Part 3 out of 3
An endless time they battled with the storm, slowly gaining, foot by
foot, till in the darkness ahead they saw the wall of shore ice and
swung into its partial shelter.
Dragging the now unconscious Sullivan from the boat, Captain rolled
and threshed him, while Barton, too weak and exhausted to assist,
feebly strove to warm his stiffened limbs.
In answer to their signals, the team appeared, maddened by the lash
of the squaw. Then they wrapped Sullivan in warm robes, and forced
scorching brandy down his throat, till he coughed weakly and begged
them to let him rest.
"You must hurry him to the Indian village," directed Captain. "He'll
only lose some fingers and toes now, maybe; but you've got to hurry!"
"Aren't you coming, too?" queried Barton. "We'll hire some Eskimos
to go after George. I'll pay 'em anything."
"No, I'm going back to him now; he'd freeze before we could send
help, and, besides, they wouldn't come out in the storm and the dark."
"But you can't work that big canoe alone. If you get out there and
don't find him you'll never get back. Charlie! let me go, too," he
said; then apologized. "I'm afraid I won't last, though; I'm too
The squaw, who had questioned not at the absence of her lord, now
touched Captain's arm. "Come," she said; "I go with you." Then
addressing Barton, "You quick go Indian house; white man die, mebbe.
Quick! I go Big George."
"Ah, Charlie, I'm afraid you'll never make it," cried Barton, and,
wringing his friend's hand, he staggered into the darkness behind the
sled wherein lay the fur-bundled Sullivan.
Captain felt a horror of the starving waters rise up in him and a
panic shook him fiercely, till he saw the silent squaw waiting for
him at the ice edge. He shivered as the wind searched through his
dampened parka and hardened the wet clothing next to his body, but he
took his place and dug the paddle fiercely into the water, till the
waves licked the hair of his gauntlets.
The memory of that scudding trip through the darkness was always
cloudy and visioned. Periods of keen alertness alternated with
moments when his weariness bore upon him till he stiffly bent to his
work, wondering what it all meant.
It was the woman's sharpened ear which caught the first answering
cry, and her hands which steered the intricate course to the heaving
berg where the sailor crouched, for, at their approach, Captain had
yielded to the drowse of weariness and, in his relief at the finding,
the blade floated from his listless hands.
He dreamed quaint dreams, broken by the chilling lash of spray from
the strokes of the others, as they drove the craft back against the
wind, and he only partly awoke from his lethargy when George wrenched
him from his seat and forced him down the rough trail toward warmth
Soon, however, the stagnant blood tingled through his veins, and
under the shelter of the bluffs they reached the village, where they
found the anxious men waiting.
Skilful natives had worked the frost from Sullivan's members, and the
stimulants in the sled had put new life into Barton as well. So, as
the three crawled wearily through the dog-filled tunnel of the egloo,
they were met by two wet-eyed and thankful men, who silently wrung
their hands or uttered broken words.
When they had been despoiled of their frozen furs, and the welcome
heat of whisky and fire had met in their blood, Captain approached
the whaler, who rested beside his mate.
"George, you're the bravest man I ever knew, and your woman is worthy
of you," he said. He continued slowly, "I'm sorry about the fight
this morning, too."
The big man rose and, crushing the extended palm in his grasp, said:
"We'll just let that go double, partner. You're as game as I ever
see." Then he added: "It was too bad them fellers interferred jest
when they did--but we can finish it up whenever you say," and as the
other, smiling, shook his head, he continued:
"Well, I'm glad of it, 'cause you'd sure beat me the next time."
WHERE NORTHERN LIGHTS COME DOWN O' NIGHTS
The Mission House at Togiak stands forlornly on a wind-swept Alaskan
spit, while huddled around it a swarm of dirt-covered "igloos" grovel
in an ecstacy of abasement.
Many natives crawled out of these and stared across the bay as down a
gully came an Arctic caravan, men and dogs, black against, the deadly
whiteness. Ahead swung the guide, straddling awkwardly on his five
foot webs, while the straining pack pattered at his heels. Big
George, the driver, urged them with strong words, idioms of the
Northland, and his long whip bit sharply at their legs.
His companion, clinging to the sled, stumbled now and then, while his
face, splitting from the snap of the frost, was smothered in a
muffler. Sometimes he fell, plunging into the snow, rising
painfully, and groaning with the misery of "snow-blindness."
"Most there now. Cap, keep up your grit."
"I'm all right," answered the afflicted man, wearily. "Don't mind
George, too, had suffered from the sheen of the unbroken whiteness,
and, while his eyes had not wholly closed, he saw but dimly. His
cheeks were grease-smeared, and blackened with charred wood to break
the snow-glare, but through his mask showed signs of suffering, while
his blood-shot eyes dripped scalding tears and throbbed
distressfully. For days he had not dared to lose sight of the guide.
Once he had caught him sneaking the dogs away, and he feared he had
killed the man for a time. Now Jaska broke trail ahead, his sullen,
swollen features baleful in their injury.
Down the steep bank they slid, across the humped up sea ice at the
river mouth and into the village.
At the greeting of their guide to his tribesmen, George started.
Twelve years of coast life had taught him the dialect from Point
Barrow south, and he glanced at Captain to find whether he, too, had
heard the message. As Jaska handed a talisman to the chief he strode
to him and snatched it.
"Oho! It's Father Orloff, is it? D---- him!" He gazed at the
token, a white spruce chip with strange marks and carvings.
"What does it mean, George?" said the blind man.
"It's a long story, Charlie, and black. You should have known it
before we started. I'm a marked man in this coast country. It's
Orloff's work, the renegade. 'Father,' he calls himself. Father to
these devils he rules and robs for himself in the name of the Church.
His hate is bitter, and he'd have my life if these watery-livered
curs didn't dread the sound of my voice. God help him when we meet."
