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  • 1904
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Potts.

The Boy had thoughtlessly opened the door to have a look at the dogs.

“Shut that da–Don’t keep the door open!” howled Potts, trying to hold his precious letter down on the table while he added “only two words.” The Boy slammed the door behind him.

“With all our trouble, the cabin isn’t really warm,” said the Colonel apologetically. “In a wind like this, if the door is open, we have to hold fast to things to keep them from running down the Yukon. It’s a trial to anybody’s temper.”

“Why don’t you build a false wall?”

“Well, I don’t know; we hadn’t thought of it.”

“You’d find it correct this draught”; and the priest explained his views on the subject while Potts’s letter was being addressed. Andrew put his head in.

“Ready, Father!”

As the priest was pocketing the letter the Boy dashed in, put on the Arctic cap he set such store by, and a fur coat and mittens.

“Do you mind if I go a little way with you?” he said.

“Of course not,” answered the priest. “I will send him back in half an hour,” he said low to the Colonel. “It’s a hitter day.”

It was curious how already he had divined the relation of the elder man to the youngest of that odd household.

The moment they had gone Mac, with an obvious effort, pulled himself up out of his corner, and, coming towards the Colonel at the fireplace, he said thickly:

“You’ve put an insult upon me, Warren, and that’s what I stand from no man. Come outside.”

The Colonel looked at him.

“All right, Mac; but we’ve just eaten a rousing big dinner. Even Sullivan wouldn’t accept that as the moment for a round. We’ll both have forty winks, hey? and Potts shall call us, and O’Flynn shall be umpire. You can have the Boy’s bunk.”

Mac was in a haze again, and allowed himself to be insinuated into bed.

The others got rid of the dinner things, and “sat round” for an hour.

“Doubt if he sleeps long,” says Potts a little before two; “that’s what he’s been doing all morning.”

“We haven’t had any fresh meat for a week,” returns the Colonel significantly. “Why don’t you and O’Flynn go down to meet the Boy, and come round by the woods? There’ll be full moon up by four o’clock; you might get a brace of grouse or a rabbit or two.”

O’Flynn was not very keen about it; but the Jesuit’s visit had stirred him up, and he offered less opposition to the unusual call to activity than the Colonel expected.

When at last he was left alone with the sleeping man, the Kentuckian put on a couple more logs, and sat down to wait. At three he got up, swung the crane round so that the darting tongues of flame could lick the hot-water pot, and then he measured out some coffee. In a quarter of an hour the cabin was full of the fragrance of good Mocha.

The Colonel sat and waited. Presently he poured out a little coffee, and drank it slowly, blissfully, with half-closed eyes. But when he had set the granite cup down again, he stood up alert, like a man ready for business. Mac had been asleep nearly three hours. The others wouldn’t be long now.

Well, if they came prematurely, they must go to the Little Cabin for awhile. The Colonel shot the bar across door and jamb for the second time that day. Mac stirred and lifted himself on his elbow, but he wasn’t really awake.

“Potts,” he said huskily.

The Colonel made no sound. “Potts, measure me out two fingers, will you? Cabin’s damn cold.”

No answer.

Mac roused himself, muttering compliments for Potts. When he had bundled himself out over the side of the bunk, he saw the Colonel seemingly dozing by the fire.

He waited a moment. Then, very softly, he made his way to the farther end of the swing-shelf.

The Colonel opened one eye, shut it, and shuffled in a sleepy sort of way. Mac turned sharply back to the fire.

The Colonel opened his eyes and yawned.

“I made some cawfee a little while back. Have some?”

“No.”

“Better; it’s A 1.”

“Where’s Potts?”

“Gone out for a little. Back soon.” He poured out some of the strong, black decoction, and presented it to his companion. “Just try it. Finest cawfee in the world, sir.”

Mac poured it down without seeming to bother about tasting it.

They sat quite still after that, till the Colonel said meditatively:

“You and I had a little account to settle, didn’t we?”

“I’m ready.”

But neither moved for several moments.

“See here, Mac: you haven’t been ill or anything like that, have you?”

“No.” There was no uncertain note in the answer; if anything, there was in it more than the usual toneless decision. Mac’s voice was machine-made–as innocent of modulation as a buzz-saw, and with the same uncompromising finality as the shooting of a bolt. “I’m ready to stand up against any man.”

“Good!” interrupted the Colonel. “Glad o’ that, for I’m just longing to see you stand up–“

Mac was on his feet in a flash.

“You had only to say so, if you wanted to see me stand up against any man alive. And when I sit down again it’s my opinion one of us two won’t be good-lookin’ any more.”

He pushed back the stools.

“I thought maybe it was only necessary to mention it,” said the Colonel slowly. “I’ve been wanting for a fortnight to see you stand up”–Mac turned fiercely–“against Samuel David MacCann.”

“Come on! I’m in no mood for monkeyin’!”

“Nor I. I realise, MacCann, we’ve come to a kind of a crisis. Things in this camp are either going a lot better, or a lot worse, after to-day.”

“There’s nothing wrong, if you quit asking dirty Jesuits to sit down with honest men.”

“Yes; there’s something worse out o’ shape than that.”

Mac waited warily.

“When we were stranded here, and saw what we’d let ourselves in for, there wasn’t one of us that didn’t think things looked pretty much like the last o’ pea time. There was just one circumstance that kept us from throwing up the sponge; _we had a man in camp.”_

The Colonel paused.

Mac stood as expressionless as the wooden crane.

“A man we all believed in, who was going to help us pull through.” “That was you, I s’pose.” Mac’s hard voice chopped out the sarcasm.

“You know mighty well who it was. The Boy’s all right, but he’s young for this kind o’ thing–young and heady. There isn’t much wrong with me that I’m aware of, except that I don’t know shucks. Potts’s petering out wasn’t altogether a surprise, and nobody expected anything from O’Flynn till we got to Dawson, when a lawyer and a fella with capital behind him may come in handy. But there was one man–who had a head on him, who had experience, and who”–he leaned over to emphasise the climax–“who had _character_. It was on that man’s account that I joined this party.”

Mac put his hands in his pockets and leaned against the wall. His face began to look a little more natural. The long sleep or the coffee had cleared his eyes.

“Shall I tell you what I heard about that man last night?” asked the Colonel gravely.

Mac looked up, but never opened his lips.

“You remember you wouldn’t sit here–“

“The Boy was always in and out. The cabin was cold.”

“I left the Boy and O’Flynn at supper-time and went down to the Little Cabin to–“

“To see what I was doin’–to spy on me.”

“Well, all right–maybe I was spying, too. Incidentally I wanted to tell you the cabin was hot as blazes, and get you to come to supper. I met Potts hurrying up for his grub, and I said, ‘Where’s Mac? Isn’t he coming?’ and your pardner’s answer was: ‘Oh, let him alone. He’s got a flask in his bunk, swillin’ and gruntin’; he’s just in hog-heaven.'”

“Damn that sneak!”

“The man he was talkin’ about, Mac, was the man we had all built our hopes on.”

“I’ll teach Potts–“

“You can’t, Mac. Potts has got to die and go to heaven–perhaps to hell, before he’ll learn any good. But you’re a different breed. Teach MacCann.”

Mac suddenly sat down on the stool with his head in his hands.

“The Boy hasn’t caught on,” said the Colonel presently, “but he said something this morning to show he was wondering about the change that’s come over you.”

“That I don’t split wood all day, I suppose, when we’ve got enough for a month. Potts doesn’t either. Why don’t you go for Potts?”

“As the Boy said, I don’t care about Potts. It’s Mac that matters.”

“Did the Boy say that?” He looked up.

The Colonel nodded.

“After you had made that chimney, you know, you were a kind of hero in his eyes.”

Mac looked away. “The cabin’s been cold,” he muttered.

“We are going to remedy that.”

“I didn’t bring any liquor into camp. You must admit that I didn’t intend–“

“I do admit it.”

“And when O’Flynn said that about keeping his big demijohn out of the inventory and apart from the common stores, I sat on him.”

“So you did.”

“I knew it was safest to act on the ‘medicinal purposes’ principle.”

“So it is.”

“But I wasn’t thinking so much of O’Flynn. I was thinking of … things that had happened before … for … I’d had experience. Drink was the curse of Caribou. It’s something of a scourge up in Nova Scotia … I’d had experience.”

“You did the very best thing possible under the circumstances.” Mac was feeling about after his self-respect, and must be helped to get hold of it. “I realise, too, that the temptation is much greater in cold countries,” said the Kentuckian unblushingly. “Italians and Greeks don’t want fiery drinks half as much as Russians and Scandinavians–haven’t the same craving as Nova Scotians and cold-country people generally, I suppose. But that only shows, temperance is of more vital importance in the North.”

“That’s right! It’s not much in my line to shift blame, even when I don’t deserve it; but you know so much you might as well know … it wasn’t I who opened that demijohn first.”

“But you don’t mind being the one to shut it up–do you?”

“Shut it up?”

“Yes; let’s get it down and–” The Colonel swung it off the shelf. It was nearly empty, and only the Boy’s and the Colonel’s single bottles stood unbroached. Even so, Mac’s prolonged spree was something of a mystery to the Kentuckian. It must be that a very little was too much for Mac. The Colonel handed the demijohn to his companion, and lit the solitary candle standing on its little block of wood, held in place between three half-driven nails.

