Part 2 out of 3
leg. I was for getting her aboard and sailing down Wrangel way
till it blew over, leaving him to whistle; but I wasn't to get her
that easy. Seems she was living with an uncle of hers--guardian,
the way such things go--and seems he was nigh to shuffling off
with consumption or some sort of lung trouble. He was good and
bad by turns, and she wouldn't leave him till it was over with.
Went up to the tepee just before I left, to speculate on how long
it'd be; but the old beggar had promised her to Chief George, and
when he clapped eyes on me his anger brought on a hemorrhage.
"'Come and take me, Tommy,' she says when we bid good-by on the
beach. 'Ay,' I answers; 'when you give the word.' And I kissed
her, white-man-fashion and lover-fashion, till she was all of a
tremble like a quaking aspen, and I was so beside myself I'd half
a mind to go up and give the uncle a lift over the divide.
"So I went down Wrangel way, past St. Mary's and even to the Queen
Charlottes, trading, running whiskey, turning the sloop to most
anything. Winter was on, stiff and crisp, and I was back to
Juneau, when the word came. 'Come,' the beggar says who brought
the news. 'Killisnoo say, "Come now."' 'What's the row?' I asks.
'Chief George,' says he. 'Potlach. Killisnoo, makum klooch.'
"Ay, it was bitter--the Taku howling down out of the north, the
salt water freezing quick as it struck the deck, and the old sloop
and I hammering into the teeth of it for a hundred miles to Dyea.
Had a Douglass Islander for crew when I started, but midway up he
was washed over from the bows. Jibed all over and crossed the
course three times, but never a sign of him."
"Doubled up with the cold most likely," Dick suggested, putting a
pause into the narrative while he hung one of Molly's skirts up to
dry, "and went down like a pot of lead."
"My idea. So I finished the course alone, half-dead when I made
Dyea in the dark of the evening. The tide favored, and I ran the
sloop plump to the bank, in the shelter of the river. Couldn't go
an inch further, for the fresh water was frozen solid. Halyards
and blocks were that iced up I didn't dare lower mainsail or jib.
First I broached a pint of the cargo raw, and then, leaving all
standing, ready for the start, and with a blanket around me,
headed across the flat to the camp. No mistaking, it was a grand
layout. The Chilcats had come in a body--dogs, babies, and
canoes--to say nothing of the Dog-Ears, the Little Salmons, and
the Missions. Full half a thousand of them to celebrate Tilly's
wedding, and never a white man in a score of miles.
"Nobody took note of me, the blanket over my head and hiding my
face, and I waded knee deep through the dogs and youngsters till I
was well up to the front. The show was being pulled off in a big
open place among the trees, with great fires burning and the snow
moccasin-packed as hard as Portland cement. Next me was Tilly,
beaded and scarlet-clothed galore, and against her Chief George
and his head men. The shaman was being helped out by the big
medicines from the other tribes, and it shivered my spine up and
down, the deviltries they cut. I caught myself wondering if the
folks in Liverpool could only see me now; and I thought of yellow-
haired Gussie, whose brother I licked after my first voyage, just
because he was not for having a sailor-man courting his sister.
And with Gussie in my eyes I looked at Tilly. A rum old world,
thinks I, with man a-stepping in trails the mother little dreamed
of when he lay at suck.
"So be. When the noise was loudest, walrus hides booming and
priests a-singing, I says, 'Are you ready?' Gawd! Not a start,
not a shot of the eyes my way, not the twitch of a muscle. 'I
knew,' she answers, slow and steady as a calm spring tide.
'Where?' 'The high bank at the edge of the ice,' I whispers back.
'Jump out when I give the word.'
"Did I say there was no end of huskies? Well, there was no end.
Here, there, everywhere, they were scattered about,--tame wolves
and nothing less. When the strain runs thin they breed them in
the bush with the wild, and they're bitter fighters. Right at the
toe of my moccasin lay a big brute, and by the heel another. I
doubled the first one's tail, quick, till it snapped in my grip.
As his jaws clipped together where my hand should have been, I
threw the second one by the scruff straight into his mouth. 'Go!'
I cried to Tilly.
"You know how they fight. In the wink of an eye there was a
raging hundred of them, top and bottom, ripping and tearing each
other, kids and squaws tumbling which way, and the camp gone wild.
Tilly'd slipped away, so I followed. But when I looked over my
shoulder at the skirt of the crowd, the devil laid me by the
heart, and I dropped the blanket and went back.
"By then the dogs'd been knocked apart and the crowd was
untangling itself. Nobody was in proper place, so they didn't
note that Tilly'd gone. 'Hello,' I says, gripping Chief George by
the hand. 'May your potlach-smoke rise often, and the Sticks
bring many furs with the spring.'
"Lord love me, Dick, but he was joyed to see me,--him with the
upper hand and wedding Tilly. Chance to puff big over me. The
tale that I was hot after her had spread through the camps, and my
presence did him proud. All hands knew me, without my blanket,
and set to grinning and giggling. It was rich, but I made it
richer by playing unbeknowing.
"'What's the row?' I asks. 'Who's getting married now?'
"'Chief George,' the shaman says, ducking his reverence to him.
"'Thought he had two klooches.'
"'Him takum more,--three,' with another duck.
"'Oh!' And I turned away as though it didn't interest me.
"But this wouldn't do, and everybody begins singing out,
"'Killisnoo what?' I asked.
"'Killisnoo, klooch, Chief George,' they blathered. 'Killisnoo,
"I jumped and looked at Chief George. He nodded his head and
threw out his chest.
"She'll be no klooch of yours,' I says solemnly. 'No klooch of
yours,' I repeats, while his face went black and his hand began
dropping to his hunting-knife.
"'Look!' I cries, striking an attitude. 'Big Medicine. You watch
"I pulled off my mittens, rolled back my sleeves, and made half-a-
dozen passes in the air.
"'Killisnoo!' I shouts. 'Killisnoo! Killisnoo!'
"I was making medicine, and they began to scare. Every eye was on
me; no time to find out that Tilly wasn't there. Then I called
Killisnoo three times again, and waited; and three times more.
All for mystery and to make them nervous. Chief George couldn't
guess what I was up to, and wanted to put a stop to the foolery;
but the shamans said to wait, and that they'd see me and go me one
better, or words to that effect. Besides, he was a superstitious
cuss, and I fancy a bit afraid of the white man's magic.
"Then I called Killisnoo, long and soft like the howl of a wolf,
till the women were all a-tremble and the bucks looking serious.
"'Look!' I sprang for'ard, pointing my finger into a bunch of
squaws--easier to deceive women than men, you know. 'Look!' And
I raised it aloft as though following the flight of a bird. Up,
up, straight overhead, making to follow it with my eyes till it
disappeared in the sky.
"'Killisnoo,' I said, looking at Chief George and pointing upward
"So help me, Dick, the gammon worked. Half of them, at least, saw
Tilly disappear in the air. They'd drunk my whiskey at Juneau and
seen stranger sights, I'll warrant. Why should I not do this
thing, I, who sold bad spirits corked in bottles? Some of the
women shrieked. Everybody fell to whispering in bunches. I
folded my arms and held my head high, and they drew further away
from me. The time was ripe to go. 'Grab him,' Chief George
cries. Three or four of them came at me, but I whirled, quick,
made a couple of passes like to send them after Tilly, and pointed
up. Touch me? Not for the kingdoms of the earth. Chief George
harangued them, but he couldn't get them to lift a leg. Then he
made to take me himself; but I repeated the mummery and his grit
went out through his fingers.
"'Let your shamans work wonders the like of which I have done this
night,' I says. 'Let them call Killisnoo down out of the sky
whither I have sent her.' But the priests knew their limits.
'May your klooches bear you sons as the spawn of the salmon,' I
says, turning to go; 'and may your totem pole stand long in the
land, and the smoke of your camp rise always.'
"But if the beggars could have seen me hitting the high places for
the sloop as soon as I was clear of them, they'd thought my own
medicine had got after me. Tilly'd kept warm by chopping the ice
away, and was all ready to cast off. Gawd! how we ran before it,
the Taku howling after us and the freezing seas sweeping over at
every clip. With everything battened down, me a-steering and
Tilly chopping ice, we held on half the night, till I plumped the
sloop ashore on Porcupine Island, and we shivered it out on the
beach; blankets wet, and Tilly drying the matches on her breast.
"So I think I know something about it. Seven years, Dick, man and
wife, in rough sailing and smooth. And then she died, in the
heart of the winter, died in childbirth, up there on the Chilcat
Station. She held my hand to the last, the ice creeping up inside
the door and spreading thick on the gut of the window. Outside,
the lone howl of the wolf and the Silence; inside, death and the
Silence. You've never heard the Silence yet, Dick, and Gawd grant
you don't ever have to hear it when you sit by the side of death.
Hear it? Ay, till the breath whistles like a siren, and the heart
booms, booms, booms, like the surf on the shore.
"Siwash, Dick, but a woman. White, Dick, white, clear through.
Towards the last she says, 'Keep my feather bed, Tommy, keep it
always.' And I agreed. Then she opened her eyes, full with the
pain. 'I've been a good woman to you, Tommy, and because of that
I want you to promise--to promise'--the words seemed to stick in
her throat--'that when you marry, the woman be white. No more
Siwash, Tommy. I know. Plenty white women down to Juneau now. I
know. Your people call you "squaw-man," your women turn their
heads to the one side on the street, and you do not go to their
cabins like other men. Why? Your wife Siwash. Is it not so?
And this is not good. Wherefore I die. Promise me. Kiss me in
token of your promise.'
"I kissed her, and she dozed off, whispering, 'It is good.' At
the end, that near gone my ear was at her lips, she roused for the
last time. 'Remember, Tommy; remember my feather bed.' Then she
died, in childbirth, up there on the Chilcat Station."
The tent heeled over and half flattened before the gale. Dick
refilled his pipe, while Tommy drew the tea and set it aside
against Molly's return.
And she of the flashing eyes and Yankee blood? Blinded, falling,
crawling on hand and knee, the wind thrust back in her throat by
the wind, she was heading for the tent. On her shoulders a bulky
pack caught the full fury of the storm. She plucked feebly at the
knotted flaps, but it was Tommy and Dick who cast them loose.
Then she set her soul for the last effort, staggered in, and fell
exhausted on the floor.
Tommy unbuckled the straps and took the pack from her. As he
lifted it there was a clanging of pots and pans. Dick, pouring
out a mug of whiskey, paused long enough to pass the wink across
her body. Tommy winked back. His lips pursed the monosyllable,
"clothes," but Dick shook his head reprovingly. "Here, little
woman," he said, after she had drunk the whiskey and straightened
up a bit.
"Here's some dry togs. Climb into them. We're going out to
extra-peg the tent. After that, give us the call, and we'll come
in and have dinner. Sing out when you're ready."
"So help me, Dick, that's knocked the edge off her for the rest of
this trip," Tommy spluttered as they crouched to the lee of the
"But it's the edge is her saving grace." Dick replied, ducking his
head to a volley of sleet that drove around a corner of the
canvas. "The edge that you and I've got, Tommy, and the edge of
our mothers before us."
