Part 3 out of 11
Meanwhile, O'Flynn, hugging the pleasant consciousness that he had
distinguished himself--his pardner, too--complained that the only
contribution Mac or the Boy had made was to kick up a row. What steps
were they going to take to retrieve their characters and minister to
the public entertainment?
"I've supplied the decorations," said Mac in a final tone.
"Well, and the Bhoy? What good arre ye, annyway?"
"Hard to say," said the person addressed; but, thinking hard: "Would
you like to see me wag my ears?" Some languid interest was manifested
in this accomplishment, but it fell rather flat after Potts' splendid
achievements with the euchre-deck.
"No, ye ain't good fur much as an enthertainer," said O'Flynn frankly.
Kaviak had begun to cry for more punch, and Mac was evidently growing a
good deal perplexed as to the further treatment for his patient.
"Did ye be tellin' some wan, Father, that when ye found that Esquimer
he had grass stuffed in his mouth? Sure, he'll be missin' that grass.
Ram somethin' down his throat."
"Was it done to shorten his sufferings?" the Colonel asked in an
"No," answered the priest in the same low voice; "if they listen long
to the dying, the cry gets fixed in their imagination, and they hear it
after the death, and think the spirit haunts the place. Their fear and
horror of the dead is beyond belief. They'll turn a dying man out of
his own house, and not by the door, but through a hole in the roof. Or
they pull out a log to make an opening, closing it up quick, so the
spirit won't find his way back."
Kaviak continued to lament.
"Sorry we can't offer you some blubber, Kaviak."
"'Tain't that he's missin'; he's got an inexhaustible store of his own.
His mistake is offerin' it to us."
"I know what's the matter with that little shaver," said the Boy. "He
hasn't got any stool, and you keep him standin' on those legs of his
"Let him sit on the buffalo-skin there," said Mac gruffly.
"Don't you s'pose he's thought o' the buffalo-skin? But he'd hate it. A
little fella likes to be up where he can see what's goin' on. He'd feel
as lost 'way down there on the buffalo as a puppy in a corn-brake."
The Boy was standing up, looking round.
"I know. Elephas! come along, Jimmie!" In spite of remonstrance, they
rushed to the door and dragged in the "fossle." When Nicholas and his
friends realised what was happening, they got up grunting and
protesting. "Lend a hand, Andrew," the Boy called to the man nearest.
"No--no!" objected the true son of the Church, with uncommon fervour.
"You, then, Nicholas."
_"Oo,_ ha, _oo!_ No touch! No touch!"
"What's up? You don't know what this is."
"Huh! Nicholas know plenty well. Nicholas no touch bones of dead
devils." This view of the "fossle" so delighted the company that,
acting on a sudden impulse, they pushed the punch-bowl out of the way,
and, with a whoop, hoisted the huge thing on the table. Then the Boy
seized the whimpering Kaviak, and set him high on the throne. So
surprised was the topmost Spissimen that he was as quiet for a moment
as the one underneath him, staring about, blinking. Then, looking down
at Mac's punch-cup, he remembered his grievance, and took up the wail
where he had left it off.
"Nuh, nuh! don't you do that," said the Boy with startling suddenness.
"If you make that noise, I'll have to make a worse one. If you cry,
Kaviak, I'll have to sing. Hmt, hmt! don't you do it." And as Kaviak,
in spite of instructions, began to bawl, the Boy began to do a
plantation jig, crooning monotonously:
"'Grashoppah sett'n on de swee' p'tater vine,
Swee' p'tater vine, swee' p'tater vine;
He stopped as suddenly as he'd begun. "_Now_, will you be good?"
Kaviak drew a breath with a catch in it, looked round, and began as
firmly as ever:
"Sh--sh!" The Boy clapped his hands, and lugubriously intoned:
"'Dey's de badger and de bah,
En de funny lil hah,
En de active lil flea,
En de lil armadillah
Dat sleeps widouter pillah,
An dey all gottah mate but me--ee--ee!'
"Farva!" Kaviak gasped.
"Say, do a nigger breakdown," solicited Potts.
"Ain't room; besides, I can't do it with blisters."
They did the impossible--they made room, and turned back the
buffalo-skin. Only the big Colonel, who was most in the way of all,
sat, not stirring, staring in the fire. Such a look on the absent,
tender face as the great masters, the divinest poets cannot often
summon, but which comes at the call of some foolish old nursery jingle,
some fragment of half-forgotten folk-lore, heard when the world was
young--when all hearing was music, when all sight was "pictures," when
every sense brought marvels that seemed the everyday way of the
wonderful, wonderful world.
For an obvious reason it is not through the utterances of the greatest
that the child receives his first intimations of the beauty and the
mystery of things. These come in lowly guise with familiar everyday
voices, but their eloquence has the incommunicable grace of infancy,
the promise of the first dawn, the menace of the first night.
"Do you remember the thing about the screech-owl and the weather
signs?" said the Colonel, roused at last by the jig on his toes and the
rattle of improvised "bones" almost in his face.
"Reckon I do, honey," said the Boy, his feet still flying and flapping
on the hard earthen floor.
"_'Wen de screech-owl light on de gable en'
En holler, Who--ool oh--oh!'_"
He danced up and hooted in Kaviak's face.
"_'Den yo' bettah keep yo eyeball peel,
Kase 'e bring bad luck t' yo'.
Then, sinking his voice, dancing slowly, and glancing anxiously under the
"_'Wen de ole black cat widdee yalla eyes
Slink round like she atterah mouse,
Den yo' bettah take keer yo'self en frien's,
Kase deys sholy a witch en de house.'_"
An awful pause, a shiver, and a quick change of scene, indicated by a
gurgling whoop, ending in a quacking:
"_'Wen de puddle-duck'e leave de pon',
En start t' comb e fedder,
Den yo' bettah take yo' omberel,
Kase deys gwine tubbee wet wedder.'_"
"Now comes the speckly rooster," the Colonel prompted.
The Boy crowed long and loud:
"_'Effer ole wile rooster widder speckly tail
Commer crowin' befoh de do',
En yo got some comp'ny a'ready,
Yo's gwinter have some mo'.'_"
Then he grunted, and went on all fours. "Kaviak!" he called, "you take
"_'Wen yo' see a pig agoin' along--'_"
Look here: Kaviak's never seen a pig! I call it a shame.
_"'Wen yo' see a pig agoin' along
Widder straw en de sider 'is mouf,
It'll be a tuhble winter,
En yo' bettuh move down Souf.'"_
He jumped up and dashed into a breakdown, clattering the bones, and
_"'Squirl he got a bushy tail,
Possum's tail am bah,
Raccoon's tail am ringed all roun'--
Touch him ef yo dah!
Rabbit got no tail at all,
Cep a little bit o' bunch o' hah.'"_
The group on the floor, undoubtedly, liked that part of the
entertainment that involved the breakdown, infinitely the best of all,
but simultaneously, at its wildest moment, they all turned their heads
to the door. Mac noticed the movement, listened, and then got up,
lifted the latch, and cautiously looked out. The Boy caught a glimpse
of the sky over Mac's shoulder.
"Jimminy Christmas!" He stopped, nearly breathless. "It can't be a
fire. Say, boys! they're havin' a Blow-Out up in heaven."
The company crowded out. The sky was full of a palpitant light. An
Indian appeared from round the stockade; he was still staring up at the
"Are we on fire?"
"How-do." He handed Father Wills a piece of dirty paper.
"Hah! Yes. All right. Andrew!"
Andrew needed no more. He bustled away to harness the dogs. The white
men were staring up at the sky. "What's goin' on in heaven, Father?
S'pose you call this the Aurora Borealis--hey?"
"Yes," said the priest; "and finer than we often get it. We are not far
enough north for the great displays."
He went in to put on his parki.
Mac, after looking out, had shut the door and stayed behind with
On Father Will's return Farva, speaking apparently less to the priest
than to the floor, muttered: "Better let him stop where he is till his
The Colonel came in.
"Leave the child here!" ejaculated the priest.
"--till he's better able to travel."
"Why not?" said the Colonel promptly.
"Well, it would be a kindness to keep him a few days. I'll _have_ to
travel fast tonight."
"Then it's settled." Mac bundled Kaviak into the Boy's bunk.
When the others were ready to go out again, Farva caught up his fur
coat and went along with them.
The dogs were not quite ready. The priest was standing a little
absentmindedly, looking up. The pale green streamers were fringed with
the tenderest rose colour, and from the corona uniting them at the
zenith, they shot out across the heavens, with a rapid circular and
lateral motion, paling one moment, flaring up again the next.
"Wonder what makes it," said the Colonel.
"Electricity," Mac snapped out promptly.
The priest smiled.
"One mystery for another."
