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Title: Lost Face
Author: London, Jack, 1876-1916
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 "Lost Face" ***

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Transcribed from the 1919 Mills and Boon edition by David Price, email
ccx074@pglaf.org



                                LOST FACE


                                    BY
                               JACK LONDON

                   AUTHOR OF “THE JACKET,” “THE VALLEY
                            OF THE MOON,” ETC.

                                * * * * *

                           ENTIRELY UNABRIDGED

                                * * * * *

                          MILLS & BOON, LIMITED
                             49 RUPERT STREET
                               LONDON, W. 1

                                * * * * *

_First Published_       _1916_
_Second Impression_     _1917_
_Third Impression_      _1918_
_Fourth Impression_     _1919_

                                * * * * *

        _Copyright in the United States of America by Jack London_



CONTENTS

                                         PAGE
LOST FACE                                  11
TRUST                                      29
TO BUILD A FIRE                            47
THAT SPOT                                  71
FLUSH OF GOLD                              85
THE PASSING OF MARCUS O’BRIEN             106
THE WIT OF PORPORTUK                      124

LOST FACE


It was the end.  Subienkow had travelled a long trail of bitterness and
horror, homing like a dove for the capitals of Europe, and here, farther
away than ever, in Russian America, the trail ceased.  He sat in the
snow, arms tied behind him, waiting the torture.  He stared curiously
before him at a huge Cossack, prone in the snow, moaning in his pain.
The men had finished handling the giant and turned him over to the women.
That they exceeded the fiendishness of the men, the man’s cries attested.

Subienkow looked on, and shuddered.  He was not afraid to die.  He had
carried his life too long in his hands, on that weary trail from Warsaw
to Nulato, to shudder at mere dying.  But he objected to the torture.  It
offended his soul.  And this offence, in turn, was not due to the mere
pain he must endure, but to the sorry spectacle the pain would make of
him.  He knew that he would pray, and beg, and entreat, even as Big Ivan
and the others that had gone before.  This would not be nice.  To pass
out bravely and cleanly, with a smile and a jest—ah! that would have been
the way.  But to lose control, to have his soul upset by the pangs of the
flesh, to screech and gibber like an ape, to become the veriest beast—ah,
that was what was so terrible.

There had been no chance to escape.  From the beginning, when he dreamed
the fiery dream of Poland’s independence, he had become a puppet in the
hands of Fate.  From the beginning, at Warsaw, at St. Petersburg, in the
Siberian mines, in Kamtchatka, on the crazy boats of the fur-thieves,
Fate had been driving him to this end.  Without doubt, in the foundations
of the world was graved this end for him—for him, who was so fine and
sensitive, whose nerves scarcely sheltered under his skin, who was a
dreamer, and a poet, and an artist.  Before he was dreamed of, it had
been determined that the quivering bundle of sensitiveness that
constituted him should be doomed to live in raw and howling savagery, and
to die in this far land of night, in this dark place beyond the last
boundaries of the world.

He sighed.  So that thing before him was Big Ivan—Big Ivan the giant, the
man without nerves, the man of iron, the Cossack turned freebooter of the
seas, who was as phlegmatic as an ox, with a nervous system so low that
what was pain to ordinary men was scarcely a tickle to him.  Well, well,
trust these Nulato Indians to find Big Ivan’s nerves and trace them to
the roots of his quivering soul.  They were certainly doing it.  It was
inconceivable that a man could suffer so much and yet live.  Big Ivan was
paying for his low order of nerves.  Already he had lasted twice as long
as any of the others.

Subienkow felt that he could not stand the Cossack’s sufferings much
longer.  Why didn’t Ivan die?  He would go mad if that screaming did not
cease.  But when it did cease, his turn would come.  And there was Yakaga
awaiting him, too, grinning at him even now in anticipation—Yakaga, whom
only last week he had kicked out of the fort, and upon whose face he had
laid the lash of his dog-whip.  Yakaga would attend to him.  Doubtlessly
Yakaga was saving for him more refined tortures, more exquisite
nerve-racking.  Ah! that must have been a good one, from the way Ivan
screamed.  The squaws bending over him stepped back with laughter and
clapping of hands.  Subienkow saw the monstrous thing that had been
perpetrated, and began to laugh hysterically.  The Indians looked at him
in wonderment that he should laugh.  But Subienkow could not stop.

This would never do.  He controlled himself, the spasmodic twitchings
slowly dying away.  He strove to think of other things, and began reading
back in his own life.  He remembered his mother and his father, and the
little spotted pony, and the French tutor who had taught him dancing and
sneaked him an old worn copy of Voltaire.  Once more he saw Paris, and
dreary London, and gay Vienna, and Rome.  And once more he saw that wild
group of youths who had dreamed, even as he, the dream of an independent
Poland with a king of Poland on the throne at Warsaw.  Ah, there it was
that the long trail began.  Well, he had lasted longest.  One by one,
beginning with the two executed at St. Petersburg, he took up the count
of the passing of those brave spirits.  Here one had been beaten to death
by a jailer, and there, on that bloodstained highway of the exiles, where
they had marched for endless months, beaten and maltreated by their
Cossack guards, another had dropped by the way.  Always it had been
savagery—brutal, bestial savagery.  They had died—of fever, in the mines,
under the knout.  The last two had died after the escape, in the battle
with the Cossacks, and he alone had won to Kamtchatka with the stolen
papers and the money of a traveller he had left lying in the snow.

It had been nothing but savagery.  All the years, with his heart in
studios, and theatres, and courts, he had been hemmed in by savagery.  He
had purchased his life with blood.  Everybody had killed.  He had killed
that traveller for his passports.  He had proved that he was a man of
parts by duelling with two Russian officers on a single day.  He had had
to prove himself in order to win to a place among the fur-thieves.  He
had had to win to that place.  Behind him lay the thousand-years-long
road across all Siberia and Russia.  He could not escape that way.  The
only way was ahead, across the dark and icy sea of Bering to Alaska.  The
way had led from savagery to deeper savagery.  On the scurvy-rotten ships
of the fur-thieves, out of food and out of water, buffeted by the
interminable storms of that stormy sea, men had become animals.  Thrice
he had sailed east from Kamtchatka.  And thrice, after all manner of
hardship and suffering, the survivors had come back to Kamtchatka.  There
had been no outlet for escape, and he could not go back the way he had
come, for the mines and the knout awaited him.

Again, the fourth and last time, he had sailed east.  He had been with
those who first found the fabled Seal Islands; but he had not returned
with them to share the wealth of furs in the mad orgies of Kamtchatka.
He had sworn never to go back.  He knew that to win to those dear
capitals of Europe he must go on.  So he had changed ships and remained
in the dark new land.  His comrades were Slavonian hunters and Russian
adventurers, Mongols and Tartars and Siberian aborigines; and through the
savages of the new world they had cut a path of blood.  They had
massacred whole villages that refused to furnish the fur-tribute; and
they, in turn, had been massacred by ships’ companies.  He, with one
Finn, had been the sole survivor of such a company.  They had spent a
winter of solitude and starvation on a lonely Aleutian isle, and their
rescue in the spring by another fur-ship had been one chance in a
thousand.

But always the terrible savagery had hemmed him in.  Passing from ship to
ship, and ever refusing to return, he had come to the ship that explored
south.  All down the Alaska coast they had encountered nothing but hosts
of savages.  Every anchorage among the beetling islands or under the
frowning cliffs of the mainland had meant a battle or a storm.  Either
the gales blew, threatening destruction, or the war canoes came off,
manned by howling natives with the war-paint on their faces, who came to
learn the bloody virtues of the sea-rovers’ gunpowder.  South, south they
had coasted, clear to the myth-land of California.  Here, it was said,
were Spanish adventurers who had fought their way up from Mexico.  He had
had hopes of those Spanish adventurers.  Escaping to them, the rest would
have been easy—a year or two, what did it matter more or less—and he
would win to Mexico, then a ship, and Europe would be his.  But they had
met no Spaniards.  Only had they encountered the same impregnable wall of
savagery.  The denizens of the confines of the world, painted for war,
had driven them back from the shores.  At last, when one boat was cut off
and every man killed, the commander had abandoned the quest and sailed
back to the north.

The years had passed.  He had served under Tebenkoff when Michaelovski
Redoubt was built.  He had spent two years in the Kuskokwim country.  Two
summers, in the month of June, he had managed to be at the head of
Kotzebue Sound.  Here, at this time, the tribes assembled for barter;
here were to be found spotted deerskins from Siberia, ivory from the
Diomedes, walrus skins from the shores of the Arctic, strange stone
lamps, passing in trade from tribe to tribe, no one knew whence, and,
once, a hunting-knife of English make; and here, Subienkow knew, was the
school in which to learn geography.  For he met Eskimos from Norton
Sound, from King Island and St. Lawrence Island, from Cape Prince of
Wales, and Point Barrow.  Such places had other names, and their
distances were measured in days.

It was a vast region these trading savages came from, and a vaster region
from which, by repeated trade, their stone lamps and that steel knife had
come.  Subienkow bullied, and cajoled, and bribed.  Every far-journeyer
or strange tribesman was brought before him.  Perils unaccountable and
unthinkable were mentioned, as well as wild beasts, hostile tribes,
impenetrable forests, and mighty mountain ranges; but always from beyond
came the rumour and the tale of white-skinned men, blue of eye and fair
of hair, who fought like devils and who sought always for furs.  They
were to the east—far, far to the east.  No one had seen them.  It was the
word that had been passed along.

It was a hard school.  One could not learn geography very well through
the medium of strange dialects, from dark minds that mingled fact and
fable and that measured distances by “sleeps” that varied according to
the difficulty of the going.  But at last came the whisper that gave
Subienkow courage.  In the east lay a great river where were these
blue-eyed men.  The river was called the Yukon.  South of Michaelovski
Redoubt emptied another great river which the Russians knew as the
Kwikpak.  These two rivers were one, ran the whisper.

Subienkow returned to Michaelovski.  For a year he urged an expedition up
the Kwikpak.  Then arose Malakoff, the Russian half-breed, to lead the
wildest and most ferocious of the hell’s broth of mongrel adventurers who
had crossed from Kamtchatka.  Subienkow was his lieutenant.  They
threaded the mazes of the great delta of the Kwikpak, picked up the first
low hills on the northern bank, and for half a thousand miles, in skin
canoes loaded to the gunwales with trade-goods and ammunition, fought
their way against the five-knot current of a river that ran from two to
ten miles wide in a channel many fathoms deep.  Malakoff decided to build
the fort at Nulato.  Subienkow urged to go farther.  But he quickly
reconciled himself to Nulato.  The long winter was coming on.  It would
be better to wait.  Early the following summer, when the ice was gone, he
would disappear up the Kwikpak and work his way to the Hudson Bay
Company’s posts.  Malakoff had never heard the whisper that the Kwikpak
was the Yukon, and Subienkow did not tell him.

Came the building of the fort.  It was enforced labour.  The tiered walls
of logs arose to the sighs and groans of the Nulato Indians.  The lash
was laid upon their backs, and it was the iron hand of the freebooters of
the sea that laid on the lash.  There were Indians that ran away, and
when they were caught they were brought back and spread-eagled before the
fort, where they and their tribe learned the efficacy of the knout.  Two
died under it; others were injured for life; and the rest took the lesson
to heart and ran away no more.  The snow was flying ere the fort was
finished, and then it was the time for furs.  A heavy tribute was laid
upon the tribe.  Blows and lashings continued, and that the tribute
should be paid, the women and children were held as hostages and treated
with the barbarity that only the fur-thieves knew.

Well, it had been a sowing of blood, and now was come the harvest.  The
fort was gone.  In the light of its burning, half the fur-thieves had
been cut down.  The other half had passed under the torture.  Only
Subienkow remained, or Subienkow and Big Ivan, if that whimpering,
moaning thing in the snow could be called Big Ivan.  Subienkow caught
Yakaga grinning at him.  There was no gainsaying Yakaga.  The mark of the
lash was still on his face.  After all, Subienkow could not blame him,
but he disliked the thought of what Yakaga would do to him.  He thought
of appealing to Makamuk, the head-chief; but his judgment told him that
such appeal was useless.  Then, too, he thought of bursting his bonds and
dying fighting.  Such an end would be quick.  But he could not break his
bonds.  Caribou thongs were stronger than he.  Still devising, another
thought came to him.  He signed for Makamuk, and that an interpreter who
knew the coast dialect should be brought.

“Oh, Makamuk,” he said, “I am not minded to die.  I am a great man, and
it were foolishness for me to die.  In truth, I shall not die.  I am not
like these other carrion.”

He looked at the moaning thing that had once been Big Ivan, and stirred
it contemptuously with his toe.

“I am too wise to die.  Behold, I have a great medicine.  I alone know
this medicine.  Since I am not going to die, I shall exchange this
medicine with you.”

“What is this medicine?” Makamuk demanded.

“It is a strange medicine.”

Subienkow debated with himself for a moment, as if loth to part with the
secret.

“I will tell you.  A little bit of this medicine rubbed on the skin makes
the skin hard like a rock, hard like iron, so that no cutting weapon can
cut it.  The strongest blow of a cutting weapon is a vain thing against
it.  A bone knife becomes like a piece of mud; and it will turn the edge
of the iron knives we have brought among you.  What will you give me for
the secret of the medicine?”

“I will give you your life,” Makamuk made answer through the interpreter.

Subienkow laughed scornfully.

“And you shall be a slave in my house until you die.”

The Pole laughed more scornfully.

“Untie my hands and feet and let us talk,” he said.

The chief made the sign; and when he was loosed Subienkow rolled a
cigarette and lighted it.

“This is foolish talk,” said Makamuk.  “There is no such medicine.  It
cannot be.  A cutting edge is stronger than any medicine.”

The chief was incredulous, and yet he wavered.  He had seen too many
deviltries of fur-thieves that worked.  He could not wholly doubt.

“I will give you your life; but you shall not be a slave,” he announced.

“More than that.”

Subienkow played his game as coolly as if he were bartering for a
foxskin.

“It is a very great medicine.  It has saved my life many times.  I want a
sled and dogs, and six of your hunters to travel with me down the river
and give me safety to one day’s sleep from Michaelovski Redoubt.”

“You must live here, and teach us all of your deviltries,” was the reply.

Subienkow shrugged his shoulders and remained silent.  He blew cigarette
smoke out on the icy air, and curiously regarded what remained of the big
Cossack.

“That scar!” Makamuk said suddenly, pointing to the Pole’s neck, where a
livid mark advertised the slash of a knife in a Kamtchatkan brawl.  “The
medicine is not good.  The cutting edge was stronger than the medicine.”

“It was a strong man that drove the stroke.”  (Subienkow considered.)
“Stronger than you, stronger than your strongest hunter, stronger than
he.”

Again, with the toe of his moccasin, he touched the Cossack—a grisly
spectacle, no longer conscious—yet in whose dismembered body the
pain-racked life clung and was loth to go.

“Also, the medicine was weak.  For at that place there were no berries of
a certain kind, of which I see you have plenty in this country.  The
medicine here will be strong.”

“I will let you go down river,” said Makamuk; “and the sled and the dogs
and the six hunters to give you safety shall be yours.”

“You are slow,” was the cool rejoinder.  “You have committed an offence
against my medicine in that you did not at once accept my terms.  Behold,
I now demand more.  I want one hundred beaver skins.”  (Makamuk sneered.)

“I want one hundred pounds of dried fish.”  (Makamuk nodded, for fish
were plentiful and cheap.)  “I want two sleds—one for me and one for my
furs and fish.  And my rifle must be returned to me.  If you do not like
the price, in a little while the price will grow.”

Yakaga whispered to the chief.

“But how can I know your medicine is true medicine?” Makamuk asked.

“It is very easy.  First, I shall go into the woods—”

Again Yakaga whispered to Makamuk, who made a suspicious dissent.

“You can send twenty hunters with me,” Subienkow went on.  “You see, I
must get the berries and the roots with which to make the medicine.
Then, when you have brought the two sleds and loaded on them the fish and
the beaver skins and the rifle, and when you have told off the six
hunters who will go with me—then, when all is ready, I will rub the
medicine on my neck, so, and lay my neck there on that log.  Then can
your strongest hunter take the axe and strike three times on my neck.
You yourself can strike the three times.”

Makamuk stood with gaping mouth, drinking in this latest and most
wonderful magic of the fur-thieves.

“But first,” the Pole added hastily, “between each blow I must put on
fresh medicine.  The axe is heavy and sharp, and I want no mistakes.”

“All that you have asked shall be yours,” Makamuk cried in a rush of
acceptance.  “Proceed to make your medicine.”

Subienkow concealed his elation.  He was playing a desperate game, and
there must be no slips.  He spoke arrogantly.

“You have been slow.  My medicine is offended.  To make the offence clean
you must give me your daughter.”

He pointed to the girl, an unwholesome creature, with a cast in one eye
and a bristling wolf-tooth.  Makamuk was angry, but the Pole remained
imperturbable, rolling and lighting another cigarette.

“Make haste,” he threatened.  “If you are not quick, I shall demand yet
more.”

In the silence that followed, the dreary northland scene faded before
him, and he saw once more his native land, and France, and, once, as he
glanced at the wolf-toothed girl, he remembered another girl, a singer
and a dancer, whom he had known when first as a youth he came to Paris.

“What do you want with the girl?” Makamuk asked.

“To go down the river with me.”  Subienkow glanced over her critically.
“She will make a good wife, and it is an honour worthy of my medicine to
be married to your blood.”

Again he remembered the singer and dancer and hummed aloud a song she had
taught him.  He lived the old life over, but in a detached, impersonal
sort of way, looking at the memory-pictures of his own life as if they
were pictures in a book of anybody’s life.  The chief’s voice, abruptly
breaking the silence, startled him

“It shall be done,” said Makamuk.  “The girl shall go down the river with
you.  But be it understood that I myself strike the three blows with the
axe on your neck.”

“But each time I shall put on the medicine,” Subienkow answered, with a
show of ill-concealed anxiety.

“You shall put the medicine on between each blow.  Here are the hunters
who shall see you do not escape.  Go into the forest and gather your
medicine.”

Makamuk had been convinced of the worth of the medicine by the Pole’s
rapacity.  Surely nothing less than the greatest of medicines could
enable a man in the shadow of death to stand up and drive an old-woman’s
bargain.

“Besides,” whispered Yakaga, when the Pole, with his guard, had
disappeared among the spruce trees, “when you have learned the medicine
you can easily destroy him.”

“But how can I destroy him?” Makamuk argued.  “His medicine will not let
me destroy him.”

“There will be some part where he has not rubbed the medicine,” was
Yakaga’s reply.  “We will destroy him through that part.  It may be his
ears.  Very well; we will thrust a spear in one ear and out the other.
Or it may be his eyes.  Surely the medicine will be much too strong to
rub on his eyes.”

The chief nodded.  “You are wise, Yakaga.  If he possesses no other
devil-things, we will then destroy him.”

Subienkow did not waste time in gathering the ingredients for his
medicine, he selected whatsoever came to hand such as spruce needles, the
inner bark of the willow, a strip of birch bark, and a quantity of
moss-berries, which he made the hunters dig up for him from beneath the
snow.  A few frozen roots completed his supply, and he led the way back
to camp.

Makamuk and Yakaga crouched beside him, noting the quantities and kinds
of the ingredients he dropped into the pot of boiling water.

“You must be careful that the moss-berries go in first,” he explained.

“And—oh, yes, one other thing—the finger of a man.  Here, Yakaga, let me
cut off your finger.”

But Yakaga put his hands behind him and scowled.

“Just a small finger,” Subienkow pleaded.

“Yakaga, give him your finger,” Makamuk commanded.

“There be plenty of fingers lying around,” Yakaga grunted, indicating the
human wreckage in the snow of the score of persons who had been tortured
to death.

“It must be the finger of a live man,” the Pole objected.

“Then shall you have the finger of a live man.”  Yakaga strode over to
the Cossack and sliced off a finger.

“He is not yet dead,” he announced, flinging the bloody trophy in the
snow at the Pole’s feet.  “Also, it is a good finger, because it is
large.”

Subienkow dropped it into the fire under the pot and began to sing.  It
was a French love-song that with great solemnity he sang into the brew.

“Without these words I utter into it, the medicine is worthless,” he
explained.  “The words are the chiefest strength of it.  Behold, it is
ready.”

“Name the words slowly, that I may know them,” Makamuk commanded.

“Not until after the test.  When the axe flies back three times from my
neck, then will I give you the secret of the words.”

“But if the medicine is not good medicine?” Makamuk queried anxiously.

Subienkow turned upon him wrathfully.

“My medicine is always good.  However, if it is not good, then do by me
as you have done to the others.  Cut me up a bit at a time, even as you
have cut him up.”  He pointed to the Cossack.  “The medicine is now cool.
Thus, I rub it on my neck, saying this further medicine.”

With great gravity he slowly intoned a line of the “Marseillaise,” at the
same time rubbing the villainous brew thoroughly into his neck.

An outcry interrupted his play-acting.  The giant Cossack, with a last
resurgence of his tremendous vitality, had arisen to his knees.  Laughter
and cries of surprise and applause arose from the Nulatos, as Big Ivan
began flinging himself about in the snow with mighty spasms.

Subienkow was made sick by the sight, but he mastered his qualms and made
believe to be angry.

“This will not do,” he said.  “Finish him, and then we will make the
test.  Here, you, Yakaga, see that his noise ceases.”

While this was being done, Subienkow turned to Makamuk.

“And remember, you are to strike hard.  This is not baby-work.  Here,
take the axe and strike the log, so that I can see you strike like a
man.”

Makamuk obeyed, striking twice, precisely and with vigour, cutting out a
large chip.

“It is well.”  Subienkow looked about him at the circle of savage faces
that somehow seemed to symbolize the wall of savagery that had hemmed him
about ever since the Czar’s police had first arrested him in Warsaw.
“Take your axe, Makamuk, and stand so.  I shall lie down.  When I raise
my hand, strike, and strike with all your might.  And be careful that no
one stands behind you.  The medicine is good, and the axe may bounce from
off my neck and right out of your hands.”

He looked at the two sleds, with the dogs in harness, loaded with furs
and fish.  His rifle lay on top of the beaver skins.  The six hunters who
were to act as his guard stood by the sleds.

“Where is the girl?” the Pole demanded.  “Bring her up to the sleds
before the test goes on.”

When this had been carried out, Subienkow lay down in the snow, resting
his head on the log like a tired child about to sleep.  He had lived so
many dreary years that he was indeed tired.

“I laugh at you and your strength, O Makamuk,” he said.  “Strike, and
strike hard.”

He lifted his hand.  Makamuk swung the axe, a broadaxe for the squaring
of logs.  The bright steel flashed through the frosty air, poised for a
perceptible instant above Makamuk’s head, then descended upon Subienkow’s
bare neck.  Clear through flesh and bone it cut its way, biting deeply
into the log beneath.  The amazed savages saw the head bounce a yard away
from the blood-spouting trunk.

There was a great bewilderment and silence, while slowly it began to dawn
in their minds that there had been no medicine.  The fur-thief had
outwitted them.  Alone, of all their prisoners, he had escaped the
torture.  That had been the stake for which he played.  A great roar of
laughter went up.  Makamuk bowed his head in shame.  The fur-thief had
fooled him.  He had lost face before all his people.  Still they
continued to roar out their laughter.  Makamuk turned, and with bowed
head stalked away.  He knew that thenceforth he would be no longer known
as Makamuk.  He would be Lost Face; the record of his shame would be with
him until he died; and whenever the tribes gathered in the spring for the
salmon, or in the summer for the trading, the story would pass back and
forth across the camp-fires of how the fur-thief died peaceably, at a
single stroke, by the hand of Lost Face.

“Who was Lost Face?” he could hear, in anticipation, some insolent young
buck demand, “Oh, Lost Face,” would be the answer, “he who once was
Makamuk in the days before he cut off the fur-thief’s head.”



TRUST


All lines had been cast off, and the _Seattle No._ 4 was pulling slowly
out from the shore.  Her decks were piled high with freight and baggage,
and swarmed with a heterogeneous company of Indians, dogs, and
dog-mushers, prospectors, traders, and homeward-bound gold-seekers.  A
goodly portion of Dawson was lined up on the bank, saying good-bye.  As
the gang-plank came in and the steamer nosed into the stream, the clamour
of farewell became deafening.  Also, in that eleventh moment, everybody
began to remember final farewell messages and to shout them back and
forth across the widening stretch of water.  Louis Bondell, curling his
yellow moustache with one hand and languidly waving the other hand to his
friends on shore, suddenly remembered something and sprang to the rail.

“Oh, Fred!” he bawled.  “Oh, Fred!”

