Part 2 out of 4
to fatigue and the passage of time. When he filled a pan with dirt, he
ran down the hill to wash it; nor could he forbear running up the hill
again, panting and stumbling profanely, to refill the pan.
He was now a hundred yards from the water, and the inverted "V" was
assuming definite proportions. The width of the pay-dirt steadily
decreased, and the man extended in his mind's eye the sides of the "V"
to their meeting place far up the hill. This was his goal, the apex of
the "V," and he panned many times to locate it.
"Just about two yards above that manzanita bush an' a yard to the
right," he finally concluded.
Then the temptation seized him. "As plain as the nose on your face," he
said, as he abandoned his laborious cross-cutting and climbed to the
indicated apex. He filled a pan and carried it down the hill to wash. It
contained no trace of gold. He dug deep, and he dug shallow, filling
and washing a dozen pans, and was unrewarded even by the tiniest golden
speck. He was enraged at having yielded to the temptation, and berated
himself blasphemously and pridelessly. Then he went down the hill and
took up the cross-cutting.
"Slow an' certain, Bill; slow an' certain," he crooned. "Short-cuts to
fortune ain't in your line, an' it's about time you know it. Get wise,
Bill; get wise. Slow an' certain's the only hand you can play; so go to
it, an' keep to it, too."
As the cross-cuts decreased, showing that the sides of the "V" were
converging, the depth of the "V" increased. The gold-trace was dipping
into the hill. It was only at thirty inches beneath the surface that he
could get colors in his pan. The dirt he found at twenty-five inches
from the surface, and at thirty-five inches yielded barren pans. At the
base of the "V," by the water's edge, he had found the gold colors at
the grass roots. The higher he went up the hill, the deeper the gold
dipped. To dig a hole three feet deep in order to get one test-pan was a
task of no mean magnitude; while between the man and the apex intervened
an untold number of such holes to be dug. "An' there's no tellin' how
much deeper it'll pitch," he sighed, in a moment's pause, while his
fingers soothed his aching back.
Feverish with desire, with aching back and stiffening muscles, with pick
and shovel gouging and mauling the soft brown earth, the man toiled up
the hill. Before him was the smooth slope, spangled with flowers and
made sweet with their breath. Behind him was devastation. It looked like
some terrible eruption breaking out on the smooth skin of the hill. His
slow progress was like that of a slug, befouling beauty with a monstrous
Though the dipping gold-trace increased the man's work, he found
consolation in the increasing richness of the pans. Twenty cents, thirty
cents, fifty cents, sixty cents, were the values of the gold found in
the pans, and at nightfall he washed his banner pan, which gave him a
dollar's worth of gold-dust from a shovelful of dirt.
"I'll just bet it's my luck to have some inquisitive one come buttin' in
here on my pasture," he mumbled sleepily that night as he pulled the
blankets up to his chin.
Suddenly he sat upright. "Bill!" he called sharply. "Now, listen to me,
Bill; d'ye hear! It's up to you, to-morrow mornin', to mosey round an'
see what you can see. Understand? To-morrow morning, an' don't you
He yawned and glanced across at his side-hill. "Good night, Mr. Pocket,"
In the morning he stole a march on the sun, for he had finished
breakfast when its first rays caught him, and he was climbing the wall
of the canyon where it crumbled away and gave footing. From the outlook
at the top he found himself in the midst of loneliness. As far as he
could see, chain after chain of mountains heaved themselves into his
vision. To the east his eyes, leaping the miles between range and range
and between many ranges, brought up at last against the white-peaked
Sierras--the main crest, where the backbone of the Western world reared
itself against the sky. To the north and south he could see more
distinctly the cross-systems that broke through the main trend of the
sea of mountains. To the west the ranges fell away, one behind the
other, diminishing and fading into the gentle foothills that, in turn,
descended into the great valley which he could not see.
And in all that mighty sweep of earth he saw no sign of man nor of the
handiwork of man--save only the torn bosom of the hillside at his feet.
The man looked long and carefully. Once, far down his own canyon, he
thought he saw in the air a faint hint of smoke. He looked again and
decided that it was the purple haze of the hills made dark by a
convolution of the canyon wall at its back.
"Hey, you, Mr. Pocket!" he called down into the canyon. "Stand out from
under! I'm a-comin', Mr. Pocket! I'm a-comin'!"
The heavy brogans on the man's feet made him appear clumsy-footed, but
he swung down from the giddy height as lightly and airily as a mountain
goat. A rock, turning under his foot on the edge of the precipice, did
not disconcert him. He seemed to know the precise time required for the
turn to culminate in disaster, and in the meantime he utilized the false
footing itself for the momentary earth-contact necessary to carry him on
into safety. Where the earth sloped so steeply that it was impossible to
stand for a second upright, the man did not hesitate. His foot pressed
the impossible surface for but a fraction of the fatal second and gave
him the bound that carried him onward. Again, where even the fraction
of a second's footing was out of the question, he would swing his body
past by a moment's hand-grip on a jutting knob of rock, a crevice, or a
precariously rooted shrub. At last, with a wild leap and yell, he
exchanged the face of the wall for an earth-slide and finished the
descent in the midst of several tons of sliding earth and gravel.
His first pan of the morning washed out over two dollars in coarse gold.
It was from the centre of the "V." To either side the diminution in the
values of the pans was swift. His lines of cross-cutting holes were
growing very short. The converging sides of the inverted "V" were only a
few yards apart. Their meeting-point was only a few yards above him. But
the pay-streak was dipping deeper and deeper into the earth. By early
afternoon he was sinking the test-holes five feet before the pans could
show the gold-trace.
For that matter, the gold-trace had become something more than a trace;
it was a placer mine in itself, and the man resolved to come back after
he had found the pocket and work over the ground. But the increasing
richness of the pans began to worry him. By late afternoon the worth of
the pans had grown to three and four dollars. The man scratched his head
perplexedly and looked a few feet up the hill at the manzanita bush that
marked approximately the apex of the "V." He nodded his head and said
"It's one o' two things, Bill: one o' two things. Either Mr. Pocket's
spilled himself all out an' down the hill, or else Mr. Pocket's so rich
you maybe won't be able to carry him all away with you. And that'd be an
awful shame, wouldn't it, now?" He chuckled at contemplation of so
pleasant a dilemma.
Nightfall found him by the edge of the stream, his eyes wrestling with
the gathering darkness over the washing of a five-dollar pan.
"Wisht I had an electric light to go on working," he said.
He found sleep difficult that night. Many times he composed himself and
closed his eyes for slumber to overtake him; but his blood pounded with
too strong desire, and as many times his eyes opened and he murmured
wearily, "Wisht it was sun-up."
Sleep came to him in the end, but his eyes were open with the first
paling of the stars, and the gray of dawn caught him with breakfast
finished and climbing the hillside in the direction of the secret
abiding-place of Mr. Pocket.
The first cross-cut the man made, there was space for only three holes,
so narrow had become the pay-streak and so close was he to the
fountainhead of the golden stream he had been following for four days.
"Be ca'm, Bill; be ca'm," he admonished himself, as he broke ground for
the final hole where the sides of the "V" had at last come together in a
"I've got the almighty cinch on you, Mr. Pocket, an' you can't lose me,"
he said many times as he sank the hole deeper and deeper.
Four feet, five feet, six feet, he dug his way down into the earth. The
digging grew harder. His pick grated on broken rock. He examined the
rock. "Rotten quartz," was his conclusion as, with the shovel, he
cleared the bottom of the hole of loose dirt. He attacked the crumbling
quartz with the pick, bursting the disintegrating rock asunder with
He thrust his shovel into the loose mass. His eye caught a gleam of
yellow. He dropped the shovel and squatted suddenly on his heels. As a
farmer rubs the clinging earth from fresh-dug potatoes, so the man, a
piece of rotten quartz held in both hands, rubbed the dirt away.
"Sufferin' Sardanopolis!" he cried. "Lumps an' chunks of it! Lumps an'
chunks of it!"
It was only half rock he held in his hand. The other half was virgin
gold. He dropped it into his pan and examined another piece. Little
yellow was to be seen, but with his strong fingers he crumbled the
rotten quartz away till both hands were filled with glowing yellow. He
rubbed the dirt away from fragment after fragment, tossing them into the
gold-pan. It was a treasure-hole. So much had the quartz rotted away
that there was less of it than there was of gold. Now and again he found
a piece to which no rock clung--a piece that was all gold. A chunk,
where the pick had laid open the heart of the gold, glittered like a
handful of yellow jewels, and he cocked his head at it and slowly turned
it around and over to observe the rich play of the light upon it.
"Talk about yer Too Much Gold diggin's!" the man snorted contemptuously.
"Why, this diggin' 'd make it look like thirty cents. This diggin' is
All Gold. An' right here an' now I name this yere canyon 'All Gold
Canyon,' b' gosh!"
Still squatting on his heels, he continued examining the fragments and
tossing them into the pan. Suddenly there came to him a premonition of
danger. It seemed a shadow had fallen upon him. But there was no shadow.
His heart had given a great jump up into his throat and was choking him.
Then his blood slowly chilled and he felt the sweat of his shirt cold
against his flesh.
