Part 2 out of 3
But one day Cuthfert made a mistake. Hardly able to move, sick
with pain, with his head swimming and eyes blinded, he crept into
the cache, sugar canister in hand, and mistook Weatherbee's sack
for his own.
January had been born but a few days when this occurred. The sun
had some time since passed its lowest southern declination, and
at meridian now threw flaunting streaks of yellow light upon the
northern sky. On the day following his mistake with the sugar-bag,
Cuthfert found himself feeling better, both in body and in
spirit. As noontime drew near and the day brightened, he dragged
himself outside to feast on the evanescent glow, which was to him
an earnest of the sun's future intentions. Weatherbee was also
feeling somewhat better, and crawled out beside him. They propped
themselves in the snow beneath the moveless wind-vane, and waited.
The stillness of death was about them. In other climes, when
nature falls into such moods, there is a subdued air of
expectancy, a waiting for some small voice to take up the broken
strain. Not so in the North. The two men had lived seeming eons
in this ghostly peace.
They could remember no song of the past; they could conjure no
song of the future. This unearthly calm had always been--the
tranquil silence of eternity.
Their eyes were fixed upon the north. Unseen, behind their backs,
behind the towering mountains to the south, the sun swept toward
the zenith of another sky than theirs. Sole spectators of the
mighty canvas, they watched the false dawn slowly grow. A faint
flame began to glow and smoulder. It deepened in intensity,
ringing the changes of reddish-yellow, purple, and saffron. So
bright did it become that Cuthfert thought the sun must surely be
behind it--a miracle, the sun rising in the north! Suddenly,
without warning and without fading, the canvas was swept clean.
There was no color in the sky. The light had gone out of the day.
They caught their breaths in half-sobs. But lo! the air was
aglint with particles of scintillating frost, and there, to the
north, the wind-vane lay in vague outline of the snow.
A shadow! A shadow! It was exactly midday. They jerked their
heads hurriedly to the south. A golden rim peeped over the
mountain's snowy shoulder, smiled upon them an instant, then
dipped from sight again.
There were tears in their eyes as they sought each other. A
strange softening came over them. They felt irresistibly drawn
toward each other. The sun was coming back again. It would be
with them tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.
And it would stay longer every visit, and a time would come when
it would ride their heaven day and night, never once dropping
below the skyline. There would be no night.
The ice-locked winter would be broken; the winds would blow and
the forests answer; the land would bathe in the blessed sunshine,
and life renew.
Hand in hand, they would quit this horrid dream and journey back
to the Southland. They lurched blindly forward, and their hands
met--their poor maimed hands, swollen and distorted beneath their
But the promise was destined to remain unfulfilled. The Northland
is the Northland, and men work out their souls by strange rules,
which other men, who have not journeyed into far countries,
cannot come to understand.
An hour later, Cuthfert put a pan of bread into the oven, and
fell to speculating on what the surgeons could do with his feet
when he got back. Home did not seem so very far away now.
Weatherbee was rummaging in the cache. Of a sudden, he raised a
whirlwind of blasphemy, which in turn ceased with startling
abruptness. The other man had robbed his sugar-sack. Still,
things might have happened differently, had not the two dead men
come out from under the stones and hushed the hot words in his
throat. They led him quite gently from the cache, which he forgot
to close. That consummation was reached; that something they had
whispered to him in his dreams was about to happen. They guided
him gently, very gently, to the woodpile, where they put the axe
in his hands.
Then they helped him shove open the cabin door, and he felt sure
they shut it after him--at least he heard it slam and the latch
fall sharply into place. And he knew they were waiting just
without, waiting for him to do his task.
'Carter! I say, Carter!' Percy Cuthfert was frightened at the
look on the clerk's face, and he made haste to put the table
Carter Weatherbee followed, without haste and without enthusiasm.
There was neither pity nor passion in his face, but rather the
patient, stolid look of one who has certain work to do and goes
about it methodically.
'I say, what's the matter?'
The clerk dodged back, cutting off his retreat to the door, but
never opening his mouth.
'I say, Carter, I say; let's talk. There's a good chap.' The
master of arts was thinking rapidly, now, shaping a skillful
flank movement on the bed where his Smith & Wesson lay. Keeping
his eyes on the madman, he rolled backward on the bunk, at the
same time clutching the pistol.
'Carter!' The powder flashed full in Weatherbee's face, but he
swung his weapon and leaped forward. The axe bit deeply at the
base of the spine, and Percy Cuthfert felt all consciousness of
his lower limbs leave him. Then the clerk fell heavily upon him,
clutching him by the throat with feeble fingers. The sharp bite
of the axe had caused Cuthfert to drop the pistol, and as his
lungs panted for release, he fumbled aimlessly for it among the
blankets. Then he remembered. He slid a hand up the clerk's belt
to the sheath-knife; and they drew very close to each other in
that last clinch.
Percy Cuthfert felt his strength leave him. The lower portion of
his body was useless, The inert weight of Weatherbee crushed
him--crushed him and pinned him there like a bear under a trap.
The cabin became filled with a familiar odor, and he knew the
bread to be burning. Yet what did it matter? He would never need
it. And there were all of six cupfuls of sugar in the cache--if
he had foreseen this he would not have been so saving the last
several days. Would the wind-vane ever move? Why not' Had he not
seen the sun today? He would go and see. No; it was impossible to
move. He had not thought the clerk so heavy a man.
How quickly the cabin cooled! The fire must be out. The cold was
It must be below zero already, and the ice creeping up the inside
of the door. He could not see it, but his past experience enabled
him to gauge its progress by the cabin's temperature. The lower
hinge must be white ere now. Would the tale of this ever reach
the world? How would his friends take it? They would read it over
their coffee, most likely, and talk it over at the clubs. He
could see them very clearly, 'Poor Old Cuthfert,' they murmured;
'not such a bad sort of a chap, after all.' He smiled at their
eulogies, and passed on in search of a Turkish bath. It was the
same old crowd upon the streets.
Strange, they did not notice his moosehide moccasins and tattered
German socks! He would take a cab. And after the bath a shave
would not be bad. No; he would eat first.
Steak, and potatoes, and green things how fresh it all was! And
what was that? Squares of honey, streaming liquid amber! But why
did they bring so much? Ha! ha! he could never eat it all.
Shine! Why certainly. He put his foot on the box. The bootblack
looked curiously up at him, and he remembered his moosehide
moccasins and went away hastily.
Hark! The wind-vane must be surely spinning. No; a mere singing
in his ears.
That was all--a mere singing. The ice must have passed the latch
by now. More likely the upper hinge was covered. Between the
moss-chinked roof-poles, little points of frost began to appear.
How slowly they grew! No; not so slowly. There was a new one, and
there another. Two--three--four; they were coming too fast to
count. There were two growing together. And there, a third had
Why, there were no more spots. They had run together and formed a
Well, he would have company. If Gabriel ever broke the silence of
the North, they would stand together, hand in hand, before the
great White Throne. And God would judge them, God would judge
Then Percy Cuthfert closed his eyes and dropped off to sleep.
To the Man on the Trail
'Dump it in!.' 'But I say, Kid, isn't that going it a little too
strong? Whisky and alcohol's bad enough; but when it comes to
brandy and pepper sauce and-' 'Dump it in. Who's making this
punch, anyway?' And Malemute Kid smiled benignantly through the
clouds of steam. 'By the time you've been in this country as long
as I have, my son, and lived on rabbit tracks and salmon belly,
you'll learn that Christmas comes only once per annum.
And a Christmas without punch is sinking a hole to bedrock with
nary a pay streak.'
'Stack up on that fer a high cyard,' approved Big Jim Belden, who
had come down from his claim on Mazy May to spend Christmas, and
who, as everyone knew, had been living the two months past on
straight moose meat. 'Hain't fergot the hooch we-uns made on the
Tanana, hey yeh?' 'Well, I guess yes. Boys, it would have done
your hearts good to see that whole tribe fighting drunk--and all
because of a glorious ferment of sugar and sour dough. That was
before your time,' Malemute Kid said as he turned to Stanley
Prince, a young mining expert who had been in two years. 'No
white women in the country then, and Mason wanted to get married.
Ruth's father was chief of the Tananas, and objected, like the
rest of the tribe. Stiff? Why, I used my last pound of sugar;
finest work in that line I ever did in my life. You should have
seen the chase, down the river and across the portage.' 'But the
squaw?' asked Louis Savoy, the tall French Canadian, becoming
interested; for he had heard of this wild deed when at Forty Mile
the preceding winter.
Then Malemute Kid, who was a born raconteur, told the unvarnished
tale of the Northland Lochinvar. More than one rough adventurer
of the North felt his heartstrings draw closer and experienced
vague yearnings for the sunnier pastures of the Southland, where
life promised something more than a barren struggle with cold and
'We struck the Yukon just behind the first ice run,' he
concluded, 'and the tribe only a quarter of an hour behind. But
that saved us; for the second run broke the jam above and shut
them out. When they finally got into Nuklukyeto, the whole post
was ready for them.
'And as to the forgathering, ask Father Roubeau here: he performed
the ceremony.' The Jesuit took the pipe from his lips but could
only express his gratification with patriarchal smiles, while
Protestant and Catholic vigorously applauded.
'By gar!' ejaculated Louis Savoy, who seemed overcome by the
romance of it. 'La petite squaw: mon Mason brav. By gar!' Then,
as the first tin cups of punch went round, Bettles the
Unquenchable sprang to his feet and struck up his favorite
drinking song: 'There's Henry Ward Beecher And Sunday-school
teachers, All drink of the sassafras root; But you bet all the
same, If it had its right name, It's the juice of the forbidden
'Oh, the juice of the forbidden fruit,' roared out the
bacchanalian chorus, 'Oh, the juice of the forbidden fruit; But
you bet all the same, If it had its right name, It's the juice of
the forbidden fruit.'
Malemute Kid's frightful concoction did its work; the men of the
camps and trails unbent in its genial glow, and jest and song and
tales of past adventure went round the board.
Aliens from a dozen lands, they toasted each and all. It was the
Englishman, Prince, who pledged 'Uncle Sam, the precocious infant
of the New World'; the Yankee, Bettles, who drank to 'The Queen,
God bless her'; and together, Savoy and Meyers, the German
trader, clanged their cups to Alsace and Lorraine.
Then Malemute Kid arose, cup in hand, and glanced at the
greased-paper window, where the frost stood full three inches
thick. 'A health to the man on trail this night; may his grub
hold out; may his dogs keep their legs; may his matches never
miss fire.' Crack!
Crack! heard the familiar music of the dog whip, the whining howl
of the Malemutes, and the crunch of a sled as it drew up to the
cabin. Conversation languished while they waited the issue.
