E-text prepared by Al Haines
WHERE THE SUN SWINGS NORTH
A. L. Burt Company Publishers ——— New York Published by arrangement with G. P. Putnam's Sons
Printed in U. S. A. Copyright, 1922 by Florance Willoughby
This edition is issued under arrangement with the publishers G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York And London
WHO CAN MAKE A TENT IN THE WILDERNESS
SEEM LIKE HOME
In this book I write of my own country and its people as I know them—not artfully, perhaps, but truthfully.
I.—THE WHITE CHIEF OF KATLEEAN II.—THE CHEECHACO III.—THE LITTLE SQUAW WITH WHITE FEET IV.—BAIT V.—THE FUNERAL CANOES VI.—THE WHITE CHIEF MAKES MEDICINE VII.—THE POTLATCH DANCE VIII.—THE OUTFIT IX.—HARLAN WAKES UP X.—THE PIGEON
XI.—THE ISLAND OF THE RUBY SANDS XII.—THE LANDING XIII.—THE CABIN XIV.—THE CASTAWAY XV.—THE GIANT BALLS OF STONE XVI.—THE STORM XVII.—THE MYSTERIOUS PRESENCE XVIII.—THE PERIL OF THE SURF XIX.—HOME MAKING XX.—GOLD XXI.—KOBUK XXII.—AT THE LONE TREE XXIII.—ELLEN XXIV.—MAROONED
XXV.—ON RATIONS XXVI.—WINTER DAYS XXVII.—SPRING XXVIII.—THE CLEFT XXIX.—THE SECRET OF THE CLIFFS XXX.—THE PIGEON'S FLIGHT XXXI.—THE JUSTICE OF THE SEA XXXII.—BENEATH THE BLOOD-RED SUN XXXIII.—ANCHORS WEIGHED
WHERE THE SUN SWINGS NORTH
THE WHITE CHIEF OF KATLEEAN
It was quiet in the great store room of the Alaska Fur and Trading Company's post at Kat-lee-an. The westering sun streaming in through a side window lighted up shelves of brightly labeled canned goods and a long, scarred counter piled high with gay blankets and men's rough clothing. Back of the big, pot-bellied stove—cold now—that stood near the center of the room, lidless boxes of hard-tack and crackers yawned in open defiance of germs. An amber, mote-filled ray slanted toward the moss-chinked log wall where a row of dusty fox and wolverine skins hung—pelts discarded when the spring shipment of furs had been made, because of flaws visible only to expert eyes.
At the far end of the room the possessor of those expert eyes sat before a rough home-made desk. There was a rustle of papers and he closed the ledger in front of him with an air of relief. He clapped his hands smartly. Almost on the instant the curtain hanging in the doorway at the side of the desk was drawn aside and a small, brown feminine hand materialized.
"My cigarettes, Decitan."
The man's voice was low, with that particular vibrant quality often found in the voices of men accustomed to command inferior peoples on the far outposts of civilization.
The curtain wavered again and from behind the folds a brown arm, bare and softly rounded, accompanied the hand that set down a tray of smoking materials.
With a careless nod toward his invisible servitor, the man picked up a cigarette and lighted it. He took one long, deep pull. Tossing it aside he swung his chair about and faced the open doorway that gave on a courtyard and the bay beyond.
He readjusted the scarlet band about his narrow hips. Flannel-shirted, high-booted, he stretched his six-foot length in the tilting chair and clasped his hands behind his head. The movement loosened a lock of black hair which fell heavily across his forehead. His eyes, long, narrow and the color of pale smoke, drowsed beneath brows that met above his nose. Thin, sharply defined nostrils quivered under the slightest emotion, and startling against the whiteness of his face, was a short, pointed beard, black and silky as a woman's hair. When Paul Kilbuck, the white trader of Katleean, smiled, his thin, red lips parted over teeth white and perfect, but there was that in the long, pointed incisors that brought to mind the clean fangs of a wolf-dog.
He closed his pale eyes now and smiled to himself. His work on the Company's books was finished for the present. He hated the petty details of account keeping, but since the death of old Add-'em-up Sam, his helper and accountant, who had departed this world six months before during a spell of delirium tremens, the trader had been obliged to do his own.
Queer and clever things had Add-'em-up done to the books. Down in San Francisco the directors of the Alaska Fur and Trading Company had long suspected it no doubt, but it was not for nothing that Paul Kilbuck was known up and down the coast of Alaska as the White Chief. No other man in the North had such power and influence among the Thlinget tribes. No other man sent in such quantities of prime pelts; hence the White Chief of Katleean had never been obliged to give too strict an accounting of his stewardship. Taking what belongs to a company is not, in the elastic code of the North, considered stealing. "God is high above and the Czar is far away," said the plundering, roistering old Russians of Baranoff's day, and the spirit in the isolated posts had not changed, though Russian adventurers come no more to rape Alaska of her riches, and the Stars and Stripes now floats over the old-time Russian stronghold at Sitka.
For eighteen years Kilbuck had been the agent of the Company. In trading-posts up and down the coast where the trappers and prospectors gather to outfit, many tales of the White Chief were afloat: his trips to the Outside; his lavish spending of money; his hiring of private cars to take him from Seattle to New York; his princely entertainment of beautiful women. In every story told of Paul Kilbuck there were women. Sometimes they were white, but more often they were dusky beauties of the North.
Among the several dark-eyed Thlinget women who occupied the mysterious quarters back of the log store, there was always rejoicing when the White Chief returned from his visits to the States. He was a generous master, bringing back with him many presents from the land of the white people—rings, beads, trinkets, and yards of bright colored silks. The favorites of his household fondled these gifts for a time with soft, guttural cries of delight and gentle strokings of their slim, brown hands, and then laid them away in fantastically carved Indian chests of yellow cedar.
Perhaps the strangest of these gifts had been a pair of homing pigeons, which had thrived and multiplied under the care of Add-'em-up Sam. A fluttering of wings now outside the doorway bespoke the presence of some of them, and Kilbuck stirred in his chair and opened his eyes.
He had been many hours alone in the store, but he had been prepared for that today. The entire post of Katleean was getting ready for the Potlatch, an Indian festival scheduled for the near future. For this occasion Kayak Bill, in his carefully secreted still across the lagoon, had completed a particularly potent batch of moonshine, known locally as hootch. The arrival, earlier in the afternoon, of the jocose old hootch-maker with a canoe-load of his fiery beverage, had been a signal for a gathering at his cabin across the courtyard. From the sounds that now floated out on the late afternoon air, he must already have distributed generous samples of his brew.
The White Chief rose from his chair and reached for another cigarette. As usual, he tossed it away after one long, deep inhalation. Before the smoke cleared from his head, he was crossing the store room with his easy panther tread—the result of former years of moccasin-wearing.
In the open doorway he paused, leaned against the portal and hooked one thumb beneath his scarlet belt. His narrow eyes swept the scene before him. Across the bay, between purple hills, a valley lay dreaming in rose-lavender mist. Blue above the August haze was a glimpse of a glacier, and farther back, peaks rose tier upon tier in the vague, amethystine distance.
Suddenly the quiet beauty was shot through with the sound of loud voices and snatches of song issuing from the cabin of Kayak Bill. The trader listened with a smile that was half a sneer. He himself never drank while at the post, deeming that it lessened his influence with the Indians. But among the secrets of his own experience were memories of wild days and nights aboard visiting schooners, at the end of which prone in the captain's bunk, he had lain for hours in alcoholic oblivion.
The voices from the cabin ceased abruptly. Then like the bellow of a fog horn on a lonely northern sea came Kayak Bill's deep bass:
"Take me north of old Point Barrow Where there ain't no East or West; Where man has a thirst that lingers And where moonshine tastes the best; Where the Arctic ice-pack hovers 'Twixt Alaska and the Pole, And there ain't no bloomin' fashions To perplex a good man's soul."
There was a momentary pause followed by a hubbub of masculine voices apparently in a dispute as to how the song should run. High above the others rose a squeaky Scandinavian protest:
"By yingo, ven ay ban cook on Soofie Suderlant ve sing it so dis vay——"
"Close yore mouth, Silvertip." As a whale would swallow a minnow so Kayak Bill's drawling tones engulfed the thin, high accents of the one-time cook of the Sophie Sutherland. "I ain't no nature for Swedes a-devilin' o' me. I been singin' that song for nigh on to ten yars, and by the roarin' Jasus, I reckon I know how to sing it. Come on boys—now all together!"
Joining the again raised bass of Kayak Bill, several voices took up the rollicking strain, among them the high, easily recognizable tenor of Silvertip, and the voice of another, a baritone of startling mellowness and purity, having in it a timbre of youth and recklessness:
"Up into the Polar Seas, Where the Innuit maidens be, There's a fat, bright-eyed va-hee-ney A-waitin' there for me. She's sittin' in her igloo cold, Chewing on a muckluck sole, And the sun comes up at midnight From an ice-pack round the Pole."
At the sound of the baritone, the White Chief hitched his shoulders with a movement of satisfaction. Add-'em-up Sam's successor, the bookkeeper, was bidding fair to follow in the sodden footsteps of his predecessor. Given a little more time and this baritone-singing cheechako would be where the White Chief need have no anxiety as to the accounts rendered the Company's new president, whom Kilbuck had never seen. A little more time, a little more hootch, and he would also have settled the case of Na-lee-nah.
The thought of the Thlinget girl's soft brown eyes brought a momentary pang. The white plague permitted few native women to become old. Twice now Naleenah had lost her voice, and only last night he had noticed behind her soft, her singularly beautiful little ears, the peculiar drawn look that to his practiced eye spelled tuberculosis. She would last two years more, perhaps, but in the meantime he must protect himself—he stirred uneasily. The bookkeeper must be made to take her off his hands.
His musing was broken into by another burst of song:
"Oh-o-o-o! I am a jolly rover And I lead a jolly life! I have my hootch and salmon And a little squaw to wife."
Simultaneously the door of Kayak Bill's cabin opened and the owner, a tatterdemalion figure, stood for a moment on the doorstep. Stretching his arms above his head, he yawned prodigiously, and then, espying Kilbuck, sauntered across the courtyard toward him.
