Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Son of the Wolf by Jack London

Part 3 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

then--and then the revelers exploded. The joke was on them. They
had danced all night with a tabooed native woman.

But those that knew, and they were many, ceased abruptly, and a
hush fell upon the room.

Cal Galbraith crossed over with great strides, angrily, and spoke
to Madeline in polyglot Chinook. But she retained her composure,
apparently oblivious to the fact that she was the cynosure of all
eyes, and answered him in English. She showed neither fright nor
anger, and Malemute Kid chuckled at her well-bred equanimity. The
King felt baffled, defeated; his common Siwash wife had passed
beyond him.

'Come!' he said finally. 'Come on home.' 'I beg pardon,' she
replied; 'I have agreed to go to supper with Mr. Harrington.
Besides, there's no end of dances promised.'

Harrington extended his arm to lead her away. He evinced not the
slightest disinclination toward showing his back, but Malemute
Kid had by this time edged in closer. The Circle City King was
stunned. Twice his hand dropped to his belt, and twice the Kid
gathered himself to spring; but the retreating couple passed
through the supper-room door where canned oysters were spread at
five dollars the plate.

The crowd sighed audibly, broke up into couples, and followed
them. Freda pouted and went in with Cal Galbraith; but she had a
good heart and a sure tongue, and she spoiled his oysters for
him. What she said is of no importance, but his face went red and
white at intervals, and he swore repeatedly and savagely at

The supper-room was filled with a pandemonium of voices, which
ceased suddenly as Cal Galbraith stepped over to his wife's
table. Since the unmasking considerable weights of dust had been
placed as to the outcome. Everybody watched with breathless

Harrington's blue eyes were steady, but under the overhanging
tablecloth a Smith & Wesson balanced on his knee. Madeline looked
up, casually, with little interest.

'May--may I have the next round dance with you?' the King

The wife of the King glanced at her card and inclined her head.

An Odyssey of the North

The sleds were singing their eternal lament to the creaking of
the harness and the tinkling bells of the leaders; but the men
and dogs were tired and made no sound. The trail was heavy with
new-fallen snow, and they had come far, and the runners, burdened
with flint-like quarters of frozen moose, clung tenaciously to
the unpacked surface and held back with a stubbornness almost

Darkness was coming on, but there was no camp to pitch that
night. The snow fell gently through the pulseless air, not in
flakes, but in tiny frost crystals of delicate design. It was
very warm--barely ten below zero--and the men did not mind.
Meyers and Bettles had raised their ear flaps, while Malemute Kid
had even taken off his mittens.

The dogs had been fagged out early in the after noon, but they
now began to show new vigor. Among the more astute there was a
certain restlessness--an impatience at the restraint of the
traces, an indecisive quickness of movement, a sniffing of snouts
and pricking of ears. These became incensed at their more
phlegmatic brothers, urging them on with numerous sly nips on
their hinder quarters. Those, thus chidden, also contracted and
helped spread the contagion. At last the leader of the foremost
sled uttered a sharp whine of satisfaction, crouching lower in
the snow and throwing himself against the collar. The rest
followed suit.

There was an ingathering of back hands, a tightening of traces;
the sleds leaped forward, and the men clung to the gee poles,
violently accelerating the uplift of their feet that they might
escape going under the runners. The weariness of the day fell
from them, and they whooped encouragement to the dogs. The
animals responded with joyous yelps. They were swinging through
the gathering darkness at a rattling gallop.

'Gee! Gee!' the men cried, each in turn, as their sleds abruptly
left the main trail, heeling over on single runners like luggers
on the wind.

Then came a hundred yards' dash to the lighted parchment window,
which told its own story of the home cabin, the roaring Yukon
stove, and the steaming pots of tea. But the home cabin had been
invaded. Threescore huskies chorused defiance, and as many furry
forms precipitated themselves upon the dogs which drew the first
sled. The door was flung open, and a man, clad in the scarlet
tunic of the Northwest Police, waded knee-deep among the furious
brutes, calmly and impartially dispensing soothing justice with
the butt end of a dog whip. After that the men shook hands; and
in this wise was Malemute Kid welcomed to his own cabin by a

Stanley Prince, who should have welcomed him, and who was
responsible for the Yukon stove and hot tea aforementioned, was
busy with his guests. There were a dozen or so of them, as
nondescript a crowd as ever served the Queen in the enforcement
of her laws or the delivery of her mails. They were of many
breeds, but their common life had formed of them a certain
type--a lean and wiry type, with trail-hardened muscles, and
sun-browned faces, and untroubled souls which gazed frankly
forth, clear-eyed and steady.

They drove the dogs of the Queen, wrought fear in the hearts of
her enemies, ate of her meager fare, and were happy. They had
seen life, and done deeds, and lived romances; but they did not
know it.

And they were very much at home. Two of them were sprawled upon
Malemute Kid's bunk, singing chansons which their French
forebears sang in the days when first they entered the Northwest
land and mated with its Indian women. Bettles' bunk had suffered
a similar invasion, and three or four lusty voyageurs worked
their toes among its blankets as they listened to the tale of one
who had served on the boat brigade with Wolseley when he fought
his way to Khartoum.

And when he tired, a cowboy told of courts and kings and lords
and ladies he had seen when Buffalo Bill toured the capitals of
Europe. In a corner two half-breeds, ancient comrades in a lost
campaign, mended harnesses and talked of the days when the
Northwest flamed with insurrection and Louis Riel was king.

Rough jests and rougher jokes went up and down, and great hazards
by trail and river were spoken of in the light of commonplaces,
only to be recalled by virtue of some grain of humor or ludicrous
happening. Prince was led away by these uncrowned heroes who had
seen history made, who regarded the great and the romantic as but
the ordinary and the incidental in the routine of life. He passed
his precious tobacco among them with lavish disregard, and rusty
chains of reminiscence were loosened, and forgotten odysseys
resurrected for his especial benefit.

When conversation dropped and the travelers filled the last pipes
and lashed their tight-rolled sleeping furs. Prince fell back
upon his comrade for further information.

'Well, you know what the cowboy is,' Malemute Kid answered,
beginning to unlace his moccasins; 'and it's not hard to guess
the British blood in his bed partner. As for the rest, they're
all children of the coureurs du bois, mingled with God knows how
many other bloods. The two turning in by the door are the
regulation 'breeds' or Boisbrules. That lad with the worsted
breech scarf--notice his eyebrows and the turn of his jaw--shows
a Scotchman wept in his mother's smoky tepee. And that handsome
looking fellow putting the capote under his head is a French
half-breed--you heard him talking; he doesn't like the two
Indians turning in next to him. You see, when the 'breeds' rose
under the Riel the full-bloods kept the peace, and they've not
lost much love for one another since.' 'But I say, what's that
glum-looking fellow by the stove? I'll swear he can't talk
English. He hasn't opened his mouth all night.' 'You're wrong. He
knows English well enough. Did you follow his eyes when he
listened? I did. But he's neither kith nor kin to the others.
When they talked their own patois you could see he didn't
understand. I've been wondering myself what he is. Let's find
out.' 'Fire a couple of sticks into the stove!'

Malemute Kid commanded, raising his voice and looking squarely at
the man in question.

He obeyed at once.

'Had discipline knocked into him somewhere.' Prince commented in
a low tone.