The “Fred” desired thrust a strapping pair of shoulders through the
forefront of the crowd on the bank and tried to catch Louis Bondell’s
message.  The latter grew red in the face with vain vociferation.  Still
the water widened between steamboat and shore.

“Hey, you, Captain Scott!” he yelled at the pilot-house.  “Stop the
boat!”

The gongs clanged, and the big stern wheel reversed, then stopped.  All
hands on steamboat and on bank took advantage of this respite to exchange
final, new, and imperative farewells.  More futile than ever was Louis
Bondell’s effort to make himself heard.  The _Seattle No._ 4 lost way and
drifted down-stream, and Captain Scott had to go ahead and reverse a
second time.  His head disappeared inside the pilot-house, coming into
view a moment later behind a big megaphone.

Now Captain Scott had a remarkable voice, and the “Shut up!” he launched
at the crowd on deck and on shore could have been heard at the top of
Moosehide Mountain and as far as Klondike City.  This official
remonstrance from the pilot-house spread a film of silence over the
tumult.

“Now, what do you want to say?” Captain Scott demanded.

“Tell Fred Churchill—he’s on the bank there—tell him to go to Macdonald.
It’s in his safe—a small gripsack of mine.  Tell him to get it and bring
it out when he comes.”

In the silence Captain Scott bellowed the message ashore through the
megaphone:—

“You, Fred Churchill, go to Macdonald—in his safe—small gripsack—belongs
to Louis Bondell—important!  Bring it out when you come!  Got it!”

Churchill waved his hand in token that he had got it.  In truth, had
Macdonald, half a mile away, opened his window, he’d have got it, too.
The tumult of farewell rose again, the gongs clanged, and the _Seattle
No._ 4 went ahead, swung out into the stream, turned on her heel, and
headed down the Yukon, Bondell and Churchill waving farewell and mutual
affection to the last.

That was in midsummer.  In the fall of the year, the _W. H. Willis_
started up the Yukon with two hundred homeward-bound pilgrims on board.
Among them was Churchill.  In his state-room, in the middle of a
clothes-bag, was Louis Bondell’s grip.  It was a small, stout leather
affair, and its weight of forty pounds always made Churchill nervous when
he wandered too far from it.  The man in the adjoining state-room had a
treasure of gold-dust hidden similarly in a clothes-bag, and the pair of
them ultimately arranged to stand watch and watch.  While one went down
to eat, the other kept an eye on the two state-room doors.  When
Churchill wanted to take a hand at whist, the other man mounted guard,
and when the other man wanted to relax his soul, Churchill read
four-months’ old newspapers on a camp stool between the two doors.

There were signs of an early winter, and the question that was discussed
from dawn till dark, and far into the dark, was whether they would get
out before the freeze-up or be compelled to abandon the steamboat and
tramp out over the ice.  There were irritating delays.  Twice the engines
broke down and had to be tinkered up, and each time there were snow
flurries to warn them of the imminence of winter.  Nine times the _W. H.
Willis_ essayed to ascend the Five-Finger Rapids with her impaired
machinery, and when she succeeded, she was four days behind her very
liberal schedule.  The question that then arose was whether or not the
steamboat _Flora_ would wait for her above the Box Cañon.  The stretch of
water between the head of the Box Cañon and the foot of the White Horse
Rapids was unnavigable for steamboats, and passengers were transhipped at
that point, walking around the rapids from one steamboat to the other.
There were no telephones in the country, hence no way of informing the
waiting _Flora_ that the _Willis_ was four days late, but coming.

When the _W. H. Willis_ pulled into White Horse, it was learned that the
_Flora_ had waited three days over the limit, and had departed only a few
hours before.  Also, it was learned that she would tie up at Tagish Post
till nine o’clock, Sunday morning.  It was then four o’clock, Saturday
afternoon.  The pilgrims called a meeting.  On board was a large
Peterborough canoe, consigned to the police post at the head of Lake
Bennett.  They agreed to be responsible for it and to deliver it.  Next,
they called for volunteers.  Two men were needed to make a race for the
_Flora_.  A score of men volunteered on the instant.  Among them was
Churchill, such being his nature that he volunteered before he thought of
Bondell’s gripsack.  When this thought came to him, he began to hope that
he would not be selected; but a man who had made a name as captain of a
college football eleven, as a president of an athletic club, as a
dog-musher and a stampeder in the Yukon, and, moreover, who possessed
such shoulders as he, had no right to avoid the honour.  It was thrust
upon him and upon a gigantic German, Nick Antonsen.

While a crowd of the pilgrims, the canoe on their shoulders, started on a
trot over the portage, Churchill ran to his state-room.  He turned the
contents of the clothes-bag on the floor and caught up the grip, with the
intention of entrusting it to the man next door.  Then the thought smote
him that it was not his grip, and that he had no right to let it out of
his possession.  So he dashed ashore with it and ran up the portage
changing it often from one hand to the other, and wondering if it really
did not weigh more than forty pounds.

It was half-past four in the afternoon when the two men started.  The
current of the Thirty Mile River was so strong that rarely could they use
the paddles.  It was out on one bank with a tow-line over the shoulders,
stumbling over the rocks, forcing a way through the underbrush, slipping
at times and falling into the water, wading often up to the knees and
waist; and then, when an insurmountable bluff was encountered, it was
into the canoe, out paddles, and a wild and losing dash across the
current to the other bank, in paddles, over the side, and out tow-line
again.  It was exhausting work.  Antonsen toiled like the giant he was,
uncomplaining, persistent, but driven to his utmost by the powerful body
and indomitable brain of Churchill.  They never paused for rest.  It was
go, go, and keep on going.  A crisp wind blew down the river, freezing
their hands and making it imperative, from time to time, to beat the
blood back into the numbed fingers.

As night came on, they were compelled to trust to luck.  They fell
repeatedly on the untravelled banks and tore their clothing to sheds in
the underbrush they could not see.  Both men were badly scratched and
bleeding.  A dozen times, in their wild dashes from bank to bank, they
struck snags and were capsized.  The first time this happened, Churchill
dived and groped in three feet of water for the gripsack.  He lost half
an hour in recovering it, and after that it was carried securely lashed
to the canoe.  As long as the canoe floated it was safe.  Antonsen jeered
at the grip, and toward morning began to curse it; but Churchill
vouchsafed no explanations.

Their delays and mischances were endless.  On one swift bend, around
which poured a healthy young rapid, they lost two hours, making a score
of attempts and capsizing twice.  At this point, on both banks, were
precipitous bluffs, rising out of deep water, and along which they could
neither tow nor pole, while they could not gain with the paddles against
the current.  At each attempt they strained to the utmost with the
paddles, and each time, with heads nigh to bursting from the effort, they
were played out and swept back.  They succeeded finally by an accident.
In the swiftest current, near the end of another failure, a freak of the
current sheered the canoe out of Churchill’s control and flung it against
the bluff.  Churchill made a blind leap at the bluff and landed in a
crevice.  Holding on with one hand, he held the swamped canoe with the
other till Antonsen dragged himself out of the water.  Then they pulled
the canoe out and rested.  A fresh start at this crucial point took them
by.  They landed on the bank above and plunged immediately ashore and
into the brush with the tow-line.

Daylight found them far below Tagish Post.  At nine o’clock Sunday
morning they could hear the _Flora_ whistling her departure.  And when,
at ten o’clock, they dragged themselves in to the Post, they could barely
see the _Flora’s_ smoke far to the southward.  It was a pair of worn-out
tatterdemalions that Captain Jones of the Mounted Police welcomed and
fed, and he afterward averred that they possessed two of the most
tremendous appetites he had ever observed.  They lay down and slept in
their wet rags by the stove.  At the end of two hours Churchill got up,
carried Bondell’s grip, which he had used for a pillow, down to the
canoe, kicked Antonsen awake, and started in pursuit of the _Flora_.

“There’s no telling what might happen—machinery break down, or
something,” was his reply to Captain Jones’s expostulations.  “I’m going
to catch that steamer and send her back for the boys.”

Tagish Lake was white with a fall gale that blew in their teeth.  Big,
swinging seas rushed upon the canoe, compelling one man to bale and
leaving one man to paddle.  Headway could not be made.  They ran along
the shallow shore and went overboard, one man ahead on the tow-line, the
other shoving on the canoe.  They fought the gale up to their waists in
the icy water, often up to their necks, often over their heads and buried
by the big, crested waves.  There was no rest, never a moment’s pause
from the cheerless, heart-breaking battle.  That night, at the head of
Tagish Lake, in the thick of a driving snow-squall, they overhauled the
_Flora_.  Antonsen fell on board, lay where he had fallen, and snored.
Churchill looked like a wild man.  His clothes barely clung to him.  His
face was iced up and swollen from the protracted effort of twenty-four
hours, while his hands were so swollen that he could not close the
fingers.  As for his feet, it was an agony to stand upon them.

The captain of the _Flora_ was loth to go back to White Horse.  Churchill
was persistent and imperative; the captain was stubborn.  He pointed out
finally that nothing was to be gained by going back, because the only
ocean steamer at Dyea, the _Athenian_, was to sail on Tuesday morning,
and that he could not make the back trip to White Horse and bring up the
stranded pilgrims in time to make the connection.

“What time does the _Athenian_ sail?” Churchill demanded.

“Seven o’clock, Tuesday morning.”

“All right,” Churchill said, at the same time kicking a tattoo on the
ribs of the snoring Antonsen.  “You go back to White Home.  We’ll go
ahead and hold the _Athenian_.”

Antonsen, stupid with sleep, not yet clothed in his waking mind, was
bundled into the canoe, and did not realize what had happened till he was
drenched with the icy spray of a big sea, and heard Churchill snarling at
him through the darkness:—

“Paddle, can’t you!  Do you want to be swamped?”

Daylight found them at Caribou Crossing, the wind dying down, and
Antonsen too far gone to dip a paddle.  Churchill grounded the canoe on a
quiet beach, where they slept.  He took the precaution of twisting his
arm under the weight of his head.  Every few minutes the pain of the pent
circulation aroused him, whereupon he would look at his watch and twist
the other arm under his head.  At the end of two hours he fought with
Antonsen to rouse him.  Then they started.  Lake Bennett, thirty miles in
length, was like a millpond; but, half way across, a gale from the south
smote them and turned the water white.  Hour after hour they repeated the
struggle on Tagish, over the side, pulling and shoving on the canoe, up
to their waists and necks, and over their heads, in the icy water; toward
the last the good-natured giant played completely out.  Churchill drove
him mercilessly; but when he pitched forward and bade fair to drown in
three feet of water, the other dragged him into the canoe.  After that,
Churchill fought on alone, arriving at the police post at the head of
Bennett in the early afternoon.  He tried to help Antonsen out of the
canoe, but failed.  He listened to the exhausted man’s heavy breathing,
and envied him when he thought of what he himself had yet to undergo.
Antonsen could lie there and sleep; but he, behind time, must go on over
mighty Chilcoot and down to the sea.  The real struggle lay before him,
and he almost regretted the strength that resided in his frame because of
the torment it could inflict upon that frame.

Churchill pulled the canoe up on the beach, seized Bondell’s grip, and
started on a limping dog-trot for the police post.

“There’s a canoe down there, consigned to you from Dawson,” he hurled at
the officer who answered his knock.  “And there’s a man in it pretty near
dead.  Nothing serious; only played out.  Take care of him.  I’ve got to
rush.  Good-bye.  Want to catch the _Athenian_.”

A mile portage connected Lake Bennett and Lake Linderman, and his last
words he flung back after him as he resumed the trot.  It was a very
painful trot, but he clenched his teeth and kept on, forgetting his pain
most of the time in the fervent heat with which he regarded the gripsack.
It was a severe handicap.  He swung it from one hand to the other, and
back again.  He tucked it under his arm.  He threw one hand over the
opposite shoulder, and the bag bumped and pounded on his back as he ran
along.  He could scarcely hold it in his bruised and swollen fingers, and
several times he dropped it.  Once, in changing from one hand to the
other, it escaped his clutch and fell in front of him, tripped him up,
and threw him violently to the ground.

At the far end of the portage he bought an old set of pack-straps for a
dollar, and in them he swung the grip.  Also, he chartered a launch to
run him the six miles to the upper end of Lake Linderman, where he
arrived at four in the afternoon.  The _Athenian_ was to sail from Dyea
next morning at seven.  Dyea was twenty-eight miles away, and between
towered Chilcoot.  He sat down to adjust his foot-gear for the long
climb, and woke up.  He had dozed the instant he sat down, though he had
not slept thirty seconds.  He was afraid his next doze might be longer,
so he finished fixing his foot-gear standing up.  Even then he was
overpowered for a fleeting moment.  He experienced the flash of
unconsciousness; becoming aware of it, in mid-air, as his relaxed body
was sinking to the ground and as he caught himself together, he stiffened
his muscles with a spasmodic wrench, and escaped the fall.  The sudden
jerk back to consciousness left him sick and trembling.  He beat his head
with the heel of his hand, knocking wakefulness into the numbed brain.

Jack Burns’s pack-train was starting back light for Crater Lake, and
Churchill was invited to a mule.  Burns wanted to put the gripsack on
another animal, but Churchill held on to it, carrying it on his
saddle-pommel.  But he dozed, and the grip persisted in dropping off the
pommel, one side or the other, each time wakening him with a sickening
start.  Then, in the early darkness, Churchill’s mule brushed him against
a projecting branch that laid his cheek open.  To cap it, the mule
blundered off the trail and fell, throwing rider and gripsack out upon
the rocks.  After that, Churchill walked, or stumbled rather, over the
apology for a trail, leading the mule.  Stray and awful odours, drifting
from each side of the trail, told of the horses that had died in the rush
for gold.  But he did not mind.  He was too sleepy.  By the time Long
Lake was reached, however, he had recovered from his sleepiness; and at
Deep Lake he resigned the gripsack to Burns.  But thereafter, by the
light of the dim stars, he kept his eyes on Burns.  There were not going
to be any accidents with that bag.

At Crater Lake, the pack-train went into camp, and Churchill, slinging
the grip on his back, started the steep climb for the summit.  For the
first time, on that precipitous wall, he realized how tired he was.  He
crept and crawled like a crab, burdened by the weight of his limbs.  A
distinct and painful effort of will was required each time he lifted a
foot.  An hallucination came to him that he was shod with lead, like a
deep-sea diver, and it was all he could do to resist the desire to reach
down and feel the lead.  As for Bondell’s gripsack, it was inconceivable
that forty pounds could weigh so much.  It pressed him down like a
mountain, and he looked back with unbelief to the year before, when he
had climbed that same pass with a hundred and fifty pounds on his back.
If those loads had weighed a hundred and fifty pounds, then Bondell’s
grip weighed five hundred.

The first rise of the divide from Crater Lake was across a small glacier.
Here was a well-defined trail.  But above the glacier, which was also
above timber-line, was naught but a chaos of naked rock and enormous
boulders.  There was no way of seeing the trail in the darkness, and he
blundered on, paying thrice the ordinary exertion for all that he
accomplished.  He won the summit in the thick of howling wind and driving
snow, providentially stumbling upon a small, deserted tent, into which he
crawled.  There he found and bolted some ancient fried potatoes and half
a dozen raw eggs.

When the snow ceased and the wind eased down, he began the almost
impossible descent.  There was no trail, and he stumbled and blundered,
often finding himself, at the last moment, on the edge of rocky walls and
steep slopes the depth of which he had no way of judging.  Part way down,
the stars clouded over again, and in the consequent obscurity he slipped
and rolled and slid for a hundred feet, landing bruised and bleeding on
the bottom of a large shallow hole.  From all about him arose the stench
of dead horses.  The hole was handy to the trail, and the packers had
made a practice of tumbling into it their broken and dying animals.  The
stench overpowered him, making him deadly sick, and as in a nightmare he
scrambled out.  Half-way up, he recollected Bondell’s gripsack.  It had
fallen into the hole with him; the pack-strap had evidently broken, and
he had forgotten it.  Back he went into the pestilential charnel-pit,
where he crawled around on hands and knees and groped for half an hour.
Altogether he encountered and counted seventeen dead horses (and one
horse still alive that he shot with his revolver) before he found
Bondell’s grip.  Looking back upon a life that had not been without
valour and achievement, he unhesitatingly declared to himself that this
return after the grip was the most heroic act he had ever performed.  So
heroic was it that he was twice on the verge of fainting before he
crawled out of the hole.

By the time he had descended to the Scales, the steep pitch of Chilcoot
was past, and the way became easier.  Not that it was an easy way,
however, in the best of places; but it became a really possible trail,
along which he could have made good time if he had not been worn out, if
he had had light with which to pick his steps, and if it had not been for
Bondell’s gripsack.  To him, in his exhausted condition, it was the last
straw.  Having barely strength to carry himself along, the additional
weight of the grip was sufficient to throw him nearly every time he
tripped or stumbled.  And when he escaped tripping, branches reached out
in the darkness, hooked the grip between his shoulders, and held him
back.

His mind was made up that if he missed the _Athenian_ it would be the
fault of the gripsack.  In fact, only two things remained in his
consciousness—Bondell’s grip and the steamer.  He knew only those two
things, and they became identified, in a way, with some stern mission
upon which he had journeyed and toiled for centuries.  He walked and
struggled on as in a dream.  As part of the dream was his arrival at
Sheep Camp.  He stumbled into a saloon, slid his shoulders out of the
straps, and started to deposit the grip at his feet.  But it slipped from
his fingers and struck the floor with a heavy thud that was not unnoticed
by two men who were just leaving.  Churchill drank a glass of whisky,
told the barkeeper to call him in ten minutes, and sat down, his feet on
the grip, his head on his knees.

So badly did his misused body stiffen, that when he was called it
required another ten minutes and a second glass of whisky to unbend his
joints and limber up the muscles.

“Hey not that way!” the barkeeper shouted, and then went after him and
started him through the darkness toward Canyon City.  Some little husk of
inner consciousness told Churchill that the direction was right, and,
still as in a dream, he took the cañon trail.  He did not know what
warned him, but after what seemed several centuries of travelling, he
sensed danger and drew his revolver.  Still in the dream, he saw two men
step out and heard them halt him.  His revolver went off four times, and
he saw the flashes and heard the explosions of their revolvers.  Also, he
was aware that he had been hit in the thigh.  He saw one man go down,
and, as the other came for him, he smashed him a straight blow with the
heavy revolver full in the face.  Then he turned and ran.  He came from
the dream shortly afterward, to find himself plunging down the trail at a
limping lope.  His first thought was for the gripsack.  It was still on
his back.  He was convinced that what had happened was a dream till he
felt for his revolver and found it gone.  Next he became aware of a sharp
stinging of his thigh, and after investigating, he found his hand warm
with blood.  It was a superficial wound, but it was incontestable.  He
became wider awake, and kept up the lumbering run to Canyon City.

He found a man, with a team of horses and a wagon, who got out of bed and
harnessed up for twenty dollars.  Churchill crawled in on the wagon-bed
and slept, the gripsack still on his back.  It was a rough ride, over
water-washed boulders down the Dyea Valley; but he roused only when the
wagon hit the highest places.  Any altitude of his body above the
wagon-bed of less than a foot did not faze him.  The last mile was smooth
going, and he slept soundly.

He came to in the grey dawn, the driver shaking him savagely and howling
into his ear that the _Athenian_ was gone.  Churchill looked blankly at
the deserted harbour.

“There’s a smoke over at Skaguay,” the man said.

Churchill’s eyes were too swollen to see that far, but he said: “It’s
she.  Get me a boat.”

The driver was obliging and found a skiff, and a man to row it for ten
dollars, payment in advance.  Churchill paid, and was helped into the
skiff.  It was beyond him to get in by himself.  It was six miles to
Skaguay, and he had a blissful thought of sleeping those six miles.  But
the man did not know how to row, and Churchill took the oars and toiled
for a few more centuries.  He never knew six longer and more excruciating
miles.  A snappy little breeze blew up the inlet and held him back.  He
had a gone feeling at the pit of the stomach, and suffered from faintness
and numbness.  At his command, the man took the baler and threw salt
water into his face.

The _Athenian’s_ anchor was up-and-down when they came alongside, and
Churchill was at the end of his last remnant of strength.

“Stop her!  Stop her!” he shouted hoarsely.

“Important message!  Stop her!”

Then he dropped his chin on his chest and slept.  When half a dozen men
started to carry him up the gang-plank, he awoke, reached for the grip,
and clung to it like a drowning man.

On deck he became a centre of horror and curiosity.  The clothing in
which he had left White Horse was represented by a few rags, and he was
as frayed as his clothing.  He had travelled for fifty-five hours at the
top notch of endurance.  He had slept six hours in that time, and he was
twenty pounds lighter than when he started.  Face and hands and body were
scratched and bruised, and he could scarcely see.  He tried to stand up,
but failed, sprawling out on the deck, hanging on to the gripsack, and
delivering his message.

“Now, put me to bed,” he finished; “I’ll eat when I wake up.”

They did him honour, carrying him down in his rags and dirt and
depositing him and Bondell’s grip in the bridal chamber, which was the
biggest and most luxurious state-room in the ship.  Twice he slept the
clock around, and he had bathed and shaved and eaten and was leaning over
the rail smoking a cigar when the two hundred pilgrims from White Horse
came alongside.

By the time the _Athenian_ arrived in Seattle, Churchill had fully
recuperated, and he went ashore with Bondell’s grip in his hand.  He felt
proud of that grip.  To him it stood for achievement and integrity and
trust.  “I’ve delivered the goods,” was the way he expressed these
various high terms to himself.  It was early in the evening, and he went
straight to Bondell’s home.  Louis Bondell was glad to see him, shaking
hands with both hands at the same time and dragging him into the house.

“Oh, thanks, old man; it was good of you to bring it out,” Bondell said
when he received the gripsack.

He tossed it carelessly upon a couch, and Churchill noted with an
appreciative eye the rebound of its weight from the springs.  Bondell was
volleying him with questions.

“How did you make out?  How’re the boys?  What became of Bill Smithers?
Is Del Bishop still with Pierce?  Did he sell my dogs?  How did Sulphur
Bottom show up?  You’re looking fine.  What steamer did you come out on?”

To all of which Churchill gave answer, till half an hour had gone by and
the first lull in the conversation had arrived.

“Hadn’t you better take a look at it?” he suggested, nodding his head at
the gripsack.

“Oh, it’s all right,” Bondell answered.  “Did Mitchell’s dump turn out as
much as he expected?”

“I think you’d better look at it,” Churchill insisted.  “When I deliver a
thing, I want to be satisfied that it’s all right.  There’s always the
chance that somebody might have got into it when I was asleep, or
something.”

“It’s nothing important, old man,” Bondell answered, with a laugh.

“Nothing important,” Churchill echoed in a faint, small voice.  Then he
spoke with decision: “Louis, what’s in that bag?  I want to know.”

Louis looked at him curiously, then left the room and returned with a
bunch of keys.  He inserted his hand and drew out a heavy Colt’s
revolver.  Next came out a few boxes of ammunition for the revolver and
several boxes of Winchester cartridges.

Churchill took the gripsack and looked into it.  Then he turned it upside
down and shook it gently.

“The gun’s all rusted,” Bondell said.  “Must have been out in the rain.”

“Yes,” Churchill answered.  “Too bad it got wet.  I guess I was a bit
careless.”

He got up and went outside.  Ten minutes later Louis Bondell went out and
found him on the steps, sitting down, elbows on knees and chin on hands,
gazing steadfastly out into the darkness.



TO BUILD A FIRE


Day had broken cold and grey, exceedingly cold and grey, when the man
turned aside from the main Yukon trail and climbed the high earth-bank,
where a dim and little-travelled trail led eastward through the fat
spruce timberland.  It was a steep bank, and he paused for breath at the
top, excusing the act to himself by looking at his watch.  It was nine
o’clock.  There was no sun nor hint of sun, though there was not a cloud
in the sky.  It was a clear day, and yet there seemed an intangible pall
over the face of things, a subtle gloom that made the day dark, and that
was due to the absence of sun.  This fact did not worry the man.  He was
used to the lack of sun.  It had been days since he had seen the sun, and
he knew that a few more days must pass before that cheerful orb, due
south, would just peep above the sky-line and dip immediately from view.

The man flung a look back along the way he had come.  The Yukon lay a
mile wide and hidden under three feet of ice.  On top of this ice were as
many feet of snow.  It was all pure white, rolling in gentle undulations
where the ice-jams of the freeze-up had formed.  North and south, as far
as his eye could see, it was unbroken white, save for a dark hair-line
that curved and twisted from around the spruce-covered island to the
south, and that curved and twisted away into the north, where it
disappeared behind another spruce-covered island.  This dark hair-line
was the trail—the main trail—that led south five hundred miles to the
Chilcoot Pass, Dyea, and salt water; and that led north seventy miles to
Dawson, and still on to the north a thousand miles to Nulato, and finally
to St. Michael on Bering Sea, a thousand miles and half a thousand more.

