Part 6 out of 11
second cup of tea.
But the Boy bolted the last of his meal, gathered up the kettle, mug,
and frying-pan, which had served him for plate as well, and wormed his
way out as fast as he could. There was the sled nearly packed for the
journey, and watching over it, keeping the dogs at bay, was an
indescribably dirty little boy in a torn and greasy denim parki over
rags of reindeer-skin. Nobody else in sight but Yagorsha's daughter
down at the water-hole.
"Where's my pardner gone?" The child only stared, having no English
While the Boy packed the rest of the things, and made the tattered
canvas fast under the lashing, Joe came out of the Kachime. He stood
studying the prospect a moment, and his dull eyes suddenly gleamed.
Anna was coming up from the river with her dripping pail. He set off
with an affectation of leisurely indifference, but he made straight for
his enemy. She seemed not to see him till he was quite near, then she
sheered off sharply. Joe hardly quickened his pace, but seemed to gain.
She set down her bucket, and turned back towards the river.
"Idiot!" ejaculated the Boy; "she could have reached her own ighloo."
The dirty child grinned, and tore off towards the river to watch the
fun. Anna was hidden now by a pile of driftwood. The Boy ran down a few
yards to bring her within range again. For all his affectation of
leisureliness and her obvious fluster, no doubt about it, Joe was
gaining on her. She dropped her hurried walk and frankly took to her
heels, Joe doing the same; but as she was nearly as fleet of foot as
Muckluck, in spite of her fat, she still kept a lessening distance
between herself and her pursuer.
The ragged child had climbed upon the pile of drift-wood, and stood
hunched with the cold, his shoulders up to his ears, his hands
withdrawn in his parki sleeves, but he was grinning still. The Boy, a
little concerned as to possible reprisals upon so impudent a young
woman, had gone on and on, watching the race down to the river, and
even across the ice a little way. He stood still an instant staring as
Joe, going now as hard as he could, caught up with her at last. He took
hold of the daughter of the highly-respected Yagorsha, and fell to
shaking and cuffing her. The Boy started off full tilt to the rescue.
Before he could reach them Joe had thrown her down on the ice. She half
got up, but her enemy, advancing upon her again, dealt her a blow that
made her howl and sent her flat once more.
"Stop that! You hear? _Stop_ it!" the Boy called out.
But Joe seemed not to hear. Anna had fallen face downward on the ice
this time, and lay there as if stunned. Her enemy caught hold of her,
pulled her up, and dragged her along in spite of her struggles and
"Let her alone!" the Boy shouted. He was nearly up to them now. But
Joe's attention was wholly occupied in hauling Anna back to the
village, maltreating her at intervals by the way. Now the girl was
putting up one arm piteously to shield her bleeding face from his
fists. "Don't you hit her again, or it'll be the worse for you." But
again Joe's hand was lifted. The Boy plunged forward, caught the blow
as it descended, and flung the arm aside, wrenched the girl free, and
as Joe came on again, looking as if he meant business, the Boy planted
a sounding lick on his jaw. The Pymeut staggered, and drew off a little
way, looking angry enough, but, to the Boy's surprise, showing no
It occurred to him that the girl, her lip bleeding, her parki torn,
seemed more surprised than grateful; and when he said, "You come back
with me; he shan't touch you," she did not show the pleased alacrity
that you would expect. But she was no doubt still dazed. They all stood
looking rather sheepish, and like actors "stuck" who cannot think of
the next line, till Joe turned on the girl with some mumbled question.
She answered angrily. He made another grab at her. She screamed, and
got behind the Boy. Very resolutely he widened his bold buck-skin legs,
and dared Joe to touch the poor frightened creature cowering behind her
protector. Again silence.
"What's the trouble between you two?"
They looked at each other, and then away. Joe turned unexpectedly, and
shambled off in the direction of the village. Not a word out of Anna as
she returned by the side of her protector, but every now and then she
looked at him sideways. The Boy felt her inexpressive gratitude, and
was glad his journey had been delayed, or else, poor devil--
Joe had stopped to speak to--
"Who on earth's that white woman?"
"What's she dressed like that for?"
"Often like that in summer. Me, too--me got Holy Cross clo'es."
Muckluck went slowly up towards the Kachime with Joe. When the others
got to the water-hole, Anna turned and left the Boy without a word to
go and recover her pail. The Boy stood a moment, looking for some sign
of the Colonel, and then went along the river bank to Ol' Chief's. No,
the Colonel had gone back to the Kachime.
The Boy came out again, and to his almost incredulous astonishment,
there was Joe dragging the unfortunate Anna towards an ighloo. As he
looked back, to steer straight for the entrance-hole, he caught sight
of the Boy, dropped his prey, and disappeared with some precipitancy
into the ground. When Anna had gathered herself up, the Boy was
standing in front of her.
"You don't seem to be able to take very good care o' yourself." She
pushed her tousled hair out of her eyes. "I don't wonder your own
people give it up if you have to be rescued every half-hour. What's the
matter with you and Joe?" She kept looking down. "What have you done to
make him like this?" She looked up suddenly and laughed, and then her
"Why should he want to kill you, then?"
"No _kill_" she said, smiling, a little rueful and embarrassed again,
with her eyes on the ground. Then, as the Boy still stood there
waiting, "Joe," she whispered, glancing over her shoulder--"Joe want me
be he squaw."
The Boy fell back an astonished step.
"Jee-rusalem! He's got a pretty way o' sayin' so. Why don't you tell
"Tell--father?" It seemed never to have occurred to her.
"Yes; can't Yagorsha protect you?"
She looked about doubtfully and then over her shoulder.
"That Joe's ighloo," she said.
He pictured to himself the horror that must assail her blood at the
sight. Yes, he was glad to have saved any woman from so dreadful a
fate. Did it happen often? and did nobody interfere? Muckluck was
coming down from the direction of the Kachime. The Boy went to meet
her, throwing over his shoulder, "You'd better stick to me, Anna, as
long as I'm here. I don't know, I'm sure, _what'll_ happen to you when
I'm gone." Anna followed a few paces, and then sat down on the snow to
pull up and tie her disorganized leg-gear.
Muckluck was standing still, looking at the Boy with none of the
kindness a woman ought to show to one who had just befriended her sex.
"Did you see that?"
She nodded. "See that any day."
The Boy stopped, appalled at the thought of woman in a perpetual state
"Brute! hound!" he flung out towards Joe's ighloo.
"No," says Muckluck firmly; "Joe all right."
"You say that, after what's happened this morning?" Muckluck declined
to take the verdict back. "Did you see him strike her?"
"Oh, didn't it? He threw her down, as hard as he could, on the ice."
"She get up again."
He despised Muckluck in that moment.
"You weren't sorry to see another girl treated so?"
"What if it had been you?"
"Oh, he not do that to _me_."
"Why not? You can't tell."
"Oh, yes." She spoke with unruffled serenity.
"It will very likely be you the next time." The Boy took a brutal
pleasure in presenting the hideous probability.
"No," she returned unmoved. "Joe savvy I no marry Pymeut."
The Boy stared, mystified by the lack of sequence. "Poor Anna doesn't
want to marry _that_ Pymeut."
The Boy gave her up. Perversity was not confined to the civilized of
her sex. He walked on to find the Colonel. Muckluck followed, but the
Boy wouldn't speak to her, wouldn't look at her.
"You like my Holy Cross clo'es?" she inquired. "Me--I look like your
kind of girls now, huh?" No answer, but she kept up with him. "See?"
She held up proudly a medallion, or coin of some sort, hung on a narrow
strip of raw-hide.
He meant not to look at it at all, and he jerked his head away after
the merest glance that showed him the ornament was tarnished silver, a
little bigger than an American dollar, and bore no device familiar to
his eyes. He quickened his pace, and walked on with face averted. The
Colonel appeared just below the Kachime.
"Well, aren't you _ever_ comin'?" he called out.
"I've been ready this half-hour--hangin' about waitin' for you. That
devil Joe," he went on, lowering his voice as he came up and speaking
hurriedly, "has been trying to drag Yagorsha's girl into his ighloo.
They've just had a fight out yonder on the ice. I got her away, but not
before he'd thrown her down and given her a bloody face. We ought to
tell old Yagorsha, hey?"
Muckluck chuckled. The Boy turned on her angrily, and saw her staring
back at Joe's ighloo. There, sauntering calmly past the abhorred trap,
was the story-teller's daughter. Past it? No. She actually halted and
busied herself with her legging thong.
"That girl must be an imbecile!" Or was it the apparition of her
father, up at the Kachime entrance, that inspired such temerity?
