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Lost Face by Jack London

Part 3 out of 3

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curved a flight that defied the gripping fingers of Porportuk.

With laughter and tumult, the great crowd scattered out to see the
chase. It led through the Indian encampment; and ever dodging,
circling, and reversing, El-Soo and Porportuk appeared and
disappeared among the tents. El-Soo seemed to balance herself
against the air with her arms, now one side, now on the other, and
sometimes her body, too, leaned out upon the air far from the
perpendicular as she achieved her sharpest curves. And Porportuk,
always a leap behind, or a leap this side or that, like a lean hound
strained after her.

They crossed the open ground beyond the encampment and disappeared in
the forest. Tana-naw Station waited their reappearance, and long and
vainly it waited.

In the meantime Akoon ate and slept, and lingered much at the
steamboat landing, deaf to the rising resentment of Tana-naw Station
in that he did nothing. Twenty-four hours later Porportuk returned.
He was tired and savage. He spoke to no one but Akoon, and with him
tried to pick a quarrel. But Akoon shrugged his shoulders and walked
away. Porportuk did not waste time. He outfitted half a dozen of
the young men, selecting the best trackers and travellers, and at
their head plunged into the forest.

Next day the steamer Seattle, bound up river, pulled in to the shore
and wooded up. When the lines were cast off and she churned out from
the bank, Akoon was on board in the pilot-house. Not many hours
afterward, when it was his turn at the wheel, he saw a small
birchbark canoe put off from the shore. There was only one person in
it. He studied it carefully, put the wheel over, and slowed down.

The captain entered the pilot-house. "What's the matter?" he
demanded. "The water's good."

Akoon grunted. He saw a larger canoe leaving the bank, and in it
were a number of persons. As the Seattle lost headway, he put the
wheel over some more.

The captain fumed. "It's only a squaw," he protested.

Akoon did not grunt. He was all eyes for the squaw and the pursuing
canoe. In the latter six paddles were flashing, while the squaw
paddled slowly.

"You'll be aground," the captain protested, seizing the wheel.

But Akoon countered his strength on the wheel and looked him in the
eyes. The captain slowly released the spokes.

"Queer beggar," he sniffed to himself.

Akoon held the Seattle on the edge of the shoal water and waited till
he saw the squaw's fingers clutch the forward rail. Then he
signalled for full speed ahead and ground the wheel over. The large
canoe was very near, but the gap between it and the steamer was

The squaw laughed and leaned over the rail.

"Then catch me, Porportuk!" she cried.

Akoon left the steamer at Fort Yukon. He outfitted a small poling-
boat and went up the Porcupine River. And with him went El-Soo. It
was a weary journey, and the way led across the backbone of the
world; but Akoon had travelled it before. When they came to the
head-waters of the Porcupine, they left the boat and went on foot
across the Rocky Mountains.

Akoon greatly liked to walk behind El-Soo and watch the movements of
her. There was a music in it that he loved. And especially he loved
the well-rounded calves in their sheaths of soft-tanned leather, the
slim ankles, and the small moccasined feet that were tireless through
the longest days.

"You are light as air," he said, looking up at her. "It is no labour
for you to walk. You almost float, so lightly do your feet rise and
fall. You are like a deer, El-Soo; you are like a deer, and your
eyes are like deer's eyes, sometimes when you look at me, or when you
hear a quick sound and wonder if it be danger that stirs. Your eyes
are like a deer's eyes now as you look at me."

And El-Soo, luminous and melting, bent and kissed Akoon.

"When we reach the Mackenzie, we will not delay," Akoon said later.
"We will go south before the winter catches us. We will go to the
sunlands where there is no snow. But we will return. I have seen
much of the world, and there is no land like Alaska, no sun like our
sun, and the snow is good after the long summer."

"And you will learn to read," said El-Soo.

And Akoon said, "I will surely learn to read." But there was delay
when they reached the Mackenzie. They fell in with a band of
Mackenzie Indians, and, hunting, Akoon was shot by accident. The
rifle was in the hands of a youth. The bullet broke Akoon's right
arm and, ranging farther, broke two of his ribs. Akoon knew rough
surgery, while El-Soo had learned some refinements at Holy Cross.
The bones were finally set, and Akoon lay by the fire for them to
knit. Also, he lay by the fire so that the smoke would keep the
mosquitoes away.

Then it was that Porportuk, with his six young men, arrived. Akoon
groaned in his helplessness and made appeal to the Mackenzies. But
Porportuk made demand, and the Mackenzies were perplexed. Porportuk
was for seizing upon El-Soo, but this they would not permit.
Judgment must be given, and, as it was an affair of man and woman,
the council of the old men was called--this that warm judgment might
not be given by the young men, who were warm of heart.

The old men sat in a circle about the smudge-fire. Their faces were
lean and wrinkled, and they gasped and panted for air. The smoke was
not good for them. Occasionally they struck with withered hands at
the mosquitoes that braved the smoke. After such exertion they
coughed hollowly and painfully. Some spat blood, and one of them sat
a bit apart with head bowed forward, and bled slowly and continuously
at the mouth; the coughing sickness had gripped them. They were as
dead men; their time was short. It was a judgment of the dead.