He did not spring up nor look around. He did not move. He was
considering the nature of the premonition he had received, trying to
locate the source of the mysterious force that had warned him, striving
to sense the imperative presence of the unseen thing that threatened
him. There is an aura of things hostile, made manifest by messengers too
refined for the senses to know; and this aura he felt, but knew not how
he felt it. His was the feeling as when a cloud passes over the sun. It
seemed that between him and life had passed something dark and
smothering and menacing; a gloom, as it were, that swallowed up life and
made for death--his death.
Every force of his being impelled him to spring up and confront the
unseen danger, but his soul dominated the panic, and he remained
squatting on his heels, in his hands a chunk of gold. He did not dare to
look around, but he knew by now that there was something behind him and
above him. He made believe to be interested in the gold in his hand. He
examined it critically, turned it over and over, and rubbed the dirt
from it. And all the time he knew that something behind him was looking
at the gold over his shoulder.
Still feigning interest in the chunk of gold in his hand, he listened
intently and he heard the breathing of the thing behind him. His eyes
searched the ground in front of him for a weapon, but they saw only the
uprooted gold, worthless to him now in his extremity. There was his
pick, a handy weapon on occasion; but this was not such an occasion. The
man realized his predicament. He was in a narrow hole that was seven
feet deep. His head did not come to the surface of the ground. He was in
He remained squatting on his heels. He was quite cool and collected; but
his mind, considering every factor, showed him only his helplessness.
He continued rubbing the dirt from the quartz fragments and throwing the
gold into the pan. There was nothing else for him to do. Yet he knew
that he would have to rise up, sooner or later, and face the danger that
breathed at his back. The minutes passed, and with the passage of each
minute he knew that by so much he was nearer the time when he must stand
up, or else--and his wet shirt went cold against his flesh again at the
thought--or else he might receive death as he stooped there over his
Still he squatted on his heels, rubbing dirt from gold and debating in
just what manner he should rise up. He might rise up with a rush and
claw his way out of the hole to meet whatever threatened on the even
footing above ground. Or he might rise up slowly and carelessly, and
feign casually to discover the thing that breathed at his back. His
instinct and every fighting fibre of his body favored the mad, clawing
rush to the surface. His intellect, and the craft thereof, favored the
slow and cautious meeting with the thing that menaced and which he could
not see. And while he debated, a loud, crashing noise burst on his ear.
At the same instant he received a stunning blow on the left side of the
back, and from the point of impact felt a rush of flame through his
flesh. He sprang up in the air, but halfway to his feet collapsed. His
body crumpled in like a leaf withered in sudden heat, and he came down,
his chest across his pan of gold, his face in the dirt and rock, his
legs tangled and twisted because of the restricted space at the bottom
of the hole. His legs twitched convulsively several times. His body was
shaken as with a mighty ague. There was a slow expansion of the lungs,
accompanied by a deep sigh. Then the air was slowly, very slowly,
exhaled, and his body as slowly flattened itself down into inertness.
Above, revolver in hand, a man was peering down over the edge of the
hole. He peered for a long time at the prone and motionless body beneath
him. After a while the stranger sat down on the edge of the hole so that
he could see into it, and rested the revolver on his knee. Reaching his
hand into a pocket, he drew out a wisp of brown paper. Into this he
dropped a few crumbs of tobacco. The combination became a cigarette,
brown and squat, with the ends turned in. Not once did he take his eyes
from the body at the bottom of the hole. He lighted the cigarette and
drew its smoke into his lungs with a caressing intake of the breath. He
smoked slowly. Once the cigarette went out and he relighted it. And all
the while he studied the body beneath him.
In the end he tossed the cigarette stub away and rose to his feet. He
moved to the edge of the hole. Spanning it, a hand resting on each edge,
and with the revolver still in the right hand, he muscled his body down
into the hole. While his feet were yet a yard from the bottom he
released his hands and dropped down.
At the instant his feet struck bottom he saw the pocket-miner's arm leap
out, and his own legs knew a swift, jerking grip that overthrew him. In
the nature of the jump his revolver hand was above his head. Swiftly as
the grip had flashed about his legs, just as swiftly he brought the
revolver down. He was still in the air, his fall in process of
completion, when he pulled the trigger. The explosion was deafening in
the confined space. The smoke filled the hole so that he could see
nothing. He struck the bottom on his back, and like a cat's the
pocket-miner's body was on top of him. Even as the miner's body passed
on top, the stranger crooked in his right arm to fire; and even in that
instant the miner, with a quick thrust of elbow, struck his wrist. The
muzzle was thrown up and the bullet thudded into the dirt of the side of
The next instant the stranger felt the miner's hand grip his wrist. The
struggle was now for the revolver. Each man strove to turn it against
the other's body. The smoke in the hole was clearing. The stranger,
lying on his back, was beginning to see dimly. But suddenly he was
blinded by a handful of dirt deliberately flung into his eyes by his
antagonist. In that moment of shock his grip on the revolver was broken.
In the next moment he felt a smashing darkness descend upon his brain,
and in the midst of the darkness even the darkness ceased.
But the pocket-miner fired again and again, until the revolver was
empty. Then he tossed it from him and, breathing heavily, sat down on
the dead man's legs.
The miner was sobbing and struggling for breath. "Measly skunk!" he
panted; "a-campin' on my trail an' lettin' me do the work, an' then
shootin' me in the back!"
He was half crying from anger and exhaustion. He peered at the face of
the dead man. It was sprinkled with loose dirt and gravel, and it was
difficult to distinguish the features.
"Never laid eyes on him before," the miner concluded his scrutiny. "Just
a common an' ordinary thief, hang him! An' he shot me in the back! He
shot me in the back!"
He opened his shirt and felt himself, front and back, on his left side.
"Went clean through, and no harm done!" he cried jubilantly. "I'll bet
he aimed all right all right; but he drew the gun over when he pulled
the trigger--the cur! But I fixed 'm! Oh, I fixed 'm!"
His fingers were investigating the bullet-hole in his side, and a shade
of regret passed over his face. "It's goin' to be stiffer'n hell," he
said. "An' it's up to me to get mended an' get out o'here."
He crawled out of the hole and went down the hill to his camp. Half an
hour later he returned, leading his pack-horse. His open shirt
disclosed the rude bandages with which he had dressed his wound. He was
slow and awkward with his left-hand movements, but that did not prevent
his using the arm.
The bight of the pack-rope under the dead man's shoulders enabled him to
heave the body out of the hole. Then he set to work gathering up his
gold. He worked steadily for several hours, pausing often to rest his
stiffening shoulder and to exclaim:
"He shot me in the back, the measly skunk! He shot me in the back!"
When his treasure was quite cleaned up and wrapped securely into a
number of blanket-covered parcels, he made an estimate of its value.
"Four hundred pounds, or I'm a Hottentot," he concluded. "Say two
hundred in quartz an' dirt--that leaves two hundred pounds of gold.
Bill! Wake up! Two hundred pounds of gold! Forty thousand dollars! An'
it's yourn--all yourn!"
He scratched his head delightedly and his fingers blundered into an
unfamiliar groove. They quested along it for several inches. It was a
crease through his scalp where the second bullet had ploughed.
He walked angrily over to the dead man.
"You would, would you!" he bullied. "You would, eh? Well, I fixed you
good an' plenty, an' I'll give you decent burial, too. That's more'n
you'd have done for me."
He dragged the body to the edge of the hole and toppled it in. It struck
the bottom with a dull crash, on its side, the face twisted up to the
light. The miner peered down at it.
"An' you shot me in the back!" he said accusingly.
With pick and shovel he filled the hole. Then he loaded the gold on his
horse. It was too great a load for the animal, and when he had gained
his camp he transferred part of it to his saddle-horse. Even so, he was
compelled to abandon a portion of his outfit--pick and shovel and
gold-pan, extra food and cooking utensils, and divers odds and ends.
The sun was at the zenith when the man forced the horses at the screen
of vines and creepers. To climb the huge boulders the animals were
compelled to uprear and struggle blindly through the tangled mass of
vegetation. Once the saddle-horse fell heavily and the man removed the
pack to get the animal on its feet. After it started on its way again
the man thrust his head out from among the leaves and peered up at the
"The measly skunk!" he said, and disappeared.
There was a ripping and tearing of vines and boughs. The trees surged
back and forth, marking the passage of the animals through the midst of
them. There was a clashing of steel-shod hoofs on stone, and now and
again a sharp cry of command. Then the voice of the man was raised in
"Tu'n around an' tu'n yo' face
Untoe them sweet hills of grace
(D' pow'rs of sin yo' am scornin'!).
Look about an' look aroun'
Fling yo' sin-pack on d' groun'
(Yo'-will meet wid d' Lord in d' mornin'!)."
The song grew faint and fainter, and through the silence crept back the
spirit of the place. The stream once more drowsed and whispered; the hum
of the mountain bees rose sleepily. Down through the perfume-weighted
air fluttered the snowy fluffs of the cottonwoods. The butterflies
drifted in and out among the trees, and over all blazed the quiet
sunshine. Only remained the hoof-marks in the meadow and the torn
hillside to mark the boisterous trail of the life that had broken the
peace of the place and passed on.
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 bones."
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 least old man received
"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 gray-beards!"
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 was mumbling.
"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 meat?"
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 shoreline 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 cheeringly.
"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
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 abated.
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 weary."
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
marveled. "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.
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
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 ask.
"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. By 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 _igloo_."