The Boy had gone a few paces towards her, and then turned. "Yagorsha!"
he called up the slope. Yagorsha stood stock-still, although the Boy
waved unmistakable danger-signals towards Joe's ighloo. Suddenly an arm
flashed out of the tunnel, caught Anna by the ankle, and in a twinkling
she lay sprawling on her back. Two hands shot out, seized her by the
heels, and dragged the wretched girl into the brute's lair. It was all
over in a flash. A moment's paralysis of astonishment, and the
involuntary rush forward was arrested by Muckluck, who fastened herself
on to the rescuer's parki-tail and refused to be detached. "Yagorsha!"
shouted the Boy. But it was only the Colonel who hastened towards them
at the summons. The poor girl's own father stood calmly smoking, up
there, by the Kachime, one foot propped comfortably on the travellers'
loaded sled. "Yagorsha!" he shouted again, and then, with a jerk to
free himself from Muckluck, the Boy turned sharply towards the ighloo,
seeming in a bewildered way to be, himself, about to transact this
paternal business for the cowardly old loafer. But Muckluck clung to
his arm, laughing.
"Yagorsha know. Joe give him nice mitts--sealskin--_new_ mitts."
"Hear that, Colonel? For a pair of mitts he sells his daughter to that
Without definite plan, quite vaguely and instinctively, he shook
himself free from Muckluck, and rushed down to the scene of the
tragedy. Muffled screams and yells issued with the smoke. Muckluck
turned sharply to the Colonel, who was following, and said something
that sent him headlong after the Boy. He seized the doughty champion by
the feet just as he was disappearing in the tunnel, and hauled him out.
"What in thunder--All right, you go first, then. _Quick_! as more
screams rent the still air.
"Don't be a fool. You've been interruptin' the weddin' ceremonies."
Muckluck had caught up with them, and Yagorsha was advancing leisurely
across the snow.
"She no want _you_," whispered Muckluck to the Boy. "She _like_
Joe--like him best of all." Then, as the Boy gaped incredulously: "She
tell me heap long time ago she want Joe."
"That's just part of the weddin' festivity," says the Colonel, as
renewed shrieks issued from under the snow. "You've been an officious
interferer, and I think the sooner I get you out o' Pymeut the
healthier it'll be for you."
The Boy was too flabbergasted to reply, but he was far from convinced.
The Colonel turned back to apologise to Yagorsha.
"No like this in your country?" inquired Muckluck of the crestfallen
"When you like girl--what you do?"
"Tell her so," muttered the Boy mechanically.
"Well--Joe been tellin' Anna--all winter."
"And she hated him."
"No. She like Joe--best of any."
"What did she go on like that for, then?"
"Oh-h! She know Joe savvy."
The Boy felt painfully small at his own lack of _savoir_, but no less
"When you marry"--he turned to her incredulously--"will it be"--again
the shrieks--"like this?"
"I no marry Pymeut."
Glancing riverwards, he saw the dirty imp, who had been so wildly
entertained by the encounter on the ice, still huddled on his
drift-wood observatory, presenting as little surface to the cold as
possible, but grinning still with rapture at the spirited last act of
the winter-long drama. As the Boy, with an exclamation of "Well, I give
it up," walked slowly across the slope after the Colonel and Yagorsha,
Muckluck lingered at his side.
"In your country when girl marry--she no scream?"
"Well, no; not usually, I believe."
"She go quiet? Like--like she _want_--" Muckluck stood still with
astonishment and outraged modesty.
"They agree," he answered irritably. "They don't go on like wild
Muckluck pondered deeply this matter of supreme importance.
"When you--get you squaw, you no _make_ her come?"
The Boy shook his head, and turned away to cut short these excursions
into comparative ethnology.
But Muckluck was athirst for the strange new knowledge.
"What you do?"
He declined to betray his plan of action.
"When you--all same Joe? Hey?"
Still no answer.
"When you _know_--girl like you best--you no drag her home?"
"No. Be quiet."
_"No?_ How you marry you self, then?"
The conversation would be still more embarrassing before the Colonel,
so he stopped, and said shortly: "In our country nobody beats a woman
because he likes her."
"How she know, then?"
"They _agree_, I tell you."
"Oh--an' girl--just come--when he call? Oh-h!" She dropped her jaw, and
stared. "No fight a _little?"_ she gasped. "No scream quite _small?"_
_"No_, I tell you." He ran on and joined the Colonel. Muckluck stood
several moments rooted in amazement.
Yagorsha had called the rest of the Pymeuts out, for these queer guests
of theirs were evidently going at last.
They all said "Goo'-bye" with great goodwill. Only Muckluck in her
chilly "Holy Cross clo'es" stood sorrowful and silent, swinging her
medal slowly back and forth.
Nicholas warned them that the Pymeut air-hole was not the only one.
"No," Yagorsha called down the slope; "better no play tricks with
_him_." He nodded towards the river as the travellers looked back. "Him
no like. Him got heap plenty mouths--chew you up." And all Pymeut
chuckled, delighted at their story-teller's wit.
Suddenly Muckluck broke away from the group, and ran briskly down to
the river trail.
"I will pray for you--hard." She caught hold of the Boy's hand, and
shook it warmly. "Sister Winifred says the Good Father--"
"Fact is, Muckluck," answered the Boy, disengaging himself with
embarrassment, "my pardner here can hold up that end. Don't you think
you'd better square Yukon Inua? Don't b'lieve he likes me."
And they left her, shivering in her "Holy Cross clo'es," staring after
them, and sadly swinging her medal on its walrus-string.
"I don't mind sayin' I'm glad to leave Pymeut behind," said the
"You're safe to get into a muss if you mix up with anything that has to
do with women. That Muckluck o' yours is a minx."
"She ain't my Muckluck, and I don't believe she's a minx, not a little
Not wishing to be too hard on his pardner, the Colonel added:
"I lay it all to the chaparejos myself." Then, observing his friend's
marked absence of hilarity, "You're very gay in your fine fringes."
"Been a little too gay the last two or three hours."
"Well, now, I'm glad to hear you say that. I think myself we've had
adventures enough right here at the start."
"I b'lieve you. But there's something in that idea o' yours. Other
fellas have noticed the same tendency in chaparejos."
"Well, if the worst comes to the worst," drawled the Colonel, "we'll
The suggestion roused no enthusiasm.
"B'lieve I'd have a cammin' influence. Yes, sir, I reckon I could keep
those fringes out o' kinks."
"Oh, I think they'll go straight enough after this"; and the Boy's good
spirits returned before they passed the summer village.
It came on to snow again, about six o'clock, that second day out, and
continued steadily all the night. What did it matter? They were used to
snow, and they were as jolly as clams at high-tide.
The Colonel called a halt in the shelter of a frozen slough, between
two banks, sparsely timbered, but promising all the wood they needed,
old as well as new. He made his camp fire on the snow, and the Boy soon
had the beef-tea ready--always the first course so long as Liebig
Thereafter, while the bacon was frying and the tea brewing, the Colonel
stuck up in the snow behind the fire some sticks on which to dry their
foot-gear. When he pulled off his mucklucks his stockinged feet smoked
in the frosty air. The hint was all that was needed, that first night
on the trail, for the Boy to follow suit and make the change into dry
things. The smoky background was presently ornamented with German
socks, and Arctic socks (a kind of felt slipper), and mucklucks, each
with a stick run through them to the toe, all neatly planted in a row,
like monstrous products of a snow-garden. With dry feet, burning faces
and chilly backs, they hugged the fire, ate supper, laughed and talked,
and said that life on the trail wasn't half bad. Afterwards they rolled
themselves in their blankets, and went to sleep on their spruce-bough
spring mattresses spread near the fire on the snow.
After about half an hour of oblivion the Boy started up with the drowsy
impression that a flying spark from the dying fire had set their stuff
ablaze. No. But surely the fire had been made up again--and--he rubbed
the sleep out of his incredulous eyes--yes, Muckluck was standing
"What in thunder!" he began. "Wh-what is it?"
"It is me."
"I can see that much. But what brings you here?"
Shivering with cold, she crouched close to the fire, dressed, as he
could see now, in her native clothes again, and it was her parki that
had scorched--was scorching still.
"Me--I--" Smiling, she drew a stiff hand out of its mitten and held it
over the reviving blaze, glancing towards the Colonel. He seemed to be
sleeping very sound, powdered over already with soft wet snow; but she
whispered her next remark.
"I think I come help you find that Onge Grove."
"I think you'll do nothing of the kind." He also spoke with a
deliberate lowering of the note. His great desire not to wake the
Colonel gave an unintentional softness to his tone.
"You think winter bad time for squaws to travel?" She shook her head,
and showed her beautiful teeth an instant in the faint light. Then,
rising, half shy, but very firm, "I no wait till summer."
He was so appalled for the moment, at the thought of having her on
their hands, all this way from Pymeut, on a snowy night, that words
failed him. As she watched him she, too, grew grave.
"You say me nice girl."