He shook his hairy claws at the hostile circle, then cried to the
chief in the native tongue:--
"Oh, Shaman! We come bleeding and weary. Hunger grips us and our
bones are stiff with frost. The light is gone from my brother's eyes
and we are sick. Open you the door to the Mission House that the
'Minoks' may rest and grow strong."
The Indians clustered before the portal, with its rude cross above,
and stared malignantly, while the chief spoke. At the name of his
enemy the unsightly eyes of George gleamed, and he growled
contemptuously, advancing among them. They scattered at the manner
of his coming, and he struck the padlocked door till it rattled
stiffly. Then spying the cross overhead he lifted up and gripped the
wood. It came away ripping, and with wails of rage and horror at the
sacrilege, they closed about him.
"Here, Cap! Bust her in quick!" He dragged Captain before the
entrance, thrusting the weapon upon him, then ran ferociously among
the people. He snatched them to him, cuffing like a bear and
trampling them into the snow. Those who came into the reach of his
knotty arms crumpled up and twisted under his feet. He whirled into
the group, roaring hoarsely, his angry, grease-blackened face hideous
with rage. The aborigine is not a fighting machine; for him the
side-step and counter have no being. They melted ahead of his
blazing wrath, and he whisked them, fleeing, by their garments, so
that they felt the stamp of his moccasined heels.
Captain dragged the team within, and George following, blocked the
"We're safe as long as we stay in the Church," said he.
"Right of sanctuary, eh? Does it occur to you how we're going to get
"Never mind, we'll get out somehow," said he, and that night, as
Charlie Captain, late University man and engineer, lay with eyes
swathed in steaming cloths, the whaler spoke operosely and with the
bitterness of great wrong.
"It happened when we rocked the bars of Forty Mile, before ever a
Chechako had crossed the Chilcoot. I went over to the headwaters of
the Tanana. Into the big valley I went and got lost in the Flats.
'Tis a wild country, rimmed by high mountains, full of niggerheads
and tundra, with the river windin' clean back to the source of the
Copper. I run out of grub. We always did them days, and built a
raft to float down to the Yukon. A race with starvation, and a dead
heat it near proved, too, though I had a shade the best of it. I
drifted out into the main river, ravin' mad, my 'Mukluks' eat off and
my moose-hide gun cover inside of me.
"A girl spied me from the village, and 'twas her brought me ashore in
her birch-bark and tended me in her wick-i-up till reason came and
the blood ran through me again.
"I mind seein' a white man stand around at times and hearin' him beg
her to leave me to the old squaws. She didn't though. She gave me
bits of moose meat and berries and dried salmon, and when I come to
one day I saw she was little and brown and pleadin' and her clothes
all covered with beads. Her eyes was big and sad, Cap, and dimples
poked into her cheeks when she laughed.
"'Twas then that Orloff takes a hand--the white man. A priest he
called himself; breed, Russian. Maybe he was, but a blacker hearted
thief never wronged a child. He wanted the girl, Metla, and so did
I. When I asked her old man for her he said she was promised to the
Russian. I laughed at him, and a chief hates to be mocked. You know
what sway the Church has over these Indians. Well, Orloff is a
strong man. He held 'em like a rock. He worked on 'em till one day
the tribemen came to me in a body and said, 'Go!'
"'Give me the girl, and I will,' says I.
"Orloff sneered. 'She was mine for a month before ye came,' says he
with the fiend showin' back of his eyes. 'Do ye want her now?'
"For a minute I believed him. I struck once to kill, and he went
down. They closed on me as fast as I shook 'em off. 'Twas a
beautiful sight for a ruction, on the high banks over the river, but
I was like water from the sickness. I fought to get at their priest
where he lay, to stamp out his grinning face before they downed me,
but I was beat back to the bluff and I battled with my heels over the
edge. I broke a pole from the fish-rack and a good many went down.
Then I heard Metla calling softly from below:--
"'Jump!' she said. 'Big one, jump.'
"She had loosed a canoe at the landing and now held it in the boiling
current underneath, paddling desperately.
"As they ran out of the tents with their rifles I leaped.
"A long drop and cold water, but I hit feet first. When I rose the
little girl was alongside.
"It's a ticklish thing to crawl over the stern of a canoe in the
spatter of slugs, with the roar of muzzle-loaders above. It's
shakin' to the nerves, but the maid never flinched, not even when a
bullet split the gunnel. She ripped a piece of her dress and plugged
a hole under the water line while I paddled out of range.
"The next winter at Holy Cross she ran to me shaking one day.
"'He is here! He is here! Oh, Big man, I am afraid!'
"'Who's here?' says I.
"'He is here--Father Orloff,' and her eyes was round and scared so
that I took her up and kissed her while she clung to me--she was such
a little girl.
"'He spoke to me at the water-hole, "I have come for you." I ran
very fast, but he came behind. "Where is George?"' he said.
"I went out of the cabin down to the Mission, and into the house of
Father Barnum. He was there.
"'Orloff! What do ye want?' I says.
"Father Barnum speaks up--'he's known for a good man the length of
the river. George,' says he, 'Father Orloff tells me you stole the
girl Metla from her tribe. 'Tis a shameful thing for a white to take
a red girl for his wife, but it's a crime to live as you do.'
"'What?' says I.
"'We can't sell you provisions nor allow you to stay in the village.'
"Orloff grins. 'You must go on,' he says, 'or give her up.'
"'No! I'll do neither.' And I shows the paper from the missionary
at Nulato statin' that we were married. 'She's my wife,' says I,
'and too good for me. She's left her people and her gods, and I'll
care for her.' I saw how it hurt Orloff, and I laid my hand on his
shoulder close to the neck. 'I distrust ye, and sure as Fate ye'll
die the shocking death if ever harm comes to the little one.'
"That was the winter of the famine, though every winter was the same
then, and I went to Anvik for grub--took all the strong men and dogs
in the village. I was afraid when I left, too, for 'twas the time I
should have been with her, but there was no one else to go.