He turned to the Boy, and they went on together, preceding the others,
a little, on the way down the trail towards the river.
"I think you must come and see us at Holy Cross--eh? Come soon;" and
then, without waiting for an answer: "The Indians think these flitting
lights are the souls of the dead at play. But Yagorsha says that long
ago a great chief lived in the North who was a mighty hunter. It was
always summer up here then, and the big chief chased the big game from
one end of the year to another, from mountain to mountain and from
river to sea. He killed the biggest moose with a blow of his fist, and
caught whales with his crooked thumb for a hook. One long day in summer
he'd had a tremendous chase after a wonderful bird, and he came home
without it, deadbeat and out of temper. He lay down to rest, but the
sunlight never winked, and the unending glare maddened him. He rolled,
and tossed, and roared, as only the Yukon roars when the ice rushes
down to the sea. But he couldn't sleep. Then in an awful fury he got
up, seized the day in his great hands, tore it into little bits, and
tossed them high in the air. So it was dark. And winter fell on the
world for the first time. During months and months, just to punish this
great crime, there was no bright sunshine; but often in the long night,
while the chief was wearying for summer to come again, he'd be
tantalised by these little bits of the broken day that flickered in the
sky. Coming, Andrew?" he called back.
The others trooped down-hill, dogs, sleds, and all. There was a great
hand-shaking and good-byeing.
"You come Pymeut?"
"I should just pretty nearly think I would."
"You dance heap good. Buttons no all done." He put four little ivory
crows into the Boy's hands. They were rudely but cleverly carved, with
eyes outlined in ink, and supplied under the breast with a neat
"Mighty fine!" The Boy examined them by the strange glow that
brightened in the sky.
"Oh no, can't do that."
"_Yes!_" Nicholas spoke peremptorily. "Yukon men have big feast, must
bring present. Me no got reindeer, me got button." He grinned.
"Goo'-bye." And the last of the guests went his way.
* * * * *
It was only habit that kept the Colonel toasting by the fire before he
turned in, for the cabin was as warm to-night as the South in
_"Grasshoppah sett'n on a swee' p'tater vine,"_
The Boy droned sleepily as he untied the leathern thongs that kept up
his muckluck legs--
_"Swee' p'tater vine, swee' p'ta--"_
"All those othahs"--the Colonel waved a hand in the direction of
Pymeut--"I think we dreamed 'em, Boy. You and me playing the Big Game
with Fohtune. Foolishness! Klondyke? Yoh crazy. Tell me the river's
hard as iron and the snow's up to the windah? Don' b'lieve a wo'd of
it. We're on some plantation, Boy, down South, in the niggah quawtaws."
The Boy was turning back the covers, and balancing a moment on the side
of the bunk.
_"Sett'n on a swee' p'tater vine, swee' p'ta--"_
"Great Caesar's ghost!" He jumped up, and stood staring down at the
"Ah--a--didn't you know? He's been left behind for a few days."
"Yes, I can see he's left behind. No, Colonel, I reckon we're in the
Arctic regions all right when it comes to catchin' Esquimers in your
He pulled the furs over Kaviak and himself, and curled down to sleep.
"For my part, I have ever believed and do now know, that there are
The Boy had hoped to go to Pymeut the next day, but his feet refused to
carry him. Mac took a diagram and special directions, and went after
the rest of elephas, conveying the few clumsy relics home, bit by bit,
with a devotion worthy of a pious pilgrim.
For three days the Boy growled and played games with Kaviak, going
about at first chiefly on hands and knees.
On the fifth day after the Blow-Out, "You comin' long to Pymeut this
mornin'?" he asked the Colonel.
"What's the rush?"
"_Rush!_ Good Lord! it's 'most a week since they were here. And it's
stopped snowin', and hasn't thought of sleetin' yet or anything else
rambunksious. Come on, Colonel."
But Father Wills had shown the Colonel the piece of dirty paper the
Indian had brought on the night of the Blow-Out.
"_Trouble threatened. Pymeuts think old chief dying not of consumption,
but of a devil. They've sent a dogteam to bring the Shaman down over
the ice. Come quickly.--_PAUL."
"Reckon we'd better hold our horses till we hear from Holy Cross."
The Colonel didn't answer, but the Boy didn't wait to listen. He
swallowed his coffee scalding hot, rolled up some food and stuff for
trading, in a light reindeer skin blanket, lashed it packwise on his
back, shouldered his gun, and made off before the Trio came in to
The first sign that he was nearing a settlement, was the appearance of
what looked like sections of rude wicker fencing, set up here and there
in the river and frozen fast in the ice. High on the bank lay one of
the long cornucopia-shaped basket fish-traps, and presently he caught
sight of something in the bleak Arctic landscape that made his heart
jump, something that to Florida eyes looked familiar.
"Why, if it doesn't make me think of John Fox's cabin on Cypress
Creek!" he said to himself, formulating an impression that had vaguely
haunted him on the Lower River in September; wondering if the Yukon
flooded like the Caloosahatchee, and if the water could reach as far up
as all that.
He stopped to have a good look at this first one of the Pymeut caches,
for this modest edifice, like a Noah's Ark on four legs, was not a
habitation, but a storehouse, and was perched so high, not for fear of
floods, but for fear of dogs and mice. This was manifest from the fact
that there were fish-racks and even ighloos much nearer the river.
The Boy stopped and hesitated; it was a sore temptation to climb up and
see what they had in that cache. There was an inviting plank all ready,
with sticks nailed on it transversely to prevent the feet from
slipping. But the Boy stopped at the rude ladder's foot, deciding that
this particular mark of interest on the part of a stranger might be
misinterpreted. It would, perhaps, be prudent to find Nicholas first of
all. But where was Nicholas?--where was anybody?
The scattered, half-buried huts were more like earth-mounds,
snow-encrusted, some with drift-logs propped against the front face
While he was cogitating how to effect an entrance to one of these, or
to make his presence known, he saw, to his relief, the back of a
solitary Indian going in the direction of an ighloo farther up the
"Hi, hi!" he shouted, and as the figure turned he made signs. It
"How-do?" the Boy called out when he got nearer. "You talk English?"
The native laughed. A flash of fine teeth and sparkling eyes lit up a
young, good-looking face. This boy seemed promising.
"How d'ye do? You know Nicholas?"
The laugh was even gayer. It seemed to be a capital joke to know
"Where is he?"
The figure turned and pointed, and then: "Come. I show you."
This was a more highly educated person than Nicholas, thought the
visitor, remarking the use of the nominative scorned of the Prince.
They walked on to the biggest of the underground dwellings.
"Is this where the King hangs out? Nicholas' father lives here?"
"No. This is the Kazhga."
"Oh, the Kachime. Ain't you comin' in?"
His guide had a fit of laughter, and then turned to go.
"Say, what's your name?"
The answer sounded like "Muckluck."
And just then Nicholas crawled out of the tunnel-like opening leading
into the council-house. He jumped up, beaming at the sight of his
"Say, Nicholas, who's this fella that's always laughing, no matter what
you say? Calls himself 'Muckluck.'"
The individual referred to gave way to another spasm of merriment,
which infected Nicholas.
"My sister--this one," he explained.
"Oh-h!" The Boy joined in the laugh, and pulled off his Arctic cap with
a bow borrowed straight from the Colonel.
"Princess Muckluck, I'm proud to know you."
"Name no Muckluck," began Nicholas; "name Mahk----"
"Mac? Nonsense! Mac's a man's name--she's Princess Muckluck. Only,
how's a fella to tell, when you dress her like a man?"
The Princess still giggled, while her brother explained.
"No like man. See?" He showed how the skirt of her deerskin parki,
reaching, like her brother's, a little below the knee, was shaped round
in front, and Nicholas's own--all men's parkis were cut straight
"I see. How's your father?"
Nicholas looked grave; even Princess Muckluck stopped laughing.
"Come," said Nicholas, and the Boy followed him on all fours into the
Entering on his stomach, he found himself in a room about sixteen by
twenty feet, two-thirds underground, log-walls chinked with moss, a
roof of poles sloping upwards, tent-like, but leaving an opening in the
middle for a smoke-hole some three feet square, and covered at present
by a piece of thin, translucent skin. With the sole exception of the
smoke-hole, the whole thing was so covered with earth, and capped with
snow, that, expecting a mere cave, one was surprised at the wood-lining
within. The Boy was still more surprised at the concentration, there,
of malignant smells.
He gasped, and was for getting out again as fast as possible, when the
bearskin flap fell behind him over the Kachime end of the
Through the tobacco-smoke and the stifling air he saw, vaguely, a grave
gathering of bucks sitting, or, rather, lounging and squatting, on the
outer edge of the wide sleeping-bench that ran all round the room,
about a foot and a half from the hewn-log floor.
