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  • 1904
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than the ‘pore pardner’ cuttin’ down trees and makin’ beds in the snow. But he isn’t.”

“Oh, isn’t he?” It was all right, but the Big Chimney boss felt he had chosen the lion’s share of the work in electing to be woodman; still, it wasn’t _that_ that troubled him. Now, what was it he had been going to say about the Jesuits? Something very telling.

“If you mean that you’d rather go back to the cookin’,” the Boy was saying, “_I’m_ agreeable.”

“Well, you start in to-morrow, and see if you’re so agreeable.”

“All right. I think I dote on one job just about as much as I do on t’other.”

But still the Colonel frowned. He couldn’t remember that excellent thing he had been going to say about Romanists. But he sniffed derisively, and flung over his shoulder:

“To hear you goin’ on, anybody’d think the Jesuits were the only Christians. As if there weren’t others, who–“

“Oh, yes, Christians with gold shovels and Winchester rifles. I know ’em. But if gold hadn’t been found, how many of the army that’s invaded the North–how many would be here, if it hadn’t been for the gold? But all this Holy Cross business would be goin’ on just the same, as it has done for years and years.”

With a mighty tug the Colonel dragged out the rubber blanket, flung it down on the snow, and squared himself, back to the fire, to make short work of such views.

“I’d no notion you were such a sucker. You can bet,” he said darkly, “those fellas aren’t making a bad thing out of that ‘Holy Cross business,’ as you call it.”

“I didn’t mean business in that sense.”

“What else could they do if they didn’t do this?”

“Ask the same of any parson.”

But the Colonel didn’t care to.

“I suppose,” he said severely, “you could even make a hero out of that hang-dog Brother Etienne.”

“No, but he _could_ do something else, for he’s served in the French army.”

“Then there’s that mad Brother Paul. What good would he be at anything else?”

“Well, I don’t know.”

“Brachet and Wills are decent enough men, but where else would they have the power and the freedom they have at Holy Cross? Why, they live there like feudal barons.”

“Father Richmond could have done anything he chose.”

“Ah, Father Richmond–” The Colonel shut his mouth suddenly, turned about, and proceeded to crawl under his blankets, feet to the fire.

“Well?”

No answer.

“Well?” insisted the Boy.

“Oh, Father Richmond must have seen a ghost.”

“_What!_”

“Take my word for it. _He_ got frightened somehow. A man like Father Richmond has to be scared into a cassock.”

The Boy’s sudden laughter deepened the Colonel’s own impression that the instance chosen had not been fortunate. One man of courage knows another man of courage when he sees him, and the Colonel knew he had damned his own argument.

“Wouldn’t care for the job myself,” the Boy was saying.

“What job?”

“Scarin’ Father Richmond.”

The Boy sat watching the slow wet snow-flakes fall and die in the fire. His clothes were pretty damp, but he was warm after a chilly fashion, as warmth goes on the trail.

The Colonel suddenly put his head out from under the marmot-skin to say discontentedly, “What you sittin’ up for?”

“Oh … for instance!” But aside from the pertness of the answer, already it was dimly recognised as an offence for one to stay up longer than the other.

“Can’t think how it is,” the Colonel growled, “that you don’t see that their principle is wrong. Through and through mediaeval, through and through despotic. They make a virtue of weakness, a fetich of vested authority. And it isn’t American authority, either.”

The Boy waited for him to quiet down. “What’s the first rule,” demanded the Colonel, half sitting up, “of the most powerful Catholic Order? Blind obedience to an old gentleman over in Italy.”

“I said last night, you know,” the Boy put in quite meekly, “that it all seemed very un-American.”

“Huh! Glad you can see that much.” The Colonel drove his huge fist at the provision-bag, as though to beat the stiffnecked beans into a feathery yielding. “Blind submission don’t come easy to most Americans. The Great Republic was built upon revolt;” and he pulled the covers over his head.

“I know, I know. We jaw an awful lot about freedom and about what’s American. There’s plenty o’ free speech in America and plenty o’ machinery, but there’s a great deal o’ human nature, too, I guess.” The Boy looked out of the corner of his eye at the blanketed back of his big friend. “And maybe there’ll always be some people who–who think there’s something in the New Testament notion o’ sacrifice and service.”

The Colonel rolled like an angry leviathan, and came to the surface to blow. But the Boy dashed on, with a fearful joy in his own temerity. “The difference between us, Colonel, is that I’m an unbeliever, and I know it, and you’re a cantankerous old heathen, and you _don’t_ know it.” The Colonel sat suddenly bolt upright. “Needn’t look at me like that. You’re as bad as anybody–rather worse. Why are you _here?_ Dazzled and lured by the great gold craze. An’ you’re not even poor. You want _more_ gold. You’ve got a home to stay in; but you weren’t satisfied, not even in the fat lands down below.”

“Well,” said the Colonel solemnly, blinking at the fire, “I hope I’m a Christian, but as to bein’ satisfied–“

“Church of England can’t manage it, hey?”

“Church of England’s got nothing to do with it. It’s a question o’ character. Satisfied! We’re little enough, God knows, but we’re too big for that.”

The Boy stood up, back to the fire, eyes on the hilltops whitening in the starlight.

“Perhaps–not–all of us.”

“Yes, sah, all of us.” The Colonel lifted his head with a fierce look of most un-Christian pride. Behind him the hills, leaving the struggling little wood far down the slope, went up and up into dimness, reaching to the near-by stars, and looking down to the far-off camp fire by the great ice-river’s edge.

“Yes, sah,” the Colonel thundered again, “all that have got good fightin’ blood in ’em, like you and me. ‘Tisn’t as if we came of any worn-out, frightened, servile old stock. You and I belong to the free-livin’, hard-ridin’, straight-shootin’ Southerners. The people before us fought bears, and fought Indians, and beat the British, and when there wasn’t anything else left to beat, turned round and began to beat one another. It was the one battle we found didn’t pay. We finished that job up in ’65, and since then we’ve been lookin’ round for something else to beat. We’ve got down now to beatin’ records, and foreign markets, and breedin’ prize bulls; but we don’t breed cowards–yet; and we ain’t lookin’ round for any asylums. The Catholic Church is an asylum. It’s for people who never had any nerve, or who have lost it.”

The Colonel turned about, wagged his head defiantly at the icy hills and the night, and in the after-stillness fell sound asleep in the snow.

CHAPTER XII

THE GREAT WHITE SILENCE

“–paa dit Firmament
Den klare Nordlyslampe taendt….”

Innocently thinking that they had seen Arctic travelling at its worst, and secretly looking upon themselves as highly accomplished trailmen, they had covered the forty-one miles from Holy Cross to Anvik in less than three days.

The Colonel made much of the pleasant and excellent man at the head of the Episcopal mission there, and the Boy haunted Benham’s store, picking up a little Ingalik and the A. C. method of trading with the Indians, who, day and night, with a number of stranded Klondykers, congregated about the grateful warmth of the big iron stove.

The travellers themselves did some business with the A. C. agent, laying in supplies of fresh meat, and even augmenting their hitherto carefully restricted outfit, for they were going far beyond the reach of stores, or even of missions. Anvik was the last white settlement below Nulato; Nulato was said to be over two hundred miles to the northward.

And yet after all their further preparation and expense, each man kept saying in his heart, during those first days out from Anvik, that the journey would be easy enough but for their “comforts”–the burden on the sled. By all the rules of arithmetic, the daily subtraction of three meals from the store should have lightened the load. It seemed to have the opposite effect. By some process of evil enchantment every ounce grew to weigh a pound, every pound a hundredweight. The sled itself was bewitched. Recall how lightsomely it ran down the snowy slope, from the Big Chimney Cabin to the river trail, that morning they set forth. The Boy took its pretty impetuosity for a happy augury–the very sled was eager for the mighty undertaking.

But never in all that weary march did it manifest again any such modest alacrity. If, thereafter, in the long going “up river” there came an interval of downhill, the sled turned summersaults in the air, wound its forward or backward rope round willow scrub or alder, or else advanced precipitately with an evil, low-comedy air, bottom side up, to attack its master in the shins. It either held back with a power superhuman, or it lunged forward with a momentum that capsized its weary conductor. Its manners grew steadily worse as the travellers pushed farther and farther into the wilderness, beyond the exorcising power of Holy Cross, beyond the softening influences of Christian hospitality at Episcopal Anvik, even beyond Tischsocket, the last of the Indian villages for a hundred miles.

The two who had been scornful of the frailty of temper they had seen common in men’s dealings up here in the North, began to realize that all other trials of brotherhood pale before the strain of life on the Arctic trail. Beyond any question, after a while something goes wrong with the nerves. The huge drafts on muscular endurance have, no doubt, something to do with it. They worked hard for fourteen, sometimes seventeen, hours at a stretch; they were ill-fed, suffering from exposure, intense cold, and a haunting uncertainty of the end of the undertaking. They were reasonable fellows as men go, with a respect for each other, but when hardship has got on the nerves, when you are suffering the agonies of snow-blindness, sore feet, and the pangs of hunger, you are not, to put it mildly, at your best as a member of the social order. They sometimes said things they were ashamed to remember, but both men grew carefuller at crucial moments, and the talkative one more silent as time went on.

By the rule of the day the hard shift before dinner usually fell to the Boy. It was the worst time in the twenty-four hours, and equally dreaded by both men. It was only the first night out from Anvik, after an unusually trying day, the Boy was tramping heavily ahead, bent like an old man before the cutting sleet, fettered like a criminal, hands behind back, rope-wound, stiff, straining at the burden of the slow and sullen sled. On a sudden he stopped, straightened his back, and remonstrated with the Colonel in unprintable terms, for putting off the halt later than ever they had yet, “after such a day.”

