Part 1 out of 3
The Son of the Wolf
The White Silence
The Son of the Wolf
The Men of Forty Mile
In a Far Country
To the Man on the Trail
The Priestly Prerogative
The Wisdom of the Trail
The Wife of a King
An Odyssey of the North
The White Silence
'Carmen won't last more than a couple of days.' Mason spat out a
chunk of ice and surveyed the poor animal ruefully, then put her
foot in his mouth and proceeded to bite out the ice which
clustered cruelly between the toes.
'I never saw a dog with a highfalutin' name that ever was worth a
rap,' he said, as he concluded his task and shoved her aside.
'They just fade away and die under the responsibility. Did ye
ever see one go wrong with a sensible name like Cassiar, Siwash,
or Husky? No, sir! Take a look at Shookum here, he's--' Snap! The
lean brute flashed up, the white teeth just missing Mason's
'Ye will, will ye?' A shrewd clout behind the ear with the butt
of the dog whip stretched the animal in the snow, quivering
softly, a yellow slaver dripping from its fangs.
'As I was saying, just look at Shookum here--he's got the spirit.
Bet ye he eats Carmen before the week's out.' 'I'll bank another
proposition against that,' replied Malemute Kid, reversing the
frozen bread placed before the fire to thaw. 'We'll eat Shookum
before the trip is over. What d'ye say, Ruth?' The Indian woman
settled the coffee with a piece of ice, glanced from Malemute Kid
to her husband, then at the dogs, but vouchsafed no reply. It was
such a palpable truism that none was necessary. Two hundred miles
of unbroken trail in prospect, with a scant six days' grub for
themselves and none for the dogs, could admit no other alternative.
The two men and the woman grouped about the fire and began their
meager meal. The dogs lay in their harnesses for it was a midday
halt, and watched each mouthful enviously.
'No more lunches after today,' said Malemute Kid. 'And we've got
to keep a close eye on the dogs--they're getting vicious. They'd
just as soon pull a fellow down as not, if they get a chance.'
'And I was president of an Epworth once, and taught in the Sunday
school.' Having irrelevantly delivered himself of this, Mason
fell into a dreamy contemplation of his steaming moccasins, but
was aroused by Ruth filling his cup.
'Thank God, we've got slathers of tea! I've seen it growing, down
in Tennessee. What wouldn't I give for a hot corn pone just now!
Never mind, Ruth; you won't starve much longer, nor wear
moccasins either.' The woman threw off her gloom at this, and in
her eyes welled up a great love for her white lord--the first
white man she had ever seen--the first man whom she had known to
treat a woman as something better than a mere animal or beast of
'Yes, Ruth,' continued her husband, having recourse to the
macaronic jargon in which it was alone possible for them to
understand each other; 'wait till we clean up and pull for the
Outside. We'll take the White Man's canoe and go to the Salt
Water. Yes, bad water, rough water--great mountains dance up and
down all the time. And so big, so far, so far away--you travel
ten sleep, twenty sleep, forty sleep'--he graphically enumerated
the days on his fingers--'all the time water, bad water. Then you
come to great village, plenty people, just the same mosquitoes
next summer. Wigwams oh, so high--ten, twenty pines.
'Hi-yu skookum!' He paused impotently, cast an appealing glance
at Malemute Kid, then laboriously placed the twenty pines, end on
end, by sign language. Malemute Kid smiled with cheery cynicism;
but Ruth's eyes were wide with wonder, and with pleasure; for she
half believed he was joking, and such condescension pleased her
poor woman's heart.
'And then you step into a--a box, and pouf! up you go.' He tossed
his empty cup in the air by way of illustration and, as he deftly
caught it, cried: 'And biff! down you come. Oh, great medicine
men! You go Fort Yukon. I go Arctic City--twenty-five sleep--big
string, all the time--I catch him string--I say, "Hello, Ruth!
How are ye?"--and you say, "Is that my good husband?"--and I say,
"Yes"--and you say, "No can bake good bread, no more soda"--then
I say, "Look in cache, under flour; good-by." You look and catch
plenty soda. All the time you Fort Yukon, me Arctic City. Hi-yu
medicine man!' Ruth smiled so ingenuously at the fairy story that
both men burst into laughter. A row among the dogs cut short the
wonders of the Outside, and by the time the snarling combatants
were separated, she had lashed the sleds and all was ready for
the trail.--'Mush! Baldy! Hi! Mush on!' Mason worked his whip
smartly and, as the dogs whined low in the traces, broke out the
sled with the gee pole. Ruth followed with the second team,
leaving Malemute Kid, who had helped her start, to bring up the
rear. Strong man, brute that he was, capable of felling an ox at
a blow, he could not bear to beat the poor animals, but humored
them as a dog driver rarely does--nay, almost wept with them in
'Come, mush on there, you poor sore-footed brutes!' he murmured,
after several ineffectual attempts to start the load. But his
patience was at last rewarded, and though whimpering with pain,
they hastened to join their fellows.
No more conversation; the toil of the trail will not permit such
And of all deadening labors, that of the Northland trail is the
worst. Happy is the man who can weather a day's travel at the
price of silence, and that on a beaten track. And of all
heartbreaking labors, that of breaking trail is the worst. At
every step the great webbed shoe sinks till the snow is level
with the knee. Then up, straight up, the deviation of a fraction
of an inch being a certain precursor of disaster, the snowshoe
must be lifted till the surface is cleared; then forward, down,
and the other foot is raised perpendicularly for the matter of
half a yard. He who tries this for the first time, if haply he
avoids bringing his shoes in dangerous propinquity and measures
not his length on the treacherous footing, will give up exhausted
at the end of a hundred yards; he who can keep out of the way of
the dogs for a whole day may well crawl into his sleeping bag
with a clear conscience and a pride which passeth all
understanding; and he who travels twenty sleeps on the Long Trail
is a man whom the gods may envy.
The afternoon wore on, and with the awe, born of the White
Silence, the voiceless travelers bent to their work. Nature has
many tricks wherewith she convinces man of his finity--the
ceaseless flow of the tides, the fury of the storm, the shock of
the earthquake, the long roll of heaven's artillery--but the most
tremendous, the most stupefying of all, is the passive phase of
the White Silence. All movement ceases, the sky clears, the
heavens are as brass; the slightest whisper seems sacrilege, and
man becomes timid, affrighted at the sound of his own voice. Sole
speck of life journeying across the ghostly wastes of a dead
world, he trembles at his audacity, realizes that his is a
maggot's life, nothing more.
Strange thoughts arise unsummoned, and the mystery of all things
strives for utterance.
And the fear of death, of God, of the universe, comes over
him--the hope of the Resurrection and the Life, the yearning for
immortality, the vain striving of the imprisoned essence--it is
then, if ever, man walks alone with God.
So wore the day away. The river took a great bend, and Mason
headed his team for the cutoff across the narrow neck of land.
But the dogs balked at the high bank. Again and again, though
Ruth and Malemute Kid were shoving on the sled, they slipped
back. Then came the concerted effort. The miserable creatures,
weak from hunger, exerted their last strength. Up--up--the sled
poised on the top of the bank; but the leader swung the string of
dogs behind him to the right, fouling Mason's snowshoes. The
result was grievous.
Mason was whipped off his feet; one of the dogs fell in the
traces; and the sled toppled back, dragging everything to the
Slash! the whip fell among the dogs savagely, especially upon the
one which had fallen.
'Don't,--Mason,' entreated Malemute Kid; 'the poor devil's on its
last legs. Wait and we'll put my team on.' Mason deliberately
withheld the whip till the last word had fallen, then out flashed
the long lash, completely curling about the offending creature's
Carmen--for it was Carmen--cowered in the snow, cried piteously,
then rolled over on her side.
It was a tragic moment, a pitiful incident of the trail--a dying
dog, two comrades in anger.
Ruth glanced solicitously from man to man. But Malemute Kid
restrained himself, though there was a world of reproach in his
eyes, and, bending over the dog, cut the traces. No word was
spoken. The teams were doublespanned and the difficulty overcome;
the sleds were under way again, the dying dog dragging herself
along in the rear. As long as an animal can travel, it is not
shot, and this last chance is accorded it--the crawling into
camp, if it can, in the hope of a moose being killed.
Already penitent for his angry action, but too stubborn to make
amends, Mason toiled on at the head of the cavalcade, little
dreaming that danger hovered in the air. The timber clustered
thick in the sheltered bottom, and through this they threaded
their way. Fifty feet or more from the trail towered a lofty
pine. For generations it had stood there, and for generations
destiny had had this one end in view--perhaps the same had been
decreed of Mason.
He stooped to fasten the loosened thong of his moccasin. The
sleds came to a halt, and the dogs lay down in the snow without a
whimper. The stillness was weird; not a breath rustled the
frost-encrusted forest; the cold and silence of outer space had
chilled the heart and smote the trembling lips of nature. A sigh
pulsed through the air--they did not seem to actually hear it,
but rather felt it, like the premonition of movement in a
motionless void. Then the great tree, burdened with its weight of
years and snow, played its last part in the tragedy of life. He
heard the warning crash and attempted to spring up but, almost
erect, caught the blow squarely on the shoulder.
The sudden danger, the quick death--how often had Malemute Kid
faced it! The pine needles were still quivering as he gave his
commands and sprang into action. Nor did the Indian girl faint or
raise her voice in idle wailing, as might many of her white
sisters. At his order, she threw her weight on the end of a
quickly extemporized handspike, easing the pressure and listening
to her husband's groans, while Malemute Kid attacked the tree
with his ax. The steel rang merrily as it bit into the frozen
trunk, each stroke being accompanied by a forced, audible
respiration, the 'Huh!' 'Huh!' of the woodsman.
At last the Kid laid the pitiable thing that was once a man in
the snow. But worse than his comrade's pain was the dumb anguish
in the woman's face, the blended look of hopeful, hopeless query.
Little was said; those of the Northland are early taught the
futility of words and the inestimable value of deeds. With the
temperature at sixty-five below zero, a man cannot lie many
minutes in the snow and live. So the sled lashings were cut, and
the sufferer, rolled in furs, laid on a couch of boughs. Before
him roared a fire, built of the very wood which wrought the
mishap. Behind and partially over him was stretched the primitive
fly--a piece of canvas, which caught the radiating heat and threw
it back and down upon him--a trick which men may know who study
physics at the fount.
And men who have shared their bed with death know when the call
is sounded. Mason was terribly crushed. The most cursory
examination revealed it.
His right arm, leg, and back were broken; his limbs were
paralyzed from the hips; and the likelihood of internal injuries
was large. An occasional moan was his only sign of life.
No hope; nothing to be done. The pitiless night crept slowly
by--Ruth's portion, the despairing stoicism of her race, and
Malemute Kid adding new lines to his face of bronze.
