Part 2 out of 3
we had to wait for the river to break. We got pretty thin before we
decided to eat the dogs, and we decided to eat Spot first. Do you
know what that dog did? He sneaked. Now how did he know our minds
were made up to eat him? We sat up nights laying for him, but he
never came back, and we ate the other dogs. We ate the whole team.
And now for the sequel. You know what it is when a big river breaks
up and a few billion tons of ice go out, jamming and milling and
grinding. Just in the thick of it, when the Stewart went out,
rumbling and roaring, we sighted Spot out in the middle. He'd got
caught as he was trying to cross up above somewhere. Steve and I
yelled and shouted and ran up and down the bank, tossing our hats in
the air. Sometimes we'd stop and hug each other, we were that
boisterous, for we saw Spot's finish. He didn't have a chance in a
million. He didn't have any chance at all. After the ice-run, we
got into a canoe and paddled down to the Yukon, and down the Yukon to
Dawson, stopping to feed up for a week at the cabins at the mouth of
Henderson Creek. And as we came in to the bank at Dawson, there sat
that Spot, waiting for us, his ears pricked up, his tail wagging, his
mouth smiling, extending a hearty welcome to us. Now how did he get
out of that ice? How did he know we were coming to Dawson, to the
very hour and minute, to be out there on the bank waiting for us?
The more I think of that Spot, the more I am convinced that there are
things in this world that go beyond science. On no scientific
grounds can that Spot be explained. It's psychic phenomena, or
mysticism, or something of that sort, I guess, with a lot of
Theosophy thrown in. The Klondike is a good country. I might have
been there yet, and become a millionaire, if it hadn't been for Spot.
He got on my nerves. I stood him for two years altogether, and then
I guess my stamina broke. It was the summer of 1899 when I pulled
out. I didn't say anything to Steve. I just sneaked. But I fixed
it up all right. I wrote Steve a note, and enclosed a package of
"rough-on-rats," telling him what to do with it. I was worn down to
skin and bone by that Spot, and I was that nervous that I'd jump and
look around when there wasn't anybody within hailing distance. But
it was astonishing the way I recuperated when I got quit of him. I
got back twenty pounds before I arrived in San Francisco, and by the
time I'd crossed the ferry to Oakland I was my old self again, so
that even my wife looked in vain for any change in me.
Steve wrote to me once, and his letter seemed irritated. He took it
kind of hard because I'd left him with Spot. Also, he said he'd used
the "rough-on-rats," per directions, and that there was nothing
doing. A year went by. I was back in the office and prospering in
all ways--even getting a bit fat. And then Steve arrived. He didn't
look me up. I read his name in the steamer list, and wondered why.
But I didn't wonder long. I got up one morning and found that Spot
chained to the gate-post and holding up the milkman. Steve went
north to Seattle, I learned, that very morning. I didn't put on any
more weight. My wife made me buy him a collar and tag, and within an
hour he showed his gratitude by killing her pet Persian cat. There
is no getting rid of that Spot. He will be with me until I die, for
he'll never die. My appetite is not so good since he arrived, and my
wife says I am looking peaked. Last night that Spot got into Mr.
Harvey's hen-house (Harvey is my next-door neighbour) and killed
nineteen of his fancy-bred chickens. I shall have to pay for them.
My neighbours on the other side quarrelled with my wife and then
moved out. Spot was the cause of it. And that is why I am
disappointed in Stephen Mackaye. I had no idea he was so mean a man.
FLUSH OF GOLD
Lon McFane was a bit grumpy, what of losing his tobacco pouch, or
else he might have told me, before we got to it, something about the
cabin at Surprise Lake. All day, turn and turn about, we had spelled
each other at going to the fore and breaking trail for the dogs. It
was heavy snowshoe work, and did not tend to make a man voluble, yet
Lon McFane might have found breath enough at noon, when we stopped to
boil coffee, with which to tell me. But he didn't. Surprise Lake?
it was Surprise Cabin to me. I had never heard of it before. I
confess I was a bit tired. I had been looking for Lon to stop and
make camp any time for an hour; but I had too much pride to suggest
making camp or to ask him his intentions; and yet he was my man,
lured at a handsome wage to mush my dogs for me and to obey my
commands. I guess I was a bit grumpy myself. He said nothing, and I
was resolved to ask nothing, even if we tramped on all night.
We came upon the cabin abruptly. For a week of trail we had met no
one, and, in my mind, there had been little likelihood of meeting any
one for a week to come. And yet there it was, right before my eyes,
a cabin, with a dim light in the window and smoke curling up from the
"Why didn't you tell me--" I began, but was interrupted by Lon, who
"Surprise Lake--it lies up a small feeder half a mile on. It's only
"Yes, but the cabin--who lives in it?"
"A woman," was the answer, and the next moment Lon had rapped on the
door, and a woman's voice bade him enter.
"Have you seen Dave recently?" she asked.
"Nope," Lon answered carelessly. "I've been in the other direction,
down Circle City way. Dave's up Dawson way, ain't he?"
The woman nodded, and Lon fell to unharnessing the dogs, while I
unlashed the sled and carried the camp outfit into the cabin. The
cabin was a large, one-room affair, and the woman was evidently alone
in it. She pointed to the stove, where water was already boiling,
and Lon set about the preparation of supper, while I opened the fish-
bag and fed the dogs. I looked for Lon to introduce us, and was
vexed that he did not, for they were evidently old friends.
"You are Lon McFane, aren't you?" I heard her ask him. "Why, I
remember you now. The last time I saw you it was on a steamboat,
wasn't it? I remember . . . "
Her speech seemed suddenly to be frozen by the spectacle of dread
which, I knew, from the tenor I saw mounting in her eyes, must be on
her inner vision. To my astonishment, Lon was affected by her words
and manner. His face showed desperate, for all his voice sounded
hearty and genial, as he said -
"The last time we met was at Dawson, Queen's Jubilee, or Birthday, or
something--don't you remember?--the canoe races in the river, and the
obstacle races down the main street?"
The terror faded out of her eyes and her whole body relaxed. "Oh,
yes, I do remember," she said. "And you won one of the canoe races."
"How's Dave been makin' it lately? Strikin' it as rich as ever, I
suppose?" Lon asked, with apparent irrelevance.
She smiled and nodded, and then, noticing that I had unlashed the bed
roll, she indicated the end of the cabin where I might spread it.
Her own bunk, I noticed, was made up at the opposite end.
"I thought it was Dave coming when I heard your dogs," she said.
After that she said nothing, contenting herself with watching Lon's
cooking operations, and listening the while as for the sound of dogs
along the trail. I lay back on the blankets and smoked and watched.
Here was mystery; I could make that much out, but no more could I
make out. Why in the deuce hadn't Lon given me the tip before we
arrived? I looked at her face, unnoticed by her, and the longer I
looked the harder it was to take my eyes away. It was a wonderfully
beautiful face, unearthly, I may say, with a light in it or an
expression or something "that was never on land or sea." Fear and
terror had completely vanished, and it was a placidly beautiful face-
-if by "placid" one can characterize that intangible and occult
something that I cannot say was a radiance or a light any more than I
can say it was an expression.
Abruptly, as if for the first time, she became aware of my presence.
"Have you seen Dave recently?" she asked me. It was on the tip of my
tongue to say "Dave who?" when Lon coughed in the smoke that arose
from the sizzling bacon. The bacon might have caused that cough, but
I took it as a hint and left my question unasked. "No, I haven't," I
answered. "I'm new in this part of the country--"
"But you don't mean to say," she interrupted, "that you've never
heard of Dave--of Big Dave Walsh?"
"You see," I apologised, "I'm new in the country. I've put in most
of my time in the Lower Country, down Nome way."
"Tell him about Dave," she said to Lon.
Lon seemed put out, but he began in that hearty, genial manner that I
had noticed before. It seemed a shade too hearty and genial, and it
"Oh, Dave is a fine man," he said. "He's a man, every inch of him,
and he stands six feet four in his socks. His word is as good as his
bond. The man lies who ever says Dave told a lie, and that man will
have to fight with me, too, as well--if there's anything left of him
when Dave gets done with him. For Dave is a fighter. Oh, yes, he's
a scrapper from way back. He got a grizzly with a '38 popgun. He
got clawed some, but he knew what he was doin'. He went into the
cave on purpose to get that grizzly. 'Fraid of nothing. Free an'
easy with his money, or his last shirt an' match when out of money.
Why, he drained Surprise Lake here in three weeks an' took out ninety
thousand, didn't he?" She flushed and nodded her head proudly.
Through his recital she had followed every word with keenest
interest. "An' I must say," Lon went on, "that I was disappointed
sore on not meeting Dave here to-night."
Lon served supper at one end of the table of whip-sawed spruce, and
we fell to eating. A howling of the dogs took the woman to the door.
She opened it an inch and listened.
"Where is Dave Walsh?" I asked, in an undertone.
"Dead," Lon answered. "In hell, maybe. I don't know. Shut up."
"But you just said that you expected to meet him here to-night," I
"Oh, shut up, can't you," was Lon's reply, in the same cautious
The woman had closed the door and was returning, and I sat and
meditated upon the fact that this man who told me to shut up received
from me a salary of two hundred and fifty dollars a month and his
Lon washed the dishes, while I smoked and watched the woman. She
seemed more beautiful than ever--strangely and weirdly beautiful, it
is true. After looking at her steadfastly for five minutes, I was
compelled to come back to the real world and to glance at Lon McFane.
This enabled me to know, without discussion, that the woman, too, was
real. At first I had taken her for the wife of Dave Walsh; but if
Dave Walsh were dead, as Lon had said, then she could be only his
It was early to bed, for we faced a long day on the morrow; and as
Lon crawled in beside me under the blankets, I ventured a question.
"That woman's crazy, isn't she?"
"Crazy as a loon," he answered.
And before I could formulate my next question, Lon McFane, I swear,
was off to sleep. He always went to sleep that way--just crawled
into the blankets, closed his eyes, and was off, a demure little
heavy breathing rising on the air. Lon never snored.
And in the morning it was quick breakfast, feed the dogs, load the
sled, and hit the trail. We said good-bye as we pulled out, and the
woman stood in the doorway and watched us off. I carried the vision
of her unearthly beauty away with me, just under my eyelids, and all
I had to do, any time, was to close them and see her again. The way
was unbroken, Surprise Lake being far off the travelled trails, and
Lon and I took turn about at beating down the feathery snow with our
big, webbed shoes so that the dogs could travel. "But you said you
expected to meet Dave Walsh at the cabin," trembled on the tip of my
tongue a score of times. I did not utter it. I could wait until we
knocked off in the middle of the day. And when the middle of the day
came, we went right on, for, as Lon explained, there was a camp of
moose hunters at the forks of the Teelee, and we could make there by
dark. But we didn't make there by dark, for Bright, the lead-dog,
broke his shoulder-blade, and we lost an hour over him before we shot
him. Then, crossing a timber jam on the frozen bed of the Teelee,
the sled suffered a wrenching capsize, and it was a case of make camp
and repair the runner. I cooked supper and fed the dogs while Lon
made the repairs, and together we got in the night's supply of ice
and firewood. Then we sat on our blankets, our moccasins steaming on
upended sticks before the fire, and had our evening smoke.