"When did I say that?" He clutched his head in despair.
"When you first come. When Shaman make Ol' Chief all well."
"I don't remember it."
"I think you misunderstood me, Muckluck."
"Heh?" Her countenance fell, but more puzzled than wounded.
"That is--oh, yes--of course--you're a nice girl."
"I think--Anna, too--you like me best." She helped out the white man's
bashfulness. But as her interlocutor, appalled, laid no claim to the
sentiment, she lifted the mittened hand to her eyes, and from under it
scanned the white face through the lightly falling snow. The other
hand, still held out to the comfort of the smoke, was trembling a
little, perhaps not altogether with the cold.
"The Colonel'll have to take over the breeches," said the Boy, with the
air of one wandering in his head. Then, desperately: "What _am_ I to
do? What am I to _say?_"
"Say? You say you no like girl scream, no like her fight like Anna.
Heh? So, me--I come like your girls--quite, quite good.... Heh?"
"You don't understand, Muckluck. I--you see, I could never find that
Orange Grove if you came along."
"Well--a--no woman ever goes to help to find an Orange Grove.
Th-there's a law against it."
Alas! she knew too little to be impressed by the Majesty invoked.
"You see, women, they--they come by-and-by--when the Orange Grove's
all--all ready for 'em. No man _ever_ takes a woman on that kind of
Her saddened face was very grave. The Boy took heart.
"Now, the Pymeuts are going in a week or two, Nicholas said, to hunt
caribou in the hills."
"But they won't take you to hunt caribou. No; they leave you at home.
It's exactly the same with Orange Groves. No nice girl _ever_ goes
Her lip trembled.
"Me--I can fish."
"Course you can." His spirits were reviving. "You can do
anything--except hunt." As she lifted her head with an air of sudden
protest he quashed her. "From the beginning there's been a law against
that. Squaws must stay at home and let the men do the huntin'."
"Me ... I can cook"--she was crying now--"while you hunt. Good supper
all ready when you come home."
He shook his head solemnly.
"Perhaps you don't know"--she flashed a moment's hope through her
tears--"me learn sew up at Holy Cross. Sew up your socks for you when
they open their mouths." But she could see that not even this grand new
"Can help pull sled," she suggested, looking round a little wildly as
if instantly to illustrate. "Never tired," she added, sobbing, and
putting her hands up to her face.
"Sh! sh! Don't wake the Colonel." He got up hastily and stood beside
her at the smouldering fire. He patted her on the shoulder. "Of course
you're a nice girl. The nicest girl in the Yukon"--he caught himself up
as she dropped her hands from her face--"that is, you will be, if you
go home quietly."
Again she hid her eyes.
Go home? How could he send her home all that way at this time of night?
It was a bothering business!
Again her hands fell from the wet unhappy face. She shivered a little
when she met his frowning looks, and turned away. He stooped and picked
up her mitten. Why, you couldn't turn a dog away on a night like this--
Plague take the Pymeuts, root and branch! She had shuffled her feet
into her snow-shoe straps, and moved off in the dimness. But for the
sound of sobbing, he could not have told just where, in the
softly-falling snow, Muckluck's figure was fading into the dusk. He
hurried after her, conscience-stricken, but most unwilling.
"Look here," he said, when he had caught up with her, "I'm sorry you
came all this way in the cold--very sorry." Her sobs burst out afresh,
and louder now, away from the Colonel's restraining presence. "But, see
here: I can't send you off like this. You might die on the trail."
"Yes, I think me die," she agreed.
"No, don't do that. Come back, and we'll tell the Colonel you're going
to stay by the fire till morning, and then go home."
She walked steadily on. "No, I go now."
"But you can't, Muckluck. You can't find the trail."
"I tell you before, I not like your girls. I can go in winter as good
as summer. I _can_ hunt!" She turned on him fiercely. "Once I hunt a
owel. Ketch him, too!" She sniffed back her tears. "I can do all
"No, you can't hunt Orange Groves," he said, with a severity that might
seem excessive. "But I can't let you go off in this snowstorm--"
"He soon stop. Goo'-bye."
Never word of sweeter import in his ears than that. But he was far from
satisfied with his conduct all the same. It was quite possible that the
Pymeuts, discovering her absence, would think he had lured her away,
and there might be complications. So it was with small fervour that he
said: "Muckluck, I wish you'd come back and wait till morning."
"No, I go now." She was in the act of darting forward on those
snow-shoes, that she used so skillfully, when some sudden thought cried
halt. She even stopped crying. "I no like go near blow-hole by night. I
keep to trail--"
"But how the devil do you do it?"
She paid no heed to the interruption, seeming busy in taking something
over her head from round her neck.
"To-morrow," she said, lowering her tear-harshened voice, "you find
blow-hole. You give this to Yukon Inua--say I send it. He will not hate
you any more." She burst into a fresh flood of tears. In a moment the
dim sight of her, the faint trail of crying left in her wake, had so
wholly vanished that, but for the bit of string, as it seemed to be,
left in his half-frozen hands, he could almost have convinced himself
he had dreamt the unwelcome visit.
The half-shut eye of the camp fire gleamed cheerfully, as he ran back,
and crouched down where poor little Muckluck had knelt, so sure of a
welcome. Muckluck, cogitated the Boy, will believe more firmly than
ever that, if a man doesn't beat a girl, he doesn't mean business. What
was it he had wound round one hand? What was it dangling in the acrid
smoke? _That_, then--her trinket, the crowning ornament of her Holy
Cross holiday attire, that was what she was offering the old ogre of
the Yukon--for his unworthy sake. He stirred up the dying fire to see
it better. A woman's face--some Catholic saint? He held the medal lower
to catch the fitful blaze. "_D. G. Autocratrix Russorum_." The Great
Katharine! Only a little crown on her high-rolled hair, and her
splendid chest all uncovered to the Arctic cold.
Her Yukon subjects must have wondered that she wore no parki--this lady
who had claimed sole right to all the finest sables found in her new
American dominions. On the other side of the medal, Minerva, with a
Gorgon-furnished shield and a beautiful bone-tipped harpoon, as it
looked, with a throwing-stick and all complete. But she, too, would
strike the Yukon eye as lamentably chilly about the legs. How had these
ladies out of Russia and Olympus come to lodge in Ol' Chief's ighloo?
Had Glovotsky won this guerdon at Great Katharine's hands? Had he
brought it on that last long journey of his to Russian America, and
left it to his Pymeut children with his bones? Well, Yukon Inua should
not have it yet. The Boy thrust the medal into a pocket of his
chaparejos, and crawled into his snow-covered bed.
"Raise the stone, and ye shall find me; cleave the wood, and there am
The stars were shining frostily, in a clear sky, when the Boy crawled
out from under his snow-drift in the morning. He built up the fire,
quaking in the bitter air, and bustled the breakfast.
"You seem to be in something of a hurry," said the Colonel, with a yawn
stifled in a shiver.
"We haven't come on this trip to lie abed in the morning," his pardner
returned with some solemnity. "I don't care how soon I begin caperin'
ahead with that load again."
"Well, it'll be warmin', anyway," returned the Colonel, "and I can't
say as much for your fire."
It was luck that the first forty miles of the trail had already been
traversed by the Boy. He kept recognising this and that in the
landscape, with an effect of good cheer on both of them. It postponed a
little the realization of their daring in launching themselves upon the
Arctic waste, without a guide or even a map that was of the smallest
Half an hour after setting off, they struck into the portage. Even with
a snow-blurred trail, the Boy's vivid remembrance of the other journey
gave them the sustaining sense that they were going right. The Colonel
was working off the surprising stiffness with which he had wakened, and
they were both warm now; but the Colonel's footsoreness was
considerable, an affliction, besides, bound to be worse before it was
The Boy spoke with the old-timer's superiority, of his own experience,
and was so puffed up, at the bare thought of having hardened his feet,
that he concealed without a qualm the fact of a brand-new blister on
his heel. A mere nothing that, not worth mentioning to anyone who
remembered the state he was in at the end of that awful journey of
It was well on in the afternoon before it began to snow again, and they
had reached the frozen lake. The days were lengthening, and they still
had good light by which to find the well-beaten trail on the other
"Now in a minute we'll hear the mission dogs. What did I tell you?" Out
of the little wood, a couple of teams were coming, at a good round
pace. They were pulled up at the waterhole, and the mission natives ran
on to meet the new arrivals. They recognised the Boy, and insisted on
making the Colonel, who was walking very lame, ride to the mission in
the strongest sled, and they took turns helping the dogs by pushing
from behind. The snow was falling heavily again, and one of the
Indians, Henry, looking up with squinted eyes, said, "There'll be
nothing left of that walrus-tusk."
"Hey?" inquired the Boy, straining at his sled-rope and bending before
the blast. "What's that?"
