Infomotions, Inc.The Magnetic North / Robins, Elizabeth (C. E. Raimond), 1862-1952



Author: Robins, Elizabeth (C. E. Raimond), 1862-1952
Title: The Magnetic North
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): colonel; nicholas; mac; father brachet; boy; snow
Contributor(s): Ross, James [Translator]
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 153,265 words (average) Grade range: 6-8 (grade school) Readability score: 73 (easy)
Identifier: etext10038
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Title: The Magnetic North

Author: Elizabeth Robins (C. E. Raimond)

Release Date: November 10, 2003 [EBook #10038]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE MAGNETIC NORTH ***




Produced by Suzanne Shell, Anita Paque, Shawn Wheeler,
David Schaal, Anuradha Valsa Raj and PG Distributed Proofreaders




THE MAGNETIC NORTH

By ELIZABETH ROBINS

(C. E. Raimond) Author of "The Open Question," "Below the Salt," etc.
_With a Map_

1904



CONTENTS


CHAPTER

I. WINTER CAMP IN THE YUKON

II. HOUSE-WARMING

III. TWO NEW SPISSIMENS

IV. THE BLOW-OUT

V. THE SHAMAN

VI. A PENITENTIAL JOURNEY

VII. KAVIAK'S CRIME

VIII. CHRISTMAS

IX. A CHRISTIAN AGNOSTIC

X. PRINCESS MUCKLUCK

XI. HOLY CROSS

XII. THE GREAT WHITE SILENCE

XIII. THE PIT

XIV. KURILLA

XV. THE ESQUIMAUX HORSE

XVI. MINOOK

XVII. THE GREAT STAMPEDE

XVIII. A MINERS' MEETING

XIX. THE ICE GOES OUT

XX. THE KLONDYKE

XXI. PARDNERS

XXII. THE GOING HOME





THE MAGNETIC NORTH




CHAPTER I

WINTER CAMP ON THE YUKON

"To labour and to be content with that a man hath is a sweet life; but
he that findeth a treasure is above them both."--_Ecclesiasticus_.


Of course they were bound for the Klondyke. Every creature in the
North-west was bound for the Klondyke. Men from the South too, and men
from the East, had left their ploughs and their pens, their factories,
pulpits, and easy-chairs, each man like a magnetic needle suddenly set
free and turning sharply to the North; all set pointing the self-same
way since that July day in '97, when the _Excelsior_ sailed into San
Francisco harbour, bringing from the uttermost regions at the top of
the map close upon a million dollars in nuggets and in gold-dust.

Some distance this side of the Arctic Circle, on the right bank of the
Yukon, a little detachment of that great army pressing northward, had
been wrecked early in the month of September.

They had realised, on leaving the ocean-going ship that landed them at
St. Michael's Island (near the mouth of the great river), that they
could not hope to reach Dawson that year. But instead of "getting cold
feet," as the phrase for discouragement ran, and turning back as
thousands did, or putting in the winter on the coast, they determined,
with an eye to the spring rush, to cover as many as possible of the
seventeen hundred miles of waterway before navigation closed.

They knew, in a vague way, that winter would come early, but they had
not counted on the big September storm that dashed their heavy-laden
boats against the floe-ice, ultimately drove them ashore, and nearly
cost the little party their lives. On that last day of the long
struggle up the stream, a stiff north-easter was cutting the middle
reach of the mighty river, two miles wide here, into a choppy and
dangerous sea.

Day by day, five men in the two little boats, had kept serious eyes on
the shore. Then came the morning when, out of the monotonous cold and
snow-flurries, something new appeared, a narrow white rim forming on
the river margin--the first ice!

"Winter beginning to show his teeth," said one man, with an effort at
jocosity.

Day by day, nearer came the menace; narrower and swifter still ran the
deep black water strip between the encroaching ice-lines. But the
thought that each day's sailing or rowing meant many days nearer the
Klondyke, seemed to inspire a superhuman energy. Day by day each man
had felt, and no man yet had said, "We must camp to-night for eight
months." They had looked landward, shivered, and held on their way.

But on this particular morning, when they took in sail, they realised
it was to be that abomination of desolation on the shore or death. And
one or other speedily.

Nearer the white teeth gleamed, fiercer the gale, swifter the current,
sweeping back the boats. The _Mary C._ was left behind, fighting for
life, while it seemed as if no human power could keep the _Tulare_ from
being hurled against the western shore. Twice, in spite of all they
could do, she was driven within a few feet of what looked like certain
death. With a huge effort, that last time, her little crew had just got
her well in mid-stream, when a heavy roller breaking on the starboard
side drenched the men and half filled the cockpit. Each rower, still
pulling for dear life with one hand, bailed the boat with the other;
but for all their promptness a certain amount of the water froze solid
before they could get it out.

"Great luck, if we're going to take in water like this," said the
cheerful Kentuckian, shipping his oar and knocking off the ice--"great
luck that all the stores are so well protected."

"Protected!" snapped out an anxious, cast-iron-looking man at the
rudder.

"Yes, protected. How's water to get through the ice-coat that's over
everything?"

The cast-iron steersman set his jaw grimly. They seemed to be
comparatively safe now, with half a mile of open water between them and
the western shore.

But they sat as before, stiff, alert, each man in his ice jacket that
cracked and crunched as he bent to his oar. Now right, now left, again
they eyed the shore.

Would it be--could it be there they would have to land? And if they
did...?

Lord, how it blew!

"Hard a-port!" called out the steersman. There, just ahead, was a great
white-capped "roller" coming--coming, the biggest wave they had
encountered since leaving open sea.

But MacCann, the steersman, swung the boat straight into the crested
roller, and the _Tulare_ took it gamely, "bow on." All was going well
when, just in the boiling middle of what they had thought was foaming
"white-cap," the boat struck something solid, shivered, and went
shooting down, half under water; recovered, up again, and seemed to
pause in a second's doubt on the very top of the great wave. In that
second that seemed an eternity one man's courage snapped.

Potts threw down his oar and swore by----and by----he wouldn't pull
another----stroke on the----Yukon.

While he was pouring out the words, the steersman sprang from the
tiller, and seized Potts' oar just in time to save the boat from
capsizing. Then he and the big Kentuckian both turned on the distracted
Potts.

"You infernal quitter!" shouted the steersman, and choked with fury.
But even under the insult of that "meanest word in the language," Potts
sat glaring defiantly, with his half-frozen hands in his pockets.

"It ain't a river, anyhow, this ain't," he said. "It's plain, simple
Hell and water."

The others had no time to realise that Potts was clean out of his
senses for the moment, and the Kentuckian, still pulling like mad,
faced the "quitter" with a determination born of terror.

"If you can't row, take the rudder! Damnation! Take that rudder! Quick,
_or we'll kill you_!" And he half rose up, never dropping his oar.

Blindly, Potts obeyed.

The _Tulare_ was free now from the clinging mass at the bow, but they
knew they had struck their first floe.

Farther on they could see other white-caps bringing other ice masses
down. But there was no time for terrors ahead. The gale was steadily
driving them in shore again. Boat and oars alike were growing unwieldy
with their coating of ever-increasing ice, and human strength was no
match for the storm that was sweeping down from the Pole.

Lord, how it blew!

"There's a cove!" called out the Kentuckian. "Throw her in!" he shouted
to Potts. Sullenly the new steersman obeyed.

Rolling in on a great surge, the boat suddenly turned in a boiling
eddy, and the first thing anybody knew was that the _Tulare_ was on her
side and her crew in the water. Potts was hanging on to the gunwale and
damning the others for not helping him to save the boat.

She wasn't much of a boat when finally they got her into quiet water;
but the main thing was they had escaped with their lives and rescued a
good proportion of their winter provisions. All the while they were
doing this last, the Kentuckian kept turning to look anxiously for any
sign of the others, in his heart bitterly blaming himself for having
agreed to Potts' coming into the _Tulare_ that day in place of the
Kentuckian's own "pardner." When they had piled the rescued provisions
up on the bank, and just as they were covering the heap of bacon,
flour, and bean-bags, boxes, tools, and utensils with a tarpaulin, up
went a shout, and the two missing men appeared tramping along the
ice-encrusted shore.

Where was the _Mary C._? Well, she was at the bottom of the Yukon, and
her crew would like some supper.

They set up a tent, and went to bed that first night extremely well
pleased at being alive on any terms.

But people get over being glad about almost anything, unless misfortune
again puts an edge on the circumstance. The next day, not being in any
immediate danger, the boon of mere life seemed less satisfying.

In detachments they went up the river several miles, and down about as
far. They looked in vain for any sign of the _Mary C._. They prospected
the hills. From the heights behind the camp they got a pretty fair idea
of the surrounding country. It was not reassuring.

"As to products, there seems to be plenty of undersized timber, plenty
of snow and plenty of river, and, as far as I can see, just nothing
else."

"Well, there's oodles o' blueberries," said the Boy, his inky-looking
mouth bearing witness to veracity; "and there are black and red
currants in the snow, and rose-apples--"

"Oh, yes," returned the other, "it's a sort of garden of Eden!"

A little below here it was four miles from bank to bank of the main
channel, but at this point the river was only about two miles wide, and
white already with floating masses of floe-ice going on a swift current
down towards the sea, four hundred miles away.

The right bank presented to the mighty river a low chain of hills,
fringed at the base with a scattered growth of scrubby spruce, birch,
willow, and cotton-wood. Timber line was only two hundred feet above
the river brink; beyond that height, rocks and moss covered with
new-fallen snow.

But if their side seemed cheerless, what of the land on the left bank?
A swamp stretching endlessly on either hand, and back from the icy
flood as far as eye could see, broken only by sloughs and an occasional
ice-rimmed tarn.

"We've been travelling just eight weeks to arrive at this," said the
Kentuckian, looking at the desolate scene with a homesick eye.

"We're not only pretty far from home," grumbled another, "we're still
thirteen hundred miles away from the Klondyke."

These unenlivening calculations were catching.

"We're just about twenty-five hundred miles from the nearest railroad
or telegraph, and, now that winter's down on us, exactly eight months
from anywhere in the civilised world."

They had seen no sign of even savage life, no white trader, nothing to
show that any human foot had ever passed that way before.

In that stillness that was like the stillness of death, they went up
the hillside, with footsteps muffled in the clinging snow; and sixty
feet above the great river, in a part of the wood where the timber was
least unpromising, they marked out a site for their winter quarters.

Then this queer little company--a Denver bank-clerk, an ex-schoolmaster
from Nova Scotia, an Irish-American lawyer from San Francisco, a
Kentucky "Colonel" who had never smelt powder, and "the Boy" (who was
no boy at all, but a man of twenty-two)--these five set to work felling
trees, clearing away the snow, and digging foundations for a couple of
log-cabins--one for the Trio, as they called themselves, the other for
the Colonel and the Boy.

These two had chummed from the hour they met on the steamer that
carried them through the Golden Gate of the Pacific till--well, till
the end of my story.

The Colonel was a big tanned fellow, nearly forty--eldest of the
party--whom the others used to guy discreetly, because you couldn't
mention a place anywhere on the known globe, except the far north,
which he had not personally inspected. But for this foible, as the
untravelled considered it, he was well liked and a little
feared--except by the Boy, who liked him "first-rate," and feared him
not at all. They had promptly adopted each other before they discovered
that it was necessary to have one or more "pardners." It seemed, from
all accounts, to be true, that up there at the top of the world a man
alone is a man lost, and ultimately the party was added to as
aforesaid.

Only two of them knew anything about roughing it. Jimmie O'Flynn of
'Frisco, the Irish-American lawyer, had seen something of frontier
life, and fled it, and MacCann, the Nova Scotian schoolmaster, had
spent a month in one of the Caribou camps, and on the strength of that,
proudly accepted the nickname of "the Miner."

Colonel George Warren and Morris Burnet, the Boy, had the best outfits;
but this fact was held to be more than counter-balanced by the value of
the schoolmaster's experience at Caribou, and by the extraordinary
handiness of Potts, the Denver clerk, who had helped to build the
shelter on deck for the disabled sick on the voyage up. This young man
with the big mouth and lazy air had been in the office of a bank ever
since he left school, and yet, under pressure, he discovered a natural
neat-handedness and a manual dexterity justly envied by some of his
fellow-pioneers. His outfit was not more conspicuously meagre than
O'Flynn's, yet the Irishman was held to be the moneyed man of his
party. Just why was never fully developed, but it was always said,
"O'Flynn represents capital"; and O'Flynn, whether on that account, or
for a subtler and more efficient reason, always got the best of
everything that was going without money and without price.

On board ship O'Flynn, with his ready tongue and his golden
background--"representing capital"--was a leading spirit. Potts the
handy-man was a talker, too, and a good second. But, once in camp, Mac
the Miner was cock of the walk, in those first days, quoted "Caribou,"
and ordered everybody about to everybody's satisfaction.

In a situation like this, the strongest lean on the man who has ever
seen "anything like it" before. It was a comfort that anybody even
_thought_ he knew what to do under such new conditions. So the others
looked on with admiration and a pleasant confidence, while Mac boldly
cut a hole in the brand-new tent, and instructed Potts how to make a
flange out of a tin plate, with which to protect the canvas from the
heat of the stove-pipe. No more cooking now in the bitter open.
Everyone admired Mac's foresight when he said:

"We must build rock fireplaces in our cabins, or we'll find our one
little Yukon stove burnt out before the winter is over--before we have
a chance to use it out prospecting." And when Mac said they must pool
their stores, the Colonel and the Boy agreed as readily as O'Flynn,
whose stores consisted of a little bacon, some navy beans, and a
demijohn of whisky. O'Flynn, however, urged that probably every man had
a little "mite o' somethin'" that he had brought specially for
himself--somethin' his friends had given him, for instance. There was
Potts, now. They all knew how the future Mrs. Potts had brought a
plum-cake down to the steamer, when she came to say good-bye, and made
Potts promise he wouldn't unseal the packet till Christmas. It wouldn't
do to pool Potts' cake--never! There was the Colonel, the only man that
had a sack of coffee. He wouldn't listen when they had told him tea was
the stuff up here, and--well, perhaps other fellows didn't miss coffee
as much as a Kentuckian, though he _had_ heard--Never mind; they
wouldn't pool the coffee. The Boy had some preserved fruit that he
seemed inclined to be a hog about--

"Oh, look here. I haven't touched it!" "Just what I'm sayin'. You're
hoardin' that fruit."

It was known that Mac had a very dacint little medicine-chest. Of
course, if any fellow was ill, Mac wasn't the man to refuse him a
little cold pizen; but he must be allowed to keep his own medicine
chest--and that little pot o' Dundee marmalade. As for O'Flynn, he
would look after the "dimmi-john."

But Mac was dead against the whisky clause. Alcohol had been the curse
of Caribou, and in _this_ camp spirits were to be for medicinal
purposes only. Whereon a cloud descended on Mr. O'Flynn, and his health
began to suffer; but the precious demi-john was put away "in stock"
along with the single bottles belonging to the others. Mac had taken an
inventory, and no one in those early days dared touch anything without
his permission.

They had cut into the mountain-side for a level foundation, and were
hard at it now hauling logs.

"I wonder," said the Boy, stopping a moment in his work, and looking at
the bleak prospect round him--"I wonder if we're going to see anybody
all winter."

"Oh, sure to," Mac thought; "Indians, anyhow."

"Well, I begin to wish they'd mosy along," said Potts; and the sociable
O'Flynn backed him up.

It was towards noon on the sixth day after landing (they had come to
speak of this now as a voluntary affair), when they were electrified by
hearing strange voices; looked up from their work, and saw two white
men seated on a big cake of ice going down the river with the current.
When they recovered sufficiently from their astonishment at the
spectacle, they ran down the hillside, and proposed to help the
"castaways" to land. Not a bit of it.

"_Land_ in that place! What you take us for? Not much! We're going to
St. Michael's."

They had a small boat drawn up by them on the ice, and one man was
dressed in magnificent furs, a long sable overcoat and cap, and wearing
quite the air of a North Pole Nabob.

"Got any grub?" Mac called out.

"Yes; want some?"

"Oh no; I thought you--"

"You're not going to try to live through the winter _there?_"

"Yes."

"Lord! you _are_ in a fix!"

"That's we thought about you."

But the travellers on the ice-raft went by laughing and joking at the
men safe on shore with their tents and provisions. It made some of them
visibly uneasy. _Would_ they win through? Were they crazy to try it?
They had looked forward eagerly to the first encounter with their kind,
but this vision floating by on the treacherous ice, of men who rather
dared the current and the crash of contending floes than land where
_they_ were, seemed of evil augury. The little incident left a
curiously sinister impression on the camp.

Even Mac was found agreeing with the others of his Trio that, since
they had a grand, tough time in front of them, it was advisable to get
through the black months ahead with as little wear and tear as
possible. In spite of the Trio's superior talents, they built a small
ramshackle cabin with a tumble-down fireplace, which served them so ill
that they ultimately spent all their waking hours in the more
comfortable quarters of the Colonel and the Boy. It had been agreed
that these two, with the help, or, at all events, the advice, of the
others, should build the bigger, better cabin, where the stores should
be kept and the whole party should mess--a cabin with a solid outside
chimney of stone and an open fireplace, generous of proportion and
ancient of design, "just like down South."

The weather was growing steadily colder; the ice was solid now many
feet out from each bank of the river. In the middle of the flood the
clotted current still ran with floe-ice, but it was plain the river was
settling down for its long sleep.

Not silently, not without stress and thunder. The handful of dwellers
on the shore would be waked in the night by the shock and crash of
colliding floes, the sound of the great winds rushing by, and--"Hush!
What's that?" Tired men would start up out of sleep and sit straight to
listen. Down below, among the ice-packs, the noise as of an old-time
battle going on--tumult and crashing and a boom! boom! like
cannonading.

Then one morning they woke to find all still, the conflict over, the
Yukon frozen from bank to bank. No sound from that day on; no more
running water for a good seven months.

Winter had come.

While the work went forward they often spoke of the only two people
they had thus far seen. Both Potts and O'Flynn had been heard to envy
them.

Mac had happened to say that he believed the fellow in furs was an
Englishman--a Canadian, at the very least. The Americans chaffed him,
and said, "That accounts for it," in a tone not intended to flatter.
Mac hadn't thought of it before, but he was prepared to swear now that
if an Englishman--they were the hardiest pioneers on earth--or a
Canadian was in favour of lighting out, "it must be for some good
reason."

"Oh yes; we all know that reason."

The Americans laughed, and Mac, growing hot, was goaded into vaunting
the Britisher and running down the Yankee.

"Yankee!" echoed the Kentuckian. "And up in Nova Scotia they let this
man teach school! Doesn't know the difference yet between the little
corner they call New England and all the rest of America."

"All the rest of America!" shouted Mac. "The cheeky way you people of
the States have of gobbling the Continent (in _talk_), just as though
the British part of it wasn't the bigger half!"

"Yes; but when you think _which_ half, you ought to be obliged to any
fellow for forgetting it." And then they referred to effete monarchical
institutions, and by the time they reached the question of the kind of
king the Prince of Wales would make, Mac was hardly a safe man to argue
with.

There was one bond between him and the Kentucky Colonel: they were both
religious men; and although Mac was blue Presbyterian and an inveterate
theologian, somehow, out here in the wilderness, it was more possible
to forgive a man for illusions about the Apostolic Succession and
mistaken views upon Church government. The Colonel, at all events, was
not so lax but what he was ready to back up the Calvinist in an
endeavour to keep the Sabbath (with a careful compromise between church
and chapel) and help him to conduct a Saturday-night Bible-class.

But if the Boy attended the Bible-class with fervour and aired his
heresies with uncommon gusto, if he took with equal geniality Colonel
Warren's staid remonstrance and Mac's fiery objurgation, Sunday morning
invariably found him more "agnostic" than ever, stoutly declining to
recognise the necessity for "service." For this was an occasion when
you couldn't argue or floor anybody, or hope to make Mac "hoppin' mad,"
or have the smallest kind of a shindy. The Colonel read the lessons,
Mac prayed, and they all sang, particularly O'Flynn. Now, the Boy
couldn't sing a note, so there was no fair division of entertainment,
wherefore he would go off into the woods with his gun for company, and
the Catholic O'Flynn, and even Potts, were in better odour than he
"down in camp" on Sundays. So far you may travel, and yet not escape
the tyranny of the "outworn creeds."

The Boy came back a full hour before service on the second Sunday with
a couple of grouse and a beaming countenance. Mac, who was cook that
week, was the only man left in the tent. He looked agreeably surprised
at the apparition.

"Hello!" says he more pleasantly than his Sunday gloom usually
permitted. "Back in time for service?"

"I've found a native," says the Boy, speaking as proudly as any
Columbus. "He's hurt his foot, and he's only got one eye, but he's
splendid. Told me no end of things. He's coming here as fast as his
foot will let him--he and three other Indians--Esquimaux, I mean. They
haven't had anything to eat but berries and roots for seven days."

The Boy was feverishly overhauling the provisions behind the stove.

"Look here," says Mac, "hold on there. I don't know that we've come all
this way to feed a lot o' dirty savages."

"But they're starving." Then, seeing that that fact did not produce the
desired impression: "My savage is an awfully good fellow. He--he's a
converted savage, seems to be quite a Christian." Then, hastily
following up his advantage: "He's been taught English by the Jesuits at
the mission forty miles above us, on the river. He can give us a whole
heap o' tips."

Mac was slowly bringing out a small panful of cold boiled beans.

"There are four of them," said the Boy--"big fellows, almost as big as
our Colonel, and _awful_ hungry."

Mac looked at the handful of beans and then at the small sheet-iron
stove.

"There are more cooking," says he not over-cordially.

"The one that talks good English is the son of the chief. You can see
he's different from the others. Knows a frightful lot. He's taught me
some of his language already. The men with him said 'Kaiomi' to
everything I asked, and that means 'No savvy.' Says he'll teach
me--he'll teach all of us--how to snow-shoe."

"We know how to snow-shoe."

"Oh, I mean on those long narrow snow-shoes that make you go so fast
you always trip up! He'll show us how to steer with a pole, and how to
make fish-traps and--and everything."

Mac began measuring out some tea.

"He's got a team of Esquimaux dogs--calls 'em Mahlemeuts, and he's got
a birch-bark canoe, and a skin kyak from the coast." Then with an
inspiration: "His people are the sort of Royal Family down there,"
added the Boy, thinking to appeal to the Britisher's monarchical
instincts.

Mac had meditatively laid his hand on a side of bacon, the Boy's eyes
following.

"He's asked us--_all_ of us, and we're five--up to visit him at Pymeut,
the first village above us here." Mac took up a knife to cut the bacon.
"And--good gracious! why, I forgot the grouse; they can have the
grouse!"

"No, they can't," said Mac firmly; "they're lucky to get bacon."

The Boy's face darkened ominously. When he looked like that the elder
men found it was "healthiest to give him his head." But the young face
cleared as quickly as it had clouded. After all, the point wasn't worth
fighting for, since grouse would take time to cook, and--here were the
natives coming painfully along the shore.

The Boy ran out and shouted and waved his cap. The other men of the
camp, who had gone in the opposite direction, across the river ice to
look at an air-hole, came hurrying back and reached camp about the same
time as the visitors.

"Thought you said they were big fellows!" commented Mac, who had come
to the door for a glimpse of the Indians as they toiled up the slope.

"Well, so they are!"

"Why, the Colonel would make two of any one of them."

"The Colonel! Oh well, you can't expect anybody else to be quite as big
as that. I was in a hurry, but I suppose what I meant was, they could
eat as much as the Colonel."

"How do you know?"

"Well, just look how broad they are. It doesn't matter to your stomach
whether you're big up and down, or big to and fro."

"It's their furs make 'em look like that. They're the most awful little
runts I ever saw!"

"Well, I reckon _you'd_ think they were big, too--big as Nova
Scotia--if _you'd_ found 'em--come on 'em suddenly like that in the
woods--"

"Which is the...?"

"Oh, the son of the chief is in the middle, the one who is taking off
his civilised fur-coat. He says his father's got a heap of pelts (you
could get things for your collection, Mac), and he's got two
reindeer-skin shirts with hoods--'parkis,' you know, like the others
are wearing--"

They were quite near now.

"How do," said the foremost native affably.

"How do." The Boy came forward and shook hands as though he hadn't seen
him for a month. "This," says he, turning first to Mac and then to the
other white men, "this is Prince Nicholas of Pymeut. Walk right in, all
of you, and have something to eat."

The visitors sat on the ground round the stove, as close as they could
get without scorching, and the atmosphere was quickly heavy with their
presence. When they slipped back their hoods it was seen that two of
the men wore the "tartar tonsure," after the fashion of the coast.

"Where do you come from?" inquired the Colonel of the man nearest him,
who simply blinked and was dumb.

"This is the one that talks English," said the Boy, indicating Nicholas,
"and he lives at Pymeut, and he's been converted."

"How far is Pymeut?"

"We sleep Pymeut to-night," says Nicholas.

"Which way?"

The native jerked his head up the river.

"Many people there?"

He nodded.

"White men, too?"

He shook his head.

"How far to the nearest white men?"

Nicholas's mind wandered from the white man's catechism and fixed
itself on his race's immemorial problem: how far it was to the nearest
thing to eat.

"I thought you said he could speak English."

"So he can, first rate. He and I had a great pow-wow, didn't we,
Nicholas?"

Nicholas smiled absently, and fixed his one eye on the bacon that Mac
was cutting on the deal box into such delicate slices.

"He'll talk all right," said the Boy, "when he's had some breakfast."

Mac had finished the cutting, and now put the frying-pan on an open
hole in the little stove.

"Cook him?" inquired Nicholas.

"Yes. Don't you cook him?"

"Take heap time, cook him."

"You couldn't eat it raw!"

Nicholas nodded emphatically.

Mac said "No," but the Boy was curious to see if they would really eat
it uncooked.

"Let them have _some_ of it raw while the rest is frying"; and he
beckoned the visitors to the deal box. They made a dart forward,
gathered up the fat bacon several slices at a time, and pushed it into
their mouths.

"Ugh!" said the Colonel under his breath.

Mac quickly swept what was left into the frying-pan, and began to cut a
fresh lot.

The Boy divided the cold beans, got out biscuits, and poured the tea,
while silence and a strong smell of ancient fish and rancid seal
pervaded the little tent.

O'Flynn put a question or two, but Nicholas had gone stone-deaf. There
was no doubt about it, they had been starving.

After a good feed they sat stolidly by the fire, with no sign of
consciousness, save the blinking of beady eyes, till the Colonel
suggested a smoke. Then they all grinned broadly, and nodded with great
vigour. Even those who had no other English understood "tobacco."

When he had puffed awhile, Nicholas took his pipe out of his mouth,
and, looking at the Boy, said:

"You no savvy catch fish in winter?"

"Through the ice? No. How you do it?"

"Make hole--put down trap--heap fish all winter."

"You get enough to live on?" asked the Colonel.

"They must have dried fish, too, left over from the summer," said Mac.

Nicholas agreed. "And berries and flour. When snow begin get soft,
Pymeuts all go off--" He motioned with his big head towards the hills.

"What do you get there?" Mac was becoming interested.

"Caribou, moose--"

"Any furs?"

"Yes; trap ermun, marten--"

"Lynx, too, I suppose, and fox?"

Nicholas nodded. "All kinds. Wolf--muskrat, otter--wolverine--all
kinds."

"You got some skins now?" asked the Nova Scotian.

"Y--yes. More when snow get soft. You come Pymeut--me show."

"Where have ye been just now?" asked O'Flynn.

"St. Michael."

"How long since ye left there?"

"Twelve sleeps."

"He means thirteen days."

Nicholas nodded.

"They couldn't possibly walk that far in--"

"Oh yes," says the Boy; "they don't follow the windings of the river,
they cut across the portage, you know."

"Snow come--no trail--big mountains--all get lost."

"What did you go to St. Michael's for?"

"Oh, me pilot. Me go all over. Me leave N. A. T. and T. boat St.
Michael's last trip."

"Then you're in the employ of the great North American Trading and
Transportation Company?"

Nicholas gave that funny little duck of the head that meant yes.

"That's how you learnt English," says the Colonel.

"No; me learn English at Holy Cross. Me been baptize."

"At that Jesuit mission up yonder?"

"Forty mile."

"Well," says Potts, "I guess you've had enough walking for one winter."

Nicholas seemed not to follow this observation. The Boy interpreted:

"You heap tired, eh? You no go any more long walk till ice go out, eh?"

Nicholas grinned.

"Me go Ikogimeut--all Pymeut go."

"What for?"

"Big feast."

"Oh, the Russian mission there gives a feast?"

"No. Big Innuit feast."

"When?"

"Pretty quick. Every year big feast down to Ikogimeut when Yukon ice
get hard, so man go safe with dog-team."

"Do many people go?"

"All Innuit go, plenty Ingalik go."

"How far do they come?"

"All over; come from Koserefsky, come from Anvik--sometime Nulato."

"Why, Nulato's an awful distance from Ikogimeut."

"Three hundred and twenty miles," said the pilot, proud of his general
information, and quite ready, since he had got a pipe between his
teeth, to be friendly and communicative.

"What do you do at Ikogimeut when you have these--" "Big fire--big
feed--tell heap stories--big dance. Oh, heap big time!"

"Once every year, eh, down at Ikogimeut?"

"Three times ev' year. Ev' village, and"--he lowered his voice, not
with any hit of reverence or awe, but with an air of making a sly and
cheerful confidence--"and when man die."

"You make a feast and have a dance when a friend dies?"

"If no priests. Priests no like. Priests say, 'Man no dead; man gone
up.'" Nicholas pondered the strange saying, and slowly shook his head.

"In that the priests are right," said Mac grudgingly.

It was anything but politic, but for the life of him the Boy couldn't
help chipping in:

"You think when man dead he stay dead, eh, and you might as well make a
feast?"

Nicholas gave his quick nod. "We got heap muskeetah, we cold, we
hungry. We here heap long time. Dead man, he done. Why no big feast? Oh
yes, heap big feast."

The Boy was enraptured. He would gladly have encouraged these pagan
deliverances on the part of the converted Prince, but the Colonel was
scandalised, and Mac, although in his heart of hearts not ill-satisfied
at the evidence of the skin-deep Christianity of a man delivered over
to the corrupt teaching of the Jesuits, found in this last fact all the
stronger reason for the instant organisation of a good Protestant
prayer-meeting. Nicholas of Pymeut must not be allowed to think it was
only Jesuits who remembered the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

And the three "pore benighted heathen" along with him, if they didn't
understand English words, they should have an object-lesson, and Mac
would himself pray the prayers they couldn't utter for themselves. He
jumped up, motioned the Boy to put on more wood, cleared away the
granite-ware dishes, filled the bean-pot and set it back to simmer,
while the Colonel got out Mac's Bible and his own Prayer-Book.

The Boy did his stoking gloomily, reading aright these portents. Almost
eclipsed was joy in this "find" of his (for he regarded the precious
Nicholas as his own special property). It was all going to end in
his--the Boy's--being hooked in for service. As long as the Esquimaux
were there _he_ couldn't, of course, tear himself away. And here was
the chance they'd all been waiting for. Here was a native chock-full of
knowledge of the natural law and the immemorial gospel of the North,
who would be gone soon--oh, very soon, if Mac and the Colonel went on
like this--and they were going to choke off Nicholas's communicativeness
with--a service!

"It's Sunday, you know," says the Colonel to the Prince, laying open
his book, "and we were just going to have church. You are accustomed to
going to church at Holy Cross, aren't you?"

"When me kid me go church."

"You haven't gone since you grew up? They still have church there,
don't they?"

"Oh, Father Brachet, him have church."

"Why don't you go?"

Nicholas was vaguely conscious of threatened disapproval.

"Me ... me must take up fish-traps."

"Can't you do that another day?"

It seemed not to have occurred to Nicholas before. He sat and
considered the matter.

"Isn't Father Brachet," began the Colonel gravely--"he doesn't like it,
does he, when you don't come to church?"

"He take care him church; him know me take care me fish-trap."

But Nicholas saw plainly out of his one eye that he was not growing in
popularity. Suddenly that solitary organ gleamed with self-justification.

"Me bring fish to Father Brachet and to Mother Aloysius and the
Sisters."

Mac and the Colonel exchanged dark glances.

"Do Mother Aloysius and the Sisters live where Father Brachet does?"

"Father Brachet, and Father Wills, and Brother Paul, and Brother
Etienne, all here." The native put two fingers on the floor. "Big white
cross in middle"--he laid down his pipe to personate the
cross--"here"--indicating the other side--"here Mother Aloysius and the
Sisters."

"I thought," says Mac, "we'd be hearing of a convent convenient."

"Me help Father Brachet," observed Nicholas proudly. "Me show him boys
how make traps, show him girls how make mucklucks." "_What_!" gasps the
horrified Mac, "Father Brachet has got a family?"

"Famly?" inquired Nicholas. "Kaiomi"; and he shook his head
uncertainly.

"You say Father Brachet has got boys, and"--as though this were a yet
deeper brand of iniquity--"_girls_?"

Nicholas, though greatly mystified, nodded firmly.

"I suppose he thinks away off up here nobody will ever know. Oh, these
Jesuits!"

"How many children has this shameless priest?"

"Father Brachet, him got seventeen boys, and--me no savvy how much
girl--twelve girl ... twenty girl ..."

The Boy, who had been splitting with inward laughter, exploded at this
juncture.

"He keeps a native school, Mac."

"Yes," says Nicholas, "teach boy make table, chair, potatoes grow--all
kinds. Sisters teach girl make dinner, wash--all kinds. Heap good
people up at Holy Cross."

"Divil a doubt of it," says O'Flynn.

But this blind belauding of the children of Loyola only fired Mac the
more to give the heathen a glimpse of the true light. In what darkness
must they grope when a sly, intriguing Jesuit (it was well known they
were all like that) was for them a type of the "heap good man"--a
priest, forsooth, who winked at Sabbath-breaking because he and his
neighbouring nuns shared in the spoil!

Well, they must try to have a truly impressive service. Mac and the
Colonel telegraphed agreement on this head. Savages were said to be
specially touched by music.

"I suppose when you were a kid the Jesuits taught you chants and so
on," said the Colonel, kindly.

"Kaiomi," answered Nicholas after reflection.

"You can sing, can't you?" asks O'Flynn.

"Sing? No, me dance!"

The Boy roared with delight.

"Why, yes, I never thought of that. You fellows do the songs, and
Nicholas and I'll do the dances."

Mac glowered angrily. "Look here: if you don't mind being blasphemous
for yourself, don't demoralise the natives."

"Well, I like that! Didn't Miriam dance before the Lord? Why shouldn't
Nicholas and me?"

The Colonel cleared his throat, and began to read the lessons for the
day. The natives sat and watched him closely. They really behaved very
well, and the Boy was enormously proud of his new friends. There was a
great deal at stake. The Boy felt he must walk warily, and he already
regretted those light expressions about dancing before the Lord. All
the fun of the winter might depend on a friendly relation between
Pymeut and the camp. It was essential that the Esquimaux should not
only receive, but make, a good impression.

The singing "From Greenland's icy mountains to India's coral strand"
seemed to please them; but when, after the Colonel's "Here endeth the
second lesson," Mac said, in sepulchral tones, "Let us pray," the
visitors seemed to think it was time to go home.

"No," said Mac sternly, "they mustn't go in the middle of the meeting";
and he proceeded to kneel down.

But Nicholas was putting on his fur coat, and the others only waited to
follow him out. The Boy, greatly concerned lest, after all, the visit
should end badly, dropped on his knees to add the force of his own
example, and through the opening phrases of Mac's prayer the agnostic
was heard saying, in a loud stage-whisper, "Do like me--down! Look
here! Suppose you ask us come big feast, and in the middle of your
dance we all go home--.

"Oh no," remonstrated Nicholas.

"Very well. These friends o' mine no like man go home in the middle.
They heap mad at me when I no stay. You savvy?"

"Me savvy," says Nicholas slowly and rather depressed.

"Kneel down, then," says the Boy. And first Nicholas, and then the
others, went on their knees.

Alternately they looked in the Boy's corner where the grub was, and
then over their shoulders at the droning Mac and back, catching the
Boy's eye, and returning his reassuring nods and grins.

Mac, who had had no innings up to this point, was now embarked upon a
most congenial occupation. Wrestling with the Lord on behalf of the
heathen, he lost count of time. On and on the prayer wound its slow
way; involution after involution, coil after coil, like a snake, the
Boy thought, lazing in the sun. Unaccustomed knees grew sore.

"Hearken to the cry of them that walk in darkness, misled by wolves in
sheep's clothing--_wolves_, Lord, wearing the sign of the Holy Cross--"

O'Flynn shuffled, and Mac pulled himself up. No light task this of
conveying to the Creator, in covert terms, a due sense of the iniquity
of the Jesuits, without, at the same time, stirring O'Flynn's bile, and
seeing him get up and stalk out of meeting, as had happened once
before.

O'Flynn was not deeply concerned about religious questions, but "there
were limits." The problem was how to rouse the Lord without rousing
O'Flynn--a piece of negotiation so delicate, calling for a skill in
pious invective so infinitely absorbing to Mac's particular cast of
mind, that he was quickly stone-blind and deaf to all things else.

"Not all the heathen are sunk in iniquity; but they are weak, tempted,
and they weary, Lord!"

"Amen," said the Boy, discreetly. "How long?" groaned Mac--"Oh Lord,
how long?" But it was much longer than he realised. The Boy saw the
visitors shifting from one knee to another, and feared the worst. But
he sympathised deeply with their predicament. To ease his own legs, he
changed his position, and dragged a corner of the sailcloth down off
the little pile of provisions, and doubled it under his knees.

The movement revealed the bag of dried apples within arm's length.
Nicholas was surreptitiously reaching for his coat. No doubt about it,
he had come to the conclusion that this was the fitting moment to
depart. A look over his shoulder showed Mac absorbed, and taking fresh
breath at "Sixthly, Oh Lord." The Boy put out a hand, and dragged the
apple-bag slowly, softly towards him. The Prince dropped the sleeve of
his coat, and fixed his one eye on his friend. The Boy undid the neck
of the sack, thrust in his hand, and brought out a fistfull. Another
look at Mac--still hard at it, trying to spare O'Flynn's feelings
without mincing matters with the Almighty.

The Boy winked at Nicholas, made a gesture, "Catch!" and fired a bit of
dried apple at him, at the same time putting a piece in his own mouth
to show him it was all right.

Nicholas followed suit, and seemed pleased with the result. He showed
all his strong, white teeth, and ecstatically winked his one eye back
at the Boy, who threw him another bit and then a piece to each of the
others.

The Colonel had "caught on," and was making horrible frowns at the Boy.
Potts and O'Flynn looked up, and in dumbshow demanded a share. No? Very
well, they'd tell Mac. So the Boy had to feed them, too, to keep them
quiet. And still Mac prayed the Lord to catch up this slip he had made
here on the Yukon with reference to the natives. In the midst of a
powerful peroration, he happened to open his eyes a little, and they
fell on the magnificent great sable collar of Prince Nicholas's coat.

Without any of the usual slowing down, without the accustomed warning
of a gradual descent from the high themes of heaven to the things of
common earth, Mac came down out of the clouds with a bump, and the
sudden, business-like "Amen" startled all the apple-chewing
congregation.

Mac stood up, and says he to Nicholas:

"Where did you get that coat?"

Nicholas, still on his knees, stared, and seemed in doubt if this were
a part of the service.

"Where did you get that coat?" repeated Mac.

The Boy had jumped up nimbly. "I told you his father has a lot of
furs."

"Like this?"

"No," says Nicholas; "this belong white man."

"Ha," says Mac excitedly, "I thought I'd seen it before. Tell us how
you got it."

"Me leave St. Michael; me got ducks, reindeer meat--oh, _plenty_
kow-kow! [Footnote: Food] Two sleeps away St. Michael me meet Indian.
Heap hungry. Him got bully coat." Nicholas picked it up off the floor.
"Him got no kow-kow. Him say, 'Give me duck, give me back-fat. You take
coat, him too heavy.' Me say, 'Yes.'"

"But how did he get the coat?"

"Him say two white men came down river on big ice."

"Yes, yes--"

"Men sick." He tapped his forehead. "Man no sick, he no go down with
the ice"; and Nicholas shuddered. "Before Ikogimeut, ice jam. Indian
see men jump one big ice here, more big ice here, and one... go down.
Indian"--Nicholas imitated throwing out a line--"man tie mahout
round--but--big ice come--" Nicholas dashed his hands together, and
then paused significantly. "Indian sleep there. Next day ice hard.
Indian go little way out to see. Man dead. Him heap good coat," he
wound up unemotionally, and proceeded to put it on.

"And the other white man--what became of him?"

Nicholas shrugged: "Kaiomi," though it was plain he knew well enough
the other lay under the Yukon ice.

"And that--_that_ was the end of the fellows who went by jeering at
us!"

"We'd better not crow yet," said Mac. And they bade Prince Nicholas and
his heathen retinue good-bye in a mood chastened not by prayer alone.




CHAPTER II

HOUSE-WARMING

"There is a sort of moral climate in a household."--JOHN MORLEY.


No idle ceremony this, but the great problem of the dwellers in the
country of the Yukon.

The Colonel and the Boy made up their minds that, whatever else they
had or had not, they would have a warm house to live in. And when they
had got it, they would have a "Blow-out" to celebrate the achievement.

"We'll invite Nicholas," says the Boy. "I'll go to Pymeut myself, and
let him know we are going to have 'big fire, big feed. Oh, heap big
time!'"

If the truth were told, it had been a difficult enough matter to keep
away from Pymeut since the hour Nicholas had vanished in that
direction; but until winter quarters were made, and until they were
proved to be warm, there was no time for the amenities of life.

The Big Cabin (as it was quite seriously called, in contradistinction
to the hut of the Trio) consisted of a single room, measuring on the
outside sixteen feet by eighteen feet.

The walls of cotton-wood logs soared upward to a level of six feet, and
this height was magnificently increased in the middle by the angle of
the mildly gable roof. But before the cabin was breast-high the Boy had
begun to long for a window.

"Sorry we forgot the plate-glass," says Mac.

"Wudn't ye like a grrand-piana?" asks O'Flynn.

"What's the use of goin' all the way from Nova Scotia to Caribou," says
the Boy to the Schoolmaster-Miner, "if you haven't learned the way to
make a window like the Indians, out of transparent skin?"

Mac assumed an air of elevated contempt.

"I went to mine, not to learn Indian tricks."

"When the door's shut it'll be dark as the inside of a cocoa-nut."

"You ought to have thought of that before you left the sunny South,"
said Potts.

"It'll be dark all winter, window or no window," Mac reminded them.

"Never mind," said the Colonel, "when the candles give out we'll have
the fire-light. Keep all the spruce knots, boys!"

But one of the boys was not pleased. The next day, looking for a
monkey-wrench under the tarpaulin, he came across the wooden box a
California friend had given him at parting, containing a dozen tall
glass jars of preserved fruit. The others had growled at the extra bulk
and weight, when the Boy put the box into the boat at St. Michael's,
but they had now begun to look kindly on it and ask when it was to be
opened. He had answered firmly:

"Not before Christmas," modifying this since Nicholas's visit to "Not
before the House-Warming." But one morning the Boy was found pouring
the fruit out of the jars into some empty cans.

"What you up to?"

"Wait an' see." He went to O'Flynn, who was dish-washer that week, got
him to melt a couple of buckets of snow over the open-air campfire and
wash the fruit-jars clean.

"Now, Colonel," says the Boy, "bring along that buck-saw o' yours and
lend a hand."

They took off the top log from the south wall of the cabin, measured a
two-foot space in the middle, and the Colonel sawed out the superfluous
spruce intervening. While he went on doing the same for the other logs
on that side, the Boy roughly chiselled a moderately flat sill. Then
one after another he set up six of the tall glass jars in a row, and
showed how, alternating with the other six bottles turned upside down,
the thick belly of one accommodating itself to the thin neck of the
other, the twelve made a very decent rectangle of glass. When they had
hoisted up, and fixed in place, the logs on each side, and the big
fellow that went all across on top; when they had filled the
inconsiderable cracks between the bottles with some of the mud-mortar
with which the logs were to be chinked, behold a double glass window
fit for a king!

The Boy was immensely pleased.

"Oh, that's an old dodge," said Mac depreciatingly. "Why, they did that
at Caribou!"

"Then, why in--Why didn't you suggest it?"

"You wait till you know more about this kind o' life, and you won't go
in for fancy touches."

Nevertheless, the man who had mined at Caribou seemed to feel that some
contribution from him was necessary to offset the huge success of that
window. He did not feel called upon to help to split logs for the roof
of the Big Cabin, but he sat cutting and whittling away at a little
shelf which he said was to be nailed up at the right of the Big Cabin
door. Its use was not apparent, but no one dared call it a "fancy
touch," for Mac was a miner, and had been to Caribou.

When the shelf was nailed up, its maker brought forth out of his
medicine-chest a bottle of Perry Davis's Pain-killer.

"Now at Caribou," says he, "they haven't got any more thermometers
kicking round than we have here, but they discovered that when Perry
Davis congeals you must keep a sharp look-out for frost-bite, and when
Perry Davis freezes solid, you'd better mind your eye and stay in your
cabin, if you don't want to die on the trail." With which he tied a
string round Perry Davis's neck, set the bottle up on the shelf, and
secured it firmly in place. They all agreed it was a grand advantage to
have been to Caribou!

But Mac knew things that he had probably not learned there, about
trees, and rocks, and beasts, and their manners and customs and family
names. If there were more than a half-truth in the significant lament
of a very different man, "I should be a poet if only I knew the names
of things," then, indeed, Samuel MacCann was equipped to make a mark in
literature.

From the time he set foot on the volcanic shore of St Michael's Island,
Mac had begun his "collection."

Nowadays, when he would spend over "that truck of his" hours that might
profitably (considering his talents) be employed in helping to fortify
the camp against the Arctic winter, his companions felt it little use
to remonstrate.

By themselves they got on rapidly with work on the roof, very much
helped by three days' unexpectedly mild weather. When the split logs
had been marshalled together on each side of the comb, they covered
them with dried moss and spruce boughs.

Over all they laid a thick blanket of the earth which had been dug out
to make a level foundation. The cracks in the walls were chinked with
moss and mud-mortar. The floor was the naked ground, "to be carpeted
with skins by-and-by," so Mac said; but nobody believed Mac would put a
skin to any such sensible use.

The unreasonable mildness of three or four days and the little surface
thaw, came to an abrupt end in a cold rain that turned to sleet as it
fell. Nobody felt like going far afield just then, even after game, but
they had set the snare that Nicholas told the Boy about on that first
encounter in the wood. Nicholas, it seemed, had given him a noose made
of twisted sinew, and showed how it worked in a running loop. He had
illustrated the virtue of this noose when attached to a pole balanced
in the crotch of a tree, caught over a horizontal stick by means of a
small wooden pin tied to the snare. A touch at the light end of the
suspended pole (where the baited loop dangles) loosens the pin, and the
heavy end of the pole falls, hanging ptarmigan or partridge in the air.

For some time after rigging this contrivance, whenever anyone reported
"tracks," Mac and the Boy would hasten to the scene of action, and set
a new snare, piling brush on each side of the track that the game had
run in, so barring other ways, and presenting a line of least
resistance straight through the loop.

In the early days Mac would come away from these preparations saying
with dry pleasure:

"Now, with luck, we may get a _Xema Sabinii_," or some such fearful
wildfowl.

"Good to eat?" the Boy would ask, having had his disappointments ere
now in moments of hunger for fresh meat, when Mac, with the nearest
approach to enthusiasm he permitted himself, had brought in some
miserable little hawk-owl or a three-toed woodpecker to add, not to the
larder, but to the "collection."

"No, you don't _eat_ Sabine gulls," Mac would answer pityingly.

But those snares never seemed to know what they were there for. The
first one was set expressly to catch one of the commonest birds that
fly--Mac's _Lagopus albus_, the beautiful white Arctic grouse, or at
the very least a _Bonasa umbellus_, which, being interpreted, is ruffed
ptarmigan. The tracks had been bird tracks, but the creature that swung
in the air next day was a baby hare. The Schoolmaster looked upon the
incident as being in the nature of a practical joke, and resented it.
But the others were enchanted, and professed thereafter a rooted
suspicion of the soundness of the Schoolmaster's Natural History, which
nobody actually felt. For he had never yet pretended to know anything
that he didn't know well; and when Potts would say something
disparaging of Mac's learning behind his back (which was against the
unwritten rules of the game) the Colonel invariably sat on Potts.

"Knows a darned sight too much? No, he _don't_, sir; that's just the
remarkable thing about Mac. He isn't trying to carry any more than he
can swing."

At the same time it is to be feared that none of his companions really
appreciated the pedagogue's learning. Nor had anyone but the Boy
sympathised with his resolution to make a Collection. What they wanted
was eatable game, and they affected no intelligent interest in knowing
the manners and customs of the particular species that was sending up
appetising odours from the pot.

They even applauded the rudeness of the Boy, who one day responded to
Mac's gravely jubilant "Look here! I've got the _Parus Hudsonicus_!"--

"Poor old man! What do you do for it?"

And when anybody after that was indisposed, they said he might be
sickening for an attack of Parus Hudsonicus, and in that case it was a
bad look-out.

Well for Mac that he wouldn't have cared a red cent to impress the
greatest naturalist alive, let alone a lot of fellows who didn't know a
titmouse from a disease.

Meanwhile work on the Big Cabin had gone steadily forward. From the
outside it looked finished now, and distinctly imposing. From what were
left of the precious planks out of the bottom of the best boat they had
made the door--two by four, and opening directly in front of that
masterpiece, the rock fireplace. The great stone chimney was the pride
of the camp and the talk before the winter was done of all "the Lower
River."

Spurred on partly by the increased intensity of the cold, partly by the
Colonel's nonsense about the way they did it "down South," Mac roused
himself, and turned out a better piece of masonry for the Big Cabin
than he had thought necessary for his own. But everybody had a share in
the glory of that fireplace. The Colonel, Potts, and the Boy selected
the stone, and brought it on a rude litter out of a natural quarry from
a place a mile or more away up on the bare mountain-side. O'Flynn mixed
and handed up the mud-mortar, while Mac put in some brisk work with it
before it stiffened in the increasing cold.

Everybody was looking forward to getting out of the tent and into the
warm cabin, and the building of the fireplace stirred enthusiasm. It
was two and a half feet deep, three and a half feet high, and four feet
wide, and when furnished with ten-inch hack logs, packed in glowing
ashes and laid one above another, with a roaring good blaze in front of
birch and spruce, that fire would take a lot of beating, as the Boy
admitted, "even in the tat-pine Florida country."

But no fire on earth could prevent the cabin from being swept through,
the moment the door was opened, by a fierce and icy air-current. The
late autumnal gales revealed the fact that the sole means of
ventilation had been so nicely contrived that whoever came in or went
out admitted a hurricane of draught that nearly knocked him down. Potts
said it took a good half-hour, after anyone had opened the door, to
heat the place up again.

"What! You cold?" inquired the usual culprit. The Boy had come in to
put an edge on his chopper. "It's stopped snowin', an' you better come
along with me, Potts. Swing an axe for a couple of hours--that'll warm
you."

"I've got rheumatism in my shoulder to-day," says Potts, hugging the
huge fire closer.

"And you've got something wrong with your eyes, eh, Mac?"

Potts narrowed his and widened the great mouth; but he had turned his
head so Mac couldn't see him.

The Nova Scotian only growled and refilled his pipe. Up in the woods
the Boy repeated the conversation to the Colonel, who looked across at
O'Flynn several yards away, and said: "Hush!"

"Why must I shut up? Mac's _eyes_ do look rather queer and bloodshot. I
should think he'd rather feel we lay it to his eyes than know we're
afraid he's peterin' out altogether."

"I never said I was afraid--"

"No, you haven't _said_ much." "I haven't opened my head about it."

"No, but you've tried hard enough for five or six days to get Mac to
the point where he would come out and show us how to whip-saw. You
haven't _said_ anything, but you've--you've got pretty dignified each
time you failed, and we all know what that means."

"We ought to have begun sawing boards for our bunks and swing-shelf a
week back, before this heavy snowfall. Besides, there's enough
fire-wood now; we're only marking time until--"

"Until Mac's eyes get all right. I understand."

Again the Colonel had made a sound like "Sh!" and went on swinging his
axe.

They worked without words till the Boy's tree came down. Then he
stopped a moment, and wiped his face.

"It isn't so cold to-day, not by a long shot, for all Potts's howling
about his rheumatics."

"It isn't cold that starts that kind of pain."

"No, siree. I'm not much of a doctor, but I can see Potts's rheumatism
doesn't depend on the weather."

"Never you mind Potts."

"I don't mind Potts. I only mind Mac. What's the matter with Mac,
anyway?"

"Oh, he's just got cold feet. Maybe he'll thaw out by-and-by."

"Did you ever think what Mac's like? With that square-cut jaw and
sawed-off nose, everything about him goin' like this"--the Boy
described a few quick blunt angles in the air--"well, sir, he's the
livin' image of a monkey-wrench. I'm comin' to think he's as much like
it inside as he is out. He can screw up for a prayer-meetin', or he can
screw down for business--when he's a mind, but, as Jimmie over there
says, 'the divil a different pace can you put him through.' I _like_
monkey-wrenches! I'm only sayin' they aren't as limber as willa-trees."

No response from the Colonel, who was making the chips fly. It had cost
his great body a good many aches and bruises, but he was a capital
axeman now, and not such a bad carpenter, though when the Boy said as
much he had answered:

"Carpenter! I'm just a sort of a well-meanin' wood-butcher"; and deeply
he regretted that in all his young years on a big place in the country
he had learnt so little about anything but horses and cattle.

On the way back to dinner they spoke again of this difficulty of the
boards. O'Flynn whistled "Rory O'More" with his pleasant air of
detachment.

"You and the others would take more interest in the subject," said the
Boy a little hotly, "if we hadn't let you fellows use nearly all the
boat-planks for _your_ bunks, and now we haven't got any for our own."

"_Let_ us use 'em! Faith! we had a right to'm."

"To boards out of _our_ boat!"

"And ye can have the loan o' the whip-saw to make more, whenever the
fancy takes ye."

"Loan o' the whip-saw! Why, it's mine," says the Colonel.

"Divil a bit of it, man!" says O'Flynn serenely. "Everything we've got
belongs to all of us, except a sack o' coffee, a medicine-chest, and a
dimmi-john. And it's mesilf that's afraid the dimmi-john--"

"What's the use of my having bought a whip-saw?" interrupted the
Colonel, hurriedly. "What's the good of it, if the only man that knows
how to use it--"

"Is more taken up wid bein' a guardjin angel to his pardner's
dimmi-john--"

The Colonel turned and frowned at the proprietor of the dimmi-john. The
Boy had dropped behind to look at some marten tracks in the
fresh-fallen snow.

"I'll follow that trail after dinner," says he, catching up the others
in time to hear O'Flynn say:

"If it wusn't that ye think only a feller that's been to Caribou can
teach ye annything it's Jimmie O'Flynn that 'ud show ye how to play a
chune on that same whip-saw."

"Will you show us after dinner?"

"Sure I will."

And he was as good as his word.

This business of turning a tree into boards without the aid of a
saw-mill is a thing many placer-miners have to learn; for, even if they
are disposed to sleep on the floor, and to do without shelves, they
can't do sluicing without sluice-boxes, and they can't make those long,
narrow boxes without boards.

So every party that is well fitted out has a whip-saw.

"Furrst ye dig a pit," O'Flynn had said airily, stretched out before
the fire after dinner. "Make it about four feet deep, and as long as
ye'd like yer boards. When ye've done that I'll come and take a hand."

The little job was not half finished when the light tailed. Two days
more of soil-burning and shovelling saw it done.

"Now ye sling a couple o' saplings acrost the durrt ye've chucked out.
R-right! Now ye roll yer saw-timber inter the middle. R-right! An' on
each side ye want a log to stand on. See? Wid yer 'guide-man' on top
sthradlin' yer timberr, watchin' the chalk-line and doin' the pull-up,
and the otherr fellerr in the pit lookin' afther the haul-down, ye'll
be able to play a chune wid that there whip-saw that'll make the
serryphims sick o' plain harps." O'Flynn superintended it all, and even
Potts had the curiosity to come out and see what they were up to. Mac
was "kind o' dozin'" by the fire.

When the frame was finished O'Flynn helped to put the trial-log in
place, having marked it off with charcoal to indicate inch and a
quarter planks. Then the Colonel, down in the pit, and O'Flynn on top
of the frame, took the great two-handled saw between them, and began
laboriously, one drawing the big blade up, and the other down,
vertically through the log along the charcoal line.

"An' _that's_ how it's done, wid bits of yer arrums and yer back that
have niver been called on to wurruk befure. An' whin ye've been at it
an hour ye'll find it goes betther wid a little blasphemin';" and he
gave his end of the saw to the reluctant Potts.

Potts was about this time as much of a problem to his pardners as was
the ex-schoolmaster. If the bank clerk had surprised them all by his
handiness on board ship, and by making a crane to swing the pots over
the fire, he surprised them all still more in these days by an apparent
eclipse of his talents. It was unaccountable. Potts's carpentering,
Potts's all-round cleverness, was, like "payrock in a pocket," as the
miners say, speedily worked out, and not a trace of it afterwards to be
found.

But less and less was the defection of the Trio felt. The burly
Kentucky stock-farmer was getting his hand in at "frontier" work,
though he still couldn't get on without his "nigger," as the Boy said,
slyly indicating that it was he who occupied this exalted post. These
two soon had the bunks made out of the rough planks they had sawed with
all a green-horn's pains. They put in a fragrant mattress of spring
moss, and on that made up a bed of blankets and furs.

More boards were laboriously turned out to make the great swing-shelf
to hang up high in the angle of the roof, where the provisions might be
stored out of reach of possible marauders.

The days were very short now, bringing only about five hours of pallid
light, so little of which struggled through the famous bottle-window
that at all hours they depended chiefly on the blaze from the great
fireplace. There was still a good deal of work to be done indoors,
shelves to be put up on the left as you entered (whereon the
granite-ware tea-service, etc., was kept), a dinner-table to be made,
and three-legged stools. While these additions--"fancy touches," as the
Trio called them--were being made, Potts and O'Flynn, although
occasionally they went out for an hour or two, shot-gun on shoulder,
seldom brought home anything, and for the most part were content with
doing what they modestly considered their share of the cooking and
washing. For the rest, they sat by the fire playing endless games of
euchre, seven-up and bean poker, while Mac, more silent than ever,
smoked and read Copps's "Mining Laws" and the magazines of the previous
August.

Nobody heard much in those days of Caribou. The Colonel had gradually
slipped into the position of Boss of the camp. The Trio were still just
a trifle afraid of him, and he, on his side, never pressed a dangerous
issue too far.

But this is a little to anticipate.

One bitter gray morning, that had reduced Perry Davis to a solid lump
of ice, O'Flynn, the Colonel, and the Boy were bringing into the cabin
the last of the whip-sawed boards. The Colonel halted and looked
steadily up the river.

"Is that a beast or a human?" said he.

"It's a man," the Boy decided after a moment--"no, two men, single
file, and--yes--Colonel, it's dogs. Hooray! a dog-team at last!"

They had simultaneously dropped the lumber. The Boy ran on to tell the
cook to prepare more grub, and then pelted after O'Flynn and the
Colonel, who had gone down to meet the newcomers--an Indian driving
five dogs, which were hitched tandem to a low Esquimaux sled, with a
pack and two pairs of web-foot snow-shoes lashed on it, and followed by
a white man. The Indian was a fine fellow, younger than Prince
Nicholas, and better off in the matter of eyes. The white man was a
good deal older than either, with grizzled hair, a worn face, bright
dark eyes, and a pleasant smile.

"I had heard some white men had camped hereabouts," says he. "I am glad
to see we have such substantial neighbours." He was looking up at the
stone chimney, conspicuous a long way off.

"We didn't know we had any white neighbours," said the Colonel in his
most grand and gracious manner. "How far away are you, sir?"

"About forty miles above."

As he answered he happened to be glancing at the Boy, and observed his
eagerness cloud slightly. Hadn't Nicholas said it was "about forty
miles above" that the missionaries lived?

"But to be only forty miles away," the stranger went on,
misinterpreting the fading gladness, "is to be near neighbours in this
country."

"We aren't quite fixed yet," said the Colonel, "but you must come in
and have some dinner with us. We can promise you a good fire, anyhow."

"Thank you. You have chosen a fine site." And the bright eyes with the
deep crow's-feet raying out from the corners scanned the country in so
keen and knowing a fashion that the Boy, with hope reviving, ventured:

"Are--are you a prospector?"

"No. I am Father Wills from Holy Cross."

"Oh!" And the Boy presently caught up with the Indian, and walked on
beside him, looking back every now and then to watch the dogs or
examine the harness. The driver spoke English, and answered questions
with a tolerable intelligence. "Are dogs often driven without reins?"

The Indian nodded.

The Colonel, after the stranger had introduced himself, was just a
shade more reserved, but seemed determined not to be lacking in
hospitality. O'Flynn was overflowing, or would have been had the Jesuit
encouraged him. He told their story, or, more properly, his own, and
how they had been wrecked.

"And so ye're the Father Superior up there?" says the Irishman, pausing
to take breath.

"No. Our Superior is Father Brachet. That's a well-built cabin!"

The dogs halted, though they had at least five hundred yards still to
travel before they would reach the well-built cabin.

"_Mush!_" shouted the Indian.

The dogs cleared the ice-reef, and went spinning along so briskly over
the low hummocks that the driver had to run to keep up with them.

The Boy was flying after when the priest, having caught sight of his
face, called out: "Here! Wait! Stop a moment!" and hurried forward.

He kicked through the ice-crust, gathered up a handful of snow, and
began to rub it on the Boy's right cheek.

"What in the name of--" The Boy was drawing back angrily.

"Keep still," ordered the priest; "your cheek is frozen"; and he
applied more snow and more friction. "You ought to watch one another in
such weather as this. When a man turns dead-white like that, he's
touched with frost-bite." After he had restored the circulation: "There
now, don't go near the fire, or it will begin to hurt."

"Thank you," said the Boy, a little shame-faced. "It's all right now, I
suppose?"

"I think so," said the priest. "You'll lose the skin, and you may be a
little sore--nothing to speak of," with which he fell back to the
Colonel's side.

The dogs had settled down into a jog-trot now, but were still well on
in front.

"Is 'mush' their food?" asked the Boy.

"_Mush?_ No, fish."

"Why does your Indian go on like that about mush, then?"

"Oh, that's the only word the dogs know, except--a--certain expressions
we try to discourage the Indians from using. In the old days the
dog-drivers used to say 'mahsh.' Now you never hear anything but
swearing and 'mush,' a corruption of the French-Canadian _marche_." He
turned to the Colonel: "You'll get over trying to wear cheechalko boots
here--nothing like mucklucks with a wisp of straw inside for this
country."

"I agree wid ye. I got me a pair in St. Michael's," says O'Flynn
proudly, turning out his enormous feet. "Never wore anything so
comf'table in me life."

"You ought to have drill parkis too, like this of mine, to keep out the
wind."

They were going up the slope now, obliquely to the cabin, close behind
the dogs, who were pulling spasmodically between their little rests.

Father Wills stooped and gathered up some moss that the wind had swept
almost bare of snow. "You see that?" he said to O'Flynn, while the Boy
stopped, and the Colonel hurried on. "Wherever you find that growing no
man need starve."

The Colonel looked back before entering the cabin and saw that the Boy
seemed to have forgotten not alone the Indian, but the dogs, and was
walking behind with the Jesuit, face upturned, smiling, as friendly as
you please.

Within a different picture.

Potts and Mac were having a row about something, and the Colonel struck
in sharply on their growling comments upon each other's character and
probable destination.

"Got plenty to eat? Two hungry men coming in. One's an Indian, and you
know what that means, and the other's a Catholic priest." It was this
bomb that he had hurried on to get exploded and done with before the
said priest should appear on the scene.

"A _what_?" Mac raised his heavy eyes with fight in every wooden
feature.

"A Jesuit priest is what I said."

"He won't eat his dinner here."

"That is exactly what he will do."

"Not by--" Whether it was the monstrous proposition that had unstrung
Mac, he was obliged to steady himself against the table with a shaking
hand. But he set those square features of his like iron, and, says he,
"No Jesuit sits down to the same table with me."

"That means, then, that you'll eat alone."

"Not if I know it."

The Colonel slid in place the heavy wooden bar that had never before
been requisitioned to secure the door, and he came and stood in the
middle of the cabin, where he could let out all his inches. Just
clearing the swing-shelf, he pulled his great figure up to its full
height, and standing there like a second Goliath, he said quite softly
in that lingo of his childhood that always came back to his tongue's
tip in times of excitement: "Just as shuah as yo' bohn that priest will
eat his dinner to-day in my cabin, sah; and if yo' going t' make any
trouble, just say so now, and we'll get it ovah, and the place cleaned
up again befoh our visitors arrive."

"Mind what you're about, Mac," growled Potts. "You know he could lick
the stuffin' out o' you."

The ex-schoolmaster produced some sort of indignant sound in his throat
and turned, as if he meant to go out. The Colonel came a little nearer.
Mac flung up his head and squared for battle.

Potts, in a cold sweat, dropped a lot of tinware with a rattle, while
the Colonel said, "No, no. We'll settle this after the people go, Mac."
Then in a whisper: "Look here: I've been trying to shield you for ten
days. Don't give yourself away now--before the first white neighbour
that comes to see us. You call yourself a Christian. Just see if you
can't behave like one, for an hour or two, to a fellow-creature that's
cold and hungry. Come, _you're_ the man we've always counted on! Do the
honours, and take it out of me after our guests are gone."

Mac seemed in a haze. He sat down heavily on some beanbags in the
corner; and when the newcomers were brought in and introduced, he "did
the honours" by glowering at them with red eyes, never breaking his
surly silence.

"Well!" says Father Wills, looking about, "I must say you're very
comfortable here. If more people made homes like this, there'd be fewer
failures." They gave him the best place by the fire, and Potts dished
up dinner. There were only two stools made yet. The Boy rolled his
section of sawed spruce over near the priest, and prepared to dine at
his side.

"No, no," said Father Wills firmly. "You shall sit as far away from
this splendid blaze as you can get, or you will have trouble with that
cheek." So the Boy had to yield his place to O'Flynn, and join Mac over
on the bean-bags.

"Why didn't you get a parki when you were at St. Michael's?" said the
priest as this change was being effected.

"We had just as much--more than we could carry. Besides, I thought we
could buy furs up river; anyway, I'm warm enough."

"No you are not," returned the priest smiling. "You must get a parki
with a hood."

"I've got an Arctic cap; it rolls down over my ears and goes all round
my neck--just leaves a little place in front for my eyes."

"Yes; wear that if you go on the trail; but the good of the parki hood
is, that it is trimmed all round with long wolf-hair. You see"--he
picked his parki up off the floor and showed it to the company--"those
long hairs standing out all round the face break the force of the wind.
It is wonderful how the Esquimaux hood lessens the chance of
frost-bite."

While the only object in the room that he didn't seem to see was Mac,
he was most taken up with the fireplace.

The Colonel laid great stress on the enormous services of the
delightful, accomplished master-mason over there on the beanbags, who
sat looking more than ever like a monkey-wrench incarnate.

But whether that Jesuit was as wily as the Calvinist thought, he had
quite wit enough to overlook the great chimney-builder's wrathful
silence.

He was not the least "professional," talked about the country and how
to live here, saying incidentally that he had spent twelve years at the
mission of the Holy Cross. The Yukon wasn't a bad place to live in, he
told them, if men only took the trouble to learn how to live here.
While teaching the Indians, there was a great deal to learn from them
as well.

"You must all come and see our schools," he wound up.

"We'd like to awfully," said the Boy, and all but Mac echoed him. "We
were so afraid," he went on, "that we mightn't see anybody all winter
long."

"Oh, you'll have more visitors than you want."

"_Shall_ we, though?" Then, with a modified rapture: "Indians, I
suppose, and--and missionaries."

"Traders, too, and miners, and this year cheechalkos as well. You are
directly on the great highway of winter travel. Now that there's a good
hard crust on the snow you will have dog-trains passing every week, and
sometimes two or three."

It was good news!

"We've already had one visitor before you," said the Boy, looking
wonderfully pleased at the prospect the priest had opened out. "You
must know Nicholas of Pymeut, don't you?"

"Oh yes; we all know Nicholas"; and the priest smiled.

"We _like_ him," returned the Boy as if some slighting criticism had
been passed upon his friend.

"Of course you do; so do we all"; and still that look of quiet
amusement on the worn face and a keener twinkle glinting in the eyes.

"We're afraid he's sick," the Boy began.

Before the priest could answer, "He was educated at Howly Cross, he
_says_," contributed O'Flynn.

"Oh, he's been to Holy Cross, among other places."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, Nicholas is a most impartial person. He was born at Pymeut, but
his father, who is the richest and most intelligent man in his tribe,
took Nicholas to Ikogimeut when the boy was only six. He was brought up
in the Russian mission there, as the father had been before him, and
was a Greek--in religion--till he was fourteen. There was a famine that
year down yonder, so Nicholas turned Catholic and came up to us. He was
at Holy Cross some years, when business called him to Anvik, where he
turned Episcopalian. At Eagle City, I believe, he is regarded as a
pattern Presbyterian. There are those that say, since he has been a
pilot, Nicholas makes six changes a trip in his religious convictions."

Father Wills saw that the Colonel, to whom he most frequently addressed
himself, took his pleasantry gravely. "Nicholas is not a bad fellow,"
he added. "He told me you had been kind to him."

"If you believe that about his insincerity," said the Colonel, "are you
not afraid the others you spend your life teaching may turn out as
little credit to you--to Christianity?"

The priest glanced at the listening Indian. "No," said he gravely; "I
do not think _all_ the natives are like Nicholas. Andrew here is a true
son of the Church. But even if it were otherwise, _we_, you know"--the
Jesuit rose from the table with that calm smile of his--"we simply do
the work without question. The issue is not in our hands." He made the
sign of the cross and set back his stool.

"Come, Andrew," he said; "we must push on."

The Indian repeated the priest's action, and went out to see to the
dogs.

"Oh, are you going right away?" said the Colonel politely, and O'Flynn
volubly protested.

"We thought," said the Boy, "you'd sit awhile and smoke and--at least,
of course, I don't mean smoke exactly--but--"

The Father smiled and shook his head.

"Another time I would stay gladly."

"Where are you going now?"

"Andrew and I are on our way to the _Oklahoma_, the steamship frozen in
the ice below here."

"How far?" asked the Boy.

"About seven miles below the Russian mission, and a mile or so up the
Kuskoquim Slough."

"Wrecked there?"

"Oh no. Gone into winter quarters."

"In a slew?" for it was so Father Wills pronounced s-l-o-u-g-h.

"Oh, that's what they call a blind river up in this country. They come
into the big streams every here and there, and cheechalkos are always
mistaking them for the main channel. Sometimes they're wider and deeper
for a mile or so than the river proper, but before you know it they
land you in a marsh. This place I'm going to, a little way up the
Kuskoquim, out of danger when the ice breaks up, has been chosen for a
new station by the N. A. T. and T. Company--rival, you know, to the
old-established Alaska Commercial, that inherited the Russian fur
monopoly and controlled the seal and salmon trade so long. Well, the
younger company runs the old one hard, and they've sent this steamer
into winter quarters loaded with provisions, ready to start for Dawson
the instant the ice goes out."

"Why, then, it's the very boat that'll be takin' us to the Klondyke."

"You just goin' down to have a look at her?" asked Potts enviously.

"No. I go to get relief for the Pymeuts."

"What's the matter with 'em?"

"Epidemic all summer, starvation now."

"Guess you won't find _any_body's got such a lot he wants to give it
away to the Indians."

"Our Father Superior has given much," said the priest gently; "but we
are not inexhaustible at Holy Cross. And the long winter is before us.
Many of the supply steamers have failed to get in, and the country is
flooded with gold-seekers. There'll be wide-spread want this
year--terrible suffering all up and down the river."

"The more reason for people to hold on to what they've got. A white
man's worth more 'n an Indian."

The priest's face showed no anger, not even coldness.

"White men have got a great deal out of Alaska and as yet done little
but harm here. The government ought to help the natives, and we believe
the Government will. All we ask of the captain of the _Oklahoma_ is to
sell us, on fair terms, a certain supply, we assuming part of the risk,
and both of us looking to the Government to make it good."

"Reckon you'll find that steamer-load down in the ice is worth its
weight in gold," said Potts.

"One must always try," replied the Father.

He left the doorpost, straightened his bowed back, and laid a hand on
the wooden latch.

"But Nicholas--when you left Pymeut was he--" began the Boy.

"Oh, he is all right," the Father smiled and nodded. "Brother Paul has
been looking after Nicholas's father. The old chief has enough food,
but he has been very ill. By the way, have you any letters you want to
send out?"

"Oh, if we'd only known!" was the general chorus; and Potts flew to
close and stamp one he had hardly more than begun to the future Mrs.
Potts.

The Boy had thoughtlessly opened the door to have a look at the dogs.

"Shut that da--Don't keep the door open!" howled Potts, trying to hold
his precious letter down on the table while he added "only two words."
The Boy slammed the door behind him.

"With all our trouble, the cabin isn't really warm," said the Colonel
apologetically. "In a wind like this, if the door is open, we have to
hold fast to things to keep them from running down the Yukon. It's a
trial to anybody's temper."

"Why don't you build a false wall?"

"Well, I don't know; we hadn't thought of it."

"You'd find it correct this draught"; and the priest explained his
views on the subject while Potts's letter was being addressed. Andrew
put his head in.

"Ready, Father!"

As the priest was pocketing the letter the Boy dashed in, put on the
Arctic cap he set such store by, and a fur coat and mittens.

"Do you mind if I go a little way with you?" he said.

"Of course not," answered the priest. "I will send him back in half an
hour," he said low to the Colonel. "It's a hitter day."

It was curious how already he had divined the relation of the elder man
to the youngest of that odd household.

The moment they had gone Mac, with an obvious effort, pulled himself up
out of his corner, and, coming towards the Colonel at the fireplace, he
said thickly:

"You've put an insult upon me, Warren, and that's what I stand from no
man. Come outside."

The Colonel looked at him.

"All right, Mac; but we've just eaten a rousing big dinner. Even
Sullivan wouldn't accept that as the moment for a round. We'll both
have forty winks, hey? and Potts shall call us, and O'Flynn shall be
umpire. You can have the Boy's bunk."

Mac was in a haze again, and allowed himself to be insinuated into bed.

The others got rid of the dinner things, and "sat round" for an hour.

"Doubt if he sleeps long," says Potts a little before two; "that's what
he's been doing all morning."

"We haven't had any fresh meat for a week," returns the Colonel
significantly. "Why don't you and O'Flynn go down to meet the Boy, and
come round by the woods? There'll be full moon up by four o'clock; you
might get a brace of grouse or a rabbit or two."

O'Flynn was not very keen about it; but the Jesuit's visit had stirred
him up, and he offered less opposition to the unusual call to activity
than the Colonel expected.

When at last he was left alone with the sleeping man, the Kentuckian
put on a couple more logs, and sat down to wait. At three he got up,
swung the crane round so that the darting tongues of flame could lick
the hot-water pot, and then he measured out some coffee. In a quarter
of an hour the cabin was full of the fragrance of good Mocha.

The Colonel sat and waited. Presently he poured out a little coffee,
and drank it slowly, blissfully, with half-closed eyes. But when he had
set the granite cup down again, he stood up alert, like a man ready for
business. Mac had been asleep nearly three hours. The others wouldn't
be long now.

Well, if they came prematurely, they must go to the Little Cabin for
awhile. The Colonel shot the bar across door and jamb for the second
time that day. Mac stirred and lifted himself on his elbow, but he
wasn't really awake.

"Potts," he said huskily.

The Colonel made no sound. "Potts, measure me out two fingers, will
you? Cabin's damn cold."

No answer.

Mac roused himself, muttering compliments for Potts. When he had
bundled himself out over the side of the bunk, he saw the Colonel
seemingly dozing by the fire.

He waited a moment. Then, very softly, he made his way to the farther
end of the swing-shelf.

The Colonel opened one eye, shut it, and shuffled in a sleepy sort of
way. Mac turned sharply back to the fire.

The Colonel opened his eyes and yawned.

"I made some cawfee a little while back. Have some?"

"No."

"Better; it's A 1."

"Where's Potts?"

"Gone out for a little. Back soon." He poured out some of the strong,
black decoction, and presented it to his companion. "Just try it.
Finest cawfee in the world, sir."

Mac poured it down without seeming to bother about tasting it.

They sat quite still after that, till the Colonel said meditatively:

"You and I had a little account to settle, didn't we?"

"I'm ready."

But neither moved for several moments.

"See here, Mac: you haven't been ill or anything like that, have you?"

"No." There was no uncertain note in the answer; if anything, there was
in it more than the usual toneless decision. Mac's voice was
machine-made--as innocent of modulation as a buzz-saw, and with the
same uncompromising finality as the shooting of a bolt. "I'm ready to
stand up against any man."

"Good!" interrupted the Colonel. "Glad o' that, for I'm just longing to
see you stand up--"

Mac was on his feet in a flash.

"You had only to say so, if you wanted to see me stand up against any
man alive. And when I sit down again it's my opinion one of us two
won't be good-lookin' any more."

He pushed back the stools.

"I thought maybe it was only necessary to mention it," said the Colonel
slowly. "I've been wanting for a fortnight to see you stand up"--Mac
turned fiercely--"against Samuel David MacCann."

"Come on! I'm in no mood for monkeyin'!"

"Nor I. I realise, MacCann, we've come to a kind of a crisis. Things in
this camp are either going a lot better, or a lot worse, after to-day."

"There's nothing wrong, if you quit asking dirty Jesuits to sit down
with honest men."

"Yes; there's something worse out o' shape than that."

Mac waited warily.

"When we were stranded here, and saw what we'd let ourselves in for,
there wasn't one of us that didn't think things looked pretty much like
the last o' pea time. There was just one circumstance that kept us from
throwing up the sponge; _we had a man in camp."_

The Colonel paused.

Mac stood as expressionless as the wooden crane.

"A man we all believed in, who was going to help us pull through."
"That was you, I s'pose." Mac's hard voice chopped out the sarcasm.

"You know mighty well who it was. The Boy's all right, but he's young
for this kind o' thing--young and heady. There isn't much wrong with me
that I'm aware of, except that I don't know shucks. Potts's petering
out wasn't altogether a surprise, and nobody expected anything from
O'Flynn till we got to Dawson, when a lawyer and a fella with capital
behind him may come in handy. But there was one man--who had a head on
him, who had experience, and who"--he leaned over to emphasise the
climax--"who had _character_. It was on that man's account that I
joined this party."

Mac put his hands in his pockets and leaned against the wall. His face
began to look a little more natural. The long sleep or the coffee had
cleared his eyes.

"Shall I tell you what I heard about that man last night?" asked the
Colonel gravely.

Mac looked up, but never opened his lips.

"You remember you wouldn't sit here--"

"The Boy was always in and out. The cabin was cold."

"I left the Boy and O'Flynn at supper-time and went down to the Little
Cabin to--"

"To see what I was doin'--to spy on me."

"Well, all right--maybe I was spying, too. Incidentally I wanted to
tell you the cabin was hot as blazes, and get you to come to supper. I
met Potts hurrying up for his grub, and I said, 'Where's Mac? Isn't he
coming?' and your pardner's answer was: 'Oh, let him alone. He's got a
flask in his bunk, swillin' and gruntin'; he's just in hog-heaven.'"

"Damn that sneak!"

"The man he was talkin' about, Mac, was the man we had all built our
hopes on."

"I'll teach Potts--"

"You can't, Mac. Potts has got to die and go to heaven--perhaps to
hell, before he'll learn any good. But you're a different breed. Teach
MacCann."

Mac suddenly sat down on the stool with his head in his hands.

"The Boy hasn't caught on," said the Colonel presently, "but he said
something this morning to show he was wondering about the change that's
come over you."

"That I don't split wood all day, I suppose, when we've got enough for
a month. Potts doesn't either. Why don't you go for Potts?"

"As the Boy said, I don't care about Potts. It's Mac that matters."

"Did the Boy say that?" He looked up.

The Colonel nodded.

"After you had made that chimney, you know, you were a kind of hero in
his eyes."

Mac looked away. "The cabin's been cold," he muttered.

"We are going to remedy that."

"I didn't bring any liquor into camp. You must admit that I didn't
intend--"

"I do admit it."

"And when O'Flynn said that about keeping his big demijohn out of the
inventory and apart from the common stores, I sat on him."

"So you did."

"I knew it was safest to act on the 'medicinal purposes' principle."

"So it is."

"But I wasn't thinking so much of O'Flynn. I was thinking of ... things
that had happened before ... for ... I'd had experience. Drink was the
curse of Caribou. It's something of a scourge up in Nova Scotia ... I'd
had experience."

"You did the very best thing possible under the circumstances." Mac was
feeling about after his self-respect, and must be helped to get hold of
it. "I realise, too, that the temptation is much greater in cold
countries," said the Kentuckian unblushingly. "Italians and Greeks
don't want fiery drinks half as much as Russians and
Scandinavians--haven't the same craving as Nova Scotians and
cold-country people generally, I suppose. But that only shows,
temperance is of more vital importance in the North."

"That's right! It's not much in my line to shift blame, even when I
don't deserve it; but you know so much you might as well know ... it
wasn't I who opened that demijohn first."

"But you don't mind being the one to shut it up--do you?"

"Shut it up?"

"Yes; let's get it down and--" The Colonel swung it off the shelf. It
was nearly empty, and only the Boy's and the Colonel's single bottles
stood unbroached. Even so, Mac's prolonged spree was something of a
mystery to the Kentuckian. It must be that a very little was too much
for Mac. The Colonel handed the demijohn to his companion, and lit the
solitary candle standing on its little block of wood, held in place
between three half-driven nails.

"What's that for?"

"Don't you want to seal it up?"

"I haven't got any wax."

"I have an inch or so." The Colonel produced out of his pocket the only
piece in camp.

Mac picked up a billet of wood, and drove the cork in flush with the
neck. Then, placing upright on the cork the helve of the hammer, he
drove the cork down a quarter of an inch farther.

"Give me your wax. What's for a seal?" They looked about. Mac's eye
fell on a metal button that hung by a thread from the old militia
jacket he was wearing. He put his hand up to it, paused, glanced
hurriedly at the Colonel, and let his fingers fall.

"Yes, yes," said the Kentuckian, "that'll make a capital seal."

"No; something of yours, I think, Colonel. The top of that tony
pencil-case, hey?"

The Colonel produced his gold pencil, watched Mac heat the wax, drop it
into the neck of the demijohn, and apply the initialled end of the
Colonel's property. While Mac, without any further waste of words, was
swinging the wicker-bound temptation up on the shelf again, they heard
voices.

"They're coming back," says the Kentuckian hurriedly. "But we've
settled our little account, haven't we, old man?"

Mac jerked his head in that automatic fashion that with him meant
genial and whole-hearted agreement.

"And if Potts or O'Flynn want to break that seal--"

"I'll call 'em down," says Mac. And the Colonel knew the seal was safe.

      *       *       *       *       *

"By-the-by, Colonel," said the Boy, just as he was turning in that
night, "I--a--I've asked that Jesuit chap to the House-Warming."

"Oh, you did, did you?"

"Yes."

"Well, you'd just better have a talk with Mac about it."

"Yes. I've been tryin' to think how I'd square Mac. Of course, I know
I'll have to go easy on the raw."

"I reckon you just will."

"If Monkey-wrench screws down hard on me, you'll come to the rescue,
won't you, Colonel?"

"No I'll side with Mac on that subject. Whatever he says, goes!"

"Humph! _that_ Jesuit's all right."

Not a word out of the Colonel.




CHAPTER III

TWO NEW SPISSIMENS

Medwjedew (zu Luka). Tag' mal--wer bist du? Ich
kenne dich nicht.

Luka. Kennst du denn sonst alle Leute?

Medwjedew. In meinem Revier muss ich jeden kennen und dich kenn'ich
nicht....

Luka. Das kommt wohl daher Onkelchen, dass dein Revier nicht die ganze
Erde umfasst ... 's ist da noch ein Endchen draussen geblieben....


One of the curious results of what is called wild life, is a blessed
release from many of the timidities that assail the easy liver in the
centres of civilisation. Potts was the only one in the white camp who
had doubts about the wisdom of having to do with the natives.

However, the agreeable necessity of going to Pymeut to invite Nicholas
to the Blow-out was not forced upon the Boy. They were still hard at
it, four days after the Jesuit had gone his way, surrounding the Big
Cabin with a false wall, that final and effectual barrier against
Boreas--finishing touch warranted to convert a cabin, so cold that it
drove its inmates to drink, into a dwelling where practical people,
without cracking a dreary joke, might fitly celebrate a House-Warming.

In spite of the shortness of the days, Father Wills's suggestion was
being carried out with a gratifying success. Already manifest were the
advantages of the stockade, running at a foot's distance round the
cabin to the height of the eaves, made of spruce saplings not even
lopped of their short bushy branches, but planted close together, after
burning the ground cleared of snow. A second visitation of mild
weather, and a further two days' thaw, made the Colonel determine to
fill in the space between the spruce stockade and the cabin with
"burnt-out" soil closely packed down and well tramped in. It was
generally conceded, as the winter wore on, that to this contrivance of
the "earthwork" belonged a good half of the credit of the Big Cabin,
and its renown as being the warmest spot on the lower river that
terrible memorable year of the Klondyke Rush.

The evergreen wall with the big stone chimney shouldering itself up to
look out upon the frozen highway, became a conspicuous feature in the
landscape, welcome as the weeks went on to many an eye wearied with
long looking for shelter, and blinded by the snow-whitened waste.

An exception to what became a rule was, of all men, Nicholas. When the
stockade was half done, the Prince and an equerry appeared on the
horizon, with the second team the camp had seen, the driver much
concerned to steer clear of the softened snow and keep to that part of
the river ice windswept and firm, if roughest of all. Nicholas regarded
the stockade with a cold and beady eye.

No, he hadn't time to look at it. He had promised to "mush." He wasn't
even hungry.

It did little credit to his heart, but he seemed more in haste to leave
his new friends than the least friendly of them would have expected.

"Oh, wait a sec.," urged the deeply disappointed Boy. "I wanted awf'ly
to see how your sled is made. It's better 'n Father Wills'."

"Humph!" grunted Nicholas scornfully; "him no got Innuit sled."

"Mac and I are goin' to try soon's the stockade's done--"

"Goo'-bye," interrupted Nicholas.

But the Boy paid no attention to the word of farewell. He knelt down in
the snow and examined the sled carefully.

"Spruce runners," he called out to Mac, "and--jee! they're shod with
ivory! _Jee!_ fastened with sinew and wooden pegs. Hey?"--looking up
incredulously at Nicholas--"not a nail in the whole shebang, eh?"

"Nail?" says Nicholas. "Huh, no _nail!_" as contemptuously as though
the Boy had said "bread-crumbs."

"Well, she's a daisy! When you comin' back?"

"Comin' pretty quick; goin' pretty quick. Goo'-bye! _Mush!_" shouted
Nicholas to his companion, and the dogs got up off their haunches.

But the Boy only laughed at Nicholas's struggles to get started. He
hung on to the loaded sled, examining, praising, while the dogs, after
the merest affectation of trying to make a start, looked round at him
over their loose collars and grinned contentedly.

"Me got to mush. Show nex' time. Mush!"

"What's here?" the Boy shouted through the "mushing"; and he tugged at
the goodly load, so neatly disposed under an old reindeer-skin
sleeping-bag, and lashed down with raw hide.

That? Oh, that was fish. _"Fish!_ Got so much fish at starving Pymeut
you can go hauling it down river? Well, sir, _we_ want fish. We _must_
have fish. Hey?" The Boy appealed to the others.

"Yes."

"R-right y'arre!"

"I reckon we just do!"

But Nicholas had other views.

"No, me take him--" He hitched his body in the direction of Ikogimeut.

"Bless my soul! you've got enough there for a regiment. You goin' to
sell him? Hey?"

Nicholas shook his head.

"Oh, come off the roof!" advised the Boy genially.

"You ain't carryin' it about for your health, I suppose?" said Potts.

"The people down at Ikogimeut don't need it like us. We're white
duffers, and can't get fish through the ice. You sell _some_ of it to
us." But Nicholas shook his head and shuffled along on his snow-shoes,
beckoning the dog-driver to follow.

"Or trade some fur--fur tay," suggested O'Flynn.

"Or for sugar," said Mac.

"Or for tobacco," tempted the Colonel.

And before that last word Nicholas's resolve went down. Up at the cabin
he unlashed the load, and it quickly became manifest that Nicholas was
a dandy at driving a bargain. He kept on saying shamelessly:

"More--more shuhg. Hey? Oh yes, me give heap fish. No nuff shuhg."

If it hadn't been for Mac (his own clear-headed self again, and by no
means to be humbugged by any Prince alive) the purchase of a portion of
that load of frozen fish, corded up like so much wood, would have laid
waste the commissariat.

But if the white men after this passage did not feel an absolute
confidence in Nicholas's fairness of mind, no such unworthy suspicion
of them found lodgment in the bosom of the Prince. With the exception
of some tobacco, he left all his ill-gotten store to be kept for him by
his new friends till he should return. When was that to be? In five
sleeps he would be back.

"Good! We'll have the stockade done by then. What do you say to our big
chimney, Nicholas?"

He emitted a scornful "Peeluck!"

"What! Our chimney no good?"

He shrugged: "Why you have so tall hole your house? How you cover him
up?"

"We don't want to cover him up."

"Humph! winter fin' you tall hole. Winter come down--bring in
snow--drive fire out." He shivered in anticipation of what was to
happen. "Peeluck!"

The white men laughed.

"What you up to now? Where you going?"

Well, the fact was, Nicholas had been sent by his great ally, the
Father Superior of Holy Cross, on a mission, very important, demanding
despatch.

"Father Brachet--him know him heap better send Nicholas when him want
man go God-damn quick. Me no stop--no--no stop."

He drew on his mittens proudly, unjarred by remembrance of how his good
resolution had come to grief.

"Where you off to now?"

"Me ketchum Father Wills--me give letter." He tapped his
deerskin-covered chest. "Ketchum _sure_ 'fore him leave Ikogimeut."

"You come back with Father Wills?"

Nicholas nodded.

"Hooray! we'll all work like sixty!" shouted the Boy, "and by Saturday
(that's five sleeps) we'll have the wall done and the house warm, and
you and"--he caught himself up; not thus in public would he break the
news to Mac--"you'll be back in time for the big Blow-Out." To clinch
matters, he accompanied Nicholas from the cabin to the river trail,
explaining: "You savvy? Big feast--all same Indian. Heap good grub. No
prayer-meetin'--you savvy?--no church this time. Big fire, big feed.
All kinds--apples, shuhg, bacon--no cook him, you no like," he added,
basely truckling to the Prince's peculiar taste.

Nicholas rolled his single eye in joyful anticipation, and promised
faithfully to grace the scene.

      *       *       *       *       *

This was all very fine ... but Father Wills! The last thing at night
and the first thing in the morning the Boy looked the problem in the
face, and devised now this, now that, adroit and disarming fashion of
breaking the news to Mac.

But it was only when the daring giver of invitations was safely in bed,
and Mac equally safe down in the Little Cabin, that it seemed possible
to broach the subject. He devised scenes in which, airily and
triumphantly, he introduced Father Wills, and brought Mac to the point
of pining for Jesuit society; but these scenes were actable only under
conditions of darkness and of solitude. The Colonel refused to have
anything to do with the matter.

"Our first business, as I see it, is to keep peace in the camp, and
hold fast to a good understanding with one another. It's just over
little things like this that trouble begins. Mac's one of us; Father
Wills is an outsider. I won't rile Mac for the sake of any Jesuit
alive. No, sir; this is _your_ funeral, and you're obliged to attend."

Before three of Nicholas's five sleeps were accomplished, the Boy began
to curse the hour he had laid eyes on Father Wills. He began even to
speculate desperately on the good priest's chances of tumbling into an
air-hole, or being devoured by a timely wolf. But no, life was never so
considerate as that. Yet he could neither face being the cause of the
first serious row in camp, nor endure the thought of having his
particular guest--drat him!--flouted, and the whole House-Warming
turned to failure and humiliation.

Indeed, the case looked desperate. Only one day more now before he
would appear--be flouted, insulted, and go off wounded, angry, leaving
the Boy with an irreconciliable quarrel against Mac, and the
House-Warming turned to chill recrimination and to wretchedness.

But until the last phantasmal hope went down before the logic of events
it was impossible not to cling to the idea of melting Mac's Arctic
heart. There was still one course untried.

Since there was so little left to do to the stockade, the Boy announced
that he thought he'd go up over the hill for a tramp. Gun in hand and
grub in pocket, he marched off to play his last trump-card. If he could
bring home a queer enough bird or beast for the collection, there was
still hope. To what lengths might Mac not go if one dangled before him
the priceless bait of a golden-tipped emperor goose, dressed in
imperial robes of rose-flecked snow? Or who, knowing Mac, would not
trust a _Xema Sabinii_ to play the part of a white-winged angel of
peace? Failing some such heavenly messenger, there was nothing for it
but that the Boy should face the ignominy of going forth to meet the
Father on the morrow, and confess the humiliating truth. It wasn't fair
to let him come expecting hospitality, and find--. Visions arose of Mac
receiving the bent and wayworn missionary with the greeting: "There is
no corner by the fire, no place in the camp for a pander to the Scarlet
Woman." The thought lent impassioned fervour to the quest for goose or
gull.

It was pretty late when he got back to camp, and the men were at
supper. No, he hadn't shot anything.

"What's that bulging in your pocket?"

"Sort o' stone."

"Struck it rich?"

"Don't give me any chin-music, boys; give me tea. I'm dog-tired."

But when Mac got up first, as usual, to go down to the Little Cabin to
"wood up" for the night, "I'll walk down with you," says the Boy,
though it was plain he was dead-beat.