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 marvelous 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 rewarded."
"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 consumes thee?"
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 bear."
"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,
and then swallowed it up. And Keesh continued to run away and drop
little round balls, and the bear continued to swallow them up."
Exclamations and cries of doubt were being made, and Ugh-Gluk expressed
"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
forepaws 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 a sight!"
"Nay, never was such a sight seen," Bawn took up the strain. "And
furthermore, it was such a large bear."
"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
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 whalebone. 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
NAM-BOK THE UNVERACIOUS
"A Bidarka, is it not so! Look! a bidarka, and one man who drives
clumsily with a paddle!"
Old Bask-Wah-Wan rose to her knees, trembling with weakness and
eagerness, and gazed out over the sea.
"Nam-Bok was ever clumsy at the paddle," she maundered reminiscently,
shading the sun from her eyes and staring across the silver-spilled
water. "Nam-Bok was ever clumsy. I remember...."
But the women and children laughed loudly, and there was a gentle
mockery in their laughter, and her voice dwindled till her lips moved
Koogah lifted his grizzled head from his bone-carving and followed the
path of her eyes. Except when wide yawns took it off its course, a
bidarka was heading in for the beach. Its occupant was paddling with
more strength than dexterity, and made his approach along the zigzag
line of most resistance. Koogah's head dropped to his work again, and on
the ivory tusk between his knees he scratched the dorsal fin of a fish
the like of which never swam in the sea.
"It is doubtless the man from the next village," he said finally, "come
to consult with me about the marking of things on bone. And the man is a
clumsy man. He will never know how."
"It is Nam-Bok," old Bask-Wah-Wan repeated. "Should I not know my son!"
she demanded shrilly. "I say, and I say again, it is Nam-Bok."
"And so thou hast said these many summers," one of the women chided
softly. "Ever when the ice passed out of the sea hast thou sat and
watched through the long day, saying at each chance canoe, 'This is
Nam-Bok.' Nam-Bok is dead, O Bask-Wah-Wan, and the dead do not come
back. It cannot be that the dead come back."
"Nam-Bok!" the old woman cried, so loud and clear that the whole
village was startled and looked at her.
She struggled to her feet and tottered down the sand. She stumbled over
a baby lying in the sun, and the mother hushed its crying and hurled
harsh words after the old woman, who took no notice. The children ran
down the beach in advance of her, and as the man in the bidarka drew
closer, nearly capsizing with one of his ill-directed strokes, the women
followed. Koogah dropped his walrus tusk and went also, leaning heavily
upon his staff, and after him loitered the men in twos and threes.
The bidarka turned broadside and the ripple of surf threatened to swamp
it, only a naked boy ran into the water and pulled the bow high up on
the sand. The man stood up and sent a questing glance along the line of
villagers. A rainbow sweater, dirty and the worse for wear, clung
loosely to his broad shoulders, and a red cotton handkerchief was
knotted in sailor fashion about his throat. A fisherman's tam-o'-shanter
on his close-clipped head, and dungaree trousers and heavy brogans
completed his outfit.
But he was none the less a striking personage to these simple
fisherfolk of the great Yukon Delta, who, all their lives, had stared
out on Bering Sea and in that time seen but two white men,--the census
enumerator and a lost Jesuit priest. They were a poor people, with
neither gold in the ground nor valuable furs in hand, so the whites had
passed them afar. Also, the Yukon, through the thousands of years, had
shoaled that portion of the sea with the detritus of Alaska till vessels
grounded out of sight of land. So the sodden coast, with its long inside
reaches and huge mud-land archipelagoes, was avoided by the ships of
men, and the fisherfolk knew not that such things were.
Koogah, the Bone-Scratcher, retreated backward in sudden haste, tripping
over his staff and falling to the ground. "Nam-Bok!" he cried, as he
scrambled wildly for footing. "Nam-Bok, who was blown off to sea, come
The men and women shrank away, and the children scuttled off between
their legs. Only Opee-Kwan was brave, as befitted the head man of the
village. He strode forward and gazed long and earnestly at the newcomer.
"It is Nam-Bok," he said at last, and at the conviction in his voice
the women wailed apprehensively and drew farther away.
The lips of the stranger moved indecisively, and his brown throat
writhed and wrestled with unspoken words.
"La, la, it is Nam-Bok," Bask-Wah-Wan croaked, peering up into his face.
"Ever did I say Nam-Bok would come back."
"Ay, it is Nam-Bok come back." This time it was Nam-Bok himself who
spoke, putting a leg over the side of the bidarka and standing with one
foot afloat and one ashore. Again his throat writhed and wrestled as he
grappled after forgotten words. And when the words came forth they were
strange of sound and a spluttering of the lips accompanied the
gutturals. "Greetings, O brothers," he said, "brothers of old time
before I went away with the off-shore wind."
He stepped out with both feet on the sand, and Opee-Kwan waved him back.
"Thou art dead, Nam-Bok," he said.
Nam-Bok laughed. "I am fat."
"Dead men are not fat," Opee-Kwan confessed. "Thou hast fared well, but
it is strange. No man may mate with the off-shore wind and come back on
the heels of the years."
"I have come back," Nam-Bok answered simply.
"Mayhap thou art a shadow, then, a passing shadow of the Nam-Bok that
was. Shadows come back."
"I am hungry. Shadows do not eat."
But Opee-Kwan doubted, and brushed his hand across his brow in sore
puzzlement. Nam-Bok was likewise puzzled, and as he looked up and down
the line found no welcome in the eyes of the fisherfolk. The men and
women whispered together. The children stole timidly back among their
elders, and bristling dogs fawned up to him and sniffed suspiciously.
"I bore thee, Nam-Bok, and I gave thee suck when thou wast little,"
Bask-Wah-Wan whimpered, drawing closer; "and shadow though thou be, or
no shadow, I will give thee to eat now."
Nam-Bok made to come to her, but a growl of fear and menace warned him
back. He said something angrily in a strange tongue, and added, "No
shadow am I, but a man."
"Who may know concerning the things of mystery?" Opee-Kwan demanded,
half of himself and half of his tribespeople. "We are, and in a breath
we are not. If the man may become shadow, may not the shadow become man?
Nam-Bok was, but is not. This we know, but we do not know if this be
Nam-Bok or the shadow of Nam-Bok."
Nam-Bok cleared his throat and made answer. "In the old time long ago,
thy father's father, Opee-Kwan, went away and came back on the heels of
the years. Nor was a place by the fire denied him. It is said ..." He
paused significantly, and they hung on his utterance. "It is said," he
repeated, driving his point home with deliberation, "that Sipsip, his
_klooch_, bore him two sons after he came back."
"But he had no doings with the off-shore wind," Opee-Kwan retorted. "He
went away into the heart of the land, and it is in the nature of things
that a man may go on and on into the land."
"And likewise the sea. But that is neither here nor there. It is said
... that thy father's father told strange tales of the things he saw."
"Ay, strange tales he told."
"I, too, have strange tales to tell," Nam-Bok stated insidiously. And,
as they wavered, "And presents likewise."
He pulled from the bidarka a shawl, marvelous of texture and color, and
flung it about his mother's shoulders. The women voiced a collective
sigh of admiration, and old Bask-Wah-Wan ruffled the gay material and
patted it and crooned in childish joy.
"He has tales to tell," Koogah muttered. "And presents," a woman
And Opee-Kwan knew that his people were eager, and further, he was aware
himself of an itching curiosity concerning those untold tales. "The
fishing has been good," he said judiciously, "and we have oil in plenty.
So come, Nam-Bok, let us feast."
Two of the men hoisted the bidarka on their shoulders and carried it up
to the fire. Nam-Bok walked by the side of Opee-Kwan, and the villagers
followed after, save those of the women who lingered a moment to lay
caressing fingers on the shawl.
There was little talk while the feast went on, though many and curious
were the glances stolen at the son of Bask-Wah-Wan. This embarrassed
him--not because he was modest of spirit, however, but for the fact
that the stench of the seal-oil had robbed him of his appetite, and that
he keenly desired to conceal his feelings on the subject.
"Eat; thou art hungry," Opee-Kwan commanded, and Nam-Bok shut both his
eyes and shoved his fist into the big pot of putrid fish.
"La la, be not ashamed. The seal were many this year, and strong men are
ever hungry." And Bask-Wah-Wan sopped a particularly offensive chunk of
salmon into the oil and passed it fondly and dripping to her son.
In despair, when premonitory symptoms warned him that his stomach was
not so strong as of old, he filled his pipe and struck up a smoke. The
people fed on noisily and watched. Few of them could boast of intimate
acquaintance with the precious weed, though now and again small
quantities and abominable qualities were obtained in trade from the
Eskimos to the northward. Koogah, sitting next to him, indicated that he
was not averse to taking a draw, and between two mouthfuls, with the oil
thick on his lips, sucked away at the amber stem. And thereupon Nam-Bok
held his stomach with a shaky hand and declined the proffered return.
Koogah could keep the pipe, he said, for he had intended so to honor him
from the first. And the people licked their fingers and approved of his
Opee-Kwan rose to his feet. "And now, O Nam-Bok, the feast is ended, and
we would listen concerning the strange things you have seen."
The fisherfolk applauded with their hands, and gathering about them
their work, prepared to listen. The men were busy fashioning spears and
carving on ivory, while the women scraped the fat from the hides of the
hair seal and made them pliable or sewed muclucs with threads of sinew.