'An old-timer; cares for his dogs and then himself,' whispered
Malemute Kid to Prince as they listened to the snapping jaws and
the wolfish snarls and yelps of pain which proclaimed to their
practiced ears that the stranger was beating back their dogs
while he fed his own.
Then came the expected knock, sharp and confident, and the
Dazzled by the light, he hesitated a moment at the door, giving
to all a chance for scrutiny. He was a striking personage, and a
most picturesque one, in his Arctic dress of wool and fur.
Standing six foot two or three, with proportionate breadth of
shoulders and depth of chest, his smooth-shaven face nipped by
the cold to a gleaming pink, his long lashes and eyebrows white
with ice, and the ear and neck flaps of his great wolfskin cap
loosely raised, he seemed, of a verity, the Frost King, just
stepped in out of the night.
Clasped outside his Mackinaw jacket, a beaded belt held two large
Colt's revolvers and a hunting knife, while he carried, in
addition to the inevitable dog whip, a smokeless rifle of the
largest bore and latest pattern. As he came forward, for all his
step was firm and elastic, they could see that fatigue bore
heavily upon him.
An awkward silence had fallen, but his hearty 'What cheer, my
lads?' put them quickly at ease, and the next instant Malemute
Kid and he had gripped hands. Though they had never met, each had
heard of the other, and the recognition was mutual. A sweeping
introduction and a mug of punch were forced upon him before he
could explain his errand.
How long since that basket sled, with three men and eight dogs,
passed?' he asked.
'An even two days ahead. Are you after them?' 'Yes; my team. Run
them off under my very nose, the cusses. I've gained two days on
them already--pick them up on the next run.' 'Reckon they'll show
spunk?' asked Belden, in order to keep up the conversation, for
Malemute Kid already had the coffeepot on and was busily frying
bacon and moose meat.
The stranger significantly tapped his revolvers.
'When'd yeh leave Dawson?' 'Twelve o'clock.' 'Last night?'--as a
matter of course.
'Today.' A murmur of surprise passed round the circle. And well
it might; for it was just midnight, and seventy-five miles of
rough river trail was not to be sneered at for a twelve hours'
The talk soon became impersonal, however, harking back to the
trails of childhood. As the young stranger ate of the rude fare
Malemute Kid attentively studied his face. Nor was he long in
deciding that it was fair, honest, and open, and that he liked
it. Still youthful, the lines had been firmly traced by toil and
Though genial in conversation, and mild when at rest, the blue
eyes gave promise of the hard steel-glitter which comes when
called into action, especially against odds. The heavy jaw and
square-cut chin demonstrated rugged pertinacity and
indomitability. Nor, though the attributes of the lion were
there, was there wanting the certain softness, the hint of
womanliness, which bespoke the emotional nature.
'So thet's how me an' the ol' woman got spliced,' said Belden,
concluding the exciting tale of his courtship. '"Here we be,
Dad," sez she. "An' may yeh be damned," sez he to her, an' then
to me, "Jim, yeh--yeh git outen them good duds o' yourn; I want a
right peart slice o' thet forty acre plowed 'fore dinner." An'
then he sort o' sniffled an' kissed her. An' I was thet
happy--but he seen me an' roars out, "Yeh, Jim!" An' yeh bet I
dusted fer the barn.' 'Any kids waiting for you back in the
States?' asked the stranger.
'Nope; Sal died 'fore any come. Thet's why I'm here.' Belden
abstractedly began to light his pipe, which had failed to go out,
and then brightened up with, 'How 'bout yerself,
stranger--married man?' For reply, he opened his watch, slipped
it from the thong which served for a chain, and passed it over.
Belden picked up the slush lamp, surveyed the inside of the case
critically, and, swearing admiringly to himself, handed it over
to Louis Savoy. With numerous 'By gars!' he finally surrendered
it to Prince, and they noticed that his hands trembled and his
eyes took on a peculiar softness. And so it passed from horny
hand to horny hand--the pasted photograph of a woman, the
clinging kind that such men fancy, with a babe at the breast.
Those who had not yet seen the wonder were keen with curiosity;
those who had became silent and retrospective. They could face
the pinch of famine, the grip of scurvy, or the quick death by
field or flood; but the pictured semblance of a stranger woman
and child made women and children of them all.
'Never have seen the youngster yet--he's a boy, she says, and two
years old,' said the stranger as he received the treasure back. A
lingering moment he gazed upon it, then snapped the case and
turned away, but not quick enough to hide the restrained rush of
tears. Malemute Kid led him to a bunk and bade him turn in.
'Call me at four sharp. Don't fail me,' were his last words, and
a moment later he was breathing in the heaviness of exhausted
'By Jove! He's a plucky chap,' commented Prince. 'Three hours'
sleep after seventy-five miles with the dogs, and then the trail
again. Who is he, Kid?' 'Jack Westondale. Been in going on three
years, with nothing but the name of working like a horse, and any
amount of bad luck to his credit. I never knew him, but Sitka
Charley told me about him.' 'It seems hard that a man with a
sweet young wife like his should be putting in his years in this
Godforsaken hole, where every year counts two on the outside.'
'The trouble with him is clean grit and stubbornness. He's
cleaned up twice with a stake, but lost it both times.' Here the
conversation was broken off by an uproar from Bettles, for the
effect had begun to wear away. And soon the bleak years of
monotonous grub and deadening toil were being forgotten in rough
merriment. Malemute Kid alone seemed unable to lose himself, and
cast many an anxious look at his watch. Once he put on his
mittens and beaver-skin cap, and, leaving the cabin, fell to
rummaging about in the cache.
Nor could he wait the hour designated; for he was fifteen minutes
ahead of time in rousing his guest. The young giant had stiffened
badly, and brisk rubbing was necessary to bring him to his feet.
He tottered painfully out of the cabin, to find his dogs
harnessed and everything ready for the start. The company wished
him good luck and a short chase, while Father Roubeau, hurriedly
blessing him, led the stampede for the cabin; and small wonder,
for it is not good to face seventy-four degrees below zero with
naked ears and hands.
Malemute Kid saw him to the main trail, and there, gripping his
hand heartily, gave him advice.
'You'll find a hundred pounds of salmon eggs on the sled,' he
said. 'The dogs will go as far on that as with one hundred and
fifty of fish, and you can't get dog food at Pelly, as you
probably expected.' The stranger started, and his eyes flashed,
but he did not interrupt. 'You can't get an ounce of food for dog
or man till you reach Five Fingers, and that's a stiff two
hundred miles. Watch out for open water on the Thirty Mile River,
and be sure you take the big cutoff above Le Barge.' 'How did you
know it? Surely the news can't be ahead of me already?' 'I don't
know it; and what's more, I don't want to know it. But you never
owned that team you're chasing. Sitka Charley sold it to them
last spring. But he sized you up to me as square once, and I
believe him. I've seen your face; I like it. And I've seen--why,
damn you, hit the high places for salt water and that wife of
yours, and--' Here the Kid unmittened and jerked out his sack.
'No; I don't need it,' and the tears froze on his cheeks as he
convulsively gripped Malemute Kid's hand.
'Then don't spare the dogs; cut them out of the traces as fast as
they drop; buy them, and think they're cheap at ten dollars a
pound. You can get them at Five Fingers, Little Salmon, and
Hootalinqua. And watch out for wet feet,' was his parting advice.
'Keep a-traveling up to twenty-five, but if it gets below that,
build a fire and change your socks.'
Fifteen minutes had barely elapsed when the jingle of bells
announced new arrivals. The door opened, and a mounted policeman
of the Northwest Territory entered, followed by two half-breed
dog drivers. Like Westondale, they were heavily armed and showed
signs of fatigue. The half-breeds had been borne to the trail and
bore it easily; but the young policeman was badly exhausted.
Still, the dogged obstinacy of his race held him to the pace he
had set, and would hold him till he dropped in his tracks.
'When did Westondale pull out?' he asked. 'He stopped here,
didn't he?' This was supererogatory, for the tracks told their
own tale too well.
Malemute Kid had caught Belden's eye, and he, scenting the wind,
replied evasively, 'A right peart while back.' 'Come, my man;
speak up,' the policeman admonished.
'Yeh seem to want him right smart. Hez he ben gittin'
cantankerous down Dawson way?'
'Held up Harry McFarland's for forty thousand; exchanged it at
the P.C. store for a check on Seattle; and who's to stop the
cashing of it if we don't overtake him? When did he pull out?'
Every eye suppressed its excitement, for Malemute Kid had given
the cue, and the young officer encountered wooden faces on every
Striding over to Prince, he put the question to him. Though it
hurt him, gazing into the frank, earnest face of his fellow
countryman, he replied inconsequentially on the state of the
Then he espied Father Roubeau, who could not lie. 'A quarter of
an hour ago,' the priest answered; 'but he had four hours' rest
for himself and dogs.' 'Fifteen minutes' start, and he's fresh!
My God!' The poor fellow staggered back, half fainting from
exhaustion and disappointment, murmuring something about the run
from Dawson in ten hours and the dogs being played out.
Malemute Kid forced a mug of punch upon him; then he turned for
the door, ordering the dog drivers to follow. But the warmth and
promise of rest were too tempting, and they objected strenuously.
The Kid was conversant with their French patois, and followed it
They swore that the dogs were gone up; that Siwash and Babette
would have to be shot before the first mile was covered; that the
rest were almost as bad; and that it would be better for all
hands to rest up.
'Lend me five dogs?' he asked, turning to Malemute Kid.
But the Kid shook his head.
'I'll sign a check on Captain Constantine for five
thousand--here's my papers--I'm authorized to draw at my own
Again the silent refusal.
'Then I'll requisition them in the name of the Queen.' Smiling
incredulously, the Kid glanced at his well-stocked arsenal, and
the Englishman, realizing his impotency, turned for the door. But
the dog drivers still objecting, he whirled upon them fiercely,
calling them women and curs. The swart face of the older
half-breed flushed angrily as he drew himself up and promised in
good, round terms that he would travel his leader off his legs,
and would then be delighted to plant him in the snow.
The young officer--and it required his whole will--walked
steadily to the door, exhibiting a freshness he did not possess.
But they all knew and appreciated his proud effort; nor could he
veil the twinges of agony that shot across his face. Covered with
frost, the dogs were curled up in the snow, and it was almost
impossible to get them to their feet. The poor brutes whined
under the stinging lash, for the dog drivers were angry and
cruel; nor till Babette, the leader, was cut from the traces,
could they break out the sled and get under way.
'A dirty scoundrel and a liar!' 'By gar! Him no good!' 'A thief!'
'Worse than an Indian!'