"'When you come back,' she said, 'there will be another--a little
boy--and he will grow mighty and strong, like his father.' She hung
her arms around me, Cap, and I left with her kisses warm on my lips.
"It was a terrible trip, the river wet with overflows and the
cut-offs drifted deep, so I drove back into Holy Cross a week late
with bleedin' dogs and frozen Indians strainin' at the sled ropes.
"I heard the wail of the old women before. I come to the cabin, and
when Metla had sobbed the story out in her weakness, I went back into
the dark and down to the Mission. I remember how the Northern Lights
flared over the hills above, and the little spruces on the summit
looked to me like headstones, black against the moon--and I laughed
when I saw the snow red in the night glare, for it meant blood and
"It was as lusty a babe as ever crowed, but Orloff had come to the
sick bed and sent her squaws away. Baptism and such things he said
he'd do. The little fellow died that night.
"They say the Mission door was locked and barred, but I pushed
through it like paper and came into Father Barnum's house, where they
sat. Fifty below is bad for the naked flesh. I broke in,
bare-headed, mittenless, and I'd froze some on the way down. He saw
murder in my eyes and tried to run, but I got him as he went out of
the room. He tore his throat loose from my stiffened fingers and
went into the church, but I beat down the door with my naked fists,
mocking at his prayers inside, and may I never be closer to death
than Orloff was that night.
"Then a squaw tugged at my parka.
"'She is dying, Anguk,' she said, and I ran back up the hill with the
cold bitin' at my heart.
"There was no death that night in Holy Cross, though God knows one
naked soul was due to walk out onto the snow. At daylight, when I
came back for him, he had fled down the river with the fastest dogs,
and to this day I've never seen his face, though 'tis often I've felt
"He's grown into the strongest missionary on the coast, and he never
lets a chance go by to harry me or the girl.
"D'ye mind the time 'Skagway' Bennet died? We was pardners up Norton
Sound way when he was killed. They thought he suicided, but I know.
I found a cariboo belt in the brush near camp--the kind they make on
the Kuskokwim, Father Orion's country. His men took the wrong one,
"I'm sorry I didn't tell ye this, Cap, before we started, for now
we're into the South Country, where he owns the natives. He knows
we've come, as the blood-token of the guide showed. He wants my
life, and there's great trouble comin' up. I'm hopin' ye'll soon get
your sight, for by now there's a runner twenty miles into the hills
with news that we're blind in the church at Togiak. Three days he'll
be goin', and on the fifth ye'll hear the jangle of Russian
dog-bells. He'll kill the fastest team in Nushagak in the comin',
and God help us if we're here."
George scraped a bit of frost-lace from the lone window pane. Dark
figures moved over the snow, circling the chapel, and he knew that
each was armed. Only their reverence for the church held them from
doing the task set by Orloff, and he sighed as he changed the
bandages on his suffering mate.
They awoke the next morning to the moan of wind and the sift of snow
clouds past their walls. Staring through his peep-hole, George
distinguished only a seethe of whirling flakes that greyed the view,
blotting even the neighbouring huts, and when the early evening
brought a rising note in the storm the trouble lifted from his face.
"A three-day blizzard," he rejoiced, "and the strongest team on the
coast can't wallow through it under a week. These on-shore gales is
For three days the wind tore from off the sea into the open bight at
whose head lay Togiak, and its violence wrecked the armour of shore
ice in the bay till it beat and roared against the spit, a threshing
maelstrom of shattered bergs. The waters piled into the inlet driven
by the lash of the storm till they overflowed the river ice behind
the village, submerging and breaking it into ragged, dangerous
On the third day, with Arctic vagary, the wind gasped reluctantly and
scurried over the range. In its wake the surging ocean churned
loudly and the back-water behind the town, held by the dam of
freezing slush-ice at the river mouth, was skimmed by a thin
ice-paper, pierced here and there by the up-ended piles from beneath.
This held the night's snow, so that morning showed the village girt
on three sides by a stream soft-carpeted and safe to the eye, but
failing beneath the feet of a child.
"You're eyes are comin' along mighty slow," worried George. "I'm
hopin' his reverence is up to his gills in drifts back yonder. "We
must leave him a sled trail for a souvenir."
"How can we, with the place guarded?"
"Hitch the dogs and run for it by night, He'll burn us out when he
comes. Fine targets we'd make on the snow by the light of a burning
shack. If ye can see to shoot we'll go tonight. Hello! What's
Outside came the howl of malamoots and the cry of men. Leaping to
the window, George rubbed it free and stared into the sunshine.
"Too late! Too late!" he said. "Here he comes! It's time I killed
him." He spoke gratingly, with the dull anger of years.
On the bright surface of the opposite hillside a sled bearing a
muffled figure appeared silhouetted against the glisten of the crust.
Its team, maddened by the village scent, poured down the incline
toward the river bank and the guide swung onto the runners behind,
while the voice of the people rose to their priest. In a whirl of
soft snow they drove down onto the treachery of the ice. The screams
of the natives frenzied the pack and they rioted out onto the bending
sheet, while the long sledge, borne by its momentum, shot forward
till the splitting cry of the ice sounded over the lamentations. It
slackened, sagged and disappeared in a surge of congealing waters.
The wheel dogs were dragged into the opening and their mates ahead
jerked backward onto them. In a fighting tangle, all settled into
Orloff leaped from the sinking sled, but hindered by his fur
swaddling, crashed through and lunged heavily in his struggles to
mount the edge of the film. As he floundered onto the caving surface
it let him back and the waters covered him time and again. He
pitched oddly about, and for the first time they saw his eyes were
bound tightly with bandages, which he strove to loosen.
"My God! He's snow-blind!" cried George, and in a moment he appeared
among the frantic mob fringing the shore.
The guide broke his way toward a hummock of old ice forming an islet
near by, and the priest half swam, half scrambled behind, till they
crawled out upon this solid footing. Here the wintry wind searched
them and their dripping clothes stiffened quickly. Orloff dragged
the strips from his face, and as the sun glitter pierced his eyes he
writhed as though seared by the naked touch of hot steel.