Nam-Bok's eyes roved over the scene, but there was not the charm about
it that his recollection had warranted him to expect. During the years
of his wandering he had looked forward to just this scene, and now that
it had come he was disappointed. It was a bare and meagre life, he
deemed, and not to be compared to the one to which he had become used.
Still, he would open their eyes a bit, and his own eyes sparkled at the
"Brothers," he began, with the smug complacency of a man about to relate
the big things he has done, "it was late summer of many summers back,
with much such weather as this promises to be, when I went away. You all
remember the day, when the gulls flew low, and the wind blew strong from
the land, and I could not hold my bidarka against it. I tied the
covering of the bidarka about me so that no water could get in, and all
of the night I fought with the storm. And in the morning there was no
land,--only the sea,--and the off-shore wind held me close in its arms
and bore me along. Three such nights whitened into dawn and showed me no
land, and the off-shore wind would not let me go.
"And when the fourth day came, I was as a madman. I could not dip my
paddle for want of food; and my head went round and round, what of the
thirst that was upon me. But the sea was no longer angry, and the soft
south wind was blowing, and as I looked about me I saw a sight that made
me think I was indeed mad."
Nam-Bok paused to pick away a sliver of salmon lodged between his teeth,
and the men and women, with idle hands and heads craned forward, waited.
"It was a canoe, a big canoe. If all the canoes I have ever seen were
made into one canoe, it would not be so large."
There were exclamations of doubt, and Koogah, whose years were many,
shook his head.
"If each bidarka were as a grain of sand," Nam-Bok defiantly continued,
"and if there were as many bidarkas as there be grains of sand in this
beach, still would they not make so big a canoe as this I saw on the
morning of the fourth day. It was a very big canoe, and it was called a
_schooner_. I saw this thing of wonder, this great schooner, coming
after me, and on it I saw men----"
"Hold, O Nam-Bok!" Opee-Kwan broke in. "What manner of men were
"Nay, mere men like you and me."
"Did the big canoe come fast?"
"The sides were tall, the men short." Opee-Kwan stated the premises with
conviction. "And did these men dip with long paddles?"
Nam-Bok grinned. "There were no paddles," he said.
Mouths remained open, and a long silence dropped down. Ope-Kwan
borrowed Koogah's pipe for a couple of contemplative sucks. One of the
younger women giggled nervously and drew upon herself angry eyes.
"There were no paddles?" Opee-Kwan asked softly, returning the pipe.
"The south wind was behind," Nam-Bok explained.
"But the wind drift is slow."
"The schooner had wings--thus." He sketched a diagram of masts and sails
in the sand, and the men crowded around and studied it. The wind was
blowing briskly, and for more graphic elucidation he seized the corners
of his mother's shawl and spread them out till it bellied like a sail.
Bask Wah-Wan scolded and struggled, but was blown down the breach for a
score of feet and left breathless and stranded in a heap of driftwood.
The men uttered sage grunts of comprehension, but Koogah suddenly tossed
back his hoary head.
"Ho! Ho!" he laughed. "A foolish thing, this big canoe! A most foolish
thing! The plaything of the wind! Wheresoever the wind goes, it goes
too. No man who journeys therein may name the landing beach, for always
he goes with the wind, and the wind goes everywhere, but no man knows
"It is so," Opee-Kwan supplemented gravely. "With the wind the going is
easy, but against the wind a man striveth hard; and for that they had no
paddles these men on the big canoe did not strive at all."
"Small need to strive," Nam-Bok cried angrily. "The schooner went
likewise against the wind."
"And what said you made the sch--sch--schooner go?" Koogah asked,
tripping craftily over the strange word.
"The wind," was the impatient response.
"Then the wind made the sch--sch--schooner go against the wind." Old
Koogah dropped an open leer to Opee-Kwan, and, the laughter growing
around him, continued: "The wind blows from the south and blows the
schooner south. The wind blows against the wind. The wind blows one way
and the other at the same time. It is very simple. We understand,
Nam-Bok. We clearly understand."
"Thou art a fool!"
"Truth falls from thy lips," Koogah answered meekly. "I was over-long
in understanding, and the thing was simple."
But Nam-Bok's face was dark, and he said rapid words which they had
never heard before. Bone-scratching and skin-scraping were resumed, but
he shut his lips tightly on the tongue that could not be believed.
"This sch--sch--schooner," Koogah imperturbably asked; "it was made of a
"It was made of many trees," Nam-Bok snapped shortly. "It was very big."
He lapsed into sullen silence again, and Opee-Kwan nudged Koogah, who
shook his head with slow amazement and murmured, "It is very strange."
Nam-Bok took the bait. "That is nothing," he said airily; "you should
see the _steamer._ As the grain of sand is to the bidarka, as the
bidarka is to the schooner, so the schooner is to the steamer. Further,
the steamer is made of iron. It is all iron."
"Nay, nay, Nam-Bok," cried the head man; "how can that be? Always iron
goes to the bottom. For behold, I received an iron knife in trade from
the head man of the next village, and yesterday the iron knife slipped
from my fingers and went down, down, into the sea. To all things there
be law. Never was there one thing outside the law. This we know. And,
moreover, we know that things of a kind have the one law, and that all
iron has the one law. So unsay thy words, Nam-Bok, that we may yet honor
"It is so," Nam-Bok persisted. "The steamer is all iron and does not
"Nay, nay; this cannot be."
"With my own eyes I saw it."
"It is not in the nature of things."
"But tell me, Nam-Bok," Koogah interrupted, for fear the tale would go
no farther, "tell me the manner of these men in finding their way across
the sea when there is no land by which to steer."
"The sun points out the path."
"At midday the head man of the schooner takes a thing through which his
eye looks at the sun, and then he makes the sun climb down out of the
sky to the edge of the earth."
"Now this be evil medicine!" cried Opee-Kwan, aghast at the sacrilege.
The men held up their hands in horror, and the women moaned. "This be
evil medicine. It is not good to misdirect the great sun which drives
away the night and gives us the seal, the salmon, and warm weather."
"What if it be evil medicine?" Nam-Bok demanded truculently. "I, too,
have looked through the thing at the sun and made the sun climb down out
of the sky."
Those who were nearest drew away from him hurriedly, and a woman covered
the face of a child at her breast so that his eye might not fall upon
"But on the morning of the fourth day, O Nam-Bok," Koogah suggested; "on
the morning of the fourth day when the sch--sch--schooner came after
"I had little strength left in me and could not run away. So I was taken
on board and water was poured down my throat and good food given me.
Twice, my brothers, you have seen a white man. These men were all white
and as many as have I fingers and toes. And when I saw they were full of
kindness, I took heart, and I resolved to bring away with me report of
all that I saw. And they taught me the work they did, and gave me good
food and a place to sleep.
"And day after day we went over the sea, and each day the head man drew
the sun down out of the sky and made it tell where we were. And when the
waves were kind, we hunted the fur seal and I marvelled much, for always
did they fling the meat and the fat away and save only the skin."
Opee-Kwan's mouth was twitching violently, and he was about to make
denunciation of such waste when Koogah kicked him to be still.
"After a weary time, when the sun was gone and the bite of the frost
come into the air, the head man pointed the nose of the schooner south.
South and east we traveled for days upon days, with never the land in
sight, and we were near to the village from which hailed the men----"
"How did they know they were near?" Opee-Kwan, unable to contain himself
longer, demanded. "There was no land to see."
Nam-Bok glowered on him wrathfully. "Did I not say the head man brought
the sun down out of the sky?"
Koogah interposed, and Nam-Bok went on. "As I say, when we were near to
that village a great storm blew up, and in the night we were helpless
and knew not where we were----"
"Thou hast just said the head man knew----"
"Oh, peace, Opee-Kwan. Thou art a fool and cannot understand. As I say,
we were helpless in the night, when I heard, above the roar of the
storm, the sound of the sea on the beach. And next we struck with a
mighty crash and I was in the water, swimming. It was a rock-bound
coast, with one patch of beach in many miles, and the law was that I
should dig my hands into the sand and draw myself clear of the surf. The
other men must have pounded against the rocks, for none of them came
ashore but the head man, and him I knew only by the ring on his finger.
"When day came, there being nothing of the schooner, I turned my face to
the land and journeyed into it that I might get food and look upon the
faces of the people. And when I came to a house I was taken in and given
to eat, for I had learned their speech, and the white men are ever
kindly. And it was a house bigger than all the houses built by us and
our fathers before us."
"It was a mighty house," Koogah said, masking his unbelief with wonder.
"And many trees went into the making of such a house," Opee-Kwan added,
taking the cue.
"That is nothing." Nam-Bok shrugged his shoulders in belittling fashion.
"As our houses are to that house, so that house was to the houses I was
yet to see."
"And they are not big men?"
"Nay; mere men like you and me," Nam-Bok answered. "I had cut a stick
that I might walk in comfort, and remembering that I was to bring report
to you, my brothers, I cut a notch in the stick for each person who
lived in that house. And I stayed there many days, and worked, for which
they gave me _money_--a thing of which you know nothing, but which is
"And one day I departed from that place to go farther into the land. And
as I walked I met many people, and I cut smaller notches in the stick,
that there might be room for all. Then I came upon a strange thing. On
the ground before me was a bar of iron, as big in thickness as my arm,
and a long step away was another bar of iron----"
"Then wert thou a rich man," Opee-Kwan asserted; "for iron be worth more
than anything else in the world. It would have made many knives."