An old sombrero curved jauntily on red-grey hair that was overly long. A wavy beard of auburn-grey spread over the front of his blue flannel shirt. Hanging loosely from his shoulders a hair-seal waistcoat, brightly trimmed with red flannel, served as a coat above faded blue overalls, and from the knees down Kayak Bill was finished off with hip rubber boots, the turned-down tops of which flapped with every step, lending a swashbuckling air to his rolling gait.
He seated himself leisurely on the steps below the platform in front of the trading-post door.
"By hell, Chief," he drawled, drawing a huge clasp-knife from his pocket, "I been grazin' on this here Alasky range nigh on to twenty yars, and so help me Hannah, I never did find a place so wild or a bunch o' hombres so tough but what sooner or later all hands starts a-singin' o' the female sect." With a movement of his thumb Kayak Bill released the formidable blade of the knife, and nonchalantly, dexterously, began using it as a toothpick.
"Yas," he said slowly, in answer to the other's silence, "a-talkin' and a-singin' o' women and love. . . . Now, I hearn tell a heap about love and women in my time, but neither o' them things has affected my heart ever, though one time a spell back, tobaccy did. Still, Chief, with all respects to yore sentiments regardin' them Chocolate Drops what inhabits yore harem, . . . still, it sort o' roils me up to hear a white man a-talkin' and a-singin' o' takin' a squaw to wife."
There was an involuntary contraction of the hand that was hooked under Paul Kilbuck's belt. Not another man from Dixon's Entrance to Point Barrow would have dared to hint at the White Chief's domestic arrangements in that gentleman's hearing, but there was something in the soft twinkle of Kayak Bill's hazel eye, something in the crude, whimsical philosophy distilled in the old hootch-maker's heart, that amused, while it piqued the trader at Katleean. He sat down now on the steps beside his visitor.
"Kayak," he said, almost gently, "when an old fellow like you begins to talk about squaws I have to smile. A man past sixty—! But how about twenty-five years ago? . . . What's a man going to do when he finds himself on the edge of the wilderness and—he wants a woman?" Kilbuck's voice rose slightly, his black brows drew together over the pale, unseeing eyes that sought the distant peaks, his thin nostrils quivered. "It's a wild country up here, Kayak. Makes a man hunger for something soft and feminine—and where's the pale-faced woman who would follow a man into this—" He finished his sentence with a wave of his hand. "That is a woman one would marry," he amended. "The average female of that country down south has no spirit of adventure in her make-up."
Kayak Bill closed his clasp-knife, restored it to his pocket and slowly drew forth an ancient corn-cob pipe.
"Wall, Chief," he drawled presently between puffs, "I ain't a-sayin' yore not right, seein' as you've had consid'able more experience with petticoats than me; but one time I hearn a couple o' scientific dudes a-talkin' about females and they was of the notion that sons gets their brains and their natures from their mammies." Disregarding the contemptuous sound uttered by the White Chief, Kayak's slow tones flowed on: "And I'm purty nigh pursuaded them fellows is right. . . . Take it down in Texas now, where I was drug up. I'm noticin' a heap o' times how the meechinest, quietest little old ladies has the rarin'est, terrin'-est sons, hell-bent on fightin' and adventure. . . . Kinder seems to me, Chief, that our women has been bottled up so long by us men folks they just ain't had no chance to strike out that way, except by givin' o' their natures to their sons. You take any little gal, Chief, a-fore they get her taken with the notion that it ain't lady-like to fight, and by hell, she can lick tar outen any boy her size in the neighborhood. Same way with she-bears, or a huskie bitch. Durned if they don't beat all get-out when it comes to fightin' courage!"
Kayak Bill drew once or twice on his pipe with apparently unsatisfactory results, for he slowly removed his sombrero, drew a broom-straw from inside the band, extracted the stem of the corn-cob and ran the straw through it. The immediate vicinity became impregnated with a violent odor of nicotine. The White Chief, however, musing close by on the steps, seemed not to notice it. His eyes were fixed on three Indian canoes being paddled in from the lagoon across the bay which was now taking on the opalescent tints of the late Alaska sunset.
"What I been a-sayin' goes for the white women, Chief. As for them Chocolate Drops—wall, I ain't made up my mind exactly. 'Pears to me if I ever went a-courtin' though, it would be just like goin' a-huntin': no fun in it if the end was certain and easy-like. Barrin' the case of Silvertip and Senott, his squaw, it's like this: you say 'Come,' and they come. You say 'Go,' and they go. Now, a white woman ain't that way. By the roarin' Jasus, you never can tell which way she's goin' to jump!" Kayak Bill held the stem of his pipe up to the light and squinted through it, fitted it again into the bowl and gave an experimental draw. "But everybody to his own cemetery, says I."
"Bill, you old reprobate, you have an uncanny way of picking the weak spots in everything. There's some truth in that last. . . . Gad, I'd like to get into a game of love with a woman of my own blood up here in the wilderness! . . . There's never been a white woman in Katleean. It would be great sport to see one up against it here, eh, Kayak?" The White Chief turned, smiling, and the light in his pale, narrow eyes matched the wolfish gleam of his sharp teeth.
The face of the old hootch-maker was hidden in a smoke cloud, but his voice drawled on as calmly as ever: "Wall, from what I hearn tell when I'm over at the Chilcat Cannery, Chief, you may get a chance to see a white woman at Katleean purty soon. There's a prospector named Boreland a-cruisin' up the coast in his own schooner, the Hoonah, and from what I can make out he's got his wife and little boy with him."
The trader turned sharply. Like a hungry wolf scenting quarry he raised his head. There was a keener look in his eye. His thin nostrils twitched.
"A white woman, Kayak? Are you sure?"
Before Kayak Bill could answer there came an extra loud burst of song from the cabin across the courtyard. The door had been flung wide and in the opening swayed the arresting figure of the leader of the wild chorus.
 Name by which the States is designated in the North.
He was young and tall and slight, with a touch of recklessness in his bearing that was somehow at variance with the clean-cut lines of his face. He stood unsteadily on the threshold, hands thrust deep in the pockets of his grey tweed trousers, chin up-tilted from a strong, bare throat that rose out of his open shirt. As the singing inside the cabin ceased, he shook back the tumbled mass of his brown hair and alone his mellow baritone continued the whaler's song:
"Up into the Polar Seas, Where the greasy whalers be, There's a strip of open water Reaching north to eighty-three——"
The White Chief, with his eyes on the singer, spoke to Kayak Bill.
"Our gentleman-bookkeeper takes to your liquid dynamite like an Eskimo to seal oil, Kayak. He's been at Katleean three months now, and I'll be damned if he's been sober three times since he landed. Seems to be hitting it up extra strong now that the Potlatch is due—" Kilbuck lowered his voice—"I want nothing said to him of the prospector and his white wife, understand?"
At the dictatorial tone flung into the last sentence there came a narrowing of the old hootch-maker's eyes. It was seldom that Paul Kilbuck spoke thus to Kayak Bill.
The singer was crossing the courtyard now with steps of exaggerated carefulness. Suddenly he paused. His dark eyes, in vague, alcoholic meditation, sought the distant peaks stained with the blush-rose of sunset. The evening-purple of the hills fringed the bay with mystery. Gulls floated high on lavender wings, their intermittent plaint answering the Indian voices that drifted up from the beach where the canoes were landing.
Kayak Bill moved over on the step, indicating the space beside him.
"Come along side o' me, son, and get yore bearin's!" he called.
"Yes, Harlan, stop your mooning and come here. I want to talk to you."
Gregg Harlan turned, and the smile that parted his lips, though born in a liquor-fogged brain, was singularly winning.
"Chief," his words came distinctly but with careful deliberation, "an outsider would think—that I am—a—fellow of rare—judgment and s-sound phil-os-ophy from the way—you're always—wanting to talk—to—me."
He advanced and seated himself on the steps near the base of the flag-pole, leaning heavily against it. The gay recklessness that is the immediate effect of the fiery native brew of the North was evidently wearing away, and preceding the oblivion that was fast coming upon him, stray glimpses of his past, bits of things he had read or heard, and snatches of poetry flashed on the screen of his mind.
"It doesn't go with me—Chief. Don't—bring on—your—little forest—maiden—Naleenah—again. Tired—hearing about—her. Know—what you say: Up here—my people—never know. Me—a squaw man! Lord! What do I want—with—a squaw?" He laughed as at some blurred vision of his brain. "It's not that—I'm so damned virtuous, Chief. But I'm—fas-fas-tid-ious. That's it—fastidious——"
Paul Kilbuck's eyes flashed a cold steel grey. "We'll see how fastidious you'll be a year from now." His lip lifted on one side exposing a long, pointed tooth. "That'll be enough, now, Harlan."
"Sure, 's enough—for me, Chief," admitted the young man with drowsy good nature, as his tousled head sought a more comfortable place against the flagpole. "Pardon—casting aspersions—on your—taste in women, Chief. Wouldn't do—it—if sober. Hate to be sober. Makes me feel—re-responsible for so—many things. . . . Hence flowing bowl. 'Member old Omar—unborn Tomorrow and dead—Yesterday. . . . Why fret 'bout it—if—if—today—be—sweet." His voice trailed off in a murmur and his boyish chin with its look of firmness despite his dejection, sank slowly on his breast.
The canoes had made a landing. A dozen or more Thlinget women came straggling up the beach laden with the fruits of their afternoon labors: gay-colored baskets of wild strawberries, red and fragrant from the sand-dunes along the lagoon. From the Indian Village, a short distance down the curve of the beach where the smokes of evening fires were rising, a welcoming buck or two came to accompany the softly laughing squaws.
Slightly in advance of the shawled figures moving toward the group on the steps walked one whose slenderness and grace marked her from the rest. A scarlet shawl splashed the cream of her garments. Unlike the other women, she wore no disfiguring handkerchief on her head. Her face, oval and creamy-brown, was framed by two thick braids that fell over her shoulders. In the crook of her arm rested a basket of berries. At her side, rubbing against her now and then, came a powerful huskie, beautiful with the lean grace of the wolf and paw-playing as a kitten.
"Mush on, Kobuk! Mush—you!" She laughed, pushing him aside as she advanced.
When she smiled up at the white men her face was lighted by long-lashed childish eyes, warm and brown as a sun-shot pool in the forest.
The White Chief rose. With an imperious gesture he motioned the other Indians back.
"Ah cgoo, Naleenah! Come here!" In rapid, guttural Thlinget he spoke to the girl, pointing from time to time to the now unconscious Harlan.
