LOVE OF LIFE
and other stories
author of “the call of the wild,” “people
of the abyss,” etc., etc.
THE REVIEW OF REVIEWS COMPANY
by the macmillan company
London: MACMILLAN AND CO., Ltd.
All rights reserved
By THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.
LOVE OF LIFE
“This out of all will remain—
They have lived and have tossed:
So much of the game will be gain,
Though the gold of the dice has been
They limped painfully down the bank, and once the foremost of
the two men staggered among the rough-strewn rocks. They
were tired and weak, and their faces had the drawn expression of
patience which comes of hardship long endured. They were
heavily burdened with blanket packs which were strapped to their
shoulders. Head-straps, passing across the forehead, helped
support these packs. Each man carried a rifle. They
walked in a stooped posture, the shoulders well forward, the head
still farther forward, the eyes bent upon the ground.
“I wish we had just about two of them cartridges
that’s layin’ in that cache of ourn,” said the
His voice was utterly and drearily expressionless. He
spoke without enthusiasm; and the first man, limping into the
milky stream that foamed over the rocks, vouchsafed no reply.
The other man followed at his heels. They did not remove
their foot-gear, though the water was icy cold—so cold that
their ankles ached and their feet went numb. In places the
water dashed against their knees, and both men staggered for
The man who followed slipped on a smooth boulder, nearly fell,
but recovered himself with a violent effort, at the same time
uttering a sharp exclamation of pain. He seemed faint and
dizzy and put out his free hand while he reeled, as though
seeking support against the air. When he had steadied
himself he stepped forward, but reeled again and nearly
fell. Then he stood still and looked at the other man, who
had never turned his head.
The man stood still for fully a minute, as though debating
with himself. Then he called out:
“I say, Bill, I’ve sprained my ankle.”
Bill staggered on through the milky water. He did not
look around. The man watched him go, and though his face
was expressionless as ever, his eyes were like the eyes of a
The other man limped up the farther bank and continued
straight on without looking back. The man in the stream
watched him. His lips trembled a little, so that the rough
thatch of brown hair which covered them was visibly
agitated. His tongue even strayed out to moisten them.
“Bill!” he cried out.
It was the pleading cry of a strong man in distress, but
Bill’s head did not turn. The man watched him go,
limping grotesquely and lurching forward with stammering gait up
the slow slope toward the soft sky-line of the low-lying
hill. He watched him go till he passed over the crest and
disappeared. Then he turned his gaze and slowly took in the
circle of the world that remained to him now that Bill was
Near the horizon the sun was smouldering dimly, almost
obscured by formless mists and vapors, which gave an impression
of mass and density without outline or tangibility. The man
pulled out his watch, the while resting his weight on one
leg. It was four o’clock, and as the season was near
the last of July or first of August,—he did not know the
precise date within a week or two,—he knew that the sun
roughly marked the northwest. He looked to the south and
knew that somewhere beyond those bleak hills lay the Great Bear
Lake; also, he knew that in that direction the Arctic Circle cut
its forbidding way across the Canadian Barrens. This stream
in which he stood was a feeder to the Coppermine River, which in
turn flowed north and emptied into Coronation Gulf and the Arctic
Ocean. He had never been there, but he had seen it, once,
on a Hudson Bay Company chart.
Again his gaze completed the circle of the world about
him. It was not a heartening spectacle. Everywhere
was soft sky-line. The hills were all low-lying.
There were no trees, no shrubs, no grasses—naught but a
tremendous and terrible desolation that sent fear swiftly dawning
into his eyes.
“Bill!” he whispered, once and twice;
He cowered in the midst of the milky water, as though the
vastness were pressing in upon him with overwhelming force,
brutally crushing him with its complacent awfulness. He
began to shake as with an ague-fit, till the gun fell from his
hand with a splash. This served to rouse him. He
fought with his fear and pulled himself together, groping in the
water and recovering the weapon. He hitched his pack
farther over on his left shoulder, so as to take a portion of its
weight from off the injured ankle. Then he proceeded,
slowly and carefully, wincing with pain, to the bank.
He did not stop. With a desperation that was madness,
unmindful of the pain, he hurried up the slope to the crest of
the hill over which his comrade had disappeared—more
grotesque and comical by far than that limping, jerking
comrade. But at the crest he saw a shallow valley, empty of
life. He fought with his fear again, overcame it, hitched
the pack still farther over on his left shoulder, and lurched on
down the slope.
The bottom of the valley was soggy with water, which the thick
moss held, spongelike, close to the surface. This water
squirted out from under his feet at every step, and each time he
lifted a foot the action culminated in a sucking sound as the wet
moss reluctantly released its grip. He picked his way from
muskeg to muskeg, and followed the other man’s footsteps
along and across the rocky ledges which thrust like islets
through the sea of moss.
Though alone, he was not lost. Farther on he knew he
would come to where dead spruce and fir, very small and weazened,
bordered the shore of a little lake, the titchin-nichilie,
in the tongue of the country, the “land of little
sticks.” And into that lake flowed a small stream,
the water of which was not milky. There was rush-grass on
that stream—this he remembered well—but no timber,
and he would follow it till its first trickle ceased at a
divide. He would cross this divide to the first trickle of
another stream, flowing to the west, which he would follow until
it emptied into the river Dease, and here he would find a cache
under an upturned canoe and piled over with many rocks. And
in this cache would be ammunition for his empty gun, fish-hooks
and lines, a small net—all the utilities for the killing
and snaring of food. Also, he would find flour,—not
much,—a piece of bacon, and some beans.
Bill would be waiting for him there, and they would paddle
away south down the Dease to the Great Bear Lake. And south
across the lake they would go, ever south, till they gained the
Mackenzie. And south, still south, they would go, while the
winter raced vainly after them, and the ice formed in the eddies,
and the days grew chill and crisp, south to some warm Hudson Bay
Company post, where timber grew tall and generous and there was
grub without end.
These were the thoughts of the man as he strove onward.
But hard as he strove with his body, he strove equally hard with
his mind, trying to think that Bill had not deserted him, that
Bill would surely wait for him at the cache. He was
compelled to think this thought, or else there would not be any
use to strive, and he would have lain down and died. And as
the dim ball of the sun sank slowly into the northwest he covered
every inch—and many times—of his and Bill’s
flight south before the downcoming winter. And he conned
the grub of the cache and the grub of the Hudson Bay Company post
over and over again. He had not eaten for two days; for a
far longer time he had not had all he wanted to eat. Often
he stooped and picked pale muskeg berries, put them into his
mouth, and chewed and swallowed them. A muskeg berry is a
bit of seed enclosed in a bit of water. In the mouth the
water melts away and the seed chews sharp and bitter. The
man knew there was no nourishment in the berries, but he chewed
them patiently with a hope greater than knowledge and defying
At nine o’clock he stubbed his toe on a rocky ledge, and
from sheer weariness and weakness staggered and fell. He
lay for some time, without movement, on his side. Then he
slipped out of the pack-straps and clumsily dragged himself into
a sitting posture. It was not yet dark, and in the
lingering twilight he groped about among the rocks for shreds of
dry moss. When he had gathered a heap he built a
fire,—a smouldering, smudgy fire,—and put a tin pot
of water on to boil.
He unwrapped his pack and the first thing he did was to count
his matches. There were sixty-seven. He counted them
three times to make sure. He divided them into several
portions, wrapping them in oil paper, disposing of one bunch in
his empty tobacco pouch, of another bunch in the inside band of
his battered hat, of a third bunch under his shirt on the
chest. This accomplished, a panic came upon him, and he
unwrapped them all and counted them again. There were still
He dried his wet foot-gear by the fire. The moccasins
were in soggy shreds. The blanket socks were worn through
in places, and his feet were raw and bleeding. His ankle
was throbbing, and he gave it an examination. It had
swollen to the size of his knee. He tore a long strip from
one of his two blankets and bound the ankle tightly. He
tore other strips and bound them about his feet to serve for both
moccasins and socks. Then he drank the pot of water,
steaming hot, wound his watch, and crawled between his
He slept like a dead man. The brief darkness around
midnight came and went. The sun arose in the
northeast—at least the day dawned in that quarter, for the
sun was hidden by gray clouds.
At six o’clock he awoke, quietly lying on his
back. He gazed straight up into the gray sky and knew that
he was hungry. As he rolled over on his elbow he was
startled by a loud snort, and saw a bull caribou regarding him
with alert curiosity. The animal was not mere than fifty
feet away, and instantly into the man’s mind leaped the
vision and the savor of a caribou steak sizzling and frying over
a fire. Mechanically he reached for the empty gun, drew a
bead, and pulled the trigger. The bull snorted and leaped
away, his hoofs rattling and clattering as he fled across the
The man cursed and flung the empty gun from him. He
groaned aloud as he started to drag himself to his feet. It
was a slow and arduous task.
His joints were like rusty hinges. They worked harshly
in their sockets, with much friction, and each bending or
unbending was accomplished only through a sheer exertion of
will. When he finally gained his feet, another minute or so
was consumed in straightening up, so that he could stand erect as
a man should stand.
He crawled up a small knoll and surveyed the prospect.
There were no trees, no bushes, nothing but a gray sea of moss
scarcely diversified by gray rocks, gray lakelets, and gray
streamlets. The sky was gray. There was no sun nor
hint of sun. He had no idea of north, and he had forgotten
the way he had come to this spot the night before. But he
was not lost. He knew that. Soon he would come to the
land of the little sticks. He felt that it lay off to the
left somewhere, not far—possibly just over the next low
He went back to put his pack into shape for travelling.
He assured himself of the existence of his three separate parcels
of matches, though he did not stop to count them. But he
did linger, debating, over a squat moose-hide sack. It was
not large. He could hide it under his two hands. He
knew that it weighed fifteen pounds,—as much as all the
rest of the pack,—and it worried him. He finally set
it to one side and proceeded to roll the pack. He paused to
gaze at the squat moose-hide sack. He picked it up hastily
with a defiant glance about him, as though the desolation were
trying to rob him of it; and when he rose to his feet to stagger
on into the day, it was included in the pack on his back.
He bore away to the left, stopping now and again to eat muskeg
berries. His ankle had stiffened, his limp was more
pronounced, but the pain of it was as nothing compared with the
pain of his stomach. The hunger pangs were sharp.
They gnawed and gnawed until he could not keep his mind steady on
the course he must pursue to gain the land of little
sticks. The muskeg berries did not allay this gnawing,
while they made his tongue and the roof of his mouth sore with
their irritating bite.
He came upon a valley where rock ptarmigan rose on whirring
wings from the ledges and muskegs. Ker—ker—ker
was the cry they made. He threw stones at them, but could
not hit them. He placed his pack on the ground and stalked
them as a cat stalks a sparrow. The sharp rocks cut through
his pants’ legs till his knees left a trail of blood; but
the hurt was lost in the hurt of his hunger. He squirmed
over the wet moss, saturating his clothes and chilling his body;
but he was not aware of it, so great was his fever for
food. And always the ptarmigan rose, whirring, before him,
till their ker—ker—ker became a mock to him, and he
cursed them and cried aloud at them with their own cry.
Once he crawled upon one that must have been asleep. He
did not see it till it shot up in his face from its rocky
nook. He made a clutch as startled as was the rise of the
ptarmigan, and there remained in his hand three
tail-feathers. As he watched its flight he hated it, as
though it had done him some terrible wrong. Then he
returned and shouldered his pack.
As the day wore along he came into valleys or swales where
game was more plentiful. A band of caribou passed by,
twenty and odd animals, tantalizingly within rifle range.
He felt a wild desire to run after them, a certitude that he
could run them down. A black fox came toward him, carrying
a ptarmigan in his mouth. The man shouted. It was a
fearful cry, but the fox, leaping away in fright, did not drop
Late in the afternoon he followed a stream, milky with lime,
which ran through sparse patches of rush-grass. Grasping
these rushes firmly near the root, he pulled up what resembled a
young onion-sprout no larger than a shingle-nail. It was
tender, and his teeth sank into it with a crunch that promised
deliciously of food. But its fibers were tough. It
was composed of stringy filaments saturated with water, like the
berries, and devoid of nourishment. He threw off his pack
and went into the rush-grass on hands and knees, crunching and
munching, like some bovine creature.
He was very weary and often wished to rest—to lie down
and sleep; but he was continually driven on—not so much by
his desire to gain the land of little sticks as by his
hunger. He searched little ponds for frogs and dug up the
earth with his nails for worms, though he knew in spite that
neither frogs nor worms existed so far north.
He looked into every pool of water vainly, until, as the long
twilight came on, he discovered a solitary fish, the size of a
minnow, in such a pool. He plunged his arm in up to the
shoulder, but it eluded him. He reached for it with both
hands and stirred up the milky mud at the bottom. In his
excitement he fell in, wetting himself to the waist. Then
the water was too muddy to admit of his seeing the fish, and he
was compelled to wait until the sediment had settled.
The pursuit was renewed, till the water was again
muddied. But he could not wait. He unstrapped the tin
bucket and began to bale the pool. He baled wildly at
first, splashing himself and flinging the water so short a
distance that it ran back into the pool. He worked more
carefully, striving to be cool, though his heart was pounding
against his chest and his hands were trembling. At the end
of half an hour the pool was nearly dry. Not a cupful of
water remained. And there was no fish. He found a
hidden crevice among the stones through which it had escaped to
the adjoining and larger pool—a pool which he could not
empty in a night and a day. Had he known of the crevice, he
could have closed it with a rock at the beginning and the fish
would have been his.
Thus he thought, and crumpled up and sank down upon the wet
earth. At first he cried softly to himself, then he cried
loudly to the pitiless desolation that ringed him around; and for
a long time after he was shaken by great dry sobs.
He built a fire and warmed himself by drinking quarts of hot
water, and made camp on a rocky ledge in the same fashion he had
the night before. The last thing he did was to see that his
matches were dry and to wind his watch. The blankets were
wet and clammy. His ankle pulsed with pain. But he
knew only that he was hungry, and through his restless sleep he
dreamed of feasts and banquets and of food served and spread in
all imaginable ways.
He awoke chilled and sick. There was no sun. The
gray of earth and sky had become deeper, more profound. A
raw wind was blowing, and the first flurries of snow were
whitening the hilltops. The air about him thickened and
grew white while he made a fire and boiled more water. It
was wet snow, half rain, and the flakes were large and
soggy. At first they melted as soon as they came in contact
with the earth, but ever more fell, covering the ground, putting
out the fire, spoiling his supply of moss-fuel.
This was a signal for him to strap on his pack and stumble
onward, he knew not where. He was not concerned with the
land of little sticks, nor with Bill and the cache under the
upturned canoe by the river Dease. He was mastered by the
verb “to eat.” He was hunger-mad. He took
no heed of the course he pursued, so long as that course led him
through the swale bottoms. He felt his way through the wet
snow to the watery muskeg berries, and went by feel as he pulled
up the rush-grass by the roots. But it was tasteless stuff
and did not satisfy. He found a weed that tasted sour and
he ate all he could find of it, which was not much, for it was a
creeping growth, easily hidden under the several inches of
He had no fire that night, nor hot water, and crawled under
his blanket to sleep the broken hunger-sleep. The snow
turned into a cold rain. He awakened many times to feel it
falling on his upturned face. Day came—a gray day and
no sun. It had ceased raining. The keenness of his
hunger had departed. Sensibility, as far as concerned the
yearning for food, had been exhausted. There was a dull,
heavy ache in his stomach, but it did not bother him so
much. He was more rational, and once more he was chiefly
interested in the land of little sticks and the cache by the
He ripped the remnant of one of his blankets into strips and
bound his bleeding feet. Also, he recinched the injured
ankle and prepared himself for a day of travel. When he
came to his pack, he paused long over the squat moose-hide sack,
but in the end it went with him.
The snow had melted under the rain, and only the hilltops
showed white. The sun came out, and he succeeded in
locating the points of the compass, though he knew now that he
was lost. Perhaps, in his previous days’ wanderings,
he had edged away too far to the left. He now bore off to
the right to counteract the possible deviation from his true
Though the hunger pangs were no longer so exquisite, he
realized that he was weak. He was compelled to pause for
frequent rests, when he attacked the muskeg berries and
rush-grass patches. His tongue felt dry and large, as
though covered with a fine hairy growth, and it tasted bitter in
his mouth. His heart gave him a great deal of
trouble. When he had travelled a few minutes it would begin
a remorseless thump, thump, thump, and then leap up and away in a
painful flutter of beats that choked him and made him go faint
In the middle of the day he found two minnows in a large
pool. It was impossible to bale it, but he was calmer now
and managed to catch them in his tin bucket. They were no
longer than his little finger, but he was not particularly
hungry. The dull ache in his stomach had been growing
duller and fainter. It seemed almost that his stomach was
dozing. He ate the fish raw, masticating with painstaking
care, for the eating was an act of pure reason. While he
had no desire to eat, he knew that he must eat to live.
In the evening he caught three more minnows, eating two and
saving the third for breakfast. The sun had dried stray
shreds of moss, and he was able to warm himself with hot
water. He had not covered more than ten miles that day; and
the next day, travelling whenever his heart permitted him, he
covered no more than five miles. But his stomach did not
give him the slightest uneasiness. It had gone to
sleep. He was in a strange country, too, and the caribou
were growing more plentiful, also the wolves. Often their
yelps drifted across the desolation, and once he saw three of
them slinking away before his path.
Another night; and in the morning, being more rational, he
untied the leather string that fastened the squat moose-hide
sack. From its open mouth poured a yellow stream of coarse
gold-dust and nuggets. He roughly divided the gold in
halves, caching one half on a prominent ledge, wrapped in a piece
of blanket, and returning the other half to the sack. He
also began to use strips of the one remaining blanket for his
feet. He still clung to his gun, for there were cartridges
in that cache by the river Dease.
This was a day of fog, and this day hunger awoke in him
again. He was very weak and was afflicted with a giddiness
which at times blinded him. It was no uncommon thing now
for him to stumble and fall; and stumbling once, he fell squarely
into a ptarmigan nest. There were four newly hatched
chicks, a day old—little specks of pulsating life no more
than a mouthful; and he ate them ravenously, thrusting them alive
into his mouth and crunching them like egg-shells between his
teeth. The mother ptarmigan beat about him with great
outcry. He used his gun as a club with which to knock her
over, but she dodged out of reach. He threw stones at her
and with one chance shot broke a wing. Then she fluttered
away, running, trailing the broken wing, with him in pursuit.
The little chicks had no more than whetted his appetite.
He hopped and bobbed clumsily along on his injured ankle,
throwing stones and screaming hoarsely at times; at other times
hopping and bobbing silently along, picking himself up grimly and
patiently when he fell, or rubbing his eyes with his hand when
the giddiness threatened to overpower him.
The chase led him across swampy ground in the bottom of the
valley, and he came upon footprints in the soggy moss. They
were not his own—he could see that. They must be
Bill’s. But he could not stop, for the mother
ptarmigan was running on. He would catch her first, then he
would return and investigate.
He exhausted the mother ptarmigan; but he exhausted
himself. She lay panting on her side. He lay panting
on his side, a dozen feet away, unable to crawl to her. And
as he recovered she recovered, fluttering out of reach as his
hungry hand went out to her. The chase was resumed.
Night settled down and she escaped. He stumbled from
weakness and pitched head foremost on his face, cutting his
cheek, his pack upon his back. He did not move for a long
while; then he rolled over on his side, wound his watch, and lay
there until morning.
Another day of fog. Half of his last blanket had gone
into foot-wrappings. He failed to pick up Bill’s
trail. It did not matter. His hunger was driving him
too compellingly—only—only he wondered if Bill, too,
were lost. By midday the irk of his pack became too
oppressive. Again he divided the gold, this time merely
spilling half of it on the ground. In the afternoon he
threw the rest of it away, there remaining to him only the
half-blanket, the tin bucket, and the rifle.
An hallucination began to trouble him. He felt confident
that one cartridge remained to him. It was in the chamber
of the rifle and he had overlooked it. On the other hand,
he knew all the time that the chamber was empty. But the
hallucination persisted. He fought it off for hours, then
threw his rifle open and was confronted with emptiness. The
disappointment was as bitter as though he had really expected to
find the cartridge.
He plodded on for half an hour, when the hallucination arose
again. Again he fought it, and still it persisted, till for
very relief he opened his rifle to unconvince himself. At
times his mind wandered farther afield, and he plodded on, a mere
automaton, strange conceits and whimsicalities gnawing at his
brain like worms. But these excursions out of the real were
of brief duration, for ever the pangs of the hunger-bite called
him back. He was jerked back abruptly once from such an
excursion by a sight that caused him nearly to faint. He
reeled and swayed, doddering like a drunken man to keep from
falling. Before him stood a horse. A horse! He
could not believe his eyes. A thick mist was in them,
intershot with sparkling points of light. He rubbed his
eyes savagely to clear his vision, and beheld, not a horse, but a
great brown bear. The animal was studying him with
The man had brought his gun halfway to his shoulder before he
realized. He lowered it and drew his hunting-knife from its
beaded sheath at his hip. Before him was meat and
life. He ran his thumb along the edge of his knife.
It was sharp. The point was sharp. He would fling
himself upon the bear and kill it. But his heart began its
warning thump, thump, thump. Then followed the wild upward
leap and tattoo of flutters, the pressing as of an iron band
about his forehead, the creeping of the dizziness into his
His desperate courage was evicted by a great surge of
fear. In his weakness, what if the animal attacked
him? He drew himself up to his most imposing stature,
gripping the knife and staring hard at the bear. The bear
advanced clumsily a couple of steps, reared up, and gave vent to
a tentative growl. If the man ran, he would run after him;
but the man did not run. He was animated now with the
courage of fear. He, too, growled, savagely, terribly,
voicing the fear that is to life germane and that lies twisted
about life’s deepest roots.
The bear edged away to one side, growling menacingly, himself
appalled by this mysterious creature that appeared upright and
unafraid. But the man did not move. He stood like a
statue till the danger was past, when he yielded to a fit of
trembling and sank down into the wet moss.
He pulled himself together and went on, afraid now in a new
way. It was not the fear that he should die passively from
lack of food, but that he should be destroyed violently before
starvation had exhausted the last particle of the endeavor in him
that made toward surviving. There were the wolves.
Back and forth across the desolation drifted their howls, weaving
the very air into a fabric of menace that was so tangible that he
found himself, arms in the air, pressing it back from him as it
might be the walls of a wind-blown tent.
Now and again the wolves, in packs of two and three, crossed
his path. But they sheered clear of him. They were
not in sufficient numbers, and besides they were hunting the
caribou, which did not battle, while this strange creature that
walked erect might scratch and bite.
In the late afternoon he came upon scattered bones where the
wolves had made a kill. The debris had been a caribou calf
an hour before, squawking and running and very much alive.
He contemplated the bones, clean-picked and polished, pink with
the cell-life in them which had not yet died. Could it
possibly be that he might be that ere the day was done!
Such was life, eh? A vain and fleeting thing. It was
only life that pained. There was no hurt in death. To
die was to sleep. It meant cessation, rest. Then why
was he not content to die?
But he did not moralize long. He was squatting in the
moss, a bone in his mouth, sucking at the shreds of life that
still dyed it faintly pink. The sweet meaty taste, thin and
elusive almost as a memory, maddened him. He closed his
jaws on the bones and crunched. Sometimes it was the bone
that broke, sometimes his teeth. Then he crushed the bones
between rocks, pounded them to a pulp, and swallowed them.
He pounded his fingers, too, in his haste, and yet found a moment
in which to feel surprise at the fact that his fingers did not
hurt much when caught under the descending rock.
Came frightful days of snow and rain. He did not know
when he made camp, when he broke camp. He travelled in the
night as much as in the day. He rested wherever he fell,
crawled on whenever the dying life in him flickered up and burned
less dimly. He, as a man, no longer strove. It was
the life in him, unwilling to die, that drove him on. He
did not suffer. His nerves had become blunted, numb, while
his mind was filled with weird visions and delicious dreams.
But ever he sucked and chewed on the crushed bones of the
caribou calf, the least remnants of which he had gathered up and
carried with him. He crossed no more hills or divides, but
automatically followed a large stream which flowed through a wide
and shallow valley. He did not see this stream nor this
valley. He saw nothing save visions. Soul and body
walked or crawled side by side, yet apart, so slender was the
thread that bound them.
He awoke in his right mind, lying on his back on a rocky
ledge. The sun was shining bright and warm. Afar off
he heard the squawking of caribou calves. He was aware of
vague memories of rain and wind and snow, but whether he had been
beaten by the storm for two days or two weeks he did not
For some time he lay without movement, the genial sunshine
pouring upon him and saturating his miserable body with its
warmth. A fine day, he thought. Perhaps he could
manage to locate himself. By a painful effort he rolled
over on his side. Below him flowed a wide and sluggish
river. Its unfamiliarity puzzled him. Slowly he
followed it with his eyes, winding in wide sweeps among the
bleak, bare hills, bleaker and barer and lower-lying than any
hills he had yet encountered. Slowly, deliberately, without
excitement or more than the most casual interest, he followed the
course of the strange stream toward the sky-line and saw it
emptying into a bright and shining sea. He was still
unexcited. Most unusual, he thought, a vision or a
mirage—more likely a vision, a trick of his disordered
mind. He was confirmed in this by sight of a ship lying at
anchor in the midst of the shining sea. He closed his eyes
for a while, then opened them. Strange how the vision
persisted! Yet not strange. He knew there were no
seas or ships in the heart of the barren lands, just as he had
known there was no cartridge in the empty rifle.
He heard a snuffle behind him—a half-choking gasp or
cough. Very slowly, because of his exceeding weakness and
stiffness, he rolled over on his other side. He could see
nothing near at hand, but he waited patiently. Again came
the snuffle and cough, and outlined between two jagged rocks not
a score of feet away he made out the gray head of a wolf.
The sharp ears were not pricked so sharply as he had seen them on
other wolves; the eyes were bleared and bloodshot, the head
seemed to droop limply and forlornly. The animal blinked
continually in the sunshine. It seemed sick. As he
looked it snuffled and coughed again.
This, at least, was real, he thought, and turned on the other
side so that he might see the reality of the world which had been
veiled from him before by the vision. But the sea still
shone in the distance and the ship was plainly discernible.
Was it reality, after all? He closed his eyes for a long
while and thought, and then it came to him. He had been
making north by east, away from the Dease Divide and into the
Coppermine Valley. This wide and sluggish river was the
Coppermine. That shining sea was the Arctic Ocean.
That ship was a whaler, strayed east, far east, from the mouth of
the Mackenzie, and it was lying at anchor in Coronation
Gulf. He remembered the Hudson Bay Company chart he had
seen long ago, and it was all clear and reasonable to him.
He sat up and turned his attention to immediate affairs.
He had worn through the blanket-wrappings, and his feet were
shapeless lumps of raw meat. His last blanket was
gone. Rifle and knife were both missing. He had lost
his hat somewhere, with the bunch of matches in the band, but the
matches against his chest were safe and dry inside the tobacco
pouch and oil paper. He looked at his watch. It
marked eleven o’clock and was still running.
Evidently he had kept it wound.
He was calm and collected. Though extremely weak, he had
no sensation of pain. He was not hungry. The thought
of food was not even pleasant to him, and whatever he did was
done by his reason alone. He ripped off his pants’
legs to the knees and bound them about his feet. Somehow he
had succeeded in retaining the tin bucket. He would have
some hot water before he began what he foresaw was to be a
terrible journey to the ship.
His movements were slow. He shook as with a palsy.