Malemute Kid nodded, took off his socks, and picked his way among
recumbent men to the stove. There he hung his damp footgear among
a score or so of mates.

'When do you expect to get to Dawson?' he asked tentatively.

The man studied him a moment before replying. 'They say
seventy-five mile. So? Maybe two days.' The very slightest accent
was perceptible, while there was no awkward hesitancy or groping
for words.

'Been in the country before?' 'No.' 'Northwest Territory?' 'Yes.'
'Born there?' 'No.'

'Well, where the devil were you born? You're none of these.'
Malemute Kid swept his hand over the dog drivers, even including
the two policemen who had turned into Prince's bunk. 'Where did
you come from? I've seen faces like yours before, though I can't
remember just where.' 'I know you,' he irrelevantly replied, at
once turning the drift of Malemute Kid's questions.

'Where? Ever see me?' 'No; your partner, him priest, Pastilik,
long time ago. Him ask me if I see you, Malemute Kid. Him give me
grub. I no stop long. You hear him speak 'bout me?' 'Oh! you're
the fellow that traded the otter skins for the dogs?' The man
nodded, knocked out his pipe, and signified his disinclination
for conversation by rolling up in his furs. Malemute Kid blew out
the slush lamp and crawled under the blankets with Prince.

'Well, what is he?' 'Don't know--turned me off, somehow, and then
shut up like a clam.

'But he's a fellow to whet your curiosity. I've heard of him. All
the coast wondered about him eight years ago. Sort of mysterious,
you know. He came down out of the North in the dead of winter,
many a thousand miles from here, skirting Bering Sea and
traveling as though the devil were after him. No one ever learned
where he came from, but he must have come far. He was badly
travel-worn when he got food from the Swedish missionary on
Golovin Bay and asked the way south. We heard of all this
afterward. Then he abandoned the shore line, heading right across
Norton Sound. Terrible weather, snowstorms and high winds, but he
pulled through where a thousand other men would have died,
missing St. Michaels and making the land at Pastilik. He'd lost
all but two dogs, and was nearly gone with starvation.

'He was so anxious to go on that Father Roubeau fitted him out
with grub; but he couldn't let him have any dogs, for he was only
waiting my arrival, to go on a trip himself. Mr. Ulysses knew too
much to start on without animals, and fretted around for several
days. He had on his sled a bunch of beautifully cured otter
skins, sea otters, you know, worth their weight in gold. There
was also at Pastilik an old Shylock of a Russian trader, who had
dogs to kill. Well, they didn't dicker very long, but when the
Strange One headed south again, it was in the rear of a spanking
dog team. Mr. Shylock, by the way, had the otter skins. I saw
them, and they were magnificent. We figured it up and found the
dogs brought him at least five hundred apiece. And it wasn't as
if the Strange One didn't know the value of sea otter; he was an
Indian of some sort, and what little he talked showed he'd been
among white men.

'After the ice passed out of the sea, word came up from Nunivak
Island that he'd gone in there for grub. Then he dropped from
sight, and this is the first heard of him in eight years. Now
where did he come from? and what was he doing there? and why did
he come from there? He's Indian, he's been nobody knows where,
and he's had discipline, which is unusual for an Indian. Another
mystery of the North for you to solve, Prince.' 'Thanks awfully,
but I've got too many on hand as it is,' he replied.

Malemute Kid was already breathing heavily; but the young mining
engineer gazed straight up through the thick darkness, waiting
for the strange orgasm which stirred his blood to die away. And
when he did sleep, his brain worked on, and for the nonce he,
too, wandered through the white unknown, struggled with the dogs
on endless trails, and saw men live, and toil, and die like men.
The next morning, hours before daylight, the dog drivers and
policemen pulled out for Dawson. But the powers that saw to Her
Majesty's interests and ruled the destinies of her lesser
creatures gave the mailmen little rest, for a week later they
appeared at Stuart River, heavily burdened with letters for Salt

However, their dogs had been replaced by fresh ones; but, then,
they were dogs.

The men had expected some sort of a layover in which to rest up;
besides, this Klondike was a new section of the Northland, and
they had wished to see a little something of the Golden City
where dust flowed like water and dance halls rang with
never-ending revelry. But they dried their socks and smoked their
evening pipes with much the same gusto as on their former visit,
though one or two bold spirits speculated on desertion and the
possibility of crossing the unexplored Rockies to the east, and
thence, by the Mackenzie Valley, of gaining their old stamping
grounds in the Chippewyan country.

Two or three even decided to return to their homes by that route
when their terms of service had expired, and they began to lay
plans forthwith, looking forward to the hazardous undertaking in
much the same way a city-bred man would to a day's holiday in the

He of the Otter Skins seemed very restless, though he took little
interest in the discussion, and at last he drew Malemute Kid to
one side and talked for some time in low tones.

Prince cast curious eyes in their direction, and the mystery
deepened when they put on caps and mittens and went outside. When
they returned, Malemute Kid placed his gold scales on the table,
weighed out the matter of sixty ounces, and transferred them to
the Strange One's sack. Then the chief of the dog drivers joined
the conclave, and certain business was transacted with him.

The next day the gang went on upriver, but He of the Otter Skins
took several pounds of grub and turned his steps back toward

'Didn't know what to make of it,' said Malemute Kid in response
to Prince's queries; 'but the poor beggar wanted to be quit of
the service for some reason or other--at least it seemed a most
important one to him, though he wouldn't let on what. You see,
it's just like the army: he signed for two years, and the only
way to get free was to buy himself out. He couldn't desert and
then stay here, and he was just wild to remain in the country.

'Made up his mind when he got to Dawson, he said; but no one knew
him, hadn't a cent, and I was the only one he'd spoken two words
with. So he talked it over with the lieutenant-governor, and made
arrangements in case he could get the money from me--loan, you
know. Said he'd pay back in the year, and, if I wanted, would put
me onto something rich. Never'd seen it, but he knew it was rich.

'And talk! why, when he got me outside he was ready to weep.
Begged and pleaded; got down in the snow to me till I hauled him
out of it. Palavered around like a crazy man.

'Swore he's worked to this very end for years and years, and
couldn't bear to be disappointed now. Asked him what end, but he
wouldn't say.

'Said they might keep him on the other half of the trail and he
wouldn't get to Dawson in two years, and then it would be too
late. Never saw a man take on so in my life. And when I said I'd
let him have it, had to yank him out of the snow again. Told him
to consider it in the light of a grubstake. Think he'd have it?
No sir! Swore he'd give me all he found, make me rich beyond the
dreams of avarice, and all such stuff. Now a man who puts his
life and time against a grubstake ordinarily finds it hard enough
to turn over half of what he finds. Something behind all this,
Prince; just you make a note of it. We'll hear of him if he stays
in the country--' 'And if he doesn't?' 'Then my good nature gets
a shock, and I'm sixty some odd ounces out.' The cold weather had
come on with the long nights, and the sun had begun to play his
ancient game of peekaboo along the southern snow line ere aught
was heard of Malemute Kid's grubstake. And then, one bleak
morning in early January, a heavily laden dog train pulled into
his cabin below Stuart River. He of the Otter Skins was there,
and with him walked a man such as the gods have almost forgotten
how to fashion. Men never talked of luck and pluck and
five-hundred-dollar dirt without bringing in the name of Axel
Gunderson; nor could tales of nerve or strength or daring pass up
and down the campfire without the summoning of his presence. And
when the conversation flagged, it blazed anew at mention of the
woman who shared his fortunes.