As she listened the smile faded from her face. Her smooth brow puckered. . . . She turned troubled eyes to Kayak Bill, sitting silent, imperturbable, in a cloud of tobacco smoke, his interest apparently fixed where the slight breeze was ruffling the evening radiance of the water.
Still mutely questioning, Naleenah glanced at the figure of the young white man, slumped in stupor against the flag-pole. . . . A look of unutterable scorn distorted her face. Then she looked up at the White Chief shaking her head in quick negation.
At her rebellion Kilbuck's voice shot out stingingly like the lash of a whip. With a hurt, stunned expression the girl shrank back. Her shawl shivered into a vivid heap about her feet. The basket of berries slipped unheeded to the sand, their wild fragrance scenting the air about her.
While he was still speaking she started forward, her wide, idolatrous eyes raised to his, her little berry-stained hands held out beseechingly.
"No—no, Paul!" Anguish and pleading were in her broken English. "No, no! I can not do! Too mooch, too mooch I loof you, Paul!" Brimming tears overflowed and rolled slowly down her cheeks.
Kayak Bill rose hastily and stalked across the platform into the store. The White Chief turned away with tightening lips, but there was no softening in his smoke-colored eyes. It would be to his interest to have his bookkeeper a squaw-man. The old Hudson Bay Company factors had proved the advantage of having their employees take Indian women. For his own health's sake he must get rid of Naleenah. The tubercular girl would live longer in the house of a white man than with her own people, where he would soon be forced to send her. He was, therefore, doing her a kindness in turning her over to Harlan.
He lighted a cigarette, inhaled a deep draught, and tossing the scarcely burned weed away, crossed deliberately to the huddled figure of Gregg Harlan. He shook him by the shoulder.
"Wake up!" he ordered, "and go to your bunk."
From Kayak Bill's cabin doorway several men drifted curiously toward the store steps. The natives gathered closer.
The bookkeeper raised his head and passed a slow hand over bewildered eyes.
"Beg—pardon, Chief," he said quickly, as he rose on unsteady legs, "making sleeping porch—of your—steps. . . . Awf-lly tired. . ." Wavering, he clung for support to the flag-pole.
With a peremptory gesture Kilbuck motioned to Naleenah.
"Take this man to his cabin," he snapped, "and—" he paused significantly, "remember what I have told you."
The girl came forward with drooping head and listless arms. She paused dully beside the flag-pole. The trader placed the arm of the stupefied young man across her slim shoulders. Obediently she led her charge away in the direction of the small cabins across the courtyard.
Though the eyes of the spectators had been intent on the drama of the steps, only Kayak Bill, perhaps, knew its real significance. The old man now stood in the doorway of the store, his sombrero pushed to the back of his head, a pair of binoculars held against his eyes.
From around the point beyond the Indian Village and into the bay, a white-sailed schooner had drifted. As it advanced there was wafted across the water a faint and silvery fragment of melody which endured but a moment and was gone.
The White Chief turned his back on the courtyard and for the first time noted Kayak Bill's attitude. He followed the direction of the old man's gaze and beheld the incoming vessel just as the white men and Indians behind him broke out in a babble of interest and curiosity.
There floated inshore the rattle of the windlass letting go the anchor chain. On the deck of the schooner men ran about as the sails were lowered. The vessel swung gently until the bow headed into the current of the incoming tide.
"Get out the canoe, Silvertip," ordered the trader, turning to his henchman, "and take Swimming Wolf with you. Find out who's——"
He broke off, wondering, incredulous, for at that moment across the water came the golden singing of a violin. Wonderfully low and tender it began. Swelling, it rose and soared and trembled, then with lingering, chorded sweetness died away like the exquisite music of a dream.
The listeners on the shore stood spellbound. Gregg Harlan, swaying in the doorway of his cabin, steadied himself while the silvery harmony stole into his clouded senses.
"Strange—strange," he muttered, "a violin—playing like that—in Katleean. Dreams—more—dreams—" He stumbled into the room and the weeping Indian girl guided his footsteps to the narrow bunk in the corner.
In the after-sunset light that precedes the long Alaskan twilight there is some rare quality that seems to bring nearer objects on the water. Kayak Bill in the doorway, took another long look through the glasses, then stepped down to the White Chief's side. His voice was the first to break the enchanted silence that followed the strains of the violin.
"That wind-jammer's the Hoonah I been a-tellin' you of, Chief," he drawled, holding out the binoculars. "There's two women aboard o' her, instead o' one. 'Pears to me like one o' them's purty young, and it's her that's standin' in the stern a-playin' o' the fiddle."
 Corruption of the French marchez, marche, which the Canadian coureurs du bois used to shout to their dogs, meaning to go forward, advance.
THE LITTLE SQUAW WITH WHITE FEET
The morning after the arrival of the schooner, Gregg Harlan woke with an aching head and trembling limbs. As he sat on the edge of his bunk holding his fingers against his throbbing temples, he made a mental vow that he would drink no more of Kayak Bill's liquor; that today he would settle down to the business that had brought him to Katleean. He had made the same vow every morning since his landing—made it earnestly, intending to keep it, but there was something in the air of the trading-post that made irresistible the reckless camaraderie engendered by the hootch-cup; something that emphasized that very quality of gay irresponsibility he had come North to lose.
The stale, close air of his little cabin sent waves of nausea through him. Hatless and coatless he sought the open air. He turned his steps instinctively toward the point beyond the Indian Village. On the other side, screened from sight of the post, he was accustomed to take the daily plunge in the bay that enabled him to throw off the immediate effects of his hard drinking.
As he stumbled along, his lack-lustre eyes rested but a moment on the schooner in the bay. He had not been long enough away from the world to be other than faintly interested in the arrival, and his recollections of the night before were nil.
The tide was low. The fresh, keen scent of seaweed came up from the Point refreshing his sickened senses. Noisy gulls wheeled and tilted over the brown, kelp-covered rocks and on the ridge back of the Indian graveyard, ravens answered the gull cries with raucous soliloquies.
He was nearing the Point when his eye was attracted by a splash of white among the boulders. Something peculiar in its outline drew his inquiring steps. At the sound of crunching gravel under his feet a great huskie dog rose almost from under him. The young man sprang aside with a startled exclamation. Against the wet sand the dog's dark coat had been practically invisible.
"Heavens, Kobuk, old boy! I thought I was seeing things!"
He passed a damp hand over his brow. The dog, strangely undemonstrative, advanced and placed a sleek head against Gregg's knee, its pointed muzzle down, its tail hanging dispiritedly. Vaguely wondering what the trader's favorite lead-dog was doing among the boulders on the Point, Harlan patted the animal's broad back and turned to the object that had attracted his attention.
What he had at first taken to be seaweed was a mass of long dark hair. Beneath it a damp, clinging cream-colored garment outlined the dead body of an Indian girl.
"God!" came Gregg's awed whisper, as he bent above the pitiful little heap. "The White Chief's Naleenah! . . . Poor little devil!"
Steadied by the tragedy he did not understand, he stooped and gathered up the still form. He started back to the trader's quarters, little dreaming that the last earthly act performed by those small hands now so still, had been for himself. But if Kobuk, following close at his heels, could have spoken, he would have told of the manner of her going, the night before.
The trading-post of Katleean had lain wrapped in moonlight and slumber when Naleenah, after obeying her master's instructions to the extent of making the drunken young white man comfortable, crept from the doorway of Harlan's cabin. Kobuk, waiting outside for the mistress who had fed him since puppy days, pressed closely to her side as she crossed the courtyard.
At the beachline, where silvered rice-grass grew tall among the piles of whitened driftwood, she paused, looking with wistful eyes toward the Indian Village cuddled in the crescent curve of the beach. The weird, ghostly totems of her people rose above the roofs, catching the moonbeams fearfully on their mystic carvings. Stern and forbidding they seemed, as if guarding the quiet shelters at their feet against one who had forsaken them for the more luxurious cabins of the white man. . . . Slowly she turned from the tribal emblems of her clan to look back at the log trading-post, dim and softly grey and splashed with shadows. . . . So still she stood and so long, that the dog grew restless and rubbed his cold nose against her hand. She sighed, a tired, quivering sigh like that of a child who has been hurt, and with bowed head, stumbled along the trail that led down to the water.
Over a dark line of hills glowed the glorious red-gold orb of Sha-hee-yi, The-Moon-When-All-Things-Make-Their-Winter-Homes. Unbelievably large and round and clear it stood out against the night-blue, throwing a path of shimmering gold across the bay to her little feet. With eyes raised to its splendor, she waded out slowly, steadily, into the moonlit, whispering waves. . . .
At the edge of the beach Kobuk settled on his haunches, watching her with questioning, side-turned head. He whined uneasily.
The scarlet shawl slipped from her shoulders and floated off behind her. . . . The water crept above her waist . . . her shoulders. Her wide-eyed, frightened face caught the light. . . . Then the ripples closed above her head. A moment later her long hair, loosed from its braids, swayed on the amber-lighted surface like seaweed, then the moonpath lay quiet as before.
On the shore Kobuk waited, his slant eyes blinking at the moon. Occasionally he raised his pointed nose and uttered a muffled whine that ended in a short, querulous yelp. . . . Hours passed. . . . The tide began to ebb, leaving a dark line of sand at the edge of the water. . . . After a long while Kobuk went in search of his mistress, and having found her, watched beside her until Harlan came and bore her away.
As the young man ascended the steps to the store platform he was dimly aware of encountering a tall, dark stranger, who afterward proved to be the owner of the schooner that had come in the evening before. Shane Boreland, whose figure was blocking the doorway, stepped aside to let Gregg pass into the building with his burden.
From about the stove, where several men were already gathered, came low exclamations, and the White Chief, who had been following Boreland to the door, stopped suddenly at the sight of Harlan. His face went as cold and emotionless as that of the dead girl.
"Take her in to Decitan," he said shortly, with a gesture toward his quarters back of the store. Turning on his heel, he walked out to the platform where Boreland stood waiting.
"A damned sad ending to their little domestic difficulty," he murmured softly, as befitted one with a large heart and a kindly understanding of the follies of youth. "But young Harlan, my bookkeeper, hasn't been long enough in the North to appreciate the intensity of these little hot-blooded savages. I told him, when he took Naleenah, . . ." The Chief, as if he had said too much, let his sentence trail off into silence. He shook his head in apparent sorrow, but his eyes were fixed on the schooner that rode at anchor in the bay.