"Don't you know what makes snow?" said Henry.
"No. What does?"
"Ivory whittlings. When they get to their carving up yonder then we
What was happening to the Colonel?
The mere physical comfort of riding, instead of serving as packhorse,
great as it was, not even that could so instantly spirit away the
weariness, and light up the curious, solemn radiance that shone on the
Colonel's face. It struck the Boy that good old Kentucky would look
like that when he met his dearest at the Gate of Heaven--if there was
such a place.
The Colonel was aware of the sidelong wonder of his comrade's glance,
for the sleds, abreast, had come to a momentary halt. But still he
stared in front of him, just as a sailor in a storm dares not look away
from the beacon-light an instant, knowing all the waste about him
abounds in rocks and eddies and in death, and all the world of hope and
safe returning is narrowed to that little point of light.
After the moment's speculation the Boy turned his eyes to follow the
Colonel's gaze into space.
"The Cross! the Cross!" said the man on the sled. "Don't you see it?"
"Oh, that? Yes."
At the Boy's tone the Colonel, for the first time, turned his eyes away
from the Great White Symbol.
"Don't know what you're made of, if, seeing that... you needn't be a
Church member, but only a man, I should think, to--to--" He blew out
his breath in impotent clouds, and then went on. "We Americans think a
good deal o' the Stars and Stripes, but that up yonder--that's the
"Huh!" says the Boy. "Stars and Stripes tell of an ideal of united
states. That up there tells of an ideal of United Mankind. It's the
great Brotherhood Mark. There isn't any other standard that men would
follow just to build a hospice in a place like this."
At an upper window, in a building on the far side of the white symbol,
the travellers caught a glimpse, through the slanting snow, of one of
the Sisters of St. Ann shutting in the bright light with thick
_"Glass!"_ ejaculated the Colonel.
One of the Indians had run on to announce them, and as they drew up at
the door--that the Boy remembered as a frame for Brother Paul, with his
lamp, to search out iniquity, and his face of denunciation--out came
Father Brachet, brisk, almost running, his two hands outstretched, his
face a network of welcoming wrinkles. No long waiting, this time, in
the reception-room. Straight upstairs to hot baths and mild, reviving
drinks, and then, refreshed and already rested, down to supper.
With a shade of anxiety the Boy looked about for Brother Paul. But
Father Wills was here anyhow, and the Boy greeted him, joyfully, as a
tried friend and a man to be depended on. There was Brother Etienne,
and there were two strange faces.
Father Brachet put the Colonel on his right and the Boy on his left,
introducing: "Fazzer Richmond, my predecessor as ze head of all ze
Alaskan missions," calmly eliminating Greek, Episcopalian, and other
heretic establishments. "Fazzer Richmond you must have heard much of.
He is ze great ausority up here. He is now ze Travelling Priest. You
can ask him all. He knows everysing."
In no wise abashed by this flourish, Father Richmond shook hands with
the Big Chimney men, smiling, and with a pleasant ease that
communicated itself to the entire company.
It was instantly manifest that the scene of this Jesuit's labours had
not been chiefly, or long, beyond the borders of civilization. In the
plain bare room where, for all its hospitality and good cheer, reigned
an air of rude simplicity and austerity of life--into this somewhat
rarefied atmosphere Father Richmond brought a whiff from another world.
As he greeted the two strangers, and said simply that he had just
arrived, himself, by way of the Anvik portage, the Colonel felt that he
must have meant from New York or from Paris instead of the words he
added, "from St. Michael's."
He claimed instant kinship with the Colonel on the strength of their
both being Southerners.
"I'm a Baltimore man," he said, with an accent no Marylander can purge
"How long since you've been home?"
"Oh, I go back every year."
"He goes all over ze world, to tell ze people--"
"--something of the work being done here by Father Brachet--and all of
them." He included the other priests and lay-brothers in a slight
circular movement of the grizzled head.
And to collect funds! the Colonel rightly divined, little guessing how
triumphantly he achieved that end.
"Alaska is so remote," said the Travelling Priest, as if in apology for
popular ignorance, "and people think of it so... inadequately, shall we
say? In trying to explain the conditions up here, I have my chief
difficulty in making them realise the great distances we have to cover.
You tell them that in the Indian tongue Alaska means "the great
country," they smile, and think condescendingly of savage imagery. It
is vain to say we have an area of six hundred thousand square miles. We
talk much in these days of education; but few men and no women can
count! Our Eastern friends get some idea of what we mean, when we tell
them Alaska is bigger than all the Atlantic States from Maine to
Louisiana with half of great Texas thrown in. With a coast-line of
twenty six thousand miles, this Alaska of ours turns to the sea a
greater frontage than all the shores of all the United States combined.
It extends so far out towards Asia that it carries the dominions of the
Great Republic as far west of San Francisco as New York is east of it,
making California a central state. I try to give Europeans some idea of
it by saying that if you add England, Ireland, and Scotland together,
and to that add France, and to that add Italy, you still lack enough to
make a country the size of Alaska. I do not speak of our mountains,
seventeen, eighteen, nineteen thousand feet high, and our Yukon,
flowing for more than two thousand miles through a country almost
"You travel about up here a good deal?"
"He travels _all_ ze time. He will not rest," said Father Brachet as
one airing an ancient grievance.
"Yes, I will rest now--a little. I have been eight hundred miles over
the ice, with dogs, since January 1."
The Boy looked at him with something very like reverence. Here was a
man who could give you tips!
"You have travelled abroad, too," the Colonel rather stated than asked.
"I spent a good deal of my youth in France and Germany."
"Educated over there?"
"Well, I am a Johns Hopkins man, but I may say I found my education in
Rome. Speaking of education"--he turned to the other priests--"I have
greatly advanced my grammar since we parted." Father Brachet answered
with animation in French, and the conversation went forward for some
minutes in that tongue. The discussion was interrupted to introduce the
other new face, at the bottom of the table, to the Big Chimney men:
"Resident Fazzer Roget of ze Kuskoquim mission."
"That is the best man on snow-shoes in Central Alaska," said Father
Richmond low to the Colonel, nodding at the Kuskoquim priest.
"And he knows more of two of ze native dialects here zan anyone else,"
added the Father Superior.
"You must forgive our speaking much of the Indian tongues," said Father
Richmond. "We are all making dictionaries and grammars; we have still
to translate much of our religious instruction, and the great variety
in dialect of the scattered tribes keeps us busy with linguistic
"Tomorrow you must see our schools," said Father Brachet.
But the Boy answered quickly that they could not afford the time. He
was surprised at the Colonel's silence; but the Boy didn't know what
the Colonel's feet felt like.
Kentucky ain't sorry, he said to himself, to have a back to his chair,
and to eat off china again. Kentucky's a voluptuary! I'll have to drag
him away by main force; and the Boy allowed Father Richmond to help him
yet more abundantly to the potatoes and cabbage grown last summer in
the mission garden!
It was especially the vegetables that lent an element of luxury to the
simple meal. The warm room, the excellent food, better cooked than any
they had had for seven months, produced a gentle somnolence. The
thought of the inviting look of the white-covered bed upstairs lay like
a balm on the spirits of men not born to roughing it. As the travellers
said an early and grateful good-night, the Boy added sleepily something
about the start at dawn.
Father Brachet answered, "Morning will bring counsel, my son. I sink ze
bleezzar-r will not let us lose you so soon."
They overslept themselves, and they knew it, in that way the would-be
early riser does, before ever he looks into the accusing face of his
watch. The Boy leapt out of bed.
"Hear that?" The wind was booming among the settlement buildings.
"Sounds as if there was weather outside." A glance between the curtains
showed the great gale at its height. The snow blew level in sheets and
darkened the air.
"Well," said the Colonel, splashing mightily in the ice-cold water, "I
don't know as I mind giving my feet twenty-four hours' time to come to
A hurried toilet and they went downstairs, sharp-set for breakfast
after the long, refreshing sleep.
Father Richmond was writing on his knee by the stove in the
"Good-morning--good-morning." He rang the bell.
"Well, what did we tell you? I don't think you'll get far today. Let
these gentlemen know when breakfast is ready," he said, as Christopher
put his head in. He looked at his watch. "I hope you will find
everything you need," he said; and, continuing to talk about the gale
and some damage it had done to one of the outbuildings, he went into
the entry, just beyond the reception-room door, and began to put on his
"_You are_ not going out in such weather!" the Colonel called after him
"Only as far as the church."
"Oh, is there church today?" inquired the Boy more cheerfully than one
The Colonel started and made a signal for discretion.
"Blest if it isn't Sunday!" he said under his breath.
"He doesn't seem dead-set on our observing it," whispered the Boy.
The Colonel warmed himself luxuriously at the stove, and seemed to
listen for that summons from the entry that never came. Was Father
Richmond out there still, or had he gone?
