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´╗┐Title: Polaris of the Snows
Author: Stilson, Charles B., 1880-1932
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Polaris of the Snows" ***

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                          POLARIS OF THE SNOWS

                          by Charles B. Stilson

                            All-Story Weekly

                   _December 18, 1915-January 1, 1916_



"North! North! To the north, Polaris. Tell the world--ah, tell
them--boy--The north! The north! You must go, Polaris!"

Throwing the covers from his low couch, the old man arose and stood, a
giant, tottering figure. Higher and higher he towered. He tossed his
arms high, his features became convulsed; his eyes glazed. In his throat
the rising tide of dissolution choked his voice to a hoarse rattle. He
swayed.

With a last desperate rallying of his failing powers he extended his
right arm and pointed to the north. Then he fell, as a tree falls,
quivered, and was still.

His companion bent over the pallet, and with light, sure fingers closed
his eyes. In all the world he knew, Polaris never had seen a human being
die. In all the world he now was utterly alone!

He sat down at the foot of the cot, and for many minutes gazed steadily
at the wall with fixed, unseeing eyes. A sputtering little lamp, which
stood on a table in the center of the room, flickered and went out. The
flames of the fireplace played strange tricks in the strange room. In
their uncertain glare, the features of the dead man seemed to writhe
uncannily.

Garments and hangings of the skins of beasts stirred in the wavering
shadows, as though the ghosts of their one-time tenants were struggling
to reassert their dominion. At the one door and the lone window the wind
whispered, fretted, and shrieked. Snow as fine and hard as the sands of
the sea rasped across the panes. Somewhere without a dog howled--the
long, throaty ululation of the wolf breed. Another joined in, and
another, until a full score of canine voices wailed a weird requiem.

Unheeding, the living man sat as still as the dead.

Once, twice, thrice, a little clock struck a halting, uncertain stroke.
When the fourth hour was passed it rattled crazily and stopped. The fire
died away to embers; the embers paled to ashes. As though they were
aware that something had gone awry, the dogs never ceased their baying.
The wind rose higher and higher, and assailed the house with repeated
shocks. Pale-gray and changeless day that lay across a sea of snows
peered furtively through the windows.

At length the watcher relaxed his silent vigil. He arose, cast off his
coat of white furs, stepped to the wall of the room opposite to the
door, and shoved back a heavy wooden panel. A dark aperture was
disclosed. He disappeared and came forth presently, carrying several
large chunks of what appeared to be crumbling black rock.

He threw them on the dying fire, where they snapped briskly, caught
fire, and flamed brightly. They were coal.

From a platform above the fireplace he dragged down a portion of the
skinned carcass of a walrus. With the long, heavy-bladed knife from his
belt he cut it into strips. Laden with the meat, he opened the door and
went out into the dim day.

The house was set against the side of a cliff of solid, black,
lusterless coal. A compact stockade of great boulders enclosed the front
of the dwelling. From the back of the building, along the base of the
cliff, ran a low shed of timber slabs, from which sounded the howling
and worrying of the dogs.

As Polaris entered the stockade the clamor was redoubled. The rude plank
at the front of the shed, which was its door, was shaken repeatedly as
heavy bodies were hurled against it.

Kicking an accumulation of loose snow away from the door, the man took
from its racks the bar which made it fast and let it drop forward. A
reek of steam floated from its opening. A shaggy head was thrust forth,
followed immediately by a great, gray body, which shot out as if
propelled from a catapult.

Catching in its jaws the strip of flesh which the man dangled in front
of the doorway, the brute dashed across the stockade and crouched
against the wall, tearing at the meat. Dog after dog piled pell-mell
through the doorway, until at least twenty-five grizzled animals were
distributed about the enclosure, bolting their meal of walrus-flesh.

       *       *       *       *       *

For a few moments the man sat on the roof of the shed and watched the
animals. Although the raw flesh stiffened in the frigid air before even
the jaws of the dogs could devour it and the wind cut like the lash of a
whip, the man, coatless and with head and arms bared, seemed to mind
neither the cold nor the blast.

He had not the ruggedness of figure or the great height of the man who
lay dead within the house. He was of considerably more than medium
height, but so broad of shoulder and deep of chest that he seemed short.
Every line of his compact figure bespoke unusual strength--the wiry,
swift strength of an animal.

His arms, white and shapely, rippled with muscles at the least movement
of his fingers. His hand were small, but powerfully shaped. His neck was
straight and not long. The thews spread from it to his wide shoulders
like those of a splendid athlete. The ears were set close above the
angle of a firm jaw, and were nearly hidden in a mass of tawny, yellow
hair, as fine as a woman's, which swept over his shoulders.

Above a square chin were full lips and a thin, aquiline nose. Deep,
brown eyes, fringed with black lashes, made a marked contrast with the
fairness of his complexion and his yellow hair and brows. He was not
more than twenty-four years old.

Presently he re-entered the house. The dogs flocked after him to the
door, whining and rubbing against his legs, but he allowed none of them
to enter with him. He stood before the dead man and, for the first time
in many hours, he spoke:

"For this day, my father, you have waited many years. I shall not delay.
I will not fail you."

From a skin sack he filled the small lamp with oil and lighted its wick
with a splinter of blazing coal. He set it where its feeble light shone
on the face of the dead. Lifting the corpse, he composed its limbs and
wrapped it in the great white pelt of a polar bear, tying it with many
thongs. Before he hid from view the quiet features he stood back with
folded arms and bowed head.