As has been noted, in the making of Axel Gunderson the gods had
remembered their old-time cunning and cast him after the manner
of men who were born when the world was young. Full seven feet he
towered in his picturesque costume which marked a king of
Eldorado. His chest, neck, and limbs were those of a giant. To
bear his three hundred pounds of bone and muscle, his snowshoes
were greater by a generous yard than those of other men.
Rough-hewn, with rugged brow and massive jaw and unflinching eyes
of palest blue, his face told the tale of one who knew but the
law of might. Of the yellow of ripe corn silk, his frost-incrusted
hair swept like day across the night and fell far down his coat of

A vague tradition of the sea seemed to cling about him as he
swung down the narrow trail in advance of the dogs; and he
brought the butt of his dog whip against Malemute Kid's door as a
Norse sea rover, on southern foray, might thunder for admittance
at the castle gate.

Prince bared his womanly arms and kneaded sour-dough bread,
casting, as he did so, many a glance at the three guests--three
guests the like of which might never come under a man's roof in a
lifetime. The Strange One, whom Malemute Kid had surnamed
Ulysses, still fascinated him; but his interest chiefly
gravitated between Axel Gunderson and Axel Gunderson's wife. She
felt the day's journey, for she had softened in comfortable
cabins during the many days since her husband mastered the wealth
of frozen pay streaks, and she was tired. She rested against his
great breast like a slender flower against a wall, replying
lazily to Malemute Kid's good-natured banter, and stirring
Prince's blood strangely with an occasional sweep of her deep,
dark eyes. For Prince was a man, and healthy, and had seen few
women in many months. And she was older than he, and an Indian
besides. But she was different from all native wives he had met:
she had traveled--had been in his country among others, he
gathered from the conversation; and she knew most of the things
the women of his own race knew, and much more that it was not in
the nature of things for them to know. She could make a meal of
sun-dried fish or a bed in the snow; yet she teased them with
tantalizing details of many-course dinners, and caused strange
internal dissensions to arise at the mention of various quondam
dishes which they had well-nigh forgotten. She knew the ways of
the moose, the bear, and the little blue fox, and of the wild
amphibians of the Northern seas; she was skilled in the lore of
the woods, and the streams, and the tale writ by man and bird and
beast upon the delicate snow crust was to her an open book; yet
Prince caught the appreciative twinkle in her eye as she read the
Rules of the Camp. These rules had been fathered by the
Unquenchable Bettles at a time when his blood ran high, and were
remarkable for the terse simplicity of their humor.

Prince always turned them to the wall before the arrival of
ladies; but who could suspect that this native wife--Well, it was
too late now.

This, then, was the wife of Axel Gunderson, a woman whose name
and fame had traveled with her husband's, hand in hand, through
all the Northland. At table, Malemute Kid baited her with the
assurance of an old friend, and Prince shook off the shyness of
first acquaintance and joined in. But she held her own in the
unequal contest, while her husband, slower in wit, ventured
naught but applause. And he was very proud of her; his every look
and action revealed the magnitude of the place she occupied in
his life. He of the Otter Skins ate in silence, forgotten in the
merry battle; and long ere the others were done he pushed back
from the table and went out among the dogs. Yet all too soon his
fellow travelers drew on their mittens and parkas and followed

There had been no snow for many days, and the sleds slipped along
the hardpacked Yukon trail as easily as if it had been glare ice.
Ulysses led the first sled; with the second came Prince and Axel
Gunderson's wife; while Malemute Kid and the yellow-haired giant
brought up the third.

'It's only a hunch, Kid,' he said, 'but I think it's straight.
He's never been there, but he tells a good story, and shows a map
I heard of when I was in the Kootenay country years ago. I'd like
to have you go along; but he's a strange one, and swore
point-blank to throw it up if anyone was brought in. But when I
come back you'll get first tip, and I'll stake you next to me,
and give you a half share in the town site besides.' 'No! no!' he
cried, as the other strove to interrupt. 'I'm running this, and
before I'm done it'll need two heads.

'If it's all right, why, it'll be a second Cripple Creek, man; do
you hear?--a second Cripple Creek! It's quartz, you know, not
placer; and if we work it right we'll corral the whole
thing--millions upon millions. I've heard of the place before,
and so have you. We'll build a town--thousands of workmen--good
waterways--steamship lines--big carrying trade--light-draught
steamers for head reaches--survey a railroad, perhaps--sawmills--
electric-light plant--do our own banking--commercial
company--syndicate--Say! Just you hold your hush till I get
back!' The sleds came to a halt where the trail crossed the mouth
of Stuart River. An unbroken sea of frost, its wide expanse
stretched away into the unknown east.

The snowshoes were withdrawn from the lashings of the sleds. Axel
Gunderson shook hands and stepped to the fore, his great webbed
shoes sinking a fair half yard into the feathery surface and
packing the snow so the dogs should not wallow. His wife fell in
behind the last sled, betraying long practice in the art of
handling the awkward footgear, The stillness was broken with
cheery farewells; the dogs whined; and He of the Otter Skins
talked with his whip to a recalcitrant wheeler.

An hour later the train had taken on the likeness of a black
pencil crawling in a long, straight line across a mighty sheet of


One night, many weeks later, Malemute Kid and Prince fell to
solving chess problems from the torn page of an ancient magazine.
The Kid had just returned from his Bonanza properties and was
resting up preparatory to a long moose hunt.

Prince, too, had been on creek and trail nearly all winter, and
had grown hungry for a blissful week of cabin life.

'Interpose the black knight, and force the king. No, that won't
do. See, the next move-'

'Why advance the pawn two squares? Bound to take it in transit,
and with the bishop out of the way-' 'But hold on! That leaves a
hole, and-' 'No; it's protected. Go ahead! You'll see it works.'
It was very interesting. Somebody knocked at the door a second
time before Malemute Kid said, 'Come in.' The door swung open.
Something staggered in.

Prince caught one square look and sprang to his feet. The horror
in his eyes caused Malemute Kid to whirl about; and he, too, was
startled, though he had seen bad things before. The thing
tottered blindly toward them. Prince edged away till he reached
the nail from which hung his Smith & Wesson.

'My God! what is it?' he whispered to Malemute Kid.

'Don't know. Looks like a case of freezing and no grub,' replied
the Kid, sliding away in the opposite direction. 'Watch out! It
may be mad,' he warned, coming back from closing the door.

The thing advanced to the table. The bright flame of the slush
lamp caught its eye. It was amused, and gave voice to eldritch
cackles which betokened mirth.

Then, suddenly, he--for it was a man--swayed back, with a hitch
to his skin trousers, and began to sing a chantey, such as men
lift when they swing around the capstan circle and the sea snorts
in their ears: Yan-kee ship come down de ri-ib-er, Pull! my bully
boys! Pull! D'yeh want--to know de captain ru-uns her? Pull! my
bully boys! Pull! Jon-a-than Jones ob South Caho-li-in-a, Pull!
my bully. He broke off abruptly, tottered with a wolfish snarl to
the meat shelf, and before they could intercept was tearing with
his teeth at a chunk of raw bacon. The struggle was fierce
between him and Malemute Kid; but his mad strength left him as
suddenly as it had come, and he weakly surrendered the spoil.
Between them they got him upon a stool, where he sprawled with
half his body across the table.