"Do they think we are heathens because we are not Jesuits?" he said
under his breath, suddenly throwing out his great chest.
"Perhaps we ought to... Hey? They've been awfully considerate of
The Colonel went to the door. Father Richmond was struggling with his
"With your permission, sir," says the Colonel in his most magnificent
manner, "we will accompany you, or follow if you are in haste."
"With all my heart. Come," said the priest, "if you will wait and
breakfast with us after Mass."
It was agreed, and the immediate order was countermanded. The sound of
a bell came, muffled, through the storm.
With thoughts turning reluctantly from breakfast, "What's that?" asked
"That is our church bell." The Father had helped the Colonel to find
"A fine tone, don't you think? But you can't tell so well in this
storm. We are fond of our bell. It is the first that ever rang out in
the Yukon valley. Listen!"
They stood still a moment before opening the front door. The Boy,
seeing the very look of a certain high-shouldered gray stone "St.
Andrew's" far away, and himself trotting along beside that figure,
inseparable from first memories, was dimly aware again, as he stood at
the Jesuit's door, in these different days, of the old Sunday feeling
invading, permeating his consciousness, half reluctant, half amused.
The Colonel sat in a rural church and looked at the averted face of a
Only to the priest was the sound all music.
"That language," he said, "speaks to men whatever tongue they call
their own. The natives hear it for miles up the river, and down the
river, and over the white hills, and far across the tundra. They come
many miles to Mass--"
He opened the door, and the gale rushed in.
"I do not mean on days like this," he wound up, smiling, and out they
went into the whirling snow.
The church was a building of logs like the others, except that it was
of one story. Father Brachet was already there, with Father Wills and
Brother Etienne; and, after a moment, in came Brother Paul, looking
more waxen and aloof than ever, at the head of the school, the rear
brought up by Brother Vincent and Henry.
In a moment the little Mother Superior appeared, followed by two nuns,
heading a procession of native women and girls. They took their places
on the other side of the church and bowed their heads.
"Beautiful creature!" ejaculated the Colonel under his breath, glancing
His companion turned his head sharply just in time to see Sister
Winifred come last into the church, holding by either hand a little
child. Both men watched her as she knelt down. Between the children's
sallow, screwed-up, squinting little visages the calm, unconscious face
of the nun shone white like a flower.
The strangers glanced discreetly about the rude little church, with its
pictures and its modest attempt at stained glass.
"No wonder all this impresses the ignorant native," whispered the
Colonel, catching himself up suddenly from sharing in that weakness.
Without, the wild March storm swept the white world; within another
climate reigned--something of summer and the far-off South, of Italy
herself, transplanted to this little island of civilisation anchored in
the Northern waste.
"S'pose you've seen all the big cathedrals, eh?"
There was still a subdued rustling in the church, and outside, still
the clanging bell contended with the storm.
"And this--makes you smile?"
"N--no," returned the older man with a kind of reluctance. "I've seen
many a worse church; America's full of 'em."
"So far as--dignity goes--" The Colonel was wrestling with some vague
impression difficult for him to formulate. "You see, you can't build
anything with wood that's better than a log-cabin. For looks--just
_looks_--it beats all your fancy gimcracks, even brick; beats
everything else hollow, except stone. Then they've got candles. We went
on last night about the luxury of oil-lamps. They don't bring 'em in
"_We_ do in our prairie and Southern country churches."
"I know. But look at those altar lights." The Boy was too busy looking
at Sister Winifred. "I tell you, sir, a man never made a finer thing
than a tall wax candle."
"Sh! Mustn't talk in church."
The Colonel stared a moment at the Boy's presumption, drew himself up a
little pompously, and crossed his arms over his huge chest.
"Why, they've got an organ!" The Boy forgot his strict views on church
etiquette as the sudden sweetness swelled in the air. Brother Paul,
with head thrown back and white face lifted, was playing, slowly,
absently, like one who listens to some great choir invisible, and keeps
their time with a few obedient but unnecessary chords. And yet--
"The fella can play," the Colonel admitted.
The native choir, composed entirely of little dark-faced boys, sang
their way truly through the service, Father Brachet celebrating Mass.
"Brother Paul's ill, isn't he? Look!" The lay-brother had swayed, and
drooped forward over the keyboard, but his choir sang steadily on. He
recovered himself, and beckoned one of the boys to his side. When he
rose, the child nodded and took the organist's place, playing quite
creditably to the end. Brother Paul sat in the corner with bowed head.
Coming out, they were in time to confront Sister Winifred, holding back
the youngest children, eager to anticipate their proper places in the
The Boy looked fixedly at her, wondering. Suddenly meeting The clear
eyes, he smiled, and then shrank inwardly at his forwardness. He could
not tell if she remembered him.
The Colonel, finding himself next her at the door, bowed, and stood
back for her to pass.
"No," she said gently; "my little children must wait for the older
"You have them under good discipline, madam." He laid his hand on the
furry shoulder of the smallest.
The Boy stood behind the Colonel, unaccountably shy in the presence of
the only white woman he had seen in nearly seven months. She couldn't
be any older than he, and yet she was a nun. What a gulf opened at the
word! Sister Winifred and her charges fell into rank at the tail of the
little procession, and vanished in the falling snow. At breakfast the
Colonel would not sit down till he was presented to Brother Paul.
"Sir," he said in his florid but entirely sincere fashion, "I should
like to thank you for the pleasure of hearing that music to-day. We
were much impressed, sir, by the singing. How old is the boy who played
"Ten," said Brother Paul, and for the first time the Boy saw him smile.
"Yes, I think he has music in him, our little Jerome."
"And how well _all_ your choir has the service by heart! Their unison
"Yes," said Father Brachet from the head of the table, "our music has
never been so good as since Paul came among us." He lifted his hand,
and every one bowed his head.
After grace Father Richmond took the floor, conversationally, as seemed
to be his wont, and breakfast went on, as supper had the night before,
to the accompaniment of his shrewd observations and lively anecdotes.
In the midst of all the laughter and good cheer Brother Paul sat at the
end of the board, eating absently, saying nothing, and no one speaking
Father Richmond especially, but, indeed, all of them, seemed arrant
worldlings beside the youngest of the lay-brethren. The Colonel could
more easily imagine Father Richmond walking the streets of Paris or of
Rome, than "hitting the Yukon trail." He marvelled afresh at the
devotion that brought such a man to wear out his fine attainments, his
scholarship, his energy, his wide and Catholic knowledge, in travelling
winter after winter, hundreds of miles over the ice from one Indian
village to another. You could not divorce Father Richmond in your mind
from the larger world outside; he spoke with its accent, he looked with
his humourous, experienced eyes. You found it natural to think of him
in very human relations. You wondered about his people, and what
brought him to this.
Not so with Brother Paul. He was one of those who suggest no country
upon any printed map. You have to be reminded that you do not know his
birthplace or his history. It was this same Brother Paul who, after
breakfast and despite the Pymeut incident, offered to show the
gold-seekers over the school. The big recitation-room was full of
natives and decidedly stuffy. They did not stay long. Upstairs, "I
sleep here in the dormitory," said the Brother, "and I live with the
pupils--as much as I can. I often eat with them," he added as one who
mounts a climax. "They have to be taught _everything_, and they have to
be taught it over again every day."
"Except music, apparently."
"Except music--and games. Brother Vincent teaches them football and
baseball, and plays with them and works with them. Part of each day is
devoted to manual training and to sport."
He led the way to the workshop.
"One of our brothers is a carpenter and master mechanic."
He called to a pupil passing the door, and told him the strangers would
like to inspect the school work. Very proudly the lad obeyed. He
himself was a carpenter, and showed his half-finished table. The Boy's
eye fell on a sled.
"Yes," said the lad, "that kind better. Your kind no good." He had
evidently made intimate acquaintance with the Boy's masterpiece.
"Yours is splendid," admitted the unskilled workman.
"Will you sell it?" the Colonel asked Brother Paul.
"They make them to sell," was the answer, and the transaction was soon
* * * * *
"It has stopped snowing and ze wind is fallen," said Father Brachet,
going to the reception-room window an hour or so after they had come in
The Colonel exchanged looks with the Boy, and drew out his watch.
"Later than I thought."
"Much," the Colonel agreed, and sat considering, watch in hand.
"I sink our friends must see now ze girls' school, and ze laundry,
"To be sure," agreed Father Richmond. "I will take you over and give
you into the hands of our Mother Superior."
"Why, it's much warmer," said the Boy as they went by the cross; and
Father Richmond greeted the half-dozen native boys, who were packing
down the fresh snow under their broad shoes, laughing and shouting to
one another as they made anew the familiar mission trails.
The door of the two-story house, on the opposite side of the
settlement, was opened by Sister Winifred.
