Part 1 out of 11
Produced by Suzanne Shell, Anita Paque, Shawn Wheeler,
David Schaal, Anuradha Valsa Raj and PG Distributed Proofreaders
THE MAGNETIC NORTH
By ELIZABETH ROBINS
(C. E. Raimond) Author of "The Open Question," "Below the Salt," etc.
_With a Map_
I. WINTER CAMP IN THE YUKON
III. TWO NEW SPISSIMENS
IV. THE BLOW-OUT
V. THE SHAMAN
VI. A PENITENTIAL JOURNEY
VII. KAVIAK'S CRIME
IX. A CHRISTIAN AGNOSTIC
X. PRINCESS MUCKLUCK
XI. HOLY CROSS
XII. THE GREAT WHITE SILENCE
XIII. THE PIT
XV. THE ESQUIMAUX HORSE
XVII. THE GREAT STAMPEDE
XVIII. A MINERS' MEETING
XIX. THE ICE GOES OUT
XX. THE KLONDYKE
XXII. THE GOING HOME
THE MAGNETIC NORTH
WINTER CAMP ON THE YUKON
"To labour and to be content with that a man hath is a sweet life; but
he that findeth a treasure is above them both."--_Ecclesiasticus_.
Of course they were bound for the Klondyke. Every creature in the
North-west was bound for the Klondyke. Men from the South too, and men
from the East, had left their ploughs and their pens, their factories,
pulpits, and easy-chairs, each man like a magnetic needle suddenly set
free and turning sharply to the North; all set pointing the self-same
way since that July day in '97, when the _Excelsior_ sailed into San
Francisco harbour, bringing from the uttermost regions at the top of
the map close upon a million dollars in nuggets and in gold-dust.
Some distance this side of the Arctic Circle, on the right bank of the
Yukon, a little detachment of that great army pressing northward, had
been wrecked early in the month of September.
They had realised, on leaving the ocean-going ship that landed them at
St. Michael's Island (near the mouth of the great river), that they
could not hope to reach Dawson that year. But instead of "getting cold
feet," as the phrase for discouragement ran, and turning back as
thousands did, or putting in the winter on the coast, they determined,
with an eye to the spring rush, to cover as many as possible of the
seventeen hundred miles of waterway before navigation closed.
They knew, in a vague way, that winter would come early, but they had
not counted on the big September storm that dashed their heavy-laden
boats against the floe-ice, ultimately drove them ashore, and nearly
cost the little party their lives. On that last day of the long
struggle up the stream, a stiff north-easter was cutting the middle
reach of the mighty river, two miles wide here, into a choppy and
Day by day, five men in the two little boats, had kept serious eyes on
the shore. Then came the morning when, out of the monotonous cold and
snow-flurries, something new appeared, a narrow white rim forming on
the river margin--the first ice!
"Winter beginning to show his teeth," said one man, with an effort at
Day by day, nearer came the menace; narrower and swifter still ran the
deep black water strip between the encroaching ice-lines. But the
thought that each day's sailing or rowing meant many days nearer the
Klondyke, seemed to inspire a superhuman energy. Day by day each man
had felt, and no man yet had said, "We must camp to-night for eight
months." They had looked landward, shivered, and held on their way.
But on this particular morning, when they took in sail, they realised
it was to be that abomination of desolation on the shore or death. And
one or other speedily.
Nearer the white teeth gleamed, fiercer the gale, swifter the current,
sweeping back the boats. The _Mary C._ was left behind, fighting for
life, while it seemed as if no human power could keep the _Tulare_ from
being hurled against the western shore. Twice, in spite of all they
could do, she was driven within a few feet of what looked like certain
death. With a huge effort, that last time, her little crew had just got
her well in mid-stream, when a heavy roller breaking on the starboard
side drenched the men and half filled the cockpit. Each rower, still
pulling for dear life with one hand, bailed the boat with the other;
but for all their promptness a certain amount of the water froze solid
before they could get it out.
"Great luck, if we're going to take in water like this," said the
cheerful Kentuckian, shipping his oar and knocking off the ice--"great
luck that all the stores are so well protected."
"Protected!" snapped out an anxious, cast-iron-looking man at the
"Yes, protected. How's water to get through the ice-coat that's over
The cast-iron steersman set his jaw grimly. They seemed to be
comparatively safe now, with half a mile of open water between them and
the western shore.
But they sat as before, stiff, alert, each man in his ice jacket that
cracked and crunched as he bent to his oar. Now right, now left, again
they eyed the shore.
Would it be--could it be there they would have to land? And if they
Lord, how it blew!
"Hard a-port!" called out the steersman. There, just ahead, was a great
white-capped "roller" coming--coming, the biggest wave they had
encountered since leaving open sea.
But MacCann, the steersman, swung the boat straight into the crested
roller, and the _Tulare_ took it gamely, "bow on." All was going well
when, just in the boiling middle of what they had thought was foaming
"white-cap," the boat struck something solid, shivered, and went
shooting down, half under water; recovered, up again, and seemed to
pause in a second's doubt on the very top of the great wave. In that
second that seemed an eternity one man's courage snapped.
Potts threw down his oar and swore by----and by----he wouldn't pull
another----stroke on the----Yukon.
While he was pouring out the words, the steersman sprang from the
tiller, and seized Potts' oar just in time to save the boat from
capsizing. Then he and the big Kentuckian both turned on the distracted
"You infernal quitter!" shouted the steersman, and choked with fury.
But even under the insult of that "meanest word in the language," Potts
sat glaring defiantly, with his half-frozen hands in his pockets.
"It ain't a river, anyhow, this ain't," he said. "It's plain, simple
Hell and water."
The others had no time to realise that Potts was clean out of his
senses for the moment, and the Kentuckian, still pulling like mad,
faced the "quitter" with a determination born of terror.
"If you can't row, take the rudder! Damnation! Take that rudder! Quick,
_or we'll kill you_!" And he half rose up, never dropping his oar.
Blindly, Potts obeyed.
The _Tulare_ was free now from the clinging mass at the bow, but they
knew they had struck their first floe.
Farther on they could see other white-caps bringing other ice masses
down. But there was no time for terrors ahead. The gale was steadily
driving them in shore again. Boat and oars alike were growing unwieldy
with their coating of ever-increasing ice, and human strength was no
match for the storm that was sweeping down from the Pole.
Lord, how it blew!
"There's a cove!" called out the Kentuckian. "Throw her in!" he shouted
to Potts. Sullenly the new steersman obeyed.
Rolling in on a great surge, the boat suddenly turned in a boiling
eddy, and the first thing anybody knew was that the _Tulare_ was on her
side and her crew in the water. Potts was hanging on to the gunwale and
damning the others for not helping him to save the boat.
She wasn't much of a boat when finally they got her into quiet water;
but the main thing was they had escaped with their lives and rescued a
good proportion of their winter provisions. All the while they were
doing this last, the Kentuckian kept turning to look anxiously for any
sign of the others, in his heart bitterly blaming himself for having
agreed to Potts' coming into the _Tulare_ that day in place of the
Kentuckian's own "pardner." When they had piled the rescued provisions
up on the bank, and just as they were covering the heap of bacon,
flour, and bean-bags, boxes, tools, and utensils with a tarpaulin, up
went a shout, and the two missing men appeared tramping along the
Where was the _Mary C._? Well, she was at the bottom of the Yukon, and
her crew would like some supper.
They set up a tent, and went to bed that first night extremely well
pleased at being alive on any terms.
But people get over being glad about almost anything, unless misfortune
again puts an edge on the circumstance. The next day, not being in any
immediate danger, the boon of mere life seemed less satisfying.
In detachments they went up the river several miles, and down about as
far. They looked in vain for any sign of the _Mary C._. They prospected
the hills. From the heights behind the camp they got a pretty fair idea
of the surrounding country. It was not reassuring.
"As to products, there seems to be plenty of undersized timber, plenty
of snow and plenty of river, and, as far as I can see, just nothing
"Well, there's oodles o' blueberries," said the Boy, his inky-looking
mouth bearing witness to veracity; "and there are black and red
currants in the snow, and rose-apples--"
"Oh, yes," returned the other, "it's a sort of garden of Eden!"
A little below here it was four miles from bank to bank of the main
channel, but at this point the river was only about two miles wide, and
white already with floating masses of floe-ice going on a swift current
down towards the sea, four hundred miles away.
The right bank presented to the mighty river a low chain of hills,
fringed at the base with a scattered growth of scrubby spruce, birch,
willow, and cotton-wood. Timber line was only two hundred feet above
the river brink; beyond that height, rocks and moss covered with
But if their side seemed cheerless, what of the land on the left bank?
A swamp stretching endlessly on either hand, and back from the icy
flood as far as eye could see, broken only by sloughs and an occasional
"We've been travelling just eight weeks to arrive at this," said the
Kentuckian, looking at the desolate scene with a homesick eye.
"We're not only pretty far from home," grumbled another, "we're still
thirteen hundred miles away from the Klondyke."
These unenlivening calculations were catching.
"We're just about twenty-five hundred miles from the nearest railroad
or telegraph, and, now that winter's down on us, exactly eight months
from anywhere in the civilised world."