“What’s that for?”

“Don’t you want to seal it up?”

“I haven’t got any wax.”

“I have an inch or so.” The Colonel produced out of his pocket the only piece in camp.

Mac picked up a billet of wood, and drove the cork in flush with the neck. Then, placing upright on the cork the helve of the hammer, he drove the cork down a quarter of an inch farther.

“Give me your wax. What’s for a seal?” They looked about. Mac’s eye fell on a metal button that hung by a thread from the old militia jacket he was wearing. He put his hand up to it, paused, glanced hurriedly at the Colonel, and let his fingers fall.

“Yes, yes,” said the Kentuckian, “that’ll make a capital seal.”

“No; something of yours, I think, Colonel. The top of that tony pencil-case, hey?”

The Colonel produced his gold pencil, watched Mac heat the wax, drop it into the neck of the demijohn, and apply the initialled end of the Colonel’s property. While Mac, without any further waste of words, was swinging the wicker-bound temptation up on the shelf again, they heard voices.

“They’re coming back,” says the Kentuckian hurriedly. “But we’ve settled our little account, haven’t we, old man?”

Mac jerked his head in that automatic fashion that with him meant genial and whole-hearted agreement.

“And if Potts or O’Flynn want to break that seal–“

“I’ll call ’em down,” says Mac. And the Colonel knew the seal was safe.

* * * * *

“By-the-by, Colonel,” said the Boy, just as he was turning in that night, “I–a–I’ve asked that Jesuit chap to the House-Warming.”

“Oh, you did, did you?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you’d just better have a talk with Mac about it.”

“Yes. I’ve been tryin’ to think how I’d square Mac. Of course, I know I’ll have to go easy on the raw.”

“I reckon you just will.”

“If Monkey-wrench screws down hard on me, you’ll come to the rescue, won’t you, Colonel?”

“No I’ll side with Mac on that subject. Whatever he says, goes!”

“Humph! _that_ Jesuit’s all right.”

Not a word out of the Colonel.

CHAPTER III

TWO NEW SPISSIMENS

Medwjedew (zu Luka). Tag’ mal–wer bist du? Ich kenne dich nicht.

Luka. Kennst du denn sonst alle Leute?

Medwjedew. In meinem Revier muss ich jeden kennen und dich kenn’ich nicht….

Luka. Das kommt wohl daher Onkelchen, dass dein Revier nicht die ganze Erde umfasst … ‘s ist da noch ein Endchen draussen geblieben….

One of the curious results of what is called wild life, is a blessed release from many of the timidities that assail the easy liver in the centres of civilisation. Potts was the only one in the white camp who had doubts about the wisdom of having to do with the natives.

However, the agreeable necessity of going to Pymeut to invite Nicholas to the Blow-out was not forced upon the Boy. They were still hard at it, four days after the Jesuit had gone his way, surrounding the Big Cabin with a false wall, that final and effectual barrier against Boreas–finishing touch warranted to convert a cabin, so cold that it drove its inmates to drink, into a dwelling where practical people, without cracking a dreary joke, might fitly celebrate a House-Warming.

In spite of the shortness of the days, Father Wills’s suggestion was being carried out with a gratifying success. Already manifest were the advantages of the stockade, running at a foot’s distance round the cabin to the height of the eaves, made of spruce saplings not even lopped of their short bushy branches, but planted close together, after burning the ground cleared of snow. A second visitation of mild weather, and a further two days’ thaw, made the Colonel determine to fill in the space between the spruce stockade and the cabin with “burnt-out” soil closely packed down and well tramped in. It was generally conceded, as the winter wore on, that to this contrivance of the “earthwork” belonged a good half of the credit of the Big Cabin, and its renown as being the warmest spot on the lower river that terrible memorable year of the Klondyke Rush.

The evergreen wall with the big stone chimney shouldering itself up to look out upon the frozen highway, became a conspicuous feature in the landscape, welcome as the weeks went on to many an eye wearied with long looking for shelter, and blinded by the snow-whitened waste.

An exception to what became a rule was, of all men, Nicholas. When the stockade was half done, the Prince and an equerry appeared on the horizon, with the second team the camp had seen, the driver much concerned to steer clear of the softened snow and keep to that part of the river ice windswept and firm, if roughest of all. Nicholas regarded the stockade with a cold and beady eye.

No, he hadn’t time to look at it. He had promised to “mush.” He wasn’t even hungry.

It did little credit to his heart, but he seemed more in haste to leave his new friends than the least friendly of them would have expected.

“Oh, wait a sec.,” urged the deeply disappointed Boy. “I wanted awf’ly to see how your sled is made. It’s better ‘n Father Wills’.”

“Humph!” grunted Nicholas scornfully; “him no got Innuit sled.”

“Mac and I are goin’ to try soon’s the stockade’s done–“

“Goo’-bye,” interrupted Nicholas.

But the Boy paid no attention to the word of farewell. He knelt down in the snow and examined the sled carefully.

“Spruce runners,” he called out to Mac, “and–jee! they’re shod with ivory! _Jee!_ fastened with sinew and wooden pegs. Hey?”–looking up incredulously at Nicholas–“not a nail in the whole shebang, eh?”

“Nail?” says Nicholas. “Huh, no _nail!_” as contemptuously as though the Boy had said “bread-crumbs.”

“Well, she’s a daisy! When you comin’ back?”

“Comin’ pretty quick; goin’ pretty quick. Goo’-bye! _Mush!_” shouted Nicholas to his companion, and the dogs got up off their haunches.

But the Boy only laughed at Nicholas’s struggles to get started. He hung on to the loaded sled, examining, praising, while the dogs, after the merest affectation of trying to make a start, looked round at him over their loose collars and grinned contentedly.

“Me got to mush. Show nex’ time. Mush!”

“What’s here?” the Boy shouted through the “mushing”; and he tugged at the goodly load, so neatly disposed under an old reindeer-skin sleeping-bag, and lashed down with raw hide.

That? Oh, that was fish. _”Fish!_ Got so much fish at starving Pymeut you can go hauling it down river? Well, sir, _we_ want fish. We _must_ have fish. Hey?” The Boy appealed to the others.

“Yes.”

“R-right y’arre!”

“I reckon we just do!”

But Nicholas had other views.

“No, me take him–” He hitched his body in the direction of Ikogimeut.

“Bless my soul! you’ve got enough there for a regiment. You goin’ to sell him? Hey?”

Nicholas shook his head.

“Oh, come off the roof!” advised the Boy genially.

“You ain’t carryin’ it about for your health, I suppose?” said Potts.

“The people down at Ikogimeut don’t need it like us. We’re white duffers, and can’t get fish through the ice. You sell _some_ of it to us.” But Nicholas shook his head and shuffled along on his snow-shoes, beckoning the dog-driver to follow.

“Or trade some fur–fur tay,” suggested O’Flynn.

“Or for sugar,” said Mac.

“Or for tobacco,” tempted the Colonel.

And before that last word Nicholas’s resolve went down. Up at the cabin he unlashed the load, and it quickly became manifest that Nicholas was a dandy at driving a bargain. He kept on saying shamelessly:

“More–more shuhg. Hey? Oh yes, me give heap fish. No nuff shuhg.”

If it hadn’t been for Mac (his own clear-headed self again, and by no means to be humbugged by any Prince alive) the purchase of a portion of that load of frozen fish, corded up like so much wood, would have laid waste the commissariat.

But if the white men after this passage did not feel an absolute confidence in Nicholas’s fairness of mind, no such unworthy suspicion of them found lodgment in the bosom of the Prince. With the exception of some tobacco, he left all his ill-gotten store to be kept for him by his new friends till he should return. When was that to be? In five sleeps he would be back.

“Good! We’ll have the stockade done by then. What do you say to our big chimney, Nicholas?”

He emitted a scornful “Peeluck!”

“What! Our chimney no good?”

He shrugged: “Why you have so tall hole your house? How you cover him up?”

“We don’t want to cover him up.”

“Humph! winter fin’ you tall hole. Winter come down–bring in snow–drive fire out.” He shivered in anticipation of what was to happen. “Peeluck!”

The white men laughed.

“What you up to now? Where you going?”

Well, the fact was, Nicholas had been sent by his great ally, the Father Superior of Holy Cross, on a mission, very important, demanding despatch.

“Father Brachet–him know him heap better send Nicholas when him want man go God-damn quick. Me no stop–no–no stop.”

He drew on his mittens proudly, unjarred by remembrance of how his good resolution had come to grief.

“Where you off to now?”

“Me ketchum Father Wills–me give letter.” He tapped his deerskin-covered chest. “Ketchum _sure_ ‘fore him leave Ikogimeut.”

“You come back with Father Wills?”

Nicholas nodded.

“Hooray! we’ll all work like sixty!” shouted the Boy, “and by Saturday (that’s five sleeps) we’ll have the wall done and the house warm, and you and”–he caught himself up; not thus in public would he break the news to Mac–“you’ll be back in time for the big Blow-Out.” To clinch matters, he accompanied Nicholas from the cabin to the river trail, explaining: “You savvy? Big feast–all same Indian. Heap good grub. No prayer-meetin’–you savvy?–no church this time. Big fire, big feed. All kinds–apples, shuhg, bacon–no cook him, you no like,” he added, basely truckling to the Prince’s peculiar taste.