It was evident that they were angry--first at the way they had
been deceived; and second at the outraged ethics of the
Northland, where honesty, above all, was man's prime jewel.
'An' we gave the cuss a hand, after knowin' what he'd did.' All
eyes turned accusingly upon Malemute Kid, who rose from the
corner where he had been making Babette comfortable, and silently
emptied the bowl for a final round of punch.
'It's a cold night, boys--a bitter cold night,' was the
irrelevant commencement of his defense. 'You've all traveled
trail, and know what that stands for. Don't jump a dog when he's
down. You've only heard one side. A whiter man than Jack
Westondale never ate from the same pot nor stretched blanket with
you or me.
'Last fall he gave his whole clean-up, forty thousand, to Joe
Castrell, to buy in on Dominion. Today he'd be a millionaire.
But, while he stayed behind at Circle City, taking care of his
partner with the scurvy, what does Castell do? Goes into
McFarland's, jumps the limit, and drops the whole sack. Found him
dead in the snow the next day. And poor Jack laying his plans to
go out this winter to his wife and the boy he's never seen.
You'll notice he took exactly what his partner lost--forty
thousand. Well, he's gone out; and what are you going to do about
it?' The Kid glanced round the circle of his judges, noted the
softening of their faces, then raised his mug aloft. 'So a health
to the man on trail this night; may his grub hold out; may his
dogs keep their legs; may his matches never miss fire.
'God prosper him; good luck go with him; and--' 'Confusion to the
Mounted Police!' cried Bettles, to the crash of the empty cups.
The Priestly Prerogative
This is the story of a man who did not appreciate his wife; also,
of a woman who did him too great an honor when she gave herself
to him. Incidentally, it concerns a Jesuit priest who had never
been known to lie. He was an appurtenance, and a very necessary
one, to the Yukon country; but the presence of the other two was
merely accidental. They were specimens of the many strange waifs
which ride the breast of a gold rush or come tailing along
Edwin Bentham and Grace Bentham were waifs; they were also
tailing along behind, for the Klondike rush of '97 had long since
swept down the great river and subsided into the famine-stricken
city of Dawson. When the Yukon shut up shop and went to sleep
under a three-foot ice-sheet, this peripatetic couple found
themselves at the Five Finger Rapids, with the City of Gold still
a journey of many sleeps to the north.
Many cattle had been butchered at this place in the fall of the
year, and the offal made a goodly heap. The three fellow-voyagers
of Edwin Bentham and wife gazed upon this deposit, did a little
mental arithmetic, caught a certain glimpse of a bonanza, and
decided to remain. And all winter they sold sacks of bones and
frozen hides to the famished dog-teams. It was a modest price
they asked, a dollar a pound, just as it came. Six months later,
when the sun came back and the Yukon awoke, they buckled on their
heavy moneybelts and journeyed back to the Southland, where they
yet live and lie mightily about the Klondike they never saw.
But Edwin Bentham--he was an indolent fellow, and had he not been
possessed of a wife, would have gladly joined issued in the
dog-meat speculation. As it was, she played upon his vanity, told
him how great and strong he was, how a man such as he certainly
was could overcome all obstacles and of a surety obtain the
Golden Fleece. So he squared his jaw, sold his share in the bones
and hides for a sled and one dog, and turned his snowshoes to the
north. Needless to state, Grace Bentham's snowshoes never allowed
his tracks to grow cold. Nay, ere their tribulations had seen
three days, it was the man who followed in the rear, and the
woman who broke trail in advance. Of course, if anybody hove in
sight, the position was instantly reversed. Thus did his manhood
remain virgin to the travelers who passed like ghosts on the
silent trail. There are such men in this world.
How such a man and such a woman came to take each other for
better and for worse is unimportant to this narrative. These
things are familiar to us all, and those people who do them, or
even question them too closely, are apt to lose a beautiful faith
which is known as Eternal Fitness.
Edwin Bentham was a boy, thrust by mischance into a man's
body,--a boy who could complacently pluck a butterfly, wing from
wing, or cower in abject terror before a lean, nervy fellow, not
half his size. He was a selfish cry-baby, hidden behind a man's
mustache and stature, and glossed over with a skin-deep veneer of
culture and conventionality. Yes; he was a clubman and a society
man, the sort that grace social functions and utter inanities with
a charm and unction which is indescribable; the sort that talk
big, and cry over a toothache; the sort that put more hell into a
woman's life by marrying her than can the most graceless
libertine that ever browsed in forbidden pastures. We meet these
men every day, but we rarely know them for what they are. Second
to marrying them, the best way to get this knowledge is to eat
out of the same pot and crawl under the same blanket with them
for--well, say a week; no greater margin is necessary.
To see Grace Bentham, was to see a slender, girlish creature; to
know her, was to know a soul which dwarfed your own, yet retained
all the elements of the eternal feminine. This was the woman who
urged and encouraged her husband in his Northland quest, who
broke trail for him when no one was looking, and cried in secret
over her weakling woman's body.
So journeyed this strangely assorted couple down to old Fort
Selkirk, then through fivescore miles of dismal wilderness to
Stuart River. And when the short day left them, and the man lay
down in the snow and blubbered, it was the woman who lashed him
to the sled, bit her lips with the pain of her aching limbs, and
helped the dog haul him to Malemute Kid's cabin. Malemute Kid was
not at home, but Meyers, the German trader, cooked great
moose-steaks and shook up a bed of fresh pine boughs. Lake,
Langham, and Parker, were excited, and not unduly so when the
cause was taken into account.
'Oh, Sandy! Say, can you tell a porterhouse from a round? Come
out and lend us a hand, anyway!' This appeal emanated from the
cache, where Langham was vainly struggling with divers quarters
of frozen moose.
'Don't you budge from those dishes!' commanded Parker.
'I say, Sandy; there's a good fellow--just run down to the
Missouri Camp and borrow some cinnamon,' begged Lake.
'Oh! oh! hurry up! Why don't--' But the crash of meat and boxes,
in the cache, abruptly quenched this peremptory summons.
'Come now, Sandy; it won't take a minute to go down to the
Missouri--' 'You leave him alone,' interrupted Parker. 'How am I
to mix the biscuits if the table isn't cleared off?'
Sandy paused in indecision, till suddenly the fact that he was
Langham's 'man' dawned upon him. Then he apologetically threw
down the greasy dishcloth, and went to his master's rescue.
These promising scions of wealthy progenitors had come to the
Northland in search of laurels, with much money to burn, and a
'man' apiece. Luckily for their souls, the other two men were up
the White River in search of a mythical quartz-ledge; so Sandy
had to grin under the responsibility of three healthy masters,
each of whom was possessed of peculiar cookery ideas. Twice that
morning had a disruption of the whole camp been imminent, only
averted by immense concessions from one or the other of these
knights of the chafing-dish. But at last their mutual creation, a
really dainty dinner, was completed.
Then they sat down to a three-cornered game of 'cut-throat,'--a
proceeding which did away with all casus belli for future
hostilities, and permitted the victor to depart on a most
This fortune fell to Parker, who parted his hair in the middle,
put on his mittens and bearskin cap, and stepped over to Malemute
Kid's cabin. And when he returned, it was in the company of Grace
Bentham and Malemute Kid,--the former very sorry her husband
could not share with her their hospitality, for he had gone up to
look at the Henderson Creek mines, and the latter still a trifle
stiff from breaking trail down the Stuart River.
Meyers had been asked, but had declined, being deeply engrossed
in an experiment of raising bread from hops.
Well, they could do without the husband; but a woman--why they
had not seen one all winter, and the presence of this one
promised a new era in their lives.
They were college men and gentlemen, these three young fellows,
yearning for the flesh-pots they had been so long denied.
Probably Grace Bentham suffered from a similar hunger; at least,
it meant much to her, the first bright hour in many weeks of
But that wonderful first course, which claimed the versatile Lake
for its parent, had no sooner been served than there came a loud
knock at the door.
'Oh! Ah! Won't you come in, Mr. Bentham?' said Parker, who had
stepped to see who the newcomer might be.
'Is my wife here?' gruffly responded that worthy.
'Why, yes. We left word with Mr. Meyers.' Parker was exerting his
most dulcet tones, inwardly wondering what the deuce it all
meant. 'Won't you come in? Expecting you at any moment, we
reserved a place. And just in time for the first course, too.'
'Come in, Edwin, dear,' chirped Grace Bentham from her seat at
Parker naturally stood aside.
'I want my wife,' reiterated Bentham hoarsely, the intonation
savoring disagreeably of ownership.
Parker gasped, was within an ace of driving his fist into the
face of his boorish visitor, but held himself awkwardly in check.
Everybody rose. Lake lost his head and caught himself on the
verge of saying, 'Must you go?' Then began the farrago of
leave-taking. 'So nice of you--' 'I am awfully sorry' 'By Jove!
how things did brighten--' 'Really now, you--'
'Thank you ever so much--' 'Nice trip to Dawson--' etc., etc.
In this wise the lamb was helped into her jacket and led to the
slaughter. Then the door slammed, and they gazed woefully upon
the deserted table.
'Damn!' Langham had suffered disadvantages in his early training,
and his oaths were weak and monotonous. 'Damn!' he repeated,
vaguely conscious of the incompleteness and vainly struggling for
a more virile term. It is a clever woman who can fill out the
many weak places in an inefficient man, by her own indomitability,
re-enforce his vacillating nature, infuse her ambitious soul into
his, and spur him on to great achievements. And it is indeed a
very clever and tactful woman who can do all this, and do it so
subtly that the man receives all the credit and believes in his
inmost heart that everything is due to him and him alone.
This is what Grace Bentham proceeded to do. Arriving in Dawson
with a few pounds of flour and several letters of introduction,
she at once applied herself to the task of pushing her big baby
to the fore. It was she who melted the stony heart and wrung
credit from the rude barbarian who presided over the destiny of
the P. C. Company; yet it was Edwin Bentham to whom the
concession was ostensibly granted. It was she who dragged her
baby up and down creeks, over benches and divides, and on a dozen
wild stampedes; yet everybody remarked what an energetic fellow
that Bentham was. It was she who studied maps, and catechised
miners, and hammered geography and locations into his hollow
head, till everybody marveled at his broad grasp of the country
and knowledge of its conditions. Of course, they said the wife
was a brick, and only a few wise ones appreciated and pitied the
brave little woman.
She did the work; he got the credit and reward. In the Northwest
Territory a married woman cannot stake or record a creek, bench,
or quartz claim; so Edwin Bentham went down to the Gold
Commissioner and filed on Bench Claim 23, second tier, of French
Hill. And when April came they were washing out a thousand
dollars a day, with many, many such days in prospect.