They had seen no sign of even savage life, no white trader, nothing to
show that any human foot had ever passed that way before.
In that stillness that was like the stillness of death, they went up
the hillside, with footsteps muffled in the clinging snow; and sixty
feet above the great river, in a part of the wood where the timber was
least unpromising, they marked out a site for their winter quarters.
Then this queer little company--a Denver bank-clerk, an ex-schoolmaster
from Nova Scotia, an Irish-American lawyer from San Francisco, a
Kentucky "Colonel" who had never smelt powder, and "the Boy" (who was
no boy at all, but a man of twenty-two)--these five set to work felling
trees, clearing away the snow, and digging foundations for a couple of
log-cabins--one for the Trio, as they called themselves, the other for
the Colonel and the Boy.
These two had chummed from the hour they met on the steamer that
carried them through the Golden Gate of the Pacific till--well, till
the end of my story.
The Colonel was a big tanned fellow, nearly forty--eldest of the
party--whom the others used to guy discreetly, because you couldn't
mention a place anywhere on the known globe, except the far north,
which he had not personally inspected. But for this foible, as the
untravelled considered it, he was well liked and a little
feared--except by the Boy, who liked him "first-rate," and feared him
not at all. They had promptly adopted each other before they discovered
that it was necessary to have one or more "pardners." It seemed, from
all accounts, to be true, that up there at the top of the world a man
alone is a man lost, and ultimately the party was added to as
Only two of them knew anything about roughing it. Jimmie O'Flynn of
'Frisco, the Irish-American lawyer, had seen something of frontier
life, and fled it, and MacCann, the Nova Scotian schoolmaster, had
spent a month in one of the Caribou camps, and on the strength of that,
proudly accepted the nickname of "the Miner."
Colonel George Warren and Morris Burnet, the Boy, had the best outfits;
but this fact was held to be more than counter-balanced by the value of
the schoolmaster's experience at Caribou, and by the extraordinary
handiness of Potts, the Denver clerk, who had helped to build the
shelter on deck for the disabled sick on the voyage up. This young man
with the big mouth and lazy air had been in the office of a bank ever
since he left school, and yet, under pressure, he discovered a natural
neat-handedness and a manual dexterity justly envied by some of his
fellow-pioneers. His outfit was not more conspicuously meagre than
O'Flynn's, yet the Irishman was held to be the moneyed man of his
party. Just why was never fully developed, but it was always said,
"O'Flynn represents capital"; and O'Flynn, whether on that account, or
for a subtler and more efficient reason, always got the best of
everything that was going without money and without price.
On board ship O'Flynn, with his ready tongue and his golden
background--"representing capital"--was a leading spirit. Potts the
handy-man was a talker, too, and a good second. But, once in camp, Mac
the Miner was cock of the walk, in those first days, quoted "Caribou,"
and ordered everybody about to everybody's satisfaction.
In a situation like this, the strongest lean on the man who has ever
seen "anything like it" before. It was a comfort that anybody even
_thought_ he knew what to do under such new conditions. So the others
looked on with admiration and a pleasant confidence, while Mac boldly
cut a hole in the brand-new tent, and instructed Potts how to make a
flange out of a tin plate, with which to protect the canvas from the
heat of the stove-pipe. No more cooking now in the bitter open.
Everyone admired Mac's foresight when he said:
"We must build rock fireplaces in our cabins, or we'll find our one
little Yukon stove burnt out before the winter is over--before we have
a chance to use it out prospecting." And when Mac said they must pool
their stores, the Colonel and the Boy agreed as readily as O'Flynn,
whose stores consisted of a little bacon, some navy beans, and a
demijohn of whisky. O'Flynn, however, urged that probably every man had
a little "mite o' somethin'" that he had brought specially for
himself--somethin' his friends had given him, for instance. There was
Potts, now. They all knew how the future Mrs. Potts had brought a
plum-cake down to the steamer, when she came to say good-bye, and made
Potts promise he wouldn't unseal the packet till Christmas. It wouldn't
do to pool Potts' cake--never! There was the Colonel, the only man that
had a sack of coffee. He wouldn't listen when they had told him tea was
the stuff up here, and--well, perhaps other fellows didn't miss coffee
as much as a Kentuckian, though he _had_ heard--Never mind; they
wouldn't pool the coffee. The Boy had some preserved fruit that he
seemed inclined to be a hog about--
"Oh, look here. I haven't touched it!" "Just what I'm sayin'. You're
hoardin' that fruit."
It was known that Mac had a very dacint little medicine-chest. Of
course, if any fellow was ill, Mac wasn't the man to refuse him a
little cold pizen; but he must be allowed to keep his own medicine
chest--and that little pot o' Dundee marmalade. As for O'Flynn, he
would look after the "dimmi-john."
But Mac was dead against the whisky clause. Alcohol had been the curse
of Caribou, and in _this_ camp spirits were to be for medicinal
purposes only. Whereon a cloud descended on Mr. O'Flynn, and his health
began to suffer; but the precious demi-john was put away "in stock"
along with the single bottles belonging to the others. Mac had taken an
inventory, and no one in those early days dared touch anything without
They had cut into the mountain-side for a level foundation, and were
hard at it now hauling logs.
"I wonder," said the Boy, stopping a moment in his work, and looking at
the bleak prospect round him--"I wonder if we're going to see anybody
"Oh, sure to," Mac thought; "Indians, anyhow."
"Well, I begin to wish they'd mosy along," said Potts; and the sociable
O'Flynn backed him up.
It was towards noon on the sixth day after landing (they had come to
speak of this now as a voluntary affair), when they were electrified by
hearing strange voices; looked up from their work, and saw two white
men seated on a big cake of ice going down the river with the current.
When they recovered sufficiently from their astonishment at the
spectacle, they ran down the hillside, and proposed to help the
"castaways" to land. Not a bit of it.
"_Land_ in that place! What you take us for? Not much! We're going to
They had a small boat drawn up by them on the ice, and one man was
dressed in magnificent furs, a long sable overcoat and cap, and wearing
quite the air of a North Pole Nabob.
"Got any grub?" Mac called out.
"Yes; want some?"
"Oh no; I thought you--"
"You're not going to try to live through the winter _there?_"
"Lord! you _are_ in a fix!"
"That's we thought about you."
But the travellers on the ice-raft went by laughing and joking at the
men safe on shore with their tents and provisions. It made some of them
visibly uneasy. _Would_ they win through? Were they crazy to try it?
They had looked forward eagerly to the first encounter with their kind,
but this vision floating by on the treacherous ice, of men who rather
dared the current and the crash of contending floes than land where
_they_ were, seemed of evil augury. The little incident left a
curiously sinister impression on the camp.
Even Mac was found agreeing with the others of his Trio that, since
they had a grand, tough time in front of them, it was advisable to get
through the black months ahead with as little wear and tear as
possible. In spite of the Trio's superior talents, they built a small
ramshackle cabin with a tumble-down fireplace, which served them so ill
that they ultimately spent all their waking hours in the more
comfortable quarters of the Colonel and the Boy. It had been agreed
that these two, with the help, or, at all events, the advice, of the
others, should build the bigger, better cabin, where the stores should
be kept and the whole party should mess--a cabin with a solid outside
chimney of stone and an open fireplace, generous of proportion and
ancient of design, "just like down South."
The weather was growing steadily colder; the ice was solid now many
feet out from each bank of the river. In the middle of the flood the
clotted current still ran with floe-ice, but it was plain the river was
settling down for its long sleep.
Not silently, not without stress and thunder. The handful of dwellers
on the shore would be waked in the night by the shock and crash of
colliding floes, the sound of the great winds rushing by, and--"Hush!
What's that?" Tired men would start up out of sleep and sit straight to
listen. Down below, among the ice-packs, the noise as of an old-time
battle going on--tumult and crashing and a boom! boom! like
Then one morning they woke to find all still, the conflict over, the
Yukon frozen from bank to bank. No sound from that day on; no more
running water for a good seven months.
Winter had come.
While the work went forward they often spoke of the only two people
they had thus far seen. Both Potts and O'Flynn had been heard to envy
Mac had happened to say that he believed the fellow in furs was an
Englishman--a Canadian, at the very least. The Americans chaffed him,
and said, "That accounts for it," in a tone not intended to flatter.
Mac hadn't thought of it before, but he was prepared to swear now that
if an Englishman--they were the hardiest pioneers on earth--or a
Canadian was in favour of lighting out, "it must be for some good
"Oh yes; we all know that reason."
The Americans laughed, and Mac, growing hot, was goaded into vaunting
the Britisher and running down the Yankee.
"Yankee!" echoed the Kentuckian. "And up in Nova Scotia they let this
man teach school! Doesn't know the difference yet between the little
corner they call New England and all the rest of America."
"All the rest of America!" shouted Mac. "The cheeky way you people of
the States have of gobbling the Continent (in _talk_), just as though
the British part of it wasn't the bigger half!"