Their solemn, intent faces were lit grotesquely by the uncertain glow
of two seal-oil lamps, mounted on two posts, planted one in front of
the right sleeping-bench, the other on the left.
The Boy hesitated. Was it possible he could get used to the atmosphere?
Certainly it was warm in here, though there was no fire that he could
see. Nicholas was talking away very rapidly to the half-dozen grave and
reverend signiors, they punctuating his discourse with occasional
grunts and a well-nigh continuous coughing. Nicholas wound up in
"Me tell you: he heap good friend. You ketch um tobacco?" he inquired
suddenly of his guest. Fortunately, the Boy had remembered to "ketch"
that essential, and his little offering was laid before the
council-men. More grunts, and room made for the visitor on the
sleeping-bench next the post that supported one of the lamps, a clay
saucer half-full of seal-oil, in which a burning wick of twisted moss
gave forth a powerful odour, a fair amount of smoke, and a faint light.
The Boy sat down, still staring about him, taking note of the well-hewn
logs, and of the neat attachment of the timbers by a saddle-joint at
the four corners of the roof.
"Who built this?" he inquired of Nicholas.
"Ol' father, an' ... heap ol' men gone dead."
"Gee! Well, whoever did it was on to his job," he said. "I don't seen a
nail in the whole sheebang."
"No, no nail."
The Boy remembered Nicholas's sled, and, looking again at the
disproportionately small hands of the men about him, corrected his
first impression that they were too feminine to be good for much.
A dirty old fellow, weak and sickly in appearance, began to talk
querulously. All the others listened with respect, smoking and making
inarticulate noises now and then. When that discourse was finished, a
fresh one was begun by yet another coughing councillor.
"What's it all about?" the Boy asked.
"Ol' Chief heap sick," said the buck on the Boy's right.
"Ol' Chief, ol' father, b'long me," Nicholas observed with pride.
"Yes; but aren't the Holy Cross people nursing him?"
"Brother Paul gone; white medicine no good."
They all shook their heads and coughed despairingly.
"Then try s'm' other--some yella-brown, Esquimaux kind," hazarded the
Boy lightly, hardly noticing what he was saying till he found nearly
all the eyes of the company fixed intently upon him. Nicholas was
translating, and it was clear the Boy had created a sensation.
"Father Wills no like," said one buck doubtfully. "He make cross-eyes
when Shaman come."
"Oh yes, medicine-man," said the Boy, following the narrative eagerly.
"Shaman go way," volunteered an old fellow who hitherto had held his
peace; "all get sick"--he coughed painfully--"heap Pymeuts die."
"Father Wills come." Nicholas took up the tale afresh. "Shaman come.
Father Wills heap mad. He no let Shaman stay."
"No; him say, 'Go! plenty quick, plenty far. Hey, you! _Mush!_'"
They smoked awhile in silence broken only by coughs.
"Shaman say, 'Yukon Inua plenty mad.'"
"Who is Yukon Inua? Where does he live?"
"Unner Yukon ice," whispered Nicholas. "Oh, the river spirit?... Of
"Him heap strong. Long time"--he motioned back into the ages with one
slim brown hand--"fore Holy Cross here, Yukon Inua take good care
"No tell Father Wills?"
Then in a low guttural voice: "Shaman come again."
They sat and smoked and coughed. By-and-by, as if wishing thoroughly to
justify their action, Nicholas resumed:
"You savvy, ol' father try white medicine--four winter, four summer. No
good. Ol' father say, 'Me well man? Good friend Holy Cross, good friend
Russian mission. Me ol'? me sick? Send for Shaman.'"
The entire company grunted in unison.
"You no tell?" Nicholas added with recurrent anxiety.
"No, no; they shan't hear through me. I'm safe."
Presently they all got up, and began removing and setting back the hewn
logs that formed the middle of the floor. It then appeared that,
underneath, was an excavation about two feet deep. In the centre,
within a circle of stones, were the charred remains of a fire, and here
they proceeded to make another.
As soon as it began to blaze, Yagorsha the Story-teller took the cover
off the smoke-hole, so the company was not quite stifled.
A further diversion was created by several women crawling in, bringing
food for the men-folk, in old lard-cans or native wooden kantaks. These
vessels they deposited by the fire, and with an exchange of grunts went
out as they had come.
Nicholas wouldn't let the Boy undo his pack.
"No, we come back," he said, adding something in his own tongue to the
company, and then crawled out, followed by the Boy. Their progress was
slow, for the Boy's "Canadian webfeet" had been left in the Kachime,
and he sank in the snow at every step. Twice in the dusk he stumbled
over an ighloo, or a sled, or some sign of humanity, and asked of the
now silent, preoccupied Nicholas, "Who lives here?" The answer had
been, "Nobody; all dead."
The Boy was glad to see approaching, at last, a human figure. It came
shambling through the snow, with bent head and swaying, jerking gait,
looked up suddenly and sheered off, flitting uncertainly onward, in the
dim light, like a frightened ghost.
"Who is that?"
"Shaman. Him see in dark all same owl. Him know you white man."
The Boy stared after him. The bent figure of the Shaman looked like a
huge bat flying low, hovering, disappearing into the night.
"Those your dogs howling?" the visitor asked, thinking that for sheer
dismalness Pymeut would be hard to beat.
Nicholas stopped suddenly and dropped down; the ground seemed to open
and swallow him. The Boy stooped and saw his friend's feet disappearing
in a hole. He seized one of them. "Hold on; wait for me!"
Nicholas kicked, but to no purpose; he could make only such progress as
his guest permitted.
Presently a gleam. Nicholas had thrust away the flap at the tunnel's
end, and they stood in the house of the Chief of the Pymeuts, that
native of whom Father Wills had said, "He is the richest and most
intelligent man of his tribe."
The single room seemed very small after the spaciousness of the
Kachime, but it was the biggest ighloo in the settlement.
A fire burnt brightly in the middle of the earthen floor, and over it
was bending Princess Muckluck, cooking the evening meal. She nodded,
and her white teeth shone in the blaze. Over in the corner, wrapped in
skins, lay a man on the floor groaning faintly. The salmon, toasting on
sticks over wood coals, smelt very appetising.
"Why, your fish are whole. Don't you clean 'em first?" asked the
visitor, surprised out of his manners.
"No," said Nicholas; "him better no cut."
They sat down by the fire, and the Princess waited on them. The Boy
discovered that it was perfectly true. Yukon salmon broiled in their
skins over a birch fire are the finest eating in the world, and any
"other way" involves a loss of flavour.
He was introduced for the first time to the delights of reindeer
"back-fat," and found even that not so bad.
"You are lucky, Nicholas, to have a sister--such a nice one, too"--(the
Princess giggled)--"to keep house for you."
Nicholas understood, at least, that politeness was being offered, and
"I've got a sister myself. I'll show you her picture some day. I care
about her a lot. I've come up here to make a pile so that we can buy
back our old place in Florida."
He said this chiefly to the Princess, for she evidently had profited
more by her schooling, and understood things quite like a Christian.
"Did you ever eat an orange, Princess?" he continued.
"Kind o' fish?"
"No, fruit; a yella ball that grows on a tree."
"Me know," said Nicholas; "me see him in boxes St. Michael's. Him
"Yes. Well, we had a lot of trees all full of those yella balls, and we
used to eat as many as we liked. We don't have much winter down where I
live--summer pretty nearly all the time."
"I'd like go there," said the girl.
"Well, will you come and see us, Muckluck? When I've found a gold-mine
and have bought back the Orange Grove, my sister and me are goin' to
live together, like you and Nicholas."
"She look like you?"
"No; and it's funny, too, 'cause we're twins."
"Twins! What's twins?"
"Two people born at the same time."
"No!" ejaculated Nicholas.
"Why, yes, and they always care a heap about each other when they're
But Muckluck stared incredulously.
"_Two_ at the same time!" she exclaimed. "It's like that, then, in your
The Boy saw not astonishment alone, but something akin to disgust in
the face of the Princess. He felt, vaguely, he must justify his
"Of course; there's nothing strange about it; it happens quite often."
"Yes; people are very much pleased. Once in a while there are even
"All at the same time!" Her horror turned into shrieks of laughter.
"Why, your women are like our dogs! Human beings and seals never have
more than one at a time!"
The old man in the corner began to moan and mutter feverishly. Nicholas
went to him, bent down, and apparently tried to soothe him. Muckluck
gathered up the supper-things and set them aside.
"You were at the Holy Cross school?" asked the Boy.
"Six years--with Mother Aloysius and the Sisters. They very good."
"So you're a Catholic, then?"
"You speak the best English I've heard from a native."
"I love Sister Winifred. I want to go back--unless"--she regarded the
Boy with a speculative eye--"unless I go your country."