“Can’t make fire with green cotton-wood,” was the Colonel’s rejoiner.

“Then let’s stop and rest, anyhow.”

“Nuh! We know where that would land us. Men who stop to rest, go to sleep in the snow, and men who go to sleep in the snow on empty stomachs don’t wake up.”

They pushed on another mile. When the Colonel at last called the halt, the Boy sank down on the sled too exhausted to speak. But it had grown to be a practice with them not to trust themselves to talk at this hour. The Colonel would give the signal to stop, simply by ceasing to push the sled that the boy was wearily dragging. The Boy had invariably been feeling (just as the Colonel had before, during his shift in front) that the man behind wasn’t helping all he might, whereupon followed a vague, consciously unreasonable, but wholly irresistible rage against the partner of his toil. But however much the man at the back was supposed to spare himself, the man in front had never yet failed to know when the impetus from behind was really removed.

The Boy sat now on the sled, silent, motionless, while the Colonel felled and chopped and brought the wood. Then the Boy dragged himself up, made the fire and the beef-tea. But still no word even after that reviving cup–the usual signal for a few remarks and more social relations to be established. Tonight no sound out of either. The Colonel changed his footgear and the melted snow in the pot began to boil noisily. But the Boy, who had again betaken himself to the sled, didn’t budge. No man who really knows the trail would have dared, under the circumstances, to remind his pardner that it was now his business to get up and fry the bacon. But presently, without looking up, the hungry Colonel ventured:

“Get your dry things!”

“Feet aren’t wet.”

“Don’t talk foolishness; here are your things.” The Colonel flung in the Boy’s direction the usual change, two pairs of heavy socks, the “German knitted” and “the felt.”

“Not wet,” repeated the Boy.

“You know you are.”

“Could go through water in these mucklucks.”

“I’m not saying the wet has come in from outside; but you know as well as I do a man sweats like a horse on the trail.”

Still the Boy sat there, with his head sunk between his shoulders.

“First rule o’ this country is to keep your feet dry, or else pneumonia, rheumatism–God knows what!”

“First rule o’ this country is mind your own business, or else–God knows what!”

The Colonel looked at the Boy a moment, and then turned his back. The Boy glanced up conscience-stricken, but still only half alive, dulled by the weight of a crushing weariness. The Colonel presently bent over the fire and was about to lift off the turbulently boiling pot. The Boy sprang to his feet, ready to shout, “You do your work, and keep your hands off mine,” but the Colonel turned just in time to say with unusual gentleness:

“If you _like_, I’ll make supper to-night;” and the Boy, catching his breath, ran forward, swaying a little, half blind, but with a different look in his tired eyes.

“No, no, old man. It isn’t as bad as that.”

And again it was two friends who slept side by side in the snow.

The next morning the Colonel, who had been kept awake half the night by what he had been thinking was neuralgia in his eyes, woke late, hearing the Boy calling:

“I say, Kentucky, aren’t you _ever_ goin’ to get up?”

“Get up?” said the Colonel. “Why should I, when it’s pitch-dark?”

“_What?_”

“Fire clean out, eh?” But he smelt the tea and bacon, and sat up bewildered, with a hand over his smarting eyes. The Boy went over and knelt down by him, looking at him curiously.

“Guess you’re a little snow-blind, Colonel; but it won’t last, you know.”

“Blind!”

“No, no, only _snow_-blind. Big difference;” and he took out his rag of a handkerchief, got some water in a tin cup, and the eyes were bathed and bandaged.

“It won’t last, you know. You’ll just have to take it easy for a few days.”

The Colonel groaned.

For the first time he seemed to lose heart. He sat during breakfast with bandaged eyes, and a droop of the shoulders, that seemed to say old age had come upon him in a single night. The day that followed was pretty dark to both men. The Boy had to do all the work, except the monotonous, blind, pushing from behind, in whatever direction the Boy dragged the sled.

Now, snow-blindness is not usually dangerous, but it is horribly painful while it lasts. Your eyes swell up and are stabbed continually by cutting pains; your head seems full of acute neuralgia, and often there is fever and other complications. The Colonel’s was a bad case. But he was a giant for strength and “sound as a dollar,” as the Boy reminded him, “except for this little bother with your eyes, and you’re a whole heap better already.”

At a very slow rate they plodded along.

They had got into a region where there was no timber; but, as they couldn’t camp without a fire, they took an extra rest that day at four o’clock, and regaled themselves on some cold grub. Then they took up the line of march again. But they had been going only about half an hour when the Colonel suddenly, without warning, stopped pushing the sled, and stood stock-still on the trail. The Boy, feeling the removal of the pressure, looked round, went back to him, and found nothing in particular was the matter, but he just thought he wouldn’t go any further.

“We can camp here.”

“No, we can’t,” says the Boy; “there isn’t a tree in sight.”

But the Colonel seemed dazed. He thought he’d stop anyhow–“right where he was.”

“Oh, no,” says the Boy, a little frightened; “we’ll camp the minute we come to wood.” But the Colonel stood as if rooted. The Boy took his arm and led him on a few paces to the sled. “You needn’t push hard, you know. Just keep your hand there so, without looking, you’ll know where I’m going.” This was very subtle of the Boy. For he knew the Colonel was blind as a bat and as sensitive as a woman. “We’ll get through all right yet,” he called back, as he stooped to take up the sledrope. “I bet on Kentucky.”

Like a man walking in his sleep, the Colonel followed, now holding on to the sled and unconsciously pulling a little, and when the Boy, very nearly on his last legs, remonstrated, leaning against it, and so urging it a little forward.

Oh, but the wood was far to seek that night!

Concentrated on the two main things–to carry forward his almost intolerable load, and to go the shortest way to the nearest wood–the Boy, by-and-by, forgot to tell his tired nerves to take account of the unequal pressure from behind. If he felt it–well, the Colonel was a corker; if he didn’t feel it–well, the Colonel was just about tuckered out. It was very late when at last the Boy raised a shout. Behind the cliff overhanging the river-bed that they were just rounding, there, spread out in the sparkling starlight, as far as he could see, a vast primeval forest. The Boy bettered his lagging pace.

“Ha! you haven’t seen a wood like this since we left ‘Frisco. It’s all right now, Kentucky;” and he bent to his work with a will.

When he got to the edge of the wood, he flung down the rope and turned–to find himself alone.

“Colonel! Colonel! Where are you? _Colonel!_”

He stood in the silence, shivering with a sudden sense of desolation. He took his bearings, propped a fallen fir sapling aslant by the sled, and, forgetting he was ready to drop, he ran swiftly hack along the way he came. They had travelled all that afternoon and evening on the river ice, hard as iron, retaining no trace of footprint or of runner possible to verify even in daylight. The Yukon here was fully three miles wide. They had meant to hug the right bank, but snow and ice refashion the world and laugh at the trustful geography of men. A traveller on this trail is not always sure whether he is following the mighty Yukon or some slough equally mighty for a few miles, or whether, in the protracted twilight, he has not wandered off upon some frozen swamp.

On the Boy went in the ghostly starlight, running, stumbling, calling at regular intervals, his voice falling into a melancholy monotony that sounded foreign to himself. It occurred to him that were he the Colonel he wouldn’t recognise it, and he began instead to call “Kentucky! Ken-tuck-kee!” sounding those fine barbaric syllables for the first time, most like, in that world of ice and silence.

He stood an instant after his voice died, and listened to the quiet. Yes, the people were right who said nothing was so hard to bear in this country of hardship–nothing ends by being so ghastly–as the silence. No bird stirs. The swift-flashing fish are sealed under ice, the wood creatures gone to their underground sleep. No whispering of the pointed firs, stiff, snowclotted; no swaying of the scant herbage sheathed in ice or muffled under winter’s wide white blanket. No greater hush can reign in the interstellar spaces than in winter on the Yukon.

“Colonel!”

Silence–like a negation of all puny things, friendship, human life–

“Colonel!”

Silence. No wonder men went mad up here, when they didn’t drown this silence in strong drink.

On and on he ran, till he felt sure he must have passed the Colonel, unless–yes, there were those air-holes in the river ice … He felt choked and stopped to breathe. Should he go back? It was horrible to turn. It was like admitting that the man was not to be found–that this was the end.

“Colonel!”

He said to himself that he would go back, and build a fire for a signal, and return; but he ran on farther and farther away from the sled and from the forest. Was it growing faintly light? He looked up. Oh, yes; presently it would be brighter still. Those streamers of pale light dancing in the North; they would be green and scarlet and orange and purple, and the terrible white world would be illumined as by conflagration. He stopped again. That the Colonel should have dropped so far back as this, and the man in front not know–it was incredible. What was that? A shadow on the ice. A frozen hummock? No, a man. Was it really….? Glory hallelujah–it _was!_ But the shadow lay there ghastly still and the Boy’s greeting died in his throat. He had found the Colonel, but he had found him delivered over to that treacherous sleep that seldom knows a waking. The Boy dropped down beside his friend, and wasn’t far off crying. But it was a tonic to young nerves to see how, like one dead, the man lay there, for all the calling and tugging by the arm. The Boy rolled the body over, pulled open the things at the neck, and thrust his hand down, till he could feel the heart beating. He jumped up, got a handful of snow, and rubbed the man’s face with it. At last a feeble protest–an effort to get away from the Boy’s rude succour.

“Thank God! Colonel! Colonel! wake up!”

He shook him hard. But the big man only growled sullenly, and let his leaden weight drop back heavily on the ice. The Boy got hold of the neck of the Colonel’s parki and pulled him frantically along the ice a few yards, and then realised that only the terror of the moment gave him the strength to do that much. To drag a man of the Colonel’s weight all the way to the wood was stark impossibility. He couldn’t get him eighty yards. If he left him and went for the sled and fuel, the man would be dead by the time he got back. If he stayed, they would both be frozen in a few hours. It was pretty horrible.