At the base of French Hill lay Eldorado Creek, and on a creek
claim stood the cabin of Clyde Wharton. At present he was not
washing out a diurnal thousand dollars; but his dumps grew, shift
by shift, and there would come a time when those dumps would pass
through his sluice-boxes, depositing in the riffles, in the
course of half a dozen days, several hundred thousand dollars. He
often sat in that cabin, smoked his pipe, and dreamed beautiful
little dreams,--dreams in which neither the dumps nor the
half-ton of dust in the P. C. Company's big safe, played a part.
And Grace Bentham, as she washed tin dishes in her hillside
cabin, often glanced down into Eldorado Creek, and dreamed,--not
of dumps nor dust, however. They met frequently, as the trail to
the one claim crossed the other, and there is much to talk about
in the Northland spring; but never once, by the light of an eye
nor the slip of a tongue, did they speak their hearts.
This is as it was at first. But one day Edwin Bentham was brutal.
All boys are thus; besides, being a French Hill king now, he
began to think a great deal of himself and to forget all he owed
to his wife. On this day, Wharton heard of it, and waylaid Grace
Bentham, and talked wildly. This made her very happy, though she
would not listen, and made him promise to not say such things
again. Her hour had not come.
But the sun swept back on its northern journey, the black of
midnight changed to the steely color of dawn, the snow slipped
away, the water dashed again over the glacial drift, and the
wash-up began. Day and night the yellow clay and scraped bedrock
hurried through the swift sluices, yielding up its ransom to the
strong men from the Southland.
And in that time of tumult came Grace Bentham's hour.
To all of us such hours at some time come,--that is, to us who
are not too phlegmatic.
Some people are good, not from inherent love of virtue, but from
sheer laziness. But those of us who know weak moments may
Edwin Bentham was weighing dust over the bar of the saloon at the
Forks--altogether too much of his dust went over that pine
board--when his wife came down the hill and slipped into Clyde
Wharton's cabin. Wharton was not expecting her, but that did not
alter the case. And much subsequent misery and idle waiting might
have been avoided, had not Father Roubeau seen this and turned
aside from the main creek trail. 'My child,--' 'Hold on, Father
Roubeau! Though I'm not of your faith, I respect you; but you
can't come in between this woman and me!' 'You know what you are
doing?' 'Know! Were you God Almighty, ready to fling me into
eternal fire, I'd bank my will against yours in this matter.'
Wharton had placed Grace on a stool and stood belligerently
'You sit down on that chair and keep quiet,' he continued,
addressing the Jesuit. 'I'll take my innings now. You can have
Father Roubeau bowed courteously and obeyed. He was an easy-going
man and had learned to bide his time. Wharton pulled a stool
alongside the woman's, smothering her hand in his.
'Then you do care for me, and will take me away?' Her face seemed
to reflect the peace of this man, against whom she might draw
close for shelter.
'Dear, don't you remember what I said before? Of course I-' 'But
how can you?--the wash-up?' 'Do you think that worries? Anyway,
I'll give the job to Father Roubeau, here.
'I can trust him to safely bank the dust with the company.' 'To
think of it!--I'll never see him again.' 'A blessing!' 'And to
go--O, Clyde, I can't! I can't!' 'There, there; of course you
can, just let me plan it.--You see, as soon as we get a few traps
together, we'll start, and-' 'Suppose he comes back?' 'I'll break
every-' 'No, no! No fighting, Clyde! Promise me that.' 'All
right! I'll just tell the men to throw him off the claim. They've
seen how he's treated you, and haven't much love for him.'
'You mustn't do that. You mustn't hurt him.' 'What then? Let him
come right in here and take you away before my eyes?' 'No-o,' she
half whispered, stroking his hand softly.
'Then let me run it, and don't worry. I'll see he doesn't get
hurt. Precious lot he cared whether you got hurt or not! We won't
go back to Dawson. I'll send word down for a couple of the boys
to outfit and pole a boat up the Yukon. We'll cross the divide
and raft down the Indian River to meet them. Then--' 'And then?'
Her head was on his shoulder.
Their voices sank to softer cadences, each word a caress. The
Jesuit fidgeted nervously.
'And then?' she repeated.
'Why we'll pole up, and up, and up, and portage the White Horse
Rapids and the Box Canon.' 'Yes?' 'And the Sixty-Mile River; then
the lakes, Chilcoot, Dyea, and Salt Water.' 'But, dear, I can't
pole a boat.' 'You little goose! I'll get Sitka Charley; he knows
all the good water and best camps, and he is the best traveler I
ever met, if he is an Indian. All you'll have to do, is to sit in
the middle of the boat, and sing songs, and play Cleopatra, and
fight--no, we're in luck; too early for mosquitoes.'
'And then, O my Antony?' 'And then a steamer, San Francisco, and
the world! Never to come back to this cursed hole again. Think of
it! The world, and ours to choose from! I'll sell out. Why, we're
rich! The Waldworth Syndicate will give me half a million for
what's left in the ground, and I've got twice as much in the
dumps and with the P. C. Company. We'll go to the Fair in Paris
in 1900. We'll go to Jerusalem, if you say so.
'We'll buy an Italian palace, and you can play Cleopatra to your
heart's content. No, you shall be Lucretia, Acte, or anybody your
little heart sees fit to become. But you mustn't, you really
mustn't-' 'The wife of Caesar shall be above reproach.' 'Of
course, but--' 'But I won't be your wife, will I, dear?' 'I
didn't mean that.' 'But you'll love me just as much, and never
even think--oh! I know you'll be like other men; you'll grow
'How can you? I--' 'Promise me.' 'Yes, yes; I do promise.' 'You
say it so easily, dear; but how do you know?--or I know? I have
so little to give, yet it is so much, and all I have. O, Clyde!
promise me you won't?'
'There, there! You musn't begin to doubt already. Till death do
us part, you know.'
'Think! I once said that to--to him, and now?' 'And now, little
sweetheart, you're not to bother about such things any more.
Of course, I never, never will, and--' And for the first time,
lips trembled against lips.
Father Roubeau had been watching the main trail through the
window, but could stand the strain no longer.
He cleared his throat and turned around.
'Your turn now, Father!' Wharton's face was flushed with the fire
of his first embrace.
There was an exultant ring to his voice as he abdicated in the
other's favor. He had no doubt as to the result. Neither had
Grace, for a smile played about her mouth as she faced the
'My child,' he began, 'my heart bleeds for you. It is a pretty
dream, but it cannot be.'
'And why, Father? I have said yes.' 'You knew not what you did.
You did not think of the oath you took, before your God, to that
man who is your husband. It remains for me to make you realize
the sanctity of such a pledge.' 'And if I do realize, and yet
'Which God? My husband has a God which I care not to worship.
There must be many such.' 'Child! unsay those words! Ah! you do
not mean them. I understand. I, too, have had such moments.' For
an instant he was back in his native France, and a wistful,
sad-eyed face came as a mist between him and the woman before
'Then, Father, has my God forsaken me? I am not wicked above
women. My misery with him has been great. Why should it be
greater? Why shall I not grasp at happiness? I cannot, will not,
go back to him!' 'Rather is your God forsaken. Return. Throw your
burden upon Him, and the darkness shall be lifted. O my child,--'
'No; it is useless; I have made my bed and so shall I lie. I will
go on. And if God punishes me, I shall bear it somehow. You do
not understand. You are not a woman.' 'My mother was a woman.'
'But--' 'And Christ was born of a woman.' She did not answer. A
silence fell. Wharton pulled his mustache impatiently and kept an
eye on the trail. Grace leaned her elbow on the table, her face
set with resolve. The smile had died away. Father Roubeau shifted
'You have children?'
'At one time I wished--but now--no. And I am thankful.' 'And a
mother?' 'Yes.' 'She loves you?' 'Yes.' Her replies were
'And a brother?--no matter, he is a man. But a sister?' Her head
drooped a quavering 'Yes.' 'Younger? Very much?' 'Seven years.'
'And you have thought well about this matter? About them? About
your mother? And your sister? She stands on the threshold of her
woman's life, and this wildness of yours may mean much to her.
Could you go before her, look upon her fresh young face, hold her
hand in yours, or touch your cheek to hers?'
To his words, her brain formed vivid images, till she cried out,
'Don't! don't!' and shrank away as do the wolf-dogs from the
'But you must face all this; and better it is to do it now.' In
his eyes, which she could not see, there was a great compassion,
but his face, tense and quivering, showed no relenting.
She raised her head from the table, forced back the tears,
struggled for control.
'I shall go away. They will never see me, and come to forget me.
I shall be to them as dead. And--and I will go with Clyde--today.'
It seemed final. Wharton stepped forward, but the priest waved him
'You have wished for children?' A silent 'Yes.' 'And prayed for
them?' 'Often.' 'And have you thought, if you should have
children?' Father Roubeau's eyes rested for a moment on the man
by the window.
A quick light shot across her face. Then the full import dawned
upon her. She raised her hand appealingly, but he went on.
'Can you picture an innocent babe in your arms? A boy? The world
is not so hard upon a girl. Why, your very breast would turn to
gall! And you could be proud and happy of your boy, as you looked
on other children?--' 'O, have pity! Hush!' 'A scapegoat--'
'Don't! don't! I will go back!' She was at his feet.
'A child to grow up with no thought of evil, and one day the
world to fling a tender name in his face. A child to look back
and curse you from whose loins he sprang!'
'O my God! my God!' She groveled on the floor. The priest sighed
and raised her to her feet.
Wharton pressed forward, but she motioned him away.
'Don't come near me, Clyde! I am going back!' The tears were
coursing pitifully down her face, but she made no effort to wipe
'After all this? You cannot! I will not let you!' 'Don't touch
me!' She shivered and drew back.
'I will! You are mine! Do you hear? You are mine!' Then he
whirled upon the priest. 'O what a fool I was to ever let you wag
your silly tongue! Thank your God you are not a common man, for
I'd--but the priestly prerogative must be exercised, eh? Well,
you have exercised it. Now get out of my house, or I'll forget
who and what you are!' Father Roubeau bowed, took her hand, and
started for the door. But Wharton cut them off.
'Grace! You said you loved me?' 'I did.' 'And you do now?' 'I
do.' 'Say it again.'
'I do love you, Clyde; I do.' 'There, you priest!' he cried. 'You
have heard it, and with those words on her lips you would send
her back to live a lie and a hell with that man?'
But Father Roubeau whisked the woman into the inner room and
closed the door. 'No words!' he whispered to Wharton, as he
struck a casual posture on a stool. 'Remember, for her sake,' he
The room echoed to a rough knock at the door; the latch raised
and Edwin Bentham stepped in.
'Seen anything of my wife?' he asked as soon as salutations had
Two heads nodded negatively.