THE MAN WITH THE GASH
Jacob Kent had suffered from cupidity all the days of his life.
This, in turn, had engendered a chronic distrustfulness, and his
mind and character had become so warped that he was a very
disagreeable man to deal with. He was also a victim to
somnambulic propensities, and very set in his ideas. He had been
a weaver of cloth from the cradle, until the fever of Klondike had
entered his blood and torn him away from his loom. His cabin
stood midway between Sixty Mile Post and the Stuart River; and men
who made it a custom to travel the trail to Dawson, likened him to
a robber baron, perched in his fortress and exacting toll from the
caravans that used his ill-kept roads. Since a certain amount of
history was required in the construction of this figure, the less
cultured wayfarers from Stuart River were prone to describe him
after a still more primordial fashion, in which a command of
strong adjectives was to be chiefly noted.
This cabin was not his, by the way, having been built several
years previously by a couple of miners who had got out a raft of
logs at that point for a grub-stake. They had been most
hospitable lads, and, after they abandoned it, travelers who knew
the route made it an object to arrive there at nightfall. It was
very handy, saving them all the time and toil of pitching camp;
and it was an unwritten rule that the last man left a neat pile of
firewood for the next comer. Rarely a night passed but from half
a dozen to a score of men crowded into its shelter. Jacob Kent
noted these things, exercised squatter sovereignty, and moved in.
Thenceforth, the weary travelers were mulcted a dollar per head
for the privilege of sleeping on the floor, Jacob Kent weighing
the dust and never failing to steal the down-weight. Besides, he
so contrived that his transient guests chopped his wood for him
and carried his water. This was rank piracy, but his victims were
an easy-going breed, and while they detested him, they yet
permitted him to flourish in his sins.
One afternoon in April he sat by his door,--for all the world like
a predatory spider,--marvelling at the heat of the returning sun,
and keeping an eye on the trail for prospective flies. The Yukon
lay at his feet, a sea of ice, disappearing around two great bends
to the north and south, and stretching an honest two miles from
bank to bank. Over its rough breast ran the sled-trail, a slender
sunken line, eighteen inches wide and two thousand miles in
length, with more curses distributed to the linear foot than any
other road in or out of all Christendom.
Jacob Kent was feeling particularly good that afternoon. The
record had been broken the previous night, and he had sold his
hospitality to no less than twenty-eight visitors. True, it had
been quite uncomfortable, and four had snored beneath his bunk all
night; but then it had added appreciable weight to the sack in
which he kept his gold dust. That sack, with its glittering
yellow treasure, was at once the chief delight and the chief bane
of his existence. Heaven and hell lay within its slender mouth.
In the nature of things, there being no privacy to his one-roomed
dwelling, he was tortured by a constant fear of theft. It would
be very easy for these bearded, desperate-looking strangers to
make away with it. Often he dreamed that such was the case, and
awoke in the grip of nightmare. A select number of these robbers
haunted him through his dreams, and he came to know them quite
well, especially the bronzed leader with the gash on his right
cheek. This fellow was the most persistent of the lot, and,
because of him, he had, in his waking moments, constructed several
score of hiding-places in and about the cabin. After a
concealment he would breathe freely again, perhaps for several
nights, only to collar the Man with the Gash in the very act of
unearthing the sack. Then, on awakening in the midst of the usual
struggle, he would at once get up and transfer the bag to a new
and more ingenious crypt. It was not that he was the direct
victim of these phantasms; but he believed in omens and thought-
transference, and he deemed these dream-robbers to be the astral
projection of real personages who happened at those particular
moments, no matter where they were in the flesh, to be harboring
designs, in the spirit, upon his wealth. So he continued to bleed
the unfortunates who crossed his threshold, and at the same time
to add to his trouble with every ounce that went into the sack.
As he sat sunning himself, a thought came to Jacob Kent that
brought him to his feet with a jerk. The pleasures of life had
culminated in the continual weighing and reweighing of his dust;
but a shadow had been thrown upon this pleasant avocation, which
he had hitherto failed to brush aside. His gold-scales were quite
small; in fact, their maximum was a pound and a half,--eighteen
ounces,--while his hoard mounted up to something like three and a
third times that. He had never been able to weigh it all at one
operation, and hence considered himself to have been shut out from
a new and most edifying coign of contemplation. Being denied
this, half the pleasure of possession had been lost; nay, he felt
that this miserable obstacle actually minimized the fact, as it
did the strength, of possession. It was the solution of this
problem flashing across his mind that had just brought him to his
feet. He searched the trail carefully in either direction. There
was nothing in sight, so he went inside.
In a few seconds he had the table cleared away and the scales set
up. On one side he placed the stamped disks to the equivalent of
fifteen ounces, and balanced it with dust on the other. Replacing
the weights with dust, he then had thirty ounces precisely
balanced. These, in turn, he placed together on one side and
again balanced with more dust. By this time the gold was
exhausted, and he was sweating liberally. He trembled with
ecstasy, ravished beyond measure. Nevertheless he dusted the sack
thoroughly, to the last least grain, till the balance was overcome
and one side of the scales sank to the table. Equilibrium,
however, was restored by the addition of a pennyweight and five
grains to the opposite side. He stood, head thrown back,
transfixed. The sack was empty, but the potentiality of the
scales had become immeasurable. Upon them he could weigh any
amount, from the tiniest grain to pounds upon pounds. Mammon laid
hot fingers on his heart. The sun swung on its westering way till
it flashed through the open doorway, full upon the yellow-burdened
scales. The precious heaps, like the golden breasts of a bronze
Cleopatra, flung back the light in a mellow glow. Time and space
"Gawd blime me! but you 'aye the makin' of several quid there,
Jacob Kent wheeled about, at the same time reaching for his
double-barrelled shot-gun, which stood handy. But when his eyes
lit on the intruder's face, he staggered back dizzily. IT WAS THE
FACE OF THE MAN WITH THE GASH!
The man looked at him curiously.
"Oh, that's all right," he said, waving his hand deprecatingly.
"You needn't think as I'll 'arm you or your blasted dust.
"You're a rum 'un, you are," he added reflectively, as he watched
the sweat pouring from off Kent's face and the quavering of his
"W'y don't you pipe up an' say somethin'?" he went on, as the
other struggled for breath. "Wot's gone wrong o' your gaff?
Anythink the matter?"
"W--w--where'd you get it?" Kent at last managed to articulate,
raising a shaking forefinger to the ghastly scar which seamed the
"Shipmate stove me down with a marlin-spike from the main-royal.
An' now as you 'aye your figger'ead in trim, wot I want to know
is, wot's it to you? That's wot I want to know--wot's it to you?
Gawd blime me! do it 'urt you? Ain't it smug enough for the likes
o' you? That's wot I want to know!"
"No, no," Kent answered, sinking upon a stool with a sickly grin.
"I was just wondering."
"Did you ever see the like?" the other went on truculently.
"Ain't it a beute?"
"Yes." Kent nodded his head approvingly, intent on humoring this
strange visitor, but wholly unprepared for the outburst which was
to follow his effort to be agreeable.
"You blasted, bloomin', burgoo-eatin' son-of-a-sea-swab! Wot do
you mean, a sayin' the most onsightly thing Gawd Almighty ever put
on the face o' man is a beute? Wot do you mean, you--"
And thereat this fiery son of the sea broke off into a string of
Oriental profanity, mingling gods and devils, lineages and men,
metaphors and monsters, with so savage a virility that Jacob Kent
was paralyzed. He shrank back, his arms lifted as though to ward
off physical violence. So utterly unnerved was he that the other
paused in the mid-swing of a gorgeous peroration and burst into
"The sun's knocked the bottom out o' the trail," said the Man with
the Gash, between departing paroxysms of mirth. "An' I only 'ope
as you'll appreciate the hoppertunity of consortin' with a man o'
my mug. Get steam up in that fire-box o' your'n. I'm goin' to
unrig the dogs an' grub 'em. An' don't be shy o' the wood, my
lad; there's plenty more where that come from, and it's you've got
the time to sling an axe. An' tote up a bucket o' water while
you're about it. Lively! or I'll run you down, so 'elp me!"
Such a thing was unheard of. Jacob Kent was making the fire,
chopping wood, packing water--doing menial tasks for a guest!
When Jim Cardegee left Dawson, it was with his head filled with
the iniquities of this roadside Shylock; and all along the trail
his numerous victims had added to the sum of his crimes. Now, Jim
Cardegee, with the sailor's love for a sailor's joke, had
determined, when he pulled into the cabin, to bring its inmate
down a peg or so. That he had succeeded beyond expectation he
could not help but remark, though he was in the dark as to the
part the gash on his cheek had played in it. But while he could
not understand, he saw the terror it created, and resolved to
exploit it as remorselessly as would any modern trader a choice
bit of merchandise.
"Strike me blind, but you're a 'ustler," he said admiringly, his
head cocked to one side, as his host bustled about. "You never
'ort to 'ave gone Klondiking. It's the keeper of a pub' you was
laid out for. An' it's often as I 'ave 'eard the lads up an' down
the river speak o' you, but I 'adn't no idea you was so jolly
Jacob Kent experienced a tremendous yearning to try his shotgun on
him, but the fascination of the gash was too potent. This was the
real Man with the Gash, the man who had so often robbed him in the
spirit. This, then, was the embodied entity of the being whose
astral form had been projected into his dreams, the man who had so
frequently harbored designs against his hoard; hence--there could
be no other conclusion--this Man with the Gash had now come in the
flesh to dispossess him. And that gash! He could no more keep
his eyes from it than stop the beating of his heart. Try as he
would, they wandered back to that one point as inevitably as the
needle to the pole.
"Do it 'urt you?" Jim Cardegee thundered suddenly, looking up from
the spreading of his blankets and encountering the rapt gaze of
the other. "It strikes me as 'ow it 'ud be the proper thing for
you to draw your jib, douse the glim, an' turn in, seein' as 'ow
it worrits you. Jes' lay to that, you swab, or so 'elp me I'll
take a pull on your peak-purchases!"
Kent was so nervous that it took three puffs to blow out the
slush-lamp, and he crawled into his blankets without even removing
his moccasins. The sailor was soon snoring lustily from his hard
bed on the floor, but Kent lay staring up into the blackness, one
hand on the shotgun, resolved not to close his eyes the whole
night. He had not had an opportunity to secrete his five pounds
of gold, and it lay in the ammunition box at the head of his bunk.
But, try as he would, he at last dozed off with the weight of his
dust heavy on his soul. Had he not inadvertently fallen asleep
with his mind in such condition, the somnambulic demon would not
have been invoked, nor would Jim Cardegee have gone mining next
day with a dish-pan.