The sick man began to talk deliriously, and lifted up a terrible old
face with fever-bright eyes glaring through wisps of straight gray
hair. No voice but his was heard for some time in the ighloo, then, "I
fraid," said Muckluck, crouching near the fire, but with head turned
over shoulder, staring at the sick man.
"No wonder," said the Boy, thinking such an apparition enough to
"Nicholas 'fraid, too," she whispered, "when the devil talks."
"Yes. Sh! You hear?"
The delirious chatter went on, rising to a scream. Nicholas came
hurrying back to the fire with a look of terror in his face.
"Me go get Shaman."
"No; he come soon." Muckluck clung to him.
They both crouched down by the fire.
"You 'fraid he'll die before the Shaman gets here?"
"Oh no," said Muckluck soothingly, but her face belied her words.
The sick man called hoarsely. Nicholas got him some water, and propped
him up to drink. He glared over the cup with wild eyes, his teeth
chattering against the tin. The Boy, himself, felt a creep go down his
Muckluck moved closer to him.
"Mustn't say he die," she whispered. "If Nicholas think he die, he drag
him out--leave him in the snow." "Never!"
"Sh!" she made him a sign to be quiet. The rambling fever-talk went on,
Nicholas listening fascinated. "No Pymeut," she whispered, "like live
in ighloo any more if man die there."
"You mean, if they know a person's dying they haul him out o'
doors--and _leave_ him a night like this?"
"If not, how get him out ... after?"
"Why, carry him out."
"_Touch_ him? Touch _dead_ man?" She shuddered. "Oh, no. Bad, bad! I no
think he die," she resumed, raising her voice. But Nicholas rejoined
them, silent, looking very grave. Was he contemplating turning the poor
old fellow out? The Boy sat devising schemes to prevent the barbarism
should it come to that. The wind had risen; it was evidently going to
be a rough night.
With imagination full of sick people turned out to perish, the Boy
started up as a long wail came, muffled, but keen still with anguish,
down through the snow and the earth, by way of the smoke-hole, into the
dim little room.
"Oh, Nicholas! what was that?"
"Wait! Listen! There, that! Why, it's a child crying."
"No, him Chee."
"Let's go and bring him in."
"Bring dog in here?"
"Dog! That's no dog."
"Yes, him dog; him my Chee."
"Making a human noise like that?"
Nicholas nodded. The only sounds for some time were the doleful
lamenting of the Mahlemeut without, and the ravings of the Pymeut Chief
The Boy was conscious of a queer, dream-like feeling. All this had been
going on up here for ages. It had been like this when Columbus came
over the sea. All the world had changed since then, except the
steadfast North. The Boy sat up suddenly, and rubbed his eyes. With
that faculty on the part of the unlearned that one is tempted to call
"American," a faculty for assimilating the grave conclusions of the
doctors, and importing them light-heartedly into personal experience,
he realised that what met his eyes here in Nicholas' house was one of
the oldest pictures humanity has presented. This was what was going on
by the Yukon, when King John, beside that other river, was yielding
Magna Charta to the barons. While the Caesars were building Rome the
Pymeut forefathers were building just such ighloos as this. While
Pheidias wrought his marbles, the men up here carved walrus-ivory, and,
in lieu of Homer, recited "The Crow's Last Flight" and "The Legend of
the Northern Lights."
Nicholas had risen again, his mouth set hard, his small hands shaking.
He unrolled an old reindeer-skin full of holes, and examined it. At
this the girl, who had been about to make up the fire, threw down the
bit of driftwood and hid her face.
The sick man babbled on.
Faint under the desolate sound another--sibilant, clearer, uncannily
human. Nicholas had heard, too, for he threw down the tattered
deerskin, and went to the other side of the fire. Voices in the tunnel.
Nicholas held back the flap and gravely waited there, till one Pymeut
after another crawled in. They were the men the Boy had seen at the
Kachime, with one exception--a vicious-looking old fellow, thin, wiry,
with a face like a smoked chimpanzee and eyes of unearthly brightness.
He was given the best place by the fire, and held his brown claws over
the red coals while the others were finding their places.
The Boy, feeling he would need an interpreter, signed to Muckluck to
come and sit by him. Grave as a judge she got up, and did as she was
"That the Shaman?" whispered the Boy.
She nodded. It was plain that this apparition, however hideous, had
given her great satisfaction.
"Any more people coming?"
"Got no more now in Pymeut."
"Where is everybody?"
"Some sick, some dead."
The old Chief rambled on, but not so noisily.
"See," whispered Muckluck, "devil 'fraid already. He begin to speak
The Shaman never once looked towards the sufferer till he himself was
thoroughly warm. Even then he withdrew from the genial glow, only to
sit back, humped together, blinking, silent. The Boy began to feel
that, if he did finally say something it would be as surprising as to
hear an aged monkey break into articulate speech.
Nicholas edged towards the Shaman, presenting something in a birch-bark
"A deer's tongue," whispered Muckluck.
The Boy remembered the Koyukun song, "Thanks for a good meal to
Kuskokala, the Shaman."
Nicholas seemed to be haranguing the Shaman deferentially, but with
spirit. He pulled out from the bottom of his father's bed three fine
marten-skins, shook them, and dangled them before the Shaman. They
produced no effect. He then took a box of matches and a plug of the
Boy's tobacco out of his pocket, and held the lot towards the Shaman,
seeming to say that to save his life he couldn't rake up another
earthly thing to tempt his Shamanship. Although the Shaman took the
offerings his little black eyes glittered none the less rapaciously, as
they flew swiftly round the room, falling at last with a vicious snap
and gleam upon the Boy. Then it was that for the first time he spoke.
"Nuh! nuh!" interrupted Muckluck, chattering volubly, and evidently
commending the Boy to the Shaman. Several of the old bucks laughed.
"He say Yukon Inua no like you."
"He think white men bring plague, bring devils."
"Got some money?" whispered Muckluck.
The Boy saw the moment when he would be turned out. He plunged his
hands down into his trousers pockets and fished up a knife, his
second-best one, fortunately.
"Tell him I'm all right, and he can give this to Yukon Inua with my
Muckluck explained and held up the shining object, blades open,
corkscrew curling attractively before the covetous eyes of the Shaman.
When he could endure the temptation no longer his two black claws shot
out, but Nicholas intercepted the much-envied object, while, as it
seemed, he drove a more advantageous bargain. Terms finally settled,
the Shaman seized the knife, shut it, secreted it with a final grunt,
and stood up.
Everyone made way for him. He jerked his loosely-jointed body over to
the sick man, lifted the seal-oil lamp with his shaky old hands, and
looked at the patient long and steadily. When he had set the lamp down
again, with a grunt, he put his black thumb on the wick and squeezed
out the light. When he came back to the fire, which had burnt low, he
pulled open his parki and drew out an ivory wand, and a long eagle's
feather with a fluffy white tuft of some sort at the end. He deposited
these solemnly, side by side, on the ground, about two feet apart.
Turning round to the dying fire, he took a stick, and with Nicholas's
help gathered the ashes up and laid them over the smouldering brands.
The ighloo was practically dark. No one dared speak save the yet
unabashed devil in the sick man, who muttered angrily. It was curious
to see how the coughing of the others, which in the Kachime had been
practically constant, was here almost silenced. Whether this was
achieved through awe and respect for the Shaman, or through nervous
absorption in the task he had undertaken, who shall say?
The Boy felt rather than saw that the Shaman had lain down between the
ivory wand and the eagle's feather. Each man sat as still as death,
listening, staring, waiting.
Presently a little jet of flame sprang up out of the ashes. The Shaman
lifted his head angrily, saw it was no human hand that had dared turn
on the light, growled, and pulled something else from under his
inexhaustible parki. The Boy peered curiously. The Shaman seemed to be
shutting out the offensive light by wrapping himself up in something,
head and all.
"What's he doing now?" the Boy ventured to whisper under cover of the
devil's sudden loud remonstrance, the sick man at this point breaking
into ghastly groans.
"He puts on the Kamlayka. Sh!"
The Shaman, still enveloped head and body, began to beat softly,
keeping time with the eagle's feather. You could follow the faint gleam
of the ivory wand, but on what it fell with that hollow sound no eye
could see. Now, at intervals, he uttered a cry, a deep bass
danger-note, singularly unnerving. Someone answered in a higher key,
and they kept this up in a kind of rude, sharply-timed duet, till one
by one the whole group of natives was gathered into the swing of it,
swept along involuntarily, it would seem, by some magnetic attraction
of the rhythm.
_"Ung hi yah! ah-ha-yah! yah-yah-yah!"_ was the chorus to that deep,
recurrent cry of the Shaman. Its accompanying drum-note was muffled
like far-off thunder, conjured out of the earth by the ivory wand.