He helped to revive the failing fire, and then, dropping on the section
of sawed wood that did duty for a chair, with some difficulty and a
deal of tugging he pulled "the sort o' stone" out of the pocket of his
duck shooting-jacket.

"See that?" He held the thing tightly clasped in his two red, chapped
hands.

Mac bent down, shading his eyes from the faint flame flicker.

"What is it?" "Piece o' tooth."

"By the Lord Harry! so it is." He took the thing nearer the faint
light. "Fossil! Where'd you get it?"

"Over yonder--by a little frozen river."

"How far? Any more? Only this?"

The Boy didn't answer. He went outside, and returned instantly, lugging
in something brown and whitish, weather-stained, unwieldy.

"I dropped this at the door as I came along home. Thought it might do
for the collection."

Mac stared with all his eyes, and hurriedly lit a candle. The Boy
dropped exhausted on a ragged bit of burlap by the bunks. Mac knelt
down opposite, pouring liberal libation of candle-grease on the
uncouth, bony mass between them.

"Part of the skull!" he rasped out, masking his ecstasy as well as he
could.

"Mastodon?" inquired the Boy.

Mac shook his head.

"I'll bet my boots," says Mac, "it's an _Elephas primigenius;_ and if
I'm right, it's 'a find,' young man. Where'd you stumble on him?"

"Over yonder." The Boy leaned his head against the lower bunk.

"Where?" "Across the divide. The bones have been dragged up on to some
rocks. I saw the end of a tusk stickin' up out of the snow, and I
scratched down till I found--" He indicated the trophy between them on
the floor.

"Tusk? How long?"

"'Bout nine feet." "We'll go and get it to-morrow."

No answer from the Boy.

"Early, hey?"

"Well--a--it's a good ways."

"What if it is?"

"Oh, I don't mind. I'd do more 'n that for you, Mac."

There was something unnatural in such devotion. Mac looked up. But the
Boy was too tired to play the big fish any longer. "I wonder if you'll
do something for me." He watched with a sinking heart Mac's sharp
uprising from the worshipful attitude. It was not like any other
mortal's gradual, many-jointed getting-up; it was more like the sudden
springing out of the big blade of a clasp-knife.

"What's your game?"

"Oh, I ain't got any game," said the Boy desperately; "or, if I have,
there's mighty little fun in it. However, I don't know as I want to
walk ten hours again in this kind o' weather with an elephant on my
back just for--for the poetry o' the thing." He laid his chapped hands
on the side board of the bunk and pulled himself up on his legs.

"What's your game?" repeated Mac sternly, as the Boy reached the door.

"What's the good o' talkin'?" he answered; but he paused, turned, and
leaned heavily against the rude lintel.

"Course, I know you'd be shot before you'd do it, but what I'd _like_,
would be to hear you say you wouldn't kick up a hell of a row if Father
Wills happens in to the House-Warmin'."

Mac jerked his set face, fire-reddened, towards the fossil-finder; and
he, without waiting for more, simply opened the door, and heavily
footed it back to the Big Cabin.

      *       *       *       *       *

Next morning when Mac came to breakfast he heard that the Boy had had
his grub half an hour before the usual time, and was gone off on some
tramp again. Mac sat and mused.

O'Flynn came in with a dripping bucket, and sat down to breakfast
shivering.

"Which way'd he go?"

"The Boy? Down river."

"Sure he didn't go over the divide?"

O'Flynn was sure. He'd just been down to the water-hole, and in the
faint light he'd seen the Boy far down on the river-trail "leppin" like
a hare in the direction of the Roosian mission."

"Goin' to meet ... a ... Nicholas?"

"Reckon so," said the Colonel, a bit ruffled. "Don't believe he'll run
like a hare very far with his feet all blistered."

"Did you know he'd discovered a fossil elephant?"

"No."

"Well, he has. I must light out, too, and have a look at it."

"Do; it'll be a cheerful sort of House-Warming with one of you off
scouring the country for more blisters and chilblains, and another
huntin' antediluvian elephants." The Colonel spoke with uncommon
irascibility. The great feast-day had certainly not dawned
propitiously.

When breakfast was done Mac left the Big Cabin without a word; but,
instead of going over the divide across the treeless snow-waste to the
little frozen river, where, turned up to the pale northern dawn, were
lying the bones of a beast that had trampled tropic forests, in that
other dawn of the Prime, the naturalist, turning his back on _Elephas
primigenius,_ followed in the track of the Boy down the great river
towards Ikogimeut.

      *       *       *       *       *

On the low left bank of the Yukon a little camp. On one side, a big
rock hooded with snow. At right angles, drawn up one on top of the
other, two sleds covered with reindeer-skins held down by stones. In
the corner formed by the angle of rocks and sleds, a small A-tent, very
stained and old. Burning before it on a hearth of greenwood, a little
fire struggling with a veering wind.

Mac had seen from far off the faint blue banners of smoke blowing now
right, now left, then tossed aloft in the pallid sunshine. He looked
about sharply for the Boy, as he had been doing this two hours. There
was the Jesuit bending over the fire, bettering the precarious position
of a saucepan that insisted on sitting lop-sided, looking down into the
heart of coals. Nicholas was holding up the tent-flap.

"Hello! How do!" he sang out, recognising Mac. The priest glanced up
and nodded pleasantly. Two Indians, squatting on the other side of the
fire, scrambled away as the shifting wind brought a cloud of stifling
smoke into their faces. "Where's the Boy?" demanded Mac, arresting the
stampede.

Nicholas's dog-driver stared, winked, and wiped his weeping,
smoke-reddened eyes.

"Is he in there?" Mac looked towards the tent.

Andrew nodded between coughs.

"What's he doing in there? Call him out," ordered Mac.

"He no walk."

Mac's hard face took on a look of cast-iron tragedy.

The wind, veering round again, had brought the last words to the priest
on the other side of the fire.

"Oh, it'll be all right by-and-by," he said cheerfully.

"But knocking up like that just for blisters?"

"Blisters? No; cold and general weakness. That's why we delayed--"

Without waiting to hear more Mac strode over to the tent, and as he
went in, Nicholas came out. No sign of the Boy--nobody, nothing. What?
Down in the corner a small, yellow face lying in a nest of fur. Bright,
dark eyes stared roundly, and as Mac glowered astonished at the
apparition, a mouth full of gleaming teeth opened, smiling, to say in a
very small voice:

"Farva!"

Astonished as Mac was, disappointed and relieved all at once, there was
something arresting in the appeal.

"I'm not your father," he said stiffly. "Who're you? Hey? You speak
English?"

The child stared at him fixedly, but suddenly, for no reason on earth,
it smiled again. Mac stood looking down at it, seeming lost in thought.
Presently the small object stirred, struggled about feebly under the
encompassing furs, and, freeing itself, held out its arms. The mites of
hands fluttered at his sleeve and made ineffectual clutches.

"What do you want?" To his own vast astonishment Mac lifted the little
thing out of its warm nest. It was woefully thin, and seemed, even to
his inexperience, to be insufficiently clothed, though the beaded
moccasins on its tiny feet were new and good.

"Why, you're only about as big as a minute," he said gruffly. "What's
the matter--sick?" It suddenly struck him as very extraordinary that he
should have taken up the child, and how extremely embarrassing it would
be if anyone came in and caught him. Clutching the small morsel
awkwardly, he fumbled with the furs preparatory to getting rid, without
delay, of the unusual burden. While he was straightening the things,
Father Wills appeared at the flap, smoking saucepan in hand. The
instant the cold air struck the child it began to cough.

"Oh, you mustn't do that!" said the priest to Mac with unexpected
severity. "Kaviak must lie in bed and keep warm." Down on the floor
went the saucepan. The child was caught away from the surprised Mac,
and the furs so closely gathered round the small shrunken body that
there was once more nothing visible but the wistful yellow face and
gleaming eyes, still turned searchingly on its most recent
acquaintance.

But the priest, without so much as a glance at the new-comer, proceeded
to feed Kaviak out of the saucepan, blowing vigorously at each spoonful
before administering.

"He's pretty hungry," commented Mac. "Where'd you find him?"

"In a little village up on the Kuskoquim. Kaviak's an Esquimaux from
Norton Sound, aren't you, Kaviak?" But the child was wholly absorbed,
it seemed, in swallowing and staring at Mac. "His family came up there
from the coast in a bidarra only last summer--all dead now. Everybody
else in the village--and there isn't but a handful--all ailing and all
hungry. I was tramping across an igloo there a couple of days ago, and
I heard a strange little muffled sound, more like a snared rabbit than
anything else. But the Indian with me said no, everybody who had lived
there was dead, and he was for hurrying on. They're superstitious, you
know, about a place where people have died. But I crawled in, and found
this little thing lying in a bundle of rags with its hands bound and
dried grass stuffed in its mouth. It was too weak to stir or do more
than occasionally to make that muffled noise that I'd heard coming up
through the smoke-hole."

"What you goin' to do with him?"

"Well, I hardly know. The Sisters will look after him for a while, if I
get him there alive."

"Why shouldn't you?"

Kaviak supplied the answer straightway by choking and falling into an
appalling fit of coughing.

"I've got some stuff that'll be good for that," said Mac, thinking of
his medicine-chest. "I'll give you some when we get back to camp."

The priest nodded, taking Mac's unheard of civility as a matter of
course.

"The ice is very rough; the jolting makes him cough awfully."

The Jesuit had fastened his eyes on Mac's woollen muffler, which had
been loosened during the ministering to Kaviak and had dropped on the
ground. "Do you need that scarf?" he asked, as though he suspected Mac
of wearing it for show. "Because if you didn't you could wrap it round
Kaviak while I help the men strike camp." And without waiting to see
how his suggestion was received, he caught up the saucepan, lifted the
flap, and vanished.

"Farva," remarked Kaviak, fixing melancholy eyes on Mac.

"I ain't your father," muttered the gentleman so addressed. He picked
up his scarf and hung it round his own neck.

"Farva!" insisted Kaviak. They looked at each other.

"You cold? That it, hey?" Mac knelt down and pulled away the furs. "God
bless me! you only got this one rag on? God bless me!" He pulled off
his muffler and wound the child in it mummy-wise, round and round,
muttering the while in a surly way. When it was half done he
stopped--thought profoundly with a furrow cutting deep into his square
forehead between the straight brows. Slowly he pulled his gloves out of
his pocket, and turned out from each beaver gauntlet an inner mitten of
knitted wool. "Here," he said, and put both little moccasined feet into
one of the capacious mittens. Much pleased with his ingenuity, he went
on winding the long scarf until the yellow little Esquimaux bore a
certain whimsical resemblance to one of the adorable Delia Robbia
infants. But Mac's sinewy hands were exerting a greater pressure than
he realized. The morsel made a remonstrant squeaking, and squirmed
feebly.

"Oh, oh! Too tight? Beg your pardon," said Mac hastily, as though not
only English, but punctilious manners were understanded of Kaviak. He
relaxed the woollen bandage till the morsel lay contented again within
its folds.

Nicholas came in for Kaviak, and for the furs, that he might pack them
both in the Father's sled. Already the true son of the Church was
undoing the ropes that lashed firm the canvas of the tent.

"Where's the Boy?" said Mac suddenly. "The young fellow that's with us.
You know, the one that found you that first Sunday and brought you to
camp. Where is he?"

Nicholas paused an instant with Kaviak on his shoulder.

"Kaiomi--no savvy."

"You not seen him to-day?"

"No. He no up--?" With the swaddled child he made a gesture up the
river towards the white camp.

"No, he came down this morning to meet you."

Nicholas shook his head, and went on gathering up the furs. As he and
Mac came out, Andrew was undoing the last fastening that held the
canvas to the stakes. In ten minutes they were on the trail, Andrew
leading, with Father Wills' dogs, Kaviak lying in the sled muffled to
the eyes, still looking round out of the corners--no, strangely enough,
the Kaviak eye had no corners, but fixedly he stared sideways at Mac.
"Farva," seeming not to take the smallest notice, trudged along on one
side of him, the priest on the other, and behind came Nicholas and the
other Indians with the second sled. It was too windy to talk much even
had they been inclined.

The only sounds were the _Mush! Mush!_ of the drivers, the grate and
swish of the runners over the ice, and Kaviak's coughing.

Mac turned once and frowned at him. It was curious that the child
seemed not to mind these menacing looks, not in the smallest degree.

By-and-by the order of march was disturbed.

Kaviak's right runner, catching at some obstacle, swerved and sent the
sled bumping along on its side, the small head of the passenger
narrowly escaping the ice. Mac caught hold of the single-tree and
brought the racing dogs to an abrupt halt. The priest and he righted
the sled, and Mac straddling it, tucked in a loosened end of fur. When
all was again in running order, Mac was on the same side as Father
Wills. He still wore that look of dour ill-temper, and especially did
he glower at the unfortunate Kaviak, seized with a fresh fit of
coughing that filled the round eyes with tears.

"Don't you get kind o' tired listenin' to that noise? Suppose I was to
carry--just for a bit--. This is the roughest place on the trail. Hi!
Stop!" he called to Andrew. The priest had said nothing; but divining
what Mac would be at, he helped him to undo the raw-hide lashing, and
when Kaviak was withdrawn he wrapped one of the lighter fur things
round him.

It was only when Mac had marched off, glowering still, and sternly
refusing to meet Kaviak's tearful but grateful eyes--it was only then,
bending over the sled and making fast the furs, that Father Wills, all
to himself, smiled a little.

It wasn't until they were in sight of the smoke from the Little Cabin
that Mac slackened his pace. He had never for a moment found the trail
so smooth that he could return his burden to the sled. Now, however, he
allowed Nicholas and the priest to catch up with him.

"You carry him the rest of the way," he commanded, and set his burden
in Nicholas's arms. Kaviak was ill-pleased, but Mac, falling behind
with the priest, stalked on with eyes upon the ground.

"I've got a boy of my own," he jerked out presently, with the air of a
man who accounts confidentially for some weakness.

"Really!" returned the priest; "they didn't tell me."

"I haven't told them yet."

"Oh, all right."

"Why is he called that heathen name?"

"Kaviak? Oh, it's the name of his tribe. His people belong to that
branch of the Innuits known as Kaviaks."

"Humph! Then he's only Kaviak as I'm MacCann. I suppose you've
christened him?"

"Well, not yet--no. What shall we call him? What's your boy's name?"
"Robert Bruce." They went on in silence till Mac said, "It's on account
of my boy I came up here."

"Oh!"

"It didn't use to matter if a man _was_ poor and self-taught, but in
these days of competition it's different. A boy must have chances if
he's going to fight the battle on equal terms. Of course, some boys
ain't worth botherin' about. But my boy--well, he seems to have
something in him."

The priest listened silently, but with that look of brotherliness on
his face that made it so easy to talk to him.

"It doesn't really matter to those other fellows." Mac jerked his hand
towards the camp. "It's never so important to men--who stand alone--but
I've _got_ to strike it rich over yonder." He lifted his head, and
frowned defiantly in the general direction of the Klondyke, thirteen
hundred miles away. "It's my one chance," he added half to himself. "It
means everything to Bob and me. Education, scientific education, costs
like thunder."

"In the United States?"

"Oh, I mean to send my boy to the old country. I want Bob to be
thorough."

The priest smiled, but almost imperceptibly.

"How old is he?"

"Oh, 'bout as old as this youngster." Mac spoke with calculated
indifference.

"Six or thereabouts?"

"No; four and a half. But he's bigger--"

"Of course."

"And you can see already--he's got a lot in him."

Father Wills nodded with a conviction that brought Mac nearer
confession than he had ever been in his life.

"You see," he said quite low, and as if the words were dragged out with
pincers, "the fact is--my married life--didn't pan out very well. And
I--ran away from home as a little chap--after a lickin'--and never went
back. But there's one thing I mean to make a success of--that's my
boy."

"Well, I believe you will, if you feel like that."

"Why, they've gone clean past the camp trail," said Mac sharply, "all
but Nicholas--and what in thunder?--he's put the kid back on the
sled--"

"Yes, I told my men we'd be getting on. But they were told to leave you
the venison--"

"What! You goin' straight on? Nonsense!" Mac interrupted, and began to
shout to the Indians.

"No; I _meant_ to stop; just tell your friends so," said the
unsuspecting Father; "but with a sick child--"

"What can you do for him that we can't? And to break the journey may
make a big difference. We've got some condensed milk left--and--"

"Ah yes, but we are more accustomed to--it's hardly fair to burden a
neighbour. No, we'll be getting on."

"If those fellers up there make a row about your bringing in a
youngster"--he thrust out his jaw--"they can settle the account with
me. I've got to do something for that cough before the kid goes on."

"Well," said the priest; and so wily are these Jesuits that he never
once mentioned that he was himself a qualified doctor in full and
regular practice. He kept his eyes on the finished stockade and the
great chimney, wearing majestically its floating plume of smoke.

"Hi!" Mac called between his hands to the Indians, who had gone some
distance ahead. "Hi!" He motioned them back up the hill trail.

O'Flynn had come out of the Little Cabin, and seemed to be laboriously
trundling something along the footpath. He got so excited when he heard
the noise and saw the party that, inadvertently, he let his burden
slide down the icy slope, bumping and bouncing clumsily from one
impediment to another.

"Faith, look at 'im! Sure, that fossle can't resthrain his j'y at
seein' ye back. Mac, it's yer elephunt. I was takin' him in to the sate
of honour be the foir. We thought it 'ud be a pleasant surprise fur ye.
Sure, ye'r more surprised to see 'im leppin' down the hill to meet ye,
like a rale Irish tarrier."

Mac was angry, and didn't conceal the fact. As he ran to stop the thing
before it should be dashed to pieces, the priest happened to glance
back, and saw coming slowly along the river trail a solitary figure
that seemed to make its way with difficulty.

"It looks as though you'd have more than you bargained for at the
House-Warming," he said.

O'Flynn came down the hill babbling like a brook.

"Good-day to ye, Father. The blessin's o' Heaven on ye fur not kapin'
us starvin' anny longer. There's Potts been swearin', be this and be
that, that yourself and the little divvle wudn't be at the Blow-Out at
ahl, at ahl."

"You mean the Boy hasn't come back?" called out Mac. He leaned _Elephas
primigenius_ against a tuft of willow banked round with snow, and
turned gloomily as if to go back down the river again.

"Who's this?" They all stood and watched the limping traveller.

"Why it's--of course. I didn't know him with that thing tied over his
cap"; and Mac went to meet him.

The Boy bettered his pace.

"How did I miss you?" demanded Mac.

"Well," said the Boy, looking rather mischievous, "I can't think how it
happened on the way down, unless you passed when I 'd gone uphill a
piece after some tracks. I was lyin' under the Muff a few miles down
when you came back, and you--well, I kind o' thought you seemed to have
your hands full." Mac looked rigid and don't-you-try-to-chaff-me-sir.
"Besides," the Boy went on, "I couldn't cover the ground like you and
Father Wills."

"What's the matter with you?"

"Oh, nothin' to howl about. But see here, Mac."

"Well?"

"Soon's I can walk I'll go and get you the rest o' that elephant."

There was no more said till they got up to the others, who had waited
for the Indians to come back, and had unpacked Kaviak to spare him the
jolting uphill.

O'Flynn was screaming with excitement as he saw that the bundle
Nicholas was carrying had a head and two round eyes.

"The saints in glory be among us! What's that? Man alive, what _is_ it,
be the Siven?"

"That," answered Mac with a proprietary air, "is a little Esquimaux
boy, and I'm bringing him in to doctor his cold."

"Glory be! An Esquimer! And wid a cowld! Sure, he can have some o' my
linnyeemint. Well, y'arre a boss collector, Mac! Faith, ye bang the
Jews! And me thinkin' ye'd be satisfied wid yer elephunt. Not him, be
the Siven! It's an Esquimer he must have to finish off his collection,
wan wid the rale Arctic cowld in his head, and two eyes that goes
snappin' through ye like black torpeders. Two spissimens in wan day!
Yer growin' exthravagant, Mac. Why, musha, child, if I don't think yer
the dandy Spissimen o' the lot!"




CHAPTER IV

THE BLOW-OUT

"How good it is to invite men to the pleasant feast."


Comfortable as rock fireplace and stockade made the cabin now, the
Colonel had been feeling all that morning that the official
House-Warming was fore-doomed to failure. Nevertheless, as he was cook
that week, he could not bring himself to treat altogether lightly his
office of Master of the Feast. There would probably be no guests. Even
their own little company would likely be incomplete, but t here was to
be a spread that afternoon, "anyways."

Even had the Colonel needed any keeping up to the mark, the office
would have been cheerfully undertaken by O'Flynn or by Potts, for whom
interest in the gustatory aspect of the occasion was wholly undimmed by
the threatened absence of Mac and the "little divvle."

"There'll be the more for us," said Potts enthusiastically.

O'Flynn's argument seemed to halt upon a reservation. He looked over
the various contributions to the feast, set out on a board in front of
the water-bucket, and, "It's mate I'm wishin' fur," says he.

"We've got fish."

"That's only mate on Fridays. We've had fish fur five days stiddy, an'
befure that, bacon three times a day wid sivin days to the week, an'
not enough bacon ayther, begob, whin all's said and done! Not enough to
be fillin', and plenty to give us the scurrvy. May the divil dance on
shorrt rations!"

"No scurvy in this camp for a while yet," said the Colonel, throwing
some heavy objects into a pan and washing them vigorously round and
round.

"Pitaties!" O'Flynn's eyes dwelt lovingly on the rare food. "Ye've
hoarded 'em too long, man, they've sprouted."

"That won't prevent you hoggin' more'n your share, I'll bet," said
Potts pleasantly.

"I don't somehow like wasting the sprouts," observed the Colonel
anxiously. "It's such a wonderful sight--something growing." He had cut
one pallid slip, and held it tenderly between knife and thumb.

"Waste 'em with scurvy staring us in the face? Should think not. Mix
'em with cold potaters in a salad."

"No. Make slumgullion," commanded O'Flynn.

"What's that?" quoth the Colonel.

"Be the Siven! I only wonder I didn't think of it befure. Arre ye
listening, Kentucky? Ye take lots o' wathur, an' if ye want it rich, ye
take the wathur ye've boiled pitaties or cabbage in--a vegetable stock,
ye mind--and ye add a little flour, salt, and pepper, an' a tomater if
ye're in New York or 'Frisco, and ye boil all that together with a few
fish-bones or bacon-rin's to make it rale tasty."

"Yes--well?"

"Well, an' that's slumgullion."

"Don't sound heady enough for a 'Blow-Out,'" said the Colonel. "We'll
sober up on slumgullion to-morrow."

"Anyhow, it's mate I'm wishin' fur," sighed O'Flynn, subsiding among
the tin-ware. "What's the good o' the little divvle and his thramps, if
he can't bring home a burrud, or so much as the scut iv a rabbit furr
the soup?"

"Well, he's contributed a bottle of California apricots, and we'll have
boiled rice."

"An' punch, glory be!"

"Y-yes," answered the Colonel. "I've been thinkin' a good deal about
the punch."

"So's myself," said O'Flynn frankly; but Potts looked at the Colonel
suspiciously through narrowed eyes.

"There's very little whiskey left, and I propose to brew a mild bowl--"

"To hell with your mild bowls!"

"A good enough punch, sah, but one that--that--a--well, that the whole
kit and boodle of us can drink. Indians and everybody, you know ...
Nicholas and Andrew may turn up. I want you two fellas to suppoht me
about this. There are reasons foh it, sah"--he had laid a hand on
Potts' shoulder and fixed O'Flynn with his eye--"and"--speaking very
solemnly--"yoh neither o' yoh gentlemen that need mo' said on the
subject."

Whereupon, having cut the ground from under their feet, he turned
decisively, and stirred the mush-pot with a magnificent air and a
newly-whittled birch stick.

To give the Big Cabin an aspect of solid luxury, they had spread the
Boy's old buffalo "robe" on the floor, and as the morning wore on Potts
and O'Flynn made one or two expeditions to the Little Cabin, bringing
back selections out of Mac's hoard "to decorate the banquet-hall," as
they said. On the last trip Potts refused to accompany his pardner--no,
it was no good. Mac evidently wouldn't be back to see, and the laugh
would be on them "takin' so much trouble for nothin'." And O'Flynn
wasn't to be long either, for dinner had been absurdly postponed
already.

When the door opened the next time, it was to admit Mac, Nicholas with
Kaviak in his arms, O'Flynn gesticulating like a windmill, and, last of
all, the Boy.

Kaviak was formally introduced, but instead of responding to his hosts'
attentions, the only thing he seemed to care about, or even see, was
something that in the hurly-burly everybody else overlooked--the
decorations. Mac's stuffed birds and things made a remarkably good
show, but the colossal success was reserved for the minute shrunken
skin of the baby white hare set down in front of the great fire for a
hearthrug. If the others failed to appreciate that joke, not so Kaviak.
He gave a gurgling cry, struggled down out of Nicholas's arms, and
folded the white hare to his breast.

"Where are the other Indians?" said Mac.

"Looking after the dogs," said Father Wills; and as the door opened,
"Oh yes, give us that," he said to Andrew. "I thought"--he turned to
the Colonel--"maybe you'd like to try some Yukon reindeer."

"Hooray!"

"Mate? Arre ye sayin' mate, or is an angel singin'?"

"Now I _know_ that man's a Christian," soliloquised Potts.

"Look here: it'll take a little time to cook," said Mac, "and it's
worth waitin' for. Can you let us have a pail o' hot water in the
meantime?"

"Y-yes," said the Colonel, looking as if he had enough to think about
already.

"Yes, we always wash them first of all," said Father Wills, noticing
how Mac held the little heathen off at arm's length. "Nicholas used to
help with that at Holy Cross." He gave the new order with the old
authoritative gesture.

"And where's the liniment I lent you that you're so generous with?" Mac
arraigned O'Flynn. "Go and get it."

Under Nicholas's hands Kaviak was forced to relinquish not only the
baby hare, but his own elf locks. He was closely sheared, his moccasins
put off, and his single garment dragged unceremoniously wrong side out
over his head and bundled out of doors.

"Be the Siven! he's got as manny bones as a skeleton!"

"Poor little codger!" The Colonel stood an instant, skillet in hand
staring.

"What's that he's got round his neck?" said the Boy, moving nearer.

Kaviak, seeing the keen look menacing his treasure, lifted a shrunken
yellow hand and clasped tight the dirty shapeless object suspended from
a raw-hide necklace.

Nicholas seemed to hesitate to divest him of this sole remaining
possession.

"You must get him to give it up," said Father Wills, "and burn it."

Kaviak flatly declined to fall in with as much as he understood of this
arrangement.

"What is it, anyway?" the Boy pursued.

"His amulet, I suppose." As Father Wills proceeded to enforce his
order, and pulled the leather string over the child's head, Kaviak rent
the air with shrieks and coughs. He seemed to say as well as he could,
"I can do without my parki and my mucklucks, but I'll take my death
without my amulet."

Mac insinuated himself brusquely between the victim and his
persecutors. He took the dirty object away from the priest with scant
ceremony, in spite of the whisper, "Infection!" and gave it back to the
wrathful owner.

"You talk his language, don't you?" Mac demanded of Nicholas.

The Pymeut pilot nodded.

"Tell him, if he'll lend the thing to me to wash, he shall have it
back."

Nicholas explained.

Kaviak, with streaming eyes and quivering lips, reluctantly handed it
over, and watched Mac anxiously till overwhelmed by a yet greater
misfortune in the shape of a bath for himself.

"How shall I clean this thing thoroughly?" Mac condescended to ask
Father Wills. The priest shrugged.

"He'll have forgotten it to-morrow."

"He shall have it to-morrow," said Mac.

With his back to Kaviak, the Boy, O'Flynn, and Potts crowding round
him, Mac ripped open the little bird-skin pouch, and took out three
objects--an ivory mannikin, a crow's feather, and a thing that Father
Wills said was a seal-blood plug.

"What's it for?" "Same as the rest. It's an amulet; only as it's used
to stop the flow of blood from the wound of a captive seal, it is
supposed to be the best of all charms for anyone who spits blood."

"I'll clean 'em all after the Blow-Out," said Mac, and he went out,
buried the charms in the snow, and stuck up a spruce twig to mark the
spot.

Meanwhile, to poor Kaviak it was being plainly demonstrated what an
awful fate descended on a person so unlucky as to part with his amulet.
He stood straight up in the bucket like a champagne-bottle in a cooler,
and he could not have resented his predicament more if he had been set
in crushed ice instead of warm water. Under the remorseless hands of
Nicholas he began to splutter and choke, to fizz, and finally explode
with astonishment and wrath. It was quite clear Nicholas was trying to
drown him. He took the treatment so to heart, that he kept on howling
dismally for some time after he was taken out, and dried, and
linimented and dosed by Mac, whose treachery about the amulet he seemed
to forgive, since "Farva" had had the air of rescuing him from the
horrors he had endured in that water-bucket, where, for all Kaviak
knew, he might have stayed till he succumbed to death. The Boy
contributed a shirt of his own, and helped Mac to put it on the
incredibly thin little figure. The shirt came down to Kaviak's heels,
and had to have the sleeves rolled up every two minutes. But by the
time the reindeer-steak was nearly done Kaviak was done, too, and
O'Flynn had said, "That Spissimen does ye credit, Mac."

Said Spissimen was now staring hungrily out of the Colonel's bunk,
holding towards Mac an appealing hand, with half a yard of shirt-sleeve
falling over it.

Mac pretended not to see, and drew up to the table the one remaining
available thing to sit on, his back to his patient.

When the dogs had been fed, and the other Indians had come in, and
squatted on the buffalo-skin with Nicholas, the first course was sent
round in tin cups, a nondescript, but warming, "camp soup."

"Sorry we've got so few dishes, gentlemen," the Colonel had said.
"We'll have to ask some of you to wait till others have finished."

"Farva," remarked Kaviak, leaning out of the bunk and sniffing the
savoury steam.

"He takes you for a priest," said Potts, with the cheerful intention of
stirring Mac's bile. But not even so damning a suspicion as that could
cool the collector's kindness for his new Spissimen.

"You come here," he said. Kaviak didn't understand. The Boy got up,
limped over to the bunk, lifted the child out, and brought him to Mac's
side.

"Since there ain't enough cups," said Mac, in self-justification, and
he put his own, half empty, to Kaviak's lips. The Spissimen imbibed
greedily, audibly, and beamed. Mac, with unimpaired gravity, took no
notice of the huge satisfaction this particular remedy was giving his
patient, except to say solemnly, "Don't bubble in it."

The next course was fish a la Pymeut.

"You're lucky to be able to get it," said the Father, whether with
suspicion or not no man could tell. "I had to send back for some by a
trader and couldn't get enough."

"We didn't see any trader," said the Boy to divert the current.

"He may have gone by in the dusk; he was travelling hotfoot."

"Thought that steamship was chockful o' grub. What did you want o'
fish?"

"Yes; they've got plenty of food, but--"

"They don't relish parting with it," suggested Potts.

"They haven't much to think about except what they eat; they wanted to
try our fish, and were ready to exchange. I promised I would send a
load back from Ikogimeut if they'd--" He seemed not to care to finish
the sentence.

"So you didn't do much for the Pymeuts after all?"

"I did something," he said almost shortly. Then, with recovered
serenity, he turned to the Boy: "I promised I'd bring back any news."
"Yes."

"Well?"

Everybody stopped eating and hung on the priest's words.

"Captain Rainey's heard there's a big new strike--"

"In the Klondyke?"

"On the American side this time."

"Hail Columbia!"

"Whereabouts?"

"At a place called Minook."

"Where's that?"

"Up the river by the Ramparts."

"How far?"

"Oh, a little matter of six or seven hundred miles from here."

"Glory to God!"

"Might as well be six or seven thousand."

"And very probably isn't a bona-fide strike at all," said the priest,
"but just a stampede--a very different matter."

"Well, I tell you straight: I got no use for a gold-mine in Minook at
this time o' year."

"Nop! Venison steak's more in my line than grub-stake just about now."

Potts had to bestir himself and wash dishes before he could indulge in
his "line." When the grilled reindeer did appear, flanked by
really-truly potatoes and the Colonel's hot Kentucky biscuit, there was
no longer doubt in any man's mind but what this Blow-Out was being a
success.

"Colonel's a daisy cook, ain't he?" the Boy appealed to Father Wills.

The Jesuit assented cordially.

"My family meant _me_ for the army," he said. "Seen much service,
Colonel?"

The Kentuckian laughed.

"Never wasted a day soldiering in my life."

"Oh!"

"Maybe you're wonderin'," said Potts, "why he's a Colonel!"

The Jesuit made a deprecatory gesture, politely disclaiming any such
rude curiosity.

"He's from Kentucky, you see;" and the smile went round. "Beyond that,
we can't tell you why he's a Colonel unless it's because he ain't a
Judge;" and the boss of the camp laughed with the rest, for the Denver
man had scored.

By the time they got to the California apricots and boiled rice
everybody was feeling pretty comfortable. When, at last, the table was
cleared, except for the granite-ware basin full of punch, and when all
available cups were mustered and tobacco-pouches came out, a remarkably
genial spirit pervaded the company--with three exceptions.

Potts and O'Flynn waited anxiously to sample the punch before giving
way to complete satisfaction, and Kaviak was impervious to
considerations either of punch or conviviality, being wrapped in
slumber on a corner of the buffalo-skin, between Mac's stool and the
natives, who also occupied places on the floor.

Upon O'Flynn's first draught he turned to his next neighbour:

"Potts, me bhoy, 'tain't s' bad."

"I'll bet five dollars it won't make yer any happier."

"Begob, I'm happy enough! Gentlemen, wud ye like I should sing ye a
song?"

"Yes."

"Yes," and the Colonel thumped the table for order, infinitely relieved
that the dinner was done, and the punch not likely to turn into a
_casus belli_. O'Flynn began a ditty about the Widdy Malone that woke
up Kaviak and made him rub his round eyes with astonishment. He sat up,
and hung on to the back of Mac's coat to make sure he had some
anchorage in the strange new waters he had so suddenly been called on
to navigate.

The song ended, the Colonel, as toast-master, proposed the health
of--he was going to say Father Wills, but felt it discreeter to name no
names. Standing up in the middle of the cabin, where he didn't have to
stoop, he lifted his cup till it knocked against the swing-shelf, and
called out, "Here's to Our Visitors, Neighbours, and Friends!"
Whereupon he made a stately circular bow, which ended by his offering
Kaviak his hand, in the manner of one who executes a figure in an
old-fashioned dance. The smallest of "Our Visitors," still keeping hold
of Mac, presented the Colonel with the disengaged half-yard of flannel
undershirt on the other side, and the speech went on, very flowery,
very hospitable, very Kentuckian.

When the Colonel sat down there was much applause, and O'Flynn, who had
lent his cup to Nicholas, and didn't feel he could wait till it came
back, began to drink punch out of the dipper between shouts of:

"Hooray! Brayvo! Here's to the Kurrnul! God bless him! That's rale
oratry, Kurrnul! Here's to Kentucky--and ould Ireland."

Father Wills stood up, smiling, to reply.

_"Friends"_ (the Boy thought the keen eyes rested a fraction of a
moment longer on Mac than on the rest),--_"I think in some ways this is
the pleasantest House-Warming I ever went to. I won't take up time
thanking the Colonel for the friendly sentiments he's expressed, though
I return them heartily. I must use these moments you are good enough to
give me in telling you something of what I feel is implied in the
founding of this camp of yours.

"Gentlemen, the few white dwellers in the Yukon country have not looked
forward"_ (his eyes twinkled almost wickedly) _"with that pleasure you
might expect in exiles, to the influx of people brought up here by the
great Gold Discovery. We knew what that sort of craze leads to. We knew
that in a barren land like this, more and more denuded of wild game
every year, more and more the prey of epidemic disease--we knew that
into this sorely tried and hungry world would come a horde of men, all
of them ignorant of the conditions up here, most of them ill-provided
with proper food and clothing, many of them (I can say it without
offence in this company)--many of them men whom the older, richer
communities were glad to get rid of. Gentlemen, I have ventured to take
you into our confidence so far, because I want to take you still
farther--to tell you a little of the intense satisfaction with which we
recognise that good fortune has sent us in you just the sort of
neighbours we had not dared to hope for. It means more to us than you
realise. When I heard a few weeks ago that, in addition to the
boat-loads that had already got some distance up the river beyond Holy
Cross--"_

"Going to Dawson?"

"Oh, yes, Klondyke mad--"

"They'll be there before us, boys!"

"Anyways, they'll get to Minook."

The Jesuit shook his head. "It isn't so certain. They probably made
only a couple of hundred miles or so before the Yukon went to sleep."

"Then if grub gives out they'll be comin' back here?" suggested Potts.

_"Small doubt of it,"_ agreed the priest. _"And when I heard there were
parties of the same sort stranded at intervals all along the Lower
River--"_

"You sure?"

He nodded.

_"And when Father Orloff of the Russian mission told us that he was
already having trouble with the two big rival parties frozen in the ice
below Ikogimeut--"_

"Gosh! Wonder if any of 'em were on our ship?"

_"Well, gentlemen, I do not disguise from you that, when I heard of the
large amount of whiskey, the small amount of food, and the low type of
manners brought in by these gold-seekers, I felt my fears justified.
Such men don't work, don't contribute anything to the decent social
life of the community, don't build cabins like this. When I came down
on the ice the first time after you'd camped, and I looked up and saw
your solid stone chimney"_ (he glanced at Mac), _"I didn't know what a
House-Warming it would make; but already, from far off across the ice
and snow, that chimney warmed my heart. Gentlemen, the fame of it has
gone up the river and down the river. Father Orloff is coming to see it
next week, and so are the white traders from Anvik and Andreiefsky, for
they've heard there's nothing like it in the Yukon. Of course, I know
that you gentlemen have not come to settle permanently. I know that
when the Great White Silence, as they call the long winter up here, is
broken by the thunder of the ice rushing down to the sea, you, like the
rest, will exchange the snow-fields for the gold-fields, and pass out
of our ken. Now, I'm not usually prone to try my hand at prophecy; but
I am tempted to say, even on our short acquaintance, that I am
tolerably sure that, while we shall be willing enough to spare most of
the new-comers to the Klondyke, we shall grudge to the gold-fields the
men who built this camp and warmed this cabin."_ (His eye rested
reflectively on Mac.) _"I don't wish to sit down leaving an impression
of speaking with entire lack of sympathy of the impulse that brings men
up here for gold. I believe that, even with the sort in the two camps
below Ikogimeut--drinking, quarrelling, and making trouble with the
natives at the Russian mission--I believe that even with them, the gold
they came up here for is a symbol--a fetich, some of us may think. When
such men have it in their hands, they feel dimly that they are laying
tangible hold at last on some elusive vision of happiness that has
hitherto escaped them. Behind each man braving the Arctic winter up
here, is some hope, not all ignoble; some devotion, not all
unsanctified. Behind most of these men I seem to see a wife or child, a
parent, or some dear dream that gives that man his share in the Eternal
Hope. Friends, we call that thing we look for by different names; but
we are all seekers after treasure, all here have turned our backs on
home and comfort, hunting for the Great Reward--each man a new Columbus
looking for the New World. Some of us looking north, some south,
some"_--he hesitated the briefest moment, and then with a faint smile,
half sad, half triumphant, made a little motion of his head--_"some of
us ... looking upwards."_

But quickly, as though conscious that, if he had raised the moral tone
of the company, he had not raised its spirits, he hurried on:

_"Before I sit down, gentlemen, just one word more. I must congratulate
you on having found out so soon, not only the wisdom, but the pleasure
of looking at this Arctic world with intelligent eyes, and learning
some of her wonderful lessons. It is so that, now the hardest work is
finished, you will keep up your spirits and avoid the disease that
attacks all new-comers who simply eat, sleep, and wait for the ice to
go out. When I hear cheechalkos complaining of boredom up here in this
world of daily miracles, I think of the native boy in the
history-class, who, called on to describe the progress of civilisation,
said: 'In those days men had as many wives as they liked, and that was
called polygamy. Now they have only one wife, and that's called
monotony.'"_

While O'Flynn howled with delight, the priest wound up:

_"Gentlemen, if we find monotony up here, it's not the country's fault,
but a defect in our own civilisation."_ Wherewith he sat down amid
cheers.

"Now, Colonel, is Mac goin' to recite some Border ballads?" inquired
the Boy, "or will he make a speech, or do a Highland fling?"

The Colonel called formally upon Mr. MacCann.

Mac was no sooner on his legs than Kaviak, determined not to lose his
grasp of the situation, climbed upon the three-legged stool just
vacated, and resumed his former relations with the friendly coat-tail.

Everybody laughed but Mac, who pretended not to know what was going on
behind his back.

"Gentlemen," he began harshly, with the air of one about to launch a
heavy indictment, "there's one element largely represented here by
numbers and by interests"--he turned round suddenly toward the natives,
and almost swung Kaviak off into space--"one element not explicitly
referred to in the speeches, either of welcome or of thanks. But,
gentlemen, I submit that these hitherto unrecognised Natives are our
real hosts, and a word about them won't be out of place. I've been told
to-day that, whether in Alaska, Greenland, or British America, they
call themselves _Innuits,_ which means human beings. They believed, no
doubt, that they were the only ones in the world. I've been thinking a
great deal about these Esquimaux of late--"

"Hear, hear!"

"About their origin and their destiny." (Mac was beginning to enjoy
himself. The Boy was beginning to be bored and to drum softly with his
fingers.) "Now, gentlemen, Buffon says that the poles were the first
portions of the earth's crust to cool. While the equator, and even the
tropics of Cancer and of Capricorn, were still too boiling hot to
support life, up here in the Arctic regions there was a carboniferous
era goin' on--"

"Where's the coal, then?" sneered Potts.

"It's bein' discovered ... all over ... ask him" (indicating Father
Wills, who smiled assent). "Tropical forests grew where there are
glayshers now, and elephants and mastodons began life here."

"Jimminy Christmas!" interrupted the Boy, sitting up very straight. "Is
that Buffer you quoted a good authority?"

"First-rate," Mac snapped out defiantly.

"Good Lord! then the Garden o' Eden was up here."

"Hey?"

"Course! _This_ was the cradle o' the human race. Blow the Ganges! Blow
the Nile! It was our Yukon that saw the first people, 'cause of course
the first people lived in the first place got ready for 'em."

"That don't follow. Read your Bible."

"If I'm not right, how did it happen there were men here when the North
was first discovered?"

"Sh!"

"Mac's got the floor."

"Shut up!"

But the Boy thumped the table with one hand and arraigned the
schoolmaster with the other.

"Now, Mac, I put it to you as a man o' science: if the race had got a
foothold in any other part o' the world, what in Sam Hill could make
'em come up here?"

"_We're_ here."

"Yes, tomfools after gold. They never dreamed there was gold. No,
Sir_ee!_ the only thing on earth that could make men stay here, would
be that they were born here, and didn't know any better. Don't the
primitive man cling to his home, no matter what kind o' hole it is?
He's _afraid_ to leave it. And these first men up here, why, it's plain
as day--they just hung on, things gettin' worse and worse, and colder
and colder, and some said, as the old men we laugh at say at home, 'The
climate ain't what it was when I was a boy,' and nobody believed 'em,
but everybody began to dress warmer and eat fat, and--"

"All that Buffon says is--"

"Yes--and they invented one thing after another to meet the new
conditions--kaiaks and bidarras and ivory-tipped harpoons"--he was
pouring out his new notions at the fastest express rate--"and the
animals that couldn't stand it emigrated, and those that stayed behind
got changed--"

"Dry up."

"One at a time."

"Buffon--"

"Yes, yes, Mac, and the hares got white, and the men, playin' a losin'
game for centuries, got dull in their heads and stunted in their
legs--always cramped up in a kaiak like those fellas at St. Michael's.
And, why, it's clear as crystal--they're survivals! The Esquimaux are
the oldest race in the world."

"Who's makin' this speech?"

"Order!"

"Order!"

"Well, see here: _do_ you admit it, Mac? Don't you see there were just
a few enterprisin' ones who cleared out, or, maybe, got carried away in
a current, and found better countries and got rich and civilised, and
became our forefathers? Hey, boys, ain't I right?"

"You sit down."

"You'll get chucked out."

"Buffon--"

Everybody was talking at once.

"Why, it goes on still," the Boy roared above the din. "People who
stick at home, and are patient, and put up with things, they're doomed.
But look at the fellas that come out o' starvin' attics and stinkin'
pigsties to America. They live like lords, and they look at life like
men."

Mac was saying a great deal about the Ice Age and the first and second
periods of glaciation, but nobody could hear what.

_"Prince_ Nicholas? Well, I should smile. He belongs to the oldest
family in the world. Hoop-la!" The Boy jumped up on his stool and
cracked his head against the roof; but he only ducked, rubbed his wild,
long hair till it stood out wilder than ever, and went on: "Nicholas's
forefathers were kings before Caesar; they were here before the
Pyramids--"

The Colonel came round and hauled the Boy down. Potts was egging the
miscreant on. O'Flynn, poorly disguising his delight in a scrimmage,
had been shouting: "Ye'll spoil the Blow-Out, ye meddlin' jackass!
Can't ye let Mac make his spache? No; ye must ahlways be huntin' round
fur harrum to be doin' or throuble to make."

In the turmoil and the contending of many voices Nicholas began to
explain to his friends that it wasn't a real fight, as it had every
appearance of being, and the visitors were in no immediate danger of
their lives. But Kaviak feared the worst, and began to weep forlornly.

"The world is dyin' at top and bottom!" screamed the Boy, writhing
under the Colonel's clutch. "The ice will spread, the beasts will turn
white, and we'll turn yella, and we'll all dress in skins and eat fat
and be exactly like Kaviak, and the last man'll be found tryin' to warm
his hands at the Equator, his feet on an iceberg and his nose in a
snowstorm. Your old Buffer's got a long head, Mac. Here's to Buffer!"
Whereupon he subsided and drank freely of punch.

"Well," said the Colonel, severely, "you've had a Blow-Out if nobody
else has!"

"Feel better?" inquired Potts, tenderly.

"Now, Mac, you shall have a fair field," said the Colonel, "and if the
Boy opens his trap again--"

"I'll punch 'im," promised O'Flynn, replenishing the disturber's cup.

But Mac wouldn't be drawn. Besides, he was feeding Kaviak. So the
Colonel filled in the breach with "My old Kentucky Home," which he sang
with much feeling, if not great art.

This performance restored harmony and a gentle reflectiveness.

Father Wills told about his journey up here ten years before and of a
further expedition he'd once made far north to the Koyukuk.

"But Nicholas knows more about the native life and legends than anyone
I ever met, except, of course, Yagorsha."

"Who's Yag----?" began the Boy.

"Oh, that's the Village Story-teller." He was about to speak of
something else, but, lifting his eyes, he caught Mac's sudden glance of
grudging attention. The priest looked away, and went on: "There's a
story-teller in every settlement. He has always been a great figure in
the native life, I believe, but now more than ever."

"Why's that?"

"Oh, battles are over and blood-feuds are done, but the need for a
story-teller abides. In most villages he is a bigger man than the
chief--they're all 'ol' chiefs,' the few that are left--and when they
die there will be no more. So the tribal story-teller comes to be the
most important character"--the Jesuit smiled in that shrewd and gentle
way of his--"that is, of course, after the Shaman, as the Russians call
him, the medicine-man, who is a teller of stories, too, in his more
circumscribed fashion. But it's the Story-teller who helps his people
through the long winter--helps them to face the terrible new enemies,
epidemic disease and famine. He has always been their best defence
against that age-old dread they all have of the dark. Yes, no one
better able to send such foes flying than Yagorsha of Pymeut. Still,
Nicholas is a good second." The Prince of Pymeut shook his head.

"Tell them 'The White Crow's Last Flight,'" urged the priest.

But Nicholas was not in the vein, and when they all urged him overmuch,
he, in self-defence, pulled a knife out of his pocket and a bit of
walrus ivory about the size of his thumb, and fell to carving.

"What you makin'?"

"Button," says Nicholas; "me heap hurry get him done."

"It looks more like a bird than a button," remarked the Boy.

"Him bird--him button," replied the imperturbable one.

"Half the folk-lore of the North has to do with the crow (or raven),"
the priest went on. "Seeing Kaviak's feather reminded me of a native
cradle-song that's a kind of a story, too. It's been roughly
translated."

"Can you say it?"

"I used to know how it went."

He began in a deep voice:

  "'The wind blows over the Yukon.
  My husband hunts deer on the Koyukun mountains.
  Ahmi, ahmi, sleep, little one.

  There is no wood for the fire,
  The stone-axe is broken, my husband carries the other.
  Where is the soul of the sun? Hid in the dam of the beaver, waiting the
  spring-time.
  Ahmi, ahmi, sleep little one, wake not!

  Look not for ukali, old woman.
  Long since the cache was emptied, the crow lights no more on the ridge
  pole.
  Long since, my husband departed. Why does he wait in the mountains?
  Ahmi, ahmi, sleep little one, softly.

  Where, where, where is my own?
  Does he lie starving on the hillside? Why does he linger?
  Comes he not soon I must seek him among the mountains.
  Ahmi, ahmi, little one, sleep sound.

  Hush! hush! hush! The crow cometh laughing.
  Red is his beak, his eyes glisten, the false one!
  "Thanks for a good meal to Kuskokala the Shaman--
  On the far mountain quietly lieth your husband."
  Ahmi, ahmi, sleep little one, wake not.

  "Twenty deers' tongues tied to the pack on his shoulders;
  Not a tongue in his mouth to call to his wife with.
  Wolves, foxes, and ravens are tearing and fighting for morsels.
  Tough and hard are the sinews; not so the child in your bosom."
  Ahmi, ahmi, sleep little one, wake not!

  Over the mountain slowly staggers the hunter.
  Two bucks' thighs on his shoulders.
  Twenty deers' tongues in his belt.
  "Go, gather wood, kindle a fire, old woman!"
  Off flew the crow--liar, cheat and deceiver.
  Wake, oh sleeper, awake! welcome your father!

  He brings you back fat, marrow, venison fresh from the mountain
  Tired and worn, yet he's carved you a toy of the deer's horn,
  While he was sitting and waiting long for the deer on the hillside.
  Wake! see the crow! hiding himself from the arrow;
  Wake, little one, wake! here is your father safe home.'"

"Who's 'Kuskokala the Shaman'?" the Boy inquired.

"Ah, better ask Nicholas," answered the priest.

But Nicholas was absorbed in his carving.

Again Mr. O'Flynn obliged, roaring with great satisfaction:

  "'I'm a stout rovin' blade, and what matther my name,
  For I ahlways was wild, an' I'll niver be tame;
  An' I'll kiss putty gurrls wheriver I go,
  An' what's that to annyone whether or no.

    _Chorus._

  "'Ogedashin, den thashin, come, boys! let us drink;
  'Tis madness to sorra, 'tis folly to think.
  For we're ahl jolly fellows wheriver we go--
  Ogedashin, den thashin, na boneen sheen lo!'"

Potts was called on. No, he couldn't sing, but he could show them a
trick or two. And with his grimy euchre-deck he kept his word, showing
that he was not the mere handy-man, but the magician of the party. The
natives, who know the cards as we know our A B C's, were enthralled,
and began to look upon Potts as a creature of more than mortal skill.

Again the Boy pressed Nicholas to dance. "No, no;" and under his
breath: "You come Pymeut."

Meanwhile, O'Flynn, hugging the pleasant consciousness that he had
distinguished himself--his pardner, too--complained that the only
contribution Mac or the Boy had made was to kick up a row. What steps
were they going to take to retrieve their characters and minister to
the public entertainment?

"I've supplied the decorations," said Mac in a final tone.

"Well, and the Bhoy? What good arre ye, annyway?"

"Hard to say," said the person addressed; but, thinking hard: "Would
you like to see me wag my ears?" Some languid interest was manifested
in this accomplishment, but it fell rather flat after Potts' splendid
achievements with the euchre-deck.

"No, ye ain't good fur much as an enthertainer," said O'Flynn frankly.

Kaviak had begun to cry for more punch, and Mac was evidently growing a
good deal perplexed as to the further treatment for his patient.

"Did ye be tellin' some wan, Father, that when ye found that Esquimer
he had grass stuffed in his mouth? Sure, he'll be missin' that grass.
Ram somethin' down his throat."

"Was it done to shorten his sufferings?" the Colonel asked in an
undertone.

"No," answered the priest in the same low voice; "if they listen long
to the dying, the cry gets fixed in their imagination, and they hear it
after the death, and think the spirit haunts the place. Their fear and
horror of the dead is beyond belief. They'll turn a dying man out of
his own house, and not by the door, but through a hole in the roof. Or
they pull out a log to make an opening, closing it up quick, so the
spirit won't find his way back."

Kaviak continued to lament.

"Sorry we can't offer you some blubber, Kaviak."

"'Tain't that he's missin'; he's got an inexhaustible store of his own.
His mistake is offerin' it to us."

"I know what's the matter with that little shaver," said the Boy. "He
hasn't got any stool, and you keep him standin' on those legs of his
like matches."

"Let him sit on the buffalo-skin there," said Mac gruffly.

"Don't you s'pose he's thought o' the buffalo-skin? But he'd hate it. A
little fella likes to be up where he can see what's goin' on. He'd feel
as lost 'way down there on the buffalo as a puppy in a corn-brake."

The Boy was standing up, looking round.

"I know. Elephas! come along, Jimmie!" In spite of remonstrance, they
rushed to the door and dragged in the "fossle." When Nicholas and his
friends realised what was happening, they got up grunting and
protesting. "Lend a hand, Andrew," the Boy called to the man nearest.

"No--no!" objected the true son of the Church, with uncommon fervour.

"You, then, Nicholas."

_"Oo,_ ha, _oo!_ No touch! No touch!"

"What's up? You don't know what this is."

"Huh! Nicholas know plenty well. Nicholas no touch bones of dead
devils." This view of the "fossle" so delighted the company that,
acting on a sudden impulse, they pushed the punch-bowl out of the way,
and, with a whoop, hoisted the huge thing on the table. Then the Boy
seized the whimpering Kaviak, and set him high on the throne. So
surprised was the topmost Spissimen that he was as quiet for a moment
as the one underneath him, staring about, blinking. Then, looking down
at Mac's punch-cup, he remembered his grievance, and took up the wail
where he had left it off.

"Nuh, nuh! don't you do that," said the Boy with startling suddenness.
"If you make that noise, I'll have to make a worse one. If you cry,
Kaviak, I'll have to sing. Hmt, hmt! don't you do it." And as Kaviak,
in spite of instructions, began to bawl, the Boy began to do a
plantation jig, crooning monotonously:

  "'Grashoppah sett'n on de swee' p'tater vine,
  Swee' p'tater vine, swee' p'tater vine;
  Grasshoppah--'"

He stopped as suddenly as he'd begun. "_Now_, will you be good?"

Kaviak drew a breath with a catch in it, looked round, and began as
firmly as ever:

"Weh!--eh!--eh!"

"Sh--sh!" The Boy clapped his hands, and lugubriously intoned:

  "'Dey's de badger and de bah,
  En de funny lil hah,
  En de active lil flea,
  En de lil armadillah
  Dat sleeps widouter pillah,
  An dey all gottah mate but me--ee--ee!'

"Farva!" Kaviak gasped.

"Say, do a nigger breakdown," solicited Potts.

"Ain't room; besides, I can't do it with blisters."

They did the impossible--they made room, and turned back the
buffalo-skin. Only the big Colonel, who was most in the way of all,
sat, not stirring, staring in the fire. Such a look on the absent,
tender face as the great masters, the divinest poets cannot often
summon, but which comes at the call of some foolish old nursery jingle,
some fragment of half-forgotten folk-lore, heard when the world was
young--when all hearing was music, when all sight was "pictures," when
every sense brought marvels that seemed the everyday way of the
wonderful, wonderful world.

For an obvious reason it is not through the utterances of the greatest
that the child receives his first intimations of the beauty and the
mystery of things. These come in lowly guise with familiar everyday
voices, but their eloquence has the incommunicable grace of infancy,
the promise of the first dawn, the menace of the first night.

"Do you remember the thing about the screech-owl and the weather
signs?" said the Colonel, roused at last by the jig on his toes and the
rattle of improvised "bones" almost in his face.

"Reckon I do, honey," said the Boy, his feet still flying and flapping
on the hard earthen floor.

  "_'Wen de screech-owl light on de gable en'
  En holler, Who--ool oh--oh!'_"

He danced up and hooted in Kaviak's face.

  "_'Den yo' bettah keep yo eyeball peel,
  Kase 'e bring bad luck t' yo'.
  Oh--oh! oh-oh!'_"

Then, sinking his voice, dancing slowly, and glancing anxiously under the
table:

  "_'Wen de ole black cat widdee yalla eyes
  Slink round like she atterah mouse,
  Den yo' bettah take keer yo'self en frien's,
  Kase deys sholy a witch en de house.'_"

An awful pause, a shiver, and a quick change of scene, indicated by a
gurgling whoop, ending in a quacking:

  "_'Wen de puddle-duck'e leave de pon',
  En start t' comb e fedder,
  Den yo' bettah take yo' omberel,
  Kase deys gwine tubbee wet wedder.'_"

"Now comes the speckly rooster," the Colonel prompted.

The Boy crowed long and loud:

  "_'Effer ole wile rooster widder speckly tail
  Commer crowin' befoh de do',
  En yo got some comp'ny a'ready,
  Yo's gwinter have some mo'.'_"

Then he grunted, and went on all fours. "Kaviak!" he called, "you take
warnin'----

  "_'Wen yo' see a pig agoin' along--'_"

Look here: Kaviak's never seen a pig! I call it a shame.

  _"'Wen yo' see a pig agoin' along
  Widder straw en de sider 'is mouf,
  It'll be a tuhble winter,
  En yo' bettuh move down Souf.'"_

He jumped up and dashed into a breakdown, clattering the bones, and
screeching:

  _"'Squirl he got a bushy tail,
  Possum's tail am bah,
  Raccoon's tail am ringed all roun'--
  Touch him ef yo dah!
  Rabbit got no tail at all,
  Cep a little bit o' bunch o' hah.'"_

The group on the floor, undoubtedly, liked that part of the
entertainment that involved the breakdown, infinitely the best of all,
but simultaneously, at its wildest moment, they all turned their heads
to the door. Mac noticed the movement, listened, and then got up,
lifted the latch, and cautiously looked out. The Boy caught a glimpse
of the sky over Mac's shoulder.

"Jimminy Christmas!" He stopped, nearly breathless. "It can't be a
fire. Say, boys! they're havin' a Blow-Out up in heaven."

The company crowded out. The sky was full of a palpitant light. An
Indian appeared from round the stockade; he was still staring up at the
stone chimney.

"Are we on fire?"

"How-do." He handed Father Wills a piece of dirty paper.

"Hah! Yes. All right. Andrew!"

Andrew needed no more. He bustled away to harness the dogs. The white
men were staring up at the sky. "What's goin' on in heaven, Father?
S'pose you call this the Aurora Borealis--hey?"

"Yes," said the priest; "and finer than we often get it. We are not far
enough north for the great displays."

He went in to put on his parki.

Mac, after looking out, had shut the door and stayed behind with
Kaviak.

On Father Will's return Farva, speaking apparently less to the priest
than to the floor, muttered: "Better let him stop where he is till his
cold's better."

The Colonel came in.

"Leave the child here!" ejaculated the priest.

"--till he's better able to travel."

"Why not?" said the Colonel promptly.

"Well, it would be a kindness to keep him a few days. I'll _have_ to
travel fast tonight."

"Then it's settled." Mac bundled Kaviak into the Boy's bunk.

When the others were ready to go out again, Farva caught up his fur
coat and went along with them.

The dogs were not quite ready. The priest was standing a little
absentmindedly, looking up. The pale green streamers were fringed with
the tenderest rose colour, and from the corona uniting them at the
zenith, they shot out across the heavens, with a rapid circular and
lateral motion, paling one moment, flaring up again the next.

"Wonder what makes it," said the Colonel.

"Electricity," Mac snapped out promptly.

The priest smiled.

"One mystery for another."

He turned to the Boy, and they went on together, preceding the others,
a little, on the way down the trail towards the river.

"I think you must come and see us at Holy Cross--eh? Come soon;" and
then, without waiting for an answer: "The Indians think these flitting
lights are the souls of the dead at play. But Yagorsha says that long
ago a great chief lived in the North who was a mighty hunter. It was
always summer up here then, and the big chief chased the big game from
one end of the year to another, from mountain to mountain and from
river to sea. He killed the biggest moose with a blow of his fist, and
caught whales with his crooked thumb for a hook. One long day in summer
he'd had a tremendous chase after a wonderful bird, and he came home
without it, deadbeat and out of temper. He lay down to rest, but the
sunlight never winked, and the unending glare maddened him. He rolled,
and tossed, and roared, as only the Yukon roars when the ice rushes
down to the sea. But he couldn't sleep. Then in an awful fury he got
up, seized the day in his great hands, tore it into little bits, and
tossed them high in the air. So it was dark. And winter fell on the
world for the first time. During months and months, just to punish this
great crime, there was no bright sunshine; but often in the long night,
while the chief was wearying for summer to come again, he'd be
tantalised by these little bits of the broken day that flickered in the
sky. Coming, Andrew?" he called back.

The others trooped down-hill, dogs, sleds, and all. There was a great
hand-shaking and good-byeing.

Nicholas whispered:

"You come Pymeut?"

"I should just pretty nearly think I would."

"You dance heap good. Buttons no all done." He put four little ivory
crows into the Boy's hands. They were rudely but cleverly carved, with
eyes outlined in ink, and supplied under the breast with a neat
inward-cut shank.

"Mighty fine!" The Boy examined them by the strange glow that
brightened in the sky.

"You keep."

"Oh no, can't do that."

"_Yes!_" Nicholas spoke peremptorily. "Yukon men have big feast, must
bring present. Me no got reindeer, me got button." He grinned.
"Goo'-bye." And the last of the guests went his way.

      *       *       *       *       *

It was only habit that kept the Colonel toasting by the fire before he
turned in, for the cabin was as warm to-night as the South in
mid-summer.

  _"Grasshoppah sett'n on a swee' p'tater vine,"_

The Boy droned sleepily as he untied the leathern thongs that kept up
his muckluck legs--

  _"Swee' p'tater vine, swee' p'ta--"_

"All those othahs"--the Colonel waved a hand in the direction of
Pymeut--"I think we dreamed 'em, Boy. You and me playing the Big Game
with Fohtune. Foolishness! Klondyke? Yoh crazy. Tell me the river's
hard as iron and the snow's up to the windah? Don' b'lieve a wo'd of
it. We're on some plantation, Boy, down South, in the niggah quawtaws."

The Boy was turning back the covers, and balancing a moment on the side
of the bunk.


 _"Sett'n on a swee' p'tater vine, swee' p'ta--"_

"Great Caesar's ghost!" He jumped up, and stood staring down at the
sleeping Kaviak.

"Ah--a--didn't you know? He's been left behind for a few days."

"Yes, I can see he's left behind. No, Colonel, I reckon we're in the
Arctic regions all right when it comes to catchin' Esquimers in your
bed!"

He pulled the furs over Kaviak and himself, and curled down to sleep.




CHAPTER V

THE SHAMAN.

"For my part, I have ever believed and do now know, that there are
witches."--_Religio Medici._


The Boy had hoped to go to Pymeut the next day, but his feet refused to
carry him. Mac took a diagram and special directions, and went after
the rest of elephas, conveying the few clumsy relics home, bit by bit,
with a devotion worthy of a pious pilgrim.

For three days the Boy growled and played games with Kaviak, going
about at first chiefly on hands and knees.

On the fifth day after the Blow-Out, "You comin' long to Pymeut this
mornin'?" he asked the Colonel.

"What's the rush?"

"_Rush!_ Good Lord! it's 'most a week since they were here. And it's
stopped snowin', and hasn't thought of sleetin' yet or anything else
rambunksious. Come on, Colonel."

But Father Wills had shown the Colonel the piece of dirty paper the
Indian had brought on the night of the Blow-Out.

"_Trouble threatened. Pymeuts think old chief dying not of consumption,
but of a devil. They've sent a dogteam to bring the Shaman down over
the ice. Come quickly.--_PAUL."

"Reckon we'd better hold our horses till we hear from Holy Cross."

"Hear what?"

The Colonel didn't answer, but the Boy didn't wait to listen. He
swallowed his coffee scalding hot, rolled up some food and stuff for
trading, in a light reindeer skin blanket, lashed it packwise on his
back, shouldered his gun, and made off before the Trio came in to
breakfast.

The first sign that he was nearing a settlement, was the appearance of
what looked like sections of rude wicker fencing, set up here and there
in the river and frozen fast in the ice. High on the bank lay one of
the long cornucopia-shaped basket fish-traps, and presently he caught
sight of something in the bleak Arctic landscape that made his heart
jump, something that to Florida eyes looked familiar.

"Why, if it doesn't make me think of John Fox's cabin on Cypress
Creek!" he said to himself, formulating an impression that had vaguely
haunted him on the Lower River in September; wondering if the Yukon
flooded like the Caloosahatchee, and if the water could reach as far up
as all that.

He stopped to have a good look at this first one of the Pymeut caches,
for this modest edifice, like a Noah's Ark on four legs, was not a
habitation, but a storehouse, and was perched so high, not for fear of
floods, but for fear of dogs and mice. This was manifest from the fact
that there were fish-racks and even ighloos much nearer the river.

The Boy stopped and hesitated; it was a sore temptation to climb up and
see what they had in that cache. There was an inviting plank all ready,
with sticks nailed on it transversely to prevent the feet from
slipping. But the Boy stopped at the rude ladder's foot, deciding that
this particular mark of interest on the part of a stranger might be
misinterpreted. It would, perhaps, be prudent to find Nicholas first of
all. But where was Nicholas?--where was anybody?

The scattered, half-buried huts were more like earth-mounds,
snow-encrusted, some with drift-logs propped against the front face
looking riverwards.

While he was cogitating how to effect an entrance to one of these, or
to make his presence known, he saw, to his relief, the back of a
solitary Indian going in the direction of an ighloo farther up the
river.

"Hi, hi!" he shouted, and as the figure turned he made signs. It
stopped.

"How-do?" the Boy called out when he got nearer. "You talk English?"

The native laughed. A flash of fine teeth and sparkling eyes lit up a
young, good-looking face. This boy seemed promising.

"How d'ye do? You know Nicholas?"

"Yes."

The laugh was even gayer. It seemed to be a capital joke to know
Nicholas.

"Where is he?"

The figure turned and pointed, and then: "Come. I show you."

This was a more highly educated person than Nicholas, thought the
visitor, remarking the use of the nominative scorned of the Prince.

They walked on to the biggest of the underground dwellings.

"Is this where the King hangs out? Nicholas' father lives here?"

"No. This is the Kazhga."

"Oh, the Kachime. Ain't you comin' in?"

"Oh no."

"Why?"

His guide had a fit of laughter, and then turned to go.

"Say, what's your name?"

The answer sounded like "Muckluck."

And just then Nicholas crawled out of the tunnel-like opening leading
into the council-house. He jumped up, beaming at the sight of his
friend.

"Say, Nicholas, who's this fella that's always laughing, no matter what
you say? Calls himself 'Muckluck.'"

The individual referred to gave way to another spasm of merriment,
which infected Nicholas.

"My sister--this one," he explained.

"Oh-h!" The Boy joined in the laugh, and pulled off his Arctic cap with
a bow borrowed straight from the Colonel.

"Princess Muckluck, I'm proud to know you."

"Name no Muckluck," began Nicholas; "name Mahk----"

"Mac? Nonsense! Mac's a man's name--she's Princess Muckluck. Only,
how's a fella to tell, when you dress her like a man?"

The Princess still giggled, while her brother explained.

"No like man. See?" He showed how the skirt of her deerskin parki,
reaching, like her brother's, a little below the knee, was shaped round
in front, and Nicholas's own--all men's parkis were cut straight
across.

"I see. How's your father?"

Nicholas looked grave; even Princess Muckluck stopped laughing.

"Come," said Nicholas, and the Boy followed him on all fours into the
Kachime.

Entering on his stomach, he found himself in a room about sixteen by
twenty feet, two-thirds underground, log-walls chinked with moss, a
roof of poles sloping upwards, tent-like, but leaving an opening in the
middle for a smoke-hole some three feet square, and covered at present
by a piece of thin, translucent skin. With the sole exception of the
smoke-hole, the whole thing was so covered with earth, and capped with
snow, that, expecting a mere cave, one was surprised at the wood-lining
within. The Boy was still more surprised at the concentration, there,
of malignant smells.

He gasped, and was for getting out again as fast as possible, when the
bearskin flap fell behind him over the Kachime end of the
entrance-tunnel.

Through the tobacco-smoke and the stifling air he saw, vaguely, a grave
gathering of bucks sitting, or, rather, lounging and squatting, on the
outer edge of the wide sleeping-bench that ran all round the room,
about a foot and a half from the hewn-log floor.

Their solemn, intent faces were lit grotesquely by the uncertain glow
of two seal-oil lamps, mounted on two posts, planted one in front of
the right sleeping-bench, the other on the left.

The Boy hesitated. Was it possible he could get used to the atmosphere?
Certainly it was warm in here, though there was no fire that he could
see. Nicholas was talking away very rapidly to the half-dozen grave and
reverend signiors, they punctuating his discourse with occasional
grunts and a well-nigh continuous coughing. Nicholas wound up in
English.

"Me tell you: he heap good friend. You ketch um tobacco?" he inquired
suddenly of his guest. Fortunately, the Boy had remembered to "ketch"
that essential, and his little offering was laid before the
council-men. More grunts, and room made for the visitor on the
sleeping-bench next the post that supported one of the lamps, a clay
saucer half-full of seal-oil, in which a burning wick of twisted moss
gave forth a powerful odour, a fair amount of smoke, and a faint light.

The Boy sat down, still staring about him, taking note of the well-hewn
logs, and of the neat attachment of the timbers by a saddle-joint at
the four corners of the roof.

"Who built this?" he inquired of Nicholas.

"Ol' father, an' ... heap ol' men gone dead."

"Gee! Well, whoever did it was on to his job," he said. "I don't seen a
nail in the whole sheebang."

"No, no nail."

The Boy remembered Nicholas's sled, and, looking again at the
disproportionately small hands of the men about him, corrected his
first impression that they were too feminine to be good for much.

A dirty old fellow, weak and sickly in appearance, began to talk
querulously. All the others listened with respect, smoking and making
inarticulate noises now and then. When that discourse was finished, a
fresh one was begun by yet another coughing councillor.

"What's it all about?" the Boy asked.

"Ol' Chief heap sick," said the buck on the Boy's right.

"Ol' Chief, ol' father, b'long me," Nicholas observed with pride.

"Yes; but aren't the Holy Cross people nursing him?"

"Brother Paul gone; white medicine no good."

They all shook their heads and coughed despairingly.

"Then try s'm' other--some yella-brown, Esquimaux kind," hazarded the
Boy lightly, hardly noticing what he was saying till he found nearly
all the eyes of the company fixed intently upon him. Nicholas was
translating, and it was clear the Boy had created a sensation.

"Father Wills no like," said one buck doubtfully. "He make cross-eyes
when Shaman come."

"Oh yes, medicine-man," said the Boy, following the narrative eagerly.

"Shaman go way," volunteered an old fellow who hitherto had held his
peace; "all get sick"--he coughed painfully--"heap Pymeuts die."

"Father Wills come." Nicholas took up the tale afresh. "Shaman come.
Father Wills heap mad. He no let Shaman stay."

"No; him say, 'Go! plenty quick, plenty far. Hey, you! _Mush!_'"

They smoked awhile in silence broken only by coughs.

"Shaman say, 'Yukon Inua plenty mad.'"

"Who is Yukon Inua? Where does he live?"

"Unner Yukon ice," whispered Nicholas. "Oh, the river spirit?... Of
course."

"Him heap strong. Long time"--he motioned back into the ages with one
slim brown hand--"fore Holy Cross here, Yukon Inua take good care
Pymeuts."

"No tell Father Wills?"

"No."

Then in a low guttural voice: "Shaman come again."

"Gracious! When?"

"To-night."

"Jiminny Christmas!"

They sat and smoked and coughed. By-and-by, as if wishing thoroughly to
justify their action, Nicholas resumed:

"You savvy, ol' father try white medicine--four winter, four summer. No
good. Ol' father say, 'Me well man? Good friend Holy Cross, good friend
Russian mission. Me ol'? me sick? Send for Shaman.'"

The entire company grunted in unison.

"You no tell?" Nicholas added with recurrent anxiety.

"No, no; they shan't hear through me. I'm safe."

Presently they all got up, and began removing and setting back the hewn
logs that formed the middle of the floor. It then appeared that,
underneath, was an excavation about two feet deep. In the centre,
within a circle of stones, were the charred remains of a fire, and here
they proceeded to make another.

As soon as it began to blaze, Yagorsha the Story-teller took the cover
off the smoke-hole, so the company was not quite stifled.

A further diversion was created by several women crawling in, bringing
food for the men-folk, in old lard-cans or native wooden kantaks. These
vessels they deposited by the fire, and with an exchange of grunts went
out as they had come.

Nicholas wouldn't let the Boy undo his pack.

"No, we come back," he said, adding something in his own tongue to the
company, and then crawled out, followed by the Boy. Their progress was
slow, for the Boy's "Canadian webfeet" had been left in the Kachime,
and he sank in the snow at every step. Twice in the dusk he stumbled
over an ighloo, or a sled, or some sign of humanity, and asked of the
now silent, preoccupied Nicholas, "Who lives here?" The answer had
been, "Nobody; all dead."

The Boy was glad to see approaching, at last, a human figure. It came
shambling through the snow, with bent head and swaying, jerking gait,
looked up suddenly and sheered off, flitting uncertainly onward, in the
dim light, like a frightened ghost.

"Who is that?"

"Shaman. Him see in dark all same owl. Him know you white man."

The Boy stared after him. The bent figure of the Shaman looked like a
huge bat flying low, hovering, disappearing into the night.

"Those your dogs howling?" the visitor asked, thinking that for sheer
dismalness Pymeut would be hard to beat.

Nicholas stopped suddenly and dropped down; the ground seemed to open
and swallow him. The Boy stooped and saw his friend's feet disappearing
in a hole. He seized one of them. "Hold on; wait for me!"

Nicholas kicked, but to no purpose; he could make only such progress as
his guest permitted.

Presently a gleam. Nicholas had thrust away the flap at the tunnel's
end, and they stood in the house of the Chief of the Pymeuts, that
native of whom Father Wills had said, "He is the richest and most
intelligent man of his tribe."

The single room seemed very small after the spaciousness of the
Kachime, but it was the biggest ighloo in the settlement.

A fire burnt brightly in the middle of the earthen floor, and over it
was bending Princess Muckluck, cooking the evening meal. She nodded,
and her white teeth shone in the blaze. Over in the corner, wrapped in
skins, lay a man on the floor groaning faintly. The salmon, toasting on
sticks over wood coals, smelt very appetising.

"Why, your fish are whole. Don't you clean 'em first?" asked the
visitor, surprised out of his manners.

"No," said Nicholas; "him better no cut."

They sat down by the fire, and the Princess waited on them. The Boy
discovered that it was perfectly true. Yukon salmon broiled in their
skins over a birch fire are the finest eating in the world, and any
"other way" involves a loss of flavour.

He was introduced for the first time to the delights of reindeer
"back-fat," and found even that not so bad.

"You are lucky, Nicholas, to have a sister--such a nice one, too"--(the
Princess giggled)--"to keep house for you."

Nicholas understood, at least, that politeness was being offered, and
he grinned.

"I've got a sister myself. I'll show you her picture some day. I care
about her a lot. I've come up here to make a pile so that we can buy
back our old place in Florida."

He said this chiefly to the Princess, for she evidently had profited
more by her schooling, and understood things quite like a Christian.

"Did you ever eat an orange, Princess?" he continued.

"Kind o' fish?"

"No, fruit; a yella ball that grows on a tree."

"Me know," said Nicholas; "me see him in boxes St. Michael's. Him
bully."

"Yes. Well, we had a lot of trees all full of those yella balls, and we
used to eat as many as we liked. We don't have much winter down where I
live--summer pretty nearly all the time."

"I'd like go there," said the girl.

"Well, will you come and see us, Muckluck? When I've found a gold-mine
and have bought back the Orange Grove, my sister and me are goin' to
live together, like you and Nicholas."

"She look like you?"

"No; and it's funny, too, 'cause we're twins."

"Twins! What's twins?"

"Two people born at the same time."

"No!" ejaculated Nicholas.

"Why, yes, and they always care a heap about each other when they're
twins."

But Muckluck stared incredulously.

"_Two_ at the same time!" she exclaimed. "It's like that, then, in your
country?"

The Boy saw not astonishment alone, but something akin to disgust in
the face of the Princess. He felt, vaguely, he must justify his
twinship.

"Of course; there's nothing strange about it; it happens quite often."

"_Often?_"

"Yes; people are very much pleased. Once in a while there are even
three--"

"All at the same time!" Her horror turned into shrieks of laughter.
"Why, your women are like our dogs! Human beings and seals never have
more than one at a time!"

The old man in the corner began to moan and mutter feverishly. Nicholas
went to him, bent down, and apparently tried to soothe him. Muckluck
gathered up the supper-things and set them aside.

"You were at the Holy Cross school?" asked the Boy.

"Six years--with Mother Aloysius and the Sisters. They very good."

"So you're a Catholic, then?"

"Oh yes."

"You speak the best English I've heard from a native."

"I love Sister Winifred. I want to go back--unless"--she regarded the
Boy with a speculative eye--"unless I go your country."

The sick man began to talk deliriously, and lifted up a terrible old
face with fever-bright eyes glaring through wisps of straight gray
hair. No voice but his was heard for some time in the ighloo, then, "I
fraid," said Muckluck, crouching near the fire, but with head turned
over shoulder, staring at the sick man.

"No wonder," said the Boy, thinking such an apparition enough to
frighten anybody.

"Nicholas 'fraid, too," she whispered, "when the devil talks."

"The devil?"

"Yes. Sh! You hear?"

The delirious chatter went on, rising to a scream. Nicholas came
hurrying back to the fire with a look of terror in his face.

"Me go get Shaman."

"No; he come soon." Muckluck clung to him.

They both crouched down by the fire.

"You 'fraid he'll die before the Shaman gets here?"

"Oh no," said Muckluck soothingly, but her face belied her words.

The sick man called hoarsely. Nicholas got him some water, and propped
him up to drink. He glared over the cup with wild eyes, his teeth
chattering against the tin. The Boy, himself, felt a creep go down his
spine.

Muckluck moved closer to him.

"Mustn't say he die," she whispered. "If Nicholas think he die, he drag
him out--leave him in the snow." "Never!"

"Sh!" she made him a sign to be quiet. The rambling fever-talk went on,
Nicholas listening fascinated. "No Pymeut," she whispered, "like live
in ighloo any more if man die there."

"You mean, if they know a person's dying they haul him out o'
doors--and _leave_ him a night like this?"

"If not, how get him out ... after?"

"Why, carry him out."

"_Touch_ him? Touch _dead_ man?" She shuddered. "Oh, no. Bad, bad! I no
think he die," she resumed, raising her voice. But Nicholas rejoined
them, silent, looking very grave. Was he contemplating turning the poor
old fellow out? The Boy sat devising schemes to prevent the barbarism
should it come to that. The wind had risen; it was evidently going to
be a rough night.

With imagination full of sick people turned out to perish, the Boy
started up as a long wail came, muffled, but keen still with anguish,
down through the snow and the earth, by way of the smoke-hole, into the
dim little room.

"Oh, Nicholas! what was that?"

"What?"

"Wait! Listen! There, that! Why, it's a child crying."

"No, him Chee."

"Let's go and bring him in."

"Bring dog in here?"

"Dog! That's no dog."

"Yes, him dog; him my Chee."

"Making a human noise like that?"

Nicholas nodded. The only sounds for some time were the doleful
lamenting of the Mahlemeut without, and the ravings of the Pymeut Chief
within.

The Boy was conscious of a queer, dream-like feeling. All this had been
going on up here for ages. It had been like this when Columbus came
over the sea. All the world had changed since then, except the
steadfast North. The Boy sat up suddenly, and rubbed his eyes. With
that faculty on the part of the unlearned that one is tempted to call
"American," a faculty for assimilating the grave conclusions of the
doctors, and importing them light-heartedly into personal experience,
he realised that what met his eyes here in Nicholas' house was one of
the oldest pictures humanity has presented. This was what was going on
by the Yukon, when King John, beside that other river, was yielding
Magna Charta to the barons. While the Caesars were building Rome the
Pymeut forefathers were building just such ighloos as this. While
Pheidias wrought his marbles, the men up here carved walrus-ivory, and,
in lieu of Homer, recited "The Crow's Last Flight" and "The Legend of
the Northern Lights."

Nicholas had risen again, his mouth set hard, his small hands shaking.
He unrolled an old reindeer-skin full of holes, and examined it. At
this the girl, who had been about to make up the fire, threw down the
bit of driftwood and hid her face.

The sick man babbled on.

Faint under the desolate sound another--sibilant, clearer, uncannily
human. Nicholas had heard, too, for he threw down the tattered
deerskin, and went to the other side of the fire. Voices in the tunnel.
Nicholas held back the flap and gravely waited there, till one Pymeut
after another crawled in. They were the men the Boy had seen at the
Kachime, with one exception--a vicious-looking old fellow, thin, wiry,
with a face like a smoked chimpanzee and eyes of unearthly brightness.
He was given the best place by the fire, and held his brown claws over
the red coals while the others were finding their places.

The Boy, feeling he would need an interpreter, signed to Muckluck to
come and sit by him. Grave as a judge she got up, and did as she was
bid.

"That the Shaman?" whispered the Boy.

She nodded. It was plain that this apparition, however hideous, had
given her great satisfaction.

"Any more people coming?"

"Got no more now in Pymeut."

"Where is everybody?"

"Some sick, some dead."

The old Chief rambled on, but not so noisily.

"See," whispered Muckluck, "devil 'fraid already. He begin to speak
small."

The Shaman never once looked towards the sufferer till he himself was
thoroughly warm. Even then he withdrew from the genial glow, only to
sit back, humped together, blinking, silent. The Boy began to feel
that, if he did finally say something it would be as surprising as to
hear an aged monkey break into articulate speech.

Nicholas edged towards the Shaman, presenting something in a birch-bark
dish.

"What's that?"

"A deer's tongue," whispered Muckluck.

The Boy remembered the Koyukun song, "Thanks for a good meal to
Kuskokala, the Shaman."

Nicholas seemed to be haranguing the Shaman deferentially, but with
spirit. He pulled out from the bottom of his father's bed three fine
marten-skins, shook them, and dangled them before the Shaman. They
produced no effect. He then took a box of matches and a plug of the
Boy's tobacco out of his pocket, and held the lot towards the Shaman,
seeming to say that to save his life he couldn't rake up another
earthly thing to tempt his Shamanship. Although the Shaman took the
offerings his little black eyes glittered none the less rapaciously, as
they flew swiftly round the room, falling at last with a vicious snap
and gleam upon the Boy. Then it was that for the first time he spoke.

"Nuh! nuh!" interrupted Muckluck, chattering volubly, and evidently
commending the Boy to the Shaman. Several of the old bucks laughed.

"He say Yukon Inua no like you."

"He think white men bring plague, bring devils."

"Got some money?" whispered Muckluck.

"Not here."

The Boy saw the moment when he would be turned out. He plunged his
hands down into his trousers pockets and fished up a knife, his
second-best one, fortunately.

"Tell him I'm all right, and he can give this to Yukon Inua with my
respects."

Muckluck explained and held up the shining object, blades open,
corkscrew curling attractively before the covetous eyes of the Shaman.
When he could endure the temptation no longer his two black claws shot
out, but Nicholas intercepted the much-envied object, while, as it
seemed, he drove a more advantageous bargain. Terms finally settled,
the Shaman seized the knife, shut it, secreted it with a final grunt,
and stood up.

Everyone made way for him. He jerked his loosely-jointed body over to
the sick man, lifted the seal-oil lamp with his shaky old hands, and
looked at the patient long and steadily. When he had set the lamp down
again, with a grunt, he put his black thumb on the wick and squeezed
out the light. When he came back to the fire, which had burnt low, he
pulled open his parki and drew out an ivory wand, and a long eagle's
feather with a fluffy white tuft of some sort at the end. He deposited
these solemnly, side by side, on the ground, about two feet apart.

Turning round to the dying fire, he took a stick, and with Nicholas's
help gathered the ashes up and laid them over the smouldering brands.

The ighloo was practically dark. No one dared speak save the yet
unabashed devil in the sick man, who muttered angrily. It was curious
to see how the coughing of the others, which in the Kachime had been
practically constant, was here almost silenced. Whether this was
achieved through awe and respect for the Shaman, or through nervous
absorption in the task he had undertaken, who shall say?

The Boy felt rather than saw that the Shaman had lain down between the
ivory wand and the eagle's feather. Each man sat as still as death,
listening, staring, waiting.

Presently a little jet of flame sprang up out of the ashes. The Shaman
lifted his head angrily, saw it was no human hand that had dared turn
on the light, growled, and pulled something else from under his
inexhaustible parki. The Boy peered curiously. The Shaman seemed to be
shutting out the offensive light by wrapping himself up in something,
head and all.

"What's he doing now?" the Boy ventured to whisper under cover of the
devil's sudden loud remonstrance, the sick man at this point breaking
into ghastly groans.

"He puts on the Kamlayka. Sh!"

The Shaman, still enveloped head and body, began to beat softly,
keeping time with the eagle's feather. You could follow the faint gleam
of the ivory wand, but on what it fell with that hollow sound no eye
could see. Now, at intervals, he uttered a cry, a deep bass
danger-note, singularly unnerving. Someone answered in a higher key,
and they kept this up in a kind of rude, sharply-timed duet, till one
by one the whole group of natives was gathered into the swing of it,
swept along involuntarily, it would seem, by some magnetic attraction
of the rhythm.

_"Ung hi yah! ah-ha-yah! yah-yah-yah!"_ was the chorus to that deep,
recurrent cry of the Shaman. Its accompanying drum-note was muffled
like far-off thunder, conjured out of the earth by the ivory wand.

Presently a scream of terror from the bundle of skins and bones in the
corner.

"Ha!" Muckluck clasped her hands and rocked back and forth.

"They'll frighten the old man to death if he's conscious," said the
Boy, half rising.

She pulled him down.

"No, no; frighten devil." She was shaking with excitement and with
ecstacy.

The sick man cried aloud. A frenzy seemed to seize the Shaman. He
raised his voice in a series of blood-curdling shrieks, then dropped
it, moaning, whining, then bursting suddenly into diabolic laughter,
bellowing, whispering, ventriloquising, with quite extraordinary skill.
The dim and foetid cave might indeed be full of devils.

If the hideous outcry slackened, but an instant, you heard the sick man
raving with the preternatural strength of delirium, or of mad
resentment. For some time it seemed a serious question as to who would
come out ahead. Just as you began to feel that the old Chief was at the
end of his tether, and ready to give up the ghost, the Shaman, rising
suddenly with a demoniac yell, flung himself down on the floor in a
convulsion. His body writhed horribly; he kicked and snapped and
quivered.

The Boy was for shielding Muckluck from the crazy flinging out of legs
and arms; but she leaned over, breathless, to catch what words might
escape the Shaman during the fit, for these were omens of deep
significance.

When at last the convulsive movements quieted, and the Shaman lay like
one dead, except for an occasional faint twitch, the Boy realised for
the first time that the sick man, too, was dumb. Dead? The only sound
now was the wind up in the world above. Even the dog was still.

The silence was more horrible than the hell-let-loose of a few minutes
before.

The dim group sat there, motionless, under the spell of the stillness
even more than they had been under the spell of the noise. At last a
queer, indescribable scratching and scraping came up out of the bowels
of the earth.

How does the old devil manage to do that? thought the Boy. But the
plain truth was that his heart was in his mouth, for the sound came
from the opposite direction, behind the Boy, and not near the Shaman at
all. It grew louder, came nearer, more inexplicable, more awful. He
felt he could not bear it another minute, sprang up, and stood there,
tense, waiting for what might befall. Were _all_ the others dead, then?

Not a sound in the place, only that indescribable stirring of something
in the solid earth under his feet.

The Shaman had his knife. A ghastly sensation of stifling came over the
Boy as he thought of a struggle down there under the earth and the
snow.

On came the horrible underground thing. Desperately the Boy stirred the
almost extinct embers with his foot, and a faint glow fell on the
terror-frozen faces of the natives, fell on the bear-skin flap. _It
moved!_ A huge hand came stealing round. A hand? The skeleton of a
hand--white, ghastly, with fingers unimaginably long. No mortal in
Pymeut had a hand like that--no mortal in all the world!

A crisp, smart sound, and a match blazed. A tall, lean figure rose up
from behind the bear-skin and received the sudden brightness full in
his face, pale and beautiful, but angry as an avenging angel's. For an
instant the Boy still thought it a spectre, the delusion of a
bewildered brain, till the girl cried out, "Brother Paul!" and fell
forward on the floor, hiding her face in her hands.

"Light! make a light!" he commanded. Nicholas got up, dazed but
obedient, and lit the seal-oil lamp.

The voice of the white man, the call for light, reached the Shaman. He
seemed to shiver and shrink under the folds of the Kamlayka. But
instead of getting up and looking his enemy in the face, he wriggled
along on his belly, still under cover of the Kamlayka, till he got to
the bear-skin, pushed it aside with a motion of the hooded head, and
crawled out like some snaky symbol of darkness and superstition fleeing
before the light.

"Brother Paul!" sobbed the girl, "don't, _don't_ tell Sister Winifred."

He took no notice of her, bending down over the motionless bundle in
the corner.

"You've killed him, I suppose?"

"Brother Paul--" began Nicholas, faltering.

"Oh, I heard the pandemonium." He lifted his thin white face to the
smoke-hole. "It's all useless, useless. I might as well go and leave
you to your abominations. But instead, go _you_, all of you--go!" He
flung out his long arms, and the group broke and scuttled, huddling
near the bear-skin, fighting like rats to get out faster than the
narrow passage permitted.

The Boy turned from watching the instantaneous flight, the scuffle, and
the disappearance, to find the burning eyes of the Jesuit fixed
fascinated on his face. If Brother Paul had appeared as a spectre in
the ighloo, it was plain that he looked upon the white face present at
the diabolic rite as dream or devil. The Boy stood up. The lay-brother
started, and crossed himself.

"In Christ's name, what--who are you?"

"I--a--I come from the white camp ten miles below."

"And you were _here_--you allowed this? Ah-h!" He flung up his arms,
the pale lips moved convulsively, but no sound came forth.

"I--you think I ought to have interfered?" began the Boy.

"I think--" the Brother began bitterly, checked himself, knelt down,
and felt the old man's pulse.

Nicholas at the bear-skin was making the Boy signs to come.

The girl was sobbing with her face on the ground. Again Nicholas
beckoned, and then disappeared. There seemed to be nothing to do but to
follow his host. When the bear-skin had dropped behind the Boy, and he
crawled after Nicholas along the dark passage, he heard the muffled
voice of the girl praying: "Oh, Mary, Mother of God, don't let him tell
Sister Winifred."




CHAPTER VI

A PENITENTIAL JOURNEY

  "... Certain London parishes still receive L12 per annum
   for fagots to burn heretics."--JOHN RICHARD GREEN.


The Boy slept that night in the Kachime beside a very moody, restless
host. Yagorsha dispensed with the formality of going to bed, and seemed
bent on doing what he could to keep other people awake. He sat
monologuing under the seal lamp till the Boy longed to throw the dish
of smouldering oil at his head. But strangely enough, when, through
sheer fatigue, his voice failed and his chin fell on his broad chest, a
lad of fourteen or so, who had also had difficulty to keep awake, would
jog Yagorsha's arm, repeating interrogatively the last phrase used,
whereon the old Story-Teller would rouse himself and begin afresh, with
an iteration of the previous statement. If the lad failed to keep him
going, one or other of the natives would stir uneasily, lift a head
from under his deerskin, and remonstrate. Yagorsha, opening his eyes
with a guilty start, would go on with the yarn. When morning came, and
the others waked, Yagorsha and the lad slept.

Nicholas and all the rest who shared the bench at night, and the fire
in the morning, seemed desperately depressed and glum. A heavy cloud
hung over Pymeut, for Pymeut was in disgrace.

About sunset the women came in with the kantaks and the lard-cans.
Yagorsha sat up and rubbed his eyes. He listened eagerly, while the
others questioned the women. The old Chief wasn't dead at all. No, he
was much better. Brother Paul had been about to all the house-bound
sick people, and given everybody medicine, and flour, and a terrible
scolding. Oh yes, he was angrier than anybody had ever been before.
Some natives from the school at Holy Cross were coming for him
tomorrow, and they were all going down river and across the southern
portage to the branch mission at Kuskoquim.

"Down river? Sure?"

Yes, sure. Brother Paul had not waited to come with those others, being
so anxious to bring medicine and things to Ol' Chief quick; and this
was how he was welcomed back to the scene of his labours. A Devil's
Dance was going on! That was what he called it.

"You savvy?" said Nicholas to his guest. "Brother Paul go plenty soon.
You wait."

I'll have company back to camp, was the Boy's first thought, and
then--would there be any fun in that after all? It was plain Brother
Paul was no such genial companion as Father Wills.

And so it was that he did not desert Nicholas, although Brother Paul's
companions failed to put in an appearance on the following morning.
However, on the third day after the incident of the Shaman (who seemed
to have vanished into thin air), Brother Paul shook the snow of Pymeut
from his feet, and with three Indians from the Holy Cross school and a
dog-team, he disappeared from the scene. Not till he had been gone some
time did Nicholas venture to return to the parental roof.

They found Muckluck subdued but smiling, and the old man astonishingly
better. It looked almost as if he had turned the corner, and was
getting well.

There was certainly something very like magic in such a recovery, but
it was quickly apparent that this aspect of the case was not what
occupied Nicholas, as he sat regarding his parent with a keen and
speculative eye. He asked him some question, and they discussed the
point volubly, Muckluck following the argument with close attention.
Presently it seemed that father and son were taking the guest into
consideration. Muckluck also turned to him now and then, and by-and-by
she said: "I think he go."