But all this—the mysterious, far-reaching hairline trail, the absence of
sun from the sky, the tremendous cold, and the strangeness and weirdness
of it all—made no impression on the man.  It was not because he was long
used to it.  He was a new-comer in the land, a _chechaquo_, and this was
his first winter.  The trouble with him was that he was without
imagination.  He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in
the things, and not in the significances.  Fifty degrees below zero meant
eighty odd degrees of frost.  Such fact impressed him as being cold and
uncomfortable, and that was all.  It did not lead him to meditate upon
his frailty as a creature of temperature, and upon man’s frailty in
general, able only to live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold;
and from there on it did not lead him to the conjectural field of
immortality and man’s place in the universe.  Fifty degrees below zero
stood for a bite of frost that hurt and that must be guarded against by
the use of mittens, ear-flaps, warm moccasins, and thick socks.  Fifty
degrees below zero was to him just precisely fifty degrees below zero.
That there should be anything more to it than that was a thought that
never entered his head.

As he turned to go on, he spat speculatively.  There was a sharp,
explosive crackle that startled him.  He spat again.  And again, in the
air, before it could fall to the snow, the spittle crackled.  He knew
that at fifty below spittle crackled on the snow, but this spittle had
crackled in the air.  Undoubtedly it was colder than fifty below—how much
colder he did not know.  But the temperature did not matter.  He was
bound for the old claim on the left fork of Henderson Creek, where the
boys were already.  They had come over across the divide from the Indian
Creek country, while he had come the roundabout way to take a look at the
possibilities of getting out logs in the spring from the islands in the
Yukon.  He would be in to camp by six o’clock; a bit after dark, it was
true, but the boys would be there, a fire would be going, and a hot
supper would be ready.  As for lunch, he pressed his hand against the
protruding bundle under his jacket.  It was also under his shirt, wrapped
up in a handkerchief and lying against the naked skin.  It was the only
way to keep the biscuits from freezing.  He smiled agreeably to himself
as he thought of those biscuits, each cut open and sopped in bacon
grease, and each enclosing a generous slice of fried bacon.

He plunged in among the big spruce trees.  The trail was faint.  A foot
of snow had fallen since the last sled had passed over, and he was glad
he was without a sled, travelling light.  In fact, he carried nothing but
the lunch wrapped in the handkerchief.  He was surprised, however, at the
cold.  It certainly was cold, he concluded, as he rubbed his numbed nose
and cheek-bones with his mittened hand.  He was a warm-whiskered man, but
the hair on his face did not protect the high cheek-bones and the eager
nose that thrust itself aggressively into the frosty air.

At the man’s heels trotted a dog, a big native husky, the proper
wolf-dog, grey-coated and without any visible or temperamental difference
from its brother, the wild wolf.  The animal was depressed by the
tremendous cold.  It knew that it was no time for travelling.  Its
instinct told it a truer tale than was told to the man by the man’s
judgment.  In reality, it was not merely colder than fifty below zero; it
was colder than sixty below, than seventy below.  It was seventy-five
below zero.  Since the freezing-point is thirty-two above zero, it meant
that one hundred and seven degrees of frost obtained.  The dog did not
know anything about thermometers.  Possibly in its brain there was no
sharp consciousness of a condition of very cold such as was in the man’s
brain.  But the brute had its instinct.  It experienced a vague but
menacing apprehension that subdued it and made it slink along at the
man’s heels, and that made it question eagerly every unwonted movement of
the man as if expecting him to go into camp or to seek shelter somewhere
and build a fire.  The dog had learned fire, and it wanted fire, or else
to burrow under the snow and cuddle its warmth away from the air.

The frozen moisture of its breathing had settled on its fur in a fine
powder of frost, and especially were its jowls, muzzle, and eyelashes
whitened by its crystalled breath.  The man’s red beard and moustache
were likewise frosted, but more solidly, the deposit taking the form of
ice and increasing with every warm, moist breath he exhaled.  Also, the
man was chewing tobacco, and the muzzle of ice held his lips so rigidly
that he was unable to clear his chin when he expelled the juice.  The
result was that a crystal beard of the colour and solidity of amber was
increasing its length on his chin.  If he fell down it would shatter
itself, like glass, into brittle fragments.  But he did not mind the
appendage.  It was the penalty all tobacco-chewers paid in that country,
and he had been out before in two cold snaps.  They had not been so cold
as this, he knew, but by the spirit thermometer at Sixty Mile he knew
they had been registered at fifty below and at fifty-five.

He held on through the level stretch of woods for several miles, crossed
a wide flat of nigger-heads, and dropped down a bank to the frozen bed of
a small stream.  This was Henderson Creek, and he knew he was ten miles
from the forks.  He looked at his watch.  It was ten o’clock.  He was
making four miles an hour, and he calculated that he would arrive at the
forks at half-past twelve.  He decided to celebrate that event by eating
his lunch there.

The dog dropped in again at his heels, with a tail drooping
discouragement, as the man swung along the creek-bed.  The furrow of the
old sled-trail was plainly visible, but a dozen inches of snow covered
the marks of the last runners.  In a month no man had come up or down
that silent creek.  The man held steadily on.  He was not much given to
thinking, and just then particularly he had nothing to think about save
that he would eat lunch at the forks and that at six o’clock he would be
in camp with the boys.  There was nobody to talk to and, had there been,
speech would have been impossible because of the ice-muzzle on his mouth.
So he continued monotonously to chew tobacco and to increase the length
of his amber beard.

Once in a while the thought reiterated itself that it was very cold and
that he had never experienced such cold.  As he walked along he rubbed
his cheek-bones and nose with the back of his mittened hand.  He did this
automatically, now and again changing hands.  But rub as he would, the
instant he stopped his cheek-bones went numb, and the following instant
the end of his nose went numb.  He was sure to frost his cheeks; he knew
that, and experienced a pang of regret that he had not devised a
nose-strap of the sort Bud wore in cold snaps.  Such a strap passed
across the cheeks, as well, and saved them.  But it didn’t matter much,
after all.  What were frosted cheeks?  A bit painful, that was all; they
were never serious.

Empty as the man’s mind was of thoughts, he was keenly observant, and he
noticed the changes in the creek, the curves and bends and timber-jams,
and always he sharply noted where he placed his feet.  Once, coming
around a bend, he shied abruptly, like a startled horse, curved away from
the place where he had been walking, and retreated several paces back
along the trail.  The creek he knew was frozen clear to the bottom—no
creek could contain water in that arctic winter—but he knew also that
there were springs that bubbled out from the hillsides and ran along
under the snow and on top the ice of the creek.  He knew that the coldest
snaps never froze these springs, and he knew likewise their danger.  They
were traps.  They hid pools of water under the snow that might be three
inches deep, or three feet.  Sometimes a skin of ice half an inch thick
covered them, and in turn was covered by the snow.  Sometimes there were
alternate layers of water and ice-skin, so that when one broke through he
kept on breaking through for a while, sometimes wetting himself to the
waist.

That was why he had shied in such panic.  He had felt the give under his
feet and heard the crackle of a snow-hidden ice-skin.  And to get his
feet wet in such a temperature meant trouble and danger.  At the very
least it meant delay, for he would be forced to stop and build a fire,
and under its protection to bare his feet while he dried his socks and
moccasins.  He stood and studied the creek-bed and its banks, and decided
that the flow of water came from the right.  He reflected awhile, rubbing
his nose and cheeks, then skirted to the left, stepping gingerly and
testing the footing for each step.  Once clear of the danger, he took a
fresh chew of tobacco and swung along at his four-mile gait.

In the course of the next two hours he came upon several similar traps.
Usually the snow above the hidden pools had a sunken, candied appearance
that advertised the danger.  Once again, however, he had a close call;
and once, suspecting danger, he compelled the dog to go on in front.  The
dog did not want to go.  It hung back until the man shoved it forward,
and then it went quickly across the white, unbroken surface.  Suddenly it
broke through, floundered to one side, and got away to firmer footing.
It had wet its forefeet and legs, and almost immediately the water that
clung to it turned to ice.  It made quick efforts to lick the ice off its
legs, then dropped down in the snow and began to bite out the ice that
had formed between the toes.  This was a matter of instinct.  To permit
the ice to remain would mean sore feet.  It did not know this.  It merely
obeyed the mysterious prompting that arose from the deep crypts of its
being.  But the man knew, having achieved a judgment on the subject, and
he removed the mitten from his right hand and helped tear out the
ice-particles.  He did not expose his fingers more than a minute, and was
astonished at the swift numbness that smote them.  It certainly was cold.
He pulled on the mitten hastily, and beat the hand savagely across his
chest.

At twelve o’clock the day was at its brightest.  Yet the sun was too far
south on its winter journey to clear the horizon.  The bulge of the earth
intervened between it and Henderson Creek, where the man walked under a
clear sky at noon and cast no shadow.  At half-past twelve, to the
minute, he arrived at the forks of the creek.  He was pleased at the
speed he had made.  If he kept it up, he would certainly be with the boys
by six.  He unbuttoned his jacket and shirt and drew forth his lunch.
The action consumed no more than a quarter of a minute, yet in that brief
moment the numbness laid hold of the exposed fingers.  He did not put the
mitten on, but, instead, struck the fingers a dozen sharp smashes against
his leg.  Then he sat down on a snow-covered log to eat.  The sting that
followed upon the striking of his fingers against his leg ceased so
quickly that he was startled, he had had no chance to take a bite of
biscuit.  He struck the fingers repeatedly and returned them to the
mitten, baring the other hand for the purpose of eating.  He tried to
take a mouthful, but the ice-muzzle prevented.  He had forgotten to build
a fire and thaw out.  He chuckled at his foolishness, and as he chuckled
he noted the numbness creeping into the exposed fingers.  Also, he noted
that the stinging which had first come to his toes when he sat down was
already passing away.  He wondered whether the toes were warm or numbed.
He moved them inside the moccasins and decided that they were numbed.

He pulled the mitten on hurriedly and stood up.  He was a bit frightened.
He stamped up and down until the stinging returned into the feet.  It
certainly was cold, was his thought.  That man from Sulphur Creek had
spoken the truth when telling how cold it sometimes got in the country.
And he had laughed at him at the time!  That showed one must not be too
sure of things.  There was no mistake about it, it was cold.  He strode
up and down, stamping his feet and threshing his arms, until reassured by
the returning warmth.  Then he got out matches and proceeded to make a
fire.  From the undergrowth, where high water of the previous spring had
lodged a supply of seasoned twigs, he got his firewood.  Working
carefully from a small beginning, he soon had a roaring fire, over which
he thawed the ice from his face and in the protection of which he ate his
biscuits.  For the moment the cold of space was outwitted.  The dog took
satisfaction in the fire, stretching out close enough for warmth and far
enough away to escape being singed.

When the man had finished, he filled his pipe and took his comfortable
time over a smoke.  Then he pulled on his mittens, settled the ear-flaps
of his cap firmly about his ears, and took the creek trail up the left
fork.  The dog was disappointed and yearned back toward the fire.  This
man did not know cold.  Possibly all the generations of his ancestry had
been ignorant of cold, of real cold, of cold one hundred and seven
degrees below freezing-point.  But the dog knew; all its ancestry knew,
and it had inherited the knowledge.  And it knew that it was not good to
walk abroad in such fearful cold.  It was the time to lie snug in a hole
in the snow and wait for a curtain of cloud to be drawn across the face
of outer space whence this cold came.  On the other hand, there was keen
intimacy between the dog and the man.  The one was the toil-slave of the
other, and the only caresses it had ever received were the caresses of
the whip-lash and of harsh and menacing throat-sounds that threatened the
whip-lash.  So the dog made no effort to communicate its apprehension to
the man.  It was not concerned in the welfare of the man; it was for its
own sake that it yearned back toward the fire.  But the man whistled, and
spoke to it with the sound of whip-lashes, and the dog swung in at the
man’s heels and followed after.

The man took a chew of tobacco and proceeded to start a new amber beard.
Also, his moist breath quickly powdered with white his moustache,
eyebrows, and lashes.  There did not seem to be so many springs on the
left fork of the Henderson, and for half an hour the man saw no signs of
any.  And then it happened.  At a place where there were no signs, where
the soft, unbroken snow seemed to advertise solidity beneath, the man
broke through.  It was not deep.  He wetted himself half-way to the knees
before he floundered out to the firm crust.

He was angry, and cursed his luck aloud.  He had hoped to get into camp
with the boys at six o’clock, and this would delay him an hour, for he
would have to build a fire and dry out his foot-gear.  This was
imperative at that low temperature—he knew that much; and he turned aside
to the bank, which he climbed.  On top, tangled in the underbrush about
the trunks of several small spruce trees, was a high-water deposit of dry
firewood—sticks and twigs principally, but also larger portions of
seasoned branches and fine, dry, last-year’s grasses.  He threw down
several large pieces on top of the snow.  This served for a foundation
and prevented the young flame from drowning itself in the snow it
otherwise would melt.  The flame he got by touching a match to a small
shred of birch-bark that he took from his pocket.  This burned even more
readily than paper.  Placing it on the foundation, he fed the young flame
with wisps of dry grass and with the tiniest dry twigs.

He worked slowly and carefully, keenly aware of his danger.  Gradually,
as the flame grew stronger, he increased the size of the twigs with which
he fed it.  He squatted in the snow, pulling the twigs out from their
entanglement in the brush and feeding directly to the flame.  He knew
there must be no failure.  When it is seventy-five below zero, a man must
not fail in his first attempt to build a fire—that is, if his feet are
wet.  If his feet are dry, and he fails, he can run along the trail for
half a mile and restore his circulation.  But the circulation of wet and
freezing feet cannot be restored by running when it is seventy-five
below.  No matter how fast he runs, the wet feet will freeze the harder.

All this the man knew.  The old-timer on Sulphur Creek had told him about
it the previous fall, and now he was appreciating the advice.  Already
all sensation had gone out of his feet.  To build the fire he had been
forced to remove his mittens, and the fingers had quickly gone numb.  His
pace of four miles an hour had kept his heart pumping blood to the
surface of his body and to all the extremities.  But the instant he
stopped, the action of the pump eased down.  The cold of space smote the
unprotected tip of the planet, and he, being on that unprotected tip,
received the full force of the blow.  The blood of his body recoiled
before it.  The blood was alive, like the dog, and like the dog it wanted
to hide away and cover itself up from the fearful cold.  So long as he
walked four miles an hour, he pumped that blood, willy-nilly, to the
surface; but now it ebbed away and sank down into the recesses of his
body.  The extremities were the first to feel its absence.  His wet feet
froze the faster, and his exposed fingers numbed the faster, though they
had not yet begun to freeze.  Nose and cheeks were already freezing,
while the skin of all his body chilled as it lost its blood.

But he was safe.  Toes and nose and cheeks would be only touched by the
frost, for the fire was beginning to burn with strength.  He was feeding
it with twigs the size of his finger.  In another minute he would be able
to feed it with branches the size of his wrist, and then he could remove
his wet foot-gear, and, while it dried, he could keep his naked feet warm
by the fire, rubbing them at first, of course, with snow.  The fire was a
success.  He was safe.  He remembered the advice of the old-timer on
Sulphur Creek, and smiled.  The old-timer had been very serious in laying
down the law that no man must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty
below.  Well, here he was; he had had the accident; he was alone; and he
had saved himself.  Those old-timers were rather womanish, some of them,
he thought.  All a man had to do was to keep his head, and he was all
right.  Any man who was a man could travel alone.  But it was surprising,
the rapidity with which his cheeks and nose were freezing.  And he had
not thought his fingers could go lifeless in so short a time.  Lifeless
they were, for he could scarcely make them move together to grip a twig,
and they seemed remote from his body and from him.  When he touched a
twig, he had to look and see whether or not he had hold of it.  The wires
were pretty well down between him and his finger-ends.

All of which counted for little.  There was the fire, snapping and
crackling and promising life with every dancing flame.  He started to
untie his moccasins.  They were coated with ice; the thick German socks
were like sheaths of iron half-way to the knees; and the mocassin strings
were like rods of steel all twisted and knotted as by some conflagration.
For a moment he tugged with his numbed fingers, then, realizing the folly
of it, he drew his sheath-knife.

But before he could cut the strings, it happened.  It was his own fault
or, rather, his mistake.  He should not have built the fire under the
spruce tree.  He should have built it in the open.  But it had been
easier to pull the twigs from the brush and drop them directly on the
fire.  Now the tree under which he had done this carried a weight of snow
on its boughs.  No wind had blown for weeks, and each bough was fully
freighted.  Each time he had pulled a twig he had communicated a slight
agitation to the tree—an imperceptible agitation, so far as he was
concerned, but an agitation sufficient to bring about the disaster.  High
up in the tree one bough capsized its load of snow.  This fell on the
boughs beneath, capsizing them.  This process continued, spreading out
and involving the whole tree.  It grew like an avalanche, and it
descended without warning upon the man and the fire, and the fire was
blotted out!  Where it had burned was a mantle of fresh and disordered
snow.

The man was shocked.  It was as though he had just heard his own sentence
of death.  For a moment he sat and stared at the spot where the fire had
been.  Then he grew very calm.  Perhaps the old-timer on Sulphur Creek
was right.  If he had only had a trail-mate he would have been in no
danger now.  The trail-mate could have built the fire.  Well, it was up
to him to build the fire over again, and this second time there must be
no failure.  Even if he succeeded, he would most likely lose some toes.
His feet must be badly frozen by now, and there would be some time before
the second fire was ready.

Such were his thoughts, but he did not sit and think them.  He was busy
all the time they were passing through his mind, he made a new foundation
for a fire, this time in the open; where no treacherous tree could blot
it out.  Next, he gathered dry grasses and tiny twigs from the high-water
flotsam.  He could not bring his fingers together to pull them out, but
he was able to gather them by the handful.  In this way he got many
rotten twigs and bits of green moss that were undesirable, but it was the
best he could do.  He worked methodically, even collecting an armful of
the larger branches to be used later when the fire gathered strength.
And all the while the dog sat and watched him, a certain yearning
wistfulness in its eyes, for it looked upon him as the fire-provider, and
the fire was slow in coming.

When all was ready, the man reached in his pocket for a second piece of
birch-bark.  He knew the bark was there, and, though he could not feel it
with his fingers, he could hear its crisp rustling as he fumbled for it.
Try as he would, he could not clutch hold of it.  And all the time, in
his consciousness, was the knowledge that each instant his feet were
freezing.  This thought tended to put him in a panic, but he fought
against it and kept calm.  He pulled on his mittens with his teeth, and
threshed his arms back and forth, beating his hands with all his might
against his sides.  He did this sitting down, and he stood up to do it;
and all the while the dog sat in the snow, its wolf-brush of a tail
curled around warmly over its forefeet, its sharp wolf-ears pricked
forward intently as it watched the man.  And the man as he beat and
threshed with his arms and hands, felt a great surge of envy as he
regarded the creature that was warm and secure in its natural covering.

After a time he was aware of the first far-away signals of sensation in
his beaten fingers.  The faint tingling grew stronger till it evolved
into a stinging ache that was excruciating, but which the man hailed with
satisfaction.  He stripped the mitten from his right hand and fetched
forth the birch-bark.  The exposed fingers were quickly going numb again.
Next he brought out his bunch of sulphur matches.  But the tremendous
cold had already driven the life out of his fingers.  In his effort to
separate one match from the others, the whole bunch fell in the snow.  He
tried to pick it out of the snow, but failed.  The dead fingers could
neither touch nor clutch.  He was very careful.  He drove the thought of
his freezing feet; and nose, and cheeks, out of his mind, devoting his
whole soul to the matches.  He watched, using the sense of vision in
place of that of touch, and when he saw his fingers on each side the
bunch, he closed them—that is, he willed to close them, for the wires
were drawn, and the fingers did not obey.  He pulled the mitten on the
right hand, and beat it fiercely against his knee.  Then, with both
mittened hands, he scooped the bunch of matches, along with much snow,
into his lap.  Yet he was no better off.

After some manipulation he managed to get the bunch between the heels of
his mittened hands.  In this fashion he carried it to his mouth.  The ice
crackled and snapped when by a violent effort he opened his mouth.  He
drew the lower jaw in, curled the upper lip out of the way, and scraped
the bunch with his upper teeth in order to separate a match.  He
succeeded in getting one, which he dropped on his lap.  He was no better
off.  He could not pick it up.  Then he devised a way.  He picked it up
in his teeth and scratched it on his leg.  Twenty times he scratched
before he succeeded in lighting it.  As it flamed he held it with his
teeth to the birch-bark.  But the burning brimstone went up his nostrils
and into his lungs, causing him to cough spasmodically.  The match fell
into the snow and went out.

The old-timer on Sulphur Creek was right, he thought in the moment of
controlled despair that ensued: after fifty below, a man should travel
with a partner.  He beat his hands, but failed in exciting any sensation.
Suddenly he bared both hands, removing the mittens with his teeth.  He
caught the whole bunch between the heels of his hands.  His arm-muscles
not being frozen enabled him to press the hand-heels tightly against the
matches.  Then he scratched the bunch along his leg.  It flared into
flame, seventy sulphur matches at once!  There was no wind to blow them
out.  He kept his head to one side to escape the strangling fumes, and
held the blazing bunch to the birch-bark.  As he so held it, he became
aware of sensation in his hand.  His flesh was burning.  He could smell
it.  Deep down below the surface he could feel it.  The sensation
developed into pain that grew acute.  And still he endured it, holding
the flame of the matches clumsily to the bark that would not light
readily because his own burning hands were in the way, absorbing most of
the flame.

At last, when he could endure no more, he jerked his hands apart.  The
blazing matches fell sizzling into the snow, but the birch-bark was
alight.  He began laying dry grasses and the tiniest twigs on the flame.
He could not pick and choose, for he had to lift the fuel between the
heels of his hands.  Small pieces of rotten wood and green moss clung to
the twigs, and he bit them off as well as he could with his teeth.  He
cherished the flame carefully and awkwardly.  It meant life, and it must
not perish.  The withdrawal of blood from the surface of his body now
made him begin to shiver, and he grew more awkward.  A large piece of
green moss fell squarely on the little fire.  He tried to poke it out
with his fingers, but his shivering frame made him poke too far, and he
disrupted the nucleus of the little fire, the burning grasses and tiny
twigs separating and scattering.  He tried to poke them together again,
but in spite of the tenseness of the effort, his shivering got away with
him, and the twigs were hopelessly scattered.  Each twig gushed a puff of
smoke and went out.  The fire-provider had failed.  As he looked
apathetically about him, his eyes chanced on the dog, sitting across the
ruins of the fire from him, in the snow, making restless, hunching
movements, slightly lifting one forefoot and then the other, shifting its
weight back and forth on them with wistful eagerness.

The sight of the dog put a wild idea into his head.  He remembered the
tale of the man, caught in a blizzard, who killed a steer and crawled
inside the carcass, and so was saved.  He would kill the dog and bury his
hands in the warm body until the numbness went out of them.  Then he
could build another fire.  He spoke to the dog, calling it to him; but in
his voice was a strange note of fear that frightened the animal, who had
never known the man to speak in such way before.  Something was the
matter, and its suspicious nature sensed danger,—it knew not what danger
but somewhere, somehow, in its brain arose an apprehension of the man.
It flattened its ears down at the sound of the man’s voice, and its
restless, hunching movements and the liftings and shiftings of its
forefeet became more pronounced but it would not come to the man.  He got
on his hands and knees and crawled toward the dog.  This unusual posture
again excited suspicion, and the animal sidled mincingly away.

The man sat up in the snow for a moment and struggled for calmness.  Then
he pulled on his mittens, by means of his teeth, and got upon his feet.
He glanced down at first in order to assure himself that he was really
standing up, for the absence of sensation in his feet left him unrelated
to the earth.  His erect position in itself started to drive the webs of
suspicion from the dog’s mind; and when he spoke peremptorily, with the
sound of whip-lashes in his voice, the dog rendered its customary
allegiance and came to him.  As it came within reaching distance, the man
lost his control.  His arms flashed out to the dog, and he experienced
genuine surprise when he discovered that his hands could not clutch, that
there was neither bend nor feeling in the lingers.  He had forgotten for
the moment that they were frozen and that they were freezing more and
more.  All this happened quickly, and before the animal could get away,
he encircled its body with his arms.  He sat down in the snow, and in
this fashion held the dog, while it snarled and whined and struggled.