A small dose of whiskey strengthened him, so that he could dip a
spoon into the sugar caddy which Malemute Kid placed before him.
After his appetite had been somewhat cloyed, Prince, shuddering
as he did so, passed him a mug of weak beef tea.

The creature's eyes were alight with a somber frenzy, which
blazed and waned with every mouthful. There was very little skin
to the face. The face, for that matter, sunken and emaciated,
bore little likeness to human countenance.

Frost after frost had bitten deeply, each depositing its stratum
of scab upon the half-healed scar that went before. This dry,
hard surface was of a bloody-black color, serrated by grievous
cracks wherein the raw red flesh peeped forth. His skin garments
were dirty and in tatters, and the fur of one side was singed and
burned away, showing where he had lain upon his fire.

Malemute Kid pointed to where the sun-tanned hide had been cut
away, strip by strip--the grim signature of famine.

'Who--are--you?' slowly and distinctly enunciated the Kid.

The man paid no heed.

'Where do you come from?' 'Yan-kee ship come down de ri-ib-er,'
was the quavering response.

'Don't doubt the beggar came down the river,' the Kid said,
shaking him in an endeavor to start a more lucid flow of talk.

But the man shrieked at the contact, clapping a hand to his side
in evident pain. He rose slowly to his feet, half leaning on the

'She laughed at me--so--with the hate in her eye; and
she--would--not--come.' His voice died away, and he was sinking
back when Malemute Kid gripped him by the wrist and shouted,
'Who? Who would not come?' 'She, Unga. She laughed, and struck at
me, so, and so. And then-' 'Yes?'

'And then--' 'And then what?' 'And then he lay very still in the
snow a long time. He is-still in--the--snow.' The two men looked
at each other helplessly.

'Who is in the snow?' 'She, Unga. She looked at me with the hate
in her eye, and then--'

'Yes, yes.' 'And then she took the knife, so; and once,
twice--she was weak. I traveled very slow. And there is much gold
in that place, very much gold.' 'Where is Unga?' For all Malemute
Kid knew, she might be dying a mile away. He shook the man
savagely, repeating again and again, 'Where is Unga? Who is
Unga?' 'She--is--in--the--snow.' 'Go on!' The Kid was pressing
his wrist cruelly.

'So--I--would--be--in--the snow--but--I--had--a--debt--to--pay.
It--was--heavy--I--had--a-debt--to--pay--a--debt--to--pay I--had-'
The faltering monosyllables ceased as he fumbled in his pouch and
drew forth a buckskin sack. 'A--debt--to--pay--five--pounds--of
--gold-grub--stake--Mal--e--mute--Kid--I-' The exhausted head
dropped upon the table; nor could Malemute Kid rouse it again.

'It's Ulysses,' he said quietly, tossing the bag of dust on the
table. 'Guess it's all day with Axel Gunderson and the woman.
Come on, let's get him between the blankets. He's Indian; he'll
pull through and tell a tale besides.' As they cut his garments
from him, near his right breast could be seen two unhealed,
hard-lipped knife thrusts.


'I will talk of the things which were in my own way; but you will
understand. I will begin at the beginning, and tell of myself and
the woman, and, after that, of the man.' He of the Otter Skins
drew over to the stove as do men who have been deprived of fire
and are afraid the Promethean gift may vanish at any moment.
Malemute Kid picked up the slush lamp and placed it so its light
might fall upon the face of the narrator. Prince slid his body
over the edge of the bunk and joined them.

'I am Naass, a chief, and the son of a chief, born between a
sunset and a rising, on the dark seas, in my father's oomiak. All
of a night the men toiled at the paddles, and the women cast out
the waves which threw in upon us, and we fought with the storm.
The salt spray froze upon my mother's breast till her breath
passed with the passing of the tide. But I--I raised my voice
with the wind and the storm, and lived.

'We dwelt in Akatan--' 'Where?' asked Malemute Kid.

'Akatan, which is in the Aleutians; Akatan, beyond Chignik,
beyond Kardalak, beyond Unimak. As I say, we dwelt in Akatan,
which lies in the midst of the sea on the edge of the world. We
farmed the salt seas for the fish, the seal, and the otter; and
our homes shouldered about one another on the rocky strip between
the rim of the forest and the yellow beach where our kayaks lay.
We were not many, and the world was very small. There were
strange lands to the east--islands like Akatan; so we thought all
the world was islands and did not mind.

'I was different from my people. In the sands of the beach were
the crooked timbers and wave-warped planks of a boat such as my
people never built; and I remember on the point of the island
which overlooked the ocean three ways there stood a pine tree
which never grew there, smooth and straight and tall. It is said
the two men came to that spot, turn about, through many days, and
watched with the passing of the light. These two men came from
out of the sea in the boat which lay in pieces on the beach. And
they were white like you, and weak as the little children when
the seal have gone away and the hunters come home empty. I know
of these things from the old men and the old women, who got them
from their fathers and mothers before them. These strange white
men did not take kindly to our ways at first, but they grew
strong, what of the fish and the oil, and fierce. And they built
them each his own house, and took the pick of our women, and in
time children came. Thus he was born who was to become the father
of my father's father.

'As I said, I was different from my people, for I carried the
strong, strange blood of this white man who came out of the sea.
It is said we had other laws in the days before these men; but
they were fierce and quarrelsome, and fought with our men till
there were no more left who dared to fight. Then they made
themselves chiefs, and took away our old laws, and gave us new
ones, insomuch that the man was the son of his father, and not
his mother, as our way had been. They also ruled that the son,
first-born, should have all things which were his father's before
him, and that the brothers and sisters should shift for
themselves. And they gave us other laws. They showed us new ways
in the catching of fish and the killing of bear which were thick
in the woods; and they taught us to lay by bigger stores for the
time of famine. And these things were good.

'But when they had become chiefs, and there were no more men to
face their anger, they fought, these strange white men, each with
the other. And the one whose blood I carry drove his seal spear
the length of an arm through the other's body. Their children
took up the fight, and their children's children; and there was
great hatred between them, and black doings, even to my time, so
that in each family but one lived to pass down the blood of them
that went before. Of my blood I was alone; of the other man's
there was but a girl. Unga, who lived with her mother. Her father
and my father did not come back from the fishing one night; but
afterward they washed up to the beach on the big tides, and they
held very close to each other.

'The people wondered, because of the hatred between the houses,
and the old men shook their heads and said the fight would go on
when children were born to her and children to me. They told me
this as a boy, till I came to believe, and to look upon Unga as a
foe, who was to be the mother of children which were to fight
with mine. I thought of these things day by day, and when I grew
to a stripling I came to ask why this should be so.

'And they answered, "We do not know, but that in such way your
fathers did." And I marveled that those which were to come should
fight the battles of those that were gone, and in it I could see
no right. But the people said it must be, and I was only a

'And they said I must hurry, that my blood might be the older and
grow strong before hers. This was easy, for I was head man, and
the people looked up to me because of the deeds and the laws of
my fathers, and the wealth which was mine. Any maiden would come
to me, but I found none to my liking. And the old men and the
mothers of maidens told me to hurry, for even then were the
hunters bidding high to the mother of Unga; and should her
children grow strong before mine, mine would surely die.