Presently a scream of terror from the bundle of skins and bones in the
"Ha!" Muckluck clasped her hands and rocked back and forth.
"They'll frighten the old man to death if he's conscious," said the
Boy, half rising.
She pulled him down.
"No, no; frighten devil." She was shaking with excitement and with
The sick man cried aloud. A frenzy seemed to seize the Shaman. He
raised his voice in a series of blood-curdling shrieks, then dropped
it, moaning, whining, then bursting suddenly into diabolic laughter,
bellowing, whispering, ventriloquising, with quite extraordinary skill.
The dim and foetid cave might indeed be full of devils.
If the hideous outcry slackened, but an instant, you heard the sick man
raving with the preternatural strength of delirium, or of mad
resentment. For some time it seemed a serious question as to who would
come out ahead. Just as you began to feel that the old Chief was at the
end of his tether, and ready to give up the ghost, the Shaman, rising
suddenly with a demoniac yell, flung himself down on the floor in a
convulsion. His body writhed horribly; he kicked and snapped and
The Boy was for shielding Muckluck from the crazy flinging out of legs
and arms; but she leaned over, breathless, to catch what words might
escape the Shaman during the fit, for these were omens of deep
When at last the convulsive movements quieted, and the Shaman lay like
one dead, except for an occasional faint twitch, the Boy realised for
the first time that the sick man, too, was dumb. Dead? The only sound
now was the wind up in the world above. Even the dog was still.
The silence was more horrible than the hell-let-loose of a few minutes
The dim group sat there, motionless, under the spell of the stillness
even more than they had been under the spell of the noise. At last a
queer, indescribable scratching and scraping came up out of the bowels
of the earth.
How does the old devil manage to do that? thought the Boy. But the
plain truth was that his heart was in his mouth, for the sound came
from the opposite direction, behind the Boy, and not near the Shaman at
all. It grew louder, came nearer, more inexplicable, more awful. He
felt he could not bear it another minute, sprang up, and stood there,
tense, waiting for what might befall. Were _all_ the others dead, then?
Not a sound in the place, only that indescribable stirring of something
in the solid earth under his feet.
The Shaman had his knife. A ghastly sensation of stifling came over the
Boy as he thought of a struggle down there under the earth and the
On came the horrible underground thing. Desperately the Boy stirred the
almost extinct embers with his foot, and a faint glow fell on the
terror-frozen faces of the natives, fell on the bear-skin flap. _It
moved!_ A huge hand came stealing round. A hand? The skeleton of a
hand--white, ghastly, with fingers unimaginably long. No mortal in
Pymeut had a hand like that--no mortal in all the world!
A crisp, smart sound, and a match blazed. A tall, lean figure rose up
from behind the bear-skin and received the sudden brightness full in
his face, pale and beautiful, but angry as an avenging angel's. For an
instant the Boy still thought it a spectre, the delusion of a
bewildered brain, till the girl cried out, "Brother Paul!" and fell
forward on the floor, hiding her face in her hands.
"Light! make a light!" he commanded. Nicholas got up, dazed but
obedient, and lit the seal-oil lamp.
The voice of the white man, the call for light, reached the Shaman. He
seemed to shiver and shrink under the folds of the Kamlayka. But
instead of getting up and looking his enemy in the face, he wriggled
along on his belly, still under cover of the Kamlayka, till he got to
the bear-skin, pushed it aside with a motion of the hooded head, and
crawled out like some snaky symbol of darkness and superstition fleeing
before the light.
"Brother Paul!" sobbed the girl, "don't, _don't_ tell Sister Winifred."
He took no notice of her, bending down over the motionless bundle in
"You've killed him, I suppose?"
"Brother Paul--" began Nicholas, faltering.
"Oh, I heard the pandemonium." He lifted his thin white face to the
smoke-hole. "It's all useless, useless. I might as well go and leave
you to your abominations. But instead, go _you_, all of you--go!" He
flung out his long arms, and the group broke and scuttled, huddling
near the bear-skin, fighting like rats to get out faster than the
narrow passage permitted.
The Boy turned from watching the instantaneous flight, the scuffle, and
the disappearance, to find the burning eyes of the Jesuit fixed
fascinated on his face. If Brother Paul had appeared as a spectre in
the ighloo, it was plain that he looked upon the white face present at
the diabolic rite as dream or devil. The Boy stood up. The lay-brother
started, and crossed himself.
"In Christ's name, what--who are you?"
"I--a--I come from the white camp ten miles below."
"And you were _here_--you allowed this? Ah-h!" He flung up his arms,
the pale lips moved convulsively, but no sound came forth.
"I--you think I ought to have interfered?" began the Boy.
"I think--" the Brother began bitterly, checked himself, knelt down,
and felt the old man's pulse.
Nicholas at the bear-skin was making the Boy signs to come.
The girl was sobbing with her face on the ground. Again Nicholas
beckoned, and then disappeared. There seemed to be nothing to do but to
follow his host. When the bear-skin had dropped behind the Boy, and he
crawled after Nicholas along the dark passage, he heard the muffled
voice of the girl praying: "Oh, Mary, Mother of God, don't let him tell
A PENITENTIAL JOURNEY
"... Certain London parishes still receive L12 per annum
for fagots to burn heretics."--JOHN RICHARD GREEN.
The Boy slept that night in the Kachime beside a very moody, restless
host. Yagorsha dispensed with the formality of going to bed, and seemed
bent on doing what he could to keep other people awake. He sat
monologuing under the seal lamp till the Boy longed to throw the dish
of smouldering oil at his head. But strangely enough, when, through
sheer fatigue, his voice failed and his chin fell on his broad chest, a
lad of fourteen or so, who had also had difficulty to keep awake, would
jog Yagorsha's arm, repeating interrogatively the last phrase used,
whereon the old Story-Teller would rouse himself and begin afresh, with
an iteration of the previous statement. If the lad failed to keep him
going, one or other of the natives would stir uneasily, lift a head
from under his deerskin, and remonstrate. Yagorsha, opening his eyes
with a guilty start, would go on with the yarn. When morning came, and
the others waked, Yagorsha and the lad slept.
Nicholas and all the rest who shared the bench at night, and the fire
in the morning, seemed desperately depressed and glum. A heavy cloud
hung over Pymeut, for Pymeut was in disgrace.
About sunset the women came in with the kantaks and the lard-cans.
Yagorsha sat up and rubbed his eyes. He listened eagerly, while the
others questioned the women. The old Chief wasn't dead at all. No, he
was much better. Brother Paul had been about to all the house-bound
sick people, and given everybody medicine, and flour, and a terrible
scolding. Oh yes, he was angrier than anybody had ever been before.
Some natives from the school at Holy Cross were coming for him
tomorrow, and they were all going down river and across the southern
portage to the branch mission at Kuskoquim.
"Down river? Sure?"
Yes, sure. Brother Paul had not waited to come with those others, being
so anxious to bring medicine and things to Ol' Chief quick; and this
was how he was welcomed back to the scene of his labours. A Devil's
Dance was going on! That was what he called it.
"You savvy?" said Nicholas to his guest. "Brother Paul go plenty soon.
I'll have company back to camp, was the Boy's first thought, and
then--would there be any fun in that after all? It was plain Brother
Paul was no such genial companion as Father Wills.
And so it was that he did not desert Nicholas, although Brother Paul's
companions failed to put in an appearance on the following morning.
However, on the third day after the incident of the Shaman (who seemed
to have vanished into thin air), Brother Paul shook the snow of Pymeut
from his feet, and with three Indians from the Holy Cross school and a
dog-team, he disappeared from the scene. Not till he had been gone some
time did Nicholas venture to return to the parental roof.
They found Muckluck subdued but smiling, and the old man astonishingly
better. It looked almost as if he had turned the corner, and was
There was certainly something very like magic in such a recovery, but
it was quickly apparent that this aspect of the case was not what
occupied Nicholas, as he sat regarding his parent with a keen and
speculative eye. He asked him some question, and they discussed the
point volubly, Muckluck following the argument with close attention.
Presently it seemed that father and son were taking the guest into
consideration. Muckluck also turned to him now and then, and by-and-by
she said: "I think he go."
"Holy Cross," said the old man eagerly.
"Brother Paul," Nicholas explained. "He go _down_ river. We get Holy
"I see. Before he can get back. But why do you want to go?"
"See Father Brachet."
"Sister Winifred say: 'Always tell Father Brachet; then everything all
right,'" contributed Muckluck.
"You tell Pymeut belly solly," the old Chief said.
"Nicholas know he not able tell all like white man," Muckluck
continued. "Nicholas say you good--hey? you good?"
"Well--a--pretty tollable, thank you."
"You go with Nicholas; you make Father Brachet unnerstan'--forgive.
