Part 3 out of 3
"It is very far from the Chilcat to the Skoot, and we were many days
in the canoes. And the while the men bent to the paddles, I sat at the
feet of Ligoun and received the Law. Of small need for me to say the
Law, O Hair-Face, for it be known to me that in this thou art well
skilled. Yet do I speak of the Law of blood for blood, and rank for
rank. Also did Ligoun go deeper into the matter, saying:--
"'But know this, O Olo, that there be little honor in the killing of a
man less than thee. Kill always the man who is greater, and thy honor
shall be according to his greatness. But if, of two men, thou killest
the lesser, then is shame thine, for which the very squaws will lift
their lips at thee. As I say, peace be good; but remember, O Olo, if
kill thou must, that thou killest by the Law.'
"It is a way of the Thlinket-folk," Palitlum vouchsafed half
And I remembered the gun-fighters and bad men of my own Western land,
and was not perplexed at the way of the Thlinket-folk.
"In time," Palitlum continued, "we came to Chief Niblack and the
Skoots. It was a feast great almost as the potlatch of Ligoun. There
were we of the Chilcat, and the Sitkas, and the Stickeens who are
neighbors to the Skoots, and the Wrangels and the Hoonahs. There were
Sundowns and Tahkos from Port Houghton, and their neighbors the Awks
from Douglass Channel; the Naass River people, and the Tongas from
north of Dixon, and the Kakes who come from the island called
Kupreanoff. Then there were Siwashes from Vancouver, Cassiars from the
Gold Mountains, Teslin men, and even Sticks from the Yukon Country.
"It was a mighty gathering. But first of all, there was to be a
meeting of the chiefs with Niblack, and a drowning of all enmities in
quass. The Russians it was who showed us the way of making quass, for
so my father told me,--my father, who got it from his father before
him. But to this quass had Niblack added many things, such as sugar,
flour, dried apples, and hops, so that it was a man's drink, strong
and good. Not so good as 'Three Star,' O Hair-Face, yet good.
"This quass-feast was for the chiefs, and the chiefs only, and there
was a score of them. But Ligoun being very old and very great, it was
given that I walk with him that he might lean upon my shoulder and
that I might ease him down when he took his seat and raise him up when
he arose. At the door of Niblack's house, which was of logs and very
big, each chief, as was the custom, laid down his spear or rifle and
his knife. For as thou knowest, O Hair-Face, strong drink quickens,
and old hates flame up, and head and hand are swift to act. But I
noted that Ligoun had brought two knives, the one he left outside the
door, the other slipped under his blanket, snug to the grip. The other
chiefs did likewise, and I was troubled for what was to come.
"The chiefs were ranged, sitting, in a big circle about the room. I
stood at Ligoun's elbow. In the middle was the barrel of quass, and by
it a slave to serve the drink. First, Niblack made oration, with much
show of friendship and many fine words. Then he gave a sign, and the
slave dipped a gourd full of quass and passed it to Ligoun, as was
fit, for his was the highest rank.
"Ligoun drank it, to the last drop, and I gave him my strength to get
on his feet so that he, too, might make oration. He had kind speech
for the many tribes, noted the greatness of Niblack to give such a
feast, counselled for peace as was his custom, and at the end said
that the quass was very good.
"Then Niblack drank, being next of rank to Ligoun, and after him one
chief and another in degree and order. And each spoke friendly words
and said that the quass was good, till all had drunk. Did I say all?
Nay, not all, O Hair-Face. For last of them was one, a lean and
catlike man, young of face, with a quick and daring eye, who drank
darkly, and spat forth upon the ground, and spoke no word.
"To not say that the quass was good were insult; to spit forth upon
the ground were worse than insult. And this very thing did he do. He
was known for a chief over the Sticks of the Yukon, and further naught
was known of him.
"As I say, it was an insult. But mark this, O Hair-Face: it was an
insult, not to Niblack the feast-giver, but to the man chiefest of
rank who sat among those of the circle. And that man was Ligoun. There
was no sound. All eyes were upon him to see what he might do. He made
no movement. His withered lips trembled not into speech; nor did a
nostril quiver, nor an eyelid droop. But I saw that he looked wan
and gray, as I have seen old men look of bitter mornings when famine
pressed, and the women wailed and the children whimpered, and there
was no meat nor sign of meat. And as the old men looked, so looked
"There was no sound. It were as a circle of the dead, but that each
chief felt beneath his blanket to make sure, and that each chief
glanced to his neighbor, right and left, with a measuring eye. I was
a stripling; the things I had seen were few; yet I knew it to be the
moment one meets but once in all a lifetime.
"The Stick rose up, with every eye upon him, and crossed the room till
he stood before Ligoun.
"'I am Opitsah, the Knife,' he said.
"But Ligoun said naught, nor looked at him, but gazed unblinking at
"'You are Ligoun,' Opitsah said. 'You have killed many men. I am still
"And still Ligoun said naught, though he made the sign to me and with
my strength arose and stood upright on his two feet. He was as an old
pine, naked and gray, but still a-shoulder to the frost and storm. His
eyes were unblinking, and as he had not heard Opitsah, so it seemed he
did not see him.
"And Opitsah was mad with anger, and danced stiff-legged before him,
as men do when they wish to give another shame. And Opitsah sang a
song of his own greatness and the greatness of his people, filled with
bad words for the Chilcats and for Ligoun. And as he danced and sang,
Opitsah threw off his blanket and with his knife drew bright circles
before the face of Ligoun. And the song he sang was the Song of the
"And there was no other sound, only the singing of Opitsah, and the
circle of chiefs that were as dead, save that the flash of the knife
seemed to draw smouldering fire from their eyes. And Ligoun, also, was
very still. Yet did he know his death, and was unafraid. And the knife
sang closer and yet closer to his face, but his eyes were unblinking
and he swayed not to right or left, or this way or that.
"And Opitsah drove in the knife, so, twice on the forehead of Ligoun,
and the red blood leaped after it. And then it was that Ligoun gave me
the sign to bear up under him with my youth that he might walk. And he
laughed with a great scorn, full in the face of Opitsah, the Knife.
And he brushed Opitsah to the side, as one brushes to the side a
low-hanging branch on the trail and passes on.
"And I knew and understood, for there was but shame in the killing of
Opitsah before the faces of a score of greater chiefs. I remembered
the Law, and knew Ligoun had it in mind to kill by the Law. And who,
chiefest of rank but himself, was there but Niblack? And toward
Niblack, leaning on my arm, he walked. And to his other arm, clinging
and striking, was Opitsah, too small to soil with his blood the hands
of so great a man. And though the knife of Opitsah bit in again and
again, Ligoun noted it not, nor winced. And in this fashion we three
went our way across the room, Niblack sitting in his blanket and
fearful of our coming.
"And now old hates flamed up and forgotten grudges were remembered.
Lamuk, a Kake, had had a brother drowned in the bad water of the
Stickeen, and the Stickeens had not paid in blankets for their bad
water, as was the custom to pay. So Lamuk drove straight with his
long knife to the heart of Klok-Kutz the Stickeen. And Katchahook
remembered a quarrel of the Naass River people with the Tongas of
north of Dixon, and the chief of the Tongas he slew with a pistol
which made much noise. And the blood-hunger gripped all the men who
sat in the circle, and chief slew chief, or was slain, as chance might
be. Also did they stab and shoot at Ligoun, for whoso killed him won
great honor and would be unforgotten for the deed. And they were about
him like wolves about a moose, only they were so many they were in
their own way, and they slew one another to make room. And there was
"But Ligoun went slowly, without haste, as though many years were yet
before him. It seemed that he was certain he would make his kill, in
his own way, ere they could slay him. And as I say, he went slowly,
and knives bit into him, and he was red with blood. And though none
sought after me, who was a mere stripling, yet did the knives find me,
and the hot bullets burn me. And still Ligoun leaned his weight on my
youth, and Opitsah struck at him, and we three went forward. And when
we stood by Niblack, he was afraid, and covered his head with his
blanket. The Skoots were ever cowards.
"And Goolzug and Kadishan, the one a fish-eater and the other a
meat-killer, closed together for the honor of their tribes. And they
raged madly about, and in their battling swung against the knees of
Opitsah, who was overthrown and trampled upon. And a knife, singing
through the air, smote Skulpin, of the Sitkas, in the throat, and he
flung his arms out blindly, reeling, and dragged me down in his fall.
