tear the life out of her fair
body. But Jees Uck was thinking quickly and gave no sign, and
Kitty Bonner little dreamed how intimately she had for an instant
been related with sudden death.
Jees Uck nodded her head that she understood, and Kitty Bonner
explained that Neil was expected at any moment. Then they sat down
on ridiculously comfortable chairs, and Kitty sought to entertain
her strange visitor, and Jees Uck strove to help her.
"You knew my husband in the North?" Kitty asked, once.
"Sure. I wash um clothes," Jees Uck had answered, her English
abruptly beginning to grow atrocious.
"And this is your boy? I have a little girl."
Kitty caused her daughter to be brought, and while the children,
after their manner, struck an acquaintance, the mothers indulged in
the talk of mothers and drank tea from cups so fragile that Jees
Uck feared lest hers should crumble to pieces beneath her fingers.
Never had she seen such cups, so delicate and dainty. In her mind
she compared them with the woman who poured the tea, and there
uprose in contrast the gourds and pannikins of the Toyaat village
and the clumsy mugs of Twenty Mile, to which she likened herself.
And in such fashion and such terms the problem presented itself.
She was beaten. There was a woman other than herself better fitted
to bear and upbring Neil Bonner's children. Just as his people
exceeded her people, so did his womankind exceed her. They were
the man compellers, as their men were the world compellers. She
looked at the rose-white tenderness of Kitty Bonner's skin and
remembered the sun-beat on her own face. Likewise she looked from
brown hand to white--the one, work-worn and hardened by whip-handle
and paddle, the other as guiltless of toil and soft as a newborn
babe's. And, for all the obvious softness and apparent weakness,
Jees Uck looked into the blue eyes and saw the mastery she had seen
in Neil Bonner's eyes and in the eyes of Neil Bonner's people.
"Why, it's Jees Uck!" Neil Bonner said, when he entered. He said
it calmly, with even a ring of joyful cordiality, coming over to
her and shaking both her hands, but looking into her eyes with a
worry in his own that she understood.
"Hello, Neil!" she said. "You look much good."
"Fine, fine, Jees Uck," he answered heartily, though secretly
studying Kitty for some sign of what had passed between the two.
Yet he knew his wife too well to expect, even though the worst had
passed, such a sign.
"Well, I can't say how glad I am to see you," he went on. "What's
happened? Did you strike a mine? And when did you get in?"
"Oo-a, I get in to-day," she replied, her voice instinctively
seeking its guttural parts. "I no strike it, Neil. You known
Cap'n Markheim, Unalaska? I cook, his house, long time. No spend
money. Bime-by, plenty. Pretty good, I think, go down and see
White Man's Land. Very fine, White Man's Land, very fine," she
added. Her English puzzled him, for Sandy and he had sought,
constantly, to better her speech, and she had proved an apt pupil.
Now it seemed that she had sunk back into her race. Her face was
guileless, stolidly guileless, giving no cue. Kitty's untroubled
brow likewise baffled him. What had happened? How much had been
said? and how much guessed?
While he wrestled with these questions and while Jees Uck wrestled
with her problem--never had he looked so wonderful and great--a
"To think that you knew my husband in Alaska!" Kitty said softly.
Knew him! Jees Uck could not forbear a glance at the boy she had
borne him, and his eyes followed hers mechanically to the window
where played the two children. An iron hand seemed to tighten
across his forehead. His knees went weak and his heart leaped up
and pounded like a fist against his breast. His boy! He had never
Little Kitty Bonner, fairylike in gauzy lawn, with pinkest of
cheeks and bluest of dancing eyes, arms outstretched and lips
puckered in invitation, was striving to kiss the boy. And the boy,
lean and lithe, sunbeaten and browned, skin-clad and in hair-
fringed and hair-tufted MUCLUCS that showed the wear of the sea and
rough work, coolly withstood her advances, his body straight and
stiff with the peculiar erectness common to children of savage
people. A stranger in a strange land, unabashed and unafraid, he
appeared more like an untamed animal, silent and watchful, his
black eyes flashing from face to face, quiet so long as quiet
endured, but prepared to spring and fight and tear and scratch for
life, at the first sign of danger.
The contrast between boy and girl was striking, but not pitiful.
There was too much strength in the boy for that, waif that he was
of the generations of Shpack, Spike O'Brien, and Bonner. In his
features, clean cut as a cameo and almost classic in their
severity, there were the power and achievement of his father, and
his grandfather, and the one known as the Big Fat, who was captured
by the Sea people and escaped to Kamchatka.
Neil Bonner fought his emotion down, swallowed it down, and choked
over it, though his face smiled with good-humour and the joy with
which one meets a friend.
"Your boy, eh, Jees Uck?" he said. And then turning to Kitty:
"Handsome fellow! He'll do something with those two hands of his
in this our world."
Kitty nodded concurrence. "What is your name?" she asked.
The young savage flashed his quick eyes upon her and dwelt over her
for a space, seeking out, as it were, the motive beneath the
"Neil," he answered deliberately when the scrutiny had satisfied
"Injun talk," Jees Uck interposed, glibly manufacturing languages
on the spur of the moment. "Him Injun talk, NEE-AL all the same
'cracker.' Him baby, him like cracker; him cry for cracker. Him
say, 'NEE-AL, NEE-AL,' all time him say, 'NEE-AL.' Then I say that
um name. So um name all time Nee-al."
Never did sound more blessed fall upon Neil Bonner's ear than that
lie from Jees Uck's lips. It was the cue, and he knew there was
reason for Kitty's untroubled brow.
"And his father?" Kitty asked. "He must be a fine man."
"Oo-a, yes," was the reply. "Um father fine man. Sure!"
"Did you know him, Neil?" queried Kitty.
"Know him? Most intimately," Neil answered, and harked back to
dreary Twenty Mile and the man alone in the silence with his
And here might well end the story of Jees Uck but for the crown she
put upon her renunciation. When she returned to the North to dwell
in her grand log-house, John Thompson found that the P. C. Company
could make a shift somehow to carry on its business without his
aid. Also, the new agent and the succeeding agents received
instructions that the woman Jees Uck should be given whatsoever
goods and grub she desired, in whatsoever quantities she ordered,
and that no charge should be placed upon the books. Further, the
Company paid yearly to the woman Jees Uck a pension of five
When he had attained suitable age, Father Champreau laid hands upon
the boy, and the time was not long when Jees Uck received letters
regularly from the Jesuit college in Maryland. Later on these
letters came from Italy, and still later from France. And in the
end there returned to Alaska one Father Neil, a man mighty for good
in the land, who loved his mother and who ultimately went into a
wider field and rose to high authority in the order.
Jees Uck was a young woman when she went back into the North, and
men still looked upon her and yearned. But she lived straight, and
no breath was ever raised save in commendation. She stayed for a
while with the good sisters at Holy Cross, where she learned to
read and write and became versed in practical medicine and surgery.
After that she returned to her grand log-house and gathered about
her the young girls of the Toyaat village, to show them the way of
their feet in the world. It is neither Protestant nor Catholic,
this school in the house built by Neil Bonner for Jees Uck, his
wife; but the missionaries of all the sects look upon it with equal
favour. The latchstring is always out, and tired prospectors and
trail-weary men turn aside from the flowing river or frozen trail
to rest there for a space and be warm by her fire. And, down in
the States, Kitty Bonner is pleased at the interest her husband
takes in Alaskan education and the large sums he devotes to that
purpose; and, though she often smiles and chaffs, deep down and
secretly she is but the prouder of him.