The fire fought a losing battle, and at last died away, while the
frost penetrated the mossy chinks between the logs and chilled the
inner atmosphere. The dogs outside ceased their howling, and,
curled up in the snow, dreamed of salmon-stocked heavens where
dog-drivers and kindred task-masters were not. Within, the sailor
lay like a log, while his host tossed restlessly about, the victim
of strange fantasies. As midnight drew near he suddenly threw off
the blankets and got up. It was remarkable that he could do what
he then did without ever striking a light. Perhaps it was because
of the darkness that he kept his eyes shut, and perhaps it was for
fear he would see the terrible gash on the cheek of his visitor;
but, be this as it may, it is a fact that, unseeing, he opened his
ammunition box, put a heavy charge into the muzzle of the shotgun
without spilling a particle, rammed it down with double wads, and
then put everything away and got back into bed.
Just as daylight laid its steel-gray fingers on the parchment
window, Jacob Kent awoke. Turning on his elbow, he raised the lid
and peered into the ammunition box. Whatever he saw, or whatever
he did not see, exercised a very peculiar effect upon him,
considering his neurotic temperament. He glanced at the sleeping
man on the floor, let the lid down gently, and rolled over on his
back. It was an unwonted calm that rested on his face. Not a
muscle quivered. There was not the least sign of excitement or
perturbation. He lay there a long while, thinking, and when he
got up and began to move about, it was in a cool, collected
manner, without noise and without hurry.
It happened that a heavy wooden peg had been driven into the
ridge-pole just above Jim Cardegee's head. Jacob Kent, working
softly, ran a piece of half-inch manila over it, bringing both
ends to the ground. One end he tied about his waist, and in the
other he rove a running noose. Then he cocked his shotgun and
laid it within reach, by the side of numerous moose-hide thongs.
By an effort of will he bore the sight of the scar, slipped the
noose over the sleeper's head, and drew it taut by throwing back
on his weight, at the same time seizing the gun and bringing it to
Jim Cardegee awoke, choking, bewildered, staring down the twin
wells of steel.
"Where is it?" Kent asked, at the same time slacking on the rope.
Kent merely threw back his weight, shutting off the other's wind.
"Where is it?" Kent repeated.
"Wot?" Cardegee asked, as soon as he had caught his breath.
"Wot gold-dust?" the perplexed sailor demanded.
"You know well enough,--mine."
"Ain't seen nothink of it. Wot do ye take me for? A safe-
deposit? Wot 'ave I got to do with it, any'ow?"
"Mebbe you know, and mebbe you don't know, but anyway, I'm going
to stop your breath till you do know. And if you lift a hand,
I'll blow your head off!"
"Vast heavin'!" Cardegee roared, as the rope tightened.
Kent eased away a moment, and the sailor, wriggling his neck as
though from the pressure, managed to loosen the noose a bit and
work it up so the point of contact was just under the chin.
"Well?" Kent questioned, expecting the disclosure.
But Cardegee grinned. "Go ahead with your 'angin', you bloomin'
Then, as the sailor had anticipated, the tragedy became a farce.
Cardegee being the heavier of the two, Kent, throwing his body
backward and down, could not lift him clear of the ground. Strain
and strive to the uttermost, the sailor's feet still stuck to the
floor and sustained a part of his weight. The remaining portion
was supported by the point of contact just under his chin.
Failing to swing him clear, Kent clung on, resolved to slowly
throttle him or force him to tell what he had done with the hoard.
But the Man with the Gash would not throttle. Five, ten, fifteen
minutes passed, and at the end of that time, in despair, Kent let
his prisoner down.
"Well," he remarked, wiping away the sweat, "if you won't hang
you'll shoot. Some men wasn't born to be hanged, anyway."
"An' it's a pretty mess as you'll make o' this 'ere cabin floor."
Cardegee was fighting for time. "Now, look 'ere, I'll tell you
wot we do; we'll lay our 'eads 'longside an' reason together.
You've lost some dust. You say as 'ow I know, an' I say as 'ow I
don't. Let's get a hobservation an' shape a course--"
"Vast heavin'!" Kent dashed in, maliciously imitating the other's
enunciation. "I'm going to shape all the courses of this shebang,
and you observe; and if you do anything more, I'll bore you as
sure as Moses!"
"For the sake of my mother--"
"Whom God have mercy upon if she loves you. Ah! Would you?" He
frustrated a hostile move on the part of the other by pressing the
cold muzzle against his forehead. "Lay quiet, now! If you lift
as much as a hair, you'll get it."
It was rather an awkward task, with the trigger of the gun always
within pulling distance of the finger; but Kent was a weaver, and
in a few minutes had the sailor tied hand and foot. Then he
dragged him without and laid him by the side of the cabin, where
he could overlook the river and watch the sun climb to the
"Now I'll give you till noon, and then--"
"You'll be hitting the brimstone trail. But if you speak up, I'll
keep you till the next bunch of mounted police come by."
"Well, Gawd blime me, if this ain't a go! 'Ere I be, innercent as
a lamb, an' 'ere you be, lost all o' your top 'amper an' out o'
your reckonin', run me foul an' goin' to rake me into 'ell-fire.
You bloomin' old pirut! You--"
Jim Cardegee loosed the strings of his profanity and fairly outdid
himself. Jacob Kent brought out a stool that he might enjoy it in
comfort. Having exhausted all the possible combinations of his
vocabulary, the sailor quieted down to hard thinking, his eyes
constantly gauging the progress of the sun, which tore up the
eastern slope of the heavens with unseemly haste. His dogs,
surprised that they had not long since been put to harness,
crowded around him. His helplessness appealed to the brutes.
They felt that something was wrong, though they knew not what, and
they crowded about, howling their mournful sympathy.
"Chook! Mush-on! you Siwashes!" he cried, attempting, in a
vermicular way, to kick at them, and discovering himself to be
tottering on the edge of a declivity. As soon as the animals had
scattered, he devoted himself to the significance of that
declivity which he felt to be there but could not see. Nor was he
long in arriving at a correct conclusion. In the nature of
things, he figured, man is lazy. He does no more than he has to.
When he builds a cabin he must put dirt on the roof. From these
premises it was logical that he should carry that dirt no further
than was absolutely necessary. Therefore, he lay upon the edge of
the hole from which the dirt had been taken to roof Jacob Kent's
cabin. This knowledge, properly utilized, might prolong things,
he thought; and he then turned his attention to the moose-hide
thongs which bound him. His hands were tied behind him, and
pressing against the snow, they were wet with the contact. This
moistening of the raw-hide he knew would tend to make it stretch,
and, without apparent effort, he endeavored to stretch it more and
He watched the trail hungrily, and when in the direction of Sixty
Mile a dark speck appeared for a moment against the white
background of an ice-jam, he cast an anxious eye at the sun. It
had climbed nearly to the zenith. Now and again he caught the
black speck clearing the hills of ice and sinking into the
intervening hollows; but he dared not permit himself more than the
most cursory glances for fear of rousing his enemy's suspicion.
Once, when Jacob Kent rose to his feet and searched the trail with
care, Cardegee was frightened, but the dog-sled had struck a piece
of trail running parallel with a jam, and remained out of sight
till the danger was past.
"I'll see you 'ung for this," Cardegee threatened, attempting to
draw the other's attention. "An' you'll rot in 'ell, jes' you see
if you don't.
"I say," he cried, after another pause; "d'ye b'lieve in ghosts?"
Kent's sudden start made him sure of his ground, and he went on:
"Now a ghost 'as the right to 'aunt a man wot don't do wot he
says; and you can't shuffle me off till eight bells--wot I mean is
twelve o'clock--can you? 'Cos if you do, it'll 'appen as 'ow I'll
'aunt you. D'ye 'ear? A minute, a second too quick, an' I'll
'aunt you, so 'elp me, I will!"
Jacob Kent looked dubious, but declined to talk.
"'Ow's your chronometer? Wot's your longitude? 'Ow do you know
as your time's correct?" Cardegee persisted, vainly hoping to beat
his executioner out of a few minutes. "Is it Barrack's time you
'ave, or is it the Company time? 'Cos if you do it before the
stroke o' the bell, I'll not rest. I give you fair warnin'. I'll
come back. An' if you 'aven't the time, 'ow will you know?
That's wot I want--'ow will you tell?"
"I'll send you off all right," Kent replied. "Got a sun-dial
"No good. Thirty-two degrees variation o' the needle."
"Stakes are all set."
"'Ow did you set 'em? Compass?"
"No; lined them up with the North Star."
Cardegee groaned, then stole a glance at the trail. The sled was
just clearing a rise, barely a mile away, and the dogs were in
full lope, running lightly.
"'Ow close is the shadows to the line?"
Kent walked to the primitive timepiece and studied it. "Three
inches," he announced, after a careful survey.
"Say, jes' sing out 'eight bells' afore you pull the gun, will
Kent agreed, and they lapsed into silence. The thongs about
Cardegee's wrists were slowly stretching, and he had begun to work
them over his hands.
"Say, 'ow close is the shadows?"
The sailor wriggled slightly to assure himself that he would
topple over at the right moment, and slipped the first turn over
"Half an inch." Just then Kent heard the jarring churn of the
runners and turned his eyes to the trail. The driver was lying
flat on the sled and the dogs swinging down the straight stretch
to the cabin. Kent whirled back, bringing his rifle to shoulder.
"It ain't eight bells yet!" Cardegee expostulated. "I'll 'aunt
Jacob Kent faltered. He was standing by the sun-dial, perhaps ten
paces from his victim. The man on the sled must have seen that
something unusual was taking place, for he had risen to his knees,
his whip singing viciously among the dogs.
The shadows swept into line. Kent looked along the sights.
"Make ready!" he commanded solemnly. "Eight b- "
But just a fraction of a second too soon, Cardegee rolled backward
into the hole. Kent held his fire and ran to the edge. Bang!
The gun exploded full in the sailor's face as he rose to his feet.
But no smoke came from the muzzle; instead, a sheet of flame burst
from the side of the barrel near its butt, and Jacob Kent went
down. The dogs dashed up the bank, dragging the sled over his
body, and the driver sprang off as Jim Cardegee freed his hands
and drew himself from the hole.
"Jim!" The new-comer recognized him. "What's the matter?"
"Wot's the matter? Oh, nothink at all. It jest 'appens as I do
little things like this for my 'ealth. Wot's the matter, you
bloomin' idjit? Wot's the matter, eh? Cast me loose or I'll show
you wot! 'Urry up, or I'll 'olystone the decks with you!"
"Huh!" he added, as the other went to work with his sheath-knife.
"Wot's the matter? I want to know. Jes' tell me that, will you,
wot's the matter? Hey?"
Kent was quite dead when they rolled him over. The gun, an old-
fashioned, heavy-weighted muzzle-loader, lay near him. Steel and
wood had parted company. Near the butt of the right-hand barrel,
with lips pressed outward, gaped a fissure several inches in
length. The sailor picked it up, curiously. A glittering stream
of yellow dust ran out through the crack. The facts of the case
dawned upon Jim Cardegee.
"Strike me standin'!" he roared; "'ere's a go! 'Ere's 'is
bloomin' dust! Gawd blime me, an' you, too, Charley, if you don't
run an' get the dish-pan!"
JAN, THE UNREPENTANT
"For there's never a law of God or man
Runs north of Fifty-three."