"But don't let this incident mar your arrival, Boreland," Paul Kilbuck went on, and then, with the frontier heartiness he knew so well how to assume, he set about tendering Boreland the hospitality of the post, urging the prospector to bring his family ashore for a visit during the time of the coming Potlatch. This was a festival, he assured the master of the Hoonah, which could not fail to interest Mrs. Boreland and her younger sister.
Even as the trader planned for the reception of the white women, the squaws who had borne him children were preparing the body of little Naleenah for its resting place below the ridge where the grave-houses and totems of the Thlinget dead huddled among the wild celery bushes.
Quietly that night, just before moon-set she was laid away so that her funeral might cast no sadness on the coming visitors. On the grave, the silent women of the household placed the treasures that had been dear to the heart of the White Chief's favorite: a string of cheap beads, a scarlet shawl, gaudy painted cup and two dead pigeons, progenitors of the flock that now cooed and fluttered in and out of the high wire enclosure back of the store.
A week later on the ridge above the new-made grave of Naleenah, a white girl stood talking to a small boy by her side. Above the amber-freckled nose of the youngster wide grey eyes were raised in eager coaxing to her face. From the crown of his bare head, a lock of dark red hair trembling with absurd earnestness stood up from the mass of its fellows.
"Oh, Je-an! Don't put on your shoes and stockings just yet! Let's have one more story before we go back to the post. P-l-e-a-s-e, Auntie Jean!"
Jean Wiley dropped to the ground a bundle made of her discarded footwear. Earlier in the afternoon her nephew's barefoot enjoyment of the beach sand had enticed her to remove her own shoes and stockings, and delighting in the feel of the cool earth against her pink soles, she had not replaced them when they decided to follow the trail to the ridge. She tossed her head, and even in the sunless afternoon, the dark mass of hair that tumbled down her back seemed shot through with glints of copper.
"I wouldn't mind going without them always, Loll," she said, holding out a slim foot and contemplating the freedom of her five, wriggling, perfect toes. "But—" the foot took its place beside its stationary twin, "you see, little man, it isn't done at my age, even in Katleean." Her long-lashed hazel eyes, full of the dreams of eighteen happy years, laughed down at the boy, and her slender fingers, that could coax such tender harmonies from the strings of a violin, busied themselves with the ribbon that bound the hair at the back of her neck.
It was one of the lavender dream-days peculiar to the late summer of the North. Faint wisps of colorful mist clung to the pickets of the small fences in the Indian burial-place below them. The totems and the windows of the tiny grave-houses were filmed with it, and through the dim glass appeared vague glimpses of the kettles, blankets and provision inside the houses of the dead—material comforts which the Thlinget Indians provide for the departed soul's journey over the Spirit Trail to the Ghost's Home. On the quiet bay below, the Hoonah, blurred in mist, tugged gently at her anchor. Some hundred yards to the left smoke from the trading-post rose above the alder trees.
"This is a dandy place for story-telling, Jean. See!" Little Laurence Boreland pointed to the dim-limned schooner. "The Hoonah looks like a ghost-ship out there. Listen! I'll tell you the story Kayak Bill scared me most to death with last night. Ugh! It's spooky, Jean!" The boy's eyes were round and his voice had lowered at the remembered thrills of terror. He tugged at the girl's short skirt, until she sat down beside him, tucking her slim bare feet beneath her as she prepared to listen.
A raven, weird epitome of Thlinget myth and legend, croaked spasmodically from the white branch of a dead spruce behind them. The damp air had in it the freshness of new-cut hemlock boughs, a wild, vigorous fragrance that stirs the imagination with strange, illusive promises of the wilderness.
"And the door of the dead-house slowly opened," Loll ended his tale, pointing to the graveyard below for local color, "and the door s-l-o-w-l-y opened and a long, white finger—a bony finger, beckoned——"
He broke off with a gasp of astonishment and terror, for above the rank growth of Indian celery in front of the lonely grave-house door, there was a sudden, unmistakable flutter of white. So thoroughly had the little fellow lost himself in the weird mysteries of his own creating that panic took possession of him, and communicated itself to the girl beside him. They sprang to their feet, and with one accord raced toward the trading-post.
Near the courtyard their footsteps slackened, and Jean began to recover herself, reminded of her shoes and stockings left behind on the knoll. She became suddenly ashamed of her headlong flight, precipitated, as she now saw, by the first breath of afternoon breeze as it came in from the sea and fluttered a piece of weather-bleached canvas nailed over the grave-house door.
"Goodness, Loll, you frightened me nearly to death with your wild imaginings!" She laughed. "Let's run back now and get our shoes and stockings."
The youngster laid a detaining hand on her arm. "But, Jean," his shrill voice trembled, "didn't you see it—the long, white skeleton finger?"
"Nonsense!" She stood a moment pointing out the reason for the flutter of white, and as she did so a group of Indians landing from canoes on the beach, came up the trail toward the post. Curiously and quickly they gathered about the strangers. Many of them had never before seen a white girl or boy, specimens of the strange Letquoan, the Snow People from that far-away land of the White Chief. Solemn, black-eyed little toddlers peered cautiously out from under their mother's shawls. Pretty young squaws with dark handkerchiefs over their heavy hair, jostled one another to get a better view, and at the sight of the white girl, the young buck gallants of the tribe straightened their shoulders and shifted their rifles to a jauntier angle.
In low, throaty tones, punctuated with long-drawn "Ah-a-a's" and occasional explosions of laughter, they talked among themselves, pressing closer each moment. From time to time a brown finger pointing at Jean's bare feet evoked a general shaking of dark heads and more "Ah-a-a's" of wonderment.
Perhaps because of the apprehension in her heart, Jean held her head high and looked fearlessly into the brown, apparently menacing faces about her. She glanced out over the dark heads hoping to see some member of her own race; but the post, for the moment, seemed deserted by the whites. She reached for her nephew's small hand and held it tightly.
Among the Indians the talking ceased suddenly. A sense of expectation emanated from the group. There was a shifting of positions as a tall Thlinget, whom Jean had heard the White Chief call Swimming Wolf, stepped toward her, his red-bordered snowy blanket trailing majestically from his shoulders. He stopped, bent his stately form, and looked long and earnestly at her bare feet. Before the girl knew what he was about he had wetted his finger in his mouth, rubbed it along her foot, and scrutinized it gravely. He glanced up, his teeth flashing at her in a pleased smile.
"Ugh! Ugh!" he marveled in his best English. "Little squaw with white feet!"
The smile ended in an involuntary grunt, for Loll with the fire of wrath in his eye had leaped at the investigator and with all the strength of his eight years had planted both fists in the stomach of the unprepared Indian.
"She's not a squaw!" shouted the outraged little fellow, making ready for another attack.
At the same moment Jean, her face burning and her hazel eyes two points of fire, landed a stinging blow on the surprised Swimming Wolf's ear.
Straightening himself, he side-stepped, flinging his white blanket over his shoulder with a sheepish grin.
"Fierce little squaw with white feet!" he chuckled, admiringly.
With loud laughs of amusement the others backed away. The circle broken, the indignant Jean caught at the hand of her small protector and fled away in the direction of the store.
Angry with herself and thoroughly mortified by what she considered the insulting familiarity of the Indian, she ran heedlessly. She rounded the corner of one of the little courtyard cabins with reckless haste and before she could check herself, had collided smartly with the dejected figure of a young man. The impact sent her staggering backward, but at the stammered words of apology which accompanied the steadying hands he reached toward her, she looked at him with angry scorn.
"It's a pity you white men are never around when you're needed!" she stormed at his surprised face. "But squaw-men, I suppose, are always busy—driving their wives to suicide!" She flung the last words at him and fled across the courtyard. At the moment she was out of patience with the entire population of Katleean. As she disappeared into the store with Loll, she left Gregg Harlan gazing after her perplexedly, wondering at her last sentence. It was his first actual meeting with either of the white women from the Hoonah. Because of their advent in Katleean he had remained sober for several days, but for some reason he did not understand he had not yet been given an opportunity to meet these women from his own world. He turned from his contemplation of the empty doorway and walked back to his own cabin, his head bowed in thought.
While Jean and Loll were pursuing their adventures about the post the White Chief was entertaining his other two guests in his low-ceilinged living-room, dusky and pleasantly scented from logs of yellow cedar burning in the fireplace. He was posed in his favorite attitude, half-sitting, half-reclining among the cushions on a low couch of red fox skins. But while he told tales of the country to the interested Boreland, his narrow eyes watched the play of the firelight on the softly-massed golden-brown hair of Ellen, Boreland's wife, who sat knitting in the glow.
Life, for the trader, had taken on a new zest this past week. Long years of acting a part—the part of a great white chief, mysterious, all knowing, all powerful in the eyes of the simple natives of the North, had made him fully alive to the dramatic possibilities of playing host at Katleean, and he was not unaware of his own semi-barbaric attractiveness in these surroundings.
It had been easy to induce Shane Boreland, for the sake of his wife and young sister-in-law, to spend a few weeks in the quarters back of the store, where they were ministered to by the silent, dark-eyed women whose status they did not understand.
The trader's heart was stirred with interest and expectancy. Here at last was an auditor worthy of his best efforts—a white woman, not too young, fair-faced and gentle, yet with the courage to follow her man into the wilds of a new country. A woman, who, he had learned, could unfailingly put a shot in a bull's eye at twenty paces and handle an oar in a small boat, yet a woman who could look sweetly domestic as she knitted on a garment for her small son. To Paul Kilbuck, as to all domineering men who scoff at matrimony, there was something irresistibly appealing in the "sweetly domestic" woman, something suggestive of that oldest occupation of woman—the business of ministering to man's physical and temperamental needs, the duty of making his body and his egotism comfortable. He watched her in covert approval.
How soft and white her throat appeared above the open neck of her blouse—soft and white with a tiny hollow at the base where a man might leave kisses—or the print of his teeth. What little hands she had, white with nails of rosy pink. Little white hands! The words kept singing through his consciousness. So long had brown hands done his bidding up here in the North that he had nearly forgotten that a woman's skin could be so white! To have those little white hands just once, softly feeling, caressing, losing themselves in the blackness of his beard——
The White Chief sat bolt upright to shake off the mad-sweet pang that had thrilled him. The voice of Boreland brought him back from the land of forbidden thought.