In fact, Mason suffered least of all, for he spent his time in
eastern Tennessee, in the Great Smoky Mountains, living over the
scenes of his childhood. And most pathetic was the melody of his
long-forgotten Southern vernacular, as he raved of swimming holes
and coon hunts and watermelon raids. It was as Greek to Ruth, but
the Kid understood and felt--felt as only one can feel who has
been shut out for years from all that civilization means.
Morning brought consciousness to the stricken man, and Malemute
Kid bent closer to catch his whispers.
'You remember when we foregathered on the Tanana, four years come
next ice run? I didn't care so much for her then. It was more
like she was pretty, and there was a smack of excitement about
it, I think. But d'ye know, I've come to think a heap of her.
She's been a good wife to me, always at my shoulder in the pinch.
And when it comes to trading, you know there isn't her equal.
D'ye recollect the time she shot the Moosehorn Rapids to pull you
and me off that rock, the bullets whipping the water like
hailstones?--and the time of the famine at Nuklukyeto?--when she
raced the ice run to bring the news?
'Yes, she's been a good wife to me, better'n that other one.
Didn't know I'd been there?
'Never told you, eh? Well, I tried it once, down in the States.
That's why I'm here. Been raised together, too. I came away to
give her a chance for divorce. She got it.
'But that's got nothing to do with Ruth. I had thought of
cleaning up and pulling for the Outside next year--her and I--but
it's too late. Don't send her back to her people, Kid. It's
beastly hard for a woman to go back. Think of it!--nearly four
years on our bacon and beans and flour and dried fruit, and then
to go back to her fish and caribou. It's not good for her to have
tried our ways, to come to know they're better'n her people's,
and then return to them. Take care of her, Kid, why don't you--but
no, you always fought shy of them--and you never told me why you
came to this country. Be kind to her, and send her back to the
States as soon as you can. But fix it so she can come back--liable
to get homesick, you know.
'And the youngster--it's drawn us closer, Kid. I only hope it is
a boy. Think of it!--flesh of my flesh, Kid. He mustn't stop in
this country. And if it's a girl, why, she can't. Sell my furs;
they'll fetch at least five thousand, and I've got as much more
with the company. And handle my interests with yours. I think
that bench claim will show up. See that he gets a good schooling;
and Kid, above all, don't let him come back. This country was not
made for white men.
'I'm a gone man, Kid. Three or four sleeps at the best. You've
got to go on. You must go on! Remember, it's my wife, it's my
boy--O God! I hope it's a boy! You can't stay by me--and I charge
you, a dying man, to pull on.'
'Give me three days,' pleaded Malemute Kid. 'You may change for
the better; something may turn up.'
'Just three days.'
'You must pull on.'
'It's my wife and my boy, Kid. You would not ask it.'
'No, no! I charge--'
'Only one day. We can shave it through on the grub, and I might
knock over a moose.'
'No--all right; one day, but not a minute more. And, Kid,
don't--don't leave me to face it alone. Just a shot, one pull on
the trigger. You understand. Think of it! Think of it! Flesh of
my flesh, and I'll never live to see him!
'Send Ruth here. I want to say good-by and tell her that she must
think of the boy and not wait till I'm dead. She might refuse to
go with you if I didn't. Goodby, old man; good-by.
'Kid! I say--a--sink a hole above the pup, next to the slide. I
panned out forty cents on my shovel there.
'And, Kid!' He stooped lower to catch the last faint words, the
dying man's surrender of his pride. 'I'm sorry--for--you
know--Carmen.' Leaving the girl crying softly over her man,
Malemute Kid slipped into his parka and snowshoes, tucked his
rifle under his arm, and crept away into the forest. He was no
tyro in the stern sorrows of the Northland, but never had he
faced so stiff a problem as this. In the abstract, it was a
plain, mathematical proposition--three possible lives as against
one doomed one. But now he hesitated. For five years, shoulder to
shoulder, on the rivers and trails, in the camps and mines,
facing death by field and flood and famine, had they knitted the
bonds of their comradeship. So close was the tie that he had
often been conscious of a vague jealousy of Ruth, from the first
time she had come between. And now it must be severed by his own
Though he prayed for a moose, just one moose, all game seemed to
have deserted the land, and nightfall found the exhausted man
crawling into camp, lighthanded, heavyhearted. An uproar from the
dogs and shrill cries from Ruth hastened him.
Bursting into the camp, he saw the girl in the midst of the
snarling pack, laying about her with an ax. The dogs had broken
the iron rule of their masters and were rushing the grub.
He joined the issue with his rifle reversed, and the hoary game
of natural selection was played out with all the ruthlessness of
its primeval environment. Rifle and ax went up and down, hit or
missed with monotonous regularity; lithe bodies flashed, with
wild eyes and dripping fangs; and man and beast fought for
supremacy to the bitterest conclusion. Then the beaten brutes
crept to the edge of the firelight, licking their wounds, voicing
their misery to the stars.
The whole stock of dried salmon had been devoured, and perhaps
five pounds of flour remained to tide them over two hundred miles
of wilderness. Ruth returned to her husband, while Malemute Kid
cut up the warm body of one of the dogs, the skull of which had
been crushed by the ax. Every portion was carefully put away,
save the hide and offal, which were cast to his fellows of the
Morning brought fresh trouble. The animals were turning on each
other. Carmen, who still clung to her slender thread of life, was
downed by the pack. The lash fell among them unheeded. They
cringed and cried under the blows, but refused to scatter till
the last wretched bit had disappeared--bones, hide, hair,
Malemute Kid went about his work, listening to Mason, who was
back in Tennessee, delivering tangled discourses and wild
exhortations to his brethren of other days.
Taking advantage of neighboring pines, he worked rapidly, and
Ruth watched him make a cache similar to those sometimes used by
hunters to preserve their meat from the wolverines and dogs. One
after the other, he bent the tops of two small pines toward each
other and nearly to the ground, making them fast with thongs of
moosehide. Then he beat the dogs into submission and harnessed
them to two of the sleds, loading the same with everything but
the furs which enveloped Mason. These he wrapped and lashed
tightly about him, fastening either end of the robes to the bent
pines. A single stroke of his hunting knife would release them
and send the body high in the air.
Ruth had received her husband's last wishes and made no struggle.
Poor girl, she had learned the lesson of obedience well. From a
child, she had bowed, and seen all women bow, to the lords of
creation, and it did not seem in the nature of things for woman
to resist. The Kid permitted her one outburst of grief, as she
kissed her husband--her own people had no such custom--then led
her to the foremost sled and helped her into her snowshoes.
Blindly, instinctively, she took the gee pole and whip, and
'mushed' the dogs out on the trail. Then he returned to Mason,
who had fallen into a coma, and long after she was out of sight
crouched by the fire, waiting, hoping, praying for his comrade to
It is not pleasant to be alone with painful thoughts in the White
Silence. The silence of gloom is merciful, shrouding one as with
protection and breathing a thousand intangible sympathies; but
the bright White Silence, clear and cold, under steely skies, is
An hour passed--two hours--but the man would not die. At high
noon the sun, without raising its rim above the southern horizon,
threw a suggestion of fire athwart the heavens, then quickly drew
it back. Malemute Kid roused and dragged himself to his comrade's
side. He cast one glance about him. The White Silence seemed to
sneer, and a great fear came upon him. There was a sharp report;
Mason swung into his aerial sepulcher, and Malemute Kid lashed
the dogs into a wild gallop as he fled across the snow.
The Son of the Wolf
Man rarely places a proper valuation upon his womankind, at least
not until deprived of them. He has no conception of the subtle
atmosphere exhaled by the sex feminine, so long as he bathes in
it; but let it be withdrawn, and an ever-growing void begins to
manifest itself in his existence, and he becomes hungry, in a
vague sort of way, for a something so indefinite that he cannot
characterize it. If his comrades have no more experience than
himself, they will shake their heads dubiously and dose him with
strong physic. But the hunger will continue and become stronger;
he will lose interest in the things of his everyday life and wax
morbid; and one day, when the emptiness has become unbearable, a
revelation will dawn upon him.
In the Yukon country, when this comes to pass, the man usually
provisions a poling boat, if it is summer, and if winter,
harnesses his dogs, and heads for the Southland. A few months
later, supposing him to be possessed of a faith in the country,
he returns with a wife to share with him in that faith, and
incidentally in his hardships. This but serves to show the innate
selfishness of man. It also brings us to the trouble of 'Scruff'
Mackenzie, which occurred in the old days, before the country was
stampeded and staked by a tidal-wave of the che-cha-quas, and
when the Klondike's only claim to notice was its salmon
'Scruff' Mackenzie bore the earmarks of a frontier birth and a
His face was stamped with twenty-five years of incessant struggle
with Nature in her wildest moods,--the last two, the wildest and
hardest of all, having been spent in groping for the gold which
lies in the shadow of the Arctic Circle. When the yearning
sickness came upon him, he was not surprised, for he was a
practical man and had seen other men thus stricken. But he showed
no sign of his malady, save that he worked harder. All summer he
fought mosquitoes and washed the sure-thing bars of the Stuart
River for a double grubstake. Then he floated a raft of houselogs
down the Yukon to Forty Mile, and put together as comfortable a
cabin as any the camp could boast of. In fact, it showed such
cozy promise that many men elected to be his partner and to come
and live with him. But he crushed their aspirations with rough
speech, peculiar for its strength and brevity, and bought a
double supply of grub from the trading-post.
As has been noted, 'Scruff' Mackenzie was a practical man. If he
wanted a thing he usually got it, but in doing so, went no
farther out of his way than was necessary. Though a son of toil
and hardship, he was averse to a journey of six hundred miles on
the ice, a second of two thousand miles on the ocean, and still a
third thousand miles or so to his last stamping-grounds,--all in
the mere quest of a wife. Life was too short. So he rounded up
his dogs, lashed a curious freight to his sled, and faced across
the divide whose westward slopes were drained by the head-reaches
of the Tanana.
He was a sturdy traveler, and his wolf-dogs could work harder and
travel farther on less grub than any other team in the Yukon.
Three weeks later he strode into a hunting-camp of the Upper
Tanana Sticks. They marveled at his temerity; for they had a bad
name and had been known to kill white men for as trifling a thing
as a sharp ax or a broken rifle.
But he went among them single-handed, his bearing being a
delicious composite of humility, familiarity, sang-froid, and
insolence. It required a deft hand and deep knowledge of the
barbaric mind effectually to handle such diverse weapons; but he
was a past-master in the art, knowing when to conciliate and when
to threaten with Jove-like wrath.
He first made obeisance to the Chief Thling-Tinneh, presenting
him with a couple of pounds of black tea and tobacco, and thereby
winning his most cordial regard. Then he mingled with the men and
maidens, and that night gave a potlach.