"Nay, it was not mine."
"It was a find, and a find be lawful."
"Not so; the white men had placed it there. And further, these bars were
so long that no man could carry them away--so long that as far as I
could see there was no end to them."
"Nam-Bok, that is very much iron," Opee-Kwan cautioned.
"Ay, it was hard to believe with my own eyes upon it; but I could not
gainsay my eyes. And as I looked I heard ..." He turned abruptly upon
the head man. "Opee-Kwan, thou hast heard the sea-lion bellow in his
anger. Make it plain in thy mind of as many sea-lions as there be waves
to the sea, and make it plain that all these sea-lions be made into one
sea-lion, and as that one sea-lion would bellow so bellowed the thing I
The fisherfolk cried aloud in astonishment, and Opee-Kwan's jaw lowered
and remained lowered.
"And in the distance I saw a monster like unto a thousand whales. It was
one-eyed, and vomited smoke, and it snorted with exceeding loudness. I
was afraid and ran with shaking legs along the path between the bars.
But it came with speed of the wind, this monster, and I leaped the iron
bars with its breath hot on my face ..."
Opee-Kwan gained control of his jaw again. "And--and then, O Nam-Bok?"
"Then it came by on the bars, and harmed me not; and when my legs could
hold me up again it was gone from sight. And it is a very common thing
in that country. Even the women and children are not afraid. Men make
them to do work, these monsters."
"As we make our dogs do work?" Koogah asked, with sceptic twinkle in his
"Ay, as we make our dogs do work."
"And how do they breed these--these things?" Opee-Kwan questioned.
"They breed not at all. Men fashion them cunningly of iron, and feed
them with stone, and give them water to drink. The stone becomes fire,
and the water becomes steam, and the steam of the water is the breath of
their nostrils, and--"
"There, there, O Nam-Bok," Opee-Kwan interrupted. "Tell us of other
wonders. We grow tired of this which we may not understand."
"You do not understand?" Nam-Bok asked despairingly.
"Nay, we do not understand," the men and women wailed back. "We cannot
Nam-Bok thought of a combined harvester, and of the machines wherein
visions of living men were to be seen, and of the machines from which
came the voices of men, and he knew his people could never understand.
"Dare I say I rode this iron monster through the land?" he asked
Opee-Kwan threw up his hands, palms outward, in open incredulity. "Say
on; say anything. We listen."
"Then did I ride the iron monster, for which I gave money--"
"Thou saidst it was fed with stone."
"And likewise, thou fool, I said money was a thing of which you know
nothing. As I say, I rode the monster through the land, and through
many villages, until I came to a big village on a salt arm of the sea.
And the houses shoved their roofs among the stars in the sky, and the
clouds drifted by them, and everywhere was much smoke. And the roar of
that village was like the roar of the sea in storm, and the people were
so many that I flung away my stick and no longer remembered the notches
"Hadst thou made small notches," Koogah reproved, "thou mightst have
Nam-Bok whirled upon him in anger. "Had I made small notches! Listen,
Koogah, thou scratcher of bone! If I had made small notches neither the
stick, nor twenty sticks, could have borne them--nay, not all the
driftwood of all the beaches between this village and the next. And if
all of you, the women and children as well, were twenty times as many,
and if you had twenty hands each, and in each hand a stick and a knife,
still the notches could not be cut for the people I saw, so many were
they and so fast did they come and go."
"There cannot be so many people in all the world," Opee-Kwan objected,
for he was stunned and his mind could not grasp such magnitude of
"What dost thou know of all the world and how large it is?" Nam-Bok
"But there cannot be so many people in one place."
"Who art thou to say what can be and what cannot be?"
"It stands to reason there cannot be so many people in one place. Their
canoes would clutter the sea till there was no room. And they could
empty the sea each day of its fish, and they would not all be fed."
"So it would seem," Nam-Bok made final answer; "yet it was so. With my
own eyes I saw, and flung my stick away." He yawned heavily and rose to
his feet. "I have paddled far. The day has been long, and I am tired.
Now I will sleep, and to-morrow we will have further talk upon the
things I have seen."
Bask-Wah-Wan, hobbling fearfully in advance, proud indeed, yet awed by
her wonderful son, led him to her _igloo_ and stowed him away among the
greasy, ill-smelling furs. But the men lingered by the fire, and a
council was held wherein was there much whispering and low-voiced
An hour passed, and a second, and Nam-Bok slept, and the talk went on.
The evening sun dipped toward the northwest, and at eleven at night was
nearly due north. Then it was that the head man and the bone-scratcher
separated themselves from the council and aroused Nam-Bok. He blinked up
into their faces and turned on his side to sleep again. Opee-Kwan
gripped him by the arm and kindly but firmly shook his senses back into
"Come, Nam-Bok, arise!" he commanded. "It be time."
"Another feast!" Nam-Bok cried. "Nay, I am not hungry. Go on with the
eating and let me sleep."
"Time to be gone!" Koogah thundered.
But Opee-Kwan spoke more softly. "Thou wast bidarka-mate with me when we
were boys," he said. "Together we first chased the seal and drew the
salmon from the traps. And thou didst drag me back to life, Nam-Bok,
when the sea closed over me and I was sucked down to the black rocks.
Together we hungered and bore the chill of the frost, and together we
crawled beneath the one fur and lay close to each other. And because of
these things, and the kindness in which I stood to thee, it grieves me
sore that thou shouldst return such a remarkable liar. We cannot
understand, and our heads be dizzy with the things thou hast spoken. It
is not good, and there has been much talk in the council. Wherefore we
send thee away, that our heads may remain clear and strong and be not
troubled by the unaccountable things."
"These things thou speakest of be shadows," Koogah took up the strain.
"From the shadow-world thou hast brought them, and to the shadow-world
thou must return them. Thy bidarka be ready, and the tribespeople wait.
They may not sleep until thou art gone."
Nam-Bok was perplexed, but hearkened to the voice of the head man.
"If thou art Nam-Bok," Opee-Kwan was saying, "thou art a fearful and
most wonderful liar; if thou art the shadow of Nam-Bok, then thou
speakest of shadows, concerning which it is not good that living men
have knowledge. This great village thou hast spoken of we deem the
village of shadows. Therein flutter the souls of the dead; for the dead
be many and the living few. The dead do not come back. Never have the
dead come back--save thou with thy wonder-tales. It is not meet that the
dead come back, and should we permit it, great trouble may be our
Nam-Bok knew his people well and was aware that the voice of the council
was supreme. So he allowed himself to be led down to the water's edge,
where he was put aboard his bidarka and a paddle thrust into his hand. A
stray wildfowl honked somewhere to seaward, and the surf broke limply
and hollowly on the sand. A dim twilight brooded over land and water,
and in the north the sun smouldered, vague and troubled, and draped
about with blood-red mists. The gulls were flying low. The off-shore
wind blew keen and chill, and the black-massed clouds behind it gave
promise of bitter weather.
"Out of the sea thou earnest," Opee-Kwan chanted oracularly, "and back
into the sea thou goest. Thus is balance achieved and all things brought
Bask-Wah-Wan limped to the froth-mark and cried, "I bless thee,
Nam-Bok, for that thou remembered me."
But Koogah, shoving Nam-Bok clear or the beach, tore the shawl from her
shoulders and flung it into the bidarka.
"It is cold in the long nights," she wailed; "and the frost is prone to
nip old bones."
"The thing is a shadow," the bone-scratcher answered, "and shadows
cannot keep thee warm."
Nam-Bok stood up that his voice might carry. "O Bask-Wah-Wan, mother
that bore me!" he called. "Listen to the words of Nam-Bok, thy son.
There be room in his bidarka for two, and he would that thou earnest
with him. For his journey is to where there are fish and oil in plenty.
There the frost comes not, and life is easy, and the things of iron do
the work of men. Wilt thou come, O Bask-Wah-Wan?"
She debated a moment, while the bidarka drifted swiftly from her, then
raised her voice to a quavering treble. "I am old, Nam-Bok, and soon I
shall pass down among the shadows. But I have no wish to go before my
time. I am old, Nam-Bok, and I am afraid."
A shaft of light shot across the dim-lit sea and wrapped boat and man
in a splendor of red and gold. Then a hush fell upon the fisherfolk, and
only was heard the moan of the off-shore wind and the cries of the gulls
flying low in the air.
"I'm not wanting to dictate to you, lad," Charley said, "but I'm very
much against your making a last raid. You've gone safely through rough
times with rough men, and it would be a shame to have something happen
to you at the very end."
"But how can I get out of making a last raid?" I demanded, with the
cocksureness of youth. "There always has to be a last, you know, to
Charley crossed his legs, leaned back, and considered the problem. "Very
true. But why not call the capture of Demetrios Contos the last? You're
back from it safe and sound and hearty, for all your good wetting,
and--and----" His voice broke and he could not speak for a moment. "And
I could never forgive myself if anything happened to you now."
