Part 3 out of 3
the Canadian mountains that stretched three hundred miles from sea to
prairie and a thousand miles north and south. Hundreds, even thousands, he
told himself, and each wonderful valley a world complete within itself; a
world filled with its own life, its own lakes and streams and forests, its
own joys and its own tragedies.
Here in this valley into which he gazed was the same soft droning and the
same warm sunshine that had filled all the other valleys; and yet here,
also, was a different life. Other bears ranged the slopes that he could see
dimly with his naked eyes far to the west and north. It was a new domain,
filled with other promise and other mystery, and he forgot time and hunger
as he sat lost in the enchantment of it.
It seemed to Langdon that these hundreds or thousands of valleys would
never grow old for him; that he could wander on for all time, passing from
one into another, and that each would possess its own charm, its own
secrets to be solved, its own life to be learned. To him they were largely
inscrutable; they were cryptic, as enigmatical as life itself, hiding their
treasures as they droned through the centuries, giving birth to multitudes
of the living, demanding in return other multitudes of the dead. As he
looked off through the sunlit space he wondered what the story of this
valley would be, and how many volumes it would fill, if the valley itself
could tell it.
First of all, he knew, it would whisper of the creation of a world; it
would tell of oceans torn and twisted and thrown aside--of those first
strange eons of time when there was no night, but all was day; when weird
and tremendous monsters stalked where he now saw the caribou drinking at
the creek, and when huge winged creatures half bird and half beast swept
the sky where he now saw an eagle soaring.
And then it would tell of The Change--of that terrific hour when the earth
tilted on its axis, and night came, and a tropical world was turned into a
frigid one, and new kinds of life were born to fill it.
It must have been long after that, thought Langdon, that the first bear
came to replace the mammoth, the mastodon, and the monstrous beasts that
had been their company. And that first bear was the forefather of the
grizzly he and Bruce were setting forth to kill the next day!
So engrossed was Langdon in his thoughts that he did not hear a sound
behind him. And then something roused him.
It was as if one of the monsters he had been picturing in his imagination
had let out a great breath close to him. He turned slowly, and the next
moment his heart seemed to stop its beating; his blood seemed to grow cold
and lifeless in his veins.
Barring the ledge not more than fifteen feet from him, his great jaws
agape, his head moving slowly from side to side as he regarded his trapped
enemy, stood Thor, the King of the Mountains!
And in that space of a second or two Langdon's hands involuntarily gripped
at his broken rifle, and he decided that he was doomed!
A broken, choking breath--a stifled sound that was scarcely a cry--was all
that came from Langdon's lips as he saw the monstrous grizzly looking at
him. In the ten seconds that followed he lived hours.
His first thought was that he was powerless--utterly powerless. He could
not even run, for the rock wall was behind him; he could not fling himself
valleyward, for there was a sheer fall of a hundred feet on that side. He
was face to face with death, a death as terrible as that which had
overtaken the dogs.
And yet in these last moments Langdon did not lose himself in terror. He
noted even the redness in the avenging grizzly's eyes. He saw the naked
scat along his back where one of his bullets had plowed; he saw the bare
spot where another of his bullets had torn its way through Thor's
fore-shoulder. And he believed, as he observed these things, that Thor had
deliberately trailed him, that the bear had followed him along the ledge
and had cornered him here that he might repay in full measure what had been
inflicted upon him.
Thor advanced--just one step; and then in that slow, graceful movement,
reared himself to full height. Langdon, even then, thought that he was
magnificent. On his part, the man did not move; he looked steadily up at
Thor, and he had made up his mind what to do when the great beast lunged
forward. He would fling himself over the edge. Down below there was one
chance in a thousand for life. There might be a ledge or a projecting spur
to catch him.
Suddenly--unexpectedly--he had come upon man! This was the creature that
had hunted him, this was the creature that had hurt him--and it was so near
that he could reach out with his paw and crush it! And how weak, and white,
and shrinking it looked now! Where was its strange thunder? Where was its
burning lightning? Why did it make no sound?
Even a dog would have done more than this creature, for the dog would have
shown its fangs; it would have snarled, it would have fought. But this
thing that was man did nothing. And a great, slow doubt swept through
Thor's massive head. Was it really this shrinking, harmless, terrified
thing that had hurt him? He smelled the man-smell. It was thick. And yet
this time there came with it no hurt.
And then, slowly again, Thor came down to all fours. Steadily he looked at
Had Langdon moved then he would have died. But Thor was not, like man, a
murderer. For another half-minute he waited for a hurt, for some sign of
menace. Neither came, and he was puzzled. His nose swept the ground, and
Langdon saw the dust rise where the grizzly's hot breath stirred it. And
after that, for another long and terrible thirty seconds, the bear and the
man looked at each other.
Then very slowly--and doubtfully--Thor half turned. He growled. His lips
drew partly back. Yet he saw no reason to fight, for that shrinking,
white-faced pigmy crouching on the rock made no movement to offer him
battle. He saw that he could not go on, for the ledge was blocked by the
mountain wall. Had there been a trail the story might have been different
for Langdon. As it was, Thor disappeared slowly in the direction from which
he had come, his great head hung low, his long claws click, click, clicking
like ivory castanets as he went.
Not until then did it seem to Langdon that he breathed again, and that his
heart resumed its beating. He gave a great sobbing gasp. He rose to his
feet, and his legs seemed weak. He waited--one minute, two, three; and then
he stole cautiously to the twist in the ledge around which Thor had gone.
The rocks were clear, and he began to retrace his own steps toward the
meadowy break, watching and listening, and still clutching the broken parts
of his rifle. When he came to the edge of the plain he dropped down behind
a huge boulder.
Three hundred yards away Thor was ambling slowly over the crest of the dip
toward the eastward valley. Not until the bear reappeared on the farther
ridge of the hollow, and then vanished again, did Langdon follow.
When he reached the slope on which he had hobbled his horse Thor was no
longer in sight. The horse was where he had left it. Not until he was in
the saddle did Langdon feel that he was completely safe. Then he laughed, a
nervous, broken, joyous sort of laugh, and as he scanned the valley he
filled his pipe with fresh tobacco.
"You great big god of a bear!" he whispered, and every fibre in him was
trembling in a wonderful excitement as he found voice for the first time.
"You--you monster with a heart bigger than man!" And then he added, under
his breath, as if not conscious that he was speaking: "If I'd cornered you
like that I'd have killed you! And you! You cornered me, and let me live!"
He rode toward camp, and as he went he knew that this day had given the
final touch to the big change that had been working in him. He had met the
King of the Mountains; he had stood face to face with death, and in the
last moment the four-footed thing he had hunted and maimed had been
merciful. He believed that Bruce would not understand; that Bruce could not
understand; but unto himself the day and the hour had brought its meaning
in a way that he would not forget so long as he lived, and he knew that
hereafter and for all time he would not again hunt the life of Thor, or the
lives of any of his kind.
Langdon reached the camp and prepared himself some dinner, and as he ate
this, with Muskwa for company, he made new plans for the days and weeks
that were to follow. He would send Bruce back to overtake Metoosin the next
day, and they would no longer hunt the big grizzly. They would go on to the
Skeena and possibly even up to the edge of the Yukon, and then swing
eastward into the caribou country some time early in September, hitting
back toward civilization on the prairie side of the Rockies. He would take
Muskwa with them. Back in the land of men and cities they would be great
friends. It did not occur to him just then what this would mean for Muskwa.
It was two o'clock, and he was still dreaming of new and unknown trails
into the North when a sound came to rouse and disturb him. For a few
minutes he paid no attention to it, for it seemed to be only a part of the
droning murmur of the valley. But slowly and steadily it rose above this,
and at last he got up from where he was lying with his back to a tree and
walked out from the timber, where he could hear more plainly.
Muskwa followed him, and when Langdon stopped the tan-faced cub also
stopped. His little ears shot out inquisitively. He turned his head to the
north. From that direction the sound was coming.
In another moment Langdon had recognized it, and yet even then he told
himself that his ears must be playing him false. It could not be the
barking of dogs! By this time Bruce and Metoosin were far to the south with
the pack; at least Metoosin should be, and Bruce was on his return to the
camp! Quickly the sound grew more distinct, and at last he knew that he
could not be mistaken. The dogs were coming up the valley. Something had
turned Bruce and Metoosin northward instead of into the south. And the pack
was giving tongue--that fierce, heated baying which told him they were
again on the fresh spoor of game. A sudden thrill shot through him. There
could be but one living thing in the length and breadth of the valley that
Bruce would set the dogs after, and that was the big grizzly!
For a few moments longer Langdon stood and listened. Then he hurried back
to camp, tied Muskwa to his tree, armed himself with another rifle, and
resaddled his horse. Five minutes later he was riding swiftly in the
direction of the range where a short time before Thor had given him his
Thor heard the dogs when they were a mile away. There were two reasons why
he was even less in a mood to run from them now than a few days before. Of
the dogs alone he had no more fear than if they had been so many badgers,
or so many whistlers piping at him from the rocks. He had found them all
mouth and little fang, and easy to kill. It was what followed close after
them that disturbed him. But to-day he had stood face to face with the
thing that had brought the strange scent into his valleys, and it had not
offered to hurt him, and he had refused to kill it. Besides, he was again
seeking Iskwao, the she-bear, and man is not the only animal that will risk
his life for love.
After killing his last dog at dusk of that fatal day when they had pursued
him over the mountain Thor had done just what Bruce thought that he would
do, and instead of continuing southward had made a wider detour toward the
north, and the third night after the fight and the loss of Muskwa he found
Iskwao again. In the twilight of that same evening Pipoonaskoos had died,
and Thor had heard the sharp cracking of Bruce's automatic. All that night
and the next day and the night that followed he spent with Iskwao, and then
he left her once more. A third time he was seeking her when he found
Langdon in the trap on the ledge, and he had not yet got wind of her when
he first heard the baying of the dogs on his trail.
He was travelling southward, which brought him nearer the hunters' camp. He
was keeping to the high slopes where there were little dips and meadows,
broken by patches of shale, deep coulees, and occasionally wild upheavals
of rock. He was keeping the wind straight ahead so that he would not fail
to catch the smell of Iskwao when he came near her, and with the baying of
the dogs he caught no scent of the pursuing beasts, or of the two men who
were riding behind them.
At another time he would have played his favourite trick of detouring so
that the danger would be ahead of him, with the wind in his favour. Caution
had now become secondary to his desire to find his mate. The dogs were
less than half a mile away when he stopped suddenly, sniffed the air for a
moment, and then went on swiftly until he was halted by a narrow ravine.