"Friends of ours from the White Camp below."
She acknowledged the nameless introduction, smiling; but at the request
that followed, "Ah, it is too bad that just to-day--the Mother
Superior--she is too faint and weak to go about. Will you see her,
"Yes, if you will show these strangers the school and laundry and--"
"Oh, yes, I will show them."
She led the way into the cheerful schoolroom, where big girls and
little girls were sitting about, amusing themselves in the quiet of a
long Sunday afternoon. Several of the younger children ran to her as
she came in, and stood holding fast to the folds of her black habit,
staring up at the strangers, while she explained the kind of
instruction given, the system, and the order reigning in each
department. Finally, she persuaded a little girl, only six years old,
to take her dusky face out of the long flowing veil of the nun, and
show how quickly she could read a sentence that Sister Winifred wrote
on the blackboard. Then others were called on, and gave examples of
their accomplishments in easy arithmetic and spelling. The children
must have been very much bored with themselves that stormy Sunday, for
they entered into the examination with a quite unnatural zest.
Two of the elder girls recited, and some specimens of penmanship and
composition were shown. The delicate complexion of the little nun
flushed to a pretty wild-rose pink as these pupils of hers won the
Colonel's old fashioned compliments.
"And they are taught most particularly of all," she hastened to say,
"cooking, housekeeping, and sewing."
Whereupon specimens of needlework were brought out and cast like pearls
before the swine's eyes of the ignorant men. But they were impressed in
their benighted way, and said so.
"And we teach them laundry-work." She led the way, with the children
trooping after, to the washhouse. "No, run back. You'll take cold. Run
back, and you shall sing for the strangers before they go."
She smiled them away--a happy-faced, clean little throng, striking
contrast to the neglected, filthy children seen in the native villages.
As they were going into the laundry, Father Richmond came out of the
house, and stopped to point out to the Colonel a snow-covered
enclosure--"the Sisters' garden"--and he told how marvellously, in the
brief summer, some of the hardier vegetables flourished there.
"They spring up like magic at the edge of the snow-drifts, and they do
not rest from their growing all night. If the time is short, they have
twice as much sunlight as with you. They drink it in the whole summer
night as well as all the day. And over here is the Fathers' garden."
Talking still, he led the way towards a larger enclosure on the other
side of the Cross.
Sister Winifred paused a moment, and then, as they did not turn back,
and the Boy stood waiting, she took him into the drying-room and into
the ironing-room, and then returned to the betubbed apartment first
invaded. There was only one blot on the fairness of that model
laundry--a heap of torn and dirty canvas in the middle of the floor.
The Boy vaguely thought it looked familiar, before the Sister, blushing
faintly, said: "We hope you won't go before we have time to repair it."
"Why, it's our old sled-cover!"
"Yes; it is very much cut and torn. But you do not go at once?"
"Oh! Father Brachet thought you would stay for a few days, at least."
"We have no time."
"You go, like the rest, for gold?"
"Like the rest."
"But you came before to help poor Nicholas out of his trouble."
"He was quite able to help himself, as it turned out."
"Why will you go so far, and at such risk?" she said, with a suddenness
that startled them both.
"I--I--well, I think I go chiefly because I want to get my home back. I
lost my home when I was a little chap. Where is your home?"
"How long have you been here?"
"Nearly two years."
"Then how can you call it home?"
"I do that only that I may--speak your language. Of course, it is not
my real home."
"Where is the real home?"
"I hope it is in heaven," she said, with a simplicity that took away
all taint of cant or mere phrase-making.
"But where do you come from?"
"I come from Montreal."
"Oh! and don't you ever go back to visit your people?"
"No, I never go back."
"But you will some time?"
"No; I shall never go back."
"Don't you _want_ to?"
She dropped her eyes, but very steadfastly she said:
"My work is here."
"But you are young, and you may live a great, great many years."
She nodded, and looked out of the open door. The Colonel and the
Travelling Priest were walking in Indian file the new-made, hard-packed
"Yes," she said in a level voice, "I shall grow old here, and here I
shall be buried."
"I shall never understand it. I have such a longing for my home. I came
here ready to bear anything that I might be able to get it back."
She looked at him steadily and gravely.
"I may be wrong, but I doubt if you would be satisfied even if you got
"What makes you think that?" he said sharply.
"Because"--and she checked herself as if on the verge of something too
personal--"you can never get back a thing you've lost. When the old
thing is there again, you are not as you were when you lost it, and the
change in you makes the old thing new--and strange."
"Oh, it's plain I am very different from you," but he said it with a
kind of uneasy defiance. "Besides, in any case, I shall do it for my
"Oh, you have a sister?"
"How long since you left her?"
"It's a good while now."
"Perhaps your sister won't want that particular home any more than you
when you two meet again." Then, seeming not to notice the shade on her
companion's face: "I promised my children they should sing for you. Do
you mind? Will your friend come in, too?" And, looking from the door
after the Colonel and the Father as they turned to rejoin them: "He is
odd, that big friend of yours," she said--quite like a human being, as
the Boy thought instantly.
"He's not odd, I assure you."
"He called me 'madam.'" She spoke with a charming piqued childishness.
"You see, he didn't know your name. What is your name?"
"But your real name?" he said, with the American's insistence on his
own point of view.
"That is my only name," she answered with dignity, and led the way back
into the schoolroom. Another, older, nun was there, and when the others
rejoined them they made the girls sing.
"Now we have shown you enough," said Father Richmond, rising; "boasted
to you enough of the very little we are able to accomplish here. We
must save something for to-morrow."
"Ah, to-morrow we take to the trail again," said the Colonel, and added
his "Good-bye, madam."
Sister Winifred, seeing he expected it, gave him her hand.
"Good-bye, and thank you for coming."
"For your poor," he said shyly, as he turned away and left a gift in
"Thank you for showing us all this," the Boy said, lingering, but not
daring to shake hands. "It--it seems very wonderful. I had no idea a
mission meant all this."
"Oh, it means more--more than anything you can _see_."
In the early evening the reception-room was invaded by the lads' school
for their usual Sunday night entertainment. Very proudly these boys and
young men sang their glees and choruses, played the fiddle, recited,
"Pity Mac isn't here!"
"Awful pity. Sunday, too."
Brother Etienne sang some French military songs, and it came out that
he had served in the French army. Father Roget sang, also in French,
explaining himself with a humourous skill in pantomime that set the
room in a roar.
"Well," said the Colonel when he stood up to say good-night, "I haven't
enjoyed an evening so much for years."
"It is very early still," said Father Brachet, wrinkling up his face in
"Ah, but we have to make such an early start."
The Colonel went up to bed, leaving the Boy to go to Father Richmond's
room to look at his Grammar of the Indian language.
The instant the door was shut, the priest set down the lamp, and laid
his hands on the young man's shoulders.
"My son, you must not go on this mad journey."
"I must, you know."
"You must _not_. Sit there." He pushed him into a chair. "Let me tell
you. I do not speak as the ignorant. I have in my day travelled many
hundreds of miles on the ice; but I've done it in the season when the
trail's at its best, with dogs, my son, and with tried native
"I know it is pleasanter that way, but--"
"Pleasanter? It is the way to keep alive."
"But the Indians travel with hand-sleds."
"For short distances, yes, and they are inured to the climate. You? You
know nothing of what lies before you."
"But we'll find out as other people have." The Boy smiled confidently.
"I assure you, my son, it is madness, this thing you are trying to do.
The chances of either of you coming out alive, are one in fifty. In
fifty, did I say? In five hundred."
"I don't think so, Father. We don't mean to travel when--"
"But you'll have to travel. To stay in such places as you'll find
yourself in will be to starve. Or if by any miracle you escape the
worst effects of cold and hunger, you'll get caught in the ice in the
spring break-up, and go down to destruction on a floe. You've no
conception what it's like. If you were six weeks earlier, or six weeks
later, I would hold my peace."
The Boy looked at the priest and then away. _Was_ it going to be so
bad? Would they leave their bones on the ice? Would they go washing by
the mission in the great spring flood, that all men spoke of with the
same grave look? He had a sudden vision of the torrent as it would be
in June. Among the whirling ice-masses that swept by--two bodies,
swollen, unrecognisable. One gigantic, one dressed gaily in chaparejos.
And neither would lift his head, but, like men bent grimly upon some
great errand, they would hurry on, past the tall white cross with never
a sign--on, on to the sea.
"Be persuaded, my son."
Dimly the Boy knew he was even now borne along upon a current equally
irresistible, this one setting northward, as that other back to the
south. He found himself shaking his head under the Jesuit's remonstrant
"We've lost so much time already. We couldn't possibly turn back--now."
"Then here's my Grammar." With an almost comic change of tone and
manner the priest turned to the table where the lamp stood, among piles
of neatly tied-up and docketed papers.