I laughed at Charley's fears while I gave in to the claims of his
affection, and agreed to consider the last raid already performed. We
had been together for two years, and now I was leaving the fish patrol
in order to go back and finish my education. I had earned and saved
money to put me through three years at the high school, and though the
beginning of the term was several months away, I intended doing a lot of
studying for the entrance examinations.
My belongings were packed snugly in a sea-chest, and I was all ready to
buy my ticket and ride down on the train to Oakland, when Neil
Partington arrived in Benicia. The _Reindeer_ was needed immediately for
work far down on the Lower Bay, and Neil said he intended to run
straight for Oakland. As that was his home and as I was to live with his
family while going to school, he saw no reason, he said, why I should
not put my chest aboard and come along.
So the chest went aboard, and in the middle of the afternoon we hoisted
the _Reindeer's_ big mainsail and cast off. It was tantalizing fall
weather. The sea-breeze, which had blown steadily all summer, was gone,
and in its place were capricious winds and murky skies which made the
time of arriving anywhere extremely problematical. We started on the
first of the ebb, and as we slipped down the Carquinez Straits, I looked
my last for some time upon Benicia and the bight at Turner's Shipyard,
where we had besieged the _Lancashire Queen,_ and had captured Big Alec,
the King of the Greeks. And at the mouth of the Straits I looked with
not a little interest upon the spot where a few days before I should
have drowned but for the good that was in the nature of Demetrios
A great wall of fog advanced across San Pablo Bay to meet us, and in a
few minutes the _Reindeer_ was running blindly through the damp
obscurity. Charley, who was steering, seemed to have an instinct for
that kind of work. How he did it, he himself confessed that he did not
know; but he had a way of calculating winds, currents, distance, time,
drift, and sailing speed that was truly marvellous.
"It looks as though it were lifting," Neil Partington said, a couple of
hours after we had entered the fog. "Where do you say we are, Charley?"
Charley looked at his watch. "Six o'clock, and three hours more of
ebb," he remarked casually.
"But where do you say we are!" Neil insisted.
Charley pondered a moment, and then answered, "The tide has edged us
over a bit out of our course, but if the fog lifts right now, as it is
going to lift, you'll find we're not more than a thousand miles off
"You might be a little more definite by a few miles, anyway," Neil
grumbled, showing by his tone that he disagreed.
"All right, then," Charley said, conclusively, "not less than a quarter
of a mile, nor more than a half."
The wind freshened with a couple of little puffs, and the fog thinned
"McNear's is right off there," Charley said, pointing directly into the
fog on our weather beam.
The three of us were peering intently in that direction, when the
_Reindeer_ struck with a dull crash and came to a standstill. We ran
forward, and found her bowsprit entangled in the tanned rigging of a
short, chunky mast. She had collided, head on, with a Chinese junk
lying at anchor.
At the moment we arrived forward, five Chinese, like so many bees, came
swarming out of the little 'tween-decks cabin, the sleep still in their
Leading them came a big, muscular man, conspicuous for his pock-marked
face and the yellow silk handkerchief swathed about his head. It was
Yellow Handkerchief, the Chinaman whom we had arrested for illegal
shrimp-fishing the year before, and who, at that time, had nearly sunk
the _Reindeer_, as he had nearly sunk it now by violating the rules of
"What d'ye mean, you yellow-faced heathen, lying here in a fairway
without a horn a-going?" Charley cried hotly.
"Mean?" Neil calmly answered. "Just take a look--that's what he means."
Our eyes followed the direction indicated by Neil's finger, and we saw
the open amidships of the junk, half filled, as we found on closer
examination, with fresh-caught shrimps. Mingled with the shrimps were
myriads of small fish, from a quarter of an inch upward in size. Yellow
Handkerchief had lifted the trap-net at high-water slack, and, taking
advantage of the concealment offered by the fog, had boldly been lying
by, waiting to lift the net again at low-water slack.
"Well," Neil hummed and hawed, "in all my varied and extensive
experience as a fish patrolman, I must say this is the easiest capture I
ever made. What'll we do with them, Charley?"
"Tow the junk into San Rafael, of course," came the answer. Charley
turned to me. "You stand by the junk, lad, and I'll pass you a towing
line. If the wind doesn't fail us, we'll make the creek before the tide
gets too low, sleep at San Rafael, and arrive in Oakland to-morrow by
So saying, Charley and Neil returned to the _Reindeer_ and got under
way, the junk towing astern. I went aft and took charge of the prize,
steering by means of an antiquated tiller and a rudder with large,
diamond-shaped holes, through which the water rushed back and forth.
By now the last of the fog had vanished, and Charley's estimate of our
position was confirmed by the sight of McNear's Landing a short
half-mile away, following: along the west shore, we rounded Point Pedro
in plain view of the Chinese shrimp villages, and a great to-do was
raised when they saw one of their junks towing behind the familiar fish
The wind, coming off the land, was rather puffy and uncertain, and it
would have been more to our advantage had it been stronger. San Rafael
Creek, up which we had to go to reach the town and turn over our
prisoners to the authorities, ran through wide-stretching marshes, and
was difficult to navigate on a falling tide, while at low tide it was
impossible to navigate at all. So, with the tide already half-ebbed, it
was necessary for us to make time. This the heavy junk prevented,
lumbering along behind and holding the _Reindeer_ back by just so much
"Tell those coolies to get up that sail," Charley finally called to me.
"We don't want to hang up on the mud flats for the rest of the night."
I repeated the order to Yellow Handkerchief, who mumbled it huskily to
his men. He was suffering from a bad cold, which doubled him up in
convulsive coughing spells and made his eyes heavy and bloodshot. This
made him more evil-looking than ever, and when he glared viciously at
me I remembered with a shiver the close shave I had had with him at the
time of his previous arrest.
His crew sullenly tailed on to the halyards, and the strange, outlandish
sail, lateen in rig and dyed a warm brown, rose in the air. We were
sailing on the wind, and when Yellow Handkerchief flattened down the
sheet the junk forged ahead and the tow-line went slack. Fast as the
_Reindeer_ could sail, the junk outsailed her; and to avoid running her
down I hauled a little closer on the wind. But the junk likewise
outpointed, and in a couple of minutes I was abreast of the _Reindeer_
and to windward. The tow-line had now tautened, at right angles to the
two boats, and the predicament was laughable.
"Cast off!" I shouted.
"It's all right," I added. "Nothing can happen. We'll make the creek on
this tack, and you'll be right behind me all the way up to San Rafael."
At this Charley cast off, and Yellow Handkerchief sent one of his men
forward to haul in the line. In the gathering darkness I could just
make out the mouth of San Rafael Creek, and by the time we entered it I
could barely see its banks. The _Reindeer_ was fully five minutes
astern, and we continued to leave her astern as we beat up the narrow,
winding channel. With Charley behind us, it seemed I had little to fear
from my five prisoners; but the darkness prevented my keeping a sharp
eye on them, so I transferred my revolver from my trousers pocket to the
side pocket of my coat, where I could more quickly put my hand on it.
Yellow Handkerchief was the one I feared, and that he knew it and made
use of it, subsequent events will show. He was sitting a few feet away
from me, on what then happened to be the weather side of the junk. I
could scarcely see the outlines of his form, but I soon became convinced
that he was slowly, very slowly, edging closer to me. I watched him
carefully. Steering with my left hand, I slipped my right into my pocket
and got hold of the revolver.
I saw him shift along for a couple of inches, and I was just about to
order him back--the words were trembling on the tip of my tongue--when
I was struck with great force by a heavy figure that had leaped through
the air upon me from the lee side. It was one of the crew. He pinioned
my right arm so that I could not withdraw my hand from my pocket, and at
the same time clapped his other hand over my mouth. Of course, I could
have struggled away from him and freed my hand or gotten my mouth clear
so that I might cry an alarm, but in a trice Yellow Handkerchief was on
top of me.
I struggled around to no purpose in the bottom of the junk, while my
legs and arms were tied and my mouth securely bound in what I afterward
found to be a cotton shirt. Then I was left lying in the bottom. Yellow
Handkerchief took the tiller, issuing his orders in whispers; and from
our position at the time, and from the alteration of the sail, which I
could dimly make out above me as a blot against the stars, I knew the
junk was being headed into the mouth of a small slough which emptied at
that point into San Rafael Creek.
In a couple of minutes we ran softly alongside the bank, and the sail
was silently lowered. The Chinese kept very quiet. Yellow Handkerchief
sat down in the bottom alongside of me, and I could feel him straining
to repress his raspy, hacking cough. Possibly seven or eight minutes
later I heard Charley's voice as the _Reindeer_ went past the mouth of
"I can't tell you how relieved I am," I could plainly hear him saying to
Neil, "that the lad has finished with the fish patrol without accident."
Here Neil said something which I could not catch, and then Charley's
voice went on:
"The youngster takes naturally to the water, and if when he finishes
high school he takes a course in navigation and goes deep sea, I see no
reason why he shouldn't rise to be master of the finest and biggest ship
It was all very flattering to me, but lying there, bound and gagged by
my own prisoners, with the voices growing faint and fainter as the
_Reindeer_ slipped on through the darkness toward San Rafael, I must say
I was not in quite the proper situation to enjoy my smiling future. With
the _Reindeer_ went my last hope. What was to happen next I could not
imagine, for the Chinese were a different race from mine and from what
I knew I was confident that fair play was no part of their make-up.