Up that ravine Iskwao was coming from a dip lower down the mountain, and
she was running. The yelping of the pack was fierce and close when Thor
scrambled down in time to meet her as she rushed upward. Iskwao paused for
a single moment, smelled noses with Thor, and then went on, her ears laid
back flat and sullen and her throat filled with growling menace.
Thor followed her, and he also growled. He knew that his mate was fleeing
from the dogs, and again that deadly and slowly increasing wrath swept
through him as he climbed after her higher up the mountain.
In such an hour as this Thor was at his worst. He was a fighter when
pursued as the dogs had pursued him a week before--but he was a demon,
terrible and without mercy, when danger threatened his mate.
He fell farther and farther behind Iskwao, and twice lie turned, his fangs
gleaming under drawn lips, and his defiance rolling back upon his enemies
in low thunder.
When he came up out of the coulee he was in the shadow of the peak, and
Iskwao had already disappeared in her skyward scramble. Where she had gone
was a wild chaos of rock-slide and the piled-up debris of fallen and
shattered masses of sandstone crag. The sky-line was not more than three
hundred yards above him. He looked up. Iskwao was among the rocks, and here
was the place to fight. The dogs were close upon him now. They were coming
up the last stretch of the coulee, baying loudly. Thor turned about, and
waited for them.
Half a mile to the south, looking through his glasses, Langdon saw Thor,
and at almost the same instant the dogs appeared over the edge of the
coulee. He had ridden halfway up the mountain; from that point he had
climbed higher, and was following a well-beaten sheep trail at about the
same altitude as Thor. From where he stood the valley lay under his glasses
for miles. He did not have far to look to discover Bruce and the Indian.
They were dismounting at the foot of the coulee, and as he gazed they ran
quickly into it and disappeared.
Again Langdon swung back to Thor. The dogs were holding him now, and he
knew there was no chance of the grizzly killing them in that open space.
Then he saw movement among the rocks higher up, and a low cry of
understanding broke from his lips as he made out Iskwao climbing steadily
toward the ragged peak. He knew that this second bear was a female. The big
grizzly--her mate--had stopped to fight. And there was no hope for him if
the dogs succeeded in holding him for a matter of ten or fifteen minutes.
Bruce and Metoosin would appear in that time over the rim of the coulee at
a range of less than a hundred yards!
Langdon thrust his binoculars in their case and started at a run along the
sheep trail. For two hundred yards his progress was easy, and then the
patch broke into a thousand individual tracks on a slope of soft and
slippery shale, and it took him five minutes to make the next fifty yards.
The trail hardened again. He ran on pantingly, and for another five minutes
the shoulder of a ridge hid Thor and the dogs from him. When he came over
that ridge and ran fifty yards, down the farther side of it, he stopped
short. Further progress was barred by a steep ravine. He was five hundred
yards from where Thor stood with his back to the rocks and his huge head to
Even as he looked, struggling to get breath enough to shout, Langdon
expected to see Bruce and Metoosin appear out of the coulee. It flashed
upon him then that even if he could make them hear it would be impossible
for them to understand him. Bruce would not guess that he wanted to spare
the beast they had been hunting for almost two weeks.
Thor had rushed the dogs a full twenty yards toward the coulee when Langdon
dropped quickly behind a rock. There was only one way of saving him now, if
he was not too late. The pack had retreated a few yards down the slope, and
he aimed at the pack. One thought only filled his brain--he must sacrifice
his dogs or let Thor die. And that day Thor had given him his life!
There was no hesitation as he pressed the trigger. It was a long shot, and
the first bullet threw up a cloud of dust fifty feet short of the
Airedales. He fired again, and missed. The third time his rifle cracked
there answered it a sharp yelp of pain which Laagdon himself did not hear.
One of the dogs rolled over and over down the slope.
The reports of the shots alone had not stirred Thor, but now when he saw
one of his enemies crumple up and go rolling down the mountain he turned
slowly toward the safety of the rocks. A fourth and then a fifth shot
followed, and at the fifth the yelping dogs dropped back toward the coulee,
one of them limping with a shattered fore-foot.
Langdon sprang upon the boulder over which he had rested his gun, and his
eyes caught the sky-line. Iskwao had just reached the top. She paused for a
moment and looked down. Then she disappeared.
Thor was now hidden among the boulders and broken masses of sandstone,
following her trail. Within two minutes after the grizzly disappeared Bruce
and Metoosin scrambled up over the edge of the coulee. From where they
stood even the sky-line was within fairly good shooting distance, and
Langdon suddenly began shouting excitedly, waving his arms, and pointing
Bruce and Metoosin were caught by his ruse, in spite of the fact that the
dogs were again giving fierce tongue close to the rocks among which Thor
had gone. They believed that from where he stood Langdon could see the
progress of the bear, and that it was running toward the valley. Not until
they were another hundred yards down the slope did they stop and look back
at Langdon to get further directions. From his rock Langdon was pointing to
Thor was just going over. He paused for a moment, as Iskwao had stopped,
and took one last look at man.
And Langdon, as he saw the last of him, waved his hat and shouted, "Good
luck to you, old man--good luck!"
That night Langdon and Bruce made their new plans, while Metoosin sat
aloof, smoking in stolid silence, and gazing now and then at Langdon as if
he could not yet bring himself to the point of believing what had happened
that afternoon. Thereafter through many moons Metoosin would never forget
to relate to his children and his grandchildren and his friends of the
tepee tribes how he had once hunted with a white man who had shot his own
dogs to save the life of a grizzly bear. Langdon was no longer the same old
Langdon to him, and after this hunt Metoosin knew that he would never hunt
with him again. For Langdon was _keskwao_ now. Something had gone wrong in
his head. The Great Spirit had taken away his heart and had given it to a
grizzly bear, and over his pipe Metoosin watched him cautiously. This
suspicion was confirmed when he saw Bruce and Langdon making a cage out of
a cowhide pannier and realized that the cub was to accompany them on their
long journey. There was no doubt in his mind now. Langdon was "queer," and
to an Indian that sort of queerness boded no good to man.
The next morning at sunrise the outfit was ready for its long trail into
the northland. Bruce and Langdon led the way up the slope and over the
divide into the valley where they had first encountered Thor, the train
filing picturesquely behind them, with Metoosin bringing up the rear. In
his cowhide pannier rode Muskwa.
Langdon was satisfied and happy.
"It was the best hunt of my life," he said to Bruce. "I'll never be sorry
we let him live."
"You're the doctor," said Bruce rather irreverently. "If I had my way about
it his hide would be back there on Dishpan. Almost any tourist down on the
line of rail would jump for it at a hundred dollars."
"He's worth several thousand to me alive," replied Langdon, with which
enigmatic retort he dropped behind to see how Muskwa was riding.
The cub was rolling and pitching about in his pannier like a raw amateur
in a howdab on an elephant's back, and after contemplating him for a few
moments Langdon caught up with Bruce again.
Half a dozen times during the next two or three hours he visited Muskwa,
and each time that he returned to Bruce he was quieter, as if debating
something with himself.
It was nine o'clock when they came to what was undoubtedly the end of
Thor's valley. A mountain rose up squarely in the face of it, and the
stream they were following swung sharply to the westward into a narrow
canyon. On the east rose a green and undulating slope up which the horses
could easily travel, and which would take the outfit into a new valley in
the direction of the Driftwood. This course Bruce decided to pursue.
Halfway up the slope they stopped to give the horses a breathing spell. In
his cowhide prison Muskwa whimpered pleadingly. Langdon heard, but he
seemed to pay no attention. He was looking steadily back into the valley.
It was glorious in the morning sun. He could see the peaks under which lay
the cool, dark lake in which Thor had fished; for miles the slopes were
like green velvet and there came to him as he looked the last droning music
of Thor's world. It struck him in a curious way as a sort of anthem, a
hymnal rejoicing that he was going, and that he was leaving things as they
were before he came. And yet, _was_ he leaving things as they had been? Did
his ears not catch in that music of the mountains something of sadness, of
grief, of plaintive prayer?
And again, close to him, Muskwa whimpered softly.
Then Langdon turned to Bruce.
"It's settled," he said, and his words had a decisive ring in them. "I've
been trying to make up my mind all the morning, and it's made up now. You
and Metoosin go on when the horses get their wind. I'm going to ride down
there a mile or so and free the cub where he'll find his way back home!"
He did not wait for arguments or remarks, and Bruce made none. He took
Muskwa in his arms and rode back into the south.
A mile up the valley Langdon came to a wide, open meadow dotted with clumps
of spruce and willows and sweet with the perfume of flowers. Here he
dismounted, and for ten minutes sat on the ground with Muskwa. From his
pocket he drew forth a small paper bag and fed the cub its last sugar. A
thick lump grew in his throat as Muskwa's soft little nose muzzled the palm
of his hand, and when at last he jumped up and sprang into his saddle there
was a mist in his eyes. He tried to laugh. Perhaps he was weak. But he
loved Muskwa, and he knew that he was leaving more than a human friend in
this mountain valley.
"Good-bye, old fellow," he said, and his voice was choking. "Good-bye,
little Spitfire! Mebby some day I'll come back and see you, and you'll be a
big, fierce bear--but I won't shoot--never--never--"
He rode fast into the north. Three hundred yards away he turned his head
and looked back. Muskwa was following, but losing ground. Langdon waved his
"Good-bye!" he called through the lump in his throat. "Good-bye!"
Half an hour later he looked down from the top of the slope through his
glasses. He saw Muskwa, a black dot. The cub had stopped, and was waiting
confidently for him to return.
And trying to laugh again, but failing dismally, Langdon rode over the
divide and out of Muskwa's life.
For a good half-mile Muskwa followed over the trail of Langdon. He ran at
first; then he walked; finally he stopped entirely and sat down like a dog,
facing the distant slope. Had Langdon been afoot he would not have halted
until he was tired. But the cub had not liked his pannier prison. He
had been tremendously jostled and bounced about, and twice the horse
that carried him had shaken himself, and those shakings had been like
earthquakes to Muskwa. He knew that the cage as well as Langdon was ahead
of him. He sat for a time and whimpered wistfully, but he went no farther.
He was sure that the friend he had grown to love would return after a
little. He always came back. He had never failed him. So he began to hunt
about for a spring beauty or a dog-tooth violet, and for some time he was
careful not to stray very far away from where the outfit had passed.
All that day the cub remained in the flower-strewn meadows under the
slope; it was very pleasant in the sunshine, and he found more than one
patch of the bulbous roots he liked. He dug, and he filled himself, and he
took a nap in the afternoon; but when the sun began to go down and the
heavy shadows of the mountain darkened the valley he began to grow afraid.