"You didn't know her?" Lon queried suddenly. I shook my head.
"You noticed the colour of her hair and eyes and her complexion,
well, that's where she got her name--she was like the first warm glow
of a golden sunrise. She was called Flush of Gold. Ever heard of
Somewhere I had a confused and misty remembrance of having heard the
name, yet it meant nothing to me. "Flush of Gold," I repeated;
"sounds like the name of a dance-house girl." Lon shook his head.
"No, she was a good woman, at least in that sense, though she sinned
greatly just the same."
"But why do you speak always of her in the past tense, as though she
"Because of the darkness on her soul that is the same as the darkness
of death. The Flush of Gold that I knew, that Dawson knew, and that
Forty Mile knew before that, is dead. That dumb, lunatic creature we
saw last night was not Flush of Gold."
"And Dave?" I queried.
"He built that cabin," Lon answered, "He built it for her . . . and
for himself. He is dead. She is waiting for him there. She half
believes he is not dead. But who can know the whim of a crazed mind?
Maybe she wholly believes he is not dead. At any rate, she waits for
him there in the cabin he built. Who would rouse the dead? Then who
would rouse the living that are dead? Not I, and that is why I let
on to expect to meet Dave Walsh there last night. I'll bet a stack
that I'd a been more surprised than she if I HAD met him there last
"I do not understand," I said. "Begin at the beginning, as a white
man should, and tell me the whole tale."
And Lon began. "Victor Chauvet was an old Frenchman--born in the
south of France. He came to California in the days of gold. He was
a pioneer. He found no gold, but, instead, became a maker of bottled
sunshine--in short, a grape-grower and wine-maker. Also, he followed
gold excitements. That is what brought him to Alaska in the early
days, and over the Chilcoot and down the Yukon long before the
Carmack strike. The old town site of Ten Mile was Chauvet's. He
carried the first mail into Arctic City. He staked those coal-mines
on the Porcupine a dozen years ago. He grubstaked Loftus into the
Nippennuck Country. Now it happened that Victor Chauvet was a good
Catholic, loving two things in this world, wine and woman. Wine of
all kinds he loved, but of woman, only one, and she was the mother of
Here I groaned aloud, having meditated beyond self-control over the
fact that I paid this man two hundred and fifty dollars a month.
"What's the matter now?" he demanded.
"Matter?" I complained. "I thought you were telling the story of
Flush of Gold. I don't want a biography of your old French wine-
Lon calmly lighted his pipe, took one good puff, then put the pipe
aside. "And you asked me to begin at the beginning," he said.
"Yes," said I; "the beginning."
"And the beginning of Flush of Gold is the old French wine-bibber,
for he was the father of Marie Chauvet, and Marie Chauvet was the
Flush of Gold. What more do you want? Victor Chauvet never had much
luck to speak of. He managed to live, and to get along, and to take
good care of Marie, who resembled the one woman he had loved. He
took very good care of her. Flush of Gold was the pet name he gave
her. Flush of Gold Creek was named after her--Flush of Gold town
site, too. The old man was great on town sites, only he never landed
"Now, honestly," Lon said, with one of his lightning changes, "you've
seen her, what do you think of her--of her looks, I mean? How does
she strike your beauty sense?"
"She is remarkably beautiful," I said. "I never saw anything like
her in my life. In spite of the fact, last night, that I guessed she
was mad, I could not keep my eyes off of her. It wasn't curiosity.
It was wonder, sheer wonder, she was so strangely beautiful."
"She was more strangely beautiful before the darkness fell upon her,"
Lon said softly. "She was truly the Flush of Cold. She turned all
men's hearts . . . and heads. She recalls, with an effort, that I
once won a canoe race at Dawson--I, who once loved her, and was told
by her of her love for me. It was her beauty that made all men love
her. She'd 'a' got the apple from Paris, on application, and there
wouldn't have been any Trojan War, and to top it off she'd have
thrown Paris down. And now she lives in darkness, and she who was
always fickle, for the first time is constant--and constant to a
shade, to a dead man she does not realize is dead.
"And this is the way it was. You remember what I said last night of
Dave Walsh--Big Dave Walsh? He was all that I said, and more, many
times more. He came into this country in the late eighties--that's a
pioneer for you. He was twenty years old then. He was a young bull.
When he was twenty-five he could lift clear of the ground thirteen
fifty-pound sacks of flour. At first, each fall of the year, famine
drove him out. It was a lone land in those days. No river
steamboats, no grub, nothing but salmon bellies and rabbit tracks.
But after famine chased him out three years, he said he'd had enough
of being chased; and the next year he stayed. He lived on straight
meat when he was lucky enough to get it; he ate eleven dogs that
winter; but he stayed. And the next winter he stayed, and the next.
He never did leave the country again. He was a bull, a great bull.
He could kill the strongest man in the country with hard work. He
could outpack a Chilcat Indian, he could outpaddle a Stick, and he
could travel all day with wet feet when the thermometer registered
fifty below zero, and that's going some, I tell you, for vitality.
You'd freeze your feet at twenty-five below if you wet them and tried
to keep on.
"Dave Walsh was a bull for strength. And yet he was soft and easy-
natured. Anybody could do him, the latest short-horn in camp could
lie his last dollar out of him. 'But it doesn't worry me,' he had a
way of laughing off his softness; 'it doesn't keep me awake nights.'
Now don't get the idea that he had no backbone. You remember about
the bear he went after with the popgun. When it came to fighting
Dave was the blamedest ever. He was the limit, if by that I may
describe his unlimitedness when he got into action, he was easy and
kind with the weak, but the strong had to give trail when he went by.
And he was a man that men liked, which is the finest word of all, a
"Dave never took part in the big stampede to Dawson when Carmack made
the Bonanza strike. You see, Dave was just then over on Mammon Creek
strikin' it himself. He discovered Mammon Creek. Cleaned eighty-
four thousand up that winter, and opened up the claim so that it
promised a couple of hundred thousand for the next winter. Then,
summer bein' on and the ground sloshy, he took a trip up the Yukon to
Dawson to see what Carmack's strike looked like. And there he saw
Flush of Gold. I remember the night. I shall always remember. It
was something sudden, and it makes one shiver to think of a strong
man with all the strength withered out of him by one glance from the
soft eyes of a weak, blond, female creature like Flush of Gold. It
was at her dad's cabin, old Victor Chauvet's. Some friend had
brought Dave along to talk over town sites on Mammon Creek. But
little talking did he do, and what he did was mostly gibberish. I
tell you the sight of Flush of Gold had sent Dave clean daffy. Old
Victor Chauvet insisted after Dave left that he had been drunk. And
so he had. He was drunk, but Flush of Gold was the strong drink that
made him so.
"That settled it, that first glimpse he caught of her. He did not
start back down the Yukon in a week, as he had intended. He lingered
on a month, two months, all summer. And we who had suffered
understood, and wondered what the outcome would be. Undoubtedly, in
our minds, it seemed that Flush of Gold had met her master. And why
not? There was romance sprinkled all over Dave Walsh. He was a
Mammon King, he had made the Mammon Creek strike; he was an old sour
dough, one of the oldest pioneers in the land--men turned to look at
him when he went by, and said to one another in awed undertones,
'There goes Dave Walsh.' And why not? He stood six feet four; he
had yellow hair himself that curled on his neck; and he was a bull--a
yellow-maned bull just turned thirty-one.
"And Flush of Gold loved him, and, having danced him through a whole
summer's courtship, at the end their engagement was made known. The
fall of the year was at hand, Dave had to be back for the winter's
work on Mammon Creek, and Flush of Gold refused to be married right
away. Dave put Dusky Burns in charge of the Mammon Creek claim, and
himself lingered on in Dawson. Little use. She wanted her freedom a
while longer; she must have it, and she would not marry until next
year. And so, on the first ice, Dave Walsh went alone down the Yukon
behind his dogs, with the understanding that the marriage would take
place when he arrived on the first steamboat of the next year.
Now Dave was as true as the Pole Star, and she was as false as a
magnetic needle in a cargo of loadstone. Dave was as steady and
solid as she was fickle and fly-away, and in some way Dave, who never
doubted anybody, doubted her. It was the jealousy of his love,
perhaps, and maybe it was the message ticked off from her soul to
his; but at any rate Dave was worried by fear of her inconstancy. He
was afraid to trust her till the next year, he had so to trust her,
and he was pretty well beside himself. Some of it I got from old
Victor Chauvet afterwards, and from all that I have pieced together I
conclude that there was something of a scene before Dave pulled north
with his dogs. He stood up before the old Frenchman, with Flush of
Gold beside him, and announced that they were plighted to each other.
He was very dramatic, with fire in his eyes, old Victor said. He
talked something about 'until death do us part'; and old Victor
especially remembered that at one place Dave took her by the shoulder
with his great paw and almost shook her as he said: 'Even unto death
are you mine, and I would rise from the grave to claim you.' Old
Victor distinctly remembered those words 'Even unto death are you
mine, and I would rise from the grave to claim you.' And he told me
afterwards that Flush of Gold was pretty badly frightened, and that
he afterwards took Dave to one side privately and told him that that
wasn't the way to hold Flush of Gold--that he must humour her and
gentle her if he wanted to keep her.
"There is no discussion in my mind but that Flush of Gold was
frightened. She was a savage herself in her treatment of men, while
men had always treated her as a soft and tender and too utterly-utter
something that must not be hurt. She didn't know what harshness was
. . . until Dave Walsh, standing his six feet four, a big bull,
gripped her and pawed her and assured her that she was his until
death, and then some. And besides, in Dawson, that winter, was a
music-player--one of those macaroni-eating, greasy-tenor-Eye-talian-
dago propositions--and Flush of Gold lost her heart to him. Maybe it
was only fascination--I don't know. Sometimes it seems to me that
she really did love Dave Walsh. Perhaps it was because he had
frightened her with that even-unto-death, rise-from-the-grave stunt
of his that she in the end inclined to the dago music-player. But it
is all guesswork, and the facts are, sufficient. He wasn't a dago;
he was a Russian count--this was straight; and he wasn't a
professional piano-player or anything of the sort. He played the
violin and the piano, and he sang--sang well--but it was for his own
pleasure and for the pleasure of those he sang for. He had money,
too--and right here let me say that Flush of Gold never cared a rap
for money. She was fickle, but she was never sordid.
"But to be getting along. She was plighted to Dave, and Dave was
coming up on the first steamboat to get her--that was the summer of
'98, and the first steamboat was to be expected the middle of June.
And Flush of Gold was afraid to throw Dave down and face him
afterwards. It was all planned suddenly. The Russian music-player,
the Count, was her obedient slave. She planned it, I know. I
learned as much from old Victor afterwards. The Count took his
orders from her, and caught that first steamboat down. It was the
Golden Rocket. And so did Flush of Gold catch it. And so did I. I
was going to Circle City, and I was flabbergasted when I found Flush
of Gold on board. I didn't see her name down on the passenger list.