"I think he would have wished this," he whispered, and he sang softly
that grand old hymn which has sped so many Christian soldiers from their
battlefield. "Nearer, My God, to Thee," he sang in a subdued, melodious
baritone. From a shelf of books which hung on the wall he reached a
leather-covered volume. "It was his religion," he muttered: "It may be
mine," and he read from the book: "_I am the resurrection and the life,
whoso believeth in Me, even though he died_--" and on through the
sonorous burial service.

He dropped the book within the folds of the bearskin, covered the dead
face, and made fast the robe. Although the body was of great weight, he
shouldered it without apparent effort, took the lamp in one hand, and
passed through the panel in the wall.

Within the bowels of the cliff a large cavern had been hollowed in the
coal. In a far corner a gray boulder had been hewn into the shape of a
tombstone. On its face were carved side by side two words: "Anne" and
"Stephen." At the foot of the stone were a mound and an open grave. He
laid the body in the grave and covered it with earth and loose coal.

Again he paused, while the lamplight shone on the tomb.

"May you rest in peace, O Anne, my mother, and Stephen, my father. I
never knew you, my mother, and, my father, I knew not who you were nor
who I am. I go to carry your message."

       *       *       *       *       *

He rolled boulders onto the two mounds. The opening to the cave he
walled up with other boulders, piling a heap of them and of large pieces
of coal until it filled the low arch of the entrance.

In the cabin he made preparations for a journey.

One by one he threw on the fire books and other articles within the
room, until little was left but skins and garments of fur and an
assortment of barbaric weapons of the chase.

Last he dragged from under the cot a long, oaken chest.

Failing to find its key, he tore the lid from it with his strong hands.

Some articles of feminine wearing apparel which were within it he
handled reverently, and at the same time curiously; for they were of
cloth. Wonderingly he ran his fingers over silk and fine laces. Those he
also burned.

From the bottom of the chest he took a short, brown rifle and a brace of
heavy revolvers of a pattern and caliber famous in the annals of the
plainsmen. With them were belt and holsters.

He counted the cartridges in the belt. Forty there were, and in the
chambers of the revolvers and the magazine of the rifle, eighteen more.
Fifty-eight shots with which to meet the perils that lay between himself
and that world of men to the north--if, indeed, the passing years had
not spoiled the ammunition.

He divested himself of his clothing, bathed with melted snow-water, and
dressed himself anew in white furs. An omelet of eggs of wild birds and
a cutlet of walrus-flesh sufficed to stay his hunger, and he was ready
to face the unknown.

In the stockade was a strongly build sledge. Polaris packed it with
quantities of meat both fresh and dried, of which there was a large
store in the cabin. What he did not pack on the sledge he threw to the
eager dogs.

He laid his harness out on the snow, cracked his long whip, and called
up his team. "Octavius, Nero, Julius." Three powerful brutes bounded to
him and took their places in the string. "Juno, Hector, Pallas." Three
more grizzled snow-runners sprang into line. "Marcus." The great, gray
leader trotted sedately to the place at the head of the team. A
seven-dog team it was, all of them bearing the names before which Rome
and Greece had bowed.

Polaris added to the burden of the sledge the brown rifle, several
spears, carved from oaken beams and tipped with steel, and a sealskin
filled with boiled snow-water. On his last trip into the cabin he took
from a drawer in the table a small, flat packet, sewn in membranous
parchment.

"This is to tell the world my father's message and to tell who I am," he
said, and hid it in an inner pocket of his vest of furs. He buckled on
the revolver-belt, took whip and staff from the fireside, and drove his
dog-team out of the stockade onto the prairie of snow, closing the gate
on the howling chorus left behind.

He proceeded several hundred yards, then tethered his dogs with a word
of admonition, and retraced his steps.

In the stockade he did a strange and terrible thing. Long used to seeing
him depart from his team, the dogs had scattered and were mumbling their
bones in various corners. "If I leave these behind me, they will perish
miserably, or they will break out and follow, and I may not take them
with me," he muttered.

From dog to dog he passed. To each he spoke a word of farewell. Each he
caressed with a pat on the head. Each he killed with a single grip of
his muscular hands, gripping them at the nape of the neck, where the
bones parted in his powerful fingers. Silently and swiftly he proceeded
until only one dog remained alive, old Paulus, the patriarch of the
pack.

He bent over the animal, which raised its dim eyes to his and licked at
his hands.

"Paulus, dear old friend that I have grown up with; farewell, Paulus,"
he said. He pressed his face against the noble head of the dog. When he
raised it tears were coursing down his cheeks. Then Paulus's spirit
sped.

Two by two he dragged the bodies into the cabin.

"Of old a great general in that far world of men burned his ships that
he might not turn back. I will not turn back," he murmured. With a
splinter of blazing coal he fired the house and the dog-shed. He tore
the gate of the stockade from its hinges and cast it into the ruins.
With his great strength he toppled over the capping-stones of the wall,
and left it a ruin also.



2. THE FIRST WOMAN


Probably in all the world there was not the equal of the team of dogs
which Polaris had selected for his journey. Their ancestors in the long
ago had been the fierce, gray timberwolves of the north. Carefully
cross-bred, the strains in their blood were of the wolf, the great Dane,
and the mastiff; but the wolf strain held dominant. They had the
loyalty of the mastiff, the strength of the great Dane, and the
tireless sinews of the wolf. From the environment of their rearing they
were well furred and inured to the cold and hardships of the Antarctic.
They would travel far.