"Go where?"

"Holy Cross," said the old man eagerly.

"Brother Paul," Nicholas explained. "He go _down_ river. We get Holy
Cross--more quick."

"I see. Before he can get back. But why do you want to go?"

"See Father Brachet."

"Sister Winifred say: 'Always tell Father Brachet; then everything all
right,'" contributed Muckluck.

"You tell Pymeut belly solly," the old Chief said.

"Nicholas know he not able tell all like white man," Muckluck
continued. "Nicholas say you good--hey? you good?"

"Well--a--pretty tollable, thank you."

"You go with Nicholas; you make Father Brachet unnerstan'--forgive.
Tell Sister Winifred--" She stopped, perplexed, vaguely distrustful at
the Boy's chuckling.

"You think we can explain it all away, hey?" He made a gesture of happy
clearance. "Shaman and everything, hey?"

"Me no can," returned Nicholas, with engaging modesty. "_You_--" He
conveyed a limitless confidence.

"Well, I'll be jiggered if I don't try. How far is it?"

"Go slow--one sleep."

"Well, we won't go slow. We've got to do penance. When shall we start?"

"Too late now. Tomalla," said the Ol' Chief.

      *       *       *       *       *

They got up very early--it seemed to the Boy like the middle of the
night--stole out of the dark Kachime, and hurried over the hard crust
that had formed on the last fall of snow, down the bleak, dim slope to
the Ol' Chief's, where they were to breakfast.

Not only Muckluck was up and doing, but the Ol' Chief seemed galvanised
into unwonted activity. He was doddering about between his bed and the
fire, laying out the most imposing parkis and fox-skins, fur blankets,
and a pair of seal-skin mittens, all of which, apparently, he had had
secreted under his bed, or between it and the wall.

They made a sumptuous breakfast of tea, the last of the bacon the Boy
had brought, and slapjacks.

The Boy kept looking from time to time at the display of furs. Father
Wills was right; he ought to buy a parki with a hood, but he had meant
to have the priest's advice, or Mac's, at least, before investing. Ol'
Chief watching him surreptitiously, and seeing he was no nearer making
an offer, felt he should have some encouragement. He picked up the
seal-skin mittens and held them out.

"Present," said Ol' Chief. "You tell Father Brachet us belly solly."

"Oh, I'll handle him without gloves," said the Boy, giving back the
mittens. But Ol' Chief wouldn't take them. He was holding up the
smaller of the two parkis.

"You no like?"

"Oh, very nice."

"You no buy?"

"You go sleep on trail," said Nicholas, rising briskly. "You die, no
parki."

The Boy laughed and shook his head, but still Ol' Chief held out the
deer-skin shirt, and caressed the wolf-fringe of the hood.

"Him cheap."

"How cheap?"

"Twenty-fi' dollah."

"Don't know as I call that cheap."

"Yes," said Nicholas. "St. Michael, him fifty dollah."

The Boy looked doubtful.

"I saw a parki there at the A. C. Store about like this for twenty."

"A. C. parki, peeluck," Nicholas said contemptuously. Then patting the
one his father held out, "You wear _him_ fifty winter."

"Lord forbid! Anyhow, I've only got about twenty dollars' worth of
tobacco and stuff along with me."

"Me come white camp," Nicholas volunteered. "Me get more fi' dollah."

"Oh, will you? Now, that's very kind of you." But Nicholas, impervious
to irony, held out the parki. The Boy laughed, and took it. Nicholas
stooped, picked up the fur mittens, and, laying them on the Boy's arm,
reiterated his father's "Present!" and then departed to the Kachime to
bring down the Boy's pack.

The Princess meanwhile had withdrawn to her own special corner, where
in the daytime appeared only a roll of plaited mats, and a little,
cheap, old hat-box, which she evidently prized most of all she had in
the world.

"You see? Lock!"

The Boy expressed surprise and admiration.

"No! Really! I call that fine."

"I got present for Father Brachet"; and turning over the rags and
nondescript rubbish of the hat-box, she produced an object whose use
was not immediately manifest. A section of walrus ivory about six
inches long had been cut in two. One of these curved halves had been
mounted on four ivory legs. In the upper flat side had been stuck, at
equal distances from the two ends and from each other, two delicate
branches of notched ivory, standing up like horns. Between these sat an
ivory mannikin, about three inches long, with a woeful countenance and
with arms held out like one beseeching mercy.

"It's fine," said the Boy, "but--a--what's it for? Just look pretty?"

"Wait, I show you." She dived into the hat-box, and fished up a bit of
battered pencil. With an air of pride, she placed the pencil across the
outstretched hands of the ivory suppliant, asking the Boy in dumb-show,
was not this a pen-rest that might be trusted to melt the heart of the
Holy Father?

"This way, too." She illustrated how anyone embarrassed by the
possession of more than one pencil could range them in tiers on the
ivory horns above the head of the Woeful One.

"I call that scrumptious! And he looks as if he was saying he was sorry
all the time."

She nodded, delighted that the Boy comprehended the subtle symbolism.

"One more!" she said, showing her dazzling teeth. Like a child playing
a game, she half shut the hat-box and hugged it lovingly. Then with
eyes sparkling, slowly the small hand crept in--was thrust down the
side and drew out with a rapturous "Ha!" a gaudy advertisement card,
setting forth the advantages of smoking "Kentucky Leaf" She looked at
it fondly. Then slowly, regretfully, all the fun gone now, she passed
it to the Boy.

"For Sister Winifred!" she said, like one who braces herself to make
some huge renunciation. "You tell her I send with my love, and I always
say my prayers. I very good. Hey? You tell Sister Winifred?"

"_Sure_," said the Boy.

The Ol' Chief was pulling the other parki over his head. Nicholas
reappeared with the visitor's effects. Under the Boy's eyes, he calmly
confiscated all the tea and tobacco. But nothing had been touched in
the owner's absence.

"Look here: just leave me enough tea to last till I get home. I'll make
it up to you."

Nicholas, after some reflection, agreed. Then he bustled about,
gathered together an armful of things, and handed the Boy a tea-kettle
and an axe.

"You bring--dogs all ready. Mush!" and he was gone.

To the Boy's surprise, while he and Muckluck were getting the food and
presents together, the lively Ol' Chief--so lately dying--made off, in
a fine new parki, on all fours, curious, no doubt, to watch the
preparations without.

But not a bit of it. The Ol' Chief's was a more intimate concern in the
expedition. When the Boy joined him, there he was sitting up in
Nicholas's sled, appallingly emaciated, but brisk as you please,
ordering the disposition of the axe and rifle along either side, the
tea-kettle and grub between his feet, showing how the deer-skin
blankets should be wrapped, and especially was he dictatorial about the
lashing of the mahout.

"How far's he comin'?" asked the Boy, astonished.

"All the way," said Muckluck. "He want to be _sure_."

Several bucks came running down from the Kachime, and stood about,
coughed and spat, and offered assistance or advice. When at last Ol'
Chief was satisfied with the way the raw walrus-hide was laced and
lashed, Nicholas cracked his whip and shouted, "Mush! God-damn! Mush!"

"Good-bye, Princess. We'll take care of your father, though I'm sure he
oughtn't to go."

"Oh yes," answered Muckluck confidently; then lower, "Shaman make all
well quick. Hey? Goo'-bye."

"Good-bye."

"Don't forget tell Sister Winifred I say my p--" But the Boy had to run
to keep up with the sled.

For some time he kept watching the Ol' Chief with unabated
astonishment, wondering if he'd die on the way. But, after all, the
open-air cure was tried for his trouble in various other parts of the
world--why not here?

There was no doubt about it, Nicholas had a capital team of dogs, and
knew how to drive them. Two-legged folk often had to trot pretty
briskly to keep up. Pymeut was soon out of sight.

"Nicholas, what'll you take for a couple o' your dogs?"

"No sell."

"Pay you a good long price."

"No sell."

"Well, will you help me to get a couple?"

"Me try"; but he spoke dubiously.

"What do they cost?"

"Good leader cost hunder and fifty in St. Michael."

"You don't mean dollahs?"

"Mean dollahs."

"Come off the roof!"

But Nicholas seemed to think there was no need.

"You mean that if I offer you a hundred and fifty dollahs for your
leader, straight off, this minute, you won't take it?"

"No, no take," said the Prince, stolidly.

And his friend reflected. Nicholas without a dog-team would be
practically a prisoner for eight months of the year, and not only that,
but a prisoner in danger of starving to death. After all, perhaps a
dog-team in such a country _was_ priceless, and the Ol' Chief was
travelling in truly royal style.

However, it was stinging cold, and running after those expensive dogs
was an occupation that palled. By-and-by, "How much is your sled
worth?" he asked Ol' Chief.

"Six sables," said the monarch.

      *       *       *       *       *

It was a comfort to sight a settlement off there on the point.

"What's this place?"

"Fish-town."

"Pymeuts there?"

"No, all gone. Come back when salmon run."

Not a creature there, as Nicholas had foretold--a place built wilfully
on the most exposed point possible, bleak beyond belief. If you open
your mouth at this place on the Yukon, you have to swallow a hurricane.
The Boy choked, turned his back to spit out the throttling blast, and
when he could catch his breath inquired:

"This a good place for a village?"

"Bully. Wind come, blow muskeetah--"

Nicholas signified a remote destination with his whip.

"B'lieve you! This kind o' thing would discourage even a mosquito."

In the teeth of the blast they went past the Pymeut Summer Resort.
Unlike Pymeut proper, its cabins were built entirely above ground, of
logs unchinked, its roofs of watertight birch-bark.

A couple of hours farther on Nicholas permitted a halt on the edge of a
struggling little grove of dwarfed cotton-wood.

The kettle and things being withdrawn from various portions of the Ol'
Chief's person, he, once more warmly tucked up and tightly lashed down,
drew the edge of the outer coverlid up till it met the wolf-skin fringe
of his parki hood, and relapsed into slumber.

Nicholas chopped down enough green wood to make a hearth.

"What! bang on the snow?"

Nicholas nodded, laid the logs side by side, and on them built a fire
of the seasoned wood the Boy had gathered. They boiled the kettle, made
tea, and cooked some fish.

Ol' Chief waked up just in time to get his share. The Boy, who had kept
hanging about the dogs with unabated interest, had got up from the fire
to carry them the scraps, when Nicholas called out quite angrily, "No!
no feed dogs," and waved the Boy off.

"What! It's only some of my fish. Fish is what they eat, ain't it?"

"No feed now; wait till night."

"What for? They're hungry."

"You give fish--dogs no go any more."

Peremptorily he waved the Boy off, and fell to work at packing up. Not
understanding Nicholas's wisdom, the Boy was feeling a little sulky and
didn't help. He finished up the fish himself, then sat on his heels by
the fire, scorching his face while his back froze, or wheeling round
and singeing his new parki while his hands grew stiff in spite of
seal-skin mittens.

No, it was no fun camping with the temperature at thirty degrees below
zero--better to be trotting after those expensive and dinnerless dogs;
and he was glad when they started again.

But once beyond the scant shelter of the cottonwood, it was evident the
wind had risen. It was blowing straight out of the north and into their
faces. There were times when you could lean your whole weight against
the blast.

After sunset the air began to fill with particles of frozen snow. They
did not seem to fall, but continually to whirl about, and present
stinging points to the travellers' faces. Talking wasn't possible even
if you were in the humour, and the dead, blank silence of all nature,
unbroken hour after hour, became as nerve-wearing as the cold and
stinging wind. The Boy fell behind a little. Those places on his heels
that had been so badly galled had begun to be troublesome again. Well,
it wouldn't do any good to holla about it--the only thing to do was to
harden one's foolish feet. But in his heart he felt that all the
time-honoured conditions of a penitential journey were being complied
with, except on the part of the arch sinner. Ol' Chief seemed to be
getting on first-rate.

The dogs, hardly yet broken in to the winter's work, were growing
discouraged, travelling so long in the eye of the wind. And Nicholas,
in the kind of stolid depression that had taken possession of him,
seemed to have forgotten even to shout "Mush!" for a very long time.

By-and-by Ol' Chief called out sharply, and Nicholas seemed to wake up.
He stopped, looked back, and beckoned to his companion.

The Boy came slowly on.

"Why you no push?"

"Push what?"

"Handle-bar."

He went to the sled and illustrated, laying his hands on the
arrangement at the back that stood out like the handle behind a baby's
perambulator. The Boy remembered. Of course, there were usually two men
with each sled. One ran ahead and broke trail with snow-shoes, but that
wasn't necessary today, for the crust bore. But the other man's
business was to guide the sled from behind and keep it on the trail.

"Me gottah drive, you gottah push. Dogs heap tired."

Nicholas spoke severely. The Boy stared a moment at what he mentally
called "the nerve of the fella," laughed, and took hold, swallowing
Nicholas's intimation that he, after all, was far more considerate of
the dogs than the person merely sentimental, who had been willing to
share his dinner with them.

"How much farther?"

"Oh, pretty quick now."

The driver cracked his whip, called out to the dogs, and suddenly
turned off from the river course. Unerringly he followed an invisible
trail, turning sharply up a slough, and went zig-zagging on without
apparent plan. It was better going when they got to a frozen lake, and
the dogs seemed not to need so much encouragement. It would appear an
impossible task to steer accurately with so little light; but once on
the other side of the lake it was found that Nicholas had hit a
well-beaten track as neatly as a thread finds the needle's eye.

Far off, out of the dimness, came a sound--welcome because it was
something to break the silence but hardly cheerful in itself.

"Hear that, Nicholas?"

"Mission dogs."

Their own had already thrown up their noses and bettered the pace.

The barking of the dogs had not only announced the mission to the
travellers, but to the mission a stranger at the gates.

Before anything could be seen of the settlement, clumsy, fur-clad
figures had come running down the slope and across the ice, greeting
Nicholas with hilarity.

Indian or Esquimaux boys they seemed to be, who talked some jargon
understanded of the Pymeut pilot. The Boy, lifting tired eyes, saw
something white glimmering high in the air up on the right river bank.
In this light it refused to form part of any conceivable plan, but hung
there in the air detached, enigmatic, spectral. Below it, more on
humanity's level, could be dimly distinguished, now, the Mission
Buildings, apparently in two groups with an open space in the middle.
Where are the white people? wondered the Boy, childishly impatient.
Won't they come and welcome us? He followed the Esquimaux and Indians
from the river up to the left group of buildings. With the heathen
jargon beating on his ears, he looked up suddenly, and realized what
the white thing was that had shone out so far. In the middle of the
open space a wooden cross stood up, encrusted with frost crystals, and
lifting gleaming arms out of the gloom twenty feet or so above the
heads of the people.

"Funny thing for an Agnostic," he admitted to himself, "but I'm right
glad to see a Christian sign." And as he knocked at the door of the big
two-story log-house on the left he defended himself. "It's the
swing-back of the pendulum after a big dose of Pymeut and heathen
tricks. I welcome it as a mark of the white man." He looked over his
shoulder a little defiantly at the Holy Cross. Recognition of what the
high white apparition was had given him a queer jolt, stirring
unsuspected things in imagination and in memory. He had been accustomed
to see that symbol all his life, and it had never spoken to him before.
Up here it cried aloud and dominated the scene. "Humph!" he said to
himself, "to look at you a body'd think 'The Origin' had never been
written, and Spencer and Huxley had never been born.' He knocked again,
and again turned about to scan the cross.

"Just as much a superstition, just as much a fetich as Kaviak's
seal-plug or the Shaman's eagle feather. With long looking at a couple
of crossed sticks men grow as dazed, as hypnotized, as Pymeuts watching
a Shaman's ivory wand. All the same, I'm not sure that faith in 'First
Principles' would build a house like this in the Arctic Regions, and
it's convenient to find it here--if only they'd open the door."

He gave another thundering knock, and then nearly fell backwards into
the snow, for Brother Paul stood on the threshold holding up a lamp.

"I--a--oh! How do you do? Can I come in?"

Brother Paul, still with the look of the Avenging Angel on his pale,
young face, held the door open to let the Boy come in. Then, leaning
out into the night and lifting the lamp high, "Is that Nicholas?" he
said sternly.

But the Pymeuts and the school-boys had vanished. He came in and set
down the lamp.

"We--a--we heard you were going down river," said the Boy, tamely, for
he had not yet recovered himself after such an unexpected blow.

"Are you cold? Are you wet?" demanded Brother Paul, standing erect,
unwelcoming, by the table that held the lamp.

The Boy pulled himself together.

"Look here"--he turned away from the comforting stove and confronted
the Jesuit--"those Pymeuts are not only cold and wet and sick too, but
they're sorry. They've come to ask forgiveness."

"It's easily done."

Such scorn you would hardly expect from a follower of the meek
Galilean.

"No, not easily done, a penance like this. I know, for I've just
travelled that thirty miles with 'em over the ice from Pymeut."

"You? Yes, it amuses you."

The sombre eyes shone with a cold, disconcerting light.

"Well, to tell you the truth, I've been better amused."

The Boy looked down at his weary, wounded feet. And the others--where
were his fellow pilgrims? It struck him as comic that the upshot of the
journey should be that he was doing penance for the Pymeuts, but he
couldn't smile with that offended archangel in front of him.

"Thirty miles over the ice, in the face of a norther, hasn't been so
'easy' even for me. And I'm not old, nor sick--no, nor frightened,
Brother Paul."

He flung up his head, but his heart failed him even while he made the
boast. Silently, for a moment, they confronted each other.

"Where are you bound for?"

"I--a--" The Boy had a moment of wondering if he was expected to answer
"Hell," and he hesitated.

"Are you on your way up the river?"

"No--I" (was the man not going to let them rest their wicked bones
there a single night?)--"a--I--"

The frozen river and the wind-racked wood were as hospitable as the
beautiful face of the brother. Involuntarily the Boy shivered.

"I came to see the Father Superior."

He dropped back into a chair.

"The Father Superior is busy."

"I'll wait."

"And very tired."

"So'm I."

"--worn out with the long raging of the plague. I have waited till he
is less harassed to tell him about the Pymeuts' deliberate depravity.
Nicholas, too!--one of our own people, one of the first pupils of the
school, a communicant in the church; distinguished by a thousand
kindnesses. And this the return!"

"The return is that he takes his backsliding so to heart, he can't rest
without coming to confess and to beg the Father Superior--"

"I shall tell the Father Superior what I heard and saw. He will agree
that, for the sake of others who are trying to resist temptation, an
example should be made of Nicholas and of his father."

"And yet you nursed the old man and were kind to him, I believe, after
the offense."

"I--I thought you had killed him. But even you must see that we cannot
have a man received here as Nicholas was--the most favoured child of
the mission--who helps to perpetuate the degrading blasphemies of his
unhappy race. It's nothing to you; you even encourage--"

"'Pon my soul--" But Brother Paul struck in with an impassioned
earnestness:

"We spend a life-time making Christians of these people; and such as
you come here, and in a week undo the work of years."

"I--_I?_"

"It's only eighteen months since I myself came, but already I've
seen--" The torrent poured out with never a pause. "Last summer some
white prospectors bribed our best native teacher to leave us and become
a guide. He's a drunken wreck now somewhere up on the Yukon Flats. You
take our boys for pilots, you entice our girls away with trinkets--"

"Great Caesar! _I_ don't."

But vain was protest. For Brother Paul the visitor was not a particular
individual. He stood there for the type of the vicious white
adventurer.

The sunken eyes of the lay-brother, burning, impersonal, saw not a
particular young man and a case compounded of mixed elements, but--The
Enemy! against whom night and day he waged incessant warfare.

"The Fathers and Sisters wear out their lives to save these people. We
teach them with incredible pains the fundamental rules of civilization;
we teach them how to save their souls alive." The Boy had jumped up and
laid his hand on the door-knob. "_You_ come. You teach them to smoke--"

The Boy wheeled round.

"I don't smoke."

"... and to gamble."

"Nicholas taught _me_ to gamble. Brother Paul, I swear--"

"Yes, and to swear and get drunk, and so find the shortest way to
hell."

"Father Brachet! Father Wills!" a voice called without.

The door-knob turned under the Boy's hand, and before he could more
than draw back, a whiff of winter blew into the room, and a creature
stood there such as no man looks to find on his way to an Arctic gold
camp. A girl of twenty odd, with the face of a saint, dressed in the
black habit of the Order of St. Anne.

"Oh, Brother Paul! you are wanted--wanted quickly. I think Catherine is
worse; don't wait, or she'll die without--" And as suddenly as she came
the vision vanished, carrying Brother Paul in the wake of her streaming
veil.

The Boy sat down by the stove, cogitating how he should best set about
finding Nicholas to explain the failure of their mission.... What was
that? Voices from the other side. The opposite door opened and a man
appeared, with Nicholas and his father close behind, looking anything
but cast down or decently penitential.

"How do you do?" The white man's English had a strong French accent. He
shook hands with great cordiality. "We have heard of you from Father
Wills also. These Pymeut friends of ours say you have something to tell
me."

He spoke as though this something were expected to be highly
gratifying, and, indeed, the cheerfulness of Nicholas and his father
would indicate as much.

As the Boy, hesitating, did not accept the chair offered, smiling, the
Jesuit went on:

"Will you talk of zis matter--whatever it is--first, or will you first
go up and wash, and have our conference after supper?"

"No, thank you--a--Are you the Father Superior?"

He bowed a little ceremoniously, but still smiling.

"I am Father Brachet."

"Oh, well, Nicholas is right. The first thing to do is to explain why
we're here."

Was it the heat of the stove after the long hours of cold that made him
feel a little dizzy? He put up his hand to his head.

"I have told zem to take hot water upstairs," the Father was saying,
"and I zink a glass of toddy would be a good sing for you." He slightly
emphasised the "you," and turned as if to supplement the original
order.

"No, no!" the Boy called after him, choking a little, half with
suppressed merriment, half with nervous fatigue. "Father Brachet, if
you're kind to us, Brother Paul will never forgive you. We're all in
disgrace."

"Hein! What?"

"Yes, we're all desperately wicked."

"No, no," objected Nicholas, ready to go back on so tactless an
advocate.

"And Brother Paul has just been saying--"

"What is it, what is it?"

The Father Superior spoke a little sharply, and himself sat down in the
wooden armchair he before had placed for his white guest.

The three culprits stood in front of him on a dead level of iniquity.

"You see, Father Brachet, Ol' Chief has been very ill--"

"I know. Much as we needed him here, Paul insisted on hurrying back to
Pymeut"--he interrupted himself as readily as he had interrupted the
Boy--"but ze Ol' Chief looks lively enough."

"Yes; he--a--his spirits have been raised by--a--what you will think an
unwarrantable and wicked means."

Nicholas understood, at least, that objectionable word "wicked"
cropping up again, and he was not prepared to stand it from the Boy.

He grunted with displeasure, and said something low to his father.

"Brother Paul found them--found _us_ having a seance with the Shaman."

Father Brachet turned sharply to the natives.

"Ha! you go back to zat."

Nicholas came a step forward, twisting his mittens and rolling his eye
excitedly.

"Us no wicked. Shaman say he gottah scare off--" He waved his arm
against an invisible army. Then, as it were, stung into plain speaking:
"Shaman say _white man_ bring sickness--bring devils--"

"Maybe the old Orang Outang's right."

The Boy drew a tired breath, and sat down without bidding in one of the
wooden chairs. What an idiot he'd been not to take the hot grog and the
hot bath, and leave these people to fight their foolishness out among
themselves! It didn't concern him. And here was Nicholas talking away
comfortably in his own tongue, and the Father was answering. A native
opened the door and peeped in cautiously.

Nicholas paused.

"Hein!" said Father Brachet, "what is it!"

The Indian came in with two cups of hot tea and a cracker in each
saucer. He stopped at the priest's side.

"You get sick, too. Please take. Supper little late." He nodded to
Nicholas, and gave the white stranger the second cup. As he was going
out: "Same man here in July. You know"--he tapped himself on the left
side--"man with sore heart."

"Yansey?" said the priest quickly. "Well, what about Yansey?"

"He is here."

"But no! Wiz zose ozzers?"

"No, I think they took the dogs and deserted him. He's just been
brought in by our boys; they are back with the moose-meat. Sore heart
worse. He will die."

"Who's looking after him?"

"Brother Paul"; and he padded out of the room in his soft native shoes.

"Then Brother Paul has polished off Catherine," thought the Boy, "and
he won't waste much time over a sore heart. It behoves us to hurry up
with our penitence." This seemed to be Nicholas's view as well. He was
beginning again in his own tongue.

"You know we like best for you to practise your English," said the
priest gently; "I expect you speak very well after working so long on
ze John J. Healy."

"Yes," Nicholas straightened himself. "Me talk all same white man now."
(He gleamed at the Boy: "Don't suppose I need you and your perfidious
tongue.") "No; us Pymeuts no wicked!"

Again he turned away from the priest, and challenged the Boy to repeat
the slander. Then with an insinuating air, "Shaman no say you wicked,"
he reassured the Father. "Shaman say Holy Cross all right. Cheechalko
no good; Cheechalko bring devils; Cheechalko all same _him_," he wound
up, flinging subterfuge to the winds, and openly indicating his
faithless ambassador.

"Strikes me I'm gettin' the worst of this argument all round. Brother
Paul's been sailing into me on pretty much the same tack."

"No," said Nicholas, firmly; "Brother Paul no unnerstan'. _You_
unnerstan'." He came still nearer to the Father, speaking in a
friendly, confidential tone. "You savvy! Plague come on steamboat up
from St. Michael. One white man, he got coast sickness. Sun shining.
Salmon run big. Yukon full o' boats. Two days: no canoe on river. Men
all sit in tent like so." He let his mittens fall on the floor,
crouched on his heels, and rocked his head in his hands. Springing up,
he went on with slow, sorrowful emphasis: "Men begin die--"

"Zen we come," said the Father, "wiz nurses and proper medicine--"

Nicholas gave the ghost of a shrug, adding the damaging fact: "Sickness
come to Holy Cross."

The Father nodded.

"We've had to turn ze schools into wards for our patients," he
explained to the stranger. "We do little now but nurse ze sick and
prepare ze dying. Ze Muzzer Superieure has broken down after heroic
labours. Paul, I fear, is sickening too. Yes, it's true: ze disease
came to us from Pymeut."

In the Father's mind was the thought of contagion courageously faced in
order to succour "the least of these my brethren." In Nicholas's mind
was the perplexing fact that these white men could bring sickness, but
not stay it. Even the heap good people at Holy Cross were not saved by
their deaf and impotent God.

"Fathers sick, eight Sisters sick, boy die in school, three girl die.
Holy Cross people kind--" Again he made that almost French motion of
the shoulders. "Shaman say, 'Peeluck!' No good be kind to devils; scare
'em--make 'em run."

"Nicholas," the priest spoke wearily, "I am ashamed of you. I sought
you had learned better. Zat old Shaman--he is a rare old rogue. What
did you give him?"

Nicholas' mental processes may not have been flattering, but their
clearness was unmistakable. If Father Brachet was jealous of the rival
holy man's revenue, it was time to bring out the presents.

Ol' Chief had a fine lynx-skin over his arm. He advanced at a word from
Nicholas, and laid it down before the Father.

"No!" said Father Brachet, with startling suddenness; "take it away and
try to understand."

Nicholas approached trembling, but no doubt remembering how necessary
it had been to add to the Shaman's offering before he would consent to
listen with favour to Pymeut prayers, he pulled out of their respective
hiding--places about his person a carved ivory spoon and an embroidered
bird-skin pouch, advanced boldly under the fire of the Superior's keen
eyes and sharp words, and laid the further offering on the lynx-skin at
his feet.

"Take zem away," said the priest, interrupting his brief homily and
standing up. "Don't you understand yet zat we are your friends wizzout
money and wizzout price? We do not want zese sings. Shaman takes
ivories from ze poor, furs from ze shivering, and food from zem zat
starve. And he gives nossing in return--nossing! Take zese sings away;
no one wants zem at Holy Cross."

Ol' Chief wiped his eyes pathetically. Nicholas, the picture of
despair, turned in a speechless appeal to his despised ambassador.
Before anyone could speak, the door-knob rattled rudely, and the big
bullet-head of a white man was put in.

"Pardon, mon Pere; cet homme qui vient de Minook--faudrait le coucher
de suite--mais ou, mon Dieu, ou?"

While the Superior cogitated, "How-do, Brother Etienne?" said Nicholas,
and they nodded.

Brother Etienne brought the rest of his heavy body half inside the
door. He wore aged, weather-beaten breeches, and a black sweater over
an old hickory shirt.

"Ses compagnons l'ont laisse, la, je crois. Mais ca ne durera pas
longtemps."

"Faudra bien qu'il reste ici--je ne vois pas d'autre moyen," said the
Father. "Enfin--on verra. Attendez quelques instants."

"C'est bien." Brother Etienne went out.

Ol' Chief was pulling the Boy's sleeve during the little colloquy, and
saying, "You tell." But the Boy got up like one who means to make an
end.

"You haven't any time or strength for this--"

"Oh yes," said Father Brachet, smiling, and arresting the impetuous
movement. "Ziz is--part of it."

"Well," said the Boy, still hesitating, "they _are_ sorry, you know,
_really_ sorry."

"You sink so?" The question rang a little sceptically.

"Yes, I do, and I'm in a position to know. You'd forgive them if you'd
seen, as I did, how miserable and overwhelmed they were when Brother
Paul--when--I'm not saying it's the highest kind of religion that
they're so almighty afraid of losing your good opinion, but it--it
gives you a hold, doesn't it?" And then, as the Superior said nothing,
only kept intent eyes on the young face, the Boy wound up a little
angrily: "Unless, of course, you're like Brother Paul, ready to throw
away the power you've gained--"

"Paul serves a great and noble purpose--but--zese questions are--a--not
in his province." Still he bored into the young face with those kind
gimlets, his good little eyes, and--

"You are--one of us?" he asked, "of ze Church?"

"No, I--I'm afraid I'm not of any Church."

"Ah!"

"And I ought to take back 'afraid.' But I'm telling you the truth when
I say there never were honester penitents than the Pymeuts. The whole
Kachime's miserable. Even the girl, Ol' Chief's daughter she cried like
anything when she thought Sister--"

"Winifred?"

"Sister Winifred would be disappointed in her."

"Ah, yes; Sister Winifred has zem--" he held out his hand, spread the
fingers apart, and slowly, gently closed them. "Comme ca."

"But what's the good of it if Brother Paul--"

"Ah, it is not just zere Paul comes in. But I tell you, my son, Paul
does a work here no ozzer man has done so well."

"He is a flint--a fanatic."

"Fanatique!" He flung out an expressive hand. "It is a name, my son. It
often means no more but zat a man is in earnest. Out of such a 'flint'
we strike sparks, and many a generous fire is set alight. We all do
what we can here at Holy Cross, but Paul will do what we cannot."

"Well, give _me_--" He was on the point of saying "Father Wills," but
changed it to "a man who is tolerant."

"Tolerant? Zere are plenty to be tolerant, my son. Ze world is full.
But when you find a man zat can _care_, zat can be 'fanatique'--ah! It
is"--he came a little nearer--"it is but as if I would look at you and
say, 'He has earnest eyes! He will go far _whatever_ road he follow.'"
He drew off, smiling shrewdly. "You may live, my son, to be yourself
called 'fanatique.' Zen you will know how little--"

"I!" the Boy broke in. "You are pretty wide of the mark this time."

"Ah, perhaps! But zere are more trails zan ze Yukon for a fanatique.
You have zere somesing to show me?"

"I promised the girl that cried so--I promised her to bring the Sister
this." He had pulled out the picture. In spite of the careful wrapping,
it had got rather crumpled. The Father looked at it, and then a swift
glance passed between him and the Boy.

"You could see it was like pulling out teeth to part with it. Can it go
up there till the Sister sends for it?"

Father Brachet nodded, and the gorgeous worldling, counselling all men
to "Smoke Kentucky Leaf!" was set up in the high place of honour on the
mantel-shelf, beside a print of the Madonna and the Holy Child.
Nicholas cheered up at this, and Ol' Chief stopped wiping his eyes.
While the Boy stood at the mantel with his back to Father Brachet,
acting on a sudden impulse, he pulled the ivory pen-rest out of his
shirt, and stuck its various parts together, saying as he did so, "She
sent an offering to you, too. If the Ol' Chief an' I fail to convince
you of our penitence, we're all willin' to let this gentleman plead for
us." Whereupon he wheeled round and held up the Woeful One before the
Father's eyes.

The priest grasped the offering with an almost convulsive joy, and
instantly turned his back that the Pymeuts might not see the laugh that
twisted up his humorous old features. The penitents looked at each
other, and telegraphed in Pymeut that after all the Boy had come up to
time. The Father had refused the valuable lynx-skin and Nicholas'
superior spoon, but was ready, it appeared, to look with favour on
anything the Boy offered.

But very seriously the priest turned round upon the Pymeuts. "I will
just say a word to you before we wash and go in to supper." With a
kindly gravity he pronounced a few simple sentences about the
gentleness of Christ with the ignorant, but how offended the Heavenly
Father was when those who knew the true God descended to idolatrous
practices, and how entirely He could be depended upon to punish wicked
people.

Ol' Chief nodded vigorously and with sudden excitement. "Me jus' like
God."

"Hein?"

"Oh, yes. Me no stan' wicked people. When me young me kill two ol'
squaws--_witches!_" With an outward gesture of his lean claws he swept
these wicked ones off the face of the earth, like a besom of the Lord.

A sudden change had passed over the tired face of the priest. "Go, go!"
he called out, driving the Pymeuts forth as one shoos chickens out of a
garden. "Go to ze schoolhouse and get fed, for it's all you seem able
to get zere."

But the perplexed flight of the Pymeuts was arrested. Brother Paul and
Brother Etienne blocked the way with a stretcher. They all stood back
to let the little procession come in. Nobody noticed them further, but
the Pymeuts scuttled away the instant they could get by. The Boy,
equally forgotten, sat down in a corner, while the three priests
conferred in low-voiced French over the prostrate figure.

"Father Brachet," a weak voice came up from the floor.

Brother Paul hurried out, calling Brother Etienne softly from the door.

"I am here." The Superior came from the foot of the pallet, and knelt
down near the head.

"You--remember what you said last July?"

"About--"

"About making restitution."

"Yes."

"Well, I can do it now."

"I am glad."

"I've brought you the papers. That's why--I--_had_ to come. Will
you--take them--out of my--"

The priest unbuckled a travel-stained buckskin miner's belt and laid it
on the floor. All the many pockets were empty save the long one in the
middle. He unbuttoned the flap and took out some soiled, worn-looking
papers. "Are zese in proper form?" he asked, but the man seemed to have
dropped into unconsciousness. Hurriedly the priest added: "Zere is no
time to read zem. Ah! Mr.--will you come and witness zis last will and
testament?"

The Boy got up and stood near. The man from Minook opened his eyes.

"Here!" The priest had got writing materials, and put a pen into the
slack hand, with a block of letter-paper under it.

"I--I'm no lawyer," said the faint voice, "but I think it's all--in
shape. Anyhow--you write--and I'll sign." He half closed his eyes, and
the paper slipped from under his hand. The Boy caught it, and set down
the faint words:--"will and bequeath to John M. Berg, Kansas City, my
right and title to claim No. 11 Above, Little Minook, Yukon Ramparts--"

And the voice fell away into silence. They waited a moment, and the
Superior whispered:

"Can you sign it?"

The dull eyes opened. "Didn't I--?"

Father Brachet held him up; the Boy gave him the pen and steadied the
paper. "Thank you, Father. Obliged to you, too." He turned his dimming
eyes upon the Boy, who wrote his name in witness. "You--going to
Minook?"

"I hope so."

The Father went to the writing-table, where he tied up and sealed the
packet.

"Anybody that's going to Minook will have to hustle." The slang of
everyday energy sounded strangely from dying lips--almost a whisper,
and yet like a far-off bugle calling a captive to battle.

The Boy leaned down to catch the words, yet fainter:

"Good claims going like hot cakes."

"How much," the Boy asked, breathless, "did you get out of yours?"

"Waiting till summer. Nex' summer--" The eyelids fell.

"So it isn't a fake after all." The Boy stood up. "The camp's all
right!"

"You'll see. It will out-boom the Klondyke."

"Ha! How long have you been making the trip?"

"Since August."

The wild flame of enterprise sunk in the heart of the hearer.

"Since _August_?"

"No cash for steamers; we had a canoe. She went to pieces up by--" The
weak voice fell down into that deep gulf that yawns waiting for man's
last word.

"But there is gold at Minook, you're sure? You've seen it?"

The Father Superior locked away the packet and stood up. But the Boy
was bending down fascinated, listening at the white lips. "There is
gold there?" he repeated.

Out of the gulf came faintly back like an echo:

"Plenty o' gold there--plenty o' gold."

"Jee-rusalem!" He stood up and found himself opposite the contemplative
face of the priest.

"We have neglected you, my son. Come upstairs to my room."

They went out, the old head bent, and full of thought; the young head
high, and full of dreams. Oh, to reach this Minook, where there was
"plenty of gold, plenty of gold," before the spring floods brought
thousands. What did any risk matter? Think of the Pymeuts doing their
sixty miles over the ice just to apologise to Father Brachet for being
Pymeuts. This other, this white man's penance might, would involve a
greater mortification of the flesh. What then? The reward was
proportionate--"plenty of gold." The faint whisper filled the air.

A little more hardship, and the long process of fortune-building is
shortened to a few months. No more office grind. No more anxiety for
those one loves.

Gold, plenty of gold, while one is young and can spend it gaily--gold
to buy back the Orange Grove, to buy freedom and power, to buy wings,
and to buy happiness!

On the stairs they passed Brother Paul and the native.

"Supper in five minutes, Father."

The Superior nodded.

"There is a great deal to do," the native went on hurriedly to Paul.
"We've got to bury Catherine to-morrow--"

"And this man from Minook," agreed Paul, pausing with his hand on the
door.




CHAPTER VII

KAVIAK'S CRIME

  "My little son, who look'd from thoughtful eyes,
   And moved and spoke in quiet grown-up wise,
   Having my law the seventh time disobey'd,
   I struck him, and dismiss'd
   With hard words and unkiss'd...."


Even with the plague and Brother Paul raging at the mission--even with
everyone preoccupied by the claims of dead and dying, the Boy would
have been glad to prolong his stay had it not been for "nagging"
thoughts of the Colonel. As it was, with the mercury rapidly rising and
the wind fallen, he got the Pymeuts on the trail next day at noon,
spent what was left of the night at the Kachime, and set off for camp
early the following day. He arrived something of a wreck, and with an
enormous respect for the Yukon trail.

It did him good to sight the big chimney, and still more to see the big
Colonel putting on his snow-shoes near the bottom of the hill, where
the cabin trail met the river trail. When the Boss o' the camp looked
up and saw the prodigal coming along, rather groggy on his legs, he
just stood still a moment. Then he kicked off his web-feet, turned back
a few paces uphill, and sat down on a spruce stump, folded his arms,
and waited. Was it the knapsack on his back that bowed him so?

"Hello, Kentucky!"

But the Colonel didn't look up till the Boy got quite near, chanting in
his tuneless voice:

   "'Grasshoppah sett'n on a swee' p'tater vine,
     Swee' p'tater vine, swee' p'tater vine--'"

"What's the matter, hey, Colonel? Sorry as all that to see me back?"

"Reckon it's the kind o' sorrah I can bear," said the Colonel. "We
thought you were dead."

"You ought t' known me better. Were you just sendin' out a rescue-party
of one?"

The Colonel nodded. "That party would have started before, but I cut my
foot with the axe the day you left. Where have you been, in the name o'
the nation?"

"Pymeut an' Holy Cross."

"Holy Cross? Holy Moses! _You?_"

"Yes; and do you know, one thing I saw there gave me a serious nervous
shock."

"That don't surprise me. What was it?"

"Sheets. When I came to go to bed--a real bed, Colonel, on legs--I
found I was expected to sleep between sheets, and I just about
fainted."

"That the only shock you had?"

"No, I had several. I saw an angel. I tell you straight, Colonel--you
can bank on what I'm sayin'--that Jesuit outfit's all right."

"Oh, you think so?" The rejoinder came a little sharply.

"Yes, sir, I just do. I think I'd be bigoted not to admit it."

"So, you'll be thick as peas in a pod with the priests now?"

"Well, I'm the one that can afford to be. They won't convert _me!_ And,
from my point o' view, it don't matter what a man is s' long's he's a
decent fella."

The Colonel's only answer was to plunge obliquely uphill.

"Say, Boss, wait for me."

The Colonel looked back. The Boy was holding on to a scrub willow that
put up wiry twigs above the snow.

"Feel as if I'd never get up the last rungs o' this darn ice-ladder!"

"Tired? H'm! Something of a walk to Holy Cross even on a nice mild day
like this." The Colonel made the reflection with obvious satisfaction,
took off his knapsack, and sat down again. The Boy did the same. "The
very day you lit out Father Orloff came up from the Russian mission."

"What's he like?"

"Oh, little fella in petticoats, with a beard an' a high pot-hat, like
a Russian. And that same afternoon we had a half-breed trader fella
here, with two white men. Since that day we haven't seen a human
creature. We bought some furs of the trader. Where'd you get yours?"

"Pymeut. Any news about the strike?"

"Well, the trader fella was sure it was all gammon, and told us stories
of men who'd sacrificed everything and joined a stampede, and got
sold--sold badly. But the two crazy whites with him--miners from
Dakotah--they were on fire about Minook. Kept on bragging they hadn't
cold feet, and swore they'd get near to the diggins as their dogs'd
take 'em. The half-breed said they might do a hundred miles more, but
probably wouldn't get beyond Anvik."

"Crazy fools! I tell you, to travel even thirty miles on the Yukon in
winter, even with a bully team and old Nick to drive 'em, and not an
extra ounce on your back--I tell you, Colonel, it's no joke."

"B'lieve you, sonny."

It wasn't thirty seconds before sonny was adding: "Did that half-breed
think it was any use our trying to get dogs?"

"Ain't to be had now for love or money."

"Lord, Colonel, if we had a team--"

"Yes, I know. We'll probably owe our lives to the fact that we
haven't."

It suddenly occurred to the Boy that, although he had just done a
pretty good tramp and felt he'd rather die than go fifty feet further,
it was the Colonel who was most tired.

"How's everybody?"

"Oh, I s'pose we might all of us be worse off."

"What's the matter?"

He was so long answering that the Boy's eyes turned to follow the
serious outward gaze of the older man, even before he lifted one hand
and swept it down the hill and out across the dim, grey prospect.

"This," said the Colonel.

Their eyes had dropped down that last stretch of the steep snow slope,
across the two miles of frozen river, and ran half round the wide
horizon-line, like creatures in a cage. Whether they liked it or
whether they didn't, for them there was no way out.

"It's the awful stillness." The Colonel arraigned the distant
ice-plains.

They sat there looking, listening, as if they hoped their protest might
bring some signal of relenting. No creature, not even a crystal-coated
willow-twig, nothing on all the ice-bound earth stirred by as much as a
hair; no mark of man past or present broke the grey monotony; no sound
but their two voices disturbed the stillness of the world. It was a
quiet that penetrated, that pricked to vague alarm. Already both knew
the sting of it well.

"It's the kind of thing that gets on a fella's nerves," said the
Colonel. "I don't know as I ever felt helpless in any part of the world
before. But a man counts for precious little up here. Do you notice how
you come to listen to the silence?"

"Oh, yes, I've noticed."

"Stop." Again he lifted his hand, and they strained their ears. "I've
done that by the hour since you left and the daft gold-diggers went up
trail after you. The other fellas feel it, too. Don't know what we'd
have done without Kaviak. Think we ought to keep that kid, you know."

"I could get on without Kaviak if only we had some light. It's this
villainous twilight that gets into my head. All the same, you know"--he
stood up suddenly--"we came expecting to stand a lot, didn't we?"

The elder man nodded. "Big game, big stakes. It's all right."

Eventless enough after this, except for the passing of an Indian or
two, the days crawled by.

The Boy would get up first in the morning, rake out the dead ashes, put
on a couple of back-logs, bank them with ashes, and then build the fire
in front. He broke the ice in the water-bucket, and washed; filled
coffee-pot and mush-kettle with water (or ice), and swung them over the
fire; then he mixed the corn-bread, put it in the Dutch oven, covered
it with coals, and left it to get on with its baking. Sometimes this
part of the programme was varied by his mixing a hoe-cake on a board,
and setting it up "to do" in front of the fire. Then he would call the
Colonel--

  "'Wake up Massa,
     De day am breakin';
   Peas in de pot, en de
   Hoe-cake bakin''"--

for it was the Colonel's affair to take up proceedings at this
point--make the coffee and the mush and keep it from burning, fry the
bacon, and serve up breakfast.

Saturday brought a slight variation in the early morning routine. The
others came straggling in, as usual, but once a week Mac was sure to be
first, for he had to get Kaviak up. Mac's view of his whole duty to man
seemed to centre in the Saturday scrubbing of Kaviak. Vainly had the
Esquimer stood out against compliance with this most repulsive of
foreign customs. He seemed to be always ready with some deep-laid
scheme for turning the edge of Mac's iron resolution. He tried hiding
at the bottom of the bed. It didn't work. The next time he crouched far
back under the lower bunk. He was dragged out. Another Saturday he
embedded himself, like a moth, in a bundle of old clothes. Mac shook
him out. He had been very sanguine the day he hid in the library. This
was a wooden box nailed to the wall on the right of the door. Most of
the bigger books--Byron, Wordsworth, Dana's "Mineralogy," and two
Bibles--he had taken out and concealed in the lower bunk very
skilfully, far back behind the Colonel's feet. Copps's "Mining" and the
two works on "Parliamentary Law" piled at the end of the box served as
a pillow. After climbing in and folding himself up into an incredibly
small space, Kaviak managed with superhuman skill to cover himself
neatly with a patchwork quilt of _Munsey, Scribner, Century, Strand_,
and _Overland_ for August, '97. No one would suspect, glancing into
that library, that underneath the usual top layer of light reading, was
matter less august than Law, Poetry, Science, and Revelation.

It was the base Byron, tipping the wink to Mac out of the back of the
bunk, that betrayed Kaviak.

It became evident that "Farva" began to take a dour pride in the Kid's
perseverance. One morning he even pointed out to the camp the strong
likeness between Kaviak and Robert Bruce.

"No, sah; the Scottish chief had to have an object-lesson, but
Kaviak--Lawd!--Kaviak could give points to any spider livin'!"

This was on the morning that the Esquimer thought to escape scrubbing,
even at the peril of his life, by getting up on to the swing-shelf
--how, no man ever knew. But there he sat in terror, like a
very young monkey in a wind-rocked tree, hardly daring to breathe, his
arms clasped tight round the demijohn; but having Mac to deal with, the
end of it was that he always got washed, and equally always he seemed
to register a vow that, s'help him, Heaven! it should never happen
again.

After breakfast came the clearing up. It should have been done (under
this regime) by the Little Cabin men, but it seldom was. O'Flynn was
expected to keep the well-hole in the river chopped open and to bring
up water every day. This didn't always happen either, though to drink
snow-water was to invite scurvy, Father Wills said. There was also a
daily need, if the Colonel could be believed, for everybody to chop
firewood.

"We got enough," was Potts' invariable opinion.

"For how long? S'pose we get scurvy and can't work; we'd freeze to
death in a fortnight."

"Never saw a fireplace swalla logs whole an' never blink like this
one."

"But you got no objection to sittin' by while the log-swallerin' goes
on."

The Colonel or the Boy cooked the eternal beans, bacon and mush dinner,
after whatever desultory work was done; as a matter of fact, there was
extraordinarily little to occupy five able-bodied men. The fun of
snow-shoeing, mitigated by frostbite, quickly degenerated from a sport
into a mere means of locomotion. One or two of the party went hunting,
now and then, for the scarce squirrel and the shy ptarmigan. They
tried, with signal lack of success, to catch fish, Indian fashion,
through a hole in the ice.

But, for the most part, as winter darkened round them, they lounged
from morning till night about the big fireplace, and smoked, and
growled, and played cards, and lived as men do, finding out a deal
about each other's characters, something about each other's opinions,
and little or nothing about each other's history.

In the appalling stillness of the long Arctic night, any passer-by was
hailed with enthusiasm, and although the food-supply in the Big Cabin
was plainly going to run short before spring, no traveller--white,
Indian, or Esquimaux--was allowed to go by without being warmed and
fed, and made to tell where he came from and whither he was
bound--questions to tax the sage. Their unfailing hospitality was not
in the least unexpected or unusual, being a virtue practised even by
scoundrels in the great North-west; but it strained the resources of
the little camp, a fourth of whose outfit lay under the Yukon ice.

In the state of lowered vitality to which the poor, ill-cooked food,
the cold and lack of exercise, was slowly reducing them, they talked to
one another less and less as time went on, and more and more--silently
and each against his will--grew hyper-sensitive to the shortcomings and
even to the innocent "ways" of the other fellow.

Not Mac's inertia alone, but his trick of sticking out his jaw became
an offence, his rasping voice a torture. The Boy's occasional
ebullition of spirits was an outrage, the Colonel's mere size
intolerable. O'Flynn's brogue, which had amused them, grew to be just
part of the hardship and barbarism that had overtaken them like an evil
dream, coercing, subduing all the forces of life. Only Kaviak seemed
likely to come unscathed through the ordeal of the winter's captivity;
only he could take the best place at the fire, the best morsel at
dinner, and not stir angry passions; only he dared rouse Mac when the
Nova Scotian fell into one of his bear-with-a-sore-head moods. Kaviak
put a stop to his staring angrily by the hour into the fire, and set
him to whittling out boats and a top, thereby providing occupation for
the morrow, since it was one man's work to break Kaviak of spinning the
one on the table during mealtime, and sailing the other in the
drinking-water bucket at all times when older eyes weren't watching.
The Colonel wrote up his journal, and read the midsummer magazines and
Byron, in the face of Mac's "I do not like Byron's thought; I do not
consider him healthy or instructive." In one of his more energetic
moods the Colonel made a four-footed cricket for Kaviak, who preferred
it to the high stool, and always sat on it except at meals.

Once in a while, when for hours no word had been spoken except some
broken reference to a royal flush or a jack-pot, or O'Flynn had said,
"Bedad! I'll go it alone," or Potts had inquired anxiously, "Got the
joker? Guess I'm euchred, then," the Boy in desperation would catch up
Kaviak, balance the child on his head, or execute some other gymnastic,
soothing the solemn little heathen's ruffled feelings, afterwards, by
crooning out a monotonous plantation song. It was that kind of addition
to the general gloom that, at first, would fire O'Flynn to raise his
own spirits, at least, by roaring out an Irish ditty. But this was
seldomer as time went on. Even Jimmie's brogue suffered, and grew less
robust.

In a depressed sort of way Mac was openly teaching Kaviak his letters,
and surreptitiously, down in the Little Cabin, his prayers. He was very
angry when Potts and O'Flynn eavesdropped and roared at Kaviak's
struggles with "Ow Farva." In fact, Kaviak did not shine as a student
of civilisation, though that told less against him with O'Flynn, than
the fact that he wasn't "jolly and jump about, like white children."
Moreover, Jimmie, swore there was something "bogey" about the boy's
intermittent knowledge of English. Often for days he would utter
nothing but "Farva" or "Maw" when he wanted his plate replenished, then
suddenly he would say something that nobody could remember having
taught him or even said in his presence.

It was not to be denied that Kaviak loved sugar mightily, and stole it
when he could. Mac lectured him and slapped his minute yellow hands,
and Kaviak stole it all the same. When he was bad--that is, when he had
eaten his daily fill of the camp's scanty store (in such a little place
it was not easy to hide from such a hunter as Kaviak)--he was taken
down to the Little Cabin, smacked, and made to say "Ow Farva." Nobody
could discover that he minded much, though he learnt to try to shorten
the ceremony by saying "I solly" all the way to the cabin.

As a rule he was strangely undemonstrative; but in his own grave little
fashion he conducted life with no small intelligence, and learned, with
an almost uncanny quickness, each man's uses from the Kaviak point of
view. The only person he wasn't sworn friends with was the handy-man,
and there came to be a legend current in the camp, that Kaviak's first
attempt at spontaneously stringing a sentence under that roof was, "Me
got no use for Potts."

The best thing about Kaviak was that his was no craven soul. He was
obliged to steal the sugar because he lived with white people who were
bigger than he, and who always took it away when they caught him. But
once the sugar was safe under his shirt, he owned up without the
smallest hesitation, and took his smacking like a man. For the rest, he
flourished, filled out, and got as fat as a seal, but never a whit less
solemn.

One morning the Colonel announced that now the days had grown so short,
and the Trio were so late coming to breakfast, and nobody did any work
to speak of, it would be a good plan to have only two meals a day.

The motion was excessively unpopular, but it was carried by a plain,
and somewhat alarming, exposition of the state of supplies.

"We oughtn't to need as much food when we lazy round the fire all day,"
said the Colonel. But Potts retorted that they'd need a lot more if
they went on adoptin' the aborigines.

They knocked off supper, and all but the aborigine knew what it meant
sometimes to go hungry to bed.

Towards the end of dinner one day late in December, when everybody else
had finished except for coffee and pipe, the aborigine held up his
empty plate.

"Haven't you had enough?" asked the Colonel mildly, surprised at
Kaviak's bottomless capacity.

"Maw." Still the plate was extended.

"There isn't a drop of syrup left," said Potts, who had drained the
can, and even wiped it out carefully with halves of hot biscuit.

"He don't really want it."

"Mustn't open a fresh can till to-morrow."

"No, sir_ee_. We've only got--"

"Besides, he'll bust."

Kaviak meanwhile, during this paltry discussion, had stood up on the
high stool "Farva" had made for him, and personally inspected the big
mush-pot. Then he turned to Mac, and, pointing a finger like a straw
(nothing could fatten those infinitesimal hands), he said gravely and
fluently:

"Maw in de plenty-bowl."

"Yes, maw mush, but no maw syrup."

The round eyes travelled to the store corner.

"We'll have to open a fresh can some time--what's the odds?"

Mac got up, and not only Kaviak watched him--for syrup was a luxury not
expected every day--every neck had craned, every pair of eyes had
followed anxiously to that row of rapidly diminishing tins, all that
was left of the things they all liked best, and they still this side of
Christmas!

"What you rubber-neckin' about?" Mac snapped at the Boy as he came back
with the fresh supply. This unprovoked attack was ample evidence that
Mac was uneasy under the eyes of the camp, angry at his own weakness,
and therefore the readier to dare anybody to find fault with him.

"How can I help watchin' you?" said the Boy. Mac lifted his eyes
fiercely. "I'm fascinated by your winnin' ways; we're all like that."
Kaviak had meanwhile made a prosperous voyage to the plenty-bowl, and
returned to Mac's side--an absurd little figure in a strange
priest-like cassock buttoned from top to bottom (a waistcoat of Mac's),
and a jacket of the Boy's, which was usually falling off (and trailed
on the ground when it wasn't), and whose sleeves were rolled up in
inconvenient muffs. Still, with a gravity that did not seem impaired by
these details, he stood clutching his plate anxiously with both hands,
while down upon the corn-mush descended a slender golden thread,
manipulated with a fine skill to make the most of its sweetness. It
curled and spiralled, and described the kind of involved and
long-looped flourishes which the grave and reverend of a hundred years
ago wrote jauntily underneath the most sober names.

Lovingly the dark eyes watched the engrossing process. Even when the
attenuated thread was broken, and the golden rain descended in slow,
infrequent drops, Kaviak stood waiting, always for just one drop more.

"That's enough, greedy."

"Now go away and gobble."

But Kaviak daintily skimmed off the syrupy top, and left his mush
almost as high a hill as before.

It wasn't long after the dinner, things had been washed up, and the
Colonel settled down to the magazines--he was reading the
advertisements now--that Potts drew out his watch.

"Golly! do you fellers know what o'clock it is?" He held the open
timepiece up to Mac. "Hardly middle o' the afternoon. All these hours
before bedtime, and nothin' to eat till to-morrow!"

"Why, you've just finished--"

"But look at the _time!_"

The Colonel said nothing. Maybe he had been a little previous with
dinner today; it was such a relief to get it out of the way. Oppressive
as the silence was, the sound of Potts's voice was worse, and as he
kept on about how many hours it would be till breakfast, the Colonel
said to the Boy:

"'Johnny, get your gun,' and we'll go out."

In these December days, before the watery sun had set, the great,
rich-coloured moon arose, having now in her resplendent fulness quite
the air of snuffing out the sun. The pale and heavy-eyed day was put to
shame by this brilliant night-lamp, that could cast such heavy shadows,
and by which men might read.

The instant the Big Cabin door was opened Kaviak darted out between the
Colonel's legs, threw up his head like a Siwash dog, sniffed at the
frosty air and the big orange moon, flung up his heels, and tore down
to the forbidden, the fascinating fish-hole. If he hadn't got snared in
his trailing coat he would have won that race. When the two hunters had
captured Kaviak, and shut him indoors, they acted on his implied
suggestion that the fish-trap ought to be examined. They chopped away
the fresh-formed ice. Empty, as usual.

It had been very nice, and neighbourly, of Nicholas, as long ago as the
1st of December, to bring the big, new, cornucopia-shaped trap down on
his sled on the way to the Ikogimeut festival. It had taken a long time
to cut through the thick ice, to drive in the poles, and fasten the
slight fencing, in such relation to the mouth of the sunken trap, that
all well-conducted fish ought easily to find their way thither. As a
matter of fact, they didn't. Potts said it was because the Boy was
always hauling out the trap "to see"; but what good would it be to have
it full of fish and not know?

They had been out about an hour when the Colonel brought down a
ptarmigan, and said he was ready to go home. The Boy hesitated.

"Going to give in, and cook that bird for supper?"

It was a tempting proposition, but the Colonel said, rather sharply:
"No, sir. Got to keep him for a Christmas turkey."

"Well, I'll just see if I can make it a brace."

The Colonel went home, hung his trophy outside to freeze, and found the
Trio had decamped to the Little Cabin. He glanced up anxiously to see
if the demijohn was on the shelf. Yes, and Kaviak sound asleep in the
bottom bunk. The Colonel would climb up and have forty winks in the top
one before the Boy got in for their game of chess. He didn't know how
long he had slept when a faint scratching pricked through the veil of
slumber, and he said to himself, "Kaviak's on a raid again," but he was
too sodden with sleep to investigate. Just before he dropped off again,
however, opening a heavy eye, he saw Potts go by the bunk, stop at the
door and listen. Then he passed the bunk again, and the faint noise
recommenced. The Colonel dropped back into the gulf of sleep, never
even woke for his chess, and in the morning the incident had passed out
of his mind.

Just before dinner the next day the Boy called out:

"See here! who's spilt the syrup?"

"Spilt it?"

"Syrup?"

"No; it don't seem to be spilt, either." He patted the ground with his
hand.

"You don't mean that new can--"

"Not a drop in it." He turned it upside down.

Every eye went to Kaviak. He was sitting on his cricket by the fire
waiting for dinner. He returned the accusing looks of the company with
self-possession.

"Come here." He got up and trotted over to "Farva."

"Have you been to the syrup?"

Kaviak shook his head.

"You _must_ have been."

"No."

"You sure?"

He nodded.

"How did it go--all away--Do you know?"

Again the silent denial. Kaviak looked over his shoulder at the dinner
preparations, and then went back to his cricket. It was the best place
from which to keep a strict eye on the cook.

"The gintlemin don't feel conversaytional wid a pint o' surrup in his
inside."

"I tell you he'd be currled up with colic if he--"

"Well," said O'Flynn hopefully, "bide a bit. He ain't lookin' very
brash."

"Come here."

Kaviak got up a second time, but with less alacrity.

"Have you got a pain?"

He stared.

"Does it hurt you there?" Kaviak doubled up suddenly.

"He's awful ticklish," said the Boy.

Mac frowned with perplexity, and Kaviak retired to the cricket.

"Does the can leak anywhere?"

"That excuse won't hold water 'cause the can will." The Colonel had
just applied the test.

"Besides, it would have leaked on to something," Mac agreed.

"Oh, well, let's mosy along with our dinner," said Potts.

"It's gettin' pretty serious," remarked the Colonel. "We can't afford
to lose a pint o' syrup."

"No, _Siree_, we can't; but there's one thing about Kaviak," said the
Boy, "he always owns up. Look here, Kiddie: don't say no; don't shake
your head till you've thought. Now, think _hard_."

Kaviak's air of profound meditation seemed to fill every requirement.

"Did you take the awful good syrup and eat it up?"

Kaviak was in the middle of a head-shake when he stopped abruptly. The
Boy had said he wasn't to do that. Nobody had seemed pleased when he
said "No."

"I b'lieve we're on the right track. He's remembering. Think again. You
are a tip-top man at finding sugar, aren't you?"

"Yes, fin' shugh." Kaviak modestly admitted his prowess in that
direction.

"And you get hungry in the early morning?"

Yes, he would go so far as to admit that he did.

"You go skylarkin' about, and you remember--the syrup can! And you get
hold of it--didn't you?"

"To-malla."

"You mean yesterday--this morning?"

"N--"

"Sh!"

Kaviak blinked.

"Wait and think. Yesterday this was full. You remember Mac opened it
for you?"

Kaviak nodded.

"And now, you see"--he turned the can bottom side up--"all gone!"

"Oh-h!" murmured Kaviak with an accent of polite regret. Then, with
recovered cheerfulness, he pointed to the store corner: "Maw!"

Potts laughed in his irritating way, and Mac's face got red. Things
began to look black for Kaviak.

"Say, fellas, see here!" The Boy hammered the lid on the can with his
fist, and then held it out. "It was put away shut up, for I shut it,
and even one of us can't get that lid off without a knife or something
to pry it."

The company looked at the small hands doubtfully. They were none too
little for many a forbidden feat. How had he got on the swing-shelf?
How--

"Ye see, crayther, it must uv been yersilf, becuz there isn't annybuddy
else."

"Look here," said the Colonel, "we'll forgive you this time if you'll
own up. Just tell us--"

"Kaviak!" Again that journey from the cricket to the judgment-seat.

"Show us"--Mac had taken the shut tin, and now held it out--"show us
how you got the lid off."

But Kaviak turned away. Mac seized him by the shoulder and jerked him
round.

Everyone felt it to be suspicious that Kaviak was unwilling even to try
to open the all too attractive can. Was he really cunning, and did he
want not to give himself away? Wasn't he said to be much older than he
looked? and didn't he sometimes look a hundred, and wise for his years?

"See here: I haven't caught you in a lie yet, but if I do--"

Kaviak stared, drew a long breath, and seemed to retire within himself.

"You'd better attend to me, for I mean business."

Kaviak, recalled from internal communing, studied "Farva" a moment, and
then retreated to the cricket, as to a haven now, hastily and with
misgiving, tripping over his trailing coat. Mac stood up.

"Wait, old man." The Colonel stooped his big body till he was on a
level with the staring round eyes. "Yo' see, child, yo' can't have any
dinnah till we find out who took the syrup."

The little yellow face was very serious. He turned and looked at the
still smoking plenty-bowl.

"Are yoh hungry?"

He nodded, got up briskly, held up his train, and dragged his high
stool to the table, scrambled up, and established himself.

"Look at that!" said the Colonel triumphantly. "That youngster hasn't
just eaten a pint o' syrup."

Mac was coming slowly up behind Kaviak with a face that nobody liked
looking at.

"Oh, let the brat alone, and let's get to our grub!" said Potts, with
an extreme nervous irritation.

Mac swept Kaviak off the stool. "You come with me!"

Only one person spoke after that till the meal was nearly done. That
one had said, "Yes, Farva," and followed Mac, dinnerless, out to the
Little Cabin.

The Colonel set aside a plateful for each of the two absent ones, and
cleared away the things. Potts stirred the fire in a shower of sparks,
picked up a book and flung it down, searched through the sewing-kit for
something that wasn't lost, and then went to the door to look at the
weather--so he said. O'Flynn sat dozing by the fire. He was in the way
of the washing-up.

"Stir your stumps, Jimmie," said the Colonel, "and get us a bucket of
water." Sleepily O'Flynn gave it as his opinion that he'd be damned if
he did.

With unheard-of alacrity, "I'll go," said Potts.

The Colonel stared at him, and, by some trick of the brain, he had a
vision of Potts listening at the door the night before, and then
resuming that clinking, scratching sound in the corner--the store
corner.

"Hand me over my parki, will you?" Potts said to the Boy. He pulled it
over his head, picked up the bucket, and went out.

"Seems kind o' restless, don't he?"

"Yes. Colonel--"

"Hey?"

"Nothin'."

Ten minutes--a quarter of an hour went by.

"Funny Mac don't come for his dinner, isn't it? S'pose I go and look
'em up?"

"S'pose you do."

Not far from the door he met Mac coming in.

"Well?" said the Boy, meaning, Where's the kid?

"Well?" Mac echoed defiantly. "I lammed him, as I'd have lammed Robert
Bruce if he'd lied to me."

The Boy stared at this sudden incursion into history, but all he said
was: "Your dinner's waitin'."

The minute Mac got inside he looked round hungrily for the child. Not
seeing him, he went over and scrutinised the tumbled contents of the
bunks.

"Where's Kaviak?"

"P'raps you'll tell us."

"You mean he isn't here?" Mac wheeled round sharply.

"_Here?_"

"He didn't come back here for his dinner?"

"Haven't seen him since you took him out." Mac made for the door. The
Boy followed.

"Kaviak!" each called in turn. It was quite light enough to see if he
were anywhere about, although the watery sun had sunk full half an hour
before. The fantastically huge full-moon hung like a copper shield on a
steel-blue wall.

"Do you see anything?" whispered Mac.

"No."

"Who's that yonder?"

"Potts gettin' water."

The Boy was bending down looking for tracks. Mac looked, too, but
ineffectually, feverishly.

"Isn't Potts calling?"

"I knew he would if he saw us. He's never carried a bucket uphill yet
without help. See, there are the Kid's tracks going. We must find some
turned the other way."

They were near the Little Cabin now.

"Here!" shouted the Boy; "and ... yes, here again!" And so it was.
Clean and neatly printed in the last light snowfall showed the little
footprints. "We're on the right trail now. Kaviak!"

Through his parki the Boy felt a hand close vise-like on his shoulder,
and a voice, not like MacCann's:

"Goin' straight down to the fish-trap hole!"

The two dashed forward, down the steep hill, the Boy saying breathless
as they went: "And Potts--where's Potts?"

He had vanished, but there was no time to consider how or where.

"Kaviak!"

"Kaviak!" And as they got to the river:

"Think I hear--"

"So do I--"

"Coming! coming! Hold on tight! Coming, Kaviak!"

They made straight for the big open fish-hole. Farther away from the
Little Cabin, and nearer the bank, was the small well-hole. Between the
two they noticed, as they raced by, the water-bucket hung on that heavy
piece of driftwood that had frozen aslant in the river. Mac saw that
the bucket-rope was taut, and that it ran along the ice and disappeared
behind the big funnel of the fish-trap.

The sound was unmistakable now--a faint, choked voice calling out of
the hole, "Help!"

"Coming!"

"Hold tight!"

"Half a minute!"

And how it was done or who did it nobody quite knew, but Potts, still
clinging by one hand to the bucket-rope, was hauled out and laid on the
ice before it was discovered that he had Kaviak under his arm--Kaviak,
stark and unconscious, with the round eyes rolled back till one saw the
whites and nothing more.

Mac picked the body up and held it head downwards; laid it flat again,
and, stripping off the great sodden jacket, already beginning to
freeze, fell to putting Kaviak through the action of artificial
breathing.

"We must get them up to the cabin first thing," said the Boy.

But Mac seemed not to hear.

"Don't you see Kaviak's face is freezing?"

Still Mac paid no heed. Potts lifted a stiff, uncertain hand, and, with
a groan, let it fall heavily on his own cheek.

"Come on; I'll help you in, anyhow, Potts."

"Can't walk in this damned wet fur."

With some difficulty having dragged off Potts' soaked parki, already
stiffening unmanageably, the Boy tried to get him on his feet.

"Once you're in the cabin you're all right."

But the benumbed and miserable Potts kept his eyes on Kaviak, as if
hypnotised by the strange new death-look in the little face.

"Well, I can't carry you up," said the Boy; and after a second he began
to rub Potts furiously, glancing over now and then to see if Kaviak was
coming to, while Mac, dumb and tense, laboured on without success.
Potts, under the Boy's ministering, showed himself restored enough to
swear feebly.

"H'ray! my man's comin' round. How's yours?" No answer, but he could
see that the sweat poured off Mac's face as he worked unceasingly over
the child. The Boy pulled Potts into a sitting posture. It was then
that Mac, without looking up, said:

"Run and get whiskey. Run like hell!"

When he got back with the Colonel and the whiskey, O'Flynn floundering
in the distance, Potts was feebly striking his breast with his arms,
and Mac still bent above the motionless little body.

They tried to get some of the spirit down the child's throat, but the
tight-clenched teeth seemed to let little or nothing pass. The stuff
ran down towards his ears and into his neck. But Mac persisted, and
went on pouring, drop by drop, whenever he stopped trying to restore
the action of the lungs. O'Flynn just barely managed to get "a swig"
for Potts in the interval, though they all began to feel that Mac was
working to bring back something that had gone for ever. The Boy went
and bent his face down close over the rigid mouth to feel for the
breath. When he got up he turned away sharply, and stood looking
through tears into the fish-hole, saying to himself, "Yukon Inua has
taken him."

"He was in too long." Potts' teeth were chattering, and he looked
unspeakably wretched. "When my arm got numb I couldn't keep his head
up;" and he swallowed more whiskey. "You fellers oughtn't to have left
that damn trap up!"

"What's that got to do with it?" said the Boy guiltily.

"Kaviak knew it ought to be catchin' fish. When I came down he was
cryin' and pullin' the trap backwards towards the hole. Then he
slipped."

"Come, Mac," said the Colonel quietly, "let's carry the little man to
the cabin."

"No, no, not yet; stuffy heat isn't what he wants;" and he worked on.

They got Potts up on his feet.

"I called out to you fellers. Didn't you hear me?"

"Y-yes, but we didn't understand."

"Well, you'd better have come. It's too late now." O'Flynn half
dragged, half carried him up to the cabin, for he seemed unable to walk
in his frozen trousers. The Colonel and the Boy by a common impulse
went a little way in the opposite direction across the ice.

"What can we do, Colonel?"

"Nothing. It's not a bit o' use." They turned to go back.

"Well, the duckin' will be good for Potts' parki, anyhow," said the Boy
in an angry and unsteady voice.

"What do you mean?"

"When he asked me to hand it to him I nearly stuck fast to it. It's all
over syrup; and we don't wear furs at our meals."

"Tchah!" The Colonel stopped with a face of loathing.

"Yes, he was the only one of us that didn't bully the kid to-day."

"Couldn't go _that_ far, but couldn't own up."

"Potts is a cur."

"Yes, sah." Then, after an instant's reflection: "But he's a cur that
can risk his life to save a kid he don't care a damn for."

They went back to Mac, and found him pretty well worn out. The Colonel
took his place, but was soon pushed away. Mac understood better, he
said; had once brought a chap round that everybody said was ... dead.
He wasn't dead. The great thing was not to give in.

A few minutes after, Kaviak's eyelids fluttered, and came down over the
upturned eyeballs. Mac, with a cry that brought a lump to the Colonel's
throat, gathered the child up in his arms and ran with him up the hill
to the cabin.

      *       *       *       *       *

Three hours later, when they were all sitting round the fire, Kaviak
dosed, and warm, and asleep in the lower bunk, the door opened, and in
walked a white man followed by an Indian.

"I'm George Benham." They had all heard of the Anvik trader, a man of
some wealth and influence, and they made him welcome.

The Indian was his guide, he said, and he had a team outside of seven
dogs. He was going to the steamship _Oklahoma_ on some business, and
promised Father Wills of Holy Cross that he'd stop on the way, and
deliver a letter to Mr. MacCann.

"Stop on the way! I should think so."

"We were goin' to have supper to-night, anyhow, and you'll stay and
sleep here."

All Mac's old suspicions of the Jesuits seemed to return with the
advent of that letter.

"I'll read it presently." He laid it on the mantel-shelf, between the
sewing-kit and the tobacco-can, and he looked at it, angrily, every now
and then, while he helped to skin Mr. Benham. That gentleman had thrown
back his hood, pulled off his great moose-skin gauntlets and his
beaver-lined cap, and now, with a little help, dragged the drill parki
over his head, and after that the fine lynx-bordered deer-skin,
standing revealed at last as a well-built fellow, of thirty-eight or
so, in a suit of mackinaws, standing six feet two in his heelless
salmon-skin snow-boots. "Bring in my traps, will you?" he said to the
Indian, and then relapsed into silence. The Indian reappeared with his
arms full.

"Fine lot o' pelts you have there," said the Colonel.

Benham didn't answer. He seemed to be a close-mouthed kind of a chap.
As the Indian sorted and piled the stuff in the corner, Potts said:

"Got any furs you want to sell?"

"No."

"Where you takin' 'em?"

"Down to the _Oklahoma_."

"All this stuff for Cap'n Rainey?"

Benham nodded.

"I reckon there's a mistake about the name, and he's Cap'n Tom Thumb or
Commodore Nutt." The Boy had picked up a little parki made carefully of
some very soft dark fur and trimmed with white rabbit, the small hood
bordered with white fox.

"That's a neat piece of work," said the Colonel.

Benham nodded. "One of the Shageluk squaws can do that sort of thing."

"What's the fur?"

"Musk-rat." And they talked of the weather--how the mercury last week
had been solid in the trading-post thermometer, so it was "over forty
degrees, anyhow."

"What's the market price of a coat like that?" Mac said suddenly.

"That isn't a 'market' coat. It's for a kid of Rainey's back in the
States."

Still Mac eyed it enviously.

"What part of the world are you from, sir?" said the Colonel when they
had drawn up to the supper table.

"San Francisco. Used to teach numskulls Latin and mathematics in the
Las Palmas High School."

"What's the value of a coat like that little one?" interrupted Mac.

"Oh, about twenty dollars."

"The Shageluks ask that much?"

Benham laughed. "If _you_ asked the Shageluks, they'd say forty."

"You've been some time in this part of the world, I understand," said
the Colonel.

"Twelve years."

"Without going home?"

"Been home twice. Only stayed a month. Couldn't stand it."

"I'll give you twenty-two dollars for that coat," said Mac.

"I've only got that one, and as I think I said--"

"I'll give you twenty-four."

"It's an order, you see. Rainey--"

"I'll give you twenty-six."

Benham shook his head.

"Sorry. Yes, it's queer about the hold this country gets on you. The
first year is hell, the second is purgatory, with glimpses ... of
something else. The third--well, more and more, forever after, you
realise the North's taken away any taste you ever had for civilisation.
That's when you've got the hang of things up here, when you've learned
not to stay in your cabin all the time, and how to take care of
yourself on the trail. But as for going back to the boredom of
cities--no, thank you."

Mac couldn't keep his eyes off the little coat. Finally, to enable him
to forget it, as it seemed, he got up and opened Father Wills' letter,
devoured its contents in silence, and flung it down on the table. The
Colonel took it up, and read aloud the Father's thanks for all the
white camp's kindness to Kaviak, and now that the sickness was about
gone from Holy Cross, how the Fathers felt that they must relieve their
neighbours of further trouble with the little native.

"I've said I'd take him back with me when I come up river about
Christmas."

"We'd be kind o' lost, now, without the little beggar," said the Boy,
glancing sideways at Mac.

"There's nothin' to be got by luggin' him off to Holy Cross," answered
that gentleman severely.

"Unless it's clo'es," said Potts.

"He's all right in the clo'es he's got," said Mac, with the air of one
who closes an argument. He stood up, worn and tired, and looked at his
watch.

"You ain't goin' to bed this early?" said Potts, quite lively and
recovered from his cold bath. That was the worst of sleeping in the
Little Cabin. Bedtime broke the circle; you left interesting visitors
behind, and sometimes the talk was better as the night wore on.

"Well, someone ought to wood up down yonder. O'Flynn, will you go?"

O'Flynn was in the act of declining the honour. But Benham, who had
been saying, "It takes a year in the Yukon for a man to get on to
himself," interrupted his favourite theme to ask: "Your other cabin
like this?"

Whereon, O'Flynn, shameless of the contrast in cabins, jumped up, and
said: "Come and see, while I wood up."

"You're very well fixed here," said Benham, rising and looking round
with condescension; "but men like you oughtn't to try to live without
real bread. No one can live and work on baking-powder."

There was a general movement to the door, of which Benham was the
centre.

"I tell you a lump of sour dough, kept over to raise the next batch, is
worth more in this country than a pocket full of gold."

"I'll give you twenty-eight for that musk-rat coat," said Mac.

Benham turned, stared back at him a moment, and then laughed.

"Oh, well, I suppose I can get another made for Rainey before the first
boat goes down."

"Then is it on account o' the bread," the Colonel was saying, "that the
old-timer calls himself a Sour-dough?"

"All on account o' the bread."

They crowded out after Benham.

"Coming?" The Boy, who was last, held the door open. Mac shook his
head.

It wasn't one of the bitter nights; they'd get down yonder, and talk by
the fire, till he went in and disturbed them. That was all he had
wanted. For Mac was the only one who had noticed that Kaviak had waked
up. He was lying as still as a mouse.

Alone with him at last, Mac kept his eyes religiously turned away, sat
down by the fire, and watched the sparks. By-and-by a head was put up
over the board of the lower bunk. Mac saw it, but sat quite still.

"Farva."

He meant to answer the appeal, half cleared his throat, but his voice
felt rusty; it wouldn't turn out a word.

Kaviak climbed timidly, shakily out, and stood in the middle of the
floor in his bare feet.

"Farva!"

He came a little nearer till the small feet sank into the rough brown
curls of the buffalo. The child stooped to pick up his wooden cricket,
wavered, and was about to fall. Mac shot out a hand, steadied him an
instant without looking, and then set the cricket in front of the fire.
He thereupon averted his face, and sat as before with folded arms. He
hadn't deliberately meant to make Kaviak be the first to "show his
hand" after all that had happened, but something had taken hold of him
and made him behave as he hadn't dreamed of behaving. It was, perhaps,
a fear of playing the fool as much as a determination to see how much
ground he'd lost with the youngster.

The child was observing him with an almost feverish intensity. With
eyes fixed upon the wooden face to find out how far he might venture,
shakily he dragged the cricket from where Mac placed it, closer,
closer, and as no terrible change in the unmoved face warned him to
desist, he pulled it into its usual evening position between Mac's
right foot and the fireplace. He sank down with a sigh of relief, as
one who finishes a journey long and perilous. The fire crackled and the
sparks flew gaily. Kaviak sat there in the red glow, dressed only in a
shirt, staring with incredulous, mournful eyes at the Farva who had--

Then, as Mac made no sign, he sighed again, and held out two little
shaky hands to the blaze.

Mac gave out a sound between a cough and a snort, and wiped his eyes on
the back of his hand.

Kaviak had started nervously.

"You cold?" asked Mac.

Kaviak nodded.

"Hungry?"

He nodded again, and fell to coughing.

Mac got up and brought the newly purchased coat to the fire.

"It's for you," he said, as the child's big eyes grew bigger with
admiration.

"Me? Me own coat?" He stood up, and his bare feet fluttered up and down
feebly, but with huge delight.

As the parki was held ready the child tumbled dizzily into it, and Mac
held him fast an instant.

In less than five minutes Kaviak was once more seated on the cricket,
but very magnificent now in his musk-rat coat, so close up to Mac that
he could lean against his arm, and eating out of a plenty-bowl on his
knees a discreet spoonful of mush drowned in golden syrup--a supper for
a Sultan if only there had been more!

When he had finished, he set the bowl down, and, as a puppy might, he
pushed at Mac's arm till he found a way in, laid his head down on
"Farva's" knee with a contented sigh, and closed his heavy eyes.

Mac put his hand on the cropped head and began:

"About that empty syrup-can--"

Kaviak started up, shaking from head to foot. Was the obscure nightmare
coming down to crush him again?

Mac tried to soothe him. But Kaviak, casting about for charms to disarm
the awful fury of the white man--able to endure with dignity any
reverse save that of having his syrup spilt--cried out:

"I solly--solly. Our Farva--"

"I'm sorry, too, Kaviak," Mac interrupted, gathering the child up to
him; "and we won't either of us do it any more."




CHAPTER VIII

CHRISTMAS

  "Himlen morkner, mens Jordens Trakt
   Straaler lys som i Stjernedragt.
   Himlen er bleven Jordens Gjaest
   Snart er det Julens sode Fest."


It had been moved, seconded, and carried by acclamation that they
should celebrate Christmas, not so much by a feast of reason as by a
flow of soul and a bang-up dinner, to be followed by speeches and some
sort of cheerful entertainment.

"We're goin' to lay ourselves out on this entertainment," said the Boy,
with painful misgivings as to the "bang-up dinner."

Every time the banquet was mentioned somebody was sure to say, "Well,
anyhow, there's Potts's cake," and that reflection never failed to
raise the tone of expectation, for Potts's cake was a beauty, evidently
very rich and fruity, and fitted by Nature to play the noble part of
plum-pudding. But, in making out the bill of fare, facts had to be
faced. "We've got our everyday little rations of beans and bacon, and
we've got Potts's cake, and we've got one skinny ptarmigan to make a
banquet for six hungry people!"

"But we'll have a high old time, and if the bill o' fare is a little
... restricted, there's nothin' to prevent our programme of toasts,
songs, and miscellaneous contributions from bein' rich and varied."

"And one thing we can get, even up here"--the Colonel was looking at
Kaviak--"and that's a little Christmas-tree."

"Y-yes," said Potts, "you can get a little tree, but you can't get the
smallest kind of a little thing to hang on it."

"Sh!" said the Boy, "it must be a surprise."

And he took steps that it should be, for he began stealing away
Kaviak's few cherished possessions--his amulet, his top from under the
bunk, his boats from out the water-bucket, wherewith to mitigate the
barrenness of the Yukon tree, and to provide a pleasant surprise for
the Esquimer who mourned his playthings as gone for ever. Of an evening
now, after sleep had settled on Kaviak's watchful eyes, the Boy worked
at a pair of little snow-shoes, helped out by a ball of sinew he had
got from Nicholas. Mac bethought him of the valuable combination of
zoological and biblical instruction that might be conveyed by means of
a Noah's Ark. He sat up late the last nights before the 25th,
whittling, chipping, pegging in legs, sharpening beaks, and inking
eyes, that the more important animals might be ready for the Deluge by
Christmas.

The Colonel made the ark, and O'Flynn took up a collection to defray
the expense of the little new mucklucks he had ordered from Nicholas.
They were to come "_sure_ by Christmas Eve," and O'Flynn was in what he
called "a froightful fanteeg" as the short day of the 24th wore towards
night, and never a sign of the one-eyed Pymeut. Half a dozen times
O'Flynn had gone beyond the stockade to find out if he wasn't in sight,
and finally came back looking intensely disgusted, bringing a couple of
white travellers who had arrived from the opposite direction; very
cold, one of them deaf, and with frost-bitten feet, and both so tired
they could hardly speak. Of course, they were made as comfortable as
was possible, the frozen one rubbed with snow and bandaged, and both
given bacon and corn-bread and hot tea.

"You oughtn't to let yourself get into a state like this," said Mac,
thinking ruefully of these strangers' obvious inability to travel for a
day or two, and of the Christmas dinner, to which Benham alone had been
bidden, by a great stretch of hospitality.

"That's all very well," said the stranger, who shouted when he talked
at all, "but how's a man to know his feet are going to freeze?"

"Ye see, sorr," O'Flynn explained absent-mindedly, "Misther MacCann
didn't know yer pardner was deaf."

This point of view seemed to thaw some of the frost out of the two
wayfarers. They confided that they were Salmon P. Hardy and Bill
Schiff, fellow-passengers in the _Merwin_, "locked in the ice down
below," and they'd mined side by side back in the States at Cripple
Creek. "Yes, sir, and sailed for the Klondyke from Seattle last July."
And now at Christmas they were hoping that, with luck, they might reach
the new Minook Diggings, seven hundred miles this side of the Klondyke,
before the spring rush. During this recital O'Flynn kept rolling his
eyes absently.

"Theyse a quare noise without."

"It's the wind knockin' down yer chimbly," says Mr. Hardy
encouragingly.

"It don't sound like Nich'las, annyhow. May the divil burrn him in
tarment and ile fur disappoyntin' th' kid."

A rattle at the latch, and the Pymeut opened the door.

"Lorrd love ye! ye're a jool, Nich'las!" screamed O'Flynn; and the
mucklucks passed from one to the other so surreptitiously that for all
Kaviak's wide-eyed watchfulness he detected nothing.

Nicholas supped with his white friends, and seemed bent on passing the
night with them. He had to be bribed with tobacco and a new half-dollar
to go home and keep Christmas in the bosom of his family. And still, at
the door, he hesitated, drew back, and laid the silver coin on the
table.

"No. It nights."

"But it isn't really dark."

"Pretty soon heap dark."

"Why, I thought you natives could find your way day or night?"

"Yes. Find way."

"Then what's the matter?"

"Pymeut no like dark;" and it was not until Mac put on his own
snow-shoes and offered to go part of the way with him that Nicholas was
at last induced to return home.

The moment Kaviak was ascertained to be asleep, O'Flynn displayed the
mucklucks. No mistake, they were dandies! The Boy hung one of them up,
by its long leg, near the child's head at the side of the bunk, and
then conferred with O'Flynn.

"The Colonel's made some little kind o' sweet-cake things for the tree.
I could spare you one or two."

"Divil a doubt Kaviak'll take it kindly, but furr mesilf I'm thinkin' a
pitaty's a dale tastier."

There was just one left in camp. It had rolled behind the flour-sack,
and O'Flynn had seized on it with rapture. Where everybody was in such
need of vegetable food, nobody under-estimated the magnificence of
O'Flynn's offering, as he pushed the pitaty down into the toe of the
muckluck.

"Sure, the little haythen'll have a foine Christian Christmas wid that
same to roast in the coals, begorra!" and they all went to bed save
Mac, who had not returned, and the Boy, who put on his furs, and went
up the hill to the place where he kept the Christmas-tree lodged in a
cotton-wood.

He shook the snow off its branches, brought it down to the cabin,
decorated it, and carried it back.

      *       *       *       *       *

Mac, Salmon P. Hardy, and the frost-bitten Schiff were waked, bright
and early Christmas morning, by the Boy's screaming with laughter.

The Colonel looked down over the bunk's side, and the men on the
buffalo-skin looked up, and they all saw Kaviak sitting in bed, holding
in one hand an empty muckluck by the toe, and in the other a half-eaten
raw potato.

"Keep the rest of it to roast, anyhow, or O'Flynn's heart will be
broken."

So they deprived Kaviak of the gnawed fragment, and consoled him by
helping him to put on his new boots.

When the Little Cabin contingent came in to breakfast, "Hello! what you
got up on the roof?" says Potts.

"Foot of earth and three feet o' snow!"

"But what's in the bundle!"

"Bundle?" echoes the Boy.

"If you put a bundle on the roof, I s'pose you know what's in it," says
the Colonel severely.

The occupants of the two cabins eyed each other with good-humoured
suspicion.

"Thank you," says the Boy, "but we're not takin' any bundles to-day."

"Call next door," advised the Colonel.

"You think we're tryin' to jolly you, but just go out and see for
yourself--"

"No, sir, you've waked the wrong passenger!"

"They're tryin' it on _us_," said Potts, and subsided into his place at
the breakfast-table.

During the later morning, while the Colonel wrestled with the dinner
problem, the Boy went through the thick-falling snow to see if the tree
was all right, and the dogs had not appropriated the presents. Half-way
up to the cotton-wood, he glanced back to make sure Kaviak wasn't
following, and there, sure enough, just as the Little Cabin men had
said--there below him on the broad-eaved roof was a bundle packed round
and nearly covered over with snow. He went back eyeing it suspiciously.

Whatever it was, it seemed to be done up in sacking, for a bit stuck
out at the corner where the wind struck keen. The Boy walked round the
cabin looking, listening. Nobody had followed him, or nothing would
have induced him to risk the derision of the camp. As it was, he would
climb up very softly and lightly, and nobody but himself would be the
wiser even if it was a josh. He brushed away the snow, touching the
thing with a mittened hand and a creepy feeling at his spine. It was
precious heavy, and hard as iron. He tugged at the sacking. "Jee! if I
don't b'lieve it's meat." The lid of an old cardboard box was bound
round the frozen mass with a string, and on the cardboard was written:
"Moose and Christmas Greeting from Kaviak's friends at Holy Cross to
Kaviak's friends by the Big Chimney."

"H'ray! h'ray! Come out, you fellas! Hip! hip! hurrah!" and the Boy
danced a breakdown on the roof till the others had come out, and then
he hurled the moose-meat down over the stockade, and sent the placard
flying after. They all gathered round Mac and read it.

"Be the Siven!"

"Well, I swan!"

"Don't forget, Boy, you're not takin' any."

"Just remember, if it hadn't been for me it might have stayed up there
till spring."

"You run in, Kaviak, or you'll have no ears."

But that gentleman pulled up his hood and stood his ground.

"How did it get on the roof, in the name o' the nation?" asked the
Colonel, stamping his feet.

"Never hear of Santa Claus? Didn't I tell you, Kaviak, he drove his
reindeer team over the roofs?"

"Did you hear any dogs go by in the night?"

"I didn't; Nicholas brought it, I s'pose, and was told to cache it up
there. Maybe that's why he came late to give us a surprise."

"Don't believe it; we'd have heard him. Somebody from the mission came
by in the night and didn't want to wake us, and saw there were dogs--"

"It's froze too hard to cut," interrupted Salmon P. Hardy, who had been
trying his jack-knife on one end; "it's too big to go in any mortal
pot."

"And it'll take a month to thaw!"

They tried chopping it, but you could more easily chop a bolt of linen
sheeting. The axe laboriously chewed out little bits and scattered
shreds.

"Stop! We'll lose a lot that way."

While they were lamenting this fact, and wondering what to do, the dogs
set up a racket, and were answered by some others. Benham was coming
along at a rattling pace, his dogs very angry to find other dogs there,
putting on airs of possession.

"We got all this moose-meat," says Potts, when Benham arrived on the
scene, "but we can't cut it."

"Of course not. Where's your hand-saw?"

The Boy brought it, and Mr. Benham triumphantly sawed off two fine
large steaks. Kaviak scraped up the meat saw-dust and ate it with grave
satisfaction. With a huge steak in each hand, the Colonel, beaming, led
the procession back to the cabin. The Boy and Mac cached the rest of
the moose on the roof and followed.

"Fine team, that one o' yours," said Salmon P. Hardy to the trader.
"_You'll_ get to Minook, anyhow."

"Not me."

"Hey?"

"I'm not going that way."

"Mean to skip the country? Got cold feet?"

"No. I'm satisfied enough with the country," said the trader quietly,
and acknowledged the introduction to Mr. Schiff, sitting in bandages by
the fire.

Benham turned back and called out something to his guide.

"I thought maybe you'd like some oysters for your Christmas dinner," he
said to the Colonel when he came in again, "so I got a couple o' cans
from the A. C. man down below;" and a mighty whoop went up.

The great rapture of that moment did not, however, prevent O'Flynn's
saying under his breath:

"Did ye be chanct, now, think of bringin' a dtrop o'--hey?"

"No," says Benham a little shortly.

"Huh! Ye say that like's if ye wuz a taytotlerr?"

"Not me. But I find it no good to drink whiskey on the trail."

"Ah!" says Salmon P. with interest, "you prefer brandy?"

"No," says Benham, "I prefer tea."

"Lorrd, now! look at that!"

"Drink spirit, and it's all very fine and reviving for a few minutes;
but a man can't work on it."

"It's the wan thing, sorr," says O'Flynn with solemnity--"it's the wan
thing on the top o' God's futstool that makes me feel I cud wurruk."

"Not in this climate; and you're safe to take cold in the reaction."

"Cowld is ut? Faith, ye'll be tellin' us Mr. Schiff got his toes froze
wid settin' too clost be the foire."

"You don't seriously mean you go on the trail without any alcohol?"
asks the Colonel.

"No, I don't go without, but I keep it on the outside of me, unless I
have an accident."

Salmon P. studied the trader with curiosity. A man with seven
magnificent dogs and a native servant, and the finest furs he'd ever
seen--here was either a capitalist from the outside or a man who had
struck it rich "on the inside."

"Been in long?"

"Crossed the Chilcoot in June, '85."

"What! twelve year ago?"

Benham nodded.

"Gosh! then you've been in the Klondyke?"

"Not since the gold was found."

"And got a team like that 'n outside, and not even goin' to Minook?"

"Guess not!"

What made the feller so damn satisfied? Only one explanation was
possible: he'd found a mine without going even as far as Minook. He was
a man to keep your eye on.

A goodly aroma of steaming oysters and of grilling moose arose in the
air. The Boy set up the amended bill of fare, lit the Christmas
candles--one at the top, one at the bottom of the board--and the
Colonel announced the first course, though it wasn't one o'clock, and
they usually dined at four.

The soup was too absorbingly delicious to admit of conversation. The
moose-steaks had vanished like the "snaw-wreath in the thaw" before
anything much was said, save:

"Nothin' th' matter with moose, hey?"

"Nop! Bet your life."

The "Salmi of ptarmigan" appeared as a great wash of gravy in which
portions of the much cut-up bird swam in vain for their lives. But the
high flat rim of the dish was plentifully garnished by fingers of
corn-bread, and the gravy was "galoppshus," so Potts said.

Salmon P., having appeased the pangs of hunger, returned to his
perplexed study of Benham.

"Did I understand you to say you came into this country to _prospect_?"

"Came down the Never-Know-What and prospected a whole summer at Forty
Mile."

"What river did you come by?"

"Same as you go by--the Yukon. Indians up yonder call it the
Never-Know-What, and the more you find out about it, the better you
think the name."

"Did you do any good at Forty Mile?"

"Not enough to turn my head, so I tried the Koyukuk--and other diggins
too."

"Hear that, Schiff?" he roared at his bandaged friend. "Never say die!
This gen'l'man's been at it twelve years--tried more 'n one camp, but
now--well, he's so well fixed he don't care a cuss about the Klondyke."