She was with the Count fellow all the time, happy and smiling, and I
noticed that the Count fellow was down on the list as having his wife
along. There it was, stateroom, number, and all. The first I knew
that he was married, only I didn't see anything of the wife . . .
unless Flush of Gold was so counted. I wondered if they'd got
married ashore before starting. There'd been talk about them in
Dawson, you see, and bets had been laid that the Count fellow had cut
"I talked with the purser. He didn't know anything more about it
than I did; he didn't know Flush of Gold, anyway, and besides, he was
almost rushed to death. You know what a Yukon steamboat is, but you
can't guess what the Golden Rocket was when it left Dawson that June
of 1898. She was a hummer. Being the first steamer out, she carried
all the scurvy patients and hospital wrecks. Then she must have
carried a couple of millions of Klondike dust and nuggets, to say
nothing of a packed and jammed passenger list, deck passengers
galore, and bucks and squaws and dogs without end. And she was
loaded down to the guards with freight and baggage. There was a
mountain of the same on the fore-lower-deck, and each little stop
along the way added to it. I saw the box come aboard at Teelee
Portage, and I knew it for what it was, though I little guessed the
joker that was in it. And they piled it on top of everything else on
the fore-lower-deck, and they didn't pile it any too securely either.
The mate expected to come back to it again, and then forgot about it.
I thought at the time that there was something familiar about the big
husky dog that climbed over the baggage and freight and lay down next
to the box. And then we passed the Glendale, bound up for Dawson.
As she saluted us, I thought of Dave on board of her and hurrying to
Dawson to Flush of Gold. I turned and looked at her where she stood
by the rail. Her eyes were bright, but she looked a bit frightened
by the sight of the other steamer, and she was leaning closely to the
Count fellow as for protection. She needn't have leaned so safely
against him, and I needn't have been so sure of a disappointed Dave
Walsh arriving at Dawson. For Dave Walsh wasn't on the Glendale.
There were a lot of things I didn't know, but was soon to know--for
instance, that the pair were not yet married. Inside half an hour
preparations for the marriage took place. What of the sick men in
the main cabin, and of the crowded condition of the Golden Rocket,
the likeliest place for the ceremony was found forward, on the lower
deck, in an open space next to the rail and gang-plank and shaded by
the mountain of freight with the big box on top and the sleeping dog
beside it. There was a missionary on board, getting off at Eagle
City, which was the next step, so they had to use him quick. That's
what they'd planned to do, get married on the boat.
"But I've run ahead of the facts. The reason Dave Walsh wasn't on
the Glendale was because he was on the Golden Rocket. It was this
way. After loiterin' in Dawson on account of Flush of Gold, he went
down to Mammon Creek on the ice. And there he found Dusky Burns
doing so well with the claim, there was no need for him to be around.
So he put some grub on the sled, harnessed the dogs, took an Indian
along, and pulled out for Surprise Lake. He always had a liking for
that section. Maybe you don't know how the creek turned out to be a
four-flusher; but the prospects were good at the time, and Dave
proceeded to build his cabin and hers. That's the cabin we slept in.
After he finished it, he went off on a moose hunt to the forks of the
Teelee, takin' the Indian along.
"And this is what happened. Came on a cold snap. The juice went
down forty, fifty, sixty below zero. I remember that snap--I was at
Forty Mile; and I remember the very day. At eleven o'clock in the
morning the spirit thermometer at the N. A. T. & T. Company's store
went down to seventy-five below zero. And that morning, near the
forks of the Teelee, Dave Walsh was out after moose with that blessed
Indian of his. I got it all from the Indian afterwards--we made a
trip over the ice together to Dyea. That morning Mr. Indian broke
through the ice and wet himself to the waist. Of course he began to
freeze right away. The proper thing was to build a fire. But Dave
Walsh was a bull. It was only half a mile to camp, where a fire was
already burning. What was the good of building another? He threw
Mr. Indian over his shoulder--and ran with him--half a mile--with the
thermometer at seventy-five below. You know what that means.
Suicide. There's no other name for it. Why, that buck Indian
weighed over two hundred himself, and Dave ran half a mile with him.
Of course he froze his lungs. Must have frozen them near solid. It
was a tomfool trick for any man to do. And anyway, after lingering
horribly for several weeks, Dave Walsh died.
"The Indian didn't know what to do with the corpse. Ordinarily he'd
have buried him and let it go at that. But he knew that Dave Walsh
was a big man, worth lots of money, a hi-yu skookum chief. Likewise
he'd seen the bodies of other hi-yu skookums carted around the
country like they were worth something. So he decided to take Dave's
body to Forty Mile, which was Dave's headquarters. You know how the
ice is on the grass roots in this country--well, the Indian planted
Dave under a foot of soil--in short, he put Dave on ice. Dave could
have stayed there a thousand years and still been the same old Dave.
You understand--just the same as a refrigerator. Then the Indian
brings over a whipsaw from the cabin at Surprise Lake and makes
lumber enough for the box. Also, waiting for the thaw, he goes out
and shoots about ten thousand pounds of moose. This he keeps on ice,
too. Came the thaw. The Teelee broke. He built a raft and loaded
it with the meat, the big box with Dave inside, and Dave's team of
dogs, and away they went down the Teelee.
"The raft got caught on a timber jam and hung up two days. It was
scorching hot weather, and Mr. Indian nearly lost his moose meat. So
when he got to Teelee Portage he figured a steamboat would get to
Forty Mile quicker than his raft. He transferred his cargo, and
there you are, fore-lower deck of the Golden Rocket, Flush of Gold
being married, and Dave Walsh in his big box casting the shade for
her. And there's one thing I clean forgot. No wonder I thought the
husky dog that came aboard at Teelee Portage was familiar. It was
Pee-lat, Dave Walsh's lead-dog and favourite--a terrible fighter,
too. He was lying down beside the box.
"Flush of Gold caught sight of me, called me over, shook hands with
me, and introduced me to the Count. She was beautiful. I was as mad
for her then as ever. She smiled into my eyes and said I must sign
as one of the witnesses. And there was no refusing her. She was
ever a child, cruel as children are cruel. Also, she told me she was
in possession of the only two bottles of champagne in Dawson--or that
had been in Dawson the night before; and before I knew it I was
scheduled to drink her and the Count's health. Everybody crowded
round, the captain of the steamboat, very prominent, trying to ring
in on the wine, I guess. It was a funny wedding. On the upper deck
the hospital wrecks, with various feet in the grave, gathered and
looked down to see. There were Indians all jammed in the circle,
too, big bucks, and their squaws and kids, to say nothing of about
twenty-five snarling wolf-dogs. The missionary lined the two of them
up and started in with the service. And just then a dog-fight
started, high up on the pile of freight--Pee-lat lying beside the big
box, and a white-haired brute belonging to one of the Indians. The
fight wasn't explosive at all. The brutes just snarled at each other
from a distance--tapping at each other long-distance, you know,
saying dast and dassent, dast and dassent. The noise was rather
disturbing, but you could hear the missionary's voice above it.
"There was no particularly easy way of getting at the two dogs,
except from the other side of the pile. But nobody was on that side-
-everybody watching the ceremony, you see. Even then everything
might have been all right if the captain hadn't thrown a club at the
dogs. That was what precipitated everything. As I say, if the
captain hadn't thrown that club, nothing might have happened.
"The missionary had just reached the point where he was saying 'In
sickness and in health,' and 'Till death us do part.' And just then
the captain threw the club. I saw the whole thing. It landed on
Pee-lat, and at that instant the white brute jumped him. The club
caused it. Their two bodies struck the box, and it began to slide,
its lower end tilting down. It was a long oblong box, and it slid
down slowly until it reached the perpendicular, when it came down on
the run. The onlookers on that side the circle had time to get out
from under. Flush of Gold and the Count, on the opposite side of the
circle, were facing the box; the missionary had his back to it. The
box must have fallen ten feet straight up and down, and it hit end
"Now mind you, not one of us knew that Dave Walsh was dead. We
thought he was on the Glendale, bound for Dawson. The missionary had
edged off to one side, and so Flush of Gold faced the box when it
struck. It was like in a play. It couldn't have been better
planned. It struck on end, and on the right end; the whole front of
the box came off; and out swept Dave Walsh on his feet, partly
wrapped in a blanket, his yellow hair flying and showing bright in
the sun. Right out of the box, on his feet, he swept upon Flush of
Gold. She didn't know he was dead, but it was unmistakable, after
hanging up two days on a timber jam, that he was rising all right
from the dead to claim her. Possibly that is what she thought. At
any rate, the sight froze her. She couldn't move. She just sort of
wilted and watched Dave Walsh coming for her! And he got her. It
looked almost as though he threw his arms around her, but whether or
not this happened, down to the deck they went together. We had to
drag Dave Walsh's body clear before we could get hold of her. She
was in a faint, but it would have been just as well if she had never
come out of that faint; for when she did, she fell to screaming the
way insane people do. She kept it up for hours, till she was
exhausted. Oh, yes, she recovered. You saw her last night, and know
how much recovered she is. She is not violent, it is true, but she
lives in darkness. She believes that she is waiting for Dave Walsh,
and so she waits in the cabin he built for her. She is no longer
fickle. It is nine years now that she has been faithful to Dave
Walsh, and the outlook is that she'll be faithful to him to the end."
Lon McFane pulled down the top of the blankets and prepared to crawl
"We have her grub hauled to her each year," he added, "and in general
keep an eye on her. Last night was the first time she ever
recognized me, though."
"Who are the we?" I asked.
"Oh," was the answer, "the Count and old Victor Chauvet and me. Do
you know, I think the Count is the one to be really sorry for. Dave
Walsh never did know that she was false to him. And she does not
suffer. Her darkness is merciful to her."
I lay silently under the blankets for the space of a minute.
"Is the Count still in the country?" I asked.
But there was a gentle sound of heavy breathing, and I knew Lon
McFane was asleep.
THE PASSING OF MARCUS O'BRIEN
"It is the judgment of this court that you vamose the camp . . . in
the customary way, sir, in the customary way."
Judge Marcus O'Brien was absent-minded, and Mucluc Charley nudged him
in the ribs. Marcus O'Brien cleared his throat and went on -
"Weighing the gravity of the offence, sir, and the extenuating
circumstances, it is the opinion of this court, and its verdict, that
you be outfitted with three days' grub. That will do, I think."
Arizona Jack cast a bleak glance out over the Yukon. It was a
swollen, chocolate flood, running a mile wide and nobody knew how
deep. The earth-bank on which he stood was ordinarily a dozen feet
above the water, but the river was now growling at the top of the
bank, devouring, instant by instant, tiny portions of the top-
standing soil. These portions went into the gaping mouths of the
endless army of brown swirls and vanished away. Several inches more,
and Red Cow would be flooded.
"It won't do," Arizona Jack said bitterly. "Three days' grub ain't
"There was Manchester," Marcus O'Brien replied gravely. "He didn't
get any grub."
"And they found his remains grounded on the Lower River an' half
eaten by huskies," was Arizona Jack's retort. "And his killin' was
without provocation. Joe Deeves never did nothin', never warbled
once, an' jes' because his stomach was out of order, Manchester ups
an' plugs him. You ain't givin' me a square deal, O'Brien, I tell
you that straight. Give me a week's grub, and I play even to win
out. Three days' grub, an' I cash in."