'Nor did I find a maiden till one night coming back from the
fishing. The sunlight was lying, so, low and full in the eyes,
the wind free, and the kayacks racing with the white seas. Of a
sudden the kayak of Unga came driving past me, and she looked
upon me, so, with her black hair flying like a cloud of night and
the spray wet on her cheek. As I say, the sunlight was full in
the eyes, and I was a stripling; but somehow it was all clear,
and I knew it to be the call of kind to kind.

'As she whipped ahead she looked back within the space of two
strokes--looked as only the woman Unga could look--and again I
knew it as the call of kind. The people shouted as we ripped past
the lazy oomiaks and left them far behind. But she was quick at
the paddle, and my heart was like the belly of a sail, and I did
not gain. The wind freshened, the sea whitened, and, leaping like
the seals on the windward breech, we roared down the golden
pathway of the sun.' Naass was crouched half out of his stool, in
the attitude of one driving a paddle, as he ran the race anew.
Somewhere across the stove he beheld the tossing kayak and the
flying hair of Unga. The voice of the wind was in his ears, and
its salt beat fresh upon his nostrils.

'But she made the shore, and ran up the sand, laughing, to the
house of her mother. And a great thought came to me that night--a
thought worthy of him that was chief over all the people of
Akatan. So, when the moon was up, I went down to the house of her
mother, and looked upon the goods of Yash-Noosh, which were piled
by the door--the goods of Yash-Noosh, a strong hunter who had it
in mind to be the father of the children of Unga. Other young men
had piled their goods there and taken them away again; and each
young man had made a pile greater than the one before.

'And I laughed to the moon and the stars, and went to my own
house where my wealth was stored. And many trips I made, till my
pile was greater by the fingers of one hand than the pile of
Yash-Noosh. There were fish, dried in the sun and smoked; and
forty hides of the hair seal, and half as many of the fur, and
each hide was tied at the mouth and big bellied with oil; and ten
skins of bear which I killed in the woods when they came out in
the spring. And there were beads and blankets and scarlet cloths,
such as I got in trade from the people who lived to the east, and
who got them in trade from the people who lived still beyond in
the east.

'And I looked upon the pile of Yash-Noosh and laughed, for I was
head man in Akatan, and my wealth was greater than the wealth of
all my young men, and my fathers had done deeds, and given laws,
and put their names for all time in the mouths of the people.

'So, when the morning came, I went down to the beach, casting out
of the corner of my eye at the house of the mother of Unga. My
offer yet stood untouched.

'And the women smiled, and said sly things one to the other. I
wondered, for never had such a price been offered; and that night
I added more to the pile, and put beside it a kayak of well-tanned
skins which never yet had swam in the sea. But in the day it was
yet there, open to the laughter of all men. The mother of Unga was
crafty, and I grew angry at the shame in which I stood before my
people. So that night I added till it became a great pile, and I
hauled up my oomiak, which was of the value of twenty kayaks. And
in the morning there was no pile.

'Then made I preparation for the wedding, and the people that
lived even to the east came for the food of the feast and the
potlatch token. Unga was older than I by the age of four suns in
the way we reckoned the years. I was only a stripling; but then I
was a chief, and the son of a chief, and it did not matter.

'But a ship shoved her sails above the floor of the ocean, and
grew larger with the breath of the wind. From her scuppers she
ran clear water, and the men were in haste and worked hard at the
pumps. On the bow stood a mighty man, watching the depth of the
water and giving commands with a voice of thunder. His eyes were
of the pale blue of the deep waters, and his head was maned like
that of a sea lion. And his hair was yellow, like the straw of a
southern harvest or the manila rope yarns which sailormen plait.

'Of late years we had seen ships from afar, but this was the
first to come to the beach of Akatan. The feast was broken, and
the women and children fled to the houses, while we men strung
our bows and waited with spears in hand. But when the ship's
forefoot smelled the beach the strange men took no notice of us,
being busy with their own work. With the falling of the tide they
careened the schooner and patched a great hole in her bottom. So
the women crept back, and the feast went on.

'When the tide rose, the sea wanderers kedged the schooner to
deep water and then came among us. They bore presents and were
friendly; so I made room for them, and out of the largeness of my
heart gave them tokens such as I gave all the guests, for it was
my wedding day, and I was head man in Akatan. And he with the
mane of the sea lion was there, so tall and strong that one
looked to see the earth shake with the fall of his feet. He
looked much and straight at Unga, with his arms folded, so, and
stayed till the sun went away and the stars came out. Then he
went down to his ship. After that I took Unga by the hand and led
her to my own house. And there was singing and great laughter,
and the women said sly things, after the manner of women at such
times. But we did not care. Then the people left us alone and
went home.

'The last noise had not died away when the chief of the sea
wanderers came in by the door. And he had with him black bottles,
from which we drank and made merry. You see, I was only a
stripling, and had lived all my days on the edge of the world. So
my blood became as fire, and my heart as light as the froth that
flies from the surf to the cliff. Unga sat silent among the skins
in the corner, her eyes wide, for she seemed to fear. And he with
the mane of the sea lion looked upon her straight and long. Then
his men came in with bundles of goods, and he piled before me
wealth such as was not in all Akatan. There were guns, both large
and small, and powder and shot and shell, and bright axes and
knives of steel, and cunning tools, and strange things the like
of which I had never seen. When he showed me by sign that it was
all mine, I thought him a great man to be so free; but he showed
me also that Unga was to go away with him in his ship.

'Do you understand?--that Unga was to go away with him in his
ship. The blood of my fathers flamed hot on the sudden, and I
made to drive him through with my spear. But the spirit of the
bottles had stolen the life from my arm, and he took me by the
neck, so, and knocked my head against the wall of the house. And
I was made weak like a newborn child, and my legs would no more
stand under me.

'Unga screamed, and she laid hold of the things of the house with
her hands, till they fell all about us as he dragged her to the
door. Then he took her in his great arms, and when she tore at
his yellow hair laughed with a sound like that of the big bull
seal in the rut.

'I crawled to the beach and called upon my people, but they were
afraid. Only Yash-Noosh was a man, and they struck him on the
head with an oar, till he lay with his face in the sand and did
not move. And they raised the sails to the sound of their songs,
and the ship went away on the wind.

'The people said it was good, for there would be no more war of
the bloods in Akatan; but I said never a word, waiting till the
time of the full moon, when I put fish and oil in my kayak and
went away to the east. I saw many islands and many people, and I,
who had lived on the edge, saw that the world was very large. I
talked by signs; but they had not seen a schooner nor a man with
the mane of a sea lion, and they pointed always to the east. And
I slept in queer places, and ate odd things, and met strange
faces. Many laughed, for they thought me light of head; but
sometimes old men turned my face to the light and blessed me, and
the eyes of the young women grew soft as they asked me of the
strange ship, and Unga, and the men of the sea.