Tell Sister Winifred--" She stopped, perplexed, vaguely distrustful at
the Boy's chuckling.
"You think we can explain it all away, hey?" He made a gesture of happy
clearance. "Shaman and everything, hey?"
"Me no can," returned Nicholas, with engaging modesty. "_You_--" He
conveyed a limitless confidence.
"Well, I'll be jiggered if I don't try. How far is it?"
"Go slow--one sleep."
"Well, we won't go slow. We've got to do penance. When shall we start?"
"Too late now. Tomalla," said the Ol' Chief.
* * * * *
They got up very early--it seemed to the Boy like the middle of the
night--stole out of the dark Kachime, and hurried over the hard crust
that had formed on the last fall of snow, down the bleak, dim slope to
the Ol' Chief's, where they were to breakfast.
Not only Muckluck was up and doing, but the Ol' Chief seemed galvanised
into unwonted activity. He was doddering about between his bed and the
fire, laying out the most imposing parkis and fox-skins, fur blankets,
and a pair of seal-skin mittens, all of which, apparently, he had had
secreted under his bed, or between it and the wall.
They made a sumptuous breakfast of tea, the last of the bacon the Boy
had brought, and slapjacks.
The Boy kept looking from time to time at the display of furs. Father
Wills was right; he ought to buy a parki with a hood, but he had meant
to have the priest's advice, or Mac's, at least, before investing. Ol'
Chief watching him surreptitiously, and seeing he was no nearer making
an offer, felt he should have some encouragement. He picked up the
seal-skin mittens and held them out.
"Present," said Ol' Chief. "You tell Father Brachet us belly solly."
"Oh, I'll handle him without gloves," said the Boy, giving back the
mittens. But Ol' Chief wouldn't take them. He was holding up the
smaller of the two parkis.
"You no like?"
"Oh, very nice."
"You no buy?"
"You go sleep on trail," said Nicholas, rising briskly. "You die, no
The Boy laughed and shook his head, but still Ol' Chief held out the
deer-skin shirt, and caressed the wolf-fringe of the hood.
"Don't know as I call that cheap."
"Yes," said Nicholas. "St. Michael, him fifty dollah."
The Boy looked doubtful.
"I saw a parki there at the A. C. Store about like this for twenty."
"A. C. parki, peeluck," Nicholas said contemptuously. Then patting the
one his father held out, "You wear _him_ fifty winter."
"Lord forbid! Anyhow, I've only got about twenty dollars' worth of
tobacco and stuff along with me."
"Me come white camp," Nicholas volunteered. "Me get more fi' dollah."
"Oh, will you? Now, that's very kind of you." But Nicholas, impervious
to irony, held out the parki. The Boy laughed, and took it. Nicholas
stooped, picked up the fur mittens, and, laying them on the Boy's arm,
reiterated his father's "Present!" and then departed to the Kachime to
bring down the Boy's pack.
The Princess meanwhile had withdrawn to her own special corner, where
in the daytime appeared only a roll of plaited mats, and a little,
cheap, old hat-box, which she evidently prized most of all she had in
"You see? Lock!"
The Boy expressed surprise and admiration.
"No! Really! I call that fine."
"I got present for Father Brachet"; and turning over the rags and
nondescript rubbish of the hat-box, she produced an object whose use
was not immediately manifest. A section of walrus ivory about six
inches long had been cut in two. One of these curved halves had been
mounted on four ivory legs. In the upper flat side had been stuck, at
equal distances from the two ends and from each other, two delicate
branches of notched ivory, standing up like horns. Between these sat an
ivory mannikin, about three inches long, with a woeful countenance and
with arms held out like one beseeching mercy.
"It's fine," said the Boy, "but--a--what's it for? Just look pretty?"
"Wait, I show you." She dived into the hat-box, and fished up a bit of
battered pencil. With an air of pride, she placed the pencil across the
outstretched hands of the ivory suppliant, asking the Boy in dumb-show,
was not this a pen-rest that might be trusted to melt the heart of the
"This way, too." She illustrated how anyone embarrassed by the
possession of more than one pencil could range them in tiers on the
ivory horns above the head of the Woeful One.
"I call that scrumptious! And he looks as if he was saying he was sorry
all the time."
She nodded, delighted that the Boy comprehended the subtle symbolism.
"One more!" she said, showing her dazzling teeth. Like a child playing
a game, she half shut the hat-box and hugged it lovingly. Then with
eyes sparkling, slowly the small hand crept in--was thrust down the
side and drew out with a rapturous "Ha!" a gaudy advertisement card,
setting forth the advantages of smoking "Kentucky Leaf" She looked at
it fondly. Then slowly, regretfully, all the fun gone now, she passed
it to the Boy.
"For Sister Winifred!" she said, like one who braces herself to make
some huge renunciation. "You tell her I send with my love, and I always
say my prayers. I very good. Hey? You tell Sister Winifred?"
"_Sure_," said the Boy.
The Ol' Chief was pulling the other parki over his head. Nicholas
reappeared with the visitor's effects. Under the Boy's eyes, he calmly
confiscated all the tea and tobacco. But nothing had been touched in
the owner's absence.
"Look here: just leave me enough tea to last till I get home. I'll make
it up to you."
Nicholas, after some reflection, agreed. Then he bustled about,
gathered together an armful of things, and handed the Boy a tea-kettle
and an axe.
"You bring--dogs all ready. Mush!" and he was gone.
To the Boy's surprise, while he and Muckluck were getting the food and
presents together, the lively Ol' Chief--so lately dying--made off, in
a fine new parki, on all fours, curious, no doubt, to watch the
But not a bit of it. The Ol' Chief's was a more intimate concern in the
expedition. When the Boy joined him, there he was sitting up in
Nicholas's sled, appallingly emaciated, but brisk as you please,
ordering the disposition of the axe and rifle along either side, the
tea-kettle and grub between his feet, showing how the deer-skin
blankets should be wrapped, and especially was he dictatorial about the
lashing of the mahout.
"How far's he comin'?" asked the Boy, astonished.
"All the way," said Muckluck. "He want to be _sure_."
Several bucks came running down from the Kachime, and stood about,
coughed and spat, and offered assistance or advice. When at last Ol'
Chief was satisfied with the way the raw walrus-hide was laced and
lashed, Nicholas cracked his whip and shouted, "Mush! God-damn! Mush!"
"Good-bye, Princess. We'll take care of your father, though I'm sure he
oughtn't to go."
"Oh yes," answered Muckluck confidently; then lower, "Shaman make all
well quick. Hey? Goo'-bye."
"Don't forget tell Sister Winifred I say my p--" But the Boy had to run
to keep up with the sled.
For some time he kept watching the Ol' Chief with unabated
astonishment, wondering if he'd die on the way. But, after all, the
open-air cure was tried for his trouble in various other parts of the
world--why not here?
There was no doubt about it, Nicholas had a capital team of dogs, and
knew how to drive them. Two-legged folk often had to trot pretty
briskly to keep up. Pymeut was soon out of sight.
"Nicholas, what'll you take for a couple o' your dogs?"
"Pay you a good long price."
"Well, will you help me to get a couple?"
"Me try"; but he spoke dubiously.
"What do they cost?"
"Good leader cost hunder and fifty in St. Michael."
"You don't mean dollahs?"
"Come off the roof!"
But Nicholas seemed to think there was no need.
"You mean that if I offer you a hundred and fifty dollahs for your
leader, straight off, this minute, you won't take it?"
"No, no take," said the Prince, stolidly.
And his friend reflected. Nicholas without a dog-team would be
practically a prisoner for eight months of the year, and not only that,
but a prisoner in danger of starving to death. After all, perhaps a
dog-team in such a country _was_ priceless, and the Ol' Chief was
travelling in truly royal style.
However, it was stinging cold, and running after those expensive dogs
was an occupation that palled. By-and-by, "How much is your sled
worth?" he asked Ol' Chief.
"Six sables," said the monarch.
* * * * *
It was a comfort to sight a settlement off there on the point.
"What's this place?"
"No, all gone. Come back when salmon run."
Not a creature there, as Nicholas had foretold--a place built wilfully
on the most exposed point possible, bleak beyond belief. If you open
your mouth at this place on the Yukon, you have to swallow a hurricane.
The Boy choked, turned his back to spit out the throttling blast, and
when he could catch his breath inquired:
"This a good place for a village?"
"Bully. Wind come, blow muskeetah--"
Nicholas signified a remote destination with his whip.
"B'lieve you! This kind o' thing would discourage even a mosquito."
In the teeth of the blast they went past the Pymeut Summer Resort.
Unlike Pymeut proper, its cabins were built entirely above ground, of
logs unchinked, its roofs of watertight birch-bark.
