Part 2 out of 3
She stuck to it though, much as to say we was liars. She's comin'
on--what's the matter, Annie--you ain't sore at me effeminatin' you
by the gentle name of female, are you?"
She had come to him, and gripped his shoulder, till her long, bony
fingers buried themselves in his mackinaw. Her mouth was twitching,
and she hadn't got shed of that "first-aid-to-the-injured" look.
"What name? What name, Dutch? What name?" She shook him like a rat.
"Bradshaw--but you needn't run your nails through and clinch 'em.
Ow! Le'go my white meat. You act like she was your long lost baby.
What d'ye think of that idea, fellers? Ain't that a pleasin'
conceit? Annie Black, and a baby. Ha! Ha! that's a hit. Annie and
a daughter. A cow-thief and a calla-lily."
"Dutch," says I, "you ain't a-goin' to make it through to Lane's
Landing if you don't pull your freight," and I drags the darn fool
out and starts him off.
When I came in she was huddled onto a goods box, shaking and sobbing
like any woman, while the boys sat around and champed their bits and
"Take me away, Billy," she says. "For God's sake take me away before
she sees me." She slid down to the floor and cried something awful.
Gents, that was sure the real distress, nothing soft and sloppy, but
hard, wrenchy, deep ones, like you hear at a melodrayma. 'Twas only
back in '99 that I seen an awful crying match, though both of the
ladies had been drinking, so I felt like I was useder to emotion than
the balance of the boys, and it was up to me to take a holt.
"Madam," says I, and somehow the word didn't seem out of place any
more--"Madam, why do you want to avoid this party?"
"Take me away," she says. "It's my daughter. She's going to find me
this way, all rough and immodest and made fun of. But that's the
worst you can say, isn't it? I'm a square woman--you know I am,
don't you, boys?" and she looked at us fierce and pleadin'.
"Sure," says Joe. "We'll boost you with the girl all right."
"She thinks her father's dead, but he isn't--he ran away with a show
woman--a year after we were married. I never told her about it, and
I've tried to make a little lady of her."
We found out afterwards that she had put the girl in a
boarding-school, but couldn't seem to make enough for both of them,
and when the Klondyke was struck thought she saw a chance. She came
north, insulted by deck hands and laughed at by the officers. At
Skagway she nursed a man through typhoid, and when he could walk he
robbed her. The mounted police took everything else she had and
mocked at her. "Your kind always has money," they said.
That's how it had been everywhere, and that's why she was so hard and
bitter. She'd worked and fought like a man, but she'd suffered like
"I've lied and starved and stolen for her," said Annie, "to make her
think I was doing well. She said she was coming in to me, but I knew
winter would catch her at Dawson, and I thought I could head her off
"Now, she's here; but, men, as your mothers loved you, save me from
my little girl."
She buried her face, and when I looked at the boys, tears stood in
Joe Slisco's eyes and the others breathed hard. Ole Lund, him that
was froze worst about the hands, spoke up:
"Someboady tak de corner dat blanket an' blow may nose."
Then we heard voices outside.
"Hello, in there."
Annie stood up, clutching at her throat, and stepped behind the
corner of the bunks as the door opened, framing the prettiest picture
this old range rider ever saw.
'Twas a girl, glowing pink and red where the cold had kissed her
cheeks, with yellow curlicues of hair wandering out under her yarn
cap. Her little fox-trimmed parka quit at the knees, showing the
daintiest pair of--I can't say it. Anyhow, they wasn't, they just
looked like 'em, only nicer.
She stood blinking at us, coming from the bright light outside, as
cute as a new faro box--then:
"Can you tell me where Mrs. Bradshaw lives? She's somewhere in this
district. I'm her daughter--come all the way from the States to see
When she smiled I could hear the heart-strings of those ragged,
whiskered, frost-bit "mushers" bustin' like banjo strings.
"You know her, don't you?" she says, turning to me.
"Know her, Miss? Well, I should snort! There ain't a prospector on
the range that ain't proud and honoured to call her a friend.
Leastways, if there is I'll bust his block," and I cast the bad eye
on the boys to wise 'em up.
"Ain't I right, Joe?"
"Betcher dam life," says Joe, sort of over-stepping the conventions.
"Then tell me where her claim is. It's quite rich, and you must know
it," says she, appealing to him.
Up against it? Say! I seen the whites of his eyes show like he was
drownding, and he grinned joyful as a man kicked in the stummick.
"Er--er--I just bought in here, and ain't acquainted much," says he.
"Have a drink," and, in his confusions, he sets out the bottle of
alkalies that he dignifies by the alias of booze. Then he continues
with reg'lar human intelligence.
"Bill, here, he can tell you where the ground is," and the whelp
Lord knows my finish, but for Ole Lund. He sits up in his bunk,
swaddled in Annie Black's bandages, and through slits between his
frost bites, he moults the follering rhetoric:
"Aye tole you vere de claim iss. She own de Nomber Twenty fraction
on Buster Creek, 'longside may and may broder. She's dam good
I consider that a blamed white stunt for Swedes; paying for their
lives with the mine they swindled her out of.
Anyhow, it knocked us galley-west.
I'd formulated a swell climax, involving the discovery of the mother,
when the mail man spoke up, him that had been her particular
abomination, a queer kind of a break in his voice:
"Come out of that."
Mrs. Bradshaw moved out into the light, and, if I'm any judge, the
joy that showed in her face rubbed away the bitterness of the past
years. With an aching little cry the girl ran to her, and hid in her
arms like a quail.
We men-folks got accumulated up into a dark corner where we shook
hands and swore soft and insincere, and let our throats hurt, for all
the world like it was Christmas or we'd got mail from home.
BITTER ROOT BILLINGS, ARBITER
Billings rode in from the Junction about dusk, and ate his supper in
silence. He'd been East for sixty days, and, although there lurked
about him the hint of unwonted ventures, etiquette forbade its
mention. You see, in our country, that which a man gives voluntarily
is ofttimes later dissected in smoky bunk-houses, or roughly handled
round flickering camp fires, but the privacies he guards are
inviolate. Curiosity isn't exactly a lost art, but its practice
isn't popular nor hygenic.
Later, I found him meditatively whittling out on the porch, and, as
the moment seemed propitious, I inquired adroitly:--"Did you have a
good time in Chicago, 'Bitter Root'?"
"Bully," said he, relapsing into weighty absorption.
"What'd you do?" I inquired with almost the certainty of appearing
"Don't you never read the papers?" he inquired, with such evident
compassion that Kink Martin and the other boys snickered. This from
"Bitter Root," who scorns literature outside of the "Arkansas
Printing," as he terms the illustrations!
"Guess I'll have to show you my press notices," and from a hip pocket
he produced a fat bundle of clippings in a rubber band. These he
displayed jealously, and I stared agape, for they were front pages of
great metropolitan dailies, marred with red and black scare heads, in
which I glimpsed the words, "Billings, of Montana," "'Bitter Root' on
Arbitration," "A Lochinvar Out of the West," and other things as
"Press Notices!" echoed Kink scornfully. "Wouldn't that rope ye? He
talks like Big Ike that went with the Wild West Show. When a puncher
gets so lazy he can't earn a livin' by the sweat of his pony, he
grows his hair, goes on the stage bustin' glass balls with shot
ca'tridges and talks about 'press notices.' Let's see 'em, Billings.
You pinch 'em as close to your stummick as though you held cards in a
strange poker game."
"Well, I _have_ set in a strange game, amongst aliens," said
Billings, disregarding the request, "and I've held the high cards,
also I've drawed out with honours. I've sailed the medium high seas
with mutiny in the stoke-hold; I've changed the laws of labour,
politics and municipal economies. I went out of God's country right
into the heart of the decayin' East, and by the application of a
runnin' noose in a hemp rope I strangled oppression and put eight
thousand men to work." He paused ponderously. "I'm an Arbitrator!"
"The deuce you are," indignantly cried "Reddy" the cook. "Who says
"Reddy" isn't up in syntax, and his unreasoning loyalty to Billings
is an established fact of such standing that his remarks afford no
"Yes, I've cut into the 'Nation's Peril' and the 'Cryin' Evil' good
and strong--walkin' out from the stinks of the Union Stock Yards, of
Chicago, into the limelight of publicity, via the 'drunk and
"You see I got those ten carloads of steers into the city all right,
but I was so blame busy splatterin' through the tracked-up wastes of
the cow pens, an' inhalin' the sewer gas of the west side that I
never got to see a newspaper. If I'd 'a' read one, here's what I'd
'a' found, namely: The greatest, stubbornest, riotin'est strike ever
known, which means a heap for Chicago, she being the wet-nurse of
"The whole river front was tied up. Nary a steamer had whistled
inside the six-mile crib for two weeks, and eight thousand men was
out. There was hold-ups and blood-sheddin' and picketin', which last
is an alias for assault with intents, and altogether it was a prime
place for a cowman, on a quiet vacation--just homelike and natural.
"It was at this point that I enters, bustin' out of the smoke of the
Stock Yards, all sweet and beautiful, like the gentle heeroine in the
play as she walks through the curtains at the back of the stage.
"Now you know there's a heap of difference between the Stock Yards
and Chicago--it's just like coming from Arkansas over into the United
"Well, soon as I sold the stock I hit for the lake front and began to
ground sluice the coal dust off of my palate.
"I was busy working my booze hydraulic when I see an arid appearin'
pilgrim 'longside lookin' thirsty as an alkali flat.
"'Get in,' says I, and the way he obeyed orders looked like he'd had
military training. I felt sort of drawed to him from the way he
handled his licker; took it straight and runnin' over; then sopped
his hands on the bar and smelled of his fingers. He seemed to just
soak it up both ways--reg'lar human blotter.
"'You lap it up like a man,' says I, 'like a cowman--full
growed--ever been West?'
"'Nope,' says he, 'born here.'
"'Well I'm a stranger,' says I, 'out absorbin' such beauties of
architecture and free lunch as offers along the line. If I ain't
keepin' you up, I'd be glad of your company.'
"'I'm your assistant lunch buster,' says he, and in the course of
things he further explained that he was a tugboat fireman, out on a
strike, givin' me the follerin' information about the tie-up:--
"It all come up over a dose of dyspepsia--"
"Back up," interrupted Kink squirming, "are you plumb bug? Get
together! You're certainly the Raving Kid. Ye must have stone
bruised your heel and got concession of the brain."