"And from the ground I beheld Ligoun bend over Niblack, and uncover
the blanket from his head, and turn up his face to the light. And
Ligoun was in no haste. Being blinded with his own blood, he swept
it out of his eyes with the back of his hand, so he might see and be
sure. And when he was sure that the upturned face was the face of
Niblack, he drew the knife across his throat as one draws a knife
across the throat of a trembling deer. And then Ligoun stood erect,
singing his death-song and swaying gently to and fro. And Skulpin, who
had dragged me down, shot with a pistol from where he lay, and Ligoun
toppled and fell, as an old pine topples and falls in the teeth of the
Palitlum ceased. His eyes, smouldering moodily, were bent upon the
fire, and his cheek was dark with blood.
"And thou, Palitlum?" I demanded. "And thou?"
"I? I did remember the Law, and I slew Opitsah the Knife, which was
well. And I drew Ligoun's own knife from the throat of Niblack, and
slew Skulpin, who had dragged me down. For I was a stripling, and I
could slay any man and it were honor. And further, Ligoun being dead,
there was no need for my youth, and I laid about me with his knife,
choosing the chiefest of rank that yet remained."
Palitlum fumbled under his shirt and drew forth a beaded sheath, and
from the sheath, a knife. It was a knife home-wrought and crudely
fashioned from a whip-saw file; a knife such as one may find possessed
by old men in a hundred Alaskan villages.
"The knife of Ligoun?" I said, and Palitlum nodded.
"And for the knife of Ligoun," I said, "will I give thee ten bottles
of 'Three Star.'"
But Palitlum looked at me slowly. "Hair-Face, I am weak as water, and
easy as a woman. I have soiled my belly with quass, and hooch, and
'Three Star.' My eyes are blunted, my ears have lost their keenness,
and my strength has gone into fat. And I am without honor in these
days, and am called Palitlum, the Drinker. Yet honor was mine at the
potlatch of Niblack, on the Skoot, and the memory of it, and the
memory of Ligoun, be dear to me. Nay, didst thou turn the sea itself
into 'Three Star' and say that it were all mine for the knife, yet
would I keep the knife. I am Palitlum, the Drinker, but I was once
Olo, the Ever-Hungry, who bore up Ligoun with his youth!"
"Thou art a great man, Palitlum," I said, "and I honor thee."
Palitlum reached out his hand.
"The 'Three Star' between thy knees be mine for the tale I have told,"
And as I looked on the frown of the cliff at our backs, I saw the
shadow of a man's torso, monstrous beneath a huge inverted bottle.
LI WAN, THE FAIR
"The sun sinks, Canim, and the heat of the day is gone!"
So called Li Wan to the man whose head was hidden beneath the
squirrel-skin robe, but she called softly, as though divided between
the duty of waking him and the fear of him awake. For she was afraid
of this big husband of hers, who was like unto none of the men she had
known. The moose-meat sizzled uneasily, and she moved the frying-pan
to one side of the red embers. As she did so she glanced warily at the
two Hudson Bay dogs dripping eager slaver from their scarlet tongues
and following her every movement. They were huge, hairy fellows,
crouched to leeward in the thin smoke-wake of the fire to escape the
swarming myriads of mosquitoes. As Li Wan gazed down the steep to
where the Klondike flung its swollen flood between the hills, one of
the dogs bellied its way forward like a worm, and with a deft, catlike
stroke of the paw dipped a chunk of hot meat out of the pan to the
ground. But Li Wan caught him from out the tail of her eye, and he
sprang back with a snap and a snarl as she rapped him over the nose
with a stick of firewood.
"Nay, Olo," she laughed, recovering the meat without removing her eye
from him. "Thou art ever hungry, and for that thy nose leads thee into
But the mate of Olo joined him, and together they defied the woman.
The hair on their backs and shoulders bristled in recurrent waves
of anger, and the thin lips writhed and lifted into ugly wrinkles,
exposing the flesh-tearing fangs, cruel and menacing. Their very noses
serrulated and shook in brute passion, and they snarled as the wolves
snarl, with all the hatred and malignity of the breed impelling them
to spring upon the woman and drag her down.
"And thou, too, Bash, fierce as thy master and never at peace with the
hand that feeds thee! This is not thy quarrel, so that be thine! and
As she cried, she drove at them with the firewood, but they avoided
the blows and refused to retreat. They separated and approached her
from either side, crouching low and snarling. Li Wan had struggled
with the wolf-dog for mastery from the time she toddled among the
skin-bales of the teepee, and she knew a crisis was at hand. Bash
had halted, his muscles stiff and tense for the spring; Olo was yet
creeping into striking distance.
Grasping two blazing sticks by the charred ends, she faced the brutes.
The one held back, but Bash sprang, and she met him in mid-air with
the flaming weapon. There were sharp yelps of pain and swift odors of
burning hair and flesh as he rolled in the dirt and the woman ground
the fiery embers into his mouth. Snapping wildly, he flung himself
sidewise out of her reach and in a frenzy of fear scrambled for
safety. Olo, on the other side, had begun his retreat, when Li Wan
reminded him of her primacy by hurling a heavy stick of wood into his
ribs. Then the pair retreated under a rain of firewood, and on the
edge of the camp fell to licking their wounds and whimpering by turns
Li Wan blew the ashes off the meat and sat down again. Her heart had
not gone up a beat, and the incident was already old, for this was
the routine of life. Canim had not stirred during the disorder, but
instead had set up a lusty snoring.
"Come, Canim!" she called. "The heat of the day is gone, and the trail
waits for our feet."
The squirrel-skin robe was agitated and cast aside by a brown arm.
Then the man's eyelids fluttered and drooped again.
"His pack is heavy," she thought, "and he is tired with the work of
A mosquito stung her on the neck, and she daubed the unprotected spot
with wet clay from a ball she had convenient to hand. All morning,
toiling up the divide and enveloped in a cloud of the pests, the man
and woman had plastered themselves with the sticky mud, which, drying
in the sun, covered their faces with masks of clay. These masks,
broken in divers places by the movement of the facial muscles, had
constantly to be renewed, so that the deposit was irregular of depth
and peculiar of aspect.
Li Wan shook Canim gently but with persistence till he roused and
sat up. His first glance was to the sun, and after consulting the
celestial timepiece he hunched over to the fire and fell-to ravenously
on the meat. He was a large Indian fully six feet in height,
deep-chested and heavy-muscled, and his eyes were keener and vested
with greater mental vigor than the average of his kind. The lines of
will had marked his face deeply, and this, coupled with a sternness
and primitiveness, advertised a native indomitability, unswerving of
purpose, and prone, when thwarted, to sullen cruelty.
"To-morrow, Li Wan, we shall feast." He sucked a marrow-bone clean
and threw it to the dogs. "We shall have _flapjacks_ fried in _bacon
grease_, and _sugar_, which is more toothsome--"
"_Flapjacks_?" she questioned, mouthing the word curiously.
"Ay," Canim answered with superiority; "and I shall teach you new ways
of cookery. Of these things I speak you are ignorant, and of many more
things besides. You have lived your days in a little corner of the
earth and know nothing. But I,"--he straightened himself and looked at
her pridefully,--"I am a great traveller, and have been all places,
even among the white people, and I am versed in their ways, and in
the ways of many peoples. I am not a tree, born to stand in one place
always and know not what there be over the next hill; for I am Canim,
the Canoe, made to go here and there and to journey and quest up and
down the length and breadth of the world."
She bowed her head humbly. "It is true. I have eaten fish and meat and
berries all my days and lived in a little corner of the earth. Nor did
I dream the world was so large until you stole me from my people and
I cooked and carried for you on the endless trails." She looked up at
him suddenly. "Tell me, Canim, does this trail ever end?"
"Nay," he answered. "My trail is like the world; it never ends. My
trail _is_ the world, and I have travelled it since the time my legs
could carry me, and I shall travel it until I die. My father and my
mother may be dead, but it is long since I looked upon them, and I
do not care. My tribe is like your tribe. It stays in the one
place--which is far from here,--but I care naught for my tribe, for I
am Canim, the Canoe!"
"And must I, Li Wan, who am weary, travel always your trail until I
"You, Li Wan, are my wife, and the wife travels the husband's trail
wheresoever it goes. It is the law. And were it not the law, yet would
it be the law of Canim, who is lawgiver unto himself and his."
She bowed her head again, for she knew no other law than that man was
the master of woman.
"Be not in haste," Canim cautioned her, as she began to strap the
meagre camp outfit to her pack. "The sun is yet hot, and the trail
leads down and the footing is good."
She dropped her work obediently and resumed her seat.
Canim regarded her with speculative interest. "You do not squat on
your hams like other women," he remarked.
"No," she answered. "It never came easy. It tires me, and I cannot
take my rest that way."
"And why is it your feet point not straight before you?"
"I do not know, save that they are unlike the feet of other women."
A satisfied light crept into his eyes, but otherwise he gave no sign.
"Like other women, your hair is black; but have you ever noticed that
it is soft and fine, softer and finer than the hair of other women?"