Polaris did not ride on the sledge. He ran with the dogs, as swift and
tireless as they. A wonderful example of the adaptability to conditions
of the human race, his upbringing had given him the strength and
endurance of an animal. He had never seen the dog that he could not run
down.

He, too, would travel fast and far.

In the nature of the land through which they journeyed on their first
dash to the northward, there were few obstacles to quick progress. It
was a prairie of snow, wind-swept, and stretching like a desert as far
as eye could discern. Occasionally were upcroppings of coal cliffs
similar to the one where had been Polaris's home. On the first drive
they made a good fifty miles.

Need of sleep, more than fatigue, warned both man and beasts of
camping-time. Polaris, who seemed to have a definite point in view,
urged on the dogs for an hour longer than was usual on an ordinary trip,
and they came to the border of the immense snow-plain.

To the northeast lay a ridge of what appeared to be snow-covered hills.
Beyond the edge of the white prairie was a forest of ice. Millions of
jagged monoliths stood and lay, jammed closely together, in every
conceivable shape and angle.

At some time a giant ice-flow had crashed down upon the land. It had
fretted and torn at the shore, had heaved itself up, with its myriad
gleaming tusks bared for destruction. Then nature had laid upon it a
calm, white hand, and had frozen it quiet and still and changeless.

Away to the east a path was open, which skirted the field of broken ice
and led in toward the base of the hills.

Polaris did not take that path. He turned west, following the line of
the ice-belt. Presently he found what he sought. A narrow lane led into
the heart of the iceberg.

At the end of it, caught in the jaws of two giant bergs, hung fast, as
it had hung for years, the sorry wreck of a stout ship. Scarred and rent
by the grinding of its prison-ice, and weather-beaten by the rasping of
wind-driven snow in a land where the snow never melts, still on the
square stern of the vessel could be read the dimming letters which
spelled "Yedda."

Polaris unharnessed the pack, and man and dogs crept on board the hulk.
It was but a timber shell. Much of the decking had been cut away, and
everything movable had been taken from it for the building of the cabin
and the shed, now in black ruins fifty miles to the south.

In an angle of the ice-wall, a few yards from the ship, Polaris pitched
his camp and built a fire with timbers from the wreck. He struck his
flame with a rudely fashioned tinder-box, catching the spark in fine
scrapings of wood and nursing it with his breath. He fed the dogs and
toasted meat for his own meal at the fire. With a large robe from the
sledge he bedded the team snugly beside the fire.

With his own parka of furs he clambered aboard the ship, found a bunk in
the forecastle, and curled up for the night.

Several hours later hideous clamor broke his dreamless slumber. He
started from the bunk and leaped from the ship's side into the ice-lane.
Every dog of the pack was bristling and snarling with rage. Mixed with
their uproar was a deeper, hoarser note of anger that came from the
throat of no dog--a note which the man knew well.

The team was bunched a few feet ahead of the fire as Polaris came over
the rail of the ship. Almost shoulder to shoulder the seven crouched,
every head pointed up the path. They were quivering from head to tail
with anger, and seemed to be about to charge.

Whipping the dogs back, the son of the snows ran forward to meet the
danger alone. He could afford to lose no dogs. He had forgotten the
guns, but he bore weapons with which he was better acquainted.

With a long-hafted spear in his hand and the knife loosened in his belt
he bounded up the pathway and stood, wary but unafraid, fronting an
immense white bear.

He was not a moment too soon. The huge animal had set himself for the
charge, and in another instant would have hurled its enormous weight
down on the dogs. The beast hesitated, confronted by this new enemy, and
sat back on its haunches to consider.

Knowing his foe aforetime, Polaris took that opportunity to deliver his
own charge. He bounded forward and drove his tough spear with all his
strength into the white chest below the throat. Balanced as it was on
its haunches, the shock of the man's onset upset the bear, and it rolled
backward, a jet of blood spurting over its shaggy coat and, dyeing the
snow.

Like a flash the man followed his advantage. Before the brute could turn
or recover Polaris reached its back and drove his long-bladed knife
under the left shoulder. Twice he struck deep, and sprang aside. The
battle was finished.

The beast made a last mighty effort to rear erect, tearing at the
spear-shaft, and went down under an avalanche of snarling, ferocious
dogs. For the team could refrain from conflict no longer, and charged
like a flying wedge to worry the dying foe.

Replenishing his store of meat with strips from the newly slain bear,
Polaris allowed the pack to make a famous meal on the carcass. When they
were ready to take the trail again, he fired the ship with a blazing
brand, and they trotted forth along the snow-path to the east with the
skeleton of the stout old _Yedda_ roaring and flaming behind them.

       *       *       *       *       *

For days Polaris pressed northward. To his right extended the range of
the white hills. To the left was the seemingly endless ice-field that
looked like the angry billows of a storm-tossed sea which had been
arrested at the height of tempest, its white-capped, upthrown waves
paralyzed cold and dead.

Down the shore-line, where his path lay, a fierce wind blew continuously
and with increasing rigor. He was puzzled to find that instead of
becoming warmer as he progressed to the north and away from the pole,
the air was more frigid than it had been in his homeland. Hardy as he
was, there were times when the furious blasts chilled him to the bone
and when his magnificent dogs flinched and whimpered.