"What for did you kill Ferguson?" O'Brien demanded. "I haven't any
patience for these unprovoked killings. And they've got to stop.
Red Cow's none so populous. It's a good camp, and there never used
to be any killings. Now they're epidemic. I'm sorry for you, Jack,
but you've got to be made an example of. Ferguson didn't provoke
enough for a killing."
"Provoke!" Arizona Jack snorted. "I tell you, O'Brien, you don't
savve. You ain't got no artistic sensibilities. What for did I kill
Ferguson? What for did Ferguson sing 'Then I wisht I was a little
bird'? That's what I want to know. Answer me that. What for did he
sing 'little bird, little bird'? One little bird was enough. I
could a-stood one little bird. But no, he must sing two little
birds. I gave 'm a chanst. I went to him almighty polite and
requested him kindly to discard one little bird. I pleaded with him.
There was witnesses that testified to that.
"An' Ferguson was no jay-throated songster," some one spoke up from
O'Brien betrayed indecision.
"Ain't a man got a right to his artistic feelin's?" Arizona Jack
demanded. "I gave Ferguson warnin'. It was violatin' my own nature
to go on listening to his little birds. Why, there's music sharps
that fine-strung an' keyed-up they'd kill for heaps less'n I did.
I'm willin' to pay for havin' artistic feelin's. I can take my
medicine an' lick the spoon, but three days' grub is drawin' it a
shade fine, that's all, an' I hereby register my kick. Go on with
O'Brien was still wavering. He glanced inquiringly at Mucluc
"I should say, Judge, that three days' grub was a mite severe," the
latter suggested; "but you're runnin' the show. When we elected you
judge of this here trial court, we agreed to abide by your decisions,
an' we've done it, too, b'gosh, an' we're goin' to keep on doin' it."
"Mebbe I've been a trifle harsh, Jack," O'Brien said apologetically--
"I'm that worked up over those killings; an' I'm willing to make it a
week's grub." He cleared his throat magisterially and looked briskly
about him. "And now we might as well get along and finish up the
business. The boat's ready. You go and get the grub, Leclaire.
We'll settle for it afterward."
Arizona Jack looked grateful, and, muttering something about "damned
little birds," stepped aboard the open boat that rubbed restlessly
against the bank. It was a large skiff, built of rough pine planks
that had been sawed by hand from the standing timber of Lake
Linderman, a few hundred miles above, at the foot of Chilcoot. In
the boat were a pair of oars and Arizona Jack's blankets. Leclaire
brought the grub, tied up in a flour-sack, and put it on board. As
he did so, he whispered--"I gave you good measure, Jack. You done it
"Cast her off!" Arizona Jack cried.
Somebody untied the painter and threw it in. The current gripped the
boat and whirled it away. The murderer did not bother with the oars,
contenting himself with sitting in the stern-sheets and rolling a
cigarette. Completing it, he struck a match and lighted up. Those
that watched on the bank could see the tiny puffs of smoke. They
remained on the bank till the boat swung out of sight around the bend
half a mile below. Justice had been done.
The denizens of Red Cow imposed the law and executed sentences
without the delays that mark the softness of civilization. There was
no law on the Yukon save what they made for themselves. They were
compelled to make it for themselves. It was in an early day that Red
Cow flourished on the Yukon--1887--and the Klondike and its populous
stampedes lay in the unguessed future. The men of Red Cow did not
even know whether their camp was situated in Alaska or in the North-
west Territory, whether they drew breath under the stars and stripes
or under the British flag. No surveyor had ever happened along to
give them their latitude and longitude. Red Cow was situated
somewhere along the Yukon, and that was sufficient for them. So far
as flags were concerned, they were beyond all jurisdiction. So far
as the law was concerned, they were in No-Man's land.
They made their own law, and it was very simple. The Yukon executed
their decrees. Some two thousand miles below Red Cow the Yukon
flowed into Bering Sea through a delta a hundred miles wide. Every
mile of those two thousand miles was savage wilderness. It was true,
where the Porcupine flowed into the Yukon inside the Arctic Circle
there was a Hudson Bay Company trading post. But that was many
hundreds of miles away. Also, it was rumoured that many hundreds of
miles farther on there were missions. This last, however, was merely
rumour; the men of Red Cow had never been there. They had entered
the lone land by way of Chilcoot and the head-waters of the Yukon.
The men of Red Cow ignored all minor offences. To be drunk and
disorderly and to use vulgar language were looked upon as natural and
inalienable rights. The men of Red Cow were individualists, and
recognized as sacred but two things, property and life. There were
no women present to complicate their simple morality. There were
only three log-cabins in Red Cow--the majority of the population of
forty men living in tents or brush shacks; and there was no jail in
which to confine malefactors, while the inhabitants were too busy
digging gold or seeking gold to take a day off and build a jail.
Besides, the paramount question of grub negatived such a procedure.
Wherefore, when a man violated the rights of property or life, he was
thrown into an open boat and started down the Yukon. The quantity of
grub he received was proportioned to the gravity of the offence.
Thus, a common thief might get as much as two weeks' grub; an
uncommon thief might get no more than half of that. A murderer got
no grub at all. A man found guilty of manslaughter would receive
grub for from three days to a week. And Marcus O'Brien had been
elected judge, and it was he who apportioned the grub. A man who
broke the law took his chances. The Yukon swept him away, and he
might or might not win to Bering Sea. A few days' grub gave him a
fighting chance. No grub meant practically capital punishment,
though there was a slim chance, all depending on the season of the
Having disposed of Arizona Jack and watched him out of sight, the
population turned from the bank and went to work on its claims--all
except Curly Jim, who ran the one faro layout in all the Northland
and who speculated in prospect-holes on the sides. Two things
happened that day that were momentous. In the late morning Marcus
O'Brien struck it. He washed out a dollar, a dollar and a half, and
two dollars, from three successive pans. He had found the streak.
Curly Jim looked into the hole, washed a few pans himself, and
offered O'Brien ten thousand dollars for all rights--five thousand in
dust, and, in lieu of the other five thousand, a half interest in his
faro layout. O'Brien refused the offer. He was there to make money
out of the earth, he declared with heat, and not out of his fellow-
men. And anyway, he didn't like faro. Besides, he appraised his
strike at a whole lot more than ten thousand.
The second event of moment occurred in the afternoon, when Siskiyou
Pearly ran his boat into the bank and tied up. He was fresh from the
Outside, and had in his possession a four-months-old newspaper.
Furthermore, he had half a dozen barrels of whisky, all consigned to
Curly Jim. The men of Red Cow quit work. They sampled the whisky--
at a dollar a drink, weighed out on Curly's scales; and they
discussed the news. And all would have been well, had not Curly Jim
conceived a nefarious scheme, which was, namely, first to get Marcus
O'Brien drunk, and next, to buy his mine from him.
The first half of the scheme worked beautifully. It began in the
early evening, and by nine o'clock O'Brien had reached the singing
stage. He clung with one arm around Curly Jim's neck, and even
essayed the late lamented Ferguson's song about the little birds. He
considered he was quite safe in this, what of the fact that the only
man in camp with artistic feelings was even then speeding down the
Yukon on the breast of a five-mile current.
But the second half of the scheme failed to connect. No matter how
much whisky was poured down his neck, O'Brien could not be brought to
realize that it was his bounden and friendly duty to sell his claim.
He hesitated, it is true, and trembled now and again on the verge of
giving in. Inside his muddled head, however, he was chuckling to
himself. He was up to Curly Jim's game, and liked the hands that
were being dealt him. The whisky was good. It came out of one
special barrel, and was about a dozen times better than that in the
other five barrels.
Siskiyou Pearly was dispensing drinks in the bar-room to the
remainder of the population of Red Cow, while O'Brien and Curly had
out their business orgy in the kitchen. But there was nothing small
about O'Brien. He went into the bar-room and returned with Mucluc
Charley and Percy Leclaire.
"Business 'sociates of mine, business 'sociates," he announced, with
a broad wink to them and a guileless grin to Curly. "Always trust
their judgment, always trust 'em. They're all right. Give 'em some
fire-water, Curly, an' le's talk it over."
This was ringing in; but Curly Jim, making a swift revaluation of the
claim, and remembering that the last pan he washed had turned out
seven dollars, decided that it was worth the extra whisky, even if it
was selling in the other room at a dollar a drink.
"I'm not likely to consider," O'Brien was hiccoughing to his two
friends in the course of explaining to them the question at issue.
"Who? Me?--sell for ten thousand dollars! No indeed. I'll dig the
gold myself, an' then I'm goin' down to God's country--Southern
California--that's the place for me to end my declinin' days--an'
then I'll start . . . as I said before, then I'll start . . . what
did I say I was goin' to start?"
"Ostrich farm," Mucluc Charley volunteered.
"Sure, just what I'm goin' to start." O'Brien abruptly steadied
himself and looked with awe at Mucluc Charley. "How did you know?
Never said so. Jes' thought I said so. You're a min' reader,
Charley. Le's have another."
Curly Jim filled the glasses and had the pleasure of seeing four
dollars' worth of whisky disappear, one dollar's worth of which he
punished himself--O'Brien insisted that he should drink as frequently
as his guests.
"Better take the money now," Leclaire argued. "Take you two years to
dig it out the hole, an' all that time you might be hatchin' teeny
little baby ostriches an' pulling feathers out the big ones."
O'Brien considered the proposition and nodded approval. Curly Jim
looked gratefully at Leclaire and refilled the glasses.
"Hold on there!" spluttered Mucluc Charley, whose tongue was
beginning to wag loosely and trip over itself. "As your father
confessor--there I go--as your brother--O hell!" He paused and
collected himself for another start. "As your frien'--business
frien', I should say, I would suggest, rather--I would take the
liberty, as it was, to mention--I mean, suggest, that there may be
more ostriches . . . O hell!" He downed another glass, and went on
more carefully. "What I'm drivin' at is . . . what am I drivin' at?"
He smote the side of his head sharply half a dozen times with the
heel of his palm to shake up his ideas. "I got it!" he cried
jubilantly. "Supposen there's slathers more'n ten thousand dollars
in that hole!"
O'Brien, who apparently was all ready to close the bargain, switched
"Great!" he cried. "Splen'd idea. Never thought of it all by
myself." He took Mucluc Charley warmly by the hand. "Good frien'!
Good 's'ciate!" He turned belligerently on Curly Jim. "Maybe
hundred thousand dollars in that hole. You wouldn't rob your old
frien', would you, Curly? Course you wouldn't. I know you--better'n
yourself, better'n yourself. Le's have another: We're good frien's,
all of us, I say, all of us."