He was still a very small baby of a cub, and only that one dreadful night
after his mother had died had he spent entirely alone. Thor had replaced
mother, and Langdon had taken the place of Thor, so that until now he had
never felt the loneliness and emptiness of darkness. He crawled under a
clump of thorn close to the trail, and continued to wait, and listen, and
sniff expectantly. The stars came out clear and brilliant, but to-night
their lure was not strong enough to call him forth. Not until dawn did he
steal out cautiously from his shelter of thorn.
The sun gave him courage and confidence again and he began wandering back
through the valley, the scent of the horse-trail growing fainter and
fainter until at last it disappeared entirely. That day Muskwa ate some
grass and a few dog-tooth violet roots, and when the second night came he
was abreast of the slope over which the outfit had come from the valley in
which were Thor and Iskwao. He was tired and hungry, and he was utterly
That night he slept in the end of a hollow log. The next day he went on,
and for many days and many nights after that he was alone in the big
valley. He passed close to the pool where Thor and he had met the old bear,
and he nosed hungrily among the fishbones; he skirted the edge of the dark,
deep lake; he saw the shadowy things fluttering in the gloom of the forest
again; he passed over the beaver dam, and he slept for two nights close to
the log-jam from which he had watched Thor throw out their first fish. He
was almost forgetting Langdon now, and was thinking more and more about
Thor and his mother. He wanted them. He wanted them more than he had ever
wanted the companionship of man, for Muskwa was fast becoming a creature of
the wild again.
It was the beginning of August before the cub came to the break in the
valley and climbed up the slope where Thor had first heard the thunder and
had first felt the sting of the white men's guns. In these two weeks Muskwa
had grown rapidly, in spite of the fact that he often went to bed on an
empty stomach; and he was no longer afraid of the dark. Through the deep,
sunless canyon above the clay wallow he went, and as there was only one way
out he came at last to the summit of the break over which Thor had gone,
and over which Langdon and Bruce had followed in close pursuit. And the
other valley--his home--lay under Muskwa.
Of course he did not recognize it. He saw and smelled in it nothing that
was familiar. But it was such a beautiful valley, and so abundantly filled
with plenty and sunshine, that he did not hurry through it. He found whole
gardens of spring beauties and dog-tooth violets. And on the third day he
made his first real kill. He almost stumbled over a baby whistler no larger
than a red squirrel, and before the little creature could escape he was
upon it. It made him a splendid feast.
It was fully a week before he passed along the creek-bottom close under the
slope where his mother had died. If he had been travelling along the crest
of the slope he would have found her bones, picked clean by the wild
things. It was another week before he came to the little meadow where Thor
had killed the bull caribou and the big black bear.
And now Muskwa knew that he was home!
For two days he did not travel two hundred yards from the scene of feast
and battle, and night and day he was on the watch for Thor. Then he had to
seek farther for food, but each afternoon when the mountains began to throw
out long shadows he would return to the clump of trees in which they had
made the cache that the black bear robber had despoiled.
One day he went farther than usual in his quest for roots. He was a good
half-mile from the place he had made home, and he was sniffing about the
end of a rock when a great shadow fell suddenly upon him. He looked up, and
for a full half-minute he stood transfixed, his heart pounding and jumping
as it had never pounded and jumped before in his life. Within five feet of
him stood Thor! The big grizzly was as motionless as he, looking at him
steadily. And then Muskwa gave a puppy-like whine of joy and ran forward.
Thor lowered his huge head, and for another half-minute they stood without
moving, with Thor's nose buried in the hair on Muskwa's back. After that
Thor went up the slope as if the cub had never been lost at all, and Muskwa
followed him happily.
Many days of wonderful travel and of glorious feasting came after this, and
Thor led Muskwa into a thousand new places in the two valleys and the
mountains between. There were great fishing days, and there was another
caribou killed over the range, and Muskwa grew fatter and fatter and
heavier and heavier until by the middle of September he was as large as a
Then came the berries, and Thor knew where they all grew low down in the
valleys--first the wild red raspberries, then the soap berries, and after
those the delicious black currants which grew in the cool depths of the
forests and were almost as large as cherries and nearly as sweet as the
sugar which Langdon had fed Muskwa. Muskwa liked the black currants best of
all. They grew in thick, rich clusters; there were no leaves on the bushes
that were loaded with them, and he could pick and eat a quart in five
But at last the time came when there were no berries. This was in October.
The nights were very cold, and for whole days at a time the sun would not
shine, and the skies were dark and heavy with clouds. On the peaks the snow
was growing deeper and deeper, and it never thawed now up near the
sky-line. Snow fell in the valley, too--at first just enough to make a
white carpet that chilled Muskwa's feet, but it quickly disappeared. Raw
winds began to come out of the north, and in place of the droning music of
the valley in summertime there were now shrill wailings and screechings at
night, and the trees made mournful sounds.
To Muskwa the whole world seemed changing. He wondered in these chill and
dark days why Thor kept to the windswept slopes when he might have found
shelter in the bottoms. And Thor, if he explained to him at all, told him
that winter was very near, and that these slopes were their last feeding
grounds. In the valleys the berries were gone; grass and roots alone were
no longer nourishing enough for their bodies; they could no longer waste
time in seeking ants and grubs; the fish were in deep water. It was the
season when the caribou were keen-scented as foxes and swift as the wind.
Only along the slopes lay the dinners they were sure of--famine-day dinners
of whistlers and gophers. Thor dug for them now, and in this digging Muskwa
helped as much as he could. More than once they turned out wagonloads of
earth to get at the cozy winter sleeping quarters of a whistler family, and
sometimes they dug for hours to capture three or four little gophers no
larger than red squirrels, but lusciously fat.
Thus they lived through the last days of October into November. And now the
snow and the cold winds and the fierce blizzards from the north came in
earnest, and the ponds and lakes began to freeze over. Still Thor hung to
the slopes, and Muskwa shivered with the cold at night and wondered if the
sun was never going to shine again.
One day about the middle of November Thor stopped in the very act of
digging out a family of whistlers, went straight down into the valley, and
struck southward in a most businesslike way. They were ten miles from the
clay-wallow canyon when they started, but so lively was the pace set by the
big grizzly that they reached it before dark that same afternoon.
For two days after this Thor seemed to have no object in life at all.
There was nothing in the canyon to eat, and he wandered about among the
rocks, smelling and listening and deporting himself generally in a fashion
that was altogether mystifying to Muskwa. In the afternoon of the second
day Thor stopped in a dump of jackpines under which the ground was strewn
with fallen needles. He began to eat these needles. They did not look good
to Muskwa, but something told the cub that he should do as Thor was doing;
so he licked them up and swallowed them, not knowing that it was nature's
last preparation for his long sleep.
It was four o'clock when they came to the mouth of the deep cavern in which
Thor was born, and here again Thor paused, sniffing up and down the wind,
and waiting for nothing in particular.
It was growing dark. A wailing storm hung over the canyon. Biting winds
swept down from the peaks, and the sky was black and full of snow.
For a minute the grizzly stood with his head and shoulders in the cavern
door. Then he entered. Muskwa followed. Deep back they went through a
pitch-black gloom, and it grew warmer and warmer, and the wailing of the
wind died away until it was only a murmur.
It took Thor at least half an hour to arrange himself just as he wanted to
sleep. Then Muskwa curled up beside him. The cub was very warm and very
That night the storm raged, and the snow fell deep. It came up the canyon
in clouds, and it drifted down through the canyon roof in still thicker
clouds, and all the world was buried deep. When morning came there was no
cavern door, there were no rocks, and no black and purple of tree and
shrub. All was white and still, and there was no longer the droning music
in the valley.
Deep back in the cavern Muskwa moved restlessly. Thor heaved a deep sigh.
After that long and soundly they slept. And it may be that they dreamed.
THE VALLEY OF SILENT MEN
"You are going up from among a people who have many gods to a people who
have but one," said Ransom quietly, looking across at the other. "It would
be better for you if you turned back. I've spent four years in the
Government service, mostly north of Fifty-three, and I know what I'm
talking about. I've read all of your books carefully, and I tell you
now--go back. If you strike up into the Bay country, as you say you're
going to, every dream of socialism you ever had will be shattered, and you
will laugh at your own books. Go back!"
Roscoe's fine young face lighted up with a laugh at his old college chum's
"You're mistaken, Ranny," he said. "I'm not a socialist but a sociologist.
There's a distinction, isn't there? I don't believe that my series of books
will be at all complete without a study of socialism as it exists in its
crudest form, and as it must exist up here in the North. My material for
this last book will show what tremendous progress the civilization of two
centuries on this continent has made over the lowest and wildest forms of
human brotherhood. That's my idea, Ranny. I'm an optimist. I believe that
every invention we make, that every step we take in the advancement of
science, of mental and physical uplift, brings us just so much nearer to
the Nirvana of universal love. This trip of mine among your wild people of
the North will give me a good picture of what civilization has gained."
"What it has lost, you will say a little later," replied Ransom. "See here,
Roscoe--has it ever occurred to you that brotherly love, as you call
it--the real thing--ended when civilization began? Has it ever occurred to
you that somewhere away back in the darkest ages your socialistic Nirvana
may have existed, and that you sociologists might still find traces of it,
if you would? Has the idea ever come to you that there has been a time when
the world has been better than it is to-day, and better than it ever will
be again? Will you, as a student of life, concede that the savage can teach
you a lesson? Will any of your kind? No, for you are self-appointed
civilizers, working according to a certain code."
Ransom's weather-tanned face had taken on a deeper flush, and there was a
questioning look in Roscoe's eyes, as though he were striving to look
through a veil of clouds to a picture just beyond his vision.
"If most of us believed as you believe," he said at last, "civilization
would end. We would progress no farther."
"And this civilization," said Ransom, "can there not be too much of it? Was
it any worse for God's first men to set forth and slay twenty thousand
other men, than it is for civilization's sweat-shops to slay twenty
thousand men, women, and children each year in the making of your cigars
and the things you wear? Civilization means the uplifting of man, doesn't
it, and when it ceases to uplift when it kills, robs, and disrupts in the
name of progress; when the dollar-fight for commercial and industrial
supremacy kills more people in a day than God's first people killed in a
year; when not only people, but nations, are sparring for throat-grips, can
we call it civilization any longer? This talk may all be bally rot,
Roscoe. Ninety-nine out of every hundred people will think that it is.