After waiting a few minutes longer, the crew hoisted the lateen sail,
and Yellow Handkerchief steered down toward the mouth of San Rafael
Creek. The tide was getting lower, and he had difficulty in escaping the
mud-banks. I was hoping he would run aground, but he succeeded in making
the bay without accident.
As we passed out of the creek a noisy discussion arose, which I knew
related to me. Yellow Handkerchief was vehement, but the other four as
vehemently opposed him. It was very evident that he advocated doing away
with me and that they were afraid of the consequences. I was familiar
enough with the Chinese character to know that fear alone restrained
them. But what plan they offered in place of Yellow Handkerchief's
murderous one, I could not make out.
My feelings, as my fate hung in the balance, may be guessed. The
discussion developed into a quarrel, in the midst of which Yellow
Handkerchief unshipped the heavy tiller and sprang toward me. But his
four companions threw themselves between, and a clumsy struggle took
place for possession of the tiller. In the end Yellow Handkerchief was
overcome, and sullenly returned to the steering, while they soundly
berated him for his rashness.
Not long after, the sail was run down and the junk slowly urged forward
by means of the sweeps. I felt it ground gently on the soft mud. Three
of the Chinese--they all wore long sea-boots--got over the side, and the
other two passed me across the rail. With Yellow Handkerchief at my legs
and his two companions at my shoulders, they began to flounder along
through the mud. After some time their feet struck firmer footing, and I
knew they were carrying me up some beach. The location of this beach was
not doubtful in my mind. It could be none other than one of the Marin
Islands, a group of rocky islets which lay off the Marin County shore.
When they reached the firm sand that marked high tide, I was dropped,
and none too gently. Yellow Handkerchief kicked me spitefully in the
ribs, and then the trio floundered back through the mud to the junk. A
moment later I heard the sail go up and slat in the wind as they drew
in the sheet. Then silence fell, and I was left to my own devices for
I remembered having seen tricksters writhe and squirm out of ropes with
which they were bound, but though I writhed and squirmed like a good
fellow, the knots remained as hard as ever, and there was no appreciable
slack. In the course of my squirming, however, I rolled over upon a heap
of clam-shells--the remains, evidently, of some yachting party's
clam-bake. This gave me an idea. My hands were tied behind my back; and,
clutching a shell in them, I rolled over and over, up the beach, till I
came to the rocks I knew to be there.
Rolling around and searching, I finally discovered a narrow crevice,
into which I shoved the shell. The edge of it was sharp, and across the
sharp edge I proceeded to saw the rope that bound my wrists. The edge of
the shell was also brittle, and I broke it by bearing too heavily upon
it. Then I rolled back to the heap and returned with as many shells as I
could carry in both hands. I broke many shells, cut my hands a number of
times, and got cramps in my legs from my strained position and my
While I was suffering from the cramps, and resting, I heard a familiar
halloo drift across the water. It was Charley, searching for me. The gag
in my mouth prevented me from replying, and I could only lie there,
helplessly fuming, while he rowed past the island and his voice slowly
lost itself in the distance.
I returned to the sawing process, and at the end of half an hour
succeeded in severing the rope. The rest was easy. My hands once free,
it was a matter of minutes to loosen my legs and to take the gag out of
my mouth. I ran around the island to make sure it _was_ an island and
not by any chance a portion of the mainland. An island it certainly was,
one of the Marin group, fringed with a sandy beach and surrounded by a
sea of mud. Nothing remained but to wait till daylight and to keep warm;
for it was a cold, raw night for California, with just enough wind to
pierce the skin and cause one to shiver.
To keep up the circulation, I ran around the island a dozen times or so,
and clambered across its rocky backbone as many times more--all of which
was of greater service to me, as I afterward discovered, than merely to
warm me up. In the midst of this exercise I wondered if I had lost
anything out of my pockets while rolling over and over in the sand. A
search showed the absence of my revolver and pocket-knife. The first
Yellow Handkerchief had taken; but the knife had been lost in the sand.
I was hunting for it when the sound of rowlocks came to my ears. At
first, of course, I thought of Charley; but on second thought I knew
Charley would be calling out as he rowed along. A sudden premonition of
danger seized me. The Marin Islands are lonely places; chance visitors
in the dead of night are hardly to be expected. What if it were Yellow
Handkerchief? The sound made by the rowlocks grew more distinct. I
crouched in the sand and listened intently. The boat, which I judged a
small skiff from the quick stroke of the oars, was landing in the mud
about fifty yards up the beach. I heard a raspy, hacking cough, and my
heart stood still. It was Yellow Handkerchief. Not to be robbed of his
revenge by his more cautious companions, he had stolen away from the
village and come back alone.
I did some swift thinking. I was unarmed and helpless on a tiny islet,
and a yellow barbarian, whom I had reason to fear, was coming after me.
Any place was safer than the island, and I turned instinctively to the
water, or rather to the mud. As he began to flounder ashore through the
mud, I started to flounder out into it, going over the same course which
the Chinese had taken in landing me and in returning to the junk.
Yellow Handkerchief, believing me to be lying tightly bound, exercised
no care, but came ashore noisily. This helped me, for, under the shield
of his noise and making no more myself than necessary, I managed to
cover fifty feet by the time he had made the beach. Here I lay down in
the mud. It was cold and clammy, and made me shiver, but I did not care
to stand up and run the risk of being discovered by his sharp eyes.
He walked down the beach straight to where he had left me lying, and I
had a fleeting feeling of regret at not being able to see his surprise
when he did not find me. But it was a very fleeting regret, for my teeth
were chattering with the cold.
What his movements were after that I had largely to deduce from the
facts of the situation, for I could scarcely see him in the dim
starlight. But I was sure that the first thing he did was to make the
circuit of the beach to learn if landings had been made by other boats.
This he would have known at once by the tracks through the mud.
Convinced that no boat had removed me from the island, he next started
to find out what had become of me. Beginning at the pile of clam-shells,
he lighted matches to trace my tracks in the sand. At such times I could
see his villainous face plainly, and, when the sulphur from the matches
irritated his lungs, between the raspy cough that followed and the
clammy mud in which I was lying, I confess I shivered harder than ever.
The multiplicity of my footprints puzzled him. Then the idea that I
might be out in the mud must have struck him, for he waded out a few
yards in my direction, and, stooping, with his eyes searched the dim
surface long and carefully. He could not have been more than fifteen
feet from me, and had he lighted a match he would surely have discovered
He returned to the beach and clambered about over the rocky backbone,
again hunting for me with lighted matches. The closeness of the shave
impelled me to further flight. Not daring to wade upright, on account of
the noise made by floundering and by the suck of the mud, I remained
lying down in the mud and propelled myself over its surface by means of
my hands. Still keeping the trail made by the Chinese in going from and
to the junk, I held on until I reached the water. Into this I waded to a
depth of three feet, and then I turned off to the side on a line
parallel with the beach.
The thought came to me of going toward Yellow Handkerchief's skiff and
escaping in it, but at that very moment he returned to the beach, and,
as though fearing the very thing I had in mind, he slushed out through
the mud to assure himself that the skiff was safe. This turned me in the
opposite direction. Half swimming, half wading, with my head just out of
water and avoiding splashing, I succeeded in putting about a hundred
feet between myself and the spot where the Chinese had begun to wade
ashore from the junk. I drew myself out on the mud and remained lying
Again Yellow Handkerchief returned to the beach and made a search of
the island, and again he returned to the heap of clam-shells. I knew
what was running in his mind as well as he did himself. No one could
leave or land without making tracks in the mud. The only tracks to be
seen were those leading from his skiff and from where the junk had been.
I was not on the island. I must have left it by one or the other of
those two tracks. He had just been over the one to his skiff, and was
certain I had not left that way. Therefore I could have left the island
only by going over the tracks of the junk landing. This he proceeded to
verify by wading out over them himself, lighting matches as he came
When he arrived at the point where I had first lain, I knew, by the
matches he burned and the time he took, that he had discovered the marks
left by my body. These he followed straight to the water and into it,
but in three feet of water he could no longer see them. On the other
hand, as the tide was still falling, he could easily make out the
impression made by the junk's bow, and could have likewise made out the
impression of any other boat if it had landed at that particular spot.
But there was no such mark; and I knew that he was absolutely convinced
that I was hiding somewhere in the mud.
But to hunt on a dark night for a boy in a sea of mud would be like
hunting for a needle in a haystack, and he did not attempt it. Instead
he went back to the beach and prowled around for some time. I was hoping
he would give me up and go, for by this time I was suffering severely
from the cold. At last he waded out to his skiff and rowed away. What if
this departure of Yellow Handkerchief's were a sham? What if he had done
it merely to entice me ashore?
The more I thought of it the more certain I became that he had made a
little too much noise with his oars as he rowed away. So I remained,
lying in the mud and shivering. I shivered till the muscles of the small
of my back ached and pained me as badly as the cold, and I had need of
all my self-control to force myself to remain in my miserable situation.
It was well that I did, however, for, possibly an hour later, I thought
I could make out something moving on the beach. I watched intently, but
my ears were rewarded first, by a raspy cough I knew only too well.
Yellow Handkerchief had sneaked back, landed on the other side of the
island, and crept around to surprise me if I had returned.