"I have noticed," she answered shortly, for she was not pleased at
such cold analysis of her sex-deficiencies.
"It is a year, now, since I took you from your people," he went on,
"and you are nigh as shy and afraid of me as when first I looked upon
you. How does this thing be?"
Li Wan shook her head. "I am afraid of you, Canim, you are so big and
strange. And further, before you looked upon me even, I was afraid of
all the young men. I do not know ... I cannot say ... only it seemed,
somehow, as though I should not be for them, as though ..."
"Ay," he encouraged, impatient at her faltering.
"As though they were not my kind."
"Not your kind?" he demanded slowly. "Then what is your kind?"
"I do not know, I ..." She shook her head in a bewildered manner. "I
cannot put into words the way I felt. It was strangeness in me. I was
unlike other maidens, who sought the young men slyly. I could not
care for the young men that way. It would have been a great wrong, it
seemed, and an ill deed."
"What is the first thing you remember?" Canim asked with abrupt
"Pow-Wah-Kaan, my mother."
"And naught else before Pow-Wah-Kaan?"
But Canim, holding her eyes with his, searched her secret soul and saw
"Think, and think hard, Li Wan!" he threatened.
She stammered, and her eyes were piteous and pleading, but his will
dominated her and wrung from her lips the reluctant speech.
"But it was only dreams, Canim, ill dreams of childhood, shadows of
things not real, visions such as the dogs, sleeping in the sun-warmth,
behold and whine out against."
"Tell me," he commanded, "of the things before Pow-Wah-Kaan, your
"They are forgotten memories," she protested. "As a child I dreamed
awake, with my eyes open to the day, and when I spoke of the strange
things I saw I was laughed at, and the other children were afraid
and drew away from me. And when I spoke of the things I saw to
Pow-Wah-Kaan, she chided me and said they were evil; also she beat me.
It was a sickness, I believe, like the falling-sickness that comes to
old men; and in time I grew better and dreamed no more. And now ...
I cannot remember"--she brought her hand in a confused manner to her
forehead--"they are there, somewhere, but I cannot find them,
"Only," Canim repeated, holding her.
"Only one thing. But you will laugh at its foolishness, it is so
"Nay, Li Wan. Dreams are dreams. They may be memories of other lives
we have lived. I was once a moose. I firmly believe I was once a
moose, what of the things I have seen in dreams, and heard."
Strive as he would to hide it, a growing anxiety was manifest, but Li
Wan, groping after the words with which to paint the picture, took no
"I see a snow-tramped space among the trees," she began, "and across
the snow the sign of a man where he has dragged himself heavily on
hand and knee. And I see, too, the man in the snow, and it seems I am
very close to him when I look. He is unlike real men, for he has hair
on his face, much hair, and the hair of his face and head is yellow
like the summer coat of the weasel. His eyes are closed, but they open
and search about. They are blue like the sky, and look into mine and
search no more. And his hand moves, slow, as from weakness, and
I feel ..."
"Ay," Canim whispered hoarsely. "You feel--?"
"No! no!" she cried in haste. "I feel nothing. Did I say 'feel'? I did
not mean it. It could not be that I should mean it. I see, and I see
only, and that is all I see--a man in the snow, with eyes like the
sky, and hair like the weasel. I have seen it many times, and always
it is the same--a man in the snow--"
"And do you see yourself?" he asked, leaning forward and regarding her
intently. "Do you ever see yourself and the man in the snow?"
"Why should I see myself? Am I not real?"
His muscles relaxed and he sank back, an exultant satisfaction in his
eyes which he turned from her so that she might not see.
"I will tell you, Li Wan," he spoke decisively; "you were a little
bird in some life before, a little moose-bird, when you saw this
thing, and the memory of it is with you yet. It is not strange. I was
once a moose, and my father's father afterward became a bear--so said
the shaman, and the shaman cannot lie. Thus, on the Trail of the Gods
we pass from life to life, and the gods know only and understand.
Dreams and the shadows of dreams be memories, nothing more, and the
dog, whining asleep in the sun-warmth, doubtless sees and remembers
things gone before. Bash, there, was a warrior once. I do firmly
believe he was once a warrior."
Canim tossed a bone to the brute and got upon his feet. "Come, let us
begone. The sun is yet hot, but it will get no cooler."
"And these white people, what are they like?" Li Wan made bold to ask.
"Like you and me," he answered, "only they are less dark of skin. You
will be among them ere the day is dead."
Canim lashed the sleeping-robe to his one-hundred-and-fifty-pound
pack, smeared his face with wet clay, and sat down to rest till Li Wan
had finished loading the dogs. Olo cringed at sight of the club in her
hand, and gave no trouble when the bundle of forty pounds and odd was
strapped upon him. But Bash was aggrieved and truculent, and could not
forbear to whimper and snarl as he was forced to receive the burden.
He bristled his back and bared his teeth as she drew the straps tight,
the while throwing all the malignancy of his nature into the glances
shot at her sideways and backward. And Canim chuckled and said, "Did I
not say he was once a very great warrior?"
"These furs will bring a price," he remarked as he adjusted his
head-strap and lifted his pack clear of the ground. "A big price. The
white men pay well for such goods, for they have no time to hunt and
are soft to the cold. Soon shall we feast, Li Wan, as you have feasted
never in all the lives you have lived before."
She grunted acknowledgment and gratitude for her lord's condescension,
slipped into the harness, and bent forward to the load.
"The next time I am born, I would be born a white man," he added, and
swung off down the trail which dived into the gorge at his feet.
The dogs followed close at his heels, and Li Wan brought up the rear.
But her thoughts were far away, across the Ice Mountains to the east,
to the little corner of the earth where her childhood had been lived.
Ever as a child, she remembered, she had been looked upon as strange,
as one with an affliction. Truly she had dreamed awake and been
scolded and beaten for the remarkable visions she saw, till, after a
time, she had outgrown them. But not utterly. Though they troubled her
no more waking, they came to her in her sleep, grown woman that she
was, and many a night of nightmare was hers, filled with fluttering
shapes, vague and meaningless. The talk with Canim had excited her,
and down all the twisted slant of the divide she harked back to the
mocking fantasies of her dreams.
"Let us take breath," Canim said, when they had tapped midway the bed
of the main creek.
He rested his pack on a jutting rock, slipped the head-strap, and sat
down. Li Wan joined him, and the dogs sprawled panting on the ground
beside them. At their feet rippled the glacial drip of the hills, but
it was muddy and discolored, as if soiled by some commotion of the
"Why is this?" Li Wan asked.
"Because of the white men who work in the ground. Listen!" He held up
his hand, and they heard the ring of pick and shovel, and the sound of
men's voices. "They are made mad by _gold_, and work without ceasing
that they may find it. _Gold?_ It is yellow and comes from the ground,
and is considered of great value. It is also a measure of price."
But Li Wan's roving eyes had called her attention from him. A few
yards below and partly screened by a clump of young spruce, the tiered
logs of a cabin rose to meet its overhanging roof of dirt. A thrill
ran through her, and all her dream-phantoms roused up and stirred
"Canim," she whispered in an agony of apprehension. "Canim, what is
"The white man's teepee, in which he eats and sleeps."
She eyed it wistfully, grasping its virtues at a glance and thrilling
again at the unaccountable sensations it aroused. "It must be very
warm in time of frost," she said aloud, though she felt that she must
make strange sounds with her lips.
She felt impelled to utter them, but did not, and the next instant
Canim said, "It is called a _cabin_."
Her heart gave a great leap. The sounds! the very sounds! She looked
about her in sudden awe. How should she know that strange word before
ever she heard it? What could be the matter? And then with a shock,
half of fear and half of delight, she realized that for the first time
in her life there had been sanity and significance in the promptings
of her dreams.
"_Cabin_" she repeated to herself. "_Cabin._" An incoherent flood of
dream-stuff welled up and up till her head was dizzy and her
heart seemed bursting. Shadows, and looming bulks of things, and
unintelligible associations fluttered and whirled about, and she
strove vainly with her consciousness to grasp and hold them. For
she felt that there, in that welter of memories, was the key of the
mystery; could she but grasp and hold it, all would be clear and
O Canim! O Pow-Wah-Kaan! O shades and shadows, what was that?
She turned to Canim, speechless and trembling, the dream-stuff in mad,
overwhelming riot. She was sick and fainting, and could only listen
to the ravishing sounds which proceeded from the cabin in a wonderful
"Hum, _fiddle,_" Canim vouchsafed.