There are very few these days who stoop to the thought that the human soul
is the greatest of all creations, and that it is the development of the
soul, and not of engines and flying machines and warships, that measures
progress as God meant progress to be. I am saying this because I want you
to be honest when you go up among the savages, as you call them. You may
find up there the last chapter in life, as it was largely intended that
life should be in the beginning of things. And I want you to understand it,
because in your books you possess a power which should be well directed.
When I received your last letter I hunted up the best man I knew as guide
and companion for you--old Rameses, down at the Mission. He is called
Rameses because he looks like the old boy himself. You said you wanted to
learn Cree, and he'll teach it to you. He will teach you a lot of other
things, and when you look at him, especially at night beside the campfire,
you will find something in his face which will recall what I have said, and
make you think of the first people."
Roscoe, at thirty-two, had not lost his boy's enthusiasm in life, in spite
of the fact that he had studied too deeply, and had seen too much, and had
begun fighting for existence while still in bare feet. From the beginning
it seemed as though some grim monster of fate had hovered about him, making
his path as rough as it could, and striking him down whenever the
opportunity came. His own tremendous energy and ambition had carried him to
He worked himself through college, and became a success in his way. But at
no time could he remember real happiness. It had almost come to him, he
thought, a year before--in the form of a girl; but this promise had passed
like the others because, of a sudden, he found that she had shattered the
most precious of all his ideals. So he picked himself up, and, encouraged
by his virile optimism, began looking forward again. Bad luck had so worked
its hand in the moulding of him that he had come to live chiefly in
anticipation, and though this bad luck had played battledore and
shuttlecock with him, the things which he anticipated were pleasant and
beautiful. He believed that the human race was growing better, and that
each year was bringing his ideals just so much nearer to realization. More
than once he had told himself that he was living two or three centuries too
soon. Ransom, his old college chum, had been the first to suggest that he
was living some thousands of years too late.
He thought of this a great deal during the first pleasant weeks of the
autumn, which he and old Rameses spent up in the Lac la Ronge and Reindeer
Lake country. During this time he devoted himself almost entirely to the
study of Cree under Rameses' tutelage, and the more he learned of it the
more he saw the truth of what Ransom had told him once upon a time, that
the Cree language was the most beautiful in the world. At the upper end of
the Reindeer they spent a week at a Cree village, and one day Roscoe stood
unobserved and listened to the conversation of three young Cree women, who
were weaving reed baskets. They talked so quickly that he could understand
but little of what they said, but their low, soft voices were like music.
He had learned French in Paris, and had heard Italian in Rome, but never in
his life had he heard words or voices so beautiful as those which fell from
the red, full lips of the Cree girls. He thought more seriously than ever
of what Ransom had said about the first people, and the beginning of
Late in October they swung westward through the Sissipuk and Burntwood
water ways to Nelson House, and at this point Rameses returned homeward.
Roscoe struck north, with two new guides, and on the eighteenth of November
the first of the two great storms which made the year of 1907 one of the
most tragic in the history of the far Northern people overtook them on
Split Lake, thirty miles from a Hudson's Bay post. It was two weeks later
before they reached this post, and here Roscoe was given the first of
"This has been the worst autumn we've had for years," said the factor to
him. "The Indians haven't caught half enough fish to carry them through,
and this storm has ruined the early-snow hunting in which they usually get
enough meat to last them until spring. We're stinting ourselves on our own
supplies now, and farther north the Company will soon be on famine rations
if the cold doesn't let up--and it won't. They won't want an extra mouth up
there, so you'd better turn back. It's going to be a starvation winter."
But Roscoe, knowing as little as the rest of man-kind of the terrible
famines of the northern people, which keep an area one-half as large as the
whole of Europe down to a population of thirty thousand, went on. A famine,
he argued, would give him greater opportunity for study.
Two weeks later he was at York Factory, and from there he continued to Fort
Churchill, farther up on Hudson's Bay. By the time he reached this point,
early in January, the famine of those few terrible weeks during which more
than fifteen hundred people died of starvation had begun. From the Barren
Lands to the edge of the southern watershed the earth lay under from four
to six feet of snow, and from the middle of December until late in February
the temperature did not rise above thirty degrees below zero, and remained
for the most of the time between fifty and sixty. From all points in the
wilderness reports of starvation came to the Company's posts. Traplines
could not be followed because of the intense cold. Moose, caribou, and even
the furred animals had buried themselves under the snow. Indians and
halfbreeds dragged themselves into the posts. Twice Roscoe saw mothers who
brought dead babies in their arms. One day a white trapper came in with
his dogs and sledge, and on the sledge, wrapped in a bear skin, was his
wife, who had died fifty miles back in the forest.
Late in January there came a sudden rise in the temperature, and Roscoe
prepared to take advantage of the change to strike south and westward
again, toward Nelson House. Dogs could not be had for love or money, so on
the first of February he set out on snowshoes with an Indian guide and two
weeks' supply of provisions. The fifth night, in the wild, Barren country
west of the Etawney, his Indian failed to keep up the fire, and when Roscoe
investigated he found him half dead with a strange sickness. Roscoe thought
of smallpox, the terrible plague that usually follows northern famine, and
a shiver ran through him. He made the Indian's balsam shelter snow and wind
proof, cut wood, and waited. The temperature fell again, and the cold
became intense. Each day the provisions grew less, and at last the time
came when Roscoe knew that he was standing face to face with the Great
Peril. He went farther and farther from camp in his search for game. But
there was no life. Even the brush sparrows and snow hawks were gone. Once
the thought came to him that he might take what food was left, and accept
the little chance that remained of saving himself. But the idea never got
further than a first thought. He kept to his post, and each day spent half
an hour in writing. On the twelfth day the Indian died. It was a terrible
day, the beginning of the second great storm of that winter. There was food
for another twenty-four hours, and Roscoe packed it, together with his
blankets and a little tinware. He wondered if the Indian had died of a
contagious disease. Anyway, he made up his mind to put out the warning for
others if they came that way, and over the dead Indian's balsam shelter he
planted a sapling, and at the end of the sapling he fastened a strip of red
cotton cloth--the plague-signal of the North.
Then he struck out through the deep snows and the twisting storm, knowing
that there was no more than one chance in a thousand ahead of him, and that
his one chance was to keep the wind at his back.
* * * * *
This was the beginning of the wonderful experience which Roscoe Cummins
afterward described in his book "The First People and the Valley of Silent
Men." He prepared another manuscript which for personal reasons was never
published, the story of a dark-eyed girl of the First People--but this is
to come. It has to do with the last tragic weeks of this winter of 1907, in
which it was a toss-up between all things of flesh and blood in the
Northland to see which would win--life or death--and in which a pair of
dark eyes and a voice from the First People turned a sociologist into a
possible Member of Parliament.
* * * * *
At the end of his first day's struggle Roscoe built himself a camp in a bit
of scrub timber, which was not much more than brush. If he had been an
older hand he would have observed that this bit of timber, and every tree
and bush that he had passed since noon, was stripped and dead on the side
that faced the north. It was a sign of the Great Barrens, and of the fierce
storms that swept over them, destroying even the life of the trees. He
cooked and ate his last food the following day, and went on. The small
timber turned to scrub, and the scrub, in time, to vast snow wastes over
which the storm swept mercilessly. All this day he looked for game, for a
flutter of bird life; he chewed bark, and in the afternoon got a mouthful
of Fox-bite, which made his throat swell until he could scarcely breathe.
At night he made tea, but had nothing to eat. His hunger was acute and
painful. It was torture the next day--the third--for the process of
starvation is a rapid one in this country where only the fittest survive on
four meals a day. He camped, built a small bush fire at night, and slept.
He almost failed to rouse himself on the morning that followed, and when he
staggered to his feet and felt the cutting sting of the storm still in his
face, and heard the swishing wail of it over the Barren, he knew that at
last the moment had come when he was standing face to face with the
For some strange reason he was not frightened at the situation. He found
that even over the level spaces he could scarcely drag his snow shoes, but
this had ceased to alarm him as he had been alarmed at first. He went on,
hour after hour, weaker and weaker. Within himself there was still life
which reasoned that if death were to come it could not come in a better
way. It at least promised to be painless--even pleasant. The sharp,
stinging pains of hunger, like little electrical knives piercing him, were
gone; he no longer experienced a sensation of intense cold; he almost felt
that he could lie down in the drifted snow and sleep peacefully. He knew
what it would be--a sleep without end--with the arctic foxes to pick his
bones, and so he resisted the temptation and forced himself onward. The
storm still swept straight west from Hudson's Bay, bringing with it endless
volleys of snow, round and hard as fine shot; snow that had at first seemed
to pierce his flesh, and which swished past his feet, as if trying to trip
him, and tossed itself in windrows and mountains in his path. If he could
only find timber--shelter! That was what he worked for now. When he had
last looked at his watch it was nine o'clock in the morning; now it was
late in the afternoon. It might as well have been night. The storm had long
since half blinded him. He could not see a dozen paces ahead. But the
little life in him still reasoned bravely. It was a heroic spark of life, a
fighting spark, and hard to put out. It told him that when he came to
shelter be would at least _feel_ it, and that he must fight until the last.
And all this time, for ages and ages it seemed to him, he kept mumbling
over and over again Ransom's words:
_"Go back--Go back--Go back---"_
They rang in his brain. He tried to keep step with their monotone. The
storm could not drown them. They were meaningless words to him now, but
they kept him company. Also, his rifle was meaningless, but he clung to it.
The pack on his back held no significance and no weight for him. He might
have travelled a mile or ten miles an hour and he would not have sensed the
difference. Most men would have buried themselves in the snow, and died in
comfort, dreaming the pleasant dreams which come as a sort of recompense to
the unfortunate who die of starvation and cold. But the fighting spark
commanded Roscoe to die upon his feet, if he died at all. It was this spark
which brought him at last to a bit of timber thick enough to give him
shelter from wind and snow. It burned a little more warmly then. It flared
up, and gave him new vision. And, for the first time, he realized that it
must be night. For a light was burning ahead of him, and all else was
gloom. His first thought was that it was a campfire, miles and miles away.
Then it drew nearer--until he knew that it was a light in a cabin window.
He dragged himself toward it, and when he came to the door he tried to
shout. But no sound fell from his swollen lips. It seemed an hour before he
could twist his feet out of his snowshoes. Then he groped for a latch,
pressed against the door, and plunged in.