Schiff lit up and pulled hard at the cutty.

O'Flynn had taken Kaviak to the fire, and was showing him how to roast
half a petaty in wood ashes; but he was listening to the story and
putting in "Be the Siven!" at appropriate moments.

Schiff poured out a cloud of rank smoke.

"Gen'lemen," he said, "the best Klondyke claims'll be potted. Minook's
the camp o' the future. You'd better come along with us."

"Got no dogs," sighed the Boy; but the two strangers looked hard at the
man who hadn't that excuse.

Benham sat and idly watched preparations for the next course.

"Say, a nabob like you might give us a tip. How did you do the trick?"

"Well, I'd been playing your game for three years, and no galley slave
ever worked half as hard--"

"That's it! work like the devil for a couple o' years and then live
like a lord for ever after."

"Yes; well, when the time came for me to go into the Lord business I
had just forty-two dollars and sixty cents to set up on."

"What had you done with the rest?"

"I'd spent the five thousand dollars my father left me, and I'd cleaned
up just forty-two dollars sixty cents in my three years' mining."

The announcement fell chill on the company.

"I was dead broke and I had no credit. I went home."

"But"--Mac roused himself--"you didn't stay--"

"No, you don't stay--as a rule;"--Mac remembered Caribou--"get used to
this kind o' thing, and miss it. Miss it so you--"

"You came back," says Salmon P., impatient of generalities.

"And won this time," whispered Schiff.

For that is how every story must end. The popular taste in fiction is
universal.

"A friend at home grub-staked me, and I came in again--came down on the
high water in June. Prospected as long as my stuff lasted, and
then--well, I didn't care about starving, I became an A. C. Trader."

A long pause. This was no climax; everybody waited.

"And now I'm on my own. I often make more money in a day trading with
the Indians in furs, fish, and cord-wood, than I made in my whole
experience as a prospector and miner."

A frost had fallen on the genial company.

"But even if _you_ hadn't any luck," the Boy suggested, "you must have
seen others--"

"Oh, I saw some washing gravel that kept body and soul together, and I
saw some ... that didn't."

In the pause he added, remorseless:

"I helped to bury some of them."

"Your experience was unusual, or why do men come back year after year?"

"Did you ever hear of a thing called Hope?"

They moved uneasily on their stools, and some rubbed stubbly chins with
perplexed, uncertain fingers, and they all glowered at the speaker. He
was uncomfortable, this fellow.

"Well, there mayn't be as much gold up here as men think, but there's
more hope than anywhere on earth."

"To hell with hope; give me certainty," says Salmon P.

"Exactly. So you shuffle the cards, and laugh down the five-cent limit.
You'll play one last big game, and it'll be for life this time as well
as fortune."

"Cheerful cuss, ain't he?" whispered Schiff.

"They say we're a nation of gamblers. Well, sir, the biggest game we
play is the game that goes on near the Arctic Circle."

"What's the matter with Wall Street?"

"'Tisn't such a pretty game, and they don't play for their lives. I
tell you it's love of gambling brings men here, and it's the splendid
stiff game they find going on that keeps them. There's nothing like it
on earth."

His belated enthusiasm deceived nobody.

"It don't seem to have excited you much," said Mac.

"Oh, I've had my turn at it. And just by luck I found I could play
another--a safer game, and not bad fun either." He sat up straight and
shot his hands down deep in the pockets of his mackinaws. "I've got a
good thing, and I'm willing to stay with it."

The company looked at him coldly.

"Well," drawled Potts, "you can look after the fur trade; give me a
modest little claim in the Klondyke."

"Oh, Klondyke! Klondyke!" Benham got up and stepped over Kaviak on his
way to the fire. He lit a short briarwood with a flaming stick and
turned about. "Shall I tell you fellows a little secret about the
Klondyke?" He held up the burning brand in the dim room with telling
emphasis. The smoke and flame blew black and orange across his face as
he said:

"_Every dollar that's taken out of the Klondyke in gold-dust will cost
three dollars in coin_."

A sense of distinct dislike to Benham had spread through the company--a
fellow who called American enterprise love of gambling, for whom
heroism was foolhardy, and hope insane. Where was a pioneer so bold he
could get up now and toast the Klondyke? Who, now, without grim
misgiving, could forecast a rosy future for each man at the board? And
that, in brief, had been the programme.

"Oh, help the puddin', Colonel," said the Boy like one who starts up
from an evil dream.

But they sat chilled and moody, eating plum-pudding as if it had been
so much beans and bacon. Mac felt Robert Bruce's expensive education
slipping out of reach. Potts saw his girl, tired of waiting, taking up
with another fellow. The Boy's Orange Grove was farther off than
Florida. Schiff and Hardy wondered, for a moment, who was the gainer
for all their killing hardship? Not they, at present, although there
was the prospect--the hope--oh, damn the Trader!

The Colonel made the punch. O'Flynn drained his cup without waiting for
the mockery of that first toast--_To our Enterprise_--although no one
had taken more interest in the programme than O'Flynn. Benham talked
about the Anvik saw-mill, and the money made in wood camps along the
river. Nobody listened, though everyone else sat silent, smoking and
sulkily drinking his punch.

Kaviak's demand for some of the beverage reminded the Boy of the
Christmas-tree. It had been intended as a climax to wind up the
entertainment, but to produce it now might save the situation. He got
up and pulled on his parki.

"Back 'n a minute." But he was gone a long time.

Benham looked down the toast-list and smiled inwardly, for it was
Klondyked from top to bottom. The others, too, stole uneasy glances at
that programme, staring them in the face, unabashed, covertly
ironic--nay, openly jeering. They actually hadn't noticed the fact
before, but every blessed speech was aimed straight at the wonderful
gold camp across the line--not the Klondyke of Benham's croaking, but
the Klondyke of their dreams.

Even the death's head at the feast regretted the long postponement of
so spirited a programme, interspersed, as it promised to be, with
songs, dances, and "tricks," and winding up with an original poem, "He
won't be happy till he gets it."

Benham's Indian had got up and gone out. Kaviak had tried to go too,
but the door was slammed in his face. He stood there with his nose to
the crack exactly as a dog does. Suddenly he ran back to Mac and tugged
at his arm. Even the dull white men could hear an ominous snarling
among the Mahlemeuts.

Out of the distance a faint answering howl of derision from some enemy,
advancing or at bay. It was often like this when two teams put up at
the Big Chimney Camp.

"Reckon our dogs are gettin' into trouble," said Salmon P. anxiously to
his deaf and crippled partner.

"It's nothing," says the Trader. "A Siwash dog of any spirit is always
trailing his coat"; and Salmon P. subsided.

Not so Kaviak. Back to the door, head up, he listened. They had
observed the oddity before. The melancholy note of the Mahlemeut never
yet had failed to stir his sombre little soul. He was standing now
looking up at the latch, high, and made for white men, eager, breathing
fast, listening to that dismal sound that is like nothing else in
nature--listening as might an exiled Scot to the skirl of bagpipes;
listening as a Tyrolese who hears yodelling on foreign hills, or as the
dweller in a distant land to the sound of the dear home speech.

The noise outside grew louder, the air was rent with howls of rage and
defiance.

"Sounds as if there's 'bout a million mad dogs on your front stoop,"
says Schiff, knowing there must be a great deal going on if any of it
reached his ears.

"You set still." His pardner pushed him down on his stool. "Mr. Benham
and I'll see what's up."

The Trader leisurely opened the door, Salmon P. keeping modestly
behind, while Kaviak darted forward only to be caught back by Mac. An
avalanche of sound swept in--a mighty howling and snarling and cracking
of whips, and underneath the higher clamour, human voices--and in
dashes the Boy, powdered with snow, laughing and balancing carefully in
his mittened hands a little Yukon spruce, every needle diamond-pointed,
every sturdy branch white with frost crystals and soft woolly snow, and
bearing its little harvest of curious fruit--sweet-cake rings and stars
and two gingerbread men hanging by pack-thread from the white and green
branches, the Noah's Ark lodged in one crotch, the very amateur
snow-shoes in another, and the lost toys wrapped up, transfigured in
tobacco-foil, dangling merrily before Kaviak's incredulous eyes.

"There's your Christmas-tree!" and the bringer, who had carried the
tree so that no little puff of snow or delicate crystal should fall
off, having made a successful entrance and dazzled the child, gave way
to the strong excitement that shot light out of his eyes and brought
scarlet into his cheeks. "Here, take it!" He dashed the tree down in
front of Kaviak, and a sudden storm agitated its sturdy branches; it
snowed about the floor, and the strange fruit whirled and spun in the
blast. Kaviak clutched it, far too dazed to do more than stare. The Boy
stamped the snow off his mucklucks on the threshold, and dashed his cap
against the lintel, calling out:

"Come in! come in! let the dogs fight it out." Behind him, between the
snow-walls at the entrance, had appeared two faces--weather-beaten men,
crowding in the narrow space, craning to see the reception of the
Christmas-tree and the inside of the famous Big Chimney Cabin.

"These gentlemen," says the Boy, shaking with excitement as he ushered
them in, "are Mr. John Dillon and General Lighter. They've just done
the six hundred and twenty-five miles from Minook with dogs over the
ice! They've been forty days on the trail, and they're as fit as
fiddles. An' no yonder, for Little Minook has made big millionaires o'
both o' them!"

Millionaires or not, they'll never, either of them, create a greater
sensation than they did that Christmas Day, in the Big Chimney Cabin,
on the bleak hillside, up above the Never-Know-What. Here was Certainty
at last! Here was Justification!

Precious symbols of success, they were taken by both hands, they were
shaken and wildly welcomed, "peeled," set down by the fire, given
punch, asked ten thousand questions all in a breath, rejoiced over, and
looked up to as glorious dispellers of doubt, blessed saviours from
despair.

Schiff had tottered forward on bandaged feet, hand round ear, mouth
open, as if to swallow whole whatever he couldn't hear. The Colonel
kept on bowing magnificently at intervals and pressing refreshment,
O'Flynn slapping his thigh and reiterating, "Be the Siven!" Potts not
only widened his mouth from ear to ear, but, as O'Flynn said after,
"stretched it clane round his head and tyed it up furr jy in a nate
knot behind." Benham took a back seat, and when anybody remembered him
for the next hour it was openly to gloat over his discomfiture.

John Dillon was one of those frontiersmen rightly called typically
American. You see him again and again--as a cowboy in Texas, as a miner
or herdsman all through the Far West; you see him cutting lumber along
the Columbia, or throwing the diamond hitch as he goes from camp to
camp for gold and freedom. He takes risks cheerfully, and he never
works for wages when he can go "on his own."

John Dillon was like the majority, tall, lean, muscular, not an ounce
of superfluous flesh on his bones, a face almost gaunt in its clearness
of cut, a thin straight nose, chin not heavy but well curved out, the
eye orbit arched and deep, a frown fixed between thick eyebrows, and
few words in his firm, rather grim-looking mouth. He was perhaps
thirty-six, had been "in" ten years, and had mined before that in
Idaho. Under his striped parki he was dressed in spotted deer-skin,
wore white deer-skin mucklucks, Arctic cap, and moose mittens. Pinned
on his inner shirt was the badge of the Yukon Order of Pioneers--a
footrule bent like the letter A above a scroll of leaves, and in the
angle two linked O's over Y. P.

It was the other man--the western towns are full of General
Lighters--who did the talking. An attorney from Seattle, he had come up
in the July rush with very little but boundless assurance, fell in with
an old miner who had been grubstaked by Captain Rainey out of the
_Oklahoma's_ supplies, and got to Minook before the river went to
sleep.

"No, we're not pardners exactly," he said, glancing good-humouredly at
Dillon; "we've worked separate, but we're going home two by two like
animals into the Ark. We've got this in common. We've both 'struck
ile'--haven't we, Dillon?"

Dillon nodded.

"Little Minook's as rich a camp as Dawson, and the gold's of higher
grade--isn't it, Dillon?"

"That's right."

"One of the many great advantages of Minook is that it's the _nearest_
place on the river where they've struck pay dirt." says the General.
"And another great advantage is that it's on the American side of the
line."

"What advantage is that?" Mac grated out.

"Just the advantage of not having all your hard earnings taken away by
an iniquitous tax."

"Look out! this fella's a Britisher--"

"Don't care if he is, and no disrespect to you, sir. The Canadians in
the Klondyke are the first to say the tax is nothing short of highway
robbery. You'll see! The minute they hear of gold across the line
there'll be a stampede out of Dawson. I can put you in the way of
getting a claim for eight thousand dollars that you can take eighty
thousand out of next August, with no inspector coming round to check
your clean-up, and no Government grabbing at your royalties."

"Why aren't you taking out that eighty thousand yourself?" asked Mac
bluntly.

"Got more 'n one man can handle," answered the General. "Reckon we've
earned a holiday."

Dillon backed him up.

"Then it isn't shortage in provisions that takes you outside," said the
Boy.

"Not much."

"Plenty of food at Rampart City; that's the name o' the town where the
Little Minook meets the Yukon."

"Food at gold-craze prices, I suppose."

"No. Just about the same they quote you in Seattle."

"How is that possible when it's been carried four thousand miles?"

"Because the A. C. and N. A. T. and T. boats got frozen in this side of
Dawson. They know by the time they get there in June a lot of stuff
will have come in by the short route through the lakes, and the town
will be overstocked. So there's flour and bacon to burn when you get up
as far as Minook. It's only along the Lower River there's any real
scarcity."

The Big Chimney men exchanged significant looks.

"And there are more supply-boats wintering up at Fort Yukon and at
Circle City," the General went on. "I tell you on the Upper River
there's food to burn."

Again the Big Chimney men looked at one another. The General kept
helping himself to punch, and as he tossed it off he would say,
"Minook's the camp for me!" When he had given vent to this conviction
three times, Benham, who hadn't spoken since their entrance, said
quietly:

"And you're going away from it as hard as you can pelt."

The General turned moist eyes upon him.

"Are you a man of family, sir?"

"No."

"Then I cannot expect you to understand." His eyes brimmed at some
thought too fine and moving for public utterance.

Each member of the camp sat deeply cogitating. Not only gold at Minook,
but food! In the inner vision of every eye was a ship-load of
provisions "frozen in" hard by a placer claim; in every heart a fervid
prayer for a dog-team.

The Boy jumped up, and ran his fingers through his long wild hair. He
panted softly like a hound straining at a leash. Then, with an obvious
effort to throw off the magic of Minook, he turned suddenly about, and
"Poor old Kaviak!" says he, looking round and speaking in quite an
everyday sort of voice.

The child was leaning against the door clasping the forgotten
Christmas-tree so tight against the musk-rat coat that the branches hid
his face. From time to time with reverent finger he touched silver boat
and red-foil top, and watched, fascinated, how they swung. A white
child in a tenth of the time would have eaten the cakes, torn off the
transfiguring tinfoil, tired of the tree, and forgotten it. The Boy
felt some compunction at the sight of Kaviak's steadfast fidelity.

"Look here, we'll set the tree up where you can see it better." He put
an empty bucket on the table, and with Mac's help, wedged the spruce in
it firmly, between some blocks of wood and books of the law.

The cabin was very crowded. Little Mr. Schiff was sitting on the
cricket. Kaviak retired to his old seat on Elephas beyond the bunks,
where he still had a good view of the wonderful tree, agreeably lit by
what was left of the two candles.

"Those things are good to eat, you know," said the Colonel kindly.

Mac cut down a gingerbread man and gave it into the tiny hands.

"What wind blew that thing into your cabin?" asked the General,
squinting up his snow-blinded eyes at the dim corner where Kaviak sat.

There wasn't a man in the camp who didn't resent the millionaire's
tone.

"This is a great friend of ours--ain't you, Kaviak?" said the Boy.
"He's got a soul above gold-mines, haven't you? He sees other fellas
helping themselves to his cricket and his high chair--too polite to
object--just goes and sits like a philosopher on the bones of dead
devils and looks on. Other fellas sittin' in his place talkin' about
gold and drinkin' punch--never offerin' him a drop--"

Several cups were held out, but Mac motioned them back.

"I don't think," says John Dillon slyly--"don't think _this_ punch will
hurt the gentleman."

And a roar went up at the Colonel's expense. General Lighter pulled
himself to his feet, saying there was a little good Old Rye left
outside, and he could stock up again when he got to the _Oklahoma_.

"Oh, and it's yersilf that don't shoy off from a dthrop o' the craythur
whin yer thravellin' the thrail."

Everybody looked at Benham. He got up and began to put on his furs; his
dog-driver, squatting by the door, took the hint, and went out to see
after the team.

"Oh, well," said the General to O'Flynn, "it's Christmas, you know";
and he picked his way among the closely-packed company to the door.

"We ought to be movin', too," said Dillon, straightening up. The
General halted, depressed at the reminder. "You know we swore we
wouldn't stop again unless--"

"Look here, didn't you hear me saying it was Christmas?"

"You been sayin' that for twenty-four hours. Been keepin' Christmas
right straight along since yesterday mornin." But the General had gone
out to unpack the whisky. "He knocked up the mission folks, bright and
early yesterday, to tell 'em about the Glad News Tiding's--Diggin's, I
mean."

"What did they say?"

"Weren't as good an audience as the General's used to; that's why we
pushed on. We'd heard about your camp, and the General felt a call to
preach the Gospel accordin' to Minook down this way."

"He don't seem to be standin' the racket as well as you," said Schiff.

"Well, sir, this is the first time I've found him wantin' to hang round
after he's thoroughly rubbed in the news."

Dillon moved away from the fire; the crowded cabin was getting hot.

Nevertheless the Colonel put on more wood, explaining to Salmon P. and
the others, who also moved back, that it was for illuminating
purposes--those two candles burning down low, each between three nails
in a little slab of wood--those two had been kept for Christmas, and
were the last they had.

In the general movement from the fire, Benham, putting on his cap and
gloves, had got next to Dillon.

"Look here," said the Trader, under cover of the talk about candles,
"what sort of a trip have you had?"

The Yukon pioneer looked at him a moment, and then took his pipe out of
his mouth to say:

"Rank."

"No fun, hey?"

"That's right." He restored the pipe, and drew gently.

"And yet to hear the General chirp--"

"He's got plenty o' grit, the General has."

"Has he got gold?"

Dillon nodded. "Or will have."

"Out of Minook?"

"Out of Minook."

"In a sort of a kind of a way. I think I understand." Benham wagged his
head. "He's talkin' for a market."

Dillon smoked.

"Goin' out to stir up a boom, and sell his claim to some sucker."

The General reappeared with the whisky, stamping the snow off his feet
before he joined the group at the table, where the Christmas-tree was
seasonably cheek by jowl with the punch-bowl between the low-burnt
candles. Mixing the new brew did not interrupt the General's ecstatic
references to Minook.

"Look here!" he shouted across to Mac, "I'll give you a lay on my best
claim for two thousand down and a small royalty."

Mac stuck out his jaw.

"I'd like to take a look at the country before I deal."

"Well, see here. When will you go?"

"We got no dogs."

"_We_ have!" exclaimed Salmon P. and Scruff with one voice.

"Well, I _can_ offer you fellows--"

"How many miles did you travel a day?"

"Sixty," said the General promptly.

"Oh Lord!" ejaculated Benham, and hurriedly he made his good-byes.

"What's the matter with _you?_" demanded the General with dignity.

"I'm only surprised to hear Minook's twenty-four hundred miles away."

"More like six hundred," says the Colonel.

"And you've been forty days coming, and you cover sixty miles a
day--Good-bye," he laughed, and was gone.

"Well--a--" The General looked round.

"Travelin' depends on the weather." Dillon helped him out.

"Exactly. Depends on the weather," echoed the General. "You don't get
an old Sour-dough like Dillon to travel at forty degrees."

"How are you to know?" whispered Schiff.

"Tie a little bottle o' quick to your sled," answered Dillon.

"Bottle o' what?" asked the Boy.

"Quicksilver--mercury," interpreted the General.

"No dog-puncher who knows what he's about travels when his quick goes
dead."

"If the stuff's like lead in your bottle--" The General stopped to
sample the new brew. In the pause, from the far side of the cabin
Dillon spat straight and clean into the heart of the coals.

"Well, what do you do when the mercury freezes?" asked the Boy.

"Camp," said Dillon impassively, resuming his pipe.

"I suppose," the Boy went on wistfully--"I suppose you met men all the
way making straight for Minook?"

"Only on this last lap."

"They don't get far, most of 'em."

"But... but it's worth trying!" the Boy hurried to bridge the chasm.

The General lifted his right arm in the attitude of the orator about to
make a telling hit, but he was hampered by having a mug at his lips. In
the pause, as he stood commanding attention, at the same time that he
swallowed half a pint of liquor, he gave Dillon time leisurely to get
up, knock the ashes out of his pipe stick it in his belt, put a slow
hand behind him towards his pistol pocket, and bring out his buckskin
gold sack. Now, only Mac of the other men had ever seen a miner's purse
before, but every one of the four cheechalkos knew instinctively what
it was that Dillon held so carelessly. In that long, narrow bag, like
the leg of a child's stocking, was the stuff they had all come seeking.

The General smacked his lips, and set down the granite cup.

"_That's_ the argument," he said. "Got a noospaper?"

The Colonel looked about in a flustered way for the tattered San
Francisco _Examiner_; Potts and the Boy hustled the punch-bowl on to
the bucket board, recklessly spilling some of the precious contents.
O'Flynn and Salmon P. whisked the Christmas tree into the corner, and
not even the Boy remonstrated when a gingerbread man broke his neck,
and was trampled under foot.

"Quick! the candles are going out!" shouted the Boy, and in truth each
wick lay languishing in a little island of grease, now flaring bravely,
now flickering to dusk. It took some time to find in the San Francisco
_Examiner_ of August 7 a foot square space that was whole. But as
quickly as possible the best bit was spread in the middle of the table.
Dillon, in the breathless silence having slowly untied the thongs, held
his sack aslant between the two lights, and poured out a stream-nuggets
and coarse bright gold.

The crowd about the table drew audible breath. Nobody actually spoke at
first, except O'Flynn, who said reverently: "Be--the Siven! Howly
Pipers!--that danced at me--gran'-mother's weddin'--when the
divvle--called the chune!" Even the swimming wicks flared up, and
seemed to reach out, each a hungry tongue of flame to touch and taste
the glittering heap, before they went into the dark. Low exclamations,
hands thrust out to feel, and drawn back in a sort of superstitious
awe.

Here it was, this wonderful stuff they'd come for! Each one knew by the
wild excitement in his own breast, how in secret he had been brought to
doubt its being here. But here it was lying in a heap on the Big Cabin
table! and--now it was gone.

The right candle had given out, and O'Flynn, blowing with impatience
like a walrus, had simultaneously extinguished the other.

For an instant a group of men with strained and dazzled eyes still bent
above the blackness on the boards.

"Stir the fire," called the Colonel, and flew to do it himself.

"I'll light a piece of fat pine," shouted the Boy, catching up a stick,
and thrusting it into the coals.

"Where's your bitch?" said Dillon calmly.

"Bitch?"

"Haven't you got a condensed milk can with some bacon grease in it, and
a rag wick? Makes a good enough light."

But the fire had been poked up, and the cabin was full of dancing
lights and shadows. Besides that, the Boy was holding a resinous stick
alight over the table, and they all bent down as before.

"It was passin' a bank in 'Frisco wid a windy full o' that stuff that
brought me up here," said O'Flynn.

"It was hearin' about that winder brought _me_" added Potts.

Everyone longed to touch and feel about in the glittering pile, but no
one as yet had dared to lay a finger on the smallest grain in the
hoard. An electrical shock flashed through the company when the General
picked up one of the biggest nuggets and threw it down with a rich,
full-bodied thud. "That one is four ounces."

He took up another.

"This is worth about sixty dollars."

"More like forty," said Dillon.

They were of every conceivable shape and shapelessness, most of them
flattened; some of them, the greenhorn would swear, were fashioned by
man into roughly embossed hearts, or shells, or polished discs like
rude, defaced coins. One was a perfect staple, another the letter "L,"
another like an axe-head, and one like a peasant's sabot. Some were
almost black with iron stains, and some were set with "jewels" of
quartz, but for the most part they were formless fragments of a rich
and brassy yellow.

"Lots of the little fellas are like melon-seeds"; and the Boy pointed a
shaking finger, longing and still not daring to touch the treasure.

Each man had a dim feeling in the back of his head that, after all, the
hillock of gold was an illusion, and his own hand upon the dazzling
pile would clutch the empty air.

"Where's your dust?" asked the Boy.

Dillon stared.

"Why, here."

"This is all nuggets and grains."

"Well, what more do you want?"

"Oh, it'd do well enough for me, but it ain't dust."

"It's what we call dust."

"As coarse as this?"

The Sour-dough nodded, and Lighter laughed.

"There's a fox's mask," said the Colonel at the bottom of the table,
pointing a triangular bit out.

"Let me look at it a minute," begged the Boy.

"Hand it round," whispered Schiff.

It was real. It was gold. Their fingers tingled under the first
contact. This was the beginning.

The rude bit of metal bred a glorious confidence. Under the magic of
its touch Robert Bruce's expensive education became a simple certainty.
In Potts's hand the nugget gave birth to a mighty progeny. He saw
himself pouring out sackfuls before his enraptured girl.

The Boy lifted his flaring torch with a victorious sense of having just
bought back the Orange Grove; and Salmon P. passed the nugget to his
partner with a blissful sigh.

"Well, I'm glad we didn't get cold feet," says he.

"Yes," whispered Schiff; "it looks like we goin' to the right place."

The sheen of the heap of yellow treasure was trying even to the nerves
of the Colonel.

"Put it away," he said quite solemnly, laying the nugget on the
paper--"put it all away before the firelight dies down."

Dillon leisurely gathered it up and dropped the nuggets, with an
absent-minded air, into the pouch which Lighter held.

But the San Francisco _Examiner_ had been worn to the softness of an
old rag and the thinness of tissue. Under Dillon's sinewy fingers
pinching up the gold the paper gave way.

"Oh!" exclaimed more than one voice, as at some grave mishap.

Dillon improvised a scoop out of a dirty envelope. Nobody spoke and
everybody watched, and when, finally, with his hand, he brushed the
remaining grains off the torn paper into the envelope, poured them into
the gaping sack-mouth, and lazily pulled at the buckskin draw-string,
everybody sat wondering how much, if any, of the precious metal had
escaped through the tear, and how soon Dillon would come out of his
brown study, remember, and recover the loss. But a spell seemed to have
fallen on the company. No one spoke, till Dillon, with that lazy
motion, hoisting one square shoulder and half turning his body round,
was in the act of returning the sack to his hip-pocket.

"Wait!" said Mac, with the explosiveness of a firearm, and O'Flynn
jumped.

"You ain't got it all," whispered Schiff hurriedly.

"Oh, I'm leavin' the fox-face for luck," Dillon nodded at the Colonel.

But Schiff pointed reverently at the tear in the paper, as Dillon only
went on pushing his sack deep down in his pocket, while Mac lifted the
_Examiner_. All but the two millionaires bent forward and scrutinised
the table. O'Flynn impulsively ran one lone hand over the place where
the gold-heap had lain, his other hand held ready at the table's edge
to catch any sweepings. None! But the result of O'Flynn's action was
that those particles of gold that that fallen through the paper were
driven into the cracks and inequalities of the board.

"There! See?"

"Now look what you've done!"

Mac pointed out a rough knot-hole, too, that slyly held back a pinch of
gold.

"Oh, that!"

Dillon slapped his hip, and settled into his place. But the men nearest
the crack and the knot-hole fell to digging out the renegade grains,
and piously offering them to their lawful owner.

"That ain't worth botherin' about," laughed Dillon; "you always reckon
to lose a little each time, even if you got a China soup-plate."

"Plenty more where that came from," said the General, easily.

Such indifference was felt to be magnificent indeed. The little
incident said more for the richness of Minook than all the General's
blowing; they forgot that what was lost would amount to less than fifty
cents. The fact that it was gold--Minook gold--gave it a symbolic value
not to be computed in coin.

"How do you go?" asked the Colonel, as the two millionaires began
putting on their things.

"We cut across to Kuskoquim. Take on an Indian guide there to Nushagak,
and from there with dogs across the ocean ice to Kadiak."

"Oh! the way the letters go out."

"When they _do_," smiled Dillon. "Yes, it's the old Russian Post Trail,
I believe. South of Kadiak Island the sea is said to be open as early
as the first of March. We'll get a steamer to Sitka, and from Sitka, of
course, the boats run regular."

"Seattle by the middle of March!" says the General. "Come along,
Dillon; the sooner you get to Seattle, and blow in a couple o' hundred
thousand, the sooner you'll get back to Minook."

Dillon went out and roused up the dogs, asleep in the snow, with their
bushy tails sheltering their sharp noses.

"See you later?"

"Yes, 'outside.'"

"Outside? No, sir! _Inside_."

Dillon swore a blood-curdling string of curses and cracked his whip
over the leader.

"Why, you comin' back?"

"Bet your life!"

And nobody who looked at the face of the Yukon pioneer could doubt he
meant what he said.

They went indoors. The cabin wore an unwonted and a rakish air. The
stools seemed to have tried to dance the lancers and have fallen out
about the figure. Two were overturned. The unwashed dishes were tossed
helter-skelter. A tipsy Christmas tree leaned in drunken fashion
against the wall, and under its boughs lay a forgotten child asleep. On
the other side of the cabin an empty whisky bottle caught a ray of
light from the fire, and glinted feebly back. Among the ashes on the
hearth was a screw of paper, charred at one end, and thrown there after
lighting someone's pipe. The Boy opened it. The famous programme of the
Yukon Symposium!

"It's been a different sort of Christmas from what we planned,"
observed the Colonel, not quite as gaily as you might expect.

"Begob!" says O'Flynn, stretching out his interminable legs; "ye can't
say we haven't hearrd Glad Tidings of gr-reat j'y--"

"Colonel," interrupts the Boy, throwing the Programme in the fire,
"let's look at your nugget again."

And they all took turns. Except Potts. He was busy digging the
remaining gold-grains out of the crack and the knothole.




CHAPTER IX

A CHRISTIAN AGNOSTIC

  "--giver mig Rum!
   Himlen bar Stjerner Natten er stum."


It was a good many days before they got the dazzle of that gold out of
their eyes. They found their tongues again, and talked "Minook" from
morning till night among themselves and with the rare passer up or down
the trail.

Mac began to think they might get dogs at Anvik, or at one of the
Ingalik villages, a little further on. The balance of opinion in the
camp was against this view. But he had Potts on his side. When the New
Year opened, the trail was in capital condition. On the second of
January two lots of Indians passed, one with dogs hauling flour and
bacon for Benham, and the other lot without dogs, dragging light
hand-sleds. Potts said restlessly:

"After all, _they_ can do it."

"So can we if we've a mind to," said Mac.

"Come on, then."

The camp tried hard to dissuade them. Naturally neither listened. They
packed the Boy's sled and set off on the morning of the third, to
Kaviak's unbounded surprise and disgust, his view of life being that,
wherever Mac went, he was bound to follow. And he did follow--made off
as hard as his swift little feet could carry him, straight up the Yukon
trail, and Farva lost a good half of that first morning bringing him
home.

Just eight days later the two men walked into the Cabin and sat
down--Potts with a heart-rending groan, Mac with his jaw almost
dislocated in his cast-iron attempt to set his face against defeat;
their lips were cracked with the cold, their faces raw from frostbite,
their eyes inflamed. The weather--they called it the weather--had been
too much for them. It was obvious they hadn't brought back any dogs,
but--

"What did you think of Anvik?" says the Boy.

"Anvik? You don't suppose we got to Anvik in weather like this!"

"How far _did_ you get?"

Mac didn't answer. Potts only groaned. He had frozen his cheek and his
right hand.

They were doctored and put to bed.

"Did you see my friends at Holy Cross?" the Boy asked Potts when he
brought him a bowl of hot bean-soup.

"You don't suppose we got as far as Holy Cross, with the wind--"

"Well, where _did_ you get to? Where you been?"

"Second native village above."

"Why, that isn't more'n sixteen miles."

"Sixteen miles too far."

Potts breathed long and deep between hot and comforting swallows.

"Where's the Boy's sled?" said the Colonel, coming in hurriedly.

"We cached it," answered Potts feebly.

"Couldn't even bring his sled home! _Where've_ you cached it?"

"It's all right--only a few miles back."

Potts relinquished the empty soup-bowl, and closed his eyes.

      *       *       *       *       *

When he opened them again late in the evening it was to say:

"Found some o' those suckers who were goin' so slick to Minook; some o'
_them_ down at the second village, and the rest are winterin' in Anvik,
so the Indians say. Not a single son of a gun will see the diggins till
the ice goes out."

"Then, badly off as we are here," says the Colonel to the Boy, "it's
lucky for us we didn't join the procession."

When Mac and the Boy brought the sled home a couple of days later, it
was found that a portion of its cargo consisted of a toy kyak and two
bottles of hootchino, the maddening drink concocted by the natives out
of fermented dough and sugar.

Apart from the question of drinking raised again by the "hootch," it is
perhaps possible that, having so little else to do, they were ready to
eat the more; it is also true that, busy or idle, the human body
requires more nourishment in the North than it does in the South.

Certainly the men of the little Yukon camp began to find their rations
horribly short commons, and to suffer a continual hunger, never wholly
appeased. It is conditions like these that bring out the brute latent
in all men. The day came to mean three scant meals. Each meal came to
mean a silent struggle in each man's soul not to let his stomach get
the better of his head and heart. At first they joked and laughed about
their hunger and the scarcity. By-and-by it became too serious, the
jest was wry-faced and rang false. They had, in the beginning, each
helped himself from common dishes set in the middle of the rough plank
table. Later, each found how, without meaning to--hating himself for
it--he watched food on its way to others' plates with an evil eye. When
it came to his turn, he had an ever-recurrent struggle with himself not
to take the lion's share. There were ironical comments now and then,
and ill-concealed bitterness. No one of the five would have believed he
could feel so towards a human being about a morsel of food, but those
who think they would be above it, have not wintered in the Arctic
regions or fought in the Boer War. The difficulty was frankly faced at
last, and it was ordained in council that the Colonel should be
dispenser of the food.

"Can't say I like the office," quoth he, "but here goes!" and he cut
the bacon with an anxious hand, and spooned out the beans solemnly as
if he weighed each "go." And the Trio presently retired to the Little
Cabin to discuss whether the Colonel didn't show favouritism to the
Boy, and, when Mac was asleep, how they could get rid of Kaviak.

So presently another council was called, and the Colonel resigned his
office, stipulating that each man in turn should hold it for a week,
and learn how ungrateful it was. Moreover, that whoever was, for the
nonce, occupying the painful post, should be loyally upheld by all the
others, which arrangement was in force to the end.

And still, on grounds political, religious, social, trivial, the
disaffection grew. Two of the Trio sided against the odd man, Potts,
and turned him out of the Little Cabin one night during a furious
snowstorm, that had already lasted two days, had more than half buried
the hut, and nearly snowed up the little doorway. The Colonel and the
Boy had been shovelling nearly all the day before to keep free the
entrance to the Big Cabin and the precious "bottle" window, as well as
their half of the path between the two dwellings. O'Flynn and Potts had
played poker and quarrelled as usual.

The morning after the ejection of Potts, and his unwilling reception at
the Big Cabin, Mac and O'Flynn failed to appear for breakfast.

"Guess they're huffy," says Potts, stretching out his feet, very
comfortable in their straw-lined mucklucks, before the big blaze.
"Bring on the coffee, Kaviak."

"No," says the Colonel, "we won't begin without the other fellows."

"By the living Jingo, _I_ will then!" says Potts, and helps himself
under the Colonel's angry eyes.

The other two conferred a moment, then drew on their parkis and
mittens, and with great difficulty, in spite of yesterday's work, got
the door open. It was pretty dark, but there was no doubt about it, the
Little Cabin had disappeared.

"Look! isn't that a curl of smoke?" said the Boy.

"Yes, by George! they're snowed under!"

"Serve 'em right!"

A heavy sigh from the Colonel. "Yes, but _we'll_ have to dig 'em out!"

"Look here, Colonel"--the Boy spoke with touching solemnity--"_not
before breakfast!_"

"Right you are!" laughed the Colonel; and they went in.

It was that day, after the others had been released and fed, that the
Boy fell out with Potts concerning who had lost the hatchet--and they
came to blows. A black eye and a bloody nose might not seem an
illuminating contribution to the question, but no more was said about
the hatchet after the Colonel had dragged the Boy off the prostrate
form of his adversary.

But the Colonel himself lost his temper two days later when O'Flynn
broached the seal set months before on the nearly empty demijohn. For
those famous "temperance punches" the Colonel had drawn on his own
small stock. He saw his blunder when O'Flynn, possessing himself of the
demijohn, roared out:

"It's my whisky, I tell you! I bought it and paid furr it, and but for
me it would be at the bottom o' the Yukon now."

"Yes, and you'd be at the bottom of the Yukon yourself if you hadn't
been dragged out by the scruff o' your neck. And you'd be in a pretty
fix now, if we left you alone with your whisky, which is about all
you've got."

"We agreed," Potts chipped in, "that it should be kept for medicinal
purposes only."

Sullenly O'Flynn sipped at his grog. Potts had "hogged most of the
hootch."

      *       *       *       *       *

"Look here, Boy," said Mac at supper, "I said I wouldn't eat off this
plate again."

"Oh, dry up! One tin plate's like another tin plate."

"Are you reflecting on the washer-up, Mr. MacCann?" asked Potts.

"I'm saying what I've said before--that I've scratched my name on my
plate, and I won't eat off this rusty, battered kettle-lid."

He held it up as if to shy it at the Boy. The young fellow turned with
a flash in his eye and stood taut. Then in the pause he said quite low:

"Let her fly, MacCann."

But MacCann thought better of it. He threw the plate down on the table
with a clatter. The Colonel jumped up and bent over the mush-pot at the
fire, beside the Boy, whispering to him.

"Oh, all right."

When the Boy turned back to the table, with the smoking kettle, the
cloud had gone from his face. MacCann had got up to hang a blanket over
the door. While his back was turned the Boy brought a tin plate, still
in good condition, set it down at Mac's place, planted a nail on end in
the middle, and with three blows from a hammer fastened the plate
firmly to the board.

"Maybe you can't hand it up for more as often as you like, but you'll
always find it there," he said when McCann came back. And the laugh
went against the dainty pioneer, who to the end of the chapter ate from
a plate nailed fast to the table.

"I begin to understand," says the Colonel to the Boy, under cover of
the others' talk, "why it's said to be such a devil of a test of a
fellow's decency to winter in this infernal country."

"They say it's always a man's pardner he comes to hate most," returned
the Boy, laughing good-humouredly at the Colonel.

"Naturally. Look at the row in the Little Cabin."

"That hasn't been the only row," the Boy went on more thoughtfully. "I
say, Colonel"--he lowered his voice--"do you know there'll have to be a
new system of rations? I've been afraid--now I'm _sure_--the grub won't
last till the ice goes out."

"I know it," said the Colonel very gravely.

"Was there a miscalculation?"

"I hope it was that--or else," speaking still lower, "the stores have
been tampered with, and not by Kaviak either. There'll be a hell of a
row." He looked up, and saw Potts watching them suspiciously. It had
come to this: if two men talked low the others pricked their ears. "But
lack of grub," resumed the Colonel in his usual voice, as though he had
not noticed, "is only one of our difficulties. Lack of work is just
about as bad. It breeds a thousand devils. We're a pack o' fools. Here
we are, all of us, hard hit, some of us pretty well cleaned out o'
ready cash, and here's dollars and dollars all round us, and we sit
over the fire like a lot of God-forsaken natives."

"Dollars! Where?"

"Growin' on the trees, boys; a forest full."

"Oh, timber." Enthusiasm cooled.

"Look at what they say about those fellows up at Anvik, what they made
last year."

"They've got a saw-mill."

"_Now_ they have. But they cut and sold cord-wood to the steamers two
years before they got a mill, and next summer will be the biggest
season yet. We ought to have set to, as soon as the cabins were built,
and cut wood for the summer traffic. But since there are five of us, we
can make a good thing of it yet."

The Colonel finally carried the day. They went at it next morning, and,
as the projector of the work had privately predicted, a better spirit
prevailed in the camp for some time. But here were five men, only one
of whom had had any of the steadying grace of stiff discipline in his
life, men of haphazard education, who had "chucked" more or less easy
berths in a land of many creature comforts ... for this--to fell and
haul birch and fir trees in an Arctic climate on half-rations! It began
to be apparent that the same spirit was invading the forest that had
possession of the camp; two, or at most three, did the work, and the
rest shirked, got snow-blindness and rheumatism, and let the others do
his share, counting securely, nevertheless, on his fifth of the
proceeds, just as he counted (no matter what proportion he had
contributed) on his full share of the common stock of food.

"I came out here a Communist--" said the Boy one day to the Colonel.

"And an agnostic," smiled the older man.

"Oh, I'm an agnostic all right, now and for ever. But this winter has
cured my faith in Communism."

Early February brought not only lengthening daylight, but a radical
change in the weather. The woodsmen worked in their shirt-sleeves,
perspired freely, and said in the innocence of their hearts, "If winter
comes early up here, spring does the same." The whole hillside was one
slush, and the snow melting on the ill-made Little Cabin roof brought a
shower-bath into the upper bunk.

Few things in nature so surely stir the pulse of man as the untimely
coming of a few spring days, that have lost their way in the calendar,
and wandered into winter. No trouble now to get the Big Chimney men
away from the fireside. They held up their bloodless faces in the faint
sunshine, and their eyes, with the pupils enlarged by the long reign of
night, blinked feebly, like an owl's forced to face the morning.

There were none of those signs in the animal world outside, of
premature stir and cheerful awaking, that in other lands help the
illusion that winter lies behind, but there was that even more
stimulating sweet air abroad, that subtle mixture of sun and yielding
frost, that softened wind that comes blowing across the snow, still
keen to the cheek, but subtly reviving to the sensitive nostril, and
caressing to the eyes. The Big Chimney men drew deep breaths, and said
in their hearts the battle was over and won.

Kaviak, for ever following at Mac's heels "like a rale Irish tarrier,"
found his allegiance waver in these stirring, blissful days, if ever
Farva so belied character and custom as to swing an axe for any length
of time. Plainly out of patience, Kaviak would throw off the musk-rat
coat, and run about in wet mucklucks and a single garment--uphill,
downhill, on important errands which he confided to no man.

It is part of the sorcery of such days that men's thoughts, like
birds', turn to other places, impatient of the haven that gave them
shelter in rough weather overpast. The Big Chimney men leaned on their
axes and looked north, south, east, west.

Then the Colonel would give a little start, turn about, lift his
double-bitter, and swing it frontier fashion, first over one shoulder,
then over the other, striking cleanly home each time, working with a
kind of splendid rhythm more harmonious, more beautiful to look at,
than most of the works of men. This was, perhaps, the view of his
comrades, for they did a good deal of looking at the Colonel. He said
he was a modest man and didn't like it, and Mac, turning a little rusty
under the gibe, answered:

"Haven't you got the sense to see we've cut all the good timber just
round here?" and again he turned his eyes to the horizon line.

"Mac's right," said the Boy; and even the Colonel stood still a moment,
and they all looked away to that land at the end of the world where the
best materials are for the building of castles--it's the same country
so plainly pointed out by the Rainbow's End, and never so much as in
the springtime does it lure men with its ancient promise.

"Come along, Colonel; let's go and look for real timber--"

"And let's find it nearer water-level--where the steamers can see it
right away."

"What about the kid?"

"Me come," said Kaviak, with a highly obliging air.

"No; you stay at home."

"No; go too."

"Go too, thou babbler! Kaviak's a better trail man than some I could
mention."

"We'll have to carry him home," objected Potts.

"Now don't tell us you'll do any of the carryin', or we'll lose
confidence in you, Potts."

The trail was something awful, but on their Canadian snowshoes they got
as far as an island, six miles off. One end of it was better wooded
than any easily accessible place they had seen.

"Why, this is quite like real spruce," said the Boy, and O'Flynn
admitted that even in California "these here would be called 'trees'
wid no intintion o' bein' sarcaustic."

So they cut holes in the ice, and sounded for the channel.

"Yes, sir, the steamers can make a landin' here, and here's where we'll
have our wood-rack."

They went home in better spirits than they had been in since that
welter of gold had lain on the Big Cabin table.

      *       *       *       *       *

But a few days sufficed to wear the novelty off the new wood camp for
most of the party. Potts and O'Flynn set out in the opposite direction
one morning with a hand-sled, and provisions to last several days. They
were sick of bacon and beans, and were "goin' huntin'." No one could
deny that a moose or even a grouse--anything in the shape of fresh
meat--was sufficiently needed. But Potts and O'Flynn were really sick
and sore from their recent slight attack of wood-felling. They were
after bigger game, too, as well as grouse, and a few days "off." It had
turned just enough colder to glaze the trail and put it in fine
condition. They went down the river to the _Oklahoma,_ were generously
entertained by Captain Rainey, and learned that, with earlier contracts
on his hands, he did not want more wood from them than they had already
corded. They returned to the camp without game, but with plenty of
whisky, and information that freed them from the yoke of labour, and
from the lash of ironic comment. In vain the Colonel urged that the
_Oklahoma_ was not the only steamer plying the Yukon, that with the big
rush of the coming season the traffic would be enormous, and a
wood-pile as good as a gold mine. The cause was lost.

"You won't get us to make galley-slaves of ourselves on the off-chance
of selling. Rainey says that wood camps have sprung up like mushrooms
all along the river. The price of wood will go down to--"

"All along the river! There isn't one between us and Andreievsky, nor
between here and Holy Cross."

But it was no use. The travellers pledged each other in _Oklahoma_
whisky, and making a common cause once more, the original Trio put in a
night of it. The Boy and the Colonel turned into their bunks at eleven
o'clock. They were roused in the small hours, by Kaviak's frightened
crying, and the noise of angry voices.

"You let the kid alone."

"Well, it's mesilf that'll take the liberty o' mintionin' that I ain't
goin' to stand furr another minyit an Esquimer's cuttin' down _my_
rations. Sure it's a fool I've been!"

"You can't help that," Mac chopped out.

"Say Mac," said Potts in a drunken voice, "I'm talkin' to you like a
friend. You want to get a move on that kid."

"Kaviak's goin' won't make any more difference than a fly's."

The other two grumbled incoherently.

"But I tell you what _would_ make a difference: if you two would quit
eatin' on the sly--out o' meal-times."

"Be the Siven!"

"You lie!" A movement, a stool overturned, and the two men in the bunks
were struck broad awake by the smart concussion of a gun-shot. Nobody
was hurt, and between them they disarmed Potts, and turned the Irishman
out to cool off in his own cabin. It was all over in a minute. Kaviak,
reassured, curled down to sleep again. Mac and Potts stretched
themselves on the buffalo-robe half under the table, and speedily fell
to snoring. The Boy put on some logs. He and the Colonel sat and
watched the sparks.

"It's a bad business."

"It can't go on," says the Colonel; "but Mac's right: Kaviak's being
here isn't to blame. They--we, too--are like a lot of powder-cans."

The Boy nodded. "Any day a spark, and _biff!_ some of us are in a
blaze, and wh-tt! bang! and some of us are in Kingdom Come."

"I begin to be afraid to open my lips," said the Colonel. "We all are;
don't you notice?"

"Yes. I wonder why we came."

"_You_ had no excuse," said the elder man almost angrily.

"Same excuse as you."

The Colonel shook his head.

"Exactly," maintained the Boy. "Tired of towns and desk-work,
and--and--" The Boy shifted about on his wooden stool, and held up his
hands to the reviving blaze. "Life owes us steady fellows one year of
freedom, anyhow--one year to make ducks and drakes of. Besides, we've
all come to make our fortunes. Doesn't every mother's son of us mean to
find a gold-mine in the spring when we get to the Klondyke--eh?" And he
laughed again, and presently he yawned, and tumbled back into his bunk.
But he put his head out in a moment. "Aren't you going to bed?"

"Yes." The Colonel stood up.

"Did you know Father Wills went by, last night, when those fellows
began to row about getting out the whisky?"

"No."

"He says there's another stampede on."

"Where to?"

"Koyukuk this time."

"Why didn't he come in?"

"Awful hurry to get to somebody that sent for him. Funny fellas these
Jesuits. They _believe_ all those odd things they teach."

"So do other men," said the Colonel, curtly.

"Well, I've lived in a Christian country all my life, but I don't know
that I ever saw Christianity _practised_ till I went up the Yukon to
Holy Cross."

"I must say you're complimentary to the few other Christians scattered
about the world."

"Don't get mifft, Colonel. I've known plenty of people straight as a
die, and capital good fellows. I've seen them do very decent things now
and then. But with these Jesuit missionaries--Lord! there's no let up
to it."

No answer from the Protestant Colonel. Presently the Boy in a sleepy
voice added elegantly:

"No Siree! The Jesuits go the whole hog!"

      *       *       *       *       *

Winter was down on the camp again. The whole world was hard as iron.
The men kept close to the Big Chimney all day long, and sat there far
into the small hours of the morning, saying little, heavy-eyed and
sullen. The dreaded insomnia of the Arctic had laid hold on all but the
Colonel. Even his usually unbroken repose was again disturbed one night
about a week later. Some vague sort of sound or movement in the
room--Kaviak on a raid?--or--wasn't that the closing of a door?

"Kaviak!" He put his hand down and felt the straight hair of the
Esquimaux in the under bunk. "Potts! Who's there?" He half sat up.
"Boy! Did you hear that, Boy?"

He leaned far down over the side and saw distinctly by the fire-light
there was nobody but Kaviak in the under bunk.

The Colonel was on his legs in a flash, putting his head through his
parki and drawing on his mucklucks. He didn't wait to cross and tie the
thongs. A presentiment of evil was strong upon him. Outside in the
faint star-light he thought a dim shape was passing down towards the
river.

"Who's that? Hi, there! Stop, or I'll shoot!" He hadn't brought his
gun, but the ruse worked.

"Don't shoot!" came back the voice of the Boy.

The Colonel stumbled down the bank in the snow, and soon stood by the
shape. The Boy was dressed for a journey. His Arctic cap was drawn down
over his ears and neck. The wolf-skin fringe of his parki hood stood
out fiercely round the defiant young face. Wound about one of his
seal-skin mittens was the rope of the new hand-sled he'd been
fashioning so busily of nights by the camp fire. His two blankets were
strapped on the sled, Indian fashion, along with a gunny sack and his
rifle.

The two men stood looking angrily at each other a moment, and then the
Colonel politely inquired:

"What in hell are you doing?"

"Goin' to Minook."

"The devil you are!"

"Yes, the devil I am!"

They stood measuring each other in the dim light, till the Colonel's
eyes fell on the loaded sled. The Boy's followed.

"I've only taken short rations for two weeks. I left a statement in the
cabin; it's about a fifth of what's my share, so there's no need of a
row."

"What are you goin' for?"

"Why, to be first in the field, and stake a gold-mine, of course."

The Colonel laid a rough hand on the Boy's shoulder. He shook it off
impatiently, and before the older man could speak:

"Look here, let's talk sense. Somebody's got to go, or there'll be
trouble. Potts says Kaviak. But what difference would Kaviak make? I've
been afraid you'd get ahead of me. I've watched you for a week like a
hawk watches a chicken. But it's clear I'm the one to go."

He pulled up the rope of the sled, and his little cargo lurched towards
him. The Colonel stepped in front of him.

"Boy--" he began, but something was the matter with his voice; he got
no further.

"I'm the youngest," boasted the other, "and I'm the strongest, and--I'm
the hungriest."

The Colonel found a perturbed and husky voice in which to say:

"I didn't know you were such a Christian."

"Nothin' o' the sort."

"What's this but--"

"Why, it's just--just my little scheme."

"You're no fool. You know as well as I do you've got the devil's own
job in hand."

"Somebody's got to go," he repeated doggedly.

"Look here," said the Colonel, "you haven't impressed me as being tired
of life."

"Tired of life!" The young eyes flashed in that weird aureole of long
wolf-hair. "Tired of life! Well, I should just pretty nearly think I
wasn't."

"H'm! Then if it isn't Christianity, it must be because you're young."

"Golly, man! it's because I'm hungry--HUNGRY! Great Jehosaphat! I could
eat an ox!"

"And you leave your grub behind, to be eaten by a lot of--"

"I can't stand here argyfying with the thermometer down to--" The Boy
began to drag the sled over the snow.

"Come back into the cabin."

"No."

"Come with me, I say; I've got something to propose." Again the Colonel
stood in front, barring the way. "Look here," he went on gently, "are
you a friend of mine?"

"Oh, so-so," growled the Boy. But after looking about him for an angry
second or two, he flung down the rope of his sled, walked sulkily
uphill, and kicked off his snow-shoes at the door of the cabin, all
with the air of one who waits, but is not baulked of his purpose. They
went in and stripped off their furs.

"Now see here: if you've made up your mind to light out, I'm not going
to oppose you."

"Why didn't you say anything as sensible as that out yonder?"

"Because I won't be ready to go along till to-morrow."

"You?"

"Yep."

There was a little silence.

"I wish you wouldn't, Colonel."

"It's dangerous alone--not for two."

"Yes, it IS dangerous, and you know it."

"I'm goin' along, laddie." Seeing the Boy look precious grave and
harassed: "What's the matter?"

"I'd hate awfully for anything to happen to you."

The Colonel laughed. "Much obliged, but it matters uncommon little if I
do drop in my tracks."

"You be blowed!"

"You see I've got a pretty bad kind of a complaint, anyhow." The Boy
leaned over in the firelight and scanned the Colonel's face.

"What's wrong?"

The Colonel smiled a queer little one-sided smile. "I've been out o'
kelter nearly ten years."

"Oh, _that's_ all right. You'll go on for another thirty if you stay
where you are till the ice goes out."

The Colonel bent his head, and stared at the smooth-trodden floor at
the edge of the buffalo-skin. "To tell the truth, I'll be glad to go,
not only because of--" He hitched his shoulders towards the corner
whence came the hoarse and muffled breathing of the Denver clerk. "I'll
be glad to have something to tire me out, so I'll sleep--sleep too
sound to dream. That's what I came for, not to sit idle in a God-damn
cabin and think--think--" He got up suddenly and strode the tiny space
from fire to door, a man transformed, with hands clenching and dark
face almost evil. "They say the men who winter up here either take to
drink or go mad. I begin to see it is so. It's no place to do any
forgetting in." He stopped suddenly before the Boy with glittering
eyes. "It's the country where your conscience finds you out."

"That religion of yours is makin' you morbid, Colonel." The Boy spoke
with the detached and soothing air of a sage.

"You don't know what you're talking about." He turned sharply away. The
Boy relapsed into silence. The Colonel in his renewed prowling brought
up against the wooden crane. He stood looking down into the fire. Loud
and regular sounded the sleeping man's breathing in the quiet little
room.

"I did a wrong once to a woman--ten years ago," said the Colonel,
speaking to the back-log--"although I loved her." He raised a hand to
his eyes with a queer choking sound. "I loved her," he repeated, still
with his back to the Boy. "By-and-by I could have righted it, but
she--she wasn't the kind to hang about and wait on a man's better
nature when once he'd shown himself a coward. She skipped the country."
He leaned his head against the end of the shelf over the fire, and said
no more.

"Go back in the spring, find out where she is, and--"

"I've spent every spring and every summer, every fall and every winter
till this one, trying to do just that thing."

"You can't find her?"

"Nobody can find her."

"She's dead--"

"She's _not_ dead!"

The Boy involuntarily shrank back; the Colonel looked ready to smash
him. The action recalled the older man to himself.

"I feel sure she isn't dead," he said more quietly, but still
trembling. "No, no; she isn't dead. She had some money of her own, and
she went abroad. I followed her. I heard of her in Paris, in Rome. I
saw her once in a droschky in Vienna; there I lost the trail. Her
people said she'd gone to Japan. _I_ went to Japan. I'm sure she wasn't
in the islands. I've spent my life since trying to find her--writing
her letters that always come back--trying--" His voice went out like a
candle-wick suddenly dying in the socket. Only the sleeper was audible
for full five minutes. Then, as though he had paused only a comma's
space, the Colonel went on: "I've been trying to put the memory of her
behind me, as a sane man should. But some women leave an arrow sticking
in your flesh that you can never pull out. You can only jar against it,
and cringe under the agony of the reminder all your life long.... Bah!
Go out, Boy, and bring in your sled."

And the Boy obeyed without a word.

Two days after, three men with a child stood in front of the larger
cabin, saying good-bye to their two comrades who were starting out on
snow-shoes to do a little matter of 625 miles of Arctic travelling,
with two weeks' scant provisioning, some tea and things for trading,
bedding, two rifles, and a kettle, all packed on one little hand-sled.

There had been some unexpected feeling, and even some real generosity
shown at the last, on the part of the three who were to profit by the
exodus--falling heir thereby to a bigger, warmer cabin and more food.

O'Flynn was moved to make several touching remonstrances. It was a sign
of unwonted emotion on Mac's part that he gave up arguing (sacrificing
all the delight of a set debate), and simply begged and prayed them not
to be fools, not to fly in the face of Providence.

But Potts was made of sterner stuff. Besides, the thing was too good to
be true. O'Flynn, when he found they were not to be dissuaded, solemnly
presented each with a little bottle of whisky. Nobody would have
believed O'Flynn would go so far as that. Nor could anyone have
anticipated that close-fisted Mac would give the Boy his valuable
aneroid barometer and compass, or that Potts would be so generous with
his best Virginia straight-cut, filling the Colonel's big pouch without
so much as a word.

"It's a crazy scheme," says he, shaking the giant Kentuckian by the
hand, "and you won't get thirty miles before you find it out."

"Call it an expedition to Anvik," urged Mac. "Load up there with
reindeer meat, and come back. If we don't get some fresh meat soon,
we'll be having scurvy."

"What you're furr doin'," says O'Flynn for the twentieth time, "has
niver been done, not ayven be Indians. The prastes ahl say so."

"So do the Sour-doughs," said Mac. "It isn't as if you had dogs."

"Good-bye," said the Colonel, and the men grasped hands.

Potts shook hands with the Boy as heartily as though that same hand had
never half throttled him in the cause of a missing hatchet.

"Good-bye, Kiddie. I bequeath you my share o' syrup."

"Good-bye; meet you in the Klondyke!"

"Good-bye. Hooray for the Klondyke in June!"

"Klondyke in June! Hoop-la!"

The two travellers looked back, laughing and nodding, as jolly as you
please. The Boy stooped, made a snow-ball, and fired it at Kaviak. The
child ducked, chuckling, and returned as good as he got. His loosely
packed ball broke in a splash on the back of the Boy's parki, and
Kaviak was loudly cheered.

Still, as they went forward, they looked back. The Big Chimney wore an
air wondrous friendly, and the wide, white world looked coldly at them,
with small pretence of welcome or reward.

"I don't believe I ever really knew how awful jolly the Big Chimney
was--till this minute."

The Colonel smiled. "Hardly like myself, to think whatever else I see,
I'll never see that again."

"Better not boast."

The Colonel went on in front, breaking trail in the newfallen snow, the
Boy pulling the sled behind him as lightly as if its double burden were
a feather.

"They look as if they thought it'd be a picnic," says Mac, grimly.

"I wonder be the Siven Howly Pipers! will we iver see ayther of 'em
again."

"If they only stay a couple o' nights at Anvik," said Potts, with
gloomy foreboding, "they could get back here inside a week."

"No," answered Mac, following the two figures with serious eyes, "they
may be dead inside a week, but they won't be back here."

And Potts felt his anxiety eased. A man who had mined at Caribou ought
to know.




CHAPTER X

PRINCESS MUCKLUCK

  "We all went to Tibbals to see the Kinge, who used my mother
   and my aunt very gratiouslie; but we all saw a great chaunge
   betweene the fashion of the Court as it was now, and of y in ye
   Queene's, for we were all lowzy by sittinge in Sr Thomas
   Erskin's chamber." _Memoir: Anne Countess of Dorset_, 1603.


It was the 26th of February, that first day that they "hit the Long
Trail."

Temperature only about twenty degrees, the Colonel thought, and so
little wind it had the effect of being warmer. Trail in fair condition,
weather gray and steady. Never men in better spirits. To have left the
wrangling and the smouldering danger of the camp behind, that alone, as
the Boy said, was "worth the price of admission." Exhilarating, too, to
men of their temperament, to have cut the Gordian knot of the
difficulty by risking themselves on this unprecedented quest for peace
and food. Gold, too? Oh, yes--with a smile to see how far that main
object had drifted into the background--they added, "and for gold."

They believed they had hearkened well to the counsel that bade them
"travel light." "Remember, every added ounce is against you." "Nobody
in the North owns anything that's heavy," had been said in one fashion
or another so often that it lost its ironic sound in the ears of men
who had come so far to carry away one of the heaviest things under the
sun.

The Colonel and the Boy took no tent, no stove, not even a miner's pick
and pan. These last, General Lighter had said, could be obtained at
Minook; and "there isn't a cabin on the trail," Dillon had added,
"without 'em."

For the rest, the carefully-selected pack on the sled contained the
marmot-skin, woollen blankets, a change of flannels apiece, a couple of
sweaters, a Norfolk jacket, and several changes of foot-gear. This last
item was dwelt on earnestly by all. "Keep your feet dry," John Dillon
had said, "and leave the rest to God Almighty." They were taking barely
two weeks' rations, and a certain amount of stuff to trade with the
up-river Indians, when their supplies should be gone. They carried a
kettle, an axe, some quinine, a box of the carbolic ointment all miners
use for foot-soreness, O'Flynn's whisky, and two rifles and ammunition.
In spite of having eliminated many things that most travellers would
count essential, they found their load came to a little over two
hundred pounds. But every day would lessen it, they told each other
with a laugh, and with an inward misgiving, lest the lightening should
come all too quickly.

They had seen in camp that winter so much of the frailty of human
temper that, although full of faith by now in each other's native sense
and fairness, they left nothing to a haphazard division of labour. They
parcelled out the work of the day with absolute impartiality. To each
man so many hours of going ahead to break trail, if the snow was soft,
while the other dragged the sled; or else while one pulled in front,
the other pushed from behind, in regular shifts by the watch, turn and
turn about. The Colonel had cooked all winter, so it was the Boy's turn
at that--the Colonel's to decide the best place to camp, because it was
his affair to find seasoned wood for fuel, his to build the fire in the
snow on green logs laid close together--his to chop enough wood to cook
breakfast the next morning. All this they had arranged before they left
the Big Chimney.

That they did not cover more ground that first day was a pure chance,
not likely to recur, due to an unavoidable loss of time at Pymeut.

Knowing the fascination that place exercised over his companion, the
Colonel called a halt about seven miles off from the Big Chimney, that
they might quickly despatch a little cold luncheon they carried in
their pockets, and push on without a break till supper.

"We've got no time to waste at Pymeut," observes the Colonel
significantly.

"I ain't achin' to stop at Pymeut," says his pardner with a superior
air, standing up, as he swallowed his last mouthful of cold bacon and
corn-bread, and cheerfully surveyed the waste. "Who says it's cold,
even if the wind is up? And the track's bully. But see here, Colonel,
you mustn't go thinkin' it's smooth glare-ice, like this, all the way."

"Oh, I was figurin' that it would be." But the Boy paid no heed to the
irony.

"And it's a custom o' the country to get the wind in your face, as a
rule, whichever way you go."

"Well, I'm not complainin' as yet."

"Reckon you needn't if you're blown like dandelion-down all the way to
Minook. Gee! the wind's stronger! Say, Colonel, let's rig a sail."

"Foolishness."

"No, sir. We'll go by Pymeut in an ice-boat, lickety split. And it'll
be a good excuse for not stopping, though I think we ought to say
good-bye to Nicholas."

This view inclined the Colonel to think better of an ice-boat. He had
once crossed the Bay of Toronto in that fashion, and began to wonder if
such a mode of progression applied to sleds might not aid largely in
solving the Minook problem.

While he was wondering the Boy unlashed the sled-load, and pulled off
the canvas cover as the Colonel came back with his mast. Between them,
with no better tools than axe, jack-knives, and a rope, and with
fingers freezing in the south wind, they rigged the sail.

The fact that they had this increasingly favourable wind on their very
first day showed that they were specially smiled on by the great
natural forces. The superstitious feeling that only slumbers in most
breasts, that Mother Nature is still a mysterious being, who has her
favourites whom she guards, her born enemies whom she baulks, pursues,
and finally overwhelms, the age-old childishness stirred pleasantly in
both men, and in the younger came forth unabashed in speech:

"I tell you the omens are good! This expedition's goin' to get there."
Then, with the involuntary misgiving that follows hard upon such
boasting, he laughed uneasily and added, "I mean to sacrifice the first
deer's tongue I don't want myself, to Yukon Inua; but here's to the
south wind!" He turned some corn-bread crumbs out of his pocket, and
saw, delighted, how the gale, grown keener, snatched eagerly at them
and hurried them up the trail. The ice-boat careened and strained
eagerly to sail away. The two gold-seekers, laughing like schoolboys,
sat astride the pack; the Colonel shook out the canvas, and they
scudded off up the river like mad. The great difficulty was the
steering; but it was rip-roaring fun, the Boy said, and very soon there
were natives running down to the river, to stare open-mouthed at the
astounding apparition, to point and shout something unintelligible that
sounded like "Muchtaravik!"

"Why, it's the Pymeuts! Pardner, we'll be in Minook by supper-ti--"

The words hadn't left his lips when he saw, a few yards in front of
them, a faint cloud of steam rising up from the ice--that dim
danger-signal that flies above an air-hole. The Colonel, never
noticing, was heading straight for the ghastly trap.

"God, Colonel! Blow-hole!" gasped the Boy.

The Colonel simply rolled off the pack turning over and over on the
ice, but keeping hold of the rope.

The sled swerved, turned on her side, and slid along with a sound of
snapping and tearing.

While they were still headed straight for the hole, the Boy had
gathered himself for a clear jump to the right, but the sled's sudden
swerve to the left broke his angle sharply. He was flung forward on the
new impetus, spun over the smooth surface, swept across the verge and
under the cloud, clutching wildly at the ragged edge of ice as he went
down.

All Pymeut had come rushing pell-mell.

The Colonel was gathering himself up and looking round in a dazed kind
of way as Nicholas flashed by. Just beyond, in that yawning hole, fully
ten feet wide by fifteen long, the Boy's head appeared an instant, and
then was lost like something seen in a dream. Some of the Pymeuts with
quick knives were cutting the canvas loose. One end was passed to
Nicholas; he knotted it to his belt, and went swiftly, but gingerly,
forward nearer the perilous edge. He had flung himself down on his
stomach just as the Boy rose again. Nicholas lurched his body over the
brink, his arms outstretched, straining farther, farther yet, till it
seemed as if only the counterweight of the rest of the population at
the other end of the canvas prevented his joining the Boy in the hole.
But Nicholas had got a grip of him, and while two of the Pymeuts hung
on to the half-stunned Colonel to prevent his adding to the
complication, Nicholas, with a good deal of trouble in spite of
Yagorsha's help, hauled the Boy out of the hole and dragged him up on
the ice-edge. The others applied themselves lustily to their end of the
canvas, and soon they were all at a safe distance from the yawning
danger.

The Boy's predominant feeling had been one of intense surprise. He
looked round, and a hideous misgiving seized him.

"Anything the matter with you, Colonel?" His tone was so angry that, as
they stared at each other, they both fell to laughing.

"Well, I rather thought that was what _I_ was going to say"; and
Kentucky heaved a deep sigh of relief.

The Boy's teeth began to chatter, and his clothes were soon freezing on
him. They got him up off the ice, and Nicholas and the sturdy old
Pymeut story-teller, Yagorsha, walked him, or ran him rather, the rest
of the way to Pymeut, for they were not so near the village as the
travellers had supposed on seeing nearly the whole male population. The
Colonel was not far behind, and several of the bucks were bringing the
disabled sled. Before reaching the Kachime, they were joined by the
women and children, Muckluck much concerned at the sight of her friend
glazed in ice from head to heel. Nicholas and Yagorsha half dragged,
half pulled him into the Kachime. The entire escort followed, even two
or three very dirty little boys--everybody, except the handful of women
and girls left at the mouth of the underground entrance and the two men
who had run on to make a fire. It was already smoking viciously as
though the seal-lamps weren't doing enough in that line, when Yagorsha
and Nicholas laid the half-frozen traveller on the sleeping-bench.

The Pymeuts knew that the great thing was to get the ice-stiffened
clothes off as quickly as might be, and that is to be done
expeditiously only by cutting them off. In vain the Boy protested.
Recklessly they sawed and cut and stripped him, rubbed him and wrapped
him in a rabbit-blanket, the fur turned inside, and a wolverine skin
over that. The Colonel at intervals poured small doses of O'Flynn's
whisky down the Boy's throat in spite of his unbecoming behaviour, for
he was both belligerent and ungrateful, complaining loudly of the ruin
of his clothes with only such intermission as the teeth-chattering,
swallowing, and rude handling necessitated.

"I didn't like--bein' in--that blow-hole. (Do you know--it was so
cold--it burnt!) But I'd rather--be--in a blow-hole--than--br-r-r!
Blow-hole isn't so s-s-melly as these s-s-kins!'

"You better be glad you've got a whole skin of your own and ain't
smellin' brimstone," said the Colonel, pouring a little more whisky
down the unthankful throat. "Pretty sort o' Klondyker you are--go and
get nearly drowned first day out!" Several Pymeut women came in
presently and joined the men at the fire, chattering low and staring at
the Colonel and the Boy.

"I can't go--to the Klondyke--naked--no, nor wrapped in a
rabbit-skin--like Baby Bunting--"

Nicholas was conferring with the Colonel and offering to take him to
Ol' Chief's.

"Oh, yes; Ol' Chief got two clo'es. You come. Me show"; and they
crawled out one after the other.

"You pretty near dead that time," said one of the younger women
conversationally.

"That's right. Who are you, anyway?"

"Me Anna--Yagorsha's daughter."

"Oh, yes, I thought I'd seen you before." She seemed to be only a
little older than Muckluck, but less attractive, chiefly on account of
her fat and her look of ill-temper. She was on specially bad terms with
a buck they called Joe, and they seemed to pass all their time abusing
one another.

The Boy craned his neck and looked round. Except just where he was
lying, the Pymeut men and women were crowded together, on that side of
the Kachime, at his head and at his feet, thick as herrings on a
thwart. They all leaned forward and regarded him with a beady-eyed
sympathy. He had never been so impressed by the fact before, but all
these native people, even in their gentlest moods, frowned in a chronic
perplexity and wore their wide mouths open. He reflected that he had
never seen one that didn't, except Muckluck.

Here she was, crawling in with a tin can.

"Got something there to eat?"

The rescued one craned his head as far as he could.

"Too soon," she said, showing her brilliant teeth in the fire-light.
She set the tin down, looked round, a little embarrassed, and stirred
the fire, which didn't need it.

"Well"--he put his chin down under the rabbit-skin once more--"how goes
the world, Princess?"

She flashed her quick smile again and nodded reassuringly. "You stay
here now?"

"No; goin' up river."

"What for?" She spoke disapprovingly.

"Want to get an Orange Grove."

"Find him up river?"

"Hope so."

"I think I go, too"; and all the grave folk, sitting so close on the
sleeping-bench, stretched their wide mouths wider still, smiling
good-humouredly.

"You better wait till summer."

"Oh!" She lifted her head from the fire as one who takes careful note
of instructions. "Nex' summer?"

"Well, summer's the time for squaws to travel."

"I come nex' summer," she said.

By-and-by Nicholas returned with a new parki and a pair of wonderful
buckskin breeches--not like anything worn by the Lower River natives,
or by the coast-men either: well cut, well made, and handsomely fringed
down the outside of the leg where an officer's gold stripe goes.

"Chaparejos!" screamed the Boy. "Where'd you get 'em?"

"Ol' Chief--he ketch um."

"They're _bully!_" said the Boy, holding the despised rabbit-skin under
his chin with both hands, and craning excitedly over it. He felt that
his fortunes were looking up. Talk about a tide in the affairs of men!
Why, a tide that washes up to a wayfarer's feet a pair o' chaparejos
like that--well! legs so habited would simply _have_ to carry a fella
on to fortune. He lay back on the sleeping-bench with dancing eyes,
while the raw whisky hummed in his head. In the dim light of seal-lamps
vague visions visited him of stern and noble chiefs out of the Leather
Stocking Stories of his childhood--men of daring, whose legs were
invariably cased in buck-skin with dangling fringes. But the dashing
race was not all Indian, nor all dead. Famous cowboys reared before him
on bucking bronchos, their leg-fringes streaming on the blast, and
desperate chaps who held up coaches and potted Wells Fargo guards.
Anybody must needs be a devil of a fellow who went about in "shaps," as
his California cousins called chaparejos. Even a peaceable fella like
himself, not out after gore at all, but after an Orange Grove--even he,
once he put on--He laughed out loud at his childishness, and then grew
grave. "Say, Nicholas, what's the tax?"

"Hey?"

"How much?"

"Oh, your pardner--he pay."

"Humph! I s'pose I'll know the worst on settlin'-day."

Then, after a few moments, making a final clutch at economy before the
warmth and the whisky subdued him altogether:

"Say, Nicholas, have you got--hasn't the Ol' Chief got any--less
glorious breeches than those?"

"Hey?"

"Anything little cheaper?"

"Nuh," says Nicholas.

The Boy closed his eyes, relieved on the whole. Fate had a mind to see
him in chaparejos. Let her look to the sequel, then!

When consciousness came back it brought the sound of Yagorsha's yarning
by the fire, and the occasional laugh or grunt punctuating the eternal
"Story."

The Colonel was sitting there among them, solacing himself by adding to
the smoke that thickened the stifling air.

Presently the Story-teller made some shrewd hit, that shook the Pymeut
community into louder grunts of applause and a general chuckling. The
Colonel turned his head slowly, and blew out a fresh cloud: "Good
joke?"

In the pause that fell thereafter, Yagorsha, imperturbable, the only
one who had not laughed, smoothed his lank, iron-gray locks down on
either side of his wide face, and went on renewing the sinew open-work
in his snow-shoe.

"When Ol' Chief's father die--"

All the Pymeuts chuckled afresh. The Boy listened eagerly. Usually
Yagorsha's stories were tragic, or, at least, of serious interest,
ranging from bereaved parents who turned into wolverines, all the way
to the machinations of the Horrid Dwarf and the Cannibal Old Woman.

The Colonel looked at Nicholas. He seemed as entertained as the rest,
but quite willing to leave his family history in professional hands.

"Ol' Chief's father, Glovotsky, him Russian," Yagorsha began again,
laying down his sinew-thread a moment and accepting some of the
Colonel's tobacco.

"I didn't know you had any white blood in you," interrupted the
Colonel, offering his pouch to Nicholas. "I might have suspected
Muckluck--"

"Heap got Russian blood," interrupted Joe.

As the Story-teller seemed to be about to repeat the enlivening
tradition concerning the almost mythical youth of Ol' Chief's father,
that subject of the great Katharine's, whose blood was flowing still in
Pymeut veins, just then in came Yagorsha's daughter with some message
to her father. He grunted acquiescence, and she turned to go. Joe
called something after her, and she snapped back. He jumped up to bar
her exit. She gave him a smart cuff across the eyes, which surprised
him almost into the fire, and while he was recovering his equilibrium
she fled. Yagorsha and all the Pymeuts laughed delightedly at Joe's
discomfiture.

The Boy had been obliged to sit up to watch this spirited encounter.
The only notice the Colonel took of him was to set the kettle on the
fire. While he was dining his pardner gathered up the blankets and
crawled out.

"Comin' in half a minute," the Boy called after him. The answer was
swallowed by the tunnel.

"Him go say goo'-bye Ol' Chief," said Nicholas, observing how the
Colonel's pardner was scalding himself in his haste to despatch a
second cup of tea.

But the Boy bolted the last of his meal, gathered up the kettle, mug,
and frying-pan, which had served him for plate as well, and wormed his
way out as fast as he could. There was the sled nearly packed for the
journey, and watching over it, keeping the dogs at bay, was an
indescribably dirty little boy in a torn and greasy denim parki over
rags of reindeer-skin. Nobody else in sight but Yagorsha's daughter
down at the water-hole.

"Where's my pardner gone?" The child only stared, having no English
apparently.

While the Boy packed the rest of the things, and made the tattered
canvas fast under the lashing, Joe came out of the Kachime. He stood
studying the prospect a moment, and his dull eyes suddenly gleamed.
Anna was coming up from the river with her dripping pail. He set off
with an affectation of leisurely indifference, but he made straight for
his enemy. She seemed not to see him till he was quite near, then she
sheered off sharply. Joe hardly quickened his pace, but seemed to gain.
She set down her bucket, and turned back towards the river.

"Idiot!" ejaculated the Boy; "she could have reached her own ighloo."
The dirty child grinned, and tore off towards the river to watch the
fun. Anna was hidden now by a pile of driftwood. The Boy ran down a few
yards to bring her within range again. For all his affectation of
leisureliness and her obvious fluster, no doubt about it, Joe was
gaining on her. She dropped her hurried walk and frankly took to her
heels, Joe doing the same; but as she was nearly as fleet of foot as
Muckluck, in spite of her fat, she still kept a lessening distance
between herself and her pursuer.

The ragged child had climbed upon the pile of drift-wood, and stood
hunched with the cold, his shoulders up to his ears, his hands
withdrawn in his parki sleeves, but he was grinning still. The Boy, a
little concerned as to possible reprisals upon so impudent a young
woman, had gone on and on, watching the race down to the river, and
even across the ice a little way. He stood still an instant staring as
Joe, going now as hard as he could, caught up with her at last. He took
hold of the daughter of the highly-respected Yagorsha, and fell to
shaking and cuffing her. The Boy started off full tilt to the rescue.
Before he could reach them Joe had thrown her down on the ice. She half
got up, but her enemy, advancing upon her again, dealt her a blow that
made her howl and sent her flat once more.

"Stop that! You hear? _Stop_ it!" the Boy called out.

But Joe seemed not to hear. Anna had fallen face downward on the ice
this time, and lay there as if stunned. Her enemy caught hold of her,
pulled her up, and dragged her along in spite of her struggles and
cries.

"Let her alone!" the Boy shouted. He was nearly up to them now. But
Joe's attention was wholly occupied in hauling Anna back to the
village, maltreating her at intervals by the way. Now the girl was
putting up one arm piteously to shield her bleeding face from his
fists. "Don't you hit her again, or it'll be the worse for you." But
again Joe's hand was lifted. The Boy plunged forward, caught the blow
as it descended, and flung the arm aside, wrenched the girl free, and
as Joe came on again, looking as if he meant business, the Boy planted
a sounding lick on his jaw. The Pymeut staggered, and drew off a little
way, looking angry enough, but, to the Boy's surprise, showing no
fight.

It occurred to him that the girl, her lip bleeding, her parki torn,
seemed more surprised than grateful; and when he said, "You come back
with me; he shan't touch you," she did not show the pleased alacrity
that you would expect. But she was no doubt still dazed. They all stood
looking rather sheepish, and like actors "stuck" who cannot think of
the next line, till Joe turned on the girl with some mumbled question.
She answered angrily. He made another grab at her. She screamed, and
got behind the Boy. Very resolutely he widened his bold buck-skin legs,
and dared Joe to touch the poor frightened creature cowering behind her
protector. Again silence.

"What's the trouble between you two?"

They looked at each other, and then away. Joe turned unexpectedly, and
shambled off in the direction of the village. Not a word out of Anna as
she returned by the side of her protector, but every now and then she
looked at him sideways. The Boy felt her inexpressive gratitude, and
was glad his journey had been delayed, or else, poor devil--

Joe had stopped to speak to--

"Who on earth's that white woman?"

"Nicholas' sister."

"Not Muckluck?"

She nodded.

"What's she dressed like that for?"

"Often like that in summer. Me, too--me got Holy Cross clo'es."

Muckluck went slowly up towards the Kachime with Joe. When the others
got to the water-hole, Anna turned and left the Boy without a word to
go and recover her pail. The Boy stood a moment, looking for some sign
of the Colonel, and then went along the river bank to Ol' Chief's. No,
the Colonel had gone back to the Kachime.

The Boy came out again, and to his almost incredulous astonishment,
there was Joe dragging the unfortunate Anna towards an ighloo. As he
looked back, to steer straight for the entrance-hole, he caught sight
of the Boy, dropped his prey, and disappeared with some precipitancy
into the ground. When Anna had gathered herself up, the Boy was
standing in front of her.

"You don't seem to be able to take very good care o' yourself." She
pushed her tousled hair out of her eyes. "I don't wonder your own
people give it up if you have to be rescued every half-hour. What's the
matter with you and Joe?" She kept looking down. "What have you done to
make him like this?" She looked up suddenly and laughed, and then her
eyes fell.

"Done nothin'."

"Why should he want to kill you, then?"

"No _kill_" she said, smiling, a little rueful and embarrassed again,
with her eyes on the ground. Then, as the Boy still stood there
waiting, "Joe," she whispered, glancing over her shoulder--"Joe want me
be he squaw."

The Boy fell back an astonished step.

"Jee-rusalem! He's got a pretty way o' sayin' so. Why don't you tell
your father?"

"Tell--father?" It seemed never to have occurred to her.

"Yes; can't Yagorsha protect you?"

She looked about doubtfully and then over her shoulder.

"That Joe's ighloo," she said.

He pictured to himself the horror that must assail her blood at the
sight. Yes, he was glad to have saved any woman from so dreadful a
fate. Did it happen often? and did nobody interfere? Muckluck was
coming down from the direction of the Kachime. The Boy went to meet
her, throwing over his shoulder, "You'd better stick to me, Anna, as
long as I'm here. I don't know, I'm sure, _what'll_ happen to you when
I'm gone." Anna followed a few paces, and then sat down on the snow to
pull up and tie her disorganized leg-gear.

Muckluck was standing still, looking at the Boy with none of the
kindness a woman ought to show to one who had just befriended her sex.

"Did you see that?"

She nodded. "See that any day."

The Boy stopped, appalled at the thought of woman in a perpetual state
of siege.

"Brute! hound!" he flung out towards Joe's ighloo.

"No," says Muckluck firmly; "Joe all right."

"You say that, after what's happened this morning?" Muckluck declined
to take the verdict back. "Did you see him strike her?"

"No _hurt_."

"Oh, didn't it? He threw her down, as hard as he could, on the ice."

"She get up again."

He despised Muckluck in that moment.

"You weren't sorry to see another girl treated so?"

She smiled.

"What if it had been you?"

"Oh, he not do that to _me_."

"Why not? You can't tell."

"Oh, yes." She spoke with unruffled serenity.

"It will very likely be you the next time." The Boy took a brutal
pleasure in presenting the hideous probability.

"No," she returned unmoved. "Joe savvy I no marry Pymeut."

The Boy stared, mystified by the lack of sequence. "Poor Anna doesn't
want to marry _that_ Pymeut."

Muckluck nodded.

The Boy gave her up. Perversity was not confined to the civilized of
her sex. He walked on to find the Colonel. Muckluck followed, but the
Boy wouldn't speak to her, wouldn't look at her.

"You like my Holy Cross clo'es?" she inquired. "Me--I look like your
kind of girls now, huh?" No answer, but she kept up with him. "See?"
She held up proudly a medallion, or coin of some sort, hung on a narrow
strip of raw-hide.

He meant not to look at it at all, and he jerked his head away after
the merest glance that showed him the ornament was tarnished silver, a
little bigger than an American dollar, and bore no device familiar to
his eyes. He quickened his pace, and walked on with face averted. The
Colonel appeared just below the Kachime.

"Well, aren't you _ever_ comin'?" he called out.

"I've been ready this half-hour--hangin' about waitin' for you. That
devil Joe," he went on, lowering his voice as he came up and speaking
hurriedly, "has been trying to drag Yagorsha's girl into his ighloo.
They've just had a fight out yonder on the ice. I got her away, but not
before he'd thrown her down and given her a bloody face. We ought to
tell old Yagorsha, hey?"

Muckluck chuckled. The Boy turned on her angrily, and saw her staring
back at Joe's ighloo. There, sauntering calmly past the abhorred trap,
was the story-teller's daughter. Past it? No. She actually halted and
busied herself with her legging thong.

"That girl must be an imbecile!" Or was it the apparition of her
father, up at the Kachime entrance, that inspired such temerity?

The Boy had gone a few paces towards her, and then turned. "Yagorsha!"
he called up the slope. Yagorsha stood stock-still, although the Boy
waved unmistakable danger-signals towards Joe's ighloo. Suddenly an arm
flashed out of the tunnel, caught Anna by the ankle, and in a twinkling
she lay sprawling on her back. Two hands shot out, seized her by the
heels, and dragged the wretched girl into the brute's lair. It was all
over in a flash. A moment's paralysis of astonishment, and the
involuntary rush forward was arrested by Muckluck, who fastened herself
on to the rescuer's parki-tail and refused to be detached. "Yagorsha!"
shouted the Boy. But it was only the Colonel who hastened towards them
at the summons. The poor girl's own father stood calmly smoking, up
there, by the Kachime, one foot propped comfortably on the travellers'
loaded sled. "Yagorsha!" he shouted again, and then, with a jerk to
free himself from Muckluck, the Boy turned sharply towards the ighloo,
seeming in a bewildered way to be, himself, about to transact this
paternal business for the cowardly old loafer. But Muckluck clung to
his arm, laughing.

"Yagorsha know. Joe give him nice mitts--sealskin--_new_ mitts."

"Hear that, Colonel? For a pair of mitts he sells his daughter to that
ruffian."

Without definite plan, quite vaguely and instinctively, he shook
himself free from Muckluck, and rushed down to the scene of the
tragedy. Muffled screams and yells issued with the smoke. Muckluck
turned sharply to the Colonel, who was following, and said something
that sent him headlong after the Boy. He seized the doughty champion by
the feet just as he was disappearing in the tunnel, and hauled him out.

"What in thunder--All right, you go first, then. _Quick_! as more
screams rent the still air.

"Don't be a fool. You've been interruptin' the weddin' ceremonies."

Muckluck had caught up with them, and Yagorsha was advancing leisurely
across the snow.

"She no want _you_," whispered Muckluck to the Boy. "She _like_
Joe--like him best of all." Then, as the Boy gaped incredulously: "She
tell me heap long time ago she want Joe."

"That's just part of the weddin' festivity," says the Colonel, as
renewed shrieks issued from under the snow. "You've been an officious
interferer, and I think the sooner I get you out o' Pymeut the
healthier it'll be for you."

The Boy was too flabbergasted to reply, but he was far from convinced.
The Colonel turned back to apologise to Yagorsha.

"No like this in your country?" inquired Muckluck of the crestfallen
champion.

"N-no--not exactly."

"When you like girl--what you do?"

"Tell her so," muttered the Boy mechanically.

"Well--Joe been tellin' Anna--all winter."

"And she hated him."

"No. She like Joe--best of any."

"What did she go on like that for, then?"

"Oh-h! She know Joe savvy."

The Boy felt painfully small at his own lack of _savoir_, but no less
angry.

"When you marry"--he turned to her incredulously--"will it be"--again
the shrieks--"like this?"

"I no marry Pymeut."

Glancing riverwards, he saw the dirty imp, who had been so wildly
entertained by the encounter on the ice, still huddled on his
drift-wood observatory, presenting as little surface to the cold as
possible, but grinning still with rapture at the spirited last act of
the winter-long drama. As the Boy, with an exclamation of "Well, I give
it up," walked slowly across the slope after the Colonel and Yagorsha,
Muckluck lingered at his side.

"In your country when girl marry--she no scream?"

"Well, no; not usually, I believe."

"She go quiet? Like--like she _want_--" Muckluck stood still with
astonishment and outraged modesty.

"They agree," he answered irritably. "They don't go on like wild
beasts."

Muckluck pondered deeply this matter of supreme importance.

"When you--get you squaw, you no _make_ her come?"

The Boy shook his head, and turned away to cut short these excursions
into comparative ethnology.

But Muckluck was athirst for the strange new knowledge.

"What you do?"

He declined to betray his plan of action.

"When you--all same Joe? Hey?"

Still no answer.

"When you _know_--girl like you best--you no drag her home?"

"No. Be quiet."

_"No?_ How you marry you self, then?"

The conversation would be still more embarrassing before the Colonel,
so he stopped, and said shortly: "In our country nobody beats a woman
because he likes her."

"How she know, then?"

"They _agree_, I tell you."

"Oh--an' girl--just come--when he call? Oh-h!" She dropped her jaw, and
stared. "No fight a _little?"_ she gasped. "No scream quite _small?"_

_"No_, I tell you." He ran on and joined the Colonel. Muckluck stood
several moments rooted in amazement.

Yagorsha had called the rest of the Pymeuts out, for these queer guests
of theirs were evidently going at last.

They all said "Goo'-bye" with great goodwill. Only Muckluck in her
chilly "Holy Cross clo'es" stood sorrowful and silent, swinging her
medal slowly back and forth.

Nicholas warned them that the Pymeut air-hole was not the only one.

"No," Yagorsha called down the slope; "better no play tricks with
_him_." He nodded towards the river as the travellers looked back. "Him
no like. Him got heap plenty mouths--chew you up." And all Pymeut
chuckled, delighted at their story-teller's wit.

Suddenly Muckluck broke away from the group, and ran briskly down to
the river trail.

"I will pray for you--hard." She caught hold of the Boy's hand, and
shook it warmly. "Sister Winifred says the Good Father--"

"Fact is, Muckluck," answered the Boy, disengaging himself with
embarrassment, "my pardner here can hold up that end. Don't you think
you'd better square Yukon Inua? Don't b'lieve he likes me."

And they left her, shivering in her "Holy Cross clo'es," staring after
them, and sadly swinging her medal on its walrus-string.

"I don't mind sayin' I'm glad to leave Pymeut behind," said the
Colonel.

"Same here."

"You're safe to get into a muss if you mix up with anything that has to
do with women. That Muckluck o' yours is a minx."

"She ain't my Muckluck, and I don't believe she's a minx, not a little
bit."

Not wishing to be too hard on his pardner, the Colonel added:

"I lay it all to the chaparejos myself." Then, observing his friend's
marked absence of hilarity, "You're very gay in your fine fringes."

"Been a little too gay the last two or three hours."

"Well, now, I'm glad to hear you say that. I think myself we've had
adventures enough right here at the start."

"I b'lieve you. But there's something in that idea o' yours. Other
fellas have noticed the same tendency in chaparejos."

"Well, if the worst comes to the worst," drawled the Colonel, "we'll
change breeches."

The suggestion roused no enthusiasm.

"B'lieve I'd have a cammin' influence. Yes, sir, I reckon I could keep
those fringes out o' kinks."

"Oh, I think they'll go straight enough after this"; and the Boy's good
spirits returned before they passed the summer village.

It came on to snow again, about six o'clock, that second day out, and
continued steadily all the night. What did it matter? They were used to
snow, and they were as jolly as clams at high-tide.

The Colonel called a halt in the shelter of a frozen slough, between
two banks, sparsely timbered, but promising all the wood they needed,
old as well as new. He made his camp fire on the snow, and the Boy soon
had the beef-tea ready--always the first course so long as Liebig
lasted.

Thereafter, while the bacon was frying and the tea brewing, the Colonel
stuck up in the snow behind the fire some sticks on which to dry their
foot-gear. When he pulled off his mucklucks his stockinged feet smoked
in the frosty air. The hint was all that was needed, that first night
on the trail, for the Boy to follow suit and make the change into dry
things. The smoky background was presently ornamented with German
socks, and Arctic socks (a kind of felt slipper), and mucklucks, each
with a stick run through them to the toe, all neatly planted in a row,
like monstrous products of a snow-garden. With dry feet, burning faces
and chilly backs, they hugged the fire, ate supper, laughed and talked,
and said that life on the trail wasn't half bad. Afterwards they rolled
themselves in their blankets, and went to sleep on their spruce-bough
spring mattresses spread near the fire on the snow.

After about half an hour of oblivion the Boy started up with the drowsy
impression that a flying spark from the dying fire had set their stuff
ablaze. No. But surely the fire had been made up again--and--he rubbed
the sleep out of his incredulous eyes--yes, Muckluck was standing
there!

"What in thunder!" he began. "Wh-what is it?"

"It is me."

"I can see that much. But what brings you here?"

Shivering with cold, she crouched close to the fire, dressed, as he
could see now, in her native clothes again, and it was her parki that
had scorched--was scorching still.

"Me--I--" Smiling, she drew a stiff hand out of its mitten and held it
over the reviving blaze, glancing towards the Colonel. He seemed to be
sleeping very sound, powdered over already with soft wet snow; but she
whispered her next remark.

"I think I come help you find that Onge Grove."

"I think you'll do nothing of the kind." He also spoke with a
deliberate lowering of the note. His great desire not to wake the
Colonel gave an unintentional softness to his tone.

"You think winter bad time for squaws to travel?" She shook her head,
and showed her beautiful teeth an instant in the faint light. Then,
rising, half shy, but very firm, "I no wait till summer."

He was so appalled for the moment, at the thought of having her on
their hands, all this way from Pymeut, on a snowy night, that words
failed him. As she watched him she, too, grew grave.

"You say me nice girl."

"When did I say that?" He clutched his head in despair.

"When you first come. When Shaman make Ol' Chief all well."

"I don't remember it."

"Yes."

"I think you misunderstood me, Muckluck."

"Heh?" Her countenance fell, but more puzzled than wounded.

"That is--oh, yes--of course--you're a nice girl."

"I think--Anna, too--you like me best." She helped out the white man's
bashfulness. But as her interlocutor, appalled, laid no claim to the
sentiment, she lifted the mittened hand to her eyes, and from under it
scanned the white face through the lightly falling snow. The other
hand, still held out to the comfort of the smoke, was trembling a
little, perhaps not altogether with the cold.

"The Colonel'll have to take over the breeches," said the Boy, with the
air of one wandering in his head. Then, desperately: "What _am_ I to
do? What am I to _say?_"

"Say? You say you no like girl scream, no like her fight like Anna.
Heh? So, me--I come like your girls--quite, quite good.... Heh?"

"You don't understand, Muckluck. I--you see, I could never find that
Orange Grove if you came along."