He felt faint and dizzy. It occurred to him that he would pray. He was an agnostic all right, but the Colonel was past praying for himself; and here was his friend–an agnostic–here he was on his knees. He hadn’t prayed since he was a little chap down in the South. How did the prayers go? “Our Father”–he looked up at the reddening aurora–“Our Father, who art in heaven–” His eyes fell again on his friend. He leapt to his feet like a wild animal, and began to go at the Colonel with his fists. The blows rained thick on the chest of the prostrate man, but he was too well protected to feel more than the shock. But now they came battering down, under the ear–right, left, as the man turned blindly to avoid them–on the jaw, even on the suffering eyes, and that at last stung the sleeper into something like consciousness.

He struggled to his feet with a roar like a wounded bull, lunging heavily forward as the Boy eluded him, and he would have pounded the young fellow out of existence in no time had he stood his ground. That was exactly what the Boy didn’t mean to do–he was always just a little way on in front; but as the Colonel’s half-insane rage cooled, and he slowed down a bit, the Boy was at him again like some imp of Satan. Sound and lithe and quick-handed as he was, he was no match for the Colonel at his best. But the Colonel couldn’t see well, and his brain was on fire. He’d kill that young devil, and then he’d lie down and sleep again.

Meanwhile Aurora mounted the high heavens; from a great corona in the zenith all the sky was hung with banners, and the snow was stained as if with blood. The Boy looked over his shoulder, and saw the huge figure of his friend, bearing down upon him, with his discoloured face rage-distorted, and murder in his tortured eyes. A moment’s sense of the monstrous spectacle fell so poignant upon the Boy, that he felt dimly he must have been full half his life running this race with death, followed by a maniac bent on murder, in a world whose winter was strangely lit with the leaping fires of hell.

At last, on there in front, the cliff! Below it, the sharp bend in the river, and although he couldn’t see it yet, behind the cliff the forest, and a little hand-sled bearing the means of life.

The Colonel was down again, but it wasn’t safe to go near him just yet. The Boy ran on, unpacked the sled, and went, axe in hand, along the margin of the wood. Never before was a fire made so quickly. Then, with the flask, back to the Colonel, almost as sound asleep as before.

The Boy never could recall much about the hours that followed. There was nobody to help, so it must have been he who somehow got the Colonel to the fire, got him to swallow some food, plastered his wounded face over with the carbolic ointment, and got him into bed, for in the morning all this was seen to have been done.

They stayed in camp that day to “rest up,” and the Boy shot a rabbit. The Colonel was coming round; the rest, or the ointment, or the tea-leaf poultice, had been good for snowblindness. The generous reserve of strength in his magnificent physique was quick to announce itself. He was still “frightfully bunged up,” but “I think we’ll push on to-morrow,” he said that night, as he sat by the fire smoking before turning in.

“Right you are!” said the Boy, who was mending the sled-runner. Neither had referred to that encounter on the river-ice, that had ended in bringing the Colonel where there was succour. Nothing was said, then or for long after, in the way of deliberate recognition that the Boy had saved his life. It wasn’t necessary; they understood each other.

But in the evening, after the Boy had finished mending the sled, it occurred to him he must also mend the Colonel before they went to bed. He got out the box of ointment and bespread the strips of torn handkerchief.

“Don’t know as I need that to-night,” says the Colonel. “Musn’t waste ointment.” But the Boy brought the bandages round to the Colonel’s side of the fire. For an instant they looked at each other by the flickering light, and the Colonel laid his hand on the Boy’s arm. His eyes looked worse for the moment, and began to water. He turned away brusquely, and knocked the ashes out of his pipe on a log.

“What in hell made you think of it?”

“Ask me an easy one,” says the Boy. “But I know what the Jesuit Fathers would say.”

“Jesuits and George Warren! Humph! precious little we’d agree about.”

“You would about this. It flashed over me when I looked back and saw you peltin’ after me.”

“Small wonder I made for you! I’m not findin’ fault, but what on earth put it into your head to go at me with your fists like that?”

“You’ll never prove it by me. But when I saw you comin’ at me like a mad bull, I thought to myself, thinks I, the Colonel and the Jesuits, they’d both of ’em say this was a direct answer to prayer.”

CHAPTER XIII

THE PIT

“L’humanite a commence tout entiere par le crime …. C’etait le vieux nourricier des hommes des cavernes.”–ANATOLE FRANCE.

An old story now, these days of silent plodding through the driving snow.

But if outward conditions lacked variety, not so their cumulative effect upon poor human nature. A change was going on in the travellers that will little commend them to the sentimentalist.

“I’ve come to think a snow-storm’s all right to travel in, all right to sleep in,” said the Colonel one morning; “but to cook in, eat in, make or break camp in–it’s the devil’s champion invention.” For three days they had worked like galley-slaves, and yet covered less than ten miles a day. “And you never get rested,” the Colonel went on; “I get up as tired as I go to bed.” Again the Boy only nodded. His body, if not his temper, had got broken into the trail, but for a talkative person he had in these days strangely little to say. It became manifest that, in the long run, the Colonel would suffer the most physically; but his young companion, having less patience and more ambition, more sheer untamed vitality in him, would suffer the most in spirit. Every sense in him was becoming numbed, save the gnawing in his stomach, and that other, even more acute ache, queer compound of fatigue and anger. These two sensations swallowed up all else, and seemed to grow by what they fed on.

The loaded sled was a nightmare. It weighed a thousand tons. The very first afternoon out from Anvik, when in the desperate hauling and tugging that rescued it from a bottomless snow-drift, the lashing slipped, the load loosened, tumbled off, and rolled open, the Colonel stood quite still and swore till his half-frozen blood circulated freely again. When it came to repacking, he considered in detail the items that made up the intolerable weight, and fell to wondering which of them they could do without.

The second day out from Anvik they had decided that it was absurd, after all, to lug about so much tinware. They left a little saucepan and the extra kettle at that camp. The idea, so potent at Anvik, of having a tea-kettle in reserve–well, the notion lost weight, and the kettle seemed to gain.

Two pairs of boots and some flannels marked the next stopping-place.

On the following day, when the Boy’s rifle kept slipping and making a brake to hold back the sled, “I reckon you’ll have to plant that rifle o’ yours in the next big drift,” said the Colonel; “one’s all we need, anyway.”

“One’s all you need, and one’s all I need,” answered the Boy stiffly.

But it wasn’t easy to see immediate need for either. Never was country so bare of game, they thought, not considering how little they hunted, and how more and more every faculty, every sense, was absorbed in the bare going forward.

The next time the Colonel said something about the uselessness of carrying two guns, the Boy flared up: “If you object to guns, leave yours.”

This was a new tone for the Boy to use to the Colonel.

“Don’t you think we’d better hold on to the best one?”

Now the Boy couldn’t deny that the Colonel’s was the better, but none the less he had a great affection for his own old 44 Marlin, and the Colonel shouldn’t assume that he had the right to dictate. This attitude of the “wise elder” seemed out of place on the trail.

“A gun’s a necessity. I haven’t brought along any whim-whams.”

“Who has?”

“Well, it wasn’t me that went loadin’ up at Anvik with fool thermometers and things.”

“Thermometer! Why, it doesn’t weigh–“

“Weighs something, and it’s something to pack; frozen half the time, too. And when it isn’t, what’s the good of havin’ it hammered into us how near we are to freezin’ to death.” But it annoyed him to think how very little in argument a thermometer weighed against a rifle.

They said no more that day about lightening the load, but with a double motive they made enormous inroads upon their provisions.

A morning came when the Colonel, packing hurriedly in the biting cold, forgot to shove his pardner’s gun into its accustomed place.

The Boy, returning from trail-breaking to the river, kicked at the butt to draw attention to the omission. The Colonel flung down the end of the ice-coated rope he had lashed the load with, and, “Pack it yourself,” says he.

The Boy let the rifle lie. But all day long he felt the loss of it heavy on his heart, and no reconciling lightness in the sled.

The Colonel began to have qualms about the double rations they were using. It was only the seventeenth night after turning their backs on the Big Chimney, as the Colonel tipped the pan, pouring out half the boiled beans into his pardner’s plate, “That’s the last o’ the strawberries! Don’t go expectin’ any more,” says he.

“What!” ejaculated the Boy, aghast; then quickly, to keep a good face: “You take my life when you do take the beans, whereby I live.”

When the Colonel had disposed of his strawberries, “Lord!” he sighed, trying to rub the stiffness out of his hands over the smoke, “the appetite a fella can raise up here is something terrible. You eat and eat, and it doesn’t seem to make any impression. You’re just as hungry as ever.”

_”And the stuff a fella can eat!”_

The Colonel recalled that speech of the Boy’s the very next night, when, after “a hell of a time” getting the fire alight, he was bending forward in that attitude most trying to maintain, holding the frying-pan at long range over the feebly-smoking sticks. He had to cook, to live on snow-shoes nowadays, for the heavy Colonel had illustrated oftener than the Boy, that going without meant breaking in, floundering, and, finally, having to call for your pardner to haul you out. This was one of the many uses of a pardner on the trail. The last time the Colonel had trusted to the treacherous crust he had gone in head foremost, and the Boy, happening to look round, saw only two snow-shoes, bottom side up, moving spasmodically on the surface of the drift. The Colonel was nearly suffocated by the time he was pulled out, and after that object-lesson he stuck to snow-shoes every hour of the twenty-four, except those spent in the sleeping-bag.