Nicholas rolled his single eye in joyful anticipation, and promised faithfully to grace the scene.

* * * * *

This was all very fine … but Father Wills! The last thing at night and the first thing in the morning the Boy looked the problem in the face, and devised now this, now that, adroit and disarming fashion of breaking the news to Mac.

But it was only when the daring giver of invitations was safely in bed, and Mac equally safe down in the Little Cabin, that it seemed possible to broach the subject. He devised scenes in which, airily and triumphantly, he introduced Father Wills, and brought Mac to the point of pining for Jesuit society; but these scenes were actable only under conditions of darkness and of solitude. The Colonel refused to have anything to do with the matter.

“Our first business, as I see it, is to keep peace in the camp, and hold fast to a good understanding with one another. It’s just over little things like this that trouble begins. Mac’s one of us; Father Wills is an outsider. I won’t rile Mac for the sake of any Jesuit alive. No, sir; this is _your_ funeral, and you’re obliged to attend.”

Before three of Nicholas’s five sleeps were accomplished, the Boy began to curse the hour he had laid eyes on Father Wills. He began even to speculate desperately on the good priest’s chances of tumbling into an air-hole, or being devoured by a timely wolf. But no, life was never so considerate as that. Yet he could neither face being the cause of the first serious row in camp, nor endure the thought of having his particular guest–drat him!–flouted, and the whole House-Warming turned to failure and humiliation.

Indeed, the case looked desperate. Only one day more now before he would appear–be flouted, insulted, and go off wounded, angry, leaving the Boy with an irreconciliable quarrel against Mac, and the House-Warming turned to chill recrimination and to wretchedness.

But until the last phantasmal hope went down before the logic of events it was impossible not to cling to the idea of melting Mac’s Arctic heart. There was still one course untried.

Since there was so little left to do to the stockade, the Boy announced that he thought he’d go up over the hill for a tramp. Gun in hand and grub in pocket, he marched off to play his last trump-card. If he could bring home a queer enough bird or beast for the collection, there was still hope. To what lengths might Mac not go if one dangled before him the priceless bait of a golden-tipped emperor goose, dressed in imperial robes of rose-flecked snow? Or who, knowing Mac, would not trust a _Xema Sabinii_ to play the part of a white-winged angel of peace? Failing some such heavenly messenger, there was nothing for it but that the Boy should face the ignominy of going forth to meet the Father on the morrow, and confess the humiliating truth. It wasn’t fair to let him come expecting hospitality, and find–. Visions arose of Mac receiving the bent and wayworn missionary with the greeting: “There is no corner by the fire, no place in the camp for a pander to the Scarlet Woman.” The thought lent impassioned fervour to the quest for goose or gull.

It was pretty late when he got back to camp, and the men were at supper. No, he hadn’t shot anything.

“What’s that bulging in your pocket?”

“Sort o’ stone.”

“Struck it rich?”

“Don’t give me any chin-music, boys; give me tea. I’m dog-tired.”

But when Mac got up first, as usual, to go down to the Little Cabin to “wood up” for the night, “I’ll walk down with you,” says the Boy, though it was plain he was dead-beat.

He helped to revive the failing fire, and then, dropping on the section of sawed wood that did duty for a chair, with some difficulty and a deal of tugging he pulled “the sort o’ stone” out of the pocket of his duck shooting-jacket.

“See that?” He held the thing tightly clasped in his two red, chapped hands.

Mac bent down, shading his eyes from the faint flame flicker.

“What is it?” “Piece o’ tooth.”

“By the Lord Harry! so it is.” He took the thing nearer the faint light. “Fossil! Where’d you get it?”

“Over yonder–by a little frozen river.”

“How far? Any more? Only this?”

The Boy didn’t answer. He went outside, and returned instantly, lugging in something brown and whitish, weather-stained, unwieldy.

“I dropped this at the door as I came along home. Thought it might do for the collection.”

Mac stared with all his eyes, and hurriedly lit a candle. The Boy dropped exhausted on a ragged bit of burlap by the bunks. Mac knelt down opposite, pouring liberal libation of candle-grease on the uncouth, bony mass between them.

“Part of the skull!” he rasped out, masking his ecstasy as well as he could.

“Mastodon?” inquired the Boy.

Mac shook his head.

“I’ll bet my boots,” says Mac, “it’s an _Elephas primigenius;_ and if I’m right, it’s ‘a find,’ young man. Where’d you stumble on him?”

“Over yonder.” The Boy leaned his head against the lower bunk.

“Where?” “Across the divide. The bones have been dragged up on to some rocks. I saw the end of a tusk stickin’ up out of the snow, and I scratched down till I found–” He indicated the trophy between them on the floor.

“Tusk? How long?”

“‘Bout nine feet.” “We’ll go and get it to-morrow.”

No answer from the Boy.

“Early, hey?”

“Well–a–it’s a good ways.”

“What if it is?”

“Oh, I don’t mind. I’d do more ‘n that for you, Mac.”

There was something unnatural in such devotion. Mac looked up. But the Boy was too tired to play the big fish any longer. “I wonder if you’ll do something for me.” He watched with a sinking heart Mac’s sharp uprising from the worshipful attitude. It was not like any other mortal’s gradual, many-jointed getting-up; it was more like the sudden springing out of the big blade of a clasp-knife.

“What’s your game?”

“Oh, I ain’t got any game,” said the Boy desperately; “or, if I have, there’s mighty little fun in it. However, I don’t know as I want to walk ten hours again in this kind o’ weather with an elephant on my back just for–for the poetry o’ the thing.” He laid his chapped hands on the side board of the bunk and pulled himself up on his legs.

“What’s your game?” repeated Mac sternly, as the Boy reached the door.

“What’s the good o’ talkin’?” he answered; but he paused, turned, and leaned heavily against the rude lintel.

“Course, I know you’d be shot before you’d do it, but what I’d _like_, would be to hear you say you wouldn’t kick up a hell of a row if Father Wills happens in to the House-Warmin’.”

Mac jerked his set face, fire-reddened, towards the fossil-finder; and he, without waiting for more, simply opened the door, and heavily footed it back to the Big Cabin.

* * * * *

Next morning when Mac came to breakfast he heard that the Boy had had his grub half an hour before the usual time, and was gone off on some tramp again. Mac sat and mused.

O’Flynn came in with a dripping bucket, and sat down to breakfast shivering.

“Which way’d he go?”

“The Boy? Down river.”

“Sure he didn’t go over the divide?”

O’Flynn was sure. He’d just been down to the water-hole, and in the faint light he’d seen the Boy far down on the river-trail “leppin” like a hare in the direction of the Roosian mission.”

“Goin’ to meet … a … Nicholas?”

“Reckon so,” said the Colonel, a bit ruffled. “Don’t believe he’ll run like a hare very far with his feet all blistered.”

“Did you know he’d discovered a fossil elephant?”

“No.”

“Well, he has. I must light out, too, and have a look at it.”

“Do; it’ll be a cheerful sort of House-Warming with one of you off scouring the country for more blisters and chilblains, and another huntin’ antediluvian elephants.” The Colonel spoke with uncommon irascibility. The great feast-day had certainly not dawned propitiously.

When breakfast was done Mac left the Big Cabin without a word; but, instead of going over the divide across the treeless snow-waste to the little frozen river, where, turned up to the pale northern dawn, were lying the bones of a beast that had trampled tropic forests, in that other dawn of the Prime, the naturalist, turning his back on _Elephas primigenius,_ followed in the track of the Boy down the great river towards Ikogimeut.

* * * * *

On the low left bank of the Yukon a little camp. On one side, a big rock hooded with snow. At right angles, drawn up one on top of the other, two sleds covered with reindeer-skins held down by stones. In the corner formed by the angle of rocks and sleds, a small A-tent, very stained and old. Burning before it on a hearth of greenwood, a little fire struggling with a veering wind.

Mac had seen from far off the faint blue banners of smoke blowing now right, now left, then tossed aloft in the pallid sunshine. He looked about sharply for the Boy, as he had been doing this two hours. There was the Jesuit bending over the fire, bettering the precarious position of a saucepan that insisted on sitting lop-sided, looking down into the heart of coals. Nicholas was holding up the tent-flap.

“Hello! How do!” he sang out, recognising Mac. The priest glanced up and nodded pleasantly. Two Indians, squatting on the other side of the fire, scrambled away as the shifting wind brought a cloud of stifling smoke into their faces. “Where’s the Boy?” demanded Mac, arresting the stampede.

Nicholas’s dog-driver stared, winked, and wiped his weeping, smoke-reddened eyes.

“Is he in there?” Mac looked towards the tent.

Andrew nodded between coughs.

“What’s he doing in there? Call him out,” ordered Mac.

“He no walk.”

Mac’s hard face took on a look of cast-iron tragedy.

The wind, veering round again, had brought the last words to the priest on the other side of the fire.

“Oh, it’ll be all right by-and-by,” he said cheerfully.

“But knocking up like that just for blisters?”