Jan rolled over, clawing and kicking. He was fighting hand and
foot now, and he fought grimly, silently. Two of the three men
who hung upon him, shouted directions to each other, and strove to
curb the short, hairy devil who would not curb. The third man
howled. His finger was between Jan's teeth.
"Quit yer tantrums, Jan, an' ease up!" panted Red Bill, getting a
strangle-hold on Jan's neck. "Why on earth can't yeh hang decent
But Jan kept his grip on the third man's finger, and squirmed over
the floor of the tent, into the pots and pans.
"Youah no gentleman, suh," reproved Mr. Taylor, his body following
his finger, and endeavoring to accommodate itself to every jerk of
Jan's head. "You hev killed Mistah Gordon, as brave and honorable
a gentleman as ever hit the trail aftah the dogs. Youah a
murderah, suh, and without honah."
"An' yer no comrade," broke in Red Bill. "If you was, you'd hang
'thout rampin' around an' roarin'. Come on, Jan, there's a good
fellow. Don't give us no more trouble. Jes' quit, an' we'll hang
yeh neat and handy, an' be done with it."
"Steady, all!" Lawson, the sailorman, bawled. "Jam his head into
the bean pot and batten down."
"But my fingah, suh," Mr. Taylor protested.
"Leggo with y'r finger, then! Always in the way!"
"But I can't, Mistah Lawson. It's in the critter's gullet, and
nigh chewed off as 't is."
"Stand by for stays!" As Lawson gave the warning, Jan half lifted
himself, and the struggling quartet floundered across the tent
into a muddle of furs and blankets. In its passage it cleared the
body of a man, who lay motionless, bleeding from a bullet-wound in
All this was because of the madness which had come upon Jan--the
madness which comes upon a man who has stripped off the raw skin
of earth and grovelled long in primal nakedness, and before whose
eyes rises the fat vales of the homeland, and into whose nostrils
steals the whiff of bay, and grass, and flower, and new-turned
soil. Through five frigid years Jan had sown the seed. Stuart
River, Forty Mile, Circle City, Koyokuk, Kotzebue, had marked his
bleak and strenuous agriculture, and now it was Nome that bore the
harvest,--not the Nome of golden beaches and ruby sands, but the
Nome of '97, before Anvil City was located, or Eldorado District
organized. John Gordon was a Yankee, and should have known
better. But he passed the sharp word at a time when Jan's blood-
shot eyes blazed and his teeth gritted in torment. And because of
this, there was a smell of saltpetre in the tent, and one lay
quietly, while the other fought like a cornered rat, and refused
to hang in the decent and peacable manner suggested by his
"If you will allow me, Mistah Lawson, befoah we go further in this
rumpus, I would say it wah a good idea to pry this hyer varmint's
teeth apart. Neither will he bite off, nor will he let go. He
has the wisdom of the sarpint, suh, the wisdom of the sarpint."
"Lemme get the hatchet to him!" vociferated the sailor. "Lemme
get the hatchet!" He shoved the steel edge close to Mr. Taylor's
finger and used the man's teeth as a fulcrum. Jan held on and
breathed through his nose, snorting like a grampus. "Steady, all!
Now she takes it!"
"Thank you, suh; it is a powerful relief." And Mr. Taylor
proceeded to gather into his arms the victim's wildly waving legs.
But Jan upreared in his Berserker rage; bleeding, frothing,
cursing; five frozen years thawing into sudden hell. They swayed
backward and forward, panted, sweated, like some cyclopean, many-
legged monster rising from the lower deeps. The slush-lamp went
over, drowned in its own fat, while the midday twilight scarce
percolated through the dirty canvas of the tent.
"For the love of Gawd, Jan, get yer senses back!" pleaded Red
Bill. "We ain't goin' to hurt yeh, 'r kill yeh, 'r anythin' of
that sort. Jes' want to hang yeh, that's all, an' you a-messin'
round an' rampagin' somethin' terrible. To think of travellin'
trail together an' then bein' treated this-a way. Wouldn't
'bleeved it of yeh, Jan!"
"He's got too much steerage-way. Grab holt his legs, Taylor, and
"Yes, suh, Mistah Lawson. Do you press youah weight above, after
I give the word." The Kentuckian groped about him in the murky
darkness. "Now, suh, now is the accepted time!"
There was a great surge, and a quarter of a ton of human flesh
tottered and crashed to its fall against the side-wall. Pegs drew
and guy-ropes parted, and the tent, collapsing, wrapped the battle
in its greasy folds.
"Yer only makin' it harder fer yerself," Red Bill continued, at
the same time driving both his thumbs into a hairy throat, the
possessor of which he had pinned down. "You've made nuisance
enough a' ready, an' it'll take half the day to get things
straightened when we've strung yeh up."
"I'll thank you to leave go, suh," spluttered Mr. Taylor.
Red Bill grunted and loosed his grip, and the twain crawled out
into the open. At the same instant Jan kicked clear of the
sailor, and took to his heels across the snow.
"Hi! you lazy devils! Buck! Bright! Sic'm! Pull 'm down!" sang
out Lawson, lunging through the snow after the fleeing man. Buck
and Bright, followed by the rest of the dogs, outstripped him and
rapidly overhauled the murderer.
There was no reason that these men should do this; no reason for
Jan to run away; no reason for them to attempt to prevent him. On
the one hand stretched the barren snow-land; on the other, the
frozen sea. With neither food nor shelter, he could not run far.
All they had to do was to wait till he wandered back to the tent,
as he inevitably must, when the frost and hunger laid hold of him.
But these men did not stop to think. There was a certain taint of
madness running in the veins of all of them. Besides, blood had
been spilled, and upon them was the blood-lust, thick and hot.
"Vengeance is mine," saith the Lord, and He saith it in temperate
climes where the warm sun steals away the energies of men. But in
the Northland they have discovered that prayer is only efficacious
when backed by muscle, and they are accustomed to doing things for
themselves. God is everywhere, they have heard, but he flings a
shadow over the land for half the year that they may not find him;
so they grope in darkness, and it is not to be wondered that they
often doubt, and deem the Decalogue out of gear.
Jan ran blindly, reckoning not of the way of his feet, for he was
mastered by the verb "to live." To live! To exist! Buck flashed
gray through the air, but missed. The man struck madly at him,
and stumbled. Then the white teeth of Bright closed on his
mackinaw jacket, and he pitched into the snow. TO LIVE! TO
EXIST! He fought wildly as ever, the centre of a tossing heap of
men and dogs. His left hand gripped a wolf-dog by the scruff of
the back, while the arm was passed around the neck of Lawson.
Every struggle of the dog helped to throttle the hapless sailor.
Jan's right hand was buried deep in the curling tendrils of Red
Bill's shaggy head, and beneath all, Mr. Taylor lay pinned and
helpless. It was a deadlock, for the strength of his madness was
prodigious; but suddenly, without apparent reason, Jan loosed his
various grips and rolled over quietly on his back. His
adversaries drew away a little, dubious and disconcerted. Jan
"Mine friends," he said, still grinning, "you haf asked me to be
politeful, und now I am politeful. Vot piziness vood you do mit
"That's right, Jan. Be ca'm," soothed Red Bill. "I knowed you'd
come to yer senses afore long. Jes' be ca'm now, an' we'll do the
trick with neatness and despatch."
"Vot piziness? Vot trick?"
"The hangin'. An' yeh oughter thank yer lucky stars for havin' a
man what knows his business. I've did it afore now, more'n once,
down in the States, an' I can do it to a T."
"Hang who? Me?"
"Ha! ha! Shust hear der man speak foolishness! Gif me a hand,
Bill, und I vill get up und be hung." He crawled stiffly to his
feet and looked about him. "Herr Gott! listen to der man! He
vood hang me! Ho! ho! ho! I tank not! Yes, I tank not!"
"And I tank yes, you swab," Lawson spoke up mockingly, at the same
time cutting a sled-lashing and coiling it up with ominous care.
"Judge Lynch holds court this day."
"Von liddle while." Jan stepped back from the proffered noose.
"I haf somedings to ask und to make der great proposition.
Kentucky, you know about der Shudge Lynch?"
"Yes, suh. It is an institution of free men and of gentlemen, and
it is an ole one and time-honored. Corruption may wear the robe
of magistracy, suh, but Judge Lynch can always be relied upon to
give justice without court fees. I repeat, suh, without court
fees. Law may be bought and sold, but in this enlightened land
justice is free as the air we breathe, strong as the licker we
drink, prompt as--"
"Cut it short! Find out what the beggar wants," interrupted
Lawson, spoiling the peroration.
"Vell, Kentucky, tell me dis: von man kill von odder man, Shudge
Lynch hang dot man?"
"If the evidence is strong enough--yes, suh."
"An' the evidence in this here case is strong enough to hang a
dozen men, Jan," broke in Red Bill.
"Nefer you mind, Bill. I talk mit you next. Now von anodder ding
I ask Kentucky. If Shudge Lynch hang not der man, vot den?"
"If Judge Lynch does not hang the man, then the man goes free, and
his hands are washed clean of blood. And further, suh, our great
and glorious constitution has said, to wit: that no man may twice
be placed in jeopardy of his life for one and the same crime, or
words to that effect."
"Unt dey can't shoot him, or hit him mit a club over der head
alongside, or do nodings more mit him?"
"Goot! You hear vot Kentucky speaks, all you noddleheads? Now I
talk mit Bill. You know der piziness, Bill, und you hang me up
brown, eh? Vot you say?"
"'Betcher life, an', Jan, if yeh don't give no more trouble ye'll
be almighty proud of the job. I'm a connesoor."
"You haf der great head, Bill, und know somedings or two. Und you
know two und one makes tree--ain't it?"
"Und when you haf two dings, you haf not tree dings--ain't it?
Now you follow mit me close und I show you. It takes tree dings
to hang. First ding, you haf to haf der man. Goot! I am der
man. Second ding, you haf to haf der rope. Lawson haf der rope.
Goot! Und tird ding, you haf to haf someding to tie der rope to.
Sling your eyes over der landscape und find der tird ding to tie
der rope to? Eh? Vot you say?"
Mechanically they swept the ice and snow with their eyes. It was
a homogeneous scene, devoid of contrasts or bold contours, dreary,
desolate, and monotonous,--the ice-packed sea, the slow slope of
the beach, the background of low-lying hills, and over all thrown
the endless mantle of snow. "No trees, no bluffs, no cabins, no
telegraph poles, nothin'," moaned Red Bill; "nothin' respectable
enough nor big enough to swing the toes of a five-foot man clear
o' the ground. I give it up." He looked yearningly at that
portion of Jan's anatomy which joins the head and shoulders.
"Give it up," he repeated sadly to Lawson. "Throw the rope down.
Gawd never intended this here country for livin' purposes, an'
that's a cold frozen fact."
Jan grinned triumphantly. "I tank I go mit der tent und haf a
"Ostensiblee y'r correct, Bill, me son," spoke up Lawson; "but y'r
a dummy, and you can lay to that for another cold frozen fact.