What he saw was like a picture suddenly revealed for an instant by a
flashlight. In the cabin there were four men. Two sat at a table, directly
in front of him. One held a dice box poised in the air, and had turned a
rough, bearded face toward him. The other was a younger man, and in this
moment of lapsing consciousness it struck Roscoe as strange that he should
be clutching a can of beans between his hands. A third man stared from
where he had been looking down upon the dice-play of the other two. As
Roscoe came in he was in the act of lowering a half-filled bottle from his
lips. The fourth man sat on the edge of a bunk, with a face so white and
thin that he might have been taken for a corpse if it had not been for a
dark glare in his sunken eyes. Roscoe smelled the odor of whisky; he
smelled food. He saw no sign of welcome in the faces turned toward him,
but he advanced upon them, mumbling incoherently. And then the spark--the
fighting spark in him--gave out, and he crumpled down on the floor. He
heard a voice, which came to him--as if from a great distance, and which
said, "Who the h--l is this?" And then, after what seemed to be a long
time, he heard another voice say, "Pitch him back into the snow."
After that he lost consciousness.
* * * * *
A long time before he awoke he knew that he was not in the snow, and that
hot stuff was running down his throat. When he opened his eyes there was no
longer a light burning in the cabin. It was day. He felt strangely
comfortable, but there was something in the cabin that stirred him from his
rest. It was the odour of frying bacon. He raised himself upon his elbow,
prepared to thank his deliverers, and to eat. All of his hunger had come
back. The joy of life, of anticipation, shone in his thin face as he pulled
himself up. Another face--the bearded face--red-eyed, almost animal-like in
its fierce questioning, bent over him.
"Where's your grub, pardner?"
The question was like a stab. Roscoe did not hear his own voice as he
"Got none!" The bearded man's voice was like a bellow as he turned upon the
"He's got no grub!"
"We'll divvy up, Jack," came a weak voice. It was from the thin,
white-faced man who had sat corpse-like on the edge of his bunk the night
"Divvy h--l!" growled the bearded man. "It's up to you--you and Scotty.
You're to blame!"
You're to blame!
The words struck upon Roscoe's ears with a chill of horror. He recalled the
voice that had suggested throwing him back into the snow. Starvation was in
the cabin. He had fallen among animals instead of men, and his body grew
cold with a chill that was more horrible than that of the snow and the
wind. He saw the thin-faced man who had spoken for him sitting again on the
edge of his bunk. Mutely he looked to the others to see which was Scotty.
He was the young man who had clutched the can of beans. It was he who was
frying bacon over the sheet iron stove.
"We'll divvy--Henry and I," he said. "I told you that last night." He
looked over at Roscoe. "Glad you're better," he greeted. "You see--you've
struck us at a bad time. We're on our last legs for grub. Our two Indians
went out to hunt a week ago and never came back. They're dead--or gone, and
we're as good as dead if the storm doesn't let up pretty soon. You can have
some of our grub--Henry's and mine."
It was a cold invitation, lacking warmth or sympathy, and Roscoe felt that
even this man wished that he had died before he reached the cabin. But the
man was human; he at least had not cast his voice with those who had wanted
to throw him back into the snow, and Roscoe tried to voice his gratitude,
and at the same time to hide his hunger. He saw that there were three thin
slices of bacon in the frying pan, and it struck him that it would be bad
taste to reveal a starvation appetite in the face of such famine. He came
up, limping, and stood on the other side of the stove from Scotty.
"You saved my life," he said, holding out a hand. "Will you shake?"
Scotty shook hands limply.
"It's h--l," he said in a low voice. "We'd have had beans this morning if
I hadn't shook dice with him last night." He nodded toward the bearded man,
who was cutting open the top of a can. "He won!"
"My God!" began Roscoe.
He didn't finish. Scotty turned the meat, and added:
"He won a square meal off me yesterday--a quarter of a pound of bacon. Day
before that he won Henry's last can of beans. He's got his share under his
blanket over there, and swears he'll shoot any one who goes to monkeying
with his bed--so you'd better fight shy of it. Thompson--he isn't up
yet--chose the whisky for _his_ share, so you'd better fight shy of him,
too. Henry and I'll divvy up with you."
"Thanks," said Roscoe, the one word choking him.
Henry came from his bunk, bent and wobbling. He looked like a dying man,
and for the first time Roscoe saw that his hair was gray. He was a little
man, and his thin hands shook as he held them out over the stove, and
nodded at Roscoe. The bearded man had opened his can, and approached the
stove with a pan of water, coming in beside Roscoe without noticing him. He
brought with him a foul odour of stale tobacco smoke and whisky. After he
had put his water over the fire he turned to one of the bunks and with half
a dozen coarse epithets roused Thompson, who sat up stupidly, still half
drunk. Henry had gone to a small table, and Scotty followed him with the
bacon. But Roscoe did not move. He forgot his hunger. His pulse was beating
quickly. Sensations filled him which he had never known or imagined before.
He had known tragedy; he had investigated to what he had supposed to be the
depths of human vileness--but this that he was experiencing now stunned
him. Was it possible that these were people of his own kind? Had a madness
of some sort driven all human instincts from them? He saw Thompson's red
eyes fastened upon him, and he turned his face to escape their questioning,
stupid leer. The bearded man was turning out the can of beans he had won
from Scotty. Beyond the bearded man the door creaked, and Roscoe heard the
wail of the storm. It came to him now as a friendly sort of sound.
"Better draw up, pardner," he heard Scotty say. "Here's your share."
One of the thin slices of bacon and a hard biscuit were waiting for him on
a tin plate. He ate as ravenously as Henry and Scotty, and drank a cup of
hot tea. In two minutes the meal was over. It was terribly inadequate. The
few mouthfuls of food stirred up all his craving, and he found it
impossible to keep his eyes from the bearded man and his beans. The bearded
man, whom Scotty called Croker, was the only one who seemed well fed, and
his horror increased when Henry bent over and said to him in a low whisper:
"He didn't get my beans fair. I had three aces and a pair of deuces, an' he
took it on three fives and two sixes. When I objected he called me a liar
an' hit me. Them's my beans, or Scotty's!" There was something almost like
murder in the little man's red eyes.
Roscoe remained silent. He did not care to talk, or question. No one had
asked him who he was or whence he came, and he felt no inclination to know
more of the men he had fallen among. Croker finished, wiped his mouth with
his hand, and looked across at Roscoe.
"How about going out with me to get some wood?" he demanded.
"I'm ready," replied Roscoe.
For the first time he took notice of himself. He was lame, and sickeningly
weak, but apparently sound in other ways. The intense cold had not frozen
his ears or feet. He put on his heavy moccasins, his thick coat and fur
cap, and Croker pointed to his rifle.
"Better take that along," he said. "Can't tell what you might see."
Roscoe picked it up and the pack which lay beside it. He did not catch the
ugly leer which the bearded man turned upon Thompson. But Henry did, and
his little eyes grew smaller and blacker. On snowshoes the two men went out
into the storm, Croker carrying an axe. He led the way through the bit of
thin timber, and across a wide open over which the storm swept so fiercely
that their trail was covered behind them as they travelled. Roscoe figured
that they had gone a quarter of a mile when they came to another clump of
trees, and Croker gave him the axe.
"You can cut down some of this," he said. "It's better burning than that
back there. I'm going on for a dry log that I know of. You wait until I
Roscoe set to work upon a spruce, but he could scarcely strike out a chip.
After a little he was compelled to drop his axe, and lean against the tree,
exhausted. At intervals he resumed his cutting. It was half an hour before
the small tree fell. Then he waited for Croker. Behind him his trail was
already obliterated. After a little he raised his voice and called for
Croker. There was no reply. The wind moaned above him in the spruce tops.
It made a noise like the wash of the sea out on the open Barren. He shouted
again. And again. The truth dawned upon him slowly--but it came. Croker had
brought him out purposely--to lose him. He was saving the bacon and the
cold biscuits back in the cabin. Roscoe's hands clenched tightly, and then
they relaxed. At last he had found what he was after--his book! It would be
a terrible book, if he carried out the idea that flashed upon him now in
the wailing and twisting of the storm. And then he laughed, for it occurred
to him quickly that the idea would die--with himself. He might find the
cabin, but he would not make the effort. Once more he would fight alone and
for himself. The Spark returned to him, loyally. He buttoned himself up
closely, saw that his snowshoes were securely fastened, and struck out once
more with his back to the storm. He was at least a trifle better off for
meeting with the flesh and blood of his kind.
The clump of timber thinned out, and Roscoe struck out boldly into the low
bush. As he went, he wondered what would happen in the cabin. He believed
that Henry, of the four, would not pull through alive, and that Croker
would come out best. It was not until the following summer that he learned
the facts of Henry's madness, and of the terrible manner in which he
avenged himself on Croker by sticking a knife under the latter's ribs.
For the first time in his life Roscoe found himself in a position to
measure accurately the amount of energy contained in a slice of bacon and a
cold biscuit. It was not much. Long before noon his old weakness was upon
him again. He found even greater difficulty in dragging his feet over the
snow, and it seemed now as though all ambition had left him, and that even
the fighting spark was becoming disheartened. He made up his mind to go on
until the arctic gloom of night began mingling with the storm; then he
would stop, build a fire, and go to sleep in its warmth. He would never
wake up, and there would be no sensation of discomfort in his dying.
During the afternoon he passed out of the scrub into a rougher country. His
progress was slower, but more comfortable, for at times he found himself
protected from the wind. A gloom darker and more sombre than that of the
storm was falling about him when he came to what appeared to be the end of
the Barren. The earth dropped away from under his feet, and far below him,
in a ravine shut out from wind and storm, he saw the black tops of thick
spruce. What life was left in him leaped joyously, and he began to scramble
downward. His eyes were no longer fit to judge distance or chance, and he
slipped. He slipped a dozen times in the first five minutes, and then there
came the time when he did not make a recovery, but plunged down the side of
the mountain like a rock. He stopped with a terrific jar, and for the first
time during the fall he wanted to cry out with pain. But the voice that he
heard did not come from his own lips. It was another voice--and then two,
three, many of them. His dazed eyes caught glimpses of dark objects
floundering in the deep snow about him, and just beyond these objects were
four or five tall mounds of snow, like tents, arranged in a circle. A
number of times that winter Roscoe had seen mounds of snow like these, and
he knew what they meant. He had fallen into an Indian village. He tried to
call out the words of greeting that Rameses had taught him, but he had no
tongue. Then the floundering figures caught him up, and he was carried to
the circle of snow-mounds. The last that he knew was that warmth was
entering his lungs, and that once again there came to him the low, sweet
music of a Cree girl's voice.