But it was all he could do, hold its body encircled in his arms and sit
there.  He realized that he could not kill the dog.  There was no way to
do it.  With his helpless hands he could neither draw nor hold his
sheath-knife nor throttle the animal.  He released it, and it plunged
wildly away, with tail between its legs, and still snarling.  It halted
forty feet away and surveyed him curiously, with ears sharply pricked
forward.  The man looked down at his hands in order to locate them, and
found them hanging on the ends of his arms.  It struck him as curious
that one should have to use his eyes in order to find out where his hands
were.  He began threshing his arms back and forth, beating the mittened
hands against his sides.  He did this for five minutes, violently, and
his heart pumped enough blood up to the surface to put a stop to his
shivering.  But no sensation was aroused in the hands.  He had an
impression that they hung like weights on the ends of his arms, but when
he tried to run the impression down, he could not find it.

A certain fear of death, dull and oppressive, came to him.  This fear
quickly became poignant as he realized that it was no longer a mere
matter of freezing his fingers and toes, or of losing his hands and feet,
but that it was a matter of life and death with the chances against him.
This threw him into a panic, and he turned and ran up the creek-bed along
the old, dim trail.  The dog joined in behind and kept up with him.  He
ran blindly, without intention, in fear such as he had never known in his
life.  Slowly, as he ploughed and floundered through the snow, he began
to see things again—the banks of the creek, the old timber-jams, the
leafless aspens, and the sky.  The running made him feel better.  He did
not shiver.  Maybe, if he ran on, his feet would thaw out; and, anyway,
if he ran far enough, he would reach camp and the boys.  Without doubt he
would lose some fingers and toes and some of his face; but the boys would
take care of him, and save the rest of him when he got there.  And at the
same time there was another thought in his mind that said he would never
get to the camp and the boys; that it was too many miles away, that the
freezing had too great a start on him, and that he would soon be stiff
and dead.  This thought he kept in the background and refused to
consider.  Sometimes it pushed itself forward and demanded to be heard,
but he thrust it back and strove to think of other things.

It struck him as curious that he could run at all on feet so frozen that
he could not feel them when they struck the earth and took the weight of
his body.  He seemed to himself to skim along above the surface and to
have no connection with the earth.  Somewhere he had once seen a winged
Mercury, and he wondered if Mercury felt as he felt when skimming over
the earth.

His theory of running until he reached camp and the boys had one flaw in
it: he lacked the endurance.  Several times he stumbled, and finally he
tottered, crumpled up, and fell.  When he tried to rise, he failed.  He
must sit and rest, he decided, and next time he would merely walk and
keep on going.  As he sat and regained his breath, he noted that he was
feeling quite warm and comfortable.  He was not shivering, and it even
seemed that a warm glow had come to his chest and trunk.  And yet, when
he touched his nose or cheeks, there was no sensation.  Running would not
thaw them out.  Nor would it thaw out his hands and feet.  Then the
thought came to him that the frozen portions of his body must be
extending.  He tried to keep this thought down, to forget it, to think of
something else; he was aware of the panicky feeling that it caused, and
he was afraid of the panic.  But the thought asserted itself, and
persisted, until it produced a vision of his body totally frozen.  This
was too much, and he made another wild run along the trail.  Once he
slowed down to a walk, but the thought of the freezing extending itself
made him run again.

And all the time the dog ran with him, at his heels.  When he fell down a
second time, it curled its tail over its forefeet and sat in front of him
facing him curiously eager and intent.  The warmth and security of the
animal angered him, and he cursed it till it flattened down its ears
appeasingly.  This time the shivering came more quickly upon the man.  He
was losing in his battle with the frost.  It was creeping into his body
from all sides.  The thought of it drove him on, but he ran no more than
a hundred feet, when he staggered and pitched headlong.  It was his last
panic.  When he had recovered his breath and control, he sat up and
entertained in his mind the conception of meeting death with dignity.
However, the conception did not come to him in such terms.  His idea of
it was that he had been making a fool of himself, running around like a
chicken with its head cut off—such was the simile that occurred to him.
Well, he was bound to freeze anyway, and he might as well take it
decently.  With this new-found peace of mind came the first glimmerings
of drowsiness.  A good idea, he thought, to sleep off to death.  It was
like taking an anæsthetic.  Freezing was not so bad as people thought.
There were lots worse ways to die.

He pictured the boys finding his body next day.  Suddenly he found
himself with them, coming along the trail and looking for himself.  And,
still with them, he came around a turn in the trail and found himself
lying in the snow.  He did not belong with himself any more, for even
then he was out of himself, standing with the boys and looking at himself
in the snow.  It certainly was cold, was his thought.  When he got back
to the States he could tell the folks what real cold was.  He drifted on
from this to a vision of the old-timer on Sulphur Creek.  He could see
him quite clearly, warm and comfortable, and smoking a pipe.

“You were right, old hoss; you were right,” the man mumbled to the
old-timer of Sulphur Creek.

Then the man drowsed off into what seemed to him the most comfortable and
satisfying sleep he had ever known.  The dog sat facing him and waiting.
The brief day drew to a close in a long, slow twilight.  There were no
signs of a fire to be made, and, besides, never in the dog’s experience
had it known a man to sit like that in the snow and make no fire.  As the
twilight drew on, its eager yearning for the fire mastered it, and with a
great lifting and shifting of forefeet, it whined softly, then flattened
its ears down in anticipation of being chidden by the man.  But the man
remained silent.  Later, the dog whined loudly.  And still later it crept
close to the man and caught the scent of death.  This made the animal
bristle and back away.  A little longer it delayed, howling under the
stars that leaped and danced and shone brightly in the cold sky.  Then it
turned and trotted up the trail in the direction of the camp it knew,
where were the other food-providers and fire-providers.



THAT SPOT


I don’t think much of Stephen Mackaye any more, though I used to swear by
him.  I know that in those days I loved him more than my own brother.  If
ever I meet Stephen Mackaye again, I shall not be responsible for my
actions.  It passes beyond me that a man with whom I shared food and
blanket, and with whom I mushed over the Chilcoot Trail, should turn out
the way he did.  I always sized Steve up as a square man, a kindly
comrade, without an iota of anything vindictive or malicious in his
nature.  I shall never trust my judgment in men again.  Why, I nursed
that man through typhoid fever; we starved together on the headwaters of
the Stewart; and he saved my life on the Little Salmon.  And now, after
the years we were together, all I can say of Stephen Mackaye is that he
is the meanest man I ever knew.

We started for the Klondike in the fall rush of 1897, and we started too
late to get over Chilcoot Pass before the freeze-up.  We packed our
outfit on our backs part way over, when the snow began to fly, and then
we had to buy dogs in order to sled it the rest of the way.  That was how
we came to get that Spot.  Dogs were high, and we paid one hundred and
ten dollars for him.  He looked worth it.  I say _looked_, because he was
one of the finest-appearing dogs I ever saw.  He weighed sixty pounds,
and he had all the lines of a good sled animal.  We never could make out
his breed.  He wasn’t husky, nor Malemute, nor Hudson Bay; he looked like
all of them and he didn’t look like any of them; and on top of it all he
had some of the white man’s dog in him, for on one side, in the thick of
the mixed yellow-brown-red-and-dirty-white that was his prevailing
colour, there was a spot of coal-black as big as a water-bucket.  That
was why we called him Spot.

He was a good looker all right.  When he was in condition his muscles
stood out in bunches all over him.  And he was the strongest-looking
brute I ever saw in Alaska, also the most intelligent-looking.  To run
your eves over him, you’d think he could outpull three dogs of his own
weight.  Maybe he could, but I never saw it.  His intelligence didn’t run
that way.  He could steal and forage to perfection; he had an instinct
that was positively gruesome for divining when work was to be done and
for making a sneak accordingly; and for getting lost and not staying lost
he was nothing short of inspired.  But when it came to work, the way that
intelligence dribbled out of him and left him a mere clot of wobbling,
stupid jelly would make your heart bleed.

There are times when I think it wasn’t stupidity.  Maybe, like some men I
know, he was too wise to work.  I shouldn’t wonder if he put it all over
us with that intelligence of his.  Maybe he figured it all out and
decided that a licking now and again and no work was a whole lot better
than work all the time and no licking.  He was intelligent enough for
such a computation.  I tell you, I’ve sat and looked into that dog’s eyes
till the shivers ran up and down my spine and the marrow crawled like
yeast, what of the intelligence I saw shining out.  I can’t express
myself about that intelligence.  It is beyond mere words.  I saw it,
that’s all.  At times it was like gazing into a human soul, to look into
his eyes; and what I saw there frightened me and started all sorts of
ideas in my own mind of reincarnation and all the rest.  I tell you I
sensed something big in that brute’s eyes; there was a message there, but
I wasn’t big enough myself to catch it.  Whatever it was (I know I’m
making a fool of myself)—whatever it was, it baffled me.  I can’t give an
inkling of what I saw in that brute’s eyes; it wasn’t light, it wasn’t
colour; it was something that moved, away back, when the eyes themselves
weren’t moving.  And I guess I didn’t see it move either; I only sensed
that it moved.  It was an expression—that’s what it was—and I got an
impression of it.  No; it was different from a mere expression; it was
more than that.  I don’t know what it was, but it gave me a feeling of
kinship just the same.  Oh, no, not sentimental kinship.  It was, rather,
a kinship of equality.  Those eyes never pleaded like a deer’s eyes.
They challenged.  No, it wasn’t defiance.  It was just a calm assumption
of equality.  And I don’t think it was deliberate.  My belief is that it
was unconscious on his part.  It was there because it was there, and it
couldn’t help shining out.  No, I don’t mean shine.  It didn’t shine; it
_moved_.  I know I’m talking rot, but if you’d looked into that animal’s
eyes the way I have, you’d understand.  Steve was affected the same way I
was.  Why, I tried to kill that Spot once—he was no good for anything;
and I fell down on it.  I led him out into the brush, and he came along
slow and unwilling.  He knew what was going on.  I stopped in a likely
place, put my foot on the rope, and pulled my big Colt’s.  And that dog
sat down and looked at me.  I tell you he didn’t plead.  He just looked.
And I saw all kinds of incomprehensible things moving, yes, _moving_, in
those eyes of his.  I didn’t really see them move; I thought I saw them,
for, as I said before, I guess I only sensed them.  And I want to tell
you right now that it got beyond me.  It was like killing a man, a
conscious, brave man, who looked calmly into your gun as much as to say,
“Who’s afraid?”

Then, too, the message seemed so near that, instead of pulling the
trigger quick, I stopped to see if I could catch the message.  There it
was, right before me, glimmering all around in those eyes of his.  And
then it was too late.  I got scared.  I was trembly all over, and my
stomach generated a nervous palpitation that made me seasick.  I just sat
down and looked at the dog, and he looked at me, till I thought I was
going crazy.  Do you want to know what I did?  I threw down the gun and
ran back to camp with the fear of God in my heart.  Steve laughed at me.
But I notice that Steve led Spot into the woods, a week later, for the
same purpose, and that Steve came back alone, and a little later Spot
drifted back, too.

At any rate, Spot wouldn’t work.  We paid a hundred and ten dollars for
him from the bottom of our sack, and he wouldn’t work.  He wouldn’t even
tighten the traces.  Steve spoke to him the first time we put him in
harness, and he sort of shivered, that was all.  Not an ounce on the
traces.  He just stood still and wobbled, like so much jelly.  Steve
touched him with the whip.  He yelped, but not an ounce.  Steve touched
him again, a bit harder, and he howled—the regular long wolf howl.  Then
Steve got mad and gave him half a dozen, and I came on the run from the
tent.

I told Steve he was brutal with the animal, and we had some words—the
first we’d ever had.  He threw the whip down in the snow and walked away
mad.  I picked it up and went to it.  That Spot trembled and wobbled and
cowered before ever I swung the lash, and with the first bite of it he
howled like a lost soul.  Next he lay down in the snow.  I started the
rest of the dogs, and they dragged him along while I threw the whip into
him.  He rolled over on his back and bumped along, his four legs waving
in the air, himself howling as though he was going through a sausage
machine.  Steve came back and laughed at me, and I apologized for what
I’d said.

There was no getting any work out of that Spot; and to make up for it, he
was the biggest pig-glutton of a dog I ever saw.  On top of that, he was
the cleverest thief.  There was no circumventing him.  Many a breakfast
we went without our bacon because Spot had been there first.  And it was
because of him that we nearly starved to death up the Stewart.  He
figured out the way to break into our meat-cache, and what he didn’t eat,
the rest of the team did.  But he was impartial.  He stole from
everybody.  He was a restless dog, always very busy snooping around or
going somewhere.  And there was never a camp within five miles that he
didn’t raid.  The worst of it was that they always came back on us to pay
his board bill, which was just, being the law of the land; but it was
mighty hard on us, especially that first winter on the Chilcoot, when we
were busted, paying for whole hams and sides of bacon that we never ate.
He could fight, too, that Spot.  He could do everything but work.  He
never pulled a pound, but he was the boss of the whole team.  The way he
made those dogs stand around was an education.  He bullied them, and
there was always one or more of them fresh-marked with his fangs.  But he
was more than a bully.  He wasn’t afraid of anything that walked on four
legs; and I’ve seen him march, single-handed into a strange team, without
any provocation whatever, and put the _kibosh_ on the whole outfit.  Did
I say he could eat?  I caught him eating the whip once.  That’s straight.
He started in at the lash, and when I caught him he was down to the
handle, and still going.

But he was a good looker.  At the end of the first week we sold him for
seventy-five dollars to the Mounted Police.  They had experienced
dog-drivers, and we knew that by the time he’d covered the six hundred
miles to Dawson he’d be a good sled-dog.  I say we _knew_, for we were
just getting acquainted with that Spot.  A little later we were not brash
enough to know anything where he was concerned.  A week later we woke up
in the morning to the dangdest dog-fight we’d ever heard.  It was that
Spot come back and knocking the team into shape.  We ate a pretty
depressing breakfast, I can tell you; but cheered up two hours afterward
when we sold him to an official courier, bound in to Dawson with
government despatches.  That Spot was only three days in coming back,
and, as usual, celebrated his arrival with a rough house.

We spent the winter and spring, after our own outfit was across the pass,
freighting other people’s outfits; and we made a fat stake.  Also, we
made money out of Spot.  If we sold him once, we sold him twenty times.
He always came back, and no one asked for their money.  We didn’t want
the money.  We’d have paid handsomely for any one to take him off our
hands for keeps’.  We had to get rid of him, and we couldn’t give him
away, for that would have been suspicious.  But he was such a fine looker
that we never had any difficulty in selling him.  “Unbroke,” we’d say,
and they’d pay any old price for him.  We sold him as low as twenty-five
dollars, and once we got a hundred and fifty for him.  That particular
party returned him in person, refused to take his money back, and the way
he abused us was something awful.  He said it was cheap at the price to
tell us what he thought of us; and we felt he was so justified that we
never talked back.  But to this day I’ve never quite regained all the old
self-respect that was mine before that man talked to me.

When the ice cleared out of the lakes and river, we put our outfit in a
Lake Bennett boat and started for Dawson.  We had a good team of dogs,
and of course we piled them on top the outfit.  That Spot was along—there
was no losing him; and a dozen times, the first day, he knocked one or
another of the dogs overboard in the course of fighting with them.  It
was close quarters, and he didn’t like being crowded.

“What that dog needs is space,” Steve said the second day.  “Let’s maroon
him.”

We did, running the boat in at Caribou Crossing for him to jump ashore.
Two of the other dogs, good dogs, followed him; and we lost two whole
days trying to find them.  We never saw those two dogs again; but the
quietness and relief we enjoyed made us decide, like the man who refused
his hundred and fifty, that it was cheap at the price.  For the first
time in months Steve and I laughed and whistled and sang.  We were as
happy as clams.  The dark days were over.  The nightmare had been lifted.
That Spot was gone.

Three weeks later, one morning, Steve and I were standing on the
river-bank at Dawson.  A small boat was just arriving from Lake Bennett.
I saw Steve give a start, and heard him say something that was not nice
and that was not under his breath.  Then I looked; and there, in the bow
of the boat, with ears pricked up, sat Spot.  Steve and I sneaked
immediately, like beaten curs, like cowards, like absconders from
justice.  It was this last that the lieutenant of police thought when he
saw us sneaking.  He surmised that there were law-officers in the boat
who were after us.  He didn’t wait to find out, but kept us in sight, and
in the M. & M. saloon got us in a corner.  We had a merry time
explaining, for we refused to go back to the boat and meet Spot; and
finally he held us under guard of another policeman while he went to the
boat.  After we got clear of him, we started for the cabin, and when we
arrived, there was that Spot sitting on the stoop waiting for us.  Now
how did he know we lived there?  There were forty thousand people in
Dawson that summer, and how did he _savve_ our cabin out of all the
cabins?  How did he know we were in Dawson, anyway?  I leave it to you.
But don’t forget what I said about his intelligence and that immortal
something I have seen glimmering in his eyes.

There was no getting rid of him any more.  There were too many people in
Dawson who had bought him up on Chilcoot, and the story got around.  Half
a dozen times we put him on board steamboats going down the Yukon; but he
merely went ashore at the first landing and trotted back up the bank.  We
couldn’t sell him, we couldn’t kill him (both Steve and I had tried), and
nobody else was able to kill him.  He bore a charmed life.  I’ve seen him
go down in a dogfight on the main street with fifty dogs on top of him,
and when they were separated, he’d appear on all his four legs, unharmed,
while two of the dogs that had been on top of him would be lying dead.

I saw him steal a chunk of moose-meat from Major Dinwiddie’s cache so
heavy that he could just keep one jump ahead of Mrs. Dinwiddie’s squaw
cook, who was after him with an axe.  As he went up the hill, after the
squaw gave up, Major Dinwiddie himself came out and pumped his Winchester
into the landscape.  He emptied his magazine twice, and never touched
that Spot.  Then a policeman came along and arrested him for discharging
firearms inside the city limits.  Major Dinwiddie paid his fine, and
Steve and I paid him for the moose-meat at the rate of a dollar a pound,
bones and all.  That was what he paid for it.  Meat was high that year.

I am only telling what I saw with my own eyes.  And now I’ll tell you
something also.  I saw that Spot fall through a water-hole.  The ice was
three and a half feet thick, and the current sucked him under like a
straw.  Three hundred yards below was the big water-hole used by the
hospital.  Spot crawled out of the hospital water-hole, licked off the
water, bit out the ice that had formed between his toes, trotted up the
bank, and whipped a big Newfoundland belonging to the Gold Commissioner.

In the fall of 1898, Steve and I poled up the Yukon on the last water,
bound for Stewart River.  We took the dogs along, all except Spot.  We
figured we’d been feeding him long enough.  He’d cost us more time and
trouble and money and grub than we’d got by selling him on the
Chilcoot—especially grub.  So Steve and I tied him down in the cabin and
pulled our freight.  We camped that night at the mouth of Indian River,
and Steve and I were pretty facetious over having shaken him.  Steve was
a funny cuss, and I was just sitting up in the blankets and laughing when
a tornado hit camp.  The way that Spot walked into those dogs and gave
them what-for was hair-raising.  Now how did he get loose?  It’s up to
you.  I haven’t any theory.  And how did he get across the Klondike
River?  That’s another facer.  And anyway, how did he know we had gone up
the Yukon?  You see, we went by water, and he couldn’t smell our tracks.
Steve and I began to get superstitious about that dog.  He got on our
nerves, too; and, between you and me, we were just a mite afraid of him.

The freeze-up came on when we were at the mouth of Henderson Creek, and
we traded him off for two sacks of flour to an outfit that was bound up
White River after copper.  Now that whole outfit was lost.  Never trace
nor hide nor hair of men, dogs, sleds, or anything was ever found.  They
dropped clean out of sight.  It became one of the mysteries of the
country.  Steve and I plugged away up the Stewart, and six weeks
afterward that Spot crawled into camp.  He was a perambulating skeleton,
and could just drag along; but he got there.  And what I want to know is,
who told him we were up the Stewart?  We could have gone to a thousand
other places.  How did he know?  You tell me, and I’ll tell you.

No losing him.  At the Mayo he started a row with an Indian dog.  The
buck who owned the dog took a swing at Spot with an axe, missed him, and
killed his own dog.  Talk about magic and turning bullets aside—I, for
one, consider it a blamed sight harder to turn an axe aside with a big
buck at the other end of it.  And I saw him do it with my own eyes.  That
buck didn’t want to kill his own dog.  You’ve got to show me.

I told you about Spot breaking into our meat cache.  It was nearly the
death of us.  There wasn’t any more meat to be killed, and meat was all
we had to live on.  The moose had gone back several hundred miles and the
Indians with them.  There we were.  Spring was on, and we had to wait for
the river to break.  We got pretty thin before we decided to eat the
dogs, and we decided to eat Spot first.  Do you know what that dog did?
He sneaked.  Now how did he know our minds were made up to eat him?  We
sat up nights laying for him, but he never came back, and we ate the
other dogs.  We ate the whole team.

And now for the sequel.  You know what it is when a big river breaks up
and a few billion tons of ice go out, jamming and milling and grinding.
Just in the thick of it, when the Stewart went out, rumbling and roaring,
we sighted Spot out in the middle.  He’d got caught as he was trying to
cross up above somewhere.  Steve and I yelled and shouted and ran up and
down the bank, tossing our hats in the air.  Sometimes we’d stop and hug
each other, we were that boisterous, for we saw Spot’s finish.  He didn’t
have a chance in a million.  He didn’t have any chance at all.  After the
ice-run, we got into a canoe and paddled down to the Yukon, and down the
Yukon to Dawson, stopping to feed up for a week at the cabins at the
mouth of Henderson Creek.  And as we came in to the bank at Dawson, there
sat that Spot, waiting for us, his ears pricked up, his tail wagging, his
mouth smiling, extending a hearty welcome to us.  Now how did he get out
of that ice?  How did he know we were coming to Dawson, to the very hour
and minute, to be out there on the bank waiting for us?

The more I think of that Spot, the more I am convinced that there are
things in this world that go beyond science.  On no scientific grounds
can that Spot be explained.  It’s psychic phenomena, or mysticism, or
something of that sort, I guess, with a lot of Theosophy thrown in.  The
Klondike is a good country.  I might have been there yet, and become a
millionaire, if it hadn’t been for Spot.  He got on my nerves.  I stood
him for two years altogether, and then I guess my stamina broke.  It was
the summer of 1899 when I pulled out.  I didn’t say anything to Steve.  I
just sneaked.  But I fixed it up all right.  I wrote Steve a note, and
enclosed a package of “rough-on-rats,” telling him what to do with it.  I
was worn down to skin and bone by that Spot, and I was that nervous that
I’d jump and look around when there wasn’t anybody within hailing
distance.  But it was astonishing the way I recuperated when I got quit
of him.  I got back twenty pounds before I arrived in San Francisco, and
by the time I’d crossed the ferry to Oakland I was my old self again, so
that even my wife looked in vain for any change in me.

Steve wrote to me once, and his letter seemed irritated.  He took it kind
of hard because I’d left him with Spot.  Also, he said he’d used the
“rough-on-rats,” per directions, and that there was nothing doing.  A
year went by.  I was back in the office and prospering in all ways—even
getting a bit fat.  And then Steve arrived.  He didn’t look me up.  I
read his name in the steamer list, and wondered why.  But I didn’t wonder
long.  I got up one morning and found that Spot chained to the gate-post
and holding up the milkman.  Steve went north to Seattle, I learned, that
very morning.  I didn’t put on any more weight.  My wife made me buy him
a collar and tag, and within an hour he showed his gratitude by killing
her pet Persian cat.  There is no getting rid of that Spot.  He will be
with me until I die, for he’ll never die.  My appetite is not so good
since he arrived, and my wife says I am looking peaked.  Last night that
Spot got into Mr. Harvey’s hen-house (Harvey is my next-door neighbour)
and killed nineteen of his fancy-bred chickens.  I shall have to pay for
them.  My neighbours on the other side quarrelled with my wife and then
moved out.  Spot was the cause of it.  And that is why I am disappointed
in Stephen Mackaye.  I had no idea he was so mean a man.



FLUSH OF GOLD


Lon McFane was a bit grumpy, what of losing his tobacco pouch, or else he
might have told me, before we got to it, something about the cabin at
Surprise Lake.  All day, turn and turn about, we had spelled each other
at going to the fore and breaking trail for the dogs.  It was heavy
snowshoe work, and did not tend to make a man voluble, yet Lon McFane
might have found breath enough at noon, when we stopped to boil coffee,
with which to tell me.  But he didn’t.  Surprise Lake? it was Surprise
Cabin to me.  I had never heard of it before.  I confess I was a bit
tired.  I had been looking for Lon to stop and make camp any time for an
hour; but I had too much pride to suggest making camp or to ask him his
intentions; and yet he was my man, lured at a handsome wage to mush my
dogs for me and to obey my commands.  I guess I was a bit grumpy myself.
He said nothing, and I was resolved to ask nothing, even if we tramped on
all night.