"And I paid for her a heavy price," Porportuk concluded his
complaint. "Such a price you have never seen. Sell all that is
yours--sell your spears and arrows and rifles, sell your skins and
furs, sell your tents and boats and dogs, sell everything, and you
will not have maybe a thousand dollars. Yet did I pay for the woman,
El-Soo, twenty-six times the price of all your spears and arrows and
rifles, your skins and furs, your tents and boats and dogs. It was a
heavy price."

The old men nodded gravely, though their weazened eye-slits widened
with wonder that any woman should be worth such a price. The one
that bled at the mouth wiped his lips. "Is it true talk?" he asked
each of Porportuk's six young men. And each answered that it was

"Is it true talk?" he asked El-Soo, and she answered, "It is true."

"But Porportuk has not told that he is an old man," Akoon said, "and
that he has daughters older than El-Soo."

"It is true, Porportuk is an old man," said El-Soo.

"It is for Porportuk to measure the strength his age," said he who
bled at the mouth. "We be old men. Behold! Age is never so old as
youth would measure it."

And the circle of old men champed their gums, and nodded approvingly,
and coughed.

"I told him that I would never be his wife," said El-Soo.

"Yet you took from him twenty-six times all that we possess?" asked a
one-eyed old man.

El-Soo was silent.

"It is true?" And his one eye burned and bored into her like a fiery

"It is true," she said.

"But I will run away again," she broke out passionately, a moment
later. "Always will I run away."

"That is for Porportuk to consider," said another of the old men.
"It is for us to consider the judgment."

"What price did you pay for her?" was demanded of Akoon.

"No price did I pay for her," he answered. "She was above price. I
did not measure her in gold-dust, nor in dogs, and tents, and furs."

The old men debated among themselves and mumbled in undertones.
"These old men are ice," Akoon said in English. "I will not listen
to their judgment, Porportuk. If you take El-Soo, I will surely kill

The old men ceased and regarded him suspiciously. "We do not know
the speech you make," one said.

"He but said that he would kill me," Porportuk volunteered. "So it
were well to take from him his rifle, and to have some of your young
men sit by him, that he may not do me hurt. He is a young man, and
what are broken bones to youth!"

Akoon, lying helpless, had rifle and knife taken from him, and to
either side of his shoulders sat young men of the Mackenzies. The
one-eyed old man arose and stood upright. "We marvel at the price
paid for one mere woman," he began; "but the wisdom of the price is
no concern of ours. We are here to give judgment, and judgment we
give. We have no doubt. It is known to all that Porportuk paid a
heavy price for the woman El-Soo. Wherefore does the woman El-Soo
belong to Porportuk and none other." He sat down heavily, and
coughed. The old men nodded and coughed.

"I will kill you," Akoon cried in English.

Porportuk smiled and stood up. "You have given true judgment," he
said to the council, "and my young men will give to you much tobacco.
Now let the woman be brought to me."

Akoon gritted his teeth. The young men took El-Soo by the arms. She
did not resist, and was led, her face a sullen flame, to Porportuk.

"Sit there at my feet till I have made my talk," he commanded. He
paused a moment. "It is true," he said, "I am an old man. Yet can I
understand the ways of youth. The fire has not all gone out of me.
Yet am I no longer young, nor am I minded to run these old legs of
mine through all the years that remain to me. El-Soo can run fast
and well. She is a deer. This I know, for I have seen and run after
her. It is not good that a wife should run so fast. I paid for her
a heavy price, yet does she run away from me. Akoon paid no price at
all, yet does she run to him.

"When I came among you people of the Mackenzie, I was of one mind.
As I listened in the council and thought of the swift legs of El-Soo,
I was of many minds. Now am I of one mind again but it is a
different mind from the one I brought to the council. Let me tell
you my mind. When a dog runs once away from a master, it will run
away again. No matter how many times it is brought back, each time
it will run away again. When we have such dogs, we sell them. El-
Soo is like a dog that runs away. I will sell her. Is there any man
of the council that will buy?"

The old men coughed and remained silent

"Akoon would buy," Porportuk went on, "but he has no money.
Wherefore I will give El-Soo to him, as he said, without price. Even
now will I give her to him."

Reaching down, he took El-Soo by the hand and led her across the
space to where Akoon lay on his back.

"She has a bad habit, Akoon," he said, seating her at Akoon's feet.
"As she has run away from me in the past, in the days to come she may
run away from you. But there is no need to fear that she will ever
run away, Akoon. I shall see to that. Never will she run away from
you--this is the word of Porportuk. She has great wit. I know, for
often has it bitten into me. Yet am I minded myself to give my wit
play for once. And by my wit will I secure her to you, Akoon."

Stooping, Porportuk crossed El-Soo's feet, so that the instep of one
lay over that of the other; and then, before his purpose could be
divined, he discharged his rifle through the two ankles. As Akoon
struggled to rise against the weight of the young men, there was
heard the crunch of the broken bone rebroken.

"It is just," said the old men, one to another.

El-Soo made no sound. She sat and looked at her shattered ankles, on
which she would never walk again.

"My legs are strong, El-Soo," Akoon said. "But never will they bear
me away from you."

El-Soo looked at him, and for the first time in all the time he had
known her, Akoon saw tears in her eyes.

"Your eyes are like deer's eyes, El-Soo," he said.

"Is it just?" Porportuk asked, and grinned from the edge of the smoke
as he prepared to depart.

"It is just," the old men said. And they sat on in the silence.

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