He shouted affrightedly in his blindness, but the mocking voice of
Big George answered him and he cowered at the malevolence in the
"Here I am, Orloff. It's help ye want, is it? I'll shoot the man
that tries to reach ye. Ha, ha! You're freezin' eh? Georgie will
talk to keep ye awake. A dirty trick of the river to cheat me so.
I've fattened for years on the hope of stampin' your life out and now
it's robbed me. But I'll stick till ye're safe in Hell."
The man cried piteously, turning his bleared eyes toward the sound.
"Shoot, why don't you, and end it? Can't you see we're freezing?"
He stood up in his carapace of stiffened clothes, shivering palsiedly.
"The truest thing ye ever said," cried George, and he swung his colts
into view. "It'll favour you and I'll keep my vow." He raised the
gun. The splashing of the distant dogs broke the silence. A native
"George! George!" Captain had stumbled down among them and plucked
at his arm, peering dimly into his distorted face. "Great God, are
you a murderer? They'll be dead before we can save them."
"Save 'em ?" said George, while reason fought with his mania. "Whose
goin' to save 'em? He needs killin'. I'm hungry for his life."
"He's a man, George. They're both human, and they're dying in sight
of us. Give him a chance. Fight like a man."
As he spoke the fury fell away from the whaler and he became the
alert, strong man of the frontier, knowing the quick danger and
He bellowed at the natives and they fled backward before his voice,
storming the cache where lay the big skin canoes. They slid one down
and seizing paddles crushed the ice around it till it floated, then
supported by the prow, George stamped the ice into fragments ahead,
and they forced their way slowly along the channel he made. Soaked
to the armpits he smashed a trail through which they reached the
hummock where the others lay, too listless for action.
At the shore they bore the priest to their shelter while the guide
was snatched into a near-by hut. They hacked off his brittle clothes
and supported him to the bed. As he walked his feet clattered on the
board floor like the sound of wooden shoes. They were white and
solid, as were his hands.
"He's badly frozen," whispered Captain, "can we save him?" They
rubbed and thawed for hours, but the sluggish blood refused to flow
into the extremities and Captain felt that this man would die for
lack of amputation.
Through all the Russian was silent, gazing strangely at George.
"'Tis no use," finally said the big man, despairingly, "I've seen too
many of 'em; we've done our best."
He disappeared, and there sounded the jingle of harness as the dogs
were hitched. As he entered for the camp outfit Orloff spoke:
"George Brace, I've harmed you bitterly these many years, and you're
a good man to help me so. It's no use. We have both fought the Cold
Death, and know when to quit. I came here to kill you, but you will
go out across the mountains free, while I rave in madness and the
medicine men make charms over me. When you come into Bethel Mission
I'll be dead. Good-bye."
"Good Hell! We're takin' ye to Bethel and a doctor in ten minutes.
A week's travel as the trail goes, but we'll save a chunk of ye yet,
Five days later a broken team crawled over the snow to the Moravian
Mission, urged by two men gaunt from the trail, and blistered by the
cold. From the sledge came shrieks and throaty mutterings, horrid
gabblings of post-freezing madness and Dr. Forrest, lifting back the
robe, found Orloff lashed into his couch.
"Five days from Togiak. Two hundred miles in heavy trails,"
explained George wearily, as the cries of the maniac dimmed behind
the log walls.
Two hours later Forrest spoke gravely as they nursed their frost
bites in his room.
"We have operated. He will recover."
"It's a sad, sad day,"' mourned George. "It just takes the taste out
of everything for me. He's a cripple now, eh ?"
"Yes! Helpless! I did not know Father Orloff had many--er--friends
hereabout," continued the doctor. "He was thought to be hated by the
whites. I'm glad the report was wrong."
"Friends be damned," said the other strongly. "What's a friend? Ye
can get them any place, but where can ye find another enemy like that
Coming down coast from the Kotzebue country they stumbled onto the
little camp in the early winter, and as there was food a plenty, of
its kind, whereas they had subsisted for some days on puree of seal
oil and short ribs of dog, Captain and Big George decided to winter.
A maxim of the north teaches to cabin by a grub-pile.
It was an odd village they beheld that first day. Instead of the
clean moss-chinked log shelters men were wont to build in this land,
they found the community housed like marmots in holes and burrows.
It seemed that the troop had landed, fresh from the States, a hundred
and a quarter strong, hot with the lust for gold, yet shaken by the
newspaper horrors of Alaska's rigorous hardships and forbidding
Debouching in the early fall, they had hastily prepared for an
Associated Press-painted Arctic winter.
Had they been forced to winter in the mountains of Idaho, or among
Montana's passes, they would have prepared simply and effectively.
Here, however, in a mystic land, surrounded by the unknown, they grew
panic stricken and lost their wits.
Thus, when the two "old timers" came upon them in the early winter
they found them in bomb-proof hovels, sunk into the muck, banked with
log walls, and thatched over with dirt and sod.
"Where are your windows and ventilators?" they were asked, and
collectively the camp laughed at the question. _They_ knew how to
keep snug and warm even if half-witted "sourdoughs" didn't. _They_
weren't taking any chances on freezing, not on your tin-type, no
outdoor work and exposure for them!
As the winter settled, they snuggled back, ate three meals and more
daily of bacon, beans, and baking-powder bread; playing cribbage for
an appetite. They undertook no exercise more violent than seven-up,
while the wood-cutting fell as a curse upon those unfortunates who
lost at the game. They giggled at Captain and the big whaler who
daily, snow or blow, hit the trail or wielded pick and shovel.
However, as the two maintained their practice, the camp grew to
resent their industry, and, as is possible only in utterly idle
communities, there sprung up a virulence totally out of proportion,
and, founded without reason, most difficult to dispel. Before they
knew it, the two were disliked and distrusted; their presence
ignored; their society shunned.