It was a face that he first saw after that, a face that seemed to come to
him slowly from out of night, approaching nearer and nearer until he knew
that it was a girl's face, with great, dark, shining eyes whose lustre
suffused him with warmth and a strange happiness. It was a face of
wonderful beauty, he thought--of a wild sort of beauty, yet with something
so gentle in the shining eyes that he sighed restfully. In these first
moments of his returning consciousness the whimsical thought came to him
that he was dying, and the face was a part of a pleasant dream. If that
were not so he had fallen at last among friends. His eyes opened wider, he
moved, and the face drew back. Movement stimulated returning life, and
reason rehabilitated itself in great bounds. In a dozen flashes he went
over all that had happened up to the point where he had fallen down the
mountain and into the Cree camp. Straight above him he saw a funnel-like
peak through which there drifted a blue film of smoke. He was in a wigwam.
It was warm and exceedingly comfortable. Wondering if he was hurt, he
moved. The movement drew a sharp exclamation of pain from him. It was the
first real sound he had made, and in an instant the face was over him
again. He saw it plainly this time, with its dark eyes and oval cheeks
framed between two great braids of black hair. A hand touched his brow cool
and gentle, and a sweet voice soothed him in half a dozen musical words.
The girl was a Cree.
At the sound of her voice an Indian woman came up beside her, looked down
at Roscoe for a moment, and then went to the door of the wigwam, speaking
in a low voice to some one who was outside. When she returned a man
followed in after her. He was old and bent, and his face was thin. His
cheek-bones shone, so tightly was the skin drawn over them. And behind him
came a younger man, as straight as a tree, with strong shoulders, and a
head set like a piece of bronze sculpture. Roscoe thought of Ransom and of
his words about old Rameses:
"You will find something in his face which will recall what I have said,
and make you think of the First People."
The second man carried in his hand a frozen fish, which he gave to the
woman. And as he gave it to her he spoke words in Cree which Roscoe
"It is the last fish."
For a moment some terrible hand gripped at Roscoe's heart and stopped its
beating. He saw the woman take the fish and cut it into two equal parts
with a knife, and one of these parts he saw her drop into a pot of boiling
water which hung over the stone fireplace built under the vent in the wall.
The girl went up and stood beside the older woman, with her back turned to
him. He opened his eyes wide, and stared. The girl was tall and slender, as
lithely and as beautifully formed as one of the northern lilies that thrust
their slender stems from between the mountain rocks. Her two heavy braids
fell down her back almost to her knees. And this girl, the woman, the two
men _were dividing with him their last fish_!
He made an effort and sat up. The younger man came to him, and put a bear
skin at his back. He had picked up some of the patois of half-blood French
"You seek," he said, "you hurt--you hungr'. You have eat soon."
He motioned with his hand to the boiling pot. There was not a ficker of
animation in his splendid face. There was something godlike in his
immobility, something that was awesome in the way he moved and breathed.
His voice, too, it seemed to Roscoe, was filled with the old, old mystery
of the beginning of things, of history that was long dead and lost for all
time. And it came upon Roscoe now, like a flood of rare knowledge
descending from a mysterious source, that he had at last discovered the key
to new life, and that through the blindness of reason, through starvation
and death, fate had led him to the Great Truth that was dying with the last
sons of the First People. For the half of the last fish was brought to
him, and he ate; and when the knowledge that he was eating life away from
these people choked him, and he thrust a part of it back, the girl herself
urged him to continue, and he finished, with her dark, glorious eyes fixed
upon him and sending warm floods through his veins. And after that the men
bolstered him up with the bear skin, and the two went out again into the
storm. The woman sat hunched before the fire, and after a little the girl
joined her and piled fresh fagots on the blaze. Then she sat beside her,
with her chin resting in the little brown palms of her hands, the fire
lighting up a half profile of her face and painting rich colour in her
For a long time there was silence, and Roscoe lay as if he were asleep. It
was not an ordinary silence, the silence of a still room, or of
emptiness--but a silence that throbbed and palpitated with an unheard life,
a silence which was thrilling because it spoke a language which Roscoe was
just beginning to understand. The fire grew redder, and the cone-shaped
vacancy at the top of the tepee grew duskier, so Roscoe knew that night was
falling outside. Far above he could hear the storm wailing over the top of
the mountain. Redder and redder grew the birch flame that lighted up the
profile of the girl's face. Once she turned, so that he caught the lustrous
darkness of her eyes upon him. He could not hear the breath of the two in
front of the fire. He heard no sound outside except that of the wind and
the trees, and all grew as dark as it was silent in the snow-covered tepee,
except in front of the fire. And then, as he lay with wide-open eyes, it
seemed to Roscoe as though the stillness was broken by a sob that was
scarcely more than a sigh, and he saw the girl's head droop a little lower
in her hands, and fancied that a shuddering tremor ran through her slender
shoulders. The fire burned low, and she reached out for more fagots. Then
she rose slowly, and turned toward him. She could not see his face in the
gloom, but the deep breathing which he feigned drew her to him, and through
his half-closed eyes he could see her face bending over him, until one of
her heavy braids slipped over her shoulder and fell upon his breast. After
a moment she sat down silently beside him, and he felt her fingers brush
gently through his tangled hair. Something in their light, soft touch
thrilled him, and he moved his hand in the darkness until it came in
contact with the big, soft braid that still lay where it had fallen across
him. He was on the point of speaking, but the fingers left his hair and
stroked as gentle as velvet over his storm-beaten face. She believed that
he was asleep, and a warm flood of shame swept through him at the thought
of his hypocrisy. The birch flared up suddenly, and he saw the glisten of
her hair, the glow of her eyes, and the startled change that came into them
when she saw that his own eyes were wide open, and looking up at her.
Before she could move he had caught her hand, and was holding it tighter to
his face--against his lips. The birch bark died as suddenly as it had
flared up; he heard her breathing quickly, he saw her great eyes melt away
like lustrous stars into the returning gloom, and a wild, irresistible
impulse moved him. He raised his free hand to the dark head, and drew it
down to him, holding it against his feverish face while he whispered
Rameses's prayer of thankfulness in Cree:
"The spirits bless you forever, _Meeani_."
The nearness of her, the touch of her heavy hair, the caress of her breath
stirred him still more deeply with the strange, new emotion that was born
in him, and in the darkness he found and kissed a pair of lips, soft and
The woman stirred before the fire. The girl drew back, her breath coming
almost sobbingly. And then the thought of what he had done rushed in a
flood of horror upon Roscoe. These wild people had saved his life; they had
given him to eat of their last fish; they were nursing him back from the
very threshold of death--and he had already repaid them by offering to the
Cree maiden next to the greatest insult that could come to her people. He
remembered what Rameses had told him--that the Cree girl's first kiss was
her betrothal kiss; that it was the white garment of her purity, the pledge
of her fealty forever. He lifted himself upon his elbow, but the girl had
run to the door. Voices came from outside, and the two men reentered the
tepee. He understood enough of what was said to learn that the camp had
been holding council, and that two men were about to make an effort to
reach the nearest post. Each tepee was to furnish these two men a bit of
food to keep them alive on their terrible hazard, and the woman brought
forth the half of a fish. She cut it into quarters, and with one of the
pieces the elder man went out again into the night. The younger man spoke
to the girl. He called her Oachi, and to Roscoe's astonishment spoke in
"If they do not come back, or if we do not find meat in seven days," he
said, "we will die."
Roscoe made an effort to rise, and the effort sent a rush of fire into his
head. He turned dizzy, and fell back with a groan. In an instant the girl
was at his side--ahead of the man. Her hands were at his face, her eyes
glowing again. He felt that he was falling into a deep sleep. But the eyes
did not leave him. They were wonderful eyes, glorious eyes! He dreamed of
them in the strange sleep that came to him, and they grew more and more
beautiful, shining with a light which thrilled him even in his
unconsciousness. After a time there came a black, more natural sort of
night to him. He awoke from it refreshed. It was day. The tepee was filled
with light, and for the first time he looked about him. He was alone. A
fire burned low among the stones; over it simmered a pot. The earth floor
of the tepee was covered with deer and caribou skins, and opposite him
there was another bunk. He drew himself painfully to a sitting posture and
found that it was his shoulder and hip that hurt him. He rose to his feet,
and stood balancing himself feebly when the door to the tepee was drawn
back and Oachi entered. At sight of him, standing up from his bed, she made
a quick movement to draw back, but Roscoe reached out his hands with a low
cry of pleasure.
"Oachi," he cried softly. "Come in!" He spoke in French, and Oachi's face
lighted up like sunlight. "I am better," he said. "I am well. I want to
thank you--and the others." He made a step toward her, and the strength of
his left leg gave way. He would have fallen if she had not darted to him so
quickly that she made a prop for him, and her eyes looked up into his
whitened face, big and frightened and filled with pain.
"Oo-ee-ee," she said in Cree, her red lips rounded as she saw him flinch,
and that one word, a song in a word; came to him like a flute note.
"It hurts--a little," he said. He dropped back on his bunk, and Oachi sank
upon the skins at his feet, looking up at him steadily with her wonderful,
pure eyes, her mouth still rounded, little wrinkles of tense anxiety drawn
in her forehead. Roscoe laughed.
For a few moments his soul was filled with a strange gladness. He reached
out his hand and stroked it over her shining hair, and a radiance such as
he had never seen leapt into her eyes. "You--talk--French?" he asked
"Then tell me this--you are hungry--starving?"
She nodded again, and made a cup of her two small hands. "No meat. This
little--so much--flour--" Her throat trembled and her voice fluttered. But
even as she measured out their starvation her face was looking at him
joyously. And then she added, with the gladness of a child, "_Feesh_, for
you," and pointed to the simmering pot.
"For _ME_!" Roscoe looked at the pot, and then back at her.
"Oachi," he said gently, "go tell your father that I am ready to talk with
him. Ask him to come--now."
She looked at him for a moment as though she did not quite understand what
he had said, and he repeated the words. Even as he was speaking he
marvelled at the fairness of her skin, which shone with a pink flush, and
at the softness and beauty of her hair. What he saw impelled him to ask,
as she made to rise:
"Your father--your mother--is French. Is that so, Oachi?" The girl nodded
again, with the soft little Cree throat note that meant yes. Then she
slipped to her feet and ran out, and a little later there came into the
tepee the man who had first loomed up in the dusky light like a god of the
First People to Roscoe Cummins. His splendid face was a little more gaunt
than the night before, and Roscoe knew that famine came hand in hand with
him. He had seen starvation before, and he knew that it reddened the eyes
and gave the lips a grayish pallor. These things, and more, he saw in
Oachi's father. But Mukoki came in straight and erect, hiding his weakness
under the pride of his race. Fighting down his pain Roscoe rose at sight of
him and held out his hands.