Still he pushed on. The sledge grew lighter as the provisions were
consumed, and there were few marches that did not cover forty miles.
Polaris slept with the dogs, huddled in robes. The very food they ate
they must warm with the heat of their bodies before it could be
devoured. There was no vestige of anything to make fuel for a camp-fire.

He had covered some hundreds of miles when he found the contour of the
country was changing. The chain of the hills swung sharply away to the
east, and the path broadened, fanwise, east and west. An undulating
plain of snow and ice-caps, rent by many fissures, lay ahead.

This was the most difficult traveling of all.

In the middle of their second march across the plain, the man noticed
that his gray snow-coursers were uneasy. They threw their snouts up to
the wind and growled angrily, scenting some unseen danger. Although he
had seen nothing larger than a fox since he entered the plain, bear
signs had been frequent, and Polaris welcomed a hunt to replenish his
larder.

He halted the team and outspanned the dogs so they would be unhampered
by the sledge in case of attack. Bidding them remain behind, he went to
reconnoiter.

He clambered to the summit of a snow-covered ice-crest and gazed ahead.
A great joy welled into his heart, a thanksgiving so keen that it
brought a mist to the eyes.

He had found man!

Not a quarter of a mile ahead of him, standing in the lee of a low
ridge, were two figures unmistakably human. At the instant he saw them
the wind brought to his nostrils, sensitive as those of an animal, a
strange scent that set his pulses bounding. He _smelled_ man and man's
fire! A thin spiral of smoke was curling over the back of the ridge. He
hurried forward.

Hidden by the undulations of slopes and drifts he approached within a
few feet of them without being discovered. On the point of crying aloud
to them he stopped, paralyzed, and crouched behind a drift. For these
men to whom his heart called madly--the first of his own kind but one
whom he had ever seen--were tearing at each other's throats like
maddened beasts in an effort to take life!

Like a man in a dream, Polaris heard their voices raised in curses. They
struggled fiercely but weakly. They were on the brink of one of the deep
fissures, or crevasses, which seamed this strange, forgotten land. Each
was striving to push the other into the chasm.

Then one who seemed the stronger wrenched himself free and struck the
other in the face. The stricken man staggered, threw his arms above his
head, toppled, and crashed down the precipice.

Polaris's first introduction to the civilization which he sought was
murder! For those were civilized white men who had fought. They wore
garments of cloth. Revolvers hung from their belts. Their speech, of
which he had heard little but cursing, was civilized English.

Pale to the lips, the son of the wilderness leaped over the snow-drift
and strode toward the survivor. In the teachings of his father, murder
was the greatest of all crimes; its punishment was swift death. This man
who stood on the brink of the chasm which had swallowed his companion
had been the aggressor in the fight. He had struck first. He had killed.
In the heart of Polaris arose a terrible sense of outraged justice. This
waif of the eternal snows became the law.

The stranger turned and saw him. He started violently, paled, and then
an angry flush mounted to his temples and an angry glint came into his
eyes. His crime had been witnessed, and by a strange white man.

His hand flew to his hip, and he swung a heavy revolver up and fired,
speeding the bullet with a curse. He missed and would have fired again,
but his hour had struck. With the precision of an automaton Polaris
snatched one of his own pistols from the holster. He raised it above the
level of his shoulder, and fired on the drop.

Not for nothing had he spent long hours practicing with his father's
guns, sighting and pulling the trigger countless times, although they
were empty. The man in front of him staggered, dropped his pistol, and
reeled dizzily. A stream of blood gushed from his lips. He choked,
clawed at the air, and pitched backward.

The chasm which had received his victim, received the murderer also.

Polaris heard a shrill scream to his right, and turned swiftly on his
heel, automatically swinging up his revolver to meet a new peril.

Another being stood on the brow of the ridge--stood with clasped hands
and horror-stricken eyes. Clad almost the same as the others, there was
yet a subtle difference which garments could not disguise.

Polaris leaned forward with his whole soul in his eyes. His hand fell to
his side. He had made his second discovery. He had discovered woman!



3. POLARIS MAKES A PROMISE


Both stood transfixed for a long moment--the man with the wonder that
followed his anger, the woman with horror. Polaris drew a deep breath
and stepped a hesitating pace forward.

The woman threw out her hands in a gesture of loathing.

"Murderer!" she said in a low, deep voice, choked with grief. "Oh, my
brother; my poor brother!" She threw herself on the snow, sobbing
terribly.

Rooted to the spot by her repelling gesture, Polaris watched her. So one
of the men had been her brother. Which one? His naturally clear mind
began to reassert itself.

"Lady," he called softly. He did not attempt to go nearer to her.

She raised her face from her arms, crept to her knees, and stared at him
stonily. "Well, murderer, finish your work," she said. "I am ready. Ah,
what had he--what had they done that you should take their lives?"

"Listen to me, lady," said Polaris quietly. "You saw me--kill. Was that
man your brother?"

The girl did not answer, but continued to gaze at him with
horror-stricken eyes. Her mouth quivered pitifully.

"If that man was your brother, then I killed him, and with reason,"
pursued Polaris calmly. "If he was not, then of your brother's death, at
least, I am guiltless. I did but punish his slayer."

"His _slayer_! What are you saying?" gasped the girl.

Polaris snapped open the breech of his revolver and emptied its
cartridges into his hand. He took the other revolver from its holster
and emptied it also. He laid the cartridge in his hand and extended it.