Takes a sea farmer to learn you landsmen things. Ever hear of a
pair of shears? Then clap y'r eyes to this."
The sailor worked rapidly. From the pile of dunnage where they
had pulled up the boat the preceding fall, he unearthed a pair of
long oars. These he lashed together, at nearly right angles,
close to the ends of the blades. Where the handles rested he
kicked holes through the snow to the sand. At the point of
intersection he attached two guy-ropes, making the end of one fast
to a cake of beach-ice. The other guy he passed over to Red Bill.
"Here, me son, lay holt o' that and run it out."
And to his horror, Jan saw his gallows rise in the air. "No! no!"
he cried, recoiling and putting up his fists. "It is not goot! I
vill not hang! Come, you noddleheads! I vill lick you, all
together, von after der odder! I vill blay hell! I vill do
eferydings! Und I vill die pefore I hang!"
The sailor permitted the two other men to clinch with the mad
creature. They rolled and tossed about furiously, tearing up snow
and tundra, their fierce struggle writing a tragedy of human
passion on the white sheet spread by nature. And ever and anon a
hand or foot of Jan emerged from the tangle, to be gripped by
Lawson and lashed fast with rope-yarns. Pawing, clawing,
blaspheming, he was conquered and bound, inch by inch, and drawn
to where the inexorable shears lay like a pair of gigantic
dividers on the snow. Red Bill adjusted the noose, placing the
hangman's knot properly under the left ear. Mr. Taylor and Lawson
tailed onto the running-guy, ready at the word to elevate the
gallows. Bill lingered, contemplating his work with artistic
"Herr Gott! Vood you look at it!"
The horror in Jan's voice caused the rest to desist. The fallen
tent had uprisen, and in the gathering twilight it flapped ghostly
arms about and titubated toward them drunkenly. But the next
instant John Gordon found the opening and crawled forth.
"What the flaming--!" For the moment his voice died away in his
throat as his eyes took in the tableau. "Hold on! I'm not dead!"
he cried out, coming up to the group with stormy countenance.
"Allow me, Mistah Gordon, to congratulate you upon youah escape,"
Mr. Taylor ventured. "A close shave, suh, a powahful close
" Congratulate hell! I might have been dead and rotten and no
thanks to you, you--!" And thereat John Gordon delivered himself
of a vigorous flood of English, terse, intensive, denunciative,
and composed solely of expletives and adjectives.
"Simply creased me," he went on when he had eased himself
sufficiently. "Ever crease cattle, Taylor?"
"Yes, suh, many a time down in God's country."
"Just so. That's what happened to me. Bullet just grazed the
base of my skull at the top of the neck. Stunned me but no harm
done." He turned to the bound man. "Get up, Jan. I'm going to
lick you to a standstill or you're going to apologize. The rest
of you lads stand clear."
"I tank not. Shust tie me loose und you see," replied Jan, the
Unrepentant, the devil within him still unconquered. "Und after
as I lick you, I take der rest of der noddleheads, von after der
GRIT OF WOMEN
A wolfish head, wistful-eyed and frost-rimed, thrust aside the
"Hi! Chook! Siwash! Chook, you limb of Satan!" chorused the
protesting inmates. Bettles rapped the dog sharply with a tin
plate, and it withdrew hastily. Louis Savoy refastened the flaps,
kicked a frying-pan over against the bottom, and warmed his hands.
It was very cold without. Forty-eight hours gone, the spirit
thermometer had burst at sixty-eight below, and since that time it
had grown steadily and bitterly colder. There was no telling when
the snap would end. And it is poor policy, unless the gods will
it, to venture far from a stove at such times, or to increase the
quantity of cold atmosphere one must breathe. Men sometimes do
it, and sometimes they chill their lungs. This leads up to a dry,
hacking cough, noticeably irritable when bacon is being fried.
After that, somewhere along in the spring or summer, a hole is
burned in the frozen muck. Into this a man's carcass is dumped,
covered over with moss, and left with the assurance that it will
rise on the crack of Doom, wholly and frigidly intact. For those
of little faith, sceptical of material integration on that fateful
day, no fitter country than the Klondike can be recommended to die
in. But it is not to be inferred from this that it is a fit
country for living purposes.
It was very cold without, but it was not over-warm within. The
only article which might be designated furniture was the stove,
and for this the men were frank in displaying their preference.
Upon half of the floor pine boughs had been cast; above this were
spread the sleeping-furs, beneath lay the winter's snowfall. The
remainder of the floor was moccasin-packed snow, littered with
pots and pans and the general impedimenta of an Arctic camp. The
stove was red and roaring hot, but only a bare three feet away lay
a block of ice, as sharp-edged and dry as when first quarried from
the creek bottom. The pressure of the outside cold forced the
inner heat upward. Just above the stove, where the pipe
penetrated the roof, was a tiny circle of dry canvas; next, with
the pipe always as centre, a circle of steaming canvas; next a
damp and moisture-exuding ring; and finally, the rest of the tent,
sidewalls and top, coated with a half-inch of dry, white, crystal-
"Oh! OH! OH!" A young fellow, lying asleep in the furs, bearded
and wan and weary, raised a moan of pain, and without waking
increased the pitch and intensity of his anguish. His body half-
lifted from the blankets, and quivered and shrank spasmodically,
as though drawing away from a bed of nettles.
"Roll'm over!" ordered Bettles. "He's crampin'."
And thereat, with pitiless good-will, he was pitched upon and
rolled and thumped and pounded by half-a-dozen willing comrades.
"Damn the trail," he muttered softly, as he threw off the robes
and sat up. "I've run across country, played quarter three
seasons hand-running, and hardened myself in all manner of ways;
and then I pilgrim it into this God-forsaken land and find myself
an effeminate Athenian without the simplest rudiments of manhood!"
He hunched up to the fire and rolled a cigarette. "Oh, I'm not
whining. I can take my medicine all right, all right; but I'm
just decently ashamed of myself, that's all. Here I am, on top of
a dirty thirty miles, as knocked up and stiff and sore as a pink-
tea degenerate after a five-mile walk on a country turn-pike.
Bah! It makes me sick! Got a match?" "Don't git the tantrums,
youngster." Bettles passed over the required fire-stick and waxed
patriarchal. "Ye've gotter 'low some for the breakin'-in.
Sufferin' cracky! don't I recollect the first time I hit the
trail! Stiff? I've seen the time it'd take me ten minutes to git
my mouth from the waterhole an' come to my feet--every jint
crackin' an' kickin' fit to kill. Cramp? In sech knots it'd take
the camp half a day to untangle me. You're all right, for a cub,
any ye've the true sperrit. Come this day year, you'll walk all
us old bucks into the ground any time. An' best in your favor,
you hain't got that streak of fat in your make-up which has sent
many a husky man to the bosom of Abraham afore his right and
"Streak of fat?"
"Yep. Comes along of bulk. 'T ain't the big men as is the best
when it comes to the trail."
"Never heard of it."
"Never heered of it, eh? Well, it's a dead straight, open-an'-
shut fact, an' no gittin' round. Bulk's all well enough for a
mighty big effort, but 'thout stayin' powers it ain't worth a
continental whoop; an' stayin' powers an' bulk ain't runnin'
mates. Takes the small, wiry fellows when it comes to gittin'
right down an' hangin' on like a lean-jowled dog to a bone. Why,
hell's fire, the big men they ain't in it!"
"By gar!" broke in Louis Savoy, "dat is no, vot you call, josh! I
know one mans, so vaire beeg like ze buffalo. Wit him, on ze
Sulphur Creek stampede, go one small mans, Lon McFane. You know
dat Lon McFane, dat leetle Irisher wit ze red hair and ze grin.
An' dey walk an' walk an' walk, all ze day long an' ze night long.
And beeg mans, him become vaire tired, an' lay down mooch in ze
snow. And leetle mans keek beeg mans, an' him cry like, vot you
call--ah! vot you call ze kid. And leetle mans keek an' keek an'
keek, an' bime by, long time, long way, keek beeg mans into my
cabin. Tree days 'fore him crawl out my blankets. Nevaire I see
beeg squaw like him. No nevaire. Him haf vot you call ze streak
of fat. You bet."
"But there was Axel Gunderson," Prince spoke up. The great
Scandinavian, with the tragic events which shadowed his passing,
had made a deep mark on the mining engineer. "He lies up there,
somewhere." He swept his hand in the vague direction of the
"Biggest man that ever turned his heels to Salt Water, or run a
moose down with sheer grit," supplemented Bettles; "but he's the
prove-the-rule exception. Look at his woman, Unga,--tip the
scales at a hundred an' ten, clean meat an' nary ounce to spare.
She'd bank grit 'gainst his for all there was in him, an' see him,
an' go him better if it was possible. Nothing over the earth, or
in it, or under it, she wouldn't 'a' done."
"But she loved him," objected the engineer.
"'T ain't that. It--"
"Look you, brothers," broke in Sitka Charley from his seat on the
grub-box. "Ye have spoken of the streak of fat that runs in big
men's muscles, of the grit of women and the love, and ye have
spoken fair; but I have in mind things which happened when the
land was young and the fires of men apart as the stars. It was
then I had concern with a big man, and a streak of fat, and a
woman. And the woman was small; but her heart was greater than
the beef-heart of the man, and she had grit. And we traveled a
weary trail, even to the Salt Water, and the cold was bitter, the
snow deep, the hunger great. And the woman's love was a mighty
love--no more can man say than this."
He paused, and with the hatchet broke pieces of ice from the large
chunk beside him. These he threw into the gold pan on the stove,
where the drinking-water thawed. The men drew up closer, and he
of the cramps sought greater comfort vainly for his stiffened
"Brothers, my blood is red with Siwash, but my heart is white. To
the faults of my fathers I owe the one, to the virtues of my
friends the other. A great truth came to me when I was yet a boy.
I learned that to your kind and you was given the earth; that the
Siwash could not withstand you, and like the caribou and the bear,
must perish in the cold. So I came into the warm and sat among
you, by your fires, and behold, I became one of you, I have seen
much in my time. I have known strange things, and bucked big, on
big trails, with men of many breeds. And because of these things,
I measure deeds after your manner, and judge men, and think
thoughts. Wherefore, when I speak harshly of one of your own
kind, I know you will not take it amiss; and when I speak high of
one of my father's people, you will not take it upon you to say,
'Sitka Charley is Siwash, and there is a crooked light in his eyes
and small honor to his tongue.' Is it not so?"
Deep down in throat, the circle vouchsafed its assent.
"The woman was Passuk. I got her in fair trade from her people,
who were of the Coast and whose Chilcat totem stood at the head of
a salt arm of the sea. My heart did not go out to the woman, nor
did I take stock of her looks. For she scarce took her eyes from
the ground, and she was timid and afraid, as girls will be when
cast into a stranger's arms whom they have never seen before. As
I say, there was no place in my heart for her to creep, for I had
a great journey in mind, and stood in need of one to feed my dogs
and to lift a paddle with me through the long river days. One
blanket would cover the twain; so I chose Passuk.