"Why?"

"Well--a--no woman ever goes to help to find an Orange Grove.
Th-there's a law against it."

"Heh? Law?"

Alas! she knew too little to be impressed by the Majesty invoked.

"You see, women, they--they come by-and-by--when the Orange Grove's
all--all ready for 'em. No man _ever_ takes a woman on that kind of
hunt."

Her saddened face was very grave. The Boy took heart.

"Now, the Pymeuts are going in a week or two, Nicholas said, to hunt
caribou in the hills."

"Yes."

"But they won't take you to hunt caribou. No; they leave you at home.
It's exactly the same with Orange Groves. No nice girl _ever_ goes
hunting."

Her lip trembled.

"Me--I can fish."

"Course you can." His spirits were reviving. "You can do
anything--except hunt." As she lifted her head with an air of sudden
protest he quashed her. "From the beginning there's been a law against
that. Squaws must stay at home and let the men do the huntin'."

"Me ... I can cook"--she was crying now--"while you hunt. Good supper
all ready when you come home."

He shook his head solemnly.

"Perhaps you don't know"--she flashed a moment's hope through her
tears--"me learn sew up at Holy Cross. Sew up your socks for you when
they open their mouths." But she could see that not even this grand new
accomplishment availed.

"Can help pull sled," she suggested, looking round a little wildly as
if instantly to illustrate. "Never tired," she added, sobbing, and
putting her hands up to her face.

"Sh! sh! Don't wake the Colonel." He got up hastily and stood beside
her at the smouldering fire. He patted her on the shoulder. "Of course
you're a nice girl. The nicest girl in the Yukon"--he caught himself up
as she dropped her hands from her face--"that is, you will be, if you
go home quietly."

Again she hid her eyes.

Go home? How could he send her home all that way at this time of night?
It was a bothering business!

Again her hands fell from the wet unhappy face. She shivered a little
when she met his frowning looks, and turned away. He stooped and picked
up her mitten. Why, you couldn't turn a dog away on a night like this--

Plague take the Pymeuts, root and branch! She had shuffled her feet
into her snow-shoe straps, and moved off in the dimness. But for the
sound of sobbing, he could not have told just where, in the
softly-falling snow, Muckluck's figure was fading into the dusk. He
hurried after her, conscience-stricken, but most unwilling.

"Look here," he said, when he had caught up with her, "I'm sorry you
came all this way in the cold--very sorry." Her sobs burst out afresh,
and louder now, away from the Colonel's restraining presence. "But, see
here: I can't send you off like this. You might die on the trail."

"Yes, I think me die," she agreed.

"No, don't do that. Come back, and we'll tell the Colonel you're going
to stay by the fire till morning, and then go home."

She walked steadily on. "No, I go now."

"But you can't, Muckluck. You can't find the trail."

"I tell you before, I not like your girls. I can go in winter as good
as summer. I _can_ hunt!" She turned on him fiercely. "Once I hunt a
owel. Ketch him, too!" She sniffed back her tears. "I can do all
kinds."

"No, you can't hunt Orange Groves," he said, with a severity that might
seem excessive. "But I can't let you go off in this snowstorm--"

"He soon stop. Goo'-bye."

Never word of sweeter import in his ears than that. But he was far from
satisfied with his conduct all the same. It was quite possible that the
Pymeuts, discovering her absence, would think he had lured her away,
and there might be complications. So it was with small fervour that he
said: "Muckluck, I wish you'd come back and wait till morning."

"No, I go now." She was in the act of darting forward on those
snow-shoes, that she used so skillfully, when some sudden thought cried
halt. She even stopped crying. "I no like go near blow-hole by night. I
keep to trail--"

"But how the devil do you do it?"

She paid no heed to the interruption, seeming busy in taking something
over her head from round her neck.

"To-morrow," she said, lowering her tear-harshened voice, "you find
blow-hole. You give this to Yukon Inua--say I send it. He will not hate
you any more." She burst into a fresh flood of tears. In a moment the
dim sight of her, the faint trail of crying left in her wake, had so
wholly vanished that, but for the bit of string, as it seemed to be,
left in his half-frozen hands, he could almost have convinced himself
he had dreamt the unwelcome visit.

The half-shut eye of the camp fire gleamed cheerfully, as he ran back,
and crouched down where poor little Muckluck had knelt, so sure of a
welcome. Muckluck, cogitated the Boy, will believe more firmly than
ever that, if a man doesn't beat a girl, he doesn't mean business. What
was it he had wound round one hand? What was it dangling in the acrid
smoke? _That_, then--her trinket, the crowning ornament of her Holy
Cross holiday attire, that was what she was offering the old ogre of
the Yukon--for his unworthy sake. He stirred up the dying fire to see
it better. A woman's face--some Catholic saint? He held the medal lower
to catch the fitful blaze. "_D. G. Autocratrix Russorum_." The Great
Katharine! Only a little crown on her high-rolled hair, and her
splendid chest all uncovered to the Arctic cold.

Her Yukon subjects must have wondered that she wore no parki--this lady
who had claimed sole right to all the finest sables found in her new
American dominions. On the other side of the medal, Minerva, with a
Gorgon-furnished shield and a beautiful bone-tipped harpoon, as it
looked, with a throwing-stick and all complete. But she, too, would
strike the Yukon eye as lamentably chilly about the legs. How had these
ladies out of Russia and Olympus come to lodge in Ol' Chief's ighloo?
Had Glovotsky won this guerdon at Great Katharine's hands? Had he
brought it on that last long journey of his to Russian America, and
left it to his Pymeut children with his bones? Well, Yukon Inua should
not have it yet. The Boy thrust the medal into a pocket of his
chaparejos, and crawled into his snow-covered bed.




CHAPTER XI

HOLY CROSS

"Raise the stone, and ye shall find me; cleave the wood, and there am
I."


The stars were shining frostily, in a clear sky, when the Boy crawled
out from under his snow-drift in the morning. He built up the fire,
quaking in the bitter air, and bustled the breakfast.

"You seem to be in something of a hurry," said the Colonel, with a yawn
stifled in a shiver.

"We haven't come on this trip to lie abed in the morning," his pardner
returned with some solemnity. "I don't care how soon I begin caperin'
ahead with that load again."

"Well, it'll be warmin', anyway," returned the Colonel, "and I can't
say as much for your fire."

It was luck that the first forty miles of the trail had already been
traversed by the Boy. He kept recognising this and that in the
landscape, with an effect of good cheer on both of them. It postponed a
little the realization of their daring in launching themselves upon the
Arctic waste, without a guide or even a map that was of the smallest
use.

Half an hour after setting off, they struck into the portage. Even with
a snow-blurred trail, the Boy's vivid remembrance of the other journey
gave them the sustaining sense that they were going right. The Colonel
was working off the surprising stiffness with which he had wakened, and
they were both warm now; but the Colonel's footsoreness was
considerable, an affliction, besides, bound to be worse before it was
better.

The Boy spoke with the old-timer's superiority, of his own experience,
and was so puffed up, at the bare thought of having hardened his feet,
that he concealed without a qualm the fact of a brand-new blister on
his heel. A mere nothing that, not worth mentioning to anyone who
remembered the state he was in at the end of that awful journey of
penitence.

It was well on in the afternoon before it began to snow again, and they
had reached the frozen lake. The days were lengthening, and they still
had good light by which to find the well-beaten trail on the other
side.

"Now in a minute we'll hear the mission dogs. What did I tell you?" Out
of the little wood, a couple of teams were coming, at a good round
pace. They were pulled up at the waterhole, and the mission natives ran
on to meet the new arrivals. They recognised the Boy, and insisted on
making the Colonel, who was walking very lame, ride to the mission in
the strongest sled, and they took turns helping the dogs by pushing
from behind. The snow was falling heavily again, and one of the
Indians, Henry, looking up with squinted eyes, said, "There'll be
nothing left of that walrus-tusk."

"Hey?" inquired the Boy, straining at his sled-rope and bending before
the blast. "What's that?"

"Don't you know what makes snow?" said Henry.

"No. What does?"

"Ivory whittlings. When they get to their carving up yonder then we
have snow."

What was happening to the Colonel?

The mere physical comfort of riding, instead of serving as packhorse,
great as it was, not even that could so instantly spirit away the
weariness, and light up the curious, solemn radiance that shone on the
Colonel's face. It struck the Boy that good old Kentucky would look
like that when he met his dearest at the Gate of Heaven--if there was
such a place.

The Colonel was aware of the sidelong wonder of his comrade's glance,
for the sleds, abreast, had come to a momentary halt. But still he
stared in front of him, just as a sailor in a storm dares not look away
from the beacon-light an instant, knowing all the waste about him
abounds in rocks and eddies and in death, and all the world of hope and
safe returning is narrowed to that little point of light.

After the moment's speculation the Boy turned his eyes to follow the
Colonel's gaze into space.

"The Cross! the Cross!" said the man on the sled. "Don't you see it?"

"Oh, that? Yes."

At the Boy's tone the Colonel, for the first time, turned his eyes away
from the Great White Symbol.

"Don't know what you're made of, if, seeing that... you needn't be a
Church member, but only a man, I should think, to--to--" He blew out
his breath in impotent clouds, and then went on. "We Americans think a
good deal o' the Stars and Stripes, but that up yonder--that's the
mightier symbol."

"Huh!" says the Boy. "Stars and Stripes tell of an ideal of united
states. That up there tells of an ideal of United Mankind. It's the
great Brotherhood Mark. There isn't any other standard that men would
follow just to build a hospice in a place like this."

At an upper window, in a building on the far side of the white symbol,
the travellers caught a glimpse, through the slanting snow, of one of
the Sisters of St. Ann shutting in the bright light with thick
curtains.

_"Glass!"_ ejaculated the Colonel.

One of the Indians had run on to announce them, and as they drew up at
the door--that the Boy remembered as a frame for Brother Paul, with his
lamp, to search out iniquity, and his face of denunciation--out came
Father Brachet, brisk, almost running, his two hands outstretched, his
face a network of welcoming wrinkles. No long waiting, this time, in
the reception-room. Straight upstairs to hot baths and mild, reviving
drinks, and then, refreshed and already rested, down to supper.

With a shade of anxiety the Boy looked about for Brother Paul. But
Father Wills was here anyhow, and the Boy greeted him, joyfully, as a
tried friend and a man to be depended on. There was Brother Etienne,
and there were two strange faces.

Father Brachet put the Colonel on his right and the Boy on his left,
introducing: "Fazzer Richmond, my predecessor as ze head of all ze
Alaskan missions," calmly eliminating Greek, Episcopalian, and other
heretic establishments. "Fazzer Richmond you must have heard much of.
He is ze great ausority up here. He is now ze Travelling Priest. You
can ask him all. He knows everysing."

In no wise abashed by this flourish, Father Richmond shook hands with
the Big Chimney men, smiling, and with a pleasant ease that
communicated itself to the entire company.

It was instantly manifest that the scene of this Jesuit's labours had
not been chiefly, or long, beyond the borders of civilization. In the
plain bare room where, for all its hospitality and good cheer, reigned
an air of rude simplicity and austerity of life--into this somewhat
rarefied atmosphere Father Richmond brought a whiff from another world.
As he greeted the two strangers, and said simply that he had just
arrived, himself, by way of the Anvik portage, the Colonel felt that he
must have meant from New York or from Paris instead of the words he
added, "from St. Michael's."

He claimed instant kinship with the Colonel on the strength of their
both being Southerners.

"I'm a Baltimore man," he said, with an accent no Marylander can purge
of pride.

"How long since you've been home?"

"Oh, I go back every year."

"He goes all over ze world, to tell ze people--"

"--something of the work being done here by Father Brachet--and all of
them." He included the other priests and lay-brothers in a slight
circular movement of the grizzled head.

And to collect funds! the Colonel rightly divined, little guessing how
triumphantly he achieved that end.

"Alaska is so remote," said the Travelling Priest, as if in apology for
popular ignorance, "and people think of it so... inadequately, shall we
say? In trying to explain the conditions up here, I have my chief
difficulty in making them realise the great distances we have to cover.
You tell them that in the Indian tongue Alaska means "the great
country," they smile, and think condescendingly of savage imagery. It
is vain to say we have an area of six hundred thousand square miles. We
talk much in these days of education; but few men and no women can
count! Our Eastern friends get some idea of what we mean, when we tell
them Alaska is bigger than all the Atlantic States from Maine to
Louisiana with half of great Texas thrown in. With a coast-line of
twenty six thousand miles, this Alaska of ours turns to the sea a
greater frontage than all the shores of all the United States combined.
It extends so far out towards Asia that it carries the dominions of the
Great Republic as far west of San Francisco as New York is east of it,
making California a central state. I try to give Europeans some idea of
it by saying that if you add England, Ireland, and Scotland together,
and to that add France, and to that add Italy, you still lack enough to
make a country the size of Alaska. I do not speak of our mountains,
seventeen, eighteen, nineteen thousand feet high, and our Yukon,
flowing for more than two thousand miles through a country almost
virgin still."

"You travel about up here a good deal?"

"He travels _all_ ze time. He will not rest," said Father Brachet as
one airing an ancient grievance.

"Yes, I will rest now--a little. I have been eight hundred miles over
the ice, with dogs, since January 1."

The Boy looked at him with something very like reverence. Here was a
man who could give you tips!

"You have travelled abroad, too," the Colonel rather stated than asked.

"I spent a good deal of my youth in France and Germany."

"Educated over there?"

"Well, I am a Johns Hopkins man, but I may say I found my education in
Rome. Speaking of education"--he turned to the other priests--"I have
greatly advanced my grammar since we parted." Father Brachet answered
with animation in French, and the conversation went forward for some
minutes in that tongue. The discussion was interrupted to introduce the
other new face, at the bottom of the table, to the Big Chimney men:
"Resident Fazzer Roget of ze Kuskoquim mission."

"That is the best man on snow-shoes in Central Alaska," said Father
Richmond low to the Colonel, nodding at the Kuskoquim priest.

"And he knows more of two of ze native dialects here zan anyone else,"
added the Father Superior.

"You must forgive our speaking much of the Indian tongues," said Father
Richmond. "We are all making dictionaries and grammars; we have still
to translate much of our religious instruction, and the great variety
in dialect of the scattered tribes keeps us busy with linguistic
studies."

"Tomorrow you must see our schools," said Father Brachet.

But the Boy answered quickly that they could not afford the time. He
was surprised at the Colonel's silence; but the Boy didn't know what
the Colonel's feet felt like.

Kentucky ain't sorry, he said to himself, to have a back to his chair,
and to eat off china again. Kentucky's a voluptuary! I'll have to drag
him away by main force; and the Boy allowed Father Richmond to help him
yet more abundantly to the potatoes and cabbage grown last summer in
the mission garden!

It was especially the vegetables that lent an element of luxury to the
simple meal. The warm room, the excellent food, better cooked than any
they had had for seven months, produced a gentle somnolence. The
thought of the inviting look of the white-covered bed upstairs lay like
a balm on the spirits of men not born to roughing it. As the travellers
said an early and grateful good-night, the Boy added sleepily something
about the start at dawn.

Father Brachet answered, "Morning will bring counsel, my son. I sink ze
bleezzar-r will not let us lose you so soon."

They overslept themselves, and they knew it, in that way the would-be
early riser does, before ever he looks into the accusing face of his
watch. The Boy leapt out of bed.

"Hear that?" The wind was booming among the settlement buildings.
"Sounds as if there was weather outside." A glance between the curtains
showed the great gale at its height. The snow blew level in sheets and
darkened the air.

"Well," said the Colonel, splashing mightily in the ice-cold water, "I
don't know as I mind giving my feet twenty-four hours' time to come to
their senses."

A hurried toilet and they went downstairs, sharp-set for breakfast
after the long, refreshing sleep.

Father Richmond was writing on his knee by the stove in the
reception-room.

"Good-morning--good-morning." He rang the bell.

"Well, what did we tell you? I don't think you'll get far today. Let
these gentlemen know when breakfast is ready," he said, as Christopher
put his head in. He looked at his watch. "I hope you will find
everything you need," he said; and, continuing to talk about the gale
and some damage it had done to one of the outbuildings, he went into
the entry, just beyond the reception-room door, and began to put on his
furs.

"_You are_ not going out in such weather!" the Colonel called after him
incredulously.

"Only as far as the church."

"Oh, is there church today?" inquired the Boy more cheerfully than one
might expect.

The Colonel started and made a signal for discretion.

"Blest if it isn't Sunday!" he said under his breath.

"He doesn't seem dead-set on our observing it," whispered the Boy.

The Colonel warmed himself luxuriously at the stove, and seemed to
listen for that summons from the entry that never came. Was Father
Richmond out there still, or had he gone?

"Do they think we are heathens because we are not Jesuits?" he said
under his breath, suddenly throwing out his great chest.

"Perhaps we ought to... Hey? They've been awfully considerate of
_us--_"

The Colonel went to the door. Father Richmond was struggling with his
snow-boots.

"With your permission, sir," says the Colonel in his most magnificent
manner, "we will accompany you, or follow if you are in haste."

"With all my heart. Come," said the priest, "if you will wait and
breakfast with us after Mass."

It was agreed, and the immediate order was countermanded. The sound of
a bell came, muffled, through the storm.

With thoughts turning reluctantly from breakfast, "What's that?" asked
the Boy.

"That is our church bell." The Father had helped the Colonel to find
his parki.

"Oh--a--of course--"

"A fine tone, don't you think? But you can't tell so well in this
storm. We are fond of our bell. It is the first that ever rang out in
the Yukon valley. Listen!"

They stood still a moment before opening the front door. The Boy,
seeing the very look of a certain high-shouldered gray stone "St.
Andrew's" far away, and himself trotting along beside that figure,
inseparable from first memories, was dimly aware again, as he stood at
the Jesuit's door, in these different days, of the old Sunday feeling
invading, permeating his consciousness, half reluctant, half amused.

The Colonel sat in a rural church and looked at the averted face of a
woman.

Only to the priest was the sound all music.

"That language," he said, "speaks to men whatever tongue they call
their own. The natives hear it for miles up the river, and down the
river, and over the white hills, and far across the tundra. They come
many miles to Mass--"

He opened the door, and the gale rushed in.

"I do not mean on days like this," he wound up, smiling, and out they
went into the whirling snow.

The church was a building of logs like the others, except that it was
of one story. Father Brachet was already there, with Father Wills and
Brother Etienne; and, after a moment, in came Brother Paul, looking
more waxen and aloof than ever, at the head of the school, the rear
brought up by Brother Vincent and Henry.

In a moment the little Mother Superior appeared, followed by two nuns,
heading a procession of native women and girls. They took their places
on the other side of the church and bowed their heads.

"Beautiful creature!" ejaculated the Colonel under his breath, glancing
back.

His companion turned his head sharply just in time to see Sister
Winifred come last into the church, holding by either hand a little
child. Both men watched her as she knelt down. Between the children's
sallow, screwed-up, squinting little visages the calm, unconscious face
of the nun shone white like a flower.

The strangers glanced discreetly about the rude little church, with its
pictures and its modest attempt at stained glass.

"No wonder all this impresses the ignorant native," whispered the
Colonel, catching himself up suddenly from sharing in that weakness.

Without, the wild March storm swept the white world; within another
climate reigned--something of summer and the far-off South, of Italy
herself, transplanted to this little island of civilisation anchored in
the Northern waste.

"S'pose you've seen all the big cathedrals, eh?"

"Good many."

There was still a subdued rustling in the church, and outside, still
the clanging bell contended with the storm.

"And this--makes you smile?"

"N--no," returned the older man with a kind of reluctance. "I've seen
many a worse church; America's full of 'em."

"Hey?"

"So far as--dignity goes--" The Colonel was wrestling with some vague
impression difficult for him to formulate. "You see, you can't build
anything with wood that's better than a log-cabin. For looks--just
_looks_--it beats all your fancy gimcracks, even brick; beats
everything else hollow, except stone. Then they've got candles. We went
on last night about the luxury of oil-lamps. They don't bring 'em in
here!"

"_We_ do in our prairie and Southern country churches."

"I know. But look at those altar lights." The Boy was too busy looking
at Sister Winifred. "I tell you, sir, a man never made a finer thing
than a tall wax candle."

"Sh! Mustn't talk in church."

The Colonel stared a moment at the Boy's presumption, drew himself up a
little pompously, and crossed his arms over his huge chest.

"Why, they've got an organ!" The Boy forgot his strict views on church
etiquette as the sudden sweetness swelled in the air. Brother Paul,
with head thrown back and white face lifted, was playing, slowly,
absently, like one who listens to some great choir invisible, and keeps
their time with a few obedient but unnecessary chords. And yet--

"The fella can play," the Colonel admitted.

The native choir, composed entirely of little dark-faced boys, sang
their way truly through the service, Father Brachet celebrating Mass.

"Brother Paul's ill, isn't he? Look!" The lay-brother had swayed, and
drooped forward over the keyboard, but his choir sang steadily on. He
recovered himself, and beckoned one of the boys to his side. When he
rose, the child nodded and took the organist's place, playing quite
creditably to the end. Brother Paul sat in the corner with bowed head.

Coming out, they were in time to confront Sister Winifred, holding back
the youngest children, eager to anticipate their proper places in the
procession.

The Boy looked fixedly at her, wondering. Suddenly meeting The clear
eyes, he smiled, and then shrank inwardly at his forwardness. He could
not tell if she remembered him.

The Colonel, finding himself next her at the door, bowed, and stood
back for her to pass.

"No," she said gently; "my little children must wait for the older
ones."

"You have them under good discipline, madam." He laid his hand on the
furry shoulder of the smallest.

The Boy stood behind the Colonel, unaccountably shy in the presence of
the only white woman he had seen in nearly seven months. She couldn't
be any older than he, and yet she was a nun. What a gulf opened at the
word! Sister Winifred and her charges fell into rank at the tail of the
little procession, and vanished in the falling snow. At breakfast the
Colonel would not sit down till he was presented to Brother Paul.

"Sir," he said in his florid but entirely sincere fashion, "I should
like to thank you for the pleasure of hearing that music to-day. We
were much impressed, sir, by the singing. How old is the boy who played
the organ?"

"Ten," said Brother Paul, and for the first time the Boy saw him smile.
"Yes, I think he has music in him, our little Jerome."

"And how well _all_ your choir has the service by heart! Their unison
is perfect."

"Yes," said Father Brachet from the head of the table, "our music has
never been so good as since Paul came among us." He lifted his hand,
and every one bowed his head.

After grace Father Richmond took the floor, conversationally, as seemed
to be his wont, and breakfast went on, as supper had the night before,
to the accompaniment of his shrewd observations and lively anecdotes.
In the midst of all the laughter and good cheer Brother Paul sat at the
end of the board, eating absently, saying nothing, and no one speaking
to him.

Father Richmond especially, but, indeed, all of them, seemed arrant
worldlings beside the youngest of the lay-brethren. The Colonel could
more easily imagine Father Richmond walking the streets of Paris or of
Rome, than "hitting the Yukon trail." He marvelled afresh at the
devotion that brought such a man to wear out his fine attainments, his
scholarship, his energy, his wide and Catholic knowledge, in travelling
winter after winter, hundreds of miles over the ice from one Indian
village to another. You could not divorce Father Richmond in your mind
from the larger world outside; he spoke with its accent, he looked with
his humourous, experienced eyes. You found it natural to think of him
in very human relations. You wondered about his people, and what
brought him to this.

Not so with Brother Paul. He was one of those who suggest no country
upon any printed map. You have to be reminded that you do not know his
birthplace or his history. It was this same Brother Paul who, after
breakfast and despite the Pymeut incident, offered to show the
gold-seekers over the school. The big recitation-room was full of
natives and decidedly stuffy. They did not stay long. Upstairs, "I
sleep here in the dormitory," said the Brother, "and I live with the
pupils--as much as I can. I often eat with them," he added as one who
mounts a climax. "They have to be taught _everything_, and they have to
be taught it over again every day."

"Except music, apparently."

"Except music--and games. Brother Vincent teaches them football and
baseball, and plays with them and works with them. Part of each day is
devoted to manual training and to sport."

He led the way to the workshop.

"One of our brothers is a carpenter and master mechanic."

He called to a pupil passing the door, and told him the strangers would
like to inspect the school work. Very proudly the lad obeyed. He
himself was a carpenter, and showed his half-finished table. The Boy's
eye fell on a sled.

"Yes," said the lad, "that kind better. Your kind no good." He had
evidently made intimate acquaintance with the Boy's masterpiece.

"Yours is splendid," admitted the unskilled workman.

"Will you sell it?" the Colonel asked Brother Paul.

"They make them to sell," was the answer, and the transaction was soon
effected.

      *       *       *       *       *

"It has stopped snowing and ze wind is fallen," said Father Brachet,
going to the reception-room window an hour or so after they had come in
from dinner.

The Colonel exchanged looks with the Boy, and drew out his watch.

"Later than I thought."

"Much," the Colonel agreed, and sat considering, watch in hand.

"I sink our friends must see now ze girls' school, and ze laundry,
hein?"

"To be sure," agreed Father Richmond. "I will take you over and give
you into the hands of our Mother Superior."

"Why, it's much warmer," said the Boy as they went by the cross; and
Father Richmond greeted the half-dozen native boys, who were packing
down the fresh snow under their broad shoes, laughing and shouting to
one another as they made anew the familiar mission trails.

The door of the two-story house, on the opposite side of the
settlement, was opened by Sister Winifred.

"Friends of ours from the White Camp below."

She acknowledged the nameless introduction, smiling; but at the request
that followed, "Ah, it is too bad that just to-day--the Mother
Superior--she is too faint and weak to go about. Will you see her,
Father?"

"Yes, if you will show these strangers the school and laundry and--"

"Oh, yes, I will show them."

She led the way into the cheerful schoolroom, where big girls and
little girls were sitting about, amusing themselves in the quiet of a
long Sunday afternoon. Several of the younger children ran to her as
she came in, and stood holding fast to the folds of her black habit,
staring up at the strangers, while she explained the kind of
instruction given, the system, and the order reigning in each
department. Finally, she persuaded a little girl, only six years old,
to take her dusky face out of the long flowing veil of the nun, and
show how quickly she could read a sentence that Sister Winifred wrote
on the blackboard. Then others were called on, and gave examples of
their accomplishments in easy arithmetic and spelling. The children
must have been very much bored with themselves that stormy Sunday, for
they entered into the examination with a quite unnatural zest.

Two of the elder girls recited, and some specimens of penmanship and
composition were shown. The delicate complexion of the little nun
flushed to a pretty wild-rose pink as these pupils of hers won the
Colonel's old fashioned compliments.

"And they are taught most particularly of all," she hastened to say,
"cooking, housekeeping, and sewing."

Whereupon specimens of needlework were brought out and cast like pearls
before the swine's eyes of the ignorant men. But they were impressed in
their benighted way, and said so.

"And we teach them laundry-work." She led the way, with the children
trooping after, to the washhouse. "No, run back. You'll take cold. Run
back, and you shall sing for the strangers before they go."

She smiled them away--a happy-faced, clean little throng, striking
contrast to the neglected, filthy children seen in the native villages.
As they were going into the laundry, Father Richmond came out of the
house, and stopped to point out to the Colonel a snow-covered
enclosure--"the Sisters' garden"--and he told how marvellously, in the
brief summer, some of the hardier vegetables flourished there.

"They spring up like magic at the edge of the snow-drifts, and they do
not rest from their growing all night. If the time is short, they have
twice as much sunlight as with you. They drink it in the whole summer
night as well as all the day. And over here is the Fathers' garden."
Talking still, he led the way towards a larger enclosure on the other
side of the Cross.

Sister Winifred paused a moment, and then, as they did not turn back,
and the Boy stood waiting, she took him into the drying-room and into
the ironing-room, and then returned to the betubbed apartment first
invaded. There was only one blot on the fairness of that model
laundry--a heap of torn and dirty canvas in the middle of the floor.

The Boy vaguely thought it looked familiar, before the Sister, blushing
faintly, said: "We hope you won't go before we have time to repair it."

"Why, it's our old sled-cover!"

"Yes; it is very much cut and torn. But you do not go at once?"

"Yes, to-morrow."

"Oh! Father Brachet thought you would stay for a few days, at least."

"We have no time."

"You go, like the rest, for gold?"

"Like the rest."

"But you came before to help poor Nicholas out of his trouble."

"He was quite able to help himself, as it turned out."

"Why will you go so far, and at such risk?" she said, with a suddenness
that startled them both.

"I--I--well, I think I go chiefly because I want to get my home back. I
lost my home when I was a little chap. Where is your home?"

"Here."

"How long have you been here?"

"Nearly two years."

"Then how can you call it home?"

"I do that only that I may--speak your language. Of course, it is not
my real home."

"Where is the real home?"

"I hope it is in heaven," she said, with a simplicity that took away
all taint of cant or mere phrase-making.

"But where do you come from?"

"I come from Montreal."

"Oh! and don't you ever go back to visit your people?"

"No, I never go back."

"But you will some time?"

"No; I shall never go back."

"Don't you _want_ to?"

She dropped her eyes, but very steadfastly she said:

"My work is here."

"But you are young, and you may live a great, great many years."

She nodded, and looked out of the open door. The Colonel and the
Travelling Priest were walking in Indian file the new-made, hard-packed
path.

"Yes," she said in a level voice, "I shall grow old here, and here I
shall be buried."

"I shall never understand it. I have such a longing for my home. I came
here ready to bear anything that I might be able to get it back."

She looked at him steadily and gravely.

"I may be wrong, but I doubt if you would be satisfied even if you got
it back--now."

"What makes you think that?" he said sharply.

"Because"--and she checked herself as if on the verge of something too
personal--"you can never get back a thing you've lost. When the old
thing is there again, you are not as you were when you lost it, and the
change in you makes the old thing new--and strange."

"Oh, it's plain I am very different from you," but he said it with a
kind of uneasy defiance. "Besides, in any case, I shall do it for my
sister's sake."

"Oh, you have a sister?"

He nodded.

"How long since you left her?"

"It's a good while now."

"Perhaps your sister won't want that particular home any more than you
when you two meet again." Then, seeming not to notice the shade on her
companion's face: "I promised my children they should sing for you. Do
you mind? Will your friend come in, too?" And, looking from the door
after the Colonel and the Father as they turned to rejoin them: "He is
odd, that big friend of yours," she said--quite like a human being, as
the Boy thought instantly.

"He's not odd, I assure you."

"He called me 'madam.'" She spoke with a charming piqued childishness.

"You see, he didn't know your name. What is your name?"

"Sister Winifred."

"But your real name?" he said, with the American's insistence on his
own point of view.

"That is my only name," she answered with dignity, and led the way back
into the schoolroom. Another, older, nun was there, and when the others
rejoined them they made the girls sing.

"Now we have shown you enough," said Father Richmond, rising; "boasted
to you enough of the very little we are able to accomplish here. We
must save something for to-morrow."

"Ah, to-morrow we take to the trail again," said the Colonel, and added
his "Good-bye, madam."

Sister Winifred, seeing he expected it, gave him her hand.

"Good-bye, and thank you for coming."

"For your poor," he said shyly, as he turned away and left a gift in
her palm.

"Thank you for showing us all this," the Boy said, lingering, but not
daring to shake hands. "It--it seems very wonderful. I had no idea a
mission meant all this."

"Oh, it means more--more than anything you can _see_."

"Good-bye."

"Good-bye."

In the early evening the reception-room was invaded by the lads' school
for their usual Sunday night entertainment. Very proudly these boys and
young men sang their glees and choruses, played the fiddle, recited,
even danced.

"Pity Mac isn't here!"

"Awful pity. Sunday, too."

Brother Etienne sang some French military songs, and it came out that
he had served in the French army. Father Roget sang, also in French,
explaining himself with a humourous skill in pantomime that set the
room in a roar.

"Well," said the Colonel when he stood up to say good-night, "I haven't
enjoyed an evening so much for years."

"It is very early still," said Father Brachet, wrinkling up his face in
a smile.

"Ah, but we have to make such an early start."

The Colonel went up to bed, leaving the Boy to go to Father Richmond's
room to look at his Grammar of the Indian language.

The instant the door was shut, the priest set down the lamp, and laid
his hands on the young man's shoulders.

"My son, you must not go on this mad journey."

"I must, you know."

"You must _not_. Sit there." He pushed him into a chair. "Let me tell
you. I do not speak as the ignorant. I have in my day travelled many
hundreds of miles on the ice; but I've done it in the season when the
trail's at its best, with dogs, my son, and with tried native
servants."

"I know it is pleasanter that way, but--"

"Pleasanter? It is the way to keep alive."

"But the Indians travel with hand-sleds."

"For short distances, yes, and they are inured to the climate. You? You
know nothing of what lies before you."

"But we'll find out as other people have." The Boy smiled confidently.

"I assure you, my son, it is madness, this thing you are trying to do.
The chances of either of you coming out alive, are one in fifty. In
fifty, did I say? In five hundred."

"I don't think so, Father. We don't mean to travel when--"

"But you'll have to travel. To stay in such places as you'll find
yourself in will be to starve. Or if by any miracle you escape the
worst effects of cold and hunger, you'll get caught in the ice in the
spring break-up, and go down to destruction on a floe. You've no
conception what it's like. If you were six weeks earlier, or six weeks
later, I would hold my peace."

The Boy looked at the priest and then away. _Was_ it going to be so
bad? Would they leave their bones on the ice? Would they go washing by
the mission in the great spring flood, that all men spoke of with the
same grave look? He had a sudden vision of the torrent as it would be
in June. Among the whirling ice-masses that swept by--two bodies,
swollen, unrecognisable. One gigantic, one dressed gaily in chaparejos.
And neither would lift his head, but, like men bent grimly upon some
great errand, they would hurry on, past the tall white cross with never
a sign--on, on to the sea.

"Be persuaded, my son."

Dimly the Boy knew he was even now borne along upon a current equally
irresistible, this one setting northward, as that other back to the
south. He found himself shaking his head under the Jesuit's remonstrant
eyes.

"We've lost so much time already. We couldn't possibly turn back--now."

"Then here's my Grammar." With an almost comic change of tone and
manner the priest turned to the table where the lamp stood, among piles
of neatly tied-up and docketed papers.

He undid one of the packets, with an ear on the sudden sounds outside
in the passage.

"Brother Paul's got it in the schoolhouse."

Brother Paul! He hadn't been at the entertainment, and no one seemed to
have missed him.

"How did Sister Winifred know?" asked another voice.

"Old Maria told her."

Father Richmond got up and opened the door.

"What is it?"

"It's a new-born Indian baby." The Father looked down as if it might be
on the threshold. "Brother Paul found it below at the village all done
up ready to be abandoned."

"Tell Sister Winifred I'll see about it in the morning."

"She says--pardon me, Father--she says that is like a man. If I do not
bring the little Indian in twenty minutes she will come herself and get
it."

Father Richmond laughed.

"Good-night, my son"; and he went downstairs with the others.

      *       *       *       *       *

"Colonel, you asleep?" the Boy asked softly.

"No."

He struggled in silence with his mucklucks. Presently, "Isn't it
frightfully strange," he mused aloud. "Doesn't it pull a fella up by
the roots, somehow, to see Americans on this old track?"

The Colonel had the bedclothes drawn up to his eyes. Under the white
quilt he made some undistinguishable sound, but he kept his eyes
fastened on his pardner.

"Everything that we Americans have done, everything that we are, is
achieved by the grace of goin' bang the other way." The Boy pulled off
a muckluck and threw it half across the room. "And yet, and yet--"

He sat with one stocking-foot in his hand and stared at the candle.

"I wonder, Colonel, if it _satisfies_ anybody to be a hustler and a
millionaire."

"Satisfies?" echoed the Colonel, pushing his chin over the bed-clothes.
"Who expects to be satisfied?"

"Why, every man, woman and child on the top o' the earth; and it just
strikes me I've never, personally, known anybody get there but these
fellas at Holy Cross."

The Colonel pushed back the bedclothes a little farther with his chin.

"Haven't you got the gumption to see why it is this place and these men
take such a hold on you? It's because you've eaten, slept, and lived
for half a year in a space the size of this bedroom. We've got so used
to narrowing life down, that the first result of a little larger
outlook is to make us dizzy. Now, you hurry up and get to bed. You'll
sleep it off."

      *       *       *       *       *

The Boy woke at four o'clock, and after the match-light, by which he
consulted his watch, had flickered out, he lay a long time staring at
the dark.

Silence still reigned supreme, when at last he got up, washed and
dressed, and went downstairs. An irresistible restlessness had seized
hold of him.

He pulled on his furs, cautiously opened the door, and went out--down,
over the crisp new crust, to the river and back in the dimness, past
the Fathers' House to the settlement behind, then to the right towards
the hillside. As he stumbled up the slope he came to a little
burial-ground. Half hidden in the snow, white wooden crosses marked the
graves. "And here I shall be buried," she had said--"here." He came
down the hill and round by the Sisters' House.

That window! That was where a light had shone the evening they arrived,
and a nun--Sister Winifred--had stood drawing the thick curtains,
shutting out the world.

He thought, in the intense stillness, that he heard sounds from that
upper room. Yes, surely an infant's cry.

A curious, heavy-hearted feeling came upon him, as he turned away, and
went slowly back towards the other house.

He halted a moment under the Cross, and stared up at it. The door of
the Fathers' House opened, and the Travelling Priest stood on the
threshold. The Boy went over to him, nodding good-morning.

"So you are all ready--eager to go from us?"

"No; but, you see--"

"I see."

He held the door open, and the Boy went in.

"I don't believe the Colonel's awake yet," he said, as he took off his
furs. "I'll just run up and rouse him."

"It is very early"--the priest laid his hand on the young man's
arm--"and he will not sleep so well for many a night to come. It is an
hour till breakfast."

Henry had lit the fire, and now left it roaring. The priest took a
chair, and pushed one forward for his guest.

The Boy sat down, stretched his legs out straight towards the fire, and
lifting his hands, clasped them behind his head. The priest read the
homesick face like a book.

"Why are you up here?" Before there was time for reply he added:
"Surely a young man like you could find, nearer home, many a gate ajar.
And you must have had glimpses through of--things many and fair."

"Oh, yes, I've had glimpses of those things."

"Well----"

"What I wanted most I never saw."

"You wanted----"

"To be--_sure_."

"Ah! it is one of the results of agnosticism."

The Boy never saw the smile.

"I've said--and I was not lying--that I came away to shorten the
business of fortune-making--to buy back an old place we love, my sister
and I; but----"

"Which does she love best, the old place or the young brother?"

"Oh, she cares about me--no doubt o' that." He smiled the smile of
faith.

"Has she ... an understanding heart?"

"The most I know."

"Then she would be glad to know you had found a home for the spirit. A
home for the body, what does it matter?"

In the pause, Father Brachet opened the door, but seemed suddenly to
remember some imperative call elsewhere. The Boy jumped up, but the
Superior had vanished without even "Good-morning." The Boy sat down
again.

"Of course," he went on, with that touch of pedantry so common in
American youth, "the difficulty in my case is an intellectual one. I
think I appreciate the splendid work you do, and I see as I never saw
before----" He stopped.

"You strike your foot against the same stone of stumbling over which
the Pharisees fell, when the man whom Jesus healed by the way replied
to their questioning: 'Whether He be a sinner or no, I know not. One
thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see.'"

"I don't deny that the life here has been a revelation to me. I'm not
talkin' about creeds (for I don't know much about them, and I don't
think it's in me to care much); but so far as the work here is
concerned--" He paused.

"We can take little credit for that; it is the outcome of our Order."

The Boy failed to catch the effect of the capital letter.

"Yes, it's just that--the order, the good government! A fella would be
a bigot if he couldn't see that the system is as nearly perfect as a
human institution can be."

"That has been said before of the Society of Jesus." But he spoke with
the wise man's tolerance for the discoveries of the young. Still, it
was not to discuss the merits of his Order that he had got up an hour
before his time. "I understand, maybe better than yourself, something
of the restlessness that drove you here."

"You understand?"

The priest nodded.

"You had the excuse of the old plantation and the sister--"

The Boy sat up suddenly, a little annoyed.

The priest kept on: "But you felt a great longing to make a breach in
the high walls that shut you in. You wanted to fare away on some voyage
of discovery. Wasn't that it?". He paused now in his turn, but the Boy
looked straight before him, saying nothing. The priest leaned forward
with a deeper gravity.

"It will be a fortunate expedition, this, my son, _if thou discover
thyself_--and in time!" Still the Boy said nothing. The other resumed
more lightly: "In America we combine our travels with business. But it
is no new idea in the world that a young man should have his Wanderjahr
before he finds what he wants, or even finds acquiescence. It did not
need Wilhelm Meister to set the feet of youth on that trail; it did not
need the Crusades. It's as old as the idea of a Golden Fleece or a
Promised Land. It was the first man's first inkling of heaven."

The Boy pricked his ears. Wasn't this heresy?

"The old idea of the strenuous, to leave home and comfort and security,
and go out to search for wisdom, or holiness, or happiness--whether it
is gold or the San Grael, the instinct of Search is deep planted in the
race. It is this that the handful of men who live in what they call
'the world'--it is this they forget. Every hour in the greater world
outside, someone, somewhere, is starting out upon this journey. He may
go only as far as Germany to study philosophy, or to the nearest
mountain-top, and find there the thing he seeks; or he may go to the
ends of the earth, and still not find it. He may travel in a Hindu gown
or a Mongolian tunic, or he comes, like Father Brachet, out of his
vineyards in 'the pleasant land of France,' or, like you, out of a
country where all problems are to be solved by machinery. But my point
is, _they come_! When all the other armies of the world are disbanded,
that army, my son, will be still upon the march."

They were silent awhile, and still the young face gave no sign.

"To many," the Travelling Priest went on, "the impulse is a blind one
or a shy one, shrinking from calling itself by the old names. But none
the less this instinct for the Quest is still the gallant way of youth,
confronted by a sense of the homelessness they cannot think will last."

"That's it, Father! That's it!" the Boy burst out. "Homelessness! To
feel that is to feel something urging you----" He stopped, frowning.

"----urging you to take up your staff," said the priest.

They were silent a moment, and then the same musical voice tolled out
the words like a low bell: "But with all your journeying, my son, you
will come to no Continuing City."

"It's no use to say this to me. You see, I am----"

"I'll tell you why I say it." The priest laid a hand on his arm. "I see
men going up and down all their lives upon this Quest. Once in a great
while I see one for whom I think the journey may be shortened."

"How shortened?"

A heavy step on the stair, and the Boy seemed to wake from a dream.

"Good-morning," said the Colonel, coming in cheerily, rubbing his
hands.

"I am very jealous!" He glanced at the Boy's furs on the floor. "You
have been out, seeing the rest of the mission without me."

"No--no, we will show you the rest--as much as you care for, after
breakfast."

"I'm afraid we oughtn't to delay--"

But they did--"for a few minutes while zey are putting a little fresh
meat on your sled," as Father Brachet said. They went first to see the
dogs fed. For they got breakfast when they were at home, those pampered
mission dogs.

"And now we will show you our store-house, our caches--"

While Father Brachet looked in the bunch for the key he wanted, a
native came by with a pail. He entered the low building on the left,
leaving wide the door.

"What? No! Is it really? No, not _really!_" The Colonel was more
excited than the Boy had ever seen him. Without the smallest ceremony
he left the side of his obliging host, strode to the open door, and
disappeared inside.

"What on earth's the matter?"

"I cannot tell. It is but our cow-house."

They followed, and, looking in at the door, the Boy saw a picture that
for many a day painted itself on his memory. For inside the dim,
straw-strewn place stood the big Kentuckian, with one arm round the
cow, talking to her and rubbing her nose, while down his own a tear
trickled.

"Hey? Well, yes! Just my view, Sukey. Yes, old girl, Alaska's a funny
kind o' place for you and me to be in, isn't it? Hey? Ye-e-yes." And he
stroked the cow and sniffed back the salt water, and called out, seeing
the Boy, "Look! They've got a thoroughbred bull, too, an' a heifer.
Lord, I haven't been in any place so like home for a coon's age! You go
and look at the caches. I'll stay here while Sambo milks her."

"My name is Sebastian."

"Oh, all right; reckon you can milk her under that name, too."

When they came back, the Colonel was still there exchanging views about
Alaska with Sukey, and with Sebastian about the bull. Sister Winifred
came hurrying over the snow to the cow-house with a little tin pail in
her hand.

"Ah, but you are slow, Sebastian!" she called out almost petulantly.
"Good-morning," she said to the others, and with a quick clutch at a
respectful and submissive demeanour, she added, half aside: "What do
you think, Father Brachet? They forgot that baby because he is good and
sleeps late. They drink up all the milk."

"Ah, there is very little now."

"Very little, Father," said Sebastian, returning to the task from which
the Colonel's conversation had diverted him.

"I put aside some last night, and they used it. I send you to bring me
only a little drop"--she was by Sebastian now, holding out the small
pail, unmindful of the others, who were talking stock--"and you stay,
and stay--"

"Give me your can." The Boy took it from her, and held it inside the
big milk-pail, so that the thin stream struck it sharply.

"There; it is enough."

Her shawl had fallen. The Colonel gathered it up.

"I will carry the milk back for you," said the Boy, noticing how red
and cold the slim hands were. "Your fingers will be frostbitten if you
don't wrap them up." She pulled the old shawl closely round her, and
set a brisk pace back to the Sisters' House.

"I must go carefully or I might slip, and if I spilt the milk--"

"Oh, you mustn't do that!"

She paused suddenly, and then went on, but more slowly than before. A
glaze had formed on the hard-trodden path, and one must needs walk
warily. Once she looked back with anxiety, and, seeing that the
precious milk was being carried with due caution, her glance went
gratefully to the Boy's face. He felt her eyes.

"I'm being careful," he laughed, a little embarrassed and not at first
lifting his bent head. When, after an instant, he did so, he found the
beautiful calm eyes full upon him. But no self-consciousness there. She
turned away, gentle and reflective, and was walking on when some quick
summons seemed to reach her. She stopped quite still again, as if
seized suddenly by a detaining hand. Her own hands dropped straight at
her sides, and the rusty shawl hung free. A second time she turned, the
Boy thought to him again; but as he glanced up, wondering, he saw that
the fixed yet serene look went past him like a homing-dove. A
neglected, slighted feeling came over him. She wasn't thinking of him
the least in the world, nor even of the milk he was at such pains to
carry for her. What was she staring at? He turned his head over his
right shoulder. Nothing. No one. As he came slowly on, he kept glancing
at her. She, still with upturned face, stood there in the attitude of
an obedient child receiving admonition. One cold little hand fluttered
up to her silver cross. Ah! He turned again, understanding now the
drift, if not the inner meaning, of that summons that had come.

"Your friend said something--" She nodded faintly, riverwards, towards
the mission sign. "Did you feel like that about it--when you saw it
first?"

"Oh--a--I'm not religious like the Colonel."

She smiled, and walked on.

At the door, as she took the milk, instead of "Thank you," "Wait a
moment."

She was back again directly.

"You are going far beyond the mission ... so carry this with you. I
hope it will guide you as it guides us."

On his way back to the Fathers' House, he kept looking at what Sister
Winifred had given him--a Latin cross of silver scarce three inches
long. At the intersection of the arms it bore a chased lozenge on which
was a mitre; above it, the word "Alaska," and beneath, the crossed keys
of St. Peter and the letters, "P.T.R."

As he came near to where the Colonel and his hosts were, he slipped the
cross into his pocket. His fingers encountered Muckluck's medal. Upon
some wholly involuntary impulse, he withdrew Sister Winifred's gift,
and transferred it to another pocket. But he laughed to himself. "Both
sort o' charms, after all." And again he looked at the big cross and
the heaven above it, and down at the domain of the Inua, the jealous
god of the Yukon.

Twenty minutes later the two travellers were saying good-bye to the men
of Holy Cross, and making their surprised and delighted acknowledgments
for the brand-new canvas cover they found upon the Colonel's new sled.

"Oh, it is not we," said Father Brachet; "it is made by ze Sisters. Zey
shall know zat you were pleased."

Father Richmond held the Boy's hand a moment.

"I see you go, my son, but I shall see you return."

"No, Father, I shall hardly come this way again."

Father Brachet, smiling, watched them start up the long trail.

"I sink we shall meet again," were his last words.

"What does he mean?" asked the Colonel, a little high and mightily.
"What plan has he got for a meeting?"

"Same plan as you've got, I s'pose. I believe you both call it
'Heaven.'"

The Holy Cross thermometer had registered twenty degrees below zero,
but the keen wind blowing down the river made it seem more like forty
below. When they stopped to lunch, they had to crouch down behind the
sled to stand the cold, and the Boy found that his face and ears were
badly frost-bitten. The Colonel discovered that the same thing had
befallen the toes of his left foot. They rubbed the afflicted members,
and tried not to let their thoughts stray backwards. The Jesuits had
told them of an inhabited cabin twenty-three miles up the river, and
they tried to fix their minds on that. In a desultory way, when the
wind allowed it, they spoke of Minook, and of odds and ends they'd
heard about the trail. They spoke of the Big Chimney Cabin, and of how
at Anvik they would have their last shave. The one subject neither
seemed anxious to mention was Holy Cross. It was a little "marked," the
Colonel felt; but he wasn't going to say the first word, since he meant
to say the last.

About five o'clock the gale went down, but it came on to snow. At seven
the Colonel said decidedly: "We can't make that cabin to-night."

"Why not?"

"Because I'm not going any further, with this foot--" He threw down the
sled-rope, and limped after wood for the fire.

The Boy tilted the sled up by an ice-hummock, and spread the new canvas
so that it gave some scant shelter from the snow. Luckily, for once,
the wind how grown quite lamb-like--for the Yukon. It would be thought
a good stiff breeze almost anywhere else.

Directly they had swallowed supper the Colonel remarked: "I feel as
ready for my bed as I did Saturday night."

Ah! Saturday night--that was different. They looked at each other with
the same thought.

"Well, that bed at Holy Cross isn't any whiter than this," laughed the
Boy.

But the Colonel was not to be deceived by this light and airy
reference. His own unwilling sentiments were a guide to the Boy's, and
he felt it incumbent upon him to restore the Holy Cross incident to its
proper proportions. Those last words of Father Brachet's bothered him.
Had they been "gettin' at" the Boy?

"You think all that mission business mighty wonderful--just because you
run across it in Alaska."

"And isn't it wonderful at all?"

The Boy spoke dreamily, and, from force of old habit, held out his
mittened hands to the unavailing fire.

The Colonel gave a prefatory grunt of depreciation, but he was pulling
his blankets out from under the stuff on the sled.

The Boy turned his head, and watched him with a little smile. "I'll
admit that I always _used_ to think the Jesuits were a shady lot--"

"So they are--most of 'em."

"Well, I don't know about 'most of 'em.' You and Mac used to talk a lot
about the 'motives' of the few I do know. But as far as I can see,
every creature who comes up to this country comes to take something out
of it--except those Holy Cross fellas. They came to bring something."

The Colonel had got the blankets out now, but where was the rubber
sheet? He wouldn't sleep on it in this weather, again, for a kingdom,
but when the thaws came, if those explorer fellas were right--

In his sense of irritation at a conscientious duty to perform and no
clear notion of how to discharge it, he made believe it was the
difficulty in finding the rubber sheet he didn't want that made him out
of sorts.

"It's bitter work, anyhow, this making beds with your fingers stiff and
raw," he said.

"Is it?"

Dignity looked at Impudence sitting in the shelter, smiling.

"Humph! Just try it," growled the Colonel.

"I s'pose the man over the fire cookin' supper does _look_ better off
than the 'pore pardner' cuttin' down trees and makin' beds in the snow.
But he isn't."

"Oh, isn't he?" It was all right, but the Big Chimney boss felt he had
chosen the lion's share of the work in electing to be woodman; still,
it wasn't _that_ that troubled him. Now, what was it he had been going
to say about the Jesuits? Something very telling.

"If you mean that you'd rather go back to the cookin'," the Boy was
saying, "_I'm_ agreeable."

"Well, you start in to-morrow, and see if you're so agreeable."

"All right. I think I dote on one job just about as much as I do on
t'other."

But still the Colonel frowned. He couldn't remember that excellent
thing he had been going to say about Romanists. But he sniffed
derisively, and flung over his shoulder:

"To hear you goin' on, anybody'd think the Jesuits were the only
Christians. As if there weren't others, who--"

"Oh, yes, Christians with gold shovels and Winchester rifles. I know
'em. But if gold hadn't been found, how many of the army that's invaded
the North--how many would be here, if it hadn't been for the gold? But
all this Holy Cross business would be goin' on just the same, as it has
done for years and years."

With a mighty tug the Colonel dragged out the rubber blanket, flung it
down on the snow, and squared himself, back to the fire, to make short
work of such views.

"I'd no notion you were such a sucker. You can bet," he said darkly,
"those fellas aren't making a bad thing out of that 'Holy Cross
business,' as you call it."

"I didn't mean business in that sense."

"What else could they do if they didn't do this?"

"Ask the same of any parson."

But the Colonel didn't care to.

"I suppose," he said severely, "you could even make a hero out of that
hang-dog Brother Etienne."

"No, but he _could_ do something else, for he's served in the French
army."

"Then there's that mad Brother Paul. What good would he be at anything
else?"

"Well, I don't know."

"Brachet and Wills are decent enough men, but where else would they
have the power and the freedom they have at Holy Cross? Why, they live
there like feudal barons."

"Father Richmond could have done anything he chose."

"Ah, Father Richmond--" The Colonel shut his mouth suddenly, turned
about, and proceeded to crawl under his blankets, feet to the fire.

"Well?"

No answer.

"Well?" insisted the Boy.

"Oh, Father Richmond must have seen a ghost."

"_What!_"

"Take my word for it. _He_ got frightened somehow. A man like Father
Richmond has to be scared into a cassock."

The Boy's sudden laughter deepened the Colonel's own impression that
the instance chosen had not been fortunate. One man of courage knows
another man of courage when he sees him, and the Colonel knew he had
damned his own argument.

"Wouldn't care for the job myself," the Boy was saying.

"What job?"

"Scarin' Father Richmond."

The Boy sat watching the slow wet snow-flakes fall and die in the fire.
His clothes were pretty damp, but he was warm after a chilly fashion,
as warmth goes on the trail.

The Colonel suddenly put his head out from under the marmot-skin to say
discontentedly, "What you sittin' up for?"

"Oh ... for instance!" But aside from the pertness of the answer,
already it was dimly recognised as an offence for one to stay up longer
than the other.

"Can't think how it is," the Colonel growled, "that you don't see that
their principle is wrong. Through and through mediaeval, through and
through despotic. They make a virtue of weakness, a fetich of vested
authority. And it isn't American authority, either."

The Boy waited for him to quiet down. "What's the first rule," demanded
the Colonel, half sitting up, "of the most powerful Catholic Order?
Blind obedience to an old gentleman over in Italy."

"I said last night, you know," the Boy put in quite meekly, "that it
all seemed very un-American."

"Huh! Glad you can see that much." The Colonel drove his huge fist at
the provision-bag, as though to beat the stiffnecked beans into a
feathery yielding. "Blind submission don't come easy to most Americans.
The Great Republic was built upon revolt;" and he pulled the covers
over his head.

"I know, I know. We jaw an awful lot about freedom and about what's
American. There's plenty o' free speech in America and plenty o'
machinery, but there's a great deal o' human nature, too, I guess." The
Boy looked out of the corner of his eye at the blanketed back of his
big friend. "And maybe there'll always be some people who--who think
there's something in the New Testament notion o' sacrifice and
service."

The Colonel rolled like an angry leviathan, and came to the surface to
blow. But the Boy dashed on, with a fearful joy in his own temerity.
"The difference between us, Colonel, is that I'm an unbeliever, and I
know it, and you're a cantankerous old heathen, and you _don't_ know
it." The Colonel sat suddenly bolt upright. "Needn't look at me like
that. You're as bad as anybody--rather worse. Why are you _here?_
Dazzled and lured by the great gold craze. An' you're not even poor.
You want _more_ gold. You've got a home to stay in; but you weren't
satisfied, not even in the fat lands down below."

"Well," said the Colonel solemnly, blinking at the fire, "I hope I'm a
Christian, but as to bein' satisfied--"

"Church of England can't manage it, hey?"

"Church of England's got nothing to do with it. It's a question o'
character. Satisfied! We're little enough, God knows, but we're too big
for that."

The Boy stood up, back to the fire, eyes on the hilltops whitening in
the starlight.

"Perhaps--not--all of us."

"Yes, sah, all of us." The Colonel lifted his head with a fierce look
of most un-Christian pride. Behind him the hills, leaving the
struggling little wood far down the slope, went up and up into dimness,
reaching to the near-by stars, and looking down to the far-off camp
fire by the great ice-river's edge.

"Yes, sah," the Colonel thundered again, "all that have got good
fightin' blood in 'em, like you and me. 'Tisn't as if we came of any
worn-out, frightened, servile old stock. You and I belong to the
free-livin', hard-ridin', straight-shootin' Southerners. The people
before us fought bears, and fought Indians, and beat the British, and
when there wasn't anything else left to beat, turned round and began to
beat one another. It was the one battle we found didn't pay. We
finished that job up in '65, and since then we've been lookin' round
for something else to beat. We've got down now to beatin' records, and
foreign markets, and breedin' prize bulls; but we don't breed
cowards--yet; and we ain't lookin' round for any asylums. The Catholic
Church is an asylum. It's for people who never had any nerve, or who
have lost it."

The Colonel turned about, wagged his head defiantly at the icy hills
and the night, and in the after-stillness fell sound asleep in the
snow.




CHAPTER XII

THE GREAT WHITE SILENCE

  "--paa dit Firmament
    Den klare Nordlyslampe taendt...."


Innocently thinking that they had seen Arctic travelling at its worst,
and secretly looking upon themselves as highly accomplished trailmen,
they had covered the forty-one miles from Holy Cross to Anvik in less
than three days.

The Colonel made much of the pleasant and excellent man at the head of
the Episcopal mission there, and the Boy haunted Benham's store,
picking up a little Ingalik and the A. C. method of trading with the
Indians, who, day and night, with a number of stranded Klondykers,
congregated about the grateful warmth of the big iron stove.

The travellers themselves did some business with the A. C. agent,
laying in supplies of fresh meat, and even augmenting their hitherto
carefully restricted outfit, for they were going far beyond the reach
of stores, or even of missions. Anvik was the last white settlement
below Nulato; Nulato was said to be over two hundred miles to the
northward.

And yet after all their further preparation and expense, each man kept
saying in his heart, during those first days out from Anvik, that the
journey would be easy enough but for their "comforts"--the burden on
the sled. By all the rules of arithmetic, the daily subtraction of
three meals from the store should have lightened the load. It seemed to
have the opposite effect. By some process of evil enchantment every
ounce grew to weigh a pound, every pound a hundredweight. The sled
itself was bewitched. Recall how lightsomely it ran down the snowy
slope, from the Big Chimney Cabin to the river trail, that morning they
set forth. The Boy took its pretty impetuosity for a happy augury--the
very sled was eager for the mighty undertaking.

But never in all that weary march did it manifest again any such modest
alacrity. If, thereafter, in the long going "up river" there came an
interval of downhill, the sled turned summersaults in the air, wound
its forward or backward rope round willow scrub or alder, or else
advanced precipitately with an evil, low-comedy air, bottom side up, to
attack its master in the shins. It either held back with a power
superhuman, or it lunged forward with a momentum that capsized its
weary conductor. Its manners grew steadily worse as the travellers
pushed farther and farther into the wilderness, beyond the exorcising
power of Holy Cross, beyond the softening influences of Christian
hospitality at Episcopal Anvik, even beyond Tischsocket, the last of
the Indian villages for a hundred miles.

The two who had been scornful of the frailty of temper they had seen
common in men's dealings up here in the North, began to realize that
all other trials of brotherhood pale before the strain of life on the
Arctic trail. Beyond any question, after a while something goes wrong
with the nerves. The huge drafts on muscular endurance have, no doubt,
something to do with it. They worked hard for fourteen, sometimes
seventeen, hours at a stretch; they were ill-fed, suffering from
exposure, intense cold, and a haunting uncertainty of the end of the
undertaking. They were reasonable fellows as men go, with a respect for
each other, but when hardship has got on the nerves, when you are
suffering the agonies of snow-blindness, sore feet, and the pangs of
hunger, you are not, to put it mildly, at your best as a member of the
social order. They sometimes said things they were ashamed to remember,
but both men grew carefuller at crucial moments, and the talkative one
more silent as time went on.

By the rule of the day the hard shift before dinner usually fell to the
Boy. It was the worst time in the twenty-four hours, and equally
dreaded by both men. It was only the first night out from Anvik, after
an unusually trying day, the Boy was tramping heavily ahead, bent like
an old man before the cutting sleet, fettered like a criminal, hands
behind back, rope-wound, stiff, straining at the burden of the slow and
sullen sled. On a sudden he stopped, straightened his back, and
remonstrated with the Colonel in unprintable terms, for putting off the
halt later than ever they had yet, "after such a day."

"Can't make fire with green cotton-wood," was the Colonel's rejoiner.

"Then let's stop and rest, anyhow."

"Nuh! We know where that would land us. Men who stop to rest, go to
sleep in the snow, and men who go to sleep in the snow on empty
stomachs don't wake up."

They pushed on another mile. When the Colonel at last called the halt,
the Boy sank down on the sled too exhausted to speak. But it had grown
to be a practice with them not to trust themselves to talk at this
hour. The Colonel would give the signal to stop, simply by ceasing to
push the sled that the boy was wearily dragging. The Boy had invariably
been feeling (just as the Colonel had before, during his shift in
front) that the man behind wasn't helping all he might, whereupon
followed a vague, consciously unreasonable, but wholly irresistible
rage against the partner of his toil. But however much the man at the
back was supposed to spare himself, the man in front had never yet
failed to know when the impetus from behind was really removed.

The Boy sat now on the sled, silent, motionless, while the Colonel
felled and chopped and brought the wood. Then the Boy dragged himself
up, made the fire and the beef-tea. But still no word even after that
reviving cup--the usual signal for a few remarks and more social
relations to be established. Tonight no sound out of either. The
Colonel changed his footgear and the melted snow in the pot began to
boil noisily. But the Boy, who had again betaken himself to the sled,
didn't budge. No man who really knows the trail would have dared, under
the circumstances, to remind his pardner that it was now his business
to get up and fry the bacon. But presently, without looking up, the
hungry Colonel ventured:

"Get your dry things!"

"Feet aren't wet."

"Don't talk foolishness; here are your things." The Colonel flung in
the Boy's direction the usual change, two pairs of heavy socks, the
"German knitted" and "the felt."

"Not wet," repeated the Boy.

"You know you are."

"Could go through water in these mucklucks."

"I'm not saying the wet has come in from outside; but you know as well
as I do a man sweats like a horse on the trail."

Still the Boy sat there, with his head sunk between his shoulders.

"First rule o' this country is to keep your feet dry, or else
pneumonia, rheumatism--God knows what!"

"First rule o' this country is mind your own business, or else--God
knows what!"

The Colonel looked at the Boy a moment, and then turned his back. The
Boy glanced up conscience-stricken, but still only half alive, dulled
by the weight of a crushing weariness. The Colonel presently bent over
the fire and was about to lift off the turbulently boiling pot. The Boy
sprang to his feet, ready to shout, "You do your work, and keep your
hands off mine," but the Colonel turned just in time to say with
unusual gentleness:

"If you _like_, I'll make supper to-night;" and the Boy, catching his
breath, ran forward, swaying a little, half blind, but with a different
look in his tired eyes.

"No, no, old man. It isn't as bad as that."

And again it was two friends who slept side by side in the snow.

The next morning the Colonel, who had been kept awake half the night by
what he had been thinking was neuralgia in his eyes, woke late, hearing
the Boy calling:

"I say, Kentucky, aren't you _ever_ goin' to get up?"

"Get up?" said the Colonel. "Why should I, when it's pitch-dark?"

"_What?_"

"Fire clean out, eh?" But he smelt the tea and bacon, and sat up
bewildered, with a hand over his smarting eyes. The Boy went over and
knelt down by him, looking at him curiously.

"Guess you're a little snow-blind, Colonel; but it won't last, you
know."

"Blind!"

"No, no, only _snow_-blind. Big difference;" and he took out his rag of
a handkerchief, got some water in a tin cup, and the eyes were bathed
and bandaged.

"It won't last, you know. You'll just have to take it easy for a few
days."

The Colonel groaned.

For the first time he seemed to lose heart. He sat during breakfast
with bandaged eyes, and a droop of the shoulders, that seemed to say
old age had come upon him in a single night. The day that followed was
pretty dark to both men. The Boy had to do all the work, except the
monotonous, blind, pushing from behind, in whatever direction the Boy
dragged the sled.

Now, snow-blindness is not usually dangerous, but it is horribly
painful while it lasts. Your eyes swell up and are stabbed continually
by cutting pains; your head seems full of acute neuralgia, and often
there is fever and other complications. The Colonel's was a bad case.
But he was a giant for strength and "sound as a dollar," as the Boy
reminded him, "except for this little bother with your eyes, and you're
a whole heap better already."

At a very slow rate they plodded along.

They had got into a region where there was no timber; but, as they
couldn't camp without a fire, they took an extra rest that day at four
o'clock, and regaled themselves on some cold grub. Then they took up
the line of march again. But they had been going only about half an
hour when the Colonel suddenly, without warning, stopped pushing the
sled, and stood stock-still on the trail. The Boy, feeling the removal
of the pressure, looked round, went back to him, and found nothing in
particular was the matter, but he just thought he wouldn't go any
further.

"We can camp here."

"No, we can't," says the Boy; "there isn't a tree in sight."

But the Colonel seemed dazed. He thought he'd stop anyhow--"right where
he was."

"Oh, no," says the Boy, a little frightened; "we'll camp the minute we
come to wood." But the Colonel stood as if rooted. The Boy took his arm
and led him on a few paces to the sled. "You needn't push hard, you
know. Just keep your hand there so, without looking, you'll know where
I'm going." This was very subtle of the Boy. For he knew the Colonel
was blind as a bat and as sensitive as a woman. "We'll get through all
right yet," he called back, as he stooped to take up the sledrope. "I
bet on Kentucky."

Like a man walking in his sleep, the Colonel followed, now holding on
to the sled and unconsciously pulling a little, and when the Boy, very
nearly on his last legs, remonstrated, leaning against it, and so
urging it a little forward.

Oh, but the wood was far to seek that night!

Concentrated on the two main things--to carry forward his almost
intolerable load, and to go the shortest way to the nearest wood--the
Boy, by-and-by, forgot to tell his tired nerves to take account of the
unequal pressure from behind. If he felt it--well, the Colonel was a
corker; if he didn't feel it--well, the Colonel was just about tuckered
out. It was very late when at last the Boy raised a shout. Behind the
cliff overhanging the river-bed that they were just rounding, there,
spread out in the sparkling starlight, as far as he could see, a vast
primeval forest. The Boy bettered his lagging pace.

"Ha! you haven't seen a wood like this since we left 'Frisco. It's all
right now, Kentucky;" and he bent to his work with a will.

When he got to the edge of the wood, he flung down the rope and
turned--to find himself alone.

"Colonel! Colonel! Where are you? _Colonel!_"

He stood in the silence, shivering with a sudden sense of desolation.
He took his bearings, propped a fallen fir sapling aslant by the sled,
and, forgetting he was ready to drop, he ran swiftly hack along the way
he came. They had travelled all that afternoon and evening on the river
ice, hard as iron, retaining no trace of footprint or of runner
possible to verify even in daylight. The Yukon here was fully three
miles wide. They had meant to hug the right bank, but snow and ice
refashion the world and laugh at the trustful geography of men. A
traveller on this trail is not always sure whether he is following the
mighty Yukon or some slough equally mighty for a few miles, or whether,
in the protracted twilight, he has not wandered off upon some frozen
swamp.

On the Boy went in the ghostly starlight, running, stumbling, calling
at regular intervals, his voice falling into a melancholy monotony that
sounded foreign to himself. It occurred to him that were he the Colonel
he wouldn't recognise it, and he began instead to call "Kentucky!
Ken-tuck-kee!" sounding those fine barbaric syllables for the first
time, most like, in that world of ice and silence.

He stood an instant after his voice died, and listened to the quiet.
Yes, the people were right who said nothing was so hard to bear in this
country of hardship--nothing ends by being so ghastly--as the silence.
No bird stirs. The swift-flashing fish are sealed under ice, the wood
creatures gone to their underground sleep. No whispering of the pointed
firs, stiff, snowclotted; no swaying of the scant herbage sheathed in
ice or muffled under winter's wide white blanket. No greater hush can
reign in the interstellar spaces than in winter on the Yukon.

"Colonel!"

Silence--like a negation of all puny things, friendship, human life--

"Colonel!"

Silence. No wonder men went mad up here, when they didn't drown this
silence in strong drink.

On and on he ran, till he felt sure he must have passed the Colonel,
unless--yes, there were those air-holes in the river ice ... He felt
choked and stopped to breathe. Should he go back? It was horrible to
turn. It was like admitting that the man was not to be found--that this
was the end.

"Colonel!"

He said to himself that he would go back, and build a fire for a
signal, and return; but he ran on farther and farther away from the
sled and from the forest. Was it growing faintly light? He looked up.
Oh, yes; presently it would be brighter still. Those streamers of pale
light dancing in the North; they would be green and scarlet and orange
and purple, and the terrible white world would be illumined as by
conflagration. He stopped again. That the Colonel should have dropped
so far back as this, and the man in front not know--it was incredible.
What was that? A shadow on the ice. A frozen hummock? No, a man. Was it
really....? Glory hallelujah--it _was!_ But the shadow lay there
ghastly still and the Boy's greeting died in his throat. He had found
the Colonel, but he had found him delivered over to that treacherous
sleep that seldom knows a waking. The Boy dropped down beside his
friend, and wasn't far off crying. But it was a tonic to young nerves
to see how, like one dead, the man lay there, for all the calling and
tugging by the arm. The Boy rolled the body over, pulled open the
things at the neck, and thrust his hand down, till he could feel the
heart beating. He jumped up, got a handful of snow, and rubbed the
man's face with it. At last a feeble protest--an effort to get away
from the Boy's rude succour.

"Thank God! Colonel! Colonel! wake up!"

He shook him hard. But the big man only growled sullenly, and let his
leaden weight drop back heavily on the ice. The Boy got hold of the
neck of the Colonel's parki and pulled him frantically along the ice a
few yards, and then realised that only the terror of the moment gave
him the strength to do that much. To drag a man of the Colonel's weight
all the way to the wood was stark impossibility. He couldn't get him
eighty yards. If he left him and went for the sled and fuel, the man
would be dead by the time he got back. If he stayed, they would both be
frozen in a few hours. It was pretty horrible.

He felt faint and dizzy. It occurred to him that he would pray. He was
an agnostic all right, but the Colonel was past praying for himself;
and here was his friend--an agnostic--here he was on his knees. He
hadn't prayed since he was a little chap down in the South. How did the
prayers go? "Our Father"--he looked up at the reddening aurora--"Our
Father, who art in heaven--" His eyes fell again on his friend. He
leapt to his feet like a wild animal, and began to go at the Colonel
with his fists. The blows rained thick on the chest of the prostrate
man, but he was too well protected to feel more than the shock. But now
they came battering down, under the ear--right, left, as the man turned
blindly to avoid them--on the jaw, even on the suffering eyes, and that
at last stung the sleeper into something like consciousness.

He struggled to his feet with a roar like a wounded bull, lunging
heavily forward as the Boy eluded him, and he would have pounded the
young fellow out of existence in no time had he stood his ground. That
was exactly what the Boy didn't mean to do--he was always just a little
way on in front; but as the Colonel's half-insane rage cooled, and he
slowed down a bit, the Boy was at him again like some imp of Satan.
Sound and lithe and quick-handed as he was, he was no match for the
Colonel at his best. But the Colonel couldn't see well, and his brain
was on fire. He'd kill that young devil, and then he'd lie down and
sleep again.

Meanwhile Aurora mounted the high heavens; from a great corona in the
zenith all the sky was hung with banners, and the snow was stained as
if with blood. The Boy looked over his shoulder, and saw the huge
figure of his friend, bearing down upon him, with his discoloured face
rage-distorted, and murder in his tortured eyes. A moment's sense of
the monstrous spectacle fell so poignant upon the Boy, that he felt
dimly he must have been full half his life running this race with
death, followed by a maniac bent on murder, in a world whose winter was
strangely lit with the leaping fires of hell.

At last, on there in front, the cliff! Below it, the sharp bend in the
river, and although he couldn't see it yet, behind the cliff the
forest, and a little hand-sled bearing the means of life.

The Colonel was down again, but it wasn't safe to go near him just yet.
The Boy ran on, unpacked the sled, and went, axe in hand, along the
margin of the wood. Never before was a fire made so quickly. Then, with
the flask, back to the Colonel, almost as sound asleep as before.

The Boy never could recall much about the hours that followed. There
was nobody to help, so it must have been he who somehow got the Colonel
to the fire, got him to swallow some food, plastered his wounded face
over with the carbolic ointment, and got him into bed, for in the
morning all this was seen to have been done.

They stayed in camp that day to "rest up," and the Boy shot a rabbit.
The Colonel was coming round; the rest, or the ointment, or the
tea-leaf poultice, had been good for snowblindness. The generous
reserve of strength in his magnificent physique was quick to announce
itself. He was still "frightfully bunged up," but "I think we'll push
on to-morrow," he said that night, as he sat by the fire smoking before
turning in.

"Right you are!" said the Boy, who was mending the sled-runner. Neither
had referred to that encounter on the river-ice, that had ended in
bringing the Colonel where there was succour. Nothing was said, then or
for long after, in the way of deliberate recognition that the Boy had
saved his life. It wasn't necessary; they understood each other.

But in the evening, after the Boy had finished mending the sled, it
occurred to him he must also mend the Colonel before they went to bed.
He got out the box of ointment and bespread the strips of torn
handkerchief.

"Don't know as I need that to-night," says the Colonel. "Musn't waste
ointment." But the Boy brought the bandages round to the Colonel's
side of the fire. For an instant they looked at each other by the
flickering light, and the Colonel laid his hand on the Boy's arm. His
eyes looked worse for the moment, and began to water. He turned away
brusquely, and knocked the ashes out of his pipe on a log.

"What in hell made you think of it?"

"Ask me an easy one," says the Boy. "But I know what the Jesuit Fathers
would say."

"Jesuits and George Warren! Humph! precious little we'd agree about."

"You would about this. It flashed over me when I looked back and saw
you peltin' after me."

"Small wonder I made for you! I'm not findin' fault, but what on earth
put it into your head to go at me with your fists like that?"

"You'll never prove it by me. But when I saw you comin' at me like a
mad bull, I thought to myself, thinks I, the Colonel and the Jesuits,
they'd both of 'em say this was a direct answer to prayer."




CHAPTER XIII

THE PIT

"L'humanite a commence tout entiere par le crime .... C'etait le vieux
nourricier des hommes des cavernes."--ANATOLE FRANCE.


An old story now, these days of silent plodding through the driving
snow.

But if outward conditions lacked variety, not so their cumulative
effect upon poor human nature. A change was going on in the travellers
that will little commend them to the sentimentalist.

"I've come to think a snow-storm's all right to travel in, all right to
sleep in," said the Colonel one morning; "but to cook in, eat in, make
or break camp in--it's the devil's champion invention." For three days
they had worked like galley-slaves, and yet covered less than ten miles
a day. "And you never get rested," the Colonel went on; "I get up as
tired as I go to bed." Again the Boy only nodded. His body, if not his
temper, had got broken into the trail, but for a talkative person he
had in these days strangely little to say. It became manifest that, in
the long run, the Colonel would suffer the most physically; but his
young companion, having less patience and more ambition, more sheer
untamed vitality in him, would suffer the most in spirit. Every sense
in him was becoming numbed, save the gnawing in his stomach, and that
other, even more acute ache, queer compound of fatigue and anger. These
two sensations swallowed up all else, and seemed to grow by what they
fed on.

The loaded sled was a nightmare. It weighed a thousand tons. The very
first afternoon out from Anvik, when in the desperate hauling and
tugging that rescued it from a bottomless snow-drift, the lashing
slipped, the load loosened, tumbled off, and rolled open, the Colonel
stood quite still and swore till his half-frozen blood circulated
freely again. When it came to repacking, he considered in detail the
items that made up the intolerable weight, and fell to wondering which
of them they could do without.

The second day out from Anvik they had decided that it was absurd,
after all, to lug about so much tinware. They left a little saucepan
and the extra kettle at that camp. The idea, so potent at Anvik, of
having a tea-kettle in reserve--well, the notion lost weight, and the
kettle seemed to gain.

Two pairs of boots and some flannels marked the next stopping-place.

On the following day, when the Boy's rifle kept slipping and making a
brake to hold back the sled, "I reckon you'll have to plant that rifle
o' yours in the next big drift," said the Colonel; "one's all we need,
anyway."

"One's all you need, and one's all I need," answered the Boy stiffly.

But it wasn't easy to see immediate need for either. Never was country
so bare of game, they thought, not considering how little they hunted,
and how more and more every faculty, every sense, was absorbed in the
bare going forward.

The next time the Colonel said something about the uselessness of
carrying two guns, the Boy flared up: "If you object to guns, leave
yours."

This was a new tone for the Boy to use to the Colonel.

"Don't you think we'd better hold on to the best one?"

Now the Boy couldn't deny that the Colonel's was the better, but none
the less he had a great affection for his own old 44 Marlin, and the
Colonel shouldn't assume that he had the right to dictate. This
attitude of the "wise elder" seemed out of place on the trail.

"A gun's a necessity. I haven't brought along any whim-whams."

"Who has?"

"Well, it wasn't me that went loadin' up at Anvik with fool
thermometers and things."

"Thermometer! Why, it doesn't weigh--"

"Weighs something, and it's something to pack; frozen half the time,
too. And when it isn't, what's the good of havin' it hammered into us
how near we are to freezin' to death." But it annoyed him to think how
very little in argument a thermometer weighed against a rifle.

They said no more that day about lightening the load, but with a double
motive they made enormous inroads upon their provisions.

A morning came when the Colonel, packing hurriedly in the biting cold,
forgot to shove his pardner's gun into its accustomed place.

The Boy, returning from trail-breaking to the river, kicked at the butt
to draw attention to the omission. The Colonel flung down the end of
the ice-coated rope he had lashed the load with, and, "Pack it
yourself," says he.

The Boy let the rifle lie. But all day long he felt the loss of it
heavy on his heart, and no reconciling lightness in the sled.

The Colonel began to have qualms about the double rations they were
using. It was only the seventeenth night after turning their backs on
the Big Chimney, as the Colonel tipped the pan, pouring out half the
boiled beans into his pardner's plate, "That's the last o' the
strawberries! Don't go expectin' any more," says he.

"What!" ejaculated the Boy, aghast; then quickly, to keep a good face:
"You take my life when you do take the beans, whereby I live."

When the Colonel had disposed of his strawberries, "Lord!" he sighed,
trying to rub the stiffness out of his hands over the smoke, "the
appetite a fella can raise up here is something terrible. You eat and
eat, and it doesn't seem to make any impression. You're just as hungry
as ever."

_"And the stuff a fella can eat!"_

The Colonel recalled that speech of the Boy's the very next night,
when, after "a hell of a time" getting the fire alight, he was bending
forward in that attitude most trying to maintain, holding the
frying-pan at long range over the feebly-smoking sticks. He had to
cook, to live on snow-shoes nowadays, for the heavy Colonel had
illustrated oftener than the Boy, that going without meant breaking in,
floundering, and, finally, having to call for your pardner to haul you
out. This was one of the many uses of a pardner on the trail. The last
time the Colonel had trusted to the treacherous crust he had gone in
head foremost, and the Boy, happening to look round, saw only two
snow-shoes, bottom side up, moving spasmodically on the surface of the
drift. The Colonel was nearly suffocated by the time he was pulled out,
and after that object-lesson he stuck to snow-shoes every hour of the
twenty-four, except those spent in the sleeping-bag.

But few things on earth are more exasperating than trying to work
mounted on clumsy, long web-feet that keep jarring against, yet holding
you off from, the tree you are felling, or the fire you are cooking
over. You are constrained to stand wholly out of natural relation to
the thing you are trying to do--the thing you've got to do, if you mean
to come out alive.

The Colonel had been through all this time and time again. But as he
squatted on his heels to-night, cursing the foot and a half of
snow-shoe that held him away from the sullen fire, straining every
muscle to keep the outstretched frying-pan over the best of the blaze,
he said to himself that what had got him on the raw was that speech of
the Boy's yesterday about the stuff he had to eat. If the Boy objected
to having his rice parboiled in smoked water he was damned
unreasonable, that was all.

The culprit reappeared at the edge of the darkening wood. He came up
eagerly, and flung down an armful of fuel for the morning, hoping to
find supper ready. Since it wasn't, he knew that he mustn't stand about
and watch the preparations. By this time he had learned a good deal of
the trail-man's unwritten law. On no account must you hint that the
cook is incompetent, or even slow, any more than he may find fault with
your moment for calling halt, or with your choice of timber. So the
woodman turned wearily away from the sole spot of brightness in the
waste, and went back up the hill in the dark and the cold, to busy
himself about his own work, even to spin it out, if necessary, till he
should hear the gruff "Grub's ready!" And when that dinner-gong sounds,
don't you dally! Don't you wait a second. You may feel uncomfortable if
you find yourself twenty minutes late for a dinner in London or New
York, but to be five minutes late for dinner on the Winter Trail is to
lay up lasting trouble.

By the time the rice and bacon were done, and the flap-jack, still raw
in the middle, was burnt to charcoal on both sides, the Colonel's eyes
were smarting, in the acrid smoke, and the tears were running down his
cheeks.

"Grub's ready!"

The Boy came up and dropped on his heels in the usual attitude. The
Colonel tore a piece off the half-charred, half-raw pancake.

"Maybe you'll think the fire isn't thoroughly distributed, but _that's
_got to do for bread," he remarked severely, as if in reply to some
objection.

The Boy saw that something he had said or looked had been
misinterpreted.

"Hey? Too much fire outside, and not enough in? Well, sir, I'll trust
_my_ stomach to strike a balance. Guess the heat'll get distributed all
right once I've swallowed it."

When the Colonel, mollified, said something about cinders in the rice,
the Boy, with his mouth full of grit, answered: "I'm pretendin' it's
sugar."

Not since the episode of the abandoned rifle had he shown himself so
genial.

"Never in all my bohn life," says the Colonel after eating steadily for
some time--"never in a year, sah, have I thought as much about food as
I do in a day on this----trail."

"Same here."

"And it's quantity, not quality."

"Ditto."

The Boy turned his head sharply away from the fire. "Hear that?"

No need to ask. The Colonel had risen upright on his cramped legs, red
eyes starting out of his head. The Boy got up, turned about in the
direction of the hollow sound, and made one step away from the fire.

"You stay right where you are!" ordered the Colonel, quite in the old
way.

"Hey?"

"That's a bird-song."

"Thought so."

"Mr. Wolf smelt the cookin'; want's the rest of the pack to know
there's something queer up here on the hill." Then, as the Boy moved to
one side in the dark: "What you lookin' for?"

"My gun."

"Mine's here."

Oh yes! His own old 44 Marlin was lying far down the river under
eight-and-fifty hours of snow. It angered him newly and more than ever
to remember that if he had a shot at anything now it must needs be by
favour of the Colonel.

They listened for that sound again, the first since leaving Anvik not
made by themselves.

"Seems a lot quieter than it did," observed the Colonel by-and-bye.

The Boy nodded.

Without preface the Colonel observed: "It's five days since I washed my
face and hands."

"What's the good o' rememberin'?" returned the Boy sharply. Then more
mildly: "People talk about the bare necessaries o' life. Well, sir,
when they're really bare you find there ain't but three--food, warmth,
sleep."

Again in the distance that hollow baying.

"Food, warmth, sleep," repeated the Colonel. "We've about got down to
the wolf basis."

He said it half in defiance of the trail's fierce lessoning; but it was
truer than he knew.

They built up the fire to frighten off the wolves, but the Colonel had
his rifle along when they went over and crawled into their
sleeping-bag. Half in, half out, he laid the gun carefully along the
right on his snow-shoes. As the Boy buttoned the fur-lined flap down
over their heads he felt angrier with the Colonel than he had ever been
before.

"Took good care to hang on to his own shootin'-iron. Suppose anything
should happen"; and he said it over and over.

Exactly what could happen he did not make clear; the real danger was
not from wolves, but it was _something_. And he would need a rifle....
And he wouldn't have one.... And it was the Colonel's fault.

      *       *       *       *       *

Now, it had long been understood that the woodman is lord of the wood.
When it came to the Colonel's giving unasked advice about the lumber
business, the Boy turned a deaf ear, and thought well of himself for
not openly resenting the interference.

"The Colonel talks an awful lot, anyway. He has more hot air to offer
than muscle."

When they sighted timber that commended itself to the woodman, if _he_
thought well of it, why, he just dropped the sled-rope without a word,
pulled the axe out of the lashing, trudged up the hillside, holding the
axe against his shirt underneath his parki, till he reached whatever
tree his eye had marked for his own. Off with the fur mitt, and bare
hand protected by the inner mitt of wool, he would feel the axe-head,
for there was always the danger of using it so cold that the steel
would chip and fly. As soon as he could be sure the proper molecular
change had been effected, he would take up his awkward attitude before
the selected spruce, leaning far forward on his snow-shoes, and seeming
to deliver the blows on tip-toe.

But the real trouble came when, after felling the dead tree, splitting
an armful of fuel and carrying it to the Colonel, he returned to the
task of cutting down the tough green spruce for their bedding. Many
strained blows must be delivered before he could effect the chopping of
even a little notch. Then he would shift his position and cut a
corresponding notch further round, so making painful circuit of the
bole. To-night, what with being held off by his snow-shoes, what with
utter weariness and a dulled axe, he growled to himself that he was
"only gnawin' a ring round the tree like a beaver!"

"Damn the whole--Wait!" Perhaps the cursed snow was packed enough now
to bear. He slipped off the web-feet, and standing gingerly, but
blessedly near, made effectual attack. Hooray! One more good 'un and
the thing was down. Hah! ugh! Woof-ff! The tree was down, but so was
he, floundering breast high, and at every effort to get out only
breaking down more of the crust and sinking deeper.

This was not the first time such a thing had happened. Why did he feel
as if it was for him the end of the world? He lay still an instant. It
would be happiness just to rest here and go to sleep. The Colonel! Oh,
well, the Colonel had taken his rifle. Funny there should be
orange-trees up here. He could smell them. He shut his eyes. Something
shone red and glowing. Why, that was the sun making an effect of
stained glass as it shone through the fat pine weather-boarding of his
little bedroom on the old place down in Florida. Suddenly a face. _Ah,
that face!_ He must be up and doing. He knew perfectly well how to get
out of this damn hole. You lie on your side and roll. Gradually you
pack the softness tight till it bears--not if you stand up on your
feet, but bears the length of your body, while you worm your way
obliquely to the top, and feel gingerly in the dimness after your
snow-shoes.

But if it happens on a pitch-dark night, and your pardner has chosen
camp out of earshot, you feel that you have looked close at the end of
the Long Trail.

On getting back to the fire, he found the Colonel annoyed at having
called "Grub!" three times--"yes, sah! three times, sah!"

And they ate in silence.

"Now I'm going to bed," said the Boy, rising stiffly.

"You just wait a minute."

"No."

Now, the Colonel himself had enunciated the law that whenever one of
them was ready to sleep the other must come too. He didn't know it, but
it is one of the iron rules of the Winter Trail. In absence of its
enforcement, the later comer brings into the warmed up sleeping-bag not
only the chill of his own body, he lets in the bitter wind, and brings
along whatever snow and ice is clinging to his boots and clothes. The
melting and warming-up is all to be done again.

But the Colonel was angry.

"Most unreasonable," he muttered--"damned unreasonable!"

Worse than the ice and the wet in the sleeping-bag, was this lying in
such close proximity to a young jackanapes who wouldn't come when you
called "Grub!" and wouldn't wait a second till you'd felt about in the
dimness for your gun. Hideous to lie so close to a man who snored, and
who'd deprived you of your 44 Marlin. Although it meant life, the Boy
grudged the mere animal heat that he gave and that he took. Full of
grudging, he dropped asleep. But the waking spirit followed him into
his dreams. An ugly picture painted itself upon the dark, and
struggling against the vision, he half awoke. With the first returning
consciousness came the oppression of the yoke, the impulse to match the
mental alienation with that of the body--strong need to move away.

You can't move away in a sleeping-bag.

In a city you may be alone, free.

On the trail, you walk in bonds with your yoke-fellow, make your bed
with him, with him rise up, and with him face the lash the livelong
day.

      *       *       *       *       *

"Well," sighed the Colonel, after toiling onward for a couple of hours
the next morning, "this is the worst yet."

But by the middle of the afternoon, "What did I say? Why, this
morning--_everything_ up till now has been child's play." He kept
looking at the Boy to see if he could read any sign of halt in the
tense, scarred face.

Certainly the wind was worse, the going was worse. The sled kept
breaking through and sinking to the level of the load. There it went!
in again. They tugged and hauled, and only dragged the lashing loose,
while the sled seemed soldered to the hard-packed middle of the drift.
As they reloaded, the thermometer came to light. The Colonel threw it
out, with never a word. They had no clothes now but what they stood in,
and only one thing on the sled they could have lived without--their
money, a packet of trading stores. But they had thrown away more than
they knew. Day by day, not flannels and boots alone, not merely extra
kettle, thermometer and gun went overboard, but some grace of courtesy,
some decency of life had been left behind.

About three o'clock of this same day, dim with snow, and dizzy in a
hurricane of wind, "We can't go on like this," said the Boy suddenly.

"Wish I knew the way we _could_ go on," returned the Colonel, stopping
with an air of utter helplessness, and forcing his rigid hands into his
pockets. The Boy looked at him. The man of dignity and resource, who
had been the boss of the Big Chimney Camp--what had become of him? Here
was only a big, slouching creature, with ragged beard, smoke-blackened
countenance, and eyes that wept continually.

"Come on," said his equally ruffianly-looking pardner, "we'll both go
ahead."

So they abandoned their sled for awhile, and when they had forged a
way, came back, and one pulling, the other pushing, lifting, guiding,
between them, with infinite pains they got their burden to the end of
the beaten track, left it, and went ahead again--travelling three miles
to make one.

"What's the matter now?"

The Boy was too tired to turn his head round and look back, but he knew
that the other man wasn't doing his share. He remembered that other
time when the Colonel had fallen behind. It seemed years ago, and even
further away was the vague recollection of how he'd cared. How horribly
frightened he'd been! Wasn't he frightened now? No. It was only a dull
curiosity that turned him round at last to see what it was that made
the Colonel peg out this time. He was always peggin' out. Yes, there he
was, stoppin' to stroke himself. Trail-man? An old woman! Fit only for
the chimney-corner. And even when they went on again he kept saying to
himself as he bent to the galling strain, "An old woman--just an old
woman!" till he made a refrain of the words, and in the level places
marched to the tune. After that, whatever else his vague thought went
off upon, it came back to "An old woman--just an old woman!"

It was at a bad place towards the end of that forced march that the
Colonel, instead of lifting the back of the sled, bore hard on the
handle-bar. With a vicious sound it snapped. The Boy turned heavily at
the noise. When he saw the Colonel standing, dazed, with the splintered
bar in his hand, his dull eyes flashed. With sudden vigour he ran back
to see the extent of the damage.

"Well, it's pretty discouragin'," says the Colonel very low.

The Boy gritted his teeth with suppressed rage. It was only a chance
that it hadn't happened when he himself was behind, but he couldn't see
that. No; it was the Colonel's bungling--tryin' to spare himself;
leanin' on the bar instead o' liftin' the sled, as he, the Boy, would
have done.

With stiff hands they tried to improvise a makeshift with a stick of
birch and some string.

"Don't know what you think," says the Colonel presently, "but I call
this a desperate business we've undertaken."

The Boy didn't trust himself to call it anything. With a bungled job
they went lamely on. The loose snow was whirling about so, it was
impossible to say whether it was still falling, or only
hurricane-driven.

To the Colonel's great indignation it was later than usual before they
camped.

Not a word was spoken by either till they had finished their first
meal, and the Colonel had melted a frying-pan full of snow preparatory
to the second. He took up the rice-bag, held it by the top, and ran his
mittened hand down the gathered sack till he had outlined the contents
at the bottom.

"Lord! That's all there is."

The boy only blinked his half-shut eyes. The change in him, from
talkativeness to utter silence, had grown horribly oppressive to the
Colonel. He often felt he'd like to shake him till he shook some words
out. "I told you days ago," he went on, "that we ought to go on
rations."

Silence.

"But no! you knew so much better."

The Boy shut his eyes, and suddenly, like one struggling against sleep
or swooning, he roused himself.

"I thought I knew the more we took off the damn sled the lighter it'd
be. 'Tisn't so."

"And we didn't either of us think we'd come down from eighteen miles a
day to six," returned the Colonel, a little mollified by any sort of
answer. "I don't believe we're going to put this job through."

Now this was treason.

Any trail-man may think that twenty times a day, but no one ought to
say it. The Boy set his teeth, and his eyes closed. The whole thing was
suddenly harder--doubt of the issue had been born into the world. But
he opened his eyes again. The Colonel had carefully poured some of the
rice into the smoky water of the pan. What was the fool doing? Such a
little left, and making a second supper?

Only that morning the Boy had gone a long way when mentally he called
the boss of the Big Chimney Camp "an old woman." By night he was saying
in his heart, "The Colonel's a fool." His pardner caught the look that
matched the thought.

"No more second helpin's," he said in self-defence; "this'll freeze
into cakes for luncheon."

No answer. No implied apology for that look. In the tone his pardner
had come to dread the Colonel began: "If we don't strike a settlement
to-morrow----"

"Don't _talk!"_

The Boy's tired arm fell on the handle of the frying-pan. Over it
went--rice, water, and all in the fire. The culprit sprang up
speechless with dismay, enraged at the loss of the food he was hungry
for--enraged at "the fool fry-pan"--enraged at the fool Colonel for
balancing it so badly.