We came upon the cabin abruptly.  For a week of trail we had met no one,
and, in my mind, there had been little likelihood of meeting any one for
a week to come.  And yet there it was, right before my eyes, a cabin,
with a dim light in the window and smoke curling up from the chimney.

“Why didn’t you tell me—” I began, but was interrupted by Lon, who
muttered—

“Surprise Lake—it lies up a small feeder half a mile on.  It’s only a
pond.”

“Yes, but the cabin—who lives in it?”

“A woman,” was the answer, and the next moment Lon had rapped on the
door, and a woman’s voice bade him enter.

“Have you seen Dave recently?” she asked.

“Nope,” Lon answered carelessly.  “I’ve been in the other direction, down
Circle City way.  Dave’s up Dawson way, ain’t he?”

The woman nodded, and Lon fell to unharnessing the dogs, while I unlashed
the sled and carried the camp outfit into the cabin.  The cabin was a
large, one-room affair, and the woman was evidently alone in it.  She
pointed to the stove, where water was already boiling, and Lon set about
the preparation of supper, while I opened the fish-bag and fed the dogs.
I looked for Lon to introduce us, and was vexed that he did not, for they
were evidently old friends.

“You are Lon McFane, aren’t you?” I heard her ask him.  “Why, I remember
you now.  The last time I saw you it was on a steamboat, wasn’t it?  I
remember . . . ”

Her speech seemed suddenly to be frozen by the spectacle of dread which,
I knew, from the tenor I saw mounting in her eyes, must be on her inner
vision.  To my astonishment, Lon was affected by her words and manner.
His face showed desperate, for all his voice sounded hearty and genial,
as he said—

“The last time we met was at Dawson, Queen’s Jubilee, or Birthday, or
something—don’t you remember?—the canoe races in the river, and the
obstacle races down the main street?”

The terror faded out of her eyes and her whole body relaxed.  “Oh, yes, I
do remember,” she said.  “And you won one of the canoe races.”

“How’s Dave been makin’ it lately?  Strikin’ it as rich as ever, I
suppose?” Lon asked, with apparent irrelevance.

She smiled and nodded, and then, noticing that I had unlashed the bed
roll, she indicated the end of the cabin where I might spread it.  Her
own bunk, I noticed, was made up at the opposite end.

“I thought it was Dave coming when I heard your dogs,” she said.

After that she said nothing, contenting herself with watching Lon’s
cooking operations, and listening the while as for the sound of dogs
along the trail.  I lay back on the blankets and smoked and watched.
Here was mystery; I could make that much out, but no more could I make
out.  Why in the deuce hadn’t Lon given me the tip before we arrived?  I
looked at her face, unnoticed by her, and the longer I looked the harder
it was to take my eyes away.  It was a wonderfully beautiful face,
unearthly, I may say, with a light in it or an expression or something
“that was never on land or sea.”  Fear and terror had completely
vanished, and it was a placidly beautiful face—if by “placid” one can
characterize that intangible and occult something that I cannot say was a
radiance or a light any more than I can say it was an expression.

Abruptly, as if for the first time, she became aware of my presence.

“Have you seen Dave recently?” she asked me.  It was on the tip of my
tongue to say “Dave who?” when Lon coughed in the smoke that arose from
the sizzling bacon.  The bacon might have caused that cough, but I took
it as a hint and left my question unasked.  “No, I haven’t,” I answered.
“I’m new in this part of the country—”

“But you don’t mean to say,” she interrupted, “that you’ve never heard of
Dave—of Big Dave Walsh?”

“You see,” I apologised, “I’m new in the country.  I’ve put in most of my
time in the Lower Country, down Nome way.”

“Tell him about Dave,” she said to Lon.

Lon seemed put out, but he began in that hearty, genial manner that I had
noticed before.  It seemed a shade too hearty and genial, and it
irritated me.

“Oh, Dave is a fine man,” he said.  “He’s a man, every inch of him, and
he stands six feet four in his socks.  His word is as good as his bond.
The man lies who ever says Dave told a lie, and that man will have to
fight with me, too, as well—if there’s anything left of him when Dave
gets done with him.  For Dave is a fighter.  Oh, yes, he’s a scrapper
from way back.  He got a grizzly with a ’38 popgun.  He got clawed some,
but he knew what he was doin’.  He went into the cave on purpose to get
that grizzly.  ’Fraid of nothing.  Free an’ easy with his money, or his
last shirt an’ match when out of money.  Why, he drained Surprise Lake
here in three weeks an’ took out ninety thousand, didn’t he?”  She
flushed and nodded her head proudly.  Through his recital she had
followed every word with keenest interest.  “An’ I must say,” Lon went
on, “that I was disappointed sore on not meeting Dave here to-night.”

Lon served supper at one end of the table of whip-sawed spruce, and we
fell to eating.  A howling of the dogs took the woman to the door.  She
opened it an inch and listened.

“Where is Dave Walsh?” I asked, in an undertone.

“Dead,” Lon answered.  “In hell, maybe.  I don’t know.  Shut up.”

“But you just said that you expected to meet him here to-night,” I
challenged.

“Oh, shut up, can’t you,” was Lon’s reply, in the same cautious
undertone.

The woman had closed the door and was returning, and I sat and meditated
upon the fact that this man who told me to shut up received from me a
salary of two hundred and fifty dollars a month and his board.

Lon washed the dishes, while I smoked and watched the woman.  She seemed
more beautiful than ever—strangely and weirdly beautiful, it is true.
After looking at her steadfastly for five minutes, I was compelled to
come back to the real world and to glance at Lon McFane.  This enabled me
to know, without discussion, that the woman, too, was real.  At first I
had taken her for the wife of Dave Walsh; but if Dave Walsh were dead, as
Lon had said, then she could be only his widow.

It was early to bed, for we faced a long day on the morrow; and as Lon
crawled in beside me under the blankets, I ventured a question.

“That woman’s crazy, isn’t she?”

“Crazy as a loon,” he answered.

And before I could formulate my next question, Lon McFane, I swear, was
off to sleep.  He always went to sleep that way—just crawled into the
blankets, closed his eyes, and was off, a demure little heavy breathing
rising on the air.  Lon never snored.

And in the morning it was quick breakfast, feed the dogs, load the sled,
and hit the trail.  We said good-bye as we pulled out, and the woman
stood in the doorway and watched us off.  I carried the vision of her
unearthly beauty away with me, just under my eyelids, and all I had to
do, any time, was to close them and see her again.  The way was unbroken,
Surprise Lake being far off the travelled trails, and Lon and I took turn
about at beating down the feathery snow with our big, webbed shoes so
that the dogs could travel.  “But you said you expected to meet Dave
Walsh at the cabin,” trembled on the tip of my tongue a score of times.
I did not utter it.  I could wait until we knocked off in the middle of
the day.  And when the middle of the day came, we went right on, for, as
Lon explained, there was a camp of moose hunters at the forks of the
Teelee, and we could make there by dark.  But we didn’t make there by
dark, for Bright, the lead-dog, broke his shoulder-blade, and we lost an
hour over him before we shot him.  Then, crossing a timber jam on the
frozen bed of the Teelee, the sled suffered a wrenching capsize, and it
was a case of make camp and repair the runner.  I cooked supper and fed
the dogs while Lon made the repairs, and together we got in the night’s
supply of ice and firewood.  Then we sat on our blankets, our moccasins
steaming on upended sticks before the fire, and had our evening smoke.

“You didn’t know her?” Lon queried suddenly.  I shook my head.

“You noticed the colour of her hair and eyes and her complexion, well,
that’s where she got her name—she was like the first warm glow of a
golden sunrise.  She was called Flush of Gold.  Ever heard of her?”

Somewhere I had a confused and misty remembrance of having heard the
name, yet it meant nothing to me.  “Flush of Gold,” I repeated; “sounds
like the name of a dance-house girl.”  Lon shook his head.  “No, she was
a good woman, at least in that sense, though she sinned greatly just the
same.”

“But why do you speak always of her in the past tense, as though she were
dead?”

“Because of the darkness on her soul that is the same as the darkness of
death.  The Flush of Gold that I knew, that Dawson knew, and that Forty
Mile knew before that, is dead.  That dumb, lunatic creature we saw last
night was not Flush of Gold.”

“And Dave?” I queried.

“He built that cabin,” Lon answered, “He built it for her . . . and for
himself.  He is dead.  She is waiting for him there.  She half believes
he is not dead.  But who can know the whim of a crazed mind?  Maybe she
wholly believes he is not dead.  At any rate, she waits for him there in
the cabin he built.  Who would rouse the dead?  Then who would rouse the
living that are dead?  Not I, and that is why I let on to expect to meet
Dave Walsh there last night.  I’ll bet a stack that I’d a been more
surprised than she if I _had_ met him there last night.”

“I do not understand,” I said.  “Begin at the beginning, as a white man
should, and tell me the whole tale.”

And Lon began.  “Victor Chauvet was an old Frenchman—born in the south of
France.  He came to California in the days of gold.  He was a pioneer.
He found no gold, but, instead, became a maker of bottled sunshine—in
short, a grape-grower and wine-maker.  Also, he followed gold
excitements.  That is what brought him to Alaska in the early days, and
over the Chilcoot and down the Yukon long before the Carmack strike.  The
old town site of Ten Mile was Chauvet’s.  He carried the first mail into
Arctic City.  He staked those coal-mines on the Porcupine a dozen years
ago.  He grubstaked Loftus into the Nippennuck Country.  Now it happened
that Victor Chauvet was a good Catholic, loving two things in this world,
wine and woman.  Wine of all kinds he loved, but of woman, only one, and
she was the mother of Marie Chauvet.”

Here I groaned aloud, having meditated beyond self-control over the fact
that I paid this man two hundred and fifty dollars a month.

“What’s the matter now?” he demanded.

“Matter?” I complained.  “I thought you were telling the story of Flush
of Gold.  I don’t want a biography of your old French wine-bibber.”

Lon calmly lighted his pipe, took one good puff, then put the pipe aside.
“And you asked me to begin at the beginning,” he said.

“Yes,” said I; “the beginning.”

“And the beginning of Flush of Gold is the old French wine-bibber, for he
was the father of Marie Chauvet, and Marie Chauvet was the Flush of Gold.
What more do you want?  Victor Chauvet never had much luck to speak of.
He managed to live, and to get along, and to take good care of Marie, who
resembled the one woman he had loved.  He took very good care of her.
Flush of Gold was the pet name he gave her.  Flush of Gold Creek was
named after her—Flush of Gold town site, too.  The old man was great on
town sites, only he never landed them.

“Now, honestly,” Lon said, with one of his lightning changes, “you’ve
seen her, what do you think of her—of her looks, I mean?  How does she
strike your beauty sense?”

“She is remarkably beautiful,” I said.  “I never saw anything like her in
my life.  In spite of the fact, last night, that I guessed she was mad, I
could not keep my eyes off of her.  It wasn’t curiosity.  It was wonder,
sheer wonder, she was so strangely beautiful.”

“She was more strangely beautiful before the darkness fell upon her,” Lon
said softly.  “She was truly the Flush of Gold.  She turned all men’s
hearts . . . and heads.  She recalls, with an effort, that I once won a
canoe race at Dawson—I, who once loved her, and was told by her of her
love for me.  It was her beauty that made all men love her.  She’d ’a’
got the apple from Paris, on application, and there wouldn’t have been
any Trojan War, and to top it off she’d have thrown Paris down.  And now
she lives in darkness, and she who was always fickle, for the first time
is constant—and constant to a shade, to a dead man she does not realize
is dead.

“And this is the way it was.  You remember what I said last night of Dave
Walsh—Big Dave Walsh?  He was all that I said, and more, many times more.
He came into this country in the late eighties—that’s a pioneer for you.
He was twenty years old then.  He was a young bull.  When he was
twenty-five he could lift clear of the ground thirteen fifty-pound sacks
of flour.  At first, each fall of the year, famine drove him out.  It was
a lone land in those days.  No river steamboats, no grub, nothing but
salmon bellies and rabbit tracks.  But after famine chased him out three
years, he said he’d had enough of being chased; and the next year he
stayed.  He lived on straight meat when he was lucky enough to get it; he
ate eleven dogs that winter; but he stayed.  And the next winter he
stayed, and the next.  He never did leave the country again.  He was a
bull, a great bull.  He could kill the strongest man in the country with
hard work.  He could outpack a Chilcat Indian, he could outpaddle a
Stick, and he could travel all day with wet feet when the thermometer
registered fifty below zero, and that’s going some, I tell you, for
vitality.  You’d freeze your feet at twenty-five below if you wet them
and tried to keep on.

“Dave Walsh was a bull for strength.  And yet he was soft and
easy-natured.  Anybody could do him, the latest short-horn in camp could
lie his last dollar out of him.  ‘But it doesn’t worry me,’ he had a way
of laughing off his softness; ‘it doesn’t keep me awake nights.’ Now
don’t get the idea that he had no backbone.  You remember about the bear
he went after with the popgun.  When it came to fighting Dave was the
blamedest ever.  He was the limit, if by that I may describe his
unlimitedness when he got into action, he was easy and kind with the
weak, but the strong had to give trail when he went by.  And he was a man
that men liked, which is the finest word of all, a man’s man.

“Dave never took part in the big stampede to Dawson when Carmack made the
Bonanza strike.  You see, Dave was just then over on Mammon Creek
strikin’ it himself.  He discovered Mammon Creek.  Cleaned eighty-four
thousand up that winter, and opened up the claim so that it promised a
couple of hundred thousand for the next winter.  Then, summer bein’ on
and the ground sloshy, he took a trip up the Yukon to Dawson to see what
Carmack’s strike looked like.  And there he saw Flush of Gold.  I
remember the night.  I shall always remember.  It was something sudden,
and it makes one shiver to think of a strong man with all the strength
withered out of him by one glance from the soft eyes of a weak, blond,
female creature like Flush of Gold.  It was at her dad’s cabin, old
Victor Chauvet’s.  Some friend had brought Dave along to talk over town
sites on Mammon Creek.  But little talking did he do, and what he did was
mostly gibberish.  I tell you the sight of Flush of Gold had sent Dave
clean daffy.  Old Victor Chauvet insisted after Dave left that he had
been drunk.  And so he had.  He was drunk, but Flush of Gold was the
strong drink that made him so.

“That settled it, that first glimpse he caught of her.  He did not start
back down the Yukon in a week, as he had intended.  He lingered on a
month, two months, all summer.  And we who had suffered understood, and
wondered what the outcome would be.  Undoubtedly, in our minds, it seemed
that Flush of Gold had met her master.  And why not?  There was romance
sprinkled all over Dave Walsh.  He was a Mammon King, he had made the
Mammon Creek strike; he was an old sour dough, one of the oldest pioneers
in the land—men turned to look at him when he went by, and said to one
another in awed undertones, ‘There goes Dave Walsh.’  And why not?  He
stood six feet four; he had yellow hair himself that curled on his neck;
and he was a bull—a yellow-maned bull just turned thirty-one.

“And Flush of Gold loved him, and, having danced him through a whole
summer’s courtship, at the end their engagement was made known.  The fall
of the year was at hand, Dave had to be back for the winter’s work on
Mammon Creek, and Flush of Gold refused to be married right away.  Dave
put Dusky Burns in charge of the Mammon Creek claim, and himself lingered
on in Dawson.  Little use.  She wanted her freedom a while longer; she
must have it, and she would not marry until next year.  And so, on the
first ice, Dave Walsh went alone down the Yukon behind his dogs, with the
understanding that the marriage would take place when he arrived on the
first steamboat of the next year.

“Now Dave was as true as the Pole Star, and she was as false as a
magnetic needle in a cargo of loadstone.  Dave was as steady and solid as
she was fickle and fly-away, and in some way Dave, who never doubted
anybody, doubted her.  It was the jealousy of his love, perhaps, and
maybe it was the message ticked off from her soul to his; but at any rate
Dave was worried by fear of her inconstancy.  He was afraid to trust her
till the next year, he had so to trust her, and he was pretty well beside
himself.  Some of it I got from old Victor Chauvet afterwards, and from
all that I have pieced together I conclude that there was something of a
scene before Dave pulled north with his dogs.  He stood up before the old
Frenchman, with Flush of Gold beside him, and announced that they were
plighted to each other.  He was very dramatic, with fire in his eyes, old
Victor said.  He talked something about ‘until death do us part’; and old
Victor especially remembered that at one place Dave took her by the
shoulder with his great paw and almost shook her as he said: ‘Even unto
death are you mine, and I would rise from the grave to claim you.’  Old
Victor distinctly remembered those words ‘Even unto death are you mine,
and I would rise from the grave to claim you.’  And he told me afterwards
that Flush of Gold was pretty badly frightened, and that he afterwards
took Dave to one side privately and told him that that wasn’t the way to
hold Flush of Gold—that he must humour her and gentle her if he wanted to
keep her.

“There is no discussion in my mind but that Flush of Gold was frightened.
She was a savage herself in her treatment of men, while men had always
treated her as a soft and tender and too utterly-utter something that
must not be hurt.  She didn’t know what harshness was . . . until Dave
Walsh, standing his six feet four, a big bull, gripped her and pawed her
and assured her that she was his until death, and then some.  And
besides, in Dawson, that winter, was a music-player—one of those
macaroni-eating, greasy-tenor-Eye-talian-dago propositions—and Flush of
Gold lost her heart to him.  Maybe it was only fascination—I don’t know.
Sometimes it seems to me that she really did love Dave Walsh.  Perhaps it
was because he had frightened her with that even-unto-death,
rise-from-the-grave stunt of his that she in the end inclined to the dago
music-player.  But it is all guesswork, and the facts are, sufficient.
He wasn’t a dago; he was a Russian count—this was straight; and he wasn’t
a professional piano-player or anything of the sort.  He played the
violin and the piano, and he sang—sang well—but it was for his own
pleasure and for the pleasure of those he sang for.  He had money,
too—and right here let me say that Flush of Gold never cared a rap for
money.  She was fickle, but she was never sordid.

“But to be getting along.  She was plighted to Dave, and Dave was coming
up on the first steamboat to get her—that was the summer of ’98, and the
first steamboat was to be expected the middle of June.  And Flush of Gold
was afraid to throw Dave down and face him afterwards.  It was all
planned suddenly.  The Russian music-player, the Count, was her obedient
slave.  She planned it, I know.  I learned as much from old Victor
afterwards.  The Count took his orders from her, and caught that first
steamboat down.  It was the _Golden Rocket_.  And so did Flush of Gold
catch it.  And so did I.  I was going to Circle City, and I was
flabbergasted when I found Flush of Gold on board.  I didn’t see her name
down on the passenger list.  She was with the Count fellow all the time,
happy and smiling, and I noticed that the Count fellow was down on the
list as having his wife along.  There it was, state-room, number, and
all.  The first I knew that he was married, only I didn’t see anything of
the wife . . . unless Flush of Gold was so counted.  I wondered if they’d
got married ashore before starting.  There’d been talk about them in
Dawson, you see, and bets had been laid that the Count fellow had cut
Dave out.

“I talked with the purser.  He didn’t know anything more about it than I
did; he didn’t know Flush of Gold, anyway, and besides, he was almost
rushed to death.  You know what a Yukon steamboat is, but you can’t guess
what the _Golden Rocket_ was when it left Dawson that June of 1898.  She
was a hummer.  Being the first steamer out, she carried all the scurvy
patients and hospital wrecks.  Then she must have carried a couple of
millions of Klondike dust and nuggets, to say nothing of a packed and
jammed passenger list, deck passengers galore, and bucks and squaws and
dogs without end.  And she was loaded down to the guards with freight and
baggage.  There was a mountain of the same on the fore-lower-deck, and
each little stop along the way added to it.  I saw the box come aboard at
Teelee Portage, and I knew it for what it was, though I little guessed
the joker that was in it.  And they piled it on top of everything else on
the fore-lower-deck, and they didn’t pile it any too securely either.
The mate expected to come back to it again, and then forgot about it.  I
thought at the time that there was something familiar about the big husky
dog that climbed over the baggage and freight and lay down next to the
box.  And then we passed the _Glendale_, bound up for Dawson.  As she
saluted us, I thought of Dave on board of her and hurrying to Dawson to
Flush of Gold.  I turned and looked at her where she stood by the rail.
Her eyes were bright, but she looked a bit frightened by the sight of the
other steamer, and she was leaning closely to the Count fellow as for
protection.  She needn’t have leaned so safely against him, and I needn’t
have been so sure of a disappointed Dave Walsh arriving at Dawson.  For
Dave Walsh wasn’t on the _Glendale_.  There were a lot of things I didn’t
know, but was soon to know—for instance, that the pair were not yet
married.  Inside half an hour preparations for the marriage took place.
What of the sick men in the main cabin, and of the crowded condition of
the _Golden Rocket_, the likeliest place for the ceremony was found
forward, on the lower deck, in an open space next to the rail and
gang-plank and shaded by the mountain of freight with the big box on top
and the sleeping dog beside it.  There was a missionary on board, getting
off at Eagle City, which was the next step, so they had to use him quick.
That’s what they’d planned to do, get married on the boat.

“But I’ve run ahead of the facts.  The reason Dave Walsh wasn’t on the
_Glendale_ was because he was on the _Golden Rocket_.  It was this way.
After loiterin’ in Dawson on account of Flush of Gold, he went down to
Mammon Creek on the ice.  And there he found Dusky Burns doing so well
with the claim, there was no need for him to be around.  So he put some
grub on the sled, harnessed the dogs, took an Indian along, and pulled
out for Surprise Lake.  He always had a liking for that section.  Maybe
you don’t know how the creek turned out to be a four-flusher; but the
prospects were good at the time, and Dave proceeded to build his cabin
and hers.  That’s the cabin we slept in.  After he finished it, he went
off on a moose hunt to the forks of the Teelee, takin’ the Indian along.

“And this is what happened.  Came on a cold snap.  The juice went down
forty, fifty, sixty below zero.  I remember that snap—I was at Forty
Mile; and I remember the very day.  At eleven o’clock in the morning the
spirit thermometer at the N. A. T. & T. Company’s store went down to
seventy-five below zero.  And that morning, near the forks of the Teelee,
Dave Walsh was out after moose with that blessed Indian of his.  I got it
all from the Indian afterwards—we made a trip over the ice together to
Dyea.  That morning Mr. Indian broke through the ice and wet himself to
the waist.  Of course he began to freeze right away.  The proper thing
was to build a fire.  But Dave Walsh was a bull.  It was only half a mile
to camp, where a fire was already burning.  What was the good of building
another?  He threw Mr. Indian over his shoulder—and ran with him—half a
mile—with the thermometer at seventy-five below.  You know what that
means.  Suicide.  There’s no other name for it.  Why, that buck Indian
weighed over two hundred himself, and Dave ran half a mile with him.  Of
course he froze his lungs.  Must have frozen them near solid.  It was a
tomfool trick for any man to do.  And anyway, after lingering horribly
for several weeks, Dave Walsh died.

“The Indian didn’t know what to do with the corpse.  Ordinarily he’d have
buried him and let it go at that.  But he knew that Dave Walsh was a big
man, worth lots of money, a _hi-yu skookum_ chief.  Likewise he’d seen
the bodies of other _hi-yu skookums_ carted around the country like they
were worth something.  So he decided to take Dave’s body to Forty Mile,
which was Dave’s headquarters.  You know how the ice is on the grass
roots in this country—well, the Indian planted Dave under a foot of
soil—in short, he put Dave on ice.  Dave could have stayed there a
thousand years and still been the same old Dave.  You understand—just the
same as a refrigerator.  Then the Indian brings over a whipsaw from the
cabin at Surprise Lake and makes lumber enough for the box.  Also,
waiting for the thaw, he goes out and shoots about ten thousand pounds of
moose.  This he keeps on ice, too.  Came the thaw.  The Teelee broke.  He
built a raft and loaded it with the meat, the big box with Dave inside,
and Dave’s team of dogs, and away they went down the Teelee.

“The raft got caught on a timber jam and hung up two days.  It was
scorching hot weather, and Mr. Indian nearly lost his moose meat.  So
when he got to Teelee Portage he figured a steamboat would get to Forty
Mile quicker than his raft.  He transferred his cargo, and there you are,
fore-lower deck of the _Golden Rocket_, Flush of Gold being married, and
Dave Walsh in his big box casting the shade for her.  And there’s one
thing I clean forgot.  No wonder I thought the husky dog that came aboard
at Teelee Portage was familiar.  It was Pee-lat, Dave Walsh’s lead-dog
and favourite—a terrible fighter, too.  He was lying down beside the box.