Captain had talked to many in the camp. "You'll get scurvy, sure,
living in these dark houses. They're damp and dirty, and you don't
exercise. Besides, there isn't a pound of fresh grub in camp."
Figuratively, the camp's nose had tilted at this, and it stated
pompously that it were better to preserve its classic purity of
features and pro rata of toes, than to jeopardize these adjuncts
through fear of a possible blood disease.
"Blood disease, eh?" George snorted like a sea-lion. "Wait till
your legs get black and you spit your teeth out like plum-pits--mebbe
you'll listen then. It'll come, see if it don't."
He was right. Yet when the plague did grip the camp and men died,
one in five, they failed to rise to it. Instead of fighting manfully
they lapsed into a frightened, stubborn coma.
There was one, and only one, who did not. Klusky the Jew; Klusky the
pariah. They said he worked just to be ornery and different from the
rest, he hated them so. They enjoyed baiting him to witness his
fury. It sated that taint of Roman cruelty inherent in the man of
ignorance. He was all the amusement they had, for it wasn't policy
to stir up the two others--they might slop over and clean up the
village. So they continued to goad him as they had done since
leaving 'Frisco. They gibed and jeered till he shunned them, living
alone in the fringe of the pines, bitter and vicious, as an outcast
from the pack will grow, whether human or lupine. He frequented only
the house of Captain and George, because they were exiles like
The partners did not relish this overmuch, for he was an odious
being, avaricious, carping, and dirty.
"His face reminds me of a tool," said George, once, "nose an' chin
shuts up like calipers. He's got the forehead of a salmon trout, an'
his chin don't retreat, it stampedes, plumb down ag'in his apple.
Look out for that droop of the mouth. I've seen it before, an' his
eyes is bad, too. They've stirred him up an' pickled all the good he
ever had. Some day he'll do a murder."
"I wonder what he means by always saying he'll have revenge before
spring. It makes me creep to hear him cackle and gloat. I think
he's going crazy."
"Can't tell. This bunch would bust anybody's mental tugs, an' they
make a mistake drivin' him so. Say! How's my gums look tonight?"
George stretched his lips back, showing his teeth, while Captain made
"All right. How are mine?"
"Red as a berry."
Every day they searched thus for the symptoms, looking for
discolouration, and anxiously watching bruises on limb or body. Men
live in fear when their comrades vanish silently from their midst.
Each night upon retiring they felt legs nervously, punching here and
there to see that the flesh retained its resiliency.
So insidious is the malady's approach that it may be detected only
thus. A lassitude perhaps, a rheumatic laziness, or pains and
swelling at the joints. Mayhap one notes a putty-like softness of
the lower limbs. Where he presses, the finger mark remains, filling
up sluggishly. No mental depression at first, nor fever, only a
drooping ambition, fatigue, enlarging parts, now gradual, now sudden.
The grim humour of seeing grown men gravely poking their legs with
rigid digits, or grinning anxiously into hand-mirrors had struck some
of the tenderfeet at first, but the implacable progress of the
disease; its black, merciless presence, pausing destructively here
and there, had terrorized them into a hopeless fatalism till they
cowered helplessly, awaiting its touch.
One night Captain announced to his partner. "I'm going over to the
Frenchmen's, I hear Menard is down."
"What's the use of buttin' in where ye ain't wanted? As fer me, them
frogeaters can all die like salmon; I won't go nigh 'em an' I've told
'em so. I give 'em good advice, an' what'd I get? What'd that daffy
doctor do? Pooh-poohed at me an' physiced them. Lord! Physic a man
with scurvy--might as well bleed a patient fer amputation." George
spoke with considerable heat.
Captain pulled his parka hood well down so that the fox-tails around
the edge protected his features, and stepped out into the evening.
He had made several such trips in the past few months to call on men
smitten with the sickness, but all to no effect. Being "chechakos"
they were supreme in their conceit, and refused to heed his advice.
Returning at bed time he found his partner webbing a pair of
snow-shoes by the light of a stinking "go-devil," consisting of a
string suspended in a can of molten grease. The camp had sold them
grub, but refused the luxury of candles. Noting his gravity, George
"Well, how's Menard?"
"Dead!" Captain shook himself as though at the memory. "It was
awful. He died while I was talking to him."
"Don't say! How's that?"
"I found him propped up in a chair. He looked bad, but said he was
"That's the way they go. I've seen it many a time--feelin' fine
plumb to the last."
"He'd been telling me about a bet he had with Promont. Promont was
taken last week, too, you know, same time. Menard bet him twenty
dollars that he'd outlast him."
"'I'm getting all right,' says he, 'but poor Promont's going to die.
I'll get his twenty, sure!' I turned to josh with the boy a bit, an'
when I spoke to Menard he didn't answer. His jaw had sagged and he'd
settled in his chair. Promont saw it, too, and cackled. 'H'I 'ave
win de bet! H'I 'ave win de bet!' That's all. He just slid off.
Gee! It was horrible."
George put by his work and swore, pacing the rough pole floor.
"Oh, the cussed fools! That makes six dead from the one cabin--six
from eighteen, an' Promont'll make seven to-morrow. Do ye mind how
we begged 'em to quit that dug-out an' build a white man's house, an'
drink spruce tea, an' _work_! They're too ---- lazy. They lie
around in that hole, breath bad air, an' rot."
"And just to think, if we only had a crate of potatoes in camp we
could save every man jack of 'em. Lord! They never even brought no
citric acid nor lime juice--nothin'! If we hadn't lost our grub when
the whale-boat upset, eh? That ten-gallon keg of booze would help
some. Say! I got such a thirst I don't never expect to squench it
proper;" he spoke plaintively.
"Klusky was here again while you was gone, too. I itch to choke that
Jew whenever he gets to ravin' over these people. He's sure losin'
his paystreak. He gritted his teeth an' foamed like a mad malamoot,
I never see a low-downer lookin' aspect than him when he gets mad."