The snow was beaten down in the form of an oblong, perhaps a
hundred feet in length and quarter as many across. Down the
center a long fire was built, while either side was carpeted with
spruce boughs. The lodges were forsaken, and the fivescore or so
members of the tribe gave tongue to their folk-chants in honor of
'Scruff' Mackenzie's two years had taught him the not many
hundred words of their vocabulary, and he had likewise conquered
their deep gutturals, their Japanese idioms, constructions, and
honorific and agglutinative particles. So he made oration after
their manner, satisfying their instinctive poetry-love with crude
flights of eloquence and metaphorical contortions. After
Thling-Tinneh and the Shaman had responded in kind, he made
trifling presents to the menfolk, joined in their singing, and
proved an expert in their fifty-two-stick gambling game.
And they smoked his tobacco and were pleased. But among the
younger men there was a defiant attitude, a spirit of braggadocio,
easily understood by the raw insinuations of the toothless squaws
and the giggling of the maidens. They had known few white men,
'Sons of the Wolf,' but from those few they had learned strange
Nor had 'Scruff' Mackenzie, for all his seeming carelessness,
failed to note these phenomena. In truth, rolled in his
sleeping-furs, he thought it all over, thought seriously, and
emptied many pipes in mapping out a campaign. One maiden only had
caught his fancy,--none other than Zarinska, daughter to the
chief. In features, form, and poise, answering more nearly to the
white man's type of beauty, she was almost an anomaly among her
tribal sisters. He would possess her, make her his wife, and name
her--ah, he would name her Gertrude! Having thus decided, he
rolled over on his side and dropped off to sleep, a true son of
his all-conquering race, a Samson among the Philistines.
It was slow work and a stiff game; but 'Scruff' Mackenzie
maneuvered cunningly, with an unconcern which served to puzzle
the Sticks. He took great care to impress the men that he was a
sure shot and a mighty hunter, and the camp rang with his
plaudits when he brought down a moose at six hundred yards. Of a
night he visited in Chief Thling-Tinneh's lodge of moose and
cariboo skins, talking big and dispensing tobacco with a lavish
hand. Nor did he fail to likewise honor the Shaman; for he
realized the medicine-man's influence with his people, and was
anxious to make of him an ally. But that worthy was high and
mighty, refused to be propitiated, and was unerringly marked down
as a prospective enemy.
Though no opening presented for an interview with Zarinska,
Mackenzie stole many a glance to her, giving fair warning of his
intent. And well she knew, yet coquettishly surrounded herself
with a ring of women whenever the men were away and he had a
chance. But he was in no hurry; besides, he knew she could not
help but think of him, and a few days of such thought would only
better his suit.
At last, one night, when he deemed the time to be ripe, he
abruptly left the chief's smoky dwelling and hastened to a
neighboring lodge. As usual, she sat with squaws and maidens
about her, all engaged in sewing moccasins and beadwork. They
laughed at his entrance, and badinage, which linked Zarinska to
him, ran high. But one after the other they were unceremoniously
bundled into the outer snow, whence they hurried to spread the
tale through all the camp.
His cause was well pleaded, in her tongue, for she did not know
his, and at the end of two hours he rose to go.
'So Zarinska will come to the White Man's lodge? Good! I go now
to have talk with thy father, for he may not be so minded. And I
will give him many tokens; but he must not ask too much. If he
say no? Good! Zarinska shall yet come to the White Man's lodge.'
He had already lifted the skin flap to depart, when a low
exclamation brought him back to the girl's side. She brought
herself to her knees on the bearskin mat, her face aglow with
true Eve-light, and shyly unbuckled his heavy belt. He looked
down, perplexed, suspicious, his ears alert for the slightest
But her next move disarmed his doubt, and he smiled with
pleasure. She took from her sewing bag a moosehide sheath, brave
with bright beadwork, fantastically designed. She drew his great
hunting-knife, gazed reverently along the keen edge, half tempted
to try it with her thumb, and shot it into place in its new home.
Then she slipped the sheath along the belt to its customary
resting-place, just above the hip. For all the world, it was like
a scene of olden time,--a lady and her knight.
Mackenzie drew her up full height and swept her red lips with his
moustache,the, to her, foreign caress of the Wolf. It was a
meeting of the stone age and the steel; but she was none the less
a woman, as her crimson cheeks and the luminous softness of her
There was a thrill of excitement in the air as 'Scruff'
Mackenzie, a bulky bundle under his arm, threw open the flap of
Thling-Tinneh's tent. Children were running about in the open,
dragging dry wood to the scene of the potlach, a babble of
women's voices was growing in intensity, the young men were
consulting in sullen groups, while from the Shaman's lodge rose
the eerie sounds of an incantation.
The chief was alone with his blear-eyed wife, but a glance
sufficed to tell Mackenzie that the news was already told. So he
plunged at once into the business, shifting the beaded sheath
prominently to the fore as advertisement of the betrothal.
'O Thling-Tinneh, mighty chief of the Sticks And the land of the
Tanana, ruler of the salmon and the bear, the moose and the
cariboo! The White Man is before thee with a great purpose. Many
moons has his lodge been empty, and he is lonely. And his heart
has eaten itself in silence, and grown hungry for a woman to sit
beside him in his lodge, to meet him from the hunt with warm fire
and good food. He has heard strange things, the patter of baby
moccasins and the sound of children's voices. And one night a
vision came upon him, and he beheld the Raven, who is thy father,
the great Raven, who is the father of all the Sticks. And the
Raven spake to the lonely White Man, saying: "Bind thou thy
moccasins upon thee, and gird thy snow-shoes on, and lash thy
sled with food for many sleeps and fine tokens for the Chief
Thling-Tinneh. For thou shalt turn thy face to where the
mid-spring sun is wont to sink below the land and journey to
this great chief's hunting-grounds. There thou shalt make big
presents, and Thling-Tinneh, who is my son, shall become to thee
as a father. In his lodge there is a maiden into whom I breathed
the breath of life for thee. This maiden shalt thou take to
wife." 'O Chief, thus spake the great Raven; thus do I lay many
presents at thy feet; thus am I come to take thy daughter!' The
old man drew his furs about him with crude consciousness of
royalty, but delayed reply while a youngster crept in, delivered
a quick message to appear before the council, and was gone.
'O White Man, whom we have named Moose-Killer, also known as the
Wolf, and the Son of the Wolf! We know thou comest of a mighty
race; we are proud to have thee our potlach-guest; but the
king-salmon does not mate with the dogsalmon, nor the Raven with
the Wolf.' 'Not so!' cried Mackenzie. 'The daughters of the Raven
have I met in the camps of the Wolf,--the squaw of Mortimer, the
squaw of Tregidgo, the squaw of Barnaby, who came two ice-runs
back, and I have heard of other squaws, though my eyes beheld
them not.' 'Son, your words are true; but it were evil mating,
like the water with the sand, like the snow-flake with the sun.
But met you one Mason and his squaw' No?
He came ten ice-runs ago,--the first of all the Wolves. And with
him there was a mighty man, straight as a willow-shoot, and tall;
strong as the bald-faced grizzly, with a heart like the full
summer moon; his-' 'Oh!' interrupted Mackenzie, recognizing the
well-known Northland figure, 'Malemute Kid!' 'The same,--a mighty
man. But saw you aught of the squaw? She was full sister to
Zarinska.' 'Nay, Chief; but I have heard. Mason--far, far to the
north, a spruce-tree, heavy with years, crushed out his life
beneath. But his love was great, and he had much gold. With this,
and her boy, she journeyed countless sleeps toward the winter's
noonday sun, and there she yet lives,--no biting frost, no snow,
no summer's midnight sun, no winter's noonday night.'
A second messenger interrupted with imperative summons from the
As Mackenzie threw him into the snow, he caught a glimpse of the
swaying forms before the council-fire, heard the deep basses of
the men in rhythmic chant, and knew the Shaman was fanning the
anger of his people. Time pressed. He turned upon the chief.
'Come! I wish thy child. And now, see! Here are tobacco, tea,
many cups of sugar, warm blankets, handkerchiefs, both good and
large; and here, a true rifle, with many bullets and much
powder.' 'Nay,' replied the old man, struggling against the great
wealth spread before him. 'Even now are my people come together.
They will not have this marriage.'
'But thou art chief.' 'Yet do my young men rage because the
Wolves have taken their maidens so that they may not marry.'
'Listen, O Thling-Tinneh! Ere the night has passed into the day,
the Wolf shall face his dogs to the Mountains of the East and
fare forth to the Country of the Yukon. And Zarinska shall break
trail for his dogs.' 'And ere the night has gained its middle, my
young men may fling to the dogs the flesh of the Wolf, and his
bones be scattered in the snow till the springtime lay them
bare.' It was threat and counter-threat. Mackenzie's bronzed face
flushed darkly. He raised his voice. The old squaw, who till now
had sat an impassive spectator, made to creep by him for the
The song of the men broke suddenly and there was a hubbub of many
voices as he whirled the old woman roughly to her couch of skins.
'Again I cry--listen, O Thling-Tinneh! The Wolf dies with teeth
fast-locked, and with him there shall sleep ten of thy strongest
men,--men who are needed, for the hunting is not begun, and the
fishing is not many moons away. And again, of what profit should
I die? I know the custom of thy people; thy share of my wealth
shall be very small. Grant me thy child, and it shall all be
thine. And yet again, my brothers will come, and they are many,
and their maws are never filled; and the daughters of the Raven
shall bear children in the lodges of the Wolf. My people are
greater than thy people. It is destiny. Grant, and all this
wealth is thine.' Moccasins were crunching the snow without.
Mackenzie threw his rifle to cock, and loosened the twin Colts in
'Grant, O Chief!' 'And yet will my people say no.' 'Grant, and
the wealth is thine. Then shall I deal with thy people after.'
'The Wolf will have it so. I will take his tokens,--but I would
warn him.' Mackenzie passed over the goods, taking care to clog
the rifle's ejector, and capping the bargain with a kaleidoscopic
silk kerchief. The Shaman and half a dozen young braves entered,
but he shouldered boldly among them and passed out.
'Pack!' was his laconic greeting to Zarinska as he passed her
lodge and hurried to harness his dogs. A few minutes later he
swept into the council at the head of the team, the woman by his
side. He took his place at the upper end of the oblong, by the
side of the chief. To his left, a step to the rear, he stationed
Zarinska, her proper place. Besides, the time was ripe for
mischief, and there was need to guard his back.
On either side, the men crouched to the fire, their voices lifted
in a folk-chant out of the forgotten past. Full of strange,
halting cadences and haunting recurrences, it was not beautiful.
'Fearful' may inadequately express it. At the lower end, under
the eye of the Shaman, danced half a score of women. Stern were
his reproofs of those who did not wholly abandon themselves to
the ecstasy of the rite. Half hidden in their heavy masses of
raven hair, all dishevelled and falling to their waists, they
slowly swayed to and fro, their forms rippling to an
It was a weird scene; an anachronism. To the south, the
nineteenth century was reeling off the few years of its last
decade; here flourished man primeval, a shade removed from the
prehistoric cave-dweller, forgotten fragment of the Elder World.