“Blisters? No; cold and general weakness. That’s why we delayed–“

Without waiting to hear more Mac strode over to the tent, and as he went in, Nicholas came out. No sign of the Boy–nobody, nothing. What? Down in the corner a small, yellow face lying in a nest of fur. Bright, dark eyes stared roundly, and as Mac glowered astonished at the apparition, a mouth full of gleaming teeth opened, smiling, to say in a very small voice:

“Farva!”

Astonished as Mac was, disappointed and relieved all at once, there was something arresting in the appeal.

“I’m not your father,” he said stiffly. “Who’re you? Hey? You speak English?”

The child stared at him fixedly, but suddenly, for no reason on earth, it smiled again. Mac stood looking down at it, seeming lost in thought. Presently the small object stirred, struggled about feebly under the encompassing furs, and, freeing itself, held out its arms. The mites of hands fluttered at his sleeve and made ineffectual clutches.

“What do you want?” To his own vast astonishment Mac lifted the little thing out of its warm nest. It was woefully thin, and seemed, even to his inexperience, to be insufficiently clothed, though the beaded moccasins on its tiny feet were new and good.

“Why, you’re only about as big as a minute,” he said gruffly. “What’s the matter–sick?” It suddenly struck him as very extraordinary that he should have taken up the child, and how extremely embarrassing it would be if anyone came in and caught him. Clutching the small morsel awkwardly, he fumbled with the furs preparatory to getting rid, without delay, of the unusual burden. While he was straightening the things, Father Wills appeared at the flap, smoking saucepan in hand. The instant the cold air struck the child it began to cough.

“Oh, you mustn’t do that!” said the priest to Mac with unexpected severity. “Kaviak must lie in bed and keep warm.” Down on the floor went the saucepan. The child was caught away from the surprised Mac, and the furs so closely gathered round the small shrunken body that there was once more nothing visible but the wistful yellow face and gleaming eyes, still turned searchingly on its most recent acquaintance.

But the priest, without so much as a glance at the new-comer, proceeded to feed Kaviak out of the saucepan, blowing vigorously at each spoonful before administering.

“He’s pretty hungry,” commented Mac. “Where’d you find him?”

“In a little village up on the Kuskoquim. Kaviak’s an Esquimaux from Norton Sound, aren’t you, Kaviak?” But the child was wholly absorbed, it seemed, in swallowing and staring at Mac. “His family came up there from the coast in a bidarra only last summer–all dead now. Everybody else in the village–and there isn’t but a handful–all ailing and all hungry. I was tramping across an igloo there a couple of days ago, and I heard a strange little muffled sound, more like a snared rabbit than anything else. But the Indian with me said no, everybody who had lived there was dead, and he was for hurrying on. They’re superstitious, you know, about a place where people have died. But I crawled in, and found this little thing lying in a bundle of rags with its hands bound and dried grass stuffed in its mouth. It was too weak to stir or do more than occasionally to make that muffled noise that I’d heard coming up through the smoke-hole.”

“What you goin’ to do with him?”

“Well, I hardly know. The Sisters will look after him for a while, if I get him there alive.”

“Why shouldn’t you?”

Kaviak supplied the answer straightway by choking and falling into an appalling fit of coughing.

“I’ve got some stuff that’ll be good for that,” said Mac, thinking of his medicine-chest. “I’ll give you some when we get back to camp.”

The priest nodded, taking Mac’s unheard of civility as a matter of course.

“The ice is very rough; the jolting makes him cough awfully.”

The Jesuit had fastened his eyes on Mac’s woollen muffler, which had been loosened during the ministering to Kaviak and had dropped on the ground. “Do you need that scarf?” he asked, as though he suspected Mac of wearing it for show. “Because if you didn’t you could wrap it round Kaviak while I help the men strike camp.” And without waiting to see how his suggestion was received, he caught up the saucepan, lifted the flap, and vanished.

“Farva,” remarked Kaviak, fixing melancholy eyes on Mac.

“I ain’t your father,” muttered the gentleman so addressed. He picked up his scarf and hung it round his own neck.

“Farva!” insisted Kaviak. They looked at each other.

“You cold? That it, hey?” Mac knelt down and pulled away the furs. “God bless me! you only got this one rag on? God bless me!” He pulled off his muffler and wound the child in it mummy-wise, round and round, muttering the while in a surly way. When it was half done he stopped–thought profoundly with a furrow cutting deep into his square forehead between the straight brows. Slowly he pulled his gloves out of his pocket, and turned out from each beaver gauntlet an inner mitten of knitted wool. “Here,” he said, and put both little moccasined feet into one of the capacious mittens. Much pleased with his ingenuity, he went on winding the long scarf until the yellow little Esquimaux bore a certain whimsical resemblance to one of the adorable Delia Robbia infants. But Mac’s sinewy hands were exerting a greater pressure than he realized. The morsel made a remonstrant squeaking, and squirmed feebly.

“Oh, oh! Too tight? Beg your pardon,” said Mac hastily, as though not only English, but punctilious manners were understanded of Kaviak. He relaxed the woollen bandage till the morsel lay contented again within its folds.

Nicholas came in for Kaviak, and for the furs, that he might pack them both in the Father’s sled. Already the true son of the Church was undoing the ropes that lashed firm the canvas of the tent.

“Where’s the Boy?” said Mac suddenly. “The young fellow that’s with us. You know, the one that found you that first Sunday and brought you to camp. Where is he?”

Nicholas paused an instant with Kaviak on his shoulder.

“Kaiomi–no savvy.”

“You not seen him to-day?”

“No. He no up–?” With the swaddled child he made a gesture up the river towards the white camp.

“No, he came down this morning to meet you.”

Nicholas shook his head, and went on gathering up the furs. As he and Mac came out, Andrew was undoing the last fastening that held the canvas to the stakes. In ten minutes they were on the trail, Andrew leading, with Father Wills’ dogs, Kaviak lying in the sled muffled to the eyes, still looking round out of the corners–no, strangely enough, the Kaviak eye had no corners, but fixedly he stared sideways at Mac. “Farva,” seeming not to take the smallest notice, trudged along on one side of him, the priest on the other, and behind came Nicholas and the other Indians with the second sled. It was too windy to talk much even had they been inclined.

The only sounds were the _Mush! Mush!_ of the drivers, the grate and swish of the runners over the ice, and Kaviak’s coughing.

Mac turned once and frowned at him. It was curious that the child seemed not to mind these menacing looks, not in the smallest degree.

By-and-by the order of march was disturbed.

Kaviak’s right runner, catching at some obstacle, swerved and sent the sled bumping along on its side, the small head of the passenger narrowly escaping the ice. Mac caught hold of the single-tree and brought the racing dogs to an abrupt halt. The priest and he righted the sled, and Mac straddling it, tucked in a loosened end of fur. When all was again in running order, Mac was on the same side as Father Wills. He still wore that look of dour ill-temper, and especially did he glower at the unfortunate Kaviak, seized with a fresh fit of coughing that filled the round eyes with tears.

“Don’t you get kind o’ tired listenin’ to that noise? Suppose I was to carry–just for a bit–. This is the roughest place on the trail. Hi! Stop!” he called to Andrew. The priest had said nothing; but divining what Mac would be at, he helped him to undo the raw-hide lashing, and when Kaviak was withdrawn he wrapped one of the lighter fur things round him.

It was only when Mac had marched off, glowering still, and sternly refusing to meet Kaviak’s tearful but grateful eyes–it was only then, bending over the sled and making fast the furs, that Father Wills, all to himself, smiled a little.

It wasn’t until they were in sight of the smoke from the Little Cabin that Mac slackened his pace. He had never for a moment found the trail so smooth that he could return his burden to the sled. Now, however, he allowed Nicholas and the priest to catch up with him.

“You carry him the rest of the way,” he commanded, and set his burden in Nicholas’s arms. Kaviak was ill-pleased, but Mac, falling behind with the priest, stalked on with eyes upon the ground.

“I’ve got a boy of my own,” he jerked out presently, with the air of a man who accounts confidentially for some weakness.

“Really!” returned the priest; “they didn’t tell me.”

“I haven’t told them yet.”

“Oh, all right.”

“Why is he called that heathen name?”

“Kaviak? Oh, it’s the name of his tribe. His people belong to that branch of the Innuits known as Kaviaks.”

“Humph! Then he’s only Kaviak as I’m MacCann. I suppose you’ve christened him?”

“Well, not yet–no. What shall we call him? What’s your boy’s name?” “Robert Bruce.” They went on in silence till Mac said, “It’s on account of my boy I came up here.”

“Oh!”

“It didn’t use to matter if a man _was_ poor and self-taught, but in these days of competition it’s different. A boy must have chances if he’s going to fight the battle on equal terms. Of course, some boys ain’t worth botherin’ about. But my boy–well, he seems to have something in him.”

The priest listened silently, but with that look of brotherliness on his face that made it so easy to talk to him.

“It doesn’t really matter to those other fellows.” Mac jerked his hand towards the camp. “It’s never so important to men–who stand alone–but I’ve _got_ to strike it rich over yonder.” He lifted his head, and frowned defiantly in the general direction of the Klondyke, thirteen hundred miles away. “It’s my one chance,” he added half to himself. “It means everything to Bob and me. Education, scientific education, costs like thunder.”

“In the United States?”

“Oh, I mean to send my boy to the old country. I want Bob to be thorough.”

The priest smiled, but almost imperceptibly.