"'I'll make 'em come to me,' says he, 'on their bellies beggin'. It
ain't time yet. Oh, no! Wait 'till half of 'em is dead, an' the
rest is rotten with scurvy. Then they'll crawl to me with their gums
thick and black, an' their flesh like dough; they'll kiss my feet an'
cry, an' I'll stamp 'em into the snow!' You'd ought a heard him
laugh. Some day I'm goin' to lay a hand on that man, right in my own
As they prepared for bed. Captain remarked:
"By the way, speaking of potatoes, I heard to-night that there was a
crate in the Frenchmen's outfit somewhere, put in by mistake.
perhaps, but when they boated their stuff up river last fall it
couldn't be found--must have been lost."
It was some days later that, returning from a gameless hunt, Captain
staggered into camp, weary from the drag of his snow-shoes.
Throwing himself into his bunk he rested while George prepared the
meagre meal of brown beans, fried salt pork, and sour-dough bread.
The excellence of this last, due to the whaler's years of practice,
did much to mitigate the unpleasantness of the milkless, butterless,
Captain's fatigue prevented notice of the other's bearing. However,
when he had supped and the dishes were done George spoke, quietly and
"Well, boy, the big thing has come off."
"What do you mean?"
For reply he took the grease dip and, holding it close, bared his
With a cry Captain leaped from his bunk, and took his face between
"Great God! George!"
He pushed back the lips. Livid blotches met his gaze--the gums
swollen and discoloured. He dropped back sick and pale, staring at
his bulky comrade, dazed and uncomprehending.
Carefully replacing the lamp, George continued:
"I felt it comin' quite a while back, pains in my knees an' all
that--thought mebbe you'd notice me hobblin' about. I can't git
around good--feel sort of stove up an' spavined on my feet."
"Yes, yes, but we've lived clean, and exercised, and drank spruce
tea, and--everything," cried the other.
"I know, but I've had a touch before; it's in my blood I reckon. Too
much salt grub; too many winters on the coast. She never took me so
sudden an' vicious though. Guess the stuff's off."
"Don't talk that way," said Captain, sharply. "You're not going to
die--I won't let you."
"Vat's the mattaire?" came a leering voice and, turning they beheld
Klusky, the renegade. He had entered silently, as usual, and now
darted shrewd inquiring glances at them.
"George has the scurvy."
"Oi! Oi! Oi! Vat a peety." He seemed about to say more but
refrained, coming forward rubbing his hands nervously.
"It ain't possible that a 'sour dough' shall have the scoivy."
"Well, he has it--has it bad but I'll cure him. Yes, and I'll save
this whole ---- camp, whether they want it or not." Captain spoke
strongly, his jaws set with determination. Klusky regarded him
narrowly through close shrunk eyes, while speculation wrinkled his
"Of course! Yes! But how shall it be, eh? Tell me that." His
eagerness was pronounced.
"I'll go to St. Michaels and bring back fresh grub."
"You can't do it, boy," said George. "It's too far an' there ain't a
dog in camp. You couldn't haul your outfit alone, an' long before
you'd sledded grub back I'd be wearin' one of them gleamin' orioles,
I believe that's what they call it, on my head, like the pictures of
them little fat angelettes. I ain't got no ear for music, so I'll
have to cut out the harp solos."
"Quit that talk, will you?" said Captain irritably. "Of course, one
man can't haul an outfit that far, but two can, so I'm going to take
Klusky with me." He spoke with finality, and the Jew started, gazing
queerly. "We'll go light, and drive back a herd of reindeer."
"By thunder! I'd clean forgot the reindeer. The government was
aimin' to start a post there last fall, wasn't it? Say! Mebbe you
can make it after all, Kid." His features brightened hopefully.
"What d' ye say, Klusky?"
The one addressed answered nervously, almost with excitement.
"It can't be done! It ain't possible, and I ain't strong enough to
pull the sled. V'y don't you and George go together. I'll stay--"
Captain laid a heavy hand on his shoulder.
"That'll do. What are you talking about? George wouldn't last two
days, and you know it. Now listen. You don't have to go, you
infernal greasy dog, there are others in camp, and one of them will
go if I walk him at the muzzle of a gun. I gave you first chance,
because we've been good to you. Now get out."
He snatched him from his seat and hurled him at the door, where he
fell in a heap.
Klusky arose, and, although his eyes snapped wildly and he trembled,
he spoke insidiously, with oily modulation.
"Vait a meenute, Meestaire Captain, vait a meenute. I didn't say I
vouldn't go. Oi! Oi! Vat a man! Shoor I'll go. Coitenly! You
have been good to me and they have been devils. I hope they die."
He shook a bony fist in the direction of the camp, while his voice
took on its fanatical shrillness. "They shall be in h---- before I
help them, the pigs, but you--ah, you have been my friends, yes ?"
"All right; be here at daylight," said Captain gruffly. Anger came
slowly to him, and its trace was even slower in its leaving.
"I don't like him," said George, when he had slunk out. "He ain't on
the level. Watch him close, boy, he's up to some devilment."
"Keep up your courage, old man. I'll be back in twelve days."
Captain said it with decision, though his heart sank as he felt the
uncertainties before him.
George looked squarely into his eyes.
"God bless ye, boy," he said. "I've cabined with many a man, but
never one like you. I'm a hard old nut, an' I ain't worth what
you're goin' to suffer, but mebbe you can save these other idiots.
That's what we're put here for, to help them as is too ornery to help
theirselves." He smiled at Captain, and the young man left him
blindly. He seldom smiled, and to see it now made his partner's
breast heave achingly.
"Good old George!" he murmured as they pulled out upon the river.
"Good old George!" As they passed from the settlement an Indian came
to the door of the last hovel.
"Hello. There's a Siwash in your cabin," said Captain. "What is he
doing there ?"