A column of steam and smoke rose into the frosty air between the two
men. As it cleared away a little the Boy could see the Colonel's
bloodshot eyes. The expression was ill to meet.

When they crouched down again, with the damped-out fire between them, a
sense of utter loneliness fell upon each man's heart.

      *       *       *       *       *

The next morning, when they came to digging the sled out of the last
night's snow-drift, the Boy found to his horror that he was
weaker--yes, a good deal. As they went on he kept stumbling. The
Colonel fell every now and then. Sometimes he would lie still before he
could pull himself on his legs again.

In these hours they saw nothing of the grim and splendid waste; nothing
of the ranks of snow-laden trees; nothing of sun course or of stars,
only the half-yard of dazzling trail in front of them, and
--clairvoyant--the little store of flour and bacon that seemed to
shrink in the pack while they dragged it on.

Apart from partial snow-blindness, which fell at intervals upon the
Colonel, the tiredness of the eyes was like a special sickness upon
them both. For many hours together they never raised their lids,
looking out through slits, cat-like, on the world.

They had not spoken to each other for many days--or was it only
hours?--when the Colonel, looking at the Boy, said:

"You've got to have a face-guard. Those frostbites are eating in."

"'Xpect so."

"You ought to stop it. Make a guard."

"Out of a snow-ball, or chunk o' ice?"

"Cut a piece out o' the canvas o' the bag." But he didn't.

The big sores seemed such small matters beside the vast overshadowing
doubt, Shall we come out of this alive?--doubt never to be openly
admitted by him, but always knocking, knocking----

"You can't see your own face," the Colonel persisted.

"One piece o' luck, anyhow."

The old habit of looking after the Boy died hard. The Colonel
hesitated. For the last time he would remonstrate. "I used to think
frost_bite_ was a figure o' speech," said he, "but the teeth were set
in _your_ face, sonny, and they've bitten deep; they'll leave awful
scars."

"Battles do, I b'lieve." And it was with an effort that he remembered
there had been a time when they had been uncomfortable because they
hadn't washed their faces. Now, one man was content to let the very
skin go if he could keep the flesh on his face, and one was little
concerned even for that. Life--life! To push on and come out alive.

The Colonel had come to that point where he resented the Boy's staying
power, terrified at the indomitable young life in him. Yes, the Colonel
began to feel old, and to think with vague wrath of the insolence of
youth.

Each man fell to considering what he would do, how he would manage if
he were alone. And there ceased to be any terror in the thought.

"If it wasn't for him"--so and so; till in the gradual deadening of
judgment all the hardship was somehow your pardner's fault. Your nerves
made him responsible even for the snow and the wind. By-and-by he was
The Enemy. Not but what each had occasional moments of lucidity, and
drew back from the pit they were bending over. But the realisation
would fade. No longer did even the wiser of the two remember that this
is that same abyss out of which slowly, painfully, the race has
climbed. With the lessened power to keep from falling in, the terror of
it lessened. Many strange things grew natural. It was no longer
difficult or even shocking to conceive one's partner giving out and
falling by the way. Although playing about the thought, the one thing
that not even the Colonel was able actually to realise, was the
imminent probability of death for himself. Imagination always pictured
the other fellow down, one's self somehow forging ahead.

This obsession ended on the late afternoon when the Colonel broke
silence by saying suddenly:

"We must camp; I'm done." He flung himself down under a bare birch, and
hid his face.

The Boy remonstrated, grew angry; then, with a huge effort at
self-control, pointed out that since it had stopped snowing this was
the very moment to go on.

"Why, you can see the sun. Three of 'em! Look, Colonel!"

But Arctic meteorological phenomena had long since ceased to interest
the Kentuckian. Parhelia were less to him than covered eyes, and the
perilous peace of the snow. It seemed a long time before he sat up, and
began to beat the stiffness out of his hands against his breast. But
when he spoke, it was only to say:

"I mean to camp."

"For how long?"

"Till a team comes by--or something."

The Boy got up abruptly, slipped on his snow-shoes, and went round the
shoulder of the hill, and up on to the promontory, to get out of
earshot of that voice, and determine which of the two ice-roads,
stretching out before them, was main channel and which was tributary.

He found on the height only a cutting wind, and little enlightenment as
to the true course. North and east all nimbus still. A brace of
sun-dogs following the pale God of Day across the narrow field of
primrose that bordered the dun-coloured west. There would be more snow
to-morrow, and meanwhile the wind was rising again. Yes, sir, it was a
mean outlook.

As he took Mac's aneroid barometer out of his pocket, a sudden gust cut
across his raw and bleeding cheek. He turned abruptly; the barometer
slipped out of his numb fingers. He made a lunge to recover it,
clutched the air, and, sliding suddenly forward, over he went, flying
headlong down the steep escarpment.

He struck a jutting rock, only half snowed under, that broke the sheer
face of the promontory, and he bounded once like a rubber ball, struck
a second time, caught desperately at a solitary clump of ice-sheathed
alders, crashed through the snow-crust just below them, and was held
there like a mudlark in its cliff nest, halfway between bluff and
river.

His last clear thought had been an intense anxiety about his snow-shoes
as they sailed away, two liberated kites, but as he went on falling,
clutching at the air--falling--and felt the alder twigs snap under his
hands, he said to himself, "This is death," but calmly, as if it were a
small matter compared to losing one's snow-shoes.

It was only when he landed in the snow, that he was conscious of any of
the supposed natural excitement of a man meeting a violent end. It was
then, before he even got his breath back, that he began to struggle
frantically to get a foothold; but he only broke down more of the thin
ice-wall that kept him from the sheer drop to the river, sixty or
seventy feet below. He lay quite still. Would the Colonel come after
him? If he did come, would he risk his life to----If he did risk his
life, was it any use to try to----He craned his neck and looked up,
blinked, shut his eyes, and lay back in the snow with a sound of
far-off singing in his head. "Any use?" No, sir; it just about wasn't.
That bluff face would be easier to climb up than to climb down, and
either was impossible.

Then it was, that a great tide of longing swept over him--a flood of
passionate desire for more of this doubtful blessing, life. All the
bitter hardship--why, how sweet it was, after all, to battle and to
overcome! It was only this lying helpless, trapped, that was evil. The
endless Trail? Why, it was only the coming to the end that a man
minded.

Suddenly the beauty that for days had been veiled shone out. Nothing in
all the earth was glorious with the glory of the terrible white North.
And he had only just been wakened to it. Here, now, lying in his grave,
had come this special revelation of the rapture of living, and the
splendour of the visible universe.

The sky over his head--he had called it "a mean outlook," and turned
away. It was the same sky that bent over him now with a tenderness that
made him lift his cramped arms with tears, as a sick child might to its
mother. The haloed sun with his attendant dogs--how little the wonder
had touched him! Never had he seen them so dim and sad as to-night ...
saying good-bye to one who loved the sun.

The great frozen road out of sight below, road that came winding,
winding down out of the Arctic Circle--what other highway so majestic,
mysterious?--shining and beckoning on. An earthly Milky Way, leading to
the golden paradise he had been travelling towards since summer.

And he was to go no further?--not till the June rains and thaws and
winds and floods should carry him back, as he had foreseen, far below
there at Holy Cross.

With a sharp contraction of the heart he shut his eyes again. When he
opened them they rested on the alder-twig, a couple of yards above,
holding out mocking finger-tips, and he turned his head in the snow
till again he could see the mock-suns looking down.

"As well try to reach the sky as reach the alder-bush. What did that
mean? That he was really going to lie there till he died? _He_ die, and
the Colonel and everybody else go on living?"

He half rose on his elbow at the monstrous absurdity of the idea. "I
won't die!" he said out loud.

Crack, crack! warned the ice-crust between him and that long fall to
the river. With horror at his heart he shrank away and hugged the face
of the precipice. Presently he put out his hand and broke the ice-crust
above. With mittened fists and palms he pounded firm a little ledge of
snow. Reaching out further, he broke the crust obliquely just above,
and having packed the snow as well as he could immediately about, and
moving lengthwise with an infinite caution, he crawled up the few
inches to the narrow ledge, balancing his stiff body with a nicety
possible only to acrobat or sleep-walker.

It was in no normal state of ordinary waking senses that the work went
on--with never a downward look, nor even up, eyes riveted to the patch
of snow on which the mittened hands fell as steady and untrembling as
steel hammers. In the seconds of actual consciousness of his situation
that twice visited him, he crouched on the ledge with closed eyes, in
the clutch of an overmastering horror, absolutely still, like a bird in
the talons of a hawk. Each time when he opened his eyes he would stare
at the snow-ledge till hypnotised into disregard of danger, balance his
slight body, lift one hand, and go on pounding firm another shallow
step. When he reached the alder-bush his heart gave a great leap of
triumph. Then, for the first time since starting, he looked up. His
heart fell down. It seemed farther than ever, and the light waning.

But the twilight would be long, he told himself, and in that other,
beneficent inner twilight he worked on, packing the snow, and crawling
gingerly up the perilous stair a half-inch at a time.

At last he was on the jutting rock, and could stand secure. But here he
could see that the top of the bluff really did shelve over. To think so
is so common an illusion to the climber that the Boy had heartened
himself by saying, when he got there he would find it like the rest,
horribly steep, but not impossible. Well, it _was_ impossible. After
all his labour, he was no better off on the rock than in the snow-hole
below the alder, down there where he dared not look. The sun and his
dogs had travelled down, down. They touched the horizon while he sat
there; they slipped below the world's wide rim. He said in his heart,
"I'm freezing to death." Unexpectedly to himself his despair found
voice:

"Colonel!"

"Hello!"

He started violently.

Had he really heard that, or was imagination playing tricks with echo?

"Colonel!"

"Where the devil----"

A man's head appeared out of the sky.

"Got the rope?"

Words indistinguishable floated down--the head withdrawn--silence. The
Boy waited a very long time, but he stamped his feet, and kept his
blood in motion. The light was very grey when the head showed again at
the sky-line. He couldn't hear what was shouted down, and it occurred
to him, even in his huge predicament, that the Colonel was "giving him
hot air" as usual, instead of a life-line. Down the rope came, nearer,
and stopped about fifteen feet over his head.

"Got the axe? Let her down."

      *        *        *        *        *

The night was bright with moonlight when the Boy stood again on the top
of the bluff.

"Humph!" says the Colonel, with agreeable anticipation; "you'll be glad
to camp for a few days after this, I reckon."

"Reckon I won't."

      *       *       *       *       *

In their colossal fatigue they slept the clock round; their watches run
down, their sense of the very date blurred. Since the Colonel had made
the last laconic entry in the journal--was it three days or two--or
twenty?

In spite of a sensation as of many broken bones, the Boy put on the
Colonel's snow-shoes, and went off looking along the foot of the cliff
for his own. No luck, but he brought back some birch-bark and a handful
of willow-withes, and set about making a rude substitute.

Before they had despatched breakfast the great red moon arose, so it
was not morning, but evening. So much the better. The crust would be
firmer. The moon was full; it was bright enough to travel, and travel
they must.

"No!" said the Colonel, with a touch of his old pompous authority,
"we'll wait awhile."

The Boy simply pointed to the flour-bag. There wasn't a good handful
left.

They ate supper, studiously avoiding each other's eyes. In the
background of the Boy's mind: "He saved my life, but he ran no risk....
And I saved his. We're quits." In the Colonel's, vague, insistent,
stirred the thought, "I might have left him there to rot, half-way up
the precipice. Oh, he'd go! _And he'd take the sled_! No!" His vanished
strength flowed back upon a tide of rage. Only one sleeping-bag, one
kettle, one axe, one pair of snow-shoes ... _one gun_! No, by the
living Lord! not while I have a gun. Where's my gun? He looked about
guiltily, under his lowered lids. What? No! Yes! It was gone! Who
packed at the last camp? Why, he--himself, and he'd left it behind.
"Then it was because I didn't see it; the Boy took care I shouldn't see
it! Very likely he buried it so that I shouldn't see it! He--yes--if I
refuse to go on, he----"

And the Boy, seeing without looking, taking in every move, every shade
in the mood of the broken-spirited man, ready to die here, like a dog,
in the snow, instead of pressing on as long as he could crawl--the Boy,
in a fever of silent rage, called him that "meanest word in the
language--a quitter." And as, surreptitiously, he took in the vast
discouragement of the older man, there was nothing in the Boy's changed
heart to say, "Poor fellow! if he can't go on, I'll stay and die with
him"; but only, "He's _got_ to go on! ... and if he refuses ...
well----" He felt about in his deadened brain, and the best he could
bring forth was: "I won't leave him--_yet_."

      *       *       *       *       *

A mighty river-jam had forced them up on the low range of hills. It was
about midnight to judge by the moon--clear of snow and the wind down.
The Boy straightened up at a curious sight just below them. Something
black in the moonlight. The Colonel paused, looked down, and passed his
hand over his eyes.

The Boy had seen the thing first, and had said to himself, "Looks like
a sled, but it's a vision. It's come to seeing things now."

When he saw the Colonel stop and stare, he threw down his rope and
began to laugh, for there below were the blackened remains of a big
fire, silhouetted sharply on the snow.

"Looks like we've come to a camp, Boss!"

He hadn't called the Colonel by the old nickname for many a day. He
stood there laughing in an idiotic kind of way, wrapping his stiff
hands in his parki, Indian fashion, and looking down to the level of
the ancient river terrace, where the weather-stained old Indian sled
was sharply etched on the moonlit whiteness.

Just a sled lying in the moonlight. But the change that can be wrought
in a man's heart upon sight of a human sign! it may be idle to speak of
that to any but those who have travelled the desolate ways of the
North.

Side by side the two went down the slope, slid and slipped and couldn't
stop themselves, till they were below the landmark. Looking up, they
saw that a piece of soiled canvas or a skin, held down with a
drift-log, fell from under the sled, portiere-wise from the top of the
terrace, straight down to the sheltered level, where the camp fire had
been. Coming closer, they saw the curtain was not canvas, but dressed
deerskin.

"Indians!" said the Colonel.

But with the rubbing out of other distinctions this, too, was curiously
faint. Just so there were human beings it seemed enough. Within four
feet of the deerskin door the Colonel stopped, shot through by a sharp
misgiving. What was behind? A living man's camp, or a dead man's tomb?
Succour, or some stark picture of defeat, and of their own oncoming
doom?

The Colonel stood stock-still waiting for the Boy. For the first time
in many days even he hung back. He seemed to lack the courage to be the
one to extinguish hope by the mere drawing of a curtain from a
snow-drift's face. The Kentuckian pulled himself together and went
forward. He lifted his hand to the deerskin, but his fingers shook so
he couldn't take hold:

"Hello!" he called. No sound. Again: "Hello!"

"Who's there?"

The two outside turned and looked into each other's faces--but if you
want to know all the moment meant, you must travel the Winter Trail.




CHAPTER XIV

KURILLA

"And I swear to you Athenians--by the dog I swear!--for I must tell you
the truth----."--SOCRATES.


The voice that had asked the question belonged to one of two stranded
Klondykers, as it turned out, who had burrowed a hole in the snow and
faced it with drift-wood. They had plenty of provisions, enough to
spare, and meant to stay here till the steamers ran, for the younger of
the pair had frosted his feet and was crippled.

The last of their dogs had been frozen to death a few miles back on the
trail, and they had no idea, apparently, how near they were to that
"first Indian settlement this side of Kaltag" reached by the Colonel
and the Boy after two days of rest and one day of travel.

No one ever sailed more joyfully into the Bay of Naples, or saw with
keener rapture Constantinople's mosques and minarets arise, than did
these ice-armoured travellers, rounding the sharp bend in the river,
sight the huts and hear the dogs howl on the farther shore.

"First thing I do, sah, is to speculate in a dog-team," said the
Colonel.

Most of the bucks were gone off hunting, and most of the dogs were with
them. Only three left in the village--but they were wonderful fellows
those three! Where were they? Well, the old man you see before you,
"_me_--got two."

He led the way behind a little shack, a troop of children following,
and there were two wolf-dogs, not in the best condition, one reddish,
with a white face and white forelegs, the other grey with a black
splotch on his chest and a white one on his back.

"How much?"

"Fiftee dolla."

"And this one?"

"Fiftee dolla." As the Colonel hesitated, the old fellow added: "Bohf
eightee dolla."

"Oh, eightee for the two?"

He nodded.

"Well, where's the other?"

"Hein?"

"The other--the third dog. Two are no good."

"Yes. Yes," he said angrily, "heap good dog."

"Well, I'll give you eighty dollars for these" (the Ingalik, taking a
pipe out of his parki, held out one empty hand); "but who's got the
other?"

For answer, a head-shake, the outstretched hand, and the words,
"Eightee dolla--tabak--tea."

"Wait," interrupted the Boy, turning to the group of children; "where's
the other dog?"

Nobody answered. The Boy pantomimed. "We want _three_ dogs." He held up
as many fingers. "We got two--see?--must have one more." A lad of about
thirteen turned and began pointing with animation towards a slowly
approaching figure.

"Peetka--him got."

The old man began to chatter angrily, and abuse the lad for introducing
a rival on the scene. The strangers hailed the new-comer.

"How much is your dog?"

Peetka stopped, considered, studied the scene immediately before him,
and then the distant prospect.

"You got dog?"

He nodded.

"Well, how much?"

"Sixty dolla."

"_One_ dog, sixty?"

He nodded.

"But this man says the price is eighty for two."

"My dog--him Leader."

After some further conversation, "Where is your dog?" demanded the
Colonel.

The new-comer whistled and called. After some waiting, and
well-simulated anger on the part of the owner, along comes a dusky
Siwash, thin, but keen-looking, and none too mild-tempered.

The children all brightened and craned, as if a friend, or at least a
highly interesting member of the community, had appeared on the scene.

"The Nigger's the best!" whispered the Boy.

"Him bully," said the lad, and seemed about to pat him, but the Siwash
snarled softly, raising his lip and showing his Gleaming fangs. The lad
stepped back respectfully, but grinned, reiterating, "Bully dog."

"Well, I'll give you fifty for him," said the Colonel.

"Sixty."

"Well, all right, since he's a leader. Sixty."

The owner watched the dog as it walked round its master smelling the
snow, then turning up its pointed nose interrogatively and waving its
magnificent feathery tail. The oblique eyes, acute angle of his short
ears, the thick neck, broad chest, and heavy forelegs, gave an
impression of mingled alertness and strength you will not see surpassed
in any animal that walks the world. Jet-black, except for his grey
muzzle and broad chest, he looks at you with the face of his near
ancestor, the grizzled wolf. If on short acquaintance you offer any
familiarity, as the Colonel ventured to do, and he shows his double row
of murderous-looking fangs, the reminder of his fierce forefathers is
even more insistent. Indeed, to this day your Siwash of this sort will
have his moments of nostalgia, in which he turns back to his wild
kinsfolk, and mates again with the wolf.

When the Leader looked at the Colonel with that indescribably horrid
smile, the owner's approval of the proud beast seemed to overcome his
avarice.

"Me no sell," he decided abruptly, and walked off in lordly fashion
with his dusky companion at his side, the Leader curling his feathery
tail arc-like over his back, and walking with an air princes might
envy.

The Colonel stood staring. Vainly the Boy called, "Come back. Look
here! Hi!" Neither Siwash nor Ingalik took the smallest notice. The Boy
went after them, eliciting only airs of surly indifference and repeated
"Me no sell." It was a bitter disappointment, especially to the Boy. He
liked the looks of that Nigger dog. When, plunged in gloom, he returned
to the group about the Colonel, he found his pardner asking about
"feed." No, the old man hadn't enough fish to spare even a few days'
supply. Would anybody here sell fish? No, he didn't think so. All the
men who had teams were gone to the hills for caribou; there was nobody
to send to the Summer Caches. He held out his hand again for the first
instalment of the "eightee dolla," in kind, that he might put it in his
pipe.

"But dogs are no good to us without something to feed 'em."

The Ingalik looked round as one seeking counsel.

"Get fish tomalla."

"No, sir. To-day's the only day in my calendar. No buy dogs till we get
fish."

When the negotiations fell through the Indian took the failure far more
philosophically than the white men, as was natural. The old fellow
could quite well get on without "eightee dolla"--could even get on
without the tobacco, tea, sugar, and matches represented by that sum,
but the travellers could not without dogs get to Minook. It had been
very well to feel set up because they had done the thing that everybody
said was impossible. It had been a costly victory. Yes, it had come
high. "And, after all, if we don't get dogs we're beaten."

"Oh, beaten be blowed! We'll toddle along somehow."

"Yes, we'll toddle along _if_ we get dogs."

And the Boy knew the Colonel was right.

They inquired about Kaltag.

"I reckon we'd better push ahead while we can," said the Colonel. So
they left the camp that same evening intending to "travel with the
moon." The settlement was barely out of sight when they met a squaw
dragging a sled-load of salmon. Here was luck! "And now we'll go back
and get those two dogs."

As it was late, and trading with the natives, even for a fish, was a
matter of much time and patience, they decided not to hurry the dog
deal. It was bound to take a good part of the evening, at any rate.
Well, another night's resting up was welcome enough.

While the Colonel was re-establishing himself in the best cabin, the
Boy cached the sled and then went prowling about. As he fully intended,
he fell in with the Leader--that "bully Nigger dog." His master not in
sight--nobody but some dirty children and the stranger there to see how
the Red Dog, in a moment of aberration, dared offer insolence to the
Leader. It all happened through the Boy's producing a fish, and
presenting it on bended knee at a respectful distance. The Leader
bestowed a contemptuous stare upon the stranger and pointedly turned
his back. The Red Dog came "loping" across the snow. As he made for the
fish the Leader quietly headed him off, pointed his sharp ears, and
just looked the other fellow out of countenance. Red said things under
his breath as he turned away. The more he thought the situation over
the more he felt himself outraged. He looked round over his shoulder.
There they still were, the stranger holding out the fish, the Leader
turning his back on it, but telegraphing Red at the same time _not to
dare!_ It was more than dog-flesh could bear; Red bounded back,
exploding in snarls. No sound out of the Leader. Whether this unnatural
calm misled Red, he came up closer, braced his forelegs, and thrust his
tawny muzzle almost into the other dog's face, drew back his lips from
all those shining wicked teeth, and uttered a muffled hiss.

Well, it was magnificently done, and it certainly looked as if the
Leader was going to have a troubled evening. But he didn't seem to
think so. He "fixed" the Red Dog as one knowing the power of the
master's eye to quell. Red's reply, unimaginably bold, was, as the Boy
described it to the Colonel, "to give the other fella the curse." The
Boy was proud of Red's pluck--already looking upon him as his own--but
he jumped up from his ingratiating attitude, still grasping the dried
fish. It would be a shame if that Leader got chewed up! And there was
Red, every tooth bared, gasping for gore, and with each passing second
seeming to throw a deeper damnation into his threat, and to brace
himself more firmly for the hurling of the final doom.

At that instant, the stranger breathing quick and hard, the elder
children leaning forward, some of the younger drawing back in
terror--if you'll believe it, the Leader blinked in a bored way, and
sat down on the snow. A question only of last moments now, poor brute!
and the bystanders held their breath. But no! Red, to be sure, broke
into the most awful demonstrations, and nearly burst himself with fury;
but he backed away, as though the spectacle offered by the Leader were
too disgusting for a decent dog to look at. He went behind the shack
and told the Spotty One. In no time they were back, approaching the Boy
and the fish discreetly from behind. Such mean tactics roused the
Leader's ire. He got up and flew at them. They made it hot for him, but
still the Leader seemed to be doing pretty well for himself, when the
old Ingalik (whom the Boy had sent a child to summon) hobbled up with a
raw-hide whip, and laid it on with a practised hand, separating the
combatants, kicking them impartially all round, and speaking injurious
words.

"Are your two hurt?" inquired the future owner anxiously.

The old fellow shook his head.

"Fur thick," was the reassuring answer; and once more the Boy realised
that these canine encounters, though frequently ending in death, often
look and sound much more awful than they are.

As the Leader feigned to be going home, he made a dash in passing at
the stranger's fish. It was held tight, and the pirate got off with
only a fragment. Leader gave one swallow and looked back to see how the
theft was being taken. That surprising stranger simply stood there
laughing, and holding out the rest of a fine fat fish! Leader
considered a moment, looked the alien up and down, came back, all on
guard for sudden rushes, sly kicks, and thwackings, to pay him out. But
nothing of the kind. The Nigger dog said as plain as speech could make
it:

"You cheechalko person, you look as if you're actually offering me that
fish in good faith. But I'd be a fool to think so."

The stranger spoke low and quietly.

They talked for some time.

The owner of the two had shuffled off home again, with Spotty and Red
at his heels.

The Leader came quite near, looking almost docile; but he snapped
suddenly at the fish with an ugly gleam of eye and fang. The Boy nearly
made the fatal mistake of jumping, but he controlled the impulse, and
merely held tight to what was left of the salmon. He stood quite still,
offering it with fair words. The Leader walked all round him, and
seemed with difficulty to recover from his surprise. The Boy felt that
they were just coming to an understanding, when up hurries Peetka,
suspicious and out of sorts.

_"My dog!"_ he shouted. "No sell white man my dog. Huh! ho--_oh_ no!"
He kicked the Leader viciously, and drove him home, abusing him all the
way. The wonder was that the wolfish creature didn't fly at his
master's throat and finish him.

Certainly the stranger's sympathies were all with the four-legged one
of the two brutes.

"--something about the Leader--" the Boy said sadly, telling the
Colonel what had happened. "Well, sir, I'd give a hundred dollars to
own that dog."

"So would I," was the dry rejoinder, "if I were a millionaire like
you."

      *       *       *       *       *

After supper, their host, who had been sent out to bring in the owner
of Red and Spotty, came back saying, "He come. All come. Me tell--you
from below Holy Cross!" He laughed and shook his head in a
well-pantomimed incredulity, representing popular opinion outside. Some
of the bucks, he added, who had not gone far, had got back with small
game.

"And dogs?"

"No. Dogs in the mountains. Hunt moose--caribou."

The old Ingalik came in, followed by others. "Some" of the bucks? There
seemed no end to the throng.

Opposite the white men the Indians sat in a semicircle, with the sole
intent, you might think, of staring all night at the strangers. Yet
they had brought in Arctic hares and grouse, and even a haunch of
venison. But they laid these things on the floor beside them, and sat
with grave unbroken silence till the strangers should declare
themselves. They had also brought, or permitted to follow, not only
their wives and daughters, but their children, big and little.

Behind the semicircle of men, three or four deep, were ranged the ranks
of youth--boys and girls from six to fourteen--standing as silent as
their elders, but eager, watchful, carrying king salmon, dried
deer-meat, boot-soles, thongs for snow-shoes, rabbits, grouse. A little
fellow of ten or eleven had brought in the Red Dog, and was trying to
reconcile him to his close quarters. The owner of Red and Spotty sat
with empty hands at the semicircle's farthest end. But he was the
capitalist of the village, and held himself worthily, yet not quite
with the high and mighty unconcern of the owner of the Leader.

Peetka came in late, bringing in the Nigger dog against the Nigger
dog's will, just to tantalise the white men with the sight of something
they couldn't buy from the poor Indian. Everybody made way for Peetka
and his dog, except the other dog. Several people had to go to the
assistance of the little boy to help him to hold Red.

"Just as well, perhaps," said the Colonel, "that we aren't likely to
get all three."

"Oh, if they worked together they'd be all right," answered the Boy.
"I've noticed that before." But the Leader, meanwhile, was flatly
refusing to stay in the same room with Red. He howled and snapped and
raged. So poor Red was turned out, and the little boy mourned loudly.

Behind the children, a row of squaws against the wall, with and without
babies strapped at their backs. Occasionally a young girl would push
aside those in front of her, craning and staring to take in the
astonishing spectacle of the two white men who had come so far without
dogs--pulling a hand-sled a greater distance than any Indian had ever
done--if they could be believed!

Anyhow, these men with their sack of tea and magnificent bundle of
matches, above all with their tobacco--they could buy out the
town--everything except Peetka's dog.

The Colonel and the Boy opened the ball by renewing their joint offer
of eighty dollars for Red and Spotty. Although this had been the old
Ingalik's own price, it was discussed fully an hour by all present
before the matter could be considered finally settled, even then the
Colonel knew it was safest not to pay till just upon leaving. But he
made a little present of tobacco in token of satisfactory arrangement.
The old man's hands trembled excitedly as he pulled out his pipe and
filled it. The bucks round him, and even a couple of the women at the
back, begged him for some. He seemed to say, "Do your own deal; the
strangers have plenty more."

By-and-by, in spite of the limited English of the community, certain
facts stood out: that Peetka held the white man in avowed detestation,
that he was the leading spirit of the place, that they had all been
suffering from a tobacco famine, and that much might be done by a
judicious use of Black Jack and Long Green. The Colonel set forth the
magnificent generosity of which he would be capable, could he secure a
good Leader. But Peetka, although he looked at his empty pipe with
bitterness, shook his head.

Everybody in the village would profit, the Colonel went on; everybody
should have a present if--

Peetka interrupted with a snarl, and flung out low words of
contemptuous refusal.

The Leader waked from a brief nap cramped and uneasy, and began to howl
in sympathy. His master stood up, the better to deliver a brutal kick.
This seemed to help the Leader to put up with cramp and confinement,
just as one great discomfort will help his betters to forget several
little ones. But the Boy had risen with angry eyes. Very well, he said
impulsively; if he and his pardner couldn't get a third dog (two were
very little good) they would not stock fresh meat here. In vain the
Colonel whispered admonition. No, sir, they would wait till they got to
the next village.

"Belly far," said a young hunter, placing ostentatiously in front his
brace of grouse.

"We're used to going belly far. Take all your game away, and go home."

A sorrowful silence fell upon the room. They sat for some time like
that, no one so much as moving, till a voice said, "We want tobacco,"
and a general murmur of assent arose. Peetka roused himself, pulled out
of his shirt a concave stone and a little woody-looking knot. The Boy
leaned forward to see what it was. A piece of dried fungus--the kind
you sometimes see on the birches up here. Peetka was hammering a
fragment of it into powder, with his heavy clasp-knife, on the concave
stone. He swept the particles into his pipe and applied to one of the
fish-selling women for a match, lit up, and lounged back against the
Leader, smiling disagreeably at the strangers. A little laugh at their
expense went round the room. Oh, it wasn't easy to get ahead of Peetka!
But even if he chose to pretend that he didn't want cheechalko tobacco,
it was very serious--it was desperate--to see all that Black Jack going
on to the next village. Several of the hitherto silent bucks
remonstrated with Peetka--even one of the women dared raise her voice.
She had not been able to go for fish: where was _her_ tobacco and tea?

Peetka burst into voluble defence of his position. Casting occasional
looks of disdain upon the strangers, he addressed most of his remarks
to the owner of Red and Spotty. Although the Colonel could not
understand a word, he saw the moment approaching when that person would
go back on his bargain. With uncommon pleasure he could have throttled
Peetka.

The Boy, to create a diversion, had begun talking to a young hunter in
the front row about "the Long Trail," and, seeing that several others
craned and listened, he spoke louder, more slowly, dropping out all
unnecessary or unusual words. Very soon he had gained an audience and
Peetka had lost one. As the stranger went on describing their
experiences the whole room listened with an attentiveness that would
have been flattering had it been less strongly dashed with unbelief.
From beyond Anvik they had come? Like that--with no dogs? What! From
below Koserefsky? Not really? Peetka grunted and shook his head. Did
they think the Ingaliks were children? Without dogs that journey was
impossible. Low whispers and gruff exclamations filled the room. White
men were great liars. They pretended that in their country the bacon
had legs, and could run about, and one had been heard to say he had
travelled in a thing like a steamboat, only it could go without water
under it--ran over the dry land on strips of iron--ran quicker than any
steamer! Oh, they were awful liars. But these two, who pretended they'd
dragged a sled all the way from Holy Cross, they were the biggest liars
of all. Just let them tell that yarn to Unookuk. They all laughed at
this, and the name ran round the room.

"Who is Unookuk?"

"Him guide."

"Him know."

"Where is him?" asked the Boy.

"Him sick."

But there was whispering and consultation. This was evidently a case
for the expert. Two boys ran out, and the native talk went on,
unintelligible save for the fact that it centred round Unookuk. In a
few minutes the boys came back with a tall, fine-looking native, about
sixty years old, walking lame, and leaning on a stick. The semicircle
opened to admit him. He limped over to the strangers, and stood looking
at them gravely, modestly, but with careful scrutiny.

The Boy held out his hand.

"How do you do?"

"How do you do?" echoed the new-comer, and he also shook hands with the
Colonel before he sat down.

"Are you Unookuk?"

"Yes. How far you come?"

Peetka said something rude, before the strangers had time to answer,
and all the room went into titters. But Unookuk listened with dignity
while the Colonel repeated briefly the story already told. Plainly it
stumped Unookuk.

"Come from Anvik?" he repeated.

"Yes; stayed with Mr. Benham."

"Oh, Benham!" The trader's familiar name ran round the room with
obvious effect. "It is good to have A. C. Agent for friend," said
Unookuk guardedly. "Everybody know Benham."

"He is not A. C. Agent much longer," volunteered the Boy.

"That so?"

"No; he will go 'on his own' after the new agent gets in this spring."

"It is true," answered Unookuk gravely, for the first time a little
impressed, for this news was not yet common property. Still, they could
have heard it from some passer with a dog-team. The Boy spoke of Holy
Cross, and Unookuk's grave unbelief was painted on every feature.

"It was good you get to Holy Cross before the big storm," he said, with
a faint smile of tolerance for the white man's tall story. But Peetka
laughed aloud.

"What good English you speak!" said the Boy, determined to make friends
with the most intelligent-appearing native he had seen.

"Me; I am Kurilla!" said Unookuk, with a quiet magnificence. Then,
seeing no electric recognition of the name, he added: "You savvy
Kurilla!"

The Colonel with much regret admitted that he did not.

"But I am Dall's guide--Kurilla."

"Oh, Dall's guide, are you," said the Boy, without a glimmer of who
Dall was, or for what, or to what, he was "guided." "Well, Kurilla,
we're pleased and proud to meet you," adding with some presence of
mind, "And how's Dall?"

"It is long I have not hear. We both old now. I hurt my knee on the ice
when I come down from Nulato for caribou."

"Why do you have two names?"

"Unookuk, Nulato name. My father big Nulato Shaman. Him killed, mother
killed, everybody killed in Koyukuk massacre. They forget kill me. Me
kid. Russians find Unookuk in big wood. Russians give food. I stay with
Russians--them call Unookuk 'Kurilla.' Dall call Unookuk 'Kurilla.'"

"Dall--Dall," said the Colonel to the Boy; "was that the name of the
explorer fella--"

Fortunately the Boy was saved from need to answer.

"First white man go down Yukon to the sea," said Kurilla with pride.
"Me Dall's guide."

"Oh, wrote a book, didn't he? Name's familiar somehow," said the
Colonel.

Kurilla bore him out.

"Mr. Dall great man. Thirty year he first come up here with Survey
people. Make big overland tel-ee-grab."

"Of course. I've heard about that." The Colonel turned to the Boy. "It
was just before the Russians sold out. And when a lot of exploring and
surveying and pole-planting was done here and in Siberia, the Atlantic
cable was laid and knocked the overland scheme sky-high."

Kurilla gravely verified these facts.

"And me, Dall's chief guide. Me with Dall when he make portage from
Unalaklik to Kaltag. He see the Yukon first time. He run down to be
first on the ice. Dall and the coast natives stare, like so"--Kurilla
made a wild-eyed, ludicrous face--"and they say: 'It is not a river--it
is another sea!'"

"No wonder. I hear it's ten miles wide up by the flats, and even a
little below where we wintered, at Ikogimeut, it's four miles across
from bank to bank."

Kurilla looked at the Colonel with dignified reproach. Why did he go on
lying about his journey like that to an expert?

"Even at Holy Cross--" the Boy began, but Kurilla struck in:

"When you there?"

"Oh, about three weeks ago."

Peetka made remarks in Ingalik.

"Father MacManus, him all right?" asked Kurilla, politely cloaking his
cross-examination.

"MacManus? Do you mean Wills, or the Superior, Father Brachet?"

"Oh yes! MacManus at Tanana." He spoke as though inadvertently he had
confused the names. As the strangers gave him the winter's news from
Holy Cross, his wonder and astonishment grew.

Presently, "Do you know my friend Nicholas of Pymeut?" asked the Boy.

Kurilla took his empty pipe out of his mouth and smiled in broad
surprise. "Nicholas!" repeated several others. It was plain the Pymeut
pilot enjoyed a wide repute.

The Boy spoke of the famine and Ol' Chief's illness.

"It is true," said Unookuk gravely, and turning, he added something in
Ingalik to the company. Peetka answered back as surly as ever. But the
Boy went on, telling how the Shaman had cured Ol' Chief, and that
turned out to be a surprisingly popular story. Peetka wouldn't
interrupt it, even to curse the Leader for getting up and stretching
himself. When the dog--feeling that for some reason discipline was
relaxed--dared to leave his cramped quarters, and come out into the
little open space between the white men and the close-packed assembly,
the Boy forced himself to go straight on with his story as if he had
not observed the liberty the Leader was taking. When, after standing
there an instant, the dog came over and threw himself down at the
stranger's feet as if publicly adopting him, the white story-teller
dared not meet Peetka's eye. He was privately most uneasy at the Nigger
dog's tactless move, and he hurried on about how Brother Paul caught
the Shaman, and about the Penitential Journey--told how, long before
that, early in the Fall, Nicholas had got lost, making the portage from
St. Michael's, and how the white camp had saved him from starvation;
how in turn the Pymeuts had pulled the speaker out of a blow-hole; what
tremendous friends the Pymeuts were with these particular, very good
sort of white men. Here he seemed to allow by implication for Peetka's
prejudice--there were two kinds of pale-face strangers--and on an
impulse he drew out Muckluck's medal. He would have them to know, so
highly were these present specimens of the doubtful race regarded by
the Pymeuts--such friends were they, that Nicholas' sister had given
him this for an offering to Yukon Inua, that the Great Spirit might
help them on their way. He owned himself wrong to have delayed this
sacrifice. He must to-morrow throw it into the first blow-hole he came
to--unless indeed... his eye caught Kurilla's. With the help of his
stick the old Guide pulled his big body up on his one stout leg,
hobbled nearer and gravely eyed Muckluck's offering as it swung to and
fro on its walrus-string over the Leader's head. The Boy, quite
conscious of some subtle change in the hitherto immobile face of the
Indian, laid the token in his hand. Standing there in the centre of the
semicircle between the assembly and the dog, Kurilla turned the Great
Katharine's medal over, examining it closely, every eye in the room
upon him.

When he lifted his head there was a rustle of expectation and a craning
forward.

"It is the same." Kurilla spoke slowly like one half in a dream. "When
I go down river, thirty winter back, with the Great Dall, he try buy
this off Nicholas's mother. She wear it on string red Russian beads.
Oh, it is a thing to remember!" He nodded his grey head significantly,
but he went on with the bare evidence: "When _John J. Healy_ make last
trip down this fall--Nicholas pilot you savvy--they let him take his
sister, Holy Cross to Pymeut. I see she wear this round neck."

The weight of the medal carried the raw-hide necklace slipping through
his fingers. Slowly now, with even impulse, the silver disc swung
right, swung left, like the pendulum of a clock. Even the Nigger dog
seemed hypnotised, following the dim shine of the tarnished token.

"I say Nicholas's sister: 'It is thirty winters I see that silver
picture first; I give you two dolla for him.' She say 'No.' I say, 'Gi'
fi' dolla.' 'No.' I sit and think far back--thirty winters back. 'I gi'
ten dolla,' I say. She say, 'I no sell; no--not for a hunner'--but she
_give_ it him! for to make Yukon Inua to let him go safe. Hein? Savvy?"
And lapsing into Ingalik, he endorsed this credential not to be denied.

"It is true," he wound up in English. The "Autocratrix Russorum" was
solemnly handed back. "You have make a brave journey. It is I who
unnerstan'--I, too, when I am young, I go with Dall on the Long Trail.
_We had dogs._" All the while, from all about the Leader's owner, and
out of every corner of the crowded room, had come a spirited
punctuation of Kurilla's speech--nods and grunts. "Yes, perhaps _these_
white men deserved dogs--even Peetka's!"

Kurilla limped back to his place, but turned to the Ingaliks before he
sat down, and bending painfully over his stick, "Not Kurilla," he said,
as though speaking of one absent--"not _Dall_ make so great journey, no
dogs. Kurilla? Best guide in Yukon forty year. Kurilla say: 'Must have
dogs--men like that!'" He limped back again and solemnly offered his
hand to each of the travellers in turn. "Shake!" says he. Then, as
though fascinated by the silver picture, he dropped down by the Boy,
staring absently at the Great Katharine's effigy. The general murmur
was arrested by a movement from Peetka--he took his pipe out of his
mouth and says he, handsomely:

"No liars. Sell dog," adding, with regretful eye on the apostate
Leader, "Him bully dog!"

And that was how the tobacco famine ended, and how the white men got
their team.




CHAPTER XV

THE ESQUIMAUX HORSE

  "Plus je connais les hommes, plus j'aime les chiens."


It doesn't look hard to drive a dog-team, but just you try it. In
moments of passion, the first few days after their acquisition, the
Colonel and the Boy wondered why they had complicated a sufficiently
difficult journey by adding to other cares a load of fish and three
fiends.

"Think how well they went for Peetka."

"Oh yes; part o' their cussedness. They know we're green hands, and
they mean to make it lively."

Well, they did. They sat on their haunches in the snow, and grinned at
the whip-crackings and futile "Mush, mush!" of the Colonel. They
snapped at the Boy and made sharp turns, tying him up in the traces and
tumbling him into the snow. They howled all night long, except during a
blessed interval of quiet while they ate their seal-skin harness. But
man is the wiliest of the animals, and the one who profits by
experience. In the end, the Boy became a capital driver; the dogs came
to know he "meant business," and settled into submission. "Nig," as he
called the bully dog for short, turned out "the best leader in the
Yukon."

They were much nearer Kaltag than they had realised, arriving after
only two hours' struggle with the dogs at the big Indian village on the
left bank of the river. But their first appearance here was clouded by
Nig's proposal to slay all the dogs in sight. He was no sooner
unharnessed than he undertook the congenial job. It looked for a few
minutes as if Peetka's bully dog would chew up the entire canine
population, and then lie down and die of his own wounds. But the
Kaltags understood the genus Siwash better than the white man, and took
the tumult calmly.

It turned out that Nig was not so much bloodthirsty as
"bloody-proud"--one of those high souls for ever concerned about
supremacy. His first social act, on catching sight of his fellow, was
to howl defiance at him. And even after they have fought it out and
come to some sort of understanding, the first happy thought of your
born Leader on awakening is to proclaim himself boss of the camp.

No sooner has he published this conviction of high calling than he is
set upon by the others, punishes them soundly, or is himself vanquished
and driven off. Whereupon he sits on his haunches in the snow, and,
with his pointed nose turned skyward, howls uninterruptedly for an hour
or two, when all is forgiven and forgotten--till the next time.

Order being restored, the travellers got new harness for the dogs, new
boots for themselves, and set out for the white trading post, thirty
miles above.

Here, having at last come into the region of settlements, they agreed
never again to overtax the dogs. They "travelled light" out of Nulato
towards the Koyukuk.

The dogs simply flew over those last miles. It was glorious going on a
trail like glass.

They had broken the back of the journey now, and could well afford,
they thought, to halt an hour or two on the island at the junction of
the two great rivers, stake out a trading post, and treat themselves to
town lots. Why town lots, in Heaven's name! when they were bound for
Minook, and after that the Klondyke, hundreds of miles away? Well,
partly out of mere gaiety of heart, and partly, the Colonel would have
told you gravely, that in this country you never know when you have a
good thing. They had left the one white layman at Nulato seething with
excitement over an Indian's report of still another rich strike up
yonder on the Koyukuk, and this point, where they were solemnly staking
out a new post, the Nulato Agent had said, was "dead sure to be a great
centre." That almost unknown region bordering the great tributary of
the Yukon, haunt of the fiercest of all the Indians of the North, was
to be finally conquered by the white man. It had been left practically
unexplored ever since the days when the bloodthirsty Koyukons came down
out of their fastnesses and perpetrated the great Nulato massacre,
doing to death with ghastly barbarity every man, woman, and child at
the post, Russian or Indian, except Kurilla, not sparing the unlucky
Captain Barnard or his English escort, newly arrived here in their
search for the lost Sir John Franklin. But the tables were turned now,
and the white man was on the trail of the Indian.

While the Colonel and the Boy were staking out this future stronghold
of trade and civilisation it came on to snow; but "Can't last this time
o' year," the Colonel consoled himself, and thanked God "the big,
unending snows are over for this season."

So they pushed on. But the Colonel seemed to have thanked God
prematurely. Down the snow drifted, soft, sticky, unending. The evening
was cloudy, and the snow increased the dimness overhead as well as the
heaviness under foot. They never knew just where it was in the hours
between dusk and dark that they lost the trail. The Boy believed it was
at a certain steep incline that Nig did his best to rush down.

"I thought he was at his tricks," said the Boy ruefully some hours
after. "I believe I'm an ass, and Nig is a gentleman and a scholar. He
knew perfectly what he was about."

"Reckon we'll camp, pardner."

"Reckon we might as well."

After unharnessing the dogs, the Boy stood an instant looking enviously
at them as he thawed out his stiff hands under his parki. Exhausted and
smoking hot, the dogs had curled down in the snow as contented-looking
as though on a hearth-rug before a fire, sheltering their sharp noses
with their tails.

"Wish I had a tail to shelter my face," said the Boy, as if a tail were
the one thing lacking to complete his bliss.

"You don't need any shelter _now_," answered the Colonel.

"Your face is gettin' well--" And he stopped suddenly, carried back to
those black days when he had vainly urged a face-guard. He unpacked
their few possessions, and watched the Boy take the axe and go off for
wood, stopping on his way, tired as he was, to pull Nig's pointed ears.
The odd thing about the Boy was that it was only with these Indian
curs--Nig in particular, who wasn't the Boy's dog at all--only with
these brute-beasts had he seemed to recover something of that buoyancy
and ridiculous youngness that had first drawn the Colonel to him on the
voyage up from 'Frisco. It was also clear that if the Boy now drew away
from his pardner ever so little, by so much did he draw nearer to the
dogs.

He might be too tired to answer the Colonel; he was seldom too tired to
talk nonsense to Nig, never too tired to say, "Well, old boy," or even
"Well, _pardner_," to the dumb brute. It was, perhaps, this that the
Colonel disliked most of all.

Whether the U.S. Agent at Nulato was justified or not in saying all the
region hereabouts was populous in the summer with Indian camps, the
native winter settlements, the half-buried ighloo, or the rude log-hut,
where, for a little tea, tobacco, or sugar, you could get as much fish
as you could carry, these welcome, if malodorous, places seemed, since
they lost the trail, to have vanished off the face of the earth. No
question of the men sharing the dogs' fish, but of the dogs sharing the
men's bacon and meal. That night the meagre supper was more meagre
still that the "horses" might have something, too. The next afternoon
it stopped snowing and cleared, intensely cold, and that was the
evening the Boy nearly cried for joy when, lifting up his eyes, he saw,
a good way off, perched on the river bank, the huts and high caches of
an Indian village etched black against a wintry sunset--a fine picture
in any eye, but meaning more than beauty to the driver of hungry dogs.

"Fish, Nig!" called out the Boy to his Leader. "You hear me, you Nig?
_Fish_, old fellow! Now, look at that, Colonel! you tell me that Indian
dog doesn't understand English. I tell you what: we had a mean time
with these dogs just at first, but that was only because we didn't
understand one another."

The Colonel preserved a reticent air.

"You'll come to my way of thinking yet. The Indian dog--he's a daisy."

"Glad you think so." The Colonel, with some display of temper, had
given up trying to drive the team only half an hour before, and was
still rather sore about it.

"When you get to _understand_ him," persisted the Boy, "he's the most
marvellous little horse ever hitched in harness. He pulls, pulls, pulls
all day long in any kind o' weather--"

"Yes, pulls you off your legs or pulls you the way you don't want to
go."

"Oh, that's when you rile him! He's just like any other American
gentleman: he's got his feelin's. Ain't you got feelin's, Nig? Huh!
rather. I tell you what, Colonel, many a time when I'm pretty well beat
and ready to snap at anybody, I've looked at Nig peggin' away like a
little man, on a rotten trail, with a blizzard in his eyes, and it's
just made me sick after that to hear myself grumblin'. Yes, sir, the
Indian dog is an example to any white man on the trail." The Boy seemed
not to relinquish the hope of stirring the tired Colonel to enthusiasm.
"Don't you like the way, after the worst sort of day, when you stop, he
just drops down in the snow and rolls about a little to rest his
muscles, and then lies there as patient as anything till you are ready
to unharness him and feed him?"

"--and if you don't hurry up, he saves you the trouble of unharnessing
by eating the traces and things."

"Humph! So would you if that village weren't in sight, if you were sure
the harness wouldn't stick in your gizzard. And think of what a dog
gets to reward him for his plucky day: one dried salmon or a little
meal-soup when he's off on a holiday like this. Works without a let-up,
and keeps in good flesh on one fish a day. Doesn't even get anything to
drink; eats a little snow after dinner, digs his bed, and sleeps in a
drift till morning."

"When he doesn't howl all night."

"Oh, that's when he meets his friends, and they talk about old times
before they came down in the world."

"Hey?"

"Yes; when they were wolves and made us run instead of our making them.
Make any fellow howl. Instead of carrying our food about we used to
carry theirs, and run hard to keep from giving it up, too."

"Nig's at it again," said the Colonel. "Give us your whip."

"No," said the Boy; "I begin to see now why he stops and goes for Red
like that. Hah! Spot's gettin it, too, this time. They haven't been
pullin' properly. You just notice: if they aren't doin' their share
Nig'll turn to every time and give 'em 'Hail, Columbia!' You'll see,
when he's freshened 'em up a bit we'll have 'em on a dead run." The Boy
laughed and cracked his whip.

"They've got keen noses. _I_ don't smell the village this time. Come
on, Nig, Spot's had enough; he's sorry, good and plenty. Cheer up,
Spot! Fish, old man! You hear me talkin' to you, Red? _Fish!_ Caches
full of it. Whoop!" and down they rushed, pell-mell, men and dogs
tearing along like mad across the frozen river, and never slowing till
it came to the stiff pull up the opposite bank.

"Funny I don't hear any dogs," panted the Boy.

They came out upon a place silent as the dead--a big deserted village,
emptied by the plague, or, maybe, only by the winter; caches emptied,
too; not a salmon, not a pike, not a lusk, not even a whitefish left
behind.

It was a bitter blow. They didn't say anything; it was too bad to talk
about. The Colonel made the fire, and fried a little bacon and made
some mush: that was their dinner. The bacon-rinds were boiled in the
mush-pot with a great deal of snow and a little meal, and the "soup" so
concocted was set out to cool for the dogs. They were afraid to sleep
in one of the cabins; it might be plague-infected. The Indians had cut
all the spruce for a wide radius round about--no boughs to make a bed.
They hoisted some tent-poles up into one of the empty caches, laid them
side by side, and on this bed, dry, if hard, they found oblivion.

The next morning a thin, powdery snow was driving about. Had they lost
their way in the calendar as well as on the trail, and was it December
instead of the 29th of March? The Colonel sat on the packed sled,
undoing with stiff fingers the twisted, frozen rope. He knew the axe
that he used the night before on the little end of bacon was lying,
pressed into the snow, under one runner. But that was the last thing to
go on the pack before the lashing, and it wouldn't get lost pinned down
under the sled. Nig caught sight of it, and came over with a cheerful
air of interest, sniffed bacon on the steel, and it occurred to him it
would be a good plan to lick it.

A bitter howling broke the stillness. The Boy came tearing up with a
look that lifted the Colonel off the sled, and there was Nig trying to
get away from the axe-head, his tongue frozen fast to the steel, and
pulled horribly long out of his mouth like a little pink rope. The Boy
had fallen upon the agonized beast, and forced him down close to the
steel. Holding him there between his knees, he pulled off his outer
mits and with hands and breath warmed the surface of the axe, speaking
now and then to the dog, who howled wretchedly, but seemed to
understand something was being done for him, since he gave up
struggling. When at last the Boy got him free, the little horse pressed
against his friend's legs with a strange new shuddering noise very
pitiful to hear.

The Boy, blinking hard, said: "Yes, old man, I know, that was a mean
breakfast; and he patted the shaggy chest. Nig bent his proud head and
licked the rescuing hand with his bleeding tongue.

"An' you say that dog hasn't got feelin's!"

They hitched the team and pushed on. In the absence of a trail, the
best they could do was to keep to the river ice. By-and-bye:

"Can you see the river bank?"

"I'm not sure," said the Boy.

"I thought you were going it blind."

"I believe I'd better let Nig have his head," said the Boy, stopping;
"he's the dandy trail-finder. Nig, old man, I takes off my hat to you!"

They pushed ahead till the half-famished dogs gave out. They camped
under the lee of the propped sled, and slept the sleep of exhaustion.

The next morning dawned clear and warm. The Colonel managed to get a
little wood and started a fire. There were a few spoonfuls of meal in
the bottom of the bag and a little end of bacon, mostly rind. The sort
of soup the dogs had had yesterday was good enough for men to-day. The
hot and watery brew gave them strength enough to strike camp and move
on. The elder man began to say to himself that he would sell his life
dearly. He looked at the dogs a good deal, and then would look at the
Boy, but he could never catch his eye. At last: "They say, you know,
that men in our fix have sometimes had to sacrifice a dog."

"Ugh!" The Boy's face expressed nausea at the thought.

"Yes, it is pretty revolting."

"We could never do it."

"N-no," said the Colonel.

The three little Esquimaux horses were not only very hungry, their feet
were in a bad condition, and were bleeding. The Boy had shut his eyes
at first at the sight of their red tracks in the snow. He hardly
noticed them now.

An hour or so later: "Better men than we," says the Colonel
significantly, "have had to put their feelings in their pockets." As if
he found the observation distinctly discouraging, Nig at this moment
sat down in the melting snow, and no amount of "mushing" moved him.

"Let's give him half an hour's rest, Colonel. Valuable beast, you
know--altogether best team on the river," said the Boy, as if to show
that his suggestion was not inspired by mere pity for the bleeding
dogs. "And you look rather faded yourself, Colonel. Sit down and rest."

Nothing more was said for a full half-hour, till the Colonel, taking
off his fur hat, and wiping his beaded forehead on the back of his
hand, remarked: "Think of the Siege of Paris."

"Eh? What?" The Boy stared as if afraid his partner's brain had given
way.

"When the horses gave out they had to eat dogs, cats, rats even. Think
of it--rats!"

"The French are a dirty lot. Let's mush, Colonel. I'm as fit as a
fiddle." The Boy got up and called the dogs. In ten minutes they were
following the blind trail again. But the sled kept clogging, sticking
fast and breaking down. After a desperate bout of ineffectual pulling,
the dogs with one mind stopped again, and lay down in their bloody
tracks.

The men stood silent for a moment; then the Colonel remarked:

"Red is the least valuable"--a long pause--"but Nig's feet are in the
worst condition. That dog won't travel a mile further. Well," added the
Colonel after a bit, as the Boy stood speechless studying the team,
"what do you say?"

"Me?" He looked up like a man who has been dreaming and is just awake.
"Oh, I should say our friend Nig here has had to stand more than his
share of the racket."

"Poor old Nig!" said the Colonel, with a somewhat guilty air. "Look
here: what do you say to seeing whether they can go if we help 'em with
that load?"

"Good for you, Colonel!" said the Boy, with confidence wonderfully
restored. "I was just thinking the same."

They unlashed the pack, and the Colonel wanted to make two bundles of
the bedding and things; but whether the Boy really thought the Colonel
was giving out, or whether down in some corner of his mind he
recognised the fact that if the Colonel were not galled by this extra
burden he might feel his hunger less, and so be less prone to thoughts
of poor Nig in the pot--however it was, he said the bundle was his
business for the first hour. So the Colonel did the driving, and the
Boy tramped on ahead, breaking trail with thirty-five pounds on his
back. And he didn't give it up, either, though he admitted long after
it was the toughest time he had ever put in in all his life.

"Haven't you had about enough of this?" the Colonel sang out at dusk.

"Pretty nearly," said the Boy in a rather weak voice. He flung off the
pack, and sat on it.

"Get up," says the Colonel; "give us the sleepin'-bag." When it was
undone, the Norfolk jacket dropped out. He rolled it up against the
sled, flung himself down, and heavily dropped his head on the rough
pillow. But he sprang up.

"What? Yes. By the Lord!" He thrust his hand into the capacious pocket
of the jacket, and pulled out some broken ship's biscuit. "Hard tack,
by the living Jingo!" He was up, had a few sticks alight, and the
kettle on, and was melting snow to pour on the broken biscuit. "It
swells, you know, like thunder!"

The Boy was still sitting on the bundle of "trade" tea and tobacco. He
seemed not to hear; he seemed not to see the Colonel, shakily hovering
about the fire, pushing aside the green wood and adding a few sticks of
dry.

There was a mist before the Colonel's eyes. Reaching after a bit of
seasoned spruce, he stumbled, and unconsciously set his foot on Nig's
bleeding paw. The dog let out a yell and flew at him. The Colonel fell
back with an oath, picked up a stick, and laid it on. The Boy was on
his feet in a flash.

"Here! stop that!" He jumped in between the infuriated man and the
infuriated dog.

"Stand back!" roared the Colonel.

"It was your fault; you trod--"

"Stand back, damn you! or you'll get hurt."

The stick would have fallen on the Boy; he dodged it, calling
excitedly, "Come here, Nig! Here!"

"He's my dog, and I'll lamm him if I like. You--" The Colonel couldn't
see just where the Boy and the culprit were. Stumbling a few paces away
from the glare of the fire, he called out, "I'll kill that brute if he
snaps at me again!"

"Oh yes," the Boy's voice rang passionately out of the gloom, "I know
you want him killed."

The Colonel sat down heavily on the rolled-up bag. Presently the
bubbling of boiling snow-water roused him. He got up, divided the
biscuit, and poured the hot water over the fragments. Then he sat down
again, and waited for them to "swell like thunder." He couldn't see
where, a little way up the hillside, the Boy sat on a fallen tree with
Nig's head under his arm. The Boy felt pretty low in his mind. He sat
crouched together, with his head sunk almost to his knees. It was a
lonely kind of a world after all. Doing your level best didn't seem to
get you any forrader. What was the use? He started. Something warm,
caressing, touched his cold face just under one eye. Nig's tongue.

"Good old Nig! You feel lonesome, too?" He gathered the rough beast up
closer to him.

Just then the Colonel called, "Nig!"

"Sh! sh! Lie quiet!" whispered the Boy.

"Nig! Nig!"

"Good old boy! Stay here! He doesn't mean well by you. _Sh!_ quiet!
_Quiet_, I say!"

"Nig!" and the treacherous Colonel gave the peculiar whistle both men
used to call the dogs to supper. The dog struggled to get away, the
Boy's stiff fingers lost their grip, and "the best leader in the Yukon"
was running down the bank as hard as he could pelt, to the camp
fire--to the cooking-pot.

The Boy got up and floundered away in the opposite direction. He must
get out of hearing. He toiled on, listening for the expected
gunshot--hearing it, too, and the yawp of a wounded dog, in spite of a
mitten clapped at each ear.

"That's the kind of world it is! Do your level best, drag other fellas'
packs hundreds o' miles over the ice with a hungry belly and bloody
feet, and then--Poor old Nig!--'cause you're lame--poor old Nig!" With
a tightened throat and hot water in his eyes, he kept on repeating the
dog's name as he stumbled forward in the snow. "Nev' mind, old boy;
it's a lonely kind o' world, and the right trail's hard to find."
Suddenly he stood still. His stumbling feet were on a track. He had
reached the dip in the saddle-back of the hill, and--yes! this was the
_right_ trail; for down on the other side below him were faint
lights--huts--an Indian village! with fish and food for everybody. And
Nig--Nig was being--

The Boy turned as if a hurricane had struck him, and tore back down the
incline--stumbling, floundering in the snow, calling hoarsely:
"Colonel, Colonel! don't do it! There's a village here, Colonel! Nig!
Colonel, don't do it!"

He dashed into the circle of firelight, and beheld Nig standing with a
bandaged paw, placidly eating softened biscuit out of the family
frying-pan.

It was short work getting down to the village. They had one king salmon
and two white fish from the first Indian they saw, who wanted hootch
for them, and got only tabak.

In the biggest of the huts, nearly full of men, women, and children,
coughing, sickly-looking, dejected, the natives made room for the
strangers. When the white men had supped they handed over the remains
of their meal (as is expected) to the head of the house. This and a few
matches or a little tobacco on parting, is all he looks for in return
for shelter, room for beds on the floor, snow-water laboriously melted,
use of the fire, and as much wood as they like to burn, even if it is a
barren place, and fuel is the precious far-travelled "drift."

It is curious to see how soon travellers get past that first cheeckalko
feeling that it is a little "nervy," as the Boy had said, to walk into
another man's house uninvited, an absolute stranger, and take
possession of everything you want without so much as "by your leave."
You soon learn it is the Siwash[*] custom.

[Footnote: Siwash, corruption of French-Canadian _sauvage_, applied all
over the North to the natives, their possessions and their customs.]

Nothing would have seemed stranger now, or more inhuman, than the
civilized point of view.

The Indians trailed out one by one, all except the old buck to whom the
hut belonged. He hung about for a bit till he was satisfied the
travellers had no hootch, not even a little for the head of the house,
and yet they seemed to be fairly decent fellows. Then he rolls up his
blankets, for there is a premium on sleeping-space, and goes out, with
never a notion that he is doing more than any man would, anywhere in
the world, to find a place in some neighbour's hut to pass the night.

He leaves the two strangers, as Indian hospitality ordains, to the
warmest places in the best hut, with two young squaws, one old one, and
five children, all sleeping together on the floor, as a matter of
course.

The Colonel and the Boy had flung themselves down on top of their
sleeping-bag, fed and warmed and comforted. Only the old squaw was
still up. She had been looking over the travellers' boots and "mitts,"
and now, without a word or even a look being exchanged upon the
subject, she sat there in the corner, by the dim, seal-oil light,
sewing on new thongs, patching up holes, and making the strange men
tidy--men she had never seen before and would never see again. And
this, no tribute to the Colonel's generosity or the youth and friendly
manners of the Boy. They knew the old squaw would have done just the
same had the mucklucks and the mitts belonged to "the tramp of the
Yukon," with nothing to barter and not a cent in his pocket. This,
again, is a Siwash custom.

The old squaw coughed and wiped her eyes. The children coughed in their
sleep.

The dogs outside were howling like human beings put to torture. But the
sound no longer had power to freeze the blood of the trail-men.

The Colonel merely damned them. The Boy lifted his head, and listened
for Nig's note. The battle raged nearer; a great scampering went by the
tent.

"Nig!"

A scuffling and snuffing round the bottom of the tent. The Boy, on a
sudden impulse, reached out and lifted the flap.

"Got your bandage on? Come here."

Nig brisked in with the air of one having very little time to waste.

"Lord! I should think you'd be glad to lie down. _I_ am. Let's see your
paw. Here, come over to the light." He stepped very carefully over the
feet of the other inhabitants till he reached the old woman's corner.
Nig, following calmly, walked on prostrate bodies till he reached his
friend.

"Now, your paw, pardner. F-ith! Bad, ain't it?" he appealed to the
toothless squaw. Her best friend could not have said her wizened regard
was exactly sympathetic, but it was attentive. She seemed intelligent
as well as kind.

"Look here," whispered the Boy, "let that muckluck string o' mine
alone." He drew it away, and dropped it between his knees. "Haven't you
got something or other to make some shoes for Nig? Hein?" He
pantomimed, but she only stared. "Like this." He pulled out his knife,
and cut off the end of one leg of his "shaps," and gathered it gently
round Nig's nearest foot. "Little dog-boots. See? Give you some bully
tabak if you'll do that for Nig. Hein?"

She nodded at last, and made a queer wheezy sound, whether friendly
laughing or pure scorn, the Boy wasn't sure. But she set about the
task.

"Come 'long, Nig," he whispered. "You just see if I don't shoe my
little horse." And he sneaked back to bed, comfortable in the assurance
that the Colonel was asleep. Nig came walking after his friend straight
over people's heads.

One of the children sat up and whimpered. The Colonel growled sleepily.

"You black devil!" admonished the Boy under his breath. "Look what
you're about. Come here, sir." He pushed the devil down between the
sleeping-bag and the nearest baby.

The Colonel gave a distinct grunt of disapproval, and then, "Keepin'
that brute in here?"

"He's a lot cleaner than our two-legged friends," said the Boy sharply,
as if answering an insult.

"Right," said the Colonel with conviction.

His pardner was instantly mollified. "If you wake another baby, you'll
get a lickin'," he said genially to the dog; and then he stretched out
his feet till they reached Nig's back, and a feeling of great comfort
came over the Boy.

"Say, Colonel," he yawned luxuriously, "did you know
that--a--to-night--when Nig flared up, did you know you'd trodden on
his paw?"

"Didn't know it till you told me," growled the Colonel.

"I thought you didn't. Makes a difference, doesn't it?"

"You needn't think," says the Colonel a little defiantly, "that I've
weakened on the main point just because I choose to give Nig a few
cracker crumbs. If it's a question between a man's life and a dog's
life, only a sentimental fool would hesitate."

"I'm not talking about that; we can get fish now. What I'm pointin' out
is that Nig didn't fly at you for nothin'."

"He's got a devil of a temper, that dog."

"It's just like Nicholas of Pymeut said." The Boy sat up, eager in his
advocacy and earnest as a judge. "Nicholas of Pymeut said: 'You treat a
Siwash like a heathen, and he'll show you what a hell of a heathen he
can be.'"

"Oh, go to sleep."

"I'm goin', Colonel."




CHAPTER XVI

MINOOK

"For whatever... may come to pass, it lies with me to have it serve
me."--EPICTETUS.


The Indians guided them back to the trail. The Colonel and the Boy made
good speed to Novikakat, laid in supplies at Korkorines, heard the
first doubtful account of Minook at Tanana, and pushed on. Past camps
Stoneman and Woodworth, where the great Klondyke Expeditions lay fast
in the ice; along the white strip of the narrowing river, pent in now
between mountains black with scant, subarctic timber, or gray with
fantastic weather-worn rock--on and on, till they reached the bluffs of
the Lower Ramparts.

Here, at last, between the ranks of the many-gabled heights, Big Minook
Creek meets Father Yukon. Just below the junction, perched jauntily on
a long terrace, up above the frozen riverbed, high and dry, and out of
the coming trouble when river and creek should wake--here was the long,
log-built mining town, Minook, or Rampart, for the name was still
undetermined in the spring of 1898.

It was a great moment.

"Shake, pardner," said the Boy. The Colonel and he grasped hands. Only
towering good spirits prevented their being haughty, for they felt like
conquerors, and cared not a jot that they looked like gaol-birds.

It was two o'clock in the morning. The Gold Nugget Saloon was flaring
with light, and a pianola was perforating a tune. The travellers pushed
open a frosted door, and looked into a long, low, smoke-veiled room,
hung with many kerosene lamps, and heated by a great red-hot iron
stove.

"Hello!" said a middle-aged man in mackinaws, smoking near the door-end
of the bar.

"Hello! Is Blandford Keith here? There are some letters for him."

"Say, boys!" the man in mackinaws shouted above the pianola, "Windy
Jim's got in with the mail."

The miners lounging at the bar and sitting at the faro-tables looked up
laughing, and seeing the strangers through the smoke-haze, stopped
laughing to stare.

"Down from Dawson?" asked the bartender hurrying forward, a magnificent
creature in a check waistcoat, shirt-sleeves, four-in-hand tie, and a
diamond pin.

"No, t'other way about. Up from the Lower River."

"Oh! May West or Muckluck crew? Anyhow, I guess you got a thirst on
you," said the man in the mackinaws. "Come and licker up."

The bartender mixed the drinks in style, shooting the liquor from a
height into the small gin-sling glasses with the dexterity that had
made him famous.

When their tired eyes had got accustomed to the mingled smoke and
glare, the travellers could see that in the space beyond the card
tables, in those back regions where the pianola reigned, there were
several couples twirling about--the clumsily-dressed miners pirouetting
with an astonishing lightness on their moccasined feet. And women!
White women!

They stopped dancing and came forward to see the new arrivals.

The mackinaw man was congratulating the Colonel on "gettin' back to
civilization."

"See that plate-glass mirror?" He pointed behind the bar, below the
moose antlers. "See them ladies? You've got to a place where you can
rake in the dust all day, and dance all night, and go buckin' the tiger
between whiles. Great place, Minook. Here's luck!" He took up the last
of the gin slings set in a row before the party.

"Have you got some property here?" asked the Boy.

The man, without putting down his glass, simply closed one eye over the
rim.

"We've heard some bad accounts of these diggin's," said the Colonel.

"I ain't sayin' there's millions for _every_body. You've got to get the
inside track. See that feller talkin' to the girl? Billy Nebrasky
tipped him the wink in time to git the inside track, just before the
Fall Stampede up the gulch."

"Which gulch?"

He only motioned with his head. "Through havin' that tip, he got there
in time to stake number three Below Discovery. He's had to hang up
drinks all winter, but he's a millionaire all right. He's got a hundred
thousand dollars _in sight,_ only waitin' for runnin' water to wash it
out."

"Then there _is_ gold about here?"

"There is gold? Say, Maudie," he remarked in a humourous half-aside to
the young woman who was passing with No--thumb-Jack, "this fellow wants
to know if there is gold here."

She laughed. "Guess he ain't been here long."

Now it is not to be denied that this rejoinder was susceptible of more
than one interpretation, but the mackinaw man seemed satisfied, so much
so that he offered Maudie the second gin-sling which the Colonel had
ordered "all round." She eyed the strangers over the glass. On the hand
that held it a fine diamond sparkled. You would say she was twenty-six,
but you wouldn't have been sure. She had seemed at least that at a
distance. Now she looked rather younger. The face wore an impudent
look, yet it was delicate, too. Her skin showed very white and fine
under the dabs of rouge. The blueness was not yet faded out of her
restless eyes.

"Minook's all right. No josh about that," she said, setting down her
glass. Then to the Boy, "Have a dance?"

"Not much," he replied rather roughly, and turned away to talk about
the diggin's to two men on the other side.

Maudie laid her hand on the Colonel's arm, and the diamond twitched the
light. "_You_ will," she said.

"Well, you see, ma'am"--the Colonel's smile was charming in spite of
his wild beard--"we've done such a lot o' dancin' lately--done nothin'
else for forty days; and after seven hundred miles of it we're just a
trifle tired, ma'am."

She laughed good-naturedly.

"Pity you're tired," said the mackinaw man. "There's a pretty good
thing goin' just now, but it won't be goin' long."

The Boy turned his head round again with reviving interest in his own
group.

"Look here, Si," Maudie was saying: "if you want to let a lay on your
new claim to _anybody_, mind it's got to be me."

But the mackinaw man was glancing speculatively over at another group.
In haste to forestall desertion, the Boy inquired:

"Do you know of anything good that isn't staked yet?"

"Well, mebbe I don't--and mebbe I do." Then, as if to prove that he
wasn't overanxious to pursue the subject: "Say, Maudie, ain't that
French Charlie over there?" Maudie put her small nose in the air.
"Ain't you made it up with Charlie yet?'"

"No, I ain't."

"Then we'll have another drink all round."

While he was untying the drawstring of his gold sack, Maudie said,
half-aside, but whether to the Colonel or the Boy neither could tell:
"Might do worse than keep your eye on Si McGinty." She nodded briskly
at the violet checks on the mackinaw back. "Si's got a cinch up there
on Glory Hallelujah, and nobody's on to it yet."

The pianola picked out a polka. The man Si McGinty had called French
Charlie came up behind the girl and said something. She shook her head,
turned on her heel, and began circling about in the narrow space till
she found another partner, French Charlie scowling after them, as they
whirled away between the faro-tables back into the smoke and music at
the rear. McGinty was watching Jimmie, the man at the gold scales,
pinch up some of the excess dust in the scale-pan and toss it back into
the brass blower.

"Where did that gold come from?" asked the Colonel.

"Off a claim o' mine"; and he lapsed into silence.

You are always told these fellows are so anxious to rope in strangers.
This man didn't seem to be. It made him very interesting. The Boy acted
strictly on the woman's hint, and kept an eye on the person who had a
sure thing up on Glory Hallelujah. But when the lucky man next opened
his mouth it was to say:

"Why, there's Butts down from Circle City."

"Butts?" repeated the Boy, with little affectation of interest.

"Yep. Wonder what the son of a gun is after here." But he spoke
genially, even with respect.

"Who's Butts?"

"Butts? Ah--well--a--Butts is the smartest fellow with his fingers in
all 'laska"; and McGinty showed his big yellow teeth in an appreciative
smile.

"Smart at washin' gold out?"

"Smarter at pickin' it out." The bartender joined in Si's laugh as that
gentleman repeated, "Yes, sir! handiest feller with his fingers I ever
seen."

"What does he do with his fingers?" asked the Boy, with impatient
suspicion.

"Well, he don't dare do much with 'em up here. 'Tain't popular."

"What ain't?"

"Butts's little game. But Lord! he is good at it." Butts had been
introduced as a stalking-horse, but there was no doubt about Si's
admiration of his "handiness." "Butts is wasted up here," he sighed.
"There's some chance for a murderer in Alaska, but a thief's a goner."

"Oh, well; you were sayin' that gold o' yours came from--"

"Poor old Butts! Bright feller, too."

"How far off is your--"

"I tell you, sir, Butts is brains to his boots. Course you know Jack
McQuestion?"

"No, but I'd like to hear a little about your--"

"Y' don' know Jack McQuestion? Well, sir, Jack's the biggest man in the
Yukon. Why, he built Fort Reliance six miles below the mouth of the
Klondyke in '73; he discovered gold on the Stewart in '85, and
established a post there. _Everybody_ knows Jack McQuestion;
an"--quickly, as he saw he was about to be interrupted--"you heard
about that swell watch we all clubbed together and give him? No? Well,
sir, there ain't an eleganter watch in the world. Is there?"

"Guess not," said the bartender.

"Repeater, you know. Got twenty-seven di'mon's in the case. One of
'em's this size." He presented the end of a gnarled and muscular thumb.
"And inside, the case is all wrote in--a lot of soft sawder; but Jack
ain't got _any_thing he cares for so much. You can see he's always
tickled to death when anybody asks him the time. But do you think he
ever lets that watch out'n his own hands? Not _much_. Let's anybody
_look_ at it, and keeps a holt o' the stem-winder. Well, sir, we was
all in a saloon up at Circle, and that feller over there--Butts--he bet
me fifty dollars that he'd git McQuestion's watch away from him before
he left the saloon. An' it was late. McQuestion was thinkin' a'ready
about goin' home to that squaw wife that keeps him so straight. Well,
sir, Butts went over and began to gas about outfittin', and McQuestion
answers and figures up the estimates on the counter, and, by Gawd! in
less 'n quarter of an hour Butts, just standin' there and listenin', as
you'd think--he'd got that di'mon' watch off'n the chain an' had it in
his pocket. I knew he done it, though I ain't exactly seen _how_ he
done it. The others who were in the game, they swore he hadn't got it
yet, but, by Gawd, Butts says he'll think over McQuestion's terms, and
wonders what time it is. He takes that di'mon' watch out of his pocket,
glances at it, and goes off smooth as cream, sayin' 'Good-night.' Then
he come a grinnin' over to us. 'Jest you go an' ask the Father o' the
Yukon Pioneers what time it is, will yer?' An' I done it. Well, sir,
when he put his hand in his pocket, by Gawd! I wish y' could a' saw
McQuestion's face. Yes, sir, Butts is brains to his boots."

"How far out are the diggin's?"

"What diggin's?"

"Yours."

"Oh--a--my gulch ain't fur."

There was a noise about the door. Someone bustled in with a torrent of
talk, and the pianola was drowned in a pandemonium of shouts and
laughter.

"Windy Jim's reely got back!"

Everybody crowded forward. Maudie was at the Colonel's elbow explaining
that the little yellow-bearded man with the red nose was the
letter-carrier. He had made a contract early in the winter to go to
Dawson and bring down the mail for Minook. His agreement was to make
the round trip and be back by the middle of February. Since early March
the standing gag in the camp had been: "Well, Windy Jim got in last
night."

The mild jest had grown stale, and the denizens of Minook had given up
the hope of ever laying eyes on Windy again, when lo! here he was with
twenty-two hundred letters in his sack. The patrons of the Gold Nugget
crowded round him like flies round a lump of sugar, glad to pay a
dollar apiece on each letter he handed out. "And you take _all_ that's
addressed to yer at that price or you get none." Every letter there had
come over the terrible Pass. Every one had travelled twelve hundred
miles by dog-team, and some had been on the trail seven months.

"Here, Maudie, me dear." The postman handed her two letters. "See how
he dotes on yer."

"Got anything fur--what's yer names?" says the mackinaw man, who seemed
to have adopted the Colonel and the Boy.

He presented them without embarrassment to "Windy Jim Wilson, of Hog'em
Junction, the best trail mail-carrier in the 'nited States."

Those who had already got letters were gathered in groups under the
bracket-lights reading eagerly. In the midst of the lull of
satisfaction or expectancy someone cried out in disgust, and another
threw down a letter with a shower of objurgation.

"Guess you got the mate to mine, Bonsor," said a bystander with a
laugh, slowly tearing up the communication he had opened with fingers
so eager that they shook.

"You pay a dollar apiece for letters from folks you never heard of,
asking you what you think of the country, and whether you'd advise 'em
to come out."

"Huh! don't I wish they would!"

"It's all right. _They will._"

"And then trust Bonsor to git even."

Salaman, "the luckiest man in camp," who had come in from his valuable
Little Minook property for the night only, had to pay fifteen dollars
for his mail. When he opened it, he found he had one home letter,
written seven months before, eight notes of inquiry, and six
advertisements.

Maudie had put her letters unopened in her pocket, and told the man at
the scales to weigh out two dollars to Windy, and charge to her. Then
she began to talk to the Colonel.

The Boy observed with scant patience that his pardner treated Maudie
with a consideration he could hardly have bettered had she been the
first lady in the land. "Must be because she's little and cute-lookin'.
The Colonel's a sentimental ol' goslin'."

"What makes you so polite to that dance-hall girl?" muttered the Boy
aside. "She's no good."

"Reckon it won't make her any better for me to be impolite to her,"
returned the Colonel calmly.

But finding she could not detach the Kentuckian from his pardner,
Maudie bestowed her attention elsewhere. French Charlie was leaning
back against the wall, his hands jammed in his pockets, and his big
slouch-hat pulled over his brows. Under the shadow of the wide brim
furtively he watched the girl. Another woman came up and asked him to
dance. He shook his head.

"Reckon we'd better go and knock up Blandford Keith and get a bed,"
suggested the Boy regretfully, looking round for the man who had a
cinch up on Glory Hallelujah, and wouldn't tell you how to get there.

"Reckon we'd better," agreed the Colonel.

But they halted near Windy Jim, who was refreshing himself, and at the
same time telling Dawson news, or Dawson lies, as the company evidently
thought. And still the men crowded round, listening greedily, just as
everybody devours certain public prints without ceasing to impeach
their veracity. Lacking newspapers at which to pish! and pshaw! they
listened to Windy Jim, disbelieving the only unvarnished tale that
gentleman had ever told. For Windy, with the story-teller's instinct,
knew marvellous enough would sound the bare recital of those awful
Dawson days when the unprecedented early winter stopped the provision
boats at Circle, and starvation stared the over-populated Klondyke in
the face.

Having disposed of their letters, the miners crowded round the courier
to hear how the black business ended--matter of special interest to
Minook, for the population here was composed chiefly of men who, by the
Canadian route, had managed to get to Dawson in the autumn, in the
early days of the famine scare, and who, after someone's panic-proposal
to raid the great Stores, were given free passage down the river on the
last two steamers to run.

When the ice stopped them (one party at Circle, the other at Fort
Yukon), they had held up the supply boats and helped themselves under
the noses of Captain Ray and Lieutenant Richardson, U. S. A.

"Yes, sir," McGinty had explained, "we Minook boys was all in that
picnic. But we give our bond to pay up at mid-summer, and after the fun
was over we dropped down here."

He pushed nearer to Windy to hear how it had fared with the men who had
stayed behind in the Klondyke--how the excitement flamed and menaced;
how Agent Hansen of the Alaska Commercial Company, greatest of the
importers of provisions and Arctic equipment, rushed about, half crazy,
making speeches all along the Dawson River front, urging the men to fly
for their lives, back to the States or up to Circle, before the ice
stopped moving!

But too many of these men had put everything they had on earth into
getting here; too many had abandoned costly outfits on the awful Pass,
or in the boiling eddies of the White Horse Rapids, paying any price in
money or in pain to get to the goldfields before navigation closed. And
now! here was Hansen, with all the authority of the A. C., shouting
wildly: "Quick, quick! go up or down. It's a race for life!"

Windy went on to tell how the horror of the thing dulled the men, how
they stood about the Dawson streets helpless as cattle, paralysed by
the misery that had overtaken them. All very well for Hansen to try to
relieve the congestion at the Klondyke--the poor devils knew that to go
either way, up or down, as late as this meant death. Then it was
whispered how Captain Constantine of the Mounted Police was getting
ready to drive every man out of the Klondyke, at the point of the
bayonet, who couldn't show a thousand pounds of provisions. Yet most of
the Klondykers still stood about dazed, silent, waiting for the final
stroke.

A few went up, over the way they had come, to die after all on the
Pass, and some went down, their white, despairing faces disappearing
round the Klondyke bend as they drifted with the grinding ice towards
the Arctic Circle, where the food was caught in the floes. And how one
came back, going by without ever turning his head, caring not a jot for
Golden Dawson, serene as a king in his capital, solitary, stark on a
little island of ice.

"Lord! it was better, after all, at the Big Chimney."

"Oh, it wasn't so bad," said Windy cheerfully. "About the time one o'
the big companies announced they was sold out o' everything but sugar
and axe-handles, a couple o' steamers pushed their way in through the
ice. After all, just as old J. J. Healy said, it was only a question of
rations and proper distribution. Why, flour's fell from one hundred and
twenty dollars a sack to fifty! And there's a big new strike on the
island opposite Ensley Creek. They call it Monte Cristo; pay runs eight
dollars to the pan. Lord! Dawson's the greatest gold camp on the
globe."

But no matter what befell at Dawson, business must be kept brisk at
Minook. The pianola started up, and Buckin' Billy, who called the
dances, began to bawl invitations to the company to come and waltz.

Windy interrupted his own music for further refreshment, pausing an
instant, with his mouth full of dried-apple pie to say:

"Congress has sent out a relief expedition to Dawson."

"No!"

"Fact! Reindeer."

"Ye mean peacocks."

"Mean reindeer! It's all in the last paper come over the Pass. A
Reindeer Relief Expedition to save them poor starvin' Klondykers."

"Haw, haw! Good old Congress!"

"Well, did you find any o' them reindeer doin' any relievin' round
Dawson?"

"Naw! What do _you_ think? Takes more'n Congress to git over the Dalton
Trail"; and Windy returned to his pie.

Talking earnestly with Mr. Butts, French Charlie pushed heavily past
the Boy on his way to the bar. From his gait it was clear that he had
made many similar visits that evening. In his thick Canadian accent
Charlie was saying:

"I blowed out a lot o' dust for dat girl. She's wearin' my di'mon' now,
and won't look at me. Say, Butts, I'll give you twenty dollars if you
sneak dat ring."

"Done with you," says Butts, as calm as a summer's day. In two minutes
Maudie was twirling about with the handy gentleman, who seemed as
accomplished with his toes as he was reputed to be with his fingers.

He came up with her presently and ordered some wine.

"Wine, b-gosh!" muttered Charlie in drunken appreciation, propping
himself against the wall again, and always slipping sideways. "Y' tink
he's d' fines' sor' fella, don't you? Hein? Wai' 'n see!"

The wine disappears and the two go off for another dance. Inside of ten
minutes up comes Butts and passes something to French Charlie. That
gentleman laughs tipsily, and, leaning on Butts's arm, makes his way to
the scales.

"Weigh out twen' dollars dis gen'man," he ordered.

Butts pulled up the string of his poke and slipped to one side, as
noise reached the group at the bar of a commotion at the other end of
the saloon.

"My ring! it's gone! My diamond ring! Now, you've got it"; and Maudie
came running out from the dancers after one of the Woodworth gentlemen.

Charlie straightened up and grinned, almost sobered in excess of joy
and satisfied revenge. The Woodworth gentleman is searched and
presently exonerated. Everybody is told of the loss, every nook and
corner investigated. Maudie goes down on hands and knees, even creeping
behind the bar.

"I know'd she go on somethin' awful," said Charlie, so gleefully that
Bonsor, the proprietor of the Gold Nugget, began to look upon him with
suspicion.

When Maudie reappeared, flushed, and with disordered hair, after her
excursion under the counter, French Charlie confronted her.

"Looky here. You treated me blame mean, Maudie; but wha'd' you say if
I's to off' a rewar' for dat ring?"

"Reward! A healthy lot o' good that would do."

"Oh, very well; 'f you don' wan' de ring back--"

"I _do,_ Charlie."

He hammered on the bar.

"Ev'body gottah look fur ring. I give a hunner 'n fifty dollah rewar'."

Maudie stared at the princely offer. But instantly the commotion was
greater than ever. "Ev'body" did what was expected of them, especially
Mr. Butts. They flew about, looking in possible and impossible places,
laughing, screaming, tumbling over one another. In the midst of the
uproar French Charlie lurches up to Maudie.

"Dat look anyt'in' like it?"

"Oh, _Charlie!"_

She looked the gratitude she could not on the instant speak.

In the midst of the noise and movement the mackinaw man said to the
Boy:

"Don't know as you'd care to see my new prospect hole?"

"Course I'd like to see it."

"Well, come along tomorrow afternoon. Meet me here 'bout two. Don't
_say_ nothin' to nobody," he added still lower. "We don't want to get
overrun before we've recorded."

The Boy could have hugged that mackinaw man.

Outside it was broad day, but still the Gold Nugget lights were flaring
and the pianola played.

They had learned from the bartender where to find Blandford Keith--"In
the worst-looking shack in the camp." But "It looks good to me," said
the Boy, as they went in and startled Keith out of his first sleep. The
man that brings you letters before the ice goes out is your friend.
Keith helped them to bring in their stuff, and was distinctly troubled
because the travellers wouldn't take his bunk. They borrowed some dry
blankets and went to sleep on the floor.

It was after two when they woke in a panic, lest the mackinaw man
should have gone without them. While the Colonel got breakfast the Boy
dashed round to the Gold Nugget, found Si McGinty playing craps, and
would have brought him back in triumph to breakfast--but no, he would
"wait down yonder below the Gold Nugget, and don't you say nothin' yit
about where we're goin', or we'll have the hull town at our heels."

About twelve miles "back in the mountains" is a little gulch that makes
into a big one at right angles.

"That's the pup where my claim is."

"The what?"

"Little creek; call 'em pups here."

Down in the desolate hollow a ragged A tent, sagged away from the
prevailing wind. Inside, they found that the canvas was a mere shelter
over a prospect hole. A rusty stove was almost buried by the heap of
earth and gravel thrown up from a pit several feet deep.

"This is a winter diggins y' see," observed the mackinaw man with
pride. "It's only while the ground is froze solid you can do this kind
o' minin'. I've had to burn the ground clean down to bed-rock. Yes,
sir, thawed my way inch by inch to the old channel."

"Well, and what have you found?"

"S'pose we pan some o' this dirt and see."

His slow caution impressed his hearers. They made up a fire, melted
snow, and half filled a rusty pan with gravel and soil from the bottom
of the pit.

"Know how to pan?"

The Colonel and the Boy took turns. They were much longer at it than
they ever were again, but the mackinaw man seemed not in the least
hurry. The impatience was all theirs. When they had got down to fine
sand, "Look!" screamed the Boy.

"By the Lord!" said the Colonel softly.

"Is that--"

"Looks like you got some colours there. Gosh! Then I ain't been
dreamin' after all."

"Hey? Dreamin'? What? Look! Look!"

"That's why I brought you gen'l'men out," says the mackinaw man. "I was
afraid to trust my senses--thought I was gettin' wheels in my head."

"Lord! look at the gold!"

They took about a dollar and twenty cents out of that pan.

"Now see here, you gen'l'men jest lay low about this strike." His
anxiety seemed intense. They reassured him. "I don't suppose you mind
our taking up a claim apiece next you," pleaded the Boy, "since the law
don't allow you to stake more'n one."

"Oh, that's all right," said the mackinaw man, with an air of princely
generosity. "And I don't mind if you like to let in a few of your
particular pals, if you'll agree to help me organise a district. An'
I'll do the recordin' fur ye."

Really, this mackinaw man was a trump. The Colonel took twenty-five
dollars out of a roll of bills and handed it to him.

"What's this fur?"

"For bringing us out--for giving us the tip. I'd make it more, but till
I get to Dawson--"

"Oh!" laughed the mackinaw man, "_that's_ all right," and indifferently
he tucked the bills into his baggy trousers.

The Colonel felt keenly the inadequacy of giving a man twenty-five
dollars who had just introduced him to hundreds of thousands--and who
sat on the edge of his own gold-mine--but it was only "on account."

The Colonel staked No. 1 Above the Discovery, and the Boy was in the
act of staking No. 1 Below when--

"No, no," says that kind mackinaw man, "the heavier gold will be found
further up the gulch--stake No. 2 Above"; and he told them natural
facts about placer-mining that no after expert knowledge could ever
better. But he was not as happy as a man should be who has just struck
pay.

"Fact is, it's kind of upsettin' to find it so rich here."

"Give you leave to upset me that way all day."

"Y' see, I bought another claim over yonder where I done a lot o' work
last summer and fall. Built a cabin and put up a sluice. I _got_ to be
up there soon as the ice goes out. Don't see how I got time to do my
assessment here too. Wish I was twins."

"Why don't you sell this?"

"Guess I'll have to part with a share in it." He sighed and looked
lovingly into the hole. "Minin's an awful gamble," he said, as though
admonishing Si McGinty; "but we _know_ there's gold just there."

The Colonel and the Boy looked at their claims and felt the pinch of
uncertainty. "What do you want for a share in your claim, Mr.
McGinty?"

"Oh, well, as I say, I'll let it go reasonable to a feller who'd do the
assessment, on account o' my having that other property. Say three
thousand dollars."

The Colonel shook his head. "Why, it's dirt-cheap! Two men can take a
hundred and fifty dollars a day out of that claim without outside help.
And properly worked, the summer ought to show forty thousand dollars."

On the way home McGinty found he could let the thing go for "two
thousand spot cash."

"Make it quarter shares," suggested the Boy, thrilled at such a chance,
"and the Colonel and I together'll raise five hundred and do the rest
of the assessment work for you."

But they were nearly back at Minook before McGinty said, "Well, I ain't
twins, and I can't personally work two gold-mines, so we'll call it a
deal." And the money passed that night.

And the word passed, too, to an ex-Governor of a Western State and his
satellites, newly arrived from Woodworth, and to a party of men just
down from Circle City. McGinty seemed more inclined to share his luck
with strangers than with the men he had wintered amongst. "Mean lot,
these Minook fellers." But the return of the ex-Governor and so large a
party from quietly staking their claims, roused Minook to a sense that
"somethin' was goin' on."

By McGinty's advice, the strangers called a secret meeting, and elected
McGinty recorder. All the claim-holders registered their properties and
the dates of location. The Recorder gave everybody his receipt, and
everybody felt it was cheap at five dollars. Then the meeting proceeded
to frame a code of Laws for the new district, stipulating the number of
feet permitted each claim (being rigidly kept by McGinty within the
limits provided by the United States Laws on the subject), and
decreeing the amount of work necessary to hold a claim a year, settling
questions of water rights, etc., etc.

Not until Glory Hallelujah Gulch was a full-fledged mining district did
Minook in general know what was in the wind. The next day the news was
all over camp.

If McGinty's name inspired suspicion, the Colonel's and the
ex-Governor's reassured, the Colonel in particular (he had already
established that credit that came so easy to him) being triumphantly
quoted as saying, "Glory Hallelujah Gulch was the richest placer he'd
ever struck." Nobody added that it was also the only one. But this
matter of a stampede is not controlled by reason; it is a thing of the
nerves; while you are ridiculing someone else your legs are carrying
you off on the same errand.

In a mining-camp the saloon is the community's heart. However little a
man cares to drink, or to dance, or to play cards, he goes to the
saloon as to the one place where he may meet his fellows, do business,
and hear the news. The saloon is the Market Place. It is also the Cafe,
the Theatre, the Club, the Stock Exchange, the Barber's Shop, the
Bank--in short, you might as well be dead as not be a patron of the
Gold Nugget.

Yet neither the Colonel nor the Boy had been there since the night of
their arrival. On returning from that first triumphant inspection of
McGinty's diggings, the Colonel had been handed a sealed envelope
without address.

"How do you know it's for me?"

"She said it was for the Big Chap," answered Blandford Keith.

The Colonel read:

"_Come to the Gold Nugget as soon as you get this, and hear something
to your advantage_.--MAUDIE."

So he had stayed away, having plenty to occupy him in helping to
organise the new district. He was strolling past the saloon the morning
after the Secret Meeting, when down into the street, like a kingfisher
into a stream, Maudie darted, and held up the Colonel.

"Ain't you had my letter?"

"Oh--a--yes--but I've been busy."

"Guess so!" she said with undisguised scorn. "Where's Si McGinty?"

"Reckon he's out at the gulch. I've got to go down to the A. C. now and
buy some grub to take out." He was moving on.

"Take where?" She followed him up.

"To McGinty's gulch."

"What for?"

"Why, to live on, while my pardner and I do the assessment work."

"Then it's true! McGinty's been fillin' you full o' guff." The Colonel
looked at her a little haughtily.