"Yes sir! Indigestion," Billings continued. "Old man Badrich, of
the Badrich Transportation Company has it terrible. It lands on his
solar every morning about nine o'clock, gettin' worse steady, and
reaches perihelion along about eleven. He can tell the time of day
by taste. One morning when his mouth felt like about ten-forty-five
in comes a committee from Firemen & Engineers Local No. 21, with a
demand for more wages, proddin' him with the intimations that if he
didn't ante they'd tie up all his boats."
"I 'spose a teaspoonful of bakin' soda, assimilated internally around
the environments of his appendix would have spared the strike and
cheated me out of bein' a hero. As the poet might have said--'Upon
such slender pegs is this, our greatness hung.'"
"Oh, Gawd!" exclaimed Mulling, piously.
"Anyhow, the bitterness in the old man's inner tubes showed in the
bile of his answer, and he told 'em if they wanted more money he'd
give 'em a chance to earn it--they could work nights as well as days.
He intimated further that they'd ought to be satisfied with their
wages as they'd undoubtedly foller the same line of business in the
next world, and wouldn't get a cent for feedin' the fires neither.
"Next mornin' the strike was called, and the guy that breathed
treachery and walk-outs was one 'Oily' Heegan, further submerged
under the titles of President of the Federation of Fresh Water
Firemen; also Chairman of the United Water-front Workmen, which last
takes in everything doin' business along the river except the
wharf-rats and typhoid germs, and it's with the disreputableness of
this party that I infected myself to the detriment of labour and the
triumph of the law.
"D. O'Hara Heegan is an able man, and inside of a week he'd spread
the strike 'till it was the cleanest, dirtiest tie-up ever known.
The hospitals and morgues was full of non-union men, but the river
was empty all right. Yes, he had a persuadin' method of arbitration
quite convincing to the most calloused, involving the layin' on of
the lead pipe.
"Things got to be pretty fierce bye-and-bye, for they had the police
buffaloed, and disturbances got plentyer than the casualties at a
butchers' picnic. The strikers got hungry, too, finally, because the
principles of unionism is like a rash on your mechanic, skin
deep--inside, his gastrics works three shifts a day even if his
outsides is idle and steaming with Socialism.
"Oily fed 'em dray loads of eloquence, but it didn't seem to be real
fillin'. They'd leave the lectures and rob a bakery.
"He was a wonder though; just sat in his office, and kept the ship
owners waitin' in line, swearin' bitter and refined cuss-words about
'ignorant fiend' and 'cussed pedagogue,' which last, for Kink's
enlightenment, means a kind of Hebrew meetin'-house.
"These here details my new friend give me, ending with a eulogy on
Oily Heegan, the Idol of the Idle.
"'If he says starve, we starve,' says he, 'and if he says work, we
work. See! Oh he's the goods, he is! Let's go down by the
river--mebbe we'll see him.' So me and Murdock hiked down Water
Street, where they keep mosquito netting over the bar fixtures and
spit at the stove.
"We found him, a big mouthed, shifty, kind of man, 'bout as cynical
lookin' in the face as a black bass, and full of wind as a toad fish.
I exchanged drinks for principles of socialism, and doin' so happened
to display my roll. Murdock slipped away and made talk with a
friend, then, when Heegan had left, he steers me out the back way
into an alley. 'Short cut,' says he 'to another and a better place.'
"I follers through a back room; then as I steps out the door I'm
grabbed by this new friend, while Murdock bathes my head with a
gas-pipe billy, one of the regulation, strike promotin' kind, like
they use for decoyin' members into the glorious ranks of Labour.
"I saw a 'Burning of Rome' that was a dream, and whole cloudbursts of
shootin' stars, but I yanked Mr. Enthusiastic Stranger away from my
surcingle and throwed him agin the wall. In the shuffle Murdock
shifts my ballasts though, and steams up the alley with my
greenbacks, convoyed by his friend.
"'Wow-ow,' says I, givin' the distress signal so that the windows
rattled, and reachin' for my holster. I'd 'a' got them both, only
the gun caught in my suspender. You see, not anticipatin' any live
bird shoot I'd put it inside my pants-band, under my vest, for
appearances. A forty-five is like fresh air to a drownding
man--generally has to be drawed in haste--and neither one shouldn't
be mislaid. I got her out at last and blazed away, just a second
after they dodged around the comer. Then I hit the trail after 'em,
lettin' go a few sky-shots and gettin' a ghost-dance holler off my
stummick that had been troubling me. The wallop on the head made me
dizzy though, and I zigzagged awful, tackin' out of the alley right
into a policeman.
"'Whee!' says I in joy, for he had Murdock safe by the bits, buckin'
"'Stan' aside and le'mme 'lectrocute 'im,' says I. I throwed the gun
on him and the crowd dogged it into all the doorways and windows
convenient, but I was so weak-minded in the knees I stumbled over the
curb and fell down.
"Next thing I knew we was all bouncin' over the cobble-stones in a
"Well, in the morning I told my story to the Judge, plain and
unvarnished. Then Murdock takes the stand and busts into song,
claiming that he was comin' through the alley toward Clark Street
when I staggered out back of a saloon and commenced to shoot at him.
He saw I was drunk, and fanned out, me shootin' at him with every
jump. He had proof, he said, and he called for the president of his
Union, Mr. Heegan. At the name all the loafers and stew-bums in the
court-room stomped and said, 'Hear, hear,' while up steps this
Napoleon of the Hoboes.
"Sure, he knew Mr. Murdock--had known him for years, and he was
perfectly reliable and honest. As to his robbing me, it was
preposterous, because he himself was at the other end of the alley
and saw the whole thing, just as Mr. Murdock related it.
"I jumps up. 'You're a liar, Heegan. I was buyin' booze for the two
of you;' but a policeman nailed me, chokin' off my rhetorics. Mr.
Heegan leans over and whispers to the Judge, while I got chilblains
along my spine.
"'Look here, kind Judge,' says I real winning and genteel, 'this man
is so good at explainin' things away, ask him to talk off this bump
over my ear. I surely didn't get a buggy spoke and laminate myself
on the nut.
"'That'll do,' says the Judge. 'Mr. Clerk, ten dollars and
costs--charge, drunk and disorderly. Next!'
"'Hold on there,' says I, ignorant of the involutions of justice, 'I
guess I've got the bulge on you this time. They beat you to me,
Judge. I ain't got a cent. You can go through me and be welcome to
half you find. I'll mail you ten when I get home though, honest.'
"At that the audience giggled, and the Judge says:--
"'Your humour doesn't appeal to me, Billings. Of course, you have
the privilege of working it out.' Oh, Glory, the 'Privilege!'
"Heegan nodded at this, and I realized what I was against.
"'Your honour,' says I with sarcastic refinements, 'science tells us
that a perfect vacuum ain't possible, but after watching you I know
better, and for you, Mr. Workingman's Friend,--us to the floor,' and
I run at Heegan.
"Pshaw! I never got started, nor I didn't rightfully come to till I
rested in the workhouse, which last figger of speech is a pure and
"I ain't dwellin' with glee on the next twenty-six days--ten dollars
and costs, at four bits a day, but I left there saturated with such
hatreds for Heegan that my breath smelted of 'em.
"I wanders down the river front, hoping the fortunes of war would
deliver him to me dead or alive, when the thought hit me that I'd
need money. It was bound to take another ten and costs shortly after
we met, and probably more, if I paid for what I got, for I figgered
on distendin' myself with satisfaction and his features with
uppercuts. Then I see a sign, 'Non-Union men wanted--Big wages.' In
I goes, and strains my langwidge through a wire net at the cashier.
"'I want them big wages,' says I.
"'What can you do?'
"'Anything to get the money,' says I. 'What does it take to
liquidate an assault on a labour leader?'
"There was a white-haired man in the cage who began to sit up and
"'What's your trouble?' says he, and I told him.
"'If we had a few more like you, we'd bust the strike,' says he, kind
of sizin' me up. 'I've got a notion to try it anyhow,' and he smites
the desk. 'Collins what d'ye say if we tow the "Detroit" out? Her
crew has stayed with us so far, and they'll stick now if we'll say
the word. The unions are hungry and scrapping among themselves, and
the men want to go back to work. It's just that devil of a Heegan
that holds 'em. If they see we've got a tug crew that'll go, they'll
arbitrate, and we'll kill the strike.'
"'Yes, sir!' says Collins, 'but where's the tug crew, Mr. Badrich?'
"'Right here! We three, and Murphy, the bookkeeper. Blast this
idleness! I want to fight.'
"'I'll take the same,' says I, 'when I get the price.'
"'That's all right. You've put the spirit into me, and I'll see you
through. Can you run an engine? Good! I'll take the wheel, and the
others'll fire. It's going to be risky work, though. You won't back
Reddy interrupted Billings here loudly, with a snort of disgust,
while "Bitter Root" ran his fingers through his hair before
continuing. Martin was listening intently.
"The old man arranged to have a squad of cops on all the bridges, and
I begin anticipatin' hilarities for next day.
"The news got out of course, through the secrecies of police
headquarters, and when we ran up the river for our tow, it looked
like every striker west of Pittsburg had his family on the docks to
see the barbecue, accompanied by enough cobble-stones and scrap iron
to ballast a battleship. All we got goin' up was repartee, but I
figgered we'd need armour gettin' back.
"We passed a hawser to the 'Detroit,' and I turned the gas into the
tug, blowin' for the Wells Street Bridge. Then war began. I leans
out the door just in time to see the mob charge the bridge. The cops
clubbed 'em back, while a roar went up from the docks and roof tops
that was like a bad dream. I couldn't see her move none though, and
old man Badrich blowed again expurgatin' himself of as nobby a line
of cuss words as you'll muster outside the cattle belt.
"'Soak 'em,' I yells, 'give 'em all the arbitration you've got handy.
If she don't open; we'll jump her,' and I lets out another notch, so
that we went plowin' and boilin' towards the draw.