"I want to thank you," he said, repeating the words he had spoken to Oachi.
"You have saved my life. But I have eyes, and I can see. You gave me of
your last fish. You have no meat. You have no flour. You are starving.
What? I have asked you to come and tell me, so that I may know how it
fares with your women and children. You will give me a council, and we will
smoke." Roscoe dropped back on his bunk. He drew forth his pipe and filled
it with tobacco. The Cree sat down mutely in the centre of the tepee. They
smoked, passing the pipe back and forth without speaking. Once Roscoe
loaded the pipe, and once the chief; and when the last puff of the last
pipeful was taken the Indian reached over his hand, and Roscoe gripped it
And then, while the storm still moaned far up over their heads, Roscoe
Cummins listened to the old, old story of the First People--the story of
starvation and of death. To him it was epic. It was terrible. But to the
other it was the mere coming and going of a natural thing, of a thing that
had existed for him and for his kind since life began, and he spoke of it
quietly and without a gesture. There had been a camp of twenty-two, and
there were now fifteen. Seven had died, four men, two women, and one child.
Each day during the great storm the men had gone out on their futile search
for game, and every few days one of them had failed to return. Thus four
had died. The dogs were eaten. Corn and fish were gone; there remained but
a little flour, and this was for the women and the children. The men had
eaten nothing but bark and roots for five days. And there seemed to be no
hope. It was death to stray far from the camp. That morning the two men had
set out for the post, but Mukoki said calmly that they would never return.
And then Roscoe spoke of Oachi, his daughter, and for the first time the
iron lines of the chief's bronze face seemed to soften, and his head bent
over a little, and his shoulders drooped. Not until then did Roscoe learn
the depths of sorrow hidden behind the splendid strength of the starving
man. Oachi's mother had been a French woman. Six months before she had died
in this tepee, and Mukoki had buried his wife up on the face of the
mountain, where the storm was moaning. After this Roscoe could not speak.
He was choking. He loaded his pipe again, and sat down close to the chief,
so that their knees and their shoulders touched, and thus, as taught him by
old Rameses, he smoked with Oachi's father the pledge of eternal
friendship, of brotherhood in life, of spirit communion in the Valley of
Silent Men. After that Mukoki left him and he crawled back upon his bunk,
weak and filled with pain, knowing that he was facing death with the
others. He was not afraid, but was filled with a great thankfulness that,
even at the price of starvation, fate had allowed him to touch at last the
edge of the fabric of his dreams. All of that day he wrote, in the hours
when he felt best. He filled page after page of the tablets which he
carried in his pack, writing feverishly and with great haste, oppressed
only by the fear that he would not be able to finish the message which he
had for the people of that other world a thousand miles away. Three times
during the morning Oachi came in and brought him the cooked fish and a
biscuit which she had made for him out of flour and meal. And each time he
said, "I am a man with the other men, Oachi. I would be a woman if I ate."
The third time Oachi knelt close down at his side, and when he refused the
food again there came a strange light into her eyes, and she said, "If you
It was the first revelation to him. He put up his hands. They touched her
face. Some potent spirit in him carried him across all gulfs. In that
moment, thrilling, strange, he was heart and soul of the First People. In
an instant he had drifted back a thousand years, beyond the memory of
cities, of clubs, of all that went with civilization. A wild, half savage
longing filled him. One of his hands slipped to her shining hair, and
suddenly their faces lay close to each other, and he knew that in that
moment love had come to him from the fount of glory itself.
* * * * *
Days followed--black days filled with the endless terrors of the storm. And
yet they were days of a strange contentment which Roscoe had never felt
before. Oachi and her father were with him a great deal in the tepee which
they had given up to him. On the third day Roscoe noticed that Oachi's
little hands were bruised and red and he found that the chief's daughter
had gone out to dig down through ice and snow with the other women after
roots. The camp lived entirely on roots now--wild flag and moose roots
ground up and cooked in a batter. On this same day, late in the afternoon,
there came a low wailing grief from one of the tepees, a moaning sound that
pitched itself to the key of the storm until it seemed to be a part of it.
A child had died, and the mother was mourning. That night another of the
camp huntsmen failed to return at dusk.
The next day Roscoe was able to move about in his tepee without pain. Oachi
and her father were with him when, for the first time, he got out his comb
and military brushes and began grooming his touselled hair. Oachi watched
him, and suddenly, seeing the wondering pleasure in her eyes, he held out
the brushes to her. "You may have them, Oachi," he said, and the girl
accepted them with a soft little cry of delight. To his amazement she began
unbraiding her hair immediately, and then she stood up before him, hidden
to her knees in her wonderful wealth of shining tresses, and Roscoe Cummins
thought in this moment that he had never seen a woman more beautiful than
the half Cree girl. When they had gone he still saw her, and the vision
troubled him. They came in again at night, when the fire was sending red
and yellow lights up and down the tepee walls, and the more he watched
Oachi the stronger there grew within him something that seemed to gnaw and
gripe with a dull sort of pain. Oachi was beautiful. He had never seen hair
like her hair. He had never before seen eyes more beautiful. He had never
heard a voice so low and sweet and filled with bird-like ripples of music.
She was beautiful, and yet with her beauty there was a primitiveness, a
gentle savagery, and an age-old story written in the fine lines of her face
which made him uneasy with the thought of a thing that was almost tragedy.
Oachi loved him. He could see that love in her eyes, in her movement; he
could feel it in her presence, and the sweet song of it trembled in her
voice when she spoke to him. Ordinarily a white man would have accepted
this love; he would have rejoiced in it, and would have played with it for
a time, as they have done with the loves of the women of Oachi's people
since the beginning of white man's time. But Roscoe Cummins was of a
different type. He was a man of ideals, and in Oachi's love he saw his
ideal of love set apart from him by illimitable voids. This night, in the
firelit tepee, there came to him like a painful stab the truth of Ransom's
words. He had been born some thousands of years too late. He saw in Oachi
love and life as they might have been for him; but beyond them he also saw,
like a grim and threatening hand, a vision of cities, of toiling millions,
of a great work just begun--a vision of life as it was intended that he
should live it; and to shut it out from him he bowed his head in his two
hands, overwhelmed by a new grief.
The chief sat with his face to the fire, smoking silently, and Oachi came
to Roscoe's side, and touched hands timidly, like a little child. She
seemed to him wondrously like a child when he lifted his head and looked
down into her face. She smiled at him, questioning him, and he smiled his
answer back, yet neither broke the silence with words. He heard only the
soft little note in Oachi's throat that filled him with such an exquisite
sensation, and he wondered what music would be if it could find expression
through a voice like hers.
"Oachi," he asked softly, "why did you never sing?"
The girl looked at him in silence for a moment.
"We starve," she said. She swept her hand toward the door of the tepee. "We
starve--die--there is no song."
He put his hand under her chin and lifted her face to him, as he might have
done with a little child.
"I wish you would sing, Oachi," he said.
For a moment the girl's dark eyes glowed up at him. Then she drew back
softly, and seated herself before the fire, with her back turned toward
him, close beside her father. A strange quiet filled the tepee. Over their
heads the wailing storm seemed to die for a moment; and then something rose
in its place, so low and gentle at first that it seemed like a whisper, but
growing in sweetness and volume until Roscoe Cummins sat erect, his eyes
flashing, his hands clenched, looking at Oachi. The storm rose, and with it
the song--a song that reached down into his soul, stirring him now with its
gladness, now with a half savage pain; but always with a sweetness that
engulfed for him all other things, until he was listening only to the
voice. And then silence came again within the tepee. Over the mountain the
wind burst more fiercely. The chief sat motionless. In Oachi's hair the
firelight glistened with a dull radiance. There was quiet, and yet Roscoe
still heard the voice. He knew that he would always hear it, that it would
Not until long afterward did he know that Oachi had sung to him the great
love song of the Crees.
That night and the next day, and the terrible night and day that followed,
Roscoe fought with himself. He won--when alone--and lost when Oachi was
with him. In some ways she knew intuitively that he loved to see her with
her splendid hair down, and she would sit at his feet and brush it, while
he tried to hide his admiration and smother the passion which sprang up in
his breast when she was near. He knew, in these moments, that it was too
late to kill the thing that was born in him--the craving of his heart and
his soul for this girl of the First People who had laid her life at his
feet and who was removed from him by barriers which he could never pass. On
the afternoon of his seventh day in camp an Indian hunter ran in from the
forest nearly crazed with joy. He had ventured farther away than the
others, and had found a moose-yard. He had killed two of the animals. The
days of famine were over. Oachi brought the first news to Roscoe. Her face
was radiant with joy, her eyes burned like stars, and in her excitement she
stretched out her arms to him as she cried out the wonderful news. Roscoe
took her two hands.
"Is it true, Oachi?" he asked. "They have surely killed meat?"
"Yes--yes--yes," she cried. "They have killed meat--much meat--"
She stopped at the strange, hard look in Roscoe's eyes. He was looking
overhead. If he had looked down, into the glory and love of her eyes, he
would have swept her close in his arms, and the last fight would have been
over then and there. Oachi went out, wondering at the coldness with which
he had received the word of their deliverance, and little guessing that in
that moment he had fought the greatest battle of his life. Each day after
this called him back to the fight. His two broken ribs healed slowly. The
storm passed. The sun followed it, and the March winds began bringing up
warmth from the south. Days grew into weeks, and the snow was growing soft
underfoot before he dared venture forth short distances from the camp
alone. He tried often to make Oachi understand, but he always stopped short
of what he meant to say; his hand would steal to her beautiful hair, and in
Oachi's throat would sound the inimitable little note of happiness. Each
day he was more and more handicapped. For in the joy of her great love
Oachi became more beautiful and her voice still sweeter. By the time the
snows began running down from the mountains and the poplar buds began to
swell she was telling him the most sacred of all sacred things, and one day
she told him of the wonderful world far to the west, painted by the glow of
the setting sun, wherein lay the Valley of Silent Men.
"And that is Heaven--your Heaven," breathed Roscoe. He was almost well now,
but he was sitting on the edge of his bunk, and Oachi knelt in the old
place upon the deer skin at his feet. As he spoke he stroked her hair.
"Tell me," he said, "what sort of a place it is, Oachi."
"It is beautiful," spoke Oachi softly.