When he started to collect dry moss, he found he could not rise
to his feet. He tried again and again, then contented
himself with crawling about on hands and knees. Once he
crawled near to the sick wolf. The animal dragged itself
reluctantly out of his way, licking its chops with a tongue which
seemed hardly to have the strength to curl. The man noticed
that the tongue was not the customary healthy red. It was a
yellowish brown and seemed coated with a rough and half-dry
After he had drunk a quart of hot water the man found he was
able to stand, and even to walk as well as a dying man might be
supposed to walk. Every minute or so he was compelled to
rest. His steps were feeble and uncertain, just as the
wolf’s that trailed him were feeble and uncertain; and that
night, when the shining sea was blotted out by blackness, he knew
he was nearer to it by no more than four miles.
Throughout the night he heard the cough of the sick wolf, and
now and then the squawking of the caribou calves. There was
life all around him, but it was strong life, very much alive and
well, and he knew the sick wolf clung to the sick man’s
trail in the hope that the man would die first. In the
morning, on opening his eyes, he beheld it regarding him with a
wistful and hungry stare. It stood crouched, with tail
between its legs, like a miserable and woe-begone dog. It
shivered in the chill morning wind, and grinned dispiritedly when
the man spoke to it in a voice that achieved no more than a
The sun rose brightly, and all morning the man tottered and
fell toward the ship on the shining sea. The weather was
perfect. It was the brief Indian Summer of the high
latitudes. It might last a week. To-morrow or next
day it might he gone.
In the afternoon the man came upon a trail. It was of
another man, who did not walk, but who dragged himself on all
fours. The man thought it might be Bill, but he thought in
a dull, uninterested way. He had no curiosity. In
fact, sensation and emotion had left him. He was no longer
susceptible to pain. Stomach and nerves had gone to
sleep. Yet the life that was in him drove him on. He
was very weary, but it refused to die. It was because it
refused to die that he still ate muskeg berries and minnows,
drank his hot water, and kept a wary eye on the sick wolf.
He followed the trail of the other man who dragged himself
along, and soon came to the end of it—a few fresh-picked
bones where the soggy moss was marked by the foot-pads of many
wolves. He saw a squat moose-hide sack, mate to his own,
which had been torn by sharp teeth. He picked it up, though
its weight was almost too much for his feeble fingers. Bill
had carried it to the last. Ha! ha! He would have the
laugh on Bill. He would survive and carry it to the ship in
the shining sea. His mirth was hoarse and ghastly, like a
raven’s croak, and the sick wolf joined him, howling
lugubriously. The man ceased suddenly. How could he
have the laugh on Bill if that were Bill; if those bones, so
pinky-white and clean, were Bill?
He turned away. Well, Bill had deserted him; but he
would not take the gold, nor would he suck Bill’s
bones. Bill would have, though, had it been the other way
around, he mused as he staggered on.
He came to a pool of water. Stooping over in quest of
minnows, he jerked his head back as though he had been
stung. He had caught sight of his reflected face. So
horrible was it that sensibility awoke long enough to be
shocked. There were three minnows in the pool, which was
too large to drain; and after several ineffectual attempts to
catch them in the tin bucket he forbore. He was afraid,
because of his great weakness, that he might fall in and
drown. It was for this reason that he did not trust himself
to the river astride one of the many drift-logs which lined its
That day he decreased the distance between him and the ship by
three miles; the next day by two—for he was crawling now as
Bill had crawled; and the end of the fifth day found the ship
still seven miles away and him unable to make even a mile a
day. Still the Indian Summer held on, and he continued to
crawl and faint, turn and turn about; and ever the sick wolf
coughed and wheezed at his heels. His knees had become raw
meat like his feet, and though he padded them with the shirt from
his back it was a red track he left behind him on the moss and
stones. Once, glancing back, he saw the wolf licking
hungrily his bleeding trail, and he saw sharply what his own end
might be—unless—unless he could get the wolf.
Then began as grim a tragedy of existence as was ever
played—a sick man that crawled, a sick wolf that limped,
two creatures dragging their dying carcasses across the
desolation and hunting each other’s lives.
Had it been a well wolf, it would not have mattered so much to
the man; but the thought of going to feed the maw of that
loathsome and all but dead thing was repugnant to him. He
was finicky. His mind had begun to wander again, and to be
perplexed by hallucinations, while his lucid intervals grew rarer
He was awakened once from a faint by a wheeze close in his
ear. The wolf leaped lamely back, losing its footing and
falling in its weakness. It was ludicrous, but he was not
amused. Nor was he even afraid. He was too far gone
for that. But his mind was for the moment clear, and he lay
and considered. The ship was no more than four miles
away. He could see it quite distinctly when he rubbed the
mists out of his eyes, and he could see the white sail of a small
boat cutting the water of the shining sea. But he could
never crawl those four miles. He knew that, and was very
calm in the knowledge. He knew that he could not crawl half
a mile. And yet he wanted to live. It was
unreasonable that he should die after all he had undergone.
Fate asked too much of him. And, dying, he declined to
die. It was stark madness, perhaps, but in the very grip of
Death he defied Death and refused to die.
He closed his eyes and composed himself with infinite
precaution. He steeled himself to keep above the
suffocating languor that lapped like a rising tide through all
the wells of his being. It was very like a sea, this deadly
languor, that rose and rose and drowned his consciousness bit by
bit. Sometimes he was all but submerged, swimming through
oblivion with a faltering stroke; and again, by some strange
alchemy of soul, he would find another shred of will and strike
out more strongly.
Without movement he lay on his back, and he could hear, slowly
drawing near and nearer, the wheezing intake and output of the
sick wolf’s breath. It drew closer, ever closer,
through an infinitude of time, and he did not move. It was
at his ear. The harsh dry tongue grated like sandpaper
against his cheek. His hands shot out—or at least he
willed them to shoot out. The fingers were curved like
talons, but they closed on empty air. Swiftness and
certitude require strength, and the man had not this
The patience of the wolf was terrible. The man’s
patience was no less terrible. For half a day he lay
motionless, fighting off unconsciousness and waiting for the
thing that was to feed upon him and upon which he wished to
feed. Sometimes the languid sea rose over him and he
dreamed long dreams; but ever through it all, waking and
dreaming, he waited for the wheezing breath and the harsh caress
of the tongue.
He did not hear the breath, and he slipped slowly from some
dream to the feel of the tongue along his hand. He
waited. The fangs pressed softly; the pressure increased;
the wolf was exerting its last strength in an effort to sink
teeth in the food for which it had waited so long. But the
man had waited long, and the lacerated hand closed on the
jaw. Slowly, while the wolf struggled feebly and the hand
clutched feebly, the other hand crept across to a grip.
Five minutes later the whole weight of the man’s body was
on top of the wolf. The hands had not sufficient strength
to choke the wolf, but the face of the man was pressed close to
the throat of the wolf and the mouth of the man was full of
hair. At the end of half an hour the man was aware of a
warm trickle in his throat. It was not pleasant. It
was like molten lead being forced into his stomach, and it was
forced by his will alone. Later the man rolled over on his
back and slept.
* * * * *
There were some members of a scientific expedition on the
whale-ship Bedford. From the deck they remarked a
strange object on the shore. It was moving down the beach
toward the water. They were unable to classify it, and,
being scientific men, they climbed into the whale-boat alongside
and went ashore to see. And they saw something that was
alive but which could hardly be called a man. It was blind,
unconscious. It squirmed along the ground like some
monstrous worm. Most of its efforts were ineffectual, but
it was persistent, and it writhed and twisted and went ahead
perhaps a score of feet an hour.
* * * * *
Three weeks afterward the man lay in a bunk on the whale-ship
Bedford, and with tears streaming down his wasted cheeks
told who he was and what he had undergone. He also babbled
incoherently of his mother, of sunny Southern California, and a
home among the orange groves and flowers.
The days were not many after that when he sat at table with
the scientific men and ship’s officers. He gloated
over the spectacle of so much food, watching it anxiously as it
went into the mouths of others. With the disappearance of
each mouthful an expression of deep regret came into his
eyes. He was quite sane, yet he hated those men at
mealtime. He was haunted by a fear that the food would not
last. He inquired of the cook, the cabin-boy, the captain,
concerning the food stores. They reassured him countless
times; but he could not believe them, and pried cunningly about
the lazarette to see with his own eyes.
It was noticed that the man was getting fat. He grew
stouter with each day. The scientific men shook their heads
and theorized. They limited the man at his meals, but still
his girth increased and he swelled prodigiously under his
The sailors grinned. They knew. And when the
scientific men set a watch on the man, they knew too. They
saw him slouch for’ard after breakfast, and, like a
mendicant, with outstretched palm, accost a sailor. The
sailor grinned and passed him a fragment of sea biscuit. He
clutched it avariciously, looked at it as a miser looks at gold,
and thrust it into his shirt bosom. Similar were the
donations from other grinning sailors.
The scientific men were discreet. They let him
alone. But they privily examined his bunk. It was
lined with hardtack; the mattress was stuffed with hardtack;
every nook and cranny was filled with hardtack. Yet he was
sane. He was taking precautions against another possible
famine—that was all. He would recover from it, the
scientific men said; and he did, ere the Bedford’s
anchor rumbled down in San Francisco Bay.
A DAY’S LODGING
It was the gosh-dangdest stampede I ever
seen. A thousand dog-teams hittin’ the ice. You
couldn’t see ’m fer smoke. Two white men
an’ a Swede froze to death that night, an’ there was
a dozen busted their lungs. But didn’t I see with my
own eyes the bottom of the water-hole? It was yellow with
gold like a mustard-plaster. That’s why I staked the
Yukon for a minin’ claim. That’s what made the
stampede. An’ then there was nothin’ to
it. That’s what I said—NOTHIN’ to
it. An’ I ain’t got over guessin’
yet.—Narrative of Shorty.
John Messner clung with mittened hand to the bucking gee-pole
and held the sled in the trail. With the other mittened
hand he rubbed his cheeks and nose. He rubbed his cheeks
and nose every little while. In point of fact, he rarely
ceased from rubbing them, and sometimes, as their numbness
increased, he rubbed fiercely. His forehead was covered by
the visor of his fur cap, the flaps of which went over his
ears. The rest of his face was protected by a thick beard,
golden-brown under its coating of frost.
Behind him churned a heavily loaded Yukon sled, and before him
toiled a string of five dogs. The rope by which they
dragged the sled rubbed against the side of Messner’s
leg. When the dogs swung on a bend in the trail, he stepped
over the rope. There were many bends, and he was compelled
to step over it often. Sometimes he tripped on the rope, or
stumbled, and at all times he was awkward, betraying a weariness
so great that the sled now and again ran upon his heels.
When he came to a straight piece of trail, where the sled
could get along for a moment without guidance, he let go the
gee-pole and batted his right hand sharply upon the hard
wood. He found it difficult to keep up the circulation in
that hand. But while he pounded the one hand, he never
ceased from rubbing his nose and cheeks with the other.
“It’s too cold to travel, anyway,” he
said. He spoke aloud, after the manner of men who are much
by themselves. “Only a fool would travel at such a
temperature. If it isn’t eighty below, it’s
because it’s seventy-nine.”
He pulled out his watch, and after some fumbling got it back
into the breast pocket of his thick woollen jacket. Then he
surveyed the heavens and ran his eye along the white sky-line to
“Twelve o’clock,” he mumbled, “A clear
sky, and no sun.”
He plodded on silently for ten minutes, and then, as though
there had been no lapse in his speech, he added:
“And no ground covered, and it’s too cold to
Suddenly he yelled “Whoa!” at the dogs, and
stopped. He seemed in a wild panic over his right hand, and
proceeded to hammer it furiously against the gee-pole.
“You—poor—devils!” he addressed the
dogs, which had dropped down heavily on the ice to rest.
His was a broken, jerky utterance, caused by the violence with
which he hammered his numb hand upon the wood. “What
have you done anyway that a two-legged other animal should come
along, break you to harness, curb all your natural proclivities,
and make slave-beasts out of you?”
He rubbed his nose, not reflectively, but savagely, in order
to drive the blood into it, and urged the dogs to their work
again. He travelled on the frozen surface of a great
river. Behind him it stretched away in a mighty curve of
many miles, losing itself in a fantastic jumble of mountains,
snow-covered and silent. Ahead of him the river split into
many channels to accommodate the freight of islands it carried on
its breast. These islands were silent and white. No
animals nor humming insects broke the silence. No birds
flew in the chill air. There was no sound of man, no mark
of the handiwork of man. The world slept, and it was like
the sleep of death.
John Messner seemed succumbing to the apathy of it all.
The frost was benumbing his spirit. He plodded on with
bowed head, unobservant, mechanically rubbing nose and cheeks,
and batting his steering hand against the gee-pole in the
But the dogs were observant, and suddenly they stopped,
turning their heads and looking back at their master out of eyes
that were wistful and questioning. Their eyelashes were
frosted white, as were their muzzles, and they had all the
seeming of decrepit old age, what of the frost-rime and
The man was about to urge them on, when he checked himself,
roused up with an effort, and looked around. The dogs had
stopped beside a water-hole, not a fissure, but a hole man-made,
chopped laboriously with an axe through three and a half feet of
ice. A thick skin of new ice showed that it had not been
used for some time. Messner glanced about him. The
dogs were already pointing the way, each wistful and hoary muzzle
turned toward the dim snow-path that left the main river trail
and climbed the bank of the island.
“All right, you sore-footed brutes,” he
said. “I’ll investigate. You’re not
a bit more anxious to quit than I am.”
He climbed the bank and disappeared. The dogs did not
lie down, but on their feet eagerly waited his return. He
came back to them, took a hauling-rope from the front of the
sled, and put it around his shoulders. Then he
gee’d the dogs to the right and put them at the bank
on the run. It was a stiff pull, but their weariness fell
from them as they crouched low to the snow, whining with
eagerness and gladness as they struggled upward to the last ounce
of effort in their bodies. When a dog slipped or faltered,
the one behind nipped his hind quarters. The man shouted
encouragement and threats, and threw all his weight on the
They cleared the bank with a rush, swung to the left, and
dashed up to a small log cabin. It was a deserted cabin of
a single room, eight feet by ten on the inside. Messner
unharnessed the animals, unloaded his sled and took
possession. The last chance wayfarer had left a supply of
firewood. Messner set up his light sheet-iron stove and
starred a fire. He put five sun-cured salmon into the oven
to thaw out for the dogs, and from the water-hole filled his
coffee-pot and cooking-pail.
While waiting for the water to boil, he held his face over the
stove. The moisture from his breath had collected on his
beard and frozen into a great mass of ice, and this he proceeded
to thaw out. As it melted and dropped upon the stove it
sizzled and rose about him in steam. He helped the process
with his fingers, working loose small ice-chunks that fell
rattling to the floor.
A wild outcry from the dogs without did not take him from his
task. He heard the wolfish snarling and yelping of strange
dogs and the sound of voices. A knock came on the door.
“Come in,” Messner called, in a voice muffled
because at the moment he was sucking loose a fragment of ice from
its anchorage on his upper lip.
The door opened, and, gazing out of his cloud of steam, he saw
a man and a woman pausing on the threshold.
“Come in,” he said peremptorily, “and shut
Peering through the steam, he could make out but little of
their personal appearance. The nose and cheek strap worn by
the woman and the trail-wrappings about her head allowed only a
pair of black eyes to be seen. The man was dark-eyed and
smooth-shaven all except his mustache, which was so iced up as to
hide his mouth.
“We just wanted to know if there is any other cabin
around here,” he said, at the same time glancing over the
unfurnished state of the room. “We thought this cabin
“It isn’t my cabin,” Messner answered.
“I just found it a few minutes ago. Come right in and
camp. Plenty of room, and you won’t need your
stove. There’s room for all.”
At the sound of his voice the woman peered at him with quick
“Get your things off,” her companion said to
her. “I’ll unhitch and get the water so we can
Messner took the thawed salmon outside and fed his dogs.
He had to guard them against the second team of dogs, and when he
had reëntered the cabin the other man had unpacked the sled
and fetched water. Messner’s pot was boiling.
He threw in the coffee, settled it with half a cup of cold water,
and took the pot from the stove. He thawed some sour-dough
biscuits in the oven, at the same time heating a pot of beans he
had boiled the night before and that had ridden frozen on the
sled all morning.
Removing his utensils from the stove, so as to give the
newcomers a chance to cook, he proceeded to take his meal from
the top of his grub-box, himself sitting on his bed-roll.
Between mouthfuls he talked trail and dogs with the man, who,
with head over the stove, was thawing the ice from his
mustache. There were two bunks in the cabin, and into one
of them, when he had cleared his lip, the stranger tossed his
“We’ll sleep here,” he said, “unless
you prefer this bunk. You’re the first comer and you
have first choice, you know.”
“That’s all right,” Messner answered.
“One bunk’s just as good as the other.”
He spread his own bedding in the second bunk, and sat down on
the edge. The stranger thrust a physician’s small
travelling case under his blankets at one end to serve for a
“Doctor?” Messner asked.
“Yes,” came the answer, “but I assure you I
didn’t come into the Klondike to practise.”
The woman busied herself with cooking, while the man sliced
bacon and fired the stove. The light in the cabin was dim,
filtering through in a small window made of onion-skin writing
paper and oiled with bacon grease, so that John Messner could not
make out very well what the woman looked like. Not that he
tried. He seemed to have no interest in her. But she
glanced curiously from time to time into the dark corner where he
“Oh, it’s a great life,” the doctor
proclaimed enthusiastically, pausing from sharpening his knife on
the stovepipe. “What I like about it is the struggle,
the endeavor with one’s own hands, the primitiveness of it,
“The temperature is real enough,” Messner
“Do you know how cold it actually is?” the doctor
The other shook his head.
“Well, I’ll tell you. Seventy-four below
zero by spirit thermometer on the sled.”
“That’s one hundred and six below freezing
point—too cold for travelling, eh?”
“Practically suicide,” was the doctor’s
verdict. “One exerts himself. He breathes
heavily, taking into his lungs the frost itself. It chills
his lungs, freezes the edges of the tissues. He gets a dry,
hacking cough as the dead tissue sloughs away, and dies the
following summer of pneumonia, wondering what it’s all
about. I’ll stay in this cabin for a week, unless the
thermometer rises at least to fifty below.”
“I say, Tess,” he said, the next moment,
“don’t you think that coffee’s boiled long
At the sound of the woman’s name, John Messner became
suddenly alert. He looked at her quickly, while across his
face shot a haunting expression, the ghost of some buried misery
achieving swift resurrection. But the next moment, and by
an effort of will, the ghost was laid again. His face was
as placid as before, though he was still alert, dissatisfied with
what the feeble light had shown him of the woman’s
Automatically, her first act had been to set the coffee-pot
back. It was not until she had done this that she glanced
at Messner. But already he had composed himself. She
saw only a man sitting on the edge of the bunk and incuriously
studying the toes of his moccasins. But, as she turned
casually to go about her cooking, he shot another swift look at
her, and she, glancing as swiftly back, caught his look. He
shifted on past her to the doctor, though the slightest smile
curled his lip in appreciation of the way she had trapped
She drew a candle from the grub-box and lighted it. One
look at her illuminated face was enough for Messner. In the
small cabin the widest limit was only a matter of several steps,
and the next moment she was alongside of him. She
deliberately held the candle close to his face and stared at him
out of eyes wide with fear and recognition. He smiled
quietly back at her.
“What are you looking for, Tess?” the doctor
“Hairpins,” she replied, passing on and rummaging
in a clothes-bag on the bunk.
They served their meal on their grub-box, sitting on
Messner’s grub-box and facing him. He had stretched
out on his bunk to rest, lying on his side, his head on his
arm. In the close quarters it was as though the three were
together at table.
“What part of the States do you come from?”
“San Francisco,” answered the doctor.
“I’ve been in here two years, though.”
“I hail from California myself,” was
The woman looked at him appealingly, but he smiled and went
“Berkeley, you know.”
The other man was becoming interested.
“U. C.?” he asked.
“Yes, Class of ’86.”
“I meant faculty,” the doctor explained.
“You remind me of the type.”
“Sorry to hear you say so,” Messner smiled
back. “I’d prefer being taken for a prospector
or a dog-musher.”
“I don’t think he looks any more like a professor
than you do a doctor,” the woman broke in.
“Thank you,” said Messner. Then, turning to
her companion, “By the way, Doctor, what is your name, if I
“Haythorne, if you’ll take my word for it. I
gave up cards with civilization.”
“And Mrs. Haythorne,” Messner smiled and
She flashed a look at him that was more anger than appeal.
Haythorne was about to ask the other’s name. His
mouth had opened to form the question when Messner cut him
“Come to think of it, Doctor, you may possibly be able
to satisfy my curiosity. There was a sort of scandal in
faculty circles some two or three years ago. The wife of
one of the English professors—er, if you will pardon me,
Mrs. Haythorne—disappeared with some San Francisco doctor,
I understood, though his name does not just now come to my
lips. Do you remember the incident?”
Haythorne nodded his head. “Made quite a stir at
the time. His name was Womble—Graham Womble. He
had a magnificent practice. I knew him somewhat.”
“Well, what I was trying to get at was what had become
of them. I was wondering if you had heard. They left
no trace, hide nor hair.”
“He covered his tracks cunningly.” Haythorne
cleared his throat. “There was rumor that they went
to the South Seas—were lost on a trading schooner in a
typhoon, or something like that.”
“I never heard that,” Messner said.
“You remember the case, Mrs. Haythorne?”
“Perfectly,” she answered, in a voice the control
of which was in amazing contrast to the anger that blazed in the
face she turned aside so that Haythorne might not see.
The latter was again on the verge of asking his name, when
“This Dr. Womble, I’ve heard he was very handsome,
and—er—quite a success, so to say, with the
“Well, if he was, he finished himself off by that
affair,” Haythorne grumbled.
“And the woman was a termagant—at least so
I’ve been told. It was generally accepted in Berkeley
that she made life—er—not exactly paradise for her
“I never heard that,” Haythorne rejoined.
“In San Francisco the talk was all the other
“Woman sort of a martyr, eh?—crucified on the
cross of matrimony?”
The doctor nodded. Messner’s gray eyes were mildly
curious as he went on:
“That was to be expected—two sides to the
shield. Living in Berkeley I only got the one side.
She was a great deal in San Francisco, it seems.”
“Some coffee, please,” Haythorne said.
The woman refilled his mug, at the same time breaking into
“You’re gossiping like a pair of beldames,”
she chided them.
“It’s so interesting,” Messner smiled at
her, then returned to the doctor. “The husband seems
then to have had a not very savory reputation in San
“On the contrary, he was a moral prig,” Haythorne
blurted out, with apparently undue warmth. “He was a
little scholastic shrimp without a drop of red blood in his
“Did you know him?”
“Never laid eyes on him. I never knocked about in
“One side of the shield again,” Messner said, with
an air of weighing the matter judicially. “While he
did not amount to much, it is true—that is,
physically—I’d hardly say he was as bad as all
that. He did take an active interest in student
athletics. And he had some talent. He once wrote a
Nativity play that brought him quite a bit of local
appreciation. I have heard, also, that he was slated for
the head of the English department, only the affair happened and
he resigned and went away. It quite broke his career, or so
it seemed. At any rate, on our side the shield, it was
considered a knock-out blow to him. It was thought he cared
a great deal for his wife.”
Haythorne, finishing his mug of coffee, grunted uninterestedly
and lighted his pipe.
“It was fortunate they had no children,” Messner
But Haythorne, with a glance at the stove, pulled on his cap
“I’m going out to get some wood,” he
said. “Then I can take off my moccasins and he
The door slammed behind him. For a long minute there was
silence. The man continued in the same position on the
bed. The woman sat on the grub-box, facing him.
“What are you going to do?” she asked
Messner looked at her with lazy indecision. “What
do you think I ought to do? Nothing scenic, I hope.
You see I am stiff and trail-sore, and this bunk is so
She gnawed her lower lip and fumed dumbly.
“But—” she began vehemently, then clenched
her hands and stopped.
“I hope you don’t want me to kill
Mr.—er—Haythorne,” he said gently, almost
pleadingly. “It would be most distressing, and, I
assure you, really it is unnecessary.”
“But you must do something,” she cried.
“On the contrary, it is quite conceivable that I do not
have to do anything.”
“You would stay here?”
She glanced desperately around the cabin and at the bed
unrolled on the other bunk. “Night is coming
on. You can’t stop here. You can’t!
I tell you, you simply can’t!”
“Of course I can. I might remind you that I found
this cabin first and that you are my guests.”
Again her eyes travelled around the room, and the terror in
them leaped up at sight of the other bunk.
“Then we’ll have to go,” she announced
“Impossible. You have a dry, hacking
cough—the sort Mr.—er—Haythorne so aptly
described. You’ve already slightly chilled your
lungs. Besides, he is a physician and knows. He would
never permit it.”
“Then what are you going to do?” she demanded
again, with a tense, quiet utterance that boded an outbreak.
Messner regarded her in a way that was almost paternal, what
of the profundity of pity and patience with which he contrived to
“My dear Theresa, as I told you before, I don’t
know. I really haven’t thought about it.”
“Oh! You drive me mad!” She sprang to
her feet, wringing her hands in impotent wrath. “You
never used to be this way.”
“I used to be all softness and gentleness,” he
nodded concurrence. “Was that why you left
“You are so different, so dreadfully calm. You
frighten me. I feel you have something terrible planned all
the while. But whatever you do, don’t do anything
rash. Don’t get excited—”
“I don’t get excited any more,” he
interrupted. “Not since you went away.”
“You have improved—remarkably,” she
He smiled acknowledgment. “While I am thinking
about what I shall do, I’ll tell you what you will have to
do—tell Mr.—er—Haythorne who I am. It may
make our stay in this cabin more—may I say,
“Why have you followed me into this frightful
country?” she asked irrelevantly.
“Don’t think I came here looking for you,
Theresa. Your vanity shall not be tickled by any such
misapprehension. Our meeting is wholly fortuitous. I
broke with the life academic and I had to go somewhere. To
be honest, I came into the Klondike because I thought it the
place you were least liable to be in.”
There was a fumbling at the latch, then the door swung in and
Haythorne entered with an armful of firewood. At the first
warning, Theresa began casually to clear away the dishes.
Haythorne went out again after more wood.
“Why didn’t you introduce us?” Messner
“I’ll tell him,” she replied, with a toss of
her head. “Don’t think I’m
“I never knew you to be afraid, very much, of
“And I’m not afraid of confession, either,”
she said, with softening face and voice.
“In your case, I fear, confession is exploitation by
indirection, profit-making by ruse, self-aggrandizement at the
expense of God.”
“Don’t be literary,” she pouted, with
growing tenderness. “I never did like epigrammatic
discussion. Besides, I’m not afraid to ask you to
“There is nothing to forgive, Theresa. I really
should thank you. True, at first I suffered; and then, with
all the graciousness of spring, it dawned upon me that I was
happy, very happy. It was a most amazing
“But what if I should return to you?” she
“I should” (he looked at her whimsically),
“be greatly perturbed.”
“I am your wife. You know you have never got a
“I see,” he meditated. “I have been
careless. It will be one of the first things I attend
She came over to his side, resting her hand on his arm.
“You don’t want me, John?” Her voice was
soft and caressing, her hand rested like a lure. “If
I told you I had made a mistake? If I told you that I was
very unhappy?—and I am. And I did make a
Fear began to grow on Messner. He felt himself wilting
under the lightly laid hand. The situation was slipping
away from him, all his beautiful calmness was going. She
looked at him with melting eyes, and he, too, seemed all dew and
melting. He felt himself on the edge of an abyss, powerless
to withstand the force that was drawing him over.
“I am coming back to you, John. I am coming back
to-day . . . now.”
As in a nightmare, he strove under the hand. While she
talked, he seemed to hear, rippling softly, the song of the
Lorelei. It was as though, somewhere, a piano were playing
and the actual notes were impinging on his ear-drums.