"See here: I ain't busy, as a rule, about other folks' funerals, but--"
She looked at him curiously. "It's cold here; come in a minute." There
was no hint of vulgar nonsense, but something very earnest in the pert
little face that had been so pretty. They went in. "Order drinks," she
said aside, "and don't talk before Jimmie."

She chaffed the bartender, and leaned idly against the counter. When a
group of returned stampeders came in, she sat down at a rough little
faro-table, leaned her elbows on it, sipped the rest of the stuff in
her tumbler through a straw, and in the shelter of her arms set the
straw in a knot-hole near the table-leg, and spirited the bad liquor
down under the board. "Don't give me away," she said.

The Colonel knew she got a commission on the drinks, and was there to
bring custom. He nodded.

"I hoped I'd see you in time," she went on hurriedly--"in time to warn
you that McGinty was givin' you a song and dance."

"Hey?"

"Tellin" you a ghost story."

"You mean--"

"Can't you understand plain English?" she said, irritated at such
obtuseness. "I got worried thinkin' it over, for it was me told that
pardner o' yours--" She smiled wickedly. "I expected McGinty'd have
some fun with the young feller, but I didn't expect you'd be such a
Hatter." She wound up with the popular reference to lunacy.

The Colonel pulled up his great figure with some pomposity. "I don't
understand."

"Any feller can see that. You're just the kind the McGintys are layin'
for." She looked round to see that nobody was within earshot. "Si's
been layin' round all winter waitin' for the spring crop o' suckers."

"If you mean there isn't gold out at McGinty's gulch, you're wrong;
I've seen it."

"Course you have."

He paused. She, sweeping the Gold Nugget with vigilant eye, went on in
a voice of indulgent contempt.

"Some of 'em load up an old shot-gun with a little charge o' powder and
a quarter of an ounce of gold-dust on top, fire that into the prospect
hole a dozen times or so, and then take a sucker out to pan the stuff.
But I bet Si didn't take any more trouble with you than to have some
colours in his mouth, to spit in the shovel or the pan, when you wasn't
lookin'--just enough to drive you crazy, and get you to boost him into
a Recordership. Why, he's cleaned up a tub o' money in fees since you
struck the town."

The Colonel moved uneasily, but faith with him died hard.

"McGinty strikes me as a very decent sort of man, with a knowledge of
practical mining and of mining law--"

Maudie made a low sound of impatience, and pushed her empty glass
aside.

"Oh, very well, go your own way! Waste the whole spring doin' Si's
assessment for him. And when the bottom drops out o' recordin', you'll
see Si gettin' some cheechalko to buy an interest in that rottin' hole
o' his--"

Her jaw fell as she saw the Colonel's expression.

"He's got you too!" she exclaimed.

"Well, didn't you say yourself that night you'd be glad if McGinty'd
let you a lay?"

"Pshaw! I was only givin' you a song and dance. Not you neither, but
that pardner o' yours. I thought I'd learn that young man a lesson. But
I didn't know you'd get flim-flammed out o' your boots. Thought you
looked like you got some sense."

Unmoved by the Colonel's aspect of offended dignity, faintly dashed
with doubt, she hurried on:

"Before you go shellin' out any more cash, or haulin' stuff to Glory
Hallelujah, just you go down that prospect hole o' McGinty's when
McGinty ain't there, and see how many colours you can ketch."

The Colonel looked at her.

"Well, I'll do it," he said slowly, "and if you're right--"

"Oh, I'm all right," she laughed; "an' I know my McGinty backwards.
But"--she frowned with sudden anger--"it ain't Maudie's pretty way to
interfere with cheechalkos gettin' fooled. I ain't proud o' the trouble
I've taken, and I'll thank you not to mention it. Not to that pardner
o' yours--not to nobody."

She stuck her nose in the air, and waved her hand to French Charlie,
who had just then opened the door and put his head in. He came straight
over to her, and she made room for him on the bench.

The Colonel went out full of thought. He listened attentively when the
ex-Governor, that evening at Keith's, said something about the woman up
at the Gold Nugget--"Maudie--what's the rest of her name?"

"Don't believe anybody knows. Oh, yes, they must, too; it'll be on her
deeds. She's got the best hundred by fifty foot lot in the place. Held
it down last fall herself with a six-shooter, and she owns that cabin
on the corner. Isn't a better business head in Minook than Maudie's.
She got a lay on a good property o' Salaman's last fall, and I guess
she's got more ready dust even now, before the washin' begins, than
anybody here except Salaman and the A.C. There ain't a man in Minook
who wouldn't listen respectfully to Maudie's views on any business
proposition--once he was sure she wasn't fooling."

And Keith told a string of stories to show how the Minook miners
admired her astuteness, and helped her unblushingly to get the better
of one another.

The Colonel stayed in Minook till the recording was all done, and
McGinty got tired of living on flap-jacks at the gulch.

The night McGinty arrived in town the Colonel, not even taking the Boy
into his confidence, hitched up and departed for the new district.

He came back the next day a sadder and a wiser man. They had been sold.

McGinty was quick to gather that someone must have given him away. It
had only been a question of time, after all. He had lined his pockets,
and could take the new turn in his affairs with equanimity.

"Wait till the steamers begin to run," Maudie said; "McGinty'll play
that game with every new boat-load. Oh, McGinty'll make another
fortune. Then he'll go to Dawson and blow it in. Well, Colonel, sorry
you ain't cultivatin' rheumatism in a damp hole up at Glory
Hallelujah?"

"I--I am very much obliged to you for saving me from--"

She cut him short. "You see you've got time now to look about you for
something really good, if there _is_ anything outside of Little
Minook."

"It was very kind of you to--"

"No it wasn't," she said shortly.

The Colonel took out a roll of bank bills and selected one, folded it
small, and passed it towards her under the ledge of the table. She
glanced down.

"Oh, I don't want that."

"Yes, please."

"Tell you I don't."

"You've done me a very good turn; saved me a lot of time and expense."

Slowly she took the money, as one thinking out something.

"Where do you come from?" he asked suddenly.

"'Frisco. I was in the chorus at the Alcazar."

"What made you go into the chorus?"

"Got tired o' life on a sheep-ranch. All work and no play. Never saw a
soul. Seen plenty since."

"Got any people belonging to you?"

"Got a kind of a husband."

"A kind of a husband?"

"Yes--the kind you'd give away with a pound o' tea."

The little face, full of humourous contempt and shrewd scorn, sobered;
she flung a black look round the saloon, and her eyes came back to the
Colonel's face.

"I've got a girl," she said, and a sudden light flashed across her
frowning as swiftly as a meteor cuts down along a darkened sky. "Four
years old in June. _She_ ain't goin' into no chorus, bet your life!
_She's_ going to have money, and scads o' things I ain't never had."

That night the Colonel and the Boy agreed that, although they had
wasted some valuable time and five hundred and twenty-five dollars on
McGinty, they still had a chance of making their fortunes before the
spring rush.

The next day they went eight miles out in slush and in alternate rain
and sunshine, to Little Minook Creek, where the biggest paying claims
were universally agreed to be. They found a place even more ragged and
desolate than McGinty's, where smoke was rising sullenly from
underground fires and the smell of burning wood filled the air, the
ground turned up and dotted at intervals with piles of frozen gravel
that had been hoisted from the shafts by windlass, forlorn little
cabins and tents scattered indiscriminately, a vast number of empty
bottles and cans sown broadcast, and, early as it was, a line of
sluices upon Salaman's claim.

They had heard a great deal about the dark, keen-looking young Oregon
lawyer, for Salaman was the most envied man in Minook. "Come over to my
dump and get some nuggets," says Mr. Salaman, as in other parts of the
world a man will say, "Come into the smoking-room and have a cigar."

The snow was melted from the top of Salaman's dump, and his guests had
no difficulty in picking several rough little bits of gold out of the
thawing gravel. It was an exhilarating occupation.

"Come down my shaft and see my cross-cuts"; and they followed him.

He pointed out how the frozen gravel made solid wall, or pillar, and no
curbing was necessary. With the aid of a candle and their host's
urging, they picked out several dollars' worth of coarse gold from the
gravel "in place" at the edge of the bed-rock. When he had got his
guests thoroughly warmed up:

"Yes, I took out several thousand last fall, and I'll have twenty
thousand more out of my first summer clean-up."

"And after that?"

"After that I'm going home. I wouldn't stay here and work this way and
live this way another winter, not for twenty millions."

"I'm surprised to hear _you_ talking like that, sah."

"Well, you won't be once you have tried it yourself. Mining up here's
an awful gamble. Colours pretty well everywhere, and a few flakes of
flour gold, just enough to send the average cheechalko crazy, but no
real 'pay' outside of this little gulch. And even here, every inch has
been scrambled for--and staked, too--and lots of it fought over. Men
died here in the fall defending their ground from the jumpers--ground
that hadn't a dollar in it."

"Well, your ground was worth looking after, and John Dillon's. Which is
his claim?"

Salaman led the way over the heaps of gravel and round a windlass to
No. 6, admitting:

"Oh, yes, Dillon and I, and a few others, have come out of it all
right, but Lord! it's a gamble."

Dillon's pardner, Kennedy, did the honours, showing the Big Chimney men
the very shaft out of which their Christmas heap of gold had been
hoisted. It was true after all. For the favoured there _was_ "plenty o'
gold--plenty o' gold."

"But," said Salaman, "there are few things more mysterious than its
whereabouts or why it should be where it is. Don't talk to me about
mining experts--we've had 'em here. But who can explain the mystery of
Minook? There are six claims in all this country that pay to work. The
pay begins in No. 5; before that, nothing. Just up yonder, above No.
10, the pay-streak pinches out. No mortal knows why. A whole winter's
toiling and moiling, and thousands of dollars put into the ground,
haven't produced an ounce of gold above that claim or below No. 5. I
tell you it's an awful gamble. Hunter Creek, Hoosier, Bear, Big Minook,
I You, Quail, Alder, Mike Hess, Little Nell--the whole blessed country,
rivers, creeks, pups, and all, staked for a radius of forty miles just
because there's gold here, where we're standing."

"You don't mean there's _nothing_ left!"

"Nothing within forty miles that somebody hasn't either staked or made
money by abandoning."

"Made money?"

Salaman laughed.

"It's money in your pocket pretty nearly every time you don't take up a
claim. Why, on Hunter alone they've spent twenty thousand dollars this
winter."

"And how much have they taken out?"

With index-finger and thumb Salaman made an "O," and looked shrewdly
through it.

"It's an awful gamble," he repeated solemnly.

"It doesn't seem possible there's _nothing_ left," reiterated the Boy,
incredulous of such evil luck.

"Oh, I'm not saying you may not make something by getting on some other
fellow's property, if you've a mind to pay for it. But you'd better not
take anything on trust. I wouldn't trust my own mother in Alaska.
Something in the air here that breeds lies. You can't believe anybody,
yourself included." He laughed, stooped, and picked a little nugget out
of the dump. "You'll have the same man tell you an entirely different
story about the same matter within an hour. Exaggeration is in the air.
The best man becomes infected. You lie, he lies, they all lie. Lots of
people go crazy in Alaska every year--various causes, but it's chiefly
from believing their own lies."

They returned to Rampart.

It was decidedly inconvenient, considering the state of their finances,
to have thrown away that five hundred dollars on McGinty. They messed
with Keith, and paid their two-thirds of the household expenses; but
Dawson prices reigned, and it was plain there were no Dawson prizes.

"Well," said the Colonel in the morning, "we've got to live somehow
till the ice goes out." The Boy sat thinking. The Colonel went on: "And
we can't go to Dawson cleaned out. No tellin' whether there are any
proper banks there or whether my Louisville instructions got through.
Of course, we've got the dogs yet."

"Don't care how soon we sell Red and Spot."

After breakfast the Boy tied Nig up securely behind Keith's shack, and
followed the Colonel about with a harassed and watchful air.

"No market for dogs now," seemed to be the general opinion, and one
person bore up well under the news.

But the next day a man, very splashed and muddy, and obviously just in
from the gulches, stopped, in going by Keith's, and looked at Nig.

"Dog market's down," quoted the Boy internally to hearten himself.

"That mahlemeut's for sale," observed the Colonel to the stranger.

"These are." The Boy hastily dragged Red and Spot upon the scene.

"How much?"

"Seventy-five dollars apiece."

The man laughed. "Ain't you heard the dog season's over?"

"Well, don't you count on livin' to the next?"

The man pushed his slouch over his eyes and scratched the back of his
head.

"Unless I can git 'em reasonable, dogs ain't worth feedin' till next
winter."

"I suppose not," said the Boy sympathetically; "and you can't get fish
here."

"Right. Feedin' yourn on bacon, I s'pose, at forty cents a pound?'

"Bacon and meal."

"Guess you'll get tired o' that."

"Well, we'd sell you the red dog for sixty dollars," admitted the Boy.

The man stared. "Give you thirty for that black brute over there."

"Thirty dollars for Nig!"

"And not a--cent more. Dogs is down." He could get a dozen as good for
twenty-five dollars.

"Just you try." But the Colonel, grumbling, said thirty dollars was
thirty dollars, and he reckoned he'd call it a deal. The Boy stared,
opened his mouth to protest, and shut it without a sound.

The Colonel had untied Nig, and the Leader, unmindful of the impending
change in his fortunes, dashed past the muddy man from the gulch with
such impetuosity that he knocked that gentleman off his legs. He picked
himself up scowling, and was feeling for his gold sack.

"Got scales here?"

"No need of scales." The Boy whipped out a little roll of money,
counted out thirty dollars, and held it towards the Colonel. "I can
afford to keep Nig awhile if that's his figure."

The stranger was very angry at this new turn in the dog deal. He had
seen that Siwash out at the gulch, heard he was for sale, and came in
"a purpose to git him."

"The dog season's over," said the Boy, pulling Nig's ears and smiling.

"Oh, _is_ it? Well, the season for eatin' meals ain't over. How'm I to
git grub out to my claim without a dog?"

"We are offerin' you a couple o' capital draught dogs."

"I bought that there Siwash, and I'd a paid fur him if he hadn't a
knocked me down." He advanced threateningly. "An' if you ain't huntin'
trouble--"

The big Colonel stepped in and tried to soothe the stranger, as well as
to convince him that this was not the party to try bullying on.

"I'll give you forty dollars for the dog," said the muddy man sulkily
to the Boy.

"No."

"Give you fifty, and that's my last word."

"I ain't sellin' dogs."

He cursed, and offered five dollars more.

"Can't you see I _mean_ it? I'm goin' to keep that dog--awhile."

"S'pose you think you'll make a good thing o' hirin' him out?"

He hadn't thought of it, but he said: "Why not? Best dog in the Yukon."

"Well, how much?"

"How much'll you give?"

"Dollar a day."

"Done."

So Nig was hired out, Spot was sold for twenty dollars, and Red later
for fifteen.

"Well," said the Colonel when they went in, "I didn't know you were so
smart. But you can't live _here_ on Nig's seven dollars a week."

The Boy shook his head. Their miserable canned and salted fare cost
about four dollars a day per man.

"I'm goin' to take Nig's tip," he said--"goin' to work."

Easier said than done. In their high rubber boots they splashed about
Rampart in the mild, thawing weather, "tryin' to scare up a job," as
one of them stopped to explain to every likely person: "Yes, sah,
lookin' for any sort of honourable employment till the ice goes out."

"Nothin' doin'."

"Everything's at a standstill."

"Just keepin' body and soul together myself till the boats come in."

They splashed out to the gulch on the same errand.

Yes, wages were fifteen dollars a day when they were busy. Just now
they were waiting for the thorough thaw.

"Should think it was pretty thorough without any waitin'."

Salaman shook his head. "Only in the town and tundra. The frost holds
on to the deep gulch gravel like grim death. And the diggin's were
already full of men ready to work for their keep-at least, they say
so," Salaman added.

Not only in the great cities is human flesh and blood held cheaper than
that of the brutes. Even in the off season, when dogs was down, Nig
could get his dollar a day, but his masters couldn't get fifty cents.




CHAPTER XVII

THE GREAT STAMPEDE

"Die Menchen suchen und suchen, wollen immer was Besseres finden....
Gott geb' ihnen nur Geduld!"


Men in the Gold Nugget were talking about some claims, staked and
recorded in due form, but on which the statutory work had not been
done.

"What about 'em?"

"They're jumpable at midnight."

French Charlie invited the Boy to go along, but neither he nor the
Colonel felt enthusiastic.

"They're no good, those claims, except to sell to some sucker, and
we're not in that business _yet_, sah."

They had just done twenty miles in slush and mire, and their hearts
were heavier than their heels. No, they would go to bed while the
others did the jumpin', and next day they would fill Keith's wood-bin.

"So if work does turn up we won't have to worry about usin' up his
firin'." In the chill of the next evening they were cording the results
of the day's chopping, when Maudie, in fur coat, skirts to the knee,
and high rubber boots, appeared behind Keith's shack. Without deigning
to notice the Boy, "Ain't seen you all day," says she to the Colonel.

"Busy," he replied, scarcely looking up.

"Did you do any jumpin' last night?"

"No."

"_That's_ all right."

She seated herself with satisfaction on a log. She looked at the Boy
impudently, as much as to say, "When that blot on the landscape is
removed, I'll tell you something." The Boy had not the smallest
intention of removing the blot.

Grudgingly he admitted to himself that, away from the unsavory
atmosphere of the Gold Nugget, there was nothing in Maudie positively
offensive. At this moment, with her shrewd little face peering pertly
out from her parki-hood, she looked more than ever like an audacious
child, or like some strange, new little Arctic animal with a whimsical
human air.

"Look here, Colonel," she said presently, either despairing of getting
rid of the Boy or ceasing to care about it: "you got to get a wiggle on
to-morrow."

"What for?"

She looked round, first over one shoulder, then over the other. "Well,
it's on the quiet."

The Kentuckian nodded. But she winked her blue eyes suspiciously at the
Boy.

"Oh, _he's_ all right."

"Well, you been down to Little Minook, ain't you?"

"Yes."

"And you seen how the pay pinches out above No. 10?"

"Yes."

"Well, now, if it ain't above No. 10, where is it?" No answer. "Where
does it _go_?" she repeated severely, like a schoolmarm to a class of
backward boys.

"That's what everybody'd like to know."

"Then let 'em ask Pitcairn."

"What's Pitcairn say?"

She got up briskly, moved to another log almost at the Colonel's feet,
and sat looking at him a moment as if making up her mind about
something serious. The Colonel stood, fists at his sides, arrested by
that name Pitcairn.

"You know Pitcairn's the best all-round man we got here," she asserted
rather than asked.

The Colonel nodded.

"He's an Idaho miner, Pitcairn is!"

"I know."

"Well, he's been out lookin' at the place where the gold gives out on
Little Minook. There's a pup just there above No. 10--remember?"

"Perfectly."

"And above the pup, on the right, there's a bed of gravel."

"Couldn't see much of that for the snow."

"Well, sir, that bed o' gravel's an old channel."

"No!"

She nodded. "Pitcairn's sunk a prospect, and found colours in his first
pan."

"Oh, colours!"

"But the deeper he went, the better prospects he got." She stood up
now, close to the Colonel. The Boy stopped work and leaned on the wood
pile, listening. "Pitcairn told Charlie and me (on the strict q. t.)
that the gold channel crossed the divide at No. 10, and the only gold
on Little Minookust what spilt down on those six claims as the gold
went crossin' the gulch. The real placer is that old channel above the
pup, and boys"--in her enthusiasm she even included the Colonel's
objectionable pardner--"boys, it's rich as blazes!"

"I wonder----" drawled the Colonel, recovering a little from his first
thrill.

"I wouldn't advise you to waste much time wonderin'," she said with
fire. "What I'm tellin' you is scientific. Pitcairn is straight as a
string. You won't get any hymns out o' Pitcairn, but you'll get fair
and square. His news is worth a lot. If you got any natchral gumption
anywhere about you, you can have a claim worth anything from ten to
fifty thousand dollars this time to-morrow."

"Well, well! Good Lord! Hey, Boy, what we goin' to do?"

"Well, you don't want to get excited," admonished the queer little
Arctic animal, jumping up suddenly; "but you can bunk early and get a
four a.m. wiggle on. Charlie and me'll meet you on the Minookl. Ta-ta!"
tad she whisked away as suddenly as a chipmunk.

They couldn't sleep. Some minutes before the time named they were
quietly leaving Keith's shack. Out on the trail there were two or three
men already disappearing towards Little Minook here was Maudie, all by
herself, sprinting along like a good fellow, on the thin surface of the
last night's frost. She walked in native water-boots, but her
snow-shoes stuck out above the small pack neatly lashed on her straight
little shoulders. They waited for her.

She came up very brisk and businesslike. To their good-mornings she
only nodded in a funny, preoccupied way, never opening her lips.

"Charlie gone on?" inquired the Colonel presently.

She shook her head. "Knocked out."

"Been fightin'?"

"No; ran a race to Hunter."

"To jump that claim?"

She nodded.

"Did he beat?"

She laughed. "Butts had the start. They got there together at nine
o'clock!"

"Three hours before jumpin' time?"

Again she nodded. "And found four more waitin' on the same fool
errand."

"What did they do?"

"Called a meetin'. Couldn't agree. It looked like there'd be a fight,
and a fast race to the Recorder among the survivors. But before the
meetin' was adjourned, those four that had got there first (they were
pretty gay a'ready), they opened some hootch, so Butts and Charlie knew
they'd nothing to fear except from one another."

On the top of the divide that gave them their last glimpse of Rampart
she stopped an instant and looked back. The quick flash of anxiety
deepening to defiance made the others turn. The bit they could see of
the water-front thoroughfare was alive. The inhabitants were rushing
about like a swarm of agitated ants.

"What's happening?"

"It's got out," she exploded indignantly. "They're comin', too!"

She turned, flew down the steep incline, and then settled into a
steady, determined gait, that made her gain on the men who had got so
long a start. Her late companions stood looking back in sheer
amazement, for the town end of the trail was black with figures. The
Boy began to laugh.

"Look! if there isn't old Jansen and his squaw wife."

The rheumatic cripple, huddled on a sled, was drawn by a native man and
pushed by a native woman. They could hear him swearing at both
impartially in broken English and Chinook.

The Colonel and the Boy hurried after Maudie. It was some minutes
before they caught up. The Boy, feeling that he couldn't be
stand-offish in the very act of profiting by her acquaintance, began to
tell her about the crippled but undaunted Swede. She made no answer,
just trotted steadily on. The Boy hazarded another remark--an opinion
that she was making uncommon good time for a woman.

"You'll want all the wind you got before you get back," she said
shortly, and silence fell on the stampeders.

Some of the young men behind were catching up. Maudie set
her mouth very firm and quickened her pace. This spectacle touched
up those that followed; they broke into a canter, floundered in a
drift, recovered, and passed on. Maudie pulled up.

"That's all right! Let 'em get good and tired, half-way. We got to save
all the run we got in us for the last lap."

The sun was hotter, the surface less good.

She loosened her shoulder-straps, released her snow-shoes, and put them
on. As she tightened her little pack the ex-Governor came puffing up
with apoplectic face.

"Why, she can throw the diamond hitch!" he gasped with admiration.

"S'pose you thought the squaw hitch would be good enough for me."

"Well, it is for me," he laughed breathlessly.

"That's 'cause you're an ex-Governor"; and steadily she tramped along.

In twenty minutes Maudie's party came upon those same young men who had
passed running. They sat in a row on a fallen spruce. One had no rubber
boots, the other had come off in such a hurry he had forgotten his
snow-shoes. Already they were wet to the waist.

"Step out, Maudie," said one with short-breathed hilarity; "we'll be
treadin' on your heels in a minute;" but they were badly blown.

Maudie wasted not a syllable. Her mouth began to look drawn. There were
violet shadows under the straight-looking eyes.

The Colonel glanced at her now and then. Is she thinking about that
four-year-old? Is Maudie stampedin' through the snow so that other
little woman need never dance at the Alcazar? No, the Colonel knew well
enough that Maudie rather liked this stampedin' business.

She had passed one of those men who had got the long start of her. He
carried a pack. Once in a while she would turn her strained-looking
face over her shoulder, glancing back, with the frank eyes of an enemy,
at her fellow-citizens labouring along the trail.

"Come on, Colonel!" she commanded, with a new sharpness. "Keep up your
lick."

But the Colonel had had about enough of this gait. From now on he fell
more and more behind. But the Boy was with her neck and neck.

"Guess you're goin' to get there."

"Guess I am."

Some men behind them began to run. They passed. They had pulled off
their parkis, and left them where they fell. They threw off their caps
now, and the sweat rolled down their faces. Not a countenance but wore
that immobile look, the fixed, unseeing eye of the spent runner, who is
overtaxing heart and lungs. Not only Maudie now, but everyone was
silent. Occasionally a man would rouse himself out of a walk, as if out
of sleep, and run a few yards, going the more weakly after. Several of
the men who had been behind caught up.

Where was Kentucky?

If Maudie wondered, she wasted no time over the speculation. For his
own good she had admonished him to keep up his lick, but of course the
main thing was that Maudie should keep up hers.

"What if this is the great day of my life!" thought the Boy. "Shall I
always look back to this? Why, it's Sunday. Wonder if Kentucky
remembers?" Never pausing, the Boy glanced back, vaguely amused, and
saw the Colonel plunging heavily along in front of half a dozen, who
were obviously out of condition for such an expedition--eyes bloodshot,
lumbering on with nervous "whisky gait," now whipped into a breathless
gallop, now half falling by the way. Another of the Gold Nugget women
with two groggy-looking men, and somewhere down the trail, the crippled
Swede swearing at his squaw. A dreamy feeling came over the Boy. Where
in the gold basins of the North was this kind of thing not
happening--finished yesterday, or planned for to-morrow? Yes, it was
typical. Between patches of ragged black spruce, wide stretches of
snow-covered moss, under a lowering sky, and a mob of men floundering
through the drifts to find a fortune. "See how they run!"--mad mice.
They'd been going on stampedes all winter, and would go year in, year
out, until they died. The prizes were not for such as they. As for
himself--ah, it was a great day for him! He was going at last to claim
that gold-mine he had come so far to find. This was the decisive moment
of his life. At the thought he straightened up, and passed Maudie. She
gave him a single sidelong look, unfriendly, even fierce. That was
because he could run like sixty, and keep it up. "When I'm a
millionaire I shall always remember that I'm rich because I won the
race." A dizzy feeling came over him. He seemed to be running through
some softly resisting medium like water--no, like wine jelly. His heart
was pounding up in his throat. "What if something's wrong, and I drop
dead on the way to my mine? Well, Kentucky'll look after things."

Maudie had caught up again, and here was Little Minook at last! A
couple of men, who from the beginning had been well in advance of
everyone else, and often out of sight, had seemed for the last five
minutes to be losing ground. But now they put on steam, Maudie too. She
stepped out of her snowshoes, and flung them up on the low roof of the
first cabin. Then she ducked her head, crooked her arms at the elbow,
and, with fists uplifted, she broke into a run, jumping from pile to
pile of frozen pay, gliding under sluice-boxes, scrambling up the bank,
slipping on the rotting ice, recovering, dashing on over fallen timber
and through waist-deep drifts, on beyond No. 10 up to the bench above.

When the Boy got to Pitcairn's prospect hole, there were already six
claims gone. He proceeded to stake the seventh, next to Maudie's. That
person, with flaming cheeks, was driving her last location-post into a
snow-drift with a piece of water-worn obsidian.

The Colonel came along in time to stake No. 14 Below, under Maudie's
personal supervision.

Not much use, in her opinion, "except that with gold, it's where you
find it, and that's all any man can tell you."

As she was returning alone to her own claim, behold two brawny Circle
City miners pulling out her stakes and putting in their own. She flew
at them with remarks unprintable.

"You keep your head shut," advised one of the men, a big, evil-looking
fellow. "This was our claim first. We was here with Pitcairn yesterday.
Somebody's took away our location-posts."

"You take me for a cheechalko?" she screamed, and her blue eyes flashed
like smitten steel. She pulled up her sweater and felt in her belt.
"You--take your stakes out! Put mine back, unless you want----" A
murderous-looking revolver gleamed in her hand.

"Hold on!" said the spokesman hurriedly. "Can't you take a joke?"

"No; this ain't my day for jokin'. You want to put them stakes o' mine
back." She stood on guard till it was done. "And now I'd advise you,
like a mother, to back-track home. You'll find this climate very tryin'
to your health."

They went farther up the slope and marked out a claim on the incline
above the bench.

In a few hours the mountain-side was staked to the very top, and still
the stream of people struggled out from Rampart to the scene of the new
strike. All day long, and all the night, the trail was alive with the
coming or the going of the five hundred and odd souls that made up the
population. In the town itself the excitement grew rather than waned.
Men talked themselves into a fever, others took fire, and the epidemic
spread like some obscure nervous disease. Nobody slept, everybody drank
and hurrahed, and said it was the greatest night in the history of
Minook. In the Gold Nugget saloon, crowded to suffocation, Pitcairn
organized the new mining district, and named it the Idaho Bar. French
Charlie and Keith had gone out late in the day. On their return, Keith
sold his stake to a woman for twenty-five dollars, and Charlie
advertised a half-interest in his for five thousand. Between these two
extremes you could hear Idaho Bar quoted at any figure you liked.

Maudie was in towering spirits. She drank several cocktails, and in her
knee-length "stampedin' skirt" and her scarlet sweater she danced the
most audacious jig even Maudie had ever presented to the Gold Nugget
patrons. The miners yelled with delight. One of them caught her up and
put her on the counter of the bar, where, no whit at a loss, she
curveted and spun among the bottles and the glasses as lightly as a
dragonfly dips and whirls along a summer brook. The enthusiasm grew
delirious. The men began to throw nuggets at her, and Maudie, never
pausing in the dance, caught them on the fly.

Suddenly she saw the Big Chap turn away, and, with his back to her,
pretend to read the notice on the wall, written in charcoal on a great
sheet of brown wrapping-paper:

"MINOOK, April 30.

"To who it may concern:

"Know all men by these presents that I, James McGinty, now of Minook
(or Rampart City), Alaska, do hereby give notice of my intention to
hold and claim a lien by virtue of the statue in such case----"

He had read so far when Maudie, having jumped down off the bar with her
fists full of nuggets, and dodging her admirers, wormed her way to the
Colonel. She thrust her small person in between the notice and the
reader, and scrutinised the tanned face, on which the Rochester burners
shed a flood of light. "You lookin' mighty serious," she said.

"Am I?"

"M-hm! Thinkin' 'bout home sweet home?"

"N-no--not just then."

"Say, I told you 'bout--a--'bout me. You ain't never told me nothin'."

He seemed not to know the answer to that, and pulled at his ragged
beard. She leaned back against McGinty's notice, and blurred still more
the smudged intention "by virtue of the statue."

"Married, o' course," she said.

"No."

"Widder?"

"No."

"Never hitched up yet?"

He shook his head.

"Never goin' to, I s'pose."

"Oh, I don't know," he laughed, and turned his head over his shoulder
to the curious scene between them and the bar. It was suddenly as if he
had never seen it before; then, while Maudie waited, a little scornful,
a little kind, his eyes went through the window to the pink and orange
sunrise. As some change came over the Colonel's face, "She died!" said
Maudie.

"No--no--she didn't die;" then half to himself, half to forestall
Maudie's crude probing, "but I lost her," he finished.

"Oh, you lost her!"

He stood, looking past the ugliness within to the morning majesty
without. But it was not either that he saw. Maudie studied him.

"Guess you ain't give up expectin' to find her some day?"

"No--no, not quite."

"Humph! Did you guess you'd find her here?"

"No," and his absent smile seemed to remove him leagues away. "No, not
here."

"I could a' told you----" she began savagely. "I don't know for certain
whether any--what you call good women come up here, but I'm dead sure
none stay."

"When do you leave for home, Maudie?" he said gently.

But at the flattering implication the oddest thing happened. As she
stood there, with her fists full of gold, Maudie's eyes filled. She
turned abruptly and went out. The crowd began to melt away. In half an
hour only those remained who had more hootch than they could carry off
the premises. They made themselves comfortable on the floor, near the
stove, and the greatest night Minook had known was ended.




CHAPTER XVIII

A MINERS' MEETING

"Leiden oder triumphiren Hammer oder Amboss sein."--Goethe.


In a good-sized cabin, owned by Bonsor, down near the A. C., Judge
Corey was administering Miners' Law. The chief magistrate was already a
familiar figure, standing on his dump at Little Minook, speculatively
chewing and discussing "glayshal action," but most of the time at the
Gold Nugget, chewing still, and discussing more guardedly the action
some Minook man was threatening to bring against another. You may treat
a glacier cavalierly, but Miners' Law is a serious matter. Corey was
sitting before a deal table, littered with papers strewn round a
central bottle of ink, in which a steel pen stuck upright. The Judge
wore his usual dilapidated business suit of brown cheviot that had once
been snuff-coloured and was now a streaky drab. On his feet, stretched
out under the magisterial table till they joined the jury, a pair of
moccasins; on his grizzled head a cowboy hat, set well back. He could
spit farther than any man in Minook, and by the same token was a better
shot. They had unanimously elected him Judge.

The first-comers had taken possession of the chairs and wooden stools
round the stove. All the later arrivals, including Keith and his
friends, sat on the floor.

"There's a good many here."

"They'll keep comin' as long as a lean man can scrouge in."

"Yes," said Keith, "everybody's got to come, even if it's only the
usual row between pardners, who want to part and can't agree about
dividing the outfit."

"Got to come?"

Keith laughed. "That's the way everybody feels. There'll be a debate
and a chance to cast a vote. Isn't your true-born American always
itching to hold a meeting about something?"

"Don't know about that," said McGinty, "but I do know there's more
things happens in a minute to make a man mad in Alaska, than happens in
a year anywhere else." And his sentiment was loudly applauded. The
plaintiff had scored a hit.

"I don't know but two partnerships," the ex-Governor was saying, "of
all those on my ship and on the Muckluck and the May West--just two,
that have stood the Alaska strain. Everyone that didn't break on the
boats, or in camp, went to smash on the trail."

They all admitted that the trail was the final test. While they smoked
and spat into or at the stove, and told trail yarns, the chief
magistrate arranged papers, conferred with the clerk and another man,
wrinkled deeply his leathery forehead, consulted his Waterbury, and
shot tobacco-juice under the table.

"Another reason everybody comes," whispered Keith, "is because the side
that wins always takes the town up to the Nugget and treats to hootch.
Whenever you see eighty or ninety more drunks than usual, you know
there's either been a stampede or else justice has been administered."

"Ain't Bonsor late?" asked someone.

"No, it's a quarter of."

"Why do they want Bonsor?"

"His case on the docket--McGinty v. Burt Bonsor, proprietor of the Gold
Nugget."

"If they got a row on----"

"If they got a row? Course they got a row. Weren't they pardners?"

"But McGinty spends all his time at the Gold Nugget."

"Well, where would he spend it?"

"A Miners' Meetin's a pretty poor machine," McGinty was saying to the
ex-Governor, "but it's the best we got."

"----in a country bigger than several of the nations of Europe put
together," responded that gentleman, with much public spirit.

"A Great Country!"

"Right!"

"You bet!"

"----a country that's paid for its purchase over and over again, even
before we discovered gold here."

"Did she? Good old 'laska."

"----and the worst treated part o' the Union."

"That's so."

"After this, when I read about Russian corruption and Chinese cruelty,
I'll remember the way Uncle Sam treats the natives up----"

"----and us, b'gosh! White men that are openin' up this great, rich
country fur Uncle Sam----"

"----with no proper courts--no Government protection--no help--no
justice--no nothin'."

"Yer forgittin' them reindeer!" And the court-room rang with derisive
laughter.

"Congress started that there Relief Expedition all right," the josher
went on, "only them blamed reindeer had got the feed habit, and when
they'd et up everything in sight they set down on the Dalton Trail--and
there they're settin' yit, just like they was Congress. But I don't
like to hear no feller talkin' agin' the Gover'ment."

"Yes, it's all very funny," said McGinty gloomily, "but think o' the
fix a feller's in wot's had a wrong done him in the fall, and knows
justice is thousands o' miles away, and he can't even go after her for
eight months; and in them eight months the feller wot robbed him has et
up the money, or worked out the claim, and gone dead-broke."

"No, sir! we don't wait, and we don't go trav'lin'. We stay at home and
call a meetin'."

The door opened, and Bonsor and the bar-tender, with great difficulty,
forced their way in. They stood flattened against the wall. During the
diversion McGinty was growling disdainfully, "Rubbidge!"

"Rubbidge? Reckon it's pretty serious rubbidge."

"Did you ever know a Miners' Meetin' to make a decision that didn't
become law, with the whole community ready to enforce it if necessary?
Rubbidge!

"Oh, we'll hang a man if we don't like his looks," grumbled McGinty;
but he was overborne. There were a dozen ready to uphold the majesty of
the Miners' Meetin'.

"No, sir! No funny business about our law! This tribunal's final."

"I ain't disputin' that it's final. I ain't talkin' about law. I was
mentionin' Justice."

"The feller that loses is always gassin' 'bout Justice. When you win
you don't think there's any flies on the Justice."

"Ain't had much experience with winnin'. We all knows who wins in these
yere Meetin's."

"Who?" But they turned their eyes on Mr. Bonsor, over by the door.

"Who wins?" repeated a Circle City man.

"The feller that's got the most friends."

"It's so," whispered Keith.

"----same at Circle," returned the up-river man.

McGinty looked at him. Was this a possible adherent?

"You got a Push at Circle?" he inquired, but without genuine interest
in the civil administration up the river. "Why, 'fore this yere town
was organised, when we hadn't got no Court of Arbitration to fix a
boundary, or even to hang a thief, we had our 'main Push,' just like we
was 'Frisco." He lowered his voice, and leaned towards his Circle
friend. "With Bonsor's help they 'lected Corey Judge o' the P'lice
Court, and Bonsor ain't never let Corey forgit it."

"What about the other?" inquired a Bonsorite, "the shifty Push that got
you in for City Marshal?"

"What's the row on to-night?" inquired the Circle City man.

"Oh, Bonsor, over there, he lit out on a stampede 'bout Christmas, and
while he was gone a feller by the name o' Lawrence quit the game.
Fanned out one night at the Gold Nugget. I seen for days he was wantin'
to be a angil, and I kep' a eye on 'im. Well, when he went to the
boneyard, course it was my business, bein' City Marshal, to take
possession of his property fur his heirs!"

There was unseemly laughter behind the stove-pipe.

"Among his deeds and traps," McGinty went on, unheeding, "there was
fifteen hundred dollars in money. Well, sir, when Bonsor gits back he
decides he'd like to be the custodian o' that cash. Mentions his idee
to me. I jest natchrally tell him to go to hell. No, sir, he goes to
Corey over there, and gits an order o' the Court makin' Bonsor
administrator o' the estate o' James Lawrence o' Noo Orleens, lately
deceased. Then Bonsor comes to me, shows me the order, and demands that
fifteen hundred."

"Didn't he tell you you could keep all the rest o' Lawrence's stuff?"
asked the Bonsorite.

McGinty disdained to answer this thrust.

"But I knows my dooty as City Marshal, and I says, 'No,' and Bonsor
says, says he, 'If you can't git the idee o' that fifteen hundred
dollars out o' your head, I'll git it out fur ye with a bullet,' an' he
draws on me."

"An' McGinty weakens," laughed the mocker behind the stove-pipe.

"Bonsor jest pockets the pore dead man's cash," says McGinty, with
righteous indignation, "and I've called this yer meetin' t' arbitrate
the matter."

"Minook doesn't mind arbitrating," says Keith low to the Colonel, "but
there isn't a man in camp that would give five cents for the interest
of the heirs of Lawrence in that fifteen hundred dollars."

A hammering on the clerk's little table announced that it was seven
p.m.

The Court then called for the complaint filed by McGinty v. Bonsor, the
first case on the docket. The clerk had just risen when the door was
flung open, and hatless, coatless, face aflame, Maudie stood among the
miners.

"Boys!" said she, on the top of a scream, "I been robbed."

"Hey?"

"Robbed?"

"Golly!"

"Maudie robbed?" They spoke all together. Everybody had jumped up.

"While we was on that stampede yesterday, somebody found my--all
my----" She choked, and her eyes filled. "Boys! my nuggets, my dust, my
dollars--they're gone!"

"Where did you have 'em?"

"In a little place under--in a hole." Her face twitched, and she put
her hand up to hide it.

"Mean shame."

"Dirt mean."

"We'll find him, Maudie."

"An' when we do, we'll hang him on the cottonwood."

"Did anybody know where you kept your----"

"I didn't think so, unless it was----No!" she screamed hysterically,
and then fell into weak crying. "Can't think who could have been such a
skunk."

"But who do you suspect?" persisted the Judge.

"How do I know?" she retorted angrily. "I suspect everybody till--till
I know." She clenched her hands.

That a thief should be "operating" in Minook on somebody who wasn't
dead yet, was a matter that came home to the business and the bosoms of
all the men in the camp. In the midst of the babel of speculation and
excitement, Maudie, still crying and talking incoherently about skunks,
opened the door. The men crowded after her. Nobody suggested it, but
the entire Miners' Meeting with one accord adjourned to the scene of
the crime. Only a portion could be accommodated under Maudie's roof,
but the rest crowded in front of her door or went and examined the
window. Maudie's log-cabin was a cheerful place, its one room, neatly
kept, lined throughout with red and white drill, hung with marten and
fox, carpeted with wolf and caribou. The single sign of disorder was
that the bed was pulled out a little from its place in the angle of the
wall above the patent condenser stove. Behind the oil-tank, where the
patent condensation of oil into gas went on, tiers of shelves,
enamelled pots and pans ranged below, dishes and glasses above. On the
very top, like a frieze, gaily labelled ranks of "tinned goods." On the
table under the window a pair of gold scales. A fire burned in the
stove. The long-lingering sunlight poured through the "turkey-red" that
she had tacked up for a half-curtain, and over this, one saw the
slouch-hats and fur caps of the outside crowd.

Clutching Judge Corey by the arm, Maudie pulled him after her into the
narrow space behind the head-board and the wall.

"It was here--see?" She stooped down.

Some of the men pulled the bed farther out, so that they, too, could
pass round and see.

"This piece o' board goes down so slick you'd never know it lifted
out." She fitted it in with shaking hands, and then with her nails and
a hairpin got it out. "And way in, underneath, I had this box. I always
set it on a flat stone." She spoke as if this oversight were the
thief's chief crime. "See? Like that."

She fitted the cigar-box into unseen depths of space and then brought
it out again, wet and muddy. The ground was full of springs hereabouts,
and the thaw had loosed them.

"Boys!" She stood up and held out the box. "Boys! it was full."

Eloquently she turned it upside down.

"How much do you reckon you had?" She handed the muddy box to the
nearest sympathiser, sat down on the fur-covered bed, and wiped her
eyes.

"Any idea?"

"I weighed it all over again after I got in from the Gold Nugget the
night we went on the stampede."

As she sobbed out the list of her former possessions, Judge Corey took
it down on the back of a dirty envelope. So many ounces of dust, so
many in nuggets, so much in bills and coin, gold and silver. Each item
was a stab.

"Yes, all that--all that!" she jumped up wildly, "and it's gone! But we
got to find it. What you hangin' round here for? Why, if you boys had
any natchral spunk you'd have the thief strung up by now."

"We got to find him fust."

"You won't find him standin' here."

They conferred afresh.

"It must have been somebody who knowed where you kept the stuff."

"N-no." Her red eyes wandered miserably, restlessly, to the window.
Over the red half-curtain French Charlie and Butts looked in. They had
not been to the meeting.

Maudie's face darkened as she caught sight of the Canadian.

"Oh, yes, you can crow over me now," she shouted shrilly above the buzz
of comment and suggestion. The Canadian led the way round to the door,
and the two men crowded in.

"You just get out," Maudie cried in a fury. "Didn't I turn you out o'
this and tell you never----"

"Hol' on," said French Charlie in a conciliatory tone. "This true 'bout
your losin'----"

"Yes, it's true; but I ain't askin' your sympathy!"

He stopped short and frowned.

"Course not, when you can get his." Under his slouch-hat he glowered at
the Colonel.

Maudie broke into a volley of abuse. The very air smelt of brimstone.
When finally, through sheer exhaustion, she dropped on the side of the
bed, the devil prompted French Charlie to respond in kind. She jumped
up and turned suddenly round upon Corey, speaking in a voice quite
different, low and hoarse: "You asked me, Judge, if anybody knew where
I kept my stuff. Charlie did."

The Canadian stopped in the middle of a lurid remark and stared
stupidly. The buzz died away. The cabin was strangely still.

"Wasn't you along with the rest up to Idaho Bar?" inquired the Judge in
a friendly voice.

"Y-yes."

"Not when we all were! No!" Maudie's tear-washed eyes were regaining a
dangerous brightness. "I wanted him to come with me. He wouldn't, and
we quarrelled."

"We didn't."

"You didn't quarrel?" put in the Judge.

"We did," said Maudie, breathless.

"Not about that. It was because she wanted another feller to come,
too." Again he shot an angry glance at the Kentuckian.

"And Charlie said if I gave the other feller the tip, he wouldn't come.
And he'd get even with me, if it took a leg!"

"Well, it looks like he done it."

"Can't you prove an alibi? Thought you said you was along with the rest
to Idaho Bar?" suggested Windy Jim.

"So I was."

"I didn't see you," Maudie flashed.

"When were you there?" asked the Judge.

"Last night."

"Oh, yes! When everybody else was comin' home. You all know if that's
the time Charlie usually goes on a stampede!"

"You----"

If words could slay, Maudie would have dropped dead, riddled with a
dozen mortal wounds. But she lived to reply in kind. Charlie's
abandonment of coherent defence was against him. While he wallowed
blindly in a mire of offensive epithet, his fellow-citizens came to
dark conclusions. He had an old score to pay off against Maudie, they
all knew that. Had he chosen this way? What other so effectual? He
might even say most of that dust was his, anyway. But it was an
alarming precedent. The fire of Maudie's excitement had caught and
spread. Eve the less inflammable muttered darkly that it was all up
with Minook, if a person couldn't go on a stampede without havin' his
dust took out of his cabin. The crowd was pressing Charlie, and twenty
cross-questions were asked him in a minute. He, beside himself with
rage, or fear, or both, lost all power except to curse.

The Judge seemed to be taking down damning evidence on the dirty
envelope. Some were suggesting:

"Bring him over to the court."

"Yes, try him straight away."

No-Thumb-Jack was heard above the din, saying it was all gammon wasting
time over a trial, or even--in a plain case like this--for the Judge to
require the usual complaint made in writing and signed by three
citizens.

Two men laid hold of the Canadian, and he turned ghastly white under
his tan.

"Me? Me tief? You--let me alone!" He began to struggle. His terrified
eyes rolling round the little cabin, fell on Butts.

"I don' know but one tief in Minook," he said wildly, like a man
wandering in a fever, and unconscious of having spoken, till he noticed
there was a diversion of some sort. People were looking at Butts. A
sudden inspiration pierced the Canadian's fog of terror.

"You know what Butts done to Jack McQuestion. You ain't forgot how he
sneaked Jack's watch!" The incident was historic.

Every eye on Butts. Charlie caught up breath and courage.

"An' t'odder night w'en Maudie treat me like she done"--he shot a
blazing glance at the double-dyed traitor--"I fixed it up with Butts.
Got him to go soft on 'er and nab 'er ring."

"You didn't!" shouted Maudie.

With a shaking finger Charlie pointed out Jimmie, the cashier.

"Didn't I tell you to weigh me out twenty dollars for Butts that
night?"

"Right," says Jimmie.

"It was to square Butts fur gittin' that ring away from Maudie."

"You put up a job like that on me?" To be fooled publicly was worse
than being robbed.

Charlie paid no heed to her quivering wrath. The menace of the
cotton-wood gallows outrivalled even Maudie and her moods.

"Why should I pay Butts twenty dollars if I could work dat racket
m'self? If I want expert work, I go to a man like Butts, who knows his
business. I'm a miner--like the rest o' yer!"

The centre of gravity had shifted. It was very grave indeed in the
neighbourhood of Mr. Butts.

"Hold on," said the Judge, forcing his way nearer to the man whose
fingers had a renown so perilous. "'Cause a man plays a trick about a
girl's ring don't prove he stole her money. This thing happened while
the town was emptied out on the Little Minook trail. Didn't you go off
with the rest yesterday morning?"

"No."

"Ha!" gasped Maudie, as though this were conclusive--"had business in
town, did you?"

Mr. Butts declined to answer.

"You thought the gold-mine out on the gulch could wait--and the
gold-mine in my cabin couldn't."

"You lie!" remarked Mr. Butts.

"What time did you get to Idaho Bar?" asked Corey.

"Didn't get there at all."

"Where were you?"

"Here in Rampart."

"What?"

"Wait! Wait!" commanded the Judge, as the crowd rocked towards Butts:
"P'raps you'll tell us what kept you at home?"

Butts shut his mouth angrily, but a glance at the faces nearest him
made him think an answer prudent.

"I was tired."

The men, many of them ailing, who had nearly killed themselves to get
to Idaho Bar, sneered openly.

"I'd been jumpin' a claim up at Hunter."

"So had Charlie. But he joined the new stampede in the afternoon."

"Well, I didn't."

"Why, even the old cripple Jansen went on this stampede."

"Can't help that."

"Mr. Butts, you're the only able-bodied white man in the district that
stayed at home." Corey spoke in his, most judicial style.

Mr. Butts must have felt the full significance of so suspicious a fact,
but all he said was:

"Y' ought to fix up a notice. Anybody that don't join a stampede will
be held guilty o' grand larceny." Saying this Butts had backed a step
behind the stove-pipe, and with incredible quickness had pulled out a
revolver. But before he had brought it into range, No-Thumb-Jack had
struck his arm down, and two or three had sprung at the weapon and
wrested it away.

"Search him!"

"No tellin' what else he's got!"

"----and he's so damned handy!"

"Search him!"

Maudie pressed forward as the pinioned man's pockets were turned out.
Only tobacco, a small buckskin bag with less than four ounces of dust,
a pipe, and a knife.

"Likely he'd be carrying my stuff about on him!" said she, contemptuous
of her own keen interest.

"Get out a warrant to search Butts' premises," said a voice in the
crowd.

"McGinty and Johnson are down there now!"

"Think he'd leave anything layin' round?"

Maudie pressed still closer to the beleaguered Butts.

"Say, if I make the boys let you go back to Circle, will you tell me
where you've hid my money?"

"Ain't got your money!"

"Look at 'im," whispered Charlie, still so terrified he could hardly
stand.

"Butts ain't borrowin' no trouble."

And this formulating of the general impression did Butts no good. As
they had watched the calm demeanour of the man, under suspicion of what
was worse, in their eyes, than murder, there had come over the
bystanders a wave of that primitive cruelty that to this hour will wake
in modern men and cry as loud as in Judean days, or in the Saga times
of Iceland, "Retribution! Let him suffer! Let him pay in blood!" And
here again, on the Yukon, that need of visible atonement to right the
crazy injustice of the earth.

Even the women--the others had crowded in--were eager for Butts'
instant expiation of the worst crime such a community knows. They told
one another excitedly how they'd realised all along it was only a
question of time before Butts would be tryin' his game up here. Nobody
was safe. Luckily they were on to him. But look! He didn't care a
curse. It would be a good night's job to make him care.

Three men had hold of him, and everybody talked at once. Minnie Bryan
was sure she had seen him skulking round Maudie's after that lady had
gone up the trail, but everybody had been too excited about the
stampede to notice particularly.

The Judge and Bonsor were shouting and gesticulating, Butts answering
bitterly but quietly still. His face was pretty grim, but it looked as
if he were the one person in the place who hadn't lost his head. Maudie
was still crying at intervals, and advertising to the newcomers that
wealth she had hitherto kept so dark, and between whiles she stared
fixedly at Butts, as conviction of his guilt deepened to a rage to see
him suffer for his crime.

She would rather have her nuggets back, but, failing that--let Butts
pay! He owed her six thousand dollars. Let him pay!

The miners were hustling him to the door--to the Court House or to the
cotton-wood--a toss-up which.

"Look here!" cried out the Colonel; "McGinty and Johnson haven't got
back!"

Nobody listened. Justice had been sufficiently served in sending them.
They had forced Butts out across the threshold, the crowd packed close
behind. The only men who had not pressed forward were Keith, the
Colonel, and the Boy, and No-Thumb-Jack, still standing by the
oil-tank.

"What are they going to do with him?" The Colonel turned to Keith with
horror in his face.

Keith's eyes were on the Boy, who had stooped and picked up the block
of wood that had fitted over the treasure-hole. He was staring at it
with dilated eyes. Sharply he turned his head in the direction where
No-Thumb-Jack had stood. Jack was just making for the door on the heels
of the last of those pressing to get out.

The Boy's low cry was drowned in the din. He lunged forward, but the
Colonel gripped him. Looking up, he saw that Kentucky understood, and
meant somehow to manage the business quietly.

Jack was trying, now right, now left, to force his way through the
congestion at the door, like a harried rabbit at a wattled fence. A
touch on the shoulder simultaneously with the click of a trigger at his
ear brought his face round over his shoulder. He made the instinctive
pioneer motion to his hip, looked into the bore of the Colonel's
pistol, and under Keith's grip dropped his "gun-hand" with a smothered
oath.

Or was it that other weapon in the Colonel's left that bleached the
ruddy face? Simply the block of wood. On the under side, dried in, like
a faint stain, four muddy finger-prints, index joint lacking. Without a
word the Colonel turned the upper side out. A smudge?--no--the grain of
human skin clean printed--a distorted palm without a thumb. Only one
man in Minook could make that sign manual!

The last of the crowd were over the threshold now, and still no word
was spoken by those who stayed behind, till the Colonel said to the
Boy:

"Go with 'em, and look after Butts. Give us five minutes; more if you
can!"

He laid the block on a cracker-box, and, keeping pistol and eye still
on the thief, took his watch in his left hand, as the Boy shot through
the door.

Butts was making a good fight for his life, but he was becoming
exhausted. The leading spirits were running him down the bank to where
a crooked cotton-wood leaned cautiously over the Never-Know-What, as if
to spy out the river's secret.

But after arriving there, they were a little delayed for lack of what
they called tackle. They sent a man off for it, and then sent another
to hurry up the man. The Boy stood at the edge of the crowd, a little
above them, watching Maudie's door, and with feverish anxiety turning
every few seconds to see how it was with Butts.

Up in the cabin No-Thumb-Jack had pulled out of the usual capacious
pockets of the miner's brown-duck-pockets that fasten with a patent
snap--a tattered pocket-book, fat with bills. He plunged deeper and
brought up Pacific Coast eagles and five-dollar pieces, Canadian and
American gold that went rolling out of his maimed and nervous hand
across the tablet to the scales and set the brass pans sawing up and
down.

Keith, his revolver still at full cock, had picked up a trampled bit of
paper near the stove. Corey's list. Left-handedly he piled up the
money, counting, comparing.

"Quick! the dust!" ordered the Colonel. Out of a left hip-pocket a
long, tight-packed buckskin bag. Another from a side-pocket, half the
size and a quarter as full.

"That's mine," said Jack, and made a motion to recover.

"Let it alone. Turn out everything. Nuggets!"

A miner's chamois belt unbuckled and flung heavily down. The scales
jingled and rocked; every pocket in the belt was stuffed.

"Where's the rest?"

"There ain't any rest. That's every damned pennyweight."

"Maybe we ought to weigh it, and see if he's lying?"

"'Fore God it's all! Let me go!" He had kept looking through the crack
of the door.

"Reckon it's about right," said Keith.

"'Tain't right! There's more there'n I took. My stuff's there too. For
Christ's sake, let me go!"

"Look here, Jack, is the little bag yours?"

Jack wet his dry lips and nodded "Yes."

The Colonel snatched up the smaller bag and thrust it into the man's
hands. Jack made for the door. The Colonel stopped him.

"Better take to the woods," he said, with a motion back towards the
window. The Colonel opened the half-closed door and looked out, as Jack
pushed aside the table, tore away the red curtain, hammered at the
sash, then, desperate, set his shoulder at it and forced the whole
thing out. He put his maimed hand on the sill and vaulted after the
shattered glass.

They could see him going like the wind up towards his own shack at the
edge of the wood, looking back once or twice, doubling and tacking to
keep himself screened by the haphazard, hillside cabins, out of sight
of the lynchers down at the river.

"Will you stay with this?" the Colonel had asked Keith hurriedly,
nodding at the treasure-covered table, and catching up the
finger-marked block before Jack was a yard from the window.

"Yes," Keith had said, revolver still in hand and eyes on the man
Minook was to see no more. The Colonel met the Boy running breathless
up the bank.

"Can't hold 'em any longer," he shouted; "you're takin' it pretty easy
while a man's gettin' killed down here."

"Stop! Wait!" The Colonel floundered madly through the slush and mud,
calling and gesticulating, "I've got the thief!"

Presto all the backs of heads became faces.

"Got the money?" screamed Maudie, uncovering her eyes. She had gone to
the execution, but after the rope was brought, her nerve failed her,
and she was sobbing hysterically into her two palms held right over her
eyes.

"Oh, you had it, did you?" called out McGinty with easy insolence.

"Look here!" The Colonel held up the bit of flooring with rapid
explanation.

"Where is he?"

"Got him locked up?"

Everybody talked at once. The Colonel managed to keep them going for
some moments before he admitted.

"Reckon he's lit out." And then the Colonel got it hot and strong for
his clumsiness.

"Which way'd he go?"

The Colonel turned his back to the North Pole, and made a fine large
gesture in the general direction of the Equator.

"Where's my money?"

"Up in your cabin. Better go and count it."

A good many were willing to help since they'd been cheated out of a
hanging, and even defrauded of a shot at a thief on the wing. Nobody
seemed to care to remain in the neighbourhood of the crooked
cotton-wood. The crowd was dispersing somewhat sheepishly.

Nobody looked at Butts, and yet he was a sight to see. His face and his
clothes were badly mauled. He was covered with mud and blood. When the
men were interrupted in trying to get the noose over his head, he had
stood quite still in the midst of the crowd till it broke and melted
away from him. He looked round, passed his hand over his eyes, threw
open his torn coat, and felt in his pockets.

"Who's got my tobacco?" says he.

Several men turned back suddenly, and several pouches were held out,
but nobody met Butts' eyes. He filled his pipe, nor did his hand shake
any more than those that held the tobacco-bags. When he had lit up,
"Who's got my Smith and Wesson?" he called out to the backs of the
retiring citizens. Windy Jim stood and delivered. Butts walked away to
his cabin, swaying a little, as if he'd had more hootch than he could
carry.

"What would you have said," demanded the Boy, "if you'd hung the wrong
man?"

"Said?" echoed McGinty. "Why, we'd 'a' said that time the corpse had
the laugh on us." A couple of hours later Keith put an excited face
into his shack, where the Colonel and the Boy were just crawling under
their blankets.

"Thought you might like to know, that Miners' Meeting that was
interrupted is having an extra session."

They followed him down to the Court through a fine rain. The night was
heavy and thick. As they splashed along Keith explained:

"Of course, Charlie knew there wasn't room enough in Alaska now for
Butts and him; and he thought he'd better send Butts home. So he took
his gun and went to call."

"Don't tell me that poor devil's killed after all."

"Not a bit. Butts is a little bunged up, but he's the handier man, even
so. He drew the first bead."

"Charlie hurt?"

"No, he isn't hurt. He's dead. Three or four fellows had just looked
in, on the quiet, to kind of apologise to Butts. They're down at
Corey's now givin' evidence against him."

"So Butts'll have to swing after all. Is he in Court?"

"Yes--been a busy day for Butts."

A confused noise came suddenly out of the big cabin they were nearing.
They opened the door with difficulty, and forced their way into the
reeking, crowded room for the second time that night. Everybody seemed
to be talking--nobody listening. Dimly through dense clouds of
tobacco-smoke "the prisoner at the Bar" was seen to be--what--no!
Yes--shaking hands with the Judge.

"Verdict already?"

"Oh, that kind o' case don't take a feller like Corey long."

"What's the decision?"

"Prisoner discharged. Charlie Le Gros committed suicide."

"Suicide!"

"--by goin' with his gun to Butts' shack lookin' f trouble."




CHAPTER XIX

THE ICE GOES OUT

"I am apart of all that I have seen."


It had been thawing and freezing, freezing and thawing, for so long
that men lost account of the advance of a summer coming, with such
balked, uncertain steps. Indeed, the weather variations had for several
weeks been so great that no journey, not the smallest, could be
calculated with any assurance. The last men to reach Minook were two
who had made a hunting and prospecting trip to an outlying district.
They had gone there in six days, and were nineteen in returning.

The slush was waist-deep in the gulches. On the benches, in the snow,
holes appeared, as though red-hot stones had been thrown upon the
surface. The little settlement by the mouth of the Minook sat
insecurely on the boggy hillside, and its inhabitants waded knee-deep
in soaking tundra moss and mire.

And now, down on the Never-Know-What, water was beginning to run on the
marginal ice. Up on the mountains the drifted snow was honey-combed.
Whole fields of it gave way and sunk a foot under any adventurous shoe.
But although these changes had been wrought slowly, with backsets of
bitter nights, when everything was frozen hard as flint, the illusion
was general that summer came in with a bound. On the 9th of May, Minook
went to bed in winter, and woke to find the snow almost gone under the
last nineteen hours of hot, unwinking sunshine, and the first geese
winging their way up the valley--sight to stir men's hearts. Stranger
still, the eight months' Arctic silence broken suddenly by a thousand
voices. Under every snow-bank a summer murmur, very faint at first, but
hourly louder--the sound of falling water softly singing over all the
land.

As silence had been the distinguishing feature of the winter, so was
noise the sign of the spring. No ear so dull but now was full of it.
All the brooks on all the hills, tinkling, tumbling, babbling of some
great and universal joy, all the streams of all the gulches joining
with every little rill to find the old way, or to carve a new, back to
the Father of Waters.

And the strange thing had happened on the Yukon. The shore-edges of the
ice seemed sunken, and the water ran yet deeper there. But of a
certainty the middle part had risen! The cheechalkos thought it an
optical illusion. But old Brandt from Forty-Mile had seen the ice go
out for two-and-twenty years, and he said it went out always so--"humps
his back, an' gits up gits, and when he's a gitten', jest look out!"
Those who, in spite of warning, ventured in hip-boots down on the
Never-Know-What, found that, in places, the under side of the ice was
worn nearly through. If you bent your head and listened, you could
plainly hear that greater music of the river running underneath, low as
yet, but deep, and strangely stirring--dominating in the hearer's ears
all the clear, high clamour from gulch and hill.

In some men's hearts the ice "went out" at the sound, and the melting
welled up in their eyes. Summer and liberty were very near.

"Oh, hurry, Yukon Inua; let the ice go out and let the boats come in."

But the next few days hung heavily. The river-ice humped its back still
higher, but showed no disposition to "git." The wonder was it did not
crack under the strain; but Northern ice ahs the air of being strangely
flexile. Several feet in depth, the water ran now along the margin.

More geese and ducks appeared, and flocks of little birds--Canada jays,
robins, joined the swelling chorus of the waters.

Oh, hurry, hurry Inua, and open the great highway! Not at Minook alone:
at every wood camp, mining town and mission, at every white post and
Indian village, all along the Yukon, groups were gathered waiting the
great moment of the year. No one had ever heard of the ice breaking up
before the 11th of May or later than the 28th. And yet men had begun to
keep a hopeful eye on the river from the 10th of April, when a white
ptarmigan was reported wearing a collar of dark-brown feathers, and his
wings tipped brown. That was a month ago, and the great moment could
not possibly be far now.

The first thing everybody did on getting up, and the last thing
everybody did on going to bed, was to look at the river. It was not
easy to go to bed; and even if you got so far it was not easy to sleep.
The sun poured into the cabins by night as well as by day, and there
was nothing to divide one part of the twenty-four hours from another.
You slept when you were too tired to watch the river. You breakfasted,
like as not, at six in the evening; you dined at midnight. Through all
your waking hours you kept an eye on the window overlooking the river.
In your bed you listened for that ancient Yukon cry, "The ice is going
out!"

For ages it had meant to the timid: Beware the fury of the shattered
ice-fields; beware the caprice of the flood. Watch! lest many lives go
out with the ice as aforetime. And for ages to the stout-hearted it had
meant: Make ready the kyaks and the birch canoes; see that tackle and
traps are strong--for plenty or famine wait upon the hour. As the white
men waited for boats to-day, the men of the older time had waited for
the salmon--for those first impatient adventurers that would force
their way under the very ice-jam, tenderest and best of the season's
catch, as eager to prosecute that journey from the ocean to the
Klondyke as if they had been men marching after the gold boom.

No one could settle to anything. It was by fits and starts that the
steadier hands indulged even in target practice, with a feverish
subconsciousness that events were on the way that might make it
inconvenient to have lost the art of sending a bullet straight. After a
diminutive tin can, hung on a tree, had been made to jump at a hundred
paces, the marksman would glance at the river and forget to fire. It
was by fits and starts that they even drank deeper or played for higher
stakes.

The Wheel of Fortune, in the Gold Nugget, was in special demand. It was
a means of trying your luck with satisfactory despatch "between drinks"
or between long bouts of staring at the river. Men stood in
shirt-sleeves at their cabin doors in the unwinking sunshine, looking
up the valley or down, betting that the "first boat in" would be one of
those nearest neighbours, May West or Muckluck, coming up from
Woodworth; others as ready to back heavily their opinion that the first
blast of the steam whistle would come down on the flood from Circle or
from Dawson.

The Colonel had bought and donned a new suit of "store clothes," and
urged on his companion the necessity of at least a whole pair of
breeches in honour of his entrance into the Klondyke. But the Boy's
funds were low and his vanity chastened. Besides, he had other business
on his mind.

After sending several requests for the immediate return of his dog,
requests that received no attention, the Boy went out to the gulch to
recover him. Nig's new master paid up all arrears of wages readily
enough, but declined to surrender the dog. "Oh, no, the ice wasn't
thinkin' o' goin' out yit."

"I want my dog."

"You'll git him sure."

"I'm glad you understand that much."

"I'll bring him up to Rampart in time for the first boat."

"Where's my dog?"

No answer. The Boy whistled. No Nig. Dread masked itself in choler. He
jumped on the fellow, forced him down, and hammered him till he cried
for mercy.

"Where's my dog, then?"

"He--he's up to Idyho Bar," whimpered the prostrate one. And there the
Boy found him, staggering under a pair of saddle-bags, hired out to
Mike O'Reilly for a dollar and a half a day. Together they returned to
Rampart to watch for the boat.

Certainly the ice was very late breaking up this year. The men of
Rampart stood about in groups in the small hours of the morning of the
16th of May; as usual, smoking, yarning, speculating, inventing
elaborate joshes. Somebody remembered that certain cheechalkos had gone
to bed at midnight. Now this was unprecedented, even impertinent. If
the river is not open by the middle of May, your Sour-dough may go to
bed--only he doesn't. Still, he may do as he lists. But your
cheechalko--why, this is the hour of his initiation. It was as if a man
should yawn at his marriage or refuse to sleep at his funeral. The
offenders were some of those Woodworth fellows, who, with a dozen or so
others, had built shacks below "the street" yet well above the river.
At two in the morning Sour-dough Saunders knocked them up.

"The ice is goin' out!"

In a flash the sleepers stood at the door.

"Only a josh." One showed fight.

"Well, it's true what I'm tellin' yer," persisted Saunders seriously:
"the ice is goin' out, and it's goin' soon, and when you're washed out
o' yer bunks ye needn't blame me, fur I warned yer."

"You don't mean the flood'll come up here?"

"Mebbe you've arranged so she won't this year."

The cheechalkos consulted. In the end, four of them occupied the next
two hours (to the infinite but masked amusement of the town) in
floundering about in the mud, setting up tents in the boggy wood above
the settlement, and with much pains transporting thither as many of
their possessions as they did not lose in the bottomless pit of the
mire.

When the business was ended, Minook self-control gave way. The
cheechalkos found themselves the laughing-stock of the town. The
others, who had dared to build down on the bank, but who "hadn't scared
worth a cent," sauntered up to the Gold Nugget to enjoy the increased
esteem of the Sour-doughs, and the humiliation of the men who had
thought "the Yukon was goin' over the Ramparts this year--haw, haw!"

It surprises the average mind to discover that one of civilization's
most delicate weapons is in such use and is so potently dreaded among
the roughest frontier spirits. No fine gentleman in a drawing-room, no
sensitive girl, shrinks more from what Meredith calls "the comic
laugh," none feels irony more keenly than your ordinary American
pioneer. The men who had moved up into the soaking wood saw they had
run a risk as great to them as the fabled danger of the river--the risk
of the josher's irony, the dire humiliation of the laugh. If a man up
here does you an injury, and you kill him, you haven't after all taken
the ultimate revenge. You might have "got the laugh on him," and let
him live to hear it.

While all Minook was "jollying" the Woodworth men, Maudie made one of
her sudden raids out of the Gold Nugget. She stood nearly up to the
knees of her high rubber boots in the bog of "Main Street," talking
earnestly with the Colonel. Keith and the Boy, sitting on a store box
outside of the saloon, had looked on at the fun over the timid
cheechalkos, and looked on now at Maudie and the Colonel. It crossed
the Boy's mind that they'd be putting up a josh on his pardner pretty
soon, and at the thought he frowned.

Keith had been saying that the old miners had nearly all got "squawed."
He had spoken almost superstitiously of the queer, lasting effect of
the supposedly temporary arrangement.

"No, they don't leave their wives as often as you'd expect, but in most
cases it seems to kill the pride of the man. He gives up all idea of
ever going home, and even if he makes a fortune, they say, he stays on
here. And year by year he sinks lower and lower, till he's farther down
in the scale of things human than his savage wife."

"Yes, it's awful to think how the life up here can take the stiffening
out of a fella."

He looked darkly at the two out there in the mud. Keith nodded.

"Strong men have lain down on the trail this winter and cried." But it
wasn't that sort of thing the other meant. Keith followed his new
friend's glowering looks.

"Yes. That's just the kind of man that gets taken in."

"What?" said the Boy brusquely.

"Just the sort that goes and marries some flighty creature."

"Well," said his pardner haughtily, "he could afford to marry 'a
flighty creature.' The Colonel's got both feet on the ground." And
Keith felt properly snubbed. But what Maudie was saying to the Colonel
was:

"You're goin' up in the first boat, I s'pose?"

"Yes."

"Looks like I'll be the only person left in Minook."

"I don't imagine you'll be quite alone."

"No? Why, there's only between five and six hundred expectin' to board
a boat that'll be crowded before she gets here."

"Does everybody want to go to Dawson?"

"Everybody except a few boomers who mean to stay long enough to play
off their misery on someone else before they move on."

The Colonel looked a trifle anxious.

"I hadn't thought of that. I suppose there will be a race for the
boat."

"There'll be a race all the way up the river for all the early boats.
Ain't half enough to carry the people. But you look to me like you'll
stand as good a chance as most, and anyhow, you're the one man I know,
I'll trust my dough to."

The Colonel stared.

"You see, I want to get some money to my kiddie, an' besides, I got
m'self kind o' scared about keepin' dust in my cabin. I want it in a
bank, so's if I should kick the bucket (there'll be some pretty high
rollin' here when there's been a few boats in, and my life's no better
than any other feller's), I'd feel a lot easier if I knew the kiddie'd
have six thousand clear, even if I did turn up my toes. See?"

"A--yes--I see. But----"

The door of the cabin next the saloon opened suddenly. A graybeard with
a young face came out rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He stared
interrogatively at the river, and then to the world in general:

"What time is it?"

"Half-past four."

"Mornin' or evenin'?" and no one thought the question strange.

Maudie lowered her voice.

"No need to mention it to pardners and people. You don't want every
feller to know you're goin' about loaded; but will you take my dust up
to Dawson and get it sent to 'Frisco on the first boat?"

"The ice! the ice! It's moving!"

"The ice is going out!"

"Look! the ice!"

From end to end of the settlement the cry was taken up. People darted
out of cabins like beavers out of their burrows. Three little
half-breed Indian boys, yelling with excitement, tore past the Gold
Nugget, crying now in their mother's Minook, now in their father's
English, "The ice is going out!" From the depths of the store-box
whereon his master had sat, Nig darted, howling excitedly and waving a
muddy tail like a draggled banner, saying in Mahlemeut: "The ice is
going out! The fish are coming in." All the other dogs waked and gave
tongue, running in and out among the huddled rows of people gathered on
the Ramparts.

Every ear full of the rubbing, grinding noise that came up out of the
Yukon--noise not loud, but deep--an undercurrent of heavy sound. As
they stood there, wide-eyed, gaping, their solid winter world began to
move. A compact mass of ice, three-quarters of a mile wide and four
miles long, with a great grinding and crushing went down the valley.
Some distance below the town it jammed, building with incredible
quickness a barrier twenty feet high.

The people waited breathless. Again the ice-mass trembled. But the
watchers lifted their eyes to the heights above. Was that thunder in
the hills? No, the ice again; again crushing, grinding, to the low
accompaniment of thunder that seemed to come from far away.

Sections a mile long and half a mile wide were forced up, carried over
the first ice-pack, and summarily stopped below the barrier. Huge
pieces, broken off from the sides, came crunching their way angrily up
the bank, as if acting on some independent impulse. There they sat,
great fragments, glistening in the sunlight, as big as cabins. It was
something to see them come walking up the shelving bank! The
cheechalkos who laughed before are contented now with running, leaving
their goods behind. Sour-dough Saunders himself never dreamed the ice
would push its way so far.

In mid-channel a still unbroken sheet is bent yet more in the centre.
Every now and then a wide crack opens near the margin, and the water
rushes out with a roar. Once more the mass is nearly still, and now
all's silent. Not till the water, dammed and thrown back by the ice,
not until it rises many feet and comes down with a volume and momentum
irresistible, will the final conflict come.

Hour after hour the people stand there on the bank, waiting to see the
barrier go down. Unwillingly, as the time goes on, this one, that one,
hurries away for a few minutes to prepare and devour a meal, back
again, breathless, upon rumour of that preparatory trembling, that
strange thrilling of the ice. The grinding and the crushing had begun
again.

The long tension, the mysterious sounds, the sense of some great
unbridled power at work, wrought on the steadiest nerves. People did
the oddest things. Down at the lower end of the town a couple of
miners, sick of the scurvy, had painfully clambered on their
roof--whether to see the sights or be out of harm's way, no one knew.
The stingiest man in Minook, who had refused to help them in their
cabin, carried them food on the roof. A woman made and took them the
Yukon remedy for their disease. They sat in state in sight of all men,
and drank spruce tea.

By one o'clock in the afternoon the river had risen eight feet, but the
ice barrier still held. The people, worn out, went away to sleep. All
that night the barrier held, though more ice came down and still the
water rose. Twelve feet now. The ranks of shattered ice along the shore
are claimed again as the flood widens and licks them in. The
cheechalkos' cabins are flooded to the caves. Stout fellows in
hip-boots take a boat and rescue the scurvy-stricken from the roof. And
still the barrier held.

People began to go about their usual avocations. The empty Gold Nugget
filled again. Men sat, as they had done all the winter, drinking, and
reading the news of eight months before, out of soiled and tattered
papers.

Late the following day everyone started up at a new sound. Again
miners, Indians, and dogs lined the bank, saw the piled ice masses
tremble, heard a crashing and grinding as of mountains of glass hurled
together, saw the barrier give way, and the frozen wastes move down on
the bosom of the flood. Higher yet the water rose--the current ran
eight miles an hour. And now the ice masses were less enormous, more
broken. Somewhere far below another jam. Another long bout of waiting.

Birds are singing everywhere. Between the white snowdrifts the Arctic
moss shows green and yellow, white flowers star the hills.

Half the town is packed, ready to catch the boat at five minutes'
notice. With door barred and red curtain down, Maudie is doing up her
gold-dust for the Colonel to take to Dawson. The man who had washed it
out of a Birch Creek placer, and "blowed it in fur the girl"--up on the
hillside he sleeps sound.

The two who had broken the record for winter travel on the Yukon, side
by side in the sunshine, on a plank laid across two mackerel firkins,
sit and watch the brimming flood. They speak of the Big Chimney men,
picture them, packed and waiting for the Oklahoma, wonder what they
have done with Kaviak, and what the three months have brought them.

"When we started out that day from the Big Chimney, we thought we'd be
made if only we managed to reach Minook."

"Well, we've got what we came for--each got a claim."

"Oh, yes."

"A good claim, too."

"Guess so."

"Don't you know the gold's there?"

"Yes; but where are the miners? You and I don't propose to spend the
next ten years in gettin' that gold out."

"No; but there are plenty who would if we gave 'em the chance. All we
have to do is to give the right ones the chance."

The Colonel wore an air of reflection.

"The district will be opened up," the Boy went on cheerfully, "and
we'll have people beggin' us to let 'em get out our gold, and givin' us
the lion's share for the privilege."

"Do you altogether like the sound o' that?"

"I expect, like other people, I'll like the result."

"We ought to see some things clearer than other people. We had our
lesson on the trail," said the Colonel quietly. "Nobody ought ever to
be able to fool us about the power and the value of the individual
apart from society. Seems as if association did make value. In the
absence of men and markets a pit full of gold is worth no more than a
pit full of clay."

"Oh, yes; I admit, till the boats come in, we're poor men."

"Nobody will stop here this summer--they'll all be racing on to
Dawson."

"Dawson's 'It,' beyond a doubt."

The Colonel laughed a little ruefully.

"We used to say Minook."

"I said Minook, just to sound reasonable, but, of course, I meant
Dawson."

And they sat there thinking, watching the ice-blocks meet, crash, go
down in foam, and come up again on the lower reaches, the Boy idly
swinging the great Katharine's medal to and fro. In his buckskin pocket
it has worn so bright it catches at the light like a coin fresh from
the mint.

No doubt Muckluck is on the river-bank at Pymeut; the one-eyed Prince,
the story-teller Yagorsha, even Ol' Chief--no one will be indoors
to-day.

Sitting there together, they saw the last stand made by the ice, and
shared that moment when the final barrier, somewhere far below, gave
way with boom and thunder. The mighty flood ran free, tearing up trees
by their roots as it ran, detaching masses of rock, dissolving islands
into swirling sand and drift, carving new channels, making and unmaking
the land. The water began to fall. It had been a great time: it was
ended.

"Pardner," says the Colonel, "we've seen the ice go out."

"No fella can call you and me cheechalkos after to-day."

"No, sah. We've travelled the Long Trail, we've seen the ice go out,
and we're friends yet."

The Kentuckian took his pardner's brown hand with a gentle solemnity,
seemed about to say something, but stopped, and turned his bronzed face
to the flood, carried back upon some sudden tide within himself to
those black days on the trail, that he wanted most in the world to
forget. But in his heart he knew that all dear things, all things kind
and precious--his home, a woman's face--all, all would fade before he
forgot those last days on the trail. The record of that journey was
burnt into the brain of the men who had made it. On that stretch of the
Long Trail the elder had grown old, and the younger had forever lost
his youth. Not only had the roundness gone out of his face, not only
was it scarred, but such lines were graven there as commonly takes the
antique pencil half a score of years to trace.

"Something has happened," the Colonel said quite low. "We aren't the
same men who left the Big Chimney."

"Right!" said the Boy, with a laugh, unwilling as yet to accept his own
personal revelation, preferring to put a superficial interpretation on
his companion's words. He glanced at the Colonel, and his face changed
a little. But still he would not understand. Looking down at the
chaparejos that he had been so proud of, sadly abbreviated to make
boots for Nig, jagged here and there, and with fringes now not all
intentional, it suited him to pretend that the "shaps" had suffered
most.

"Yes, the ice takes the kinks out."

"Whether the thing that's happened is good or evil, I don't pretend to
say," the other went on gravely, staring at the river. "I only know
something's happened. There were possibilities--in me, anyhow--that
have been frozen to death. Yes, we're different."

The Boy roused himself, but only to persist in his misinterpretation.

"You ain't different to hurt. If I started out again tomorrow----"

"The Lord forbid!"

"Amen. But if I had to, you're the only man in Alaska--in the
world--I'd want for my pardner."

"Boy----!" he wrestled with a slight bronchial huskiness, cleared his
throat, tried again, and gave it up, contenting himself with, "Beg your
pardon for callin' you 'Boy.' You're a seasoned old-timer, sah." And
the Boy felt as if some Sovereign had dubbed him Knight.

In a day or two now, from north or south, the first boat must appear.
The willows were unfolding their silver leaves. The alder-buds were
bursting; geese and teal and mallard swarmed about the river margin.
Especially where the equisetae showed the tips of their feathery green
tails above the mud, ducks flocked and feasted. People were too
excited, "too busy," they said, looking for the boats, to do much
shooting. The shy birds waxed daring. Keith, standing by his shack,
knocked over a mallard within forty paces of his door.

It was eight days after that first cry, "The ice is going out!" four
since the final jam gave way and let the floes run free, that at one
o'clock in the afternoon the shout went up, "A boat! a boat!"

Only a lumberman's bateau, but two men were poling her down the current
with a skill that matched the speed. They swung her in. A dozen hands
caught at the painter and made fast. A young man stepped ashore and
introduced himself as Van Alen, Benham's "Upper River pardner, on the
way to Anvik."

His companion, Donovan, was from Circle City, and brought appalling
news. The boats depended on for the early summer traffic, Bella, and
three other N.A.T. and T. steamers, as well as the A.C.'s Victoria and
the St. Michael, had been lifted up by the ice "like so many feathers,"
forced clean out of the channel, and left high and dry on a sandy
ridge, with an ice wall eighty feet wide and fifteen high between them
and open water.

"All the crews hard at work with jackscrews," said Donovan; "and if
they can get skids under, and a channel blasted through the ice, they
may get the boats down here in fifteen or twenty days."

A heavy blow. But instantly everyone began to talk of the May West and
the Muckluck as though all along they had looked for succour to come
up-stream rather than down. But as the precious hours passed, a deep
dejection fastened on the camp. There had been a year when, through one
disaster after another, no boats had got to the Upper River. Not even
the arrival from Dawson of the Montana Kid, pugilist and gambler, could
raise spirits so cast down, not even though he was said to bring
strange news from outside.

There was war in the world down yonder--war had been formally declared
between America and Spain.

Windy slapped his thigh in humourous despair.

"Why hadn't he thought o' gettin' off a josh like that?"

To those who listened to the Montana Kid, to the fretted spirits of men
eight months imprisoned, the States and her foreign affairs were far
away indeed, and as for the other party to the rumoured war--Spain?
They clutched at school memories of Columbus, Americans finding through
him the way to Spain, as through him Spaniards had found the way to
America. So Spain was not merely a State historic! She was still in the
active world. But what did these things matter? Boats mattered: the
place where the Klondykers were caught, this Minook, mattered. And so
did the place they wanted to reach--Dawson mattered most of all. By the
narrowed habit of long months, Dawson was the centre of the universe.

More little boats going down, and still nothing going up. Men said
gloomily:

"We're done for! The fellows who go by the Canadian route will get
everything. The Dawson season will be half over before we're in the
field--if we ever are!"

The 28th of May! Still no steamer had come, but the mosquitoes
had--bloodthirsty beyond any the temperate climates know. It was clear
that some catastrophe had befallen the Woodworth boats. And Nig had
been lured away by his quondam master! No, they had not gone back to
the gulch--that was too easy. The man had a mind to keep the dog, and,
since he was not allowed to buy him, he would do the other thing.

He had not been gone an hour, rumour said--had taken a scow and
provisions, and dropped down the river. Utterly desperate, the Boy
seized his new Nulato gun and somebody else's canoe. Without so much as
inquiring whose, he shot down the swift current after the dog-thief. He
roared back to the remonstrating Colonel that he didn't care if an
up-river steamer did come while he was gone--he was goin' gunnin'.

At the same time he shared the now general opinion that a Lower River
boat would reach them first, and he was only going to meet her, meting
justice by the way.

He had gone safely more than ten miles down, when suddenly, as he was
passing an island, he stood up in his boat, balanced himself, and
cocked his gun.

Down there, on the left, a man was standing knee-deep in the water,
trying to free his boat from a fallen tree; a Siwash dog watched him
from the bank.

The Boy whistled. The dog threw up his nose, yapped and whined. The man
had turned sharply, saw his enemy and the levelled gun. He jumped into
the boat, but she was filling while he bailed; the dog ran along the
island, howling fit to raise the dead. When he was a little above the
Boy's boat he plunged into the river. Nig was a good swimmer, but the
current here would tax the best. The Boy found himself so occupied with
saving Nig from a watery grave, while he kept the canoe from capsizing,
that he forgot all about the thief till a turn in the river shut him
out of sight.

The canoe was moored, and while trying to restrain Nig's dripping
caresses, his master looked up, and saw something queer off there,
above the tops of the cottonwoods. As he looked he forgot the
dog--forgot everything in earth or heaven except that narrow cloud
wavering along the sky. He sat immovable in the round-shouldered
attitude learned in pulling a hand-sled against a gale from the Pole.
If you are moderately excited you may start, but there is an excitement
that "nails you."

Nig shook his wolf's coat and sprayed the water far and wide, made
little joyful noises, and licked the face that was so still. But his
master, like a man of stone, stared at that long gray pennon in the
sky. If it isn't a steamer, what is it? Like an echo out of some lesson
he had learned and long forgot, "Up-bound boats don't run the channel:
they have to hunt for easy water." Suddenly he leaped up. The canoe
tipped, and Nig went a second time into the water. Well for him that
they were near the shore; he could jump in without help this time. No
hand held out, no eye for him. His master had dragged the painter free,
seized the oars, and, saying harshly, "Lie down, you black devil!" he
pulled back against the current with every ounce he had in him. For the
gray pennon was going round the other side of the island, and the Boy
was losing the boat to Dawson.

Nig sat perkily in the bow, never budging till his master, running into
the head of the island, caught up a handful of tough root fringes, and,
holding fast by them, waved his cap, and shouted like one possessed,
let go the fringes, caught up his gun, and fired. Then Nig, realising
that for once in a way noise seemed to be popular, pointed his nose at
the big object hugging the farther shore, and howled with a right
goodwill.

"They see! They see! Hooray!"

The Boy waved his arms, embraced Nig, then snatched up the oars. The
steamer's engines were reversed; now she was still. The Boy pulled
lustily. A crowded ship. Crew and passengers pressed to the rails. The
steamer canted, and the Captain's orders rang out clear. Several
cheechalkos laid their hands on their guns as the wild fellow in the
ragged buckskins shot round the motionless wheel, and brought his canoe
'long-side, while his savage-looking dog still kept the echoes of the
Lower Ramparts calling.

"Three cheers for the Oklahoma!"

At the sound of the Boy's voice a red face hanging over the stern broke
into a broad grin.

"Be the Siven! Air ye the little divvle himself, or air ye the divvle's
gran'fatherr?"

The apparition in the canoe was making fast and preparing to board the
ship.

"Can't take another passenger. Full up!" said the Captain. He couldn't
hear what was said in reply, but he shook his head. "Been refusin' 'em
right along." Then, as if reproached by the look in the wild young
face, "We thought you were in trouble."

"So I am if you won't----"

"I tell you we got every ounce we can carry."

"Oh, take me back to Minook, anyway!"

He said a few words about fare to the Captain's back. As that magnate
did not distinctly say "No"--indeed, walked off making conversation
with the engineer--twenty hands helped the new passenger to get Nig and
the canoe on board.

"Well, got a gold-mine?" asked Potts.

"Yes, sir."

"Where's the Colonel?" Mac rasped out, with his square jaw set for
judgment.

"Colonel's all right--at Minook. We've got a gold-mine apiece."

"Anny gowld in 'em?"

"Yes, sir, and no salt, neither."

"Sorry to see success has gone to your head," drawled Potts, eyeing the
Boy's long hair. "I don't see any undue signs of it elsewhere."

"Faith! I do, thin. He's turned wan o' thim hungry, grabbin'
millionaires."

"What makes you think that?" laughed the Boy, poking his brown fingers
through the knee-hole of his breeches.

"Arre ye contint wid that gowld-mine at Minook? No, be the Siven!
What's wan gowld-mine to a millionaire? What forr wud ye be prospectin
that desert oiland, you and yer faithful man Froyday, if ye wasn't
rooned intoirely be riches?"

The Boy tore himself away from his old friends, and followed the
arbiter of his fate. The engines had started up again, and they were
going on.

"I'm told," said the Captain rather severely, "that Minook's a busted
camp."

"Oh, is it?" returned the ragged one cheerfully. Then he remembered
that this Captain Rainey had grub-staked a man in the autumn--a man who
was reported to know where to look for the Mother Lode, the mighty
parent of the Yukon placers. "I can tell you the facts about Minook."
He followed the Captain up on the hurricane-deck, giving him details
about the new strike, and the wonderful richness of Idaho Bar. "Nobody
would know about it to-day, but that the right man went prospecting
there." (One in the eye for whoever said Minook was "busted," and
another for the prospector Rainey had sent to look for----) "You see,
men like Pitcairn have given up lookin' for the Mother Lode. They say
you might as well look for Mother Eve; you got to make out with her
descendants. Yukon gold, Pitcairn says, comes from an older rock series
than this"--he stood in the shower of sparks constantly spraying from
the smoke-stack to the fireproof deck, and he waved his hand airily at
the red rock of the Ramparts--"far older than any of these. The gold up
here has all come out o' rock that went out o' the rock business
millions o' years ago. Most o' that Mother Lode the miners are lookin'
for is sand now, thirteen hundred miles away in Norton Sound."

"Just my luck," said the Captain gloomily, going a little for'ard, as
though definitely giving up mining and returning to his own proper
business.

"But the rest o' the Mother Lode, the gold and magnetic iron, was too
heavy to travel. That's what's linin' the gold basins o' the
North--linin' Idaho Bar thick."

The Captain sighed.

"Twelve," a voice sang out on the lower deck.

"Twelve," repeated the Captain.

"Twelve," echoed the pilot at the wheel.

"Twelve and a half," from the man below, a tall, lean fellow, casting
the sounding-pole. With a rhythmic nonchalance he plants the long black
and white staff at the ship's side, draws it up dripping, plunges it
down again, draws it up, and sends it down hour after hour. He never
seems to tire; he never seems to see anything but the water-mark, never
to say anything but what he is chanting now, "Twelve and a half," or
some variation merely numerical. You come to think him as little human
as the calendar, only that his numbers are told off with the
significance of sound, the suggested menace of a cry. If the "sounding"
comes too near the steamer's draught, or the pilot fails to hear the
reading, the Captain repeats it. He often does so when there is no
need; it is a form of conversation, noncommittal, yet smacking of
authority.

"Ten."

"Ten," echoed the pilot, while the Captain was admitting that he had
been mining vicariously "for twenty years, and never made a cent.
Always keep thinkin' I'll soon be able to give up steamboatin' and buy
a farm."

He shook his head as one who sees his last hope fade.

But his ragged companion turned suddenly, and while the sparks fell in
a fresh shower, "Well, Captain," says he, "you've got the chance of
your life right now."

"Ten and a half."

"Just what they've all said. Wish I had the money I've wasted on
grub-stakin'."

The ragged one thrust his hands in the pockets of his chaparejos.

"I grub-staked myself, and I'm very glad I did."

"Nobody in with you?"

"No."

"Nine."

Echo, "Nine."

"Ten."

"Pitcairn says, somehow or other, there's been gold-washin' goin' on up
here pretty well ever since the world began."

"Indians?"

"No; seems to have been a bigger job than even white men could manage.
Instead o' stamp-mills, glaciers grindin' up the Mother Lode; instead
o' little sluice-boxes, rivers; instead o' riffles, gravel bottoms.
Work, work, wash, wash, day and night, every summer for a million
years. Never a clean-up since the foundation of the world. No, sir,
waitin' for us to do that--waitin' now up on Idaho Bar."

The Captain looked at him, trying to conceal the envy in his soul. They
were sounding low water, but he never heard. He looked round sharply as
the course changed.

"I've done my assessment," the ragged man went on joyously, "and I'm
going to Dawson."

This was bad navigation. He felt instantly he had struck a snag. The
Captain smiled, and passed on sounding: "Nine and a half."

"But I've got a fortune on the Bar. I'm not a boomer, but I believe in
the Bar."

"Six."

"Six. Gettin' into low water."

Again the steamer swung out, hunting a new channel.

"Pitcairn's opinion is thought a lot of. The Geologic Survey men listen
to Pitcairn. He helped them one year. He's one of those extraordinary
old miners who can tell from the look of things, without even panning.
When he saw that pyrites on Idaho Bar he stopped dead. 'This looks good
to me!' he said, and, Jee-rusalem! it was good!"

They stared at the Ramparts growing bolder, the river hurrying like a
mill-race, the steamer feeling its way slow and cautiously like a blind
man with a stick.

"Seven."

"Seven."

"Seven."

"Six and a half."

"Pitcairn says gold is always thickest on the inside of an elbow or
turn in the stream. It's in a place like that my claim is."

The steamer swerved still further out from the course indicated on the
chart. The pilot was still hunting a new channel, but still the Captain
stood and listened, and it was not to the sounding of the Yukon Bar.

"They say there's no doubt about the whole country being glaciated."

"Hey?"

"Signs of glacial erosion everywhere."

The Captain looked sharply about as if his ship might be in some new
danger.

"No doubt the gold is all concentrates."

"Oh, is that so?" He seemed relieved on the whole.

"Eight and a half," from below.

"Eight and a half," from the Captain.

"Eight and a half," from the pilot-house.

"Concentrates, eh?"

Something arresting, rich-sounding, in the news--a triple essence of
the perfume of riches.

With the incantation of technical phrase over the witch-brew of
adventure, gambling, and romance, that simmers in the mind when men
tell of finding gold in the ground, with the addition of this salt of
science comes a savour of homely virtue, an aroma promising sustenance
and strength. It confounds suspicion and sees unbelief, first weaken,
and at last do reverence. There is something hypnotic in the
terminology. Enthusiasm, even backed by fact, will scare off your
practical man, who yet will turn to listen to the theory of "the
mechanics of erosion" and one of its proofs--"up there before our eyes,
the striation of the Ramparts."

But Rainey was what he called "an old bird." His squinted pilot-eye
came back from the glacier track and fell on the outlandish figure of
his passenger. And with an inward admiration of his quality of extreme
old-birdness, the Captain struggled against the trance.