The tawny wolf-dogs sat between their skin-clad masters or fought
for room, the firelight cast backward from their red eyes and
dripping fangs. The woods, in ghostly shroud, slept on unheeding.
The White Silence, for the moment driven to the rimming forest,
seemed ever crushing inward; the stars danced with great leaps,
as is their wont in the time of the Great Cold; while the Spirits
of the Pole trailed their robes of glory athwart the heavens.
'Scruff' Mackenzie dimly realized the wild grandeur of the
setting as his eyes ranged down the fur-fringed sides in quest of
missing faces. They rested for a moment on a newborn babe,
suckling at its mother's naked breast. It was forty below,--seven
and odd degrees of frost. He thought of the tender women of his
own race and smiled grimly. Yet from the loins of some such
tender woman had he sprung with a kingly inheritance,--an
inheritance which gave to him and his dominance over the land and
sea, over the animals and the peoples of all the zones.
Single-handed against fivescore, girt by the Arctic winter, far
from his own, he felt the prompting of his heritage, the desire
to possess, the wild danger--love, the thrill of battle, the
power to conquer or to die.
The singing and the dancing ceased, and the Shaman flared up in
Through the sinuosities of their vast mythology, he worked
cunningly upon the credulity of his people. The case was strong.
Opposing the creative principles as embodied in the Crow and the
Raven, he stigmatized Mackenzie as the Wolf, the fighting and the
destructive principle. Not only was the combat of these forces
spiritual, but men fought, each to his totem. They were the
children of Jelchs, the Raven, the Promethean fire-bringer;
Mackenzie was the child of the Wolf, or in other words, the
Devil. For them to bring a truce to this perpetual warfare, to
marry their daughters to the arch-enemy, were treason and
blasphemy of the highest order. No phrase was harsh nor figure
vile enough in branding Mackenzie as a sneaking interloper and
emissary of Satan. There was a subdued, savage roar in the deep
chests of his listeners as he took the swing of his peroration.
'Aye, my brothers, Jelchs is all-powerful! Did he not bring
heaven-borne fire that we might be warm? Did he not draw the sun,
moon, and stars, from their holes that we might see? Did he not
teach us that we might fight the Spirits of Famine and of Frost?
But now Jelchs is angry with his children, and they are grown to
a handful, and he will not help.
'For they have forgotten him, and done evil things, and trod bad
trails, and taken his enemies into their lodges to sit by their
fires. And the Raven is sorrowful at the wickedness of his
children; but when they shall rise up and show they have come
back, he will come out of the darkness to aid them. O brothers!
the Fire-Bringer has whispered messages to thy Shaman; the same
shall ye hear. Let the young men take the young women to their
lodges; let them fly at the throat of the Wolf; let them be
undying in their enmity! Then shall their women become fruitful
and they shall multiply into a mighty people! And the Raven shall
lead great tribes of their fathers and their fathers' fathers
from out of the North; and they shall beat back the Wolves till
they are as last year's campfires; and they shall again come to
rule over all the land! 'Tis the message of Jelchs, the Raven.'
This foreshadowing of the Messiah's coming brought a hoarse howl
from the Sticks as they leaped to their feet. Mackenzie slipped
the thumbs of his mittens and waited. There was a clamor for the
'Fox,' not to be stilled till one of the young men stepped
forward to speak.
'Brothers! The Shaman has spoken wisely. The Wolves have taken
our women, and our men are childless. We are grown to a handful.
The Wolves have taken our warm furs and given for them evil
spirits which dwell in bottles, and clothes which come not from
the beaver or the lynx, but are made from the grass.
And they are not warm, and our men die of strange sicknesses. I,
the Fox, have taken no woman to wife; and why? Twice have the
maidens which pleased me gone to the camps of the Wolf. Even now
have I laid by skins of the beaver, of the moose, of the cariboo,
that I might win favor in the eyes of Thling-Tinneh, that I might
marry Zarinska, his daughter. Even now are her snow-shoes bound
to her feet, ready to break trail for the dogs of the Wolf. Nor
do I speak for myself alone.
As I have done, so has the Bear. He, too, had fain been the
father of her children, and many skins has he cured thereto. I
speak for all the young men who know not wives. The Wolves are
ever hungry. Always do they take the choice meat at the killing.
To the Ravens are left the leavings.
'There is Gugkla,' he cried, brutally pointing out one of the
women, who was a cripple.
'Her legs are bent like the ribs of a birch canoe. She cannot
gather wood nor carry the meat of the hunters. Did the Wolves
choose her?' 'Ai! ai!' vociferated his tribesmen.
'There is Moyri, whose eyes are crossed by the Evil Spirit. Even
the babes are affrighted when they gaze upon her, and it is said
the bald-face gives her the trail.
'Was she chosen?' Again the cruel applause rang out.
'And there sits Pischet. She does not hearken to my words. Never
has she heard the cry of the chit-chat, the voice of her husband,
the babble of her child.
'She lives in the White Silence. Cared the Wolves aught for her?
No! Theirs is the choice of the kill; ours is the leavings.
'Brothers, it shall not be! No more shall the Wolves slink among
our campfires. The time is come.' A great streamer of fire, the
aurora borealis, purple, green, and yellow, shot across the
zenith, bridging horizon to horizon. With head thrown back and
arms extended, he swayed to his climax.
'Behold! The spirits of our fathers have arisen and great deeds
are afoot this night!' He stepped back, and another young man
somewhat diffidently came forward, pushed on by his comrades. He
towered a full head above them, his broad chest defiantly bared
to the frost. He swung tentatively from one foot to the other.
Words halted upon his tongue, and he was ill at ease. His face
was horrible to look upon, for it had at one time been half torn
away by some terrific blow. At last he struck his breast with his
clenched fist, drawing sound as from a drum, and his voice
rumbled forth as does the surf from an ocean cavern.
'I am the Bear,--the Silver-Tip and the Son of the Silver-Tip!
When my voice was yet as a girl's, I slew the lynx, the moose,
and the cariboo; when it whistled like the wolverines from under
a cache, I crossed the Mountains of the South and slew three of
the White Rivers; when it became as the roar of the Chinook, I
met the bald-faced grizzly, but gave no trail.' At this he
paused, his hand significantly sweeping across his hideous scars.
'I am not as the Fox. My tongue is frozen like the river. I
cannot make great talk. My words are few. The Fox says great
deeds are afoot this night. Good! Talk flows from his tongue like
the freshets of the spring, but he is chary of deeds.
'This night shall I do battle with the Wolf. I shall slay him, and
Zarinska shall sit by my fire. The Bear has spoken.' Though
pandemonium raged about him, 'Scruff' Mackenzie held his ground.
Aware how useless was the rifle at close quarters, he slipped
both holsters to the fore, ready for action, and drew his mittens
till his hands were barely shielded by the elbow gauntlets. He
knew there was no hope in attack en masse, but true to his boast,
was prepared to die with teeth fast-locked. But the Bear
restrained his comrades, beating back the more impetuous with his
terrible fist. As the tumult began to die away, Mackenzie shot a
glance in the direction of Zarinska. It was a superb picture. She
was leaning forward on her snow-shoes, lips apart and nostrils
quivering, like a tigress about to spring. Her great black eyes
were fixed upon her tribesmen, in fear and defiance. So extreme
the tension, she had forgotten to breathe. With one hand pressed
spasmodically against her breast and the other as tightly gripped
about the dog-whip, she was as turned to stone. Even as he
looked, relief came to her. Her muscles loosened; with a heavy
sigh she settled back, giving him a look of more than love--of
Thling-Tinneh was trying to speak, but his people drowned his
voice. Then Mackenzie strode forward. The Fox opened his mouth to
a piercing yell, but so savagely did Mackenzie whirl upon him
that he shrank back, his larynx all agurgle with suppressed
sound. His discomfiture was greeted with roars of laughter, and
served to soothe his fellows to a listening mood.
'Brothers! The White Man, whom ye have chosen to call the Wolf,
came among you with fair words. He was not like the Innuit; he
spoke not lies. He came as a friend, as one who would be a
brother. But your men have had their say, and the time for soft
words is past.
'First, I will tell you that the Shaman has an evil tongue and is
a false prophet, that the messages he spake are not those of the
Fire-Bringer. His ears are locked to the voice of the Raven, and
out of his own head he weaves cunning fancies, and he has made
fools of you. He has no power.
'When the dogs were killed and eaten, and your stomachs were heavy
with untanned hide and strips of moccasins; when the old men
died, and the old women died, and the babes at the dry dugs of
the mothers died; when the land was dark, and ye perished as do
the salmon in the fall; aye, when the famine was upon you, did
the Shaman bring reward to your hunters? did the Shaman put meat
in your bellies? Again I say, the Shaman is without power. Thus I
spit upon his face!' Though taken aback by the sacrilege, there
was no uproar. Some of the women were even frightened, but among
the men there was an uplifting, as though in preparation or
anticipation of the miracle. All eyes were turned upon the two
central figures. The priest realized the crucial moment, felt his
power tottering, opened his mouth in denunciation, but fled
backward before the truculent advance, upraised fist, and
flashing eyes, of Mackenzie. He sneered and resumed.
'Was I stricken dead? Did the lightning burn me? Did the stars
fall from the sky and crush me? Pish! I have done with the dog.
Now will I tell you of my people, who are the mightiest of all
the peoples, who rule in all the lands. At first we hunt as I
'After that we hunt in packs; and at last, like the cariboo-run,
we sweep across all the land.
'Those whom we take into our lodges live; those who will not come
die. Zarinska is a comely maiden, full and strong, fit to become
the mother of Wolves. Though I die, such shall she become; for my
brothers are many, and they will follow the scent of my dogs.
'Listen to the Law of the Wolf: Whoso taketh the life of one Wolf,
the forfeit shall ten of his people pay. In many lands has the
price been paid; in many lands shall it yet be paid.
'Now will I deal with the Fox and the Bear. It seems they have
cast eyes upon the maiden. So? Behold, I have bought her!
Thling-Tinneh leans upon the rifle; the goods of purchase are by
his fire. Yet will I be fair to the young men. To the Fox, whose
tongue is dry with many words, will I give of tobacco five long
'Thus will his mouth be wetted that he may make much noise in the
council. But to the Bear, of whom I am well proud, will I give of
blankets two; of flour, twenty cups; of tobacco, double that of
the Fox; and if he fare with me over the Mountains of the East,
then will I give him a rifle, mate to Thling-Tinneh's. If not?
Good! The Wolf is weary of speech. Yet once again will he say the
Law: Whoso taketh the life of one Wolf, the forfeit shall ten of
his people pay.'
Mackenzie smiled as he stepped back to his old position, but at
heart he was full of trouble. The night was yet dark. The girl
came to his side, and he listened closely as she told of the
Bear's battle-tricks with the knife.