"It looked like we'd have to hurdle it sure enough, but the police
beat the crowd back just in time. She wasn't clear open though, and
our barge caromed off the spiles. It was like a nigger buttin' a
persimmon tree--we rattled off a shower of missiles like an abnormal
hail storm. Talk about your coast defence; they heaved everything at
us from bad names to railroad iron, and we lost all our window glass
the first clatter, while the smoke stack looked like a pretzel with
"When we scraped through I looked back with pity at the 'Detroit's'
crew. She hadn't any wheel house, and the helmsman was due to get
all the attention that was comin' to him. They'd built up a
barricade of potato sacks, chicken coops and bic-a-brac around the
wheel that protected 'em somewhat, but even while I watched, some
Polack filtered a brick through and laid out the quartermaster cold,
and he was drug off. Oh! it was refined and esthetic.
"Well, we run the gauntlet, presented every block with stuff rangin'
in tensile strength from insults to asphalt pavements, and
noise!--say, all the racket in the world was a whisper. I caught a
glimpse of the old man leanin' out of the pilot house, where a window
had been, his white hair bristly, and his nostrils h'isted,
embellishin' the air with surprisin' flights of gleeful profanity.
"'Hooray! this is livin' he yells, spyin' me shovelin' the deck out
from under the junk. 'Best scrap I've had in years,' and just then
some baseball player throwed in from centre field, catching him in
the neck with a tomato. Gee! that man's an honour to the faculty of
"I was doin' bully till a cobble-stone bounced into the engine room,
makin' a billiard with my off knee, then I got kind of peevish.
"Rush Street Bridge is the last one, and they'd massed there on both
sides, like fleas on a razorback. Thinks I, 'If we make it through
here, we've busted the strike,' and I glances back at the 'Detroit'
just in time to see her crew pullin' their captain into the deck
house, limp and bleedin'. The barricade was all knocked to pieces
and they'd flunked absolute. Don't blame 'em much either, as it was
sure death to stand out in the open under the rain of stuff that come
from the bridges. Of course with no steerin' she commenced to swing
"I jumps out the far side of the engine room and yells fit to bust my
"'Grab that wheel! Grab it quick--we'll hit the bridge,' but it was
like deef and dumb talk in a boiler shop, while a wilder howl went up
from the water front as they seen what they'd done and smelled
victory. There's an awfulness about the voice of a blood-maddened
club-swingin' mob; it lifts your scalp like a fright wig,
particularly if you are the clubee.
"'We've got one chance,' thinks I, 'but if she strikes we're gone.
They'll swamp us sure, and all the police in Cook County won't save
enough for to hold services on.' Then I throwed a look at the
opening ahead and the pessimisms froze in me.
"I forgot all about the resiliency of brickbats and the table manners
of riots, for there, on top of a bunch of spiles, ca'm, masterful and
bloated with perjuries, was Oily Heegan dictatin' the disposition of
his forces, the light of victory in his shifty, little eyes.
"'Ten dollars and costs,' I shrieks, seein' red. 'Lemme crawl up
them spiles to you.'
"Then inspiration seized me. My soul riz up and grappled with the
crisis, for right under my mit, coiled, suggestive and pleadin', was
one of the tug's heavin' lines, 'bout a three-eighths size. I slips
a runnin' knot in the end and divides the coils, crouchin' behind the
deck-house till we come abeam of him, then I straightened, give it a
swinging heave, and the noose sailed up and settled over him fine and
"I jerked back, and Oily Heegan did a high dive from Rush Street that
was a geometrical joy. He hit kind of amateurish, doin' what we used
to call a 'belly-buster' back home, but quite satisfyin' for a maiden
effort, and I reeled him in astern.
"Your Chicago man ain't a gamey fish. He come up tame and squirting
sewage like a dissolute porpoise, while I played him out where he'd
get the thrash of the propeller.
"'Help,' he yells, 'I'm a drownding.'
"'Ten dollars and costs," says I, lettin' him under again. 'Do you
know who you're drinkin' with this time, hey?'
"I reckon the astonishment of the mob was equal to Heegan's; anyhow
I'm told that we was favoured with such quietness that my voice
sounded four blocks, simply achin' with satisfactions. Then
pandemonium tore loose, but I was so engrosed in sweet converse I
never heard it or noticed that the 'Detroit' had slid through the
draw by a hair, and we was bound for the blue and smilin' lake.
"'For God's sake, lemme up,' says Heegan, splashin' along and
look-in' strangly. I hauls him in where he wouldn't miss any of my
ironies, and says:--
"'I just can't do it, Oily--it's wash day. You're plumb nasty with
boycotts and picketin's and compulsory arbitrations. I'm goin' to
clean you up,' and I sozzled him under like a wet shirt.
"I drug him out again and continues:--
"'This is Chinamen's work, Oily, but I lost my pride in the
Bridewell, thanks to you. It's tough on St. Louis to laundry you up
stream this way, but maybe the worst of your heresies 'll be purified
when they get that far.' You know the Chicago River runs up hill out
of Lake Michigan through the drainage canal and into the St. Louis
waterworks. Sure it does--most unnatural stream I ever see about
direction and smells.
"I was gettin' a good deal of enjoyment and infections out of him
when old man Badrich ran back enamelled with blood and passe tomato
juice, the red in his white hair makin' his top look like one of
these fancy ice-cream drinks you get at a soda fountain.
"'Here! here! you'll kill him,' says he, so I hauled him aboard,
drippin' and clingy, wringin' him out good and thorough--by the neck.
He made a fine mop.
"These clippings," continued "Bitter Root," fishing into his pocket,
"tell in beautiful figgers how the last seen of Oily Heegan he was
holystoning the deck of a sooty little tugboat under the
admonishments and feet of 'Bitter Root' Billings of Montana, and they
state how the strikers tried to get tugs for pursuit and couldn't,
and how, all day long, from the housetops was visible a tugboat madly
cruisin' about inside the outer cribs, bustin' the silence with
joyful blasts of victory, and they'll further state that about dark
she steamed up the river, tired and draggled, with a bony-lookin'
cowboy inhalin' cigareets on the stern-bits, holding a three-foot
knotted rope in his lap. When a delegation of strikers met her,
inquirin' about one D. O'Hara Heegan, it says like this," and
Billings read laboriously as follows:--
"'Then the bronzed and lanky man arose with a smile of rare
contentment, threw overboard his cigarette, and approaching the
boiler-room hatch, called loudly: "Come out of that," and the
President of the Federation of Fresh Water Firemen dragged himself
wearily out into the flickering lights. He was black and drenched
and streaked with sweat; also, he shone with the grease and oils of
the engines, while the palms of his hands were covered with painful
blisters from unwonted, intimate contact with shovels and drawbars.
It was seen that he winced fearfully as the cowboy twirled the rope
"'"He's got the makin's of a fair fireman,'" said the stranger, "'all
he wants is practice.'"
"Then, as the delegation murmured angrily, he held up his hand and,
in the ensuing silence, said:--
"'"Boys, the strike's over. Mr. Heegan has arbitrated."'"
THE SHYNESS OF SHORTY
Bailey smoked morosely as he scanned the dusty trail leading down
across the "bottom" and away over the dry grey prairie toward the
hazy mountains in the west.
From his back-tilted chair on the veranda, the road was visible for
miles, as well as the river trail from the south, sneaking up through
the cottonwoods and leprous sycamores.
He called gruffly into the silence of the house, and his speech held
the surliness of his attitude.
"Hot Joy! Bar X outfit comin'. Git supper."
A Chinaman appeared in the door and gazed at the six-mule team
descending the distant gully to the ford.
"Jesse one man, hey? All light," and slid quietly back to the
Whatever might be said, or, rather, whatever might be suspected, of
Bailey's road-house--for people did not run to wordy conjecture in
this country--it was known that it boasted a good cook, and this
atoned for a catalogue of shortcomings. So it waxed popular among
the hands of the big cattle ranges near-bye. Those given to idle
talk held that Bailey acted strangely at times, and rumour painted
occasional black doings at the hacienda, squatting vulture-like above
the ford, but it was nobody's business, and he kept a good cook.
Bailey did not recall the face that greeted him from above the three
span as they swung in front of his corral, but the brand on their
flanks was the Bar X, so he nodded with as near an approach to
hospitality as he permitted.
It was a large face, strong-featured and rugged, balanced on wide,
square shoulders, yet some oddness of posture held the gaze of the
other till the stranger clambered over the wheel to the ground. Then
Bailey removed his brier and heaved tempestuously in the throes of
great and silent mirth.
It was a dwarf. The head of a Titan, the body of a whisky barrel,
rolling ludicrously on the tiny limbs of a bug, presented so
startling a sight that even Hot Joy, appearing around the corner,
cackled shrilly. His laughter rose to a shriek of dismay, however,
as the little man made at him with the rush and roar of a cannon
ball. In Bailey's amazed eyes he seemed to bounce galvanically,
landing on Joy's back with such vicious suddenness that the breath
fled from him in a squawk of terror; then, seizing his cue, he kicked
and belaboured the prostrate Celestial in feverish silence. He
desisted and rolled across the porch to Bailey. Staring truculently
up et the landlord, he spoke for the first time.
"Was I right in supposin' that something amused you?"
Bailey gasped incredulously, for the voice rumbled heavily an octave
below his own bass. Either the look of the stocky catapult, as he
launched himself on the fleeing servant, or the invidious servility
of the innkeeper, sobered the landlord, and he answered gravely:
"No, sir; I reckon you're mistaken. I ain't observed anything
"Glad of it," said the little man. "I don't like a feller to hog a
joke all by himself. Some of the Bar X boys took to absorbin' humour
out of my shape when I first went to work, but they're sort of
educated out of it now. I got an eye from one and a finger off of
another; the last one donated a ear."
Bailey readily conceived this man as a bad antagonist, for the heavy
corded neck had split buttons from the blue shirt, and he glimpsed a
chest hairy, and round as a drum, while the brown arms showed knotty
"Let's liquor," he said, and led the way into the big, low room,
serving as bar, dining- and living-room. From the rear came vicious
clatterings and slammings of pots, mingled with Oriental
lamentations, indicating an aching body rather than a chastened
"Don't see you often," he continued, with a touch of implied
curiosity, which grew as his guest, with lingering fondness, up-ended
a glass brimful of the raw, fiery spirits.
"No, the old man don't lemme get away much. He knows that dwellin'
close to the ground, as I do, I pine for spiritual elevation," with a
melting glance at the bottles behind the bar, doing much to explain
the size of his first drink.