But few things on earth are more exasperating than trying to work mounted on clumsy, long web-feet that keep jarring against, yet holding you off from, the tree you are felling, or the fire you are cooking over. You are constrained to stand wholly out of natural relation to the thing you are trying to do–the thing you’ve got to do, if you mean to come out alive.

The Colonel had been through all this time and time again. But as he squatted on his heels to-night, cursing the foot and a half of snow-shoe that held him away from the sullen fire, straining every muscle to keep the outstretched frying-pan over the best of the blaze, he said to himself that what had got him on the raw was that speech of the Boy’s yesterday about the stuff he had to eat. If the Boy objected to having his rice parboiled in smoked water he was damned unreasonable, that was all.

The culprit reappeared at the edge of the darkening wood. He came up eagerly, and flung down an armful of fuel for the morning, hoping to find supper ready. Since it wasn’t, he knew that he mustn’t stand about and watch the preparations. By this time he had learned a good deal of the trail-man’s unwritten law. On no account must you hint that the cook is incompetent, or even slow, any more than he may find fault with your moment for calling halt, or with your choice of timber. So the woodman turned wearily away from the sole spot of brightness in the waste, and went back up the hill in the dark and the cold, to busy himself about his own work, even to spin it out, if necessary, till he should hear the gruff “Grub’s ready!” And when that dinner-gong sounds, don’t you dally! Don’t you wait a second. You may feel uncomfortable if you find yourself twenty minutes late for a dinner in London or New York, but to be five minutes late for dinner on the Winter Trail is to lay up lasting trouble.

By the time the rice and bacon were done, and the flap-jack, still raw in the middle, was burnt to charcoal on both sides, the Colonel’s eyes were smarting, in the acrid smoke, and the tears were running down his cheeks.

“Grub’s ready!”

The Boy came up and dropped on his heels in the usual attitude. The Colonel tore a piece off the half-charred, half-raw pancake.

“Maybe you’ll think the fire isn’t thoroughly distributed, but _that’s _got to do for bread,” he remarked severely, as if in reply to some objection.

The Boy saw that something he had said or looked had been misinterpreted.

“Hey? Too much fire outside, and not enough in? Well, sir, I’ll trust _my_ stomach to strike a balance. Guess the heat’ll get distributed all right once I’ve swallowed it.”

When the Colonel, mollified, said something about cinders in the rice, the Boy, with his mouth full of grit, answered: “I’m pretendin’ it’s sugar.”

Not since the episode of the abandoned rifle had he shown himself so genial.

“Never in all my bohn life,” says the Colonel after eating steadily for some time–“never in a year, sah, have I thought as much about food as I do in a day on this—-trail.”

“Same here.”

“And it’s quantity, not quality.”

“Ditto.”

The Boy turned his head sharply away from the fire. “Hear that?”

No need to ask. The Colonel had risen upright on his cramped legs, red eyes starting out of his head. The Boy got up, turned about in the direction of the hollow sound, and made one step away from the fire.

“You stay right where you are!” ordered the Colonel, quite in the old way.

“Hey?”

“That’s a bird-song.”

“Thought so.”

“Mr. Wolf smelt the cookin’; want’s the rest of the pack to know there’s something queer up here on the hill.” Then, as the Boy moved to one side in the dark: “What you lookin’ for?”

“My gun.”

“Mine’s here.”

Oh yes! His own old 44 Marlin was lying far down the river under eight-and-fifty hours of snow. It angered him newly and more than ever to remember that if he had a shot at anything now it must needs be by favour of the Colonel.

They listened for that sound again, the first since leaving Anvik not made by themselves.

“Seems a lot quieter than it did,” observed the Colonel by-and-bye.

The Boy nodded.

Without preface the Colonel observed: “It’s five days since I washed my face and hands.”

“What’s the good o’ rememberin’?” returned the Boy sharply. Then more mildly: “People talk about the bare necessaries o’ life. Well, sir, when they’re really bare you find there ain’t but three–food, warmth, sleep.”

Again in the distance that hollow baying.

“Food, warmth, sleep,” repeated the Colonel. “We’ve about got down to the wolf basis.”

He said it half in defiance of the trail’s fierce lessoning; but it was truer than he knew.

They built up the fire to frighten off the wolves, but the Colonel had his rifle along when they went over and crawled into their sleeping-bag. Half in, half out, he laid the gun carefully along the right on his snow-shoes. As the Boy buttoned the fur-lined flap down over their heads he felt angrier with the Colonel than he had ever been before.

“Took good care to hang on to his own shootin’-iron. Suppose anything should happen”; and he said it over and over.

Exactly what could happen he did not make clear; the real danger was not from wolves, but it was _something_. And he would need a rifle…. And he wouldn’t have one…. And it was the Colonel’s fault.

* * * * *

Now, it had long been understood that the woodman is lord of the wood. When it came to the Colonel’s giving unasked advice about the lumber business, the Boy turned a deaf ear, and thought well of himself for not openly resenting the interference.

“The Colonel talks an awful lot, anyway. He has more hot air to offer than muscle.”

When they sighted timber that commended itself to the woodman, if _he_ thought well of it, why, he just dropped the sled-rope without a word, pulled the axe out of the lashing, trudged up the hillside, holding the axe against his shirt underneath his parki, till he reached whatever tree his eye had marked for his own. Off with the fur mitt, and bare hand protected by the inner mitt of wool, he would feel the axe-head, for there was always the danger of using it so cold that the steel would chip and fly. As soon as he could be sure the proper molecular change had been effected, he would take up his awkward attitude before the selected spruce, leaning far forward on his snow-shoes, and seeming to deliver the blows on tip-toe.

But the real trouble came when, after felling the dead tree, splitting an armful of fuel and carrying it to the Colonel, he returned to the task of cutting down the tough green spruce for their bedding. Many strained blows must be delivered before he could effect the chopping of even a little notch. Then he would shift his position and cut a corresponding notch further round, so making painful circuit of the bole. To-night, what with being held off by his snow-shoes, what with utter weariness and a dulled axe, he growled to himself that he was “only gnawin’ a ring round the tree like a beaver!”

“Damn the whole–Wait!” Perhaps the cursed snow was packed enough now to bear. He slipped off the web-feet, and standing gingerly, but blessedly near, made effectual attack. Hooray! One more good ‘un and the thing was down. Hah! ugh! Woof-ff! The tree was down, but so was he, floundering breast high, and at every effort to get out only breaking down more of the crust and sinking deeper.

This was not the first time such a thing had happened. Why did he feel as if it was for him the end of the world? He lay still an instant. It would be happiness just to rest here and go to sleep. The Colonel! Oh, well, the Colonel had taken his rifle. Funny there should be orange-trees up here. He could smell them. He shut his eyes. Something shone red and glowing. Why, that was the sun making an effect of stained glass as it shone through the fat pine weather-boarding of his little bedroom on the old place down in Florida. Suddenly a face. _Ah, that face!_ He must be up and doing. He knew perfectly well how to get out of this damn hole. You lie on your side and roll. Gradually you pack the softness tight till it bears–not if you stand up on your feet, but bears the length of your body, while you worm your way obliquely to the top, and feel gingerly in the dimness after your snow-shoes.

But if it happens on a pitch-dark night, and your pardner has chosen camp out of earshot, you feel that you have looked close at the end of the Long Trail.

On getting back to the fire, he found the Colonel annoyed at having called “Grub!” three times–“yes, sah! three times, sah!”

And they ate in silence.

“Now I’m going to bed,” said the Boy, rising stiffly.

“You just wait a minute.”

“No.”

Now, the Colonel himself had enunciated the law that whenever one of them was ready to sleep the other must come too. He didn’t know it, but it is one of the iron rules of the Winter Trail. In absence of its enforcement, the later comer brings into the warmed up sleeping-bag not only the chill of his own body, he lets in the bitter wind, and brings along whatever snow and ice is clinging to his boots and clothes. The melting and warming-up is all to be done again.

But the Colonel was angry.

“Most unreasonable,” he muttered–“damned unreasonable!”

Worse than the ice and the wet in the sleeping-bag, was this lying in such close proximity to a young jackanapes who wouldn’t come when you called “Grub!” and wouldn’t wait a second till you’d felt about in the dimness for your gun. Hideous to lie so close to a man who snored, and who’d deprived you of your 44 Marlin. Although it meant life, the Boy grudged the mere animal heat that he gave and that he took. Full of grudging, he dropped asleep. But the waking spirit followed him into his dreams. An ugly picture painted itself upon the dark, and struggling against the vision, he half awoke. With the first returning consciousness came the oppression of the yoke, the impulse to match the mental alienation with that of the body–strong need to move away.

You can’t move away in a sleeping-bag.

In a city you may be alone, free.

On the trail, you walk in bonds with your yoke-fellow, make your bed with him, with him rise up, and with him face the lash the livelong day.

* * * * *

“Well,” sighed the Colonel, after toiling onward for a couple of hours the next morning, “this is the worst yet.”

But by the middle of the afternoon, “What did I say? Why, this morning–_everything_ up till now has been child’s play.” He kept looking at the Boy to see if he could read any sign of halt in the tense, scarred face.

Certainly the wind was worse, the going was worse. The sled kept breaking through and sinking to the level of the load. There it went! in again. They tugged and hauled, and only dragged the lashing loose, while the sled seemed soldered to the hard-packed middle of the drift. As they reloaded, the thermometer came to light. The Colonel threw it out, with never a word. They had no clothes now but what they stood in, and only one thing on the sled they could have lived without–their money, a packet of trading stores. But they had thrown away more than they knew. Day by day, not flannels and boots alone, not merely extra kettle, thermometer and gun went overboard, but some grace of courtesy, some decency of life had been left behind.