Suddenly he sprang to his feet, thrust her from him as her
arms attempted to clasp him, and retreated backward to the
door. He was in a panic.
“I’ll do something desperate!” he cried.
“I warned you not to get excited.” She
laughed mockingly, and went about washing the dishes.
“Nobody wants you. I was just playing with you.
I am happier where I am.”
But Messner did not believe. He remembered her facility
in changing front. She had changed front now. It was
exploitation by indirection. She was not happy with the
other man. She had discovered her mistake. The flame
of his ego flared up at the thought. She wanted to come
back to him, which was the one thing he did not want.
Unwittingly, his hand rattled the door-latch.
“Don’t run away,” she laughed.
“I won’t bite you.”
“I am not running away,” he replied with
child-like defiance, at the same time pulling on his
mittens. “I’m only going to get some
He gathered the empty pails and cooking pots together and
opened the door. He looked back at her.
“Don’t forget you’re to tell
Mr.—er—Haythorne who I am.”
Messner broke the skin that had formed on the water-hole
within the hour, and filled his pails. But he did not
return immediately to the cabin. Leaving the pails standing
in the trail, he walked up and down, rapidly, to keep from
freezing, for the frost bit into the flesh like fire. His
beard was white with his frozen breath when the perplexed and
frowning brows relaxed and decision came into his face. He
had made up his mind to his course of action, and his frigid lips
and cheeks crackled into a chuckle over it. The pails were
already skinned over with young ice when he picked them up and
made for the cabin.
When he entered he found the other man waiting, standing near
the stove, a certain stiff awkwardness and indecision in his
manner. Messner set down his water-pails.
“Glad to meet you, Graham Womble,” he said in
conventional tones, as though acknowledging an introduction.
Messner did not offer his hand. Womble stirred uneasily,
feeling for the other the hatred one is prone to feel for one he
“And so you’re the chap,” Messner said in
marvelling accents. “Well, well. You see, I
really am glad to meet you. I have
been—er—curious to know what Theresa found in
you—where, I may say, the attraction lay. Well,
And he looked the other up and down as a man would look a
horse up and down.
“I know how you must feel about me,” Womble
“Don’t mention it,” Messner broke in with
exaggerated cordiality of voice and manner. “Never
mind that. What I want to know is how do you find
her? Up to expectations? Has she worn well?
Life been all a happy dream ever since?”
“Don’t be silly,” Theresa interjected.
“I can’t help being natural,” Messner
“You can be expedient at the same time, and
practical,” Womble said sharply. “What we want
to know is what are you going to do?”
Messner made a well-feigned gesture of helplessness.
“I really don’t know. It is one of those
impossible situations against which there can be no
“All three of us cannot remain the night in this
Messner nodded affirmation.
“Then somebody must get out.”
“That also is incontrovertible,” Messner
agreed. “When three bodies cannot occupy the same
space at the same time, one must get out.”
“And you’re that one,” Womble announced
grimly. “It’s a ten-mile pull to the next camp,
but you can make it all right.”
“And that’s the first flaw in your
reasoning,” the other objected. “Why,
necessarily, should I be the one to get out? I found this
“But Tess can’t get out,” Womble
explained. “Her lungs are already slightly
“I agree with you. She can’t venture ten
miles of frost. By all means she must remain.”
“Then it is as I said,” Womble announced with
Messner cleared his throat. “Your lungs are all
right, aren’t they?”
“Yes, but what of it?”
Again the other cleared his throat and spoke with painstaking
and judicial slowness. “Why, I may say, nothing of
it, except, ah, according to your own reasoning, there is nothing
to prevent your getting out, hitting the frost, so to speak, for
a matter of ten miles. You can make it all
Womble looked with quick suspicion at Theresa and caught in
her eyes a glint of pleased surprise.
“Well?” he demanded of her.
She hesitated, and a surge of anger darkened his face.
He turned upon Messner.
“Enough of this. You can’t stop
“Yes, I can.”
“I won’t let you.” Womble squared his
shoulders. “I’m running things.”
“I’ll stay anyway,” the other persisted.
“I’ll put you out.”
“I’ll come back.”
Womble stopped a moment to steady his voice and control
himself. Then he spoke slowly, in a low, tense voice.
“Look here, Messner, if you refuse to get out,
I’ll thrash you. This isn’t California.
I’ll beat you to a jelly with my two fists.”
Messner shrugged his shoulders. “If you do,
I’ll call a miners’ meeting and see you strung up to
the nearest tree. As you said, this is not
California. They’re a simple folk, these miners, and
all I’ll have to do will be to show them the marks of the
beating, tell them the truth about you, and present my claim for
The woman attempted to speak, but Womble turned upon her
“You keep out of this,” he cried.
In marked contrast was Messner’s “Please
don’t intrude, Theresa.”
What of her anger and pent feelings, her lungs were irritated
into the dry, hacking cough, and with blood-suffused face and one
hand clenched against her chest, she waited for the paroxysm to
Womble looked gloomily at her, noting her cough.
“Something must be done,” he said.
“Yet her lungs can’t stand the exposure. She
can’t travel till the temperature rises. And
I’m not going to give her up.”
Messner hemmed, cleared his throat, and hemmed again,
semi-apologetically, and said, “I need some
Contempt showed instantly in Womble’s face. At
last, beneath him in vileness, had the other sunk himself.
“You’ve got a fat sack of dust,” Messner
went on. “I saw you unload it from the
“How much do you want?” Womble demanded, with a
contempt in his voice equal to that in his face.
“I made an estimate of the sack, and
I—ah—should say it weighed about twenty pounds.
What do you say we call it four thousand?”
“But it’s all I’ve got, man!” Womble
“You’ve got her,” the other said
soothingly. “She must be worth it. Think what
I’m giving up. Surely it is a reasonable
“All right.” Womble rushed across the floor
to the gold-sack. “Can’t put this deal through
too quick for me, you—you little worm!”
“Now, there you err,” was the smiling
rejoinder. “As a matter of ethics isn’t the man
who gives a bribe as bad as the man who takes a bribe? The
receiver is as bad as the thief, you know; and you needn’t
console yourself with any fictitious moral superiority concerning
this little deal.”
“To hell with your ethics!” the other burst
out. “Come here and watch the weighing of this
dust. I might cheat you.”
And the woman, leaning against the bunk, raging and impotent,
watched herself weighed out in yellow dust and nuggets in the
scales erected on the grub-box. The scales were small,
making necessary many weighings, and Messner with precise care
verified each weighing.
“There’s too much silver in it,” he remarked
as he tied up the gold-sack. “I don’t think it
will run quite sixteen to the ounce. You got a trifle the
better of me, Womble.”
He handled the sack lovingly, and with due appreciation of its
preciousness carried it out to his sled.
Returning, he gathered his pots and pans together, packed his
grub-box, and rolled up his bed. When the sled was lashed
and the complaining dogs harnessed, he returned into the cabin
for his mittens.
“Good-by, Tess,” he said, standing at the open
She turned on him, struggling for speech but too frantic to
word the passion that burned in her.
“Good-by, Tess,” he repeated gently.
“Beast!” she managed to articulate.
She turned and tottered to the bunk, flinging herself face
down upon it, sobbing: “You beasts! You
John Messner closed the door softly behind him, and, as he
started the dogs, looked back at the cabin with a great relief in
his face. At the bottom of the bank, beside the water-hole,
he halted the sled. He worked the sack of gold out between
the lashings and carried it to the water-hole. Already a
new skin of ice had formed. This he broke with his
fist. Untying the knotted mouth with his teeth, he emptied
the contents of the sack into the water. The river was
shallow at that point, and two feet beneath the surface he could
see the bottom dull-yellow in the fading light. At the
sight of it, he spat into the hole.
He started the dogs along the Yukon trail. Whining
spiritlessly, they were reluctant to work. Clinging to the
gee-pole with his right band and with his left rubbing cheeks and
nose, he stumbled over the rope as the dogs swung on a bend.
“Mush-on, you poor, sore-footed brutes!” he
cried. “That’s it, mush-on!”
THE WHITE MAN’S WAY
“To cook by your fire and to sleep under your roof for
the night,” I had announced on entering old Ebbits’s
cabin; and he had looked at me blear-eyed and vacuous, while
Zilla had favored me with a sour face and a contemptuous
grunt. Zilla was his wife, and no more bitter-tongued,
implacable old squaw dwelt on the Yukon. Nor would I have
stopped there had my dogs been less tired or had the rest of the
village been inhabited. But this cabin alone had I found
occupied, and in this cabin, perforce, I took my shelter.
Old Ebbits now and again pulled his tangled wits together, and
hints and sparkles of intelligence came and went in his
eyes. Several times during the preparation of my supper he
even essayed hospitable inquiries about my health, the condition
and number of my dogs, and the distance I had travelled that
day. And each time Zilla had looked sourer than ever and
grunted more contemptuously.
Yet I confess that there was no particular call for
cheerfulness on their part. There they crouched by the
fire, the pair of them, at the end of their days, old and
withered and helpless, racked by rheumatism, bitten by hunger,
and tantalized by the frying-odors of my abundance of meat.
They rocked back and forth in a slow and hopeless way, and
regularly, once every five minutes, Ebbits emitted a low
groan. It was not so much a groan of pain, as of
pain-weariness. He was oppressed by the weight and the
torment of this thing called life, and still more was he
oppressed by the fear of death. His was that eternal
tragedy of the aged, with whom the joy of life has departed and
the instinct for death has not come.
When my moose-meat spluttered rowdily in the frying-pan, I
noticed old Ebbits’s nostrils twitch and distend as he
caught the food-scent. He ceased rocking for a space and
forgot to groan, while a look of intelligence seemed to come into
Zilla, on the other hand, rocked more rapidly, and for the
first time, in sharp little yelps, voiced her pain. It came
to me that their behavior was like that of hungry dogs, and in
the fitness of things I should not have been astonished had Zilla
suddenly developed a tail and thumped it on the floor in right
doggish fashion. Ebbits drooled a little and stopped his
rocking very frequently to lean forward and thrust his tremulous
nose nearer to the source of gustatory excitement.
When I passed them each a plate of the fried meat, they ate
greedily, making loud mouth-noises—champings of worn teeth
and sucking intakes of the breath, accompanied by a continuous
spluttering and mumbling. After that, when I gave them each
a mug of scalding tea, the noises ceased. Easement and
content came into their faces. Zilla relaxed her sour mouth
long enough to sigh her satisfaction. Neither rocked any
more, and they seemed to have fallen into placid
meditation. Then a dampness came into Ebbits’s eyes,
and I knew that the sorrow of self-pity was his. The search
required to find their pipes told plainly that they had been
without tobacco a long time, and the old man’s eagerness
for the narcotic rendered him helpless, so that I was compelled
to light his pipe for him.
“Why are you all alone in the village?” I
asked. “Is everybody dead? Has there been a
great sickness? Are you alone left of the
Old Ebbits shook his head, saying: “Nay, there has
been no great sickness. The village has gone away to hunt
meat. We be too old, our legs are not strong, nor can our
backs carry the burdens of camp and trail. Wherefore we
remain here and wonder when the young men will return with
“What if the young men do return with meat?” Zilla
“They may return with much meat,” he quavered
“Even so, with much meat,” she continued, more
harshly than before. “But of what worth to you and
me? A few bones to gnaw in our toothless old age. But
the back-fat, the kidneys, and the tongues—these shall go
into other mouths than thine and mine, old man.”
Ebbits nodded his head and wept silently.
“There be no one to hunt meat for us,” she cried,
turning fiercely upon me.
There was accusation in her manner, and I shrugged my
shoulders in token that I was not guilty of the unknown crime
imputed to me.
“Know, O White Man, that it is because of thy kind,
because of all white men, that my man and I have no meat in our
old age and sit without tobacco in the cold.”
“Nay,” Ebbits said gravely, with a stricter sense
of justice. “Wrong has been done us, it be true; but
the white men did not mean the wrong.”
“Where be Moklan?” she demanded.
“Where be thy strong son, Moklan, and the fish he was ever
willing to bring that you might eat?”
The old man shook his head.
“And where be Bidarshik, thy strong son? Ever was
he a mighty hunter, and ever did he bring thee the good back-fat
and the sweet dried tongues of the moose and the caribou. I
see no back-fat and no sweet dried tongues. Your stomach is
full with emptiness through the days, and it is for a man of a
very miserable and lying people to give you to eat.”
“Nay,” old Ebbits interposed in kindliness,
“the white man’s is not a lying people. The
white man speaks true. Always does the white man speak
true.” He paused, casting about him for words
wherewith to temper the severity of what he was about to
say. “But the white man speaks true in different
ways. To-day he speaks true one way, to-morrow he speaks
true another way, and there is no understanding him nor his
“To-day speak true one way, to-morrow speak true another
way, which is to lie,” was Zilla’s dictum.
“There is no understanding the white man,” Ebbits
went on doggedly.
The meat, and the tea, and the tobacco seemed to have brought
him back to life, and he gripped tighter hold of the idea behind
his age-bleared eyes. He straightened up somewhat.
His voice lost its querulous and whimpering note, and became
strong and positive. He turned upon me with dignity, and
addressed me as equal addresses equal.
“The white man’s eyes are not shut,” he
began. “The white man sees all things, and thinks
greatly, and is very wise. But the white man of one day is
not the white man of next day, and there is no understanding
him. He does not do things always in the same way.
And what way his next way is to be, one cannot know. Always
does the Indian do the one thing in the one way. Always
does the moose come down from the high mountains when the winter
is here. Always does the salmon come in the spring when the
ice has gone out of the river. Always does everything do
all things in the same way, and the Indian knows and
understands. But the white man does not do all things in
the same way, and the Indian does not know nor understand.
“Tobacco be very good. It be food to the hungry
man. It makes the strong man stronger, and the angry man to
forget that he is angry. Also is tobacco of value. It
is of very great value. The Indian gives one large salmon
for one leaf of tobacco, and he chews the tobacco for a long
time. It is the juice of the tobacco that is good.
When it runs down his throat it makes him feel good inside.
But the white man! When his mouth is full with the juice,
what does he do? That juice, that juice of great value, he
spits it out in the snow and it is lost. Does the white man
like tobacco? I do not know. But if he likes tobacco,
why does he spit out its value and lose it in the snow? It
is a great foolishness and without understanding.”
He ceased, puffed at the pipe, found that it was out, and
passed it over to Zilla, who took the sneer at the white man off
her lips in order to pucker them about the pipe-stem.
Ebbits seemed sinking back into his senility with the tale
untold, and I demanded:
“What of thy sons, Moklan and Bidarshik? And why
is it that you and your old woman are without meat at the end of
He roused himself as from sleep, and straightened up with an
“It is not good to steal,” he said.
“When the dog takes your meat you beat the dog with a
club. Such is the law. It is the law the man gave to
the dog, and the dog must live to the law, else will it suffer
the pain of the club. When man takes your meat, or your
canoe, or your wife, you kill that man. That is the law,
and it is a good law. It is not good to steal, wherefore it
is the law that the man who steals must die. Whoso breaks
the law must suffer hurt. It is a great hurt to
“But if you kill the man, why do you not kill the
dog?” I asked.
Old Ebbits looked at me in childlike wonder, while Zilla
sneered openly at the absurdity of my question.
“It is the way of the white man,” Ebbits mumbled
with an air of resignation.
“It is the foolishness of the white man,” snapped
“Then let old Ebbits teach the white man wisdom,”
I said softly.
“The dog is not killed, because it must pull the sled of
the man. No man pulls another man’s sled, wherefore
the man is killed.”
“Oh,” I murmured.
“That is the law,” old Ebbits went on.
“Now listen, O White Man, and I will tell you of a great
foolishness. There is an Indian. His name is
Mobits. From white man he steals two pounds of flour.
What does the white man do? Does he beat Mobits?
No. Does he kill Mobits? No. What does he do to
Mobits? I will tell you, O White Man. He has a
house. He puts Mobits in that house. The roof is
good. The walls are thick. He makes a fire that
Mobits may be warm. He gives Mobits plenty grub to
eat. It is good grub. Never in his all days does
Mobits eat so good grub. There is bacon, and bread, and
beans without end. Mobits have very good time.
“There is a big lock on door so that Mobits does not run
away. This also is a great foolishness. Mobits will
not run away. All the time is there plenty grub in that
place, and warm blankets, and a big fire. Very foolish to
run away. Mobits is not foolish. Three months Mobits
stop in that place. He steal two pounds of flour. For
that, white man take plenty good care of him. Mobits eat
many pounds of flour, many pounds of sugar, of bacon, of beans
without end. Also, Mobits drink much tea. After three
months white man open door and tell Mobits he must go.
Mobits does not want to go. He is like dog that is fed long
time in one place. He want to stay in that place, and the
white man must drive Mobits away. So Mobits come back to
this village, and he is very fat. That is the white
man’s way, and there is no understanding it. It is a
foolishness, a great foolishness.”
“But thy sons?” I insisted. “Thy very
strong sons and thine old-age hunger?”
“There was Moklan,” Ebbits began.
“A strong man,” interrupted the mother.
“He could dip paddle all of a day and night and never stop
for the need of rest. He was wise in the way of the salmon
and in the way of the water. He was very wise.”
“There was Moklan,” Ebbits repeated, ignoring the
interruption. “In the spring, he went down the Yukon
with the young men to trade at Cambell Fort. There is a
post there, filled with the goods of the white man, and a trader
whose name is Jones. Likewise is there a white man’s
medicine man, what you call missionary. Also is there bad
water at Cambell Fort, where the Yukon goes slim like a maiden,
and the water is fast, and the currents rush this way and that
and come together, and there are whirls and sucks, and always are
the currents changing and the face of the water changing, so at
any two times it is never the same. Moklan is my son,
wherefore he is brave man—”
“Was not my father brave man?” Zilla demanded.
“Thy father was brave man,” Ebbits acknowledged,
with the air of one who will keep peace in the house at any
cost. “Moklan is thy son and mine, wherefore he is
brave. Mayhap, because of thy very brave father, Moklan is
too brave. It is like when too much water is put in the pot
it spills over. So too much bravery is put into Moklan, and
the bravery spills over.
“The young men are much afraid of the bad water at
Cambell Fort. But Moklan is not afraid. He laughs
strong, Ho! ho! and he goes forth into the bad water. But
where the currents come together the canoe is turned over.
A whirl takes Moklan by the legs, and he goes around and around,
and down and down, and is seen no more.”
“Ai! ai!” wailed Zilla. “Crafty and
wise was he, and my first-born!”
“I am the father of Moklan,” Ebbits said, having
patiently given the woman space for her noise. “I get
into canoe and journey down to Cambell Fort to collect the
“Debt!” interrupted. “What
“The debt of Jones, who is chief trader,” came the
answer. “Such is the law of travel in a strange
I shook my head in token of my ignorance, and Ebbits looked
compassion at me, while Zilla snorted her customary contempt.
“Look you, O White Man,” he said. “In
thy camp is a dog that bites. When the dog bites a man, you
give that man a present because you are sorry and because it is
thy dog. You make payment. Is it not so? Also,
if you have in thy country bad hunting, or bad water, you must
make payment. It is just. It is the law. Did
not my father’s brother go over into the Tanana Country and
get killed by a bear? And did not the Tanana tribe pay my
father many blankets and fine furs? It was just. It
was bad hunting, and the Tanana people made payment for the bad
“So I, Ebbits, journeyed down to Cambell Fort to collect
the debt. Jones, who is chief trader, looked at me, and he
laughed. He made great laughter, and would not give
payment. I went to the medicine-man, what you call
missionary, and had large talk about the bad water and the
payment that should be mine. And the missionary made talk
about other things. He talk about where Moklan has gone,
now he is dead. There be large fires in that place, and if
missionary make true talk, I know that Moklan will be cold no
more. Also the missionary talk about where I shall go when
I am dead. And he say bad things. He say that I am
blind. Which is a lie. He say that I am in great
darkness. Which is a lie. And I say that the day come
and the night come for everybody just the same, and that in my
village it is no more dark than at Cambell Fort. Also, I
say that darkness and light and where we go when we die be
different things from the matter of payment of just debt for bad
water. Then the missionary make large anger, and call me
bad names of darkness, and tell me to go away. And so I
come back from Cambell Fort, and no payment has been made, and
Moklan is dead, and in my old age I am without fish and
“Because of the white man,” said Zilla.
“Because of the white man,” Ebbits
concurred. “And other things because of the white
man. There was Bidarshik. One way did the white man
deal with him; and yet another way for the same thing did the
white man deal with Yamikan. And first must I tell you of
Yamikan, who was a young man of this village and who chanced to
kill a white man. It is not good to kill a man of another
people. Always is there great trouble. It was not the
fault of Yamikan that he killed the white man. Yamikan
spoke always soft words and ran away from wrath as a dog from a
stick. But this white man drank much whiskey, and in the
night-time came to Yamikan’s house and made much
fight. Yamikan cannot run away, and the white man tries to
kill him. Yamikan does not like to die, so he kills the
“Then is all the village in great trouble. We are
much afraid that we must make large payment to the white
man’s people, and we hide our blankets, and our furs, and
all our wealth, so that it will seem that we are poor people and
can make only small payment. After long time white men
come. They are soldier white men, and they take Yamikan
away with them. His mother make great noise and throw ashes
in her hair, for she knows Yamikan is dead. And all the
village knows that Yamikan is dead, and is glad that no payment
“That is in the spring when the ice has gone out of the
river. One year go by, two years go by. It is
spring-time again, and the ice has gone out of the river.
And then Yamikan, who is dead, comes back to us, and he is not
dead, but very fat, and we know that he has slept warm and had
plenty grub to eat. He has much fine clothes and is all the
same white man, and he has gathered large wisdom so that he is
very quick head man in the village.
“And he has strange things to tell of the way of the
white man, for he has seen much of the white man and done a great
travel into the white man’s country. First place,
soldier white men take him down the river long way. All the
way do they take him down the river to the end, where it runs
into a lake which is larger than all the land and large as the
sky. I do not know the Yukon is so big river, but Yamikan
has seen with his own eyes. I do not think there is a lake
larger than all the land and large as the sky, but Yamikan has
seen. Also, he has told me that the waters of this lake be
salt, which is a strange thing and beyond understanding.
“But the White Man knows all these marvels for himself,
so I shall not weary him with the telling of them. Only
will I tell him what happened to Yamikan. The white man
give Yamikan much fine grub. All the time does Yamikan eat,
and all the time is there plenty more grub. The white man
lives under the sun, so said Yamikan, where there be much warmth,
and animals have only hair and no fur, and the green things grow
large and strong and become flour, and beans, and potatoes.
And under the sun there is never famine. Always is there
plenty grub. I do not know. Yamikan has said.
“And here is a strange thing that befell Yamikan.
Never did the white man hurt him. Only did they give him
warm bed at night and plenty fine grub. They take him
across the salt lake which is big as the sky. He is on
white man’s fire-boat, what you call steamboat, only he is
on boat maybe twenty times bigger than steamboat on Yukon.
Also, it is made of iron, this boat, and yet does it not
sink. This I do not understand, but Yamikan has said,
‘I have journeyed far on the iron boat; behold! I am still
alive.’ It is a white man’s soldier-boat with
many soldier men upon it.
“After many sleeps of travel, a long, long time, Yamikan
comes to a land where there is no snow. I cannot believe
this. It is not in the nature of things that when winter
comes there shall be no snow. But Yamikan has seen.
Also have I asked the white men, and they have said yes, there is
no snow in that country. But I cannot believe, and now I
ask you if snow never come in that country. Also, I would
hear the name of that country. I have heard the name
before, but I would hear it again, if it be the same—thus
will I know if I have heard lies or true talk.”
Old Ebbits regarded me with a wistful face. He would
have the truth at any cost, though it was his desire to retain
his faith in the marvel he had never seen.
“Yes,” I answered, “it is true talk that you
have heard. There is no snow in that country, and its name
“Cal-ee-forn-ee-yeh,” he mumbled twice and thrice,
listening intently to the sound of the syllables as they fell
from his lips. He nodded his head in confirmation.
“Yes, it is the same country of which Yamikan made
I recognized the adventure of Yamikan as one likely to occur
in the early days when Alaska first passed into the possession of
the United States. Such a murder case, occurring before the
instalment of territorial law and officials, might well have been
taken down to the United States for trial before a Federal
“When Yamikan is in this country where there is no
snow,” old Ebbits continued, “he is taken to large
house where many men make much talk. Long time men
talk. Also many questions do they ask Yamikan. By and
by they tell Yamikan he have no more trouble. Yamikan does
not understand, for never has he had any trouble. All the
time have they given him warm place to sleep and plenty grub.
“But after that they give him much better grub, and they
give him money, and they take him many places in white
man’s country, and he see many strange things which are
beyond the understanding of Ebbits, who is an old man and has not
journeyed far. After two years, Yamikan comes back to this
village, and he is head man, and very wise until he dies.
“But before he dies, many times does he sit by my fire
and make talk of the strange things he has seen. And
Bidarshik, who is my son, sits by the fire and listens; and his
eyes are very wide and large because of the things he
hears. One night, after Yamikan has gone home, Bidarshik
stands up, so, very tall, and he strikes his chest with his fist,
and says, ‘When I am a man, I shall journey in far places,
even to the land where there is no snow, and see things for
“Always did Bidarshik journey in far places,”
Zilla interrupted proudly.
“It be true,” Ebbits assented gravely.
“And always did he return to sit by the fire and hunger for
yet other and unknown far places.”
“And always did he remember the salt lake as big as the
sky and the country under the sun where there is no snow,”
“And always did he say, ‘When I have the full
strength of a man, I will go and see for myself if the talk of
Yamikan be true talk,’” said Ebbits.
“But there was no way to go to the white man’s
country,” said Zilla.
“Did he not go down to the salt lake that is big as the
sky?” Ebbits demanded.
“And there was no way for him across the salt
lake,” said Zilla.
“Save in the white man’s fire-boat which is of
iron and is bigger than twenty steamboats on the Yukon,”
said Ebbits. He scowled at Zilla, whose withered lips were
again writhing into speech, and compelled her to silence.
“But the white man would not let him cross the salt lake in
the fire-boat, and he returned to sit by the fire and hunger for
the country under the sun where there is no
“Yet on the salt lake had he seen the fire-boat of iron
that did not sink,” cried out Zilla the irrepressible.
“Ay,” said Ebbits, “and he saw that Yamikan
had made true talk of the things he had seen. But there was
no way for Bidarshik to journey to the white man’s land
under the sun, and he grew sick and weary like an old man and
moved not away from the fire. No longer did he go forth to
“And no longer did he eat the meat placed before
him,” Zilla broke in. “He would shake his head
and say, ‘Only do I care to eat the grub of the white man
and grow fat after the manner of Yamikan.’”
“And he did not eat the meat,” Ebbits went
on. “And the sickness of Bidarshik grew into a great
sickness until I thought he would die. It was not a
sickness of the body, but of the head. It was a sickness of
desire. I, Ebbits, who am his father, make a great
think. I have no more sons and I do not want Bidarshik to
die. It is a head-sickness, and there is but one way to
make it well. Bidarshik must journey across the lake as
large as the sky to the land where there is no snow, else will he
die. I make a very great think, and then I see the way for
Bidarshik to go.
“So, one night when he sits by the fire, very sick, his
head hanging down, I say, ‘My son, I have learned the way
for you to go to the white man’s land.’ He
looks at me, and his face is glad. ‘Go,’ I say,
‘even as Yamikan went.’ But Bidarshik is sick
and does not understand. ‘Go forth,’ I say,
‘and find a white man, and, even as Yamikan, do you kill
that white man. Then will the soldier white men come and
get you, and even as they took Yamikan will they take you across
the salt lake to the white man’s land. And then, even
as Yamikan, will you return very fat, your eyes full of the
things you have seen, your head filled with wisdom.’