'I saw her tracks down from the cabin,' he continued tentatively,
'and they broke off, just opposite here, on the main trail.' His
listeners looked bored.
'And I--I thought--'
'She was here!' thundered Wharton.
The priest silenced him with a look. 'Did you see her tracks
leading up to this cabin, my son?' Wily Father Roubeau--he had
taken good care to obliterate them as he came up the same path an
'I didn't stop to look, I--' His eyes rested suspiciously on the
door to the other room, then interrogated the priest. The latter
shook his head; but the doubt seemed to linger.
Father Roubeau breathed a swift, silent prayer, and rose to his
feet. 'If you doubt me, why--' He made as though to open the door.
A priest could not lie. Edwin Bentham had heard this often, and
'Of course not, Father,' he interposed hurriedly. 'I was only
wondering where my wife had gone, and thought maybe--I guess
she's up at Mrs. Stanton's on French Gulch. Nice weather, isn't
it? Heard the news? Flour's gone down to forty dollars a hundred,
and they say the che-cha-quas are flocking down the river in
'But I must be going; so good-by.' The door slammed, and from the
window they watched him take his guest up French Gulch. A few
weeks later, just after the June high-water, two men shot a canoe
into mid-stream and made fast to a derelict pine. This tightened
the painter and jerked the frail craft along as would a tow-boat.
Father Roubeau had been directed to leave the Upper Country and
return to his swarthy children at Minook. The white men had come
among them, and they were devoting too little time to fishing,
and too much to a certain deity whose transient habitat was in
countless black bottles.
Malemute Kid also had business in the Lower Country, so they
But one, in all the Northland, knew the man Paul Roubeau, and
that man was Malemute Kid. Before him alone did the priest cast
off the sacerdotal garb and stand naked. And why not? These two
men knew each other. Had they not shared the last morsel of fish,
the last pinch of tobacco, the last and inmost thought, on the
barren stretches of Bering Sea, in the heartbreaking mazes of the
Great Delta, on the terrible winter journey from Point Barrow to
the Porcupine? Father Roubeau puffed heavily at his trail-worn
pipe, and gazed on the reddisked sun, poised somberly on the edge
of the northern horizon.
Malemute Kid wound up his watch. It was midnight.
'Cheer up, old man!' The Kid was evidently gathering up a broken
'God surely will forgive such a lie. Let me give you the word of
a man who strikes a true note: If She have spoken a word,
remember thy lips are sealed, And the brand of the Dog is upon
him by whom is the secret revealed.
If there be trouble to Herward, and a lie of the blackest can
clear, Lie, while thy lips can move or a man is alive to hear.'
Father Roubeau removed his pipe and reflected. 'The man speaks
true, but my soul is not vexed with that. The lie and the penance
stand with God; but--but--'
'What then? Your hands are clean.' 'Not so. Kid, I have thought
much, and yet the thing remains. I knew, and made her go back.'
The clear note of a robin rang out from the wooden bank, a
partridge drummed the call in the distance, a moose lunged
noisily in the eddy; but the twain smoked on in silence.
The Wisdom of the Trail
Sitka Charley had achieved the impossible. Other Indians might
have known as much of the wisdom of the trail as he did; but he
alone knew the white man's wisdom, the honor of the trail, and
the law. But these things had not come to him in a day. The
aboriginal mind is slow to generalize, and many facts, repeated
often, are required to compass an understanding. Sitka Charley,
from boyhood, had been thrown continually with white men, and as
a man he had elected to cast his fortunes with them, expatriating
himself, once and for all, from his own people. Even then,
respecting, almost venerating their power, and pondering over it,
he had yet to divine its secret essence--the honor and the law.
And it was only by the cumulative evidence of years that he had
finally come to understand. Being an alien, when he did know, he
knew it better than the white man himself; being an Indian, he
had achieved the impossible.
And of these things had been bred a certain contempt for his own
people--a contempt which he had made it a custom to conceal, but
which now burst forth in a polyglot whirlwind of curses upon the
heads of Kah-Chucte and Gowhee. They cringed before him like a
brace of snarling wolf dogs, too cowardly to spring, too wolfish
to cover their fangs. They were not handsome creatures. Neither
was Sitka Charley. All three were frightful-looking. There was no
flesh to their faces; their cheekbones were massed with hideous
scabs which had cracked and frozen alternately under the intense
frost; while their eyes burned luridly with the light which is
born of desperation and hunger. Men so situated, beyond the pale
of the honor and the law, are not to be trusted. Sitka Charley
knew this; and this was why he had forced them to abandon their
rifles with the rest of the camp outfit ten days before. His
rifle and Captain Eppingwell's were the only ones that remained.
'Come, get a fire started,' he commanded, drawing out the
precious matchbox with its attendant strips of dry birchbark.
The two Indians fell sullenly to the task of gathering dead
branches and underwood. They were weak and paused often, catching
themselves, in the act of stooping, with giddy motions, or
staggering to the center of operations with their knees shaking
After each trip they rested for a moment, as though sick and
deadly weary. At times their eyes took on the patient stoicism of
dumb suffering; and again the ego seemed almost burst forth with
its wild cry, 'I, I, I want to exist!'--the dominant note of the
whole living universe.
A light breath of air blew from the south, nipping the exposed
portions of their bodies and driving the frost, in needles of
fire, through fur and flesh to the bones. So, when the fire had
grown lusty and thawed a damp circle in the snow about it, Sitka
Charley forced his reluctant comrades to lend a hand in pitching
a fly. It was a primitive affair, merely a blanket stretched
parallel with the fire and to windward of it, at an angle of
perhaps forty-five degrees. This shut out the chill wind and
threw the heat backward and down upon those who were to huddle in
its shelter. Then a layer of green spruce boughs were spread,
that their bodies might not come in contact with the snow. When
this task was completed, Kah-Chucte and Gowhee proceeded to take
care of their feet. Their icebound moccasins were sadly worn by
much travel, and the sharp ice of the river jams had cut them to
Their Siwash socks were similarly conditioned, and when these had
been thawed and removed, the dead-white tips of the toes, in the
various stages of mortification, told their simple tale of the
Leaving the two to the drying of their footgear, Sitka Charley
turned back over the course he had come. He, too, had a mighty
longing to sit by the fire and tend his complaining flesh, but
the honor and the law forbade. He toiled painfully over the
frozen field, each step a protest, every muscle in revolt.
Several times, where the open water between the jams had recently
crusted, he was forced to miserably accelerate his movements as
the fragile footing swayed and threatened beneath him. In such
places death was quick and easy; but it was not his desire to
endure no more.
His deepening anxiety vanished as two Indians dragged into view
round a bend in the river. They staggered and panted like men
under heavy burdens; yet the packs on their backs were a matter
of but a few pounds. He questioned them eagerly, and their
replies seemed to relieve him. He hurried on. Next came two white
men, supporting between them a woman. They also behaved as though
drunken, and their limbs shook with weakness. But the woman
leaned lightly upon them, choosing to carry herself forward with
her own strength. At the sight of her a flash of joy cast its
fleeting light across Sitka Charley's face. He cherished a very
great regard for Mrs. Eppingwell. He had seen many white women,
but this was the first to travel the trail with him. When Captain
Eppingwell proposed the hazardous undertaking and made him an
offer for his services, he had shaken his head gravely; for it
was an unknown journey through the dismal vastnesses of the
Northland, and he knew it to be of the kind that try to the
uttermost the souls of men.
But when he learned that the captain's wife was to accompany
them, he had refused flatly to have anything further to do with
it. Had it been a woman of his own race he would have harbored no
objections; but these women of the Southland--no, no, they were
too soft, too tender, for such enterprises.
Sitka Charley did not know this kind of woman. Five minutes
before, he did not even dream of taking charge of the expedition;
but when she came to him with her wonderful smile and her
straight clean English, and talked to the point, without pleading
or persuading, he had incontinently yielded. Had there been a
softness and appeal to mercy in the eyes, a tremble to the voice,
a taking advantage of sex, he would have stiffened to steel;
instead her clear-searching eyes and clear-ringing voice, her
utter frankness and tacit assumption of equality, had robbed him
of his reason. He felt, then, that this was a new breed of woman;
and ere they had been trail mates for many days he knew why the
sons of such women mastered the land and the sea, and why the
sons of his own womankind could not prevail against them. Tender
and soft! Day after day he watched her, muscle-weary, exhausted,
indomitable, and the words beat in upon him in a perennial
refrain. Tender and soft! He knew her feet had been born to easy
paths and sunny lands, strangers to the moccasined pain of the
North, unkissed by the chill lips of the frost, and he watched
and marveled at them twinkling ever through the weary day.
She had always a smile and a word of cheer, from which not even
the meanest packer was excluded. As the way grew darker she
seemed to stiffen and gather greater strength, and when
Kah-Chucte and Gowhee, who had bragged that they knew every
landmark of the way as a child did the skin bails of the tepee,
acknowledged that they knew not where they were, it was she who
raised a forgiving voice amid the curses of the men. She had sung
to them that night till they felt the weariness fall from them
and were ready to face the future with fresh hope. And when the
food failed and each scant stint was measured jealously, she it
was who rebelled against the machinations of her husband and
Sitka Charley, and demanded and received a share neither greater
nor less than that of the others.
Sitka Charley was proud to know this woman. A new richness, a
greater breadth, had come into his life with her presence.
Hitherto he had been his own mentor, had turned to right or left
at no man's beck; he had moulded himself according to his own
dictates, nourished his manhood regardless of all save his own
opinion. For the first time he had felt a call from without for
the best that was in him, just a glance of appreciation from the
clear-searching eyes, a word of thanks from the clear-ringing
voice, just a slight wreathing of the lips in the wonderful
smile, and he walked with the gods for hours to come. It was a
new stimulant to his manhood; for the first time he thrilled with
a conscious pride in his wisdom of the trail; and between the
twain they ever lifted the sinking hearts of their comrades. The
faces of the two men and the woman brightened as they saw him,
for after all he was the staff they leaned upon. But Sitka
Charley, rigid as was his wont, concealing pain and pleasure
impartially beneath an iron exterior, asked them the welfare of
the rest, told the distance to the fire, and continued on the
Next he met a single Indian, unburdened, limping, lips
compressed, and eyes set with the pain of a foot in which the
quick fought a losing battle with the dead. All possible care had
been taken of him, but in the last extremity the weak and
unfortunate must perish, and Sitka Charley deemed his days to be
few. The man could not keep up for long, so he gave him rough
cheering words. After that came two more Indians, to whom he had
allotted the task of helping along Joe, the third white man of
the party. They had deserted him. Sitka Charley saw at a glance
the lurking spring in their bodies, and knew they had at last
cast off his mastery. So he was not taken unawares when he
ordered them back in quest of their abandoned charge, and saw the
gleam of the hunting knives that they drew from the sheaths. A
pitiful spectacle, three weak men lifting their puny strength in
the face of the mighty vastness; but the two recoiled under the
fierce rifle blows of the one and returned like beaten dogs to
the leash. Two hours later, with Joe reeling between them and
Sitka Charley bringing up the rear, they came to the fire, where
the remainder of the expedition crouched in the shelter of the
'A few words, my comrades, before we sleep,' Sitka Charley said
after they had devoured their slim rations of unleavened bread.