About three o’clock of this same day, dim with snow, and dizzy in a hurricane of wind, “We can’t go on like this,” said the Boy suddenly.

“Wish I knew the way we _could_ go on,” returned the Colonel, stopping with an air of utter helplessness, and forcing his rigid hands into his pockets. The Boy looked at him. The man of dignity and resource, who had been the boss of the Big Chimney Camp–what had become of him? Here was only a big, slouching creature, with ragged beard, smoke-blackened countenance, and eyes that wept continually.

“Come on,” said his equally ruffianly-looking pardner, “we’ll both go ahead.”

So they abandoned their sled for awhile, and when they had forged a way, came back, and one pulling, the other pushing, lifting, guiding, between them, with infinite pains they got their burden to the end of the beaten track, left it, and went ahead again–travelling three miles to make one.

“What’s the matter now?”

The Boy was too tired to turn his head round and look back, but he knew that the other man wasn’t doing his share. He remembered that other time when the Colonel had fallen behind. It seemed years ago, and even further away was the vague recollection of how he’d cared. How horribly frightened he’d been! Wasn’t he frightened now? No. It was only a dull curiosity that turned him round at last to see what it was that made the Colonel peg out this time. He was always peggin’ out. Yes, there he was, stoppin’ to stroke himself. Trail-man? An old woman! Fit only for the chimney-corner. And even when they went on again he kept saying to himself as he bent to the galling strain, “An old woman–just an old woman!” till he made a refrain of the words, and in the level places marched to the tune. After that, whatever else his vague thought went off upon, it came back to “An old woman–just an old woman!”

It was at a bad place towards the end of that forced march that the Colonel, instead of lifting the back of the sled, bore hard on the handle-bar. With a vicious sound it snapped. The Boy turned heavily at the noise. When he saw the Colonel standing, dazed, with the splintered bar in his hand, his dull eyes flashed. With sudden vigour he ran back to see the extent of the damage.

“Well, it’s pretty discouragin’,” says the Colonel very low.

The Boy gritted his teeth with suppressed rage. It was only a chance that it hadn’t happened when he himself was behind, but he couldn’t see that. No; it was the Colonel’s bungling–tryin’ to spare himself; leanin’ on the bar instead o’ liftin’ the sled, as he, the Boy, would have done.

With stiff hands they tried to improvise a makeshift with a stick of birch and some string.

“Don’t know what you think,” says the Colonel presently, “but I call this a desperate business we’ve undertaken.”

The Boy didn’t trust himself to call it anything. With a bungled job they went lamely on. The loose snow was whirling about so, it was impossible to say whether it was still falling, or only hurricane-driven.

To the Colonel’s great indignation it was later than usual before they camped.

Not a word was spoken by either till they had finished their first meal, and the Colonel had melted a frying-pan full of snow preparatory to the second. He took up the rice-bag, held it by the top, and ran his mittened hand down the gathered sack till he had outlined the contents at the bottom.

“Lord! That’s all there is.”

The boy only blinked his half-shut eyes. The change in him, from talkativeness to utter silence, had grown horribly oppressive to the Colonel. He often felt he’d like to shake him till he shook some words out. “I told you days ago,” he went on, “that we ought to go on rations.”

Silence.

“But no! you knew so much better.”

The Boy shut his eyes, and suddenly, like one struggling against sleep or swooning, he roused himself.

“I thought I knew the more we took off the damn sled the lighter it’d be. ‘Tisn’t so.”

“And we didn’t either of us think we’d come down from eighteen miles a day to six,” returned the Colonel, a little mollified by any sort of answer. “I don’t believe we’re going to put this job through.”

Now this was treason.

Any trail-man may think that twenty times a day, but no one ought to say it. The Boy set his teeth, and his eyes closed. The whole thing was suddenly harder–doubt of the issue had been born into the world. But he opened his eyes again. The Colonel had carefully poured some of the rice into the smoky water of the pan. What was the fool doing? Such a little left, and making a second supper?

Only that morning the Boy had gone a long way when mentally he called the boss of the Big Chimney Camp “an old woman.” By night he was saying in his heart, “The Colonel’s a fool.” His pardner caught the look that matched the thought.

“No more second helpin’s,” he said in self-defence; “this’ll freeze into cakes for luncheon.”

No answer. No implied apology for that look. In the tone his pardner had come to dread the Colonel began: “If we don’t strike a settlement to-morrow—-“

“Don’t _talk!”_

The Boy’s tired arm fell on the handle of the frying-pan. Over it went–rice, water, and all in the fire. The culprit sprang up speechless with dismay, enraged at the loss of the food he was hungry for–enraged at “the fool fry-pan”–enraged at the fool Colonel for balancing it so badly.

A column of steam and smoke rose into the frosty air between the two men. As it cleared away a little the Boy could see the Colonel’s bloodshot eyes. The expression was ill to meet.

When they crouched down again, with the damped-out fire between them, a sense of utter loneliness fell upon each man’s heart.

* * * * *

The next morning, when they came to digging the sled out of the last night’s snow-drift, the Boy found to his horror that he was weaker–yes, a good deal. As they went on he kept stumbling. The Colonel fell every now and then. Sometimes he would lie still before he could pull himself on his legs again.

In these hours they saw nothing of the grim and splendid waste; nothing of the ranks of snow-laden trees; nothing of sun course or of stars, only the half-yard of dazzling trail in front of them, and –clairvoyant–the little store of flour and bacon that seemed to shrink in the pack while they dragged it on.

Apart from partial snow-blindness, which fell at intervals upon the Colonel, the tiredness of the eyes was like a special sickness upon them both. For many hours together they never raised their lids, looking out through slits, cat-like, on the world.

They had not spoken to each other for many days–or was it only hours?–when the Colonel, looking at the Boy, said:

“You’ve got to have a face-guard. Those frostbites are eating in.”

“‘Xpect so.”

“You ought to stop it. Make a guard.”

“Out of a snow-ball, or chunk o’ ice?”

“Cut a piece out o’ the canvas o’ the bag.” But he didn’t.

The big sores seemed such small matters beside the vast overshadowing doubt, Shall we come out of this alive?–doubt never to be openly admitted by him, but always knocking, knocking—-

“You can’t see your own face,” the Colonel persisted.

“One piece o’ luck, anyhow.”

The old habit of looking after the Boy died hard. The Colonel hesitated. For the last time he would remonstrate. “I used to think frost_bite_ was a figure o’ speech,” said he, “but the teeth were set in _your_ face, sonny, and they’ve bitten deep; they’ll leave awful scars.”

“Battles do, I b’lieve.” And it was with an effort that he remembered there had been a time when they had been uncomfortable because they hadn’t washed their faces. Now, one man was content to let the very skin go if he could keep the flesh on his face, and one was little concerned even for that. Life–life! To push on and come out alive.

The Colonel had come to that point where he resented the Boy’s staying power, terrified at the indomitable young life in him. Yes, the Colonel began to feel old, and to think with vague wrath of the insolence of youth.

Each man fell to considering what he would do, how he would manage if he were alone. And there ceased to be any terror in the thought.

“If it wasn’t for him”–so and so; till in the gradual deadening of judgment all the hardship was somehow your pardner’s fault. Your nerves made him responsible even for the snow and the wind. By-and-by he was The Enemy. Not but what each had occasional moments of lucidity, and drew back from the pit they were bending over. But the realisation would fade. No longer did even the wiser of the two remember that this is that same abyss out of which slowly, painfully, the race has climbed. With the lessened power to keep from falling in, the terror of it lessened. Many strange things grew natural. It was no longer difficult or even shocking to conceive one’s partner giving out and falling by the way. Although playing about the thought, the one thing that not even the Colonel was able actually to realise, was the imminent probability of death for himself. Imagination always pictured the other fellow down, one’s self somehow forging ahead.

This obsession ended on the late afternoon when the Colonel broke silence by saying suddenly:

“We must camp; I’m done.” He flung himself down under a bare birch, and hid his face.

The Boy remonstrated, grew angry; then, with a huge effort at self-control, pointed out that since it had stopped snowing this was the very moment to go on.

“Why, you can see the sun. Three of ’em! Look, Colonel!”

But Arctic meteorological phenomena had long since ceased to interest the Kentuckian. Parhelia were less to him than covered eyes, and the perilous peace of the snow. It seemed a long time before he sat up, and began to beat the stiffness out of his hands against his breast. But when he spoke, it was only to say:

“I mean to camp.”

“For how long?”

“Till a team comes by–or something.”

The Boy got up abruptly, slipped on his snow-shoes, and went round the shoulder of the hill, and up on to the promontory, to get out of earshot of that voice, and determine which of the two ice-roads, stretching out before them, was main channel and which was tributary.

He found on the height only a cutting wind, and little enlightenment as to the true course. North and east all nimbus still. A brace of sun-dogs following the pale God of Day across the narrow field of primrose that bordered the dun-coloured west. There would be more snow to-morrow, and meanwhile the wind was rising again. Yes, sir, it was a mean outlook.

As he took Mac’s aneroid barometer out of his pocket, a sudden gust cut across his raw and bleeding cheek. He turned abruptly; the barometer slipped out of his numb fingers. He made a lunge to recover it, clutched the air, and, sliding suddenly forward, over he went, flying headlong down the steep escarpment.

He struck a jutting rock, only half snowed under, that broke the sheer face of the promontory, and he bounded once like a rubber ball, struck a second time, caught desperately at a solitary clump of ice-sheathed alders, crashed through the snow-crust just below them, and was held there like a mudlark in its cliff nest, halfway between bluff and river.

His last clear thought had been an intense anxiety about his snow-shoes as they sailed away, two liberated kites, but as he went on falling, clutching at the air–falling–and felt the alder twigs snap under his hands, he said to himself, “This is death,” but calmly, as if it were a small matter compared to losing one’s snow-shoes.