But she did not hear him, for in the ecstasy she was experiencing,
it seemed at last that all things were coming clear. Now! now! she
thought. A sudden moisture swept into her eyes, and the tears trickled
down her cheeks. The mystery was unlocking, but the faintness was
overpowering her. If only she could hold herself long enough! If
only--but the landscape bent and crumpled up, and the hills swayed
back and forth across the sky as she sprang upright and screamed,
"_Daddy! Daddy!_" Then the sun reeled, and darkness smote her, and she
pitched forward limp and headlong among the rocks.
Canim looked to see if her neck had been broken by the heavy pack,
grunted his satisfaction, and threw water upon her from the creek. She
came to slowly, with choking sobs, and sat up.
"It is not good, the hot sun on the head," he ventured.
And she answered, "No, it is not good, and the pack bore upon me
"We shall camp early, so that you may sleep long and win strength," he
said gently. "And if we go now, we shall be the quicker to bed."
Li Wan said nothing, but tottered to her feet in obedience and stirred
up the dogs. She took the swing of his pace mechanically, and followed
him past the cabin, scarce daring to breathe. But no sounds issued
forth, though the door was open and smoke curling upward from the
They came upon a man in the bend of the creek, white of skin and blue
of eye, and for a moment Li Wan saw the other man in the snow. But she
saw dimly, for she was weak and tired from what she had undergone.
Still, she looked at him curiously, and stopped with Canim to watch
him at his work. He was washing gravel in a large pan, with a
circular, tilting movement; and as they looked, giving a deft flirt,
he flashed up the yellow gold in a broad streak across the bottom of
"Very rich, this creek," Canim told her, as they went on. "Sometime I
will find such a creek, and then I shall be a big man."
Cabins and men grew more plentiful, till they came to where the main
portion of the creek was spread out before them. It was the scene of a
vast devastation. Everywhere the earth was torn and rent as though by
a Titan's struggles. Where there were no upthrown mounds of gravel,
great holes and trenches yawned, and chasms where the thick rime of
the earth had been peeled to bed-rock. There was no worn channel for
the creek, and its waters, dammed up, diverted, flying through the air
on giddy flumes, trickling into sinks and low places, and raised by
huge water-wheels, were used and used again a thousand times. The
hills had been stripped of their trees, and their raw sides gored and
perforated by great timber-slides and prospect holes. And over all,
like a monstrous race of ants, was flung an army of men--mud-covered,
dirty, dishevelled men, who crawled in and out of the holes of their
digging, crept like big bugs along the flumes, and toiled and sweated
at the gravel-heaps which they kept in constant unrest--men, as far as
the eye could see, even to the rims of the hilltops, digging, tearing,
and scouring the face of nature.
Li Wan was appalled at the tremendous upheaval. "Truly, these men are
mad," she said to Canim.
"Small wonder. The gold they dig after is a great thing," he replied.
"It is the greatest thing in the world."
For hours they threaded the chaos of greed, Canim eagerly intent,
Li Wan weak and listless. She knew she had been on the verge
of disclosure, and she felt that she was still on the verge of
disclosure, but the nervous strain she had undergone had tired her,
and she passively waited for the thing, she knew not what, to happen.
From every hand her senses snatched up and conveyed to her innumerable
impressions, each of which became a dull excitation to her jaded
imagination. Somewhere within her, responsive notes were answering to
the things without, forgotten and undreamed-of correspondences were
being renewed; and she was aware of it in an incurious way, and her
soul was troubled, but she was not equal to the mental exultation
necessary to transmute and understand. So she plodded wearily on
at the heels of her lord, content to wait for that which she knew,
somewhere, somehow, must happen.
After undergoing the mad bondage of man, the creek finally returned to
its ancient ways, all soiled and smirched from its toil, and coiled
lazily among the broad flats and timbered spaces where the valley
widened to its mouth. Here the "pay" ran out, and men were loth to
loiter with the lure yet beyond. And here, as Li Wan paused to prod
Olo with her staff, she heard the mellow silver of a woman's laughter.
Before a cabin sat a woman, fair of skin and rosy as a child, dimpling
with glee at the words of another woman in the doorway. But the woman
who sat shook about her great masses of dark, wet hair which yielded
up its dampness to the warm caresses of the sun.
For an instant Li Wan stood transfixed. Then she was aware of a
blinding flash, and a snap, as though something gave way; and the
woman before the cabin vanished, and the cabin and the tall spruce
timber, and the jagged sky-line, and Li Wan saw another woman, in the
shine of another sun, brushing great masses of black hair, and
singing as she brushed. And Li Wan heard the words of the song, and
understood, and was a child again. She was smitten with a vision,
wherein all the troublesome dreams merged and became one, and shapes
and shadows took up their accustomed round, and all was clear and
plain and real. Many pictures jostled past, strange scenes, and trees,
and flowers, and people; and she saw them and knew them all.
"When you were a little bird, a little moose-bird," Canim said, his
eyes upon her and burning into her.
"When I was a little moose-bird," she whispered, so faint and low he
scarcely heard. And she knew she lied, as she bent her head to the
strap and took the swing of the trail.
And such was the strangeness of it, the real now became unreal. The
mile tramp and the pitching of camp by the edge of the stream seemed
like a passage in a nightmare. She cooked the meat, fed the dogs, and
unlashed the packs as in a dream, and it was not until Canim began to
sketch his next wandering that she became herself again.
"The Klondike runs into the Yukon," he was saying; "a mighty river,
mightier than the Mackenzie, of which you know. So we go, you and I,
down to Fort o' Yukon. With dogs, in time of winter, it is twenty
sleeps. Then we follow the Yukon away into the west--one hundred
sleeps, two hundred--I have never heard. It is very far. And then we
come to the sea. You know nothing of the sea, so let me tell you. As
the lake is to the island, so the sea is to the land; all the rivers
run to it, and it is without end. I have seen it at Hudson Bay; I have
yet to see it in Alaska. And then we may take a great canoe upon the
sea, you and I, Li Wan, or we may follow the land into the south many
a hundred sleeps. And after that I do not know, save that I am Canim,
the Canoe, wanderer and far-journeyer over the earth!"
She sat and listened, and fear ate into her heart as she pondered over
this plunge into the illimitable wilderness. "It is a weary way," was
all she said, head bowed on knee in resignation.
Then it was a splendid thought came to her, and at the wonder of it
she was all aglow. She went down to the stream and washed the dried
clay from her face. When the ripples died away, she stared long at her
mirrored features; but sun and weather-beat had done their work, and,
what of roughness and bronze, her skin was not soft and dimpled as a
child's. But the thought was still splendid and the glow unabated as
she crept in beside her husband under the sleeping-robe.
She lay awake, staring up at the blue of the sky and waiting for Canim
to sink into the first deep sleep. When this came about, she wormed
slowly and carefully away, tucked the robe around him, and stood up.
At her second step, Bash growled savagely. She whispered persuasively
to him and glanced at the man. Canim was snoring profoundly. Then she
turned, and with swift, noiseless feet sped up the back trail.
Mrs. Evelyn Van Wyck was just preparing for bed. Bored by the duties
put upon her by society, her wealth, and widowed blessedness, she had
journeyed into the Northland and gone to housekeeping in a cosey cabin
on the edge of the diggings. Here, aided and abetted by her friend and
companion, Myrtle Giddings, she played at living close to the soil,
and cultivated the primitive with refined abandon.
She strove to get away from the generations of culture and parlor
selection, and sought the earth-grip her ancestors had forfeited.
Likewise she induced mental states which she fondly believed to
approximate those of the stone-folk, and just now, as she put up her
hair for the pillow, she was indulging her fancy with a palaeolithic
wooing. The details consisted principally of cave-dwellings and
cracked marrow-bones, intersprinkled with fierce carnivora, hairy
mammoths, and combats with rude flaked knives of flint; but the
sensations were delicious. And as Evelyn Van Wyck fled through
the sombre forest aisles before the too arduous advances of her
slant-browed, skin-clad wooer, the door of the cabin opened, without
the courtesy of a knock, and a skin-clad woman, savage and primitive,
With a leap that would have done credit to a cave-woman, Miss Giddings
landed in safety behind the table. But Mrs. Van Wyck held her ground.
She noticed that the intruder was laboring under a strong excitement,
and cast a swift glance backward to assure herself that the way was
clear to the bunk, where the big Colt's revolver lay beneath a pillow.
"Greeting, O Woman of the Wondrous Hair," said Li Wan.
But she said it in her own tongue, the tongue spoken in but a little
corner of the earth, and the women did not understand.
"Shall I go for help?" Miss Giddings quavered.
"The poor creature is harmless, I think," Mrs. Van Wyck replied. "And
just look at her skin-clothes, ragged and trail-worn and all that.
They are certainly unique. I shall buy them for my collection. Get my
sack, Myrtle, please, and set up the scales."