"Yes; but when you think _which_ half, you ought to be obliged to any
fellow for forgetting it." And then they referred to effete monarchical
institutions, and by the time they reached the question of the kind of
king the Prince of Wales would make, Mac was hardly a safe man to argue
There was one bond between him and the Kentucky Colonel: they were both
religious men; and although Mac was blue Presbyterian and an inveterate
theologian, somehow, out here in the wilderness, it was more possible
to forgive a man for illusions about the Apostolic Succession and
mistaken views upon Church government. The Colonel, at all events, was
not so lax but what he was ready to back up the Calvinist in an
endeavour to keep the Sabbath (with a careful compromise between church
and chapel) and help him to conduct a Saturday-night Bible-class.
But if the Boy attended the Bible-class with fervour and aired his
heresies with uncommon gusto, if he took with equal geniality Colonel
Warren's staid remonstrance and Mac's fiery objurgation, Sunday morning
invariably found him more "agnostic" than ever, stoutly declining to
recognise the necessity for "service." For this was an occasion when
you couldn't argue or floor anybody, or hope to make Mac "hoppin' mad,"
or have the smallest kind of a shindy. The Colonel read the lessons,
Mac prayed, and they all sang, particularly O'Flynn. Now, the Boy
couldn't sing a note, so there was no fair division of entertainment,
wherefore he would go off into the woods with his gun for company, and
the Catholic O'Flynn, and even Potts, were in better odour than he
"down in camp" on Sundays. So far you may travel, and yet not escape
the tyranny of the "outworn creeds."
The Boy came back a full hour before service on the second Sunday with
a couple of grouse and a beaming countenance. Mac, who was cook that
week, was the only man left in the tent. He looked agreeably surprised
at the apparition.
"Hello!" says he more pleasantly than his Sunday gloom usually
permitted. "Back in time for service?"
"I've found a native," says the Boy, speaking as proudly as any
Columbus. "He's hurt his foot, and he's only got one eye, but he's
splendid. Told me no end of things. He's coming here as fast as his
foot will let him--he and three other Indians--Esquimaux, I mean. They
haven't had anything to eat but berries and roots for seven days."
The Boy was feverishly overhauling the provisions behind the stove.
"Look here," says Mac, "hold on there. I don't know that we've come all
this way to feed a lot o' dirty savages."
"But they're starving." Then, seeing that that fact did not produce the
desired impression: "My savage is an awfully good fellow. He--he's a
converted savage, seems to be quite a Christian." Then, hastily
following up his advantage: "He's been taught English by the Jesuits at
the mission forty miles above us, on the river. He can give us a whole
heap o' tips."
Mac was slowly bringing out a small panful of cold boiled beans.
"There are four of them," said the Boy--"big fellows, almost as big as
our Colonel, and _awful_ hungry."
Mac looked at the handful of beans and then at the small sheet-iron
"There are more cooking," says he not over-cordially.
"The one that talks good English is the son of the chief. You can see
he's different from the others. Knows a frightful lot. He's taught me
some of his language already. The men with him said 'Kaiomi' to
everything I asked, and that means 'No savvy.' Says he'll teach
me--he'll teach all of us--how to snow-shoe."
"We know how to snow-shoe."
"Oh, I mean on those long narrow snow-shoes that make you go so fast
you always trip up! He'll show us how to steer with a pole, and how to
make fish-traps and--and everything."
Mac began measuring out some tea.
"He's got a team of Esquimaux dogs--calls 'em Mahlemeuts, and he's got
a birch-bark canoe, and a skin kyak from the coast." Then with an
inspiration: "His people are the sort of Royal Family down there,"
added the Boy, thinking to appeal to the Britisher's monarchical
Mac had meditatively laid his hand on a side of bacon, the Boy's eyes
"He's asked us--_all_ of us, and we're five--up to visit him at Pymeut,
the first village above us here." Mac took up a knife to cut the bacon.
"And--good gracious! why, I forgot the grouse; they can have the
"No, they can't," said Mac firmly; "they're lucky to get bacon."
The Boy's face darkened ominously. When he looked like that the elder
men found it was "healthiest to give him his head." But the young face
cleared as quickly as it had clouded. After all, the point wasn't worth
fighting for, since grouse would take time to cook, and--here were the
natives coming painfully along the shore.
The Boy ran out and shouted and waved his cap. The other men of the
camp, who had gone in the opposite direction, across the river ice to
look at an air-hole, came hurrying back and reached camp about the same
time as the visitors.
"Thought you said they were big fellows!" commented Mac, who had come
to the door for a glimpse of the Indians as they toiled up the slope.
"Well, so they are!"
"Why, the Colonel would make two of any one of them."
"The Colonel! Oh well, you can't expect anybody else to be quite as big
as that. I was in a hurry, but I suppose what I meant was, they could
eat as much as the Colonel."
"How do you know?"
"Well, just look how broad they are. It doesn't matter to your stomach
whether you're big up and down, or big to and fro."
"It's their furs make 'em look like that. They're the most awful little
runts I ever saw!"
"Well, I reckon _you'd_ think they were big, too--big as Nova
Scotia--if _you'd_ found 'em--come on 'em suddenly like that in the
"Which is the...?"
"Oh, the son of the chief is in the middle, the one who is taking off
his civilised fur-coat. He says his father's got a heap of pelts (you
could get things for your collection, Mac), and he's got two
reindeer-skin shirts with hoods--'parkis,' you know, like the others
They were quite near now.
"How do," said the foremost native affably.
"How do." The Boy came forward and shook hands as though he hadn't seen
him for a month. "This," says he, turning first to Mac and then to the
other white men, "this is Prince Nicholas of Pymeut. Walk right in, all
of you, and have something to eat."
The visitors sat on the ground round the stove, as close as they could
get without scorching, and the atmosphere was quickly heavy with their
presence. When they slipped back their hoods it was seen that two of
the men wore the "tartar tonsure," after the fashion of the coast.
"Where do you come from?" inquired the Colonel of the man nearest him,
who simply blinked and was dumb.
"This is the one that talks English," said the Boy, indicating Nicholas,
"and he lives at Pymeut, and he's been converted."
"How far is Pymeut?"
"We sleep Pymeut to-night," says Nicholas.
The native jerked his head up the river.
"Many people there?"
"White men, too?"
He shook his head.
"How far to the nearest white men?"
Nicholas's mind wandered from the white man's catechism and fixed
itself on his race's immemorial problem: how far it was to the nearest
thing to eat.
"I thought you said he could speak English."
"So he can, first rate. He and I had a great pow-wow, didn't we,
Nicholas smiled absently, and fixed his one eye on the bacon that Mac
was cutting on the deal box into such delicate slices.
"He'll talk all right," said the Boy, "when he's had some breakfast."
Mac had finished the cutting, and now put the frying-pan on an open
hole in the little stove.
"Cook him?" inquired Nicholas.
"Yes. Don't you cook him?"
"Take heap time, cook him."
"You couldn't eat it raw!"
Nicholas nodded emphatically.
Mac said "No," but the Boy was curious to see if they would really eat
"Let them have _some_ of it raw while the rest is frying"; and he
beckoned the visitors to the deal box. They made a dart forward,
gathered up the fat bacon several slices at a time, and pushed it into
"Ugh!" said the Colonel under his breath.
Mac quickly swept what was left into the frying-pan, and began to cut a
The Boy divided the cold beans, got out biscuits, and poured the tea,
while silence and a strong smell of ancient fish and rancid seal
pervaded the little tent.
O'Flynn put a question or two, but Nicholas had gone stone-deaf. There
was no doubt about it, they had been starving.
After a good feed they sat stolidly by the fire, with no sign of
consciousness, save the blinking of beady eyes, till the Colonel
suggested a smoke. Then they all grinned broadly, and nodded with great
vigour. Even those who had no other English understood "tobacco."
When he had puffed awhile, Nicholas took his pipe out of his mouth,
and, looking at the Boy, said:
"You no savvy catch fish in winter?"
"Through the ice? No. How you do it?"
"Make hole--put down trap--heap fish all winter."
"You get enough to live on?" asked the Colonel.
"They must have dried fish, too, left over from the summer," said Mac.
Nicholas agreed. "And berries and flour. When snow begin get soft,
Pymeuts all go off--" He motioned with his big head towards the hills.
"What do you get there?" Mac was becoming interested.
"Yes; trap ermun, marten--"
"Lynx, too, I suppose, and fox?"
Nicholas nodded. "All kinds. Wolf--muskrat, otter--wolverine--all
"You got some skins now?" asked the Nova Scotian.
"Y--yes. More when snow get soft. You come Pymeut--me show."
"Where have ye been just now?" asked O'Flynn.
"How long since ye left there?"
"He means thirteen days."
"They couldn't possibly walk that far in--"
"Oh yes," says the Boy; "they don't follow the windings of the river,
they cut across the portage, you know."
"Snow come--no trail--big mountains--all get lost."
"What did you go to St. Michael's for?"
"Oh, me pilot. Me go all over. Me leave N. A. T. and T. boat St.
Michael's last trip."
"Then you're in the employ of the great North American Trading and
Nicholas gave that funny little duck of the head that meant yes.
"That's how you learnt English," says the Colonel.