It was only when he landed in the snow, that he was conscious of any of the supposed natural excitement of a man meeting a violent end. It was then, before he even got his breath back, that he began to struggle frantically to get a foothold; but he only broke down more of the thin ice-wall that kept him from the sheer drop to the river, sixty or seventy feet below. He lay quite still. Would the Colonel come after him? If he did come, would he risk his life to—-If he did risk his life, was it any use to try to—-He craned his neck and looked up, blinked, shut his eyes, and lay back in the snow with a sound of far-off singing in his head. “Any use?” No, sir; it just about wasn’t. That bluff face would be easier to climb up than to climb down, and either was impossible.

Then it was, that a great tide of longing swept over him–a flood of passionate desire for more of this doubtful blessing, life. All the bitter hardship–why, how sweet it was, after all, to battle and to overcome! It was only this lying helpless, trapped, that was evil. The endless Trail? Why, it was only the coming to the end that a man minded.

Suddenly the beauty that for days had been veiled shone out. Nothing in all the earth was glorious with the glory of the terrible white North. And he had only just been wakened to it. Here, now, lying in his grave, had come this special revelation of the rapture of living, and the splendour of the visible universe.

The sky over his head–he had called it “a mean outlook,” and turned away. It was the same sky that bent over him now with a tenderness that made him lift his cramped arms with tears, as a sick child might to its mother. The haloed sun with his attendant dogs–how little the wonder had touched him! Never had he seen them so dim and sad as to-night … saying good-bye to one who loved the sun.

The great frozen road out of sight below, road that came winding, winding down out of the Arctic Circle–what other highway so majestic, mysterious?–shining and beckoning on. An earthly Milky Way, leading to the golden paradise he had been travelling towards since summer.

And he was to go no further?–not till the June rains and thaws and winds and floods should carry him back, as he had foreseen, far below there at Holy Cross.

With a sharp contraction of the heart he shut his eyes again. When he opened them they rested on the alder-twig, a couple of yards above, holding out mocking finger-tips, and he turned his head in the snow till again he could see the mock-suns looking down.

“As well try to reach the sky as reach the alder-bush. What did that mean? That he was really going to lie there till he died? _He_ die, and the Colonel and everybody else go on living?”

He half rose on his elbow at the monstrous absurdity of the idea. “I won’t die!” he said out loud.

Crack, crack! warned the ice-crust between him and that long fall to the river. With horror at his heart he shrank away and hugged the face of the precipice. Presently he put out his hand and broke the ice-crust above. With mittened fists and palms he pounded firm a little ledge of snow. Reaching out further, he broke the crust obliquely just above, and having packed the snow as well as he could immediately about, and moving lengthwise with an infinite caution, he crawled up the few inches to the narrow ledge, balancing his stiff body with a nicety possible only to acrobat or sleep-walker.

It was in no normal state of ordinary waking senses that the work went on–with never a downward look, nor even up, eyes riveted to the patch of snow on which the mittened hands fell as steady and untrembling as steel hammers. In the seconds of actual consciousness of his situation that twice visited him, he crouched on the ledge with closed eyes, in the clutch of an overmastering horror, absolutely still, like a bird in the talons of a hawk. Each time when he opened his eyes he would stare at the snow-ledge till hypnotised into disregard of danger, balance his slight body, lift one hand, and go on pounding firm another shallow step. When he reached the alder-bush his heart gave a great leap of triumph. Then, for the first time since starting, he looked up. His heart fell down. It seemed farther than ever, and the light waning.

But the twilight would be long, he told himself, and in that other, beneficent inner twilight he worked on, packing the snow, and crawling gingerly up the perilous stair a half-inch at a time.

At last he was on the jutting rock, and could stand secure. But here he could see that the top of the bluff really did shelve over. To think so is so common an illusion to the climber that the Boy had heartened himself by saying, when he got there he would find it like the rest, horribly steep, but not impossible. Well, it _was_ impossible. After all his labour, he was no better off on the rock than in the snow-hole below the alder, down there where he dared not look. The sun and his dogs had travelled down, down. They touched the horizon while he sat there; they slipped below the world’s wide rim. He said in his heart, “I’m freezing to death.” Unexpectedly to himself his despair found voice:

“Colonel!”

“Hello!”

He started violently.

Had he really heard that, or was imagination playing tricks with echo?

“Colonel!”

“Where the devil—-“

A man’s head appeared out of the sky.

“Got the rope?”

Words indistinguishable floated down–the head withdrawn–silence. The Boy waited a very long time, but he stamped his feet, and kept his blood in motion. The light was very grey when the head showed again at the sky-line. He couldn’t hear what was shouted down, and it occurred to him, even in his huge predicament, that the Colonel was “giving him hot air” as usual, instead of a life-line. Down the rope came, nearer, and stopped about fifteen feet over his head.

“Got the axe? Let her down.”

* * * * *

The night was bright with moonlight when the Boy stood again on the top of the bluff.

“Humph!” says the Colonel, with agreeable anticipation; “you’ll be glad to camp for a few days after this, I reckon.”

“Reckon I won’t.”

* * * * *

In their colossal fatigue they slept the clock round; their watches run down, their sense of the very date blurred. Since the Colonel had made the last laconic entry in the journal–was it three days or two–or twenty?

In spite of a sensation as of many broken bones, the Boy put on the Colonel’s snow-shoes, and went off looking along the foot of the cliff for his own. No luck, but he brought back some birch-bark and a handful of willow-withes, and set about making a rude substitute.

Before they had despatched breakfast the great red moon arose, so it was not morning, but evening. So much the better. The crust would be firmer. The moon was full; it was bright enough to travel, and travel they must.

“No!” said the Colonel, with a touch of his old pompous authority, “we’ll wait awhile.”

The Boy simply pointed to the flour-bag. There wasn’t a good handful left.

They ate supper, studiously avoiding each other’s eyes. In the background of the Boy’s mind: “He saved my life, but he ran no risk…. And I saved his. We’re quits.” In the Colonel’s, vague, insistent, stirred the thought, “I might have left him there to rot, half-way up the precipice. Oh, he’d go! _And he’d take the sled_! No!” His vanished strength flowed back upon a tide of rage. Only one sleeping-bag, one kettle, one axe, one pair of snow-shoes … _one gun_! No, by the living Lord! not while I have a gun. Where’s my gun? He looked about guiltily, under his lowered lids. What? No! Yes! It was gone! Who packed at the last camp? Why, he–himself, and he’d left it behind. “Then it was because I didn’t see it; the Boy took care I shouldn’t see it! Very likely he buried it so that I shouldn’t see it! He–yes–if I refuse to go on, he—-“

And the Boy, seeing without looking, taking in every move, every shade in the mood of the broken-spirited man, ready to die here, like a dog, in the snow, instead of pressing on as long as he could crawl–the Boy, in a fever of silent rage, called him that “meanest word in the language–a quitter.” And as, surreptitiously, he took in the vast discouragement of the older man, there was nothing in the Boy’s changed heart to say, “Poor fellow! if he can’t go on, I’ll stay and die with him”; but only, “He’s _got_ to go on! … and if he refuses … well—-” He felt about in his deadened brain, and the best he could bring forth was: “I won’t leave him–_yet_.”

* * * * *

A mighty river-jam had forced them up on the low range of hills. It was about midnight to judge by the moon–clear of snow and the wind down. The Boy straightened up at a curious sight just below them. Something black in the moonlight. The Colonel paused, looked down, and passed his hand over his eyes.

The Boy had seen the thing first, and had said to himself, “Looks like a sled, but it’s a vision. It’s come to seeing things now.”

When he saw the Colonel stop and stare, he threw down his rope and began to laugh, for there below were the blackened remains of a big fire, silhouetted sharply on the snow.

“Looks like we’ve come to a camp, Boss!”

He hadn’t called the Colonel by the old nickname for many a day. He stood there laughing in an idiotic kind of way, wrapping his stiff hands in his parki, Indian fashion, and looking down to the level of the ancient river terrace, where the weather-stained old Indian sled was sharply etched on the moonlit whiteness.

Just a sled lying in the moonlight. But the change that can be wrought in a man’s heart upon sight of a human sign! it may be idle to speak of that to any but those who have travelled the desolate ways of the North.

Side by side the two went down the slope, slid and slipped and couldn’t stop themselves, till they were below the landmark. Looking up, they saw that a piece of soiled canvas or a skin, held down with a drift-log, fell from under the sled, portiere-wise from the top of the terrace, straight down to the sheltered level, where the camp fire had been. Coming closer, they saw the curtain was not canvas, but dressed deerskin.

“Indians!” said the Colonel.

But with the rubbing out of other distinctions this, too, was curiously faint. Just so there were human beings it seemed enough. Within four feet of the deerskin door the Colonel stopped, shot through by a sharp misgiving. What was behind? A living man’s camp, or a dead man’s tomb? Succour, or some stark picture of defeat, and of their own oncoming doom?

The Colonel stood stock-still waiting for the Boy. For the first time in many days even he hung back. He seemed to lack the courage to be the one to extinguish hope by the mere drawing of a curtain from a snow-drift’s face. The Kentuckian pulled himself together and went forward. He lifted his hand to the deerskin, but his fingers shook so he couldn’t take hold:

“Hello!” he called. No sound. Again: “Hello!”

“Who’s there?”

The two outside turned and looked into each other’s faces–but if you want to know all the moment meant, you must travel the Winter Trail.

CHAPTER XIV

KURILLA

“And I swear to you Athenians–by the dog I swear!–for I must tell you the truth—-.”–SOCRATES.