Li Wan followed the shaping of the lips, but the words were
unintelligible, and then, and for the first time, she realized, in
a moment of suspense and indecision, that there was no medium of
communication between them.
And at the passion of her dumbness she cried out, with arms stretched
wide apart, "O Woman, thou art sister of mine!"
The tears coursed down her cheeks as she yearned toward them, and the
break in her voice carried the sorrow she could not utter. But Miss
Giddings was trembling, and even Mrs. Van Wyck was disturbed.
"I would live as you live. Thy ways are my ways, and our ways be one.
My husband is Canim, the Canoe, and he is big and strange, and I am
afraid. His trail is all the world and never ends, and I am weary. My
mother was like you, and her hair was as thine, and her eyes. And life
was soft to me then, and the sun warm."
She knelt humbly, and bent her head at Mrs. Van Wyck's feet. But Mrs.
Van Wyck drew away, frightened at her vehemence.
Li Wan stood up, panting for speech. Her dumb lips could not
articulate her overmastering consciousness of kind.
"Trade? you trade?" Mrs. Van Wyck questioned, slipping, after the
fashion of the superior peoples, into pigeon tongue.
She touched Li Wan's ragged skins to indicate her choice, and poured
several hundreds of gold into the blower. She stirred the dust about
and trickled its yellow lustre temptingly through her fingers. But Li
Wan saw only the fingers, milk-white and shapely, tapering daintily
to the rosy, jewel-like nails. She placed her own hand alongside, all
work-worn and calloused, and wept.
Mrs. Van Wyck misunderstood. "Gold," she encouraged. "Good gold! You
trade? You changee for changee?" And she laid her hand again on Li
Wan's skin garments.
"How much? You sell? How much?" she persisted, running her hand
against the way of the hair so that she might make sure of the
But Li Wan was deaf as well, and the woman's speech was without
significance. Dismay at her failure sat upon her. How could she
identify herself with these women? For she knew they were of the one
breed, blood-sisters among men and the women of men. Her eyes roved
wildly about the interior, taking in the soft draperies hanging
around, the feminine garments, the oval mirror, and the dainty toilet
accessories beneath. And the things haunted her, for she had seen like
things before; and as she looked at them her lips involuntarily formed
sounds which her throat trembled to utter. Then a thought flashed upon
her, and she steadied herself. She must be calm. She must control
herself, for there must be no misunderstanding this time, or
else,--and she shook with a storm of suppressed tears and steadied
She put her hand on the table. "_Table_," she clearly and distinctly
enunciated. "_Table_," she repeated.
She looked at Mrs. Van Wyck, who nodded approbation. Li Wan exulted,
but brought her will to bear and held herself steady. "_Stove_" she
went on. "_Stove_."
And at every nod of Mrs. Van Wyck, Li Wan's excitement mounted.
Now stumbling and halting, and again in feverish haste, as the
recrudescence of forgotten words was fast or slow, she moved about the
cabin, naming article after article. And when she paused finally,
it was in triumph, with body erect and head thrown back, expectant,
"Cat," Mrs. Van Wyck, laughing, spelled out in kindergarten fashion.
Li Wan nodded her head seriously. They were beginning to understand
her at last, these women. The blood flushed darkly under her bronze at
the thought, and she smiled and nodded her head still more vigorously.
Mrs. Van Wyck turned to her companion. "Received a smattering of
mission education somewhere, I fancy, and has come to show it off."
"Of course," Miss Giddings tittered. "Little fool! We shall lose our
sleep with her vanity."
"All the same I want that jacket. If it _is_ old, the workmanship
is good--a most excellent specimen." She returned to her visitor.
"Changee for changee? You! Changee for changee? How much? Eh? How
"Perhaps she'd prefer a dress or something," Miss Giddings suggested.
Mrs. Van Wyck went up to Li Wan and made signs that she would exchange
her wrapper for the jacket. And to further the transaction, she took
Li Wan's hand and placed it amid the lace and ribbons of the flowing
bosom, and rubbed the fingers back and forth so they might feel the
texture. But the jewelled butterfly which loosely held the fold in
place was insecurely fastened, and the front of the gown slipped to
the side, exposing a firm white breast, which had never known the
lip-clasp of a child.
Mrs. Van Wyck coolly repaired the mischief; but Li Wan uttered a loud
cry, and ripped and tore at her skin-shirt till her own breast showed
firm and white as Evelyn Van Wyck's. Murmuring inarticulately and
making swift signs, she strove to establish the kinship.
"A half-breed," Mrs. Van Wyck commented. "I thought so from her hair."
Miss Giddings made a fastidious gesture. "Proud of her father's white
skin. It's beastly! Do give her something, Evelyn, and make her go."
But the other woman sighed. "Poor creature, I wish I could do
something for her."
A heavy foot crunched the gravel without. Then the cabin door swung
wide, and Canim stalked in. Miss Giddings saw a vision of sudden
death, and screamed; but Mrs. Van Wyck faced him composedly.
"What do you want?" she demanded.
"How do?" Canim answered suavely and directly, pointing at the same
time to Li Wan. "Um my wife."
He reached out for her, but she waved him back.
"Speak, Canim! Tell them that I am--"
"Daughter of Pow-Wah-Kaan? Nay, of what is it to them that they
should care? Better should I tell them thou art an ill wife, given to
creeping from thy husband's bed when sleep is heavy in his eyes."
Again he reached out for her, but she fled away from him to Mrs. Van
Wyck, at whose feet she made frenzied appeal, and whose knees she
tried to clasp. But the lady stepped back and gave permission with her
eyes to Canim. He gripped Li Wan under the shoulders and raised her to
her feet. She fought with him, in a madness of despair, till his chest
was heaving with the exertion, and they had reeled about over half the
"Let me go, Canim," she sobbed.
But he twisted her wrist till she ceased to struggle. "The memories of
the little moose-bird are overstrong and make trouble," he began.
"I know! I know!" she broke in. "I see the man in the snow, and as
never before I see him crawl on hand and knee. And I, who am a little
child, am carried on his back. And this is before Pow-Wah-Kaan and the
time I came to live in a little corner of the earth."
"You know," he answered, forcing her toward the door; "but you will go
with me down the Yukon and forget."
"Never shall I forget! So long as my skin is white shall I remember!"
She clutched frantically at the door-post and looked a last appeal to
Mrs. Evelyn Van Wyck.
"Then will I teach thee to forget, I, Canim, the Canoe!"
As he spoke he pulled her fingers clear and passed out with her upon
THE LEAGUE OF THE OLD MEN
At the Barracks a man was being tried for his life. He was an old man,
a native from the Whitefish River, which empties into the Yukon below
Lake Le Barge. All Dawson was wrought up over the affair, and likewise
the Yukon-dwellers for a thousand miles up and down. It has been the
custom of the land-robbing and sea-robbing Anglo-Saxon to give the law
to conquered peoples, and ofttimes this law is harsh. But in the
case of Imber the law for once seemed inadequate and weak. In the
mathematical nature of things, equity did not reside in the punishment
to be accorded him. The punishment was a foregone conclusion, there
could be no doubt of that; and though it was capital, Imber had but
one life, while the tale against him was one of scores.
In fact, the blood of so many was upon his hands that the killings
attributed to him did not permit of precise enumeration. Smoking a
pipe by the trail-side or lounging around the stove, men made rough
estimates of the numbers that had perished at his hand. They had been
whites, all of them, these poor murdered people, and they had been
slain singly, in pairs, and in parties. And so purposeless and wanton
had been these killings, that they had long been a mystery to the
mounted police, even in the time of the captains, and later, when the
creeks realized, and a governor came from the Dominion to make the
land pay for its prosperity.
But more mysterious still was the coming of Imber to Dawson to give
himself up. It was in the late spring, when the Yukon was growling and
writhing under its ice, that the old Indian climbed painfully up the
bank from the river trail and stood blinking on the main street. Men
who had witnessed his advent, noted that he was weak and tottery, and
that he staggered over to a heap of cabin-logs and sat down. He sat
there a full day, staring straight before him at the unceasing tide of
white men that flooded past. Many a head jerked curiously to the side
to meet his stare, and more than one remark was dropped anent the old
Siwash with so strange a look upon his face. No end of men remembered
afterward that they had been struck by his extraordinary figure, and
forever afterward prided themselves upon their swift discernment of
But it remained for Dickensen, Little Dickensen, to be the hero of the
occasion. Little Dickensen had come into the land with great dreams
and a pocketful of cash; but with the cash the dreams vanished, and
to earn his passage back to the States he had accepted a clerical
position with the brokerage firm of Holbrook and Mason. Across
the street from the office of Holbrook and Mason was the heap of
cabin-logs upon which Imber sat. Dickensen looked out of the window
at him before he went to lunch; and when he came back from lunch he
looked out of the window, and the old Siwash was still there.