And so it went, and so went the whisky, and so went Curly Jim's hopes
up and down. Now Leclaire argued in favour of immediate sale, and
almost won the reluctant O'Brien over, only to lose him to the more
brilliant counter-argument of Mucluc Charley. And again, it was
Mucluc Charley who presented convincing reasons for the sale and
Percy Leclaire who held stubbornly back. A little later it was
O'Brien himself who insisted on selling, while both friends, with
tears and curses, strove to dissuade him. The more whiskey they
downed, the more fertile of imagination they became. For one sober
pro or con they found a score of drunken ones; and they convinced one
another so readily that they were perpetually changing sides in the
The time came when both Mucluc Charley and Leclaire were firmly set
upon the sale, and they gleefully obliterated O'Brien's objections as
fast as he entered them. O'Brien grew desperate. He exhausted his
last argument and sat speechless. He looked pleadingly at the
friends who had deserted him. He kicked Mucluc Charley's shins under
the table, but that graceless hero immediately unfolded a new and
most logical reason for the sale. Curly Jim got pen and ink and
paper and wrote out the bill of sale. O'Brien sat with pen poised in
"Le's have one more," he pleaded. "One more before I sign away a
hundred thousan' dollars."
Curly Jim filled the glasses triumphantly. O'Brien downed his drink
and bent forward with wobbling pen to affix his signature. Before he
had made more than a blot, he suddenly started up, impelled by the
impact of an idea colliding with his consciousness. He stood upon
his feet and swayed back and forth before them, reflecting in his
startled eyes the thought process that was taking place behind. Then
he reached his conclusion. A benevolent radiance suffused his
countenance. He turned to the faro dealer, took his hand, and spoke
"Curly, you're my frien'. There's my han'. Shake. Ol' man, I won't
do it. Won't sell. Won't rob a frien'. No son-of-a-gun will ever
have chance to say Marcus O'Brien robbed frien' cause frien' was
drunk. You're drunk, Curly, an' I won't rob you. Jes' had thought--
never thought it before--don't know what the matter 'ith me, but
never thought it before. Suppose, jes' suppose, Curly, my ol'
frien', jes' suppose there ain't ten thousan' in whole damn claim.
You'd be robbed. No, sir; won't do it. Marcus O'Brien makes money
out of the groun', not out of his frien's."
Percy Leclaire and Mucluc Charley drowned the faro dealer's
objections in applause for so noble a sentiment. They fell upon
O'Brien from either side, their arms lovingly about his neck, their
mouths so full of words they could not hear Curly's offer to insert a
clause in the document to the effect that if there weren't ten
thousand in the claim he would be given back the difference between
yield and purchase price. The longer they talked the more maudlin
and the more noble the discussion became. All sordid motives were
banished. They were a trio of philanthropists striving to save Curly
Jim from himself and his own philanthropy. They insisted that he was
a philanthropist. They refused to accept for a moment that there
could be found one ignoble thought in all the world. They crawled
and climbed and scrambled over high ethical plateaux and ranges, or
drowned themselves in metaphysical seas of sentimentality.
Curly Jim sweated and fumed and poured out the whisky. He found
himself with a score of arguments on his hands, not one of which had
anything to do with the gold-mine he wanted to buy. The longer they
talked the farther away they got from that gold-mine, and at two in
the morning Curly Jim acknowledged himself beaten. One by one he led
his helpless guests across the kitchen floor and thrust them outside.
O'Brien came last, and the three, with arms locked for mutual aid,
titubated gravely on the stoop.
"Good business man, Curly," O'Brien was saying. "Must say like your
style--fine an' generous, free-handed hospital . . . hospital . . .
hospitality. Credit to you. Nothin' base 'n graspin' in your make-
up. As I was sayin'--"
But just then the faro dealer slammed the door.
The three laughed happily on the stoop. They laughed for a long
time. Then Mucluc Charley essayed speech.
"Funny--laughed so hard--ain't what I want to say. My idea is . . .
what wash it? Oh, got it! Funny how ideas slip. Elusive idea--
chasin' elusive idea--great sport. Ever chase rabbits, Percy, my
frien'? I had dog--great rabbit dog. Whash 'is name? Don't know
name--never had no name--forget name--elusive name--chasin' elusive
name--no, idea--elusive idea, but got it--what I want to say was--O
Thereafter there was silence for a long time. O'Brien slipped from
their arms to a sitting posture on the stoop, where he slept gently.
Mucluc Charley chased the elusive idea through all the nooks and
crannies of his drowning consciousness. Leclaire hung fascinated
upon the delayed utterance. Suddenly the other's hand smote him on
"Got it!" Mucluc Charley cried in stentorian tones.
The shock of the jolt broke the continuity of Leclaire's mental
"How much to the pan?" he demanded.
"Pan nothin'!" Mucluc Charley was angry. "Idea--got it--got leg-
hold--ran it down."
Leclaire's face took on a rapt, admiring expression, and again he
hung upon the other's lips.
" . . . O hell!" said Mucluc Charley.
At this moment the kitchen door opened for an instant, and Curly Jim
shouted, "Go home!"
"Funny," said Mucluc Charley. "Shame idea--very shame as mine. Le's
They gathered O'Brien up between them and started. Mucluc Charley
began aloud the pursuit of another idea. Leclaire followed the
pursuit with enthusiasm. But O'Brien did not follow it. He neither
heard, nor saw, nor knew anything. He was a mere wobbling automaton,
supported affectionately and precariously by his two business
They took the path down by the bank of the Yukon. Home did not lie
that way, but the elusive idea did. Mucluc Charley giggled over the
idea that he could not catch for the edification of Leclaire. They
came to where Siskiyou Pearly's boat lay moored to the bank. The
rope with which it was tied ran across the path to a pine stump.
They tripped over it and went down, O'Brien underneath. A faint
flash of consciousness lighted his brain. He felt the impact of
bodies upon his and struck out madly for a moment with his fists.
Then he went to sleep again. His gentle snore arose on the air, and
Mucluc Charley began to giggle.
"New idea," he volunteered, "brand new idea. Jes' caught it--no
trouble at all. Came right up an' I patted it on the head. It's
mine. 'Brien's drunk--beashly drunk. Shame--damn shame--learn'm
lesshon. Trash Pearly's boat. Put 'Brien in Pearly's boat. Casht
off--let her go down Yukon. 'Brien wake up in mornin'. Current too
strong--can't row boat 'gainst current--mush walk back. Come back
madder 'n hatter. You an' me headin' for tall timber. Learn 'm
lesshon jes' shame, learn 'm lesshon."
Siskiyou Pearly's boat was empty, save for a pair of oars. Its
gunwale rubbed against the bank alongside of O'Brien. They rolled
him over into it. Mucluc Charley cast off the painter, and Leclaire
shoved the boat out into the current. Then, exhausted by their
labours, they lay down on the bank and slept.
Next morning all Red Cow knew of the joke that had been played on
Marcus O'Brien. There were some tall bets as to what would happen to
the two perpetrators when the victim arrived back. In the afternoon
a lookout was set, so that they would know when he was sighted.
Everybody wanted to see him come in. But he didn't come, though they
sat up till midnight. Nor did he come next day, nor the next. Red
Cow never saw Marcus O'Brien again, and though many conjectures were
entertained, no certain clue was ever gained to dispel the mystery of
Only Marcus O'Brien knew, and he never came back to tell. He awoke
next morning in torment. His stomach had been calcined by the
inordinate quantity of whisky he had drunk, and was a dry and raging
furnace. His head ached all over, inside and out; and, worse than
that, was the pain in his face. For six hours countless thousands of
mosquitoes had fed upon him, and their ungrateful poison had swollen
his face tremendously. It was only by a severe exertion of will that
he was able to open narrow slits in his face through which he could
peer. He happened to move his hands, and they hurt. He squinted at
them, but failed to recognize them, so puffed were they by the
mosquito virus. He was lost, or rather, his identity was lost to
him. There was nothing familiar about him, which, by association of
ideas, would cause to rise in his consciousness the continuity of his
existence. He was divorced utterly from his past, for there was
nothing about him to resurrect in his consciousness a memory of that
past. Besides, he was so sick and miserable that he lacked energy
and inclination to seek after who and what he was.
It was not until he discovered a crook in a little finger, caused by
an unset breakage of years before, that he knew himself to be Marcus
O'Brien. On the instant his past rushed into his consciousness.
When he discovered a blood-blister under a thumb-nail, which he had
received the previous week, his self-identification became doubly
sure, and he knew that those unfamiliar hands belonged to Marcus
O'Brien, or, just as much to the point, that Marcus O'Brien belonged
to the hands. His first thought was that he was ill--that he had had
river fever. It hurt him so much to open his eyes that he kept them
closed. A small floating branch struck the boat a sharp rap. He
thought it was some one knocking on the cabin door, and said, "Come
in." He waited for a while, and then said testily, "Stay out, then,
damn you." But just the same he wished they would come in and tell
him about his illness.
But as he lay there, the past night began to reconstruct itself in
his brain. He hadn't been sick at all, was his thought; he had
merely been drunk, and it was time for him to get up and go to work.
Work suggested his mine, and he remembered that he had refused ten
thousand dollars for it. He sat up abruptly and squeezed open his
eyes. He saw himself in a boat, floating on the swollen brown flood
of the Yukon. The spruce-covered shores and islands were unfamiliar.
He was stunned for a time. He couldn't make it out. He could
remember the last night's orgy, but there was no connection between
that and his present situation.
He closed his eyes and held his aching head in his hands. What had
happened? Slowly the dreadful thought arose in his mind. He fought
against it, strove to drive it away, but it persisted: he had killed
somebody. That alone could explain why he was in an open boat
drifting down the Yukon. The law of Red Cow that he had so long
administered had now been administered to him. He had killed some
one and been set adrift. But whom? He racked his aching brain for
the answer, but all that came was a vague memory of bodies falling
upon him and of striking out at them. Who were they? Maybe he had
killed more than one. He reached to his belt. The knife was missing
from its sheath. He had done it with that undoubtedly. But there
must have been some reason for the killing. He opened his eyes and
in a panic began to search about the boat. There was no grub, not an
ounce of grub. He sat down with a groan. He had killed without
provocation. The extreme rigour of the law had been visited upon
For half an hour he remained motionless, holding his aching head and
trying to think. Then he cooled his stomach with a drink of water
from overside and felt better. He stood up, and alone on the wide-
stretching Yukon, with naught but the primeval wilderness to hear, he
cursed strong drink. After that he tied up to a huge floating pine
that was deeper sunk in the current than the boat and that
consequently drifted faster. He washed his face and hands, sat down
in the stern-sheets, and did some more thinking. It was late in
June. It was two thousand miles to Bering Sea. The boat was
averaging five miles an hour. There was no darkness in such high
latitudes at that time of the year, and he could run the river every
hour of the twenty-four. This would mean, daily, a hundred and
twenty miles. Strike out the twenty for accidents, and there
remained a hundred miles a day. In twenty days he would reach Bering
Sea. And this would involve no expenditure of energy; the river did
the work. He could lie down in the bottom of the boat and husband
For two days he ate nothing. Then, drifting into the Yukon Flats, he
went ashore on the low-lying islands and gathered the eggs of wild
geese and ducks. He had no matches, and ate the eggs raw. They were
strong, but they kept him going. When he crossed the Arctic Circle,
he found the Hudson Bay Company's post. The brigade had not yet
arrived from the Mackenzie, and the post was completely out of grub.
He was offered wild-duck eggs, but he informed them that he had a
bushel of the same on the boat. He was also offered a drink of
whisky, which he refused with an exhibition of violent repugnance.