"Have I not said I was a servant to the Government? If not, it is
well that ye know. So I was taken on a warship, sleds and dogs
and evaporated foods, and with me came Passuk. And we went north,
to the winter ice-rim of Bering Sea, where we were landed,--
myself, and Passuk, and the dogs. I was also given moneys of the
Government, for I was its servant, and charts of lands which the
eyes of man had never dwelt upon, and messages. These messages
were sealed, and protected shrewdly from the weather, and I was to
deliver them to the whale-ships of the Arctic, ice-bound by the
great Mackenzie. Never was there so great a river, forgetting
only our own Yukon, the Mother of all Rivers.
"All of which is neither here nor there, for my story deals not
with the whale-ships, nor the berg-bound winter I spent by the
Mackenzie. Afterward, in the spring, when the days lengthened and
there was a crust to the snow, we came south, Passuk and I, to the
Country of the Yukon. A weary journey, but the sun pointed out
the way of our feet. It was a naked land then, as I have said,
and we worked up the current, with pole and paddle, till we came
to Forty Mile. Good it was to see white faces once again, so we
put into the bank. And that winter was a hard winter. The
darkness and the cold drew down upon us, and with them the famine.
To each man the agent of the Company gave forty pounds of flour
and twenty of bacon. There were no beans. And, the dogs howled
always, and there were flat bellies and deep-lined faces, and
strong men became weak, and weak men died. There was also much
"Then came we together in the store one night, and the empty
shelves made us feel our own emptiness the more. We talked low,
by the light of the fire, for the candles had been set aside for
those who might yet gasp in the spring. Discussion was held, and
it was said that a man must go forth to the Salt Water and tell to
the world our misery. At this all eyes turned to me, for it was
understood that I was a great traveler. 'It is seven hundred
miles,' said I, 'to Haines Mission by the sea, and every inch of
it snowshoe work. Give me the pick of your dogs and the best of
your grub, and I will go. And with me shall go Passuk.'
"To this they were agreed. But there arose one, Long Jeff, a
Yankee-man, big-boned and big-muscled. Also his talk was big.
He, too, was a mighty traveler, he said, born to the snowshoe and
bred up on buffalo milk. He would go with me, in case I fell by
the trail, that he might carry the word on to the Mission. I was
young, and I knew not Yankee-men. How was I to know that big talk
betokened the streak of fat, or that Yankee-men who did great
things kept their teeth together? So we took the pick of the dogs
and the best of the grub, and struck the trail, we three,--Passuk,
Long Jeff, and I.
"Well, ye have broken virgin snow, labored at the gee-pole, and
are not unused to the packed river-jams; so I will talk little of
the toil, save that on some days we made ten miles, and on others
thirty, but more often ten. And the best of the grub was not
good, while we went on stint from the start. Likewise the pick of
the dogs was poor, and we were hard put to keep them on their
legs. At the White River our three sleds became two sleds, and we
had only come two hundred miles. But we lost nothing; the dogs
that left the traces went into the bellies of those that remained.
"Not a greeting, not a curl of smoke, till we made Pelly. Here I
had counted on grub; and here I had counted on leaving Long Jeff,
who was whining and trail-sore. But the factor's lungs were
wheezing, his eyes bright, his cache nigh empty; and he showed us
the empty cache of the missionary, also his grave with the rocks
piled high to keep off the dogs. There was a bunch of Indians
there, but babies and old men there were none, and it was clear
that few would see the spring.
"So we pulled on, light-stomached and heavy-hearted, with half a
thousand miles of snow and silence between us and Haines Mission
by the sea. The darkness was at its worst, and at midday the sun
could not clear the sky-line to the south. But the ice-jams were
smaller, the going better; so I pushed the dogs hard and traveled
late and early. As I said at Forty Mile, every inch of it was
snow-shoe work. And the shoes made great sores on our feet, which
cracked and scabbed but would not heal. And every day these sores
grew more grievous, till in the morning, when we girded on the
shoes, Long Jeff cried like a child. I put him at the fore of the
light sled to break trail, but he slipped off the shoes for
comfort. Because of this the trail was not packed, his moccasins
made great holes, and into these holes the dogs wallowed. The
bones of the dogs were ready to break through their hides, and
this was not good for them. So I spoke hard words to the man, and
he promised, and broke his word. Then I beat him with the dog-
whip, and after that the dogs wallowed no more. He was a child,
what of the pain and the streak of fat.
"But Passuk. While the man lay by the fire and wept, she cooked,
and in the morning helped lash the sleds, and in the evening to
unlash them. And she saved the dogs. Ever was she to the fore,
lifting the webbed shoes and making the way easy. Passuk--how
shall I say?--I took it for granted that she should do these
things, and thought no more about it. For my mind was busy with
other matters, and besides, I was young in years and knew little
of woman. It was only on looking back that I came to understand.
"And the man became worthless. The dogs had little strength in
them, but he stole rides on the sled when he lagged behind.
Passuk said she would take the one sled, so the man had nothing to
do. In the morning I gave him his fair share of grub and started
him on the trail alone. Then the woman and I broke camp, packed
the sleds, and harnessed the dogs. By midday, when the sun mocked
us, we would overtake the man, with the tears frozen on his
cheeks, and pass him. In the night we made camp, set aside his
fair share of grub, and spread his furs. Also we made a big fire,
that he might see. And hours afterward he would come limping in,
and eat his grub with moans and groans, and sleep. He was not
sick, this man. He was only trail-sore and tired, and weak with
hunger. But Passuk and I were trail-sore and tired, and weak with
hunger; and we did all the work and he did none. But he had the
streak of fat of which our brother Bettles has spoken. Further,
we gave the man always his fair share of grub.
"Then one day we met two ghosts journeying through the Silence.
They were a man and a boy, and they were white. The ice had
opened on Lake Le Barge, and through it had gone their main
outfit. One blanket each carried about his shoulders. At night
they built a fire and crouched over it till morning. They had a
little flour. This they stirred in warm water and drank. The man
showed me eight cups of flour--all they had, and Pelly, stricken
with famine, two hundred miles away. They said, also, that there
was an Indian behind; that they had whacked fair, but that he
could not keep up. I did not believe they had whacked fair, else
would the Indian have kept up. But I could give them no grub.
They strove to steal a dog--the fattest, which was very thin--but
I shoved my pistol in their faces and told them begone. And they
went away, like drunken men, through the Silence toward Pelly.
"I had three dogs now, and one sled, and the dogs were only bones
and hair. When there is little wood, the fire burns low and the
cabin grows cold. So with us. With little grub the frost bites
sharp, and our faces were black and frozen till our own mothers
would not have known us. And our feet were very sore. In the
morning, when I hit the trail, I sweated to keep down the cry when
the pain of the snowshoes smote me. Passuk never opened her lips,
but stepped to the fore to break the way. The man howled.
"The Thirty Mile was swift, and the current ate away the ice from
beneath, and there were many air-holes and cracks, and much open
water. One day we came upon the man, resting, for he had gone
ahead, as was his wont, in the morning. But between us was open
water. This he had passed around by taking to the rim-ice where
it was too narrow for a sled. So we found an ice-bridge. Passuk
weighed little, and went first, with a long pole crosswise in her
hands in chance she broke through. But she was light, and her
shoes large, and she passed over. Then she called the dogs. But
they had neither poles nor shoes, and they broke through and were
swept under by the water. I held tight to the sled from behind,
till the traces broke and the dogs went on down under the ice.
There was little meat to them, but I had counted on them for a
week's grub, and they were gone.
"The next morning I divided all the grub, which was little, into
three portions. And I told Long Jeff that he could keep up with
us, or not, as he saw fit; for we were going to travel light and
fast. But he raised his voice and cried over his sore feet and
his troubles, and said harsh things against comradeship. Passuk's
feet were sore, and my feet were sore--ay, sorer than his, for we
had worked with the dogs; also, we looked to see. Long Jeff swore
he would die before he hit the trail again; so Passuk took a fur
robe, and I a cooking pot and an axe, and we made ready to go.
But she looked on the man's portion, and said, 'It is wrong to
waste good food on a baby. He is better dead.' I shook my head
and said no--that a comrade once was a comrade always. Then she
spoke of the men of Forty Mile; that they were many men and good;
and that they looked to me for grub in the spring. But when I
still said no, she snatched the pistol from my belt, quick, and as
our brother Bettles has spoken, Long Jeff went to the bosom of
Abraham before his time. I chided Passuk for this; but she showed
no sorrow, nor was she sorrowful. And in my heart I knew she was
Sitka Charley paused and threw pieces of ice into the gold pan on
the stove. The men were silent, and their backs chilled to the
sobbing cries of the dogs as they gave tongue to their misery in
the outer cold.
"And day by day we passed in the snow the sleeping-places of the
two ghosts--Passuk and I--and we knew we would be glad for such
ere we made Salt Water. Then we came to the Indian, like another
ghost, with his face set toward Pelly. They had not whacked up
fair, the man and the boy, he said, and he had had no flour for
three days. Each night he boiled pieces of his moccasins in a
cup, and ate them. He did not have much moccasins left. And he
was a Coast Indian, and told us these things through Passuk, who
talked his tongue. He was a stranger in the Yukon, and he knew
not the way, but his face was set to Pelly. How far was it? Two
sleeps? ten? a hundred--he did not know, but he was going to
Pelly. It was too far to turn back; he could only keep on.
"He did not ask for grub, for he could see we, too, were hard put.
Passuk looked at the man, and at me, as though she were of two
minds, like a mother partridge whose young are in trouble. So I
turned to her and said, 'This man has been dealt unfair. Shall I
give him of our grub a portion?' I saw her eyes light, as with
quick pleasure; but she looked long at the man and at me, and her
mouth drew close and hard, and she said, 'No. The Salt Water is
afar off, and Death lies in wait. Better it is that he take this
stranger man and let my man Charley pass.' So the man went away
in the Silence toward Pelly. That night she wept. Never had I
seen her weep before. Nor was it the smoke of the fire, for the
wood was dry wood. So I marveled at her sorrow, and thought her
woman's heart had grown soft at the darkness of the trail and the
"Life is a strange thing. Much have I thought on it, and pondered
long, yet daily the strangeness of it grows not less, but more.
Why this longing for Life? It is a game which no man wins. To
live is to toil hard, and to suffer sore, till Old Age creeps
heavily upon us and we throw down our hands on the cold ashes of
dead fires. It is hard to live. In pain the babe sucks his first
breath, in pain the old man gasps his last, and all his days are
full of trouble and sorrow; yet he goes down to the open arms of
Death, stumbling, falling, with head turned backward, fighting to
the last. And Death is kind. It is only Life, and the things of
Life that hurt. Yet we love Life, and we hate Death. It is very
"We spoke little, Passuk and I, in the days which came. In the
night we lay in the snow like dead people, and in the morning we
went on our way, walking like dead people. And all things were
dead. There were no ptarmigan, no squirrels, no snowshoe
rabbits,--nothing. The river made no sound beneath its white
robes. The sap was frozen in the forest. And it became cold, as
now; and in the night the stars drew near and large, and leaped
and danced; and in the day the sun-dogs mocked us till we saw many
suns, and all the air flashed and sparkled, and the snow was
diamond dust. And there was no heat, no sound, only the bitter
cold and the Silence. As I say, we walked like dead people, as in
a dream, and we kept no count of time. Only our faces were set to
Salt Water, our souls strained for Salt Water, and our feet
carried us toward Salt Water. We camped by the Tahkeena, and knew
it not. Our eyes looked upon the White Horse, but we saw it not.