"You say this Lost Island is nothing but a myth, Kilbuck?" The prospector had evidently been thinking of the White Chief's last story as he sat rubbing the head of Kobuk, the huskie, who had placed his muzzle on Boreland's knee.
The trader lighted and tossed away a cigarette before he answered.
"Just how much truth there is in the tale of the Lost Island I can't say, Boreland," he said slowly, with a care to his English. He shifted his position until his eyes could no longer rest on the white woman in the fireglow. "It has come down from the days of the Russian occupation of the Aleutian Islands far to the west'ard. Our Thlingets, you know, got it from the natives of that section and the story runs that an Aleut and his wife were banished from their village for some crime, set adrift in a bidarka, a skin boat. Instead of perishing, as their kinsmen intended, the pair turned up a year later with a tale of a marvelous island many days' paddling to the eastward. On this island, they said, the sun shone warmer and the flowers grew larger and the snowfall was lighter than anywhere else in their world; and there was some queer story, I don't remember the details exactly, about an underground passage and sands flecked with shining metal, the stuff that trimmed up the holy pictures the Russian priests brought over from Russia."
"Gold!" interrupted Boreland. "It must have been gold!" His brown eyes glowed and the White Chief noted that an eager alertness lighted his lean tanned face.
"The exiles decided to let a few of their friends in on the island proposition and set out at the head of several bidarkas. According to the story they knocked about up and down the North Pacific from Kodiak to Sitka for several months—but they never found their island. Neither did the natives of later years who went in search of it from time to time."
"But the Russians, Kilbuck, didn't they ever try to find the place?"
The trader, pleased at the interest his story had aroused, lay back once more against his cushions. "Possibly they did," he went on easily. "But it's likely they were satisfied with the wealth of furs their Aleut hunters brought them. Those were great old days for traffic in furs. The early Russians were, for the most part a lazy, rum-drinking lot, you know. To them riches meant sea-otter skins, and they managed by various devilish methods—I can't say more about them in your presence, Mrs. Boreland—to enslave the entire Aleut nation to do their hunting. They gave them a little—and a mighty little—trade goods in return." By the inflections of his voice the agent of the Alaska Fur and Trading Company sought to convey to his listeners the impression that the policy of those early companies was against his principles, though the books, so carefully kept by Add-'em-up Sam might have told a different story.
"And it's possible the Russians thought the yarn to be merely another native fairy tale," continued Kilbuck, waving a careless hand. "As I said there may be no other foundation for it. It has come down now for over two hundred years, and you may be sure when an Indian tells a story it loses nothing in the telling."
The drowsy crackle of the flaming logs filled a short interval.
Shane Boreland sat lost in meditation, his hand resting quietly on the dog's head, his eyes adream as with visions of the golden sands of the Lost Island.
His wife glanced up at him, uneasily, almost apprehensively it seemed to Kilbuck who was again watching her. Never in all his varied amorous experiences had a woman's eyes held such a look for the White Chief—a look in which there was a protecting tenderness, comradeship and something more.
He settled farther back in his cushions, his eyes narrowing. Love had yet some new delight to offer him. . . . His virile years were slipping by—he was surprised and disturbed how often this thought had been with him of late. Should he grasp the opportunity offered? There might be a way—up here in Katleean where his word was law. . . . Perhaps——
Kilbuck brought himself up with a start. Ellen Boreland had dropped her knitting and had crossed to her husband's chair. Her hand rested on his broad shoulder and there was a wistful little twist to her smile as she shook him gently to rouse him.
"He's forever dreaming of the gold that lies beyond the skyline—this man of mine—and always going to find it," she said fondly. "So please, Mr. Kilbuck, don't get him interested in any mythical island. We've been gone from the States six months now, and I want him to go back for the winter." There was a half-playful, half-earnest note of pleading in her voice, but the White Chief noticed that her eyes did not fully meet his.
During all her thirty years, doubtless, Ellen Boreland had looked a friendly world in the eye. She was that sort. He saw that she was troubled now at not being able to do this in the case of the trader of Katleean. Probably he himself was not attractive to her—perhaps he was even fascinatingly repellant with that electric and disturbing and promising quality that drew almost irresistibly. There were women who, under that impulsion, had been moved to come close and gaze into his pale, black-lashed eyes. It was an impulse akin to that which urges people to fling themselves from great heights; to peer into abandoned, stagnant wells. . . . He had an idea that she knew he saw this, for he had watched her face flush under his glance as though at the thought of having dishonored herself by sharing with him some guilty secret. He saw that she was uncomfortable in accepting his hospitality. Twice during their stay she had entreated her husband to leave Katleean, or at least go back aboard the schooner for the remainder of their visit. But Shane Boreland, clean-hearted adventurer, to whom the vagaries of a woman's mind were a closed book, had only laughed at her request, retorting that life aboard the Hoonah had made her into a little sea-dog and a few weeks ashore with such a host as the White Chief would do her a world of good.
The host now lighted one of his short-lived cigarettes. In his mind was forming a plan suggested by Ellen Foreland's words. He might develop it later, and again he might not, but it would not be amiss to prepare the way.
He tossed his cigarette into the fireplace, slipping without effort into the part he had assigned himself.
"Dreams are the things that make life worth living, Mrs. Boreland." His low, vibrant tones sounded pleasantly in the dusky room. "Boreland here has his dreams of a mine of gold, but I—" he hesitated, his voice taking on a whimsical softness, "but I, in my Northern solitude, have my dreams of a heart of gold." His look was designed to leave no doubt in Ellen Boreland's mind that it was a feminine heart of gold that he sought.
There was a pause during which the charred logs in the fireplace dropped down sending up a brighter flame.
"But you mustn't be too sure that the Lost Island is a myth." He spoke briskly now as it putting aside deliberately his own longings. "In this part of the country some say that the Lost Island is that of Kon Klayu."
As Boreland looked up questioningly the White Chief went on:
"Of course, it does in some ways answer the description. It is ninety miles off the coast here. Cape Katleean is the nearest land. The Japan current gives it a milder climate and we know that the beach sand carries gold—a little gold."
"Anyone living there?" interrupted Boreland eagerly.
"Not a soul. The Alaska Fur and Trading Company did send a party out there some years ago, to start a fox-farm. That's how I got my information. They were a hootch-drinking, lazy lot and the farm wasn't a success. But Add-'em-up Sam, a bookkeeper I used to have, spent a winter there. He told me many things about the place." The White Chief paused a moment. A new idea had just come to him. "Silvertip, who used to be on the whaler Sophie Sutherland, has stopped there for water, too."
Boreland, rising from his chair thrust both hands into his pockets and began to pace up and down the room.
"By thunder, Kilbuck, I'm interested in that island, whether it's the Lost Island or not! Kon Klayu . . . Kon Klayu . . ." He repeated the name thoughtfully. "Seems to me that's the Thlinget for ruby sand, which in itself suggests possibilities. Ruby sand is a gold carrier!" There was a note of enthusiasm in Boreland's voice, but as he noticed the look on his wife's face he crossed to her side and put an arm over her slender shoulders. "But we'll talk that over some other time, Chief. I don't want to bore Ellen with too much mining——"
A flinging open of the door that led to the store cut short his speech as an indignant little boy burst in on them.
"Mother! Mother!" he shouted. "That big old Indian, Swimming Wolf, called my Auntie Jean a squaw!"
"And the wretch put his hand on my foot, Ellen!" Jean following close on the heels of her nephew, stopped before her sister, her slim hands clenched at her sides, each outraged shake of her head loosening the ribbon that bound her hair. "I hate this place, Shane!" she cried, turning swiftly to her brother-in-law. "I wish we were all back aboard the Hoonah!" Her voice trembled with unshed tears of mortification, and both her sister and Shane started toward her with exclamations of sympathy and alarm.
The White Chief regarded the attractively disheveled little figure with appreciation, but he realized that something had happened which endangered the stay of his visitors. He rose to place a chair for her. When he spoke his voice, the voice that had charmed many women, soothed while it promised.
"There now, Miss Wiley, things may not be so bad as you think. Sit down and tell me all about it and I'll see what can be done."
Disregarding the proffered chair, the girl launched forth with the story of her encounter with Swimming Wolf. Her slim hands gestured. Above her flushed cheeks her eyes flashed and the unruly cloud of hair, freed at last from its ribbon, fell about her shoulders.
As she told of the slap on Swimming Wolf's ear, the pale eyes of the White Chief glowed. Truly, as Kayak Bill had said, one could never tell about a white woman. Here was a situation he would have to handle with care. Here was a time when his knowledge of Indian nature, gained during years of association with them, stood him in good stead.
"Miss Jean," he said. "Just a moment. I think I can explain Swimming Wolf's extraordinary action." The White Chief measured her with an air of understanding that, he could see, made an impression on the girl in spite of herself. "An Indian, you know, never really grows up. Even though he has the body of a man, he still keeps the heart of a child. Now when you were little, Miss Jean, don't you remember the time you saw your first negro—a black, strange creature? Didn't you wonder, while you looked at his face and his hands if he could possibly be black all over? Be honest now, didn't you?"
Loll who had settled himself on the floor with an arm about Kobuk's neck, sprang up and stood beside his aunt.
"Yes, I did, Chief," he interrupted, with eager, nodding head, "and I asked him about it, too. I did!"
Jean's face was clearing. She inclined her head in faint affirmation.
"Just so," the trader went on. "When Swimming Wolf saw his first white woman no doubt in his simple heart he wondered, too, and so did the other natives who gathered about you,—children, all of them. Swimming Wolf, the clumsy siwash, had no English words to ask you about it, so he took the simplest way to find out whether or not the white came off!"
A shadowy smile began to twitch at the corners of Jean's mouth. Seeing it, the White Chief was encouraged to go on:
"The inquisitive rascal is really one of our bravest hunters, and a man of tall totems and many blankets. He would feel astonished and kusk-i-a-tu—very sad—if he knew he had offended you. As a matter of fact,"—the trader laughed—"the Wolf admires you and in his primitive way has paid you a great compliment. I wasn't going to mention it, but since this has come up perhaps it will help explain."
Jean looked up inquiringly.
"Up here in the North, Miss Jean, it is the custom of the young bucks to buy any little girl who takes his fancy. He pays for her while he is strong and a good hunter, you see. When the girl grows up he takes her for his wife."