'And in this manner, through rough seas and great storms, I came
to Unalaska. There were two schooners there, but neither was the
one I sought. So I passed on to the east, with the world growing
ever larger, and in the island of Unamok there was no word of the
ship, nor in Kadiak, nor in Atognak. And so I came one day to a
rocky land, where men dug great holes in the mountain. And there
was a schooner, but not my schooner, and men loaded upon it the
rocks which they dug. This I thought childish, for all the world
was made of rocks; but they gave me food and set me to work. When
the schooner was deep in the water, the captain gave me money and
told me to go; but I asked which way he went, and he pointed
south. I made signs that I would go with him, and he laughed at
first, but then, being short of men, took me to help work the
ship. So I came to talk after their manner, and to heave on
ropes, and to reef the stiff sails in sudden squalls, and to take
my turn at the wheel. But it was not strange, for the blood of my
fathers was the blood of the men of the sea.

'I had thought it an easy task to find him I sought, once I got
among his own people; and when we raised the land one day, and
passed between a gateway of the sea to a port, I looked for
perhaps as many schooners as there were fingers to my hands. But
the ships lay against the wharves for miles, packed like so many
little fish; and when I went among them to ask for a man with the
mane of a sea lion, they laughed, and answered me in the tongues
of many peoples. And I found that they hailed from the uttermost
parts of the earth.

'And I went into the city to look upon the face of every man. But
they were like the cod when they run thick on the banks, and I
could not count them. And the noise smote upon me till I could
not hear, and my head was dizzy with much movement. So I went on
and on, through the lands which sang in the warm sunshine; where
the harvests lay rich on the plains; and where great cities were
fat with men that lived like women, with false words in their
mouths and their hearts black with the lust of gold. And all the
while my people of Akatan hunted and fished, and were happy in
the thought that the world was small.

'But the look in the eyes of Unga coming home from the fishing
was with me always, and I knew I would find her when the time was
met. She walked down quiet lanes in the dusk of the evening, or
led me chases across the thick fields wet with the morning dew,
and there was a promise in her eyes such as only the woman Unga
could give.

'So I wandered through a thousand cities. Some were gentle and
gave me food, and others laughed, and still others cursed; but I
kept my tongue between my teeth, and went strange ways and saw
strange sights. Sometimes I, who was a chief and the son of a
chief, toiled for men--men rough of speech and hard as iron, who
wrung gold from the sweat and sorrow of their fellow men. Yet no
word did I get of my quest till I came back to the sea like a
homing seal to the rookeries.

'But this was at another port, in another country which lay to
the north. And there I heard dim tales of the yellow-haired sea
wanderer, and I learned that he was a hunter of seals, and that
even then he was abroad on the ocean.

'So I shipped on a seal schooner with the lazy Siwashes, and
followed his trackless trail to the north where the hunt was then
warm. And we were away weary months, and spoke many of the fleet,
and heard much of the wild doings of him I sought; but never once
did we raise him above the sea. We went north, even to the
Pribilofs, and killed the seals in herds on the beach, and
brought their warm bodies aboard till our scuppers ran grease and
blood and no man could stand upon the deck. Then were we chased
by a ship of slow steam, which fired upon us with great guns. But
we put sail till the sea was over our decks and washed them
clean, and lost ourselves in a fog.

'It is said, at this time, while we fled with fear at our hearts,
that the yellow-haired sea wanderer put in to the Pribilofs, right
to the factory, and while the part of his men held the servants
of the company, the rest loaded ten thousand green skins from the
salt houses. I say it is said, but I believe; for in the voyages
I made on the coast with never a meeting the northern seas rang
with his wildness and daring, till the three nations which have
lands there sought him with their ships.

'And I heard of Unga, for the captains sang loud in her praise,
and she was always with him. She had learned the ways of his
people, they said, and was happy. But I knew better--knew that
her heart harked back to her own people by the yellow beach of

'So, after a long time, I went back to the port which is by a
gateway of the sea, and there I learned that he had gone across
the girth of the great ocean to hunt for the seal to the east of
the warm land which runs south from the Russian seas.

'And I, who was become a sailorman, shipped with men of his own
race, and went after him in the hunt of the seal. And there were
few ships off that new land; but we hung on the flank of the seal
pack and harried it north through all the spring of the year. And
when the cows were heavy with pup and crossed the Russian line,
our men grumbled and were afraid. For there was much fog, and
every day men were lost in the boats. They would not work, so the
captain turned the ship back toward the way it came. But I knew
the yellow-haired sea wanderer was unafraid, and would hang by
the pack, even to the Russian Isles, where few men go. So I took
a boat, in the black of night, when the lookout dozed on the
fo'c'slehead, and went alone to the warm, long land. And I
journeyed south to meet the men by Yeddo Bay, who are wild and
unafraid. And the Yoshiwara girls were small, and bright like
steel, and good to look upon; but I could not stop, for I knew
that Unga rolled on the tossing floor by the rookeries of the

'The men by Yeddo Bay had met from the ends of the earth, and had
neither gods nor homes, sailing under the flag of the Japanese.
And with them I went to the rich beaches of Copper Island, where
our salt piles became high with skins.

'And in that silent sea we saw no man till we were ready to come
away. Then one day the fog lifted on the edge of a heavy wind,
and there jammed down upon us a schooner, with close in her wake
the cloudy funnels of a Russian man-of-war. We fled away on the
beam of the wind, with the schooner jamming still closer and
plunging ahead three feet to our two. And upon her poop was the
man with the mane of the sea lion, pressing the rails under with
the canvas and laughing in his strength of life. And Unga was
there--I knew her on the moment--but he sent her below when the
cannons began to talk across the sea.

As I say, with three feet to our two, till we saw the rudder lift
green at every jump--and I swinging on to the wheel and cursing,
with my back to the Russian shot. For we knew he had it in mind
to run before us, that he might get away while we were caught.
And they knocked our masts out of us till we dragged into the
wind like a wounded gull; but he went on over the edge of the sky
line--he and Unga.

'What could we? The fresh hides spoke for themselves. So they
took us to a Russian port, and after that to a lone country,
where they set us to work in the mines to dig salt. And some
died, and--and some did not die.' Naass swept the blanket from
his shoulders, disclosing the gnarled and twisted flesh, marked
with the unmistakable striations of the knout. Prince hastily
covered him, for it was not nice to look upon.

'We were there a weary time and sometimes men got away to the
south, but they always came back. So, when we who hailed from
Yeddo Bay rose in the night and took the guns from the guards, we
went to the north. And the land was very large, with plains,
soggy with water, and great forests. And the cold came, with much
snow on the ground, and no man knew the way. Weary months we
journeyed through the endless forest--I do not remember, now, for
there was little food and often we lay down to die. But at last
we came to the cold sea, and but three were left to look upon it.
One had shipped from Yeddo as captain, and he knew in his head
the lay of the great lands, and of the place where men may cross
from one to the other on the ice. And he led us--I do not know,
it was so long--till there were but two. When we came to that
place we found five of the strange people which live in that
country, and they had dogs and skins, and we were very poor. We
fought in the snow till they died, and the captain died, and the
dogs and skins were mine. Then I crossed on the ice, which was
broken, and once I drifted till a gale from the west put me upon
the shore. And after that, Golovin Bay, Pastilik, and the priest.
Then south, south, to the warm sunlands where first I wandered.

'But the sea was no longer fruitful, and those who went upon it
after the seal went to little profit and great risk. The fleets
scattered, and the captains and the men had no word of those I
sought. So I turned away from the ocean which never rests, and
went among the lands, where the trees, the houses, and the
mountains sit always in one place and do not move. I journeyed
far, and came to learn many things, even to the way of reading
and writing from books. It was well I should do this, for it came
upon me that Unga must know these things, and that someday, when
the time was met--we--you understand, when the time was met.