The decision was for war. In a trice, scores of moccasins were
widening the space of beaten snow by the fire. There was much
chatter about the seeming defeat of the Shaman; some averred he
had but withheld his power, while others conned past events and
agreed with the Wolf. The Bear came to the center of the
battle-ground, a long naked hunting-knife of Russian make in his
hand. The Fox called attention to Mackenzie's revolvers; so he
stripped his belt, buckling it about Zarinska, into whose hands
he also entrusted his rifle. She shook her head that she could
not shoot,--small chance had a woman to handle such precious
'Then, if danger come by my back, cry aloud, "My husband!" No;
thus, "My husband!"'
He laughed as she repeated it, pinched her cheek, and reentered
the circle. Not only in reach and stature had the Bear the
advantage of him, but his blade was longer by a good two inches.
'Scruff' Mackenzie had looked into the eyes of men before, and he
knew it was a man who stood against him; yet he quickened to the
glint of light on the steel, to the dominant pulse of his race.
Time and again he was forced to the edge of the fire or the deep
snow, and time and again, with the foot tactics of the pugilist,
he worked back to the center. Not a voice was lifted in
encouragement, while his antagonist was heartened with applause,
suggestions, and warnings. But his teeth only shut the tighter as
the knives clashed together, and he thrust or eluded with a
coolness born of conscious strength. At first he felt compassion
for his enemy; but this fled before the primal instinct of life,
which in turn gave way to the lust of slaughter. The ten thousand
years of culture fell from him, and he was a cave-dweller, doing
battle for his female.
Twice he pricked the Bear, getting away unscathed; but the third
time caught, and to save himself, free hands closed on fighting
hands, and they came together.
Then did he realize the tremendous strength of his opponent. His
muscles were knotted in painful lumps, and cords and tendons
threatened to snap with the strain; yet nearer and nearer came
the Russian steel. He tried to break away, but only weakened
himself. The fur-clad circle closed in, certain of and anxious to
see the final stroke. But with wrestler's trick, swinging partly
to the side, he struck at his adversary with his head.
Involuntarily the Bear leaned back, disturbing his center of
gravity. Simultaneous with this, Mackenzie tripped properly and
threw his whole weight forward, hurling him clear through the
circle into the deep snow. The Bear floundered out and came back
'O my husband!' Zarinska's voice rang out, vibrant with danger.
To the twang of a bow-string, Mackenzie swept low to the ground,
and a bonebarbed arrow passed over him into the breast of the
Bear, whose momentum carried him over his crouching foe. The next
instant Mackenzie was up and about. The bear lay motionless, but
across the fire was the Shaman, drawing a second arrow.
Mackenzie's knife leaped short in the air. He caught the heavy
blade by the point. There was a flash of light as it spanned the
fire. Then the Shaman, the hilt alone appearing without his
throat, swayed and pitched forward into the glowing embers.
Click! Click!--the Fox had possessed himself of Thling-Tinneh's
rifle and was vainly trying to throw a shell into place. But he
dropped it at the sound of Mackenzie's laughter.
'So the Fox has not learned the way of the plaything? He is yet a
'Come! Bring it, that I may show thee!' The Fox hesitated.
'Come, I say!' He slouched forward like a beaten cur.
'Thus, and thus; so the thing is done.' A shell flew into place
and the trigger was at cock as Mackenzie brought it to shoulder.
'The Fox has said great deeds were afoot this night, and he spoke
true. There have been great deeds, yet least among them were
those of the Fox. Is he still intent to take Zarinska to his
lodge? Is he minded to tread the trail already broken by the
Shaman and the Bear?
Mackenzie turned contemptuously and drew his knife from the
'Are any of the young men so minded? If so, the Wolf will take
them by two and three till none are left. No? Good!
Thling-Tinneh, I now give thee this rifle a second time. If, in
the days to come, thou shouldst journey to the Country of the
Yukon, know thou that there shall always be a place and much food
by the fire of the Wolf. The night is now passing into the day. I
go, but I may come again. And for the last time, remember the Law
of the Wolf!' He was supernatural in their sight as he rejoined
Zarinska. She took her place at the head of the team, and the
dogs swung into motion. A few moments later they were swallowed
up by the ghostly forest. Till now Mackenzie had waited; he
slipped into his snow-shoes to follow.
'Has the Wolf forgotten the five long plugs?' Mackenzie turned
upon the Fox angrily; then the humor of it struck him.
'I will give thee one short plug.' 'As the Wolf sees fit,' meekly
responded the Fox, stretching out his hand.
The Men of Forty Mile
When Big Jim Belden ventured the apparently innocuous proposition
that mush-ice was 'rather pecooliar,' he little dreamed of what
it would lead to.
Neither did Lon McFane, when he affirmed that anchor-ice was even
more so; nor did Bettles, as he instantly disagreed, declaring
the very existence of such a form to be a bugaboo.
'An' ye'd be tellin' me this,' cried Lon, 'after the years ye've
spint in the land! An' we atin' out the same pot this many's the
day!' 'But the thing's agin reasin,' insisted Bettles.
'Look you, water's warmer than ice--' 'An' little the difference,
once ye break through.'
'Still it's warmer, because it ain't froze. An' you say it
freezes on the bottom?' 'Only the anchor-ice, David, only the
anchor-ice. An' have ye niver drifted along, the water clear as
glass, whin suddin, belike a cloud over the sun, the mushy-ice
comes bubblin' up an' up till from bank to bank an' bind to bind
it's drapin' the river like a first snowfall?' 'Unh, hunh! more'n
once when I took a doze at the steering-oar. But it allus come
out the nighest side-channel, an' not bubblin' up an' up.' 'But
with niver a wink at the helm?'
'No; nor you. It's agin reason. I'll leave it to any man!'
Bettles appealed to the circle about the stove, but the fight was
on between himself and Lon McFane.
'Reason or no reason, it's the truth I'm tellin' ye. Last fall, a
year gone, 'twas Sitka Charley and meself saw the sight, droppin'
down the riffle ye'll remember below Fort Reliance. An' regular
fall weather it was--the glint o' the sun on the golden larch an'
the quakin' aspens; an' the glister of light on ivery ripple; an'
beyand, the winter an' the blue haze of the North comin' down
hand in hand. It's well ye know the same, with a fringe to the
river an' the ice formin' thick in the eddies--an' a snap an'
sparkle to the air, an' ye a-feelin' it through all yer blood,
a-takin' new lease of life with ivery suck of it. 'Tis then, me
boy, the world grows small an' the wandtherlust lays ye by the
'But it's meself as wandthers. As I was sayin', we a-paddlin',
with niver a sign of ice, barrin' that by the eddies, when the
Injun lifts his paddle an' sings out, "Lon McFane! Look ye
below!" So have I heard, but niver thought to see! As ye know,
Sitka Charley, like meself, niver drew first breath in the land;
so the sight was new. Then we drifted, with a head over ayther
side, peerin' down through the sparkly water. For the world like
the days I spint with the pearlers, watchin' the coral banks
a-growin' the same as so many gardens under the sea. There it
was, the anchor-ice, clingin' an' clusterin' to ivery rock, after
the manner of the white coral.
'But the best of the sight was to come. Just after clearin' the
tail of the riffle, the water turns quick the color of milk, an'
the top of it in wee circles, as when the graylin' rise in the
spring, or there's a splatter of wet from the sky. 'Twas the
anchor-ice comin' up. To the right, to the lift, as far as iver a
man cud see, the water was covered with the same.
An' like so much porridge it was, slickin' along the bark of the
canoe, stickin' like glue to the paddles. It's many's the time I
shot the self-same riffle before, and it's many's the time after,
but niver a wink of the same have I seen. 'Twas the sight of a
lifetime.' 'Do tell!' dryly commented Bettles. 'D'ye think I'd
b'lieve such a yarn? I'd ruther say the glister of light'd gone
to your eyes, and the snap of the air to your tongue.' ''Twas me
own eyes that beheld it, an' if Sitka Charley was here, he'd be
the lad to back me.' 'But facts is facts, an' they ain't no
gettin' round 'em. It ain't in the nature of things for the water
furtherest away from the air to freeze first.' 'But me own eyes-'
'Don't git het up over it,' admonished Bettles, as the quick
Celtic anger began to mount.
'Then yer not after belavin' me?' 'Sence you're so blamed
forehanded about it, no; I'd b'lieve nature first, and facts.'
'Is it the lie ye'd be givin' me?' threatened Lon. 'Ye'd better
be askin' that Siwash wife of yours. I'll lave it to her, for the
truth I spake.' Bettles flared up in sudden wrath. The Irishman
had unwittingly wounded him; for his wife was the half-breed
daughter of a Russian fur-trader, married to him in the Greek
Mission of Nulato, a thousand miles or so down the Yukon, thus
being of much higher caste than the common Siwash, or native,
wife. It was a mere Northland nuance, which none but the
Northland adventurer may understand.
'I reckon you kin take it that way,' was his deliberate
The next instant Lon McFane had stretched him on the floor, the
circle was broken up, and half a dozen men had stepped between.
Bettles came to his feet, wiping the blood from his mouth. 'It
hain't new, this takin' and payin' of blows, and don't you never
think but that this will be squared.' 'An' niver in me life did I
take the lie from mortal man,' was the retort courteous. 'An'
it's an avil day I'll not be to hand, waitin' an' willin' to help
ye lift yer debts, barrin' no manner of way.'
'Still got that 38-55?' Lon nodded.
'But you'd better git a more likely caliber. Mine'll rip holes
through you the size of walnuts.'
'Niver fear; it's me own slugs smell their way with soft noses,
an' they'll spread like flapjacks against the coming out beyand.
An' when'll I have the pleasure of waitin' on ye? The waterhole's
a strikin' locality.' ''Tain't bad. Jest be there in an hour, and
you won't set long on my coming.' Both men mittened and left the
Post, their ears closed to the remonstrances of their comrades.
It was such a little thing; yet with such men, little things,
nourished by quick tempers and stubborn natures, soon blossomed
into big things.
Besides, the art of burning to bedrock still lay in the womb of
the future, and the men of Forty-Mile, shut in by the long Arctic
winter, grew high-stomached with overeating and enforced
idleness, and became as irritable as do the bees in the fall of
the year when the hives are overstocked with honey.
There was no law in the land. The mounted police was also a thing
of the future. Each man measured an offense, and meted out the
punishment inasmuch as it affected himself.
Rarely had combined action been necessary, and never in all the
dreary history of the camp had the eighth article of the
Decalogue been violated.
Big Jim Belden called an impromptu meeting. Scruff Mackenzie was
placed as temporary chairman, and a messenger dispatched to
solicit Father Roubeau's good offices. Their position was
paradoxical, and they knew it. By the right of might could they
interfere to prevent the duel; yet such action, while in direct
line with their wishes, went counter to their opinions. While
their rough-hewn, obsolete ethics recognized the individual
prerogative of wiping out blow with blow, they could not bear to
think of two good comrades, such as Bettles and McFane, meeting
in deadly battle. Deeming the man who would not fight on
provocation a dastard, when brought to the test it seemed wrong
that he should fight.