Dickensen continued to look out of the window, and he, too, forever
afterward prided himself upon his swiftness of discernment. He was a
romantic little chap, and he likened the immobile old heathen to the
genius of the Siwash race, gazing calm-eyed upon the hosts of the
invading Saxon. The hours swept along, but Imber did not vary his
posture, did not by a hair's-breadth move a muscle; and Dickensen
remembered the man who once sat upright on a sled in the main street
where men passed to and fro. They thought the man was resting, but
later, when they touched him, they found him stiff and cold, frozen to
death in the midst of the busy street. To undouble him, that he might
fit into a coffin, they had been forced to lug him to a fire and thaw
him out a bit. Dickensen shivered at the recollection.
Later on, Dickensen went out on the sidewalk to smoke a cigar and cool
off; and a little later Emily Travis happened along. Emily Travis was
dainty and delicate and rare, and whether in London or Klondike she
gowned herself as befitted the daughter of a millionnaire mining
engineer. Little Dickensen deposited his cigar on an outside window
ledge where he could find it again, and lifted his hat.
They chatted for ten minutes or so, when Emily Travis, glancing past
Dickensen's shoulder, gave a startled little scream. Dickensen turned
about to see, and was startled, too. Imber had crossed the street
and was standing there, a gaunt and hungry-looking shadow, his gaze
riveted upon the girl.
"What do you want?" Little Dickensen demanded, tremulously plucky.
Imber grunted and stalked up to Emily Travis. He looked her over,
keenly and carefully, every square inch of her. Especially did he
appear interested in her silky brown hair, and in the color of her
cheek, faintly sprayed and soft, like the downy bloom of a butterfly
wing. He walked around her, surveying her with the calculating eye of
a man who studies the lines upon which a horse or a boat is builded.
In the course of his circuit the pink shell of her ear came between
his eye and the westering sun, and he stopped to contemplate its
rosy transparency. Then he returned to her face and looked long and
intently into her blue eyes. He grunted and laid a hand on her arm
midway between the shoulder and elbow. With his other hand he lifted
her forearm and doubled it back. Disgust and wonder showed in his
face, and he dropped her arm with a contemptuous grunt. Then he
muttered a few guttural syllables, turned his back upon her, and
addressed himself to Dickensen.
Dickensen could not understand his speech, and Emily Travis laughed.
Imber turned from one to the other, frowning, but both shook their
heads. He was about to go away, when she called out:
"Oh, Jimmy! Come here!"
Jimmy came from the other side of the street. He was a big, hulking
Indian clad in approved white-man style, with an Eldorado king's
sombrero on his head. He talked with Imber, haltingly, with throaty
spasms. Jimmy was a Sitkan, possessed of no more than a passing
knowledge of the interior dialects.
"Him Whitefish man," he said to Emily Travis. "Me savve um talk no
very much. Him want to look see chief white man."
"The Governor," suggested Dickensen.
Jimmy talked some more with the Whitefish man, and his face went grave
"I t'ink um want Cap'n Alexander," he explained. "Him say um kill
white man, white woman, white boy, plenty kill um white people. Him
want to die."
"Insane, I guess," said Dickensen.
"What you call dat?" queried Jimmy.
Dickensen thrust a finger figuratively inside his head and imparted a
rotary motion thereto.
"Mebbe so, mebbe so," said Jimmy, returning to Imber, who still
demanded the chief man of the white men.
A mounted policeman (unmounted for Klondike service) joined the group
and heard Imber's wish repeated. He was a stalwart young fellow,
broad-shouldered, deep-chested, legs cleanly built and stretched wide
apart, and tall though Imber was, he towered above him by half a head.
His eyes were cool, and gray, and steady, and he carried himself with
the peculiar confidence of power that is bred of blood and
tradition. His splendid masculinity was emphasized by his excessive
boyishness,--he was a mere lad,--and his smooth cheek promised a blush
as willingly as the cheek of a maid.
Imber was drawn to him at once. The fire leaped into his eyes at sight
of a sabre slash that scarred his cheek. He ran a withered hand down
the young fellow's leg and caressed the swelling thew. He smote the
broad chest with his knuckles, and pressed and prodded the thick
muscle-pads that covered the shoulders like a cuirass. The group had
been added to by curious passers-by--husky miners, mountaineers,
and frontiersmen, sons of the long-legged and broad-shouldered
generations. Imber glanced from one to another, then he spoke aloud in
the Whitefish tongue.
"What did he say?" asked Dickensen.
"Him say um all the same one man, dat p'liceman," Jimmy interpreted.
Little Dickensen was little, and what of Miss Travis, he felt sorry
for having asked the question.
The policeman was sorry for him and stepped into the breach. "I fancy
there may be something in his story. I'll take him up to the captain
for examination. Tell him to come along with me, Jimmy."
Jimmy indulged in more throaty spasms, and Imber grunted and looked
"But ask him what he said, Jimmy, and what he meant when he took hold
of my arm."
So spoke Emily Travis, and Jimmy put the question and received the
"Him say you no afraid," said Jimmy.
Emily Travis looked pleased.
"Him say you no _skookum_, no strong, all the same very soft like
little baby. Him break you, in um two hands, to little pieces. Him
t'ink much funny, very strange, how you can be mother of men so big,
so strong, like dat p'liceman."
Emily Travers kept her eyes up and unfaltering, but her cheeks
were sprayed with scarlet. Little Dickensen blushed and was quite
embarrassed. The policeman's face blazed with his boy's blood.
"Come along, you," he said gruffly, setting his shoulder to the crowd
and forcing a way.
Thus it was that Imber found his way to the Barracks, where he made
full and voluntary confession, and from the precincts of which he
Imber looked very tired. The fatigue of hopelessness and age was
in his face. His shoulders drooped depressingly, and his eyes were
lack-lustre. His mop of hair should have been white, but sun and
weatherbeat had burned and bitten it so that it hung limp and lifeless
and colorless. He took no interest in what went on around him. The
courtroom was jammed with the men of the creeks and trails, and there
was an ominous note in the rumble and grumble of their low-pitched
voices, which came to his ears like the growl of the sea from deep
He sat close by a window, and his apathetic eyes rested now and again
on the dreary scene without. The sky was overcast, and a gray drizzle
was falling. It was flood-time on the Yukon. The ice was gone, and the
river was up in the town. Back and forth on the main street, in canoes
and poling-boats, passed the people that never rested. Often he saw
these boats turn aside from the street and enter the flooded square
that marked the Barracks' parade-ground. Sometimes they disappeared
beneath him, and he heard them jar against the house-logs and their
occupants scramble in through the window. After that came the slush
of water against men's legs as they waded across the lower room and
mounted the stairs. Then they appeared in the doorway, with doffed
hats and dripping sea-boots, and added themselves to the waiting
And while they centred their looks on him, and in grim anticipation
enjoyed the penalty he was to pay, Imber looked at them, and mused on
their ways, and on their Law that never slept, but went on unceasing,
in good times and bad, in flood and famine, through trouble and terror
and death, and which would go on unceasing, it seemed to him, to the
end of time.
A man rapped sharply on a table, and the conversation droned away into
silence. Imber looked at the man. He seemed one in authority, yet
Imber divined the square-browed man who sat by a desk farther back
to be the one chief over them all and over the man who had rapped.
Another man by the same table uprose and began to read aloud from many
fine sheets of paper. At the top of each sheet he cleared his throat,
at the bottom moistened his fingers. Imber did not understand his
speech, but the others did, and he knew that it made them angry.
Sometimes it made them very angry, and once a man cursed him, in
single syllables, stinging and tense, till a man at the table rapped
him to silence.
For an interminable period the man read. His monotonous, sing-song
utterance lured Imber to dreaming, and he was dreaming deeply when the
man ceased. A voice spoke to him in his own Whitefish tongue, and he
roused up, without surprise, to look upon the face of his sister's
son, a young man who had wandered away years agone to make his
dwelling with the whites.
"Thou dost not remember me," he said by way of greeting.
"Nay," Imber answered. "Thou art Howkan who went away. Thy mother be
"She was an old woman," said Howkan.
But Imber did not hear, and Howkan, with hand upon his shoulder,
roused him again.
"I shall speak to thee what the man has spoken, which is the tale of
the troubles thou hast done and which thou hast told, O fool, to the
Captain Alexander. And thou shalt understand and say if it be true
talk or talk not true. It is so commanded."
Howkan had fallen among the mission folk and been taught by them to
read and write. In his hands he held the many fine sheets from which
the man had read aloud, and which had been taken down by a clerk when
Imber first made confession, through the mouth of Jimmy, to Captain
Alexander. Howkan began to read. Imber listened for a space, when a
wonderment rose up in his face and he broke in abruptly.