“And Bidarshik stands up very quick, and his hand is
reaching out for his gun. ‘Where do you go?’ I
ask. ‘To kill the white man,’ he says.
And I see that my words have been good in the ears of Bidarshik
and that he will grow well again. Also do I know that my
words have been wise.
“There is a white man come to this village. He
does not seek after gold in the ground, nor after furs in the
forest. All the time does he seek after bugs and
flies. He does not eat the bugs and flies, then why does he
seek after them? I do not know. Only do I know that
he is a funny white man. Also does he seek after the eggs
of birds. He does not eat the eggs. All that is
inside he takes out, and only does he keep the shell.
Eggshell is not good to eat. Nor does he eat the eggshells,
but puts them away in soft boxes where they will not break.
He catch many small birds. But he does not eat the
birds. He takes only the skins and puts them away in
boxes. Also does he like bones. Bones are not good to
eat. And this strange white man likes best the bones of
long time ago which he digs out of the ground.
“But he is not a fierce white man, and I know he will
die very easy; so I say to Bidarshik, ‘My son, there is the
white man for you to kill.’ And Bidarshik says that
my words be wise. So he goes to a place he knows where are
many bones in the ground. He digs up very many of these
bones and brings them to the strange white man’s
camp. The white man is made very glad. His face
shines like the sun, and he smiles with much gladness as he looks
at the bones. He bends his head over, so, to look well at
the bones, and then Bidarshik strikes him hard on the head, with
axe, once, so, and the strange white man kicks and is dead.
“‘Now,’ I say to Bidarshik, ‘will the
white soldier men come and take you away to the land under the
sun, where you will eat much and grow fat.’ Bidarshik
is happy. Already has his sickness gone from him, and he
sits by the fire and waits for the coming of the white soldier
“How was I to know the way of the white man is never
twice the same?” the old man demanded, whirling upon me
fiercely. “How was I to know that what the white man
does yesterday he will not do to-day, and that what he does
to-day he will not do to-morrow?” Ebbits shook his
head sadly. “There is no understanding the white
man. Yesterday he takes Yamikan to the land under the sun
and makes him fat with much grub. To-day he takes Bidarshik
and—what does he do with Bidarshik? Let me tell you
what he does with Bidarshik.
“I, Ebbits, his father, will tell you. He takes
Bidarshik to Cambell Fort, and he ties a rope around his neck,
so, and, when his feet are no more on the ground, he
“Ai! ai!” wailed Zilla. “And never
does he cross the lake large as the sky, nor see the land under
the sun where there is no snow.”
“Wherefore,” old Ebbits said with grave dignity,
“there be no one to hunt meat for me in my old age, and I
sit hungry by my fire and tell my story to the White Man who has
given me grub, and strong tea, and tobacco for my
“Because of the lying and very miserable white
people,” Zilla proclaimed shrilly.
“Nay,” answered the old man with gentle
positiveness. “Because of the way of the white man,
which is without understanding and never twice the
THE STORY OF KEESH
Keesh lived long ago on the rim of the polar sea, was head man
of his village through many and prosperous years, and died full
of honors with his name on the lips of men. So long ago did
he live that only the old men remember his name, his name and the
tale, which they got from the old men before them, and which the
old men to come will tell to their children and their
children’s children down to the end of time. And the
winter darkness, when the north gales make their long sweep
across the ice-pack, and the air is filled with flying white, and
no man may venture forth, is the chosen time for the telling of
how Keesh, from the poorest igloo in the village, rose to
power and place over them all.
He was a bright boy, so the tale runs, healthy and strong, and
he had seen thirteen suns, in their way of reckoning time.
For each winter the sun leaves the land in darkness, and the next
year a new sun returns so that they may be warm again and look
upon one another’s faces. The father of Keesh had
been a very brave man, but he had met his death in a time of
famine, when he sought to save the lives of his people by taking
the life of a great polar bear. In his eagerness he came to
close grapples with the bear, and his bones were crushed; but the
bear had much meat on him and the people were saved. Keesh
was his only son, and after that Keesh lived alone with his
mother. But the people are prone to forget, and they forgot
the deed of his father; and he being but a boy, and his mother
only a woman, they, too, were swiftly forgotten, and ere long
came to live in the meanest of all the igloos.
It was at a council, one night, in the big igloo of
Klosh-Kwan, the chief, that Keesh showed the blood that ran in
his veins and the manhood that stiffened his back. With the
dignity of an elder, he rose to his feet, and waited for silence
amid the babble of voices.
“It is true that meat be apportioned me and mine,”
he said. “But it is ofttimes old and tough, this
meat, and, moreover, it has an unusual quantity of
The hunters, grizzled and gray, and lusty and young, were
aghast. The like had never been known before. A
child, that talked like a grown man, and said harsh things to
their very faces!
But steadily and with seriousness, Keesh went on.
“For that I know my father, Bok, was a great hunter, I
speak these words. It is said that Bok brought home more
meat than any of the two best hunters, that with his own hands he
attended to the division of it, that with his own eyes he saw to
it that the least old woman and the last old man received fair
“Na! Na!” the men cried. “Put the
child out!” “Send him off to bed!”
“He is no man that he should talk to men and
He waited calmly till the uproar died down.
“Thou hast a wife, Ugh-Gluk,” he said, “and
for her dost thou speak. And thou, too, Massuk, a mother
also, and for them dost thou speak. My mother has no one,
save me; wherefore I speak. As I say, though Bok be dead
because he hunted over-keenly, it is just that I, who am his son,
and that Ikeega, who is my mother and was his wife, should have
meat in plenty so long as there be meat in plenty in the
tribe. I, Keesh, the son of Bok, have spoken.”
He sat down, his ears keenly alert to the flood of protest and
indignation his words had created.
“That a boy should speak in council!” old Ugh-Gluk
“Shall the babes in arms tell us men the things we shall
do?” Massuk demanded in a loud voice. “Am I a
man that I should be made a mock by every child that cries for
The anger boiled a white heat. They ordered him to bed,
threatened that he should have no meat at all, and promised him
sore beatings for his presumption. Keesh’s eyes began
to flash, and the blood to pound darkly under his skin. In
the midst of the abuse he sprang to his feet.
“Hear me, ye men!” he cried. “Never
shall I speak in the council again, never again till the men come
to me and say, ‘It is well, Keesh, that thou shouldst
speak, it is well and it is our wish.’ Take this now,
ye men, for my last word. Bok, my father, was a great
hunter. I, too, his son, shall go and hunt the meat that I
eat. And be it known, now, that the division of that which
I kill shall be fair. And no widow nor weak one shall cry
in the night because there is no meat, when the strong men are
groaning in great pain for that they have eaten overmuch.
And in the days to come there shall be shame upon the strong men
who have eaten overmuch. I, Keesh, have said it!”
Jeers and scornful laughter followed him out of the
igloo, but his jaw was set and he went his way, looking
neither to right nor left.
The next day he went forth along the shore-line where the ice
and the land met together. Those who saw him go noted that
he carried his bow, with a goodly supply of bone-barbed arrows,
and that across his shoulder was his father’s big
hunting-spear. And there was laughter, and much talk, at
the event. It was an unprecedented occurrence. Never
did boys of his tender age go forth to hunt, much less to hunt
alone. Also were there shaking of heads and prophetic
mutterings, and the women looked pityingly at Ikeega, and her
face was grave and sad.
“He will be back ere long,” they said
“Let him go; it will teach him a lesson,” the
hunters said. “And he will come back shortly, and he
will be meek and soft of speech in the days to follow.”
But a day passed, and a second, and on the third a wild gale
blew, and there was no Keesh. Ikeega tore her hair and put
soot of the seal-oil on her face in token of her grief; and the
women assailed the men with bitter words in that they had
mistreated the boy and sent him to his death; and the men made no
answer, preparing to go in search of the body when the storm
Early next morning, however, Keesh strode into the
village. But he came not shamefacedly. Across his
shoulders he bore a burden of fresh-killed meat. And there
was importance in his step and arrogance in his speech.
“Go, ye men, with the dogs and sledges, and take my
trail for the better part of a day’s travel,” he
said. “There is much meat on the ice—a she-bear
and two half-grown cubs.”
Ikeega was overcome with joy, but he received her
demonstrations in manlike fashion, saying: “Come,
Ikeega, let us eat. And after that I shall sleep, for I am
And he passed into their igloo and ate profoundly, and
after that slept for twenty running hours.
There was much doubt at first, much doubt and
discussion. The killing of a polar bear is very dangerous,
but thrice dangerous is it, and three times thrice, to kill a
mother bear with her cubs. The men could not bring
themselves to believe that the boy Keesh, single-handed, had
accomplished so great a marvel. But the women spoke of the
fresh-killed meat he had brought on his back, and this was an
overwhelming argument against their unbelief. So they
finally departed, grumbling greatly that in all probability, if
the thing were so, he had neglected to cut up the
carcasses. Now in the north it is very necessary that this
should be done as soon as a kill is made. If not, the meat
freezes so solidly as to turn the edge of the sharpest knife, and
a three-hundred-pound bear, frozen stiff, is no easy thing to put
upon a sled and haul over the rough ice. But arrived at the
spot, they found not only the kill, which they had doubted, but
that Keesh had quartered the beasts in true hunter fashion, and
removed the entrails.
Thus began the mystery of Keesh, a mystery that deepened and
deepened with the passing of the days. His very next trip
he killed a young bear, nearly full-grown, and on the trip
following, a large male bear and his mate. He was
ordinarily gone from three to four days, though it was nothing
unusual for him to stay away a week at a time on the
ice-field. Always he declined company on these expeditions,
and the people marvelled. “How does he do it?”
they demanded of one another. “Never does he take a
dog with him, and dogs are of such great help, too.”
“Why dost thou hunt only bear?” Klosh-Kwan once
ventured to ask him.
And Keesh made fitting answer. “It is well known
that there is more meat on the bear,” he said.
But there was also talk of witchcraft in the village.
“He hunts with evil spirits,” some of the people
contended, “wherefore his hunting is rewarded. How
else can it be, save that he hunts with evil spirits?”
“Mayhap they be not evil, but good, these
spirits,” others said. “It is known that his
father was a mighty hunter. May not his father hunt with
him so that he may attain excellence and patience and
understanding? Who knows?”
None the less, his success continued, and the less skilful
hunters were often kept busy hauling in his meat. And in
the division of it he was just. As his father had done
before him, he saw to it that the least old woman and the last
old man received a fair portion, keeping no more for himself than
his needs required. And because of this, and of his merit
as a hunter, he was looked upon with respect, and even awe; and
there was talk of making him chief after old Klosh-Kwan.
Because of the things he had done, they looked for him to appear
again in the council, but he never came, and they were ashamed to
“I am minded to build me an igloo,” he said
one day to Klosh-Kwan and a number of the hunters.
“It shall be a large igloo, wherein Ikeega and I can
dwell in comfort.”
“Ay,” they nodded gravely.
“But I have no time. My business is hunting, and
it takes all my time. So it is but just that the men and
women of the village who eat my meat should build me my
And the igloo was built accordingly, on a generous
scale which exceeded even the dwelling of Klosh-Kwan. Keesh
and his mother moved into it, and it was the first prosperity she
had enjoyed since the death of Bok. Nor was material
prosperity alone hers, for, because of her wonderful son and the
position he had given her, she came to be looked upon as the
first woman in all the village; and the women were given to
visiting her, to asking her advice, and to quoting her wisdom
when arguments arose among themselves or with the men.
But it was the mystery of Keesh’s marvellous hunting
that took chief place in all their minds. And one day
Ugh-Gluk taxed him with witchcraft to his face.
“It is charged,” Ugh-Gluk said ominously,
“that thou dealest with evil spirits, wherefore thy hunting
“Is not the meat good?” Keesh made answer.
“Has one in the village yet to fall sick from the eating of
it? How dost thou know that witchcraft be concerned?
Or dost thou guess, in the dark, merely because of the envy that
And Ugh-Gluk withdrew discomfited, the women laughing at him
as he walked away. But in the council one night, after long
deliberation, it was determined to put spies on his track when he
went forth to hunt, so that his methods might be learned.
So, on his next trip, Bim and Bawn, two young men, and of hunters
the craftiest, followed after him, taking care not to be
seen. After five days they returned, their eyes bulging and
their tongues a-tremble to tell what they had seen. The
council was hastily called in Klosh-Kwan’s dwelling, and
Bim took up the tale.
“Brothers! As commanded, we journeyed on the trail
of Keesh, and cunningly we journeyed, so that he might not
know. And midway of the first day he picked up with a great
he-bear. It was a very great bear.”
“None greater,” Bawn corroborated, and went on
himself. “Yet was the bear not inclined to fight, for
he turned away and made off slowly over the ice. This we
saw from the rocks of the shore, and the bear came toward us, and
after him came Keesh, very much unafraid. And he shouted
harsh words after the bear, and waved his arms about, and made
much noise. Then did the bear grow angry, and rise up on
his hind legs, and growl. But Keesh walked right up to the
“Ay,” Bim continued the story. “Right
up to the bear Keesh walked. And the bear took after him,
and Keesh ran away. But as he ran he dropped a little round
ball on the ice. And the bear stopped and smelled of it,
then swallowed it up. And Keesh continued to run away and
drop little round balls, and the bear continued to swallow them
Exclamations and cries of doubt were being made, and Ugh-Gluk
expressed open unbelief.
“With our own eyes we saw it,” Bim affirmed.
And Bawn—“Ay, with our own eyes. And this
continued until the bear stood suddenly upright and cried aloud
in pain, and thrashed his fore paws madly about. And Keesh
continued to make off over the ice to a safe distance. But
the bear gave him no notice, being occupied with the misfortune
the little round balls had wrought within him.”
“Ay, within him,” Bim interrupted.
“For he did claw at himself, and leap about over the ice
like a playful puppy, save from the way he growled and squealed
it was plain it was not play but pain. Never did I see such
“Nay, never was such a sight seen,” Bawn took up
the strain. “And furthermore, it was such a large
“Witchcraft,” Ugh-Gluk suggested.
“I know not,” Bawn replied. “I tell
only of what my eyes beheld. And after a while the bear
grew weak and tired, for he was very heavy and he had jumped
about with exceeding violence, and he went off along the
shore-ice, shaking his head slowly from side to side and sitting
down ever and again to squeal and cry. And Keesh followed
after the bear, and we followed after Keesh, and for that day and
three days more we followed. The bear grew weak, and never
ceased crying from his pain.”
“It was a charm!” Ugh-Gluk exclaimed.
“Surely it was a charm!”
“It may well be.”
And Bim relieved Bawn. “The bear wandered, now
this way and now that, doubling back and forth and crossing his
trail in circles, so that at the end he was near where Keesh had
first come upon him. By this time he was quite sick, the
bear, and could crawl no farther, so Keesh came up close and
speared him to death.”
“And then?” Klosh-Kwan demanded.
“Then we left Keesh skinning the bear, and came running
that the news of the killing might be told.”
And in the afternoon of that day the women hauled in the meat
of the bear while the men sat in council assembled. When
Keesh arrived a messenger was sent to him, bidding him come to
the council. But he sent reply, saying that he was hungry
and tired; also that his igloo was large and comfortable
and could hold many men.
And curiosity was so strong on the men that the whole council,
Klosh-Kwan to the fore, rose up and went to the igloo of
Keesh. He was eating, but he received them with respect and
seated them according to their rank. Ikeega was proud and
embarrassed by turns, but Keesh was quite composed.
Klosh-Kwan recited the information brought by Bim and Bawn,
and at its close said in a stern voice: “So
explanation is wanted, O Keesh, of thy manner of hunting.
Is there witchcraft in it?”
Keesh looked up and smiled. “Nay, O
Klosh-Kwan. It is not for a boy to know aught of witches,
and of witches I know nothing. I have but devised a means
whereby I may kill the ice-bear with ease, that is all. It
be headcraft, not witchcraft.”
“And may any man?”
There was a long silence. The men looked in one
another’s faces, and Keesh went on eating.
“And . . . and . . . and wilt thou tell us, O
Keesh?” Klosh-Kwan finally asked in a tremulous voice.
“Yea, I will tell thee.” Keesh finished
sucking a marrow-bone and rose to his feet. “It is
quite simple. Behold!”
He picked up a thin strip of whalebone and showed it to
them. The ends were sharp as needle-points. The strip
he coiled carefully, till it disappeared in his hand. Then,
suddenly releasing it, it sprang straight again. He picked
up a piece of blubber.
“So,” he said, “one takes a small chunk of
blubber, thus, and thus makes it hollow. Then into the
hollow goes the whalebone, so, tightly coiled, and another piece
of blubber is fitted over the whale-bone. After that it is
put outside where it freezes into a little round ball. The
bear swallows the little round ball, the blubber melts, the
whalebone with its sharp ends stands out straight, the bear gets
sick, and when the bear is very sick, why, you kill him with a
spear. It is quite simple.”
And Ugh-Gluk said “Oh!” and Klosh-Kwan said
“Ah!” And each said something after his own
manner, and all understood.
And this is the story of Keesh, who lived long ago on the rim
of the polar sea. Because he exercised headcraft and not
witchcraft, he rose from the meanest igloo to be head man
of his village, and through all the years that he lived, it is
related, his tribe was prosperous, and neither widow nor weak one
cried aloud in the night because there was no meat.
It is a simple matter to see the obvious, to do the
expected. The tendency of the individual life is to be
static rather than dynamic, and this tendency is made into a
propulsion by civilization, where the obvious only is seen, and
the unexpected rarely happens. When the unexpected does
happen, however, and when it is of sufficiently grave import, the
unfit perish. They do not see what is not obvious, are
unable to do the unexpected, are incapable of adjusting their
well-grooved lives to other and strange grooves. In short,
when they come to the end of their own groove, they die.
On the other hand, there are those that make toward survival,
the fit individuals who escape from the rule of the obvious and
the expected and adjust their lives to no matter what strange
grooves they may stray into, or into which they may be
forced. Such an individual was Edith Whittlesey. She
was born in a rural district of England, where life proceeds by
rule of thumb and the unexpected is so very unexpected that when
it happens it is looked upon as an immorality. She went
into service early, and while yet a young woman, by rule-of-thumb
progression, she became a lady’s maid.
The effect of civilization is to impose human law upon
environment until it becomes machine-like in its
regularity. The objectionable is eliminated, the inevitable
is foreseen. One is not even made wet by the rain nor cold
by the frost; while death, instead of stalking about grewsome and
accidental, becomes a prearranged pageant, moving along a
well-oiled groove to the family vault, where the hinges are kept
from rusting and the dust from the air is swept continually
Such was the environment of Edith Whittlesey. Nothing
happened. It could scarcely be called a happening, when, at
the age of twenty-five, she accompanied her mistress on a bit of
travel to the United States. The groove merely changed its
direction. It was still the same groove and well
oiled. It was a groove that bridged the Atlantic with
uneventfulness, so that the ship was not a ship in the midst of
the sea, but a capacious, many-corridored hotel that moved
swiftly and placidly, crushing the waves into submission with its
colossal bulk until the sea was a mill-pond, monotonous with
quietude. And at the other side the groove continued on
over the land—a well-disposed, respectable groove that
supplied hotels at every stopping-place, and hotels on wheels
between the stopping-places.
In Chicago, while her mistress saw one side of social life,
Edith Whittlesey saw another side; and when she left her
lady’s service and became Edith Nelson, she betrayed,
perhaps faintly, her ability to grapple with the unexpected and
to master it. Hans Nelson, immigrant, Swede by birth and
carpenter by occupation, had in him that Teutonic unrest that
drives the race ever westward on its great adventure. He
was a large-muscled, stolid sort of a man, in whom little
imagination was coupled with immense initiative, and who
possessed, withal, loyalty and affection as sturdy as his own
“When I have worked hard and saved me some money, I will
go to Colorado,” he had told Edith on the day after their
wedding. A year later they were in Colorado, where Hans
Nelson saw his first mining and caught the mining-fever
himself. His prospecting led him through the Dakotas,
Idaho, and eastern Oregon, and on into the mountains of British
Columbia. In camp and on trail, Edith Nelson was always
with him, sharing his luck, his hardship, and his toil. The
short step of the house-reared woman she exchanged for the long
stride of the mountaineer. She learned to look upon danger
clear-eyed and with understanding, losing forever that panic fear
which is bred of ignorance and which afflicts the city-reared,
making them as silly as silly horses, so that they await fate in
frozen horror instead of grappling with it, or stampede in blind
self-destroying terror which clutters the way with their crushed
Edith Nelson met the unexpected at every turn of the trail,
and she trained her vision so that she saw in the landscape, not
the obvious, but the concealed. She, who had never cooked
in her life, learned to make bread without the mediation of hops,
yeast, or baking-powder, and to bake bread, top and bottom, in a
frying-pan before an open fire. And when the last cup of
flour was gone and the last rind of bacon, she was able to rise
to the occasion, and of moccasins and the softer-tanned bits of
leather in the outfit to make a grub-stake substitute that
somehow held a man’s soul in his body and enabled him to
stagger on. She learned to pack a horse as well as a
man,—a task to break the heart and the pride of any
city-dweller, and she knew how to throw the hitch best suited for
any particular kind of pack. Also, she could build a fire
of wet wood in a downpour of rain and not lose her temper.
In short, in all its guises she mastered the unexpected.
But the Great Unexpected was yet to come into her life and put
its test upon her.
The gold-seeking tide was flooding northward into Alaska, and
it was inevitable that Hans Nelson and his wife should he caught
up by the stream and swept toward the Klondike. The fall of
1897 found them at Dyea, but without the money to carry an outfit
across Chilcoot Pass and float it down to Dawson. So Hans
Nelson worked at his trade that winter and helped rear the
mushroom outfitting-town of Skaguay.
He was on the edge of things, and throughout the winter he
heard all Alaska calling to him. Latuya Bay called loudest,
so that the summer of 1898 found him and his wife threading the
mazes of the broken coast-line in seventy-foot Siwash
canoes. With them were Indians, also three other men.
The Indians landed them and their supplies in a lonely bight of
land a hundred miles or so beyond Latuya Bay, and returned to
Skaguay; but the three other men remained, for they were members
of the organized party. Each had put an equal share of
capital into the outfitting, and the profits were to be divided
equally. In that Edith Nelson undertook to cook for the
outfit, a man’s share was to be her portion.
First, spruce trees were cut down and a three-room cabin
constructed. To keep this cabin was Edith Nelson’s
task. The task of the men was to search for gold, which
they did; and to find gold, which they likewise did. It was
not a startling find, merely a low-pay placer where long hours of
severe toil earned each man between fifteen and twenty dollars a
day. The brief Alaskan summer protracted itself beyond its
usual length, and they took advantage of the opportunity,
delaying their return to Skaguay to the last moment. And
then it was too late. Arrangements had been made to
accompany the several dozen local Indians on their fall trading
trip down the coast. The Siwashes had waited on the white
people until the eleventh hour, and then departed. There
was no course left the party but to wait for chance
transportation. In the meantime the claim was cleaned up
and firewood stocked in.
The Indian summer had dreamed on and on, and then, suddenly,
with the sharpness of bugles, winter came. It came in a
single night, and the miners awoke to howling wind, driving snow,
and freezing water. Storm followed storm, and between the
storms there was the silence, broken only by the boom of the surf
on the desolate shore, where the salt spray rimmed the beach with
All went well in the cabin. Their gold-dust had weighed
up something like eight thousand dollars, and they could not but
be contented. The men made snowshoes, hunted fresh meat for
the larder, and in the long evenings played endless games of
whist and pedro. Now that the mining had ceased, Edith
Nelson turned over the fire-building and the dish-washing to the
men, while she darned their socks and mended their clothes.
There was no grumbling, no bickering, nor petty quarrelling in
the little cabin, and they often congratulated one another on the
general happiness of the party. Hans Nelson was stolid and
easy-going, while Edith had long before won his unbounded
admiration by her capacity for getting on with people.
Harkey, a long, lank Texan, was unusually friendly for one with a
saturnine disposition, and, as long as his theory that gold grew
was not challenged, was quite companionable. The fourth
member of the party, Michael Dennin, contributed his Irish wit to
the gayety of the cabin. He was a large, powerful man,
prone to sudden rushes of anger over little things, and of
unfailing good-humor under the stress and strain of big
things. The fifth and last member, Dutchy, was the willing
butt of the party. He even went out of his way to raise a
laugh at his own expense in order to keep things cheerful.
His deliberate aim in life seemed to be that of a maker of
laughter. No serious quarrel had ever vexed the serenity of
the party; and, now that each had sixteen hundred dollars to show
for a short summer’s work, there reigned the well-fed,
contented spirit of prosperity.
And then the unexpected happened. They had just sat down
to the breakfast table. Though it was already eight
o’clock (late breakfasts had followed naturally upon
cessation of the steady work at mining) a candle in the neck of a
bottle lighted the meal. Edith and Hans sat at each end of
the table. On one side, with their backs to the door, sat
Harkey and Dutchy. The place on the other side was
vacant. Dennin had not yet come in.
Hans Nelson looked at the empty chair, shook his head slowly,
and, with a ponderous attempt at humor, said: “Always
is he first at the grub. It is very strange. Maybe he
“Where is Michael?” Edith asked.
“Got up a little ahead of us and went outside,”
Dutchy’s face beamed mischievously. He pretended
knowledge of Dennin’s absence, and affected a mysterious
air, while they clamored for information. Edith, after a
peep into the men’s bunk-room, returned to the table.
Hans looked at her, and she shook her head.
“He was never late at meal-time before,” she
“I cannot understand,” said Hans.
“Always has he the great appetite like the
“It is too bad,” Dutchy said, with a sad shake of
They were beginning to make merry over their comrade’s
“It is a great pity!” Dutchy volunteered.
“What?” they demanded in chorus.
“Poor Michael,” was the mournful reply.
“Well, what’s wrong with Michael?” Harkey
“He is not hungry no more,” wailed Dutchy.
“He has lost der appetite. He do not like der
“Not from the way he pitches into it up to his
ears,” remarked Harkey.
“He does dot shust to be politeful to Mrs.
Nelson,” was Dutchy’s quick retort. “I
know, I know, and it is too pad. Why is he not here?
Pecause he haf gone out. Why haf he gone out? For der
defelopment of der appetite. How does he defelop der
appetite? He walks barefoots in der snow. Ach!
don’t I know? It is der way der rich peoples chases
after der appetite when it is no more and is running away.
Michael haf sixteen hundred dollars. He is rich
peoples. He haf no appetite. Derefore, pecause, he is
chasing der appetite. Shust you open der door und you will
see his barefoots in der snow. No, you will not see der
appetite. Dot is shust his trouble. When he sees der
appetite he will catch it und come to preak-fast.”
They burst into loud laughter at Dutchy’s
nonsense. The sound had scarcely died away when the door
opened and Dennin came in. All turned to look at him.
He was carrying a shot-gun. Even as they looked, he lifted
it to his shoulder and fired twice. At the first shot
Dutchy sank upon the table, overturning his mug of coffee, his
yellow mop of hair dabbling in his plate of mush. His
forehead, which pressed upon the near edge of the plate, tilted
the plate up against his hair at an angle of forty-five
degrees. Harkey was in the air, in his spring to his feet,
at the second shot, and he pitched face down upon the floor, his
“My God!” gurgling and dying in his throat.