But a scurry of moccasins and loud cries, rounded off with a
pistol-shot, interrupted the discussion. Then the storm-doors
opened and Malemute Kid entered, a smoking Colt's in his hand,
and a merry light in his eye.
'I got him.' He replaced the empty shell, and added, 'Your dog,
Scruff.' 'Yellow Fang?'
'No; the lop-eared one.' 'The devil! Nothing the matter with
him.' 'Come out and take a look.' 'That's all right after all.
Buess he's got 'em, too. Yellow Fang came back this morning and
took a chunk out of him, and came near to making a widower of me.
Made a rush for Zarinska, but she whisked her skirts in his face
and escaped with the loss of the same and a good roll in the
snow. Then he took to the woods again. Hope he don't come back.
Lost any yourself?' 'One--the best one of the pack--Shookum.
Started amuck this morning, but didn't get very far. Ran foul of
Sitka Charley's team, and they scattered him all over the street.
And now two of them are loose, and raging mad; so you see he got
his work in. The dog census will be small in the spring if we
don't do something.'
'And the man census, too.' 'How's that? Who's in trouble now?'
'Oh, Bettles and Lon McFane had an argument, and they'll be down
by the waterhole in a few minutes to settle it.' The incident was
repeated for his benefit, and Malemute Kid, accustomed to an
obedience which his fellow men never failed to render, took
charge of the affair. His quickly formulated plan was explained,
and they promised to follow his lead implicitly.
'So you see,' he concluded, 'we do not actually take away their
privilege of fighting; and yet I don't believe they'll fight when
they see the beauty of the scheme. Life's a game and men the
gamblers. They'll stake their whole pile on the one chance in a
'Take away that one chance, and--they won't play.' He turned to
the man in charge of the Post. 'Storekeeper, weight out three
fathoms of your best half-inch manila.
'We'll establish a precedent which will last the men of
Forty-Mile to the end of time,' he prophesied. Then he coiled the
rope about his arm and led his followers out of doors, just in
time to meet the principals.
'What danged right'd he to fetch my wife in?' thundered Bettles
to the soothing overtures of a friend. ''Twa'n't called for,' he
concluded decisively. ''Twa'n't called for,' he reiterated again
and again, pacing up and down and waiting for Lon McFane.
And Lon McFane--his face was hot and tongue rapid as he flaunted
insurrection in the face of the Church. 'Then, father,' he cried,
'it's with an aisy heart I'll roll in me flamy blankets, the
broad of me back on a bed of coals. Niver shall it be said that
Lon McFane took a lie 'twixt the teeth without iver liftin' a
hand! An' I'll not ask a blessin'. The years have been wild, but
it's the heart was in the right place.' 'But it's not the heart,
Lon,' interposed Father Roubeau; 'It's pride that bids you forth
to slay your fellow man.' 'Yer Frinch,' Lon replied. And then,
turning to leave him, 'An' will ye say a mass if the luck is
against me?' But the priest smiled, thrust his moccasined feet to
the fore, and went out upon the white breast of the silent river.
A packed trail, the width of a sixteen-inch sled, led out to the
waterhole. On either side lay the deep, soft snow. The men trod
in single file, without conversation; and the black-stoled priest
in their midst gave to the function the solemn aspect of a
funeral. It was a warm winter's day for Forty-Mile--a day in
which the sky, filled with heaviness, drew closer to the earth,
and the mercury sought the unwonted level of twenty below. But
there was no cheer in the warmth. There was little air in the
upper strata, and the clouds hung motionless, giving sullen
promise of an early snowfall. And the earth, unresponsive, made
no preparation, content in its hibernation.
When the waterhole was reached, Bettles, having evidently
reviewed the quarrel during the silent walk, burst out in a final
''Twa'n't called for,' while Lon McFane kept grim silence.
Indignation so choked him that he could not speak.
Yet deep down, whenever their own wrongs were not uppermost, both
men wondered at their comrades. They had expected opposition, and
this tacit acquiescence hurt them. It seemed more was due them
from the men they had been so close with, and they felt a vague
sense of wrong, rebelling at the thought of so many of their
brothers coming out, as on a gala occasion, without one word of
protest, to see them shoot each other down. It appeared their
worth had diminished in the eyes of the community. The
proceedings puzzled them.
'Back to back, David. An' will it be fifty paces to the man, or
double the quantity?'
'Fifty,' was the sanguinary reply, grunted out, yet sharply cut.
But the new manila, not prominently displayed, but casually
coiled about Malemute Kid's arm, caught the quick eye of the
Irishman, and thrilled him with a suspicious fear.
'An' what are ye doin' with the rope?' 'Hurry up!' Malemute Kid
glanced at his watch.
'I've a batch of bread in the cabin, and I don't want it to fall.
Besides, my feet are getting cold.' The rest of the men
manifested their impatience in various suggestive ways.
'But the rope, Kid' It's bran' new, an' sure yer bread's not that
heavy it needs raisin' with the like of that?' Bettles by this
time had faced around. Father Roubeau, the humor of the situation
just dawning on him, hid a smile behind his mittened hand.
'No, Lon; this rope was made for a man.' Malemute Kid could be
very impressive on occasion.
'What man?' Bettles was becoming aware of a personal interest.
'The other man.' 'An' which is the one ye'd mane by that?'
'Listen, Lon--and you, too, Bettles! We've been talking this
little trouble of yours over, and we've come to one conclusion.
We know we have no right to stop your fighting-' 'True for ye, me
lad!' 'And we're not going to. But this much we can do, and shall
do--make this the only duel in the history of Forty-Mile, set an
example for every che-cha-qua that comes up or down the Yukon.
The man who escapes killing shall be hanged to the nearest tree.
Now, go ahead!'
Lon smiled dubiously, then his face lighted up. 'Pace her off,
David--fifty paces, wheel, an' niver a cease firin' till a lad's
down for good. 'Tis their hearts'll niver let them do the deed,
an' it's well ye should know it for a true Yankee bluff.'
He started off with a pleased grin on his face, but Malemute Kid
'Lon! It's a long while since you first knew me?' 'Many's the
day.' 'And you, Bettles?'
'Five year next June high water.' 'And have you once, in all that
time, known me to break my word' Or heard of me breaking it?'
Both men shook their heads, striving to fathom what lay beyond.
'Well, then, what do you think of a promise made by me?' 'As good
as your bond,' from Bettles.
'The thing to safely sling yer hopes of heaven by,' promptly
endorsed Lon McFane.
'Listen! I, Malemute Kid, give you my word--and you know what
that means that the man who is not shot stretches rope within ten
minutes after the shooting.' He stepped back as Pilate might have
done after washing his hands.
A pause and a silence came over the men of Forty-Mile. The sky
drew still closer, sending down a crystal flight of frost--little
geometric designs, perfect, evanescent as a breath, yet destined
to exist till the returning sun had covered half its northern
Both men had led forlorn hopes in their time--led with a curse or
a jest on their tongues, and in their souls an unswerving faith
in the God of Chance. But that merciful deity had been shut out
from the present deal. They studied the face of Malemute Kid, but
they studied as one might the Sphinx. As the quiet minutes
passed, a feeling that speech was incumbent on them began to
grow. At last the howl of a wolf-dog cracked the silence from the
direction of Forty-Mile. The weird sound swelled with all the
pathos of a breaking heart, then died away in a long-drawn sob.
'Well I be danged!' Bettles turned up the collar of his mackinaw
jacket and stared about him helplessly.
'It's a gloryus game yer runnin', Kid,' cried Lon McFane. 'All
the percentage of the house an' niver a bit to the man that's
buckin'. The Devil himself'd niver tackle such a cinch--and
damned if I do.' There were chuckles, throttled in gurgling
throats, and winks brushed away with the frost which rimed the
eyelashes, as the men climbed the ice-notched bank and started
across the street to the Post. But the long howl had drawn
nearer, invested with a new note of menace. A woman screamed
round the corner. There was a cry of, 'Here he comes!' Then an
Indian boy, at the head of half a dozen frightened dogs, racing
with death, dashed into the crowd. And behind came Yellow Fang, a
bristle of hair and a flash of gray. Everybody but the Yankee
The Indian boy had tripped and fallen. Bettles stopped long
enough to grip him by the slack of his furs, then headed for a
pile of cordwood already occupied by a number of his comrades.
Yellow Fang, doubling after one of the dogs, came leaping back.
The fleeing animal, free of the rabies, but crazed with fright,
whipped Bettles off his feet and flashed on up the street.
Malemute Kid took a flying shot at Yellow Fang. The mad dog
whirled a half airspring, came down on his back, then, with a
single leap, covered half the distance between himself and
But the fatal spring was intercepted. Lon McFane leaped from the
woodpile, countering him in midair. Over they rolled, Lon holding
him by the throat at arm's length, blinking under the fetid
slaver which sprayed his face. Then Bettles, revolver in hand and
coolly waiting a chance, settled the combat.
''Twas a square game, Kid,' Lon remarked, rising to his feet and
shaking the snow from out his sleeves; 'with a fair percentage to
meself that bucked it.' That night, while Lon McFane sought the
forgiving arms of the Church in the direction of Father Roubeau's
cabin, Malemute Kid talked long to little purpose.
'But would you,' persisted Mackenzie, 'supposing they had
fought?' 'Have I ever broken my word?' 'No; but that isn't the
point. Answer the question. Would you?' Malemute Kid straightened
up. 'Scruff, I've been asking myself that question ever since,
'Well, as yet, I haven't found the answer.'
In a Far Country
When a man journeys into a far country, he must be prepared to
forget many of the things he has learned, and to acquire such
customs as are inherent with existence in the new land; he must
abandon the old ideals and the old gods, and oftentimes he must
reverse the very codes by which his conduct has hitherto been
shaped. To those who have the protean faculty of adaptability,
the novelty of such change may even be a source of pleasure; but
to those who happen to be hardened to the ruts in which they were
created, the pressure of the altered environment is unbearable,
and they chafe in body and in spirit under the new restrictions
which they do not understand. This chafing is bound to act and
react, producing divers evils and leading to various misfortunes.
It were better for the man who cannot fit himself to the new
groove to return to his own country; if he delay too long, he
will surely die.
The man who turns his back upon the comforts of an elder
civilization, to face the savage youth, the primordial simplicity
of the North, may estimate success at an inverse ratio to the
quantity and quality of his hopelessly fixed habits. He will soon
discover, if he be a fit candidate, that the material habits are
the less important. The exchange of such things as a dainty menu
for rough fare, of the stiff leather shoe for the soft, shapeless
moccasin, of the feather bed for a couch in the snow, is after
all a very easy matter. But his pinch will come in learning
properly to shape his mind's attitude toward all things, and
especially toward his fellow man. For the courtesies of ordinary
life, he must substitute unselfishness, forbearance, and
tolerance. Thus, and thus only, can he gain that pearl of great
price--true comradeship. He must not say 'thank you'; he must
mean it without opening his mouth, and prove it by responding in
kind. In short, he must substitute the deed for the word, the
spirit for the letter.