“Flush of Gold caught sight of me, called me over, shook hands with me,
and introduced me to the Count.  She was beautiful.  I was as mad for her
then as ever.  She smiled into my eyes and said I must sign as one of the
witnesses.  And there was no refusing her.  She was ever a child, cruel
as children are cruel.  Also, she told me she was in possession of the
only two bottles of champagne in Dawson—or that had been in Dawson the
night before; and before I knew it I was scheduled to drink her and the
Count’s health.  Everybody crowded round, the captain of the steamboat,
very prominent, trying to ring in on the wine, I guess.  It was a funny
wedding.  On the upper deck the hospital wrecks, with various feet in the
grave, gathered and looked down to see.  There were Indians all jammed in
the circle, too, big bucks, and their squaws and kids, to say nothing of
about twenty-five snarling wolf-dogs.  The missionary lined the two of
them up and started in with the service.  And just then a dog-fight
started, high up on the pile of freight—Pee-lat lying beside the big box,
and a white-haired brute belonging to one of the Indians.  The fight
wasn’t explosive at all.  The brutes just snarled at each other from a
distance—tapping at each other long-distance, you know, saying dast and
dassent, dast and dassent.  The noise was rather disturbing, but you
could hear the missionary’s voice above it.

“There was no particularly easy way of getting at the two dogs, except
from the other side of the pile.  But nobody was on that side—everybody
watching the ceremony, you see.  Even then everything might have been all
right if the captain hadn’t thrown a club at the dogs.  That was what
precipitated everything.  As I say, if the captain hadn’t thrown that
club, nothing might have happened.

“The missionary had just reached the point where he was saying ‘In
sickness and in health,’ and ‘Till death us do part.’  And just then the
captain threw the club.  I saw the whole thing.  It landed on Pee-lat,
and at that instant the white brute jumped him.  The club caused it.
Their two bodies struck the box, and it began to slide, its lower end
tilting down.  It was a long oblong box, and it slid down slowly until it
reached the perpendicular, when it came down on the run.  The onlookers
on that side the circle had time to get out from under.  Flush of Gold
and the Count, on the opposite side of the circle, were facing the box;
the missionary had his back to it.  The box must have fallen ten feet
straight up and down, and it hit end on.

“Now mind you, not one of us knew that Dave Walsh was dead.  We thought
he was on the _Glendale_, bound for Dawson.  The missionary had edged off
to one side, and so Flush of Gold faced the box when it struck.  It was
like in a play.  It couldn’t have been better planned.  It struck on end,
and on the right end; the whole front of the box came off; and out swept
Dave Walsh on his feet, partly wrapped in a blanket, his yellow hair
flying and showing bright in the sun.  Right out of the box, on his feet,
he swept upon Flush of Gold.  She didn’t know he was dead, but it was
unmistakable, after hanging up two days on a timber jam, that he was
rising all right from the dead to claim her.  Possibly that is what she
thought.  At any rate, the sight froze her.  She couldn’t move.  She just
sort of wilted and watched Dave Walsh coming for her!  And he got her.
It looked almost as though he threw his arms around her, but whether or
not this happened, down to the deck they went together.  We had to drag
Dave Walsh’s body clear before we could get hold of her.  She was in a
faint, but it would have been just as well if she had never come out of
that faint; for when she did, she fell to screaming the way insane people
do.  She kept it up for hours, till she was exhausted.  Oh, yes, she
recovered.  You saw her last night, and know how much recovered she is.
She is not violent, it is true, but she lives in darkness.  She believes
that she is waiting for Dave Walsh, and so she waits in the cabin he
built for her.  She is no longer fickle.  It is nine years now that she
has been faithful to Dave Walsh, and the outlook is that she’ll be
faithful to him to the end.”

Lon McFane pulled down the top of the blankets and prepared to crawl in.

“We have her grub hauled to her each year,” he added, “and in general
keep an eye on her.  Last night was the first time she ever recognized
me, though.”

“Who are the we?” I asked.

“Oh,” was the answer, “the Count and old Victor Chauvet and me.  Do you
know, I think the Count is the one to be really sorry for.  Dave Walsh
never did know that she was false to him.  And she does not suffer.  Her
darkness is merciful to her.”

I lay silently under the blankets for the space of a minute.

“Is the Count still in the country?” I asked.

But there was a gentle sound of heavy breathing, and I knew Lon McFane
was asleep.



THE PASSING OF MARCUS O’BRIEN


“It is the judgment of this court that you vamose the camp . . . in the
customary way, sir, in the customary way.”

Judge Marcus O’Brien was absent-minded, and Mucluc Charley nudged him in
the ribs.  Marcus O’Brien cleared his throat and went on—

“Weighing the gravity of the offence, sir, and the extenuating
circumstances, it is the opinion of this court, and its verdict, that you
be outfitted with three days’ grub.  That will do, I think.”

Arizona Jack cast a bleak glance out over the Yukon.  It was a swollen,
chocolate flood, running a mile wide and nobody knew how deep.  The
earth-bank on which he stood was ordinarily a dozen feet above the water,
but the river was now growling at the top of the bank, devouring, instant
by instant, tiny portions of the top-standing soil.  These portions went
into the gaping mouths of the endless army of brown swirls and vanished
away.  Several inches more, and Red Cow would be flooded.

“It won’t do,” Arizona Jack said bitterly.  “Three days’ grub ain’t
enough.”

“There was Manchester,” Marcus O’Brien replied gravely.  “He didn’t get
any grub.”

“And they found his remains grounded on the Lower River an’ half eaten by
huskies,” was Arizona Jack’s retort.  “And his killin’ was without
provocation.  Joe Deeves never did nothin’, never warbled once, an’ jes’
because his stomach was out of order, Manchester ups an’ plugs him.  You
ain’t givin’ me a square deal, O’Brien, I tell you that straight.  Give
me a week’s grub, and I play even to win out.  Three days’ grub, an’ I
cash in.”

“What for did you kill Ferguson?” O’Brien demanded.  “I haven’t any
patience for these unprovoked killings.  And they’ve got to stop.  Red
Cow’s none so populous.  It’s a good camp, and there never used to be any
killings.  Now they’re epidemic.  I’m sorry for you, Jack, but you’ve got
to be made an example of.  Ferguson didn’t provoke enough for a killing.”

“Provoke!” Arizona Jack snorted.  “I tell you, O’Brien, you don’t savve.
You ain’t got no artistic sensibilities.  What for did I kill Ferguson?
What for did Ferguson sing ‘Then I wisht I was a little bird’?  That’s
what I want to know.  Answer me that.  What for did he sing ‘little bird,
little bird’?  One little bird was enough.  I could a-stood one little
bird.  But no, he must sing two little birds.  I gave ’m a chanst.  I
went to him almighty polite and requested him kindly to discard one
little bird.  I pleaded with him.  There was witnesses that testified to
that.

“An’ Ferguson was no jay-throated songster,” some one spoke up from the
crowd.

O’Brien betrayed indecision.

“Ain’t a man got a right to his artistic feelin’s?” Arizona Jack
demanded.  “I gave Ferguson warnin’.  It was violatin’ my own nature to
go on listening to his little birds.  Why, there’s music sharps that
fine-strung an’ keyed-up they’d kill for heaps less’n I did.  I’m willin’
to pay for havin’ artistic feelin’s.  I can take my medicine an’ lick the
spoon, but three days’ grub is drawin’ it a shade fine, that’s all, an’ I
hereby register my kick.  Go on with the funeral.”

O’Brien was still wavering.  He glanced inquiringly at Mucluc Charley.

“I should say, Judge, that three days’ grub was a mite severe,” the
latter suggested; “but you’re runnin’ the show.  When we elected you
judge of this here trial court, we agreed to abide by your decisions, an’
we’ve done it, too, b’gosh, an’ we’re goin’ to keep on doin’ it.”

“Mebbe I’ve been a trifle harsh, Jack,” O’Brien said apologetically—“I’m
that worked up over those killings; an’ I’m willing to make it a week’s
grub.”  He cleared his throat magisterially and looked briskly about him.
“And now we might as well get along and finish up the business.  The
boat’s ready.  You go and get the grub, Leclaire.  We’ll settle for it
afterward.”

Arizona Jack looked grateful, and, muttering something about “damned
little birds,” stepped aboard the open boat that rubbed restlessly
against the bank.  It was a large skiff, built of rough pine planks that
had been sawed by hand from the standing timber of Lake Linderman, a few
hundred miles above, at the foot of Chilcoot.  In the boat were a pair of
oars and Arizona Jack’s blankets.  Leclaire brought the grub, tied up in
a flour-sack, and put it on board.  As he did so, he whispered—“I gave
you good measure, Jack.  You done it with provocation.”

“Cast her off!” Arizona Jack cried.

Somebody untied the painter and threw it in.  The current gripped the
boat and whirled it away.  The murderer did not bother with the oars,
contenting himself with sitting in the stern-sheets and rolling a
cigarette.  Completing it, he struck a match and lighted up.  Those that
watched on the bank could see the tiny puffs of smoke.  They remained on
the bank till the boat swung out of sight around the bend half a mile
below.  Justice had been done.

The denizens of Red Cow imposed the law and executed sentences without
the delays that mark the softness of civilization.  There was no law on
the Yukon save what they made for themselves.  They were compelled to
make it for themselves.  It was in an early day that Red Cow flourished
on the Yukon—1887—and the Klondike and its populous stampedes lay in the
unguessed future.  The men of Red Cow did not even know whether their
camp was situated in Alaska or in the North-west Territory, whether they
drew breath under the stars and stripes or under the British flag.  No
surveyor had ever happened along to give them their latitude and
longitude.  Red Cow was situated somewhere along the Yukon, and that was
sufficient for them.  So far as flags were concerned, they were beyond
all jurisdiction.  So far as the law was concerned, they were in No-Man’s
land.

They made their own law, and it was very simple.  The Yukon executed
their decrees.  Some two thousand miles below Red Cow the Yukon flowed
into Bering Sea through a delta a hundred miles wide.  Every mile of
those two thousand miles was savage wilderness.  It was true, where the
Porcupine flowed into the Yukon inside the Arctic Circle there was a
Hudson Bay Company trading post.  But that was many hundreds of miles
away.  Also, it was rumoured that many hundreds of miles farther on there
were missions.  This last, however, was merely rumour; the men of Red Cow
had never been there.  They had entered the lone land by way of Chilcoot
and the head-waters of the Yukon.

The men of Red Cow ignored all minor offences.  To be drunk and
disorderly and to use vulgar language were looked upon as natural and
inalienable rights.  The men of Red Cow were individualists, and
recognized as sacred but two things, property and life.  There were no
women present to complicate their simple morality.  There were only three
log-cabins in Red Cow—the majority of the population of forty men living
in tents or brush shacks; and there was no jail in which to confine
malefactors, while the inhabitants were too busy digging gold or seeking
gold to take a day off and build a jail.  Besides, the paramount question
of grub negatived such a procedure.  Wherefore, when a man violated the
rights of property or life, he was thrown into an open boat and started
down the Yukon.  The quantity of grub he received was proportioned to the
gravity of the offence.  Thus, a common thief might get as much as two
weeks’ grub; an uncommon thief might get no more than half of that.  A
murderer got no grub at all.  A man found guilty of manslaughter would
receive grub for from three days to a week.  And Marcus O’Brien had been
elected judge, and it was he who apportioned the grub.  A man who broke
the law took his chances.  The Yukon swept him away, and he might or
might not win to Bering Sea.  A few days’ grub gave him a fighting
chance.  No grub meant practically capital punishment, though there was a
slim chance, all depending on the season of the year.

Having disposed of Arizona Jack and watched him out of sight, the
population turned from the bank and went to work on its claims—all except
Curly Jim, who ran the one faro layout in all the Northland and who
speculated in prospect-holes on the sides.  Two things happened that day
that were momentous.  In the late morning Marcus O’Brien struck it.  He
washed out a dollar, a dollar and a half, and two dollars, from three
successive pans.  He had found the streak.  Curly Jim looked into the
hole, washed a few pans himself, and offered O’Brien ten thousand dollars
for all rights—five thousand in dust, and, in lieu of the other five
thousand, a half interest in his faro layout.  O’Brien refused the offer.
He was there to make money out of the earth, he declared with heat, and
not out of his fellow-men.  And anyway, he didn’t like faro.  Besides, he
appraised his strike at a whole lot more than ten thousand.

The second event of moment occurred in the afternoon, when Siskiyou
Pearly ran his boat into the bank and tied up.  He was fresh from the
Outside, and had in his possession a four-months-old newspaper.
Furthermore, he had half a dozen barrels of whisky, all consigned to
Curly Jim.  The men of Red Cow quit work.  They sampled the whisky—at a
dollar a drink, weighed out on Curly’s scales; and they discussed the
news.  And all would have been well, had not Curly Jim conceived a
nefarious scheme, which was, namely, first to get Marcus O’Brien drunk,
and next, to buy his mine from him.

The first half of the scheme worked beautifully.  It began in the early
evening, and by nine o’clock O’Brien had reached the singing stage.  He
clung with one arm around Curly Jim’s neck, and even essayed the late
lamented Ferguson’s song about the little birds.  He considered he was
quite safe in this, what of the fact that the only man in camp with
artistic feelings was even then speeding down the Yukon on the breast of
a five-mile current.

But the second half of the scheme failed to connect.  No matter how much
whisky was poured down his neck, O’Brien could not be brought to realize
that it was his bounden and friendly duty to sell his claim.  He
hesitated, it is true, and trembled now and again on the verge of giving
in.  Inside his muddled head, however, he was chuckling to himself.  He
was up to Curly Jim’s game, and liked the hands that were being dealt
him.  The whisky was good.  It came out of one special barrel, and was
about a dozen times better than that in the other five barrels.

Siskiyou Pearly was dispensing drinks in the bar-room to the remainder of
the population of Red Cow, while O’Brien and Curly had out their business
orgy in the kitchen.  But there was nothing small about O’Brien.  He went
into the bar-room and returned with Mucluc Charley and Percy Leclaire.

“Business ’sociates of mine, business ’sociates,” he announced, with a
broad wink to them and a guileless grin to Curly.  “Always trust their
judgment, always trust ’em.  They’re all right.  Give ’em some
fire-water, Curly, an’ le’s talk it over.”

This was ringing in; but Curly Jim, making a swift revaluation of the
claim, and remembering that the last pan he washed had turned out seven
dollars, decided that it was worth the extra whisky, even if it was
selling in the other room at a dollar a drink.

“I’m not likely to consider,” O’Brien was hiccoughing to his two friends
in the course of explaining to them the question at issue.  “Who?
Me?—sell for ten thousand dollars!  No indeed.  I’ll dig the gold myself,
an’ then I’m goin’ down to God’s country—Southern California—that’s the
place for me to end my declinin’ days—an’ then I’ll start . . . as I said
before, then I’ll start . . . what did I say I was goin’ to start?”

“Ostrich farm,” Mucluc Charley volunteered.

“Sure, just what I’m goin’ to start.”  O’Brien abruptly steadied himself
and looked with awe at Mucluc Charley.  “How did you know?  Never said
so.  Jes’ thought I said so.  You’re a min’ reader, Charley.  Le’s have
another.”

Curly Jim filled the glasses and had the pleasure of seeing four dollars’
worth of whisky disappear, one dollar’s worth of which he punished
himself—O’Brien insisted that he should drink as frequently as his
guests.

“Better take the money now,” Leclaire argued.  “Take you two years to dig
it out the hole, an’ all that time you might be hatchin’ teeny little
baby ostriches an’ pulling feathers out the big ones.”

O’Brien considered the proposition and nodded approval.  Curly Jim looked
gratefully at Leclaire and refilled the glasses.

“Hold on there!” spluttered Mucluc Charley, whose tongue was beginning to
wag loosely and trip over itself.  “As your father confessor—there I
go—as your brother—O hell!”  He paused and collected himself for another
start.  “As your frien’—business frien’, I should say, I would suggest,
rather—I would take the liberty, as it was, to mention—I mean, suggest,
that there may be more ostriches . . . O hell!”  He downed another glass,
and went on more carefully.  “What I’m drivin’ at is . . . what am I
drivin’ at?”  He smote the side of his head sharply half a dozen times
with the heel of his palm to shake up his ideas.  “I got it!” he cried
jubilantly.  “Supposen there’s slathers more’n ten thousand dollars in
that hole!”

O’Brien, who apparently was all ready to close the bargain, switched
about.

“Great!” he cried.  “Splen’d idea.  Never thought of it all by myself.”
He took Mucluc Charley warmly by the hand.  “Good frien’!  Good
’s’ciate!”  He turned belligerently on Curly Jim.  “Maybe hundred
thousand dollars in that hole.  You wouldn’t rob your old frien’, would
you, Curly?  Course you wouldn’t.  I know you—better’n yourself, better’n
yourself.  Le’s have another: We’re good frien’s, all of us, I say, all
of us.”

And so it went, and so went the whisky, and so went Curly Jim’s hopes up
and down.  Now Leclaire argued in favour of immediate sale, and almost
won the reluctant O’Brien over, only to lose him to the more brilliant
counter-argument of Mucluc Charley.  And again, it was Mucluc Charley who
presented convincing reasons for the sale and Percy Leclaire who held
stubbornly back.  A little later it was O’Brien himself who insisted on
selling, while both friends, with tears and curses, strove to dissuade
him.  The more whiskey they downed, the more fertile of imagination they
became.  For one sober pro or con they found a score of drunken ones; and
they convinced one another so readily that they were perpetually changing
sides in the argument.

The time came when both Mucluc Charley and Leclaire were firmly set upon
the sale, and they gleefully obliterated O’Brien’s objections as fast as
he entered them.  O’Brien grew desperate.  He exhausted his last argument
and sat speechless.  He looked pleadingly at the friends who had deserted
him.  He kicked Mucluc Charley’s shins under the table, but that
graceless hero immediately unfolded a new and most logical reason for the
sale.  Curly Jim got pen and ink and paper and wrote out the bill of
sale.  O’Brien sat with pen poised in hand.

“Le’s have one more,” he pleaded.  “One more before I sign away a hundred
thousan’ dollars.”

Curly Jim filled the glasses triumphantly.  O’Brien downed his drink and
bent forward with wobbling pen to affix his signature.  Before he had
made more than a blot, he suddenly started up, impelled by the impact of
an idea colliding with his consciousness.  He stood upon his feet and
swayed back and forth before them, reflecting in his startled eyes the
thought process that was taking place behind.  Then he reached his
conclusion.  A benevolent radiance suffused his countenance.  He turned
to the faro dealer, took his hand, and spoke solemnly.

“Curly, you’re my frien’.  There’s my han’.  Shake.  Ol’ man, I won’t do
it.  Won’t sell.  Won’t rob a frien’.  No son-of-a-gun will ever have
chance to say Marcus O’Brien robbed frien’ cause frien’ was drunk.
You’re drunk, Curly, an’ I won’t rob you.  Jes’ had thought—never thought
it before—don’t know what the matter ’ith me, but never thought it
before.  Suppose, jes’ suppose, Curly, my ol’ frien’, jes’ suppose there
ain’t ten thousan’ in whole damn claim.  You’d be robbed.  No, sir; won’t
do it.  Marcus O’Brien makes money out of the groun’, not out of his
frien’s.”

Percy Leclaire and Mucluc Charley drowned the faro dealer’s objections in
applause for so noble a sentiment.  They fell upon O’Brien from either
side, their arms lovingly about his neck, their mouths so full of words
they could not hear Curly’s offer to insert a clause in the document to
the effect that if there weren’t ten thousand in the claim he would be
given back the difference between yield and purchase price.  The longer
they talked the more maudlin and the more noble the discussion became.
All sordid motives were banished.  They were a trio of philanthropists
striving to save Curly Jim from himself and his own philanthropy.  They
insisted that he was a philanthropist.  They refused to accept for a
moment that there could be found one ignoble thought in all the world.
They crawled and climbed and scrambled over high ethical plateaux and
ranges, or drowned themselves in metaphysical seas of sentimentality.

Curly Jim sweated and fumed and poured out the whisky.  He found himself
with a score of arguments on his hands, not one of which had anything to
do with the gold-mine he wanted to buy.  The longer they talked the
farther away they got from that gold-mine, and at two in the morning
Curly Jim acknowledged himself beaten.  One by one he led his helpless
guests across the kitchen floor and thrust them outside.  O’Brien came
last, and the three, with arms locked for mutual aid, titubated gravely
on the stoop.

“Good business man, Curly,” O’Brien was saying.  “Must say like your
style—fine an’ generous, free-handed hospital . . . hospital . . .
hospitality.  Credit to you.  Nothin’ base ’n graspin’ in your make-up.
As I was sayin’—”

But just then the faro dealer slammed the door.

The three laughed happily on the stoop.  They laughed for a long time.
Then Mucluc Charley essayed speech.

“Funny—laughed so hard—ain’t what I want to say.  My idea is . . . what
wash it?  Oh, got it!  Funny how ideas slip.  Elusive idea—chasin’
elusive idea—great sport.  Ever chase rabbits, Percy, my frien’?  I had
dog—great rabbit dog.  Whash ’is name?  Don’t know name—never had no
name—forget name—elusive name—chasin’ elusive name—no, idea—elusive idea,
but got it—what I want to say was—O hell!”

Thereafter there was silence for a long time.  O’Brien slipped from their
arms to a sitting posture on the stoop, where he slept gently.  Mucluc
Charley chased the elusive idea through all the nooks and crannies of his
drowning consciousness.  Leclaire hung fascinated upon the delayed
utterance.  Suddenly the other’s hand smote him on the back.

“Got it!” Mucluc Charley cried in stentorian tones.

The shock of the jolt broke the continuity of Leclaire’s mental process.

“How much to the pan?” he demanded.

“Pan nothin’!” Mucluc Charley was angry.  “Idea—got it—got leg-hold—ran
it down.”

Leclaire’s face took on a rapt, admiring expression, and again he hung
upon the other’s lips.

“ . . . O hell!” said Mucluc Charley.

At this moment the kitchen door opened for an instant, and Curly Jim
shouted, “Go home!”

“Funny,” said Mucluc Charley.  “Shame idea—very shame as mine.  Le’s go
home.”

They gathered O’Brien up between them and started.  Mucluc Charley began
aloud the pursuit of another idea.  Leclaire followed the pursuit with
enthusiasm.  But O’Brien did not follow it.  He neither heard, nor saw,
nor knew anything.  He was a mere wobbling automaton, supported
affectionately and precariously by his two business associates.

They took the path down by the bank of the Yukon.  Home did not lie that
way, but the elusive idea did.  Mucluc Charley giggled over the idea that
he could not catch for the edification of Leclaire.  They came to where
Siskiyou Pearly’s boat lay moored to the bank.  The rope with which it
was tied ran across the path to a pine stump.  They tripped over it and
went down, O’Brien underneath.  A faint flash of consciousness lighted
his brain.  He felt the impact of bodies upon his and struck out madly
for a moment with his fists.  Then he went to sleep again.  His gentle
snore arose on the air, and Mucluc Charley began to giggle.

“New idea,” he volunteered, “brand new idea.  Jes’ caught it—no trouble
at all.  Came right up an’ I patted it on the head.  It’s mine.  ’Brien’s
drunk—beashly drunk.  Shame—damn shame—learn’m lesshon.  Trash Pearly’s
boat.  Put ’Brien in Pearly’s boat.  Casht off—let her go down Yukon.
’Brien wake up in mornin’.  Current too strong—can’t row boat ’gainst
current—mush walk back.  Come back madder ’n hatter.  You an’ me headin’
for tall timber.  Learn ’m lesshon jes’ shame, learn ’m lesshon.”

Siskiyou Pearly’s boat was empty, save for a pair of oars.  Its gunwale
rubbed against the bank alongside of O’Brien.  They rolled him over into
it.  Mucluc Charley cast off the painter, and Leclaire shoved the boat
out into the current.  Then, exhausted by their labours, they lay down on
the bank and slept.

Next morning all Red Cow knew of the joke that had been played on Marcus
O’Brien.  There were some tall bets as to what would happen to the two
perpetrators when the victim arrived back.  In the afternoon a lookout
was set, so that they would know when he was sighted.  Everybody wanted
to see him come in.  But he didn’t come, though they sat up till
midnight.  Nor did he come next day, nor the next.  Red Cow never saw
Marcus O’Brien again, and though many conjectures were entertained, no
certain clue was ever gained to dispel the mystery of his passing.