'So I drifted, like those little fish which raise a sail to the
wind but cannot steer. But my eyes and my ears were open always,
and I went among men who traveled much, for I knew they had but
to see those I sought to remember. At last there came a man,
fresh from the mountains, with pieces of rock in which the free
gold stood to the size of peas, and he had heard, he had met, he
knew them. They were rich, he said, and lived in the place where
they drew the gold from the ground.

'It was in a wild country, and very far away; but in time I came
to the camp, hidden between the mountains, where men worked night
and day, out of the sight of the sun. Yet the time was not come.
I listened to the talk of the people. He had gone away--they had
gone away--to England, it was said, in the matter of bringing men
with much money together to form companies. I saw the house they
had lived in; more like a palace, such as one sees in the old
countries. In the nighttime I crept in through a window that I
might see in what manner he treated her. I went from room to
room, and in such way thought kings and queens must live, it was
all so very good. And they all said he treated her like a queen,
and many marveled as to what breed of woman she was for there was
other blood in her veins, and she was different from the women of
Akatan, and no one knew her for what she was. Aye, she was a
queen; but I was a chief, and the son of a chief, and I had paid
for her an untold price of skin and boat and bead.

'But why so many words? I was a sailorman, and knew the way of
the ships on the seas. I followed to England, and then to other
countries. Sometimes I heard of them by word of mouth, sometimes
I read of them in the papers; yet never once could I come by
them, for they had much money, and traveled fast, while I was a
poor man. Then came trouble upon them, and their wealth slipped
away one day like a curl of smoke. The papers were full of it at
the time; but after that nothing was said, and I knew they had
gone back where more gold could be got from the ground.

'They had dropped out of the world, being now poor, and so I
wandered from camp to camp, even north to the Kootenay country,
where I picked up the cold scent. They had come and gone, some
said this way, and some that, and still others that they had gone
to the country of the Yukon. And I went this way, and I went
that, ever journeying from place to place, till it seemed I must
grow weary of the world which was so large. But in the Kootenay I
traveled a bad trail, and a long trail, with a breed of the
Northwest, who saw fit to die when the famine pinched. He had
been to the Yukon by an unknown way over the mountains, and when
he knew his time was near gave me the map and the secret of a
place where he swore by his gods there was much gold.

'After that all the world began to flock into the north. I was a
poor man; I sold myself to be a driver of dogs. The rest you
know. I met him and her in Dawson.

'She did not know me, for I was only a stripling, and her life
had been large, so she had no time to remember the one who had
paid for her an untold price.

'So? You bought me from my term of service. I went back to bring
things about in my own way, for I had waited long, and now that I
had my hand upon him was in no hurry.

'As I say, I had it in mind to do my own way, for I read back in
my life, through all I had seen and suffered, and remembered the
cold and hunger of the endless forest by the Russian seas. As you
know, I led him into the east--him and Unga--into the east where
many have gone and few returned. I led them to the spot where the
bones and the curses of men lie with the gold which they may not

'The way was long and the trail unpacked. Our dogs were many and
ate much; nor could our sleds carry till the break of spring. We
must come back before the river ran free. So here and there we
cached grub, that our sleds might be lightened and there be no
chance of famine on the back trip. At the McQuestion there were
three men, and near them we built a cache, as also did we at the
Mayo, where was a hunting camp of a dozen Pellys which had
crossed the divide from the south.

'After that, as we went on into the east, we saw no men; only the
sleeping river, the moveless forest, and the White Silence of the
North. As I say, the way was long and the trail unpacked.
Sometimes, in a day's toil, we made no more than eight miles, or
ten, and at night we slept like dead men. And never once did they
dream that I was Naass, head man of Akatan, the righter of

'We now made smaller caches, and in the nighttime it was a small
matter to go back on the trail we had broken and change them in
such way that one might deem the wolverines the thieves. Again
there be places where there is a fall to the river, and the water
is unruly, and the ice makes above and is eaten away beneath.

'In such a spot the sled I drove broke through, and the dogs; and
to him and Unga it was ill luck, but no more. And there was much
grub on that sled, and the dogs the strongest.

'But he laughed, for he was strong of life, and gave the dogs
that were left little grub till we cut them from the harnesses
one by one and fed them to their mates. We would go home light,
he said, traveling and eating from cache to cache, with neither
dogs nor sleds; which was true, for our grub was very short, and
the last dog died in the traces the night we came to the gold and
the bones and the curses of men.

'To reach that place--and the map spoke true--in the heart of the
great mountains, we cut ice steps against the wall of a divide.
One looked for a valley beyond, but there was no valley; the snow
spread away, level as the great harvest plains, and here and
there about us mighty mountains shoved their white heads among
the stars. And midway on that strange plain which should have
been a valley the earth and the snow fell away, straight down
toward the heart of the world.

'Had we not been sailormen our heads would have swung round with
the sight, but we stood on the dizzy edge that we might see a way
to get down. And on one side, and one side only, the wall had
fallen away till it was like the slope of the decks in a topsail
breeze. I do not know why this thing should be so, but it was so.
"It is the mouth of hell," he said; "let us go down." And we went

'And on the bottom there was a cabin, built by some man, of logs
which he had cast down from above. It was a very old cabin, for
men had died there alone at different times, and on pieces of
birch bark which were there we read their last words and their

'One had died of scurvy; another's partner had robbed him of his
last grub and powder and stolen away; a third had been mauled by
a baldface grizzly; a fourth had hunted for game and starved--and
so it went, and they had been loath to leave the gold, and had
died by the side of it in one way or another. And the worthless
gold they had gathered yellowed the floor of the cabin like in a

'But his soul was steady, and his head clear, this man I had led
thus far. "We have nothing to eat," he said, "and we will only
look upon this gold, and see whence it comes and how much there
be. Then we will go away quick, before it gets into our eyes and
steals away our judgment. And in this way we may return in the
end, with more grub, and possess it all." So we looked upon the
great vein, which cut the wall of the pit as a true vein should,
and we measured it, and traced it from above and below, and drove
the stakes of the claims and blazed the trees in token of our
rights. Then, our knees shaking with lack of food, and a sickness
in our bellies, and our hearts chugging close to our mouths, we
climbed the mighty wall for the last time and turned our faces to
the back trip.

'The last stretch we dragged Unga between us, and we fell often,
but in the end we made the cache. And lo, there was no grub. It
was well done, for he thought it the wolverines, and damned them
and his gods in one breath. But Unga was brave, and smiled, and
put her hand in his, till I turned away that I might hold myself.
"We will rest by the fire," she said, "till morning, and we will
gather strength from our moccasins." So we cut the tops of our
moccasins in strips, and boiled them half of the night, that we
might chew them and swallow them. And in the morning we talked of
our chance. The next cache was five days' journey; we could not
make it. We must find game.

'"We will go forth and hunt," he said.