"Like it, do ye?" questioned Bailey indicating the shelf.
"Well, not exactly! Booze is like air--I need it. It makes a new
man out of me--and usually ends by gettin' both me and the new one
"Didn't hear nothing of the weddin' over at Los Huecos, did ye?"
"No! Whose weddin'?"
"Ross Turney, the new sheriff."
"Ye don't say! Him that's been elected on purpose to round up the
Tremper gang, hey? Who's his antagonist?"
"Old man Miller's gal. He's celebratin' his election by gettin'
spliced. I been expectin' of 'em across this way to-night, but I
guess they took the Black Butte trail. You heard what he said,
didn't ye? Claims that inside of ninety days he'll rid the county of
the Trempers and give the reward to his wife for a bridal present.
Five thousand dollars on 'em, you know." Bailey grinned evilly and
continued: "Say! Marsh Tremper'll ride up to his house some night
and make him eat his own gun in front of his bride, see if he don't.
Then there'll be cause for an inquest and an election." He spoke
with what struck the teamster as unnecessary heat.
"Dunno," said the other; "Turney's a brash young feller, I hear, but
he's game. 'Tain't any of my business, though, and I don't want none
of his contrac'. I'm violently addicted to peace and quiet, I am.
Guess I'll unhitch," and he toddled out into the gathering dusk to
his mules, while the landlord peered uneasily down the darkening
As the saddened Joy lit candles in the front room there came the
rattle of wheels without, and a buckboard stopped in the bar of light
from the door. Bailey's anxiety was replaced by a mask of listless
surprise as the voice of Ross Turney called to him.
"Hello there, Bailey! Are we in time for supper? If not, I'll start
an insurrection with that Boxer of yours. He's got to turn out the
snortingest supper of the season to-night. It isn't every day your
shack is honoured by a bride. Mr. Bailey, this is my wife, since ten
o'clock A. M." He introduced a blushing, happy girl, evidently in
the grasp of many emotions. "We'll stay all night, I guess,"
"Sure," said Bailey. "I'll show ye a room," and he led them up
beneath the low roof where an unusual cleanliness betrayed the
industry of Joy.
The two men returned and drank to the bride, Turney with the reckless
lightness that distinguished him, Bailey sullen and watchful.
"Got another outfit here, haven't you?" questioned the bridegroom.
"Who is it?"
Before answer could be made, from the kitchen arose a tortured howl
and the smashing of dishes, mingled with stormy rumblings. The door
burst inward, and an agonized Joy fled, flapping out into the night,
while behind him rolled the caricature from Bar X.
"I just stopped for a drink of water," boomed the dwarf, then paused
at the twitching face of the sheriff.
He swelled ominously, like a great pigeon, purple and congested with
rage. Strutting to the new-comer, he glared insolently up into his
"What are ye laughin' at, ye shavetail?" His hands were clenched,
till his arms showed tense and rigid, and the cords in his neck were
"Lemme in on it, I'm strong on humour. What in ---- ails ye?" he
yelled, in a fury, as the tall young man gazed fixedly, and the
glasses rattled at the bellow from the barreled-up lungs.
"I'm not laughing at you," said the sheriff.
"Oh, ain't ye?" mocked the man of peace. "Well, take care that ye
don't, ye big wart, or I'll trample them new clothes and browse
around on some of your features. I'll take ye apart till ye look
like cut feed. Guess ye don't know who I am, do ye? I'm--"
"Who is this man, Ross?" came the anxious voice of the bride,
descending the stairs.
The little man spun like a dancer, and, spying the girl, blushed to
the colour of a prickly pear, then stammered painfully, while the
sweat stood out under the labour of his discomfort:
"Just 'Shorty,' Miss," he finally quavered. "Plain 'Shorty' of the
Bar X--er--a miserable, crawlin' worm for disturbin' of you." He
rolled his eyes helplessly at Bailey, while he sopped with his
crumpled sombrero at the glistening perspiration.
"Why didn't ye tell me?" he whispered ferociously at the host, and
the volume of his query carried to Joy, hiding out in the night.
"Mr. Shorty," said the sheriff gravely; "let me introduce my wife,
The bride smiled sweetly at the tremulous little man, who broke and
fled to a high bench in the darkest corner, where he dangled his
short legs in a silent ecstasy of bashfulness.
"I reckon I'll have to rope that Chink, then blindfold and back him
into the kitchen, if we git any supper," said Bailey, disappearing.
Later the Chinaman stole in to set the table, but he worked with
hectic and fitful energy, a fearful eye always upon the dim bulk in
the corner, and at a fancied move he shook with an ague of
apprehension. Backing and sidling, he finally announced the meal,
prepared to stampede madly at notice.
During the supper Shorty ate ravenously of whatever lay to his hand,
but asked no favours. The agony of his shyness paralysed his huge
vocal muscles till speech became a labour quite impossible.
To a pleasant remark of the bride he responded, but no sound issued,
then breathing heavily into his larynx, the reply roared upon them
like a burst of thunder, seriously threatening the gravity of the
meal. He retired abruptly into moist and self-conscious silence,
fearful of feasting his eyes on this disturbing loveliness.
As soon as compatible with decency, he slipped back to his bunk in
the shed behind, and lay staring into the darkness, picturing the
amazing occurrences of the evening. At the memory of her level
glances he fell a-tremble and sighed ecstatically, prickling with a
new, strange emotion. He lay till far into the night, wakeful and
absorbed. He was able, to grasp the fact but dimly that all this
dazzling perfection was for one man. Were it not manifestly
impossible he supposed other men in other lands knew other ladies as
beautiful, and it furthermore grew upon him blackly, in the thick
gloom, that in all this world of womanly sweetness and beauty, no
modicum of it was for the misshapen dwarf of the Bar X outfit. All
his life he had fought furiously to uphold the empty shell of his
dignity in the eyes of his comrades, yet always morbidly conscious of
the difference in his body. Whisky had been his solace, his
sweetheart. It changed him, raised and beatified him into the
likeness of other men, and now, as he pondered, he was aware of a
consuming thirst engendered by the heat of his earlier emotions.
Undoubtedly it must be quenched.
He rose and stole quietly out into the big front room. Perhaps the
years of free life in the open had bred a suspicion of walls, perhaps
he felt his conduct would not brook discovery, perhaps habit,
prompted him to take the two heavy Colts from their holsters and
thrust them inside his trousers band.
He slipped across the room, silent and cavern-like, its blackness
broken by the window squares of starry sky, till he felt the paucity
of glassware behind the bar.
"Here's to Her," It burned delightfully.
"Here's to the groom." It tingled more alluringly.
"I'll drink what I can, and get back to the bunk before it works," he
thought, and the darkness veiled the measure of his potations.
He started at a noise on the stairway. His senses not yet dulled,
detected a stealthy tread. Not the careless step of a man unafraid,
but the cautious rustle and halt of a marauder. Every nerve bristled
to keenest alertness as the faint occasional sounds approached,
passed the open end of the bar where he crouched, leading on to the
window. Then a match flared, and the darkness rushed out as a candle
Shorty stretched on tiptoe, brought his eye to the level of the bar,
and gazed upon the horrent head of Bailey. He sighed thankfully, but
watched with interest his strange behaviour.
Bailey moved the light across the window from left to right three
times, paused, then wigwagged some code out into the night.
"He's signalling," mused Shorty. "Hope he gets through quick. I'm
getting full." The fumes of the liquor were beating at his senses,
and he knew that soon he would move with difficulty.
The man, however, showed no intention of leaving, for, his signals
completed, he blew out the light, first listening for any sound from
above, then his figure loomed black and immobile against the dim
starlight of the window.
"Oh, Lord! I got to set down," and the watcher squatted upon the
floor, bracing against the wall. His dulling perceptions were
sufficiently acute to detect shuffling footsteps on the porch and the
cautious unbarring of the door.
"Gettin' late for visitors," he thought, as he entered a blissful
doze. "When they're abed, I'll turn in."
It seemed much later that a shot startled him. To his dizzy hearing
came the sound of curses overhead, the stamp and shift of feet, the
crashing fall of struggling men, and, what brought him unsteadily to
his legs, the agonized scream of a woman. It echoed through the
house, chilling him, and dwindled to an aching moan.
Something was wrong, he knew that, but it was hard to tell just what.
He must think. What hard work it was to think, too; he'd never
noticed before what a laborious process it was. Probably that
sheriff had got into trouble; he was a fresh guy, anyhow; and he'd
laughed when he first saw Shorty. That settled it. He could get out
of it himself. Evidently it was nothing serious, for there was no
more disturbance above, only confused murmurings. Then a light
showed in the stairs, and again the shuffling of feet came, as four
strange men descended. They were lighted by the sardonic Bailey, and
they dragged a sixth between them, bound and helpless. It was the
Now, what had he been doing to get into such a fix?
The prisoner stood against the wall, white and defiant. He strained
at his bonds silently, while his captors watched his futile
struggles. There was something terrible and menacing in the
quietness with which they gloated--a suggestion of some horror to
come. At last he desisted, and burst forth.
"You've got me all right. You did this, Bailey, you ---- traitor."
"He's never been a traitor, as far as we know," sneered one of the
four. "In fact, I might say he's been strictly on the square with
"I didn't think you made war on women, either, Marsh Tremper, but it
seems you're everything from a dog-thief down. Why couldn't you
fight me alone, in the daylight, like a man?"
"You don't wait till a rattler's coiled before you stamp his head
off," said the former speaker. "It's either you or us, and I reckon
So these were the Tremper boys, eh? The worst desperadoes in the
Southwest; and Bailey was their ally. The watcher eyed them, mildly
curious, and it seemed to him that they were as bad a quartette as
rumour had painted--bad, even, for this country of bad men. The
sheriff was a fool for getting mixed up with such people. Shorty
knew enough to mind his own business, anyway, if others didn't. He
was a peaceful man, and didn't intend to get mixed up with outlaws.
His mellow meditations were interrupted by the hoarse speech of the
sheriff, who had broken down into his rage again, and struggled madly
while words ran from him.
"Let me go! ---- you, let me free. I want to fight the coward that
struck my wife. You've killed her. Who was it? Let me get at him."
Shorty stiffened as though a douche of ice-water had struck him.