“How old is he?”

“Oh, ’bout as old as this youngster.” Mac spoke with calculated indifference.

“Six or thereabouts?”

“No; four and a half. But he’s bigger–“

“Of course.”

“And you can see already–he’s got a lot in him.”

Father Wills nodded with a conviction that brought Mac nearer confession than he had ever been in his life.

“You see,” he said quite low, and as if the words were dragged out with pincers, “the fact is–my married life–didn’t pan out very well. And I–ran away from home as a little chap–after a lickin’–and never went back. But there’s one thing I mean to make a success of–that’s my boy.”

“Well, I believe you will, if you feel like that.”

“Why, they’ve gone clean past the camp trail,” said Mac sharply, “all but Nicholas–and what in thunder?–he’s put the kid back on the sled–“

“Yes, I told my men we’d be getting on. But they were told to leave you the venison–“

“What! You goin’ straight on? Nonsense!” Mac interrupted, and began to shout to the Indians.

“No; I _meant_ to stop; just tell your friends so,” said the unsuspecting Father; “but with a sick child–“

“What can you do for him that we can’t? And to break the journey may make a big difference. We’ve got some condensed milk left–and–“

“Ah yes, but we are more accustomed to–it’s hardly fair to burden a neighbour. No, we’ll be getting on.”

“If those fellers up there make a row about your bringing in a youngster”–he thrust out his jaw–“they can settle the account with me. I’ve got to do something for that cough before the kid goes on.”

“Well,” said the priest; and so wily are these Jesuits that he never once mentioned that he was himself a qualified doctor in full and regular practice. He kept his eyes on the finished stockade and the great chimney, wearing majestically its floating plume of smoke.

“Hi!” Mac called between his hands to the Indians, who had gone some distance ahead. “Hi!” He motioned them back up the hill trail.

O’Flynn had come out of the Little Cabin, and seemed to be laboriously trundling something along the footpath. He got so excited when he heard the noise and saw the party that, inadvertently, he let his burden slide down the icy slope, bumping and bouncing clumsily from one impediment to another.

“Faith, look at ‘im! Sure, that fossle can’t resthrain his j’y at seein’ ye back. Mac, it’s yer elephunt. I was takin’ him in to the sate of honour be the foir. We thought it ‘ud be a pleasant surprise fur ye. Sure, ye’r more surprised to see ‘im leppin’ down the hill to meet ye, like a rale Irish tarrier.”

Mac was angry, and didn’t conceal the fact. As he ran to stop the thing before it should be dashed to pieces, the priest happened to glance back, and saw coming slowly along the river trail a solitary figure that seemed to make its way with difficulty.

“It looks as though you’d have more than you bargained for at the House-Warming,” he said.

O’Flynn came down the hill babbling like a brook.

“Good-day to ye, Father. The blessin’s o’ Heaven on ye fur not kapin’ us starvin’ anny longer. There’s Potts been swearin’, be this and be that, that yourself and the little divvle wudn’t be at the Blow-Out at ahl, at ahl.”

“You mean the Boy hasn’t come back?” called out Mac. He leaned _Elephas primigenius_ against a tuft of willow banked round with snow, and turned gloomily as if to go back down the river again.

“Who’s this?” They all stood and watched the limping traveller.

“Why it’s–of course. I didn’t know him with that thing tied over his cap”; and Mac went to meet him.

The Boy bettered his pace.

“How did I miss you?” demanded Mac.

“Well,” said the Boy, looking rather mischievous, “I can’t think how it happened on the way down, unless you passed when I ‘d gone uphill a piece after some tracks. I was lyin’ under the Muff a few miles down when you came back, and you–well, I kind o’ thought you seemed to have your hands full.” Mac looked rigid and don’t-you-try-to-chaff-me-sir. “Besides,” the Boy went on, “I couldn’t cover the ground like you and Father Wills.”

“What’s the matter with you?”

“Oh, nothin’ to howl about. But see here, Mac.”

“Well?”

“Soon’s I can walk I’ll go and get you the rest o’ that elephant.”

There was no more said till they got up to the others, who had waited for the Indians to come back, and had unpacked Kaviak to spare him the jolting uphill.

O’Flynn was screaming with excitement as he saw that the bundle Nicholas was carrying had a head and two round eyes.

“The saints in glory be among us! What’s that? Man alive, what _is_ it, be the Siven?”

“That,” answered Mac with a proprietary air, “is a little Esquimaux boy, and I’m bringing him in to doctor his cold.”

“Glory be! An Esquimer! And wid a cowld! Sure, he can have some o’ my linnyeemint. Well, y’arre a boss collector, Mac! Faith, ye bang the Jews! And me thinkin’ ye’d be satisfied wid yer elephunt. Not him, be the Siven! It’s an Esquimer he must have to finish off his collection, wan wid the rale Arctic cowld in his head, and two eyes that goes snappin’ through ye like black torpeders. Two spissimens in wan day! Yer growin’ exthravagant, Mac. Why, musha, child, if I don’t think yer the dandy Spissimen o’ the lot!”

CHAPTER IV

THE BLOW-OUT

“How good it is to invite men to the pleasant feast.”

Comfortable as rock fireplace and stockade made the cabin now, the Colonel had been feeling all that morning that the official House-Warming was fore-doomed to failure. Nevertheless, as he was cook that week, he could not bring himself to treat altogether lightly his office of Master of the Feast. There would probably be no guests. Even their own little company would likely be incomplete, but t here was to be a spread that afternoon, “anyways.”

Even had the Colonel needed any keeping up to the mark, the office would have been cheerfully undertaken by O’Flynn or by Potts, for whom interest in the gustatory aspect of the occasion was wholly undimmed by the threatened absence of Mac and the “little divvle.”

“There’ll be the more for us,” said Potts enthusiastically.

O’Flynn’s argument seemed to halt upon a reservation. He looked over the various contributions to the feast, set out on a board in front of the water-bucket, and, “It’s mate I’m wishin’ fur,” says he.

“We’ve got fish.”

“That’s only mate on Fridays. We’ve had fish fur five days stiddy, an’ befure that, bacon three times a day wid sivin days to the week, an’ not enough bacon ayther, begob, whin all’s said and done! Not enough to be fillin’, and plenty to give us the scurrvy. May the divil dance on shorrt rations!”

“No scurvy in this camp for a while yet,” said the Colonel, throwing some heavy objects into a pan and washing them vigorously round and round.

“Pitaties!” O’Flynn’s eyes dwelt lovingly on the rare food. “Ye’ve hoarded ’em too long, man, they’ve sprouted.”

“That won’t prevent you hoggin’ more’n your share, I’ll bet,” said Potts pleasantly.

“I don’t somehow like wasting the sprouts,” observed the Colonel anxiously. “It’s such a wonderful sight–something growing.” He had cut one pallid slip, and held it tenderly between knife and thumb.

“Waste ’em with scurvy staring us in the face? Should think not. Mix ’em with cold potaters in a salad.”

“No. Make slumgullion,” commanded O’Flynn.

“What’s that?” quoth the Colonel.

“Be the Siven! I only wonder I didn’t think of it befure. Arre ye listening, Kentucky? Ye take lots o’ wathur, an’ if ye want it rich, ye take the wathur ye’ve boiled pitaties or cabbage in–a vegetable stock, ye mind–and ye add a little flour, salt, and pepper, an’ a tomater if ye’re in New York or ‘Frisco, and ye boil all that together with a few fish-bones or bacon-rin’s to make it rale tasty.”

“Yes–well?”

“Well, an’ that’s slumgullion.”

“Don’t sound heady enough for a ‘Blow-Out,'” said the Colonel. “We’ll sober up on slumgullion to-morrow.”

“Anyhow, it’s mate I’m wishin’ fur,” sighed O’Flynn, subsiding among the tin-ware. “What’s the good o’ the little divvle and his thramps, if he can’t bring home a burrud, or so much as the scut iv a rabbit furr the soup?”

“Well, he’s contributed a bottle of California apricots, and we’ll have boiled rice.”

“An’ punch, glory be!”

“Y-yes,” answered the Colonel. “I’ve been thinkin’ a good deal about the punch.”

“So’s myself,” said O’Flynn frankly; but Potts looked at the Colonel suspiciously through narrowed eyes.

“There’s very little whiskey left, and I propose to brew a mild bowl–“

“To hell with your mild bowls!”

“A good enough punch, sah, but one that–that–a–well, that the whole kit and boodle of us can drink. Indians and everybody, you know … Nicholas and Andrew may turn up. I want you two fellas to suppoht me about this. There are reasons foh it, sah”–he had laid a hand on Potts’ shoulder and fixed O’Flynn with his eye–“and”–speaking very solemnly–“yoh neither o’ yoh gentlemen that need mo’ said on the subject.”

Whereupon, having cut the ground from under their feet, he turned decisively, and stirred the mush-pot with a magnificent air and a newly-whittled birch stick.

To give the Big Cabin an aspect of solid luxury, they had spread the Boy’s old buffalo “robe” on the floor, and as the morning wore on Potts and O’Flynn made one or two expeditions to the Little Cabin, bringing back selections out of Mac’s hoard “to decorate the banquet-hall,” as they said. On the last trip Potts refused to accompany his pardner–no, it was no good. Mac evidently wouldn’t be back to see, and the laugh would be on them “takin’ so much trouble for nothin’.” And O’Flynn wasn’t to be long either, for dinner had been absurdly postponed already.