"See," he said, "there are twelve cartridges, but only one empty shell.
Only two shots were fired--one by the man whom I killed, the other by
me." He saw that he had her attention, and repeated his question: "Was
that man your brother?"

"No," she answered.

"Then, you see, I could not have _shot_ your brother," said Polaris. His
face grew stern with the memory of the scene he had witnessed. "They
quarreled, your brother and the other man. I came behind the drift
yonder and saw them. I might have stopped them--but, lady, they were the
first men I had ever seen, save only one. I was bound by surprise. The
other man was stronger. He struck your brother into the crevasse. He
would have shot me, but my mind returned to me, and with anger at that
which I saw, and I killed him.

"In proof, lady, see--the snow between me and the spot yonder where they
stood is untracked. I have been no nearer."

Wonderingly the girl followed with her eyes and the direction of his
pointing finger. She comprehended.

"I--I believe you have told me the truth," she faltered. "They _had_
quarreled. But--but--you said they were the first men you had ever seen.
How--what--"

Polaris crossed the intervening slope and stood at her side.

"That is a long tale, lady," he said simply. "You are in distress. I
would help you. Let us go to your camp. Come."

The girl raised her eyes to his, and they gazed long at one another.
Polaris saw a slender figure of nearly his own height. She was clad in
heavy woolen garments. A hooded cap framed the long oval of her face.

The eyes that looked into his were steady and gray. Long eyes they were,
delicately turned at the corners. Her nose was straight and high, its
end tilted ever so slightly. Full, crimson lips and a firm little chin
peeped over the collar of her jacket. A wisp of chestnut hair swept her
high brow and added its tale to a face that would have been accounted
beautiful in any land.

In the eyes of Polaris she was divinity.

The girl saw a young giant in the flower of his manhood. Clad in
splendid white furs of fox and bear, with a necklace of teeth of the
polar bear for adornment, he resembled those magnificent barbarians of
the Northland's ancient sagas.

His yellow hair had grown long, and fell about his shoulders under his
fox-skin cap. The clean-cut lines of his face scarce were shaded by its
growth of red-gold beard and mustache. Except for the guns at his belt
he might have been a young chief of vikings. His countenance was at once
eager, thoughtful, and determined.

Barbaric and strange as he seemed, the girl found in his face that which
she might trust. She removed a mitten and extended a small, white hand
to him. Falling on one knee in the snow, Polaris kissed it, with the
grace of a knight of old doing homage to his lady fair.

The girl flashed him another wondering glance from her long, gray eyes
that set all his senses tingling. Side by side they passed over the
ridge.

Disaster had overtaken the camp which lay on the other side. Camp it was
by courtesy only--a miserable shelter of blankets and robes, propped
with pieces of broken sledge, a few utensils, the partially devoured
carcass of a small seal, and a tiny fire, kindled from fragments of the
sledge. In the snow some distance from the fire lay the stiffened bodies
of several sledge dogs, sinister evidence of the hopelessness of the
campers' position.

Polaris turned questioningly to the girl.

"We were lost in the storm," she said. "We left the ship, meaning to be
gone only a few hours, and then were lost in the blinding snow. That was
three days ago. How many miles we wandered I do not know. The dogs
became crazed and turned upon us. The men shot them. Oh, there seems so
little hope in this terrible land!" She shuddered. "But you--where did
you come from?"

"Do not lose heart, lady," replied Polaris. "Always, in every land,
there is hope. There must be. I have lived here all my life. I have come
up from the far south. I know but one path--the path to the north, to
the world of men. Now I will fetch my sledge up, and then we shall talk
and decide. We will find your ship. I, Polaris, promise you that."

He turned from her to the fire, and cast on its dying embers more
fragments of the splintered sledge. His eyes shone. He muttered to
himself: "A ship, a ship! Ah, but my father's God is good to his son!"

He set off across the snow slopes to bring up the pack.



4. HURLED SOUTH AGAIN


When his strong form had bounded from her view, the girl turned to the
little hut and shut herself within. She cast herself on a heap of
blankets, and gave way to her bereavement and terror.

Her brother's corpse was scarcely cold at the bottom of the abyss. She
was lost in the trackless wastes--alone, save for this bizarre stranger
who had come out of the snows, this man of strange saying, who seemed a
demigod of the wilderness.

Could she trust him? She must. She recalled him kneeling in the snow,
and the courtierlike grace with which he kissed her hand. A hot flush
mounted to her eyes. She dried her tears.

She heard him return to the camp, and heard the barking of the dogs.
Once he passed near the hut, but he did not intrude, and she remained
within.

Womanlike, she set about the rearrangement of her hair and clothing.
When she had finished she crept to the doorway and peeped out. Again her
blushes burned her cheeks. She saw the son of the snows crouched above
the camp-fire, surrounded by a group of monstrous dogs. He had rubbed
his face with oil. A bright blade glittered in his hand. Polaris was
_shaving_!

Presently she went out. The young man sprang to his feet, cracking his
long whip to restrain the dogs, which would have sprung upon the
stranger. They huddled away, their teeth bared, staring at her with
glowing eyes. Polaris seized one of them by the scruff of the neck,
lifted it bodily from the snow, and swung it in front of the girl.

"Talk to him, lady," he said; "you must be friends. This is Julius."

The girl bent over and fearlessly stroked the brute's head.