"No; me learn English at Holy Cross. Me been baptize."
"At that Jesuit mission up yonder?"
"Well," says Potts, "I guess you've had enough walking for one winter."
Nicholas seemed not to follow this observation. The Boy interpreted:
"You heap tired, eh? You no go any more long walk till ice go out, eh?"
"Me go Ikogimeut--all Pymeut go."
"Oh, the Russian mission there gives a feast?"
"No. Big Innuit feast."
"Pretty quick. Every year big feast down to Ikogimeut when Yukon ice
get hard, so man go safe with dog-team."
"Do many people go?"
"All Innuit go, plenty Ingalik go."
"How far do they come?"
"All over; come from Koserefsky, come from Anvik--sometime Nulato."
"Why, Nulato's an awful distance from Ikogimeut."
"Three hundred and twenty miles," said the pilot, proud of his general
information, and quite ready, since he had got a pipe between his
teeth, to be friendly and communicative.
"What do you do at Ikogimeut when you have these--" "Big fire--big
feed--tell heap stories--big dance. Oh, heap big time!"
"Once every year, eh, down at Ikogimeut?"
"Three times ev' year. Ev' village, and"--he lowered his voice, not
with any hit of reverence or awe, but with an air of making a sly and
cheerful confidence--"and when man die."
"You make a feast and have a dance when a friend dies?"
"If no priests. Priests no like. Priests say, 'Man no dead; man gone
up.'" Nicholas pondered the strange saying, and slowly shook his head.
"In that the priests are right," said Mac grudgingly.
It was anything but politic, but for the life of him the Boy couldn't
help chipping in:
"You think when man dead he stay dead, eh, and you might as well make a
Nicholas gave his quick nod. "We got heap muskeetah, we cold, we
hungry. We here heap long time. Dead man, he done. Why no big feast? Oh
yes, heap big feast."
The Boy was enraptured. He would gladly have encouraged these pagan
deliverances on the part of the converted Prince, but the Colonel was
scandalised, and Mac, although in his heart of hearts not ill-satisfied
at the evidence of the skin-deep Christianity of a man delivered over
to the corrupt teaching of the Jesuits, found in this last fact all the
stronger reason for the instant organisation of a good Protestant
prayer-meeting. Nicholas of Pymeut must not be allowed to think it was
only Jesuits who remembered the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
And the three "pore benighted heathen" along with him, if they didn't
understand English words, they should have an object-lesson, and Mac
would himself pray the prayers they couldn't utter for themselves. He
jumped up, motioned the Boy to put on more wood, cleared away the
granite-ware dishes, filled the bean-pot and set it back to simmer,
while the Colonel got out Mac's Bible and his own Prayer-Book.
The Boy did his stoking gloomily, reading aright these portents. Almost
eclipsed was joy in this "find" of his (for he regarded the precious
Nicholas as his own special property). It was all going to end in
his--the Boy's--being hooked in for service. As long as the Esquimaux
were there _he_ couldn't, of course, tear himself away. And here was
the chance they'd all been waiting for. Here was a native chock-full of
knowledge of the natural law and the immemorial gospel of the North,
who would be gone soon--oh, very soon, if Mac and the Colonel went on
like this--and they were going to choke off Nicholas's communicativeness
"It's Sunday, you know," says the Colonel to the Prince, laying open
his book, "and we were just going to have church. You are accustomed to
going to church at Holy Cross, aren't you?"
"When me kid me go church."
"You haven't gone since you grew up? They still have church there,
"Oh, Father Brachet, him have church."
"Why don't you go?"
Nicholas was vaguely conscious of threatened disapproval.
"Me ... me must take up fish-traps."
"Can't you do that another day?"
It seemed not to have occurred to Nicholas before. He sat and
considered the matter.
"Isn't Father Brachet," began the Colonel gravely--"he doesn't like it,
does he, when you don't come to church?"
"He take care him church; him know me take care me fish-trap."
But Nicholas saw plainly out of his one eye that he was not growing in
popularity. Suddenly that solitary organ gleamed with self-justification.
"Me bring fish to Father Brachet and to Mother Aloysius and the
Mac and the Colonel exchanged dark glances.
"Do Mother Aloysius and the Sisters live where Father Brachet does?"
"Father Brachet, and Father Wills, and Brother Paul, and Brother
Etienne, all here." The native put two fingers on the floor. "Big white
cross in middle"--he laid down his pipe to personate the
cross--"here"--indicating the other side--"here Mother Aloysius and the
"I thought," says Mac, "we'd be hearing of a convent convenient."
"Me help Father Brachet," observed Nicholas proudly. "Me show him boys
how make traps, show him girls how make mucklucks." "_What_!" gasps the
horrified Mac, "Father Brachet has got a family?"
"Famly?" inquired Nicholas. "Kaiomi"; and he shook his head
"You say Father Brachet has got boys, and"--as though this were a yet
deeper brand of iniquity--"_girls_?"
Nicholas, though greatly mystified, nodded firmly.
"I suppose he thinks away off up here nobody will ever know. Oh, these
"How many children has this shameless priest?"
"Father Brachet, him got seventeen boys, and--me no savvy how much
girl--twelve girl ... twenty girl ..."
The Boy, who had been splitting with inward laughter, exploded at this
"He keeps a native school, Mac."
"Yes," says Nicholas, "teach boy make table, chair, potatoes grow--all
kinds. Sisters teach girl make dinner, wash--all kinds. Heap good
people up at Holy Cross."
"Divil a doubt of it," says O'Flynn.
But this blind belauding of the children of Loyola only fired Mac the
more to give the heathen a glimpse of the true light. In what darkness
must they grope when a sly, intriguing Jesuit (it was well known they
were all like that) was for them a type of the "heap good man"--a
priest, forsooth, who winked at Sabbath-breaking because he and his
neighbouring nuns shared in the spoil!
Well, they must try to have a truly impressive service. Mac and the
Colonel telegraphed agreement on this head. Savages were said to be
specially touched by music.
"I suppose when you were a kid the Jesuits taught you chants and so
on," said the Colonel, kindly.
"Kaiomi," answered Nicholas after reflection.
"You can sing, can't you?" asks O'Flynn.
"Sing? No, me dance!"
The Boy roared with delight.
"Why, yes, I never thought of that. You fellows do the songs, and
Nicholas and I'll do the dances."
Mac glowered angrily. "Look here: if you don't mind being blasphemous
for yourself, don't demoralise the natives."
"Well, I like that! Didn't Miriam dance before the Lord? Why shouldn't
Nicholas and me?"
The Colonel cleared his throat, and began to read the lessons for the
day. The natives sat and watched him closely. They really behaved very
well, and the Boy was enormously proud of his new friends. There was a
great deal at stake. The Boy felt he must walk warily, and he already
regretted those light expressions about dancing before the Lord. All
the fun of the winter might depend on a friendly relation between
Pymeut and the camp. It was essential that the Esquimaux should not
only receive, but make, a good impression.
The singing "From Greenland's icy mountains to India's coral strand"
seemed to please them; but when, after the Colonel's "Here endeth the
second lesson," Mac said, in sepulchral tones, "Let us pray," the
visitors seemed to think it was time to go home.
"No," said Mac sternly, "they mustn't go in the middle of the meeting";
and he proceeded to kneel down.
But Nicholas was putting on his fur coat, and the others only waited to
follow him out. The Boy, greatly concerned lest, after all, the visit
should end badly, dropped on his knees to add the force of his own
example, and through the opening phrases of Mac's prayer the agnostic
was heard saying, in a loud stage-whisper, "Do like me--down! Look
here! Suppose you ask us come big feast, and in the middle of your
dance we all go home--.
"Oh no," remonstrated Nicholas.
"Very well. These friends o' mine no like man go home in the middle.
They heap mad at me when I no stay. You savvy?"
"Me savvy," says Nicholas slowly and rather depressed.
"Kneel down, then," says the Boy. And first Nicholas, and then the
others, went on their knees.
Alternately they looked in the Boy's corner where the grub was, and
then over their shoulders at the droning Mac and back, catching the
Boy's eye, and returning his reassuring nods and grins.
Mac, who had had no innings up to this point, was now embarked upon a
most congenial occupation. Wrestling with the Lord on behalf of the
heathen, he lost count of time. On and on the prayer wound its slow
way; involution after involution, coil after coil, like a snake, the
Boy thought, lazing in the sun. Unaccustomed knees grew sore.
"Hearken to the cry of them that walk in darkness, misled by wolves in
sheep's clothing--_wolves_, Lord, wearing the sign of the Holy Cross--"
O'Flynn shuffled, and Mac pulled himself up. No light task this of
conveying to the Creator, in covert terms, a due sense of the iniquity
of the Jesuits, without, at the same time, stirring O'Flynn's bile, and
seeing him get up and stalk out of meeting, as had happened once
O'Flynn was not deeply concerned about religious questions, but "there
were limits." The problem was how to rouse the Lord without rousing
O'Flynn--a piece of negotiation so delicate, calling for a skill in
pious invective so infinitely absorbing to Mac's particular cast of
mind, that he was quickly stone-blind and deaf to all things else.