There was a gasp of astonishment from Ellen and her sister, but Kilbuck went on:
"One hundred dollars is a mighty good price to pay for a wife, but Swimming Wolf, my little lady, came to me yesterday with four black fox skins, which are worth perhaps three thousand dollars. He wanted to know if I would arrange with the Big White Man—your brother-in-law—to take them in payment for the shawut clate, the White-Girl-Who-Makes-Singing-Birds-in-the-Little-Brown-Box."
Jean lifted her chin with a laugh in which amusement and embarrassment were equally mingled. "How quaintly ridiculous, Ellen, to describe my violin playing in such a way! But mercy," she added, after they had all laughed over the incident, "I must run away upstairs and put on some footwear. If I had kept on my shoes and stockings, as I should have done, Swimming Wolf might not have called me 'little squaw with white feet'!"
Kilbuck, satisfied with himself, had settled back once more against his cushions and as she turned to say a parting word to him, was regarding her with half-closed eyes. The firelight played on her slim, white ankles and soft little feet. He surveyed her with a look that slowly, appraisingly, stripped her body of its garments and swept her from her bare feet to her face and back again. The girl caught it. Conscious, for the first time of him—his savage reality as other than a middle-aged man—of her own womanhood, she flushed violently. Shrinking back she reached for Loll's hand, and stammering an incoherent excuse, ran from the room.
Ellen, unconscious of what had happened, measured off a row of stitches in the knitting she had again taken up. "Jean certainly seems to be tumbling in and out of adventures," she remarked. "Sometimes, Shane, I wonder if we did right in bringing her with us."
"Nonsense, Ellen. A year up here will make a different girl of her—help her break away from the cut and dried sameness of school life. Darned if it doesn't make me tired to see all the young women turned out of the same mould."
As Boreland spoke the door leading into the store opened slowly, and into the room sauntered Kayak Bill. He seated himself in silence, tilting his sombrero to the back of his head—the only concession to convention he ever made, since Kayak had never been known to remove that article of apparel until he sought his bunk at night.
"I just been mouchin' round down in the Village, Chief," he drawled, "seein' if there was anything a-doin' in the way o' local sin, and they tells me that the funeral canoes is a-comin' in tonight."
THE FUNERAL CANOES
Ellen glanced up at the old hootch-maker sitting serenely on the other side of the fireplace. Some time during the day he had put on high leather boots but having neglected to lace them, the bellows-tongued tops stood away from his sturdy legs and the raw-hide laces squirmed about his feet like live things.
"The funeral canoes?" she echoed, wonderingly.
Kayak Bill turned to her with a sort of slow eagerness, as if he had been awaiting an excuse to look at her.
"Yas, Lady. They're a-bringin' in the ashes o' their dead kin from up in the Valley of the Kag-wan-tan."
Ellen's mind reverted to the many strange things she had heard during her short stay in Katleean, concerning the coming Potlatch of the Indians. This land and its people were new and mysterious to her. These primitive Thlingets, descendants of the fiercest and most intelligent of all the northern tribes were, withal, a fearful people living in a world of powerful and malignant spirits who frowned from the rocks, glittered from the cold, white mountains and glaciers, whispered in the trees and cackled derisively from the campfires; a world of hostile eyes spying upon them in the hope that some of their weird and mystic tabus might be broken, and of sly ears listening to avenge some careless remark. A childlike people they were, who spoke kindly to the winds and offered bits of fish for its favor; who begged the capricious sea to give them food, and who spent most of their lives working for the comfort of the dead—the Restless Ones—who sweep the winter skies when the day is done, beckoning, whispering. The Northern Lights the white man calls them, as they leap and play above the frozen peaks, but the Thlinget knows them to be the spirits of the dead, homeless in space but hovering confidently overhead until their relatives on earth can give a Potlatch for their repose.
Running like a black thread through the woof of the spirit tales was the mention of witch-craft—witchcraft with which Kilbuck was now preparing to deal; not because he hoped to benefit the natives and free them from the curse of superstition, but because owing to a belief in the black art, the Indians of Katleean were not bringing in the amount of furs expected, and this meant a loss of money to the Alaska Fur and Trading Company.
Ellen recalled the superior air of amusement with which the White Chief had told of the dominating belief in demons.
"When one of the beggars wants to cast a spell," he had said, his lip curling in a sardonic smile, "he takes a bit of cloth from some garment his enemy has worn and at the hour of midnight slinks into a graveyard and digs down until he finds a body. If he wants to cripple his enemy's hand, he puts the cloth in the fingers of the corpse. If he wishes his enemy to lose his mind he puts it over the skull, and if he wants him dead, he places the cloth over the heart in the coffin. Oh, they are a sweet outfit, I tell you!" The Chief had laughed as if these things were merely amusing. Then he had gone on to explain that across the Bay of Katleean in the shadow of the great blue glacier which was discernible on sunny days, there had been a lonely Thlinget graveyard. Because of its isolation this burial place had been so riddled with re-opened graves and so much killing, torturing and fighting had ensued among the Indians in their efforts to detect and punish so-called witches that he, their White Chief, had been obliged to interfere. He had put an end to the reign of sorcery in that particular graveyard rather cleverly, Ellen was forced to admit, by having all the bodies exhumed and cremated on the spot.
"They'll bring the ashes over here where I can keep an eye on them and prevent further 'witching,'" the trader had finished. "And after the Potlatch we'll have a little peace in the country, I hope. I never interfere with the Potlatches. They make good business for the Company, for the brown heathens believe the spirits are really feasting and rejoicing with them." Kilbuck laughed as at some recollection. "The Company sends in hundreds of blankets every year for dead Indians. Whenever a Potlatch blanket is given away the name of a dead man is called and he receives it in the spirit world. Whenever a little food is put on the Potlatch fire, a dead man's name is mentioned and he gets a square meal up there in Ghost's Home. Altogether the Alaska Fur and Trading Company does a lively business with the dead!"
As Ellen thought on these things there crept into her mother-heart a feeling of pity for these simple, trusting people seeking the protection and guidance of this white man only to have their beliefs and superstitions laughed at and exploited for the benefit of his company. She was beginning to feel, dimly, what every reader of the history of exploration knows, that drunkenness, fraud and trickery are among the first teachings the white man's civilization brings to the tribes of a new country.
A tinge of sadness and foreboding darkened her thoughts.
Kayak Bill, who had been drawing contentedly on his corn-cob pipe, rose suddenly through a low-hung cloud of tobacco smoke, and taking up an old almanac from the table, began fanning the air clumsily. His slow drawl with a suspicion of haste in it, broke in on her meditations:
"By hell, Lady," he apologized earnestly, "excuse me for creatin' of such a blamed smudge!"
Ellen looked up from her knitting.
"Oh, I don't mind a little smoke, Kayak Bill." She smiled at the concern in the old man's voice. "You see Shane smokes a good deal, too." She nodded toward the couch where her husband puffed on his pipe as he plied Kilbuck with questions about the Island of Kon Klayu. "I was just thinking about the funeral canoes and the Potlatch."
"The beginnin's of the Potlatch will be pulled off tomorrow, Lady, but tonight—" Kayak stopped fanning and leaned closer to her. Then with a glance in the direction of the White Chief he lowered his voice. "Tonight, when the funeral canoes comes in, I'd aim to gather in the young sprout, Loll, and that little gal sister o' yourn. . . . We're purty civilized here in Katleean, but—wall, there ain't no tellin' what an Injine will do after he's taken on a couple o' snorts o' white mule,—or a squaw-man, either, for that matter. O' course, I make the stuff myself, and a mighty hard time I have, too, to keep shut o' these pesky dudes o' revenue officers that's all the time a-devilin' o' me. But I don't recommend it none a-tall."
Kayak Bill, with his boot-laces snaking along behind him, shuffled over to his chair once more and settled himself for conversation, which Ellen had learned meant a monologue. The edge of his sombrero backed his busy head and kindly face like a soiled grey halo. His low voice, never rising, never falling, droned on:
"Yas, I don't drink none myself, bein' weaned, as you might say, when I'm but a yearlin'. But I make it for those as likes it, and I makes it good, for it's everybody to his own cemetery, I say. . . . No, I don't join no Y. W. C. T. U. or nothin,' but one time, when I'm a real young feller, I'm off on the range for a spell down in Texas, and I ain't no nature for shavin' or none o' them doo-dads and besides I'd don't have no razor or no lookin' glass. Wall, six months or so goes millin' by and finally I comes down into San Antonio one Sataday night. And right away, havin' at that time what you might call an eddycated taste for whisky, I makes a charge for the nearest bar and takes on a dozen or so good snifters, likewise some beverages they calls mint julips. And durn me, Lady, if in no time everything in that place ain't a-whizzin' past me like the mill-tails o' hell!
"But I gets my bearin's after while and lays my course for a door to get some fresh air. Just as I reaches this here door, Lady, a big, swaggerin' rough-lookin' hombre with a red beard starts to come in. Wall, I looks him over careful. He likewise gives me a nasty look. Then polite-like, I steps aside waitin' for him to come through. But he don't come none, havin' stepped aside too. . . . Wall, by this time I'm feelin' purty groggy and I makes a bolt for the door again, aimin' to get through quick; but blamed if that durned son-of-a-gun don't do identical! Then back I sashays once more and my dander sort o' riz up in me. 'By the roarin' Jasus,' I yells, 'you lay offen that monkey business, you consarned whiskery cuss, or I'll fill you so full o' holes yore own mammy won't know you from a hunk o' cheese. Just one more crack like that out o' you,' I says, 'and down comes yore meat-house,' I says. . . . Wall, I got started through the door again, and by hell, Lady, in spite o' my warnin' o' him, he comes at me again. So, . . ." Kayak Bill paused the fraction of a second; then his voice went on with its accustomed languor: "So I just whipped out my little old .45 and shot him."
Ellen gasped, her big blue eyes opening in horror as she looked into the serene face of the self-confessed murderer. Kayak Bill, apparently unconscious of her regard, droned on:
"Yas, I charged full tilt into him shootin' as I went, but instead o' him a-fallin dead, I finds myself in a shower o' glass, and all the boys is a-dancin' round me and likin' to die o' laughin' at me. . . . You see, Lady, that door happens to be one o' them long mirro's saloons has, and not havin' no acquaintance with myself in a beard a-tall, I pots my image! Ha! Ha! Ha!" Kayak Bill's laugh gurgled out slowly like mellow liquor from a wide-mouthed bottle. "Wall, after I got done a-payin' for the mirro' and a-settin' 'em up for the boys, and a-payin' for a saw bones to fix me up—me bein' conside-ble carved by glass, I don't have no more money than a jack-rabbit. So I says to myself: 'Bill, you ol' jackass, you got to reform, that's all there are to it. We can't have the whole durned world laughin' at you when yore in yore liquor!', I says. . . . And I did reform, Lady! So help me Hannah, I did!" Kayak Bill, with an air of conscious virtue, was filling his pipe again.