"Julius, good dog," she said. At her touch the dog quivered and its
hackles rose. Under the caress of her hand it quieted gradually. The
bristling hair relaxed, and Julius's tail swung slowly to and fro in an
overture of amity. When Polaris loosed him, he sniffed in friendly
fashion at the girl's hands, and pushed his great head forward for more
caresses.

Then Marcus, the grim leader of the pack, stalked majestically forward
for his introduction.

"Ah, you have won Marcus!" cried Polaris. "And Marcus won is a friend
indeed. None of them would harm you now." Soon she had learned the name
and had the confidence of every dog of the pack, to the great delight of
their master.

Among the effects in the camp was a small oil-stove, which Polaris
greeted with brightened eyes. "One like that we had, but it was worn out
long ago," he said. He lighted the stove and began the preparation of a
meal.

She found that he had cleared the camp and put all in order. He had
dragged the carcasses of the dead dogs to the other side of the slope
and piled them there. His stock of meat was low, and his own dogs would
have no qualms if it came to making their own meals of these strangers
of their own kind.

The girl produced from the remnants of the camp stores a few handfuls of
coffee and an urn. Polaris watched in wonderment as she brewed it over
the tiny stove and his nose twitched in reception of its delicious
aroma. They drank the steaming beverage, piping hot, from tin cups. In
the stinging air of the snowlands even the keenest grief must give way
to the pangs of hunger. The girl ate heartily of a meal that in a more
moderate climate she would have considered fit only for beasts.

When their supper was completed they sat huddled in their furs at the
edge of the fire. Around them were crouched the dogs, watching with
eager eyes for any scraps which might fall to their share.

"Now tell me who you are, and how you came here," questioned the girl.

"Lady, my name is Polaris, and I think that I am an American gentleman,"
he said, and a trace of pride crept into the words of the answer. "I
came here from a cabin and a ship that lie burned many leagues to the
southward. All my life I have lived there, with but one companion, my
father, who now is dead, and who sends me to the north with a message to
that world of men that lies beyond the snows, and from which he long was
absent."

"A ship--a cabin--" The girl bent toward him in amazement. "And burned?
And you have lived--have grown up in this land of snow and ice and
bitter cold, where but few things can exist--I don't understand!"

"My father has told me much, but not all. It is all in his message which
I have not seen," Polaris answered. "But that which I tell you is truth.
He was a seeker after new things. He came here to seek that which no
other man had found. He came in a ship with my mother and others. All
were dead before I came to knowledge. He had built a cabin from the
ruins of the ship, and he lived there until he died."

"And you say that you are an American gentleman?"

"That he told me, lady, although I do not know my name or his, except
that he was Stephen, and he called me Polaris."

"And did he never try to get to the north?" asked the girl.

"No. Many years ago, when I was a boy, he fell and was hurt. After that
he could do but little. He could not travel."

"And you?"

"I learned to seek food in the wilderness, lady; to battle with its
beasts, to wrest that which would sustain our lives from the snows and
the wastes."

Much more of his life and of his father he told her under her wondering
questioning--a tale most incredible to her ears, but, as he said, the
truth. Finally he finished.

"Now, lady, what of you?" he asked. "How came you here, and from where?"

"My name is Rose--"

"Ah, that is the name of a flower," said Polaris. "You were well named."

He did not look at her as he spoke. His eyes were turned to the snow
slopes and were very wistful. "I have never seen a flower," he continued
slowly, "but my father said that of all created things they were the
fairest."

"I have another name," said the girl. "It is Rose--Rose Emer."

"And why did you come here, Rose Emer?" asked Polaris.

"Like your father, I--we were seekers after new things, my brother and
I. Both our father and mother died, and left my brother John and myself
ridiculously rich. We had to use our money, so we traveled. We have been
over most of the world. Then a man--an American gentleman--a very brave
man, organized an expedition to come to the south to discover the south
pole. My brother and I knew him. We were very much interested in his
adventure. We helped him with it. Then John insisted that he would come
with the expedition, and--oh, they didn't wish me to come, but I never
had been left behind--I came, too."

"And that brave man who came to seek the pole, where is he now?"

"Perhaps he is dead--out there," said the girl, with a catch in her
voice. She pointed to the south. "He left the ship and went on, days
ago. He was to establish two camps with supplies. He carried an airship
with him. He was to make his last dash for the pole through the air from
the farther camp. His men were to wait for him until--until they were
sure that he would not come back."

"An airship!" Polaris bent forward with sparkling eyes. "So there _are_
airships, then! Ah, this man must be brave! How is he called?"

"James Scoland is the name--Captain Scoland."

"He went on whence I came? Did he go by that way?" Polaris pointed where
the white tops of the mountain range which he skirted pierced the sky.

"No. He took a course to the east of the mountains, where other
explorers of years before had been before him."

"Yes, I have seen maps. Can you tell me where, or nearly where, we are
now?" he asked the girl.

"This is Victoria Land," she answered. "We left the ship in a long bay,
extending in from Ross Sea, near where the 160th meridian joins the 80th
parallel. We are somewhere within three days' journey from the ship."

"And so near to open water?"

She nodded.

       *       *       *       *       *

Rose Emer slept in the little shelter, with the grim Marcus curled on a
robe beside her pallet. Crouched among the dogs in the camp, Polaris
slept little. For hours he sat huddled, with his chin on his hands,
pondering what the girl had told him. Another man was on his way to the
pole--a very brave man--and he might reach it. And then--Polaris must be
very wary when he met that man who had won so great a prize.