When the world rang with the tale of Arctic gold, and the lure of
the North gripped the heartstrings of men, Carter Weatherbee
threw up his snug clerkship, turned the half of his savings over
to his wife, and with the remainder bought an outfit. There was
no romance in his nature--the bondage of commerce had crushed all
that; he was simply tired of the ceaseless grind, and wished to
risk great hazards in view of corresponding returns. Like many
another fool, disdaining the old trails used by the Northland
pioneers for a score of years, he hurried to Edmonton in the
spring of the year; and there, unluckily for his soul's welfare,
he allied himself with a party of men.
There was nothing unusual about this party, except its plans.
Even its goal, like that of all the other parties, was the
Klondike. But the route it had mapped out to attain that goal
took away the breath of the hardiest native, born and bred to the
vicissitudes of the Northwest. Even Jacques Baptiste, born of a
Chippewa woman and a renegade voyageur (having raised his first
whimpers in a deerskin lodge north of the sixty-fifth parallel,
and had the same hushed by blissful sucks of raw tallow), was
surprised. Though he sold his services to them and agreed to
travel even to the never-opening ice, he shook his head ominously
whenever his advice was asked.
Percy Cuthfert's evil star must have been in the ascendant, for
he, too, joined this company of argonauts. He was an ordinary
man, with a bank account as deep as his culture, which is saying
a good deal. He had no reason to embark on such a venture--no
reason in the world save that he suffered from an abnormal
development of sentimentality. He mistook this for the true
spirit of romance and adventure. Many another man has done the
like, and made as fatal a mistake.
The first break-up of spring found the party following the
ice-run of Elk River. It was an imposing fleet, for the outfit
was large, and they were accompanied by a disreputable contingent
of half-breed voyageurs with their women and children. Day in and
day out, they labored with the bateaux and canoes, fought
mosquitoes and other kindred pests, or sweated and swore at the
portages. Severe toil like this lays a man naked to the very
roots of his soul, and ere Lake Athabasca was lost in the south,
each member of the party had hoisted his true colors.
The two shirks and chronic grumblers were Carter Weatherbee and
Percy Cuthfert. The whole party complained less of its aches and
pains than did either of them. Not once did they volunteer for
the thousand and one petty duties of the camp. A bucket of water
to be brought, an extra armful of wood to be chopped, the dishes
to be washed and wiped, a search to be made through the outfit
for some suddenly indispensable article--and these two effete
scions of civilization discovered sprains or blisters requiring
They were the first to turn in at night, with score of tasks yet
undone; the last to turn out in the morning, when the start
should be in readiness before the breakfast was begun.
They were the first to fall to at mealtime, the last to have a
hand in the cooking; the first to dive for a slim delicacy, the
last to discover they had added to their own another man's share.
If they toiled at the oars, they slyly cut the water at each
stroke and allowed the boat's momentum to float up the blade.
They thought nobody noticed; but their comrades swore under their
breaths and grew to hate them, while Jacques Baptiste sneered
openly and damned them from morning till night. But Jacques
Baptiste was no gentleman.
At the Great Slave, Hudson Bay dogs were purchased, and the fleet
sank to the guards with its added burden of dried fish and
pemican. Then canoe and bateau answered to the swift current of
the Mackenzie, and they plunged into the Great Barren Ground.
Every likely-looking 'feeder' was prospected, but the elusive
'pay-dirt' danced ever to the north. At the Great Bear, overcome
by the common dread of the Unknown Lands, their voyageurs began
to desert, and Fort of Good Hope saw the last and bravest bending
to the towlines as they bucked the current down which they had so
Jacques Baptiste alone remained. Had he not sworn to travel even
to the never-opening ice? The lying charts, compiled in main from
hearsay, were now constantly consulted.
And they felt the need of hurry, for the sun had already passed
its northern solstice and was leading the winter south again.
Skirting the shores of the bay, where the Mackenzie disembogues
into the Arctic Ocean, they entered the mouth of the Little Peel
River. Then began the arduous up-stream toil, and the two
Incapables fared worse than ever. Towline and pole, paddle and
tumpline, rapids and portages--such tortures served to give the
one a deep disgust for great hazards, and printed for the other a
fiery text on the true romance of adventure. One day they waxed
mutinous, and being vilely cursed by Jacques Baptiste, turned, as
worms sometimes will. But the half-breed thrashed the twain, and
sent them, bruised and bleeding, about their work. It was the
first time either had been manhandled.
Abandoning their river craft at the headwaters of the Little
Peel, they consumed the rest of the summer in the great portage
over the Mackenzie watershed to the West Rat. This little stream
fed the Porcupine, which in turn joined the Yukon where that
mighty highway of the North countermarches on the Arctic Circle.
But they had lost in the race with winter, and one day they tied
their rafts to the thick eddy-ice and hurried their goods ashore.
That night the river jammed and broke several times; the
following morning it had fallen asleep for good. 'We can't be
more'n four hundred miles from the Yukon,' concluded Sloper,
multiplying his thumb nails by the scale of the map. The council,
in which the two Incapables had whined to excellent disadvantage,
was drawing to a close.
'Hudson Bay Post, long time ago. No use um now.' Jacques
Baptiste's father had made the trip for the Fur Company in the
old days, incidentally marking the trail with a couple of frozen
Sufferin' cracky!' cried another of the party. 'No whites?' 'Nary
white,' Sloper sententiously affirmed; 'but it's only five
hundred more up the Yukon to Dawson. Call it a rough thousand
from here.' Weatherbee and Cuthfert groaned in chorus.
'How long'll that take, Baptiste?' The half-breed figured for a
moment. 'Workum like hell, no man play out, ten--twenty--forty
--fifty days. Um babies come' (designating the Incapables), 'no
can tell. Mebbe when hell freeze over; mebbe not then.' The
manufacture of snowshoes and moccasins ceased. Somebody called the
name of an absent member, who came out of an ancient cabin at the
edge of the campfire and joined them. The cabin was one of the
many mysteries which lurk in the vast recesses of the North. Built
when and by whom, no man could tell.
Two graves in the open, piled high with stones, perhaps contained
the secret of those early wanderers. But whose hand had piled the
stones? The moment had come. Jacques Baptiste paused in the
fitting of a harness and pinned the struggling dog in the snow.
The cook made mute protest for delay, threw a handful of bacon
into a noisy pot of beans, then came to attention. Sloper rose to
his feet. His body was a ludicrous contrast to the healthy
physiques of the Incapables. Yellow and weak, fleeing from a
South American fever-hole, he had not broken his flight across
the zones, and was still able to toil with men. His weight was
probably ninety pounds, with the heavy hunting knife thrown in,
and his grizzled hair told of a prime which had ceased to be. The
fresh young muscles of either Weatherbee or Cuthfert were equal
to ten times the endeavor of his; yet he could walk them into the
earth in a day's journey. And all this day he had whipped his
stronger comrades into venturing a thousand miles of the stiffest
hardship man can conceive. He was the incarnation of the unrest
of his race, and the old Teutonic stubbornness, dashed with the
quick grasp and action of the Yankee, held the flesh in the
bondage of the spirit.
'All those in favor of going on with the dogs as soon as the ice
sets, say ay.' 'Ay!' rang out eight voices--voices destined to
string a trail of oaths along many a hundred miles of pain.
'Contrary minded?' 'No!' For the first time the Incapables were
united without some compromise of personal interests.
'And what are you going to do about it?' Weatherbee added
'Majority rule! Majority rule!' clamored the rest of the party.
'I know the expedition is liable to fall through if you don't
come,' Sloper replied sweetly; 'but I guess, if we try real hard,
we can manage to do without you.
What do you say, boys?' The sentiment was cheered to the echo.
'But I say, you know,' Cuthfert ventured apprehensively; 'what's
a chap like me to do?'
'Ain't you coming with us.' 'No--o.' 'Then do as you damn well
please. We won't have nothing to say.' 'Kind o' calkilate yuh
might settle it with that canoodlin' pardner of yourn,' suggested
a heavy-going Westerner from the Dakotas, at the same time
pointing out Weatherbee. 'He'll be shore to ask yuh what yur
a-goin' to do when it comes to cookin' an' gatherin' the wood.'
'Then we'll consider it all arranged,' concluded Sloper.
'We'll pull out tomorrow, if we camp within five miles--just to
get everything in running order and remember if we've forgotten
anything.' The sleds groaned by on their steel-shod runners, and
the dogs strained low in the harnesses in which they were born to
Jacques Baptiste paused by the side of Sloper to get a last
glimpse of the cabin. The smoke curled up pathetically from the
Yukon stovepipe. The two Incapables were watching them from the
Sloper laid his hand on the other's shoulder.
'Jacques Baptiste, did you ever hear of the Kilkenny cats?' The
half-breed shook his head.
'Well, my friend and good comrade, the Kilkenny cats fought till
neither hide, nor hair, nor yowl, was left. You understand?--till
nothing was left. Very good.
Now, these two men don't like work. They'll be all alone in that
cabin all winter--a mighty long, dark winter. Kilkenny cats--well?'
The Frenchman in Baptiste shrugged his shoulders, but the Indian
in him was silent. Nevertheless, it was an eloquent shrug,
pregnant with prophecy. Things prospered in the little cabin at
first. The rough badinage of their comrades had made Weatherbee
and Cuthfert conscious of the mutual responsibility which had
devolved upon them; besides, there was not so much work after all
for two healthy men. And the removal of the cruel whiphand, or in
other words the bulldozing half-breed, had brought with it a
joyous reaction. At first, each strove to outdo the other, and
they performed petty tasks with an unction which would have
opened the eyes of their comrades who were now wearing out bodies
and souls on the Long Trail.
All care was banished. The forest, which shouldered in upon them
from three sides, was an inexhaustible woodyard. A few yards from
their door slept the Porcupine, and a hole through its winter
robe formed a bubbling spring of water, crystal clear and
painfully cold. But they soon grew to find fault with even that.
The hole would persist in freezing up, and thus gave them many a
miserable hour of ice-chopping. The unknown builders of the cabin
had extended the sidelogs so as to support a cache at the rear.
In this was stored the bulk of the party's provisions.
Food there was, without stint, for three times the men who were
fated to live upon it. But the most of it was the kind which
built up brawn and sinew, but did not tickle the palate.
True, there was sugar in plenty for two ordinary men; but these
two were little else than children. They early discovered the
virtues of hot water judiciously saturated with sugar, and they
prodigally swam their flapjacks and soaked their crusts in the
rich, white syrup.