A couple of hours farther on Nicholas permitted a halt on the edge of a
struggling little grove of dwarfed cotton-wood.
The kettle and things being withdrawn from various portions of the Ol'
Chief's person, he, once more warmly tucked up and tightly lashed down,
drew the edge of the outer coverlid up till it met the wolf-skin fringe
of his parki hood, and relapsed into slumber.
Nicholas chopped down enough green wood to make a hearth.
"What! bang on the snow?"
Nicholas nodded, laid the logs side by side, and on them built a fire
of the seasoned wood the Boy had gathered. They boiled the kettle, made
tea, and cooked some fish.
Ol' Chief waked up just in time to get his share. The Boy, who had kept
hanging about the dogs with unabated interest, had got up from the fire
to carry them the scraps, when Nicholas called out quite angrily, "No!
no feed dogs," and waved the Boy off.
"What! It's only some of my fish. Fish is what they eat, ain't it?"
"No feed now; wait till night."
"What for? They're hungry."
"You give fish--dogs no go any more."
Peremptorily he waved the Boy off, and fell to work at packing up. Not
understanding Nicholas's wisdom, the Boy was feeling a little sulky and
didn't help. He finished up the fish himself, then sat on his heels by
the fire, scorching his face while his back froze, or wheeling round
and singeing his new parki while his hands grew stiff in spite of
No, it was no fun camping with the temperature at thirty degrees below
zero--better to be trotting after those expensive and dinnerless dogs;
and he was glad when they started again.
But once beyond the scant shelter of the cottonwood, it was evident the
wind had risen. It was blowing straight out of the north and into their
faces. There were times when you could lean your whole weight against
After sunset the air began to fill with particles of frozen snow. They
did not seem to fall, but continually to whirl about, and present
stinging points to the travellers' faces. Talking wasn't possible even
if you were in the humour, and the dead, blank silence of all nature,
unbroken hour after hour, became as nerve-wearing as the cold and
stinging wind. The Boy fell behind a little. Those places on his heels
that had been so badly galled had begun to be troublesome again. Well,
it wouldn't do any good to holla about it--the only thing to do was to
harden one's foolish feet. But in his heart he felt that all the
time-honoured conditions of a penitential journey were being complied
with, except on the part of the arch sinner. Ol' Chief seemed to be
getting on first-rate.
The dogs, hardly yet broken in to the winter's work, were growing
discouraged, travelling so long in the eye of the wind. And Nicholas,
in the kind of stolid depression that had taken possession of him,
seemed to have forgotten even to shout "Mush!" for a very long time.
By-and-by Ol' Chief called out sharply, and Nicholas seemed to wake up.
He stopped, looked back, and beckoned to his companion.
The Boy came slowly on.
"Why you no push?"
He went to the sled and illustrated, laying his hands on the
arrangement at the back that stood out like the handle behind a baby's
perambulator. The Boy remembered. Of course, there were usually two men
with each sled. One ran ahead and broke trail with snow-shoes, but that
wasn't necessary today, for the crust bore. But the other man's
business was to guide the sled from behind and keep it on the trail.
"Me gottah drive, you gottah push. Dogs heap tired."
Nicholas spoke severely. The Boy stared a moment at what he mentally
called "the nerve of the fella," laughed, and took hold, swallowing
Nicholas's intimation that he, after all, was far more considerate of
the dogs than the person merely sentimental, who had been willing to
share his dinner with them.
"How much farther?"
"Oh, pretty quick now."
The driver cracked his whip, called out to the dogs, and suddenly
turned off from the river course. Unerringly he followed an invisible
trail, turning sharply up a slough, and went zig-zagging on without
apparent plan. It was better going when they got to a frozen lake, and
the dogs seemed not to need so much encouragement. It would appear an
impossible task to steer accurately with so little light; but once on
the other side of the lake it was found that Nicholas had hit a
well-beaten track as neatly as a thread finds the needle's eye.
Far off, out of the dimness, came a sound--welcome because it was
something to break the silence but hardly cheerful in itself.
"Hear that, Nicholas?"
Their own had already thrown up their noses and bettered the pace.
The barking of the dogs had not only announced the mission to the
travellers, but to the mission a stranger at the gates.
Before anything could be seen of the settlement, clumsy, fur-clad
figures had come running down the slope and across the ice, greeting
Nicholas with hilarity.
Indian or Esquimaux boys they seemed to be, who talked some jargon
understanded of the Pymeut pilot. The Boy, lifting tired eyes, saw
something white glimmering high in the air up on the right river bank.
In this light it refused to form part of any conceivable plan, but hung
there in the air detached, enigmatic, spectral. Below it, more on
humanity's level, could be dimly distinguished, now, the Mission
Buildings, apparently in two groups with an open space in the middle.
Where are the white people? wondered the Boy, childishly impatient.
Won't they come and welcome us? He followed the Esquimaux and Indians
from the river up to the left group of buildings. With the heathen
jargon beating on his ears, he looked up suddenly, and realized what
the white thing was that had shone out so far. In the middle of the
open space a wooden cross stood up, encrusted with frost crystals, and
lifting gleaming arms out of the gloom twenty feet or so above the
heads of the people.
"Funny thing for an Agnostic," he admitted to himself, "but I'm right
glad to see a Christian sign." And as he knocked at the door of the big
two-story log-house on the left he defended himself. "It's the
swing-back of the pendulum after a big dose of Pymeut and heathen
tricks. I welcome it as a mark of the white man." He looked over his
shoulder a little defiantly at the Holy Cross. Recognition of what the
high white apparition was had given him a queer jolt, stirring
unsuspected things in imagination and in memory. He had been accustomed
to see that symbol all his life, and it had never spoken to him before.
Up here it cried aloud and dominated the scene. "Humph!" he said to
himself, "to look at you a body'd think 'The Origin' had never been
written, and Spencer and Huxley had never been born.' He knocked again,
and again turned about to scan the cross.
"Just as much a superstition, just as much a fetich as Kaviak's
seal-plug or the Shaman's eagle feather. With long looking at a couple
of crossed sticks men grow as dazed, as hypnotized, as Pymeuts watching
a Shaman's ivory wand. All the same, I'm not sure that faith in 'First
Principles' would build a house like this in the Arctic Regions, and
it's convenient to find it here--if only they'd open the door."
He gave another thundering knock, and then nearly fell backwards into
the snow, for Brother Paul stood on the threshold holding up a lamp.
"I--a--oh! How do you do? Can I come in?"
Brother Paul, still with the look of the Avenging Angel on his pale,
young face, held the door open to let the Boy come in. Then, leaning
out into the night and lifting the lamp high, "Is that Nicholas?" he
But the Pymeuts and the school-boys had vanished. He came in and set
down the lamp.
"We--a--we heard you were going down river," said the Boy, tamely, for
he had not yet recovered himself after such an unexpected blow.
"Are you cold? Are you wet?" demanded Brother Paul, standing erect,
unwelcoming, by the table that held the lamp.
The Boy pulled himself together.
"Look here"--he turned away from the comforting stove and confronted
the Jesuit--"those Pymeuts are not only cold and wet and sick too, but
they're sorry. They've come to ask forgiveness."
"It's easily done."
Such scorn you would hardly expect from a follower of the meek
"No, not easily done, a penance like this. I know, for I've just
travelled that thirty miles with 'em over the ice from Pymeut."
"You? Yes, it amuses you."
The sombre eyes shone with a cold, disconcerting light.
"Well, to tell you the truth, I've been better amused."
The Boy looked down at his weary, wounded feet. And the others--where
were his fellow pilgrims? It struck him as comic that the upshot of the
journey should be that he was doing penance for the Pymeuts, but he
couldn't smile with that offended archangel in front of him.
"Thirty miles over the ice, in the face of a norther, hasn't been so
'easy' even for me. And I'm not old, nor sick--no, nor frightened,
He flung up his head, but his heart failed him even while he made the
boast. Silently, for a moment, they confronted each other.
"Where are you bound for?"
"I--a--" The Boy had a moment of wondering if he was expected to answer
"Hell," and he hesitated.
"Are you on your way up the river?"
"No--I" (was the man not going to let them rest their wicked bones
there a single night?)--"a--I--"
The frozen river and the wind-racked wood were as hospitable as the
beautiful face of the brother. Involuntarily the Boy shivered.
"I came to see the Father Superior."
He dropped back into a chair.
"The Father Superior is busy."
"And very tired."
"--worn out with the long raging of the plague. I have waited till he
is less harassed to tell him about the Pymeuts' deliberate depravity.
Nicholas, too!--one of our own people, one of the first pupils of the
school, a communicant in the church; distinguished by a thousand
kindnesses. And this the return!"