"Didn't I hear you say something about going to Dawson?"

"Y-yes. I think Dawson'll be worth seeing."

"Holy Moses, yes! There's never been anything like Dawson before."

"And I want to talk to the big business men there. I'm not a miner
myself. I mean to put my property on the market." As he said the words
it occurred to him unpleasantly how very like McGinty they sounded. But
he went on: "I didn't dream of spending so much time up here as I've
put in already. I've got to get back to the States."

"You had any proposition yet?" The Captain led the way to his private
room.

"About my claim? Not yet; but once I get it on the market----"

So full was he of a scheme of his own he failed to see that he had no
need to go to Dawson for a buyer.

The Captain set out drinks, and still the talk was of the Bar. It had
come now to seem impossible, even to an old bird, that, given those
exact conditions, gold should not be gathered thick along that Bar.

"I regard it as a sure thing. Anyhow, it's recorded, and the
assessment's done. All the district wants now is capital to develop
it."

"Districts like that all over the map," said the old bird, with a final
flutter of caution. "Even if the capital's found--if everything's ready
for work, the summer's damn short. But if it's a question of goin'
huntin' for the means of workin'----"

"There's time," returned the other quietly, "but there's none to waste.
You take me and my pardner----"

"Thought you didn't have a pardner," snapped the other, hot over such
duplicity.

"Not in ownership; he's got another claim. But you take my pardner and
me to Dawson----"

The Captain stood on his legs and roared:

"I can't, I tell you!"

"You can if you will--you will if you want that farm!"

Rainey gaped.

"Take us to Dawson, and I'll get a deed drawn up in Minook turning over
one-third of my Idaho Bar property to John R. Rainey."

John R. Rainey gaped the more, and then finding his tongue:

"No, no. I'd just as soon come in on the Bar, but it's true what I'm
tellin' you. There simply ain't an unoccupied inch on the Oklahoma this
trip. It's been somethin' awful, the way I've been waylaid and prayed
at for a passage. People starvin' with bags o' money waitin' for 'em at
the Dawson Bank! Settlements under water--men up in trees callin' to us
to stop for the love of God--men in boats crossin' our channel, headin'
us off, thinkin' nothin' o' the risk o' bein' run down. 'Take us to
Dawson!' it's the cry for fifteen hundred miles."

"Oh, come! you stopped for me."

The Captain smiled shrewdly.

"I didn't think it necessary at the time to explain. We'd struck bottom
just then--new channel, you know; it changes a lot every time the ice
goes out and the floods come down. I reversed our engines and went up
to talk to the pilot. We backed off just after you boarded us. I must
have been rattled to take you even to Minook."

"No. It was the best turn you've done yourself in a long while."

The Captain shook his head. It was true: the passengers of the Oklahoma
were crowded like cattle on a Kansas stock-car. He knew he ought to
unload and let a good portion wait at Minook for that unknown quantity
the next boat. He would issue the order, but that he knew it would mean
a mutiny.

"I'll get into trouble for overloading as it is."

"You probably won't; people are too busy up here. If you do, I'm
offerin' you a good many thousand dollars for the risk."

"God bless my soul! where'd I put you? There ain't a bunk."

"I've slept by the week on the ice."

"There ain't room to lie down."

"Then we'll stand up."

Lord, Lord! what could you do with such a man? Owner of Idaho Bar, too.
"Mechanics of erosion," "Concentrates," "a third interest"--it all rang
in his head. "I've got nine fellers sleepin' in here," he said
helplessly, "in my room."

"Can we come if we find our own place, and don't trouble you?"

"Well, I won't have any pardner--but perhaps you----"

"Oh, pardner's got to come too."

Whatever the Captain said the nerve-tearing shriek of the whistle
drowned. It was promptly replied to by the most horrible howls.

"Reckon that's Nig! He's got to come too," said this dreadful ragged
man.

"God bless me, this must be Minook!"

The harassed Captain hustled out.

"You must wait long enough here to get that deed drawn, Captain!"
called out the other, as he flew down the companionway.

Nearly six hundred people on the bank. Suddenly controlling his
eagerness, the Boy contented himself with standing back and staring
across strange shoulders at the place he knew so well. There was "the
worst-lookin' shack in the town," that had been his home, the A. C.
store looming importantly, the Gold Nugget, and hardly a face to which
he could not give a name and a history: Windy Jim and the crippled
Swede; Bonsor, cheek by jowl with his enemy, McGinty; Judge Corey
spitting straight and far; the gorgeous bartender, all checks and
diamonds, in front of a pitiful group of the scurvy-stricken (thirty of
them in the town waiting for rescue by the steamer); Butts, quite
bland, under the crooked cottonwood, with never a thought of how near
he had come, on that very spot, to missing the first boat of the year,
and all the boats of all the years to follow.

Maudie, Keith and the Colonel stood with the A. C. agent at the end of
the baggage-bordered plank-walk that led to the landing. Behind them,
at least four hundred people packed and waiting with their possessions
at their feet, ready to be put aboard the instant the Oklahoma made
fast. The Captain had called out "Howdy" to the A. C. Agent, and
several greetings were shouted back and forth. Maudie mounted a huge
pile of baggage and sat there as on a throne, the Colonel and Keith
perching on a heap of gunny-sacks at her feet. That woman almost the
only person in sight who did not expect, by means of the Oklahoma, to
leave misery behind! The Boy stood thinking "How will they bear it when
they know?"

The Oklahoma was late, but she was not only the first boat--she might
conceivably be the last.

Potts and O'Flynn had spotted the man they were looking for, and called
out "Hello! Hello!" as the big fellow on the pile of gunnies got up and
waved his hat.

Mac leaned over the rail, saying gruffly, "That you, Colonel?" trying,
as the Boss of the Big Chimney saw--"tryin' his darndest not to look
pleased," and all the while O'Flynn was waving his hat and howling with
excitement:

"How's the gowld? How's yersilf?"

The gangway began its slow swing round preparatory to lowering into
place. The mob on shore caught up boxes, bundles, bags, and pressed
forward.

"No, no! Stand back!" ordered the Captain.

"Take your time!" said people trembling with excitement. "There's no
rush."

"There's no room!" called out the purser to a friend.

"No room?" went from mouth to mouth, incredulous that the information
could concern the speaker. He was only one. There was certainly room
for him; and every man pushed the harder to be the sole exception to
the dreadful verdict.

"Stand back there! Can't take even a pound of freight. Loaded to the
guards!"

A whirlwind of protest and appeal died away in curses. Women wept, and
sick men turned away their faces. The dogs still howled, for nothing is
so lacerating to the feelings of your Siwash as a steam-whistle blast.
The memory of it troubles him long after the echo of it dies. Suddenly
above the din Maudie's shrill voice:

"I thought that was Nig!"

Before the gangway had dropped with a bang her sharp eyes had picked
out the Boy.

"Well I'll be----See who that is behind Nig? Trust him to get in on the
ground-floor. He ain't worryin' for fear his pardner'll lose the boat,"
she called to the Colonel, who was pressing forward as Rainey came down
the gangway.

"How do you do, Captain?"

The man addressed never turned his head. He was forcing his way through
the jam up to the A. C. Store.

"You may recall me, sah; I am----"

"If you are a man wantin' to go to Dawson, it doesn't matter who you
are. I can't take you."

"But, sah----" It was no use.

A dozen more were pushing their claims, every one in vain. The Oklahoma
passengers, bent on having a look at Minook, crowded after the Captain.
Among those who first left the ship, the Boy, talking to the purser,
hard upon Rainey's heels. The Colonel stood there as they passed, the
Captain turning back to say something to the Boy, and then they
disappeared together through the door of the A. C.

Never a word for his pardner, not so much as a look. Bitterness fell
upon the Colonel's heart. Maudie called to him, and he went back to his
seat on the gunny-sacks.

"He's in with the Captain now," she said; "he's got no more use for
us."

But there was less disgust than triumph in her face.

O'Flynn was walking over people in his frantic haste to reach the
Colonel. Before he could accomplish his design he had three separate
quarrels on his hands, and was threatening with fury to "settle the
hash" of several of his dearest new friends.

Potts meanwhile was shaking the Big Chimney boss by the hand and
saying, "Awfully sorry we can't take you on with us;" adding lower: "We
had a mighty mean time after you lit out."

Then Mac thrust his hand in between the two, and gave the Colonel a
monkey-wrench grip that made the Kentuckian's eyes water.

"Kaviak? Well, I'll tell you."

He shouldered Potts out of his way, and while the talk and movement
went on all round Maudie's throne, Mac, ignoring her, set forth grimly
how, after an awful row with Potts, he had adventured with Kaviak to
Holy Cross. "An awful row, indeed," thought the Colonel, "to bring Mac
to that;" but the circumstances had little interest for him, beside the
fact that his pardner would be off to Dawson in a few minutes, leaving
him behind and caring "not a sou markee."

Mac was still at Holy Cross. He had seen a woman there--"calls herself
a nun--evidently swallows those priests whole. Kind of mad, believes it
all. Except for that, good sort of girl. The kind to keep her
word"--and she had promised to look after Kaviak, and never let him
away from her till Mac came back to fetch him.

"Fetch him?"

"Fetch him!"

"Fetch him where?"

"Home!"

"When will that be?"

"Just as soon as I've put through the job up yonder." He jerked his
head up the river, indicating the common goal.

And now O'Flynn, roaring as usual, had broken away from those who had
obstructed his progress, and had flung himself upon the Colonel. When
the excitement had calmed down a little, "Well," said the Colonel to
the three ranged in front of him, Maudie looking on from above, "what
you been doin' all these three months?"

"Doin'?"

"Well--a----"

"Oh, we done a lot."

They looked at one another out of the corners of their eyes and then
they looked away. "Since the birds came," began Mac in the tone of one
who wishes to let bygones be bygones.

"Och, yes; them burruds was foine!"

Potts pulled something out of his trousers pocket----a strange
collapsed object. He took another of the same description out of
another pocket. Mac's hands and O'Flynn's performed the same action.
Each man seemed to have his pockets full of these----

"What are they?"

"Money-bags, me bhoy! Made out o' the fut o' the 'Lasky swan, God bless
'em! Mac cahls 'em some haythen name, but everybuddy else cahls 'em
illegant money-bags!"

      *       *       *       *       *

In less than twenty minutes the steamer whistle shrieked. Nig bounded
out of the A. C., frantic at the repetition of the insult; other dogs
took the quarrel up, and the Ramparts rang.

The Boy followed the Captain out of the A. C. store. All the motley
crew that had swarmed off to inspect Minook, swarmed back upon the
Oklahoma. The Boy left the Captain this time, and came briskly over to
his friends, who were taking leave of the Colonel.

"So you're all goin' on but me!" said the Colonel very sadly.

The Colonel's pardner stopped short, and looked at the pile of baggage.

"Got your stuff all ready!" he said.

"Yes." The answer was not free from bitterness. "I'll have the pleasure
of packin' it back to the shack after you're gone."

"So you were all ready to go off and leave me," said the Boy.

The Colonel could not stoop to the obvious retort. His pardner came
round the pile and his eyes fell on their common sleeping-bag, the two
Nulato rifles, and other "traps," that meant more to him than any
objects inanimate in all the world.

"What? you were goin' to carry off my things too?" exclaimed the Boy.

"That's all you get," Maudie burst out indignantly--"all you get for
packin' his stuff down to the landin', to have it all ready for him,
and worryin' yourself into shoe-strings for fear he'd miss the boat."

Mac, O'Flynn, and Potts condoled with the Colonel, while the fire of
the old feud flamed and died.

"Yes," the Colonel admitted, "I'd give five hundred dollars for a
ticket on that steamer."

He looked in each of the three faces, and knew the vague hope behind
his words was vain. But the Boy had only laughed, and caught up the
baggage as the last whistle set the Rampart echoes flying, piping, like
a lot of frightened birds.

"Come along, then."

"Look here!" the Colonel burst out. "That's my stuff."

"It's all the same. You bring mine. I've got the tickets. You and me
and Nig's goin' to the Klondyke."




CHAPTER XX

THE KLONDYKE

"Poverty is an odious calling."--Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy.


On Monday morning, the 6th of June, they crossed the British line; but
it was not till Wednesday, the 8th, at four in the afternoon, just ten
months after leaving San Francisco, that the Oklahoma's passengers saw
between the volcanic hills on the right bank of the Yukon a stretch of
boggy tundra, whereon hundreds of tents gleamed, pink and saffron. Just
beyond the bold wooded height, wearing the deep scar of a landslide on
its breast, just round that bend, the Klondyke river joins the
Yukon--for this is Dawson, headquarters of the richest Placer Diggings
the world has seen, yet wearing more the air of a great army
encampment.

For two miles the river-bank shines with sunlit canvas--tents, tents
everywhere, as far as eye can see, a mushroom growth masking the older
cabins. The water-front swarms with craft, scows and canoes, birch,
canvas, peterboro; the great bateaux of the northern lumberman, neat
little skiffs, clumsy rafts; heavy "double-enders," whip-sawed from
green timber, with capacity of two to five tons; lighters and barges
carrying as much as forty tons--all having come through the perils of
the upper lakes and shot the canon rapids.

As the Oklahoma steams nearer, the town blossoms into flags; a great
murmur increases to a clamour; people come swarming down to the
water-front, waving Union Jacks and Stars and Stripes as well----What
does it all mean? A cannon booms, guns are fired, and as the Oklahoma
swings into the bank a band begins to play; a cheer goes up from
fifteen thousand throats: "Hurrah for the first steamer!"

The Oklahoma has opened the Klondyke season of 1898!

They got their effects off the boat, and pitched the old tent up on the
Moosehide; then followed days full to overflowing, breathless, fevered,
yet without result beyond a general stringing up of nerves. The special
spell of Dawson was upon them all--the surface aliveness, the inner
deadness, the sense of being cut off from all the rest of the world, as
isolated as a man is in a dream, with no past, no future, only a
fantastic, intensely vivid Now. This was the summer climate of the
Klondyke. The Colonel, the Boy, and Captain Rainey maintained the
illusion of prosecuting their affairs by frequenting the offices,
stores, and particularly saloons, where buyers and sellers most did
congregate. Frequent mention was made of a certain valuable piece of
property.

Where was it?

"Down yonder at Minook;" and then nobody cared a straw.

It was true there was widespread dissatisfaction with the Klondyke.
Everyone agreed it had been overdone. It would support one-quarter of
the people already here, and tens of thousands on their way! "Say
Klondyke, and instantly your soberest man goes mad; say anything else,
and he goes deaf."

Minook was a good camp, but it had the disadvantage of lying outside
the magic district. The madness would, of course, not last, but
meanwhile the time went by, and the people poured in day and night. Six
great steamers full came up from the Lower River, and still the small
craft kept on flocking like coveys of sea-fowl through the Upper Lakes,
each party saying, "The crowd is behind."

On the 14th of June a toy whistle sounded shrill above the town, and in
puffed a Liliputian "steel-hull" steamer that had actually come "on her
own" through the canon and shot the White Horse Rapids. A steamer from
the Upper River! after that, others. Two were wrecked, but who minded?
And still the people pouring in, and still that cry, "The crowd's
behind!" and still the clamour for quicker, ampler means of transport
to the North, no matter what it cost. The one consideration "to get
there," and to get there "quickly," brought most of the horde by the
Canadian route; yet, as against the two ocean steamers--all-sufficient
the year before to meet the five river boats at St. Michael's--now, by
the All-American route alone, twenty ocean steamers and forty-seven
river boats, double-deckers, some two hundred and twenty-five feet
long, and every one crowded to the guards with people coming to the
Klondyke.

Meanwhile, many of those already there were wondering why they came and
how they could get home. In the tons of "mail matter" for Dawson,
stranded at Skaguay, must be those "instructions" from the Colonel's
bank, at home, to the Canadian Bank of Commerce, Dawson City. He agreed
with the Boy that if--very soon now--they had not disposed of the
Minook property, they would go to the mines.

"What's the good?" rasped Mac. "Every foot staked for seventy miles."

"For my part," admitted the Boy, "I'm less grand than I was. I meant to
make some poor devil dig out my Minook gold for me. It'll be the other
way about: I'll dig gold for any man on Bonanza that'll pay me wages."

They sat slapping at the mosquitoes till a whistle screamed on the
Lower River. The Boy called to Nig, and went down to the town to hear
the news. By-and-by Mac came out with a pack, and said he'd be back in
a day or two. After he had disappeared among the tents--a conquering
army that had forced its way far up the hill by now--the Colonel got up
and went to the spring for a drink. He stood there a long time looking
out wistfully, not towards the common magnet across the Klondyke, but
quite in the other direction towards the nearer gate of exit--towards
home.

"What special brand of fool am I to be here?"

Down below, Nig, with hot tongue hanging out of the side of his mouth,
now followed, now led, his master, coming briskly up the slope.

"That was the Weare we heard whistlin'," said the Boy, breathless. "And
who d'you think's aboard?"

"Who?"

"Nicholas a' Pymeut, pilot. An' he's got Princess Muckluck along."

"No," laughed the Colonel, following the Boy to the tent. "What's the
Princess come for?"

"How should I know?"

"Didn't she say?"

"Didn't stop to hear."

"Reckon she was right glad to see you," chaffed the Colonel. "Hey?
Wasn't she?"

"I--don't think she noticed I was there."

"What! you bolted?" No reply. "See here, what you doin'?"

"Packin' up."

"Where you goin'?"

"Been thinkin' for some time I ain't wealthy enough to live in this
metropolis. There may be a place for a poor man, but Dawson isn't It."

"Well, I didn't think you were that much of a coward--turnin' tail like
this just because a poor little Esquimaux--Besides, she may have got
over it. Even the higher races do." And he went on poking his fun till
suddenly the Boy said:

"You're in such high spirits, I suppose you must have heard Maudie's up
from Minook.

"You're jokin'!"

"It ain't my idea of a joke. She's comin' up here soon's she's landed
her stuff."

"She's not comin' up here!"

"Why not? Anybody can come up on the Moosehide, and everybody's doin'
it. I'm goin' to make way for some of 'em."

"Did she see you?"

"Well, she's seen Potts, anyhow."

"You're right about Dawson," said the Colonel suddenly; "it's too rich
for my blood."

They pinned a piece of paper on the tent-flap to say they were "Gone
prospecting: future movements uncertain."

Each with a small pack, and sticking out above it the Klondyke shovel
that had come all the way from San Francisco, Nig behind with
provisions in his little saddle-bags, and tongue farther out than ever,
they turned their backs on Dawson, crossed the lower corner of Lot 6,
behind the Government Reserve, stared with fresh surprise at the young
market-garden flourishing there, down to the many-islanded Klondyke,
across in the scow-ferry, over the Corduroy, that cheers and deceives
the new-comer for that first mile of the Bonanza Trail, on through pool
and morass to the thicket of white birches, where the Colonel thought
it well to rest awhile.

"Yes, he felt the heat," he said, as he passed the time of day with
other men going by with packs, pack-horses, or draught-dogs, cursing at
the trail and at the Government that taxed the miners so cruelly and
then did nothing for them, not even making a decent highway to the
Dominion's source of revenue. But out of the direct rays of the sun the
traveller found refreshment, and the mosquitoes were blown away by the
keen breeze that seemed to come from off some glacier. And the birds
sang loud, and the wild-flowers starred the birch-grove, and the
briar-roses wove a tangle on either side the swampy trail.

On again, dipping to a little valley--Bonanza Creek! They stood and
looked.

"Well, here we are."

"Yes, this is what we came for."

And it was because of "this" that so vast a machinery of ships,
engines, and complicated human lives had been set in motion. What was
it? A dip in the hills where a little stream was caught up into
sluices. On either side of every line of boxes, heaps and windrows of
gravel. Above, high on log-cabin staging, windlasses. Stretching away
on either side, gentle slopes, mossed and flower starred. Here and
there upon this ancient moose pasture, tents and cabins set at random.
In the bed of the creek, up and down in every direction, squads of men
sweating in the sun--here, where for untold centuries herds of
leisurely and majestic moose had come to quench their thirst. In the
older cabins their horns still lorded it. Their bones were bleaching in
the fire-weed.

On from claim to claim the new-comers to these rich pastures went, till
they came to the junction of the El Dorado, where huddles the haphazard
settlement of the Grand Forks, only twelve miles from Dawson. And now
they were at the heart of "the richest Placer Mining District the world
has seen." But they knew well enough that every inch was owned, and
that the best they could look for was work as unskilled labourers, day
shift or night, on the claims of luckier men.

They had brought a letter from Ryan, of the North-West Mounted Police,
to the Superintendent of No. 10, Above Discovery, a claim a little this
side of the Forks. Ryan had warned them to keep out of the way of the
part-owner, Scoville Austin, a surly person naturally, so exasperated
at the tax, and so enraged at the rumour of Government spies
masquerading as workmen, checking his reports, that he was "a
first-rate man to avoid." But Seymour, the Superintendent, was, in the
words of the soothing motto of the whole American people, "All right."

They left their packs just inside the door of the log-cabin, indicated
as "Bunk House for the men on No. 6, Above"--a fearsome place, where,
on shelf above shelf, among long unwashed bedclothes, the unwashed
workmen of a prosperous company lay in the stupor of sore fatigue and
semi-asphyxiation. Someone stirred as the door opened, and out of the
fetid dusk of the unventilated, closely-shuttered cabin came a voice:

"Night shift on?"

"No."

"Then, damn you! shut the door."

As the never-resting sun "forced" the Dawson market-garden and the
wild-roses of the trail, so here on the creek men must follow the
strenuous example. No pause in the growing or the toiling of this
Northern world. The day-gang on No. 0 was hard at it down there where
lengthwise in the channel was propped a line of sluice-boxes, steadied
by regularly spaced poles laid from box to bank on gravel ridge.
Looking down from above, the whole was like a huge fish-bone lying
along the bed of the creek. A little group of men with picks, shovels,
and wheelbarrows were reducing the "dump" of winter pay, piled beside a
windlass, conveying it to the sluices. Other men in line, four or five
feet below the level of the boxes, were "stripping," picking, and
shovelling the gravel off the bed-rock--no easy business, for even this
summer temperature thawed but a few inches a day, and below, the frost
of ten thousand years cemented the rubble into iron.

"Where is the Superintendent?"

"That's Seymour in the straw hat."

It was felt that even the broken and dilapidated article mentioned was
a distinction and a luxury.

Yes, it was too hot up here in the Klondyke.

They made their way to the man in authority, a dark, quiet-mannered
person, with big, gentle eyes, not the sort of Superintendent they had
expected to find representing such a man as the owner of No. 0.

Having read Ryan's letter and slowly scanned the applicants: "What do
you know about it?" He nodded at the sluice.

"All of nothing," said the Boy.

"Does it call for any particular knowing?" asked the Colonel.

"Calls for muscle and plenty of keep-at-it." His voice was soft, but as
the Colonel looked at him he realized why a hard fellow like Scoville
Austin had made this Southerner Superintendent.

"Better just try us."

"I can use one more man on the night shift, a dollar and a half an
hour."

"All right," said the Boy.

The Colonel looked at him. "Is this job yours or mine?"

The Superintendent had gone up towards the dam.

"Whichever you say."

The Boy did not like to suggest that the Colonel seemed little fit for
this kind of exercise. They had been in the Klondyke long enough to
know that to be in work was to be in luck.

"I'll tell you," the younger man said quickly, answering something
unspoken, but plain in the Colonel's face; "I'll go up the gulch and
see what else there is."

It crossed his mind that there might be something less arduous than
this shovelling in the wet thaw or picking at frozen gravel in the hot
sun. If so, the Colonel might be induced to exchange. It was obvious
that, like so many Southerners, he stood the sun very ill. While they
were agreeing upon a rendezvous the Superintendent came back.

"Our bunk-house is yonder," he said, pointing. A kind of sickness came
over the Kentuckian as he recalled the place. He turned to his pardner.

"Wish we'd got a pack-mule and brought our tent out from Dawson." Then,
apologetically, to the Superintendent: "You see, sah, there are men who
take to bunk-houses just as there are women who want to live in hotels;
and there are others who want a place to call home, even if it's a
tent."

The Superintendent smiled. "That's the way we feel about it in
Alabama." He reflected an instant. "There's that big new tent up there
on the hill, next to the Buckeyes' cabin. Good tent; belongs to a
couple o' rich Englishmen, third owners in No. 0. Gone to Atlin. Told
me to do what I liked with that tent. You might bunk there while
they're away."

"Now, that's mighty good of you, sah. Next whose cabin did you say?"

"Oh, I don't know their names. They have a lay on seventeen. Ohio men.
They're called Buck One and Buck Two. Anybody'll show you to the
Buckeyes';" and he turned away to shout "Gate!" for the head of water
was too strong, and he strode off towards the lock.

As the Boy tramped about looking for work he met a great many on the
same quest. It seemed as if the Colonel had secured the sole job on the
creek. Still, vacancies might occur any hour.

In the big new tent the Colonel lay asleep on a little camp-bed,
(mercifully left there by the rich Englishmen), "gettin' ready for the
night-shift." As he stood looking down upon him, a sudden wave of pity
came over the Boy. He knew the Colonel didn't "really and truly have to
do this kind of thing; he just didn't like givin' in." But behind all
that there was a sense in the younger mind that here was a life unlike
his own, which dimly he foresaw was to find its legitimate expression
in battle and in striving. Here, in the person of the Colonel, no
soldier fore-ordained, but a serene and equable soul wrenched out of
its proper sphere by a chance hurt to a woman, forsooth! an imagination
so stirred that, if it slept at all, it dreamed and moaned in its
sleep, as now; a conscience wounded and refusing to heal. Had he not
said himself that he had come up here to forget? It was best to let him
have the job that was too heavy for him--yes, it was best, after all.

And so they lived for a few days, the Boy chafing and wanting to move
on, the Colonel very earnest to have him stay.

"Something sure to turn up, and, anyhow, letters--my instruction----"
And he encouraged the acquaintance the Boy had struck up with the
Buckeyes, hoping against hope that to go over and smoke a pipe, and
exchange experiences with such mighty good fellows would lighten the
tedium of the long day spent looking for a job.

"I call it a very pleasant cabin," the Colonel would say as he lit up
and looked about. Anything dismaller it would be hard to find. Not
clean and shipshape as the Boy kept the tent. But with double army
blankets nailed over the single window it was blessedly dark, if
stuffy, and in crying need of cleaning. Still, they were mighty good
fellows, and they had a right to be cheerful. Up there, on the rude
shelf above the stove, was a row of old tomato-cans brimful of Bonanza
gold. There they stood, not even covered. Dim as the light was, you
could see the little top nuggets peering out at you over the ragged
tin-rims, in a never locked shanty, never molested, never bothered
about. Nearly every cabin on the creek had similar chimney ornaments,
but not everyone boasted an old coat, kept under the bunk, full of the
bigger sort of nuggets.

The Colonel was always ready with pretended admiration of such
bric-a-brac, but the truth was he cared very little about this gold he
had come so far to find. His own wages, paid in dust, were kept in a
jam-pot the Boy had found "lyin' round."

The growing store shone cheerfully through the glass, but its value in
the Colonel's eyes seemed to be simply as an argument to prove that
they had enough, and "needn't worry." When the Boy said there was no
doubt this was the district in all the world the most overdone, the
Colonel looked at him with sun-tired, reproachful eyes.

"You want to dissolve the pardnership--I see."

"I don't."

But the Colonel, after any such interchange, would go off and smoke by
himself, not even caring for Buckeyes'. The work was plainly overtaxing
him. He slept badly, was growing moody and quick to take offence. One
day when he had been distinctly uncivil he apologized for himself by
saying that, standing with feet always in the wet, head always in the
scorching sun, he had taken a hell of a cold. Certain it was that,
without sullenness, he would give in to long fits of silence; and his
wide, honest eyes were heavy again, as if the snow-blindness of the
winter had its analogue in a summer torment from the sun. And his
sometimes unusual gentleness to his companion was sharply alternated
with unusual choler, excited by a mere nothing. Enough if the Boy were
not in the tent when the Colonel came and went. Of course, the Boy did
the cooking. The Colonel ate almost nothing, but he made a great point
of his pardner's service in doing the cooking. He would starve, he
said, if he had to cook for himself as well as swing a shovel; and the
Boy, acting on pure instinct, pretended that he believed this was so.

Then came the evening when the Boy was so late the Colonel got his own
breakfast; and when the recreant did get home, it was to announce that
a man over at the Buckeyes' had just offered him a job out on Indian
River. The Colonel set down his tea-cup and stared. His face took on
an odd, rigid look. But almost indifferently he said:

"So you're goin'?"

"Of course, you know I must. I started with an outfit and fifteen
hundred dollars, now I haven't a cent."

The Kentuckian raised his heavy eyes to the jam-jar. "Oh, help
yourself."

The Boy laughed, and shook his head.

"I wish you wouldn't go," the other said very low.

"You see, I've got to. Why, Nig and I owe you for a week's grub
already."

Then the Colonel stood up and swore--swore till he was scarlet and
shaking with excitement.

"If the life up here has brought us to 'Scowl' Austin's point of view,
we are poorly off." And he spoke of the way men lived in his part of
Kentucky, where the old fashion of keeping open house survived. And
didn't he know it was the same thing in Florida? "Wouldn't you do as
much for me?"

"Yes, only I can't--and--I'm restless. The summer's half gone. Up here
that means the whole year's half gone."

The Colonel had stumbled back into his seat, and now across the deal
table he put out his hand.

"Don't go, Boy. I don't know how I'd get on without----" He stopped,
and his big hand was raised as if to brush away some cloud between him
and his pardner. "If you go, you won't come back."

"Oh, yes, I will. You'll see."

"I know the kind," the other went on, as if there had been no
interruption. "They never come back. I don't know as I ever cared quite
as much for my brother--little fella that died, you know." Then, seeing
that his companion did not instantly iterate his determination to go,
"That's right," he said, getting up suddenly, and leaving his breakfast
barely touched. "We've been through such a lot together, let's see it
out."

Without waiting for an answer, he went off to his favourite seat under
the little birch-tree. But the incident had left him nervous. He would
come up from his work almost on the run, and if he failed to find his
pardner in the tent there was the devil to pay. The Boy would laugh to
himself to think what a lot he seemed able to stand from the Colonel;
and then he would grow grave, remembering what he had to make up for.
Still, his sense of obligation did not extend to giving up this
splendid chance down on Indian River. On Wednesday, when the fellow
over at the Buckeyes' was for going back, the Boy would go along.

On Sunday morning he ran a crooked, rusty nail into his foot. Clumsily
extracted, it left an ugly wound. Walking became a torture, and the
pain a banisher of sleep. It was during the next few days that he found
out how much the Colonel lay awake. Who could sleep in this blazing
sun? Black tents were not invented then, so they lay awake and talked
of many things.

The man from Indian River went back alone. The Boy would limp after the
Colonel down to the sluice, and sit on a dump heap with Nig. Few people
not there strictly on business were tolerated on No. 0, but Nig and his
master had been on good terms with Seymour from the first. Now they
struck up acquaintance with several of the night-gang, especially with
the men who worked on either side of the Colonel. An Irish gentleman,
who did the shovelling just below, said he had graduated from Dublin
University. He certainly had been educated somewhere, and if the
discussion were theologic, would take out of his linen-coat pocket a
little testament in the Vulgate to verify a bit of Gospel. He could
even pelt the man next but one in his native tongue, calling the
Silesian "Uebermensch." There existed some doubt whether this were the
gentleman's real name, but none at all as to his talking philosophy
with greater fervour than he bestowed on the puddling box.

The others were men more accustomed to work with their hands, but, in
spite of the conscious superiority of your experienced miner, a very
good feeling prevailed in the gang--a general friendliness that
presently centred about the Colonel, for even in his present mood he
was far from disagreeable, except now and then, to the man he cared the
most for.

Seymour admitted that he had placed the Southerner where he thought
he'd feel most at home. "Anyhow, the company is less mixed," he said,
"than it was all winter up at twenty-three, where they had a
Presbyterian missionary down the shaft, a Salvation Army captain
turnin' the windlass, a nigger thief dumpin' the becket, and a
dignitary of the Church of England doin' the cookin', with the help of
a Chinese chore-boy. They're all there now (except one) washin' out
gold for the couple of San Francisco card-sharpers that own the claim."

"Vich von is gone?" asked the Silesian, who heard the end of the
conversation.

"Oh, the Chinese chore-boy is the one who's bettered himself," said the
Superintendent--"makin' more than all the others put together ever made
in their lives; runnin' a laundry up at Dawson."

The Boy, since this trouble with his foot, had fallen into the way of
turning night into day. The Colonel liked to have him down there at the
sluice, and when he thought about it, the Boy marvelled at the hours he
spent looking on while others worked.

At first he said he came down only to make Scowl Austin mad. And it did
make him mad at first, but the odd thing was he got over it, and used
to stop and say something now and then. This attention on the part of
the owner was distinctly perilous to the Boy's good standing with the
gang. Not because Austin was the owner; there was the millionaire
Swede, Ole Olsen--any man might talk to him. He was on the square,
treated his workmen mighty fair, and when the other owners tried to
reduce wages, and did, Ole wouldn't join them--went right along paying
the highest rate on the creek.

Various stories were afloat about Austin. Oh, yes, Scowl Austin was a
hard man--the only owner on the creek who wouldn't even pay the little
subscription every poor miner contributed to keep the Dawson Catholic
Hospital going.

The women, too, had grievances against Austin, not only "the usual lot"
up at the Gold Belt, who sneered at his close fist, but some of the
other sort--those few hard-working wives or "women on their own," or
those who washed and cooked for this claim or that. They had stories
about Austin that shed a lurid light. And so by degrees the gathered
experience, good and ill, of "the greatest of all placer diggin's"
flowed by the idler on the bank.

"You seem to have a lot to do," Seymour would now and then say with a
laugh.

"So I have."

"What do you call it?"

"Takin' stock."

"Of us?"

"Of things in general."

"What did you mean by that?" demanded the Colonel suspiciously when the
Superintendent had passed up the line.

The shovelling in was done for the time being. The water was to be
regulated, and then the clean-up as soon as the owner came down.

"Better not let Austin hear you say you're takin' stock. He'll run you
out o' the creek."

The Boy only smiled, and went on fillipping little stones at Nig.

"What did you mean?" the Colonel persisted, with a look as suspicious
as Scowl Austin's own.

"Oh, nothin'. I'm only thinkin' out things."

"Your future, I suppose?" he said testily.

"Mine and other men's. The Klondyke's a great place to get things clear
in your head."

"Don't find it so." The Colonel put up his hand with that now familiar
action as if to clear away a cloud. "It's days since I had anything
clear in my head, except the lesson we learned on the trail."

The Boy stopped throwing stones, and fixed his eyes on his friend, as
the Colonel went on:

"We had that hammered into us, didn't we?"

"What?"

"Oh, that--you know--that--I don't know quite how to put it so it'll
sound as orthodox as it might be, bein' true; but it looks pretty clear
even to me"--again the big hand brushing at the unmoted sunshine--"that
the only reason men got over bein' beasts was because they began to be
brothers."

"Don't," said the Boy.

"Don't what?"

"I've always known I should have to tell you some time. I won't be able
to put it off if I stay ... and I hate tellin' you now. See here: I
b'lieve I'll get a pack-mule and go over to Indian River."

The Colonel looked round angrily. Standing high against the sky,
Seymour, with the gateman up at the lock, was moderating the strong
head of water. It began to flow sluggishly over the gravel-clogged
riffles, and Scowl Austin was coming down the hill.

"I don't know what you're drivin' at, about somethin' to tell. I know
one thing, though, and I learned it up here in the North: men were
meant to stick to one another."

"Don't, I say."

"Here's Austin," whispered the Colonel.

The Silesian philosopher stood in his "gum-boots" in the puddling-box
as on a rostrum; but silent now, as ever, when Scowl Austin was in
sight. With the great sluice-fork, the philosopher took up, washed, and
threw out the few remaining big stones that they might not clog the
narrow boxes below.

Seymour had so regulated the stream that, in place of the gush and foam
of a few minutes before, there was now only a scant and gently falling
veil of water playing over the bright gravel caught in the riffle-lined
bottoms of the boxes.

As the Boy got up and reached for his stick, Austin stood there saying,
to nobody in particular, that he'd just been over to No. 29, where they
were trying a new-fangled riffle.

"Don't your riffles do the trick all right?" asked the Boy.

"If you're in any doubt, come and see," he said.

They stood together, leaning over the sluice, looking in at one of the
things human industry has failed to disfigure, nearly as beautiful
to-day as long ago on Pactolus' banks when Lydian shepherds, with great
stones, fastened fleeces in the river that they might catch and gather
for King Croesus the golden sands of Tmolus. Improving, not in beauty,
but economy, quite in the modern spirit, the Greeks themselves
discovered that they lost less gold if they led the stream through
fleece-lined water-troughs--and beyond this device of those early
placer-miners we have not progressed so far but that, in every long,
narrow sluice-box in the world to-day, you may see a Lydian
water-trough with a riffle in the bottom for a golden fleece.

The rich Klondyker and the poor one stood together looking in at the
water, still low, still slipping softly over polished pebbles, catching
at the sunlight, winking, dimpling, glorifying flint and jasper, agate
and obsidian, dazzling the uncommercial eye to blind forgetfulness of
the magic substance underneath.

Austin gathered up, one by one, a handful of the shining stones, and
tossed them out. Then, bending down, "See?"

There, under where the stones had been, neatly caught in the lattice of
the riffle, lying thick and packed by the water action, a heavy ridge
of black and yellow--magnetic sand and gold.

"Riffles out!" called Seymour, and the men, who had been extracting the
rusty nails that held them firm, lifted out from the bottom of each box
a wooden lattice, soused it gently in the water, and laid it on the
bank.

The Boy had turned away again, but stood an instant noticing how the
sun caught at the countless particles of gold still clinging to the
wood; for this was one of the old riffles, frayed by the action of much
water and the fret of many stones. Soon it would have to be burned, and
out of its ashes the careful Austin would gather up with mercury all
those million points of light.

Meanwhile, Seymour had called to the gateman for more water, and
himself joining the gang, armed now with flat metal scoops, they all
began to turn over and throw back against the stream the debris in the
bottom of the boxes, giving the water another chance to wash out the
lighter stuff and clean the gold from all impurity. Away went the last
of the sand, and away went the pebbles, dark or bright, away went much
of the heavy magnetic iron. Scowl Austin, at the end of the line, had a
corn-whisk with which he swept the floor of the box, always upstream,
gathering the contents in a heap, now on this side, now on that,
letting the water play and sort and carry away, condensing, hastening
the process that for ages had been concentrating gold in the Arctic
placers.

"Say, look here!" shouted Austin to the Boy, already limping up the
hill.

When he had reached the sluice again he found that all Scowl Austin
wanted, apparently, was to show him how, when he held the water back
with the whisk, it eddied softly at each side of the broad little
broom, leaving exposed the swept-up pile.

"See?"

"What's all that?"

"What do you think?"

"Looks like a heap o' sawdust."

Austin actually laughed.

"See if it feels like sawdust. Take it up like this," he ordered.

His visitor obeyed, lifting a double handful out of the water and
holding it over the box, dripping, gleaming, the most beautiful thing
that comes out of the earth, save only life, and the assertion may
stand, even if the distinction is without difference, if the crystal is
born, grows old, and dies as undeniably as the rose.

The Boy held the double handful of well-washed gold up to the sunshine,
feeling to the full the immemorial spell cast by the King of Metals.
Nothing that men had ever made out of gold was so entirely beautiful as
this.

Scowl Austin's grim gratification was openly heightened with the rich
man's sense of superiority, but his visitor seemed to have forgotten
him.

"Colonel! here a minute. We thought it looked wonderful enough on the
Big Chimney table--but Lord! to see it like this, out o' doors, mixed
with sunshine and water!"

Still he stood there fascinated, leaning heavily against the
sluice-box, still with his dripping hands full, when, after a hurried
glance, the Colonel returned to his own box. None of the gang ever
talked in the presence of the owner.

"Guess that looks good to you." Austin slightly stressed the pronoun.
He had taken a reasonless liking for the young man, who from the first
had smiled into his frowning face, and treated him as he treated
others. Or perhaps Austin liked him because, although the Boy did a
good deal of "gassin' with the gang," he had never hung about at
clean-ups. At all events, he should stay to-night, partly because when
the blue devils were down on Scowl Austin nothing cheered him like
showing his "luck" off to someone. And it was so seldom safe in these
days. People talked. The authorities conceived unjust suspicions of a
man's returns. And then, far back in his head, that vague need men
feel, when a good thing has lost its early zest, to see its dimmed
value shine again in an envious eye. Here was a young fellow, who,
before he went lame, had been all up and down the creek for days
looking for a job--probably hadn't a penny--livin' off his friend, who
himself would starve but for the privilege Austin gave him of washing
out Austin's gold. Let the young man stop and see the richest clean-up
at the Forks.

And so it was with the acrid pleasure he had promised himself that he
said to the visitor, bending over the double handful of gold, "Guess it
looks good to you."

"Yes, it looks good!" But he had lifted his eyes, and seemed to be
studying the man more than the metal.

A couple of newcomers, going by, halted.

"Christ!" said the younger, "look at that!"

The Boy remembered them; they had been to Seymour only a couple of
hours before asking for work. One was old for that country--nearly
sixty--and looked, as one of the gang had said, "as if, instid o'
findin' the pot o' gold, he had got the end of the rainbow slam in his
face--kind o' blinded."

At sound of the strange voice Austin had wheeled about with a fierce
look, and heavily the strangers plodded by. The owner turned again to
the gold. "Yes," he said curtly, "there's something about that that
looks good to most men."

"What I was thinkin'," replied the Boy slowly, "was that it was the
only clean gold I'd ever seen--but it isn't so clean as it was."

"What do you mean?" Austin bent and looked sharply into the full hands.

"I was thinkin' it was good to look at because it hadn't got into dirty
pockets yet." Austin stared at him an instant. "Never been passed
round--never bought anybody. No one had ever envied it, or refused it
to help someone out of a hole. That was why I thought it looked
good--because it was clean gold ... a little while ago." And he plunged
his hands in the water and washed the clinging particles off his
fingers.

Austin had stared, and then turned his back with a blacker look than
even "Scowl" had ever worn before.

"Gosh! guess there's goin' to be trouble," said one of the gang.




CHAPTER XXI

PARDNERS

"He saw, and first of brotherhood had sight...."


It was morning, and the night-shift might go to bed; but in the absent
Englishmen's tent there was little sleep and less talk that day. The
Boy, in an agony, with a foot on fire, heard the Colonel turning,
tossing, growling incoherently about "the light."

It seemed unreasonable, for a frame had been built round his bed, and
on it thick gray army blankets were nailed--a rectangular tent. Had he
cursed the heat now? But no: "light," "God! the light, the light!" just
as if he were lying as the Boy was, in the strong white glare of the
tent. But hour after hour within the stifling fortress the giant tossed
and muttered at the swords of sunshine that pierced his semi-dusk
through little spark-burnt hole or nail-tear, torturing sensitive eyes.

Near three hours before he needed, the Colonel got up and splashed his
way through a toilet at the tin basin. The Boy made breakfast without
waiting for the usual hour. They had nearly finished when it occurred
to the Colonel that neither had spoken since they went to bed. He
glanced across at the absorbed face of his friend.

"You'll come down to the sluice to-night, won't you?"

"Why shouldn't I?"

"No reason on earth, only I was afraid you were broodin' over what you
said to Austin."

"Austin? Oh, I'm not thinkin' about Austin."

"What, then? What makes you so quiet?"

"Well, I'm thinkin' I'd be better satisfied to stay here a little
longer if----"

"If what?"

"If there was truth between us two."

"I thought there was."

"No. What's the reason you want me to stay here?"

"Reason? Why"--he laughed in his old way--"I don't defend my taste, but
I kind o' like to have you round."

His companion's grave face showed no lightening. "Why do you want me
round more than someone else?"

"Haven't got anyone else."

"Oh, yes, you have! Every man on Bonanza's a friend o' yours, or would
be."

"It isn't just that; we understand each other."

"No, we don't."

"What's wrong?"

No answer. The Boy looked through the door across Bonanza to the hills.

"I thought we understood each other if two men ever did. Haven't we
travelled the Long Trail together and seen the ice go out?"

"That's just it, Colonel. We know such a lot more than men do who
haven't travelled the Trail, and some of the knowledge isn't
oversweet."

A shadow crossed the kind face opposite.

"You're thinkin' about the times I pegged out--didn't do my share."

"Lord, no!" The tears sprang up in the young eyes. "I'm thinkin' o' the
times--I--" He laid his head down on the rude table, and sat so for an
instant with hidden face; then he straightened up. "Seems as if it's
only lately there's been time to think it out. And before, as long as I
could work I could get on with myself.... Seemed as if I stood a chance
to ... a little to make up."

"Make up?"

"But it's always just as it was that day on the Oklahoma, when the
captain swore he wouldn't take on another pound. I was awfully happy
thinkin' if I made him bring you it might kind o' make up, but it
didn't."

"Made a big difference to me," the Colonel said, still not able to see
the drift, but patiently brushing now and then at the dazzling mist and
waiting for enlightenment.

"It's always the same," the other went on. "Whenever I've come up
against something I'd hoped was goin' to make up, it's turned out to be
a thing I'd have to do anyway, and there was no make up about it. For
all that, I shouldn't mind stayin' on awhile since you want me to----"

The Colonel interrupted him, "That's right!"

"Only if I do, you've got to know--what I'd never have guessed myself,
but for the Trail. After I've told you, if you can bear to see me
round----" He hesitated and suddenly stood up, his eyes still wet, but
his head so high an onlooker who did not understand English would have
called the governing impulse pride, defiance even. "It seems I'm the
kind of man, Colonel--the kind of man who could leave his pardner to
die like a dog in the snow."

"If any other fella said so, I'd knock him down."

"That night before we got to Snow Camp, when you wouldn't--couldn't go
any farther, I meant to go and leave you--take the sled, and take--I
guess I meant to take everything and leave you to starve."

They looked into each other's faces, and years seemed to go by. The
Colonel was the first to drop his eyes; but the other, pitilessly, like
a judge arraigning a felon, his steady scrutiny never flinching: "Do
you want that kind of a man round, Colonel?"

The Kentuckian turned quickly as if to avoid the stab of the other's
eye, and sat hunched together, elbows on knees, head in hands.

"I knew you didn't." The Boy answered his own question. He limped over
to his side of the tent, picked up some clothes, his blanket and few
belongings, and made a pack. Not a word, not a sound, but some birds
twittering outside in the sun and a locust making that frying sound in
the fire-weed. The pack was slung on the Boy's back, and he was
throwing the diamond hitch to fasten it when the Colonel at last looked
round.

"Lord, what you doin'?"

"Guess I'm goin' on."

"Where?"

"I'll write you when I know; maybe I'll even send you what I owe you,
but I don't feel like boastin' at the moment. Nig!"

"You can't walk."

"Did you never happen to notice that one-legged fella pluggin' about
Dawson?"

He had gone down on his hands and knees to see if Nig was asleep under
the camp-bed. The Colonel got up, went to the door, and let down the
flap. When he turned, the traveller and the dog were at his elbow. He
squared his big frame at the entrance, looking down at the two, tried
to speak, but the Boy broke in: "Don't let's get sentimental, Colonel;
just stand aside."

Never stirring, he found a voice to say, "I'm not askin' you to
stay"--the other turned and whistled, for Nig had retired again to the
seclusion of the gray blanket screen--"I only want to tell you
something before you go."

The Boy frowned a little, but rested his pack against the table in that
way in which the Klondyker learns to make a chair-back of his burden.

"You seem to think you've been tellin' me news," said the Colonel.
"When you said that about goin' on, the night before we got to Snow
Camp, I knew you simply meant you still intended to come out alive. I
had thrown up my hands--at least, I thought I had. The only difference
between us--I had given in and you hadn't."

The other shook his head. "There was a lot more in it than that."

"You meant to take the only means there were--to carry off the sled
that I couldn't pull any farther----" The Boy looked up quickly.
Something stern and truth-compelling in the dark face forced the
Colonel to add: "And along with the sled you meant to carry
off--the--the things that meant life to us."

"Just that----" The Boy knotted his brown fingers in Nig's hair as if
to keep tight hold of one friend in the wreck.

"We couldn't divide," the Colonel hurried on. "It was a case of
crawlin' on together, and, maybe, come out alive, or part and one die
sure."

The Boy nodded, tightening his lips.

"I knew well enough you'd fight for the off-chance. But"--the Colonel
came away from the door and stood in front of his companion--"so would
I. I hadn't really given up the struggle."

"You were past strugglin', and I would have left you sick----"

"You wouldn't have left me--if I'd had my gun."

The Boy remembered that he had more than suspected that at the time,
but the impression had by-and-by waxed dim. It was too utterly unlike
the Colonel--a thing dreamed. He had grown as ashamed of the dream as
of the thing he knew was true. The egotism of memory absorbed itself in
the part he himself had played--that other, an evil fancy born of an
evil time. And here was the Colonel saying it was true. The Boy dropped
his eyes. It had all happened in the night. There was something in the
naked truth too ghastly for the day. But the Colonel went on in a harsh
whisper:

"I looked round for my gun; if I'd found it I'd have left you behind."

And the Boy kept looking down at Nig, and the birds sang, and the
locust whirred, and the hot sun filled the tent as high-tide flushes a
sea-cave.

"You've been a little hard on me, Boy, bringin' it up like
this--remindin' me--I wouldn't have gone on myself, and makin' me
admit----"

"No, no, Colonel."

"Makin' me admit that before I would have let you go on I'd have shot
you!"

"Colonel!" He loosed his hold of Nig.

"I rather reckon I owe you my life--and something else besides"--the
Colonel laid one hand on the thin shoulder where the pack-strap
pressed, and closed the other hand tight over his pardner's right--"and
I hadn't meant even to thank you neither."

"Don't, for the Lord's sake, don't!" said the younger, and neither
dared look at the other.

A scratching on the canvas, the Northern knock at the door.

"You fellers sound awake?"

A woman's voice. Under his breath, "Who the devil's that?" inquired the
Colonel, brushing his hand over his eyes. Before he got across the tent
Maudie had pushed the flap aside and put in her head.

"Hello!"

"Hell-o! How d'e do?"

He shook hands, and the younger man nodded, "Hello."

"When did you come to town?" asked the Colonel mendaciously.

"Why, nearly three weeks ago, on the Weare. Heard you had skipped out
to Sulphur with MacCann. I had some business out that way, so that's
where I been."

"Have some breakfast, won't you--dinner, I mean?"

"I put that job through at the Road House. Got to rustle around now and
get my tent up. Where's a good place?"

"Well, I--I hardly know. Goin' to stay some time?"

"Depends."

The Boy slipped off his pack.

"They've got rooms at the Gold Belt," he said.

"You mean that Dance Hall up at the Forks?"

"Oh, it ain't so far. I remember you can walk."

"I can do one or two other things. Take care you don't hurt yourself
worryin' about me."

"Hurt myself?"

"Yes. Bein' so hospittable. The way you're pressin' me to settle right
down here, near's possible--why, it's real touchin'."

He laughed, and went to the entrance to tic back the door-flap, which
was whipping and snapping in the breeze. Heaven be praised! the night
was cooler. Nig had been perplexed when he saw the pack pushed under
the table. He followed his master to the door, and stood looking at the
flap-tying, ears very pointed, critical eye cocked, asking as plain as
could be, "You wake me up and drag me out here into the heat and
mosquitoes just to watch you doin' that? Well, I've my opinion of you."

"Colonel gone down?" inquired the Silesian, passing by.

"Not yet."

"Anything I can do?" the gentleman inside was saying with a sound of
effort in his voice. The lady was not even at the pains to notice the
perfunctory civility.

"Well, Colonel, now you're here, what do you think o' the Klondyke?"

"Think? Well, there's no doubt they've taken a lot o' gold out o'
here."

"Reg'lar old Has Been, hey?"

"Oh, I don't say it hasn't got a future."

"What! Don't you know the boom's busted?"

"Well, no."

"Has. Tax begun it. Too many cheechalkos are finishing it. Klondyke?"
She laughed. "The Klondyke's goin' to hell down-grade in a hand-car."

Scowl Austin was up, ready, as usual, to relieve Seymour of half the
superintending, but never letting him off duty till he had seen the new
shift at work. As the Boy limped by with the German, Austin turned his
scowl significantly towards the Colonel's tent.

"Good-mornin'--good-night, I mean," laughed the lame man, just as if
his tongue had not run away with him the last time the two had met. It
was not often that anyone spoke so pleasantly to the owner of No. 0.
Perhaps the circumstance weighed with him; at all events, he stopped
short. When the German had gone on, "Foot's better," Austin asserted.

"Perhaps it is a little," though the lame man had no reason to think
so.

"Lucky you heal quick. Most people don't up here--livin' on the stale
stuff we get in this----country. Seymour said anything to you about a
job?"

"No."

"Well, since you're on time, you better come on the night shift,
instead o' that lazy friend o' yours."

"Oh, he ain't lazy--been up hours. An old acquaintance dropped in;
he'll be down in a minute."

"'Tisn't only his bein' late. You better come on the shift."

"Don't think I could do that. What's the matter?"

"Don't say there's anything very much the matter yet. But he's sick,
ain't he?"

"Sick? No, except as we all are--sick o' the eternal glare."

The Colonel was coming slowly down the hill. Of course, a man doesn't
look his best if he hasn't slept. The Boy limped a little way back to
meet him.

"Anything the matter with you, Colonel?"

"Well, my Bonanza headache ain't improved."

"I suppose you wouldn' like me to take over the job for two or three
days?"

"You? Crippled! Look here--" The Colonel flushed suddenly. "Austin been
sayin' anything?"

"Oh, I was just thinkin' about the sun."

"Well, when I want to go in out of the sun, I'll say so." And, walking
more quickly than he had done for long, he left his companion, marched
down to the creek, and took his place near the puddling-box.

By the time the Boy got to the little patch of shade, offered by the
staging, Austin had turned his back on the gang, and was going to speak
to the gateman at the locks. He had evidently left the Colonel very
much enraged at some curt comment.

"He meant it for us all," the Dublin gentleman was saying soothingly.
By-and-by, as they worked undisturbed, serenity returned. Oh, the
Colonel was all right--even more chipper than usual. What a
good-looking fella he was, with that clear skin and splendid colour!

A couple of hours later the Colonel set his long shovel against the
nearest of the poles steadying the sluice, and went over to the staging
for a drink. He lifted the can of weak tea to his lips and took a long
draught, handed the can back to the Boy, and leant against the staging.
They talked a minute or two in undertones.

A curt voice behind said: "Looks like you've got a deal to attend to
to-day, beside your work."

They looked round, and there was Austin. As the Colonel saw who it was
had spoken, the clear colour in the tan deepened; he threw back his
shoulders, hesitated, and then, without a word, went and took up his
shovel.

Austin walked on. The Boy kept looking at his friend. What was the
matter with the Colonel? It was not only that his eyes were queer--most
of the men complained of their eyes, unless they slept in cabins. But
whether through sun-blindness or shaken by anger, the Colonel was
handling his shovel uncertainly, fumbling at the gravel, content with
half a shovelful, and sometimes gauging the distance to the box so
badly that some of the pay fell down again in the creek. As Austin came
back on the other side of the line, he stopped opposite to where the
Colonel worked, and suddenly called: "Seymour!"

Like so many on Bonanza, the Superintendent could not always sleep when
the time came. He was walking about "showing things" to a stranger, "a
newspaper woman," it was whispered--at all events, a lady who, armed
with letters from the highest British officials, had come to "write up
the Klondyke."

Seymour had left her at his employer's call. The lady, thin, neat,
alert, with crisply curling iron-gray hair, and pleasant but
unmistakably dignified expression, stood waiting for him a moment on
the heap of tailings, then innocently followed her guide.

Although Austin lowered his voice, she drew nearer, prepared to take an
intelligent interest in the "new riffles up on Skookum."

When Austin had first called Seymour, the Colonel started, looked up,
and watched the little scene with suspicion and growing anger. Seeing
Seymour's eyes turn his way, the Kentuckian stopped shovelling, and, on
a sudden impulse, called out:

"See here, Austin: if you've any complaints to make, sah, you'd better
make them to my face, sah."

The conversation about riffles thus further interrupted, a little
silence fell. The Superintendent stood in evident fear of his employer,
but he hastened to speak conciliatory words.

"No complaint at all--one of the best hands."

"May be so when he ain't sick," said Austin contemptuously.

"Sick!" the Boy called out. "Why, you're dreamin'. He's our strong
man--able to knock spots out of anyone on the creek, ain't he?"
appealing to the gang.

"I shall be able to spare him from my part of the creek after
to-night."

"Do I understand you are dismissing me?"

"Oh, go to hell!"

The Colonel dropped his shovel and clenched his hands.

"Get the woman out o' the way," said the owner; "there's goin' to be
trouble with this fire-eating Southerner."

The woman turned quickly. The Colonel, diving under the sluice-box for
a plunge at Austin, came up face to face with her.

"The lady," said the Colonel, catching his breath, shaking with rage,
but pulling off his hat--"the lady is quite safe, but I'm not so sure
about you." He swerved as if to get by.

"Safe? I should think so!" she said steadily, comprehending all at
once, and not unwilling to create a diversion.

"This is no place for a woman, not if she's got twenty letters from the
Gold Commissioner."

Misunderstanding Austin's jibe at the official, the lady stood her
ground, smiling into the face of the excited Kentuckian.

"Several people have asked me if I was not afraid to be alone here, and
I've said no. It's quite true. I've travelled so much that I came to
know years ago, it's not among men like you a woman has anything to
fear."

It was funny and pathetic to see the infuriate Colonel clutching at his
grand manner, bowing one instant to the lady, shooting death and
damnation the next out of heavy eyes at Austin. But the wiry little
woman had the floor, and meant, for peace sake, to keep it a few
moments.

"At home, in the streets of London, I have been rudely spoken to; I
have been greatly annoyed in Paris; in New York I have been subject to
humorous impertinence; but in the great North-West every man has seemed
to be my friend. In fact, wherever our English tongue is spoken," she
wound up calmly, putting the great Austin in his place, "a woman may go
alone."

Austin seemed absorbed in filling his pipe. The lady tripped on to the
next claim with a sedate "Good-night" to the men on No. 0. She thought
the momentary trouble past, and never turned to see how the Kentuckian,
waiting till she should be out of earshot, came round in front of
Austin with a low question.

The gang watched the Boy dodge under the sluice and hobble hurriedly
over the chaos of stones towards the owner. Before he reached him he
called breathless, but trying to laugh:

"You think the Colonel's played out, but, take my word for it, he ain't
a man to fool with."

The gang knew from Austin's sneering look as he turned to strike a
match on a boulder--they knew as well as if they'd been within a yard
of him that Scowl had said something "pretty mean." They saw the
Colonel make a plunge, and they saw him reel and fall among the stones.

The owner stood there smoking while the night gang knocked off work
under his nose and helped the Boy to get the Colonel on his feet. It
was no use. Either he had struck his head or he was dazed--unable, at
all events, to stand. They lifted him up and started for the big tent.

Three Indians accosted the cripple leading the procession. He started,
and raised his eyes. "Nicholas! Muckluck!" They shook hands, and all
went on together, the Boy saying the Colonel had a little sunstroke.

      *       *       *       *       *

The next day Scowl Austin was found lying face down among the
cotton-woods above the benches on Skookum, a bullet-wound in his back.
He had fainted from loss of blood, when he was picked up by the two
Vermonters, the men who had twice gone by No. 0 the night before the
quarrel, and who had enraged Austin by stopping an instant during the
clean-up to look at his gold. They carried him back to Bonanza.

The Superintendent and several of the day gang got the wounded man into
bed. He revived sufficiently to say he had not seen the man that shot
him, but he guessed he knew him all the same. Then he turned on his
side, swore feebly at the lawlessness of the South, and gave up the
ghost.

Not a man on the creek but understood who Scowl Austin meant.

"Them hot-headed Kentuckians, y' know, they'd dowse a feller's glim for
less 'n that."

"Little doubt the Colonel done it all right. Why, his own pardner says
to Austin's face, says he, 'The Colonel's a bad man to fool with,' and
just then the big chap plunged at Austin like a mad bull."

But they were sorry to a man, and said among themselves that they'd see
he was defended proper even if he hadn't nothin' but a little dust in a
jam-pot.

The Grand Forks constable had put a watch on the big tent, despatched a
man to inform the Dawson Chief of Police, and set himself to learn the
details of the quarrel. Meanwhile the utter absence of life in the
guarded tent roused suspicion. It was recalled now that since the
Indians had left a little while after the Colonel was carried home,
sixteen hours ago, no one had seen either of the Southerners. The
constable, taking alarm at this, left the crowd at Scowl Austin's, and
went hurriedly across the meadow to the new centre of interest. Just as
he reached the tent the flap was turned back, and Maudie put her head
out.

"Hah!" said the constable, with some relief, "they both in there?"

"The Colonel is."

Now, it was the Colonel he had wanted till he heard he was there. As
the woman came out he looked in to make certain. Yes, there he was,
calmly sleeping, with the gray blanket of the screen thrown up for air.
It didn't look much like----

"Where's the other feller?"

"Gone to Dawson."

"With that lame leg?"

"Went on horseback."

It had as grand a sound as it would have in the States to say a man had
departed in a glass coach drawn by six cream-coloured horses. But he
had been "in a hell of a hurry," evidently. Men were exchanging
glances.

"Funny nobody saw him."

"When'd he light out?"

"About five this morning."

Oh, that explained it. The people who were up at five were abed now.
And the group round the tent whispered that Austin had done the unheard
of--had gone off and left the night gang at three o'clock in the
morning. They had said so as the day shift turned out.

"But how'd the young feller get such a thing as a horse?"

"Hired it off a stranger out from Dawson yesterday," Maudie answered
shortly.

"Oh, that Frenchman--Count--a--Whirligig?"

But Maudie was tired of giving information and getting none. The answer
came from one in the group.

"Yes, that French feller came in with a couple o' fusst-class horses.
He's camped away over there beyond Muskeeter." He pointed down Bonanza.

"P'raps you won't mind just mentionin'," said Maudie with growing
irritation, "why you're makin' yourself so busy about my friends?"
(Only strong resentment could have induced the plural.)

When she heard what had happened and what was suspected she uttered a
contemptuous "Tschah!" and made for the tent. The constable followed.
She wheeled fiercely round.

"The man in there hasn't been out o' this tent since he was carried up
from the creek last night. I can swear to it."

"Can you swear the other was here all the time?"

No answer.

"Did he say what he went to Dawson for?"

"The doctor."

One or two laughed. "Who's sick enough to send for a Dawson doctor?"

"So you think he's gone for a----"

"I know he is."

"And do you know what it costs to have a doctor come all the way out
here?"

"Yes, beasts! won't budge till you've handed over five hundred dollars.
Skunks!"

"Did your friend mention how he meant to raise the dust?"

"He's got it," she said curtly.

"Why, he was livin' off his pardner. Hadn't a red cent."

"She's shieldin' him," the men about the door agreed.

"Lord! he done it well--got away with five hundred and a horse!"

"He had words with Austin, himself, the night o' the clean-up. Sassed
Scowl Austin! Right quiet, but, oh my! Told him to his face his gold
was dirty, and washed it off his hands with a look----Gawd! you could
see Austin was mad clear through, from his shirt-buttons to his spine.
You bet Scowl said something back that got the young feller's monkey
up."

They all agreed that the only wonder was that Austin had lived as
long--"On the other side o' the line--Gee!"

      *       *       *       *       *

That evening the Boy, riding hard, came into camp with a doctor,
followed discreetly in the rear by an N. W. M. P., really mounted this
time. It had occurred to the Boy that people looked at him hard, and
when he saw the groups gathered about the tent his heart contracted
sharply. Had the Colonel died? He flung himself off the horse, winced
as his foot cried out, told Joey Bludsoe to look after both beasts a
minute, and led the Dawson doctor towards the tent.

The constable followed.

Maudie, at the door, looked at her old enemy queerly, and just as,
without greeting, he pushed by, "S'pose you've heard Scowl Austin's
dead?" she said in a low voice.

"No! Dead, eh? Well, there's one rattlesnake less in the woods."

The constable stopped him with a touch on the shoulder: "We have a
warrant for you."

The Colonel lifted his head and stared about, in a dazed way, as the
Boy stopped short and stammered, "Warr--what for?"

"For the murder of Scoville----"

"Look here," he whispered: "I--I don't know what you mean, but I'll go
along with you, of course, only don't talk before this man. He's
sick----" He beckoned the doctor. "This is the man I brought you to
see." Then he turned his back on the wide, horrified eyes of his
friend, saying, "Back in a minute, Kentucky." Outside: "Give me a
second, boys, will you?" he said to the N. W. M. P.'s, "just till I
hear what that doctor fella says about my pardner."

He stood there with the Buckeyes, the police, and the various day gangs
that were too excited to go to bed. And he asked them where Austin was
found, and other details of the murder, wearily conscious that the
friendliest there felt sure that the man who questioned could best fill
in the gaps in the story. When the doctor came out, Maudie at his heels
firing off quick questions, the Boy hobbled forward.

"Well?"

"Temperature a hundred and four," said the Dawson doctor.

"Oh, is--is that much or little?"

"Well, it's more than most of us go in for."

"Can you tell what's the matter with him?"

"Oh, typhoid, of course."

The Boy pulled his hat over his eyes.

"Guess you won't mind my stayin' now?" said Maudie at his elbow,
speaking low.

He looked up. "You goin' to take care of him? Good care?" he asked
harshly.

But Maudie seemed not to mind. The tears went down her cheeks, as, with
never a word, she nodded, and turned towards the tent.

"Say," he hobbled after her, "that doctor's all right--only wanted
fifty." He laid four hundred-dollar bills in her hand. She seemed about
to speak, when he interrupted hoarsely, "And look here: pull the
Colonel through, Maudie--pull him through!"

"I'll do my darnedest."

He held out his hand. He had never given it to her before, and he
forgot that few people would care now to take it. But she gave him hers
with no grudging. Then, on a sudden, impulse, "You ain't takin' him to
Dawson to-night?" she said to the constable.

He nodded.

"Why, he's done the trip twice already."

"I can do it again well enough."

"Then you got to wait a minute." She spoke to the constable as if she
had been Captain Constantine himself. "Better just go in and see the
Colonel," she said to the Boy. "He's been askin' for you."

"N-no, Maudie; I can go to Dawson all right, but I don't feel up to
goin' in there again."

"You'll be sorry if you don't." And then he knew what a temperature at a
hundred and four foreboded.

He went back into the tent, dreading to face the Colonel more than he
had ever dreaded anything in his life.

But the sick man lay, looking out drowsily, peacefully, through
half-shut eyes, not greatly concerned, one would say, about anything.
The Boy went over and stood under the gray blanket canopy, looking down
with a choking sensation that delayed his question: "How you feelin'
now, Kentucky?"

"All right."

"Why, that's good news. Then you--you won't mind my goin' off to--to do
a little prospectin'?"

The sick man frowned: "You stay right where you are. There's plenty in
that jampot."

"Yes, yes! jampot's fillin' up fine."

"Besides," the low voice wavered on, "didn't we agree we'd learned the
lesson o' the North?"

"The lesson o' the North?" repeated the other with filling eyes.

"Yes, sah. A man alone's a man lost. We got to stick together, Boy."
The eyelids fell heavily.

"Yes, yes, Colonel." He pressed the big hand. His mouth made the
motion, not the sound, "Good-bye, pardner."




CHAPTER XXII

THE GOING HOME

  "Despair lies down and grovels, grapples not
  With evil, casts the burden of its lot.
  This Age climbs earth.
  --To challenge heaven.
  --Not less The lower deeps.
  It laughs at Happiness."
    --George Meredith


Everybody on Bonanza knew that the Colonel had left off struggling to
get out of his bed to go to work, had left off calling for his pardner.
Quite in his right senses again, he could take in Maudie's explanation
that the Boy was gone to Dawson, probably to get something for the
Colonel to eat. For the Doctor was a crank and wouldn't let the sick
man have his beans and bacon, forbade him even such a delicacy as fresh
pork, though the Buckeyes nobly offered to slaughter one of their
newly-acquired pigs, the first that ever rooted in Bonanza refuse, and
more a terror to the passing Indian than any bear or wolf.

"But the Boy's a long time," the Colonel would say wistfully.

Before this quieter phase set in, Maudie had sent into Dawson for
Potts, O'Flynn and Mac, that they might distract the Colonel's mind
from the pardner she knew could not return. But O'Flynn, having married
the girl at the Moosehorn Cafe, had excuse of ancient validity for not
coming; Potts was busy breaking the faro bank, and Mac was waiting till
an overdue Lower River steamer should arrive.

Nicholas of Pymeut had gone back as pilot of the Weare, but Princess
Muckluck was still about, now with Skookum Bill, son of the local
chief, now alone, trudging up and down Bonanza like one looking for
something lost. The Colonel heard her voice outside the tent and had
her in.

"You goin' to marry Skookum Bill, as they say?"

Muckluck only laughed, but the Indian hung about waiting the Princess's
pleasure.

"When your pardner come back?" she would indiscreetly ask the Colonel.
"Why he goes to Dawson?" And every few hours she would return: "Why he
stay so long?"

At last Maudie took her outside and told her.

Muckluck gaped, sat down a minute, and rocked her body back and forth
with hidden face, got up and called sharply: "Skookum!"

They took the trail for town. Potts said, when he passed them, they
were going as if the devil were at their heels--wouldn't even stop to
say how the Colonel was. So Potts had come to see for himself--and to
bring the Colonel some letters just arrived.

Mac was close behind ... but the Boy? No-no. They wouldn't let anybody
see him; and Potts shook his head.

"Well, you can come in," said Maudie, "if you keep your head shut about
the Boy."

The Colonel was lying flat, with that unfaltering ceiling-gaze of the
sick. Now his vision dropped to the level of faces at the door.
"Hello!" But as they advanced he looked behind them anxiously. Only
Mac--no, Kaviak at his heels! and the sick man's disappointment
lightened to a smile. He would have held out a hand, but Maudie stopped
him. She took the little fellow's fingers and laid them on the
Colonel's.

"Now sit down and be quiet," she said nervously.

Potts and Mac obeyed, but Kaviak had fastened his fine little hand on
the weak one, and anchored so, stared about taking his bearings.

"How did you get to the Klondyke, Kaviak?" said the Colonel in a thin,
breathy voice.

"Came up with Sister Winifred," Farva answered for him. "She was sent
for to help with the epidemic. Dyin' like flies in Dawson--h'm--ahem!"
(Apologetic glance at Maudie.) "Sister Winifred promised to keep Kaviak
with her. Woman of her word."

"Well, what you think o' Dawson?" the low voice asked.

Kaviak understood the look at least, and smiled back, grew suddenly
grave, intent, looked sharply round, loosed his hold of the Colonel,
bent down, and retired behind the bed. That was where Nig was. Their
foregathering added nothing to the tranquility of the occasion, and
both were driven forth by Maudie.

Potts read the Colonel his letters, and helped him to sign a couple of
cheques. The "Louisville instructions" had come through at last.

After that the Colonel slept, and when he woke it was only to wander
away into that world where Maudie was lost utterly, and where the
Colonel was at home. There was chastening in such hours for Maudie of
Minook. "Now he's found the Other One," she would say to herself--"the
One he was looking for."

That same evening, as they sat in the tent in an interval of relief
from the Colonel's muttering monotone, they heard Nig making some sort
of unusual manifestation outside; heard the grunting of those pioneer
pigs; heard sounds of a whispered "Sh! Kaviak. Shut up, Nig!" Then a
low, tuneless crooning:

  "Wen yo' see a pig a-goin' along
    Widder straw in de sider 'is mouf,
  It'll be er tuhble wintuh,
    En yo' bettah move down Souf."

"Why, the Boy's back!" said the Colonel suddenly in a clear, collected
voice.

Maudie had jumped up, but the Boy put his head in the tent, smiling,
and calling out:

"They told me he was getting on all right, but I just thought maybe he
was asleep." He came in and bent over his pardner. "Hello, everybody!
Why, you got it so fine and dark in here, I can hardly see how well
you're lookin', Colonel!" And he dropped into the nurse's place by the
bedside.

"Maudie's lined the tent with black drill," said the Colonel. "You
brought home anything to eat?"

"Well, no----" (Maudie telegraphed); "found it all I could do to bring
myself back."

"Oh, well, that's the main thing," said the Colonel, battling with
disappointment. Pricked by some quickened memory of the Boy's last
home-coming: "I've had pretty queer dreams about you: been givin'
Maudie the meanest kind of a time."

"Don't go gassin', Colonel," admonished the nurse.

"It's pretty tough, I can tell you," he said irritably, "to be as weak
as a day-old baby, and to have to let other people----"

"Mustn't talk!" ordered Mac. The Colonel raised his head with sudden
anger. It did not mend matters that Maudie was there to hold him down
before a lot of men.

"You go to Halifax," said the Boy to Mac, blustering a trifle. "The
Colonel may stand a little orderin' about from Maudie--don't blame him
m'self. But Kentucky ain't going to be bossed by any of us."

The Colonel lay quite still again, and when he spoke it was quietly
enough.

"Reckon I'm in the kind of a fix when a man's got to take orders."

"Foolishness! Don't let him jolly you, boys. The Colonel's always
sayin' he ain't a soldier, but I reckon you better look out how you
rile Kentucky!"

The sick man ignored the trifling. "The worst of it is bein' so
useless."

"Useless! You just wait till you see what a lot o' use we mean to make
of you. No crawlin' out of it like that."

"It's quite true," said Mac harshly; "we all kind of look to you
still."

"Course we do!" The Boy turned to the others. "The O'Flynns comin' all
the way out from Dawson to-morrow to get Kentucky's opinion on a big
scheme o' theirs. Did you ever hear what that long-headed Lincoln said
when the Civil War broke out? 'I would like to have God on my side, but
I must have Kentucky.'"

"I've been so out o' my head, I thought you were arrested."

"No 'out of your head' about it--was arrested. They thought I'd cleared
Scowl Austin off the earth."

"Do they know who did?" Potts and Maudie asked in a breath.

"That Klondyke Indian that's sweet on Princess Muckluck."

"What had Austin done to him?"

"Nothin'. Reckon Skookum Bill was about the only man on Bonanza who had
no objection to the owner of o. Said so in Court."

"What did he kill him for?"

"Well," said the Boy, "it's just one o' those topsy-turvy things that
happen up here. You saw that Indian that came in with Nicholas? Some
years ago he killed a drunken white man who was after him with a knife.
There was no means of tryin' the Indian where the thing happened, so he
was taken outside.

"The Court found he'd done the killin' in self-defence, and sent him
back. Well, sir, that native had the time of his life bein' tried for
murder. He'd travelled on a railroad, seen a white man's city, lived
like a lord, and came home to be the most famous man of his tribe. Got
a taste for travel, too. Comes to the Klondyke, and his fame fires
Skookum Bill. All you got to do is to kill one o' these white men, and
they take you and show you all the wonders o' the earth. So he puts a
bullet into Austin."

"Why didn't he own up, then, and get his reward?"

"Muckluck knew better--made him hold his tongue about it."

"And then made him own up when she saw----"

The boy nodded.

"What's goin' to happen?"

"Oh, he'll swing to-morrow instead o' me. By the way, Colonel, a fella
hunted me up this mornin' who'd been to Minook. Looked good to him.
I've sold out Idaho Bar."

"'Nough to buy back your Orange Grove?"

He shook his head. "'Nough to pay my debts and start over again."

When the Dawson doctor left that night Maudie, as usual, followed him
out. They waited a long time for her to come back.

"Perhaps she's gone to her own tent;" and the Boy went to see. He
found her where the Colonel used to go to smoke, sitting, staring out
to nowhere.

As the boy looked closer he saw she had been crying, for even in the
midst of honest service Maudie, like many a fine lady before her, could
not forego the use of cosmetic. Her cheeks were streaked and stained.

"Five dollars a box here, too," she said mechanically, as she wiped
some of the rouge off with a handkerchief. Her hand shook.

"What's the matter?"

"It's all up," she answered.

"Not with him?" He motioned towards the tent.

She nodded.

"Doctor says so?"

"----and I knew it before, only I wouldn't believe it."

She had spoken with little agitation, but now she flung her arms out
with a sudden anguish that oddly took the air of tossing into space
Bonanza and its treasure. It was the motion of one who renounces the
thing that means the most--a final fling in the face of the gods. The
Boy stood quite still, submitting his heart to that first quick rending
and tearing asunder which is only the initial agony of parting.

"How soon?" he said, without raising his eyes.

"Oh, he holds on--it may be a day or two."

The Boy walked slowly away towards the ridge of the low hill. Maudie
turned and watched him. On the top of the divide he stopped, looking
over. Whatever it was he saw off there, he could not meet it yet. He
flung himself down with his face in the fire-weed, and lay there all
night long.

Kaviak was sent after him in the morning, but only to say, "Breakfast,
Maudie's tent."

The Boy saw that Mac and Potts knew. For the first time the Big Chimney
men felt a barrier between them and that one who had been the common
bond, keeping the incongruous allied and friendly. Only Nig ran in and
out, unchilled by the imminence of the Colonel's withdrawal from his
kind.

Towards noon the O'Flynns came up the creek, and were stopped near the
tent by the others. They all stood talking low till a noise of
scuffling broke the silence within. They drew nearer, and heard the
Colonel telling Maudie not to turn out Nig and Kaviak.

"I like seein' my friends. Where's the Boy?"

So they went in.

Did he know? He must know, or he would have asked O'Flynn what the
devil made him look like that! All he said was: "Hello! How do you do,
madam?" and he made a weak motion of one hand towards Mrs. O'Flynn to
do duty for that splendid bow of his. Then, as no one spoke, "You're
too late, O'Flynn."

"Too late?"

"Had a job in your line...." Then suddenly: "Maudie's worth the whole
lot of you."

They knew it was his way of saying "She's told me." They all sat and
looked at the floor. Nothing happened for a long time. At last: "Well,
you all know what my next move is; what's yours?"

There was another silence, but not nearly so long.

"What prospects, pardners?" he repeated.

The Boy looked at Maudie. She made a little gesture of "I've done all
the fightin' I'm good for." The Colonel's eyes, clear again and
tranquil, travelled from face to face.

O'Flynn cleared his throat, but it was Mac who spoke.

"Yes--a--we would like to hold a last--hold a counsel o' war. We've
always kind o' followed your notions--at least"--veracity pared down
the compliment--"at least, you can't say but what we've always listened
to you."

"Yes, you might just--a--start us as well as you can," says Potts.

The Colonel smiled a little. Each man still "starting"--forever
starting for somewhere or something, until he should come to this place
where the Colonel was. Even he, why, he was "starting" too. For him
this was no end other than a chapter's ending. But these men he had
lived and suffered with, they all wanted to talk the next move
over--not his, theirs--all except the Boy, it seemed.

Mac was in the act of changing his place to be nearer the Colonel, when
Potts adroitly forestalled him. The others drew off a little and made
desultory talk, while Potts in an undertone told how he'd had a run of
bad luck. No doubt it would turn, but if ever he got enough again to
pay his passage home, he'd put it in the bank and never risk it.

"I swear I wouldn't! I've got to go out in the fall--goin' to get
myself married Christmas; and, if she's willing, we'll come up here on
the first boat in the spring--with backing this time."

He showed a picture. The Colonel studied it.

"I believe she'll come," he said.

And Potts was so far from clairvoyance that he laughed, awkwardly
flattered; then anxiously: "Wish I was sure o' my passage money."

When Potts, before he meant to, had yielded place to O'Flynn, the
Colonel was sworn to secrecy, and listened to excited whispers of gold
in the sand off yonder on the coast of the Behring Sea. The world in
general wouldn't know the authenticity of the new strike till next
season. He and Mrs. O'Flynn would take the first boat sailing out of
San Francisco in the spring.

"Oh, you're going outside too?"

"In the fahll--yes, yes. Ye see, I ain't like the rest. I've got Mrs.
O'Flynn to consider. Dawson's great, but it ain't the place to start a
famully."

"Where you goin', Mac?" said the Colonel to the irate one, who was
making for the door. "I want a little talk with you."

Mac turned back, and consented to express his opinion of the money
there was to be made out of tailings by means of a new hydraulic
process. He was going to lend Kaviak to Sister Winifred again on the
old terms. She'd take him along when she returned to Holy Cross, and
Mac would go outside, raise a little capital, return, and make a
fortune. For the moment he was broke--hadn't even passage money. Did
the Colonel think he could----

The Colonel seemed absorbed in that eternal interrogation of the
tent-top.

"Mine, you know"--Mac drew nearer still, and went on in the lowered
voice--"mine's a special case. A man's bound to do all he can for his
boys."

"I didn't know you had boys."

Mac jerked "Yes" with his square head. "Bobbie's goin' on six now."

"The others older?"

"Others?" Mac stared an instant. "Oh, there's only one more." He
grinned with embarrassment, and hitched his head towards Kaviak.

"I guess you've jawed enough," said Maudie, leaving the others and
coming to the foot of the bed.

"And Maudie's goin' back, too," said the sick man.

She nodded.

"And you're never goin' to leave her again?"

"No."

"Maudie's a little bit of All Right," said the patient. The Big Chimney
men assented, but with sudden misgiving.

"What was that job ye said ye were wantin' me forr?"

"Oh, Maudie's got a friend of hers to fix it up."

"Fix what up?" demanded Potts.

"Little postscript to my will."

Mac jerked his head at the nurse. With that clear sight of dying eyes
the Colonel understood. A meaner spirit would have been galled at the
part those "Louisville Instructions" had been playing, but cheap
cynicism was not in the Colonel's line. He knew the awful pinch of life
up here, and he thought no less of his comrades for asking that last
service of getting them home. But it was the day of the final
"clean-up" for the Colonel; he must not leave misapprehension behind.

"I wanted Maudie to have my Minook claim----"

"Got a Minook claim o' my own."

"So I've left it to be divided----"

They all looked up.

"One-half to go to a little girl in 'Frisco, and the other half--well,
I've left the other half to Kaviak. Strikes me he ought to have a
little piece o' the North."

"Y-yes!"

"Oh, yes!"

"Good idea!"

"Mac thought he'd go over to the other tent and cook some dinner. There
was a general movement. As they were going out:

"Boy!"

"Yes?" He came back, Nig followed, and the two stood by the camp-bed
waiting their Colonel's orders.

"Don't you go wastin' any more time huntin' gold-mines."

"I don't mean to."

"Go back to your own work; go back to your own people."

The Boy listened and looked away.

"It's good to go pioneering, but it's good to go home. Oh-h--!" the
face on the pillow was convulsed for that swift passing moment--"best
of all to go home. And if you leave your home too long, your home
leaves you."

"Home doesn't seem so important as it did when I came up here."

The Colonel fastened one hand feverishly on his pardner's arm.

"I've been afraid of that. It's magic; break away. Promise me you'll go
back and stay. Lord, Lord!" he laughed feebly, "to think a fella should
have to be urged to leave the North alone. Wonderful place, but there's
Black Magic in it. Or who'd ever come--who'd ever stay?"

He looked anxiously into the Boy's set face.

"I'm not saying the time was wasted," he went on; "I reckon it was a
good thing you came."

"Yes, it was a good thing I came."

"You've learned a thing or two."

"Several."

"Specially on the Long Trail."

"Most of all on the Long Trail."

The Colonel shut his eyes. Maudie came and held a cup to his lips.

"Thank you. I begin to feel a little foggy. What was it we learned on
the Trail, pardner?" But the Boy had turned away. "Wasn't it--didn't we
learn how near a tolerable decent man is to bein' a villain?"

"We learned that a man can't be quite a brute as long as he sticks to
another man."

"Oh, was that it?"

      *       *       *       *       *

In the night Maudie went away to sleep. The Boy watched.

"Do you know what I'm thinking about?" the sick man said suddenly.

"About--that lady down at home?"

"Guess again."

"About--those fellas at Holy Cross?"

"No, I never was as taken up with the Jesuits as you were. No, Sah, I'm
thinkin' about the Czar." (Poor old Colonel! he was wandering again.)
"Did I ever tell you I saw him once?"

"No."

"Did--had a good look at him. Knew a fella in Petersburg, too, that--"
He rested a moment. "That Czar's all right. Only he sends the wrong
people to Siberia. Ought to go himself, and take his Ministers, for a
winter on the Trail." On his face suddenly the old half-smiling,
half-shrewd look. "But, Lord bless you! 'tisn't only the Czar. We all
have times o' thinkin' we're some punkins. Specially Kentuckians. I
reckon most men have their days when they're twelve feet high, and
wouldn't stoop to say 'Thank ye' to a King. Let 'em go on the Winter
Trail."

"Yes," agreed the Boy, "they'd find out--" And he stopped.

"Plenty o' use for Head Men, though." The faint voice rang with an echo
of the old authority. "No foolishness, but just plain: 'I'm the one
that's doin' the leadin'--like Nig here--and it's my business to lick
the hind dog if he shirks.'" He held out his hand and closed it over
his friend's. "I was Boss o' the Big Chimney, Boy, but you were Boss o'
the Trail."

      *       *       *       *       *

The Colonel was buried in the old moose pasture, with people standing
by who knew that the world had worn a friendlier face because he had
been in it. That much was clear, even before it was found that he had
left to each of the Big Chimney men five hundred dollars, not to be
drawn except for the purpose of going home.

They thought it was the sense of that security that made them put off
the day. They would "play the game up to the last moment, and see--"

September's end brought no great change in fortune, but a change withal
of deep significance. The ice had begun to run in the Yukon. No man
needed telling it would "be a tuhble wintah, and dey'd better move down
Souf." All the late boats by both routes had been packed. Those men who
had failed, and yet, most tenacious, were hanging on for some last
lucky turn of the wheel, knew the risk they ran. And now to-day the
final boat of the year was going down the long way to the Behring Sea,
and by the Canadian route, open a little longer, the Big Chimney men,
by grace of that one left behind, would be on the last ship to shoot
the rapids in '98.

Not only to the thousands who were going, to those who stayed behind
there was something in the leaving of the last boat--something that
knocked upon the heart. They, too, could still go home. They gathered
at the docks and told one another they wouldn't leave Dawson for fifty
thousand dollars, then looked at the "failures" with home-sick eyes,
remembering those months before the luckiest Klondyker could hear from
the world outside. Between now and then, what would have come to pass
up here, and what down there below!

The Boy had got a place for Muckluck in the A. C. Store. She was handy
at repairing and working in fur, and said she was "all right" on this
bright autumn morning when the Boy went in to say good-bye. With a
white woman and an Indian boy, in a little room overlooking the
water-front, Muckluck was working in the intervals of watching the
crowds on the wharf. Eyes more experienced than hers might well stare.
Probably in no other place upon the globe was gathered as motley a
crew: English, Indian, Scandinavian, French, German, Negroes, Chinese,
Poles, Japs, Finns. All the fine gentlemen had escaped by earlier
boats. All the smart young women with their gold-nugget buttons as big
as your thumb, lucky miners from the creeks with heavy consignments of
dust to take home, had been too wary to run any risk of the
Never-Know-What closing inopportunely. The great majority here, on the
wharf, dazed or excited, lugging miscellaneous possessions--things they
had clung to in straits so desperate they knew no more how to relax
their hold than dead fingers do--these were men whose last chance had
been the Klondyke, and who here, as elsewhere, had failed. Many who
came in young were going out old; but the odd thing was that those
worst off went out game--no whining, none of the ostentatious pathos of
those broken on the wheel of a great city.

A man under Muckluck's window, dressed in a moose-skin shirt, straw
hat, broadcloth trousers, and carpet slippers, in one hand a tin pail,
in the other something tied in a handkerchief, called out lustily to a
ragged individual, cleaving a way through the throng, "Got your stuff
aboard?"

"Yes, goin' to get it off. I ain't goin' home till next year."

And the face above the moose-skin shirt was stricken with a sudden
envy. Without any telling, he knew just how his pardner's heart had
failed him, when it came to turning his tattered back on the
possibilities of the Klondyke.

"Oh, I'm comin' back soon's I get a grub-stake."

"I ain't," said another with a dazed expression--a Klondyker carrying
home his frying-pan, the one thing, apparently, saved out of the wreck.

"You think you ain't comin' back? Just wait! Once you've lived up here,
the Outside ain't good enough fur yer."

"Right!" said an old Forty-miler, "you can try it; but Lord! how you'll
miss this goll-darn Yukon."

Among the hundreds running about, talking, bustling, hauling
heterogeneous luggage, sending last letters, doing last deals, a score
of women either going by this boat or saying good-bye to those who
were; and Potts, the O'Flynns, and Mac waiting to hand over Kaviak to
Sister Winifred.

The Boy at the open window above, staring down on the tatterdemalion
throng, remembered his first meeting with the Big Chimney men as the
Washington City steamed out of San Francisco's Golden Gate a year and a
month before.

Of course, even in default of finding millions, something stirring
might have happened, something heroic, rewarding to the spirit, if no
other how; but (his own special revelation blurred, swamped for the
moment in the common wreck) he said to himself that nothing of the sort
had befallen the Big Chimney men any more than to the whipped and
bankrupt crew struggling down there on the wharf. They simply had
failed--all alike. And yet there was between them and the common
failures of the world one abiding difference: these had greatly dared.
As long as the meanest in that crowd drew breath and held to memory, so
long might he remember the brave and terrible days of the Klondyke
Rush, and that he had borne in it his heavy share. No share in any mine
save that--the knowledge that he was not among the vast majority who
sit dully to the end beside what things they were born to--the earnings
of other men, the savings of other women, afraid to go seeking after
better lest they lose the good they have. They had failed, but it could
never be said of a Klondyker that he had not tried. He might, in truth,
look down upon the smug majority that smiles at unusual endeavour,
unless success excuses, crowns it. No one there, after all, so poor but
he had one possession treasured among kings. And he had risked it. What
could a man do more?

"Good-bye, Muckluck."

"Goo'-bye? Boat Canada way no go till Thursday."

"Thursday, yes," he said absently, eyes still on the American ship.

"Then why you say goo'-bye to-day?"

"Lot to do. I just wanted to make sure you were all right."

Her creamy face was suddenly alight, but not with gratitude.

"Oh, yes, all right here," she said haughtily. "I not like much the
Boston men--King George men best." It was so her sore heart abjured her
country. For among the natives of the Klondyke white history stops
where it began when George the Third was King. "I think"--she shot
sideways a shrewd look--"I think I marry a King George man."

And at the prospect her head drooped heavily.

"Then you'll want to wear this at your wedding."

The Boy drew his hand out of his pocket, threw a walrus-string over her
bent head, and when she could see clear again, her Katharine medal was
swinging below her waist, and "the Boston man" was gone.

She stared with blinded eyes out of the window, till suddenly in the
mist one face was clear. The Boy! Standing still down there in the
hurly-burly, hands in pockets, staring at the ship.

Suddenly Sister Winifred, her black veil swirling in the wind. An
orderly from St. Mary's Hospital following with a little trunk. At the
gangway she is stopped by the purser, asked some questions, smiles at
first and shakes her head, and then in dismay clasps her hands, seeming
to plead, while the whistle shrieks.

Muckluck turned and flew down the dark little stair, threaded her way
in and out among the bystanders on the wharf till she reached the
Sister's side. The nun was saying that she not only had no money, but
that a Yukon purser must surely know the Sisters were forbidden to
carry it. He could not doubt but the passage money would be made good
when they got to Holy Cross. But the purser was a new man, and when Mac
and others who knew the Yukon custom expostulated, he hustled them
aside and told Sister Winifred to stand back, the gangway was going up.
It was then the Boy came and spoke to the man, finally drew out some
money and paid the fare. The nun, not recognising him, too bewildered
by this rough passage with the world even to thank the stranger, stood
motionless, grasping Kaviak's hand--two children, you would say--her
long veil blowing, hurrying on before her to that haven in the waste,
the mission at Holy Cross.

Again the Boy was delaying the upward swing of the gangway: the nun's
trunk must come on board. Two men rushed for it while he held down the
gang.

"Mustn't cry," he said to Muckluck. "You'll see Sister Winifred again."

"Not for that I cry. Ah, I never shall have happiness!"

"Yes, that trunk!" he called.

In the babel of voices shouting from ship and shore, the Boy heard
Princess Muckluck saying, with catches in her breath:

"I always knew I would get no luck!"

"Why?"

"Ah! I was a bad child. The baddest of all the Pymeut children."

"Yes, yes, they've got it now!" the Boy shouted up to the Captain. Then
low, and smiling absently: "What did you do that was so bad. Princess?"

"Me? I--I mocked at the geese. It was the summer they were so late; and
as they flew past Pymeut I--yes, I mocked at them."

A swaying and breaking of the crowd, the little trunk flung on board,
the men rushing back to the wharf, the gang lifted, and the last Lower
River boat swung out into the ice-flecked stream.

Keen to piercing a cry rang out--Muckluck's:

"Stop! They carry him off! It is meestake! Oh! Oh!"

The Boy was standing for'ard, Nig beside him.

O'Flynn rushed to the wharf's edge and screamed at the Captain to
"Stop, be the Siven!" Mac issued orders most peremptory. Muckluck wept
as excitedly as though there had never been question of the Boy's going
away. But while the noise rose and fell, Potts drawled a "Guess he
means to go that way!"

"No, he don't!"

"Stop, you--------, Captain!"

"Stop your----boat!"

"Well," said a bystander, "I never seen any feller as calm as that who
was bein' took the way he didn't want to go."

"D'ye mean there's a new strike?"

The suggestion flashed electric through the crowd. It was the only
possible explanation.

"He knows what he's about."

"Lord! I wish I'd 'a' froze to him!"

"Yep," said Buck One, "never seen that young feller when he looked more
like he wouldn't give a whoop in hell to change places with anybody."

As O'Flynn, back from his chase, hoarse and puffing, stopped suddenly:

"Be the Siven! Father Brachet said the little divil 'd be coming back
to Howly Cross!"

"Where's that?"

"Lower River camp."

"Gold there?"

"No."

"Then you're talking through your hat!"

"Say, Potts, where in hell is he goin'?"

"Damfino!"


THE END





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