The voice that had asked the question belonged to one of two stranded Klondykers, as it turned out, who had burrowed a hole in the snow and faced it with drift-wood. They had plenty of provisions, enough to spare, and meant to stay here till the steamers ran, for the younger of the pair had frosted his feet and was crippled.

The last of their dogs had been frozen to death a few miles back on the trail, and they had no idea, apparently, how near they were to that “first Indian settlement this side of Kaltag” reached by the Colonel and the Boy after two days of rest and one day of travel.

No one ever sailed more joyfully into the Bay of Naples, or saw with keener rapture Constantinople’s mosques and minarets arise, than did these ice-armoured travellers, rounding the sharp bend in the river, sight the huts and hear the dogs howl on the farther shore.

“First thing I do, sah, is to speculate in a dog-team,” said the Colonel.

Most of the bucks were gone off hunting, and most of the dogs were with them. Only three left in the village–but they were wonderful fellows those three! Where were they? Well, the old man you see before you, “_me_–got two.”

He led the way behind a little shack, a troop of children following, and there were two wolf-dogs, not in the best condition, one reddish, with a white face and white forelegs, the other grey with a black splotch on his chest and a white one on his back.

“How much?”

“Fiftee dolla.”

“And this one?”

“Fiftee dolla.” As the Colonel hesitated, the old fellow added: “Bohf eightee dolla.”

“Oh, eightee for the two?”

He nodded.

“Well, where’s the other?”

“Hein?”

“The other–the third dog. Two are no good.”

“Yes. Yes,” he said angrily, “heap good dog.”

“Well, I’ll give you eighty dollars for these” (the Ingalik, taking a pipe out of his parki, held out one empty hand); “but who’s got the other?”

For answer, a head-shake, the outstretched hand, and the words, “Eightee dolla–tabak–tea.”

“Wait,” interrupted the Boy, turning to the group of children; “where’s the other dog?”

Nobody answered. The Boy pantomimed. “We want _three_ dogs.” He held up as many fingers. “We got two–see?–must have one more.” A lad of about thirteen turned and began pointing with animation towards a slowly approaching figure.

“Peetka–him got.”

The old man began to chatter angrily, and abuse the lad for introducing a rival on the scene. The strangers hailed the new-comer.

“How much is your dog?”

Peetka stopped, considered, studied the scene immediately before him, and then the distant prospect.

“You got dog?”

He nodded.

“Well, how much?”

“Sixty dolla.”

“_One_ dog, sixty?”

He nodded.

“But this man says the price is eighty for two.”

“My dog–him Leader.”

After some further conversation, “Where is your dog?” demanded the Colonel.

The new-comer whistled and called. After some waiting, and well-simulated anger on the part of the owner, along comes a dusky Siwash, thin, but keen-looking, and none too mild-tempered.

The children all brightened and craned, as if a friend, or at least a highly interesting member of the community, had appeared on the scene.

“The Nigger’s the best!” whispered the Boy.

“Him bully,” said the lad, and seemed about to pat him, but the Siwash snarled softly, raising his lip and showing his Gleaming fangs. The lad stepped back respectfully, but grinned, reiterating, “Bully dog.”

“Well, I’ll give you fifty for him,” said the Colonel.

“Sixty.”

“Well, all right, since he’s a leader. Sixty.”

The owner watched the dog as it walked round its master smelling the snow, then turning up its pointed nose interrogatively and waving its magnificent feathery tail. The oblique eyes, acute angle of his short ears, the thick neck, broad chest, and heavy forelegs, gave an impression of mingled alertness and strength you will not see surpassed in any animal that walks the world. Jet-black, except for his grey muzzle and broad chest, he looks at you with the face of his near ancestor, the grizzled wolf. If on short acquaintance you offer any familiarity, as the Colonel ventured to do, and he shows his double row of murderous-looking fangs, the reminder of his fierce forefathers is even more insistent. Indeed, to this day your Siwash of this sort will have his moments of nostalgia, in which he turns back to his wild kinsfolk, and mates again with the wolf.

When the Leader looked at the Colonel with that indescribably horrid smile, the owner’s approval of the proud beast seemed to overcome his avarice.

“Me no sell,” he decided abruptly, and walked off in lordly fashion with his dusky companion at his side, the Leader curling his feathery tail arc-like over his back, and walking with an air princes might envy.

The Colonel stood staring. Vainly the Boy called, “Come back. Look here! Hi!” Neither Siwash nor Ingalik took the smallest notice. The Boy went after them, eliciting only airs of surly indifference and repeated “Me no sell.” It was a bitter disappointment, especially to the Boy. He liked the looks of that Nigger dog. When, plunged in gloom, he returned to the group about the Colonel, he found his pardner asking about “feed.” No, the old man hadn’t enough fish to spare even a few days’ supply. Would anybody here sell fish? No, he didn’t think so. All the men who had teams were gone to the hills for caribou; there was nobody to send to the Summer Caches. He held out his hand again for the first instalment of the “eightee dolla,” in kind, that he might put it in his pipe.

“But dogs are no good to us without something to feed ’em.”

The Ingalik looked round as one seeking counsel.

“Get fish tomalla.”

“No, sir. To-day’s the only day in my calendar. No buy dogs till we get fish.”

When the negotiations fell through the Indian took the failure far more philosophically than the white men, as was natural. The old fellow could quite well get on without “eightee dolla”–could even get on without the tobacco, tea, sugar, and matches represented by that sum, but the travellers could not without dogs get to Minook. It had been very well to feel set up because they had done the thing that everybody said was impossible. It had been a costly victory. Yes, it had come high. “And, after all, if we don’t get dogs we’re beaten.”

“Oh, beaten be blowed! We’ll toddle along somehow.”

“Yes, we’ll toddle along _if_ we get dogs.”

And the Boy knew the Colonel was right.

They inquired about Kaltag.

“I reckon we’d better push ahead while we can,” said the Colonel. So they left the camp that same evening intending to “travel with the moon.” The settlement was barely out of sight when they met a squaw dragging a sled-load of salmon. Here was luck! “And now we’ll go back and get those two dogs.”

As it was late, and trading with the natives, even for a fish, was a matter of much time and patience, they decided not to hurry the dog deal. It was bound to take a good part of the evening, at any rate. Well, another night’s resting up was welcome enough.

While the Colonel was re-establishing himself in the best cabin, the Boy cached the sled and then went prowling about. As he fully intended, he fell in with the Leader–that “bully Nigger dog.” His master not in sight–nobody but some dirty children and the stranger there to see how the Red Dog, in a moment of aberration, dared offer insolence to the Leader. It all happened through the Boy’s producing a fish, and presenting it on bended knee at a respectful distance. The Leader bestowed a contemptuous stare upon the stranger and pointedly turned his back. The Red Dog came “loping” across the snow. As he made for the fish the Leader quietly headed him off, pointed his sharp ears, and just looked the other fellow out of countenance. Red said things under his breath as he turned away. The more he thought the situation over the more he felt himself outraged. He looked round over his shoulder. There they still were, the stranger holding out the fish, the Leader turning his back on it, but telegraphing Red at the same time _not to dare!_ It was more than dog-flesh could bear; Red bounded back, exploding in snarls. No sound out of the Leader. Whether this unnatural calm misled Red, he came up closer, braced his forelegs, and thrust his tawny muzzle almost into the other dog’s face, drew back his lips from all those shining wicked teeth, and uttered a muffled hiss.

Well, it was magnificently done, and it certainly looked as if the Leader was going to have a troubled evening. But he didn’t seem to think so. He “fixed” the Red Dog as one knowing the power of the master’s eye to quell. Red’s reply, unimaginably bold, was, as the Boy described it to the Colonel, “to give the other fella the curse.” The Boy was proud of Red’s pluck–already looking upon him as his own–but he jumped up from his ingratiating attitude, still grasping the dried fish. It would be a shame if that Leader got chewed up! And there was Red, every tooth bared, gasping for gore, and with each passing second seeming to throw a deeper damnation into his threat, and to brace himself more firmly for the hurling of the final doom.

At that instant, the stranger breathing quick and hard, the elder children leaning forward, some of the younger drawing back in terror–if you’ll believe it, the Leader blinked in a bored way, and sat down on the snow. A question only of last moments now, poor brute! and the bystanders held their breath. But no! Red, to be sure, broke into the most awful demonstrations, and nearly burst himself with fury; but he backed away, as though the spectacle offered by the Leader were too disgusting for a decent dog to look at. He went behind the shack and told the Spotty One. In no time they were back, approaching the Boy and the fish discreetly from behind. Such mean tactics roused the Leader’s ire. He got up and flew at them. They made it hot for him, but still the Leader seemed to be doing pretty well for himself, when the old Ingalik (whom the Boy had sent a child to summon) hobbled up with a raw-hide whip, and laid it on with a practised hand, separating the combatants, kicking them impartially all round, and speaking injurious words.

“Are your two hurt?” inquired the future owner anxiously.

The old fellow shook his head.

“Fur thick,” was the reassuring answer; and once more the Boy realised that these canine encounters, though frequently ending in death, often look and sound much more awful than they are.

As the Leader feigned to be going home, he made a dash in passing at the stranger’s fish. It was held tight, and the pirate got off with only a fragment. Leader gave one swallow and looked back to see how the theft was being taken. That surprising stranger simply stood there laughing, and holding out the rest of a fine fat fish! Leader considered a moment, looked the alien up and down, came back, all on guard for sudden rushes, sly kicks, and thwackings, to pay him out. But nothing of the kind. The Nigger dog said as plain as speech could make it:

“You cheechalko person, you look as if you’re actually offering me that fish in good faith. But I’d be a fool to think so.”

The stranger spoke low and quietly.

They talked for some time.