"The return is that he takes his backsliding so to heart, he can't rest
without coming to confess and to beg the Father Superior--"
"I shall tell the Father Superior what I heard and saw. He will agree
that, for the sake of others who are trying to resist temptation, an
example should be made of Nicholas and of his father."
"And yet you nursed the old man and were kind to him, I believe, after
"I--I thought you had killed him. But even you must see that we cannot
have a man received here as Nicholas was--the most favoured child of
the mission--who helps to perpetuate the degrading blasphemies of his
unhappy race. It's nothing to you; you even encourage--"
"'Pon my soul--" But Brother Paul struck in with an impassioned
"We spend a life-time making Christians of these people; and such as
you come here, and in a week undo the work of years."
"It's only eighteen months since I myself came, but already I've
seen--" The torrent poured out with never a pause. "Last summer some
white prospectors bribed our best native teacher to leave us and become
a guide. He's a drunken wreck now somewhere up on the Yukon Flats. You
take our boys for pilots, you entice our girls away with trinkets--"
"Great Caesar! _I_ don't."
But vain was protest. For Brother Paul the visitor was not a particular
individual. He stood there for the type of the vicious white
The sunken eyes of the lay-brother, burning, impersonal, saw not a
particular young man and a case compounded of mixed elements, but--The
Enemy! against whom night and day he waged incessant warfare.
"The Fathers and Sisters wear out their lives to save these people. We
teach them with incredible pains the fundamental rules of civilization;
we teach them how to save their souls alive." The Boy had jumped up and
laid his hand on the door-knob. "_You_ come. You teach them to smoke--"
The Boy wheeled round.
"I don't smoke."
"... and to gamble."
"Nicholas taught _me_ to gamble. Brother Paul, I swear--"
"Yes, and to swear and get drunk, and so find the shortest way to
"Father Brachet! Father Wills!" a voice called without.
The door-knob turned under the Boy's hand, and before he could more
than draw back, a whiff of winter blew into the room, and a creature
stood there such as no man looks to find on his way to an Arctic gold
camp. A girl of twenty odd, with the face of a saint, dressed in the
black habit of the Order of St. Anne.
"Oh, Brother Paul! you are wanted--wanted quickly. I think Catherine is
worse; don't wait, or she'll die without--" And as suddenly as she came
the vision vanished, carrying Brother Paul in the wake of her streaming
The Boy sat down by the stove, cogitating how he should best set about
finding Nicholas to explain the failure of their mission.... What was
that? Voices from the other side. The opposite door opened and a man
appeared, with Nicholas and his father close behind, looking anything
but cast down or decently penitential.
"How do you do?" The white man's English had a strong French accent. He
shook hands with great cordiality. "We have heard of you from Father
Wills also. These Pymeut friends of ours say you have something to tell
He spoke as though this something were expected to be highly
gratifying, and, indeed, the cheerfulness of Nicholas and his father
would indicate as much.
As the Boy, hesitating, did not accept the chair offered, smiling, the
Jesuit went on:
"Will you talk of zis matter--whatever it is--first, or will you first
go up and wash, and have our conference after supper?"
"No, thank you--a--Are you the Father Superior?"
He bowed a little ceremoniously, but still smiling.
"I am Father Brachet."
"Oh, well, Nicholas is right. The first thing to do is to explain why
Was it the heat of the stove after the long hours of cold that made him
feel a little dizzy? He put up his hand to his head.
"I have told zem to take hot water upstairs," the Father was saying,
"and I zink a glass of toddy would be a good sing for you." He slightly
emphasised the "you," and turned as if to supplement the original
"No, no!" the Boy called after him, choking a little, half with
suppressed merriment, half with nervous fatigue. "Father Brachet, if
you're kind to us, Brother Paul will never forgive you. We're all in
"Yes, we're all desperately wicked."
"No, no," objected Nicholas, ready to go back on so tactless an
"And Brother Paul has just been saying--"
"What is it, what is it?"
The Father Superior spoke a little sharply, and himself sat down in the
wooden armchair he before had placed for his white guest.
The three culprits stood in front of him on a dead level of iniquity.
"You see, Father Brachet, Ol' Chief has been very ill--"
"I know. Much as we needed him here, Paul insisted on hurrying back to
Pymeut"--he interrupted himself as readily as he had interrupted the
Boy--"but ze Ol' Chief looks lively enough."
"Yes; he--a--his spirits have been raised by--a--what you will think an
unwarrantable and wicked means."
Nicholas understood, at least, that objectionable word "wicked"
cropping up again, and he was not prepared to stand it from the Boy.
He grunted with displeasure, and said something low to his father.
"Brother Paul found them--found _us_ having a seance with the Shaman."
Father Brachet turned sharply to the natives.
"Ha! you go back to zat."
Nicholas came a step forward, twisting his mittens and rolling his eye
"Us no wicked. Shaman say he gottah scare off--" He waved his arm
against an invisible army. Then, as it were, stung into plain speaking:
"Shaman say _white man_ bring sickness--bring devils--"
"Maybe the old Orang Outang's right."
The Boy drew a tired breath, and sat down without bidding in one of the
wooden chairs. What an idiot he'd been not to take the hot grog and the
hot bath, and leave these people to fight their foolishness out among
themselves! It didn't concern him. And here was Nicholas talking away
comfortably in his own tongue, and the Father was answering. A native
opened the door and peeped in cautiously.
"Hein!" said Father Brachet, "what is it!"
The Indian came in with two cups of hot tea and a cracker in each
saucer. He stopped at the priest's side.
"You get sick, too. Please take. Supper little late." He nodded to
Nicholas, and gave the white stranger the second cup. As he was going
out: "Same man here in July. You know"--he tapped himself on the left
side--"man with sore heart."
"Yansey?" said the priest quickly. "Well, what about Yansey?"
"He is here."
"But no! Wiz zose ozzers?"
"No, I think they took the dogs and deserted him. He's just been
brought in by our boys; they are back with the moose-meat. Sore heart
worse. He will die."
"Who's looking after him?"
"Brother Paul"; and he padded out of the room in his soft native shoes.
"Then Brother Paul has polished off Catherine," thought the Boy, "and
he won't waste much time over a sore heart. It behoves us to hurry up
with our penitence." This seemed to be Nicholas's view as well. He was
beginning again in his own tongue.
"You know we like best for you to practise your English," said the
priest gently; "I expect you speak very well after working so long on
ze John J. Healy."
"Yes," Nicholas straightened himself. "Me talk all same white man now."
(He gleamed at the Boy: "Don't suppose I need you and your perfidious
tongue.") "No; us Pymeuts no wicked!"
Again he turned away from the priest, and challenged the Boy to repeat
the slander. Then with an insinuating air, "Shaman no say you wicked,"
he reassured the Father. "Shaman say Holy Cross all right. Cheechalko
no good; Cheechalko bring devils; Cheechalko all same _him_," he wound
up, flinging subterfuge to the winds, and openly indicating his
"Strikes me I'm gettin' the worst of this argument all round. Brother
Paul's been sailing into me on pretty much the same tack."
"No," said Nicholas, firmly; "Brother Paul no unnerstan'. _You_
unnerstan'." He came still nearer to the Father, speaking in a
friendly, confidential tone. "You savvy! Plague come on steamboat up
from St. Michael. One white man, he got coast sickness. Sun shining.
Salmon run big. Yukon full o' boats. Two days: no canoe on river. Men
all sit in tent like so." He let his mittens fall on the floor,
crouched on his heels, and rocked his head in his hands. Springing up,
he went on with slow, sorrowful emphasis: "Men begin die--"
"Zen we come," said the Father, "wiz nurses and proper medicine--"
Nicholas gave the ghost of a shrug, adding the damaging fact: "Sickness
come to Holy Cross."
The Father nodded.
"We've had to turn ze schools into wards for our patients," he
explained to the stranger. "We do little now but nurse ze sick and
prepare ze dying. Ze Muzzer Superieure has broken down after heroic
labours. Paul, I fear, is sickening too. Yes, it's true: ze disease
came to us from Pymeut."
In the Father's mind was the thought of contagion courageously faced in
order to succour "the least of these my brethren." In Nicholas's mind
was the perplexing fact that these white men could bring sickness, but
not stay it. Even the heap good people at Holy Cross were not saved by
their deaf and impotent God.
"Fathers sick, eight Sisters sick, boy die in school, three girl die.
Holy Cross people kind--" Again he made that almost French motion of
the shoulders. "Shaman say, 'Peeluck!' No good be kind to devils; scare
'em--make 'em run."
"Nicholas," the priest spoke wearily, "I am ashamed of you. I sought
you had learned better. Zat old Shaman--he is a rare old rogue. What
did you give him?"
Nicholas' mental processes may not have been flattering, but their
clearness was unmistakable. If Father Brachet was jealous of the rival