                                * * * * *

Only Marcus O’Brien knew, and he never came back to tell.  He awoke next
morning in torment.  His stomach had been calcined by the inordinate
quantity of whisky he had drunk, and was a dry and raging furnace.  His
head ached all over, inside and out; and, worse than that, was the pain
in his face.  For six hours countless thousands of mosquitoes had fed
upon him, and their ungrateful poison had swollen his face tremendously.
It was only by a severe exertion of will that he was able to open narrow
slits in his face through which he could peer.  He happened to move his
hands, and they hurt.  He squinted at them, but failed to recognize them,
so puffed were they by the mosquito virus.  He was lost, or rather, his
identity was lost to him.  There was nothing familiar about him, which,
by association of ideas, would cause to rise in his consciousness the
continuity of his existence.  He was divorced utterly from his past, for
there was nothing about him to resurrect in his consciousness a memory of
that past.  Besides, he was so sick and miserable that he lacked energy
and inclination to seek after who and what he was.

It was not until he discovered a crook in a little finger, caused by an
unset breakage of years before, that he knew himself to be Marcus
O’Brien.  On the instant his past rushed into his consciousness.  When he
discovered a blood-blister under a thumb-nail, which he had received the
previous week, his self-identification became doubly sure, and he knew
that those unfamiliar hands belonged to Marcus O’Brien, or, just as much
to the point, that Marcus O’Brien belonged to the hands.  His first
thought was that he was ill—that he had had river fever.  It hurt him so
much to open his eyes that he kept them closed.  A small floating branch
struck the boat a sharp rap.  He thought it was some one knocking on the
cabin door, and said, “Come in.”  He waited for a while, and then said
testily, “Stay out, then, damn you.”  But just the same he wished they
would come in and tell him about his illness.

But as he lay there, the past night began to reconstruct itself in his
brain.  He hadn’t been sick at all, was his thought; he had merely been
drunk, and it was time for him to get up and go to work.  Work suggested
his mine, and he remembered that he had refused ten thousand dollars for
it.  He sat up abruptly and squeezed open his eyes.  He saw himself in a
boat, floating on the swollen brown flood of the Yukon.  The
spruce-covered shores and islands were unfamiliar.  He was stunned for a
time.  He couldn’t make it out.  He could remember the last night’s orgy,
but there was no connection between that and his present situation.

He closed his eyes and held his aching head in his hands.  What had
happened?  Slowly the dreadful thought arose in his mind.  He fought
against it, strove to drive it away, but it persisted: he had killed
somebody.  That alone could explain why he was in an open boat drifting
down the Yukon.  The law of Red Cow that he had so long administered had
now been administered to him.  He had killed some one and been set
adrift.  But whom?  He racked his aching brain for the answer, but all
that came was a vague memory of bodies falling upon him and of striking
out at them.  Who were they?  Maybe he had killed more than one.  He
reached to his belt.  The knife was missing from its sheath.  He had done
it with that undoubtedly.  But there must have been some reason for the
killing.  He opened his eyes and in a panic began to search about the
boat.  There was no grub, not an ounce of grub.  He sat down with a
groan.  He had killed without provocation.  The extreme rigour of the law
had been visited upon him.

For half an hour he remained motionless, holding his aching head and
trying to think.  Then he cooled his stomach with a drink of water from
overside and felt better.  He stood up, and alone on the wide-stretching
Yukon, with naught but the primeval wilderness to hear, he cursed strong
drink.  After that he tied up to a huge floating pine that was deeper
sunk in the current than the boat and that consequently drifted faster.
He washed his face and hands, sat down in the stern-sheets, and did some
more thinking.  It was late in June.  It was two thousand miles to Bering
Sea.  The boat was averaging five miles an hour.  There was no darkness
in such high latitudes at that time of the year, and he could run the
river every hour of the twenty-four.  This would mean, daily, a hundred
and twenty miles.  Strike out the twenty for accidents, and there
remained a hundred miles a day.  In twenty days he would reach Bering
Sea.  And this would involve no expenditure of energy; the river did the
work.  He could lie down in the bottom of the boat and husband his
strength.

For two days he ate nothing.  Then, drifting into the Yukon Flats, he
went ashore on the low-lying islands and gathered the eggs of wild geese
and ducks.  He had no matches, and ate the eggs raw.  They were strong,
but they kept him going.  When he crossed the Arctic Circle, he found the
Hudson Bay Company’s post.  The brigade had not yet arrived from the
Mackenzie, and the post was completely out of grub.  He was offered
wild-duck eggs, but he informed them that he had a bushel of the same on
the boat.  He was also offered a drink of whisky, which he refused with
an exhibition of violent repugnance.  He got matches, however, and after
that he cooked his eggs.  Toward the mouth of the river head-winds
delayed him, and he was twenty-four days on the egg diet.  Unfortunately,
while asleep he had drifted by both the missions of St. Paul and Holy
Cross.  And he could sincerely say, as he afterward did, that talk about
missions on the Yukon was all humbug.  There weren’t any missions, and he
was the man to know.

Once on Bering Sea he exchanged the egg diet for seal diet, and he never
could make up his mind which he liked least.  In the fall of the year he
was rescued by a United States revenue cutter, and the following winter
he made quite a hit in San Francisco as a temperance lecturer.  In this
field he found his vocation.  “Avoid the bottle” is his slogan and
battle-cry.  He manages subtly to convey the impression that in his own
life a great disaster was wrought by the bottle.  He has even mentioned
the loss of a fortune that was caused by that hell-bait of the devil, but
behind that incident his listeners feel the loom of some terrible and
unguessed evil for which the bottle is responsible.  He has made a
success in his vocation, and has grown grey and respected in the crusade
against strong drink.  But on the Yukon the passing of Marcus O’Brien
remains tradition.  It is a mystery that ranks at par with the
disappearance of Sir John Franklin.



THE WIT OF PORPORTUK


El-Soo had been a Mission girl.  Her mother had died when she was very
small, and Sister Alberta had plucked El-Soo as a brand from the burning,
one summer day, and carried her away to Holy Cross Mission and dedicated
her to God.  El-Soo was a full-blooded Indian, yet she exceeded all the
half-breed and quarter-breed girls.  Never had the good sisters dealt
with a girl so adaptable and at the same time so spirited.

El-Soo was quick, and deft, and intelligent; but above all she was fire,
the living flame of life, a blaze of personality that was compounded of
will, sweetness, and daring.  Her father was a chief, and his blood ran
in her veins.  Obedience, on the part of El-Soo, was a matter of terms
and arrangement.  She had a passion for equity, and perhaps it was
because of this that she excelled in mathematics.

But she excelled in other things.  She learned to read and write English
as no girl had ever learned in the Mission.  She led the girls in
singing, and into song she carried her sense of equity.  She was an
artist, and the fire of her flowed toward creation.  Had she from birth
enjoyed a more favourable environment, she would have made literature or
music.

Instead, she was El-Soo, daughter of Klakee-Nah, a chief, and she lived
in the Holy Cross Mission where were no artists, but only pure-souled
Sisters who were interested in cleanliness and righteousness and the
welfare of the spirit in the land of immortality that lay beyond the
skies.

The years passed.  She was eight years old when she entered the Mission;
she was sixteen, and the Sisters were corresponding with their superiors
in the Order concerning the sending of El-Soo to the United States to
complete her education, when a man of her own tribe arrived at Holy Cross
and had talk with her.  El-Soo was somewhat appalled by him.  He was
dirty.  He was a Caliban-like creature, primitively ugly, with a mop of
hair that had never been combed.  He looked at her disapprovingly and
refused to sit down.

“Thy brother is dead,” he said shortly.

El-Soo was not particularly shocked.  She remembered little of her
brother.  “Thy father is an old man, and alone,” the messenger went on.
“His house is large and empty, and he would hear thy voice and look upon
thee.”

Him she remembered—Klakee-Nah, the headman of the village, the friend of
the missionaries and the traders, a large man thewed like a giant, with
kindly eyes and masterful ways, and striding with a consciousness of
crude royalty in his carriage.

“Tell him that I will come,” was El-Soo’s answer.

Much to the despair of the Sisters, the brand plucked from the burning
went back to the burning.  All pleading with El-Soo was vain.  There was
much argument, expostulation, and weeping.  Sister Alberta even revealed
to her the project of sending her to the United States.  El-Soo stared
wide-eyed into the golden vista thus opened up to her, and shook her
head.  In her eyes persisted another vista.  It was the mighty curve of
the Yukon at Tana-naw Station.  With the St. George Mission on one side,
and the trading post on the other, and midway between the Indian village
and a certain large log house where lived an old man tended upon by
slaves.

All dwellers on the Yukon bank for twice a thousand miles knew the large
log house, the old man and the tending slaves; and well did the Sisters
know the house, its unending revelry, its feasting and its fun.  So there
was weeping at Holy Cross when El-Soo departed.

There was a great cleaning up in the large house when El-Soo arrived.
Klakee-Nah, himself masterful, protested at this masterful conduct of his
young daughter; but in the end, dreaming barbarically of magnificence, he
went forth and borrowed a thousand dollars from old Porportuk, than whom
there was no richer Indian on the Yukon.  Also, Klakee-Nah ran up a heavy
bill at the trading post.  El-Soo re-created the large house.  She
invested it with new splendour, while Klakee-Nah maintained its ancient
traditions of hospitality and revelry.

All this was unusual for a Yukon Indian, but Klakee-Nah was an unusual
Indian.  Not alone did he like to render inordinate hospitality, but,
what of being a chief and of acquiring much money, he was able to do it.
In the primitive trading days he had been a power over his people, and he
had dealt profitably with the white trading companies.  Later on, with
Porportuk, he had made a gold-strike on the Koyokuk River.  Klakee-Nah
was by training and nature an aristocrat.  Porportuk was bourgeois, and
Porportuk bought him out of the gold-mine.  Porportuk was content to plod
and accumulate.  Klakee-Nah went back to his large house and proceeded to
spend.  Porportuk was known as the richest Indian in Alaska.  Klakee-Nah
was known as the whitest.  Porportuk was a money-lender and a usurer.
Klakee-Nah was an anachronism—a mediæval ruin, a fighter and a feaster,
happy with wine and song.

El-Soo adapted herself to the large house and its ways as readily as she
had adapted herself to Holy Cross Mission and its ways.  She did not try
to reform her father and direct his footsteps toward God.  It is true,
she reproved him when he drank overmuch and profoundly, but that was for
the sake of his health and the direction of his footsteps on solid earth.

The latchstring to the large house was always out.  What with the coming
and the going, it was never still.  The rafters of the great living-room
shook with the roar of wassail and of song.  At table sat men from all
the world and chiefs from distant tribes—Englishmen and Colonials, lean
Yankee traders and rotund officials of the great companies, cowboys from
the Western ranges, sailors from the sea, hunters and dog-mushers of a
score of nationalities.

El-Soo drew breath in a cosmopolitan atmosphere.  She could speak English
as well as she could her native tongue, and she sang English songs and
ballads.  The passing Indian ceremonials she knew, and the perishing
traditions.  The tribal dress of the daughter of a chief she knew how to
wear upon occasion.  But for the most part she dressed as white women
dress.  Not for nothing was her needlework at the Mission and her innate
artistry.  She carried her clothes like a white woman, and she made
clothes that could be so carried.

In her way she was as unusual as her father, and the position she
occupied was as unique as his.  She was the one Indian woman who was the
social equal with the several white women at Tana-naw Station.  She was
the one Indian woman to whom white men honourably made proposals of
marriage.  And she was the one Indian woman whom no white man ever
insulted.

For El-Soo was beautiful—not as white women are beautiful, not as Indian
women are beautiful.  It was the flame of her, that did not depend upon
feature, that was her beauty.  So far as mere line and feature went, she
was the classic Indian type.  The black hair and the fine bronze were
hers, and the black eyes, brilliant and bold, keen as sword-light, proud;
and hers the delicate eagle nose with the thin, quivering nostrils, the
high cheek-bones that were not broad apart, and the thin lips that were
not too thin.  But over all and through all poured the flame of her—the
unanalysable something that was fire and that was the soul of her, that
lay mellow-warm or blazed in her eyes, that sprayed the cheeks of her,
that distended the nostrils, that curled the lips, or, when the lip was
in repose, that was still there in the lip, the lip palpitant with its
presence.

And El-Soo had wit—rarely sharp to hurt, yet quick to search out
forgivable weakness.  The laughter of her mind played like lambent flame
over all about her, and from all about her arose answering laughter.  Yet
she was never the centre of things.  This she would not permit.  The
large house, and all of which it was significant, was her father’s; and
through it, to the last, moved his heroic figure—host, master of the
revels, and giver of the law.  It is true, as the strength oozed from
him, that she caught up responsibilities from his failing hands.  But in
appearance he still ruled, dozing, ofttimes at the board, a bacchanalian
ruin, yet in all seeming the ruler of the feast.

And through the large house moved the figure of Porportuk, ominous, with
shaking head, coldly disapproving, paying for it all.  Not that he really
paid, for he compounded interest in weird ways, and year by year absorbed
the properties of Klakee-Nah.  Porportuk once took it upon himself to
chide El-Soo upon the wasteful way of life in the large house—it was when
he had about absorbed the last of Klakee-Nah’s wealth—but he never
ventured so to chide again.  El-Soo, like her father, was an aristocrat,
as disdainful of money as he, and with an equal sense of honour as finely
strung.

Porportuk continued grudgingly to advance money, and ever the money
flowed in golden foam away.  Upon one thing El-Soo was resolved—her
father should die as he had lived.  There should be for him no passing
from high to low, no diminution of the revels, no lessening of the lavish
hospitality.  When there was famine, as of old, the Indians came groaning
to the large house and went away content.  When there was famine and no
money, money was borrowed from Porportuk, and the Indians still went away
content.  El-Soo might well have repeated, after the aristocrats of
another time and place, that after her came the deluge.  In her case the
deluge was old Porportuk.  With every advance of money, he looked upon
her with a more possessive eye, and felt bourgeoning within him ancient
fires.

But El-Soo had no eyes for him.  Nor had she eyes for the white men who
wanted to marry her at the Mission with ring and priest and book.  For at
Tana-naw Station was a young man, Akoon, of her own blood, and tribe, and
village.  He was strong and beautiful to her eyes, a great hunter, and,
in that he had wandered far and much, very poor; he had been to all the
unknown wastes and places; he had journeyed to Sitka and to the United
States; he had crossed the continent to Hudson Bay and back again, and as
seal-hunter on a ship he had sailed to Siberia and for Japan.

When he returned from the gold-strike in Klondike he came, as was his
wont, to the large house to make report to old Klakee-Nah of all the
world that he had seen; and there he first saw El-Soo, three years back
from the Mission.  Thereat, Akoon wandered no more.  He refused a wage of
twenty dollars a day as pilot on the big steamboats.  He hunted some and
fished some, but never far from Tana-naw Station, and he was at the large
house often and long.  And El-Soo measured him against many men and found
him good.  He sang songs to her, and was ardent and glowed until all
Tana-naw Station knew he loved her.  And Porportuk but grinned and
advanced more money for the upkeep of the large house.

Then came the death table of Klakee-Nah.

He sat at feast, with death in his throat, that he could not drown with
wine.  And laughter and joke and song went around, and Akoon told a story
that made the rafters echo.  There were no tears or sighs at that table.
It was no more than fit that Klakee-Nah should die as he had lived, and
none knew this better than El-Soo, with her artist sympathy.  The old
roystering crowd was there, and, as of old, three frost-bitten sailors
were there, fresh from the long traverse from the Arctic, survivors of a
ship’s company of seventy-four.  At Klakee-Nah’s back were four old men,
all that were left him of the slaves of his youth.  With rheumy eyes they
saw to his needs, with palsied hands filling his glass or striking him on
the back between the shoulders when death stirred and he coughed and
gasped.

It was a wild night, and as the hours passed and the fun laughed and
roared along, death stirred more restlessly in Klakee-Nah’s throat.  Then
it was that he sent for Porportuk.  And Porportuk came in from the
outside frost to look with disapproving eyes upon the meat and wine on
the table for which he had paid.  But as he looked down the length of
flushed faces to the far end and saw the face of El-Soo, the light in his
eyes flared up, and for a moment the disapproval vanished.

Place was made for him at Klakee-Nah’s side, and a glass placed before
him.  Klakee-Nah, with his own hands, filled the glass with fervent
spirits.  “Drink!” he cried.  “Is it not good?”

And Porportuk’s eyes watered as he nodded his head and smacked his lips.

“When, in your own house, have you had such drink?” Klakee-Nah demanded.

“I will not deny that the drink is good to this old throat of mine,”
Porportuk made answer, and hesitated for the speech to complete the
thought.

“But it costs overmuch,” Klakee-Nah roared, completing it for him.

Porportuk winced at the laughter that went down the table.  His eyes
burned malevolently.  “We were boys together, of the same age,” he said.
“In your throat is death.  I am still alive and strong.”

An ominous murmur arose from the company.  Klakee-Nah coughed and
strangled, and the old slaves smote him between the shoulders.  He
emerged gasping, and waved his hand to still the threatening rumble.

“You have grudged the very fire in your house because the wood cost
overmuch!” he cried.  “You have grudged life.  To live cost overmuch, and
you have refused to pay the price.  Your life has been like a cabin where
the fire is out and there are no blankets on the floor.”  He signalled to
a slave to fill his glass, which he held aloft.  “But I have lived.  And
I have been warm with life as you have never been warm.  It is true, you
shall live long.  But the longest nights are the cold nights when a man
shivers and lies awake.  My nights have been short, but I have slept
warm.”

He drained the glass.  The shaking hand of a slave failed to catch it as
it crashed to the floor.  Klakee-Nah sank back, panting, watching the
upturned glasses at the lips of the drinkers, his own lips slightly
smiling to the applause.  At a sign, two slaves attempted to help him sit
upright again.  But they were weak, his frame was mighty, and the four
old men tottered and shook as they helped him forward.

“But manner of life is neither here nor there,” he went on.  “We have
other business, Porportuk, you and I, to-night.  Debts are mischances,
and I am in mischance with you.  What of my debt, and how great is it?”

Porportuk searched in his pouch and brought forth a memorandum.  He
sipped at his glass and began.  “There is the note of August, 1889, for
three hundred dollars.  The interest has never been paid.  And the note
of the next year for five hundred dollars.  This note was included in the
note of two months later for a thousand dollars.  Then there is the
note—”

“Never mind the many notes!” Klakee-Nah cried out impatiently.  “They
make my head go around and all the things inside my head.  The whole!
The round whole!  How much is it?”

Porportuk referred to his memorandum.  “Fifteen thousand nine hundred and
sixty-seven dollars and seventy-five cents,” he read with careful
precision.

“Make it sixteen thousand, make it sixteen thousand,” Klakee-Nah said
grandly.  “Odd numbers were ever a worry.  And now—and it is for this
that I have sent for you—make me out a new note for sixteen thousand,
which I shall sign.  I have no thought of the interest.  Make it as large
as you will, and make it payable in the next world, when I shall meet you
by the fire of the Great Father of all Indians.  Then the note will be
paid.  This I promise you.  It is the word of Klakee-Nah.”

Porportuk looked perplexed, and loudly the laughter arose and shook the
room.  Klakee-Nah raised his hands.  “Nay,” he cried.  “It is not a joke.
I but speak in fairness.  It was for this I sent for you, Porportuk.
Make out the note.”

“I have no dealings with the next world,” Porportuk made answer slowly.

“Have you no thought to meet me before the Great Father!” Klakee-Nah
demanded.  Then he added, “I shall surely be there.”

“I have no dealings with the next world,” Porportuk repeated sourly.

The dying man regarded him with frank amazement.

“I know naught of the next world,” Porportuk explained.  “I do business
in this world.”

Klakee-Nah’s face cleared.  “This comes of sleeping cold of nights,” he
laughed.  He pondered for a space, then said, “It is in this world that
you must be paid.  There remains to me this house.  Take it, and burn the
debt in the candle there.”

“It is an old house and not worth the money,” Porportuk made answer.

“There are my mines on the Twisted Salmon.”

“They have never paid to work,” was the reply.

“There is my share in the steamer _Koyokuk_.  I am half owner.”

“She is at the bottom of the Yukon.”

Klakee-Nah started.  “True, I forgot.  It was last spring when the ice
went out.”  He mused for a time while the glasses remained untasted, and
all the company waited upon his utterance.

“Then it would seem I owe you a sum of money which I cannot pay . . . in
this world?”  Porportuk nodded and glanced down the table.

“Then it would seem that you, Porportuk, are a poor business man,”
Klakee-Nah said slyly.  And boldly Porportuk made answer, “No; there is
security yet untouched.”

“What!” cried Klakee-Nah.  “Have I still property?  Name it, and it is
yours, and the debt is no more.”

“There it is.”  Porportuk pointed at El-Soo.

Klakee-Nah could not understand.  He peered down the table, brushed his
eyes, and peered again.

“Your daughter, El-Soo—her will I take and the debt be no more.  I will
burn the debt there in the candle.”

Klakee-Nah’s great chest began to heave.  “Ho! ho!—a joke.  Ho! ho! ho!”
he laughed Homerically.  “And with your cold bed and daughters old enough
to be the mother of El-Soo!  Ho! ho! ho!”  He began to cough and
strangle, and the old slaves smote him on the back.  “Ho! ho!” he began
again, and went off into another paroxysm.

Porportuk waited patiently, sipping from his glass and studying the
double row of faces down the board.  “It is no joke,” he said finally.
“My speech is well meant.”

Klakee-Nah sobered and looked at him, then reached for his glass, but
could not touch it.  A slave passed it to him, and glass and liquor he
flung into the face of Porportuk.

“Turn him out!” Klakee-Nah thundered to the waiting table that strained
like a pack of hounds in leash.  “And roll him in the snow!”

As the mad riot swept past him and out of doors, he signalled to the
slaves, and the four tottering old men supported him on his feet as he
met the returning revellers, upright, glass in hand, pledging them a
toast to the short night when a man sleeps warm.

It did not take long to settle the estate of Klakee-Nah.  Tommy, the
little Englishman, clerk at the trading post, was called in by El-Soo to
help.  There was nothing but debts, notes overdue, mortgaged properties,
and properties mortgaged but worthless.  Notes and mortgages were held by
Porportuk.  Tommy called him a robber many times as he pondered the
compounding of the interest.

“Is it a debt, Tommy?” El-Soo asked.

“It is a robbery,” Tommy answered.

“Nevertheless, it is a debt,” she persisted.

The winter wore away, and the early spring, and still the claims of
Porportuk remained unpaid.  He saw El-Soo often and explained to her at
length, as he had explained to her father, the way the debt could be
cancelled.  Also, he brought with him old medicine-men, who elaborated to
her the everlasting damnation of her father if the debt were not paid.
One day, after such an elaboration, El-Soo made final announcement to
Porportuk.

“I shall tell you two things,” she said.  “First I shall not be your
wife.  Will you remember that?  Second, you shall be paid the last cent
of the sixteen thousand dollars—”

“Fifteen thousand nine hundred and sixty-seven dollars and seventy-five
cents,” Porportuk corrected.

“My father said sixteen thousand,” was her reply.  “You shall be paid.”

“How?”

“I know not how, but I shall find out how.  Now go, and bother me no
more.  If you do”—she hesitated to find fitting penalty—“if you do, I
shall have you rolled in the snow again as soon as the first snow flies.”

This was still in the early spring, and a little later El-Soo surprised
the country.  Word went up and down the Yukon from Chilcoot to the Delta,
and was carried from camp to camp to the farthermost camps, that in June,
when the first salmon ran, El-Soo, daughter of Klakee-Nah, would sell
herself at public auction to satisfy the claims of Porportuk.  Vain were
the attempts to dissuade her.  The missionary at St. George wrestled with
her, but she replied—

“Only the debts to God are settled in the next world.  The debts of men
are of this world, and in this world are they settled.”

Akoon wrestled with her, but she replied, “I do love thee, Akoon; but
honour is greater than love, and who am I that I should blacken my
father?”  Sister Alberta journeyed all the way up from Holy Cross on the
first steamer, and to no better end.

“My father wanders in the thick and endless forests,” said El-Soo.  “And
there will he wander, with the lost souls crying, till the debt be paid.
Then, and not until then, may he go on to the house of the Great Father.”

“And you believe this?” Sister Alberta asked.

“I do not know,” El-Soo made answer.  “It was my father’s belief.”

Sister Alberta shrugged her shoulders incredulously.

“Who knows but that the things we believe come true?” El-Soo went on.
“Why not?  The next world to you may be heaven and harps . . . because
you have believed heaven and harps; to my father the next world may be a
large house where he will sit always at table feasting with God.”

“And you?” Sister Alberta asked.  “What is your next world?”

El-Soo hesitated but for a moment.  “I should like a little of both,” she
said.  “I should like to see your face as well as the face of my father.”

The day of the auction came.  Tana-naw Station was populous.  As was
their custom, the tribes had gathered to await the salmon-run, and in the
meantime spent the time in dancing and frolicking, trading and gossiping.
Then there was the ordinary sprinkling of white adventurers, traders, and
prospectors, and, in addition, a large number of white men who had come
because of curiosity or interest in the affair.