The owner of the two had shuffled off home again, with Spotty and Red at his heels.

The Leader came quite near, looking almost docile; but he snapped suddenly at the fish with an ugly gleam of eye and fang. The Boy nearly made the fatal mistake of jumping, but he controlled the impulse, and merely held tight to what was left of the salmon. He stood quite still, offering it with fair words. The Leader walked all round him, and seemed with difficulty to recover from his surprise. The Boy felt that they were just coming to an understanding, when up hurries Peetka, suspicious and out of sorts.

_”My dog!”_ he shouted. “No sell white man my dog. Huh! ho–_oh_ no!” He kicked the Leader viciously, and drove him home, abusing him all the way. The wonder was that the wolfish creature didn’t fly at his master’s throat and finish him.

Certainly the stranger’s sympathies were all with the four-legged one of the two brutes.

“–something about the Leader–” the Boy said sadly, telling the Colonel what had happened. “Well, sir, I’d give a hundred dollars to own that dog.”

“So would I,” was the dry rejoinder, “if I were a millionaire like you.”

* * * * *

After supper, their host, who had been sent out to bring in the owner of Red and Spotty, came back saying, “He come. All come. Me tell–you from below Holy Cross!” He laughed and shook his head in a well-pantomimed incredulity, representing popular opinion outside. Some of the bucks, he added, who had not gone far, had got back with small game.

“And dogs?”

“No. Dogs in the mountains. Hunt moose–caribou.”

The old Ingalik came in, followed by others. “Some” of the bucks? There seemed no end to the throng.

Opposite the white men the Indians sat in a semicircle, with the sole intent, you might think, of staring all night at the strangers. Yet they had brought in Arctic hares and grouse, and even a haunch of venison. But they laid these things on the floor beside them, and sat with grave unbroken silence till the strangers should declare themselves. They had also brought, or permitted to follow, not only their wives and daughters, but their children, big and little.

Behind the semicircle of men, three or four deep, were ranged the ranks of youth–boys and girls from six to fourteen–standing as silent as their elders, but eager, watchful, carrying king salmon, dried deer-meat, boot-soles, thongs for snow-shoes, rabbits, grouse. A little fellow of ten or eleven had brought in the Red Dog, and was trying to reconcile him to his close quarters. The owner of Red and Spotty sat with empty hands at the semicircle’s farthest end. But he was the capitalist of the village, and held himself worthily, yet not quite with the high and mighty unconcern of the owner of the Leader.

Peetka came in late, bringing in the Nigger dog against the Nigger dog’s will, just to tantalise the white men with the sight of something they couldn’t buy from the poor Indian. Everybody made way for Peetka and his dog, except the other dog. Several people had to go to the assistance of the little boy to help him to hold Red.

“Just as well, perhaps,” said the Colonel, “that we aren’t likely to get all three.”

“Oh, if they worked together they’d be all right,” answered the Boy. “I’ve noticed that before.” But the Leader, meanwhile, was flatly refusing to stay in the same room with Red. He howled and snapped and raged. So poor Red was turned out, and the little boy mourned loudly.

Behind the children, a row of squaws against the wall, with and without babies strapped at their backs. Occasionally a young girl would push aside those in front of her, craning and staring to take in the astonishing spectacle of the two white men who had come so far without dogs–pulling a hand-sled a greater distance than any Indian had ever done–if they could be believed!

Anyhow, these men with their sack of tea and magnificent bundle of matches, above all with their tobacco–they could buy out the town–everything except Peetka’s dog.

The Colonel and the Boy opened the ball by renewing their joint offer of eighty dollars for Red and Spotty. Although this had been the old Ingalik’s own price, it was discussed fully an hour by all present before the matter could be considered finally settled, even then the Colonel knew it was safest not to pay till just upon leaving. But he made a little present of tobacco in token of satisfactory arrangement. The old man’s hands trembled excitedly as he pulled out his pipe and filled it. The bucks round him, and even a couple of the women at the back, begged him for some. He seemed to say, “Do your own deal; the strangers have plenty more.”

By-and-by, in spite of the limited English of the community, certain facts stood out: that Peetka held the white man in avowed detestation, that he was the leading spirit of the place, that they had all been suffering from a tobacco famine, and that much might be done by a judicious use of Black Jack and Long Green. The Colonel set forth the magnificent generosity of which he would be capable, could he secure a good Leader. But Peetka, although he looked at his empty pipe with bitterness, shook his head.

Everybody in the village would profit, the Colonel went on; everybody should have a present if–

Peetka interrupted with a snarl, and flung out low words of contemptuous refusal.

The Leader waked from a brief nap cramped and uneasy, and began to howl in sympathy. His master stood up, the better to deliver a brutal kick. This seemed to help the Leader to put up with cramp and confinement, just as one great discomfort will help his betters to forget several little ones. But the Boy had risen with angry eyes. Very well, he said impulsively; if he and his pardner couldn’t get a third dog (two were very little good) they would not stock fresh meat here. In vain the Colonel whispered admonition. No, sir, they would wait till they got to the next village.

“Belly far,” said a young hunter, placing ostentatiously in front his brace of grouse.

“We’re used to going belly far. Take all your game away, and go home.”

A sorrowful silence fell upon the room. They sat for some time like that, no one so much as moving, till a voice said, “We want tobacco,” and a general murmur of assent arose. Peetka roused himself, pulled out of his shirt a concave stone and a little woody-looking knot. The Boy leaned forward to see what it was. A piece of dried fungus–the kind you sometimes see on the birches up here. Peetka was hammering a fragment of it into powder, with his heavy clasp-knife, on the concave stone. He swept the particles into his pipe and applied to one of the fish-selling women for a match, lit up, and lounged back against the Leader, smiling disagreeably at the strangers. A little laugh at their expense went round the room. Oh, it wasn’t easy to get ahead of Peetka! But even if he chose to pretend that he didn’t want cheechalko tobacco, it was very serious–it was desperate–to see all that Black Jack going on to the next village. Several of the hitherto silent bucks remonstrated with Peetka–even one of the women dared raise her voice. She had not been able to go for fish: where was _her_ tobacco and tea?

Peetka burst into voluble defence of his position. Casting occasional looks of disdain upon the strangers, he addressed most of his remarks to the owner of Red and Spotty. Although the Colonel could not understand a word, he saw the moment approaching when that person would go back on his bargain. With uncommon pleasure he could have throttled Peetka.

The Boy, to create a diversion, had begun talking to a young hunter in the front row about “the Long Trail,” and, seeing that several others craned and listened, he spoke louder, more slowly, dropping out all unnecessary or unusual words. Very soon he had gained an audience and Peetka had lost one. As the stranger went on describing their experiences the whole room listened with an attentiveness that would have been flattering had it been less strongly dashed with unbelief. From beyond Anvik they had come? Like that–with no dogs? What! From below Koserefsky? Not really? Peetka grunted and shook his head. Did they think the Ingaliks were children? Without dogs that journey was impossible. Low whispers and gruff exclamations filled the room. White men were great liars. They pretended that in their country the bacon had legs, and could run about, and one had been heard to say he had travelled in a thing like a steamboat, only it could go without water under it–ran over the dry land on strips of iron–ran quicker than any steamer! Oh, they were awful liars. But these two, who pretended they’d dragged a sled all the way from Holy Cross, they were the biggest liars of all. Just let them tell that yarn to Unookuk. They all laughed at this, and the name ran round the room.

“Who is Unookuk?”

“Him guide.”

“Him know.”

“Where is him?” asked the Boy.

“Him sick.”

But there was whispering and consultation. This was evidently a case for the expert. Two boys ran out, and the native talk went on, unintelligible save for the fact that it centred round Unookuk. In a few minutes the boys came back with a tall, fine-looking native, about sixty years old, walking lame, and leaning on a stick. The semicircle opened to admit him. He limped over to the strangers, and stood looking at them gravely, modestly, but with careful scrutiny.

The Boy held out his hand.

“How do you do?”

“How do you do?” echoed the new-comer, and he also shook hands with the Colonel before he sat down.

“Are you Unookuk?”

“Yes. How far you come?”

Peetka said something rude, before the strangers had time to answer, and all the room went into titters. But Unookuk listened with dignity while the Colonel repeated briefly the story already told. Plainly it stumped Unookuk.

“Come from Anvik?” he repeated.

“Yes; stayed with Mr. Benham.”

“Oh, Benham!” The trader’s familiar name ran round the room with obvious effect. “It is good to have A. C. Agent for friend,” said Unookuk guardedly. “Everybody know Benham.”

“He is not A. C. Agent much longer,” volunteered the Boy.

“That so?”

“No; he will go ‘on his own’ after the new agent gets in this spring.”

“It is true,” answered Unookuk gravely, for the first time a little impressed, for this news was not yet common property. Still, they could have heard it from some passer with a dog-team. The Boy spoke of Holy Cross, and Unookuk’s grave unbelief was painted on every feature.

“It was good you get to Holy Cross before the big storm,” he said, with a faint smile of tolerance for the white man’s tall story. But Peetka laughed aloud.

“What good English you speak!” said the Boy, determined to make friends with the most intelligent-appearing native he had seen.

“Me; I am Kurilla!” said Unookuk, with a quiet magnificence. Then, seeing no electric recognition of the name, he added: “You savvy Kurilla!”

The Colonel with much regret admitted that he did not.

“But I am Dall’s guide–Kurilla.”

“Oh, Dall’s guide, are you,” said the Boy, without a glimmer of who Dall was, or for what, or to what, he was “guided.” “Well, Kurilla, we’re pleased and proud to meet you,” adding with some presence of mind, “And how’s Dall?”

“It is long I have not hear. We both old now. I hurt my knee on the ice when I come down from Nulato for caribou.”