"Killed her! Struck his wife!" My God! Not that sweet creature of
his dreams who had talked and smiled at him without noting his
An awful anger rose in him and he moved out into the light.
Whatever of weakness may have dragged at his legs, none sounded in
the great bellowing command that flooded the room. At the compelling
volume of the sound every man whirled and eight empty hands shot
skyward. Their startled eyes beheld a man's squat body weaving
uncertainly on the limbs of an insect, while in each hand shone a
blue-black Colt that waved and circled in maddening, erratic orbits.
At the command, Marsh Tremper's mind had leaped to the fact that
behind him was one man; one against five, and he took a gambler's
As he whirled, he drew and fired. None but the dwarf of Bar X could
have lived, for he was the deadliest hip shot in the territory. His
bullet crashed into the wall, a hand's breadth over Shorty's
"cow-lick." It was a clean heart shot; the practised whirl and flip
of the finished gun fighter; but the roar of his explosion was echoed
by another, and the elder Tremper spun unsteadily against the table
with a broken shoulder.
"Too high," moaned the big voice. "--The liquor."
He swayed drunkenly, but at the slightest shift of his quarry, the
aimless wanderings of a black muzzle stopped on the spot and the body
behind the guns was congested with deadly menace.
"Face the wall," he cried. "Quick! Keep 'em up higher!" They
sullenly obeyed; their wounded leader reaching with his uninjured
To the complacent Shorty, it seemed that things were working nicely,
though he was disturbingly conscious of his alcoholic lack of
balance, and tortured by the fear that he might suddenly lose the
iron grip of his faculties.
Then, for the second time that night, from the stairs came the voice
that threw him into the dreadful confusion of his modesty.
"O Ross!" it cried, "I've brought your gun," and there on the steps,
dishevelled, pallid and quivering, was the bride, and grasped in one
trembling hand was her husband's weapon.
"Ah--h!" sighed Shorty, seraphically, as the vision beat in upon his
misty conceptions. "_She ain't hurt_!"
In his mind there was no room for desperadoes contemporaneously with
Her. Then he became conscious of the lady's raiment, and his brown
cheeks flamed brick-red, while he dropped his eyes. In his
shrinking, grovelling modesty, he made for his dark corner.
One of those at bay, familiar with this strange abashment, seized the
moment, but at his motion the sheriff screamed: "Look out!"
The quick danger in the cry brought back with a surge the men against
the wall and Shorty swung instantly, firing at the outstretched hand
of Bailey as it reached for Tremper's weapon.
The landlord straightened, gazing affrightedly at his finger tips.
"Too low!" and Shorty's voice held aching tears. "I'll never touch
another drop; it's plumb ruined my aim."
"Cut these strings, girlie," said the sheriff, as the little man's
gaze again wavered, threatening to leave his prisoners.
"Quick. He's blushing again.".
When they were manacled, Shorty stood in moist exudation, trembling
and speechless, under the incoherent thanks of the bride and the
silent admiration of her handsome husband. She fluttered about him
in a tremor of anxiety, lest he be wounded, caressing him here and
there with solicitous pats till he felt his shamed and happy spirit
would surely burst from its misshapen prison.
"You've made a good thing to-night," said Turney, clapping him
heartily on his massive back. "You get the five thousand all right.
We were going to Mexico City on that for a bridal trip when I rounded
up the gang, but I'll see you get every cent of it, old man. If it
wasn't for you I'd have been a heap farther south than that by now."
The open camaraderie and good-fellowship that rang in the man's voice
affected Shorty strangely, accustomed as he was to the veiled
contempt or open compassion of his fellows. Here was one who
recognized him as a man, an equal.
He spread his lips, but the big voice squeaked dismally, then,
inflating deeply, he spoke so that the prisoners chained in the
corral outside heard him plainly.
"I'd rather she took it anyhow," blushing violently.
"No, no," they cried. "It's yours."
"Well, then, half of it"--and for once Shorty betrayed the strength
of Gibraltar, even in the face of the lady, and so it stood.
As the dawn spread over the dusty prairie, tipping the westward
mountains with silver caps, and sucking the mist out of the
cotton-wood bottoms, he bade them adieu.
"No, I got to get back to the Bar X, or the old man'll swear I been
drinking again, and I don't want to dissipate no wrong impressions
around." He winked gravely. Then, as the sheriff and his surly
prisoners drove off, he called:
"Mr. Turney, take good care of them Trempers. I think a heap of 'em,
for, outside of your wife, they're the only ones in this outfit that
didn't laugh at me."
Pierre "Feroce" showed disapproval in his every attitude as plainly as
disgust peered from the seams in his dark face; it lurked in his scowl
and in the curl of his long rawhide that bit among the sled dogs. So
at least thought Willard, as he clung to the swinging sledge.
They were skirting the coast, keeping to the glare ice, wind-swept and
clean, that lay outside the jumbled shore pack. The team ran silently
in the free gait of the grey wolf, romping in harness from pure joy of
motion and the intoxication of perfect life, making the sled runners
whine like the song of a cutlass.
This route is dangerous, of course, from hidden cracks in the floes,
and most travellers hug the bluffs, but he who rides with Pierre
"Feroce" takes chances. It was this that had won him the name of
"Wild" Pierre--the most reckless, tireless man of the trails, a scoffer
at peril, bolting through danger with rush and frenzy, overcoming
sheerly by vigour those obstacles which destroy strong men in the North.
The power that pulsed within him gleamed from his eyes, rang in his
song, showed in the aggressive thrust of his sensual face.
This particular morning, however, Pierre's distemper had crystallized
into a great contempt for his companion. Of all trials, the most
detestable is to hit the trail with half a man, a pale, anemic weakling
like this stranger.
Though modest in the extent of his learning, Pierre gloated in a
freedom of speech, the which no man dared deny him. He turned to eye
his companion cynically for a second time, and contempt was patent in
his gaze. Willard appeared slender and pallid in his furs, though his
clear-cut features spoke a certain strength and much refinement.
"Bah! I t'ink you dam poor feller," he said finally. "'Ow you 'goin'
stan' thees trip, eh? She's need beeg mans, not leetle runt like you."
Amusement at this frankness glimmered in Willard's eyes.
"You're like all ignorant people. You think in order to stand hardship
a man should be able to toss a sack of flour in his teeth or juggle a
cask of salt-horse."
"Sure t'ing," grinned Pierre. "That's right. Look at me. Mebbe you
hear 'bout Pierre 'Feroce' sometime, eh?"
"Oh, yes; everybody knows you; knows you're a big bully. I've seen you
drink a quart of this wood alcohol they call whisky up here, and then
jump the bar from a stand, but you're all animal--you haven't the
refinement and the culture that makes real strength. It's the mind
that makes us stand punishment."
"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed the Canadian. "Wat a fonny talk. She'll take
the heducate man for stan' the col', eh? Mon Dieu!" He roared again
till the sled dogs turned fearful glances backward and bushy tails
drooped under the weight of their fright. Great noise came oftenest
with great rage from Pierre, and they had too frequently felt the both
"Yes, you haven't the mentality. Sometime you'll use up your physical
resources and go to pieces like a burned wick."
Pierre was greatly amused. His yellow teeth shone, and he gave vent to
violent mirth as, following the thought, he pictured a naked mind
wandering over the hills with the quicksilver at sixty degrees.
"Did you ever see a six-day race? Of course not; you barbarians
haven't sunk to the level of our dissolute East, where we joy in Roman
spectacles, but if you had you'd see it's will that wins; it's the man
that eats his soul by inches. The educated soldier stands the campaign
best. You run too much to muscle--you're not balanced."
"I t'ink mebbe you'll 'ave chance for show 'im, thees stout will of
yours. She's goin' be long 'mush' troo the mountains, plentee snow,
Although Pierre's ridicule was galling, Willard felt the charm of the
morning too strongly to admit of anger or to argue his pet theory.
The sun, brilliant and cold, lent a paradoxical cheerfulness to the
desolation, and, though never a sign of life broke the stillness around
them, the beauty of the scintillant, gleaming mountains, distinct as
cameos, that guarded the bay, appealed to him with the strange
attraction of the Arctics; that attraction that calls and calls
insistently, till men forsake God's country for its mystery.
He breathed the biting air cleaned by leagues of lifeless barrens and
voids of crackling frost till he ached with the exhilaration of a
perfect morning on the Circle.
Also before him undulated the grandest string of dogs the Coast had
known. Seven there were, tall and grey, with tails like plumes, whom
none but Pierre could lay hand upon, fierce and fearless as their
master. He drove with the killing cruelty of a stampeder, and they
"You say you have grub cached at the old Indian hut on the Good Hope?"
"Sure! Five poun' bacon, leetle flour and rice. I cache one gum-boot
too, ha! Good thing for make fire queeck, eh?"
"You bet; an old rubber boot comes handy when it's too cold to make
Leaving the coast, they ascended a deep and tortuous river where the
snow lay thick and soft. One man on snow-shoes broke trail for the
dogs till they reached the foothills. It was hard work, but infinitely
preferable to that which followed, for now they came into a dangerous
stretch of overflows. The stream, frozen to its bed, clogged the
passage of the spring water beneath, forcing it up through cracks till
it spread over the solid ice, forming pools and sheets covered with
treacherous ice-skins. Wet feet are fatal to man and beast, and they
made laborious detours, wallowing trails through tangled willows waist
deep in the snow smother, or clinging precariously to the overhanging
bluffs. As they reached the river's source the sky blackened suddenly,
and great clouds of snow rushed over the bleak hills, boiling down into
the valley with a furious draught. They flung up their flimsy tent,
only to have it flattened by the force of the gale that cut like
well-honed steel. Frozen spots leaped out white on their faces, while
their hands stiffened ere they could fasten the guy strings.
Finally, having lashed the tent bottom to the protruding willow tops,
by grace of heavy lifting they strained their flapping shelter up
sufficiently to crawl within.
"By Gar! She's blow hup ver' queeck," yelled Pierre, as he set the
ten-pound sheet-iron stove, its pipe swaying drunkenly with the heaving
"Good t'ing she hit us in the brush." He spoke as calmly as though
danger was distant, and a moment later the little box was roaring with
its oil-soaked kindlings.
"Will this stove burn green willow tops?" cried Willard.
"Sure! She's good stove. She'll burn hicicles eef you get 'im start
one times. See 'im get red?"
They rubbed the stiff spots from their cheeks, then, seizing the axe,
Willard crawled forth into the storm and dug at the base of the gnarled
bushes. Occasionally a shrub assumed the proportions of a man's
wrist--but rarely. Gathering an armful, he bore them inside, and
twisting the tips into withes, he fed the fire. The frozen twigs
sizzled and snapped, threatening to fail utterly, but with much blowing
he sustained a blaze sufficient to melt a pot of snow. Boiling was out
of the question, but the tea leaves became soaked and the bacon
Pierre freed and fed the dogs. Each gulped its dried salmon, and,
curling in the lee of the tent, was quickly drifted over. Next he cut
blocks from the solid bottom snow and built a barricade to windward.
Then he accumulated a mow of willow tops without the tent-fly. All the
time the wind drew down the valley like the breath of a giant bellows.
"Supper," shouted Willard, and as Pierre crawled into the candle-light
he found him squatted, fur-bundled, over the stove, which settled
steadily into the snow, melting its way downward toward a firmer
The heat was insufficient to thaw the frozen sweat in his clothes; his
eyes were bleary and wet from smoke, and his nose needed continuous
blowing, but he spoke pleasantly, a fact which Pierre noted with
"We'll need a habeas corpus for this stove if you don't get something
to hold her up, and I might state, if it's worthy of mention, that your
nose is frozen again."
Pierre brought an armful of stones from the creek edge, distributing
them beneath the stove on a bed of twisted willows; then swallowing
their scanty, half-cooked food, they crawled, shivering, into the
deerskin sleeping-bags, that animal heat might dry their clammy
Four days the wind roared and the ice filings poured over their shelter
while they huddled beneath. When one travels on rations delay is
dangerous. Each morning, dragging themselves out into the maelstrom,
they took sticks and poked into the drifts for dogs. Each animal as
found was exhumed, given a fish, and became straightway reburied in the
whirling white that seethed down from the mountains.
On the fifth, without warning, the storm died, and the air stilled to a
"These dog bad froze," said Pierre, swearing earnestly as he harnessed.
"I don' like eet much. They goin' play hout I'm 'fraid." He knelt and
chewed from between their toes the ice pellets that had accumulated. A
malamoot is hard pressed to let his feet mass, and this added to the
As they mounted the great divide, mountains rolled away on every hand,
barren, desolate, marble-white; always the whiteness; always the
listening silence that oppressed like a weight. Myriads of creek
valleys radiated below in a bewildering maze of twisting seams.
"Those are the Ass's Ears, I suppose," said Willard, gazing at two
great fangs that bit deep into the sky-line. "Is it true that no man
has ever reached them?"
"Yes. The hinjun say that's w'ere hall the storm come from, biccause
w'en the win' blow troo the Ass's Ear, look out! Somebody goin' ketch
Dogs' feet wear quickly after freezing, for crusted snow cuts like a
knife. Spots of blood showed in their tracks, growing more plentiful
till every print was a crimson stain. They limped pitifully on their
raw pads, and occasionally one whined. At every stop they sank in
track, licking their lacerated paws, rising only at the cost of much
On the second night, faint and starved, they reached the hut. Digging
away the drifts, they crawled inside to find it half full of snow--snow
which had sifted through the crevices. Pierre groped among the shadows
and swore excitedly.
"What's up?" said Willard.
Vocal effort of the simplest is exhausting when spent with hunger, and
these were the first words he had spoken for hours.
"By Gar! she's gone. Somebody stole my grub!"
Willard felt a terrible sinking, and his stomach cried for food.
"How far is it to the Crooked River Road House?"
"One long day drive--forty mile."
"We must make it to-morrow or go hungry, eh? Well this isn't the first
dog fish I ever ate." Both men gnawed a mouldy dried salmon from their
As Willard removed his footgear he groaned.
"Wat's the mattaire?"
"I froze my foot two days ago--snow-shoe strap too tight." He
exhibited a heel, from which, in removing his inner sock, the flesh and
skin had come away.
"That's all right," grinned Pierre. "You got the beeg will lef' yet.
It take the heducate man for stan' the col', you know."
Willard gritted his teeth.
They awoke to the whine of a grey windstorm that swept the cutting snow
in swirling clouds and made travel a madness. The next day was worse.
Two days of hunger weigh heavy when the cold weakens, and they grew
gaunt and fell away in their features.
"I'm glad we've got another feed for the dogs," remarked Willard. "We
can't let them run hungry, even if we do."
"I t'ink she's be hall right to-mor'," ventured Pierre. "Thees ain't
snow--jus' win'; bimeby all blow hout. Sacre! I'll can eat 'nuff for
For days both men had been cold, and the sensation of complete warmth
had come to seem strange and unreal, while their faces cracked where
the spots had been.
Willard felt himself on the verge of collapse. He recalled his words
about strong men, gazing the while at Pierre. The Canadian evinced
suffering only in the haggard droop of eye and mouth; otherwise he
looked strong and dogged.
Willard felt his own features had shrunk to a mask of loose-jawed
suffering, and he set his mental sinews, muttering to himself.
He was dizzy and faint as he stretched himself in the still morning air
upon waking, and hobbled painfully, but as his companion emerged from
the darkened shelter into the crystalline brightness he forgot his own
misery at sight of him. The big man reeled as though struck when the
dazzle from the hills reached him, and he moaned, shielding his sight.
Snow-blindness had found him in a night.
Slowly they plodded out of the valley, for hunger gnawed acutely, and
they left a trail of blood tracks from the dogs. It took the combined
efforts of both men to lash them to foot after each pause. Thus
progress was slow and fraught with agony.
As they rose near the pass, miles of Arctic wastes bared themselves.
All about towered bald domes, while everywhere stretched the monotonous
white, the endless snow unbroken by tree or shrub, pallid and menacing,
maddening to the eye.
"Thank God, the worst's over," sighed Willard, flinging himself onto
the sled. "We'll make it to the summit next time; then she's down hill
all the way to the road house."
Pierre said nothing.
Away to the northward glimmered the Ass's Ears, and as the speaker eyed
them carelessly he noted gauzy shreds and streamers veiling their tops.
The phenomena interested him, for he knew that here must be wind--wind,
the terror of the bleak tundra; the hopeless, merciless master of the
barrens! However, the distant range beneath the twin peaks showed
clear-cut and distinct against the sky, and he did not mention the
occurrence to the guide, although he recalled the words of the Indians:
"Beware of the wind through the Ass's Ears."
Again they laboured up the steep slope, wallowing in the sliding snow,
straining silently at the load; again they threw themselves, exhausted,
upon it. Now, as he eyed the panorama below, it seemed to have
suffered a subtle change, indefinable and odd. Although but a few
minutes had elapsed, the coast mountains no longer loomed clear against
the horizon, and his visual range appeared foreshortened, as though the
utter distances had lengthened, bringing closer the edge of things.
The twin peaks seemed endlessly distant and hazy, while the air had
thickened as though congested with possibilities, lending a remoteness
to the landscape.
"If it blows up on us here, we're gone," he thought, "for it's miles to
shelter, and we're right in the saddle of the hills."
Pierre, half blinded as he was, arose uneasily and cast the air like a
wild beast, his great head thrown back, his nostrils quivering.
"I smell the win'," he cried. "Mon Dieu! She's goin' blow!"
A volatile pennant floated out from a near-bye peak, hanging about its
crest like faint smoke. Then along the brow of the pass writhed a wisp
of drifting, twisting flakelets, idling hither and yon, astatic and
aimless, settling in a hollow. They sensed a thrill and rustle to the
air, though never a breath had touched them; then, as they mounted
higher, a draught fanned them, icy as interstellar space. The view
from the summit was grotesquely distorted, and glancing upward they
found the guardian peaks had gone a-smoke with clouds of snow that
whirled confusedly, while an increasing breath sucked over the summit,
stronger each second. Dry snow began to rustle slothfully about their
feet. So swiftly were the changes wrought, that before the mind had
grasped their import the storm was on them, roaring down from every
side, swooping out of the boiling sky, a raging blast from the voids of
Pierre's shouts as he slashed at the sled lashings were snatched from
his lips in scattered scraps. He dragged forth the whipping tent and
threw himself upon it with the sleeping-bags. Having cut loose the
dogs, Willard crawled within his sack and they drew the flapping canvas
over them. The air was twilight and heavy with efflorescent granules
that hurtled past in a drone.
They removed their outer garments that the fur might fold closer
against them, and lay exposed to the full hate of the gale. They hoped
to be drifted over, but no snow could lodge in this hurricane, and it
sifted past, dry and sharp, eddying out a bare place wherein they lay.
Thus the wind drove the chill to their bones bitterly.
An unnourished human body responds but weakly, so, vitiated by their
fast and labours, their suffering smote them with tenfold cruelty.
All night the north wind shouted, and, as the next day waned with its
violence undiminished, the frost crept in upon them till they rolled
and tossed shivering. Twice they essayed to crawl out, but were driven
back to cower for endless, hopeless hours.
It is in such black, aimless times that thought becomes distorted.
Willard felt his mind wandering through bleak dreams and tortured
fancies, always to find himself harping on his early argument with
Pierre: "It's the mind that counts." Later he roused to the fact that
his knees, where they pressed against the bag, were frozen; also his
feet were numb and senseless. In his acquired consciousness he knew
that along the course of his previous mental vagary lay madness, and
the need of action bore upon him imperatively.
He shouted to his mate, but "Wild" Pierre seemed strangely apathetic.
"We've got to run for it at daylight. We're freezing. Here! Hold on!
What are you doing? Wait for daylight!" Pierre had scrambled stiffly
out of his cover and his gabblings reached Willard. He raised a
clenched fist into the darkness of the streaming night, cursing
horribly with words that appalled the other.
"Man! man! don't curse your God. This is bad enough as it is. Cover
Although apparently unmindful of his presence, the other crawled back
As the dim morning greyed the smother they rose and fought their way
downward toward the valley. Long since they had lost their griping
hunger, and now held only an apathetic indifference to food, with a
cringing dread of the cold and a stubborn sense of their extreme
They fell many times, but gradually drew themselves more under control,
the exercise suscitating them, as they staggered downward, blinded and
buffeted, their only hope the road-house.
Willard marvelled dully at the change in Pierre. His face had
shrivelled to blackened freezes stretched upon a bony substructure, and
lighted by feverish, glittering, black, black eyes. It seemed to him
that his own lagging body had long since failed, and that his aching,
naked soul wandered stiffly through the endless day. As night
approached Pierre stopped frequently, propping himself with legs far
apart; sometimes he laughed. Invariably this horrible sound shocked
Willard into a keener sense of the surroundings, and it grew to
irritate him, for the Frenchman's mental wanderings increased with the
darkness. What made him rouse one with his awful laughter? These
spells of walking insensibility were pleasanter far. At last the big
man fell. To Willard's mechanical endeavours to help he spoke
sleepily, but with the sanity of a man under great stress.
"Dat no good. I'm goin' freeze right 'ere--freeze stiff as 'ell. Au
"Get up!" Willard kicked him weakly, then sat upon the prostrate man as
his own faculties went wandering.
Eventually he roused, and digging into the snow buried the other, first
covering his face with the ample parka hood. Then he struck down the
valley. In one lucid spell he found he had followed a sled trail,
which was blown clear and distinct by the wind that had now almost died
Occasionally his mind grew clear, and his pains beat in upon him till
he grew furious at the life in him which refused to end, which forced
him ever through this gauntlet of misery. More often he was conscious
only of a vague and terrible extremity outside of himself that goaded
him forever forward. Anon he strained to recollect his destination.
His features had set in an implacable grimace of physical torture--like
a runner in the fury of a finish--till the frost hardened them so. At
times he fell heavily, face downward, and at length upon the trail,
lying so till that omnipresent coercion that had frozen in his brain
drove him forward.
He heard his own voice maundering through lifeless lips like that of a
stranger: "The man that can eat his soul will win, Pierre."
Sometimes he cried like a child and slaver ran from his open mouth,
freezing at his breast. One of his hands was going dead. He stripped
the left mitten off and drew it laboriously over the right. One he
would save at least, even though he lost the other. He looked at the
bare member dully, and he could not tell that the cold had eased till
the bitterness was nearly out of the air. He laboured with the fitful
spurts of a machine run down.
Ten men and many dogs lay together in the Crooked River Road House
through the storm. At late bedtime of the last night came a scratching
on the door.
"Somebody's left a dog outside," said a teamster, and rose to let him
in. He opened the door only to retreat affrightedly.
"My God!" he said. "My God!" and the miners crowded forward.
A figure tottered over the portal, swaying drunkenly. They shuddered
at the sight of its face as it crossed toward the fire. It did not
walk; it shuffled, haltingly, with flexed knees and hanging shoulders,
the strides measuring inches only--a grisly burlesque upon senility.
Pausing in the circle, it mumbled thickly, with great effort, as though
gleaning words from infinite distance:
"Wild Pierre--frozen--buried--in--snow--hurry!" Then he straightened
and spoke strongly, his voice flooding the room:
"It's the mind, Pierre. Ha! ha! ha! The mind."
He cackled hideously, and plunged forward into a miner's arms.
It was many days before his delirium broke. Gradually he felt the
pressure of many bandages upon him, and the hunger of convalescence.
As he lay in his bunk the past came to him hazy and horrible; then the
hum of voices, one loud, insistent, and familiar.
He turned weakly, to behold Pierre propped in a chair by the stove,
frost-scarred and pale, but aggressive even in recuperation. He
gesticulated fiercely with a bandaged hand, hot in controversy with
some big-limbed, bearded strangers.
"Bah! You fellers no good--too beeg in the ches', too leetle in the
forehead. She'll tak' the heducate mans for stan' the 'ardsheep--lak'
me an' Meestaire Weelard."
NORTH OF FIFTY-THREE
Big George was drinking, and the activities of the little Arctic
mining camp were paralysed. Events invariably ceased their progress
and marked time when George became excessive, and now nothing of
public consequence stirred except the quicksilver, which was retiring
fearfully into its bulb at the song of the wind which came racing
over the lonesome, bitter, northward waste of tundra.
He held the centre of the floor at the Northern Club, and proclaimed
his modest virtues in a voice as pleasant as the cough of a
"Yes, me! Little Georgie! I did it. I've licked 'em all from
Herschel Island to Dutch Harbour, big uns and little uns. When they
didn't suit I made 'em over. I'm the boss carpenter of the Arctic
and I own this camp; don't I, Slim? Hey? Answer me!" he roared at
the emaciated bearer of the title, whose attention seemed wandering
from the inventory of George's startling traits toward a card game.
"Sure ye do," nervously smiled Slim, frightened out of a heart-solo
as he returned to his surroundings.
"Well, then, listen to what I'm saying. I'm the big chief of the
village, and when I'm stimulated and happy them fellers I don't like
hides out and lets me and Nature operate things. Ain't that right?"
He glared inquiringly at his friends.
Red, the proprietor, explained over the bar in a whisper to Captain,
the new man from Dawson: "That's Big George, the whaler. He's a
squaw-man and sort of a bully--see? When he's sober he's on the
level strickly, an' we all likes him fine, but when he gets to
fightin' the pain-killer, he ain't altogether a gentleman. Will he
fight? Oh! Will he fight? Say! he's there with chimes, he is!
Why, Doc Miller's made a grub-stake rebuildin' fellers that's had a
lingerin' doubt cached away about that, an' now when he gets the
booze up his nose them patched-up guys oozes away an' hibernates till
the gas dies out in him. Afterwards he's sore on himself an'
apologizes to everybody. Don't get into no trouble with him, cause
he's two checks past the limit. They don't make 'em as bad as him
any more. He busted the mould."
George turned, and spying the new-comer, approached, eyeing him with
Captain saw a bear-like figure, clad cap-a-pie in native fashion.
Reindeer pants, with the hair inside, clothed legs like rock pillars,
while out of the loose squirrel parka a corded neck rose, brown and
strong, above which darkly gleamed a rugged face seamed and scarred
by the hate of Arctic winters. He had kicked off his deer-skin
socks, and stood bare-footed on the cold and draughty floor, while
the poison he had imbibed showed only in his heated face, Silently he
extended a cracked and hardened hand, which closed like the armoured
claw of a crustacean and tightened on the crunching fingers of the
other. Captain's expression remained unchanged and, gradually
slackening his grip, the sailor roughly inquired:
"Where'd you come from?"
"Just got in from Dawson yesterday," politely responded the stranger.
"Well! what're you goin' to do now you're here?" he demanded.
"Stake some claims and go to prospecting, I guess. You see, I wanted
to get in early before the rush next spring."
"Oh! I 'spose you're going to jump some of our ground, hey? Well,
you ain't! We don't want no claim jumpers here," disagreeably
continued the seaman; "we won't stand for it. This is my camp--see?
I own it, and these is my little children." Then, as the other
refused to debate with him, he resumed, groping for a new ground of
"Say! I'll bet you're one of them eddicated dudes, too, ain't you?
You talk like a feller that had been to college," and, as the other
assented, he scornfully called to his friends, saying "Look here,
fellers! Pipe the jellyfish! I never see one of these here animals
that was worth a cuss; they plays football an' smokes cigareets at
school; then when they're weaned they come off up here an' jump our
claims 'cause we can't write a location notice proper. They ain't no
good. I guess I'll stop it."
Captain moved toward the door, but the whaler threw his bulky frame
against it and scowlingly blocked the way.
"No, you don't. You ain't goin' to run away till I've had the next
dance, Mister Eddication! Humph! I ain't begun to tell ye yet what
a useless little barnacle you are."
Red interfered, saying: "Look 'ere, George, this guy ain't no
playmate of yourn. We'll all have a jolt of this disturbance
promoter, an' call it off." Then, as the others approached he winked
at Captain, and jerked his head slightly toward the door.
The latter, heeding the signal, started out, but George leaped after
him and, seizing an arm, whirled him back, roaring:
"Well, of all the cussed impidence I ever see! You're too high-toned
to drink with us, are you? You don't get out of here now till you
take a lickin' like a man."
He reached over his head and, grasping the hood of his fur shirt,
with one movement he stripped it from him, exposing a massive naked
body, whose muscles swelled and knotted beneath a skin as clear as a
maiden's, while a map of angry scars strayed across the heavy chest.
As the shirt sailed through the air. Red lightly vaulted to the bar
and, diving at George's naked middle, tackled beautifully, crying to
Captain: "Get out quick; we'll hold him."
Others rushed forward and grasped the bulky sailor, but Captain's
voice replied: "I sort of like this place, and I guess I'll stay a
while. Turn him loose."
"Why, man, he'll kill ye," excitedly cried Slim. "Get out!"
The captive hurled his peacemakers from him and, shaking off the
clinging arms, drove furiously at the insolent stranger.
In the cramped limits of the corner where he stood. Captain was
unable to avoid the big man, who swept him with a crash against the
plank door at his back, grasping hungrily at his throat. As his
shoulders struck, however, he dropped to his knees and, before the
raging George could seize him, he avoided a blow which would have
strained the rivets of a strength-tester and ducked under the other's
arms, leaping to the cleared centre of the floor.
Seldom had the big man's rush been avoided and, whirling, he swung a
boom-like arm at the agile stranger. Before it landed, Captain
stepped in to meet his adversary and, with the weight of his body
behind the blow, drove a clenched and bony fist crashing into the
other's face. The big head with its blazing shock of hair snapped
backward and the whaler drooped to his knees at the other's feet.
The drunken flush of victory swept over Captain as he stood above the
swaying figure; then, suddenly, he felt the great bare arms close
about his waist with a painful grip. He struck at the bleeding face
below him and wrenched at the circling bands which wheezed the breath
from his lungs, but the whaler squeezed him writhing to his breast,
and, rising, unsteadily wheeled across the floor and in a shiver of
broken glass fell crashing against the bar and to the floor.
As the struggling men writhed upon the planks the door opened at the
hurried entrance of an excited group, which paused at the sight of
the ruin, then, rushing forward, tore the men apart.
The panting Berserker strained at the arms about his glistening body,
while Captain, with sobbing sighs, relieved his aching lungs and
watched his enemy, who frothed at the interference.
"It was George's fault," explained Slim to the questions of the
arrivals. "This feller tried to make a get-away, but George had to
have his amusement."
A new-comer addressed the squaw-man in a voice as cold as the wind.
"Cut this out, George! This is a friend of mine. You're making this
camp a regular hell for strangers, and now I'm goin' to tap your
little snap. Cool off--see?"
Jones's reputation as a bad gun-man went hand in hand with his name
as a good gambler, and his scanty remarks invariably evoked attentive
answers, so George explained: "I don't like him Jones, and I was jus'
makin' him over to look like a man. I'll do it yet, too," he flashed
wrathfully at his quiet antagonist.
"'Pears to me like he's took a hand in the remodelling himself,"
replied the gambler, "but if you're lookin' for something to do,
here's your chance. Windy Jim just drove in and says Barton and Kid
Sullivan are adrift on the ice."
"What's that?" questioned eager voices, and, forgetting the recent
trouble at the news, the crowd pressed forward anxiously.
"They was crossing the bay and got carried out by the off-shore
gale," explained Jones. "Windy was follerin' 'em when the ice ahead
parted and begun movin' out. He tried to yell to 'em, but they was
too far away to hear in the storm. He managed to get back to the
land and follered the shore ice around. He's over at Hunter's cabin
now, most dead, face and hands froze pretty bad."
A torrent of questions followed and many suggestions as to the fate
of the men.
"They'll freeze before they can get ashore," said one.
"The ice-pack'll break up in this wind," added another, "and if they
don't drown, they'll freeze before the floe comes in close enough for
them to land."
From the first announcement of his friends' peril, Captain had been
thinking rapidly. His body, sore from his long trip and aching from
the hug of his recent encounter, cried woefully for rest, but his
voice rose calm and clear:
"We've got to get them off," he said. "Who will go with me? Three
The clamouring voices ceased, and the men wheeled at the sound,
gazing incredulously at the speaker. "What!"--"In this
storm?"--"You're crazy," many voices said.
He gazed appealingly at the faces before him. Brave and adventurous
men he knew them to be, jesting with death, and tempered to perils in
this land where hardship rises with the dawn, but they shook their
ragged heads hopelessly.
"We _must_ save them!" resumed Captain hotly. "Barton and I played
as children together, and if there's not a man among you who's got
the nerve to follow me--I'll go alone by Heavens!"
In the silence of the room, he pulled the cap about his ears and,
tying it snugly under his chin, drew on his huge fur mittens; then
with a scornful laugh he turned toward the door.
He paused as his eye caught the swollen face of Big George. Blood
had stiffened in the heavy creases of his face like rusted stringers
in a ledge, while his mashed and discoloured lips protruded thickly.
His hair gleamed red, and the sweat had dried upon his naked
shoulders, streaked with dirt and flecked with spots of blood, yet
the battered features shone with the unconquered, fearless light of a
rough, strong man.
Captain strode to him with outstretched hand. "You're a man," he
said. "You've got the nerve, George, and you'll go with me, won't
"What! Me?" questioned the sailor vaguely. His wondering glance
left Captain, and drifted round the circle of shamed and silent
faces--then he straightened stiffly and cried: "Will I go with you?
Certainly! I'll go to ---- with you."
Ready hands harnessed the dogs, dragged from protected nooks where
they sought cover from the storm which moaned and whistled round the
low houses. Endless ragged folds of sleet whirled out of the north,
then writhed and twisted past, vanishing into the grey veil which
shrouded the landscape in a twilight gloom.
The fierce wind sank the cold into the aching flesh like a knife and
stiffened the face to a whitening mask, while a fusillade of frozen
ice-particles beat against the eyeballs with blinding fury.
As Captain emerged from his cabin, furred and hooded, he found a long
train of crouching, whining animals harnessed and waiting, while
muffled figures stocked the sled with robes and food and stimulants.
Big George approached through the whirling white, a great squat
figure with fluttering squirrel tails blowing from his parka, and at
his heels there trailed a figure, skin-clad and dainty.
"It's my wife," he explained briefly to Captain. "She won't let me
They gravely bade farewell to all, and the little crowd cheered
lustily against the whine of the blizzard as, with cracking whip and
hoarse shouts, they were wrapped in the cloudy winding sheet of snow.
Arctic storms have an even sameness; the intense cold, the heartless
wind which augments tenfold the chill of the temperature, the air
thick and dark with stinging flakes rushing by in an endless cloud.
A drifting, freezing, shifting eternity of snow, driven by a ravening
gale which sweeps the desolate, bald wastes of the Northland.
The little party toiled through the smother till they reached the
"egloos" under the breast of the tall, coast bluffs, where coughing
Eskimos drilled patiently at ivory tusks and gambled the furs from
their backs at stud-horse poker.
To George's inquiries they answered that their largest canoe was the
three-holed bidarka on the cache outside. Owing to the small
circular openings in its deck, this was capable of holding but three
passengers, and Captain said; "We'll have to make two trips, George."
"Two trips, eh?" answered the other. "We'll be doin' well if we last
through one, I'm thinking."
Lashing the unwieldy burden upon the sled, they fought their way
along the coast again till George declared they were opposite the
point where their friends went adrift. They slid their light craft
through the ragged wall of ice hummocks guarding the shore pack, and
dimly saw, in the grey beyond them, a stretch of angry waters mottled
by drifting cakes and floes.
George spoke earnestly to his wife, instructing her to keep the team
in constant motion up and down the coast a rifle-shot in either
direction, and to listen for a signal of the return. Then he picked
her up as he would a babe, and she kissed his storm-beaten face.
"She's been a good squaw to me," he said, as they pushed their
dancing craft out into the breath of the gale, "and I've always done
the square thing by her; I s'pose she'll go back to her people now,
The wind hurried them out from land, while it drove the sea-water in
freezing spray over their backs and changed their fur garments into
scaly armour, as they worked through the ice cakes, peering with
strained eyes for a sign of their friends.
The sailor, with deft strokes, steered them, between the grinding
bergs, raising his voice in lone signals like the weird cry of a
Twisting back and forth through the floes, they held to their quest,
now floating with the wind, now paddling desperately in a race with
some drifting mass which dimly towered above them and splintered
hungrily against its neighbour close in their wake.
Captain emptied his six-shooter till his numbed fingers grew rigid as
the trigger, and always at his back swelled the deep shouts of the
sailor, who, with practised eye and mighty strokes, forced their way
through the closing lanes between the jaws of the ice pack.
At last, beaten and tossed, they rested disheartened and hopeless.
Then, as they drifted, a sound struggled to them against the wind--a
faint cry, illusive and fleeting as a dream voice--and, still
doubting, they heard it again.
"Thank God! We'll save 'em yet," cried Captain, and they drove the
canoe boiling toward the sound.
Barton and Sullivan had fought the cold and wind stoutly hour after
hour, till they found their great floe was breaking up in the heaving
Then the horror of it had struck the Kid, till he raved and cursed up
and down their little island, as it dwindled gradually to a small
He had finally yielded to the weight of the cold which crushed
resistance out of him, and settled, despairing and listless, upon the
ice. Barton dragged him to his feet and forced him round their
rocking prison, begging him to brace up, to fight it out like a man,
till the other insisted on resting, and dropped to his seat again.
The older man struck deliberately at the whitening face of his
freezing companion, who recognized the well-meant insult and refused
to be roused into activity. Then to their ears had come the faint
cries of George, and, in answer to their screams, through the gloom
they beheld a long, covered, skin canoe, and the anxious faces of
Captain rose from his cramped seat, and, ripping his crackling
garments from the boat where they had frozen, he wriggled out of the
hole in the deck and grasped the weeping Barton.
"Come, come, old boy! It's all right now," he said.
"Oh, Charlie, Charlie!" cried the other. "I might have known you'd
try to save us. You're just in time, though, for the Kid's about all
in." Sullivan apathetically nodded and sat down again.
"Hurry up there; this ain't no G. A. R. Encampment, and you ain't got
no time to spare," said George, who had dragged the canoe out and,
with a paddle, broke the sheets of ice which covered it. "It'll be
too dark to see anything in half an hour."
The night, hastened by the storm, was closing rapidly, and they
realized another need of haste, for, even as they spoke, a crack had
crawled through the ice-floe where they stood, and, widening as it
went, left but a heaving cake supporting them.
George spoke quietly to Captain, while Barton strove to animate the
Kid. "You and Barton must take him ashore and hurry him down to the
village. He's most gone now."
"But you?" questioned the other. "We'll have to come back for you,
as soon as we put him ashore."
"Never mind me," roughly interrupted George. "It's too late to get
back here. When you get ashore it'll be dark. Besides Sullivan's
freezing, and you'll have to rush him through quick. I'll stay here."
"No! No! George!" cried the other, as the meaning of it bore in
upon him. "I got you into this thing, and it's my place to stay
here. You must go--"
But the big man had hurried to Sullivan, and, seizing him in his
great hands, shook the drowsy one like a rat, cursing and beating a
goodly share of warmth back into him. Then he dragged the listless
burden to the canoe and forced him to a seat in the middle opening.
"Come, come," he cried to the others; "you can't spend all night
here. If you want to save the Kid, you've got to hurry. You take
the front seat there, Barton," and, as he did so, George turned to
the protesting Captain: "Shut up, curse you, and get in!"
"I won't do it," rebelled the other. "I can't let you lay down your
life in this way, when I made you come."
George thrust a cold face within an inch of the other's and grimly
said: "If they hadn't stopped me, I'd beat you into dog-meat this
morning, and if you don't quit this snivelling I'll do it yet. Now
get in there and paddle to beat ---- or you'll never make it back.
"I'll come back for you then, George, if I live to the shore,"
Captain cried, while the other slid the burdened canoe into the icy
As they drove the boat into the storm, Captain realized the
difficulty of working their way against the gale. On him fell the
added burden of holding their course into the wind and avoiding the
churning ice cakes. The spray whipped into his face like shot, and
froze as it clung to his features. He strained at his paddle till
the sweat soaked out of him and the cold air filled his aching lungs.
Unceasingly the merciless frost cut his face like a keen blade, till
he felt the numb paralysis which told him his features were hardening
under the touch of the cold.
An arm's length ahead the shoulders of the Kid protruded from the
deck hole where he had sunk again into the death sleep, while Barton,
in the forward seat, leaned wearily on his ice-clogged paddle,
moaning as he strove to shelter his face from the sting of the
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