After that, though hours passed without sign of him, I was afraid to
return to the island at all. On the other hand, I was almost equally
afraid that I should die of the exposure I was undergoing. I had never
dreamed one could suffer so. I grew so cold and numb, finally, that I
ceased to shiver. But my muscles and bones began to ache in a way that
was agony. The tide had long since begun to rise and, foot by foot, it
drove me in toward the beach. High water came at three o'clock, and at
three o'clock I drew myself up on the beach, more dead than alive, and
too helpless to have offered any resistance had Yellow Handkerchief
swooped down upon me.
But no Yellow Handkerchief appeared. He had given me up and gone back to
Point Pedro. Nevertheless, I was in a deplorable, not to say a
dangerous, condition. I could not stand upon my feet, much less walk. My
clammy, muddy garments clung to me like sheets of ice. I thought I
should never get them off. So numb and lifeless were my fingers, and so
weak was I that it seemed to take an hour to get off my shoes. I had not
the strength to break the porpoise-hide laces, and the knots defied me.
I repeatedly beat my hands upon the rocks to get some sort of life into
them. Sometimes I felt sure I was going to die.
But in the end,--after several centuries, it seemed to me,--I got off
the last of my clothes. The water was now close at hand, and I crawled
painfully into it and washed the mud from my naked body. Still, I could
not get on my feet and walk and I was afraid to lie still. Nothing
remained but to crawl weakly, like a snail, and at the cost of constant
pain, up and down the sand. I kept this up as long as possible, but as
the east paled with the coming of dawn I began to succumb. The sky grew
rosy-red, and the golden rim of the sun, showing above the horizon,
found me lying helpless and motionless among the clam-shells.
As in a dream, I saw the familiar mainsail of the _Reindeer_ as she
slipped out of San Rafael Creek on a light puff of morning air. This
dream was very much broken. There are intervals I can never recollect on
looking back over it. Three things, however, I distinctly remember: the
first sight of the _Reindeer's_ mainsail; her lying at anchor a few
hundred feet away and a small boat leaving her side; and the cabin stove
roaring red-hot, myself swathed all over with blankets, except on the
chest and shoulders, which Charley was pounding and mauling
unmercifully, and my mouth and throat burning with the coffee which Neil
Partington was pouring down a trifle too hot.
But burn or no burn, I tell you it felt good. By the time we arrived in
Oakland I was as limber and strong as ever,--though Charley and Neil
Partington were afraid I was going to have pneumonia, and Mrs.
Partington, for my first six months of school, kept an anxious eye upon
me to discover the first symptoms of consumption.
Time flies. It seems but yesterday that I was a lad of sixteen on the
fish patrol. Yet I know that I arrived this very morning from China,
with a quick passage to my credit, and master of the barkentine
_Harvester_. And I know that to-morrow morning I shall run over to
Oakland to see Neil Partington and his wife and family, and later on up
to Benicia to see Charley Le Grant and talk over old times. No; I shall
not go to Benicia, now that I think about it. I expect to be a highly
interested party to a wedding, shortly to take place. Her name is Alice
Partington, and, since Charley has promised to be best man, he will have
to come down to Oakland instead.
_Whatever you do, make westing! make westing!_
--Sailing directions for Cape Horn.
For seven weeks the _Mary Rogers_ had been between 50 deg. south in the
Atlantic and 50 deg. south in the Pacific, which meant that for seven weeks
she had been struggling to round Cape Horn. For seven weeks she had been
either in dirt, or close to dirt, save once, and then, following upon
six days of excessive dirt, which she had ridden out under the shelter
of the redoubtable Terra Del Fuego coast, she had almost gone ashore
during a heavy swell in the dead calm that had suddenly fallen. For
seven weeks she had wrestled with the Cape Horn gray-beards, and in
return been buffeted and smashed by them. She was a wooden ship, and her
ceaseless straining had opened her seams, so that twice a day the watch
took its turn at the pumps.
The _Mary Rogers_ was strained, the crew was strained, and big Dan
Cullen, master, was likewise strained. Perhaps he was strained most of
all, for upon him rested the responsibility of that titanic struggle. He
slept most of the time in his clothes, though he rarely slept. He
haunted the deck at night, a great, burly, robust ghost, black with the
sunburn of thirty years of sea and hairy as an orang-utan. He, in turn,
was haunted by one thought of action, a sailing direction for the Horn:
_Whatever you do, make westing! make westing!_ It was an obsession. He
thought of nothing else, except, at times, to blaspheme God for sending
such bitter weather.
_Make westing!_ He hugged the Horn, and a dozen times lay hove to with
the iron Cape bearing east-by-north, or north-north-east, a score of
miles away. And each time the eternal west wind smote him back and he
made easting. He fought gale after gale, south to 64 deg., inside the
antarctic drift-ice, and pledged his immortal soul to the Powers of
Darkness for a bit of westing, for a slant to take him around. And he
made easting. In despair, he had tried to make the passage through the
Straits of Le Maire. Halfway through, the wind hauled to the north 'ard
of northwest, the glass dropped to 28.88, and he turned and ran before a
gale of cyclonic fury, missing, by a hair's breadth, piling up the _Mary
Rogers_ on the black-toothed rocks. Twice he had made west to the Diego
Ramirez Rocks, one of the times saved between two snow-squalls by
sighting the gravestones of ships a quarter of a mile dead ahead.
Blow! Captain Dan Cullen instanced all his thirty years at sea to prove
that never had it blown so before. The _Mary Rogers_ was hove to at the
time he gave the evidence, and, to clinch it, inside half an hour the
_Mary Rogers_ was hove down to the hatches. Her new main-topsail and
brand new spencer were blown away like tissue paper; and five sails,
furled and fast under double gaskets, were blown loose and stripped from
the yards. And before morning the _Mary Rogers_ was hove down twice
again, and holes were knocked in her bulwarks to ease her decks from
the weight of ocean that pressed her down.
On an average of once a week Captain Dan Cullen caught glimpses of the
sun. Once, for ten minutes, the sun shone at midday, and ten minutes
afterward a new gale was piping up, both watches were shortening sail,
and all was buried in the obscurity of a driving snow-squall. For a
fortnight, once, Captain Dan Cullen was without a meridian or a
chronometer sight. Rarely did he know his position within half a degree,
except when in sight of land; for sun and stars remained hidden behind
the sky, and it was so gloomy that even at the best the horizons were
poor for accurate observations. A gray gloom shrouded the world. The
clouds were gray; the great driving seas were leaden gray gloom shrouded
the world. The clouds were gray; the great driving seas were leadening;
even the occasional albatrosses were gray, while the snow-flurries were
not white, but gray, under the sombre pall of the heavens.
Life on board the _Mary Rogers_ was gray,--gray and gloomy. The faces of
the sailors were blue-gray; they were afflicted with sea-cuts and
sea-boils, and suffered exquisitely. They were shadows of men. For
seven weeks, in the forecastle or on deck, they had not known what it
was to be dry. They had forgotten what it was to sleep out a watch, and
all watches it was, "All hands on deck!" They caught snatches of
agonized sleep, and they slept in their oilskins ready for the
everlasting call. So weak and worn were they that it took both watches
to do the work of one. That was why both watches were on deck so much of
the time. And no shadow of a man could shirk duty. Nothing less than a
broken leg could enable a man to knock off work; and there were two
such, who had been mauled and pulped by the seas that broke aboard.
One other man who was the shadow of a man was George Dorety. He was the
only passenger on board, a friend of the firm, and he had elected to
make the voyage for his health. But seven weeks of Cape Horn had not
bettered his health. He gasped and panted in his bunk through the long,
heaving nights; and when on deck he was so bundled up for warmth that he
resembled a peripatetic old-clothes shop. At midday, eating at the cabin
table in a gloom so deep that the swinging sea-lamps burned always, he
looked as blue-gray as the sickest, saddest man for'ard. Nor did gazing
across the table at Captain Dan Cullen have any cheering effect upon
him. Captain Cullen chewed and scowled and kept silent. The scowls were
for God, and with every chew he reiterated the sole thought of his
existence, which was _make westing._ He was a big, hairy brute, and the
sight of him was not stimulating to the other's appetite. He looked upon
George Dorety as a Jonah, and told him so, once each meal, savagely
transferring the scowl from God to the passenger and back again.
Nor did the mate prove a first aid to a languid appetite. Joshua Higgins
by name, a seaman by profession and pull, but a pot-wolloper by
capacity, he was a loose-jointed, sniffling creature, heartless and
selfish and cowardly, without a soul, in fear of his life of Dan Cullen,
and a bully over the sailors, who knew that behind the mate was Captain
Cullen, the lawgiver and compeller, the driver and the destroyer, the
incarnation of a dozen bucko mates. In that wild weather at the southern
end of the earth, Joshua Higgins ceased washing. His grimy face usually
robbed George Dorety of what little appetite he managed to accumulate.
Ordinarily this lavatorial dereliction would have caught Captain
Cullen's eye and vocabulary, but in the present his mind was filled with
making westing, to the exclusion of all other things not contributory
thereto. Whether the mate's face was clean or dirty had no bearing upon
westing. Later on, when 50 deg. south in the Pacific had been reached,
Joshua Higgins would wash his face very abruptly. In the meantime, at
the cabin table, where gray twilight alternated with lamplight while the
lamps were being filled, George Dorety sat between the two men, one a
tiger and the other a hyena, and wondered why God had made them. The