He got matches, however, and after that he cooked his eggs. Toward
the mouth of the river head-winds delayed him, and he was twenty-four
days on the egg diet. Unfortunately, while asleep he had drifted by
both the missions of St. Paul and Holy Cross. And he could sincerely
say, as he afterward did, that talk about missions on the Yukon was
all humbug. There weren't any missions, and he was the man to know.
Once on Bering Sea he exchanged the egg diet for seal diet, and he
never could make up his mind which he liked least. In the fall of
the year he was rescued by a United States revenue cutter, and the
following winter he made quite a hit in San Francisco as a temperance
lecturer. In this field he found his vocation. "Avoid the bottle"
is his slogan and battle-cry. He manages subtly to convey the
impression that in his own life a great disaster was wrought by the
bottle. He has even mentioned the loss of a fortune that was caused
by that hell-bait of the devil, but behind that incident his
listeners feel the loom of some terrible and unguessed evil for which
the bottle is responsible. He has made a success in his vocation,
and has grown grey and respected in the crusade against strong drink.
But on the Yukon the passing of Marcus O'Brien remains tradition. It
is a mystery that ranks at par with the disappearance of Sir John
THE WIT OF PORPORTUK
El-Soo had been a Mission girl. Her mother had died when she was
very small, and Sister Alberta had plucked El-Soo as a brand from the
burning, one summer day, and carried her away to Holy Cross Mission
and dedicated her to God. El-Soo was a full-blooded Indian, yet she
exceeded all the half-breed and quarter-breed girls. Never had the
good sisters dealt with a girl so adaptable and at the same time so
El-Soo was quick, and deft, and intelligent; but above all she was
fire, the living flame of life, a blaze of personality that was
compounded of will, sweetness, and daring. Her father was a chief,
and his blood ran in her veins. Obedience, on the part of El-Soo,
was a matter of terms and arrangement. She had a passion for equity,
and perhaps it was because of this that she excelled in mathematics.
But she excelled in other things. She learned to read and write
English as no girl had ever learned in the Mission. She led the
girls in singing, and into song she carried her sense of equity. She
was an artist, and the fire of her flowed toward creation. Had she
from birth enjoyed a more favourable environment, she would have made
literature or music.
Instead, she was El-Soo, daughter of Klakee-Nah, a chief, and she
lived in the Holy Cross Mission where were no artists, but only pure-
souled Sisters who were interested in cleanliness and righteousness
and the welfare of the spirit in the land of immortality that lay
beyond the skies.
The years passed. She was eight years old when she entered the
Mission; she was sixteen, and the Sisters were corresponding with
their superiors in the Order concerning the sending of El-Soo to the
United States to complete her education, when a man of her own tribe
arrived at Holy Cross and had talk with her. El-Soo was somewhat
appalled by him. He was dirty. He was a Caliban-like creature,
primitively ugly, with a mop of hair that had never been combed. He
looked at her disapprovingly and refused to sit down.
"Thy brother is dead," he said shortly.
El-Soo was not particularly shocked. She remembered little of her
brother. "Thy father is an old man, and alone," the messenger went
on. "His house is large and empty, and he would hear thy voice and
look upon thee."
Him she remembered--Klakee-Nah, the headman of the village, the
friend of the missionaries and the traders, a large man thewed like a
giant, with kindly eyes and masterful ways, and striding with a
consciousness of crude royalty in his carriage.
"Tell him that I will come," was El-Soo's answer.
Much to the despair of the Sisters, the brand plucked from the
burning went back to the burning. All pleading with El-Soo was vain.
There was much argument, expostulation, and weeping. Sister Alberta
even revealed to her the project of sending her to the United States.
El-Soo stared wide-eyed into the golden vista thus opened up to her,
and shook her head. In her eyes persisted another vista. It was the
mighty curve of the Yukon at Tana-naw Station. With the St. George
Mission on one side, and the trading post on the other, and midway
between the Indian village and a certain large log house where lived
an old man tended upon by slaves.
All dwellers on the Yukon bank for twice a thousand miles knew the
large log house, the old man and the tending slaves; and well did the
Sisters know the house, its unending revelry, its feasting and its
fun. So there was weeping at Holy Cross when El-Soo departed.
There was a great cleaning up in the large house when El-Soo arrived.
Klakee-Nah, himself masterful, protested at this masterful conduct of
his young daughter; but in the end, dreaming barbarically of
magnificence, he went forth and borrowed a thousand dollars from old
Porportuk, than whom there was no richer Indian on the Yukon. Also,
Klakee-Nah ran up a heavy bill at the trading post. El-Soo re-
created the large house. She invested it with new splendour, while
Klakee-Nah maintained its ancient traditions of hospitality and
All this was unusual for a Yukon Indian, but Klakee-Nah was an
unusual Indian. Not alone did he like to render inordinate
hospitality, but, what of being a chief and of acquiring much money,
he was able to do it. In the primitive trading days he had been a
power over his people, and he had dealt profitably with the white
trading companies. Later on, with Porportuk, he had made a gold-
strike on the Koyokuk River. Klakee-Nah was by training and nature
an aristocrat. Porportuk was bourgeois, and Porportuk bought him out
of the gold-mine. Porportuk was content to plod and accumulate.
Klakee-Nah went back to his large house and proceeded to spend.
Porportuk was known as the richest Indian in Alaska. Klakee-Nah was
known as the whitest. Porportuk was a money-lender and a usurer.
Klakee-Nah was an anachronism--a mediaeval ruin, a fighter and a
feaster, happy with wine and song.
El-Soo adapted herself to the large house and its ways as readily as
she had adapted herself to Holy Cross Mission and its ways. She did
not try to reform her father and direct his footsteps toward God. It
is true, she reproved him when he drank overmuch and profoundly, but
that was for the sake of his health and the direction of his
footsteps on solid earth.
The latchstring to the large house was always out. What with the
coming and the going, it was never still. The rafters of the great
living-room shook with the roar of wassail and of song. At table sat
men from all the world and chiefs from distant tribes--Englishmen and
Colonials, lean Yankee traders and rotund officials of the great
companies, cowboys from the Western ranges, sailors from the sea,
hunters and dog-mushers of a score of nationalities.
El-Soo drew breath in a cosmopolitan atmosphere. She could speak
English as well as she could her native tongue, and she sang English
songs and ballads. The passing Indian ceremonials she knew, and the
perishing traditions. The tribal dress of the daughter of a chief
she knew how to wear upon occasion. But for the most part she
dressed as white women dress. Not for nothing was her needlework at
the Mission and her innate artistry. She carried her clothes like a
white woman, and she made clothes that could be so carried.
In her way she was as unusual as her father, and the position she
occupied was as unique as his. She was the one Indian woman who was
the social equal with the several white women at Tana-naw Station.
She was the one Indian woman to whom white men honourably made
proposals of marriage. And she was the one Indian woman whom no
white man ever insulted.
For El-Soo was beautiful--not as white women are beautiful, not as
Indian women are beautiful. It was the flame of her, that did not
depend upon feature, that was her beauty. So far as mere line and
feature went, she was the classic Indian type. The black hair and
the fine bronze were hers, and the black eyes, brilliant and bold,
keen as sword-light, proud; and hers the delicate eagle nose with the
thin, quivering nostrils, the high cheek-bones that were not broad
apart, and the thin lips that were not too thin. But over all and
through all poured the flame of her--the unanalysable something that
was fire and that was the soul of her, that lay mellow-warm or blazed
in her eyes, that sprayed the cheeks of her, that distended the
nostrils, that curled the lips, or, when the lip was in repose, that
was still there in the lip, the lip palpitant with its presence.
And El-Soo had wit--rarely sharp to hurt, yet quick to search out
forgivable weakness. The laughter of her mind played like lambent
flame over all about her, and from all about her arose answering
laughter. Yet she was never the centre of things. This she would
not permit. The large house, and all of which it was significant,
was her father's; and through it, to the last, moved his heroic
figure--host, master of the revels, and giver of the law. It is
true, as the strength oozed from him, that she caught up
responsibilities from his failing hands. But in appearance he still
ruled, dozing, ofttimes at the board, a bacchanalian ruin, yet in all
seeming the ruler of the feast.
And through the large house moved the figure of Porportuk, ominous,
with shaking head, coldly disapproving, paying for it all. Not that
he really paid, for he compounded interest in weird ways, and year by
year absorbed the properties of Klakee-Nah. Porportuk once took it
upon himself to chide El-Soo upon the wasteful way of life in the
large house--it was when he had about absorbed the last of Klakee-
Nah's wealth--but he never ventured so to chide again. El-Soo, like
her father, was an aristocrat, as disdainful of money as he, and with
an equal sense of honour as finely strung.
Porportuk continued grudgingly to advance money, and ever the money
flowed in golden foam away. Upon one thing El-Soo was resolved--her
father should die as he had lived. There should be for him no
passing from high to low, no diminution of the revels, no lessening
of the lavish hospitality. When there was famine, as of old, the
Indians came groaning to the large house and went away content. When
there was famine and no money, money was borrowed from Porportuk, and
the Indians still went away content. El-Soo might well have
repeated, after the aristocrats of another time and place, that after
her came the deluge. In her case the deluge was old Porportuk. With
every advance of money, he looked upon her with a more possessive
eye, and felt bourgeoning within him ancient fires.
But El-Soo had no eyes for him. Nor had she eyes for the white men
who wanted to marry her at the Mission with ring and priest and book.
For at Tana-naw Station was a young man, Akoon, of her own blood, and
tribe, and village. He was strong and beautiful to her eyes, a great
hunter, and, in that he had wandered far and much, very poor; he had
been to all the unknown wastes and places; he had journeyed to Sitka
and to the United States; he had crossed the continent to Hudson Bay
and back again, and as seal-hunter on a ship he had sailed to Siberia
and for Japan.
When he returned from the gold-strike in Klondike he came, as was his
wont, to the large house to make report to old Klakee-Nah of all the
world that he had seen; and there he first saw El-Soo, three years
back from the Mission. Thereat, Akoon wandered no more. He refused
a wage of twenty dollars a day as pilot on the big steamboats. He
hunted some and fished some, but never far from Tana-naw Station, and
he was at the large house often and long. And El-Soo measured him
against many men and found him good. He sang songs to her, and was
ardent and glowed until all Tana-naw Station knew he loved her. And
Porportuk but grinned and advanced more money for the upkeep of the
Then came the death table of Klakee-Nah.
He sat at feast, with death in his throat, that he could not drown
with wine. And laughter and joke and song went around, and Akoon
told a story that made the rafters echo. There were no tears or
sighs at that table. It was no more than fit that Klakee-Nah should
die as he had lived, and none knew this better than El-Soo, with her
artist sympathy. The old roystering crowd was there, and, as of old,
three frost-bitten sailors were there, fresh from the long traverse
from the Arctic, survivors of a ship's company of seventy-four. At
Klakee-Nah's back were four old men, all that were left him of the
slaves of his youth. With rheumy eyes they saw to his needs, with
palsied hands filling his glass or striking him on the back between
the shoulders when death stirred and he coughed and gasped.