While Ellen gathered up her knitting, the corners of her mouth were twitching with amusement.
"Kayak Bill," she said as she shook her finger at him playfully, "you surely have an effective way of making a confession. I don't really know whether to praise you for your sobriety or scold you for horrifying me a moment ago."
Ellen heard the old man's chuckle as she arose. Her face went sober, however, the moment her eyes sought the couch where her husband sat still engrossed with the White Chief. Though she lingered Shane did not turn her way, and she finally moved toward the door through which her sister had gone an hour earlier.
"Thank you for telling me about tonight, Kayak," she said as she passed him. "I'm going up now to warn Jean and Loll, but—" she hesitated, "I wish more of the men in Katleean had been 'weaned' as you were."
She saw approval in the slow softening of his hazel eyes, and as the door closed behind her she caught a remark the old hootch-maker addressed to the dog at his feet.
"By hell, Kobuk," he pronounced earnestly, "that little lady's husband has sure fell into a bed of four leaf clovers!"
She stored this quaint tribute away in her mind and told it to Jean that evening after she had repeated for the second time Kayak's warning regarding the arrival of the funeral canoes. But Jean, determined not to miss any detail of the strange Thlinget festival, watched till an opportunity presented itself, and then, disregarding Ellen's advice, slipped away to the beach to a pile of silvery drift-logs that lay at the edge of the rice-grass, where she knew she could not be seen except from the sea. The girl settled herself comfortably among the logs just as the long day was waning.
She noted that here, as everywhere else in this northern land of exquisite, fleeting summers, the sunset colors came on gradually, increasing in richness of tone and fading through several hours. The mist of the afternoon had scattered before a faint sea-wind, and settled wraithlike in the hollows of the hills across the bay. Violet now in the gloaming it melted into the lilac shadows at the base of the range that needled the sunset sky.
There was something like promise in the wild beauty of the evening-time; something in the clean night-scent of the sea and the grass and the trampled beach-weed that awakened in Jean a sense of expectancy. She breathed deeply, conscious of a keen delight in doing so. As she waited, the rose and amber tints died on the white peaks at the head of the valley, . . . the flaming orange behind them turned from clear gold to vermilion, . . . from rose madder to an unearthly red that glowed behind a veil of amethyst while the twilight deepened. . . .
Suddenly she caught her breath. Out of the powdery, purple gloom across the bay floated a long line—the funeral canoes. In the blurred distance they took shape one by one, the paddles dipping in solemn rhythm. . . . Nearer they came, . . . and nearer. Then over the darkening water drifted the plaintive rise and fall of the funeral lament, faint and eerie as voices from the spirit land.
Jean, thinking to linger but a moment before returning to the store, was spellbound by the mystery and loneliness of the scene. All at once, as she watched, a line of silent, blanketed figures from somewhere behind, began to slip down past her hiding place. Looming weird and tall in the dusk they halted at the water's edge. Softly, almost imperceptibly these waiting ones took up the mournful plaint, sending it floating out thin and high in answer to the approaching bearers of the dead.
While she listened awe and wonder began to give way to something that tantalized her with a fleeting familiarity—a near understanding. Long-lost memories of primeval things that eluded her when she strove to vision them mocked her with an indefinable yearning to pierce the ages of oblivion that separated her from other nights, other scenes, other chants like these. . . . She longed for her violin. If she could but feel the loved instrument beneath her chin, her fingers drawing from its vibrant lower strings the mystery-music to supplement the weird dirge, these primitive things hidden in the dust of the past might be revealed to her! Suddenly she became aware that one of the tall figures had stopped in the trail beside her pile of driftwood. In a tone singularly pleasing he was humming the air of the funeral lament, fitfully, experimentally at first, then as the haunting monotony of the strain became familiar, with a certain easy confidence. Jean forgot to be afraid. Almost unconsciously she found herself humming in unison with the motionless figure. Even when the man faced her and she saw in the dim light, not an Indian, but the young white man, Gregg Harlan, she did not cease. She was conscious of a feeling of companionship. Night had gilded the wilderness with a primordial beauty and made her kin to all earth's creatures. She moved slowly from her pile of driftwood and stood beside him for a moment in the trail watching the incoming canoes. It was a moment of simplicity and unconsciousness of self such as might have been in the dawn of civilization when conventions were unknown. She hummed, cradling in her heart impressions of the night so that later she might awaken them through the music of her violin. The man in the trail continued his wordless song. . . .
The crunching of leather soles on the gravel behind them startled Jean. She and her companion turned simultaneously to find themselves face to face with the trader of Katleean.
"Well, well!" The sarcastic voice of the White Chief shattered the sweet, wild moment like an invidious thing. "You two seem to be getting uncommonly friendly!" His red lip lifted on one side into a cynical smile that suddenly infuriated Jean, implying, as it did, that he had caught the two young people in a compromising situation. She took a hasty step toward him, looking with fearless eyes into his face.
"How dare you slip up behind us this way!" she flashed, stamping her foot and flinging out her hands in a short, angry gesture. A moment longer she looked at him as if he were an object of scorn, then turning to the young man, said quietly: "Good night, Mr. Harlan."
The next instant she was walking up the dusky trail to the post.
Kilbuck watched her go. Accustomed to commanding all situations at Katleean, he was for the moment nonplused by the quickness and vehemence of the girl's retort, rather than by what she had said. He had expected to place the two at a disadvantage. Finding the tables turned, a momentary and unreasoning desire to cover his own discomfiture by hurting some one took possession of him.
"I say, Gregg, I'm rather surprised to find you at this time of night, alone with Miss Wiley. I don't think her sister would approve, exactly. Since your affair with Naleenah, you know—" he finished the sentence with a depreciatory shrug.
"My affair with Naleenah! What do you mean?" The young man took a quick step toward him.
"Oh, now, don't get excited, Gregg. You were drunk, of course, but you must remember she took you home and spent the last night of her life with you. The whole post saw you two go off together the night the Hoonah came in. Boreland has heard the talk, of course. Too bad, my boy," the Chief put his hand on the astonished young fellow's shoulder, "too bad, I say, that after all your fastidious virtue you have the reputation of being a squaw-man." Kilbuck laughed his short, sardonic laugh.
"She thinks I'm a squaw-man?" Gregg indicated the disappearing figure of Jean. His voice was sharp with hurt amazement, indignation, and the grasp of his hand on the Chief's arm made that gentleman wince.
"All of them do, my boy. All of them. But——"
"Now I begin to understand," Harlan broke in bitterly. With a muttered imprecation he flung himself into the trail and walked toward the courtyard where a light shone palely from Kayak Bill's window. The White Chief looked after him until he vanished. Gregg had been sober for a week now, but if Kilbuck was any judge of indications, the bookkeeper's sobriety was at an end. As the trader turned toward the beach and walked to the canoes now landing in the dusk, he smiled to think how neatly he had nipped in the bud any possible romance between Gregg and Jean.
Two hours later in the loft above Kilbuck's living quarters Jean was kneeling at a tiny window looking up at the ridge where dark spruce trees peaked a line against the night sky. It was a strange guest chamber pungent with a faint, unforgetable odor from fox pelts dangling from the rafters, bear hides tacked to the slanting roof, and rows of smoked salmon and dried cod hanging from lines along the sides. Loll lay fast asleep on his small floor-pallet, his face half-buried in his pillow, his mouth reverted to the pout of babyhood. The door leading to Ellen's room—the only real room in the loft, was partly open. Jean rose and closed it, took up her violin from her own floor bed, and went back to the window.
Softly fingering the strings she picked out the notes of the Indian lament that kept repeating itself in her mind. She was possessed by a desire to express in music the mystery of the wilderness afterglow, the wild, illusive feeling that had touched her. She longed to use her bow freely on the strings of her violin until, at one with the instrument, she could lose herself in the ecstasy of creation. . . . She reached for the bow that lay on the floor beside her. Perhaps, if she played very softly she might disturb no one——
Up from the courtyard, as if a door had been suddenly opened, came startling sounds—short yells, Indian war-whoops and the maudlin singing of white men. The mournful, prolonged howl of a dog drifted in from somewhere. Down in the direction of the Indian village half a dozen shots were fired in rapid succession. Jean's heart beat oddly. Katleean was beginning to celebrate the Potlatch in the singular way of the male, who, since time immemorial has made a holiday an occasion for a carousal. The girl sighed, and placed her violin gently on the floor. With her chin in her hands she took her former position at the window and listened.
Somewhere near the store a trio began. The blended harmony of men's voices as they sang in the dusk had in it a peculiar stir. Jean found herself, head up and shoulders swaying, responding to the lilt and swing of the air:
"Hear the rattle of our windlass As the anchor comes away; For we're bound for Old Point Barrow And we make our start today."
Rollicking, devil-may-care, the whaling song went on through long verses. Many of the words she could not distinguish, but throughout the singing she was aware of a feeling that these singers were men who had cast aside the restraint of conventions, even in a way, responsibility for conduct, and were exulting in their freedom.
Thinking the song finished she turned away at last, but the movement was arrested by the sound of a lone baritone taking up the chorus again. She leaned over the sill to catch the words, for in the voice she recognized her companion of the drift logs.
"Up into the Polar Seas Where the greasy whalers be, There's a strip of open water Leading north to eighty-three, Where the frisky seal and walrus On the ice floes bask and roll. And the sun comes up at midnight From an ice-pack round the Pole."
Apprehension in the girl's heart vanished. She drew a deep breath of the night air and turned reluctantly from the window. "There's a strip of open water leading north to eighty-three—" she hummed. The words stirred in her dim, venturesome imaginings. She felt suddenly on the threshold of adventure beyond which might lie the fierce, wild things of romance that only men have known. It alarmed, even while it exhilarated her. She felt afraid, yet daring. She was beginning to feel the lure of Alaska—the vast, the untamed, the inscrutable, the promising.