"Ah, my father," he sighed, "learning is mine through patience. History
of the world and of its wars and triumphs and failures, I know. Of its
tongues you have taught me, even those of the Roman and the Greek, long
since passed away; but how little do I know of the ways of men--and of
women! I shall be very careful, my father."

Quite beyond any power of his to control, an antagonism was growing
within him for that man whom he had not seen; antagonism that was not
all due to the magnitude of the prize which the man might be winning, or
might be dying for. Indeed, had he been able to analyze it, that was the
least part of it.

When they broke camp for their start they found that the perverse wind,
which had rested while they slept, had risen when they would journey,
and hissed bitterly across the bleak steppes of snow. Polaris made a
place on the sledge for the girl, and urged the pack into the teeth of
the gale. All day long they battled ahead in it, bearing left to the
west, where was more level pathway, than among the snow dunes.

In an ever increasing blast they came in sight of open water. They
halted on a far-stretching field, much broken by huge masses, so
snow-covered that it was not possible to know whether they were of rock
or ice. Not a quarter of a mile beyond them, the edge of the field was
fretted by wind-lashed waves, which extended away to the horizon rim,
dotted with tossing icebergs of great height.

Polaris pitched camp in the shelter of a towering cliff, and they made
themselves what comfort they could in the stinging cold.

They had slept several hours when the slumbers of Polaris were pierced
by a woman's screams, the frenzied howling of the dogs, and the
thundering reverberations of grinding and crashing ice cliffs. A dash of
spray splashed across his face.

He sprang to his feet in the midst of the leaping pack; as he did so he
felt the field beneath him sway and pitch like a hammock. For the first
time since he started for the north the Antarctic sun was shining
brightly--shining cold and clear on a great disaster!

For they had pitched their camp on an ice floe. Whipped on by the gale,
the sea had risen under it, heaved it up and broken it. On a section of
the floe several acres in extent their little camp lay, at the very
brink of a gash in the ice-field which had cut them off from the land
over which they had come.

The water was raging like a millrace through the widening rift between
them and the shore. Caught in a swift current and urged by the furious
wind, the broken-up floe was drifting, faster and faster--_back to the
south_!



5. BATTLE ON THE FLOE


Helpless, Polaris stood at the brink of the rift, swirling water and
tossing ice throwing the spray about him in clouds. Here was opposition
against which his naked strength was useless. As if they realized that
they were being parted from the firm land, the dogs grouped at the edge
of the floe and sent their dismal howls across the raging swirl, only to
be drowned by the din of the crashing icebergs.

Turning, Polaris saw Rose Emer. She stood at the doorway of the tent of
skins, staring across the wind-swept channel with a blank despair
looking from her eyes.

"Ah, all is lost, now!" she gasped.

Then the great spirit of the man rose into spoken words. "No, lady," he
called, his voice rising clearly above the shrieking and thundering
pandemonium. "We yet have our lives."

As he spoke there was a rending sound at his feet. The dogs sprang back
in terror and huddled against the face of the ice cliff. Torn away by
the impact of some weightier body beneath, nearly half of the ledge
where they stood was split from the main body of the floe, and plunged,
heaving and crackling into the current.

Polaris saved himself by a mighty spring. Right in the path of the gash
lay the sledge, and it hung balanced at the edge of the ice floe. Down
it swung, and would have slipped over, but Polaris saw it going.

He clutched at the ends of the leathern dog-harness as they glided from
him across the ice, and, with a tug, into which he put all the power of
his splendid muscles, he retrieved the sledge. Hardly had he dragged it
to safety when, with another roar of sundered ice, their foothold gaped
again and left them but a scanty shelf at the foot of the beetling berg.

"Here we may not stay, lady," said Polaris. He swept the tent and its
robes into his arms and piled them on the sledge. Without waiting to
harness the dogs, he grasped the leather bands and alone pulled the load
along the ledge and around a shoulder of the cliff.

At the other side of the cliff a ridge extended between the berg which
they skirted and another towering mountain of ice of similar formation.
Beyond the twin bergs lay the level plane of the floe, its edges
continually frayed by the attack of the waves and the onset of floating
ice.

Along the incline of the ridge were several hollows partially filled
with drift snow. Knowing that on the ice cape, in such a tempest, they
must soon perish miserably, Polaris made camp in one of these
depressions where the deep snow tempered the chill of its foundation.

In the clutch of the churning waters the floe turned slowly like an
immense wheel as it drifted in the current. Its course was away from the
shore to the southwest, and it gathered speed and momentum with every
passing second. The cove from whence it had been torn was already a mere
notch in the faraway shore line.

Around them was a scene of wild and compelling beauty. Leagues and
leagues of on-rushing water hurled its white-crested squadrons against
the precipitous sides of the flotilla of icebergs, tore at the edges of
the drifting floes, and threw itself in huge waves across the more level
planes, inundating them repeatedly. Clouds of lacelike spray hung in the
air after each attack, and cascading torrents returned to the waves.

Above it all the Antarctic sun shone gloriously, splintering its golden
spears on the myriad pinnacles, minarets, battlements, and crags of
towering masses of crystal that reflected back into the quivering air
all the colors of the spectrum. Thinner crests blazed flame-red in the
rays. Other points glittered coldly blue. From a thousand lesser
scintillating spires the shifting play of the colors, from vermilion to
purple, from green to gold, in the lavish magnificence of nature's
magic, was torture to the eye that beheld.