He was speaking to the Indians in their own tongue, having
already given the import to the whites. 'A few words, my
comrades, for your own good, that ye may yet perchance live. I
shall give you the law; on his own head by the death of him that
breaks it. We have passed the Hills of Silence, and we now travel
the head reaches of the Stuart. It may be one sleep, it may be
several, it may be many sleeps, but in time we shall come among
the men of the Yukon, who have much grub. It were well that we
look to the law. Today Kah-Chucte and Gowhee, whom I commanded to
break trail, forgot they were men, and like frightened children
'True, they forgot; so let us forget. But hereafter, let them
remember. If it should happen they do not...' He touched his
rifle carelessly, grimly. 'Tomorrow they shall carry the flour
and see that the white man Joe lies not down by the trail. The
cups of flour are counted; should so much as an ounce be wanting
at nightfall... Do ye understand? Today there were others that
forgot. Moose Head and Three Salmon left the white man Joe to lie
in the snow. Let them forget no more. With the light of day shall
they go forth and break trail. Ye have heard the law. Look well,
lest ye break it.' Sitka Charley found it beyond him to keep the
line close up. From Moose Head and Three Salmon, who broke trail
in advance, to Kah-Chucte, Gowhee, and Joe, it straggled out over
a mile. Each staggered, fell or rested as he saw fit.
The line of march was a progression through a chain of irregular
halts. Each drew upon the last remnant of his strength and
stumbled onward till it was expended, but in some miraculous way
there was always another last remnant. Each time a man fell it
was with the firm belief that he would rise no more; yet he did
rise, and again and again. The flesh yielded, the will conquered;
but each triumph was a tragedy. The Indian with the frozen foot,
no longer erect, crawled forward on hand and knee. He rarely
rested, for he knew the penalty exacted by the frost.
Even Mrs. Eppingwell's lips were at last set in a stony smile,
and her eyes, seeing, saw not. Often she stopped, pressing a
mittened hand to her heart, gasping and dizzy.
Joe, the white man, had passed beyond the stage of suffering. He
no longer begged to be let alone, prayed to die; but was soothed
and content under the anodyne of delirium. Kah-Chucte and Gowhee
dragged him on roughly, venting upon him many a savage glance or
blow. To them it was the acme of injustice.
Their hearts were bitter with hate, heavy with fear. Why should
they cumber their strength with his weakness? To do so meant
death; not to do so--and they remembered the law of Sitka
Charley, and the rifle.
Joe fell with greater frequency as the daylight waned, and so
hard was he to raise that they dropped farther and farther
behind. Sometimes all three pitched into the snow, so weak had
the Indians become. Yet on their backs was life, and strength,
Within the flour sacks were all the potentialities of existence.
They could not but think of this, and it was not strange, that
which came to pass. They had fallen by the side of a great timber
jam where a thousand cords of firewood waited the match. Near by
was an air hole through the ice. Kah-Chucte looked on the wood
and the water, as did Gowhee; then they looked at each other.
Never a word was spoken. Gowhee struck a fire; Kah-Chucte filled
a tin cup with water and heated it; Joe babbled of things in
another land, in a tongue they did not understand.
They mixed flour with the warm water till it was a thin paste,
and of this they drank many cups. They did not offer any to Joe;
but he did not mind. He did not mind anything, not even his
moccasins, which scorched and smoked among the coals.
A crystal mist of snow fell about them, softly, caressingly,
wrapping them in clinging robes of white. And their feet would
have yet trod many trails had not destiny brushed the clouds
aside and cleared the air. Nay, ten minutes' delay would have
Sitka Charley, looking back, saw the pillared smoke of their
fire, and guessed. And he looked ahead at those who were
faithful, and at Mrs. Eppingwell. 'So, my good comrades, ye have
again forgotten that you were men? Good! Very good. There will be
fewer bellies to feed.' Sitka Charley retied the flour as he
spoke, strapping the pack to the one on his own back. He kicked
Joe till the pain broke through the poor devil's bliss and
brought him doddering to his feet. Then he shoved him out upon
the trail and started him on his way. The two Indians attempted
to slip off.
'Hold, Gowhee! And thou, too, Kah-Chucte! Hath the flour given
such strength to thy legs that they may outrun the swift-winged
lead? Think not to cheat the law. Be men for the last time, and
be content that ye die full-stomached.
Come, step up, back to the timber, shoulder to shoulder. Come!'
The two men obeyed, quietly, without fear; for it is the future
which pressed upon the man, not the present.
'Thou, Gowhee, hast a wife and children and a deerskin lodge in
the Chipewyan. What is thy will in the matter?' 'Give thou her of
the goods which are mine by the word of the captain--the
blankets, the beads, the tobacco, the box which makes strange
sounds after the manner of the white men. Say that I did die on
the trail, but say not how.' 'And thou, Kah-Chucte, who hast nor
wife nor child?' 'Mine is a sister, the wife of the factor at
Koshim. He beats her, and she is not happy. Give thou her the
goods which are mine by the contract, and tell her it were well
she go back to her own people. Shouldst thou meet the man, and be
so minded, it were a good deed that he should die. He beats her,
and she is afraid.' 'Are ye content to die by the law?' 'We are.'
'Then good-bye, my good comrades. May ye sit by the well-filled
pot, in warm lodges, ere the day is done.' As he spoke he raised
his rifle, and many echoes broke the silence. Hardly had they
died away when other rifles spoke in the distance. Sitka Charley
There had been more than one shot, yet there was but one other
rifle in the party.
He gave a fleeting glance at the men who lay so quietly, smiled
viciously at the wisdom of the trail, and hurried on to meet the
men of the Yukon.
The Wife of a King
Once when the northland was very young, the social and civic
virtues were remarkably alike for their paucity and their
simplicity. When the burden of domestic duties grew grievous, and
the fireside mood expanded to a constant protest against its
bleak loneliness, the adventurers from the Southland, in lieu of
better, paid the stipulated prices and took unto themselves
native wives. It was a foretaste of Paradise to the women, for it
must be confessed that the white rovers gave far better care and
treatment of them than did their Indian copartners. Of course,
the white men themselves were satisfied with such deals, as were
also the Indian men for that matter. Having sold their daughters
and sisters for cotton blankets and obsolete rifles and traded
their warm furs for flimsy calico and bad whisky, the sons of the
soil promptly and cheerfully succumbed to quick consumption and
other swift diseases correlated with the blessings of a superior
It was in these days of Arcadian simplicity that Cal Galbraith
journeyed through the land and fell sick on the Lower River. It
was a refreshing advent in the lives of the good Sisters of the
Holy Cross, who gave him shelter and medicine; though they little
dreamed of the hot elixir infused into his veins by the touch of
their soft hands and their gentle ministrations. Cal Galbraith,
became troubled with strange thoughts which clamored for
attention till he laid eyes on the Mission girl, Madeline. Yet he
gave no sign, biding his time patiently. He strengthened with the
coming spring, and when the sun rode the heavens in a golden
circle, and the joy and throb of life was in all the land, he
gathered his still weak body together and departed.
Now, Madeline, the Mission girl, was an orphan. Her white father
had failed to give a bald-faced grizzly the trail one day, and
had died quickly. Then her Indian mother, having no man to fill
the winter cache, had tried the hazardous experiment of waiting
till the salmon-run on fifty pounds of flour and half as many of
bacon. After that, the baby, Chook-ra, went to live with the good
Sisters, and to be thenceforth known by another name.
But Madeline still had kinsfolk, the nearest being a dissolute
uncle who outraged his vitals with inordinate quantities of the
white man's whisky. He strove daily to walk with the gods, and
incidentally, his feet sought shorter trails to the grave. When
sober he suffered exquisite torture. He had no conscience. To
this ancient vagabond Cal Galbraith duly presented himself, and
they consumed many words and much tobacco in the conversation
that followed. Promises were also made; and in the end the old
heathen took a few pounds of dried salmon and his birch-bark
canoe, and paddled away to the Mission of the Holy Cross.
It is not given the world to know what promises he made and what
lies he told--the Sisters never gossip; but when he returned, upon
his swarthy chest there was a brass crucifix, and in his canoe
his niece Madeline. That night there was a grand wedding and a
potlach; so that for two days to follow there was no fishing done
by the village. But in the morning Madeline shook the dust of the
Lower River from her moccasins, and with her husband, in a
poling-boat, went to live on the Upper River in a place known as
the Lower Country. And in the years which followed she was a good
wife, sharing her husband's hardships and cooking his food. And
she kept him in straight trails, till he learned to save his dust
and to work mightily. In the end, he struck it rich and built a
cabin in Circle City; and his happiness was such that men who
came to visit him in his home-circle became restless at the sight
of it and envied him greatly.
But the Northland began to mature and social amenities to make
Hitherto, the Southland had sent forth its sons; but it now
belched forth a new exodus--this time of its daughters. Sisters
and wives they were not; but they did not fail to put new ideas
in the heads of the men, and to elevate the tone of things in
ways peculiarly their own. No more did the squaws gather at the
dances, go roaring down the center in the good, old Virginia
reels, or make merry with jolly 'Dan Tucker.' They fell back on
their natural stoicism and uncomplainingly watched the rule of
their white sisters from their cabins.
Then another exodus came over the mountains from the prolific
This time it was of women that became mighty in the land. Their
word was law; their law was steel. They frowned upon the Indian
wives, while the other women became mild and walked humbly. There
were cowards who became ashamed of their ancient covenants with
the daughters of the soil, who looked with a new distaste upon
their dark-skinned children; but there were also others--men--who
remained true and proud of their aboriginal vows. When it became
the fashion to divorce the native wives. Cal Galbraith retained
his manhood, and in so doing felt the heavy hand of the women who
had come last, knew least, but who ruled the land.
One day, the Upper Country, which lies far above Circle City, was
pronounced rich. Dog-teams carried the news to Salt Water; golden
argosies freighted the lure across the North Pacific; wires and
cables sang with the tidings; and the world heard for the first
time of the Klondike River and the Yukon Country. Cal Galbraith
had lived the years quietly. He had been a good husband to
Madeline, and she had blessed him. But somehow discontent fell
upon him; he felt vague yearnings for his own kind, for the life
he had been shut out from--a general sort of desire, which men
sometimes feel, to break out and taste the prime of living.