"That be my talk, Howkan. Yet from thy lips it comes when thy ears
have not heard."
Howkan smirked with self-appreciation. His hair was parted in the
middle. "Nay, from the paper it comes, O Imber. Never have my ears
heard. From the paper it comes, through my eyes, into my head, and out
of my mouth to thee. Thus it comes."
"Thus it comes? It be there in the paper?" Imber's voice sank in
whisperful awe as he crackled the sheets 'twixt thumb and finger and
stared at the charactery scrawled thereon. "It be a great medicine,
Howkan, and thou art a worker of wonders."
"It be nothing, it be nothing," the young man responded carelessly
and pridefully. He read at hazard from the document: "_In that year,
before the break of the ice, came an old man, and a boy who was
lame of one foot. These also did I kill, and the old man made much
"It be true," Imber interrupted breathlessly. "He made much noise and
would not die for a long time. But how dost thou know, Howkan? The
chief man of the white men told thee, mayhap? No one beheld me, and
him alone have I told."
Howkan shook his head with impatience. "Have I not told thee it be
there in the paper, O fool?"
Imber stared hard at the ink-scrawled surface. "As the hunter looks
upon the snow and says, Here but yesterday there passed a rabbit; and
here by the willow scrub it stood and listened, and heard, and was
afraid; and here it turned upon its trail; and here it went with great
swiftness, leaping wide; and here, with greater swiftness and wider
leapings, came a lynx; and here, where the claws cut deep into the
snow, the lynx made a very great leap; and here it struck, with the
rabbit under and rolling belly up; and here leads off the trail of the
lynx alone, and there is no more rabbit,--as the hunter looks upon the
markings of the snow and says thus and so and here, dost thou, too,
look upon the paper and say thus and so and here be the things old
Imber hath done?"
"Even so," said Howkan. "And now do thou listen, and keep thy woman's
tongue between thy teeth till thou art called upon for speech."
Thereafter, and for a long time, Howkan read to him the confession,
and Imber remained musing and silent At the end, he said:
"It be my talk, and true talk, but I am grown old, Howkan, and
forgotten things come back to me which were well for the head man
there to know. First, there was the man who came over the Ice
Mountains, with cunning traps made of iron, who sought the beaver of
the Whitefish. Him I slew. And there were three men seeking gold
on the Whitefish long ago. Them also I slew, and left them to the
wolverines. And at the Five Fingers there was a man with a raft and
At the moments when Imber paused to remember, Howkan translated and
a clerk reduced to writing. The courtroom listened stolidly to each
unadorned little tragedy, till Imber told of a red-haired man whose
eyes were crossed and whom he had killed with a remarkably long shot.
"Hell," said a man in the forefront of the onlookers. He said it
soulfully and sorrowfully. He was red-haired. "Hell," he repeated.
"That was my brother Bill." And at regular intervals throughout the
session, his solemn "Hell" was heard in the courtroom; nor did his
comrades check him, nor did the man at the table rap him to order.
Imber's head drooped once more, and his eyes went dull, as though a
film rose up and covered them from the world. And he dreamed as only
age can dream upon the colossal futility of youth.
Later, Howkan roused him again, saying: "Stand up, O Imber. It be
commanded that thou tellest why you did these troubles, and slew these
people, and at the end journeyed here seeking the Law."
Imber rose feebly to his feet and swayed back and forth. He began to
speak in a low and faintly rumbling voice, but Howkan interrupted him.
"This old man, he is damn crazy," he said in English to the
square-browed man. "His talk is foolish and like that of a child."
"We will hear his talk which is like that of a child," said the
square-browed man. "And we will hear it, word for word, as he speaks
it. Do you understand?"
Howkan understood, and Imber's eyes flashed, for he had witnessed the
play between his sister's son and the man in authority. And then began
the story, the epic of a bronze patriot which might well itself
be wrought into bronze for the generations unborn. The crowd fell
strangely silent, and the square-browed judge leaned head on hand and
pondered his soul and the soul of his race. Only was heard the deep
tones of Imber, rhythmically alternating with the shrill voice of
the interpreter, and now and again, like the bell of the Lord, the
wondering and meditative "Hell" of the red-haired man.
"I am Imber of the Whitefish people." So ran the interpretation of
Howkan, whose inherent barbarism gripped hold of him, and who lost his
mission culture and veneered civilization as he caught the savage ring
and rhythm of old Imber's tale. "My father was Otsbaok, a strong man.
The land was warm with sunshine and gladness when I was a boy. The
people did not hunger after strange things, nor hearken to new voices,
and the ways of their fathers were their ways. The women found favor
in the eyes of the young men, and the young men looked upon them
with content. Babes hung at the breasts of the women, and they were
heavy-hipped with increase of the tribe. Men were men in those days.
In peace and plenty, and in war and famine, they were men.
"At that time there was more fish in the water than now, and more meat
in the forest. Our dogs were wolves, warm with thick hides and hard
to the frost and storm. And as with our dogs so with us, for we were
likewise hard to the frost and storm. And when the Pellys came into
our land we slew them and were slain. For we were men, we Whitefish,
and our fathers and our fathers' fathers had fought against the Pellys
and determined the bounds of the land.
"As I say, with our dogs, so with us. And one day came the first white
man. He dragged himself, so, on hand and knee, in the snow. And his
skin was stretched tight, and his bones were sharp beneath. Never was
such a man, we thought, and we wondered of what strange tribe he was,
and of its land. And he was weak, most weak, like a little child, so
that we gave him a place by the fire, and warm furs to lie upon, and
we gave him food as little children are given food.
"And with him was a dog, large as three of our dogs, and very weak.
The hair of this dog was short, and not warm, and the tail was frozen
so that the end fell off. And this strange dog we fed, and bedded by
the fire, and fought from it our dogs, which else would have killed
him. And what of the moose meat and the sun-dried salmon, the man and
dog took strength to themselves; and what of the strength they became
big and unafraid. And the man spoke loud words and laughed at the old
men and young men, and looked boldly upon the maidens. And the dog
fought with our dogs, and for all of his short hair and softness slew
three of them in one day.
"When we asked the man concerning his people, he said, 'I have many
brothers,' and laughed in a way that was not good. And when he was in
his full strength he went away, and with him went Noda, daughter to
the chief. First, after that, was one of our bitches brought to pup.
And never was there such a breed of dogs,--big-headed, thick-jawed,
and short-haired, and helpless. Well do I remember my father, Otsbaok,
a strong man. His face was black with anger at such helplessness, and
he took a stone, so, and so, and there was no more helplessness. And
two summers after that came Noda back to us with a man-child in the
hollow of her arm.
"And that was the beginning. Came a second white man, with
short-haired dogs, which he left behind him when he went. And with
him went six of our strongest dogs, for which, in trade, he had given
Koo-So-Tee, my mother's brother, a wonderful pistol that fired with
great swiftness six times. And Koo-So-Tee was very big, what of the
pistol, and laughed at our bows and arrows. 'Woman's things,' he
called them, and went forth against the bald-face grizzly, with the
pistol in his hand. Now it be known that it is not good to hunt
the bald-face with a pistol, but how were we to know? and how was
Koo-So-Tee to know? So he went against the bald-face, very brave, and
fired the pistol with great swiftness six times; and the bald-face but
grunted and broke in his breast like it were an egg, and like honey
from a bee's nest dripped the brains of Koo-So-Tee upon the ground. He
was a good hunter, and there was no one to bring meat to his squaw and
children. And we were bitter, and we said, 'That which for the white
men is well, is for us not well.' And this be true. There be many
white men and fat, but their ways have made us few and lean.
"Came the third white man, with great wealth of all manner of
wonderful foods and things. And twenty of our strongest dogs he took
from us in trade. Also, what of presents and great promises, ten of
our young hunters did he take with him on a journey which fared no
man knew where. It is said they died in the snow of the Ice Mountains
where man has never been, or in the Hills of Silence which are beyond
the edge of the earth. Be that as it may, dogs and young hunters were
seen never again by the Whitefish people.
"And more white men came with the years, and ever, with pay and
presents, they led the young men away with them. And sometimes the
young men came back with strange tales of dangers and toils in the
lands beyond the Pellys, and sometimes they did not come back. And we
said: 'If they be unafraid of life, these white men, it is because
they have many lives; but we be few by the Whitefish, and the young
men shall go away no more.' But the young men did go away; and the
young women went also; and we were very wroth.