It was the unexpected. Hans and Edith were
stunned. They sat at the table with bodies tense, their
eyes fixed in a fascinated gaze upon the murderer. Dimly
they saw him through the smoke of the powder, and in the silence
nothing was to be heard save the drip-drip of Dutchy’s
spilled coffee on the floor. Dennin threw open the breech
of the shot-gun, ejecting the empty shells. Holding the gun
with one hand, he reached with the other into his pocket for
He was thrusting the shells into the gun when Edith Nelson was
aroused to action. It was patent that he intended to kill
Hans and her. For a space of possibly three seconds of time
she had been dazed and paralysed by the horrible and
inconceivable form in which the unexpected had made its
appearance. Then she rose to it and grappled with it. She
grappled with it concretely, making a cat-like leap for the
murderer and gripping his neck-cloth with both her hands.
The impact of her body sent him stumbling backward several
steps. He tried to shake her loose and still retain his
hold on the gun. This was awkward, for her firm-fleshed
body had become a cat’s. She threw herself to one
side, and with her grip at his throat nearly jerked him to the
floor. He straightened himself and whirled swiftly.
Still faithful to her hold, her body followed the circle of his
whirl so that her feet left the floor, and she swung through the
air fastened to his throat by her hands. The whirl
culminated in a collision with a chair, and the man and woman
crashed to the floor in a wild struggling fall that extended
itself across half the length of the room.
Hans Nelson was half a second behind his wife in rising to the
unexpected. His nerve processed and mental processes were
slower than hers. His was the grosser organism, and it had
taken him half a second longer to perceive, and determine, and
proceed to do. She had already flown at Dennin and gripped
his throat, when Hans sprang to his feet. But her coolness
was not his. He was in a blind fury, a Berserker
rage. At the instant he sprang from his chair his mouth
opened and there issued forth a sound that was half roar, half
bellow. The whirl of the two bodies had already started,
and still roaring, or bellowing, he pursued this whirl down the
room, overtaking it when it fell to the floor.
Hans hurled himself upon the prostrate man, striking madly
with his fists. They were sledge-like blows, and when Edith
felt Dennin’s body relax she loosed her grip and rolled
clear. She lay on the floor, panting and watching.
The fury of blows continued to rain down. Dennin did not
seem to mind the blows. He did not even move. Then it
dawned upon her that he was unconscious. She cried out to
Hans to stop. She cried out again. But he paid no
heed to her voice. She caught him by the arm, but her
clinging to it merely impeded his effort.
It was no reasoned impulse that stirred her to do what she
then did. Nor was it a sense of pity, nor obedience to the
“Thou shalt not” of religion. Rather was it
some sense of law, an ethic of her race and early environment,
that compelled her to interpose her body between her husband and
the helpless murderer. It was not until Hans knew he was
striking his wife that he ceased. He allowed himself to be
shoved away by her in much the same way that a ferocious but
obedient dog allows itself to be shoved away by its master.
The analogy went even farther. Deep in his throat, in an
animal-like way, Hans’s rage still rumbled, and several
times he made as though to spring back upon his prey and was only
prevented by the woman’s swiftly interposed body.
Back and farther back Edith shoved her husband. She had
never seen him in such a condition, and she was more frightened
of him than she had been of Dennin in the thick of the
struggle. She could not believe that this raging beast was
her Hans, and with a shock she became suddenly aware of a
shrinking, instinctive fear that he might snap her hand in his
teeth like any wild animal. For some seconds, unwilling to
hurt her, yet dogged in his desire to return to the attack, Hans
dodged back and forth. But she resolutely dodged with him,
until the first glimmerings of reason returned and he gave
Both crawled to their feet. Hans staggered back against
the wall, where he leaned, his face working, in his throat the
deep and continuous rumble that died away with the seconds and at
last ceased. The time for the reaction had come.
Edith stood in the middle of the floor, wringing her hands,
panting and gasping, her whole body trembling violently.
Hans looked at nothing, but Edith’s eyes wandered wildly
from detail to detail of what had taken place. Dennin lay
without movement. The overturned chair, hurled onward in
the mad whirl, lay near him. Partly under him lay the
shot-gun, still broken open at the breech. Spilling out of
his right hand were the two cartridges which he had failed to put
into the gun and which he had clutched until consciousness left
him. Harkey lay on the floor, face downward, where he had
fallen; while Dutchy rested forward on the table, his yellow mop
of hair buried in his mush-plate, the plate itself still tilted
at an angle of forty-five degrees. This tilted plate
fascinated her. Why did it not fall down? It was
ridiculous. It was not in the nature of things for a
mush-plate to up-end itself on the table, even if a man or so had
She glanced back at Dennin, but her eyes returned to the
tilted plate. It was so ridiculous! She felt a
hysterical impulse to laugh. Then she noticed the silence,
and forgot the plate in a desire for something to happen.
The monotonous drip of the coffee from the table to the floor
merely emphasized the silence. Why did not Hans do
something? say something? She looked at him and was about
to speak, when she discovered that her tongue refused its wonted
duty. There was a peculiar ache in her throat, and her
mouth was dry and furry. She could only look at Hans, who,
in turn, looked at her.
Suddenly the silence was broken by a sharp, metallic
clang. She screamed, jerking her eyes back to the
table. The plate had fallen down. Hans sighed as
though awakening from sleep. The clang of the plate had
aroused them to life in a new world. The cabin epitomized
the new world in which they must thenceforth live and move.
The old cabin was gone forever. The horizon of life was
totally new and unfamiliar. The unexpected had swept its
wizardry over the face of things, changing the perspective,
juggling values, and shuffling the real and the unreal into
“My God, Hans!” was Edith’s first
He did not answer, but stared at her with horror. Slowly
his eyes wandered over the room, for the first time taking in its
details. Then he put on his cap and started for the
“Where are you going?” Edith demanded, in an agony
His hand was on the door-knob, and he half turned as he
answered, “To dig some graves.”
“Don’t leave me, Hans, with—” her eyes
swept the room—“with this.”
“The graves must be dug sometime,” he said.
“But you do not know how many,” she objected
desperately. She noted his indecision, and added,
“Besides, I’ll go with you and help.”
Hans stepped back to the table and mechanically snuffed the
candle. Then between them they made the examination.
Both Harkey and Dutchy were dead—frightfully dead, because
of the close range of the shot-gun. Hans refused to go near
Dennin, and Edith was forced to conduct this portion of the
investigation by herself.
“He isn’t dead,” she called to Hans.
He walked over and looked down at the murderer.
“What did you say?” Edith demanded, having caught
the rumble of inarticulate speech in her husband’s
“I said it was a damn shame that he isn’t
dead,” came the reply.
Edith was bending over the body.
“Leave him alone,” Hans commanded harshly, in a
She looked at him in sudden alarm. He had picked up the
shot-gun dropped by Dennin and was thrusting in the shells.
“What are you going to do?” she cried, rising
swiftly from her bending position.
Hans did not answer, but she saw the shot-gun going to his
shoulder. She grasped the muzzle with her hand and threw it
“Leave me alone!” he cried hoarsely.
He tried to jerk the weapon away from her, but she came in
closer and clung to him.
“Hans! Hans! Wake up!” she
cried. “Don’t be crazy!”
“He killed Dutchy and Harkey!” was her
husband’s reply; “and I am going to kill
“But that is wrong,” she objected.
“There is the law.”
He sneered his incredulity of the law’s potency in such
a region, but he merely iterated, dispassionately, doggedly,
“He killed Dutchy and Harkey.”
Long she argued it with him, but the argument was one-sided,
for he contented himself with repeating again and again,
“He killed Dutchy and Harkey.” But she could
not escape from her childhood training nor from the blood that
was in her. The heritage of law was hers, and right
conduct, to her, was the fulfilment of the law. She could
see no other righteous course to pursue. Hans’s
taking the law in his own hands was no more justifiable than
Dennin’s deed. Two wrongs did not make a right, she
contended, and there was only one way to punish Dennin, and that
was the legal way arranged by society. At last Hans gave in
“All right,” he said. “Have it your
own way. And to-morrow or next day look to see him kill you
She shook her head and held out her hand for the
shot-gun. He started to hand it to her, then hesitated.
“Better let me shoot him,” he pleaded.
Again she shook her head, and again he started to pass her the
gun, when the door opened, and an Indian, without knocking, came
in. A blast of wind and flurry of snow came in with
him. They turned and faced him, Hans still holding the
shot-gun. The intruder took in the scene without a
quiver. His eyes embraced the dead and wounded in a
sweeping glance. No surprise showed in his face, not even
curiosity. Harkey lay at his feet, but he took no notice of
him. So far as he was concerned, Harkey’s body did
“Much wind,” the Indian remarked by way of
salutation. “All well? Very well?”
Hans, still grasping the gun, felt sure that the Indian
attributed to him the mangled corpses. He glanced
appealingly at his wife.
“Good morning, Negook,” she said, her voice
betraying her effort. “No, not very well. Much
“Good-by, I go now, much hurry,” the Indian said,
and without semblance of haste, with great deliberation stepping
clear of a red pool on the floor, he opened the door and went
The man and woman looked at each other.
“He thinks we did it,” Hans gasped, “that I
Edith was silent for a space. Then she said, briefly, in
a businesslike way:
“Never mind what he thinks. That will come
after. At present we have two graves to dig. But
first of all, we’ve got to tie up Dennin so he can’t
Hans refused to touch Dennin, but Edith lashed him securely,
hand and foot. Then she and Hans went out into the
snow. The ground was frozen. It was impervious to a
blow of the pick. They first gathered wood, then scraped
the snow away and on the frozen surface built a fire. When
the fire had burned for an hour, several inches of dirt had
thawed. This they shovelled out, and then built a fresh
fire. Their descent into the earth progressed at the rate
of two or three inches an hour.
It was hard and bitter work. The flurrying snow did not
permit the fire to burn any too well, while the wind cut through
their clothes and chilled their bodies. They held but
little conversation. The wind interfered with speech.
Beyond wondering at what could have been Dennin’s motive,
they remained silent, oppressed by the horror of the
tragedy. At one o’clock, looking toward the cabin,
Hans announced that he was hungry.
“No, not now, Hans,” Edith answered.
“I couldn’t go back alone into that cabin the way it
is, and cook a meal.”
At two o’clock Hans volunteered to go with her; but she
held him to his work, and four o’clock found the two graves
completed. They were shallow, not more than two feet deep,
but they would serve the purpose. Night had fallen.
Hans got the sled, and the two dead men were dragged through the
darkness and storm to their frozen sepulchre. The funeral
procession was anything but a pageant. The sled sank deep
into the drifted snow and pulled hard. The man and the
woman had eaten nothing since the previous day, and were weak
from hunger and exhaustion. They had not the strength to
resist the wind, and at times its buffets hurled them off their
feet. On several occasions the sled was overturned, and
they were compelled to reload it with its sombre freight.
The last hundred feet to the graves was up a steep slope, and
this they took on all fours, like sled-dogs, making legs of their
arms and thrusting their hands into the snow. Even so, they
were twice dragged backward by the weight of the sled, and slid
and fell down the hill, the living and the dead, the haul-ropes
and the sled, in ghastly entanglement.
“To-morrow I will put up head-boards with their
names,” Hans said, when the graves were filled in.
Edith was sobbing. A few broken sentences had been all
she was capable of in the way of a funeral service, and now her
husband was compelled to half-carry her back to the cabin.
Dennin was conscious. He had rolled over and over on the
floor in vain efforts to free himself. He watched Hans and
Edith with glittering eyes, but made no attempt to speak.
Hans still refused to touch the murderer, and sullenly watched
Edith drag him across the floor to the men’s
bunk-room. But try as she would, she could not lift him
from the floor into his bunk.
“Better let me shoot him, and we’ll have no more
trouble,” Hans said in final appeal.
Edith shook her head and bent again to her task. To her
surprise the body rose easily, and she knew Hans had relented and
was helping her. Then came the cleansing of the
kitchen. But the floor still shrieked the tragedy, until
Hans planed the surface of the stained wood away and with the
shavings made a fire in the stove.
The days came and went. There was much of darkness and
silence, broken only by the storms and the thunder on the beach
of the freezing surf. Hans was obedient to Edith’s
slightest order. All his splendid initiative had
vanished. She had elected to deal with Dennin in her way,
and so he left the whole matter in her hands.
The murderer was a constant menace. At all times there
was the chance that he might free himself from his bonds, and
they were compelled to guard him day and night. The man or
the woman sat always beside him, holding the loaded
shot-gun. At first, Edith tried eight-hour watches, but the
continuous strain was too great, and afterwards she and Hans
relieved each other every four hours. As they had to sleep,
and as the watches extended through the night, their whole waking
time was expended in guarding Dennin. They had barely time
left over for the preparation of meals and the getting of
Since Negook’s inopportune visit, the Indians had
avoided the cabin. Edith sent Hans to their cabins to get
them to take Dennin down the coast in a canoe to the nearest
white settlement or trading post, but the errand was
fruitless. Then Edith went herself and interviewed
Negook. He was head man of the little village, keenly aware
of his responsibility, and he elucidated his policy thoroughly in
“It is white man’s trouble,” he said,
“not Siwash trouble. My people help you, then will it
be Siwash trouble too. When white man’s trouble and
Siwash trouble come together and make a trouble, it is a great
trouble, beyond understanding and without end. Trouble no
good. My people do no wrong. What for they help you
and have trouble?”
So Edith Nelson went back to the terrible cabin with its
endless alternating four-hour watches. Sometimes, when it
was her turn and she sat by the prisoner, the loaded shot-gun in
her lap, her eyes would close and she would doze. Always
she aroused with a start, snatching up the gun and swiftly
looking at him. These were distinct nervous shocks, and
their effect was not good on her. Such was her fear of the
man, that even though she were wide awake, if he moved under the
bedclothes she could not repress the start and the quick reach
for the gun.
She was preparing herself for a nervous break-down, and she
knew it. First came a fluttering of the eyeballs, so that
she was compelled to close her eyes for relief. A little
later the eyelids were afflicted by a nervous twitching that she
could not control. To add to the strain, she could not
forget the tragedy. She remained as close to the horror as
on the first morning when the unexpected stalked into the cabin
and took possession. In her daily ministrations upon the
prisoner she was forced to grit her teeth and steel herself, body
Hans was affected differently. He became obsessed by the
idea that it was his duty to kill Dennin; and whenever he waited
upon the bound man or watched by him, Edith was troubled by the
fear that Hans would add another red entry to the cabin’s
record. Always he cursed Dennin savagely and handled him
roughly. Hans tried to conceal his homicidal mania, and he
would say to his wife: “By and by you will want me to
kill him, and then I will not kill him. It would make me
sick.” But more than once, stealing into the room,
when it was her watch off, she would catch the two men glaring
ferociously at each other, wild animals the pair of them, in
Hans’s face the lust to kill, in Dennin’s the
fierceness and savagery of the cornered rat.
“Hans!” she would cry, “wake up!” and he
would come to a recollection of himself, startled and shamefaced
So Hans became another factor in the problem the unexpected
had given Edith Nelson to solve. At first it had been
merely a question of right conduct in dealing with Dennin, and
right conduct, as she conceived it, lay in keeping him a prisoner
until he could be turned over for trial before a proper
tribunal. But now entered Hans, and she saw that his sanity
and his salvation were involved. Nor was she long in
discovering that her own strength and endurance had become part
of the problem. She was breaking down under the
strain. Her left arm had developed involuntary jerkings and
twitchings. She spilled her food from her spoon, and could
place no reliance in her afflicted arm. She judged it to be
a form of St. Vitus’s dance, and she feared the extent to
which its ravages might go. What if she broke down?
And the vision she had of the possible future, when the cabin
might contain only Dennin and Hans, was an added horror.
After the third day, Dennin had begun to talk. His first
question had been, “What are you going to do with
me?” And this question he repeated daily and many times a
day. And always Edith replied that he would assuredly be
dealt with according to law. In turn, she put a daily
question to him,—“Why did you do it?” To
this he never replied. Also, he received the question with
out-bursts of anger, raging and straining at the rawhide that
bound him and threatening her with what he would do when he got
loose, which he said he was sure to do sooner or later. At
such times she cocked both triggers of the gun, prepared to meet
him with leaden death if he should burst loose, herself trembling
and palpitating and dizzy from the tension and shock.
But in time Dennin grew more tractable. It seemed to her
that he was growing weary of his unchanging recumbent
position. He began to beg and plead to be released.
He made wild promises. He would do them no harm. He
would himself go down the coast and give himself up to the
officers of the law. He would give them his share of the
gold. He would go away into the heart of the wilderness,
and never again appear in civilization. He would take his
own life if she would only free him. His pleadings usually
culminated in involuntary raving, until it seemed to her that he
was passing into a fit; but always she shook her head and denied
him the freedom for which he worked himself into a passion.
But the weeks went by, and he continued to grow more
tractable. And through it all the weariness was asserting
itself more and more. “I am so tired, so
tired,” he would murmur, rolling his head back and forth on
the pillow like a peevish child. At a little later period
he began to make impassioned pleas for death, to beg her to kill
him, to beg Hans to put him our of his misery so that he might at
least rest comfortably.
The situation was fast becoming impossible.
Edith’s nervousness was increasing, and she knew her
break-down might come any time. She could not even get her
proper rest, for she was haunted by the fear that Hans would
yield to his mania and kill Dennin while she slept. Though
January had already come, months would have to elapse before any
trading schooner was even likely to put into the bay. Also,
they had not expected to winter in the cabin, and the food was
running low; nor could Hans add to the supply by hunting.
They were chained to the cabin by the necessity of guarding their
Something must be done, and she knew it. She forced
herself to go back into a reconsideration of the problem.
She could not shake off the legacy of her race, the law that was
of her blood and that had been trained into her. She knew
that whatever she did she must do according to the law, and in
the long hours of watching, the shot-gun on her knees, the
murderer restless beside her and the storms thundering without,
she made original sociological researches and worked out for
herself the evolution of the law. It came to her that the
law was nothing more than the judgment and the will of any group
of people. It mattered not how large was the group of
people. There were little groups, she reasoned, like
Switzerland, and there were big groups like the United
States. Also, she reasoned, it did not matter how small was
the group of people. There might be only ten thousand
people in a country, yet their collective judgment and will would
be the law of that country. Why, then, could not one
thousand people constitute such a group? she asked herself.
And if one thousand, why not one hundred? Why not
fifty? Why not five? Why not—two?
She was frightened at her own conclusion, and she talked it
over with Hans. At first he could not comprehend, and then,
when he did, he added convincing evidence. He spoke of
miners’ meetings, where all the men of a locality came
together and made the law and executed the law. There might
be only ten or fifteen men altogether, he said, but the will of
the majority became the law for the whole ten or fifteen, and
whoever violated that will was punished.
Edith saw her way clear at last. Dennin must hang.
Hans agreed with her. Between them they constituted the
majority of this particular group. It was the group-will
that Dennin should be hanged. In the execution of this will
Edith strove earnestly to observe the customary forms, but the
group was so small that Hans and she had to serve as witnesses,
as jury, and as judges—also as executioners. She
formally charged Michael Dennin with the murder of Dutchy and
Harkey, and the prisoner lay in his bunk and listened to the
testimony, first of Hans, and then of Edith. He refused to
plead guilty or not guilty, and remained silent when she asked
him if he had anything to say in his own defence. She and
Hans, without leaving their seats, brought in the jury’s
verdict of guilty. Then, as judge, she imposed the
sentence. Her voice shook, her eyelids twitched, her left
arm jerked, but she carried it out.
“Michael Dennin, in three days’ time you are to be
hanged by the neck until you are dead.”
Such was the sentence. The man breathed an unconscious
sigh of relief, then laughed defiantly, and said, “Thin
I’m thinkin’ the damn bunk won’t be
achin’ me back anny more, an’ that’s a
With the passing of the sentence a feeling of relief seemed to
communicate itself to all of them. Especially was it
noticeable in Dennin. All sullenness and defiance
disappeared, and he talked sociably with his captors, and even
with flashes of his old-time wit. Also, he found great
satisfaction in Edith’s reading to him from the
Bible. She read from the New Testament, and he took keen
interest in the prodigal son and the thief on the cross.
On the day preceding that set for the execution, when Edith
asked her usual question, “Why did you do it?” Dennin
answered, “’Tis very simple. I was
But she hushed him abruptly, asked him to wait, and hurried to
Hans’s bedside. It was his watch off, and he came out
of his sleep, rubbing his eyes and grumbling.
“Go,” she told him, “and bring up Negook and
one other Indian. Michael’s going to confess.
Make them come. Take the rifle along and bring them up at
the point of it if you have to.”
Half an hour later Negook and his uncle, Hadikwan, were
ushered into the death chamber. They came unwillingly, Hans
with his rifle herding them along.
“Negook,” Edith said, “there is to be no
trouble for you and your people. Only is it for you to sit
and do nothing but listen and understand.”
Thus did Michael Dennin, under sentence of death, make public
confession of his crime. As he talked, Edith wrote his
story down, while the Indians listened, and Hans guarded the door
for fear the witnesses might bolt.
He had not been home to the old country for fifteen years,
Dennin explained, and it had always been his intention to return
with plenty of money and make his old mother comfortable for the
rest of her days.
“An’ how was I to be doin’ it on sixteen
hundred?” he demanded. “What I was after
wantin’ was all the goold, the whole eight
thousan’. Thin I cud go back in style. What ud
be aisier, thinks I to myself, than to kill all iv yez, report it
at Skaguay for an Indian-killin’, an’ thin pull out
for Ireland? An’ so I started in to kill all iv yez,
but, as Harkey was fond of sayin’, I cut out too large a
chunk an’ fell down on the swallowin’ iv it.
An’ that’s me confession. I did me duty to the
devil, an’ now, God willin’, I’ll do me duty to
“Negook and Hadikwan, you have heard the white
man’s words,” Edith said to the Indians.
“His words are here on this paper, and it is for you to
make a sign, thus, on the paper, so that white men to come after
will know that you have heard.”
The two Siwashes put crosses opposite their signatures,
received a summons to appear on the morrow with all their tribe
for a further witnessing of things, and were allowed to go.
Dennin’s hands were released long enough for him to sign
the document. Then a silence fell in the room. Hans
was restless, and Edith felt uncomfortable. Dennin lay on
his back, staring straight up at the moss-chinked roof.
“An’ now I’ll do me duty to God,” he
murmured. He turned his head toward Edith.
“Read to me,” he said, “from the book;”
then added, with a glint of playfulness, “Mayhap
’twill help me to forget the bunk.”
The day of the execution broke clear and cold. The
thermometer was down to twenty-five below zero, and a chill wind
was blowing which drove the frost through clothes and flesh to
the bones. For the first time in many weeks Dennin stood
upon his feet. His muscles had remained inactive so long,
and he was so out of practice in maintaining an erect position,
that he could scarcely stand.
He reeled back and forth, staggered, and clutched hold of
Edith with his bound hands for support.
“Sure, an’ it’s dizzy I am,” he
A moment later he said, “An’ it’s glad I am
that it’s over with. That damn bunk would iv been the
death iv me, I know.”
When Edith put his fur cap on his head and proceeded to pull
the flaps down over his ears, he laughed and said:
“What are you doin’ that for?”
“It’s freezing cold outside,” she
“An’ in tin minutes’ time what’ll
matter a frozen ear or so to poor Michael Dennin?” he
She had nerved herself for the last culminating ordeal, and
his remark was like a blow to her self-possession. So far,
everything had seemed phantom-like, as in a dream, but the brutal
truth of what he had said shocked her eyes wide open to the
reality of what was taking place. Nor was her distress
unnoticed by the Irishman.
“I’m sorry to be troublin’ you with me
foolish spache,” he said regretfully. “I mint
nothin’ by it. ’Tis a great day for Michael
Dennin, an’ he’s as gay as a lark.”
He broke out in a merry whistle, which quickly became
lugubrious and ceased.
“I’m wishin’ there was a priest,” he
said wistfully; then added swiftly, “But Michael
Dennin’s too old a campaigner to miss the luxuries when he
hits the trail.”
He was so very weak and unused to walking that when the door
opened and he passed outside, the wind nearly carried him off his
feet. Edith and Hans walked on either side of him and
supported him, the while he cracked jokes and tried to keep them
cheerful, breaking off, once, long enough to arrange the
forwarding of his share of the gold to his mother in Ireland.
They climbed a slight hill and came out into an open space
among the trees. Here, circled solemnly about a barrel that
stood on end in the snow, were Negook and Hadikwan, and all the
Siwashes down to the babies and the dogs, come to see the way of
the white man’s law. Near by was an open grave which
Hans had burned into the frozen earth.
Dennin cast a practical eye over the preparations, noting the
grave, the barrel, the thickness of the rope, and the diameter of
the limb over which the rope was passed.
“Sure, an’ I couldn’t iv done better meself,
Hans, if it’d been for you.”
He laughed loudly at his own sally, but Hans’s face was
frozen into a sullen ghastliness that nothing less than the trump
of doom could have broken. Also, Hans was feeling very
sick. He had not realized the enormousness of the task of
putting a fellow-man out of the world. Edith, on the other
hand, had realized; but the realization did not make the task any
easier. She was filled with doubt as to whether she could
hold herself together long enough to finish it. She felt
incessant impulses to scream, to shriek, to collapse into the
snow, to put her hands over her eyes and turn and run blindly
away, into the forest, anywhere, away. It was only by a
supreme effort of soul that she was able to keep upright and go
on and do what she had to do. And in the midst of it all
she was grateful to Dennin for the way he helped her.
“Lind me a hand,” he said to Hans, with whose
assistance he managed to mount the barrel.
He bent over so that Edith could adjust the rope about his
neck. Then he stood upright while Hans drew the rope taut
across the overhead branch.
“Michael Dennin, have you anything to say?” Edith
asked in a clear voice that shook in spite of her.
Dennin shuffled his feet on the barrel, looked down bashfully
like a man making his maiden speech, and cleared his throat.
“I’m glad it’s over with,” he
said. “You’ve treated me like a Christian,
an’ I’m thankin’ you hearty for your
“Then may God receive you, a repentant sinner,”
“Ay,” he answered, his deep voice as a response to
her thin one, “may God receive me, a repentant
“Good-by, Michael,” she cried, and her voice
She threw her weight against the barrel, but it did not
“Hans! Quick! Help me!” she cried
She could feel her last strength going, and the barrel
resisted her. Hans hurried to her, and the barrel went out
from under Michael Dennin.
She turned her back, thrusting her fingers into her
ears. Then she began to laugh, harshly, sharply,
metallically; and Hans was shocked as he had not been shocked
through the whole tragedy. Edith Nelson’s break-down
had come. Even in her hysteria she knew it, and she was
glad that she had been able to hold up under the strain until
everything had been accomplished. She reeled toward
“Take me to the cabin, Hans,” she managed to
“And let me rest,” she added. “Just
let me rest, and rest, and rest.”
With Hans’s arm around her, supporting her weight and
directing her helpless steps, she went off across the snow.
But the Indians remained solemnly to watch the working of the
white man’s law that compelled a man to dance upon the
She had delayed, because of the dew-wet grass, in order to put
on her overshoes, and when she emerged from the house found her
waiting husband absorbed in the wonder of a bursting
almond-bud. She sent a questing glance across the tall
grass and in and out among the orchard trees.
“Where’s Wolf?” she asked.
“He was here a moment ago.” Walt Irvine drew
himself away with a jerk from the metaphysics and poetry of the
organic miracle of blossom, and surveyed the landscape.
“He was running a rabbit the last I saw of him.”
“Wolf! Wolf! Here Wolf!” she called,
as they left the clearing and took the trail that led down
through the waxen-belled manzanita jungle to the county road.
Irvine thrust between his lips the little finger of each hand
and lent to her efforts a shrill whistling.