Our feet trod the portage of the Canyon, but they felt it not. We
felt nothing. And we fell often by the way, but we fell, always,
with our faces toward Salt Water.
"Our last grub went, and we had shared fair, Passuk and I, but she
fell more often, and at Caribou Crossing her strength left her.
And in the morning we lay beneath the one robe and did not take
the trail. It was in my mind to stay there and meet Death hand-
in-hand with Passuk; for I had grown old, and had learned the love
of woman. Also, it was eighty miles to Haines Mission, and the
great Chilcoot, far above the timber-line, reared his storm-swept
head between. But Passuk spoke to me, low, with my ear against
her lips that I might hear. And now, because she need not fear my
anger, she spoke her heart, and told me of her love, and of many
things which I did not understand.
"And she said: 'You are my man, Charley, and I have been a good
woman to you. And in all the days I have made your fire, and
cooked your food, and fed your dogs, and lifted paddle or broken
trail, I have not complained. Nor did I say that there was more
warmth in the lodge of my father, or that there was more grub on
the Chilcat. When you have spoken, I have listened. When you
have ordered, I have obeyed. Is it not so, Charley?'
"And I said: 'Ay, it is so.'
"And she said: 'When first you came to the Chilcat, nor looked
upon me, but bought me as a man buys a dog, and took me away, my
heart was hard against you and filled with bitterness and fear.
But that was long ago. For you were kind to me, Charley, as a
good man is kind to his dog. Your heart was cold, and there was
no room for me; yet you dealt me fair and your ways were just.
And I was with you when you did bold deeds and led great ventures,
and I measured you against the men of other breeds, and I saw you
stood among them full of honor, and your word was wise, your
tongue true. And I grew proud of you, till it came that you
filled all my heart, and all my thought was of you. You were as
the midsummer sun, when its golden trail runs in a circle and
never leaves the sky. And whatever way I cast my eyes I beheld
the sun. But your heart was ever cold, Charley, and there was no
"And I said: 'It is so. It was cold, and there was no room. But
that is past. Now my heart is like the snowfall in the spring,
when the sun has come back. There is a great thaw and a bending,
a sound of running waters, and a budding and sprouting of green
things. And there is drumming of partridges, and songs of robins,
and great music, for the winter is broken, Passuk, and I have
learned the love of woman.'
"She smiled and moved for me to draw her closer. And she said, 'I
am glad.' After that she lay quiet for a long time, breathing
softly, her head upon my breast. Then she whispered: 'The trail
ends here, and I am tired. But first I would speak of other
things. In the long ago, when I was a girl on the Chilcat, I
played alone among the skin bales of my father's lodge; for the
men were away on the hunt, and the women and boys were dragging in
the meat. It was in the spring, and I was alone. A great brown
bear, just awake from his winter's sleep, hungry, his fur hanging
to the bones in flaps of leanness, shoved his head within the
lodge and said, "Oof!" My brother came running back with the
first sled of meat. And he fought the bear with burning sticks
from the fire, and the dogs in their harnesses, with the sled
behind them, fell upon the bear. There was a great battle and
much noise. They rolled in the fire, the skin bales were
scattered, the lodge overthrown. But in the end the bear lay
dead, with the fingers of my brother in his mouth and the marks of
his claws upon my brother's face. Did you mark the Indian by the
Pelly trail, his mitten which had no thumb, his hand which he
warmed by our fire? He was my brother. And I said he should have
no grub. And he went away in the Silence without grub.'
"This, my brothers, was the love of Passuk, who died in the snow,
by the Caribou Crossing. It was a mighty love, for she denied her
brother for the man who led her away on weary trails to a bitter
end. And, further, such was this woman's love, she denied
herself. Ere her eyes closed for the last time she took my hand
and slipped it under her squirrel-skin parka to her waist. I felt
there a well-filled pouch, and learned the secret of her lost
strength. Day by day we had shared fair, to the last least bit;
and day by day but half her share had she eaten. The other half
had gone into the well-filled pouch.
"And she said: 'This is the end of the trail for Passuk; but your
trail, Charley, leads on and on, over the great Chilcoot, down to
Haines Mission and the sea. And it leads on and on, by the light
of many suns, over unknown lands and strange waters, and it is
full of years and honors and great glories. It leads you to the
lodges of many women, and good women, but it will never lead you
to a greater love than the love of Passuk.'
"And I knew the woman spoke true. But a madness came upon me, and
I threw the well-filled pouch from me, and swore that my trail had
reached an end, till her tired eyes grew soft with tears, and she
said: 'Among men has Sitka Charley walked in honor, and ever has
his word been true. Does he forget that honor now, and talk vain
words by the Caribou Crossing? Does he remember no more the men
of Forty Mile, who gave him of their grub the best, of their dogs
the pick? Ever has Passuk been proud of her man. Let him lift
himself up, gird on his snow-shoes, and begone, that she may still
keep her pride.'
"And when she grew cold in my arms I arose, and sought out the
well-filled pouch, and girt on my snowshoes, and staggered along
the trail; for there was a weakness in my knees, and my head was
dizzy, and in my ears there was a roaring, and a flashing of fire
upon my eyes. The forgotten trails of boyhood came back to me. I
sat by the full pots of the potlach feast, and raised my voice in
song, and danced to the chanting of the men and maidens and the
booming of the walrus drums. And Passuk held my hand and walked
by my side. When I laid down to sleep, she waked me. When I
stumbled and fell, she raised me. When I wandered in the deep
snow, she led me back to the trail. And in this wise, like a man
bereft of reason, who sees strange visions and whose thoughts are
light with wine, I came to Haines Mission by the sea."
Sitka Charley threw back the tent-flaps. It was midday. To the
south, just clearing the bleak Henderson Divide, poised the cold-
disked sun. On either hand the sun-dogs blazed. The air was a
gossamer of glittering frost. In the foreground, beside the
trail, a wolf-dog, bristling with frost, thrust a long snout
heavenward and mourned.
WHERE THE TRAIL FORKS
"Must I, then, must I, then, now leave this town -
And you, my love, stay here?"--Schwabian Folk-song.
The singer, clean-faced and cheery-eyed, bent over and added water
to a pot of simmering beans, and then, rising, a stick of firewood
in hand, drove back the circling dogs from the grub-box and
cooking-gear. He was blue of eye, and his long hair was golden,
and it was a pleasure to look upon his lusty freshness. A new
moon was thrusting a dim horn above the white line of close-packed
snow-capped pines which ringed the camp and segregated it from all
the world. Overhead, so clear it was and cold, the stars danced
with quick, pulsating movements. To the southeast an evanescent
greenish glow heralded the opening revels of the aurora borealis.
Two men, in the immediate foreground, lay upon the bearskin which
was their bed. Between the skin and naked snow was a six-inch
layer of pine boughs. The blankets were rolled back. For
shelter, there was a fly at their backs,--a sheet of canvas
stretched between two trees and angling at forty-five degrees.
This caught the radiating heat from the fire and flung it down
upon the skin. Another man sat on a sled, drawn close to the
blaze, mending moccasins. To the right, a heap of frozen gravel
and a rude windlass denoted where they toiled each day in dismal
groping for the pay-streak. To the left, four pairs of snowshoes
stood erect, showing the mode of travel which obtained when the
stamped snow of the camp was left behind.
That Schwabian folk-song sounded strangely pathetic under the cold
northern stars, and did not do the men good who lounged about the
fire after the toil of the day. It put a dull ache into their
hearts, and a yearning which was akin to belly-hunger, and sent
their souls questing southward across the divides to the sun-
"For the love of God, Sigmund, shut up!" expostulated one of the
men. His hands were clenched painfully, but he hid them from
sight in the folds of the bearskin upon which he lay.
"And what for, Dave Wertz?" Sigmund demanded. "Why shall I not
sing when the heart is glad?"
"Because you've got no call to, that's why. Look about you, man,
and think of the grub we've been defiling our bodies with for the
last twelvemonth, and the way we've lived and worked like beasts!"
Thus abjured, Sigmund, the golden-haired, surveyed it all, and the
frost-rimmed wolf-dogs and the vapor breaths of the men. "And why
shall not the heart be glad?" he laughed. "It is good; it is all
good. As for the grub--" He doubled up his arm and caressed the
swelling biceps. "And if we have lived and worked like beasts,
have we not been paid like kings? Twenty dollars to the pan the
streak is running, and we know it to be eight feet thick. It is
another Klondike--and we know it--Jim Hawes there, by your elbow,
knows it and complains not. And there's Hitchcock! He sews
moccasins like an old woman, and waits against the time. Only you
can't wait and work until the wash-up in the spring. Then we
shall all be rich, rich as kings, only you cannot wait. You want
to go back to the States. So do I, and I was born there, but I
can wait, when each day the gold in the pan shows up yellow as
butter in the churning. But you want your good time, and, like a
child, you cry for it now. Bah! Why shall I not sing:
"In a year, in a year, when the grapes are ripe,
I shall stay no more away.
Then if you still are true, my love,
It will be our wedding day.
In a year, in a year, when my time is past,
Then I'll live in your love for aye.
Then if you still are true, my love,
It will be our wedding day."
The dogs, bristling and growling, drew in closer to the firelight.
There was a monotonous crunch-crunch of webbed shoes, and between
each crunch the dragging forward of the heel of the shoe like the
sound of sifting sugar. Sigmund broke off from his song to hurl
oaths and firewood at the animals. Then the light was parted by a
fur-clad figure, and an Indian girl slipped out of the webs, threw
back the hood of her squirrel-skin parka, and stood in their
midst. Sigmund and the men on the bearskin greeted her as
"Sipsu," with the customary "Hello," but Hitchcock made room on
the sled that she might sit beside him.
"And how goes it, Sipsu?" he asked, talking, after her fashion, in
broken English and bastard Chinook. "Is the hunger still mighty
in the camp? and has the witch doctor yet found the cause
wherefore game is scarce and no moose in the land?"
"Yes; even so. There is little game, and we prepare to eat the
dogs. Also has the witch doctor found the cause of all this evil,
and to-morrow will he make sacrifice and cleanse the camp."
"And what does the sacrifice chance to be?--a new-born babe or
some poor devil of a squaw, old and shaky, who is a care to the
tribe and better out of the way?"
"It chanced not that wise; for the need was great, and he chose
none other than the chief's daughter; none other than I, Sipsu."
"Hell!" The word rose slowly to Hitchcock's lips, and brimmed
over full and deep, in a way which bespoke wonder and
"Wherefore we stand by a forking of the trail, you and I," she
went on calmly, "and I have come that we may look once more upon
each other, and once more only."