On the spine of the ridge stood Polaris, leaning on his long spear and
gazing with heightened color and gleaming eyes on those fairy symbols of
old mother nature. To the girl who watched him he seemed to complete the
picture. In his superb trappings of furs, and surrounded by his shaggy
servants, he was at one with his weird and terrible surroundings. She
admired--and shuddered.

Presently, when he came down from the ridge, she asked him, with a brave
smile, "What, sir, will be the next move?"

"That is in the hands of the great God, if such a one there be," he
said. "Whatever it may be, it shall find us ready. Somewhere we must
come to shore. When we do--on to the north and the ship, be it half a
world away."

"But for food and warmth? We must have those, if we are to go in the
flesh."

"Already they are provided for," he replied quickly. He was peering
sharply over her shoulder toward the mass of the other berg. With his
words the clustered pack set up an angry snarling and baying. She
followed his glance and paled.

Lumbering forth from a narrow pass at the extremity of the ridge was a
gigantic polar bear. His little eyes glittered wickedly, hungrily, and
his long, red tongue crept out and licked his slavering chops. As he
came on, with ungainly, padding gait, his head swung ponderously to and
fro.

Scarcely had he cleared the pass of his immense bulk when another
twitching white muzzle was protruded, and a second beast, in size nearly
equal to the first, set foot on the ridge and ambled on to the attack.

Reckless at least of this peril, the dogs would have leaped forward to
close with the invaders but their master intervened. The stinging,
cracking lash in his hand drove them from the foe. Their overlord, man,
elected to make the battle alone.

In two springs he reached the sledge, tore the rifle from its coverings,
and was at the side of the girl. He thrust the weapon into her hands.

"Back, lady; back to the sledge!" he cried. "Unless I call, shoot not.
If you do shoot, aim for the throat when they rear, and leave the rest
to me and the dogs. Many times have I met these enemies, and I know well
how to deal with them."

With another crack of the whip over the heads of the snarling pack, he
left her and bounded forward, spear in hand and long knife bared.

Awkward of pace and unhurried, the snow kings came on to their feast. In
a thought the man chose his ground. Between him and the bears the ridge
narrowed so that for a few feet there was footway for but one of the
monsters at once.

Polaris ran to where that narrow path began and threw himself on his
face on the ice.

At that ruse the foremost bear hesitated. He reared and brushed his
muzzle with his formidable crescent-clawed paw. Polaris might have shot
then and ended at once the hardest part of his battle. But the man held
to a stubborn pride in his own weapons. Both of the beasts he would
slay, if he might, as he always had slain. His guns were reserved for
dire extremity.

The bear settled to all fours again, and reached out a cautious paw and
felt along the path, its claws gouging seams in the ice. Assured that
the footing would hold, it crept out on the narrow way, nearer and
nearer to the motionless man. Scarce a yard from him it squatted. The
steam of its breath beat toward him.

It raised one armed paw to strike. The girl cried out in terror and
raised the rifle. The man moved, and she hesitated.

Down came the terrible paw, its curved claws projected and compressed
for the blow. It struck only the adamantine ice of the pathway,
splintering it. With the down stroke timed to the second, the man had
leaped up and forward.

As though set on a steel spring, he vaulted into the air, above the
clashing talons and gnashing jaws, and landed light and sure on the back
of his ponderous adversary. To pass an arm under the bear's throat, to
clip its back with the grip of his legs was the work of a heart-beat's
time for Polaris.

With a stifled howl of rage the bear rose to its haunches, and the man
rose with it. He gave it no time to turn or settle. Exerting his muscles
of steel, he tugged the huge head back. He swung clear from the body of
his foe. His feet touched the path and held it. He shot one knee into
the back of the bear.

The spear he had dropped when he sprang, but his long knife gleamed in
his hand, and he stabbed, once, twice, sending the blade home under the
brute's shoulder. He released his grip; spurned the yielding body with
his foot, and the huge hulk rolled from the path down the slope,
crimsoning the snow with its blood.

Polaris bounded across the narrow ledge and regained his spear. He
smiled as there arose from the foot of the slope a hideous clamor that
told him that the pack had charged in, as usual, not to be restrained at
sight of the kill. He waved his hand to the girl, who stood, statuelike,
beside the sledge.

Doubly enraged at its inability to participate in the battle which had
been the death of its mate, the smaller bear waited no longer when the
path was clear, but rushed madly with lowered head. Strong as he was,
the man knew that he could not hope to stay or turn that avalanche of
flesh and sinew. As it reached him he sprang aside where the path
broadened, lashing out with his keen-edged spear.

His aim was true. Just over one of the small eyes the point of the spear
bit deep, and blood followed it. With tigerish agility the man leaped
over the beast, striking down as he did so.

The bear reared on its hindquarters and whimpered, brushing at its eyes
with its forepaws. Its head gashed so that the flowing blood blinded it,
it was beaten. Before it stood its master. Bending back until his body
arched like a drawn bow, Polaris poised his spear and thrust home at the
broad chest.

A death howl that was echoed back from the crashing cliffs was answer to
his stroke. The bear settled forward and sprawled in the snow.

Polaris set his foot on the body of the fallen monster and gazed down at
the girl with smiling face.

"Here, lady, are food and warmth for many days," he called.





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