She covered her ears hastily and made a wry grimace.
“My! for a poet, delicately attuned and all the rest of
it, you can make unlovely noises. My ear-drums are
pierced. You outwhistle—”
“I was about to say a street-arab,” she concluded
“Poesy does not prevent one from being
practical—at least it doesn’t prevent
me. Mine is no futility of genius that can’t
sell gems to the magazines.”
He assumed a mock extravagance, and went on:
“I am no attic singer, no ballroom warbler. And
why? Because I am practical. Mine is no squalor of
song that cannot transmute itself, with proper exchange value,
into a flower-crowned cottage, a sweet mountain-meadow, a grove
of redwoods, an orchard of thirty-seven trees, one long row of
blackberries and two short rows of strawberries, to say nothing
of a quarter of a mile of gurgling brook. I am a
beauty-merchant, a trader in song, and I pursue utility, dear
Madge. I sing a song, and thanks to the magazine editors I
transmute my song into a waft of the west wind sighing through
our redwoods, into a murmur of waters over mossy stones that
sings back to me another song than the one I sang and yet the
same song wonderfully—er—transmuted.”
“O that all your song-transmutations were as
successful!” she laughed.
“Name one that wasn’t.”
“Those two beautiful sonnets that you transmuted into
the cow that was accounted the worst milker in the
“She was beautiful—” he began,
“But she didn’t give milk,” Madge
“But she was beautiful, now, wasn’t
she?” he insisted.
“And here’s where beauty and utility fall
out,” was her reply. “And there’s the
From the thicket-covered hillside came a crashing of
underbrush, and then, forty feet above them, on the edge of the
sheer wall of rock, appeared a wolf’s head and
shoulders. His braced fore paws dislodged a pebble, and
with sharp-pricked ears and peering eyes he watched the fall of
the pebble till it struck at their feet. Then he
transferred his gaze and with open mouth laughed down at
“You Wolf, you!” and “You blessed
Wolf!” the man and woman called out to him.
The ears flattened back and down at the sound, and the head
seemed to snuggle under the caress of an invisible hand.
They watched him scramble backward into the thicket, then
proceeded on their way. Several minutes later, rounding a
turn in the trail where the descent was less precipitous, he
joined them in the midst of a miniature avalanche of pebbles and
loose soil. He was not demonstrative. A pat and a rub
around the ears from the man, and a more prolonged caressing from
the woman, and he was away down the trail in front of them,
gliding effortlessly over the ground in true wolf fashion.
In build and coat and brush he was a huge timber-wolf; but the
lie was given to his wolfhood by his color and marking.
There the dog unmistakably advertised itself. No wolf was
ever colored like him. He was brown, deep brown, red-brown,
an orgy of browns. Back and shoulders were a warm brown
that paled on the sides and underneath to a yellow that was dingy
because of the brown that lingered in it. The white of the
throat and paws and the spots over the eyes was dirty because of
the persistent and ineradicable brown, while the eyes themselves
were twin topazes, golden and brown.
The man and woman loved the dog very much; perhaps this was
because it had been such a task to win his love. It had
been no easy matter when he first drifted in mysteriously out of
nowhere to their little mountain cottage. Footsore and
famished, he had killed a rabbit under their very noses and under
their very windows, and then crawled away and slept by the spring
at the foot of the blackberry bushes. When Walt Irvine went
down to inspect the intruder, he was snarled at for his pains,
and Madge likewise was snarled at when she went down to present,
as a peace-offering, a large pan of bread and milk.
A most unsociable dog he proved to be, resenting all their
advances, refusing to let them lay hands on him, menacing them
with bared fangs and bristling hair. Nevertheless he
remained, sleeping and resting by the spring, and eating the food
they gave him after they set it down at a safe distance and
retreated. His wretched physical condition explained why he
lingered; and when he had recuperated, after several days’
sojourn, he disappeared.
And this would have been the end of him, so far as Irvine and
his wife were concerned, had not Irvine at that particular time
been called away into the northern part of the state.
Riding along on the train, near to the line between California
and Oregon, he chanced to look out of the window and saw his
unsociable guest sliding along the wagon road, brown and wolfish,
tired yet tireless, dust-covered and soiled with two hundred
miles of travel.
Now Irvine was a man of impulse, a poet. He got off the
train at the next station, bought a piece of meat at a butcher
shop, and captured the vagrant on the outskirts of the
town. The return trip was made in the baggage car, and so
Wolf came a second time to the mountain cottage. Here he
was tied up for a week and made love to by the man and
woman. But it was very circumspect love-making.
Remote and alien as a traveller from another planet, he snarled
down their soft-spoken love-words. He never barked.
In all the time they had him he was never known to bark.
To win him became a problem. Irvine liked
problems. He had a metal plate made, on which was
stamped: Return to Walt Irvine,
Glen Ellen, Sonoma
County, California. This
was riveted to a collar and strapped about the dog’s
neck. Then he was turned loose, and promptly he
disappeared. A day later came a telegram from Mendocino
County. In twenty hours he had made over a hundred miles to
the north, and was still going when captured.
He came back by Wells Fargo Express, was tied up three days,
and was loosed on the fourth and lost. This time he gained
southern Oregon before he was caught and returned. Always,
as soon as he received his liberty, he fled away, and always he
fled north. He was possessed of an obsession that drove him
north. The homing instinct, Irvine called it, after he had
expended the selling price of a sonnet in getting the animal back
from northern Oregon.
Another time the brown wanderer succeeded in traversing half
the length of California, all of Oregon, and most of Washington,
before he was picked up and returned “Collect.”
A remarkable thing was the speed with which he travelled.
Fed up and rested, as soon as he was loosed he devoted all his
energy to getting over the ground. On the first day’s
run he was known to cover as high as a hundred and fifty miles,
and after that he would average a hundred miles a day until
caught. He always arrived back lean and hungry and savage,
and always departed fresh and vigorous, cleaving his way
northward in response to some prompting of his being that no one
But at last, after a futile year of flight, he accepted the
inevitable and elected to remain at the cottage where first he
had killed the rabbit and slept by the spring. Even after
that, a long time elapsed before the man and woman succeeded in
patting him. It was a great victory, for they alone were
allowed to put hands on him. He was fastidiously exclusive,
and no guest at the cottage ever succeeded in making up to
him. A low growl greeted such approach; if any one had the
hardihood to come nearer, the lips lifted, the naked fangs
appeared, and the growl became a snarl—a snarl so terrible
and malignant that it awed the stoutest of them, as it likewise
awed the farmers’ dogs that knew ordinary dog-snarling, but
had never seen wolf-snarling before.
He was without antecedents. His history began with Walt
and Madge. He had come up from the south, but never a clew
did they get of the owner from whom he had evidently fled.
Mrs. Johnson, their nearest neighbor and the one who supplied
them with milk, proclaimed him a Klondike dog. Her brother
was burrowing for frozen pay-streaks in that far country, and so
she constituted herself an authority on the subject.
But they did not dispute her. There were the tips of
Wolf’s ears, obviously so severely frozen at some time that
they would never quite heal again. Besides, he looked like
the photographs of the Alaskan dogs they saw published in
magazines and newspapers. They often speculated over his
past, and tried to conjure up (from what they had read and heard)
what his northland life had been. That the northland still
drew him, they knew; for at night they sometimes heard him crying
softly; and when the north wind blew and the bite of frost was in
the air, a great restlessness would come upon him and he would
lift a mournful lament which they knew to be the long
wolf-howl. Yet he never barked. No provocation was
great enough to draw from him that canine cry.
Long discussion they had, during the time of winning him, as
to whose dog he was. Each claimed him, and each proclaimed
loudly any expression of affection made by him. But the man
had the better of it at first, chiefly because he was a
man. It was patent that Wolf had had no experience with
women. He did not understand women. Madge’s
skirts were something he never quite accepted. The swish of
them was enough to set him a-bristle with suspicion, and on a
windy day she could not approach him at all.
On the other hand, it was Madge who fed him; also it was she
who ruled the kitchen, and it was by her favor, and her favor
alone, that he was permitted to come within that sacred
precinct. It was because of these things that she bade fair
to overcome the handicap of her garments. Then it was that
Walt put forth special effort, making it a practice to have Wolf
lie at his feet while he wrote, and, between petting and talking,
losing much time from his work. Walt won in the end, and
his victory was most probably due to the fact that he was a man,
though Madge averred that they would have had another quarter of
a mile of gurgling brook, and at least two west winds sighing
through their redwoods, had Wait properly devoted his energies to
song-transmutation and left Wolf alone to exercise a natural
taste and an unbiassed judgment.
“It’s about time I heard from those
triolets,” Walt said, after a silence of five minutes,
during which they had swung steadily down the trail.
“There’ll be a check at the post-office, I know, and
we’ll transmute it into beautiful buckwheat flour, a gallon
of maple syrup, and a new pair of overshoes for you.”
“And into beautiful milk from Mrs. Johnson’s
beautiful cow,” Madge added. “To-morrow’s
the first of the month, you know.”
Walt scowled unconsciously; then his face brightened, and he
clapped his hand to his breast pocket.
“Never mind. I have here a nice beautiful new cow,
the best milker in California.”
“When did you write it?” she demanded
eagerly. Then, reproachfully, “And you never showed
it to me.”
“I saved it to read to you on the way to the
post-office, in a spot remarkably like this one,” he
answered, indicating, with a wave of his hand, a dry log on which
A tiny stream flowed out of a dense fern-brake, slipped down a
mossy-lipped stone, and ran across the path at their feet.
From the valley arose the mellow song of meadow-larks, while
about them, in and out, through sunshine and shadow, fluttered
great yellow butterflies.
Up from below came another sound that broke in upon Walt
reading softly from his manuscript. It was a crunching of
heavy feet, punctuated now and again by the clattering of a
displaced stone. As Walt finished and looked to his wife
for approval, a man came into view around the turn of the
trail. He was bare-headed and sweaty. With a
handkerchief in one hand he mopped his face, while in the other
hand he carried a new hat and a wilted starched collar which he
had removed from his neck. He was a well-built man, and his
muscles seemed on the point of bursting out of the painfully new
and ready-made black clothes he wore.
“Warm day,” Walt greeted him. Walt believed
in country democracy, and never missed an opportunity to practise
The man paused and nodded.
“I guess I ain’t used much to the warm,” he
vouchsafed half apologetically. “I’m more
accustomed to zero weather.”
“You don’t find any of that in this
country,” Walt laughed.
“Should say not,” the man answered.
“An’ I ain’t here a-lookin’ for it
neither. I’m tryin’ to find my sister.
Mebbe you know where she lives. Her name’s Johnson,
Mrs. William Johnson.”
“You’re not her Klondike brother!” Madge
cried, her eyes bright with interest, “about whom
we’ve heard so much?”
“Yes’m, that’s me,” he answered
modestly. “My name’s Miller, Skiff
Miller. I just thought I’d s’prise
“You are on the right track then. Only
you’ve come by the foot-path.” Madge stood up
to direct him, pointing up the canyon a quarter of a mile.
“You see that blasted redwood? Take the little trail
turning off to the right. It’s the short cut to her
house. You can’t miss it.”
“Yes’m, thank you, ma’am,” he
said. He made tentative efforts to go, but seemed awkwardly
rooted to the spot. He was gazing at her with an open
admiration of which he was quite unconscious, and which was
drowning, along with him, in the rising sea of embarrassment in
which he floundered.
“We’d like to hear you tell about the
Klondike,” Madge said. “Mayn’t we come
over some day while you are at your sister’s? Or,
better yet, won’t you come over and have dinner with
“Yes’m, thank you, ma’am,” he mumbled
mechanically. Then he caught himself up and added:
“I ain’t stoppin’ long. I got to be
pullin’ north again. I go out on to-night’s
train. You see, I’ve got a mail contract with the
When Madge had said that it was too bad, he made another
futile effort to go. But he could not take his eyes from
her face. He forgot his embarrassment in his admiration,
and it was her turn to flush and feel uncomfortable.
It was at this juncture, when Walt had just decided it was
time for him to be saying something to relieve the strain, that
Wolf, who had been away nosing through the brush, trotted
wolf-like into view.
Skiff Miller’s abstraction disappeared. The pretty
woman before him passed out of his field of vision. He had
eyes only for the dog, and a great wonder came into his face.
“Well, I’ll be damned!” he enunciated slowly
He sat down ponderingly on the log, leaving Madge
standing. At the sound of his voice, Wolf’s ears had
flattened down, then his mouth had opened in a laugh. He
trotted slowly up to the stranger and first smelled his hands,
then licked them with his tongue.
Skiff Miller patted the dog’s head, and slowly and
solemnly repeated, “Well, I’ll be damned!”
“Excuse me, ma’am,” he said the next moment
“I was just s’prised some, that was all.”
“We’re surprised, too,” she answered
lightly. “We never saw Wolf make up to a stranger
“Is that what you call him—Wolf?” the man
Madge nodded. “But I can’t understand his
friendliness toward you—unless it’s because
you’re from the Klondike. He’s a Klondike dog,
“Yes’m,” Miller said absently. He
lifted one of Wolf’s fore legs and examined the foot-pads,
pressing them and denting them with his thumb. “Kind
of soft,” he remarked. “He ain’t been on
trail for a long time.”
“I say,” Walt broke in, “it is remarkable
the way he lets you handle him.”
Skiff Miller arose, no longer awkward with admiration of
Madge, and in a sharp, businesslike manner asked, “How long
have you had him?”
But just then the dog, squirming and rubbing against the
newcomer’s legs, opened his mouth and barked. It was
an explosive bark, brief and joyous, but a bark.
“That’s a new one on me,” Skiff Miller
Walt and Madge stared at each other. The miracle had
happened. Wolf had barked.
“It’s the first time he ever barked,” Madge
“First time I ever heard him, too,” Miller
Madge smiled at him. The man was evidently a
“Of course,” she said, “since you have only
seen him for five minutes.”
Skiff Miller looked at her sharply, seeking in her face the
guile her words had led him to suspect.
“I thought you understood,” he said slowly.
“I thought you’d tumbled to it from his makin’
up to me. He’s my dog. His name ain’t
Wolf. It’s Brown.”
“Oh, Walt!” was Madge’s instinctive cry to
Walt was on the defensive at once.
“How do you know he’s your dog?” he
“Because he is,” was the reply.
“Mere assertion,” Walt said sharply.
In his slow and pondering way, Skiff Miller looked at him,
then asked, with a nod of his head toward Madge:
“How d’you know she’s your wife? You
just say, ‘Because she is,’ and I’ll say
it’s mere assertion. The dog’s mine. I
bred ’m an’ raised ’m, an’ I guess I
ought to know. Look here. I’ll prove it to
Skiff Miller turned to the dog.
“Brown!” His voice rang out sharply, and at the
sound the dog’s ears flattened down as to a caress.
“Gee!” The dog made a swinging turn to the
right. “Now mush-on!” And the dog ceased
his swing abruptly and started straight ahead, halting obediently
“I can do it with whistles,” Skiff Miller said
proudly. “He was my lead dog.”
“But you are not going to take him away with you?”
Madge asked tremulously.
The man nodded.
“Back into that awful Klondike world of
He nodded and added: “Oh, it ain’t so bad as
all that. Look at me. Pretty healthy specimen,
“But the dogs! The terrible hardship, the
heart-breaking toil, the starvation, the frost! Oh,
I’ve read about it and I know.”
“I nearly ate him once, over on Little Fish
River,” Miller volunteered grimly. “If I
hadn’t got a moose that day was all that saved
“I’d have died first!” Madge cried.
“Things is different down here,” Miller
explained. “You don’t have to eat dogs.
You think different just about the time you’re all
in. You’ve never ben all in, so you don’t know
anything about it.”
“That’s the very point,” she argued
warmly. “Dogs are not eaten in California. Why
not leave him here? He is happy. He’ll never
want for food—you know that. He’ll never suffer
from cold and hardship. Here all is softness and
gentleness. Neither the human nor nature is savage.
He will never know a whip-lash again. And as for the
weather—why, it never snows here.”
“But it’s all-fired hot in summer, beggin’
your pardon,” Skiff Miller laughed.
“But you do not answer,” Madge continued
passionately. “What have you to offer him in that
“Grub, when I’ve got it, and that’s most of
the time,” came the answer.
“And the rest of the time?”
“And the work?”
“Yes, plenty of work,” Miller blurted out
impatiently. “Work without end, an’ famine,
an’ frost, an all the rest of the
miseries—that’s what he’ll get when he comes
with me. But he likes it. He is used to it. He
knows that life. He was born to it an’ brought up to
it. An’ you don’t know anything about it.
You don’t know what you’re talking about.
That’s where the dog belongs, and that’s where
he’ll be happiest.”
“The dog doesn’t go,” Walt announced in a
determined voice. “So there is no need of further
“What’s that?” Skiff Miller demanded, his
brows lowering and an obstinate flush of blood reddening his
“I said the dog doesn’t go, and that settles
it. I don’t believe he’s your dog. You
may have seen him sometime. You may even sometime have
driven him for his owner. But his obeying the ordinary
driving commands of the Alaskan trail is no demonstration that he
is yours. Any dog in Alaska would obey you as he
obeyed. Besides, he is undoubtedly a valuable dog, as dogs
go in Alaska, and that is sufficient explanation of your desire
to get possession of him. Anyway, you’ve got to prove
Skiff Miller, cool and collected, the obstinate flush a trifle
deeper on his forehead, his huge muscles bulging under the black
cloth of his coat, carefully looked the poet up and down as
though measuring the strength of his slenderness.
The Klondiker’s face took on a contemptuous expression
as he said finally, “I reckon there’s nothin’
in sight to prevent me takin’ the dog right here an’
Walt’s face reddened, and the striking-muscles of his
arms and shoulders seemed to stiffen and grow tense. His
wife fluttered apprehensively into the breach.
“Maybe Mr. Miller is right,” she said.
“I am afraid that he is. Wolf does seem to know him,
and certainly he answers to the name of
‘Brown.’ He made friends with him instantly,
and you know that’s something he never did with anybody
before. Besides, look at the way he barked. He was
just bursting with joy. Joy over what? Without doubt
at finding Mr. Miller.”
Walt’s striking-muscles relaxed, and his shoulders
seemed to droop with hopelessness.
“I guess you’re right, Madge,” he
said. “Wolf isn’t Wolf, but Brown, and he must
belong to Mr. Miller.”
“Perhaps Mr. Miller will sell him,” she
suggested. “We can buy him.”
Skiff Miller shook his head, no longer belligerent, but
kindly, quick to be generous in response to generousness.
“I had five dogs,” he said, casting about for the
easiest way to temper his refusal. “He was the
leader. They was the crack team of Alaska.
Nothin’ could touch ’em. In 1898 I refused five
thousand dollars for the bunch. Dogs was high, then,
anyway; but that wasn’t what made the fancy price. It
was the team itself. Brown was the best in the team.
That winter I refused twelve hundred for ’m. I
didn’t sell ’m then, an’ I ain’t
a-sellin’ ’m now. Besides, I think a mighty lot
of that dog. I’ve ben lookin’ for ’m for
three years. It made me fair sick when I found he’d
ben stole—not the value of him, but the—well, I liked
’m like hell, that’s all, beggin’ your
pardon. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I seen
’m just now. I thought I was dreamin’. It
was too good to be true. Why, I was his wet-nurse. I
put ’m to bed, snug every night. His mother died, and
I brought ’m up on condensed milk at two dollars a can when
I couldn’t afford it in my own coffee. He never knew
any mother but me. He used to suck my finger regular, the
darn little cuss—that finger right there!”
And Skiff Miller, too overwrought for speech, held up a fore
finger for them to see.
“That very finger,” he managed to articulate, as
though it somehow clinched the proof of ownership and the bond of
He was still gazing at his extended finger when Madge began to
“But the dog,” she said. “You
haven’t considered the dog.”
Skiff Miller looked puzzled.
“Have you thought about him?” she asked.
“Don’t know what you’re drivin’
at,” was the response.
“Maybe the dog has some choice in the matter,”
Madge went on. “Maybe he has his likes and
desires. You have not considered him. You give him no
choice. It has never entered your mind that possibly he
might prefer California to Alaska. You consider only what
you like. You do with him as you would with a sack of
potatoes or a bale of hay.”
This was a new way of looking at it, and Miller was visibly
impressed as he debated it in his mind. Madge took
advantage of his indecision.
“If you really love him, what would be happiness to him
would be your happiness also,” she urged.
Skiff Miller continued to debate with himself, and Madge stole
a glance of exultation to her husband, who looked back warm
“What do you think?” the Klondiker suddenly
It was her turn to be puzzled. “What do you
mean?” she asked.
“D’ye think he’d sooner stay in
She nodded her head with positiveness. “I am sure
Skiff Miller again debated with himself, though this time
aloud, at the same time running his gaze in a judicial way over
the mooted animal.
“He was a good worker. He’s done a heap of
work for me. He never loafed on me, an’ he was a
joe-dandy at hammerin’ a raw team into shape.
He’s got a head on him. He can do everything but
talk. He knows what you say to him. Look at ’m
now. He knows we’re talkin’ about
The dog was lying at Skiff Miller’s feet, head close
down on paws, ears erect and listening, and eyes that were quick
and eager to follow the sound of speech as it fell from the lips
of first one and then the other.
“An’ there’s a lot of work in ’m
yet. He’s good for years to come. An’ I
do like him. I like him like hell.”
Once or twice after that Skiff Miller opened his mouth and
closed it again without speaking. Finally he said:
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do. Your
remarks, ma’am, has some weight in them. The
dog’s worked hard, and maybe he’s earned a soft berth
an’ has got a right to choose. Anyway, we’ll
leave it up to him. Whatever he says, goes. You
people stay right here settin’ down. I’ll say
good-by and walk off casual-like. If he wants to stay, he
can stay. If he wants to come with me, let ’m
come. I won’t call ’m to come an’
don’t you call ’m to come back.”
He looked with sudden suspicion at Madge, and added,
“Only you must play fair. No persuadin’ after
my back is turned.”
“We’ll play fair,” Madge began, but Skiff
Miller broke in on her assurances.
“I know the ways of women,” he announced.
“Their hearts is soft. When their hearts is touched
they’re likely to stack the cards, look at the bottom of
the deck, an’ lie like the devil—beggin’ your
pardon, ma’am. I’m only discoursin’ about
women in general.”
“I don’t know how to thank you,” Madge
“I don’t see as you’ve got any call to thank
me,” he replied. “Brown ain’t decided
yet. Now you won’t mind if I go away slow?
It’s no more’n fair, seein’ I’ll be out
of sight inside a hundred yards.”—Madge agreed, and
added, “And I promise you faithfully that we won’t do
anything to influence him.”
“Well, then, I might as well be gettin’
along,” Skiff Miller said in the ordinary tones of one
At this change in his voice, Wolf lifted his head quickly, and
still more quickly got to his feet when the man and woman shook
hands. He sprang up on his hind legs, resting his fore paws
on her hip and at the same time licking Skiff Miller’s
hand. When the latter shook hands with Walt, Wolf repeated
his act, resting his weight on Walt and licking both men’s
“It ain’t no picnic, I can tell you that,”
were the Klondiker’s last words, as he turned and went
slowly up the trail.
For the distance of twenty feet Wolf watched him go, himself
all eagerness and expectancy, as though waiting for the man to
turn and retrace his steps. Then, with a quick low whine,
Wolf sprang after him, overtook him, caught his hand between his
teeth with reluctant tenderness, and strove gently to make him
Failing in this, Wolf raced back to where Walt Irvine sat,
catching his coat-sleeve in his teeth and trying vainly to drag
him after the retreating man.
Wolf’s perturbation began to wax. He desired
ubiquity. He wanted to be in two places at the same time,
with the old master and the new, and steadily the distance
between them was increasing. He sprang about excitedly,
making short nervous leaps and twists, now toward one, now toward
the other, in painful indecision, not knowing his own mind,
desiring both and unable to choose, uttering quick sharp whines
and beginning to pant.
He sat down abruptly on his haunches, thrusting his nose
upward, the mouth opening and closing with jerking movements,
each time opening wider. These jerking movements were in
unison with the recurrent spasms that attacked the throat, each
spasm severer and more intense than the preceding one. And
in accord with jerks and spasms the larynx began to vibrate, at
first silently, accompanied by the rush of air expelled from the
lungs, then sounding a low, deep note, the lowest in the register
of the human ear. All this was the nervous and muscular
preliminary to howling.
But just as the howl was on the verge of bursting from the
full throat, the wide-opened mouth was closed, the paroxysms
ceased, and he looked long and steadily at the retreating
man. Suddenly Wolf turned his head, and over his shoulder
just as steadily regarded Walt. The appeal was
unanswered. Not a word nor a sign did the dog receive, no
suggestion and no clew as to what his conduct should be.
A glance ahead to where the old master was nearing the curve
of the trail excited him again. He sprang to his feet with
a whine, and then, struck by a new idea, turned his attention to
Madge. Hitherto he had ignored her, but now, both masters
failing him, she alone was left. He went over to her and
snuggled his head in her lap, nudging her arm with his
nose—an old trick of his when begging for favors. He
backed away from her and began writhing and twisting playfully,
curvetting and prancing, half rearing and striking his fore paws
to the earth, struggling with all his body, from the wheedling
eyes and flattening ears to the wagging tail, to express the
thought that was in him and that was denied him utterance.
This, too, he soon abandoned. He was depressed by the
coldness of these humans who had never been cold before. No
response could he draw from them, no help could he get.
They did not consider him. They were as dead.
He turned and silently gazed after the old master. Skiff
Miller was rounding the curve. In a moment he would be gone
from view. Yet he never turned his head, plodding straight
onward, slowly and methodically, as though possessed of no
interest in what was occurring behind his back.
And in this fashion he went out of view. Wolf waited for
him to reappear. He waited a long minute, silently,
quietly, without movement, as though turned to stone—withal
stone quick with eagerness and desire. He barked once, and
waited. Then he turned and trotted back to Walt
Irvine. He sniffed his hand and dropped down heavily at his
feet, watching the trail where it curved emptily from view.
The tiny stream slipping down the mossy-lipped stone seemed
suddenly to increase the volume of its gurgling noise. Save
for the meadow-larks, there was no other sound. The great
yellow butterflies drifted silently through the sunshine and lost
themselves in the drowsy shadows. Madge gazed triumphantly
at her husband.
A few minutes later Wolf got upon his feet. Decision and
deliberation marked his movements. He did not glance at the
man and woman. His eyes were fixed up the trail. He
had made up his mind. They knew it. And they knew, so
far as they were concerned, that the ordeal had just begun.
He broke into a trot, and Madge’s lips pursed, forming
an avenue for the caressing sound that it was the will of her to
send forth. But the caressing sound was not made. She
was impelled to look at her husband, and she saw the sternness
with which he watched her. The pursed lips relaxed, and she
Wolf’s trot broke into a run. Wider and wider were
the leaps he made. Not once did he turn his head, his
wolf’s brush standing out straight behind him. He cut
sharply across the curve of the trail and was gone.
THE SUN-DOG TRAIL
Sitka Charley smoked his pipe and gazed thoughtfully at the
Police Gazette illustration on the wall. For half an
hour he had been steadily regarding it, and for half an hour I
had been slyly watching him. Something was going on in that
mind of his, and, whatever it was, I knew it was well worth
knowing. He had lived life, and seen things, and performed
that prodigy of prodigies, namely, the turning of his back upon
his own people, and, in so far as it was possible for an Indian,
becoming a white man even in his mental processes. As he
phrased it himself, he had come into the warm, sat among us, by
our fires, and become one of us. He had never learned to
read nor write, but his vocabulary was remarkable, and more
remarkable still was the completeness with which he had assumed
the white man’s point of view, the white man’s
attitude toward things.