It was a wild night, and as the hours passed and the fun laughed and
roared along, death stirred more restlessly in Klakee-Nah's throat.
Then it was that he sent for Porportuk. And Porportuk came in from
the outside frost to look with disapproving eyes upon the meat and
wine on the table for which he had paid. But as he looked down the
length of flushed faces to the far end and saw the face of El-Soo,
the light in his eyes flared up, and for a moment the disapproval
Place was made for him at Klakee-Nah's side, and a glass placed
before him. Klakee-Nah, with his own hands, filled the glass with
fervent spirits. "Drink!" he cried. "Is it not good?"
And Porportuk's eyes watered as he nodded his head and smacked his
"When, in your own house, have you had such drink?" Klakee-Nah
"I will not deny that the drink is good to this old throat of mine,"
Porportuk made answer, and hesitated for the speech to complete the
"But it costs overmuch," Klakee-Nah roared, completing it for him.
Porportuk winced at the laughter that went down the table. His eyes
burned malevolently. "We were boys together, of the same age," he
said. "In your throat is death. I am still alive and strong."
An ominous murmur arose from the company. Klakee-Nah coughed and
strangled, and the old slaves smote him between the shoulders. He
emerged gasping, and waved his hand to still the threatening rumble.
"You have grudged the very fire in your house because the wood cost
overmuch!" he cried. "You have grudged life. To live cost overmuch,
and you have refused to pay the price. Your life has been like a
cabin where the fire is out and there are no blankets on the floor."
He signalled to a slave to fill his glass, which he held aloft. "But
I have lived. And I have been warm with life as you have never been
warm. It is true, you shall live long. But the longest nights are
the cold nights when a man shivers and lies awake. My nights have
been short, but I have slept warm."
He drained the glass. The shaking hand of a slave failed to catch it
as it crashed to the floor. Klakee-Nah sank back, panting, watching
the upturned glasses at the lips of the drinkers, his own lips
slightly smiling to the applause. At a sign, two slaves attempted to
help him sit upright again. But they were weak, his frame was
mighty, and the four old men tottered and shook as they helped him
"But manner of life is neither here nor there," he went on. "We have
other business, Porportuk, you and I, to-night. Debts are
mischances, and I am in mischance with you. What of my debt, and how
great is it?"
Porportuk searched in his pouch and brought forth a memorandum. He
sipped at his glass and began. "There is the note of August, 1889,
for three hundred dollars. The interest has never been paid. And
the note of the next year for five hundred dollars. This note was
included in the note of two months later for a thousand dollars.
Then there is the note--"
"Never mind the many notes!" Klakee-Nah cried out impatiently. "They
make my head go around and all the things inside my head. The whole!
The round whole! How much is it?"
Porportuk referred to his memorandum. "Fifteen thousand nine hundred
and sixty-seven dollars and seventy-five cents," he read with careful
"Make it sixteen thousand, make it sixteen thousand," Klakee-Nah said
grandly. "Odd numbers were ever a worry. And now--and it is for
this that I have sent for you--make me out a new note for sixteen
thousand, which I shall sign. I have no thought of the interest.
Make it as large as you will, and make it payable in the next world,
when I shall meet you by the fire of the Great Father of all Indians.
Then the note will be paid. This I promise you. It is the word of
Porportuk looked perplexed, and loudly the laughter arose and shook
the room. Klakee-Nah raised his hands. "Nay," he cried. "It is not
a joke. I but speak in fairness. It was for this I sent for you,
Porportuk. Make out the note."
"I have no dealings with the next world," Porportuk made answer
"Have you no thought to meet me before the Great Father!" Klakee-Nah
demanded. Then he added, "I shall surely be there."
"I have no dealings with the next world," Porportuk repeated sourly.
The dying man regarded him with frank amazement.
"I know naught of the next world," Porportuk explained. "I do
business in this world."
Klakee-Nah's face cleared. "This comes of sleeping cold of nights,"
he laughed. He pondered for a space, then said, "It is in this world
that you must be paid. There remains to me this house. Take it, and
burn the debt in the candle there."
"It is an old house and not worth the money," Porportuk made answer.
"There are my mines on the Twisted Salmon."
"They have never paid to work," was the reply.
"There is my share in the steamer Koyokuk. I am half owner."
"She is at the bottom of the Yukon."
Klakee-Nah started. "True, I forgot. It was last spring when the
ice went out." He mused for a time while the glasses remained
untasted, and all the company waited upon his utterance.
"Then it would seem I owe you a sum of money which I cannot pay . . .
in this world?" Porportuk nodded and glanced down the table.
"Then it would seem that you, Porportuk, are a poor business man,"
Klakee-Nah said slyly. And boldly Porportuk made answer, "No; there
is security yet untouched."
"What!" cried Klakee-Nah. "Have I still property? Name it, and it
is yours, and the debt is no more."
"There it is." Porportuk pointed at El-Soo.
Klakee-Nah could not understand. He peered down the table, brushed
his eyes, and peered again.
"Your daughter, El-Soo--her will I take and the debt be no more. I
will burn the debt there in the candle."
Klakee-Nah's great chest began to heave. "Ho! ho!--a joke. Ho! ho!
ho!" he laughed Homerically. "And with your cold bed and daughters
old enough to be the mother of El-Soo! Ho! ho! ho!" He began to
cough and strangle, and the old slaves smote him on the back. "Ho!
ho!" he began again, and went off into another paroxysm.
Porportuk waited patiently, sipping from his glass and studying the
double row of faces down the board. "It is no joke," he said
finally. "My speech is well meant."
Klakee-Nah sobered and looked at him, then reached for his glass, but
could not touch it. A slave passed it to him, and glass and liquor
he flung into the face of Porportuk.
"Turn him out!" Klakee-Nah thundered to the waiting table that
strained like a pack of hounds in leash. "And roll him in the snow!"
As the mad riot swept past him and out of doors, he signalled to the
slaves, and the four tottering old men supported him on his feet as
he met the returning revellers, upright, glass in hand, pledging them
a toast to the short night when a man sleeps warm.
It did not take long to settle the estate of Klakee-Nah. Tommy, the
little Englishman, clerk at the trading post, was called in by El-Soo
to help. There was nothing but debts, notes overdue, mortgaged
properties, and properties mortgaged but worthless. Notes and
mortgages were held by Porportuk. Tommy called him a robber many
times as he pondered the compounding of the interest.
"Is it a debt, Tommy?" El-Soo asked.
"It is a robbery," Tommy answered.
"Nevertheless, it is a debt," she persisted.
The winter wore away, and the early spring, and still the claims of
Porportuk remained unpaid. He saw El-Soo often and explained to her
at length, as he had explained to her father, the way the debt could
be cancelled. Also, he brought with him old medicine-men, who
elaborated to her the everlasting damnation of her father if the debt
were not paid. One day, after such an elaboration, El-Soo made final
announcement to Porportuk.
"I shall tell you two things," she said. "First I shall not be your
wife. Will you remember that? Second, you shall be paid the last
cent of the sixteen thousand dollars--"
"Fifteen thousand nine hundred and sixty-seven dollars and seventy-
five cents," Porportuk corrected.
"My father said sixteen thousand," was her reply. "You shall be
"I know not how, but I shall find out how. Now go, and bother me no
more. If you do"--she hesitated to find fitting penalty--"if you do,
I shall have you rolled in the snow again as soon as the first snow
This was still in the early spring, and a little later El-Soo
surprised the country. Word went up and down the Yukon from Chilcoot
to the Delta, and was carried from camp to camp to the farthermost
camps, that in June, when the first salmon ran, El-Soo, daughter of
Klakee-Nah, would sell herself at public auction to satisfy the
claims of Porportuk. Vain were the attempts to dissuade her. The
missionary at St. George wrestled with her, but she replied--Only the
debts to God are settled in the next world. The debts of men are of
this world, and in this world are they settled."
Akoon wrestled with her, but she replied, "I do love thee, Akoon; but
honour is greater than love, and who am I that I should blacken my
father?" Sister Alberta journeyed all the way up from Holy Cross on
the first steamer, and to no better end.
"My father wanders in the thick and endless forests," said El-Soo.
"And there will he wander, with the lost souls crying, till the debt
be paid. Then, and not until then, may he go on to the house of the
"And you believe this?" Sister Alberta asked.
"I do not know," El-Soo made answer. "It was my father's belief."
Sister Alberta shrugged her shoulders incredulously.
"Who knows but that the things we believe come true?" El-Soo went on.
"Why not? The next world to you may be heaven and harps . . .
because you have believed heaven and harps; to my father the next
world may be a large house where he will sit always at table feasting
"And you?" Sister Alberta asked. "What is your next world?"
El-Soo hesitated but for a moment. "I should like a little of both,"
she said. "I should like to see your face as well as the face of my
The day of the auction came. Tana-naw Station was populous. As was
their custom, the tribes had gathered to await the salmon-run, and in
the meantime spent the time in dancing and frolicking, trading and
gossiping. Then there was the ordinary sprinkling of white
adventurers, traders, and prospectors, and, in addition, a large
number of white men who had come because of curiosity or interest in
It had been a backward spring, and the salmon were late in running.
This delay but keyed up the interest. Then, on the day of the
auction, the situation was made tense by Akoon. He arose and made
public and solemn announcement that whosoever bought El-Soo would
forthwith and immediately die. He flourished the Winchester in his
hand to indicate the manner of the taking-off. El-Soo was angered
thereat; but he refused to speak with her, and went to the trading
post to lay in extra ammunition.
The first salmon was caught at ten o'clock in the evening, and at
midnight the auction began. It took place on top of the high bank
alongside the Yukon. The sun was due north just below the horizon,
and the sky was lurid red. A great crowd gathered about the table
and the two chairs that stood near the edge of the bank. To the fore
were many white men and several chiefs. And most prominently to the
fore, rifle in hand, stood Akoon. Tommy, at El-Soo's request, served
as auctioneer, but she made the opening speech and described the
goods about to be sold. She was in native costume, in the dress of a
chief's daughter, splendid and barbaric, and she stood on a chair,
that she might be seen to advantage.
"Who will buy a wife?" she asked. "Look at me. I am twenty years
old and a maid. I will be a good wife to the man who buys me. If he
is a white man, I shall dress in the fashion of white women; if he is
an Indian, I shall dress as"--she hesitated a moment--"a squaw. I
can make my own clothes, and sew, and wash, and mend. I was taught
for eight years to do these things at Holy Cross Mission. I can read
and write English, and I know how to play the organ. Also I can do
arithmetic and some algebra--a little. I shall be sold to the
highest bidder, and to him I will make out a bill of sale of myself.
I forgot to say that I can sing very well, and that I have never been
sick in my life. I weigh one hundred and thirty-two pounds; my
father is dead and I have no relatives. Who wants me?"
She looked over the crowd with flaming audacity and stepped down. At
Tommy's request she stood upon the chair again, while he mounted the
second chair and started the bidding.