He undid one of the packets, with an ear on the sudden sounds outside
in the passage.
"Brother Paul's got it in the schoolhouse."
Brother Paul! He hadn't been at the entertainment, and no one seemed to
have missed him.
"How did Sister Winifred know?" asked another voice.
"Old Maria told her."
Father Richmond got up and opened the door.
"What is it?"
"It's a new-born Indian baby." The Father looked down as if it might be
on the threshold. "Brother Paul found it below at the village all done
up ready to be abandoned."
"Tell Sister Winifred I'll see about it in the morning."
"She says--pardon me, Father--she says that is like a man. If I do not
bring the little Indian in twenty minutes she will come herself and get
Father Richmond laughed.
"Good-night, my son"; and he went downstairs with the others.
* * * * *
"Colonel, you asleep?" the Boy asked softly.
He struggled in silence with his mucklucks. Presently, "Isn't it
frightfully strange," he mused aloud. "Doesn't it pull a fella up by
the roots, somehow, to see Americans on this old track?"
The Colonel had the bedclothes drawn up to his eyes. Under the white
quilt he made some undistinguishable sound, but he kept his eyes
fastened on his pardner.
"Everything that we Americans have done, everything that we are, is
achieved by the grace of goin' bang the other way." The Boy pulled off
a muckluck and threw it half across the room. "And yet, and yet--"
He sat with one stocking-foot in his hand and stared at the candle.
"I wonder, Colonel, if it _satisfies_ anybody to be a hustler and a
"Satisfies?" echoed the Colonel, pushing his chin over the bed-clothes.
"Who expects to be satisfied?"
"Why, every man, woman and child on the top o' the earth; and it just
strikes me I've never, personally, known anybody get there but these
fellas at Holy Cross."
The Colonel pushed back the bedclothes a little farther with his chin.
"Haven't you got the gumption to see why it is this place and these men
take such a hold on you? It's because you've eaten, slept, and lived
for half a year in a space the size of this bedroom. We've got so used
to narrowing life down, that the first result of a little larger
outlook is to make us dizzy. Now, you hurry up and get to bed. You'll
sleep it off."
* * * * *
The Boy woke at four o'clock, and after the match-light, by which he
consulted his watch, had flickered out, he lay a long time staring at
Silence still reigned supreme, when at last he got up, washed and
dressed, and went downstairs. An irresistible restlessness had seized
hold of him.
He pulled on his furs, cautiously opened the door, and went out--down,
over the crisp new crust, to the river and back in the dimness, past
the Fathers' House to the settlement behind, then to the right towards
the hillside. As he stumbled up the slope he came to a little
burial-ground. Half hidden in the snow, white wooden crosses marked the
graves. "And here I shall be buried," she had said--"here." He came
down the hill and round by the Sisters' House.
That window! That was where a light had shone the evening they arrived,
and a nun--Sister Winifred--had stood drawing the thick curtains,
shutting out the world.
He thought, in the intense stillness, that he heard sounds from that
upper room. Yes, surely an infant's cry.
A curious, heavy-hearted feeling came upon him, as he turned away, and
went slowly back towards the other house.
He halted a moment under the Cross, and stared up at it. The door of
the Fathers' House opened, and the Travelling Priest stood on the
threshold. The Boy went over to him, nodding good-morning.
"So you are all ready--eager to go from us?"
"No; but, you see--"
He held the door open, and the Boy went in.
"I don't believe the Colonel's awake yet," he said, as he took off his
furs. "I'll just run up and rouse him."
"It is very early"--the priest laid his hand on the young man's
arm--"and he will not sleep so well for many a night to come. It is an
hour till breakfast."
Henry had lit the fire, and now left it roaring. The priest took a
chair, and pushed one forward for his guest.
The Boy sat down, stretched his legs out straight towards the fire, and
lifting his hands, clasped them behind his head. The priest read the
homesick face like a book.
"Why are you up here?" Before there was time for reply he added:
"Surely a young man like you could find, nearer home, many a gate ajar.
And you must have had glimpses through of--things many and fair."
"Oh, yes, I've had glimpses of those things."
"What I wanted most I never saw."
"Ah! it is one of the results of agnosticism."
The Boy never saw the smile.
"I've said--and I was not lying--that I came away to shorten the
business of fortune-making--to buy back an old place we love, my sister
and I; but----"
"Which does she love best, the old place or the young brother?"
"Oh, she cares about me--no doubt o' that." He smiled the smile of
"Has she ... an understanding heart?"
"The most I know."
"Then she would be glad to know you had found a home for the spirit. A
home for the body, what does it matter?"
In the pause, Father Brachet opened the door, but seemed suddenly to
remember some imperative call elsewhere. The Boy jumped up, but the
Superior had vanished without even "Good-morning." The Boy sat down
"Of course," he went on, with that touch of pedantry so common in
American youth, "the difficulty in my case is an intellectual one. I
think I appreciate the splendid work you do, and I see as I never saw
before----" He stopped.
"You strike your foot against the same stone of stumbling over which
the Pharisees fell, when the man whom Jesus healed by the way replied
to their questioning: 'Whether He be a sinner or no, I know not. One
thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see.'"
"I don't deny that the life here has been a revelation to me. I'm not
talkin' about creeds (for I don't know much about them, and I don't
think it's in me to care much); but so far as the work here is
concerned--" He paused.
"We can take little credit for that; it is the outcome of our Order."
The Boy failed to catch the effect of the capital letter.
"Yes, it's just that--the order, the good government! A fella would be
a bigot if he couldn't see that the system is as nearly perfect as a
human institution can be."
"That has been said before of the Society of Jesus." But he spoke with
the wise man's tolerance for the discoveries of the young. Still, it
was not to discuss the merits of his Order that he had got up an hour
before his time. "I understand, maybe better than yourself, something
of the restlessness that drove you here."
The priest nodded.
"You had the excuse of the old plantation and the sister--"
The Boy sat up suddenly, a little annoyed.
The priest kept on: "But you felt a great longing to make a breach in
the high walls that shut you in. You wanted to fare away on some voyage
of discovery. Wasn't that it?". He paused now in his turn, but the Boy
looked straight before him, saying nothing. The priest leaned forward
with a deeper gravity.
"It will be a fortunate expedition, this, my son, _if thou discover
thyself_--and in time!" Still the Boy said nothing. The other resumed
more lightly: "In America we combine our travels with business. But it
is no new idea in the world that a young man should have his Wanderjahr
before he finds what he wants, or even finds acquiescence. It did not
need Wilhelm Meister to set the feet of youth on that trail; it did not
need the Crusades. It's as old as the idea of a Golden Fleece or a
Promised Land. It was the first man's first inkling of heaven."
The Boy pricked his ears. Wasn't this heresy?
"The old idea of the strenuous, to leave home and comfort and security,
and go out to search for wisdom, or holiness, or happiness--whether it
is gold or the San Grael, the instinct of Search is deep planted in the
race. It is this that the handful of men who live in what they call
'the world'--it is this they forget. Every hour in the greater world
outside, someone, somewhere, is starting out upon this journey. He may
go only as far as Germany to study philosophy, or to the nearest
mountain-top, and find there the thing he seeks; or he may go to the
ends of the earth, and still not find it. He may travel in a Hindu gown
or a Mongolian tunic, or he comes, like Father Brachet, out of his
vineyards in 'the pleasant land of France,' or, like you, out of a
country where all problems are to be solved by machinery. But my point
is, _they come_! When all the other armies of the world are disbanded,
that army, my son, will be still upon the march."
They were silent awhile, and still the young face gave no sign.
"To many," the Travelling Priest went on, "the impulse is a blind one
or a shy one, shrinking from calling itself by the old names. But none
the less this instinct for the Quest is still the gallant way of youth,
confronted by a sense of the homelessness they cannot think will last."
"That's it, Father! That's it!" the Boy burst out. "Homelessness! To
feel that is to feel something urging you----" He stopped, frowning.
"----urging you to take up your staff," said the priest.
They were silent a moment, and then the same musical voice tolled out
the words like a low bell: "But with all your journeying, my son, you
will come to no Continuing City."
"It's no use to say this to me. You see, I am----"
"I'll tell you why I say it." The priest laid a hand on his arm. "I see
men going up and down all their lives upon this Quest. Once in a great
while I see one for whom I think the journey may be shortened."
A heavy step on the stair, and the Boy seemed to wake from a dream.
"Good-morning," said the Colonel, coming in cheerily, rubbing his
"I am very jealous!" He glanced at the Boy's furs on the floor. "You
have been out, seeing the rest of the mission without me."