When the door opened the next time, it was to admit Mac, Nicholas with Kaviak in his arms, O’Flynn gesticulating like a windmill, and, last of all, the Boy.

Kaviak was formally introduced, but instead of responding to his hosts’ attentions, the only thing he seemed to care about, or even see, was something that in the hurly-burly everybody else overlooked–the decorations. Mac’s stuffed birds and things made a remarkably good show, but the colossal success was reserved for the minute shrunken skin of the baby white hare set down in front of the great fire for a hearthrug. If the others failed to appreciate that joke, not so Kaviak. He gave a gurgling cry, struggled down out of Nicholas’s arms, and folded the white hare to his breast.

“Where are the other Indians?” said Mac.

“Looking after the dogs,” said Father Wills; and as the door opened, “Oh yes, give us that,” he said to Andrew. “I thought”–he turned to the Colonel–“maybe you’d like to try some Yukon reindeer.”

“Hooray!”

“Mate? Arre ye sayin’ mate, or is an angel singin’?”

“Now I _know_ that man’s a Christian,” soliloquised Potts.

“Look here: it’ll take a little time to cook,” said Mac, “and it’s worth waitin’ for. Can you let us have a pail o’ hot water in the meantime?”

“Y-yes,” said the Colonel, looking as if he had enough to think about already.

“Yes, we always wash them first of all,” said Father Wills, noticing how Mac held the little heathen off at arm’s length. “Nicholas used to help with that at Holy Cross.” He gave the new order with the old authoritative gesture.

“And where’s the liniment I lent you that you’re so generous with?” Mac arraigned O’Flynn. “Go and get it.”

Under Nicholas’s hands Kaviak was forced to relinquish not only the baby hare, but his own elf locks. He was closely sheared, his moccasins put off, and his single garment dragged unceremoniously wrong side out over his head and bundled out of doors.

“Be the Siven! he’s got as manny bones as a skeleton!”

“Poor little codger!” The Colonel stood an instant, skillet in hand staring.

“What’s that he’s got round his neck?” said the Boy, moving nearer.

Kaviak, seeing the keen look menacing his treasure, lifted a shrunken yellow hand and clasped tight the dirty shapeless object suspended from a raw-hide necklace.

Nicholas seemed to hesitate to divest him of this sole remaining possession.

“You must get him to give it up,” said Father Wills, “and burn it.”

Kaviak flatly declined to fall in with as much as he understood of this arrangement.

“What is it, anyway?” the Boy pursued.

“His amulet, I suppose.” As Father Wills proceeded to enforce his order, and pulled the leather string over the child’s head, Kaviak rent the air with shrieks and coughs. He seemed to say as well as he could, “I can do without my parki and my mucklucks, but I’ll take my death without my amulet.”

Mac insinuated himself brusquely between the victim and his persecutors. He took the dirty object away from the priest with scant ceremony, in spite of the whisper, “Infection!” and gave it back to the wrathful owner.

“You talk his language, don’t you?” Mac demanded of Nicholas.

The Pymeut pilot nodded.

“Tell him, if he’ll lend the thing to me to wash, he shall have it back.”

Nicholas explained.

Kaviak, with streaming eyes and quivering lips, reluctantly handed it over, and watched Mac anxiously till overwhelmed by a yet greater misfortune in the shape of a bath for himself.

“How shall I clean this thing thoroughly?” Mac condescended to ask Father Wills. The priest shrugged.

“He’ll have forgotten it to-morrow.”

“He shall have it to-morrow,” said Mac.

With his back to Kaviak, the Boy, O’Flynn, and Potts crowding round him, Mac ripped open the little bird-skin pouch, and took out three objects–an ivory mannikin, a crow’s feather, and a thing that Father Wills said was a seal-blood plug.

“What’s it for?” “Same as the rest. It’s an amulet; only as it’s used to stop the flow of blood from the wound of a captive seal, it is supposed to be the best of all charms for anyone who spits blood.”

“I’ll clean ’em all after the Blow-Out,” said Mac, and he went out, buried the charms in the snow, and stuck up a spruce twig to mark the spot.

Meanwhile, to poor Kaviak it was being plainly demonstrated what an awful fate descended on a person so unlucky as to part with his amulet. He stood straight up in the bucket like a champagne-bottle in a cooler, and he could not have resented his predicament more if he had been set in crushed ice instead of warm water. Under the remorseless hands of Nicholas he began to splutter and choke, to fizz, and finally explode with astonishment and wrath. It was quite clear Nicholas was trying to drown him. He took the treatment so to heart, that he kept on howling dismally for some time after he was taken out, and dried, and linimented and dosed by Mac, whose treachery about the amulet he seemed to forgive, since “Farva” had had the air of rescuing him from the horrors he had endured in that water-bucket, where, for all Kaviak knew, he might have stayed till he succumbed to death. The Boy contributed a shirt of his own, and helped Mac to put it on the incredibly thin little figure. The shirt came down to Kaviak’s heels, and had to have the sleeves rolled up every two minutes. But by the time the reindeer-steak was nearly done Kaviak was done, too, and O’Flynn had said, “That Spissimen does ye credit, Mac.”

Said Spissimen was now staring hungrily out of the Colonel’s bunk, holding towards Mac an appealing hand, with half a yard of shirt-sleeve falling over it.

Mac pretended not to see, and drew up to the table the one remaining available thing to sit on, his back to his patient.

When the dogs had been fed, and the other Indians had come in, and squatted on the buffalo-skin with Nicholas, the first course was sent round in tin cups, a nondescript, but warming, “camp soup.”

“Sorry we’ve got so few dishes, gentlemen,” the Colonel had said. “We’ll have to ask some of you to wait till others have finished.”

“Farva,” remarked Kaviak, leaning out of the bunk and sniffing the savoury steam.

“He takes you for a priest,” said Potts, with the cheerful intention of stirring Mac’s bile. But not even so damning a suspicion as that could cool the collector’s kindness for his new Spissimen.

“You come here,” he said. Kaviak didn’t understand. The Boy got up, limped over to the bunk, lifted the child out, and brought him to Mac’s side.

“Since there ain’t enough cups,” said Mac, in self-justification, and he put his own, half empty, to Kaviak’s lips. The Spissimen imbibed greedily, audibly, and beamed. Mac, with unimpaired gravity, took no notice of the huge satisfaction this particular remedy was giving his patient, except to say solemnly, “Don’t bubble in it.”

The next course was fish a la Pymeut.

“You’re lucky to be able to get it,” said the Father, whether with suspicion or not no man could tell. “I had to send back for some by a trader and couldn’t get enough.”

“We didn’t see any trader,” said the Boy to divert the current.

“He may have gone by in the dusk; he was travelling hotfoot.”

“Thought that steamship was chockful o’ grub. What did you want o’ fish?”

“Yes; they’ve got plenty of food, but–“

“They don’t relish parting with it,” suggested Potts.

“They haven’t much to think about except what they eat; they wanted to try our fish, and were ready to exchange. I promised I would send a load back from Ikogimeut if they’d–” He seemed not to care to finish the sentence.

“So you didn’t do much for the Pymeuts after all?”

“I did something,” he said almost shortly. Then, with recovered serenity, he turned to the Boy: “I promised I’d bring back any news.” “Yes.”

“Well?”

Everybody stopped eating and hung on the priest’s words.

“Captain Rainey’s heard there’s a big new strike–“

“In the Klondyke?”

“On the American side this time.”

“Hail Columbia!”

“Whereabouts?”

“At a place called Minook.”

“Where’s that?”

“Up the river by the Ramparts.”

“How far?”

“Oh, a little matter of six or seven hundred miles from here.”

“Glory to God!”

“Might as well be six or seven thousand.”

“And very probably isn’t a bona-fide strike at all,” said the priest, “but just a stampede–a very different matter.”

“Well, I tell you straight: I got no use for a gold-mine in Minook at this time o’ year.”

“Nop! Venison steak’s more in my line than grub-stake just about now.”

Potts had to bestir himself and wash dishes before he could indulge in his “line.” When the grilled reindeer did appear, flanked by really-truly potatoes and the Colonel’s hot Kentucky biscuit, there was no longer doubt in any man’s mind but what this Blow-Out was being a success.

“Colonel’s a daisy cook, ain’t he?” the Boy appealed to Father Wills.

The Jesuit assented cordially.

“My family meant _me_ for the army,” he said. “Seen much service, Colonel?”

The Kentuckian laughed.

“Never wasted a day soldiering in my life.”

“Oh!”

“Maybe you’re wonderin’,” said Potts, “why he’s a Colonel!”

The Jesuit made a deprecatory gesture, politely disclaiming any such rude curiosity.

“He’s from Kentucky, you see;” and the smile went round. “Beyond that, we can’t tell you why he’s a Colonel unless it’s because he ain’t a Judge;” and the boss of the camp laughed with the rest, for the Denver man had scored.

By the time they got to the California apricots and boiled rice everybody was feeling pretty comfortable. When, at last, the table was cleared, except for the granite-ware basin full of punch, and when all available cups were mustered and tobacco-pouches came out, a remarkably genial spirit pervaded the company–with three exceptions.