"It be true, we ate flour, and salt pork, and drank tea which was a
great delight; only, when we could not get tea, it was very bad and we
became short of speech and quick of anger. So we grew to hunger for
the things the white men brought in trade. Trade! trade! all the time
was it trade! One winter we sold our meat for clocks that would not
go, and watches with broken guts, and files worn smooth, and pistols
without cartridges and worthless. And then came famine, and we were
without meat, and two score died ere the break of spring.
"'Now are we grown weak,' we said; 'and the Pellys will fall upon us,
and our bounds be overthrown.' But as it fared with us, so had it
fared with the Pellys, and they were too weak to come against us.
"My father, Otsbaok, a strong man, was now old and very wise. And he
spoke to the chief, saying: 'Behold, our dogs be worthless. No longer
are they thick-furred and strong, and they die in the frost and
harness. Let us go into the village and kill them, saving only the
wolf ones, and these let us tie out in the night that they may mate
with the wild wolves of the forest. Thus shall we have dogs warm and
"And his word was harkened to, and we Whitefish became known for our
dogs, which were the best in the land. But known we were not for
ourselves. The best of our young men and women had gone away with the
white men to wander on trail and river to far places. And the young
women came back old and broken, as Noda had come, or they came not at
all. And the young men came back to sit by our fires for a time,
full of ill speech and rough ways, drinking evil drinks and gambling
through long nights and days, with a great unrest always in their
hearts, till the call of the white men came to them and they went away
again to the unknown places. And they were without honor and respect,
jeering the old-time customs and laughing in the faces of chief and
"As I say, we were become a weak breed, we Whitefish. We sold our warm
skins and furs for tobacco and whiskey and thin cotton things that
left us shivering in the cold. And the coughing sickness came upon us,
and men and women coughed and sweated through the long nights, and
the hunters on trail spat blood upon the snow. And now one, and now
another, bled swiftly from the mouth and died. And the women bore few
children, and those they bore were weak and given to sickness. And
other sicknesses came to us from the white men, the like of which we
had never known and could not understand. Smallpox, likewise measles,
have I heard these sicknesses named, and we died of them as die the
salmon in the still eddies when in the fall their eggs are spawned and
there is no longer need for them to live.
"And yet, and here be the strangeness of it, the white men come as
the breath of death; all their ways lead to death, their nostrils
are filled with it; and yet they do not die. Theirs the whiskey,
and tobacco, and short-haired dogs; theirs the many sicknesses, the
smallpox and measles, the coughing and mouth-bleeding; theirs the
white skin, and softness to the frost and storm; and theirs the
pistols that shoot six times very swift and are worthless. And yet
they grow fat on their many ills, and prosper, and lay a heavy hand
over all the world and tread mightily upon its peoples. And their
women, too, are soft as little babes, most breakable and never broken,
the mothers of men. And out of all this softness, and sickness, and
weakness, come strength, and power, and authority. They be gods, or
devils, as the case may be. I do not know. What do I know, I,
old Imber of the Whitefish? Only do I know that they are past
understanding, these white men, far-wanderers and fighters over the
earth that they be.
"As I say, the meat in the forest became less and less. It be true,
the white man's gun is most excellent and kills a long way off; but of
what worth the gun, when there is no meat to kill? When I was a boy on
the Whitefish there was moose on every hill, and each year came the
caribou uncountable. But now the hunter may take the trail ten days
and not one moose gladden his eyes, while the caribou uncountable come
no more at all. Small worth the gun, I say, killing a long way off,
when there be nothing to kill.
"And I, Imber, pondered upon these things, watching the while the
Whitefish, and the Pellys, and all the tribes of the land, perishing
as perished the meat of the forest. Long I pondered. I talked with the
shamans and the old men who were wise. I went apart that the sounds of
the village might not disturb me, and I ate no meat so that my belly
should not press upon me and make me slow of eye and ear. I sat long
and sleepless in the forest, wide-eyed for the sign, my ears patient
and keen for the word that was to come. And I wandered alone in the
blackness of night to the river bank, where was wind-moaning and
sobbing of water, and where I sought wisdom from the ghosts of old
shamans in the trees and dead and gone.
"And in the end, as in a vision, came to me the short-haired and
detestable dogs, and the way seemed plain. By the wisdom of Otsbaok,
my father and a strong man, had the blood of our own wolf-dogs been
kept clean, wherefore had they remained warm of hide and strong in
the harness. So I returned to my village and made oration to the men.
'This be a tribe, these white men,' I said. 'A very large tribe, and
doubtless there is no longer meat in their land, and they are come
among us to make a new land for themselves. But they weaken us, and we
die. They are a very hungry folk. Already has our meat gone from us,
and it were well, if we would live, that we deal by them as we have
dealt by their dogs.'
"And further oration I made, counselling fight. And the men of the
Whitefish listened, and some said one thing, and some another, and
some spoke of other and worthless things, and no man made brave talk
of deeds and war. But while the young men were weak as water and
afraid, I watched that the old men sat silent, and that in their eyes
fires came and went. And later, when the village slept and no one
knew, I drew the old men away into the forest and made more talk. And
now we were agreed, and we remembered the good young days, and the
free land, and the times of plenty, and the gladness and sunshine; and
we called ourselves brothers, and swore great secrecy, and a mighty
oath to cleanse the land of the evil breed that had come upon it. It
be plain we were fools, but how were we to know, we old men of the
"And to hearten the others, I did the first deed. I kept guard upon
the Yukon till the first canoe came down. In it were two white men,
and when I stood upright upon the bank and raised my hand they changed
their course and drove in to me. And as the man in the bow lifted his
head, so, that he might know wherefore I wanted him, my arrow sang
through the air straight to his throat, and he knew. The second man,
who held paddle in the stern, had his rifle half to his shoulder when
the first of my three spear-casts smote him.
"'These be the first,' I said, when the old men had gathered to me.
'Later we will bind together all the old men of all the tribes, and
after that the young men who remain strong, and the work will become
"And then the two dead white men we cast into the river. And of the
canoe, which was a very good canoe, we made a fire, and a fire, also,
of the things within the canoe. But first we looked at the things, and
they were pouches of leather which we cut open with our knives. And
inside these pouches were many papers, like that from which thou hast
read, O Howkan, with markings on them which we marvelled at and could
not understand. Now, I am become wise, and I know them for the speech
of men as thou hast told me."
A whisper and buzz went around the courtroom when Howkan finished
interpreting the affair of the canoe, and one man's voice spoke up:
"That was the lost '91 mail, Peter James and Delaney bringing it
in and last spoken at Le Barge by Matthews going out." The clerk
scratched steadily away, and another paragraph was added to the
history of the North.
"There be little more," Imber went on slowly. "It be there on the
paper, the things we did. We were old men, and we did not understand.
Even I, Imber, do not now understand. Secretly we slew, and continued
to slay, for with our years we were crafty and we had learned the
swiftness of going without haste. When white men came among us with
black looks and rough words, and took away six of the young men with
irons binding them helpless, we knew we must slay wider and farther.
And one by one we old men departed up river and down to the unknown
lands. It was a brave thing. Old we were, and unafraid, but the fear
of far places is a terrible fear to men who are old.
"So we slew, without haste and craftily. On the Chilcoot and in the
Delta we slew, from the passes to the sea, wherever the white men
camped or broke their trails. It be true, they died, but it was
without worth. Ever did they come over the mountains, ever did they
grow and grow, while we, being old, became less and less. I remember,
by the Caribou Crossing, the camp of a white man. He was a very little
white man, and three of the old men came upon him in his sleep. And
the next day I came upon the four of them. The white man alone still
breathed, and there was breath in him to curse me once and well before
"And so it went, now one old man, and now another. Sometimes the word
reached us long after of how they died, and sometimes it did not reach
us. And the old men of the other tribes were weak and afraid, and
would not join with us. As I say, one by one, till I alone was left.
I am Imber, of the Whitefish people. My father was Otsbaok, a strong
man. There are no Whitefish now. Of the old men I am the last. The
young men and young women are gone away, some to live with the Pellys,
some with the Salmons, and more with the white men. I am very old,
and very tired, and it being vain fighting the Law, as thou sayest,
Howkan, I am come seeking the Law."
"O Imber, thou art indeed a fool," said Howkan.
But Imber was dreaming. The square-browed judge likewise dreamed,
and all his race rose up before him in a mighty phantasmagoria--his
steel-shod, mail-clad race, the lawgiver and world-maker among the
families of men. He saw it dawn red-flickering across the dark
forests and sullen seas; he saw it blaze, bloody and red, to full and
triumphant noon; and down the shaded slope he saw the blood-red sands
dropping into night. And through it all he observed the Law, pitiless
and potent, ever unswerving and ever ordaining, greater than the motes
of men who fulfilled it or were crushed by it, even as it was greater
than he, his heart speaking for softness.