"Long, long ago the Great God came down among us and lived for a time; and
He came at a time like that which has just passed, and He saw suffering,
and hunger, and death. And when He saw what life was He made for us another
world, and told us that it should be called the Valley of Silent Men; and
that when we died we would go to this place, and that at last--when all of
our race were gone--He would cause the earth to roll three times, and in
the Valley of Silent Men all would awaken into life which would never know
death, or sorrow, or pain again. And He says that those who love will
awaken there--hand in hand."
"It is beautiful," said Roscoe. He felt himself trembling. Oachi's breath
was against his hand. It was his last fight. He half reached out, as if to
clasp her to him; but beyond her he still saw the other thing--the other
world. He rose to his feet, not daring to look at her now. He loved her too
much to sacrifice her. And it would be a sacrifice. He tried to speak
"Oachi," he said, "I am nearly well enough to travel now. I have spent
pleasant weeks with you, weeks which I shall never forget. But it is time
for me to go back to my people. They are expecting me. They are waiting for
me, and wondering at my absence. I am as you would be if you were down
there in a great city. So I must go. I must go to-morrow, or the next day,
or soon after. Oachi--"
He still looked where he could not see her face. But he heard her move. He
knew that slowly she was drawing away.
She was near the door now, and his eyes turned toward her. She was looking
back, her slender shoulders bent over, her glorious hair rippling to her
knees, as she had left it undone for him. In her eyes was love such as
falls from the heavens. But her face was as white as a mask.
With a cry Roscoe reached out his arms. But Oachi was gone. At last the
Cree girl understood.
* * * * *
Three days later there came in the passing of a single day and night the
splendour of northern spring. The sun rose warm and golden. From the sides
of the mountains and in the valleys water poured forth in rippling, singing
floods. There bakneesh glowed on bared rocks. Moose-birds, and jays, and
wood-thrushes flitted about the camp, and the air was filled with the
fragrant smells of new life bursting from earth, and tree, and shrub. On
this morning of the third day Roscoe strode forth from his tepee, with his
pack upon his back. An Indian guide waited for him outside. He had smoked
his last pipe with the chief, and now he went from tepee to tepee, in the
fashion of the Crees, and drew a single puff from the pipe of each master,
until there was but one tepee left, and in that was Oachi. With a white
face he rubbed his hand over the deer-flap, and waited. Slowly it was drawn
back, and Oachi came out. He had not seen her since the night he had driven
her from him, and he had planned to say things in this last moment which he
might have said then. But words stumbled on his lips. Oachi was changed.
She seemed taller. Her beautiful eyes looked at him clearly and proudly.
For the first time she was to him Oachi, the "Sun Child," a princess of the
First People--the daughter of a Cree chief. He held out his hand, and the
hand which Oachi gave to him was cold and lifeless. She smiled when he told
her that he had come to say good-bye, and when she spoke to him her voice
was as clear as the stream singing through the canon. His own voice
trembled. In spite of his mightiest effort a tightening fist seemed choking
"I am coming back--some day," he managed.
Oachi smiled, with the glory of the morning sun in her eyes and hair. She
turned, still smiling, and pointed far to the west.
"And some day--the Valley of Silent Men will awaken," she said, and
reentered her father's tepee.
Out of the camp staggered Roscoe Cummins behind his Indian guide, a
blinding heat in his eyes. Once or twice a gulping sob rose in his throat,
and he clutched hard at his heart to beat himself into submission to the
great law of life as it had been made for him.
An hour later the two came to a stream where there was a canoe. Because of
rapids and the fierceness of the spring floods, portages were many, and
progress slow during the whole of that day. They had made twenty miles when
the sun began sinking in the west, and they struck camp. After their supper
of meat the Cree rolled himself in his blanket and slept. But for long
hours Roscoe sat beside their fire. Night dropped about him, a splendid
night filled with sweet breaths and stars and a new moon, and with strange
sounds which came to him now in a language which he was beginning to
understand. From far away there floated faintly to his ears the lonely cry
of a wolf, and it no longer made him shudder, but filled him with the
mysterious longing of the cry itself. It was the mate-song of the beast of
prey, sending up its message to the stars--crying out to all the
wilderness for a response to its loneliness. Night birds twittered about
him. A loon laughed in its mocking joy. An owl hooted down at him from the
black top of a tall spruce. From out of starvation and death the wilderness
had awakened. Its sounds spoke to him still of grief, of the suffering that
would never know end; and yet there trembled in them a note of happiness
and of content. Beside the campfire it came to him that in this world he
had discovered two things--a suffering that he had never known, and a peace
he had never known. And Oachi stood for them both. He thought of her until
drowsiness drew a pale film over his eyes. The birch crackled more and more
faintly in the fire and sounds died away. The stillness of sleep fell about
him. Scarce had he fallen into slumber than his eyes seemed to open wide
and wakeful, and out of the gloom beyond the smouldering fire he saw a
human form slowly revealing itself, until there stood clearly within his
vision a figure which he at first took to be that of Mukoki, the chief. But
in another moment he saw that it was even taller than the tall chief, and
that its eyes had searched him out. When he heard a voice, speaking in Cree
the words which mean, "Whither goest thou?" he was startled to hear his
own voice reply: "I am going back to my people."
He stared into vacancy, for at the sound of his voice the vision faded
away; but there came a voice to him back through the night, which said:
"And it is here that you have found that of which you have dreamed--Life,
and the Valley of Silent Men!"
Roscoe was wide awake now. The voice and the vision had seemed so real to
him that he looked about him tremblingly into the starlit gloom of the
forest, as if not quite sure that he had been dreaming. Then he crawled
into his balsam shelter, drew his blankets about him, and fell asleep.
The next day he had little to say to his Indian companion as they made
their way downstream. At each dip of their paddles a deeper sickness seemed
to enter into his heart. Life, after all, he tried to reason, was like a
tailored garment. One might have an ideal, and if that ideal became a
realization it would be found a misfit for one reason or another. So he
told himself, in spite of fill the dreams which had urged him on in the
fight for better things. There flooded upon him now the forceful truth of
what Ransom had said. His work, as he had begun it, was at an end, his
fabric of idealism had fallen into ruins. For he had found all that was
ideal--love, faith, purity, and beauty--and he, Roscoe Cummins, the
idealist, had repulsed them because they were not dressed in the tailored
fashion of his kind. He told himself the truth with brutal directness.
Before him he saw another work in his books, but of a different kind; and
each hour that passed added to the conviction within him that at last that
work would prove a failure. He went off alone into the forest when they
camped, early in the afternoon, and thought of Oachi, who would mourn him
until the end of time. And he--could he forget? What if he had yielded to
temptation, and had taken Oachi with him? She would have come. He knew
that. She would have sacrificed herself to him forever, would have gone
with him into a life which she could not understand, and would never
understand, satisfied to live in his love alone. The old, choking hand
gripped at his heart, and yet with the pain of it there was still a
rejoicing that he had not surrendered to the temptation, that he had been
strong enough to save her.
The last light of the setting sun cast film-like webs of yellow and gold
through the forest as he turned in the direction of camp. It was that hour
in which a wonderful quiet falls upon the wilderness, the last minutes
between night and day, when all wild life seems to shrink in suspensive
waiting for the change. Seven months had taught Roscoe a quiet of his own.
His moccasined feet made no sound. His head was bent, his shoulders had a
tired droop, and his eyes searched for nothing in the mystery about him.
His heart seemed weighted under a pressure that had taken all life from
him, and close above him, in a balsam bough, a night bird twittered. In
response to it a low cry burst from his lips, a cry of loneliness and of
grief. In that moment he saw Oachi again at his feet; he heard the low,
sweet note of love in her throat, so much like that of the bird over his
head; he saw the soft lustre of her hair, the glory of her eyes, looking up
at him from the half gloom of the tepee, telling him that they had found
their god. It was all so near, so real for a moment, that he sprang erect,
his fingers clutching handfuls of moss. He looked toward the camp, and he
saw something move between the rock and the fire.
It was a wolf, he thought, or perhaps a lynx, and drawing his revolver he
moved quickly and silently in its direction. The object had disappeared
behind a little clump of balsam shrub within fifty paces of the camp, and
as he drew nearer, until he was no more than ten paces away, he wondered
why it did not break cover.
There were no trees, and it was quite light where the balsam grew. He
approached, step by step. And then, suddenly, from almost under his hands,
something darted away with a strange, human cry, turning upon him for a
single instant a face that was as white as the white stars of early
night--a face with great, glowing, half-mad eyes. It was Oachi. His pistol
dropped to the ground. His heart stopped beating. No cry, no breath of
sound, came from his paralyzed lips. And like a wild thing Oachi was
fleeing from him into the darkening depths of the forest. Life leaped into
his limbs, and he raced like mad after her, overtaking her with a panting,
joyous cry. When she saw that she was caught the girl turned. Her hair had
fallen, and swept about her shoulders and her body. She tried to speak, but
only bursting sobs came from her breast. As she shrank from him, Roscoe
saw that her clothing was in shreds, and that her thin moccasins were
almost torn from her little feet. The truth held him for another moment
stunned and speechless. Like a lightning flash there recurred to him her
last words: "And some day--the Valley of Silent Men will awaken." He
understood--now. She had followed him, fighting her way through swamp and
forest along the river, hiding from him, and yet keeping him company so
long as her little broken heart could urge her on. And then alone, with a
last prayer for him--_she had planned to kill herself_. He trembled.
Something wonderful happened with him, flooding his soul with day--with a
joy that descended upon him as the Hand of the Messiah must have fallen
upon the heads of the children of Samaria. With a great, glad cry he sprang
toward Oachi and caught her in his arms, crushing her face to him, kissing
her hair and her eyes and her mouth until at last with a strange, soft cry
she put her arms up about his neck and sobbed like a little child upon his
Back in the camp the Indian waited. The white stars grew red. In the forest
the shadows deepened to the chaos of night. Once more there was sound, the
pulse and beat of a life that moves in darkness. In the camp the Indian
grew restless with the thought that Roscoe had wandered away until he was
lost. So at last he fired his rifle.
Oachi started in Roscoe's arms.
"You should go back--alone," she whispered. The old, fluttering love-note
was in her voice, sweeter than the sweetest music to Roscoe Cummins. He
turned her face up, and held it between his two hands.
"If I go there," he said, pointing for a moment into the south, "I go
_alone_. But if I go there--" and he pointed into the north--"I go
_with you_. Oachi, my beloved, I am going with you." He drew her close
again, and asked, almost in a whisper: "And when we awaken in the Valley of
Silent Men, how shall it be, my Oachi?"
And with the sweet love-note, Oachi said in Cree:
"Hand in hand, my master."
Hand in hand they returned to the waiting Indian and the fire.