We had struck this deserted cabin after a hard day on
trail. The dogs had been fed, the supper dishes washed, the
beds made, and we were now enjoying that most delicious hour that
comes each day, and but once each day, on the Alaskan trail, the
hour when nothing intervenes between the tired body and bed save
the smoking of the evening pipe. Some former denizen of the
cabin had decorated its walls with illustrations torn from
magazines and newspapers, and it was these illustrations that had
held Sitka Charley’s attention from the moment of our
arrival two hours before. He had studied them intently,
ranging from one to another and back again, and I could see that
there was uncertainty in his mind, and bepuzzlement.
“Well?” I finally broke the silence.
He took the pipe from his mouth and said simply, “I do
He smoked on again, and again removed the pipe, using it to
point at the Police Gazette illustration.
“That picture—what does it mean? I do not
I looked at the picture. A man, with a preposterously
wicked face, his right hand pressed dramatically to his heart,
was falling backward to the floor. Confronting him, with a
face that was a composite of destroying angel and Adonis, was a
man holding a smoking revolver.
“One man is killing the other man,” I said, aware
of a distinct bepuzzlement of my own and of failure to
“Why?” asked Sitka Charley.
“I do not know,” I confessed.
“That picture is all end,” he said.
“It has no beginning.”
“It is life,” I said.
“Life has beginning,” he objected.
I was silenced for the moment, while his eyes wandered on to
an adjoining decoration, a photographic reproduction of
somebody’s “Leda and the Swan.”
“That picture,” he said, “has no
beginning. It has no end. I do not understand
“Look at that picture,” I commanded, pointing to a
third decoration. “It means something. Tell me
what it means to you.”
He studied it for several minutes.
“The little girl is sick,” he said finally.
“That is the doctor looking at her. They have been up
all night—see, the oil is low in the lamp, the first
morning light is coming in at the window. It is a great
sickness; maybe she will die, that is why the doctor looks so
hard. That is the mother. It is a great sickness,
because the mother’s head is on the table and she is
“How do you know she is crying?” I
interrupted. “You cannot see her face. Perhaps
she is asleep.”
Sitka Charley looked at me in swift surprise, then back at the
picture. It was evident that he had not reasoned the
“Perhaps she is asleep,” he repeated. He
studied it closely. “No, she is not asleep. The
shoulders show that she is not asleep. I have seen the
shoulders of a woman who cried. The mother is crying.
It is a very great sickness.”
“And now you understand the picture,” I cried.
He shook his head, and asked, “The little
girl—does it die?”
It was my turn for silence.
“Does it die?” he reiterated. “You are
a painter-man. Maybe you know.”
“No, I do not know,” I confessed.
“It is not life,” he delivered himself
dogmatically. “In life little girl die or get
well. Something happen in life. In picture nothing
happen. No, I do not understand pictures.”
His disappointment was patent. It was his desire to
understand all things that white men understand, and here, in
this matter, he failed. I felt, also, that there was
challenge in his attitude. He was bent upon compelling me
to show him the wisdom of pictures. Besides, he had
remarkable powers of visualization. I had long since
learned this. He visualized everything. He saw life
in pictures, felt life in pictures, generalized life in pictures;
and yet he did not understand pictures when seen through other
men’s eyes and expressed by those men with color and line
“Pictures are bits of life,” I said.
“We paint life as we see it. For instance, Charley,
you are coming along the trail. It is night. You see
a cabin. The window is lighted. You look through the
window for one second, or for two seconds, you see something, and
you go on your way. You saw maybe a man writing a
letter. You saw something without beginning or end.
Nothing happened. Yet it was a bit of life you saw.
You remember it afterward. It is like a picture in your
memory. The window is the frame of the picture.”
I could see that he was interested, and I knew that as I spoke
he had looked through the window and seen the man writing the
“There is a picture you have painted that I
understand,” he said. “It is a true
picture. It has much meaning. It is in your cabin at
Dawson. It is a faro table. There are men
playing. It is a large game. The limit is
“How do you know the limit is off?” I broke in
excitedly, for here was where my work could be tried out on an
unbiassed judge who knew life only, and not art, and who was a
sheer master of reality. Also, I was very proud of that
particular piece of work. I had named it “The Last
Turn,” and I believed it to be one of the best things I had
“There are no chips on the table,” Sitka Charley
explained. “The men are playing with markers.
That means the roof is the limit. One man play yellow
markers—maybe one yellow marker worth one thousand dollars,
maybe two thousand dollars. One man play red markers.
Maybe they are worth five hundred dollars, maybe one thousand
dollars. It is a very big game. Everybody play very
high, up to the roof. How do I know? You make the
dealer with blood little bit warm in face.” (I was
delighted.) “The lookout, you make him lean forward
in his chair. Why he lean forward? Why his face very
much quiet? Why his eyes very much bright? Why dealer
warm with blood a little bit in the face? Why all men very
quiet?—the man with yellow markers? the man with white
markers? the man with red markers? Why nobody talk?
Because very much money. Because last turn.”
“How do you know it is the last turn?” I
“The king is coppered, the seven is played open,”
he answered. “Nobody bet on other cards. Other
cards all gone. Everybody one mind. Everybody play
king to lose, seven to win. Maybe bank lose twenty thousand
dollars, maybe bank win. Yes, that picture I
“Yet you do not know the end!” I cried
triumphantly. “It is the last turn, but the cards are
not yet turned. In the picture they will never be
turned. Nobody will ever know who wins nor who
“And the men will sit there and never talk,” he
said, wonder and awe growing in his face. “And the
lookout will lean forward, and the blood will be warm in the face
of the dealer. It is a strange thing. Always will
they sit there, always; and the cards will never be
“It is a picture,” I said. “It is
life. You have seen things like it yourself.”
He looked at me and pondered, then said, very slowly:
“No, as you say, there is no end to it. Nobody will
ever know the end. Yet is it a true thing. I have
seen it. It is life.”
For a long time he smoked on in silence, weighing the
pictorial wisdom of the white man and verifying it by the facts
of life. He nodded his head several times, and grunted once
or twice. Then he knocked the ashes from his pipe,
carefully refilled it, and after a thoughtful pause, lighted it
“Then have I, too, seen many pictures of life,” he
began; “pictures not painted, but seen with the eyes.
I have looked at them like through the window at the man writing
the letter. I have seen many pieces of life, without
beginning, without end, without understanding.”
With a sudden change of position he turned his eyes full upon
me and regarded me thoughtfully.
“Look you,” he said; “you are a
painter-man. How would you paint this which I saw, a
picture without beginning, the ending of which I do not
understand, a piece of life with the northern lights for a candle
and Alaska for a frame.”
“It is a large canvas,” I murmured.
But he ignored me, for the picture he had in mind was before
his eyes and he was seeing it.
“There are many names for this picture,” he
said. “But in the picture there are many sun-dogs,
and it comes into my mind to call it ‘The Sun-Dog
Trail.’ It was a long time ago, seven years ago, the
fall of ’97, when I saw the woman first time. At Lake
Linderman I had one canoe, very good Peterborough canoe. I
came over Chilcoot Pass with two thousand letters for
Dawson. I was letter carrier. Everybody rush to
Klondike at that time. Many people on trail. Many
people chop down trees and make boats. Last water, snow in
the air, snow on the ground, ice on the lake, on the river ice in
the eddies. Every day more snow, more ice. Maybe one
day, maybe three days, maybe six days, any day maybe freeze-up
come, then no more water, all ice, everybody walk, Dawson six
hundred miles, long time walk. Boat go very quick.
Everybody want to go boat. Everybody say, ‘Charley,
two hundred dollars you take me in canoe,’ ‘Charley,
three hundred dollars,’ ‘Charley, four hundred
dollars.’ I say no, all the time I say no. I am
“In morning I get to Lake Linderman. I walk all
night and am much tired. I cook breakfast, I eat, then I
sleep on the beach three hours. I wake up. It is ten
o’clock. Snow is falling. There is wind, much
wind that blows fair. Also, there is a woman who sits in
the snow alongside. She is white woman, she is young, very
pretty, maybe she is twenty years old, maybe twenty-five years
old. She look at me. I look at her. She is very
tired. She is no dance-woman. I see that right
away. She is good woman, and she is very tired.
“‘You are Sitka Charley,’ she says. I
get up quick and roll blankets so snow does not get inside.
‘I go to Dawson,’ she says. ‘I go in your
“I do not want anybody in my canoe. I do not like
to say no. So I say, ‘One thousand
dollars.’ Just for fun I say it, so woman cannot come
with me, much better than say no. She look at me very hard,
then she says, ‘When you start?’ I say right
away. Then she says all right, she will give me one
“What can I say? I do not want the woman, yet have
I given my word that for one thousand dollars she can come.
I am surprised. Maybe she make fun, too, so I say,
‘Let me see thousand dollars.’ And that woman,
that young woman, all alone on the trail, there in the snow, she
take out one thousand dollars, in greenbacks, and she put them in
my hand. I look at money, I look at her. What can I
say? I say, ‘No, my canoe very small. There is
no room for outfit.’ She laugh. She says,
‘I am great traveller. This is my
outfit.’ She kick one small pack in the snow.
It is two fur robes, canvas outside, some woman’s clothes
inside. I pick it up. Maybe thirty-five pounds.
I am surprised. She take it away from me. She says,
‘Come, let us start.’ She carries pack into
canoe. What can I say? I put my blankets into
canoe. We start.
“And that is the way I saw the woman first time.
The wind was fair. I put up small sail. The canoe
went very fast, it flew like a bird over the high waves.
The woman was much afraid. ‘What for you come
Klondike much afraid?’ I ask. She laugh at me, a hard
laugh, but she is still much afraid. Also is she very
tired. I run canoe through rapids to Lake Bennett.
Water very bad, and woman cry out because she is afraid. We
go down Lake Bennett, snow, ice, wind like a gale, but woman is
very tired and go to sleep.
“That night we make camp at Windy Arm. Woman sit
by fire and eat supper. I look at her. She is
pretty. She fix hair. There is much hair, and it is
brown, also sometimes it is like gold in the firelight, when she
turn her head, so, and flashes come from it like golden
fire. The eyes are large and brown, sometimes warm like a
candle behind a curtain, sometimes very hard and bright like
broken ice when sun shines upon it. When she
smile—how can I say?—when she smile I know white man
like to kiss her, just like that, when she smile. She never
do hard work. Her hands are soft, like baby’s
hand. She is soft all over, like baby. She is not
thin, but round like baby; her arm, her leg, her muscles, all
soft and round like baby. Her waist is small, and when she
stand up, when she walk, or move her head or arm, it is—I
do not know the word—but it is nice to look at,
like—maybe I say she is built on lines like the lines of a
good canoe, just like that, and when she move she is like the
movement of the good canoe sliding through still water or leaping
through water when it is white and fast and angry. It is
very good to see.
“Why does she come into Klondike, all alone, with plenty
of money? I do not know. Next day I ask her.
She laugh and says: ‘Sitka Charley, that is none of
your business. I give you one thousand dollars take me to
Dawson. That only is your business.’ Next day
after that I ask her what is her name. She laugh, then she
says, ‘Mary Jones, that is my name.’ I do not
know her name, but I know all the time that Mary Jones is not her
“It is very cold in canoe, and because of cold sometimes
she not feel good. Sometimes she feel good and she
sing. Her voice is like a silver bell, and I feel good all
over like when I go into church at Holy Cross Mission, and when
she sing I feel strong and paddle like hell. Then she laugh
and says, ‘You think we get to Dawson before freeze-up,
Charley?’ Sometimes she sit in canoe and is thinking
far away, her eyes like that, all empty. She does not see
Sitka Charley, nor the ice, nor the snow. She is far
away. Very often she is like that, thinking far away.
Sometimes, when she is thinking far away, her face is not good to
see. It looks like a face that is angry, like the face of
one man when he want to kill another man.
“Last day to Dawson very bad. Shore-ice in all the
eddies, mush-ice in the stream. I cannot paddle. The
canoe freeze to ice. I cannot get to shore. There is
much danger. All the time we go down Yukon in the
ice. That night there is much noise of ice. Then ice
stop, canoe stop, everything stop. ‘Let us go to
shore,’ the woman says. I say no, better wait.
By and by, everything start down-stream again. There is
much snow. I cannot see. At eleven o’clock at
night, everything stop. At one o’clock everything
start again. At three o’clock everything stop.
Canoe is smashed like eggshell, but is on top of ice and cannot
sink. I hear dogs howling. We wait. We
sleep. By and by morning come. There is no more
snow. It is the freeze-up, and there is Dawson. Canoe
smash and stop right at Dawson. Sitka Charley has come in
with two thousand letters on very last water.
“The woman rent a cabin on the hill, and for one week I
see her no more. Then, one day, she come to me.
‘Charley,’ she says, ‘how do you like to work
for me? You drive dogs, make camp, travel with
me.’ I say that I make too much money carrying
letters. She says, ‘Charley, I will pay you more
money.’ I tell her that pick-and-shovel man get
fifteen dollars a day in the mines. She says, ‘That
is four hundred and fifty dollars a month.’ And I
say, ‘Sitka Charley is no pick-and-shovel man.’
Then she says, ‘I understand, Charley. I will give
you seven hundred and fifty dollars each month.’ It
is a good price, and I go to work for her. I buy for her
dogs and sled. We travel up Klondike, up Bonanza and
Eldorado, over to Indian River, to Sulphur Creek, to Dominion,
back across divide to Gold Bottom and to Too Much Gold, and back
to Dawson. All the time she look for something, I do not
know what. I am puzzled. ‘What thing you look
for?’ I ask. She laugh. ‘You look for
gold?’ I ask. She laugh. Then she says,
‘That is none of your business, Charley.’ And
after that I never ask any more.
“She has a small revolver which she carries in her
belt. Sometimes, on trail, she makes practice with
revolver. I laugh. ‘What for you laugh,
Charley?’ she ask. ‘What for you play with
that?’ I say. ‘It is no good. It is too
small. It is for a child, a little plaything.’
When we get back to Dawson she ask me to buy good revolver for
her. I buy a Colt’s 44. It is very heavy, but
she carry it in her belt all the time.
“At Dawson comes the man. Which way he come I do
not know. Only do I know he is checha-quo—what
you call tenderfoot. His hands are soft, just like
hers. He never do hard work. He is soft all
over. At first I think maybe he is her husband. But
he is too young. Also, they make two beds at night.
He is maybe twenty years old. His eyes blue, his hair
yellow, he has a little mustache which is yellow. His name
is John Jones. Maybe he is her brother. I do not
know. I ask questions no more. Only I think his name
not John Jones. Other people call him Mr. Girvan. I
do not think that is his name. I do not think her name is
Miss Girvan, which other people call her. I think nobody
know their names.
“One night I am asleep at Dawson. He wake me
up. He says, ‘Get the dogs ready; we
start.’ No more do I ask questions, so I get the dogs
ready and we start. We go down the Yukon. It is
night-time, it is November, and it is very cold—sixty-five
below. She is soft. He is soft. The cold
bites. They get tired. They cry under their breaths
to themselves. By and by I say better we stop and make
camp. But they say that they will go on. Three times
I say better to make camp and rest, but each time they say they
will go on. After that I say nothing. All the time,
day after day, is it that way. They are very soft.
They get stiff and sore. They do not understand moccasins,
and their feet hurt very much. They limp, they stagger like
drunken people, they cry under their breaths; and all the time
they say, ‘On! on! We will go on!’
“They are like crazy people. All the time do they
go on, and on. Why do they go on? I do not
know. Only do they go on. What are they after?
I do not know. They are not after gold. There is no
stampede. Besides, they spend plenty of money. But I
ask questions no more. I, too, go on and on, because I am
strong on the trail and because I am greatly paid.
“We make Circle City. That for which they look is
not there. I think now that we will rest, and rest the
dogs. But we do not rest, not for one day do we rest.
‘Come,’ says the woman to the man, ‘let us go
on.’ And we go on. We leave the Yukon. We
cross the divide to the west and swing down into the Tanana
Country. There are new diggings there. But that for
which they look is not there, and we take the back trail to
“It is a hard journey. December is most
gone. The days are short. It is very cold. One
morning it is seventy below zero. ‘Better that we
don’t travel to-day,’ I say, ‘else will the
frost be unwarmed in the breathing and bite all the edges of our
lungs. After that we will have bad cough, and maybe next
spring will come pneumonia.’ But they are
checha-quo. They do not understand the trail.
They are like dead people they are so tired, but they say,
‘Let us go on.’ We go on. The frost bites
their lungs, and they get the dry cough. They cough till
the tears run down their cheeks. When bacon is frying they
must run away from the fire and cough half an hour in the
snow. They freeze their cheeks a little bit, so that the
skin turns black and is very sore. Also, the man freezes
his thumb till the end is like to come off, and he must wear a
large thumb on his mitten to keep it warm. And sometimes,
when the frost bites hard and the thumb is very cold, he must
take off the mitten and put the hand between his legs next to the
skin, so that the thumb may get warm again.
“We limp into Circle City, and even I, Sitka Charley, am
tired. It is Christmas Eve. I dance, drink, make a
good time, for to-morrow is Christmas Day and we will rest.
But no. It is five o’clock in the
morning—Christmas morning. I am two hours
asleep. The man stand by my bed. ‘Come,
Charley,’ he says, ‘harness the dogs. We
“Have I not said that I ask questions no more?
They pay me seven hundred and fifty dollars each month.
They are my masters. I am their man. If they say,
‘Charley, come, let us start for hell,’ I will
harness the dogs, and snap the whip, and start for hell. So
I harness the dogs, and we start down the Yukon. Where do
we go? They do not say. Only do they say, ‘On!
on! We will go on!’
“They are very weary. They have travelled many
hundreds of miles, and they do not understand the way of the
trail. Besides, their cough is very bad—the dry cough
that makes strong men swear and weak men cry. But they go
on. Every day they go on. Never do they rest the
dogs. Always do they buy new dogs. At every camp, at
every post, at every Indian village, do they cut out the tired
dogs and put in fresh dogs. They have much money, money
without end, and like water they spend it. They are
crazy? Sometimes I think so, for there is a devil in them
that drives them on and on, always on. What is it that they
try to find? It is not gold. Never do they dig in the
ground. I think a long time. Then I think it is a man
they try to find. But what man? Never do we see the
man. Yet are they like wolves on the trail of the
kill. But they are funny wolves, soft wolves, baby wolves
who do not understand the way of the trail. They cry aloud
in their sleep at night. In their sleep they moan and groan
with the pain of their weariness. And in the day, as they
stagger along the trail, they cry under their breaths. They
are funny wolves.
“We pass Fort Yukon. We pass Fort Hamilton.
We pass Minook. January has come and nearly gone. The
days are very short. At nine o’clock comes
daylight. At three o’clock comes night. And it
is cold. And even I, Sitka Charley, am tired. Will we
go on forever this way without end? I do not know.
But always do I look along the trail for that which they try to
find. There are few people on the trail. Sometimes we
travel one hundred miles and never see a sign of life. It
is very quiet. There is no sound. Sometimes it snows,
and we are like wandering ghosts. Sometimes it is clear,
and at midday the sun looks at us for a moment over the hills to
the south. The northern lights flame in the sky, and the
sun-dogs dance, and the air is filled with frost-dust.
“I am Sitka Charley, a strong man. I was born on
the trail, and all my days have I lived on the trail. And
yet have these two baby wolves made me very tired. I am
lean, like a starved cat, and I am glad of my bed at night, and
in the morning am I greatly weary. Yet ever are we hitting
the trail in the dark before daylight, and still on the trail
does the dark after nightfall find us. These two baby
wolves! If I am lean like a starved cat, they are lean like
cats that have never eaten and have died. Their eyes are
sunk deep in their heads, bright sometimes as with fever, dim and
cloudy sometimes like the eyes of the dead. Their cheeks
are hollow like caves in a cliff. Also are their cheeks
black and raw from many freezings. Sometimes it is the
woman in the morning who says, ‘I cannot get up. I
cannot move. Let me die.’ And it is the man who
stands beside her and says, ‘Come, let us go
on.’ And they go on. And sometimes it is the
man who cannot get up, and the woman says, ‘Come, let us go
on.’ But the one thing they do, and always do, is to
go on. Always do they go on.
“Sometimes, at the trading posts, the man and woman get
letters. I do not know what is in the letters. But it
is the scent that they follow, these letters themselves are the
scent. One time an Indian gives them a letter. I talk
with him privately. He says it is a man with one eye who
gives him the letter, a man who travels fast down the
Yukon. That is all. But I know that the baby wolves
are after the man with the one eye.
“It is February, and we have travelled fifteen hundred
miles. We are getting near Bering Sea, and there are storms
and blizzards. The going is hard. We come to
Anvig. I do not know, but I think sure they get a letter at
Anvig, for they are much excited, and they say, ‘Come,
hurry, let us go on.’ But I say we must buy grub, and
they say we must travel light and fast. Also, they say that
we can get grub at Charley McKeon’s cabin. Then do I
know that they take the big cut-off, for it is there that Charley
McKeon lives where the Black Rock stands by the trail.
“Before we start, I talk maybe two minutes with the
priest at Anvig. Yes, there is a man with one eye who has
gone by and who travels fast. And I know that for which
they look is the man with the one eye. We leave Anvig with
little grub, and travel light and fast. There are three
fresh dogs bought in Anvig, and we travel very fast. The
man and woman are like mad. We start earlier in the
morning, we travel later at night. I look sometimes to see
them die, these two baby wolves, but they will not die.
They go on and on. When the dry cough take hold of them
hard, they hold their hands against their stomach and double up
in the snow, and cough, and cough, and cough. They cannot
walk, they cannot talk. Maybe for ten minutes they cough,
maybe for half an hour, and then they straighten up, the tears
from the coughing frozen on their faces, and the words they say
are, ‘Come, let us go on.’
“Even I, Sitka Charley, am greatly weary, and I think
seven hundred and fifty dollars is a cheap price for the labor I
do. We take the big cut-off, and the trail is fresh.
The baby wolves have their noses down to the trail, and they say,
‘Hurry!’ All the time do they say,
‘Hurry! Faster! Faster!’ It is hard
on the dogs. We have not much food and we cannot give them
enough to eat, and they grow weak. Also, they must work
hard. The woman has true sorrow for them, and often,
because of them, the tears are in her eyes. But the devil
in her that drives her on will not let her stop and rest the
“And then we come upon the man with the one eye.
He is in the snow by the trail, and his leg is broken.
Because of the leg he has made a poor camp, and has been lying on
his blankets for three days and keeping a fire going. When
we find him he is swearing. He swears like hell.
Never have I heard a man swear like that man. I am
glad. Now that they have found that for which they look, we
will have rest. But the woman says, ‘Let us
“I am surprised. But the man with the one eye
says, ‘Never mind me. Give me your grub. You
will get more grub at McKeon’s cabin to-morrow. Send
McKeon back for me. But do you go on.’ Here is
another wolf, an old wolf, and he, too, thinks but the one
thought, to go on. So we give him our grub, which is not
much, and we chop wood for his fire, and we take his strongest
dogs and go on. We left the man with one eye there in the
snow, and he died there in the snow, for McKeon never went back
for him. And who that man was, and why he came to be there,
I do not know. But I think he was greatly paid by the man
and the woman, like me, to do their work for them.
“That day and that night we had nothing to eat, and all
next day we travelled fast, and we were weak with hunger.
Then we came to the Black Rock, which rose five hundred feet
above the trail. It was at the end of the day.
Darkness was coming, and we could not find the cabin of
McKeon. We slept hungry, and in the morning looked for the
cabin. It was not there, which was a strange thing, for
everybody knew that McKeon lived in a cabin at Black Rock.
We were near to the coast, where the wind blows hard and there is
much snow. Everywhere there were small hills of snow where
the wind had piled it up. I have a thought, and I dig in
one and another of the hills of snow. Soon I find the walls
of the cabin, and I dig down to the door. I go
inside. McKeon is dead. Maybe two or three weeks he
is dead. A sickness had come upon him so that he could not
leave the cabin. The wind and the snow had covered the
cabin. He had eaten his grub and died. I looked for
his cache, but there was no grub in it.
“‘Let us go on,’ said the woman. Her
eyes were hungry, and her hand was upon her heart, as with the
hurt of something inside. She bent back and forth like a
tree in the wind as she stood there. ‘Yes, let us go
on,’ said the man. His voice was hollow, like the
klonk of an old raven, and he was hunger-mad. His
eyes were like live coals of fire, and as his body rocked to and
fro, so rocked his soul inside. And I, too, said,
‘Let us go on.’ For that one thought, laid upon
me like a lash for every mile of fifteen hundred miles, had
burned itself into my soul, and I think that I, too, was
mad. Besides, we could only go on, for there was no
grub. And we went on, giving no thought to the man with the
one eye in the snow.
“There is little travel on the big cut-off.
Sometimes two or three months and nobody goes by. The snow
had covered the trail, and there was no sign that men had ever
come or gone that way. All day the wind blew and the snow
fell, and all day we travelled, while our stomachs gnawed their
desire and our bodies grew weaker with every step they
took. Then the woman began to fall. Then the
man. I did not fall, but my feet were heavy and I caught my
toes and stumbled many times.
“That night is the end of February. I kill three
ptarmigan with the woman’s revolver, and we are made
somewhat strong again. But the dogs have nothing to
eat. They try to eat their harness, which is of leather and
walrus-hide, and I must fight them off with a club and hang all
the harness in a tree. And all night they howl and fight
around that tree. But we do not mind. We sleep like
dead people, and in the morning get up like dead people out of
their graves and go on along the trail.
“That morning is the 1st of March, and on that morning I
see the first sign of that after which the baby wolves are in
search. It is clear weather, and cold. The sun stay
longer in the sky, and there are sun-dogs flashing on either
side, and the air is bright with frost-dust. The snow falls
no more upon the trail, and I see the fresh sign of dogs and
sled. There is one man with that outfit, and I see in the
snow that he is not strong. He, too, has not enough to
eat. The young wolves see the fresh sign, too, and they are
much excited. ‘Hurry!’ they say. All the
time they say, ‘Hurry! Faster, Charley,
“We make hurry very slow. All the time the man and
the woman fall down. When they try to ride on sled the dogs
are too weak, and the dogs fall down. Besides, it is so
cold that if they ride on the sled they will freeze. It is
very easy for a hungry man to freeze. When the woman fall
down, the man help her up. Sometimes the woman help the man
up. By and by both fall down and cannot get up, and I must
help them up all the time, else they will not get up and will die
there in the snow. This is very hard work, for I am greatly
weary, and as well I must drive the dogs, and the man and woman
are very heavy with no strength in their bodies. So, by and
by, I, too, fall down in the snow, and there is no one to help me
up. I must get up by myself. And always do I get up
by myself, and help them up, and make the dogs go on.
“That night I get one ptarmigan, and we are very
hungry. And that night the man says to me, ‘What time
start to-morrow, Charley?’ It is like the voice of a
ghost. I say, ‘All the time you make start at five
o’clock.’ ‘To-morrow,’ he says,
‘we will start at three o’clock.’ I laugh
in great bitterness, and I say, ‘You are dead
man.’ And he says, ‘To-morrow we will start at
“And we start at three o’clock, for I am their
man, and that which they say is to be done, I do. It is
clear and cold, and there is no wind. When daylight comes
we can see a long way off. And it is very quiet. We
can hear no sound but the beat of our hearts, and in the silence
that is a very loud sound. We are like sleep-walkers, and
we walk in dreams until we fall down; and then we know we must
get up, and we see the trail once more and bear the beating of
our hearts. Sometimes, when I am walking in dreams this
way, I have strange thoughts. Why does Sitka Charley live?