It had been a backward spring, and the salmon were late in running.  This
delay but keyed up the interest.  Then, on the day of the auction, the
situation was made tense by Akoon.  He arose and made public and solemn
announcement that whosoever bought El-Soo would forthwith and immediately
die.  He flourished the Winchester in his hand to indicate the manner of
the taking-off.  El-Soo was angered thereat; but he refused to speak with
her, and went to the trading post to lay in extra ammunition.

The first salmon was caught at ten o’clock in the evening, and at
midnight the auction began.  It took place on top of the high bank
alongside the Yukon.  The sun was due north just below the horizon, and
the sky was lurid red.  A great crowd gathered about the table and the
two chairs that stood near the edge of the bank.  To the fore were many
white men and several chiefs.  And most prominently to the fore, rifle in
hand, stood Akoon.  Tommy, at El-Soo’s request, served as auctioneer, but
she made the opening speech and described the goods about to be sold.
She was in native costume, in the dress of a chief’s daughter, splendid
and barbaric, and she stood on a chair, that she might be seen to
advantage.

“Who will buy a wife?” she asked.  “Look at me.  I am twenty years old
and a maid.  I will be a good wife to the man who buys me.  If he is a
white man, I shall dress in the fashion of white women; if he is an
Indian, I shall dress as”—she hesitated a moment—“a squaw.  I can make my
own clothes, and sew, and wash, and mend.  I was taught for eight years
to do these things at Holy Cross Mission.  I can read and write English,
and I know how to play the organ.  Also I can do arithmetic and some
algebra—a little.  I shall be sold to the highest bidder, and to him I
will make out a bill of sale of myself.  I forgot to say that I can sing
very well, and that I have never been sick in my life.  I weigh one
hundred and thirty-two pounds; my father is dead and I have no relatives.
Who wants me?”

She looked over the crowd with flaming audacity and stepped down.  At
Tommy’s request she stood upon the chair again, while he mounted the
second chair and started the bidding.

Surrounding El-Soo stood the four old slaves of her father.  They were
age-twisted and palsied, faithful to their meat, a generation out of the
past that watched unmoved the antics of younger life.  In the front of
the crowd were several Eldorado and Bonanza kings from the Upper Yukon,
and beside them, on crutches, swollen with scurvy, were two broken
prospectors.  From the midst of the crowd, thrust out by its own
vividness, appeared the face of a wild-eyed squaw from the remote regions
of the Upper Tana-naw; a strayed Sitkan from the coast stood side by side
with a Stick from Lake Le Barge, and, beyond, a half-dozen
French-Canadian voyageurs, grouped by themselves.  From afar came the
faint cries of myriads of wild-fowl on the nesting-grounds.  Swallows
were skimming up overhead from the placid surface of the Yukon, and
robins were singing.  The oblique rays of the hidden sun shot through the
smoke, high-dissipated from forest fires a thousand miles away, and
turned the heavens to sombre red, while the earth shone red in the
reflected glow.  This red glow shone in the faces of all, and made
everything seem unearthly and unreal.

The bidding began slowly.  The Sitkan, who was a stranger in the land and
who had arrived only half an hour before, offered one hundred dollars in
a confident voice, and was surprised when Akoon turned threateningly upon
him with the rifle.  The bidding dragged.  An Indian from the Tozikakat,
a pilot, bid one hundred and fifty, and after some time a gambler, who
had been ordered out of the Upper Country, raised the bid to two hundred.
El-Soo was saddened; her pride was hurt; but the only effect was that she
flamed more audaciously upon the crowd.

There was a disturbance among the onlookers as Porportuk forced his way
to the front.  “Five hundred dollars!” he bid in a loud voice, then
looked about him proudly to note the effect.

He was minded to use his great wealth as a bludgeon with which to stun
all competition at the start.  But one of the voyageurs, looking on
El-Soo with sparkling eyes, raised the bid a hundred.

“Seven hundred!” Porportuk returned promptly.

And with equal promptness came the “Eight hundred” of the voyageur.

Then Porportuk swung his club again.

“Twelve hundred!” he shouted.

With a look of poignant disappointment, the voyageur succumbed.  There
was no further bidding.  Tommy worked hard, but could not elicit a bid.

El-Soo spoke to Porportuk.  “It were good, Porportuk, for you to weigh
well your bid.  Have you forgotten the thing I told you—that I would
never marry you!”

“It is a public auction,” he retorted.  “I shall buy you with a bill of
sale.  I have offered twelve hundred dollars.  You come cheap.”

“Too damned cheap!” Tommy cried.  “What if I am auctioneer?  That does
not prevent me from bidding.  I’ll make it thirteen hundred.”

“Fourteen hundred,” from Porportuk.

“I’ll buy you in to be my—my sister,” Tommy whispered to El-Soo, then
called aloud, “Fifteen hundred!”

At two thousand one of the Eldorado kings took a hand, and Tommy dropped
out.

A third time Porportuk swung the club of his wealth, making a clean raise
of five hundred dollars.  But the Eldorado king’s pride was touched.  No
man could club him.  And he swung back another five hundred.

El-Soo stood at three thousand.  Porportuk made it thirty-five hundred,
and gasped when the Eldorado king raised it a thousand dollars.
Porportuk again raised it five hundred, and again gasped when the king
raised a thousand more.

Porportuk became angry.  His pride was touched; his strength was
challenged, and with him strength took the form of wealth.  He would not
be ashamed for weakness before the world.  El-Soo became incidental.  The
savings and scrimpings from the cold nights of all his years were ripe to
be squandered.  El-Soo stood at six thousand.  He made it seven thousand.
And then, in thousand-dollar bids, as fast as they could be uttered, her
price went up.  At fourteen thousand the two men stopped for breath.

Then the unexpected happened.  A still heavier club was swung.  In the
pause that ensued, the gambler, who had scented a speculation and formed
a syndicate with several of his fellows, bid sixteen thousand dollars.

“Seventeen thousand,” Porportuk said weakly.

“Eighteen thousand,” said the king.

Porportuk gathered his strength.  “Twenty thousand.”

The syndicate dropped out.  The Eldorado king raised a thousand, and
Porportuk raised back; and as they bid, Akoon turned from one to the
other, half menacingly, half curiously, as though to see what manner of
man it was that he would have to kill.  When the king prepared to make
his next bid, Akoon having pressed closer, the king first loosed the
revolver at his hip, then said:

“Twenty-three thousand.”

“Twenty-four thousand,” said Porportuk.  He grinned viciously, for the
certitude of his bidding had at last shaken the king.  The latter moved
over close to El-Soo.  He studied her carefully for a long while.

“And five hundred,” he said at last.

“Twenty-five thousand,” came Porportuk’s raise.

The king looked for a long space, and shook his head.  He looked again,
and said reluctantly, “And five hundred.”

“Twenty-six thousand,” Porportuk snapped.

The king shook his head and refused to meet Tommy’s pleading eye.  In the
meantime Akoon had edged close to Porportuk.  El-Soo’s quick eye noted
this, and, while Tommy wrestled with the Eldorado king for another bid,
she bent, and spoke in a low voice in the ear of a slave.  And while
Tommy’s “Going—going—going—” dominated the air, the slave went up to
Akoon and spoke in a low voice in his ear.  Akoon made no sign that he
had heard, though El-Soo watched him anxiously.

“Gone!” Tommy’s voice rang out.  “To Porportuk, for twenty-six thousand
dollars.”

Porportuk glanced uneasily at Akoon.  All eyes were centred upon Akoon,
but he did nothing.

“Let the scales be brought,” said El-Soo.

“I shall make payment at my house,” said Porportuk.

“Let the scales be brought,” El-Soo repeated.  “Payment shall be made
here where all can see.”

So the gold scales were brought from the trading post, while Porportuk
went away and came back with a man at his heels, on whose shoulders was a
weight of gold-dust in moose-hide sacks.  Also, at Porportuk’s back,
walked another man with a rifle, who had eyes only for Akoon.

“Here are the notes and mortgages,” said Porportuk, “for fifteen thousand
nine hundred and sixty-seven dollars and seventy-five cents.”

El-Soo received them into her hands and said to Tommy, “Let them be
reckoned as sixteen thousand.”

“There remains ten thousand dollars to be paid in gold,” Tommy said.

Porportuk nodded, and untied the mouths of the sacks.  El-Soo, standing
at the edge of the bank, tore the papers to shreds and sent them
fluttering out over the Yukon.  The weighing began, but halted.

“Of course, at seventeen dollars,” Porportuk had said to Tommy, as he
adjusted the scales.

“At sixteen dollars,” El-Soo said sharply.

“It is the custom of all the land to reckon gold at seventeen dollars for
each ounce,” Porportuk replied.  “And this is a business transaction.”

El-Soo laughed.  “It is a new custom,” she said.  “It began this spring.
Last year, and the years before, it was sixteen dollars an ounce.  When
my father’s debt was made, it was sixteen dollars.  When he spent at the
store the money he got from you, for one ounce he was given sixteen
dollars’ worth of flour, not seventeen.  Wherefore, shall you pay for me
at sixteen, and not at seventeen.”  Porportuk grunted and allowed the
weighing to proceed.

“Weigh it in three piles, Tommy,” she said.  “A thousand dollars here,
three thousand here, and here six thousand.”

It was slow work, and, while the weighing went on, Akoon was closely
watched by all.

“He but waits till the money is paid,” one said; and the word went around
and was accepted, and they waited for what Akoon should do when the money
was paid.  And Porportuk’s man with the rifle waited and watched Akoon.

The weighing was finished, and the gold-dust lay on the table in three
dark-yellow heaps.  “There is a debt of my father to the Company for
three thousand dollars,” said El-Soo.  “Take it, Tommy, for the Company.
And here are four old men, Tommy.  You know them.  And here is one
thousand dollars.  Take it, and see that the old men are never hungry and
never without tobacco.”

Tommy scooped the gold into separate sacks.  Six thousand dollars
remained on the table.  El-Soo thrust the scoop into the heap, and with a
sudden turn whirled the contents out and down to the Yukon in a golden
shower.  Porportuk seized her wrist as she thrust the scoop a second time
into the heap.

“It is mine,” she said calmly.  Porportuk released his grip, but he
gritted his teeth and scowled darkly as she continued to scoop the gold
into the river till none was left.

The crowd had eyes for naught but Akoon, and the rifle of Porportuk’s man
lay across the hollow of his arm, the muzzle directed at Akoon a yard
away, the man’s thumb on the hammer.  But Akoon did nothing.

“Make out the bill of sale,” Porportuk said grimly.

And Tommy made out the till of sale, wherein all right and title in the
woman El-Soo was vested in the man Porportuk.  El-Soo signed the
document, and Porportuk folded it and put it away in his pouch.  Suddenly
his eyes flashed, and in sudden speech he addressed El-Soo.

“But it was not your father’s debt,” he said, “What I paid was the price
for you.  Your sale is business of to-day and not of last year and the
years before.  The ounces paid for you will buy at the post to-day
seventeen dollars of flour, and not sixteen.  I have lost a dollar on
each ounce.  I have lost six hundred and twenty-five dollars.”

El-Soo thought for a moment, and saw the error she had made.  She smiled,
and then she laughed.

“You are right,” she laughed, “I made a mistake.  But it is too late.
You have paid, and the gold is gone.  You did not think quick.  It is
your loss.  Your wit is slow these days, Porportuk.  You are getting
old.”

He did not answer.  He glanced uneasily at Akoon, and was reassured.  His
lips tightened, and a hint of cruelty came into his face.  “Come,” he
said, “we will go to my house.”

“Do you remember the two things I told you in the spring?” El-Soo asked,
making no movement to accompany him.

“My head would be full with the things women say, did I heed them,” he
answered.

“I told you that you would be paid,” El-Soo went on carefully.  “And I
told you that I would never be your wife.”

“But that was before the bill of sale.”  Porportuk crackled the paper
between his fingers inside the pouch.  “I have bought you before all the
world.  You belong to me.  You will not deny that you belong to me.”

“I belong to you,” El-Soo said steadily.

“I own you.”

“You own me.”

Porportuk’s voice rose slightly and triumphantly.  “As a dog, I own you.”

“As a dog you own me,” El-Soo continued calmly.  “But, Porportuk, you
forget the thing I told you.  Had any other man bought me, I should have
been that man’s wife.  I should have been a good wife to that man.  Such
was my will.  But my will with you was that I should never be your wife.
Wherefore, I am your dog.”

Porportuk knew that he played with fire, and he resolved to play firmly.
“Then I speak to you, not as El-Soo, but as a dog,” he said; “and I tell
you to come with me.”  He half reached to grip her arm, but with a
gesture she held him back.

“Not so fast, Porportuk.  You buy a dog.  The dog runs away.  It is your
loss.  I am your dog.  What if I run away?”

“As the owner of the dog, I shall beat you—”

“When you catch me?”

“When I catch you.”

“Then catch me.”

He reached swiftly for her, but she eluded him.  She laughed as she
circled around the table.  “Catch her!” Porportuk commanded the Indian
with the rifle, who stood near to her.  But as the Indian stretched forth
his arm to her, the Eldorado king felled him with a fist blow under the
ear.  The rifle clattered to the ground.  Then was Akoon’s chance.  His
eyes glittered, but he did nothing.

Porportuk was an old man, but his cold nights retained for him his
activity.  He did not circle the table.  He came across suddenly, over
the top of the table.  El-Soo was taken off her guard.  She sprang back
with a sharp cry of alarm, and Porportuk would have caught her had it not
been for Tommy.  Tommy’s leg went out, Porportuk tripped and pitched
forward on the ground.  El-Soo got her start.

“Then catch me,” she laughed over her shoulder, as she fled away.

She ran lightly and easily, but Porportuk ran swiftly and savagely.  He
outran her.  In his youth he had been swiftest of all the young men.  But
El-Soo dodged in a willowy, elusive way.  Being in native dress, her feet
were not cluttered with skirts, and her pliant body curved a flight that
defied the gripping fingers of Porportuk.

With laughter and tumult, the great crowd scattered out to see the chase.
It led through the Indian encampment; and ever dodging, circling, and
reversing, El-Soo and Porportuk appeared and disappeared among the tents.
El-Soo seemed to balance herself against the air with her arms, now one
side, now on the other, and sometimes her body, too, leaned out upon the
air far from the perpendicular as she achieved her sharpest curves.  And
Porportuk, always a leap behind, or a leap this side or that, like a lean
hound strained after her.

They crossed the open ground beyond the encampment and disappeared in the
forest.  Tana-naw Station waited their reappearance, and long and vainly
it waited.

In the meantime Akoon ate and slept, and lingered much at the steamboat
landing, deaf to the rising resentment of Tana-naw Station in that he did
nothing.  Twenty-four hours later Porportuk returned.  He was tired and
savage.  He spoke to no one but Akoon, and with him tried to pick a
quarrel.  But Akoon shrugged his shoulders and walked away.  Porportuk
did not waste time.  He outfitted half a dozen of the young men,
selecting the best trackers and travellers, and at their head plunged
into the forest.

Next day the steamer _Seattle_, bound up river, pulled in to the shore
and wooded up.  When the lines were cast off and she churned out from the
bank, Akoon was on board in the pilot-house.  Not many hours afterward,
when it was his turn at the wheel, he saw a small birch-bark canoe put
off from the shore.  There was only one person in it.  He studied it
carefully, put the wheel over, and slowed down.

The captain entered the pilot-house.  “What’s the matter?” he demanded.
“The water’s good.”

Akoon grunted.  He saw a larger canoe leaving the bank, and in it were a
number of persons.  As the _Seattle_ lost headway, he put the wheel over
some more.

The captain fumed.  “It’s only a squaw,” he protested.

Akoon did not grunt.  He was all eyes for the squaw and the pursuing
canoe.  In the latter six paddles were flashing, while the squaw paddled
slowly.

“You’ll be aground,” the captain protested, seizing the wheel.

But Akoon countered his strength on the wheel and looked him in the eyes.
The captain slowly released the spokes.

“Queer beggar,” he sniffed to himself.

Akoon held the _Seattle_ on the edge of the shoal water and waited till
he saw the squaw’s fingers clutch the forward rail.  Then he signalled
for full speed ahead and ground the wheel over.  The large canoe was very
near, but the gap between it and the steamer was widening.

The squaw laughed and leaned over the rail.

“Then catch me, Porportuk!” she cried.

Akoon left the steamer at Fort Yukon.  He outfitted a small poling-boat
and went up the Porcupine River.  And with him went El-Soo.  It was a
weary journey, and the way led across the backbone of the world; but
Akoon had travelled it before.  When they came to the head-waters of the
Porcupine, they left the boat and went on foot across the Rocky
Mountains.

Akoon greatly liked to walk behind El-Soo and watch the movements of her.
There was a music in it that he loved.  And especially he loved the
well-rounded calves in their sheaths of soft-tanned leather, the slim
ankles, and the small moccasined feet that were tireless through the
longest days.

“You are light as air,” he said, looking up at her.  “It is no labour for
you to walk.  You almost float, so lightly do your feet rise and fall.
You are like a deer, El-Soo; you are like a deer, and your eyes are like
deer’s eyes, sometimes when you look at me, or when you hear a quick
sound and wonder if it be danger that stirs.  Your eyes are like a deer’s
eyes now as you look at me.”

And El-Soo, luminous and melting, bent and kissed Akoon.

“When we reach the Mackenzie, we will not delay,” Akoon said later.  “We
will go south before the winter catches us.  We will go to the sunlands
where there is no snow.  But we will return.  I have seen much of the
world, and there is no land like Alaska, no sun like our sun, and the
snow is good after the long summer.”

“And you will learn to read,” said El-Soo.

And Akoon said, “I will surely learn to read.”  But there was delay when
they reached the Mackenzie.  They fell in with a band of Mackenzie
Indians, and, hunting, Akoon was shot by accident.  The rifle was in the
hands of a youth.  The bullet broke Akoon’s right arm and, ranging
farther, broke two of his ribs.  Akoon knew rough surgery, while El-Soo
had learned some refinements at Holy Cross.  The bones were finally set,
and Akoon lay by the fire for them to knit.  Also, he lay by the fire so
that the smoke would keep the mosquitoes away.

Then it was that Porportuk, with his six young men, arrived.  Akoon
groaned in his helplessness and made appeal to the Mackenzies.  But
Porportuk made demand, and the Mackenzies were perplexed.  Porportuk was
for seizing upon El-Soo, but this they would not permit.  Judgment must
be given, and, as it was an affair of man and woman, the council of the
old men was called—this that warm judgment might not be given by the
young men, who were warm of heart.

The old men sat in a circle about the smudge-fire.  Their faces were lean
and wrinkled, and they gasped and panted for air.  The smoke was not good
for them.  Occasionally they struck with withered hands at the mosquitoes
that braved the smoke.  After such exertion they coughed hollowly and
painfully.  Some spat blood, and one of them sat a bit apart with head
bowed forward, and bled slowly and continuously at the mouth; the
coughing sickness had gripped them.  They were as dead men; their time
was short.  It was a judgment of the dead.

“And I paid for her a heavy price,” Porportuk concluded his complaint.
“Such a price you have never seen.  Sell all that is yours—sell your
spears and arrows and rifles, sell your skins and furs, sell your tents
and boats and dogs, sell everything, and you will not have maybe a
thousand dollars.  Yet did I pay for the woman, El-Soo, twenty-six times
the price of all your spears and arrows and rifles, your skins and furs,
your tents and boats and dogs.  It was a heavy price.”

The old men nodded gravely, though their weazened eye-slits widened with
wonder that any woman should be worth such a price.  The one that bled at
the mouth wiped his lips.  “Is it true talk?” he asked each of
Porportuk’s six young men.  And each answered that it was true.

“Is it true talk?” he asked El-Soo, and she answered, “It is true.”

“But Porportuk has not told that he is an old man,” Akoon said, “and that
he has daughters older than El-Soo.”

“It is true, Porportuk is an old man,” said El-Soo.

“It is for Porportuk to measure the strength his age,” said he who bled
at the mouth.  “We be old men.  Behold!  Age is never so old as youth
would measure it.”

And the circle of old men champed their gums, and nodded approvingly, and
coughed.

“I told him that I would never be his wife,” said El-Soo.

“Yet you took from him twenty-six times all that we possess?” asked a
one-eyed old man.

El-Soo was silent.

“It is true?”  And his one eye burned and bored into her like a fiery
gimlet.

“It is true,” she said.

“But I will run away again,” she broke out passionately, a moment later.
“Always will I run away.”

“That is for Porportuk to consider,” said another of the old men.  “It is
for us to consider the judgment.”

“What price did you pay for her?” was demanded of Akoon.

“No price did I pay for her,” he answered.  “She was above price.  I did
not measure her in gold-dust, nor in dogs, and tents, and furs.”

The old men debated among themselves and mumbled in undertones.  “These
old men are ice,” Akoon said in English.  “I will not listen to their
judgment, Porportuk.  If you take El-Soo, I will surely kill you.”

The old men ceased and regarded him suspiciously.  “We do not know the
speech you make,” one said.

“He but said that he would kill me,” Porportuk volunteered.  “So it were
well to take from him his rifle, and to have some of your young men sit
by him, that he may not do me hurt.  He is a young man, and what are
broken bones to youth!”

Akoon, lying helpless, had rifle and knife taken from him, and to either
side of his shoulders sat young men of the Mackenzies.  The one-eyed old
man arose and stood upright.  “We marvel at the price paid for one mere
woman,” he began; “but the wisdom of the price is no concern of ours.  We
are here to give judgment, and judgment we give.  We have no doubt.  It
is known to all that Porportuk paid a heavy price for the woman El-Soo.
Wherefore does the woman El-Soo belong to Porportuk and none other.”  He
sat down heavily, and coughed.  The old men nodded and coughed.

“I will kill you,” Akoon cried in English.

Porportuk smiled and stood up.  “You have given true judgment,” he said
to the council, “and my young men will give to you much tobacco.  Now let
the woman be brought to me.”

Akoon gritted his teeth.  The young men took El-Soo by the arms.  She did
not resist, and was led, her face a sullen flame, to Porportuk.

“Sit there at my feet till I have made my talk,” he commanded.  He paused
a moment.  “It is true,” he said, “I am an old man.  Yet can I understand
the ways of youth.  The fire has not all gone out of me.  Yet am I no
longer young, nor am I minded to run these old legs of mine through all
the years that remain to me.  El-Soo can run fast and well.  She is a
deer.  This I know, for I have seen and run after her.  It is not good
that a wife should run so fast.  I paid for her a heavy price, yet does
she run away from me.  Akoon paid no price at all, yet does she run to
him.

“When I came among you people of the Mackenzie, I was of one mind.  As I
listened in the council and thought of the swift legs of El-Soo, I was of
many minds.  Now am I of one mind again but it is a different mind from
the one I brought to the council.  Let me tell you my mind.  When a dog
runs once away from a master, it will run away again.  No matter how many
times it is brought back, each time it will run away again.  When we have
such dogs, we sell them.  El-Soo is like a dog that runs away.  I will
sell her.  Is there any man of the council that will buy?”

The old men coughed and remained silent

“Akoon would buy,” Porportuk went on, “but he has no money.  Wherefore I
will give El-Soo to him, as he said, without price.  Even now will I give
her to him.”

Reaching down, he took El-Soo by the hand and led her across the space to
where Akoon lay on his back.

“She has a bad habit, Akoon,” he said, seating her at Akoon’s feet.  “As
she has run away from me in the past, in the days to come she may run
away from you.  But there is no need to fear that she will ever run away,
Akoon.  I shall see to that.  Never will she run away from you—this is
the word of Porportuk.  She has great wit.  I know, for often has it
bitten into me.  Yet am I minded myself to give my wit play for once.
And by my wit will I secure her to you, Akoon.”

Stooping, Porportuk crossed El-Soo’s feet, so that the instep of one lay
over that of the other; and then, before his purpose could be divined, he
discharged his rifle through the two ankles.  As Akoon struggled to rise
against the weight of the young men, there was heard the crunch of the
broken bone rebroken.

“It is just,” said the old men, one to another.

El-Soo made no sound.  She sat and looked at her shattered ankles, on
which she would never walk again.

“My legs are strong, El-Soo,” Akoon said.  “But never will they bear me
away from you.”

El-Soo looked at him, and for the first time in all the time he had known
her, Akoon saw tears in her eyes.

“Your eyes are like deer’s eyes, El-Soo,” he said.

“Is it just?” Porportuk asked, and grinned from the edge of the smoke as
he prepared to depart.

“It is just,” the old men said.  And they sat on in the silence.

                                * * * * *

                                * * * * *

  _Printed by Hazell_, _Watson & Viney_, _Ld._, _London and Aylesbury_.





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