"Not all the heathen are sunk in iniquity; but they are weak, tempted,
and they weary, Lord!"
"Amen," said the Boy, discreetly. "How long?" groaned Mac--"Oh Lord,
how long?" But it was much longer than he realised. The Boy saw the
visitors shifting from one knee to another, and feared the worst. But
he sympathised deeply with their predicament. To ease his own legs, he
changed his position, and dragged a corner of the sailcloth down off
the little pile of provisions, and doubled it under his knees.
The movement revealed the bag of dried apples within arm's length.
Nicholas was surreptitiously reaching for his coat. No doubt about it,
he had come to the conclusion that this was the fitting moment to
depart. A look over his shoulder showed Mac absorbed, and taking fresh
breath at "Sixthly, Oh Lord." The Boy put out a hand, and dragged the
apple-bag slowly, softly towards him. The Prince dropped the sleeve of
his coat, and fixed his one eye on his friend. The Boy undid the neck
of the sack, thrust in his hand, and brought out a fistfull. Another
look at Mac--still hard at it, trying to spare O'Flynn's feelings
without mincing matters with the Almighty.
The Boy winked at Nicholas, made a gesture, "Catch!" and fired a bit of
dried apple at him, at the same time putting a piece in his own mouth
to show him it was all right.
Nicholas followed suit, and seemed pleased with the result. He showed
all his strong, white teeth, and ecstatically winked his one eye back
at the Boy, who threw him another bit and then a piece to each of the
The Colonel had "caught on," and was making horrible frowns at the Boy.
Potts and O'Flynn looked up, and in dumbshow demanded a share. No? Very
well, they'd tell Mac. So the Boy had to feed them, too, to keep them
quiet. And still Mac prayed the Lord to catch up this slip he had made
here on the Yukon with reference to the natives. In the midst of a
powerful peroration, he happened to open his eyes a little, and they
fell on the magnificent great sable collar of Prince Nicholas's coat.
Without any of the usual slowing down, without the accustomed warning
of a gradual descent from the high themes of heaven to the things of
common earth, Mac came down out of the clouds with a bump, and the
sudden, business-like "Amen" startled all the apple-chewing
Mac stood up, and says he to Nicholas:
"Where did you get that coat?"
Nicholas, still on his knees, stared, and seemed in doubt if this were
a part of the service.
"Where did you get that coat?" repeated Mac.
The Boy had jumped up nimbly. "I told you his father has a lot of
"No," says Nicholas; "this belong white man."
"Ha," says Mac excitedly, "I thought I'd seen it before. Tell us how
you got it."
"Me leave St. Michael; me got ducks, reindeer meat--oh, _plenty_
kow-kow! [Footnote: Food] Two sleeps away St. Michael me meet Indian.
Heap hungry. Him got bully coat." Nicholas picked it up off the floor.
"Him got no kow-kow. Him say, 'Give me duck, give me back-fat. You take
coat, him too heavy.' Me say, 'Yes.'"
"But how did he get the coat?"
"Him say two white men came down river on big ice."
"Men sick." He tapped his forehead. "Man no sick, he no go down with
the ice"; and Nicholas shuddered. "Before Ikogimeut, ice jam. Indian
see men jump one big ice here, more big ice here, and one... go down.
Indian"--Nicholas imitated throwing out a line--"man tie mahout
round--but--big ice come--" Nicholas dashed his hands together, and
then paused significantly. "Indian sleep there. Next day ice hard.
Indian go little way out to see. Man dead. Him heap good coat," he
wound up unemotionally, and proceeded to put it on.
"And the other white man--what became of him?"
Nicholas shrugged: "Kaiomi," though it was plain he knew well enough
the other lay under the Yukon ice.
"And that--_that_ was the end of the fellows who went by jeering at
"We'd better not crow yet," said Mac. And they bade Prince Nicholas and
his heathen retinue good-bye in a mood chastened not by prayer alone.
"There is a sort of moral climate in a household."--JOHN MORLEY.
No idle ceremony this, but the great problem of the dwellers in the
country of the Yukon.
The Colonel and the Boy made up their minds that, whatever else they
had or had not, they would have a warm house to live in. And when they
had got it, they would have a "Blow-out" to celebrate the achievement.
"We'll invite Nicholas," says the Boy. "I'll go to Pymeut myself, and
let him know we are going to have 'big fire, big feed. Oh, heap big
If the truth were told, it had been a difficult enough matter to keep
away from Pymeut since the hour Nicholas had vanished in that
direction; but until winter quarters were made, and until they were
proved to be warm, there was no time for the amenities of life.
The Big Cabin (as it was quite seriously called, in contradistinction
to the hut of the Trio) consisted of a single room, measuring on the
outside sixteen feet by eighteen feet.
The walls of cotton-wood logs soared upward to a level of six feet, and
this height was magnificently increased in the middle by the angle of
the mildly gable roof. But before the cabin was breast-high the Boy had
begun to long for a window.
"Sorry we forgot the plate-glass," says Mac.
"Wudn't ye like a grrand-piana?" asks O'Flynn.
"What's the use of goin' all the way from Nova Scotia to Caribou," says
the Boy to the Schoolmaster-Miner, "if you haven't learned the way to
make a window like the Indians, out of transparent skin?"
Mac assumed an air of elevated contempt.
"I went to mine, not to learn Indian tricks."
"When the door's shut it'll be dark as the inside of a cocoa-nut."
"You ought to have thought of that before you left the sunny South,"
"It'll be dark all winter, window or no window," Mac reminded them.
"Never mind," said the Colonel, "when the candles give out we'll have
the fire-light. Keep all the spruce knots, boys!"
But one of the boys was not pleased. The next day, looking for a
monkey-wrench under the tarpaulin, he came across the wooden box a
California friend had given him at parting, containing a dozen tall
glass jars of preserved fruit. The others had growled at the extra bulk
and weight, when the Boy put the box into the boat at St. Michael's,
but they had now begun to look kindly on it and ask when it was to be
opened. He had answered firmly:
"Not before Christmas," modifying this since Nicholas's visit to "Not
before the House-Warming." But one morning the Boy was found pouring
the fruit out of the jars into some empty cans.
"What you up to?"
"Wait an' see." He went to O'Flynn, who was dish-washer that week, got
him to melt a couple of buckets of snow over the open-air campfire and
wash the fruit-jars clean.
"Now, Colonel," says the Boy, "bring along that buck-saw o' yours and
lend a hand."
They took off the top log from the south wall of the cabin, measured a
two-foot space in the middle, and the Colonel sawed out the superfluous
spruce intervening. While he went on doing the same for the other logs
on that side, the Boy roughly chiselled a moderately flat sill. Then
one after another he set up six of the tall glass jars in a row, and
showed how, alternating with the other six bottles turned upside down,
the thick belly of one accommodating itself to the thin neck of the
other, the twelve made a very decent rectangle of glass. When they had
hoisted up, and fixed in place, the logs on each side, and the big
fellow that went all across on top; when they had filled the
inconsiderable cracks between the bottles with some of the mud-mortar
with which the logs were to be chinked, behold a double glass window
fit for a king!
The Boy was immensely pleased.
"Oh, that's an old dodge," said Mac depreciatingly. "Why, they did that
"Then, why in--Why didn't you suggest it?"
"You wait till you know more about this kind o' life, and you won't go
in for fancy touches."
Nevertheless, the man who had mined at Caribou seemed to feel that some
contribution from him was necessary to offset the huge success of that
window. He did not feel called upon to help to split logs for the roof
of the Big Cabin, but he sat cutting and whittling away at a little
shelf which he said was to be nailed up at the right of the Big Cabin
door. Its use was not apparent, but no one dared call it a "fancy
touch," for Mac was a miner, and had been to Caribou.
When the shelf was nailed up, its maker brought forth out of his
medicine-chest a bottle of Perry Davis's Pain-killer.
"Now at Caribou," says he, "they haven't got any more thermometers
kicking round than we have here, but they discovered that when Perry
Davis congeals you must keep a sharp look-out for frost-bite, and when
Perry Davis freezes solid, you'd better mind your eye and stay in your
cabin, if you don't want to die on the trail." With which he tied a
string round Perry Davis's neck, set the bottle up on the shelf, and
secured it firmly in place. They all agreed it was a grand advantage to
have been to Caribou!
But Mac knew things that he had probably not learned there, about
trees, and rocks, and beasts, and their manners and customs and family
names. If there were more than a half-truth in the significant lament
of a very different man, "I should be a poet if only I knew the names
of things," then, indeed, Samuel MacCann was equipped to make a mark in
From the time he set foot on the volcanic shore of St Michael's Island,
Mac had begun his "collection."
Nowadays, when he would spend over "that truck of his" hours that might
profitably (considering his talents) be employed in helping to fortify
the camp against the Arctic winter, his companions felt it little use
By themselves they got on rapidly with work on the roof, very much
helped by three days' unexpectedly mild weather. When the split logs
had been marshalled together on each side of the comb, they covered
them with dried moss and spruce boughs.