She was born of primitive stock, and primitive had been her
traditions and her days; so she regarded life stoically, and human
sacrifice as part of the natural order. The powers which ruled
the day-light and the dark, the flood and the frost, the bursting
of the bud and the withering of the leaf, were angry and in need
of propitiation. This they exacted in many ways,--death in the
bad water, through the treacherous ice-crust, by the grip of the
grizzly, or a wasting sickness which fell upon a man in his own
lodge till he coughed, and the life of his lungs went out through
his mouth and nostrils. Likewise did the powers receive
sacrifice. It was all one. And the witch doctor was versed in
the thoughts of the powers and chose unerringly. It was very
natural. Death came by many ways, yet was it all one after all,--
a manifestation of the all-powerful and inscrutable.
But Hitchcock came of a later world-breed. His traditions were
less concrete and without reverence, and he said, "Not so, Sipsu.
You are young, and yet in the full joy of life. The witch doctor
is a fool, and his choice is evil. This thing shall not be."
She smiled and answered, "Life is not kind, and for many reasons.
First, it made of us twain the one white and the other red, which
is bad. Then it crossed our trails, and now it parts them again;
and we can do nothing. Once before, when the gods were angry, did
your brothers come to the camp. They were three, big men and
white, and they said the thing shall not be. But they died
quickly, and the thing was."
Hitchcock nodded that he heard, half-turned, and lifted his voice.
"Look here, you fellows! There's a lot of foolery going on over
to the camp, and they're getting ready to murder Sipsu. What d'ye
Wertz looked at Hawes, and Hawes looked back, but neither spoke.
Sigmund dropped his head, and petted the shepherd dog between his
knees. He had brought Shep in with him from the outside, and
thought a great deal of the animal. In fact, a certain girl, who
was much in his thoughts, and whose picture in the little locket
on his breast often inspired him to sing, had given him the dog
and her blessing when they kissed good-by and he started on his
"What d'ye say?" Hitchcock repeated.
"Mebbe it's not so serious," Hawes answered with deliberation.
"Most likely it's only a girl's story."
"That isn't the point!" Hitchcock felt a hot flush of anger sweep
over him at their evident reluctance. "The question is, if it is
so, are we going to stand it? What are we going to do?"
"I don't see any call to interfere," spoke up Wertz. "If it is
so, it is so, and that's all there is about it. It's a way these
people have of doing. It's their religion, and it's no concern of
ours. Our concern is to get the dust and then get out of this
God-forsaken land. 'T isn't fit for naught else but beasts? And
what are these black devils but beasts? Besides, it'd be damn
"That's what I say," chimed in Hawes. "Here we are, four of us,
three hundred miles from the Yukon or a white face. And what can
we do against half-a-hundred Indians? If we quarrel with them, we
have to vamose; if we fight, we are wiped out. Further, we've
struck pay, and, by God! I, for one, am going to stick by it!"
"Ditto here," supplemented Wertz.
Hitchcock turned impatiently to Sigmund, who was softly singing, -
"In a year, in a year, when the grapes are ripe,
I shall stay no more away."
"Well, it's this way, Hitchcock," he finally said, "I'm in the
same boat with the rest. If three-score bucks have made up their
mind to kill the girl, why, we can't help it. One rush, and we'd
be wiped off the landscape. And what good'd that be? They'd
still have the girl. There's no use in going against the customs
of a people except you're in force."
"But we are in force!" Hitchcock broke in. "Four whites are a
match for a hundred times as many reds. And think of the girl!"
Sigmund stroked the dog meditatively. "But I do think of the
girl. And her eyes are blue like summer skies, and laughing like
summer seas, and her hair is yellow, like mine, and braided in
ropes the size of a big man's arms. She's waiting for me, out
there, in a better land. And she's waited long, and now my pile's
in sight I'm not going to throw it away."
"And shamed I would be to look into the girl's blue eyes and
remember the black ones of the girl whose blood was on my hands,"
Hitchcock sneered; for he was born to honor and championship, and
to do the thing for the thing's sake, nor stop to weigh or
Sigmund shook his head. "You can't make me mad, Hitchcock, nor do
mad things because of your madness. It's a cold business
proposition and a question of facts. I didn't come to this
country for my health, and, further, it's impossible for us to
raise a hand. If it is so, it is too bad for the girl, that's
all. It's a way of her people, and it just happens we're on the
spot this one time. They've done the same for a thousand-thousand
years, and they're going to do it now, and they'll go on doing it
for all time to come. Besides, they're not our kind. Nor's the
girl. No, I take my stand with Wertz and Hawes, and--"
But the dogs snarled and drew in, and he broke off, listening to
the crunch-crunch of many snowshoes. Indian after Indian stalked
into the firelight, tall and grim, fur-clad and silent, their
shadows dancing grotesquely on the snow. One, the witch doctor,
spoke gutturally to Sipsu. His face was daubed with savage paint
blotches, and over his shoulders was drawn a wolfskin, the
gleaming teeth and cruel snout surmounting his head. No other
word was spoken. The prospectors held the peace. Sipsu arose and
slipped into her snowshoes.
"Good-by, O my man," she said to Hitchcock. But the man who had
sat beside her on the sled gave no sign, nor lifted his head as
they filed away into the white forest.
Unlike many men, his faculty of adaptation, while large, had never
suggested the expediency of an alliance with the women of the
Northland. His broad cosmopolitanism had never impelled toward
covenanting in marriage with the daughters of the soil. If it
had, his philosophy of life would not have stood between. But it
simply had not. Sipsu? He had pleasured in camp-fire chats with
her, not as a man who knew himself to be man and she woman, but as
a man might with a child, and as a man of his make certainly would
if for no other reason than to vary the tedium of a bleak
existence. That was all. But there was a certain chivalric
thrill of warm blood in him, despite his Yankee ancestry and New
England upbringing, and he was so made that the commercial aspect
of life often seemed meaningless and bore contradiction to his
So he sat silent, with head bowed forward, an organic force,
greater than himself, as great as his race, at work within him.
Wertz and Hawes looked askance at him from time to time, a faint
but perceptible trepidation in their manner. Sigmund also felt
this. Hitchcock was strong, and his strength had been impressed
upon them in the course of many an event in their precarious life.
So they stood in a certain definite awe and curiosity as to what
his conduct would be when he moved to action.
But his silence was long, and the fire nigh out, when Wertz
stretched his arms and yawned, and thought he'd go to bed. Then
Hitchcock stood up his full height.
"May God damn your souls to the deepest hells, you chicken-hearted
cowards! I'm done with you!" He said it calmly enough, but his
strength spoke in every syllable, and every intonation was
advertisement of intention. "Come on," he continued, "whack up,
and in whatever way suits you best. I own a quarter-interest in
the claims; our contracts show that. There're twenty-five or
thirty ounces in the sack from the test pans. Fetch out the
scales. We'll divide that now. And you, Sigmund, measure me my
quarter-share of the grub and set it apart. Four of the dogs are
mine, and I want four more. I'll trade you my share in the camp
outfit and mining-gear for the dogs. And I'll throw in my six or
seven ounces and the spare 45-90 with the ammunition. What d'ye
The three men drew apart and conferred. When they returned,
Sigmund acted as spokesman. "We'll whack up fair with you,
Hitchcock. In everything you'll get your quarter-share, neither
more nor less; and you can take it or leave it. But we want the
dogs as bad as you do, so you get four, and that's all. If you
don't want to take your share of the outfit and gear, why, that's
your lookout. If you want it, you can have it; if you don't,
"The letter of the law," Hitchcock sneered. "But go ahead. I'm
willing. And hurry up. I can't get out of this camp and away
from its vermin any too quick."
The division was effected without further comment. He lashed his
meagre belongings upon one of the sleds, rounded in his four dogs,
and harnessed up. His portion of outfit and gear he did not
touch, though he threw onto the sled half a dozen dog harnesses,
and challenged them with his eyes to interfere. But they shrugged
their shoulders and watched him disappear in the forest.
A man crawled upon his belly through the snow. On every hand
loomed the moose-hide lodges of the camp. Here and there a
miserable dog howled or snarled abuse upon his neighbor. Once,
one of them approached the creeping man, but the man became
motionless. The dog came closer and sniffed, and came yet closer,
till its nose touched the strange object which had not been there
when darkness fell. Then Hitchcock, for it was Hitchcock,
upreared suddenly, shooting an unmittened hand out to the brute's
shaggy throat. And the dog knew its death in that clutch, and
when the man moved on, was left broken-necked under the stars. In
this manner Hitchcock made the chief's lodge. For long he lay in
the snow without, listening to the voices of the occupants and
striving to locate Sipsu. Evidently there were many in the tent,
and from the sounds they were in high excitement. At last he
heard the girl's voice, and crawled around so that only the moose-
hide divided them. Then burrowing in the snow, he slowly wormed
his head and shoulders underneath. When the warm inner air smote
his face, he stopped and waited, his legs and the greater part of
his body still on the outside. He could see nothing, nor did he
dare lift his head. On one side of him was a skin bale. He could
smell it, though he carefully felt to be certain. On the other
side his face barely touched a furry garment which he knew clothed
a body. This must be Sipsu. Though he wished she would speak
again, he resolved to risk it.
He could hear the chief and the witch doctor talking high, and in
a far corner some hungry child whimpering to sleep. Squirming
over on his side, he carefully raised his head, still just
touching the furry garment. He listened to the breathing. It was
a woman's breathing; he would chance it.
He pressed against her side softly but firmly, and felt her start
at the contact. Again he waited, till a questioning hand slipped
down upon his head and paused among the curls. The next instant
the hand turned his face gently upward, and he was gazing into
She was quite collected. Changing her position casually, she
threw an elbow well over on the skin bale, rested her body upon
it, and arranged her parka. In this way he was completely
concealed. Then, and still most casually, she reclined across
him, so that he could breathe between her arm and breast, and when
she lowered her head her ear pressed lightly against his lips.
"When the time suits, go thou," he whispered, "out of the lodge
and across the snow, down the wind to the bunch of jackpine in the
curve of the creek. There wilt thou find my dogs and my sled,
packed for the trail. This night we go down to the Yukon; and
since we go fast, lay thou hands upon what dogs come nigh thee, by
the scruff of the neck, and drag them to the sled in the curve of
Sipsu shook her head in dissent; but her eyes glistened with
gladness, and she was proud that this man had shown toward her
such favor. But she, like the women of all her race, was born to
obey the will masculine, and when Hitchcock repeated "Go!" he did
it with authority, and though she made no answer he knew that his
will was law.
"And never mind harness for the dogs," he added, preparing to go.
"I shall wait. But waste no time. The day chaseth the night
alway, nor does it linger for man's pleasure."
Half an hour later, stamping his feet and swinging his arms by the
sled, he saw her coming, a surly dog in either hand. At the
approach of these his own animals waxed truculent, and he favored
them with the butt of his whip till they quieted. He had
approached the camp up the wind, and sound was the thing to be
most feared in making his presence known.
"Put them into the sled," he ordered when she had got the harness