I ask myself. Why does Sitka Charley work hard, and go
hungry, and have all this pain? For seven hundred and fifty
dollars a month, I make the answer, and I know it is a foolish
answer. Also is it a true answer. And after that
never again do I care for money. For that day a large
wisdom came to me. There was a great light, and I saw
clear, and I knew that it was not for money that a man must live,
but for a happiness that no man can give, or buy, or sell, and
that is beyond all value of all money in the world.
“In the morning we come upon the last-night camp of the
man who is before us. It is a poor camp, the kind a man
makes who is hungry and without strength. On the snow there
are pieces of blanket and of canvas, and I know what has
happened. His dogs have eaten their harness, and he has
made new harness out of his blankets. The man and woman
stare hard at what is to be seen, and as I look at them my back
feels the chill as of a cold wind against the skin. Their
eyes are toil-mad and hunger-mad, and burn like fire deep in
their heads. Their faces are like the faces of people who
have died of hunger, and their cheeks are black with the dead
flesh of many freezings. ‘Let us go on,’ says
the man. But the woman coughs and falls in the snow.
It is the dry cough where the frost has bitten the lungs.
For a long time she coughs, then like a woman crawling out of her
grave she crawls to her feet. The tears are ice upon her
cheeks, and her breath makes a noise as it comes and goes, and
she says, ‘Let us go on.’
“We go on. And we walk in dreams through the
silence. And every time we walk is a dream and we are
without pain; and every time we fall down is an awakening, and we
see the snow and the mountains and the fresh trail of the man who
is before us, and we know all our pain again. We come to
where we can see a long way over the snow, and that for which
they look is before them. A mile away there are black spots
upon the snow. The black spots move. My eyes are dim,
and I must stiffen my soul to see. And I see one man with
dogs and a sled. The baby wolves see, too. They can
no longer talk, but they whisper, ‘On, on. Let us
“And they fall down, but they go on. The man who
is before us, his blanket harness breaks often, and he must stop
and mend it. Our harness is good, for I have hung it in
trees each night. At eleven o’clock the man is half a
mile away. At one o’clock he is a quarter of a mile
away. He is very weak. We see him fall down many
times in the snow. One of his dogs can no longer travel,
and he cuts it out of the harness. But he does not kill
it. I kill it with the axe as I go by, as I kill one of my
dogs which loses its legs and can travel no more.
“Now we are three hundred yards away. We go very
slow. Maybe in two, three hours we go one mile. We do
not walk. All the time we fall down. We stand up and
stagger two steps, maybe three steps, then we fall down
again. And all the time I must help up the man and
woman. Sometimes they rise to their knees and fall forward,
maybe four or five times before they can get to their feet again
and stagger two or three steps and fall. But always do they
fall forward. Standing or kneeling, always do they fall
forward, gaining on the trail each time by the length of their
“Sometimes they crawl on hands and knees like animals
that live in the forest. We go like snails, like snails
that are dying we go so slow. And yet we go faster than the
man who is before us. For he, too, falls all the time, and
there is no Sitka Charley to lift him up. Now he is two
hundred yards away. After a long time he is one hundred
“It is a funny sight. I want to laugh out loud,
Ha! ha! just like that, it is so funny. It is a race of
dead men and dead dogs. It is like in a dream when you have
a nightmare and run away very fast for your life and go very
slow. The man who is with me is mad. The woman is
mad. I am mad. All the world is mad, and I want to
laugh, it is so funny.
“The stranger-man who is before us leaves his dogs
behind and goes on alone across the snow. After a long time
we come to the dogs. They lie helpless in the snow, their
harness of blanket and canvas on them, the sled behind them, and
as we pass them they whine to us and cry like babies that are
“Then we, too, leave our dogs and go on alone across the
snow. The man and the woman are nearly gone, and they moan
and groan and sob, but they go on. I, too, go on. I
have but one thought. It is to come up to the
stranger-man. Then it is that I shall rest, and not until
then shall I rest, and it seems that I must lie down and sleep
for a thousand years, I am so tired.
“The stranger-man is fifty yards away, all alone in the
white snow. He falls and crawls, staggers, and falls and
crawls again. He is like an animal that is sore wounded and
trying to run from the hunter. By and by he crawls on hands
and knees. He no longer stands up. And the man and
woman no longer stand up. They, too, crawl after him on
hands and knees. But I stand up. Sometimes I fall,
but always do I stand up again.
“It is a strange thing to see. All about is the
snow and the silence, and through it crawl the man and the woman,
and the stranger-man who goes before. On either side the
sun are sun-dogs, so that there are three suns in the sky.
The frost-dust is like the dust of diamonds, and all the air is
filled with it. Now the woman coughs, and lies still in the
snow until the fit has passed, when she crawls on again.
Now the man looks ahead, and he is blear-eyed as with old age and
must rub his eyes so that he can see the stranger-man. And
now the stranger-man looks back over his shoulder. And
Sitka Charley, standing upright, maybe falls down and stands
“After a long time the stranger-man crawls no
more. He stands slowly upon his feet and rocks back and
forth. Also does he take off one mitten and wait with
revolver in his hand, rocking back and forth as he waits.
His face is skin and bones and frozen black. It is a hungry
face. The eyes are deep-sunk in his head, and the lips are
snarling. The man and woman, too, get upon their feet and
they go toward him very slowly. And all about is the snow
and the silence. And in the sky are three suns, and all the
air is flashing with the dust of diamonds.
“And thus it was that I, Sitka Charley, saw the baby
wolves make their kill. No word is spoken. Only does
the stranger-man snarl with his hungry face. Also does he
rock to and fro, his shoulders drooping, his knees bent, and his
legs wide apart so that he does not fall down. The man and
the woman stop maybe fifty feet away. Their legs, too, are
wide apart so that they do not fall down, and their bodies rock
to and fro. The stranger-man is very weak. His arm
shakes, so that when he shoots at the man his bullet strikes in
the snow. The man cannot take off his mitten. The
stranger-man shoots at him again, and this time the bullet goes
by in the air. Then the man takes the mitten in his teeth
and pulls it off. But his hand is frozen and he cannot hold
the revolver, and it fails in the snow. I look at the
woman. Her mitten is off, and the big Colt’s revolver
is in her hand. Three times she shoot, quick, just like
that. The hungry face of the stranger-man is still snarling
as he falls forward into the snow.
“They do not look at the dead man. ‘Let us
go on,’ they say. And we go on. But now that
they have found that for which they look, they are like
dead. The last strength has gone out of them. They
can stand no more upon their feet. They will not crawl, but
desire only to close their eyes and sleep. I see not far
away a place for camp. I kick them. I have my
dog-whip, and I give them the lash of it. They cry aloud,
but they must crawl. And they do crawl to the place for
camp. I build fire so that they will not freeze. Then
I go back for sled. Also, I kill the dogs of the
stranger-man so that we may have food and not die. I put
the man and woman in blankets and they sleep. Sometimes I
wake them and give them little bit of food. They are not
awake, but they take the food. The woman sleep one day and
a half. Then she wake up and go to sleep again. The
man sleep two days and wake up and go to sleep again. After
that we go down to the coast at St. Michaels. And when the
ice goes out of Bering Sea, the man and woman go away on a
steamship. But first they pay me my seven hundred and fifty
dollars a month. Also, they make me a present of one
thousand dollars. And that was the year that Sitka Charley
gave much money to the Mission at Holy Cross.”
“But why did they kill the man?” I asked.
Sitka Charley delayed reply until he had lighted his
pipe. He glanced at the Police Gazette illustration
and nodded his head at it familiarly. Then he said,
speaking slowly and ponderingly:
“I have thought much. I do not know. It is
something that happened. It is a picture I remember.
It is like looking in at the window and seeing the man writing a
letter. They came into my life and they went out of my
life, and the picture is as I have said, without beginning, the
end without understanding.”
“You have painted many pictures in the telling,” I
“Ay,” he nodded his head. “But they
were without beginning and without end.”
“The last picture of all had an end,” I said.
“Ay,” he answered. “But what
“It was a piece of life,” I said.
“Ay,” he answered. “It was a piece of
NEGORE, THE COWARD
He had followed the trail of his fleeing people for eleven
days, and his pursuit had been in itself a flight; for behind him
he knew full well were the dreaded Russians, toiling through the
swampy lowlands and over the steep divides, bent on no less than
the extermination of all his people. He was travelling
light. A rabbit-skin sleeping-robe, a muzzle-loading rifle,
and a few pounds of sun-dried salmon constituted his
outfit. He would have marvelled that a whole
people—women and children and aged—could travel so
swiftly, had he not known the terror that drove them on.
It was in the old days of the Russian occupancy of Alaska,
when the nineteenth century had run but half its course, that
Negore fled after his fleeing tribe and came upon it this summer
night by the head waters of the Pee-lat. Though near the
midnight hour, it was bright day as he passed through the weary
camp. Many saw him, all knew him, but few and cold were the
greetings he received.
“Negore, the Coward,” he heard Illiha, a young
woman, laugh, and Sun-ne, his sister’s daughter, laughed
Black anger ate at his heart; but he gave no sign, threading
his way among the camp-fires until he came to one where sat an
old man. A young woman was kneading with skilful fingers
the tired muscles of his legs. He raised a sightless face
and listened intently as Negore’s foot crackled a dead
“Who comes?” he queried in a thin, tremulous
“Negore,” said the young woman, scarcely looking
up from her task.
Negore’s face was expressionless. For many minutes
he stood and waited. The old man’s head had sunk back
upon his chest. The young woman pressed and prodded the
wasted muscles, resting her body on her knees, her bowed head
hidden as in a cloud by her black wealth of hair. Negore
watched the supple body, bending at the hips as a lynx’s
body might bend, pliant as a young willow stalk, and, withal,
strong as only youth is strong. He looked, and was aware of
a great yearning, akin in sensation to physical hunger. At
last he spoke, saying:
“Is there no greeting for Negore, who has been long gone
and has but now come back?”
She looked up at him with cold eyes. The old man
chuckled to himself after the manner of the old.
“Thou art my woman, Oona,” Negore said, his tones
dominant and conveying a hint of menace.
She arose with catlike ease and suddenness to her full height,
her eyes flashing, her nostrils quivering like a
“I was thy woman to be, Negore, but thou art a coward;
the daughter of Old Kinoos mates not with a coward!”
She silenced him with an imperious gesture as he strove to
“Old Kinoos and I came among you from a strange
land. Thy people took us in by their fires and made us
warm, nor asked whence or why we wandered. It was their
thought that Old Kinoos had lost the sight of his eyes from age;
nor did Old Kinoos say otherwise, nor did I, his daughter.
Old Kinoos is a brave man, but Old Kinoos was never a
boaster. And now, when I tell thee of how his blindness
came to be, thou wilt know, beyond question, that the daughter of
Kinoos cannot mother the children of a coward such as thou art,
Again she silenced the speech that rushed up to his
“Know, Negore, if journey be added unto journey of all
thy journeyings through this land, thou wouldst not come to the
unknown Sitka on the Great Salt Sea. In that place there be
many Russian folk, and their rule is harsh. And from Sitka,
Old Kinoos, who was Young Kinoos in those days, fled away with
me, a babe in his arms, along the islands in the midst of the
sea. My mother dead tells the tale of his wrong; a Russian,
dead with a spear through breast and back, tells the tale of the
vengeance of Kinoos.
“But wherever we fled, and however far we fled, always
did we find the hated Russian folk. Kinoos was unafraid,
but the sight of them was a hurt to his eyes; so we fled on and
on, through the seas and years, till we came to the Great Fog
Sea, Negore, of which thou hast heard, but which thou hast never
seen. We lived among many peoples, and I grew to be a
woman; but Kinoos, growing old, took to him no other woman, nor
did I take a man.
“At last we came to Pastolik, which is where the Yukon
drowns itself in the Great Fog Sea. Here we lived long, on
the rim of the sea, among a people by whom the Russians were well
hated. But sometimes they came, these Russians, in great
ships, and made the people of Pastolik show them the way through
the islands uncountable of the many-mouthed Yukon. And
sometimes the men they took to show them the way never came back,
till the people became angry and planned a great plan.
“So, when there came a ship, Old Kinoos stepped forward
and said he would show the way. He was an old man then, and
his hair was white; but he was unafraid. And he was
cunning, for he took the ship to where the sea sucks in to the
land and the waves beat white on the mountain called
Romanoff. The sea sucked the ship in to where the waves
beat white, and it ground upon the rocks and broke open its
sides. Then came all the people of Pastolik, (for this was
the plan), with their war-spears, and arrows, and some few
guns. But first the Russians put out the eyes of Old Kinoos
that he might never show the way again, and then they fought,
where the waves beat white, with the people of Pastolik.
“Now the head-man of these Russians was Ivan. He
it was, with his two thumbs, who drove out the eyes of
Kinoos. He it was who fought his way through the white
water, with two men left of all his men, and went away along the
rim of the Great Fog Sea into the north. Kinoos was
wise. He could see no more and was helpless as a
child. So he fled away from the sea, up the great, strange
Yukon, even to Nulato, and I fled with him.
“This was the deed my father did, Kinoos, an old
man. But how did the young man, Negore?”
Once again she silenced him.
“With my own eyes I saw, at Nulato, before the gates of
the great fort, and but few days gone. I saw the Russian,
Ivan, who thrust out my father’s eyes, lay the lash of his
dog-whip upon thee and beat thee like a dog. This I saw,
and knew thee for a coward. But I saw thee not, that night,
when all thy people—yea, even the boys not yet
hunters—fell upon the Russians and slew them
“Not Ivan,” said Negore, quietly.
“Even now is he on our heels, and with him many Russians
fresh up from the sea.”
Oona made no effort to hide her surprise and chagrin that Ivan
was not dead, but went on:
“In the day I saw thee a coward; in the night, when all
men fought, even the boys not yet hunters, I saw thee not and
knew thee doubly a coward.”
“Thou art done? All done?” Negore asked.
She nodded her head and looked at him askance, as though
astonished that he should have aught to say.
“Know then that Negore is no coward,” he said; and
his speech was very low and quiet. “Know that when I
was yet a boy I journeyed alone down to the place where the Yukon
drowns itself in the Great Fog Sea. Even to Pastolik I
journeyed, and even beyond, into the north, along the rim of the
sea. This I did when I was a boy, and I was no
coward. Nor was I coward when I journeyed, a young man and
alone, up the Yukon farther than man had ever been, so far that I
came to another folk, with white faces, who live in a great fort
and talk speech other than that the Russians talk. Also
have I killed the great bear of the Tanana country, where no one
of my people hath ever been. And I have fought with the
Nuklukyets, and the Kaltags, and the Sticks in far regions, even
I, and alone. These deeds, whereof no man knows, I speak
for myself. Let my people speak for me of things I have
done which they know. They will not say Negore is a
He finished proudly, and proudly waited.
“These be things which happened before I came into the
land,” she said, “and I know not of them. Only
do I know what I know, and I know I saw thee lashed like a dog in
the day; and in the night, when the great fort flamed red and the
men killed and were killed, I saw thee not. Also, thy
people do call thee Negore, the Coward. It is thy name now,
Negore, the Coward.”
“It is not a good name,” Old Kinoos chuckled.
“Thou dost not understand, Kinoos,” Negore said
gently. “But I shall make thee understand. Know
that I was away on the hunt of the bear, with Kamo-tah, my
mother’s son. And Kamo-tah fought with a great
bear. We had no meat for three days, and Kamo-tah was not
strong of arm nor swift of foot. And the great bear crushed
him, so, till his bones cracked like dry sticks. Thus I
found him, very sick and groaning upon the ground. And
there was no meat, nor could I kill aught that the sick man might
“So I said, ‘I will go to Nulato and bring thee
food, also strong men to carry thee to camp.’ And
Kamo-tah said, ‘Go thou to Nulato and get food, but say no
word of what has befallen me. And when I have eaten, and am
grown well and strong, I will kill this bear. Then will I
return in honor to Nulato, and no man may laugh and say Kamo-tah
was undone by a bear.’
“So I gave heed to my brother’s words; and when I
was come to Nulato, and the Russian, Ivan, laid the lash of his
dog-whip upon me, I knew I must not fight. For no man knew
of Kamo-tah, sick and groaning and hungry; and did I fight with
Ivan, and die, then would my brother die, too. So it was,
Oona, that thou sawest me beaten like a dog.
“Then I heard the talk of the shamans and chiefs that
the Russians had brought strange sicknesses upon the people, and
killed our men, and stolen our women, and that the land must be
made clean. As I say, I heard the talk, and I knew it for
good talk, and I knew that in the night the Russians were to be
killed. But there was my brother, Kamo-tah, sick and
groaning and with no meat; so I could not stay and fight with the
men and the boys not yet hunters.
“And I took with me meat and fish, and the lash-marks of
Ivan, and I found Kamo-tah no longer groaning, but dead.
Then I went back to Nulato, and, behold, there was no
Nulato—only ashes where the great fort had stood, and the
bodies of many men. And I saw the Russians come up the
Yukon in boats, fresh from the sea, many Russians; and I saw Ivan
creep forth from where he lay hid and make talk with them.
And the next day I saw Ivan lead them upon the trail of the
tribe. Even now are they upon the trail, and I am here,
Negore, but no coward.”
“This is a tale I hear,” said Oona, though her
voice was gentler than before. “Kamo-tah is dead and
cannot speak for thee, and I know only what I know, and I must
know thee of my own eyes for no coward.”
Negore made an impatient gesture.
“There be ways and ways,” she added.
“Art thou willing to do no less than what Old Kinoos hath
He nodded his head, and waited.
“As thou hast said, they seek for us even now, these
Russians. Show them the way, Negore, even as Old Kinoos
showed them the way, so that they come, unprepared, to where we
wait for them, in a passage up the rocks. Thou knowest the
place, where the wall is broken and high. Then will we
destroy them, even Ivan. When they cling like flies to the
wall, and top is no less near than bottom, our men shall fall
upon them from above and either side, with spears, and arrows,
and guns. And the women and children, from above, shall
loosen the great rocks and hurl them down upon them. It
will be a great day, for the Russians will be killed, the land
will be made clean, and Ivan, even Ivan who thrust out my
father’s eyes and laid the lash of his dog-whip upon thee,
will be killed. Like a dog gone mad will he die, his breath
crushed out of him beneath the rocks. And when the fighting
begins, it is for thee, Negore, to crawl secretly away so that
thou be not slain.”
“Even so,” he answered. “Negore will
show them the way. And then?”
“And then I shall be thy woman, Negore’s woman,
the brave man’s woman. And thou shalt hunt meat for
me and Old Kinoos, and I shall cook thy food, and sew thee warm
parkas and strong, and make thee moccasins after the way of my
people, which is a better way than thy people’s way.
And as I say, I shall be thy woman, Negore, always thy
woman. And I shall make thy life glad for thee, so that all
thy days will be a song and laughter, and thou wilt know the
woman Oona as unlike all other women, for she has journeyed far,
and lived in strange places, and is wise in the ways of men and
in the ways they may be made glad. And in thine old age
will she still make thee glad, and thy memory of her in the days
of thy strength will be sweet, for thou wilt know always that she
was ease to thee, and peace, and rest, and that beyond all women
to other men has she been woman to thee.”
“Even so,” said Negore, and the hunger for her ate
at his heart, and his arms went out for her as a hungry
man’s arms might go out for food.
“When thou hast shown the way, Negore,” she chided
him; but her eyes were soft, and warm, and he knew she looked
upon him as woman had never looked before.
“It is well,” he said, turning resolutely on his
heel. “I go now to make talk with the chiefs, so that
they may know I am gone to show the Russians the way.”
“Oh, Negore, my man! my man!” she said to herself,
as she watched him go, but she said it so softly that even Old
Kinoos did not hear, and his ears were over keen, what of his
* * * * *
Three days later, having with craft ill-concealed his
hiding-place, Negore was dragged forth like a rat and brought
before Ivan—“Ivan the Terrible” he was known by
the men who marched at his back. Negore was armed with a
miserable bone-barbed spear, and he kept his rabbit-skin robe
wrapped closely about him, and though the day was warm he
shivered as with an ague. He shook his head that he did not
understand the speech Ivan put at him, and made that he was very
weary and sick, and wished only to sit down and rest, pointing
the while to his stomach in sign of his sickness, and shivering
fiercely. But Ivan had with him a man from Pastolik who
talked the speech of Negore, and many and vain were the questions
they asked him concerning his tribe, till the man from Pastolik,
who was called Karduk, said:
“It is the word of Ivan that thou shalt be lashed till
thou diest if thou dost not speak. And know, strange
brother, when I tell thee the word of Ivan is the law, that I am
thy friend and no friend of Ivan. For I come not willingly
from my country by the sea, and I desire greatly to live;
wherefore I obey the will of my master—as thou wilt obey,
strange brother, if thou art wise, and wouldst live.”
“Nay, strange brother,” Negore answered, “I
know not the way my people are gone, for I was sick, and they
fled so fast my legs gave out from under me, and I fell
Negore waited while Karduk talked with Ivan. Then Negore
saw the Russian’s face go dark, and he saw the men step to
either side of him, snapping the lashes of their whips.
Whereupon he betrayed a great fright, and cried aloud that he was
a sick man and knew nothing, but would tell what he knew.
And to such purpose did he tell, that Ivan gave the word to his
men to march, and on either side of Negore marched the men with
the whips, that he might not run away. And when he made
that he was weak of his sickness, and stumbled and walked not so
fast as they walked, they laid their lashes upon him till he
screamed with pain and discovered new strength. And when
Karduk told him all would he well with him when they had
overtaken his tribe, he asked, “And then may I rest and
Continually he asked, “And then may I rest and move
And while he appeared very sick and looked about him with dull
eyes, he noted the fighting strength of Ivan’s men, and
noted with satisfaction that Ivan did not recognize him as the
man he had beaten before the gates of the fort. It was a
strange following his dull eyes saw. There were Slavonian
hunters, fair-skinned and mighty-muscled; short, squat Finns,
with flat noses and round faces; Siberian half-breeds, whose
noses were more like eagle-beaks; and lean, slant-eyed men, who
bore in their veins the Mongol and Tartar blood as well as the
blood of the Slav. Wild adventurers they were, forayers and
destroyers from the far lands beyond the Sea of Bering, who
blasted the new and unknown world with fire and sword and
clutched greedily for its wealth of fur and hide. Negore
looked upon them with satisfaction, and in his mind’s eye
he saw them crushed and lifeless at the passage up the
rocks. And ever he saw, waiting for him at the passage up
the rocks, the face and the form of Oona, and ever he heard her
voice in his ears and felt the soft, warm glow of her eyes.
But never did he forget to shiver, nor to stumble where the
footing was rough, nor to cry aloud at the bite of the
lash. Also, he was afraid of Karduk, for he knew him for no
true man. His was a false eye, and an easy tongue—a
tongue too easy, he judged, for the awkwardness of honest
All that day they marched. And on the next, when Karduk
asked him at command of Ivan, he said he doubted they would meet
with his tribe till the morrow. But Ivan, who had once been
shown the way by Old Kinoos, and had found that way to lead
through the white water and a deadly fight, believed no more in
anything. So when they came to a passage up the rocks, he
halted his forty men, and through Karduk demanded if the way were
Negore looked at it shortly and carelessly. It was a
vast slide that broke the straight wall of a cliff, and was
overrun with brush and creeping plants, where a score of tribes
could have lain well hidden.
He shook his head. “Nay, there be nothing
there,” he said. “The way is clear.”
Again Ivan spoke to Karduk, and Karduk said:
“Know, strange brother, if thy talk be not straight, and
if thy people block the way and fall upon Ivan and his men, that
thou shalt die, and at once.”
“My talk is straight,” Negore said.
“The way is clear.”
Still Ivan doubted, and ordered two of his Slavonian hunters
to go up alone. Two other men he ordered to the side of
Negore. They placed their guns against his breast and
waited. All waited. And Negore knew, should one arrow
fly, or one spear be flung, that his death would come upon
him. The two Slavonian hunters toiled upward till they grew
small and smaller, and when they reached the top and waved their
hats that all was well, they were like black specks against the
The guns were lowered from Negore’s breast and Ivan gave
the order for his men to go forward. Ivan was silent, lost
in thought. For an hour he marched, as though puzzled, and
then, through Karduk’s mouth, he said to Negore:
“How didst thou know the way was clear when thou didst
look so briefly upon it?”
Negore thought of the little birds he had seen perched among
the rocks and upon the bushes, and smiled, it was so simple; but
he shrugged his shoulders and made no answer. For he was
thinking, likewise, of another passage up the rocks, to which
they would soon come, and where the little birds would all be
gone. And he was glad that Karduk came from the Great Fog
Sea, where there were no trees or bushes, and where men learned
water-craft instead of land-craft and wood-craft.
Three hours later, when the sun rode overhead, they came to
another passage up the rocks, and Karduk said:
“Look with all thine eyes, strange brother, and see if
the way be clear, for Ivan is not minded this time to wait while
men go up before.”
Negore looked, and he looked with two men by his side, their
guns resting against his breast. He saw that the little
birds were all gone, and once he saw the glint of sunlight on a
rifle-barrel. And he thought of Oona, and of her
words: “And when the fighting begins, it is for thee,
Negore, to crawl secretly away so that thou be not
He felt the two guns pressing on his breast. This was
not the way she had planned. There would be no crawling
secretly away. He would be the first to die when the
fighting began. But he said, and his voice was steady, and
he still feigned to see with dull eyes and to shiver from his
“The way is clear.”
And they started up, Ivan and his forty men from the far lands
beyond the Sea of Bering. And there was Karduk, the man
from Pastolik, and Negore, with the two guns always upon
him. It was a long climb, and they could not go fast; but
very fast to Negore they seemed to approach the midway point
where top was no less near than bottom.
A gun cracked among the rocks to the right, and Negore heard
the war-yell of all his tribe, and for an instant saw the rocks
and bushes bristle alive with his kinfolk. Then he felt
torn asunder by a burst of flame hot through his being, and as he
fell he knew the sharp pangs of life as it wrenches at the flesh
to be free.
But he gripped his life with a miser’s clutch and would
not let it go. He still breathed the air, which bit his
lungs with a painful sweetness; and dimly he saw and heard, with
passing spells of blindness and deafness, the flashes of sight
and sound again wherein he saw the hunters of Ivan falling to
their deaths, and his own brothers fringing the carnage and
filling the air with the tumult of their cries and weapons, and,
far above, the women and children loosing the great rocks that
leaped like things alive and thundered down.
The sun danced above him in the sky, the huge walls reeled and
swung, and still he heard and saw dimly. And when the great
Ivan fell across his legs, hurled there lifeless and crushed by a
down-rushing rock, he remembered the blind eyes of Old Kinoos and
Then the sounds died down, and the rocks no longer thundered
past, and he saw his tribespeople creeping close and closer,
spearing the wounded as they came. And near to him he heard
the scuffle of a mighty Slavonian hunter, loath to die, and, half
uprisen, borne back and down by the thirsty spears.
Then he saw above him the face of Oona, and felt about him the
arms of Oona; and for a moment the sun steadied and stood still,
and the great walls were upright and moved not.
“Thou art a brave man, Negore,” he heard her say
in his ear; “thou art my man, Negore.”
And in that moment he lived all the life of gladness of which
she had told him, and the laughter and the song, and as the sun
went out of the sky above him, as in his old age, he knew the
memory of her was sweet. And as even the memories dimmed
and died in the darkness that fell upon him, he knew in her arms
the fulfilment of all the ease and rest she had promised
him. And as black night wrapped around him, his head upon
her breast, he felt a great peace steal about him, and he was
aware of the hush of many twilights and the mystery of