Over all they laid a thick blanket of the earth which had been dug out
to make a level foundation. The cracks in the walls were chinked with
moss and mud-mortar. The floor was the naked ground, "to be carpeted
with skins by-and-by," so Mac said; but nobody believed Mac would put a
skin to any such sensible use.
The unreasonable mildness of three or four days and the little surface
thaw, came to an abrupt end in a cold rain that turned to sleet as it
fell. Nobody felt like going far afield just then, even after game, but
they had set the snare that Nicholas told the Boy about on that first
encounter in the wood. Nicholas, it seemed, had given him a noose made
of twisted sinew, and showed how it worked in a running loop. He had
illustrated the virtue of this noose when attached to a pole balanced
in the crotch of a tree, caught over a horizontal stick by means of a
small wooden pin tied to the snare. A touch at the light end of the
suspended pole (where the baited loop dangles) loosens the pin, and the
heavy end of the pole falls, hanging ptarmigan or partridge in the air.
For some time after rigging this contrivance, whenever anyone reported
"tracks," Mac and the Boy would hasten to the scene of action, and set
a new snare, piling brush on each side of the track that the game had
run in, so barring other ways, and presenting a line of least
resistance straight through the loop.
In the early days Mac would come away from these preparations saying
with dry pleasure:
"Now, with luck, we may get a _Xema Sabinii_," or some such fearful
"Good to eat?" the Boy would ask, having had his disappointments ere
now in moments of hunger for fresh meat, when Mac, with the nearest
approach to enthusiasm he permitted himself, had brought in some
miserable little hawk-owl or a three-toed woodpecker to add, not to the
larder, but to the "collection."
"No, you don't _eat_ Sabine gulls," Mac would answer pityingly.
But those snares never seemed to know what they were there for. The
first one was set expressly to catch one of the commonest birds that
fly--Mac's _Lagopus albus_, the beautiful white Arctic grouse, or at
the very least a _Bonasa umbellus_, which, being interpreted, is ruffed
ptarmigan. The tracks had been bird tracks, but the creature that swung
in the air next day was a baby hare. The Schoolmaster looked upon the
incident as being in the nature of a practical joke, and resented it.
But the others were enchanted, and professed thereafter a rooted
suspicion of the soundness of the Schoolmaster's Natural History, which
nobody actually felt. For he had never yet pretended to know anything
that he didn't know well; and when Potts would say something
disparaging of Mac's learning behind his back (which was against the
unwritten rules of the game) the Colonel invariably sat on Potts.
"Knows a darned sight too much? No, he _don't_, sir; that's just the
remarkable thing about Mac. He isn't trying to carry any more than he
At the same time it is to be feared that none of his companions really
appreciated the pedagogue's learning. Nor had anyone but the Boy
sympathised with his resolution to make a Collection. What they wanted
was eatable game, and they affected no intelligent interest in knowing
the manners and customs of the particular species that was sending up
appetising odours from the pot.
They even applauded the rudeness of the Boy, who one day responded to
Mac's gravely jubilant "Look here! I've got the _Parus Hudsonicus_!"--
"Poor old man! What do you do for it?"
And when anybody after that was indisposed, they said he might be
sickening for an attack of Parus Hudsonicus, and in that case it was a
Well for Mac that he wouldn't have cared a red cent to impress the
greatest naturalist alive, let alone a lot of fellows who didn't know a
titmouse from a disease.
Meanwhile work on the Big Cabin had gone steadily forward. From the
outside it looked finished now, and distinctly imposing. From what were
left of the precious planks out of the bottom of the best boat they had
made the door--two by four, and opening directly in front of that
masterpiece, the rock fireplace. The great stone chimney was the pride
of the camp and the talk before the winter was done of all "the Lower
Spurred on partly by the increased intensity of the cold, partly by the
Colonel's nonsense about the way they did it "down South," Mac roused
himself, and turned out a better piece of masonry for the Big Cabin
than he had thought necessary for his own. But everybody had a share in
the glory of that fireplace. The Colonel, Potts, and the Boy selected
the stone, and brought it on a rude litter out of a natural quarry from
a place a mile or more away up on the bare mountain-side. O'Flynn mixed
and handed up the mud-mortar, while Mac put in some brisk work with it
before it stiffened in the increasing cold.
Everybody was looking forward to getting out of the tent and into the
warm cabin, and the building of the fireplace stirred enthusiasm. It
was two and a half feet deep, three and a half feet high, and four feet
wide, and when furnished with ten-inch hack logs, packed in glowing
ashes and laid one above another, with a roaring good blaze in front of
birch and spruce, that fire would take a lot of beating, as the Boy
admitted, "even in the tat-pine Florida country."
But no fire on earth could prevent the cabin from being swept through,
the moment the door was opened, by a fierce and icy air-current. The
late autumnal gales revealed the fact that the sole means of
ventilation had been so nicely contrived that whoever came in or went
out admitted a hurricane of draught that nearly knocked him down. Potts
said it took a good half-hour, after anyone had opened the door, to
heat the place up again.
"What! You cold?" inquired the usual culprit. The Boy had come in to
put an edge on his chopper. "It's stopped snowin', an' you better come
along with me, Potts. Swing an axe for a couple of hours--that'll warm
"I've got rheumatism in my shoulder to-day," says Potts, hugging the
huge fire closer.
"And you've got something wrong with your eyes, eh, Mac?"
Potts narrowed his and widened the great mouth; but he had turned his
head so Mac couldn't see him.
The Nova Scotian only growled and refilled his pipe. Up in the woods
the Boy repeated the conversation to the Colonel, who looked across at
O'Flynn several yards away, and said: "Hush!"
"Why must I shut up? Mac's _eyes_ do look rather queer and bloodshot. I
should think he'd rather feel we lay it to his eyes than know we're
afraid he's peterin' out altogether."
"I never said I was afraid--"
"No, you haven't _said_ much." "I haven't opened my head about it."
"No, but you've tried hard enough for five or six days to get Mac to
the point where he would come out and show us how to whip-saw. You
haven't _said_ anything, but you've--you've got pretty dignified each
time you failed, and we all know what that means."
"We ought to have begun sawing boards for our bunks and swing-shelf a
week back, before this heavy snowfall. Besides, there's enough
fire-wood now; we're only marking time until--"
"Until Mac's eyes get all right. I understand."
Again the Colonel had made a sound like "Sh!" and went on swinging his
They worked without words till the Boy's tree came down. Then he
stopped a moment, and wiped his face.
"It isn't so cold to-day, not by a long shot, for all Potts's howling
about his rheumatics."
"It isn't cold that starts that kind of pain."
"No, siree. I'm not much of a doctor, but I can see Potts's rheumatism
doesn't depend on the weather."
"Never you mind Potts."
"I don't mind Potts. I only mind Mac. What's the matter with Mac,
"Oh, he's just got cold feet. Maybe he'll thaw out by-and-by."
"Did you ever think what Mac's like? With that square-cut jaw and
sawed-off nose, everything about him goin' like this"--the Boy
described a few quick blunt angles in the air--"well, sir, he's the
livin' image of a monkey-wrench. I'm comin' to think he's as much like
it inside as he is out. He can screw up for a prayer-meetin', or he can
screw down for business--when he's a mind, but, as Jimmie over there
says, 'the divil a different pace can you put him through.' I _like_
monkey-wrenches! I'm only sayin' they aren't as limber as willa-trees."
No response from the Colonel, who was making the chips fly. It had cost
his great body a good many aches and bruises, but he was a capital
axeman now, and not such a bad carpenter, though when the Boy said as
much he had answered:
"Carpenter! I'm just a sort of a well-meanin' wood-butcher"; and deeply
he regretted that in all his young years on a big place in the country
he had learnt so little about anything but horses and cattle.
On the way back to dinner they spoke again of this difficulty of the
boards. O'Flynn whistled "Rory O'More" with his pleasant air of
"You and the others would take more interest in the subject," said the
Boy a little hotly, "if we hadn't let you fellows use nearly all the
boat-planks for _your_ bunks, and now we haven't got any for our own."
"_Let_ us use 'em! Faith! we had a right to'm."
"To boards out of _our_ boat!"
"And ye can have the loan o' the whip-saw to make more, whenever the
fancy takes ye."
"Loan o' the whip-saw! Why, it's mine," says the Colonel.
"Divil a bit of it, man!" says O'Flynn serenely. "Everything we've got
belongs to all of us, except a sack o' coffee, a medicine-chest, and a
dimmi-john. And it's mesilf that's afraid the dimmi-john--"
"What's the use of my having bought a whip-saw?" interrupted the
Colonel, hurriedly. "What's the good of it, if the only man that knows
how to use it--"
"Is more taken up wid bein' a guardjin angel to his pardner's
The Colonel turned and frowned at the proprietor of the dimmi-john. The
Boy had dropped behind to look at some marten tracks in the
"I'll follow that trail after dinner," says he, catching up the others
in time to hear O'Flynn say:
"If it wusn't that ye think only a feller that's been to Caribou can
teach ye annything it's Jimmie O'Flynn that 'ud show ye how to play a
chune on that same whip-saw."
"Will you show us after dinner?"