Besides, there drifted down the river wild rumors of the
wonderful El Dorado, glowing descriptions of the city of logs and
tents, and ludicrous accounts of the che-cha-quas who had rushed
in and were stampeding the whole country.
Circle City was dead. The world had moved on up river and become
a new and most marvelous world.
Cal Galbraith grew restless on the edge of things, and wished to
see with his own eyes.
So, after the wash-up, he weighed in a couple of hundred pounds
of dust on the Company's big scales, and took a draft for the
same on Dawson. Then he put Tom Dixon in charge of his mines,
kissed Madeline good-by, promised to be back before the first
mush-ice ran, and took passage on an up-river steamer.
Madeline waited, waited through all the three months of daylight.
She fed the dogs, gave much of her time to Young Cal, watched the
short summer fade away and the sun begin its long journey to the
south. And she prayed much in the manner of the Sisters of the
Holy Cross. The fall came, and with it there was mush-ice on the
Yukon, and Circle City kings returning to the winter's work at
their mines, but no Cal Galbraith. Tom Dixon received a letter,
however, for his men sledded up her winter's supply of dry pine.
The Company received a letter for its dogteams filled her cache
with their best provisions, and she was told that her credit was
Through all the ages man has been held the chief instigator of
the woes of woman; but in this case the men held their tongues
and swore harshly at one of their number who was away, while the
women failed utterly to emulate them. So, without needless delay,
Madeline heard strange tales of Cal Galbraith's doings; also, of
a certain Greek dancer who played with men as children did with
bubbles. Now Madeline was an Indian woman, and further, she had
no woman friend to whom to go for wise counsel. She prayed and
planned by turns, and that night, being quick of resolve and
action, she harnessed the dogs, and with Young Cal securely
lashed to the sled, stole away.
Though the Yukon still ran free, the eddy-ice was growing, and
each day saw the river dwindling to a slushy thread. Save him who
has done the like, no man may know what she endured in traveling
a hundred miles on the rim-ice; nor may they understand the toil
and hardship of breaking the two hundred miles of packed ice
which remained after the river froze for good. But Madeline was
an Indian woman, so she did these things, and one night there
came a knock at Malemute Kid's door. Thereat he fed a team of
starving dogs, put a healthy youngster to bed, and turned his
attention to an exhausted woman. He removed her icebound
moccasins while he listened to her tale, and stuck the point of
his knife into her feet that he might see how far they were
Despite his tremendous virility, Malemute Kid was possessed of a
softer, womanly element, which could win the confidence of a
snarling wolf-dog or draw confessions from the most wintry heart.
Nor did he seek them. Hearts opened to him as spontaneously as
flowers to the sun. Even the priest, Father Roubeau, had been
known to confess to him, while the men and women of the Northland
were ever knocking at his door--a door from which the latch-string
hung always out. To Madeline, he could do no wrong, make no
mistake. She had known him from the time she first cast her lot
among the people of her father's race; and to her half-barbaric
mind it seemed that in him was centered the wisdom of the ages,
that between his vision and the future there could be no
There were false ideals in the land. The social strictures of
Dawson were not synonymous with those of the previous era, and
the swift maturity of the Northland involved much wrong. Malemute
Kid was aware of this, and he had Cal Galbraith's measure
He knew a hasty word was the father of much evil; besides, he was
minded to teach a great lesson and bring shame upon the man. So
Stanley Prince, the young mining expert, was called into the
conference the following night as was also Lucky Jack Harrington
and his violin. That same night, Bettles, who owed a great debt
to Malemute Kid, harnessed up Cal Galbraith's dogs, lashed Cal
Galbraith, Junior, to the sled, and slipped away in the dark for
'So; one--two--three, one--two--three. Now reverse! No, no! Start
up again, Jack. See--this way.' Prince executed the movement as
one should who has led the cotillion.
'Now; one--two--three, one--two--three. Reverse! Ah! that's
better. Try it again. I say, you know, you mustn't look at your
feet. One--two--three, one--two--three. Shorter steps! You are not
hanging to the gee-pole just now. Try it over.
'There! that's the way. One--two--three, one--two--three.' Round
and round went Prince and Madeline in an interminable waltz. The
table and stools had been shoved over against the wall to
increase the room. Malemute Kid sat on the bunk, chin to knees,
greatly interested. Jack Harrington sat beside him, scraping away
on his violin and following the dancers.
It was a unique situation, the undertaking of these three men
with the woman.
The most pathetic part, perhaps, was the businesslike way in
which they went about it.
No athlete was ever trained more rigidly for a coming contest,
nor wolf-dog for the harness, than was she. But they had good
material, for Madeline, unlike most women of her race, in her
childhood had escaped the carrying of heavy burdens and the toil
of the trail. Besides, she was a clean-limbed, willowy creature,
possessed of much grace which had not hitherto been realized. It
was this grace which the men strove to bring out and knock into
'Trouble with her she learned to dance all wrong,' Prince
remarked to the bunk after having deposited his breathless pupil
on the table. 'She's quick at picking up; yet I could do better
had she never danced a step. But say, Kid, I can't understand
this.' Prince imitated a peculiar movement of the shoulders and
head--a weakness Madeline suffered from in walking.
'Lucky for her she was raised in the Mission,' Malemute Kid
answered. 'Packing, you know,--the head-strap. Other Indian women
have it bad, but she didn't do any packing till after she
married, and then only at first. Saw hard lines with that husband
of hers. They went through the Forty-Mile famine together.' 'But
can we break it?' 'Don't know.
'Perhaps long walks with her trainers will make the riffle.
Anyway, they'll take it out some, won't they, Madeline?' The girl
nodded assent. If Malemute Kid, who knew all things, said so, why
it was so. That was all there was about it.
She had come over to them, anxious to begin again. Harrington
surveyed her in quest of her points much in the same manner men
usually do horses. It certainly was not disappointing, for he
asked with sudden interest, 'What did that beggarly uncle of
yours get anyway?' 'One rifle, one blanket, twenty bottles of
hooch. Rifle broke.' She said this last scornfully, as though
disgusted at how low her maiden-value had been rated.
She spoke fair English, with many peculiarities of her husband's
speech, but there was still perceptible the Indian accent, the
traditional groping after strange gutturals. Even this her
instructors had taken in hand, and with no small success, too.
At the next intermission, Prince discovered a new predicament.
'I say, Kid,' he said, 'we're wrong, all wrong. She can't learn
'Put her feet into slippers, and then onto that waxed
floor--phew!' Madeline raised a foot and regarded her shapeless
house-moccasins dubiously. In previous winters, both at Circle
City and Forty-Mile, she had danced many a night away with
similar footgear, and there had been nothing the matter.
But now--well, if there was anything wrong it was for Malemute
Kid to know, not her.
But Malemute Kid did know, and he had a good eye for measures; so
he put on his cap and mittens and went down the hill to pay Mrs.
Eppingwell a call. Her husband, Clove Eppingwell, was prominent
in the community as one of the great Government officials.
The Kid had noted her slender little foot one night, at the
Governor's Ball. And as he also knew her to be as sensible as she
was pretty, it was no task to ask of her a certain small favor.
On his return, Madeline withdrew for a moment to the inner room.
When she reappeared Prince was startled.
'By Jove!' he gasped. 'Who'd a' thought it! The little witch! Why
my sister--' 'Is an English girl,' interrupted Malemute Kid,
'with an English foot. This girl comes of a small-footed race.
Moccasins just broadened her feet healthily, while she did not
misshape them by running with the dogs in her childhood.' But
this explanation failed utterly to allay Prince's admiration.
Harrington's commercial instinct was touched, and as he looked
upon the exquisitely turned foot and ankle, there ran through his
mind the sordid list--'One rifle, one blanket, twenty bottles of
hooch.' Madeline was the wife of a king, a king whose yellow
treasure could buy outright a score of fashion's puppets; yet in
all her life her feet had known no gear save red-tanned
moosehide. At first she had looked in awe at the tiny white-satin
slippers; but she had quickly understood the admiration which
shone, manlike, in the eyes of the men. Her face flushed with
pride. For the moment she was drunken with her woman's loveliness;
then she murmured, with increased scorn, 'And one rifle, broke!'
So the training went on. Every day Malemute Kid led the girl out
on long walks devoted to the correction of her carriage and the
shortening of her stride.
There was little likelihood of her identity being discovered, for
Cal Galbraith and the rest of the Old-Timers were like lost
children among the many strangers who had rushed into the land.
Besides, the frost of the North has a bitter tongue, and the
tender women of the South, to shield their cheeks from its biting
caresses, were prone to the use of canvas masks. With faces
obscured and bodies lost in squirrel-skin parkas, a mother and
daughter, meeting on trail, would pass as strangers.
The coaching progressed rapidly. At first it had been slow, but
later a sudden acceleration had manifested itself. This began
from the moment Madeline tried on the white-satin slippers, and
in so doing found herself. The pride of her renegade father,
apart from any natural self-esteem she might possess, at that
instant received its birth. Hitherto, she had deemed herself a
woman of an alien breed, of inferior stock, purchased by her
lord's favor. Her husband had seemed to her a god, who had lifted
her, through no essential virtues on her part, to his own godlike
level. But she had never forgotten, even when Young Cal was born,
that she was not of his people. As he had been a god, so had his
womenkind been goddesses. She might have contrasted herself with
them, but she had never compared.
It might have been that familiarity bred contempt; however, be
that as it may, she had ultimately come to understand these
roving white men, and to weigh them.
True, her mind was dark to deliberate analysis, but she yet
possessed her woman's clarity of vision in such matters. On the
night of the slippers she had measured the bold, open admiration
of her three man-friends; and for the first time comparison had
suggested itself. It was only a foot and an ankle, but--but
comparison could not, in the nature of things, cease at that
point. She judged herself by their standards till the divinity of
her white sisters was shattered. After all, they were only women,
and why should she not exalt herself to their midst? In doing
these things she learned where she lacked and with the knowledge
of her weakness came her strength. And so mightily did she strive
that her three trainers often marveled late into the night over
the eternal mystery of woman.
In this way Thanksgiving Night drew near. At irregular intervals
Bettles sent word down from Stuart River regarding the welfare of
Young Cal. The time of their return was approaching. More than
once a casual caller, hearing dance-music and the rhythmic pulse
of feet, entered, only to find Harrington scraping away and the
other two beating time or arguing noisily over a mooted step.