"That's all right," rejoined Klusky. "I told him to stay and vatch
"Rather strange," thought the other. "I wonder what there is to
watch. There's never been any stealing around here."
To the unversed, a march by sled would seem simplicity. In reality
there is no more discouraging test than to hit the trail, dogless and
by strength of back. The human biped cannot drag across the snow for
any distance more than its own weight; hence equipment is of the
simplest. At that, the sledge rope galls one's neck with a
continual, endless, yielding drag, resulting in back pains peculiar
to itself. It is this eternal maddening pull, with the pitiful
crawling gait that tells; horse's labour and a snail's pace. The
toil begets a perspiration which the cold solidifies midway through
the garments. At every pause the clammy clothes grow chill, forcing
one forward, onward, with sweating body and freezing face. In
extreme cold, snow pulverizes dryly till steel runners drag as though
slid through sand. Occasional overflows bar the stream from bank to
bank, resulting in wet feet and quick changes by hasty fires to save
numb toes. Now the air is dead under a smother of falling flakes
that fluff up ankle deep, knee deep, till the sled plunges along
behind, half buried, while the men wallow and invent ingenious oaths.
Again the wind whirls it by in grotesque goblin shapes; wonderful
storm beings, writhing, whipping, biting as they pass; erasing bank
and mountain. Yet always there is that aching, steady tug of the
shoulder-rope, stopping circulation till the arms depend numbly; and
always the weary effort of trail breaking.
Captain felt that he had never worked with a more unsatisfying team
mate. Not that Klusky did not pull, he evidently did his best, but
he never spoke, while the other grew ever conscious of the beady,
glittering eyes boring into his back. At camp, the Jew watched him
furtively, sullenly, till he grew to feel oppressed, as with a sense
of treachery, or some fell design hidden far back. Every morning he
secured the ropes next the sled, thus forcing Captain to walk ahead.
He did not object to the added task of breaking trail, for he had
expected the brunt of the work, but the feeling of suspicion
increased till it was only by conscious effort that he drove himself
to turn his back upon the other and take up the journey.
It was this oppression that warned him on the third day. Leaning as
he did against the sled ropes he became aware of an added burden, as
though the man behind had eased to shift his harness. When it did
not cease he glanced over his shoulder. Keyed up as he was this
nervous agility saved him.
Klusky held a revolver close up to his back, and, though he had
unconsciously failed to pull, he mechanically stepped in the other's
tracks. The courage to shoot had failed him momentarily, but as
Captain turned, it came, and he pulled the trigger.
Frozen gun oil has caused grave errors in calculation. The hammer
curled back wickedly and stuck. Waiting his chance he had carried
the weapon in an outer pocket where the frost had stiffened the
grease. Had it been warmed next his body, the fatal check would not
have occurred. Even so, he pulled again and it exploded sharp and
deafening in the rarefied morning air. In that instant's pause,
however, Captain had whirled so that the bullet tore through the
loose fur beneath his arm. He struck, simultaneously with the
report, and the gun flew outward, disappearing in the snow.
They grappled and fell, rolling in a tangle of rope, Klusky fighting
with rat-like fury, whining odd, broken curses. The larger man
crushed him in silence, beating him into the snow, bent on killing
him with his hands.
[Illustration: They grappled and fell, rolling in a tangle of rope.]
As the other's struggles diminished, he came to himself, however, and
"I can't kill him," he thought in panic. "I can't go on alone."
"Get up!" He kicked the bleeding figure till it arose lamely. "Why
did you do that?" His desire to strangle the life from him was
The man gave no answer, muttering only unintelligible jargon, his
eyes ablaze with hatred.
"Tell me." He shook him by the throat but received no reply. Nor
could he, try as he pleased; only a stubborn silence. At last,
disgusted and baffled, he bade him resume the rope. It was necessary
to use force for this, but eventually they took up the journey,
differing now only in their order of precedence.
"If you make a move I'll knife you," he cautioned grimly. "That goes
for the whole trip, too."
At evening he searched the grub kit, breaking knives and forks, and
those articles which might be used as means of offence, throwing the
pieces into the snow.
"Don't stir during the night, or I might kill you. I wake easy, and
hereafter we'll sleep together." Placing the weapons within his
shirt, he bound the other's wrists and rolled up beside him.
Along the coast, their going became difficult from the rough ice and
soft snow, and with despair Captain felt the days going by. Klusky
maintained his muteness and, moreover, to the anger of his captor,
began to shirk. It became necessary to beat him. This Captain did
relentlessly, deriving a certain satisfaction from it, yet marvelling
the while at his own cruelty. The Jew feigned weariness, and began
to limp as though foot-sore.
Captain halted him at last.
"Don't try that game," he said. "It don't go. I spared your life
for a purpose. The minute you stop pulling, that minute I'll sink
this into your ribs." He prodded him with his sheath knife. "Get
along now, or I'll make you haul it alone." He kicked him into
resentful motion again, for he had come to look upon him as an
animal, and was heedless of his signs of torture--so thus they
marched; master and slave. "He's putting it on," he thought, but
abuse as he might, the other's efforts became weaker, and his agony
more marked as the days passed.
The morning came when he refused to arise.
Klusky shook his head.
"Get up, I say!" Captain spoke fiercely, and snatched him to foot,
but with a groan the man sank back. Then, at last, he talked.
"I can't do it. I can't do it. My legs make like they von't vork.
You can kill me, but I can't valk."
As he ceased, Captain leaned down and pushed back his lips. The
teeth were loose and the gums livid.
"Great Heavens, what have I done! _What have I done_!" he muttered.
Klusky had watched his face closely.
"Vat's the mattaire? Vy do you make like that, eh? Tell me." His
voice was sharp.
"You've got it."
"I've got it? Oi! Oi! I've got it! Vat have I got?" He knew
before the answer came, but raved and cursed in frenzied denial. His
tongue started, language flowed from him freely.