As she slipped between her blankets she thought of the young white man. Squaw-man he might be, and a drunkard, but he had the heart of an adventurer . . . he was young . . . and he could sing . . .
THE WHITE CHIEF MAKES MEDICINE
Sunless and softly grey morning came to Katleean. The water, smooth as satin, stretched away to the mist-shrouded hills. Owing to some odd, mirage-like condition of the atmosphere trees bordering the lagoon across the bay stood high and clear above a bank of fog. The liquid music of the surf was hushed as if to give place to a new sound that pulsed unceasingly on the quiet air: the strange and thrilling boom of Thlinget drums. Up from the great Potlatch-house in the Village floated the savage resonance adding a barbaric note of announcement to the placid beauty of the scene. Above the roofs of the native houses and straight between the totems of the Thunder-bird and the Bear, rose the black smoke of the Potlatch fire.
Though it was early, the double doors of the trading-post stood open for the White Chief had been abroad several hours. After a night of revelry in Katleean there were always knife-wounds to dress, battered heads to bind up, bullets to extract, and even broken bones to set. The nearest doctor was five hundred miles away and Kilbuck, often the only sober man at the post, with the exception of Kayak Bill, performed these services.
Some said that he had learned all he knew of medical science from the row of gold-lettered volumes tucked away in one corner of his dusky living-room; others claimed that a great eastern medical college had known him as a student in the far-off days before Alaska took him for her own. Whatever was the source of his knowledge he did his work with a degree of rough skill, and humanely, using as an antidote for the pain he inflicted during these operations, stupendous quantities of the very liquor which had brought about his patients' troubles.
Among the Kagwantans of the Thlinget people he had been given the rank of Shaman, or medicine man. To further his own ends and to keep his hold on the natives, he had always donned the robes that went with this conferred honor and had taken an active part in the Potlatch ceremonies. As the years went by, with but four steamers a twelve-month to disturb his voluntary exile and but a waning interest in anything south of Dixon's Entrance, he had grown to have a real enjoyment in these affairs. They served to banish any lingering inhibitions imposed by civilization.
As he walked across the courtyard toward the little cabin of Silvertip and his squaw, Senott, there were thoughtful lines in the White Chief's brow. Today he would have an opportunity to impress the white women with his importance among the wild people of the North. Today Ellen Boreland should see him as the great chief and Shaman, banisher of Thlinget sorcery. But—how far might he go in this character without running the risk of becoming ridiculous? Never before had such an audience taxed his powers of discrimination. True, by subtle speeches, he had prepared his visitors for anything that might happen, and he knew they would excuse much that was bizarre on his own part because of his explanation that such ways were necessary in handling a primitive people. But he also knew that there is but a thin dividing line between savage pomp and ludicrous ostentation.
As he neared Silvertip's door he raised his head decisively and mounting the steps entered without knocking.
His glance swept the small room with its snowy sand-scoured floor, its rectangular box-stove of sheet-iron, and two corner bunks, one above the other.
"Well, Silvertip, you and Harlan are the last ones on my list. I can't find him any place, but I see you've come to anchor all right. What's the matter with you?" He addressed the wan-looking Silvertip in the lower bunk.
A long-drawn sigh quivered up from the blankets, and with a shaking hand the Swede indicated his head.
"My ol' ooman (groan) . . . lick hal outen me . . . (groan)!"
Kilbuck bent down and parted the fair, blood-matted hair on the side of his patient's head.
"Oh, you're not much hurt, man. You and Senott ought to learn to take a little drink together without beating each other up this way." He laughed as he made ready to cleanse the cut. "May I inquire where the lady is this morning?"
Between groans the injured husband profanely unburdened himself:
"She go down de tarn Injune house vit dat tarn Injune hunter, Hoots-noo!"
"Trouble with you, Silver, you're too good to women. Now, instead of using the iron hand on them you show the yellow streak——"
"Me—jallow streak?" The indignant Swede raised his battered head to glare into the eyes of his satiric physician. "Vy, tammit, Chief, ven ay ban cook on Soofie Suderlant ay——"
"That reminds me, Silvertip," interrupted the White Chief. "You remember telling me about stopping for water on the Island of Kon Klayu when you were whaling? Yes? . . . Well, while you are lying here sobering up, I want you to think about that island, Silver. I want you to remember every little thing about it that you can, and after the Potlatch I'll be in to talk to you—perhaps. I'll go and hunt up Harlan now. Damned fool! He raised hell last night—something started him off. No doubt he's down around the Point swimming it off now. Queer how that fellow loves water—on the outside of his skin."
The trader left the cabin and started across the courtyard. It had gradually filled up with multi-colored, grotesque figures that might have stepped from the pages of some weird, fantastic fairy-tale. The never-ceasing beat of the Potlatch drums made a throbbing, low accompaniment to their guttural tones and laughter. They stalked about wrapped in heavy broadcloth blankets adorned with designs and borders made of white pearl buttons—thousands of buttons—a style which had come in when the white traders came to Alaska. Many wore the native Chilcat blanket of ceremony made of the hair of the mountain goat. These were marvels of savage embroidery done in conventionalized designs that might have startled a Cubist painter had they not been woven with the softest-toned native dyes—yellow, pale-blue and green and rust. Huge, fierce detached eyes, the Thlinget symbol of intelligence glared from some. Mouths with queer, squared lips and large teeth grinned from others. A school of killer-whales with dorsal fins aloft, disported themselves in rectangles of black on the back of another. From the bottom a two-foot fog-colored fringe dangled about the wearer's legs.
Above the fantastic robes black eyes looked out from painted faces rendered fearsome by red and blue and green designs representing mythical gods of the clouds, waves, and beasts, fish and birds. Heads were crowned with the skulls of grizzly bears and small whales. A few figures were disguised by pelts of animals, but instead of paws, huge wooden hands with fingers more than a foot long, dangled from the forearms.
Swimming Wolf, brave in a dance-blanket which bore the wolf emblem of the Kagwantans, held his head proudly under the sacred hat of Kahanuk, the Wolf, and on his face in red and blue was the Kia-sa-i-da, the red mouth of the wolf when the lips are retracted.
As the White Chief made his way through the throng he noted with satisfaction that Ellen Boreland and her sister were standing spellbound in the doorway of the trading-post watching the primitive masquerade. Even as he looked a creature broke suddenly from the crowd and rushed toward them, half-running, half-flopping like a wounded bird. To one side of its face half a moustache was attached. The other cheek was adorned with red and blue paint. The hair was twisted into a high peak and further decorated with the wings of a seagull. A man's hair-seal waistcoat trimmed with red flannel hung from the shoulders and from this streamed yards of brilliant colored calico strips an inch wide.
As the figure reached the platform, the two white women shrank back in the doorway. The half-portion of the moustache was raised in a delighted grin.
"Heavens, Ellen!" gasped Jean, clutching her sister's arm. "It's that jolly little Senott, Silvertip's squaw. The one that brought us the strawberries the other day!"
Senott, proud in her Potlatch finery, came close and gazed with friendly eyes at the white visitors.
"Ha! Ha!" she laughed. "You not know Senott? Senott all same kate-le-te—all same seagull!" She threw out her arms raising them up and down and lifting high her feet to represent a seagull alighting at the edge of breaking surf.
"Bime-by you white 'oomans come along Senott—" she pointed in the direction of Kilbuck's living-room windows under which he had caused a great grave to be dug. "You come. Senott show you t'ings."
With a wide smile and a wave of her hand the gay Senott, apparently forgetful of the white spouse at home nursing the broken head she had given him, flapped away to join her Indian lover, Hoots-noo, Heart-of-a-Grizzly, the handsome young husband of Old-Woman-Who-Would-Not-Die.
At noon every soul in Katleean had assembled in front of the trading-post. The boom of drums was louder. There was a feeling of expectancy in the air. The few whites, with the exception of Kilbuck, sat on the platform in front of the store. The natives formed a shifting, motley crowd in the courtyard. Kayak Bill, sitting next to Ellen, smoked his pipe as he contemplated the scene.
"Wall, Lady," he drawled, leaning toward her, "I seen a heap o' this sort o' jaberwocky doin's in my time up here, and it used to make me feel like as if them Injines had a tank full o' doodle-bugs under their hair—but I don't know— Take us white folks down in the States now, when we're a-celebratin' o' Decoration day without our speeches and our peerades and our offerin's o' posies and such. It's the same principle exact——"
The old man ceased speaking abruptly. Out of the door behind them and down the platform steps walked the White Chief of Katleean and the little Thlinget woman, Decitan. About her shoulders was draped a fringed black and yellow blanket of wondrous design. On her dark, thick hair she wore the crest of the Eagle clan—a privilege accorded only to a chiefess.
The waiting Indians stood back from about these two principal figures in the courtyard, and Paul Kilbuck, with the Indian woman beside him, turned to face the white woman on the platform whose favors he hoped to win.
He felt himself splendidly barbaric in the costume of a Shaman. The greens and blues and yellows of his royal Chilcat blanket and dancing shirt set off his dark beard and dead-white skin. Carved wooden eagle-wings on each side of a tall hat crowned his hair. Below this emblem of the Shaman spirit, the Unseeable, his eyes, narrow, pale and dangerous sent straight into those of Ellen a look that might have come down through the red pages of history.
She turned her face away with a frightened quickening of the pulses.
The White Chief and Decitan took their places at the head of the Indian procession which had been forming, and the long, fantastic line wound about the courtyard and down the trail that led to the Village. Before the graveyard, with its totems and curious architecture of the dead, they stopped and began a mournful ululation.
The wailing gradually gave way to the Potlatch songs in honor of the deceased—songs of curious rhythm and halting cadences; songs with a haunting plaintiveness that floated high above the throbbing of the drums.
On the platform the white inhabitants of Katleean waited in silence until the procession came back once more to the courtyard. Then one by one they attached themselves to the line.
About the excavation under the windows of the White Chief the funeral party halted. Kilbuck, his handsome, barbaric head towering above all, spoke to the natives in Thlinget a few moments. Then one by one the small boxes containing ashes of the dead were handed to him. He lowered them into the grave. As the last one settled on the bottom he stepped back, flinging one corner of his fringed blanket from his shoulder. He exulted in the sense of power such an occasion gave him. He liked to feel that in the hollow of his hand he held every soul in Katleean.