"Sure I will."
And he was as good as his word.
This business of turning a tree into boards without the aid of a
saw-mill is a thing many placer-miners have to learn; for, even if they
are disposed to sleep on the floor, and to do without shelves, they
can't do sluicing without sluice-boxes, and they can't make those long,
narrow boxes without boards.
So every party that is well fitted out has a whip-saw.
"Furrst ye dig a pit," O'Flynn had said airily, stretched out before
the fire after dinner. "Make it about four feet deep, and as long as
ye'd like yer boards. When ye've done that I'll come and take a hand."
The little job was not half finished when the light tailed. Two days
more of soil-burning and shovelling saw it done.
"Now ye sling a couple o' saplings acrost the durrt ye've chucked out.
R-right! Now ye roll yer saw-timber inter the middle. R-right! An' on
each side ye want a log to stand on. See? Wid yer 'guide-man' on top
sthradlin' yer timberr, watchin' the chalk-line and doin' the pull-up,
and the otherr fellerr in the pit lookin' afther the haul-down, ye'll
be able to play a chune wid that there whip-saw that'll make the
serryphims sick o' plain harps." O'Flynn superintended it all, and even
Potts had the curiosity to come out and see what they were up to. Mac
was "kind o' dozin'" by the fire.
When the frame was finished O'Flynn helped to put the trial-log in
place, having marked it off with charcoal to indicate inch and a
quarter planks. Then the Colonel, down in the pit, and O'Flynn on top
of the frame, took the great two-handled saw between them, and began
laboriously, one drawing the big blade up, and the other down,
vertically through the log along the charcoal line.
"An' _that's_ how it's done, wid bits of yer arrums and yer back that
have niver been called on to wurruk befure. An' whin ye've been at it
an hour ye'll find it goes betther wid a little blasphemin';" and he
gave his end of the saw to the reluctant Potts.
Potts was about this time as much of a problem to his pardners as was
the ex-schoolmaster. If the bank clerk had surprised them all by his
handiness on board ship, and by making a crane to swing the pots over
the fire, he surprised them all still more in these days by an apparent
eclipse of his talents. It was unaccountable. Potts's carpentering,
Potts's all-round cleverness, was, like "payrock in a pocket," as the
miners say, speedily worked out, and not a trace of it afterwards to be
But less and less was the defection of the Trio felt. The burly
Kentucky stock-farmer was getting his hand in at "frontier" work,
though he still couldn't get on without his "nigger," as the Boy said,
slyly indicating that it was he who occupied this exalted post. These
two soon had the bunks made out of the rough planks they had sawed with
all a green-horn's pains. They put in a fragrant mattress of spring
moss, and on that made up a bed of blankets and furs.
More boards were laboriously turned out to make the great swing-shelf
to hang up high in the angle of the roof, where the provisions might be
stored out of reach of possible marauders.
The days were very short now, bringing only about five hours of pallid
light, so little of which struggled through the famous bottle-window
that at all hours they depended chiefly on the blaze from the great
fireplace. There was still a good deal of work to be done indoors,
shelves to be put up on the left as you entered (whereon the
granite-ware tea-service, etc., was kept), a dinner-table to be made,
and three-legged stools. While these additions--"fancy touches," as the
Trio called them--were being made, Potts and O'Flynn, although
occasionally they went out for an hour or two, shot-gun on shoulder,
seldom brought home anything, and for the most part were content with
doing what they modestly considered their share of the cooking and
washing. For the rest, they sat by the fire playing endless games of
euchre, seven-up and bean poker, while Mac, more silent than ever,
smoked and read Copps's "Mining Laws" and the magazines of the previous
Nobody heard much in those days of Caribou. The Colonel had gradually
slipped into the position of Boss of the camp. The Trio were still just
a trifle afraid of him, and he, on his side, never pressed a dangerous
issue too far.
But this is a little to anticipate.
One bitter gray morning, that had reduced Perry Davis to a solid lump
of ice, O'Flynn, the Colonel, and the Boy were bringing into the cabin
the last of the whip-sawed boards. The Colonel halted and looked
steadily up the river.
"Is that a beast or a human?" said he.
"It's a man," the Boy decided after a moment--"no, two men, single
file, and--yes--Colonel, it's dogs. Hooray! a dog-team at last!"
They had simultaneously dropped the lumber. The Boy ran on to tell the
cook to prepare more grub, and then pelted after O'Flynn and the
Colonel, who had gone down to meet the newcomers--an Indian driving
five dogs, which were hitched tandem to a low Esquimaux sled, with a
pack and two pairs of web-foot snow-shoes lashed on it, and followed by
a white man. The Indian was a fine fellow, younger than Prince
Nicholas, and better off in the matter of eyes. The white man was a
good deal older than either, with grizzled hair, a worn face, bright
dark eyes, and a pleasant smile.
"I had heard some white men had camped hereabouts," says he. "I am glad
to see we have such substantial neighbours." He was looking up at the
stone chimney, conspicuous a long way off.
"We didn't know we had any white neighbours," said the Colonel in his
most grand and gracious manner. "How far away are you, sir?"
"About forty miles above."
As he answered he happened to be glancing at the Boy, and observed his
eagerness cloud slightly. Hadn't Nicholas said it was "about forty
miles above" that the missionaries lived?
"But to be only forty miles away," the stranger went on,
misinterpreting the fading gladness, "is to be near neighbours in this
"We aren't quite fixed yet," said the Colonel, "but you must come in
and have some dinner with us. We can promise you a good fire, anyhow."
"Thank you. You have chosen a fine site." And the bright eyes with the
deep crow's-feet raying out from the corners scanned the country in so
keen and knowing a fashion that the Boy, with hope reviving, ventured:
"Are--are you a prospector?"
"No. I am Father Wills from Holy Cross."
"Oh!" And the Boy presently caught up with the Indian, and walked on
beside him, looking back every now and then to watch the dogs or
examine the harness. The driver spoke English, and answered questions
with a tolerable intelligence. "Are dogs often driven without reins?"
The Indian nodded.
The Colonel, after the stranger had introduced himself, was just a
shade more reserved, but seemed determined not to be lacking in
hospitality. O'Flynn was overflowing, or would have been had the Jesuit
encouraged him. He told their story, or, more properly, his own, and
how they had been wrecked.
"And so ye're the Father Superior up there?" says the Irishman, pausing
to take breath.
"No. Our Superior is Father Brachet. That's a well-built cabin!"
The dogs halted, though they had at least five hundred yards still to
travel before they would reach the well-built cabin.
"_Mush!_" shouted the Indian.
The dogs cleared the ice-reef, and went spinning along so briskly over
the low hummocks that the driver had to run to keep up with them.
The Boy was flying after when the priest, having caught sight of his
face, called out: "Here! Wait! Stop a moment!" and hurried forward.
He kicked through the ice-crust, gathered up a handful of snow, and
began to rub it on the Boy's right cheek.
"What in the name of--" The Boy was drawing back angrily.
"Keep still," ordered the priest; "your cheek is frozen"; and he
applied more snow and more friction. "You ought to watch one another in
such weather as this. When a man turns dead-white like that, he's
touched with frost-bite." After he had restored the circulation: "There
now, don't go near the fire, or it will begin to hurt."
"Thank you," said the Boy, a little shame-faced. "It's all right now, I
"I think so," said the priest. "You'll lose the skin, and you may be a
little sore--nothing to speak of," with which he fell back to the
The dogs had settled down into a jog-trot now, but were still well on
"Is 'mush' their food?" asked the Boy.
"_Mush?_ No, fish."
"Why does your Indian go on like that about mush, then?"
"Oh, that's the only word the dogs know, except--a--certain expressions
we try to discourage the Indians from using. In the old days the
dog-drivers used to say 'mahsh.' Now you never hear anything but
swearing and 'mush,' a corruption of the French-Canadian _marche_." He
turned to the Colonel: "You'll get over trying to wear cheechalko boots
here--nothing like mucklucks with a wisp of straw inside for this
"I agree wid ye. I got me a pair in St. Michael's," says O'Flynn
proudly, turning out his enormous feet. "Never wore anything so
comf'table in me life."
"You ought to have drill parkis too, like this of mine, to keep out the
They were going up the slope now, obliquely to the cabin, close behind
the dogs, who were pulling spasmodically between their little rests.
Father Wills stooped and gathered up some moss that the wind had swept
almost bare of snow. "You see that?" he said to O'Flynn, while the Boy
stopped, and the Colonel hurried on. "Wherever you find that growing no
man need starve."
The Colonel looked back before entering the cabin and saw that the Boy
seemed to have forgotten not alone the Indian, but the dogs, and was
walking behind with the Jesuit, face upturned, smiling, as friendly as
Within a different picture.
Potts and Mac were having a row about something, and the Colonel struck
in sharply on their growling comments upon each other's character and
"Got plenty to eat? Two hungry men coming in. One's an Indian, and you
know what that means, and the other's a Catholic priest." It was this
bomb that he had hurried on to get exploded and done with before the
said priest should appear on the scene.
"A _what_?" Mac raised his heavy eyes with fight in every wooden
"A Jesuit priest is what I said."