Madeline was never in evidence, having precipitately fled to the
On one of these nights Cal Galbraith dropped in. Encouraging news
had just come down from Stuart River, and Madeline had surpassed
herself--not in walk alone, and carriage and grace, but in
womanly roguishness. They had indulged in sharp repartee and she
had defended herself brilliantly; and then, yielding to the
intoxication of the moment, and of her own power, she had
bullied, and mastered, and wheedled, and patronized them with
most astonishing success. And instinctively, involuntarily, they
had bowed, not to her beauty, her wisdom, her wit, but to that
indefinable something in woman to which man yields yet cannot
The room was dizzy with sheer delight as she and Prince whirled
through the last dance of the evening. Harrington was throwing in
inconceivable flourishes, while Malemute Kid, utterly abandoned,
had seized the broom and was executing mad gyrations on his own
At this instant the door shook with a heavy rap-rap, and their
quick glances noted the lifting of the latch. But they had
survived similar situations before. Harrington never broke a
note. Madeline shot through the waiting door to the inner room.
The broom went hurtling under the bunk, and by the time Cal
Galbraith and Louis Savoy got their heads in, Malemute Kid and
Prince were in each other's arms, wildly schottisching down the
As a rule, Indian women do not make a practice of fainting on
provocation, but Madeline came as near to it as she ever had in
her life. For an hour she crouched on the floor, listening to the
heavy voices of the men rumbling up and down in mimic thunder.
Like familiar chords of childhood melodies, every intonation,
every trick of her husband's voice swept in upon her, fluttering
her heart and weakening her knees till she lay half-fainting
against the door. It was well she could neither see nor hear when
he took his departure.
'When do you expect to go back to Circle City?' Malemute Kid
'Haven't thought much about it,' he replied. 'Don't think till
after the ice breaks.' 'And Madeline?'
He flushed at the question, and there was a quick droop to his
eyes. Malemute Kid could have despised him for that, had he known
men less. As it was, his gorge rose against the wives and
daughters who had come into the land, and not satisfied with
usurping the place of the native women, had put unclean thoughts
in the heads of the men and made them ashamed.
'I guess she's all right,' the Circle City King answered hastily,
and in an apologetic manner. 'Tom Dixon's got charge of my
interests, you know, and he sees to it that she has everything
she wants.' Malemute Kid laid hand upon his arm and hushed him
suddenly. They had stepped without. Overhead, the aurora, a
gorgeous wanton, flaunted miracles of color; beneath lay the
sleeping town. Far below, a solitary dog gave tongue.
The King again began to speak, but the Kid pressed his hand for
silence. The sound multiplied. Dog after dog took up the strain
till the full-throated chorus swayed the night.
To him who hears for the first time this weird song, is told the
first and greatest secret of the Northland; to him who has heard
it often, it is the solemn knell of lost endeavor. It is the
plaint of tortured souls, for in it is invested the heritage of
the North, the suffering of countless generations--the warning
and the requiem to the world's estrays.
Cal Galbraith shivered slightly as it died away in half-caught
sobs. The Kid read his thoughts openly, and wandered back with
him through all the weary days of famine and disease; and with
him was also the patient Madeline, sharing his pains and perils,
never doubting, never complaining. His mind's retina vibrated to
a score of pictures, stern, clear-cut, and the hand of the past
drew back with heavy fingers on his heart. It was the
psychological moment. Malemute Kid was half-tempted to play his
reserve card and win the game; but the lesson was too mild as
yet, and he let it pass. The next instant they had gripped hands,
and the King's beaded moccasins were drawing protests from the
outraged snow as he crunched down the hill.
Madeline in collapse was another woman to the mischievous
creature of an hour before, whose laughter had been so infectious
and whose heightened color and flashing eyes had made her
teachers for the while forget. Weak and nerveless, she sat in the
chair just as she had been dropped there by Prince and Harrington.
Malemute Kid frowned. This would never do. When the time of
meeting her husband came to hand, she must carry things off with
high-handed imperiousness. It was very necessary she should do it
after the manner of white women, else the victory would be no
victory at all. So he talked to her, sternly, without mincing of
words, and initiated her into the weaknesses of his own sex, till
she came to understand what simpletons men were after all, and
why the word of their women was law.
A few days before Thanksgiving Night, Malemute Kid made another
call on Mrs. Eppingwell. She promptly overhauled her feminine
fripperies, paid a protracted visit to the dry-goods department
of the P. C. Company, and returned with the Kid to make
Madeline's acquaintance. After that came a period such as the
cabin had never seen before, and what with cutting, and fitting,
and basting, and stitching, and numerous other wonderful and
unknowable things, the male conspirators were more often banished
the premises than not. At such times the Opera House opened its
double storm-doors to them.
So often did they put their heads together, and so deeply did
they drink to curious toasts, that the loungers scented unknown
creeks of incalculable richness, and it is known that several
checha-quas and at least one Old-Timer kept their stampeding
packs stored behind the bar, ready to hit the trail at a moment's
Mrs. Eppingwell was a woman of capacity; so, when she turned
Madeline over to her trainers on Thanksgiving Night she was so
transformed that they were almost afraid of her. Prince wrapped a
Hudson Bay blanket about her with a mock reverence more real than
feigned, while Malemute Kid, whose arm she had taken, found it a
severe trial to resume his wonted mentorship. Harrington, with
the list of purchases still running through his head, dragged
along in the rear, nor opened his mouth once all the way down
into the town. When they came to the back door of the Opera House
they took the blanket from Madeline's shoulders and spread it on
the snow. Slipping out of Prince's moccasins, she stepped upon it
in new satin slippers. The masquerade was at its height. She
hesitated, but they jerked open the door and shoved her in. Then
they ran around to come in by the front entrance.
'Where is Freda?' the Old-Timers questioned, while the
che-cha-quas were equally energetic in asking who Freda was. The
ballroom buzzed with her name.
It was on everybody's lips. Grizzled 'sour-dough boys,'
day-laborers at the mines but proud of their degree, either
patronized the spruce-looking tenderfeet and lied eloquently--the
'sour-dough boys' being specially created to toy with truth--or
gave them savage looks of indignation because of their ignorance.
Perhaps forty kings of the Upper and Lower Countries were on the
floor, each deeming himself hot on the trail and sturdily backing
his judgment with the yellow dust of the realm. An assistant was
sent to the man at the scales, upon whom had fallen the burden of
weighing up the sacks, while several of the gamblers, with the
rules of chance at their finger-ends, made up alluring books on
the field and favorites.
Which was Freda? Time and again the 'Greek Dancer' was thought to
have been discovered, but each discovery brought panic to the
betting ring and a frantic registering of new wagers by those who
wished to hedge. Malemute Kid took an interest in the hunt, his
advent being hailed uproariously by the revelers, who knew him to
a man. The Kid had a good eye for the trick of a step, and ear
for the lilt of a voice, and his private choice was a marvelous
creature who scintillated as the 'Aurora Borealis.' But the Greek
dancer was too subtle for even his penetration. The majority of
the gold-hunters seemed to have centered their verdict on the
'Russian Princess,' who was the most graceful in the room, and
hence could be no other than Freda Moloof.
During a quadrille a roar of satisfaction went up. She was
discovered. At previous balls, in the figure, 'all hands round,'
Freda had displayed an inimitable step and variation peculiarly
her own. As the figure was called, the 'Russian Princess' gave
the unique rhythm to limb and body. A chorus of I-told-you-so's
shook the squared roof-beams, when lo! it was noticed that
'Aurora Borealis' and another masque, the 'Spirit of the Pole,'
were performing the same trick equally well. And when two twin
'Sun-Dogs' and a 'Frost Queen' followed suit, a second assistant
was dispatched to the aid of the man at the scales.
Bettles came off trail in the midst of the excitement, descending
upon them in a hurricane of frost. His rimed brows turned to
cataracts as he whirled about; his mustache, still frozen, seemed
gemmed with diamonds and turned the light in varicolored rays;
while the flying feet slipped on the chunks of ice which rattled
from his moccasins and German socks. A Northland dance is quite
an informal affair, the men of the creeks and trails having lost
whatever fastidiousness they might have at one time possessed;
and only in the high official circles are conventions at all
observed. Here, caste carried no significance. Millionaires and
paupers, dog-drivers and mounted policemen joined hands with
'ladies in the center,' and swept around the circle performing
most remarkable capers. Primitive in their pleasure, boisterous
and rough, they displayed no rudeness, but rather a crude
chivalry more genuine than the most polished courtesy.
In his quest for the 'Greek Dancer,' Cal Galbraith managed to get
into the same set with the 'Russian Princess,' toward whom
popular suspicion had turned.
But by the time he had guided her through one dance, he was
willing not only to stake his millions that she was not Freda,
but that he had had his arm about her waist before. When or where
he could not tell, but the puzzling sense of familiarity so
wrought upon him that he turned his attention to the discovery of
her identity. Malemute Kid might have aided him instead of
occasionally taking the Princess for a few turns and talking
earnestly to her in low tones. But it was Jack Harrington who
paid the 'Russian Princess' the most assiduous court. Once he
drew Cal Galbraith aside and hazarded wild guesses as to who she
was, and explained to him that he was going in to win. That
rankled the Circle City King, for man is not by nature monogamic,
and he forgot both Madeline and Freda in the new quest.
It was soon noised about that the 'Russian Princess' was not
Freda Moloof. Interest deepened. Here was a fresh enigma. They
knew Freda though they could not find her, but here was somebody
they had found and did not know. Even the women could not place
her, and they knew every good dancer in the camp. Many took her
for one of the official clique, indulging in a silly escapade.
Not a few asserted she would disappear before the unmasking.
Others were equally positive that she was the woman-reporter of
the Kansas City Star, come to write them up at ninety dollars per
column. And the men at the scales worked busily.
At one o'clock every couple took to the floor. The unmasking
began amid laughter and delight, like that of carefree children.
There was no end of Oh's and Ah's as mask after mask was lifted.
The scintillating 'Aurora Borealis' became the brawny negress
whose income from washing the community's clothes ran at about
five hundred a month. The twin 'Sun-Dogs' discovered mustaches on
their upper lips, and were recognized as brother Fraction-Kings
of El Dorado. In one of the most prominent sets, and the slowest
in uncovering, was Cal Galbraith with the 'Spirit of the Pole.'
Opposite him was Jack Harrington and the 'Russian Princess.' The
rest had discovered themselves, yet the 'Greek Dancer' was still
missing. All eyes were upon the group. Cal Galbraith, in response
to their cries, lifted his partner's mask. Freda's wonderful face
and brilliant eyes flashed out upon them. A roar went up, to be
squelched suddenly in the new and absorbing mystery of the
'Russian Princess.' Her face was still hidden, and Jack
Harrington was struggling with her. The dancers tittered on the
tiptoes of expectancy. He crushed her dainty costume roughly, and