Surrounding El-Soo stood the four old slaves of her father. They
were age-twisted and palsied, faithful to their meat, a generation
out of the past that watched unmoved the antics of younger life. In
the front of the crowd were several Eldorado and Bonanza kings from
the Upper Yukon, and beside them, on crutches, swollen with scurvy,
were two broken prospectors. From the midst of the crowd, thrust out
by its own vividness, appeared the face of a wild-eyed squaw from the
remote regions of the Upper Tana-naw; a strayed Sitkan from the coast
stood side by side with a Stick from Lake Le Barge, and, beyond, a
half-dozen French-Canadian voyageurs, grouped by themselves. From
afar came the faint cries of myriads of wild-fowl on the nesting-
grounds. Swallows were skimming up overhead from the placid surface
of the Yukon, and robins were singing. The oblique rays of the
hidden sun shot through the smoke, high-dissipated from forest fires
a thousand miles away, and turned the heavens to sombre red, while
the earth shone red in the reflected glow. This red glow shone in
the faces of all, and made everything seem unearthly and unreal.
The bidding began slowly. The Sitkan, who was a stranger in the land
and who had arrived only half an hour before, offered one hundred
dollars in a confident voice, and was surprised when Akoon turned
threateningly upon him with the rifle. The bidding dragged. An
Indian from the Tozikakat, a pilot, bid one hundred and fifty, and
after some time a gambler, who had been ordered out of the Upper
Country, raised the bid to two hundred. El-Soo was saddened; her
pride was hurt; but the only effect was that she flamed more
audaciously upon the crowd.
There was a disturbance among the onlookers as Porportuk forced his
way to the front. "Five hundred dollars!" he bid in a loud voice,
then looked about him proudly to note the effect.
He was minded to use his great wealth as a bludgeon with which to
stun all competition at the start. But one of the voyageurs, looking
on El-Soo with sparkling eyes, raised the bid a hundred.
"Seven hundred!" Porportuk returned promptly.
And with equal promptness came the "Eight hundred" of the voyageur.
Then Porportuk swung his club again.
"Twelve hundred!" he shouted.
With a look of poignant disappointment, the voyageur succumbed.
There was no further bidding. Tommy worked hard, but could not
elicit a bid.
El-Soo spoke to Porportuk. "It were good, Porportuk, for you to
weigh well your bid. Have you forgotten the thing I told you--that I
would never marry you!"
"It is a public auction," he retorted. "I shall buy you with a bill
of sale. I have offered twelve hundred dollars. You come cheap."
"Too damned cheap!" Tommy cried. "What if I am auctioneer? That
does not prevent me from bidding. I'll make it thirteen hundred."
"Fourteen hundred," from Porportuk.
"I'll buy you in to be my--my sister," Tommy whispered to El-Soo,
then called aloud, "Fifteen hundred!"
At two thousand one of the Eldorado kings took a hand, and Tommy
A third time Porportuk swung the club of his wealth, making a clean
raise of five hundred dollars. But the Eldorado king's pride was
touched. No man could club him. And he swung back another five
El-Soo stood at three thousand. Porportuk made it thirty-five
hundred, and gasped when the Eldorado king raised it a thousand
dollars. Porportuk again raised it five hundred, and again gasped
when the king raised a thousand more.
Porportuk became angry. His pride was touched; his strength was
challenged, and with him strength took the form of wealth. He would
not be ashamed for weakness before the world. El-Soo became
incidental. The savings and scrimpings from the cold nights of all
his years were ripe to be squandered. El-Soo stood at six thousand.
He made it seven thousand. And then, in thousand-dollar bids, as
fast as they could be uttered, her price went up. At fourteen
thousand the two men stopped for breath.
Then the unexpected happened. A still heavier club was swung. In
the pause that ensued, the gambler, who had scented a speculation and
formed a syndicate with several of his fellows, bid sixteen thousand
"Seventeen thousand," Porportuk said weakly.
"Eighteen thousand," said the king.
Porportuk gathered his strength. "Twenty thousand."
The syndicate dropped out. The Eldorado king raised a thousand, and
Porportuk raised back; and as they bid, Akoon turned from one to the
other, half menacingly, half curiously, as though to see what manner
of man it was that he would have to kill. When the king prepared to
make his next bid, Akoon having pressed closer, the king first loosed
the revolver at his hip, then said:
"Twenty-four thousand," said Porportuk. He grinned viciously, for
the certitude of his bidding had at last shaken the king. The latter
moved over close to El-Soo. He studied her carefully for a long
"And five hundred," he said at last.
"Twenty-five thousand," came Porportuk's raise.
The king looked for a long space, and shook his head. He looked
again, and said reluctantly, "And five hundred."
"Twenty-six thousand," Porportuk snapped.
The king shook his head and refused to meet Tommy's pleading eye. In
the meantime Akoon had edged close to Porportuk. El-Soo's quick eye
noted this, and, while Tommy wrestled with the Eldorado king for
another bid, she bent, and spoke in a low voice in the ear of a
slave. And while Tommy's "Going--going--going--" dominated the air,
the slave went up to Akoon and spoke in a low voice in his ear.
Akoon made no sign that he had heard, though El-Soo watched him
"Gone!" Tommy's voice rang out. "To Porportuk, for twenty-six
Porportuk glanced uneasily at Akoon. All eyes were centred upon
Akoon, but he did nothing.
"Let the scales be brought," said El-Soo.
"I shall make payment at my house," said Porportuk.
"Let the scales be brought," El-Soo repeated. "Payment shall be made
here where all can see."
So the gold scales were brought from the trading post, while
Porportuk went away and came back with a man at his heels, on whose
shoulders was a weight of gold-dust in moose-hide sacks. Also, at
Porportuk's back, walked another man with a rifle, who had eyes only
"Here are the notes and mortgages," said Porportuk, "for fifteen
thousand nine hundred and sixty-seven dollars and seventy-five
El-Soo received them into her hands and said to Tommy, "Let them be
reckoned as sixteen thousand."
"There remains ten thousand dollars to be paid in gold," Tommy said.
Porportuk nodded, and untied the mouths of the sacks. El-Soo,
standing at the edge of the bank, tore the papers to shreds and sent
them fluttering out over the Yukon. The weighing began, but halted.
"Of course, at seventeen dollars," Porportuk had said to Tommy, as he
adjusted the scales.
"At sixteen dollars," El-Soo said sharply.
"It is the custom of all the land to reckon gold at seventeen dollars
for each ounce," Porportuk replied. "And this is a business
El-Soo laughed. "It is a new custom," she said. "It began this
spring. Last year, and the years before, it was sixteen dollars an
ounce. When my father's debt was made, it was sixteen dollars. When
he spent at the store the money he got from you, for one ounce he was
given sixteen dollars' worth of flour, not seventeen. Wherefore,
shall you pay for me at sixteen, and not at seventeen." Porportuk
grunted and allowed the weighing to proceed.
"Weigh it in three piles, Tommy," she said. "A thousand dollars
here, three thousand here, and here six thousand."
It was slow work, and, while the weighing went on, Akoon was closely
watched by all.
"He but waits till the money is paid," one said; and the word went
around and was accepted, and they waited for what Akoon should do
when the money was paid. And Porportuk's man with the rifle waited
and watched Akoon.
The weighing was finished, and the gold-dust lay on the table in
three dark-yellow heaps. "There is a debt of my father to the
Company for three thousand dollars," said El-Soo. "Take it, Tommy,
for the Company. And here are four old men, Tommy. You know them.
And here is one thousand dollars. Take it, and see that the old men
are never hungry and never without tobacco."
Tommy scooped the gold into separate sacks. Six thousand dollars
remained on the table. El-Soo thrust the scoop into the heap, and
with a sudden turn whirled the contents out and down to the Yukon in
a golden shower. Porportuk seized her wrist as she thrust the scoop
a second time into the heap.
"It is mine," she said calmly. Porportuk released his grip, but he
gritted his teeth and scowled darkly as she continued to scoop the
gold into the river till none was left.
The crowd had eyes for naught but Akoon, and the rifle of Porportuk's
man lay across the hollow of his arm, the muzzle directed at Akoon a
yard away, the man's thumb on the hammer. But Akoon did nothing.
"Make out the bill of sale," Porportuk said grimly.
And Tommy made out the till of sale, wherein all right and title in
the woman El-Soo was vested in the man Porportuk. El-Soo signed the
document, and Porportuk folded it and put it away in his pouch.
Suddenly his eyes flashed, and in sudden speech he addressed El-Soo.
"But it was not your father's debt," he said, "What I paid was the
price for you. Your sale is business of to-day and not of last year
and the years before. The ounces paid for you will buy at the post
to-day seventeen dollars of flour, and not sixteen. I have lost a
dollar on each ounce. I have lost six hundred and twenty-five
El-Soo thought for a moment, and saw the error she had made. She
smiled, and then she laughed.
"You are right," she laughed, "I made a mistake. But it is too late.
You have paid, and the gold is gone. You did not think quick. It is
your loss. Your wit is slow these days, Porportuk. You are getting
He did not answer. He glanced uneasily at Akoon, and was reassured.
His lips tightened, and a hint of cruelty came into his face.
"Come," he said, "we will go to my house."
"Do you remember the two things I told you in the spring?" El-Soo
asked, making no movement to accompany him.
"My head would be full with the things women say, did I heed them,"
"I told you that you would be paid," El-Soo went on carefully. "And
I told you that I would never be your wife."
"But that was before the bill of sale." Porportuk crackled the paper
between his fingers inside the pouch. "I have bought you before all
the world. You belong to me. You will not deny that you belong to
"I belong to you," El-Soo said steadily.
"I own you."
"You own me."
Porportuk's voice rose slightly and triumphantly. "As a dog, I own
"As a dog you own me," El-Soo continued calmly. "But, Porportuk, you
forget the thing I told you. Had any other man bought me, I should
have been that man's wife. I should have been a good wife to that
man. Such was my will. But my will with you was that I should never
be your wife. Wherefore, I am your dog."
Porportuk knew that he played with fire, and he resolved to play
firmly. "Then I speak to you, not as El-Soo, but as a dog," he said;
"and I tell you to come with me." He half reached to grip her arm,
but with a gesture she held him back.
"Not so fast, Porportuk. You buy a dog. The dog runs away. It is
your loss. I am your dog. What if I run away?"
"As the owner of the dog, I shall beat you--"
"When you catch me?"
"When I catch you."
"Then catch me."
He reached swiftly for her, but she eluded him. She laughed as she
circled around the table. "Catch her!" Porportuk commanded the
Indian with the rifle, who stood near to her. But as the Indian
stretched forth his arm to her, the Eldorado king felled him with a
fist blow under the ear. The rifle clattered to the ground. Then
was Akoon's chance. His eyes glittered, but he did nothing.
Porportuk was an old man, but his cold nights retained for him his
activity. He did not circle the table. He came across suddenly,
over the top of the table. El-Soo was taken off her guard. She
sprang back with a sharp cry of alarm, and Porportuk would have
caught her had it not been for Tommy. Tommy's leg went out,
Porportuk tripped and pitched forward on the ground. El-Soo got her
"Then catch me," she laughed over her shoulder, as she fled away.
She ran lightly and easily, but Porportuk ran swiftly and savagely.
He outran her. In his youth he had been swiftest of all the young
men. But El-Soo dodged in a willowy, elusive way. Being in native
dress, her feet were not cluttered with skirts, and her pliant body