"He won't eat his dinner here."
"That is exactly what he will do."
"Not by--" Whether it was the monstrous proposition that had unstrung
Mac, he was obliged to steady himself against the table with a shaking
hand. But he set those square features of his like iron, and, says he,
"No Jesuit sits down to the same table with me."
"That means, then, that you'll eat alone."
"Not if I know it."
The Colonel slid in place the heavy wooden bar that had never before
been requisitioned to secure the door, and he came and stood in the
middle of the cabin, where he could let out all his inches. Just
clearing the swing-shelf, he pulled his great figure up to its full
height, and standing there like a second Goliath, he said quite softly
in that lingo of his childhood that always came back to his tongue's
tip in times of excitement: "Just as shuah as yo' bohn that priest will
eat his dinner to-day in my cabin, sah; and if yo' going t' make any
trouble, just say so now, and we'll get it ovah, and the place cleaned
up again befoh our visitors arrive."
"Mind what you're about, Mac," growled Potts. "You know he could lick
the stuffin' out o' you."
The ex-schoolmaster produced some sort of indignant sound in his throat
and turned, as if he meant to go out. The Colonel came a little nearer.
Mac flung up his head and squared for battle.
Potts, in a cold sweat, dropped a lot of tinware with a rattle, while
the Colonel said, "No, no. We'll settle this after the people go, Mac."
Then in a whisper: "Look here: I've been trying to shield you for ten
days. Don't give yourself away now--before the first white neighbour
that comes to see us. You call yourself a Christian. Just see if you
can't behave like one, for an hour or two, to a fellow-creature that's
cold and hungry. Come, _you're_ the man we've always counted on! Do the
honours, and take it out of me after our guests are gone."
Mac seemed in a haze. He sat down heavily on some beanbags in the
corner; and when the newcomers were brought in and introduced, he "did
the honours" by glowering at them with red eyes, never breaking his
"Well!" says Father Wills, looking about, "I must say you're very
comfortable here. If more people made homes like this, there'd be fewer
failures." They gave him the best place by the fire, and Potts dished
up dinner. There were only two stools made yet. The Boy rolled his
section of sawed spruce over near the priest, and prepared to dine at
"No, no," said Father Wills firmly. "You shall sit as far away from
this splendid blaze as you can get, or you will have trouble with that
cheek." So the Boy had to yield his place to O'Flynn, and join Mac over
on the bean-bags.
"Why didn't you get a parki when you were at St. Michael's?" said the
priest as this change was being effected.
"We had just as much--more than we could carry. Besides, I thought we
could buy furs up river; anyway, I'm warm enough."
"No you are not," returned the priest smiling. "You must get a parki
with a hood."
"I've got an Arctic cap; it rolls down over my ears and goes all round
my neck--just leaves a little place in front for my eyes."
"Yes; wear that if you go on the trail; but the good of the parki hood
is, that it is trimmed all round with long wolf-hair. You see"--he
picked his parki up off the floor and showed it to the company--"those
long hairs standing out all round the face break the force of the wind.
It is wonderful how the Esquimaux hood lessens the chance of
While the only object in the room that he didn't seem to see was Mac,
he was most taken up with the fireplace.
The Colonel laid great stress on the enormous services of the
delightful, accomplished master-mason over there on the beanbags, who
sat looking more than ever like a monkey-wrench incarnate.
But whether that Jesuit was as wily as the Calvinist thought, he had
quite wit enough to overlook the great chimney-builder's wrathful
He was not the least "professional," talked about the country and how
to live here, saying incidentally that he had spent twelve years at the
mission of the Holy Cross. The Yukon wasn't a bad place to live in, he
told them, if men only took the trouble to learn how to live here.
While teaching the Indians, there was a great deal to learn from them
"You must all come and see our schools," he wound up.
"We'd like to awfully," said the Boy, and all but Mac echoed him. "We
were so afraid," he went on, "that we mightn't see anybody all winter
"Oh, you'll have more visitors than you want."
"_Shall_ we, though?" Then, with a modified rapture: "Indians, I
suppose, and--and missionaries."
"Traders, too, and miners, and this year cheechalkos as well. You are
directly on the great highway of winter travel. Now that there's a good
hard crust on the snow you will have dog-trains passing every week, and
sometimes two or three."
It was good news!
"We've already had one visitor before you," said the Boy, looking
wonderfully pleased at the prospect the priest had opened out. "You
must know Nicholas of Pymeut, don't you?"
"Oh yes; we all know Nicholas"; and the priest smiled.
"We _like_ him," returned the Boy as if some slighting criticism had
been passed upon his friend.
"Of course you do; so do we all"; and still that look of quiet
amusement on the worn face and a keener twinkle glinting in the eyes.
"We're afraid he's sick," the Boy began.
Before the priest could answer, "He was educated at Howly Cross, he
_says_," contributed O'Flynn.
"Oh, he's been to Holy Cross, among other places."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, Nicholas is a most impartial person. He was born at Pymeut, but
his father, who is the richest and most intelligent man in his tribe,
took Nicholas to Ikogimeut when the boy was only six. He was brought up
in the Russian mission there, as the father had been before him, and
was a Greek--in religion--till he was fourteen. There was a famine that
year down yonder, so Nicholas turned Catholic and came up to us. He was
at Holy Cross some years, when business called him to Anvik, where he
turned Episcopalian. At Eagle City, I believe, he is regarded as a
pattern Presbyterian. There are those that say, since he has been a
pilot, Nicholas makes six changes a trip in his religious convictions."
Father Wills saw that the Colonel, to whom he most frequently addressed
himself, took his pleasantry gravely. "Nicholas is not a bad fellow,"
he added. "He told me you had been kind to him."
"If you believe that about his insincerity," said the Colonel, "are you
not afraid the others you spend your life teaching may turn out as
little credit to you--to Christianity?"
The priest glanced at the listening Indian. "No," said he gravely; "I
do not think _all_ the natives are like Nicholas. Andrew here is a true
son of the Church. But even if it were otherwise, _we_, you know"--the
Jesuit rose from the table with that calm smile of his--"we simply do
the work without question. The issue is not in our hands." He made the
sign of the cross and set back his stool.
"Come, Andrew," he said; "we must push on."
The Indian repeated the priest's action, and went out to see to the
"Oh, are you going right away?" said the Colonel politely, and O'Flynn
"We thought," said the Boy, "you'd sit awhile and smoke and--at least,
of course, I don't mean smoke exactly--but--"
The Father smiled and shook his head.
"Another time I would stay gladly."
"Where are you going now?"
"Andrew and I are on our way to the _Oklahoma_, the steamship frozen in
the ice below here."
"How far?" asked the Boy.
"About seven miles below the Russian mission, and a mile or so up the
"Oh no. Gone into winter quarters."
"In a slew?" for it was so Father Wills pronounced s-l-o-u-g-h.
"Oh, that's what they call a blind river up in this country. They come
into the big streams every here and there, and cheechalkos are always
mistaking them for the main channel. Sometimes they're wider and deeper
for a mile or so than the river proper, but before you know it they
land you in a marsh. This place I'm going to, a little way up the
Kuskoquim, out of danger when the ice breaks up, has been chosen for a
new station by the N. A. T. and T. Company--rival, you know, to the
old-established Alaska Commercial, that inherited the Russian fur
monopoly and controlled the seal and salmon trade so long. Well, the
younger company runs the old one hard, and they've sent this steamer
into winter quarters loaded with provisions, ready to start for Dawson
the instant the ice goes out."
"Why, then, it's the very boat that'll be takin' us to the Klondyke."
"You just goin' down to have a look at her?" asked Potts enviously.
"No. I go to get relief for the Pymeuts."
"What's the matter with 'em?"
"Epidemic all summer, starvation now."
"Guess you won't find _any_body's got such a lot he wants to give it
away to the Indians."
"Our Father Superior has given much," said the priest gently; "but we
are not inexhaustible at Holy Cross. And the long winter is before us.
Many of the supply steamers have failed to get in, and the country is
flooded with gold-seekers. There'll be wide-spread want this
year--terrible suffering all up and down the river."
"The more reason for people to hold on to what they've got. A white
man's worth more 'n an Indian."
The priest's face showed no anger, not even coldness.
"White men have got a great deal out of Alaska and as yet done little
but harm here. The government ought to help the natives, and we believe
the Government will. All we ask of the captain of the _Oklahoma_ is to
sell us, on fair terms, a certain supply, we assuming part of the risk,
and both of us looking to the Government to make it good."
"Reckon you'll find that steamer-load down in the ice is worth its
weight in gold," said Potts.
"One must always try," replied the Father.
He left the doorpost, straightened his bowed back, and laid a hand on
the wooden latch.
"But Nicholas--when you left Pymeut was he--" began the Boy.
"Oh, he is all right," the Father smiled and nodded. "Brother Paul has
been looking after Nicholas's father. The old chief has enough food,
but he has been very ill. By the way, have you any letters you want to
"Oh, if we'd only known!" was the general chorus; and Potts flew to
close and stamp one he had hardly more than begun to the future Mrs.