Potts and O’Flynn waited anxiously to sample the punch before giving way to complete satisfaction, and Kaviak was impervious to considerations either of punch or conviviality, being wrapped in slumber on a corner of the buffalo-skin, between Mac’s stool and the natives, who also occupied places on the floor.

Upon O’Flynn’s first draught he turned to his next neighbour:

“Potts, me bhoy, ’tain’t s’ bad.”

“I’ll bet five dollars it won’t make yer any happier.”

“Begob, I’m happy enough! Gentlemen, wud ye like I should sing ye a song?”

“Yes.”

“Yes,” and the Colonel thumped the table for order, infinitely relieved that the dinner was done, and the punch not likely to turn into a _casus belli_. O’Flynn began a ditty about the Widdy Malone that woke up Kaviak and made him rub his round eyes with astonishment. He sat up, and hung on to the back of Mac’s coat to make sure he had some anchorage in the strange new waters he had so suddenly been called on to navigate.

The song ended, the Colonel, as toast-master, proposed the health of–he was going to say Father Wills, but felt it discreeter to name no names. Standing up in the middle of the cabin, where he didn’t have to stoop, he lifted his cup till it knocked against the swing-shelf, and called out, “Here’s to Our Visitors, Neighbours, and Friends!” Whereupon he made a stately circular bow, which ended by his offering Kaviak his hand, in the manner of one who executes a figure in an old-fashioned dance. The smallest of “Our Visitors,” still keeping hold of Mac, presented the Colonel with the disengaged half-yard of flannel undershirt on the other side, and the speech went on, very flowery, very hospitable, very Kentuckian.

When the Colonel sat down there was much applause, and O’Flynn, who had lent his cup to Nicholas, and didn’t feel he could wait till it came back, began to drink punch out of the dipper between shouts of:

“Hooray! Brayvo! Here’s to the Kurrnul! God bless him! That’s rale oratry, Kurrnul! Here’s to Kentucky–and ould Ireland.”

Father Wills stood up, smiling, to reply.

_”Friends”_ (the Boy thought the keen eyes rested a fraction of a moment longer on Mac than on the rest),–_”I think in some ways this is the pleasantest House-Warming I ever went to. I won’t take up time thanking the Colonel for the friendly sentiments he’s expressed, though I return them heartily. I must use these moments you are good enough to give me in telling you something of what I feel is implied in the founding of this camp of yours.

“Gentlemen, the few white dwellers in the Yukon country have not looked forward”_ (his eyes twinkled almost wickedly) _”with that pleasure you might expect in exiles, to the influx of people brought up here by the great Gold Discovery. We knew what that sort of craze leads to. We knew that in a barren land like this, more and more denuded of wild game every year, more and more the prey of epidemic disease–we knew that into this sorely tried and hungry world would come a horde of men, all of them ignorant of the conditions up here, most of them ill-provided with proper food and clothing, many of them (I can say it without offence in this company)–many of them men whom the older, richer communities were glad to get rid of. Gentlemen, I have ventured to take you into our confidence so far, because I want to take you still farther–to tell you a little of the intense satisfaction with which we recognise that good fortune has sent us in you just the sort of neighbours we had not dared to hope for. It means more to us than you realise. When I heard a few weeks ago that, in addition to the boat-loads that had already got some distance up the river beyond Holy Cross–“_

“Going to Dawson?”

“Oh, yes, Klondyke mad–“

“They’ll be there before us, boys!”

“Anyways, they’ll get to Minook.”

The Jesuit shook his head. “It isn’t so certain. They probably made only a couple of hundred miles or so before the Yukon went to sleep.”

“Then if grub gives out they’ll be comin’ back here?” suggested Potts.

_”Small doubt of it,”_ agreed the priest. _”And when I heard there were parties of the same sort stranded at intervals all along the Lower River–“_

“You sure?”

He nodded.

_”And when Father Orloff of the Russian mission told us that he was already having trouble with the two big rival parties frozen in the ice below Ikogimeut–“_

“Gosh! Wonder if any of ’em were on our ship?”

_”Well, gentlemen, I do not disguise from you that, when I heard of the large amount of whiskey, the small amount of food, and the low type of manners brought in by these gold-seekers, I felt my fears justified. Such men don’t work, don’t contribute anything to the decent social life of the community, don’t build cabins like this. When I came down on the ice the first time after you’d camped, and I looked up and saw your solid stone chimney”_ (he glanced at Mac), _”I didn’t know what a House-Warming it would make; but already, from far off across the ice and snow, that chimney warmed my heart. Gentlemen, the fame of it has gone up the river and down the river. Father Orloff is coming to see it next week, and so are the white traders from Anvik and Andreiefsky, for they’ve heard there’s nothing like it in the Yukon. Of course, I know that you gentlemen have not come to settle permanently. I know that when the Great White Silence, as they call the long winter up here, is broken by the thunder of the ice rushing down to the sea, you, like the rest, will exchange the snow-fields for the gold-fields, and pass out of our ken. Now, I’m not usually prone to try my hand at prophecy; but I am tempted to say, even on our short acquaintance, that I am tolerably sure that, while we shall be willing enough to spare most of the new-comers to the Klondyke, we shall grudge to the gold-fields the men who built this camp and warmed this cabin.”_ (His eye rested reflectively on Mac.) _”I don’t wish to sit down leaving an impression of speaking with entire lack of sympathy of the impulse that brings men up here for gold. I believe that, even with the sort in the two camps below Ikogimeut–drinking, quarrelling, and making trouble with the natives at the Russian mission–I believe that even with them, the gold they came up here for is a symbol–a fetich, some of us may think. When such men have it in their hands, they feel dimly that they are laying tangible hold at last on some elusive vision of happiness that has hitherto escaped them. Behind each man braving the Arctic winter up here, is some hope, not all ignoble; some devotion, not all unsanctified. Behind most of these men I seem to see a wife or child, a parent, or some dear dream that gives that man his share in the Eternal Hope. Friends, we call that thing we look for by different names; but we are all seekers after treasure, all here have turned our backs on home and comfort, hunting for the Great Reward–each man a new Columbus looking for the New World. Some of us looking north, some south, some”_–he hesitated the briefest moment, and then with a faint smile, half sad, half triumphant, made a little motion of his head–_”some of us … looking upwards.”_

But quickly, as though conscious that, if he had raised the moral tone of the company, he had not raised its spirits, he hurried on:

_”Before I sit down, gentlemen, just one word more. I must congratulate you on having found out so soon, not only the wisdom, but the pleasure of looking at this Arctic world with intelligent eyes, and learning some of her wonderful lessons. It is so that, now the hardest work is finished, you will keep up your spirits and avoid the disease that attacks all new-comers who simply eat, sleep, and wait for the ice to go out. When I hear cheechalkos complaining of boredom up here in this world of daily miracles, I think of the native boy in the history-class, who, called on to describe the progress of civilisation, said: ‘In those days men had as many wives as they liked, and that was called polygamy. Now they have only one wife, and that’s called monotony.'”_

While O’Flynn howled with delight, the priest wound up:

_”Gentlemen, if we find monotony up here, it’s not the country’s fault, but a defect in our own civilisation.”_ Wherewith he sat down amid cheers.

“Now, Colonel, is Mac goin’ to recite some Border ballads?” inquired the Boy, “or will he make a speech, or do a Highland fling?”

The Colonel called formally upon Mr. MacCann.

Mac was no sooner on his legs than Kaviak, determined not to lose his grasp of the situation, climbed upon the three-legged stool just vacated, and resumed his former relations with the friendly coat-tail.

Everybody laughed but Mac, who pretended not to know what was going on behind his back.

“Gentlemen,” he began harshly, with the air of one about to launch a heavy indictment, “there’s one element largely represented here by numbers and by interests”–he turned round suddenly toward the natives, and almost swung Kaviak off into space–“one element not explicitly referred to in the speeches, either of welcome or of thanks. But, gentlemen, I submit that these hitherto unrecognised Natives are our real hosts, and a word about them won’t be out of place. I’ve been told to-day that, whether in Alaska, Greenland, or British America, they call themselves _Innuits,_ which means human beings. They believed, no doubt, that they were the only ones in the world. I’ve been thinking a great deal about these Esquimaux of late–“

“Hear, hear!”

“About their origin and their destiny.” (Mac was beginning to enjoy himself. The Boy was beginning to be bored and to drum softly with his fingers.) “Now, gentlemen, Buffon says that the poles were the first portions of the earth’s crust to cool. While the equator, and even the tropics of Cancer and of Capricorn, were still too boiling hot to support life, up here in the Arctic regions there was a carboniferous era goin’ on–“

“Where’s the coal, then?” sneered Potts.

“It’s bein’ discovered … all over … ask him” (indicating Father Wills, who smiled assent). “Tropical forests grew where there are glayshers now, and elephants and mastodons began life here.”

“Jimminy Christmas!” interrupted the Boy, sitting up very straight. “Is that Buffer you quoted a good authority?”

“First-rate,” Mac snapped out defiantly.

“Good Lord! then the Garden o’ Eden was up here.”

“Hey?”

“Course! _This_ was the cradle o’ the human race. Blow the Ganges! Blow the Nile! It was our Yukon that saw the first people, ’cause of course the first people lived in the first place got ready for ’em.”