Then coffee and tea, and especially the dried fruits, made
disastrous inroads upon it. The first words they had were over
the sugar question. And it is a really serious thing when two
men, wholly dependent upon each other for company, begin to
Weatherbee loved to discourse blatantly on politics, while
Cuthfert, who had been prone to clip his coupons and let the
commonwealth jog on as best it might, either ignored the subject
or delivered himself of startling epigrams. But the clerk was too
obtuse to appreciate the clever shaping of thought, and this
waste of ammunition irritated Cuthfert.
He had been used to blinding people by his brilliancy, and it
worked him quite a hardship, this loss of an audience. He felt
personally aggrieved and unconsciously held his muttonhead
companion responsible for it.
Save existence, they had nothing in common--came in touch on no
Weatherbee was a clerk who had known naught but clerking all his
life; Cuthfert was a master of arts, a dabbler in oils, and had
written not a little. The one was a lower-class man who
considered himself a gentleman, and the other was a gentleman who
knew himself to be such. From this it may be remarked that a man
can be a gentleman without possessing the first instinct of true
comradeship. The clerk was as sensuous as the other was
aesthetic, and his love adventures, told at great length and
chiefly coined from his imagination, affected the supersensitive
master of arts in the same way as so many whiffs of sewer gas. He
deemed the clerk a filthy, uncultured brute, whose place was in
the muck with the swine, and told him so; and he was reciprocally
informed that he was a milk-and-water sissy and a cad. Weatherbee
could not have defined 'cad' for his life; but it satisfied its
purpose, which after all seems the main point in life.
Weatherbee flatted every third note and sang such songs as 'The
Boston Burglar' and 'the Handsome Cabin Boy,' for hours at a
time, while Cuthfert wept with rage, till he could stand it no
longer and fled into the outer cold. But there was no escape. The
intense frost could not be endured for long at a time, and the
little cabin crowded them--beds, stove, table, and all--into a
space of ten by twelve. The very presence of either became a
personal affront to the other, and they lapsed into sullen
silences which increased in length and strength as the days went
by. Occasionally, the flash of an eye or the curl of a lip got
the better of them, though they strove to wholly ignore each
other during these mute periods.
And a great wonder sprang up in the breast of each, as to how God
had ever come to create the other.
With little to do, time became an intolerable burden to them.
This naturally made them still lazier. They sank into a physical
lethargy which there was no escaping, and which made them rebel
at the performance of the smallest chore. One morning when it was
his turn to cook the common breakfast, Weatherbee rolled out of
his blankets, and to the snoring of his companion, lighted first
the slush lamp and then the fire. The kettles were frozen hard,
and there was no water in the cabin with which to wash. But he
did not mind that. Waiting for it to thaw, he sliced the bacon
and plunged into the hateful task of bread-making. Cuthfert had
been slyly watching through his half-closed lids.
Consequently there was a scene, in which they fervently blessed
each other, and agreed, henceforth, that each do his own cooking.
A week later, Cuthfert neglected his morning ablutions, but none
the less complacently ate the meal which he had cooked.
Weatherbee grinned. After that the foolish custom of washing
passed out of their lives.
As the sugar-pile and other little luxuries dwindled, they began
to be afraid they were not getting their proper shares, and in
order that they might not be robbed, they fell to gorging
themselves. The luxuries suffered in this gluttonous contest, as
did also the men.
In the absence of fresh vegetables and exercise, their blood
became impoverished, and a loathsome, purplish rash crept over
their bodies. Yet they refused to heed the warning.
Next, their muscles and joints began to swell, the flesh turning
black, while their mouths, gums, and lips took on the color of
rich cream. Instead of being drawn together by their misery, each
gloated over the other's symptoms as the scurvy took its course.
They lost all regard for personal appearance, and for that
matter, common decency. The cabin became a pigpen, and never once
were the beds made or fresh pine boughs laid underneath. Yet they
could not keep to their blankets, as they would have wished; for
the frost was inexorable, and the fire box consumed much fuel.
The hair of their heads and faces grew long and shaggy, while
their garments would have disgusted a ragpicker. But they did not
care. They were sick, and there was no one to see; besides, it
was very painful to move about.
To all this was added a new trouble--the Fear of the North. This
Fear was the joint child of the Great Cold and the Great Silence,
and was born in the darkness of December, when the sun dipped
below the horizon for good. It affected them according to their
Weatherbee fell prey to the grosser superstitions, and did his
best to resurrect the spirits which slept in the forgotten
graves. It was a fascinating thing, and in his dreams they came
to him from out of the cold, and snuggled into his blankets, and
told him of their toils and troubles ere they died. He shrank
away from the clammy contact as they drew closer and twined their
frozen limbs about him, and when they whispered in his ear of
things to come, the cabin rang with his frightened shrieks.
Cuthfert did not understand--for they no longer spoke--and when
thus awakened he invariably grabbed for his revolver. Then he
would sit up in bed, shivering nervously, with the weapon trained
on the unconscious dreamer. Cuthfert deemed the man going mad,
and so came to fear for his life.
His own malady assumed a less concrete form. The mysterious
artisan who had laid the cabin, log by log, had pegged a
wind-vane to the ridgepole. Cuthfert noticed it always pointed
south, and one day, irritated by its steadfastness of purpose, he
turned it toward the east. He watched eagerly, but never a breath
came by to disturb it. Then he turned the vane to the north,
swearing never again to touch it till the wind did blow. But the
air frightened him with its unearthly calm, and he often rose in
the middle of the night to see if the vane had veered--ten
degrees would have satisfied him. But no, it poised above him as
unchangeable as fate.
His imagination ran riot, till it became to him a fetish.
Sometimes he followed the path it pointed across the dismal
dominions, and allowed his soul to become saturated with the
Fear. He dwelt upon the unseen and the unknown till the burden of
eternity appeared to be crushing him. Everything in the Northland
had that crushing effect--the absence of life and motion; the
darkness; the infinite peace of the brooding land; the ghastly
silence, which made the echo of each heartbeat a sacrilege; the
solemn forest which seemed to guard an awful, inexpressible
something, which neither word nor thought could compass.
The world he had so recently left, with its busy nations and
great enterprises, seemed very far away. Recollections
occasionally obtruded--recollections of marts and galleries and
crowded thoroughfares, of evening dress and social functions, of
good men and dear women he had known--but they were dim memories
of a life he had lived long centuries agone, on some other
planet. This phantasm was the Reality. Standing beneath the
wind-vane, his eyes fixed on the polar skies, he could not bring
himself to realize that the Southland really existed, that at
that very moment it was a-roar with life and action.
There was no Southland, no men being born of women, no giving and
taking in marriage.
Beyond his bleak skyline there stretched vast solitudes, and
beyond these still vaster solitudes.
There were no lands of sunshine, heavy with the perfume of
flowers. Such things were only old dreams of paradise. The
sunlands of the West and the spicelands of the East, the smiling
Arcadias and blissful Islands of the Blest--ha! ha! His laughter
split the void and shocked him with its unwonted sound. There was
This was the Universe, dead and cold and dark, and he its only
citizen. Weatherbee? At such moments Weatherbee did not count. He
was a Caliban, a monstrous phantom, fettered to him for untold
ages, the penalty of some forgotten crime.
He lived with Death among the dead, emasculated by the sense of
his own insignificance, crushed by the passive mastery of the
slumbering ages. The magnitude of all things appalled him.
Everything partook of the superlative save himself--the perfect
cessation of wind and motion, the immensity of the snow-covered
wildness, the height of the sky and the depth of the silence.
That wind-vane--if it would only move. If a thunderbolt would fall,
or the forest flare up in flame.
The rolling up of the heavens as a scroll, the crash of
Doom--anything, anything! But no, nothing moved; the Silence
crowded in, and the Fear of the North laid icy fingers on his
Once, like another Crusoe, by the edge of the river he came upon
a track--the faint tracery of a snowshoe rabbit on the delicate
snow-crust. It was a revelation.
There was life in the Northland. He would follow it, look upon
it, gloat over it.
He forgot his swollen muscles, plunging through the deep snow in
an ecstasy of anticipation. The forest swallowed him up, and the
brief midday twilight vanished; but he pursued his quest till
exhausted nature asserted itself and laid him helpless in the
There he groaned and cursed his folly, and knew the track to be
the fancy of his brain; and late that night he dragged himself
into the cabin on hands and knees, his cheeks frozen and a
strange numbness about his feet. Weatherbee grinned malevolently,
but made no offer to help him. He thrust needles into his toes
and thawed them out by the stove. A week later mortification set
But the clerk had his own troubles. The dead men came out of
their graves more frequently now, and rarely left him, waking or
sleeping. He grew to wait and dread their coming, never passing
the twin cairns without a shudder. One night they came to him in
his sleep and led him forth to an appointed task. Frightened into
inarticulate horror, he awoke between the heaps of stones and
fled wildly to the cabin. But he had lain there for some time,
for his feet and cheeks were also frozen.
Sometimes he became frantic at their insistent presence, and
danced about the cabin, cutting the empty air with an axe, and
smashing everything within reach.
During these ghostly encounters, Cuthfert huddled into his
blankets and followed the madman about with a cocked revolver,
ready to shoot him if he came too near.
But, recovering from one of these spells, the clerk noticed the
weapon trained upon him.
His suspicions were aroused, and thenceforth he, too, lived in
fear of his life. They watched each other closely after that, and
faced about in startled fright whenever either passed behind the
other's back. The apprehensiveness became a mania which
controlled them even in their sleep. Through mutual fear they
tacitly let the slush-lamp burn all night, and saw to a plentiful
supply of bacon-grease before retiring. The slightest movement on
the part of one was sufficient to arouse the other, and many a
still watch their gazes countered as they shook beneath their
blankets with fingers on the trigger-guards.
What with the Fear of the North, the mental strain, and the
ravages of the disease, they lost all semblance of humanity,
taking on the appearance of wild beasts, hunted and desperate.
Their cheeks and noses, as an aftermath of the freezing, had
Their frozen toes had begun to drop away at the first and second
joints. Every movement brought pain, but the fire box was
insatiable, wringing a ransom of torture from their miserable
bodies. Day in, day out, it demanded its food--a veritable pound
of flesh--and they dragged themselves into the forest to chop
wood on their knees. Once, crawling thus in search of dry sticks,
unknown to each other they entered a thicket from opposite sides.
Suddenly, without warning, two peering death's-heads confronted
each other. Suffering had so transformed them that recognition
was impossible. They sprang to their feet, shrieking with terror,
and dashed away on their mangled stumps; and falling at the
cabin's door, they clawed and scratched like demons till they
discovered their mistake.
Occasionally they lapsed normal, and during one of these sane
intervals, the chief bone of contention, the sugar, had been
divided equally between them. They guarded their separate sacks,
stored up in the cache, with jealous eyes; for there were but a
few cupfuls left, and they were totally devoid of faith in each