"No--no, we will show you the rest--as much as you care for, after
"I'm afraid we oughtn't to delay--"
But they did--"for a few minutes while zey are putting a little fresh
meat on your sled," as Father Brachet said. They went first to see the
dogs fed. For they got breakfast when they were at home, those pampered
"And now we will show you our store-house, our caches--"
While Father Brachet looked in the bunch for the key he wanted, a
native came by with a pail. He entered the low building on the left,
leaving wide the door.
"What? No! Is it really? No, not _really!_" The Colonel was more
excited than the Boy had ever seen him. Without the smallest ceremony
he left the side of his obliging host, strode to the open door, and
"What on earth's the matter?"
"I cannot tell. It is but our cow-house."
They followed, and, looking in at the door, the Boy saw a picture that
for many a day painted itself on his memory. For inside the dim,
straw-strewn place stood the big Kentuckian, with one arm round the
cow, talking to her and rubbing her nose, while down his own a tear
"Hey? Well, yes! Just my view, Sukey. Yes, old girl, Alaska's a funny
kind o' place for you and me to be in, isn't it? Hey? Ye-e-yes." And he
stroked the cow and sniffed back the salt water, and called out, seeing
the Boy, "Look! They've got a thoroughbred bull, too, an' a heifer.
Lord, I haven't been in any place so like home for a coon's age! You go
and look at the caches. I'll stay here while Sambo milks her."
"My name is Sebastian."
"Oh, all right; reckon you can milk her under that name, too."
When they came back, the Colonel was still there exchanging views about
Alaska with Sukey, and with Sebastian about the bull. Sister Winifred
came hurrying over the snow to the cow-house with a little tin pail in
"Ah, but you are slow, Sebastian!" she called out almost petulantly.
"Good-morning," she said to the others, and with a quick clutch at a
respectful and submissive demeanour, she added, half aside: "What do
you think, Father Brachet? They forgot that baby because he is good and
sleeps late. They drink up all the milk."
"Ah, there is very little now."
"Very little, Father," said Sebastian, returning to the task from which
the Colonel's conversation had diverted him.
"I put aside some last night, and they used it. I send you to bring me
only a little drop"--she was by Sebastian now, holding out the small
pail, unmindful of the others, who were talking stock--"and you stay,
"Give me your can." The Boy took it from her, and held it inside the
big milk-pail, so that the thin stream struck it sharply.
"There; it is enough."
Her shawl had fallen. The Colonel gathered it up.
"I will carry the milk back for you," said the Boy, noticing how red
and cold the slim hands were. "Your fingers will be frostbitten if you
don't wrap them up." She pulled the old shawl closely round her, and
set a brisk pace back to the Sisters' House.
"I must go carefully or I might slip, and if I spilt the milk--"
"Oh, you mustn't do that!"
She paused suddenly, and then went on, but more slowly than before. A
glaze had formed on the hard-trodden path, and one must needs walk
warily. Once she looked back with anxiety, and, seeing that the
precious milk was being carried with due caution, her glance went
gratefully to the Boy's face. He felt her eyes.
"I'm being careful," he laughed, a little embarrassed and not at first
lifting his bent head. When, after an instant, he did so, he found the
beautiful calm eyes full upon him. But no self-consciousness there. She
turned away, gentle and reflective, and was walking on when some quick
summons seemed to reach her. She stopped quite still again, as if
seized suddenly by a detaining hand. Her own hands dropped straight at
her sides, and the rusty shawl hung free. A second time she turned, the
Boy thought to him again; but as he glanced up, wondering, he saw that
the fixed yet serene look went past him like a homing-dove. A
neglected, slighted feeling came over him. She wasn't thinking of him
the least in the world, nor even of the milk he was at such pains to
carry for her. What was she staring at? He turned his head over his
right shoulder. Nothing. No one. As he came slowly on, he kept glancing
at her. She, still with upturned face, stood there in the attitude of
an obedient child receiving admonition. One cold little hand fluttered
up to her silver cross. Ah! He turned again, understanding now the
drift, if not the inner meaning, of that summons that had come.
"Your friend said something--" She nodded faintly, riverwards, towards
the mission sign. "Did you feel like that about it--when you saw it
"Oh--a--I'm not religious like the Colonel."
She smiled, and walked on.
At the door, as she took the milk, instead of "Thank you," "Wait a
She was back again directly.
"You are going far beyond the mission ... so carry this with you. I
hope it will guide you as it guides us."
On his way back to the Fathers' House, he kept looking at what Sister
Winifred had given him--a Latin cross of silver scarce three inches
long. At the intersection of the arms it bore a chased lozenge on which
was a mitre; above it, the word "Alaska," and beneath, the crossed keys
of St. Peter and the letters, "P.T.R."
As he came near to where the Colonel and his hosts were, he slipped the
cross into his pocket. His fingers encountered Muckluck's medal. Upon
some wholly involuntary impulse, he withdrew Sister Winifred's gift,
and transferred it to another pocket. But he laughed to himself. "Both
sort o' charms, after all." And again he looked at the big cross and
the heaven above it, and down at the domain of the Inua, the jealous
god of the Yukon.
Twenty minutes later the two travellers were saying good-bye to the men
of Holy Cross, and making their surprised and delighted acknowledgments
for the brand-new canvas cover they found upon the Colonel's new sled.
"Oh, it is not we," said Father Brachet; "it is made by ze Sisters. Zey
shall know zat you were pleased."
Father Richmond held the Boy's hand a moment.
"I see you go, my son, but I shall see you return."
"No, Father, I shall hardly come this way again."
Father Brachet, smiling, watched them start up the long trail.
"I sink we shall meet again," were his last words.
"What does he mean?" asked the Colonel, a little high and mightily.
"What plan has he got for a meeting?"
"Same plan as you've got, I s'pose. I believe you both call it
The Holy Cross thermometer had registered twenty degrees below zero,
but the keen wind blowing down the river made it seem more like forty
below. When they stopped to lunch, they had to crouch down behind the
sled to stand the cold, and the Boy found that his face and ears were
badly frost-bitten. The Colonel discovered that the same thing had
befallen the toes of his left foot. They rubbed the afflicted members,
and tried not to let their thoughts stray backwards. The Jesuits had
told them of an inhabited cabin twenty-three miles up the river, and
they tried to fix their minds on that. In a desultory way, when the
wind allowed it, they spoke of Minook, and of odds and ends they'd
heard about the trail. They spoke of the Big Chimney Cabin, and of how
at Anvik they would have their last shave. The one subject neither
seemed anxious to mention was Holy Cross. It was a little "marked," the
Colonel felt; but he wasn't going to say the first word, since he meant
to say the last.
About five o'clock the gale went down, but it came on to snow. At seven
the Colonel said decidedly: "We can't make that cabin to-night."
"Because I'm not going any further, with this foot--" He threw down the
sled-rope, and limped after wood for the fire.
The Boy tilted the sled up by an ice-hummock, and spread the new canvas
so that it gave some scant shelter from the snow. Luckily, for once,
the wind how grown quite lamb-like--for the Yukon. It would be thought
a good stiff breeze almost anywhere else.
Directly they had swallowed supper the Colonel remarked: "I feel as
ready for my bed as I did Saturday night."
Ah! Saturday night--that was different. They looked at each other with
the same thought.
"Well, that bed at Holy Cross isn't any whiter than this," laughed the
But the Colonel was not to be deceived by this light and airy
reference. His own unwilling sentiments were a guide to the Boy's, and
he felt it incumbent upon him to restore the Holy Cross incident to its
proper proportions. Those last words of Father Brachet's bothered him.
Had they been "gettin' at" the Boy?
"You think all that mission business mighty wonderful--just because you
run across it in Alaska."
"And isn't it wonderful at all?"
The Boy spoke dreamily, and, from force of old habit, held out his
mittened hands to the unavailing fire.
The Colonel gave a prefatory grunt of depreciation, but he was pulling
his blankets out from under the stuff on the sled.
The Boy turned his head, and watched him with a little smile. "I'll
admit that I always _used_ to think the Jesuits were a shady lot--"
"So they are--most of 'em."
"Well, I don't know about 'most of 'em.' You and Mac used to talk a lot
about the 'motives' of the few I do know. But as far as I can see,
every creature who comes up to this country comes to take something out
of it--except those Holy Cross fellas. They came to bring something."
The Colonel had got the blankets out now, but where was the rubber
sheet? He wouldn't sleep on it in this weather, again, for a kingdom,
but when the thaws came, if those explorer fellas were right--
In his sense of irritation at a conscientious duty to perform and no
clear notion of how to discharge it, he made believe it was the
difficulty in finding the rubber sheet he didn't want that made him out
"It's bitter work, anyhow, this making beds with your fingers stiff and
raw," he said.
Dignity looked at Impudence sitting in the shelter, smiling.
"Humph! Just try it," growled the Colonel.
"I s'pose the man over the fire cookin' supper does _look_ better off