“That don’t follow. Read your Bible.”

“If I’m not right, how did it happen there were men here when the North was first discovered?”

“Sh!”

“Mac’s got the floor.”

“Shut up!”

But the Boy thumped the table with one hand and arraigned the schoolmaster with the other.

“Now, Mac, I put it to you as a man o’ science: if the race had got a foothold in any other part o’ the world, what in Sam Hill could make ’em come up here?”

“_We’re_ here.”

“Yes, tomfools after gold. They never dreamed there was gold. No, Sir_ee!_ the only thing on earth that could make men stay here, would be that they were born here, and didn’t know any better. Don’t the primitive man cling to his home, no matter what kind o’ hole it is? He’s _afraid_ to leave it. And these first men up here, why, it’s plain as day–they just hung on, things gettin’ worse and worse, and colder and colder, and some said, as the old men we laugh at say at home, ‘The climate ain’t what it was when I was a boy,’ and nobody believed ’em, but everybody began to dress warmer and eat fat, and–“

“All that Buffon says is–“

“Yes–and they invented one thing after another to meet the new conditions–kaiaks and bidarras and ivory-tipped harpoons”–he was pouring out his new notions at the fastest express rate–“and the animals that couldn’t stand it emigrated, and those that stayed behind got changed–“

“Dry up.”

“One at a time.”

“Buffon–“

“Yes, yes, Mac, and the hares got white, and the men, playin’ a losin’ game for centuries, got dull in their heads and stunted in their legs–always cramped up in a kaiak like those fellas at St. Michael’s. And, why, it’s clear as crystal–they’re survivals! The Esquimaux are the oldest race in the world.”

“Who’s makin’ this speech?”

“Order!”

“Order!”

“Well, see here: _do_ you admit it, Mac? Don’t you see there were just a few enterprisin’ ones who cleared out, or, maybe, got carried away in a current, and found better countries and got rich and civilised, and became our forefathers? Hey, boys, ain’t I right?”

“You sit down.”

“You’ll get chucked out.”

“Buffon–“

Everybody was talking at once.

“Why, it goes on still,” the Boy roared above the din. “People who stick at home, and are patient, and put up with things, they’re doomed. But look at the fellas that come out o’ starvin’ attics and stinkin’ pigsties to America. They live like lords, and they look at life like men.”

Mac was saying a great deal about the Ice Age and the first and second periods of glaciation, but nobody could hear what.

_”Prince_ Nicholas? Well, I should smile. He belongs to the oldest family in the world. Hoop-la!” The Boy jumped up on his stool and cracked his head against the roof; but he only ducked, rubbed his wild, long hair till it stood out wilder than ever, and went on: “Nicholas’s forefathers were kings before Caesar; they were here before the Pyramids–“

The Colonel came round and hauled the Boy down. Potts was egging the miscreant on. O’Flynn, poorly disguising his delight in a scrimmage, had been shouting: “Ye’ll spoil the Blow-Out, ye meddlin’ jackass! Can’t ye let Mac make his spache? No; ye must ahlways be huntin’ round fur harrum to be doin’ or throuble to make.”

In the turmoil and the contending of many voices Nicholas began to explain to his friends that it wasn’t a real fight, as it had every appearance of being, and the visitors were in no immediate danger of their lives. But Kaviak feared the worst, and began to weep forlornly.

“The world is dyin’ at top and bottom!” screamed the Boy, writhing under the Colonel’s clutch. “The ice will spread, the beasts will turn white, and we’ll turn yella, and we’ll all dress in skins and eat fat and be exactly like Kaviak, and the last man’ll be found tryin’ to warm his hands at the Equator, his feet on an iceberg and his nose in a snowstorm. Your old Buffer’s got a long head, Mac. Here’s to Buffer!” Whereupon he subsided and drank freely of punch.

“Well,” said the Colonel, severely, “you’ve had a Blow-Out if nobody else has!”

“Feel better?” inquired Potts, tenderly.

“Now, Mac, you shall have a fair field,” said the Colonel, “and if the Boy opens his trap again–“

“I’ll punch ‘im,” promised O’Flynn, replenishing the disturber’s cup.

But Mac wouldn’t be drawn. Besides, he was feeding Kaviak. So the Colonel filled in the breach with “My old Kentucky Home,” which he sang with much feeling, if not great art.

This performance restored harmony and a gentle reflectiveness.

Father Wills told about his journey up here ten years before and of a further expedition he’d once made far north to the Koyukuk.

“But Nicholas knows more about the native life and legends than anyone I ever met, except, of course, Yagorsha.”

“Who’s Yag—-?” began the Boy.

“Oh, that’s the Village Story-teller.” He was about to speak of something else, but, lifting his eyes, he caught Mac’s sudden glance of grudging attention. The priest looked away, and went on: “There’s a story-teller in every settlement. He has always been a great figure in the native life, I believe, but now more than ever.”

“Why’s that?”

“Oh, battles are over and blood-feuds are done, but the need for a story-teller abides. In most villages he is a bigger man than the chief–they’re all ‘ol’ chiefs,’ the few that are left–and when they die there will be no more. So the tribal story-teller comes to be the most important character”–the Jesuit smiled in that shrewd and gentle way of his–“that is, of course, after the Shaman, as the Russians call him, the medicine-man, who is a teller of stories, too, in his more circumscribed fashion. But it’s the Story-teller who helps his people through the long winter–helps them to face the terrible new enemies, epidemic disease and famine. He has always been their best defence against that age-old dread they all have of the dark. Yes, no one better able to send such foes flying than Yagorsha of Pymeut. Still, Nicholas is a good second.” The Prince of Pymeut shook his head.

“Tell them ‘The White Crow’s Last Flight,'” urged the priest.

But Nicholas was not in the vein, and when they all urged him overmuch, he, in self-defence, pulled a knife out of his pocket and a bit of walrus ivory about the size of his thumb, and fell to carving.

“What you makin’?”

“Button,” says Nicholas; “me heap hurry get him done.”

“It looks more like a bird than a button,” remarked the Boy.

“Him bird–him button,” replied the imperturbable one.

“Half the folk-lore of the North has to do with the crow (or raven),” the priest went on. “Seeing Kaviak’s feather reminded me of a native cradle-song that’s a kind of a story, too. It’s been roughly translated.”

“Can you say it?”

“I used to know how it went.”

He began in a deep voice:

“‘The wind blows over the Yukon.
My husband hunts deer on the Koyukun mountains. Ahmi, ahmi, sleep, little one.

There is no wood for the fire,
The stone-axe is broken, my husband carries the other. Where is the soul of the sun? Hid in the dam of the beaver, waiting the spring-time.
Ahmi, ahmi, sleep little one, wake not!

Look not for ukali, old woman.
Long since the cache was emptied, the crow lights no more on the ridge pole.
Long since, my husband departed. Why does he wait in the mountains? Ahmi, ahmi, sleep little one, softly.

Where, where, where is my own?
Does he lie starving on the hillside? Why does he linger? Comes he not soon I must seek him among the mountains. Ahmi, ahmi, little one, sleep sound.

Hush! hush! hush! The crow cometh laughing. Red is his beak, his eyes glisten, the false one! “Thanks for a good meal to Kuskokala the Shaman– On the far mountain quietly lieth your husband.” Ahmi, ahmi, sleep little one, wake not.

“Twenty deers’ tongues tied to the pack on his shoulders; Not a tongue in his mouth to call to his wife with. Wolves, foxes, and ravens are tearing and fighting for morsels. Tough and hard are the sinews; not so the child in your bosom.” Ahmi, ahmi, sleep little one, wake not!

Over the mountain slowly staggers the hunter. Two bucks’ thighs on his shoulders.
Twenty deers’ tongues in his belt. “Go, gather wood, kindle a fire, old woman!” Off flew the crow–liar, cheat and deceiver. Wake, oh sleeper, awake! welcome your father!

He brings you back fat, marrow, venison fresh from the mountain Tired and worn, yet he’s carved you a toy of the deer’s horn, While he was sitting and waiting long for the deer on the hillside. Wake! see the crow! hiding himself from the arrow; Wake, little one, wake! here is your father safe home.'”

“Who’s ‘Kuskokala the Shaman’?” the Boy inquired.

“Ah, better ask Nicholas,” answered the priest.

But Nicholas was absorbed in his carving.

Again Mr. O’Flynn obliged, roaring with great satisfaction:

“‘I’m a stout rovin’ blade, and what matther my name, For I ahlways was wild, an’ I’ll niver be tame; An’ I’ll kiss putty gurrls wheriver I go, An’ what’s that to annyone whether or no.

_Chorus._

“‘Ogedashin, den thashin, come, boys! let us drink; ‘Tis madness to sorra, ’tis folly to think. For we’re ahl jolly fellows wheriver we go– Ogedashin, den thashin, na boneen sheen lo!'”

Potts was called on. No, he couldn’t sing, but he could show them a trick or two. And with his grimy euchre-deck he kept his word, showing that he was not the mere handy-man, but the magician of the party. The natives, who know the cards as we know our A B C’s, were enthralled, and began to look upon Potts as a creature of more than mortal skill.

Again the Boy pressed Nicholas to dance. “No, no;” and under his breath: “You come Pymeut.”