'"Yes," said I, "we will go forth and hunt." 'And he ruled that
Unga stay by the fire and save her strength. And we went forth,
he in quest of the moose and I to the cache I had changed. But I
ate little, so they might not see in me much strength. And in the
night he fell many times as he drew into camp. And I, too, made
to suffer great weakness, stumbling over my snowshoes as though
each step might be my last. And we gathered strength from our

'He was a great man. His soul lifted his body to the last; nor
did he cry aloud, save for the sake of Unga. On the second day I
followed him, that I might not miss the end. And he lay down to
rest often. That night he was near gone; but in the morning he
swore weakly and went forth again. He was like a drunken man, and
I looked many times for him to give up, but his was the strength
of the strong, and his soul the soul of a giant, for he lifted
his body through all the weary day. And he shot two ptarmigan,
but would not eat them. He needed no fire; they meant life; but
his thought was for Unga, and he turned toward camp.

'He no longer walked, but crawled on hand and knee through the
snow. I came to him, and read death in his eyes. Even then it was
not too late to eat of the ptarmigan. He cast away his rifle and
carried the birds in his mouth like a dog. I walked by his side,
upright. And he looked at me during the moments he rested, and
wondered that I was so strong. I could see it, though he no
longer spoke; and when his lips moved, they moved without sound.

'As I say, he was a great man, and my heart spoke for softness;
but I read back in my life, and remembered the cold and hunger of
the endless forest by the Russian seas. Besides, Unga was mine,
and I had paid for her an untold price of skin and boat and bead.

'And in this manner we came through the white forest, with the
silence heavy upon us like a damp sea mist. And the ghosts of the
past were in the air and all about us; and I saw the yellow beach
of Akatan, and the kayaks racing home from the fishing, and the
houses on the rim of the forest. And the men who had made
themselves chiefs were there, the lawgivers whose blood I bore
and whose blood I had wedded in Unga. Aye, and Yash-Noosh walked
with me, the wet sand in his hair, and his war spear, broken as
he fell upon it, still in his hand. And I knew the time was meet,
and saw in the eyes of Unga the promise.

'As I say, we came thus through the forest, till the smell of the
camp smoke was in our nostrils. And I bent above him, and tore
the ptarmigan from his teeth.

'He turned on his side and rested, the wonder mounting in his
eyes, and the hand which was under slipping slow toward the knife
at his hip. But I took it from him, smiling close in his face.
Even then he did not understand. So I made to drink from black
bottles, and to build high upon the snow a pile--of goods, and to
live again the things which had happened on the night of my
marriage. I spoke no word, but he understood. Yet was he
unafraid. There was a sneer to his lips, and cold anger, and he
gathered new strength with the knowledge. It was not far, but the
snow was deep, and he dragged himself very slow.

'Once he lay so long I turned him over and gazed into his eyes.
And sometimes he looked forth, and sometimes death. And when I
loosed him he struggled on again. In this way we came to the
fire. Unga was at his side on the instant. His lips moved without
sound; then he pointed at me, that Unga might understand. And
after that he lay in the snow, very still, for a long while. Even
now is he there in the snow.

'I said no word till I had cooked the ptarmigan. Then I spoke to
her, in her own tongue, which she had not heard in many years.
She straightened herself, so, and her eyes were wonder-wide, and
she asked who I was, and where I had learned that speech.

'"I am Naass," I said.

'"You?" she said. "You?" And she crept close that she might look
upon me.

'"Yes," I answered; "I am Naass, head man of Akatan, the last of
the blood, as you are the last of the blood." 'And she laughed.
By all the things I have seen and the deeds I have done may I
never hear such a laugh again. It put the chill to my soul,
sitting there in the White Silence, alone with death and this
woman who laughed.

'"Come!" I said, for I thought she wandered. "Eat of the food and
let us be gone. It is a far fetch from here to Akatan." 'But she
shoved her face in his yellow mane, and laughed till it seemed
the heavens must fall about our ears. I had thought she would be
overjoyed at the sight of me, and eager to go back to the memory
of old times, but this seemed a strange form to take.

'"Come!" I cried, taking her strong by the hand. "The way is long
and dark. Let us hurry!" "Where?" she asked, sitting up, and
ceasing from her strange mirth.

'"To Akatan," I answered, intent on the light to grow on her face
at the thought. But it became like his, with a sneer to the lips,
and cold anger.

'"Yes," she said; "we will go, hand in hand, to Akatan, you and
I. And we will live in the dirty huts, and eat of the fish and
oil, and bring forth a spawn--a spawn to be proud of all the days
of our life. We will forget the world and be happy, very happy.
It is good, most good. Come! Let us hurry. Let us go back to
Akatan." And she ran her hand through his yellow hair, and
smiled in a way which was not good. And there was no promise in
her eyes.

'I sat silent, and marveled at the strangeness of woman. I went
back to the night when he dragged her from me and she screamed
and tore at his hair--at his hair which now she played with and
would not leave. Then I remembered the price and the long years
of waiting; and I gripped her close, and dragged her away as he
had done. And she held back, even as on that night, and fought
like a she-cat for its whelp. And when the fire was between us
and the man. I loosed her, and she sat and listened. And I told
her of all that lay between, of all that had happened to me on
strange seas, of all that I had done in strange lands; of my
weary quest, and the hungry years, and the promise which had been
mine from the first. Aye, I told all, even to what had passed
that day between the man and me, and in the days yet young. And
as I spoke I saw the promise grow in her eyes, full and large
like the break of dawn. And I read pity there, the tenderness of
woman, the love, the heart and the soul of Unga. And I was a
stripling again, for the look was the look of Unga as she ran up
the beach, laughing, to the home of her mother. The stern unrest
was gone, and the hunger, and the weary waiting.

'The time was met. I felt the call of her breast, and it seemed
there I must pillow my head and forget. She opened her arms to
me, and I came against her. Then, sudden, the hate flamed in her
eye, her hand was at my hip. And once, twice, she passed the

'"Dog!" she sneered, as she flung me into the snow. "Swine!" And
then she laughed till the silence cracked, and went back to her

'As I say, once she passed the knife, and twice; but she was weak
with hunger, and it was not meant that I should die. Yet was I
minded to stay in that place, and to close my eyes in the last
long sleep with those whose lives had crossed with mine and led
my feet on unknown trails. But there lay a debt upon me which
would not let me rest.

'And the way was long, the cold bitter, and there was little
grub. The Pellys had found no moose, and had robbed my cache. And
so had the three white men, but they lay thin and dead in their
cabins as I passed. After that I do not remember, till I came
here, and found food and fire--much fire.' As he finished, he
crouched closely, even jealously, over the stove. For a long
while the slush-lamp shadows played tragedies upon the wall.

'But Unga!' cried Prince, the vision still strong upon him.

'Unga? She would not eat of the ptarmigan. She lay with her arms
about his neck, her face deep in his yellow hair. I drew the fire
close, that she might not feel the frost, but she crept to the
other side. And I built a fire there; yet it was little good, for
she would not eat. And in this manner they still lie up there in
the snow.'

'And you?' asked Malemute Kid.

'I do not know; but Akatan is small, and I have little wish to go
back and live on the edge of the world. Yet is there small use in
life. I can go to Constantine, and he will put irons upon me, and
one day they will tie a piece of rope, so, and I will sleep good.
Yet--no; I do not know.' 'But, Kid,' protested Prince, 'this is
murder!' 'Hush!' commanded Malemute Kid. 'There be things greater
than our wisdom, beyond our justice. The right and the wrong of
this we cannot say, and it is not for us to judge.' Naass drew
yet closer to the fire. There was a great silence, and in each
man's eyes many pictures came and went.

The End

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest