The Faith of Men
Part 2 out of 3
Having wet this resolution, they beached the canoe, transferred its
contents to their cabin, and cooked dinner. But as the afternoon
wore along they grew restive. They were men used to the silence of
the great wilderness, but this gravelike silence of a town worried
them. They caught themselves listening for familiar sounds--
"waitin' for something to make a noise which ain't goin' to make a
noise," as Bill put it. They strolled through the deserted streets
to the Monte Carlo for more drinks, and wandered along the river
bank to the steamer landing, where only water gurgled as the eddy
filled and emptied, and an occasional salmon leapt flashing into
They sat down in the shade in front of the store and talked with
the consumptive storekeeper, whose liability to hemorrhage
accounted for his presence. Bill and Kink told him how they
intended loafing in their cabin and resting up after the hard
summer's work. They told him, with a certain insistence, that was
half appeal for belief, half challenge for contradiction, how much
they were going to enjoy their idleness. But the storekeeper was
uninterested. He switched the conversation back to the strike on
Klondike, and they could not keep him away from it. He could think
of nothing else, talk of nothing else, till Hootchinoo Bill rose up
in anger and disgust.
"Gosh darn Dawson, say I!" he cried.
"Same here," said Kink Mitchell, with a brightening face. "One'd
think something was doin' up there, 'stead of bein' a mere stampede
of greenhorns an' tinhorns."
But a boat came into view from downstream. It was long and slim.
It hugged the bank closely, and its three occupants, standing
upright, propelled it against the stiff current by means of long
"Circle City outfit," said the storekeeper. "I was lookin' for 'em
along by afternoon. Forty Mile had the start of them by a hundred
and seventy miles. But gee! they ain't losin' any time!"
'We'll just sit here quiet-like and watch 'em string by," Bill said
As he spoke, another boat appeared in sight, followed after a brief
interval by two others. By this time the first boat was abreast of
the men on the bank. Its occupants did not cease poling while
greetings were exchanged, and, though its progress was slow, a
half-hour saw it out of sight up river.
Still they came from below, boat after boat, in endless procession.
The uneasiness of Bill and Kink increased. They stole speculative,
tentative glances at each other, and when their eyes met looked
away in embarrassment. Finally, however, their eyes met and
neither looked away.
Kink opened his mouth to speak, but words failed him and his mouth
remained open while he continued to gaze at his partner.
"Just what I was thinken', Kink," said Bill.
They grinned sheepishly at each other, and by tacit consent started
to walk away. Their pace quickened, and by the time they arrived
at their cabin they were on the run.
"Can't lose no time with all that multitude a-rushin' by," Kink
spluttered, as he jabbed the sour-dough can into the beanpot with
one hand and with the other gathered in the frying-pan and coffee-
"Should say not," gasped Bill, his head and shoulders buried in a
clothes-sack wherein were stored winter socks and underwear. "I
say, Kink, don't forget the saleratus on the corner shelf back of
Half-an-hour later they were launching the canoe and loading up,
while the storekeeper made jocular remarks about poor, weak mortals
and the contagiousness of "stampedin' fever." But when Bill and
Kink thrust their long poles to bottom and started the canoe
against the current, he called after them:-
"Well, so-long and good luck! And don't forget to blaze a stake or
two for me!"
They nodded their heads vigorously and felt sorry for the poor
wretch who remained perforce behind.
* * * * *
Kink and Bill were sweating hard. According to the revised
Northland Scripture, the stampede is to the swift, the blazing of
stakes to the strong, and the Crown in royalties, gathers to itself
the fulness thereof. Kink and Bill were both swift and strong.
They took the soggy trail at a long, swinging gait that broke the
hearts of a couple of tender-feet who tried to keep up with them.
Behind, strung out between them and Dawson (where the boats were
discarded and land travel began), was the vanguard of the Circle
City outfit. In the race from Forty Mile the partners had passed
every boat, winning from the leading boat by a length in the Dawson
eddy, and leaving its occupants sadly behind the moment their feet
struck the trail.
"Huh! couldn't see us for smoke," Hootchinoo Bill chuckled,
flirting the stinging sweat from his brow and glancing swiftly back
along the way they had come.
Three men emerged from where the trail broke through the trees.
Two followed close at their heels, and then a man and a woman shot
"Come on, you Kink! Hit her up! Hit her up!"
Bill quickened his pace. Mitchell glanced back in more leisurely
"I declare if they ain't lopin'!"
"And here's one that's loped himself out," said Bill, pointing to
the side of the trail.
A man was lying on his back panting in the culminating stages of
violent exhaustion. His face was ghastly, his eyes bloodshot and
glazed, for all the world like a dying man.
"CHECHAQUO!" Kink Mitchell grunted, and it was the grunt of the old
"sour dough" for the green-horn, for the man who outfitted with
"self-risin'" flour and used baking-powder in his biscuits.
The partners, true to the old-timer custom, had intended to stake
down-stream from the strike, but when they saw claim 81 BELOW
blazed on a tree,--which meant fully eight miles below Discovery,--
they changed their minds. The eight miles were covered in less
than two hours. It was a killing pace, over so rough trail, and
they passed scores of exhausted men that had fallen by the wayside.
At Discovery little was to be learned of the upper creek.
Cormack's Indian brother-in-law, Skookum Jim, had a hazy notion
that the creek was staked as high as the 30's; but when Kink and
Bill looked at the corner-stakes of 79 ABOVE, they threw their
stampeding packs off their backs and sat down to smoke. All their
efforts had been vain. Bonanza was staked from mouth to source,--
"out of sight and across the next divide." Bill complained that
night as they fried their bacon and boiled their coffee over
Cormack's fire at Discovery.
"Try that pup," Carmack suggested next morning.
"That pup" was a broad creek that flowed into Bonanza at 7 ABOVE.
The partners received his advice with the magnificent contempt of
the sour dough for a squaw-man, and, instead, spent the day on
Adam's Creek, another and more likely-looking tributary of Bonanza.
But it was the old story over again--staked to the sky-line.
For threes days Carmack repeated his advice, and for three days
they received it contemptuously. But on the fourth day, there
being nowhere else to go, they went up "that pup." They knew that
it was practically unstaked, but they had no intention of staking.
The trip was made more for the purpose of giving vent to their ill-
humour than for anything else. They had become quite cynical,
sceptical. They jeered and scoffed at everything, and insulted
every chechaquo they met along the way.
At No. 23 the stakes ceased. The remainder of the creek was open
"Moose pasture," sneered Kink Mitchell.
But Bill gravely paced off five hundred feet up the creek and
blazed the corner-stakes. He had picked up the bottom of a candle-
box, and on the smooth side he wrote the notice for his centre-
THIS MOOSE PASTURE IS RESERVED FOR THE
SWEDES AND CHECHAQUOS.
- BILL RADER.
Kink read it over with approval, saying:-
"As them's my sentiments, I reckon I might as well subscribe."
So the name of Charles Mitchell was added to the notice; and many
an old sour dough's face relaxed that day at sight of the handiwork
of a kindred spirit.
"How's the pup?" Carmack inquired when they strolled back into
"To hell with pups!" was Hootchinoo Bill's reply. "Me and Kink's
goin' a-lookin' for Too Much Gold when we get rested up."
Too Much Gold was the fabled creek of which all sour doughs
dreamed, whereof it was said the gold was so thick that, in order
to wash it, gravel must first be shovelled into the sluice-boxes.
But the several days' rest, preliminary to the quest for Too Much
Gold, brought a slight change in their plan, inasmuch as it brought
one Ans Handerson, a Swede.
Ans Handerson had been working for wages all summer at Miller Creek
over on the Sixty Mile, and, the summer done, had strayed up
Bonanza like many another waif helplessly adrift on the gold tides
that swept willy-nilly across the land. He was tall and lanky.
His arms were long, like prehistoric man's, and his hands were like
soup-plates, twisted and gnarled, and big-knuckled from toil. He
was slow of utterance and movement, and his eyes, pale blue as his
hair was pale yellow, seemed filled with an immortal dreaming, the
stuff of which no man knew, and himself least of all. Perhaps this
appearance of immortal dreaming was due to a supreme and vacuous
innocence. At any rate, this was the valuation men of ordinary
clay put upon him, and there was nothing extraordinary about the
composition of Hootchinoo Bill and Kink Mitchell.
The partners had spent a day of visiting and gossip, and in the
evening met in the temporary quarters of the Monte Carlo--a large
tent were stampeders rested their weary bones and bad whisky sold
at a dollar a drink. Since the only money in circulation was dust,
and since the house took the "down-weight" on the scales, a drink
cost something more than a dollar. Bill and Kink were not
drinking, principally for the reason that their one and common sack
was not strong enough to stand many excursions to the scales.
"Say, Bill, I've got a chechaquo on the string for a sack of
flour," Mitchell announced jubilantly.
Bill looked interested and pleased. Grub as scarce, and they were
not over-plentifully supplied for the quest after Too Much Gold.
"Flour's worth a dollar a pound," he answered. "How like do you
calculate to get your finger on it?"
"Trade 'm a half-interest in that claim of ourn," Kink answered.
"What claim?" Bill was surprised. Then he remembered the
reservation he had staked off for the Swedes, and said, "Oh!"
"I wouldn't be so clost about it, though," he added. "Give 'm the
whole thing while you're about it, in a right free-handed way."
Bill shook his head. "If I did, he'd get clean scairt and prance
off. I'm lettin' on as how the ground is believed to be valuable,
an' that we're lettin' go half just because we're monstrous short
on grub. After the dicker we can make him a present of the whole
"If somebody ain't disregarded our notice," Bill objected, though
he was plainly pleased at the prospect of exchanging the claim for
a sack of flour.
"She ain't jumped," Kink assured him. "It's No. 24, and it stands.
The chechaquos took it serious, and they begun stakin' where you
left off. Staked clean over the divide, too. I was gassin' with
one of them which has just got in with cramps in his legs."
It was then, and for the first time, that they heard the slow and
groping utterance of Ans Handerson.
"Ay like the looks," he was saying to the bar-keeper. "Ay tank Ay
gat a claim."
The partners winked at each other, and a few minutes later a
surprised and grateful Swede was drinking bad whisky with two hard-
hearted strangers. But he was as hard-headed as they were hard-
hearted. The sack made frequent journeys to the scales, followed
solicitously each time by Kink Mitchell's eyes, and still Ans
Handerson did not loosen up. In his pale blue eyes, as in summer
seas, immortal dreams swam up and burned, but the swimming and the
burning were due to the tales of gold and prospect pans he heard,
rather than to the whisky he slid so easily down his throat.
The partners were in despair, though they appeared boisterous and
jovial of speech and action.
"Don't mind me, my friend," Hootchinoo Bill hiccoughed, his hand
upon Ans Handerson's shoulder. "Have another drink. We're just
celebratin' Kink's birthday here. This is my pardner, Kink, Kink
Mitchell. An' what might your name be?"
This learned, his hand descended resoundingly on Kink's back, and
Kink simulated clumsy self-consciousness in that he was for the
time being the centre of the rejoicing, while Ans Handerson looked
pleased and asked them to have a drink with him. It was the first
and last time he treated, until the play changed and his canny soul
was roused to unwonted prodigality. But he paid for the liquor
from a fairly healthy-looking sack. "Not less 'n eight hundred in
it," calculated the lynx-eyed Kink; and on the strength of it he
took the first opportunity of a privy conversation with Bidwell,
proprietor of the bad whisky and the tent.
"Here's my sack, Bidwell," Kink said, with the intimacy and surety
of one old-timer to another. "Just weigh fifty dollars into it for
a day or so more or less, and we'll be yours truly, Bill an' me."
Thereafter the journeys of the sack to the scales were more
frequent, and the celebration of Kink's natal day waxed hilarious.
He even essayed to sing the old-timer's classic, "The Juice of the
Forbidden Fruit," but broke down and drowned his embarrassment in
another round of drinks. Even Bidwell honoured him with a round or
two on the house; and he and Bill were decently drunk by the time
Ans Handerson's eyelids began to droop and his tongue gave promise
Bill grew affectionate, then confidential. He told his troubles
and hard luck to the bar-keeper and the world in general, and to
Ans Handerson in particular. He required no histrionic powers to
act the part. The bad whisky attended to that. He worked himself
into a great sorrow for himself and Bill, and his tears were
sincere when he told how he and his partner were thinking of
selling a half-interest in good ground just because they were short
of grub. Even Kink listened and believed.
Ans Handerson's eyes were shining unholily as he asked, "How much
you tank you take?"
Bill and Kink did not hear him, and he was compelled to repeat his
query. They appeared reluctant. He grew keener. And he swayed
back and forward, holding on to the bar and listened with all his
ears while they conferred together on one side, and wrangled as to
whether they should or not, and disagreed in stage whispers over
the price they should set.
"Two hundred and--hic!--fifty," Bill finally announced, "but we
reckon as we won't sell."
"Which is monstrous wise if I might chip in my little say,"
"Yes, indeedy," added Kink. "We ain't in no charity business a-
disgorgin' free an' generous to Swedes an' white men."
"Ay tank we haf another drink," hiccoughed Ans Handerson, craftily
changing the subject against a more propitious time.
And thereafter, to bring about that propitious time, his own sack
began to see-saw between his hip pocket and the scales. Bill and
Kink were coy, but they finally yielded to his blandishments.
Whereupon he grew shy and drew Bidwell to one side. He staggered
exceedingly, and held on to Bidwell for support as he asked -
"They ban all right, them men, you tank so?"
"Sure," Bidwell answered heartily. "Known 'em for years. Old sour
doughs. When they sell a claim, they sell a claim. They ain't no
"Ay tank Ay buy," Ans Handerson announced, tottering back to the
But by now he was dreaming deeply, and he proclaimed he would have
the whole claim or nothing. This was the cause of great pain to
Hootchinoo Bill. He orated grandly against the "hawgishness" of
chechaquos and Swedes, albeit he dozed between periods, his voice
dying away to a gurgle, and his head sinking forward on his breast.
But whenever roused by a nudge from Kink or Bidwell, he never
failed to explode another volley of abuse and insult.
Ans Handerson was calm under it all. Each insult added to the
value of the claim. Such unamiable reluctance to sell advertised
but one thing to him, and he was aware of a great relief when
Hootchinoo Bill sank snoring to the floor, and he was free to turn
his attention to his less intractable partner.
Kink Mitchell was persuadable, though a poor mathematician. He
wept dolefully, but was willing to sell a half-interest for two
hundred and fifty dollars or the whole claim for seven hundred and
fifty. Ans Handerson and Bidwell laboured to clear away his
erroneous ideas concerning fractions, but their labour was vain.
He spilled tears and regrets all over the bar and on their
shoulders, which tears, however, did not wash away his opinion,
that if one half was worth two hundred and fifty, two halves were
worth three times as much.
In the end,--and even Bidwell retained no more than hazy
recollections of how the night terminated,--a bill of sale was
drawn up, wherein Bill Rader and Charles Mitchell yielded up all
right and title to the claim known as 24 ELDORADO, the same being
the name the creek had received from some optimistic chechaquo.
When Kink had signed, it took the united efforts of the three to
arouse Bill. Pen in hand, he swayed long over the document; and,
each time he rocked back and forth, in Ans Handerson's eyes flashed
and faded a wondrous golden vision. When the precious signature
was at last appended and the dust paid over, he breathed a great
sigh, and sank to sleep under a table, where he dreamed immortally
But the day was chill and grey. He felt bad. His first act,
unconscious and automatic, was to feel for his sack. Its lightness
startled him. Then, slowly, memories of the night thronged into
his brain. Rough voices disturbed him. He opened his eyes and
peered out from under the table. A couple of early risers, or,
rather, men who had been out on trail all night, were vociferating
their opinions concerning the utter and loathsome worthlessness of
Eldorado Creek. He grew frightened, felt in his pocket, and found
the deed to 24 ELDORADO.
Ten minutes later Hootchinoo Bill and Kink Mitchell were roused
from their blankets by a wild-eyed Swede that strove to force upon
them an ink-scrawled and very blotty piece of paper.
"Ay tank Ay take my money back," he gibbered. "Ay tank Ay take my
Tears were in his eyes and throat. They ran down his cheeks as he
knelt before them and pleaded and implored. But Bill and Kink did
not laugh. They might have been harder hearted.
"First time I ever hear a man squeal over a minin' deal," Bill
said. "An' I make free to say 'tis too onusual for me to savvy."
"Same here," Kink Mitchell remarked. "Minin' deals is like horse-
They were honest in their wonderment. They could not conceive of
themselves raising a wail over a business transaction, so they
could not understand it in another man.
"The poor, ornery chechaquo," murmured Hootchinoo Bill, as they
watched the sorrowing Swede disappear up the trail.
"But this ain't Too Much Gold," Kink Mitchell said cheerfully.
And ere the day was out they purchased flour and bacon at
exorbitant prices with Ans Handerson's dust and crossed over the
divide in the direction of the creeks that lie between Klondike and
Three months later they came back over the divide in the midst of a
snow-storm and dropped down the trail to 24 ELDORADO. It merely
chanced that the trail led them that way. They were not looking
for the claim. Nor could they see much through the driving white
till they set foot upon the claim itself. And then the air
lightened, and they beheld a dump, capped by a windlass that a man
was turning. They saw him draw a bucket of gravel from the hole
and tilt it on the edge of the dump. Likewise they saw another,
man, strangely familiar, filling a pan with the fresh gravel. His
hands were large; his hair wets pale yellow. But before they
reached him, he turned with the pan and fled toward a cabin. He
wore no hat, and the snow falling down his neck accounted for his
haste. Bill and Kink ran after him, and came upon him in the
cabin, kneeling by the stove and washing the pan of gravel in a tub
He was too deeply engaged to notice more than that somebody had
entered the cabin. They stood at his shoulder and looked on. He
imparted to the pan a deft circular motion, pausing once or twice
to rake out the larger particles of gravel with his fingers. The
water was muddy, and, with the pan buried in it, they could see
nothing of its contents. Suddenly he lifted the pan clear and sent
the water out of it with a flirt. A mass of yellow, like butter in
a churn, showed across the bottom.
Hootchinoo Bill swallowed. Never in his life had he dreamed of so
rich a test-pan.
"Kind of thick, my friend," he said huskily. "How much might you
reckon that-all to be?"
Ans Handerson did not look up as he replied, "Ay tank fafty
"You must be scrumptious rich, then, eh?"
Still Ans Handerson kept his head down, absorbed in putting in the
fine touches which wash out the last particles of dross, though he
answered, "Ay tank Ay ban wort' five hundred t'ousand dollar."
"Gosh!" said Hootchinoo Bill, and he said it reverently.
"Yes, Bill, gosh!" said Kink Mitchell; and they went out softly and
closed the door.
THE ONE THOUSAND DOZEN
David Rasmunsen was a hustler, and, like many a greater man, a man
of the one idea. Wherefore, when the clarion call of the North
rang on his ear, he conceived an adventure in eggs and bent all his
energy to its achievement. He figured briefly and to the point,
and the adventure became iridescent-hued, splendid. That eggs
would sell at Dawson for five dollars a dozen was a safe working
premise. Whence it was incontrovertible that one thousand dozen
would bring, in the Golden Metropolis, five thousand dollars.
On the other hand, expense was to be considered, and he considered
it well, for he was a careful man, keenly practical, with a hard
head and a heart that imagination never warmed. At fifteen cents a
dozen, the initial cost of his thousand dozen would be one hundred
and fifty dollars, a mere bagatelle in face of the enormous profit.
And suppose, just suppose, to be wildly extravagant for once, that
transportation for himself and eggs should run up eight hundred and
fifty more; he would still have four thousand clear cash and clean
when the last egg was disposed of and the last dust had rippled
into his sack
"You see, Alma,"--he figured it over with his wife, the cosy
dining-room submerged in a sea of maps, government surveys, guide-
books, and Alaskan itineraries,--"you see, expenses don't really
begin till you make Dyea--fifty dollars'll cover it with a first-
class passage thrown in. Now from Dyea to Lake Linderman, Indian
packers take your goods over for twelve cents a pound, twelve
dollars a hundred, or one hundred and twenty dollars a thousand.
Say I have fifteen hundred pounds, it'll cost one hundred and
eighty dollars--call it two hundred and be safe. I am creditably
informed by a Klondiker just come out that I can buy a boat for
three hundred. But the same man says I'm sure to get a couple of
passengers for one hundred and fifty each, which will give me the
boat for nothing, and, further, they can help me manage it. And .
. . that's all; I put my eggs ashore from the boat at Dawson. Now
let me see how much is that?"
"Fifty dollars from San Francisco to Dyea, two hundred from Dyea to
Linderman, passengers pay for the boat--two hundred and fifty all
told," she summed up swiftly.
"And a hundred for my clothes and personal outfit," he went on
happily; "that leaves a margin of five hundred for emergencies.
And what possible emergencies can arise?"
Alma shrugged her shoulders and elevated her brows. If that vast
Northland was capable of swallowing up a man and a thousand dozen
eggs, surely there was room and to spare for whatever else he might
happen to possess. So she thought, but she said nothing. She knew
David Rasmunsen too well to say anything.
"Doubling the time because of chance delays, I should make the trip
in two months. Think of it, Alma! Four thousand in two months!
Beats the paltry hundred a month I'm getting now. Why, we'll build
further out where we'll have more space, gas in every room, and a
view, and the rent of the cottage'll pay taxes, insurance, and
water, and leave something over. And then there's always the
chance of my striking it and coming out a millionaire. Now tell
me, Alma, don't you think I'm very moderate?"
And Alma could hardly think otherwise. Besides, had not her own
cousin,--though a remote and distant one to be sure, the black
sheep, the harum-scarum, the ne'er-do-well,--had not he come down
out of that weird North country with a hundred thousand in yellow
dust, to say nothing of a half-ownership in the hole from which it
David Rasmunsen's grocer was surprised when he found him weighing
eggs in the scales at the end of the counter, and Rasmunsen himself
was more surprised when he found that a dozen eggs weighed a pound
and a half--fifteen hundred pounds for his thousand dozen! There
would be no weight left for his clothes, blankets, and cooking
utensils, to say nothing of the grub he must necessarily consume by
the way. His calculations were all thrown out, and he was just
proceeding to recast them when he hit upon the idea of weighing
small eggs. "For whether they be large or small, a dozen eggs is a
dozen eggs," he observed sagely to himself; and a dozen small ones
he found to weigh but a pound and a quarter. Thereat the city of
San Francisco was overrun by anxious-eyed emissaries, and
commission houses and dairy associations were startled by a sudden
demand for eggs running not more than twenty ounces to the dozen.
Rasmunsen mortgaged the little cottage for a thousand dollars,
arranged for his wife to make a prolonged stay among her own
people, threw up his job, and started North. To keep within his
schedule he compromised on a second-class passage, which, because
of the rush, was worse than steerage; and in the late summer, a
pale and wabbly man, he disembarked with his eggs on the Dyea
beach. But it did not take him long to recover his land legs and
appetite. His first interview with the Chilkoot packers
straightened him up and stiffened his backbone. Forty cents a
pound they demanded for the twenty-eight-mile portage, and while he
caught his breath and swallowed, the price went up to forty-three.
Fifteen husky Indians put the straps on his packs at forty-five,
but took them off at an offer of forty-seven from a Skaguay Croesus
in dirty shirt and ragged overalls who had lost his horses on the
White Pass trail and was now making a last desperate drive at the
country by way of Chilkoot.
But Rasmunsen was clean grit, and at fifty cents found takers, who,
two days later, set his eggs down intact at Linderman. But fifty
cents a pound is a thousand dollars a ton, and his fifteen hundred
pounds had exhausted his emergency fund and left him stranded at
the Tantalus point where each day he saw the fresh-whipsawed boats
departing for Dawson. Further, a great anxiety brooded over the
camp where the boats were built. Men worked frantically, early and
late, at the height of their endurance, caulking, nailing, and
pitching in a frenzy of haste for which adequate explanation was
not far to seek. Each day the snow-line crept farther down the
bleak, rock-shouldered peaks, and gale followed gale, with sleet
and slush and snow, and in the eddies and quiet places young ice
formed and thickened through the fleeting hours. And each morn,
toil-stiffened men turned wan faces across the lake to see if the
freeze-up had come. For the freeze-up heralded the death of their
hope--the hope that they would be floating down the swift river ere
navigation closed on the chain of lakes.
To harrow Rasmunsen's soul further, he discovered three competitors
in the egg business. It was true that one, a little German, had
gone broke and was himself forlornly back-tripping the last pack of
the portage; but the other two had boats nearly completed, and were
daily supplicating the god of merchants and traders to stay the
iron hand of winter for just another day. But the iron hand closed
down over the land. Men were being frozen in the blizzard which
swept Chilkoot, and Rasmunsen frosted his toes ere he was aware.
He found a chance to go passenger with his freight in a boat just
shoving off through the rubble, but two hundred hard cash, was
required, and he had no money.
"Ay tank you yust wait one leedle w'ile," said the Swedish boat-
builder, who had struck his Klondike right there and was wise
enough to know it--"one leedle w'ile und I make you a tam fine
skiff boat, sure Pete."
With this unpledged word to go on, Rasmunsen hit the back trail to
Crater Lake, where he fell in with two press correspondents whose
tangled baggage was strewn from Stone House, over across the Pass,
and as far as Happy Camp.
"Yes," he said with consequence. "I've a thousand dozen eggs at
Linderman, and my boat's just about got the last seam caulked.
Consider myself in luck to get it. Boats are at a premium, you
know, and none to be had."
Whereupon and almost with bodily violence the correspondents
clamoured to go with him, fluttered greenbacks before his eyes, and
spilled yellow twenties from hand to hand. He could not hear of
it, but they over-persuaded him, and he reluctantly consented to
take them at three hundred apiece. Also they pressed upon him the
passage money in advance. And while they wrote to their respective
journals concerning the Good Samaritan with the thousand dozen
eggs, the Good Samaritan was hurrying back to the Swede at
"Here, you! Gimme that boat!" was his salutation, his hand
jingling the correspondents' gold pieces and his eyes hungrily bent
upon the finished craft.
The Swede regarded him stolidly and shook his head.
"How much is the other fellow paying? Three hundred? Well, here's
four. Take it."
He tried to press it upon him, but the man backed away.
"Ay tank not. Ay say him get der skiff boat. You yust wait--"
'Here's six hundred. Last call. Take it or leave it. Tell 'm
it's a mistake.'
The Swede wavered. "Ay tank yes," he finally said, and the last
Rasmunsen saw of him his vocabulary was going to wreck in a vain
effort to explain the mistake to the other fellows.
The German slipped and broke his ankle on the steep hogback above
Deep Lake, sold out his stock for a dollar a dozen, and with the
proceeds hired Indian packers to carry him back to Dyea. But on
the morning Rasmunsen shoved off with his correspondents, his two
rivals followed suit.
'How many you got?" one of them, a lean little New Englander,
"One thousand dozen," Rasmunsen answered proudly.
"Huh! I'll go you even stakes I beat you in with my eight
The correspondents offered to lend him the money; but Rasmunsen
declined, and the Yankee closed with the remaining rival, a brawny
son of the sea and sailor of ships and things, who promised to show
them all a wrinkle or two when it came to cracking on. And crack
on he did, with a large tarpaulin square-sail which pressed the bow
half under at every jump. He was the first to run out of
Linderman, but, disdaining the portage, piled his loaded boat on
the rocks in the boiling rapids. Rasmunsen and the Yankee, who
likewise had two passengers, portaged across on their backs and
then lined their empty boats down through the bad water to Bennett.
Bennett was a twenty-five-mile lake, narrow and deep, a funnel
between the mountains through which storms ever romped. Rasmunsen
camped on the sand-pit at its head, where were many men and boats
bound north in the teeth of the Arctic winter. He awoke in the
morning to find a piping gale from the south, which caught the
chill from the whited peaks and glacial valleys and blew as cold as
north wind ever blew. But it was fair, and he also found the
Yankee staggering past the first bold headland with all sail set.
Boat after boat was getting under way, and the correspondents fell
to with enthusiasm.
"We'll catch him before Cariboo Crossing," they assured Rasmunsen,
as they ran up the sail and the Alma took the first icy spray over
Now Rasmunsen all his life had been prone to cowardice on water,
but he clung to the kicking steering-oar with set face and
determined jaw. His thousand dozen were there in the boat before
his eyes, safely secured beneath the correspondents' baggage, and
somehow, before his eyes were the little cottage and the mortgage
for a thousand dollars.
It was bitter cold. Now and again he hauled in the steering-sweep
and put out a fresh one while his passengers chopped the ice from
the blade. Wherever the spray struck, it turned instantly to
frost, and the dipping boom of the spritsail was quickly fringed
with icicles. The Alma strained and hammered through the big seas
till the seams and butts began to spread, but in lieu of bailing
the correspondents chopped ice and flung it overboard. There was
no let-up. The mad race with winter was on, and the boats tore
along in a desperate string.
"W-w-we can't stop to save our souls!" one of the correspondents
chattered, from cold, not fright.
"That's right! Keep her down the middle, old man!" the other
Rasmunsen replied with an idiotic grin. The iron-bound shores were
in a lather of foam, and even down the middle the only hope was to
keep running away from the big seas. To lower sail was to be
overtaken and swamped. Time and again they passed boats pounding
among the rocks, and once they saw one on the edge of the breakers
about to strike. A little craft behind them, with two men, jibed
over and turned bottom up.
"W-w-watch out, old man," cried he of the chattering teeth.
Rasmunsen grinned and tightened his aching grip on the sweep.
Scores of times had the send of the sea caught the big square stern
of the Alma and thrown her off from dead before it till the after
leach of the spritsail fluttered hollowly, and each time, and only
with all his strength, had he forced her back. His grin by then
had become fixed, and it disturbed the correspondents to look at
They roared down past an isolated rock a hundred yards from shore.
From its wave-drenched top a man shrieked wildly, for the instant
cutting the storm with his voice. But the next instant the Alma
was by, and the rock growing a black speck in the troubled froth.
"That settles the Yankee! Where's the sailor?" shouted one of his
Rasmunsen shot a glance over his shoulder at a black square-sail.
He had seen it leap up out of the grey to windward, and for an
hour, off and on, had been watching it grow. The sailor had
evidently repaired damages and was making up for lost time.
"Look at him come!"
Both passengers stopped chopping ice to watch. Twenty miles of
Bennett were behind them--room and to spare for the sea to toss up
its mountains toward the sky. Sinking and soaring like a storm-
god, the sailor drove by them. The huge sail seemed to grip the
boat from the crests of the waves, to tear it bodily out of the
water, and fling it crashing and smothering down into the yawning
"The sea'll never catch him!"
"But he'll r-r-run her nose under!"
Even as they spoke, the black tarpaulin swooped from sight behind a
big comber. The next wave rolled over the spot, and the next, but
the boat did not reappear. The Alma rushed by the place. A little
riffraff of oats and boxes was seen. An arm thrust up and a shaggy
head broke surface a score of yards away.
For a time there was silence. As the end of the lake came in
sight, the waves began to leap aboard with such steady recurrence
that the correspondents no longer chopped ice but flung the water
out with buckets. Even this would not do, and, after a shouted
conference with Rasmunsen, they attacked the baggage. Flour,
bacon, beans, blankets, cooking-stove, ropes, odds and ends,
everything they could get hands on, flew overboard. The boat
acknowledged it at once, taking less water and rising more
"That'll do!" Rasmunsen called sternly, as they applied themselves
to the top layer of eggs.
"The h-hell it will!" answered the shivering one, savagely. With
the exception of their notes, films, and cameras, they had
sacrificed their outfit. He bent over, laid hold of an egg-box,
and began to worry it out from under the lashing.
"Drop it! Drop it, I say!"
Rasmunsen had managed to draw his revolver, and with the crook of
his arm over the sweep head, was taking aim. The correspondent
stood up on the thwart, balancing back and forth, his face twisted
with menace and speechless anger.
So cried his brother correspondent, hurling himself, face downward,
into the bottom of the boat. The Alma, under the divided attention
of Rasmunsen, had been caught by a great mass of water and whirled
around. The after leach hollowed, the sail emptied and jibed, and
the boom, sweeping with terrific force across the boat, carried the
angry correspondent overboard with a broken back. Mast and sail
had gone over the side as well. A drenching sea followed, as the
boat lost headway, and Rasmunsen sprang to the bailing bucket
Several boats hurtled past them in the next half-hour,--small
boats, boats of their own size, boats afraid, unable to do aught
but run madly on. Then a ten-ton barge, at imminent risk of
destruction, lowered sail to windward and lumbered down upon them.
"Keep off! Keep off!" Rasmunsen screamed.
But his low gunwale ground against the heavy craft, and the
remaining correspondent clambered aboard. Rasmunsen was over the
eggs like a cat and in the bow of the Alma, striving with numb
fingers to bend the hauling-lines together.
"Come on!" a red-whiskered man yelled at him.
"I've a thousand dozen eggs here," he shouted back. "Gimme a tow!
I'll pay you!"
"Come on!" they howled in chorus.
A big whitecap broke just beyond, washing over the barge and
leaving the Alma half swamped. The men cast off, cursing him as
they ran up their sail. Rasmunsen cursed back and fell to bailing.
The mast and sail, like a sea anchor, still fast by the halyards,
held the boat head on to wind and sea and gave him a chance to
fight the water out.
Three hours later, numbed, exhausted, blathering like a lunatic,
but still bailing, he went ashore on an ice-strewn beach near
Cariboo Crossing. Two men, a government courier and a half-breed
voyageur, dragged him out of the surf, saved his cargo, and beached
the Alma. They were paddling out of the country in a Peterborough,
and gave him shelter for the night in their storm-bound camp. Next
morning they departed, but he elected to stay by his eggs. And
thereafter the name and fame of the man with the thousand dozen
eggs began to spread through the land. Gold-seekers who made in
before the freeze-up carried the news of his coming. Grizzled old-
timers of Forty Mile and Circle City, sour doughs with leathern
jaws and bean-calloused stomachs, called up dream memories of
chickens and green things at mention of his name. Dyea and Skaguay
took an interest in his being, and questioned his progress from
every man who came over the passes, while Dawson--golden,
omeletless Dawson--fretted and worried, and way-laid every chance
arrival for word of him.
But of this Rasmunsen knew nothing. The day after the wreck he
patched up the Alma and pulled out. A cruel east wind blew in his
teeth from Tagish, but he got the oars over the side and bucked
manfully into it, though half the time he was drifting backward and
chopping ice from the blades. According to the custom of the
country, he was driven ashore at Windy Arm; three times on Tagish
saw him swamped and beached; and Lake Marsh held him at the freeze-
up. The Alma was crushed in the jamming of the floes, but the eggs
were intact. These he back-tripped two miles across the ice to the
shore, where he built a cache, which stood for years after and was
pointed out by men who knew.
Half a thousand frozen miles stretched between him and Dawson, and
the waterway was closed. But Rasmunsen, with a peculiar tense look
in his face, struck back up the lakes on foot. What he suffered on
that lone trip, with nought but a single blanket, an axe, and a
handful of beans, is not given to ordinary mortals to know. Only
the Arctic adventurer may understand. Suffice that he was caught
in a blizzard on Chilkoot and left two of his toes with the surgeon
at Sheep Camp. Yet he stood on his feet and washed dishes in the
scullery of the PAWONA to the Puget Sound, and from there passed
coal on a P. S. boat to San Francisco.
It was a haggard, unkempt man who limped across the shining office
floor to raise a second mortgage from the bank people. His hollow
cheeks betrayed themselves through the scraggy beard, and his eyes
seemed to have retired into deep caverns where they burned with
cold fires. His hands were grained from exposure and hard work,
and the nails were rimmed with tight-packed dirt and coal-dust. He
spoke vaguely of eggs and ice-packs, winds and tides; but when they
declined to let him have more than a second thousand, his talk
became incoherent, concerning itself chiefly with the price of dogs
and dog-food, and such things as snowshoes and moccasins and winter
trails. They let him have fifteen hundred, which was more than the
cottage warranted, and breathed easier when he scrawled his
signature and passed out the door.
Two weeks later he went over Chilkoot with three dog sleds of five
dogs each. One team he drove, the two Indians with him driving the
others. At Lake Marsh they broke out the cache and loaded up. But
there was no trail. He was the first in over the ice, and to him
fell the task of packing the snow and hammering away through the
rough river jams. Behind him he often observed a camp-fire smoke
trickling thinly up through the quiet air, and he wondered why the
people did not overtake him. For he was a stranger to the land and
did not understand. Nor could he understand his Indians when they
tried to explain. This they conceived to be a hardship, but when
they balked and refused to break camp of mornings, he drove them to
their work at pistol point.
When he slipped through an ice bridge near the White Horse and
froze his foot, tender yet and oversensitive from the previous
freezing, the Indians looked for him to lie up. But he sacrificed
a blanket, and, with his foot incased in an enormous moccasin, big
as a water-bucket, continued to take his regular turn with the
front sled. Here was the cruellest work, and they respected him,
though on the side they rapped their foreheads with their knuckles
and significantly shook their heads. One night they tried to run
away, but the zip-zip of his bullets in the snow brought them back,
snarling but convinced. Whereupon, being only savage Chilkat men,
they put their heads together to kill him; but he slept like a cat,
and, waking or sleeping, the chance never came. Often they tried
to tell him the import of the smoke wreath in the rear, but he
could not comprehend and grew suspicious of them. And when they
sulked or shirked, he was quick to let drive at them between the
eyes, and quick to cool their heated souls with sight of his ready
And so it went--with mutinous men, wild dogs, and a trail that
broke the heart. He fought the men to stay with him, fought the
dogs to keep them away from the eggs, fought the ice, the cold, and
the pain of his foot, which would not heal. As fast as the young
tissue renewed, it was bitten and scared by the frost, so that a
running sore developed, into which he could almost shove his fist.
In the mornings, when he first put his weight upon it, his head
went dizzy, and he was near to fainting from the pain; but later on
in the day it usually grew numb, to recommence when he crawled into
his blankets and tried to sleep. Yet he, who had been a clerk and
sat at a desk all his days, toiled till the Indians were exhausted,
and even out-worked the dogs. How hard he worked, how much he
suffered, he did not know. Being a man of the one idea, now that
the idea had come, it mastered him. In the foreground of his
consciousness was Dawson, in the background his thousand dozen
eggs, and midway between the two his ego fluttered, striving always
to draw them together to a glittering golden point. This golden
point was the five thousand dollars, the consummation of the idea
and the point of departure for whatever new idea might present
itself. For the rest, he was a mere automaton. He was unaware of
other things, seeing them as through a glass darkly, and giving
them no thought. The work of his hands he did with machine-like
wisdom; likewise the work of his head. So the look on his face
grew very tense, till even the Indians were afraid of it, and
marvelled at the strange white man who had made them slaves and
forced them to toil with such foolishness.
Then came a snap on Lake Le Barge, when the cold of outer space
smote the tip of the planet, and the force ranged sixty and odd
degrees below zero. Here, labouring with open mouth that he might
breathe more freely, he chilled his lungs, and for the rest of the
trip he was troubled with a dry, hacking cough, especially
irritable in smoke of camp or under stress of undue exertion. On
the Thirty Mile river he found much open water, spanned by
precarious ice bridges and fringed with narrow rim ice, tricky and
uncertain. The rim ice was impossible to reckon on, and he dared
it without reckoning, falling back on his revolver when his drivers
demurred. But on the ice bridges, covered with snow though they
were, precautions could be taken. These they crossed on their
snowshoes, with long poles, held crosswise in their hands, to which
to cling in case of accident. Once over, the dogs were called to
follow. And on such a bridge, where the absence of the centre ice
was masked by the snow, one of the Indians met his end. He went
through as quickly and neatly as a knife through thin cream, and
the current swept him from view down under the stream ice.
That night his mate fled away through the pale moonlight, Rasmunsen
futilely puncturing the silence with his revolver--a thing that he
handled with more celerity than cleverness. Thirty-six hours later
the Indian made a police camp on the Big Salmon.
"Um--um--um funny mans--what you call?--top um head all loose," the
interpreter explained to the puzzled captain. "Eh? Yep, clazy,
much clazy mans. Eggs, eggs, all a time eggs--savvy? Come bime-
It was several days before Rasmunsen arrived, the three sleds
lashed together, and all the dogs in a single team. It was
awkward, and where the going was bad he was compelled to back-trip
it sled by sled, though he managed most of the time, through
herculean efforts, to bring all along on the one haul. He did not
seem moved when the captain of police told him his man was hitting
the high places for Dawson, and was by that time, probably, half-
way between Selkirk and Stewart. Nor did he appear interested when
informed that the police had broken the trail as far as Pelly; for
he had attained to a fatalistic acceptance of all natural
dispensations, good or ill. But when they told him that Dawson was
in the bitter clutch of famine, he smiled, threw the harness on his
dogs, and pulled out.
But it was at his next halt that the mystery of the smoke was
explained. With the word at Big Salmon that the trail was broken
to Pelly, there was no longer any need for the smoke wreath to
linger in his wake; and Rasmunsen, crouching over lonely fire, saw
a motley string of sleds go by. First came the courier and the
half-breed who had hauled him out from Bennett; then mail-carriers
for Circle City, two sleds of them, and a mixed following of
ingoing Klondikers. Dogs and men were fresh and fat, while
Rasmunsen and his brutes were jaded and worn down to the skin and
bone. They of the smoke wreath had travelled one day in three,
resting and reserving their strength for the dash to come when
broken trail was met with; while each day he had plunged and
floundered forward, breaking the spirit of his dogs and robbing
them of their mettle.
As for himself, he was unbreakable. They thanked him kindly for
his efforts in their behalf, those fat, fresh men,--thanked him
kindly, with broad grins and ribald laughter; and now, when he
understood, he made no answer. Nor did he cherish silent
bitterness. It was immaterial. The idea--the fact behind the
idea--was not changed. Here he was and his thousand dozen; there
was Dawson; the problem was unaltered.
At the Little Salmon, being short of dog food, the dogs got into
his grub, and from there to Selkirk he lived on beans--coarse,
brown beans, big beans, grossly nutritive, which griped his stomach
and doubled him up at two-hour intervals. But the Factor at
Selkirk had a notice on the door of the Post to the effect that no
steamer had been up the Yukon for two years, and in consequence
grub was beyond price. He offered to swap flour, however, at the
rate of a cupful of each egg, but Rasmunsen shook his head and hit
the trail. Below the Post he managed to buy frozen horse hide for
the dogs, the horses having been slain by the Chilkat cattle men,
and the scraps and offal preserved by the Indians. He tackled the
hide himself, but the hair worked into the bean sores of his mouth,
and was beyond endurance.
Here at Selkirk he met the forerunners of the hungry exodus of
Dawson, and from there on they crept over the trail, a dismal
throng. "No grub!" was the song they sang. "No grub, and had to
go." "Everybody holding candles for a rise in the spring." "Flour
dollar 'n a half a pound, and no sellers."
"Eggs?" one of them answered. "Dollar apiece, but there ain't
Rasmunsen made a rapid calculation. "Twelve thousand dollars," he
"Hey?" the man asked.
"Nothing," he answered, and MUSHED the dogs along.
When he arrived at Stewart River, seventy from Dawson, five of his
dogs were gone, and the remainder were falling in the traces. He,
also, was in the traces, hauling with what little strength was left
in him. Even then he was barely crawling along ten miles a day.
His cheek-bones and nose, frost-bitten again and again, were turned
bloody-black and hideous. The thumb, which was separated from the
fingers by the gee-pole, had likewise been nipped and gave him
great pain. The monstrous moccasin still incased his foot, and
strange pains were beginning to rack the leg. At Sixty Mile, the
last beans, which he had been rationing for some time, were
finished; yet he steadfastly refused to touch the eggs. He could
not reconcile his mind to the legitimacy of it, and staggered and
fell along the way to Indian River. Here a fresh-killed moose and
an open-handed old-timer gave him and his dogs new strength, and at
Ainslie's he felt repaid for it all when a stampede, ripe from
Dawson in five hours, was sure he could get a dollar and a quarter
for every egg he possessed.
He came up the steep bank by the Dawson barracks with fluttering
heart and shaking knees. The dogs were so weak that he was forced
to rest them, and, waiting, he leaned limply against the gee-pole.
A man, an eminently decorous-looking man, came sauntering by in a
great bearskin coat. He glanced at Rasmunsen curiously, then
stopped and ran a speculative eye over the dogs and the three
"What you got?" he asked.
"Eggs," Rasmunsen answered huskily, hardly able to pitch his voice
above a whisper.
"Eggs! Whoopee! Whoopee!" He sprang up into the air, gyrated
madly, and finished with half-a-dozen war steps. "You don't say--
all of 'em?"
"All of 'em."
"Say, you must be the Egg Man." He walked around and viewed
Rasmunsen from the other side. "Come, now, ain't you the Egg Man?"
Rasmunsen didn't know, but supposed he was, and the man sobered
down a bit.
"What d'ye expect to get for 'em?" he asked cautiously.
Rasmunsen became audacious. "Dollar 'n a half," he said.
"Done!" the man came back promptly. "Gimme a dozen."
"I--I mean a dollar 'n a half apiece," Rasmunsen hesitatingly
"Sure. I heard you. Make it two dozen. Here's the dust."
The man pulled out a healthy gold sack the size of a small sausage
and knocked it negligently against the gee-pole. Rasmunsen felt a
strange trembling in the pit of his stomach, a tickling of the
nostrils, and an almost overwhelming desire to sit down and cry.
But a curious, wide-eyed crowd was beginning to collect, and man
after man was calling out for eggs. He was without scales, but the
man with the bearskin coat fetched a pair and obligingly weighed in
the dust while Rasmunsen passed out the goods. Soon there was a
pushing and shoving and shouldering, and a great clamour.
Everybody wanted to buy and to be served first. And as the
excitement grew, Rasmunsen cooled down. This would never do.
There must be something behind the fact of their buying so eagerly.
It would be wiser if he rested first and sized up the market.
Perhaps eggs were worth two dollars apiece. Anyway, whenever he
wished to sell, he was sure of a dollar and a half. "Stop!" he
cried, when a couple of hundred had been sold. "No more now. I'm
played out. I've got to get a cabin, and then you can come and see
A groan went up at this, but the man with the bearskin coat
approved. Twenty-four of the frozen eggs went rattling in his
capacious pockets, and he didn't care whether the rest of the town
ate or not. Besides, he could see Rasmunsen was on his last legs.
"There's a cabin right around the second corner from the Monte
Carlo," he told him--"the one with the sody-bottle window. It
ain't mine, but I've got charge of it. Rents for ten a day and
cheap for the money. You move right in, and I'll see you later.
Don't forget the sody-bottle window."
"Tra-la-loo!" he called back a moment later. "I'm goin' up the
hill to eat eggs and dream of home."
On his way to the cabin, Rasmunsen recollected he was hungry and
bought a small supply of provisions at the N. A. T. & T. store--
also a beefsteak at the butcher shop and dried salmon for the dogs.
He found the cabin without difficulty, and left the dogs in the
harness while he started the fire and got the coffee under way.
A dollar 'n a half apiece--one thousand dozen--eighteen thousand
dollars!" he kept muttering it to himself, over and over, as he
went about his work.
As he flopped the steak into the frying-pan the door opened. He
turned. It was the man with the bearskin coat. He seemed to come
in with determination, as though bound on some explicit errand, but
as he looked at Rasmunsen an expression of perplexity came into his
"I say--now I say--" he began, then halted.
Rasmunsen wondered if he wanted the rent.
"I say, damn it, you know, them eggs is bad."
Rasmunsen staggered. He felt as though some one had struck him an
astounding blow between the eyes. The walls of the cabin reeled
and tilted up. He put out his hand to steady himself and rested it
on the stove. The sharp pain and the smell of the burning flesh
brought him back to himself.
"I see," he said slowly, fumbling in his pocket for the sack. "You
want your money back."
"It ain't the money," the man said, "but hain't you got any eggs--
Rasmunsen shook his head. "You'd better take the money."
But the man refused and backed away. "I'll come back," he said,
"when you've taken stock, and get what's comin'."
Rasmunsen rolled the chopping-block into the cabin and carried in
the eggs. He went about it quite calmly. He took up the hand-axe,
and, one by one, chopped the eggs in half. These halves he
examined carefully and let fall to the floor. At first he sampled
from the different cases, then deliberately emptied one case at a
time. The heap on the floor grew larger. The coffee boiled over
and the smoke of the burning beefsteak filled the cabin. He
chopped steadfastly and monotonously till the last case was
Somebody knocked at the door, knocked again, and let himself in.
"What a mess!" he remarked, as he paused and surveyed the scene.
The severed eggs were beginning to thaw in the heat of the stove,
and a miserable odour was growing stronger.
"Must a-happened on the steamer," he suggested.
Rasmunsen looked at him long and blankly.
"I'm Murray, Big Jim Murray, everybody knows me," the man
volunteered. "I'm just hearin' your eggs is rotten, and I'm
offerin' you two hundred for the batch. They ain't good as salmon,
but still they're fair scoffin's for dogs."
Rasmunsen seemed turned to stone. He did not move. "You go to
hell," he said passionlessly.
"Now just consider. I pride myself it's a decent price for a mess
like that, and it's better 'n nothin'. Two hundred. What you
"You go to hell," Rasmunsen repeated softly, "and get out of here."
Murray gaped with a great awe, then went out carefully, backward,
with his eyes fixed an the other's face.
Rasmunsen followed him out and turned the dogs loose. He threw
them all the salmon he had bought, and coiled a sled-lashing up in
his hand. Then he re-entered the cabin and drew the latch in after
him. The smoke from the cindered steak made his eyes smart. He
stood on the bunk, passed the lashing over the ridge-pole, and
measured the swing-off with his eye. It did not seem to satisfy,
for he put the stool on the bunk and climbed upon the stool. He
drove a noose in the end of the lashing and slipped his head
through. The other end he made fast. Then he kicked the stool out
THE MARRIAGE OF LIT-LIT
When John Fox came into a country where whisky freezes solid and
may be used as a paper-weight for a large part of the year, he came
without the ideals and illusions that usually hamper the progress
of more delicately nurtured adventurers. Born and reared on the
frontier fringe of the United States, he took with him into Canada
a primitive cast of mind, an elemental simplicity and grip on
things, as it were, that insured him immediate success in his new
career. From a mere servant of the Hudson Bay Company, driving a
paddle with the voyageurs and carrying goods on his back across the
portages, he swiftly rose to a Factorship and took charge of a
trading post at Fort Angelus.
Here, because of his elemental simplicity, he took to himself a
native wife, and, by reason of the connubial bliss that followed,
he escaped the unrest and vain longings that curse the days of more
fastidious men, spoil their work, and conquer them in the end. He
lived contentedly, was at single purposes with the business he was
set there to do, and achieved a brilliant record in the service of
the Company. About this time his wife died, was claimed by her
people, and buried with savage circumstance in a tin trunk in the
top of a tree.
Two sons she had borne him, and when the Company promoted him, he
journeyed with them still deeper into the vastness of the North-
West Territory to a place called Sin Rock, where he took charge of
a new post in a more important fur field. Here he spent several
lonely and depressing months, eminently disgusted with the
unprepossessing appearance of the Indian maidens, and greatly
worried by his growing sons who stood in need of a mother's care.
Then his eyes chanced upon Lit-lit.
"Lit-lit--well, she is Lit-lit," was the fashion in which he
despairingly described her to his chief clerk, Alexander McLean.
McLean was too fresh from his Scottish upbringing--"not dry behind
the ears yet," John Fox put it--to take to the marriage customs of
the country. Nevertheless he was not averse to the Factor's
imperilling his own immortal soul, and, especially, feeling an
ominous attraction himself for Lit-lit, he was sombrely content to
clinch his own soul's safety by seeing her married to the Factor.
Nor is it to be wondered that McLean's austere Scotch soul stood in
danger of being thawed in the sunshine of Lit-lit's eyes. She was
pretty, and slender, and willowy; without the massive face and
temperamental stolidity of the average squaw. "Lit-lit," so called
from her fashion, even as a child, of being fluttery, of darting
about from place to place like a butterfly, of being inconsequent
and merry, and of laughing as lightly as she darted and danced
Lit-lit was the daughter of Snettishane, a prominent chief in the
tribe, by a half-breed mother, and to him the Factor fared casually
one summer day to open negotiations of marriage. He sat with the
chief in the smoke of a mosquito smudge before his lodge, and
together they talked about everything under the sun, or, at least,
everything that in the Northland is under the sun, with the sole
exception of marriage. John Fox had come particularly to talk of
marriage; Snettishane knew it, and John Fox knew he knew it,
wherefore the subject was religiously avoided. This is alleged to
be Indian subtlety. In reality it is transparent simplicity.
The hours slipped by, and Fox and Snettishane smoked interminable
pipes, looking each other in the eyes with a guilelessness superbly
histrionic. In the mid-afternoon McLean and his brother clerk,
McTavish, strolled past, innocently uninterested, on their way to
the river. When they strolled back again an hour later, Fox and
Snettishane had attained to a ceremonious discussion of the
condition and quality of the gunpowder and bacon which the Company
was offering in trade. Meanwhile Lit-lit, divining the Factor's
errand, had crept in under the rear wall of the lodge, and through
the front flap was peeping out at the two logomachists by the
mosquito smudge. She was flushed and happy-eyed, proud that no
less a man than the Factor (who stood next to God in the Northland
hierarchy) had singled her out, femininely curious to see at close
range what manner of man he was. Sunglare on the ice, camp smoke,
and weather beat had burned his face to a copper-brown, so that her
father was as fair as he, while she was fairer. She was remotely
glad of this, and more immediately glad that he was large and
strong, though his great black beard half frightened her, it was so
Being very young, she was unversed in the ways of men. Seventeen
times she had seen the sun travel south and lose itself beyond the
sky-line, and seventeen times she had seen it travel back again and
ride the sky day and night till there was no night at all. And
through these years she had been cherished jealously by
Snettishane, who stood between her and all suitors, listening
disdainfully to the young hunters as they bid for her hand, and
turning them away as though she were beyond price. Snettishane was
mercenary. Lit-lit was to him an investment. She represented so
much capital, from which he expected to receive, not a certain
definite interest, but an incalculable interest.
And having thus been reared in a manner as near to that of the
nunnery as tribal conditions would permit, it was with a great and
maidenly anxiety that she peeped out at the man who had surely come
for her, at the husband who was to teach her all that was yet
unlearned of life, at the masterful being whose word was to be her
law, and who was to mete and bound her actions and comportment for
the rest of her days.
But, peeping through the front flap of the lodge, flushed and
thrilling at the strange destiny reaching out for her, she grew
disappointed as the day wore along, and the Factor and her father
still talked pompously of matters concerning other things and not
pertaining to marriage things at all. As the sun sank lower and
lower toward the north and midnight approached, the Factor began
making unmistakable preparations for departure. As he turned to
stride away Lit-lit's heart sank; but it rose again as he halted,
half turning on one heel.
"Oh, by the way, Snettishane," he said, "I want a squaw to wash for
me and mend my clothes."
Snettishane grunted and suggested Wanidani, who was an old woman
"No, no," interposed the Factor. "What I want is a wife. I've
been kind of thinking about it, and the thought just struck me that
you might know of some one that would suit."
Snettishane looked interested, whereupon the Factor retraced his
steps, casually and carelessly to linger and discuss this new and
"Kattou?" suggested Snettishane.
"She has but one eye," objected the Factor.
"Her knees be wide apart when she stands upright. Kips, your
biggest dog, can leap between her knees when she stands upright."
"Senatee?" went on the imperturbable Snettishane.
But John Fox feigned anger, crying: "What foolishness is this? Am
I old, that thou shouldst mate me with old women? Am I toothless?
lame of leg? blind of eye? Or am I poor that no bright-eyed maiden
may look with favour upon me? Behold! I am the Factor, both rich
and great, a power in the land, whose speech makes men tremble and
Snettishane was inwardly pleased, though his sphinx-like visage
never relaxed. He was drawing the Factor, and making him break
ground. Being a creature so elemental as to have room for but one
idea at a time, Snettishane could pursue that one idea a greater
distance than could John Fox. For John Fox, elemental as he was,
was still complex enough to entertain several glimmering ideas at a
time, which debarred him from pursuing the one as single-heartedly
or as far as did the chief.
Snettishane calmly continued calling the roster of eligible
maidens, which, name by name, as fast as uttered, were stamped
ineligible by John Fox, with specified objections appended. Again
he gave it up and started to return to the Fort. Snettishane
watched him go, making no effort to stop him, but seeing him, in
the end, stop himself.
"Come to think of it," the Factor remarked, "we both of us forgot
Lit-lit. Now I wonder if she'll suit me?"
Snettishane met the suggestion with a mirthless face, behind the
mask of which his soul grinned wide. It was a distinct victory.
Had the Factor gone but one step farther, perforce Snettishane
would himself have mentioned the name of Lit-lit, but--the Factor
had not gone that one step farther.
The chief was non-committal concerning Lit-lit's suitability, till
he drove the white man into taking the next step in order of
"Well," the Factor meditated aloud, "the only way to find out is to
make a try of it." He raised his voice. "So I will give for Lit-
lit ten blankets and three pounds of tobacco which is good
Snettishane replied with a gesture which seemed to say that all the
blankets and tobacco in all the world could not compensate him for
the loss of Lit-lit and her manifold virtues. When pressed by the
Factor to set a price, he coolly placed it at five hundred
blankets, ten guns, fifty pounds of tobacco, twenty scarlet cloths,
ten bottles of rum, a music-box, and lastly the good-will and best
offices of the Factor, with a place by his fire.
The Factor apparently suffered a stroke of apoplexy, which stroke
was successful in reducing the blankets to two hundred and in
cutting out the place by the fire--an unheard-of condition in the
marriages of white men with the daughters of the soil. In the end,
after three hours more of chaffering, they came to an agreement.
For Lit-lit Snettishane was to receive one hundred blankets, five
pounds of tobacco, three guns, and a bottle of rum, goodwill and
best offices included, which according to John Fox, was ten
blankets and a gun more than she was worth. And as he went home
through the wee sma' hours, the three-o'clock sun blazing in the
due north-east, he was unpleasantly aware that Snettishane had
bested him over the bargain.
Snettishane, tired and victorious, sought his bed, and discovered
Lit-lit before she could escape from the lodge.
He grunted knowingly: "Thou hast seen. Thou has heard. Wherefore
it be plain to thee thy father's very great wisdom and
understanding. I have made for thee a great match. Heed my words
and walk in the way of my words, go when I say go, come when I bid
thee come, and we shall grow fat with the wealth of this big white
man who is a fool according to his bigness."
The next day no trading was done at the store. The Factor opened
whisky before breakfast, to the delight of McLean and McTavish,
gave his dogs double rations, and wore his best moccasins. Outside
the Fort preparations were under way for a POTLATCH. Potlatch
means "a giving," and John Fox's intention was to signalize his
marriage with Lit-lit by a potlatch as generous as she was good-
looking. In the afternoon the whole tribe gathered to the feast.
Men, women, children, and dogs gorged to repletion, nor was there
one person, even among the chance visitors and stray hunters from
other tribes, who failed to receive some token of the bridegroom's
Lit-lit, tearfully shy and frightened, was bedecked by her bearded
husband with a new calico dress, splendidly beaded moccasins, a
gorgeous silk handkerchief over her raven hair, a purple scarf
about her throat, brass ear-rings and finger-rings, and a whole
pint of pinchbeck jewellery, including a Waterbury watch.
Snettishane could scarce contain himself at the spectacle, but
watching his chance drew her aside from the feast.
"Not this night, nor the next night," he began ponderously, "but in
the nights to come, when I shall call like a raven by the river
bank, it is for thee to rise up from thy big husband, who is a
fool, and come to me.
"Nay, nay," he went on hastily, at sight of the dismay in her face
at turning her back upon her wonderful new life. "For no sooner
shall this happen than thy big husband, who is a fool, will come
wailing to my lodge. Then it is for thee to wail likewise,
claiming that this thing is not well, and that the other thing thou
dost not like, and that to be the wife of the Factor is more than
thou didst bargain for, only wilt thou be content with more
blankets, and more tobacco, and more wealth of various sorts for
thy poor old father, Snettishane. Remember well, when I call in
the night, like a raven, from the river bank."
Lit-lit nodded; for to disobey her father was a peril she knew
well; and, furthermore, it was a little thing he asked, a short
separation from the Factor, who would know only greater gladness at
having her back. She returned to the feast, and, midnight being
well at hand, the Factor sought her out and led her away to the
Fort amid joking and outcry, in which the squaws were especially
Lit-lit quickly found that married life with the head-man of a fort
was even better than she had dreamed. No longer did she have to
fetch wood and water and wait hand and foot upon cantankerous
menfolk. For the first time in her life she could lie abed till
breakfast was on the table. And what a bed!--clean and soft, and
comfortable as no bed she had ever known. And such food! Flour,
cooked into biscuits, hot-cakes and bread, three times a day and
every day, and all one wanted! Such prodigality was hardly
To add to her contentment, the Factor was cunningly kind. He had
buried one wife, and he knew how to drive with a slack rein that
went firm only on occasion, and then went very firm. "Lit-lit is
boss of this place," he announced significantly at the table the
morning after the wedding. "What she says goes. Understand?" And
McLean and McTavish understood. Also, they knew that the Factor
had a heavy hand.
But Lit-lit did not take advantage. Taking a leaf from the book of
her husband, she at once assumed charge of his own growing sons,
giving them added comforts and a measure of freedom like to that
which he gave her. The two sons were loud in the praise of their
new mother; McLean and McTavish lifted their voices; and the Factor
bragged of the joys of matrimony till the story of her good
behaviour and her husband's satisfaction became the property of all
the dwellers in the Sin Rock district.
Whereupon Snettishane, with visions of his incalculable interest
keeping him awake of nights, thought it time to bestir himself. On
the tenth night of her wedded life Lit-lit was awakened by the
croaking of a raven, and she knew that Snettishane was waiting for
her by the river bank. In her great happiness she had forgotten
her pact, and now it came back to her with behind it all the
childish terror of her father. For a time she lay in fear and
trembling, loath to go, afraid to stay. But in the end the Factor
won the silent victory, and his kindness plus his great muscles and
square jaw, nerved her to disregard Snettishane's call.
But in the morning she arose very much afraid, and went about her
duties in momentary fear of her father's coming. As the day wore
along, however, she began to recover her spirits. John Fox,
soundly berating McLean and McTavish for some petty dereliction of
duty, helped her to pluck up courage. She tried not to let him go
out of her sight, and when she followed him into the huge cache and
saw him twirling and tossing great bales around as though they were
feather pillows, she felt strengthened in her disobedience to her
father. Also (it was her first visit to the warehouse, and Sin
Rock was the chief distributing point to several chains of lesser
posts), she was astounded at the endlessness of the wealth there
This sight and the picture in her mind's eye of the bare lodge of
Snettishane, put all doubts at rest. Yet she capped her conviction
by a brief word with one of her step-sons. "White daddy good?" was
what she asked, and the boy answered that his father was the best
man he had ever known. That night the raven croaked again. On the
night following the croaking was more persistent. It awoke the
Factor, who tossed restlessly for a while. Then he said aloud,
"Damn that raven," and Lit-lit laughed quietly under the blankets.
In the morning, bright and early, Snettishane put in an ominous
appearance and was set to breakfast in the kitchen with Wanidani.
He refused "squaw food," and a little later bearded his son-in-law
in the store where the trading was done. Having learned, he said,
that his daughter was such a jewel, he had come for more blankets,
more tobacco, and more guns--especially more guns. He had
certainly been cheated in her price, he held, and he had come for
justice. But the Factor had neither blankets nor justice to spare.
Whereupon he was informed that Snettishane had seen the missionary
at Three Forks, who had notified him that such marriages were not
made in heaven, and that it was his father's duty to demand his
"I am good Christian man now," Snettishane concluded. "I want my
Lit-lit to go to heaven."
The Factor's reply was short and to the point; for he directed his
father-in-law to go to the heavenly antipodes, and by the scruff of
the neck and the slack of the blanket propelled him on that trail
as far as the door.
But Snettishane sneaked around and in by the kitchen, cornering
Lit-lit in the great living-room of the Fort.
"Mayhap thou didst sleep over-sound last night when I called by the
river bank," he began, glowering darkly.
"Nay, I was awake and heard." Her heart was beating as though it
would choke her, but she went on steadily, "And the night before I
was awake and heard, and yet again the night before."
And thereat, out of her great happiness and out of the fear that it
might be taken from her, she launched into an original and glowing
address upon the status and rights of woman--the first new-woman
lecture delivered north of Fifty-three.
But it fell on unheeding ears. Snettishane was still in the dark
ages. As she paused for breath, he said threateningly, "To-night I
shall call again like the raven."
At this moment the Factor entered the room and again helped
Snettishane on his way to the heavenly antipodes.
That night the raven croaked more persistently than ever. Lit-lit,
who was a light sleeper, heard and smiled. John Fox tossed
restlessly. Then he awoke and tossed about with greater
restlessness. He grumbled and snorted, swore under his breath and
over his breath, and finally flung out of bed. He groped his way
to the great living-room, and from the rack took down a loaded
shot-gun--loaded with bird-shot, left therein by the careless
The Factor crept carefully out of the Fort and down to the river.
The croaking had ceased, but he stretched out in the long grass and
waited. The air seemed a chilly balm, and the earth, after the
heat of the day, now and again breathed soothingly against him.
The Factor, gathered into the rhythm of it all, dozed off, with his
head upon his arm, and slept.
Fifty yards away, head resting on knees, and with his back to John
Fox, Snettishane likewise slept, gently conquered by the quietude
of the night. An hour slipped by and then he awoke, and, without
lifting his head, set the night vibrating with the hoarse gutturals
of the raven call.
The Factor roused, not with the abrupt start of civilized man, but
with the swift and comprehensive glide from sleep to waking of the
savage. In the night-light he made out a dark object in the midst
of the grass and brought his gun to bear upon it. A second croak
began to rise, and he pulled the trigger. The crickets ceased from
their sing-song chant, the wildfowl from their squabbling, and the
raven croak broke midmost and died away in gasping silence.
John Fox ran to the spot and reached for the thing he had killed,
but his fingers closed on a coarse mop of hair and he turned
Snettishane's face upward to the starlight. He knew how a shotgun
scattered at fifty yards, and he knew that he had peppered
Snettishane across the shoulders and in the small of the back. And
Snettishane knew that he knew, but neither referred to it
"What dost thou here?" the Factor demanded. "It were time old
bones should be in bed."
But Snettishane was stately in spite of the bird-shot burning under
"Old bones will not sleep," he said solemnly. "I weep for my
daughter, for my daughter Lit-lit, who liveth and who yet is dead,
and who goeth without doubt to the white man's hell."
"Weep henceforth on the far bank, beyond ear-shot of the Fort,"
said John Fox, turning on his heel, "for the noise of thy weeping
is exceeding great and will not let one sleep of nights."
"My heart is sore," Snettishane answered, "and my days and nights
be black with sorrow."
"As the raven is black," said John Fox.
"As the raven is black," Snettishane said.
Never again was the voice of the raven heard by the river bank.
Lit-lit grows matronly day by day and is very happy. Also, there
are sisters to the sons of John Fox's first wife who lies buried in
a tree. Old Snettishane is no longer a visitor at the Fort, and
spends long hours raising a thin, aged voice against the filial
ingratitude of children in general and of his daughter Lit-lit in
particular. His declining years are embittered by the knowledge
that he was cheated, and even John Fox has withdrawn the assertion
that the price for Lit-lit was too much by ten blankets and a gun.
Batard was a devil. This was recognized throughout the Northland.
"Hell's Spawn" he was called by many men, but his master, Black
Leclere, chose for him the shameful name "Batard." Now Black
Leclere was also a devil, and the twain were well matched. There
is a saying that when two devils come together, hell is to pay.
This is to be expected, and this certainly was to be expected when
Batard and Black Leclere came together. The first time they met,
Batard was a part-grown puppy, lean and hungry, with bitter eyes;
and they met with snap and snarl, and wicked looks, for Leclere's
upper lip had a wolfish way of lifting and showing the white, cruel
teeth. And it lifted then, and his eyes glinted viciously, as he
reached for Batard and dragged him out from the squirming litter.
It was certain that they divined each other, for on the instant
Batard had buried his puppy fangs in Leclere's hand, and Leclere,
thumb and finger, was coolly choking his young life out of him.
"SACREDAM," the Frenchman said softly, flirting the quick blood
from his bitten hand and gazing down on the little puppy choking
and gasping in the snow.
Leclere turned to John Hamlin, storekeeper of the Sixty Mile Post.
"Dat fo' w'at Ah lak heem. 'Ow moch, eh, you, M'sieu'? 'Ow moch?
Ah buy heem, now; Ah buy heem queek."
And because he hated him with an exceeding bitter hate, Leclere
bought Batard and gave him his shameful name. And for five years
the twain adventured across the Northland, from St. Michael's and
the Yukon delta to the head-reaches of the Pelly and even so far as
the Peace River, Athabasca, and the Great Slave. And they acquired
a reputation for uncompromising wickedness, the like of which never
before attached itself to man and dog.
Batard did not know his father--hence his name--but, as John Hamlin
knew, his father was a great grey timber wolf. But the mother of
Batard, as he dimly remembered her, was snarling, bickering,
obscene, husky, full-fronted and heavy-chested, with a malign eye,
a cat-like grip on life, and a genius for trickery and evil. There
was neither faith nor trust in her. Her treachery alone could be
relied upon, and her wild-wood amours attested her general
depravity. Much of evil and much of strength were there in these,
Batard's progenitors, and, bone and flesh of their bone and flesh,
he had inherited it all. And then came Black Leclere, to lay his
heavy hand on the bit of pulsating puppy life, to press and prod
and mould till it became a big bristling beast, acute in knavery,
overspilling with hate, sinister, malignant, diabolical. With a
proper master Batard might have made an ordinary, fairly efficient
sled-dog. He never got the chance: Leclere but confirmed him in
his congenital iniquity.
The history of Batard and Leclere is a history of war--of five
cruel, relentless years, of which their first meeting is fit
summary. To begin with, it was Leclere's fault, for he hated with
understanding and intelligence, while the long-legged, ungainly
puppy hated only blindly, instinctively, without reason or method.
At first there were no refinements of cruelty (these were to come
later), but simple beatings and crude brutalities. In one of these
Batard had an ear injured. He never regained control of the riven
muscles, and ever after the ear drooped limply down to keep keen
the memory of his tormentor. And he never forgot.
His puppyhood was a period of foolish rebellion. He was always
worsted, but he fought back because it was his nature to fight
back. And he was unconquerable. Yelping shrilly from the pain of
lash and club, he none the less contrived always to throw in the
defiant snarl, the bitter vindictive menace of his soul which
fetched without fail more blows and beatings. But his was his
mother's tenacious grip on life. Nothing could kill him. He
flourished under misfortune, grew fat with famine, and out of his
terrible struggle for life developed a preternatural intelligence.
His were the stealth and cunning of the husky, his mother, and the
fierceness and valour of the wolf, his father.
Possibly it was because of his father that he never wailed. His
puppy yelps passed with his lanky legs, so that he became grim and
taciturn, quick to strike, slow to warn. He answered curse with
snarl, and blow with snap, grinning the while his implacable
hatred; but never again, under the extremest agony, did Leclere
bring from him the cry of fear nor of pain. This unconquerableness
but fanned Leclere's wrath and stirred him to greater deviltries.
Did Leclere give Batard half a fish and to his mates whole ones,
Batard went forth to rob other dogs of their fish. Also he robbed
caches and expressed himself in a thousand rogueries, till he
became a terror to all dogs and masters of dogs. Did Leclere beat
Batard and fondle Babette--Babette who was not half the worker he
was--why, Batard threw her down in the snow and broke her hind leg
in his heavy jaws, so that Leclere was forced to shoot her.
Likewise, in bloody battles, Batard mastered all his team-mates,
set them the law of trail and forage, and made them live to the law
In five years he heard but one kind word, received but one soft
stroke of a hand, and then he did not know what manner of things
they were. He leaped like the untamed thing he was, and his jaws
were together in a flash. It was the missionary at Sunrise, a
newcomer in the country, who spoke the kind word and gave the soft
stroke of the hand. And for six months after, he wrote no letters
home to the States, and the surgeon at McQuestion travelled two
hundred miles on the ice to save him from blood-poisoning.
Men and dogs looked askance at Batard when he drifted into their
camps and posts. The men greeted him with feet threateningly
lifted for the kick, the dogs with bristling manes and bared fangs.
Once a man did kick Batard, and Batard, with quick wolf snap,
closed his jaws like a steel trap on the man's calf and crunched
down to the bone. Whereat the man was determined to have his life,
only Black Leclere, with ominous eyes and naked hunting-knife,
stepped in between. The killing of Batard--ah, SACREDAM, THAT was
a pleasure Leclere reserved for himself. Some day it would happen,
or else--bah! who was to know? Anyway, the problem would be
For they had become problems to each other. The very breath each
drew was a challenge and a menace to the other. Their hate bound
them together as love could never bind. Leclere was bent on the
coming of the day when Batard should wilt in spirit and cringe and
whimper at his feet. And Batard--Leclere knew what was in Batard's
mind, and more than once had read it in Batard's eyes. And so
clearly had he read, that when Batard was at his back, he made it a
point to glance often over his shoulder.
Men marvelled when Leclere refused large money for the dog. "Some
day you'll kill him and be out his price," said John Hamlin once,
when Batard lay panting in the snow where Leclere had kicked him,
and no one knew whether his ribs were broken, and no one dared look
"Dat," said Leclere, dryly, "dat is my biz'ness, M'sieu'."
And the men marvelled that Batard did not run away. They did not
understand. But Leclere understood. He was a man who lived much
in the open, beyond the sound of human tongue, and he had learned
the voices of wind and storm, the sigh of night, the whisper of
dawn, the clash of day. In a dim way he could hear the green
things growing, the running of the sap, the bursting of the bud.
And he knew the subtle speech of the things that moved, of the
rabbit in the snare, the moody raven beating the air with hollow
wing, the baldface shuffling under the moon, the wolf like a grey
shadow gliding betwixt the twilight and the dark. And to him
Batard spoke clear and direct. Full well he understood why Batard
did not run away, and he looked more often over his shoulder.
When in anger, Batard was not nice to look upon, and more than once
had he leapt for Leclere's throat, to be stretched quivering and
senseless in the snow, by the butt of the ever ready dogwhip. And
so Batard learned to bide his time. When he reached his full
strength and prime of youth, he thought the time had come. He was
broad-chested, powerfully muscled, of far more than ordinary size,
and his neck from head to shoulders was a mass of bristling hair--
to all appearances a full-blooded wolf. Leclere was lying asleep
in his furs when Batard deemed the time to be ripe. He crept upon
him stealthily, head low to earth and lone ear laid back, with a
feline softness of tread. Batard breathed gently, very gently, and
not till he was close at hand did he raise his head. He paused for
a moment and looked at the bronzed bull throat, naked and knotty,
and swelling to a deep steady pulse. The slaver dripped down his
fangs and slid off his tongue at the sight, and in that moment he
remembered his drooping ear, his uncounted blows and prodigious
wrongs, and without a sound sprang on the sleeping man.
Leclere awoke to the pang of the fangs in his throat, and, perfect
animal that he was, he awoke clear-headed and with full
comprehension. He closed on Batard's windpipe with both his hands,
and rolled out of his furs to get his weight uppermost. But the
thousands of Batard's ancestors had clung at the throats of
unnumbered moose and caribou and dragged them down, and the wisdom
of those ancestors was his. When Leclere's weight came on top of
him, he drove his hind legs upwards and in, and clawed down chest
and abdomen, ripping and tearing through skin and muscle. And when
he felt the man's body wince above him and lift, he worried and
shook at the man's throat. His team-mates closed around in a
snarling circle, and Batard, with failing breath and fading sense,
knew that their jaws were hungry for him. But that did not matter-
-it was the man, the man above him, and he ripped and clawed, and
shook and worried, to the last ounce of his strength. But Leclere
choked him with both his hands, till Batard's chest heaved and
writhed for the air denied, and his eyes glazed and set, and his
jaws slowly loosened, and his tongue protruded black and swollen.
"Eh? Bon, you devil!" Leclere gurgled mouth and throat clogged
with his own blood, as he shoved the dizzy dog from him.
And then Leclere cursed the other dogs off as they fell upon
Batard. They drew back into a wider circle, squatting alertly on
their haunches and licking their chops, the hair on every neck
bristling and erect.
Batard recovered quickly, and at sound of Leclere's voice, tottered
to his feet and swayed weakly back and forth.
"A-h-ah! You beeg devil!" Leclere spluttered. "Ah fix you; Ah fix
you plentee, by GAR!"
Batard, the air biting into his exhausted lungs like wine, flashed
full into the man's face, his jaws missing and coming together with
a metallic clip. They rolled over and over on the snow, Leclere
striking madly with his fists. Then they separated, face to face,
and circled back and forth before each other. Leclere could have
drawn his knife. His rifle was at his feet. But the beast in him
was up and raging. He would do the thing with his hands--and his
teeth. Batard sprang in, but Leclere knocked him over with a blow
of the fist, fell upon him, and buried his teeth to the bone in the
It was a primordial setting and a primordial scene, such as might
have been in the savage youth of the world. An open space in a
dark forest, a ring of grinning wolf-dogs, and in the centre two
beasts, locked in combat, snapping and snarling raging madly about
panting, sobbing, cursing, straining, wild with passion, in a fury
of murder, ripping and tearing and clawing in elemental
But Leclere caught Batard behind the ear with a blow from his fist,
knocking him over, and, for the instant, stunning him. Then
Leclere leaped upon him with his feet, and sprang up and down,
striving to grind him into the earth. Both Batard's hind legs were
broken ere Leclere ceased that he might catch breath.
"A-a-ah! A-a-ah!" he screamed, incapable of speech, shaking his
fist, through sheer impotence of throat and larynx.
But Batard was indomitable. He lay there in a helpless welter, his
lip feebly lifting and writhing to the snarl he had not the
strength to utter. Leclere kicked him, and the tired jaws closed
on the ankle, but could not break the skin.
Then Leclere picked up the whip and proceeded almost to cut him to
pieces, at each stroke of the lash crying: "Dis taim Ah break you!
Eh? By GAR! Ah break you!"
In the end, exhausted, fainting from loss of blood, he crumpled up
and fell by his victim, and when the wolf-dogs closed in to take
their vengeance, with his last consciousness dragged his body on
top of Batard to shield him from their fangs.
This occurred not far from Sunrise, and the missionary, opening the
door to Leclere a few hours later, was surprised to note the
absence of Batard from the team. Nor did his surprise lessen when
Leclere threw back the robes from the sled, gathered Batard into
his arms and staggered across the threshold. It happened that the
surgeon of McQuestion, who was something of a gadabout, was up on a
gossip, and between them they proceeded to repair Leclere,
"Merci, non," said he. "Do you fix firs' de dog. To die? NON.
Eet is not good. Becos' heem Ah mus' yet break. Dat fo' w'at he
mus' not die."
The surgeon called it a marvel, the missionary a miracle, that
Leclere pulled through at all; and so weakened was he, that in the
spring the fever got him, and he went on his back again. Batard
had been in even worse plight, but his grip on life prevailed, and
the bones of his hind legs knit, and his organs righted themselves,
during the several weeks he lay strapped to the floor. And by the
time Leclere, finally convalescent, sallow and shaky, took the sun
by the cabin door, Batard had reasserted his supremacy among his
kind, and brought not only his own team-mates but the missionary's
dogs into subjection.
He moved never a muscle, nor twitched a hair, when, for the first
time, Leclere tottered out on the missionary's arm, and sank down
slowly and with infinite caution on the three-legged stool.
"BON!" he said. "BON! De good sun!" And he stretched out his
wasted hands and washed them in the warmth.
Then his gaze fell on the dog, and the old light blazed back in his
eyes. He touched the missionary lightly on the arm. "Mon pere,
dat is one beeg devil, dat Batard. You will bring me one pistol,
so, dat Ah drink de sun in peace."
And thenceforth for many days he sat in the sun before the cabin
door. He never dozed, and the pistol lay always across his knees.
Batard had a way, the first thing each day, of looking for the
weapon in its wonted place. At sight of it he would lift his lip
faintly in token that he understood, and Leclere would lift his own
lip in an answering grin. One day the missionary took note of the
"Bless me!" he said. "I really believe the brute comprehends."
Leclere laughed softly. "Look you, mon pere. Dat w'at Ah now
spik, to dat does he lissen."
As if in confirmation, Batard just perceptibly wriggled his lone
ear up to catch the sound.
"Ah say 'keel'."
Batard growled deep down in his throat, the hair bristled along his
neck, and every muscle went tense and expectant.
"Ah lift de gun, so, like dat." And suiting action to word, he
sighted the pistol at Batard. Batard, with a single leap,
sideways, landed around the corner of the cabin out of sight.
"Bless me!" he repeated at intervals. Leclere grinned proudly.
"But why does he not run away?"
The Frenchman's shoulders went up in the racial shrug that means
all things from total ignorance to infinite understanding.
"Then why do you not kill him?"
Again the shoulders went up.
"Mon pere," he said after a pause, "de taim is not yet. He is one
beeg devil. Some taim Ah break heem, so an' so, all to leetle
bits. Hey? some taim. BON!"
A day came when Leclere gathered his dogs together and floated down
in a bateau to Forty Mile, and on to the Porcupine, where he took a
commission from the P. C. Company, and went exploring for the
better part of a year. After that he poled up the Koyokuk to
deserted Arctic City, and later came drifting back, from camp to
camp, along the Yukon. And during the long months Batard was well
lessoned. He learned many tortures, and, notably, the torture of
hunger, the torture of thirst, the torture of fire, and, worst of
all, the torture of music.
Like the rest of his kind, he did not enjoy music. It gave him
exquisite anguish, racking him nerve by nerve, and ripping apart
every fibre of his being. It made him howl, long and wolf-life, as
when the wolves bay the stars on frosty nights. He could not help
howling. It was his one weakness in the contest with Leclere, and
it was his shame. Leclere, on the other hand, passionately loved
music--as passionately as he loved strong drink. And when his soul
clamoured for expression, it usually uttered itself in one or the
other of the two ways, and more usually in both ways. And when he
had drunk, his brain a-lilt with unsung song and the devil in him
aroused and rampant, his soul found its supreme utterance in
"Now we will haf a leetle museek," he would say. "Eh? W'at you
It was only an old and battered harmonica, tenderly treasured and
patiently repaired; but it was the best that money could buy, and
out of its silver reeds he drew weird vagrant airs that men had
never heard before. Then Batard, dumb of throat, with teeth tight
clenched, would back away, inch by inch, to the farthest cabin
corner. And Leclere, playing, playing, a stout club tucked under
his arm, followed the animal up, inch by inch, step by step, till
there was no further retreat.
At first Batard would crowd himself into the smallest possible
space, grovelling close to the floor; but as the music came nearer
and nearer, he was forced to uprear, his back jammed into the logs,
his fore legs fanning the air as though to beat off the rippling
waves of sound. He still kept his teeth together, but severe
muscular contractions attacked his body, strange twitchings and
jerkings, till he was all a-quiver and writhing in silent torment.
As he lost control, his jaws spasmodically wrenched apart, and deep
throaty vibrations issued forth, too low in the register of sound
for human ear to catch. And then, nostrils distended, eyes
dilated, hair bristling in helpless rage, arose the long wolf howl.
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