"It ain't that. No! No! It is the rheumatissen. Yes, it shall be
so. It makes like that from the hard vork always. It is the
cold--the cold makes it like."
With despair Captain realized that he could neither go on, dragging
the sick man and outfit, nor could he stay here in idleness to
sacrifice the precious days that remained to his partner. Each one
he lost might mean life or death.
Klusky broke in upon him.
"You von't leave me, Mistaire Captain? Please you von't go avay?"
Such frightened entreaty lay in his request that before thinking the
"No, I won't. I made you come and I'll do all I can for you. Maybe
somebody will pass." He said it only to cheer, for no one travelled
this miserable stretch save scattering, half-starved Indians, but the
patient caught at it eagerly, hugging the hope to his breast during
the ensuing days.
That vigil beside the dying creature lived long in Captain's memory.
The bleak, timberless shores of the bay; their tiny tent, crouched
fearfully among the willow tops; the silent nights, when in the
clear, cold air the stars stared at him close and big, like eyes of
wolves beyond a camp fire; the days of endless gabblings from the
sinking man, and the all pervading cold.
At last, knowledge dawned upon the invalid, and he called his
companion to his side. Shivering there beneath the thin tent,
Captain heard a story, rambling at first, filled with hatred and
bitterness toward the men who had scoffed at him, yet at the last he
listened eagerly, amazedly, and upon its conclusion rose suddenly,
gazing at the dying man in horror.
"My God, Klusky! Hell isn't black enough for you. It can't be true,
it can't be. You're raving! Do you mean to say that you let those
poor devils die like rats while you had potatoes in your cabin, fresh
ones? Man! Man! The juice of every potato was worth a life.
You're lying, Klusky."
"I ain't. No, I ain't. I hate them! I said they should crawl on
their bellies to me. Yes, and I should wring the money out. A
hundred dollars for von potato. I stole them all. Ha! ha! and I
kept them varm. Oh, yes! Alvays varm by the fire, so they shall be
good and fine for the day."
"That's why you left the Indian there when we came away, eh? To keep
"Shoor! and I thought I shall kill you and go back alone so nobody
shall make for the rescue. Then I should have the great laugh."
Captain bared his head to the cold outside the tent. He was dazed by
the thought of it. The man was crazed by abuse. The camp had paid
for its folly!
Then a hope sprang up in him. It was too late to go on and return
with the deer; that is, too late for George, and he thought only of
him; of the big, brave man sitting alone in the cabin, shunned by the
others, waiting quietly for his coming, tracing the relentless daily
march of the disease. Why didn't the Jew die so he could flee back?
He had promised not to desert him, and he could not break his word to
a dying man, even though the wretch deserved damnation. But why
couldn't he die? What made him hang on so? In his idle hours he
arranged a pack for the start, assembling his rations. He could not
be hampered by the sled. This was to be a race--he must travel long
and fast. The sick man saw the preparations, and cried weakly, the
tears freezing on his cheeks, and still he lingered, lingered
maddeningly, till at last, when Captain had lost count of the days,
he passed without a twitch and, before the body had cooled, the
northward bluffs hid the plodding, snow-shoed figure hurrying along
the back trail.
He scarcely stopped for sleep or food, but gnawed raw bacon and
frozen bread, swinging from shoe to shoe, devouring distance with the
steady, rhythmic pace of a machine. He made no fires. As darkness
settled, rendering progress a peril, he unrolled his robe, and
burrowed into some overhanging drift, and the earliest hint of dawn
found him miles onward.
Though the weather was clear, he grew numbed and careless under the
strain of his fatigue, so that the frost bit hungrily at his
features. He grew gaunt, and his feet swelled from the snow-shoe
thongs till they puffed out his loose, sealskin boots, and every step
in the morning hours brought forth a groan.
He was tortured by the thought that perhaps the Indian had carelessly
let go the fire in Klusky's cabin. If so, the precious potatoes
would freeze in a night. Then, if the native rebuilt it, he would
arrive only to find a mushy, putrifying mass, worse than useless.
The uncertainty sickened him, and at last, as he sighted the little
hamlet, he paused, bracing his legs apart weakly.
He searched fearfully for traces of smoke above Klusky's cabin.
There were none. Somehow the lone shack seemed to stare malignantly
at him, as he staggered up the trail, and he heard himself muttering.
There were no locks in this land, so he entered unbidden. The place
was empty, though warm from recent habitation. With his remaining
strength he scrambled up a rude ladder to the loft where he fumbled
in the dark while his heart stopped. Then he cried hoarsely and,
ripping open the box, stuffed them gloatingly into pockets and shirt
front. He dropped from the platform and fled out through the open
door, capless and mittenless; out and on toward the village.
His pace slackened suddenly, for he noted with a shock that, like
Klusky's cabin, no smoke drifted over the house toward which he ran,
and, drawing near, he saw that snow lay before the door; clean,
white, and untrodden. He was too dazed to recall the light fall of
the night previous, but glared blankly at the idle pipe; at the cold
and desolate front.
"Too late!" he murmured brokenly. "Too late!" and stumbled to the
snow-cushioned chopping block.
He dared not go in. Evidently the camp had let George die; had never
come near to lift a hand. He was afraid of what lay within, afraid
to face it alone. Yet a dreadful need to know pulled him forward.
Three times he approached the door, retreating each time in panic.
At last he laid soft hands upon the latch and entered, averting his
eyes. Even so, and despite the darkness inside, he was conscious of
it; saw from his eye corners the big, still bulk that sat wrapped and
propped in the chair by the table. He sensed it dazedly,
inductively, and turned to flee, then paused.
"Ye made it, boy! It's the twelfth to-day." George's voice came
weakly, and with a great cry Captain sprang to him.
"Bout all in," the other continued. "Ain't been on my feet for two
days. I knowed you'd come to-day, though; it's the twelfth."
Captain made no reply, for he had knelt, his face buried in the big
man's lap, his shoulders heaving, while he cried like a little boy.